Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thinking About Thanksgiving

This year will be the first Thanksgiving that the four of us in our immediate family won't be spending the holiday together. We knew this would happen sooner or later, but I guess we've always hoped it would be a lot later.

Our youngest is spending the semester studying abroad in Italy. For the first few weeks it was novel and exciting, but now I find myself really missing her as well as our oldest daughter who lives closer, but still a couple of hours away.

Thanksgiving has always been a fairly simple affair in our family, as members of our extended family have other plans or live far away, and so it is generally just us four. Some years we have invited students from the department where I work to join us, and that has made the day really special. One year, when my husband was unemployed and I was working two jobs, I actually had to work on Thanksgiving Day. My husband and girls made his day extra special by taking on all the tasks of building the feast themselves, and treating me to a wonderful meal when I returned home.

As I think about it, I realize that the only tradition that follows us from year to year is to gather and enjoy the day. We have spent it in different ways. This year, my husband and I will travel to Florida and spend the days leading up to Thanksgiving with my parents. I have wanted to do this for the past four or five years but we've never felt like we could afford the trip or else had trouble getting enough time off work. This year, somehow, it all worked out. After visiting my folks and doing some touristy things we'll return home on Thanksgiving Day. Our oldest will pick us up at the airport and we will celebrate the day by enjoying dinner at a restaurant and then perhaps taking in a movie. I'm hoping we can use Skype to talk with our youngest daughter and feel a bit like we are really all together. Maybe it won't be a traditional Thanksgiving , but then again, maybe it will. After all, we'll be keeping up our tradition of making the most of the day with the circumstances we've been given, and we will be grateful. It's hard to ask for more than that.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Walk around Campus

It was such a beautiful fall day that I hurried through my lunch so I could head outside for a walk on campus. First of all, I wanted to get a closer look at a new bronze statue of a horse that was installed near our building. Here's a picture. I'm not sure what I think of it. Actually, that's not true. I really just don't care for it at all...it's sort of creepy. A skeleton horse might be okay this time of year for Halloween, but it is a permanent installation that will be around for years.

On down the street at the vet school are sculptures I can understand and enjoy.

After critiquing the sculptures, I decided to walk through the horticulture garden to see what is still blooming this time of year and that I might want to consider adding to my own gardens. There were some very pleasant surprises. I especially liked the grapeleaf anenome, the bright yellow strawflowers, and the heliotrope which was still attracting butterflies.

The rain is supposed to return tomorrow, so I'm glad I got the chance to enjoy some outside time today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Winding Down

As is to be expected in mid-September, the garden is really winding down. Fortunately, the tomatoes, which were late this year, are putting forth a valiant effort at producing a modest harvest which is quite welcome. My late planting of green beans is also doing very well. The insects don't even seem to have noticed that there is a new crop and so far have left them completely alone. I have one last bright orange Thai melon yet to harvest. Other than that, the garden is pretty much finished.

Even though we really enjoy fresh vegetables all summer, I am not really all that sad to see the garden come to an end for fall. It really is true that to every thing there is a season, and now I am looking forward to the season to rest a bit, then start planning for next year. Truly, I don't think gardening would be as fun if I had to do it all year long.
This was my second season to garden in garden boxes, and once again I have learned a lot that I will apply to next year. The use of trellises with some of my boxes worked very well. My cucumbers and melons grew healthier and were easier to find and harvest by being trained on the trellis. My experiment growing corn turned our very well, too. However, next year I will put two boxes side by side, long ways, so they can support each other and I can grow a bit more corn with extra spacing. This year, the box would tip over once the corn grew tall whenever the water reservoir went dry. This happened several days in a row in late July when the weather was very hot and the corn was very thirsty.
I am still trying to find ways to be able to leave the boxes for more than a day at a time. If the boxes aren't watered daily when the plants are at their peak, the plants really suffer. This means that going away for a weekend is a problem unless someone can be lined up to water the boxes once a day. I am going to have to do some brainstorming this winter to come up with some solutions to this problem.
For now, I am just focusing on enjoying the last of my harvest, and cleaning up the garden boxes as the plants are finished producing. I enjoy garden clean up chores, because I can then look forward to having the boxes ready when I am this spring. To every thing there is a season.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nature's Bouquet

While taking a walk after work today, I was struck by the wildflowers, weeds, and grasses that still make a striking display in our meadow. Thistle, dried grasses, goldenrod, and a number of plants that must have names but aren't known to me, are all putting on quite a fine show. My first thought was that these plants would make a lovely bouquet on my desk at work. My second thought, however, was that such a bouquet might activate a lot of allergic reactions among my co-workers. Perhaps it is best to leave nature's bouquet in nature where it belongs, in our meadow and others like it, to be savored on afternoon walks as summer fades to fall.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Good News and Bad News

Excellent customer service--how often do we get that these days? Not often enough, unfortunately. I was so happy yesterday, however, after getting off the telephone with the customer support people for my Canon Powershot camera. It seems the problem with my camera is a known issue so even though it is nearly five years old they will repair the camera for free. They even sent me a shipping label to make sending it back to them as easy as possible. In about two weeks I'll be able to start snapping photos again. Good news, right?! Right. And the quick and courteous service I received from Canon was a breath of fresh air.

