Tag Archives: garden

Our First Venture Canning Food

September 19, 2012

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Correction: The daughter‘s first venture canning food. I stood back and watched. :)

We ordered 50 pounds of organic beefsteak canning tomatoes from FarmshedCNY.com. She finished the job a few days ago. I don’t know how many quarts and pints of tomatoes we eventually got, but it was a lot! Three days work!

Canned tomatoes

The only reason we only canned tomatoes is because our garden was a dismal failure this year. The barrage of flooding we suffered last year (THREE floods) really took its toll on the property. I’m just getting too old to work full time, renovate a house AND clean up the yard all day long. Whew. The kids do help out a lot but they also have their own stuff to do.

Next year, Lord willing, we will have a garden full of green beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, rutabagas….

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Nice Planters!

August 30, 2010

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Next year, we turn our attentions to the outside gardens, which I have woefully neglected this year. I won’t be planting a vegetable garden in the garden plot (allowing the soil to lie fallow for a year, to replenish nutrients), so we’re looking into small planters for our vegetable produce. I also want to grow strawberries, and I’ll need a special planter for that (hierarchical).

I guess I could always build my own, but I thought I’d take a peek and see what’s available to me online. Look at this gorgeous decorative planter! It’s all plastic– I love using plastic (doesn’t rot, like wood does so quickly around here because it’s so wet).

Isn’t it pretty? It’s also got a pretty price tag, yow. But it will last a long, long time. I need something like that to grow strawberries. Maybe lettuce, too. I like the “cottage garden” look to it. Another nice thing about them is that these kinds of garden planters are very portable– you can move them around anywhere in the yard. I like that option. I’m always changing my mind! ;)

Well, winter will soon be here, and I’ll have allllll that time to plan the gardening. That’s the nice thing about winter, it’s a time of repose and planning.

This post was brought to you by your friends at ePlanters.com.

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How to Start a Compost, Part 3

April 19, 2010

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This is the final post in my How to Start a Compost series. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 to get up to speed. I’ve already covered the essential compost general guidelines, some sage compost advice, and instructed you ow to build a simple Wire Bin. Now, I’m going to throw some lists at you.

    What to Do When Your Compost is Ready:

  • Your compost should be ready in 12-14 months. This can really vary a lot, depending on what you put in there, how often you turned it, how wet the weather has been, etc. But 1 year is a general estimate.
  • I always start a new compost pile in the spring, so that when I am ready to start next year’s garden, the compost is ready. You can add the compost to your garden beds either at spring tilling time, or fall tilling time. (I don’t do fall tilling, by the way).
  • Prepare your garden beds: pull out the weeds, the rocks, etc.
  • Grab your shovel and wheelbarrow and shovel out the compost from the bin. The humus should be loamy and rich-looking.
  • Dump the compost into the garden. Spread evenly. Roto-til or hand turn the garden soil. Water lightly.
  • That’s it! Plant your garden when you’re ready.
SprdgLeavs

The composted compost (called humus) is dark, rich, and loamy.

    What to Add to a Compost Pile:

  • Any household vegetable food waste, such as: carrot tops, discarded vegetable peels, wasted vegetables that the kids refused to eat, etc etc
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, leftover tea, or coffee
  • Dryer lint
  • Hair. Yes, hair! Spread it out well so it won’t clump in the pile. You can even add your fingernail clippings… if you want…
  • Grass clippings. Make sure the grass is not loaded with pesticides or chemicals.
  • Leaves, they are full of nitrogen.
  • Earthworms. Have the kids dig them up and plop them in. Earthworms love coffee, by the way. They are wonderful critters!
    What NOT to Add to a Compost Pile:

  • Meat waste
  • Newspapers (some ink has chemicals may disrupt the happy bacteria revelry)
  • Dog and cat food (contains meat and preservatives)
  • Corn cobs (they take FOREVER to compost!!)
  • Peach pits (see corn cobs)
  • Weeds! (They will germinate in the rich soil and you will wind up planting them in your garden next year)
  • Milk products– no cheese, yogurt, milk, nothing.
  • Oils (vegetable, grease, etc)
  • Bones
  • Silverware (can you believe that we actually find forks and spoons in the compost pile?! All the kids say they have NO IDEA how silverware gets in there! :S hmm)

So there you have it! Composting can be pretty fun. Sure, you’re getting your hands dirty. But just think of how happy you are making the worms, the bacteria, the garden plants! And think of happy you will be when you sink your teeth into those luscious tomatoes that thrived in such rich soil. :)

tn_Tilled 1

Humus is tilled in to the bed, bed is weeded and raked, and ready for seeds.

