Sunday, May 31, 2009

Going to Hell, Probably in A Snakeskin Lined Handbasket

I have been wallowing in guilt all night because we killed the black snake yesterday.

My father the biologist is not happy with me.

DH is not happy with me (and he helped kill it -they are amazingly hard to kill).

I know it was a good snake (black snakes eat mice, squirrels, chipmunks, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths).

But damn - DD almost stepped on it, freaked her out. It was almost 4 feet long, about 2" in diameter, and was about to go in the puppy door. That means it would be in the house, or at least the back entry. And the back door doesn't fit that tight. Its second location of choice was straight out into the puppy yard.

Black snakes kill their prey by constriction, but if provoked or cornered they bite, and it's painful. Our schnauzers are getting old, one is blind, two are deaf, and one is hard of hearing. Chewy is (cover his ears), not the brightest bulb in the box. He'd try to play with it, which I'm pretty sure is "provoking" if you are the snake.

I don't need bitten dogs, or the vet bills that come with them.

I also have a yard full of black soaker hoses, that all look very much like said snake. And I have to pick them up all the time.

The hoses, not the snakes.

And while we were trying to get to it, it starting climbing and turns out they can go pretty high, and then get up into the tree next to the house, and hang over the walkway.....see where that's going?

So I killed the snake and will probably go to hell for killing A Good Snake.

And never hear the end of it from my dad and DH.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cassia or Cinnamon, That Is the Question

I went to my favorite spice store (that's how I think of it, but they do so much more there, shameless plug follows below) on Wednesday, and discovered I wasn't buying at all what I thought I had been buying all these years.

Cinnamon is an imposter.

The cinnamon we all know and love, and have covered our toast in and sprinkled on cookies, is actually referred to as bastard cinnamon.

It's true.

My dear friend at The Well knows her stuff (and I googled it when I got home 'cause I couldn't believe it).

The everyday cinnamon is actually the bark of the cassia tree (see beautiful botanical drawing above). It's a relative to the REAL CINNAMON tree, but not at all the same thing.

This is cassia bark, just before it's ground up.

Into this.

And this is the REAL CINNAMON TREE. In this case, a Sri Lankan Cinnamon Tree (but there are also Chinese Cinnamon Trees, as well as Indonesian Cinnamon Trees).

The REAL CINNAMON has more oil content, and therefore a stronger, more pungent flavor. I got a whiff of REAL CINNAMON on Wednesday at the spice store, and the difference is overwhelming.

I was a chicken - I got the plain old (less expensive) Bastard Cinnamon (they didn't call it that, but I saw it on google and will always think of it that way now), but one of these days I'll try the real thing on my toast.

Shameless plug for my favorite spice store:

If you are anywhere near Bedford, Virginia, The Well is absolutely worth a trip. Although I think of it as a spice store, it's also where I get my Rosemary Essential Oil that I add to shampoos and hand lotions.

This whole cinnamon thing has me wondering if everyone but me knew this. What other herbs are masquerading as the real thing, only to be exposed by people much more knowledgable than myself?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Project Completed

Old Puppy Cabana, at the height of its glory

New, improved Puppy Cabana, 99.9% finished:

Lower to the ground, lower roof for more shade, more natural look, with deck still needing to be treated (too humid today).

Side view. Still no puppies test-driving. Perhaps if I leave their yard, and walk discreetly around the garden, they will try it out.

Broccoli needs to be picked before it flowers. The cuke plants in the milk jug are exploding, and will need to come out soon.

The gourds are up. I fear this will be one of those years when ALL the gourds come up.

The volunteer potato/horseradish rows are growing by leaps and bounds. The horseradish is companion-planted with the potatoes to ward off Japanese beetles. Neither of these plants needs special water or soil, they just seem to grow no matter what.The big wide horseradish leaves also shade the potatoes so I lose very few to sunburn (sunburn is what happens to potatoes laying on the surface, and results in green patches. Don't eat those potatoes. They will make you sick.)

This is the planned potato bed, the one I actually planted this year. The compost bin is in the middle, and it has three cuke plants around it, which so far haven't done much of anything (last year they loved it here. Fickle things).

