A science experiment- you can grow that


Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

Tomato A, with rich chunky, water retaining compost.

I had a paradigm shift this spring. I love that. I have always read that tomatoes are heavy feeders, that they need rich soil, so I have planned my rotations to give that to them. I hopscotch my compost bin around the garden, trying to balance out the need for soil improvement with the pain in the neck factor of walking all the way to the back corner of the yard when I need to dump avocado peels.
I read in The Tao of Gardening, by Carol Deppe that tomatoes will produce fruit earlier when they are grown in poor soil. So, they would be heavy feeders if they were allowed to be, but it makes them slow and lazy.
I decided to test it. I had the lovely, chunky nutrient rich black soil, with some still identifiable avocado peels (those things take forever to break down) where I had intended to place the tomatoes in the first place, and a few feet away, some clayey, brown soil. It wasn’t terrible, It has had compost added to it in the last few years, but it wasn’t the rich soil I usually reserve for the tomatoes. They both get about the same amount of sun, and while they are different varieties (Fourth of July and Juliet) they both have about the same number of days to maturity and I have given them the same amount of water.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

Tomato B, no soil enrichment.

In my day job, I have had a paradigm shift as well- I have always taught English, and beyond that, I have always been an English teacher, with that mindset. This past year, I have been working with students who are learning English in their math and science classes. It’s been weird. Good, but weird. I had to think in a way that I’m not used to. Staving off dementia one hypothesis at a time.

So the hypothesis in this tomato experiment was that the tomato plant with lush soil would produce a lot of leaves, but would fruit later, and the plant in poor soil would make fewer leaves, but would fruit earlier. Well, on August 4, I don’t have ripe fruit from either of them. The one in poor soil has slightly pinker fruit, but not by much. There are many more tomatoes on the plant in richer soil, so i would prefer to balance out quantity over earliness. Another detail, which I wasn’t hypothesizing about, is that the one with rich soil is much more drought tolerant. When we left town, temperatures got over 100 degrees F. When we got back, the plant in good soil was still lush and green, and the one in poor soil was slightly withered. I think it hasn’t completely recovered from that drought stress, where the other plant had enough moisture reserve in the soil that it did fine.As you grow, remember that it isn’t just about the fruits and vegetables, you can experiment and learn and improve.

Science- you can grow that.

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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.

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!

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.

 

Saffron- you can grow that. No, really!


Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world- the stigmas of the autumn crocus flower must be picked by hand, and each blossom has only three tiny strands. $1500 per pound was the quote I found on the internet, and the story said that often the spice is adulterated with the flavorless anthers of the flower- only the red strands have the classic flavor used in paella, and ummm… yeah, pretty much paella…
Confession, I planted saffron crocus several years ago, and then I dutifully harvested some, and then it sat in an envelope in my cabinet for a while. I think when I ordered the bulbs, I was like “Most expensive spice in the world? Challenge accepted.” (Actually, I probably bought the bulbs before the “Challenge accepted” meme started, and now here I am, using the meme well after its expiration date.)

Autumn crocus

Autumn crocus

I do have to say, it is very easy to grow, just like a regular crocus, plant the bulbs in fall- the biggest difference is that it sends up leaves in the spring, but only flowers in the fall. Then pick out the stigmas, place in an envelope, and forget about…oh, I mean, make paella.
Anybody have a good paella recipe?

The Blizzard Bag


We have had some flooding in our area- my house is presently dry, and on high enough ground that we are likely to be fine, but it made me think again about being prepared.Image

Several years ago, there was a blizzard, and one of DH’s colleagues stayed over with us, so she didn’t have to drive all the way home.  I was scrounging for a new toothbrush for her, and she told me she didn’t need it, she always had an overnight bag in her car, just for situations like this.  At the time, I thought it was crazy, but honestly, it is just smart.

Last winter, we had some health problems entailing ovenights at Children’s Hospital.  The first time, there were frenzied phone calls, requesting contact solution, and clean socks.  I remember DH walking into the room proudly, after a trip to the neighborhood drugstore, with a travel sized bottle of “extra volume” shampoo.  Anyone who knows Kate or me IRL knows that the last thing we need is “extra volume.”

