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Make Your Bed!

Mothers (and fathers) around the world are known for saying, “Make your bed!” This time of year, we like to interpret that statement as a request to make a raised bed. Here’s an update on that topic with some support and inspiration.

 

How should I make my raised bed?

Check out “5 steps for successful raised bed gardening” post that includes tips and tricks.

How much soil do I need?

It’s a simple-yet-not-so-simple equation that involves length, width, and depth. We provide real case studies on how to figure out how much you need.

What soil should I use?

You’ll likely want a compost if you’re just amending the soil, or a blended mix if you’re filling your raised bed. We offer a variety of quality soil products in different markets, plus a specially formulated Organic Raised Bed Mix in select markets. Contact us for a quote today.

Where can I get inspired for raised bed designs?

Here are a few styles of raised beds we’ve recently seen around town.

 

Long, tall beds make for easier weeding. And check out that thick mulch: keeps everything nice and tidy around the beds.

Strawberries! Yum.

Strawberries along the perimeter, plus asparagus (a perennial as well) in the inside. This is a bed that will be a springtime favorite for years to come.

Who says a raised bed needs to have boards around it? These earthy mounds achieve the same goal, with tidy paths in-between each bed.

We support healthy soil!

 

What are you growing in your raised bed this year?

How Much Soil or Mulch Do I Need For My Landscaping Project?

Gardening season is in full swing as evidenced by all the requests for soil and mulch we receive from our Harvest Power website. As part of these requests we get a common question: How much do I need? We thought it would be helpful to walk through a few real-world examples.

First, some background info on calculations and products.

  • To know the root of calculations, there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard (3’ x 3’ x 3’), the common measurement for selling soil and mulch.
  • To get a sense of volumes, a full-size pickup truck holds about 2 cubic yards. A volkswagon beetle is roughly the same volume as 15 cubic yards.

Next, let’s walk through a few real-world examples and calculate how much material is needed for a project.

NOTE: If you want to skip learning the math, then head straight over to our landscape calculator.

raised beds tall

EXAMPLE #1: We need soil for two 8′ x 4′ x 18″ raised beds.

(~BD in Windsor Locks, CT)

Okay, BD. Let’s figure this out. So first let’s pretend these two raised beds are stretched end-to-end. They would measure 16’ long x 4’ wide and 18” tall. Now let’s go through the steps

  • Convert all dimensions into feet (18” ÷ 12” = 1.5’)
  • Multiply length x width x height (16’ x 4’ x 1.5’ = 96 cubic feet)
  • Divide (96 ÷ 27 = 3.56 cubic yards)

Therefore, you’ll need about 3.5 cubic yards of garden blend for this project. We recommend rounding up to 4 cubic yards since you can almost always use more product top-dressing your lawn, the raised beds, or mixed into potting containers.

EXAMPLE #2: “How much mulch do I need to cover a 20’ x 30’ new garden with 3” of soil amendment?”

(~NM in Surrey, BC)

  1. Convert all dimensions from inches into feet. (3” ÷ 12” = .25 feet)
  2. Multiply the three dimensions together (length x width x height) to find the number of cubic feet needed. (20’ long x 30’ wide x 0.25’ high = 150 cubic feet)
  3. Divide the cubic feet by the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard (27) to find the number of cubic yards (150 ÷ 27 = 5.56 cubic yards)

There you go, NM: You will need about 5-6 cubic yards for your project!

EXAMPLE #3: I’m covering my front- and back- landscape with 2” of mulch. The area is about 20’ x 10’. I want to know how much product I’ll need in bags since I don’t have a pickup truck or trailer, and I think it might be easier to pick up a bunch of product in my car and then carry them throughout the property instead of dealing with a wheelbarrow.

(~KH in Virginia)

Okay, KH. Here we go, with a modified step to convert to bags.

  • Convert all dimensions into feet (2” ÷ 12” = 0.16’)
  • Multiply length x width x height (20’ x 10’ x 0.16’ = 33 cubic feet)
  • FOR CUBIC YARDS, we’d divide (33 ÷ 27 = 1.23 cubic yards). BUT INSTEAD we want to find out how many bags of mulch KH needs. So if she wants 1-cubic foot bags she’ll need to divide by 1 (33 ÷ 1 = 33 1-cubic foot bags). If she wants 2-cubic-foot bags she’ll need to divide by 2 (33 ÷ 2 = 17 2-cubic-foot bags).

how much do i need? landscape calculator screenshot of case studyVoila, our landscape calculator comes to the same conclusions (see screenshot).

