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Martial Arts belt display


White through Green, with room for more.

White through Green, with room for more.

My kids have been doing Tai Kwan Do for about a year and a half, and our policy for dealing with old belts has pretty much been just leaving them on the floor, or whipping them around occasionally for the cat to play with. Maybe not the best plan, but it has worked so far, and has the benefit of being really easy.

Our Dojang has a display on the wall with the belts of our school’s founder, W.T. Alexander, and it is a big board, with the belts tied on. I wanted some middle ground between the pile of belts on the floor, and the enormous wall display, but I had no ideas.
Until I saw a sample display of a lucite tube, with a dark wood base and cap, with the belts rolled into disks and stacked in the order they had been earned. The display was for sale for 50 bucks.
Being the insanely frugal person I am, I thought to myself that I could do that for nothing. And I did try- I have a clear glass cylindrical vase, that has been laying around for years. I usually put lilacs in it. I rolled up Kate’s white belt, it fit perfectly. Excellent. Then I attempted her yellow striped belt, which I couldn’t make fit at all, It is just slightly thicker, so the disk as it is rolled up is just too big. I tried forcing it, and then visualized slicing my hand open and bleeding all over.  A trip to the emergency room isn’t frugal at all, so I changed plans.
Now, glassware happened to be 50% off at Hobby Lobby, so I scouted it out while on a trip for thread.
Since I was only buying thread, I had ridden my bike over- one of my goals this spring and summer is to bike for short errands where I won’t be carrying much stuff. So, of course, I found the vases I was looking for. I considered very carefully. Hmmm…2 glass vases, 6 inches in diameter and 18 inches tall, in my panniers, over the railroad tracks… I decided to come back later.
I went back later and brought them home, rounded up both kids’ belts, rolled them up and inserted them. I’m pretty psyched. Total cost of the two vases was $32, and I still have my big vase for lilacs. Every body wins.

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Dead Junipers- what next?


The new edge of the bed in the front yard- we’ll be adding some compost and lots of mulch.

Most people who know me would agree, that I don’t seem like the kind of person who would pound stakes into the ground, stretch out string between them, and then follow that string as a guide when making the edge of a  garden bed. I was a s surprised as anyone when I found myself doing just that this afternoon.

Yesterday evening, I was cleaning up the edge of the area where we took out the junipers (link) and I used the garden hose to kind of make a gently curving, voluptuous edge, nipping it in close to the faucet, easing it out near the corner of the house.

Then I thought about mowing that line. I thought about all the other curvy, sensual edges in the yard that have to be mowed, then edged. I decided it would be easier to make a straight edge, and let the plants be curvy.

The bed is about 20 feet long, and the outer line is 8 feet out from the house wall.  (when I said I was going to make the bed about 8 feet deep, DH had a moment where he thought I meant 8 feet from current ground level to top of bed.  No.) I bought 40 brick pavers, because I didn’t want to get out the measuring tape and then do math, so of course I have to pay for my laziness with another trip to the big box store.

 

So, the plan:

buy more bricks

when there’s grass inside the line, pop it out and transplant it outside the line, when possible

pile on 2-4 inches of shredded wood mulch

when the weather cools, start transplanting the plants I want to move from the backyard

order bulbs

snake soaker hose around the bed

Plant list

Hazel bush (transplanted from nursery bed)

Sedum Autumn Joy (thanks, Sharon!)

Purple coneflower (divided from back yard)

Bearded Iris (divided from back yard)

Yarrow (divided from back yard)

Lamb’s Ear (divided from back yard)

Thyme (divided from back yard)

Comfrey (divided from back yard)

larkspur (seeds)

columbine (seeds)

lily (ordering- probably dark reds and oranges)

tulips (ordering, probably red and yellow triumph)

daffodil (basic yellow)

Most of these plants I already have, so this is a very cheap design for me. I also know they do well here, so I am not taking much risk that everything will keel over and die. The exposure is a little different- the north end of the bed is pretty shaded from the ash tree and the house, and the south end gets morning sun. The coneflower and lilies will go that direction, because they need the light to flower.  My “largish” plant is a hazel nut bush, and I want it to form one corner of a triangle with the ash and the Korean dwarf lilac under my window.

