Thursday, November 19, 2015

Report: Raised Bed Garden Lumber Experiment

My raised bed garden lumber experiment has been baking in the elements for sixteen months.  How about some results!  The gist of the experiment is that I built and installed two nearly identical raised garden beds.  I coated the lumber of one the  raised garden beds with linseed oil.  I did not put a coating on the second.

To completely refresh your memory, here is the original post fully describing the installation and experiment!  Here is a second post detailing installations of phases II and III of the raised garden beds.

Above is a side by side photograph of the two raised garden beds right after installation in July 2014.  The lumber on the left has been coated with linseed oil.  The lumber on the right is bare wood. 

The goals of the experiment were, one, to see if applying linseed oil would increase the durability of the lumber, and two, whether applying linseed oil would affect the aesthetics.  In regards to the durability goal, I hope there are a large number of years left before those results become observable. 

In regards to the aesthetics....

The above photo was taken October 24, 2014 after three months in the ground...along with the rest of the raised garden beds installed.

On November 23, 2014, four months in the ground...

After the winter on March 15, 2015...

The above photo was taken May 18, 2015. 

You may notice there are no comparison photos over the 2015 growing season.  That is because the plants grew so large, they blocked the view in all the photos I took.

And finally a side by side shot November 6, 2015, sixteen months in the ground...

The above close up photo is of the untreated lumber, which seems to have faded completely shiny gray.

A close up photo of the linseed oil treated lumber, which also only seems to have also faded, but to a different darky streaky gray.  The original lumber color still remains visible in streaks.

In conclusion, over the course of sixteen months, the linseed oil treated lumber seems to have looked nicer, but, now, the difference in their aesthetics is pretty subtle.  I prefer the way the linseed oil treated lumber looks.  I think it looks slightly better.  Although I am not sure if aesthetics should be a motivation to use linseed oil, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Some might actually prefer the shiny gray look.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Private Park: August 2015

I visited my old friend, the prairie beach park, in mid August 2015, about fifteen months after installation.  For reference, here is the post detailing the site and initial installation work, and the post about the site visit in Fall 2014.  To summarize my observations from the visit, the establishment of this novel ecosystem is a mixed bag of good and bad things happening.

If you compare the above photo with this photo from May 2014 and this from Fall 2014, you can easily observe the progression of prairie growth.  There remains much room for improvement.  Although many areas of the prairie are still thin, achieving denser growth is only be a matter of time!

First, the good, because I like to include pretty photos! 

The Quercus macrocarpa specimen seems to be losing a few branches.  But, considering it is still alive after all this time, I am sure the root system has continued to expand, and its continuous process of growth and death and regrowth appears to be off to a good start.

 Coreopsis tinctoria, Plains Coreopsis...sprouted from the annual seed mix.

A beautiful grasshopper specimen, hanging out on the flowers of a Eutrochium maculatum, (formerly Eupatorium maculatum), Joe Pye Weed... grown from a plug from Wildtype Nursery.

Two unidentified beetles doing their thing on Coreopsis lanceolata, Lance-leafed Coreopsis...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

Bouteloua curtipendula, or Side-oats Grama, sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

This is a Liatris spp. (not L. cylindricea).  I also observed some specimens of probably Symphyotricum novae-angliae (formerly Aster novae-angliae).  These two species were not included in either seed mix.  So, both species were either here naturally or sneaky inclusions in the seed mixes, which, given how the seed mixes are collected and prepared, would not be surprising.  Both are native species, so both are most welcome!

Monarda punctata, more commonly called Horsemint, with its surprising flowers...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

Helianthus occidentalis, more commonly called Western Sunflower...sprouted from Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix.

The plugs from Asclepias syriaca and Rudbeckia hirta survived at such a high percentage, that you can basically see the line of where the plugs were planted.

Several native plants had significant populations.  Observing plants, which grew from seeds and plugs (which cost a good deal of money), now producing seeds (free!!!) and naturally spreading themselves over the prairie is highly satisfying!  I observed possibly significant populations of Asclepias syriacaCassia fasciculata, Coreopsis lanceolata, Coreopsis tinctoria, Elymus canadensis, Euthania graminifolia, Fragaria virginiana, Monarda punctata, Penstomon hirsutus, and Physostegia virginiana.  Only time will tell if these populations are viable and remain adequately competitive, but these seem to be off to a promising start.

