Monday, February 27, 2012

Twas a dull February Day...

C. S. Lewis started one of his books with, "It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym [at experiment house]." If instead he had started, It was a dull February day and Lucy was crying in experiment house, it could have been about our saturday. (don't worry I won't give you the whole story, this is a gardening blog!) Lucy stopped crying at restarted at irregular intervals as she does every day. More importantly, though notice at it was dull, and it also experiment house.
On a dull day, there is nothing like pretending you are a good gardener by buying something a really professional grew. Both of these little planters we purchased. I may someday have the skill to make one of these, but until then, they brought a good bit of color to our front and back porch. In the video posted below, you'll also notice the other flowers that are about to burst onto the drab scene.
We also added a Jasmine to our flock of indoor flowers. They smell wonderful and for a time this will be our center piece.

After that, I finished our automatic irrigation system for the seedling mats. Also I planted the onions and lettuce as per our garden calendar fixed with the April 20th 50% chance of last frost date. Good stuff! I'll fill you all in later on how the irrigation works and what not, but for now suffice it to say that I rigged it up so that every other day it turns on and mists the plants for 5 minutes, which is all it takes to make sure that the dirt squares stay moist the everything flourishes and doesn't blot. 
Last of all, while our girls and Mary slept on Sunday afternoon, I took a leaf from Jenni @ rainydaygardener's book. It may best be described by Mr. Gerhard Forde who said, "and he emboldened his followers to continue the mischief." I don't think that he was speaking of gardening or blogs, but it still applies. Jenni did some direct sowing and it seems to be working, so Cathrine at agardenerinprogress also did. Well, as they did, so did I. Three can't be wrong, can they? I guess only time will tell as snow is in the forecast for Wednesday. Even if my precious little lettuces, carrots, radishes and the rest don't think its such a good idea, it was very soothing. There is nothing like early planting for an impatient gardener like myself. I also got to try out some of my plant markers. All it all a very enjoyable, cloudy, rainy, dull February weekend!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Look at me!

I asked her, "who showed you how to wear a hat like that?" she said "mama"
Now I know what they do all day... Fashion!

Making bird seed squares...

Due to hazardous, or cold and rainy, weather conditions, we decided to try out making our own suet cakes. We bought the square hanger last year and the cakes only lasted about a week or so but cost a pretty penny so we wanted to try our hand at them without the expenditure. 
This first involved scouring the internet for the best recipe. There are lots of them and guessing which is best is probably just that... a guess. However, we hung three out in the tree and the one that was had the most droppings won. 
The mixture looks rather nasty, but it brought back childhood memories of mud, worms, and all other gooey substances that are lots of fun to squish. Then we emptied our cupboards finding anything that the birds might like and since Lucy likes prizes (m & ms), she thought that the birds would like them as well. 
Lastly, we put the whole mixture in a pan with tin foil and froze it. The next day I cut them into nice squares and viola! its done. 
So far the birds have eaten on average a square each week, so I think that they like it. Below are pictures of the experiment. It was rather less painful than I had anticipated, however if there is anyone in the house with morning sickness, the smell isn't the best. If you plan on doing this, I think you'll enjoy it.

Lots of ingredients

There is nothing like lard and xtra crunchy peanut butter... if you are a bird.

The whole mixture in the freezer

Final Product

Its the offseason for these orchids, so here is their once a month bath with miracle gro

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reclaiming more territory from the....ah, weeds.

This is outside of our back gate. We have a path on the right with stones and over the last 30 or so years this has been the ritual dumping ground of all things no one wanted, such as tires, extra gravel, wood chips, wood, and most anything else you can imagine. I cleared the scrap out, but the digging was yet to be done. My end goal is to level it and make it a nice rose garden. The wind usually blows left to right, so it will waft in the scent of about 30 roses. A nice way to come home after a days work!

Tabula Rasa or "the blank slate"
To get down and dirty, I used the tractor to dig most of it up. It may be hard to see, but there is a slope toward us, so I tried the best I could to make it flat (poor tractoring (I'm pretty sure I just made that word up, so I'll send it off to Roget to put in next years dictionary) skills made this much harder than it had to be). I plan on getting someone who knows what they are doing to pore a concrete path and put bricks on the side where it slopes. This is next year or 2 though, so back to the mission at hand.
Once it was relatively level, I like what I was seeing. There was lots of black dirt and a few patches of gravel. Usually when you dig around here, it all looks red with clay. However, this just goes to show, distrust too much luck at the beginning because it won't last.
The first shovel hit something hard. The pick axe loosed about two inches of rocks. Then everything went red. No, I wasn't mad, it was clay. Lots and lots of it. I usually dig a hole about twice the size of the rose, but after this, I went for about 3 times or until I got tired. After hitting the upper mantle, then the lower mantle of the earths crust (There were what could have been dinosaur bones) I decided it was good enough. That old song, "deep and wide, there's a fountain flowing deep and wide" was going through my mind. The rest was easy. Just plop in some soil amender, which every good gardener is never without; some new black gold dirt, and a rose. I also put in some time release fertilizer for good measure. These plants don't know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into their nice new home, but I'm sure they'll thank me someday with some flowers!

