Thursday, May 31, 2012

New Bird Feeder!!!

I have a new bird feeder!!!

Ok, well technically it's not new.  It's actually been sitting in my grandma's shop for years.  It hung from a wall, collecting dust.  It also had a dead fly standing on it, although my father disagrees with that statement.  He said the fly was frozen in torpor, or hibernation, or something.  I don't know if flies do that sort of thing, but it sounds pretty cool, so I'm going to go along with that.

Anyway, I had needed a new bird feeder for a while, but I cringed at costs.  I couldn't find a single bird feeder for less than $15, and while fifteen wasn't exactly a bad number, the feeders that cost that amount were flimsy, and made of plastic.  Not something that would fill me with happy thoughts.

So I bought nothing.

Then I found the perfect feeder in my grandma's shop after asking my father if he thought she had any that weren't being used.  If you're wondering why I asked him, rather than my grandma herself, the answer is pretty simple.  She wasn't home, and I'm so scatterbrained that if I don't ask about something the moment I think of it I'll totally forget to do so later.

I actually find acquiring a bird feeder in this manner to be preferable to buying one in the store.  It's there, it's unused, and it's beautiful.  It's also environmentally responsible.  Reuse of items is something that we should all strive for. Why buy something shiny and new if you can get the same thing, in the same condition, used?  Share the love, I say!

I grabbed the bird feeder and took it home with me.  The next day, I filled it with seed and hung it off the roof of the garage.

Isn't it gorgeous?!

The frame is wooden, and the clear siding is glass.  Absolutely nothing artificial about this bird feeder!  This is exactly what I was looking for!

And now I wait.  We all know how bad I am about that part, but after the crazed waiting period that I went through with my suet feeder, I think I'll be a little more patient this time.

I hope, anyway.

Ok, fine... I admit it... I'll go through the same frustration and worry I went through the last time, but at least this time I know it'll be worth it!  I did, after all, have success in the suet feeder endeavor, even if it did take far longer than I would have liked to get visitors.

Maybe I'll have some finches coming to this one.  There are some absolutely beautiful finches around here, and I'd love to have them hang around for a bit!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rhubarb Madness

Last night I learned a lesson regarding why you shouldn't covet.

I was jealous.  My grandma has the biggest, most beautiful rhubarb plants on the planet, while my own rhubarb succumbed to black walnut toxicity.

I wanted her rhubarb.  I needed it.

Fortunately, I didn't have to snag any of hers.  A family member that lives beside her has rhubarb as well, and since he doesn't cook anything beyond reheating dinners in the microwave, it would go to waste if I didn't pick some of those glorious stems for myself.

So, I did.  Furthermore, I hauled my husband and my mother out there to help, with my daughter coming along for some exercise.  I wanted lots of rhubarb.  The more, the better.  We went over and discovered that his rhubarb was even bigger than the rhubarb in my grandma's yard.

And just like that, I was hit with rhubarb madness.

We loaded ourselves up with rhubarb.  There was so much in our arms that we couldn't use our peripheral vision.  The gigantic leaves got in the way.

And it was heavy.  By the time we got back to my grandma's porch, I could feel my muscles beginning to ache.

Of course, I was happy.  Not just a little happy... I was smiling from ear to ear.

I.  Had.  Rhubarb!!!!

I drove home about an hour later, my treasure in the back of the vehicle.  I was glowing!

Once we got home, it was time to dice up the stems, place them into bags, and store them in the freezer.  As I began cutting them, I hummed to myself, still radiating excitement from every pore in my body.  I diced,

and diced...

and diced.

An hour later, I had finished dicing half of the rhubarb stems.  My hands were beginning to ache, and I had filled the freezer.  There was no more room for my rhubarb.  I then remembered a passage from the Bible.

Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's rhubarb.

Or something along those lines.  Regardless, I now understand why!

The good news?  Since I took way too much I have enough to give a decent amount to my neighbors.  I really, really hope they're fans of rhubarb!!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Simple Pot Holder

So, I've been talking a lot about my garden plots.  I love my garden, and I love caring for it.  This is pretty obvious to just about anyone that's read my blog.  There are limits to how much someone should talk about a single subject, however, and it's time for a break from it.

What on earth could possibly make me realize this?

A pot holder.

No, seriously.

My grandmother was a vendor at a church bazaar, and quite naturally, this meant that she looked at everyone else's wares, as well.  Her eyes were drawn to one table that was holding an item she knew I'd like.

A simple pot holder.

You're probably wondering why a pot holder would be such an awesome gift.  It's just a pot holder, right?  Nothing special.  Nothing awe-inspiring.  It's just a pot holder.


It's a cool pot holder.


Well first, it's something that can be used a lot.  It's not some silly trinket that you buy and love for a few days, then throw into a drawer, forgotten.  It has everyday value.  This already sets it apart from the vast majority of things commonly bought at a bazaar.

Secondly, it's a fabulous example of how to reuse an old pair of jeans.  Taking something old and transforming it into something new and useful is environmental responsibility at its finest.  We all know how much I love that!

This pot holder is made from two pieces of denim that have been cut into circles and sewn together.  There's some thin padding in the center, of course, and there's a cloth loop sewn into the top so that it can be hung for easy access.

But that's it.  Simplicity at its finest.

We've seen my attempt at reusing my favorite pair of jeans.  The result was quite nice to look at, but unfortunately, it didn't last.  Sewing is not a skill I can lay claim to.  I'm actually rather bad at it.  No... I'm really bad at it.

It's great, therefore, to have something sewn together with skill, especially when it's an object that I can use to my heart's content!  I love this pot holder!!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rhubarb Envy

I'm spending this memorial weekend at my grandma's house on the shore of Lake Superior.  It's a gorgeous area, even if it is a wee bit too chilly for me, being from the desert southwest and all.  She has an ocean view, apple trees in her yard, and wildlife galore surrounding her.  In a word, heaven.

