Jan 282017
 

thinking oustide the garden box books collage

This post contains affiliate links to books I would love to read this week, instead of washing the dishes or doing laundry or, well, you get the idea.  Perhaps instead you can read them and let me live vicariously through you.  If you choose to do so, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought of the book.  Actually, I have read one of the books on the list this week, which is why it is on the list.  I loved it so much that I will probably read it again … once the dishes are washed and the laundry is done. 😉 Who am I kidding, I will fall asleep tonight reading by my book light, as I always find time somewhere in the day to read at least a little something.

Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics (The Good Guide to Gardening Book 3) by [the Good, David]

Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics (The Good Guide to Gardening Book 3)

If you are looking for a new challenge or adventure in gardening, this might be the thing for you.  Meeting a plants needs leads to the results you are desiring, even if you have to artificially fulfill those needs.

My mother-in-law was great at this, being able to start and grow fruit trees several zones north of where they ‘should’ grow.  How?  She understood the need of the plant and was able to meet it.  Yes, it took a bit of extra attention.  However, she was able to reap the rewards – fruit she would otherwise have had to purchase at the store, shipped in from another country usually.

You might already know one side of your house has frost longer in the day than another part, or that the bushes on a particular side of your house grow larger than their counter parts around the corner, or perhaps you have found a particular plant will not grow at all in your yard, but the neighbor up the hill grows them so much they are a weed.  The difference could be as simple as a difference in microclimates.

I personally saw this happen with two different blackberry bushes, planted 3 feet apart.  One grew several feet higher each year than the other, due mainly to how far away from the wall of the house it was.  It happened to get an hour or so more of sun each day; everything else about their site (soil, water, impact of human traffic, etc.) was the same.  The extra sunlight created enough of a difference in the growth, and as a result the crop and spread of the second plant was much greater than the first.

Instead of taking the harder route, like I have done in the past, learn from someone who has already put in the work and research.

The author does give a disclaimer in the introduction: he can’t help you grow limes in a Minnisota backyard or find the girl of your dreams; but it may help you grow the desired plant that would grow if you were only a few hundred miles south.

All the Presidents' Gardens: Madison's Cabbages to Kennedy's Roses-How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America by [McDowell, Marta]

All the Presidents’ Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses—How the White House Grounds Have Grown with America

Are you tired yet of hearing me rave about this book?  Yes, I liked it that much.

Not only did I learn about the gardens found on our presidents’ lawns, but also about gardening history, history of our country, and an appreciation for life through the past several hundred years.

Can you imagine being able to walk across the lawn of the White House?  Let alone assuming it was the public’s right to do so?  How about the President’s family keeping the family milk cow on the front lawn? Or being expected the President’s family to personally host and cook for all dignitaries and visitors, usually from their own gardens.  Things have definitely changed over the years.

The ebook version of this book is only a few dollars right now.  This would make a great clutter free, early Valentine’s Day present for yourself, or a gardener in your life. 😉

Pepper Growing: Everything You Need to Know About Peppers Growing by [Anderson, William]

Pepper Growing: Everything You Need to Know About Peppers Growing

I miss the blessing of having frozen peppers available on hand; ones I was able to either grow of buy at a local produce auction, straight from the grower.  This fact is driven home constantly as I see the current price of peppers at our local grocery stores – $1-$1.50 per pepper!

With the warmer than normal winter and a move to a warmer climate, my body is screaming “It is spring! Get planting!”  However, I know winter is not yet done.  Then I saw this book and read the begging of the introduction, “I will tell you in the following pages about different types of peppers and how you can easily grow them indoors.” (emphasis is mine)  Wait, what?!  Grow them indoors?!  Now this is definitely making my gardening brain think outside the garden box in terms of which plants I can grow in the midst of winter, inside my house.

This 37 page ebook is currently free if you have Kindle Unlimited. Otherwise it is just over $5 (i.e. 5 store-bought peppers) for an ebook and also available in paperback.  There are currently no reviews, though for a price of a few peppers, it may be worth it to check out.

And yes, my brain often thinks in gardening currency, especially if I happen to be selling or purchasing produce at that time.

