Monday, May 30, 2016

Movin’ On Up—to Elevated Gardening

We showed this little wonder at the Santa Fe Master Gardener Association fair (May 14th) and people flocked to it. It’s called the LGarden. Short for elevated garden. And designed for what they call new age gardens—nurseries, greenhouses, and backyard (or patio or balcony or deck) gardens that are everything you want in a garden, just downsized. And waist-high.
Which is why keyboardists love it so much. And people like keyboardists—people who don’t want to be bending over all the time to tend to their vegetables or herbs or flowers.
And because it’s raised, it also protects your plants from animals and other invasive critters (rabbits, deer, moles, dogs), who can sometimes eat up—in an afternoon—all your hard work. And not just invasive animals but invasive plants and weeds, too.
Thirty years ago, these raised “containers” were primarily touted as complementary landscape features. Something to throw some shrubs or petunias in. Like decorative planters, used to create a cascading effect.
Lately, though, as more people have moved into cities or have taken to the farm-to-table concept and are wanting to grow their own vegetables, or at least their own herbs or flowers, these elevated gardens have become the perfect alternative to country gardens and house gardens. And ideal for a patio or balcony.
Not only does their elevation keep you from putting all that stress on your knees and back, but the LGarden’s mobility allows you to move your garden to wherever you want it. Giving your garden the exact amount of sunlight and shade it requires.
The LGarden Original has 12 square feet of gardening space, stands 32” high, and has enough room to accommodate 15 mature vegetable plants (even deep-rooted varieties).
And right now is the perfect time to get started on either a pizza garden or a salsa garden. That’s because most pizza and salsa plants—tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, basil, eggplants, arugula, and rosemary, and other herbs—are sun-lovers. And the LGarden’s mobility allows you to give your pizza and salsa plants all the light they’ll need to grow you great-tasting ingredients. (Go here and scroll down for some great ideas on how to get started.)
So come on in to The Firebird and experience the new high of elevated gardening.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Turn Your Patio into an Outdoor Living Space

That area behind your house? No, that’s no longer the backyard. That’s an outdoor living space. It’s where you can entertain. Or staycate. Or just relax. What it is, really, is another room—only one without walls or ceilings. It’s also the perfect spot for a fireplace, a cauldron, even a pizza oven.

While the backyard has traditionally given way to swimming pools and gardens, this reconceptualization of the backyard as an outdoor living space really just means that that other part of the backyard—the back patio, the area between the back of the house and the lip of the pool or the edge of a row of flowers, that space where your grill has tended to sit lonely and neglected (even during the spring and summer), yes, that prime piece of real estate—has plenty of potential. And people have finally realized it. They’ve taken the indoors to the outside; they’ve started creating their own backyard getaways.

The centerpiece to any outdoor entertaining, of course, revolves around food. Grilled food. And grilled food requires a grill. Which we have plenty of at The Firebird—gas and charcoal grills from Napoleon, Primo’s ceramic wood grills, the infrared gas grills of Saber and TEC, and FireMagic’s BBQ gas grills. Once you’ve picked out the grill that’s right for you, that’ll help you build out the rest of your backyard from there.

In a sense, then, the grilling area of your backyard becomes your outdoor kitchen, which can range from a simple built-in grill to something more expansive—refrigeration, plumbing, audio-visual hookups, architectural lighting. And whether the grill you choose is a tote-able or a built-in, having your kitchen outside means you can prepare meals and be around your guests.

And if a grill alone isn’t enough, if you’re intent on larger seating areas, a bigger patio, installing cold-water and waste lines for a sink or an out door refrigerator, or task lighting; keep in mind that whatever money you spend on your outdoor kitchen will increase your home’s value.

But you don’t have to entirely remodel your backyard in order to entertain outside. A pergola, or an umbrella or even curtains strung up to keep the New Mexico sun off the cooks and the guests during the day; a big enough surface for food prep (stone is often the best, as it’s made to weather); and a simple picnic-style table with a bench or fold-out chairs. You don’t need much more than these basics to entertain and enjoy. 

And the ultimate outdoor-kitchen accessory, of course—a fireplace­. Or a fire pit. And just by raising the hearth around either you’ve turned it into another bench for you and your guests. Your outdoor fireplace will provide enjoyment year-round.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Baby, Light My Fire

Being able to start your own fire is almost like being able to change your own tire. These days, though, there are more than a few inexpensive and easy-to-use firestarter products that can light up your fireplace or wood stove, in about half the time it takes to change a tire, and without the use of either kindling or newspaper.  

