Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Life in a Nutshell

It's going to be a somewhat crazy day today, so here are my brief rundowns.

  • This has been the coldest May in our area in the past 10 years. Crimping my planting style.
  • This has been the wettest May in our area in the past 5 years. I don't mind the rain as much as the cold. Plus, it keeps me from watering and has restored our reservoir levels to almost normal (it was a dry winter). And, it keeps me from feeling so bad about the amount of mud on my floors.
  • Maddie has to go to the vet today. I checked her ears last night, and one ear was fine and the other ear was pink, inflamed, and had tons of gunkiness inside. Normally, I'd just clean it out myself and keep an eye on her, but with the three-day holiday weekend and the fact that it was already pink, I called the vet. Luckily, I discovered all this at 5:05pm last night, so the vet was still there and gave her an appointment for 9am this morning.
  • Four big bunches of freshly picked basil from your neighbor is awesome. Finding out that her farm will sell me the extra basil (yay for being a neighbor!) for $5 a lb is fabulous. We're going to have a basil pesto-making extravaganza at some point this summer.
  • I get to see a really really cute 1-year old (and her equally cute mom) tomorrow morning.
  • My carrots have not yet sprouted. It's been 8 days. It could take as many as 20. Come on carrots. I'm hoping the rains have not pelted them to death.
  • I walked outside to the babies' chicken coop yesterday afternoon, and KFC was waiting for me on top of the coop. I have NO idea how she got out. Poor little thing was DRENCHED and cold. I plopped her back in with her sisters and she was much happier. I think she may (since she is the tiniest) have been able to squeeze through a dip in the ground. Normally, I don't go out there in the afternoons. I'm really glad I did yesterday.
  • It could take two more weeks for me to find out if I move on to the next step for the most amazing job ever. I'm not holding my breath, but I hope I hope I hope.
  • Our friend came over yesterday (he works at the most fabulous sweet shop/patisserie in town) and gave us a tres leches cake, made with real rum. Why? Oh just because. While not assisting the removal of the junk in my trunk, with something this good, it's hard to care significantly.
  • The brat cat (aka Frankie) decided to cough up a furball while ON THE LADDER the other day. Beneath the ladder is our couch. Much cleaning as a result, and I could have made fur mittens out of that darn cat.
  • My chickens (the red birds) like oats. But they have to be soaked first in warm water thankyouverymuch. Darn picky little feathered fuzzballs.
  • And finally, my mystery plant in the yard, which I kept alive and then later diagnosed what it was, has bloomed. I present to you, my gorgeous peony:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

High on pie.

I love great finds. And I really love old pie dishes. You know, the kind where there's a lid that fits over the pie dish?

So, there was much excitement today when I found this:3-D raised fruits on the lid.
And glazed, ceramic pie dish.
It greatly compliments the find from two weeks ago:
Granted, this one is more cobbler-appropriate, but I still love it.

Both now are happily at home above the stove, on display. I can't wait for fruit to make pies this summer! And, we even have pie birds to use!

Chicken in the bathroom

This morning, there was a chicken in my bathroom.
Yes, that's the baby-- the red girl that is about 1/3 smaller than the rest of the red girls. Some of the others just tower over her. Clearly, she was at the bottom of the flock. She'd be the one bumped to the other perch at night or the one forced to sleep under the perch. I was ok with this type of pecking order-- at least they weren't pecking. I figured if I ever saw anything mean, then she'd go out to be with the babies in the back.

And then, I went out there this morning.
Yup, that's a bald spot on her head. It's new. I know this because every morning she is the last out of the coop and she comes and hangs out with me. No bald spot yesterday. Today, bald spot. Dang it.

So I immediately took her away from the mean red birds before anything else happened. But, unfortunately, I had not yet prepared the food for the babies out back. Since our house is 100% open, except for the bathroom (and the laundry room, outside, where I didn't feel like going), she got stuck in the bathroom for about 5 minutes.
I think she rather enjoyed herself.
I wanted to wait until the food was ready, that way the babies would associate good things with this new bird. "Hey, there's a new hen, and she brought food!"

