I hope now that the ordeal with our rain garden is over Tom and I can start actually enjoying our garden! One of the many things we like about it is being able to pick fresh salads every day in season. I’m going to be really sad when it gets too cold to do this.
Since I took these photos, this monarch has hatched and is on it’s way to Mexico right now if it has not run into misfortune along the way. I’ve helped raise a bunch of caterpillars this year by providing habitat and I’m really happy about that!
Since I welcome caterpillars to my garden, I get species I really want as well as caterpillars that eat some of the greens I want to eat. One of my strategies is to plant enough to share. I also like to encourage beneficial insects that prey on garden pests.
As was decided at the November 17 board meeting, I attended the Building and Landscaping Committee Meeting on December 9 to explain my garden plan in detail and answer questions. The committee as a whole determined that I was following the by-laws and previous decisions by the board so I was to continue my plan with the compromises we agreed to worked in. The person who complained about my garden is to get a letter saying I’m managing my garden in accordance with the board and the by-laws and they can manage their own garden the way they like it. The landscapers came around for another round of leaf removal in late December and once again skipped my garden as agreed and I am very happy!
On January 1st and 3rd, I applied 20 more bags of mulch, bringing the total number of bags of mulch I’ve applied this season to 82. This time I went to the Clayton mulch pile where they have shredded leaf mulch available for the taking. It’s darker in color than the wood chip mulch I’ve been using, so I’m hoping topping the beds off with a darker layer will help my garden blend in a little bit with the neighboring areas which have not been mulched yet (that’s usually done in February and only every other year) and have only bare soil showing.
I do think the results are an improvement as you see here:
Comments from others have given me some ideas and I think the results are better than if I had not had any feedback – so far the collaboration and cooperation is resulting in a more attractive garden than if we had gone all my way or all their way. This is how it should work, how I hoped it would work and is the reason I engaged management at each step. If I can successfully pull off a sustainable garden in a condo complex, many others might learn from my experiment how to go about it. Many people all over the country who want to garden in a way that benefits the environment are dealing with the same challenges. Although I am not trying to grow food like the people in the article I can relate to some of the difficulties – for example getting permission for something according to the by-laws then getting threatened with punishment for doing it, which has happened to me more than once. Many organizations and governments are working at cross-purposes and giving their citizens mixed messages and not communicating effectively with each other or the people they are supposed to serve and the citizens suffer as a result. I think too many large organizations see their constituents or customers as subjects. The communication situation in my case has improved greatly and I’m optimistic about the future.
I’ve considered removing more of the liriope since it is not a plant native to Missouri and I want to have more native plants, but I changed my mind because liriope is all over the entire complex and having some in my garden will help with visual continuity. I’ll just keep planting around it and thinning it now and then to keep it in check. Some of the feedback I got indicated that the garden doesn’t so much look bad in their opinion as it looks different and that bothers some people. Looking different was definitely my goal because I don’t think the rest of the complex is as attractive as many other people think but since I know what a healthy garden is supposed to look like I’m seeing it in a completely different way than most people and I do realize that. To me a healthy garden is a beautiful garden, to others an unhealthy garden might be more attractive because they don’t understand what they are seeing. I think blending it in a bit better will help.
I didn’t have enough mulch this time around to cover the path area in the back as well as the planting beds, so my next step in the garden will be to get some more wood chip mulch to cover the path areas. The back garden in particular tends to look a little chaotic at times because my goal is to leave some of the dead plants standing through winter to provide habitat for wildlife and to keep the garden healthy. I think the contrasting color path area does help the appearance because it makes it look a little more ordered.
Once that is done, the next aesthetic issue I would like to address in the garden is that white pipe cap sticking up. I have an idea for a way to conceal that and another cap that is nearby that is not shown in these pictures. I’ll write about what I plan to with that later, and we’ll see if the condo association approves it.
