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 262017
 

lion flower planter collage

As I begin to tackle the blank canvas called our new back yard, this is one aspect I was keenly aware of.  Seeing this post which I had previously shared, reminded me of some key elements to consider.

Our yard is surrounded by two story homes with NO privacy between them currently.  There is no need for boring sight blocking plantings, they can be colorful and interesting with a bit of planning.  This might also solve the problem of planting next to fences – raise the plants above the shade cast by a corner fence.

The planter above is one I came across while on a walk one afternoon.  The planter is actually so tall, I had to told my arms all the way up to get the picture on the right.  I did not even know which flowers were in it till I lowered my camera to look.

“Why would they put these up so high?!  No one can even see the flowers to appreciate them.”

After giving this some though I realized that I was not the audience the gardeners were going for.  Surrounding this spot are tall buildings.  From their vantage point, the planters are spots of bright colors on the green canvas.

The same thought can, and should, go into plantings you do at home or office.

  • Who is going to be seeing the plants?
  • From where will they be looking?
  • Will they be moving or standing relatively still?
  • Where is the light coming from?

The planter above is surrounded by bushes.  If the gardeners had put it at ground level, it would have been hard to see.  Placed above the bushes it is hard to miss.

  • Are there other planting nearby to interfere with the line of sight needed?  Or which could visually drowned out the planting?

Even though I could not see the flowers, the planter itself caught my attention.  Such a bold piece screams to be looked at.

  • How will your planter play into your design?  Will it blend in or be a focal point of its own?

After taking time to think about this design in the landscape, I appreciate it even more than I did before.  Sometimes you need to think outside (or above in this case) the box when looking to add to your garden.

Have you done something particular, such as placing a planter in a non-traditional spot, in your garden?  Why did you make the final decision?  How have other’s perceived it?

 

Mar 032017
 

This post contains affiliate links.

Growing Through Reading

The coffee is already made, Jack is still asleep, George is off to school … sounds like the perfect time to catch up on some reading.  Sounds like the perfect time, but it is not.  Alas, we have an appointment over the lunch hour, so must spend time on other activities this morning.

Jack tried to convince me, yesterday, this meant we had no time for school today.  He tried. And failed.  Much to his disappointment.  “This is one benefit of home schooling, Jack.  We can make it work with whatever our day brings.”

I highly doubt he sees this as very  high on his list of reasons he likes being schooled at home.

Before I had a Kindle I was able to read ebooks on my computer.  If you are wanting to do the same, go here to download the free application.

After spending years gardening in various ways, assuming I knew it all, I have come to realized the error of my ways.  I have wasted money and time trying to recreate the wheel.  Yes, the lessons stuck, but so does the memory of frustration and disappointment when things were not working.

Spending a few hours reading about other’s experiences gardening, their lessons learned, both good and bad, can pay off in big ways.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Here are three books, all with high ranking reviews, which seems to fit the motto – “learn from those who have gone before you.”

Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less; Includes Detailed Farm Layouts for Productivity and Efficiency has 4.3 stars and is currently a #1 Best Seller.  The reviews, both in print versions and ebook versions, mention the great photos and plans laid out in the book.

“Small is beautiful, and these 15 real farm plans show that small-scale farmers can have big-time success. Compact Farms is an illustrated guide for anyone dreaming of starting, expanding, or perfecting a profitable farming enterprise on five acres or less.”

Straw Bale Gardens Complete: Breakthrough Vegetable Gardening Method – All-New Information On: Urban & Small Spaces, Organics, Saving Water – Make Your Own Bales With or Without Straw has 710 reviews and rated at 4.7 stars.  I have not personally gardened this way, but have seen a good friend of mine use this method with success.  

I can see where this method would be useful in overcoming various challenges – slugs, wet areas, limited water supply, poor soils, etc.  It is one method of gardening I plan to research more and possibly may utilize this year.

Though it says it is for “tight urban settings” at least one reviewer used it on a larger rural garden where the soils were extremely poor, and reaped great results.

“Straw Bale Gardens Complete contains all of the original information that has set the gardening world on fire. But it also goes much deeper, with nearly 50 pages of all-new advice and photos on subjects such as growing in a tight urban setting, making your straw bale garden completely organic, and using new fertilizers and conditioning products.”