The plan for the tuteur- the exact measurements will depend on the wood I find.

I am also planning some structure- as you can see in the picture, there is a big expanse of plain wall, so I will put in at least one trellis, and some containers,  and am thinking about building some tutuers, which are french teepees- using lumber,rather than round wood or sticks. And, you know my policy, it should be done with the wood that is already piled up, going to the lumberyard is cheating! There are still some 1×2’s sitting behind the garage left over from taking down the playhouse, so I will start with those.

Fracking junipers*


I asked the tree trimmers who had worked for us before to come do an estimate of pruning the big old tree in back, the big old (slightly younger) tree in front, and ripping out the juniper bushes entirely. As I remember, when they came out last time, they pruned both ashes and the old apple, and removed an upright juniper, and the whole thing cost about $55o.

Umm… this estimate is higher. By a lot
$1600 for the ash in back, $600 for the ash in front. $450 to take out the junipers.
Seriously. $450 for the junipers?
I plan to get another estimate for the big trees, because this seems high. They did come highly recommended, and I was happy with the work they did before, and I am not going to climb up in my 50 year old ash tree and chop things up. But still. Cadillac prices.
I came to a conclusion in the shower, where I do my best thinking, and decided that for 450 I can rip out my own junipers.

Day 1  I started Saturday, tentatively at first, sitting in front with loppers, looking for the trunk, hoping I could just get in there and saw it down. Then I stood up and went around behind the northern-most bush, and saw that where the kids had tried to chop out a playhouse, it was pretty easy to access bigger branches. Lop lop lop, throw into a pile. After a while, I broke out the pruning saw, to get the branches that were too big to get with the lopper.
I discovered 3 wasp nests, unoccupied, and a bird nest, also unoccupied.

Little bird nest.

On the first afternoon, I got most of two shrubs cut up, waiting for the main trunk to be cut as close to the ground as possible. The temperature was about 75 degrees, not too bad for working outside, but my arms got scratched up, and I got dust and stuff in my eyes, even with safety glasses, and there were little pieces of prickly stuff everywhere. I kept thinking, “$450… $450”

DH suggested buying a chain saw when I was halfway into it. I may have growled at him.

.

Day 2 had record breaking temperatures. High temperatures, in case you are wondering. I loaded the pick-up, then discovered the waste yard was closed on Mondays. D’oh. Then I crawled into the house, and waited for it to cool off, investing the time in looking at wholesale bulb catalogs and drawing plans for the new bed. I also took a nap.

Day 3, the weather was cooler, but not by much. I drove the pick-up to the city waste yard, dumped the trimmings, then reloaded twice. The third time I stopped for iced coffee and a brownie, then stocked up on epsom salts.

Day 4: We sawed up the last of the shrubs, loaded up the truck, this time with help from DH, who didn’t have to go into work until late.

We also rented a small electric chainsaw. The stumps are just too big for the pruning saw. It cost about $40, and made the stumps go much more quickly.

Thank you Kate, for taking pictures…maybe we’ll have a conversation sometime about flattering angles.

I’m glad we rented, because safety equipment came with it. If we had bought a saw, I know we would have half-assed the safety part. Sure, I would have worn safety goggles, but the kit from the rental place had chaps, and goggles, and a hard hat with hearing protection.

I’m coming after you, stumpy!

At the end of day 4, the only thing left is clean up- the remaining stumps and branches, and sweeping.  The next time I get mulch, a thick layer will go onto this area, and when the weather cools in fall, I’ll transplant things into it.

My thought throughout this project was “We’re saving $450” every time I cussed, and complained, and found little tiny prickly juniper needles in my bra (in my bra!) I would think about the money I was saving. What is a project you could have hired out, but didn’t, or you did it yourself, but would never do it again? What would you do with $450?

