email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Gardening And Yardwork

I had a successful day today - I planted 6 annual sunflower seedlings!  There was a lot more to the day's work, of course, but by the time I planted the sunflower seedlings, I felt I was done.

For starters, the temperature reached 88.5F according to my 2 different brands of digital wireless outdoor thermometers*.  In April.  In the shade.  And I didn't spend much of the day in the shade.

My PRIMARY desire for the day was to plant the sunflower seedlings.  For some reason, I sow 6 sunflower seeds every Spring, and never get around to planting them before they are too leggy and weak to thrive.  They are always "last on the list".  Partly, I never have a really good spot to put them.  Well, this year I did.

I have mentioned before that I set up 3 edged beds in the back yard.  One is for wildflowers, one is for  Spring bulbs and daylillies, the last is for bee/butterfly/hummingbird flowers.

In the center of that last (middle) one (only 10' in diameter), I wanted to plant sunflowers as a centerpoint.

But I had trimming to do first.  I mowed the lawn 2 days ago and the more constructed beds I create, the more trimming there is.  My new Ryobi 40 battery-powered string trimmer does a grand job!  But you have to USE it, so I did that first to get it out of the way.  It was a lot more work than I expected.  The trimmer battery last about 40 minutes; I used that up and set it to recharge.
Ryobi 40-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless String Trimmer/Edger

While I was waiting, I took my hedge-trimmer and dead-headed all the Spring bulbs, and I have more bulbs than I used to (when I could do that with my sheep-sheers).

Still with time before the string trimmer fully charged, I caught up on making more plant labels.  I found a great deal on metal plant labels last Fall and got 120 for 50 cents each.  Plastic labels just don't last.  After that was done for all my existing crops and some specimen hostas, I went back at trimming the yard with the string trimmer.  It takes longer to trim than to mow the whole yard!  And I was using it to cut down an invasive vine, an invasive self-sowing spreading loosestrife (Lysimachia Firecracker) shipped to me in error as a Coreopsis, and some self-sowing Salvia(?) perennial I regret ever planting.  I'll keep cutting them down until they all die!

I was pretty much used up for the day, but remembered the sunflowers.  I HAD to plant them, sweaty and tired as I was.  My idea was to set a 1' diameter 2' tall wire cage in the center of the bed and plant the sunflowers around it attached to the cage.  I measured out the center and set the cage there with some stakes to hold it in place firmly and used an auger to drill 6 holes around it.  It was awkward reaching around the cage to set the seedlings in while not stepping on newly-emerging hummer/bee/butterfly seedlings, but I managed it.

I have a couple hundred plant clips (another good deal I found, and endlessly useful), and supported the sunflower seedlings  to the cage with the clips.  The clips are about 1" around, so they wont restrict the stems.
IIT 1.25 in. and 1.75 in. Gentle Plant and Flower Clips (100 Clips)

Support 2' high should help the sunflowers stay upright, but if not, I can attach a 2nd cage on top of the 1st.  Yes, I should have just planted the sunflower seeds directly and they would have been sturdier.  But I always try to rush the season by starting them indoors.  Next year, I will sow them direct.

But for once, they are planted and have a chance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Other Things

Not everything I do is yardwork.  I watch TV too.  Probably not what you watch though.  I watch MSNBC for the political commentary.  I watch Nationals baseball games a few times a week.

But I also watch animated TV shows.  Rick&Morty, Family Guy, Simpsons, Robot Chicken...

But I want to mention a show that seems to have returned after an absence, and has astonished me in quality.  I am speaking of 'Samurai Jack'.  The original series ran from 2001 to 2004.  I was a fan.

Samurai Jack is a warrior in an ancient time.  An evil sorcerer (Aku) rose to take over his land and laid waste to it.  Samurai Jack fought the sorcerer and was close to winning but Aku sent him into the future, assuming he would have complete control of the world by that time (and he does).

The future is dreary, dim, and forlorn.  Jack (and I'm not sure if that is a name or a description of some sort) contends with the future Aku's robots, sycophants, and assassins sent after him by Aku.

Jack is of course highly skilled and always wins.

But there is more to it.  Jack helps the downtrodden, enslaved, and twisted creatures in the future to which he has been sent.  He kills lethally but only when attacked.

The art is interesting.  It is minimal, yet very descriptive.  Every part of nature is stylistic,  trees are basic columns, lakes are flat.  But the characters move quickly.  This is in opposition to anime shows like Dragonball, where artistic effort is limited to repeated views of non-movement to save costs.

Jack decides that the only way to defeat Aku is to return to the past where Aku began and defeat him then.  There is a special sword involved, but I don't know know enough about that.  Jack does not know how to return to the past.

I assume, if there is an arc to the production, there will be some clues as to how that can occur.

The reason I am writing this is that the show suddenly returned with new episodes.  And there has been a change.  In the new series, Jack is attacked and kills a human for the first time.  I missed that, but thinking back, I understand the idea.  In the oldr episodes, he was attacked by "strange creatures" and robots.  This time, apparently he actually killed a human and he is distraught.

