Showing posts from 2017

The Office Garden, Expanded

The little garden I planted outside of my tiny office is filling nicely. For example, the small nicotiana I transplanted has blossomed:

I like the handling flowers, and it smells nice, too. The container planting has also filled in over the past month or so:

Since this container gets a fair amount of shade, the pansies are still going strong. The whole thing has filled in with all the rains we’ve had:

This garden connects to a tiny strip of land bordering the garage. I filled that in with daylilies that I moved from the perennial border a couple weeks ago. These are a very vibrant red, but that color no longer works with the white-orange-blue color scheme that I’ve switched to:

So now these are hanging out in the back, and once we paint the garage yellow like the office, they should really pop:

The daylilies should also look a little fuller in seasons to come. These are divisions that I transplanted fairly late into the season, so they’re a little droopy this year.

It’s Raining Cats

So just when we decided that Smithy just didn’t come around enough for our tastes and got an indoor cat to play with, another cat seems to have walked into our lives:

This one is a big guy, and — despite the somewhat startled expression on his face in the photo above — is oozing confidence. I saw only his black tail scoot past the back door and thought it was Smithy, but then this much bigger cat sauntered through the cat door onto the porch for what was left of Smithy’s breakfast:

This photo is better, since I opened the door to take it. When this guy was done eating, he came right up to me and was just about to walk on into the house, but I didn’t let him. So ever so calmly turned around and walked away, without flinching or even picking up the pace beyond a slow walk. 
He looked healthy and clean, so I’m not sure if he belongs to someone or is just a solid survivor. We’ll see if he comes around again for more snacks — I wouldn’t mind having him set up shop in the garden, since the…

Meet Fiddle

So this happened yesterday:

After much discussion, we decided that we would really like a house cat in addition to a barn cat. Smithy has become increasingly aloof this spring since we went on our April vacation. He only comes around at night for his food, and sometimes he’ll go a few days without coming around at all. I even tried enticing him with catnip and caught him in a Have-a-Heart trap to give him his tick meds, and though he stuck around on the patio and ate breakfast that day, he wouldn’t come up for a pat. He may change his tune when it gets colder again and he remembers the treats in my warm office, but he seems content to come and go as a barn cat should.
Trouble is, we kind of got used to the ultra-friendlybarn cats of the past, so we decided we should have a house cat to dispatch the errant mouse and curl up on laps. 
So this is Fiddle. He’s an eight-month-old boy who was found in a feral colony, but who the rescuers thought was young enough and sweet enough to be soci…

Adding Color to the Perennial Border

For years I was working with a very limited palette for the flower garden that wraps around the house: all white, with a few touches of red in spots. This was very elegant, but now that we’ve begun painting the house yellow, I’ve found myself leaning toward orange and blue plants. I love the yellow-orange-blue color combination, and we were really happy with how our swath of orange tulips worked with the new paint color this spring.

As is always the case with a flower garden, plants don’t live for ever. This year when I went shopping to fill in some holes, I reached for some more colorful plants to mix in with those white ones. They’re not all blooming right now, but here are a few that have opened for a sneak peak of next year’s color palette:

These apricot blanket flowers actually have orange centers, but it’s hard to tell in this picture. That makes them blend well with the little orange petunias I have sprinkled along the very front of the border:

Since I have officially given up…

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: May

It’s been nearly a month since the end of May, and I have yet to assess my May resolution. Instead of eliminating something as in past months, I decided to add to my routine: 30 minutes of yoga every day.

When we lived at the Red House, I went to yoga classes twice per week at the Y, and it was great. Once we moved here and I started commuting to Brookline, though, it was very hard to motivate to go out again in the evening after spending so much time in the car already. I still stretch regularly in the evenings, but I hadn’t done a real yoga routine in years.

Getting back into it wasn’t hard, per se. I no longer have a yoga mat, having cut it up to make a cushy mat for the standing desk in my office, but it’s actually much nicer to have a real rug to spread out on, anyway:

There are plenty of videos on YouTube with yoga flows to follow, and it was nice to be guided to do poses I haven’t spent any time with in a while. (My downward dog is much better after doing it for a month)
The h…

And Now, Flea Beetles

Some of the time you would say it was luck, and some of the time you would say it was weather, but this season has been really hard on the garden in the insect department. In addition to the usual trouble with cutworms and cabbage loopers, we also have a bunch of asparagus beetles ruining that crop.  

