Friday, June 4, 2010

Rain Barrel

In Birdland, we enjoyed the Asparagus, but after 6 weeks you have to let it bolt to replenish its roots. The thick dragon tails are magically transforming into delicate feathery bushes that will provide a backdrop to the peonies for the rest of the summer. The peonies have wilted and dried on the bushes. I should dead-head them, but they have kept their color, and the burgundy blossoms still go so nicely with the deep green that I just leave them there. The Daisies are fading, but the Day Lilies are just bringing the season of the fiery, flowers of summer—oranges and yellows and gold. The various Black and Brown Eyed Susans will soon follow.

The yard work has kept us busy with a couple of projects. Ellis and I went to an extension workshop to learn how to build a rain barrel. The Macon County Master Gardeners came to teach us. For $40 they provided the materials and know how, and even helped us tighten the sillcock and drill holes to secure the screen. We now have a better source to catch rainwater than the watering cans I had under the downspout. According to Sandra Mason’s Homeowner’s Column on the University of Illinois Extension’s web page, for a roof area of 1000 square feet, you’ll get about 10 gallons per minute per inch of rain. Our rain barrel is 55 gallons and after our first overnight rain last week it had filled to the overflow pipe. We now have plenty of naturally soft rainwater for watering indoor plants or the garden. We can hook up a hose at the spigot at the bottom of the barrel, but it doesn’t have high pressure like we get from the well, so we’ll just use a soaker hose. The Master Gardeners showed us how to protect the barrel from mosquito larva with judiciously placed screens. They told us we could get spray paint specially made for plastic furniture. Our barrel was a bright swimming pool blue, and we softened it by spraying white (to match the house) over a section of chicken wire. The pattern is reminiscent of both chicken coops and beehives, and we’re planning to add more stencils of chickens and bees as soon as we come up with a design and some other colors of paint. The Master Gardeners said they would come again to Piatt County for more workshops if they get enough interest, so if you’d like to make your own rain barrel for about half of what they cost in the stores, call your Extension office. Other counties may have similar programs.

My other project is my container garden lining my path to the barn. It began with the leeks. I love leeks, but I’ve never had good luck growing them. I’ve tried planting seeds, and seed tape, even starting them indoors, but never harvested a single leek. A while back I bought a three-inch pot thickly planted with tiny sprouts of leeks, and an idea began growing. I set some old baskets and various pots along the edges of my path, dug them into the ground a bit, and filled them with soil. I divvied up that bunch of tiny leek sprouts and planted them in plugs around the wide basket. On the other side of the path I planted the bag of onion sets I had bought but hadn’t the time to put in yet. The leeks and onions grew, and about every week I thin out each basket and begin a new pot with the thinnings. As I thin, the plants they grow sturdier and it looks so far like this method might be a success. Although I have plenty of space for a large garden at Birdland, planting in containers seems somehow both less work and more elegant. The baskets, will, of course decay in the earth, but they were old baskets, and I think, meant to decay. Meanwhile, they provide a boundary for my leeks with natural drainage. Each week I add a few more containers, and have begun planting them with other flowers and herbs.

Decay is always with us, and we lost half of a tree behind the house in that last storm. It was, of course, not the dead one I need to cut down. The Cattails on the pond have come, and the Water Lilies open their bright faces every day when the sun clears the top of the house. The summer brings storms and rain and heat and bugs. And I am learning to be grateful for it all.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in issues of ecology and sustainability and her own back yard. Birdland has a fan page on Facebook.

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