Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fall - Garden wrap-up

I have to say that my fears of running out of storage space for all the veg were a trifle overstated.  We did okay, but in the end, we're not being crowded out of the house by food.  Here's a run-down:
  • Corn: I think we got two meals of corn-on-the-cob, and one meal's worth of frozen kernels out of it.  Planted (the successful crop, that is) just too late to work properly.  It tasted good, though, and since we have the fenced-in area built, I'll probably do it again.
  • Pumpkins: got two small ones - maybe 6" in diameter each.  From the weight, I think they'd be good for cooking, but my daughter has dibs on them for jack-o-lanterns.
  • Canteloupe: another victim of the late start, I think.  We had two melons start; both of them made it to about 2" in diameter before they just sort of collapsed on themselves.
  • Cucumbers: got 3-4, total.  They've done better in the past, so next year I'll do them again, but put something in place for them to climb.
  • Peas: 1 meal, maybe, at most?  Need to start these WAY earlier in the year.  They were still fruiting in August, though.
  • Potatoes: a fabulous surprise.  Planting two sprouted potatoes and sort of ignoring them resulted in a harvest around 5-6 pounds.  We're still eating them - and maybe this is a side-effect of growing up in the suburban 20th century, but I'm pleased and a little surprised to find that they taste just like the ones you buy in the store.
  • Onions: these did pretty well - in fact, I'm wondering if we'll actually eat them all before next spring.  The ones that I've harvested so far (based on the stalks wilting and going brown) didn't get all that big, but they're bigger than when we started.  I even tried braiding them, and while the result wasn't aesthetically pleasing, it seems to be holding.  Some of them have not yet wilted, so I'm leaving them in the ground for now.
  • Carrots: boy, do we have carrots!  They were very happy, and even without thinning, grew fat and prolifically.  Most of them are still in the ground and will stay that way over winter - supposedly they do just fine that way.
  • Garlic: I think it's doing okay - it's still in the ground, and the foliage is still mostly green.  Again, assuming that what's in the ground represents heads of garlic, we'll have plenty.  I may try braiding it as well.
  • Peppers: nearly a complete wash.  We planted 2 plants; one with a pepper on it, the other without.  The one pepper got marginally larger, so we picked it.  That was the crop.
  • Dried beans: I had high hopes for these.  The plants were lush and the pods plentiful.  But when they came into the kitchen and we removed the beans, we got less than 1/2 cup of each type.  Unless the world experiences a huge dried bean shortage and our only other option for protein is to resort to cannibalism, I probably won't bother again.
  • Lettuce: way too much to eat; most of it bolted when we were on the cruise.  We just don't eat enough salad to do more than a single square of lettuce, I think.
  • Spinach: same deal.  I may try it again next year, since we started too late this year, with the idea of freezing it.
  • Green beans: the true green beans did okay, but yield was underwhelming.
  • Purple beans: star of the garden.  I pulled the plants up yesterday after a frost hit, and still got 2-3 meals' worth.  Next year, I'll put more plants in earlier, but these are keepers.  And they taste good, too.
  • Tomatoes: we had an awful time keeping the water right in the barrels, so our Romas kept getting blossom-end rot.  Nonetheless, we've been eating them fairly steadily for the last month, and I've got 3 packages frozen.
  • Grapes: the squirrels got most of the white grapes, before they really got sweet.  I picked some and brought them in the house; made raisins out of some and ate the others.  The raisins were pretty good - if I try them again, though, I think I'll get an electric food dryer.  The Concords were very prolific, to say the least.  Even with the squirrels, I got a couple of gallons worth of juice out of them.  Made half into jelly and froze the rest.  Unfortunately, the jelly did not jel.  The rescue pectin did not make it jel.  I used to be really good at making grape jelly, but it is just not working for me these days.  Now, I'm looking for recipes where I can substitute what's basically grape "molasses".  Because it keeps falling off the toast and making a huge mess.
Next year, I think we'll alter the crop mix, plant some things earlier, cut way back on others (even the purple beans, a bit).  But I'll do potatoes again, for sure, and we'll get the watering adjusted for the tomatoes.  I approached the whole raised-bed square foot gardening thing this year as a bit of an experiment, and I'd say it was, on the whole, very successful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

And what are we going to do with it all?

It occurred to me yesterday that fresh veg doesn't "keep" all by itself - it's not like I'm growing potato chips or saltine crackers or cans of anything out in the garden.  Each item has a sort of window of usefulness, and if we don't do something (like consumption or storage) with it during that window, it will end up as compost (that is, assuming I resurrect the compost bin).  So I started doing a little planning.

All told, we have the following edible stuff growing around the yard somewhere:
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Dried Beans
  • Garlic
  • Cucumbers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Pumpkins
  • Shallots
  • Snap Peas
  • Regular Peas
  • Green Beans (and purple green beans)
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Rhubarb
  • Herbs
And in general, we've under-utilized our garden produce in years past.  For example, the rhubarb has been there for about 6 years now; it takes over an entire corner of our backyard garden, and we've never once eaten any of it.  Partly that has to do with the fact that it has never once turned red, so I assumed we were doing something wrong and it wasn't edible yet.  This morning, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I found out that some rhubarb is just green and supposed to be that way, so I'm going to be brave and cook some.  If I never post here again, you'll know what happened.

