Monday, June 25, 2012

LadyBugs, Warriors: General Aphideous...! Chapter 1

An epic story

A long time ago in Flora, a country that humans have long forgotten, Karmichael woke up early and wandered out to the back stoop to the little garden he tended. He picked some peas and strawberries, eating them as he went. He moved quietly with his watering can in the early dawn - for this is when gardens like to drink cool fresh water. Silently moving from patch to patch feeding each plant, projecting his excitement and love for his garden. Each plant greeted him with supple edible fruits; the garden nourishing and being nourished in return. A perfect system as far as the two of them were concerned...

Then he saw it out of the corner of his eye, Sweet Moss! There was a large healthy cluster growing on a small log, this is what Karmichael had been waiting for all spring! In the low light it looked greenish with brown spotted tops *perfect* - a delicious mossy vegetable that Karmichael recognized. But he was mistaken. This particular moss not green at all, but had a subtle blue tint - a variety of moss that humans no longer remembered. This was Fae Moss and can only be found in the moments between night and day. Only for a brief instant is it visible to the human eye and on this particular morning Karmichael was in the right place at the right time. Eagerly and without a moment's thought, Karmichael grabbed a bunch, and tossed it in his mouth. Delicious! Actually fae mosses taste a bit like sweet cream with toasted almonds. 'Wow', he thought! I could eat that all day, I had better leave some to grow...

As he went to go check out the emerging flowers in his bee garden, he glanced at the Lupines growing near the edge of his veggies. Much to his dismay there were aphids everywhere!

The aphids in the country of Flora were no ordinary aphids. More like insect-sized dragons with voracious appetites. What is worse is they breathed an acidic steam that withers everything in sight. These aphids are not to be trifle with to say the least.

Karmichael watched as they munched away like a swarm of hungry locusts... Just as he sat to think a small ladybug landed on his arm. The small beetle was red with black spots on each of it's chitinous wing-shells. Karmichael watched intently to see what the ladybug would do, but he never could have guessed what was going to happen next.

The ladybug turned around in circles, stopping every so often as if to look out and see if they were alone in the early morning. Suddenly it stopped turning and took flight. Normally ladybugs fly in a single direction and do not simply hover in place, but there she was hovering right over Karmichael's arm. He thought it odd, but obviously not impossible. But then as began to turn his head away and try to figure out what to do, the ladybug started to... change!

The small beetle's skinny black legs drew into her center and out sprung arms, legs, feet, hands and out popped a tiny head too! Karmichael rubbed his eyes, blinking to clear his vision, but as he opened his eyes again there she was, a small warrior in a spotted uniform brandishing her razor sharp split shell skillfully.

She landed once again on his arm and quickly and deftly climbed to Karmichael's shoulder. Half in a daze, half still not believing what he was seeing and half frightened of what this tiny warrior might do, Karmichael flinched.

A tiny voice, barely perceptible shouted 'RELAX WILL YOU?!??!'

'What!?' Karmichael said.

'I said, RELAX! I'm not going to hurt you there big guy...' the tiny voice replied.

'Oh, that's, um... that's good' - Karmichael said, relieved...

'Where are they, giant!?'

'My name is Karmichael...' - Did I really just introduce myself to a ladybug? Kar, you're going nuts, he thought to himself.

'I am Pollenis, warrior princess of Lilytopia - but I have no time for pleasantries. WHERE ARE THEY!?'

'Who?' Karmichael asked.

'You know well who... The dragonaphs and their commander, General Aphideous' Pollenis replied.

Karmichael, examining the situation more closely, began to feel dizzy, 'this can't be real' he thought. He closed his eyes and leaned against the stoop, 'Just a moment to rest' he said aloud to no one in particular still refusing to believe what he had just seen... 'I mean, a talking bug? An aphid army? Maybe I need to get more sleep...', he thought...everything grew dark and sleep took him.

It wasn't long after falling asleep however, that Karmichael woke up in a strange world to a large bucket of frigid water being dumped over his face. 'Ahh! I'm up, I'm up - what, uh, where am I?' Rubbing his eyes, looking up at the ladybug warrior 'Pollenis?'

