Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Start of Gardening "Summer"

At the end of May I try to strike a balance between taking my time and enjoying the process, and hurrying up so I don't have to wait forever for my results.  The plants have their own agenda.  I seeded 5 lettuce mixes.  The Johnny's Seed All Star Gourmet Lettuce Mix germinated almost immediately.  I already have two seedings weeks apart planted.  I had one whole flat of baby romaine refuse to sprout so I tossed the remaining seed packet and put the soil back in the tub.  I need willing participation from my plants.

Lettuce and Cucumbers  I'm trying
cucumber trellis instead of the vertical pea fence I usually use.
Two weeks ago we had snow and spent a day huddled around a brush fire trying to keep warm while we made progress on outside work.  Yesterday it was 92.7 degrees here in the shade and we were praying for rain.  We spent some time under a patio umbrella sipping tea and there was an occasional cool breeze but mostly there was sun and heat.  None of this week's forecast pop-up thunderstorms have materialized.  While we are enjoying the beautiful weather, the base soil in my raised beds is cracking and we desperately need rain.  I am already tired of watering and the plants know the difference.  They respond so much better to real rain than to fake rain. I don't know if it is the vibration, duration or chemical composition but they can tell the difference just as sure as I can tell between wine and grape juice.

We had retreated to the house and turned on the air conditioning when finally we heard it on the windows.  Big luscious drops of rain.  We opened the tops of the windows and hung out them peering at the sky and willing the clouds not to clear.  We got half an inch of rain which we desperately needed with the wind whipping from every direction at once.  At one point the seed tag flags we have on the top wire of the garden fence were pointing inwards at a sharp angle on all four sides which was just weird.  After the rain we had a summer-like sauna.  I went out and did my planned planted anyway because 80 degrees is better than 90.

My cucumbers, melons and zuchini are also bull-headed this year.  Out of several dozen pots I have half a dozen seedlings.  I bought a pack of Marketmore cucumbers just to give me a head start and I might try direct sowing more cantaloupes.  Thanks to yesterday's 90 degree weather and real rain I have a few more beginning to pop today.

My tomatoes are in gallon pots under the shade cloth on the right
 My new favorite veggie is bell peppers.  I eat several a week.  Mostly just sliced fresh with basil pesto hummus, but also in salads and omelettes.  I've planted most of one bed in just peppers with room for two over-flow tomato plants at the end.

I skipped the peas this spring and it its too early for bush beans so the only thing really left to do right now is to transplant my tomatoes.  Today I did an hour of sweaty work filling 9 Rubbermaid tubs with soil for the potatoes and wash tub planters.  I start with pure compost at the bottom as filler, top it with some complete fertilizer and put a thick layer of Moisture Control potting soil on the top to regulate moisture and provide nutrients.  I also filled four large planter pots for annuals on the decks.

Repotted Wizard Mix Coleus

I planned the contents of my planters over the winter, but two weeks ago I had an inspiration which changed my entire plan.  I'll show you when I get them potted up because I have a lot of plants still to buy.  But the main theme is Coleus.  I picked up 6 cell packs and repotted them in 4 inch pots to hold them.  It is nearly impossible to keep annuals in cell packs moist enough and they always get root bound.  By the time I get home in the evening they are dry and wilting.  I can get a 4 pack for $1.89 plus tax, or I could by larger specimens in 4 inch pots for $3.99.  But guess what?  Repotted with room to grow, in the weeks it takes me to get the pots ready and get time to put it together, the little guys will flourish and grow to the size they are selling in 4" pots. Only I've spent $1.89 not $15.96  o it pays to think ahead.

The herb corner is looking lush.  There are two young toads living in here.
I have yet to get pictures of them.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Flea Market Finds and more old marshmallows

It's Flea Market Season again!  We can go junk hunting out of doors in the sunshine!  Flea markets are a great place to gather inexpensive equipment for the garden.  I know a lot of people like to use flea market finds to decorate their gardens with repurposed furniture and windows and brightly painted junk.  Those folks have a Website and even an annual Publication.  But as I've mentioned, I don't like clutter for the sake of decorating in my garden.  So I use flea markets as a source for useful items.  I prefer these well worn antiques over shiney brite new items for a few reasons.
  1. They were very likely made in America
  2. They are very likely less expensive than new, store bought plastic versions
  3.  If they have lasted more than 50 years in good condition, it is very unlikely that I am going to wear them out.
  4.  I can scatter them all over the yard and they look like garden decor
Take for instance, old metal watering cans.  In all my gardening life I have never gone to the hardware store (or WalMart) and bought a new plastic watering can.  There are still some very well made metal watering cans out there but they are pricey.  I like the vintage galvanized look and I can usually find them for about $15-20.  I have half a dozen and I have them scattered all over.  I hate being on my way to work or dinner and seeing a pot that needs water rescue and having to put it off until I get back.  If I remember.  Having a full watering can nearby lets me rescue the plant and still be on time.  The last thing I do in the evening gardening routine is refill all the cans and place them back at their posts.

