Basil from the grocery store- you can grow that!


IMG_0682My friend Molly was telling me about her stash of pesto running out- she figured she would have a year’s supply of pesto when she made it and froze it last summer, but here it is, May, and she is down to the last little bit of pesto. She doesn’t want to be in that boat next year, so she is planning where she is going to put basil at her new house.
Basil is one of those plants that needs time to grow from seed, so I usually buy plants at the nursery, which gets expensive.
3.95 for herb plants last summer. To get a summer’s worth of basil, let alone a year’s worth of pesto, I would have to pay a fortune. Shortly after this conversation I went to the grocery, and saw big plastic boxes of basil for 2.99, a quarter pound, lots of stems. What if I rooted these stems in water, and transplanted them? I did this more or less accidentally last summer, and when I put the little plantlets into the soil outside, they did great.
I brought the box home, and pulled off the large bottom leaves for making a batch of soup, and put about a dozen stems into a glass of water on the windowsill. Each node where leaves had grown is the location of a bud where roots can sprout.
Once roots form, I’ll put the stems into small pots with soil so that they can expand, then harden them off to plant outside after the last freeze. Basil are in the mint family, and other mints will root as easily as the basil does.

A Memorial. You can grow that.


I was out for a run this morning (zombies weren’t even chasing me- I was running for pleasure) and all over the neighborhood tulips are blooming. My heart bounced up at all of them, but especially the red ones.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

They look pink in this shot, but I assure you, the tulips are red.

My dad was not what you’d call a keen gardener.  I remember planting radishes with him when I was very little, and he took great pride in his lawn, but he certainly wasn’t where I inherited my love of plants. He did work hard on his red tulips, though.  He planted them beside the front door, and after they bloomed and the foliage faded, he would dig them up, and separate out the daughter bulbs, or offsets, from the ones that had bloomed, then save them on screens he had built until fall, when he would plant them again. I can only ever remember him having red tulips- not sure why.

My dad died about 11 years ago. Kate barely remembers him, and Will only knows him from stories and pictures.  The spring after he died, we planted a Burr Oak tree in the back yard, and it has thrived- it so represents him- strong and tall. He was an oak.  Additionally, that fall, I ordered and planted 100 red tulips, which I put under the oak.  That next spring, they bloomed strongly and vividly- a blanket of red under the little oak. I didn’t follow my daddy’s example, and dig them up and sort them. I never do- I try to select varieties that naturalize, and just let nature take its course.

Nature’s course with tulips is that the bulbs form offsets every year, and they don’t send up flowers until they are big enough. They may come back after a couple of years, but if they aren’t divided, they tend to peter out. Last year, there were one or two flowers, this year I don’t see any.

It strikes me that grief is like that- early on, a blanket of red, and as time passes, the feeling fades, only to be brought up again, with a reminder, or a dream, or a pun. (One of my colleagues recently broke her arm in 3 places. I laughed and told her to stay out of them places. No one in the teacher’s lounge laughed, but Daddy would have.)

Now, I’m not saying that oaks and red tulips are a universal memorial, but if you are grieving someone, think about what they loved, and what you can plant to help their memory stay with you, so that when you smell lilacs, or see daffodils, or pass by a lily, you remember.  You can grow that.

(If you are curious about why no blogging recently, nothing’s wrong, just very busy with they day job, family stuff, and of course, exercise and coffee. I’ve got some ideas of things to write about, and I will, as I have time.)

sashiko wrap


In Last Minute Quilted Gifts, there is this simple lovely idea- a quilt with dupioni silk on one side, rough muslin on the other, hand quilted with bright embroidery floss in big, rough stitches. I haven’t been able to get that quilt out of my head, and I have designed a variation- rather than muslin, I wanted the fuzziness of fleece on the inside, and I decided to make it as a wrap, to drape around me watching TV, or fling on the back of the chair to look cool.

I found dark teal silk- it is woven one way with teal and the other direction with dark brown threads- there are natural slubs and rough spots in the silk.  I got a yard, and cut it diagonally, then pieced it together to make a long parallelogram. I chose to fell the seam, since this fabric is really ravelly. Felling is folding the seam down, and stitching close to the original seam line.

I love the contradiction in it- the silk contrasting with the fleece and the  hand stitching.
I got a dahlia flower stencil from Shibori Dragon. They are a great source for sashiko kits and stencils and Asian fabrics and stuff. (we had an exchange student from Spain this summer, and whenever I would say, “and stuff.” she would ask what it meant. Umm…it means et cetera? I guess…and stuff… By the end of her stay, she was saying it. American incoherence FTW!)

