Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September vacation

My SO and I recently spent a week on the road.  I lugged both my little Canon and my new video camera around with me, but took very few pictures.  My SO is interested in old cemetaries and architecture, so he finds things to shoot almost everywhere.  I'm interested in gardening (OBVIOUSLY) but I didn't want to take pictures of the same stuff that grows in my backyard.  Yard ornaments, on the other hand, are almost always unique.

All these were found in Concord, MA.

Friday, September 23, 2011

At least something liked that hot and humid weather

This is my first year for sweet potatoes.  I planted a dozen or so slips of a bush variety (Vardeman purchased from Pinetree) in containers.  This represents about half the harvest:

I have no idea whether this is a lot or a little.  Once they are done curing in the shed, I will weigh them.  Regardless, I consider this crop a success, a sweet one in this summer of failures.  Next spring, I hope to grow my own slips.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


I see you!
It's a sweet potato!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Labor Day labor

Yesterday my SO and I decided to spend our Labor Day laboring on the patio canopy.  I purchased this one from Lowes (which is a story in itself - the box weighed around 250 pounds; we let two employees wrestle it into a borrowed pickup truck, then at home unloaded the canopy piece by piece).  Fortunately, others who had purchased this unit left not only online reviews but detailed instructions on how best to anchor and assemble the structure.  (The instructions that came with were okay but not the best way to accomplish the job.)  With their virtual help, we were able to finish in five hours, and that included a trip to Home Depot and two trips to procure lunch (a lot of places are closed on Labor Day - go figure).

Since removing the silver maples and the Florida room, my west-facing patio has proven to be brutal under the afternoon sun, rendering it unusable for a good part of the day.  I dithered about what to do - pergola? awning? trees? - and finally settled on a canopy.  One thing my yard demonstrates is, I change my mind.  Frequently.  Plants get moved, gardening methods evolve, new ideas come and go with regularity.  So the canopy felt like the right way to go - quick but not prohibitively expensive, sturdy but movable.

We started around 11am with a quick trip to Home Depot, to purchase four 16"x16" cement pavers, concrete bits and anchors, 14" plastic ties, and in an semi-related purchase, 8 bags of pea gravel.

Getting started (ignore the mess)
Several reviewers recommended inserting 4"x4"x31" posts inside the vertical supports, so we did that.  (I happened to have a 4"x4" laying around, left over from a never-even-started project from about 15 years ago.)  This provided some ballast to the structure.

Maiden voyage for trailer and hitch, easier than carrying everything from garage to backyard
We followed more online advice and anchored the posts to pavers instead of directly to the patio.  For one thing, this allowed us to adjust the final placement of the posts.  For another, if I decide to relocate the structure in the future, it will be doable.  (The instructions left the anchoring as the next-to-last step and assumed one would be putting it on lawn; 16 "stakes" that look like big Allen wrenches were provided for this.  I'm not sure how well this would work.)

Measure twice, drill once
 Initial placement:  centered in front of the patio door.

So far, so good!
After this step, the instructions suggested assembling all four outside cross pieces and somehow getting them on top of the posts in one fell swoop.  Without anchoring the posts first, I think this would be really awkward.  Also, we were able to put the outside cross pieces on one at a time.  Next came the rest of the cross pieces, which are not anchored, hence the need for the plastic ties, to keep them from rattling.

Coming together
 Initially, I wondered about the stability of the structure, but the corner supports made a big difference.

Overcast skies helped keep us cool
The final step was the canopy itself.  It was my decision to orient the structure so that the "rafters" ran north and south.  After we put on the canopy, though, I began to have second thoughts.  When the afternoon sun is low in the sky, a lot of light streams in through the patio door, so I thought this was the way to go.

But after ducking not once but twice in order to exit the house and cross the patio, I am having second thoughts.  Also, the canopy really blocks the view.  With a little help, we should be able to detach the top and rotate it.  Then the long ends of the canopy will provide more privacy to the south while still blocking most of the sun.  Theoretically.

4pm - time for a beer
One hope I expressed was that the dog would now consider the patio to be an extension of the house and not part of the outdoors, and stop peeing and pooping on it.  No such luck.

And what about that pea gravel?  That was for the area by the outdoor faucet, an area that is not very conducive to plants yet weed-prone, an area where I keep my bird seed bins.  It is right next to the patio and an eyesore.

After weeding, before pea gravel
 I think the area could use a few more bags, but it will do for now.

My SO did the heavy lifting, literally.  I will say that, given enough time (weeks?) and some clever work-arounds to make up for my lack of upper body strength, I could have done it myself (if I did not hurt myself and/or get utterly discouraged).  BUT!  The man knows his way around tools, had some good ideas for how to get things done, and stuck with the task until finished.  I'm very pleased, in more ways than one.  And grateful!  And lucky!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I lied

My kvetching about the garden results this year was premature.  For one thing, I did not get seven pounds of potatoes as previously reported, but more like twelve.  (Someday I will learn how to read my kitchen scale.)  While not a stellar crop, it's not as bad as I thought.  Neither are the tomatoes:  Friday 22 pounds became 14 pints of "juice" - instead of sorting out the salsa, paste, juice, and early tomatoes, I just threw them all into the sauce maker and stuck the jars in the freezer.  And there is a gallon of green beans in the refrigerator which I will probably cook up and eat through the week.  There are more tomatoes and green beans in the garden, too, so the harvest isn't as miserable as I thought.

I finished reading The Feast Nearby and decided to try some of the recipes Saturday:  zucchini bread, Danish cucumbers, and seffa medfouna (saffron-braised chicken with steamed vermicelli).  My initial conclusion is Robin Mather and I have different tastes in food.  For one thing, the zucchini bread is more like zucchini cake - good, but way too sweet for me.  Also, I favor whole wheat over white flour and honey over sugar.  The cucumbers are okay - I wish I had had some burpless ones from my garden because I think they would have worked better than the store-bought-but-homegrown ones I used.  Also, I think I would favor a milder marinade.  I did not try steaming vermicelli - basmati rice seemed like a perfectly good alternative - but the chicken itself was very tasty.  And yet, the amount of oil in the recipe is daunting, especially since I forgot to remove the skin on the chicken, which contributed more fat.  And the flavors were rather intense.  I had borrowed this book from the library, contemplated purchasing it, but now I'm not so sure.

The heat has abated some today as rain moves through the region, and tomorrow is supposed to be dry and cooler.  I'm looking forward to laboring in the yard.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Why sunflowers droop

I bet you thought sunflowers droop because the heads become so heavy with seed.  That may be one reason, but here is another.

What is that? you ask.  It's what's left after goldfinch dine on the seeds.

First, make your selection (and get some exercise with the effort):

Then dine al fresco:

leaving behind the shells.  The cardinals apparently are not so athletic, so they claim the sunflowers that have fallen completely over.  Isn't Mother Nature wonderful?

Goldfinch weren't the only diners in my yard today.  I have not seen much of the robins since my neighbor removed the mulberry, but someone has been enjoying the berries on the pokeweed.

How many bluebirds can you count in the next photo?

Click to make big

They were practically swarming this morning.  Now if they would only kick the sparrows out of the bluebird house and hang around all summer.