My favorite can has the best handle design
This rare little 1 gallon Savory can is
perfect for a spot with only one pot.
Old kitchen items are easy to find and cheap.  Measuring cups, funnels, scoops, scales.... they all have their place in my garden shed.  Measuring cups are useful for measuring soil amendments or solutions.  I put soapy water in mine and flick bad bugs into it.  I have a large, "Hoosier" style range shaker of salt for melting slugs.  If you needs to dust your plants with a powder, an old fashioned flour sifter works well.  Scoops are necessary for soil bins or spreading fertilizer or oyster shells and feed scoops are fairly easy to find.

You can never have too many old Pyrex or Anchor Hocking measuring cups.

This green and white kettle was the first one booted out to the garden
because the color really didn't fit in my collection
I collect cream and green granite ware.  And one thing I like about my collection is that there are a lot of useful pieces in it.  Preserving kettles, with their wire bale handles, make great weed pans.  They hold up to the weather and they are attractive. More so anyway than a plastic trug and they sure won't blow away.  Again, I have them placed strategically around the property.  It's nice to pull a weed and have a place nearby to drop it until I can take the time to haul a batch of them off for proper disposal.

Scales are important if  you want to quantify your
harvest or record the heaviest tomato of the year.
 Large grain sifters make short work of sifting compost.  I use mine to scoop right out of the pile and the shake it out over the wheel barrow and toss the larger pieces right back into the pile.  I have a smaller (modern) metal one that hangs on the side of the compost bin all summer, but for larger projects, the old grain sifter works much better in volume.

One thing you can find in abundance at flea markets or auctions are unique planters.  Wash tubs, pails, crates, chicken feeders.  A friend of ours has a greenhouse and she will plant flowers in just about anything.  One of her cutest planter ideas was a pair of children's boots.  Old chairs missing cane seats or wheel barrows are great for adding height or getting planters up and off a surface that you don't want to discolor with a dirty pot or constant dampness. You can buy reproduction wash tubs but Tim found my first set at an estate auction for $7 and the other was at an antique mall for less than $25.  Besides being planters, I leave one tub open to use as a sink for rinsing vegetables.

One open wash tub serves as a wash station in the middle of the garden
Anything you can drill a drain hole in can be turned into a planter.
Like this beat up old roaster
Because it has a lid, I have a matched pair.
It was too beat up to be "collectible" but perfect for the garden.

All you have to do is find the right size pot
Now about those old marshmallows...remember when I bought the old five pound Campfire Marshmallow tin at the local auction? I used it as the base of a winter centerpiece and now I've sort of begun to collect them.  I really like old advertising tins, but I've never really succumbed to collecting them until now.  There are plenty of brands of marshmallow tins out there but there is something about the red and white Campfire tin that I just love.  I picked up a second one last summer and then this weekend at the Automotive Flea Market:

It was a beautiful sunny day to spend at the big annual Automotive Flea Market.  I was specifically looking for a 1940-50s radiator filler water can.  You see I have those large pots with the "self watering" reservoir that has to be filled by a 2 inch spout.  Regular watering cans with sprinkler heads are about useless for that even with the sprinkler off, and I don't necessarily want to keep the pots within reach of the hose, so the goose neck of those old radiator fillers is just the ticket.