In addition to mulching to cover up the fallen leaves in the planting beds, I applied more fertilizer and raked up the front yard. I’m not required to care for the grassy areas – the landscapers remove the leaves periodically – but it’s in my best interest to rake the area around my garden because when the grassy areas look messy my garden gets blamed. It’s understandable that people don’t distinguish between the parts I maintain and the parts the association maintains – how would they know? It looks like one unit and I’m going to start treating it as such. The leaf blowers the landscapers use leave some of the twigs behind and it does look better with the twigs raked up as well. I used what I raked up to help build up a small raised bed where I hope to grow something later.
These photos show spots near my unit that are not part of my garden that are suffering from not being mulched – with all the rain we’ve had lately in the St. Louis area (which I’m sure you heard about in the news!) erosion can be a problem. My garden area did not have erosion at all because it was well mulched. I’ve gone through a lot of expense and time over the last 11 years building up better soil in the planting beds – I don’t want it to go down the drain!
I went to the board meeting on 11/17/15 to explain my garden management plan. The plan had been agreed to back in February, but there had allegedly been a complaint about it so I thought I’d better explain to the board what the plan was and how I planned to deal with the complaint. I’m not allowed to know who made it so I have to take their word for it that it happened at all. Also I requested a copy of the complaint with the personal information blocked out and I was told I’d get it but I don’t have it yet, so I’m skeptical about whether it exists at all.
It seems that one board member is bitter and resentful that I even have a garden at all, she apparently thinks I don’t deserve “special treatment”. It seems likely that no matter how I manage my garden she will be unhappy that it exists. I did not know this until the meeting but apparently gardening permits are no longer issued at the complex. I got mine in January 2005 so unless the board votes otherwise it seems my garden along with several others is “grandfathered in”. To be angry with me over this doesn’t seem like a very fair attitude to me because the only reason I even got the idea to start a garden here was that the association used to advertise in the newsletter to come to the office and get a permit to start a garden. In other words, I was invited. You can’t rely on the word of the management about too many things, they’ve followed through on several of their agreements with me but have blown off several others. Some of this is no doubt because of the large size of the complex but it’s difficult to rely on their word for anything. If you rely on what they say you are likely to get attacked for it later, even you have it in writing. Some of the people who work here are wonderful to deal with and some give you the impression that they’d be happier if you left and never came back. That is why I would not advise anyone to move here – unless you enjoy conflict and stress. Otherwise there are a lot of good things about it.
Unit owners are only allowed a short time to speak, there is a timer that goes off when your time is up. People are allowed to make anonymous complaints about you but if you want to defend yourself you have to go on the record which I don’t mind doing but I sure wish the alleged detractors if they exist were man or woman enough to do the same. The PowerPoint presentation I had prepared was far too detailed to deal with in the time allowed so I requested to present it at the Building and Landscape committee meeting on December 9 and that request was granted. In the meantime, I suggested a couple of compromises on the North and West sides of the building to make the garden blend in a little better with the rest of the complex which were accepted for now. With those small adjustments I’m to proceed with my plan until the Dec. 9 meeting. What will happen after that I don’t know. The management has a copy of my plan along with my contact information and has my permission to share that information with anyone who would like to talk to me about the garden. I have strong ideas about how I want to manage the garden but I also have strong ideas about not causing problems for my neighbors. If a compromise can be reached I want to try it and not just give up. Some things ARE negotiable. My garden has become habitat to lots of delightful creatures since I started it and is also habitat for at least one endangered species – the Monarch Butterfly. For them, I want to try to keep it going.
On November 19 the leaf blower guys came around again and this time they confirmed with me that I wanted them to skip my garden and I would manage the leaves myself. I confirmed that was the case and sent an email to the condo association and the landscaping company to thank them profusely for their cooperation.
On November 23, I applied 20 more bags of mulch to cover the leaves that had fallen since the last mulch application. That was not enough to do the whole job so I did the North and West sides first which are visible from the street. I’ll do the rest at the earliest opportunity – probably today. I also applied some more blood and bone meal fertilizer and the last of my oat seeds which I’m using as a cover crop.
November 24 – 20 more bags of mulch completed the job, for now.
