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Friday, December 23, 2016

Brambles Be Gone

I had arranged for a person with a serious brush-cutter to come and cut down and remove the 1/8 acre of trashy undergrowth last month.  When I called to see why he hadn't called for a day to do th work, he said he was in the hospital with appendicitis.  No more hard work for him this year...

I expressed my sympathy.  I had the same operation at 18, so I knew how he felt. 

But that didn't solve my problem.  I need those brambles removed.  And he was the only person I could find willing to do a "small" job.

I guess I am going to have to use the gas-powered steel-bladed I've had sitting around for 3 years.  It scares me.  The instructions suggest that using it can injure the operater unless used perfectly and with fancy leggings to clog the blades.


On the other hand, most injuries are caused by carelessness, and a certain level of fear is a good protection from carelessness.

Those brambles have to be eliminated.  I want that part of my yard back!  They grew when I cut down a few tall trees that were blocking some sunlight to my veggie garden.  It's the Law Of Unintended Consequences".

Improve the sunlight to the veggie garden improved the sunlight to the rest of the backyard.  And apparently, the brambles were just WAITING for a little extra sunlight. 

I have 4 specimen trees waiting to be planted in there.  They will grow to about 20".  Not enough to shade the veggie garden, but enough to shade out the brambles again... 

The weather forecast suggests warmer than average temps around Christmas here.  I hope to take advantage of that to cut down the brambles.  After that, I can mow them.  The terrain is uneven back there, but a regular old manual rotary mower I have can handle it.  Push the mower, tilt it up on the back wheels, lower it down on the bramble shoots and move on.  It will take an hour a day for a week, but that should kill all the brambles.

If not, I'll keep doing it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Last Gardening

I've done about all I can do outside until about March.  The ground finally froze (it got down below freezing for several full days and nights).  The surface will thaw and refreeze for a few weeks, but I can't do anything useful with that.  I thought I was done 2 weeks ago after I cleared off all the garden debris and filled the framed beds and planted 250 daffodils.

But I discovered that 450 crocus bulbs that I ordered last year and never got around to planting because I wanted to make wire cages to plant them in to protect them from the voles and squirrels were still solid and seemingly sound after sitting in my garage for the whole year.  So I set about planting them everywhere I could think of.  Some 150 went into a bed I plan to move hostas to next year.

Most ended up in containers, though.  I used to grow Yukon Gold potatoes in 4 large plastic bins, but the grocery store started selling them, so I stopped.  I just buy them now.  That gave me 4 bins.  And several years ago, the County switched from hand-carried recycling bins to bigger-than-trash-can sized ones, so I had 3 of the old ones.

I filled them all with 4" of topsoil/compost mix, planted extra daffodils, covered those with 2" of soil, planted crocuses on top of that and added another 2" of mix on top of that.  So I have about 100 daffodils and 300 crocuses in 30 sq ft of those.  Hopefully they will grow and I can reharvest them in Late Spring for more permanent locations (in wire cages for the crocuses).

I don't know if they WILL grow after sitting around for a year, but I know for SURE they won't if not planted.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Solstice And Gardening

One of my favorite days of the year!  It is the most natural holiday I know.  The days start getting longer.  It means the next season is Spring.  Spring means light, warmth, and gardening.  And I am planning a lot for next year.

25 years ago, I was deeply into perennial flowers.  I bought from an online place that sold 3-packs for $5 and planted a dozen here and a dozen there, etc.  Some perennials aren't very long-lived; they kept dying out slowly and there would always be holes in the flowerbed.  And even at 3 for $5, they aren't cheap.  My flowerbed is 75'x8', so 300 perennials would cost $500 and half died out after 3 years.  And perennials only flower for a few weeks.

So I switched to annuals after I retired.  Annuals flower all season, they are available as seeds, and they are easy to grow.  Planting each year is a bit annoying, but I have time and 40 sq ft of lighted shelves (a 5 shelf 4'x2' rack with 4 4' fixtures in the basement).  Plus a 4 shelf 3'x2' stand at the southern-facing deck glass doors upstairs for germinating seeds that want warmth.

Anyway...  I can grow a lot on annuals from seeds.

But I still want some more permanent plantings.  I discovered "cottage garden" planting this past month.  It's a combination of long-lived perennials and self-sowing annuals.  And you plant stuff at random.  No big patches of one flower here and another there.  The idea seems to be that what thrives thrives and empty spaces self-fill.

