Sunday, June 28, 2009

Before I forget

Here are all the things we did today:

Picked snap peas.

Finished lining the chain link fence with chicken wire, to try to discourage the rabbits.

Moved pots of plants around.

Weeded the area around the patio and beside the shed, transplanting some of the mint in the process.

Planted another hill of zucchini. I saw a squash bug on the first planting. Boo!

Planted another short row of green beans.

Transplanted a serrano pepper, Thai basil, and Greek oregano into a big planter.

Dug up two Sella d'Oro daylilies and some yucca for my daughter. She took some of the snap peas, and cilantro and basil, too.


And now I am too pooped to write more. So here a a few photos for your amusement.

The picture of evil incarnate:

Japanese beetles like hollyhocks as well.

Bee balm:

And a young bluebird of happiness:

Friday, June 26, 2009

Inside out(side)

First, the floor is done.

I forgot to take a "before" picture, but basically what was there was neutral wall-to-wall carpeting. My daughter and I were concerned that the fireplace would clash, but decided it is okay. Daughter is also trying to persuade me to get a round table for the room, one about the size of that there card table. I'm seriously weighing that idea.

Meanwhile, I now have an acre of Durastone to mop.

The story with the upside down tomatoes is, one had a broken stem, which is why it looked parched even though it was supposedly well watered. I broke it off completely, stripped the lower leaves, and stuck it into a pot to see if it will take root and recover. I have not had this problem before, but it only makes sense because, even though the plants are upside down, they are trying to grow rightside up.

The heat and humidity have done in some of the bloomers - the clematis by the front door dropped its petals faster than a streaker in January - while forcing others out of their buds.

Dragon's Blood sedum:

It never looks as good as the photos in the catalogs, but it does well in dry conditions.

A red lily of some variety:

This one does not last long once it blooms.

Shasta daisy:

I finally figured out that deadheading this plant severely limits how well it comes back the following year. I thought it regrew from the roots, but actually it reseeds itself.

Some yellow daylily that was part of a collection:

I keep meaning to do something new with all the different lilies and daylilies I have scattered around the yard, but have yet to get around to it. It's not like they are going anywhere.

This is a small-flowered clematis - I can't find its name right now - that I think blooms most of the summer.

It has been moved and abused so often I'm surprised it is still alive, let alone blooming.

No vegetable garden is complete without marigolds:

Usually I select a mahogany-colored variety, but now I'm favoring orange.

This hosta gets a lot of sun, but doesn't seem to mind:

Behind it are Stella d' Oro daylilies.

I know the name of this tickseed:

Coreoptis Grandiflora 'Early Sunrise'.

And, now that the privet is done blooming, the volunteer milkweeds are serving as aromatic replacements:

Every year I let a few of these go, and sometimes monarchs visit, but I never find any eggs, let alone caterpillars, on the plants. Maybe this year.

I keep trying to capture just how lovely the barberry looks with its new growth. This is the best I can do.

It's even better in real life. Trust me.

And because no entry this year would be complete without a bunny pic:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Status report

This spring we were receiving just about the perfect amount of rain, but now it has stopped, which means the daily watering has begun. A few things in pots get watered everyday, while in-the-ground items receive a shower every two or three days. I only water the shrubs when it is dry enough to cease mowing; there are only so many hours in the day.

The tomatoes like this weather. The Early Girl teases me with its green fruit, but all of them are blossoming. I've resigned myself to daily watering of the Topsy Turvys, but I'm a little frustrated with the Gardener's Supply upside down planters. They have reservoirs on top with wicks to pull the moisture to the soil, and simple hydrometers to register the amount of moisture in the bag. This system worked well at first, but now the hydrometers say the soil is dry even though the water in the reservoirs is disappearing (maybe through evaporation?) There are extra wicks, but I don't want to start using them up so early in the season. Guess I will have to drag a ladder out there and fiddle with the whole thing to see exactly what is going on. I'm guessing the soil at the top has shrunk away from the bottom of the reservoir, hence not enough contact between the wick and the soil to effectively transfer water. That's my theory anyway.

I have four tomato plants in hanging bags, three in big pots, and three in the ground with red reservoirs beneath them. They are all different varieties, so I won't be able to draw any conclusions from the harvest, but it is fun to try different methods.

