Change, Your Name is Constance

Changes are happening at BioGardener, just like they do with every business, family, and person that has ever lived.  The seasons still change every year, though a little differently each time,  clients change as their lifestyles require, and the climate of doing business in a fast-growing city changes every week.  Reflecting on how we’ve changed over the last 13 years, we are currently updating our website.  It feels appropriate to change the way we introduce ourselves to new clients, and to better represent a BioGardener that’s a little less scrappy, a little more refined, and a lot more paced.

Heartleaf Skullcap at Pedernales Lofts

One constant over the past several years has been the drought, and our reluctance to Go Big on projects because of pressure on local water resources.  We are still focused on a “work with what’s there” approach, and applying gradual changes through better maintenance.  This non-traditional philosophy, as it always has, makes sense to some clients and turns off others.  I don’t take the rejections to our philosophy as personally as I used to, one of the good changes that happen when one gets older.

Crossvine at Austin City Hall

We will still be doing a Tree Sale this season like always, probably in January when the schedule and soil temps cool, so look for that announcement soon.  We are still collecting tips for the crew as we always do this time year, for anyone who has the means and desire to express an extra thank-you for another year of hard work.  A big Thanks to everyone who has already contributed – so far we’ve collected over $1,900 with more trickling in every day.  That display of gratitude and thoughtfulness always moves me.

BioGardener HQ at Sunrise

As for garden duties, consider shutting off irrigation systems for winter, running them manually once a month to give the trees a good soak in case of a dry winter.  This also helps keep valves from gumming up from inactivity.  Let those leaves accumulate in beds if you can tolerate the aesthetic, and hold off on winter cutbacks if you can until later in the season.  Leaves and last year’s growth on plants are a great soil insulator, and major pruning now could trigger growth which would inevitably freeze again.  It’s also nice to appreciate the bareness of a winter landscape, and the surprises that native plants give us in what most consider to be the colorless season.

American Beautyberry at McCullough Ave

Thanks to our friend Gretchen for these photos and for those coming to the new website.  Look for that new site soon, and look forward to another year of change!  Thanks to all of our clients for another successful year of both change and stability, we’re excited to see what comes next.

Spring Time Perspective

If pushed, I’d declare Spring my least favorite season.  It’s the rush.  There is no lineal time in gardening, only a revolving and rotating sphere of experiences.  But it can be tough when clients don’t share the same perspective, and stressful.

But the Redbuds are blooming and the birds seem a little more frisky, which always stirs up a horticultural urge or two.  And we do have to respect the financial benefits of human nature this time of year.  So I reluctantly recognize that its time to get busy, and offer some considerations and perspective for the start of the worst season:

Drought and Commitment

Austin’s drinking and garden water source, the Highland Lakes, are still at only 38% capacity, unhelped by one of the driest Januaries on record.   It’s a difficult time to make big improvements in the landscape.

An established St. Augustine in proper conditions requires less water and maintenance  than new native plants.  Only after a long-term commitment of watering, weeding, selective pruning, deer/pest management,  mulching, and hands-and-knees effort can one realize the full benefits of native plants.   Since most people don’t even know if they own the same home in five years, it really makes no sense for most people to invest in the construction of large native beds, especially in drought.

Alternatives

Work With What You’ve Got

Instead of a big landscape re-do, we’re pushing for a big perspective shift.  If your St. Augustine has survived the last several years of drought with no help from you, then maybe it deserves a little respect.  It’s very likely that only the small patches out by the street and in the corners that don’t receive the protection of your mature Oaks are looking ratty right now.  A house shouldn’t get torn down just because it needs a new paint job, so a landscape doesn’t need a total restart because there are few dead patches in the lawn.  A little touch-up will work wonders.

So, instead of scraping it all down, build up those edges.  Plant some understory trees to expand the shade offering – a Redbud for Spring, a Palo Verde for Summer, a Prairie Sumac for Fall, a Possumhaw for Winter.  Four trees, a little compost, a little mulch, $800 to your favorite landscaper, a $3 shower bucket for gray-watering your new trees and boom, cross off Spring gardening from the list and get on with your life.  Or consider some other low-impact options.

