Jun 042018
 

A small space in your yard, either between buildings or along a border, can become a source of complaining if it requires maintenance yet does not seem to offer any benefit.  Such a space exists between our yard and our neighbor’s.  For the both of us this space is a dead-end, leading only to the backyard fence but no gate.  Neither of us have a door exiting the house at this point, nor a walk way.  While it holds utilities for the both of us, it is mainly a strip of usually forgotten grass which needs to be mowed.

When considering the garden as a whole this past winter, I realized I would rather transition this area into a large flower bed to attract butterflies and bees.  I also knew that it would be a big undertaking if I did it all at once.  Instead, I plan to take it on in stages, increasing it over time and as I have spare flower seeds to plant.

Limitations and Challenges

On our side it is about 7 feet wide, on a slight slope, gets partial light, and contains some utility ROWs (right-of-ways).  It is protected from rain by our house on one side and their house on the other, again about 7 feet further.  However, the bottom of the slight slope drains the backyard and a downspout from the corner of our house.  The result is a vast difference in moisture from the edge next to our house and the edge next to the neighbor’s yard.

These challenges actually created opportunities.  Flowers which grow in dry areas would do well next to the house, while those who can handle moisture or non-regular wetness would do very well further away.  I now was able to plant a larger variety of flowers by noticing the micro-environments happening in this area.

Beginnings

The progress of this bed did not happen over a weekend, but slowly over the past few months.  This has allowed it to grow organically rather than planned out to the detail.

{March}

Internal conversations as of late have tended along this line:

  • It is getting warmer outside.  I really need to get a move on with building some raised beds and lasagna gardens (for flowers).
  • Oh, it is cold again.  I must have been jumping the gun.  Good thing I did not plant anything.
  • Well, rain today.  Can’t do much work outside right now.
  • Warm…again. Yeah, I really should have gotten something built for outside.  I’ll do that tomorrow…
  • ::siren:: I doubt anyone would judge me too much for not improving the yard in some way while the tornado sirens are going off.
  • Oh, my, it is cold!  I think I will focus on an indoor task today.
  • …okay, so is it warm, or cold?  Warm, let’s go outside …(few hours later) my goodness, it is getting colder as the day goes on.

At first, I let this dictate as to whether I should start garden projects outside.  However, after a few back-and-forth’s I realized that if I waited till it was “perfect” I would miss the window.  Right now, something is better than nothing.

I grabbed some old packing boxes, box of shredded paper, shovel, kids’ wagon (filled with unfinished compost from compost tumbler), and headed outside.  Layering the items I began a lasagna garden.  While it is smaller than I would like, I remember that smaller can be better.  This is especially true when trying to do multiple things at once. Right now, something is better than nothing.

{April}

With a garden bed already begun, I realized I needed something for edging if I was to help keep out grass and hold the bedding in place.  A quick rough measurement of the area allowed me to pick up some bricks from the local home improvement store.  Jack was less than thrilled with this trip, though I think it had to do more with shopping in the rain than it did with the act of shopping itself.  Personally, I figured we would dry off and there could be worse things to do than shopping for garden supplies in the rain.

The total for the edging quickly added up, so I adjusted my expectations to have a shorter bed than I desired.

Once home I placed the bricks around the bed.  They reached 75% of the way around, but it was good enough for now.  The side which was not covered was against the house and a bit of the fence.

I found some more paper to shred and emptied the compost tumbler, again, to find more material to put on top of the cardboard.  We had received a shipment of cold items in the mail, the insulation of which was shredded cotton (jeans?).  This was added to the materials and has worked well at keeping the grass out.

After everything was dumped in the bed I covered it with a partial bag of peat moss I had in the garage.  While it is a light material it will mix well with the future organic material.

{May}

As seeds were bought or found I added them to the bed.

  • Daffodils from a science experiment found their home here, as did a few older daffodil bulbs from a long while back which never got planted.
  • Hollyhocks, a flower I always wanted to have in my garden, were planted in the spaces in the concrete blocks along the fence.  These should form a nice tall, colorful backdrop for the rest of the garden.  Not only will they help hid the fence, but they will attract insects as well.
  • Butterfly Weed and Chamomile seeds were spread around, as well as a few purple cone flowers.

I am starting to see several of these sprout, though I was not expecting much out of them as I planted them on my time schedule, rather than at their optimum time.

A watering dish was also created and installed in the bed.  One thing I have learned since installing this is that the water evaporates out of it at a quicker rate than I thought it would.  If we experience a few sunny days in a row I need to add water to it myself.  This is due to its shallow nature which appeals to butterflies and other insects.

What you can not tell well from the picture is the slope on which this bed is situated.  The far right block, along the front edge, and the far left top block are almost equal in height.

Dec 212017
 

Looking for a quick craft to add interest and color to your garden? How about a gift without spending a lot of money? Glass Garden Flowers, also known as plate flowers, are the perfect fit!

Materials needed:

  • tube e6000 glue
  • acetone
  • cotton swab
  • various plates, saucers, cups, candle holders, lids, condiment dishes, etc.
  • PVC elbow pieces, conduit connectors, bud vases, etc. for back
  • paper towel
  • sheet/drop cloth – not mandatory, but will make clean up easier
  • Pipe or rebar, to act as a “stem”

Step 1

Gather various ceramic or glass pieces. Plastic ones work, too, but may not hold up in cold weather. I picked up an assortment while at a thrift store. Turned out to be “50% off everything” day. The pieces I picked up ranged in price from $0.25-$1. I could have spent more, but was looking to make several without spending a lot out-of-pocket.

