Saturday, December 7, 2013

Let it Snow!

Or I should say, make it snow! While I empathize with the sunbirds and their relentless drive to promote warmth and light all year round, I joy in the snow. I love the relief from the oppressive summer heat, I love the dominance of white on the color pallet, and I love the rest it brings from the business of the other times of the year. Honestly, I need the break!

Even more important for me is the water it brings to my family and garden year round. In my neck of the woods the only way we have enough water is to gather from the snowpack fed streams that come down from the mountains. So until the weather systems and geography changes:

Let it snow!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Global Permaculture?

Globalization has weighed heavily on my mind over the last few years. It has brought us prices that can't be beat and many products from the far corners of the earth. But at the same time I can't help feeling that the price has come too high.

Specialists in many fields might agree with that. They might point to solution, the spread of invasive species, or the plight of the worker in the the developing world to prove the price is too high. I don't need to go that far to prove it to myself. I only have to look for a locally owned shop where I can buy a simple t-shirt for work.

In my town of over 50,000 it is not possible. All the t-shirts are handled by chain stores or international retailers. If I go one town over the situation improves a little, there are two regional farm shops that might handle a couple of t-shirts, but chances are better that I will get a better shot at a western styled button down or a pare of the most expensive work jeans available. I could keep going, but reality is I will have to go nearly half the county away to find a simple item from a locally owned store.

When I was growing up in this same town I could go to at least three stores to get jeans, two of them carried cowboy boots, if I cared to wear them! Now there is just one big box store and I have to pick jeans there or go to the next town over.

While it would be easier to blame the big box stores, I think things have changed enough in the world that if one of these stores didn't exist another would instantly take its place. I don't recommend avoiding or demonizing the big boxes either. They are just following the time honored tradition of trying to make the biggest dollar.

No, I just recommend that you take the Saturday after Thanksgiving and shop at smaller, locally owned shops. I promise you they won't have everything you need, like t-shirts, but they will have a lot of useful stuff and will return the money back to your community. You may not even like the shop, that is ok, you don't have to go back if they treat you or their employees badly.

But if you like what you see, you will look for excuses to go back. And really, that is the only thing that will sell sustainability and permaculture in the long run. Good results from good practices. 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Color in a Drought

This was taken at foreclosed home in Draper UT in September of
2013. The yard was planted with many drought resistant plants
several years before being abandoned. Not every spot was as colorful
as this one, but only the lawn looked worse than the neighbors.

The idea that waterwise plantings in Utah have to be gravel and cactus is absurd. While there are a few spots with little other choice, most of the Wasatch Front is open to a huge array of colors and plants. The planting above combines introduced 'Blue Mist' spirea with native rabbit brush. Both plants do well in Utah with little care.

If you want to cut down on your landscape water, the best way is to chose the right perennials and shrubs. But remember, don't over water them!

If live in Utah County and need help, give me a call.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Secret to Dark Brown Soil

Photo courtesy of JC Shannon
The soil in this photo is dark brown and rich looking. That means it is good soil. Getting the soil to look like this was fairly easy. Before this patch became a flower bed, it was covered by large junipers that dropped needles on it for decades. I left all those needles in the bed to improve it for the flowers.

After I initially shaped and otherwise prepared the bed, I have never tilled it. But twice a year during planting I mulch it with a layer of compost.

That's it. That is the simple secret of creating good garden soil. Mulch the top and don't till.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Designing Gardens for a Better Future

What I do is hard for most people to understand. The idea of growing food at home seems to have a hard time getting beyond the idea of the back yard raised planter. Much of that problem is caused by the concept that food production must be something that is hidden in the back yard, or put where the neighbors are not going to see it.

Many Americans have gone even further and decided that growing food is the job of professionals far away and that anyone trying to do it themselves is a menace and should be stopped. This is not far fetched if you look at city ordinances and HOA bylaws.