Then 8 identical female assassins track him, wounded.  He heals slowly with some mystical wolf.  Don't laugh, it was really rather well done.  Healed he ventures forth again.  The 8 assassins find him.

Recalling an original episode of his youth where his Emperor father is confronted by assassins and saying you have a choice to leave and live or stay and meet your fate (the Emperor kills the assassins but is killed also), Jack tells the assassins the same.  They attack with various weapons.

It is a high tree battle.  7 of the 8 are or disabled by Jack and fall into a deep fog below.  He tries to spare the last but she is unrelenting.  Eventually, he releases her into the depths below.  Then the branch he is standing on breaks and he falls too.

He falls into a tree and the branches break his fall.  Surviving, he explores the area.  7 of the assassins are utterly thoroughly dead.  One survives (Ashi).  Though injured, she tries to kill him again and again.  Sickened by the deaths, Jack surrounds her in chains and carries her out of the area like on a backpack.  She constantly screams, curses and threatens him, showing her allegiance to Aku.

We see her earlier life as a trainee to kill Jack in service to "wonderful Aku".  Jack perseveres in trying to save her through some strange situations.  Inside a huge monster and escaping, etc.

Tossed up on a small island in the middle of nowhere, Jack releases Ashi (the assassin) and sits apart in sadness.  Ashi has found her favored weapon in the mud (a hook on a chain) and is about to attack again.

But there are ladybugs on the island.  One lands on her hand.  She recalls a moment in her training when that happened.  The trainer squished the ladybug, to Ashi's dismay.  She watches the ladybug fly from her hand to Jack's hand.  He smiles at it and lets it go. That gives Ashi her first doubt about her assassination goal.  She sleeps.  When she awakes, Jack is gone.  Ashi swims to a far shore (I think).  She re-evaluates her training and goals.

Ashi decides she wants to learn more.  She seeks Jack.  On the way, she meets several strange kinds of creatures.  Each type knows Jack as a friend and one who helped them in their darkest times.  She is asked if Jack is a "friend".  At first, she is not sure.  But even the formerly meanest creatures tell her that Jack changed their lives.  She says "maybe" she is a friend of Jack.  After the last group, she says yes she is a friend of Jack.

At that point, she washes in a stream rubbing a stone (soapstone?) over her whole body (she was wearing a black bodysuit before).  It comes off completely.  It's a metaphor for changing.  She fashions clothes of leaves.  Life after death, I suppose.

She finally catches up to Jack in a graveyard of old spirits.  They have convinced Jack he has killed the innocent and he seems ready to kill himself.  She attacks the spirits but they beat her.  She tells Jack the innocents are alive (I didn't catch who they were or how she knows).

At the last minute, Jack defends her, the spirits retreat, and Jack understands that she has changed. Well, she was trying to kill him, wearing a black bodysuit, and under the command and of Aku before.  Now she is smiling, wearing green leaves, and helping.

Jack is always good at recognizing goodness and change.  They smiled at each other.

The show airs new episodes Saturday night at 11 pm ET, repeats Wednesday 10 pm.

I wouldn't mention this except it seems to be an exceptional example of actually mature animated story-telling worth watching.    There is a long-term story here, and it is worth following.

Please forgive any errors I made in describing the story so far.  I am not a professional TV show describer.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Minor Yard Work, Part 2

Yesterday, I stopped with some plantings completed and equipment batteries being recharged.

So, they were both charged.  I used the hedge trimmer to cut the seedpods off the Spring bulbs.  It worked wonderfully.  I trimmed the tops off some leaves, but that won't cause any harm.  The leaves with rebuild the bulbs just fine.

Then I pulled out the weed whacker.  It's a powerful one.  A Ryobi 40 volt lithium/ion battery.  Lasts a good 30 minutes.  Lithium/ion batteries take some getting used to.  The battery doesn't weaken and slow down gradually; it just suddenly stops!  Which is actually very nice; you KNOW when it is done, LOL!

I had 2 purposes for it.  First was to cut down the weeds growing between the raised framed garden beds.  That went easily.  The second purpose was to cut down Some Damn Vine.  The neighbor planted it in his backyard years ago.  When he realized how invasive it was, he just mowed it in open territory until it died.

But by that time, it had crept into my backyard.  My backyard is not so open and amenable to mowing.  I have shrubs, I have piles of flat rocks (to be used someday, LOL), I have flowers.  The stuff is worse than forsythia (and I have those from him too).  I can dig out the forythia suckers that sneak in (an annoying annual project) but the vine is not diggable in any practical sense.

So I weed-whacked half of them yesterday (the battery drained).  The idea is that when they are weakened by leaf-loss  and start to grow new leaves I will herbicide them.  I hate using stuff like that, but nothing else has killed them.  I tried boiling water, vinegar, and a propane torch.  The roots are too deep.  I'm going to put large sheets of corrugated cardboard (saved from some flat assemble-yourself bookcases) against my garden enclosure to prevent drift on a windless day and spray them with coarse spray (less wind-drift) very close in short bursts.