One experiment is doing well, that of growing onions in pots for scallions. I planted onion sets around the rim of the tomato plant pots and have been reaping the fruits of my labor and eating them in salads. Ditto the herbs in pots. I have a planter of lettuce that needs a little sun protection, but I have high hopes there. I may add a few radishes to that mix because the ones in the ground bolt too quickly.

The pepper plants look kind of puny despite the helping of fertilizer they started with. I have not had much luck in recent years with peppers. The snap peas are starting to produce pods. They get some afternoon shade, so should be okay in spite of the heat. The cukes are at the end of the pea fence, and I think the shade is hurting them, as they are not getting very big very fast. The zucchini gets more sun and is doing fine. I'm ready to plant another hill of each. The rabbits have not yet eaten the beans, so I'll make another planting of those as well.

Speaking of rabbits, Bunny Daddy has fled the premises and now Mama lounges around under the arborvitae, getting fat. I brought her a bowl of water since she can't reach the bird bath.

Enough about the outside.

It's up to me to prep the quarter round for the family room flooring installation, and I have discovered something about myself. I hate to paint. There is either too much paint on the brush or too little. I apply either too much or too little. I dribble. I smear. I get paint in my hair. I lack both the patience and the steady hand to do a good job. To add to my misery, it is hot and humid. I'm barely moving and yet covered in sweat after about two minutes.

The baseboard is stained, but I am painting the quarter round because I plan to have the baseboard painted later on. Meanwhile, there will be "antique white" quarter round over dark walnut baseboard. That won't look strange, will it? Maybe it will motivate me to hire a painter in the near future.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Starting to feel like summer

There is something in the air, a shift in temperature and humidity and universal vibe, that occurs in June and that makes us say, "NOW it feels like summer!" It is still not brutally hot or suffocatingly humid, but it is also no longer springlike out there. Or maybe it is the firecrackers.

The latest love of my life is this:

It's a Cotinus coggygria 'Purpureus' aka Purple Smoke Tree. I found it at Home Depot and it followed me home. Situated at the southeast corner of the house, it is a great addition to my purple-leaf front yard, where it joins the barberry, Japanese maple, crimson king maple, and sandcherry. Oooh!

I would like to add some 'Gold Nugget' barberry to my front yard, to contrast with all the purple, but my research has revealed that barberry and burning bush are considered invasive. This really surprises me, because I have never seen either growing willy-nilly in my yard. Perhaps I am just too busy with the Canada thistle, garlic mustard, Queen Anne's lace, mulberry, honeysuckle bush, etc., etc., and so forth, to notice.

The daylilies are starting to bloom. This is Stella:

There are tiger lilies and Shasta daisies as well, but the breezes have been creating consternation with this amateur photographer, so no pix yet. I have gobs of pix from previous years, but I still like to take a few of each emerging blossom so that I have a record of sorts of what blooms when.

From my observations, it looks like all three baby bunnies have survived. It is difficult to tell from this photo, as the little suckers do not take direction well, but they would still fit in one hand, albeit a large hand.

The teen from a previous post appears to be their babysitter. I think the Bunny Daddy made an appearance last week, so more may be on the way soon.

Hopefully, Mama Bunny will find a new yard to nest in. Something they don't mention when promoting backyard habitats is the sheer number of rabbits yours will attract. It's not a problem until they start eating the things you don't want them to eat. While there are plenty of other food choices for them in my yard, I have had to surround nearly every shrub with poultry netting. Some garden plants require protection as well. Meanwhile, my SO has been helping me line the backyard with poultry netting. We have done nearly all the chain link fence, but I need to come up with a strategy for the gates. At this point, though, I'm not sure if I am keeping them OUT or locking them IN.

My love/hate relationship continues with my neighbor's mulberry tree. It is LOADED this year, much to the robins' delight. They have been using the tree as a launching pad for their fledglings. I read that orioles like mulberries as well, but I have not seen any.

Sadly, I found a dead catbird under the Rhubarb that Ate New York. I have yet to dispose of it, so have not determined a possible cause of death. I'm guessing a hawk dropped its lunch and the poor thing had not yet expired and crawled into a protected spot to die in peace. That's my story and I am sticking to it.