She also has rhubarb...

And I'm green with envy!!!

Remember my excitement over finding rhubarb in the wild area of my backyard?  Since that discovery, I had taken to nuturing the rhubarb, removing any wildflowers that threatened it, and ensuring that the soil remained moist. 

Then... I went to my old home in the desert.  I came back to this:

My husband is not to blame for this.  My rhubarb's death had nothing to do with his care.  Rather, the black walnut trees are victorious in round one of our battle.  Rhubarb is very sensitive to black walnut's phytotoxin, and this is exactly the way the phytotoxin kills the plants around it.  The plants start out well, sprouting in perfect health.  They grow as though nothing is wrong. 

Then, one day you walk outside and discover that the plant is dead.

My grandma's yard, on the other hand, is free of black walnut trees.  My rhubarb actually started out growing at a faster rate than hers, and I had bigger leaves than hers did.  What do hers look like now, you ask?

Big difference.  Understand where my jealousy comes from?

The good news is that she has a lot of rhubarb.  This isn't her only bed of it, either.  I'll have the perfect chance to cut some, dice it, and take it home.  I'll be happy to store bags of rhubarb in my freezer!

Another benefit?  Since the leaves are so huge, I can set my own fashion trend!

So what do you think?  It's so me, right?

Ha ha!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Dumb Rabbit

Normally I think very highly of the animals in my yard, even if they're doing things that undo my work on the gardens.  Today, however, I make an exception to this rule.

I've decided that I have a very, very dumb rabbit in residence.

You probably think I'm being rather harsh.  I mean, it's a cute and fluffy bunny, right?  How could I possibly think this little guy is so dumb?

Because he is.

No... really.

See, I don't expect animals to do calculus, or anything.  I don't even expect them to make the right choices all the time.  I just expect their actions to make some sort of sense.  I'm generally not disappointed in this regard.  This rabbit, however, is the exception to the rule.

My daughter and I were outside when I discovered it.  I pointed it out, and we slowly walked nearer, being as quiet as possible.  The rabbit froze.

So far, this makes sense.  No problem here.

It relaxed a bit, so we moved in a couple of steps.  It stood erect, trying to get a bearing on the situation.

Still no problem.

I took a picture.  It turned and looked right at me.  Then...

It hopped closer.  And stopped.

Huh?!  That's... different.

I saw my opportunity, and didn't want to miss out on the ability to get a closer shot.  I held my arm out and pressed the button.  It ran -

Right at me!  What the heck?!

It ran past me at a distance of no more than 1 1/2 feet away from my leg.  Now, if I had been standing very close to the rabbit I would totally understand this.  However, I was at least ten feet away at the time it decided to run.

Something tells me its flight or fight response is on the fritz.

I remembered the fur tufts I had seen in the neighbor's yard in the recent past, and had no doubt that the rabbits in my neighborhood aren't the brightest crayons in the box.

Poor, cute, dumb, fluffy bunnies.  I have a feeling I won't have to worry much about rabbits eating my crops if this is the level of intelligence they exhibit.

The crazy part of this?  As dumb as I've decided this rabbit is, I still like it rather a lot!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Peas, Some Pee, and a Wall

There was one huge change besides my potato plants that was very exciting to come back to.  My sugar snap peas, which I had planted about a week before I left to the desert southwest, had grown tremendously.  Upon leaving, all that could be seen were tiny, newly sprouted seedlings.  I came back, however, to this:

As you can see, they looked a little flimsy.  This is simply because there had been such a small amount of rain the entire time I was gone.  These little guys were horribly thirsty.  Once I gave the peas some much needed water, however, they perked right up.

Part of the reason they did so well, actually, may be because of a visitor to the yard.  It appears that a large dog has been sniffing around.  What in the world would give me that idea, you ask?

It decided to pee on my peas!!!

It's not very obvious in this picture, since it has finally rained here, so you're seeing a dark water stain toward the bottom of the wall.  The shadowed area above that, however, is what I'm talking about.  That's right... the 'shadowed area' really isn't shadow.  It's pee stain.


Why would this be a good thing, you ask?  Well, pee provides nitrogen.  Nitrogen makes plants happy.  Since the stained location was the wall itself, only a small amount of it ended up in the soil.  That small amount was enough to feed the plants without putting them into overload.

Ok, yeah... it's still pretty gross when you think about it, but the results are worth it!

Friday, May 25, 2012

My Husband and the Potato Plants

The area of my garden in which my husband had the greatest success was the potato grow bag I had created.  The potato plants were absolutely gorgeous when I went out to see them!

Large, vibrant leaves stared up at me from the grow bag I had placed the seed potato pieces into.  My husband had obviously taken great care to ensure that they were in perfect health.  Of course, I think I probably nagged him about them enough that there was no way he could forget about them!

The potato grow bag was the area that I was most nervous about.  The sprouts were still young, and if they weren't cared for properly the stems could grow to be quite frail.  Leaving them in somebody else's hands while I went to the opposite side of the country was terrifying.

My instructions were simple, and my husband probably heard them at least 3 or 4 times a day!  Yes, I was a wee bit nervous...

1.  Keep the soil moist.

2.  Cover the shoots with soil whenever they show their happy faces.

3.  Continue step 2 until the sides of the bag are entirely unfolded.

4.  Don't forget step 1!!!!

I can only imagine just how much I was getting on his nerves with these constant instructions!  Poor guy...

He did well.  I have beautiful potato plants in my grow bag, and they're healthier than I could have ever hoped for.  I was quite happy.

And my husband somehow retained his sanity throughout it all!  Bonus!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Strawberry Survival

The first thing I did upon returning from my old home in the desert southwest was check on my daughter's strawberry garden.  I wasn't sure what I would find.  She loves her strawberry garden, and if it had managed to die while we were away she'd be crushed.

Fortunately, they were still alive.  Not thriving, but alive.

Pretty scrawny, huh?

