Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ground breaking!

Yesterday we had snow for the first time this year. Heavy wet flakes mixed with rain. It only lasted a minute, but still pretty and a sign of things to come. And while I was looking out the front window thinking ahead to Winter, I could have sworn I heard a... a... snowblower? I thought to myself: Wow, time to adjust those meds!

I looked out the windows and finally found the culprit. Out my back window I saw Craig and his trusty roto-tiller going at the ring garden! Yay!

I hustled into some outdoor gear, grabbed a mattock and joined him in the fun. Craig would go along and sometimes *wang* a rock or root would need to be relocated. Hence the mattock (a pick with a pointy end and a flat end - great for breaking up hard dirt). Over the next 2 hours we found little impediment in the 285-foot ring, except in one spot. But right there it seems we must have intersected a crypt or buried wall or a glacial moraine because we pulled out rock after rock within a 10-foot long section of ring. And even when I just wanted to spike the mattock into nearby sod when I didn't need it, I'd hit a rock in that area. My imagination took off and now I'm wondering if there really is an ancient Roman road buried in my back yard, guaranteed to set all those that nay-say pre-Columbian opponents on their collective ears? Or did the tiller just cut into where some old French drains opened out to the lawn. Who knows?

But I digress.

Anyway, it had been around 4:00 o'clock when we started and dark came on by 6:00. While Craig and I were both game to push on in the dark, a sudden rain squall and heavy winds made us decide to finish another day. But what before had just been a line drawn in the lawn had now become a reality, a commitment, a project. The future plants in the ring garden will eventually help honeybees and other bee-type pollinators in the area. And that is worth digging up a lot of rocks. As I walked back to the house, I inhaled deeply and enjoyed the out-of-season Spring-like humus smell of fresh turned earth.

Later, from the house, the ring was much more pronounced now. Not so much like a crop circle. More like a racetrack. And if I listen really really hard, do I hear... chariots? Nah!

More garden buzz soon!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not the straight and narrow

OK, here's the thing about me that you should know. My mind keeps thinking. And thinking. And thinking. So I let some pot plants go crazy with flower stalks like the coleus and the basil. So I planted a lot of zinnias around the driveway and way back in the asparagus bed. But the big thing (and by big I mean almost 6000 sq/ft) was leaving all that clover to bloom all summer amidst a manicured neighborhood. It did look a little, well, frowzy.

I used to have someone mow my lawn for me but to save $ this year I bought a used riding mower and was mowing the 1.25 acre lawn myself. So my idea was.... hey! You! Yes, you in the back, I heard you snicker! I know what you're thinking... no way should she be allowed near heavy equipment. That's probably true. But this is America and any gal with the price of gas can mow her own lawn. So for the first few weeks, I followed the routes of the lawnmower guy. One week front to back. One week, side to side. Switch off. *yawn*

Eventually, to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, I got kinda creative. Oh, I did the front lawn per the status quo. But the side and back lawns... wooohaha! By the end of July I'd tried lots of ways, never the same way twice. How creative! (And the fact that I couldn't always remember how the last week went.... ;-)) Eventually I created a really REALLY big permanent lawn design in the back yard. A huge oval that was 100+ feet long and 70+ feet wide. While I was free to do all the 'zen' mowing I wanted the rest of the property, the oval remained week to week. I'd let it go really long, then mow it, but with a spiral or concentric circles using the height adjustment on the blades. It certainly made a statement and guesses as to what I was up to varied from skydiving target to crop circle!

By the end of September I had grown used to having 'something' way in the back (see pic). At first it had seemed huge, but after a couple months, it wasn't so intimidating. And it was different. I like different! I am different! (Oh, admit it, this is no surprise to you. ;-)) So I've decided to make the feature a permanent fixture in the landscape. This Fall my bee-friendly neighbor, Craig, has agreed to roto-till the outer edge of the oval (285 linear feet
) and when he has tilled it, I will put in some daff bulbs right away. Next Spring I will start planting the ring with bee forage plants, probably just zinnias and contributions from friends (did I mention a really limited budget?) to start with. So the plan for this Winter will be to research the best forage plants for this area and prowl the web for more info and ideas.

Oh, and I'd better get the blades sharpened on the mower and adjust the steering. Y'see I've also decided to give those internet satellite cameras something really different to photo... *snark*

More garden buzz soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Baby steps

Well, so you've come back! Great. :-) Let me tell you a little more how the idea of the sanctuary came about.

I live in a neighborhood of large lots, from 1 to 2 acres each. These lots have extensive lawns and some are are sprayed regularly and kept weed-free. My 1.25 acre lot has 3 neighbors backing up to my property on one side and 1 on the other. To boot, my property backs right up to a golf course. You can only imagine the amount of pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, etc. float around here.