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edition: Discover Ed’s High-Yield W-O-R-D System for All North American Gardening Regions: Wide Rows, Organic Methods, Raised Beds, Deep Soil has a rating of 4.8 stars and 508 reviews.  

This sounds like a great overall reference book for your garden.  The author is from Vermont and has a large (2,000 sq ft) garden.

“Everything you loved about the first edition of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is still here: friendly, accessible language; full-color photography; comprehensive vegetable specific information in the A-to-Z section; ahead-of-its-time commitment to organic methods; and much more.”

Tip: Don’t forget you can sign up for Swagbucks to earn free gift cards to use on deals on Amazon.

Feb 062017
 


Adventures In Gardening yellow flower

This post contains an affiliate links and my honest experience with this particular product.

Taking chances is something gardening is all about.  It is what makes it an adventure.  Even if you never try a new technique or plant, you are taking a chance.  Gardening is not for the faint of heart.  Whenever you plant a flower, spread seeds, add a tree to your yard … you take a chance on the weather cooperating, the soil providing nutrients, deer not eating your plants … well, you get the idea.

During the 2014 spring season, I decided to take a chance on a new gardening product, Roll Out Flowers.  This particular product may not have been new to everyone else, but it was something I had not tried before.  I had heard of making plantable paper with seeds, of using damp paper towels to help spread small seeds evenly in areas, but never had I purchased such a product.  However, the kids were excited to try this and see the results.
front flower bed sunflower packet

The concept was simple, roll out the product and water.  In a given amount of times, flowers were supposed to appear.

As we lived in a place with almost constant breezes or gusts of wind, I added a bit of mulch to the top, helping hold it in place.  Later, more was added as the sun would quickly dry out the material otherwise.

I was tempted to bury it under a thin layer of mulch, but wanted to follow the directions as stated.

front flower bed may 6 2014

front flower bed 2 may 6 2014

The kids were so excited to see what would happen, checking every day to see if there were any new seeds.  Unfortunately, this method did not work for use.  Whether it was due to old seeds (I bought it during the off season) or the sun drying it out too much,  nothing sprouted from this material.  Eventually it was removed from the flower bed and replaced with other traditional seeds.

I have tried the same method with other products, and other flower types, with some success.

Have you tried this product or similar?  What results did you end up getting?

Nov 252016
 

Here is another post from the past.  This seems like just yesterday, but was actually from almost 3 years ago! Wow, we had not even finalized their adoptions at that point.  What a different time in our lives that was.  Of course, the kids did not let that slow them down …

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

A walk to the garden to pick parsley resulted in finding parsley plants that had been eaten.  Not all the leaves were gone yet, but it was close.  The culprit?  The little green guys in the dish above.

At the time of finding these guys, we didn’t know what they were.  I actually almost squished them, or threw them out into the grass.  Just before my impulsive move I realized that this would be a great thing to look up online.  An Impromptu Nature Lesson!  I love unplanned distractions of this sort.  Usually.

  • What caterpillars were these?
  • What did they become?
  • What did they eat? (Were any of my other plants in danger of being eaten?  Did I need to do a thorough search of them too?)

After searching ‘Caterpillar Identification Images’ we quickly found what we were looking for.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 2

While looking at the caterpillars we found out that if you poke them, these small yellow ‘V’ shaped things came up from their heads.  Out of respect for science {clears through} we had to do an experiment to see what exactly made them do this.  After a few trials it was decided that the best way was to make move them by poking them.  Oh, and the more you poked them the quicker these yellow ‘V’ things appeared.  Then I decided we were bordering on being mean and we stopped.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 4

The search revealed that:

these were caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

they use parsley, dill, fennel, and carrots as host plants – the Apiaceae family

Knowing that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies and not eat the rest of my garden I breathed a sigh of relief.  The next thing was to put them in a jar to see if we could keep them till they were butterflies, notice the changes along the way, then release them.

In the basement I had some old 1/2 gallon jars that were the perfect size.  With a bit of hesitation I also cut a handful of parsley.  As I only  have two plants and had been using them for cooking, this was a sacrifice.  In the name of Science though I took a deep breath and proceeded.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar 3

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar

The kids loved seeing the caterpillars on the counter.