My much-neglected rose bed. Every year I fully intend to clear it out, add to the colors with new rose bushes, plant strawberries in with them, and straighten up the little wrought iron fence that really is there,but you can't see (for all the weeds).
And every year I spend so much time, effort, energy on the food beds that the poor roses get left behind. But they bloom anyways, in spite of needing trimming and pruning.

This year they did get banana peels planted at their feet, which may account for this display.

Drifting back nonchalantly back to the puppy yard, I spot Max trying out the new deck.
If it pleases Max, the rest of them will be a breeze, since Max is the grouchiest Scrooge of all pups.
Max has cleared the way for Chewy to test the other end of the deck. Apparently it's a good spot to sit and dream of rabbits to chase.

Or of blogs to write. All he needs is a laptop.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Too Many Projects

Day Two of the Cabana Re-Building: The whole frame was rotted, so we trashed it. Using treated lumber, the frame was rebuilt, and dropped almost 6" in height. In nine years, our "puppies" have aged, and lost their eyesight. The lowered deck, plus the removal of the sunning ramp, will lessen the chance for sprains and broken legs jumping up and down.

I'm thinking a larger version of this would be nice out in the yard, underneath the pergola I've been wanting.

The base of the roof attachment was rotted out on both sides, so it the legs were cut down, and then rebuilt with treated lumber. Overall, it'll be about 6" shorter, which will increase the amount of shade on the deck.

After taking in the tools, we sprayed the puppy yard with flea repellant, and then made pizza.

Tomorrow: treating the base and deck with Thompson's Water Seal, then reattaching the roof to the deck.

If we get done early enough we're going to see Star Trek.

Yah Memorial Day!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

There Can Never Be Too Many Projects

We have 4 dogs (5 until very recently), and as a result have given them their own fenced yard, and a private entrance to said yard with their own doggie doors and ramps.

Then we decided to spoil them with their own puppy cabana. This is the finished product 9 years ago, complete with a climbing ramp, but just prior to shingling the roof.

During the last 9 years, we've moved fence lines, trees have grown up, the pups dug a shallow hole under the cabana to lie in, and with all those combined factors, moisture has eaten away at the wood, and rotted it.

So this Memorial Day weekend, instead of putting together the water pond, or building a shallow water pond on the terrace, we're tearing apart the puppy cabana, and replacing 80% of it. At first, we thought only 3-4 deck boards needed replacing. The roof had to be removed to replace those boards, and that was when we discovered the mega-rot.

Since this is Virginia, Memorial Day is synonymous with extreme heat, so out came the pop-up canopy to work under.

Next the entire cabana deck was removed. Some of it may be usable, maybe.

Then again, maybe not.

Tomorrow: rebuilding, repainting (everything that is brick red now will be forest green, with a natural deck treated with Thompson's), and reassembling (with some design changes to accomodate the aging puppies).

Hopefully, next weekend we might get to finishing the water pond, or at least hooking up a usable hose. Meanwhile, the water barrels are half-full and we have a 30% chance of spotty rain showers this week.

Also today, more peppers planted, broccoli is coming along, romaine lettuce is heading up nicely,and the city water was left on with soaker hose for the blueberries, as they are just tinging with purple and need all the water they can get for a good crop.

And you thought we weren't doing anything!

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's May 18, For Crying Out Loud!

I've just finished dragging DH out to help cover the plants.

Not with mulch. Not with straw.

But with sheets and old curtains.

It's May 18th -and we have a strong possibility of FROST tonight.

We're in Virginia -not Canada!

So tomatos, peppers and blueberries are covered and tucked in. All of the terrace plants (ferns, more tomatos, basil, dill, coleus', bloody dock, geraniums and hanging plants) have been moved under the carport. The fountains are turned off, and covered with sheets.

The idea is to keep the frost off the leaves. The cool air isn't that bad for them, but even that light little bit of iciness directly on leaves will turn healthy leaves into a brown gooey mess.

On the other hand, the broccoli and lettuce are cavorting out there - they love the cold nights.

Hopefully, this will be the last of the cool temps!

Now go cover your plants. You haven't really lived until you've run around in a pitch black back yard with only flip flops on, draping your best sheets over plants.