Then I will lay the cardboard down on top of the whacked and sprayed vines and put boards on top to keep it in place.  For a YEAR!  I have a spot where I overturned a trash can on them last Summer.  The vines are white, but not dead yet!  If spraying AND covering them won't kill them, I don't know what will

Worse, they are among my fenceline flowerbed.  I can't spray and cover there.  Fortunately (in a sad way) most of the perennials in the invaded area have faded away over the years.  The remaining ones are large and movable (daylilies, sedum 'Autumn Joy' or easy to move like columbines).  The shrubs against the fence are either unwanted ('Golden Euonymous) or about dead (20 year old butterfly bushes).

So there, I'm going to empty the infested part and spray and cover it with black plastic.

The neighbor abandoned the house to the bank last Fall.  I'm thinking of sneaking over there some night and hitting everything within 6' of the fence with Roundup before the place is sold.  I'll have to remove a few fence boards to get at it unobserved...

But I did some positive things too.  I had a LOT of pulled weeds and cut junk saplings.  So I collected the tree debris into a pile (along with a big pile of Winter-fallen tree branches).  I have a trailer-load of that.  I'll bring them to a County recycling place and return with a load of free mulch.

That was enough for the day.  So I went inside and pursued another yard project.  I set up an edged island around a Saucer Magnolia Tree and a 3' boulder I had delivered in place 10 years ago.  I always meant to make a planting island around them, but never did until last year.

I filled the space with 3" of fallen leaves and 3" of compost, assuming it would smother the grass.  It mostly did, but there were some places the grass can through.  I raked the leaves and compost off those areas, laid down packing paper (I save that stuff that comes in shipping boxes).  It's 2' wide and up to 20' long.  So I laid that down on the exposed grass (like I should have all over the island originally) and raked the compost back over it.  That should pretty much take care of the grass.

I planted 50 red 'Fanal' Astilbe nearest the house there, but they didn't take as much space as I thought.  Well, the whole new idea for the front yard is to plant stuff deer don't like.  BTW, I got most of the Astilbes on eBay at a great price (this is no ad, just saying).. Most places are $90/25, eBay offerred them $60/25.  And they were growing and healthy, not bare-roots).

So I went inside and really searched for truly deer-resistant shade-tolerant perennials.  There are lots of lists and few agree.  But I found a GREAT spreadsheet listing plants by degree of deer-resistance.  Do take a look at it.

The site divides plants into 4 categories of deer-resistance; and gives the common name, Latin name, and type (annual, perennial, groundcover, grass, shrub, tree).  I was sad to see that Astilbes are only "Seldom Severely Damaged".  But I got a good list of "Rarely Damaged" shade tolerant perennials to fill the rest of the area.

Some are ones I already have in abundance.  Japanese Painted Ferns, Bishop's Weed, and Ajuga (Bugle Weed).  But there were also some others I liked that I don't have.  Lamb's Ear, Lenten Rose, Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and Spurge (Euphorbia).  If you know anything bad about those last ones, please tell me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Minor Yard Work

It rained most of Saturday, was originally forecast to rain most of the afternoon yesterday (but didn't) and is forecast to rain most of today and tomorrow.  On one, we need the rain; it's been a dryish Spring.  On the other hand, I have a lot I need to do at this time of year.  So I took advantage of the rain delay to take care of some minor work, expecting that I won't get much done outside today and Tuesday.

First on the list was the remove the seedheads from the faded Spring bulbs.  Removing the seedheads prevents the plants from spending energy developing the useless seeds.  It matters more to Tulips and Hyacinths than to Daffodils, but I did most of them anyway.  There is a border of Daffodils that still have some flowers blooming, so I will wait on them.

A hedge trimmer does the job nicely.  A string trimmer works even better.  Naturally, both had weak batteries so I set them to charge.

So, noticing that the first mosquitoes of the year are out and about, I decided to set up traps.  I have a lot of cheap black plastic pots that seedlings get shipped in, so I found 4 that 1 gallon plastic bags fit onto perfectly.  If you knock down the 1st few generations of mosquitoes, it makes things better all season.  Between the 4 pots, my 5' lily pond, and a tub in the far back yard, that made 6 traps around the backyard.  Black pots work best; it looks dark and safe to the female mosquitoes.

I use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) in water to kill the mosquito larvae.  The stuff works great and is harmless to people, pets, and beneficial insects.  It comes in "doughnut" shape and you can break them apart according to the amount of water to treat.  The pond only needs a 1/4 of one per month; the smaller containers just need a sprinkle of a crushed 1/4.

The female mosquito finds a nice still pot of water and is happy to lay all her eggs there.  She has done her duty.  The Bt kills the larvae, so there are few adults around, so I am happy.   I marked the small pots with an orange landscaping flag so I remember where they are.  Seriously, if I don't sprinkle in some Bt into the pots each month, then I an BREEDING mosquitoes and I would be very unhappy.  So the flags help me remember them.

