Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cats and Catnip

It is a snowy day, and I have taken a snow day. I used to love snow days when I was in school. I take them as often as I can.

My cat meowed at me, hoping I can do something about the cold. I have done all I can for her, I started some rye and wheat sprouts for her yesterday, but I cannot change the weather, not by myself. She wants to go out and chew what she likes to improve digestion. I don’t feel like going out shopping. This sort of dilemma tends toward innovation and cleaning out cupboard energy. I found her some catnip, put it in a large paper bag. She is now happily sleeping inside the bag, after consuming catnip.

I must dry some catnip next year. I am almost out of it, and I’d better order some seeds, as it has grown in inconvenient places and all been pulled up.

I put the wheat and rye in a sprouter and it will grow up in the next day or so. I also put some in pots that something else is growing in that my cat can reach for both of our convenience. It looks like a long winter.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Invasive Worms

Nonative earth worms are probably what I have outside. There are different color worms out there: red ones, like the ones vermicomposters sell, brown ones and there are some huge ones that I haven’t identified that I have tentatively labeled native. I have seen foot longers in the compost pile as well as near my neighbor’s arborvitae. Perhaps they like the soil that arborvitae make. Arborvitae are most certainly are not native and have roots that go everywhere, worms might like that. I speculate on everything about those big worms, they are a beige color, not notable, but must be old to get so large.

My top soil was brought in, replaced when the house was built in 1963. I have a patch work of soil types. Clay is the type that was here in these bottom lands by the river when it was a farm, before it was a subdivision.

We have many reasons why it would be hard to figure out just what was here before this place was farm. There are maps of presettlement times but they are not nearly as detailed as google earth.

When the builders came in to make subdivisions, they tore down all the trees, started from scratch. That is what they did in the 60’s and mostly what they do now.

There are some old trees down by the creek, my neighbor who know about such things says my cottonwood is over 100 years old. That cottonwood is the next in line to fall over. All the large trees upstream between the cottonwood and the dam have fallen. When the creek rises, as it does in heavy rains because of all of the housing starts and impervious surfaces, etc. upstream we get a lot of water and heavy currents. Old trees hold each other up, their roots intertwine, they help each other with wind currents. The dam at the golf course may have something to do with the tree casualties we have experienced streamside in recent years, but I finger the development upstream.

It is said that after about 20 years after a subdivision is built, an ecosystem begins to sort itself out. I have taken walks around 60 year old neighborhoods and enjoy the trees and the spirit of the place.

Lawns everywhere are mostly still considered beautiful if they don’t have what are called weeds. It is rare to find a lawn where the keeper doesn’t use weed killer and fertilizer even in those 60 year old neighborhoods. Heavy petrol inputs are weed killer and fertilizer. I prefer a few other species besides grass in my lawns.

Large oaks and a beech grow over on a street near me. I’m guessing when the homesteads were built that the thoughtful home owners told the builders to leave the trees. I am grateful for the large oaks and the beech, and thank those early conservationists.

(I don’t get the hang of beech nuts. I have been told that they are quite tasty when chewed. As in beech nut gum, I’m guessing)

First on my worry list is not nonative worms, here on my city lot. Still, I wonder about invasive worms.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


It is a good time to peruse the refrigerator and storage places for shriveled root vegetables. Old beets and carrots and rutabagas, can find new life when put in dirt now. If the old roots have any life in them, they will give you early greens.

Potatoes too are sprouting. There are blue and red potato varieties that are very cold hardy. I am still experimenting with them. The very sprouted red potatoes I put on my unheated porch in a plastic bag survived temps in the 20’s.

Good to check geraniums and rooted plants on windowsills, I found some seriously rotting stems. Once rooting water gets sour (has a bad bacteria colony) stems will not root, they will rot.

The days get longer.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Green Roof dreaming on a winter's day

A green roof on my garage would be a prototype, if it is cheap enough. If a person drives around east of my house, they will see many failing garage roofs. My guess is we will see more endangered properties in the near future.

One method of taking out failed houses I have seen, I will name schlumping. I don’t know the exact methodology, but the top half of the house ended up on the ground and looked like a tent until the demolition crew took out the house and filled in the hole that was the basement. It is not pleasant to see this process, the schlumped house has tended to remain for a long time.

Once a house loses the roof integrity, the envelope or outer casing goes, structural integrity is not far behind. If we can figure out a roof that can be affordable, many domiciles and garages can be retained.

I spent some time at the web sight of It looks like they are putting green paks over the top of existing roofs. Green paks have a mix of growing material that will work to grow succulents (there are a few succulents that have shown invasive qualities and must not be used) and the installer or roof tending personal would plant the vegetation. I am thinking of do it yourselfers here, like in the 1970’s economic downturn.

