Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Infestation of Ants: The Baby Powder Victory

When last we spoke, I was rubbing cucumber peels on the counter while giggling like a madwonman.

Well, ok.  Maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but I was a little overly fixated on the discovery of cucumber as a barrier to ants.  That fixation quickly ended the next morning when I woke up and checked on my doorway ant entrance point.

Those are peppermint leaves on either side.  Evidently, ants
hate them, too.  I have my doubts....

Yep.  I totally found an ant on top of one of the dried out peels.  I was not impressed.

At this point, though, I should probably point out that cucumber peels do seem to work when they're fresh.  So for quick fixes, cucumber is indeed a valid option.  Not so good, however, for an overnight barrier.

I was getting desperate.

That afternoon, I was heading off to visit my parents and grandparents.  I had to do something, and I had to do it fast.  They live four hours away, so it's not like I could drive back and check up on everything once a day.  

I outright refused to resort to chemical sprays, though, because even if I ignored the fact that they aren't environmentally responsible, I had to deal with the fact that they're dangerous not only to ants, but also to any other creature they come into contact with, including my dogs and my daughter.  Pesticides, therefore, were not a viable option.

I dug through the many boxes in our basement that still hadn't been unpacked from our move to this state.  There had to be something that would work!

At last, my fingers brushed over something that caused me to sigh in relief.

Baby powder.

Someone had bought some baby powder for me when I was still pregnant with my daughter.  I never used it, because baby powder can actually cause problems for infants if they inhale it, but I didn't throw it out, either, because throwing away a gift just feels wrong to me on so many levels.  So I kept it.

For three and a half years.

It's amazing what self-imposed guilt can do to a person, isn't it?  Anyway, just this once, it appeared that a silly bout of baby gift hoarding worked in my favor.  

I wrapped my fingers around that baby powder container and squealed in glee, remembering the chalk lines that people draw to create a barrier against ants. See, ants hate crossing lines of chalk, diatomaceous earth, and the like.  


Those black dots you see are ant corpses that I hadn't yet cleaned away from the area.

I went overboard with it.  I showered the doorframe with baby powder - way more than was actually necessary.

When I saw that it worked, and that ants were indeed not crossing over it, I went a step further and continued my baby powder showers along the entire entrance to the house.  Yeah, it looked pretty bad... but it was worth it.

That afternoon we left for the north shore of Lake Superior after eliminating every last food item that looked tempting to ants, and throwing the kitchen trash bag into the outside bin.  I even went as far as to place any sugary item I could find into the vehicle, calling it a 'road trip snack'.

When we got back home again, late Sunday evening, I came back to an ant-free house. 


I actually think that it was a combination of these methods that at last drove the ants from our home.  Bit by bit, the home was shown to be unfriendly to ants thanks to smaller openings in the walls, Trans-2 nonenal from the cucumber peels, and baby powder. I don't believe any single choice would have worked with such a large population of ants.  It was the full combination that caused the ants to decide to find a less difficult source of food. 

I'm glad to finally have the ants outside, where they belong, and I'm especially glad that pesticides did not have to be used.  What methods have you tried when faced with an ant infestation?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Infestation of Ants!!!

Ants!!!  Argh!!!

A long line of ants trooped in through a centimeter wide area of linoleum flooring that had come away from the door frame (due to settling of the house) that I had never noticed, since I don't really use the front door.   Then they paraded through the entry way, the living room, the dining area, the kitchen, and all the way to the one point worth reaching: the 4 gallon trash can under the sink.

I had found some spray foam, which was great for such a wide area. I immediately sealed the crack, then went about cleaning up the ants that were still inside the house.  I pressed the foam in as it started to harden, in order to reduce the unsightliness of the bright yellow mass.  Then I went off to get rid of all the armored intruders that were still inside using my preferred weapon:  a scalding hot washcloth.

Problem solved, I thought.

Three hours later, they were back.  My antagonists had discovered a new entry point about an inch away from the sealed area.  It was a minuscule crack in the door frame.

Knowing that silicone based caulk is resistant to various temperatures and isn't as prone to cracking and warping as other types, I decided to switch to that, and I caulked that area... along with everything else that could possibly end up being an entry point for those intelligent little creatures.  I saw no ants, so I figured everything was finally sealed off, and breathed a sigh of relief.

That evening, they were back.


Apparently, their intelligence was greater than I thought.

Examining the trail yet again, I discovered that they had actually managed to get in through the doorway itself.  They were coming in through an area that I couldn't seal.  The floor was uneven in that location, and the door was actually raised off of the floor.

Not only that, but the nest appeared to be located somewhere within the wall.  There were no ant trails outside the doorway.  Double whammy!

This time I chose to use cucumber peels.  

I know, it sounds crazy.  The thing is, though, that cucumber peels release a chemical called trans-2-nonenal, which ants apparently find abhorrent.  I'm still trying to find the science behind this (there's a surprising lack of studies within easy reach), but I think this holds some truth.

This is mainly because I used a cucumber peel to draw an invisible circle around two ants that were parading on my counter top.  After doing this, the ants began walking in a circle, following my invisible barrier, yet never crossing it.

Invisible barrier, made visible for your enjoyment.

Giddy, I peeled more of my cucumber and placed the peels along the entry point.  I was glad that I have cucumber growing within my edible garden!

Then I went to bed.  It was way past my bedtime!

Tomorrow I'll let you know the results.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Thoughts on Black Walnut Trees

I hate black walnut!  These black walnut trees are the bane of my existence!  Somebody get me a chainsaw, NOW!!!

