Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

Why Grass?

Step 1: Pull the weeds. Preferably barefoot.

Step 1: Pull the weeds. Preferably barefoot. You won’t get them all, but this will give the grass seed a fighting chance.

Iiiinnnhale. Duuude.

Wait- wrong one. Don’t know all the rules about that one, so it’s on hold. Too bad, too. Hemp happens to be a super useful material as anything from clothing to supplemental animal feed. Selling the buds would really just be a bonus income. However, lawn grass happens to also be good for more than just ornamental purposes.

But who would plant grass during drought conditions? Despite the flooding up in Boulder, most of the state is still under some sort of drought condition. In fact, the drought conditions are part of the reason the flooding was as bad as it was. Water slides right off the surface of baked-hard ground. The reason I am planting grass now is, in part, to do my part to reduce future droughts and flooding. A lot of people assume that xeriscaping and other water- and environmentally-responsible landscaping techniques require scraping off your grass and installing rocks or concrete slabs. At best you get some scrubby-looking native flowers. That’s not necessarily true.

Step 2: Dig the ground over. I did it one shovel-full deep, but the further down you loosen it, the easier it will be for the roots to grow.

Step 2: Dig the ground over. I did it one shovel-full deep, but the further down you loosen it, the easier it will be for the roots to grow.

When you want to fill a bowl with water, you pour water into it from above. If you put a plate over the bowl, you catch a little water in the plate, but the rest of it ends up on the counter, completely bypassing the bowl. If you cover the bowl with a sponge, though, some of the water lands on the counter, but some of it does make it into the bowl. More soaks through if the sponge was damp to start with.

Our bowl is the aquifer that provides the water in our wells. We’re close to the Ogallala Aquifer. By putting in rocks and concrete, we are creating a plate-like surface which shunts the water off into streams rather than giving it a chance to soak into the ground. Water that ends up in the ocean does us as much good as water that lands on the counter. The dirt that is either left totally bare or covered with rocks quickly becomes about as permeable as concrete, so not actually pouring the concrete on it doesn’t give you much advantage. Healthy plant life, on the other hand, has roots that break up the solid soil. They also tend to keep at least some water around their roots, given half a chance, so you don’t just get a sponge over the bowl, you should have a damp sponge. This is the best we can hope for, since we can’t pour rain directly into the aquifer.

Step 3: Add the grass seed. Note that the ground is uneven. That helps the water to stay  long enough to soak into the ground.

Step 3: Add the grass seed. Note that the ground is uneven. That helps the water to stay long enough to soak into the ground.

Note that I said “healthy plant life.” Putting in a lush, mono-culture of Kentucky Blue Grass will pull more water out of the ground to keep it growing than it could hope to help return. It also tends to demand more fertilizers, herbicides, and maybe pesticides. Those kill off the fauna in the soil that help keep the soil permeable to both water and roots. You don’t necessarily have to plant local flora, though I would suggest it, but you do need to think about what flora will actually do well locally. Colorado is a harsh state. The details of why it’s harsh depends on your location, but all locations have pretty serious problems when it comes to growing plants.

Step 4: Cover with several inches of straw or clean leaves. This will keep the seed moist until it can get roots established.

Step 4: Cover with several inches of straw or clean leaves. This will keep the seed moist until it can get roots established.

Planting a variety of local grasses in your yard might mean that it’s not as perfect as the Jones’ yard, but it gives you a few advantages over them. For starters, you can spend less time watering, weeding, and fretting about it and more time enjoying it. You won’t have to keep your pets and kids off of it after chemicals are applied. It will also be able to handle more abuse from said kids and pets. When you plant plants that want to be here, they will grow willingly. When you plant a variety, the particular type that does well there will thrive. This means that you might have different grasses in the sun, the shade, and that weird dry spot, but you should have grass in all of them. Healthy grasses also out-compete most weeds. They may need some help in the first year or two, but after that, the grasses should take care of their own weeding.

The stepping-stones are so I don't walk on the new grass. I'm only doing a section at a time since the ground is hand-turned. Also, I don't want to steal too much of the dog's yard at a time.

The stepping-stones are so I don’t walk on the new grass. I’m only doing a section at a time since the ground is hand-turned. Also, I don’t want to steal too much of the dog’s yard at a go.

Possibly the most important reason for planting healthy, non-chemically-grown grass in your yard is that you are creating top soil for future use. Once upon a time, people grew a large percentage of their food right in their own back yard. When Big Ag fails- and it will- we will need to start doing that again. If you start creating a healthy soil now, you’ll have less work to do later to put in a garden. In the meantime, you could also experiment with eating the leaves of any dandelions or lambs-quarters that happen to shoulder their way into your lawn.

