Waiting is the hardest part

These days when I look around the garden, I see so much potential.

I see heirloom tomatoes for sandwiches, bruchetta and tomato sauce.20140607-140813-50893575.jpgI see red zinger tea from our Thai Red Roselle.20140607-140816-50896893.jpg

I see roasted Black Cherry tomatoes in our freezer. 20140607-140812-50892677.jpgI daydream about fresh cucumber salads, pickles and relishes.20140607-140811-50891854.jpgI question what this mystery squash is, and hope that it’s a melon!20140607-140818-50898663.jpgRosie waits with me, hoping that I’ll throw the ball for here in the meantime.20140607-140810-50890981.jpg

Most of the strawberries have past (with holes in the them), but now that there’s straw protecting them from bugs, we wait for strawberries to mature.  Of course, there are blackberries that we’re waiting for as well.20140607-140815-50895985.jpgThe various hot peppers got a late start, so we wait for them. How much fish emulsion does it take to speed them up?20140607-140814-50894684.jpg

And we wait for eggplants, to be turned into Indian and Mediterranean dishes for our al fresco summer meals. 20140607-140819-50899478.jpgLuckily, the ladybug is waiting for aphids on the eggplant. I guess waiting can be useful.20140607-140820-50900295.jpgWaiting to see what our mystery compost squash will create.  The bed is starting to climb up, but there are no female flowers (that I can find) yet.20140607-140822-50902449.jpg

And we wait for zucchini and basil. We waited too long to plant ours, and they became a little stunted.  With watering and fish fertilizer, they’ve started to grow bigger, so soon we may get flowers. 20140607-140821-50901245.jpg

What a great harvest we will have!

I can’t wait!

 

We’re getting ready for summer season!

I’ve had trouble finding time to garden and blog.  Ok, I’ve been having trouble finding time to garden even.  We have been slowly getting plants in, getting things cleaned up and even finding a few minutes to cook.

I want to show you what we’ve been up to.  Lots of pics below!

Our apricot that we planted last year is getting HUGE!  We’re still waiting to harvest our first ones.  We also will probably prune a few branches soon.

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This weekend we pulled out four Laciento kale plants.  This giant pile of kale went with us to the food swap this weekend.

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We also harvested a handful of purple carrots.  Here they are shredded, waiting to be cooked.

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And here they are turned into purple carrot cake jam.  Yummy!

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We really liked the way the Florida Weave worked out for our tomatoes last year, so we decided to plant two rows.  We included five different heirlooms in the back, two San Marzanos and three tomatillos in the front. They’re looking great so far, although they’re all just starting to flower.

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Here’s the whole backyard garden right now.  I was just pulling out a chard that popped up before taking this.  We still have to figure out what to do with the bamboo trellis, as the front right section will be soybeans and bush beans this year. (With a few other things, like bush Delicata and Sweet Dumpling thrown in.)

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I transplanted this kale a couple of weeks ago.  It’s supposed to go to my sister’s house.  Hopefully it will perk up before we give it to her.

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The long beans are starting to take off.  I have to replant a few this week, now that the bed has fresh layers of straw, leaves, manure and mulch.

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There are two eggplants that have been in the ground for a short period of time.  They were looking really sad for a while.  Just this week they started to experience new growth and perk up!

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The ladder on the side yard will have cucumbers again.  These were a little small to transplant, but I did it anyways because we were heading out of town last week.  I have a few more that are starting inside right now, but my guess is these will be ok soon.

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The onions are growing large and flowering.  I’ve heard that if they flower that means they won’t really make onion bulbs underground.  We’re using the green onion tops as we need green onions, but that hasn’t been often recently.

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We let this pepper overwinter in the garden, and I never cut off the old growth.  There are new peppers and flowers already!  I think this is the serrano plant.

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Our red mustard is finishing up with quite a show!  We’re enjoying the flowers, and David is hoping to catch a few red mustard seeds so that we can replant them later.

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Here’s proof that our tomatoes are flowering! I love tomato flowers!!

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We have a small patch of beets.  We thought our purple carrots weren’t going to be purple enough, so we picked a beet to shred and add to the carrots, ensuring that they were bright purple.  Funny thing though, we forgot that the beets were Chioggia beets, meaning they were candy striped and more white than the carrots!  As it happened, the purple carrots were super purple and the jam was just the color that I envisioned.  And the best part about the beets, they didn’t stain the kitchen, or our hands, purple!

