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Tuesday
Aug142012

Green Roof = Sustainable Design

A green roof is just one of many steps toward more sustainable and environmentally friendly landscapes. We installed a green roof in Eaton’s Neck using the LiveRoof System. The residence is designed specifically for several green roofs; not just for aesthetic value but environmental as well.
  
Advantages:
- Soil and plant matter provides insulation for temperature & sound
- Reduces stormwater runoff by absorbing water 
- Reduces air pollution & lowers the heat island effect with sedums that evapotranspirate at night
 
Pre-grown modular system:
- Minimal irrigation needs, especially once it is established
- Uses fire resistant succulent planting; plants retain moisture and are fit for arid conditions
- 25-50% energy savings 
- Lightweight modules decrease load on roof
- Repair requires minimal disruption of system; trays can removed and replaced individually
- Plant choices offer visual interest all year round
Tuesday
Aug072012

Mulch Volcanoes

The quickest and least expensive way to clean up your property is to mulch the beds. Even if you don't have any plants in them. It will give you a fresh and tidy look for your property and is something you can do yourself. However, if the beds DO have plants, make sure you know how to mulch around them properly. It can be a massive drain of time and money to fix improperly mulched plantings and if you can't fix them you end up replacing them.

I see what we call, "mulch volcanoes," way too often around trees and shrubs. That's what we say when we see a pile of mulch around a tree trunk. I also see those plants declining after just one season of suffocation. This may seem dramatic, but piling mulch around the trunks of trees and shrubs WILL kill them. Roots need air and if the plant can't get enough, it will send out adventitious roots to find them. If you can't see a root flare, the plant won't be able to breathe. Girdling roots start to form, wrapping their way around the trunk in a confused effort to find air. As the trunk of the tree or shrub grows and expands outward, these girdling roots press on the trunk and literally strangle it.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you mulch properly. You want to see a root flare out at the base of the trunk(s) like a bell bottomed jean (see pictures below). You DON'T want to see a mound of mulch. If you see a mound of mulch, it may not be too late. Pull the mulch away and dig out your tree or shrub. If it is truly planted too low you can try to transplant it higher when the time is right for that plant. Or you can dish out around it but remember you will essentially be creating a little sump area where the water will pool. If the girdling roots haven't fused to the trunk you can remove them with pruning shears. This will most likely shock the plant but with some TLC it may come back.

I have seen it in my own yard. An azalea my mom planted 20 years ago had slowly sunk into the soil and years of mulching around it had buried it about 8 inches up the trunk. I thought it was dying because it was old and decrepit until I started poking around the base. I dug it out two years ago, transplanted it and cut it back to rejuvenate the shape. It now looks healthy and happy.

Feel free to ask me any questions or send me pictures if you think your plants are in trouble from the dreaded mulch volcanoes. Good luck!

 

Thursday
Jul122012

Rain Gardens & Rain Barrels

We all learned about the water cycle in elementary school. It rains, plants and soil soak up water, plants evapotranspirate moisture back into the atmosphere and standing water evaporates, it rains. That's the simplified version. In reality, in our developed world, it takes a lot more steps for the water to go from the clouds to the ground again. Sewers, drains, and drywells capture runoff from impervious surfaces like asphalt, concrete and roofs and this water is either contained until it can slowly migrate back into the soil through the perforated wall of a concrete drywell, or it is sent to a sewage treatment plant to be treated with chemicals and reintroduced into our water cycle. The more impervious surfaces that cover our earth, the more water that is treated and wasted.
 
How can we lessen the impact on our drainage systems? Rain gardens. Let the soil and plants naturally filter out impurities and toxins from the runoff, as in other unpaved areas, and have a beautiful, diverse garden to enjoy. Sure, you can get a backhoe and even a crane to come in and dig down until you hit drainable material, then install drywells, and surface drains, but that is expensive. While it is currently the accepted way to deal with storm water runoff, it adds yet another step to a natural process that worked fine before human intervention.
 
