Friday, February 26, 2010

Flowers are blooming

I don't waste much time with flowers. Don't get me wrong, I love flowers. They're beautiful and they remind me of my Dad. But you can't eat them and I prefer to spend my energies toward more productive labors.

I do however, maintain 6 pots with a combination of perennials and bulbs in our front walkway. They require minimal (read: little to no) attention and mostly take care of themselves. I also have 2 rose beds with about 4 bushes total. Again, they pretty much take care of themselves as long as I cut them back hard in late January, which I did, and feed them a few times a year, also done.

As you can see from the photos, the potted flowers and bulbs have come alive. The roses have started to bud and should have flowers in about a month. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Garden Walls

While I was working through the technicalities of drawing out how to secure the garden perimeter, Joe came up with the idea of a greenhouse of sorts. The summer sun can be blistering here and sometimes scortches our veggies. So he helped draw out the master plan. And on Sunday he helped me get the frame in place. Thank God for Joe! That was definitely a 2-person job.

After that I worked on getting the fencing in place, which looks alot easier than it actually was. Something about balancing on a hill with a 25 foot piece of hardware wire trying to get it to go exactly where you want it to go without sliding down the hill would have made for a good home video. Thankfully, no one was around with a video camera... or cell phone!

So the fencing is now in place. I folded the bottom edge about 4 inches to overlap the hardware wire that's lying underneath the garden (that's why I pulled all the dirt back from the edge) and covered it with soil. We are now secured to a 4 foot height.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tomatoes in winter... YUM!

The garden Joe planted last year consisted of several containers, 8 inside the sunroom and several outside. In the sunroom, 3 of the tomato plants are still producing... slowly, but still producing. And the 2 pots of bell peppers are loaded with fruit! Both the tomatoes and peppers are SO yummy...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Coop Box

Well, I finally had to tell Joe about the chickens. I tried to get the wooden shipping box in my minivan, but it was too big. And it was WAY too heavy for me to think about moving myself, even with one other person. I needed help acquiring my soon-to-be chicken coop. I called our friend, Ray, who has a truck and enlisted his help. So he and Joe loaded the box up and brought it to the house.

My next door neighbor, Ed, also got into the action because he has the driveway that leads up to our back fence. Believe it or not, he was very excited that we were getting chickens (thank God!) and was more than happy to lend a hand tossing the giant box over the fence (gently). It's a good thing we had 3 strong men. Did I mention that box was HEAVY?

The size is roughly 4'x4'x4 and it's very sturdy. Cutie is posing here next to the box. You can also see her very assertive nature here (I'm obviously kidding).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Home blessing and apple blossoms

We had 2 beautiful days, but with my car in the shop, I couldn’t get the supplies I needed to continue in the garden. So, more house blessing (read: vigorous vacuuming and scrubbing and cleaning). I’ve begun this year to follow the FlyLady. If you don’t know about her, you can check out her website at http://www.flylady/. Com. She had developed a daily routine for doing a little bit each day to get and keep your house both tidy and clean. A lot of what she teaches I already do. And although I don’t always follow her schedule exactly, her routines are very helpful. She calls each little bit you do to clean your house “home blessing”. It sounds so much nicer than cleaning!

With all the recent rain and the warmer (not freezing) temps, our miniature apple tree has started to blossom. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More rain = house cleaning

Another rain day. In SoCal we are blessed and cursed with about 5 days of rain each year. This year, we are approaching 10-12 days of rain which is why there are entire mountains sliding down into houses and rivers of mud in the streets. Fortunately none of that is happening to me! So while I don’t expect to be waylaid by many rain days, I know many people are. When I lived in Florida it was often easy to work in the rain (and there were LOTS of rain days) because it was warm, and actually kind of refreshing from the heat, but only when there wasn’t thunder and lightning.

