Mar 032017
 

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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
 

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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

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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.

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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.

Sep 192016
 

full-sun-bed-with-garden-shed

Even the most beautiful of gardens will still require things that may not be so beautiful – buckets, gloves, shovels, wheel barrows, pots waiting to be used, compost piles in the process of breaking down, etc.  Whether these items must be seen or hidden in side a building or container, they are all a part of the business of gardening.

Knowing these items are needed, how do you then keep them being an asset to your garden rather than a distraction from the beauty you are trying to create? Sometimes all it takes is some consideration before moving forward.

In the photo above, you can see the top of the garden shed.  Instead of distracting, the materials used, the shape of the roof, and even the color of the building itself compliment the garden.  At some point in this garden’s history a decision was made to build in this style.  They could have just as easily put up a cinder block building with a green metal roof.  The function of that building would have been the same, but the visual impact would have been vastly different.

Instead of trying to hide a building that would have been an eye-sore, they chose to build something from the start which would add to the enjoyment of the garden.  Even in winter, when all the leaves on the trees have dropped, the flowers have faded away, and the tall grasses are not so tall, the building stands as a welcome sign, inviting you come visit.  Not often found on garden sheds, the small porch and its overhang have provided both shade and protection from the elements to more than one visitor, my family included.

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Sep 152016
 

kids-garden-herbs-in-containers

Herbs are a great and simple addition to any garden, even this one build for children to explore.  Their various shapes, colors, patterns, textures, and scents all add fun variety without much extra effort.

For those varieties which tend to spread, burying a pot to plant them in often works well.  These pots can either be chosen for their abilities to blend in or stand out.  Imagine if, in the photo above, the post were a bright red or blue.  The burst of color would add visual interest early in the season when the plants may still be on the smaller side.

To help balance out the green of the herbs and attract more insects, various flowers were included in this corner of the garden.  Lest you think herbs have no value in the insect world, you may be surprised to find they actually play a role in helping deter certain pest insects or attracting caterpillars in various stops along the way to becoming a butterfly.  Do not let their homely colors full you into thinking they do not play a major role in the stage that is called your garden.

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