Friday, May 31, 2013

Spring in Swing!

Spring in Swing!

So I thought I would give an update on the overall garden as a whole. As we are finally getting some warmer weather and rain, plants here are going crazy! Most of the landscaped beds are getting out of control and really need a whole re-haul, but here are some of the highlights:

When MIL (mother-in-law) came to visit last weekend, she was kind enough to bring some of her perennials that needed dividing. (Score!) I got some lillies, irises, and hostas. For a yard that was already landscaped, our new house only came with 3 hostas. I was amazed! Usually these hearty, low maintenance plants are a staple in Midwest landscaping.

I was most excited for the irises, and let me tell you why. The ones MIL brought originated from her father's garden. My mom also has some irises in her yard that I will get my hands on in August, which originate far back on my dad's side of the family. (Possibly all the way back to Germany? Mom, do you know?) So soon I will have irises from my family and DH's family that have been passed down for generations. How cool is that! Not only to have plants passed down, but they are both irises!

Here are some other highlights (surprises) from the landscaping:
Giant hydrangeas - I don't know if they will bloom or not, 
but I may need to move them eventually.

A surprise peony - I swear this appeared overnight!

 Funky succulent-like plant - don't know what these are, but they are all over the neighborhood. I plucked off last-year's dried stalks that had flowers on them.

My hops that I planted are doing well!

My tomato "seedlings" are going crazy - I really need to fill the raised beds with dirt to get these planted!

My sweet william -  I planted these from seed 2 years ago and they are finally blooming!

Then of course there are always the trouble-maker plants that seem to take over...

This strange bulb-grassy plant:

This invasive groundcover:

Shrubs that I tried to kill:

And this scraggly bush that maybe could
 be nice if I actually trimmed it:

Oh, and it looks like Eva doesn't approve of the tree stump left in her kennel... you can see the holes she has started digging around it. (That is her skeptical/guilty face).

Any idea what my mystery plants are?
UPDATE! I found out from my mom that my family's irises come from my Dad's Grandma's Mom... (my  Great Grandma Mayme's mom) so that makes it my Great Great Grandma. We can't confirm, but IF they went back one more generation, they would have come from Germany. Which they very well could have! Talk about a legacy!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Elephant in the Garage

Sometimes there are just those projects that get away from you... come on, admit it.
Well, this was mine: the raised garden beds

I was really excited about finally having a yard, and getting to build a raised bed garden. I was so excited I went out and bought the materials... last March. Yes, that is right. I have had all the materials sitting around for over two months.The people at Lowe's were amazed I was able to fit it all in my tiny Honda Civic. (Thanks Dad for teaching me how to pack a car!)

I fit all of that material in one car load...

"Two months? That's not too long for a project to sit," you may say... But it has been taking up my parking spot in the garage. Oh yes, I have been parking outside and walking by this beautiful lumber every single day for the past two months. It was my own personal "Elephant in the Room" that I turned a blind eye to.
I used a variety of excuses: it's too cold out, I don't have enough time, I will get to it eventually, I have other gardening tasks that need to be done first, we need to deal with the sprinkler system first, etc.
So what was really keeping me from building them? Two pieces of lumber. That's right, I had all the wood but I just needed to cut up two 4"x4" posts into shorter pieces. The problem? It meant I had to use the scary circular saw...

Don't get me wrong, I have a healthy respect for very dangerous power tools. I know how to use them safely, what to do, what not to do, etc. But this isn't one of those nice table radial arm saws... this is my dad's 30+ year old, heavy, "hand held", circular saw. Oh, and the cord was frayed at one point and has been taped up. The blade is old and dull too... probably not the safest tool in the shed. This thing is a monster that you have to be really careful of.

I finally bit the bullet. I set up my sawhorses, got the heavy duty extension cord, got my safety glasses/gloves on... and made the first cut. It didn't go all the way through. The post is 4" thick and the blade only cuts down about 2". So for every one piece that I wanted to cut off, I had to make 3 passes with the "monster" saw. (Cut, quarter turn, cut, quarter turn, cut.) Needless to say, the cuts were far from perfect but they worked for what I needed.

After that was done, I was no longer "stuck" with my project and the very next day Dear Husband (DH) and I assembled the first raised bed. Thank goodness I borrowed Dad's super-duper drill, we never would have gotten through it with my wimpy battery powered one!

So here they are, in all their glory. I never would have gotten them in without the help of DH, MIL and FIL (mother-in-law and father-in-law) who came to visit over the long weekend. Thanks guys!

The black stuff is a plastic weed barrier as I am trying to kill the grass and eventually install pavers around the beds. That way it won't get muddy and DH can mow more easily.

The next step was to put cardboard inside, once again to kill the grass. This will eventually decompose so the roots can reach down farther if they need to.
Then I put down some chicken wire since we have little bunnies who will probably like to burrow under the beds. I stapled the wire down to the first bed but half-way through the second bed, my brand new staple gun jammed... bad. I had to take it apart to clear the jam, but I couldn't assemble it back together correctly. I spent at least a few hours trying to, and I found where all the parts went, but it still wouldn't work. Finally I gave up and will have to buy another one to finish the job. Grrrr. One of the things I hate the most is a broken tool so you can't finish a job.

Next up is trying to fill these giant beds with some good dirt! But that will have to be for another post... stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Felling of the Trees!

Before you ask, yes, "felling" is a real word... no, I did not mean to type "falling."