The bad news is that by the time I have my camera back, the garden will be pretty much finished. I regret not being able to take a picture of the bright orange Thai melons, or the first giant red tomatoes. Of course, I should be able to pick tomatoes until frost because they are so late this year, and I will likely still have beans for a few more weeks. My first planting of beans has had it, but my second two plantings are still giving me plenty to eat, freeze, and share for now. However, the cucumbers are on their way out, and the cantaloupe aren't too far behind. The corn and beets are long gone. As is the case this time of year, I secretly don't mind all that much to see things winding down. Even gardening in the garden boxes is quite a bit of work, and like some of my plants, I'm a little tired. To everything there is a season, after all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Just Facts, No Photos

I feel like I am blogging in the dark or with my hands tied. My beloved Canon Powershot A70 camera has nearly quit working and I feel lost without it. It still takes pictures, sort of, but they are blurry and pink, and, well, just strange looking. Not pretty. Most of the shots I've taken of my garden and harvest look anything but tranquil and appetizing. They look more like something Salvador Dali would have painted. It is really sad. I really didn't realize how much I liked taking and sharing pictures until I found I am unable to do so. "Get Camera Fixed"-- one more addition to my already lengthening to-do list.

The garden is slowing down in some ways, and just getting started in others. The corn is finished, but not after producing about 10 very tasty ears of bicolor corn. My experiment was a most definite success! I still have lots of beans and peppers to pick, and some days can barely keep up. The Minnesota Midget cantaloupe are just days away from being ready, and we have already enjoyed one of our very delicious Thai melons. Best of all, the tomatoes are FINALLY ripening. Our cool July really set back these heat loving plants and many of us thought we'd never see our first red tomatoes before frost! There is really nothing like a fresh Indiana tomato, and once again they have most definitely been worth the wait.

Thank you for reading and I'm sorry I don't have new pictures to share. Hopefully this will be a very temporary situation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What's New?

This is probably the best time of year to be a gardener. The garden is producing well and many of our meals these days largely of what I picked only an hour before the food is placed on the table. I don't have any ripe tomatoes yet, but we've sure had some delicious green beans. I highly recommend 'Masai' as an easy to grow, tasty bean. The beans don't get real large but instead are tender and thin. So, so, good. We have also been enjoying cabbage and carrots. The cabbage are 'Mini Gonzales' and are the perfect size for a meal for two. The carrots are 'Little Finger' and I'm not sure I'll grow them again. They do pretty well in containers, but I've tasted better. The last of the beets have been harvested, and I decided to make another planting of 'Masai' beans in that container. We picked our first cucumber this week, and we are getting lots of basil. The jalapenos and two other varieties of peppers are nearly ready, and I can already taste the fresh salsa! The top picture shows the garden box containing our 3 pepper plants and some basil plants. Our trellis of 'Minnesota Midget' cantaloupe is full of baby melons. There are also 3 of the Thai melon on the vines so far (pictured below). The Thai melon will ripen to an orange color.

Nick told me recently that he thinks this may be the best garden we've ever had. I really am sold on growing the garden in the garden boxes. The amount of work it takes to produce a good quality, bountiful harvest is much less than when I planted everything in the ground. I learned a lot about container gardening last year that I applied to this year's garden. The boxes are spaced further apart, and I've added trellises. I also decided to plant tomatoes in the ground rather than containers. I also found that the zucchini do better when planted only two to a box to give them plenty of room to spread. I have to agree that this year's garden is a good one.

We had another garden surprise this summer outside of the vegetable garden. We were given a couple of large bromeliads that had been thrown out of a commercial greenhouse. Supposedly, bromeliads bloom only one time in their life. (I haven't yet done any research to see if this is indeed the case.) It seems these bromeliads were discarded because they've already bloomed and thus were no longer of interest. Well, either the once-in-a-lifetime bloom theory is incorrect, or someone was mistaken about them already having bloomed, because much to our surprise both plants have produced a beautiful and unique looking pink flower. The flower doesn't even look real. It looks as though it is made of plastic, and it even feels a bit like plastic. We have really been amazed to watch as each bloom slowly made its way out of the throat of the plant. Ironically, for a couple of weeks these plants sat mostly ignored on our front porch because we kept forgetting to buy pots and soil for them. I guess bromeliads thrive on neglect because they started flowering while lying unceremoniously in a box on the porch. Now they have a proper home worthy of their beauty.

