Sunday, March 26, 2017

The World Will Always Need Ditch Diggers

The world will always need ditch diggers.  Or so they say.  More on that later...


The mild February weather got us an early start on our spring projects.  Now, gardening has begun, not early, but promptly on time.  All (most) of the leaves and branches from our unusually high winds have been rounded up from the garden and landscaping.


The beds we will use this year have been uncovered, and fertilizer applied to the landscaping.  We 're trying Milorganite.  The University of Georgia published a study which suggests that Milorganite will repel deer and rabbits for up to 5 weeks.  So that went around all my crocuses, and sprouting day lillies as well as into our ground cover before it grows thick and impenetrable,

The original location of the apple tree
When we first planted this apple tree (above), we did not have the large patio where the cold frame sits, and we had a different lawn mower.  When we upgraded from the regular zero turn mower to the larger diesel version, the mower deck is now just a little to wide to fit easily between the patio and the mulch around the tree.  So we chose what now seems like the perfect place for an apple tree.  I don't know why we didn't put it there to begin with.


It was wet, it was mucky, and it was heavy.  But we were able to dig a trench around the tree, loosen the soil underneath, and then my Dad showed up at the perfect time to lend moral support as we wriggled a tarp underneath the root ball and heaved the heavy, awkward, muddy, soggy tree out of its hole.  After that it wasn't too much trouble to drag the tree around to the new spot where I had a hole already prepped.

We now have a large, round, empty  hole in the lawn.
Now it is just a matter of firming up the empty hole.  We started with crushed 2 stone.  After that gets rained on a bit, we will add top soil.

Now about that ditch...



The tree filled our Friday work day.  Saturday was uncovering the garden and working on The Ditch.  The Ditch is a french drain which drains the back roof of the big garage, our very very wet side yard which stands in inches of water every time we get a lot of rain, and the neighbor's side yard and driveway.  The original design was a pipe bedded in washed 2 stone, covered with stabilization road mat and then shredded bark mulch.  The stabilization mat was to keep the mulch from filtering down into the gravel, but as it turned out, the mulch was not to be the problem.  Because the one side is a significant slope, all the soil under the stabilization mat washed down the slope from around the trees, and packed full the 2 stone surrounding the pipe.  This resulted in slow draining and in the fall when we were cleaning up leaves, the mulch on top was unbelievably, wet, ankle deep and mucky.


The new plan is a dry creek bed arrangement with all stone and zero mulch.  And the soil all underneath the mat.  It just wouldn't be fair to show you a finished creek bed and talk about how fun it was to arrange rocks and pick out the plants if I didn't show you all the back breaking work that goes into a landscape like that.



In February, Tim shoveled out all of the old mulch.  40 tractor bucket loads.  And this weekend, we recruited neighbor Mike's help and we dug up the ditch and his lawn on the other side of the fence.  This is all handwork as we try to save the pipe and maintain the grade.  The muddy 2 stone is going to the neighbor's new barn area as fill.  Not easy digging.  It took about three and a half hours to do a little more than half.  The far end is yet to be done.


We removed each section of pipe and ran water down it until it was coming out correctly into the roadside ditch.  Then we reversed the original arrangement and put the stabilization mat UNDER the drain pipe, and new washed 2 stone on top.


The next step will be to turn this big pile of unwashed, uncrushed, straight bank run into a realistic looking creek bed.  Then we'll add some edges of ground cover, some grasses, but no mulch.  There is a lot of rock moving to be done between then and now.

Unwashed Bank Run
 In other gardening news: today I got my first planting of peas in.  I also direct seeded (with last year's left over seed) lettuce down each side of the peas because I just couldn't resist.  I will still start lettuce in pots in the cold frame.  And I set out the freshly painted toad house.

The Toad House got a face lift over the winter

Friday, March 10, 2017

Go Fly a Kite!


In honor of this week's persistent destructive high winds, I have begun my spring decorating with a kite flying bunny.


I already planned to have him sitting here on the school dress at the side door to welcome guests.  The most logical activity this week would be kite flying.



Go Fly a Kite!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Strawberry Season

It's Strawberry Season again.  Well not here, but in some parts of America.  So each time I walk into the produce department, I am faced with luscious looking strawberries.  The problem with this is I cannot justify buying fresh strawberries when I have pints and pints frozen at home with no plan for how to use them up.