Now is when I get creative in the exercise routine so that I don’t lose momentum. Did you know that housework is good exercise too?? I’ve never been much good at cleaning house. I keep it tidy, but really deep cleaning is a whole different story. So today while it rains outside and I cannot work in the garden, I’m going to do a little bit to bless my house and vacuum the upstairs. I know, it doesn’t sound like much work and it doesn’t seem very strenuous. But I’ve found that if you really get vigorous with pushing it back and forth and are really moving items out of the way to vacuum under, you’ll probably start to break a light sweat and have a nice “glow”. Yes, you need to pick up the area rugs (squats), move the chairs, side table, coffee table (light weight lifting), and get under the beds (more squats). Get the attachments out and vacuum the baseboards (more squats). You’ll feel it the next day if you did it right. Just keep moving.

Oh, and I have even more seedlings… broccoli, cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and spinach, YEAH! They're in the seed tray on the right of the photo. The rest of the pots are my winter lettuce window garden.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Everything's shiny and green

The seedlings continue to sprout. More broccoli, spinach, and now cantaloupe!

Today was a beautiful day and because of the recent rain, everything was shiny and green. Unfortunately, the rain caused a minor mud slide into my garden because I wasn’t able to get the new wood supports in place before the rain started. Oh well, more shoveling. So today, I finished pulling the soil away from the wood box on the remaining 2 sides.

I also found 2 beautiful wood shipping boxes that I want to convert to my chicken coop. They’re huge and they’re heavy. I have no idea how I’m going to get them home. And I have no idea how I’m going to get them over the fence because I think they’re too big to fit through. But they’re SO perfect and they’re already built. I’d just need to make minor modifications. AND they’re free! I’ll keep working on this too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rain & the first sprouts of the year

I woke up to rain. Now “rain” in Southern California is unlike rain anywhere else I’ve ever been. I jokingly say, it’s as if God sneezed on us. It can rain for hours, even all day, and the payment under my car will most likely never get completely wet… and I park it on a fairly steep incline!! And you rarely need an umbrella because it just won’t get you that wet. If I were in my native Florida I’d be happy to garden in rain like this because it’s little more than a nuisance. However, this SoCal rain only happens in the winter months and it feels like little icicles hitting you… and it’s a piercing cold. The raindrops are tiny and delicate, swirling and wafting down. If we were at a little higher elevation, it would be snowing. So this truly southern girl will be staying in where it’s warm and enjoying the sound of the rain from my living room.

All the rain is waking up the trees. This photo is our neighbors' plum tree in full bloom.

Oh, and guess what!! My broccoli seed and spinach seed have already sprouted! I’m very excited. I love it when they first pop up through the dirt. And now the waiting, for what can seem an eternity, begins… I wait until they are big enough to harden off and transplant.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Damp & Misty

Today started off damp and overcast, which is very unusual for Southern CA. And my loving husband, last night, asked me to make sure that I had the dog with me whenever I was working out on the hill. He said he didn’t want to come home and find me in multiple pieces strewn about the garden. Which makes sense except for the fact that he often makes fun of our dog by calling her “sissy dog” because she is anything but aggressive. She’s a large German Shepard mix rescue, so I’m sure she’ll notice anything suspicious before I would, and I love having her with me all the time. By the way, her name is Cutie Pie… menacing eh?

More shoveling. Well the side of the garden that’s up against the hillside is in need of serious repair. So today I moved more of the hill and realized that the wood is seriously rotted at the bottom and bulging in the center from trying to hold the hill back and keep it from sliding into the garden. I’m now about halfway through the process of removing the rotted wood. I also moved the big rock collection that had gathered in the center of the garden during the last 3 days of shoveling and dirt turning to a more permanent location. Who needs weights to get in shape?

Fortunately, nearly all of the muscle soreness I’ve had is now gone. So much so, that today, when I finally decided to stop, I had been working over an hour and half!!! There’s NO WAY I would have been doing any other form of exercise for an hour and a half without dreading every moment of it. I’m so excited to be doing this project and I’m confident that it will help me build strength and get in shape.

