May 072018
 

There is a lot of “new” happening over here this growing season – new zone, new yard, new routines, new plant selections, new places to shop…you get the idea.  Among all the newness there are still some constants which help it all flow smoother.

One of the things I have learn while gardening in various ways over the years is that raised beds are my friends.  I do not need a tiller to break up the soil each year, weeds are greatly reduced, and I can grow more in a small space than I could traditionally.

From past experience I knew that an 8 foot by 4 foot bed would be a great place to start.  Large enough to plant several things, but not too big to become overwhelming.  Having paid attention to the sunlight over the past year, I knew where in the yard would get full sun through all seasons, and which areas were in full or partial shade from late fall through late spring.  As none of our neighbors have backyard trees to create shade, that was not something I had to contend with.

A few other factors to take into account when deciding on placement were: location to a watering source, distance from fire ring, discharge from rain gutters, and allowing room for the kids to play.  I did not want to be carrying heavy buckets of water across the yard all summer or trying to wrangle several lengths of garden hose.  I also needed it to be far enough away from our fire ring to not interfere if we happen to be outside after dark.  The rain gutters discharge a lot of water during a rain event, even a small one.  If the garden was too close the soil would be eroded away.

After settling on where to place the garden bed and carrying the materials to that spot I actually had to move the location over a foot or two.  Why?  The yard had a slight slope around the edges to it to aide in storm-water run off.  What is normally a good thing (good drainage) becomes a not so ideal situation when you are trying to build a level raised bed.  Moving the bed over meant it would be level, thereby saving me the effort of having to dig it down on one side or raise it up on the other.

My previous garden beds were made out of wood planks screwed together to create squares or rectangles.  While this method was more economical it meant more time in constructing the beds, as well as painting or staining the boards to ensure a longer life.  It also made it a lot more difficult to extend the beds as my gardening adventures grew.

I liked the look of raised beds made of decorative stones, but the budget would not permit it at this time.  I also felt like that beds were more permanent in nature.  At this time I was not ready to commit to a location long term.

Concrete blocks were more economical than decorative border stones, flexible enough to change or move if desired, did not require constructing a frame, and allowed me the option to plant in the open spots of the blocks.  While I did not prefer the look of the blocks, the other factors won out.

In two days time I had a bed created in my back yard.  A few days later it was planted and seems to be doing well.  After two years of not having a vegetable garden, it is nice to be able to look forward to produce from one’s own backyard.

Something to keep in mind when planning on using concrete blocks is their weight.  Not only the weight of the finished product, but also the weight in your transportation of choice.  I was able to fit 27 blocks in my car without overloading it.  20 of the blocks were for the raised bed, one block high.  7 of the blocks were being used in a flower bed located in a different part of the yard.

At the time of picking up the blocks I also grabbed a bag of peat moss, two bags of top soil, and a bag of perlite (meant to get vermiculite but didn’t want to make an extra trip to exchange bags). A 50 lb bag of manure, 4 more bags of top soil, and 2 large bags of compost were added to it later.  As I replant and fertilize more dirt will be added.  I will also need to pick up a few bags to finish filling in the open holes of the blocks around the border.

Once home I gathered up cardboard boxes which had been accumulating in our garage.  These I laid out in a rough rectangle shape.  Where possible I created multiple layers of cardboard, which will kill the grass underneath before breaking down in the soil.

After the first corner was located where I wanted it, I began the place the blocks in a line, measuring from the privacy fence to double check its alignment.  Due to the size of the blocks the planting area was not exactly 8 feet by 4 feet, but it is really close.  Add in the extra planting squares and I am happy with the result.

After the blocks were squared up as much as possible, the bags of peat moss, soil, and compost were added and mixed in place.  This may not be the “correct” way to do it, but without a wheel barrel it was an acceptable alternative.  It also created less work than mixing the ingredients on a tarp before adding to the bed.

The soil was watered, allowing me to check for levelness of the new soils and to help the contents settle before planting.

The bed is now ready to be planted!

