rebeccmeister: (Default)
Last year, [personal profile] sytharin built a set of raised beds for the bike driveway for squeezing in a couple more tomato plants into the yard. Overall, the project was highly successful - the retaining wall along the bikeway absorbs extra heat during the day, which helps nudge things just over the edge into temperatures that will actually produce tomatoes in the Bay Area.

But one aspect has been less than satisfying, as illustrated by something that happened just today:
Tomato staking strategies

I have yet to see a prefab tomato cage that is actually large enough to do a proper job.

So, some other strategy was needed. After some thought, I decided to try out something I saw in a book that involved two large posts and string running between them. Step one, acquire the posts. Step two, hmmm, how to sink them into the ground?

After feedback here and talking to RAC, I remembered an implement that my father had at home - what he'd called a "wrecking bar." I searched around a bit and discovered that most people refer to a slightly different implement as a "digging bar," which is used for digging post holes and tamping soil around the post hole. As luck would have it, the local Ace Hardware had one for sale, so I set to work using it to dig some post holes.

Tomato staking stratgies

That black shaft is the digging bar. It weighs 16 pounds, and so most of the work is accomplished just by lifting it in the air and dropping it down into the hole, where the chisel-shaped end bites its way through the ground.


Here's what I was able to accomplish after a bunch of pounding (snicker):

Tomato staking strategies


Starting to right the capsized tomato plants...

Tomato staking strategies

And, all strung up (for now; ran out of string):

Tomato staking strategies

Now my shoulders and hands are very tired. I suspect I'm going to be sore tomorrow. But it was satisfying to figure out how to tackle this project.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
It's a quiet time of year in the garden. While I was away traveling in Seattle, there was enough frost to convince the tomatoes to give up the ghost. [livejournal.com profile] sytharin had tried planting carrots, but without success. The same went for lettuce. It looks like we'll have a reasonable crop of kale and mustard greens, at least, but things are still a touch on the young side.

All these factors make it a good time to work on tidying projects, and to judge by her garden productivity this weekend, [livejournal.com profile] sytharin agreed. We are lucky to have some great complementary inclinations. She likes to go through and do a bunch of the larger-scale weeding projects (and she mows the grass!), and then I'll come along some time later to help transport all of the brush piles towards the branch-chipping area and compost.

Anyway, today I went through my collection of potted plants on the back patio, pulled out all the pots with dead things in them, repotted a couple of herb plants that were looking root-bound, and generally tidied things up.

Re-potted patio herbs

When we had a rental car about a month ago, [livejournal.com profile] scrottie took the opportunity to buy a whiskey barrel and cart it home so he could re-pot his apple tree. It's often possible to get "half-barrel" planters, but those are really only 1/3 of a barrel and aren't deep enough for a tree. Also it seems to me like many of those "half-barrel" planters weren't actually barrels to begin with, to judge by the wood quality. Anyway, he used three-quarters of the real whiskey barrel for the apple tree and was then had a left-over, shallow, quarter-barrel piece. So I moved the quarter-barrel out front and transplanted the Mara des Bois strawberry into it. Eventually I'll add more plants to hopefully increase next year's strawberry yield, so long as the deer don't discover it.

Strawberry planter
This photo also provides evidence of RAC's efforts to clear out the dead tomato wreckage and assess what happened to the sweet potatoes. The enthusiastic tomatoes appear to have prevented sweet potato production, so the sweet potatoes are staying in place for now and maybe we'll have a spring crop. We'll see.

Then I cleaned out and reorganized the potting shed.

Organizing the potting shed

It's still too full of stuff, which I think is the inherent nature of potting sheds, so I don't expect it to stay perfectly organized, but at least things are now in a state where there are better indicators for where various things should be put away.

And now I feel much better about the state of the garden, especially because [livejournal.com profile] sytharin also made such good progress on her tidying projects. Neither of us has had quite as much time as we'd like to keep things reigned in. But if we can get a reasonable start in during the cool winter months we'll at least be in adequate shape for 2017.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Back to working on job applications momentarily.

But first - I spent Sunday morning working on the front yard. At first glance, the front yard looks fabulous. It's lush and green and colorful. Those are signs of a nicely landscaped space.

At second glance, I think the best description for it is [livejournal.com profile] sytharin's brief summary this morning: she was going for "drought-tolerant with succulents," whereas A may or may not have gotten carried away with flamboyant plants, and the result is a mixture of great things and things that grow just a *little* too aggressively.

The result does not make for a low-maintenance landscape. That makes me miss the Farmer House, which had a phenomenal xeriscaped front yard that was indeed low-maintenance. Ah well. Perhaps in the long run we can transition it into a lower-maintenance landscape. For now, the main thing that has to happen is repeatedly charging at the windmill.