Nov 272016
 

This post contains affiliate links.moving-van-at-gas-station

Recently I took the longest Sunday drive I had ever taken.  The view out the side windows was nice, or at least the part I could take my eyes off the road to look at was nice.  The view out the front? Well, it was nice part of the time, but over 8 hours of being reminded that beautiful things do not last is hard.  The view may have become a bit blurry a few times, which was quickly remedied by a tissue.

Due to a job change, we moved.  This was not an “across town move”, but different zip code, different state, different growing zone move.

No longer are we residence of Zone 5, but now get to experience gardening (and living) in Zone 7.  Actually, my husband moved a few months ago, though I did not want to advertise that fact.  I am sure you can understand why.

This particular Sunday Drive was so the kids and I could join him.  After a few months of parenting solo, finishing up on home remodel and regular home improvement items, decluttering, and putting our house on the market, moving to a rental house sounded like a vacation.  Well, sort of.

Reading the post I linked above, something I posted just over a year ago, reminds me very clearly about how much we have done this past year concerning our house.  When we started that project, we did not think it would take as long as it did.  My thoughts were along the lines of 6 months, not 2  years.  As it turned out, the only reason my husband even saw the hand rails on the stairs was that he came back to help drive the moving truck.

While we saved money (thousands of dollars) in the overall home remodel project by not having someone else act as a general contractor or do all the work within one company, the trade-off was time.  It took longer as we did not have the connections to electricians, drywall installers, insulation installers, etc.  The last step alone took about 6 months to finish as the carpenter was working on other jobs. Once he was able to focus on our house it was finished in just a few weeks.

No, we did not foresee a move coming when it did, or else we would not have taken on such a large change to our house.  If only we all had a magic ball that could see into the future …. Since we do not, we make decisions with the best information we have at the time.  That is all any of us can do.

“The best information we have at the time”, that is also one of the prompts for the move.  My husband graduated with his Masters, after 2.5 years of night classes while working full time, back in May.  While I was looking forward to a year of calm, time where we could spend as a family reconnecting and reassuring, it was not to be so.  At least, it is not going to look like I thought it would.

There were some changes coming down the line at his work, something he had picked up on but which had not been announced by the higher-ups.  In June, his work officially announced the changes. The majority of workers were surprised, being unsure of what this meant for the future. Thankfully we had talked about these possibilities, looking at our options and talking through what-ifs. While things could have turned out better for us, they could have stayed the same or gone worse.  It was a huge unknown with no guarantees.

Even with that emotional preparation on our part, having news like this become ‘official’ makes it all the more real.

Blessing Others decluttered childrens clothes

Going ahead with a job search, moving to a new state and out of Small Town, moving again to where we do not have family or a support network was not easy decision or task.  We have done it before, though this time we have the added challenge of two kids.  Two kids who do not handle changes in routines very well.  Two kids who still struggle with feeling secure some days.  Yes, we took that into account.  We kept coming back to “we can either move now, or wait and potentially have the timing decided for us at some unknown point in the future.”

Knowing that raising of our kids is our responsibility is why we have taken classes, read books, worked as a family to find things that work for us.  We have tried to grow and become the parents they need us to be.  We have tried to find ways to help them grow as people, to become contributing, well balanced adults in the future.  Are we perfect at it?  Oh, gosh, no! I fail just as much as anyone.  Also, I hold myself to a higher standard now, which makes my introverted self-analyzing all the more intense. However, sometimes I get it right, and we all get to take two steps forward.

So, we have moved.  All the blog posts flying through my head, all the possible things I have wanted to share, all the wonderful fall ideas I have taken pictures of to show you and spring-board your inspiration for autumn porch decorating ideas or garden improvements have had to take a back to seat to the knowledge that every day I chose to do something else meant a day longer of parenting by myself, of having my husband live the life of a bachelor in a new place with no supports.

I feel as if I have made this excuse before, but really, is this not the story of all of our lives.  None of us can do it all, there is only so much time in the day.  There are things you need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to others.

sun light through autumn tree leaves

We now live in the equivalent of former Big Town.  It is not a Huge City, but large enough to make me uncomfortable and feeling crowded after our years in Small Town and having grown up in the country where you could not see your neighbors due to the hills and trees.  It has taken me time to start feeling upbeat about this move, to be honest.  From former moves, I know that I can live in a Huge City and still survive.  I have already started mental lists about all the positives of our new location, which helps begin to see the beauty of the place.  This always helps with attitudes of gratefulness rather than murmuring and strife.