Since I am taking a step or five in the opposite direction of those trying to prohibit gardens, and since that still puts me a few steps away from the average gardener, I can see why there is a gap in understanding. To help clear up this gap here are some of the ideas I work with:

  • Food and support of food should be the primary goal of the yard and home landscape.
  • Plants do better with different types associated together.
  • Planting different food crops in layers prevents waste of energy and plant nutrients.
  • Food plants are beautiful.
  • Perennial flowers are good for the food garden.
  • The right balance of animals in the garden are better than trying to kill all the insects and critters.
  • Perennial flowers are good for balancing the critters and insects.
  • Fertilizer creation should be done at home whenever possible. 

To achieve these goals, thinking and design have to be stretched further than most people have the experience to do themselves. So, I try to do it for them.

Now that you have my ideas, what do you think your landscape should provide you?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tips for Winter Flower Planters

Bright colors in groups show up best!

The hardest part of annual flowers in the winter is the pots and planters. While flower beds in the snowiest parts of the US are covered, planters stick up and often loose their protective snow cover while they are getting the worst of the cold.

Kale is a great centerpiece for a planter.
Redbor, Winterbor, and Red Russian are
some of the best varieties for winter hardiness.

But you don't need to give up hope of nice planters in the cooler months. You just need to plan ahead and give them a little care. Here are a few tips:

  • Pansies and violas are your best bet for surviving cold weather.
  • Plant bright colors like yellow and orange for the best visibility. Blotches or faces are great for close ups, but they will reduce distance visibility.
  • Plant brighty colored plants in clusters of three or more to give them more pop.
  • If you live in a USDA zone 7 or higher you might be able to to find some taller annuals to give your bed some hight, if not, look for trailing violas to hang over the sides.
  • You will not get color while it is frozen outside, but when it warms up the flowers will start blooming again.
  • Water during dry spells. Water with cool water only and do not saturate the soil.
  • Planting in the fall gives a chance for roots to develop.
  • Be careful when you fertilize. Lots of fertilizer will make the plants grow quickly and show lots of color, but it will also invite aphids and disease to destroy your plants.

Faces and blotches are great 
planters that are viewed close 

Look at the three photos of
pansies. Which ones catch
your attention the quickest?

Feel free to ask questions, I will always do my best to answer them.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

8 Rules for Storefront Permaculture

This planter is in front of a local nursery. The sweet potato
vine jumps out at you! 

A flower bed or pot in front of a store is one of best ways to advertise. The splash of living color is refreshing and can compete with flashing neon. A traditional permaculturist might say that you can't have sustainability unless it involves food and at least a couple of acres.

I say poppycock!

The large clusters of flowers in bold colors jumps out at you
more than smaller flowers or milder colors.

Anything sustainable must be tuned to the needs of the system it is supporting. In the case of the storefront, sustainability must be focused on bringing in and satisfying the needs of the paying customer.

Two pots at a local nursery. The small pot
works because it accents the larger one. The
leaves of the sweet potato are edible through-
out the growing season!

In other words, it needs to look pretty. That doesn't mean it can't have vegetables or herbs. It just means that they have to be good looking. Here are a few tips to making storefront pots sustainable for your business:

  1. Get a big enough pot. Minimum should be at least 18" wide and the same as deep. If you really want to make an impression two feet or larger is better. Rectangular planters are great for fitting into narrow areas and still giving you great displays.
  2. Pick plants that are the right size and give you lots of bright color. I love green foliage plants, but they do not attract as many customers from a distance.
  3. Don't forget texture, especially if you can't get enough color. An interesting mix of textures works well if your potential client is up close.
  4. Fertilize appropriately. Organic fertilizers may not work well because of smell, but a little slow release, pellet type fertilizer like Osmocote can work wonders and still be environmentally safe. Other brands now make similar products.
  5. Get plants that drape over the sides of the pot as well as some height in the center. Vining petunias and chartreuse sweet potato are perfect drapers.
  6. Space plants about six inches apart. This is tight, but it will make your pots look like they are bursting with color.
  7. Water, water, water! The smaller the pot, the more often you will need to water. Make sure you saturate the soil in the summer. You may even need to water twice a day. Check how much water is in the pot by sticking a probe eight inches or more into the soil.
  8. Top off the soil mix every season and completely change it every few years if you have smaller pots. Intensive gardening is rough on soil and will wear it out quickly.