I leave my lawn natural, more of a mown meadow. It is filled with violets and dandelions in the spring and blankets of white cover during the summer. One of my neighbors also has such a mix. This summer, after he'd also seen the PBS special about CCD we discussed how difficult it is for both us to mow our lawns when we run over honeybees on the clover. So I decided that I just wasn't going to mow down my clover regularly, but instead left almost half an acre in bloom.

At the same time I started investigating what I could do with my existing gardens that could turn to benefit bees. I took a look at some of my long-time gardening methods. Simple things could make a difference. Take coleus.

I've always loved the colored leaves of coleus and to increase leaf production I'd religiously pinch off flower buds to make the plants bushier. I'd never really liked the long untidy flower stalks. But come to find out, those tiny flowers are like bee magnets! I let all of my coleus bloom this year. I had nearly a dozen huge plants up on the deck and not only did the bees line up for these tiny treats, but the butterflies and hummingbirds visited every day! So I also let my basil plants bloom as it has the same kind of long flower stalk. Again, the bees were all over the plants.

And then there were the zinnias. I had originally planted perhaps 50 of the 'cut-n-come again' variety for their riot of color and summer long blooms. Turns out it was standing room only on those blossoms: every kind of bee around here visited. So did at least 8 kinds of butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, a preying mantis and lots of goldfinches. It was amazing and when friends came, we would sit next to one of the zinnia beds and watch the action. And up to that point all I'd done was let some clover bloom and not pinch back the coleus and the basil!

All that bug activity, of course, drew in more birds than usual. (A note: as always, I provide a dependable supply of fresh water in the form of bird baths, especially one on the ground where the squirrels and chipmunks and the occasional injured bird can have easy access. This year it was especially important due to drought conditions in Ohio. Another benefit of all that dependable water - it saves my tomatoes and other crops since with easy water around, the critters don't chomp into something juicy to quench their thirst.)

Talk about fast gratification. If just a few things like I did during that first couple of weeks could make that much difference, just imagine what a determined effort might do? Keep watching this post and I'll let you in on other little things I did that are making a big difference in the gardens.

More "Garden Buzz" soon! :-)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Melissa Majora

Hello and welcome to the Melissa Majora Blog. This is a new project both in regards to the gardens and the blo.... hey, can you guys in the back hear me? Sound guy, is this *tap*tap* thing on? Oh, here's the control.
I'll just crank it up. YOW!

Sorry. Is this better? Anyone hurt? Like I say, this thing comes with a learning curve. *heh*

Anyway, let me explain why I am taking to the bandwaves here. A long-time gardener, I've always enjoyed the busy hum of bees in my garden. Honey-, bumble-, minor-, mason-, you name it. Several years ago there was a huge concern that the honeybees were being decimated by mites, but they are tough little gals and they managed to rebound.

But now there is a much bigger concern when it comes to our most important pollinator: Colony Collapse Disorder (known as CCD). There is a good article about this problem in Wikipedia and you might want to take a moment to link over there and check it out. That would save you having to listen my attempts to adequately describe this serious problem. CCD/Colony Collapse Disorder

There, caught up now? See the concern? Domestic hive stock can just vanish overnight. And with the worldwide decline of feral (wild) honeybees, there is a very real disaster in the brewing if honeybees die off. So much of what we eat are pollinated by honeybees, and honeybees alone. As it is, the honeybee gene pool is already in jeopardy.

So this year I felt I must do what I can to help. We're all in this together, right? So I have turned my entire property into a honeybee sanctuary. My goal is to create gardens and grow as much bee forage plants as I can, plants that have high nutritional value and, in some cases, medicinal benefits to the local 'wild' hives.

I have friends in England and they name their homes. My last home was under a lot of trees, so had named it ShadowHouse. I moved to this house almost 6 years ago and at the time I had initially named the place HollyHouse for lack of a better idea. When I decided this past July to turn the property into a bee sanctuary, I pondered long and hard for a new name. Then, not long ago I was watching one of my favorite SF BBC series: Doctor Who. In that episode when he asked his companion if anything unusual was happening to Earth, she replied that the bees were dissappearing. The Doctor determined that the bees were all going home to their own planet: Melissa Majora. Well, there you go! You can't get any better than that and so I've renamed the property to Melissa Majora.

(this note posted 1/2/09: Can you believe it. After setting up a blog, even paying for a site name, I managed to mis-hear what the Doctor called the home planet of the bees. It's not Melissa Majora. Nooo. It's Melissa Majoria! *sob* And for months and months I've not been corrected. Well, folks, I'm not about to switch horses in the middle of the stream. Majora it is and Majora it stays. (Darn British accents!) :-P)

In future posts I'll describe how I've gone about developing my idea, the garden beds, the plants, the help and resources, and the 5-year game plan. I hope you'll stick around.

And I promise not to mess around with the sound again. ;-)

More garden buzz soon!