Plastic, Gardens and Drought

The replacement of lawn with gravel to save a rain shadow valley from drought is based on the principle of laying plastic down over the living earth and smothering it so that its natural creative energy is killed.Or so it seems. After only two or three years, the earth reasserts herself and begins to bury the stones.
Any decorative appeal, which was gained at great expense, is soon lost.

Things begin to look like hell.

What a lot of work it is to kill the earth. Sometimes it’s just easier to give up and grow a garden.

Dang, but a few years will nix that, too. Whew.
Best to give that up to and relax by the lake. A cool brewsky. Kids playing in the sand. Corn on the cob. Nature, you know? Nice. Here’s the corn, coming along.

Oh, crap. Of course, you don’t have to kill the earth. You can use plastic to bring her to life, too. Water, you know.

A society gardens in its own image. That’s the thing. If you want to know your country, look to its gardens.

Ouch.

Sustaining the Okanagan 15: Time for Thyme!

We don’t need lawn. Or gravel.

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But what about thyme? P1180964

No mowing. No watering. The thyme below is just growing at the side of the road.P1180965

Flowers for the bees!P1180980

Something for the kitchen (black cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, thyme and a hot frying pan.P1180981

Replace that gravel, too.

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Make pretty steps.P1180463

Better than bark mulch, which is supposed to “look” productive, but is a boondoggle.P1180469

Nothing grows in that stuff.P1180468

Make the valley live again. Whoo-hooo!P1180466

Plant thyme.

~

p.s. the water system in the images above could be ripped out. It’s there out of habit.

Landscaping for Water Capture

Welcome to the second of a series of posts on creating a sustainable Okanagan. They are archived on the menu bar above. Today: smart water. Read on…

Wherever there is a crack, stuff grows in the Okanagan. P1050147 That crack above has yellow clover and feral grasses, but there are cracks, right on the sidewalk beside the main highway through town, which are growing wireweed, purslane, amaranth, wild lettuce and plantain, which is to say four food crops and one medicinal plant great against mosquito bites. As for downtown Kelowna, the Okanagan’s urban knot, have a look at this wild lettuce, growing behind a downtown restaurant.

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Now, it’s not going to fly to grow our food in these cracks beside the highway, or in alleys, due to pollutants from traffic, but let’s consider a few principles here:

  1. The roads and sidewalks are collecting water and …
  2. the cracks are delivering it and …
  3. in what appears a total desert, life is flourishing.

In other words, the Okanagan is neither a desert nor dry. Look at how a simple roadway can be a seasonal river. That water could have been easily diverted at that joint, and used to grow the thistles I mentioned yesterday, or sunflowers, for a bird seed industry, or anything you like.

The land is simply not dry. Only the air is, and not always. Here’s that alley again. Note the tree on the right, and the water pouring out of a roof drain, uselessly onto asphalt.

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Water is limited in the Okanagan, and so is agricultural land, but consider: every sidewalk and every road has cracks, and every road has ditches, and they all work on the same principle, collecting water, moving it and generating life with it. It’s not necessary for water to flow freely to create crops in this climate. With that in mind, here’s a crack:

Rocks like that are everywhere in this region, split by winter frost and spring thaw. They collect water. Not only that, they collect bird droppings, which contain saskatoon seeds, which bloom and give fruit. The image below shows a very common local sight.

The rock shelters the young plant from deer, better and more elegantly than snow fencing around inappropriate, irrigation hungry Japanese maples …

…and collects water and manure (from birds and marmots) and nutrients (from crumbling rock) to nurture the plant, despite the ongoing lack of free-flowing water. The trick in this climate is not to get water to flow but to get it to stop as soon as possible. This principle can be applied throughout the valley, for landscaping projects and even for creating farming land where no water is otherwise available. And we’re close. Look at the decorative rocks in the landscaping above. They are visually appealing (perhaps) and collect heat. They could have been arranged to collect water as well. We’re close on this one. Let’s take that one extra step.

 

 

 

 

This is Not Our Planet

Imagine if this pussy willow…
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… was your world …

P1720193 …and not just yours …P1720184

… but a world of many creatures …

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… namely a wasp…

wasp1 … and a different wasp ….wasp2… and a third wasp, coming up over a white horizon …wasp3 … and a bee, and a moth …beemoth … and a little fly.tiny

 

… and that’s just on one twig on one willow. Forty years ago someone planted this willow. It costs nothing to plant a willow. It costs thousands to plant rocks, the new fashion for responsible gardening. Please, stick a stick into the ground for your grandkids, and all the insects of the world, or they’ll be living on an asteroid.

Canada and the Okanagan

Canada does not deserve this land. It burns it…

P1420057 Forest Fire Smoke Over Okanagan Landing

… it tries to make it hotter than it is …P1420206

 

Plasticized Soil (Weeds, plastic, clay), Bella Vista

The goal is to increase the heat of the season.

… it xeriscapes it, for maximum water efficiency …

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Note the fireplace ashes.