This pot has lots of details for close up inspection, but it is so
small it will need very frequent watering in Utah's hot, dry

Remember, a little color will go a long way to help your business be sustainable for you and your employees!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Backcountry Radio Interview

Caryopteris × clandonensis or Bluebeard, is a
good late summer meal for bees.

For a little of what is going on this season and what I am planning for this fall, listen to my radio interview with Brian Brinkerhoff on Backcountry Radio.

If you are interested in attending my "Gardening for Bees" class in Orem UT, email me at

Monday, September 2, 2013

Gardening for Bees class!

A honey bee on the Agastache plant right outside my front
I will be holding a "Gardening for Bees" class on September 28 at 10:00. This will be a 4 hour class, so we will do two hours in the morning, take lunch, and resume class at 1:30 for the remaining two hours. The location is in Orem Utah.

The cost will be $50 payable to Utah Sustainable Gardening for registrations received before September 21. After that the cost will go up to $65. Seating is limited so, registration will be on a first come first serve basis.

Topics being covered are:

Best trees and garden plants for bees
Weed control
Pesticides and bees
Designing basics for flower beds

For more information contact Alex Grover at

I look forward to hearing more from you!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What to do with a Dead Tree?

Trees in urban areas suffer from hard surfaces blocking roots and water, abuse from passersby, bumps from cars, and pollution. When they finally die there is no chance they can fade back into the ecosystem. Most of the time they get the chainsaw and chipper treatment, but sometimes they just get left.

Maybe it is because of cost, maybe it is the lost hope of the tree recovering, and maybe it a plan to give the tree one last bit of glory.

I can't say this ivy treatment works for me, but for others it might. What do you think?


Friday, August 16, 2013

Vote Local!

I get stares for wearing election day stickers,
but any little nudge to get people working for
their communities is well worth it.

The most ignored part of gardening is voting in your local election. So often I hear about some poor soul being halled away in chains because her (it always seems to be female) zucchini plants offended the neighbors. But I rarely hear about those who support gardening taking things into their own hands by taking it to the ballet box.

While many of us are tired of the national, and even state, political messes. Local politics, however, can be refreshing. I have never had a city politician who was too busy to make time for me. I have never had one who could hide his flaws well enough that concerned folks couldn't run a successful campane against him.

The real truth of it is we forget how local politics can improve our real, everyday lives. Go ahead, talk to the candidates and tell them what is important to you.

Then, go vote in November!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mowing Your Lawn for Drought

A lawn repair at Lehi city hall. Repairing turf is very water
costly and should be avoided durring water restrictions
and hot periods.

With the ongoing drought in Utah I thought a little advice on preventing mowing from damaging Kentucky bluegrass is in order.

Most folks understand that drought causes stress on turf grass and many other plants. What they don't realize is that their weekly ritual of mowing and trimming can be just as damaging to their lawns. When these stresses hit a lawn it needs more water to help it recover from the damage.

So what to do to reduce lawn stress and damage? Try these tips:
  • Set the mower height to 3" or more. This gives your grass more sun energy to heal and to send roots down deep to find deep water.
  • Drought stressed bluegrass will grow more slowly, so it does not need to be mowed as frequently. As long as you take off one third or less of the grass leaf when mowing, it won't hurt to mow every two weeks. Mowing even less frequently may be possible.
  • Keep your blade sharp. A dull blade shreds the grass and requires more water for the grass to recover. If the blade is checked every time the mower is used it never becomes a problem.
  • Get a mulch mower and use the mulching feature. The small grass clippings will break down and add carbon to the soil. The carbon will help slow down evaporation so water can go to the lawn instead. Mulch mowing does not create a thatch problem, it actually helps solve it.
If this list looks familier, it should. These are the same recommendations that everyone should be familier with for creating a healthy strong lawn in normal years.