Feeling inspired?

Hopefully this post helps you get a feel for dimensions and how much product you’ll need for your next landscaping project. We offer many quality soil and mulch products in bulk and bagged quantities. Or simply head on over to our contact page to request a quote. Happy landscaping!

 

Turn Your Attention to Bioretention

What is a bioswale? How does bioretention work?

A bioswale is a low-lying, linear depression that directs the flow of water while letting it percolate into the soil.  This process is known as bioretention: using biology to retain, or slow, water.

How do bioswales, streetscapes and rain gardens work?

Bioswales, streetscapes, and rain gardens apply the same strategy in different formations: they use soil and plants to manage stormwater and reduce erosion in cost effective, environmentally-friendly manners. The plants and soil – or bioretention media – serve as natural filters that remove silt and pollution from runoff water.

How do bioswales remove pollutants?

Bioswales behave like mini constructed wetlands. After a rain, water flowing off of surfaces – typically roofs or roadway – gets diverted into beds of hardy grasses and other plants. Then, the following occurs as illustrated in the photo:

  1. Soil in the bioswale catches contaminants in the runoff.
  2. Oil and metal contaminants are broken down by soil microbes. This changes their chemical structure so they are no longer toxic.
  3. Contaminant-eating microbes need oxygen to work. Wetland plants bring oxygen into the soil.

Water leaving the bioswale is cleaner than when it came in.

 

What are other ways bioretention soils help reduce pollution?

  • They slow the flow. Water that falls to the earth during rain events has a chance to get absorbed by the earth and return to the groundwater table, as opposed to getting whisked away by sewers and drains.
  • They filter out pollutants. Ideally water that reaches surrounding lakes, streams and bodies of water does not have debris or pollutants.

What elements of rain gardens should I look for in a rain garden, streetscape, or bioswale?

A cross section reveals four different layers:

  • Dry – The top where floodwaters never reach. Drainage here is good because it’s at the top of a slope.
  • Mesic – This level, just below the dry zone, experiences occasional, brief winter flooding and summer drought.
  • Moist –  The zone approaching the bottom that experiences frequent winter flooding. The number of plants that can grow here without summer water is limited.
  • Wet – The bottom of the swale will be saturated for a large portion of the year; water plants can be grown here if supplemental water is given in the winter. Without summer irrigation, fewer plants can grow here.

A small rain garden can capture driveway runoff in elegant fashion.How do I build a rain garden or bioswale in on my property?

A rain garden is a planted depression where run-off from roofs, driveways and other surfaces is directed so that it can soak back into the soil naturally rather than run into storm drains. The soil and plants in these areas filter out some impurities before the water drains into sewers, groundwater, rivers and streams.

  • Choose a location: Choose a spot where water can be easily directed through the landscape or from downspouts. Make sure to leave at least 6 feet from your house, and allow for overflow away from foundations and other structures.
  • Prepare the site and soil: Amend the soil so the mix is roughly 50% native soil, 30% soil amendment or compost-based product, and 20% pumice.
  • Mulch: Two kinds of mulch are important in a rain garden. A mulch of pea gravel or river rocks at the point where water enters will help prevent erosion; this mulch should be thick enough that no soil shows through. The rest of the rain garden should have a high-quality soil amendment or compost-based product 1-3” deep added once a year as spring rains taper off. This will help suppress weeds and maintain moisture levels during dry periods.
  • Water during the first couple years: All plants (even drought-tolerant ones) will need supplemental watering the first 1-2 years until they are well established.
  • Avoid fertilizers and pesticides: These should both be avoided in your rain garden whenever possible; part of the goal is to help keep these synthetic chemicals out of local waterways. If necessary, use granular, low phosphorous, organic fertilizer, and the least toxic pesticide available. Plant selection is critical; consult with the nursery specialist for plants that will thrive in this environment.

How does compost fit in to bioretention?

