Sunday, December 10, 2017

Finding My Christmas Muse

I was more than content to postpone Christmas spirit 2 or 3 weeks in favor of warm sunny weather, but this morning we woke up to snow.  Not a lot of snow, but enough to let you know that winter is on its way.  I've slowly but steadily going about my Christmas decorating and creative crafts.  No stellar results yet.  Decorating has consisted mostly of the scattering of spruce tips (fake), pine cones and candle (also fake).  Last year my main focus was fresh greens.  But this year it didn't seem anywhere near as important.  Due in no small part to the fact that after three weeks or so, sodden floral oasis begins to smell bad.

Friday was a gorgeous sunny, dry day so I took my garden hod and pruners around and gathered more than enough fresh greens for a centerpiece (or two).  I decided to duplicate last year's arrangement in the wooden bowl.  That's pretty normal for me, repeating a successful idea.  Especially when lacking any exciting new ideas.  I'm not sure why last year I felt I had to cast my net so wide to get a variety of greens because I did pretty well within a hundred yards of the house.

Grape Vine Tendrils
This year my brilliant new idea was grape vine tendrils.  I pulled a few grapevines out of the berry patch and cut out the sections with interesting curlie-cues.  I had several left over partial cans of gold spray paint which were all shot, so I dry brushed glimmery gold paint on each one and also on the edges of a few small pine cones.

Last Year
You can start with all the same basic ingredients, and each effort produces slightly different results.
Not necessarily an improvement, but a unique outcome.  I always keep notes each year as to what my inventory of decorations are and what I used where and what I want more of.

This Year
Last year's passion was fresh greens, and this year it seems to be bottle brush trees.  My inventory of bottle brush trees has tripled.  Which means I'm saving empty water bottles, because along with my obsession with decorating inventory is clever and organized storage.  Storage Tip: Empty water bottles with the tops cut off, stapled into six packs, allow you to neatly store the trees without them getting crushy bottle brush tree bed-head.

So the seasonal decorating continues.  I have a couple of craft projects going on.  A paper putz house, paper-mache snowmen and "altered Altoids" which is what they call miniature shadow boxes created from empty Altoid Tins and scenes cut from greeting cards.  The beauty of all of these craft projects is that I already have most of the ingredients.  You can do a lot of interesting things with paper and glue.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Slow Start

Thanksgiving came pretty early this year and I'm not ready for holiday decorating yet.  The tree is up and that's about it.  Usually, on Black Friday, I put on Christmas music and probably a movie and spend 6 hours decorating the whole house ceiling to floor, no corner forgotten.  This year I spent the day really cleaning the house instead.  I usually clean the house well the weekend before because I don't want to decorate dusty shelves.  This year on Black Friday I pulled the area rugs, dusted the walls and corners, cleaned the wood floor and the tile kitchen floor, shampooed the area rugs and laid them out in the sun to dry and basically drove every dust bunny out of the place.  This morning when it was time to decorate, I developed a strong disinclination to glittering up my clean floors.

But I did decorate the tree, after assembling it out on the front porch and carrying it inside.  I went slowly, with the hand-vac close at hand, glitter contained.  The only other decorating I did was bottle brush trees, ornaments and candles scattered amongst the china displayed in the pie safe which is something new, and therefore more interesting from a creative standpoint.

Then I duplicated my favorite arrangement from last year which took all of three minutes, the amount of time it took to place batteries in the candles.

One thing I'm totally drawing a blank on is the table centerpiece.  That is usually my most creative idea of the year.  Sometimes I do the same one two years in a row, but never more than that.  I usually find something online for inspiration.

 For several years I used the centerpiece form I got from the Colonial Williamsburg catalog.  This is a neat cut iron form which holds a hurricane lamp glass or a pineapple in the center, and has rings to hold pears or apples, or just ornaments after your pears get over ripe.   You place a foam or oasis disc underneath to hold your greenery and I always made the effort to find fresh greens.

 Sometimes a new collectible purchase inspires my centerpiece,  This oval enamelware roaster base is a great beginning and I replicated this arrangement at least once.  Again with fresh greens.

 In the kitchen, my cheery red colander is my favorite starting point


 Sometimes I find an inspirational photo online and have to go looking for the components.  This sometimes leads to whole new collections.  My Campfire Marshmallow arrangement brought a lot of fun and the following year I amended it to add the mini-marshmallow tin

Double Decker Marshmallows 2016
Last year's simple wooden bowl base is my favorite I think.  I may duplicate this.  I also bought a lantern for my autumn decorations this year so maybe I'll use that instead.

Or maybe this year I'll just go buy a poinsettia....

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Turkey Party

There is something about a soaking rain that brings out the turkeys.  It seems like whenever we have a stretch of rainy weather I find a soggy turkey slouched miserably in the yard trying to air out.  Not a year goes by without us seeing a few turkeys, but they aren't as common since the coyotes moved in down the road.  Today we saw a whole flock of soggy but happy turkeys.  In fact, they were having themselves a little turkey party.