They hadn't received enough water while we were gone.  It had only rained once, and my husband told me that he hadn't really watered them much.  Indeed, if you look at the leaves you'll notice that some of them have browning along the edges.  Also, there are no new leaves.  The plants elected to not produce any extra foliage in order to conserve the water that was available to them.

Am I mad?  No.  My husband has a talent with technology, which is something I'm sorely lacking in, so that's what he spends time with.  Caring for plants is not in his list of common skills.  He kept the strawberries alive, which is all that I can ask.  In reality, he probably did much better with this than I would do, say, if he left me with instructions to update computer programs and perform network maintenance! We all do the best with the skills we have, and it'd be cruel to expect anything else.

My daughter and I did have a bit of excitement when we looked at the strawberry plants, though.  A very welcome surprise!

Berries were growing, and they were going to be large!  Due to the lack of water, there's a chance that they won't be as sweet as I'd like, but there's a chance that I'm wrong, so I'm going to have hope.

I'm also going to give them lots of TLC.

Cross your fingers for me!  The strawberry plants are alive, but they have a way to go before I'd call them healthy.  I'll need to pay extra attention to them.

Challenge accepted!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Nervous Return to My Plants

When I finally arrived back at my home in Minnesota, it was too late to check on all of my plants.  Of course I tried anyway, but it was too dark to see what my time away had done to my gardens.  I knew it had only rained once in the 2 weeks that I was gone, however, so I was nervous.  I did, after all, leave my plant care in the hands of a person whose talent is fixing computers, rather than living organisms.

Yep.  I was frightened.  Visions of apocalyptic proportions raced through my mind.

The next morning I inched my way out the door, ready to meet my fate.

I was relieved to discover that things weren't nearly as bad as I thought they'd be.  Some plants were desperately in need of TLC, while others were doing quite nicely.

My husband had completely overlooked the begonia that I planted on World Naked Gardening Day, and it looked rather... well...

Let's just say it looked like it had been starved and tortured.

The good news?  There's a flower bud there, so if I give it enough care it should perk up again.  Another piece of good news is that this was the worst of it all.  Everything else managed to survive, even though he had forgotten to water pretty much everything.

I say 'pretty much' because he did remember one thing:  my potato grow bag.  Something tells me that even he is excited about that!

If I tried to tell you about everything in a single post you'd probably end up with some serious eye strain, due to the never-ending entry size, so in order to make things easier I'll tell you about my daughter's strawberries and about the potato grow bag over the next few days.  I had quite a bit to take in, but those two garden containers are what I'll focus on, due to my own excitement over them.

I'm so glad to be back to work on my plants again!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pit Stop for the Bees

The swarm had left, but the excitement wasn't over!

At 1:30 the next day we discovered a few stragglers in the same spot as the swarm had been the day before.

Looks like they needed a pit stop.  This time, the queen definitely was not there, and there were probably only around 30 bees at the spot she had occupied.

By 4:30 the number of bees in the area had dwindled.  If I was to hold them in my hand, the group wouldn't be any larger than a tennis ball... and even that may be an exaggeration.  It was a very small group.

Here's a close-up.  I held the camera about 18-24 inches away from the bees, and had it on zoom, so at first it may not seem like much of a difference.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say there are less than twenty of them in the picture. 

I know enough to know that I know very little about bees, so I called Aurelio Paez in Anthony, NM.  He's a bee keeper that will remove swarms from people's yards, and he was glad to answer all of my questions about bee behavior.

I asked him whether or not it was safe to assume that this was just a bunch of scouts converging on the spot where the rest of the colony had been, before continuing on their way.  I was relieved when he said that was correct.  Indeed, he doubted that we would even see any more the next day.

I was relieved.  I love bees.  Love them.  I worry when they're so close to young children that don't understand them, however, so I'm glad the swarm is continuing its journey, rather than taking up residence in my sister's backyard!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bee Swarm!!!

Bees are awesome.  No, bees are really, really awesome. 

I have a special place in my heart for bees.  Honeybees specifically, but all bees in general are pretty amazing.

Never before, however, had I seen a swarm.  A swarm is actually a natural occurrence, and isn't really a scary thing, at all.  When a queen leaves the hive because its population has gotten too large, she brings an entourage with her.  This can be over half of the entire colony.  They all leave in search of a new place to make their home.  People have referred to this huge amount of bees flying so closely together as a black cloud.

Naturally, this is pretty exhausting for the queen.  When she tires, she'll stop to take a break in a somewhat protected area.

While a few bees go off to scout around for the perfect location, the rest stay near the queen, swarming around her in order to keep her safe.  During this migratory state she's vulnerable, and so her protection is of the utmost importance to the hive.

This swarm that gathers around can be hundreds, and even thousands of bees, depending on the hive.  You can't really comprehend what this is like until you see it.

I was able to fully comprehend this when a swarm was discovered in the back of my sister's yard one afternoon.  It's awe-striking.  This picture does it no justice.  What you're looking at is a swarm of honeybees that's well over a foot and a half long, and about five inches in diameter at its thinnest point.

That's a lot of bees.

They actually aren't aggressive at this point.  Just like at any other time, they won't sting unless threatened.  As you can see, I was able to get in close enough to take this picture, and lived to tell about it.  Not a single bee sting.

I was actually pretty worried, though.  My nephew is very young, and like all small children, doesn't really understand what "don't pick on the bees" means.  He ended up swiping at one while in his wading pool, and was stung.  Once he got over the initial pain, however, he was fine.

That was actually how the swarm was discovered in the first place.  The bees were so peaceful in their chosen area, that they didn't call attention to themselves.  It was the presence of the ones that came to the pool to collect water that had splashed out that caused anyone to notice them, at all!

Like I said before, they choose a relatively protected area to rest.

