June Notes 2009

Hello Lovers of That Moment Just Before Summer Starts: A few brief notes for the season and updates on what we’ve been up to.

Although we’re still in a drought, the sprinkles of rain over the last couple months have been nearly ideal for plant growth. Lawns and plants have taken advantage and are green and robust, gobbling up as many nutrients as they can find in soils. Even if you added fertilizer and/or compost in April, another round of feeding might be needed this month.

An application of slow-release granular fertilizer should get us through the summer. Another option is liquid organic fertilizer, which is a good choice for lawns still suffering from last year’s impression of hell on earth, as it is absorbed and consumed quickly. Usually in the form of liquid fish emulsion and seaweed OR a concentrated liquid livestock manure, liquid fertilizers are a good idea for lawns, most plants, and definitely veggies. At least once a month, more if you can afford it.

Lots of new growth means some hairy ornamental and food gardens, so don’t be shy with the pruners.

Most early ornamental bloomers that have lost the lovin’ feeling can be encouraged to bloom again by removing spent blooms, and shrubs and perennials with a desired compact and dense form would benefit from a snip of a few inches off the ends of all new growth. Ornamental fall bloomers (like fall aster and fragrant mist flower) would also benefit from a regular and quick haircut to be thick and lush and ready for the fall show. Be careful not to cut too much off all at once though, and try to do this regularly.

We’ve put the beat down on our tomato plants at the house in an effort to keep them from conquering everything else in the garden. Max and I ripped out two of them as they grew into the cukes, basil, and watermelons, and we hacked away at the remaining plants to block their quest for world domination. Especially in small food gardens, don’t be scared to prune or thin out plants to avoid them from crowding each other. And don’t forget to feed with liquid organic fertilizer!

Still the best thing you can do for sick or healthy lawns, though once we hit consistent days of 90+ degrees, you’ll want to wait until cooler temps of Fall to add compost. We have a couple more weeks left for applying this season, then not again until October or so.

If beds or veggie gardens have any spots of bare soil, mulch now with anything you can get your hands on. Leaves, chipped brush from tree trimmers clearing power lines, purchased mulch, hay…pretty much anything that used to be alive, doesn’t have unwanted seeds or disease, and is now brown. Mulch will help prepare for the hot months, and is a good way to keep the natural cycle of life going as the mulch breaks down.

Make sure you’re prepared for another long summer, and plan ahead for whatever strategy you choose. A live and let live philosophy will need a backup plan if things start to die; dependence on an automatic irrigation system will require that the system is running as efficiently as possible. Remember to stay in compliance with the new City of Austin watering rules and schedule:


After about a year and half, Rich and I, under very amiable and mutual agreements, have decided to divide and conquer. Rich is now doing his own thing, as Zarria Environmental Consulting, focusing on the larger installation projects and consulting work. BioGardener will continue to push on as before, and Rich and I will be both be leaning on each other as needed, growing together but as separate entities. A very good thing, we’re excited and eager to see what lies ahead. Please update your address books with Rich’s new email: zarria.environmental@gmail.com. Drop him a line, wish him luck, just don’t say good-bye. He’ll still be around…

Thanks to you, BioGardener continues to grow. We had the biggest February, March, and April ever this year, and May came very close. My brother Jake just graduated from the Landscape Architecture program at A&M, and will be splitting time between BioGardener and an established landscape architect as he starts his career in Austin. As the majority of his graduating class opts to stay in school or is struggling to find its place in a worthless job market, Jake is hitting the ground running, and we’re glad to benefit from it. He’s a more than welcome addition to our crew, and even working part-part-time, is already contributing in a big way to keeping our little business running smoothly.

Please let me know if there is anything we can help with as you prepare for the new season. The general biggies for this time of year are fertilizer, mulch, and compost for beds and lawns before the heat sets in.

Thanks as always for your business, for helping build the best little company around, and for the love.


BioGardener Awarded “Best of Austin” by Austin Chronicle

Somebody likes us! We are giggling like children at the Austin Chronicle’s nod to BioGardener as the “Best Homegrown Remedy for Wartime Gas Prices. Thanks to Chron staff for for this thoughtful recognition! See the entire Best of Austin list at www.auschron.com.

BioGardener Selected to Maintain Austin City Hall!

As one of the most environmentally progressive municipal buildings in the country, Austin City Hall is advancing the march towards the ambitious goals of its Climate Protection Plan by selecting BioGardener to maintain its award-winning landscape! Designed through observation of the natural vegetative and geological features around Austin, City Hall grounds are one of the best urban demonstrations of the major ecoregions that join together in Central Texas. The LEED Gold-certified building utilizes plants most appropriate for the site, a highly efficient irrigation system, a green roof, and recycled water for the main water feature. BioGardener will use a combination of propane and electric equipiment, along with our extensive knowledge of native plants, to improve and maintain this unique and beautifully designed landscape.