It started with a lot of airing out and preening and ended in a hoe-down.  They were dosey-doeing and promenading and popping up in the air like popcorn.  We tried to count them and came up with at least twenty.  

Besides the turkey party, our two squirrels, one back and one grey were darting in and out, and a couple of cautious deer lurked in the edge of the woods.  The deer aren't as bold as they usually are.  We promised a friend of ours who bow hunts that if he just sat in the glider rocker on the garden patio, the deer would come to him, and that's exactly what happened.  I've been joking that when we opened her up she was full of Hosta.  And that's not far from the truth.  So we're down one large doe, and hoping to get rid of the medium sized doe as well.  

In fact, here she is.  That's right! You'd better watch your back.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Week To Live

The target date to shut down the garden is the first weekend of October.  There really isn't much left in the main garden except beautiful Marigolds and Nasturtium.  I have been admiring them daily knowing they now have only one week to live.

I'm slowly pulling things out and cutting down stalks of 
horse radish and daylillies in preparation for leaf season.

This is the time for cleaning the beds and evaluating the soil

Preparing to plant the fall lettuce

The lettuce must fit under this frame so I can wrap frost cover around it.  
This way it will be safe down to 26 degrees
One year we ate lettuce until it just stopped growing mid-December.
I've learned not to plant anything where it will be hard to reach since I will mostly be cutting lettuce in the dark, in the wind and probably in the rain as well.  It's hurry up - snip and git.

I'm bringing my big pots of bell peppers up onto the patio.  These will also be covered with frost cover not only to give it a personal greenhouse, but also to keep the deer from nibbling on them.
After last year's poor showing I am so pleased with these big beautiful Blushing Beauties from Burpee.  They will turn through shades or orange and be red when completely ripe.

The only thing really left growing in the big garden is the bush beans.  I picked some this morning for dinner today and even the immature ones are getting soft and pithy because we have had more sun and heat this week than any other stretch of days all summer.  Low eighties and nothing but sunshine symbols in the extended forecast.  We are taking full advantage of it and spending as much time as possible out of doors.  I think the remainder of the bush beans are candidates for an experiment in dilly beans.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Low or No Maintenance

We spend a lot of time, planning and money trying to keep our garden and landscaping "Low or No Maintenance"  You can probably guess that there is no such thing as No Maintenance.  Anyone with  a gravel driveway knows that if you were to turn your back on a driveway for a year or two you would end up with a lawn instead.  Every leaf that decomposes and every twig that gets pulverized into the gravel is creating soil and where you have soil you will certainly have weeds.  Heck weeds grow quite happily hydroponically in gravel with no soil whatsoever.  But allowing soil into your gravel is just an invitation of LOTS of weeds.

With our garden being surrounded by gravel and paver pads, we enjoy very low maintenance.  With raised beds there is no tilling, very little weeding and in my garden I can easily do half of my chores in my office clothes.  Which comes in handy when I need to skip out the garden in the morning and pick some lettuce for lunch.

About twice a year we have to have a day of maintenance, usually straightening frost heaved posts and/or pavers, replenishing gravel and mending fences and patios.  Then every once in a while you get Mother Nature surprising you with an extra day of maintenance.  When the remnants of Hurricane Irma arrived here at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, she dumped three inches of rain in pretty short order.  That resulted in the bank, which recently had all of the summer squash plants pulled out, washing down into the walkway.  This will happen now and then on a small scale, but this week we got it in large scale.

Believe it or not, a shop vac will remove a decent amount of mulch from gravel without sucking up the heavier gravel.  But this was a lot more than the shop vac would have been able to handle.  But it really wasn't a disaster of epic proportions.  We always have pile or two of  gravel on hand.  It's best to just shovel out all of the contaminated gravel, use that for "clean fill" elsewhere, and put in some fresh gravel.

The bunkers nearby store mulch, bank run
and pea gravel for projects throughout the year
And hour later things were back to normal and even looked better than normal with fresh clean, perfectly swept gravel.

I cut into the bank to give a little edge to stop regular runoff from cascading over the RR ties and raked everything smooth again.

Speaking of constant maintenance - another challenge is keeping the destructive little chipmunk varmints in check.  Last year I killed fourteen.  This year I've killed ten so far, and the next door neighbor caught his ninth one this morning.  If you have a big problem with chipmunks, the key to trapping them is to find out where they like to run and putting a good heavy snap trap in their path.  In this case, they love to run behind this step close to the chicken coop.  So that's where I leave a trap.  You can see it tucked in there behind the step in the shadow.

Chipmunks are awful cute and cheery and I hate to have to kill them all the time, but they are so destructive.  Not only will they eat every last strawberry, despite the strawberries being protected by a secure cage of 1 inch square woven wire - which the little buggers squeeze right through - but they will undermine and kill your shrubs and ruin your house.  There is absolutely nothing more aggravating than laying cozily in bed on a wintery Sunday morning, listening to a G-d D---d chipmunk gnaw on his breakfast in the crawlspace under the bedroom.  And who know s what else he's gnawing on before he goes back to bed in the insulation he's pulled down and rearranged.  So chipmunk control is another item of constant maintenance.