We didn't know, couldn't know, if this was a passing swarm, or if they were deciding to build a hive, so we made calls to try to relocate the bees.  We had very little luck at first, with no honey farms in the area doing swarm relocation.  I was making calls in a mad panic, because I didn't want any fumigation to take place.  Colony Collapse Disorder is killing a large amount of bees, so I needed to do everything in my power to keep these bees safe and healthy while ensuring my wild little nephew was safe, as well.  Fortunately, the pest control companies in the region felt the same way, I was told, and didn't want to come out unless they absolutely had to. 

I finally found Bustamante Farms in New Mexico.  The woman I talked to was quite helpful, even giving me the name of another honeybee farmer that could help.  It was then that I went outside so that I could watch the swarm to give her accurate information about what I was seeing.

And the swarm was gone.  It had left to continue its journey.

And I missed the opportunity to see the exodus!  Argh!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Beloved Grapes

While I didn't always garden without chemicals (My old home still has the nasty bags of weedkiller and pesticides that are a constant reminder of that), I made the changeover about 4 1/2 years ago when I planted some concord grape vines.  Not only are the grapes themselves edible, but the leaves can be used for cooking.

I didn't want any chemicals to touch those grapes, so I switched to organic methods to control pests, as well as weeds.  Later, I let mother nature take over, and that's when my two vines began producing large amounts of sweet berries.

Since I hadn't been to my old home in a very long time, I was steeling myself for heartbreak.  I expected dried out vines and brown leaves.  I thought that my beloved grapes would be nothing more than a memory. 

Boy, was I surprised!

Not only were they alive, but they were healthy!  The mulch I had placed around them helped provide nutrition and increased moisture retention in the soil.  My beloved grapes are growing quite nicely, and they'll be around to provide happiness for the next occupants of my home.

The only thing that could've made me happier was seeing grapes actually taking shape on the vines.

Et voila!  There they were! 

The most important thing to remember when growing grapes is that the vines must be pruned back before the first frost each year.  This not only aids in health, but also ensures that the grapes will be sweet, rather than sour. 

And yes, they were pruned last season.  That's why the first image looks like I have a very small plant.  By the end of the summer, the vines will grow up to 8 feet in length, given proper care. 

My beloved grapes are healthy beyond belief!  While I may never be able to enjoy them again, it gives me joy knowing that someone else will have the chance to enjoy them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Surprisingly Few Weeds!!!

I wasn't sure what I would see when I got to my old home.  It had been quite a while since anybody had cared for it.  Nobody had gone through to pick the weeds, and nobody had watered the lawn.  I was ready for an overgrown disaster area.

You can imagine my shock when that was not what I found!

The grass, quite naturally, was yellow and crispy.  My old home is in a desert, after all.  The interesting thing, though, is that even with that, it didn't really look bad.  There were some spots where green was still trying to poke out, so I knew it would recover with enough care.

The weeds, while gigantic, weren't really all that bad, either.  They were huge, yes, but there weren't many of them.  Removing all wildflowers from the backyard took less than fifteen minutes.  Easy!

And yes, they had to be removed.  The city has an ordinance in place that requires all weeds to be removed before they reach 12 inches in height.  Allowing them to grow any higher can cause you to have to pay a nice fine if anyone complains.

Now, I could be mistaken, but the false dandelion above seems a bit higher than 12 inches...

I sure am lucky that the neighbors are all so wonderful!!!

So, I had to remove a few really, really big weeds.  But since there was a rather small amount of them, I think it's safe to say that my decision to pluck weeds by the root, rather than spray them with harsh chemicals, was the correct choice.  Because there were few seeds able to make it into the yard, there were very few weeds to pick later.

Mulching was another thing that I had done.  Every time the grass was cut, or any time leaves fell from the trees, I used them to mulch my gardens.  This kept enough moisture and nutrients in the ground to ensure strong root systems... even though no watering had been done for a couple of months.  The strong root systems were able to help keep the weeds at bay.

Letting mother nature do the majority of the work really does pay off!

I also had a wonderful surprise waiting for me.  My beloved concord grapes were in great health, and...

They had tiny, young grapes beginning to form!  Bonus!!!

More on that excitement tomorrow.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Follow the Route.

Not too long ago, I drove to my old home in the desert southwest in order to finish up everything that needed to be done to put my house on sale... or rent.  I'd really love to rent it out.  It's really hard to give up your dream home, and that home brought me so much joy.

Driving to the other side of the country was quite an adventure, however!

I headed out with my parents, who also wanted to return for a bit.  For the most part, the drive went pretty smoothly, until...

We approached the exit for I40.  I prepared to exit, and my father, who was ahead of me, kept going.  In a panic, I called.

"You're going to turn off on the next exit for I40, right?"  I asked, trying to keep my voice from making my panic obvious.

"No.  Why would I do that?"

"Because we're supposed to???"

"No we're not.  We're going through Dallas."

I sat dumbstruck, unable to form the correct words for a reply.  Finally, I managed to squeak out one word.


To give you some idea of why I was freaking out, I need to point out that Dallas, TX is way off course.  It would add a lot of time onto the trip.  A short conversation ensued which was filled with confusion...

And we headed to Dallas. 

::insert sad face here::

My GPS was unhappy.  It kept trying to give me new routes to take to get back on course.  After a while it resorted to telling me to make U-turns.  When my GPS finally gave up on that as well,  it gave it's final demand, in a large, angry text size.

the Route.

Yeah... my GPS app on my phone was a bit angry.  Indeed, after a while it gave up completely, seeing as how we didn't Follow the Route, and it force closed in a fit of anger.  It took quite a while before I was able to actually get it to recognize my location so that I could use it again.

And I completely understood.

As Dallas got closer, I noted that even the sky was angry at us.

 Thunder struck above us, and it felt like the great Voice of God was even telling me to Follow the Route.

The drive through Dallas was miserable.  Why?  Well, for starters... it's Dallas!  Their freeway system is a complete puzzle to me.  I seems to have been created for no other reason than to fill drivers with overwhelming stress.

