Singing the Bulbs to Sleep

It has been a perfect fall so far, full of crisp apples and cider, pumpkin muffins, and of course lots to do in the garden.

For vegetables, I planted Romaine and Bibb lettuce in early September, along with radish and spinach seeds. All but the spinach are thriving and the tomatoes are still going strong. My peppers have also finally hit their stride in the cool days and chilly nights; there are four big Bells at last count and three Anaheims getting started: chili weather is here!

I’ve also been working on bulbs. I did a row of Allium along the back of the pond garden; I thought my little helpers would enjoy (picking the petals off) the big purple balls in the summertime. I added a semi-circle of red-and-yellow tulips, planted with rodent-resistant daffodils, around my little white bench. My little Rose has been helping me tuck the remaining daffodil bulbs around all of our decorative trees.

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Rose has been a bit confused by the process. She likes the bulbs and their papery skins, and she likes the game of hiding them in the dirt, but she then once they’re covered she’s ready to dig them out like any good game of peekaboo. I’ve had to explain to her that the bulbs are sleeping now, all through the winter, and they won’t wake up until spring when they’ll turn into beautiful flowers. She wasn’t crazy about that explanation until we sang them all lullabies, patting the dirt where the bulbs sleep. I’m hoping that extra effort will guarantee a full garden come spring.

Meanwhile, the daisies, now interspersed with a flaming red seedum, have just begun to open their white petals for one of my favorite sights of fall.

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Boxwood Bounty

My mother-in-law is in the process of downsizing and her first priority has been, naturally, to leave no beloved plant behind.

Because she’s downsizing, that means many of those plants are finding a new home in our backyard. The vast majority of these plants are mature boxwoods. Nearly 20 of them to be exact.

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head when Chris began wrestling some of these massive plants out of the back of our car. Currently we have a small fortune in plants sitting on the side of my driveway as we frantically figure out what to do with this new prize.

Biggest Boxwoods Ever

I’m aiming to spread them in a couple of different areas, figuring they will become a unifying feature across the yard. The problem is that several of the areas where we plant to them aren’t exactly ready.

Fortunately, I had a brainstorm about how (I hope) to keep these gorgeous shrubs happy until next spring when we tackle our next major outdoor project. The little pit out front where we’ve been shoving leaves in the fall – the source of all of my fantastic veggie garden soil – is going to host the shrubs for a few months before we dig them back up again.

SONY DSCWhen I shared this idea with my mom, she commented, “Oh yeah, you’re heeling them in.”

Apparently I wasn’t the first person with this brainstorm. This article from www.organicgardening.com explains a bit better the process of temporarily storing bareroot plants in the ground, a process that we’re adapting for our purposes.

I wish I’d thought of this ages ago. There are two long-dead fig trees I owe an apology.

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Harvest Time

It has taken forever, but I finally got to pick dinner!

Veggie Lover

I had actually just bought a zucchini for a summer squash pasta, and it blew my mind to see how my squash dwarfed the store-bought variety. I love that I’m finally seeing a payback for all my hard work — and the whole family is getting excited for it!

Build Your Own Tomato Cages

As I mentioned in my last post, watching my tomatoes grow has been like watching a cute little lizard morph into Godzilla. They’ve been ripping up their bamboo stakes and flinging them back at me while growling for more water and sunlight.

Honestly, the tomato cages available from garden centers today are super cute. The traditional wire cages now come in fun colors, and I was sorely tempted to go funky and fun. But instead I decided to keep things simple and continue with my woodsy natural theme — and finally put to use some more Pinterest-inspired ideas.

Here’s how this all came together.

tomato with trellis

For one cage, I used:

  • 4 1x1x boards, cut to 4-foot lengths
  • 10 3/8-inch dowels, 18 inches long
  • drill press with 3/8-inch drill bit
  • clamp
  • wood glue
  • mallet
  • 1 1/2-inch-long screw

I wound up using the miter saw to cut my boards and dowels to the length I wanted, and I put a 45 degree angle at the end of each 1×1 to make it a little easier to shove in the ground.

On each board I measured and put marks at 3, 17 and 31 inches. Then I rotated the board 90 degrees to the next side and put marks at 10 and 24 inches.

To get a straight hole, I used the drill press. After clamping my board in place, I sank holes all the way through the board at each mark.

drill and saw

Once everything had been cut to size and drilled, I began assembling essentially two separate ladders. I dabbed a bit of wood glue onto the end of the first dowel, using a paper towel to evenly apply it to the end, then I placed it into the first hole. The mallet came in handy for sinking the dowels in flush through the board. I proceeded to do that with the remaining two for that side. Next, I dabbed wood glue onto the end of each of those three dowels and set a second board onto those three ends, again using the mallet to make sure everything was flush.

That gave me one “ladder,” so I repeated the process again with the two other boards and three more dowels.

ladders

With my first ladder lying flat on the ground, I went through the glue-and-stick dowel process for the four holes now facing up. Then I simply added more glue and mated the second ladder onto the ends of those four dowels. Voila:

assembled cage

For my garden, I liked the natural wood look, since it matches what’s already out there. But I had toyed with the idea of using copper instead of wood dowels, or even using the fabulous copper metallic spraypaint that Rustoleum offers just on the dowels for a bit of fun. I also think 1-foot-long dowels might have worked, or even longer dowels but having them stick out several inches to create a trellis for plants outside of the box, so there’s definitely room to adapt this easy design.

