Green Onion Resprout

Found this on Pinterest and decided to try it out for myself :

Next time you buy green onions from the store, don’t throw the root bulb portions away. Save the bottom bit of the onions and put them in a cup of water on the windowsill.

The onions will grow new plant stems from the root bulb. The post swears you can do this repeatedly, I have a feeling that the bulb will eventually use up its energy stores and your onions will become weak and thready over time… but we’ll see.

This is about a week’s growth from my first cutting. So it really does work. I’ll repeat the process after a second cutting and see if the plants do as well. I just change the water every couple days to keep it fresh and clean.

image

Try it and see! I might use more green onion if it was readily available like this.

-Belle

Busy Little Bee

Tell me what you’ve been up to… busy little bee.
I will always and forever associate that line with Gladiator, which is why it still gives me the creeps when I hear it. So the growing season is over, I’ve put away my mower and collected the milk jugs from around all the trees. (I’m sure the neighbors were relived at that one) I’m far from doing a whole lot of nothing though.
Winter and fall are my moving, planting (yes! planting) and cleaning up seasons in the yard and garden. It’s a great time to do planning when everything is stripped down to the bare bones and you can really visualize what works and what doesn’t. I do my pruning and lot of planting this time of year too, so long as the ground isn’t frozen, trees, shrubs and even some bulbs can be planted this time of year.
I’ve been burning brush, raking leaves, prepping the garden and moving lilies this past month. I’ve taken pictures of a couple projects to share soon. I just need a spare moment to sit down and write! No new photos of yard or projects today, but  if you’re curious about the face behind the blog, I did update “The Dirt on Dirt” with a picture of myself. 😉

Hades would like his weather back.

In regards to garden and yard projects, I’ve not been especially inspired this summer. It’s been a depressing season. It seems I’ve either spent the past months watching plants wilt, wither and die in the extreme heat and drought, or dedicated hours a day to watering mulching and looking for shade. While doing the latter, I always wondered if we would become one of those news headlines:Midwest Wells Running Dry”.

This spring, before the weather pattern shifted to Sahara Desert for most of the Midwest, I had planted 75 trees in various places around our property. New trees need mulch and regular watering for at least the first year of their life under ideal circumstances. When the weather pattern here got stuck on 7th level of Hell, I realized I was going to have a fight on my hands if any of my new trees were going to survive.

I started by reading up on water conservation and a technique called Xeriscaping.
Xeriscaping is simply this, creating a landscape that is mostly self-sustaining with little to no supplemental water. To some, this means filling the landscape with nothing but cactus and rock. In some areas of the country, I guess growing anything outside of a pot isn’t an option. Here in Missouri however, extreme hot and dry conditions are not our normal- even though this summer most of us saw nothing but.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center reported that the drought covered over 60 percent of 48 states as of mid-August. In Missouri we fell under the two worst drought categories, extreme and exceptional. As of the end of August, my part of the country was down 11.78 inches of rain for the year 2012, with the current drought conditions predicted to last through the end of October.

Crop and pasture destruction have been horrible. Many farms forced to re-drill or deepen existing wells in order to get water to their land and livestock. Many mornings while out watering my little trees, I wondered what our neighbor across the street was doing to the water table I feared we might share. They have several head of cattle that they have to provide water for, a huge pool in their backyard and one of those awful, inefficient impact sprinklers running on their yard almost constantly. I envied them their green grass, while I watched mine turn brown, then disappear altogether, leaving behind little more than dust. Since our house sits down in sort of a valley, my only hope was that it meant my well was that much deeper into the water table and that it might hold out longer under extreme conditions.

One of the tenants of Xeriscaping is that you don’t try to maintain large areas of grass lawn and that if you do have grass; it is a type that is drought resistant and tolerates heat well. Our daughter’s play yard was the only area of grass that managed to stay green all summer. It’s also the only part of our yard where my husband and I painstakingly drilled small holes every few inches to plant the entire lawn with Zoysia grass plugs a couple years ago.
I first read about Zoysia in a Birds and Blooms magazine. I did a little research and ordered 200 plugs from an online farm. Prior to the Zoysia plugs taking hold in our yard, there was little growing there besides an excellent crop of crab grass each season. I had plowed it under and planted grass seed twice. It never seemed to take off in our rocky clay soil.
The Zoysia didn’t do much the first year, but the next year our plugs had filled in most of the yard with a thick mat of fine textured grass. Some varieties of Zoysia will survive winters as far north as Chicago.
The grass originated from Southeast Asia, China and Japan. It is low growing (means less mowing), establishes roots by rhizomes (creeping), is heat resistant, drought resistant and forms a tight covering that can choke out most weeds. I watered our lawn only twice all summer.
The drought also meant that I only had to mow it once after the end of May. It is still green, still healthy and fared much better than some of the bedding plants around the edge of the lawn. Zoysia is an absolute pain in the butt to plant, but now that it’s established and I see how well it performs under the worst of conditions, every plug we planted is worth the trouble.
It does turn yellow as soon as the weather cools down and stays that way until late spring, but when everyone else has a dead, brown lawn in August, ours is still green. If you must have a lawn area for kids or dogs, but would still like to follow the principles of Xeriscaping, warm season grasses like Zoysia or Bermuda grass are a great option.