Build A Garden Box/Rain Water Harvesting

The return on investment for vegetables happens much faster than natives.  Austin almost always requires raised beds to allow space for supplemental soil, but they can be built on the cheap with found materials.  Almost any time of the year is good for planting something edible in Austin gardens, and with a little extra care, vegetables will thrive where a traditional lawn won’t.

Food gardening still requires water, so consider incorporating rain water harvesting to your landscape.  Even a small barrel will give you a one- or two-week supply, though storage of several thousands of gallons will get you closer to total water independence.  There might also be opportunities for passive rain water harvesting – re-shaping the land in garden areas to slow and hold rain water.  Treating rain as a asset instead of a burden is one of the biggest steps towards sustainability in the landscape.

Hardscaping

Drought is a good time to deal with those physical problems in the landscape too.  If the mailman is wearing a path across the front lawn, or the dog has created a trail along the fence, or you just need to tie two spaces together, a beefy limestone walkway could do the trick.  Mulch can work too, as an easy and cheaper alternative that helps buffer soils from compaction and temperature and humidity swings.

Irrigation

Irrigation systems are one of those gardening chores always written in re-appearing ink.  These should be inspected at least once a month for leaks and other inefficiencies, and tweaked as the needs of plants change from month to month.  Often, an established landscape has outgrown the irrigation system designed for its adolescence, and water and money can be saved by combining or eliminating zones.  Replacing nozzles with more water efficient models is an easy and relatively cheap way to reduce water use by up to 30%.

Compost Topdressing

We usually spend our Aprils spreading compost as a topdressing in lawns.  It’s an easy theoretical justification – the microbes in the compost are most active when the weather is nice and the nutrients in the compost will be absorbed more completely by an actively growing plant.  A 1/4″ will do the trick, usually 1-3 cubic yards for a typical lawn.

So as you get the itch to do something during the most sinful season, try it at a mature pace.  Consider taking care of the preliminaries first while the drought limits our ability to be ambitious, and develop the stamina for the more long-term requirements of a major re-do.  Plant some trees, build a little vegetable patch, spread some mulch compost, fix those sprinklers, and put in a rain barrel.  When the drought finally lifts, we can lift our expectations a little too and start thinking big again.  But for now, take it easy, chill out, and try to avoid racing against Nature.  Enjoy whatever section of the constant cycle you happen to find yourself in, and happy spring.

 

 

 

 

Tree Sale, 2014!

The annual BioGardener Tree Sale is upon us – get ready to save the world.

Official Tree Sale Procedure:

1.  Choose Among Trees From the Official List, Including Quantity and Size.

Palo Verde ‘Desert Museum’ – Austin weed destined to rule the Plant Kingdom during and after the Apocalypse – as close to invincible as a living organism can be.  Needs sun, crappy soil, and about 20′ in all directions but down.
15-gallon – $110

Mexican White Oak – The fastest growing of our Oaks.  If it wasn’t for citizenship requirements, this would be a top contender for Boss of the Native Trees, like the tortilla in the bread world.
15-gallon – $85
30-gallon – $250

Burr Oak – Seasoned General of the native Oaks, with cool gnarly bark and huge cojones.  Slower growing shade tree, do it for the kids.
5-gallon – $45
15-gallon – $110

Texas Mountain Laurel – Austin native, Captain of the small and shrubby elite forces, evergreen, sun or shade, 15-20′.
5-gallon – $45
10-gallon – $110
30-gallon – $275

Montezuma Cypress – Mexican cousin on the mother’s side of our native Bald Cypress and alot less wussy.  Relatively fast-growing, gets very tall but not equally wide.
5-gallon – $40
15-gallon – $100
30-gallon – $250

Huisache – When it’s time to get mean, a good one to have on your side.  Thorny as hell, commonly used as an impenetrable fence in Mexican yards, why not in Austin?  Also a fast-growing smaller specimen that likes to be ignored in desert conditions once its established.
5-gallon – $45
15-gallon – $110