I moved some fancy hostas from the front yard to a spot under the deck in the backyard last week.  The deer ate most of the fancy hostas in the front the past 2 years.  The hostas survived but smaller each year.  So moving them was essential.  The deer have never jumped the 6' fence in 30 years (I would have noticed plant damage and hoofprints).  So the fancy hostas are safe there.

There are some large hostas in front that the deer never bothered, so I divided each of them in 1/4s and planted them where the fancy ones had been.  Hostas are tough and accept crude divisions well.  I like the new look too.  It brings a uniformity to the front planting near the foundation framed beds (one is 8'x12' and the other is 12'x16').  They are not massed, but individual, so they are each visible from the street.  I do the front yard to make the neighbors jealous; I don't actually spend any time there myself.  LOL!

They looked like this before being divided...
 They they looked like this in the original side after...
But don't worry, they perked right up after some watering.

So the new backyard underdeck hosta bed is planted, alternating 'June' and 'Paul's Glory' with some small ones surrounding them.  But I was 1 Paul's Glory' short.  I thought I would have wait a couple years and divide the largest one to fill the spot, but I realized I had a couple in an old hosta bed along the back fence, so I divided the largest one and moved the division to the empty spot.

Ah...  Completion of symmetry!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Humor

Famous Predictions

Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility--a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.
- Lee de Forest, 1926, inventor of the cathode ray tube

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.
- Thomas J. Watson, 1943, Chairman of the Board of IBM

It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.
- Albert Einstein's teacher to his father, 1895

It will be years - not in my time - before a woman will become Prime Minister.
- Margaret Thatcher, 1974

This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
- Western Union internal memo, 1876

We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.
- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962

Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

640K ought to be enough for anybody.
- Bill Gates, 1981

Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.
- Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

We don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.
- Hewlett-Packard's rejection of Steve Jobs, who went on to found Apple Computers

King George II said in 1773 that the American colonies had little stomach for revolution.

An official of the White Star Line, speaking of the firm's newly built flagship, the Titanic, launched in 1912, declared that the ship was unsinkable.

In 1939 The New York Times said the problem of TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn't have time for it.

An English astronomy professor said in the early 20th century that air travel at high speed would be impossible because passengers would suffocate.

Airplanes are interesting toys, but they have no military value.
- Marshal Ferdinand Foch in 1911

With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.
- Business Week, 1958

Whatever happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.
- Frank Knox, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, on December 4, 1941

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.
- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, October 16, 1929.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Backyard Sanctuary

The deer love the fancy Hostas.  I call them "twinkies".  But the deer never come over the backyard fence.  So it made sense to move the hostas the deer loved to eat to the back yard.

When I had the deck rebuilt and enlarged, I framed the posts and added soil.  I hate to leave a good spot for planting unused.  Some day, I might have no lawn at all, LOL!

In the past few years, I've grown Impatiens and Coleus under the deck.  But it seems a perfect place for hostas.  Here is the first.

Then I added a bunch of others rescued from the front yard deer fast-food stop.
The main ones are 'June'.  The in between ones are 'Paul's Glory'.  I love both.   The small ones on the left are 'Blue Cadet'.  When they mature I will divide them to add a row on the right.  It will probably need 2 year's growth.

You can see some crocus leaves scatterred in there.  I had some old ones and planted them there.  Next Fall, I will plant new crocuses all around the hostas.  Well. they come up at different times.

'June' is a real beauty.  If I could have just one hosta, that would be the one.
'Paul's Glory' is a good one too.  It doesn't show color much at first, but it gets better after maturing.   I have this one elsewhere and it looks very good.   Anything better than just plain green is good to me, LOL!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Busy As Bees We Is. Part 5

I am worn out.  Today was the most recent day of hard work.  Went from Noon to 5 pm with two 15 minute breaks. 

Moving and dividing large Hosta plants surrounded closely by Daffodils I don't want to damage is hard.  Planting the divisions in new patterns among the existing Daffodils is even harder. 

My knees feel broken, my back muscles are complaining, and I got leg and side cramps after I stopped.  And I have Hostas I dug up yet to be transplanted (i watered them in a shady location before stopping for the day).  So tomorrow is "once more with the shovel".

So I want to show off some pictures of HAPPY...  They don't all apply to this week's work, but they are good reminders of why I do the work.
 A good standard Daffodil
 New Astilbes growing.
Serious contrast
Lovely tulips in wire cages to protect from voles
As bold as a Daffodil can get
Multiple daffodils
Bold colors
Bright colors
 Delicate colors
Multiple blooms
Many Tulips together
 And some planted 10 years ago still blooming (somehow escaping the voles)

The new flowerbed border Daffodils ('Hillstar')

 Iza In Flowers
Marley In Flowers

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Busy As Bees We Is, Part 4

The last post in this series is the Hummingbird/Bee/Butterfly Garden.