It is also never too late to look at reducing or eliminating turf!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Tips for a Green Lawn During a Drought

Lehi City hall during the 2013 drought.  In a bad year,
governments need to take the lead in conserving water!

I am not a fan of huge lawns, but that doesn't matter because they are already here and most people like them. What I hate most about lawns is the way people water them. Too often as I walk down the street I see water running over sidewalks and down gutters. This is bad enough on a normal year in the desert, but in a drought it is criminal!

Below are a few tips to get the most out of your lawn without using extra water.
  • Switch from impact heads (old fashioned rainbird sprinklers) and spray nozzles to rotor heads and mini rotor nozzles. Rotors are found in nearly every hardware store, but for the minis you will need to go to a professional sprinkler shop. These shops are always glad to help you, but you may have to wait for the help.
  • Fix any broken lines, heads, and nozzles. If you have leaks you are letting money run down the gutter.
  • Adjust your sprinklers so that all of the water hits the lawn rather than the sidewalk or house.
  • Water slow and deep, the rotors and mini rotors are made to do this. 
  • On sandy soils water will move through quickly, so watering deep will take less time than on clay. On clay and loam soils you should be able to water only once a week if you can get the water deep enough.
  • Get a screwdriver with an 8" blade to test how deep your water is going. Eight inches is about how far down the feeder roots for bluegrass go, so that is how far you are trying to water.
  • Be willing to accept some brown spots on the lawn. Brown during a drought year is a sign of civic leadership!

Good luck, and remember, you can always plant something that uses less water than turf grass.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Drought Loving Flowers

Roses are often thought as being wimpy,
but I find them on many foreclosures. The
white ones with pink blush seem to be
common survivors.

When you live in semi-arid (read that as what most people call a desert) place it makes sense to use plants that don't need a lot of water. I have taken classes and read books on the subject, but the best information I have found on the drought resistant plants is from foreclosed homes.

Foreclosed homes usually don't have sprinkler systems running, so anything surviving there is bound to be tough and adapted to the area. Sometimes a plant will get help from a neighbor overwatering or runoff from the roof. But that's ok, when it is dry you take all the help you can get!

Here are some of the tough plants I have found, tell me what you think:

Apricots are the most drought hardy of the common fruit
trees. This one has gone at least two and a half years
without human irrigation.

Hollyhocks reseed freely and I find scraggly survivors every-
where. This one is flowering better than most seedlings,
likely because of the soil storing extra water from the

Lavender thrives on the dry, even after a
couple of years.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

God is a Designer

And yes, I am Mormon.

I don't talk about religion much on this blog. There are too many fights to be had, too much bashing what a person believes without understanding why he believes it. But this week I feel strongly that I need to share a little of what I believe.

I believe in God. I believe that humans were created in the image of God. I believe that God created everything in this universe and that the design is--exquisit.

Because we are created in God's image, we too, are suposed to create. And our designs have the capacity to be exquisit. I believe that we are suposed to work to make our creations closer to God's standard of design. I don't think any of us will achieve that in this life, but we still have to try.

I believe each of us is responsible to use our creative talents to the best of our ability. Some people say they are not creative, or that they lack talents. This is not true. The talents are there, they may be buried by lack of use or by teachings of a harsh system. Some people think they have no skill because they compare themselves to others.

All of the reasons and false logic don't matter.

You were created by God to create and design. Go out and do it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Utah water restrictions and what to do about them

This is a water feature at Lehi city hall. This photo was taken after water
restrictions went in place. Seems like a bad time to be using water strictly
for show.

It shouldn't be a surprise to Utahns that they live in the second driest state in the US. But every drought year, the cities and residents panic and flail as water restrictions are implemented.