 

May 032018
 

These past few weeks have been full of various activities around the house and adventures away from home.  Here are a few snapshots of what has been going on. Much to my surprise and delight, my amaryllis is blooming. This lovely flower was a gift from a friend.  However, it was one which I could not set out to bloom the first year I had it, so it was placed in a cool, dark basement.  Then we moved, and it had to winter another year being stored in a cool, dark place.  Tip: this is not a recommended gardening technique.

As I was unpacking and organizing the house this past fall I decided to put it out by the front door in hopes that the location would encourage it to begin growing.  Within a few weeks of placing it outside and watering it, I noticed green beginning to appear.  Both bulbs put on a hardy set of leaves for a few months.  After a time the leaves began to yellow and die away.  I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised by the lack of flowers. With a lack of a place to store it, I left it outside though not a lot of watering was taking place. (Apparently I did something right without knowing it.)

One morning, I noticed green appearing once again!  Regular watering began immediately.  This time an additional shoot appeared after a few weeks – it was a flower stem!

Our front porch has now been graced with this beauty for the past week or so.  It brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

This beauty (in the eye of the beholder) was on the neighbor’s curb.  While it is not the perfect pallet for what I have planned, there were a few factors which made it perfect in my eye. Most importantly the fact that it was two houses away and free.

It is now a work in progress, hopefully to be completed by the end of this week as I already have plants to put in it.

With a warming of weather I realized it was getting close to being late for putting in a garden.  I was not wanting the look of concrete blocks, however the benefits – mobility, long life, no having to cut and drill, outweighed the negatives – not exactly the look I was heading towards.

After seeing a friend’s beds built with these even my husband mentioned I should try it.  Guess he was not bothered by the look. So I took the plunge and bought them one day.  I knew that if I only took the first step, the rest would fall into place quickly.  I already have the cardboard, from moving boxes, and experience of having done this before in Small Town.

The construction of this has progressed enough for plants to be added in today or tomorrow.  I will share more on it later.

While picking up blocks for the larger raised bed, I decided to adjust a design detail on the new smaller side bed.  The blocks along the fence had been more of the decorative type.  The problem with this was two-fold – they were too short and they were more expensive.  Why have nice looking blocks there when no one would see them?  Not only are the concrete blocks taller, but I can also plant inside the previously open squares.

I also added a painted pot from one of the kids.  The likelihood of a toad finding it to make a toad house is fairly small, but you never know.

Another aspect of gardening I have been researching is the addition of fruit plants and/or plants to create a living screen along our back fence.  After asking opinions of other local gardeners, browsing online garden supply stores, and reading up on our state’s extension website I thought I had it narrowed down to my final choices.

A trip to a local nursery with Jack one day showed me that I was not happy with the final choices.  Even more so, I did not want to pay a few hundred dollars for something I was not completely sold on.  Back to the drawing board I went.

One thing was for sure, I wanted a fig tree.  The other fruit trees are more prone to issues due to the humidity of our location.  Figs, however, do better and will give us about two crops a year.  I also hope to start new plants off this one using cuttings.  The gift that keeps on giving, I hope.

These past month has also found me working on other goals – saving money, establishing better homemaking routines, getting back into the flow of schooling, and decluttering.

On the saving money front, I chose a store where I do not regularly shop and worked on finding ways to save there.  It took a lot more time than I thought, but I am getting the hang of it.  Something I came to realize, though, was that my attitude was not in the right place while learning.  Instead of being in a place of thanks giving for the time and resources to learn, I began to have an attitude of lack. 

I began to feel as if I failed if I did not get this deal or that. To nip this lie in the bud, I stopped paying attention to the deals at this store for a couple weeks.  When a big sale came up I was able to take advantage to save a lot of money by stocking up on some essentials for our home, not worring about the other deals I missed.  When I had to thought of, “Maybe I should go check out the other store near us, they may have other inventory”, I gave myself a talking to and found a better use of my time to bless my family.

January tends to be the hard month school wise.  After the holidays it is hard to get the motivation back to get work done.  While January was unusual, it was March which really did us in.  For whatever reason, we just could not find our groove again.  April found us taking advantage of more out-of-home activities as we are getting to know particular local families who also are active in several of the groups we frequent.  A few other groups have also appeared on our radar…we really are blessed with the opportunities, ones we were wishing for in Small Town but could not find.  We are all appreciating the opportunities to make new friends.  Now the challenge is to find a balance between “learning” and “socializing”.  Good thing several of the groups fill both needs.

