This is For the Birds

We had such a cold, snowy winter I worried that the local birds (especially the cardinals) wouldn’t find enough to eat.  I found some bird seed that had been a give-away at a wedding and laid it out on the back deck in a tin pie pan.  The birds thought that was wonderful.  They came by the dozens, and soon there was no seed left.

Since my little experiment had gone so well, I purchased a bird feeder and some seed.  Well, the local bird community thought that was just the best idea ever.  I must confess that I thought that having bird feeders was such an old-lady thing to do, but the whole family has really enjoyed watching the birds.  Especially the cardinals.  There’s a big cardinal we named Brutus.  He’s so fat he looks like a dirigible coming in for a landing.

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As the season has changed, so has our bird population.  Warmer weather has brought all kinds of new birds, including a bunch of rather unwelcome crows.  I have nothing against crows in general, but these fellows chase all the other birds away and completely dump the feeder every day to pick out the corn.

I read somewhere that switching over to black oil sunflower seed for a couple of weeks would discourage the crows.  They do seem to be coming by less frequently, but they still check things out.  It has only been about a week so far.  Hopefully they’ll find some new feeder soon so I can switch back to the other mix.  Black oil sunflower seed is more than twice the cost of what I was getting before.

Just so I have it documented somewhere, here’s a list of what comes around so far: cardinals, house finches, mourning doves, american goldfinches, crows, american tree sparrow, chipping sparrow, black capped chickadee, red breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, pine siskin, and carolina wren.  Some of them have stopped coming since we changed the seed.  Right now the cardinals, house finches, and american goldfinches are our primary visitors.  Maybe summer will bring us different birds.  We’ll see.

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Planting the Salad Crops

The days have been lovely and warm this week.  I ended up taking two days off from work to recover.  I still feel wobbly, but not awful – just tired, but I really wanted to take advantage of the comfortable temperature today to work in the yard.  I added some manure to one of the square foot garden beds and put in the salad crops.

10398736_10208874805686445_8949625700541521115_nThose are peas over by the trellis.  I started them indoors about four weeks ago and hardened them off this week.  They should be OK.  The other plants you see (if you can) are spinach and chard.  Filling the rest of the squares are three types of lettuce, a cabbage, radishes, carrots, and beets.  Some were direct sown, some already started.  Although our final frost date isn’t until April 15, I feel as if we have probably seen the last of the freezing temperatures.  As early as it is, if something does freeze, there will be plenty of time to direct sow later if need be.

I weeded the other square foot bed some more today.  It is going to take a ton of work to get back in shape, but it is more than half way there.  Moe is a little irritated with me for leaving clumps of weeds in the yard, but I don’t have enough energy to gather them up.  I’ll send one of the children out later to take care of it.  Once this bed is cleaned up I will put in the other plants.  Still not sure if I’ll waste it on the watermelon the kids want.  Ideally, we’ll get that grape arbor put in and I’ll plant the watermelon under that so I can put some better behaved plants in the bed.

Touring the yard, I found that the lilac appears to have made it through the winter, as well as the lillies, one of the peonies for sure, and the cherry trees.  All of the daffodils in the back are setting blooms, and the ones I planted out front in December are coming up.  Most of the tulips came up too, and one is setting a bud, so yay!

12814182_10208874797966252_8577431098681075097_nI should go shopping and pick up a new drop spreader so I can fertilize the yard, but I’m beat.  Instead, I’ll play the violin, read a book, and maybe knit.  There’s always tomorrow, right?

Garden Prep Time

We had so many responsibilities in town this week that we had to skip an event, which sucks.  But the advantage of staying near home is getting a lot done.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Natalie and I went to the hardware store to buy some seed starter.  The hardware store is a dangerous place for me (and her too, it turns out!).  We bought so many seeds!  I also got yard weed & feed and some black plastic to kill off existing vegetation where I want to put a border along the back fence.

12662685_10208599242197530_3365714783705255403_nSaturday was beautiful and nearly 70 degrees.  I tried to put the weed & feed on the lawn, but my drop spreader is broken.  Fail.

So for my next trick, I rolled out a 10×25 foot stretch of black plastic, cut it in thirds lengthwise, and used yard staples to pin it to the ground along the back fence.  It’s about 45 feet too short, but it ends behind the shed which sort of looks as if we planned it.

After that, I cleaned out the near square foot garden bed.  It’s all ready to receive plants as soon as they can go in the ground outside. We probably have 7 weeks before it’s safe around here to do that.  Even though I let that bed go at the end of the year, cleaning out was just tedious, not hard.  I started on the other square foot garden bed, but gave up half-way through.  When I put that one in, I didn’t do as good a job digging out all the grass beforehand. It wasn’t so bad the first year, but last year I overwintered onions and didn’t bother to plant anything else.  And then it got ignored.

I did dig out some of the weeds after the onions were lifted, but by then the grass had found it’s way in and I gave up.  The same thing happened yesterday.  After about 40 minutes of pulling grass, I threw in the towel.  Perhaps we will have more warm days before planting time and some more weeding can get done.