Almost as soon as I had my cage in place and had stepped back to admire it, the monster plant toppled it. I simply don’t have enough dirt just yet to hold either of these things upright. So ultimately I wound up sinking a screw through one leg of the cage and into my raised bed, just enough to keep it upright. I didn’t want to go crazy with attachments as I figure next year I’ll rotate crops to keep from depleting the soil of nutrients.

A Rose in the Veggies

So there you have it! A simple yet distinctive way to keep your tomato plants growing upright.

Summertime Check-in

The biggest update of the summer is that the baby can now go 10 full minutes of helping me weed before putting dirt in her mouth.

I’ve been lax in posting updates, but now that I have a walking toddler on my hands I’ve had less time–but more help in the garden. And what a garden we’ve been tending!

The vegetables have far outpaced my expectations for them.

The zucchini looks like something out of Little Shop of Horrors as it prepares to take over my yard.

The zucchini looks like something out of Little Shop of Horrors as it prepares to take over my yard.

The tallest of the tomatoes have just uprooted their temporary stake, meaning I have to get working on their new cages.

The tallest of the tomatoes have just uprooted their temporary stake, meaning I have to get working on their new cages.

The Anaheim pepper, which has looked like it's on its deathbed since Day 1 has produced a beautiful little pepper.

The Anaheim pepper, which has looked like it’s on its deathbed since Day 1 has produced a beautiful little pepper.

The cucumbers have been sending out tendrils everywhere, requiring the quick addition of a trellis.

The cucumbers have been sending out tendrils everywhere, requiring the quick addition of a trellis.

There’s lot growing, but it’s all still green at this point. I imagine the tomatoes will bloom into their beautiful red about three hours after I leave for vacation!

Montana WildflowerMeanwhile, on the other side of the yard, the wildflowers are not only elegantly tall but beginning to bloom. Their feathery stems are beginning to unfold with the sweetest array of who knows what. I recognized this morning a single wild rose, an adorable yellow bloom tucked beside the big pot of roses the way my Rose curls against me when shy, with her face to my leg. I’ve been tardy in putting out mulch as I waited for these flowers to bloom and the grass has taken that opportunity to grow more rampant than ever in the turned soil.

The little Rose and I have been out in the evenings with our respective shovels, pulling out the grass and stroking the soft leaves of everything that remains. Even the fish have been enjoying the nighttime ritual as they swim to the closest rock and sit there with fins waving.

Meet Vince

No doubt about it, that fish is gone.

Chinese Hi Banded SharkOur exotic little algae-sucker was very quickly made into a fish stick by some passing predator.

Chris was immediately ready to go plop down change for a new exotic. After a little persuasion on my part, we instead invested in a different addition to the pond.

First let me just say, we could have gotten a heron. Instead, Chris wanted this guy:
 

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I’ve been calling him Vincent, an homage to Vincent Price, because the gator’s creepy grin gives me the willies. I find myself out weeding when the hairs on the back of my¬† neck start prickling; I look up to see Vince snarling his toothy grimace and several times the sight has made me jump. If any more fish go missing I’ll be ready to serve the remainders on a platter to the bird that has the guts to go up against this thing.

Chris also picked up a piece of corrugated pipe that we’re going to plant beneath a rock to serve as a third hiding spot. Lately when the skittish fish go to hide I can still usually make out a tail or two fluttering along the entrance to their cave. It’s getting a little crowded down there so hopefully a few new caves will help them out.

How to Build A Raised Vegetable Bed: Part II

There are several pretty big, if shallow, holes on our property. When one deepened, it became a pond. Another one is slated to become a dry creek bed … someday. Despite my husband’s protests that the indentation in the front yard would be a terrific sand trap for a cross-yard driving range, we’ve filled the final hole with autumn leaves chopped up by the mower and deposited in thick layers.

So how exactly does this relate to building a vegetable bed? Well, it means that after scooping the top layer of chopped leaves away to use as mulch along my rhododendrons, I have a nice pile of dark – free! – dirt to fill my new vegetable beds.

I filled each bed halfway with the decomposed leaves, then topped that off with four bags of purchased topsoil. Finally – at long last – came the step I’ve been long awaiting: planting.

So far my tiny crop consists of:

  • Big Boy Tomato
  • Better Boy Tomato
  • Roma Tomato
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Anaheim Pepper
  • Yellow Bell Pepper

I planted my basil alongside my tomatoes in the hopes of infusing some exciting flavor into the vegetable. I also added a few marigolds in that square for cheer and to attract pests away from the edibles. Alongside the plants are markers I found on Pinterest: dowels with the name of each plant written on an attached clothespin.

Tomatoes and Marigolds

It almost sounds like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it? In all actuality, when I arrived at the local garden center to select my plants it hit me that this is really my first vegetable garden. All of this knowledge soaked up from helping my mom in summers past is being put to use for the first time. It was a funny feeling to stand there frozen in place with a biodegradable pot crumbling into each hand as I thought about all of the watering and weeding ahead … and then imagined feeding my family sauces cooked from my own tomatoes and herbs (perhaps more realistically, one and half sandwiches featuring my homegrown produce, but let’s start out optimistic, shall we). For some reason, I felt overwhelmed at the thought of it all, when earlier I had been so excited for such work.

Peppers and Zucchini

That feeling was there later too as I scooped dirt out of the way and tucked each tiny sprout securely into place. As I pulled off my glove to scratch between the dog’s ears, it occurred to me that the feeling was probably because I’ve been maxed out on nurturing lately. It was nice to remember that my garden is anything but demanding. It’s my little oasis, a place where I can go and think about absolutely nothing.

I dug a little further then Akira and I sat there enjoying the view, taking turns sniffing happily at the odor in the air of freshly disturbed dirt and impending rain.

Guard Akita