Yeah, we all know I hate black walnut.  Black walnut toxicity drives me nuts, because it makes edible gardening so difficult. So many edible plants get killed off by the juglone secreted by the tree. 

Large branches fall from these black walnut trees.  Some of those branches are even tree sized.  Of course, when you consider that the trees are taller than a two-story house with a full attic, that's not too hard to imagine. 

But seriously... there has to be something good about the black walnut tree, right?

I mean, besides the lumber, which sells for a lot.

While selling off every last one of these trees sounds like a beautiful idea to me, we have to be realistic. I rent this house.  Getting rid of trees that I'm sure are way older than me would not only be cruel to the owners of the house, it'd be outright stupid.  So I can't do that.

This means I have to come up with other ideas.  I need to find black walnut uses.

I'm sure there are many.  After all, it's a walnut tree, and most people love walnuts.  This particular variety is native to the area, and has a more 'wild' quality to it.  One of black walnut's uses, therefore, is for baking.  I'll need to find recipes.

Small diy projects using the fallen black walnut branches may not be a bad idea, either. 

But what kind of projects?  How about a swing?  A basket?  And what else is there to do?  Do you have any ideas?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Mint Addict's Victory

Yes!  I've done it!!!

We all know that I'm a mint addict.  It's no secret.  Indeed, I've mentioned it several times since beginning this blog.  If I was told that I could only grow one plant, but was given the choice of what it would be, I'd answer with mint, no hesitation.

Today, this mint addict is finally able to say that yes, I have had a strong victory.

What kind of victory, you ask?

No, I didn't overcome my addiction.  That's craziness!

I did, however, manage to zero out my mint expenses.  That's right!  My mint addiction now costs me absolutely nothing.


See, a while back I spent about $12 on mint transplants.

I planted different types of mint in the ground, in permanent porch planters, and in a small pot (so that I can bring it inside during the winter).

Mint is one of the few plants that thrive in the presence of black walnut trees,  so I knew they would be safe. No black walnut toxicity worries with these little guys, which makes for a very happy mint addict.  My only concern was in the realm of human error - a realm that I frequent quite often.

Well, it's rained not once, but 3 times in the past week.  We've got a nice break from the drought we'd been going through.  See, for the most part, Minnesota hadn't been effected by the midwestern drought, but there was this tiny, thin tongue of drought poking into the state, and quite naturally, we were inside that tiny section.  Murphy's law loves me, I believe.

Anyway, the other morning it was raining particularly hard at breakfast time.  Every morning I clip a sprig of mint from one of my plants for my morning juice, and that morning was not different.  Preparing for an unplanned shower, I walked out to the porch-side area of my edible garden with my vegetable scissors in hand...

And didn't get wet.

I had managed to plant one section of mint in an area that was partially protected from the rain, yet still got a decent amount of moisture.  Victory!!!

weighed down with water - Yay!
Not only that, but the root system has begun to start shooting new plants out to the surface, thanks to the nice supply of rain we've received in the past few days!  That tiny piece of green that you can just barely make out on the far left is one of those sprouts.

But that's not all of it!

That long green leaved stem is another one!  The planter is three feet long, so that gives you an idea of just how far the mint root system extends.

When you consider that a package of fresh mint costs around $3 in the grocery store, and I can easily go through one package per week, planting my own has both saved me money and reduced food miles.

Victory!!!  Not only am I getting one of my favorite food items for free, but I'm being environmentally responsible at the same time!  Woohoo!!!

You may wonder why I didn't mention this victory prior to now.  

Well, I couldn't include the first few weeks in my calculations.  I had to leave my mint alone for the first week, because I didn't want to shock the plants. Also, in the next couple of weeks, the stems remained small, due to being so new to the garden, so even though I did trim them for use, I didn't gain much.  It was a slow process.

Now, however, my mint has taken off so well that I have enough to share with neighbors, if they need any.  I've already mentioned that they can cut some whenever they have need, but so far nobody has done so.  Perhaps they're nervous about walking up to my house and taking some when I'm not outside with them.

Oh, well.  Eventually they'll learn that I not only don't mind, I strongly encourage it.  The only thing more pleasurable than growing your own food, after all, is sharing it!

Friday, July 27, 2012

We've Gone to Seed!!!

Is it just me, or is it somewhat odd that some of my happiest moments are when a plant has wilted, gone to seed, or both?

Well, it's happened again!

Remember the cinder block garden that I planted a while back?

The cinder blocks were part of a retaining wall alongside the driveway.  I filled them with soil, watered them, and waited for that portion of my edible garden to erupt into beauty.

At long last, basil, dill, and some surprise thyme began popping up.

The cinder block garden continued to fill out, radiating a nice green glow.

The plants brought a bit of beauty to an area that was otherwise drab.  It was difficult, due to the problems that cement brought:  extra heat, increased water loss.  But in the end it was worth it.

This gardening project is now on the next part of its cycle.

Flowers are blooming on each stem of basil, preparing to generate seeds.

But more importantly....

I have some dill seeds awaiting harvest!

Woohooo!!!!!  Yay!!!  Yippee!!!!

What's that?  You don't understand the excitement over a bunch of old seeds?  Well, let me explain.

Aside from the fact that I can replant them next year, there's one other gloriously beautiful thing about dill seeds.


Still not impressed?  That's ok.  I probably wouldn't be, either.

Normally, anyway...

But remember the hairy, spiky, scary-looking baby cucumber I talked recently?  Well, it's grown.  A lot!