Meet "Radiator Charlie" named after the guy who developed the most popular
strain of Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.  Radiator Charlie still needs cosmetic work and another bath.
And some Bon Ami.
 So I was on a mission, but at the first stall right inside the gate I found something I didn't even know I wanted.  Didn't even know existed.  A mini, 12 ounce, Campfire marshmallow tin!  If there is anything more fun than collecting old junk, it's collecting old junk in miniature.  I picked it out of the pile and asked the Junk Man how much,

"Believe it or not thirty five dollars.  My wife doesn't want me to sell it."
Well, I guess not.  Even he sounded a bit skeptical about the price. I put it down and continued on my way, but I was stewing.  I had no intention of leaving that flea market without that can.  But 9:30 am on the first day of a flea market is not the best time for dickering.  Junk Men are holding out for a better price and hassling them early in the morning just makes them more stubborn and convinced they have a desirable item.  They don't get desperate for cash until after lunch with the prospect of packing up all the junk and taking it back home.  Since I'd never seen that size before I knew it was relatively rare and therefore, worth a little more than the common size in comparable condition.  But this was not exactly a retail situation.

Hours passed and we covered the miles.  I had been back by his stall hauling junk back to the truck so I knew it was still there.  All the time my approach was rolling over in the back of my mind.  Later in the afternoon, emboldened by a trip to the beer tent and other successful negotiations, I made my approach.

I knew how much I would pay ($25) and where I needed to start to get there.  You always have to start lower and do the math so when you and your opponent meet in the middle you will be at the price you want.  Every Junk Man has wiggle room on more valuable items and they expect to negotiate.  That's what flea markets are about,  I had my first offer in my right pocket, and my dickering money in my left pocket.  One rule of dickering is have your cash in exact change.  Never peel your smaller bills out of a roll of large bills.  That only insults - and causes cash regret - in your dickering opponent.

I swept up to the stall, scooped up my can and faced the junk man.  I just held it up and wiggled it a bit.
"Thirty five"  I could already tell he was on the defensive and back on his heels.
"Twenty.  I know your wife doesn't want you to sell it, but you brought it here to sell anyway."  I raised my eyebrows. "Didn't you?"
"OK Thirty".  I could see him squirm a bit uncomfortably and absolutely believed he was under orders regarding the dirty little ole tin can that he would happily part with if not for.....
"How many women do you think are walking around here wanting to buy an eighty year old empty marshmallow can?" I asked  "I'm your gal.  Twenty Five"
"You'd be surprised.... tell you what...."  He took the can from me and turned around.  Now I was in for a surprise.  He opened the side door of the old blue Chevy van that made up the back wall of his booth and stuck his head and the can inside.  I could see in the gloom, a figure slumped in an old aluminum folding chair.  Who in their right mind spends a lovely day like that shut in an old van?  The Junk Man himself was missing his top four front teeth so if he was keeping her hidden away she must be a real beaut.  I had not believed that he had plucked this can, with the oily dirty lid that was beginning to grow fur, off of his wife's treasure shelf right up until that point.  Now I did.
"Twenty Five for this?" he held the can out towards the gloomy slump.  A full ten second count elapsed before the slump uttered  "Yerrrsss."  The Junk Man and I exhaled.  She was willing to part with it,

I handed over my cash and claimed my prize.  The Junk Man, freed from the constraints and marital pressure of the pricey marshmallow tin, relaxed and smiled a toothless smile,   A successful day.  I got what I came for and found a rare treasure.  Now that I have three marshmallow tins it is officially a collection.  And therefore I must get more.  ... and ads for them, and the recipe booklet.  I will become a Campfire Marshmallow exs-purt. There are worse vices.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Refugee Garden Gnomes Get New Clothes

Rainy Day Gardening Project.  OK, SNOWY Day Gardening Project:

Over ten years ago my mother-in-law sold her house and moved into an apartment.  Around that time, a pair of refugee Garden Gnomes mysteriously appeared in the edges of our lawn.  I didn't shoo them away, I let them stay.  They weren't too bad for Gnomes.  I'm not really into garden art.  Sure the odd bird bath or chicken may appear.  But I'm not the kind of person who appreciates gazing balls and bottle trees and other junk hanging around.  I don't like to have to move things when I plant or weed.

I learned to accept and cohabitate with the Gnomes.  They stayed out of my way and I ignored them.  They migrated around and spent some time holding the door to the coop shut like little orange door stops or lounged on the mossy stump in the backyard.  They weren't really well dressed to begin with, but over the years the Gnomes began to look really Shabby.  Their unattractive orange green and tan (ick) clothes rubbed off. Their faces were pasty and pale.  They were getting pretty ugly.

Here they are in all their tan and orange glory
I searched my years of photos for pictures of them in the natural habitat.  But there are none.  I realized that if I was taking a picture out and about in the garden, and the gnomes were there, I'd move the ugly little gnomes.  I've been ashamed of the poor little guys.  It's not their fault.  What could they possibly do about their shabby clothes?  So I decided to paint them.  Time to renovate the Gnomes.

