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May 31, 2005

Photographic updates on the Dirt farm

Managed to get a lot done on the holiday -- we were out of town (Pittsburgh) from Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, but the weather held for about 24 hours, so we got a lot done -- weeding, mowing, starting to spread new topsoil both in flowerbeds and the low spots in the yard, fertilizing the plants. It's starting to look pretty decent, now that the warm weather's set in.

Let's see ...

Here are the container plants -- the peppers and tomatoes:



Everything's looking pretty good. Tony put some more topsoil in the containers, now that it's settled a bit from watering and rain. Of course, now we just wait -- try to keep up with the growth, keep them staked up, keep them watered. I mean to hit them with Miracle Gro at least once a week until they start bearing -- it seems to help, especially with the peppers.

Here's the long shot of the yard, from the bottom of the driveway:


The grass is actually starting to fill in -- and those pinks have gone into serious overdrive, this year. More sun, I guess -- and we put a flexible drain on the downspout, it drains water right there on them any time it rains enough to fill the eave troughs. I have some more on order, I'll probably put most of them next to the house, since they seem to perennialize best there. I planted some hardy carnations (which is what I'm ordering) in the driveway bed, but they didn't come back up the second year. I think they just got too much exposure to cold. The dirt stays warmer in the bed next to the house, I've had few things die from exposure in those beds. One thing we definitely need to do there, though, is throw down some more topsoil. The dirt there tends to drain out over the sidewalk.

Next big outdoor project (in the 23rd century, probably)? A brick sidewalk out front. Might not be a bad idea to put brick edging instead of that pressed concrete stuff, too -- maybe I'll figure out somewhere else to use it, I don't know.

Here's the corner. The big red rosebush ain't looking so good, this year. It's not like the blooms are ever exceptionally great -- the aphids go to town on the thing, and by the time they open, they have holes in them. I hate to use a lot of pesticide because it's bad for the birds if it washes down into a puddle, but I've been spraying the new rosebushes anyway -- I may be able to be more cavalier about it, once they are established, but at this point I'm going to be eco-evil for the summer and get those plants big and healthy. I have some Neem oil spray, and I'd love to be able to use it, but you have to mix it by the gallon and I'm not sure it's really any lower impact on the local fauna than the Diazinon liquids.


Here are some shots of the pinks. I've put up pictures on previous dates of these, but they hadn't really started blooming yet. I've never seen anything like this -- they're really over the top, this year. I need to deadhead them when the blooms start falling off, keep the seeds and replant in that same spot so I have a whole corner full of them. These even have just a wee bit of fragrance -- if I stand downwind, I can just barely smell them.




This is the peony that I shaved off the one on the other side of the house (the one that had gone batshit and grown all over the place over there, and that needs to be trimmed down yet again this fall -- maybe I'll put some along the side of the cat run, just down from the tulips). It's looking really good, now that it gets more sun.


This is the lily-of-the-valley bed that I started out back three or four years ago. I had about a dozen corms that I dug up at my mother's, she's had a bed of the stuff there for probably close to half a century -- certainly as long as I can remember. They just barely came up and survived that first summer -- they got no sun at all where they were at first, and very little water -- so I moved it to the end of the carport. The bed gets shade part of the day now, because of the container shelves, and it -- like the pinks and the rosebush out front -- is right at the bottom of a drainpipe. I think I'm going to have to divide them at some point, though -- they're growing too far out into the yard. Not sure where I want to put them, yet, they need partial shade. I'll have to give that one some thought, I guess.


Here's the big flowerbed. I spent most of what was left of the daylight Sunday and a good bit of the morning Monday weeding all the sheep sorrel and millet grass out of it. When it clouded up, I started spreading the organic topsoil. I don't know if it's 'good practice' or not, putting topsoil down early in the summer, but if you look at the stuff in the bed, it certainly does no harm -- and it really punches up the color of the blooms.