It's not ready, yet, as you can tell by the spikes that can still be seen toward the bottom.  It's maturing fast, though, and it's already 4 inches long.  At its thickest point it's about 1 1/2 inches wide.  Wow!  This little guy is going to be a monster!

As you can guess, I'll be making some pickles out of this guy, using the dill seeds from my cinder block garden planter.

My pickles won't just be home made... they'll be garden fresh!!!

How fun is that?!


We've gone to seed, and I've never been happier!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Onion Gardening Progress

I'm not sure whether to dance for joy or become terribly, impatiently frustrated.

Probably both.

See, I've been following the progress of my basement onion gardening project, taking note of the progress each day.  The beginning was actually a bit interesting.

Particularly, day 2.

First, on day 2 I noticed that the onion I placed in the raised garden in the backyard had changed leaf color, becoming more of a healthy green.  Some of the leaves also began reaching toward the sky.

Happily, I ran to the raised garden in the front yard, so that I could see what kind of progress had occurred in that portion of my gardening project.  I stopped abruptly, noticing that my onion was no longer inside the ground.

Oh, those squirrels...

I found it curious that the onion was still in the same location as it had been when I planted it.  Normally, when the squirrels decide that it's time to dig things up, they abscond with the materials... or at least drag them off a few feet.  I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed my onion in order to replant the bulb.

Never give up, right?

I then discovered a bite mark in the bulb.

I guess squirrels aren't big fans of onions.  Oh, well.  At least they have the courage to try new things, right?

I re-planted the bulb and crossed my fingers.

Day 5:

There was a bit more progress, but not a whole lot.  The onion in the backyard garden had a few more leaf blades reaching upward,  but that was about it.

The onion in the front planter, however, was not particularly happy.  I suppose being attacked by a squirrel and then left out in the open didn't do much for its overall well-being.  There was no new growth, and the leaf tips had begun to yellow.

Something tells me this one isn't going to do very well, at all.

What am I hoping for with this gardening project?

While in my grandest dreams I may hope for new onions popping out like mad, I don't really think that'll happen.  In reality, I'm simply hoping for enough growth that I'll have a nice selection of leaf blades.  I'm rather fond of green onions, and my family doesn't complain when they find them in their food!

Will I actually get this result?

I doubt it.

The joy of gardening, however, is in the challenge as well as the learning process involved in it.  It's simply fun to see what will happen!

How do you think this'll turn out?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Weird Looking Little Guy

I just saw the strangest little caterpillar fall from my lemon balm. I wonder what this weird little guy is?

Grass lawns are NOT environmentally responsible

I just saw the greatest youTube video of all time!

Well, ok.  It wasn't the greatest... the man in the video spoke way too fast, and there weren't any cute kittens or pretty unicorns jumping across the screen.  But aside from that, it really was amazing.

It was about the maniacal idea of grass lawns.  Lawns that most of us all have.... including me.

Grass lawns, by the way, are not environmentally responsible.

As a matter of fact, they're about the most environmentally irresponsible thing we can do.

While I stopped using chemicals on my lawn when I lived in the desert southwest, I still used a ton of water.  I mean... it was a desert.  That's the last place that a person should use grass!

So what happened after I moved away?  No water was used on my grass, so when I went back after a few months...

Totally brown.  Completely dry.

Now, I could have decided to be upset about this.  I mean, this isn't exactly great when you're planning to sell your home.

It really doesn't upset me, though.


Because I think about how much water I haven't wasted.  I think about how the next person that owns my home now has the opportunity to rip up the grass, guilt free, and do something environmentally responsible, instead.

Like one of my neighbors on the cul de sac.

She ripped up her grass and placed artificial turf in its place.  She still has the manicured beauty of a grass lawn, but without the need to water or mow it.

How awesome is that?!  I've mentioned that my neighbors were awesome beyond belief, but I don't think I've ever mentioned how environmentally responsible this one is!

So, I mentioned a video to you in the beginning, and I'm sure you're curious about it.  I know I would be!  Here it is, in all its glory:

It was made in 2011.  I can't believe it took me that long to have heard of it.  Shame on me!

I'll talk about ways to be more environmentally responsible with your yard in the future, but in the meantime I ask that you think about what can be done in your area to reduce your yard's impact on our water supply.  For me, it's easy.

I live in Minnesota.  There's enough rain here that even though I get brown patches all over the place in the summer, the grass grows back.  I don't have to worry about watering... although there are other people in the area that think otherwise and water their lawns... in the middle of the afternoon... in full sun.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Beauty of River Bend: Trails to Relaxation

It was like a fantasy novel that suddenly burst into reality.

Tree branches grew into each other and formed gateways leading to new areas.  Wandering through the trails at River Bend Nature Center, it was as if I had been transported into a realm of infinite possibilities.

And in a way,

I had.

Every now and then I need a break, a way to gather my thoughts and just... relax and take in my surroundings.  See, I have a habit of putting myself into overdrive and working non-stop.  When this happens, I start to tire myself out.  Fortunately, I can recognize this after a while, and find ways to get myself out of this crazy, workaholic mess.

Cue River Bend Nature Center.

The easiest way to force myself to relax is to put my green boots on, head out into nature, and just observe the beauty around me.  I recently grabbed my daughter and headed off to do this very thing, and we left the park exhausted, but fulfilled.

Indeed, from the very beginning we were greeted with an amazing sight.  After parking in River Bend's parking lot, we walked past the information building, and discovered a large flock of wild turkeys in the backyard habitat that they had created on the eastern (slightly NE) side of the visitors center.

