Row Covers to the Rescue for A Changing Climate

Row covers are the desert gardener's secret weapon for growing in a harsh climate with minimal water.

A changing climate challenges every gardener to rethink the way we grow vegetable gardens.  Everywhere the extremes of the growing season are hotter, colder, wetter, drier, and nature is responding in ways we never anticipated.  Bugs don’t die and their eggs or pupae live into a second year to infest plants.  Abnormal cold late in spring or early in fall shorten the growing seasons so some crops can’t mature fully.  Drought stresses plants so much their normal resistance to heat, pests and disease is diminished.  Only one thing is for sure: unpredictability is the new normal. Organic market gardeners who can’t afford to lose their crops drove development of problem solving fabrics called row-covers.  These materials allow rain and air to pass through, but keep everything else out.  They sit upon hoops over vegetable rows to create temporary Quonset hut-shaped affordable greenhouses that both protect the plants and enhance their yields. The basic row cover set-up is about four feet wide and is of infinite length. It’s composed of support hoops made of wire, PVC plastic or metal grids sold for reinforcing concrete.  Row cover fabric is laid over the tops of the hoops, the long sides anchored to the ground with rocks or earth or a long piece of salvaged lumber.  The ends are gathered like a pony tail, tied closed and secured with a stake.  Inside this Quonset hut the plants are protected from weather and pests and cold.  When they grow older and less vulnerable or too large, row covers may be partly or completely removed to allow pollinators to reach the flowers.  The same or different covers can be replaced at any time of the season depending on the crop’s unique needs, or to solve both expected and unexpected challenges. Row cover fabrics vary in purpose and weight.  The most valuable to home gardeners is the super lightweight “floating” row covers made of spun polypropylene designed to keep seedlings protected from insect pests.  Preventing the start of these problem bugs early in the season using a row cover shelter allows plants to thrive and grow more quickly to a size better able to protect itself naturally. Row cover material increases in weight and density with each increment of frost protection.  Using row covers to plant earlier in spring reduces the amount of time you must tend small seedlings indoors.  The row cover can be removed after temperatures warm, or you can replace it with the light weight floating covers for insect protection.  During the depths of summer a row cover can provide ideal shading in very hot southern regions. Then in the fall as temperatures fall, frost-preventing row covers go back on the garden to keep plants productive long after the rest of the garden is lost.  In mild climate regions row covers can mean fresh produce throughout the winter months. Row covers also help to maintain humidity around plants and to reduce evaporation of moisture from the soil.  This is a big help for areas
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The Complete Guide to Organic Gardening Without Wasting Water

Use Flagstone For Greener Patios

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Urban runoff carries contaminants, such as litter, food, human and animal waste, automobile fluids, industrial pollutants, fertilizers and pesticides to the beach, creating health risks for people, killing marine life and contributing to localized flooding and beach closures.

–City of Santa Monica

Our nation’s largest cities were founded as ports on waterways from rivers to bayous and oceans. Here storm drains were designed to carry rainwater runoff to large bodies of water. The problem t
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Save Money-GREEN Holiday Decor

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Save money and live green this holiday season with natural decorations. Cuttings, berries, twigs and vines make some of the homiest decorations that cost next to nothing. Collect them from your garden, that of a friend, relative or even from your neighbors’ yards. Sometimes you can find great stuff growing wild along side of the road. Get started right now. Download my free pdf eBook Holiday Gifts & Decorating Ideas from the Crafter’s Garden. Celebrate the holidays Nature’s way, then come
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Free Oak Trees from Acorns

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Within every summer acorn lives a mighty oak eager to inhabit your yard! It’s easy to grow a whole forest of them from acorns collected now into fall from locally native trees. Best of all they won’t cost you a penny. An oak tree seedling can have a huge taproot supporting just a few inches of top growth. This is why native oaks started in containers often fail because the taproot hits the bottom of the pot and becomes distorted almost immediately after germination. A straight deep taproot is vital to the tree’s drought resistance. Wildland revegetation experts have proven the best way to plant a tree is from a freshly cracked acorn, and now is the perfect time to get started on your free oak tree forest. Gather only perfect acorns that have fallen and put them in a plastic container and refrigerate. This simulates winter. In midwinter in California or early spring elsewhere, remove from storage and set outside in an empty nursery pot. There the acorns will start to crack proving it is viable as the tap root begins to grow. When the acorn has the slightest new crack, plant in the ground where you want the tree to grow.  Set the acorn on its side six inches deep. Nature will do the rest.

Plant Vines for Exterior Insulation

Another tip from The Summer of Outdoor Living on the Cheap It’s difficult to add insulation inexpensively to the walls of an older house, but there is a cheap way to reduce radiant heat gain and loss through your walls. Just add insulation by planting vines, which can be trained to cover your house walls evenly. Their shading effect is considerable, and the dead air space between the vine foliage and the exterior wall is also a very effective insulator. Taller shrubs planted up against the house also provide the benefits of shading and insulating.

Apaches and Agave Plants Before Tequila

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Aguamiel translated from the precolumbian Nahuatl language is honey water, describing a sweet liquid secreted at the heart of the agave. It was collected and fermented into an alcoholic drink known to the Aztecs as pulque. Pulque consumption was strictly regulated. If you were under the age of 52 you could drink two cups a day. If over 52 you could enjoy three. And if you were a priest and practiced human sacrifice for the pulque goddess Mayahuel, you could down five cups. Yet anyone found drunk on pulque was put to death. Fortunately the “civilized” Spanish conquerors made it ok to get sauced on pulque no matter what age you are. Further north many agave species were known generally as mescal, used so extensively by certain Apaches they became known as Mescalero Apaches. They also utilized the fibers that run the length of agave leaves, a factor that distinguishes this genus of plants from the similar looking but fleshy aloes. Known as maguey (maw-gay) in central Mexico, these are considered the earliest fibers ever used in North America. Some believe they are among the first plants ever cultivated in these regions. With so much history, agaves belong in every ethnobotanical garden. They also make first class landscape plants that are architecturally dramatic and tough as nails. But agave does not flower every year like the aloes, yuccas and gasterias. The cycle of the agave begins with an individual “mother” plant. This produces adventurous roots that spread out in all directions and produce “pups” or new shoots all around the base of the mother. Eventually the mother will bloom with an extraordinary tall bloom spike that in some species may reach twenty feet. Sadly, she will die soon after the flowers mature and set seed. But worry not because the pups will quickly fill in the gap where she once stood. Pups make it very easy to obtain an agave by cutting them away with some root from the mother plant. In today’s garden just a few agaves are widely available and reasonably well adapted where winters are mild. The most common in the United States is Agave americana, or the century plant, a large blue fleshed species with wicked thorns hardy to 15°F.. Erroneously named because they bloom once in a century, these plants actually flower at ten to thirty years of age depending on the climate.The variegated form of this species is far more dramatic in the landscape. Its long leaves can be more irregular and striped gold. Another, variegated form with creamy white accent is sold as Agave americana media picta. It makes a superior single specimen so its color and form are appreciated in isolation. Perhaps the most widely planted agave in moist frost-free coastal regions is Agave attenuata. Its soft tipped , succulent sea green rosettes blend nicely into more traditional landscapes. They make an outstanding container plant. When this species blooms it produces a huge pendulous spike quite similar to an elephant trunk. The
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