It’s early July, and the time of year that many might be making the traditional dish “hodgepodge”, so I thought it would make sense to do and episode on a bunch of unrelated topics that have been on my mind recently, that are relevant to this stage of the growing season. I’ll talk about lawn maintenance, dealing with pests, herbivores, and whatever gardening failures that you have experienced so far this year, and also about ‘vermicomposting’.
I’m not sure why, because nowhere in nature does such a thing exist, but people seem to love lawns, and the greener and more homogeneous they can get them, the better. To be honest, I could care less, and would love to just let it go wild, but the reality of contemporary home-ownership is such that one’s lawn must be maintained in order to retain, at least to some degree, the value of the property, as well as the relationship with one’s neighbours. So, bearing that in mind, the question is, how do we employ permaculture principles to make lawn maintenance easier?
The fact that I’m putting lawn maintenance and permaculture in the same sentence would probably offend some permaculture practitioners, because nothing could be further from the permaculture ideal than a lawn. Think about it: a lawn is just a field, with all of the elements that make a field maintenance free and sustainable removed; the diversity of flora is reduced to almost nothing; the diversity of fauna is routinely upset and interrupted by mowing and chemical applications; and, our preferred height of the grass (short) is the exact opposite of the height that the grass wants to achieve (tall).
Nevertheless, we can use our knowledge of grasses, and their preferred growing conditions, to make lawn maintenance a little easier. Here’s a few tips to make your lawn healthier with less work, and to help your lawn thrive during the hottest, sunniest months of the year.
- Use the highest setting your mower has. Grass wants to be tall, so when you cut it, leave it as high as you can. This will increase the amount of shade that the remaining grass throws on the soil, thereby helping the soil retain its water. This will also probably kill a few less bugs, so the balance and diversity of the living things in your lawn will be a little less upset.
- Use a mulching blade on your mower. Everything that the grass took out of your soil should go back into your soil. This way you will need less fertilizer. This will also feed the worms in your soil, and act like a mulch, further shielding your soil from the sun, and aiding moisture retention in your soil.
- Cut your lawn in the evening. Mowing is a stress on the grass, and if the grass has the whole evening to recover after being mowed, it will fare much better the next day when it is being hammered by the sun.
Keep Calm and Garden on
By now in your garden, you’ve probably had some things go your way, and some things go wrong. I’ve had seeds rot in the ground, pest problems, and animal problems this year, and it’s all been frustrating, but it’s important to view all of these setback as learning opportunities.
- Don’t let the setbacks get to you, there’s still time to grow lots of things.
- If your seeds rotted, replant.
- If pests or animals are a problem, read up on the solutions and try them. Replant if necessary.
- Even if it turns out that you lose the whole season, make a record of everything that you did, and try something different next year. Keep adapting to your environment, and eventually you will learn how to work with it to get the results that you want.
Gardening in the Wilderness
My property backs onto a forest, and every year the animals pose new challenges to gardening that I’ve never experienced before. Last year I lost so many plants that I put 200 feet of fencing around my garden, but even despite that fence, I have animal problems again this year. Here are a few lesson’s learned from my experiences:
- Don’t waste time with traps (live or otherwise). You can’t trap every living thing in the forest, and it’s a real pain to have to check them all the time, and then to have the awful task of dealing with whatever is in them.
- Don’t kid yourself, you need a fence, and the higher it is and the finer the mesh the better, because you’d be surprised at how easily animals can squeeze through small openings.
- If something does get through your fence, figure out how it got in and close that hole! If you can’t figure that out, you need to trap it and relocate it, because it will keep coming back until there is nothing left. If it has babies, the whole family will be in your garden before long.
- Electric fences seem like a great idea, but they cannot touch the ground, or anything else connected to the ground (like grass/weeds) or they lose their effectiveness, so this means that: (a) you can’t use your electric fence like a trellis for tomatoes/beans/etc.; and, (b) you have to keep all the grass/weeds/etc. mowed all the time, and to a height that is less than the height of a rabbit. If your garden is large, that will mean regular mowing and trimming – for me that’s just too much added work.
Last week on the episode about composting I forgot to mention ‘vermicomposting’, which, simply defined, means composting with worms. Now, all composting that happens outdoors is basically vermicomposting because there are always worms present in the soil, but what I wanted to speak to was the practice of doing this in containers in one’s garage.
The basic technique, without going into too much detail, is the following:
- You get a large storage container, say 10 gallons or more
- You poke a few holes in the bottom and put a drip tray under the bin to capture any liquid that drips out (liquid worm manure – essentially a top of the line fertilizer).
- You put soil and worms in the bin.
- You put all of your non-meat table scraps in the bin every week.
- Every so often, when it starts getting full, you take out the rich dark soil that has been created by the worms to make room for more table scraps.
In principle this sounds like a good idea, but to me, it seems so much easier to have the worms where they want to be – outside in the ground – rather than in a container in your garage. It seems like a lot of time and energy for a very small amount of soil. On the other hand, I’ve never done this, so maybe it’s a great way to compost indoors when you have bears and other critters that make this impossible to do outdoors. By all means, if any listeners have tried vermicomposting, please leave a comment and tell me about your results. Maybe I’m missing out and need to give this a try.