Horribly pixelated image, due to my phone's low picture quality... sorry about that!
I wish I could have zoomed in closer, but this was the best I could do.  I think a new camera may be a wise investment!

This was a great way to begin winding through the green wilderness, both on trails and off!  While I'm not sure exactly how many turkeys were there, I saw about 4 adults, as well as three young chicks(?) that were less than half of their size.

Later, my daughter and I had the crazy idea of following a very small, temporary stream... just because.  The reason this is so crazy is that mosquitoes love water... almost as much as they love biting me.  Naturally, I forgot to bring the natural bug spray that I got at the farmers market two weeks ago.


Regardless, we had a good time.

We also encountered yet another surprise along the stream.  

I decided to cross it, in order to see something on the other side, and nearly stepped on a deer track.

Even green boots leave trails... indeed!

One step with my left foot and I may have destroyed the track.  I'm lucky I saw it in time!

Eventually, we decided to go off the paved trails a bit.  Nothing truly adventurous, of course... I made sure that a trail was in sight whenever we did this, in order to ensure we wouldn't get lost.  I'm not particularly familiar with River Bend, and I had a three year old with me, after all!  There were plenty of animal created trails, so I didn't have to worry about disrupting any important growth, damaging the beauty.

While off the paved trails we discovered something that put me in seventh heaven.

Wild grapes!!!

The vine I had seen in my backyard that I had thought was a grapevine... wasn't.  That being said, seeing wild grapes out there made me very happy!

On the way back, we took a few breaks.  My daughter was pretty tired, considering all of the walking we had done.  She was happy, but I insisted on quite a few breaks, anyway.

We sat on various benches, which all had plaques on them.  

The benches were made possible through donations, and some were particularly eye catching.

Like this one:

The plastic had been scratched and dented, but the truth behind the statement retained its beauty.

"Those who contemplate the beauty 
of the earth find reserves of strength 
that will endure as long as life lasts."

Who can argue with that?  We should all take the time to observe nature in all its splendor.  

I feel very lucky to have River Bend Nature Center so close to me.  Do you take time out to enjoy our natural environment?  Where do you go?  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini Confessions

I have a confession to make.

Remember my grey zucchini that I was so excited about?  The ones with big golden blooms?

Here's a quick reminder:

Well, a little over two weeks ago, one of them died.  I was saddened by this, but these things happen.  I still had the other zucchini, after all.  Zucchinis have both male and female flowers, so there was still hope of a harvest.  The one that was still alive was looking truly beautiful, and perfectly happy.

But not more than a week later...

Yep.  I lost that one, too.

I puzzled over it for quite some time, which is why I didn't say anything. Well, that, and I wanted to mourn the loss of being able to use my new cookbook that I got at my first visit to the farmers market in anticipation of my harvest.

All I could think was that black walnut toxicity had struck again.  It killed the rhubarb that I had found growing in the wild area, but I was expecting that.  The problem, though, was that I couldn't find any squash on any of the sensitivity lists.

Naturally, I went hunting.  At last, I came upon a thread in Gardenweb's organic gardening forum that mentioned zucchini and black walnut.

But I finally got my answer:  Black walnut toxicity has little to no effect on zucchini.  There was, however, mention of root rot.  Given the look of the very base of my plants, I think that could very possibly be the answer.  Ugh.

The good news?  My mourning period has ended, so I decided to plant something new in memorium.

A golden crookneck squash has been growing in a large pot for a while now, and seems to be healthy and happy.  I planted it at the very tail end of the recommended planting dates, so hopefully it wasn't done too late.

But if it does turn out to be too late, that's perfectly ok.  It's very cathartic, after all!

DIY Grow Bag Progress

We're near the end!  The last time I posted, I talked about my wilty, drooping potato plants.  The more wilty they become, the closer they are to harvest time.  The top leaves were still pretty healthy, though, so I had to leave the grow bag alone.  They were clearly not ready yet.


They've wilted even more.  

Now, brown is showing along the edges. They're still a little too green, but they're getting closer to harvest time!  Yay!

I decided to reach into the top of my green grow bag and feel around so that I could get an idea of just how large the potatoes were.  Sure enough, once I found one, I was able to tell that there was still a way to go.  The one that I touched only felt like it was a little over an inch long, so I left everything alone.

They needed more time.

One concern:  

The potato felt a bit thin, rather than fat.  Now, this was just one potato, so it's likely that others are growing at a good rate, but it still needs to be noted.

I'm really excited.  It won't be much longer, now!!!

It's still hard to believe that creating my own potato grow bag was so easy.  I look forward to the results!

Before the 'browning'

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Farmers Market, Eggs, and a Green Monster

Wait...  I got... how little from the farmers market?!

That's right!  It's time to discuss my weekly farmers market haul, again.

See, I made a huge mistake this week.  Remember the vegetable stand I was so happy about finding?  Well, I'm still happy about it, but I ran into a bit of a problem.

I used half of my farmers market money when I bought from that stand.


Now, I'm still happy about my find, and I'm still very glad that I made my purchases there, but I had to be a lot more careful about farmers market purchases than I normally am.

So what did I get?

This week I got:

1/2 dozen chocolate chip cookies (only 4 in this photo... my daughter and I got hungry on the walk home)
1 gigantic bag of swiss chard
1 baggie of mix to make dill dip
1 summer squash
3 small onions (I don't use a lot of onion)
12 eggs

Not bad, huh?

My biggest treasure this week was the eggs.  