Most of this hassle could have been avoided with a little planning. Specifically by designing gardens that are drought resistant. Here are some planning tips:

  1. Catch and use runoff water. Quite often extra water can be stored in the ground. This includes snow and rain that hits the roof,  runoff from hardscapes, and water running on sloped ground.
  2. Choose the right plants for the right part of the landscape. Make sure you pay attention to needs for sun and shade. And remember, if you caught enough runoff, you might have enough to plant some thirsty plants and keep them happy.
  3. You may still need an irrigation system, but it will need to be designed it to limit the water thrown into the air and to be used occasionally rather than every day or even every week.
  4. Go ahead and plant a well designed vegetable garden and orchard. If you water correctly and use the produce, you will still have an overall water use reduction in the environment.
I know this is new to many people, but just because it is new to you doesn't mean it is untested. In fact, everything I am talking about I started using in designs over ten years ago. 

This is Salvia nemorosa, a very drought
resistant plant. This one has been growing
for two years with just rain and snow.

To help you get started, here is a list of terms and phrases that you can search online and at your local library:
  • Waterwise
  • Permaculture
  • Drip irrigation
  • Swale
  • Utah Native Plants
  • Xeriscape
    If you need some extra help feel free to contact me at

    Thursday, June 6, 2013

    Water Conservation or Moneyscaping?

    This an "improved" water conserving landscape.

    On a study day at one of the local water conservation garden I found this great example of how you can save water in your yard. Or is it?

    The above photo has this great concrete patio with a matching bench/amphitheater, a built in BBQ (off camera)

    This is the "standard" water wasting yard.

    It is clear that the first picture requires less water, but only because it does not have the same amount of turf. The tree and shrub selections are not that much better than those of the standard landscape. The concrete pad is not intended to gather water for any of the plants, so really, its only function for water conservation is to reduce the amount of grass.

    What bothers me most is that the water conserving garden is obviously designed and a huge amount of money was spent to install it, while the normal landscape is a mockery of what a home owner might put in themselves.

    People are not going to be inspired to save water if it feels like it is beyond them financially. They are not going to save water if they feel the only way to do it is to hire a designer. (Although if they do, I would like to be at the top of their list!) 

    And people are not going to save water if their efforts are going to be treated as if they are stupid. This display needs to be redone with respect to the real needs instead of it being a landscape architect's resume building dream.

    Time for us all to get back to the real world!

    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Free Life Giving Water!

    Free life giving water!

    A few weeks ago I found a bleeding heart plant in full bloom. That is not unusual, but where I found it was. It was on the north side of a foreclosed house with no artificial irrigation. In the wetter areas of the country this is still not unusual, but in a valley of the second driest state in the nation?

    Given the basics of climate the plant shouldn't be there. But when I took a closer look at where it was planted, there was a rain gutter drain right next to it. The melting water from the snow covered roof drained into the soil under the bleeding heart and was stored until the plant needed it.

    I don't think you can store enough water for thirsty plant for a whole year from the roof. But you can make a big difference early on. And cut your total water bill.

    All it takes is just a little planning ahead!

    Friday, May 17, 2013

    You are Killing Your Garden...

    The sodium in these products makes them toxic for your garden.

    About forty miles north of here is a desert where little to no life can grown and even the weeds are overcome by toxic chemicals in the soil. If you scratch the white surface of the soil you will find a black goo that binds water to the soil in such a way that the water it contains can not be used by plants or even evaporated. The most surprising thing about this desert is that hundreds of home gardeners are trying to create the same landscape in their own back yards.

    The desert is the Utah Salt Flats and the chemical that makes it toxic is sodium. You if you remember high school chemistry you know that sodium is contained in table salt and baking soda. And that is where the gardens come in.

    There are now many recipes for weed and bug killers that contain one or both of these common substances. Home owner's look at either of these chemicals on their kitchen shelf and say, "These are familier and don't hurt me. They must be safe for my garden." And they are right about how safe they are in the kitchen. But they were meant for the kitchen and not the garden.

    So do your garden and plants a favor, if you absolutely think you need to use a chemical, use one that is made for the job. And, that will break down into something that won't kill your entire garden.