A few photographs:

Garden interlude
Here you are looking towards the front walk. I spent a bunch of time liberating that silvery bunchgrassy plant in the foreground. There's some sort of pleasant viney plant growing along the brickwork behind it, but in the absence of regular pruning, the viney plant has been trying to engulf everything within reach.

Garden interlude
It's hard to tell from this photo, but this is where I spent the most time, battling against the same viney plant before it takes over the sidewalk. In this picture, it's now mostly confined to the brickwork. Along the top, it was trying to grow out, but the ornamental strawberry planted as groundcover was also trying to grow out and down over it. Both parties are at least contained, for now, for the most part.

Garden interlude
The front bed, plus Princess TinyCar and [livejournal.com profile] scrottie's motorcycle. I didn't do this area full justice today. I just focused on ripping out a bunch of nasturtium. This bed needs a better long-term strategy. It's chock-full of wildflower weed seeds, which like to grow up and engulf the long-term residents. I am thinking it probably needs a very thorough weeding and then a nice, thick bed of mulch. There are a number of wonderful plants tucked in here among all of the weeds. I would note that those blonde bunchgrasses that look so elegant also appear to be good at spreading themselves willy-nilly. Plant cautiously.

Garden interlude
Things aren't always as they seem. The lambs' ear, in the foreground, looks good, sure, but is also great at propagating itself. In the background, near the base of that maple tree, there's a drought-tolerant, low-lying shrub that you can barely see. It doesn't look like too much yet, but is coming back to life thanks to the recent rains. Other than that, things feel a little hodgepodge in this section at the moment. I think our strategy is going to be to take things out as they get too crazy, and replace them with things that aren't as crazy.

Garden interlude
I had some visitors while I worked. I didn't photograph all of the Argentine ants that came pouring out of one of the hens-and-chicks, or the dormant ladybugs, or the tiny spiders, or the copious earthworms, or the isopods, or the neighbors' dog.

Two non-garden photos:
Orchid room
Blossoms are forming on [livejournal.com profile] sytharin's orchid. Also, does anyone know how to re-attach the brass knob on that mister?

Sunday afternoon nap
Emma joins me for a Sunday afternoon nap.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
Step 1: Find ads. Note deadlines. Organize spreadsheet and decide whether or not to apply.

Step 2: Work on individual applications. For each application, look up info about the department so as to re-tailor materials to specifics of job ad description and department interests.

Step 3: Start individual online application process for individual application. Discover, partway through, that some totally random piece of information is needed. Hunt down the random information.

Step 4: Submit application. Send copies of materials in highly-organized format to reference letter writers, thanking them profusely yet again for writing reference letters for you.

Step 5: Wait several months without hearing anything.

The academic job hiring cycle is annual: ads come out in the summer and early fall up through around January for positions that generally start the following fall. Good luck getting other employment options to line up with that timeline!

-

Meanwhile, in the garden. [livejournal.com profile] sytharin has been out of town on vacation, so it has been up to [livejournal.com profile] scrottie and me to harvest and cook as much as we can. Here was last week's harvest:

Weekly garden harvest

That's a plant pot full of the Black Prince tomatoes. A-plus, would grow again. That bucket got turned mostly into ketchup.

The cucumbers are more challenging to use up. I finally took some time yesterday to turn a bunch of the pickling cucumbers into refrigerator pickles:

Cucumber problem (halfway) solved

Today I picked a two-thirds plant pot of tomatoes and used them plus that giant cucumber (size of my foot!) to make another batch of cucumber pico de gallo. So, only three medium-large slicing cucumbers left to deal with for now.

Tomato production is starting to wind down, for the Black Princes, at least. There are a couple other varieties in the backyard that look like they're just starting to pick up, but the plants aren't as crazily overgrown as the Black Prince plants, so the net haul won't be as large. Oh - [livejournal.com profile] scrottie picked about a gallon of cherry tomatoes, too. I think we're doing all right with tomatoes for the year.

Ferns

Aug. 11th, 2016 11:07 am
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Also, while I was out of town, the wee fern plant that I brought into the lab died due to a combination of aphids, overwatering, and underwatering. I am disappointed in myself for the final point.

My next plan is to get another fern, learn how to propagate it, plant it in the garden near one of the other ferns, and just bring in a propagule instead of keeping all my ferns in one basket.

Ferns are so pretty.

And maybe I should just get myself a wee vanilla bean orchid one of these days, because life is short.
rebeccmeister: (Iheartcoffee)
The eleventy-bajillion tomato plants that [livejournal.com profile] sytharin planted are beginning to produce a lot of tomatoes. We have all been discussing various plans for them: marinara, salsa, eating them, canning them.