Other species that I observed, which probably sprouted from the Native Connections Dry-Shortgrass prairie seed mix were Anemone cylindrica, Asclepias tuberosa, Bouteloua curtipendula, Bromus kalmii, Echinacia purpurea, Helianthus occidentalis, Lobelia cardinalis, Panicum virgatum, Rudbeckia hirta, Sporobolus heterolepis ...  I only observed one or a few specimens of these species.

Second, the bad.  I did not observe numerous species included in the Dry-Shortgrass Prairie Seed Mix.  Various explanations are probable.  One, I just missed seeing the species or did not identify it.  Two, their occurrence is noticeable in a different season then when I visited.  Or three, the germination conditions were not appropriate for the particular species.  Hopefully, these seeds remain part of the seed bank and, as conditions change, their successful germination becomes more likely.

Most surprisingly missing was, Schizachyrium scoparium, which was a large constituent of the mix.

Third, the super ugly!  Some non-native invasive species were taking advantage of the disturbed soil and, unfortunately, moving in.  I observed probably significant populations of Securigera varia or Crown-Vetch (probable ID, photo below), Eleagnus umbellata (mentioned in previous post), Queen Anne's Lace, and, possibly, Phragmites australis (probable ID, photo above).

I plan to provide recommendations to my client to manage these non-native species and to continue pushing the prairie in an ecologically beneficial direction.  Possible recommendations might include:
  • Mowing the prairie early Spring 2016 (especially the areas with Crown-Vetch and Autumn-Olive).  There is not adequate fuel for performing a thorough prescribed burn yet.
  • Removal or cutting and painting the Autumn-Olive.
  • Cutting/treating the Phragmites.
  • There are some other native species, which might like to compete in this space.  So, I might recommend planting those plugs or spreading those seeds.
  • Once the fuel-load is adequately dense, performing a prescribed burn.  After breaks are mowed, the actual burning would likely take just a few minutes.  If a burn is not possible, mowing annually or bi-annually.
Additional discussion needs to occur for deciding the best, most appropriate, course of action.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Park: Fall 2014

On a long trip from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (I plan to write a botanical trip report someday) returning home to Ann Arbor, I stopped by the prairie beach park near Fenton, Michigan, in early September 2014.  I wanted to see how the prairie was growing after spreading seed and planting late Spring 2014.  Here is the post detailing the site and my installation work.

Questions I pondered before arriving:  did the shrubs and plugs from Wildtype take?  Did the Bur Oak sapling, which received an unknown regimen of additional watering, survive its transplant?  What species germinated from the seed mixes?  How vigorously did the prairie grow?

Well, initial observation was that the prairie growth was quite thin.  Not surprising given that seeds were only spread less than four months prior.  The ground was cracked due to the shrinking drying clay soil.  I observed many plants sprouting up from inside the cracks where some lucky seeds must have got caught in a good spot to germinate.

Upon closer inspection though, good things were happening.  From the annual mix, I saw Bachelor's Button (photograph above), Partridge Pea, Spurred Snapdragon, and Plains Coreopsis.  From the short-grass mix, I spotted Panicum virgatum, Symphyotricum laeve (formerly Aster laevis), Cassia fasciculata (this was in both the annual and Dry-Shortgrass-Mix), and, well, many unidentified plants consisting of basal leaves.

These basal leaves belong to a species, which will be identified soon.

Also, not yet identified.  Most native flowers require more than one full season of growth before producing flowers.  So, observing plants consisting of just basal leaves indicated a germinated seed, or in other words, a step in a good direction.  From the plugs, I also saw specimens of Asclepias syriaca, Physostegia virginiana, Rudbeckia hirta, and Eupatorium maculatum.

Although insects were already making use of the Euthania graminifolia, which was another planted plug, the desired plants seemed few and far between.  The Quercus macrocarpa and Cercis canadensis fortunately seemed to be sticking, as was the Ribes americanum shrub.  Very happy about that Burr Oak, which has a reputation for doing well in clay soil situations.

This area of the prairie was thick with Plains Coreopsis, so definitely some good things were happening.  As indicated in the previous post about this project, the most important component of establishing a prairie was patience, patience, and more patience.  The seeds have been sown and quite possibly will germinate some day.  I waited a year after visiting to write this post.  So, since I have now seen the prairie in late Summer 2015, I can safely say I feel a lot better about this project, .  Here is the post about that visit.