Another reason?  We got there during the lunch rush.

In conclusion, the drive through Dallas added another 2 1/2 hours to our cross country drive.  We got to the desert southwest at around midnight, and we were tired.  It was definitely an adventure, though!  Expect a few more posts dealing with the desert southwest: my true home, and a beautiful land with views of the Franklin Mountains.

And when driving across the country, please, please, please remember to

the Route.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chili Stem Anguish

Lesson Learned:  Sometimes fencing really is important.

What you're looking at is the stem of my sister's fresno chili.  My mom's dog walked into my sister's Secret Garden and stepped on it, snapping it at the base.  He also managed to crush into the jalapenos, causing leaves to tear off.  All in the space of an hour.

You can imagine my reaction.

 I was devastated.  Clearly, the dog did this to spite me.  It was written all over his face.  He wanted to see me cry in anguish.  I just knew it!

Ok, well... maybe not... but it sure did feel like it at the time.

I had to put up some fencing to protect my sister's Secret Garden.  Rather than do it right away, however, I decided to mope around.  Moping, after all, is very cathartic.

My anguish didn't last long, though, because when I went out to give my respects to the broken stem the next morning I saw something that made me smile.

The base survived!!!  Not only that, but all of the sad and wilty leaves that had been mushed into the dirt had perked up vibrantly.  The stem had healed its wound.  Sure, the plant is now one fourth of the size that it once was, but in my experience when a plant survives something like this it actually manages to outgrow everything around it.  Hooray!!!!


The broken off stem is still alive inside the plastic cup that I filled with water.  If it grows roots, she'll end up with two fresno chilies, rather than one.  Bonus!!!

Perhaps the dog actually ended up doing me a favor. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Secret Garden

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to talk about what I did for my sister on Mother's Day.  Fortunately, the reason I couldn't talk about it was that I was busy creating her present.  Always a good reason!

My sister's food choices tend to fall in the Mexican and Italian cuisine categories.  Knowing this, I wanted to plant her a garden that would make her food preparation easier.  While I designed my spaghetti garden by using seeds, I decided that she needed to have one that had complete transplants, in order to make the job of growing it that much easier for her.  It's a gift, after all, so she needs to spend more time enjoying the harvests than watching seeds sprout.

Watching seeds sprout is more of my thing than than it is hers, after all.

First I had to find a location for the garden.  That turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.

She has an old dog run in the yard that doesn't get used.  Occasionally she'll place something inside to get it out of the way, but for the most part it isn't touched.  Trumpet vines grow along the fencing, even covering the top.  In short, it's a gorgeous, unspoiled area, which means it's perfect for her garden.

I walked inside, and within 2 seconds I knew where the garden would go.

This corner may not seem like much to look at, but it's already a great starter spot.  The leaves that had fallen there were about 2 inches thick, which means that the spot has been getting a good amount of nutrients. Plus, the leaves helped retain moisture in the soil.  Another bonus!  As you can see, the area gets dappled shade.  In most areas this would be horrible for vegetable growth.  In the desert southwest, however, heat rises past 110 degrees on some summer days, so this will act as a heat buffer.  The long, thick branch was already in place, so I didn't have to worry about setting anything around it to mark off the area.  Bonus!

Because of the location, because it was such a fun, secluded area, I decided to name this "The Secret Garden." 

I placed two jalapeno plants, one fresno chili, and a large tomato plant in her Secret Garden. 

As you can see, there's plenty of room to add herbs in between the spaces, so I may head out to buy a few seeds for her, as well.  She loves basil, so that may be a good idea.  Either that, or I'll place some cilantro inside.  It grows like a weed here, and she uses quite a bit of it!  I think she'll get a decent amount of use out of this garden.

The tomato plant, of course, needed a cage.  The area is already protected from the elements, so I realized that I didn't need to buy or create a full cage.  All I needed was something that could help hold the weight of the branches when it comes to fruit.  No problem, at all!

Since the tomato was placed at the corner I already had two walls of the cage.  All I needed was one more wall to complete it.  Since I firmly believe in reusing whatever is at hand, I looked around for dead trumpet vine branches.  The trumpet vines are huge, so I didn't have to wait too long to find branches that would attach to the fence easily.  As a bonus, she can add to this cage in the same fashion if more caging is necessary at a later date!

I'm quite happy with my sister's Secret Garden.  It's something that will last much longer than a silly bunch of cut flowers, and it's filled with plants that she'll be able to enjoy all season long.  My sister gave me a wonderful nephew, and she deserves this. 

How could I not give her such a love-filled present, when you consider that?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Mint Addiction, Part 2

(Continued from yesterday)

What in the world was I going to do?!  Where was I going to put all of that mint?  What was I thinking?!

See, I briefly mentioned before that mint can become rather invasive in this area.  That being said, I needed to be sure I didn't end up with mint growing throughout the yard.

I'm renting, after all, so no matter how much I would enjoy an invasion of minty goodness throughout the yard, allowing this to happen would not be particularly polite.  If the next renter doesn't care for it, after all, it'll invade the yard, turning it into a jungle of minty vines.

Well, ok.  Maybe it's not quite that bad, but you get the picture.

Mint has the ability to sprout roots through any stem that has been allowed to fall onto the soil.  Therefore, any low lying stem can cause additional plants to form.  As long as I'm here, this is nothing to worry about.  I eat far too much mint for this to become a problem.

Key phrase:  As long as I'm here.

I don't know what the next renters will be like.  I don't even know if anyone will rent the house soon after we leave.  All I know is that there's a potential for a problem if I'm not careful about where I plant.

The first plant was easy.  I have a small plastic pot I can use, which will actually be a huge benefit once cold weather returns.  It is now the designated inside/outside plant.

This gorgeous peppermint can come inside with me during the colder months so that I can have mint all year long!  Hooray!!!!!

