Mmm.. welcome back.

*contented sigh*

I’m reading more or less regularly again. By which I mean I’m actually reading printed-on-paper books as well as listening to audiobooks in the car (which I’ve been in a lot lately between the commute and a more-than-usual amount of weekend travel). Like many things in my life, reading sometimes ebbs and flows, and lately I’ve not had the calmness of mind to slip into a story and just let it take me away. It’s a sign of some peace and predictability returning, as I settle into the new job a bit more as well as make some decisions that, while not exactly weighing on my mind have been bouncing around the back burner for quite awhile. All things considered, this is a Good Thing(tm) and somewhat of a relief – for some reason it always makes me worry when I lose the desire to read.

I plowed through Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey‘s newest non-Kushiel novel, in a couple days last week. It lacks a lot of the depth of the Kushiel series, but was still a well crafted story with enough counterculture to satisfy. Feeding off that momentum, I started Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson and though it started a little more slowly than I’d have preferred, it’s progressed into the combination of well-researched history and plausible near-future that I love about his work. About the same time, I downloaded Bright of the Sky by new-to-me author Kay Kenyon and have been thoroughly sucked into it to the point where I actually finding myself wanted a commute longer than the 50 minutes it already is!

I’m also beginning to plot for the garden this year.. so far all I know for sure is cukes and tomatoes and pr’bly onions and peppers again. I’d do herbs (oh, right, I’ll do dill again) but that always seems like a grand idea until I realize that I have no real idea how to cook with them. *shrug* I’ll pr’bly do peas and beans again, though in the back yard this time instead of one of the boxes so they’ll get more shade and possibly vine up over the pergola. Lettuce would be good, if I actually manage to tend the garden well enough to stagger the planting (and therefore the harvesting) well enough. Pr’bly no squash this year as I don’t seem to go through as much of it, but I might give in and do a summer squash anyway. I’m learning that I’m a sort of haphazard gardener, which I’m honestly okay with, but sometimes means my follow through suffers. *smile*

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Signs of life..

Just as I was starting to wonder if my asparagus experiment was going to be a complete and utter failure, on my way to the garage this morning, I noticed some very encouraging signs of life!

Lonely little stalk Asparagus! (As usual, clickable thumbnails.)

The stalks are teeny tiny – really more slender than the grass in my lawn – but they’re definitely asparagus. Next spring I should be able to do a light harvest of some young stalks, and the following year I’ll be able to do a full harvest. Mmmm.. I *love* asparagus, so the idea of being able to walk out in the morning and harvest some fresh to pan sear with a little butter and some scrambled eggs for breakfast is simply divine.

The strawberries have been showing more regular signs that they’re getting well established as well:

Strawberries 051809 More strawberries 051809

I am not sure if I should expect to actually get fruit from the strawberries this year – they’re an everbearing variety, so it’s definitely possible – but even if not, the prospect of a nice full bed of beautiful red fruit next summer is rather exciting.

Late last week I finally managed to get all the seeds in the raised beds – cukes, radishes (yes, I know, terribly late), snap peas, summer and winter squash, and lettuce. I have one bed still empty for tomatoes and peppers (which should arrive later this week), and room still in the other beds to do another sowing of lettuce, radishes and peas, so here’s hoping I planned better this year and don’t end up with the jungle of tomato doom that overshadowed everything else I planted two years ago.

Unfortunately, I also have one quarter of one of the beds that’s been overrun by grass; I dug out as much as I could, and have covered the area up with big rhubarb leaves in hopes of starving it of light, but the roots are so embedded in the soil that I think I may just have to resign myself to Round Up at the end of the season to kill it all off.