I used bronze sharpie to trace the stencil. I couldn’t face using chalk pencil and having it rub away. The sharpie ink will wash out someday, I’m not too worried.  I picked brown fleece and  brown thread to go with the brown warp threads. This quilting is very basic, sashiko style, with a running stitch following the design, which I repeated multiple times on the wrap. The work is slow- I’m not zipping through it fast with a machine, I’m just slowly following a line with a needle and thread. This will take me forever to finish, and that is fine with me.

Sashiko was originally invented in Japan as a way of making utilitarian objects even more utilitarian- mending or patching garments, reinforcing the knees and elbows of work clothes to get a little bit more wear out of them. Karen Kim Matsunaga’s Japanese Country Quilting has great instructions and a bit of the history behind it. But here I am, buying silk, and cutting it up to make a quilt, when there are certainly utilitarian quilts out there in the world already. If I want something to snuggle under while I watch TV, why not use one of the fleece blankets we already own? What do you think, is this just another example of quilting madness, where people buy big pieces of fabric, cut them into little pieces, then sew them into big pieces again? That drives me crazy, so why am I doing it? Any insight is appreciated.IMG_0666

Water Garden- you can grow that!


My happy place.

My happy place.

Pretty much every morning, I go out to my patio, set my coffee on the table, put my feet up on the big terra cotta pot, and watch the sky reflected on the surface of the pond.

To be clear, this is a horse tank, 100 gallons of galvanized metal with a lily plant and a few goldfish swimming around munching the mosquito larvae. There is no fountain, no water filter, no waterfall, just a flat surface.  If I had to move to a place with a smaller yard, a small pond would be the number one thing I would have- and I would keep it tall, above ground, rather than in the ground. Having it up high makes it easier to maintain, and the structure makes it feel like it takes up more space in the landscape.

This is the third iteration of a pond in our yard- I started with a 20 gallon tub, then sprang for a whiskey barrel, then a couple of years ago I picked up a 100 gallon trough at the farm supply store- I call it a hillbilly goldfish pond. The dull metal works with my aesthetic, if I wanted to be fancier, I would side it with stone, or cedar or something. Or maybe not, that seems like a lot of work.

The beauty of the larger pond is that it is less work than the smaller ones- the additional water acts as a buffer for temperature swings. You also don’t have as many issues with ammonia build up from fish waste.   I bought five very cheap goldfish at the beginning of the year, a couple of them died early on, and the others have gotten very good at hiding- I see the ripples of them moving around beneath the surface, but haven’t seen a tell tale orange fish in about a month. Will says he saw one being eaten by a preying mantis. I asked him why he didn’t film it, and he looked at me like I was crazy.  It is crazy to ask a kid to stop watching an insect eating a fish, run inside, find his camera, replace the batteries, then run back outside.  The circle of life.

About once a week, I use a bucket to scoop out some water and dump it onto the patio pots- they appreciate the “nutrient rich” water- it winds up being a very dilute fertilizer. Then I turn on the hose and top up the tank. The water lily, water hyacinths and other plants use up other nutrients- the more surface of the water is covered with plants, the less algae growth there is.

Anyway, I cannot recommend more highly the idea of getting a big tank of some sort, putting in water, and a couple of cheap feeder goldfish. Add a plant or two, and place a cinder block so the fish have somewhere to hide, then make a cup of coffee. It is so worthwhile to have a water garden. And you can grow that.

The cost per square foot of an ugly laundry room


So, projects take a long time to marinate around here. For example, I tore apart the basement bathroom 2 years ago, and only this spring did we admit we couldn’t put it back together again and hire a contractor.
Our laundry room has been terrible since we moved in- the previous owners put in drywall, and great cabinets, but then they just stopped- no tape, no mud, no paint. They had a solar water heater system, which I assume worked for them, but I don’t think the renters who lived here before us used it, and we haven’t hooked it up again. The panels are slowly decomposing on the roof, and the water tank has been taking up about 4 square feet of floor space in the laundry room, and even bumps out into the stairs. There is also another dead hot water heater that has been taking up space as well.
That is where the title of the post comes from. One of my colleagues this spring was house hunting in Fort Collins, and she was quoting home prices in terms of square feet, “Houses in old town are going for 300 per square foot, for an 800 square foot place. With a detached garage, can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it, because you made me do math first. Just tell me how much they want for the house! I can’t even remember the rest of the conversation, because I was still trying to carry the 1.
But it made me think- we have some stupid stuff laying around the house, old paint cans in the basement, two water heaters, a pink toilet (non-operational) in the garage. Two stereo speakers (probably also non operational) up in the loft over the work bench in the garage. How much is that space worth?