Today I did some extra house cleaning because some friends were bringing by an antique screen that I bought. It looks marvelous, by the way!  I also started some peas, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and peas so they will be ready to go into the salad garden when it is warm enough.  We are also going to plant carrots, beets and radishes, but we’ll direct-sow those later, along with more peas.  The boys want watermelon, and I have lots of flowers too.  We’ll find places for it all.  And Moe promised to put two 4x4s up for me so I can plant grapes too.  Fingers crossed that I don’t kill them.

Reluctant Gardener

A friend of mine went to the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh this weekend and helped me out by picking up some roses for my soon-to-be garden border out back. She knows I love old garden roses the best so she picked up Rose de Rescht, Blush Noisette, and Souvenir de la Malmaison. They will soon join the hydrangea, the cherry bush, and the lilac by the back fence. Boy do I have a lot of grass to get rid of!

The bushes will all be spaced eight feet apart and the spaces between them will be filled in with whatever strikes my fancy. I will be looking for a hardy lavender, some rosemary, a bunch of bulbs/tubers (gladiola, iris, tulip, lilly, daffodil, grape hyacinth), salvia, garlic, alium, daisies, coreopsis, monarda, thyme, dianthus, and gosh, just whatever isn’t a dandelion, chickweed, crabgrass, or some kind of thistle, which is what grows there now. I can picture what I want, but not how to describe it. Maybe like a cottage garden – only not as messy.

I’m a bad gardener in that I did not prepare beds at all. I just plopped the bushes in the ground and left all the grass and weeds in and around there. It’s going to make my life a lot harder now to get the border in, but it seemed preferable to leaving the plants in pots to die of dehydration like I have every other year. This is a long term project anyway. It’s not like I’m going to have a picture-perfect border by the end of the summer. There’s a lot of work to do, and I hate digging, being dirty, and heat. But I like flowers, so there’s that. Just call me a reluctant gardener.
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The good news is that the front yard looks pretty good. We have a service do the lawn treatments up front so it’s pretty much all nice, green grass. The front landscape beds are starting to shape up too. Mom’s irises bloomed this year and look nice with the clematis and other plants already in there. The heirloom peony has about 30 blooms on it waiting to burst open. The new peony just got transplanted so it’s a bit small with no buds, but it’s alive and we may get flowers on it next year. The lilies seem to be settling in, and the knockout rose is well, a knockout. Once I get bulbs bought and planted this fall, the front yard should start really coming into its own.

Seattle Memories Part II

In an effort to get it all down in print before I forget everything, here is part II of our Seattle adventure.

Pleased with ourselves for having squeezed in so much in our first full day in Seattle, we made an early start the next morning. Not that it’s hard to do when you are used to eastern standard time and you’re staying on the west coast. We went down to the handy dandy concierge (gotta love a 5 star hotel!) to help us with our itinerary. They managed to wangle passes to the Pompeii exhibit at the Pacific Center, which is something we wanted to see after the driver told us about it on the way to the hotel two nights earlier. The concierge also let us know that we could have the hotel driver take us where we wanted to go if they were available. Sweet!

OK, I don’t know about you guys, but as much as I enjoy walking, eleven blocks on an empty stomach was none too appealing. And seriously, who gets a chauffeur at their beck and call? Nobody we know! We made our way down to the doorman who called the car over for us right away, just like in the movies. Hello? Black Cadillac town car with privacy screens and a guy in a uniform driving it? Heaven! My jeans and cotton sweater felt a bit casual for the occasion, but who cares? We’re in a chauffeured car!

The driver was super nice, pointing out all the cool places to eat and telling us where we should go to see the best stuff, and what touristy things totally weren’t worth it. Hint, go look at the Space Needle, but don’t spend the money to go up in it. There are taller buildings with better views and cheaper elevator tickets. He dropped us off right at the Pacific Center and wished us a good day. Nice guy.

It was about 9:00 AM and we noticed that not a darn thing was open. Furthermore, there wasn’t anywhere to eat nearby. Fortunately, I had my phone and we found a Subway only four blocks away so we walked over there to get breakfast and had the whole place to ourselves. Subway breakfast is pretty good. We got back up to the Pacific Center about an hour later and things were just thinking about starting to open up. After wandering around for a bit, we happened into the EMP museum and checked out the gift shop. It had a few cute things, but nothing worth dragging around Seattle for the rest of the day.

Our next stop was the Pacific Center to see the Pompeii exhibit. Seeing all those marvelous things from so long ago was fascinating. I wanted to touch all the things, but of course I didn’t. But I’m jealous of all those museum employees who get to handle actual history. Being able to get close to the carvings and glasswork was amazing. I wish pieces like that were more common today. Life would be ever so much more beautiful. That exhibit was huge and totally worth the money. Too bad Seattle was its last stop in the US. What a treat!