The installer and maintainer would have to know or learn protocols for roof safety and would have to maintain standards for installation and care of a green roof. How hard can it be?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Garage Re-do; Roof and Door

My garage has a iffy roof, a bad door and I want a greenhouse. The door faces the South side. We don’t use the garage for cars. To me it is good reuse to put a light, transparent material on the door and a green roof (for drainage issues).

The Roof

I keep watching the adds. Someday a bright marketer will come out with a mass produced green roof. Whether the product will be in time, before my garage leaks is another question. They had better hurry up.

Intensive green roofs are expensive and seem to involve an architect. If my ship came in, so to speak, I would spend money on an architect designed roof for the garage. I could reenforce the structure and put steps up to the top, grow small shrubbery there.

It would be okay just to put up sedum, unroll all three layers on top of the roof and be done, put up an Extensive green roof. Neighbors would think it less weird. If only Home Depot would market one. The Home Depot off of 47th street in Chicago has a green roof, but they don’t sell the materials. Strange times we live in. There are specifications posted at The NRCA Green Roof Systems Manual—2007 Edition

I keep watching the adds. Someday a bright marketer will come out with a mass produced green roof that will be cheap. Whether the product will be in time, before my garage leaks is another question.

The Door

Maybe the economic downturn will be a boon to allowing jury rigged construction in the neighborhood. In the 70’s people didn’t worry what the neighbors would think about additions, they just built. City living requires some uniformity, I guess. I want to put fiberglass or plastic sheeting on the big auto door of my garage to let the light in. I could take off the door siding and put plastic on the frame of the door. What the neighbors would think of that, I don’t know. But my guess is they wouldn’t like it, would think it looked too much like junk cars on the property.

I already store figs and zone 6 plants in the garage in winter. If there was light inside, I could grow greens and brassicas and carrots there in winter. Not much would be growing now, but come February, when the earth turns and tropics come alive, the sun would coax things from the pots. The space is out of the wind, would be warmer than it is outside, like a giant cold frame.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Forever Wild

The US Senate has dusted off the Wilderness Act. They have moved toward making more places forever wild, declaring more roadless areas. We need the House of Representatives to pass the legislation now.

I want to hum a few bars. What does it mean to be forever wild?

I hope to read the legislation (though one congressman said they don’t in congress; read all of the bills they pass) soon. It is reported that there are 160 pieces of legislation in this bill. May the US congress pass the act.

We who live in the cities count on wild places. How will we regenerate our lawns and gardens and allow them to become special places if we don’t have numbers of species, healthy wild ecosystems to draw from? We need the complexity of wilderness environment, even if we never go and be in wildness ourselves.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rain garden Ranting

Yesterday, found me ranting about rain gardens again in response to the issue of far flung suburbs. Urban sprawl has been a problem for 50 years. I don’t have a solution unless heavy government mandates mess with the tax code or other means that pretty much guarantee unintended consequences. Urban sprawl police could don uniforms with pretty flower hats, use guns to make people move into urban cores.

While the best and brightest grapple with the above issue, it would make sense for anyone to make rain gardens on any low lying terrain in leu of grass. If the soil is very compacted, soil replacement with compost is current best practice. I do not own a back hoe, have not dug tow feet down and replaced the soil. (I have used a post hole digger and relied on municipal digging resouces) Deep rooted native plants in low places cause water to respirotranspire back into the air. A good layer of mulch will keep soil moist and make a hospitable place for favorable soil fauna. Good thing to remember about much: keep it a few inches away from shrubbery, flowers and trees to avoid what my landscaper friend calls cooties.

I haven’t dug down and replaced soil on my own property. I don’t have floods on my well designed (for the 1960’s) lot. I do like to dig trenches, swales and dry rivers to divert water away from impervious surfaces to lower areas where it can take its time. If every one kept their water onsight, it would trickle into the ground and recharge aquifers, hydrate our landscape. Roots and soil layers trap dirt, filter.

My understanding is that we are all in this world together, we need to learn to deal with harmful petrochemicals, heavy metals in our storm water, not let these goblins get into our riverbeds if our grandchildren are to find places to swim. Soil and wetlands filter harmful chemicals. The exact process of trapping heavy metals and harmful chemicals is mysterious to me. I think of it as alchemy. High School chemistry students could probably give me a clue.

A minority of well meaning gardeners cannot do the amazing task of transforming our drainage systems. Pipe and pond drainage, sending the water downstream to be someone else’s problem is what most of our building codes, planning boards, and local ordinances enforce. Living down stream has shown me how ineffective our practices are.

When people get me started, I get on a roll. Gardeners can be dangerous people.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Native Plant Love

Focusing on rain gardens, leads a person to native plants. Deep roots keep the soil loose, respirotranspire water, live through times of less rain. Local insects find food in the garden.

