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Dear Asparagus


I don’t know why I can’t quit you.I keep trying to grow you, trying to make a home for you that you can keep coming back to, year after year. And I keep coming back, broken-hearted.
I try to tell myself that you aren’t worth it, my kids don’t like you, you’re difficult, you make my pee smell funny. But inside, I know it’s just a lie- I want you, I miss you. I find myself worried when you aren’t home, I find myself looking in the ditch, knowing that if I found you, I would bring you home and clean you up, cook you, and eat you. Maybe pickle you, if there was enough…

I just love you, and I can’t face paying 3.99 a pound for you at the grocery, and you aren’t even at the farmers market. At least not when I’ve been there. Are you avoiding me? It doesn’t matter- I forgive you. I’ll keep trying to make this relationship work. I’ll dig a trench near reliable water, but also in complete sun, I know how much you love the sunshine, I’ll plant out your little roots, and watch for your little shoots to poke out from the soft compost.  I just love you too much to give up on you.

Signed:

Carrying a Torch

 

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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.

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.

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.

IMG_0549

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.

Glamping with the Dothrakis


Been reading Game of Thrones, and whatever else is going on, (No spoilers!) I sure admire the way the Dothraki camp. I would love to be able to clap my hands after a rough day on the trail, and have my slaves boil water and fill up my copper tub, and brush the sand and grit out of my long hair. Except the slave part, of course. Slavery is wrong.

Anyway, Game of Thrones is a show I cannot watch at my house, because I don’t want the kids to watch it (no spoilers!) and when they go to bed, so do I, so I can’t stay up late watching the boxed set. I can, however, read it.
For those of you who also can’t watch the show, you have to read it (if you like that sort of thing- like Tolkien, with more sex, and less of that tedious exposition where they’re like “and then they turned left, and Sam Gamgee said “I don’t like the look of that” and then NOTHING HAPPENS!!!! trust me, in Game of Thrones, when someone says, “I don’t like the look of that…” something happens. Like direwolf attacks, and molten gold, and brigands! (No spoilers…)
The Dothraki are a people who are maybe based on the mongols, or the magyars? Horsey people who travel all over and are always on the move, camping. Glamping- glamorous camping, with dancing around the fire, and meat on skewers, and hot baths in copper tubs.

Real coffee, with half and half. It's a start.

Real coffee, with half and half. It’s a start.

So, naturally, when I read Game of Thrones, I thought about how I could apply it to my own life, and I think I need to get more glamor in my camping. (Not with slaves, slavery is wrong) But maybe with better coffee in the morning, and music, and better food.
What’s your thought on Glamping?

Peonies- you can grow that


So many buds about to pop!

So many buds about to pop!

When we moved into this house, like 11 years ago, there were plants here already. Some that I have gotten rid of, like junipers that smelled like cat pee, and russian sage, which was plotting to take over the world, starting with my mailbox.
The plants that have given me the least trouble and the most joy, though, are the peonies in the front of the house along the driveway. I don’t know the variety name- I suspect they are the cheapest, most common type, rather than the rare, special-order-from-a-catalog-with-a-fancy-French-name-variety. They bloom profusely in June, then are simply green the rest of the summer.
The reason I say “you can grow that” is that these are the least troublesome plant in the world. They are old-fashioned, cottage-y looking, but they take very little water (how do I know? because I give them very little water) No fertilizer or compost or any special treatment- for this abuse, they reward me with teacup sized blossoms every June.

If you decide to plant them, prep your soil with some compost, follow the directions on the bareroot package, or if it is in a container, place the root ball so the top is even with the soil. Water well, mulch, and wait.

Our cool spring this year means they have not quite popped yet, but you can see they are about to. I can’t wait.

“You can grow that” is a project started by C.L. Fornari, whose goal is to get people growing. Not a bad goal…

Early tomatoes


We can all agree that home grown tomatoes are what make life worth living, right. (Oh be quiet- you like them in salsa and stuff, though, right? okay, then.) So, we can probably all agree that we want those tomatoes as early as possible, right?
Around here (zone 5, Northern front range of Colorado) the traditional date for safely planting out things that won’t survive frost is Mother’s day- mid May. There is no guarantee it won’t freeze after that date, but that is the average annual last frost date. This year we had a snowy April, and an actual cancel-school- snow day on May first.
That meant that the ground was cold- it was very wet, which is a good thing, but the soil was cold. I made the decision to delay tomato-planting until it warmed up a bit.
Tomatoes need warm air temperature as well as warm soil temperature- it isn’t just a matter of “not freezing” they actually need to be warm. (Interestingly, tomatoes are kind of the Goldilocks of plants, when it gets too hot, over 90, they stop blooming)
I checked the soil temp with my trusty meat thermometer, and it was 43 degrees. I had some walls of water in the garage. For those of you who don’t know, a Wall of Water is a plastic cylinder made of connected tubes which can be filled with water.  It creates a mini greenhouse, and the water absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. They are supposed to be self supporting. I set them up, (and then reset them up- they kept falling over- I don’t know if the cat kept messing with them or what the deal is, but that is why I don’t ordinarily use them- any one have any tips?)

