Asparagus Update

The shoots of Asparagus in the new, horseshoe-shaped bed are up- thinner than pencils, but they show me the plants are alive. I’ll carefully layer more compost on top (carefully, because I don’t want to knock anything over). I’ve had to grub out some thistles that like the compost and moisture, too. Once the trench is up to ground level, I will put on a thick layer of mulch to keep down the weeds.

Little asparagus shoots, before I dug out the grass and thistles.


Burr Oaks are smarter than you and I


I have a burr oak tree in the back yard- it anchors the xeric bed, looking tall and beautiful on the end by the swing set. It was exactly as tall as the Girl when she was 3, and now it is taller than my tape measure.  Every year, I examine the buds in mid-May, and wonder if it has died.

This tree is smarter than I am, and smarter than the other trees. I planted it because it is a western native, but I have since learned that it isn’t aRockyMountainnative, it’s from theBlack Hills. Trees that leaf out too early inSouth Dakotaget snowed on, so the burr oak has evolved to wait.

The thing is, a lot of times, trees that leaf out too early inColoradoget snowed on, too. Our average last frost date is May 15, and this year, I wouldn’t have been too surprised if our recent rainy days hadn’t turned into snowy mornings, killing off apple blossoms and breaking branches off ashes, and maples and other more hopeful trees. Nope- the burr oak knows what it’s doing.

This little leaf is waiting for spring before it unfolds all the way.

Yes, I’ve gotten rid of Carl

Goodbye, annoying baseball bear, goodbye, ghost that used to say Boo! goodbye angel bear...


Out of the blue, the Boy started sleeping with his head at the foot of his bed. He liked looking out the window, he said. It really bugged me.

So, I asked if he would like to re-arrange his room so he could sleep with his head at the foot of his bed and still see out the window?  Then the plan snowballed, into choosing paint colors and a new rug, and getting rid of baby toys.

Yesterday, stage one of the plan commenced: sorting out the baby toys.  We had to clear off the desk in order to move it to the opposite side of the room. The pile of was equal parts Legos and mini animal figures, and rather than just sweeping the whole pile into a tub, we took the time to sort them into two tubs. These are the toys he plays with the most- on his desk, he builds very elaborate lego contraptions and creates animal scenes, which he narrates, documentary style.

We got the desk in place, scooted the bed and cleaned up behind it. Umm, yuck, is all I’ll say.

The Boy’s attention span for clean-up was finished. Honestly, my attention was pretty shot, too, but I couldn’t face putting him to bed in a room that was all taken apart.

The last thing I made him sort through was the stuffed animals. 

Maybe 5 years ago, I was taking some toys to Goodwill, not anyone’s favorite toys, no toy with a name- I’ve seen “Toy Story”, I’ve read the “Velveteen Rabbit,” I’m not a monster! Anyway, the Girl saw a rainbow bear in the bag- she threw a fit, “no, not the rainbow bear!!!!”

I replied, “oh really? what’s his name?” I challenged. 

She only paused an instant, and said, “Carl!”  Carl was a colleague of DH, who was always super nice to Kate, a real sweetheart. I relented. Rainbow Bear Carl now had a name…he came out of the Goodwill box. But he still never got played with very much.

Five years on, I’ve gotten wilier. Rather than gathering a box of toys on my own, I had the Boy choose.  “Go through your stuffed animals, and pick 10 that you like best.” The Boy knows me, and negotiated to 12.  When he sorted, I saw him hesitating over a really cool jellyfish, so I threw that in as a bonus, because I like it. Carl didn’t make the cut. Goodbye, Carl.

Bloom Day

Wish I'd planted these lilacs underneath my window, instead of way back by the fence.

Last year, there were enough currants on this bush to make jelly- see, even on bloom day, I think in terms of food.

The tulips and daffodilas are faded, and the iris and peonies are waiting in the wings, so right now it’s a show that belongs to the cherry tree and the lilac.

Tiny proto-cherries, Northstar variety.

Ode on the Potting Bench

Several years ago, when DH bought me my chop saw (best Christmas ever!) I built a workbench/potting bench for the back porch. I always see potting benches in magazines or stores that look like real furniture, and I wonder why- I would feel so hesitant using one of those. I would worry I was going to mess it up, damage the top, get it dirty… mine is perfectly ready to trash.

I built it out of 4x4s for the legs, with braces, so it doesn’t wobble. And I used planks for the top, with a bit of space between each one, so potting soil and sawdust just fall through. When I built the trellis for my vanilla plant, I just stapled the mesh to it so it would stay flat. When we have parties, I put a tablecloth on it, and make it into a drink station, but the rest of the year it lives to work.