Luckily, I had limited the size of our vegetable garden this year to a few square feet by growing the plants vertically on trellis against the side of our house. I had done this more as an experiment than anything, however it turns out that this is another principle of Xeriscaping. Limiting the spread of your plants or growing vertically means you have to water a much smaller area to maintain the health of the plants.
I used lots of mulch over cardboard or newspaper to keep down weeds and set a misting sprinkler on a timer for every 12 hours. During the stretches of really hot days (4-5 days in a row or more of temperatures over 102F), I changed the timer to every 8 hours and ran it for 10 minutes.
I also put our bird bath right in the garden area, so that it filled up when the sprinkler ran. Our garden is right next to the pond I built this spring, so that pond caught any excess spray that didn’t land in the garden. Even though I can’t take credit for planning it out that way, this turned out to be a very efficient method of maintaining several things that needed water without a lot of waste.

Another bonus during the drought was my tendency to choose native plants in my landscape whenever possible. Again, I can’t take credit for guarding against drought, since I chose most of my plants based on the fact that they grow in clay soils with a minimum of additives to alter the soil composition, but it turns out that this is a Xeriscaping technique as well.
Xeros is Greek for dry; the idea behind Xeriscaping is to use as little supplemental water as possible in your landscape. Native plants are already adapted to your area’s climate and soil conditions, so they naturally need less care and maintenance to survive.
For annuals I often plant seeds I save from wildflowers like purple coneflower, thistle, daisies and sunflowers. Sometimes I buy flats of zinnias, marigolds and dusty miller to fill planting beds in spring. I tend to focus on perennials I don’t have to plant every year.
My butterfly bush did very well with almost no watering in spite of the heat. Ditto for the tiger lilies, Chinese wisteria, crêpe myrtle, climbing roses, spiderwort, yucca and saucer magnolia trees (Most of those aren’t native of course, but I had read that they do well in my particular climate and soil type)

The new little trees were all heavily mulched when I planted them this spring and that seemed to serve them well the first month of the drought. After a month of drought and triple digit temperatures, I started losing some of the spruce trees I’d planted.
To still regulate my watering and assure that when I did water it went to the roots of the trees and not all over the surrounding landscape, I started saving gallon milk jugs. These I poked a few holes in the bottom, filled the jug partway with rocks, then sat them right next to the baby trees. I still had to water as frequently as every other day, but the water waste was greatly minimized by this method and it was a lot less time consuming too! I cut my time spent watering down from a couple hours to less than half an hour.

I also saved the large 3 gallon jugs from cat litter and 3-5 gallon paint buckets. The buckets work especially well for larger trees. I have a single mimosa I planted when we first moved here that I couldn’t stand to lose, I used one of the larger buckets to water it this summer. My daughter found a bucket that had a huge crack across the bottom; I was about to throw this away when I decided to try adding some dirt in with the gravel to make mud in the bottom. It worked like a charm for slowing the water down as it trickled out.
If you try the jug method, you may need to play with the amount of holes, whether or not you add mud or leave the cap on or off the jug- this will alter the speed which the water runs out. Slow is often better if you have clay soil, since it takes much longer to penetrate deep enough to reach a tree’s roots.

I also noted that my new trees planted under a canopy of shade tolerated the heat better than those in full sun exposure most of the day. Of course, this is because the larger trees shield their roots from drying out as fast. It also means the tree doesn’t have to consume as much water to maintain its top half if it’s not in sun.

Xeriscaping experts advise planting your garden or flower beds in the rainy season (for us this would have been any time before Mid-May, when Mother Nature turned any and all precipitation to “OFF”); this way the plants can get themselves established in your landscape before they have to start conserving water. The deeper and more widespread their root system, the more likely they will be to survive drought. Ever tried to dig up an established Yucca? Never put one in your yard unless you’re absolutely positive that’s where you want it. My small trees planted at least 2 years ago weathered the drought fine, even with minimal to no supplemental watering.

In areas where you have lots of gravel, concrete or pavement, it may help to place large potted plants around the perimeter for both shade and to cut down on the heat to the surrounding yard.
I have no love for our vinyl siding and grow my roses, tomatoes, cucumbers and ivy right up the side of our house. It keeps the heat down on the house, especially between 2pm and 5pm when the sun is blasting the southwest corner. I would plant trees on that side, but we have the unfortunate circumstance of living in an area where satellite and wireless are the only decent options for internet and TV.
Large trees on that side of my house would block the signals, hence the vining plants instead. The sprinkler for the garden does double duty here as well; while the garden, birdbath and pond are being watered, the hottest part of the house is being sprayed down in the early evening.

