During the winter months I store some potted plants in my greenhouse to overwinter them. This year I have a few African daisy plants, several purple fountain grasses, basil, lavender and three pepper plants.

Last Sunday when I went to water and check on them, I noticed dirt around the base of one of my pepper pots. They are the black plastic nursery pots with holes for drainage. This summer we had an issue with some potted trees being destroyed by voles getting into the pots through the drainage holes and eating the roots. I figured that might be what was happening, so I set a snappy mouse trap with a piece of snickers bar for bait. I learned years ago while working in the basement of an old home that rodents love snickers bars.

When I went to check it Wednesday, the trap had been sprung, the bait was gone, but trap was empty. I decided to resort to glue traps. I usually don’t like them, as they are less humane, but they can be more effective for smaller or larger mice. I put it together, baited it and set it in place.

Here we are Sunday morning. Out I went for the bi-weekly greenhouse check. The pepper plant now has a huge tunnel in it from the top to the base of the pot, and there are roots pulled out and half eared. I checked the trap.

Eeewwww!!! There was a blob of fur in the trap, but I could not identify the creature as it was half eaten! I will spare you the details of what I saw. I am guessing that it was a vole, due to the tunnel in the dirt, and I have to guess that there is another one in there that cannibalized it? My husband asked if it tried to chew a leg off to get free. I told him I couldn’t see a head… yuck. So, another glue trap has been set. And they will keep being set until there is nothing more to catch.

Yuck. Ewww. Gross. Shudder.


Brutal weather…

This past year has been brutal for gardeners and gardens in our area. We began with a dry winter, followed by a dry spring. June kickstarted summer with four days of 100+ degree weather followed by going on four weeks of 90+ degrees, with no end in sight.

Plants that normally survive fine over the winter, suffered from low moisture and extra cold temps. Many of our bushes had to be cut to the ground to get a fresh start: Weigelia, Butterfly Bushes, Roses. Our normal watering pattern is beds once a week, pots, blueberries and roses M/W/F, trees deep soaked on Sundays.

Because of all the ongoing projects that took my time up in spring, I neglected the watering, thinking things were looking fine. Then, BAM! Summer hit with a vengeance! We started our watering regiment, but nothing flourished. Seedlings remained seedlings, strawberries weren’t blooming, not to mention my blueberry leaves were yellow. I found out recently my soul isn’t acidic enough, so we have taken steps to mitigate that with some sulphur and blood meal. I was puzzled.

Then, we visited a friend who is also an avid gardener. Her garden looked amazing! She mentioned she had been soaking things daily. The next morning, our regiment was changed to daily watering of all veggie beds, potted flowers and blueberries. Two weeks later, things are looking up! The cucumber seedlings have taken off, the winter squash I growing, we have extra zucchini for preserving and making zucchini sweet bread and Swiss chard for our stir fry. In fact, I have time to write this, only because I am waiting for our first batch of zucchini bread to come out of the oven. The whole house smells delicious!

I will make a few extra loaves to freeze so I can pull it out and thaw it for nights that we entertain company. Now, I need to get my freeze dryer running so I can begin freeze drying the extra produce for winter use in soups and casseroles.

As brutal as the weather has been, I am excited and hopeful as the summer progresses. God has been merciful and gentle with me this yearunlike the weather, and it seems that his hand is on our garden to provide.

I pray that in the midst of whatever you are viewing as brutality, that you will be able to see past it to find that which is kind, gentle, loving and hopeful. The zucchini bread is done, and my eyes and feet are ready for some sleep. Goodnight.

Spring is here!

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit early. Let me live in my fantasy.

The days have turned warm, in the 50s and sunny, while the nights hover near the brisk freezing mark. I’ve been seeing numerous honey bees already, although there is nothing blooming for them yet. The telltale Robins have been in the yard, and you can hear the songs of the birds in the early morning when I go out to pickup the newspaper from the driveway.

The other day I spent an hour or so planting seeds in starter pots. Each pot was labeled with a popsicle stick bearing the seed’s name. They will sit in the sunny south windows of our shop until they are large enough to go into my little makeshift greenhouse outside. It’s not heated, but by then, what I have should be enough protection from the cooler nights. It was a relaxing time, reviewing our garden plan, what to plant and where. I never realized how scientific gardening was. You can’t plant broccoli next to tomatoes. Corn, beans and squash are beneficial to each other, so plant them together. I figure once I have a plan all charted out for this year, I will use the same chart each year and just rotate the whole thing through the different planter boxes I have. That way the tomatoes won’t go into the box the potatoes were in for a couple years. Now I just need to remember to water them, but not too much.