I will probably make at least one more batch of dilly beans, too. Those were pretty straightforward.

We are doing a good job of catching the zucchinis before they get too big. The corn could also stand to be harvested, and fairly soon we'll have a couple of eggplants ready to go.

It's challenging to work up enthusiasm for these projects right now, after a busy trip and in the context of a lot of work stuff demanding attention.

I'd really like to be able to just throw a bunch of stuff into the freezer, but we just don't have a whole lot of freezer space, and it then becomes one more thing to try and manage and remember.

Maybe what I should do is just designate a couple hours each week for food-processing.

It makes me think back to Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where she talks about the stacks and stacks of tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
[livejournal.com profile] annikusrex came to town for a mini-conference on Friday, which meant that I got to kidnap her for Friday night and the better part of Saturday, hurrah! An amusing amount of cooking and eating ensued:

-Butternut squash pizza with goat cheese, romano, walnuts, apples, mushrooms, onions, and crispy sage (fried in butter). For the sauce, I roasted up a butternut squash and pureed it in the Cuisinart along with a bit more sage. In case that wasn't enough, it's also artichoke season, and they're actually available for an affordable price around here ($1/each for organic ones). Yum.

-For breakfast, another feast. [livejournal.com profile] sytharin has been wanting to have some of our dad's Swedish pancakes, but at some point in her travels her Herman culture perished, and they just don't taste the same without that special little bit of twang from the Herman. I've managed to keep my own Herman going, so on Saturday morning, it was time. Here's our dad's Swedish pancake recipe. Swedish pancakes are like crepes, except slightly thicker:

1 C whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 C soy flour (you can substitute more pastry flour but the soy protein makes these more filling)
4 egs
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C melted butter
2 C milk
1 C Herman (omit if you don't have any, or you can probably use a regular sourdough culture to achieve a similar effect)

Put everything in the blender or whip it together with a whisk or egg beater. Heat your griddle to ~425 degrees F. Use around 1/2 C of batter to make plate-sized Swedish pancakes. Fill with your favorite fruit filling and top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. In our case, rhubarb compote made from rhubarb freshly harvested from the backyard.

-Then, Scrabble. RAC played a strong game, including a bingo, but then AKW played a bingo which wasn't a real word (MILKINGS) and we failed to challenge it, so she won. RAC hadn't known about the googly eyes on the J until she drew the J.

-After that, AKW and I tried to go to the newly renovated Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, except there was a "Medical Emergency" on BART (I believe that's code for somebody died?), so we hopped on the 72 bus and took the long route there. Fortunately, the weather was pleasantly warm, and the extended walk up University was scenic. We went past this place, which looked intriguing:

Intriguing Berkeley store

The museum itself was fine. A number of the individual pieces on display were striking, such as the artist who created sculptures out of spider silk by alternately giving solitary and social spiders access to a frame for web-building. When I first saw the pieces, I figured they were synthetically made. I liked how the artist was playing around with the solitary/social concept. The social spiders build interestingly engineered webs. Also striking was Portrait of my Father by Stephen Kaltenbach. There was some incredible colorwork in that piece that can really only be appreciated in person, appreciated even further when you realize it was painted in 1978. It has a holographic feel and shifts and moves as you look at it, plus it deals with some complex subjects.

As an exhibition, however, I felt like the curators were trying a little too hard to put in as many different kinds of things as they could to showcase the museum's collections and ties to other strengths of the university. The University of Nebraska's art museum, in contrast, did a better job of reverential presentation of works from its holdings.

Still, I love going to museums with AKW and it was wonderful to have her out for a visit!

-

While she and I were larking about, RAC was otherwise engaged. After Scrabble, she ran off to rent a pickup truck, and proceeded to drive all over hither and yon picking up all of the kinds of things one needs a pickup truck to acquire: two bales of straw, a bunch of bags of mulch, sand, pavers, three 50-pound bags of clay, a bag of pottery plaster, and probably a couple of other things I'm forgetting. I'm highly amused by a similarity in our temperaments - like me, RAC is inclined to charge around working on projects until she drops from exhaustion. There's something comforting and nice about being around this kind of work mode, though. There's something similarly comforting about cooking and sharing food with the household network out here, too. Saturday night, for example, after AKW had left for the airport, I joined RAC and M&M for some tasty stuffed onions and roasted cauliflower. Yum.

-

Sunday morning, I'd promised RAC that I would help with some aspects of the ongoing household projects. In particular, it was time to give the workshop a thorough cleaning and round of organizing.

