Friday, March 29, 2013

Waterfall and pond at my old house.

     While we are waiting for better weather it can be fun to look at various elements that can be added to our yards. An increasingly popular element is the natural pond. Today's ponds are a far cry from the old concrete and stone ponds of our grandparents day -- the ones that seemed to crack at least once a year and let all the water leak out.

     Today's ponds are lined with a non-toxic and flexible liner, are run with very efficient recirculating pumps, and contain both physical and biological filters to keep the water clear.
     A pump in the bottom of the buried container on the left pumps water up into the bottom of the waterfall container on the right. The water spills over and down a rocky slope picking up oxygen before filling the main pond basin. The pump pulls water only from the pond's surface, pulling leaves and other debris along to be caught in a net inside the pump box.

     A system like this allowed me to keep a separate little ecosystem going for 20 years now. Over 20 fish have lived among the flowering waterlilies and other plants. The sound of the waterfall combined with the colorful flashes from the darting fish were mesmerizing and worked to smooth a furrowed brow many a time.

     The maintenance chores required to keep this system going were less than that required by a lawn. Once a year you have to do a serious clean-up. This is a wet and muddy job, but you can always hire someone like me to do it for you.

     Pond plants, like other perennials, need to be trimmed and deadheaded once or twice a season. The rest of the year you have to "top off" the pond when it gets low and make periodic adjustments to keep the pond ecology in balance. For those who find turning on a garden hose straining, an automatic filling system can be added.

     In short, despite appearances, having a pond is something that works even for lazy people like me.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


     We actually had a mild winter in 2013. Despite, for example, the fact that we had next to no snow most of the season we were able to make up a bit for last summer's drought. This is because most of our precipitation was rain.

     Those balmy days are now forgotten as we stay locked in a deep freeze for the entire month of March so far. Our average temperature this month  has been a full six degrees below normal. Quite a change from the 80 degree days of last year.

     If you can stand the cold there is actually a lot you can accomplish this time of year:

     Now is a great time to do a yard clean-up before bulbs and perennials start getting in your way. If you use an organic weed-killer, now is the time to make sure you have some on hand. You want the weedkiller to go down once the crocuses come up in order to beat the first weed seeds trying to germinate. I noticed my first crocus today.

     Now is also the time to begin pruning your trees and shrubs -- especially if you want to downsize them significantly. You do not, however want to prune shrubs like forsythia and lilacs that bloom in spring. You would be cutting  off their buds. For much more on pruning you can look back at some of my entries from last season at this time.

     I am already yearning for fresh garden vegetables. We are months away from the favorites like tomatoes and peppers. But cool weather crops like peas, spinach, and many other leafy greens, are closer than you think. As of St. Patrick's Day, the barrier to planting seeds for these plants is not temperature so much as soil moisture. Our ground is still water-logged, and messing with it now will damage it. To test, dig a hole about six inches deep, grab a handful of soil and squeeze it into  a ball. If it makes a good mud ball, the soil is still too wet. If it wants to fall apart, you are in good shape.