With our shop being MOSTLY done (said in the same voice as Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max from the movie Princess Bride), my thoughts and energy have turned to the landscape of our property. The lawn areas were prepped last year, but the rain saturated ground really settled in a few places. We will have to bring in some more dirt to fill in some craters, and then loosen up the top of the dirt just before we hydroseed in mid May. The calendar had to be consulted to find the perfect spray date. We have Passover, the day of Firstfruits, and the feast of Unleavened Bread coming up the last weekend of the month for a week. Then seven weeks later is Pentecost/Shavuot. All of these include large group gatherings in our shop with lots of kids that love to run around in the dirt. We wouldn’t want to try to control that, so we will spray after the early May gathering. There aren’t any other gatherings until Fall. That should give us some cool time to get the seed started before the summer heat hits. Hopefully we will have a decent lawn by the first of July for our family reunion we will be hosting.

I have checked my garlic bed for signs of life, but haven’t seen any yet. I admit, I have been accused, or rather described, as being impatient with my gardening. I know we aren’t supposed to plant outside until there is no snow on our bellweather mountain, but we have a short growing season in this part of the country. I have been known to plant outside and cover my plants with large five gallon water bottles (with the bottoms cut off, and the open top, they make perfect mini greenhouses), and hope for the best.

Our little kittens, who are now grown Tom cats, seem to sense it is spring too. They spend a lot more time staring out the windows in the mornings, in between wrestling and and playing floor hockey with a small, sisal rope ring. The black one is itching to explore the outdoors. I can tell, because he wants to scratch the screens and tried to crawl between the screen and the open window the other morning. The grey tiger is content to sit in the window and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds from the comfort of the indoors.

Spring used to mean a few days for me to get away and join a bunch of twice a year lady friends for scrapbooking at a beautiful local church camp on the lake. This year, with all the virus restrictions, staff cuts and more, the large group is not allowed, and the camp doesn’t have the staff to plan retreats. You can plan your own retreat, but are limited in numbers and have to follow strict virus protocols. That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. So, I opted to join a mid sized group in a hotel nearby. The organizer and I became acquainted last year, and I was graciously invited to join their group. It will be twice the cost of the other retreat due to the hotel room costs, but no restrictions to comply with. It should be a fun time. And, since I am not able to travel to see my daughter yet, I have some extra money set aside. It is usually a relaxing time when I can sit at my computer and really focus on getting pictures made into books. If I am inspired quickly, I can get one book done each day of the retreat. Now I have to decide which books to work on. My own yearly albums (I am finally up to 2012)? An album of photos our daughter sends of their family? A start to finish photo journal of the home building process?

Spring is a happy time for me. A time of excitement and expectation. I hope that spring is filled with joyous expectation and hope for you also.

Autumn breather…

It looks like the last time I blogged was late August. That sentence almost rings out in my mind like a private confession of some transgression. Our family was enjoying a reunion, kids and cousins and friends. It was joyous and chaotic at the same time.

The goodbyes were said, tears were shed, and life got back to it’s pre-reunion routine. Somewhat.

Our property is progressing well. The shop is dried in for the winter, although we would still like to get the siding on and the house is being framed. Framing is an amazing process. For days it can look like nothing is happening and then BAM! The walls are up! I can walk through the front door opening, see where the rooms are going to be, and get a glimpse of what the views will be out the windows. The building process has been amazing. There are emotions that I cannot express, that well up inside me when I see what I have planned on paper take shape in three dimensions. It is truly awe inspiring.

I haven’t been involved much for the last month on site. Most of my job has been preparing electrical schematics, shopping lists, reviewing permit inspections, ordering windows, getting insulation estimates and paying everyone. That all changes next week. We have a plumber friend who is going to walk me through the rough in for the house. Soon after that, we will begin setting electrical outlet boxes, switches, etc and pulling wire. After that, the workers will start siding both buildings, roofing the house and setting the patio awning around the shop. I will then start managing the subcontractors scheduling.