I feel so much better now that things are better organized in there. I mostly had to shuffle around various accumulated piles of abandoned projects to move the table saw back into a corner that would give us all better access to some storage shelves we moved in there when we were renovating the bike garage to accommodate more bicycles. RAC installed plastic sheeting over half of the shelf to ready it for storing ceramics-in-progress:

Tidied workshop I

We also cleared off the worktable and cleared floor space. You can't really tell either of these things from this photo, but before the photo it was getting pretty hard to walk around in the workshop.

Tidied workshop II

RAC was generally on a roll. She managed to apply some copper paint to the kick wheel to protect it from further rust, and she built the last planter box for the front driveway. She also filled it with soil and got tomato plants transplanted, and set the paving stones for the path here:

Front yard tomato beds

We are now tomato-ready.

I did manage a couple of other small projects, like painting more trim for my door-window (to tack down the fiberglass screen along the sides):

Backyard projects

And transplanting a lavender plant and strawberry plant into pots (both plants are being hugged by a kale plant that's going to seed):

Potted

The local plant shop (Berkeley Horticulture) carries five or six different kinds of strawberry plants. I got a Mara des bois because highly flavorful French strawberries sound fantastic. But I might have to get even more varieties in the overall search for strawberry perfection. We shall see. I'm still skeptical about whether it's possible to achieve strawberry perfection outside of Washington, but it seems worth a try.

Other than all that, RAC built up a frame for making a plaster wedging table, did a bunch of weeding, and figured out what was wrong with the irrigation system. We've been enjoying the colors of all the different California irises she's planted in the front yard:

Front yard color riots

And with that, it's time for the beginning of another full work week.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I managed to get in a bit of gardening help on Sunday. The weather was clear in the morning, but with a forecast of rain for the afternoon, so [livejournal.com profile] sytharin was up early to work on things. The garden is mainly her project, but given how much of the harvest I get to enjoy, I should really be doing even more to help out with it.

After a bit of discussion between the two of us, she went ahead and ordered a reasonable but inexpensive small branch chipper, and immediately put it to use. It just keeps making me think that I should have sucked it up and gotten one back in the Farmer House era. Both of us have this sense that it's best to recycle as much material as possible back into a given yard, and so in lieu of getting rid of all those small branches that have to be trimmed off of various plants, in our respective gardens we have just instinctively made stick piles instead. Stick piles can be nice habitat for certain kinds of small creatures, but at the same time they also turn into one more thing that has to be dealt with. When I moved out of the Farmer House, I had to deconstruct the stick pile and put it out by the curb for green waste pickup. The same thing at the Villa Maria house.

Now, instead of that sorry fate, RAC can make mulch! I helped her round up some mulch material by reducing the size of a long-term stick pile that's been gradually decomposing by the side of the house for the past three years. An added problem with that pile is that it is close to the neighbor's fence, which means the neighbor's vinca likes to jump the fence and grow through it, making it a thick tangle. I think I managed to reduce the pile to about a third of its original size before disturbing some sort of bee nest. Okay, bees, we'll leave you alone for the time being, and at least it's now easier to walk around to the backyard.

We also went on an expedition over to Berkeley Horticulture because it's tomato-stalking season. RAC wishes to grow black krimms and some other variety of tomato, so this time of year she goes over to Berkeley Hort about once a week to snatch things up as soon as they arrive. She has also started up a bunch of black prince tomato seedlings for me, which are now getting hardened off. They'll go in a set of very lovely cedar planter boxes that she's put together in the front yard (made from that one trip to the hardware store).

There weren't any tomato plants just yet, but we walked around and of course found a bunch of other things - for me, a catnip plant, some lavender, and some sort of interesting-sounding strawberry plant. I should have known better than to put the catnip plant on the back porch, however. The remainders of the plant are now transplanted and in a spot where the porch cats can't reach it. Hopefully it will survive.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
So, here's a photo of Emma helping me out with my dilemma:

Seedy dilemma

So many packets of seeds. So very many. Nowhere to sow them any time in the near future. It's making me wonder - how do other gardeners manage their seeds? I am late in figuring this out, but clearly it makes sense to label them with the year they were acquired. What to do with older seeds, or things I don't see myself trying to grow in the future? Thoughts? I must confess that part of me is tempted to just take the entire lot and dump it into the worm bin. And yet - every packet was acquired with some sort of intention, at some point. Often, the packets remain because I only needed a small number of seeds. Other times, I never had the right space or time to plant the thing. This does not seem like a good way to garden. Too much misdirected energy.