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Look how slouchy that one on the right is- if that falls over on the chocolate cherry plant I am going to be so ticked off.

Anyway, I set them up, then took the soil temperature again. It was 63 degrees after just a couple of days.
Now, variety choices. In the past I have gotten “Early Girl” because the fruits are, you know, early. 60 days to maturity, which means mid July, roughly. One year I was swayed by some garden porn, and bought Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, which has a great name, and an heirloom provenence, and is supposed to be heart-meltingly delicious, which didn’t ripen until late September, so I didn’t get to eat any. Mid- September is our average last frost date, so we have about 4 months to get as many tomatoes as we can.
This year I went to the garden center, and mixed in with all the Early Girls was a variety I hadn’t heard of before- 4th of July. I checked the label- 55 days. Which means first harvest on the…let me do the math..umm, 30 days hath September…carry the 1- the 4th of July.

The other variety I picked today was Chocolate Cherry. I have grown this before, and it is so delicious.  It ripens to a dark, deep red, very sweet. It is a bit slower to ripen, but very prolific.

So, I put them in the ground, carefully lifting the waterfilled tubes away from the planting spots, digging in some compost, plugging the tomato plants in deeply, then carefully replacing the waterfilled tubes back over the plants. I acknowledge that it might have been easier to dump out the water and refill, but I just couldn’t see doing it. It seems wasteful.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and the 4th of July has blossoms on it. I haven’t seen any pollinators go inside- which doesn’t mean there aren’t any, but I have been busy. Does anyone have tips about that? The walls of water seem to be kind of a pain in the neck, but I am hoping they are worth it.

What is your deal, Asparagus?


I ate 4 spears of homegrown, organic, purple asparagus the other day. And that might be all the asparagus I get to eat this year from my garden. This really bugs me- I love asparagus. This patch has been growing for maybe 4 years, and I planted another one 2 years ago, and I see no shoots coming up this year at all.
What the heck?! What is your deal?!
I followed planting instructions, I watered the new bed faithfully, I really want asparagus. The universe should give me what I want, right?
I suspect the issue is water. The asparagus that does well around here grows near irrigation ditches and cattle waste lagoons (yeah, that’s what it sounds like). This has been a wet spring, but a dry winter. We do live in a semi-desert. So if I want to grow asparagus here I need to water more, all summer.
I think what has been difficult about that is that you only pick asparagus for a few weeks in spring, but it needs water all year, and I have a hard time watering ferny foliage that doesn’t feed me. In my head, I think the ferny foliage should take care of itself.
What I came up with last night was maybe I should interplant some things that I do want to eat with the asparagus. Carrots? okay. Lettuce? cool. Beans? okay. I’ll water it like any other veggie garden.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that's just an error in perspective.  This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

it only looks like it is as tall as the fence- that’s just an error in perspective. This stalk is smaller than a pencil. Sigh.

So, I’ll try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Pizza- you can grow that!


Well, not the whole pizza, there’s no such thing as a sausage tree or a mozzarella bush, after all, but we do veggie pizzas around here, mostly, and it is certainly possible to grow your herbs and veggies for pizza.
I have an oregano plant that has come up reliably for five years. I always swoop down and brush it with my fingers when I walk past, just to smell that evocative scent of …well…pizza.
You can plant onion sets simply by pushing them into the soil, pointy end up. Pull them throughout the summer for green onions.
Wait until after danger of last frost to plant tomatoes, peppers and basil. In my area, that is traditionally mother’s day. This has been a weird year, though, with hardly any snow all winter, then a couple big dumps- one that closed school on May first- this spring. The snow has melted, but the soil is still very cold. I’m going to set up Walls of Water, to warm up the soil in advance of planting.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

Yes, this is our meat thermometer. Yes, I washed it! 43 Fahrenheit is around 4 degrees Celsius. Tomatoes are happier with warmer toes.

I have designed my garden on purpose to mix in edibles with the flowers. Rather than having a big “vegetable garden” out back, each big border has an area without perennials or bulbs that I can turn over and plant annual vegetables. I think it is prettier, and easier to take care of, to have a couple of square feet of tomatoes right next to the asters and iris.

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