Category Archives: gardening

Garden Friday – Summer arrived!

Garden Friday is a regularly scheduled feature on Our Mother’s Keeper.  Growing your own food, no matter the scale, helps both the pocketbook and the environment.  We anticipate that this space can be one that provides inspiration and answers questions regarding the planing, harvesting, and consumption of edible gardens.  Because gardening is very dependent upon your climate, please make sure you identify your general region (Wasatch Front, arid SW, Pacific NW, coastal, etc) when asking questions.

After a very long and very wet winter and spring, summer arrived this week in the PNW.  How do I know?  No rain and my peas are blooming.

The peas blooming is kind of interesting because I actually figured my peas were not going to bloom this year.  I put them in around President’s day in Feb.  Some I transplanted, others I direct seeded.  Peas normally have 65 days until harvest.  May came and went and nothing.  Then on Tuesday, white flowers.  Amazing how nature corrects herself.

Did anything bloom in your garden this week?  Has summer arrived?

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Garden Friday – Planting 3 Sisters

Garden Friday is a regularly scheduled feature on Our Mother’s Keeper.  Growing your own food, no matter the scale, helps both the pocketbook and the environment.  We anticipate that this space can be one that provides inspiration and answers questions regarding the planing, harvesting, and consumption of edible gardens.  Because gardening is very dependent upon your climate, please make sure you identify your general region (Wasatch Front, arid SW, Pacific NW, coastal, etc) when asking questions.

The sun appeared ever so briefly on Memorial Day in the Pacific NW.*  Even though it seems crazy to be planting summer/fall crops when we really haven’t even seen spring this year, I took the opportunity to get out and plant my three sisters.  What is three sisters you say?  It is a practice borrowed from Native North Americans – there is evidence of this practice across the entire continent – of inter  or companion planting corn, beans, and squash in one plot.  All three species store well for winter (this was probably the driving factor for Native Americans) and each has specific qualities that helps the others grow and maximize nutrition:

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Rain Harvesting Part II – Planning & Making the Rain Barrel

In a previous post, I’ve discussed various reasons for and legal issues surrounding harvesting rain water.  Now here is the nitty-gritty of planning your rain-harvesting storage system.

1.  Identify where/how water is leaving your roof.  For most, this is where rain gutters leave the roof to run to the sewage line (called a downspout) and are usually at the four corners of the house.  You can choose to put a barrel at just one or at all of the downspouts.  Some houses built in the desert get such little rain that gutters do not exist.  You can install gutters or identify where your biggest ‘drip’ is when the next storm hits.

2.  Is there room for a rain barrel next to/under the current gutter downspout? If there is, great… proceed to the next step.  Otherwise, you might have to rehang your gutters to send the water to a more convenient place.  Water runs down hill, so rehang such that the spot you want is the low point.

3. Acquire rain barrel(s).  You can buy fancy rain barrels, but you can also easily build one for under $30 by

  • picking up a barrel – You want a food grade (previously held soda syrup=good; previously held chemical=bad) 55-gal drum off of Craigslist or a food distribution place.   Most are ugly blue, but you can find white ones here and there and I’ve heard of people spray painting them as well.  If you are in Utah, remember that Utah allows 2 each of 100-gal barrels… I’d be VERY tempted to acquire 4 each 55-gal containers and call it good.
  • creating an inlet for the water – if there is a already a ‘bung’ or small hole in the top of the barrel, great.  Barrels with removable lids, however, will likely need a hole cut in the lid of the barrel about 3-4″ wide.
  • installing a 3/4″ hose spigot (from your hardware store) by drilling a 15/16″ hole for the spigot threading just a few inches from the bottom of the barrel.  Then screw in the spigot.  (You may need teflon tape and/or a bead of silicon to keep it water tight – test with a bit of water)
  • covering the inlet hole with window screen mesh (also at hardware store) – DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.  It is a health & safety precaution to (a) limit breeding mosquitoes and their diseases and (2) limit organic matter (leaves) contaminating your water and (3) keep a small animal (or kid) from toppling in.  If you don’t have this, you need to empty out the water within 24 hours.
  • drilling another small hole big enough to fit a 2 inch drainage pipe for the overflow near the top of the barrel.   This would also be a good time to think through where that overflow will go in a series of big storms.  You can use a flexible 2″ hose to get the overflow away from your house; ask your hardware store what they suggest to attach the hose to the overflow hole.  Portland requires overflow 2 ft from a slab or crawlspace and 6 feet from a basement.  It can go back in the storm water system as well, but this should be your last choice environmentally as you are trying to deal with water on site.

4. Gather your materials for disconnecting your downspout – you will minimally need

  • a standpipe cap for each downspout currently connected underground
  • one or more gutter/downspout elbows (and possibly flexible gutter length) if you need to slightly change the direction of the downspout to be over the barrel
  • a flat surface to place your barrel on.  Concrete pavers will do.  You do need the surface to be higher than your garden and thus some like to elevate a bit on concrete blocks.  This can also allow for putting a watering can underneath a spicket.  If you do more than one tier, change the orientation of the blocks 90 degrees each tier.  Either way, it needs to be level because a full 55-gal drum weighs 400 lbs and you want stability.

One final design considerations is planning for winter.  You will need to empty your rain barrel with hard freezes as expansion of ice will crack the barrel.  In Portland, we get so few hard freezes and have good overflow solutions for the massive amount of winter rain that most people to empty the system before a freeze and closely monitor to keep it drained during the storm events where rain to snow is likely.  But in a place like SLC, you probably want to empty the barrel and take it ‘off-line’ until spring.  This requires thinking through how to reconnect your downspouts or (as I’ll show in the next post) run your downspout to your lawn for the winter.  If you want a more seamless solution where you flip a switch, google ‘downspout diverter.’

Up next… installing barrel/disconnecting downspout.

Rain Harvesting Part 1 – How much and why the State cares

In my last post about water, Kristine pointed out that storing rainwater is illegal in some places.  While this fact gets on my last nerve – I guess it is the libertarian rancher blood in me – this is a real concern.  Much of this stuff is regulated because of (1) health, (2) safety, and (3) environmental (water table and management) concerns.  I will cover the health/safety concerns of dealing with rain water on site in the next couple of posts, but let me explain the water table legality mess since it recently changed in Utah. Read more of this post

Backyard Apple Tree Ecology

I love my backyard ecology. There is much going on. Right now my apple trees are in full bloom. They are calling to honeybees and other pollinators. They are using oodles and oodles of resources–energy and material they have gathered from the sun, soil, and air in order to provision their future generations with the benefits that come through genetic exchange. Each tree is pouring nectar into its flowers. The bees are taking that nectar and in doing so cover themselves in pollen, which they drop on other flowers, on other trees. Win-win. The trees get to use sex to increase their offspring’s survival and the bees get enormous stores of the sun’s energy in the form of sugars, which will benefit their offspring.
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