This has really been a fun and rewarding gardening season so far. Much more is to come. I can hardly wait to taste the cantaloupe and Thai melons. We are still waiting for two types of beans, 'dragon langerie' and a yellow wax bean (I can't remember the name just now!). We also have two nice volunteer acorn squash plants growing in each back corner of the garden thanks to some seed hiding out in the compost. Ahhh, July...what a wonderful time to be a gardener!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Take a look at the garden...

This planting of green beans is nearly ready to pick! I think I'll give them one more day. They look fantastic.

The cucumbers I had to replant are finally taking off. The plants in the front are a short vined bush type especially good for small gardens and containers. The variety in the back is called 'Muncher' and is beginning to climb up the trellis.

I love how well the Minnesota Midget cantaloupe plants are doing. The melons only grow to about softball size so they are perfect to grow on a trellis. The plants are loaded with bright yellow blossoms.

Here's my experiment for this year -- sweet corn in a container garden. This variety is called Trinity Hybrid and gets about 5' tall. So far it is looking pretty good!

My favorite part of the day is when I go outside and walk down the garden path. We added the park bench to the back corner because sitting in the garden is pretty pleasant, too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I made a delicious discovery as I took Toby for an early morning walk on Friday. Raspberries! For weeks I have been watching the wild brambles go from bare, to being loaded with hard, green, and then pink and red berries. At last, some have turned dark purple. Even though we were in a bit of a hurry to get Toby's "business" taken care of so I could head off to work, I had to stop and pick a few. Everyone knows that the first berries of the season are the most delicious, and I wasn't about to miss out. Later today when it is not so hot out I'll go pick a bowl full. The only down side to enjoying free wild raspberries is that many of them are surrounded by poison ivy or poison oak. Chiggers--those invisible buggers that burrow under your skin and make you itch like crazy--seem to hang out around raspberries, too. However, the wild berries are tasty enough to make wearing long pants, long sleeves, and bug spray worth it, even with temperatures in the 80's.

It is somewhat of a tradition for me to make a raspberry cream pie each year. However, since I have become a devoted weight watcher, I think I will work on finding a lower calorie way to enjoy these scrumptious treats. Suggestions welcome!

Finding the raspberries reminded me that last weekend I picked a couple of quarts of sour cherries and put them in the refrigerator to pit later. What happened is I completely forgot about them. I have yet to check on them; I am so afraid I'll find a moldy mess of cherries representing wasted effort and wasted time. Even though I am basically an organized person, I just have not been able to find a way to fully balance working full time and taking care of such a large yard, the house, and so many animals while still leaving time for other things like eating, sleeping, and sitting down for a couple of minutes without feeling guilty about all that is not getting done. Oh well--I do what I can do, and keep looking for ways to simplify. The garden boxes are a good example. It is so great to enjoy wonderful home grown vegetables without all of the weeding, tilling, and hoeing. I'm sure I'll keep discovering better ways to do a lot of things, or learn how to let them go.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How does your garden grow?

My garden is growing great! The combination of rain and sunshine is working its magic and the plants are really taking off. The zucchini is especially impressive, growing by leaps and bounds within only a couple of weeks (compare the photo below to the one on my post of May 26). I'm also amazed by how the 'tall telephone' peas have grown. After an extra shot of fertilizer they started ascending the trellis at a rapid rate and have already rewarded us with a small harvest. We've also enjoyed lettuce, cilantro, and some beets from the garden.

The silver disk you see on the pea trellis is an aluminum pie tin I tied to the support with a bit of twine. It moves and clanks with even a gentle breeze hopefully helping to startle rabbits, birds, and other wildlife that may damage the garden. Even so, I did have one frustrating setback thanks to the band of rogue rabbits that have an encampment on our property. When I went out to the garden on Saturday morning, I was dismayed (to say the least) to find some of my green bean plants bitten in two, one tomato plant nibbled to the ground, and most frustrating of all, every single basil plant missing as though they had never existed. A quick check of the fence showed that the enemy rabbits had literally chewed through the vinyl fencing on one end of the garden. Bits of fence could be found on the ground as evidence. I couldn't believe it! That very day Nick and I visited the hardware store and came home with 100 feet of 2' tall rabbit guard fence. It took about 2 hours to install. It went up fairly easily as it fit right on to my existing quick stick posts. I'm really happy with how it looks -- from a distance you don't even notice it -- and with the fact that I don't believe it is chewable by even the toughest of rabbits.

