Thursday, May 18, 2017

Container Gardening - combination pots

We interrupt this season's search for the perfect petunia for an absolutely brilliant tip on potting up combination pots.  I have three whiskey barrels and a couple other large containers to plant in my landscaping and it's not a process I've ever really enjoyed because of all the planning and placement and respacing and adding and subtracting of soil.  It always ends up being a bit of a messy business, especially if you are working with spreading plants that are mature and filling out.

  • Just take spare empty pots the size of the ones you are removing the plants from.  
  • Place them in the larger container the way you want them.  
  • Fill the potting soil around them and firm it up.  
  • Remove the small pots one by one and replace with the plant itself.
How easy is that?  Now I'm looking forward to potting up all those containers!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Salad Bowl Gardens

I've seen photos of this idea on the web for a couple of years now.  And it seemed a nice idea for someone in the city who only had a balcony or a doorstep on which to garden.  Not really practical of course when you are in the habit of growing bushels of lettuce....

My Lettuce Mid-June 2015
And then, on one of my annual agri-tourism/reconnaissance missions,  I spotted salad bowls at the local mega-greenhouse.  And I wanted one!  Really badly.  No, do not pick up two dollars worth of lettuce for ten bucks.  No.  Put it down.  Even if it is really pretty and lush and colorful.  I already have fourteen lettuce plants at home which, within a week or so, will be supplying us with all the lettuce we can eat for the next month.  And I have another thirty six or more seedlings waiting in the wings.

Now, if you have neglected to seed or plant lettuce yet this year, this may be a fun way to start your summer garden.  But if, like me, you have dozens of plants waiting for you at home, I suggest you grab a pot and plant up an assortment of colorful lettuces now so if you do run across these expensive little works of art, you will be able to resist too.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Leave no stone unturned - The Dry Creek Bed

We have a lot of mulched areas in our landscape.  Frankly, we are tired of mulch.  Right now, we're into rocks.

It all started last year with the Big Drain.  Well, actually, it probably began long before that.  We've always used boulders as landscape accents.  We prefer gravel over lawn.  We always have a lot of rocks on hand.  Big rocks, little rocks, flat rocks, round rocks, pretty rocks, and ugly, muddy rocks.  Rocks covered with snow and frozen together...

There are a lot of inspirational pictures of dry creek beds on the Internet, but very few instructions or plans.  This is a pretty good one.  So I will give you a step by step how we did it.  We started with 4 loads of rock. 
  1. #2 stone.  One big truck load.  This was for the french drain as shown in my last post.
  2. Straight (unwashed) bank run. Two loads. It would probably be a lot easier if you bought pretty, washed river rock of sorted sizes.  But we work on a budget.  So we got plain, muddy, mixed up stone scooped straight from the creek bank.  That will give you the entire spectrum of rock types to work with.
  3. One big truck load of boulders.  From basketball size up to steamer trunk size for decorating.

When you are ready to decorate your french drain and turn it into a dry creek bed, first you must organize your rocks.
Tim laid out a bucket load of assorted rocks at intervals along the creek bed.

We had half a dozen really big rocks that we had to move with a sling.  Very handy tool.  Once you get it UNDER the boulder.

Step two is to arrange clumps of  rocks along the sides of the creek bed.  In a natural creek, large rocks will get caught up in bunches and then the smaller rocks will flow around them, catching in a pile around them.  We wanted our creek bed to meander in a fairly uniform serpentine.

Step three.  Dump a bucket load of muddy, ugly rocks on top of your pretty, carefully arranged rocks.  Take a deep breath and try not to look discouraged.

Yuck.  Thanks a lot.

Really yuck.  Since this is unwashed stone, five minutes with a garden hose will improve the look of things a lot.  Rinse the top layer of rocks, get down there on your knees and start sorting.  One at a time.  You can push things around with a bow rake, but really, this is a lot of hands on work.

It's really pretty simple.  You just toss stuff around and dig down until you uncover your pretty rocks.  Flat, broken, ugly or otherwise atypical rocks get tossed downstream to fill in the bottom of the creek.  Large flat stones get moved to the center of the stream. Larger irregular rocks become new, smaller focal points.  Pretty rocks colored or interesting shaped rocks get set aside so they end up on top.  Rinse.  Repeat.

This photo shows the area after the second bucket of ugly muddy rocks have been dumped and distributed.

Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

I'd say that looks like a pretty natural creek bed.

The entire creek bed took three days of rock moving.  We estimate that including the #2 stone in the french drain below, we shoveled, moved, washed and sorted about fifty tons of rock.  On day three, Tennessee Ernie Ford kept looping through my brain: You load 16 tons and whadda ya get?  Another day older and deeper in debt...

One thing I will say is that days of lifting rocks the size of beach balls will jump start your spring weight loss!

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 desk 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.

Strawberry Crisp
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings
  • 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