Now, I'm lucky here, because unlike in my old desert home, I can always get eggs at the farmers market, regardless of what time I get there.  Therefore, eggs aren't generally something to cheer about.

What's so great about these, then?

Well, aside from being cage free, which is a must, they're also almost organic.

You're probably wondering why in the world I choose to say almost.  The reason is that the chickens are currently being raised organically, but the person that is raising them got them only recently.  I have no clue how the original owner of the chickens chose to raise them.  Since I haven't been able to verify that part, I have to assume that there's a chance that they weren't raised organically before then.

Not a big deal, since they're now being raised in a manner that makes me cheer, but technically, you can't really call an egg organic without that knowledge.

Anyway, the exciting part has to do with the person that's raising the chickens.

It's the vendor's nephew.  A farm was shutting down, and the farmer asked if anybody wanted some chickens.  The vendor's nephew excitedly said he did, and so he brought them home and began raising them.

This excites me, because it allows me to support environmentally responsible, green farming practices from the very beginning.  By buying these eggs, I was, in effect, rewarding his endeavor, and letting him know that he's doing a wonderful thing.  Sure, he has no clue who I am, and no, he never felt the excited joy radiating from me.

But does that really matter?  

Of course not.  All that matters is that I'm showing him that he's doing something wonderful, and that it's appreciated.  I truly hope that he continues to love raising chickens.

I also saw something that caused my mouth to drop.

As I was leaving, having already spent every last bit of my farmers market money, I glanced to my right. I then stopped walking so abruptly that a person nearly collided with me.  

It was the biggest kohlrabi I had ever seen in my entire life!  It was monstrously huge.

 To give you some idea of how huge this thing is, I bought a very healthy kohlrabi at the roadside vegetable stand.  I could easily close my hand around the whole thing, with only about an inch and a half of open space between my thumb and fingers..  That's the general size of these plants.

I'd have no hope at all of doing that with this green bulb, that's for sure!  This thing weighed between 4 and 6 pounds, and was roughly the size of my head!


And before I forget, I should also mention that the vendor has a few more growing that will be even bigger!

I can't wait to see what I'll find on my next visit to Faribault's farmers market!  This trip was definitely a good one.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spaghetti Garden Success!

A spaghetti garden is what dreams are made of.  After planting everything that you'll need to make your own homemade spaghetti dish, you sit back and wait, watering it when necessary, until it grows into perfection.

Every day, you walk outside and smile as the plants become taller.  You watch the basil leaves as they turn a bright green, while the oregano stems grow long and healthy.

Last, your salivary glands go into overdrive as your spaghetti tree starts to produce long, thin noodles for you to harvest and then dry for storage.

Ok, maybe not.

Wouldn't that be cool, though?  The video was actually created by the BBC as a brilliant April Fools Day hoax in 1957. When I first began my gardening project, a good friend pointed this video out to me, causing me to transform into a big pile of giggles! 

Of course, the reality of a spaghetti garden is just as smile inducing, though perhaps not as prone to giggles.  This gardening project started with just a few seeds, a large pot, and some dirt.  You may remember the original concept, pictured below.

Since that day, the tomato, oregano and basil have been growing very nicely.  The chives decided that this pot just wasn't right for them, and therefore decided to die off almost immediately after they sprouted, but everything else has been perfectly happy.

Well, ok... I kinda forgot to keep the soil moist at one point when the chives first sprouted, so the chive death was really human error, but I like the other reason far more, so we'll go with that!

My spaghetti garden now looks like this:

The oregano and basil are doing a nice job of filling in for the lost chives.  You can see the tomato stems in the center.  The reason they don't have a great deal of foliage attached is that I've had to remove quite a few non-producing branches in order to ensure enough nutrients are getting up to the thirsty tomatoes at the top.

See, the tomato plants have gotten so huge that I've had to bring in some extra support.

I had to stand pretty far back to get the whole thing into this picture!  Yes, it's that huge!  I'd say this is definitely a nice addition to my edible garden.  I hope my neighbor doesn't mind that I managed to get a large portion of her house into the photo, though!

You'll also notice that the desk to the right (something I'll be using for a future green DIY project) has some actual water (Gasp!) on it.  Yes, we finally got some rain!  Hooray!!!

Even without the chives, I'm calling this gardening project a success.  The basil is totally thriving with vibrant green leaves, and while the oregano growth is pretty slow, I don't use quite as much oregano as the average person, so it works out perfectly!

And the tomatoes?  At present I have seven tomatoes beginning to grow, and twice that many beautiful yellow flowers!  My spaghetti garden has turned into quite a joyful experience.  I highly recommend planting one of your own.

This is possible, even if all you have is an apartment balcony to set a pot onto.  To top it off, if that's all you have to work with you won't have to worry about forgetting to water the pot, and therefore losing the chives, like I did!


Friday, July 20, 2012

Hairy Cucumber Surprise

I have discovered something very disturbing.

When they first start to grow, cucumbers are really ugly.

No, really.  They truly are!

See, my cucumber transplants have begun to start producing fruit.  This is my first time growing cucumbers, so I was surprised when I discovered what the fruits look like at the beginning of the growth process.

Those things are hairy!

Not only that, but a young cucumber has spines!  Now, I knew that the skin of a mature cucumber was bumpy, but I didn't realize that was the result of what started as sharp and pokey spines!

I can only guess that this is a way of protecting itself from predators.  After all, who in their right mind would actually want to pick one of these things at this stage?

Not me, that's for sure!

This has been a successful gardening project so far.

