Showing posts with label garden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label garden. Show all posts

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cozy Cape Cottage Exterior - Spring 2015

My husband has been wanting some photos of the exterior of our house for quite awhile now that it's basically finished. (yeah, there's still some actual "finishing" stuff that needs to happen, maybe it will, maybe it won't! And landscaping, not our forte, will always be a work in progress.) Our crabapple tree, which has been sort of sickly for a few years, was starting to bloom a couple of weeks ago, so I walked around across the street taking pictures and feeling sort of embarrassed about it!

The different colored patch of grass at the bottom of the photo above is where the city laid sod last year after upgrading our gas lines. Hopefully if we overseed the yard for the next couple seasons it will eventually blend in!

(can you spot the puppy watching me from the window?)

I read somewhere once that chives are a good companion plant for crabapples, so I planted some by our sick tree. Maybe I cured it?! (probably not, but I do love harvesting them for sour cream and chive baked potatoes!)

These last couple of images show some of our "green" upgrades. We have two rain barrels, one next to the front door (my husband tried to fight me on it, but I insisted, and I think it looks fine) and one off the back of the garage. This way I don't have to haul the watering cans too far. We use Save the Rain (affiliate links) diverters to allow rainwater to bypass the barrels and just go down the gutter when they are full. This happens to us a lot - if we're getting a lot of rain, there isn't much need to use the water in the barrels, so they fill up in the spring! I just keep tabs on the water level as I use it later in the summer, and when it's getting low, I just flip down the diverter and it refills with the next rainshower. We've had these for several years now, and they work great.

You can also see our retractable clothesline in that last photo of the garage. Admittedly I don't get to hang our laundry out as much as I'd like - our backyard is really shaded and clothes don't quite dry if I try to hang them out after work, which limits me to dry weekend days in the summer only. (I've tried in the winter, and again, things just don't get dry even after a whole day out there!) We have this same one in our basement which I use year round. The link above also includes the pole, which is across the yard not pictured. I just have to stretch it out, and I've got a ton of drying space! We leave the clothesline box up all year (according to Amazon I bought this in 2009 and it's holding up just fine out there!), and we bring the pole inside the garage in the winter. The base is anchored in concrete in a planting bed, and there is a plastic cover that screws on to keep it from filling up with water when the pole is not attached. Then in the summertime, we just bring the pole out and it clips onto the base. This was a compromise between us, because I wanted to be able to dry clothes outside and my husband didn't want to look at or duck under lines all year - this system has been working out very well for us!

Lastly, you can see a peek of our compost bin next to the back door. (sort of - it's black and in shadow!) We have this model through our local sewerage district. They've been doing annual one day sales for a few years, and I was happy to upgrade to this "real" bin after my makeshift "plastic bin with holes drilled into it" completely fell apart after a few years of use. Ideally I'd have a second one so I could let the compost age for another year, but this works well enough that we have enough to add to our small garden. My husband wants to build a fancy 3 bin system behind the garage, but that's been an idea for several years now, so we'll see! For now we just have this one and a large brush pile behind the garage. I do love having this right by the back door. I think we'd be pretty unlikely to use it if we had to walk behind the detached garage in the snow! Again, we've been doing this for several years, so it's a pretty road tested system for us. We don't notice any smell from it, and we probably only turn it once a year when we sift out the finished compost in the spring. I do notice some gnats, but only when I open the lid to toss stuff in a couple times a week...or if I cook lol! We sit on the patio very nearby the bin, and there definitely aren't a bunch of gnats swarming around when the lid is on.

I wasn't actually planning to go into a lot of detail about this yard stuff, but I guess I did, so I hope it's helpful!

Friday, May 22, 2015

DIY Garden Markers

I've been wanting some re-useable garden markers for several years now. I've tried the popsicle stick thing in the past, and even with a sharpie marker, they were illegible by the end of the season. My grandma always sticks the seed packets in the ground, but mine always seem to get carried away by birds or something, and then I just have to wait a month or so till the plants get bigger to see what's what. I thought about buying some, as there are plenty of cute ones all over Etsy, but wanted the control to decide which herbs and veggies I wanted to grow rather than buying a pre-made set. I suppose I could have requested a custom set...but then I found these:

I've casually had my eye out for a long time for a set of letter stamps, and I was seduced by this full set of alphas and numbers at a local antique shop. I don't know what my ultimate purpose is for owning letter stamps, but because these are metal, I have the flexibility to press them into soft clay, hammer them into wood, maybe stamp them with ink or paint...the guy at the shop said they could even be heated up and burned into leather. I suppose it's that versatility that gave me the push to buy these rather than just something at a craft shop. Plus....they look pretty cool in their boxes.

I rolled out a bunch of markers with Sculpey clay, stamped them, and baked them.

I baked them according to the directions on the package, but after they had cooled....they were still super flexible. That wasn't really my goal.

