Archive for July, 2011

July 26, 2011

why i have no tomatoes this year….

or rather, very few.

the heat and the spider mites have nothing on ollie……

July 25, 2011

ten random things about a very hot summer

1. i no longer run.  even in the mornings.  as early as 7am  the heat is already oppressive.  i have however, become a very great walker.

2. my morning walk ends with a watering ritual: the hanging petunias, the coleus and pentas on the back porch, and then set the sprinkler.

3.  i used to never want to own a pool.  now i covet one.

4.  as a general rule i don’t like to use public pools.  it is like taking a bath with a bunch of people i have never met.  last week i caught myself  googling public pools for my area.

5. i have forgotten what i look like with my hair down long.  for the past six weeks it has either been in a ponytail or a butterfly clip.

6. last spring i set out some new perennials.  they didn’t survive the heat.  there is nothing left to even show where they were.  they have simply evaporated.  very sad.

7. for the first summer in my life as a gardener i have managed to battle the squash borer to the point that i have a beautiful zucchini vine. but….no zucchini.  they whither up before they reach maturity.

8. the grass is so dead that we decided yesterday if you squinch up your eyes and ignore the still-green trees one might think it is winter.

9. my favorite drink: club soda with just enough pomegranate juice to color the water, and a slice of lemon.  if it wasn’t so hot i’d dash out to the back porch for a sprig of mint.  as it is i just enjoy it with the lemon.

10. i spend a great deal of time deliberating over menu plans that do not involve an oven or a stove.  although last weekend i did indulge in a baked potato thereby heating the kitchen up to 82 degrees.  it was worth it.

July 21, 2011

new toy

for my seventh anniversary my husband gave me, not a diamond necklace, not a trip to europe or a caribbean cruise but…….compost bins!

i couldn’t have been more ecstatic.  i’d had a bin i made from chicken wire but it wasn’t the right depth and width to make for easy turning.  it also wasn’t very pretty and i like everything in my yard to be pretty.  even a compost bin.

we assembled these last weekend and stationed them just outside our garage.  i ordered two, to be placed side by side.  as we accumulate all the little things that make compost they will simply be shoveled from one bin to the other on a weekly basis.

after assembly the bins were properly christened.

while i don’t really see myself as a compost guru, here are some things i have gathered over the few years i have composted (is that the proper verb?  i don’t know….)

*do use: grass clippings, leaves, and other garden waste such as weeds provided they are not diseased.  coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, vegetable scraps, etc.

*do not use: beef or dairy products or grease.  these attract rodents.   grass that has been chemically treated, or as noted before, any diseased garden waste.

*compost just happens.  there is very little that needs to be done in order facilitate the process.  one can get as elaborate as fancy bins, worms, and compost tea; but really all you need to do is pile your scraps and garden waste and allow nature to do its work.

*it will go a little faster however if the pile is turned on a regular basis.  when i am organized and doing everything right, i turn mine once a week with a shovel or cultivator.

*chopping up the waste into smaller pieces will also help.

*the compost pile also likes a little bit of moisture.   if yours looks to be a bit dry mist it with a garden hose.  don’t mist too generously however.  “moist” here is the key word.

*the finished product will be dark and crumbly, something like coffee grounds.  use for amending  your soil, or as a top or side dressing for your crops.

*don’t overthink it.  it is a very simple process.  let nature do the work.

July 18, 2011

my mayonnaise problem…

one of the biggest challenges i have experienced so far in our real food endeavor is believe it or not:  mayonnaise.  while i really like mayo we aren’t huge consumers of the stuff; it takes us a good few months to work our way through one of the smaller sized jars.

when i was first married i discovered the homemade variety and fell in love with it.  chicken salad made with homemade-from-scratch mayonnaise is. to. die for.  the fact though that it has to be eaten within two weeks, has me reluctant to whip it up on a regular basis.  at the same time it isn’t all that fast and easy to put together and clean up.  since tuna salad is one of my go-to lunches when i am in a hurry, getting out the food processor, juicing a lemon, and cracking eggs is not something i want to do when i need to have something on the table in fifteen minutes flat.

before we began switching over to all organic unprocessed and all that jazz, i found this:

we love it.

since the label said “olive oil” i was tricked into believing we were ingesting something healthy.  however in much smaller print, the label also has a running list of ingredients i have never heard of and cannot pronounce.  so one afternoon i decided to try my hand at making my own version of olive oil mayonnaise.  i quickly learned why the recipe in my bride and groom cookbook specifically called for “vegetable oil”.  the result was a beautiful, golden, unpalatable mess.  who knew olive oil turned rancid when put through a food processor?  ok well i didn’t.

in an effort to compromise i bought this:

yes, it uses canola oil which we’ve tried to avoid but it has few ingredients, and ones that i can pronounce and am familiar with.

i don’t like it.

i’m not quite sure what to do.

quit eating mayonnaise altogether?

make an olive oil version that is whisked by hand thereby keeping the oil fresh and sweet?  (haha, um. no)

use safflower or coconut oil resulting in something we don’t like and probably won’t eat?

make it fresh but use canola oil and just look the other way while pouring it into the blender?


continue to eat our favorite poison variety and just ignore the label?

i have to confess i am leaning towards the latter.