As for decluttering, there are still a few boxes of items to unpack from our move.  While I am not in a rush to unpack them without knowing where the items will go, I have been going through other things to clear out items we no longer need, want, or which are in a condition to warrant being thrown away.  I was able to pass along several bags of clothes to other families of boys, as well as contribute to the yard sale of a local youth group.

The common thread to these things is: routine.  Having a routine for school makes it more likely to get started.  Having  a routine to plan weekly meals makes it more likely to not rush at dinner time.  Having a routine for picking up the house makes it more likely I am not spending all my time picking up, but can actually focus on cleaning, fixing, or clearing out.

After trying a few different things I have found a few thing which have stuck.  Using those as framework for the rest of the system we are slowly expanding.  For me that currently looks something like this:

  • Laundry – Monday=mine and my husbands, Tuesday=George, Wednesday=Jack, Thursday=household and random other pieces
  • Meals – Sunday=spaghetti for lunch, leftovers for supper, Thursday=supper with small group, Friday=supper is pizza and movie, Saturday=lunch is meat, potatoes, and another vegetable with a nice dessert, supper is lighter such as sandwiches.  Nothing fancy, but it is a good framework.
  • A daily evening pickup of the house. Not perfect, but something is better than nothing.  This was happening right before bed, but then everyone was worked up. I changed it to happen right after supper and before a family activity which involves some sort of treat/dessert.  It worked much better last night.
  • Bedtime routines have simplified and been written out.  This was written down such that “Boy A” does X then Y, while “Boy B” does Y then X.  Seems clarifying that they shouldn’t be in the bathroom at the same time was needed to help reduce the amount of rough housing and to decrease the time it took to brush teeth.
  • The robo vaccum is run twice a week, at least – on Sunday while we are at church, and Wednesday during the day.  Other times as needed, but at least I know the floor will be picked up and swept twice a week. Now for mopping…

There is a lot going on over here, a lot of new or different things.  However, I am beginning to feel a better balance about things…all in time for summer break to be looming on the horizon, of course.

My overall goal for the garden this year is to work on getting big things established, to keep the longer distant time-wise goals in mind.  With an idea of where I want to end up, each step of the way is in that direction, even if it seems like I am skipping here and there around the place.

How has the spring been finding you?  What is one of your goals for the year and what have you done to work toward achieving it?

Apr 162018
 

This post contains affiliate links.


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Apr 152018
 
A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949 by Kevin Peraino

This post contains affiliate links. As much as I would like to live in my own little bubble, in my own little corner of the world, tending my garden, reading books, drinking coffee, and feeding birds, that idealized vision could only last for so long.  That is the problem with ideals, they are, well, ideal.  […]

Apr 032018
 
Losing The Cape: the power of ordinary in a world of superheros by Dan Stanford {Book Review}

I was provided a copy of this book by Moody Publishers for review.  All opinions are honest and my own.  The post contains affiliate links.  If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small percent at no additional cost to you. Ordinary. That is a very good description of how I […]

Mar 172018
 
Be A Good Neighbor, Not A Nosey One and a giveaway

This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for helping support this blog. There are so many “National _____ Month” or “National ______ Day” or “Celebrate This Day” that it is hard to keep track of them all.  Honestly, at times I do well to remember my family’s birthdays. You may then consider this your friendly neighborhood […]

Mar 162018
 
Stay The Course, Reach Your Goals

This post contains affiliate links. January has a reputation for being a recovery month.  Coming off several large holidays, one may find they are feeling a bit down, are having a rough time with cabin fever due to colder weather, or perhaps feeling overwhelmed by their goals for the upcoming year.  While January was, personally, […]

Mar 152018
 

Last October I shared this video with the intent of increasing garden knowledge for those who like to tuck such facts away for when they will be useful. For the rest of us, here is the video at a time which may be more appropriate to your gardening preparations. Do you grow onions?  What is […]