Here is a picture of another uninvited visitor to the garden. With all the rain I am having some trouble with slugs and snails. This one received a reprieve, but others have not been so lucky. To protect the hostas in the front of the house from being eaten alive, I have been spraying them with a mixture of 1 cup ammonia to 1 gallon of water. This remedy was recommended by the staff of Stream Cliff Herb Farm near Commiskey, Indiana, that we recently visited. I hope it will do the trick. I hate how my beautiful hosta get full of holes from slug and snail damage this time of year. I'll let you know how it works.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm happy to report that my first bottle of chive blossom vinegar has been strained and bottled. It is the most beautiful shade of pink with a wonderful flavor to match. I can't wait to use it on fresh cooked greens or maybe even in some homemade salad dressings. Now I feel inspired to make up a batch of mixed herb vinegar. Perhaps a blend of oregano, basil, chives, thyme, and maybe even garlic would be good.

I also recently made a very good batch of herb butter. Here is the recipe in case you would like to try it yourself. Feel free to modify the ingredients to take advantage of what you have on hand. There really is no one recipe for herb butter. Also, by adding a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese to this recipe, you would have a wonderful spread to grill on bread. Enjoy!

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper (optional)

When butter is soft enough to spread, blend herbs in mixing well with a wooden spoon. Chill in a sealed container. Enjoy on bread, crackers, or cooked vegetables.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A few more pics

Here are three more garden pictures. The first shows how I am protecting the cabbage plants from insect damage. The plants are looking beautiful, so to keep them that way I cut a piece of lightweight floating row cover to the size of the box plus and extra 10" all around. I tucked the cover under the rim of the box and secured it with clothespins. My original plan was to secure the cover with bungee cords, but I couldn't come up with the right combination of sizes. Fortunately, the clothes pins work just fine.

Next is a picture of my sole peony plant, 'Top Brass.' I love how the middle part of the flower is ruffled up like a little top knot. I purchased this plant at a small independent nursery in Galena, Illinois. Have you noticed how few independent nursery/greenhouses there are these days? It seems we lose one or more every year. What a shame.

The final photo is of the flower bed at the garage end of the house. This end of the bed features Dutch iris, Oriental poppies, and perennial geranium. It is such a cheerful little garden and nearly carefree. Last year, before the perennials had grown so large, I filled in the spaces with Sweet Alyssum. I learned the secret to successfully growing Alyssum from seed is to plant them early, and only barely cover the seeds. I believe I planted the seeds in mid-April. The display was just as nice as when I started with bedding plants, but of course much less expensive. I love direct seeding whenever possible -- it just doesn't get much easier than that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Focusing on What's Right

We have been having the most beautiful weather the past several days. Yesterday and today we had some intermittent rain, but nothing that has come close to spoiling the whole day. The combination of warm temperatures, bright sunshine, and gentle rain has really caused the garden to flourish. Unfortunately, the weeds are flourishing, too, and I spent a good part of yesterday weeding the beds. When I got home from work today I started noticing how much more weeding there still is to do. Even in the vegetable garden where I have spread a pretty thick layer of mulch the weeds are peeking through. How frustrating! It's hard to stay discouraged, however, when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, so I decided to get the camera and focus on what is going right in the garden. Here are a few of the highlights.

Pictured are my white clematis and a riot of golden coreopsis, plus a shot of false blue indigo, one of my favorite small shrubs. In the garden boxes are the beets and zucchini which you can see are off to a great start.

The corn, beans, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce are also up and doing well. The tomato plants had a slow start and I had to replace one of the plants today. All in all, however, the garden is doing well. I will include more pictures in my next post.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Morning Visitor

This morning, as Nick was going out the front door to his car, he noticed something unusual in the driveway. He called me to the door to take a look, so I rushed to see what was going on. Unfortunately, I didn't have my contacts in or glasses on, but I looked out anyway. I saw what sort of looked like a rabbit--sort of. Whatever it was looked pretty fuzzy to me, and not because it was furry. Well, it wasn't a rabbit. Nick told me it was a skunk! It didn't look to be in any sort of hurry, and this complicated things a bit since it was time for Nick to leave for work. Fortunately, some quick thinking and modern technology came to the rescue. Nick used his remote keyring to blast his car horn 4 or 5 times. Mr. Skunk turned tail and ran down the drive without leaving any sort of lasting reminder, thank goodness! It was a comical sight. I never knew skunks could run like that! Many times in the past we've whiffed evidence that there are skunks around here, but this was our first up close and personal encounter.

A few minutes later as I was preparing to leave, I heard the unmistakable "gobble gobble gobble" of a wild turkey. Although he must have been nearby I never did see him. We have been surprised by wild turkeys on our evening walks in the past. When a good-sized turkey suddenly flies across the road in front of you, it's a bit of a surprise, to say the least.

