Saturday, April 13, 2013

Give a Woman Power Tools and She'll Take Over the World

I am so proud of my daughter, Jen, and I. Look what we made! A soil amendments bin from pallets may seem pretty basic to you, but for me it was a thrill. We made this by ourselves without any input from Dad, Son, Brother, Husband or Boyfriend.

We started with scrap lumber salvaged from the remodel of the front porch and pallets from the local farmer's co-op. I grabbed Dad's old camping hatchet and sharpened points on some of the planks. We pounded them into the ground to help support the first pallets until the first U-shaped section was completed. As soon as we had two pallets touching, we anchored them together with six-inch screws, then moved to the next section. 

The hardest part of the entire operation was probably swinging the hatchet and the 3-pound mini-sledge. We used some muscles that will be talking to us tomorrow! (Maybe if I built more bins, I'd have my arms in shape for summer. :) )  

We developed a rhythm in our work. I'd sharpen stakes; Jen would pound them in. When my hatchet arm gave out, I switched to screwing sections together with my brand-new cordless drill. (I'm such a Tool-Time Mama!)  Jen announced, "Give a woman power tools and she'll take over the world!"

Before you knew it, the four section bin was done. Lonesome dropped in to give us his seal of approval.  The four sections will be used to house working compost, finished compost, sand and topsoil. By bedtime, I had two of the sections filling.

After finishing this project, I weeded the circle bed. The bin on the left now has two wheel-barrow loads of henbit composting away. Feeling tidy, I grabbed a spade and moved the finished compost pile into the right bin. Three wheel-barrow loads of nice compost! That's probably the most compost I've made yet! (Maybe I've finally figured this thing out...) 

I've had a wire-framed compost bin that I brought with us from Texas. I usually fill it with kitchen waste and garden waste. It took most of 2012 to fill it last year, but I finally declared it ready to rest last fall and moved the wire frame to a new location.  Thanks to all the henbit, the second location is now ready to "close" as I start spot #3 in the pallet bin. I don't know if it was time or all the snow, but the oldest bed composted beautifully over the winter. I can't wait for location #2 to finish and add to the mix. 

It's so exciting to have all this lovely soil improvement stuff -- and free, too! I can already see my clay soil breaking up as it gets more plant matter worked into it. Look how self-sufficient we are becoming. Look how independent we were today making that bin ourselves. After this, what can hold us back??

I agree with Jen: Give a Woman Power Tools and She'll Take Over the World!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Gardening is Better Than a Gym Membership

 I have been working in the yard daily for the past four or five days. Reaching, lifting, stretching, bending, digging. I'm out there four to seven hours each day, never working hard but always in motion. (Okay, digging holes can reach "working hard.")

I've noticed that I feel better. There is a new spring in my step and greater flexibility. I go to bed tired and I sleep well. There must be something to this fresh air and sunshine thing! :)

I know my boys enjoy having me outside. Randall, the gray tuxedo cat, is always with me. If I'm not careful, he will wrap himself around my feet and trip me. His favorite thing, however, is to lay down right where I'm pulling weeds, roll on his back and then to demand a belly rub. Who can resist that?

Loki, the black tuxedo kitten, is far too busy to do more than pass by as I weed raised beds. He bounces by, does a nose-nose with Randall, and is off again.  Lonesome, my orange and white boy, likes to be around, but not too close to Randall. Whenever they get within hissing distance, they start jockeying for Top Cat.

Sigh. I do hope they get it out of their system.

Today's project was to finish the strawberry bed and start the allium bed. I shredded four brown paper sacks of paper and newsprint last night to make this much mulch. A fifth bag could have been put to good use, but I need to shred more first. Cyprus mulch is prettier. I might buy some bags of it later on, but the good thing about paper is it is biodegradable and doing this keeps it out of a landfill.

Viola! The allium bed. The yellow onions and elephant garlic wintered over nicely. I've cleared the rest of the squares. My daughter Jen loves red onions, so I planted three squares of onions for her. After that I moved the chives from another bed to their new home. I broke up the root mass and turned one big clump into six smaller clusters. I hope they like having toe room!

