Visiting Seeds of Durham

The seasonal nature of agriculture allows me to venture out in the slower months and see what others are doing in the community to share their knowledge and encourage a new generation of gardeners. Today I dropped by Seeds of Durham to tour their facility, and I was very excited by the program! 

 “Founded in 1994, SEEDS is a two-acre urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham. SEEDS develops the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food.”

Garden Manager Trevor Hyde encouraged me to walk through the gardens. It is a very welcoming space with a surprise around every corner. 

Classroom and Kitchen

They have paid respect to the natural topography, adding terraced beds and meandering paths with gentle steps where needed. The outdoor classroom and kitchen/dining space sits at an upper corner with a view of the sloped gardens, the chicken enclosure, and the water feature. It’s a warm, inviting and colorful space. 

Terraced garden beds
Beds of winter greens

Even in December, the gardens were flourishing and the chickens were plump and happy…running over to greet me.

Friendly Chickens!

Seeds is teaching children what can be grown in the city in limited space, how to prepare fresh produce, and how to eat healthy. In the era of the farm-to-table movement, this knowledge will be invaluable as this young generation enters the job market and sets up homes of their own. Perhaps some will be inspired to become chefs, farmers, educators…

I believe that all the children who are fortunate enough to experience this program will take away an appreciation for the garden and for healthy living. If you are looking for a good non-profit to support, I strongly encourage you to consider Seeds of Durham.

Moved In and Sodded!

I’ve told my dear husband that this was my last move, and they will have to take me out of this house feet first in a pine box. Moving is no fun, and I am too old for this nonsense. Now that we are settled in, my focus will be on the yard.

The Tif-Tuf Bermuda sod has arrived (Thank you, Super-Sod!) and been laid down dormant. That’s right…dormant. Don’t worry. It will be just fine. Some warm season grasses, like Tif-Tuf and Zenith Zoysia, can be laid dormant. Others cannot. If you are laying dormant sod, please check with your sod professionals to be sure you choose a variety that will be successful in your zone. Timing is everything!

Hathaway 3

Ice and snow soon followed, along with single digit temperatures, but the sod loves the slow drip of water from the melting winter precipitation, and the temperatures are right back to southern normal after the brief cold snap.

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Dan Ryan Builders gave us some pretty decent plants. We have a Red Oak, a Crepe Myrtle, 3 Drift Roses, 3 Loropetalum and a Thuja ‘Emerald’. The Compacta Hollies will be re-homed. The others will be worked into my plan somewhere.

Brodgen 6Of course I am planning a major landscape renovation. I sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine and my knitting, and dream of terraces, stone walls, pollinator gardens, vegetable and herb gardens, Japanese Maples, Hostas, Hydrangeas, Camellias… Stay tuned – spring is coming!

1918 Brodgen

 

Mitered Star Pillow – Knitting Pattern

What does this gardener do when the temps are below freezing? Knit! OK, I knit in warm weather too. In fact, knitting rivals gardening in my list of obsessions. I have made several mitered square blankets and shawls in the past couple of years, but recently I designed a mitered star that works well as a pillow. A smaller version can be a Christmas decoration, or hang many of them for a mobile for the nursery. Have fun using only one color, or a variety of hand dyed yarns. My favorite is Miss Babs. I am addicted to her colorways. You can find the pattern below, or on Ravelry. Happy knitting! I’d love to see your results. Send me pics!

Star Pillow

For large pillow:
Cast on 72 stitches and work in garter stitch in basic mitered square*, changing colors as you like or keeping it all one color. If you know how to make a mitered square, this is the same idea except that you make a fifth square. It really is that easy!

* Cast on 72 stitches, placing a marker after stitch #36. Then knitting every row, on right side knit to 2 stitches before the marker, slip-slip-knit, move marker to other needle and K2tog, knit to end. Wrong side row simply knit. When only 2 stitches are left on your needle, cast off.

