With winter coming, one needs to give some thought to moving indoors. It’s nice to spend time out in the garden, tending to your plants and perhaps spending some time with your fountain, but not when it’s cold outside or there’s snow on the ground.
When it’s winter, you should be indoors and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean that you have to abandon growing things. There are indoor ways of growing herbs and other plants, and as time goes on and technology improves, it’s getting easier and easier to do. You’ll also find that you’ll get better results, because there are now new “smart” growing systems that can help you have a green thumb even if you’re all thumbs.
One new system is called Ava Byte. It’s a pun, as in “have a bite.”
The countertop system includes a water management system and built-in LED lighting that the system controls automatically. The company claims less water usage than with conventional growing and growth rates of up to three times that of normal.
The Ava Byte system measures 18 inches long by 5 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall and weights about four pounds. The lighting bar is adjustable and can go as high as 21″ tall to accommodate plant growth.
The device is also capable of interfacing with Alexa, Google Home, or the Apple Homekit so you can keep tabs on your plants remotely. The Ava Byte app will let you know if it’s time to add water.
An even more interesting feature is that Ava Byte has a built-in high definition camera. That means that you can not only keep track of your plant growth, but you can actually see it on your computer or smart phone.
Planting with Ava Byte is easy, as you don’t need to use soil. You use pre-seeded “pods” that you can purchase from teh company. These pods include seeds and nutrients, so all you need to do is add water.
You can grow tomatoes, herbs, salad greens, peppers, berries, mushrooms, edible flowers, microgreens, medicinal herbs, tea leaves, saplings, aloe vera, root vegetables, and more.
While the initial purchase of Ava Byte includes 5 pods, you can, of course, buy additional ones if you like.
At the moment, Ava Byte is not yet shipping. Ava Byte was funded through Indiegogo and received nearly 400% of the requested funding. At the moment, they’re saying that they expect the finished products to ship in the second quarter of 2018.
Prices for the full Ava Byte kit start at about $229. This includes the basic system, power supply, high definition camera and a 5 pack of pods. You’ll be able to confirm the type of plants that you receive prior to delivery.
Not everyone is successful at trying to grow plants, especially edible ones. That’s just how it is. But Ava Byte simplifies the process and makes it hard to mess it up. The pods have everything the seeds need to grow. The microprocessor-controlled system handles lighting and runs the water pump when necessary.
All you need to do is pay attention to the app that tells you when to add water and pay attention again when it tells you that it’s time to harvest your “crops.” In the meantime, you can watch your plants grow.
I have written extensively about garden fountains and other water features that you can put in your yard. Water features are attractive, relatively maintenance free and provide the soothing sounds of running water. Birds like them, too, so many backyard fountains can double as a bird bath.
If you’re interested in adding a fountain to your yard, there are a few things that you should consider. Here are a few tips for buying a backyard fountain:
- What kind of fountain do you want? There are pedestal fountains, which are raised above the ground, ground-level fountains, which are probably what most people think about when a fountain comes to mind, and wall fountains. Wall fountains are best suited to people who have limited space, as they can fit in areas where others cannot.
A ground-level fountain will take up the most space, but if you have room, you can get them in surprisingly large sizes. Pedestal fountains are sort of an in-between size, and work well to double as a bird bath.
- What about power? The days when fountains were powered by actual running water are long gone, and today, nearly all garden fountains are powered by electricity. You’ll have the choice of models that are powered by an electrical outlet, or an increasingly large number of fountains that are powered by solar cells.
Larger fountains will likely require wall power, so you’ll either have to have an outlet handy where you install your fountain or you’ll have to call an electrician to ensure that power is available when and where you need it. Solar fountains are less trouble, but they do, as the name suggests, require that you have access to sunlight. That means that you probably can’t put a solar fountain in a shady area and depending on your yard, that may limit your locations.
- Maintenance – Keep in mind that all fountains will require occasional maintenance. If you live in a desert area, evaporation will make it necessary to keep an eye on the water level. You’ll occasionally have to add water to keep your fountain running smoothly. If you live in an area with a lot of leaves, you’ll likely have to clean debris from your fountain from time to time. Most people will also have to drain their fountains in the wintertime and possibly cover them with a tarp to protect them from the elements.
- What kind of material? Fountains are available in plastic, concrete, and various resins and composite materials. Concrete is the traditional material, but it can be expensive to buy and ship. They’re also more difficult to install, due to their weight. Composite materials are lighter and easier to work with, but may not last as long.