*my original working title for this post was a different F word, which expressed how I was feeling toward the bushes. The boy saw it when I was working on it, and attempted to cover my eyes, to protect me. He thought someone bad on the internet had written that word, and he wanted to protect me, bless his heart.

A little birdhouse for your soul


Last year, I wrote about my half-assed attempt to mount birdhouses in my garden, on posts from the thrift store, with rebar and duct tape.
Today, I have a more fully-assed attempt, where I actually used wood and a drill, and screws to build a kind of trellis structure. No duct tape at all.

I have drilled 1/2 inch holes in the bottoms of the posts, and driven 1 foot rebar stakes into the ground, at the right distance apart from the holes. Trust me, I measured! I stepped on some plants in the meantime, but I did measure.

I laid out the pieces on the ground before screwing them together- here you can see where the hole is drilled for the rebar. Having a 2×4 on both sides of the base makes the whole structure sturdier.

I had some wood left from taking apart the playhouse (no worries- there will be a new and better shed playhouse in the future) so I used it to brace the posts. Screwing it onto both sides makes the structure stable by triangulating it. I let the length of the wood determine the size of the structure- the posts are roughly 42 inches tall, the leftover wood was roughly 50 inches long, I used three of the posts for the structure. The fourth might become  a bottle tree. Too tacky?
I painted the top cross bar and the posts bright blue, but not the base- the weathered gray wood will become kind of invisible against the ground.

I used “Surebonder Clear 9001” glue to attach the birdhouses, which we painted 5 years ago? A really long time ago, and they have been sitting around. I realize the glue won’t be permanent, but I am not too worried about it.

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming, silver buffalo berry bush and lilac in background.

I decided this space needed a structure because it is so green- shrubs, self seeded annuals, weeds, perennials. I like having a frame to make it more formal, but not in a “pinkie-up while you drink your tea” kind of way. Formal like having a frame around a picture- any structure works for this, a flowerpot, a trellis, a headboard.

There has been a forest fire to the northwest of here- we are not at any risk, other than from the smoke. The smoke has made it really unpleasant to get out and garden. It is better today, so I hope to get some stuff done.

I figured out why bike panniers are so expensive


We have a reservoir with a community beach very close to our house- totally within biking distance. (I know, everything’s in biking distance if you have enough time) but this one really is- literally a ten minute bike ride.
We always drive though, because of the baggage factor- towels and lunch and sunscreen and sand buckets. (actually, the kids usually bully other kids into letting them use their buckets. Ugly, but it works)
We are also within a mile of a grocery, a small hardware store, a coffee place and a thrift store. And a farmer’s market.  I shouldn’t be driving to those places either. But again, the baggage problem.
Backpacks are okay, but they make me hot and sweaty, and commercial panniers cost more than I want to spend, so I decided to make some.

What separates panniers from just a regular tote bag is that panniers are bags that have a rigid, or semi-rigid side, that hook onto the rack on back of my bike. The interwebs have lots of tutorials on how to make your own, using army surplus bags or cat litter buckets.  Not exactly the look I’m going for, though.
I got a yard of natural denim, and 1/2 yard of super cute oilcloth. Actually the oilcloth came first, I got it on impulse because it was so super cute, then thought of it for the pannier project. The oil cloth will make the bags splash proof, but not really rainproof. It doesn’t rain here much anyway, and honestly, when it’s raining, I’m in the car. Wimpy, I know.

Look how cute it is!

I spent about $15 on fabric, and another 5 on hardware. The bags will wind up being fraternal twins, rather than identical, because as I made the first one, I figured out an easier way of constructing the second. It also winds up being smaller, though.

I thought of ways to make these with pre-made canvas tote bags- it would probably be cheaper as well as taking less time. I had plenty of time to think about this as I changed the burnt out light bulb on my sewing machine. (is that the difference between really expensive machines and cheapo ones like I have? On a $1300 sewing machine, do you just flip open the side and pop out the light bulb? On mine, I have to unscrew a thing on the back, pull the plastic panel off the front, get my fingers in there and unscrew the light bulb, and there is a plastic flap right at cuticle level that scratches every time the bulb goes around. It’s awful!

