Sunday, April 30, 2006

Planting frenzy

Well I worked until it was too dark to see on Friday - the weather was so perfect. I started off with rebuilding the little pond yet again because of Maggie. I totally took it apart and put a piece of heavy wire grid fencing just at the surface of the water and put the rocks back to hold it down -- now she can't jump in, or will only try it once. It seems to have worked. It took way longer than expected because I couldn't remember how I had it -- I finally had to go print out a pic I had taken of it and try to figure it out from that. I also got a few more pots planted and some random veggies my neighbor brought me. At 5:30 I decided I was going to remove all the perennials in the back, till and put them back in - in a different design. I got most of it done - Bailey dragged me in at 9 p.m. I was back out at 8:30 Saturday morning to get the rest in since it is supposed to rain until Tuesday. The hollyhocks and Russian Sage weren't too happy with being moved and are a bit saggy -- the rain should help. I have a bunch of extra purple cone flowers and bee balm to put elsewhere still. I also won 3 plants of Joe-Pye Weed - that I've always wanted to grow -- (a really tall fuzzy purplish flower that blooms in Aug-Sept) on eBay, so we'll see how that goes.

I am really paying for all the labor today though - my hips are so stiff I can barely walk. I feel like such a granny. On the up side -- I've lost 10 pounds since Feb.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Help! too many projects!

What ever happened to all the time I used to spend just sitting and reading a book. Now I listen to audiobooks and multi-task. There is hardly a time anymore where I just sit. I always have to do something else as well -- fold laundry, sew something, write listings. And none of it ever gets done -- I feel like Hercules in the stables (it was stables, right?) -- the shit just keeps piling up! Anyway - luckily the garden (though it never is "done" either) at least lets me focus on a single task and zone out.

Though it rained most of last week I did manage to get nearly finished with my pond/foundation project in the back. I'm waiting for the weedkiller to work along the inside of where I edged before I can fill it with mulch. A frog has already moved into my little pond - though Maggie is determined to get it. She stares for hours at the pond and leaps into it as soon as my back is turned. She comes into the house a complete mudball.

I got the Mantis out again and used the edger - a bit hard to control, but it works well. I spent Sunday afternoon working on that and gained a few square feet in front of the strawberries where I could see how out of square the front edge of the garden was. Totally satisfying my need for order and symmetry. I may use the space for an emergency tomato plant -- the ones in the Square of Doom aren't looking that hot. I got the marigolds in around the edges - I had a really tough time finding yellow ones. I also divided and planted many more hostas - this time from my neighbor on the other side -- I can't believe people actually want to get rid of them. My plan is to keep dividing and replanting until the whole side yard is nothing but hostas.

The potatoes are starting to emerge and I saw the first edamame bean starting to break the surface. I prepared the soil for the pumpkins and gourds and hope to get those in - as well as the cucumbers and squash - tomorrow if at all possible. I still need to dig up and till the perennial bed - but everything is growing too fast. Plus with all this outside work - the inside of the house is a pit - even though I spent most of Friday on it -- again Hercules syndrome.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Coming along

It's been in the 70s and 80s all week so I've been out in the yard trying to finish the foundation project in the back. I've got the small pond dismantled and the rest of the planting done. I need to put up the last piece of lattice under the deck and use a leftover piece to make a screen for the air conditioner. I noticed my big clematis in the front has a new shoot coming up that I can steal to plant by the screen. Today I will haul rocks to make the rock ledge that will back my new little pond/stream. I will warm up by planting my bean seeds. It's been so warm that my peppers and tomatoes are already in - I hope I don't regret that. I've also got the rest of the herb seeds in and I made the mistake of going to Kitty's (an expensive nursery) yesterday and spent $59 on plants for containers geraniums, coleus, sweet potato vine, pineapple sage, a scented geranium and my favorite Algerian ivy. I bought Algerian ivy last year to put in hanging baskets on the porch - it looks like regular ivy with mondo-size leaves - and overwintered them in the garage. They made it pretty well, but I needed to pop in a couple of new plants to perk them up a bit. I also really need to do a ton of eBAy listings today - but what. I found quite a few vintage clothing items this week - but not too much to list now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

To do list

Steve says my life is one big to-do list of my own creation -- he's partially right -- I come up with way too many projects for myself. My current outdoor list is as follows:

Finish dry creekbed project
Finish painting exterior doors
Paint shed and replace its door hinges
Take down exterior light fixtures and spray paint them black
Fix and clean fish pond (Maggie discovered it and knocked stones into it and disconnected the pump and filter)
Get Steve to help me move the arbor and tighten up all the bolts (it's falling over).
Put in rest of early spring seeds - parsley, cilantro, lavendar, foxglove.
Transplant oakleaf hydrangeas
Till and reorganize back perennial bed
Put down new mulch around playset
Turn compost piles (a job for the mantis?)
Till area along stone wall in front. Divide lirope along front walk and transplant to new area.
Get all fallen branches picked up. Look into renting a chipper.
Put compost onto garden beds.
Put in veggie seedlings and late-spring seeds - beans, squash, pumpkins etc.
Clean mold off siding and deck.
Get outdoor faucets repaired.
Plant slope next to stairs
dig new cutting garden bed

Okay -- enough I'm clearly dreaming if I think I'll have enough time or energy to do all this. Well - one thing at a time. And the next thing on my list - watch Conan, maybe sleep 6 whole hours.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I hauled about 6 wheelbarrow loads of rocks gathered from the creek up to the house for my dry creekbed/pond project behind the deck. It seems to be coming together -- I'll need to gather about the same amount again to finish. Bailey helps when she gets home from school - she calls the creek Rocktopia and acts like a little tour guide pointing out the geological features - like Bailey Island - and making up a history. I think I'll do an Earth Day creek clean up -- I already picked up a bunch of glass - there's also plenty of rusty metal, bricks and other trash. I'd really like to do something with that whole area but don't know what I could or should do. What should you take away from or add to a natural area like that? The pic shows Bailey about 10 feet from our property line where the creek actually has water in it - even without rain. Our part only has water a few days after a rain -- which it is supposed to do tomorrow. Maybe I'll get a few inside chores and eBay listings done.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Worked like a dog

I spent all day Sunday in the yard and it was quite a satisfying day -- it feels so good to actually accomplish something. It was so peaceful -- there was no noise except birdsong and a woodpecker all day. I did break the silence with the tiller for a while (that is one of the downsides - the noise). Anyway -- I planted the bibb and red fire lettuce, the Space spinach, short & sweet and Adelaide carrots and Bailey planted some d'Aignon radishes I had left from last year. I set my seedlings outside for the first time -- I watered them with some chamomile tea - which I hear is good for keeping them from damping off. The pic is some freaky looking seed stalks coming up from a rhubarb plant.

I also refurbished the herb garden. My chives didn't come up for some reason -- maybe choked out with wild violets and dandelions. So I removed the bricks and dug up the pink creeping thyme (only 4 of 12 survived) and tilled the whole thing. I also dug up all the sage plants, trimmed them up, tilled and replanted. I also raked the paths and put down a little bit of new mulch. Emma also emerged for about a half hour and we played a truly sad game of soccer. My arms were so weak from all the work by the end of the day I could barely get the hose connected. Then after we watered for some reason the water wouldn't shut off. Luckily I have a splitter with separate valve shut-offs. I guess I'll have to get someone out to fix it.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Okay -- so I spent all morning out at estate sales and found a few good things. The afternoon was devoted to work on new plantings around the foundation in back of my house. I planted the little redbud tree and dug holes for and planted the 5 hollies. I also divided and planted a bunch of daylilies my neighbor gave me as well as put down 6 bags of mulch. So I get inside about 7 p.m. eat some pizza, do a few eBay listings then sit down with a glass of vino to watch this week's episode of House I'd recorded on the DVR. Finish watching - reach up and pull a tick out of my hair! Did I mention the episode of House I'd just finished watching was about a girl slowly being paralyzed by a tick they couldn't find -- you don't want to know where they finally found it. Yikes!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Rainy Day

I'm so glad it's raining so I can get some things done inside -- actually got the kitchen clean, found a bunch of good eBay things and made some banana bread with Bailey. Bailey also helped me pot up some tomato seedlings -- Burpee Brandy Boys (which totally don't look like tomatoes - see pic) and Principe Borghese sauce/drying tomatoes -- I'm waiting for my Fresh Salsa tomatoes to get a bit bigger - Burpee only sent about 10 seeds in the $3.45 package so they better be good - they're supposed to be more meaty than standard. Also potted the one Imperial Star annual artichoke that made it.

