Gardening in January

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Jan 142018
two image collage of the raised beds, before and after

Left: The raised bed (double height) in its original shaded spot. Right: One of the new beds, moved into the sun.

It seems like every January has at least one day that makes us all a little hopeful that winter won’t last forever, and today was that day, with clear blue skies, temperatures up into the 60’s and a hint of spring in the air. I took advantage of the beautiful weather to embark on a gardening project I’ve been planning since fall, when we had two sickly trees taken out of our back yard. The trees, along our eastern fence, blocked much of the morning and midday light from half of the yard, and now that they’re out I finally have somewhere besides my back patio to grow vegetables.

I had an old raised bed in another part of the garden that never got enough sun, so today I took it apart and started to move it (and the soil) to the new sunny patch. I’m halfway through, but since tomorrow’s a holiday and it’s supposed to be nice again I’ll have plenty of time to finish. While I was out there I had an epiphany about using the old posts from a wood pile to frame and support a raspberry patch, now that its in the sun. Here’s a highly professional mock-up of what that would look like:

raspberry patch mockup

The only problem with this plan is that its right atop our pachamanca pit, so I might not win this round – we’ll see!

Oct 222013

For years my Halloween decorations consisted of a few carved pumpkins and the fall leaves I hadn’t managed to rake out of the yard yet, but as the kids have gotten older they’ve goaded me into more and more decorations. Thus the pumpkins were joined by a skeleton, and a ghost, and a few ceramic pumpkins. This year we took our display up a notch, moving it from the front porch out into the yard with our giant spider web. This web is so easy to make – as long as you’ve got a tree or large bushes to use as an anchor it goes up quickly (and cheaply)!

Start by stringing the support/scaffolding lines of the web. I used regular old jute garden twine (I have a spool that I bought like 10 years ago and it’s seriously never ending – I don’t know what I have to do to use this stuff up). String up 5 support lines – 4 diagonal crossing lines and one vertical line that all meet in the middle. I secured the lines to branches of our big oak tree across the top, and to metal stakes (just big nails, really) stuck into the lawn on the bottom. If you don’t have branches in quite the right spot you could string a line across the top to start with. Start with your outer diagonals, then the two inner diagonals, then use the vertical line to join them all together in the middle by wrapping it once or twice around the other lines where they meet.

Next, start your spiral. I started on the outside and worked my way in, but you could go the other way as well. Try not to make it so evenly spaced, that will make it look more natural. I pulled off a large piece of twine and started wrapping it through the support lines, giving it a turn or two at each line to hold it in place. Tie it off at the end and start another line (it was too unwieldy to pass the whole spool through the web, but if I’d had a smaller spool that would have been the easiest thing to do).

Finally, add a spider or two for that final creepy spooky touch (these were from our local pharmacy – nothing fancy but they look great on the web). Our house is ready for Halloween! Of course we only get about 5 trick-or-treaters a year, but we’re ready for them all the same. Do you decorate for Halloween? What’s your favorite decoration? And, full size or fun size?

Jun 132013

I planted a bougainvillaea last week in one of our patio planter boxes, and it needed something to climb and wind around. I also wanted something in that area that would help replace the look of the fig tree and fill up some of the vertical space and big expanse of the shed wall. The space behind the plant is quite small so it requires a narrow trellis or ladder and since I’d generally rather make something than buy it I decided a homemade rustic ladder would look nice.

As I’ve mentioned before we have a grove of black bamboo in our backyard that benefits from an occasional thinning. That means I’ve got quite a stack of long bamboo canes laying around ready to be used (I’ve got to thin it again so if anyone in the area wants bamboo for a project or for staking things in the garden, let me know). I found two thick long canes to use as the legs of the ladder, and laid them out on the ground. I just eyeballed the length and the spacing – since I was going for a rustic look I wasn’t concerned about it being perfect.

Next I took another cane of bamboo and laid it across the legs for the first rung. I marked where the cut should be and then sawed off the length with a pruning saw.