I stopped by Home Depot last night begin pricing the supplies I’d need to repair the garden box and build the predator protection and chicken coop. But after giving it some consideration, I think I’m going to stop by the local lumber yard and check out their pricing. I’m hopeful that they are able to be competitive. So many small businesses are closing down lately. It’s important that we help support each other through this challenging economy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Moving more earth

Gardening is NOT for sissies! Did I say that already? Well, it’s not. Arnica is now my new best friend. I’m sleeping like a rock and waking up more refreshed than I have in a long time. Today I can pretty much feel every muscle in my body whenever I try to move. Did you know that you use your abs to open jars?? Well, you do! I had to open a very tight, semi-stuck lid on a jelly jar today. Not only were my hands sore, I could also feel my abs when they kicked in to the process.

Today involved more shoveling… lots more. When Joe originally established the garden, he boxed it in with wooden planks around the outer edges and laid ½” welded wire mesh on the bottom of the bed about 6-8” down. When we last had a garden 2 years ago, Joe had grown some beautiful cantaloupe. We were watching them get larger each day with great anticipation of the day they would be ready and he could finally eat one. Well, that day finally came, but when he turned it over to cut the stem, what he found instead was a hole in the bottom that some critter had made after burrowing into our very secure garden. Apparently, the critter had either found or made a gap between the wood and the wire mesh.

So today, I pulled the dirt back from 2 of the 4 sides to expose the bottom of the wood and the wire mesh so I can re-secure the perimeter. It only took about a half an hour, but I couldn’t shovel anymore. My biceps feel like rocks and my hands were getting weak. My body just isn’t used to this much physical labor.

This photo will give you an idea of the field size. It was taken after most of the cleanup was completed. I forgot to take a "before" photo :-( Cutie is doing her best super-model pose.

There was plenty more to be done today, so the rest of the dirt moving can wait until tomorrow. On to more composting. Last night I found more leaves!! Today is trash day and the green waste recycle bin is ½ full with leaves. Just what I need to heat up my compost pile. I used more poly-vinyl chicken fence and created another compost bin twice the size of the one yesterday. I mixed the dried grass with the leaves. It hardly put a dent in my dried grass pile. That thing is huge! Fortunately, with each passing day it gets a little smaller as it compressed and begins to decompose. Maybe I’ll just do a little experiment and see if the “pile” will compost itself without being contained.

Today I also tested the sprinklers to make sure they were working correctly. Good thing I did that too. I’m pretty sure the neighbors cement drainage ditch didn’t need to be watered by my sprinkler. A few very wet adjustments later, and all is working well.

Now the compost heaps have been dampened and I covered one of them partially with a black garbage bag to expedite the heating process. Hopefully that will work. The air out here is still so dry and cool, but the sun is warm, and compost piles need heat to do their job.

I also took a little drive in the country today to see if anyone had any chickens for sale yet, but no one had signs up. I’ll keep looking.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sit-ups are for sissies! Try gardening!

Thank God for Arnica! I’m a little achy in places, but nothing like I would have been without it. That was a good workout yesterday… total core, front and back, total arms (upper and lower), bum, hips, hands, fingers. Sit-ups are for sissies! Try gardening!

Last night I worked on mapping out the garden. When you’re working with a small garden it’s important to fit as many plants in as practically possible. I drew out my garden on graph paper and listed all the various veggies I wanted to include along with their spacing requirements. Then it’s like putting a puzzle together. Some plants don’t like being next to others (companion planting) and some need shade while others provide shade. I was able to fit most of what I wanted in the space. A couple of items will have to go in pots on the porch, but that’s ok too!

I also started some seeds in a growing tray yesterday afternoon. The tray holds 72, but I only planted 54 for now. I’ll start more in a couple of weeks that way I’ll have a continual harvest instead of everything coming to bear at the same time. I’ll put the tray out in the sunroom during the day, but bring it in at night since it’s still getting down close to freezing temps overnight.