Just two nights before, we were surprised when Toby took off down the drive like a shot. We couldn't imagine what was going on, but he was down the drive and across the road (without stopping to look both ways) in a matter of seconds. Soon, Nick saw the reason. Toby had spotted a young deer and was in hot pursuit. He chased her until he was tired of the sport and then came back home. We were quite suprised by our dog's sudden interest in deer hunting, being that we are not hunters, and prefer just looking at deer to shooting at them. I guess Toby just couldn't deny his instinct this day. We've been told his mother was quite an excellent deer hunting dog. She would have been proud.

So, these are my accounts of our recent close encounters with Indiana wildlife. I'm sorry to say I have no pictures of the critters to share, but we won't forget about then anytime soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Busy Weekend

What a weekend! Saturday started out rainy and cool, and did not look at all like a good day for an opening day program at nearby Fort Ouiatenon. I had agreed to help out by being at the herb garden and talking to visitors who might like information on starting their own garden or who had questions about herbs. I was dreading it because it looked like the storms that started the night before might continue on throughout the day. We were surprised, however, that just after the flag raising ceremony at noon the sun came out and it turned in to a pretty nice day. Even more surprising to all of us, however, was how quickly the river started rising. I had parked my car in the lot without even a serious looking mud puddle nearby. Around 3:00, one of the other volunteers came over to ask where I had parked my car. The river was rising--fast--and so I went to check. I couldn't believe my eyes! My car was completely surrounded by ankle deep water. I didn't know how I was going to wade out to it. The fact I was wearing my 18th century costume made the situation even more complicated. Just as I was contemplating my next move, my husband drove in to the park, looking very much to me like a knight in shining armor! Thankfully he was able to drive me to the passenger side of my car where I was able to climb in with a minimum of wetness and move my car uphill to safety.

Whether because of the unpredictable weather, all the other activities going on in the community that day, or just a lack of publicity, there were very few visitors to the opening day of the Fort. It was disappointing, but we made the best of it. I used the time between visitors to weed the herb garden and contemplate some additions to it. Many of the plants didn't make it through the winter and the beds are looking pretty sparse. We also used the time between visitors to help put up a twig fence around the Three Sister's Garden, and were pleased with how it turned out.

Sunday was spent at home mowing and trimming. There is still so much to do, but it is starting to look nice. When everything is mowed and trimmed, our yard looks like a park and we enjoy it so much. This spring has been so wet, however, that the grass has grown like crazy and mowing has been no simple chore.

Here is a picture of a teacup planter Nick got me for Easter. I filled it with a parsley, Thai basil, and sweet marjoram plant given to me by my youngest daughter. I think it turned out so cute. I will keep it on the picnic table as long as the weather is nice.

I finished planting onions today, and also got the last of the deadheads off the showy sedums. It feels good to get some chores crossed off the to-do list. Even thought there are still a lot more jobs we need to get done, we made a lot of progress this weekend and feel good about how things are coming along. Plus, it's not even Memorial Day yet, so plenty of summer is left to come. I'm glad.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Hummingbirds are Here!

I try to put out the hummingbird feeder every year by Mother's Day, which is usually a few days before we actually see one of the tiny flying jewels. This year the hummers were right on schedule. Unfortunately, the first hummingbird we saw was a little dead one found in the driveway. It looked absolutely perfect, so we aren't sure what happened to the poor little thing. Only a few hours later, however, I heard that familiar buzz while working in the garden, and spotted a hummer visiting some wild columbine. The first of our feeders went out that same afternoon. On the east side of the Mississippi we have only one type of hummingbird, the ruby-throated. I remember being fascinated by the other types of tiny hummers we saw while visiting San Antonio one year, and I'm sorry we only have one variety of hummingbird to migrate here.

Most of my garden boxes are planted now, and I'm in waiting mode. The only plants I've put out so far besides the cabbage are three different varieties of peppers that were given to me: Fushima, Slim Pim, and Early Jalapeno. The tomatoes are hardening off on the porch and can go out any time. Of the seeds I've planted one variety of cucumber has sprouted (Muncher), the carrots now look like delicate blades of grass, and the beets are off to a good start. I'm still waiting for the first planting of green beans and turnips to germinate, as well as the Minnesota Midget cantaloupe, and Trinity sweet corn. I am hopeful that this weekend I will finally get the chance to get my onion plants into the garden. Progress is being made, slowly but surely!

There is so much left to do in all the flower beds, but even they are off to a pretty good start. I've done a lot of weed pulling so far, but need to devote an entire afternoon to this not so pleasant task. There are also some dead flower heads and stalks that need to be pulled out of some of the beds, especially from the Showy Sedum plants. I could finish that job in about 15 minutes if I could just get started. Oh well, it will get done in time. At least now I can look forward to occasional visits from the curious hummingbirds as I work among the flowers. It's nice to know they appreciate the gardens enough to nest and stay here all summer. They are certainly welcome.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ready to Grow

Once spring finally decided to come to our part of Indiana, it really arrived with a flourish. All at once the lilacs and crab apple trees burst in to fragrant bloom, and some of the early iris are already putting on a fine show. I was surprised and pleased today to see how much the hosta have grown, along with many of the perennials around the yard--coreopsis, Oriental poppies, coral bells, obedient plant, peonies, and Dutch iris. Everywhere I look there is a plant up that I didn't notice only last weekend.