I put a bead of wood glue under each end of the rung on the ladder legs, and then tied the rung tightly with garden twine.

I continued up the ladder, spacing the rungs more or less evenly and gluing and tying them as I went. When I was done I put a bit of glue over each knot to help hold it in place, and when the glue was dry I trimmed the ends of the twine close to the knots.

Once everything was dry and the ladder was in place against the wall I added more glue to each joint for extra strength. This ladder wasn’t designed to hold up anything more than the branches of a plant, so it doesn’t need to be all that secure – I just want to keep it together if the twine starts to decay in a year or two.

I can imagine doing this again for other areas of the house – how about a skinnier ladder in the living room for a magazine rack?

I’m sharing this post at some of these great link parties – check ’em out!

Tomato Plants are in the Ground!

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Jun 052013

Well I finally got my tomato plants in the ground – it’s probably super late for most of the country but just fine for the northwest. I actually plant them in planters because the least shady spot in our yard is up against the side of the house so they sit on a gravel strip with a nice southern exposure.  I planted a roma, a supersweet 100 cherry tomato, and ‘champion’ which seems like a slicing tomato. I also put in a few jalapeno peppers and pot of sugar snap peas.

The big project of the day was pulling the fig tree out of the planter box next to our patio – we always loved to eat the figs at the end of summer until last year, when we happened to notice the rats enjoying the figs too. That pretty much ended our enjoyment of the figs, so the tree had to go. There happen to be a lot of other plants in that planter I wanted to save, so I had to dig and cut out the fig just around the bottom of the trunk and then pull out as many roots as I could. I had to cut through a few of the roots with a pruning saw they were so thick. Look at this thing!

I planted a bougainvillaea in the fig’s spot, which will look nice against the shed wall and will complement the Mediterranean herbs that are growing there now (rosemary, lavender, marjoram and sage). It normally won’t overwinter here, but I’ve got it in a little microclimate so I’m hopeful. I still need to fashion some sort of lattice or ladder it to climb.

I also had a fuchsia to pot up so I planted it in an old watering can that belonged to my grandfather. I think it’ll look really great once the fuchsia starts to flower and droop over a bit.

Finally, here’s a peony that’s just bloomed – beautiful isn’t it?

I hope you’re all enjoying your June gardens! What’s blooming in your yard?

Pruning the Big Trees in the Front Yard

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May 222013

There is something so therapeutic about pruning – I really love to get in there with a pruning saw or loppers and just go to work on a tree or bush. We have some decorative trees in our front yard that are quite old and tend to overgrow their spaces if they aren’t pruned occasionally. The worst culprits are a Japanese maple and a magnolia tree (although my husband would say the oak is the worst, I saved that one for another day). They shade the yard with such dense shade that nothing much grows beneath them and their limbs drape all over the roof which looks so messy.

These are not the best photos, but I was eager to get pruning and didn’t want to wait until the light was right to take the before picture (on the left) and I took the after picture (on the right) just after I finished so at least the light would be the same for both shots. Note the motor home peeking through in the after shot, but at least the roof-line is visible now!

I cut them both back to neaten them up, although I don’t have a tall lopper or a ladder high enough to get to the upper branches. The only downside to my pruning party is that it ended up exposing the neighbors’ motor home, which has seen better days, honestly. The only downside to pruning is the enormous pile of branches we’ve now got to dispose of . . .

May Day Work in the Garden

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May 032013

I spent May Day working in the garden. Our backyard was feeling neglected after a long stretch of dreary cold weather, so the sun outside got me motivated for an impromptu work party. Plus I had a number of plants languishing in their store pots and wanted to get them potted up in their permanent homes before the temperatures go up this weekend (please let them go up!). Of course, one thing led to another so after the potting was done I did some more pruning and overdue winter cleanup and put tomato cages around a few of the blueberry bushes. I haven’t tried that before but last summer they got so floppy that this should help keep them reined in.