This is a very basic bag with a flap, and parachute clips to close it. The key to making the bag work as a pannier is to add another layer of fabric so there is a pocket for a rigid piece of plastic or thin wood to screw the hooks onto. In my case, I sewed the bags from scratch and added the layer of oilcloth as the extra layer, but it probably could be done with tote bags you have sitting around the house.

I found thesereally good instructions for doing the hardware.

Mirror clip, machine screw, split washer, nut and acorn nut.

I used a piece of 1/8th inch thick hard board that I had in the garage from another project (as always) that I cut to 12″ by 12″ and slid into the pocket. Then I attached mirror clips, from the hardware store with machine screws and nuts and stuff. I actually wrote down what I needed, as found on the link above, on a post-it and biked to the hardware store. Then I found a guy in an apron and thrust the post-it at him. “I’m making bike bags” I grunted. He found all the bits and pieces for me.

Bag number 1 fits great- now to finally change that bobbin and finish bag number 2- then it’s off to the farmers’ market.

Bearded Iris- you can grow that


I just love bearded iris.

Thanks to C.L. Fornari’s meme  last month, by pure luck I had a ton of new visitors to my dusty little corner of the blogoverse. If you’ve come back, thank you, and welcome. I say it was by pure luck because the links are listed on J.L.’s site in alphabetical order by plant name, and my plant was chives. Now for this month…aconite, anyone? Asparagus? AAronroot? I just made up that last one, there’s no such thing as aaronroot. As far as I know.
I decided to go back to the true spirit of the meme, which is that newbie gardeners sometimes get scared off by complicated instructions, or recommendations from one side to be all organic, and the other side to use blue chemicals on a regular basis. What people need is a slam dunk- something so easy you have to give away extras. In my garden, bearded irises are a slam dunk. And toward the end of June, I will probably be giving away extras, if anyone local is interested.
I use Iris a lot as a kind of placeholder- when my Korean lilac was 6 inches tall, surrounding it with iris made it look like a real garden bed, instead of a twig surrounded by mulch. Now that the lilac is about 4 feet tall, and covered with flowers, the iris anchor it, and are ready to be divided and given away.
Making friends with a gardener who is dividing iris is maybe the best way to get them, unless he’s a stalker, which you won’t know until he keeps showing up at your door with bags of rhizomes…
Once you get your bag with plants, sort them out. The best roots are big and fat. There should be at least one fan of leaves per chunk. I trim the leaves to about 6 or 8 inches from the rhizome, and plant it with the dangly roots in the soil, but the knobby rhizome just on the surface. If it goes underground, it rots. In fact, iris is nice and drought tolerant, not really caring whether it gets much water. Cutting the leaves back allow it to establish itself without drying out, but there are still green leaves to feed it while it makes itself at home.
My wonderful MIL is the source of this information, and the source of all my iris as well. She has told me to transplant before July 4th. I don’t know if that is specific to zone 5, or the front range of Colorado, your mileage may vary in other parts of the world.
What if you can’t bring yourself to make friends with a gardener? They sell bearded iris- McClure and Zimmerman has some in their Spring catalog for $11.95 if you buy 3. That seems expensive…but as I’ve said, I’ve never bought Iris. They also claim that a coral-pink variety named “Beverly Sills” is among the most popular. Hmmmm…I don’t know.
Buying them would be the way to get unusual colors- most of mine are light purple, with a couple of plants that are dark purple, and one that is bronze-flowered, which blooms a week or so after the others.
Trust me, you can grow that.

Short on rupees? Aren’t we all.


I used to spend a lot of time on a message board at You Grow Girl.com  and there was a thread once about the advisability of re-using potting soil, and using fillers in the bottoms of pots to take up space, rather than filling an entire pot with soil. There was a lot of advice back and forth about using Styrofoam peanuts, or aluminum cans, in order to avoid buying that extra bag of potting soil. There was another poster, who was on the boards frequently, a guy from India, and he responded to this thread uncomprehendingly, “Why are you so worried, a bag of soil only costs a few rupees, just buy another bag of soil!”