There are 12 squares available in this bed, so the chives and green onions from the house now live here, too. Next I want to find some leeks to grow. If there is room, I may start a square of Egyptian bunching onions. (Not sure about that one.)

Over the winter I've has a small pot of chives inside. I also did the recycled garden trick with green onions. What is the recycled garden trick? That's where you save the roots from a plant -- in this case green onions -- and replant them as soon as you have used the plant for cooking. I had lettuce, regular onions, and green onions growing. Only the green onions made it. I think the cats were helping me water the lettuce. (I wonder why it didn't survive?)

There was something about that lettuce tub on the floor that attracted all the animals. Brooklyn hid her bone in that bucket, too!


 My yard has been taken over by henbit!  

Every spring, the old garden is full of henbit. It creeps in from the vacant house next door and takes over. Seen from a distance as you whiz down a country road, those perky little pinkish-purple flowers covering a farmer's fallow field can be enchanting. Having them in your raised beds and walks is a different story.

My landscape architect friend was telling me that the real time to fight henbit is in the fall when it's seeding. Too late for that right now, so I have to do it manually.  Plan A is to do a raised bed a day until I have it under control. Plan B is to try to curb it's growth with wheat straw mulch in my walkways. I've never seen anyone mulch walkways with straw. You see photos of cypress mulch or other bark, even gravel walks. Why not straw? The worst that can happen is I'll seed a bit of wheat to fight for growing room with the henbit. Wheat is a grass. I can mow it.

Today was the day. I grabbed gloves, wheelbarrow, a bucket and some tools and tackled the first bed. It was pretty bad. The henbit was so thick there was no clue what rested in that bed -- or if it had survived the winter.

The good thing about henbit is it has shallow roots and pulls easily. The ground is still moist and works easily, too, so I could grab handsful of the stuff and dump it into the tub. When the tub got full, I could empty it into the wheelbarrow and keep on going. I just had to watch out for the plants that belonged in the bed and not disturb them in my righteous frenzy to get rid of the hateful henbit.

Surprise! This is the strawberry bed!

It was a full afternoon project clearing this 4-12' bed. I completely filled the wheelbarrow with my gleanings. Ah! compost!!

I love strawberries. I've worked hard to keep this bed alive. A few years ago I had three 4' square beds of strawberries that were going crazy. I had strawberries to give away and my brother was happy to come pick his own. (He loves them as much as I do.) Then the first drought hit. I salvaged five plants. Last spring, I made this new bed. I added close to 40 more plants and trenched and watered and babied them through another drought. It wasn't enough. Only 1/3 of those survived. I haven't decided if I will add new plants to the bed this year, or encourage these plants to make daughters. 

These are Ozark Beauties. I can usually find plants locally to fill in the bed, but none of the places I've been have offered them yet. They have other strawberry varieties, but no Ozark Beauties. It may be mail order time again...

Saturday, April 06, 2013


When I started this blog, it was to document the remodeling we were doing as we made our mark on the home I inherited from my parents. That started in 2006. It is now 2013 and a lot of the work has been done. Not all. I still have three or four rooms that need to have cosmetic work (mostly tape, bed, texture and paint.) After all that has been done, that seems pretty minor. 

I will be documenting those changes as they occur. I hope to have most of them finished by this time next year as long as money and child labor holds out. (Hm... is it still child labor when the baby is 34 years old? She's my child...)

In the mean time, the content of this blog has changed to be more of a record of small town living. I tell you about my gardening and canning. I mention the critters or things the family has done. 

So -- I'm changing the name from Bungalow Blues to Bungalow Blues and Country Delights. That should cover just about everything I talk about here. 

Friday, April 05, 2013

Spring! Time to Play in the Dirt!