Xeriscapes don’t have to be labor intensive, but they do require some careful planning and initial set-up. You can save costs by harvesting seed from each year’s annuals to use the following year and with a little patience- perennial plants don’t offer the instant gratification of annual blooms, but they return year after year and often multiply over time. Xeriscapes and native plants have better disease resistance than large grass lawns, are less prone to being destroyed by pests or fungus and attract butterflies, bees and birds.

With a little careful planning of my own and a willingness to let go of some of my higher maintenance plantings; I’m hoping next to year to implement more Xeriscaping techniques and have a little less stress when a big, fat high pressure area blocks our rain for months at a time.

And please share if you have other tips and tricks about water conservation or native plantings!
-Belle

Drought drought and oh yeah, drought.

The part of my yard that I’m not watering every other day has long since died sometime back in June. The rest has only survived because it was so well established, happened to be native weed type plants, or I watered it at least every other day. So since I’ve not been doing a lot in the yard due to the current state of no rain for MONTHS, I haven’t had much to write about in the way of projects.
Thought I would share some photos at least:

This was my 13th wedding anniversary present. I’ve wanted one of these for years! It’s already covered in blooms and smells amazing. 🙂

This little guy was hanging out on the side of our house one night. I thought to snap a picture of him then, but he had wandered off while I went in search of my camera. I discovered him visiting again while watering one evening. This time he sat still patiently under my cactus while I took several shots.

Like most everyone else in the Midwest, I’ve spent the last two months wishing for rain and watching the sky. These clouds only produced a few sprinkles, but the way the sun was shining through them was pretty, so I stopped in Camdenton and snapped this pic.

So far, Mo. DNR is predicting the current drought will remain or worsen between now and October. I’ll be working on some inside projects until then and hoping our well holds out until the rain returns!

-B

Blister Beetle Battle

My daughter and I have been SO proud of our cherry tomato plants that we grew from seed this spring; we nursed them in sunny windows until they were fledgling plants big enough for the garden. All through the past couple months we have mulched, fed and watered them, excited and accomplished when the first blossoms emerged, turned to green fruits and then to red. We look forward each day to going out in the yard and picking our little cherries.

Blister beetle noshing a leaf

I first spotted a couple of beetles yesterday morning while watering. Since there were only two, I hand-picked them off the plants and squashed them under a boot, then went about my business. Where the beetles had been eating, there were some black flaky looking bits of stuff, but they sprayed off easily with the garden hose.

Next afternoon, we were out working on building our new deck and I checked our plants for ready tomatoes as usual. I was horrified to discover that our plants were now COVERED in striped beetles, noshing away on the leaves until they looked like lace. They’d started from the bottom and made rapid work towards the top, leaving little but green fruits and stems.
I panicked.

In spite of years growing ornamentals, countless trees, shrubs and flowers, this is my first year with a vegetable garden. In the past, I liberally used chemical fertilizers, weed controls and pesticides in my yard to control whatever ailment my plants suffered, whether fungus, insect damage or other. One season I lost over half the plants I’d worked so diligently to grow for two years from a Weed and Feed fertilizer that I either applied too liberally or the chemical was simply too harsh for what I was trying to grow.

Until this week, when faced with a blister beetle battle, my chemical use had been almost non-existent for several years. Compost and lawn clippings, kitchen scraps, manure and leaves were my fertilizers. The pond next to the garden attracted frogs and birds to help prevent pests on the ornamentals. Recycled milk and cat litter jugs served as slow-watering systems, rather than buying many feet of soaker hose or sprinklers.
There was a bag of Sevin dust sitting in the back of the cabinet; had been there for at least 5 years or so, unopened. Faced with all that cherry tomato destruction (I swear I could HEAR them chomping away), I ran in, grabbed the Sevin dust and threw liberal handfuls all over the plants. I watched with great satisfaction as those chewing little buggers began dropping off, writhing and squirming. I hoped in vengeance of my plants that they were suffering greatly.

It occurred to me following this rash dumping of handfuls of poisonous dust all over my garden that I had done just that; next to the frog pond and all over the food we intended to eat. I decided I’d try to minimize the spread of the poison to the pond water and hosed everything down liberally the next morning until the water ran clear into the yard. I’m hoping it didn’t leach much into the pond water and won’t hurt my frogs in the long run. We’ll be carefully washing anything we eat off of those plants for a while. L

Beetle Blisters

The articles on the internet about these beetles did little, if anything to make me feel better about their being in my garden, after seeing pictures of the damage they could cause to both plant and human skin. The Striped Blister Beetle produces a substance called cantharadin that causes horrible blisters on skin; it is also toxic to animals. An article from Texas A & M Entomology claimed that a horse could be killed by ingesting only 2 or more of the beetles, even if the beetles were dead.  Farmers have had trouble with attacks on their alfalfa crops and the beetles in turn, winding up in livestock feed.