The cucumber transplants that I planted in the wild area have been growing very well.  Vines of this variety are supposed to grow as long as four feet, and some of mine are at about three feet in length at present.  The huge, green leaves are healthy and vibrant.

This was definitely a good addition to my edible garden.  The cucumber plants are thriving in the wild area, so the location choice seems to be a good one.  I'm still worried that they'll be effected by black walnut toxicity, but so far things are going well.

Now I just need to get over their spiny hairiness!!!

This is quite a surprise for me.  Have you ever had a gardening project that surprised you to the extent that this one did with me? 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Vegetable Stand Beauty

"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!  Woohoooooo!!!"

I was so excited that I had to really concentrate to keep my eyes on the road.  I realize that I was being extraordinarily silly, but that didn't stop me from squealing in joy.


Because I saw a sign.

Not just any sign, though.  This one was special, because it was my favorite kind.

Yeah, I know... I'm crazy.  It's a good, happy crazy, though, so I figure it's ok.

I was on the way to Cedar Summit Farm to pick up my family's milk for the week.  Once I discovered that lightly pasteurized, non-homogenized milk was so much more yummy and healthy than the typical milk that lines the grocery store shelves, I decided to only buy it that way.  It was a green choice, and a good one.

I had a hard time actually staying focused on it that day, though.

See, it wasn't just the sign that excited me.

It was the vegetables that I saw being sold there.  There was a beautiful and glorious variety!  Reds, oranges, greens, and browns blazed in the sun, all of them screaming,

"Rebecca!  Come back!  We need you!"

It was my duty, I felt, to comply with this demand.  I mean, just think about how cruel it would be to ignore those poor vegetables in their moment of need.  Why, that would make me a monster!

Obviously, I had to head back to this vegetable stand, ASAP.  

As soon as I finished making my milk purchase, I rushed my daughter into the car and drove off.  I tried to convince my car that it could finally reveal to me that it was a Transformer, thereby getting me to my destination way faster, but it didn't comply.

Thanks a lot, car...

After what felt like an eternity, I managed to arrive at the small parking lot that was practically in the middle of nowhere that this vegetable stand was located at.  Twilight zone, anyone?

I approached the stand with my daughter, taking in the beauty of the produce, as well as the intelligent arrangement he had used.

The vendor had a remarkable variety of organic vegetables.

He had the standard cucumbers, zucchini, kohlrabi, onions, and potatoes that I have seen at the local farmers market, but he also had so much more!

My salivary glands seemed to be working on overtime as I stared in awe at his tomatoes, sweet peas, and green beans.  I'm not a fan of beets, but the ones he had on display were overwhelmingly healthy.  These vegetables all continued to scream my name, pleading for me to liberate them from their confines within the stand.

I elected to purchase the grape tomatoes, green beans and sweet peas.  It would be a while before my own tomatoes were ready, and my sugar snap peas were pretty much destroyed by the heat wave.  Both were logical choices.  I never planted any green beans, so those were a necessity, as well.

Another important thing worth noting was his organization of the produce.

His placements were well thought out, and brought an element of creative design to the stand.

The large plastic buckets that held the cucumbers were lined with white grocery bags - a very environmentally responsible choice.  Reusing bags in this manner not only gave him direct control over color scheme, but also ensured that the bags had a second life. I applauded this green decision.

He also used plastic baskets of various colors to portion out and hold his produce.

These baskets brought extra life to his display.

He should really go into advertising.  He already has inherent talent in this field, after all!

Of course, if he did that, he wouldn't be around to sell his eye-catching and robust produce to me, so maybe I should just take that statement back!


I can be selfish sometimes, can't I?

No?  Ok, then... 

He shouldn't go into advertising because the whole region would be harmed by the loss of his produce!  Yeah... that's my excuse.  Really....

These little gems on the side of the road are always my favorites.  I never expected to find vegetables being sold in the middle of nowhere, so this chance discovery was even more wonderful that it would have been if it was on a vacant lot in town, or a grocery store lot.

How do you feel about roadside stands?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Crazy Gardening Project with Watermelons

They sprouted!

They grew!

I planted watermelons.  While it may seem pretty odd that I'd be so giddy about something as common as a watermelon, there's actually good reason for it.

First, nobody around here plants watermelon.  

Indeed, most people that know I did so reacted with surprise.

"Can they grow here?!"

Well, to be honest, I had no clue.  All I knew was that I had an old seed packet that managed to travel across the country with me, and I didn't want it to go to waste, simply because I didn't know if watermelon would grow.

Don't get me wrong, I knew they'd sprout.  I just wasn't sure about the whole 'living past seedling stage' thing.  This gardening project was worth it, though, since I wasn't really spending any money on it.  I already had the watermelon seeds, and I had extra soil to use for the mound I'd plant them in.

My other problem was that I was planting the seeds a bit late.  

Really, I should have planted them in early June, but I waited until almost July.  Oops.  My sense of when to plant is rather jumbled up right now.  Back at my old home in the desert southwest, I would have planted them in April.  Crazy what a difference a few time zones can make, right?

Like cucumbers, watermelon prefers to be grown in a mound structure, so I had to apply extra soil to my edible garden in order to get that effect.  I planted about seven seeds throughout the mound, then waited for the sprouting to happen. 

My daughter grabbed some soil and a handful of seeds and planted her own watermelon mound, as well, about three feet away.  I briefly considered telling her to pull up all of the wildflowers in the location, and to only plant a couple of seeds, but then decided that I could always pick the six or seven seedlings that were bound to come up all in the same place, leaving only 1 to grow.  

