Thursday, July 30, 2009
I am going to begin a series of posts called "My Neighbor's Garden". In these posts, I will leave the comfort and safety of the chair in front of my computer and travel on foot to actually knock on doors of neighbors with great gardens I would like to learn more about. If the gardener is interested and willing, I will take photos and have a chit chat about his/her garden. The interview and photos will be posted here. I would like you to join me in this project! For me, there are many purposes and benefits...
To build relationships with people in real life. There are gardeners in your actual community who may think similarly, who have ideas to share, who have their own garden philosophies, and it would be community building to get to know them. To share the love. Gardening is often a solitary activity - at least the day to day part of it, and what joy for your neighbor to know that you're out there too, also soaking up the sun, analyzing the soil, weeding, watering, mulching, planting, etc. To pump people up. Wouldn't you be thrilled if someone knocked on your door and told you they liked your garden so much they wanted to photograph it and talk with you about it? To help your neighbor share the love. Through your post on your blog, you'll be able to give your neighbor a link that he/she can share with family and friends anywhere. You may not be a famous person with a famous website, but for someone to say his/her garden is on the Internet may be very cool for lots of people. What a great gift for your neighbor! To build relationships with others in cyberspace. What garden blogger wouldn't want to see more pictures of real people and their real gardens? We all want to see what's going on in different communities in different parts of the world. I live in the 'burbs and I love to see rural vegetable gardens. I also love an urban balcony garden. We want to know what you're doing and what you're posting about.
I am willing to bet that this project will be somewhat nerve wracking. However, we know that gardeners tend to be approachable, kind, and sharing people. I also bet this project will yield unpredictable results. It's unlikely, but possible that you'll get a "No, you're crazy, I'm paranoid and don't want wackos to fall in love with my garden and start stalking me". But you might also begin a relationship that will last a lifetime. You may find a friend to trade bulbs or swap seeds with. You may find someone who is willing to tend to your garden while you're away on vacation. The possibilities are limitless.
Having said all this, let's now go forth with pen, paper, and camera in hand. You know that person down the street with the really pretty garden you look at each time you drive by? Start at that house. Share your blog site with them. Come up with some standard questions about gardening (What is your favorite vegetable or perennial to grow?), but also some sillier ones (Do you talk to your plants? If so, what do you say?). Let them know how much you love gardening and begin the conversation. Let's work up the nerve together and go into the community to talk with people. I'll meet you here next time with an update. Post a link to your blog here, leave your thoughts, and check back. I got a few gardens in mind in my own neighborhood - will let you know how it goes...
To become the ultimate spectacle, take both kids in the poolwagon for a ride around the neighborhood, dripping water the whole way around. Contain your embarrassment when they're chanting, "Pool on wheels! Pool on wheels! Pool on wheels!"
These kids really deserve their upcoming beach trip. See ya on the other side!
property owners improve stormwater runoff conditions on their property by installing
more natural drainage projects. These projects are designed to reduce the amount of
stormwater entering local streams, increase groundwater supply, and reduce chemical
and nutrient pollutants entering waterways."
One way residents are encouraged to help is by installing rain barrels. The city believes that installing rain barrels offers "benefits to each homeowner as well as the environment. For example, a homeowner may reduce the risk of flooding in his backyard or basement by collecting water for later use or slow release. Additionally, using water collected in rain barrels to wash cars and maintain landscaping will conserve water and lower your municipal water bill."
A nice financial incentive is offered as a part of this program - a $50 rebate on the purchase of the rain barrel. Very enticing to me since I recently installed one and paid quite a bit more than that. Here's how my rain barrel works: A spout diverts rain into the barrel. You can barely make out this spout behind the clematis, sitting on the black rim of the barrel. It fills up completely during a steady rain. I will use this rain water to water my vegetables, flower boxes, containers, and any new perennials throughout the week. Just as the barrel empties, we get another rain. Since I have installed my rain barrel, I have almost NEVER used the hose - a benefit since I am saving money on my water bill, confident my vegetables are not being watered by a hose that may potentially leach lead, and using the rain water that would have gone down the drain anyway. Any way that I can reduce any type of waste makes me feel good and responsible inside. An interesting plus is that the water sometimes STILL smells like the peppers this old Greek pepper barrel used to contain! To ward off mosquito larva, I use natural disks that kill larva. Behind the clematis on the downspout, is a Y-shaped connector with a switch I can use to divert water to the barrel or down the spout. I will use this if we have torrential downpours. Once the barrel fills, I'll flick the switch so that the rain is diverted to the downspout instead of the barrel. This will help prevent floods close to my house. Another option would be to install more rain barrels connected by hoses. This will increase your rain saving capacity.
