Monthly Archives: May 2014

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:

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

Re-restocking the Pond

We were saddened to learn earlier this year that a member of our little family had passed on to the big pond in the sky. When the pond thawed out around the beginning of April, we noticed that one of the koi – one of the larger of our fish, with a mix of white, black and orange coloring – was simply missing. We’re always very excited each year to see our finned friends again, and relieved to know the pond can sustain them as they hibernate through the winter. This was a hard blow, especially to Chris, who takes his pond maintenance duties very seriously.

Tadpoles hard at work, pond-cleaning.

Tadpoles hard at work, pond-cleaning.

As May has crept in, however, the pond is filling back up. The tadpoles are out in force, wriggling eagerly against the rocks as they eat their fill of algae. In the evenings we can sometimes hear the frogs singing from the nursery window, a good reminder for me and the little Rose to go out and feed our fish. Yesterday when we did just that – Rose mesmerized by the swirling colors of the remaining fish – we got a special treat. I bent down by the water’s edge to see a frog that was, as I delicately explained it to the unimpressed toddler, carrying a smaller frog “piggyback.” I knew Rose wouldn’t pay attention to the well camouflaged brown creatures – but then the she frog swam directly to us and popped out of the water. For a moment we were all quite still in our surprise, and then Rose exhaled a quiet “ooh” and the froggy pair plopped back into the protection of the water.

As I’ve written in the past, the tadpoles do a fantastic job of cleaning the pond each spring. But then they leave and the sun grows hotter and the algae blooms in earnest and Chris runs himself ragged replacing the lava rock in the waterfall and balancing additives in the pond. This year he decided to try a different additive: a Chinese hi fin banded shark. SONY DSCOur new friends at Virginia Water Garden had recommended the suckerfish, but we’re currently waiting to see if we’re the suckers.

You see, after allowing him time to adjust to the water temperature and make-up, we released the little guy out into his new home – and we haven’t seen him since.

Releasing the FishChris has been on constant patrols trying to spot some evidence of the fish. I’ve laughingly remind him that the whole point of camouflage is to not be seen, but I’m surprised to by how quickly and completely the fish has hidden. And I recall all too easily that we had originally purchased three goldfish: My favorite disappeared within a week, and a second was gone before winter. So for now we’ll continue our patrols and hope that someday soon we’ll go to feed the koi and realize that the pond has magically be cleaned …

How to Build a Raised Vegetable Bed: Part I

Raised gardens seem to be all the rage these days. It’s no wonder. Aside from the ergonomic benefits (depending on how high you raise it), you’ve got a nice border to keep out weeds. And there are so many stylish things you can do with the bed itself, as well as your placement of your beds and pathways running through them.

I decided on raised beds because I didn’t know what else to do with my dance floor. My then-fiance had built a dance floor for our wedding out of 2×6 boards, each about 16 feet in length. I decided this year that the third year anniversary must be the wood (or maybe tomato?) anniversary.

The framing has taken maybe a half hour per bed. We decided four-foot square boxes would be the optimal size, so that by sitting on the corner of one bed you could reach entirely across it … although we also factored in the convenience factor of knowing each board would become one veggie bed. Chris used the skill saw to turn each board into four 4-foot sections.

Pilot HolesNext, I measured a line across one end of each board about an inch down from the end. Using that as a guide, I used the drill press to put three holes within that guide. Once I had four boards pre-drilled, I squared them up with the help of a 90-degree clamp, placing the pre-drilled holes flush against the end of the next board.

I used the cordless drill to drill through my pilot holes then sank in the screws. By this point most of the boards have warped, so I can’t say this is timeless construction, but since they’re not pressure-treated either, I’m just shooting to keep them around for a couple years. With that limit in mind, I opted not to lay 2x4s on top as a seating ledge, because I have other ways in mind to jazz up the look of this simple frame.

Vegetable Bed Construction

Chicken Wire and Weed ControlSince we have voles building a subterranean metropolis beneath our backyard, Chris stapled a chicken wire screen to the bottom of each box. Beneath the wire he added a layer of landscaping fabric to keep out any weeds.

We’re four boxes in, two more to go. Once they’re complete, I’m going to add a coat of stain to match the fence and deck. Then, at long last, comes the most important step: filling the beds.

Raised Vegetable Beds