According to Zillow, our house is worth about $101 per square foot.

Those water heaters are taking up more than 400 dollars of space in my house.

I want them gone.
I was doing some reading recently on the concept of Wabi Sabi- which is kind of like shabby chic, except Japanese, so it is much cooler. The idea is that the things you surround yourself with should be imperfect and worn, and furthermore, don’t surround yourself with too many things- they could be curated, not cluttered.
As always, as a white girl interpreting a Japanese concept, I am sure there is a lot more to it than that, but one of the things that stuck out is the lack of clutter.  A house should have 10% of its space as storage. You should be able to put things away.
So, even though I spent maybe 5 minutes a day in the laundry room, I am making it nicer, getting rid of crap, adding shelving so that it can store more of the things I need and want.

I taped and mudded the joints on the drywall, then painted with some leftover paint. I knew the unprimed drywall would soak up a lot, so it would need multiple coats.  I was able to kill two birds with one stone, for the first coat I got rid of some “indian white” paint that has been taking up space in the laundry room for at least 12 years, and I was able to brighten up the room considerably.  Now a corner niche is pale green, and two walls are “aegean mist” left over from Kate’s room. It has made me so happy.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

Lamb’s ear- you can grow that!


I had some lamb’s ear in a flower arrangement that I brought to school, and the P.E. teacher was admiring it, feeling the soft, fuzzy leaves.  I told her it was really easy to grow, and that i could give her a division if she wanted.  She was agreeable, then she got  suspicious look in her eye- “does it spread? I mean, in a couple years, am I going to be like, gah! lamb’s ear!” Well, not really. Maybe kind of. It does spread, but not in a bad way. It is a member of the mint family, but I haven’t had to contain it the way I have the other mints that have taken over my yard.

Lamb’s ear is formally known as Stachys Byzantina, and is originally from the middle east- it does great with very little water- the fuzzy leaves on it evolved to reflect light and collect dew. I can see it flailing in places with heavy rain and humidity, but in my yard it is perfect in my xeric bed, where I don’t water but once or twice a year. It grows about knee high, blooming just after the iris has finished.

The thing that prevents it from being seriously weedy is that it doesn’t spread from seed- it flops over, and where the stem touches the ground it can strike roots, but it doesn’t spew seeds.  

The fuzzy leaves make it great for children’s gardens- I first planted it when my kids were little, and Will loved to pet them.  It has tall purple flowers that pollinators love also, since it is a mint relative. I love to look over at it from my chair on the patio, shining in the evening light. I promise I never look at it and say, “Gah! Lamb’s ear!”  You can grow that!

Jello molds- not just for jello


There are tons of copper jell-o molds at the thrift stores I frequent. I never ever make jell-o, and if I did, I wouldn’t do it in a fancy mold shaped like a lobster, or a star, or a crown. I love these molds though. I covet them. The cost around a dollar each- I guess the age of making jello shaped like a fish is over, and people don’t even want them hanging on their walls anymore. Now they can be mine…all mine!!!!

Mostly jello molds, but there's a kitty cat cake pan in there, too.

Mostly jello molds, but there’s a kitty cat cake pan in there, too.

Several years ago, in pre-blog life, I used some as molds for concrete stepping stones. They weren’t super-successful. For example, my favorite shape was a curved fish, but in popping it out of the mold, it broke. I also probably pulled the stones out earlier than I should have- the longer concrete cures, the harder it is, so popping them out early meant they were fragile.
We had a half bucket of concrete mix left, though, so last week while the boy was at STEM summer school, Kate and I got messy.

Sun's out, guns out- look at those muscles!

Sun’s out, guns out- look at those muscles!

I had read on the internet (gardenweb has great information about concrete garden ornaments of all kinds) that adding latex paint as part of the liquid to concrete can extend the working time, and strengthen the finished product. I poured in some of the “Amethyst Frost” paint left from the last time we painted Kate’s room into the mix. It totally doesn’t change the color- the concrete is still grey.

Kate was much more persnickety about greasing her molds with petroleum jelly, so the ones she worked on came out much better than mine. We also got some marble gems at the dollar store, and she was in charge of placement. I would have gone crazy and carpeted the stones with marbles, but she was very reserved.