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013

    Permaculture or just lazy?

    These fruit tree trimmings are going to a
    friend's house to be used for heating.

    I know people who drop their garbage where ever they are. It doesn't matter if it is on the road, in the yard, or in their homes, they just drop it. Oddly enough, I have friends who leave garbage in their trees. Sick branches ooze plant puss, dead limbs block light and fresh air, and rubbing branches cause open wounds begging for disease and insects to come and partake.

    All in all, it is as disgusting as six months of leftovers sitting on the floor.

    The funny thing is, those branches could be doing something productive for tree owners if they just had the heart to cut them off. Large and medium limbs make good fuel for the stove or BBQ and are useable for building anything from fences to furniture. Smaller branches or larger pieces ground down make great mulch and all sizes of wood are game for making crafts.

    Look around, turn your waste into a resource, and give the world a little more life.

    Saturday, April 6, 2013

    How to Treat Trees

    Trees don't heal...

    My summer job of mowing foreclosed lawns has started up. It is not bad job; and I have lots of leeway to take on my more preferred work of designing and installing sustainable landscapes.

    The mowing gives me a great chance to get out and see what the rest of the world is doing in their gardens, both the good and the bad. In the case of the poor tree in the photo above, it is definitely bad.

    Most people don't think of anything of tying or wrapping something around a tree. They assume because the tree seems tough, it will take it without a problem. But as you see, that is not always the case. In fact, it is rarely true. Even a temporary string put around a tree can cause damage to a thin barked tree if there is any movement.

    Lots of damage is done by things that are on the tree for more than a day or two. I can't count the number of times I have tried to pull tree variety tags off of a tree and found that the tree has already grown around the tag. I have no choice but to leave parts of the tags still stuck in the tree. I have had the same problem with professional grade tree ties. These two items are made to be used with trees for a limited period of time, but need to be removed when that time is up.

    Now, I am sure there is someone out there that is worried that I am telling them to quit using their hammock between their two favorite trees. And I am not--as long as they have a system to prevent damage and the trees can handle the stress created. This also applies to tree houses.

    I can't go into the details of each and every way to protect a tree because there are many systems that are marketed to prevent problems. But here are a list of things to pay attention to:

    • If you are wrapping or tying something around the trunk or a limb, make sure it spreads the pressure across the widest area possible.
    • Wraps and ties are for temporary use only, know when to take them off. The maximum time for any of them is one year, this includes ties for staking trees down. If you don't feel the tree is ready to take the tie off, call in a reliable tree professional to help.
    • If you are going to drill into a tree or puncture its bark in any way, make sure you get something that has a long reputation for safe use with living trees.
    • Be carful getting advice from your hardware store, lawn man, or nursery. Each of these is an expert in their own area, but rarely do they have the long term experience with old trees to give the best advice.
    • The best place to start is with an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) certified arborist. Unfortunately, not all of them are as reliable as they should be, so don't be afraid to ask several sources for help, even those outside of the ISA.
    And lastly, remember that a good tree is likely to outlive you, so it deserves the same time, expertise, and money that you expect to give anything that is worth keeping for a long time.

    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Vegetables for the Novice Grower

    Everyone is new to gardening at some point. So here are some common vegetables for the novice grower:

    Jerusalem Artichoke
    Swiss Chard

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Hard Core Walls

    Nuform© walls/forms during installation.
    Note the internal webbing showing on each
    side of the door.

    On my most recent deployment to Afghanistan I had the opportunity to observe the construction of a concrete building using the Nuform© system. Nuform© uses a vinyl form that is set in place, filled with concrete, and then left to become both interior and exterior surfaces. The first time I ran into this system is when I read Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, and Construction.

    Alexander tackled the idea of concrete pored into stay-in-place forms in pattern number "218 Wall Membrane." (Alexander divided his chapters into "patterns" each pattern contained an idea, proofs for the idea, and conected patterns on both a larger and smaller scale.) His version used site constructed forms that would resemble conventional concrete forming, but with a material that would be suitable to leaving in place. Alexander recommended materials such as plywood, brick, and gypsum board as form/wall material. All of which I see as seriously flawed in this usage.

