Thursday, December 24, 2009

Building an Eco-Friendly & Cheap Garden Path

Today I will detail the steps I have taken to create pathways through my gardens. As always I do things the easiest and cheapest ways I can find. I reiterate here that I am a) over 50 b) small female, and c) broke!

Step one is to save all the large cardboard boxes you find, in my case they are from deliveries and cat littler. And of course, the holiday season is a time of massive amounts of packaging, so use it for paths and other mulching projects rather than sending it all to the landfill!

Using a carpet knife, open up the boxes to flat. Be sure to take out the large staples or any other metal pieces. I also rip off all tape.

Step Two, either purchase a large pile of mulch, or if you're broke like me, talk the city chipper into dumping an entire truck full on the driveway!

Step three, mow your path with the mower blades set at "crew cut" blade height. Basically shave as close to earth as you can.

      Before mowing                                                     After mowing
Remember, as always, to dress with safety as well as comfort in mind! And stay hydrated!

Step four, lay down the flattened cardboard along the path. I also use old phone books, junk mail, news print and other compostable stock.

This is mainly a great way to lessen the amount of compostable materials that are sent to our landfills. The added benefit of a nice path is, for me, secondary.

Step Five, start to haul the mulch out to the cardboard path and dump it. This is the most back breaking part of the entire process. The mulch must be at least 3 inches deep but deeper is better.

Final step, rake the path into shape desired. And walk on it often to tamp it down.

Paths that were put down a year ago are holding up quite well considering that I rarely mow, never water, and NEVER use any chemicals. The only way I maintain my pathways is to weed them by hand.

For the more active gardeners, these new paths should work for years! The best part is how simple it is to change the route of the path or eliminate them entirely! And if you do decide to turn part of the path into a planting bed, the compost value of the path ingredients will make for healthier soil. There could not be a more simple way to improve the soil, use up compostable materials that would otherwise wind up in landfill and create nice looking pathway!

You could take it a step farther and add some stepping stones, whatever you'd like!
Have you done something like this? Send me a photo or add a comment tell us how it worked out!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Become a "Fan" of the Seminole County Master Gardeners' 2010 Walk!

For anyone that happens to stop by, please consider becoming a FaceBook "Fan" of the 2010 Master Gardeners' Garden Walk! It's an annual event and it's free! The tour features six amazing gardens graciously volunteered by their owners.  I'll be posting a slide show of last years tour soon! We Seminole County Florida Master Gardeners have also put together an exhibit "hall" at the extension services office this year with educational booths from folks like "Water Wise" from the St. John's Water Management District* and Florida Yards and Neighborhoods* as well as the "Ask a Master Gardener Booth.  The event is free and sure to be a blast! So if you're local, save the date: Sunday, May 16, 2010.  If you're not local, just help us out by becomeing a "Fan" of our FaceBook page!

*This is a sampling of possible participants as an example. Actual participants will be listed as the date aproaches.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

How It All Began, updated 8/09

I decided I should update this article since I'm just starting to put this blog out into the public and some new readers may enjoy the "back story" to my apparent lunacy!

In 2002 my husband passed away at age 39, leaving me to run our business and our home on my own. To say I was devastated was putting it mildly. I lived pretty much in a fog for the next couple of years. The only moments of clarity I had were with my "pond". I put pond it quotes since it really didn't become a pond until 2004. At the start, it was a beautiful pool with heated spa and waterfall.

I know, it's really nice looking isn't it, for a resort that it. But it took constant cleaning, sweeping (it's under 5 huge live oaks!) and the adding of chemicals, mostly chlorine in very heavy 2+ gal. containers.

One day, after scooping poor dead frogs out of the nasty chemical filled water, I got the bright idea of turning my pool into a pond. I didn't swim in it, my son didn't swim in it, what was the point? The 24 hour filtration was costing a small fortune to run, the gas spa heater was hard to operate and the chemicals were of concern as they were mostly toxic.

Step one, just turn off everything and stop adding chemicals. I'll get into this whole thing in more detail later but for now as far as how it all got started, I decided to look at it as a five year experiment. So in September of 2002 I let it all go back to nature. And as of the summer of 2007, I had crystal clear water the entire year with little or no electrical filtration.

As you can see from this photo taken in March of 2008, it's quite a different feeling now. There were 16 lilies on the pond and it was still just March! This summer there have been more flowers, more wildlife visitors and just more glorious fun!