With the curved fish and a sea horse mold, I attempted to reinforce the concrete with mesh from an onion bag.  The delicate parts broke anyway, so I glued them with 9001 high strength adhesive. Once they are in place, there won’t be a lot of stress on them, so they should be okay.

I waited several days to pop them out of the molds, kept them covered with plastic, and misted them with water every time I remembered to, all on advice from the garden web forum people.

Cat+ craft project, quick, somebody pin me!

Cat+ craft project, quick, somebody pin me!

All in all, I am very pleased with the results- we have some good-looking stepping stone/border edging pieces. You should recognize that you cannot use the molds for food again- the vaseline helps the concrete to release, but there are still bits of gravel stuck to the inside. The molds are about a dollar each at thrift stores (rest assured, Mom, that I didn’t use the copper mold you gave me, with the flower design- it is still hanging on the wall in the kitchen). I have an idea for what I’m going to use the copper molds for now…watch this space.

Garden in a Box- you can grow that


I live in a semi-desert. You wouldn’t know it from all the green lawns and sprinklers and weeping willows around, but it is pretty dry here. We rely on snowmelt from the mountains being stored in reservoirs, and as more people move here, we want to conserve the water we get.

My city water department, in conjunction with Boulder’s Center for ReSource Conservation (yeah, I don’t know what the deal is with the capitol s… it’s annoying) is selling gardens in a box. They have for several years. The Center has hired designers to put together some preplanned gardens with drought tolerant plants. People who live all over the front range of Colorado can participate, and several city utilities give rebates. Depending on where you live, your local utility may offer something similar. Google it.
I have pooh-poohed the idea of a pre-planned garden in the past- I felt like I could design my own gardens, thank you very much. Plug in some iris, srpinkle on some larkspur- BAM! its a garden!
This year I had a lot of space to fill, though. We got rid of our swing set, and so we have about 400 square feet of weedy grass to convert. I plan to put in a couple of fruit trees, but I want flowers around them. Grass also typically takes much more water to look good than the xeric flowers and shrubs that I like.
The preplanned garden was a great choice for us because of the water use thing, (which is why the water department wants to sell them-once they are established, the plants

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone,  Remind me to use my real camera...

I took pictures of planting time, but only with my phone, Remind me to use my real camera…

are happy with natural rainfall) and also because it is a boatload of plants for not very much money. Remember, I’m frugal.
How much? That’s a very crass question…oh, wait, I brought it up. Well, with a rebate from the city, it was $110 for 29 plants in 4 inch pots, which covers 100 square feet.
My typical way of planting new gardens is to get my mother in law to give me divisions from her garden, and divide stuff that I already have, which is essentially free. However, the garden I chose has plants that are new to me, and my wonderful mother-in-law. Maybe someday I’ll be able to divide these, and give back to her. Someday.
If I were getting these plants at a nursery, it would cost more, and I would be unlikely to choose these particular plants. I’m a person who reads about compost for fun, I read seed catalogs and garden books and even listen to the garden guy on the radio. I think about plants a lot, but I hadn’t heard of most of these before.
The garden in a box is expanding my horizons, and saving me on my water bill, and it could do the same for you. You could grow that…

Putting the “we” into “weekend projects”


 

“So, if you were going to take out the swing set, would you dig out the legs first, or unscrew all the bolts first?” I ask.

DH thinks a minute and replies, “Oh, I’d undo the bolts, and then you could use leverage to get the bases out.”

“Oh.” I said. “What are you doing this weekend?”

He looks a little panicked. “It’s Easter?”

“No. Easter is next week.” It was inescapable- and he knew it- we didn’t do it right after the conversation, or on Easter weekend either, but before my walk this past Saturday, I looked him in the eye and said, “I really, really really want that thing gone, and I know I can’t do it by myself.”

So,  when I came home from my walk on Saturday to find DH in the back yard undoing the bolts on the swing set, I knew my begging had made an impression. I went to find my own set of pliers and get the kids off the couch.Image

The swing set has been there since before we moved in, and is a magnet for wasps, but not a magnet for our kids anymore I had assumed it was set in concrete, because of the way it didn’t tip over when the big kids attempted to swing high enough to go over the bar (busted on Mythbusters, by the way). What we discovered on Saturday was extremely gratifying, though, no concrete, just stakes.

I set Will up with a shovel.  He complained.  “But I thought you liked digging holes…”

“When I was 5!”

Oh, yeah. I remember, we bought him his own little trowel, and he used to dig holes in the middle of the grass, looking for worms. Then we would step in them in the dark, and hurt ourselves and curse.  Good times.