For fun, I take time to pull more plums from the tree, and put together color samples of tiles and flooring and cabinetry and such for the final detailing. Right out of high school I took a college interior design class. I really thought that was the route I would follow, until I clearly heard God speak to me a solid “Nope”. One of a handful of times I have hear a clear voice. I got an A+ in the class, but went to work full time for a newspaper in their advertising department. Paid off my first car, moved into my own place with a couple roommates. Did some growing up, got married, had kids, got divorced, remarried, lived life. Several years ago I went through a home staging course and got a certificate, however the timing wasn’t right then either, and nothing became of it. And so I dabble with my own house(s).

Today, I have filled my belly with a delicious plum Dutch Baby breakfast, and am preparing to get to work pruning the fruit trees down, removing some unused firewood from the yard and moving some plant starts over to the property to overwinter. That’s one nice thing about perennial plants. I can cut off a chunk of the plant at this house, and next spring, when we plan to sell, you won’t be able to tell. And, I will have plants I love for the new place at no cost. Well, sorta no cost. My shoulder hurt for a few days after digging out a chunk of decorative grasses. If I have time, I may even try to get a final lawn mow in.

I hope you have a great day today! Find joy in the little things. Always look for the joy. It helps in dealing with this crazy world we live in.

Veggie gardens…

I decided to write this after reading a post in the Town and Country Gardening blog by Pobebt. Suburbia. That’s where I live. A tract home, on a standard .25acre lot. Neighbors to the left of me, neighbors to the right. Houses across the street and across the street that runs behind our house.

A successful (key word there) garden was my “white whale” (see Moby Dick for that reference). Always in sight, never within reach. Since my father had a green thumb, I wasn’t sure where I was going wrong. Had I inherited a recessive gardening gene? With the right choice of perennial flowers, I had lovely landscaping at most of the homes I lived in. Right meaning the kinds that are really hard to kill with the wrong amounts of water or fertilizing.

When I moved into our current house six years ago, I was determined. My honey was always asking me if I wanted some of the raised planter beds that many of the stores were selling. You know, the white vinyl, or wood look vinyl, six inch high raised beds. As I often say with my grands, “Icky, icky, bleh, bleh!” I did eventually decide on raised beds, but I wanted them made of wood, and tall enough to not have to bend too far. I am still not sure what spurred that on. My honey built them for me, two to start. After the first season, I was hooked, and so was 75 year old dad who lives with us. Around that same time, a new friend of mine suggested I watch a video online called Back To Eden Gardening. Thanks for the suggestion, I would. It was six months later that I finally got around to doing so. I was intrigued by the concept and decided to give it a try. I won’t go into details. The concept is simple, but you should watch the entire hour long video to understand it.

The first two beds were made of 2×6 redwood. My honey put the divider in the center not just to divide, but also to keep the sides from bowing outward in the future. We used pipe brackets to create the PVC hoops over the top. They were originally supposed to be used to cover the beds during the cooler months to extend the growing season, but that was a royal pain to open the plastic, get wet from the moisture when it is already cold outside, etc. so the hoops were unused until last year. Last year, the cucumbers and spaghetti squash were given a lattice to climb, effectively giving me some more space in the beds for non climbers. Leafy veggies that are prone to be eaten by moth larvae were covered with a screen I sewed out of fiberglass window screen material to cover half the bed to keep the moths out, but let sun and water in. Since it only covered half, it wasn’t hard to remove for harvesting either. There were rarely bug holes or eggs to wash off those veggies last year!

For anyone starting to garden, as Probebt mentioned, it can be tricky to figure out how many plants one can fit in a space, especially if you don’t know how large the mature plant will be. Here’s what I have learned: in a 4’x4′ square you can fit the following: 1-Two tomato plants on one side, with a pepper or two tucked into the middle, and a climber like cucumber on the other. The tomatoes will fill the bed and spill over the edges, the peppers will appreciate the shade as the tomatoes grow over them. 2- two zucchini or yellow neck squash per square. They need air around them to avoid mildew problems. Also, if they do get mildew, a mixture of baking soda and water sprayed on weekly helps. I would offer the recipe, but you will have to google it, since I did not write it down and will have to google it myself this year! 3- 24 garlic or onion plants. 4- 16 leafy plants, lettuces, spinach, chard. 5- 9-12 broccoli or cauliflower.

Hopefully that helps you in your gardening endeavors. May your garden be bountiful and full of bees to pollinate it!