Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ecologically Rich Border Lands



Often times you hear about hedgerows providing ecological diversity when they are used to separate fields and pastures. Out here in the semiarid parts of Utah hedgerows are unheard of. Yes, we have ornamental hedges that are sheared to oblivion and managed nearly as harshly as turf grass. So what do dry-landers do to bring diversity to our farms and homesteads?

I introduce you to the ditch bank! When Utah was first settled the only way to get a crop that the settlers from the East could recognize was to irrigate with water coming down from the mountains. Over the years an impressive number of canals and ditches were built. For decades this supplied many of the crops that Utahans relied on for food and to feed their livestock.

It wasn't long before some irrigation-less dry farming took hold, but for all practical purposes the ditches were about everywhere and a wide diversity of plants grew in them and around them. This was Utah's version of a hedgerow and hedgerow diversity.

Over the years the ditches have lost influence due to urbanization and the rise of pressurized irrigation systems. This has made it vital that we provide alternate spaces planted to create habitat for the critters that bring balance to our systems.

So when you hear about hedge rows and all their glory, remember that each area has an eco system hero of its own. If you don't take the time to look for that hero, you will not be doing your landscape any favors.

Manana!









Thursday, October 15, 2015

Loving Your Bees to Death



At a recent bee club meeting the idea was presented that it was ok to treat you bees with a miticide even when a varroa mite test showed only low levels of mites. The general response to this was if your bees are alive in after winter there is no problem with that. When I tried to explain why I disagreed, I was quickly shushed.

While I firmly believe that there are many good ways to keep bees, there are very good reasons to not treat unless you have to. And these are not just opinions or personal methods, they are based on science and a wide variety of experience in different fields. Let's take a look at why this may harm your bees:

  • The most common miticides are toxic to your bees. Yes, it might seem ok if your bees survive to spring, but pesticides do damage even when they are not killing outright. This is especially true of the queen. 
  • Many miticides have a cumulative effect. This means that the poison you used last year might still be hanging around in the bees and in the hive, bringing the dose you added this year up to honeybee toxic levels.
  • Miticides do not kill all the mites. Those it does not kill usually have some resistance. They will then breed together to make even more resistant mites. With time, the miticide will become useless. While it is easy to say that technology will provide new chemicals, they may not and they will likely take long enough to produce that you will loose a lot of bees before they are available.

Now, even though I am not a fan of a lot of poisons in my bees or my garden, I am not telling you to stop treating altogether. What I am asking you to do is to test before you treat and only treat if your levels are high enough that the bees cannot handle it themselves.

This is the basic idea behind Integrated Pesticide Management (IPM) that has emerged in a number of fields to keep our pesticides from causing more problems than they solve. If you want to know more about IPM please follow this link: http://rookgardenerpoet.blogspot.com/search?q=IPM or check with your local agriculture university or state extension.

The IPM approach will give your honeybee colonies a better chance of life and keep a lot of problems from happening around them.

Manana!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Permaculture Plants: Rubber Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa



Rubber Rabbitbrush (Chamisa)
Ericameria nauseosa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus)
Asteraceae (Compositae)

This is the primary source of golden-yellow in much of the west during the late summer and early fall. When it is not blooming many people mistake it for sagebrush, but once you take a good look at the flowers it is hard to make that mistake again.

Growing Conditions

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7, maybe higher. Similar width

Drought Tolerance: Very good

Soil: Best on well drained alkali soils, but flexible with other soils

Light: Full sun

Native Range: From North Dakota south to Texas and all points west. 

Potentially Invasive

Permaculture and Homesteading Uses

Yellow Die: A very warm yellow gold yarn can be made using Rabbitbrush.

Pioneer Plant: brush is an aggressive pioneer plant at home in rough and tumble roadside areas as well as any other disturbed area. If this does not grow in you area it is because your conditions are to nice for it or because it has never been tried. Use this plant in areas regions where it is already established because it will push out other pioneer plants in places it is not native to.

Soil Builder: When the leaves fall they build up in piles under the plant and enrich the soil. When the soil becomes sufficiently enriched Rabbitbrush will often dieback and give its position to more delicate and slower growing plants. 

Late Honeybee Finisher: Rabbitbrush is one of the latest blooming plants available in its home range. The honey is said to be strong and an acquired taste, but most beekeepers have already harvested by the time it blooms so it usually gets left to the bees. 

Nutrient accumulator: Since there are few roots near the surface there is an excellent chance Rabbitbrush is a top notch nutrient accumulator.

Appearance

Flowers: Golden-yellow, late August through October

Leaves: Dusty gray or dusty green, narrow and long--resembling a rabbit's ear, deciduous to semi deciduous 

Size: 1-8' tall

Roots: Deep with few feeder roots near the surface

Fruit: Achine

Pests: Nothing serious known

Ethnobotany

Used as a medicinal tea, yellow die, chewing gum.

Comments:

This is a tough plant for tough areas and so common it is nearly invisible to many people that pass it every day. This is surprising because as an ornamental it has drop dead color and needs very little maintenance. Rabbitbrush can be made into a high grade rubber, but it is not cost effective at this time.




Monday, October 5, 2015

Permaculture Plants!


With the advent of cheap energy the only two branches of design that retain their regional requirements are agriculture and horticulture. As a subset of these, permaculture suffers from the legitimate need to fill more plant niches than traditional horticulture and agriculture have plants for.

Many writers have given lists that are expected to fill the international hunger for more information, but all of these lists fail by including so many plants that it is impossible to sort out what works in your area, or the list plants that are simple not going to work with your soil and climate.

This is a series of permaculture plant posts for my home and county, but those in Utah and the surrounding states will find many of the plants in the series useful for permaculture and homesteading.

The first in the series will be posted later this week. To get the whole series enter Permaculture Plants into the search box in the upper right. I will try to make each plant in the series searchable by the most used common names and botanical names.

I hope this will become a useful tool for all my gardening and permaculture friends in the region. Good luck and let me know how well these plants work for you!

Manana!











Friday, September 25, 2015

Powdery Mildew in the Fall



Late summer and early fall bring a lot of changes that are frustrating to a gardener. In particular this year I have seen folks worried about late season powdery mildew on many of their plants. While powdery mildew can be a big problem when it attacks plants early in the year, later in the year it is simply a part of the overall changes in the seasons.

Some organic gardeners recommend spraying with milk or other treatments, I say that late in the year you just need to accept change and let autumn come. Besides, the best use for milk in the fall is turning it into a hot cup of cocoa to sip while you watch the colors change!

Manana!