Diverse Ecosystem in your Garden

Guide to Native Gardening Step 1: Observe, Plan First, make an assessment of the environmental conditions (shady or sunny, drainage, soil types, irrigation, etc.). This assessment is a critical one.  It it extremely important you know exactly how many hours of sun the area gets.  The sun can feel quite strong in an area for an hour or two, but it may not shine strongly for the 6+ hours many prairie plants need for best development.  If you put plants that need shade in a full sun situation, they will not survive.     It is also helpful when creating a naturalistic landscape design to consider the associations found in specific plant communities (a prairie, wetland or forest). You may also want to visit some local natural areas to observe these associations first-hand.   Planning and planting a native garden does not have to be done all at once. It can be installed in phases as your budget and time allows. Step 2: Soil/Garden Bed Preparation The easiest method to start a new garden is to use sheet composting or to make a lasagne bed, which is simply layering browns and greens on a bed of cardboard, in the fall.  There is no digging or tilling which is destructive to the soil food web.   First, make sure you have mown the area.  Place down cardboard and wet it thoroughly.  Then place a layer of leaves, then a layer of greens (lawn clippings are great), and so on till you have a pretty thick bed.  Water these layers.  Add a layer of mulch on top.  Over the fall, winter, and spring, all of the decomposers in the soil will be working and by late spring you can plant into your new garden.  All of the ingredients may not be thoroughly composted, but they are usually enough so that you can plant.  As the temps warm up, soil organisms will consumer materials and turn them into soil soon enough.   You can also make an immediate bed at any time during the season with cardboard and soil placed on top as long as you are using seedlings (roots are not so deep), and the soil is thick enough.  No need to cut holes through the cardboard.  Keep the seedlings watered, and the cardboard will soften and be consumed by the decomposers fairly quickly.   Pictures below show the success of the lasagne bed method. You can see the cardboard and paper placed on top of the lawn, and the layering of browns and greens in Fall of 2014.  Seedlings were planted in Spring of 2015.  Garden is fairly mature in Spring 2016 and Fall 2016 in photos below.                       If you are making a new bed in an area that is lawn, you can either use the lasagne bed method or dig up grass (or hire someone with a sod cutter).  You can then plant directly into the new bed.  Be sure to use the plant labels (or make your own) to help you identify your plants until you can recognize them.  Be sure to mulch in order to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and feed soil microorganisms.  Pull or clip unwanted plants (“weeds”) before they get too large or set seed. Clipping the “weeds” helps you avoid disturbing root systems of young plants nearby. If you pull them when they are young, simply leave them on the top of the bed, roots up, and they will decompose quickly, returning the nutrients back to the soil. Step 3: Plant Selection and Plants Choose species based on the soil, light, and water conditions of your site and for the size, shape, texture, and color you desire. Below are just a few of our favorites.   Suggested Prairie Plants (full sun): Spring: Spiderwort, Golden Alexanders, Prairie Smoke, Prairie Phlox, Cream Prairie Indigo, Shooting Stars, Penstemon digitalis Summer: Purple Prairie Clover, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Butterflyweed, Culver’s Root, Rose Milkweed Fall: New England Aster, Smooth Blue Aster, Stiff Goldenrod, Showy Goldenrod, Aromatic Aster Grasses: Little bluestem, Big Bluestem, Prairie Dropseed, Indian grass, Switch Grass, Purple Love Grass   Suggested Woodland Plants (shade): Spring: Wild geranium, Virginia Bluebells, Wild Columbine, Celandine Poppy, Jacob’s Ladder, Early Meadow Rue, Virginia Water Leaf, Wild Blue Phlox, Hepatica Ferns: Marginal Shield fern, Ostrich Fern, Christmas Fern Groundcovers: Wild Ginger, May Apple, Allegheny Foam Flower Three-Season Plants: Solomon’s Seal, Solomon’s Plume, White Baneberry Fall: Short’s Aster, Large-leaf Aster, Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Zig-zag Goldenrod, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Blue Mist, White Snakeroot (can be a prolific self-seeder, grows smaller in shady situations) Shrubs: Hazelnut, Witch Hazel, Arrowwood Viburnum, Pagoda Dogwood Step 4: Maintaining Your Landscape Watering during establishment critical Your native plants will need time to become established. The critical period for watering and weeding is two to three weeks after planting or longer if you are planting in warm, dry seasons.  Even if the plants are labelled as drought-tolerant, they are NOT able to go without frequent watering in the beginning after they are transplanted. They will die.     Importance of mulching If you are planting trees or shrubs, apply a four to six-inch layer of organic mulch around them (but, not touching the main stem) and a one-inch or less mulch layer for perennials. Mulch can help control weeds, reduce temperature fluctuations, help retain moisture and give a finished look to the landscape.  Native plants usually do not require fertilizer. Many thrive in poor soil and applying fertilizer could chemically burn them, or stimulate either lush or spindly, weak foliage growth with few flowers.   The only “fertilizer” you will need Leaving the organic matter in the fall and spring is all you need to do to have healthy plants. This material will feed the soil organisms which will then feed your plants.  Fungi are critically  important for the health of your plants, and they prefer whole material to consume.  Fungi deliver nutrients AND water to your plants.   Enjoy the butterflies and