The beetles look very similar to a lightning bug; they are about the same size and shape, but with very distinctive stripe patterns on their backs. They lay their eggs in cells just beneath the soil surface. Adult beetles eat foliage and fruit, while the larvae are said to feed on grasshopper eggs. (This was the ONLY beneficial fact I could find about them)

Several blogs and forums I read stated that people had minimal success with hand picking (be sure to wear gloves!) and dropping them into a container of soapy water. Most complained that there were SO MANY by the time they noticed them that this was impossible without using a vacuum cleaner to do the job.
A couple people mentioned a homemade spray made up of organic dish soap, canola oil, 2 cloves of garlic and red pepper flakes strained into a tea as an was effective method of getting rid of them. They did mention that this spray, while safe on vegetables (wash before eating of course) for human consumption, seemed to kill beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies as well. Some suggested protecting plants with mosquito netting. This of course only works if you get to the plants before they are infested with the little monsters.

I can say from my own experience that the Sevin dust worked to kill them beautifully, but there’s no telling what else it killed before I washed it off. There were quite a few dead daddy long legs hanging off the plants when I rinsed them the next morning. If I happen to get unlucky with another visiting swarm, I’ll head to the grocery store and try some of the organic spray I mentioned above instead.

Any of you had to fight the blister beetle battle? What did you use to get the little buggers to move on?

Disney Gardening

I was recently lucky enough to spend a week at Disney World; we went to Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These people know how to garden! Granted, it ‘s in Florida and it rains practically every day there AND they are working with Zone 8-10 temperatures. Still, I was impressed with their attention to detail and all those little extras they impart into an area to give it a specific feel. One of my favorites was the Asia section of Animal Kingdom. I’ve always wanted to add a few Asian elements to my own garden, but until now haven’t had a clear idea of what to do or even where to begin. The Asian look is definitely more that just bamboo and Japanese maple trees. I picked up plenty of interesting ideas on our trek through the Disney parks and took some great photos. Thought I would share a few of them here.

One of the many flower beds throughout the Animal Kingdom park. I loved the use of color and different leaf textures in this one.

One of many man-made streams throughout the park. This one looks like molded concrete and stone to give it that very natural look of large boulders and cliff drops without actually importing all that rock. Love the plant placement and the fall of the water. 🙂

This is part of a man-made savannah on the Safari Tour ride. (Not in Asia section, but Africa) There were no fences in site anywhere. They used natural barriers like water-filled pits to keep the predator/prey animals apart.

One of the lamps lining the sidewalks throughout the Asia section of the park. I’m actually considering trying to make a couple of these. Maybe a trip to the hardware store for some flexible plastic and chimney caps?

Another stream bed view. I took this one for their use of plant placement; the midsize plantings at the bends in the stream and the tall stand of bamboo as a backdrop.

Rag scraps tied to the branches of a tree. This one I think you’d have to be careful duplicating, or you’d just wind up looking like the weirdo that covers a tree in rag scraps. But if you had the rest of the look in your garden and then added one of these, I think you could pull it off. Loved the movement and color of this in the park, was a major eye-catcher!

Another Asian-inspired lamp. Would be a bit harder to make, but I thought with a router to cut the scrolled wood, it could still be a cool little project. If hollow pipe was used to make the posts, you could wire the light so no wires would show. (I don’t think this one actually lights up)

I’ll post an addendum to this if I actually manage to implement some of these ideas instead of just sharing and thinking about them. If you should try them out, I’d love you to share your photos!
Till later gators,  –==<
Belle

Building a Pond: Part 3, Waterfall & Fancy Bits

The waterfall and finishing of the pond is a lot like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Except with very heavy rocks. And you’re likely going to get wet.

Waterfall structure

I started with two large rocks that probably qualify as small boulders; they were heavy enough that had I picked anything bigger, I would have needed help lifting them. These I settled in place at the base of the waterfall on top of large scraps of liner for extra protection against punctures. I chose rocks a bit smaller than a volleyball next; using these to build up from the base and scattering a few around all the way to the top.
On the top tier of concrete blocks, I placed a single flat stepping stone in the center of the falls. The intention for this rock was to give the water a nice flat place to spill over and into the pond. A couple of large rocks were used at the back of this as an anchor. I also sprayed a little landscaping foam under it when I decided it was exactly where I wanted it and that it wouldn’t be moved.