I'm slowly going through and pulling out spent plants getting ready for autumn.

I'm potting up things I want to over-winter for next year.  
Spikes and vinca vine are fairly easy to keep alive and well.

The Nasturtium are looking gorgeous

The Supertunias are holding their own


Red Fountain Grass "Fireworks" in the dry creek bed.
"Cherry Sparkler" in the background

Soon these green lawns and lush leaves will be gone.  Enjoy them while they last.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

And Autumn Came

Usually by August I am longing for the end of the garden.  But this year has been cool and pleasant so things haven't burned out as badly as usual.  I cut back so much I'm not tired of watering and preserving.  I've been able to easily keep up with deadheading and maintenance.  Mums are blooming.  I'm still enjoying gardening and not longing for frost.  If something get's too raggedy to manage, I just pull it out or chop it down and move on!

The ragged part - I pulled out an early row of beans,
leaving ugly but producing cucumber plants

Most people are saying this isn't a good gardening year.  Well, it hasn't been a great year for tomatoes but I still have too many and everything else is doing fine.

The Purple Queen Beans are still beautiful

The tomatoes are holding their own

Its been a good, but late year for peppers

Some things are worth caring for all summer.  The Nasturtiums look pretty bad by late July.  But it you clean them up and trim them back - then ignore their ugliness for awhile - they will have a nice second season in September and October.  Mine are just beginning to bud again
Alaska Nasturtium

This month all of the news headlines have been about hurricanes and fires.  Harvey nearly wiped out Houston, and Irma is moving into south Florida right now. It seems that the entire Pacific Northwest is on fire.  I can't imagine trying to garden in such extreme climates.  I look around and count all of the things I would have to tie down in preparation for a hurricane.  A cold frame, wheelbarrows, planters, likely lawn furniture although ours weighs a ton.  We did have 60 mile an hour winds this week, but it was only for about ten minutes, and resulted in a lawn full of leaves and twigs.  The green tomatoes took a bit of a beating and some have been dropping in the days after the wind.

We live in western NY, and whenever we say that, people think of Buffalo winters.  I think the American psyche was permanently damaged by the blizzards of '77 and '78.  But that isn't what our climate is all about.  We really are not that much further north than the Mediterranean, and the Great Lakes moderate our weather.  When asked to describe our climate I just list the things we do not have:

  • Hurricanes
  • Forest Fires
  • Earthquakes
  • Major Floods
  • Ice Storms
  • Hail

Now and then we will have a tornado or some localized flooding but those only affect dozens or hundreds of people, not thousands.  Lately our winters have been mild.  Sure, we can get three feet of snow over night, but if you shovel your roof things will be OK.  Snow in general is much less damaging than hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes and floods.  I can't imagine working all season for a nice garden then have it wiped out by floods or fire or something as simple as hail

There is one more garden season for us.  We do not do much fall gardening, no peas or cabbages, but we do lettuce.  My lettuce babies are growing and waiting for the zucchini to vacate the garden bed up by the shed where they will be coddled until December when they will finally stop growing or finally be frozen out.

We will enjoy the autumn colors until we have put everything to bed for winter.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

August Progress - the end of some things

How many rows of bush beans can you get into a three foot wide bed?
If it's Purple Queen - One Row.

They like to climb two to three feet tall

I've been picking an earlier planting of yellow wax beans for two weeks, 
but the purple are going to be ready in a day or two.

Back in June my father was the one who first said "my peppers are shaped funny". 
 And I knew exactly what he meant.  Most of my bell peppers are pointy.  The three below all came from plants in the same four pack.  The pointy ones seem to stay pointy and the nicely lobed ones seem to start out that way.  I haven't been able to find any explanation on the internet about that.  Some suggest that you wait to pick them until they fill out and the lobes push past the center point (as seen in the center pepper) but it doesn't happen.  As you can tell from the deep color of the pointy one on the left, it is very ripe and shows no sigh of reshaping.  If anyone knows the science behind this I'd love to hear it.

The peppers are slow but still putting out a lot of blooms and baby peppers.  Luckily these are in pots so they will not have to be pulled out when we put things up for winter.  The pots can come up against the garden shed and be protected from frost for weeks after the garden beds would last.

The summer squash bed is about done.  The powdery mildew has taken over and they are not putting out any new flowers or growth.

But the zucchini plant on the other end in its own bed is still thriving.

I am still getting cucumbers from the second planting, and PLENTY of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes but my Celebrity plant died last night. You can see about 8 inches up from the ground it has a very blighted stem area and the entire plant was suddenly wilted.  I harvested all the tomatoes and pulled it up.  I have enough Pineapple tomatoes to keep me going and the other varieties are still waiting to ripen.