Thanks for reading! Happy composting.

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How to Start a Compost, Part 1

April 12, 2010

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If you have a garden, a compost is important. If you are a tightwad like me, and don’t like buying expensive fertilizers, bagged compost, and peat moss every year, a compost pile is REALLY important.

Compost is just a fancy word for decomposed waste. Or, as en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compost says, “a combination of decomposed plant and animal materials and other organic materials that are being decomposed largely through aerobic decomposition into a rich black soil.” Right. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Veg Garden1

My garden at planting time, last year.

welcome

My garden thrives after amending with compost.

I have “maintained” a compost pile for a few years now. I say “maintained” in quotes because it’s been largely trial and error for me. Everybody makes it look SOOO easy– and indeed it is, kinda– but you have to do it right, or it won’t work. Me– I don’t like babysitting the compost pile; I have so much to do that turning the blasted 200-pound pile over every week never gets done. So I’ll tell you about my woes and wins, and throw a few tips in, as well. Here goes:

  • You do not need to buy ANYTHING. Nothing. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise! You do NOT need that fancy $500 hand-cranking bin, nor the $50 compost starter mix, nor the nice $100 pitchfork. You may buy things if you want. A compost can be a hole in the ground, if you want. Most people like things a little neater (including me) but don’t think that you need to spend a fortune even for that. Keep reading…
  • The compost will not smell bad if you are doing it right. Compost is decaying organic matter, and it needs a few things to decay properly. I call it the Big Three: oxygen, moisture, and friendly compost-making bacteria. If you have too much moisture, or not enough oxygen, it will smell. Believe me, it will smell.
  • The compost bin should be in a sunny area of the yard, in a convenient area near the garden.
  • You can keep your compost going all year ’round, or only in the warm months. I do it only in the warm months, because my son dislikes hauling the compost bucket from the kitchen to the backyard in 3 feet of snow every night. Sheesh. lol.
  • You need a healthy assortment of waste: “green” waste like grass clippings; “brown” waste like leaves and topsoil; “food” waste from the house.
  • Compost ONLY vegetable matter. Do not compost bones, meat, fat, grease, etc. These will disrupt that friendly bacteria that you will soon covet– they are vegetarians, ok?
  • You will learn to love earthworms, and get to know their favorite foods.

OK! Let’s get started! First, you need a compost bin, or a place to dump your loot. I have used the “dump” method as well as a variety of bins. In the next post, I’ll show you how to build a quick and easy bin. Here’s a rundown of the various compost bin styles:

  • The Hole:
    Very ugly. Tends to get quite soggy. Not recommended, but in a compost emergency, it’ll do.
  • The Pile:
    Like The Hole, it’s ugly and messy. But effective. I have The Pile in the back– it’s full of weeds, discarded garden waste, small twigs, etc. It takes a long, long time to decompose. I’m still waiting, actually. The bigger the waste, the longer the wait. There’s a family of rabbits living in there right now. You can create a Pile if you don’t want to use a bin. The Pile works well if you include the Big Three. The main problem (besides ugliness) with The Pile is that the food waste may attract unfriendlys, like rats, raccoons, and other unsavory critters. I only throw large garden waste in The Pile, no food waste.
  • The Wooden Bin:
    I have a wooden bin. I threw it together. It once had a lid, but that decayed after a few winters, and I never replaced it. The bin can be constructed of pallets or plain old 2 x 4s. The Wooden Bin is nice because it keeps critters away (if the slats are narrow enough) and allows for enough oxygen to pass through the mix. It’s very tough to turn over, though. Ugh. Note: do not use pressure-treated lumber for your compost bin. More on that later.
  • The Plastic Bin:
    I use this mostly, right now. It’s not the greatest. I have one large plastic garbage can and two 35-gallon Rubbermaid totes. I drilled holes in the sides and top, but even then, there really isn’t enough oxygen. I sprayed water in them, and the water wouldn’t seep out, so they got waterlogged. The bins are very convenient– compost is easy to turn, and the bins have lids, but the lack of oxygen and the water retention problem makes it a bummer. You can buy one of those expensive plastic bins designed specifically for composts, if you want. I have not tried them. I assume, like Little Tykes toys, that they would fade over time and look awful. But they may work.
  • The Wire Bin:
    In my opinion, this is THE BEST choice. All I did was plug a few metal garden posts into the ground and wrap chicken wire around them. There’s plenty of oxygen, and there’s as much moisture as the surrounding area– and when there’s too much, the extra seeps out through the wire– and it’s relatively easy to turn over.
CompostLevs