Project Report: Phases II and III of My Raised Bed Garden

The current heated temperatures belie this growing season is cruising towards a frosty date!  So, here is, better late then never, an update about my raised bed garden!  A report on phase I is discussed in a previous post.  Phase I was completed in July 2014.  I completed both phases II and III in late Fall 2014.  This update consists of numerous photos!

As this project was completed by one person, me, providing almost all the labor, performing the work in phases seemed most appropriate.

Above is a simple sketch showing the layout plan before I began construction.  This sketch does NOT relate that my yard is sloped!  Except for a few box size adjustments, the installed boxes follow the sketch.

Important to note, the phase I garden beds produced some excellent food during their shortened 2014 growing season.  Above, me harvesting a nice zucchini in late 2014.

A photo of the final zucchinis of our 2014 garden.  Some large zucchinis for bread and other miscellaneous recipes AND two single bite zucchinis...which disappeared in short order.

This photo shows the garden beds of phase I in late Fall and the three boxes of phase II completed and installed.  Also, I am applying the linseed oil preservative to one of the two boxes in phase III.

As designed in the sketch above, all the garden boxes have been completed and installed in late 2014.

A photo taken in January 2015.  Brrr!  Actually that would feel quite nice right now.

As at start of Spring 2015...

Our first radishes!

And a tasty strawberry.  We were able to transplant some strawberry plants into a box in late 2014.  They only produced a few during the 2015 spring, but we are really looking forward the 2016 spring harvest, as they have spread quite a bit!

Before the 2015 garden jungle...

Our garden exploded!

We had a visitor!  We lost a fair number of cherry tomatoes to its voracious appetite, but this Hornworm eventually disappeared. (Or he was so well camouflaged that we could not find him.)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Project Report: Pinckney Town Hall Rain Garden Installation

The 2015 growing season is, well, pretty much here!  But before that explosion!, I am blogging about an awesome project that I helped with in 2014.  I provided a design for the rain garden in front of the Pinckney Town Hall.  The Pinckney Garden Club provided the hands on labor to install it, and will help maintain it on an ongoing basis. 

This project came up through my connection with Susan Bryan, the Rain Garden Coordinator in the Washtenaw County Resources office.  She knew that Ann Jarema, the president of the Pinckney Garden Club,  was thinking about the project. The location, in front of the Town Hall is obviously quite public, so we quickly recognized it as a demonstration garden and foresaw some possibilities for positive social influence.

Susan, Ann, and I met on a bright sunny mid April Friday afternoon for a site visit and discussed various layout options and, in the end, made some decisions.  Above is a picture of the site that day.  I went home and drew up a draft.  I provided a chance for feedback input, but Ann and Susan were mostly happy with the draft documentation.  Here is the finalized "infrastructure" plan view.

I also provided a planting plan.  As plants were coming from miscellaneous donated sources, and which particular plants and their quantities would be available on the volunteer day was unknown, I should have titled this a suggested planting plan. 

For those interested, the whole design documents are linked here.

We set an installation day of June 21st.  Village folks removed sod from the garden area beforehand, which saved the volunteers quite a bit of labor.  June 21st turned out to be a wonderfully sunny day! 

Photographic opportunities were plentiful, unfortunately, per usual, I was occupied.  I did snap a few process photos though, which are almost all included below.  Here, we are carefully removing sod unto a tarp to install the underground pipe carrying overflow from the rain barrel to the top of the rain garden.

Donated plants came from 3 Dog Nursery and from multiple gardeners of the Pinckney Garden Club.  Here is a photo where most of the main rain garden plants are in the ground.

In the following photo, you can see the rain garden is installed with a sign, the piping, the overflow pavers, the rain barrel base, and the rain barrel in place, and retaining wall is partially finished.  Shortly after the installation day, the building's gutter was altered to divert flow to the rain barrel and overflowing to rain garden.  The Pinckney Garden Club finished installing the retaining walls and gardens along the building.

It was a great day.  The local newspaper even did a nice write up.  Ann Jarema, the Pinckney Garden Club, and some Village folks continued working on the gardens to finish up the retaining walls and beds along the building, and complete hooking up the gutters.  I plan to snap a "year later" photo soonish.

This was the first rain garden I helped install after taking the, highly recommended, Washtenaw County Master Rain Garden program taught by Susan Bryan, and Shannan Gibb-Randall of Insite Design.  More information about that program and the rain garden effort in Washtenaw County can be found here.