Next I planted the spearmint.  Since I already had sweet mint in the top planter on the porch it seemed natural to place the spearmint in the planter below that.  The squirrels did a great job of destroying the canterbury bells I had there, so I figured it was safe to try the spearmint in that location.

Is it just me, or does it look horribly lonely?  I'll have to let that one grow out and allow it to take over the planter.  That is, if I can manage to hold back from picking it all!

Last, I planted the sweet mint.  That one I wasn't so good about keeping sectioned off from everything else.  I planted it in the raised garden in the front yard.

The sweet mint is at the front right side of the picture.  I know what you're thinking.  You're wondering why, after going through so much trouble to ensure there was no uncontrollable mint growth, I'd plant my sweet mint in an area it could so easily overtake.  You're right to be confused.

First, I had no other pots to place it in.  Second, I'm very selfish when it comes to my mint.  I have no doubt that when it's time to move I'll simply dig it out of the ground and take it with me.

No, I wont leave a huge pit in the garden for the next renters.  Again, that wouldn't be polite.  I'll simply place some fresh compost into the area to fill it in, as well as feed the soil around it.

I think I may finally have enough mint to keep me happy!

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Mint Addiction


If I had an infestation of mint in the yard (which is possible in this area) I'd be the happiest person on the planet.  That is, I'd be happy until I used every last bit of it in my various fruit and vegetable juices.

In mint heaven

Yeah, I really love mint.

I had actually planted some in one of the planters in the front yard at the end of last month, and was very happy about it.  But then I realized that one plant wasn't nearly enough for my mint addiction.  After about three days I had harvested as much as I could.  Any more and the plant would be cut all the way to the root.

That would not be a very good idea.

So I went back to the gardening center to grab a few more for myself.  So many varieties could be found!  I couldn't very well buy one of each (although the thought did occur to me), so I settled on one more sweet mint, a spearmint, and a peppermint.

The problem with an addiction, though, is that you have to find a way to support it.  In my case, 'support' means planting the mint and actually letting it grow.

Let me say that one more time:  letting it grow.

Do you have any idea how hard that is for someone like me?!?!?!?!

Ok, let me explain.  Let's pretend you have a severe alcohol addiction.  Now, let's pretend we're suddenly in the middle of a second prohibition.  Beer is hard to find, and somebody gave you a twenty-four pack of it saying you could have it all.  But you can only have one per day, or your supply will run out.  It's sitting there on the table.  You pass it a few times every day.  You stare at it each time.  You think about how much you want it.  It drives you crazy knowing that it's right there in front of you, but you can only have one.

Mint is my beer.

I drove home with my three new varieties of mint, knowing that they'd help feed my addiction.  I was fulfilled.  The world was even more beautiful than usual, the sun making my face glow, the minty fragrance filling the air.  Nothing could remove the smile I had plastered to my face.

Until I realized that I had no clue where I was actually going to put my mint.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Ideas

Happy Mother's Day, everyone!

As we celebrate Mother's Day across the country, we need to remember that even though the jewelry stores may press us to go buy that expensive necklace or that gorgeous flower arrangement, most mothers are happy to receive something that doesn't put us into debt.

Think about it.  Mothers want to be appreciated.  Sure, there may be some mothers that think a necklace that we really can't afford is a sign of appreciation, but most are happy to get something that was made with our own two hands.  Maybe a simple card drawn with a crayon, using the hand that's not dominant, thereby creating a childlike effect that brings back memories.

Here are a few ideas for those of you who have decided to wait until the very last minute to find that perfect gift! 

1)  Instead of buying her a bunch of cut roses that will die in a matter of days, go out and plant an entire rose bush for her.  The cost is the same, or even cheaper, but the fact that you gave her a lasting gift that you labored to produce for her will be worth so much more.  You could even create a salsa garden, a salad garden, or a spaghetti garden, according to her specific tastes.

2)  You could create beautiful lanterns for her to lounge outside with in the evenings.  Give her the chance to bask in a soft, warm and friendly light that was created by the 'light of her life'.  Who doesn't love the subtle glow emanating from a handcrafted lantern?  Hide your name, as well as the names of any of your siblings inside the design, and she'll go from thinking it's beautiful to thinking it's brilliant!

3)  Neither one of these ideas work for her?  She's more of a jewelry person?  Chances are, then, that you don't need to go out and spend large amounts of money on your mother.  Just about every woman has a piece of jewelry that she absolutely adores, but that she can no longer wear.  Find it.  Go to a local jeweler and have it repaired or re-sized.  Not only will she be able to use her beloved jewelry again, but she'll be touched that you took the time to give a memorable piece of her past back to her.

My husband once did that for me.  He took my great grandmother's watch out of my jewelry box and had the wristband fixed.  Knowing that I didn't want a new wristband, and that I wanted to keep it in its original state, he was able to have it repaired adding no new materials except for a single link that couldn't be avoided.  Years later, I'm still overwhelmed that he took the time to do this for me.  Now, I not only have a watch that brings back wonderful memories, I also have a new wonderful memory attached to it.  Bonus!

Mothers want to be appreciated.  Instead of just going out and buying her some silly trinket, give her something that she'll adore for years to come.  A gift that requires more time than money is a very good way of doing this.  It shows that you truly thought about her, that you paid more attention to her than to commercials.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Yard, My Garden, My Sadness

As I sit on the rocks that hold my raised garden in place, I'm overcome with sadness.  Very soon I'll be heading back to my home in the desert southwest to get it ready to place on the market.  This is sad for two reasons:

1) I'm leaving my garden in the hands of my husband - a computer geek.  Yikes!

 Granted, I'm trying to leave my husband with as little work as possible, to make it easier on him, and I don't think I'll come back to dead plants.  He's a responsible person.  He'll take care of it.  It just kills me to leave my garden in anyone's hands other than my own!

2)  I'm selling the most wonderful house on the planet.