To make the next square, pick up 36 stitches along one cast-on edge of the first square, place marker, and cast on 36 more stitches. Repeat pattern above. Do this 3 times. For the 5th and final square, pick up 36 stitches on the cast-on edge of your last square and 36 from your first square. Repeat the main pattern. Voila! You have one star! Make one more, and then sew them together inside out, leaving one length open. Turn the pillow right side out and stuff with batting. Sew the final edge. Add a large decorative button in the center on both sides and you are done!

Blanket

The Dirt on NC Soil

When I moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts in 1993, I was eager to start planting. I had heard how many more varieties of plants could be grown here than in Zone 4, including warm season grasses, and I could not wait to get my hands in the soil. So you can imagine my surprise when, after great effort, I came up with a shovel full of red clay and rock. I wondered how anything grows here! I sought out the advice of local experts, and began the hard work of amending my soil. After 24 years of soil building, resulting in beautiful, rich, black dirt … we decided to move. We chose to build in Durham and I took a soil sample from the new lot. The test results are the 2nd worst I have seen in 20 years in NC horticulture.

To test your own soil, take core plugs from several spots in the yard and mix them together to get an overall sample. Or you can take several plugs per area (lawn, vegetable garden, etc.). A soil probe is a helpful tool for taking core samples. For each sample you will need about 3/4 of a sandwich baggie. The NC Department of Agriculture  offers free soil testing most of the year, charging a small fee December through March. Bring your sample to the lab in Raleigh and they will give you a form and a box to submit your sample. Results are emailed to you in about 2 weeks. Outside NC, check with your state agriculture department.

The NC report will look like this: Soil Test Report

Over the years I have performed hundreds of soil tests on my clients’ yards. The most telling number on those tests is the HM% – the percentage of Humus Matter (organic matter) in the soil. Ideal is 5%, but in my 20 years in the horticulture industry in NC, I have yet to see one above 1%. The average is 0.46%. Mine is 0.04%. Pitiful.

The pH is another important number. The form you fill out will ask what is being grown in the area sampled. I wrote  TifTuf Bermuda because that is what I intend to use for my lawn. I will (of course) also be planting perennials, trees, shrubs, vegetables, herbs, hops… but I digress. Ideal pH for most lawns (not Centipede) is 5.8-6.5 and, as you can see above, mine is 5.3. The lab recommends I add 80 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet. That is a lot of lime. I have work to do.

The solution to poor soil quality is soil building. In the Triangle, our native soil has the following layers: gray clay, red clay, and if you are lucky, a bit of organic matter on top. Most new construction is missing that important top layer. Nature builds soil in these layers, so for best results we should imitate Nature.

To remedy a lack of organic matter,  work compost into new beds and continue to amend your soil by adding a layer of compost yearly. I highly recommend Super-Sod’s Soil3 compost. One cubic yard comes in the signature BigYellowBag and can be delivered to your home! Soil3 is made from grass clippings, wheat straw and cow manure. It is inoculated with mycorrhizae and other beneficial organisms, and turned regularly to maintain a temperature of 160 degrees. The result is rich, humus compost that is OMRI  listed for use in organic vegetable gardens.

There are other important numbers to note on the soil report. The lab tests available Phosphorous and Potassium in the soil, but not Nitrogen because it is too unstable and the results will not be reliable. Under “N-P-K Fertilizer Recommendations” they will tell you how much fertilizer to add. Be sure to do this at the correct time of year for the plants you are growing. CEC measures the soil’s ability to absorb and release nutrients to the plant roots. Ideal CEC is 15+. High levels  of zinc, copper and manganese can be problematic as well. Be sure to read the Agronomist’s comments to see if further action is needed.

We move in to our new home at the end of December, and I will begin shortly thereafter improving my soil. I will start with a dump truck load of 50/50 topsoil/compost, and then top-dress annually with Soil3.  It will be a long process, but the results are well worth the effort. I will keep my readers updated as the new landscape develops. Happy gardening!

Top 10 NC Sod Questions…Answered

Feldman 1

I work for Super-Sod, one of the top sod producers in the Southeast. As in any industry, we get the same questions over and over. And they are really good questions! I’ve compiled our top ten and shared my answers, with valuable input and editing from my co-workers, to help you choose the best sod for your landscape.