We'll see!  I am going to give it a try.  Large portions of my flowerbed were flowerless last year, so most of it needed to be re-done anyway.

I have a large serious roto-tiller for work in large areas.  But this will take some detailed tilling.  So I bought a 10" wide electric tiller in September.  My first attempts using it were dismal!

The grassy weeds wrapped around the tiller blades.  10 minutes tilling meant 10 more minutes cutting and pulling grass off the blades.  I learned to use my string trimmer to cut the grass tops off and rake them away.  Then use the tiller to chop up the soil.  There were still roots that wrapped around the tiller blades, but easier to remove.  Better than manual shovel work, anyway!

I have a catalog from a company that offers a wide variety of cottage garden plants and seeds.  It is from 2011 (I keep interesting catalogs), and I have arranged to get a 2017 catalog in early January.  I have some long-lived perennials that will suit a cottage garden (coneflowers, goldenrods, daylilies), and I will be ordering seeds of self-sowing annuals when the catalog arrives.  I may order a few plants for which growing from seed is very complicated.

And I have 2 planting areas in the middle of the yard that I didn't do anything with this year.  Nice edged areas I can mow around to control invasive flowers.  I want one to be for Lysimachia ‘Firecracker".  It's invasive.  I tried to kill it for 2 years and it keeps coming back.  So next Spring, I'm going to transplant it to a 10' edged circle and mow around it.  That should stop the "invasiveness".  It's annoying but lovely.  Purple foliage and bright yellow flowers most of the Summer.

The 2nd edged area will be a wildflower patch.  I scattered seeds from a packet I bought last Fall.  The instructions said to raked the soil roughly, scatter the seeds and smooth soil over them lightly.  I got a few flowers, but not many.  Most are perennials that need 2 or 3 years to flower, so I will give them time.  

But another old catalog I have offers high-quality seeds suited for scattering on bare ground in Winter.  That's actually the way they normally grow, so I'm going to give that a try.  And they offer a flowering enhancement packet for $10 to give some flowers the first year.  I'm going for 2 of those.

The 3rd edged area is mostly planted already with caged tulips, caged hyacinths, and lots of daffodils.  I added 2 dozen daylilies, some common and some fancy.  

This year, I thought I would remember exactly where the tulips and hyacinths were.  HA HA HA!  Next Spring, I will mark the spots with landscaping flags so that I can plant flowers in between the spots.  I want no spot to be un-planted if I can manage it.  The bulbs like to stay dryish most of the year, so I need to plant Summer flowers that don't mind dry conditions.  So I may plant 200 marigolds of various varieties among them.  They like hot dry conditions too.  The point being that I will never deliberately water that 3rd edged bed.

They will do fine with normal rainfall, I just won't add to it.

A cottage garden bed, a wildflower bed, a purple Lysimachia bed, and a Spring bulb/Summer annual bed...  Should be a good view from the deck!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Trailer Tires

Some things are just frustrating!  One of my trailer tires went flat 2 weeks ago.  It was just rubber fatigue.  They are 20 years old.  There are cracks on the sidewall.  So...  time to replace both of them.  I called a tire store and they were all snooty about "trailer tires".  They want to sell you high-end all weather tires for cars.  They said they could special order them for $150 per tire.

So I went to a trailer company.  THEY were overwhelmed by putting snowplows on trucks, but did have a combination tire and rim available for $120 each and they had 5 of my size in stock.  I said OK and drove right over.

They didn't have 5 in stock.  In fact, they had none.  The person I had talked to was embarrassed.  Her computer said they had 5 and they didn't. 

I mentioned to her that I had worked for a tire store once and as assistant manager (responsible for tires among other things, we came up one tire short in inventory check and they took that out of my salary.  She was amazed but apparently that doesn't happen these days.

So I had to special order 2 tire/rim combinations for delivery last  friday.  Prepaid with an assurance that I would be called immediately when they were received.  Guess what didn't arrive Friday?

So I asked about the next delivery and that was Monday.   On Tuesday, they were still unloading the truck into the storage area.  Sure to have it complete Thursday.  But certain my tires were on the truck. 

Haven't heard from them yet.  Tomorrow I'm calling again.  Fortunately, my need for the trailer is not urgent.  But I hate unsettled matters.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Spring Bulbs

I always order too many Spring bulbs.  I'm overly ambitious (well, that's better than being underly-ambitious), and estimating the number needed is always tricky.  So this year I had ordered bulbs to add to an existing bed.  Some of the same 2 varieies I planted last year to enlarde the are, and a new variety for a 3rd section. 