And now there are also flea beetles:

That little black bug in the center is a small beets that can hop around, and we have more than just one. you can see that there’s tons of damage on that arugula leaf it’s sitting on, and every arugula plant in our mesclun patch looks the same way. They also really like radishes, so I don’t think we’ll be getting any of those to plump up any time soon. 
We can live without arugula and radishes, but these bugs have also gotten into our broccoli and cauliflower, though the damage for the most part isn’t quite as severe:

Since radishes are their favorite food, I planted several small patches in the broccoli and cauliflower beds to serve as a trap. The …

Attack of the Asparagus Beetles

Coming off of the drought year has been hard enough on our asparagus, which needs lots of water to thrive, but we have another problem on our hands as well:

After a good week or two of a small harvest, we started to have stunted, crooked spears like this one. At first I thought the tips were being nibbled by an animal, but then we noticed this:

I thought they might be aphids, but upon further inspection, it turns out that those are asparagus beetle eggs. They belong to these guys: 

The red beetles are spotted asparagus beetles, which I have seen before — but never this early in the season. They’ve never caused much harm. But there are also these guys: 

The black ones are common asparagus beetles, and they do cause a lot of damage, since as the eggs hatch the larvae eat their way up the stalks. They probably got a foothold during the drought as the plants were already weakened and overwintered in larger-the-usual numbers. They’ve been ruining our asparagus, and all we have are some sk…

The Tiny Office Garden

Last fall I moved into my tiny office in the back yard, and this spring Kirk put up one small finishing touch: the lattice around the foundation. That means I could plant a little garden by the stairs:

This is a tough spot, because it is shaded for most of the day by the maple tree in the compost yard. Some areas get strong afternoon sun, but I would call the exposure partial shade to full shade in spots. One full shade area is along the side, where I planted hosta and snakeroot:

The snakeroot has very dark leaves, which is hard to see against the compost. Here’s a better look:

Both of these shade-loving plants should eventually fill in. They’ll also have fragrant flowers in the summer (hosta) and fall (snakeroot), so I’m hoping the fragrance blows right in the windows of my office. The hosta variety is "Guacamole," which is supposed to have a nice scent. This whole garden is about smelling good!

Around the front (which gets a little more sun) I have a pair of red dianthus p…

Battle of the Small Fruit

We have a little war going on in one of our garden beds:

This is the blueberry bed, but all those green, healthy-looking plants are not blueberries. They are raspberries, and they are taking over:

Here you can see a sad, yellowish blueberry that’s been completely overrun by vigorous green raspberry canes. These canes have jumped — or rather, burrowed — from their bed under the grass path and into the blueberry bed. 
And they’ve already managed to kill one blueberry bush entirely:

We’ve struggled with blueberries ever since we planted them, and last year we replaced several. That was the year of the drought, though, and they haven’t done well:

Though this one managed to put on some decent growth, you can see from the color that it’s not doing well. I suspect that we’ve never been able to get the soil acidic enough for them to thrive, and the discolored leaves are a sign that they are not getting the nutrients they need because the soil is too alkaline. 
We’ve worked to amend it, but …

Spring Pizza

We eat a lot of homemade pizza throughout the year, but it’s always fun when a new ingredient is ready to harvest to shake things up a little bit. 

This very green springtime pizza features a garlic béchamel sauce, asparagus, spinach and feta. It’s also garnished with lovage and some pea shoots, all from the garden (except the feta, of course). This is a great way to enjoy our earliest garden harvest of asparagus and leafy greens.
I don’t think Jonas was wild about it, but we also had plenty of regular tomato sauce pizza for him, too. We’re down to our final jar of sauce now, so he might want to get on board with white pizza for the next couple months until we have some more tomatoes. (Ordinarily we don’t run out, but the drought really kept our yields down last summer). 
If you’re looking for something different in your pizza repertoire, give this one a try!