Anyway, I'd like to avoid wasting much of what we're growing, if I can, so I'm looking into ways to preserve and store this stuff.  And finding out lots of useful information.  Like, I could have been freezing all the basil, mint, and tarragon that is taking over the back yard, instead of letting it die back every winter.  Or, I could invest about $70 in a food dehydrator and dry herbs as well as tomatoes.  But I probably won't.  I can count the number of times I've cooked with dried tomatoes on my thumbs; it will be much more useful if we peel-and-freeze them in various forms.

However, if the corn does actually produce more food than we can keep up with, I will probably buy one of those corn-cob razors that remove kernels easily - standing a cob on end and trying to slice them off with a knife just looks to me like a subtle but effective way to perform self-amputation.

The truly interesting storage challenges are the onions, garlic, shallots, and potatoes.  All of them need a cool, dry place to hang out over the winter - and the potatoes also need it to be dark.  I'd say that the back screen porch is a candidate for most of them - but we'll need some sort of light-blocking bin for the potatoes (if there are any).

Nearly everything else can be frozen, or simply cannot be stored.  I'm fairly certain that the lettuce is an "eat it or waste it" proposition, as are the cantaloupes.  And I can't quite see myself making pickles, so we will have to eat the cukes, too.  Julia Child's books include recipes for cooked cucumbers and cooked lettuce; I doubt they could be altered to accommodate frozen ones, always assuming that I could find anyone to eat either dish (my brother was once asked on a Biology test to define life, and responded, "Anything the French will eat", but cooked lettuce?  Cooked cucumbers?  Blecch!)

Anyway, harvest time, except for the lettuce and spinach, is a while out, so it's all just planning for now.  I guess by fall we'll all know a lot more about it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Knee-high by the 4th... of June?

Hardware cloth keeps out pests.  The corn is thriving, and looks set to continue, as long as the clouds I can see from the office don't presage a hailstorm.  In fact, we'll have to remove the cover here soon, since it's getting close to that tall.  Let's hope that the original corn predators can't climb fences, since they've proven not to have opposable thumbs.

Everything looks to be doing really well.  We did our cruise - got back Sunday - and the sprinklers obviously kept working while we were gone.  The spinach and lettuce is harvestable, and we actually had some in a salad last night.  Tasted pretty darn good.  The peas and beans are blossoming and the potato plants are huge.  No guarantee that there will be potatoes as a result, since the original potatoes came from the grocery store, but I just keep telling myself that they're an experiment, so any result is good.

With the food prices likely to rise all summer and the recent tomato crisis, I'm very glad we did all the work needed to set up the garden.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder what else we could plant and eat, either as we harvest the lettuce or in the remaining empty square feet.  Maybe more green beans - I think they can still be planted this late.

I've already learned some things for next year, though.  We need to group plants by type - all the lettuce/spinach together, where I could put shade covers over it.  Tall stuff in the middle, including pea vines that need supports, so we won't find ourselves having to reach over it to get to some shorter plants.

And I think I'm going to start working on the composter again.  It exists, and there's some antique plant material in it, but I never did much with it, and at some point, it became a great place for wasps to build nests, so I started avoiding it.  But as we thin things, we should be composting the discarded stuff.  And our lawn guy is putting clippings in the trash each week, and I ought to be grabbing those too.  The square-foot rules include adding compost each time we harvest, and that will be my easiest source of it, if I just get it going again.

Winter storage is another thing to start figuring out.  The onions are doing beautifully, and I think I'll have something like 3 dozen of them, all told.  We won't be eating them all that fast, so they need a dry-and-cool spot to hang out in.  Carrots could be the same deal.  And if I don't find a place for them, it will guarantee a bumper potato crop.

I'm already thinking we should build another box for next summer.  This is just working altogether too well.  For a change!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phew - Ow!

Graduation - and the party - went off without a hitch, from where I sat.  My daughter, whose digestive system has been one of our main areas of interest over the past year and a half, woke up with butterflies and apparently spent some of the pre-graduation moments throwing up from nerves, so I guess she'd call that a hitch.  But if she hadn't told us, we wouldn't have known.

Too much food at the party, though.  I need to go to Caterer's school or something, because 18 pounds of meat was just way too much for 50 people, apparently.  My mom thinks we had 80 over the course of the party - I'm not so sure about that.  People seemed to have a good time, and didn't seem to mind or notice that I mostly stayed in the background making sure we didn't run out of meat in the dining room.

For what it's worth, packages of barbecue pork and turkey contain an awful lot of liquid, and when it leaks all over the bottom of the oven without anyone noticing, you get a lot of smoke two days later when you preheat it to cook something.  We found that out last night, so I thought I'd share.

And the family is all scattered back to their homes or vacation destinations and out of our hair, thank goodness.  Poor things, though - we didn't plan for altitude sickness when we scheduled things to do with all of them, and making them climb up to the top seats in the baseball field, or drive to the top of a mountain pass for breakfast, maybe wasn't such a good idea.

