Bee Downtown keeps the Triangle Buzzing

We cannot survive without bees. No bees, no food. We ignore this relationship at our own peril. Central North Carolina has a couple of hive-minded organizations that recognize the urgency of maintaining a healthy bee population – Bee Better and Bee Downtown. I have volunteered for events sponsored by both organizations, and I highly recommend them both.

In December, I spent an afternoon at the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s Geer Street Learning Garden, planting fruit trees, herbs and perennials that attract pollinators. The Geer Street Learning Garden is part of the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s effort to bring fresh vegetables, and the knowledge of how to grow them to a neighborhood that was once a food desert. The garden helps feed the hungry and educate the community, especially children, so that they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. The Durham Agricultural Manager for IFFS,  Eliza Bordley, brings creativity to the endeavor – incorporating hugelkultur, a pizza garden and a soup garden. This planting day was a joint effort between IFFS and Bee Downtown.

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“Bee Downtown installs and maintains sustainable bee communities for businesses in urban areas. Starting with one of the Nation’s fastest growing regions, the Triangle, our beekeepers work to repopulate the environment with healthy hives while providing partnering companies a one-of-a-kind green marketing opportunity.” http://www.beedowntown.org

Bee Downtown has installed hives all over the Triangle, with their most visible hive at Burt’s Bees World Headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. They have placed hives at Bull Durham Beer Company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, and Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, to name a few.

What makes an organization successful? Its people. While volunteering, I met Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, the founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, and Justin Maness, their lead beekeeper. Both impressed me with their knowledge, commitment, warmth and enthusiasm.

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Super-Sod of Cary donated a BigYellowBag (one cubic yard) of OMRI listed Soil3 compost to the Geer Street Learning Garden. Personally, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty helping two local organizations do a good thing for the community. If your hands are itching to dig in the dirt and help your local community, contact one of these local organizations.

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Eden Has Seasons

“A Winter Eden”

A winter Eden in an alder swamp
Where conies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.
It lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead
And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.
It lifts a gaunt luxuriating beast
Where he can stretch and hold his highest feast
On some wild apple tree’s young tender bark,
What well may prove the years’ high girdle mark.
Pairing in all known paradises ends:
Here loveless birds now flock as winter friends,
Content with bud inspecting. They presume
To say which buds are leaf and which are bloom.
A feather hammer gives a double knock.
This Eden day is done at two o’clock.
An hour of winter day might seem too short
To make it worth life’s while to wake and sport.
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As a graduate of Middlebury College, Robert Frost has always held a special place in my heart. He was Poet Laureate of Vermont, and taught at the Breadloaf School at Middlebury for 42 years. Everyone is familiar with “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”, but his poems that look into the heart of nature are my favorites. They can be bleak, yet hopeful. Never flowery, always honest, always true.
Last year we lost our beloved Molly, seen enjoying the snow in the photo above. She was a “luxuriating beast” but never gaunt. Even in her later years, Molly had bursts of playful energy. She demanded my attention. If all I wanted to do was relax with a glass of wine, she would bop my leg with her nose. If I did not respond, she would bop my wine glass – not hard enough to knock it over, just enough to rock it a bit. If I was so withdrawn that the wine glass trick did not get me to play, she would bop the cat. She was a fat, furry anti-depressant. Molly’s first reaction to snow was to bolt outside, run in tight circles spraying snow everywhere, and then barrel roll. She was pure joy! Snow was new and exciting to her.
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As a gardener, I have learned that snow makes my garden a completely new space. Snow covers messes, highlights structures, puts a bright sparkle on the muddy, brown places. It also restores moisture in a slow drip that goes deep down to the roots of thirsty plants.
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On this first day of winter I wait for snow (a rarity in NC) and the perspective it brings – a clean contrast of dark and light, a protective blanket over the sleeping plants – and I will honor Molly by running outside when the snow arrives, spinning with the memory of Molly’s tireless joy, knowing that my Winter Eden is preparing for spring.
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Permeable Hardscaping – Two Projects

Permeable Hardscaping is the third in our series of DIY landscaping videos. The video features two projects – a permeable patio using natural stone, and a Drivable Grass walkway.