So, when all was ready, I picked her up. She immediately snugged up against me. Yes, I do all this in the mornings in my bathrobe. Don't worry, I have clothes on underneath.
When I got there, I put the food in and then plopped her in. Really, the best time to introduce is at dusk, but I really think/hope it will be ok, especially since in the babies' coop, she's almost the largest bird.
She seems pretty happy.

A few minutes after these photos, the one wyandotte (whom I suspect is a rooster, based on growth rate, bulliness, and comb growth) challenged her. She held her own. The dark brahma challenged her a few minutes later, and she held her own. I suspect there may be a few lost feathers as the sort out their pecking order here, but I know she'll be higher up and better treated out back with the babies.

So, if you're counting, that's 8 birds in the big pen and 9 birds in the small pen.

I'm considering figuring out a way so that only a few red birds (the friendly ones) stay in the big coop. As the babies get bigger, the small coop will become too small. There hopefully is a way I can chuck the red birds out in the small coop, giving the babies the range of the big coop.

I think there are about 3 mean red birds. That leaves 4 normal-sized red birds and one baby red bird and the barred rock in the big pen right now. If I swap out the 3 meanies for the babies, we could have happy little chicken kingdoms.

Monday, May 24, 2010

It's all about the pizza and cryptic explanation.

We have some plans later this week, so meal-planning will be somewhat limited to the front of the week. So, I decided that today, I should make pizza!

I have some spring garlic, so I'm thinking this will be a good use for it. And lots of feta. I recently bought feta at the store, then went to costco and got an even bigger bucket of feta. Fetaliciousness over here. What else? I don't know. We need to use up some fridge contents, so it may be pizza smorgasbord over here.

The great thing about pizza is the leftovers. Yum! So this is good, especially for a busy week where you don't want to have to buy a ton of things.

And finally, in regards to my cryptic post yesterday, all is fine. I met up with someone from my past, and it was an interesting perspective on how my life may have been different now if I had not made some decisions four years ago. It's really given me some great insight on "damn, I'm really lucky" now. I have such a wonderful husband and a pretty darn neat existence. Sure, there are things to improve upon (job, getting a house, etc etc)-- but after being in this thing called adulthood for some time now, I'm beginning to get the suspicion that there always will be. So, I'm grateful for what I have. The rest will come.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


This weekend has been an obvious reminder of two things:

1) I am an adult. I can handle things in adult ways.


2) Even though I'm an adult, there are times I just cannot explain what or WHY I'm feeling a certain way.

Emotional roller coaster, folks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pig & Potatoes (and some new plants)

Mr. Pig did not have a good day yesterday.
Yes. She ripped out his squeaker. She did not want to eat the squeaker, she just wanted it GONE. And the hole from the squeaker removal surgery provided ready access to... STUFFING (aka the joy of dog joys).

In other news (and not as violent), I have hilled one bed of potatoes. I first mixed up a nice batch of 50% coffee chaff and 50% good soil. This made for a very light and not-too-nitrogen-based mixture. I put this all up and around and over the plants, about 2-3" deep. Then, I covered that with some soil (mostly to help keep the stuff beneath it in place), so about another 1". Then, I covered about 3-4" in straw. I'll continue using straw if another hilling is needed (most likely).

You can use a variety of things to hill/mound, but this worked for me. The potatoes were about 3" from the top of the bed, and I went over the top of the beds a bit. So, I may have to add some additional side-support to the bed if I need to do a second hilling.
The fingerling beds only received the chaff/soil mixture. Some of them are still a bit too small, so I am giving them a few days before I continue my efforts.

Our garden is also home to two newbies: Two rhubarbs! I'm a bit concerned because they should have been moved earlier in the year. But, you have to get them when the craigslist ad appears, right? Hopefully, these two beauties will love their new home and send out shoots all summer. If not, hopefully they'll produce next year.
The woman I got them from had hacked off many of their new shoots. Whether that was the right thing to do is not important, for that's how I got my plants. The nice thing is though, that these plants are not babies. They're about 4 year-old adults. Rhubarb won't produce until about year 3, so I'm hopping on the rhubarb wagon without any unnecessary waiting.