And yet otherwise, things on the porch are looking quite happy:

Patio garden progress

Here's an exciting corner:
Volunteer tomatoes

In the background, the bay bush that was looking dead from the frost has re-sprouted. That plant has been a tough fighter, again and again. Bonsai Bay Bush. I have more than enough bay leaves at the moment, so it will have plenty of time to keep on growing. In the foreground, a lavender plant, plus a volunteer tomato, germinated from the worm bin dirt. Sometimes I feel like the worms are bastards for not gobbling up all of the seeds from the vegetable matter I give them. But they make such tremendously good dirt, and the vegetables love it.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Hmm, I should make a gardening-themed userpic.

I made some white bean minestrone last night because I'd been craving food with tomatoes in it, and soup sounded good, too. I was able to use a smidge off the basil plant, and part of the celery plant that I re-rooted from grocery store celery. I've also been able to start harvesting lettuce off of one of the re-rooted lettuce plants. So if you've ever wondered if any of those "turn these kitchen scraps back into plants!" things work, I suppose the answer is yes, although the re-rooted celery is mostly leaves and small stalks. I keep on screwing up the re-rooting of scallions, though. They should be pretty easy, but I've been negligent about changing out their water and getting them back into the dirt.

This morning I noticed that two little tomato plants have sprouted up among a couple of the other plants, most likely a product of applying worm dirt to all of the plants.

The plastic worm bin that my friend Do gave me several years back is seeming like it will be just the right size for one person's worth of kitchen scraps. I modified it from the original, adding a second tray and a whole lot of additional ventilation, so that I can rotate the two trays and add scraps to one level while the worms eat away on the other level.

With all of the recent rain, everything is green and growing. I'm going to have to find a larger container for the tomato plant fairly soon. Most likely I will just sacrifice one of my five-gallon buckets for the job.

Maybe I will have the energy and presence of mind to take a photo of things this evening.

Seeds

May. 6th, 2015 09:01 am
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Yesterday evening, I finally went through my seed collection, as I am going to send along a few things to my younger sister.

It was emotionally challenging to look through the collection, as I don't know the next time (if ever) I'll have the space and circumstances to plant a garden. In certain categories I also have way more seeds than I will need or be able to use. So perhaps I need to find another seed swap of some sort, as a way to give away most of the seeds.

I also wasn't any good at germinating my own seeds this year, and recent years have indicated to me that I'm not particularly good at it in general, either. That means I can justify keeping certain kinds of seeds, but not others.

I was reminded of the eggplant plant that hung on for several years. It would be nice to get another eggplant plant going, but I have run out of plant pots and potting soil, and can't seem to get the momentum going to find or make more planting space.

I am also concerned about tracking down delicious strawberries somehow, and later on, delicious tomatoes. There are farmer's markets going, but I haven't made it out to any of them yet, because weekends have been full of brevets, and weeknights have been full of inertia.

The next-door apartment neighbors have some really pretty little succulent pots that they put out on the balcony periodically. All of my succulents died during the move, including the tiny, cute ones [livejournal.com profile] sytharin sent me. The other next-door neighbors have these big, gorgeous jade plants inside that I can see from the kitchen and bedroom windows. I haven't been able to do jade plants for a whole host of reasons, including a cat who likes to chew on anything that contains chlorophyll. I'm grateful that my view from the kitchen window is of their backyard, full of a whole host of lovingly cultivated spaces.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
The weather's finally starting to turn. Four of the strawberry plants are barely hanging on. August and September always seem to do them in.

I think the chocolate peppermint has perished. The rosemary plant that I got at the wedding of my friends M and K is dead, a good 5-6 years later. At least it had a good run in Texas - it often flowered out here. I'm sad to see it go, but I feel like it had a satisfactory life. Another lavender plant is dead, and so is the oregano. The swiss chard looked like it was going to make it, until this week, and now it's clearly toast, too.

Meanwhile, the satsuma's pretty happy, with its plump little fruits that should be ripe in another 2 months, and the eggplant is coming back to life - this variety makes small globe eggplants that are quite tasty. A fall tomato plant is starting to take off in the garden bed, and J's broccoli plants have come back to life. I'm still surprised and delighted by the return of the pomegranate. The fairly new thyme and sage plants are also happy, and the lemongrass and bay bush are still doing their thing. Same goes for all of the ornamental plants - succulent, spider plant, wee succulent planter, and the Texas lantana. All pretty happy.

The pile where we dumped out compost from the Villa Maria house is overgrown with melon and watermelon vines, but there's only one small melon so far. It's pretty late in the year for melons.