You can get landscaping foam from the hardware store near the pond stuff. Unlike the house expanding foam, landscape foam is black, doesn’t expand quite as much and is sticky enough to hold small rocks or sand in place until it dries.
Once I had large stones and the basic framework for the falls in place, I ran tubing for my pump. In case you need to move your tubing later for some unforeseen reason (as I did), make sure you run it along the OUTSIDE of your falls and give yourself PLENTY of extra to work with. I went right up the middle with mine and cut off all the excess. I later realized I had only attached a pump for water flow and needed some means of filtering the water to keep it clean and healthy for all those frogs pooping in it. I purchased a UV filter to attach to my pump, only to realize my tubing would not reach the filter because it wasn’t submersible. >.<

This is what giving up looks like.

First I face palmed. Then I sat down and stared at my perfect, beautiful falls that I’d worked so hard on and now had to tear apart to get the old tubing out and run new. Finally, I sucked it up and just fixed it. I swear it doesn’t look quite as good as it did originally and some of the rocks I had stuck in place with foam, so I had to hide the foamy bits by turning these over or putting them in a different spot. I’m just glad I didn’t bury the tubing any deeper, or I probably would have scrapped the entire project in favor of a pondless fountain. So again, run your tubing along the outside of your falls and try not to put it too deep. Also, take care that you don’t place large rocks on top of it; ½ inch pond tubing (which is standard for small ponds) is not as thick walled or sturdy as garden hose, so it squashes and kinks fairly easy.

In my new setup, I have a UV filter sitting in the mulch underneath a spirea bush where it is fairly hidden. The submersible pump tubing goes into the UV filter and another piece of tubing comes out the other side of the filter; goes underneath the rock for the falls and opens at the back of that flat paver I put on top of the falls. The water runs over the paver, down several smaller rocks to the large boulders and into the pool.

Whew! Almost sounds like I’m describing a Rube Goldberg machine, doesn’t it? (Except not nearly as interesting)

It’s not a dramatic effect, just enough to give the water some sound and movement. Of course, the larger pump you attach, the more force your water will come out with and the greater the effect of your falls. I had hoped for a bit more flow and may add a larger pump in the future, but for now, this one will do.
I have noticed that the UV filter seems to do a very decent job of keeping my water fairly clean. It’s supposed to take care of bacteria also and there are no charcoal filters to mess with changing. Just switch the light out once a year, according to the instructions on the box. I purchased it from Amazon for $60.

You may need to move some rock around or spray a bit of foam along the watercourse of your falls if you want the water to travel along a specific path or to prevent leakage off the sides. Once you have the filter and falls in place and running, the rest of the setup mostly involves making the pond look pretty and covering any remaining liner.

It took me quite a lot of rock to frame in the rest of the falls and go around the pond in a horse-shoe shape. I left the end toward the yard open to make a pebble beach. I had read that if you are trying to attract frogs to your pond, they enjoy a nice beach to get in and out of the water and since my daughter is fascinated with frogs and toads, I built them a beach.

Visitor to our pond

I folded the liner up over the rocks on the garden side, filled that area with dirt and then trimmed the liner off level with the dirt. I covered any remaining edges with a line of

pine mulch. On the side with the spirea, I folded it up over the rocks again, trimmed it and then hid the edge with mulch.

The waterfall area was entirely covered with rock of varying shapes and sizes until very little liner was showing anywhere. Just fit, rearrange and play with it until you get a look you’re happy with. I don’t think there’s any real right or wrong here. Other than physics of course, don’t try and balance big rocks on top of a pile of loose smaller rocks, or you’re asking for a nice avalanche later… which could squish one of those prized frogs. You can use a bit of mortar or more landscaping foam to secure rocks in place once you like the placement if you want to make the whole structure more stable.

For the beach area, I left three of those flat concrete paver blocks underneath the fabric underlayment to give a solid base to the beach, since it’s fairly likely my daughter will be sitting there a lot and it’s also where I climb in and out should I need to get in and work on the pond or move things around. I didn’t trim the liner or the underlayment there, but let it spill out into the yard. I had purchased 3 bags of pea gravel and about 7 bags of river rock to cover this area and finish covering the liner in the bottom of the pond. The gravel stays in place on its own fairly well.

I did see a nice trick for keeping this stuff in place if you do have an issue with it staying put: Put on a pair or those rubber

dishwashing gloves (they are going to be ruined when you’re finished, but at least your hands won’t be), then spray a layer of landscape foam over the pond liner. Over this, press river rock into the foam in handfuls until the liner and the foam is completely covered with rock. When the foam dries, the rock will be glued in place. I did use this trick on the sides of the pond where I had neglected to build a good enough land-shelf for rock to sit on.

After the beach was built, I dumped another couple bags of river rock into the pond to cover the bottom. I hid the pump under a light, flat rock and scattered more river rock around and over it to cover the rest of the pump and tubing from view. A few handfuls scattered over the falls and along the sides of the pond makes it look more like a

natural creek setting and can fill any gaps where the liner still shows.