The plastic is working well for my greens. Here are my mesclun mix sprouts. I only planted these late last week, so this is exciting.

I only planted my buttercrunch on Tuesday, but look at them! Looks like I will have some yummy thinning to do!
My arugula is pretty much amazing me. I planted it on Tuesday, and I had sprouts Wednesday afternoon. I think this is because I was an idiot and left the packet outside (where it got wet and the seeds got damp). The seeds were stuck to the inside of the packet, so I was only able to use about 70% of them. But apparently, those 70% are happy seeds.

On Wednesday, I planted my carrots. I planted mokum carrots from Territorial, carrots that form bulbs like beets (instead of long roots), a mix of purple, yellow and red carrots, and red carrots. Carrots often take a long time to germinate-- up to 20 days-- so I have to be pretty patient with these.

You'll notice from all the above that we still have not fenced in the yard. We are going to use deer netting (cheap, but will do the trick). But, the weather has been MISERABLE.

And, unfortunately, here is our forecast:

Today: Thunderstorms, 55

Saturday: Thunderstorms, 55 / 42

Sunday: Rain, 60 / 42

Monday: Partly cloudy, 65 / 45

Tuesday: Rain, 65 / 45

Wednesday: Rain, 65 / 47

Thursday: Rain, 65 / 47

BLAH! I mean, my peas will LOVE it, but I will not. My tomatoes will not be going in the ground until June, it looks like. I think it will try to plant my beans indoors or in the cold frame. I wanted to direct sow, but hm. My squash will be started in the cold frame too, it looks like. It's not SO much the temperature (though the lows overnight are in the 40s), it's moreso the pelting rain possibly squashing the seedlings or drowning them away.

Luckily, all the other plants seem to enjoy the rain, so this is good. But it makes it difficult to do anythign outside when you're consistently covered in muck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

We're on Meet the Newlyweds!

We've been featured on Newlyweds!

Head on over and check out many many things you may have not known about me. You know you want to. What an exciting morning!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dealing with uncertain spring weather

This post should also be entitled: how to keep your garden warm, cheaply, in unpredictable spring weather.

The problem with spring is its unpredictability. Yesterday, the high was in the low 60s, but the low was in the low 40s. Heat-loving vegetables may not like the lows at night. Additionally, it alternated between DUMPING rain and being nice and sunny. You never really know what you're going to get. Two years ago, there was a heat wave that gave us 106 degree weather for two days.

It's not just like this in Oregon, it's like this in many other places. So, I thought I'd post about what methods I'm using to keep my plants happy, regardless of weather.

First up: Hot caps.

Now, many magazines advertise for hot caps. They usually run about $3 apiece, and they are called "wall of water" or just plain hot caps. The nice thing about hot caps is that you can generally still water around them and the water will seep to the plant's roots. And, if you want to, the hot caps are pretty easily removable. That is one key thing to remember when looking to protect your plants: How easily can you change it to match the weather. You don't want your plant to roast in 100+ weather because the protection is still present.

I find the $3(+) pricetag on the hot caps a bit unsettling. So, I've had my coworkers save their gallon milk jugs. Cut out the bottom, place it over the plant, and remove the cap (for heat release. Alternatively, you can cut out the top and poke holes in the bottom.

I did this yesterday with my sweet potatoes. I didn't have enough for all of them, but I had about 12. That's 12 free hotcaps.
Yes, it doesn't look amazingly stunning, but right now, I am pretty much (well, plus B and my neighbor) the only person that sees my garden. I can deal with the milk jug hot caps.

As you can see, it works. See the condensation inside the hot cap?
The hot caps also protect against rain. A little may get in through the top, but the plant won't be trampled in a torential downpour.

Martha Stewart (may she live forever-- but I'm critiquing her here...) has recommended these hot caps. The problem I have with these, is that they will smash when it rains. Plastic is a gardener's assistant and problematic beast. It keeps plants warm, but if water is put on top of plastic, the lack absorbency of the plastic can smush the plant as the plastic is pressed down.

If you want to try the Martha type of hot cap, I recommend you first try using large coffee filters. It's pretty much the same thing. You can stick a shish kabob stick in the middle of the filter, that way, if it gets wet, it's not bringing down your plant. This is a much cheaper method than buying hot caps for 50 cents each. AND, they're compostable and easily replaceable.