I think I want to plant some lettuce this fall, but that's probably going to be just about it, unless J gets really excited about the idea of prepping more vegetable bed space to grow some winter crops. Instead I'm going to mostly focus on nurturing the worms and building J and K a worm bin bench. It should serve as an improved compost-disposal system, compared to the current anaerobic fermentation pile.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
On Saturday, I baked a double layer chocolate cake for a friend's birthday party, thereby using up all of the canola oil and almost all of the cocoa powder:

Double chocolate layer cake batter

I believe this recipe came from my Cafe Farmer roommate, RH. The next challenge was, how to transport it by bicycle to the birthday party? I strapped a picnic basket onto the back of Froinlavin (the Jolly Roger is STILL awaiting the arrival of new tires), and stuck the cake inside, with a bowl over the top to protect it.

It survived well enough to still have a cake shape upon my arrival:
Partial success

Not the most cosmetic cake, but it made up for that in its utter deliciousness. Richly chocolatey. I'm still liking the cooked-flour frosting recipe I found, after hearing [livejournal.com profile] sytharin talk about it.

Here's the freshly repotted satsuma tree, plus its (droopy) poblano pepper companion:
Repotting the satsuma
You can probably tell why I was eager to transplant it out of the plastic pot. The whiskey barrel is sitting on a plant stand I constructed from a piece of plywood and some caster wheels capable of supporting 500 pounds. Seemed like a wise idea.

And, the compost project:
Compost extraction

I filled all three of the pictured containers with excellent compost. I hope the sight of the heap pleases my mom, who helped me put it together in the first place. Stuff has been decomposing nicely, although I wasn't able to get in and turn it as much as I would have liked, due to the (now gone) fencing put up to keep out Luna, who also really liked compost, as it turned out.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Yardwork chores today. Photos to follow probably tomorrow. I transplanted the satsuma tree into the whiskey barrel, after constructing a plant stand for the barrel, complete with heavy-duty caster wheels. I'm pleased to see the barrel has lasted this long. The stump it was sitting on has gotten nicely broken down over the past year and a half, from all the moisture.

[livejournal.com profile] scrottie helped me remove the fencing from around the compost, now that a certain canine has moved out, and I spent some time shifting the compost around. Pulled out a 55-gallon barrel's worth of good-looking soil, plus a Rubbermaid tub, plus a 5-gallon bucket. I think that was probably only a third of the total compost volume. The next occupant won't know the treasure she's inheriting. Ah well. Better than having all that stuff wind up in a landfill. While sifting through it, I observed a toad, a gecko, a snake, and oodles of arthropods.

It feels good to get some of the major yard chores checked off. I'm never going to mow this lawn again.

Flowering

Jun. 2nd, 2014 11:35 am
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
My weekend gardening activities weren't the usual gamut; things are at a reasonably self-sustaining stage, aside from me needing to stake up the tomatoes a bit more and harvest things before they get too crazy. Projects I can easily accomplish 15 minutes at a time in the morning right after I water.

Instead - on Saturday I remembered, just before heading out to Brazos Natural Foods, that there's a section of my return route that is dangerously overgrown. Riding towards BNF, I'll watch for a break in traffic and take the lane on Texas Ave, which is the biggest superhighway road in town here. It isn't too impossibly hard or intimidating to then merge left into the turn lane and turn into the grocery store parking lot. At least, it's easier to do that than to ride the sidewalk down to the traffic light where there's no way for the signal to detect me and no crosswalk whatsoever. I just don't enjoy the ka-thud off the curb into the drainage ditch and the frantic scramble across the road, for some strange reason.

The return section is a different story. I just don't feel comfortable taking the lane and then merging for that left-turn back onto the side street, so I stay on the sidewalk until the next roadway, where I'll either do an insane u-turn hook back around to get across Texas Ave, or I'll take a right onto the side street, ride down a short distance, u-turn, reapproach the intersection, wait for a clearing across Texas, and then get back across. Hm. Let me just show you a picture:

TexasAvePoorAccess

The big green arrow points at the narrow portion of the sidewalk, running over Carter Creek. Let's just say that the whole sidewalk is now clear again. Also, there are wild grapes growing in the creek ravine. I didn't taste any of them, but I think I might stop by next time to see if they're ripe.

The other pruning work was at the tail-end of a hectic Sunday. I got up, made pancakes, rode over to Village Foods for a few more grocery items (chickpeas in bulk, baking powder in bulk, organic red leaf lettuce), then went to my friend A's house to help her move to a condo. After we wrapped that up, I helped my friends J and T prune out some mountain biking paths through the park that's on the lower left of the satellite photo above. There's a kid's mountain biking clinic starting today, so they were under the gun to clear out foliage and make at least a basic loop rideable for the kids. It will be a great beginner trail. But man, the mosquitoes. I don't like DEET, but it was a welcome relief when T appeared with the mosquito repellant.