Here's the frustrating part about my city's rebate program- because there's always a frustrating part when you're dealing with the government, right? In order to claim a rebate from the city, residents have to fill out and submit an application, purchase an "approved" rain barrel, install it properly, have an inspection conducted by city staff to ensure it is installed properly (honestly, it's not rocket science), and finally receive a rebate.
Forget about the rebate if you're ahead of the curve and already have a rain barrel installed. You can just pat yourself on the back and continue to be a shining example to the rest of your community. You'll just have to fight that feeling that you've purchased something only to find it on sale the next week - no price adjustment option.
If you have NOT yet installed a rain barrel, please check with your city or county. A rebate may be offered. Workshops on making your own rain barrel may be offered. If not, consider installing one anyhow. You will be stunned that you ever stood there in front of your garden, hose in hand, watering your plants.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Lots of Hillbilly tomatoes growing. That's one beautiful hierloom if I do say so myself.
A Thai pepper plant producing loads of peppers.
Moving on to the bad. I have no idea what's going on with this tomato below. It has always been squat, short, and most of its leaves are tight. It's producing flowers, but no fruit. It is either a Cherokee purple, hillbilly, or hierloom beefsteak (you always think you'll remember...).
Now we go to the ugly. I have been picking on my tomatillo all season,but it's just so hulking, branches akimbo, and just sloppy. Lots of fruit growing in their perfect papery husks though.
Monday, July 27, 2009
chopped jalapenos (I use seeds and all)
a couple of minced garlic cloves
salt and pepper
Edited to add: I tried to make this burger again cooked in a pan, and it was horrendous. I think there's something about the grill that seals in the juice and adds a little some 'um some 'um.
- One neighbor majorly expanded and changed the shape of her garden. She added some very pretty hot pink annuals around the beds. It was quite lovely.
- Grace's yellow gladioli are beautiful in full bloom and her window boxes positively glow.
- The city must have removed weeds that had enveloped the creek, because there is beauty in the sight and sound of a gently flowing stream.
- One neighbor had a great iron planter mounted on her house, planted with annuals. I need to figure out where to get one of these - it would work perfectly on a blank space on the front of my house.
- One neighbor had thriving squash and tomato plants hidden behind his hostas right in front of his house.
- One neighbor has the really cool money plants growing in the shade of his front yard.
- One garden was planted with annuals, weeded and mulched meticulously, and decorated with 6 inch Mickey Mouse statues.
There's beauty in the fact that during an early morning run, my neighbors don't really see me ogling their gardens. One morning, I was so bold as to stop, and on tip toes, actually peek over the fence of a neighbor's garden (it was a beautiful vegetable garden with meandering path). I can run past plain lawns, and slow to a light jog in front of gardens I like and that I want to remember details of.
There's beauty in the fact that on this Monday morning, I estimated that about 90% of homes in my neighborhood had gardens of some size and of some style, that someone has been tending. Every garden did not necessarily fit my taste, but there's beauty in the fact that in my neighborhood, people work to make their little spot in the world a little more beautiful.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
My sister has been asking me about a white, triangular-shaped bug with a "little puff of fuzz on it's butt". Interesting specimen indeed. Oftentimes, it's the fact that these bugs are so totally interesting that disgusts me so much. You can't NOT look, but at the same time, you know it will bring nightmares. For example, what if I told you that if you clicked this link here, you would find a photo of something I find particularly fascinating yet disgusting - parasites on a tomato hornworm. If you're like me, you'll click, you'll practically pass out, but nonetheless, you'll click. Before you quickly close the window, you might even subconsciously try to take in as much detail as you can.