My Inspiration Photo.  This guy is quite appealing.
I searched Pinterest for examples and it seems the prevailing style for Garden Gnomes is red hat, green coat and blue britches.  So that's what they got.

They're looking pretty spiffy.  And it gave me something to do on a cold windy snowy weekend.  Luckily we also had a large pile of brush to be burned, and a cold wet snowy day that felt more like October was just perfect weather for a huge bon fire.  It was actually fun.   Over a few days I'd go down to the work bench and paint a color.  I had fun mixing up the flesh color and adding life-like pink blushes to their face and hands.  Now I really like my Refugee Garden Gnomes.  We've bonded.  Everybody feels better.

Now I can tuck them into leafy woodland settings.  They may appear in the corners of many photos.  I think they need names.  Any suggestions?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Tale of Two Wheelbarrows

It was a pleasant  Springy Sunday morning and we were strolling about considering some light, recreational landscaping....  Tim walked towards the garage, glanced at the brushy edge of the lawn which we optimistically refer to as the "berry patch" and decided on some bush whacking.  A lawnmower, tractor two rakes and a power scythe later...

A little grass seed and hay and we have more lawn

I had in mind to plant the clumps of Siberian Irises I saved last year.  I went to the compost pile, found that the tire on the big wheelbarrow was flat (again) so chose the shallow wheelbarrow.  Loaded it up with irises and a rake and did some planting.  I chatted with a toad.

Tim was putting away the mower nearby so I mentioned:  "You know that tire you pumped up yesterday?  It's flat again."  Flat?  "Yes flat."  Already? I finished up my planting and Tim said, bring the wheelbarrow over to the garage and he'd fill the tire again.

Before filling the tire, Tim decided to ascertain whether or not the valve stem was the problem.  But first we had to get the wheel off of the barrow.  Two rusty bolts, some oil and a ratchet later we had the greasy shaft out and the wheel on the ground.  It went pretty smoothly.  After a little poking an prying, Tim discovered the problem.  The inner tube was torn.  By the time we got it out, it was in two pieces.  Well there's yer problem.  The tire itself is showing a lot of disintegration on the side wall, but it is probably worth the investment of new inner tube.  In the mean time...

Why don't we take the good tire (which holds air .... held air) off the small wheel barrow and put it on the big wheelbarrow?  So I go fetch the other wheelbarrow and we remove the tire (two more rusty bolts, some oil, a ratchet, a rusty shaft and some swearing later) and put it on the big wheelbarrow.  Tim checks the pressure and decides to top it off.  At 25 psi, the (good) tire splits in the middle and out comes the inner tube like a giant goiter.  Great.  It was about baseball sized... then there was the sound like someone ripping apart a really strong zipper and the inner tube found the way out and the baseball sized goiter swelled to the size of a basketball.  No kidding.  Basketball.  So Tim takes the thingy out of the valve stem, the air goes out and the goiter shrinks.  Hmm.  We now have one torn inner tube, one ripped tire and two useless wheelbarrows.  We're making great progress.

Tim wonders if the inner tube from the smaller (torn) tire will fit on the larger (now tubeless and cracking) tire.  So we take the smaller tire back back off of the wheel, remove the tube and install it into the bigger tire... hold our breath as we add air... so far so good.  Put the rusty bolts back on.

So.  We now have one functional wheel barrow, a pile of frustration and a decision to make... do we spend $40 to replace the tire and tube and still have one tire on it's last legs?  Postponing the decision of what to do with the remaining last legs tire.  Or spend $90 on a new wheel barrow with a FLAT FREE tire?  Better yet, do we spend another $35 for a 4 cu ft wheel barrow and trash both of the old ones?  My vote was to put them both out on the curb with a FREE sign.  I guarantee they will be gone by evening.  Someone, for the mere price of a tire, would get the satisfaction of resurrecting a cast-off wheel barrow.

I slept on the wheelbarrow problem and in the morning:  "I'm tired (no pun intended) of trying to piece shit together and salvage old junk.  Go to Home Depot and buy a steel wheelbarrow with a No Flat tire!  We still have a spare wheelbarrow and... a lawn ornament?  A planter?  I've seen some cute things done with old wheelbarrows and flowers... the more flowers the better....