Planting rain gardens, native plants make sense. For instance, the rain garden we planted in Redford Twp, Michigan this summer, right next to our award winning CSO (Combined Sewer Overflow). Native plants all, it was made as a demonstration garden. The city came in with backhoes, dug out compacted soil, replaced it with compost and peat.

I use only compost as a soil improver and replacer in my garden, as that is what I have handy. I don’t have a backhoe either, so dig little holes with a post hole digger, back fill with compost. I do have a lot of compacted soil.

The natives around our place are:

purple asters, started from seeds from a nursery in Northern Lower Michigan. They seed themselves generously. I knew they’d do well, as white asters plant themselves. If you live in an area that deer come to, they will keep these rather large plants trimmed. I have to trim them myself if I want them shorter than 3 ft high.

common milk weed, started itself in the driveway years ago. It spreads. Monarchs love it, I have begun using the seed pod gossamer as stuffing for winter garments, turns out the stuff is very warm. I had a party in 2004. A woman who attended told me a story about collecting milk weed seed pods during in WWII, when she was a child. Kapok, for life jackets came from the South Pacific; from countries that we were at war with, Indonesia, etc. Our country was cut off from our supply of Kapok. Creative solution was for the government to ask every citizen, children most especially, to collect milkweed pods and send them to Petoskey Michigan, where there was a plant for processing pods into life jackets for the Navy.

echinacia and guillardia, birds love the seeds in winter.

native lobilia, blooms in fall.

catelpa- four trees down the hill, show good promise of competing with buckthorn, if I keep the buckthorn trimmed back.

Red oisier dogwood -down the hill it floods, but it is not wet enough in the summer, or sunny enough, for this pretty shrub, I’m thinking, as it is not doing well.

elderberry- I made flavored vinegar with the berries, have to get them before the birds do.


marsh mallow- self seeds. I like to keep it trimmed. I have not seen deer who come here to browse, only running past down the hill, so I have to do my own trimming.

Box- makes a nice foundation plant.

Button Bush, my friend got the seeds from Lake Orion, started them. The less than a foot high seedlings are still in my nursery, as I investigate suitable homes.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rain garden love

My decade long love affair with rain gardens came about because of the little piece of flood plain and river we own. I was invited to a Friends of the Rouge event for Riparian land owners. My husband had stopped mowing on the hill, and I couldn’t blame him, it was steep.

At the event, I learned about invasive species, went home, and sure enough there was buckthorn growing like crazy on the hill. There were no understory plants. Gone was the idea that we could stop mowing and the place would return to nature (what ever that is).

I went to an event, put on by SOCWA (South Oakland County Water Authority). I wasn’t a municipality and the event was designed for municipal employees, I went anyway. There was a presentation by Prince Edward County, Virginia, drain commissioner.

He presented the concept of rain gardens. He had slides of rain gardens in use adjacent to Dept of Navy parking lots and subdivision residential lots. Rain Gardens mimic some of the services of wetlands, notably to keep rain water onsight, let it trickle into the ground and recharge watertables. Also notable, rain gardens filter dirt and petrochemicals from the water.

Living next to the river, I regularly see the huge floods caused by runoff from impervious surfaces. The water volume increases as subdivisions are built upstream. Rain gardens made a lot of sense to me, and I began to see the sense in changing building codes to require rain gardens in new subdivisions.

I have since: seen rain gardens solve flooding problems in property around residences in older areas, learned some information about native plants, found people who didn’t think I was crazy for growing milkweed, become a rain gardener and rain garden tuner, and generally fallen under the spell of growing rain gardens.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Be Careful What You Feed, It will grow

Gardening is not an instant payback. Soil building happens over time. Most gardeners will say it is all in the soil. Soil is uno number one important.

I stopped tilling or digging much in my soil. It was just getting good, nice to put a shovel in the soft soil- free from compaction as I would not allow anyone to step on it and had put compost in. I put compost on the top now and move the compost rings to new places. Making compost on top makes a good environment for worms and healthy soil bacteria and these entities make the soil soft.

Top output is not what I like to think about. I like to watch who is winning. This year at the start of the season I fed young cabbage looper larvae to my goldfish. I now wonder if the bloom of cabbage moths and larvae I saw over the year was because there was not enough looper in the yard when birds came hunting, so they chose somewhere else to hunt. I will hunt cabbage larvae, but I would much rather delegate that task to birds who would get nutrition from it.

Be careful what you feed, it will grow, I’m thinking as I survey the stewarding done on my small plot of land here in the city. I collect seeds for the next year. I try new varieties, mostly native, to see where they will grow. I plant tomatoes and I put in cucumbers and peppers. I grow broccoli and kale in pots and garbage cans up high, far from marauding ground hogs.