BioGardener’s Battle Against the Cthonian Trio

Hello Lovers of Balance and Harmony!

There are lots of ways to value ones profession. Amount of money one makes in a year. How often one makes a positive difference in someone else’s life. Or for some City workers, how many times you can make a contractor fill out a particular form to make a minor change to his business name before that contractor goes ballistic on you. But the one thing that I really value about owning a small business: the priceless and frequent opportunity to really screw something up.

Or I guess the more positive way to put it: learning from experience. During our few years of experience, our idea of “organic” and “environmentally responsible” and “green” has evolved into something different from when we started. In all things, achieving a balance is central to success, so we’ve spent lots of time musing on what it means to be organic.

This summer and fall, Rich and I had the “RoundUp Discussion” about 50 times. If someone wanted to adapt it into a play script, it would look kinda like this:

[Enter heroes, organic landscapers JEREMY and RICH, two perfect specimens of the Homo sapien male in its prime: very tall, graceful, commanding, and oh so handsome. Stop at center of a backyard in Austin, TX dominated by the dreaded and invasive Bermuda grass.]

We are going to convert this depressing patch of Bermuda into a lovely native garden.

Yes, we are. How should we kill the Bermuda?

Uh, till it?

Hmm, you remember that job you did in South Austin a couple years ago where you scraped the entire front yard with a bobcat and tilled up the Bermuda to convert every inch into a beautiful native garden?

Ya…man I’m awesome.

But wasn’t that the same project where you went back in 3 months and were horrified that the owners weren’t spending 10 hours per week weeding and didn’t want to pay you to do it and now it’s completely infested with Bermuda grass that’s two feet tall and is pretty much the ugliest yard on the block?

[JEREMY crumples to the grass and balls up like an unborn fetus, and whimpers while RICH goes to get a sandwich and returns 45 minutes later.]

JEREMY (now standing upright, but eyes red from 45 minutes of crying):
Well, then we should spray it with vinegar, cover it all in plastic, let it sit for a couple months, till it, come back, till it, come back, till it, and keep repeating until everything is dead.

RICH (smacking loud at the last bite of his sandwich):
Hmm, well, even if that works (shmack, shmack), aren’t those huge sheets of plastic petroleum-based and manufactured by a huge corporation that makes children work in factories (swallows his last bite of sandwich) in China and exploits them for huge profits? And aren’t we using more resources than necessary by driving over here 3 or 4 times and running a gasoline engine tiller for hours? And then when you’re done with the plastic, are you really going to hang that 2,000 square feet of moldy plastic to let it dry and fold it up and find a place to store it for the next project, or are you just going to throw it away? Not to mention Bermuda grass can put roots down deeper than 6 feet, so tilling isn’t really that effective.

I hate you.

Or, should we take a cue from the people we respect the most, like the landscape architects, native habitat restoration ecologists, botanical gardens, horticulturists, botanists, and organic farmers we’ve talked to this year who admit that sometimes, chemical control is the most efficient tool to eradicate plants that naturally have no business being here and that don’t respond to organic methods? In fact, did you know that certified organic farms are allowed to spray RoundUp on the margins of their properties and still maintain their certification?

[JEREMY puts fingers in ears and repeats the word “watermelon” over and over.]

RICH (continues, pulling JEREMY’s fingers from his ears in disgust):
Or maybe we find a healthy balance. We till one time, wait to see how effective it is, and then very carefully and judiciously apply RoundUp only in areas that are problematic. That way, we’re not using plastic, we’re only using very small amounts of chemical in a very responsible way, AND, we’re potentially saving lots of resources by minimizing future maintenance needs by severely limiting the potential for the re-infestation of the Bermuda.

I love you.

[Exit JEREMY and RICH, physically closer then when entering, but still a manly distance apart, as Bermuda behind them dies and gives way to a field of wildflowers full of butterflies and hummingbirds. Gradual musical fade into the Crescendo part of Guns ‘N Roses rendition of “Live and Let Die”. JEREMY and RICH pause, then start rocking the air guitars, curtain drops.]

That damn Rich has it right. Unfortunately, urban areas no longer have soil. It’s pretty much all a sterile and impure mess of compacted crap infested with “The Chthonian Trio”: bermuda, nutgrass, and Johnsongrass. Restoring these highly impacted areas, or at least trying to create something native out of them, is a complicated and difficult battle. With situations that are so unnatural, it is sometimes necessary to take measures that are unnatural if you want to restore a natural balance. Hence, our way to justify using RoundUp, but only after long discussion with the client and very deep explorations of all our options.