I’m fortunate that I’m allowed to garden in the condo community where I live. My garden has been a tremendous source of pleasure and personal fulfillment for the last 11 years. It’s also been a source of occasional frustration. I realize that my gardening style, while common in some circles, is a bit avant-garde for a community where landscapers who don’t use sustainable practices do most of the garden work.
Any time people do something different there is an adjustment period and some conflicts. When you garden in a community others’ needs have to be taken into consideration. I’ve found that so far that any challenges that come up can be resolved satisfactorily with open communication and creative compromises. I think all gardens are experimental and frustrating to a degree, in my opinion anyone who sticks with gardening a long time accepts this as part of the deal.
My garden is on a really difficult site. When I started the soil was almost pure clay. I have no areas of full sun. I have building shade. I’m surrounded by huge oak trees – they are beautiful and I love them but gardening beneath them is far from easy. Human interference is by far the biggest obstacle to having a good garden at this site. Most people probably would have given up on this project years ago but I’ve gained so much knowledge along the way that I will never regret it. I hope others will benefit from what I’ve learned also by reading about what I’ve done.
2015 has been the most promising season yet, up until what I hope is a minor setback a few days ago. I don’t want it to escalate so I’m going to give a presentation to the board this evening as I understand there are one or more new members. What will the outcome be? Check this space to find out!
View the presentation here (if you don’t know the back story it’s in there):
In my previous article “Make a Garden Sign Out of a Recycled Produce Crate” I explained that I wanted signs to let the groundskeepers at my condo complex know that I did not want them to remove the fall leaves from my garden, especially with leaf blowers, or trim or spray the plants. The condo management has agreed to let me deal with the leaves myself this year as an experiment and has let the landscaping company know to leave my garden alone.
What is Lasagna gardening? No, it’s not growing delicious tomatoes and herbs that you can put in your lasagna, though you may eventually be able to do just that depending on your conditions. Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet composting, is an organic gardening method that entails covering the ground with layers of materials of organic origin and allowing them to naturally break down over time. The benefits of this method are less time and labor spent weeding and tilling, creating healthy soil for healthier plants, and reaping the many benefits of compostable materials instead of wasting them.
In a previous article I described stenciling with paint on a wood garden sign. That works great if you don’t want a lot of small words but I found myself in need of some new garden signs that would require a lot of text on them. I decided to find a way to computer generate the text and put it on a weatherproof sign. In the past I had purchased produce from a co-op and had saved a couple of the thin wood crates thinking they would be useful for garden markers of some kind. I decided to make small signs from this wood and print out my text on clear acetate and attach that to the signs with brads.
I’m interested in invertebrates and invertebrate conservation, so I manage my garden to support a population of beneficial insects. Today while doing some much-needed garden maintenance I saw no pest species except crickets (so I thought anyway) but to my pleasure I did find these guys…
This individual was about 2 inches long and was mostly a mottled light brown color. The picture shows it on the edge of a paper bag that I was using to collect seeds.
When I took this picture I was excited because I thought this was an Assassin Bug, but after looking online to try to identify which kind, it’s seems more likely that it’s a Leaf-Footed Bug. If that’s the case it sucks plant juices and it doesn’t prey on other insects like the Assassin Bug would do, so it’s NOT good to have in the garden. But I only saw one so it’s not a big deal.
I’m so excited, my Swamp Milkweed is being used a host plant for Monarchs! I’ve been seeing a lot of Monarchs in the garden for the last month or so. I’m so happy to be not only helping feed them with flower nectar but providing them habitat for their larvae. I have Common Milkweed started in two other parts of the garden and I’m going to spread the Swamp Milkweed seed around this fall to try to grow more.
In 2013, my Dad expressed an interest in expanding his garden and growing some vegetables organically. We put our heads together and came up with the following strategy – in 2013 we would make his yard a better habitat for beneficial insects, then in 2014 we’d start planting vegetables. With a healthy beneficial insect population in place, we should have a better chance of getting any pest problems that might manifest on the crops under control in a natural way. Another goal we have is to be as frugal as we can – we both read The $64 Dollar Tomato and we hope to produce vegetables at a more reasonable cost than that! Neither of us have much experience growing vegetables organically. I’ve been gardening organically for about 10 years but where I live I don’t have enough sun or space to grow most vegetables so I have concentrated on herbs and flowers. We will both be learning a lot as we go – some of you more experienced gardeners out there might find some of our actions strange, if so don’t be afraid to offer feedback! We know we have a lot to learn!