All the pink flowers in the photo are various dianthus varieties -- there's a bright red one at the very top, under the sweep of the weeping Atlas cedar; the 'neon pinks' I bought a couple of years ago are blooming nicely this year; a little mound of pinks I can't find a name for (and bad gardener that I am, I forgot to save the stave from the original pot). They may be an arvarnensis hybrid, I've also seen them called 'Czech pinks' and other names. They're a mounding semi-double pink that's more like ground cover than the cheddar pinks I have near the house. The low-growing pink flowers are on an ornamental thyme plant; the tall pinks are sweet William that's defying the sales pitch and coming up for a third year (they were supposed to be a two-year pink). The tall purple spears are on a decorative sage plant that's gradually having the living crap beat out of it by a tarragon plant I was convinced was dead when I planted the sage last fall. And so it goes.


I now have three reseeded (volunteer) viola plants from the huge batch of the things I planted last year. They hardly got to bloom, last year -- it rained about every third day all summer and fall, and the rabbits ate every stinking bloom down to the stalk. Maybe they've shat those seeds back into the garden, I don't know. Regardless, they're 'volunteering' like crazy. One of them is backed snugly into the thyme plant; there's the one in the crack between the bricks and the driveway, and there's at least one more with a bloom on it on the outside of the bed.



Here's the little bird poo volunteer from the back yard, under the oak tree. From looking at it, I think it's probably a creeping juniper of some sort or other. Frankly, I think the birds ate some seeds at the Kettering Post Office and came over here to shit them out, because there's something that looks a lot like this stuff over there. I wouldn't mind having a little of it in that corner of the flower bed, as long as I can at least marginally control the growth.


We bought this statue from the Winterthur Gifts mail-order catalog a couple of weeks ago. It's about the only piece of garden statuary I've seen that isn't obnoxious -- animals, especially, seem to get the glurge treatment. I thought about putting a Buddha out there, but the neighbors already know we're freaks -- I don't need the FBI showing up at the door because my dirty-necked hick neighbors don't know the difference between Buddhism and Islam.


Here's the first-planted of the two Cecile Brunners. It's been over a month, so I'm starting to water them weekly with Miracle Gro Rose Food -- I'll probably start experimenting wtih Gardens Alive stuff once I run out of the Scott's, but I still have a lot of Miracle Gro regular plant food, and at least half a bag of the rose stuff, so I'll use it until it's getting low before I order any more.

Note, if you can see it, that this transplanted rosebush already has a bloom on it, on the tall new cane. I'm thrilled -- I really didn't think either of them would bloom until next year, because they're so small.


This is the other Cecile, it's the one in the middle of the front yard. It's got a lot of new growth on it, though nothing like the other one. Still, it seems to like being there in the old tree stump -- lots of mulch all around for it to set roots in, and it gets watered when the lawn gets watered, and that's a high spot that drains well. I noticed, though I'm not sure it's visible in this photo, that the anemones I dropped in at the same time are starting to break through the dirt, too. I'd about given up on them -- the ones I have up near the house had come up within a month. There's hope yet -- they may dwarf the rosebush this year.


Here's the other (bigger) juniper volunteer from the back yard. I won't have to watch it so closely, there's nothing there but the driveway for it to overtake for several feet either way. I tried to do a pink bed there, but it was nigh impossible to keep it watered and keep the soap out of it when I washed the car. I think that's what finally killed off the couple of skeevy ones that had come up there a couple of years ago. I transplanted what I could over to the other bed, next to the house, that's blooming like a fierce bastard this year -- that seems to be the sweet spot for dianthus. Gotta get more topsoil in there, so they keep going.


I decided the corkscrew hazelnut was doing okay, and it seems to be growing a little faster now that it gets more hours of sun a day, so I'm trying to train it up a bit. They can be trained a little more upright, and since this one seems determined to be a creeper, I'm going to have to spend a few years gradually pulling some of the branches up. It looks bitchin' in the winter, when the leaves fall off.


That's about it for this week. I have half a dozen hardy carnations and half a dozen black violas on order. I've decided if the bloody goddamn rabbits leave me any seeds on the violas this year, I'll try to harvest them and reseed the beds either after the first frost or first thing next spring, just after the frost. I know that works with most of the pinks I have, because I've done it -- we've joked, before, about staking Max out front in the flowerbed to scare the rabbits off, but we haven't done it. I wish I thought it would work -- they won't leave the stuff alone, and I hate to use anything that hurts them, since this is (technically) their home and I only live in it. I don't mind them being here, I just wish to hell they'd stop eating all the flowers. Seriously. Why don't they eat sheep sorrel? I'd love them if they'd do that!