1. Which is the best sod for central NC?

We live in a macro-climate (overall geographic area) that allows us to grow nearly any sod variety with some degree of success. In general, warm season grasses are best because North Carolina is a warm season state. We have great success with Bermuda and Zoysia grasses! Centipede does well in full sun and well-drained conditions, however it is the least cold tolerant of the grasses we offer and is the most likely to come out of winter with winter-kill damage.

The variety that is best for you is much more dependent on your micro-climate (specific site conditions). Tall Fescue can be a challenge because it is a cool season grass, but it is our most shade tolerant option. Common practice is to over-seed Tall Fescue lawns every fall to help replenish any areas that may have struggled from disease and drought over the summer. Different Bermudas and Zoysias have different shade tolerances.

2. What is the best time to lay sod?

That depends on the sod. Ideal timing for each sod is listed below.

May 1 – September 1: Zoysia, Bermuda and Centipede

October 1 – March 1: Fescue

Exceptions:  TifTuf Bermuda and Zenith Zoysia can be installed year-round, but when laid outside their ideal timing, the seams may not close completely until warm weather.

3. Which sod holds up best to kid or dog traffic?

That’s easy. TifTuf Bermuda! Just make sure you have enough sun.

4. How do I determine how much sun I’m getting?

Most smart phones have a compass. Stand in the area you plan to sod and face North using the compass. In summer the sun will be straight overhead, and the rest of the year it will drop back into the Southern hemisphere. Imagine the sky is a clock. Start in the East and track the open “hours” in the sky/clock moving to the West. Those are the hours you will have full sun. It will change as the seasons change. There are Sun Tracker apps that make this even easier.

5. How do I measure square footage?

With a perfectly rectangular lawn, this is easy – multiply length by width. But few of us have perfectly rectangular lawns. With irregular shapes, first take length measurements every 6-10 paces (keep the number of paces consistent) and average the results. Then repeat this process with width measurements. Multiply the average length by the average width and you will have a fairly accurate square footage. Measuring wheels are more accurate than measuring tapes.

6. How many square feet are on a sod pallet? How many square feet per roll?

Each Super-Sod pallet covers 500 square feet. Each roll measures 2’x5’ or 10 square feet. There are 50 rolls per pallet. From time to time, Emerald Zoysia and Leisure Time Zoysia can come in slabs measuring 18” x 24”, but the pallet coverage is the same 500 square feet. Other sod suppliers may have different standards. Make sure you ask!

7. Is seed available for each sod variety?

No. Most hybrid sod varieties are sterile. The seed they produce is not viable. Super-Sod has seed available for Elite Tall Fescue, TifBlair Centipede and Zenith Zoysia only. Common Bermuda seed is available, but none of our hybrid Bermudas produce viable seed.

8. Can I combine sod varieties in my yard?

Many clients have different micro-climates in their yards. Your front yard may be full sun but the back is quite shady. You may need to choose different sod varieties for these different areas. Please keep in mind that if you have a cool season lawn area and a warm season lawn area, you will need to fertilize these areas at different times of year and mow them at different heights. Blowing out the under-carriage of the mower between mowing different areas can help decrease cross-contamination. We do not recommend mixing sod varieties in one area. One will eventually dominate the other.

9. Should I over-seed warm season sod with annual rye to have color in the winter?

No. Rye is a vertical grower and warm season grasses grow horizontally. The rye will shade out the warm season grass in those winter months when hours of sunlight are already more scarce. Plus the rye will be competing for root space and soil nutrients, which makes for a slow and unsightly transition out of dormancy for your warm season grass.

10. Which sods are evergreen?

Technically only Tall Fescue stays green year-round, but in reality it is very hard to keep Fescue healthy during the hot, dry months of summer. Every plant has its seasons. Deciduous trees lose leaves for winter dormancy. Warm season grasses go dormant for winter as well. Fescue’s “ugly” season is summer. My advice is to embrace the seasonal changes.

Still have questions? Super-Sod has more answers.

Letting Go of Your Garden

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I have been tending my Personal Eden for 24 years. It started as a brand new lot on 1/3 of an acre in a subdivision in Cary, NC. It was a flat, nondescript corner lot. There were a few skinny pines in the front yard and a wooded area in back with pines and sweet gums. A few “builder bushes” lined the front foundation, but that was it. Not much to look at, but I saw potential.