 I thought, well, maybe they'll firm up if I cook them longer? Nope, not so much. They got really stinky, which is probably not a great sign, and they started changing color. At that point I just gave up. I did a little bit of research (not sure why I didn't do that before I started!), and found that if this sort of clay is thin enough, it will pretty much always be flexible. I did a little experimenting with markers two and three times as thick as my first attempt, and it turned out that triple thick was the charm.

The good news is that in addition to making markers for myself, I'd planned to make them for my mom for mother's day as well. This will be the first year that she can really do a garden at her new house because the yard was put in toward the end of summer last year. I decided that I would keep the beta test set for myself, and remake hers more sturdy. I had always planned on painting them, so the discoloration of my first try didn't really bother me. (I do wish that the depressed lettering stood out a bit more - I'd hoped that if I dragged the brush lightly enough that it would float over the impressions, but that didn't quite work. I'm interested to see how legible these will be at the end of the season. I think sitting in the dirt might actually make the lettering stand out more!)

I paired these with a potted planter of annuals for her front porch, and it turned out to be a nicely themed mother's day gift that I knew she would really love. I tried to anticipate what she'd plant based on what she's been talking about and what she had at her old house. If there's anything missing - she knows where they came from, and I can always make more now that I have the system down pat!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Garden Fresh Tomato Soup

Consider this a mini/end of season update. Things are winding down here in the Midwest. We seem to have barely started the hot, humid part of summer, and then we abruptly transitioned right into a crisp, cool fall. Strange weather, but it's been really good for my garden. I usually lose steam about, oh, June 15, so I consider the fact that I'm getting out there now and then to pick up a few ingredients for dinner to be a total win.

For example, I grew these carrots:

I grew these tomatoes:

 I grew this basil:

All of which simmered together (along with veg stock I made and froze last year!) to make this soup:

Want the details? This is my favorite tomato soup recipe, and I've been making it for several years. It's based on one I pulled out of our Sunday newspaper (and it looks like they adapted it from Ina Garten) probably....4 years ago? Pair it with grilled cheese and you basically have my favorite meal.

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Garden Fresh Tomato Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed and chopped (or however many you are trying to use up!)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped (about 5 large big boy type or 20 small roma - I prefer roma)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 cups stock (veggie or chicken)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (use just a pinch if not grinding fresh)
3/4 milk (buttermilk if you have it)

(I frequently double this recipe and freeze the leftovers!)

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Saute onions and carrots for about 10 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, stock, salt and pepper, stir well. Bring to boil, then simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in milk.

Process through a food mill and discard pulp if you are fancy enough to have such a gadget. I am not, so I process batches in my blender and then run them through a sieve and discard pulp. (I push the liquid through with the back of my large ladle to make it go a little faster.) Return soup to low heat until hot enough to serve. Garnish as you wish - I prefer a nice grilled cheese sandwich with a hint of spicy mustard.

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And since I'm one of the only ones in my house who eats this, a double batch usually lasts me till spring! I'm hoping that if I pull the rest of the tomatoes that are still green on the vine I'll have enough to make one more batch this year, otherwise I'll turn them into sauce. It's funny, while tomato soup has ALWAYS been my go-to comfort meal, I really hate actual tomatoes!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The year things grew

I must say, this is the best my garden has ever looked! It makes me regret limiting myself - I wish I'd grown all the things! In about a month or so, we've gone from this:

to this!

Despite feeling like I got a late start this year, I managed to get a few peas, and the lettuce recovered from the early weed attack.

I've even managed more than just the one salad I thought I'd get!

I ate some of the beautiful basil in the bowl above that day, but I put some of the stems into some water by my kitchen window. I read about rooting fresh basil into more plants a few years ago from Benita at Chez Larsson. I miss her blog so much! I follow her on Instagram, but it's just not the same.

Uh. it's possible I left them in there too long..... Also I need to wipe my sink.

All nice and transplanted - I hope they take!

My tomatoes are doing well, lots of fruit on the vine but nowhere near ripening. Ok, one plant is doing well, the other is doing nothing. The one doing well is doing double duty or something. I had to grab a spare fence stake to try to secure the seemingly useless tomato cage. I think I might have to try making my own like Kit from DIY Diva did next year.

Beans are coming like crazy too! I put them in this 3 bean salad I saw on Pinterest, and it's pretty darn good!