The Wire Bin works best for me.

I have heard lots of opinions on when your compost should be garden-ready. There’s some “instant compost” flukes out there that I have heard about. I don’t know about them. It generally takes a year for me. I start this year’s compost for use next year. I always spread the compost before spring tilling time. I have a huge yard, with loads of leaves, grass clippings, and kids who eat a lot of veggies. So your mileage may vary. All I know is that a compost is usually ready in 12-14 months. So you’d better get going!

Compost soil, also known as humus, is rich, black, and loamy. It should smell earthy, not like sewage or mildew.

SprdgLeavs

The rich humus of compost contrasting with the brown topsoil.

So this ends the Part 1 of How to Start a Compost. In the next articles, I’ll show you how to construct a Wire Bin, give some tips, and show you what to do with your composted humus when you have it.

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Weed Hacking and Building Gardens

July 25, 2009

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This yard, where half of it is gravel beneath turf, and the other half is completely waterlogged, is very difficult to cultivate. When we bought the place, it was horribly overgrown. It has been a decade of hacking, digging, sweating, screaming, and crying to plant ANYTHING here. The good thing is that we are old pros now. We know what to expect and are armed with strong iron tools to fight back. Today’s project was no different. I’ve been wanting to do this for 12 years! Today was the day!

There’s a small asphalt walkway in the front of the house. It led to the neighbor’s parking lot (the two properties were once one large lot). We put up a nice fence between the two properties, mostly to keep out the scads of snowmobilers that roared across our yard in the winter. But the asphalt walkway remained, it just led to nowhere! Today, I had one of the kids bust it up and cart the pieces away. Hurray!

Around Tree before 2

Then, we removed the tangled mass of weeds and groundcover. I’m planning on extending my Secret Garden area to this area around the tree.

Around Tree after 2

Before and after:

Around Tree before 1

Around Tree after 1

Around Tree after 3

The pipes are from our sump pumps. We have two pumps running day and night– there’s a LOT of water underground here. If we do not keep pumps going, our basement floods badly. The town has balked at helping us build a basin at the street side, so all we can do is pipe the water up from the basement sump well and into the nearest discharge basin (in the neighbor’s yard). Part of building a massive garden bed is to conceal the pipes under plants. I also want to make it so that we do not have to mow and weed-whap around the pipes all the time, an onerous job. I have plans on plunking down some choice monster-sized hostas here, because it’s so wet and shady. I’ll plant taller, water-loving shrubs in this area, too.

One such plant I have found PERFECT is Purple Loosestrife. It’s hated by many, because it is so invasive. But this plant and I are going to get along very, very well. It SLURPS up water like there’s no end. The plant is hated because it roots otself in waterways, like creeks and streams, and clogs them. For my water-weary yard, this plant is a God-send. I have two plants thriving right now. It’s taken them two years to really get established. I’m looking forward to placing it in my watery areas.

And it looks gorgeous next to my purple Butterfly Bush, doesn’t it?

Purple Loosestrife

So the saga continues…. next time we have another sunny day, we’ll develop this area more. I cant wait to get plants into this area!