Take my word for it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vinegar Fixes Almost Everything

I was visiting on another blog last week (
if you've never been, go and read, it's incredible), but at any rate, there was a discussion of how wonderful vinegar is as a hair rinse.

I could only agree since I've been using it myself for years - use it as a rinse in between your shampoo and your conditioner - it cuts through all the build-up that accumulates on your hair, makes it softer, controls dandruff and makes it shinier.

Made me wonder what else vinegar can do. So I did some research and here's a few helpful ideas (remember, in these economically challenged times, vinegar is cheap, and it goes a very, very long way).

  • Pour a cupful to rinse your hair with, then throw the leftovers down into the shower water -it cuts through the soap immediately and helps keep your tub clean.
  • Run a half-cup through your dish washer using the rinse cycle to cleans out any clogs and freshen the machine
  • Once a year you can do the same with your hot tug -dump a gallon of vinegar in and run the tub. Cleans the soap residue out of the jets.
  • One cup vinegar mixed in a gallon of warm water will clean ceramic tile, linoleum,vinyl or wood floors (I mix vinegar and water in my Floormate-keeps the machine clean too).
  • Add 1/2 cup vinegar to the last rinse cycle of laundry for a fabric softener- eliminates static cling as well.
  • Mix equal parts of vinegar and hand cream to care for chapped skin.
  • To relax tired gardening muscles, or itchy skin from weeding, add 8 ouunces of vinegar to your bath water. Sit and soak.
  • Relieve sunburn by splashing or spraying vinegar directly on skin.

And lastly, my favorite (that I never would have believed until I tried it):

For heartburn, skip all the various medicines and just drink a swig of vinegar. Actually the proper recipe is 2 tablespoons mixed in half cup of water, but I judt find it easier to swig a mouthful. I just googled this and found lots of official sites saying "it doesn't work" and just as many alternative therapy sites recommending it. As with anything - don't swig vinegar everyday. if you have heartburn that often, go see a doctor. I have occasional heartburn, and use vinegar - it works for me.

Thanks to Heinz Distilled White Vinegar Over 100 Helpful Household Hints for the extra hints on hand cream and sunburn - just in time for gardening season!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another Visit to the Butterfly Bushes

Forgive the lack of posting for the last few days - we've had lots of rain, the garden is flourishing, I got out to plant and almost all the seedlings are in their respective containers or garden space.

But these last few days the shady corner in the very back of the yard has been our main concern. The ground there is covered with blue vinca and ivy, framed with huge tall pine trees and huge, billowy butterfly bushes that spend the summer covered in large showy purple blossoms and hundreds of butterflies.

It's also where we bury our furkids. First Ethel, our oldest gray "grandma" kitty, then last spring Sweet Girl, and then yesterday, our beloved Miss Millie.

Miss Millie was a 11 year old salt & pepper mini schnauzer, partner to Max, and Mama to four boys, the youngest of which is Chewy (of Green and Chewy).

For a little dog, Millie left a huge hole. No more squeaky fish echoing through the house, no more dancing toenails when someone forgets and says "bacon", no more psychosis-oriented trips to the groomer (there was nothing Millie wasn't afraid of - except bacon), and no more sneaky drooley kisseys when the targeted human least expects it.

So we have all been a little lost the last couple days, especially Chewy. Millie became his adoptive mama when his birth family had a monumental lapse of judgement, and threw Chewy away. We found him, 6 weeks old and frozen. Millie took one look at him and he became her baby for life.

We'll be back in a couple days. We just need to tidy up the ivy and the vinca a bit, back under the butterfly bushes.

Millicent MacGregor Muncy
January 15,1998-May 11,2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If I Can't Garden In the Rain...

I can at least walk out to the greenhouse, and pick lettuce for tonight's salad.

On the way, the broccoli has flourished in the rain. It's added at least another 3" in height in the last two days. The bok choy has exploded as well, finally reaching that turning point where the possums can nibble on it at night, without killing the plant (thereby leaving some for us, on the off chance we might want some boy choy for ourselves). The plastic jugs for the most part are no longer needed at night, but I'm leaving them out just in case.