You can also try a rain barrel. Hook one up to your downspout and use it for irrigation. Why pay the water company for treated water when you can collect it unpolluted for free? Some water tolerant (aka "likes wet feet") plants for these areas would be acorus, clethra, iris, daylily, bog rosemary, hypericum, and willow among others.
Friday
Jun012012

The Garlic & Vinegar Solution

No, this isn't a post about cooking. It is about using everyday kitchen ingredients to keep the weeds and creepy crawly biting things away. I don't like using chemicals on my property. I don't like weeds or bugs. I don't want to harm myself or my pets with toxic chemicals. What's a girl to do? Go to the grocery store! Vinegar is about 3 dollars for a gallon jug, garlic is 25 cents per bulb and mineral oil is around $5, depending on the size and quality you want to use. If you're not going to eat it, get the cheaper stuff!

Vinegar is a non-selective, organic herbicide. A few of my neighbors' aren't as attentive with their properties as I am with mine and their weeds are constantly creeping under the fence. Every year I buy a few gallons of vinegar and pour it along the fence line. I am careful not to splash my existing plants, because like I said before, it is non-selective, which means it will kill any plant, not just the weeds. It won't destroy heavy hitters like English Ivy, Morning Glory Vine, Crabgrass or Dandelions, but it weakens them enough for me to rip them out more easily. Organic yards take a lot of one on one work, but it is worth it to me.

I'm fine with most insects but my hospitality runs out when mosquitoes use me and mine as a snack bar. Garlic oil is a good mosquito repellant. You could rub it on yourself but that's going to be rather awkward smelling. It is better to apply it to the garden, as a perimeter application, and it has the bonus effect of deterring bunnies from the yard as well. I'm not going to claim that this will take care of all the mosquitoes, but for my purposes, it does a decent job of protecting me and my pets. See the recipe below to make your own.

You can repurpose the vinegar jugs when you're done, using them as planters, watering containers, or to keep your garlic oil in!

 

Garlic Oil

Ingredients:
1 head of Garlic
1 cup Mineral Oil
1 tsp. Lemon Juice
2 cups Water

Instructions: Mince several cloves of garlic and cover with mineral oil. Let it sit for at least 24 hours to infuse. Take about 1 teaspoon of the oil (I strain the garlic chunks out with wire mesh) and mix it with 2 cups of water and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a spray bottle. Shake it up well and go to town! Store extra in a cool, dry place. You won't be cooking with it but no need to let it get any funkier. I usually make mine each time I need it.

Friday
May112012

The Taste of Nature

I have a completely organic vegetable garden every summer at my house. It is cheaper than buying vegetables in a grocery store or farmer’s market and I know exactly where my food comes from. In addition, I can grow whatever varieties I want and a tomato from my garden always tastes better to me and my family than the hormone enhanced, genetically modified strains they sell at the store. Store bought veggies grow on factory farms with genetically modified seeds formulated to grow rapidly and have maximum yields. They use manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and the end result tastes nothing like what a real tomato should taste like.

It is everyone’s personal choice what to feed themselves and their families, but I know that in my life, with all of the potential carcinogens and toxins just hanging around in everything we use and eat, it is important to me to do what I can to offset those toxins. I also love that I made those veggies happen! I gave them love, care, and then made them into delicious dishes for my family. Below is a recipe from my mom for Gazpacho. It is a delicious cold soup and every year I can make it using just the food in my garden and a few staple kitchen items. I also make a great salsa every summer and that recipe is below with a quick homemade way to make tortilla chips. I know that in this economy everyone wants to save a few dollars. What better way to do it than in your own backyard?


Noreen’s Gazpacho

 

Ingredients:

2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered

1 medium onion, peeled and quartered

1 green pepper, cored, seeded and quartered

1 small clove of garlic

1 cucumber, peeled and cubed

3 cups tomato juice

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup chicken broth

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic croutons for top

Instructions: Blend veggies in blender. Add tomato juice and blend again. Pour into large bowl; add vinegar, oil, broth, salt and pepper. Blend well and cover. Chill for several hours and serve.


AJ’s Salsa

Ingredients:
3 large tomatoes, chopped 
2 bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 chives or scallions, chopped
2 sprigs of cilantro, chopped
Lime juice to taste, approx. 3 tbsp
1 jalapeno, minced (seeds = heat, use gloves & wash hands thoroughly 
 

Instructions: Combine all ingredients and chill. Enjoy with tortilla chips or multi-grain pita chips.

 

Homemade Tortilla Chips

Use a pizza cutter to section fresh flour tortillas. Brush with olive oil and season with salt. You can add a little limejuice, too. Lay pieces on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F until crispy.