Right now, during the high heat of August, 2009, I have all electrical turned off except one small pump putting water from the pond into the bio spa. The spa is a bio filter with Papyrus, Pickerel weed and two forms of Arrow plant. The water is filtered by the roots and spills back into the pond, a little cleaner and with a bit more oxygen. The one thing I've learned is that standing water cannot have too much oxygen! This year I also had a part of the bottom detritus layer actually float up to the surface because of all the matted roots from the Bladderwort plant. For the first time I got to see the 5 inch thick bottom of the pond! It has now become a small island. I actually spotted a Heron standing on it once to catch fish!

The pond more recently

The main thing I'm learning is that Nature is amazing. Everything naturally wants to be balanced. I wonder why we humans are so hell-bent on forcing it to change? This little lady seems to be asking us the same question!

Click on Photo for video
of Barred Owl

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Preparing for a Battle in the Air Potato War!

The bane of every gardener is invasives. Some people call them weeds. A weed is just a plant in the wrong place. While this is also true of invasives, the definition goes much farther. Click here for a wonderful site about Invasive plants. The bane of my garden is Air Potato . It's so bad in Florida that every January many groups get together to do some form of "potato pickup" complete with competitions to see the oddest shape potato or the largest or the most potatoes collected! Luckily here in Central Florida it gets cold enough in the winters that the AP vine dies back a bit. But even with diligent potato pick up, by mid-summer, with the rains and long sunny days, the dreaded vine has taken over. So today I head out to do an AP decimation.

I start by donning the uniform for serious vine-pulling in Florida: Long, lightweight slacks tucked into socks, horse-mucking shoes (steel toed, waterproof), gloves, mask, hat, knee pads and sunscreen on all exposed skin. I also keep my house keys around my neck and my cell phone in a deep pocket. The hat is required to shade your face and hit the spider webs before your face does! I recommend an old stocking knotted to make a skull cap to keep bugs out of the hair too! The mask is required because of all the mold, fungi, tiny critters that live in FL soil. Without a deep freeze, nothing in our soil dies back. This may seem crazy to gardeners in other areas, but believe me, in Central Florida and south, it's necessary. It doesn't hurt to neti after weeding or mowing too, but that's the subject of another post! The pants are tucked into the socks, again to keep critters from getting to me. Under my pink cotton socks I wear a pair of bamboo socks for wicking sweat away from my skin. The cell phone serves two purposes: the obvious, in case I need to call for help, and the second is to set an alarm. I cannot stay out in July Florida heat, exerting myself for more that one hour at a time. The alarm keeps me from over doing it.

Once dressed, it's time to start pulling. Pulling, cutting, digging out the vine the best you can, always remembering that even a tiny piece left on the ground will grow! I try to catch them as soon as the leaves form and the potato is wasted. The smaller the potato, the better chance it will die. I've put Air potatoes in a black plastic garbage bag, into the corner of the dark garage and 3 months later found a vine coming out of the bag. They do not die easily. One way to kill them is to go out at dusk (wear mosquito gear!) and cut a vine near as possible to the ground, paint both cut ends with Round-up (glyphosate) using a tiny paint brush. It's a royal pain to do this, but the one time I did it, it worked wonders. In 24 hours both ends are completely dead. It has to be done at dusk since that is when the plant will "suck" the poison down. Now I'm no scientist, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of that statement, but it did work. Like I said, it was a pain lugging a small vile of roundup with brushes and a pair of scissors around under the azaleas but the results were worth it.

one hour later, the spoils of war:
And here are the before and after photos for comparison. Obviously there is a lot more to do! At least you can see the bench and the small tree now!

In one week I'll do it all again, since every single leaf or piece of vine I missed, will root itself and start again. Also many of the vines in the trees will be dead since I cut them off. Of course not so much as long as it keeps raining. This is way the cold dry winter is the best time to irradiate this nasty vine.

Odd fact: Air Potato gives off a chemical in the soil that inhibits other plants from growing! (The things you learn judging a Science Fair!)

Next week we'll work on the South front where the Elephant ears, Rain trees and Air Potato have formed an axis of evil in my yard!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Advice to a gardener newbie

Check out this site and find something similar for your location. The "right plant/right place" concept will minimize your maintenance requirements. Using natives helps keep the need for fertilizers and pesticides down. And plant the more water hungry plants closer to your hose with the more drought tolerant farther from the water sources. I am against auto sprinklers only because most people don't monitor them and they wind up wasting a lot of water. Consider habitat gardens too. Butterfly gardens are the most popular.