Texas Redbud –  The angel of the battlefield, beautiful pink blooms in early spring, tough enough to handle our weather.  About 15′.
30-gallon – $225

Fruit Trees – Almost all of these are 2-3′ bare-root whips, which start out as wispy sticks but grow quickly into food producers.  Peach.  Pear.  Plum.  Apple.  Fig.  Apricot.  Persimmon.  Pomegranate.  Almost all are grafted onto hardy, relatively disease resistant root stock tolerant of our alkaline soils.  Some need to two varieties and other self-pollinate, look it up or ask.
$60/each
or
$50/each for 3+ trees 

2.  Email Jeremy your address and list of trees NO LATER THAN JANUARY 15, 2014.

3.  Choose the spots for your new trees.  You may use a pin flag, baseball bat, unclaimed skull, or whatever you have laying around, as long as it’s obvious which tree you want where.  Starting January 16 we may visit to inspect the placement and make any minor adjustments if needed, and replace your marker with a labeled pin flag.  If you don’t like our re-placement, just re-re-place the flag, life if too short to split hairs.

4.  We will plant trees starting the week of January 20.  We will plant in an order that makes the most sense to us, as we collect the plant materials.  All trees will be mulched and probably not staked cuz it’s not needed; fruit trees will get a little organic booster amendment at time of planting.  As always, there is no warranty on trees, since we can’t be responsible for anything that happens to them after planting.  See a new tree care guide here – http://bio-gardener.com/2012/01/new-tree-care/

5.  Arm Yourself.  Sorry but we just don’t have the time to give personal consultations on selection/placement unless the price is right, but hopefully, there is enough information on our Blog or other websites, including Tree Folks – http://www.treefolks.org/ – to make an informed decision.  Still, any emailed questions will receive a response as quickly and completely as possible, we’re not monsters.

Happy tree season!

Viva BioGardener!

Drought – It Is What It Is

Everyday, I get a text update on real-time flow of the Guadalupe River near Center Point.  At this stretch of its 230-mile existence, the Guad is only a few miles from its infancy as a series of springs west of Kerrville but strong enough to support a 6-pack sized kayak float during normal years.  This is not a normal year.

Guadalupe R. Behind Deitert Center, Kerrville Daily Times

One watershed over, Austin’s main holding tanks for drinking water are at 34% capacity.  The most upstream of those tanks, Lake Buchanan, is just 4 feet away from its lowest level since its creation.  Lake Travis is projected to hit that milestone by February 1, 2014.

But is drought really something to fear?  The climate changes we’ve experienced in the past few decades are miniscule when viewed on a certain time scale, like the one that shows Austin on the floor of a giant inland sea 100 million years ago.  Drought, and the changes it brings, isn’t good or bad.  It is what it is.  Drought shows us that hard times teach lessons that goods times can’t, and reminds us of things we may already know but tend to forget.

More is Not Always Better, Our Sweet Spot

BioGardener will not show annual revenue growth in 2013, a first for us.  Drought or economic changes have nothing to do with it – this is completely by design.  We’ve spent years pulling hard on the reins of growth, knowing that more is not always better.  We’ve also diversified our client base while staying true to ourselves, avoided stretching ourselves into something we aren’t.  We like us, and we like where we are.

Instead of growing insatiably for more of what we already have, we’re growing our enjoyment of the Present, which is more rewarding than mindlessly growing our Numbers.  And in this sweet spot we have developed for ourselves, we are busy.  A comfortable, productive, steady busy:

Native Backyard Woodscape, North Austin

East Austin Veggie Garden

South Austin Native Prairie/Woods

Condo in South Austin

Native South Austin Sunscape

No Greed, No Fear

We are thankful for this, and thankful that in our sweet spot we are free of fear.  Fear of drought, fear of stagnant growth, fear of a changing market, fear du jour.  This freedom is an easy trade-off for excessive profits, and gives us the ability and flexibility to do what we want, and do it well.  We are free from greed, so we are free from fear.