One of the fastest firestarters is EZ Fire Firewood Starter, a kind of gel-wax byproduct of diesel manufacturing. Like pretty much everything at The Firebird, it’s ecologically sound (and recycled). Packaged in a flat plastic squeeze tube that’s like an oversized packet of ketchup (or energy paste), it’s paraffin-based and as soon as you light it up, the gel oozes out over the log in a little river of fire—“Like bacon fat,” says The Firebird’s Kelley Nace, as he demonstrates in one of the store’s many showroom fireplaces. “Or napalm.” It burns for about five to ten minutes, and whatever it oozes onto catches fire as well. 

Another convenient firestarter is the Seymour Fire Blox—little cubes of pressed (and recycled) cardboard. Set a piece beneath a log or a hunk of wood, put a match to it, and—presto!—fire. These Blox are lightweight (excellent for camping and favored by outdoorspeople everywhere), and they, too, burn for five to ten minutes. 

The third option is fatwood, Genuine Georgia Fatwood, which The Firebird offers in small burlap-ish bags. They’re a bit like kindling, but these sticks of longleaf pine were once used to make turpentine, and the ones sold here come mostly from Georgia and elsewhere in the South (where they’ve been harvested from long-dead tree stumps). They catch fire as quickly as the EZ Fire and the Blox, and they’re also good for camping and will even light up damp logs. Known locally as acote, these fatwood sticks haven’t been treated with any chemicals and are all-natural. (Although, if you were to throw a whole bag’s worth into the fireplace, they’d coat the inside of your chimney with creosote.)
Sure, you can go with dryer lint or cotton balls soaked in Vaseline, or the wax-coated cardboard boxes grocery stores use for shipping fruits and vegetables, or kindling—or even Fritos brand corn chips (yes, they’re rumored to be a great firestarter).
But take caution with things like pallets (which tend to be coated with chemicals to preserve the wood and make it less flammable and/or bug resistant) or railroad ties (which give off that harsh smell of tar). And while plenty of people still use newspapers, clumps of yesterday’s news tend to drift upward with the heat in a fireplace, where the paper can sometimes clog up the chimney’s cap-spark screens or, in a stove, gum up the catalytic combustor. And never use any type of liquid charcoal lighter.
Basically, though, the fastest, easiest, and healthiest firestarters are the Fire Blox, the EZ Fire Starters, and the Georgia Fatwood.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Time to Stock Up on Firewood

The chill in the air and a dusting of snow makes all of us in Santa Fe start dreaming of that first fire of the season. And then reality hits…the wood pile is empty. Time to prepare to cut and gather firewood. But before you go, we have some advice on the where to go, which trees to select, and how much wood to harvest. Knowing this information can help you harvest inexpensive fuel while improving the health of the forest. 

1.     Cut Where It Is Allowed - Unless you are cutting on your own property, you need permission from the landowner or a permit to cut in New Mexico BLM land.
2.     Cut Close To Home - If you must drive more than 75 miles to reach the woodlot, your transportation costs may make the firewood more expensive than other fuels.
3.     Avoid Fragile Sites - In some locations, living trees are more valuable than the wood that could be obtained by felling them. For example, windbreak, stream-bank, and hillside forests are essential to soil and water conservation. Consult your state forester before you thin trees in such areas.
4.     Cut in Spring - Wood must be seasoned before it will burn properly. It seasons most quickly during the hot, dry days of summer, and only after it has been cut from the stump. The wood that you plan to use in late fall should therefore be cut no later than the previous spring.
5.     Cut Diseased Trees - To preserve the vigor of healthy trees, it is desirable to remove trees that have contagious diseases or serious insect infestations.
6.     Cut Damaged Trees - Trees that have poor stems or small crowns and those that have been damaged by lightning, past logging practices, wind, insects, or grazing should be salvaged for fire wood. Such trees will not usually become more attractive with age, nor will they increase in value for timber.
7.     Thin and Prune - Thinning is the cutting of selected trees to reduce overall tree density. Thinning improves the growth conditions for the remaining trees and should be considered when the the trees are 15 to 25 years old. Pruning is the removal of the lower branches so that the tree will produce clear, high-grade lumber or veneer logs. Pruning should start when the trees are 4 inches in diameter.
8.     Protect the Terrain – Leave your vehicle on established roads & carry wood to your vehicle.  Tires ruts can last for years and lead to harmful soil erosion.
9.     Take Safety Precautions – Hand & power saws are sharp; wear proper clothing and use ear and eye protection.