Our last family event was on Memorial day itself - dinner with the sister-in-law-from-hell, her husband and son.  It was all about them.  The son (age 5, and basically undisciplined) wanted a cinnamon roll for dinner - at a Mexican restaurant.  When told they didn't have cinnamon rolls, he announced that he would have chips.  So when the chips (complimentary appetizers - standard Mexican restaurant practice) arrived, he grabbed them, because obviously, they were "his".  His parents then ordered him a child's burrito for dinner.  And when it arrived, he declared indignantly to the waitress, "That's NOT what I ordered!". 

Who taught him that one?  Creepy little twerp.  We had to keep the training collar on Anneke all night, to keep her out of his reach, because he had been observed earlier in the weekend smacking her in the face.  She was good; she didn't bite him.  And if I'd seen him at it, I'd have done it for her.

But they're all gone now, and our planning is now focused on getting on the ship for the cruise.

That, and finishing up (over the past 2 days), my slightly oversized Indy 500 project.  Yikes - when I decided to tape-and-mud the new wall separating our bedroom from the closet we had built last fall, I think I must have blotted out the memory of how much pain it produces.  And how bloody hard it is to do a good job at it.  The corner finishing tool kept digging trenches in the mud laid down where we'd had to patch the wallboard after removing the old wall (it moved back about a foot).  All of it overhead, all of it (for neatness sake) with my right arm.  It still moves, but movement is now accompanied by sound effects (groans, mostly).  Last night was sanding and painting night.  And I'm getting pretty good at flat surfaces - after painting, there's only a slight clue that anything happened.  But the trenches were awful - I resorted to using a sponge to soften their edges, but was unable to eradicate them. 

Who looks at ceilings anyway?  Not me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

And the family begins to descend upon us...

The thing I didn't mention yesterday was that, at the end of the banquet, my husband and I went home to sleep, and my daughter went off with friends to the midnight premiere of the new Indiana Jones movie.

And got home at 3 am. 

It wasn't a school night, and she is 18.  It was, however, a work night, and yesterday just hurt.  Fortunately, I didn't have a lot of demands on my mental prowess at work, since I hadn't brought any with me.  Unfortunately, it was another long day. 

My husband took off a little early, and he and our daughter finished up the shopping for the party (ice and perishable stuff), before he came back downtown to pick me up.  And then he and I stopped at two additional stores (looking for wrapping paper - there's been a run on it around here), met the kid for dinner, and then we finally got to go home while she headed to the airport to pick up her sister, the sister's boyfriend, and my husband's ex-wife, who flew in from Seattle.  They're staying with us (the kids) and my parents (the ex-wife).  Their 3:30 flight out got delayed by our nasty, national-news-worthy tornadoes (don't be silly, they don't have tornadoes in Colorado, everyone knows that!), and they got to the house about 10:15.  At which point we did hugs all around and said, "We're going to bed and will see you tomorrow."  And about time, too.

The rest of the family arrives throughout the day today.  Two of them are flying with FedEx.  My first thought was that they'd be arriving with the packages around 4 am and having to find their way to our house from the sorting facility in Commerce City, but apparently, that's not quite the case, and they're not here yet, although enroute.  Others are flying in on regular airlines (so they won't require a tracking bar-code), and driving.  So by the time I get home from work, our house should be full of hungry in-laws, ready to go to the ballpark. 

I've made maps - well, I've printed out Google Maps directions from either our house or their hotel to all the places I know we've planned to be over the weekend, as well as several local attractions (like the mountains, although it's snowing up there right now, which certainly wouldn't attract me).  But I know how it will be - caravan city, all weekend.  Nothing but mobs.  My husband will be in his element.

If I'm able to post at all next Tuesday, it will probably be gibberish.

Let the games begin.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Graduation Weekend kickoff

Slight digression from my recent gardening obsession for a few days, to write about our daughter's high school graduation, which takes place Saturday morning.

We all attended the Senior Banquet last night, along with what appeared to be her entire class and their parents, and all the teachers from the school.  Because, six years ago, we "forced" her to attend an academically rigorous, liberal-arts focused Junior-Senior high school that required winning a lottery to attend and which only admitted 250 students per class, the entire crowd was able to fit into a hotel ballroom - we didn't need the local football stadium that would have been required for my graduating class of 610.  My husband's class was three times the size of mine - they might not have been able to pull it off anywhere at all.

By senior year, the academic rigor had reduced the 250 to 127 (or possibly 128 - one of her friends, characterized during the banquet as the student whose absence would likely cause the school to crumble into ruins, wasn't sure of the exact number).  Most of them by now have taken one or more AP (advanced placement) classes, or classes offered by one of the local university campuses, as part of their high school program, and will start college next year with credits under their belts.  Really, an amazing group of kids.

The speakers were all confident and articulate, the musical performers were equally skilled, and the night wound up with a presentation of the "Senior Video" (produced by the same friend who had the class list memorized), which showed some real talent and promise.  It was obvious throughout the evening that there was an amazing bond between the students and the teachers and administrators, all of whom had known each other for 6 years.  A very good event.

Six years ago, when I heard that we had won that lottery and got her into that school, I joked that I'd never win the PowerBall, that this was my one instance of luck.  At the end of the six years, I know I was right - and I know I wouldn't trade it for a PowerBall jackpot.

