Cure for the Common Cold

It’s spring as far as I’m concerned and nothing, not even a head-cold and the occasional bout of axis-tipping dizziness, is going to keep me from enjoying it.

The signs have been everywhere that spring is here:

  • This week warmed up to the 60s!
  • The thick, sludgy snow by the mailbox has finally melted!
  • The first yellow crocus was joined within minutes by four of its siblings!
  • My seeds have arrived!

Did I forget to mention the seeds? Funny, I’ve started the blog about the exotic allure of online seed-buying at least three times over the years, and then always talk myself out of hitting the buy button. Not this year! I picked out exactly the cucumbers and peas I wanted, threw in a fun packet of Burpee’s hybrid corn and decided to try my hand at sweet potatoes (why not?) as well.

At any rate, given this clear cut case for spring, yesterday Chris and I finished the last two raised veggie beds: he added the wire and landscape fabric to keep all variety of pests at bay and I slapped on a coat of stain to slow the effects of the weather. By the end of painting, I’d more or less forgotten I was sick.

It’s been cheering to be accomplishing so much so early in the season, so I think I’m ready to put out another to-do list, a little challenge to myself to keep moving. So without further ado, the 2015 To-Dos:

  1. Plant all six veggie beds
  2. Fertilize the lawn (finally)
  3. Cut down the front holly (sob – much more on that later)
  4. Plant the boxwoods in front of the house and extend the front bed
  5. Edge the garden near the veggies with stone
  6. Plant at least one shrub in the corner near the baby’s swing
  7. Complete my rain barrel making project (more on that as soon as my galvanized drum cover arrives in the mail)
  8. Build the long veggie bed (would love to plant it but am trying to rein in my enthusiasm before my garden partner rips out his hair on one project to many)

That’s not so bad, right? I didn’t say one word about building the baby a hobbit house for her birthday or putting in an entire dry creek bed! See, I know my limits!


Countdown to the Last Frost

I used to have pretty bleak thoughts about January and February. Bare trees, hard ground, dull and muted colors. What a tough time to be a gardener, I thought, my face pressed to the window pane.

Experience has taught me patience, and now I realize the crucial need for winter planning. This is the time to take out paper and pencils and begin making plans for spring and summer.

The latest sketches are all part of my square series, I suppose. This year I’m doubling my veggie garden, expanding my experiments and upping my ambition. Rather than going in blind (last year being only “practice,” I had assured myself), I’ve come up with a rough plan.

garden planWith a (constantly evolving) plan in hand, I am beginning to look at specifics. Last year I got a late start and my planting options were pretty slim. This year I’ve been dog-earing the pages of the Burpee catalog as I daydream.

Yes, there may still be 3 inches of snow and slush on the ground, but I have a handful of seed packets on my kitchen counter that assure me their contents can be in the ground by the end of March. Sowing time – spring – summer! – is practically around the corner.

Arbor Brightening Project

I’m so thrilled that my arbor garden is finally turning into, well, a garden! Earlier this summer I had been gifted a few small Acuba from my mom’s garden. I thought the yellow lines running through the broad green leaves would brighten up that otherwise rather dark corner.


I’ve decided to use that color combination as the basis for the rest of my planting. In the back behind the arbor we finally decided on a Janed Gold Arborvitae – I wanted an evergreen to keep that area soft all year long, and to hide the fence. I liked not only the yellow coloring in the edges of this one, but the fact that it averages out around 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide – perfect for that tucked away space.


In front of the Acuba I’ve added Golden Mop False Cypress, two on each side. I wanted to repeat the texture found in the Arborvitae with a low shrub that hopefully will spread out along that area. Now, these have the potential to get big, but I figure their slow growing habits will keep them easy to control with pruning. And I’m so glad already that I opted for these additions – already these shaggy gold bushes brighten up that entire corner of the yard.


The pictures really don’t do the new plants justice. This corner of the yard has been so dreary for so long and now I can hardly look away. We recently had a party and I had an excuse to light all of the lanterns with battery-operated tealights so that my little nook glowed all day and night long. I’m truly excited for spring to make a few more additions to this future retreat – including an outdoor rug and some flowy curtains.

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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.