    A soldier sliding a Nuform© section to extend a wall.

    Additionally, Alexander advocated using chicken wire instead of rebar and lightweight concrete with wider walls to make up for the lower strength of the lighter concrete. In the Nuform© system it uses normal concrete on the runny side, rebar, and the vinyl of the forms creates an internal webbing that improves the bulging issues that are a construction nightmare on any concrete project.

    I'm not saying that any of these points makes Nuform© a system I like. The 6 inch walls are just too narrow to get the concrete to settle. Even with the runniest concrete specifications allowed and dedicated beaters hitting the walls to shake the concrete down, empty spots were left in the forms when the concrete was cured. The echo in this building was the worst I have encountered in any construction project I have observed, the vinyl provided no noticeable sound dampening.

    In either method, making the walls straight and avoiding bulges is difficult. The use of so much embedded energy with the concrete is also a concern, as is the potential for chemical burns on the workers skin from wet concrete being poured overhead. Especially low grade concrete from a developing nation. 

    I wonder if the concept of a stay-in-place form would be better applied to a rammed earth building or even cob (although I can't see how a form could improve cob.) With both of these earth construction systems I would use even thicker walls than Alexander recommended. A form material would have to be found to work with the earthen materials, vinyl has a high energy footprint, just like the concrete. 

    Any vertical use of concrete requires heavy support and
    bracing until the concrete is set. The weight of the concrete
    is enough to throw the whole project into a jumbled mess
    without the extra help.

    I'm not sure I will ever find solutions to the problems I am seeing, but by looking at them I become a better designer and a better problem solver. And if we are ever going to make the world a better place those are two things that all of us need.

    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    Mainstream Beekeeping

    A top bar hive ready to be loaded it to a car and be taken
    directly home.

    I attended my first beekeeping class a couple of weeks ago. The class was free to attend and sponsored by IFA, a regional farm and garden store. The fact the class was no cost and had a retail sponsor tells me something important: bees are mainstream.

    Even at the hight of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970's, I don't think there was so much interest in raising bees. I suppose it will end up being a fad, but I hope not. Bees are terribly interesting and are at so much risk right now that every new hive offers a better chance for their survival.

    Langstroth hives in several configurations
    sitting in the store.

    By having many beehives in a neighborhood, there are a greater number of bees to make up for the dead hives caused by temperature variations, pests, and pesticides. Lots of urban bees in back yards can eventually provide replacement bees for the highly stressed bees used to pollinate commercial crops.

    Thanks to Chris Rodesch for coming in to
    teach us a great class!

    I don't know how many beehives an urban or suburban acre can hold, but if you ever have a question whether your bees can be fed, call me and I will be more than happy to design a bee garden for you!

    Tuesday, February 26, 2013

    Fruit Pruning Class in Provo

    All photos courtesy of Troy Nuttall.

    The class was a great success! I hope you join us for the next one.

    Utah Sustainable Gardening and Elizabeth Ellsworth Stika are pleased to present a fruit tree pruning workshop in Provo on March 9th 2013.

    Subjects covered will be:

    • Where and how to make a good cut.
    • How to shape a fruit tree.
    • What to do to make you fruit trees more productive.

    Class will be held at 12:00 on Saturday March 9th. At 365 N. 900 W. Provo, Ut. The hostess has generously offered to pay for the workshop. If you are able, please bring $20.00 to help defray the cost of the workshop. A light lunch will be provided.

    Please RSVP at:

    Saturday, February 16, 2013

    Pruning Lavender

    Lavender before pruning.

    Usually I prune my lavender shortly after it is done blooming. It is a great time to do it since it keeps the lavender looking prim and maintained. But really it doesn't need pruning until just before it starts its summer growth.

    Lavender after pruning.