Out in the greenhouse, the garlic has sprouted. I wasn't sure it would, since these cloves were from last year and they were accidentally left in the greenhouse over the summer, not the best idea, since hot and humid is not considered optimal storage for seeds/garlic cloves.

Remember this little cauliflower from a week or so ago?

Look at it now. Another 3-4 days and it will be ready to pick.

Even the green pepper and tomato seedlings are blooming.

Planting in wet heavy soil is not recommended, but if I don't get some clear sky here shortly, we may have to push the envelope, and plant irregardless.

Remind me in July of how fustrated I was with the rain.

Why I Can't Garden in the Rain

Nessie covered with Virginia Creeper

This was suppose to be the week of planting, and laying water pipe, and mulching.

Instead it is the week of sitting inside listening to the rain.

I know we need the rain. My rain barrels are full, the blueberry plants are in heaven (they have no words for "too much rain"), the irises are blooming, and the Virginia Creeper is spreading like wildfire.

I have a love/hate relationship with Virginia Creeper. For those of you not gifted with this wild perennial, it's a vine that spreads sometimes as much as a foot a day. And all along that foot of vine, new plants spring up.

It's the perfect plant for covering the fence along the puppy pen, and in the fall, the leaves turn bright red.

Other than that, it takes over everything (well, everything that isn't overrun by wiregrass, it's evil twin with no redeeming qualities). Already this year I've pulled up massive amounts out of the onion bed, and it's creeped back already.

It's is kindof pretty though, with those delicate bright green tendrils. For the sake of my sanity I'll continue to think of it that way. For at least another week or so. After that's it's toast.

Massive rainfall also brings huge showy iris blooms. I love irises - no maintenance, no special care, poor soil is fine - the perfect garden flower.

This is my favorite photo. Just to the right is the trunk of a old locust tree, complete with a fern-covered shady entrance, leading to a hollowed out nest. I suspect this is where our possum family has made its home, but I'm not about to stick my hand in there to find out.

After our possum-encounter-of-the-third-kind earlier this week, we have established a truce. They stay out of my greenhouse, and I will stay out of their tree trunk.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why I Never Garden At Night

We have a large backyard with no lights. At various times we've had visits from deer, horses, large roaming dogs, a fox, snakes, and at one point a huge groundhog

All of this slipped my mind last night when I called the dogs in from their fenced yard, and all but one came in willingly. After much shouting and threatening, I went and got a flashlight, walked all the way to the furtherest corner of the puppy pen and dragged said puppy kicking and screaming into the house. He was very indignant and insisted he had cornered something in the yard, and I was ruining his 15 minutes of fame.

As he ran into the house, I heard *something* banging either on, or in, the greenhouse. Out in the dark.

So I came in, and yelled the magic words up to DD: "Hey, you wanna go on an adventure?"

She's gotten smarter over the years, so now she asks: "Where?"

We grabbed a baseball bat, and a plywood template for a miniature coffin lid (don't ask, just think Halloween), both to attack anything that might jump out at us, and started out to the backyard. Out in the dark.

Fortunately, DD had the bright idea to turn on the garage lights, as well as the light at the end of the garage. Which saved us from stepping on a baby possum. Apparently it's mama had left it in the grass, and said "Wait right here, and don't move an inch. I don't want to have to chase you around the yard." So the poor little thing waited right there, and found itself in the middle of the walkway, under a giant spotlight, with two giants approaching. But it listened to mama, and refused to budge.
We budged instead, going back the way we came, and all the way around the puppy pen, down the far side of the yard out to the greenhouse. I was thinking it was probably mama possum trying to either get in or out of the greenhouse, after looking there for food.

At this point we realized if it was mama out there, we had placed ourselves between her and baby. And this far out in the yard, it was pitchblack. The greenhouse door was latched, and nothing was inside, and the neighbor dogs were starting to bark and howl at us, so we backed down the yard, without encountering either mama or baby again.

DD has decided to name the baby possum Bartholomew.
It is probably unaware of this, but I think it's the perfect possum name.
***NOTE: Since we had our hands full of flashlights, baseball bats, and coffin-lids instead of cameras, these photos are from the net. Google is our friend.