I have this 10' diameter edged area I intended for one plant but it spreads through seeds elsewhere.  Lysymachia Firecracker is an EVIL plant!  I am seeking to kill it before it spreads further.  Herbicide is not out of the question though I try to stay organic.  It doesn't die being scraped off at ground level; apparently, I'll have to dig each and every one out deeply.

But that left the place it was intended for.  So I bought some individual hummingbird, butterfly and bee seed mixes.  The flowers can grow in the medium soil I have, but want a good soil for germinating.  And they do best without much weed competition.

I have a big rototiller.  But it doesn't work very well in small areas or with a lot of grass roots.  So last year, I bought a little electric tiller.  It won't get more than a few inches deep. but it is light and I can hold it in place over stubborn weeds to grind down below the roots.

I'm a few days behind the actual events, but a few days ago, I dragged it out and used it in the bed.  I went north/south once and east/west once.  Then I dragged it backwards along the inside edge of the plastic edging.  I raked out most of the rocks and dumped two 5 gallon buckets of rocks along the fenceline (well, they have to go "somewhere").

Then I spread 1/2" of 50/50 compost/topsoil mix on the raked surface.  After that, I spread the hummingbird, butterfly and bee seed mixes on the surface and added another 1/8" loose soil on top.  Moistened the whole area with a mister nozzle (to not move the seeds).

Can't wait to see what grows!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Busy As Bees We Is, Part 3

The small garden crops...

One of the things I love about gardening is the small crops.  I use Square Foot Gardening for those.  The past few days I planted several.  Two kinds of radishes, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, swiss chard, and spinach.  Repeated planting of those every 2 weeks for a month.

Planted small watermelons and cantaloupes.  Next week, I have other stuff to plant.  But Square foot gardening takes time.  For each Square Foot (sq ft), I use a hand cultivator to scratch up the soil 3" deep.  Then I rub the loosened soil between my hands to pulverize it and smooth the sq ft out.  That makes it easier for the roots to spread. 

I poke holes with my fingers to match the number of seeds to plant per sq ft.  After I drop the seeds in, I fill the hole with vermiculite.  It doesn't form a surface crust like soil can.  I get VERY good seed emergence!

I did that first plantings last week.  Already the radishes are up (25 per sq ft), and I think I'm seeing the first spinach (9 per sq ft).  Maybe some beets (16), kohlrabi (4) and 2 chard (4). 

I planted the melons where I can direct them to trellisses.  I save onion mesh bags to support the fruits on the trellis.  Sq ft gardening is all about using space most efficiently.

One problem with sq ft gardening in raised framed beds is knowing where each sq ft is.  I marked them along the edges last year, but the markings faded in the sun.  So I am going to cut a shallow sawcut at each foot measurement soon.  THAT will last!

Tomorrow, the new hummingbird/bee/butterfly bed...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Busy As Bees We Is, Part 2

Yesterday was about tomato-planting.

Separately, I've gone big on Red Astilbes this year ('Fanal' if you want to know).  I've planted 75.  25 in the backyard when an entirely useless flower called Teucherium was growing for 10 years and never looked much different from weeds.  50 in the new front yard island I created last Fall surrounding the Saucer Magnolia tree and a 3' boulder I have delivered in 2006.

The island is irregular shaped, but about 30'x15'.  I set in 6" edging all around last Fall and covered the area with 3" of wet fallen leaves and covered it with 3" of 50/50 compost and topsoil mix to smother the grass.  You know that brown paper that is used for shipping boxes?  I saved it, smoothed it out (pull it as smooth as you can, put it on the driveway, and use a push broom on it; flattens it out nicely).  I considered putting that down to cover the grass before putting the leaves and compost mix on it but decided that it wasn't necessary.  Wrong.  I had to rake up a lot of the leaves and compost where the grass grew through and do it right the 2nd time.  Always do it "right" the 1st time.  It would have been SO mush easier.

I got most of the patches of grass that managed to grow up through the leaves and compost mix covered with the 3' wide paper.  It will degrade by Fall but it won't be needed by then.  Any new weeds will be surface ones that blow in.  You can't stop THAT.

So I had a routine for planting the Astilbes.  First I planted landscaping flags (endlessly useful things or marking spots anywhere).  I stuck the flags every 2' along the top (closest to the house) edge.  I used a bulb planter to make the holes.  They don't need big improved holes like tomatoes and the lawn soil was "decent" (after 30 years of gradual improvement here).

At each landscaping flag, I laid out a bare-root Astilbe.  I brushed away the compost mix, pushed the bulb-planter to full depth, brushed in some compost mix, set the bare-root in just below soil level and backfilled.  Then a 2nd offset row (I tend to make triangles).  Then a 3rd (and none within 3' of the Saucer Magnolia because I intend to put a 3' carpet circle around it).

Carpet is great!  It is water and air permeable, lasts forever, and weeds don't grow up through it.  Just don't use "outdoor" carpet.  It is rubber-backed and air and water won't get through it.  Look for a neighbor renovated the house or talk to a carpet installer.  To them it is just trash.  You can get it free of cheap.