Well, maybe you don’t have very many rupees to start with, or maybe you just spent a bunch of rupees on a really pretty flower pot, or ski tickets, or new shoes…

I do wind up buying new bags of soil every year, of course, because I have a lot of containers. I also re-use soil. I typically dump my annual pots out into a big bin, as well as the pots of things that were supposed to be perennial but didn’t get that information and died anyway. I dump the pots out, break up clumps and stir in more compost.

The other strategy I have been using is to fill space in the bottom of big pots with stuff other than soil. Like I said before, I have seen recommendations for using styrofoam peanuts or pop cans. The one time I tried styrofoam, it was really gross when I tried to dump it and reuse the soil- muddy foam chunks.  It was such a mess, I never want to try it again.

Last year, I read on the interwebs) about a development group  in urban Mexico which was helping people grow their own food in 5 gallon buckets. They got free buckets from stores, but their soil was in short supply, and they were low on rupees (er, I mean pesos) too. They did have access to weeds, sticks and branches. They experimented with chopping up twigs and weeds and filling the buckets most of the way, then filling to the top with good soil. Then they would plant tomatoes and other plants. By the end of the growing season, the sticks and leaves would have decomposed, and they would have rich new soil for the next time.

So, I read this last year, thought about my shortage of pesos, rupees, er, dollars… and thought to myself, I have weeds, sticks and branches… I tried it with two pots, I used twigs no bigger than a pencil to fill most of the pot, then a big wad of dandelions. Since I knew it would break down, I filled it to within a couple of inches of the top, then put in the decent soil and plants.

bucket of weeds- there's more where that came from

One pot held an artichoke, and it didn’t do well at all. I suspect it was because when we left town it got too dry. I was counting on all the organic matter in the bottom to be a reservoir for moisture, but the roots just hadn’t gotten that far down yet when we went on vacation.

The other pot had a pomegranate tree, and it is doing fine a year later. I brought it inside last fall, it went dormant for a couple of months, then woke up again and started putting out leaves with the sun that came through the basement window. The soil level did sink down- it started an inch below the rim, now it is probably 4 inches below the rim.  I had planned on re-potting the pomegranate anyway, the sinking soil just accelerated the process.

In the future, I don’t think I’ll use this method for perennials, it is kind of a pain to re-pot anyway, so doing it twice as often doesn’t seem to be worth it.  I have done it again this year, with a pot of lilies mixed with  sugar snap peas- I want the peas on the patio for snacking on, and the lilies are for color. I could say I want the lilies to act as living trellises for the peas, but that would imply I had planned ahead.  I have a couple other big pots that need filling, for geraniums and stuff, and we certainly have enough weeds and sticks.

Spring Cleaning- the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond


Even pond scum looks pretty in the sunset.

I left the water lily in the pond (okay, it’s a horse trough) over the winter, and didn’t cover the tank up, so any and all leaves and detritus that got in, stayed in.

I skimmed the scum off the other day with a mesh thing that I got at the dollar store- I think it was originally intended to prevent grease from splatting all over the place when you fry stuff. It works great for skimming scum, though. Frugal, or cheap? Either way.
I pulled up the lily, and it had new growth. I pulled off some of the last leaves from last year and tossed the plant back in the tank. My pond book says to re-pot in a mesh basket in heavy clay with fine gravel on top, but I think I am going to be lazy. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

We wait for warmer weather before putting in goldfish- cheap feeder ones from the pet store. I mostly have them to eat mosquito larvae, and it isn’t hot enough for mosquitoes yet. In the past, I have brought goldfish inside for the winter, but we are starting over with young, cheap ones this year. Wow, I did say cheap twice to describe my choice of fish…I bought a $10 koi one time, when I first started with an outside pond. It died pretty quickly.