I also, for the first time since I moved into the house, harvested some of the monstrous rhubarb that grows in the side patio bed. I brought 8 or 10 stalks to my sister’s yesterday since my brother-in-law is a rather avid cook and I figured he could find something fun and tasty to make with it. I picked that much again tonight, cut it up and stuck most of it in the freezer. I’m planning to  make at least some rhubarb cordial*, but may also do a rhubarb cake or some such as well. I expect that I’ll be able to harvest quite a bit more over the next couple of weeks, but I’m pretty sure it freezes quite well and frozen fruits (though I’m pretty sure it’s not a fruit..?) are always good to have on hand.

I’m also thinking ahead a bit to later in the summer when the cukes start coming in and contemplating making dill pickles. I’ve never done it, but I *love* crunchy dill pickles and I will likely have more cukes than I’ll ever eat fresh, so I’m thinking this might just be the year to try it out. Hrm. Which pr’bly means I should plant some dill, too.

* Cut up rhubarb. Fill a quart jar with as much as will fit. Pour 1 c. or so of sugar over fruit. Fill jar with vodka or white rum. Shake daily until the sugar is fully dissolved. Let age until it tastes right or the fruit turns white. Strain out the liquid and bottle for a taste of early summer in the dead of winter. This general recipe – cut up fruit to fill a jar, 1 c. sugar, fill with vodka – will work with most fruits to make cordials and I’ve found it considerably easier than the recipes that require simple syrup.

*love*

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Done!
(All are clickable thumbnails.)

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Isn’t it beautiful?

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I feel like I have a brand new back yard now.

Pergola on the left, extended deck on the right, strawberry and asparagus bed in front of the pergola.

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This has to be the perfect place to spend a warm spring evening.

New “cure” for rain..

I’m afraid I may have found a new cure for bad weather. It’s not one I’m likely to attempt regularly, though.

This morning dad and I awoke to overcast skies that quickly opened up into rain. Given that we were planning to start the deck construction this morning, we were a little concerned, but decided to run into town for breakfast and to run a few errands and see what things looked like when we got home. Some $300 later, the sun was breaking through and we were back on our way home to begin the framing for the deck. I’m trying not to think about how monetary “sacrifices” to the weather deities might work, but I am hoping the storm we’re getting now moves through before morning!

Even with a somewhat truncated working day, we did get the deck framed and the decking down:

Photobucket View standing at the back door (As usual, all are clickable thumbnails.)
Photobucket View standing under the pergola on the patio, with a bonus shot of the little black pig

Yesterday dad pressure washed the existing decking, so while the color shift from the old to the new is noticeable it’s not nearly as glaring as it would have been had he not taken the time and effort (thanks, dad!). He also built the railing between the house and the stairs and on the stairs, all while I was at work.

At the moment, the deck is quite lovely and even though it’s only 8×16, is rather large enough for my tastes. Here’s a shot with the deck furniture (a decent chunk of the “sacrifice” from this morning) we assembled this evening for some scale:

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The table is 42″ and there are four rocker chairs, all of which fit comfortably on the new part of the deck. It may feel a little more enclosed tomorrow once the rest of the fence and the railing is in place, but even so it’s a grand little spot to sit and watch the birds. I can’t wait to be able to step out on a sunny morning with a cup of coffee and watch the neighborhood wake up!

.. and then some!

It’s been an absolutely beautiful weekend here, after a dry but slightly chilly end of week; all of that was much appreciated, however, after the rain from last weekend prompted some jostling of plans. (We had been intending to pour the concrete footings for the deck extension last weekend, but the rain (which was much needed and therefore will be spared the full force of my wrath *smile*) delayed that.)

Note: I’m beat, so this post may be lacking in poetic phrasing and.. yeah, all that. While the tone may not convey it, I’m rather terribly excited and happy with everything we’ve accomplished! Since this one has lots of pictures, I’ll throw a jump in here for those using a feed reader. Continue reading

Since I can’t be in my garden this weekend..