I haven’t seen any lilies to add to the pond at the store yet. I’ve had them in a pond in our yard in the past and they are wonderful to watch the frogs sit on and gorgeous when they bloom. If I get my hands on any, I’ll be sure to post pictures later. Since there was a lack of water lilies available, I opted to re-pot my bamboo and break a couple pieces off to tuck in to the rocks. Bamboo is ridiculously versatile. It doesn’t really even need soil to grow, it will grow in rocks right in the water. I don’t think this stuff will over winter here in Missouri, but I have two pots worth and don’t mind replacing it every season. If it does overwinter, it may become a problem child later, bamboo can be pretty invasive if not kept in pots where the roots are contained.

For now this is the finished project.

Top down view from the sidewalk

Like every other structure in my yard, I’m sure it will not hold up to scrutiny and will be constantly tinkered with the longer it remains. Perhaps for the next month or so though, I can call it complete and just be content to watch the kiddo enjoy her frogs.  🙂

Finally finished! ….. for now.

-B

Building a Pond, Part 2 Waterproofing

I’m taking today off from the yard. Yesterday I poured concrete for our sidewalk since the weatherman assured me there were going to be several at least semi-dry days in a row. I didn’t want to quit until all the concrete I’d purchased was used and I couldn’t be bothered to stop what I was doing long enough to go inside and put some sunscreen on. Now, I’m sorry to say, I have a very nasty sunburn that is keeping me from the yard. So lemonade from lemons and all that, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to work on my next post about the pond project.

So where were we… oh yes, mud. Lots of mud.

Luckily, I had leveled the edges of the excavation prior to the rain turning the entire pond area into Mudville. I opted for a very simplistic method of accomplishing this: I moved dirt from the higher side of the pond to the lower side until it was mostly level all the way around.
As long as it reaches from one side of the pond to the other, you can use any straight board with a level sitting on top to check level. This works for ponds this size or slightly larger; if you’re doing a much larger pond, leveling will be more technically involved.

Leveling the sides of an organic, freestyle bordered pond is forgiving compared to a formal pond in an exact shape. You still need to level well enough that water doesn’t run out the low side, but minor imperfections can be hidden with rock or plantings.

Perfectly round or square ponds will be noticeably lopsided if the water level is higher on one side than the other. Water will run over the low side and liner will show above the water level on the high side; which makes your pond look silly. Not to mention it can waste a lot of work and expensive materials if you realize that it sucks after the fact and you can’t live with lopsided.

Check for level from every angle, and then check it again before you start moving heavy rocks or mortaring things in place.
Formal ponds may benefit from a brick or concrete block ring set in a light mortar bed around the perimeter of the pond to help it maintain a precise shape and make sure the edge is perfectly level.

Ok, so sides are now level and if you’re me, you’re about ankle deep in mud and not sure whether it feels nice between your toes or just really slimy and gross. It makes a nice SSSSSTHOCK sound when you pull your foot out, which is giggle-inducing to all preschoolers within ear shot. Doubly funny if you lose your sandal to the mud sucking if off your feet. Brownie points if you lose BOTH sandals and nearly get a mud facial trying to rescue them from the bottom of the pond.

I cut my underlayment in half and covered the entire area around the pond and the waterfall, overlapping the underlayment in the middle. An underlayment of some kind under your pond liner is an absolute necessity if you don’t want rocks or sharp roots poking through and destroying all your hard work when you add water.

Water is HEAVY and will cause anything pressing on your liner from underneath to push on it exponentially harder. In the winter, if you leave your pond in place with water in it, this is even more so as the ice pushes up against the walls of the pond as it expands. You need a nice, soft cushion over that hard, unforgiving ground to protect the liner. The clay-type liners are more forgiving in this area, since the clay itself can act as a natural sealant against small punctures. However, a large rip could still destroy even a clay liner, so it’s best to do your prep work regardless of the liner material you choose.
My liner is PVC, because this was cheapest option. EVDM liners are a better choice if you can spend a few extra $; they are stronger (made out of a material similar to car tires) and can tolerate UV rays from the sun better than a PVC liner can.
If you don’t want to fork over the $20 or more for underlayment, a layer of sand and newspaper or cardboard will work instead. Just make sure it’s durable enough that the sharp bits are not going to come through and trash your liner.

After the underlayment is in place, spread your liner out a bit and let the sun warm it up to make it easier to smooth out the wrinkles. A couple of flat rocks on either side of the pond will help hold it in place when you start to add water and can be moved to allow slippage as it fills.

I actually bought two liners for this project, one for the pond and another smaller liner for the waterfall.
The pond liner goes in first, the waterfall liner should overlap it. I had enough for the pond  to run up the waterfall with a bit of slack so that it didn’t stretch too much when I added the large rocks for the waterfall base and then water. Leave plenty of slack at the base of the waterfall liner and let it hang down into the pond. If you’re not doing a waterfall, ignore this entire paragraph. (I probably should have mentioned that BEFORE you read it.)