The other question is where to buy. You can find backyard fountains for sale at a variety of places, both in brick and mortar stores and online. Both types of stores have their pros and cons. Many online stores offer free shipping, but you might have to install it yourself. Buying locally may cost more, but you may have access to installation.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you buy or where you buy it. The addition of a garden fountain to your yard will make it a more pleasant place to spend your time.
Most people have yards that consist only of plants. Grass is pretty standard, and people may also have a tree or two, or perhaps some bushes or some flowers.
These are the bar minimum things that people should have in their yards, but having only those things will ensure that your yard does not distinguish itself from the yards of your neighbors in any way. It will look green, but it won’t look like it’s yours.
Ideally, you want to add a decorative touch to your yard that makes it attractive, and perhaps even functional in some way. more importantly, you want to add a touch that makes the yard uniquely your own.
I’ve discussed ways to do this in previous posts, such as adding water features or a statue. These are good ideas, and they’re always going to be good ideas. Most people who do this rush right down to their local home improvement store or their garden shop to buy some off-the-rack fountain, bird feeder or statue that they can throw in their yard so they can say, “Look! I’m unique!”
But how unique is it if you’re putting something in your yard that Home Depot sells by the thousands? That little cherub statue may look cute, but it likely also looks cute in your neighbor’s yard, too. That’s not to suggest that you shouldn’t run down to the big box store and buy something for your yard, but why not think outside of that big box when coming up with an idea for your yard?
Instead of shopping at the home improvement store, why not shop at the antique store instead? What? Antiques?
Sure. I’m not talking about an antique lamp or a fainting couch; those aren’t suitable for use in the yard. But any one of a number of things that you might find at an antique store might very well look great when added to a yard with some bushes or a garden.
My neighbors have an antique door, in their garden. Yes, it’s a wooden door, with a couple of small windows in it. It’s been painted purple, and it leans against a tree and has some flowers growing around it. A door in the back yard might not seem like an obvious thing to put there, but in truth, it looks lovely.
You might consider an old wagon wheel. Or an old bench. Or perhaps an old water pump that you may or may not make functional again.
Odd pieces of sculpture or folk art, or even an old outdoor light fixture can look great. You can paint them in whatever color suits you. Or you can not paint them and let them acquire some natural patina. That is up to you. Sometimes, you can find a statue, or a bench, or any one of a number of older, solid objects that can, with a little bit of inspiration, look great among your bushes and flowers.
Keep in mind that weather will be a factor, so you want to be sure that whatever antiques you place in your yard are sturdy and durable enough to last several years when exposed to the elements. Remember – the idea is for your yard to look decorative, and not like a junkyard. Don’t overdo it.
If you’re looking to beautify your back yard, adding a water feature of some kind is a great way to go. People like the look of flowing water and they also tend to find the sound to be soothing.
There are many options for adding a water feature to your yard, as well. Fountains are quite popular, and you can have a freestanding fountain or, if you’re cramped for space, you can have a wall-mounted fountain that still gives the sound of flowing water in a smaller form factor.
A pond is also nice, and that allows you to add some plants and perhaps even some fish, if you like. A pond can take up a lot of space, however, and is best suited to larger yards. That’s also true of a creek, which is a nice feature to have if you happen to have one running through your property. If you don’t building one is a bit of trouble and potentially a lot of expense.
Still, many people do it, because it looks nice and natural and gives your yard more of an authentic, “back to nature” look.
There’s another option, however, that can give your yard the look of a larger water feature, such as a creek, without having to sacrifice the space. That is the disappearing water feature.
A disappearing water feature is one where the water seems to flow from it and then…goes away. The most common application of a disappearing water feature is a fountain, but it’s one that doesn’t have a collecting pond at the base for water to accumulate. Usually, with such a fountain, the base of the fountain is rock or gravel, and underneath the fountain is a collecting basin and a recirculating pump.
The water flows from the fountain, perhaps over some rocks or down a small creek, and then disappears into the ground. Once under the ground, the water collects in a basin, and is pumped back to the top of the fountain, where it can recirculate and flow over the rocks again.
The beauty of a disappearing water feature is that you can have a larger feature in a smaller amount of space. You can have what appears to be a waterfall, cascading down some rocks, and flowing into a creek that may be only 10-15 feet long. Most yards, even small ones, are able to support such a feature.
Many landscaping companies can build a disappearing water feature for you and there’s lots of flexibility in terms of what you want and how it can be built. Many of them can be built in such a way that they appear to be completely natural, though if you want a statue in the middle of your fountain, you probably won’t get that look.
There are also plenty of do it yourself kits available, as well as the parts to simply build one yourself if you are so inclined. Plans for the do it yourself variety can be found all over the Web.