As usual I bought way too many seed varieties for the size of my garden and our capacity to eat veggies. I always say that I'll just put in a couple of each thing - but can't stand letting healthy seedlings die out -- I do palm some off on the neighbors though.

Last year I ordered mostly from Territorial Seed Co in Oregon -- all were quite good, but they're a bit pricey. This year I went to the other coast and ordered from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine -- very reasonable but slow - they say shipping will take 2 weeks and they're not overestimating. New stuff I'm trying this year include artichoke, spagetti squash, edamame, golden baby belle peppers, cornichon cucumbers, ornamental gourds and Cinderella pumpkins.

I got the potatoes -- Kennebec and Yukon Gold -- red and white onion sets and Golden beets in yesterday - they are enjoying the rain as well.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My new favorite thing

Okay -- this Mantis tiller is my new favorite thing. I used it today and tilled up 8 existing garden beds and made a new one from scratch all in about 3 hours -- and I can still move and function. It took me a while to get the hang of starting it -- I'm not used to starting gas engines -- and it was a bit hard to control its speed -- theres a pull trigger on the handle that you have to press to go - the harder you press the faster it goes -- and you have to pull the machine backward to till so you kind of have to go full tilt. It did pretty well on the new ground - I had partially killed off the weeds and long grass and raked up the dead stuff first. It did get bound up with weeds several times - but it was nothing to pop off the blades clean them out and start the thing up again. I'm now thinking that I will dig up all my established and weed choked perennials, till and replant. That's Maggie the mole hunter in the photo - hoping I'll turn one up. In the second photo - of course the one bed I didn't till (peas are already growing) is in the foreground.

I also tried to move a small dogwood tree from the front to the back yard - it wasn't going anywhere. Since I had already dug a huge hole in the back I went and got a $10 Eastern Redbud tree (twig might be the better descriptive) from Wal-mart to fill the hole. It joins some $3.99 hollies from Home Depot. Part of a landscaping plan for around the back of the house that will mostly consist of plants donated by neighbors getting rid of hostas and daylilies, excess irises I divided last fall and found in my compost pile going strong, stone from the creek bed and mucho mulch.

It feels good to do all this work and actually see results -- but I will be in the poor house for sure if I don't get back to my eBay work.

Ready for Spring -- April 5, 2006

It's been a mild winter here in Pewee Valley, KY - a small suburb east of Louisville - but I'm so ready for spring. A big storm - I think 80 mph winds qualify - Sunday night will, I hope, usher in warmer weather. I've got big plans for my acre of prime Pewee Valley real estate this year and a new little Mantis tiller I'm dying to try. I usually do all my digging myself with my trusty Hechinger's shovel I got with our first house and garden in 1992 in Woodbridge, Va. It's dug through hard packed clay in that raw new subdivision, then through rich Michigan soil (hiding a layer of submerged cement and brick) in the postage-stamp yard of our 1917 house on an established city lot. Now that I've got a whole acre to play with (and I'm edging into my 40s - gulp) I need a little help. My family prefers the great indoors and are not big on manual labor -- but since I have control issues anyway where the garden (among other places) is concerned, it's just as well. Anyway I hope this miracle Mantis can provide the muscle I need to bring my plans to life.

A Bit About This Garden
We moved here from Lansing, Mich., in August 2003. There was a small vegetable garden that had a year's worth of grass and weeds over it that backed to a wild-looking perennial bed. There was also a small pear tree loaded with fruit and a rather decrepit apple tree loaded with scabarous-looking apples. In early April 2004 I paid a guy down the street with a tractor $40 to break up a 20 by 50 foot plot and got started.

Our house was built in the late 40s-early 50s. The original owner was a stone mason who dumped a lot of his excess materials at the back of the property and in the small creek that runs along the back. My first find was a terrific terracotta column - now a plant stand in the garden - then a huge cement drum now upturned at the center of my herb garden. Also piles of bricks -- all nicely aged and mossy that I used to outline beds. Some great mossy and slightly split railroad ties that I rolled and pushed end-over-end into place divide the herb garden from the veggie garden. I laid out a classic semi-formal herb garden with a $5 estate sale park bench at the back for seating. In the veggie garden there are very slightly raised beds with an open area on the end. I put down plastic on the paths and threw down many bags of hardwood mulch -- some of the plastic is just the mulch bags that I opened up with scissors along 3 edges. I also uncovered an old compost pile so had some free organic material to augment the stuff I had to buy. My family bought (and hauled ) 25 bags of compost for me for Mother's Day that year. I never thought I'd actually ask for dirt as a gift, but there you go.