Familiarize yourself with the IMP (Integrated Pest Management) and BMP (Best Management Practices)in your area.

I recommend the Master Gardening program to all homeowners. There is one in every state, look up yours and consider taking the course.

Remember that exotic invasive plants are a huge and expensive problem in all of N. America. And to this day places like Lowe's and Home Depot continue to sell these plants. They are destroying the native habitats and directly responsible for nearly half of all the species on the endangered list!

Most of all, take your time, nature does. Enjoy it!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Some fellow pool2pond folks!

I am not unique in turning a backyard pool into a pond. MarshLand is different in that I did nothing to the pool first except to turn off the filters, pumps, skimmers and vacuums. I did not tear up the decking or backhoe a bog. My method is simply to let nature do what nature does best, balance itself. With the right proportions of vegetative and animal life, the water is crystal clean. Some of these other ways use a lot more muscle and money than I had. But the result is still a wonderful pond with all the benefits such a habitat provides! My slow, cheap way is not for everyone, so if this works for you, great! Any pond beats any chlorinated pool any day - in my humble opinion! Enjoy!

Another Pool2Pond page!

Erik's Swimming pond

The "Pond Doctor" Dave's how-to and info on Pool2Pond conversions

Awesome site on swimming ponds!

When I started looking into turning my pool into a pond (in 2002) I found that in Europe swimming ponds were the norm. One quote that stuck with me was, "We don't have the disposable income that our American friends across the pond have for pool maintenance." They actually were building their pools with plant shelves from the start. The over use of chemicals here in the US is frightening. I hope we start to "get it" soon too!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Quick and easy Eco-Tip: Save electricity

A really easy way to save some electrical costs is to use surge protectors/power strips on groups of things used at the same time. I'll explain. I have my TV, DVD player and cable box all on one surge protector. When I finish watching TV at night I turn off the TV of course, but I also turn off the power strip. It's on the floor, so I just hit it with my foot. No trouble and it doesn't go on again until the next night. I do the same with my chargers: phone, camera, iPod and netbook, all on one strip. The charges stay plugged in all the time, but each morning I just turn off the power strip. I also have this computer, monitor, speakers, external drives on one UPS. After shutting down, I just turn it off.

I have certain lights on timers so the are on automatically (so I don't have to stumble into a dark room) and they are off automatically, so they aren't forgotten and left going all night. Most of us are creatures of habit enough to do this with a few well placed lamps. I cannot over state how useful this is.

On some power company sites it's estimated that these few things can save as much as 10% off an electric bill! And here in FL I go even farther during the bad storms and unplug everything I value. I know it sounds drastic, but there is no other way to insure important electrical items are safe from the super spikes we get here in the lightening capital! I know there are other high-tech, expensive ways to protect these things, but I say the easiest and cheapest is best - so just unplug it during a storm and turn off the surge protectors and UPS outlets when not in use.

Mosquitos, not all bad, since they are food for many!

Most fish eat mosquito larva. I use the goldfish in my ponds for this since a) they are very hardy and b) they don't cause any trouble with the other critters.

There is a fish called the mosquito fish -

Apparently in CA they are given away for mosquito control. Here in FL they are not used as much mostly because they seem to interfere with native species.

Tadpoles, goldfish and even some meat-eating bugs (like dragonfly larva) all eat mosquito larva. I don't have a mosquito issue here at all. Dragonflies also eat the adult mosquitoes, as do frogs/toads, bats, spiders and birds. For that reason I stopped using my "Mosquito Magnet".

A Mosquito Magnet totally collapses the population of mosquitoes in 3/4 to 1 acre within 6 weeks - and it works!

So if you have a serious issue, like a potential disease issue, I'd get the Mosquito Magnet going (you can get them at Home Depot). After 6 weeks all your mosquitoes will be gone. Then just keep normal fish and wildlife in your pond and you should be fine.

In general, we need to consider NOT just killing off everything, since other critters that we like and need depend on these pests for food. And it seems all our chemicals are just creating super bugs that nothing can kill. Seems like that is a much more serious issue. Just MHO, but I'm sticking to it!

Basic Hummus Recipe and Variations

The main reason I'm posting this here, in my pond blog, is because foods like hummus are part of a sustainable living solution. Less of the pork/chicken and beef meals that use more resources than the amount of food they supply means more sustainable. Don't get me wrong, I like a good steak every now and then. But I rarely buy it to make at home. At home I try to eat more earth-friendly. Smoothies, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, whole grains and hummus all contribute to my personal meal planning. I hope you try it! Enjoy!