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In addition to the red onions that are flowering, we planted spring onions/ scallions, and they’re also flowering!

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We’ve moved away from loose leaf lettuce, and have been trying to keep up with our salad needs by planting heads of lettuce.  Isn’t this head of butter lettuce beautiful?

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This winter David and I were tempted by the bare root berries.  Our blackberry is flowering!

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And our strawberries are too! We planted four berries, but have found three more that popped up around the yard, so our patch has been expanding.

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Lastly, I thought our cabbages would look great in the front flower bed, so I threw a few in there earlier this winter.  They finally started growing recently.  This green one looks ready to pick.  The aphids are starting to take over, but I’d like the cabbage to get a little bigger before we pick it.

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Hope your spring is going well!

 

Treats

We have garlic scapes! The garlic that we planted was two varieties- one given to us at a food swap and the other purchased at the farmers market. Turns out, it was mostly soft neck and fast growing!

We already have soft neck garlic drying on the laundry line, and 5 hard neck garlic still growing. Today I picked these beautiful scapes.

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I have no idea what to do with them! We want to make something other than pesto- something that lets us enjoy our small treat.

This morning, while taking my stroll around the yard with the dog, I noticed a lot of activity in an avocado tree. Turns out the bushtits have built a nest! Perhaps it’s from the same family as last year?

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Last year, the little babies didn’t make it.  The branch that they built the nest on has since been removed.  I was excited to spot the nest up much higher!  Mom and Dad were flitting in and out of the nest.  Hopefully there will be more news to come!

 

Spring time is time

First, please excuse the quality of the pictures.  I’ve been busy in the garden, and have been snapping pics along the way, but these days they’ve been going to Facebook instead of here.  So, in an effort to get back to blogging, I’m posting my phone pictures here.  Hopefully I’ll squeeze in time to continue to garden, and share it!

What’s great about spring in California, is things are taking off and starting to grow.  The past week has been quite windy and a bit cool at night (50s), so some of the new plants are a little stressed.

Our roses have been loving the weather though!  They’re just about in full bloom!

20140403-170119.jpgThe mint below our roses is perfect right now! Usually the roses go through an aphid phase, when they first start leafing out.  That didn’t happen this year!  I blame climate change. Heh.

20140403-170344.jpgThe onions are still growing.  A few look like they’re going to flower soon.  I’ve never grown onions, and would love any advice you all have.  Should I snap off the flowers?  Can I cook with the flowers?  Are my onions ok?  So many questions– I’ll probably look up some of them later, but I’d much prefer to spend time playing with the dog, cooking dinner or grading papers.

20140403-170357.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I pinched off all of the chive blossoms to make chive blossom vinegar. Today, I noticed that this one flower is showing off.  Perhaps it should go into a salad?  20140403-170410.jpgWe’ve planted almost all of our tomatoes already.  They’re small, but they’re growing and looking great!

20140403-170453.jpgMost of them went into the backyard lasagna beds.  David is going to put in T-stakes for the Florida Weave.  The closer to the wall row has slicing tomatoes, and the front row has tomatillos intermixed with San Marzanos.

20140403-170526.jpgWe’ve been picking broccoli every few days.  This is probably the biggest head we’ve grown.  Any great broccoli recipes to share?  I keep wanting to freeze it for later in the year, but David really likes to eat it fresh while we can!20140403-170541.jpgHeads of lettuce hasn’t been my thing.  I’ve always grown leaf lettuce.  Since living in this house, I haven’t been able to keep up with our salads.  So, I decided it’s time to plant heads, and plant them in intervals.  Here’s the first few (as well as a chard that seeded itself). 20140403-170555.jpgOur strawberries and blackberries are new this year.  We’ve been watching our first berry grow.  Today I looked, and it was too late.  It was shriveled on top, and full of tiny millipedes who were eating it!  To my dismay, when I look a bit closer at the other ones that are growing, I noticed most of them are deformed.  I’m no longer optimistic about the strawberries.  The raspberries are just starting to form buds, so I’m now hoping they’ll produce at least one fruit for us. 20140403-170615.jpgWe have a volunteer tomato by our hose faucet in the front yard.  David and I have harvested 5 small tomatoes so far.  Unfortunately, they taste like winter store bought tomatoes (which I don’t ever buy because they’re so gross).  However, the tomatoes did taste good in the guacamole that we’ve been making and it IS nice to be able to pick some.  I wonder if these will become piccalilli, or green tomato salsa…