March 30, 2014
Most of the vegetables we plan to grow are going to be direct-sown into the ground. It was too early to plant yet on March 30, so we worked on garden prep. We are going to attempt to use a form of permaculture gardening called the Hugelkultur method to build raised beds. One of our ideas is to put a chicken wire fence around the vegetable garden area to keep the rabbits out. Last fall Dad had done some pruning on some of the bushes and trees and left the cut branches lay where they fell during the winter. This was a good idea for two reasons – one, the birds were able to eat seed from the branches if they wanted (some of them, like the Rose of Sharon, had a lot of seeds which I’ve observed being eaten by house finches, gold finches and starlings), and it caused fallen leaves to gather among the branches which helped keep the ground warm and moist around the shrubs and trees during the harsh winter we had. We gathered up these branches and started building long mounds for our raised beds. We added some compost in various stages of completion and some more organic material. After the fence is erected, we plan to add more woody material, leaves, organic matter and top it off with soil. The walking paths between the planted mounds will be mulched.
There is an area of Dad’s garden where we plan to plant a wildflower seed mix. In preparation, in the fall Dad spread leaves over the area we’re going to plant – we plan to put soil over the leaves before planting. Dad was pleased to observe that he had inadvertently created a well-used foraging area for birds who love to turn the leaves over looking for insects.
April 4, 2014
A neighbor of mine was giving away free wood from a cut tree so I filled the back of my Jeep with bundles of this wood and brought it over to Dad’s house. Perhaps we’ll use this to make walls around the raised beds to hold the soil in. Or if we decide to build a chicken wire fence around all the raised beds, we might use the wood to reinforce the fence.
This was a pretty cold day, so after unloading the wood and some extra unfinished compost I brought over to help build up the raised beds, we retreated to Dad’s basement where I spent the afternoon sewing on what had been my Mom’s old machine and he planted tomato, cucumber and spinach seeds in little containers to sprout indoors on a windowsill for transplanting outside later. We both agree it’s probably a little late to start that but we’ll just do the best we can with what we have. The Hugelkultur method is supposed to warm the raised bed and extend the growing season. We’ll see if it works!
My own garden is mostly perennials. It’s great fun at this time of year to see what comes back. Things are a little behind schedule this year but there is evidence that a lot of plants are still alive!
April 13, 2014
Dad has lots of cucumber and tomato seedlings coming up indoors! The final decision has been made on how to protect the vegetables – we’re going to fence in the vegetable area with chicken wire and reinforce the fence with wood and repellent plantings.
I brought over some more organic material to help build up the raised beds that will grow the veggies. The neighbor who was giving away wood earlier still had some large stump sized pieces left, so I brought some of those over too. We’ll use those to put containers on if we need more space for plants that need to be raised above rabbit level.
After unloading these materials, Dad and I headed over to a home near Dad’s where a man recently had a large stump ground down and was giving away a quantity of wood chips. We filled up many containers of this to use as mulch. We started figuring out where we wanted walking paths in both the vegetable and herb/wildflower areas and we put the mulch down over scrap cardboard and paper to help hold back the grass underneath.
Dad thinks his flowering fruit trees are growing more vigorously this year. We hope that means the compost and mulch we put down at their bases last year is paying off! We still haven’t put down enough material to smother all the grass to the drip line, but we’ll get there someday!
April 19, 2014
I think we’re done with freezing weather for this year (I hope I’m right!) so I put away my “pond” heater (I have a 1/2 barrel water feature on my deck) and planted some seeds on containers on my deck – grape tomatoes, wheatgrass, bronze fennel, mullein and sweet basil. Most of my garden plants are perennials so there isn’t much to do in the rest of my garden yet. Yesterday I dug up some extra volunteer plants to give away and sell at the various shows and farmers markets I’m going to do this year. So far I have quite a bit of extra lemon balm and garlic chives.