After a few days I realized that we didn’t have the supply of parsley needed to sustain our little colony of caterpillars.  They had a voracious appetite.

In the end one caterpillar started to make a cocoon, but didn’t finish before his energy supplies ran out.  After that I decided to let them fend for themselves in the yard, and so released them back to the wild.

Next time, we’ll only keep one or two.

Further Study – Just this morning I was looking up a bit more information on this caterpillar/butterfly and came across a great post at Ecosystem Gardening.  It was very helpful to find out that I don’t necessarily need to plant a flowerbed border of parsley to attract these butterflies and caterpillars in the future.  Carole references information she found from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  So, yes there are native parsley plants you can add to your garden to attract these beautiful butterflies.

As a side note, I have been to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  It truly is amazing, both the center and the amount of information they have.  They have a love for what they do and it shows.

Nov 122016
 

This post contains affiliate links.

finished truck bird feeder

Guest post by George.  George is an 8 year old who loves animals and going to his friends’ houses.

My mom gave this bird feeder to me for Christmas*. I liked it. I was very surprised when she gave it to me, because it was awesome because I like birds.

It was not put together, because it was a kit.  It was hard to put together.  We needed a screwdriver because it had a lot of screws.  The hood and the back and all the wheels are kept on by screws.

taking apart unfinished truck bird house collage

Since it was already built at Christmas time with Grandpa and Dad, we had to take it apart again.  It was easier to take apart than it was to put together, because I had help from my mom.  We had to take it apart because my mom did not want to paint over the screws.  (Actually, it was so that we could get all the parts painted on all sides.)

painting truck bird feeder collage

I used a pink spray paint (Watermelon Splash) on everything first.  It was easier to paint the whole thing one color first.  When the first two coast were dry I picked some pieces to paint blue.

hanging truck bird feeder collage

The bird feed came with my bird feeder. (It was part of his Christmas gift.) After we hung it up, we used a cup to put it in my bird feeder.

One day mom saw a European starling at the feeder.  I saw a blue jay flying past another day.

truck bird feeder collage

*I found this bird feeder at a consignment store, in a box, looking almost brand new.  In case you are wondering, it came in at less that $10.

Text written in italics were comments made by me to help clarify what he was trying to say.

Oct 262016
 

amending-soil

Cleaning out your garden shed is often on gardener’s spring cleaning list.  For this gardener, though, it is an item that gets done at whatever part of the year provides the time and motivation.  As I have been cleaning out items in the house, transitioning that motivation to the garden shed, and counting it as ‘outside time’, was a natural transition.

Part of what needed cleared out was the portable fire pit, specifically the ashes.  As it was sitting directly in front of the shed door, it was one of the first things tackled.  Cold ashes from  our occasional small backyard fires are normally added to the compost pile.

Over the year(s), the soil in these boxes breaks down, compacts, and/or settles.  For whatever reason, usually a combination, adding extra soil, compost, and mulch yearly is a routine part of their upkeep.  Taking a page from Lasagna Gardening, I added it directly to the bed it was intended for, which also happens to grow directly under a row of overhanging everygreens.  At this time, the only plants growing were a row of mature tomatoes at the back.  It was easy to work around these.

As long as I was adding the ashes, why not add sand as well?  The sand in the sandbox needed to be removed and the soil in the boxes needed to have some larger particles added to them to help balance out the compaction I have noted taking place.  Into the garden bed they went.

Once I made my way into the shed, discarding broken pots, discarding pots I thought I would eventually use but found myself 3 year later staring at them, discarding cans of stain left over from the previous owners, discarding broken toys full of triggers for great memories, and made enough noise to send the spiders into hiding, I came to the half-filled bag of peat moss.  Can you guess where it ended up?  That is right, into the garden bed it went.

As I was about to get my hands good and dirty, a distraction came up.  It seems the natural consequence I was waiting for had taken place – one of the boys was hurt in their loudly wild stick swinging chilverously brave sword fighting.  While I tried to reassure them that no blood was flowing and therefore I was not needed.

“See the garden, boys? Mama finally gets to play in the dirt and does not need to do mom things right now.”

They did not agree.