She set the now empty bucket made from a leaf beside her standing over him, looking down at him impatiently. 'Don't go passing out on me again, we have to find the dragonaph army as quickly as we can! Let's go!'

'I'm not going anywhere until you tell me where I am!'

'You're in your garden', she said, 'Oh Gaia, humans are soo oblivious...'

My garden...Gaia... huh? Karmichael thought. He looked up and saw a massive tree with humongous leaves sticking right out of the trunk. As he stood up, he saw he was on top of a large rock and that he and Pollenis were not alone. In fact they were camped on a large terrace and there were tents made of leaves, blades of grass and something that looked like bamboo being set up all around them. He wandered over to the edge of the cliff and peaked over. He realized immediately that they were actually on a small terrace high above a much larger terrace that spanned what seemed to be many miles. He could see the whole war-camp from his vantage point. There were thousands of ladybug warriors crowded around fires, sharpening their wings and tending to their mounts, mighty caterpillars that could carry nearly twenty warriors at a time.

Bewildered Karmichael looked up and found Pollenis staring at him with her arms crossed and an ill-favored look on her face. He jumped up, 'Sorry, I just... I can't believe this is happening.'

'It's fine, it's not like Aphideous and his dragonaphs are destroying Gardenia as we know it, not like they could become powerful enough to control the length of the Nektar River, not like they wouldn't turn us all into slaves if we don't do something now - OH WAIT, that's exactly what's happening! Now, are you going to help me stop them or not?!' Pollenis glared at him with the kind of stare that could level an ant hill.

'I uh, yea I guess'

'Good, come with me'. She led him through a maze of tents, around fires and sleeping caterpillars up a narrow path to a very large tent guarded by two of the largest warriors he had seen up to this point, twice his size indeed! They stepped aside allowing the pair to enter. The scene before him was magnificently fierce and comical all at the same time. A giant table with muscular warriors draped in fine cloth with symbols Karmichael did not recognize etched into their chitinous wing-shells. One of them, sitting at the head of the table stood up and gestured to them. 'Come sit.'

They took seats and though Karmichael was fully expecting to be the least important one at the gathering, all their eyes seemed to be fixated on him... Just as he was about to say something, the largest of the ladybugs and said in a very lady-like voice, 'Human, we need your help... This is YOUR garden, you designed it and with your help we can take the dragonaphs and commander Aphideous by surprise and crush him despite that they outnumber us 10,000 to 1.'

'I'm, sorry... did you say 10,000? 10,000 to 1? This sounds like suicide.' They all stared at him blankly... 'um, Pesticide?' Eyes widened and fearful glances were exchanged around the room.

'That is exactly what we are trying to prevent!' One of them shouted, 'But we need your help.' 'Yes, we are shamed to call upon humans, indeed we haven't provoked interaction with your species for hundreds of years... but necessity dictates desperate measures in this dangerous time and so here you are, what do you call yourself again? Karsicle?'
'My name is Karmichael!'

'Ah, yes Karmichael... Do you know the city of Lupine-Heights?' He nodded, realizing they were referring to his lupine flowers. 'Well General Aphideous and his army of dragonaphs are stationed there consuming Nektar so quickly, Lake Nektaria has lost a third of it's size in only 2 days. At this rate they will have control of all the Nektar in Gardenia in less than a week and then all hope will be lost. As you can clearly see, we have no choice but to go to war!'

'I see,' Karmichael said. 'And what do you want me to do?'

[End Chapter 1] ... More to come :-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Vertical Elements: For Beauty and Function

I practice permaculture on a very small plot of land. One area that is 6' x 10' and one area that is 6' x 20'. How do I grow soo much food then? The answer is in the air!

No, I'm not suggesting that the air in my garden is any different than the air in yours, actually what I mean is that I garden UP!

Adding vertical elements to your garden can be fun, beautiful and remarkably productive. Consider the summer squash; zucchini, yellow squash, sunburst, etc. Summer squashes grow on vines that like to sprawl out and tend to take over. Instead of allowing my squashes to grow all over my other plants, I train them up trellises I built exactly for this purpose! Now I have a beautiful vertical element in my garden that allows me to grow squashes all summer long and only uses about 8"-12" of actual on-the-ground garden space!

