Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poo for You, Too, & The Beard of Jupiter

My good friend Patti says if you're a parent of very small children, your real job isn’t raising kids. It’s managing poop.  Specifically, keeping poop where it’s supposed to be (in the diaper or the toilet) and out of the places it’s not supposed to be, (the toilet seat, the bathroom floor, the carpet, the bed, the walls, the car, you name it). If the previous sentence horrified you, I’ll guess you don’t have children. Any parent who has seen a child through diapers and potty training knows exactly of what I speak. They’ve seen it, they’ve cleaned it, and then they’ve eaten a big plate of meatloaf afterwards. No sweat. New parents deal with poop.  A lot of it.

It goes without saying that when my twin boys graduated out of diapers, I believed that my days of being up-close-and-personal with poop were through.

I was wrong.

Whilst tucking new plants into the garden beds this season, I’ve had a realization about organic gardening. I see, now, what it’s really all about. You guessed it:  managing poop.

Now you composters out there will beg to quibble with me, and I get it. If you’re creating your own Gardener’s Gold out of kitchen scraps and grass clippings, then I commend you. And I envy you. Because you don’t have to deal with poop.

But if you’re like me, and you’re purchasing organic soil amendments and fertilizers at the nursery, then you’re dealing with the dirty stuff. It doesn’t matter what they call it: worm castings, bat guano, chicken droppings, cow manure. It’s all poop. And if you want to get your plants off to a really nice start (without chemical fertilizers) you’re going to have to get your hands in it. Or at least your gardening gloves.

Which is why, if you’d been eavesdropping on my gardening efforts recently, you would have heard me murmuring  the strangest  incantation as I christened some freshly-dug planting holes.  It went “Here’s some poo for you….and here’s some poo for you… and here’s some poo for you, too!” 

My favorite poo sources this year have been Gardner and Bloome Starter Fertilizer, whose first ingredient is “dried poultry waste.” 

(Though this product has little smell, if you leave it out in the rain, like I did, there is no mistaking what's in it. Don't try it at home.)

Then, to amend the soil I return to the hole-- because our soil in Northern Nevada contains lots of clay and doesn't drain-- I’ve used Kellogg All Natural Garden Soil (containing the powerful triumvirate of “composted chicken manure,” “worm castings,” and “ bat guano.”)

Both products above are OMRI listed (by the Organic Materials Review Institute) which means they are certified for use in organic food production.

So, what have I been planting since the yarrow and gaura adventure? Well, one of my favorites, actually. A fantastic perennial called centranthus ruber. Luckily, most people call it red valerian, or, even more poetic, jupiter’s beard. Here it is in all its cosmic loveliness:

Attributes? It’s fairly drought tolerant, for starters, though it does bloom more profusely with a bit more water. The blooms, as you can see, are large and showy. They're also long lasting, and boast a color somewhere between hot pink and cherry red (unless you get the white variety). Butterflies love them. Here is a photo I snapped of a lone, full-grown plant at a local restaurant:

Here it is growing with catmint in our former garden:

And here it is, cheerfully cohabitating with California poppy. 

 My favorite thing about this perennial, if you must know, is its long, long season of interest. For you non-gardening types, that means it looks great for months. You see, there are lots of other summer bloomers that will put out nary a leaf until May around here. Jupiter’s beard, however, starts making a nice green mound around March, and is usually in full bloom by late April. Amazingly, the blooms continue through May, June, and even July and August if it doesn’t get too hot (as in, over 100 degrees).

Now, one caveat: you must deadhead, or remove spent flowers, to keep this plant blooming through the summer. Truth is, most plants simply won’t go through the trouble of making new flowers once their flowers have set seed. So your job is to thwart the seed-making process at every turn, snipping the flowers before they dry. Deadheading also prevents jupiter’s beard from spreading itself about your garden willy-nilly, which it is known to do. A jupiter's beard bloom is ready to snip when you start to see a lot of its yellow skeleton, which looks like this:

Those white fluffy things in the photo are seeds, so this bloom was probably left a little too long. When you snip, you'll notice the plant usually has two baby flowers waiting to put on a show once the parent bloom is gone (like kids throwing a party when their parents leave the house). Here is a picture showing the parent bloom and the two babies waiting in the wings.

This is how I positioned the three jupiter's beard in my garden bed before planting:

And here they are after I planted them:

(Ignore the little purple sage in the lower left corner, we'll get to him later.) Finally, let's return quickly to our garden map to see where we've arrived. Here is the complete plan:

And here are the three jupiter's beard within the scheme:

Here are the plantings I've posted to date, including yarrow (light pink) and gaura (white). Our water feature is in black.

And on we go.

Up next: designer roses.