Setting the timer for an hour today I cleared the remainder of the plot and turned ½ of the soil in the plot. The hardest part was getting rid of the part of the hill that slid into my garden. The soil from the hill is rocky and dries like hard clay in the hot summer sun, so I didn’t want to just turn it into the good soil that we’ve kept conditioned through the years. So I had to break up the rock-clay and move what looked like a small mound of dirt and rocks out of the plot. OMG! I won’t need to do any weight training on this exercise program. As if the shovel didn’t already weight enough on its own, try adding a pile of dirt and rocks on top of it. My limit is about 1/3 of the shovel.

I also tested the soil pH which was good and dug around looking for worms (a sign of good soil health) for use in starting a compost pile. No worms. Maybe it’s still just too cold.

After that, I made a small container with polyvinyl chicken fence to start a compost pile with the dried grass and small tumbleweeds I chopped down yesterday. Compost piles work really well with some leaves. Fortunately, I found a small pile trapped in stored pots behind the house yesterday. When I went to retrieve them I found WORMS at the bottom of the pile. What are the chances I’d find earthworms under a pot of oak leaves on the concrete behind the house with no dirt in sight?? So now one of the compost piles is started, but there is lots more cuttings to be composted so I’ll need a bigger container. That will be tomorrow’s task. My hour is up and my muscles are in need of a break.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Start clearing the field

It’s a cool 40 degrees in the morning and the frost has already thawed. Today I planned on clearing the area that we had previously used for the garden. It’s a 10’x15’ plot out behind the back gate at the bottom of a steep hill up the back. We get lots of critters (coyotes, rabbits, quail, mountain lions, raccoons) so we always have to fence the garden unless we want to donate our labors to feeding the wildlife. The plot hasn’t been used in over 2 years so I had our handyman clear out the rotting posts and fencing last year. Boy I sure do miss him now!

So, assess the situation… part of the mountain is spilling onto the garden plot, lots of rocks have magically appeared all over the plot, there are weeds and dried grass all around the plot going to seed, and left over fencing pieces strewn about. Today is a cleanup day.

Since I’m counting this as exercise and I don’t want to be so stiff tomorrow that I can’t move, I set the time allotment to one hour and here’s what I was able to do:

Cleared all the dried mountain brush around the plot, most of the weeds in the plot, turned the soil in ¼ of the plot, and removed all the leftover fencing. That doesn’t sound like much now that I write it down, but the pile of weeds that would fill a garbage can suggest otherwise! Not to mention navigating the steep hill while balancing a garden rake and swinging a hand grass cutter!

About 10 minutes into it, I started heating up and about 20 minutes into it I was sweating like I was doing an aerobics class! Yep, this is going to help me tone back up.

Now I’m no doctor, but I know for a fact that I’ll be sore tomorrow if I don’t do something about it today. If you’re not familiar with Arnica, I’d recommend you get familiar with it and do it quickly! I’ve used it for years whenever I start working in the yard after the winter season and it helps reduce the muscle soreness the next day. I’ll be taking that every hour for the rest of the day… yep, I worked that hard!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Garden 2010

I’ve decided to resurrect our vegetable garden this year, partially because I love the fresh veggies, and partially as incentive to move my body which has gotten “soft”. It’s been a mild winter in Southern California so our growing season will start earlier than usual and it’s now time to begin.

My husband, Joe, has done a garden nearly every other year. On the odd years, he’s run for local office and has been too busy to deal with a garden. When he does the garden, it’s wonderful. Each time, there’s always been someone to help prepare the garden for planting. But this year, Joe won the election and is busy with “official stuff”, we are empty nesters so all the kids are gone, and our favorite handyman moved last year, so this year, I’m on my own.

My other motivation for the garden is chickens. Yes, I decided I wanted a few chickens for fresh eggs. As I continued to read and learn about keeping chickens, it became abundantly clear that they were great at two things: clearing fields for planting and fertilizing!

Now, my husband is completely unaware of this chicken desire and has not been overly receptive (read: adamantly against it) when I hint at expanding the family with additional pets. Apparently our one rescued doggie is supposed to suffice. So the chickens will be a surprise until he sees me constructing the coop. That will probably give it away and hopefully the coop building will not need to go up on Craigslist!