Monthly Archives: September 2011

Mulchpocalypse II: Son of Mulch

By | My Garden | 45 Comments

Mulch, I think, is like heroin.


The more you get, the more you need. Seven cubic yards, which seemed a truly apocalyptic amount this last spring, caused me to build multiple new beds, expand others, etc, etc.

I just had nine cubic yards delivered, because I need more.

In addition to building the new beds, which I gotta do, and throwing a large quantity down over areas that I intend to get to in a year or two, and wish to start improving soil fertility/quashing weeds on now, I also need to re-mulch the old beds, because mulch breaks down over time, which is great for soil enrichment purposes, but not so good for weed-suppressing purposes. I had been reduced to doling out mulch one shovelful at a time, because I was running low. Finally I said “To hell with it!” and ordered more. (Also got some topsoil/chicken manure mix to use for the new vegetable bed that I’m putting in. It is glorious. It has tilth. I kinda want to roll around in it, but that would compress it and make it less glorious.)

So getting too much mulch caused me to build more beds, which now need more mulch, which required me to get more mulch, which will cause me to build more beds which will then require mulching and the end result of all of this is that I will have forearms like a dockworker and blisters the size of tangerines.

But this should be enough mulch.

Until next year.

Unknown Weed

By | My Garden, plants | 5 Comments

O internet brain trust, you found me the caterpillar in record time! Can you do the same with a weed?

There's a lot of it, anyhow...

Never seen this one in the yard before, but it popped up everywhere after I mulched a large bed in the backyard, leading me to believe that the seeds may have come in on the mulch (although it’s a low and unobtrusive thing, so it may just have gotten lost in the crabgrass and I only noticed it because it was the first thing to show up in the mulch.) I haven’t caught it flowering. It’s not smothering anything, it pulls easily enough, but it is entirely too vigorous, and I suspect it on principle.

It is found only in the shaded areas of the yard and does not venture into sun. My attempts to locate it in lawn weed ID systems fail utterly. The leaves are really genuinely lance-shaped, with the little flare to keep it from going all the way through your enemy’s torso and everything, but I don’t know if that falls under the “lance-shaped” leaf category, so…y’know.

Advice on whether this is a delightful native that honors me with its presence, a scourge that I shall curse from the bottom of my heart, or whether I must now nuke my garden from orbit would be grateful appreciated!

Mystery Caterpillar

By | Insects | 2 Comments

They call me...El Mysterioso!

Anybody know what this little guy is? I’ve been through the on-line bug ID guides and can’t find him. I figure he’s probably a moth, but that’s as far as I know.

That’s a serviceberry shrub he’s on, but that may or may not have any significance.

So My Soil Is Crap. Thank God.

By | My Garden | 6 Comments

Just went to a great little seminar on edible landscaping at Niche Gardens down the road, and was generally pleased. First of all, I have apparently absorbed more information from all that reading about permaculture and sustainable gardening than I realized.

Secondly, my soil is crap.

“But Ursula!” you say. “That is a BAD thing!”

Yes, it’s a terrible thing, very awful. But it’s a problem throughout the Piedmont, which has been under intense cultivation for over 300 years and is frankly exhausted, and then for a lot of us, whatever pathetic soil remained was scraped off when the lot was leveled. So basically what I’ve got is dreadful heavy clay subsoil (also badly abused), topped by the sad sifting of dirt the developer threw down to take the grass seed.

And this is terrible and requires a lot of help, but it is also wonderful because it means I’m not a terrible gardener.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m the rankest of rank amateurs, I never dig the hole deep enough or wide enough or amended enough and I forget to prune for six months and then go out in a fit of madness and leave the garden looking like a slasher flick. Dead-heading, so far as I am concerned, was something they did in the French Revolution.

Still, that I have managed to get things growing even as well as they are is pretty good. The prairie planting is depressingly straggly, the chokecherry a grim survivor of a nearly dead zone, but maybe next year.

I had known all along that my particular lot was dreadful, because of the scraping and all of that, but I hadn’t realized that even after the scraping, gardeners in the Piedmont are working uphill against centuries of abuse. Soil fertility takes a really long time to replenish on its own. Hundreds of years is not out of the question. And so while nobody would cheer for horrible soil, the fact that it’s not just ME, and professionals are using words like “heinous” and “really really bad” to describe the general state of dirt around here makes me feel a lot better.