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Soil

Deep Watering Soil Testing Water Filter Recorded Trainings Learn More Deep Watering Deep Watering Should Soil Dry Out? How To Keep Soil Moist What Does Watering Deeply Mean? There is no hard-and-fast definition for watering deeply, but it generally means that the water can soak at least eight inches below the soil surface. The reason behind watering deeply is that most plant roots are not sitting close to the soil surface. They have worked their way down into the soil, in search of water and nutrients. This helps protect the plant in times of drought because the soil surface will dry out much quicker than it will below ground, where the soil is cooler. Since you cannot control the rain, there will be weeks when your garden will get much more water than it needs and weeks when it will be your responsibility to see that your garden is watered. Another common gardening recommendation is to make sure your plants get at least one inch of water every week. One inch does not sound like a lot, and it isn’t. That’s a minimum. It is better for the plants if the soil gets a good soaking down to at least the eight inches mentioned above. That’s because one inch of water will evaporate or dissipate quickly, whereas a thorough soaking several inches below the soil surface will linger long enough for your plant’s roots to get a good drink. You can try to get around this by giving your plants a little bit of water daily, rather than a good weekly soaking. If you have a drip irrigation system where you are guaranteed that the garden really will get a daily watering, that’s fine. However, it is not a practical plan if you are watering by can or hose. Plants that are used to getting frequent water will not develop the deep root system that is needed for the plant to survive periods of drought, so making your plants dependent on daily watering and then missing a few days will cause long-term problems. Once a plant is water-stressed, it can take weeks to recover, and in the case of annuals and vegetables, every week counts. How to Test How Much Water Your Garden is Getting How quickly water runs through the soil and how much is absorbed for the roots to access will depend on what type of soil you have, the weather conditions, and how fast the water is being applied. Water runs through sand much more quickly than it penetrates clay. That’s why soil amendment with organic matter is advised for sand and clay. The organic matter is great at holding onto the water just long enough for the plants to get at it. A three-to-four-inch layer of mulch will help conserve whatever moisture is there. However, there’s a simple test to get an approximate idea of how much water is falling on your garden. Water your garden and then wait half an hour. Dig down into the soil with a trowel. If it’s not wet eight inches or more below the surface, it might be that you haven’t watered enough or it could be that you watered too fast and the water ran off elsewhere. It is probably both. Next time, try a more gentle stream of water for a longer period. A gentle soak for an hour or two is better than puddling soil around your plants and moving on. It primes the soil to absorb more water and allows the water to spread out in the soil. It can take a few tries to get it right, and you don’t have to be obsessive about getting exactly eight inches. The point is to make sure the soil is absorbing and holding the water long enough to hydrate the plants. Once you master the concept of watering deeply, your plants will stay healthier in whatever weather comes their way. Source: https://www.thespruce.com/watering-deeply-1402418 Is it good to let soil dry out? “If soil is left too wet for too long, it can cause root rot,” Marino says. “That’s what we call over watering. On the other hand, if your plant’s soil is consistently too dry you’re likely under watering. Letting your soil dry out before watering is key for plants to receive the perfect balance of water and oxygen.” Should the soil be moist or dry? In most cases, the soil should be damp to the root zone, 6 to 12 inches (15-30 cm.). However, sandy soil drains quickly and should be watered when the soil is dry to a depth of 2 to 4 inches (5-10 cm.). Remember that the need for water also varies widely depending on the plant. Source: https://greenyplace.com/should-i-let-my-soil-dry Introduction Understanding how to keep soil moist is essential for successful gardening and agriculture. Soil moisture plays a pivotal role in the growth and health of plants, making it a critical factor for farmers, gardeners, and environmentalists alike. By maintaining optimal soil moisture levels, you can ensure that your plants thrive and contribute to a sustainable ecosystem. The ability to retain moisture in soil is a fundamental aspect of soil health, influencing the availability of water and nutrients to plant roots. As such, it directly impacts plant growth, yield, and overall ecosystem stability. Whether you are cultivating a garden, managing a farm, or simply nurturing houseplants, the knowledge of how to keep soil moist is invaluable. In this article, we will explore the significance of soil moisture, the factors that affect it, and various techniques for effectively retaining moisture in soil. By understanding these principles, you can take proactive measures to promote healthy plant growth and contribute to the conservation of natural resources. Let’s delve into the world of soil moisture and discover how to harness its potential for sustainable and flourishing plant life. Importance of Soil Moisture Soil moisture is a cornerstone of plant health and ecosystem sustainability. Adequate moisture in the soil is essential for facilitating the uptake of nutrients by plant roots, enabling crucial biological and chemical processes, and supporting overall plant

