Fair warning: This isn’t going to be a typical garden stroll. No photos of flowers, for starters. In fact, very few photos of plants at all. We’re taking a bit of a detour, and I’m blaming it on the weather. In keeping with recent pattern, this week’s stroll does have a theme, though: sticks, branches and tree limbs. And, there’s a vocabulary word, too: derecho.
Neither the theme nor the vocabulary word will be surprising to anyone who lives in the Virginia / DC / Maryland area. And, for the rest of y’all, don’t worry, I’ll explain.
If “derecho” is a new term for you, well, you’ve got lots of company. Before this weekend, I’d never heard of this particular weather phenomenon. And, while I’m certainly no expert, I do pay attention to weather events, language, and science. After all, weather has a profound impact on our gardens.
But, derecho? Nope, never heard of that particular weather event. Not until one blew through my garden (and every other garden on a 700-mile track that ran from Chicago to the Atlantic Coast) on June 29. Derechos, it turns out, are a big deal. To give you an idea of the scale of this thing, here’s a 10-hour composite image of the radar imagery associated with the storm:
That’s a big storm.
Derecho means “straight” in Spanish, and that’s where these storms get their name. They are characterized by straight winds. Strong straight winds. Strong, violent, powerful, terrifying straight winds. This particular storm traveled about 60-70 mph, and kicked up wind gusts of 60-100 mph. From everything I’ve read, the derecho that hit us was one of the strongest on record. Sure doesn’t surprise me. The destruction around here is unbelievable.
I’m going to skip the scientific explanation here, but am including a few links. There’s some really fascinating (and terrifying) information out there. I’m especially concerned about the fact that super-heated air almost certainly contributed to the strengthening of this storm. As our climate continues to warm, will we be seeing more of these? I worry that the answer might be “yes.” Oh boy.
Anyway, here are a few links and articles worth exploring:
- Derecho: Behind Washington, D.C.’s destructive thunderstorm outbreak, June 29, 2012 (Capital Weather Gang)
- Facts about derechos (NOAA)
- Derecho, spanish for straight (an AMAZING image of the storm, via the Washington Post)
- Lightning gone wild during Washinton, D.C.’s derecho (Capital Weather Gang)
- Video and images: Violent US storm of June 29, 2012 (EarthSky)
I’m actually really lucky. Unlike millions of others, I didn’t lose my power this weekend. In fact, my 91-year-old grandma is here for a sleepover, because she and my folks both lost power, and they may not have electricity, running water or air conditioning again until Sunday. Yikes!
So, yes, I’m super lucky. I’ve got electricity and running water and air conditioning. And I live close enough to family to be able to help my folks and grandmother. That’s lucky too. Finally, my house and garden are both unscathed. That’s insanely lucky.
Seriously. Think about it. Wind gusts of 70 and 80 miles per hour, and the worst damage to the garden was a few blown-over broccoli plants. Wow.
I didn’t escape all damage. Not that lucky. There are large tree limbs down throughout the whole backyard. There’s a widow-maker hanging in the white pine that overshadows my driveway. And — saddest of all — there’s a third of my ash tree (below, right) that’s now in a maple tree (below, left). The whole tree needs to be removed. I’m in mourning.
I’ve already spoken with the tree guy, and he’ll be here tomorrow with chain saws and a wood chipper. This is this poor ash’s last day amongst the living. I feel awful. But, it’s like Humpty Dumpty. There’s no putting this tree back together again.
The result of this storm is that I have a plethora of sticks, branches, limbs and — soon! — a whole tree at my disposal. I’m much too frugal and eco-minded to send the wood off to the dump. But, I’m also living in the middle of a suburb, so I can’t just build a huge brush pile out in the backyard. So, it’s all about finding ways to use the windfall (ha ha).
Yes, I’m doing my best to look on the bright side. I’ve lost an ash tree. I’m gaining ash lumber (raw lumber, at least).