Going back to the original question- Who plants grass in the middle of a drought? Maybe you should.

Plant between August and October so cool-weather grasses sprout in the fall. This gives them a head start on weeds in the spring. You can overseed with warm weather grasses in the spring to keep your lawn green all year.

Plant between August and October so cool-weather grasses sprout in the fall. This gives them a head start on weeds in the spring. You can overseed with warm weather grasses in the spring to keep your lawn green all year.

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Urban Homestead Tour: Day 1: Part 2

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I knew I’d have to do each day separately, since I’m excited about this topic and that makes me verbose. However, I thought that splitting each day in two would keep the word count reasonable. Silly me.

It's so pretty, with the little garden and the flowers.

It’s so pretty, with the little garden and the flowers.

Homestead three was a co-operative chicken coop presented by Frank Kinder and Michele Mukatis. Four families took over what appears to be an alley between yards to build a chicken coop and run. Each family cares for the flock for one week at a time, and that week is when they get the eggs from the flock. To do this well, pick your co-op carefully and communicate, communicate, communicate! Michele thinks that having laidback members helps a lot, but they aren’t so laid back that nothing gets done. By making it a group effort, the work for any one person or family is minimized while still being able to have that immediate connection to your food source. It also means that you have people to take over if you want to go on vacation.

Rhode Island Reds are a pretty sturdy and reliable breed for egg-laying.

Rhode Island Reds are a pretty sturdy and reliable breed for egg-laying.

Because they aren’t as close to the coop as, say, John was, they opted to go for a very secure run that the hens could walk in and out of at will instead of being let in and out each day. With a larger number of people invested in this coop, they had enough labor and money to make a predator-proof run. For the construction, industrial staples were strongly recommended. Apparently the regular ones pull out way too easily. They had to work out who buys the feed (two bags at a time on a regular rotation through the families), who cleans the coop (every five weeks, so that it rotates families), and how to resolve conflicts. They also had to talk about how to handle a person wanting to leave the co-op and what to do with the hens that were too old to lay. Commercial hens are generally replaced annually. However, real hens often lay for three to five years before they become unreliable. Would the older hens hang around as pets or would they turn into dinner? I suppose being on the same page as to practicality would help a lot with making that decision.

Being birds, they like to sleep off the ground.

Being birds, they like to sleep off the ground.

Again, much of the coop was made from cheap to free materials. There was a monetary investment, but you don’t have to break the bank to get started. As with most things, there is a learning process. Chickens are very scared of the sound a tarp makes in the wind. They need shade, so look for something like canvas as a non-rigid shade cover. They bed with leaves that they collect from people’s curbs and yards in the fall and leave bagged up until they are needed. When collecting leaves, though, bear in mind that oak leaves don’t break down well and if the homeowner sprays chemicals, those chemicals will end up in the chickens and their eggs. To keep predators from digging into their coop, they put down a layer of cinder blocks with the holes vertical. This allowed drainage, but most critters will give up if they run into something solid when they start digging.

Bugs are more good than bad. And your chickens happen to find them delicious.

Bugs are more good than bad. And chickens happen to find them delicious.

They learned the hard way that while you can feed chickens kitchen scraps and weeds, you really don’t want to feed them grass clippings. They get balled up in the craw and are gross to get out. If your chickens do get ill or injured, though, it looks like Pikes Peak Vet might be the only vet in town that takes them in.

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The last stop for the day was goats with Monycka Snowbird. At this moment in time, goats are not legal within the city limits, but Monycka is working with Council Member Jill Gaebler to fix that. After all, they’ve been legal up in Denver for two years, and they’re becoming legal in all sorts of other cities across the country. It’s about time we got our act together. Chickens are the gateway drug (everyone had chickens), but goats aren’t far behind.

Yep- that's the attack goat.

Yep- that’s the attack goat.

Major point to remember- that goat smell? That comes from un-neutered males, or bucks. They will probably never be legal within city limits due to that smell. However, wethers (neutered males) and does (females) don’t stink. Not having bucks around also means that the milk won’t be nearly as goaty. When it’s time to breed, you just take your does out of town for a date. They gestate for five months and then can be milked from 12 to 18 months, though you do get less the longer you milk them. Her goats are registered Nigerians and should produce one to two quarts each per day once they have had a kid or four. Apparently they frequently come out in multiples.

Chicken coops on this tour were anything from utilitarian to gorgeous.

Chicken coops on this tour were anything from utilitarian to gorgeous.