(More information on Drivable Grass here: https://www.supersod.com/products/drivable-grass.html )

The trend in new home building seems to be to fit the largest home possible on the smallest lot. When a homeowner tries to add a patio or walkway, they find they cannot because they would exceed their impervious surface limitations.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impervious_surface

One way to add hard surfaces without adding square footage to your impervious surface is through permeable hardscaping. You can even remove a concrete walkway or driveway and replace it with Drivable Grass for a net positive effect on your property’s permeability. Daniel Medina is the talented stone mason featured in this video, filmed at Super-Sod of Cary.

(More information on Super-Sod of Cary here: http://www.supersod.com/cary )

(Press release here http://www.prweb.com/releases/online-garden-courses/super-sod/prweb13934393.htm )

Enjoy the video, and please let me know if you have questions.

For more information about our videographer, Charles Register, click here: http://charlesregister.com/

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Nature wins. Every time.

blowing-rockNovice gardeners are often looking for the “rule book”. If only gardening were that simple – you follow the rules and you get the perfect results! But those who want to follow the rules in gardening miss the critical catch: Nature doesn’t follow rules. But please don’t misinterpret this to mean nature is capricious. That would be an inappropriate anthropomorphizing of nature. Nature is a complex force that is ever-changing. It has no human qualities – no sense of vengeance, no motherly tendencies, no good and no evil.

Throughout history, humans have anthropomorphized natural elements (and animals) to make them more comprehensible and more relatable. We put things into human form because we are egotistical and can only see things through our own lens. The ancient Greek gods are the perfect example. Remember Poseidon? The god of the sea, controlling the tides and the sea creatures, using tidal waves to exact vengeance on disobedient humans. And when we contemplate the possibility of life in outer space, we picture humanoid alien life forms. We have difficulty imagining that extra-terrestrials are more likely to look nothing like us. In our attempt to understand nature, we humanize it. Nature is not a mother, not a Green Man, not a god. Nature does not punish or reward us. Nature is a collection of the 4 elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the carbon based life forms that can choose to either fight those elements or work with them. And that is the most fundamental decision – to fight nature, or to work with it. Just remember one thing: Nature wins. Every time.

Novice gardeners want a set of rules, a calendar, a formula. When can I plant tomatoes? April 15? When can I install a warm season lawn? May 1st? Which chemical fertilizer works best? 10-10-10? They come to the experts and expect a set answer. Often we give them one because they are lost without one. But it is never as simple as we would like it to be.

When can I plant tomatoes? When the threat of frost has passed. When will that be in Raleigh? Well, the Farmer’s Almanac predicts April 4th for 2017. But that could change… Every year it is different. So we say April 15th because that is safe…not necessarily accurate, but safe. Because we know that if we say April 4th, we could get a later frost, and that client will come back and be angry with us because their tomatoes died. Nature doesn’t read the Farmer’s Almanac. The Farmer’s Almanac attempts to read nature. They are quite good at it, historically, but their writers understand the most important rule in gardening: Nature wins. Every time.

Click here to read the Farmers’ Almanac for Raleigh, NC.  http://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates/NC/Raleigh

When will Emerald Zoysia be available? When it greens up. When will that be in Raleigh? At Super-Sod we say May 1st because, again, it is a safe bet. But we don’t know the exact date because we do not control nature, we work with it.

https://www.supersod.com/raleigh

Which chemical fertilizer is best? That depends on your soil health and the plants you are growing. We strongly recommend that you do a soil test so that you apply the correct amount of fertilizer and, more importantly, so that you don’t over fertilize. Working with the pH you have is another aspect of a soil test.

The NC Department of Agriculture performs these tests for free most months (they do charge a small fee December through March when they are inundated with farmers’ samples).

http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/sthome.htm

So how does the novice gardener become a good gardener? By spending lots of time outdoors, paying attention to the air, the soil, the lake levels. By observing the plants – really looking at them. Grass leaves react to water shortages by folding their blades in half to minimize sun exposure. When your grass blades look skinnier and grayer, they are telling you they need water. Certain plants are known as “indicator plants”. When your hydrangea leaves droop, all your plants need water.