Liners in place, I filled the pond about ¾ of the way with water, adjusting for slippage as it filled. “Adjust for slippage” is fancy landscaper speak for smoothing out the wrinkles enough that it isn’t tight, but doesn’t look the skin on a Shar-pei puppy either.

The spot where my daughter is sitting in the photo has been dug out to slightly below the rest of the sides in order to build a beach area there later. I put some cement blocks underneath for the time being, just to give us a stable place to climb in and out of the pond and keep the water from spilling out of that area.

You can trim off major excess of liner now if you wish, but don’t trim too close to the edge; you’ll want to leave enough to wrap up around the coping stones (your rocks that border the pond) or tuck under the grass if you prefer the natural look. I saved the really large pieces of leftover liner to put under my big stones and small boulders to guard against tears and punctures.

I can’t stress enough how you should buy a MUCH bigger liner than you need for your project. This will ensure that A) You don’t have a nasty “My liner is too freaking small for this hole” surprise and B) That there is plenty to wrap and use for padding.

At this point, the pond is basically in place, but there is still a lot of ugly black liner showing and a PVC covered pyramid for a waterfall. I’m using a basic drop-in pump with an attached UV filter to move the water. If you’re doing a bio-falls and skimmer, you’ll need to watch their little video or call a plumber, etc. to get that thing installed. The drop in pump was cost effective. Previous years, I actually used one of those fish tank waterfalls disguised under rocks to run my small pond. It worked pretty well and was under $30. The drop-in pump in and filter will run you closer to $100, but it can also handle filtering a much larger pond.

Next, it’s time to do a jigsaw puzzle with a big pile of rock…

Building a Pond: Part 1, Hardscape

Our little pond project went better this time, (I hope) only a few hiccups along the way and a little flooding problem I’ll have to be addressing before it is complete. I’m going to be doing this in a series of posts, since it’s a rather lengthy process with lots of pictures. And just a side-note: Water-containing things… still not my favorite element to work with.

Since this was my first attempt at a pond that I didn’t just dig a hole and toss the hard plastic liner in the ground, I did some reading online and even checked out a couple library books on pond construction before I started. I ordered a PVC liner, some underlayment and landscaping foam from Amazon.com. I also hauled buckets and buckets of rock from our woods and surrounding yard to the pond site. I didn’t want to have to buy large amounts of stone; I was hoping to keep the budget for this project under $200.  At this point, I was in $49 for the liner, $20 for underlayment, $50 for a pump and $20 for landscaping foam; so right on target after buying a couple bags of river rock and some mulch to finish it off.

The first two days of this project were all about hardscape. I hauled rocks out of our woods, sometimes by the bucketful or one at a time depending on the size. Some of the really big ones I had to just roll out of the woods, since we don’t have a four-wheeler or other mechanical option to get them to the yard. My daughter helped by picking up smaller rocks and pushing a few of the larger ones back down the hill for me. >.<

I thought that I had more than enough rock when I’d finished, judging by the size of the pile I wound up with. It turned out that this was only about HALF of what I actually needed to do the job, so I spent another day during the pond construction rock searching and hauling. We are lucky cost wise that we have such a huge resource of rock available on our site. If you don’t have this kind of rock readily available, be prepared to shell out a couple hundred dollars to have stones of this size and in this quantity delivered to you.

Third day or so was spent digging. I used an old piece of hose laid on the ground to get a general outline of where I wanted the pond to be. I then stuck my shovel in just deep enough to leave a line in the ground around the hose so I had a rough outline of the pond. Since the back of the waterfall was going to butt right up against our sidewalk, I decided to work on that next. I figured the best way to make it stable would be to build it like a raised flower bed. You lay your first course of rock (in this case, cement pavers I had lying around from a previous project) at least halfway buried in earth. 

The ground slopes from left to right in this area, so I dug a shallow trench deeper on one side than the other to level the first three blocks in. For flower beds, I would usually just eyeball the level. For this project, I went inside and actually got a level and checked each block for level and then all three of the first course for level against each other. I can’t stress how very important it is that this first course be as level as you can get it. For every little bit the first course is off, the blocks you stack on top of it will be exponentially off level which can lead to a very unstable structure. 

I wanted the waterfall to come to the top of the sidewalk, so I stacked blocks 3 high in a pyramid, leaving a few inches for the decorative rock I’d be putting on top. Once I was happy with these later and sure I didn’t want to re-arrange them again, I glued them together with a little landscaping foam.

Now that I had the waterfall base in place, I started digging the pond. This is where I should have done a bit more research, because I made a mistake that is probably going to prove to be a real pain in my butt sometime in the future. I dug out the hole and then went back and built up shelves out of leftover dirt. Our soil is mostly clay, which sticks together and packs nicely, so this was very easy to do.