I don't think I realized how big of a difference trees make until now. I am sad to see them go, but I am glad they are gone. You see, I love trees. They give oxygen, scenery, wildlife sanctuaries, and great shade. (The last of which being very important for an alabaster skin tone like mine.)
 Here was the biggest culprit: a rocket juniper that some (insert derogatory word here) planted WAY too close to the house. It is hard to tell, but the house is actually inside of the tree. This caused poor airflow, and in combination with a Northern exposure, led to slight molding/rotting of the window frame that it covered. It had to go!

Before:                                                                                       After:

Note to self: add "ugly hose reel" to project list... check
They also pruned off that branch in the upper left side of the picture, as it was hanging over the house.

Next was the persistent cottonwood in the dog kennel. I'm guessing it was a "volunteer" tree,  because who would plant a tree that can grow over 100 ft tall, only 5 feet from a house.

Before:                                                                                       After:

Yay! No more tree whacking against the house! (Don't mind the doggie poo bag...)

And for the finale... The big tree in back. I felt guilty for cutting this one down because it was so big and beautiful. Then Spring came around.
As the weather got warmer, the new green buds came out... on 1/4 of the tree. The other 3/4 of the tree was dead. Whew! That took a load off my mind.

Before:                                                                                       After:

Yeah, I know our house is shaped funny, I don't know what that's all about.

But I think it looks so much better and safer. Now we won't have branches screeching against the gutters on windy nights! And now that the trees are gone, we can get the roof replaced! It's never finished is it?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Hard Working Weekend!

Come Monday morning, my fingers are stiff, I have a water blister in the middle of my right palm, a sore finger from a removed splinter, and a slightly disgruntled husband. All signs of a manual labor weekend.
Ok, so Dear Husband (DH) was only grumpy for a little bit (and for good reason), because I accidentally worked us through lunch time on Saturday. Ooops, sorry honey!

So what were we doing you may ask? This weekend was all about the back deck. We have never been deck owners before, so I had to do quite a bit of research.

Deck Stats:
- Med size (300 sq ft?) enough for a decent table with chairs (coming soon) and a grill area.
- Natural wood, unpainted, could be stained a natural color but not really sure.
- Some sort of hardwood, cedar I am thinking?
- Set too low below the ground level: prevents critters and weeds but also traps airflow and moisture.
- Boards have warped and now hold standing water, but they aren't too splintered.
- Decent condition, but not good or bad.

Here are some "before" pictures, where we have cleared everything off and dug out the base a little so we can clean below the soil line. Please notice DH gallantly reading the directions on the box of cleaner. My hero!

Please note: always wear protective gear and old clothes you don't mind ruining.

First, we cleaned the deck: We used a TSP cleaner which cleans surfaces in prep of painting. It comes in a powder form that you mix and it is really pretty inexpensive. We just splashed it on then scrubbed the rails with a brush and the deck with a push broom. Rinse, but don't repeat.

Next we "brightened" the deck: You know how over time your deck turns kind of grey? Well that is from the sun's UV rays and you can buy a "brightener" which is a kind of gentle acid. We sprayed it on with a pump-sprayer, the kind you usually use on weeds. Once again scrub, rinse, but don't repeat. Honestly, this didn't make as much of a difference as I was expecting, but our deck wasn't very grey to start out with.

Then you wait... well, you are supposed to wait for 48 hours for the deck to completely dry, but ours faces South and it was pretty warm, so we applied the sealer 36 hours after washing. (Shame, shame I know.) Here is Eva trying to wait patiently.

Sealer: Think of this as waterproof sunscreen for your deck. It reflects the UV rays so you don't get that graying as quick, and it repels water so the boards don't split, splinter or warp... well, warp even more in our case. But just like sunscreen, you will have to re-apply. The manufacturer says it lasts 1-2 years, but talking to the lady at the store, it sounds like you should probably apply it every year. Realistic? No. We applied it because we just bought the house, we don't know how well the deck was taken care of before, and don't have kids taking up all our time.

The first can of sealer sprayed on great! It was going so smooth, I should have sprayed the rails... but the second can of sealer must have been from an old batch. It was thicker and kind of gloppy at the bottom. Didn't spray on nearly as well and we had to brush over it to spread it out.
Anyway, the finished product looks pretty good if I do say so myself.

Oh, and look, our deck furniture showed up today!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Garden Geekery!

Proud garden moment of the week: My compost pile was steaming!
Ok... let me explain.
Before now, I have tried composing but since we didn't have a yard it was confined to a Rubermaid tote and was really slow. I never had enough garden "waste" to make a substantial pile. Since we have moved, that has all changed.
Composting needs "greens" (fresh grass, fruit/vegi scraps, etc.) and "browns" (dried leaves, paper, etc.)

Now thanks to Dear Husband (DH) and his fantastic lawn mowing, I had three full bags of fresh grass clippings. Perrrrrfect. Add that to the straw that had been covering my potted plants for the winter, water, mix well... and let it sit. Only two days later I went to mix it, and low and behold: Steam!
Steam is good because heat is a byproduct of the decomposition process, so it means it is working really well. I am so excited that my first (real) attempt at composting is going so well. I asked DH if it was silly to be proud of a compost pile. He said no, but I still feel a little ridiculous being proud of a steaming pile of... straw.

Other updates in the garden area:
Here are the hops just starting to pop out of the soil. Ok, so they are only a couple inches tall, but that is better than last year!

Here is Eva being a fabulous garden helper, and the garlic in the background is doing pretty well. The left container is great, but the right container is struggling. Weird, since I gave them the same conditions. I think the left one had too much water...

And here are my mutant tomato "seedlings." Yeah... some are nearly a foot tall. I really need to transplant them this weekend. Ooops.