We got so much accomplished this weekend, and it really feels good. I am especially happy with the progress we've made on the garden. My favorite new addition to the garden are three trellises we've added to keep the vining plants up off the ground. We started out with 2, and then went back to our local Lowe's store today for a third. I installed them behind the 3 boxes that will grow cantaloupe 'Minnesota Midget', two varieties of zucchini squash, and two varieties of cucumbers. I braced the trellises with some rebar to help insure that they don't get pulled down by the heavy vines later this summer. Not only will they help keep the produce healthier by keeping it up off the ground, I like how the trellises already look good in the garden. They will help add some needed vertical interest. I can't wait to see them covered with vines and fruit.
I hauled about 6 carts of mulch and I think after another two cart loads that job will be finished. I love the finished look it gives the garden, not to mention how it helps to keep the weeds under control. When I dumped one load on to the garden I was surprised to see I had scooped up a small snake along with some mulch. How could I miss a snake? I dumped him on the ground and screamed out loud because this little guy was more than a little upset. He put some distance between us and then started striking at me. If he would have been any bigger it would have been scary!
The garden is also completely enclosed now with my versatile and easy to install fence. I am using 3' tall plastic posts called quickstiks and 2' tall plastic poultry fence. With only a little muscle power and a rubber mallet I had the garden enclosed in less than an hour. I have been really happy with how well this easy simple set-up works to keep out hungry rabbits and unwelcome dogs.
The garden is now ready to grow. In a couple of weeks I'll be able to put out the tomato and pepper plants and then it will really seem like a garden. I'm also waiting a bit longer to plant the Thai melon, green beans, and corn. Even though the soil in the boxes warms up more quickly than the ground, our nights are still pretty cool and there is no need to rush the season. Meanwhile, the cabbage starts I set out earlier in the week look good. The beet seeds have sprouted, and the peas are really starting to grow. I also have radishes, spinach, cilantro, and lettuce planted. I'm really happy to be off to such a good start. Here's hoping your garden is off to a good start as well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April Showers Bring May Flowers -- I hope!

It's been cold and rainy the past couple of days but spring is on the way. The weeds at least are growing, that's for sure. The view from our front porch changes every day. The little crab apple tree will be blooming soon, and the oak trees have finally dropped their leaves from last fall and are showing some green. The river is up and we often hear ducks and geese, even though we seldom see them now that the field is no longer flooded.

Inside I have nice starts of basil, tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, and some flowers growing well under the lights. Three of the four rows are full. I probably won't need the bottom tray this year. I love brushing my fingers over the top of the little basil plants. Just a light brush releases their spicy, earthy fragrance. Mmmmm.

There is still a lot that needs done outside to get the garden ready. This past weekend I uncovered the growing boxes and moved them in to place. Some of the reservoirs had water in them despite the tarp being over the boxes all winter. I'll have to figure out how that happened because I'm afraid having ice form in the boxes will crack the reservoirs which would ruin them. It is going to be a bit of a challenge to make room for my six new boxes, but I'll find a way. Once they are assembled and arranged I'll put down the mulch to keep the weeds away. That will probably be the end of my big mulch pile. Maybe Nick will surprise me with another dump truck load this spring. I think he enjoys driving the big customer courtesy truck as much as I like getting the mulch! A chipper shredder may be in our future as well, as our brush piles keep growing. I think it would be a lot of fun to turn all those sticks and branches in to mulch.

I hear the weather is supposed to be nice this weekend. I hope so. It would be great to plant some beets, spinach, lettuce and other greens. I am so hungry for fresh, crunchy veggies straight from the garden!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Gardener's Workout

I didn't make it to the fitness center today, but it hardly mattered. As it turns out, I got a good gardener's workout at home. The weather was perfect for yard work. The temperature was in the mid 50's and the sun was shining and cheerful. No bugs, no humidity, but much to be done!
Thankfully, nothing else was on the agenda for today so gardening was the priority for a change.

One of the first things I wanted to take care of was emptying the compost tumbler. The compost tumbler is basically a barrel with a removable lid on one end, mounted on an aluminum frame so that you can spin it and mix the contents to help speed the composting process. We add kitchen and yard waste to it throughout the year, give it a spin once in a while, and it takes care of turning it all into nice, black, compost. It had been over a year since we emptied the barrel, so it was getting quite full and heavy. I decided not to bother with sifting out the stuff that was not completely broken down, but instead let the process complete itself in the garden. I dug three good sized holes where I will plant tomatoes once it is warm enough in about mid-May. I filled each hole with about a wheelbarrow load of the compost mixture, then covered them back up with a thin layer of soil. By the time the tomatoes are ready to go in the soil should be rich, fertile, and loamy. Because I'm not yet sure where the rest of my tomatoes will go I decided to pour the remaining compost in one of my original raised beds.