I can't wait for the snow to melt and the ground to warm so I can get outside to play! I couch potato all winter, but the minute it is warm enough to be outside, I go out in the morning and find things to do all day. This time of the year, it isn't hard to diet. I'm active and not thinking of food... and not near the kitchen! :)

It is hard to remember that we has snow for Palm Sunday. The weather is beautiful now. Jen has been doing Spring Cleaning on the lean-to of the garage. (You go, Girl! I'm getting out of your way!) and I have been digging holes and planting/moving trees and bushes all over the yard. Last fall I purchased a lot of tired arbor vitae trees at Home Depot when they went on clearance. I didn't expect all of them to survive, but the price was low enough, I could give it a go. About half of them made it. One of the first things I did was "police the line" moving out dead trees and shifting live ones to fill gaps.  

This is the year for grapevines. I like Concord grape jelly and Thompson seedless raisins. Lala just likes grapes. With that sort of encouragement, I have planted five Concord and five Thompson seedless vines on the west side of the old garden. They are two-year vines. I don't know how long it will be before they will be producing, but I'm ready! (Hm... where was that book on raising grapes?)  

For the last two or three years I have been working toward planting a living fence along the north and west property lines. The arbor vitae that I mentioned earlier have filled a large part of that need along the northern line. I was suffering from the need to make all my plantings the same. In my head I was remembering the 100 ft. long spirea hedge that stood there when I was a kid. It had been my job to trim that hedge every summer that I lived at home. As soon as I went to college, Dad pulled out the hedge... Grr. I liked that hedge.

When I was talking about my vision for my yard with a friend who is a landscape designer, he said I am going for a "cottage garden". These are by definition eclectic and random in their placement. I can -- and should! -- mix plants. He helped me plant the Washington Hawthorne, Crepe Myrtle, Flowering Dogwoods, and more that I got from the National Arbor Day Foundation  They are in the line where I had started my lilac bushes. (Okay, he did say these one-foot high plants would take forever to grow and I should always buy the largest tree or bush I could afford so I could see my efforts sooner...) 

Thanks to his work and all the new plants, my western property line is also complete. I just have to wait how many years to see the bushes/ trees big enough to bloom? :) I think I see his point. If you look very closely at the photo of the grapevines, you will see metal stakes along the line of the ditch. They mark the lilacs and other plantings in the "fence row". There is also an arbor vitae showing at the end of a grape row. It's now been moved to one of those gaps I mentioned.

When Joe rebuilt the front porch last fall, I was afraid the Blaze Climber that has always been on the west side would get damaged. To save it, we shifted it to the east yard. It stands now in the company of the two rosa rugosa that I purchased at Arnold's Nursery last fall.  One of the first things I did when the weather improved was to haul the trellis that used to support the rose bush  and stand it up as a wall behind the climber. Now I have to decide if I want to add two more trellis panels to make a fence, or if putting something tall, like Pampas grass, on either side would give it a finished look. Hm... both ideas have merit.  But if I made a fence, I could have an arbor crossing the rock walk. That would really get into the cottage feel... Hm... (wheels turning...)

In the mean time, the trellis and rose bushes have acquired company. I finally ran the wheels off Joe's little red wagon. My folks gave him that wagon for his first Christmas in 1976. I don't know why the attach points would rust out and let the back wheels collapse. It's only been 37 years!  I just couldn't trash that red wagon, so I filled it with dirt and a few of those durable daffodils from the compost pile, and then parked it near the Blaze Climber. Jen found one of their old Tonka trucks in the lean-to, so I've put dirt and more daffodils in the dump truck bed and added it to the display. They look pretty chipper out there.  One of the neighbor kids was riding down the street today and he hollered at me to say he liked the toys in my yard. 

You Can't Keep a Good Bulb Down

Last spring my big push was to move the bulbs from Mom's old flower beds. They were root bound and I didn't want so many in that location. I dug and dug, and moved and moved, and scratched my head and found more places to plant things. Eventually, that last wheelbarrow of bulbs dried out and appeared dead because I had no places left to put them. I threw them in the compost pile.

Surprise! Guess what is coming up in the compost pile?