And fortunately, after six hard years, she admits that it was a good thing, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

... the Corn and Canteloupes (in) play

The corn has sprouted (again). Now we will see if the hardware cloth can act as a preventative against whatever it is that likes the corn so much.

And I'm happy to report, that with water and sunlight and heat, my 8-year-old Canteloupe seeds have sprouted. Nothing had been happening with them, and I had actually gone out and bought a new package of seeds, thinking that they were pretty much dead. But when I went to plant the new seeds, in the same spot the original seeds had been planted, I found roots and sprouts in progress, so I covered them back up and tiptoed away. And last evening, each of them had produced a pair of tiny leaflets. So we're in business.

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this - it seems like something I should have just known - but I got online this morning to find out what I need to do to ensure that the produce from my dried bean plants ends up as dried beans. I guess it's a symptom of growing up in the suburbs - up until this summer, my dried beans arrived at my house in a plastic bag, and I really wasn't exactly sure what transformative steps had to occur between the plant and the bag.

In case you're wondering, you leave the pods on the plant until they dry out, and then you remove them and knead the beans out of them. Doesn't sound like rocket science to me. Like I said, it seems like something I should have known.

Plans for the graduation party are pretty much in train. We need to buy beer and ice and perishable food, but I think everything else is under control. A little scary, really.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rice Paddy irrigation without any rice

We had the sprinkler system guy out last week to give everything a tune up and help get the yard looking a little less like a toxic waste dump site (well, the back yard kind of looks that way). And he left a message with my husband that he thought we might have a leak near the cutoff valve for the whole system, but that he didn't have time (he's very popular and in-demand) to dig it up and investigate during that visit. So we've left the system turned off - an easy decision with the rains we had all last week - until Sunday

He was right, and it might just explain the mystery $900 water bill we had last summer. The area surrounding the cutoff valve, after about 6 hours, turned into a tiny swamp. A little digging (my husband did all of it, and I don't think he'd like that adjective all that well), revealed that the joint between a PVC elbow and a straight piece of PVC pipe, had come unglued. So the cutoff valve remains off until the sprinkler guy can come out and glue things back together.

I shouldn't be sore from that - my role was pretty much that of cheerleader, with occasional forays into gopher. I certainly dug no mucky clay out of the hole. But I'm really stiff and sore this morning, for apparently no reason.

Maybe I could call it sympathy pains.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Keeping 47 balls in the air without that third arm

I think I maligned the rabbits the other day. When I looked things over last night, I didn't see any evidence of missing lettuce seedlings. So maybe I was just imagining it - either that, or they've gotten very good at covering their tracks...

But I don't want to write about rabbits today. I want to talk about lists.

I am a list-maker. It's how I get things done. Lists keep me on track, and I find it satisfying to check things off as they get finished. But maybe (not for certain, just considering the possibility here), I've gone a bit overboard recently.

We have a few things going on right now. Getting the vegetable garden started was one. The daughter's graduation and associated party was another. I have a job. And we're leaving on a cruise in about 3 weeks. So I really think I have an excuse. But judge for yourself. Here is my list (well, what would you call it?) of lists:

Graduation party catering order
College survival kit gift item list
Cruise packing list
Graduation weekend planning list
Shopping list by date (for graduation party stuff)
Giant list (anything crossing or not captured in other lists)
Graduation weekend attendees list (combined for the ceremony, the ballgame on Friday, the party, and the Sunday morning breakfast in the mountains)
Tourism suggestions list (for out-of-town graduation people)
iTunes movies I might want to buy for my iPod before the cruise

Okay, yeah. That is rather a lot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Not Romaine, Spinach

I am no horticulturist.

Just to make things clear, before I go into any details, I'm a computer geek. Growing vegetables is in support of a hobby of eating them. So I think I'm going to give up trying to identify anything I've planted until it matures a bit.

When things were starting to sprout, I'd identified a bunch of seedlings with a pair of pointy leaves as carrots. Then, when the real carrots started to sprout (pointy leaves, yes, but much smaller ones), I decided that the "carrot 1.0" sprouts were actually romaine lettuce - the pointy leaves would obviously grow into big vertical leaves on a vertical head of romaine, right?

As I've been planting, I've gotten a bit more careful about putting labels in each square foot - for no other reason than to identify which ones have been planted and which ones are still available - and I think (but am not sure, since that was a recent practice) there are still areas available. When I added spinach and carrots to my second bed, I labeled them.

And one of them started sprouting yesterday. From the back of the label, I thought it was carrots - two pointy leaves and all - and everyone knows that spinach is oval leaves on sticks. So I walked around to the front to confirm, and of course, it was spinach. I went back and looked at the original bed, and between the pointy leaves that first emerged are newer leaves - oval, on sticks.

As for deciding which of the squares of lettuce is romaine, which is leaf, and which is bibb - I am not going to make a call right now. They'll have to get bigger - or else, I'll just ask the rabbits, because some of them are not getting bigger, they're disappearing.

Maybe my new hobby will be eating rabbits. I'm pretty sure Julia Child has some good recipes...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rain, rain, go...on about your business. No, really.