Rhapsody in Terra Cotta

I love the way clay pots age- I have had this terra cotta pot for maybe 10 years- I remember being a little appalled at how much it cost- we were broke back then, and it felt like $20 was just so much money for a flower pot. But as the years have gone by, it has acquired such a nice patina, so earthy.

I have since budgeted more money for containers, and buy fancy ceramic pots with blue glaze, but I still really like these beat up old terra cotta pots.

A visit to my local nursery

Mother’s day seems to be the official day around here to buy plants, even though the average last frost date isn’t until the 15th. We went hiking on the actual holiday, but I stopped at my favorite local nursery after work today. I have ordered a bunch of plants from a friend who has started seeds for a school fundraiser, but I had to fill in the gaps, and pick up the floating water plants that I can’t overwinter, but Gulley’s can.

Water lettuce and water hyacinth- I picked the biggest ones they had in the bucket. The lettuce is more than a foot across.

When the girl was a baby, we would go to Gulley’s once a week in the winter, just to enjoy the greenhouse- they actually had a Koi pond inside, with a bridge overlooking the water, and turtles basking…they have removed it, because it really doesn’t make sense to have several hundred square feet of retail space devoted to goldfish. Especially when they didn’t even sell goldfish.
So, on Monday afternoon, I got 2 kinds of tomato, a kohlrabi plant,(because my kids keep insisting that they only like the broccoli stems, not the florettes, and kohlrabi is basically broccoli stem) a “Wee be little” pumpkin, and a jalapeno and a sweet pepper.

Just a box of plants- pond plants in the bag, everything else in 2"pots.

I have always hated green peppers, but if I am trying to get my kids to try new things, I should also…and notice how much better home-grown tomatoes taste than grocery store ones? Maybe it’s the same with peppers.
I resisted the huge selection of herbs- especially the scented geraniums, which they had several varieties of, but I have one already, a rose-scented, and no space to overwinter any more than that.

I went ahead and planted everything when the temperature was 80- then looked at the weather forecast- rain/snow mixture predicted for last night. Curses!

When I went to bed the thermometer was at 40, and it was sprinkling. I covered the plants with big clay pots, just in case it did freeze. When I woke up today, it was cool and rainy, but no snow on the ground.

Come on, weather, warm up so the tomatoes can be happy...

The goal- get them before they go to seed.


Plenty of nectar for bees, deep roots that accumulate nutrients, salad greens for the adventurous. What's not to love?

It does not fail- whenever my mom comes to visit, she comments that there is an excellent product called weed and feed, and it kills all the weeds, and fertilizes, too, and there’s even a generic version, if I think the name-brand is too expensive.
Argh. I’m polite, she is my mother, after all, and I say something like, “Oh, yes, we’ll have to look into it.” I don’t tell her that I don’t use pesticides because my kids play on the lawn, or because our storm sewers drain to the river, or because lawns are the leading cause of non-point water pollution. Saying that to her amounts to an attack- didn’t her kids play on the lawn? Her storm sewers drain to the entire Eastern United States (she’s in the mountains- headwaters of the Arkansas river…)
She doesn’t have any dandelions, though.
We’ve got enough for everyone.
Since I won’t use poison, I have to work on weeds the old fashioned way- with a paring knife, or sometimes a digger, or sometimes just bare hands. I have filled buckets this spring- they go into the compost pile, with a layer of dead leaves on top, and a scoop of soil. I am not sure if my compost gets hot enough to kill dandelion seeds- I haven’t been too scientific about it.
This year, for the first time, the kids have helped. I demonstrated how to lever the plants up at the crown, and offered to pay a dollar per bucket. It worked for a while- although I did see the boy blowing the seed heads off one that we missed. I don’t know what he wished for. More dandelions, I guess.

I realize that just popping them up out of the ground doesn’t get rid of them- they’re perennial, they have deep roots, they’ll keep coming back. But after May, they aren’t so bad- no yellow flowers bringing down property values, just green leaves. They aren’t prickly like thistle, or annoying like bindweed, or crazy making like mallow ( my least favorite weed) they’re just green.

Edited to add: My mom is really quite wonderful. Aside from a blindspot to herbicides, she is super smart, nice and caring. She also has dial up internet, so it’s possible she will never read this.  Also, I noticed today that some dandelions in the front yard have gone to seed. Curses!

$15 well-spent

I texted the kid up the street today-“can u mow? we r desperate!” Moments later he called, “did you get my text? I asked. Um, no I just wonedered if you needed your lawn mowed. Gotta love this kid.

He came down, pushing the mower and carrying a broom, and started to negotiate. I was worried- but I shouldn’t have been. “I’ve been thinking…about the price…” he chewed on his lip.

 I jumped in, “Well, last year it was 15, and that seemed fair.”