Still to come this fall, I set some garlic out on a windowsill, and I'm hoping that I'll get some shoots I can plant this fall for new bulbs next year. I may plant some more spinach and lettuce from seed yet this year, though honestly it's been so cool that my original plants are still producing! What a crazy summer. The growing season has gone so well this year, I'm thinking all kinds of crazy thoughts, like that I might finally pull the trigger next year and plant myself a berry patch. I've loved having the strawberries so much, that I'd really like to have raspberries and blueberries as well. And as for veggies, maybe I'll try some green peppers and cabbage next year! I know cabbage needs a lot of space, but I've heard you can grow it in a large pot. Has anyone tried that? I'm also considering planting a pumpkin or two, and maybe some cucumbers. I might let the pumpkin run a bit, but maybe something like Kit's strong tomato cages might be enough that the cukes could crawl up them? I had good luck this year training the beans to climb the cages and not take over the whole garden, and I'd really love cucumbers too. Just watch....not one thing will grow next year.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A few landscaping misadventures

We haven't done anything major to our yard this year other than crossing our fingers that something, anything would have survived the polar vortex last winter. Some things have fared better than others (poor sad rosebush, poor dead juniper) and we definitely added "wrap things in burlap" to our fall to-do list, after which we will definitely have record highs next winter - you're welcome! However, I do have a couple of photos from my phone that just make me sigh and laugh.

We planted our hydrangeas....gosh, maybe 5 years ago? Basically they do terrible every year, despite being in a (we're told) spot with an ideal mix of sun and shade. This year I bought some hydrangea plant food and have tried to be much more rigorous with making sure they get water at least every other day or so. It helps that it's been an extremely rainy summer. And for my efforts....I FINALLY got a flower! It's supposed to be blue so next year I'll add some acidity to the soil, but hey! A flower!!

And here's the supposed-to-be-symmetrical hydrangea on the other side of the steps!!

Whomp whomp. Man. Symmetry in landscaping was a BAD idea.

Then in the backyard, which doesn't look too bad in certain corners. We finally got down our it'll-do-for-now patio furniture, and I enjoy this lovely view while dining al fresco.

Which IS lovely. Until you pull back a little.

Reality of living with demolition. Also the reason we haven't yet hosted our neighborhood gathering. Nothing's more fun than a tetanus party favor!

And for something really cool that I've had no part in, we discovered a fairy garden on a walk the other day. Apparently it was built and is maintained by a boy who lives there, and it is SO cool! I just snapped a few quick pictures so as not to appear totally insane, so this is actually much more detailed than I've managed to capture.

I mean look at that! There is a tiny coffee cup on that end table at the beach. There's a beach! The little stream? It's actually running! There's a little pump at one end. Tiny gazing balls, a Weber grill, little tiles that make a stone path....just, wow. You can spy the fairy in the bottom picture. I'm told she moves around to a new part of the garden every day. I can't even imagine how much effort it must take to keep this looking so cute and well groomed, but I totally appreciate that someone does it. We've got an old Victorian dollhouse in our basement that needs a little it weird that this has me wanting to start on it right now??

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Oh hey, it grew!

Well look at that...visible growth! Seeds+dirt+rain+moderate neglect = plants!

So here's what we've got growing:

Everything is coming up pretty nicely (probably needs to be thinned actually), but alas, nothing edible just yet. I could probably clip some of the green onions, but they're a little on the skinny side right now. The lettuce and spinach should have been ready, but about a week and a half ago...we had a little bit of this going on.

That's about 3/4 weeds, 1/4 plants. Argh. (skinny onions on the left, choked out lettuce on the right) I had some personal issues in the beginning of June that really knocked me for a loop (ugh, good riddance June 2014 - you were mean), and then we went out of town for 5 days, so weeding wasn't a top priority. Looks like my garden neglect hit at sort of a key phase of development!

This was taken about a week or so after the previous image (and from the opposite direction - bad blogger). The lettuce has recovered a little bit, so maybe I'll have about one salad in two weeks. The peas on the left are sticking to their cages nicely and not overrunning the place, but haven't blossomed yet. This is slightly disconcerting as we picked a bunch of peas at a farm last weekend. I assume they got theirs in the ground before Memorial Day....I'm hoping that our unseasonably cool weather will be on my side with them, and give me at least a few peas!

Because we have such a small sunny area, I've grabbed a few other areas of our property to grow food as well, some more successfully than others. That bunch of green ground cover in the front of this rainy picture?

Strawberries!! Yummiest groundcover ever.

This back corner of our yard is actually nice and sunny, but gets crazy overrun with weeds creeping over from next door. I've tried going the natural route, but this year I went nuclear. I protected my sort of crazy large stand of oregano, little bit of thyme, and moderately successful rhubarb plants from the poison and went scorched earth on the rest. I'm hoping that I can use a spray along the fence line to fight off the creepers and pull any strays the old fashioned way in the future.

See the crazy mess beyond the crappy white fence? Yeah.

That's probably the end of the rhubarb for the I turned it into a cocktail I pulled from our paper a few weeks ago!


It was nice to enjoy at least SOME of the spoils from my garden, although they are the ones that I have the least to do with. They sort of take care of themselves! As for the drink, it was yummy. But I'm not as much for the cocktails as I was in my younger days, so I think I'll skip the vodka for my next one and just enjoy the rhubarb and the sparkling water with a twist of lime.