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.

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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.

A Tower of Flowers- you can grow that


My Pinterest feed is full of these pictures of graduated flower pots stacked up, sometimes crookedly, sometimes straight. At first, I was appalled by the amount of soil that must have to go into them, then I realized that they must have fillers. Sure enough, an upside down pot inside each larger pot both takes up space and supports the pot above it.
DH got me some adorable fish pots a few years ago, the largest about 12 inches in diameter, the smallest about 6. I figured they’d be perfect for pansies and petunias on the front porch.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

An upside-down 8 inch pot fills up space and still allows drainage.

I've seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

I’ve seen pots placed lopsided, and centered, but I decided to stack them off center.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I'd put in marigolds and dahlias.

Pansies and petunias should work well on my shady front porch. In a sunnier spot, I’d put in marigolds and dahlias.

I’m a day late on You Can Grow That day- started by garden writer C.L. Fornari- where the challenge every month is to write about what is growable.

 

Perfect vs. good enough


“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is something I tell my students all the time. I usually tell it to kids who are struggling with getting started writing, frozen by the blank page. They think that they should be perfect, not realizing that writing takes practice, and the way to get better is to just start, and work on the

Alice was super-interested in the quilt-sandwich making process.

Alice was super-interested in the quilt-sandwich making process.

piece of writing until it is good enough.

Or until they run out of time, whichever comes first.
Is there some sort of quote about “the teacher teaches what she most needs to learn”? Because perfection and procrastination and the art of the “good enough” are perpetual problems for me.
Case in point, the Hattie Hill Quilt Top.

Way back last summer, I was talking with my mom about quilting, and mentioned how I really hate the “sitting at the sewing machine, putting together a puzzle” part of quilting, but really enjoy the “sitting by the window, hand-quilting” part.  She said that her friends who quilted were the opposite, and from what I have seen online, that may be true of many quilters. They put together the puzzle, then ship it off to be machine quilted.

My mom also mentioned a top made by my Great grandmother, Hattie Hill Hutchcraft Neal. After she had died, my grandmother had helped clean out her house, this would be in 1942. She found a completed quilt top, that had been pieced but not quilted. She thought to herself, “it’s a shame to let that work go to waste, maybe I’ll quilt it someday.”

More than 30 years later, my mom finds the top. It is during the quilting revival, when people were taking up quilting for the bicentennial, and watching Little House on the Prairie, and wearing long ruffled denim skirts.  My mom thought to herself, “it’s a shame to let that work go to waste, maybe I’ll quilt it someday.”

So my mom offered it to me, seeing as how I had kind of taken up quilting, and based on the track record of both my mom and my grandmother, I have 30 years before I hand it off to Kate and let her worry about it.

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However, I am instead slowly working on it.  I found some vintagey-looking fabric in a dark blue floral.  I have a big hoop, and am slowly outlining the dresden plate appliques, then echoing their shapes with wavy lines. My stitches are not tiny and even and perfect, the way the stitches are on the other Hattie Hill quilt I have, but they are good enough.

Hens and Chicks- you can grow that!


IMG_0556My wonderful mother in law introduced me to Hens and Chicks-official name is semper vivem, which means live forever, and they do live forever. It is a succulent plant, with fleshy leaves that grow in a low rosette. The only thing that will kill these things is too much water- I love them for their ground covering ability. I can plug them into mulch and they will spread- each little rosette will grow offsets all around it. That is how it got its common name, someone saw the big plant as a mother hen, with baby chicks underneath. You can break off every offset baby plant, stick the stem into the ground, and it will take root and grow. I have covered a lot of ground with hens and chicks.
I struggle with hanging baskets. I love the way they look, but I never remember to water them. Enter the Hens and Chicks! A week ago, I pried up a clump of them, and plopped them into a coir lined basket I had planted last year (with something that died, because I had forgotten to water it…) The offsets will dangle over the side, and the big green rosettes are just at eye level on my patio.
If you do not have an obliging mother-in-law, (and, believe me, I am not in any way suggesting that you choose a spouse based on the gardening abilities and generosity of his or her mom, but, think about it, how else should you decide? Kindness? Attractiveness? Sense of humor? Bah!) then by all means buy some sempervivems at your local garden center and let them spread. They don’t take much foot traffic, but they look great on the edges of things, near paths, or in the corner of a bed, by a gate, where the sprinkler doesn’t reach.
Hens and Chicks! You can grow that! Viva sempervivem!