“I know, but I think 10 is more fair.”
My lawn is kind of a pain to mow- the front is pretty straightforward, but in the back I have carved out serpentine beds around the trees, and there is a swingset that can’t be moved, and a frisbee golf target, and a teepee, for crying out loud, that have to be moved. And this kid wants to charge me less, because it turns out he’s afraid that if it’s too expensive, I’ll mow it myself. There is no way I want to mow this disaster!
So, I insisted on 15, and asked him to set it on the highest setting, even though he commented that it hardly looked like anything was cut off. I told him that it was okay, I could tell.

Here’s how great this kid is- I showed him where the squill is planted, and showed him the seed heads that are ripening, and asked him to mow around it because I wanted it to spread, and he was totally okay with it- no eye rolling, no questioning looks, no wondering aloud why a person would want flowers where the grass is supposed to be. He is a prize in the lawn mowing world.

Vanilla Trellis Tutorial

Sweet little baby vanilla orchid- the pale green sticky-outy thing is an epiphytic root.

 I never believed I could grow a vanilla orchid without a greenhouse- credit the Botanic Garden (again- I’m a little obsessed with the place). At the very end of my visit there with my wonderful MIL, we went to the learning center at the children’s section. This place isn’t quite a greenhouse, but it has large south windows. There was a display of herbs and spices, and an employee was working on a plant in a container- wrapping a long vine around a tower made of chicken wire with sheet moss inside. I asked what it was, and actually said “Squee” when he told me it was vanilla.

In “Growing Tasty Tropical Plants,” (ooh, it’s overdue, need to renew it…) I learned that vanilla was not appreciably different from most of the tropical “houseplants” I currently have. Their major needs are something to climb on, filtered sun, and humidity.

The cage the guy was working on at the Botanic gardens supplies two of those needs- something to climb and humidity, because the sheet moss can hold moisture and slowly release it. Filtered sun it can get on the back patio in the summer, and in the Boy’s room in the winter.

I went home and promptly ordered a vanilla orchid plant from eBay, then set about designing my own humidity trellis.  Vanilla orchids don’t bloom until they get to be about 10 feet tall, but I didn’t want to create a ten foot tall cage, so I made mine modular, and figure the vine will wrap around, adding length without too much verticality. Once the vine gets to the top, I can make another tube, lash it on with cable ties, and be good to go.

I used cable ties to connect the layers of mesh and sheet moss.

I had a roll of hardware cloth in the garage, and as I sketched and thought about it, I decided to make it like a quilt, with two layers of metal mesh that overlap in the center, leaving about 6 inches on either end, and a layer of sheet moss in the middle as batting. I stitched it together with cable ties. The humidity is supplied by a 1 liter pop bottle that sits on the shelf made of the inner layer of wire. I poked pin holes in the bottom. When I  fill it the water slowly drips down the tower, where it can evaporate.  In my first bottle, I poked too many holes, and the bottle drained in about 10 minutes. Ideally, it would be much slower. I have adjust the tightness of the screw top, so it slows it down, but it isn’t quite dialed in perfectly yet. The benefit to using a pop bottle is, I just have to check the recycle bin to get another one, poke fewer holes, and experiment.

I laid out about 12” of hardware cloth and cut it using wire cutters- I had to weigh it down so it would lie flat.

Lay out the green sheet moss- I got it wet so it would be easier to work with- I was outside on a windy day. I covered the bottom 18 inches of it but left the top bare.

Lay out the second piece of hardware cloth unevenly, so that the centers overlap, but there is about 6 inches on the bottom (this end will go into the flowerpot) and 6 inches on top (that’s where the water bottle will go.)

Quilt the layers together using cable ties. You could use wire for this, but I think it would be a pain- the hardware cloth wants to roll up, with cable ties you loop, then zip tight, and it goes pretty quickly. Usually my crazy frugality prevents me from buying something new for a project, but in this case, I went to the hardware store and bought cable ties- 2 dollars, and totally worth it.

The bottle fits into the top, and the bottom goes into the pot for stability.

Roll up the quilt, using a pop bottle to make it the right size- the bottle will rest on the shelf created by the inner layer of wire. Use more cable ties to connect the ends together, and maybe spin the tie ends to the inside. I forgot, and they look kind of terrible. I guess I could trim them…

Put the trellis into your pot- I used a 10” diameter clay pot, then filled it with orchid mix. This is when it would have been good to have a helper- the orchid mix is chunky, too chunky to fit through the holes in the mesh, so it would have helped to have another set of hands to stabilize it. I put the trellis in, filled in and around with orchid mix, then I put the plant in, and added orchid mix to fill in the rest of the way.

 The plant is only about 4 inches tall now- once there is no frost danger, I’ll put it outside on the patio and watch it grow.

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