Like the South Texas rice farmers who have adapted to a different crop – like the White Horse Saloon who replaced a Tejano bar in a way that bridges old and new worlds in fast-changing East Austin – like Engel Farms who is transitioning to diverse organic vegetable crops and away from conventional monocultures of a single peach crop – like the Fredericksburg burlap supplier WoolSacks who started sewing coffee bags and leaf tarps when wool and mohair started declining in the mid-1900s – like Waterloo Records and BookPeople who invented a local social movement in response to national trend of slowing record and book sales.  There is no fear.

And here we are.  Busy as we want to be in August during one of the worst droughts in history, free and unchained by fear and greedy desire for more and more.  Challenge and change is nothing to be feared.  It is what it is.  And we’re thankful for it.

BioGardener Crew, East Austin

Tree Sale, Winter 2013!

We’ve been waiting for a sign before launching the annual tree sale.

Let it begin.  Our schedule is still nice and bushy despite the season, so to satisfy all of those who decide to take advantage of this sale, we have to keep things simple, which means little deviation from the Official Tree Sale Procedure, outlined below.  Pricing for this sale reflects a range of discounts off of normal pricing, from 0% for 5-gallon trees to almost 50% for the larger trees.

As always, we’ve only included the toughest of the tough native trees, since we are still most definitely in a horrible drought.  Still, all new plants will need regular water for at least the first year, so be prepared to have a plan to do that.  Once a week is a good ballpark.

Official Tree Sale Procedure:

1.  Choose Among Trees From the Official List, Including Quantity and Size.

Mexican White Oak – Semi-evergreen shade tree, one of fastest growing trees available for Austin if you rule out the crappy stuff.
7-gallon – $40
15-gallon – $110
 30-gallon – $250
45-gallon – $375

 Mexican Buckeye – Shrubby/Tree Austin native that gets roughly 15-20′ tall and wide, blooms early spring, can take sun or shade.
5-gallon – $40
20-gallon – $150

Anacacho Orchid Tree – West Texas native small tree for sun, blooms white in summer, pretty leaves in all but winter.
5-gallon – $40
10-gallon – $110

 Texas Mountain Laurel – Austin native, king of small shrubby trees, evergreen, sun or shade.
5-gallon – $40
10-gallon – $110
30-gallon – $275

Texas Redbud – Austin’s native play-by-play announcer for the seasons – when Redbuds bloom, spring is here.  Sun or shade.
5-gallon – $40
10-gallon – $100
20-gallon – $175 

Fruit Trees – Almost all of these are 2-3′ bare-root whips, which will look like bare sticks until spring when they leaf out and start going nuts.  We will choose an appropriate variety unless you have a specific preference.  Peach.  Pear.  Plum.  Apple.  Fig.  Apricot.  Persimmon.  Pomegranate.
$60/each
or
$50/each for 3+ trees 

2.  Email Jeremy your address and list of trees NO LATER THAN JANUARY 20, 2013.

3.  Choose the spots for your new trees.  You may use a pin flag, wooden stake, turkey leg, or whatever you have laying around, as long as it’s obvious which tree you want where.  We will come by during the week of January 21 to inspect the placement and make any minor adjustments if needed, and replace your marker with a labeled pin flag.  If you don’t like our adjustments, just move our labeled pin flags back to where you want them, you’re the boss.

4.  We will plant trees starting the week of January 28.  We will plant in an order that makes the most sense to us, as we collect the plant materials.  All trees will be mulched and staked if needed; fruit trees will get a little organic booster amendment at time of planting.  As always, there is no warranty on trees, since we can’t be responsible for anything that happens to them after planting.  See a new tree care guide here – http://bio-gardener.com/2012/01/new-tree-care/

5.  Ask Questions.  We won’t have time to give everyone a personal consultation to decide on what tree would be the best match for them, but hopefully, there is enough information on our Blog or other websites, including Tree Folks – http://www.treefolks.org/ – to make an informed decision.  Still, any emailed questions will receive a response as quickly and completely as possible, so don’t be shy.

If we all suck hard enough, maybe we can drag some of that West Texas snow to Austin by tomorrow.   Happy tree season!