Meanwhile, in my own garden, things are flowering. The Flickr photo tour begins here, and goes forward. I don't feel like retyping the descriptions I posted there, so I just have to hope you'll be encouraged to click through and check out the remaining eight photos.

Survivor strawberry
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I hardly sat down to internet this weekend. That's probably a good thing!

Saturday was filled with chores and projects. [livejournal.com profile] scrottie went ahead and mowed the lawns and did laundry on Friday, bless him. That meant that, after grocery-shopping wrapped up, I had time to work on Operation Squirrel and Bird Exclusion.

I watched this YouTube video on making a conduit bender, and liked what I saw. So I set about tracing a half-circle on a big sheet of plywood, screwed in some deck screws, nailed in some nails, and bent some conduit. Unfortunately, my first semicircle was too large! Or maybe it's that my conduit was too short. I probably should have done more math before deciding on sizes. Fortunately, the screws and nails were fairly easy to pull out and reposition, and the rest of the project went smoothly up until it was time to drill some holes for the conduit in the wood. Then I discovered that a 5/8" drill bit was a hair too small, so 'twas back to the hardware store for an 11/16" bit, which worked fine.

Bending 1/4

Bending 2/4

Bending 4/4

Take THAT, squirrels!
Hoops in place

Also, there is a small artichoke on one of the artichoke plants. I am pleased. These plants have it rough compared to ones in California. When the strawberries are past their peak, I'll elevate and transfer this hoop setup to the tomato plants. It will also disassemble fairly easily for storage and transport.

--

On Sunday, we went on a long bike ride down to Brenham, TX, to visit a local-foods store. Naturally, this bike ride involved shoving a large portobello veggie burger in my face. Naturally, that required that [livejournal.com profile] scrottie photograph me.

IMG_3733

Our friends J and K joined us, so we had a nice bike pile going. J and I both got to test-ride new trunk bags (cue lots of jokes about junk in trunks). Mine's a definite winner! J's new bag listed strongly to port, so he may have to do some reinforcement work.

Bike pile

Unfortunately, despite the fact that I'd asked in advance and had someone from the store say they'd be open, the store was closed for Easter. No cheese for us. Here is J, looking sad and angry about the lack of cheese. I doubt I'll manage to go back anytime soon (too big a time commitment), which is a real shame because the stuff inside looked cool.

Disappointment

Oh well. At least it was a beautiful day to ride with a bike posse. Here was my view for most of the ride:
Bike posse

The wildflowers are starting to look better, too (more Indian Blanket and Mexican Hat, fewer bluebonnets).
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Today, I learned the maximal load that I can haul on the Jolly Roger:

Maximal load

That's four 2x3's and four pieces of ten-foot-long 0.5" conduit. I tried to prop the Jolly Roger up against that plywood, but the bike decided it was tired (har har) and wanted down. My plan is to follow this guy's lead and construct hoops out of conduit to put up over a section of the garden. Strawberries are starting to ripen and then mysteriously disappear, and that isn't how snails eat strawberries, leading me to the conclusion that it's either the squirrel who keeps trying to run off with the rope for the hammock, or some birds.

It turned out to be a really good thing I decided to buy a bunch of liquids at the grocery store right before I bought the wood and conduit. I needed the ballast:

Ballast

I've hauled two 2x4's in the past, and the balance point for an 8-foot piece of wood is still close enough to the rear bike rack to not cause any interesting shenanigans. Not so with the 10' conduit.

And that was just the last load of the day. Starting at 8 this morning:

Trip 1 (6 miles roundtrip): Plants at the Horticulture Spring Plant Sale (filled the front basket and Novara-pannier)
Trip 2 (6 miles roundtrip): Two dozen chicken eggs, a dozen duck eggs, vegetables and another plant from the farmer's market.
Trip 3 (6 miles roundtrip): Groceries from Brazos Natural Foods. Meh. Only filled the Novara-pannier.
Trip 4 (6 miles roundtrip): The above goods. I had to ride cowboy-style, and I had zero top tube clearance. Ahem.

Plus the lawn desperately needed mowing today, so I did that, too. I always have a lot of negative thoughts while I am mowing, mostly about the inconsiderate jerks who throw their trash out their car windows into my ditch, and about whoever's dog pooped on the front lawn, and about how much I hate mowing. There needs to be a death metal song about mowing the lawn.

At about 4 pm, I realized that my hair was still in the same braid from yesterday.