Quality time with q-tips and a bottle of alcohol


See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

See, they just look like part of the leaf, but they are under there, sucking the juices from the plant, and excreting honeydew, which sounds great, but is really disgusting. Photo- Royal Horticultural Society

My son noticed a resurgence of scale insects on one of the citrus trees that spend the winter in his room.
Back in early February I had noticed a lot of leaves on the floor, and sticky leaves, so I showed Will the insects on the veins and stems, and showed him how to scrape them off. He checked them out with a magnifying glass, which I never had before. I just thought of them as a pest, where he saw them as “specimens”. We thoroughly inspected both citrus trees, (one is lemon, one is lime, but I wasn’t sure which was which- the tags got lost) and only one was infested- the other is closer to the window, so maybe the additional sun helps?
I figured the bugs would come back- not enough sun, not enough humidity, scraping them off with my thumbnail wouldn’t take care of them permanently. Sure enough, Will noticed more dead leaves on his floor, got out the flashlight and started scraping. I got out the big guns.
I heaved the plant up to the kitchen sink- thanks to Kate for the help; she’s strong enough to help me carry these massive plants now. Both trees are as old as she is, in 14 inch diameter pots. I rubbed down the stems and leaves with rubbing alcohol, then sprayed the whole thing down with the sink sprayer. Yeah, it made exactly the mess you would think it would.
We harvested the 4 fruits- I couldn’t remember if this particular citrus was lemon or lime. “Well, I think they’re limes, because, you know, of the way they look…” Kate says. I think about it for a minute. “Oh, you mean no nipples!” At this point, my husband turned around and left the room. When I removed the leaf litter from the soil, I found the tag that confirmed she was right: Dwarf Persian Lime.IMG_0539
Ordinarily, I am big on leaf litter, whether it is in potted plants, or in the ground- it helps retain moisture and releases nutrients as it breaks down. In this case, though, the reason there was so much litter on the top of the potting soil was because bugs were sucking out sap. If there were eggs, or more bugs living in the dead leaves, I don’t want them creeping up the tree again, so I tossed it, and added some coir I had sitting around to the top of the pot.
Bugs being bugs, I predict the scale will come back. However, as soon as it is warm at night, the citrus goes outside, and there are predators around, and rain. I haven’t had a problem with scale when the lemon and lime trees are outside. C’mon, Spring!

Die! Larvae, Die!


I know everybody is tired of people complaining about the cold- it is February, it’s supposed to be cold. So, I am going to turn it around, as I sit at my desk, gazing out the window at…hey, what is that squirrel eating? Avocado pit? Stupid squirrel, get out of the compost pile!

Where were we? Ah, yes, gazing out the window at the frosty back yard, I am both gleeful, and hopeful.

Gleeful, knowing that here on the flat it is -2 Fahrenheit, but up in the mountains, it is colder. Maybe cold enough in the woods to freeze the pine beetle larvae that are eating up our trees. Maybe it will be cold enough, long enough, to destroy a large percentage of the larvae, and we can get our woods back.

I say our woods, knowing that foresters and naturalists and others who take the long view see that pine trees falling to pine beetles doesn’t kill the forest, it just changes the forest. I’d like to be one of those people who take the long view, but I can’t. I love the woods, and I hate to see the trees go brown and topple over.

Pine beetles have always been here, but typically young trees can survive the attacks, and bitter cold kills many of the larvae, so there has been a balance in the past. Recently, winters haven’t been cold enough for long enough to kill them. So the forest changes.

Now the new larval threat is Emerald Ash Borer- they haven’t always been here- they came over from their native China around ten years ago, and are spreading. Native ash trees have no resistance. Signs of the insects have been found in Boulder County, (Boulder! Dang hippies!) and they are under quarantine. No products made from ash trees are supposed to leave the county, no mulch, no firewood, no nursery trees. Knowing that we are right next door, though, and that beetles don’t respect county lines, makes me wonder if they are soon to be discovered here in Larimer county.

They attack…well, not attack really. I mean the bugs are just living their lives, right, having sex, making babies, but it feels like an attack. So, the adult female ash borer lays her eggs in bark crevices of branches of ash trees. The larvae develop in the space between the bark and the wood, the cambium. The thin green layer of cambium is where sap flows, where water and nutrients flow out to the leaves from the soil. If enough larvae develop and destroy the cambium, that branch dies. If enough branches die, the tree dies.

The long view of the forester or the naturalist is hard here, too. Even harder, actually, because as much as I love the woods, I don’t live there. I have 2 big ash trees in my yard, and there are many more in my neighborhood. Losing these big old shade trees would will break my heart. Sigh. They will die eventually.

The city of Minneapolis has set up a system of proactively chopping down ash trees, and replacing them with different varieties of trees. Yep, chopping down trees that are fine, because in a few years they won’t be fine.

How does this connect to the weather? (Remember, 600 words ago I started out by saying I wouldn’t complain about the cold?) My hope is that the trees that are currently infected will be so cold during this cold snap that the overwintering larvae, curled up in their little serpentine tunnels under the bark, will freeze and die. Mwahahahahaha. Die, little larvae! Die!