Step 2

Clean pieces. To get glue, residual stickers, and marker off, use a cotton swab dipped in acetone. (You can pick up a bottle of finger nail polish remover and cotton swabs from the Dollar Tree if you do not have any.) I find it easier to pour a bit into the lid and wet the swabs from there.

Dry thoroughly.

Step 3

Pair pieces together to get the look you want. Play around with the arrangements. Not all combinations looked like I thought they would, while others surprisingly worked.

Once you get them arranged like you want, take a picture if you plan on moving them. 😉

Step 4

Glue pieces together. Working with one group at a time, deconstruct the stack. Working from the bottom up, glue pieces together.

Step 5

Glue connector on the back. After letting the pieces dry enough not to move, flip the stack over and glue a connector piece on the back.

There are many various ways to do this. I tried three – using a bud vase, using conduit connectors and using PVC pipe elbows. Each has their benefits and drawbacks.

Bud vases – can be found cheaply and often in abundance. However, if the vase is too big, the flower will “dropped” on the support post. These also add weight.

Conduit connectors – cost a bit more (around $0.40 each in a pack of 5), are stocked at local hardware stores, and lighter in weight than vases.

One potential downside I noticed is the open side pointing up. This means rain can go down your support pipe, if it also happens to be hollow. If you live in a cold region this may result in snow, ice, or freezing of precipitation in this area. A solution would be to glue a coin or small metal piece on top of these.

PVC elbows – light weight, cost me around $0.40 each, found commonly at local hardware stores (or leftover from a DIY project), easy to attach, and snug fit to post. Not sure how these hold up in cold weather, as I have not tested them.

One lesson I did learn, thankfully before the glue cured completely, was to place the metal connectors far enough back from the edge of the plates so the posts can actually fit into them. Be aware of the lip along the bottom of the plate!

Step 6

Create, install, and attach to a support stem. This can be a variety of items, anything which is strong enough to support the weight of the flower. Some use rebar, conduit pipes, or other metal structures. PVC pipe is too flexible to use and would potentially break under the weight and deteriorate from being exposed to the weather.

If your flower is small enough, you may be able to use copper pipe.  I love the color these add, though it is more expensive and was too flexible for the weight I was working with.

I cut my poles to 2.5 ft, pounded them into the ground about 6 inches (till they felt secure), then placed the flowers on top. While I did not use rebar the help support the flowers, I believe I will do so in the Spring, due to the kind of soil we have. Inserting a foot or foot and a half into the ground, then sliding the “stem” over it would be an even sturdier option in my garden.

Enjoy!

Jun 102017
 

In April, my husband and I went to the Great Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati.  It has been an annual event for us these past few years, often combining visits with friends from our college years. Granted, it used to be closer.  At LOT closer.

So why did we go this past year?  My parents offered to watch the kids and my husband was going to take an extra day off.

However, plans changed and my husband had to go into work.

Starting a long trip out at 8 a.m. is a whole lot different than starting it out at 5:30 p.m.  Vastly different.  Especially if bed times are usually 7-7:30 and you rarely leave the house after 6 p.m. due to tired behaviors.

Next year … well, I doubt we will attend a conference at this particular location. 😉

At the end of this past week, we embarked upon a long return trip.  The going out part had taken place last weekend, spread across two days as the end destination contained cousins not seen in months.  We (adults) decided it best to not get there after the bedtime hour had occurred.

Coming back, however, was a different story.  With the lure of our beds awaiting us, we started out at 7 a.m. and arrived home 13+ hours later.  It was a long drive, though not nearly as looooonnnnggg as the shorter drive (distance, but not attitude, wise) we took to the Midwest GHC.

And that, dear readers is where I have been this past week and why I suddenly dropped off the face of the earth … or at least the blog.

Between George starting his summer break from public school and Summer (home) School routine, Jack starting Term 3 of AO’s Year 2, and me getting ready for our trip, I had forgotten to schedule posts to occur while we were gone.  I apologize.

This upcoming week is a bit calmer, though it contains activities to prepare to move the majority of our belongings to our new home the week after.  Gardening wise, I hope to: mow both yards, do some weeding at the new house, and cut down some stray saplings at the rental house.

 

Before we left to visit family, George helped me do some imperfect gardening – we spread magnolia marigold seeds from 2014 in the front beds of the new house, covered them over lightly with the mulch, and hoped for rain while we were gone.  There were still some weeds growing, some sort of grass, but I decided not to wait till it was “perfect” in order to use the seeds I had in my collection.

If some of the flowers grow, that would be great.  If they do not, well, no great loss. As they were gathered 2.5 years ago and stored in standard envelopes in the basement, I would be surprised if any grew.  He had fun helping though, so that was worth it.

The flower boxes pictured in this post were outside a restaurant in Cincinnati in April.  It was unusually warm at that time, though pansies and dusty miller are fairly common early garden plants.  As time goes by, both will increase in size, spilling over the sides and adding great color.  They are not overly picky (this was a fairly shaded spot between buildings), and come in a variety of colors.

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.

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