If I just wanted to get rid of the mess, I could burn these sticks, or I could chip them into mulch. Both are great ways to use trimmed and storm-downed branches, and both provide benefits to the garden. Ash is a useful soil amendment for certain situations, and wood chips are a great way to suppress weeds and define a new planting bed. [Note: If you try this, be mindful that decaying wood chips will also rob your soil of nitrogen -- be prepared to add nitrogen-rich supplements, like dried blood or fish emulsion, for a while.]
I’m already using wood chips in the garden. This was the mulch I used to kill the grass when I was claiming some of the lawn last spring. And, I’ll definitely have a bunch of this wood chipped down to mulch. I’ve got a few places I want to mulch over and plant with shrubs. This will be a good start.
But, I’m not chipping it all. And, I’m especially not chipping the big and beautiful trunk and huge limbs of this ash tree. I also don’t have a fire pit (yet), so burning is not an option. So, I’m brainstorming some creative ways to use this lumber, either in the garden or in the house. I’ve got a gallery of ideas on Pinterest, and would love to hear if you have suggestions too. Please just post them in the comments section below.
I’m already using branches in the garden in many ways. And, that — finally! — brings us to today’s garden stroll. Yes, we’re going to be looking at sticks today. I’m sorry. I’ve just got branches on my mind. Next week, we’ll return to flowers and plants and ripening harvests. For now, we’re talking about sticks.
First stop, my front stoop:
I don’t have nearly enough vertical growing space in the garden, and wanted to add some ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans for the hummingbirds. So… A couple weeks ago I planted some sticks in this pot. I planted some beans at the same time. And, now, the ‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans are rapidly climbing up the sticks:
Honestly, I kinda like how this all looks with the bean plants; there’s something architectural about the bare grey vertical branches. But, I think I’m going to like this even more when it’s covered with rambling bean plans and deep red flowers.
I’m doing something similar over at the corner of the house:
No container here. Instead, I dug a hole about a foot deep and then drove a two-foot length of rebar about a foot deeper into the dirt. I lashed these two branches to the rebar, and tightly packed the soil around the whole mess. The “tree” wobbles a little bit, but I think it’ll hold. I hope.
No runner beans here, either. Instead, I’m growing yard long beans on these sticks. If you haven’t tried these beans, you really should. Massive plants. Huge, glossy, tropical-like foliage. And, crazy-long beans that taste a bit like asparagus (they are also known as asparagus beans). The beans really can grow to be a yard long, but they taste best if they’re picked at around 12-18 inches. I’ve grown a green variety before. This year, I’m trying a red variety. Should be fun!
I’m also using branches to support vertical growth over at my driveway potato planter:
This is a six-section planter (I’ll post the plans and instructions eventually, promise). Three of the sections of hosting potatoes right now. The other three hold sweet potatoes and tomatoes, one tomato plant in each sweet potato section. The sweet and regular potatoes don’t need any vertical space, but the tomatoes sure do. So, I attached three large branches to the back of the planter, and am running double strands of twine horizontally, from end to end:
I got the idea from a recent issue of Organic Gardening. This technique is known as a cat’s cradle or a Florida weave. Whatever the name, it seems to be working! There’s a great explanation on the Organic Gardening Magazine website: A Cat’s Cradle for Tomatoes.
Finally, I’m using sticks to help me remember where I’ve planted things:
Not only are these plant labels free, they are also big and easy to read. I’m using sticks that measure about 1-3 feet long, and am just scrapping a section of bark off with my hori hori knife (best garden tool ever!). I use larger sticks for the plants that’ll get especially big — summer squashes, for example — and am using shorter sticks for smaller / lower plants. Then, I just use a sun-proof paint marker to label the sticks, poke it into the ground, and I’m done. So easy. So frugal. And — in my opinion — so rustically nice looking.
And, last fall, I used paint-dipped sticks to label my scattered plantings of garlic cloves. A quick and easy way to mark a crop that might not show itself until after you need to plant your first spring peas:
I’m even using branches inside my house. This coat rack, for example, took about a half hour to make, and is a great place for guests to hang their coats or umbrellas:
What about you? How do you use sticks, branches or sections of whole logs in your garden? I’d love to hear your ideas! Please, won’t you share? Thank you!