Here are a few examples of trellising:
Above is a lovely example of how an urban farmer built a ladder-trellis for his zuchini plants! (picture taken in SE Portland) You can also see some other vertical ideas in the background using a frame and net technique.

Also in SE Portland here is a large garden with many teepee style vertical elements!

The basic hint here is BE CREATIVE. Grow up (literally) and save yourself space and have a more productive garden that gives you luscious veggies and a peaceful sanctuary. You might even play with using vertical elements as borders in your space, shielding your garden from the road, neighbors.

I wanted to share something from my own life as well. I was at the nursery the other day and told the cashier that I had gotten done with work early and that was why I was there at 2pm.

He replied, "well now you're making a whole bunch of more work for yourself with all these plants!"

I smiled back and told him, "this is not work, it's therapy."

Thanks all, as always feel free to ask questions!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Been too long

Ok, I accept full responsibility for totally slacking off here. What can I say though? I'm a graduate student and what little time I do have free, is usually spent doing something other than working, like playing in my garden. To that effect, I wanted to share a little wisdom around the concept of rain gardens!

My building just got new gutters and according to the new set of rules laid out by the City of Portland, OR, I now have a downspout that spouts right into my garden bed.

SOLUTION: Raid Garden!

Here's what you'll need

Shovel, medium sized (a little bigger than a fist) river rocks, pumice, sand and some smooth decorative rocks if you feel so inclined.

First, it's good to know about how much rainfall you get, how much roof-surface area feeds to your downspout, etc... but I just figured I'll build it and see how it goes.

I dug a 2ft deep, 2ft wide roundish hole and dumped the medium sized river rocks into the bottom and reserved enough of them to line the rim for the aesthetic effect. Next (somewhat counter intuitively) I poured in enough sand to cover the rocks, then added the crushed pumice stone on top. Lastly I collected some smooth, dark stones from the river (ssshhh! don't tell anyone - yea right this is a public blog...) and placed them neatly on top.

I also selected two different types of water-loving native grasses and planted them around the ring of rocks I made from my left-over medium sized river rocks.

Looking down at my work, I was please with the way it looked, but had no idea whether what I had made would be sufficient in size to absorb and contain water from a typical rainfall in Portland. Luckily, it would soon be put to the test.

Success, we had a pretty hard down-pour for about 2.5 hours two days later and when it calmed down a bit, I went out to inspect my creation. VOILA! No puddles in my garden bed, the reservoir was about 75% and draining at a reasonable rate (even after all that rain) and as an added bonus there were two little birds perched on the rocks I used to rim the hole drinking from the accumulated rain water. Of course they scattered as soon as I went outside, but I was proud to have created a mini ecosystem for the thirsty wildlife around my apartment complex.

Feel free to comment or ask questions about projects of your own!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

While you're garden's in bed...

This is our time to rest, reflect, create, plan and be smart about preparing for the upcoming growing season. 

A few ideas include:

Buying seeds during the off season for great deals! 

Many online stores and local nursuries sell seeds in the off season at discounts! Good seeds to buy and start indoors early are Broccoli, Kale, Snap Peas, Lettuces, and Nasturtiums.

Indoor germination systems

Start early and be harvesting by late March/early April. This is another video project I will be taking on in the near future. Check back soon!

Save seeds from your favorite veggies 

Try peppers, squashes, peas, beans, etc. - Seed saving is actually a fairly simple process for these types of veggies, lay the seeds out on a baking tray in a warm dry area, allow them to dry completely (usually 2-3 days) and then store them in breathable dry containers and keep them in a cool, dark, and dry place until you're ready to plant. Remember you will need to overcome the odds when saving your own seeds, start with 3-4 seeds per hole when germinating for better success when bringing up seedlings.

DIY cold-frames

I'm going to put a video together soon (possibly this weekend - need dry weather) on building a simple and inexpensive cold-frame so you can grow all year long! Check back soon!