I started with a few beds around the side and back foundation, and right away I learned that my soil was very poor. So each new bed was mounded with added topsoil and compost. I started small, but soon I began to work about half the property. I left woods in back and along the road as a buffer, and as a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. I left a side lawn for my kids at first, but beds soon began to encroach there too.

Our whole family loves to be outdoors, so I added entertaining spaces in the form of outdoor rooms. I’m a fan of out-buildings and structural landscaping elements, so we transformed a kids’ fort into an outdoor bar/potting shed, added a pergola over the dining patio (one of two patios we built), an entry arbor, and an arbor swing. The fire pit became the center of evening activity. My son Jack helped design a waterfall and small pond that added sound and attracted more wildlife. A rain garden was added to absorb run-off. And stone walls – lots of stone walls! My son Tim added a flagstone path around the side of the house that wound through the vegetable beds. But those beds did not provide nearly enough room for all the edibles I wanted, so I began incorporating edibles in my ornamental beds. Because we spent so much time around the fire pit, we hired Southern Lights to add landscape lighting to the back yard.

The pines and sweet gums did not provide nearly the tree diversity I sought, so I added a ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia, a few Crepe Myrtles, 2 Beech Trees, a weeping Styrax, a ‘Silver Cloud’ Redbud, a Vitex, a Dawn Redwood, a Skylands Oriental Spruce, a Red Maple, an Okame Cherry and 9 Japanese Maples. (I think that’s all, but maybe not…) I won’t overwhelm you by naming every shrub, perennial, herb and vegetable I grow, but suffice it to say I could fund a long trip to Europe with the money spent on plants.

And now, after all this work, all this love and care, I have said goodbye to my Personal Eden. We have decided to downsize and invite my aging parents to come live with us. We don’t have a downstairs bedroom, so we are building a new home that meets our needs. Financially, it makes good sense. But it is hard to leave the home and garden I have tended for 24 years. Two beloved family cats are buried in the garden. Countless parties and family gatherings have been hosted here. I have shaped each Japanese Maple and pruned each rose bush over 20 times. I hope the new homeowner will love it as much as I have, but my fear is that they will tear everything out and cut down the trees. The birds will leave, as will the rabbits and the squirrels. When I drive past as I visit friends in the neighborhood, I fear my heart will break. My real estate agent has told me a buyer could see the landscape as an asset or a liability. I can only hope it’s the former.

But I have to let go. Transitions are a part of life. I know I can take on another landscape and make it thrive. At my age, I may not see as much growth in the trees, but I will enjoy each year’s growth.

To the new owner of my Personal Eden, I hope you will see the beauty and the value in your new garden, and take loving care of it. I hope your family has parties around the fire pit and your children climb the trees. I hope you take time to swing under the arbor, and cut Edgeworthia and Viburnum to bring their heady fragrance inside. I wish you a lifetime of happy memories. I know I will cherish mine. Forgive me if I dig up a couple Japanese Maples before I leave. And my mother’s Irises. And some Comfrey from the medicinal garden. And…

Go For A Walk

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Outside jobs have some wonderful mental health benefits. While I do spend about half my time in my office, the hours spent in the great outdoors are my favorite, and I go to water every opportunity I get. There’s a pond behind the store that is one of my favorite views and daily destinations. The pond is man-made, and serves as a water source for the plants on site, but it also provides a home for a wide variety of birds. I have spotted great blue herons, Canada geese, cormorants and several varieties of ducks. Mr. Feathers takes daily strolls along the edge of the pond.

mr-feathers

On beautiful days like today, 60 degrees in January, we throw open the barn door and everyone who enters the store gets a water view. Fresh air and sunshine for all!

pond-view

I’ve always been drawn to water, sometimes urgently. When I feel the need to escape, I head to the beach. I know I’m not unique in this. Having a body of water at work is such a luxury!

We need to reconnect to the four basic elements – earth, air, fire and water – as often as possible. So go take a walk! It’s a beautiful day.