For more info, and some alarming photos, check out http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/will-we-kiss-our-ash-goodbye/

First, we ditch the swingset…


IMG_0530There are about 8 inches of snow out my back window right now, and it is still coming down. Fortunately, I dumped the compost bucket before the storm started, so I don’t have to wade through it for a couple more days. I’ll go out for groceries, later, but mostly, this is a day for looking out the window and daydreaming. About peaches.
I have been reading “The Holistic Orchard” by Michael Phillips- I keep dipping into it, then re-reading, then thinking about how to blog it, and about how to apply it in real life. It is a lot to think about. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in having fruit trees.
I already have a couple of apples- an ancient tree of unknown variety, and a dwarf golden delicious. My hope is that with pruning advice from this book, I can get the ancient tree under control, and get some delicious, golden apples from the other.
I am also interested in adding peaches to the menagerie, in the corner of the yard that has been the home to our swing set. The swing set is set into the ground with concrete, which was thrilling when the kids were little, they could swing breathtakingly high, without tipping the whole thing over.  Cousins would cry. Little brothers would cry, too, come to think of it.  Nobody really got hurt, though.  BIMG_0529eing rooted into the ground made it really hard to mow around, and in the last couple of summers, wasps have made their nests in the tubes, which is thrilling and breathtaking in its own right.

So, the first big step to putting peaches there will be to get rid of the swingset- not today, though. It’s snowing.

This is not optimal!


Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Our friend Grif and I were touring the perimeter in the dark cold of the winter solstice, mostly checking to see if his theory that the previous owners had covered up a brick façade with vinyl siding was correct. Hey, it was the 70’s- people did crazy things. We went around to the south side of the house, and Grif said “Whose canoe?”
“Oh, it’s ours. We don’t take it out very much, and usually it is tipped over on its side by the side of the house.“ It had fallen over, and filled with snow and ice.
Grif was shining the flashlight on the tree growing out of the foundation. He wasn’t really listening to me. “This is not optimal.” He said. “Did you all know you have a tree growing out of your foundation?”
“Umm, yeah.”
“You really have to get this out of there.”
“Yeah, I know, we chop it down every year, but it keeps coming back from the roots.” Although, now that I think about it, did we chop it down this year? Because, it is like up to the peak of the roof, and we may not have taken it down last summer. I don’t go over to the side yard very much, and when I do, I think, yeah, I should probably take out that tree that is growing in the foundation of the house, but then I do something else instead. Like drink tea. Or read the paper. Or eat potato chips.
I don’t love the Sisyphean task of cutting it down, only to have it grow back from dormant buds. Or maybe it is more like a herculean task, where the tree is like the hydra, where you cut off the head and two more grow back. Now, how did Hercules solve that one? Flaming swords, I think, and help from his cousin. That is probably the one tool I haven’t considered.
So, how does one get a tree out of a foundation? Here’s the plan:
Step 1:chop it down before it leafs out. Plants store carbohydrates in their root systems in the fall so they have energy to grow again in spring. If I chop it back to ground level now, the energy from the underground carbs will be directed into dormant buds on what is left of the trunk. Every time I go to that side of the house, I can cut off any green leaves that sprout, and eventually, the energy stores will be depleted, and the tree will die.
Step two: with a sharp spade, dig around the tree on the sides that are accessible, and cut off as much of the root mass as I can reach.
Step 3: poison and shade I don’t like the official poisons that are sold to us as weed killer. It is partly that I am cheap. However, there are things that are not poisonous to me that may prevent the tree from coming back. Salt. Vinegar. Wood chips. MMMMMM…. Salt and vinegar chips.
Wait, focus- we need to get the non-optimal tree out of the foundation. Trying it this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.

Is it Spring yet?


Melt, snow! Sigh...

Melt, snow! Sigh…

There’s this guy I work with, who starting with the very first day of school, will ask: Is it Summer yet?

It makes me wonder about his career choice- if he is so miserable working at a school, maybe he should try something else? Maybe he would be just as miserable elsewhere, some people are like that.

I try not to be like that, carpe diem, and be here now and all that, but since the solstice, and the days getting incrementally longer, I keep thinking about plans for spring.

We are going to get rid of the old swing set that people never swing on anymore, and for years I had thought about having a little seating area back there-but now I think plants instead.  A peach tree, or two. I have been reading up on “holistic orchards”  which advocate the middle road of preventive care, rather than chemical sprays at one extreme, or laissez faire at the other. (Guess which extreme I am at?) I wonder if the preventative maintenance would get me more fruit for a little more work?

On sunny afternoons this winter I’ll go out and putter- mostly just sweeping leaves off the patio and looking up at the trees. I also do a lot of staring out the window by my desk.

Garden design is hard work.

 

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