Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pet-Friendly Gardening

Bean Bed - Summer 2006
One of our goals for the yard this year was to plant only pet (and kid) friendly plants. Not that the dog grazes a whole lot, but if or when he does, I'd like to feel confident that it won't kill him. When we moved in we discovered that there was, among other things, rhubarb in the Bean Bed - seeing as that is highly toxic, it got ripped out quickly.

When we were re-designing the bean bed, Eric expressed the idea that it would be nice to plant some more perennials. So, I spent a good day sitting with a list of Zone 3/4 perennials and checking the Cornell University and ASPCA Toxic Plants lists, crossing those perennials that were on there off the overall list. Sadly, this eliminated some of my favorites, like delphiniums, but that's the price you pay I suppose.

Bean Bed - Early May 2008
Our new perennial garden went in the Bean Bed, where one of the apple trees used to reside. We planted a wide variety of plants, keeping them grouped together (for protection against rampaging dogs...dogs tend to go around "obstacles"). We may eventually have to transplant some of them to other locations once they start to grow in.


One of the nice aspects of some of the plants we chose is that they can even benefit a yard with pets, such as Fleabane (guess what that does). Others, like my salvia, just look pretty but won't hurt the dog should he choose to snack on it.

The ones we put in are: Ajuga (bugleweed), Achillea (yarrow), Salvia (common sage), Erigeron (fleabane), Bushy Aster, Smooth Aster, Sedum (stonecrop), Agastache (hyssop), Phlox subulata (creeping phlox), Aquilegia (columbine), Gaillardia Aristata (blanket flower), Coreopsis (tickseed), Veronica (speedwell), Liatris (gayfeather), and Cerastium (snow-in-summer).

Operation Shade Trees

The largest problem with the backyard is the lack of shade. Also, as previously discussed, having apple trees seem like a good idea but you never know what a PITA fruit trees are until you have them. So the apple trees had to go, along with the rest of the bed (it was completely taken over by grass and mint). In their place we planned to put a Redmond Linden. So we removed the plants we wanted to keep and transplanted the apple trees to my sister's house.

Lucky taking credit for all our hard work
We went to our local Steins three days later to find some trees. Planting the Linden proved rather easy since we already had the majority of the hole already dug out.

In addition to the Linden, we also wanted to partially block the view of the 2-car, 2-story garage our neighbors put up in the back yard last year.

So we decided to plant an "Autumn Blaze" Maple on the east side of the yard. Digging this hole was a heck of a lot harder because we had to tear out the grass, then dig thru what turned out to be almost completely clay. But the end result was worth it.

Or will be once the tree starts to grow a bit more.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vegetable Garden

We've been waiting to plant our vegetable garden since February. We have 3 5' wide x 25' long raised garden beds. Last year we went easy and only planted one of the beds. This year we decided to go whole hog and plant all three beds, using companion planting to deter pests. So one snowy day in February we sat down with our books, a list of vegetables we wanted to plant, and spent a couple hours planning out the beds.

General rules we learned about companion planting are:
  • the Brassica family does not play nice with nightshades
  • Legumes do not play nice with solanums or brassicas
So, basically, beans or any of their friends cannot be planted with tomato, peppers, onions, broccoli or kale. And broccoli and kale cannot be planted with tomatos, peppers or eggplant.

So, in Bed 1 we planned to include kale, broccoli, red onion, and squash.


Bed 2 would be tomatoes, peppers, shallots, yellow onions, and jalapenos.

Bed 3 would include lettuce, beans, spinach, cucumbers, eggplant, and zucchini.

Carrots would be "filler" in Beds 2 and 3.

We managed to get most of our vegetables today. We're still missing spinach, shallots and carrots. I added collard greens and swiss chard to Bed 1. And I swapped out a tomato plant for a tomatillo plant (I make a mean tomatillo salsa).

All of the plants we included are:
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Broccoli
  • Butternut Squash
  • Acorn Squash
  • Onion, Red
  • Onion, Yellow
  • Jalapeno
  • Peppers
  • Tomatos
  • Tomatillo
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers
  • Beans
  • Lettuce
I'm still hoping to find carrots, spinach and shallots because we eat a lot of those. It would be nice to grow them rather than buy them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why Apple Trees aren't that great

When we got this house, my sister had planted 3 apple trees in the yard. Two were much older than the 3rd and located in what we call the Bean Bed. They have beautiful flowers in the spring, looking magnificent thru the summer.

Then they actually produce apples. Which attract hoards of bees. And also fall into the yard and get chopped up by the lawn mower (attracting MORE bees). And into the Bean Bed, where they tend to rot. Or the dog eats them and then gets sick. And so forth.

Apple trees are beautiful, but they create a huge, awful mess.

Eric decided - and I have to agree - that they had to go. He didn't care how, but they couldn't stay in the yard. So we worked a deal with my sister that, if we did all the work, that they would be willing to take their trees.

Part of this meant assessing what I wanted to keep from the bed, because there was quite a lot in there, and temporarily potting it. Then we'd have to dig out the trees, ball and burlap them, and then transport them to my sister's house.

So here we've re-potted most of the plants we wanted to keep. You can see the bed and the trees. The first tree we dug up was the smaller of the two (the one to the left). Eric and I painstakingly dug it up, then dragged it onto the trailer, and took it over.

The other tree went much faster as we had my brother-in-law, nephew, and more tools. Both trees were transplanted quickly.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Usual Lame Introductary Post

A year ago my husband, Eric, and I purchased a house from my sister and brother-in-law. The main reason was we wanted a yard for our dog, Lucky.

Well, we now have a yard in spades - 3/4 acre lot with 3 raised garden beds, several perennial beds, the works. The first year we had the house we decided to let things grow as normal and take notes to see what we'd like to change. Fortunately that list wasn't too long, so we've started tackling it this year.

We also went easy on the gardening, just planting a dozen plants in one of the garden beds. This year we're planting all three of them using companion planting.

Our overall goal is to maintain the yard and gardens as organically as we can. On the whole we're succeeding, though we lost the battle when sawflies attacked our Mugo pine and we discovered our lawn was primarily crabgrass and creeping charlie (that'll be another post).

Our second goal is to keep the plantings as pet (and kid) friendly as possible. When things started coming up last year, we realized that one of the plants was rhubarb, which is highly toxic to dogs and got ripped out quickly. This year we spent a lot of time picking out perennials that are non-toxic and can even be beneficial for pet health.

With all the changes going on this year, Eric mentioned he wanted to put together a journal to record them. So, here it is.

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