When cleaning last year's vines off the obelisk in the barrel by the front porch I uncovered the nest built by our little running bird. I wonder if she'll be back to set up housekeeping again this year? (September 2008 post.)
Next, I took the loppers to several small Asian honeysuckle plants that had sprung up in the woody area in the back of our property where I have a wildflower bed. I was happy to see a few Trillium, wood poppies, and bleeding heart plants coming up in the bed. We'll be able to better see and enjoy them with some of the invasive shrubs out of the way. There are many more to clear out as I find time.
Finally, I spent a lot of time raking out the flower beds and cleaning out the dead leaves and stems to make way for the new. It is so rewarding to pull off last year's dead plant material and see the new green growth starting to emerge. I was surprised to notice that even the clematis 'Niobe' is starting to leaf out.

As we were outside working, Toby enjoyed having the freedom to roam through the yard. He made countless trips with me to the area where I dump yard waste, and back again, and then over to the other side of the property to see how Nick's trimming work was going. He is such a good garden dog. The cats apparently wanted to be outside, including the new kitten (now named Kit Cooper) who has apparently forgotten how much he wanted to be inside just a few weeks ago. Here are a couple of pictures of Kit on the inside looking out, unlike the first time we met him.

Our orange tabby Ralph, who has cost us a small fortune in vet bills over the past month, did manage to get outside this evening. It took about 30 minutes to find him. We have invested way too much in this silly cat to have him become dinner for some coyote, besides we happen to think he's a pretty cool cat. Fortunately he is safe and sound inside once more.
There is so much more to be done in the yard and gardens, but I think getting so much done today will make later work just that much easier. I know I will sleep well tonight. This gardener is tired!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Shopping with a Cause

I find shopping to be a lot of fun, except of course when I have to find something with only short notice and it becomes a chore. Just browsing, however, looking for that "special something" is relaxing and even rewarding in some cases. I was visiting one of my favorite websites (listed on this page), the Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary, when I noticed something new that appealed to both the animal lover and the shopper in me. An organization called Twin Willows Ranch has decided to create a number of one-of-a-kind quilts and donate the proceeds to some animal care groups in New Mexico. The quilts are beautiful and have been crafted from vintage fabrics. Some are completely stitched by hand. Roberta Vigil and Deborah Archuleta are the artists behind these beautiful quilts. http://twinwillowsranch.com/twquilts.htm.

If you are ever looking for a unique gift, be sure and go on-line shopping at the animal rescue website, or any of their sister sites that also support important charities. I noticed that the animal rescue site currently has a number of unique yard and garden items available such as yard flags, indoor and outdoor mats, and plant stakes, and many are on sale. Also available are apparel, jewelry, and pet items. When you click on an item for more information you are also told how many bowls of food or vaccinations are made possible by your purchase. Many of the items also benefit craftsmen in third world countries who depend upon the sale of their goods for their livelihood. Shipping and handling is reasonable, too.

Why just shop when you can shop and help others at the same time? Be sure to take a look when you can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Even though there is a chance of snow tomorrow, it has been looking and feeling like spring for the past several days. Daffodils are blooming, and the daylilies and iris are really growing. The rhubarb is starting to peek through the ground and of course the weeds are already greening up and growing!

This past week I discovered a nice stand of French tarragon that survived winter in my back door herb bed, and was happy to see that the chives are starting to emerge in the large herb garden adjacent to the vegetable garden. They still have some growing to do before I will start to harvest the green spears, but it won't be long. Right now they are kind of curly and close to the ground, but soon they'll stand upright and be about 11 or 12" tall. This dependable herb is very easy to grow. You can start chives from seeds or buy a small plant at the nursery. Chives are a perennial and also self seed, so your harvest will grow each year without much effort. Use chives to add a delicious touch to many different dishes. A member of the allium family, chives have a mild onion flavor. Most people are familiar with sour cream and chives on baked potatoes, but chives can be used to give a tasty flavor to many other dishes such as vegetables, salads, soups. I really like them on cooked carrots. Stir a tablespoon or two of chopped chives into a softened stick of butter and you have a quick, tasty, and attractive herb butter. Stir in a clove of minced garlic and spread on a split loaf of French bread for a most excellent garlic bread.