About midnight last night, I heard, through my sleep, the sound of rain falling into the gutters and washing down the downspouts around the house. A very soothing sound to hear when you're in bed and (according to my husband) hogging all the blankets. And in a dry climate, such as ours, we should really be rejoicing over moisture falling from the sky, in whatever form it chooses to take, but I am really only mustering happiness over the fact that it hasn't snowed - yet, at least.

The anti-vermin cage appears (from a drive-by) to be undisturbed for a second night, although I guess you could put that down to the rain as well. We got the wall-o-waters back in place around the tomatoes, in case this does turn colder. And the shallots I planted a week ago seem to be very well content - the one that had sprouts when I planted it seems to have doubled the size and number of them. I hope that means bulblets, or whatever shallots do to produce more shallots. Garlic sprouts are starting to appear, too.

I think we're in an enforced wait-and-see mode now. Seeds in place, with protection as appears necessary, and it just remains for water and sun to do their work. The green and purple beans are starting to pop up, but we haven't seen signs of the dried beans yet. I hope they're just slow, and not some weird hybrid intended only for eating (I bought them from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, since I didn't want a lot and not all of them came in seed packets). Nor have the second lot of spinach or carrots surfaced yet - I would expect them to show up pretty soon.

Nice thing about natural irrigation, though. It waters between the lines of leaky hose, and helps sprout those seeds not directly beneath the drip. So I'll try to do a bit more rejoicing, even though rain and cloudiness seem very unnatural around here, and hard to take in the spring when I want it to be warm.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Take that, you nibbling little fiends!

Yesterday, probably under the heading of "It's Mother's day, let her do what she wants," my husband helped me build an enclosure for the corn part of the raised beds. It encircles the outer walls and rises 2 feet above the bed boxes, all in 1/2" hardware fabric. It has a removable top, also of hardware fabric, to allow me to get in and harvest purple bush beans (they happened to have been planted in line with the corn, and are now enclosed) and generally tend to the plants as necessary, and I think it will also form a handy support for the cornstalks as they grow.

If, after all this pain and effort - and the pain was real: my husband managed to attack the webbing of his thumb with the cordless screwdriver blade and I have several scratches from handling the hardware fabric - those little fiends manage to get into the corn, I will give up on it.

And I guess it's possible that they'll manage it - according to our neighbor, it might be raccoons - and from everything I've read, they can pick locks, just about. A lift-off top made of hardware fabric ought to be child's play to them.

But we shall see. I replanted corn seeds (again!) yesterday after we finished - I can reach, just barely - so the next week or so should be the real test.

It's supposed to snow this afternoon. A bit hard to believe at the moment, since from where I sit, the only clouds in the sky are on the other side of the mountains (and that won't cause us snow) and the air is fairly warm. It smelled fabulous outside this morning - very green. But we have one wine barrel of tomatoes where the wall-o-waters collapsed yesterday, and we didn't get them refilled. So we threw a sheet over them before leaving for work, just in case.

On other fronts, we are now within 2 weeks of my daughter's high school graduation and the associated partying with a whole boatload of extended family. For her sake, I'm very glad everyone's coming. For my sake, I hope they'll leave me a closet to hide in when the press of humanity grows too much.

We're throwing a 4+ hour party in our front yard after the ceremony itself. Barbecue (from a local restaurant) for 50. And that has meant a lot of frenzied weeding over the past couple of weeks - culminating yesterday morning with a bout of thistle-removal on my part, and Round-upping on my husband's. He had the gravel drive, which is a royal pain to do (although we will appreciate it on the day, since it parks 8 when properly organized). We're still not done, and thistles are very persistent, so I imagine I'll get to revisit my work at least one more time.

Other events for the weekend (which also happens to be Memorial day weekend) include:
- Group attendance at the Rockies game for most of the out-of-town visitors
- Some sort of caravan to the graduation itself, since many of the attendees have spent minimal time in Denver
- Sunday breakfast in the mountains

Once all that's done, I know most of them leave to catch planes - and I'm hoping to salvage part of Sunday for my annual Indianapolis 500 home improvement project. Although, to be honest, we're doing so much improvement getting ready for the party, I'm not exactly sure what will be left.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Tiny Leaky Hose

We ran into a pretty cool product this year, while working on the drip irrigation - 1/4" leaky hose. We'd used normal sized leaky hoses before in the garden back during the weeds-as-mulch years, and it did a really good job of keeping the plants we wanted alive while not watering plants we were not all that keen on (unfortunately, they're all native, which means that water is poison to them, I think).

We have the tiny leaky hose in the raised beds (which are sprouting in tidy little square-foot patterns all over the joint and look I know what I'm doing!), and last night, I replaced a bunch of point drip nozzles in our containers with loops of the stuff. I think it's going to work much better - the point nozzles had a nasty tendency to drill out parts of the dirt unless we set the hose pressure at practically nothing, and even then, they would periodically work their way out of the pot and start watering useful spots like the sidewalk or driveway. One of them was so energetic that last night we spent time looking for a non-existent leak in an unrelated hose nearby, due to the puddles that had appeared.

The pansies are all flourishing and it hasn't got hot enough yet for them to bolt or start putting out wussy looking little flowers. Hopefully they'll keep that going for another 2 weeks or so, just until the graduation party.