It turned out that the additional bulbs of the existing varieties used up all the space and I had 150 of a 3rd variety to plant.  "Somewhere"...

I love daffodils!  They are truly perennial.  There are hillsides in Washington DC where Lady Bird Johnson had them planted in the mid 1960s!  Nothing bothers them.  Voles and mice won't eat them, insects don't bother them, and their spot would have to become either a swamp or a desert to kill them naturally.

But they are just combinations of yellow, orange, and white.  So they can be a bit boring.  I wish some geneticist would make daffodils as colorful as tulips and hyacinths.  But they haven't, and some daffodils are getting better over the years.  Some have fancier flowers, some have contrasting colors, some bloom earlier or later.  I have to admit they are pretty good plants.

But still, I had 150 of 'Hillstar' to plant "somewhere.  Where, where, where?

And it hit me.  The front border of my main flowerbed has always been a problem.  Nothing I put there seemed to last.  My last attempt (planting alternating blocks of yellow and purple crocuses with a space left every foot for Summer annuals didn't work.  The voles ate them all.  And I have tried some perennials that never seemed to look right and died anyway.  The soil seems fine, BTW.

AHA, space to plant the Hillstars!  The planting was relatively easy.  My drill auger went down easily into the soft improved soil.  But still, it meant kneeling down to set the bulbs in the holes, backfilling with 50/50 topsoil and compost mix, sprinkling some 2-6-6 slow release organic fertilizer, raking over the augered-out soil across the top, and watering deeply to hydrate the bulbs so that they can slowly grow roots over the Winter before blooming in April. 

I came up 8' short of the border!  Darn.  But I ordered another 25 and they arrived in 3 days and I got THOSE planted.  Which left me with extra bulbs of Hillstar and one other from the main bed. 

Before I explain what I did with those, I should mention that I had 500 crocus bulbs I never got around to planting last Fall.  I intended to make wire cages to protect them from the voles.  But by the time I finally made cages for tulips and hyacinths in the main bed and got them all planted last year, the ground was frozen and I was worn out digging in the bad soil (rocks, tree roots, clay).  The tulips were buried in wire cages and in great soil and came up wonderfully this past Spring.  I never saw a hyacinth.

Because of that, I carefully dug up one of the hyacinth cages.  No easy task.  But I finally cleared off the top of one and the tops are hinged with wire so I could open it.  I pulled out several.  They were hard and healthy, and had roots growing.  Why they didn't send up shoots and flowers is a mystery to me, but I rebuyied them and will hope for blooms next Spring.

So I just set the boxes of the crocuses in the garage and left them.  Last week, after most of my regular garden shut-down chores were done, I thought of those crocuses.  I brought the boxes onto the tool bench.  There were  few leftover hyacinths.  They were like paper husks, utterly dead.

But the crocus bulbs were all hard solid and no signs of mold.  Well, I hate to waste living things.  So I thought of what I could do to give the crocuses and leftover daffodils and chance to live. 

I keep stuff.  Not "hoarder keep stuff" just useful stuff.  So I looked around.  What I wanted to find were cat litter boxes.  Something shallow to grow the crocuses in and harvest the bulbs next Fall when I found a good place.

What I realized was that I had 3 old recycling bins and 4 old storage bins I used to grow potatoes in.  I used to grow Yukon Gold potatoes in them before they became readily available in the grocery store.  And they were filled with rich soil!

So I wheelbarrowed all of them to my patio.  The cinder block wall is a perfect height for gardening work.  I dumped all the soil out into 35# kitty litter tubs (very useful as buckets),  put 4" of soil back in the recycle bins, set in the extra daffodils and added 2" of soil and sprinkled 2-6-6 fertilizer on top.  Added another inch of soil and crowded in crocus bulbs 2" apart.  Covered THOSE with 3" of good soil and sprinkled on a slight amount of fertilizer.  Added another inch on that. 

I filled 7 tubs and used up 300 crocus bulbs (of 500).  Watered them well. I'm hoping for a great container display in Spring and to be able to plant them someplace permanent next Fall.

I STILL have more crocuses.  I will be planting them in 6" black pots just to see if they grow.  I'll stick the pots in my veggie garden to give them some "normal" temperature and rain/snow.