July 14, 2011

summer vacation – the walk

so first we had the wall, now we turn our attention to the wal-k. get it?

ok well, when marco finished constructing our little stone wall, he mopped his brow, took a deep breath, and immediately turned his attention to re-doing a little walkway.

i honestly don’t remember if this little path was the idea of a homeowner in the past or mine.  i can’t find any pictures either to jog my memory. that first summer though that we cleaned up the yard, we did find some flag stone and arranged it to form a little path from the gate to the back porch.  it was however, hastily constructed and over time wore down and began to shift apart.

we had also decided that it would be nice to extend it out the gate and the remaining two feet or so (remember i am not so brilliant anymore at calculating distance so that estimated two feet may very well be ten.) to the driveway.  we used the garden hose to mark out the curve of the path.

we have a cute little arched gate, one that hangs crooked thanks to our fabulous fence company, and on it i hung a quaint little sign marked “garden” just in case anyone wonders what is on the other side of it.

we arranged for the path to lead up to that, flanked on either side by  a narrow strip of grass between the driveway and the fence.  since we are not huge fans of grass, this will eventually be replaced by a wedge shaped flower bed.  hollyhocks will be clustered against the fence, just at the gate entrance.

since the week grew progressively hotter, my pictures grew fewer.  i’d dash out, snap one, then run inside and spend the next two hours trying to cool down.   my poor husband’s task however, was not as easy.

first he had to dig a trench and remove a bit of sod.  when one has bermuda grass, this is much easier said than done.  the dirt was to be used to line the bottom of the flower bed on the other side of the wall which meant it had to be carted in a wheelbarrow from one side of the yard to the other.  also much easier said than done.

then the trench was lined with landscaping fabric followed by a few inches of sand.  since this required a lot of sand, and we do not have a pick-up, each day started with a run to lowe’s to gather the needed materials.   a border of steel edging held everything together.


once the sand was laid and smoothed my help was recruited to decide where and how the stone should be placed.  this was actually kind of fun and  reminded me something of the parquetry blocks i played with as a child.

anyone else play with parquetry blocks?

no one? hm.

the final task was the most difficult in my opinion.  the actual placing of the stone.  since not all stones were of the same depth, each had to be leveled individually.  very detailed. very tiresome.  in the end though the hard work paid off – the little stone path looks great.

now just imagine this  leading through a fabulous flower bed with lavender bordering the path.

July 11, 2011

summer vacation: the wall

when we moved into our beloved home three years ago, the back yard included a rubble pit in the back corner.  i am not sure what was there originally, if anything at all.  our neighbor’s yard once had a lovely brick outdoor barbecue pit.  perhaps ours did too, but some seventy-five years later, all that remained was a heap of stone, dust, and other debris.

that first summer we cleared away much of the stone that was an eyesore, putting it to use to edge the potager beds.

then last summer we had a privacy fence installed, giving the yard more of a closed feeling (that we wanted) and an area that lent itself more toward the creation of garden “rooms” (that we also wanted).  after much deliberation, we decided that messy back corner would be the perfect spot for what i call a double-decker flower bed. last fall we took the time to go ahead and outline the shape of the bed, line it with steel edging, and fill with mulch and a few shrubs and plants that needed a place to go.

most of these plants will stay in this bed, but will be moved around before all is said and done.  the idea is to get two adirondak chairs and a side table, position them at the curve and enjoy this view:

much better looking of course when we are not in the  middle of a drought.

the fence installed,  this was the year to launch the project and marco planned to take the fourth of july holiday week as a working vacation.  this also happened to be one of the hottest weeks of the summer.  marco’s job was to build the wall (and another project to be detailed in another post).  mine was to take pictures.

the first step was to clear away the rest of the rubble.  after the rubble was cleared, the ground was leveled out to make way for the stone.   it took about a day and a half of blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish this.

next step, laying the stone.

we wanted a natural look.  we didn’t want it to look like we had bought pre-fabricated materials at a big box store.   at the same time we wanted to be able to use a dry construction technique as much as possible.   in the end, we purchased a pallet of thick “flagstone” that would be stacked to the desired height.

i used to pride myself on my ability to gauge distance accurately by eye.  so i told marco 2′ would be just fine for our little wall.  when he got to the desired height (which i thought was 24″) i hollered out to stop.  we grabbed a yardstick and the finished height: 12″.   so much for my gift.

the sides are left open to allow a tiny path for easy access to plants in the back.  this opening will later be concealed by the plants or shrubs in the back.  while the actual planting won’t take place until next spring i have already sketched out a plan that will will include a variety of native plants, wildflowers mostly, that will attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds: butterfly weed, hyssop, rudbekia, and a really great tall grass, among many, many other things in a red, 0range, yellow, white, and blue color scheme.  because my favorite nursery has gone way, way up in price i decided to purchase seeds and grow my own transplants. being the seed and plant junkie that i am, the seeds have already been purchased and are on their way.

i’m really excited about how it is all coming together.

later on this week: the walk.

