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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Building a Bog in Midst of Drought

As a gardener, I always want something I can't grow in my current surroundings. While in Oregon it was winecup (Callirhoe involucrata.)   I planted them dutifully each fall and every winter they rotted in the ground.  Putting them in gravel didn't help because the surrounding clay soil was so waterlogged that they ended up swimming.

Of course now that I am in Texas they grow with abandon in my garden.  Duh.  So now what I am I up to now that my heart's desire has been found?  A bog.  That's right.  I'm smack dab in the middle of a region in terrible drought and I want a bog.  In the Northwest my whole yard was a bog, so why the sudden urge to live in a swamp?

Chinese Water Chestnuts.  

My friend Clyde gave me a pot of Chinese Water Chestnuts to grow in my pond.  He had planted a few of the corms he found at the Asian grocery store and found that they multiplied quite rapidly.  When I brought them home I separated what he gave me and planted them in my pond.  What is interesting to me is that the water chestnut itself is a corm that forms off the roots.  I was disappointed that the pot didn't yield anything but figured that it was just too crowded.  I put just a few plants in the pond and composted the rest.

They went crazy!  The are spectacular 5 foot plants that have small catkins like a cattail reed.  However when I went to pull one of the pots out of the water I discovered that they had all grown together.  I had to get out the pruning saw to hack them apart.  And alas, when unpotted the chestnut yield was still zero.

So I spent time on the Internet.  I discovered that the Aussies have great success growing their water chestnuts in bogs.  A few of them have dug special bogs and others are using containers like stock tanks.  They grow them in peat or other spongy material so they are easy to harvest.

So I got to thinking.

I decided to dig a bog and plant a tuff tub in the ground below the pond in front of one of my drainage shafts.  When I put the pond in I actually have it partially sitting on cinder blocks so water cascading down from my neighbors actually goes under it. The cinder blocks are oriented to form a culvert of sorts.  I put the bog right in front of it so when we get a downpour, the runoff goes into the bog.  The tuff tub has holes drilled into the sides about 2/3 of the way up to facilitate drainage.  The Australian gardeners didn't have their plants totally under water so I am following their lead.

Cinder block culvert will fill bog.
I put concrete edging around it to keep things from washing out.  The water will fill the bog, then continue down the gravel pathway like it does today.

I considered putting peat or moss in the bog but my timing, for once, was perfect.  Peat moss is just decomposed plant material that's been sitting in water.  Since it's fall, I can make my own from leaf mold instead.  I layered leaves with the soil from the excavation, using about a 1/3 soil to 2/3 leaf mix.  I compacted the layers by walking on them each time I added leaves.  Sort of like crushing grapes for wine!  Okay, not the same, but fun nonetheless.   

The last step was to add water.  We are expecting rain so I only poured in about 5 gallons.  I'll add more later in the week if needed.  I'm going to let it sit until next weekend then will probably add more of the leaf/soil mix along with the plants.

Aesthetically it should turn out really well.  The plants will grow tall enough to form a nice green backdrop behind the seating area I've built around the pond.  I'll have to add water to it so plan on the rainwater we store for the pond.  Being buried in the ground will keep things a little cooler and the thick growth on top should inhibit some evaporation but I'm not kidding myself.  We'll just add water at the same time we refill the pond.  At the worst of summer it's about every four or five days.

I'm hoping that with more room, more soil oxygen, and looser growing medium I'll have water chestnuts to add to our Thanksgiving dinner!  Wouldn't that be fun?  Now, what to grow in the pond where the water chestnuts used to be?  I'm thinking Minnesota Wild Rice...