So I planted the last of 50 front yard island Astilbes this afternoon (listening to the Washington Nationals baseball team game against the Philadelphia Phillies on radio - We won).  Then I soaked the planted area thoroughly.  50 Astilbe 2' apart don't use up as much space as you might think.

As existing plants go, they are relatively inexpensive.  I got the 1st 25 for $60, unhappily sprung for 25 at $90, and found the last 25 for $60 on ebay (those last arrived in outstanding condition, BTW).  Yeah, that seems like a lot of money, but try to find Astilbe SEEDS.  :)

And those only covered 1/4 of the island!  I chose Astilbes because the area is 1/2 shaded.  I need something else to cover the rest.  The front yard is open to deer and we have a LOT of them here.  Astilbes are considered deer-resistant and they already pulled 2 up.  They didn't like them much and I was able to replant them.

I need something more deer-resistant.  I found some lists that suggest good choices.  Most aren't shade-tolerant, but Heucheria (Coral Bells), Oriental Poppies, and Japanese Painted Ferns seem good.  I have a lot of Japanese Painted Ferns scatterred around, so I think I will consolidate them to the streetside of the island.  I might add some short ornamental grasses in the mix.

Tomorrow, the small garden crops...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Busy As Bees We Is, Part 1

This is one on the busiest times of year for me in the yard and garden (the "Yarden").  No matter how I try to organize things, the week around the average last frost day of the year has too much to do.  This year (someone hit me with a "stupid stick"), I added to it.  I bought more flowers to plant.

In the past few days, I did too much and every joint and muscle is sore (I Love Ibuprofen and non-smelly muscle rub).  But I think I've gotten over the hump for this year, so I have time to post about it. 

First, I should say that I am not a very efficient user of time these days.  Oh, in the office, I was great at it.  I could multi-task with the best.  Switching from scrolling through telephone call data to answering a telephone question from a regional office, to joining a quick meeting on some other subject, no problem.  I was at the office and that was all I was doing.  Office stuff.

Second, at home, forget it!  I'm in bed 10 hours to get 7 hours sleep, I spend a lot of time preparing fresh meals, I play with the cats, I watch some TV in the evening (political commentary, baseball, documentaries).  I have to fit all the yard and house work around those.

When I plant stuff outside, I am very detailed.  Take planting tomato seedlings, for example.  I don't just jam a trowel into the dirt and stick a rootball in there.  No...  I dig a hole a foot wide and deep.  I put a handful of compost in the hole, add a sprinkle of crushed eggshells I saved (to reduce blossom-end rot), add sprinkle of 2-6-6 fertilizer (for stem and root growth - the compost provides the nitrogen).  I add the lovingly-grown tomato seedling, add a mix of compost and topsoil, and repeat that 2x until the seedling is buried with only the top leaves showing (tomatoes will grow roots from all buried stem). 

Then I form a wall around the seedling to hold water and stick a metal label in the ground with the variety name on it.  Then I put in a 3' stake to hold the seedling as it grows, and go on to the next seedling.  When I finish a row of tomato seedlings (3, 4, 5 whatever fits in the space).  Then I cut holes in a red IRT plastic fabric that both suppresses weeds AND reflects red light upward into the tomato plants (increases yields about 10-20% - I need all the help I can get with my limited sunlight). 

Then I place heavy-duty wire cages over each seedling.  Forget those cheap flimsy tomato cages they sell in catalogs.  Mine are made of concrete reinforcement  wire mesh.  The openings are 6" square, and the cages are 24" diameter and 5' tall.  Each cafe is then anchored in place with a 6' metal stake pounded at least a foot deep to prevent summer storms from blowing the mature plants in the cages over. 

And I'm doing all that rather bent over perched on a piece of plywood to distribute my weight so I don't compact the lovely soil around them!  It takes about 20 minutes per seedling overall from start to finish and I'm in awkward positions most of the time. 

That's the difference between a hobby and a business, LOL!

So, over the past few days, I planted 12 tomato seedlings - 4 hours just for that.  But they are good to go for the season...

Part 2 tomorrow...

Monday, April 10, 2017


Three words...  Tax Preparation Day!

The good news is that with software, all the bewildering income, interest, dividend and State annuity exclusion (since I am now over 65) work for Federal and State taxes only took an hour, plus I filed both electronically this year.  There was a charge for State, but I even made a few bucks there since my credit card gives me 2% back.  LOL!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Random Thoughts

Someome who emails monthly hasn't for 3 months.  I checked the obituary pages.  Not there.

My sister will be visiting in a few months, lots of work to do.  I have plaster over spots where electrical work was done 2 years ago.  I better get at that.  And some painting to do.

It really messed me up having the old Mac Mini computer filled up last month AND Verizon shifting my email to AOL at the same time.  Bought a 4x good new Mac.  Took 40 hours in March not getting it working with the Mac Mail.  And then suddenly, one of their techs DID.  Hurray, and I deserved it.