She didn't exactly use a large amount of dirt.  I mean, she's three years old, after all.  A three year old can only pick up so much soil at a time!  She was quite proud of herself, and I was pretty proud of her, as well..

After what felt like forever, but was really just under a week, four seeds sprouted from my watermelon mound.  

I watched them for a few days, then plucked the one that looked the most fickle.  You only want about three to four plants within your mound, see, and I decided to be conservative about it, not knowing what the watermelon survival rate would be.

After a while, they really started to shoot up!  The little plants filled out with leaves, making me a very happy person.

The one on the right is pretty tiny, as you can see, and I'm not sure it'll do very well.
Cross your fingers for me!

Unfortunately, since this portion of my edible garden was planted in my wild area, they seemed to have to work a little harder to attain the level of light that they needed, due to the surrounding growth.  The stems grew a little longer than I would have liked.

It's more obvious in the stem on the left.
My daughter's watermelon mound had the same problem, but more so.  Her mound was way smaller, so light had an even harder time getting through.  I'm basically throwing all of my energy into just keeping it alive.

Will my watermelons produce fruit for me?  I'm honestly not sure.  

Based on how late I planted the seeds, they won't begin fruit production until the end of September, at earliest, and more likely, not until October.  To give you some idea of what that means, our average high is about 72 degrees in September, and 59 degrees in October.  Yikes!

It sure is a good thing that I've begun constructing a cold frame!  If I can manage to complete it in time, I may be able to use it to protect the watermelons from the cold.   

I'm also worried about black walnut toxicity.  Those black walnut trees are really beginning to feel like the bane of my existence! 

I'm thinking I may be just a little nuts.  This gardening project has a very high chance of ending up a complete failure. 

But then again... I enjoy a challenge.  Whether I succeed or fail, I'll know that at least I tried, and that makes all the difference in the world.  Would you attempt to place watermelons in your edible garden in this climate?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Basement Onions: A Gardening Project

What in the world?!

I had walked down into the basement to grab an onion for dinner.  When I stepped over to the area that I hung my onions from, however, I was in for a bit of shock.

An alien lifeform had taken over my onions and planted their embryos inside, I decided.  Those green things were not young, sprouting onion stems.  They were tentacles.  My home had become the safe point for a currently unidentified lifeform that would begin a new breeding experiment on this planet, using onions as their incubators.

Hmmm.... I think I may have just come up for a great idea for my new book!

 Alright, alright... science fiction is fun, but I had to do something about the situation at hand.  I regretfully let reality take over again. 

Two of my organic onions had started to sprout from their bulbs.

On one onion, the sheath had already started breaking into several long, flat leaves.

My basement is very dark in that corner, since the window there had been boarded up long before I  moved in, so that wasn't the problem.

I believe there were two different factors at work here.  First, the basement is rather humid.  Second, we've had a heat wave in this area, so the basement is warmer than usual.  The combination of moisture and temperature seem to be good conditions for sudden onion growth.

I could get rid of these little guys, or...

I could have fun and do something with them!

I prefer option 2.  Who wouldn't?

I know absolutely nothing about planting onion bulbs.  I've planted them by seed, marveling at the results I encountered with that, but never in any other form.  I knew I'd probably get things wrong, but part of the fun of a new gardening project is learning from your mistakes, so...

I removed the dry peels of the onions.

They were sliding off, anyway, so why not?

I also noticed that one of the onions had started growing mold, so I rinsed them both off.  I wanted to remove as much of the mold as possible so that I could give this onion a fighting chance.

The onion on top is the one with the mold.  Look at the color change at the root end.

Now, if I was absolutely determined to eat any additional onions sprouting from this bulb, I wouldn't have tried.  This is an experimental gardening project, though, so I'm allowed to do things I normally wouldn't.

I decided to plant them in two entirely different locations, in order to see how that would effect growth.  

I'm certainly not following the scientific method, and therefore, this is not a true experiment, but it's a lot of fun, and that's what matters most, I think!

I planted the larger, moldy onion in the raised garden of the front yard.

I haven't done much with creating an edible garden in that location, having only planted mint in that bed, so this was a good place for it.

I loosened the earth, then dropped it in, covering the onion only as high as the sheath of the burgeoning plant.  Then I watered it.

This location is on the west side of the house, so it's far shadier than my other gardening locations.  I chose to place it there to see how this would effect its growth.

The lack of sun is generally a bad idea, but I figure that since we're in the middle of a heat wave (Again.  What's with that?!), this may actually be a benefit to the plant.  If not, well... it is the moldy one.  We'll see what happens.

The smaller, healthier onion was placed in the raised garden of the backyard.

This garden is as close as I get to full sun, which is what's required for onions.

My yard is largely shaded, due to the gigantic black walnut trees that surround it, so as the sun shifts throughout the day, this garden sometimes ends up with a small amount of shade.  Can I invent a new term and call this Mostly Full Sun?

No, probably not... I can hope, though, right?


The stems on this one are very thick, and aside from the white to yellow coloring, it feels very healthy.  I treated it the same way that I treated the first one, but because of the curved growth pattern (due to its position within the bag) I allowed the tips of the flat leaves to snuggle inside a small amount of earth.  We'll see what happens.

I'm rather excited to see what comes of this.

I did zero research, because for this gardening project I wanted to see what the basic approach of "drop it in the ground and see what happens" would do.  It may be a success, and it may be a failure.  I look forward to finding out which one it'll be!

How would you have planted?  Would you have done it in the same manner, or would you have done something totally different?


would you have just tossed these guys and settled for writing the aforementioned science fiction novel, instead?