20140403-170645.jpgOur apricots.  We’ve been watching these, with great anticipation.  I’ve never grown apricots before.  Each time I look, I notice that some have fallen from the tree.  I hear that it’s normal for the tree to do that, but it still is hard to watch!  Here’s what they look like today. 20140403-170634.jpgSo many more things are going on outside.  Most of the direct seeding still needs to be done.  The broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are finishing up.  We have a few eggplants ready to go in the ground when the brassicas come out.  Our squash is just about big enough to go in.  We didn’t have very good germination on the squash and cucumbers, so this week I reseeded them as well as seeded herbs, hot peppers under the grow lights.

I can’t believe it’s already April.  It’ll be summer before we know it!

 

Hummingbird nest

Hummingbird nest

It’s spring! Our tomato seedlings are hardening off, we’re waiting on our peppers to grow second leaves and our squash seeds were planted this weekend. Dave and I just spread fresh mulch on the garden. I’m drawing up plans and trying to figure out how to fit everything in.

Meanwhile, at school, I’ve begun a hummingbird study where I’m setting up motion sensitive cameras. The cameras have been a bit difficult (and the one I really need right now is back ordered) but luckily there are dedicated students to help.

Here’s a picture that one of my after school gardening students took of a hummingbird nest yesterday! The babies are being closely watched by our students. I’m working on my camera today and hope to get one up soon.

Aren’t they just the cutest?

(Thanks Natalie for the photo!)

Building a lasagna garden

No, we can’t cook and eat it, and we’re not growing food you’d eat in a lasagna.  Lasagna gardening is a technique of building up your raised beds, rather than digging down.

I first heard of the technique this past summer at graduate school.  One of my colleagues purchased a book on the topic, and I eagerly flipped through it. Upon returning from school, I discussed the technique with David and we decided to purchase the book and give it a try!  Our future garden was a jungle of morning glory vines with mystery lurking beneath. We knew there was at least a tire, car battery and basketball hoop buried in the vines, and we were a little fearful of the soil quality.

This is what our garden looked like last winter:

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It almost had a fairy garden feeling.  David and I saw it as a wasted space for food!

We liked that the fence was covered with vines, but we figured we could grow sweet peas, string beans and scarlet runner beans up the fence, and get food out of the deal!  We toyed with growing jasmine, but as we don’t own our house, we decided that we didn’t want to purchase plants if we didn’t have to.

In December, I got an email about the Social Justice Learning Institute, at Morningside High School in Inglewood, giving away free fruit trees!  We signed up, and David went down to pick it up.  He stood in line for about 2 hours, but came home with a new apricot tree!  It was a bareroot little stick when David planted it, and he had to clear morning glories from the fence and the corner before planting.  After trying many different ways to hack away the vines, he decided that pulling a section out with one hand, and cutting it with the hedge trimmer with the other was the way to go!

dave watering ants

After David planted the apricot stick, he donned his Ghostbusters style backpack, filled it with water, and started flooding the ants that were occupying our corner.  At this point we didn’t have a hose to reach the area (that came during my dad’s visit in March) and we had to get creative!

When the ants were adequately flooded, we planted daffodils, irises and sweet pea seeds, and continued pulling morning glories from the rest of the space.

first apricot buds

We were all excited to see the apricot tree begin to get leaves this spring!

While the tree grew, we began to build the three lasagna beds. I took pictures of each step during the bed that I built last weekend. During our research of lasagna gardening, we learned that we should layer brown and green layers. We wanted to spend minimal amounts of labor and money, so we started to think about what we could use.

Building the beds:

First we laid down cardboard boxes or newspaper over the area.  Ideally we should have leveled it and checked that all the morning glories were out.  I did that in some places; other places I was anxious to get it done.

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Over the cardboard we put grass clippings and green yard waste. We only have a small amount of grass in the front yard, so this step took about two weeks. We wanted to have a thick layer of nitrogen rich material on top of the cardboard. We hoped that none of our grass was flowering, but we weren’t that concerned with weed seeds, as this layer would be buried deep.