A shipment of canned cat food arrived half destroyed so badly I took pictures and complained.  The shipper sent a new full shipment.  The replacement shipment came surrounded by bubble-wrap.  Smart people.  There were still a few dented cans, but not actually damaged.  Good.  They keep my business.

My old M/W finally died.  The replacement arced twice.  Burned a black hole right through a sweet potato.  No way I would tolerate THAT.  They accepted a return and I bought a lower-powered one.   Well, I M/W small amounts sometimes.  So it is slower but safer.

I planted 25 Astilbe flower roots in the front yard.  They are supposed to be deer-resistant.  The first night, some deer came by and pulled 2 up.  Deer don't chew, they grab leaves and pull.  So I replanted the 2.  They didn't actually eat them.  I may sit out hidden by my my front steps with my crossbow.  A few deer running around with a bolt in their flanks should discourage them from feeding here.  And if one dies on the front lawn, I know how to butcher one.

But there are sprays that activate when something approaches.  I might try that too.  Disassembling a deer takes some time and I don't need the meat.

Speaking of deer, there are actually some plants they don't like.  I'm collecting some for the front yard.   There are so many deer here, they are worse than rabbits and groundhogs combined.  A solution would be wolves, but who wants to face a wolf when you take out the trash at night?  I prefer to deal with herbivores.

My daffodils are at their peak.
I have some of 2 types planted last year and some of those planted new last Fall.  They didn't all bloom at the same time this year.  Next year they will.  And I'll add more this coming Fall.  The tulips and hyacinths didn't work out even protected in cages (from voles).  I think I will just cover the yard in daffodils.  They are immune to voles (toxic to rodents).

I played one of my best online chess games the other night.  The other player had beat me 2 times.  He is better.  But that game had such a great ending.  He even complimented me on it.  When you have it, you have it.  One grandmaster once said "Sometimes, I forget the opponent has good ideas too".   I won the next 3 games.

I have a windowsill planter full of baby bok choy.  I harvest leaves at a time.  None of those grocery store rust-infested junk.  And I have 6 celery plants I harvest leaves from too.  Only way to go.

I'm thrilled baseball season has started again.  I visit my cat friends more often then.  Football and basketball are too busy.  Baseball gives me time.

I planted wildflower seeds in a bed yesterday.  I spread compost out a 1/2" deep, scattered the large seeds on tip, then spread 1/8" compost around and scatterred small seeds over that.  That wasn't exactly the instructions, but it matched what  I read about the plants online.  I hope for serious wildflower growth.  And some perennial wildflowers I planted last year seem to be coming up.  I know my regular yard weeds and these aren't those.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Daily Grind

You would think that, being retired, I would have all the time I need to do the things I want to do.  Sadly, no.  My activities expand to fill all available time.

Thursday was a great example (I'm behind a few days in my posts).

I started off the day with a haircut.  It had been 2 months...

I bought a new microwave oven a month ago.  After a couple weeks, it arced and popped twice even burned a black tunnel through a sweet potato.  It is more wattage and interior size than my previous one.  Trust me, I know not to put anything metal in the M/W after 25 years of them, LOL!  Keeping a pyrex measuring cup of water in it stopped the problem, but made me realize that it is designed to cook larger quantities of food than I routinely do.

And I decided there was no way I was going to get along with having a pyrex cup of water in the M/W for the next 8-10 years.  So I called Amazon about returning it.  I order a LOT of stuff from them, so they are forgiving about the occasional return.  They emailed a return label.

I repacked it so carefully I even put the peel-off plastic wrap back on!  I keep EVERYTHING from a box for 90 days, just for reasons like this.  But I had to get it back to UPS eventually and I wasn't looking forward to it.  The darn box was so big I could barely get my hands around it to carry it to the car, and the distance from customer parking to the UPS input desk seemed more than I wanted to do.  But I have a little handcart and that made it a lot easier.

Then I pulled it in the the input desk, the guy said "Wow, what are you shipping"?  I said I had a bad shoulder (sometimes a small lie eases conversation).  He casually picked it up and placed in on his counter.  Hey, he looked 25, and I'm not.  It's something you start to get used to in your 60s.

That taken care of, I drove home, where I discovered that another UPS guy had delivered a 50# bag of Nyger seed for the goldfinches.  I buy it that way because it is really cheaper per pound.  But the M/W was only 35# and this was 50#.  Yet I could lift it because it was a smaller box!  I could get my arms around it.

Ladies, when you complain that you can't reach to top shelfs of kitchen cabinets or lift heavier objects, I understand.  I'm 66 and 5'6".  I know the problems.  I have a few 2 step stepladders around the house for a reason.  Every time I buy a new pair of pants I have to bring then to an alterations guy saying make the inseam 25".  And he goes "Are you sure"?  Yeah...

Anyway, I was able to carry the 50# bag of Nyger seed to the basement (not easily).  So at the workbench, I had a 50# bag of nyger seeds and two 35# buckets of kitty litter and 2 cases of wine.  And 4 litter boxes to clean.  I knew what the next couple of hours was going to be like.

