Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Backyard Brag Blog

By the name of this blog, you can already smell how much I’m going to brag about my yard, how totally organic it is, utilizing the most effective natural occurring fertilization and feeding, termed the Forest Floor Model (Heckel, 1993). Perhaps it is this methodology that has won me the honored and distinguished Certified Wildlife Habitat, by The National Wildlife Federation, certificate # 105,706. It is my belief that this certification number is the only certified on the planet, which now clearly sets my yard up for this blog.
BTW, the process to get this baby took at least 25 minutes answering some very tough questions at the National Wildlife Federation website. And you can print them right out, just make sure you have enough ink. Mine came in the mail, personally signed, as you can see. Don’t know David, but he’s reviewed my survey answers and made the call! Thanks, Davey! Feels great to be #105,706!!

Ok, so back to my bragging. Actually, this is also going to include bragging about my lovely grand-daughter, Bettie. So now that you have already established the solid fact that I fricken  KNOW this gig called gardening, allow me to introduce you to one of my back yard’s most famous, and now BEST improvements.
                One day Bettie and  I were walking around the yard, just taking in the day and, of course, checking out her tree, her mom and dad’s , you know, we all have our own tree in yard. Well, Bettie was picking up pine cones, which I was delighted as they are a nuisance. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Confiner trees so much that I literally pray for them often. But the cones got to be so many that I was rolling my ankles over them, which especially isn’t good my ankle with the rod in it. Kinda hurts. Also, running over the cones with the lawn mower was akin to messing with a ground-level-meteor-launcher! Danger notwithstanding, it also wreaked havoc on the mower blades (like I care, really).
                So, Bettie starts to pick up the cones and we put them in a bucket. She then walks over to what then looked like a pathetic, messed up wanna-be-but-ended-up-looking-like-crap flower garden where two clematis (we’re talking plants mr. spell check!) plants grow each year. She thinks a bit, and then starts putting the pine cones into the messy looking flower garden floor.  At first we were just playing around throwing them in but then the more that got thrown in, the better it continued to look! The once dingy looking clamtis garden was looking more like a real garden than a dirt patch with some faded wood chips littered around.
Amazingly, Bettie had the fore-sight that this bad-looking garden needed a touch—her special touch! Her idea. Her brilliance.
As the weeks went by I continued the Bettie Cone Project (aka ‘be cone one to another ‘) making daily rounds of collecting cones until I realized that this cone discovery also yielded a more beautiful, longer lasting and FREE solution to simply dumping in more wood chips that blow away and then turn to dirt. Cones can last much longer than the bark solution. A good pine cone runs around $20/pound, which is about 1200). Mulch runs like $5/20lb bag and I needed at least 5 bags. Guess I owe my little grand-daughter some money!
At any rate, enough of the words, here are the facts:
This is still work in progress as you can still see some junk in the garden.

But the final product looks something like this. . . 

The fundamentals of FFM  are quite simple, you do pretty much nothing and let nature take its course.
However, I did manage to cobble together a few key pieces of organic advice for those of you that desire to learn more about FFM:

1    1) If you bag your grass, create a nice compost pile, else grind it with your mower into an area that needs attention.

2) Never pollute the land-fills with branches, leaves, clippings, etc. Yard wastes comprises a large percentage of all land-fills and, while biodegradable, still waste energy of moving them from one place to another; especially when the materials moved can be used where they originated. So have a ‘beader mower’ and grind up as much as you can with your mower directly over the ‘forest floor.’ Essentially, the concept behind this is the same found in the forest; branches and trees die, creating natural compost for more plant growth. By grinding the waste up, composting, we simply accelerate the decomposition process.
2      3)  Now if you don’t like #2 because maybe you don’t like the grinding idea (there are safety hazards associated with such, so always wear protective equipment!), then the next best solution is to use as much yard waste as you can around areas to control weed growth. This is especially effective in gardens and along driveways, which can make a fine looking border, done properly.

Bottom line is “live and let live.” I’m not one big on fancy spray on lawns or zero-scaping.  At least I’ve found some sort of a balance between the over-killing work by using simple and lazier methods to accomplish not just getting rid of yard wastes, but also putting them into good organic use. And with newer minds on the scene, such as Bettie’s Pine-Cone Project, I keep learning even more tricks of the trade. And if you don’t believe me, drive by, stop and I’ll show you what a Certified National Wildlife preserve/yard looks like.  Number 105,706, to be exact!

And don’t even get me started with the scores of cool birds, eagles, squirrels, foxes, elks, coons, coyotes, hares and other such amazing creations that frequent this habitat for a respite! It’s all good—no, it’s all GREAT! Thanks, Bettie! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rocky Mountain Breakdown

For those of you old enough to remember Poco and their song, Rocky Mountain Breakdown, know that this song has nothing to do with what happened to my son, his wife, their dog and myself when we went camping last weekend in the mountains. The song, Rocky Mountain Breakdown, is a more positive an up-beat song, praising the mountains and the solace that it brings when one is ‘at one with nature.’