If you’re short on space but you want to have flowing water in your yard, a disappearing water feature such as a fountain or creek is a great way to go.
I’ve written a bit about how to make your yard a bit more personable and inviting, and you do that by finding your yard’s good points and accentuating them with decorations, a water feature, or perhaps some furniture.
Another way to add a personal touch to your yard is to add a garden statue or gnome. These are figurines, usually cast from cement or composite material, that are made to resemble either humans or animals. They may be painted or they might just be left in their natural color. A few are made from marble, though that is a rather old-school approach and also a very expensive one.
Garden statues and gnomes used to be something that only the very wealthy could afford, as they had to be sculpted by hand. Unless you were a patron of the arts, you weren’t likely to be able to afford a statue, and if you were, you likely wouldn’t put it in your yard, where the weather could damage it.
Today, garden statues and gnomes are usually mass produced and cast from affordable materials, making them more affordable than ever. Gnomes tend to be more popular in Europe than in the United States, where statues seem to be more preferred, but you’re free to buy whatever you think will work best in your yard.
Statues come in a variety of sizes; you can find them in sizes as small as a foot tall and there’s pretty much no limit to how tall they can be, depending on your budget. Depending on size, your statue can either be the focal point of your yard, or it can be used to accent other decor. A statue will look great near a fountain or a bench, for example, while gnomes, which tend to be smaller, can often be put in a number of locations throughout your yard.
With statues, less is more, so you don’t want to have a yard full of them. They tend to draw attention to themselves if you just have one or two. If you have more, things tend to look a bit crowded. This is particularly true if you have larger statues. Smaller ones, like gnomes, can be scattered about as yard accents.
Some yard fountains will come with a statue or a gnome as part of the fountain itself. If that’s the case, you can find a similar statue or a gnome to be used as an accent for the fountain.
Maintenance for statues and gnomes is fairly minimal. If you have them on your lawn, you’ll likely have to trim weeds around them every few weeks or move them in order to run the lawn mower over the area where they stand. You also may need to wash them off with a hose every few weeks, as birds seem to be fond of statues and they tend to leave them a bit dirty.
While not to everyone’s taste, many people find that adding a gnome or two or a statue to their yard adds a bit of class and a bit of beauty to their yard while also making your yard unique.
I’ve written about how to build a cozy back yard that’s a fun place to spend your time, and that’s great – for you. Of course, once you step outside the house, you’re now in a world that you have to share with other wildlife. That’s not a bad thing, provided that you’re not living in a place where you’re likely to encounter mountain lions or wolves.
I’m talking about attractive insects, such as butterflies, and friendly birds, including hummingbirds. These are fun, attractive creatures that, by their very presence, can make your yard more attractive. What you need to do is take a few steps to ensure that your yard is attractive to them so they’ll come around and help decorate the place.
Birds need a few things to be comfortable, just as we do. They need food, they need water, and they need a place to rest and to hide from predators. That means that some trees with foliage will be helpful. We’re not talking about palm trees here, but trees with branches and leaves where birds can nest.
You’ll also want to provide a place for birds to drink and to bathe. You can go with a birdbath, though a lot of birds prefer water that moves a bit. A small fountain can do the job, too, and that adds beauty that you can appreciate while still providing a place for birds and insects to drink and bathe. You’ll have to clean it from time to time, but you’re likely doing that, anyway.
You’ll also need a birdfeeder, and actually, you’ll likely need more than one. Many birds eat seed, so a bird feeder that can accommodate those birds will be beneficial. Hummingbirds, on the other hand, don’t really eat seeds, but instead eat small insects and nectar from flowers. They also like sugar water, so having a hummingbird feeder will attract those birds and keep them around.
For the other part of the equation, keeping both hummingbirds and butterflies happy, you’ll want to have some flowering plants in your yard. Butterflies seem to prefer “flat” flowers, such as the daisy or similar, and hummingbirds like nectar-rich tubular flowers. You can ask your local nursery for some recommendations.
Keep in mind that a variety of flowering plants are not only good for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds but also will make your yard more attractive and inviting for humans. In the end, you’re creating your lovely back yard for you and your family, so if you make it attractive for you, chances are the birds and insects will come along.
Bird feeders, birdbaths and fountains do require a bit of maintenance. You’d be surprised at how much seed birds can consume, so be sure to buy it in quantity. Most garden stores will sell it in 25 pound bags, and it’s much more affordable to buy it in quantity. Be sure to keep your fountain and birdbath clean, as birds aren’t interested in drinking or bathing in dirty water any more than you are.