Specially formulated soils rich in organic matter help provide both short-term and long-term positive impacts on soil structure. With compost, the soils resist compaction in finer soils and provide greater drought resistance and water holding capacity in coarse, sandy soils. Soil porosity is key in soil structure and the coarse organic texture of compost creates an environment for better root development. Compost increases Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) which is the ability for soils to retain micro nutrients for the plant to utilize and lowers nutrient leaching. Compost supplies many beneficial micro-organisms and nutrients to soils and growing media as well as bind and degrade specific pollutants – a strong characteristic in bioretention soil use.

The benefits of using compost for plants, the environment and completing the recycling loop in our communities are tremendous. As a plant organic and nutrient source compost works with soil biology naturally to increase soil organism activity. This relationship between planting soils and compost derived from green waste can support a wide variety of soil amendment needs for growing plants, stormwater management and soil erosion.

Where can I get bioretention media?

Harvest offers custom blends in almost all of its markets. Our soil specialists can help meet your needs. Minimum quantities apply.

5 Tips on Detoxing Your Landscape, as featured in Natural Nutmeg

It’s always fun to partner with local publications that support wellness of the mind, body and spirit. We believe the soil is a key ingredient for wellness. In the current issue of Natural Nutmeg magazine, Harvest presents 5 tips to Detox Your Landscape which include:

  1. Get on a path. No really, it’s not just a metaphor.
  2. Lay down a magical layer of mulch.
  3. Amend your soil with compost.
  4. Tidy up your space.
  5. Shelve the chemicals.

Focused on the Connecticut market, the entire March 2018 issue of Natural Nutmeg serves up lots of detox tips; our Landscape Detox article is on pp. 22-23.

Fall: A great time for compost. Try leaves.

Fall is possibly the best time of year to APPLY compost to your landscape: it’ll have a few months to settle in and nourish the soil with all of its magical properties.

Fall is also possibly the best time of year to try out MAKING compost because very easy materials to compost – leaves – are abundantly available.

In mid-October, I gave a lecture to a garden club in New Jersey – an ideal venue given its status as “The Garden State” – and encouraged the audience to get further along on the compost learning curve.

A 3-Step Guide to Composting in Your Backyard

To help nudge the group we created a simple quick-start guide to backyard composting. On the front, it provided a simple directions in three steps to help get momentum: 

  1. Choose a compost container style
  2. Collect materials
  3. Manage the compost (as much as you want)

Download the simple guide to backyard composting.

The response was fantastic: different conversations indicated shifts. For example, after the lecture a group of four women in line for lunch said, “We were just talking about where we’re going to put our bins at our homes. It has to be far enough away from the back door to fit into the landscape, but close enough so that we actually use it.” Another member of the audience emailed, “You’ve successfully nudged me to do more composting. I’m collecting leaves this weekend for my new bin.”

Indeed, leaves are the perfect training wheels for a novice composter: You put them into your bin and poof! Three- to six- months later you have lovely leaf litter: a fluffy, nutrient-rich mulch that breaks down into the soil beautifully.

The audience posed a few questions about what materials were appropriate for composting. Eggshells? Lobster shells? Banana peels? Avocado pits? In general, you want to add organic materials such peels and floral trimmings. At Harvest, we put together a quick video to illustrate:

At the end of the day, it’s your compost party: the composition of your decomposition is entirely up to you. Want more details? Check out this awesome composting guide.


*NOTE: A similar version of this story has been cross-posted on our sister site, harvestorganics.com

Photos from US Composting Council’s “Demo Days” in Los Angeles

The US Composting Council hosted its 25th annual conference in Los Angeles.  Harvest was a proud sponsor of the conference, and provided safety gear for the legendary “Demo Days” event at the City of Lopez Canyon Compost Facility. Ops attendees included Ted C., Chris F., Brent B., and Stewart M. Check out the beautiful scene in the following photos (photos thanks to Ted):

USCC 2017 - looking over windrows USCC 2017 - scarab turning and steam USCC 2017 - screeners USCC 2017 - spreading USCC 2017 - windrow close up USCC 2017 - windrow cover and steam USCC 2017 - windrow turning USCC 2017 - windrows and hils in distance USCC 2017 - windrows wtih scarab USCC 2017 - windrows USCC 2017 in front of Komtech USCC 2017

 

Making the Most of Rainwater: Commercial Applications

The Issue: Stormwater

Bioretention_DDOT_DDOEIn an increasingly paved world, stormwater management is the name of the game for municipalities and businesses looking to reduce costs, improve water quality, and enhance performance of their existing infrastructure.