Posted by Melinda at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

Got the containers up and the 'starts' out.

Yesterday couldn't have been a better day for getting the container plants put up and out. Fortunately, no diarrhetic dog or household emergency ensued, so we actually were able to get the larger portion of what we intended to get done yesterday completed. No more often than that happens, you'd think we had children.

First the vegetables in the containers. The bigger ones are prepared with about an inch of pea gravel in the bottom and a forty pound bag of topsoil per container; the smaller ones have the pea gravel, but only hold about 25 pounds of topsoil each (yeah, we went through a shitpile of topsoil yesterday; fortunately, it's cheap):


A bit of a digression (though related). When we moved into the house in 2000, in June, it was too late to really attempt to plant anything other than a few flowers, so that's all that got done that summer. The next year, however, we decided to try to till up a square about four by eight out back and plant some things. We tried tomatoes, lettuce and a couple of different kinds of sweet peppers.

The slugs and snails ate all but the bitterest of the lettuce, from which I think we got one thin salad (and even through dedicated cleaning and washing, wound up almost eating at least one slug). We planted radishes, too -- they came out looking like fat, white eyelashes with big, green leaves.

We fenced the plot with plastic fencing and metal doweling. The rabbits must have learned to fly -- they got into it and ate the pepper plants off to the ground. The birds and the squirrels (and perhaps even the chipmunks) knocked over or bit into every single tomato.

We tried a different location the next year, with similar results.

By the third year in the house, we knew it was shit or get off the pot -- we had to find some other way to grow those things or else give up and find a good local farm market. The decision was we'd buy some window-box rectangular planters, set them on the concrete pad just outside the carport wall, and see how that went.

It went, in fact, remarkably well. We had lots of peppers and tomatoes, at least. Those are the things we find it most practicable and purposeful to grow in containers. For a couple of years, we did pretty well with them in the containers -- we had four containers we lined up there, and they did quite well (though we never really got enough sweet peppers to make it worthwhile and eventually gave up).

Finally, two years and a half ago, we decided to do something a little more permanent toward making the container plantings worthwhile. We drew up and planned a set of shelves to install along the carport wall, and since we weren't sure it would be the ideal place or provide the ideal conditions, we bought treated plywood and painted it white, hinged it and inserted hooks, and used porch swing chain to support it on the side of the carport.

Again, it was successful, so last spring we bought plastic pegboard materials and PVC pipe and replaced the plywood. Last year wasn't the greatest for us timewise, so we didn't water as often or keep up with pulling the fruit, so we didn't get the yield we'd gotten the year before (and some of the planters we used for some of the peppers proved astoundingly ill-designed for outdoor plants, leading us to conclude to be used as-is, they weren't meant for that). After several rounds of modifications, we worked out a support method that worked pretty well.

This year we've added some containers and moved some more out to the back patio. With the maple tree gone on that side, we now can expect sufficient sun on the plants on the patio that they might actually fruit (the last time we tried it, only a few jalapenos and lots of volunteer catnip resulted from anything put on the patio).

Here are the rest of the container vegetable shots:



We had some trouble keeping the tomatoes from flopping all over everything, when they were planted in the same containers with the peppers. Generally, though some peppers get tall and bushy, they're self-supporting with minimal application of velcro tape and even when fruiting don't fall over and try to drag in the grass. The tomatoes were another story entirely. This way, we figure it will be easier to figure something out for supporting the tomato plants when they get tall and want to hang over. If nothing else, we can put some fencing or something along the edge of the table and tie up from there.

I've used Gardens Alive's tomato planting mix this year. Last year, we had lots of tomatoes -- but we'd reused some soil, and I found out later you shouldn't do that because tomatoes deplete calcium in topsoil preparations. The blossom/end rot was so bad we hardly were able to use any of them last year. I'll plan to use the stuff every year, if it helps with the tomatoes this year.