It’s like going to a support group for anything—it sucks, but at least you realize that you’re not alone.

So what is the solution to this miserable wreckage of soil that we are left with?

Well, mulch. Mulch cures a whole lot of ills, particularly hardwood mulch and leaf mulch, which both break down into soil pretty quickly and turn into dirt and after a few seasons of relentless mulching, the wretched clay underneath is starting to get broken up by worms and turned into something a little more suited to gardening than pottery. And bone meal, since our soil is nearly denuded of phosphates. And organic matter, because that’s what the soil misses the most, so compost and manure, manure and compost, yea verily, world without end.

Except for the bone meal (which I am very glad to know about!) I have already been doing this for some time, so things are getting better in my garden. The bed I created out of manga and mulch and manure has been in place for just under a full year, and it’s amazing to dig down into it—while you can certainly tell where the bit I put in ends and the clay begins, the clay is much softer and damper and more easily dug than before. You can imagine roots sinking into this and getting purchase. And when the roots get in, they pull minerals up from the clay and everybody is much happier.

So I came away from the seminar feeling much happier, with recommendations for a few fruit trees that do well here and are not labor-intensive. Persimmon and pie cherry might be worth trying. (I’ve already got a fig and elderberries and raspberry and native plum and whatnot.) The plants that require major work, like apples and peaches, are sort of like cows, as far as I’m concerned—I’ll buy at the farmer’s market, but I’m not willing to put in anything like the labor involved, or give up the space.

It is times like this when I walk in and inform Kevin that we will be dying in this house, because I cannot bear the notion of laboring over dirt for years, putting in fruit trees and just getting them to the point of fruiting and then having to move. Kevin shrugs and says that this is pretty much what he planned to do, barring incident and our knees giving out to the point where we can’t climb stairs.

Still, no matter what happens, even if we moved in a year and somebody came in with no interest whatsoever in gardening and razed the whole place to the soil-line, I will have fixed some of this dirt, goddamnit. This will be good dirt. This will be dirt that makes earthworms compose tiny odes and sonnets and recite them to each other eyelessly under the earth. This dirt will rock.

And y’know, I’m starting to think that’s a pretty important thing.

The Return

By | Birds | One Comment

Vulture-Bob was back again today. This time he was standing in the driveway. Kevin took a camera out after him. He’s obviously not scared of us, but when Kevin got too close, he went gallumphing off down the driveway and finally grumpily got into the air.

I am vaguely flattered that he finds our yard congenial, but he really can’t stay. There’s no scenario that ends well for the vultures OR the beagle (or god forbid, the border collie tries to herd them…) It’s just not a big enough yard for a gigantic vomiting bird, however unmitigatedly fantastic I think they are.

By | Birds, My Garden | No Comments

So we came home, and this guy was perched on top of the porch roof, directly outside our bathroom window.

This is my roof now.

For those at home, this handsome fellow is a black vulture, a species endemic to the southern United States. They are gorgeous birds, and very common around here. (Thank god. Something’s got to clean up all those roadkilled deer.)

It is not, however, something you expect to find on the porch.

After a few minutes, while we stood and stared and went “Holy crap! There’s a black vulture on our roof!” he hopped over to the garage roof and walked up to the rooftree, where he is now sitting and preening. As I am in the studio typing this, we are separated by a lighting fixture and a couple of inches of insulation, drywall, and shingles. (Got the photo out the attic window.)

We’re fine as long as he’d just passing through. If we come out later and there are six of ’em on the roof—black vultures live in small family flocks—we may have a problem. If we had ten or twenty acres, I would welcome them, but if they decide to take up residence in the yard, the clashes between vulture and beagle could prove detrimental to…well…everybody. (Dog charges, baying hysterically. Vulture freaks out and vomits on dog. Dog has to go to the vet for acid burns and dry cleaning. As dog Does Not Learn From Experiences, being a beagle, we would rinse and repeat until he either resembled the Phantom of the Opera or the vultures decided to leave, and I am given to understand that vultures hardly ever decide to leave.)

It’s still pretty damn awesome, though.