Stormwater is the rush of water that occurs during a rain event, especially during the initial stages. Imagine rain falling in two different scenes: a gigantic forest and a paved city.  In a forest, streams and rivers rise, lower spots in the ground fill with puddles, and the earth gets saturated for a period of time as the water slowly percolates back down into the groundwater.  In a city, gutters gush, basements flood, highways get slick, and drainage systems discharge water into rivers and bodies of water. This article highlights a key tool – green infrastructure – that helps paved cities behave more like spongy forests, thereby decreasing the negative impacts of stormwater.

Green Infrastructure and Its Impacts

Bioretention_Montgomery_CountyGreen infrastructure refers to many tools and products – soils, filters, plants, pervious surfaces, green roofs, bioswales, and retention ponds to name a few – that help typically paved environments absorb more water. Green infrastructure serves two bioretention purposes:

  1. It slows down the first flush of runoff by increasing the amount of surface area where water can get absorbed.
  2. It increases the quality of runoff by intercepting pollutants closer to the source.

Key Components

When embarking on a stormwater management project, a few key factors can influence the outcome. Entire courses and forums are devoted to this topic.  A quick overview includes:

  • Size: Evaluate the catchment area. A gutter that gets disconnected from the downspouts will have different needs than a parking lot.
  • Medium: Identify the ideal characteristics of the planting medium.  If it’s a green roof, you’ll need a lightweight, engineered blend. For example, if it’s a backyard bioswale, you’ll likely want a mixture of soil with a high organic content (compost) and strong filtration properties (sand).
  • Plants: What conditions will the plants need to endure?  Conditions will vary depending on the depth of the depression and typical weather patterns.
  • Flow: Identify the slope and where the flow will need to be managed or controlled.

custom_designed_blendsAt Harvest, specifically Harvest RGI, we have qualified experts that help guide and shape soil selection.  Commercial contractors depend on us to meet their engineered soil specifications for erosion and stormwater control. Residential customers also get involved: several homeowners may work together in a community effort to manage rainwater on their properties, benefiting from the economies of scale associated with purchasing a 15-20-cubic yard truckload of soil together.

Four Tips for Fall Lawn Preparation

01_Grow_Longer_Grass

Everyone always thinks of the springtime as the best time to work outside. While the spring boasts lengthening daylight hours and invigorating fresh breezes, the fall actually provides an ideal time to enhance the soil and provide excellent conditions that will carry over into the following year. These four simple tips mostly focus on the lawn.

Allow Grass to Grow Longer

Letting the grass grow longer protects the grass from frost and makes it more resilient to lawn fungus and diseases. As you near the end of fall, raise the height of your mower by a notch or two. Otherwise you leave the lawn open to invasion by voles, mice and other critters.

02_Aerating_Soil

Aerate the Soil and Add a Top Dress of Compost

Aerating the soil allows for water drainage and prevents it from becoming waterlogged from snow. Lawns need oxygen almost as much as they need water. After aerating (or even if you don’t aerate), topdress the turf surface with a 1/4″-1/2″ layer of compost. The compost will settle into the soil, adding nutrition and structure that will serve the grass roots well the following season.

03_Seed_Your_Lawn

Seed Your Lawn

Seeding your lawn encourages the growth of turf roots during fall and winter. Splurge on high-quality seed products to ensure the lawn will be able to stand up to drought, disease and pests.

04_Save_Fall_Leaves

Put Your Fall Leaves to Work

Instead of bagging and dragging fall leaves to the curb, use a small patch of your lawn to create a compost pile with leaves. If you have existing compost soil, mix it in with the leaves and turn all the materials well with a pitchfork. Alternatively, you can place leaves onto the top of the garden between plants and on top of bare soil as a natural layer of mulch that will moderate soil temperatures. Also remember that you can always mulch the leaves into the lawn to add organic matter to the soil. By doing this it will save you time and money from raking and bagging. You are simply recycling a natural resource and enriching your soil for free!