… it allows wild creatures to survive in road ditches alone …

P1420064Waiting for the Mower Man

This is where the water collects, hence where the life will be, but the mower comes, like clockwork. Gotta protect that infrastructure.

… it creates drought …

P1420086Invasive Cheatgrass Drought

(And the high country water that might have staved off the forest fires. Note the smoke.)

… it disrespects the gift of life …
P1420197

 

Ponderosa Pine Cones in the Garbage

Here is some sign of a badger cleaning up on the gophers invading abandoned orchards …

P1420084Here is the abandoned orchard, gone feral …

P1420076A country that sustains its land values for only one generation does not deserve that land. Its days are numbered.

 

Saving the Grasslands One Garden at a Time

In forest fire season, even the grassland hills are suffering in the smoke.P1420117Note how the golf course road zig-zagging back and forth here manages to take all the water away. Note as well that there are few species growing here: mostly cheatgrass (which is responsible for summer drought), sagebrush, a few mariposa lilies, the odd death camas, a few remaining desert parsleys, the odd thistle and a fair number of blue-bunched wheat grasses. Most of the flowers that bloomed here a century ago, and most of the medicine of the Syilx, are gone. What is a poor bee to do! Aha! Off to Harold’s place!

P1390103As I showed you yesterday, a few square feet of xeriscaping using wild flowers does a few powerful things. You don’t have to irrigate more than two or three times in a season. You don’t have to move the thing. You can have fun scything in the fall (scything is very fun). And birds, toads and insects thrive here. I posted a pair of goldfinches feasting on my catnip yesterday, and then I realized, whoa, just think (and I did): if the normal density of flowers on the grassland hill is about  one plant per square metre, my density of about 200 plants per square metre (I collect the seeds each fall and sow them back in, so there’s no expense) means that in my 25 square metres of wildflower garden I am providing the insect and bird habitat of about 5000 square metres of land up on the hill. That’s pretty close to one acre. Here’s the thing. In my little subdivision there are, oh, I dunno, about 100 houses. If we all took care of an acre like that, 100 acres of grassland could be saved. There are another 100 houses in the subdivision a mile back down the road, and 50 more in the other direction. Just above that one, there are 1000 building lots gouged into the grassland and doing magnificent service in destroying it. I’m thinking today, it doesn’t have to be a story of destruction. If each of these houses had one small wildflower garden, together we’d be helping to maintain some 1250 acres of grassland. If we went further and planted some appropriate plants along our roadsides and walking trails, we could easily double that. It might be that the grasslands are so compromised that they will not return, but that does not mean that we cannot live in them in new ways. It would take almost no water, and, I mean, really, when the alternative is this?

 

P1420192 … or this?

P1420179Walking Around the Old Neighbourhood

More life for less water, and the use of our dwellings to help the grasslands and to bring them close. There’s no downside. This is the kind of things a progressive city council could fix almost instantly. We would become rich.

 

 

 

 

Irony in the Garden

Here’s my front yard. Note the flowers I have planted instead of a lawn. It has been a very exciting place lately. Dozens of species of bees and many species of beetles have been working it for weeks. They’ve all come down from the grassland up on the hill. A big neon-green toad has made her home here, and seems to be getting rich on it. Today, though, was special. Check out the pair of American Gold Finches feeding. They were there for an hour.
P1420041Now, here’s the thing: they were eating catnip seeds. Perhaps they were getting a nice buzz from it, I don’t know, but, um, the neighbour’s cats hang around this stuff. I’m not sure how wise all this is. Still, no harm done, and an hour of beauty. No mowing. How many acres of denuded grasslands have I replaced for these birds and insects in 300 square feet? Lots! Here’s the environmentally approved way of reclaiming grassland after invasive road construction. Note the species diversity.

P1420004

People aren’t meant to live alone on the planet. We’d all die of grief.

 

Balance

Today, words in praise of bunch grass.
P1230555The roots of this blue-bunched wheatgrass fill the space between the plants.The soil is their sky. They reach out into it for the clouds of water that flow down through the soil, and still it. They then reverse that gravitational flow and let the sun draw the water in to their new spring leaves and stretch them up into the air. In this act, they reverse the direction of sunlight. They climb it. At the same time, they move water between the atmosphere below the soil and the one above it. The sky is their soil, as much as the earth is. They reach out into both and feed, using the energy of gravity to draw them down into water and the energy of the sun to lift themselves with it. This is what balance looks like. The particular distance between plants on this hill is the result of the steepness of the slope and the correspondingly quick flow of the water down through it, coupled with the damage to the soil’s protective crust by a population of deer trapped into repetitive motion by the constrictions of housing and fences, that allow for few areas of downward and upward motion on the hillsides. The grasses are so efficient at capturing water, that in this, their wet season, the soil is dry powder to a human hand and serves as a barrier against evaporation from the roots, enabling the plants to concentration the inevitable evaporation of this climate into their stalks.