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Lunch & Grow

Conversations with Conservationists & Gardeners Sign Up To Join Here January – Rest & Planning What you can do to start planning for 2024 What you can do to start planning for 2024 January to do’s: Dream and rest. Nature has to rest. Our bodies need to rest. Listen to the season. With climate change, previously predictable dates like frost are harder to plan for. So be mindful of how the weather might change during the growing season and be prepared to cover crops or water more frequently. USDA Plant Hardiness Zones have changed! This affects what is best to grow in which regions. Links to more information provided below. When it is cold, the soil is preparing for Spring. Snow is important to help with this process. Snow provides the water reserve for Spring, so the less snow the more the plants might need watering. Soil will do its thing, so keep a close eye on how the climate is changing and its impact on what the soil is doing. Pay attention to the lack of snow and be concerned. The soil that needs a certain amount of cold chilling hours won’t get them all. Some plants might come up earlier than previously, but then there might be another chill that can influence plants’ behaviors. Keep an eye on early frost dates – they often predict April, but sometimes it’s not until May Keep Notes – unexpected things might happen – Nature is dope Questions to be asking as you are planning your garden Questions to be asking as you are planning your garden: How many people are you growing for? – you might not need 6 tomato plants, or if you want to grow more can you connect with others growing and share? Limit waste What do you like to eat? Maybe don’t grow chard just because it’s pretty. How much space do you have? To learn more about growing in small spaces and containers check out the links to CGF’s resources pages. How much time are you going to dedicate to it? – July will come and it will be hot, will you be able to potentially water twice a day. Where are you getting your water from? – with less snow, plants will need more water care. What is worth it? – Strawberries usually get one nice harvest, do you feel they are worth the time? Consider nutrient density – “More bang for your buck”. If you are looking for something simpler that will be filling and healthy consider kale, chard, collard greens (but remember question 2) Questions Posed During Discussion Is there free compost? Interested in growing in compost Responses:  Research with biosolids is completed with animal waste, Chicago biosolids come from our systems including toilet waste and hospital waste Use biosolids on ornamentals only! – don’t want Chicago waste into food – We don’t know just how bad Chicago biosolids are Chicago Grows Food orders our Soil & Compost from https://www.cowsmocompost.com/, R & R will do testing and has compost, Midwest Compost I have a strawberry patch, they come back every year, but they were small this year, what can I do to make them larger? Also 2 pear trees with smaller pears. Responses: Soil Test (information for free Soil Testing below) Better to use slow release fertilizer than liquid fertilizer – can get the slow release from different plant stores – Kings (only open for growing season). Thin out strawberries When do you prune an apple tree Responses: Spring & Fall – gearing up for growing season and for rest If they are at schools Openlands can do a demonstration to show you how to prune trees. Connect with Tree Keepers – can potentially get volunteers to help – Al Dereu – https://openlands.org/people/al-de-reu/ Collected rainwater should not be used to grow your food Responses: No, it is recommended that you don’t, rainwater contains pollution and radiation, if it’s coming off the roof there is animal waste and other possible contaminants. Could filter and purify Side note in chat: don’t garden in the topsoil. It’s full of lead and other contaminants that get in your food If a seed has dried out can you revitalize it? Responses: If the embryo part of the seed is damaged, then no, but if the starch part is damaged then it should still be okay. Side note: try planting it anyway! You can grow small plants and trees indoors for a while too; you don’t have to plant directly into the ground. How long can you keep seeds?  Responses: You can keep them for a while, but germination diminishes every year.  Can you Grow in a Container? Responses: Yes! Check out reusable fabric grow bags – learn more on the CGF website, links to resource pages below. Not recommended to use clay pots Resources Resources USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (updated 2023) USDA Plant Hardiness Zone – Morning Edition interview Ashlie Thomas, author of How to Become a Gardener Sowing Guides AUA doing soil tests for free! – Soil Health Program  Roots Watering Hole Podcast hosted by Orrin Williams with monthly guest experts Chicago Grows Food – chicagogrowsfood.org Home Gardening Gardening Basics  Rest & Planning Garden Scheduling Soil Insects & Animals Native Planting Harvesting & Cooking FAQ February – Garden Scheduling Don’t Over Think It Don’t overthink it Go outside, let plants do their thing Connect with lots of different kinds of growers Need more guidance? Use the internet, use social media, find local growers and ask questions Seasonal Tasks Winter Suggestion: invest in a good grow light – will help us grow different things throughout the year and will provide good quality produce and a fuller harvest What can you grow year round: Microgreens (tender new shoots of vegetable plants, which are harvested before they reach maturity) Can feed yourself for a long time – lettuce, spinach, head lettuce, dill or cilantro, Full tray of microgreens with a grow light can create a salad, be added to enchiladas, tacos What is passive Hydroponics?  Passive hydroponics provides water only beneath the plant roots and doesn’t recirculate. The

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