    This last year things have been so busy that I did not get the prunning done until shortly before Christmas. But as things slowed down I grabbed the hand pruners and headed out to the back flower bed.

    The main point of pruning lavender is to take off the old flower heads. As long as you do that you will be good. If you want to do more to guide the shape, snip off and inch or two of the leaves. Just remember, don't cut back so fare that there aren't living leaves left on a branch. Lavender is one of the shrubs that needs those leaves to regenerate growth. Cutting away all the leaves will lead to dead twigs.

    Making a cut.

    Most people use hedging shears to get their lavender pruned. Shears do a great job, and get it done much quicker that hand pruners. I like to do it the slow way because it creates more texture. And I have gotten fed up with the smooth meatball look that is so common today.

    Remember, the leafy cuttings can be used either fresh or dry to create a relaxed mood or encourage sleep. 

    The trimmings can be composted or used
    to help relaxation.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013

    Seed Quality

    Seed racks are out at the big box stores and catalogues are arriving, it must be time to think of spring planting.

    Starting seed is like anything else, good materials make for a good experience. But it is hard to tell what seeds are good and what are not. After all, you can't see through most seed packets.

    The importance of quality seeds has struck me with almost an urgency after failures for the last five years. My swiss chard was a mixture of varieties, tomatoes the same, two squash varieties failed, and my beloved kohlrabi turned out to be radishes. What is a gardener to do?

    First: Keep good records. If you have a record of failures and successes, you will know whether it is the seed or how you are growing it. You will also be able to see patterns for the seed companies you use. One problem is not that important, every company will make mistakes once in a while. But once you have a pattern you know that you need to look for a new suppliers.

    Second: Choose seeds from a source that has a good reputation. This means talking to other gardeners and evaluating the sales materials. If a company has not put thought into quality advertising, they will not likely put the thought into quality seed production.

    Third: Don't buy cheap. You don't have to pay $20 for good seed, but you have to wonder what you are getting if you pay $1.

    Fourth: If you save seed, learn your business and do it right. Saving seed is more complex than just scraping the seeds out of a squash.

    Fifth: Understand that you will get better quality and uniformity from hybrids. I prefer open pollinated seeds, but I know I will have different results from some of my neighbors.

    For a good start look at Johnny's and Territorial. You should also look at Burpee. I don't use Burpee much now-a-days, but I never had problems.

    Have a great time buying seeds!

    Sunday, January 6, 2013

    Permaculture Values

    A proper front yard.

    The following is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a young man trying to decide how his love of permaculture should effect his formal schooling:
    My degree is in Urban and Landscape Horticulture. I ran into permaculture about the same time I decided to go back to school and change my degree.

    I found my classes invigorating and a lot of fun. They also backed up many permacultural technics quite well. When I graduated is when the trouble started. Things are not done in the best way in many fields.
    We have a tendency to want things now and buy our way out of problems. Ego usually wins out over common sense. Controlling everything and everyone around us is how we get ahead.

    For a few years I tried to make things happen the way people said I should, get ahead and all that. But I found myself becoming less happy with myself and less happy with work. The more I tried to apply the principals and practices of pemaculture to my work, the less my bosses thought of me and my value.

    I finally dropped out and am now trying to find a way through the world that does not create conflict with those I work with and will still pay the bills and allow me to follow my values. 
    Now, if you will allow me to return to the question of my experience with permaculture. It has followed me by my side since I found it some ten years ago. I have often used it as a bag of tricks to help me in my landscape work and my own garden.
    The truth is that permaculture is really a philosophy of living. Whether it be in the farm, or in the board room, it shouldn't matter. I was originally attracted to it because those philosophies closely match principals that I already believed. Even though I didn't know it at the time.

    Those principals are more in need in the circles of business and economics than in the farms and gardens of today. Take what you know of permaculture, boil it down to principles, and then apply it wherever you decide to go.

    It may cause you some conflict, you may not be able to work the jobs you thought you would, but you will be able to hold your head up and sit down at the end of the day and know your work is good.
    Please, sit down and think about it.