What do you do with a whole bunch of frozen strawberries?  You make Strawberry Crisp.  I found this recipe on Pinterest so if any of you are in the same predicament I highly recommend it.  It says to serve warm with vanilla ice cream, But in my opinion it's better refrigerated with whip cream.

RECIPE SOURCE
Strawberry Crisp
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings
Ingredients
  • 32 ounces of strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned roll oats
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (1 stick)
  • Instructions
    1.      Preheat oven to 350*F
    2.      Spray an 9 x 9 inch square pan with non-stick cooking spray.
    3.      In a bowl toss strawberries, 1/4 cup sugar and cornstarch.
    4.      Place berries into prepared pan.
    5.      In a separate bowl, mix flour, oats, 1/3 cup white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
    6.      Add melted butter and mix well.
    7.      Pour oatmeal mixture on top of berries.
    8.      Bake for 35 minutes or until topping is golden and berries are bubbly.
    9.      Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Early Birds

We have been enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures for February.  Along with most of the country.  It is becoming more and more usual for us to get winters here in Western NY where you can spend a day or two sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.  What is not normal, is sitting on the patio on February 19th, watching blue birds fight over the bird house.  Two pairs.  I wouldn't expect to see them until May.  And now I want to build more bird houses.

Photo from June 2013
 Surprise #2 came this morning when on my way to work I spotted a small flock of robins.  They used to arrive mid-April.  The past two or three years they have been early, first appearing mid-March.  Mid-February is a record.  


I feel like I should plant peas or something!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chain Reactions - also referred to as "collecting"

Collections start with a chain reaction don't they?  You see something you like so you buy it and take it home because its so neat that you want to look at it some more.   And then you see another one that is exactly like the first, or just slightly different, and the novelty of that discovery leads to you buying that one too so you can take it home, set them side by side and look at them some more.  That's how I ended up with several hundred year old marshmallow cans. Of course there are those of us who collect still useful items and defend our collection with "but I use those".  Of course.  But how many can you use at one time?



Take for instance enamelware roasters.  Years ago I bought a small oval roaster for my kitchen collection.  I thought it would be nice to display in my 1920s Even-Heet oven.  I love the oval shape which is a bit different than the squarish, flat topped, rounded end roasters that look big and clunky and it was small so it wouldn't take up too much room in our little house.



I've used the oval roaster many times.  The double walled construction makes the best roast chicken ever.  I liked it so much that I thought I'd keep an eye out for a larger version so I could try roasting a turkey in it.  I still haven't found one because I haven't found one in the right color with a domed top (as opposed to flat) and  dimples (instead of rings).  I love these dimples.  This attention to detail, while it may sound a little obsessive, is the only thing that keeps a collection in check.  If I weren't so picky I would have too many pieces of enamelware.  Like more than 90.   Ahem.... so...

I have seen a few round roasters, and I thought they were kind of interesting.  I liked their proportions.  But I have a roaster.  If I needed another roaster, and that's a big if, it would be a large roaster.  And then I saw ~ dimples.


The two roasters will now have to share display space

And that's how I've ended up with so many enamelware pieces.  When I started out my intent was to fully accessorize my Hoosier cabinet, gas oven, and refrigerator.  I found an article in a 1933 Good Housekeeping Magazine which listed the inventory of a well equipped kitchen.

There is only one piece of enamelware in this ad.
The tea kettle on the stove.  It was all down hill from there.
So I started with the basics.  One tea kettle, one coffee pot, one milk pitcher...  And then I became what collectors call a "completist".  Which translates to "I have to have every variation they made".  That's not really possible with enamelware because of the very wide range of products.  But you can get most of the way there.


If you like Cream City Jello molds, you need both the round one and the oval one.

Cream City Jello Molds
Creamers?  Did you know some of them come with lids?  I didn't.  I love things with lids.  So I needed another creamer.


And while I'm at it, I decided I'd collect a whole bunch of creamers.

A small assortment of creamers
To go with my tea...

This tea kettle was the first or second piece I bought.
...and Coffee.

The tall coffee "bigguns" were harder to find.
Then I found two at once.

Large and small Preserving Kettles
An assortment of refrigerator dishes
And that's how a collection starts.  I collect several different things.  Old print blocks, playing cards, horse anchors, bits, trophies, chicken stuff, farm stuff etc.  But the enamelware is my favorite and at least its still useful, besides being decorative.  What sort of neat stuff do you all collect?