So,  I pushed down my sense of denial, and when we got home, I bought a small messenger’s bag at the thrift store, put in a change of clothes, filled a ziplock bag with toiletries, and packed the whole thing into the car.  Now, I’m  ready for blizzard, an flood, or another trip to the hospital.

Chili Peppers- you can grow that!


It’s salsa season here in the west. Around here, the trucks from New Mexico are parking at the farmer’s markets, or in random parking lots, setting up propane roasters, and the air smells like home. Not the home where I grew up- I don’t have childhood memories of this scent. It’s the home I want to be.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

Meet Big Jim- about 8 inches long and full of fun.

You can grow your own chilis, you know. And roast them on the grill

.My mistakes with chilis in the past has been not enough space, and not enough water, and not enough sun. In the past I have always crammed them in with the tomatoes, because when you come home from the nursery, they are all little tiny. The poor chilis would get crowded out and shaded out by their neighbors.

This year, I came home with two plants, “New Mexico Big JIm” and “Jalapeno” and actually gave them some space, in the small veggie bed by the back door. Three years ago, I put two tomato plants and two peppers in that 6 square foot space, and by July, the tomatoes had swallowed up the peppers, and I almost forgot I had planted them.

This year, they have space to stretch out, nice deep soil (I’ve been adding organic matter to this bed obsessively- leaves, compost, coffee grounds), and they are amazing. The “Big Jim” is aptly named- about the same flavor as a Serrano, not too hot. I think their highest purpose would be to be stuffed with cheese, and fried, but probably we’ll just roast them and put them in quesadillas.  The jalapenos are just hot- I like them in a nice salsa fresca- tomatoes, onions, chilis, cilantro, all chopped up with a squeeze of lime, and scooped up with chips. Don’t freeze it, don’t can it, just get it while it’s hot.

You can grow that.

Amazing what you find in the basement


We have spent a couple of days rearranging the playroom in the basement, finding new homes for spiders, purging some old toys and moving furniture.  In the midst of cleaning up, I came across a quilt I started more than a year ago, worked on handquilting, then when I messed up I just gave up on it, apparently.

I looked at it to see what the mistake was, and it involved ripping out a couple of inches of stitches, then smoothing out the backing, then restitching. Seriously, like ten minutes of backtracking.  So, suddenly, I had an almost finished quilt.

 I brought it upstairs, and worked on it a little on Sunday night, and a lot today, and I think I can finish it tonight, and bind it sometime this week. New quilt for the guest room. woot.Image

Be careful not to step in the big hole


At the beginning of the summer I was complaining about my lack of asparagus, and blamed it on lack of water. My super smart SIL was like, “you could put in a water feature, and where the water splashed out, that would provide moisture for the asparagus” and I was like, “yeah, I guess that would work, but…wait, I have a water feature!” Okay, the water feature is a horse trough, aka the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond,what would happen if I moved some asparagus plants over to  it?

See, at the end, it's like an infinity-edge pool, except not...

See, at the end, it’s like an infinity-edge pool, except not…

When I first set up the pond, I tamped down the soil to make it level, but over the couple of years of its existence , it has slumped down on the north side, so that is where I dug the hole. I don’t have a fountain, but when I refill it, it trickles over the side on that end. I dug down about 8 inches, added some compost, then transplanted an asparagus plant over from where they don’t get enough water.

A hole in the yard is not exactly the look I am going for, but I have high hopes for next year.

A hole in the yard is not exactly the look I am going for, but I have high hopes for next year.

As it grew, the plan was to add more compost, until the plant and the soil were at ground level. I watered the little baby asparagus the same way I water the containers around the pond- just before I feed the goldfish, I use a cup to dump water on each of the plants- they love the “nutrient rich” water. This worked great for a few weeks, then we went out of town, and I came back to nothing.
There wasn’t a dried up stem, it was just gone. I might blame rabbits, or squirrels, but the other asparagus plants, the ones that don’t get enough water? They are fine. Other than the fact that they don’t get enough water.
So, I put a little fence around the hole in the ground, and I will try again next year. I am convinced that the idea of putting asparagus near a water feature is a good one. Just try not to step in the hole, please.

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