New Year’s Resolutions, Month by Month: April

In April I continued my monthly New Year’s resolutions not by giving something up as I had for the first three months of the year, but rather by adding something. I decided to give meditation a try.
To do it, I used the Headspace app, which was recommended to me by a friend who also happens to be a professional neuropsychologist. You just load it up on your phone or iPad and it pretty much does the rest for you. 

This photo is from the desktop version, but the app is even easier. Just push the button for your session and you’ll get an introductory video to explain a concept or technique. Then the app will automatically flip to an audio page for your guided meditation. 
This was just 10 minutes per day, and it wasn’t always easy to fit in since I was away from home for two weeks in April, but I managed to catch up on the couple days I missed before the month was over. This program focuses on training to let thoughts go by concentrating on the breath and other physical sensations — at …

Playing Cat Detective

While we were on vacation, our lovely neighbors came over every day to feed Smithy and check on the chickens. When we got back, there was a half-eaten can of food on the porch so all seemed well. 
Fast forward several days, and no one had seen the cat. 
The food was still being nibbled (though not devoured), so we alternated between being nervous that he ran away and feeling confident that Smithy was lurking around but hiding. 
So by Thursday we set up the iPad to film a time lapse video of his food throughout night (which is when the nibbling usually occurred). We knew something was eating the food, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t a raccoon or skunk (which have managed to squeeze through the cat door in the past). 
In the morning we eagerly looked over our evidence:

Did you miss it? Right around the 10-second mark, there’s a flash of...something. It goes by so fast that the kids missed it, but I slowed it down to a frame by frame:

That’s Smithy, all right! 
So why was he hiding …

Home Again

Although we enjoyed our vacation last week, it was also really nice to come home. One reason for this was that we were greeted by a green lawn and a low of colorful bulbs in full bloom:

If you have no trouble growing hyacinths, this probably isn’t that exciting to you. For me, though, these are the best I’ve ever managed to grow. This is probably due to the extra sun they’re getting, since once again, another fence section fell during the winter. 

Since these are growing in the cutting garden, I cut some to bring inside. I love the way they smell, and a little goes a long way.
The other big flower story this week is that our orange tulips are blooming:

This picture, taken on an overcast day, doesn’t really do them justice. They are a much more fiery shade in real life, which looks great against the yellow paint of the house (and will look even better once we finish that paint job). 

Last fall I planted another 100 orange Darwin tulip bulbs to replace lost ones and add to the driveway…

What I Did on My April Vacation

Last week was April school vacation week here in Massachusetts, and we used the time to take a vacation through Pennsylvania and New York. After visiting family over Easter weekend, we headed west to Lancaster County, where we visited the Moravian town of Lititz.
The town museum is housed in an old German building made of stone, and behind it is a small public garden, which you enter via a very inviting arbor:

The only flowers there right now are some new pansies since it’s still early spring, but you can see some green perennials poking up as well:

The centerpiece is this diamond-shaped bed, which for some reason I failed to center in the photo:

This is all probably quite lovely in the summer. What you can’t see is that if you keep walking through the garden, you’ll continue down a slope that goes to the small river that runs through town. 
The next day we went to the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, which has original buildings, buildings moved to the site and reproductions o…

A Sad Maple Season

This turned out to be a really strange maple sugaring season. 
We tapped the tree back in February when we had a bit of a warm-up, and at first things went really well. Afternoons were warm, and we started out with a strong run of sap.
Then it got too hot, and the sap stopped running because the temperatures didn’t drop below freezing for several nights in a row.
And thentemperatures plunged, and it didn’t get above freezing for almost a week. So still not much sap, but for the opposite reason.
Then on our final weekend of boiling, this happened:

It started as rain but turned to snow while we had the fire going. Not that big of a deal, but not exactly pleasant. But since we weren’t exactly keeping a keen eye on things, we also ended up burning a batch that boiled down more quickly than we expected.
And by last weekend, the sap had turned:

Once it runs yellow, the season is over. This sap isn’t sweet at all, so I’ve been using it to water seedlings — I’m thinking that the minerals sho…