Hope springs eternal...conditions. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Difficult Errand

I have a watch that is 50 years old this month.  It was a gift in 1966 when I was 16.  It is the only wristwatch I have ever owned.  It was one of the earliest cheap digital watches.  I love it! 

It doesn't do anything but tell time.  Well, I mean it shows the day with a line over a row of letters and there is a smaller number for the date.  And if I press an awkward button, the date goes away and shows seconds.  And another push shows m/d/y (12 8 16).  But that's all.  No timer, no weather, no footstep count, no anything else. 

I have to have the battery replaced about once a year.  Any jeweler will do it for about $10.  It requires  weird tool to get the back off or I would do it myself.

So I went to me usual place to have the battery repaired.  There was no jewelar there.  There was no building.  The spot had been scraped clean.  Wow!

So I went to a new place I had found called "Bulbs & Batteries".  Their watchpin removal tool was broken.  Well, I needed to buy some groceries and I knew there was a jeweler nearby, so I did my shopping and stopped there. 

Oh boy, was I surprised!  They wouldn't replace a digital watch battery.  "You need to return it to the manufacturer", the store manager declared!  "Otherwise, the circuits will get shorted out".  I pointed out that the watch was 50 years old and the batteries had been replaced many many times with no ill effects.  He replied that "That's why the battery only lasts a year, it gets shorted - a battery should last 5 years".   It was a high-end jeweler (Jared's) and he looked down his nose at me (and my watch) as if I had walked into his cocktail party wearing dirty gardening clothes.

Well, Exxxcccccuuuuuuujse Meeee!

So I stopped at the last place to replace my battery.  It had only lasted 6 months, so I was doubtful about the freshness of their batteries, but a working watch is worth a few dollars.  They were closed.

At home, I looked up the manufacturer of the watch (Phasar).  They are long since out of business anyway.

The next day I went back to the place that was closed.  They were happy to replace the battery.  By good fortune, they had a new employee, so the main person was explaining about changing watch batteries.   I couldn't have asked for a better refutation of the Jared guy's claim...

She explained the watch back removal tool to the newbie and demonstrated how it worked.  She explained how to insert the new battery without shorting it or the circuits, she showed  a small insulating collar to prevent that.  She mentioned "these old digitals are long-lasting" (so she recognized it's age).  She even mentioned that batteries in new watches last several years, but after some years of corrosion and dust; last only a year.  So much for that snooty Jared's guy's claim...

But upon replacing the battery, the display was pale.  She said they could try cleaning it, failing that, finding a replacement circuit insert.  But I would have to leave it and they would call with an estimate.  She showed me the watches they sold, but they were all analog.  And they were all a bit too fancy and "jewelry".

I don't wear a single piece of jewelry.  I'm not a metal kind of guy.  Even my watchband is velcro...

So I left it with them went home, and looked at cheap digital watches on Amazon.  They all displayed Too Much Information at once.  And that means ALL the info is small.  I don't want to have to put on my reading glasses just to see what time it is!

So I was sad.  First, the watch means a lot to me personally.  I am a dedicated watch-wearer.  It has gone everywhere I have for 50 years.  It has been through below-zero Winter camping, it has gone into Canadian lake water when a friend tipped the canoe over, it has gotten me to countless meetings on time over my career, and it has reminded me when to stop working outside and go inside to feed the cats.  It has reminded me when to turn on the TV for Specials I wanted to see.

How much more can you ask of a watch? 

So 2 days later, when the jeweler called (VM message) and said I could pick up the watch, I was worried.  I assumed they could get the part to fix it.  But I had a pleasant surprise when I arrived.  The watch was suddenly just fine.  The display was strong.  No reason, it just was. 

Hurray.  But gosh, that sure was a lot of effort to find a place that would replace the battery!

BTW, seeing what the watch back removal tool looked like, I went to Amazon to see what one costs.  The jeweler charged $15 to replay the battery.   The battery itself costs $3.  Guess what, the watch back removal tool costs $3 at Amazon. 

I think I'll buy one. 

And I'll NEVER shop at Jared's...

Friday, December 2, 2016

Thanksgiving Dinner

Before and after shots...

Smoked turkey thigh, corn on the cob, mashed sweet potato with honey and butter, tossed salad with italian dressing, asparagus with cheese sauce, assorted garnishes, and wine and a Cavebear Sling (1.5 oz gin, 1 oz of lemon juice, fill up glass with ginger ale over ice)...

Good holiday meal for oneself...  A bit late posting, but I enjoyed the meal.