With a bit of attention and a small investment, you can attract beautiful birds and insects to your yard to make it more inviting for you and your family.
A lot of people enjoy spending time in their back yard, particularly if there are things to do or other reasons to spend time there. Lots of people have a backyard barbecue, or a hammock, or a patio, or some other place where the family and/or friends can gather to spend time in the spring, summer and fall.
People with smaller yards may have a problem finding a way to make spending time in their yard worthwhile, however. If you have a small yard, you may feel that you don’t have enough room to make the yard useful. As a result, many people end up with a yard full of grass and the only time they spend there is when they’re mowing it or trimming weeds.
It’s possible to optimize a small yard so that it can give you something to do and a place where you and your friends can spend some time. Remember – not everyone wants a huge yard. All you have to do is take what you have and find a way to make the most of it.
Below are a few tips for helping you get the most out of a smaller back yard:
- Create a center of attention. A single point of focus can make or break a smaller yard, so try to come up with something that will draw and keep attention. A great idea for that would be a small pond, or a fountain, fire pit, or perhaps a swing or a glider.
- Good lighting can make a huge difference. These days, affordable solar lighting is available in a variety of styles, sizes and colors. You can accent your sidewalks or highlight your trees, bushes, or fountain. These lights require little maintenance; most of the work comes in figuring out where to put them.
- Keep your yard tidy. If you have a smaller yard, then unkempt bushes, overgrown trees or the occasional weed are going to have a bigger impact than they might have in a larger yard, where a single problem could be easily overlooked. Fortunately, smaller yards are easier to maintain, so this step should be a fairly easy one. If you have a wooden fence, keep it painted and repaired.
- Furniture is a must. If you’re going to spend time with your family or friends in the yard, you’ll need a place to sit. You can go with concrete benches, but comfortable patio furniture tends to be more inviting. An umbrella or some other sun protection can be helpful, too.
Take care not to overcrowd the yard. Obviously, you cannot add everything to a small yard, so plan ahead and decided where your focus is going to be, and where you’re going to sit and how you’re going to spend your time. If you’re planning on cooking out often, then you might want to pass on the fountain or pond and focus on a grill or barbecue station instead.
Smaller yards don’t have the flexibility of larger ones, but you can still make them warm, friendly places where you and your family will want to spend time. Give it some thought and put some planning into it, and you can come up with a lovely small space that’s a fun place to hang out.
A lot of people in urban areas or in places where yards are small or even nonexistent may think that having a garden is a luxury for those who have a lot of land.
While it’s true that people with a lot of extra space have a huge advantage when it comes to gardening, it is possible to create a garden in small or cramped spaces. All you have to do is think outside of the box.
Sure, you may not have a lot of land space, but the ground isn’t the only space you have. What about your walls? There are a number of people who have created some surprisingly attractive and functional gardens by using their walls as their growing area. Granted, there are some disadvantages to this method, particularly in that you’re going to get the best results if you plant in areas that have access to direct sunlight.
Still, it’s likely that you do have at least one wall that faces the sun during part of the day, so why not use it? You can use that space to plant fruits, vegetables or flowers, depending on your interests and your needs.
There are a number of companies that have created dedicated products designed exclusively for planting on walls, and that makes it easy. Just plant, hang, and you’re ready to go.
Others have gotten creative, and this photo of a wall garden in Brazil will show you. Instead of a complicated and expensive system, this garden simply consists of a number of plastic soda bottles that have been strung along a wall. The bottles are inexpensive as well as transparent, which allows a bit more sun to shine through. In addition, they don’t weigh a lot, though obviously, soil and water will add some weight.
It’s also possible to use your ceiling as a growing space. You can hang plants from hooks on the ceiling in areas with sun exposure. There are a number of hanging plant devices available on the market, or if you’re the creative sort, you can make them yourself using macrame or another similar technique.
Wall gardens aren’t going to be suitable for trees or bushes, but they’re great for growing an herb garden or perhaps some tomato plants. You likely won’t be able to produce your entire meal or even a full salad from your garden, but you might be able to produce the basil or even tomatoes for that salad on your own.
You’re definitely at a disadvantage if you don’t have a large yard and you want to have a garden to produce vegetables, fruits or herbs. That’s a given. Having less space than your friends or neighbors, however, doesn’t mean that you have no space at all. What you need to do is take a look at the space that is available to you and try to see how you can make it work well to suit your needs.
After all, you’re the one who will benefit from it. If you have some wall space, or a bit of ceiling space on your porch, patio or balcony, you’ve likely got all the room you need to create a lovely and productive garden.