I thought about staging this supply shot more carefully than what I did (which was raise the patio umbrella so the sun wasn’t blinding the shot) but hey – this is real life! I’m planting pots in the midst of refereeing kid battles.

I ended up planting up a few hanging baskets, a mixed herb pot I got from Trader Joe’s that was hideously root-bound and a miniature rose and lemon thyme I got as gifts awhile back. I love how happy plants look when you get them out of their too-small containers and into fresh soil and a long drink of water. They seem to perk up and look fresher almost instantly. We’ll enjoy these plants on our patio (and in our meals) all summer long.

Gardening Cleanup (To Fill up the Bin on Trash Day)

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Sep 052012

I had a big empty yard waste bin that needed to go to the curb filled for tomorrow morning, so I decided to go a little bit crazy on the butterfly bush in the corner of the yard. Here’s the before picture:

After much cutting and sawing and pruning and snapping branches, I had a full-to-the-brim bin and a butterfly bush that looked. . .

pretty much the same, truthfully. It looks like I’ve got quite a few more bins-worth of work to do to get this bush tamed.

Aug 192012
We’ve started the tradition of having a pachamanca party at our house each summer. This year was the second year we’ve done it, and it turned out really great – I can only imagine what next year might be like. The basic premise is to dig a hole in the dirt, heat stones over a fire in the pit, add meat and veggies to the hot stones, and bury the whole thing for a few hours to let it cook.
Lots and lots of photos and description after the jump. . . 

The first thing to do in the morning before the guests arrived was arrange the flowers. I bought some individual bunches of flowers at the supermarket and then supplemented with flowers from our garden, mostly with the big beautiful hydrangeas we have.

This arrangement was completely from our garden
All of these flowers were from the supermarket

I brought these glass pop bottles back from Paraguay – they’ve got great names and unusual shapes blown into the bottles (from l to r: Simba, Kandy, Pulp and Mirinda). The flowers are gerbera daisies.
This bouquet is another supermarket/garden mix. The container is an empty olive oil container.

 Next we needed to set up chairs and tables, put out the snacks and drinks, and finish the decorations.

The bar setup: Can you believe this bottle didn’t even get opened?!


Juices and Sodas
Ribbon wrapped around the poles near the Pachamanca pit

 Finally that was all done and the guests began to arrive, which meant we could start the show. The first thing you have to do is dig the hole in the ground: we were lucky because we’d already dug it last year and left it intact (we’d filled it in with bricks and covered it over with dirt to keep water and children out of it).

Next we built a fire (two, actually) to heat the rocks up.

Once the rocks were good and hot it was into the pit, followed by the food.

There was some debate over whether the Incas had the “Ove-Glove

Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes and yellow corn waiting to go into the pit.

After the pit was filled with food it was covered over with banana leaves, then more hot rocks were added to the top, then wet burlap went over that to be covered finally by a mound of dirt.

These guys look like they’re ready for a cold cerveza

Two hours later and this is what we ended up with . . .

The top layer was corn and potatoes

And at the end, all there was left was to clean up.

The aftermath

– Edited to add everything else in this post except this bit “This is just a placeholder post until tomorrow – I’m too exhausted to do it now! ‘nite all!”

New Blooms in the Garden

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Aug 142012

I spent some time today potting up some new flowers for the patio. We have a big party coming up this weekend and I’m trying to get the yard and patio looking nice beforehand. I didn’t use anything fancy, just some mums that I hope will last until well into the fall.

The photos make it look like it was a dreary gray day – it wasn’t, its just that I forgot to photograph my work until dusk.

Cleaning Up in the Garden

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Aug 112012

We’ve got a big event coming up next weekend, so I took some time today to try and neaten up the garden. I did a lot of deadheading flowers, picking blueberries, and evaluating what’s done for the year and which pots need new flowers.

We also came up with a fun little game this evening in the garden – I picked an assortment of herbs and then Viv went around the patio trying to figure out which plant they came from.

clockwise from the top: mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, lavender and oregano