.. I might as well post about it. *smile*

I’m a few weeks behind, but I’ve spent several evenings the last couple of weeks out in the yard clearing out the deadfall from last year. The side and front garden got cleaned up first as they’re the easiest and are the only ones with perennials that are starting to come up. I bagged up I think 5 bags of yard waste from just those beds, though, since there are a few places in them that like to collect leaves. I’ve also cleaned out the deadfall from the raised beds and cleared out all the rose canes, but did that after the deadline for the County to still pick up yard waste from the curb, so I’ll have to run all that down to the green dump myself at some point.

My plans for the weekend changed at the more-or-less last minute. I had intended to sink the footings for the expansion to my (currently not really) deck with my dad, and he was going to bring the pieces of my pergola down and put it together on the back deck. Unfortunately, southeastern Minnesota is now sitting smack in the midst of a weather system that is promising thunderstorms and rain all weekend, and digging 42 inches into rain soaked ground, and then trying to fill the holes with concrete while dodging rain (and possible hail) storms didn’t seem like such a wise idea. As much as we really do need the rain – and the storms so far have been awe-inspiring – I’m a little bit bummed that we had to shuffle things around.

But, since I’m more or less homebound on a dark, grey, rainy weekend, I’ve been planning a bit for this year’s garden. I found an interesting blog post, via foodgawker a few days ago, about a victory garden; the interesting part is the “deer guard” and it has me wondering if you could use a similar technique to train vining plants up over the dome. It’d have to be small enough to fit inside the box, which might then be too small. If the plan I have for this year doesn’t work out, I may investigate further. For this year, though, dad’s built me a frame similar to (maybe made from.. can’t remember) an old window screen frame with larger-mesh screen. The intention is to prop it up at an angle so that the vines will grow up the topside, and still be able to plant shade-loving things underneath it. I have to plot out the garden boxes to figure out what’s going where still – I have most of an idea, but need to actually sit down and write it all out – but I think that this should let me grow the lettuce “underneath” the cukes or squash, at least until the vines get so large the block out all the light (which may not be an issue if I set the frame up in the right direction to still let in light through the open end).

In areas unrelated to the garden, I think I may need to give in and buy a small printer for home. I normally try not to print things as I can usually make notes on a smaller piece of paper and therefore prevent wasting several whole pieces for something like directions. But sometimes, like when I find recipes I want to try, there’s more information than I want to translate. Unfortunately, I really don’t want to add a printer to my desk space, but I may shop around and see if I can find one of the teeny tiny ones that are made for folks who travel with them so I can stash it away discretely when I’m not using it.

Living up to its name..

This week is spring break here, which is normally a sort of optimistic title around these parts. This year, not so much. The weekend saw our first truly spring-like days, and the weekdays are following suit quite nicely. I even sat out on the back patio and grilled last night (color me surprised that I actually  had charcoal)! Now, if only the administrators got spring break off, too.

It’s been difficult not to think about my plans for the yard and garden this year now that it’s finally getting warmer. Last week I talked about the plans part*, but it got long so I didn’t go into the plants I’ve ordered, which should be here in .. oh.. about two months. *grin*

Backyard:
15137   Strawberry – Ozark Beauty – 25 Plants

I’m pretty excited about these guys, but haven’t exactly decided where they’ll go yet. I need to cut the bed for them, so hopefully the ground will thaw here soon so I can get it all prepped before they arrive! I don’t usually have an issue with animals eating things from the gardens, but I’m a little more concerned about strawberries, so we’ll see if I actually get any of these to full ripe before the critters get them.

Side bed by patio:
41285A  Moonflower Giant White – 1 Pkt. (20 seeds)

These will vine up the pergola. My eventual plan for the pergola is grape vines, but I’m expecting that it will take a few years before they grow enough so my hope is to use some vining annuals in the interim. I love Moonflowers – friends in DC had them in their back patio and they were enchanting and beautiful. This is the bed that needs to be overhauled, which I’m not particularly looking forward to, but such is life.