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Since we were already at the museum, we spent some time with the regular exhibits. I wished that the kids had been there. They would have loved it, even if they are a bit too old for some of the hands-on type things. I was fascinated by the working bee hive enclosed in plexiglass. It didn’t take too long for me to locate the queen. Bees are cool, even if I am a little scared of them.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the butterfly aviary. I didn’t take any pictures of it, sadly. The variety of butterflies and the tropical plants were just stunning. I could have spent all day in there if it hadn’t been so hot. I suppose butterflies like the heat and humidity, whereas it just makes me want to find a margarita. Sadly, there were no margaritas to hand. I wonder if butterflies like margaritas?

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Of course, we visited the gift shop. There were tons of things we liked and would have gotten, but they were mostly not exclusive to the museum and had huge mark ups. We figured if we really wanted those things, we could search them out on Amazon later for a better price, and we wouldn’t have to trek all over Seattle lugging them in my tote bag. We visited a few of the souvenir shops in the area that we did buy some things from. After all, you can’t go away with your husband on a lovers’ vacation if you don’t bring something home for the kids, or the folks taking care of them. How is your child going to complain about only getting a T-shirt if you forget to bring home even that, amiright?

Then it was time for the #1 reason I wanted to go to Seattle – the Chihuly museum and garden! I wish I could recreate that at my house. It was so light, airy, and full of color. I can’t imagine how many gardeners they employ, but it’s certainly beyond my meager budget. The gardens are all themed, based on the colors of the glass objects installed in each one. Everything was beautifully balanced and delightfully arranged. If a Dr. Seuss book was brought to life, I expect it would look a lot like that.

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The museum itself was awe-inspiring. The first room took my breath away. It was the size of a small ball-room and the center of it, end-to-end, featured an enormous multi-hued spectacle of shapes and colors. There was a room that had all items inspired by southwestern Indian culture, with glass imitating the woven baskets and rugs they were displayed alongside. Then there were several spectacular rooms of ocean-themed glass, followed by the Persian ceiling. My pictures do not do any of it justice. I need a new phone that can take photos in low light without blurring. Moe bought me the exhibition book so that I would have some decent pictures of the art.

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At this point Moe and I were getting a bit tired and footsore. We debated the merits of taking the monorail halfway back, or calling the chauffer. However, Moe found a glass-blowing shop that would be right on the way back if we walked. Despite the knowledge that we would have to walk 11 blocks, we decided to go to the glassblowing studio. It was totally worth it. I got to do some serious geeking and spent some time touring the hot shop and warm studio. They also had a lot of local glass art for sale. Since I was disappointed that I couldn’t afford a piece of glass from the Chihuly museum, I consoled myself with a beautiful dichroic marble from a Seattle artist. Every time I look at it I will remember what an amazing trip it was.

We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, stopping only to get some sodas and junk-food from a pharmacy along the way. After about a 45 minute rest, Moe went back out exploring, and I spent the next two hours practicing repertoire on the violin. Thank goodness for metal hotel mutes!

Moe and I had a wonderful dinner that night at the Capital Grill. It was expensive, but I can’t say that I’ve had such a good steak or table service like that in a very long time. Honestly, if you go to Seattle for no other reason, go for the food. We ate our way through that city and would do it again in a heartbeat. I gained 6 pounds and have only just now lost it, and I would still hop on a plane tomorrow to dine in Seattle.

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Garden Clean Up

I’m home with a virus today and noticed bugs crawling around my back door. Upon closer inspection, they turned out to be lady bugs. I opened the door and found the outside of the house swarming with lady bugs of all colors – yellow, brown, orange and red. Some with spots, and some with no spots.

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I don’t know why they chose today to attack the house, but it may have to do with the beautiful warm sunshine.

Since I was outdoors, I figured a few minutes in the sun might help kill some germs so I did a few minutes of garden maintenance. My husband picked some tomatoes and peppers while I pulled up the frost-killed marigolds, zinnias, and beans. I also took down the trellis and stored it in the garage for next season. There’s still some work to do out there, but there’s no rush to pull up the rest.

It is interesting to note that the straw flowers, calendula and onions are still thriving. I will remember that for next year. There are still tomatoes ripening on the vine, so I left the plants and cages intact. At some point I need to pull the dahlias, but first I need to look up how to store the tubers. I look forward to next year’s garden already.

It’s Alive!

I have to say for the record that the square foot gardening method worked for me. This is the first year ever that I have gotten to the end of August and still had a living, thriving garden. The tomato plants are taller than I am. The dahlias and zinnias did fantastic. The cucumbers, peas, beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, bell peppers, and marigolds all did wonderfully. I will not grow onions or pole beans again, I think. They did poorly.

The family all agrees that the produce from the garden is much, much better than what we get from the store. There have been so many tomatoes that we can’t eat them all. And weeding has been a complete non-event. I have pulled maybe three stray blades of grass from the garden. Overall, I am calling it a win. I might even expand it next year to grow more things. We’ll see.

Now that it is almost September, it is time to put in some cool weather plants. I will do another round of radishes, some lettuce, more peas, and maybe some spinach. I won’t go overboard and will probably confine it all to one square so that I can do some amendment to the soil in the first one. Seriously, guys-I never thought this square foot gardening thing would work out. I’m really pleased with this project.