Sunday, May 19, 2019

Potting Soil

Weather: We must be in a cycle where the heat and winds are drawing up the water from last week’s rain, becoming clouds in the night that hold in the heat that in turn creates the next day’s winds as the lowering sun interacts with the heat.

First tropical disturbance of the week in the Pacific on Thursday.

Last useful rain: 5/12. Week’s low: 34 degrees F. Week’s high: 86 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey rootstock, Austrian Copper, Persian yellow and wild pink roses, spirea peaked, yellow potentilla, snowball, silver lace vine, broad leaf yucca, Dutch iris, peonies, blue flax, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, purple salvia

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, tamarix, sand willow, white tufted evening primrose, alfilerillo, tumble mustard, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, fern leaf globe mallow, fleabane, plains paper flowers, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions; June, needle, feather, rice, three awn, brome, and cheat grasses

What’s blooming in my yard: Wood and rugosa roses, beauty bush, skunk bush, daffodils, lilies of the valley, chives, golden spur columbine, Bath pinks, vinca, coral bells, pink evening primrose; pansy that wintered over

Bedding Plants: Wax begonia, nicotiana

What’s reviving/coming up: Perennial four o’clock, lamb’s quarter, last year’s African marigold seeds

Tasks: Something bright green is up in two market gardens; it might be lettuce that was planted in a horizontal band crossways to the irrigation furrows.

One man got his first alfalfa cut.

County road crew cut weeds on Thursday along the shoulder; mainly tumble mustard and goat’s beards were affected.

Animal sightings: Neighbor’s cat, chickadees, hummingbird, cabbage and sulfur butterflies, bumble bee on pink evening primrose, hornets, dragonfly, ladybugs on goat’s beards, baby grasshoppers on dandelion flowers, heard crickets, small ants, earthworms

The ground squirrel is back. On Monday I found a dead hollyhock in an area it has tunneled in the past. On Tuesday the hose near a cholla was destroyed. It is bent on killing that cactus. It already has killed the other native one. My neighbors’ dogs and cat are not earning their keep.

I planted seeds near the cottonwood. A couple hours later I saw birds flying up from the general area. I laid some of the mesh fencing over the bed, but it probably was too late to prevent depredations.

Weekly update: We live on two calendars: nature’s and man’s. In the church, the one was borrowed from pagans. The other, the cycle of Christ’s birth and death with the various saint’s days was synchronized with the agrarian one at important points.

In a garden, one’s annual work patterns also follow two calendars. A week ago, when it was raining, I transplanted. Then, when afternoon temperatures grew warm this week I planted seeds.

The manmade cycle comes from the industries that support domestic landscaping. In the early spring, when I need to prepare hoses for the summer, I complain about poor quality control and cost accountants who find ways to cheapen products that work until they fail.

This past week I have been having my annual problems with potting soil. "Soil" is a courtesy title, or perhaps like so many other things, has been so redefined it has lost its earlier meaning. I heard a commercial on radio telling listeners dirt is what you get under your nails while soil is that plants grow in. It then went on to list its products that eliminated the need to improve dirt.

The artificial media used for annual plants is worthless. It only needs to function for a few months, and it’s highly desirable that it weight as little as possible to lower transportation costs.

Its worst characteristic is that it remains alien in the soil. That means water does not seep from the dirt to it. If you don’t target the water for the root ball, it does not absorb water a centimeter away. Each year when I’m removing last year’s dead plants, the potting soil comes with them. Even when there’s no sign of the plant, the clod is obvious and comes out nearly in its entirety.

The industry has an answer. Build a raised bed; it will provide the materials. Fill it with potting soil like that used by the nursery industry; it will provide it by the bag full. Then, to keep it wet all day, it will provide a drip irrigation system with timers.

The alternative is to remove as much of the artificial substance as possible. The trick is doing it when it is so dry it flakes away, but not so dry it forms a solid mass. If the potting soil has any water, the roots break when you try to isolate them. Then, when you plant them, they need a long time to adjust.

If the weather remains cool, that will work. Unfortunately, temperatures went into the 80s this past week. Then the young plants go out of bloom as they struggle, and, if history is a guide, never become strong enough to produce more flowers.

The stuff nurseries use with shrubs is a little better, if for no other reason than it has to support life for more than a few months.

It usually is easy to remove the medium from the bottom roots, which are stronger than those of annuals. However, an impenetrable shield forms at the top that will not break away. One has to dig the hose nozzle through the plate to get water down through the roots.

When the temperatures soar as they did this past week, the shrubs die back and may take several years to recover.

Notes on photographs: All taken 18 May 2019.
1. The flowering crab apple started to produce fruit this week.

2. Pink evening primroses (Oenothera speciosa) have moved out of their bed into a path where they invade the grasses I’ve worked so long to nurture.

3. The fern leaf globe mallows (Sphaeralce digitata) are producing much taller bloom stems this year.

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