I've put a link at the bottom. It's to a site that has lot's of recipes of hummus as well as some history. It's where I got my courage! Once you've made it, you'll be making it all the time! Shoot, a 4 oz container from a health food store costs about $4! This makes about 8x that for less! Enjoy!

2 cans Garbanzo beans (or Chick peas - same thing)
2 Tbs of the following:
Lemon Juice
Olive Oil

Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. That's it. Fresh, fast, inexpensive and really healthy.

You can add almost anything you like to make it special, I do the following combos:

3-4 Tbs of Sun dried tomatoes

1/2 Jar of roasted red peppers and 1/2 can black olives or do each as a separate flavor.

Or use different beans! It is standard to use the chick peas, but try some black beans or lentils. Different flavors but all good fiber and protein.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Barred Owl and family resides at MarshLand

What can I add to this? A second later her mate flew down and sat with her while she preened him. This would never happen by a standard swimming pool! I love my ponds!

All the wildlife that visits my little suburban oasis are welcome and will find a safe haven in that there are no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers used anywhere on this one little acre. As a certified Backyard Habitat (NWF) cover, shelter, nesting, food, water and space to raise their young are all included. I highly recommend this lifestyle to everyone!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

R.I.P. Dreamcicle

I was very sad to find my beloved Koi, Dreamcicle, floating in the pond this morning. I've had him for 9 years and he survived 4 years with the previous owners. He was originally installed by the owners before that and I don't know what age he was when initially brought here, but he was at least 13+ years old. Koi can live up to 65 years when they are treated as we treat our dogs and cats, i.e. annual vet visits, special grooming, food and other things.

I think his demise was caused by multiple factors, not the least of which was the heron. I saw that heron go in after the Koi once, feet first. I had seen what could be claw marks on Dreamcicle's scales. I immediately replenished his slime coat and tried to be ultra vigilant, but there's only so much a person can do. I was sad to bury him. I have one more Koi left, Hoosier. He has cow-like markings of black and white. I really thought he'd pass away first since he has scoliosis. He is almost an "S" shape at this point.

I have decided after Mr. Hoosier passes, no more Koi. Goldfish are just as colorful and not quite as dynamic. Besides, I haven't got another 60+ years left in me and my son would never want to inherit that! In Japan, Koi are kept in the family, passing from one generation to the next. They really love their Koi and get them to do tricks and come when they're called just like we do with our dogs. I just couldn't devote that kind of time to them.

Well, that makes the 12th pet buried on MarshLand property. It marks the 18th pet death in the 9 years since I've been living here. Even though each pet was pretty old, it does seem like a lot of death. I'm getting very good at digging graves. I guess that's just what happens as we age. We see more and more death until every person, relative and pet we've known is gone - that is if we are the one to outlive them. My grandmother used to talk about it, how everything and everyone she'd known well was gone. I understand that so much better the older I get. As friends and family and even pets pass away I am reminded how fragile and precious this life it.

Rest in Peace poor little fish, you will be missed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cold Night Prep in Florida

It's only going to reach 55 degrees today, about 20 degrees lower than it has been. Tonight we might get below the freezing mark, which is not a common thing - Thank Goodness!!

I will be bringing several potted plants into the house possibly for the next two nights. The hardest part is getting every"one" indoors and making sure to get them back outdoors. Also, several newer transplants will need to be covered with sheets overnight. I will also get some cuttings from the various coleus plants to have new plants if the outdoor ones die.

There is also a heavy wind expected which can really dry out the plants and make them more vulnerable to the cold. I will water everything deeply at the height of the heat today. I also need to make sure all the ponds are at capacity. The cold air speeds the evaporation and both my ponds as well as a couple I work with, are about 2 inches down.

A quick note, do not feed fish in the cold. Eating in the cold stresses their systems and can make them sick. I have a plec in a tank on the veranda as well as my worm condo. Both need some additional heat and wind protection. The plecostomus is a tropical fish that prefers water temps around 70. This morning the water temp was 62. Not too bad considering the air temp went down into the upper 40's last night. But there is a huge difference between 48 and 31! I have another tank heater (somewhere!) and I'll find it and get it into the tank as well.

The way I deal with the worms is to wrap the condo in large, rubber backed rugs. Remember to leave the air holes clear. I may also warm some wet newsprint and lay it in on top just before I retire. And then I cross my fingers.