So, this is the big project I have been up to lately.  This is what has prompted several posts on change and saying good-bye.

Thank you all for sticking with me through these odd times, where I would post for a week, then disappear.  Or where gardening posts were sparse while other things were on my mind.  I hope you continue to stop by and see what this new adventure brings for our family, and my (hopefully) beautiful garden.

A Wise Woman Builds Her Home
Nov 072016
 

This post contains affiliate links.


By now, I am pretty sure you all have figured out I am a fan of Swagbucks.  Over the years I have earned hundreds of dollars in gift cards to use for various items – grocery items, gardening supplies, cloth diapers, school supplies, bat houses, and more.  While some months I have earned more than others, Swagbucks is one method of earning to which I keep returning.

Now that the holidays are in full gear, a lot of people are already getting started on decorating their homes for the season. If you’re in that same boat, you can get great deals and cash back for shopping through Swagbucks! Just go here and see all of the great cash back you can get from some of your favorite stores. Here’s how it works:

1. Click here to see the stores offering deals and cash back.
2. Click through to the store(s) of your choice and do some shopping!
3. Get cash back in the form of points (called SB) that you can redeem for free gift cards so you can stretch your holiday (and decorating) budget even further!

As an extra bonus, if you’re not a Swagbucks member and join through my link (or you’ve joined through my link this month), you’ll get an one time 200 SB bonus when you spend $25 or more in any of the Swagbucks Shop stores before December 1st! Swagbucks is a great site where you earn SB points for doing every day things online like shopping, discovering deals, taking surveys, watching videos, searching the web, and more.

Whether you are looking to save on holiday decorations, supplies for a get together, or even if you are dreaming of next year’s garden, Swagbucks can help you save.The more SB you earn, the more gift cards you can get, which are a HUGE help this time of year.

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 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.

Aug 222016
 

ragady flower garden

Even an untrained eye could tell you the photo above is, well, horrid.  For many reasons, which I will not be going into.  What it does capture is the feeling and look of a spare garden box I had in June.  Last year this garden bed held a few flowers and lots of peppers.  This year I had no peppers.  What I did have were flowers that looked very ragady and forelorn.  Most of the other flowers had sold on the road side stand.  Due to lack of watering or other issues, these had not.  Instead of adding them to the compost pile, I filled this garden box with them.  My goal was to keep out weeds.  Instead, this is what I got …

non-ragady flower garden

No added fertilizers, no weeding (though there are a few in there), no watering.  I planted and let them be.  So what happened?  Over the winter I had added at lease one 5-gallon bucket of coffee grounds and filters from a local restaurant.  That was it.  Coffee grounds and filters are a great soil additive, helping with soil structure, retention of moisture, and add roughage for our worms.  While not everyone agrees with adding so many grounds at once, it has worked out for me.  Of course, these were on top of wood chips.  I also have a tendency to empty our added from the fire pit into the garden beds.  While we have a compost pile, I find myself semi-lasagna gardening a lot of time.  I think of it as either being lazy or efficient, composting in place and saving time in the spring.

The moral of the story: Getting good results in your garden does not have to be hard and labor intensive.  With the right environment, even the worst looking plants can thrive.

P.S. While taking the last pictures I found a stowaway from last year – a self seeded pepper plant. And to keep it real, I left the weed in the garden bed till after I took the picture.  Your welcome. 😉

self seeded pepper plant

Aug 122016
 

bee in the know

After the recent review of The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity byKate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, I have been paying more attention to the bees around me.  What I came to realize is, well, there is a whole lot more which I do not know and could learn.  This is a start.

Below is a summary compilation of scholarly papers, book reviews, and letters all concerning our neighbors, the bees.  There were so many papers and sources of information which I could share, but I had to cut it off at some point.  I tried to keep the topics somewhat related to help with narrowing down the results. u6k7v3t5

Relocation risky for bumble bee colonies – this letter in reference to a paper on the relocation of bees addresses some of the possible issues with such moves.

USBombus, a database of contemporary survey data for North American Bumble Bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Bombus) distributed in the United States – from the abstract of this research paper, “While a wealth of historic data is now available for many of the North American species found to be in decline in online databases, systematic survey data of stable species is still not publically available. The availability of contemporary survey data is critically important for the future monitoring of wild bumble bee population.  Without such data, the ability to ascertain the conservation status of bumble bees in the United States will remain challenging.”  this paper was authored by Koch, J. et al, representing several universities and the USDA.

