Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A lovely lawn.

When we first moved into our house, six years ago, the yards were disasters. Heavy clay soils, no yard management for years and Foxtail Grasses as high as our elbows. The yards were quite large and the back yard was peppered with huge, tall, untrimmed trees.

Three years later the front yard began to look nice. Another year later we decided to seed the front with grass. As of this year I am pretty pleased with how it looks. But that means it is time to deal with the back yard.

Knowing this was coming someday I had tried a few varieties of grasses in out front yard planter, where it is shady and I often forget to water. This would be quite similar to the environment in our backyard. I finally found success with a Fine Tall Fescue. It is nearly feathery and seems to grow happily no matter how much I abuse it and how much my kitten loves to sleep in it.

Fescues are great for those who want to use less water, mow only a few times a year, have clay soil, have shade and don't want to have to mess with it very much. And, personally, I think they are lovely. Downside is that if you have lots of traffic on your lawn, it won't be a good choice for you.

Because the backyard is going to be such a challenge to overcome a decade of neglect I figured I had better get knowledgeable about how to really put down a lawn. It turns out that I am really fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, as many of the grasses grow quite abundantly here. There are a few things to know to do to have the best results, and here they are:

For Fine Fescues:

Begin in late summer with a starter fertilizer raked throughout your ground.

Choose rhizome type fescue seed.

In early Fall broadcast 5 pounds of seed for every 1000 square feet.

Once each Spring, Summer and Fall broadcast 3 pounds nitrogen for every 1000 square feet.

Each early Summer apply weed and feed if weeds are a problem for you.

Keep mowed around 2-3 inches.

Give a firm raking once a year to break up thatch.

Now, if you would like to find some Fescue seed for your yard, I would recommend going to Prairie Nursery. I looked through a lot of sites and found their pricing to be excellent. They work specifically with natural and regional seeds, so you know your money is doing more than just getting you some great grass seed. For Fall seeding they begin shipping on September 17th. Check them out here: Look for their No Mow Lawn Mixes.

Cheers to a lovely lawn.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Who doesn't love a butterfly?

I feel so fortunate to live in an area so abundant with wildlife yet somehow I see too few Butterflies. They occasionally grace my garden, but fleetingly. I think I tend to see far more shadows of butterflies, than butterflies, as I take a walk on a summer's day.

What is so precious about the butterfly that inspires so many people in so many ways? Is it their beauty? Birds are beautiful, but you don't hear people gasp and point at them like they do with butterflies. Is it that they are so delicate? Lots of bugs are. Crane Flies, Walking Sticks, Moths...but those don't send us breathless and transfixed.

Perhaps it is their rarity. I do feel like a wealthy woman when I see the same butterflies come to my garden and cool themselves in the shower of my sprinkler a few days a week. Were they common and easily found I don't think I would find them any less magical. A window screen covered in blue and green houseflies could never compete with a houseful of butterflies.

I have decided that I will put a butterfly garden beside my fenceline in the backyard. It is sunny there, not too breezy and because our neighbors driveway is next to it, I couldn't safely grow vegetables there. I will plant Joe Pye Weed against the fence, to create its own sort of fence and from there I foresee an abundant mix of goldenrod, vetch, everlastings, daisies, plantain, milkweed, dill, grape hyacinth, marigold, clover, mustard, violet, black-eyed susans, asters, zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, phlox, marigolds and boneset. I will put a terracotta pot in the center, equally filled with sand and water, for the butterflies to drink from.

As long as it is all grown tightly together, and well watered, it should be a stunning place to enjoy watching the butterflies and bumblebees. Across from that fence is our largest tree, where I am currently trying to get a lawn to grow. I can imagine next Spring, with the lovely grass, me sitting lazily upon a willow bench covered in cushions and enjoying a refreshing mint tea while watching the beautiful bugs do what they do best. Ahhhh.

If you would like to learn more about butterflies in your area, and even identify them, then please take a look at these great resources:

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Economics of our Food.

With so many recalls in the news this last year I have been curious about how much food is successfully banned from import into the United States. Through the Food and Drug Administration website it didn't take me long to find out.

It was shocking.

A years worth of refusals is listed on their site and you can find it here:

It isn't just China, although they do constitute a great many of them, and it isn't just companies that you have never heard of before, quite a few of those found on the list are common brands and some are premium brands. What is apparent is that in our global economy, with regular international trade, the opportunities to be exposed to dangers in our food supply is of deeper concern than some rogue businessman in China putting plasticized pesticide particulate fillers in dog food.

A company's inclusion on the FDA OASIS list doesn't mean they did something terrible, sometimes it just means that they didn't put nutritional labels on the package, or incomplete labels, or no English. Other times it could be undeclared colors or nuts or other allergens that they wouldn't normally have to declare in their own country.

But, too often it is because the food is Filthy or has Salmonella or is Poisonous or contains Pesticides (or worse, or all of the above plus some). And it isn't just the canned jams or fish, nor is it just the wet foods--there is a recall of every type of food, every staple...and these are the ones that were caught through the net of a Food Inspector whose entire field is understaffed, under qualified and financially maintained through the very industry that it is meant to regulate.

It is a shame.

Free global commerce seemed like a good idea once, and I was a great proponent of it, but I see so many negative ramifications from it that I think it is time for us consumers to consider reigning in our purchases from outside of our regional area as much as possible. While it isn't feasible to buy everything within your town, from people you know, it is feasible to buy a greater portion of your food locally, grow a small garden (or for some people a large one) and to let our local stores know that we would be willing to pay more in order to trust what we buy.

It seems likely that everyone in the U.S. is starting to figure out that the $10 shovel isn't worth buying since you'll have to buy two every year in order to get through your chores. People all over are starting to decide that it is better to bite the bullet and pay $50 once and have it last ten years or more. Because it took us so long to come to that realization, we now find that the $50 shovel is quite hard to come by and when we do find it it costs $80, due to lower volumes of sales and broader competition on the raw materials. The freedom of a global economy has actually succinctly limited our choice.

Now is the time to realize the same problem with our food. Lets all make the decision to buy from our local supply before we find that our stores no longer give us that option. Lets also take some time to put some of our own food on our plates so that we are not beholden to the food manufacturers and grocer store buyers whims. Who's with me?