In anticipation of receiving a shipment of dirt, Dad bought some manure and spread it over the mounds of woody material and unfinished compost that will become the vegetable beds in his garden.
The new dirt arrived on the 19th and was deposited on what will become the wildflower section of Dad’s garden. It’s up to us to spread it around where we want it. Dad filled in the future vegetable beds with dirt.
April 20, 2014
On Easter Sunday, my Dad, brother and I attended mass together then went out for brunch at Yacovelli’s which is sadly now closed. When we got back to Dad’s house, we changed into old clothes and went to work on the garden. Dad surrounded the new vegetable garden area with chicken wire fencing while I got to work on the dirt pile.
First I loaded up two carloads full of dirt that we are going to give to a friend of ours who also hires me one day a week to help him with his garden and with various things around his house. Dad is going to deliver one and I’m going to bring over the other. Then I started distributing more dirt to the wildflower and herb portion of the garden. Some plantings are already in place in this section. I took some chunks of dirt that were hard to break apart and used them to mark the boundaries of paths, the garden edge, butterfly puddle area and herb beds. I put down some more recyclable paper and cardboard on the paths to keep the grass from coming up after they are mulched and started to fill in the wildflower area with dirt. Dad moved the stump pieces we had collected to various locations to later put containers on.
The last thing we did this day was to head over to the man’s house near Dad who was giving away mulch. It didn’t look like anyone had taken any since we had been there the previous week. Since my Jeep and Dad’s car were already full of dirt containers, we took my brother’s car over there and filled many grocery bags with mulch. By the time we covered the new paths and touched up some mulched areas from last year, we only had two bags left. We put that aside for later because we know there are areas that will need periodic touching up.
We think the paths really help improve the appearance of the wildflower garden and make it look like an inviting place to explore. The paths will also make future maintenance easier – we’re going to be going in there for weeding and harvesting herbs! There may still be some dirt left after we’ve used all we can and in that case we might make a berm for the wildflower seed mix portion of the garden. That could be very interesting because different seeds might sprout at different levels if the moisture level is not consistent throughout.
I came over to Dad’s house after my stint at the Tower Grove Farmers Market in the morning. I was a bit tired and Dad was working on a car so I just did a little weeding. Dad had finished distributing the dirt in the meantime so it’s ready for planting whenever we have the time to do it!
I worked on my own garden on this day. I loosened up the soil in several spots and planted the following seeds – Mullein, Forget-Me-Not, Cilantro, Flowering Tobacco, Blackberry Lily, Queen Anne’s Lace and Columbine. Direct sowing seeds right into the ground is kind of a hit and miss method for me, but I’m out of room on my deck for containers so we’ll see what happens! While loosening the soil I collected all the grubs I could find to feed to my two pet starlings – that is one of their favorite foods! I gathered up handfuls of earthworms and put those in my deck containers which have a lot of partially finished compost in the bottoms under the soil.
We were determined to finish all the planting in Dad’s garden on this day, and we did it! First we planted some extra seedlings that I brought over from my own garden – grape tomatoes, bronze fennel and Korean hyssop. Next we tackled the seeds we’d accumulated over the last several months. Some were seeds saved from previous years and some were collected at plant and seed swaps. I guess it’s not very realistic to expect them all to come up but we are excited about possibly enjoying leeks, watermelon, sweet basil, cucumber, onion, Summer savory, 4 O’clocks, Hollyhocks, Tansy, Baby’s Breath, Morning Glory, Sumac, Annual Sunflower, Cantaloupe, Cosmos, Coreopsis and a wildflower mix which has too many things in it to list them all here.
On Sunday the 18th, I attended a plant swap and picked up some extra plants for my garden and for my Dad’s garden. I scored some Mountain Mint, Solomon’s Seal and Parsley for my own garden and several plants that I’m going to give to my Dad.