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Then we layered a thick layer of straw. Purchasing straw in Los Angeles took a fair bit of research and question asking. We live about 15 minutes from downtown LA, and 15 minutes from the beach- not the best places to find straw.  Lucky for us, we went up to Bakersfield recently, and returned with three bales of straw!

I put only cardboard straw on the path, and under the rain barrel. The paths only contain carbon-rich layers.

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And Rosie and her ball are usually in the aisles as well.  Of course, the cool driveway works for her too.

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While David is out at the mulch pile, I shovel out bin 2 of our compost for the next layer.  (Notice my footwear- I’m ordering new garden clogs soon!)  The compost has been sitting in this bin since the beginning of March, and has been breaking down really nicely. Of course, egg shells, stone fruit pits and avocado skins still had a way to go, but we figured that’d break down within the lasagna.

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I shoveled almost all of the compost out, noticing that each scoop was writhing with worms!  We’ve been blessed to have TONS of native worms and they will do great in the new garden bed, helping all the ingredients break down.
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The nitrogen rich compost was spread onto the straw. I tried to spread it out, and tried to make sure that it was spread evenly.

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Then I raked up the leaves from under the avocado tree and spread them on top of the compost.  I thought I’d need to add shredded paper in this carbon layer also, and was really surprised to find so many leaves had fallen from the trees within the past month!  These leaves have been our standard carbon addition for our compost.

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The next step was nitrogen, and we used composted manure, as it’s under a dollar a bag! This is also the point where I washed Rosie’s ball, and decided that we needed to play for a little bit, until David returned home with the mulch.

The mulch pile: 

Los Angeles gives away free mulch, made from composted waste out of the green bins. On occasion we find small pieces of glass or plastic, but for the most part it’s good and it’s FREE!  We’ve been using the city mulch for a few years on our roses, and the mulch has broken down and helped loosen and enrich our clay soil.  Yes, we are a little worried about what else may be in the pile, and we haven’t used this often with our food gardens.  However, bales of soil are $7/each and this is free.  We decided in the lasagna gardens, that we would go with free.

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David took this at the mulch pile.  Some days it’s bigger, some days it’s smaller.  He often runs into other gardeners and chats about projects.  On this day it was steaming as he raked into the bins, and the mulch was still warm when we put it in the bed.  David brings all the containers and pots that we have, and he fills them all.

IMAG0314Soon many of these pots will be filled with plants, and our mulch gathering will be slowed until fall.  All of this mulch was then used to fill the aisles and the lasagna bed.  We will need more next weekend for the side yard, roses, front yard flower bed and front yard herb garden.  Probably two more trips.  This is why we’re going with free mulch!

When I was a kid, my dad would have a dump truck full of mulch poured on the driveway, and my sister and I would shovel and spread it as part of our chores.  I get it now.
P1010511Here’s the mulched and almost finished bed.  We continued to add mulch on top of the straw, and then added one bale of potting soil onto the mulch.  This newest bed will have our winter squash, watermelons and cantaloupe that will climb the bamboo A-frame that David will build.  Today, a week after building this, we have already planted Kazakh Asian melon, Sweet Dumpling squash and Sugar Baby watermelon.

That’s it for this week!  Our tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos are flowering.  Our early planted squash is budding.  The cucumbers and beans are perking up and taking off.  I’ll update this week with pictures– there’s so much going on out there right now!

Spring brings gardens and blogs

I’ve become obsessed with my new garden.  I think about it as I walk by plants during the day.  I come home from work and wander around, looking for things to plant or weed.  I stare at my seedlings, silently begging them to grow faster.  And I’m getting more and more excited each day!

This time of the year marks the waiting.  Most of the veggies are planted in the ground, and the waiting game has begun.

So I will begin this blog with pictures of our 275 square feet of bed space and all the baby plants that are within.

I plan to keep you all posted of the growth, discovery and great food.

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The tour must always begin at the compost bins, built January 2013.

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This 7ft x 8 ft garden bed is closest to the compost bin in our new lasagna garden beds. The beds were built with layers of cardboard, grass clippings, straw, manure, dried leaves, dirt, mulch and compost. I’ll write a post about creating this garden out of a patch of morning glories in the future!  Growing here will be LOTS of bush beans (four varieties), cucumbers, acorn squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, chard, arugula, radishes, basil, borage and marigolds.