For the first time ever, I have masses of bearded iris (blossoms, that is) in my garden. I had truly become convinced, after about 5 years of thriving leaves, that I'd screwed up the planting depth, but this year, they decided to stop messing with my head, I guess. Since there are only three drifts of them, they're not as spectacular as last year's snapdragons, but gratifying all the same - and they do seem to be spreading, which I'm all for.

Oh - and there are 3 or 4 corn plants that seem to have evaded the attack of the alien rabbitgophersquirrelrats and have achieved heights of 1" and more. I'm not relaxing yet, but we may get something there after all.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Signs of Spring

Ah, Spring!

The dogs have begun bringing mud into the house again and leaving it in cold damp clumps on the carpet - each time I step on one of them, I am reminded of the mouse that Two considerately killed a few years back, that I stepped on. Makes for gingerly navigation of the house when I'm barefoot and it's dark.

Mud, and sticky things from the cottonwood trees. Our tree does not produce the cotton fluff that fills the air when it goes to seed, but it does produce these weird flowers (?) that resemble emaciated fuzzy caterpillars. They fall profusely in the spring, and provide a temporary purple dye to overlay the concrete under the pergola in the back yard when they get wet. And when they fall, they're accompanied by little brownish crescent-moon-shaped sticky things - I have no idea what purpose they serve, either, except to cling to the bottom of your feet and make you stick to your shoes as you walk.

This morning, while I was still fumbling around half-awake, my husband, who'd been feeding the dogs (Anneke allows no slouching when it comes to breakfast at our house: because she's a morning person, we are all morning people), suddenly bolted into the bedroom, grabbed some clothes, and raced back out while pulling them on.

I followed. "Wha...?" I asked.

"We have a huge leak somewhere. I can hear it," he replied, and shot out the front door.

More drip irrigation maintenance required; one of the microsprinklers had lost its head and was jetting water into the air. Given that it was a 1/4" pipe, I wouldn't call it "huge", but it did need attention.

It's sunny so far today, but the radio is re-running its forecast of the week (they just keep repeating it until it comes true), calling for rain at some point. And the clouds have that charcoal tinge at their edges that hints of actual water content, so they could be right. Walking into my office building, I could smell spring - around here, Spring smells of drying wet asphalt to me - a hot, dusty, but fresh sort of smell.

I think I might have to go for a walk at lunch.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

You know, sprinkler water is COLD!

Probably an entry my husband should write, since he's the one who opened the garage door at the wrongest possible moment last night when we were trying to get a new sprinkler head installed to water in the correct direction. Suffice it to say that it wasn't quite there yet. After he changed into dry clothes, we finished up. All it got on me was my knee.

I think we have all the most obvious sprinkler head issues fixed now, and we were all set to turn it back on. Of course, we woke up to thunder (avoiding the impulse to say "the sound of thunder", since I don't actually like Bob Seger all that much), and it bids fair to be rainy all day, so we turned it off just as cycle 1 was building up pressure this morning.

We still have a few miscellaneous leaks to hunt down in our drip stuff - seems like everything loosens up and all the O-rings shrink over the winter - but the pansies are thriving and the place is starting to look a bit more cared for.

On the veg front - I went out to check this morning and the corn is suffering from ongoing devastation. But the green and purple beans are starting to come up.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Pest (out of) Control

I went to check on the garden last night and found that, while the wire grid is still intact (guess they're not alien rabbits after all), the little fiends have shifted their attention to the sprouts. They wrought devastation amongst the corn seedlings, and I was reminded of Pa Ingall's bad pun in whichever of the Little House books it was where they were attacked by crows:

"One for the gopher,
Two for the gopher,
Three for the gopher,
Four don't go-fur"

Not that I would recognize a gopher if it started gnawing on my foot, but something out there has an elevated sense of entitlement as regards my veg. We may have to resort to a chicken wire cover or something.

I did give a passing thought to spraying everything in the garden with something like Bitter Apple, but a couple of things stopped me. First, the dogs and cats all pretty much ignore the fact that I've sprayed something desirable with bitter apple - if it doesn't deter them, why would it deter gophers or rabbits or squirrels or whatever? Second, the idea of Bitter apple is to make things unpalatable, so maybe I don't really want it sprayed on plants that are growing my food.

I also found that in my frenzy over the weekend to get everything labeled, I'd apparently mis-identified romaine lettuce (at least, that's what I think it is now) as carrots. The carrots have started making an appearance in a couple of squares I don't actually recall planting. Fortunately, I hadn't got round to putting anything (else) in them yet. And since on Sunday, I planted at least one more square of carrots, I suspect we're now well stocked.

We've got the sprinkler system revved back up for the summer, at least sort of. It's emitting water all right - unfortunately in some zones, the emission is in the form of a bubbling pond that floods the driveway, rather than anything sprinkle-like. I think we have at least 2 more heads to repair - and I really hope that's all that's wrong with the one by the driveway - that we didn't puncture the supply line when putting in solar landscape lights on spikes. I have the whole system turned off for now - until we get the two heads replaced and aren't in danger of the $900 water bill we got once last year when we had some similarly profligate, but undetected leak.

But you know what? It's Spring! And the "big temperature drop" forecast for this week is into the 60s. Finally!