Review of the book The Bees of the World 2nd ed. American Entomologist (the review begins on page 3) – As the author of this book review states, “That only seven years have passed since the first edition is testament to the vigorous ongoing research on bees.”  This review happens to have been written 7 years ago with even larger amount of study and focus being given to this insect family.  Some of the references to changes in the classifications have potentially resolved themselves, though even those are under constant review as more knowledge comes to light.

At 900+ pages, this book is not one you lightly add to your library, that is, unless you are a librarian at a large library.

Chemical Signals in Bumble Bee Foraging – though this paper is older, it provides a great look into the world of bumble bees and understanding how they reach the flowers in your garden.

Hive-stored pollen of honey bees: many lines of evidence are consistent with pollen preservation, not nutrient conversion – “Our findings have important implications for the improvement of natural food storage, artificial food supplements, and water balance in the hive especially during overwintering.”  As one who likes to store up one season’s harvest for use in the winter, I have appreciated the research done on nutrient levels and safe storing of these foods.  In a similar fashion bees store pollen, though it has not always been known why this is done nor if there was an unknown benefit for them doing so.  Anderson, K. et al take a look close look at this storage of pollen.

 

Nest architecture and species status of the bumble bee Bombus (Mendacibombus) shaposhnikovi (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini) – “Here, we report behavioural observations of the nesting biology of B. shaposhnikovi and provide new evidence for the conspecific status of B. shaposhnikovi and B. handlirschianus in our discovery of a nest containing both colour forms.”

I had never put much thought into the structure of a nest – where food was located compared to living quarters, how many eggs were placed in each cell, etc.  It is amazing what you can observe once you slow down and look at different parts of nature.  The authors also present their doubts about the species of Bombus, differentiated only by color, being actual separate species.

Speaking of nests and the various ways of building them, here is a paper talking about the nest architecture of a tropical bee – Nest Architecture and Foraging Behavior in Bombus pullatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with Comparisons to Other Tropical Bumble Bees.

And the Bombus transversalisNest construction and architecture of the Amazonian bumble bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae)

 

Determining the Impacts of Pesticide and Nutrition-Induced Stress on Honey Bee Colony Growth and Survival – while this research project is still underway, I thought it was interesting enough to mention.  When I am  hungry, I know how my performance suffers.  Could it be the same for bees?  Another reason for all of us to take a look at our gardens and make changes, even small ones, to help out our much needed pollinators.

As a part of the above mentioned research project, several papers have already been published looking at various aspects. Here are a few of them:

Honey bee colonies provided with natural forage have lower pathogen loads and higher overwinter survival than those fed protein supplements

Methods for Comparing Nutrients in Beebread Made by Africanized and European Honey Bees and the Effects on Hemolymph Protein Titers

Apr 032016
 

seeds beginning 2014 garden season

One idea to reduce your grocery bill that I commonly hear, after coupons and shopping sales and eating left overs, is to plant a garden.  While they are correct in a garden can be cheaper than going to the grocery store to buy the same items, it doesn’t mean gardening is always cheap.  It can easily cost a pretty penny, especially if you are just starting out.  Planning ahead and being aware of what you are spending, what you need and having realistic goals can save you quite a bit over a season, or 2 or 5.

Gardening can be done with very little money.  It can. However, it takes time and effort.

Mar 242016
 

I am a big proponent of using what I have, sometimes so much so my husband has to remind me that I can actually spend money.

When it comes to wood pallets, I see so much potential in something most people throw away.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas.

This would be perfect for my narrow, East facing bed. It is under the overhang of my garden anyway.  For that matter, I might even make two for its South facing front. It would look gorgeous filled with flowers.

We have a bare side of our house, the exterior new garage wall. A few of these with cascading flowers would give a bit of height, be easy to mow around and not look so short along a tall wall. Maybe even mixed with some vertical planters above.

Even better, by our side door which is on a small brick pad. Oiy!  So many ideas, so little time!

Or this, with a board added as a bench. I could sit outside and watch the kids play.

Well, I think I have added 3 relatively good projects to my already long list of things to do.  Honestly, though, does your garden/yard list ever get completed? Yeah, mine neither.