July 8, 2011

it may be hotter than the blazes…

but my yellow petunias are alive and thriving….

the pots on my back porch are coming along nicely…

i have sunflowers in the garden…

and zinnias and bachelor’s buttons amongst my tomatoes.

July 5, 2011

july 5

i have a post due on a project that marco is working on in our back yard but today i am recovering from a lovely forth of july weekend and trying to pull it all back together.  i have errands that need to be run, a bed that needs to be made, and laundry that needs to be folded.  among many other things.  truth be told i’d rather help myself to another piece of blueberry buttermilk cake and curl up with a pot of tea.

we like to drag the holidays out, just ‘cuz that’s what we do so our independence day activities started on sunday.  our church always does a lovely and somewhat elaborate service with patriotic music, lots of flags, and a recognition of the armed forces.  after coming home to put together some strawberry shortcake, we then went to my parents’ for the evening where we had a picnic and caught a neighborhood fireworks display.

we kicked off yesterday with blueberry pancakes before marco headed out to work in the yard.  we ended the day with a picnic of our own: boneless ribeye, baked potatoes (yes, i am aware it is way to hot to be heating my oven to 400 but i couldn’t resist), and a corn salad of my own creation.  for dessert we had that buttermilk blueberry cake.

every holiday around here has a traditional cocktail and independence day is no exception – mojitoes; this year made with mint from our garden.  we sipped these on our front porch while watching the neighbor’s illegal display of fireworks.  unfortunately he was only able to afford two but they were some real humdingers.  willoughby capped off the evening’s entertainment by running smack into the glass door when it was time to go inside.  for a while there, his mr. cool image was hilariously humiliated.

hope everyone had a lovely july 4th.

July 3, 2011

strawberries in a basket

just because.

i thought they looked pretty in my new red collapsible strainer (which i love btw) and had to snap a pick while getting them ready for strawberry shortcake.  please remember that i am not a photographer and this is not a photography blog.

and this is what they look like when they get dressed up to go out.  no i didn’t make these.  my husband ordered them for me as an anniversary surprise last week.  they were too cute not to include with the strawberries in a basket.

July 1, 2011

confessions for a friday morning…

* i rearranged the living room furniture while my husband was on a business trip.  i have been thinking about this rearrangement for about three months.  now that it is finally done………..i don’t like it.

* after the big switcheroo, there were numerous dust bunnies on the floor where bookshelves and heavy chairs had been previously.  i was so discouraged and hot after moving things around that i ignored them.  since then, they have been consumed by doggies.

* up to this point i have been completely content with my furniture.   however, now i am starting to think that the arrangement isn’t so much the room but the fact that i need a new sofa.  then if one purchases a new sofa, one must need new chairs, then there are the end tables….

* i have been using the insufferable heat as an excuse for getting out of just about anything except lying under a ceiling fan set to “high”.  it is too hot to run, too hot to go for a walk, too hot to do yoga, too hot to fold laundry.

* in an effort to organize the downstairs, everything i don’t know what to do with but am not ready to get rid of is simply put upstairs.  the result is beginning to look like a large storage warehouse full of all sorts of random objects from a pair of gym shoes to canning jars.  it is frightening.  and hot up there.  i refuse to face up to the fact that some day i really am going to have to deal with that mess.  meanwhile i continue to just carry things up and leave them on the first empty space i see before running back downstairs and slamming the door.  last night it was a pair of cushions.

* earlier this week i watched true grit.  i was so enamored with their antiquated manner of speech that i have contemplated dropping contractions from my vocabulary altogether.  instead of just saying “i’m going to….” or “i don’t”  i will take the extra time to spit out “i. am…”  or “i. do. not…”  just like a true texas ranger.

* every summer when the heat climbs to 100 degrees and then some, i wonder why on earth i ever decided to take up gardening.  the garden grows, but it is too hot to tend to it.  weeds and pests abound and the tomatoes flop over uprooting their cages.  the pristine image i have of a cozy cottage garden is completely shattered.

* wednesday i attended a meeting at the home of a fellow gardener.  her garden looks like the cover of a coffee table book.  instead of being happy for her i was consumed with garden envy.  i nearly sat down in the middle of her tiny eden and cried.

* my shasta daisies are dying of some sort of disease i can’t identify.  daisies are a weed.  who kills their daisies?  this is hitting me really hard.

* once a month i go to the doctor for an injection that is supposed to straighten out my whacked  hormones.  an additional perk: this stuff acts as a truth serum.  i suddenly have the courage to speak my mind.  i’m hoping the stuff will perform its magic today while i work a volunteer shift with someone who previously said some derogatory things about home-schooling.  little does she know the person she works with today is very different from the person she worked with a few months ago.  bwaaaaaaaaahahahaa!

* this morning i was in automatic mode.  or something like that.  i think it was the heat. i decided to fix boiled eggs for breakfast.  i like mine hard and my husband likes his soft.  in order to distinguish one from the other, i marked mine.  not with an “x”, not with a “j” but with a “b”.  “b” for boiled.  go figure.