Monday, July 16, 2012

DIY: Fix a Table Lamp Switch

I have decided to call myself the Lamp Doctor.  

The Great Lampadini.

High Mugwump of All Things Lampish.

I should have been a tinker.

What did I do?  I flexed my DIY muscles and managed to fix a lamp!

I'm a genius!!!


Ok.... I admit it.

It's really not that hard.  It's pretty easy, actually.  So simple, in fact, that I really think anybody can do it.

See, it all began when my beloved table lamp decided to stop working.  

Out of the blue, my three-way switch stopped working.  I don't mean that I'd turn the switch and nothing happened.  I mean it totally stopped working.  The switch wouldn't turn, not even a little.  It was stuck in place, and wouldn't budge.

I love that lamp.  Indeed, you've seen my table lamp in various blog photos. Its base could be seen nudging its way into my playdough post, it helped shed light on my naked gardening, it...

Ok, I'll stop.  You get the point.  I love my table lamp.

Sure, it's nothing special.  It only cost me $19.95, there isn't a particularly elegant design on it, and my table lamp has no especially significant story attached to it.  It's just a simple lamp.

But it's my simple lamp, and I love it.

Now, the way I saw it, I had two choices.  

I could

a) get rid of my table lamp, or
b) try my hand at fixing it.

Obviously, I didn't see choice a as a valid option.  The second option is the more eco friendly option, anyway.  After all, throwing out a table lamp places a lot more waste into a landfill than simply fixing the lamp does.

It's cheaper, too.  A lot cheaper.

This was obviously a green DIY project that I needed to tackle.

So what did I do?

I like to say that every problem can be fixed by one of two things:  duct tape or WD40.  Unfortunately, I've been proven incorrect, because WD40 won't grease the joints and fix this problem.  The bulb socket itself had worn down and broken.

I needed a new socket.  Off I went to the hardware store, where I picked up a new bulb socket for $2.99:  The only money I spent on this DIY project.  I went home to begin my cheap, eco friendly project.

First,  I had to pull the bulb socket out, so that it could be removed easily.  

I pulled it out slowly, so as not to damage the wire bundles.

Once that was done, I used my handy-dandy wire cutters where they connect with the base of the socket to remove the lamp switch assembly.

I then took apart the entire bulb socket that I had removed, damaging it beyond recognition.  This part isn't required, obviously.  It's just a whole lot of fun.  I wanted to see how everything fit together, and how my lamp switch actually worked.

If you think this is destroyed, you should've seen what the rest of the
poor  lamp switch assembly looked like!

Once I snipped the wires from the base, and had a bit of destructive - but also instructive! - fun, I went on to the next step.

I pulled apart the two sections of wire, separated by an insulated covering, and stripped about 1/2" of that insulation from each side in order to reveal the wire inside.

Ok, time for a moment of truth, here.  I kind of didn't do this.  I tried, but I kept stripping the wire because I'd get the blade too close.  A stripping tool, or even some nice pliers would have made this easy, but I couldn't find my pliers.  I had to use the wire cutters, which made life very difficult.

Cue my husband, who works with wires pretty often, and who is also the person that misplaced my pliers.  I think this was probably my form of passive aggressive revenge.  Ha ha!

After the insulation was stripped from the wires, I twisted the wires in both sections in order to keep them snug, as you see in the photo above.

Next, I grabbed the new bulb socket that would be used to fix my beloved table lamp.

From this angle, you can see the standard silver colored screw and contact.  On the other side, however, there's a brass screw and contact.  Don't change the placement of the screws.  Brass must stay with brass, and silver must stay with silver.  

Don't get all creative on me with this one in the name of aesthetics, because it'll negate all the work you've done thus far, and may even produce a pretty fire or shorted electrical socket in your home!  A green DIY project is hardly green if it produces large amounts of CO2 and waste! Not to mention it would be pretty costly... 

Ok, the basic safety speech is done.  Now, back to the good stuff.

Next, I loosened the screws, and wrapped each of the two sections of wire around them, each section to its own screw.

I tightened up the screws, ensuring that the wires all touched the metal contact plating.

Once that was done, it was time to place the whole bulb assembly back into the lamp base.

That should have been easy.  Unfortunately, since I have a three-way table lamp, the switch was one of those types that you turn, rather than press.  This means that the base the assembly needed to fit into didn't have an opening on both sides, and that's what I needed.

So I used a little of what I like to call "creative engineering", which is actually a really nice way of saying, I cut a big funny-looking opening on one side.

Why didn't I just remove that whole black section, so I wouldn't have to worry about doing that?

Because I was a bit eager to get this all done.  Plus, the lamp shade that I like to use needs the black base, since it screws on underneath the bulb.  

Once I fed the wiring back through the lamp and got everything back into place, it was time to test my work.

Outside, because if I did anything wrong, I'd end up with less damage out on the porch!!!  Yeah, so much for self confidence, right?

I made my daughter go to the far side of the yard - just in case - and flipped the switch.


This green DIY project ended up saving me a lot of money.  Even with my lack of skill beforehand, I was able to accomplish my mission of fixing my table lamp switch.  The only waste I ended up with was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and fixing the problem cost very little, while allowing me the joy of continuing to use my favorite lamp.

Any chance I can give myself the title of Eco Friendly Tinker?

Because that would rock.

If you need a bit more help on top of my own instructions, I'd suggest watching David Geeting's video instruction.  He knows way more than I could ever pretend to!

And for added convenience, here's the link:

How to Replace a Lamp Socket