Gearing up for our camping trip a few days prior, I was thinking about how early in the season it was to camp. After all, it was only March and we knew we’d be encountering snow, cold weather, wind and potentially anything could happen this time of year. I recalled how my still-to-day toes burn from being frost-bitten one year that we went camping the day after Christmas. I felt it was almost an unpleasant yet fleeting moment of sadness, knowing that my Tempurpedic would be replaced by a 2 inch piece of foam atop either mud or snow in a tent that might be 10 degrees warmer than the soon to be frigid eve. My fears and reservations were given the acid test question, however; “Have I ever camped, then regretted it?”

The answer resounding and unequivocally ‘NEVER!’ resounded in my mind, so off we went.

This time of the season, few people camp in Rocky Mountain National Park. I phoned my friend at the back-country office to see about camping conditions and was assured that there were few people and plenty of camping spots. So off we sailed into the low-hanging, southwestern and soon-to-be-gone sun toward what we truly hoped and knew would be a fine evening of eating, sitting around the fire and simply enjoying God’s creation.

When we arrived at the camps, we had our pick. Few people were around and many spots were to be found. We cherry picked what we thought was the best, set up camp and began to assemble around the fire-pit. After an hour or so, we settled into our positions around the soon-to-be-lit fire, chatting and discussing how many of the Mickey D hamburgers that we picked up in town would be used versus freeze-dried camping mush. Mickey D won, hands down.

As we were laughing, cajoling and simply having a grand time visiting and telling stories, we noticed a white car (with Alaska plates) slowly drive by our site. The white car stopped and out popped a man. We assumed he was in need of help and planned on helping in any way that we could. After all, he is a visitor to our beautiful state and he may need some help.

Let’s call this man the AlASSkan, with a special emphasis on the ASS part of the name.

Upon his casual walking up to our camp site, he then proceeded to verbally assault each one of us with a lexicon only known to the most vile and wretched carbon-based units. He was human, but only by definition. Otherwise, this dude could have been mistaken for an angry baboon on crack.

Apparently, we had taken HIS camping spot. When I paid for our camp site, I failed to notice a 1inch square piece of paper clipped to a half-buried-in-snow sign-post that showed he paid his $6 camping fee for the spot we now occupied. We had the tent up, chairs were situated around the fire and food was being consumed. There was several other camping sites within the camping area and suggested for him to consider just taking another. "NO! This is MY (expletives deleted) guys are (more expletives) and can ( keeps going...) and I think you are (like I said, he was nuts...many more bad words)...."

So our simple 'try another spot' suggestion went over like a cement balloon. It should be noted that we then happily agreed to break camp and move on. No worries, Mr. AlASSkan. “We’ll be glad to go. We are truly sorry and apologize for our mistake. Just allow us 15 minutes and we’ll be gone,” were the exact words spoken with tact, diplomacy and still trying to salvage the evening of fun.

Mr. AlASSka may have been high, drunk or perhaps even a bit ‘touched in the head,’ as he continued to verbally attack each of us personally and criticizing Colorado’s people. The AlASSkan continued badgering, belittling my son and his wife, he even criticized Charlie the dog! My son was fuming. My daughter in law was the smart one as she just ignored him. But being smart is harder for us men.

MORE BADGERING! What is going on?

Ok, that was the tipping point for the old Frog. . .

The AlASSkan commenced to redress our characters, yet this time pushing closer physically to my son, who by this time was almost to the point of punching this guy out (although he would never do such). It also should be noted that my son seldom gets angry. He’s a noble man of character, respect and honor. Just the fact that my son really got angry, was interpreted by his dad to 'get more involved!'

Now the ‘mother-bear’ in me instinctively came out as I quickly inserted myself in between my son and this technically ‘bad example’ of a quality human being. I proceeded to dress him down with my own version of sarcasm, insults and personal affronts of his character, his actions and the fact that he was ugly. Now the situation turned from “oh crap,” to “we have a war.” I essentially lowered my character to that of his, reduced my intellect and demonstrated the exact way NOT to behave. I was wrong. But it sure felt good!

We hurriedly threw our stuff in the back of my truck and began to head off. I snapped a picture of the man as his wife was trying to control his insanity. He immediately got out his camera and began snapping pictures of us, my truck my license plate (I got his also). I was now beyond anger, to the point that I started to laugh at him. His night was ruined but he got his way.

We retreated to several other camp sites after that experience wondering, “…did that really just happen?” As the winter sun dipped quickly behind the continental divide, it was too late to camp so we went to Ed’s Cantina and continued our consumption of hamburgers and wonderful food. We had a great visit and now have an amazingly stupid story to tell to others, which was the genesis of this blog. We piled back into the truck and headed down the canyon laughing, joking and having a great time. Things were fine now. We did go camping and we camped. But we only camped for a bit over an hour. So what? We had a grand evening and a funny experience together!

Bottom line is that this camping trip still met the acid. I’m totally glad that we went and I do not regret going. We had time together (which, after all, is what the activity of ‘camping’ is primarily about), we laughed, we talked and now we reflect back and laugh even more.

One last note. . .

If perchance the AlASSkan somehow happens across this blog. I wish you the best of luck, happy trails, enjoy our State, then please leave and never come back.

Jim Heckel,

Rocky Mountain National Park Expert Guide (but not so good diplomat)