I am especially anxious to harvest some of the clover-like purple chive blossoms that will appear later in the spring. Chive blossoms are delicious sprinkled in salads, but I like to use them to make herbal vinegar. I use a regular mason jar and fill it at least 1/3 full with chive blossoms. Next I pour in white vinegar, cover the jar with some plastic wrap, and set it in the windowsill to be warmed by the sun. Within a few hours the vinegar starts to turn a beautiful rosy color and the color intensifies as the vinegar steeps in the sun. After 7-10 days, and the blossoms have faded, I strain the vinegar through a coffee filter into clean, sterilized bottles. You can buy decorative bottles in any kitchen store, or look for them at secondhand shops. I have even found some pretty bottles at the recycle center. Wash the bottles thoroughly, rinse, and sterilize by pouring in boiling water. Let the bottles drip dry. Make sure the bottles are completely dry before using a funnel to fill the decorative bottles with vinegar because any water will cause the vinegar to cloud. If you like, you can add a sprig or two of herbs for decoration, but chive vinegar is so pretty I usually don't bother. Use the stopper that came with your bottle, or plug the bottle with a cork. Don't use a metal lid because these will corrode. Substitute chive vinegar for plain vinegar in salad dressings, sprinkle a bit on green beans, or add a tablespoon or so to cooked greens such as spinach, chard, or beet or turnip greens. Delicious!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Something to Look Forward To

My husband and I recently enjoyed two really special weekends. The first was a two night get away at a quaint country inn in the southern part of the state. The very next weekend we had an awesome time at an Eagle's concert in Indianapolis. Needless to say, we looked forward to both of these events for several weeks. It got us to reflecting on what a wonderful thing it is to have something special to look forward to. Of course, most of us look forward to things all the time without giving it much thought. All winter long I look forward to spring. During the workday I look forward to going home, and all week I look forward to the weekend. We look forward to seeing our daughters, and we look forward to holidays. All of these things help us stay optimistic and get us through the day. My girlfriends and I have often talked about how important it is to have gal pal events to look forward to. Whether as simple as a girl's night out dinner, or something more elaborate like a road trip to a fall festival, we really look forward to these events. So why not take this concept a step further? Why not make it a point to always have something special to anticipate? I suppose we have just been so caught up by our responsibilities that we've simply neglected to take the time to plan for fun. In fact, I have remarked more than once that it seems like we've forgotten HOW to have fun. When our girls were in school a lot of our "fun" was planned for us with sporting events, 4-H, county fair projects, and choir and band concerts. Now it is up to us. I've decided to take some advice I've heard on TV and "Just do it." If we don't take charge of putting fun in our lives, who will? I am going to set some time aside this weekend and plan some road trips and weekend jaunts for the upcoming weeks. After all, planning is half the fun, and I'm having fun already, just thinking about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Getting Serious about Gardening

It is March 22nd and the weather this weekend has been fabulous. I am trying hard to remind myself that we could still get snow, but it feels like spring. I have been getting serious about taking care of some gardening projects, despite the fact I've been struggling with fatigue and some days have almost zero energy. Fortunately, I am finding that getting outside in the warm, fresh air, or even doing inside gardening, such as starting seeds, gives me a real boost. I now have basil and cabbage seeds up and in the basement under the grow lights. Tomatoes have been started in peat pots and are awaiting germination on the heat mat. It is so hard to wait for those first sprouts! Outside, I have planted a few peas 'Tall Telephone' with a ring of pink radishes further out around the pea trellis. I quickly installed some plastic poultry fencing around the planting to keep nibbling rabbits away.

There was a spot in the garden between two raised beds where I had unfortunately allowed the lawn to move in as I lacked the energy to keep up such a large garden. But now that I have extra garden boxes to fit in the garden and once again need the space, we decided to burn off the grass and weeds and lay down mulch. I think I'll use part of this area to plant some of the larger tomatoes that will go in the ground instead of in a garden box. Since they'll be growing at the edge of the garden I'll still be able to pick the ripe fruit even if the garden is too wet to walk through. My last project of the day was to rake out and weed the raised bed where I'll plant the lettuce seed. I must have hauled 4 or 5 cart loads of dried weeds, sticks, and old plant material I didn't get cleaned out of the garden last fall, into the wooded area where I dump organic waste. The old brush acts as a mulch and helps keep down the invasive garlic mustard that is trying to take hold. I still have two additional raised beds to clean out, but that won't take very long. I'll use one for onions and cilantro. I'm not sure what will go in the other one. Maybe I'll use it for parsley and basil.

Other signs of spring I spotted were the daylilies and irises really starting to show, some grape hyacinths in bloom, the French Sorrel peaking up through the mulch, and some of the lilacs starting to bud. The rhubarb is even starting to come up, even though it doesn't look like much yet! This was a perfect weekend to get serious about gardening. It was a real pleasure working outside in mild temperatures under a warm sun without high humidity or insects buzzing about. If I could, I'd put in an order for several more weekends just like this one.