I used to buy kitty litter in 12# plastic jugs.  I saved them.  It is worth the effort to transfer it from the buckets to the jugs.  And I found a 12" funnel to help.  So I set the 12# jugs on a bucket on the floor and lift the 35# tubs to dump it into them through the huge funnel.  I can handle a 35# tub of litter but not a 35# box with a M/W in it.  Smaller!  30 minutes of pouring and I have 5 12# jugs easier to handle for the next few weeks.  Done!

Now I have the 50# bag of nyger seed (I should actually weigh those some day to make sure the supplier is honest).  I got it up on the workbench laying flat, put a 5 gallon bucket right underneth a corner overhanging the bench and cut it open carefully.  As I saw the spilling seeds were going right into the bucket slowly, I cut it open a bit more.  When the bucket was 3/4 filled I lifted the cut corner to prevent further flow.  Stuck a brick under the corner.

Remember the kitty litter jugs I mentioned I saved?   I have more.  I use them for nyger seed too.  They are rectangular and fit perfectly into my freezer with little wasted space and that keeps the seed lasting longer.  Goldfinches won't eat "old" seed, which is one reason I won't buy the smaller bags in department stores.  They sit around, get heated, and the birds don't want them.  The 50# bags come straight from a producer and straight into the freezer.

So with the workbench FINALLY cleared, I could FINALLY clean the litter boxes.  I try to do that daily, but I KNOW I've waited too long when they gather around waiting for the cleaning.  Or maybe they just find it amazing that I do that and like to watch.  Who knows what cats think?

I have found it easier to just lift the litterboxes to the workbench one at a time.  It is easier on my knees and I get to sweep away the loose litter around them.   I sweep the spilled litter (not output) into a dustpan and toss it back in a litterbox.  Waste not, want not.  The cats don't mind; litter material is litter material.

But that wasn't the end of the afternoon.  I had 3 flats of flower seedlings emerging on the bottom shelf and the lights were 12" away.  Way too far.  But 2 bulbs were burned out.  I have what I think is a very good rule.  Cats and plants get what they need before I do.  They can't take care of themselves indoors.

So I had to haul out 3 flats of seedlings, find 2 bulbs, and replace them.  The bottom shelf is the worst.  I had to place bulbs toward the back of the shelf and so crawled in on my back over the shelf.  Which is bad.  When I twist around like that, I usually get some back or rib muscle spasms.

They didn't want to go in.  It took 3 frustrating minutes to get one in, only 1 to get the other.  But 4 minutes on your back in discomfort is never fun.  But I did it and crawled back out.  Sure enough, soon as I stood up, muscle cramps!  Never fun.  But I won't stop gardening because of that.  Its worth it.

After that, since it was still daylight and heavy rains are coming today, I re-planted snow peas where the previous planting didn't come up.  I planted 20 originally and 9 came up.  So I planted 11 more.

And then, just to make sure all my seedlings were growing close the the indoors lights, I took all the flats off the shelves and rearranged the 6-packs.  Some seeds were 2" tall and some just emerging, so the re-arrangement was needed.  Now I have flats of newly-emerging seeds and taller ones grouped together. and each growing as close to the lights as possible.

All are as close to the light bulbs as possible. Matched in heightss

Then I made dinner, watched an hour of political talk TV and came here!  To blog personally and catly.

Quite a Day! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Day After

I hope you fell for my April Fool Joke yesterday.  I'm not REALLY having to move.  LOL!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

I'm Moving

Oh damn, I have to.  I received a legal notice in the mail today that "The Western Bypass" around Waldorf has finally been approved by the State after 30 years of fussing  It goes right through my property as planned years ago.  I thought after 5 years of no action, it was dead.

I have 6 months to move.  I can challenge that but I don't think I will.  Spring-to Fall is the easier time to move.  I just KNEW this would happen someday.

I started seeing some new road construction last month that suggested the bypass was being built, but I didn't want to believe it.  Sadly, it is.

They have been ripping out trees in a long straight line directly opposite the end on the existing Bypass, so I assume they are moving forward on the idea now.  And it is coming straight toward me...

I am of 2 minds on this.  First, I have spent a lot of time and effort planting stuff around the yard.  But The neighbors' trees cast so much shade that gardening is hard.  They may be doing me a favor.  I will get the assessed tax value of the property and (bizzarely) that is possibly even higher than the actual selling price (they assess taxes to the max here).

I have explored the idea of moving each Fall for the last 3 years but chickened out.  This time, I have no choice...

What I WANT is 2 acres of sunlight and a large 1 story open room house (the kind you can see across without walls).  Getting that without having well water will be trickey, but on the far edges of city water, I can probably afford that.  I love gardening enough to pay for that AND city water.

I'll be busy for a while...

But on the other hand, it looks like I will be able to start fresh from a new house and yard and that IS kind of exciting!  The hard part will be getting my woodworking equipment and all the garden equipment (I've accumulated more than you might think.)  But there are companies that specialize in that work and on online site suggests it is not TOO expensive.

Wish me luck.  It's going to be a very busy year.