Ask lots of questions. Don’t just ask where you should plant a hosta, ask why you should plant it there. Dig a hole and get to know your soil. Smell it, squeeze it in your hand, and look for worms and insects in it. Poor soil will support very few life forms. Good soil should be brown and smell earthy. It should hold together when squeezed in your hand, but should not just be a lump of clay. Amend poor soil with compost.

http://www.soil3.com/

Most importantly, let go of that need for control, and reconnect with nature. You will make mistakes and lots of them, and that’s OK. That’s how we learn. I’ve been a horticulture professional for over 20 years and I am still learning. It’s a process, not a destination. Learn to love the earth, because it is the only one we have. And don’t try to win because you cannot (and should not) defeat nature.  Repeat after me: Nature wins. Every time.

Confessions of a TifTuf Bermuda Convert

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(photo courtesy of Davis Landscapes, Raleigh)

I must admit, I have never been a big Bermuda grass fan. My lawn is Emerald Zoysia, and I love it.

But then this year a new introduction to the market changed my perspective on the less-expensive warm season grass. TifTuf Bermuda was field tested as DT-1 against Tifway Bermuda by the University of Georgia https://www.supersod.com/media/pdf/TifTuf3.pdf , Tifway (also called Tifway 419) has been the industry standard since 1960. Both grasses were forced into drought and the Tifway went dormant. That’s fine. That is a survival technique. Some of it would recover, but in the case of a severe drought, most of the Tifway would suffer. TifTuf is different. In the same drought conditions, it stayed green! In fact, it thrived under stress! And not only that, but it recovered quickly from external damage and showed better shade tolerance than Tifway.

And that is when I sat up and took notice. Here is a drought-tolerant warm season grass that is more affordable than Zoysia, and it needs less water. In fact, once it is established, it needs almost no supplemental water. That is environmentally significant. And shade tolerance has been the Holy Grail in warm season grasses. There is no firm data on the daily required hours of direct sun for TifTuf yet, but the data is being compiled and we are optimistic. And the average price savings of 25% over Zoysia makes TifTuf more accessible for the average homeowner. We are seeing significant interest from builders because TifTuf is a survivor. My colleagues in GA are reporting first hand experience with quick rooting and good performance establishing new TifTuf sod in the face of this year’s drought.

I still love my Zoysia. But I am so pleased to have this more affordable alternative to offer my clients. It’s a real game changer in the turf industry!

(photos by Shannon Hathaway, Cary, NC #TifTuf)

Mr. Feathers’ New Lakeside Condo

As November began, we noticed Mr. Feathers was getting bolder about coming inside the store. He would choose a sunny spot just near the door, and lay down. He was spending most of his day hanging out with his pal, our store manager, Judson. Not close enough to touch, still just out of reach, but closer than usual. Peacock 3We had known the day would come when he would need a house. We tossed around several ideas,  but Daniel came up with the simplest – a pad made of pallets and scrap lumber. So he got to work on the two story peacock condo. Using pallets, 2x4s, scrap T111 siding, and a plastic corrugated roof, he built a warm, dry home with a second story loft for the king of birds. When it was finished, he moved it with a forklift to the edge of the lake, warmed by the sun. We placed food nearby and waited. Two mornings later, we saw the straw bedding was matted down and sprinkled with peacock feathers. Mr. Feathers is now the proud owner of lakeside property! Lucky bird.

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Building Stone Walls – 3 Techniques

I am so grateful to work for Super-Sod, a company that encourages creativity and continuing education. The monthly classes offered here on Saturdays throughout the growing season are now available on YouTube. I hope you find them helpful. The class on building stone walls demonstrates 3 techniques: dry-stack, mortared, and natural stone veneer. I’d like to give a shout-out to my friend Daniel Medina, the stone mason featured in this video. I do the talking, but the talent is all his.

For more information about our videographer, Charles Register, click here: http://charlesregister.com/

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