1936 apartment sized Frigidaire

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beer Growlers and Mush Mugs

That title got your attention didn't it?  No telling what I will get into during the long winter months between gardens. What the hey is a Beer Growler or a Mush Mug?  Well, one or the other of them might look like this:



Beer Growlers are containers used to transport your daily helping of beer home from the draft at the local tavern.  It makes sense really, that they should have two handles, not only to make the hand-off go smoothly, but you can clutch your beer growler in two hands so you don't spill as you totter home.  Mush Mugs are large mugs sometimes used to warm food (porridge comes to mind), but they don't sound like quite as much fun as a Beer Growler.



I bought this little collection mostly for the three nesting bowls with lids.  It is amazing really, after all these years, that all six pieces were still together.  Especially after 80-ish years.  They are very very well used.  Just think of how many times these have been washed (or as Tim observed after seeing their condition "not washed") in their lifetime.  Just imagine the recipes that were made.  These did not belong to anyone who had the money to replace their bowls every few years.  These look like they stuck it out for a lifetime.  I tried every cleaning method I know on them, Citric Acid, Iron-Out, Bar Keeper's Friend, and while I did get all of the rust and sticky gunk off of them, nothing is going to bring them back to a youthful luster.  This is as good as it gets.



So I bought the collection because of the bowls, but when I unwrapped the package, I instantly fell in love with the Growler.  If that is indeed what it is.  My reference books identify them as "either Biscuit Tin or Beer Growler" and I cannot find an example in any of my original sales pages of either item.  This one came without a lid, but I did have one unmatched lid floating about which had come on something it didn't even remotely fit.  However, it settled perfectly into the rim of the growler as if it were home again.

Now for those of you who have never heard of a beer growler, here is a little history and explanation on them.  This one really looks like just a really big mug, if you are into two fisted beer drinking in that volume, and I have seen very large straight sided mugs with single handles referred to as Mush Mugs, but I have absolutely no use for a Mush Mug.  So instead of thinking it could be a biscuit tin, or a very large mug, this will forever be known as The Growler.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Out of Hand

In my experience, January is the time when gardens are most likely to get out of hand.  Not June when the weeds grow faster than the vegetables or August when everything needs to be watered at once.  It's January.  Which is why it is best to make your future gardening plans in August when you have months of gardening under your belt and you might just be a bit more realistic about watering and pests and the size of the harvest.


So I make my detailed plan and if I want to alter it I save the "realistic" plan first so I can go back to it for a reality check.


All through the year I pin things I want or need so I don't forget that I need more earth staples and wire cloches and order more cucumber grids instead.  It also gives me a good reference to go back to files of previous years to see which varieties worked and where I got them.

Strawberry Blonde Marigold
Seed catalogs are flooding in.  I keep a stack by my bed to grow dreams on.  I begin marking varieties I've never heard of in catalogs I've never ordered from.  It takes time to consolidate into reasonable orders so you aren't ordering just one or two things from each supplier.  That's not postally efficient.

 You have to work the system.  For instance, Burpee is having a free shipping on $20 sale, so I ordered $20 of peas and beans knowing that when my order arrives it will have a coupon to use on a $50 order and then I and then I can get my pepper seeds and frivolous things like sunflowers.  And I try not to order Strawberry Blonde Marigolds just to see if they really look like that.  I don't need peach shades of marigolds.  I need yellow and orange ones... but the strawberry ones look so unique....


As the bitter winter wind blows outside my window and my garden beds sleep under mounds of soft snow, I flip through photos of warm, barefoot summer days with lush foliage and tidy rows and I lose all sense of perspective.


I think fondly of warm Saturday mornings with the sun on the rise and the dew fresh and clean on perfect leaves and I lose all control.


I remember picking bushels of fresh lettuce and baskets of peas and I dream of acres of plants and a harvest that will feed a small army.


I remember fondly the sweltering heat of summer and pickle day.

Pickle Day 2011
And these are the things that lead to over planning.  Before I know it I'm making lists of things like winter squash and fennel and artichokes.  None of which I eat or have room for.  I get wild ideas about growing enough pumpkins to line the length of the driveway or Indian corn or pop corn.  I begin to think it would be wise to have a medicinal herb garden.

The Jungle Garden 2008
Yes this is how gardens get out of hand.  It's January that does it.  It's probably best just to forget about gardening until March and then surprise yourself with the orderly lists you made last August.  And stay out of the seed catalogs!