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Couple of Miscellaneous Topics

First of all, maybe it's just me, or maybe it's a local phenomenon, but what is it with dirt? I spent a good bit of time yesterday adding plants to the vegetable gardens (4 varieties of dried beans, garlic, and shallots - and I replanted the things that died from the cold), and putting pansies in various containers. The nice thing about containers - including raised beds - is that planting generally involves shoving one or two fingers into the dirt and making space for the seed or the plant - no digging involved.

But at the end of the day, my hands, which are normally in pretty good shape, could have been used to sand wood. They're still nasty this morning. Maybe the potting mix in this area is made from sulfuric acid and splinters or something. Anyway, not good.

The other thing going on is that my husband and I restarted on the South Beach program (I hesitate to call it a diet, since that implies a short-term change and it's not supposed to be short-term) over the weekend, and I got up this morning and had lost at least 2 pounds. And if the multi-function, body-fat-percentage measuring scale is to believed, at least part of that loss is real fat. I'd forgotten what instant gratification this plan provides - and to be honest, although we'd tried to get started in Phase 1 on Saturday, our neighbors had a Derby Day party and we succumbed to the wine and the Derby Pie, among other things, so the results may only be related to a single day's worth of commitment.

But way cool, whatever the reason.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The state of the garden on the first of May

So, forced by the cats' depredations, we set everything still resembling a plant out into the garden about 2 weeks ago, hoping that we could save something out of the wreck. By the time we got the planting started, though, the seed starter looked like an army had marched through, so I wasn't too optimistic.

And now? The peas are doing great - they seem to love the new beds and the outdoors. Everything else, not so much. The pumpkins (all 3 of them), caved quickly to the temperature, followed by the cucumbers and the beans - and I really did think beans were fonder than that of the cold. So we'll have to replant in those areas, but honestly, the prospect of limiting the pumpkin crop to a single plant makes me happier than having to deal with 3 of them.

In the meantime, I'd also planted onions (not that we use onions all that much, but I just want to see how they work out), corn, carrots, spinach, leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, and bibb lettuce. The onions appear to be happy, and the spinach and lettuces are starting to surface, since they like the cold (good thing, too - it's May 1st, and the high today is supposed to be 39 - it's snowing right now.)

I think we have rabbits, too - well, something with teeth. Whatever they are, they have odd eating habits, because they keep biting through the blue nylon cord I'm trying to use to mark off the square-feet in the raised beds. I've done one repair already, and they repeated the attack. I think I'm going to go out and get some lightweight wire or something. If they start eating that, I won't worry about them eating the veg, since they're obviously alien rabbits.

Put in some potatoes yesterday - we had some in a bag from the grocery store that had sprouted, so I threw them in. Another crop I've never tried, and I've already been assured by the garden guy in the paper that they probably won't work, but I want to see what happens.

I hope the heat-loving crops start sprouting soon. I ran out of markers while I was planting, and am not altogether sure which of my squares are planted, and which are available. Oops.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stupid Cats

I came out this morning to look at the Jiffy Seed Starter, and found that I no longer have 70 seedlings - we're down by at least 10. Despite the fact that I put the seed starter on sheets of foil when I took the cover off and put it in the sunniest window in the house, the cats - and I do suspect both of them - ate all the pea vines.

I thought foil was something cats won't step on. But since I can see evidence of their footprints in the foil, I'm pretty sure that one wouldn't pass the Mythbusters test. Stupid Cats.

Guess that means the irrigation project for this weekend becomes more urgent - because I need to plant peas directly into the raised beds. And St. Patrick's day was a month ago, so I'm late.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

And more garden prep...

The gardening work is hitting pretty hard now, but we're making good progress, I think. Over the weekend, we got the second raised bed box assembled (a little experience goes a long way - the first one took us almost an hour, and the second one, about 15 minutes, I think), set in place, and finished filling both boxes with (I hope!) weed-seed free dirt/compost/peat moss. They look quite beautiful at the moment - pristine, crumbly, easy to plant out.

I took Monday off, which turned out to be a stroke of minor genius on my part. The weather was in the 80s by days end, at last, so I was able to be outside working at 9 am, not freezing for a change. Both boxes now have tidy 1' grids laid out on them in royal blue nylon cord, which we happened to have around the house after a rather disastrous attempt on my part to create roman shades out of polar fleece (royal blue) as a way to insulate the kitchen windows. It's a bit gaudy, but I figure the plants will cover it up eventually.

Last week I bought the official Square Foot Gardening book, which has some very useful information in it about plant layout and how to set up vertical supports (I think those are in our very near future). After a few calculations, it seems to me that I didn't plant out enough in my 70-cell Jiffy seed starter (even though it's full). Because my 70 seeds (and I don't think they're all going to germinate - some of them appear to have molded, and that can't be good) will only take up 37 of my 64 available square feet - and that assumes I really want 6 pumpkin vines and 6 canteloupes, both of which need 2 feet per plant.

Next on the list: irrigation. We need to set up stuff for drip, because I guarantee that we won't be in a position to stop by our beds daily this summer to hand water all however-many plants. I start out with good intentions that way, but they peter out pretty quickly. That's why the weeds got out of hand every year without fail. Anyway, I know what I want to do (thanks to the Square Foot Gardening book), and it should go pretty quickly, which is a good thing, because the peas in the Jiffy seed starter are starting to tangle up with each other, and I think it's time to get them set outside. And I'd like to get some lettuce and spinach planted while I'm at it.