Are we no longer “organic”? By any reasonable definition, of course we are. We’ve simply expanded our perspective in our everlasting quest to approach all projects as holistically as possible, while balancing financial burden with ecological preservation. And as always, striving daily to greatly respect the often intangible value of our natural resources. A bottle of Roundup is stored in Rich’s garage, never touches the guys, the truck, or our equipment, and is only applied by Rich, who will be renewing his chemical applicator license soon to stay on top of the facts. It is not a tool for properties we regularly maintain and definitely off limits for food gardens. But it is a last resort for the really ugly install projects.

My wife has wanted to put a bumper sticker on her car that makes some kind of statement supporting local consumerism for years. But she doesn’t, because she’s scared someone will cram a banana in her tailpipe for having that sticker while she waits at Sonic for the occasional tater tot and lime slush. As conscious consumers, we are trained to justify every move we make to ensure we don’t upset the purists. But we know we’re trying, we know we are balanced, and we know we’re doing the best we can. So we should be saying, “to hell with them, we are the only proper judge of our actions, we should be able to enjoy our slushes without fear or guilt.” It’s the same way with gardening, landscaping, any profession or hobby. As long as we carefully consider the trade-offs and weigh pros and cons for the decisions we make and are always trying to improve on our methods, we’re doing the right thing.

Winter is coming, and we’re thick into the fall installation and gardening season. This winter is a great time to hire us to apply compost topdressing to your lawn, which will help add good microbes to the soil, improve drainage, maintain proper moisture retention in soil, and add a few nutrients. After the first frost, all perennials that have gone dormant should be cut to the ground in anticipation of spring’s growth spurt, and semi-evergreen/evergreen perennials should be pruned. Winter is also the best season for tree trimming and planting, and the best time of the year for any larger transplants. Make sure your beds are mulched deep to limit drastic fluctuations in soil temps, and start planning and prepping for spring projects before the rush hits. More on cold-season project suggestions to come soon.

Let us know if we can help, and thanks for letting us learn by doing. And, as always, thanks for the love.


September Notes 2008

Hello Believers That Texas Actually Does Have a Fall!

The thermometer that hangs on our front porch post at the house actually shattered this morning. In his usual morning greeting that was way more enthusiastic than normal, our dog Jake bounced and pounced violently enough to actually vibrate the plastic disk off it’s nail and send it clattering on the ground. Jake does this every year…his energy levels go off the charts in celebration of cooler weather, and I can’t help but feel a little burst myself. It’s a great reminder that it’s time to start thinking about Pumpkin Beer, Leaf Piles, and Fall Harvest!

Fall is the secret season for Texas gardeners. Don’t be shy about giving up on those tomatoes and peppers… throw them in the compost pile, add some fresh compost to your beds, and plant some seed! Most everything for this season is grown from seed as they are hard to transplant: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, beets, carrots, swiss chard, garlic, greens, lettuce, mustard, onion, radish, shallots, spinach, turnips, and cucumbers are all great fall suspects. Johnny seeds is a great mail-order source for seeds: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/. The trick is figuring out the best varieties to use for your plot, which is one of those little hard-earned secrets that veteran growers usually keep close to their chest. But we might know of a little bird who’s peeping softly….

For those who “joined” BioGardener Farms earlier this year, yes, it was a brutal summer and no, you didn’t do anything wrong to cause pretty much everything to die or otherwise not make fruit. We completely gave up on our garden at the house early on, so most of you did much better than I did. All the more reason to be excited about another chance at a new season!

Our friends at Green Corn Project are hosting a Bio-Intensive Garden workshop Saturday Oct. 4. Farmers Max Elliot and Amy Crowell will be leading hands-on activities to teach how to grow food from seed, using small spaces to produce veggies, how to companion plant, and other backyard garden practices appropriate for Austin. See http://www.greencornproject.org/ for more info.

October is generally a good time to apply organic fertilizer to lawns. Cost is about $55 for average lawns, please let us know if you are interested and we will get you on the schedule.

It’s also the season to spread wildflower seeds! If you’re looking to vivify an open field, greenbelt, or other infrequently mowed area, sow now for a big springtime show. Native American Seed in Junction, TX is a great source for quality seeds: http://www.nativeamericanseed.com/

We are in full scramble mode for Fall installation projects, and will be sharing some landscaping lessons learned and winter time suggestions over the next couple months, including some musings on exactly what it means to be an organic gardener/landscaper. Thanks for making this summer the biggest we’ve ever had, thanks for supporting the local little guys, and thanks for the love.