We have three kinds of peppers in the containers right now. There were eight healthy-looking plants we thought were poblanos (started from seed, and one looked a little ragged by the time we were able to get them planted), nine we thought were cayennes, and nine jalapeno plants that we bought. All the peppers are hot peppers, and all can be frozen if all the plants survive and fruit heavily. The jalapenos get tall but not shaggy, and the cayennes don't even get tall. These are, by the way, the cayennes we started in the basement from salvaged seeds. We decided those are the only things that really are worth starting in the basement -- the forget-me-nots are the only flowers that survived the early growing period (the pinks succumbed to some fungus, and everything else pretty much gave up the ghost not long after that, perhaps also due to fungus). I had one lobelia that still doesn't look like much, I think I'll just rely on buying them from the nurseries from now on. I haven't seen myosotis (forget-me-nots) at the nurseries, or I wouldn't have bothered to try starting them, either. My guess is now that I went to all that trouble, they'll be all over the place next spring.


That's the first one I put out in the pot, a couple of weeks ago. It's still surviving, so maybe the dozen or so others that were roughly the same size will survive, too, I don't know. They're planted in various places -- a couple of different spots in the flower bed, and in pots out front. There's also one Texas bluebell and a couple of delphiniums that look pretty crappy, I put them in the pots, too. Figured they'd croak, but if the forget-me-nots did well, I wouldn't care too much.

Here's Tony's herb spot, around by the peony bed:


They always do well there, they get lots of sun early in the morning, and that seems to be the side of the house that gets plenty of water when it rains. Incidentally, I don't think we planted either the oregano or the catnip over there -- the catnip was in the bed where the wild-ass mint is now, and I had some oregano planted out front, by one of the trees that was removed, but neither was planted in what had always been intended to be a basil bed. Some things are remarkably persistent, however -- my mother has some oregano that comes up in her back yard every year that was started from a few slips my late father got from a fellow Cincinnati Post employee in the seventies. She's tried a few times to reduce the size of the bed, but it comes back just as big every year. It's now growing between the slabs in the back sidewalk.

The last time we planted any catnip was over four years ago -- it has not been reseeded since, and we've torn out every bit of it at least twice since then. Only the Mitchum 'scorched earth' mint seems to be strong enough to drive it out.


Just to show what hardcore O/C nuts we are, this is a little volunteer evergreen of some kind or other that we found around back. We presume it got dropped in some bird shit at some point -- it showed its face late last summer, and we decided it was a bad time to replant it then. We did that yesterday, too -- there were three of them, altogether, this was the biggest. Next time I go around the front yard, I'll take some shots of them, if they haven't croaked yet. I'm afraid we didn't get enough of the roots -- they were wrapped around the axle of the oak tree, so we may have injured them too much for them to take hold out front I don't know. Time will tell.

These are the tulips I was so worried about back around Easter, because it was supposed to get so cold. The taller ones hadn't bloomed yet, at that point, but they've been sitting out there for almost three weeks now looking like this. Well, they're getting a little blowsy now, but after three weeks, it's about what you'd expect. The lighter purple ones out front look about the same, except none of them is as tall as the tallest of these:


Finally, some of the veterans:


The peony in the original bed on the side. The others aren't ready to go, yet. They'll probably open up next weekend, while we're out of town, and look like dirty toilet paper by the time we get home. Ah, well.

And my pinks, which I sort of leave alone to re-seed themselves each year:


They're all cheddar pinks of one variety or another, though the tallish ones with the lacy edges I've only seen as seeds, I've never seen them at the garden stores as slips. They seem to be thriving out there where they are -- the sun must please them, because they're blooming at about twice the density this year that they did before. I don't think any of the ones I've planted out there in that spot died off right away, they've managed to get by for at least two or three years at a time. I'm really surprised the slug damage seems to be pretty limited, since the slugs usually hit early and hard and eat everything in their paths for weeks on end.

I figure when we get back into town next weekend, I'll order my black violas from Spring Hill. They should be able to get them here in a few days, which would do me exactly no good this week (going to Pittsburgh next weekend; don't ask). If they're going to sit somewhere unplanted it might as well be in a greenhouse. I'll just order them next weekend and plan on getting them in the ground the weekend after. I don't usually see flats of just the black ones at the garden centers around here, so ordering them is about my only option. Violas are okay, but I really like these because they're black. There's something entertainingly creepy about black flowers, not to mention they're attractive.