So we dig around each of the posts, and find the loops on top of the stakes. At first we just try to unscrew them from the soil with brute force, then we break out our simple machine ingenuity. I get some short pieces of rebar to put through the loops to add leverage to untwist them. “Lefty loosey…” I keep muttering.

“Mom, I know it’s lefty loosey!”

Yeah, I know. I was just reminding myself. I get mixed up.

After less than an hour, with all of us helping, and really very minimal flopping on the ground in teen angst, we have the whole thing dismantled, and piled on the ground.

I’m sure in another 6 months, we can get it loaded into the pick-up and recycled.  Watch this space for planting schemes. The schemes include fruit.

Image

He has a ratchet, and he knows how to use it.

 

Enough planning! I think…


We have an old swing set in the south west corner of the yard, which has mostly become a terrifying haven for yellow jackets. Kate used to use it as an obstacle course, after the swings fell off. She would clamber up the slide, and swing across the top bar, then climb down next to the fence. As the kids have gotten older, wasps have moved in- try swinging hand over hand across the top bar while wasps fly out- it might be more challenge than you are up for.
Pure laziness has prevented me from doing anything about it- Not really, because I have certainly done other projects, like taking out our juniper bushes,  and radically pruning our old apple tree, and tearing out the basement bathroom. But it will be a pretty big project. As I said, it is set into the ground, and digging out the concrete, then moving the chunks of concrete doesn’t sound like much fun. Although, I haven’t actually dug down to see- I am guessing it is concrete, but maybe they are just stakes? We can hope, right?
So my process so far has been to think about it, and ask questions,. Like, is it worth more as a swing set, or as scrap metal? Is there anyone who would haul this thing away for free? Can we just come to a détente with the wasps? I sit in my Adirondack chair and gaze at the swing set and make plans.
My plan for several years was to take out the swings and replace it with some other kind of structure- a tea house, or a pergola, not quite a gazebo, but some kind of trellis and shade structure, with flagstone paving, and lawn chairs, and at one point I even wanted a sky chair, which is like a hammocky swinging chair. At first I wanted a couple of sky chairs, then I visualized teenagers swinging as hard as they could and then crashing into each other.   So then I just wanted one, so that I could be out there all by myself, swinging alone, with no one crashing into anyone.
As time passed, though, I have wanted less structure, and more plants. I wanted plants that could feed me.
That southwest corner of the yard is roughly 20 by 20 feet (a shade over 6 by 6 meters) with mostly just weedy grass. The neighbor has a willow that shades it on the south side, and I have a small burr oak that borders it on the East. There is a rose bush against the West fence, which adds to the adventures in lawnmowing- you have to get around the slide, the rocking horse thingy, avoid getting tangled up in the thorns, then set the swing in motion and mow underneath it. With the swings there, it is 400 square feet of pain in the neck. Without them, it could be an orchard, with peaches and maybe a blueberry bush.
So, my first small step, is to get rid of this big honking metal contraption. The neighbor kid who mows the lawn  If we get it done on a cool weekend, maybe we can avoid getting stung by the wasps.
For the 12 years we have lived here, we haven’t used fertilizer or herbicide on the grass under here- oops, I just remembered, we did use it on the thistles once- some spray stuff…but otherwise we have left the grass clippings to mulch the soil, and left it alone. You know, thistles are a national symbol of Scotland, so maybe my problem isn’t too many thistles, maybe the problem is not enough Scotsmen…not enough scotsmen

My plan is to mow it very short after the swings come out, then mulch the hell out of it with wood chips.
I have been reading about tilling to convert areas to garden. I am conflicted. I know that tilling shoots a lot of oxygen into the soil, which gives soil bacteria a huge surge in growth, and releases a lot of plant nutrients. However, the trees I am going to plant will be tiny- they will not need the nutrition released by all that bacteria, and it will burn off into the atmosphere, or wash off in the rain. Also, rototillers are loud. I don’t like loud stuff.
I have also read a lot about using big sheets of cardboard or newspaper to sheet mulch. I have used cardboard in the past to smother weeds, but I have read more recently about how sheets of weed barrier have an adverse effect on soil chemistry, preventing oxygen from getting to organisms. I will have to research more about it. I know that wood chips alone will not prevent grass from growing up through them, and the work of converting a big area to garden would be lessened if I didn’t have to hand weed around everything. I’ll have to think about it more.
No. Enough thinking. Let’s do something.

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