One morning, I am on my way out for work when I spy on my front door a tiny triangular-shaped bug that looked like it had a little tuft of fuzz - perhaps on it's butt (well, I guess if bugs had butts, it'd be on it's butt). I thought, "Hello, you weird little fucker" (Granted I have a potty mouth anyway, but I almost always curse in any dealings with bugs). I remembered that my sister said it was almost "cute" looking and if you got close, it had these eyes that would follow you if you moved. I got close to the bug. Real close. I could not see any eyes on the thing, but the little tufts of fuzz on the bug were really interesting indeed. Sort of reminded me of cotton candy thread. Very delicate silky threads. I got even closer so that I was about 4 inches from the specimen. Then the most horrifying thing that could happen to me at 6am on my way to work happened. The cute triangular bug exploded on my face. If I would not have awakened my younger daughter, I would have screamed. I know it exploded because it was there, 4 inches from my face one second, and the next, it was gone and in it's place, minuscule dots of clear liquid . On my face, cool, moist bug guts. What the hell happened? Defense mechanism? My theory until now was that it exploded. Now that I've had time to think rationally, perhaps it sprayed me with something and flew away while I was momentarily incapacitated. Either way, nature is really weird.
Friday, July 24, 2009
YORKSHIRE FRIED TOMATOES ON FRIED BREAD:
Slice and core tomatoes (preferably Italian). Fry in a little bacon fat until soft. Add some hot strong tea to maintain a nice sauce texture. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Slice white bread from an uncut loaf about medium thickness. Beryl makes her own bread each evening, and no doubt this cannot be reproduced, but we'll make do. Fry in bacon fat until golden brown on one side only. Place tomatoes on fried side of bread. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Plan A was to hire someone to build a retaining wall. The estimate for this simple, straight, 2 foot high wall was over $5000. Time to move to plan B. I would build a retaining wall my damn self. You can see where we cut about 2 feet into the slope where I was going to build the wall. Then I realized that if I was going to do this project myself, I did not need to limit myself to a silly low wall, that would ultimately, not add too much to the aesthetic of the yard anyhow. In the picture above, you can see the blue paint I used to mark how I envisioned my project. I wanted to be able to walk up steps on one side, walk across the slope, sit on a circular patio in the middle, and walk down steps on the other side. I also wanted to be able to build a garden on the slope. The picture below shows what the slope looked like after we (paid someone to) dug into the slope. I asked him to dig a trench in front of where the wall would go to fill with gravel to aid with drainage. *** If you're thinking of doing this kind of project, please do your research. I spent weeks obsessing over this wall, changing my design, learning different ways to create drainage, prevent erosion, etc. I watched many videos on the internet and spent hours in the bookstore. If the wall is going to be large or high, it's particularly important to do some research. You may need to check into local regulations - I know some areas require permits for building walls over a certain height. The digging of this slope was a really horrendous job and it took 4 men all day to do it. With all that clay you see, it was really worth hiring someone. Plus, as you'll soon see, there was no shortage of work for us to do.
When backfilling with the compost, it's important to really tamp it down behind the wall. Below is the end product of all this work. The walls are done, the slope is planted with mostly shade plants, and most of the area is mulched. I may move the fire pit to this area where I envision fall nights toasting marshmallows on the slope. The most amazing thing is that the slope has completely changed the look of my backyard. When it once looked boxy and small, it now has a much more interesting shape and actually looks bigger even though the wall takes up more space in the yard. The shade plants are beautiful and the ferns, hosta, hydrangeas, azaleas, and all the spring bulbs look a hell of a lot better than the poison ivy and bullweed looked. Finally, because of the ability to actually walk on the slope, the usable space in my yard has increased. In lieu of the steps on the left of the slope, I decided to use the area as a children's area. I added some large steps that a child could jump, and set in all the mosaic stepping stones my kids have made. I had planned to create a fairy garden in this area, but lost steam on that idea. I'm not sure you can see from the pic, but the patio is indeed circular shaped. The bottom rounds out and the top all rounds in. This is the slope 2 years later...
This is the view from the entry into the backyard.
about 2-3 T butter
5 cups fruit
3/4 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice
1/8 t salt
Set the crust out at room temperature. Mix your sliced fruit, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl and let stand 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Pour fruit into crust. Dot the top of the fruit with 2-3 T butter. Remember to dot the top of the fruit, NOT the crust. The second pie crust should be at room temperature, soft and easy to work with. Place on top and crimp edges with your fingers or a fork. Cut a few vents in the top of the crust.