Maybe I should go ahead and order some of the dark blue lobelias, too, though I actually see those around here at the garden stores all the time. Might have a look at the ones at Siebenthaler first, and I won't be ordering them from Spring Hill, since Spring Hill doesn't carry edging lobelias at all.

Anyway, I'll shoot some more pictures of the front yard stuff when I have time, it may not be until week after next, since we're going out of town next weekend. Hopefully nothing catastrophic will hit while we're gone, though that's usually around the time the big windstorm hits and blows everything a block and a half down the street. We'll see what happens.

Posted by Melinda at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2005

Man, I guess it's what I get for living here.

Temps are supposed to be in the forties again tonight. I figure all my starts ought to be okay -- I'm leaving them out there, in other words. Two weeks of temps hovering around eighty, a soft frost, a few weeks in the sixties and seventies, then a night of lows in the forties (I've seen lots of people probably wasting money buying and planting annuals today, a day that looks and feels so much like mid-October I expect the brand new leaves to fall off the trees), and a week of temps not even getting to seventy. It's freaking May fifteenth! I hate Ohio, sometimes.

Not feeling like aggravating whatever it is that makes my hands hurt like I've been punching bricks by working outside and getting them wet on a sixty-degree day, I took the camera around and shot a bunch of pictures of stuff, instead. My new rosebushes and the new flowering almonds that came early last week are all in the ground, now, and they all look like they're supposed to; the flowering almonds are just now starting to get new shoots, the rosebushes look like they're croaking but they both have new growth starting on them. The paperwork from the rose people said they might do that -- look puny but start new canes -- so I'll take their word for it and hope for the best, especially since I have no choice, I can't conrol the weather, and the money's already spent. Anyway, don't panic because these images of the roses look crappy -- they're probably fine.


Yeah, actually there is a problem with the camera, or at least there was -- the dog got his nose on it a couple of weeks ago, and we didn't clean the smudge off at that point because it didn't affect the pictures. A wet smudge usually doesn't. Anyway, it's been cleaned off, but I'm damned if I'm going back out there and take all the pictures again, especially since this is mostly for my own reference in the future (did they look that shitty when I put them in? Why is that growing there? the usual).


There are three of these -- they're the flowering almonds I ordered from Spring Hill. Like the rosebushes from Antique Rose Emporium, these were very well packed and not the least bit broken. They have started sprouting new leaves, so I think they're healthy enough. Now I'll know I can trust Spring Hill to send me potted plants, I'll probably order more next year. Breck's Bulbs, another branch of the Spring Hill bunch (there's also Gardens Alive, which carries low-impact fertilizers and lawn treatments), may get some money in the fall, too, if I can think of anything like that I want.


This is a baby golden raintree we dug up out back and stuck in the spot where one of the maples came out. Don't know if it'll survive or not, but hey -- it's free, right? We've got a golden raintree that's kind of at the end of its lifespan out back, it's spitting seeds like mad every year, and there are always baby trees out there, so if this one doesn't take, there are dozens of others.


Here's the weeping pussy willow we dithered so much about back in April. Looks like it's surviving the unpredictable weather conditions okay. I'm glad we went ahead and bought it, and I think it's in a good spot, there.


As you can see, the weeping Atlas cedar, after its flirtation with death, seems to be recovering well enough. The shape comes courtesy Tony, who jammed the support pole into the ground and hoisted the far end of the plant up there. It looks like it's supposed to, and I think you can see all the new needles (it had turned brown late in the winter, I was worried it might be more than just shock from the change in the weather and all).


Here's the other Cecile Brunner. You can see kind of in the upper-right part in the picture that there's a new cane sprouting, so as crappy as it looks, that's what's probably supposed to happen. Don't know if it'll bloom this year or not.


Closer shot of the new shoot on the Cecile Brunner.


Man, they weren't kidding when they called them 'neon' pinks, were they? Even on an overcast day with a digital camera (I've discovered the only way to get 'true color' on flowers that are a little out of spectrum, like these and the navy blue lobelias, is to take them with an analog camera and have them developed by a good lab).