I think I'll stay in for the evening, to cook some food.
rebeccmeister: (Acromyrmex)
At an awesome conference in January, I met a scientist who studies thermal tolerance in an "invasive" snail species. It was an utterly chance meeting (literally, an elevator conversation), but a fortuitous one for him, because he'd been hoping to find someone living in Texas who could help collect up some of the invasive snails for comparison with snails from regions further north.

Well, I happen to have a healthy population of these snails, happily eating everything in my vegetable garden. So, I gave him my contact information and received details on how to go about collecting and sending off my pesky snails.

The snails love to hang out around the lips of potted plants, so this is perfect habitat for them:
Snail habitat 2: potted plants

I recently pruned down that Swiss chard plant, which has been contributing to the long-term snail successes. I'm hoping the pruning discourages them. They have even gone after the rhubarb at points. The yogurt tub is sitting next to a chewed-up basil plant, and some of the empty-looking pots are actually the graveyards for pepper plants that got eaten to death by something, snail or otherwise. At least the chocolate peppermint is surviving and the Egyptian walking onions look happy. The pomegranate bush finally has a new set of new leaves (the first ones were killed by the late-season freezing rain), and the same goes for the chiltepin (whew), the Texas lantana, and the Bonsai-style bay bush. Oh, and the fig (not pictured) is beginning to leaf out, and the satsuma (not pictured) is about to flower.

Another spot the snails favor is in the front vegetable beds, among the weedy onion patch:
Snail habitat 1: organic garden

Here's a close-up of three of them, hiding amongst the weeds. They like to snuggle up along the edging when they're not out ravaging the plants.
Snail habitat 1

I spent about 30 minutes plucking out all the snails I could get my hands on:
Sample garden snail

And packaged them up with some Swiss chard leaves:
Snail cages

Soon they'll be off to northerly realms.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
I spent a few minutes this morning trying to teach snails how to fly. It didn't end very well for the snails, I'm afraid.

Sorry, snails, but the rhubarb, swiss chard, kale, basil, onions, and turnips are MINE. What's left of them, at least. Also hopefully any and all strawberries I manage to produce.

Phenotypic plasticity

Here is an exercise in phenotypic plasticity. I don't know if these strawberry plants are genetically identical, but they are the same variety and thus share much of their genomes in common. The strawberry in the ground was planted in the fall of 2012. It was the only plant to survive the heat last summer. Partway through the heat, it started growing tiny leaves instead of enormous ones. The strawberry in the whiskey barrel was planted in the fall of 2013. The two holes in the whiskey barrel are two ollas - water-holding vessels that slowly release water to the surrounding soil.

Perhaps this upcoming weekend I will procure materials to make hoops out of metal conduit, so I can cage the strawberry plants and keep out the birds and maybe get a handful of strawberries from all the effort.

For some reason, there are hanging baskets full of strawberry plants for sale at the HEB this spring. I don't recall seeing them for sale last year. They don't appear to be selling especially well.
rebeccmeister: (bikegirl)
Oh garden. I'll go through and take some photos sometime soon, but first, a few thoughts:

-I still don't know what to do about the flowerbed right in front of the house. I planted two thyme plants, which will eventually fill in as groundcover, but it's hard to put in anything taller because people like to step across the flowerbed and crush plants instead of walking along the porch and using the sidewalk. Last year, I tried planting an eggplant there, but it was too dark and the eggplant never made any fruit (in great contrast with the eggplant within the garden proper). The pepper plants that used to be there got really leggy and fell out over the grass, making it hard to keep the grass mowed.

-I acquired and replanted some small Succulents of Doom in a flowerpot that used to have succulents before they froze to death in January. I left the pot sitting in a patch of sunlight on the back (screened-in) patio, but decided to finally put it out in the backyard yesterday. Something - bird, squirrel, I don't know what - promptly decided to eat/destroy one of the small Succulents of Doom. Sigh.

-The plastic pot containing the satsuma tree is splintering into shards. I just read a website recommending the use of a whiskey barrel for patio citrus, and found another website with instructions for making a caster base for a whiskey barrel. Another project for the to-do list, and another item for the shopping list.

-The pomegranate is starting to come back again. The freezing rain a couple weekends ago knocked back it, the resurrecting chiltepin, and the resurrecting lantana. Way to get my hopes up, plants, only to have them destroyed by Texas spring weather.

-On the other hand, the rhubarb is looking strong and happy. I might even be able to harvest a stalk off of it this year.

-The brussels sprouts plants that I bought and planted too late in the fall last year started growing a couple of weeks ago. However, the snails have been enjoying munching on them, and they look like they're about to go to flower soon. The snails have also been delighted by the tender turnip seedlings. I should start broadcasting more diatomaceous earth.

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