No, really.  For the most part, it's my dream home.  All that's missing is a large yard (My dream home should have a yard that's over an acre).  It's gorgeous and comfortable.  It has a sun room overlooking the beautiful back yard. The rooms are large, but not too large, and the kitchen is a foodie's dream.  I'm going to miss it... so much so that I'm still endeavoring to convince my husband that we want to rent instead!

I'm actually really excited to see what the yard looks like.  It hasn't been cared for at all since we left.  I'm hoping that because I always mulched the garden beds and hand-picked weeds that I won't have a full wildlife preserve on my hands!  The soil there, after all, is quite healthy, and would make wildflowers very happy.

I'll find out soon.  In the meantime, though, I'll continue relaxing in my back yard, ensuring everything is ready for my departure.

(sniff sniff)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Icicle Radishes

While the radishes I planted in my root vegetable garden are growing at a much slower rate than I would like, the icicle radishes I planted in my tiered garden  are coming up quite nicely!

The icicle radishes are the rows on the right side.  There are also three radishes that were planted in between those rows.  Basically, I'm doing a test to see just how much growth is effected by the spacing in between plants.

Indeed, the difference in icicle radish size is significantly different.  The plants I set in rows are actually smaller than the three that were planted in between.  I didn't over-plant the rows of icicle radishes, or anything, but I did set them at the minimum spacing allowed.

You're probably wondering why I chose to test this in the first place.

Basically, I had read in various places that planting by the square foot rather than in rows allows for tighter spacing between plants, while ensuring a properly large size.  Obviously, I didn't plant in square feet, instead electing to throw a few icicle radishes in between the rows, but I really feel that perhaps planting a number of plants per square foot may truly be the best option.

The reason I feel this way is that planting per square foot allows a nice amount of space on all sides of a plant, rather than only between the rows.  I mean, imagine that you're stuck in a small area.  Let's say you're trapped in a box.  Obviously, you'd be unhappy in any case, simply because you're human, but put that aside and pretend that you actually meant to be inside.  Would you choose one like this:

Or would you prefer one like this:

Personally, I'd prefer the latter box, because it allows me to fully stretch my arms and legs in any direction.  I imagine plant roots would feel the same way. 

For now on, I'll be planting by the square foot, rather than by row.  It just makes sense!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

DIY Potato Grow Bag: The Next Step

When I first tried to plant potatoes I had absolutely no idea how to go about doing it.  I knew that potatoes were grown in mounds, and I knew that potatoes required a decent amount of water.

But that's all I knew.  I threw a bunch of potato pieces into a plastic bin with a large amount of dirt and waited for the results.  My stems were weak, they produced few leaves at all, and the leaves they did produce were thin and tiny.  The resultant plant wasn't something I'd run to brag at everybody about.

So this year I made my own Potato Grow Bag, and I actually did a bit of research. So far, I've been pretty successful.  After the wind and hail the potato pieces began to sprout shoots.

Look at those leaves!  So green!  So healthy!  So vibrant!

All three potato pieces have sprouted, and all three have produced healthy shoots.  All is going well, which means that I'm now able to start the next step:

Cover it all up again!

No, seriously... After the shoots come up, it's important to add more soil on top of them.  I believe the reason is that this helps strengthen the stems, thereby producing a more hardy plant.  Also, keep in mind that potatoes form under the soil, so adding more dirt ensures a larger area to harvest in the future.

Naturally, this means more potatoes!  Yaaaaay!!!

I added about two more inches of soil to the grow bag.  Of course, this may be too little, meaning that the stems will grow out of the soil almost immediately, but only time will tell. 

Ok, that's not true... research would probably answer that question as well, but I learn faster by 'doing' than I learn by reading.  Hands-on knowledge sticks with me far longer, whether it was gained by success or by failure.  So I'll do things the easy way, and wait to see what happens.

Indeed, each time the shoots pop out of the soil, I'll need to add more soil, until I've completely unrolled the sides of the bag and have no more room for it.  At that point, I'll be allowed to just sit back and watch my plants grow.  

I'm excited about the prospect of having potatoes that I've grown myself, as well as the possibility of having enough to share with my neighbors!  I'm even considering creating a second bag so that I can have even more of them! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Overgrown Porch Area

After looking at the corner of the porch for quite a while, I realized it was time to clean it up.  While I enjoy keeping the section of my yard near the garage wild, I didn't exactly want a second wild area near my porch.  It was overgrown.  No... it was beyond overgrown.  It was a mess.

This area has potential.  While the plants have grown tall enough that the rocks bordering this corner are hidden, the rocks actually bring a tranquil beauty to that spot.

I want to bring that back.

It's going to be a lot of work, so I've decided to start one section at a time.  The edge that I focused on in this picture is what I decided to work with first.  I grabbed my trusty weed picking tool and got to work.

30 whole minutes later, I had a spot devoid of weeds... and any other life, for that matter! Pretty impressive, yes?

The pile I had uprooted was rather impressive, too.

That's my foot for scale.  I can't believe such a small area could produce so much!

My daughter had picked out some phlox at the Garden Center, so in order to slowly bring some controlled life to the area I elected to plant it there.  Later, I'll plant some more on the opposite edge to balance it.

I also plan on planting a small amount of creeping thyme in the area.  Once established it is very drought resistant, so this should produce a nice ground cover, helping to discourage any unwanted growth.  Plus, thyme is pretty yummy.

Well, that's one portion down, a lot more to go.  Soon it'll look fantastic!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Woodpecker at My Feeder! Finally!

I promised an update on the suet feeder I hung from the black walnut tree in my front yard, and today I'm going to follow through with it.


I know, I know... it took a while.  I would've posted about it a lot sooner if it wasn't for my camera deciding that it was going to have a mind of its own.  I still haven't forgiven it, by the way!

At first, my suet feeder attracted absolutely no wildlife.  I had begun to think I had done something horribly, terribly wrong.  The day before I was going to give up and take it down in order to place it in a new location, though, I found a flock of crows on one of the branches (Is it 'flock'?  Or maybe gaggle?  Ravenous Pack?).  One of the crows was pecking at the feeder.