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A close up of the tri-color beans. I love that the stems are different colors too!

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Already in love with growing borage.  I’ve never grown this plant before and I’m so glad to be growing it.  Dave and I have been studying up on companion planting and really want to attract good bugs back to the garden. The space formally was a monocrop of morning glories (which the hummingbirds and moths loved) but we’ve found that we have more bad critters eating our stuff than good. Last spring was spent squishing snails and getting slugs drunk.

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Speaking of bad bugs, something’s been eating our transplanted chard.  We had hearty plants growing in the side yard, and they had to be moved to make space for the fancy tomatoes in the side yard.  These were the first plants in the bed, and seem to be the first that our hungry cabbage moth caterpillars are eating.  I found a caterpillar the day before this photo, but let it live since we have so much chard, and it was about to pupate.  We have relatively few cabbage moths around, and we kinda like to have them fly by.

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As I was inspecting the basil, I noticed these ants communicating with each other.  Upon closer inspection, it looks like they’re passing something.

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This growing apricot tree was a stick when it was planted in January.  That’s another story.  Currently this bed holds the apricot tree, irises, daffodils, sweet peas, zinnias, yarrow and nasturtiums (possibly).  This will be our perennial section and we have more herbs and flowers in our nursery!

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Yellow yarrow, I think.  I was certain this plant was yarrow while it was sitting neglected and dried out half under a trailer at school.  I fished it out of the spider webs and weeds, and added water.  Knowing yarrow is a hardy plant, my hope is to have lovely flowers to frame the stepping stone. This picture was taken less than an hour after planting.

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This pot just got moved from the front yard to the back yard, and then I chopped off all of the flowers and branches!  It has small, pink, mini daisies.  I love this plant when it flowers but loathe deadheading it.  However, I loved that every time that I deadhead it, it set buds shortly thereafter.  I almost threw this plant in the compost last summer; David stopped me. This year, while it was looking sad and in need of deadheading, I decided to take a risk and prune it way back.  I wonder if I should have done that in winter rather than spring. Notice that there are a few little buds and leaves on the branches. Seemed to me that this was the perfect time to prune heavy.

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This will be the eggplant bed with beans growing up the fence.  As you can tell from the morning glories peaking out from the garage on the right, the fence was previously covered in vines. We knew we needed something that would grow quickly and up the fence (although we toyed with jasmine, as it’s a flower that has happy memories for me and David) and we thought about Scarlet Runner Beans.  We tabled that idea for next year, as we had three types of pole beans in our seed stash, and opted to plant Asparagus Yard Long Beans, Kentucky Wonder, and Purple Pod Pole Beans. The Asparagus Beans sprouted, see below, but the others never appeared.  As I watered, I noticed that there were stalks for the KyWonder and PurplePod but they had be beheaded! My guess is that there are snails back here (or something that lurks in the morning glories behind the garage).  The next day, I went to work and asked our school gardener if he had any Scarlet Runner Bean seeds, and he gave me 30! Now we wait.

Just like we’re waiting for the eggplants to grow big enough to transplant. The nursery had a slow start this year, and next year we’re building an indoor area just like this grow light shelving made from IKEA shelving.   Currently the bed holds, pole beans, zuchinni, crookneck squash, pattypan squash, Delicata squash, Red Kuri squash, nasturtiums, borage and marigolds.

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Young Asparagus Beans growing next to the fence.

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Rosie enjoys this stretch of the yard, as do the two cats who love that we made a litterbox just for them!

This area is about 80 square feet and it will be the next area we’re expanding to. There is no irrigation here and we didn’t even have a hose that reached this area until a couple months ago. Last summer David spread wet newspaper here, then covered it with mulch (thank you Pinterest!).  I weeded the thick grass from this area (thank you free city mulch with grass seeds!) and used the grass in the layers of the lasagna beds.

The vision of this bed is still forming, as we don’t want to spend a lot of money and I have access to lots of cuttings at work. At first we were going to fill it with succulents and rocks. Then I was thinking a giant row of lavender, native sages and perhaps grasses.  When David and I were at Tomatomania! at the Grow Native Nursery, we got really excited about native grasses.  But they were expensive.

The planning stage continues.

And this blog will continue in the side and front yard with a second part.