The next method is plastic. You need to go for a clear/opaque plastic, so that sun can get through. However, if you live somewhere where you get spring rainstorms, you need to think about drainage. Otherwise, the rain will puddle up on top of the plastic, and come crashing down on your seedlings, smushing them.

Right now, I have plastic on my basil and lettuce/arugula beds. The lettuce does not need plastic, but I want it to germinate quickly, so I'm giving it a little extra boost. However, I don't have a great system in place right now for drainage, so I have to go outside pretty frequently to dump water off the plastic. Yes, fixing it to be a better system is on my to-do list. Still, you can see that there is condensation and warmth inside the bed under the plastic.

The final method I'm using right now is my cold frame. I have my tomatoes (still...) in here right now. The general rule of thumb here is that you can plant your tomatoes after Mother's day. I just didn't feel ready. I'm glad I waited too. I would have been scrambling for hot caps and plastic. The cold frame saves me from that.

Right now, my peppers, tomatillos, tomatoes, and ground cherries are in the cold frame. My goal is to get their beds set up asap and have them in the beds soon, but the weather is not pushing me to do this. I suspect after June 1, I'll be much safer to transplant.

On days like today (60 degrees but a 90% chance of rain and wind), the cold frame stays closed. Sun still comes in through the window, but the plants are protected from the rain and wind. And, I can tell it's working based upon the condensation on the glass. If the cold frame was opened up, that condensation would go. Condensation= protection and warmth inside.

But other plants in my garden don't have the protection of the ones mentioned above. My potatoes are not covered, and neither are any of my fruits or my peas or broccoli.

My onions seem to be doing well. Actually, this lack of super-sunny weather has been good for me; the onions are continuing to grow rather than bulb. I needed them to grow. I will still probably make a sun shade this week (I want the onions to continue to grow before they really start bulbing), but the weather has been on my side as far as the onions go.
The red onions I started from sets indoors really took off. I think next year, I'll start these in January, but have them indoors at first, and then outdoors in plastic. They loved the plastic in March this year.

And, the blueberries love the weather too. This is just one plant, and you can see all the green clusters. I can't wait to pick, though I suspect we will be out there picking for hours.

Close-up view of the green little things.

I should add that spring weather is also a great time to treat your plants at their bases. Why? Because rain will slowly soak it in for you. Does your ground need more nitrogen? You can add a slow-releasing nitrogen like coffee grounds (check what plants you want to use this on first). I need to add pine shavings to my blueberries too. I side-treated my garlic and my roses with blood meal. Roses love the stuff, and it encourages bulb growth in garlic. I've heard it also works on onions, so I'm going to throw some on my onions in the next few days.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

We have a lawn

WELL, we kind of have a lawn. It's not huge; about 7'x16'. But, it was FREE!!! A person posted it up on craigslist-- he had purchased too much for his yard and wanted to give it away before it got yellow.

It was a crazy day on Friday. I had already agreed to go get some other free plants when the grass ad popped up. I ran outside after work and hopped on my bike, only to find a flat tire. DRAT! A coworker dropped me off at home (after having to stop for a train), and on my way out, another train detained me. DRAT! I put as much sod in my car as I could without risking to blow the suspension on my car. Turns out I got about 7'x16'. I unloaded it, soaked the rolls, and then ran out to get some lawn dirt to make the sod happy. Raced home, spread out the dirt, watered the dirt, then rolled out the grass and watered it. And the results:

Yes, we have a lawn. We want to eventually extend it to the deck stairs (about $30 worth of grass), and this project definitely helped save some money on the entire endeavor. It's about $40 worth of grass that we got for free.

I then raced over to another person's (gorgeous, amazing) house and yard. They were redoing part of their garden, and they had a circle of older boxwoods. The trunks are about 2.5-3" thick! There were 17 of them, and they were mine... if I dug them up.

I broke two shovels. Luckily, the first shovel was a cheap shovel, and it had already given us more than it's value in usage. I bought a replacement shovel, being careful to get a shovel with a warranty. Good thing, because I snapped that shovel too and had to return it... ONE HOUR LATER. Returned it very sheepishly. New shovel in hand, I dug up all the boxwoods.