This wasn't exactly my image of an ideal situation, considering that what I wanted was a woodpecker, but it was a start.

The next day I saw a squirrel eating from the feeder.  He played with it, bouncing it about, then finally found a feeder position that was comfortable for him.  He ate with gusto.

This was still not what I wanted.  The block of food inside the feeder cage was getting smaller...

Two days later, though, I was greeted with a beautiful sight:  Woodpeckers.  Not a woodpecker, understand, but woodpeckers.  Plural.

I was overjoyed!  A family of woodpeckers had arrived at my suet feeder.  At last!

What you're looking at is a young woodpecker.  There was actually a mother and her two young at my suet feeder.  I apologize for the horribly pixelated image, but my camera is still being rather difficult with me.

I'll have to do an identification post regarding woodpeckers, because I honestly can't tell you if this one is male or female.  Do the heads of the males turn red as they age, or are they born that way?  This is something that I don't know the answer to, something I need to discover.

Beauty, knowledge, and discovery are all around us.  We just need to open our eyes a little wider to be able to see the.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Devastation of the Squirrels

Ugh.  Squirrels.

As mentioned before, I have this strange love/hate relationship with squirrels.  I think they're the most fascinating creatures around!  They hop, rather than run.  They make for the best camera shots, due to their many humorous poses.  I can watch squirrels for quite some time without getting bored.

But they also dig.  The digging wouldn't be a problem, but for one small thing:  they dig in my front porch planters.  The half jug covering my peppermint was lost to the foraging of squirrels. I've also had to fill holes frequently in order to have a level garden bed.  Even with all of that, however, I've been only slightly put out by the squirrel residents in my yard.

But they had me seeing red this morning.  Remember my winter sown canterbury bells that I was so proud of?

Complete devastation.

( insert large amounts of hair pulling and piteous moaning here )

I can't help but look at the larger than normal hole and think that the squirrels did this to me on purpose.  They got together and planned this, complete with dressing in warrior attire.  They took up coordinated positions as they observed the result of their handiwork, laughing the whole time.

Ok, maybe not.  They did cause a large amount of damage, though.

The good news?  After I placed all of the soil back into the planter I noticed that about three of the bazillion seedlings I had planted were still alive.  Who knows?  This may actually still work out.  They were crammed too closely together, anyway.  Perhaps this was nature's way of helping thin the seedlings for me.

Don't you dare contradict me!

I like living in my make-believe world, thank you very much!

Of course, even if this doesn't work out, it just means that I have extra space for more mint.  Yum!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Naked Gardening: A Perspective

Yesterday was wonderful.

World Naked Gardening Day is something that I'll now be looking forward to for next year!  It was such a wonderful experience.  I could never have imagined the state of peace that you feel when you garden while completely naked.  Exhilaration?  Sure, that's easy to understand, considering it's not quite a societal norm, but peace?

But yes, that's how it felt.  Peaceful.  Not only that, but it was comfortable.  I thought it'd be a little messy, and maybe even itchy, because you know, it is dirt I was working with, after all, but I found naked gardening to be less restrictive than normal.  And no, it didn't itch.  

There's just something tranquil about working with nature... naturally.  I find it hard to explain.  It gives you the feeling that everything about the world is good.  You recognize that nature doesn't care if you're naked or clothed.  It accepts you for what you are.

As strange as that may sound, it all boils done to one important result:  

Acceptance of self.

You find yourself at peace with who you are.  You don't worry about whether last year's pants are going to fit, or if anybody is staring at that scar on your arm.  Those things don't matter, and you realize this.  

I truly think I had an epiphany, since no matter how hard I try to explain this, I'm not really explaining enough.  No words suffice

Of course, I did have one problem when I started out.  

I couldn't find a pot that was the correct size for my begonia.  I have plenty of flower pots, of course, but they were all too large or too small for the task at hand.  I ran through the basement like a naked crazy lady, overturning boxes and climbing shelves, but no such luck.  There was nothing I could use.

I thought.

But I was wrong.

My gaze landed on a purse that I hadn't used in years.  I thought this could really be a great planter!  I should use it!

So that's exactly what I did, and it was a great choice.

Tomorrow I'll give you instructions on how to create one.  It's an easy project, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Happy World Naked Gardening Day!

Happy World Naked Gardening Day!

No, I'm not making that up.  It was actually a friend that first mentioned it to me, and the idea was intriguing.  Not only is it a day dedicated to gardening, but it's a day that I get to garden, well, totally naturally!  How on earth could I possibly ignore this?

Sure enough, I found a link for it, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Sure, there were people gardening in the nude throughout the page I found, but they didn't look at all like models.  They were real people.

I found one paragraph on the website particularly important:

"All that's involved is getting naked and making the world's gardens--whatever their size, public or private--healthier and more attractive. WNGD has no political agenda, nor is it owned or organized by any one particular group. Naked individuals and groups are encouraged to adopt the day for themselves."

This isn't about exhibitionism.  This isn't about getting a cheap thrill.  It's about gardening as god made us, which in turn brings us even closer to nature.  I pointed out this paragraph, in particular, because I wanted to be sure people recognize what World Naked Gardening Day is about, and to ensure people see that it's not political in any way.  

And, well, it's fun!

I've already found my plant.  I picked out a gorgeous shade-only begonia, because I wanted something that I could grow inside the house.

That's right.  No gardening naked outside for me!  Somehow, I think my neighbors would disapprove.  I'll be celebrating World Naked Gardening Day inside my house, potting a beautiful flower that sprouts different colored blossoms.

I'll add another post tomorrow that talks about it, but in the meanwhile, go get naked and plant something!  I mean, you can't tell me the idea doesn't appeal to you.  It's not about exhibitionism, after all, but about enjoying gardening to its fullest!