When you’re getting goats, you need at least two. They are herd animals and they won’t bond with your dog to keep them happy and socialized. She recommends Craigslist for finding goats. People don’t usually take good goats to the livestock auctions, so avoid those. Expect to pay $2-300 for a good goat. However, if the doe is a solid milk producer, the kids should be easy to sell since those things tend to run in the family. (Please let your goat mature completely before you breed her, though. It’s very hard on them if they aren’t quite there.)That’s also why you should check out the dam of your new goat before you buy. If she’s a solid citizen, yours probably will be, too. Make sure that your goat has been debudded. Apparently the process is traumatizing for humans to watch, but it’s done for the safety of the goat and everything the goat comes in contact with. Horns can get caught in fencing which may make them panic and break their neck. They also tend to enjoy bowling for chickens and small children, so no horns reduces injury to the creatures being bowled for. This has to be done when they are no more than a couple of weeks old. There’s no way to do it later.

A meat rabbit.

A meat rabbit.

Speaking of fencing- goats are smart. Once they figure out a way out, they won’t forget it. This includes the dog-door into the house. Your fencing needs to be secure to keep large predators out, but it also needs to be really secure to keep the goats in. Your pet dog may or may not make friends with your goats and chickens. Dogs are predators, goats and chickens are prey. Not all dogs are able to see them as something to be protected rather than something to be eaten. Goats are also very territorial. They may learn to accept the house’s dog in their territory, but they do not like dogs they don’t know at all. Not even if you take them out hiking with you. Yep, they’re smart enough to be leash-trained and to carry packs. As an odd aside- apparently goats and pigs are mortal enemies, so you might want to pick one or the other for a small backyard.

Everyone that wanted to got to try their hand at trimming goat feet.

Everyone that wanted to got to try their hand at trimming goat feet.

Everyone has heard that goats will eat anything. It’s not true, though. They are browsers, not grazers, so they will not mow your lawn, but they will mow down your blueberries that you imported special soil to grow. They will also demolish a garden in record time if it isn’t fenced very well. However, once their hay is pulled out of the feeder and hits the ground, they won’t touch it. They also won’t get hungry enough to give in. They would rather starve than eat something they don’t like. On the other hand, they will taste anything, so watch out for shirt hems and paper in their presence. The eating results in lots of pooping- however, healthy poop has almost no smell and it doesn’t need to be composted before it goes on the garden. The lack of smell also means that it attracts almost no flies. If they do get into something they shouldn’t, there are only two vets in town that take them- Dr. Valch and maybe Airway Vet.

This picture was not altered in any way . . .

This picture was not altered in any way . . .

Chickens are pretty easy, but goats require a bit more from their owners. Not only do you have to keep them from tasting things that might make them sick, you also need to trim their hooves to keep their feet from rotting. (Unless you want to hire me to do it. I could totally be the goat farrier.) They are an awesome addition to your homestead, but make sure that you think harder about the responsibilities than you do for chickens.

Showcase Updates and Dogproofing- Again

She isn't even clearing the fences anymore. She's just sliding over the top.

She isn’t even clearing the fences anymore. She’s just sliding over the top.

Here we are again, at the beginning of a new growing season. I’m a little more on top of things this year, but only just.

The owner of Showcase 1 is back in school and in the midst of changing direction, so her garden will remain tucked under a layer of straw for this growing season, and we will review her available time next spring. I have signed up for my plots in the Ranch Community Garden, and Showcase 2 is still available. In fact, I’ve had to do a little work on Showcase 2. The owner’s dog has discovered that compost tastes really, really good.  At 10 years old with some arthritis, we figured that a second fence might be enough of a challenge to keep her out. It also set aside a strip of yard to start growing grass. Apparently, compost tastes better than we thought.

Mmm. Yummy.

Mmm. Yummy.

We opted for a compost pile behind a fence for Showcase 2 for a couple of reasons. One being that it doesn’t cost anything, since the fence needed to be there to keep the dog out of the whole garden anyway. I like compost that’s on the ground instead of in a barrel because it encourages the native decomposers to work harder, and to breed more prolifically. The more decomposers you have, the healthier your soil is going to be, and the more nutrients will be available in a form that your plants can use. The last reason being that you can have multiple piles going at a time without needing multiple barrels or other apparatus. The magic number seems to be three- one to add to, one that’s cooking, and one that you’re pulling mature compost out of to use.

It's terrible of me to lock away the good parts, right?

It’s terrible of me to lock away the good parts, right?