Well, I was wrong about having all the planting done due to having picked up new plants at the plant swap. To Dad’s garden we added elderberry, foxglove, collards, cauliflower, red cabbage, moonflower, and a romaine lettuce that I had started at my house from the cut-off stem of a romaine lettuce bunch.
Brought Dad a another romaine lettuce and a celery for him to plant, both started from cut-off stems.
Whew! Reading this over again many months later reminds me of how much work we put into Dad’s garden! I was correct in predicting that not all the seeds we planted would come up, but enough did to make the effort well worthwhile. Nearly all the transplants did very well. Dad was not able to stop buying vegetables in the grocery store (not that we were expecting that), but a reasonable amount of vegetables and herbs made it to his table. I’ve read that the area dedicated in the garden to flowering plants should be equal to the area planted with vegetables in order to provide a sufficient beneficial insect population for pest control and pollination. Dad’s wildflower and herb area was the right size and worked as planned – there were almost no pest issues at all and the plants in the wildflower and herb area were the site of constant activity from beneficials. I counted 12 beneficial wasps on a single plant on one occasion. Some of the herbs, like the bumper crop of dill, were in the vegetable area and their masses of tiny yellow flowers were gorgeous to look at while performing their valuable function.
Since there had been a new application of unsterilized soil over the garden, a lot of weeds came up. I was expecting this and kind of looking forward to it because I was hoping some of them would be useful – such as purslane, which we got – yay! We let things grow for awhile then when the plants were big enough to tell what they were, we pulled the ones we didn’t want. For example, we pulled out some of the pokeweed and let some stay since they are pretty plants and serve as bird food. There was one unknown good-sized white-flowered plant in particular that I really want to know what it is because it’s very beautiful and was swarming with beneficials. We let those stay as well. This year we are going to plant more wildflower seeds in this area to supplement last year’s wildflower mix, which mainly produced evening primroses. These are biennials so I sure hope they keep re-seeding!
We were both really pleased with the appearance of the wildflower and herb area as well. The combination of flower colors (mainly yellow, white and purple) was stunning and the berm left over from our dirt application and the mulch paths really added to the attractiveness of that part of the garden. The butterfly puddling area we had built in 2013 didn’t seem to be holding any water and we never saw butterflies using it though there were plenty in the vicinity. We may have to dig that up and rebuild in the future with a better water collection container.
To overwinter the garden, we didn’t do much to the wildflower area except to mulch now and then where there was bare soil or when any of the cardboard under the mulch got exposed at the edges. Dad put the leaves he collected in the yard in the vegetable area to protect it and use as mulch the next year. Since that part of the garden is fenced, the leaves stay put until we need them.
On February 8, 2015 I came over with some leaf and wood chip mulch that I had picked up at the Richmond Heights mulch pile the day before and we touched up the mulch where needed. Dad also had on hand a supply of wood chips that came from a ground up-tree that had been taken down at a rental house that he owns. We also put down cardboard and paper over the path areas of the vegetable garden, without removing the leaves first, and covered that material with wood chips to form this year’s paths. We had some wood chips left over so we stored those for future use. Our gardening method requires lots of mulch so we know it will be used eventually. We are leaving last year’s plants standing until it’s time to plant those particular areas. At that time we’ll also remove some of the leaves from the raised beds and compost them in another area of the garden and also leave some as mulch around the new plants. Since we are using a no-till method we will not be disturbing the planting mounds from last year but instead just planting on top of them. This will require a fresh infusion of soil – we are not sure what our source will be for that yet. We won’t need nearly as much as last year, no need for a truck to bring it this time! A carload should be more than enough.
Dad has some garlic bulbs started in the house, and will be starting seeds indoors shortly as we get closer to planting time. Here is a planting calendar I made for the St. Louis, Missouri area that we are attempting to follow. We’re hoping that last year’s hard work will pay off even more this year!
Are you interested in making your garden more habitable to beneficial insects? Here is a list of invertebrates you might want in your garden, followed by a chart showing what plants are likely to attract them and what plants may repel pests.