There are pinks, artemisias and a couple of ornamental thyme plants (the ground cover and the one with the little pinkish-purple blooms), and there's an ornamental sage plant in there, too, in the process of being overwhelmed by the French tarragon that we didn't really think would grow very well (and that didn't, last year). It's supposed to be Zone 6 hardy, but I was skeptical. Looks like for once, I was wrong.


Closeup of the artemisia -- I trim it back to the base every winter, because if it got any bigger than it already does, I wouldn't be able to grow anything in the side yard.


Here's a viola that decided to just spring right the hell on up -- it's one like I planted last year (they're annuals), only it was actually in the flowerbed. As you can see, this one is between the brick edging and the driveway.




There's some funny looking stuff on the older rosebush out front. Mostly, though, I'm willing to attribute it to the repeated cold snaps, and not disease. One of the buds looks like it may already have powdery mildew -- usually that hits later in the season, but with the weather the way it is, I'm not surprised. I think I'm just paranoid about rose rosette now, since Mom lost a couple of roses to it. She says she's still having to dig up old roots to kill off the shoots that come off them. Apparently, that's not unusual -- it's weird, though.



Here are two shots of the dwarf rosebush that's at the back corner of the 'workshop' -- the one I was sure was going to die the second summer it was out there. Looks puny, don't it? It's the biggest rosebush I have, by a long shot. I suppose I could trim it way back every winter, but it's so impressive as is, it's hard to bring myself to do that.



Here's the rosebush foundering in the shadows at the corner of the house. It starts out like this every year -- though there are some chlorotic-looking leaves on it, this time, which is kind of new. I think it's just that the soil around the roots has receded and that side of the root ball isn't getting adequate nutrition anymore. When it doesn't get enough of anything, it's bound to look kind of lousy. I just can't bring myself to kill it off unless it's really diseased -- and it isn't.


Here's the wild-ass peony bed the previous inhabitants of our little bungalow left behind. It gets bigger every year -- a couple of years back, I shaved nearly six inches off either side of the corm bed underground and moved a few around to the end of the carport. It's as big as it was when I cut it back, now. Guess I'll have to find somewhere else in the yard I don't mind having peonies take the hell over everything. I don't remember either my mother or grandmother complaining about this -- what the heck kind of peonies are these, anyway?


This is the second bed. I think I moved eight corms over here two or three years ago. They looked pretty weedy the first spring, and pretty decent after that. This year, they've gone batshit, as you can see. Ah, well -- they're pretty and smell good, so at least this 'installation' of them is safe for a while, since there's nothing nearby for them to devour.


Here's something else we planted with all good intention (one plant, two summers ago). It's called 'Robert Mitchum mint.' Remember that name -- it's a freakin' mutant. It's going to end up having a pitched battle with the catnip, probably, although if I remember correctly there already was some volunteer catnip on that side of the peony bed. I don't see any catnip there this year, do you? I guess Bob won that round.


Here's what I'm fairly sure is some kind of serviceberry that we brought up from the MIL's house a couple of years ago. It shouldn't get any bigger than ten or twelve feet, according to the information I could find about them -- it's already about six feet tall. It's a shrub unless you trim it into a tree, which is what I've done.


I know, I know -- need to trim the boxwoods. Someday. Someday before they come to life and start walking around stepping on the other plants in the yard, especially.


Here's a shot of the one plant in the whole front yard that seems to have gotten by relatively unscathed from the tree removal and the microclimate issues that probably were what affected the other things.

Finally, here's what happens when you weed into a pot that already has soil in it:


I'm not even sure what it is, but it sure looks ... um, healthy, I guess.

Sheesh, wish it had been warm enough to work outside comfortably today. Obviously the sheep-sorrel and dandelions need to come out of the flowerbed by the driveway, and everything needs to be relieved of the load of maple spinners. I should have put gardening soil in the flower bed and the front garden spots next to the house today, but I wind up aching for days if I do that kind of stuff on damp, windy days when the temps aren't high enough. Next weekend is gonna be a killer, I can tell already -- if it ever actually decides to become spring here in Ohio, of course. Maybe it won't -- maybe it'll just stay sixty degrees until October, when it goes back down again.

Did I mention there are times I hate living in Ohio? Just checkin'.

Posted by Melinda at 05:24 PM | Comments (1)