This project experience fulfilled a requirement for me to be certified as a Master Rain Gardener. I am looking forward to building at least two (but hopefully more) rain gardens this coming season! Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Project Report: Prairie Beach Park: Installation

A most interesting project started this past Spring 2014 on a half acre property on a lake near Fenton, Michigan.  The soil there, which largely consists of clay, unsurprisingly did not perk well.  Thus, with no where to dispose of sewage, the property is considered unbuildable.  My client and his family, whom live across the road from the lake, purchased the property for their own personal prairie beach park.

Prior to my involvement, a local landscaper had already installed hardscaping elements at the property, including a sand beach area, placing large boulders at the waters edge and around the beach area, and a couple concrete staircases leading down to the beach and dock.  The local landscaper also graded almost the entire property.

Unfortunately, the local landscaper did a few things differently than I would have.  First, although the large boulders may stabilize the shoreline, the land-water interface is typically where the most biodiversity occurs.  Preserving that land-water transition would have provided more ecosystem functionality.

Second, by "grading", the landscaper apparently simply removed all the top soil from the property.  What remained appeared to be probably parent material with few roots.

Third, the area close to the beach has a significant slope.  The local landscaper's grading work opened this surface up to erosion and did nothing to mitigate it.  Stabilizing the slope was a priority.  

To provide an overview of the property and work to be performed, I drew a landscape plan after performing my initial site visit and consultation.  The client provided some feedback affecting a couple changes.

To begin the long process of installing a prairie, I purchased two seed mixes from Native Connections.  The first seed mix, titled "Dry-Shortgrass-Prairie-Mix".

The second seed mix consisted of annual seeds.  Native forbs typically take two or three years growth before they start to bloom.  So, adding annuals provides some "show" before the real show of native flowers kicks in. 

I mixed the first seed mix with Milorganite to facilitate spreading with a spreader.  The Milorganite should also slightly replace the missing organic material in the soil.  To ensure adequate thorough coverage, I also spread the native seed mixture using both the spreader and throwing by hand.

For the annual seed mix, I spread by hand near by the path, beach, and patio area for the purposes of providing a close upfront display.  I also sparingly spread the annual seed mix in the background.

In addition to the seed mixes, I planted plugs of forbs and shrubs, and transplanted two B&B'ed Redbuds and a Burr Oak.  I selected the following native species based on site factors and availability from Wildtype.
  • Amorpha canescens, Leadplant (gallon container, 3 count)
  • Diervilla lonicera, Bush Honeysuckle (gallon container, 3 count)
  • Potentilla fruiticosa, Shrubby Cinquefoil (gallon container, 3 count)
  • Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susans (plugs, 38 count)
  • Asclepia syriaca, Common Milkweed (plugs, 38 count)
  • Penstomen hirsutus, Penstomen (plugs, 38 count)
  • Euthania graminifolia, Grass-Leaved Goldenrod, (plugs 38 count)
  • Mimulus ringens, Monkey-Flower, (plugs, 38 count)
  • Physostegia virginiana, Obedient Plant, (plugs, 38 count)
  • Eupatorium maculatum, Joe Pye Weed, (plugs, 38 count)
  • Ribes americanum, Wild Black Currant (gallon container, 3 count)
These forbs and shrubs were mostly focused on the sloped area near the beach to mitigate the erosion occurring there.

To someday hopefully provide a prominent feature of the property, I planted a Burr Oak, Quercus macrocarpa. I selected this species both because of its adaptability to poor clay soils but also because it seemed to fit into this planted oak savannah.  Digging the hole large enough to accommodate this planting in the clay soil was the opposite of easy!

In regards to future concerns, several Autumn Olive (Eleagnus umbellata) shrubs are growing on the property.  I recently watched a seminar by Douglass Tallamy, whom calls this species Ugly-Agnes.  In order to prevent these shrubs from overtaking over the prairie (and they will!), I recommend performing some invasive shrub removal during a coming late fall/winter.

Once fully grown, the prairie beach park will help protect the water quality of the lake.  Especially so when compared to many other lakeside properties which have lawn right down to the shore line.  Surface runoff from the prairie should be well filtered and refresh the lake, whereas runoff from lawns often carries fertilizer and pesticides.

Possibly the most important quality to exhibit when starting a prairie from scratch (and mostly seed)  is patience.  Jerry Stewart of Native Connections emphasized that the seeds are there, but just may take awhile to germinate and flourish.  

Definitely stay tuned for the past due update.  All links to update posts will be added here, once said posts are written!  EDIT:  Here is the post describing the park in Fall 2014.  Here is the post describing the park in August 2015.