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We Are Getting Slammed

December 19, 2008

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Snow! After nothing for months, it hits with full force this week. We’d already been pummeled by a snowstorm last Sunday (and the Sunday before that). That gave us about 5 inches, but it most of it melted away by Tuesday. Today, starting about noon, this whopper hit. And this is just the beginning of it!

Snow Slam

This is definitely North Face weather! The able-bodied members of the family are out shoveling. The snow is very fine, like ice crystals. The wind is blowing and therefore the ice crystals jab into the skin with its tiny frigid razors. Not very pleasant. So, wow. I have chili con carne simmering in the crockpot. We’ll make a day of it, shoveling and sipping hot coffee and cocoa, and shoveling and sipping, and probably more shoveling and sipping. lol

Forecast for today, 6-10 inches, coming within 6-8 hours’ time. There are whiteout conditions in several counties (ours included). We’re used to this kind of weather, so most people either drive very slowly and carefully, or avoid driving altogether. I think back to my younger years, when not even a storm like this could have kept me off the roads. Now, I look back and wonder how I could have been so crazy!

Another storm is expected to strike Sunday, too, but that (according to the weathermen) will be a quick-moving storm. Local businesses and all the school have closed. (the Post Office is still delivering mail, though!) So I guess we will definintely have a white Christmas. I like the snow, I like the coziness. I don’t mind being out in it, either, although I can’t shovel anymore. It’s a nice feeling to be out in the elements, and then come in to a warm, cozy home with the smell of coffee and pumpkin-spice candles. Eat your heart out, you in Bermuda! ;)

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It’s For the Birds!

October 28, 2008

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Good heavens, with the snow here now (see previous post), I’m remembering all these things I have to do before winter!! I think our lawn mower is still in the garage, and the show shovels are buried in the shed. And we have a few very wimpy bird houses and feeders that won’t survive the winter unless I pull them all in. We’ve been trying to attract birds (NOT crows, HATE those things!) to help us in our gardening efforts during the summer. We have way too many crows and starlings, and they are dirty and destructive.

So the kids and I have been creating “songbird-friendly” environments for the little critters. Last year we had some lovely cardinals, purple martins, and hummingbirds in the backyard! The chickadees do stay the winter here, but they’ve been finding tastier treats at the neighbor’s house. Hm, we may have a neighborhood bird-feeder war going on around here…

We’ve had to transition from “regular” bird feeders to a fancy squirrel-proof bird feeder. I can’t believe the number of squirrels we have here. And they have ravenous appetites. So either we surround our feeder with machine guns and barbed wire, or we have to have a special anti-squirrel feeder. Else the birds will starve and the squirrels will gorge. I have yet to see any squirrel share his stash, too.

How about you? Do you feed the birds in the winter? Or.. just the squirrels?

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Feeling Wine-y

October 10, 2008

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This post is for my husband, a wine nut. He used to work at some fancy hotels, and had the position of wine steward. He has subsequently become a bit of a wine snob (lol). He loves wine tasting events. We’re really hoping to get to a winery and see how wine is made, hopefully before winter comes. Wine season is now open and there is something so beautiful about driving down winding roads, with russet-colored trees hanging above you, the air crisp and clear, and acres of vineyards before you. We’ve been to a local brewery which was OK, but a winery is a more elegant and romantic affair.

My mother used to make dandelion wine (the worst stuff I’ve ever had, although she meant well). I’ve never tried making wine, but I hope to someday. I’m nursing a lovely little grapevine in the garden that I hope will bless me with its juices someday.
Well, this post is partially for my husband because I have found a new website for him to peruse: Just Grapes, based in Chicago. It’s run by Don Sritong and his wife, Sharon. They founded Just Grapes to teach people the basics about wine production and selection. They have an amazing online wine education program on their site, and a terrific wine blog that shows you how wine is made, packaged, and everything you wanted to know about wine but were afraid to ask! It also has a tutorial on how to make your own personal wine. If you are interested in learning more about cultivation, processing, and everything related to fine wines, you should check out the site. It has everything, including videos, what wine goes with what food, a wine store (free shipping!) and more. Just Grapes is a family business, a great one at that, and the website is really terrific. I have a feeling we’ll be tasting some of their wines in the very near future!