They are gorgeous, amazing plants. I made two planter boxes immediately and painted them. One had dry enough paint for me to plant 3 boxwoods in it on Saturday (photo further down). But the other 14 needed a home, so I I decided to smush them all into a half-empty raised bed. Being put together and roots shaded, I hope to have enough time to build some more, cute, individual boxes and paint them without the boxwoods being painfully unhappy. And here they are, getting soaked:
And here is the planter of three that has been completed. These are English boxwoods, so they will grow tall if I let them. I put this box here so they could grow tall and block the pergola's view of the compost pile. :) The white on the boxes will eventually be the same white paint used on the patio set.

All the digging and freebies made for a bit of a changed weekend than I had anticipated. I didn't weed the tomato area, I didn't cover the basil or finish planting my lettuce. I didn't start my squash or beans. But, on Sunday, we had a barbecue for some friends, and we played a RIDICULOUS game of croquet on the teeny lawn. Fabulous!

Yesterday, I played catch-up. I weeded 90% of the soon-to-be tomato area. I planted my buttercrunch lettuce and arugula. I covered the basil bed and the cauliflower/mesclun mix/buttercrunch/arugula bed with plastic sheeting to encourage warmth and growth. I snipped holes in the netting on my potatoes so they wouldn't be stuck against the netting as they continue their explosive growth. All in all, a busy day.

I have also discovered that my handy garden gloves have dirt in the fingers. This explains why my nails are always dirty even after I wear gloves. I kept my nails short for a while, but I became sick of having to hide my ratty-looking garden hands at work. My nail file is my new best friend. :)

Today, I hope to get some cedar lumber. I want to make and semi-fill my first garden bed for the tomato area, as well as build and paint the individual beds for the rest of the boxwoods. This will all be post-work. Hmmm...Ambitious, yes, but impossible? Naw.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The cat has no shame.

Our cat, Rumpole, is shameless when it comes to scratches. He'll do anything for scratches. Deliciously wonderful head scratches. He has a bad, bad addiction to head scratches.

It's pretty known that cats do not like water. Rumpole is in this category...Except when it comes to the possibility of head scratches.

There I was tonight, um... in the shower. Who comes along but a barking Rumpole (he kinda barks, not meows, unknown as to why).

So I reached out of the shower and scratched him. This, of course, got him entirely sopping wet. What does he do?

Jump on top the sink where he can be CLOSER to the water and possibly, oh! sweet! possibly!, get more head scratches. Every moment I looked out of the shower, there was this ridiculous cat, with ginormous eyes, barking at me to make him more pathetically wet from yummy scratches...

Yup, all matted and wet.
Close up shot. The dang cat wiggles a lot, making photos a tad challenging.
Practically jumping up to reach my hand at the possibility of scratches.

Hey, do not judge me. Those scratches rock.

What a difference TWO weeks makes!

I see my garden day-after-day, so sometimes, it's difficult to truly track the growth.

That's why I take photos.

So today, here are some photos of then and now, with then being about two weeks ago, and the now being this morning.

First up to bat: My fingerling potatoes! Here is them then. They were barely poking up.

Here they are today!

I mean, really, there is some serious growth. They are pushing on the netting! I need to hill them (I did not get to that this weekend).

Next up, my Yukon gold potatoes. Now these were up a bit more than the fingerlings two weeks ago:

Here they are now!

Truly monstrous beasts that keep growing larger!

Next: My broccoli. These were planted as seedlings that I started indoors. In this picture, they are all about 1-1.5" tall.

And now check them out!

And, now, my sugar snap peas. Here they are, happily growing, on the trellis. I thought they were tall here.

But here they are today! Growing, bending, 3'+ tall things!

And finally, my spinach. Here they are, barely after sprouting.

And today, we could eat them! Granted, we'd have baby leaves to eat, but we could still eat spinach. That amazes me.
Here's a close-up of the rapidly-growing spinach.

Seeing the growth is so enjoyable. I can't wait to get the rest of my beds planted and going!