How deep does that rabbit hole go?

The final product!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Signs of Spring...

Looking outside on Saturday, it appeared that winter was loath to let go of february. So I made a tour of the grounds and took some pictures to prove that spring is almost here and its time for old man winter to agree.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Life Lesson #174...

You may all remember a few weeks ago when we had a snow storm and the world hereabouts ended for about a week. Then life moved on and most of us forgot. I did every day, then I got home and saw the big tree with three limbs hanging and remembered. This went on and on and on... I tried the do it yourself method (attaching a tow rope to the branch and the back of my truck and driving. No good. I also tried the 12' long pole with saw attached. No good.) 
Then we thought we'd have a real bone fide tree company do it right. Well, here is life lesson #174. 

A bit ago, well lets just say a few hundred years, a poet said something like,

O woman, woman! when to ill thy mind
Is bent, all hell contains no fouler fiend.
Homers Odyssey

If he lived now, and went through a snow/ice storm and had to call in a tree company, it might run a little more like.

O tree trimming company, tree trimming company! when to ill thy mind
Is bent, all hell contains no fouler fiend.

We got some good recommendations for a company called Canzler Tree Service. Family operated, good service, etc. Some friends were even having them do whatever it is that tree people do. So while they were there the young gentleman in charge (that's what we'll call him) came over and gave us an estimate. 200 smackers. Well, it wasn't really in the budget, but water down the baby formula and no diet pepsi and it should work. Think of the peace of mind this will bring and I won't have to spend my Saturday doing my swedish exercises, fruitlessly attempting to remove what seems to be more like the rock of Gibraltar than a pine tree with hanging limbs.  
I then go off to work, humming a gay tune, with such a weight off of my mind. My wife called later in the day and said that they didn't take away all of the tree limbs, so I assume (and we all know what that makes out of "u" and "me") that she meant the lots of little ones that I had pulled out in my efforts. I knew I could take care of them on Saturday. I got home after dark and didn't get a chance to look out of the window. 
Imagine (or rather don't, you'll probably laugh) my consternation when I looked out the next morning and, lo and behold there are several large branches laying not only on the lawn, but also on the fence and the driveway! I now realize why my wife wondered if the tree company was going to clean up. 
Here, I must tell you that I am rather an emotional person. When I feel I've been jipped or swindled, I don't take it philosophically, knowing that Karma will kick them in the behind later. I feel like doing a little kicking myself. This does not always lead to the best results. Take getting cut off in traffic for example... 
So I called up the company and got through to the man in charge. He started off by saying what a good deal I got and that they took out even more branches than he thought there were going to be, etc. Basically I should be really happy. Well no, I ain't. I asked if they were going to remove the branches and, here it comes, life lesson, he said that if I wanted them removed, I should have asked for that. Removing limbs from the tree is not the same as removing them from the yard. It was a totally different service. I asked why didn't you tell me, he said, I should have known this already. Long conversation fast forwarded... 200 more crisp green smackers. (we are now only going to change diapers once a day for the next 4 months, simply can't afford any more). As a small cherry on top, they left a pyramid of wood on the lawn because we may have wanted it to burn it later, or perhaps as an offering to the pagan gods who cause warts to grow on the feet of my enemies (or tree trimmers). 

So, for all you who have not learned this, you now know. Please pass this on to your children's children so that all generations will know that tree branch removal is not the same as tree branch removal.

ps. by the way, no, I am not bitter. Yes, I do feel better now that I have written about it. and no, the kids will not have to walk around in dirty diaper or have their formula watered down... much. 

pps. we are about to undergo the ordeal of having a bathroom put into the master bedroom in our house so if you have any "make sure you" or "check on" or "be sure to ask" type of comments, I would greatly appreciate all of them. As you can tell from previous posts, we aren't the brightest.

not sure how this fits in the post, but I like them so....

Monday, February 13, 2012

shakespeare and gardening...