The CORRECT way to do this is dig a shallow hole for your first layer. Then re-mark the outline of the pond a few inches or so from the perimeter and dig a bit deeper to create a ledge out of undisturbed soil. Then mark a perimeter again a few inches in to create a second ledge of undisturbed soil. Finally, mark your last perimeter and dig even deeper. This is the center and deepest part of the pond where your pump would go.

When you finish it should look like this nice professional picture of the man with his level, which you will note, doesn’t look much at all like the sloppy hole I dug myself. I only put shelves in where I thought plants might sit later. Also, I had this issue with small children in my excavation. If you have a small child in your dig, I recommend you get them out, especially before installation of the rock or liner.
Those first and second layers of shelving in the example pond are not only for plants, but you need them to hold rocks in place that will hide the sides of the liner later. The website I took this picture from is a good example of how to do it right. My dig is an excellent example of what to do if you want to be standing in a pond half full of water later, saying to yourself, “How the hell am I supposed to get these rocks to stay on the sloped sides of this pond?” This was my first major mistake.

The depth of your pond will depend on it’s purpose. If you are only going to put a few water plants in, it only needs to be around 1.5-2ft deep. I kept mine fairly shallow so that my 3-year-old daughter was able to sit on the bottom without the water level being over her head. Had I installed this a year or two ago, I probably would have opted for a pond-less feature with a recirculating fountain.  The current pond is outside the fenced play area of our yard; in other words, it’s in a place where she should never be around it unsupervised. I built our pond with her in mind. It will home to frogs and a few water lilies, but no fish.
If you are building your pond for fish, it will need to be deeper- at least 3 to 4 feet for koi, slightly less for goldfish. Basically, the fish need a place below the frost line where they can hibernate without the whole pond freezing solid. Having fish in your pond may also involve installation of a heater and a pump to keep oxygen circulation going.

I didn’t finish the pond the day I dug my hole. I ran out of steam and time, so I let it set and planned to pick up where I’d left off the next day. Then it rained. A lot.  And I wound up with a big, muddy hole, ¾ full of water. Did I mention that clay is an excellent medium for holding water? In fact, they make natural pond liners out of clay and a bonding material that you can use to line your pond if you prefer not to use PVC or EPDM liners. It’s more expensive, but can be self-sealing and it’s a natural alternative to plastic or rubber. Large scale farm ponds around here often utilize clay as a pond base to hold the water in.
SO… after it finally quit raining, I went out and pumped and bucket-scooped the water out of the hole so that I could replace the muddy, mucky mess with my nice, clean PVC liner. The fact that the pond held water so well without any liner at all should have told me this would be a problem later. I was oblivious however and continued on, unhindered by mud or knowledge of hydrostatic pressure and ground water tables.
…to be continued…

In Spite of a Certain Groundhog, Spring is Here. :)

I’ve threatened to shoot myself a groundhog several winters when the snow, ice and cold have just lazed around into April or so. This year, I can forgive that silly hog’s predictions, since he’s obviously become senile and doesn’t have the weather channel in his burrow. In spite of Phil’s predicted long winter, spring seems to be early this year. Maybe not in your part of the country, but here in Missouri we have things blooming  and pollen counts shooting off the charts already.

I’ve been bit by the spring bug in a big way, planning flower beds, working on our pond, getting our seeds ready to go in the garden next month. By the way, if you plant cold weather crops, like broccoli, lettuces or beans, they should go out NOW in our region. Wait much longer and it will be too warm. We’re starting simple this year with a few peppers, some strawberries and a couple different tomato plants, so it will be next month before our little seedlings head outside. If you haven’t started your seedlings yet, get them started as soon as possible!

I have a big post coming up on our pond re-do, but it isn’t finished yet (I’m still waiting on parts to ship) so I thought in the meantime, I’d take a couple pictures of the blooming stuff in our yard. My roses are covered in tiny new leaves, I have daffodils coming up and the crocus have already made an appearance. The tiger lilies are taking off like crazy, I’ve been separating them and moving them about the yard again, they tend to stop blooming if they get too thick.

I have seen bag worms already on a couple of the trees, so watch out for those nasty little buggers on your ornamentals; they can do some serious damage once they leave the nest. I don’t like to use poisons any more that absolutely necessary so I just burn them out with a lighter. They smell like burnt hair which is gross, but the damage to the tree or shrub is minimal, doesn’t involve a bunch of nasty chemicals being sprayed all over the place and is pretty damned effective at destroying the entire nest.

Our magnolia tree put out quite a show of blooms this year and the smaller one I transplanted last year even favored us with a single flower. They don’t like to be moved and I think I really annoyed it by doing just that. I’m hoping the bloom is a good sign that it’s recovering. Our fire bush is also covered in blooms. I’m not sure what the scientific name for it is, that’s what my family always called them.

The official Spring Equinox isn’t until March 20th. However, Meteorological Spring (which I just heard this term this morning) apparently started March 1st.
Off to take some Tylenol for all the shoveling I did today.
-B