White emporor tulips on the west side of my 100 gallon horse trough

White emperor tulips on the west side of my 100 gallon horse trough.

Before the fish come home, I will scoop out most of the leaves and rotten gunk in the bottom of the pond and put it  in the compost. I am waiting for a warmer day- the water is still pretty cold. I think we’ll also do some science, and do an ammonia and pH test on the water. The boy recently learned about the pH scale, and spent a happy afternoon cleaning the copper bottoms of my pans with lemon juice, lime juice and vinegar.

Speaking of science, if you didn’t get a chance to see Nova’s recent episode about the periodic table, check it out Nova link There are explosions and everything!

Checked off to do list: back window


Once you cut a groove into it, the acrylic becomes pretty easy to snap. The directions say use your thumbs, but it was easier on my hands to bite off chunks with my Vise-grips.

Armed with my new dollar store tape measure, I decided to tackle a project that had been marinating for a long time. A few years ago during a wind storm, the door that leads from the garage to the back yard slammed shut and the glass broke.  I cleaned up the broken glass pretty much immediately- I had little kids crawling around, after all (ooh, the fact that I say they were crawling around makes it seem like this window has been broken for more than a “few” years…) So, cleaned up the glass, scraped out the putty, bought a sheet of acrylic to replace the glass, and a handy dandy little tool for cutting the acrylic and then…waited. Procrastinated. Can’t explain why- once the glass was cleaned up it didn’t seem urgent anymore, and I thought it would take a long time.

Well, it didn’t. Not really.

We had a beautiful sunny afternoon when I didn’t really have anything else to do, so I got out the tape measure and measured. Once.

You can probably see where this is going.

I laid out the acrylic, measured out my lines, and clamped a metal straight-edge down. The special acrylic cutting tool calls for cutting along the line until the groove is 1/16th on an inch deep. The sound drove the neighbor’s dog crazy- this high pitched squeal that had to be repeated many many times. There might be an easier way to cut plastic- I honestly didn’t do much research about it.

Once I got it scored and snapped, I took it over the the window opening, and discovered it was 1/2 inch too big.

It was a nice sunny day, though. DH and the kids were on a bike ride, and I had no where to be, really, other than enjoying the sunshine in my backyard, so, I measured again, marked it clamped it and cut it.  This time it was just right. I popped it into the frame, popped it out, put in some caulk and nailed the trim back on.

Look, now the shiny window reflects the mess in the yard... I'll get right on that.

One project down…

The Lost Tape Measure


In my quest to become handy, I have made a list of projects, many that have been simmering for a while, and I have thought about first steps.For several, the first step would be: “measure the opening.”
Yeah. About that.
I do have a battery operated, automatically retractable measuring tape. Which I have misplaced. I think it is in the garage?
I have another 25′ one, my favorite, which I have accused the Boy of losing.
The Boy likes to measure stuff- when he was littler, we would read animal encyclopedias together, and it was worlds different from reading with the Girl. With her, we would snuggle with a story, and predict what might happen, and find the rhyming words, and talk about the characters. With the Boy, we would read a little fact box next to a picture of say, a Siberian tiger. Then he would hop off my lap, hand me one end of the measuring tape and walk backward until he got to however many feet. The Siberian tiger sticks in my memory, because it was too big for the living room. This isn’t a technique they taught me in teacher school, the kid just came up with it on his own.

Obviously too big for the living room. Photo from Tiger-pictures.net

That year at Christmas, he asked for a 100′ measuring tape. I asked him what he would measure with it, and he answered, “mostly blue whales.”
Oh. I see.
We didn’t get him one, and I wish we had, because then maybe mine wouldn’t be in a snowbank, or in the bottom of a toybox, or who knows where. We looked in all the usual places.
So, the last time I was at the dollar store, I went ahead and bought a new measuring tape, so that I can measure stuff so that I can work on the projects on my list.
And then wouldn’t you know it, when I opened up the junk drawer in the kitchen, there was my favorite measuring tape. Put away. It’s not really where it goes, but it was put away…

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