Completely new thread: This week my family room is getting new flooring. With the demise of the Florida room, the great outdoors starts at the patio door, which means some of that great outdoors gets tracked onto the carpet, despite my array of dirt trappers. So the carpet is destined for the Restore store (operated by Habitat for Humanity) and the Durastone in the kitchen is being extended into the family room. The ultimate goal is to wed the two rooms together, to create a big harvest kitchen.

The other problem with the removal of the Florida room is the brutal afternoon sun on the patio. I like the idea of a pergola out there, but don't want wood because of the maintenance issues. This week a local firm gave me a ballpark estimate on an aluminum one: $6000 for a patio the size of mine. Gah! The sound you hear is that project falling to the bottom of my home improvement list.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday routine

My SO has been very generous with his Sunday afternoons and muscle power. Today he helped line the chain link with chicken wire. I simply have too many bunnies in my backyard habitat. We have about 25 feet left to go, then I will have to figure something out for the gates.

I also turned the compost pile today, sifting out a cartful of black gold in the process. At the very bottom of the bin I was emptying was what I think is a vole or mole. At first I thought it was a mouse, but instead of running away, it kept burrowing down. It was gray, with a short tail, and very interested in disappearing.

The wren house is finally occupied, so now I not only get to hear the wren song, but get to watch mom and dad ready the nest. The bluebird house has been taken over by sparrows. They might as well use it since no bluebirds are. And I saw a hummingbird about a week ago. I'm contemplating investing in an oriole feeder, because I think they are around, just not very visible.

Now it is time for some Advil.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What's that smell?

The privet hedge is in bloom. The aroma is almost too cloying to be enjoyable. The bees are loving it, though.

We have received quite a bit a rain this spring, at least an inch a week, I think. Another inch fell over the past day or two, and now the yard is starting to sprout mushrooms.

Gadzukes! That's not all that's sprouting.

Every year I am overrun with zucchini, but last year I did not plant any due to the renovations and I missed it. The stuff from the grocery store just does not taste the same.

Finally, a halfway decent pic of blossoms on the honeysuckle vine.

At A Way to Garden, they were discussing aphids on honeysuckles. So that is why the blossoms sometimes curl up and die. More come on, but maybe I should add an aphid shower to my yard regime.

The yarrow is starting to bloom.

But it looks like the pestimon has bit the dust. I will plant more someday because the hummingbirds really like it.

I have generations of rabbits in my backyard habitat.

The ones in this nest have since ventured out, but they are the equivalent of toddlers. They hide in the coneflower, and mama comes around to nurse them now and then. I tried to get a photo of the latter, but was too cautious because I did not want to disturb them.

This guy is a teenager, I bet.

He used to be quite skittish, but now he just watches me with that "What's YOUR problem?" look on his face.

Otherwise, I am harvesting radishes and scallions, mowing grass between showers, and losing the battle of the weeds. So what else is new?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Making lasagna

My soil is heavy clay. Heavy, heavy clay. I have tried various and sundry methods to lighten it up over the years, but nothing seems to do much good. So I decided to give lasagna gardening a try.

It's a little late to create beds this year, but that has not stopped me. The "active" beds - the ones with stuff growing in them - are at various stages along the road to becoming lasagna beds, but today I started a real lasagna bed, one that will cook until next year, when it will be perfect. Right?

This bed, which is approximately 4'x25', now consists of two layers of sod, one facing up and one facing down, with newspaper in between, topped with some ashes from the fireplace, a bale of sphagnum moss, three 40-pound bags of composted cow manure, and a bunch of grass clippings. The robins are loving it.

(It's funny how I am not too lazy to go to all that work, but I am too lazy to go inside and get my camera to document what I am doing. Go figure.)

The cooking of more lasagna beds is planned, but this is the tough one because of the sod. We shall see how well it breaks down. More layers will be added as they become available, but there shall be no tilling. I want to see if the worms can work their magic with no mechanical help from me.

Other achievements: planted some mesclun in a container, to see how it does if I keep it protected from the fierce summer sun; harvested some radishes; planted cukes next to the pea fence, so they have something to climb; and some of the marigolds are in the ground and in containers.