Our third try at dog-proofing the compost is sort of a hutch that we got for free. It is open to the dirt, so we will be encouraging decomposers in the garden soil, but the sides and top are covered, so it should discourage the dog. I wasn’t able to fit all of it in the hutch, but I did put in the newest kitchen scraps with enough “brown” material to balance it out. We will be using it for future kitchen scraps, but I think weeds will be safe enough in the open pile. They just aren’t as interesting to eat. A side perk is that since it is enclosed, it should retain moisture better than the open pile, which will help it compost faster.

The less interesting pile turned and watered. It would be further along if I did that a little more often.

The less interesting pile turned and watered. It would be further along if I did that a little more often.

As for being on top of things- I have missed the best time to start peas by about three weeks, but I may throw some in the ground anyway. I also need to get the order in for seed potatoes since they can be planted shortly. The potatoes did ok last year, but I think this year will be better.

Class: Creating a Pet-Friendly Landscape

I have a couple of possible showcase gardens that would both involve dealing with dogs. My last experience of gardening with dogs was with the one I grew up with. “Get out of the garden!” was the only command that she obeyed without hesitation, so I wasn’t sure how to address dogs that hadn’t had the same training. Lucky for me, the Denver Botanic Gardens just happened to have an applicable class.

Elizabeth Bublitz of Pawfriendly Landscapes has been doing dog-centric landscaping since 1998. She had been in the landscaping business already, and as a dog-lover and owner she noticed how many other owners were frustrated with their pets. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, we heard about what causes that frustration. “My yard is mud, but I used to have grass,” was the overarching theme. Elizabeth’s solution was to figure out how to work with the dog’s nature instead of against it so that there could be a beautiful garden and a happy dog, making for a happy owner.

I keep running into the idea that it’s easier to give in to whatever the natural inclinations are, whether it’s xeriscaping in dry landscapes or working with natural runoff directions. She made it very clear. “If it isn’t going to do them any harm and they aren’t going to escape, let them have it.” This included things like pulling your plantings away from the fenceline so that the dog could run their sentry-routes right beside the fence instead of wearing paths in the turf in front of the plantings. Some dogs dig. If it’s not against the fence or at the house foundation, just work the fact that they dig there into your design. She did discuss dog runs at the very end of the class, but it was mostly focused on the assumption that the dog was going to be residing in the garden/yard itself, as that tended to be the kind of person that called her for help.

I learned a lot about dogs along with the expected knowledge about landscaping. Apparently they like to have perches from which to survey their domain. I always thought that was a cat thing. When you are considering an ornamental boulder, consider one they could get on and stay on for this purpose. They also like to see what’s happening on the other side of the fence. If you give them windows (asking your neighbor’s permission, for the sake of good manners), they will be less inclined to jump over to check things out. They also tend to be very habitual. If there is an established path worn into your turf or through your garden bed, you can usually turn it into a deliberate path and they will stick with it. You may also be able to use different techniques to subtly reroute them. With the exception of terriers, most dogs will go around instead of through thick plantings.

The theory behind her designs is that the dogs will tell you what they want. If you listen to them, they will actually make your yard lower maintenance and more attractive. She likes less formal or “cottage gardens.” The organic shapes that the dogs encourage along with her preference for berms to vary the level of the garden provide a lot of interest in what could be a pretty bland yard. You will be putting three to five feet of stone along the fenceline to give them space for their sentry rounds. This keeps the wet grass away from the fence that is probably wooden, meaning that you won’t need to water over that far, keeping the fence drier than it might be otherwise, which helps its longevity. You will probably be using rock instead of wood for mulch, since dogs like to eat wood, and assuming that your dog doesn’t eat rocks. Once they are installed, if it is done correctly, you shouldn’t need to refresh them like you do with wood mulch.

I think my favorite part about the class, though, was how very practical it was. She discussed xeriscaping because those are the plants that do the best out here with the least amount of babying. She showed us pictures of these absolutely gorgeous gardens, then discussed that they can be done in stages. After all, it is better to slowly add things than to have to go back in and take things out. To manage the mud in the meantime, she suggested erosion blankets or landscape cloth. Just make sure that you pin the seams really well. Apparently dogs like to pick at seams to rip them up. Erosion blankets are something that landscapers have access to. Anyone can get their hands on landscape cloth. The plants are chosen for various reasons, but ornamental grasses aren’t used in dog areas since they get eaten. Thorny bushes can be used to discourage dogs that eat plants.

I am amazed, and pleased, that every one of my instructors so far has been very willing to share and encourage us. I also have contact information for each of them if more questions come up later. Elizabeth even recommended the cat version of herself, Cat-Man-Do, for feline questions and landscaping. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in this field that wouldn’t necessarily encourage the competition, but I am loving the people in the field that I have met so far.