Of course, it's supposed to snow again tonight. Can we be done already?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Me and Cortisol

I'm not fat, just so that's clear. According to our scale, which sends electric currents through my feet each morning to determine how much of me is fat, bone, water, and muscle, my fat percentage is absolutely normal. But it's started, in the last couple of years, to show an alarming tendency to gather around my waist, forcing me into pants with a size label that I really don't like reading.

At the same time, my job is routinely stressful, and between the upcoming elections and the economic trends, I'm not sleeping all that well. So I thought that maybe I could tackle all of it at once, and bought one of the "diet" products that is supposed to help with stress, reducing the cortisol-related fat that collects around the waist.

Started last night, so it's obviously a bit early to tell if it will do anything about weight loss, but I slept better last night - and woke up feeling refreshed, which is a first for quite a while. And you know, if that's all I ever get from it, it'll still probably be worth the money.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Garden Butt

So, about a week ago, I was in a half-doze after the alarm went off, and I thought I heard someone on the radio say that the price of flour had tripled in the last 3 months. (FWIW, that turned out not to be a dream or hallucination - it actually has). Now realize, the price of flour 3 months ago was apparently 69 cents for a 5 lb bag, and now it's slightly over $2.00, so this is not going to be an immediate crisis in my family.

But I read a lot, and not too long ago, was reading something about the effects of the Great Depression on the events leading up to WWII, and they showed a picture of 2 children with a wheelbarrow full of money, supposedly the amount needed to buy a loaf of bread in Germany during that period. Combine that mental picture with the habits born of about 10 years living in hurricane country, and, well, the result is, we're going to have a big vegetable garden this summer. That, and I rushed out and bought 2 5-lb bags of flour and shoved them in the freezer - if things get bad, maybe I can trade them for a couple of wheelbarrows full of money.

The garden will not be big in terms of acreage. We have a handy spot near the place where our gravel driveway becomes a minor parking lot. It's been the vegetable garden since our first full summer in that house, since it's the only spot in our yard where there is dirt available and the trees don't shade everything. It's 10' by 24', so our ability to go wild is constrained to something fairly manageable.

A few minor drawbacks to this spot: first, it slopes downward toward our neighbor's yard, and second, it has an apparently endless supply of weed seeds. The first problem isn't all that big a deal - the slope is pretty gentle; no need to do anything special. The weeds, on the other hand, are a major pain. Every spring, I got out the handy home tiller, fluffed up the dirt, raked out the previous year's weed stems and leaves, made tidy rows and hills, and arranged the drip irrigation, and every summer, found (conveniently) that weeds make a handy mulch - very good at keeping the mud off one's shoes while harvesting.

But I'm really sick of the weeds, and fairly sick of hauling the tiller down the drive all the time (the noise of the blades on the gravel is definitely akin to fingernails on a chalkboard). So this year, I thought we'd try another way. One which my husband insists he's been suggesting every spring for the last 8 years. I don't actually remember his insisting, but if proclaiming that he was right all along gets me a little help setting up, this was his idea a long time ago and I was just too stubborn to admit it before. We're doing raised beds this year. Two of them, each 4' by 8' by 1'(ish). Sunset magazine (,20633,1152183,00.html) has a great article with simple instructions on how to build them and useful lists of materials - and ours look very much like the picture. I'm going them one better, though - I'm going to mark them off with string in a foot-square grid and plant in each 1' square - supposedly you can cram in a lot more that way.

Add that all up, and the theme of this past weekend was "Garden Prep". Saturday morning started with Pilates (good exercise but oh, so insidious), and moved from there to weed stem removal, lumber shopping, cutting things to length, and applying stain. At that point, I had to stop so we could go to a party and drink scotch.

Usually, Pilates alone puts me in a state requiring a long nap in the afternoon, so I was a little surprised to be vertical at dinnertime. I was even more surprised to be flexible and limber and pain-free as we left the party that night. I felt good right up until I tried to roll over in bed at about 3 am on Sunday. I'm thinking I hadn't had enough scotch, personally.

But we couldn't quit - we had raised beds to build. And I have 70ish seeds sprouting in a seed-starter greenhouse thingy sitting on the wine fridge in the kitchen and they're all going to need homes. So Sunday morning found me in my painting shorts and t-shirt in the garage applying more stain (it was 41 degrees outside according to the radio). Sunday afternoon involved construction of box number 1, hauling it down the driveway to the bed, throwing weedkiller all over the original garden dirt, covering it with weird silver landscape fabric, and a spot of post-hole digging (my husband's job - I suck at post-hole digging).

My family has a term for a common ailment that strikes us as we try to clean up lawns and gardens every spring: Garden Butt. You get it by overusing your glutes while digging stuff up on hands and knees, or by repeatedly bending from a standing position while digging dandelions or something. I have Garden Butt, I'm pretty sure, but I also have garden shoulder, garden shin, garden elbow, and garden fingers, so it's a little lost in all the noise.

And we still have our second box to assemble and post-hole dig into place. We'll eat good this summer - or die trying.