It all looked great until the end of June when I ran out of steam -- or perhaps the life was just sucked out of me by mosquitos - no-see-ums - and the unrelenting humidity of the Ohio River Valley. Weeds took over though I did harvest tons of tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, and green beans. A cutting bed for tall State Fair Zinnias also produced a riot of color. I didn't get a single pepper though -- everything that went in that particular bed was doomed and believe it or not no zucchini. I got one lowly butternut squash, a handful of snap peas about 3 carrots and 4 beets, and four smallish ears of corn.

I blanched and froze many baggies of Kentucky Blue Lake pole beans and made tons of fresh salsa, spagetti sauce and jars of refrigerator pickles. Of course my children - epicureans that they are - decided that only store bought produce would do and would only eat "real" - read frozen - green beans and store-bought salsa and pasta sauce. The husband is only marginally less picky. More for me.

Garden Year Two
In year two I moved some plots around -- beans to the front to discourage the deer buffet that was open the year before. Some French filet bush beans in addition to the pole beans -- my heavy yield the year before snapped many of my bamboo pole teepees. I doubled the poles I had left to make the new supports. Peppers in another area, strawberries and thornless blackberries instead of corn - as well as a couple of rhubarb plants -- Fruit is a bit more popular with the kids than veggies. I tried broccoli - not enough return for the small plot I had. And several types of potatoes. I also tried to rejuvenate the apple tree - a serious pruning, feeding and spraying. I couldn't stick to the schedule and felt like I was poisoning myself when ever I sprayed - so I quit part-way through and didn't do much good. There were plenty of apples though -- they weren't pretty but I discovered they did make nice pies.

The herb garden has a row of different varieties of sage down one side - common, pineapple and variegated. Oregano and French thyme in a small bed at the front - a few dill on the other side of the cheesy arbor I planted there after I took down the Chrismas lights (it has a trellis of white lights) and didn't have room in the garage. Lettuce and onion beds are overflow from the vegetable garden. The 4 center plots are chives - started from seed on site the previous year, basil -- the short summerlong variety. pink creeping thyme; and Italian parsley. The the thyme and parsley pretty much got taken over by wild violets. Moles got the dill. The basil was wonderful as were the chives. The garden was edged with French Vanilla Marigolds -- gorgeous pale yellow - raised from seed. These faltered half-way through the season - it may have been the moles -- they did so well the first year.

I tend to go for a slightly wild-looking cottage-y feel in the garden. My girls like running around the paths -- I have a Brownie troop with my youngest daughter and they run through it and pretend they're bunnies. Ideally I'd do drip hoses, but with so many beds I just go ahead and use the sprinkler. I got an automated timer last year - it's battery operated and programmable - hook it up to the spigot, hook the hose to it and it will water up to 5 times a day for whichever days you choose. I had it set up for 35 minutes in the morning and evening. Ah the sprinkler - it never loses its appeal.

Anyway - much like the first year - weeds, heat and rampant tomato growth got the best of me by mid August. I did clear a few beds and try for a second crop of spinach, golden beets and peas but by the time I got around to it -- end of September -- it was too late. I did have bumper crops of peppers -- especially jalopenos -- beautiful potatoes -- onions and shallots (started from sets), beans and spring lettuce and spinach. However a second crop of lettuce failed miserably, beets didn't do too well, neither did the broccoli. I got 2 eight ball zucchini before the plants gave up the ghost and no eggplants (these were in the same doomed plot as the peppers the year before). I didn't get many cucumbers - the vines turned yellow and died early. All my fruit plants were too new to produce -- any flowers were pinched to help store energy for their second year. This photo of the herb/perennial garden in August was carefully framed to edit out unpleasant weedy views and show off the vintage glider chair I found at Goodwill for $15 and rejuvenated with purple spray paint (I don't think anyone has ever sat in it but it's a great focal point).

Well that brings the garden saga up to date. Hope springs eternal for 2006.