I usually make sure to line the bottom of the oven with some foil in case the fruit bubbles over. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes on the lower 1/3 of the oven, then put a baking sheet under and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check the edges of the crust to be sure they don't burn. If the edge get a little toasty, you can lightly cover the edge of the crust with foil part way through. Enjoy (preferably with ice cream)!
A note about my pie: This recipe is my sister's recipe for pie. She is the most amazing baker, chef, whatever. She would never dream of using frozen pie crust and makes it all from scratch. I'll just say...I don't have a rolling pin, so unfortunately, I need to use frozen pie crust. It still makes an amazing pie - not as delicious as her pies - you can't fake a real pie crust - but it comes very close. My plan was to make a strawberry/rhubarb pie for my 11 year old's (who doesn't like cake) b-day. Since we only planted strawberries and rhubarb this spring, we didn't yield a lot of fruit by June. Luckily there were mulberries ready for picking across the street, and an apple in the fruit bowl to bring the amount of fruit to 5 cups. The final result was one amazing fruit pie. I took the edges of the top crust that hung over, rolled it out (did you catch that?), and cut an 11. The vents on top were also 11's. I'm not a great baker, so the pie might not look so beautiful, but I can tell you it sure tasted good.
I think one factor here is that I tend to have periods of neglecting my vegetable garden. Here's how it usually goes: early spring, I start seeds. During this stage, I obsess over these babies so much that I begin to neglect my human children. Later in early summer, the veggies are tucked in the garden, and once I see that they are established, I start focusing on my perennials - weeding, new planting, mulching, etc. At this point I begin neglecting my vegetables. Well, now we're into July when the perennials are self-sufficient and I turn my focus back to the vegetables. To my dismay, the lettuce has bolted, and the basil has begun flowering. The tomatoes should have been staked properly, but are now so huge they're pulling their cages over. The strawberry patch has turned into the strawberry/pigweed/clover patch. The tomatillo has gone crazy. It has grown straight up, then split, calloused over, and reminds me of Sigmond the Sea Monster because it's so large and all over the place, with hundreds of tiny tomatillos hanging off of it.
In a few weeks, my vegetables will face their ultimate test as they are every August. While we're away, they will not only be neglected, but will not even get a regular watering. Only the strong will survive. Stay posted to hear how this story ends...
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
My first year growing vegetables, I really had no clue what I was doing. I was trying to grow artichokes in zone 6 by putting a seed in the ground in June (really), and bought most of my plants at various stores. The second year, I started a few seeds at home with a little greenhouse kit. The third year, I got fancy and started using a heating pad for germination, grow lights, and a little pop-up coldframe to harden the plants off. This season marks my fourth year, and I think I've really got a system down now, and 100% of the plants in my little garden were started from seed. It's really something to be proud of!
Today I officially begin the Growing Challenge and have added a special twist to my own challenge. This fall, I will save my own seed to use next year. This is something I'm nervous about for a variety of reasons that involve my parents, my upbringing, and probably a psychologist, but we don't have the means for that in this blog. Anyway, I will do the research and set upon this challenge. Will you join me?
Monday, July 20, 2009
Below is a closer pic of some of the ducks. You can also see his new Chinese geese. Look for the pair of white and the pair of brown geese. He just picked these new babies up from CornerStone Farm in Red Oak, VA. The white geese are 2 years old and the brown about 6 months.
Here are pictures of a duck hatching from it's shell. First you'll notice a little crack in the shell.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
This photo was taken in early/mid spring. My favorite shrub - sinocalycalycanthus - is in the background with the deep red/maroon flowers. The baptisia bloomed in the second year only, and it was a sad showing. I was pleased this year.
This is my new Pass the Wine reblooming iris planted in the fall.
Another of the clematis. Huh. Who knew? A clematis that grows in the shade...
Now the late summer colors are in...I have yellows from the moonbeam coreopsis, the orange of the marigolds, the salvia's still going, the white coneflowers are in, the dark red daylilies are still blooming, the keys to heaven have been in bloom all season, and the window boxes are looking good in it's hot pink, deep purple and pale vinca shades. I now turn my attentions to guarding my vegetables from bugs, slugs, and other thugs (like bunnies). Thanks for looking!