It seemed that only Mom’s knowledgeable hands could fix the horrors of what brother had done.  My question to them was, “do you think it wise to keep swinging sticks at each other?”  I received the appropriate answers, knowing the lesson would stick for all of 5.4 seconds … so I left out the bottle of liquid bandage.

scrached-child-cheek

Back in the garden, knowing the kids had moved on to something as equally smart as rapidly swinging long sticks at each other, I made quick work of mixing together the three ingredients, top dressing the soil and smoothing it all out.  In the spring, these will get mixed into the soil during planting time.

As Autumn begins to wind down, mulched leaves and other items may still be added to the top of this bed.  Doing these activities now will create a bed ready to be planted in come spring.  The soil will have had time to incorporate nutrients, items will have begun to break down, and if all goes well, the soil structure in this particular bed will have improved.

Working in small spaces can sometimes feel over loaded with limitations.  However, it also has a host of benefits, such as being able to tailor actions on a small scale, addressing the needs of a particular bed rather than applying an action to the whole garden.  Lasagna gardening has been a life saver for me on more than one occasion.  The ease it provides, while also encouraging a natural approach to your garden, quickly made it one aspect of gardening I have continued to follow over the years.

soil-amendments-mixed

This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for helping support this blog.

Oct 192016
 

kids-garden-window-box

The planter box above is made up of fairly small growing plants.  The area gets a fair amount of sun, is about 3 feet off the ground and around 2 feet wide.  Using more petite plants keeps this area from being overwhelmed.  Instead of using one regular sized or larger plant, at least 4 smaller plants are used.  The colors, even though they are all green, vary from light to dark, solid to stripped.  This variety keeps the plants from all blending together into one blob of green-ness.  Small pops of color are added by the flowers, which added just that extra bit of interest.

**********************

My attention has been pulled elsewhere these past few weeks.  I have not forgotten about the blog, I promise. Each day my plans to post at night after the kids are in bed are routinely foiled by falling asleep at 8:30 pm or before.  It is a constant, daily struggle to figure out what is the highest priority versus what is my preferred activity at that moment.  Example: What needed accomplished yesterday –  two kids’ doctor’s appointments, a few phone calls, removing a window to have the glass replaced, taking said window in to get fix, wiping down dinning room walls, and clearing off a set of shelves.  What I wanted to do – sit on the porch swing reading a book from the stack by my bed, write two book reviews for the blog, and haul a few buckets of wood chips for my front flower beds.

I am anticipating my large project being finished by the beginning of next week, but only if I do not spend time elsewhere.  That fact alone (the end is near) is what keeps me moving forward instead of curling up in a closet with a book, waiting for things to magically happen themselves.

Have you noticed I mention reading a lot?  Yeah, I like books.  They are great places to escape into, though they do not help the laundry get done. 🙂

 

 

Oct 092016
 

kids-garden-containers

Contrast in color, size, and texture can add interest to your garden.  Here I showed you an example of a large area where this was used. Here in a smaller example.

Tucked into a corner of a garden, it would have easy to put in a plant and move on. Instead, a bit more time was spent, turning this corner into a spot that adds to the overall garden.

It also shows what you can do if you only have a small spot. While you may not be able to do everything, you can still do something.

Oct 072016
 

city-garden-open-space-before-planting-spring

When I first saw this garden, in its wintertime bareness, I would imagine all the different ways it could be planted and decorated. Then I began to feel like a failure for not being able to do the same in my garden.

circular-garden-in-summer-bloom-2

Later I visited the same gardens. They were taking shape, colors were starting to appear, and the feeling was less of emptiness.

circular-flower-garden-in-summer-bloom

I also realized several things:

  • There are people who are hired full time to take care of these grounds. This is not solely a hobby.
  • There is more than ONE person taking care of these gardens.
  • The same pattern is used year to year. No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
  • Annuals are used, not perennials or bulbs.
  • There is a greenhouse used to grow all of these annuals. I would have to either build a greenhouse, spending months to grow these, or else pay retail.
  • This particular garden is larger than my yard. I could not replicate it if I tried.

Reminding myself of these things when the gardening doubts begin to creep in has helped me keep a more balanced view, to not judge myself so harshly. I am also able to enjoy the gardens more, appreciating all the effort others put in so I can sit and enjoy them. No weeding required.