Deck* (in containers):
22018   Patio Princess Tomato – 1 order (3 plants)

I have two other tomato varietals (see farther down) this year, but will only get 1 or 2 plants of each, depending on what the other folks who ordered with me want. I’m expecting to get 1 of one kind and 2 of the other (but don’t know which), and since I may end up with just one of each I wanted to have another option to be sure I’d have plenty of fresh tomatoes this year. I’m excited to try these – they grow in pots, so they’ll be up on the (newly remodeled) back deck.

Front yard:
36483A  Dolichos, Lablab – 1 Pkt. (35 seeds) – in the flower boxes
22105   Lobelia Cardinal Flower – 2 plants
42267A  Convolvulus Enchantment Series – Mix – 1 Pkt. (150 seeds)

I originally envisioned foxglove in the front yard, but either the plants I ordered never survived or the squirrels dug them up. I’m hoping the lobelia will have better luck. The Convulvulus are sort of a filler – I planted Cosmos in a patch in the front two years ago, and though they’re supposed to be an annual, they rebloomed last year. I decided to hedge my bets that they’d make it another, but if they do, I have other places I can fill in with the Convolvulus. The Dolichos will go in the front flower boxes just as a variety on the morning glories I’ve done in the past.

Garden boxes:
69013   Asparagus Mary Washington – 1 Pack (25 Roots)
14985   Onion Walla Walla Sweet – 1 offer (2 bunches)
20615C  Sweet Pepper Collection (6 plants, one of each, though I’m splitting this with a friend)
23015   Tomato Fresh Salsa – 1 order (1-2 plants; the others will go to a friend)
20651 Tomato Fourth of July Hybrid – 1 order (1-2 plants; the others will go to mom and dad)
59114   Lettuce EZ Serve – 15′ Seed Tape
54833A  Summer Squash Sunray Hybrid – 1 Pkt. (25 seeds)
51722A  Winter Squash Burpee’s Butterbush – 1 Pkt. (25 seeds)
52175A  Burpless Beauty Cucumber – Packet (30 seeds)
53512A  Snap Pea Super Sugar Snap V.P. – 1 Pkt. (200 seeds)
60962A  Radish Burpee White – 1 Pkt. (300 seeds)

And that’s the vegetables.

  • I’ve been wanting to grow asparagus for*ever* but the long lead-up time discouraged me. This year I’ve decided I’ll never get it if I don’t just start some, so here’s hoping it works.
  • The onions, peppers and tomatoes will get used for salsa inevitably, though I hope to have enough to enjoy lots of them fresh too.
  • One of the reasons I tend not to eat more salads is that I don’t like how wilty the lettuce gets if it’s not really fresh, and I don’t eat it consistently enough to buy it really fresh regularly; the lettuce above looks good and they say that when you harvest it, it just falls apart into a nearly ready-made salad, so here’s hoping!
  • I like summer squash in stir fries and kabobs and this is the kind I planted two years ago which has a great taste. The winter squash I’m hoping to store and use throughout the fall and winter – I love squash, but don’t think to get it very often.
  • Cukes are just good summer food. I was at a restaurant last weekend that had cucumber slices in the water that reminded me how much I like that, so even if I end up with lots this year, I expect I’ll find uses for them.
  • Snap peas are great snacks, great in stir fries, and I suspect they freeze rather well, too. I’m rather fond of the idea of chopping up some of the squash, onions, peppers and peas and freezing my own little garden stir fry packets for use throughout the year.
  • I eat radishes raw as a snack whenever I remember to get them, which isn’t often. I wanted to grow them two years ago, but never managed to get the seeds in the ground before it got too warm. Given that I’m already itching to get out in the garden this year, I don’t expect that to be as much of an issue!

So yeah.. it’s 52 degrees out now (at twenty to seven in the evening, so not bad) but the ground still appears to be frozen and the small strip of yard that doesn’t get direct sunlight still has snow. Spring now, please?

* Smart, smart dad suggested I contact the City to see if the deck would require a building permit and it pr’bly will, and may even need a variance because the existing deck might be too close to the property line, so I’ll be making my first foray into grown-up home-owner/city relations soon!