I’ve written a lot about how to get the most out of your garden, and for most people, that garden is a little spot in the back yard that they’ve set aside for growing a few vegetables.
Others may have a fruit tree or two in their yard so they can get the occasional apple, peach or cherry. That’s convenient, and the garden can help add a bit of food to your dinner table.
Other people, however, take their gardening a bit more seriously, to the point where everything that grows in their yard is edible. This is a relatively new phenomenon known as “foodscaping.” That is, it’s landscaping with food.
The idea has been around for a while, but it took off during the recession of 2008 when a lot of people decided that they could save money during hard times by growing more of the food that they eat instead of buying it at the grocery store.
Also known by the less cute name of “yard farming,” foodscaping remains a popular pastime. Some people have completely replaced their entire lawns with various plants, such as barley or lambsquarter.
There are some definite advantages to foodscaping:
- You don’t have to worry about pesticides or herbicides; you know what your plants have been exposed to.
- You can grow more of foods that you like.
- You can grow foods that are often expensive to purchase.
- You can provide a good learning experience for your children.
Keep in mind that foodscaping isn’t as simple as ripping out your lawn and hedges and planting corn. There are a few things that you need to consider before getting started with yard farming:
- Decide what types of food you would like to grow in your yard.
- Find out whether it’s possible to grow those particular plants where you live. Not everything grows everywhere, so you may not be able to grow avocados if you live in Minnesota, for instance.
- Pay attention to how these plants will look. You are still landscaping, and the appearance of the plants is important. Some plants are very colorful and others are not. Some have flowers or colorful fruit, and others do not. Some plants are small, others are tall, and still others produce trees.
Ideally, you should talk to someone at your local nursery about your plans to foodscape your yard. What you want to do is create an attractive landscape that makes your yard look nice. In addition to this, you’d like to use plants for this landscaping that produce edible fruits or vegetables. Designing a properly foodscaped yard is not something you can do overnight.
You can, however, do it with a bit of planning, and fortunately, once you get it set up, maintaining it year after year is a much simpler task than the initial construction. If you do it correctly, you should have a beautiful, colorful yard that will catch the eyes of your neighbors while not drawing undue attention as an eyesore.
Sometimes the distinction is a fine one, but with a bit of planning, you can likely come up with something that looks great and tastes good, too.
A lot of people like having water in their yard, and the reasons are many. Some people like the look of the reflective surface. Others like the sound of splashing water. Still others like the idea of having a pond with fish.
All of these things are good reasons, and the sound of running water can certainly be relaxing. It can also help mask other, unwanted sounds.
While water features such as fountains are fairly easy to install and straightforward to maintain, you might be tempted to install a pond instead. Ponds can be lovely, and they give you the opportunity to add plants and fish to your water feature, which aren’t possible with a fountain.
There are a few things that you should consider before installing a pond, however. Keeping these things in mind will simplify your maintenance and give you a better overall experience.
- Don’t overdo the fish. A good rule of thumb is one square inch of mature fish for every one square foot of pond. If you have too many fish, the pond will get crowded, and the excessive amount of waste can lead to cloudy water as well as harmful algae.
- Live in an area with harsh winters? You should consult with an expert to see if your fish will be able to survive the winter. Some fish can survive if the water freezes over, but others cannot. You’d best be sure ahead of time, or you’ll have a huge mess to clean in the spring.
- Protect the fish with plants. Plants near or in the water can protect the fish from predators by giving them a place to hide. Otherwise, birds might pluck them right out of the water. Plants also act as sort of a natural filtration system that helps keep your water clean. Keep in mind that some plants can eventually overwhelm your pond, covering the entire surface. If you are in doubt regarding suitable plants for your backyard pond, you may wish to consult with a local nursery.
- Keep the water running. Adding a fountain, waterfall, or other feature to your pond to keep the water moving will not only provide pleasing sounds, it will help prevent the breeding of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes like to lay eggs in still water, and that will lead to unpleasant results for both you and your neighbors. The solution to that is water that is never still.
- Be sure you have enough water. Depending on where you live, evaporation can be a problem. If that’s the case, you’ll need to be sure that you add water regularly in order to keep sufficient water levels. Keep in mind that culinary water, which contains trace amounts of chlorine, may not be suitable if your pond has fish.
A backyard pond is a nice feature to have, as you can incorporate fish, plants and a fountain or waterfall to create a park-like atmosphere in your back yard. Keep in mind, however, that you will have to engage in more maintenance than you would if you had a simple recirculating fountain.