A few years back, well maybe a few hundred, a fellow named shakespeare was about to go out and write a blog post or limerick or a play - I can't remember which - and his friend came to him as said, "I charge thee, fling away ambition: by that sin fell the angels." He later handed the line over to Henry in one of his works, but never forgot those peals of wisdom. You may ask, "What does this have to do with gardening?" Well, I also was about to post on Sunday, but those lines came to me and instead I just looked out the window and had a glass of Beringer Merlot, thinking of sunnier, spring days that I hope will come soon. 

But, now that it is monday I thought I'd let my waiting public in on what happened at the Phares estate. Not too much. I moved our only surviving raspberry bush to the front yard. I will add a few more from the master gardeners sale here in a month or so. I may also add blueberries, but that debate has not been decided yet. (it all depends how much is in the budget for such things). I also put all of the dirt into the new front garden. This finishes the project for now. I will plant about 50 day lilies (red and orange mix) as a border around the outside when they come in March. I also need to build my trellis for the vertical gardens - tomatoes, peas, beans, and possibly cucumbers. Those will be done next weekend, or the next... or possibly the weekend after that. 

There are a lot of new faces popping up around. Some crocus' are here, along with daffodils, and some dutch iris'. There may be others, but those are the only ones that I can remember exactly where I planted them. It was a fun weekend, though we didn't end up making it to the flower show in seattle. There is always next year. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

early garden indoor planting

Here is a little update on the indoor planting we did on Jan 28th. Well, first is another photo of Mt. Ranier. Tuesday night was supposed the be the last nice day for a little while, so I got a few photos of the pink sunset on the mountain. I still think it's nice living close to the beauty of a mountain.

Back on track now, here is the heat mat with the grow light. I learned (the hard way as usual) that if you have the grow light too high (I had it about 18") the plants get long a spindly. You can see I lowered it to 4-6". The damage is done, but they should bounce back (or fill out). 
The broccoli has sprouted up and is off the races. I may have to move them into the cold frame if they fill out the 2" dirt square early. The opposite is the asparagus seeds. They all seem to be thinking that life is real; life is earnest, but not earnest enough to show sprout up and take a look around. Should I just buy asparagus crowns and forget the whole "I've known you when you were a mere speck in yer mother's eye" business?


Early Lettuce and spinach for the cold frame. Some are a bit top heavy though. 
The asparagus have all gone on strike.

I must have dropped a seed in the tray, but it started growing anyway.

And, last of all we bought a few more primroses. Do you think you can have too many primroses? I do wonder at times, when I'm trying to decide where to put them, but I sure like them as they add some color into the dull grey of almost spring.

So, you can tell all is quiet on the western front for now. I'm am ready, and willing, and impatiently waiting for spring beginnings and beauty.

A Prayer in Spring by Robert Frost
OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
To which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends he will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Throw away the rototiller???

Reading through Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman I came across a small section that caught my attention. This is because I have never thought of it and consequently been doing the wrong thing since I was knee high to a grasshopper.

Garden Soil Structure (page 38-40 for those who want to read it)
 Basically, he states that he doesn't "spend hours with spade and fork laboriously trenching and fluffing the the earth...But isn't it necessary to turn and fluff the soil to keep it loose and friable? (in case you also don't know what this means, I looked it up and it means easily crumbled')...Soil compaction studies have shown that disturbing the natural soil with a spade and fork is not beneficial. Undisturbed, the natural soil structure that characterizes the work of microorganisms, earthworms, and other soil inhabitants actually has more air spaces than disturbed soil. Applying compost to the surface of the soil aids the natural process. The surface organic matter is slowly incorporated into the topsoil by the actions of the earthworms and their coworkers...the subsoil is less fertile than the topsoil bust serves as a continuous source of raw material for soil building...Nature's system of soil layers is very successful and it is best to leave them as they are. In fact, not only should the topsoil be on top and the subsoil below, but it's also best not to mix them within themselves."

So, in essence, leave it alone and it will do best. I have always rototilled my garden every spring thinking I was helping. However, I will try this out and see if the ground does better left to its own devices. If you were to read the preceding and later parts, he does say that you weed, remove old plant parts for composting and add new compost lightly turning the top layer. Also he recommends aerating with a broad fork, but not turning the soil and mixing the layers. So, for all you lazy people looking for a reason to never cultivate the dirt and let nature do its business, it isn't quite that simple. It is also not as complex as I have made it with my additions and mixing and what not. I guess I'll have more time to spend reading good books!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More pictures from the weekend...

I always take a lot more pictures that I post, so here is a short video of a few more from this last weekend...