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Working On the Yard

August 31, 2008

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We’ve had three full days of sunshine and no rain! What a remarkable break. So i did what all the Upstaters did this week– scrambled to get my gardening work done before it rains again!

We have essentially completed the front section of my Secret Garden. We have finished the concrete walkway, and laid large stones on both sides and mortared between the walkway gaps. You can read about that here. It occurred to me that I haven’t really done a good job of helping you to envision the landscape of my property. It’s a rather large piece of land for being in the center of town– 1.25 acres. That’s larger than anyone else up or down the streets, I think. It’s a long and narrow lot, surrounded by businesses and parking lots. But the many Maple trees on my land help it from looking too industrial.

Here’s the front of the house, taken about halfway down my driveway.

House Front 2

A closer look. You can see the very old siding (asbestos tile, installed in the 1960s) and the older windows (from 1907).

House Front

The driveway goes all the way back to a large parking lot. This house used to be a parsonage, and the church owners before us had installed a huge tract of asphalt behind the house. Believe me when I say it gets BLAZING hot back there on sunny days.

To the side (north side) of the property is a narrow (only about 20 feet wide from house to neighboring parking lot) strip of land. I’ve been developing this area for a few years now. I call this area my Secret Garden, see here for why.

I’ll take you across the front yard over to that area. Here are my daughters helping me move stones, to complete our concrete walkway that we started.

To Secret Garden 1

Side Yard

To Secret Garden 2

To Secret Garden 3

Here’s the view from the other side of the arbor.

Side View 4

So eventually I want to fill in this entire section of the property with shrubs and perennials. A narrow, concrete walkway lined with stones from the property will cut through the tunnel of foliage. I can see it in my mind’s eye and it looks beautiful.

The installation of the concrete walkway went very well. We used a Quikrete form to make little footpath stones. I added sand mix to seal the gaps between the stones and it looks like a million bucks.

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Finishing Our Concrete Walkway

August 27, 2008

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In an earlier post, I blogged about our installation of a concrete walkway, using a really neat Quikrete form. I absolutely loved using the form– it was easy, neat, and fast. And the stones look great! I installed about 5 feet of the walkway last year, to see how they would weather our frigid winter. They did very well. The stones moved some, but it wasn’t bad at all. So we decided to finish the walkway on this side of the arbor, and seal the gaps with a sand/mortar mix to keep out weeds. Success!

Here’s a quick shot of the walkway after we laid down the concrete last week. You can read about how we did it, here.

Josh at Walkway

It’s very nice. However, I wanted to give the walkway a little more horizontal support, something to hold the mortar in and keep the walkway in place. Since we have a lot of stones around the property, we decided to use these, giving the walkway a more casual, “cottage” feel to it. Eventually the English ivy, vinca major, and other perennials will overshadow the stones somewhat, kind of like this:

Ivy & Stones

So here are the girls laying the stones. They were quite tired at the end of the day!

Walkway Stones

Walkway with Stones

Side Yard

Next thing to do was put the mortar/sand mix down. We got Quikrete Sand Mix because it is stickier then the mortar, and I think it does better in wetter conditions than plain mortar mix (doesn’t crumble as easily). One of the girls poured bowlfuls of sand mix between the cracks, and my other girl and I swept the mix between the cracks more.

Sweeping Sand Mix 1

Sweeping Sand Mix 3

After the sand mix was sufficiently in place, I took the garden hose and misted the mix until it was thoroughly saturated. The sand mix stayed in place just as I’d hoped (didn’t bleed out from the cracks).

Spraying Water

It looks SO GOOD!

Walkway with Mortar

Mortar Mix

Like high quality acne treatments, this mortar will keep the weeds from erupting between the cracks, whereas before we were constantly picking weeds from the cracks. And the ivy will grow over the stones a little, but won’t be able to take root into the walkway. I may add more sand mix to the areas around the stones, for added stability, but for now it is just fine.

I’d estimate and say that our walkway is about 20 feet. It took us 9 bags of regular concrete mix with two bags of regular mortar mix added to it, and then one bag of sand mix to fill in the gaps. And of course, the labor costs were free. :D

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