I also moved a heuchera that was not getting enough sun, and replaced it with this gift from a nursery friend of mine:

It's a hosta called 'Love Pat'. Hope it can hold its own against its neighbors, aka the Hostas That Ate New York.

Not all the 'Jethro Tull' coreopsis survived the winter, but I can find four, some of which are blooming.

Love those fluted petals!

And the bees are still loving the phlox, even though the blooms are about done for the year.

If I had a better camera, you would see that this guy is not perched on a stalk but flying about, his wings a blur.

Discontinued flooring and rabbit habits

About six years ago, I had Durastone flooring installed in my kitchen. I like Durastone. It looks like tile but is warmer and repairable. Last year, when the laundry room was redone as part of the room addition, I used the same Durastone pattern in there as well. You cannot tell the old Durastone from the new. Great stuff.

While discussing impending home improvement plans with a co-worker, I mentioned how much I like Durastone, so we went out to the Congoleum website so I could show her what I was talking about. What I noticed was my kitchen pattern was no longer on their website. Was it discontinued?

There are two problems with this possibility: 1) after the laundry room, I somehow was left with no spare tile for repairs, and 2) someday I want to wed the kitchen to the family room by replacing the carpet in the family room with the same Durastone as is in the kitchen.

I called my flooring guys, and they confirmed that yes, my pattern was being phased out. However, they were able to find some. My first impulse was to purchase as much as I might ever need. But after a restless night or two (home improvement is a favorite 3am topic in my cranium), I decided to go ahead and have the tile in the family room installed NOW.

Yesterday, while cleaning the cat box, the cat box that is supposed to be in the cat washroom but is now in the main bathroom which guests use (ugh!) because Princess Fern apparently does not like enclosures and was hanging her butt out of the cat washroom when peeing which was ruining the finish on the cat washroom, I had another epiphany. Instead of replacing my concrete driveway (oh, yeah, did I mention I was planning on doing that, as a prelude to installing a rain garden?), I would rather spend that money on remodeling the workshop that is off the garage and behind the laundry room into a utility room. The washer and dryer can go in there, along with a freezer and that damn litter box.

So, that is the plan. As of this moment. Who knows what I will dream up between today and tomorrow.

As for outside work, I managed to scrounge up some zucchini seeds and planted one hill. I also found inexpensive tomato cages at Menards and am trying the square ones on the tomatoes in the ground. And the rain garden consultant stopped by to answer some questions about my rain garden plans, which was extremely helpful but currently moot. And I've kept up with the mowing.

As for the bunny situation, mama bunny did not move her babies, but I was able to discourage Betsy's interest in the nest, until today. This morning Betsy was digging around in the nest when I chased her off. One baby escaped, two remained huddled in their hidey hole, and a dead one had been dislodged from the nest. It looked like it had been dead for a while - maggots! - so I left it in the grass for later disposal, but mama bunny took care of it for me by EATING IT! I'm guessing this is a survival mechanism, to prevent attracting predators to the nest, but GROSS!!!

Today my SO is coming over so we can continue our labors in my backyard. I cannot express how grateful I am to have his help this year. My garden plans tend to get a bit grandiose, which results in the yard feeling more like a burden than a delight. But now, when I sit in the West Wing and observe my backyard habitat, I feel optimistic that all will come to fruition.

And now, some pics:

Clematis viticella 'Betty Corning':

I planted two of these in 2006, and since their original location is no longer, they now reside at the corners of the West Wing

Agilegia canadense, aka Canadian columbine:

Just loaded this year, despite last year's transplantation.

Some other clematis:

This is from Springhill Nursery I think, and has been shielding the front porch for many years. Last year it took on the look of a giant tumbleweed, so I whacked it back severely. Apparently, it is harboring no ill will over that episode.

Some climbing rose:

I think this is also from Springhill. I'm not a rose person, so this one suffers from much neglect. Still, it soldiers on.

Some iris:

These came with the house, sometimes bloom, sometimes don't. This one has been buried by the hostas, hasn't bloomed in years, but worked its way out to the edge of the bed this year. Now it is saying, Look at me! I will survive!

And, last but not least, for your listening pleasure: