Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Presents For the Greenhouse!

Guess what came in the mail today!

Last week Carole & Chewy were lucky enough to win first prize in a giveaway at the wonderful White Spray Paint blog, run by Miss Laura.

We were flabbergasted, since, by tradition, we never win anything (at least not since the unfortunate incident with the BBgun in our childhood).

So today - our prize arrives (and the box alone was wonderful, since as booksellers, we appreciate the box as much as the contents) - and it's a wonderful heavy duty canvas gardening apron and a LARGE size foam knee pad. Now we have no excuse for being covered in dirt at the end of the gardening day, or losing one trowel after another in the pepper/potato/tomato/gourd patch (pick your favorite, they are all holding trowels hostage).

Also, our knees deeply appreciate the size of this foam knee pad, since the point of contention with the previous ones has been how-to-kneel-on-one-while-trying-to-move-it-at-the-same-time.

Immediately I had to run out to the greenhouse and introduce the presents to their new home:

This is what photos look like when you run in to take a photo, and it's 65 degrees outside, and 120 degrees inside..... the humidity makes the hanging garden apron look all misty and romantic.

This is what it *really* looks like, when I stepped outside to take the photo looking back in - see the foam knee pad (showing it's striped side, versus it's sortof Frenchy-looking side)?

As long I was out there I watered everything a bit, and the lettuce has grown almost 1/2" since yesterday...

Spinach is still crappy though.

Thanks again Miss Laura! This is ten times better than the BB gun! Everyone go check out her blog - it's one of the best:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Garden...Round Two

Okay, so the big garden was a total disaster this year, for various sundry reasons too depressing to mention (mostly those horrid little *(&#*&% stinkbugs), but there's always Round Two....the Winter Greenhouse.

Two weeks ago, I planted several flats of romaine lettuce, a small spinach pot, and a large tub of Early Snowball cauliflower.

They've all come up (not a stinkbug in sight).... and are growing like weeds, so to speak.

Well, except for the spinach. It's looking kindof weak and puny. Might have to plant some more. We'll see.

Shortly after the planting, the nights turned a bit cool, so more than a few of the garden plants were moved in to the greenhouse.

Fiddlefern, valerian, dark-red plants my daughter picks out every year, bloody dock, and comfrey, with some geraniums thrown in - they won't survive the winter, but they get a few more months of summer this way.

Two aquariums full of water plants (they are *so* easy to winter over) to save having to buy more next year for the fountains (they are *so* expensive). In front of the water babies are the three pots of Scottish heather (it will actually go through a second blooming during the winter).

Those are coleus hiding under the gauze -they are sensitive to...well, apparently, just about everything. Too much sun, too much shade, too much heat, too much cold.....picky plants.

I ended up sending several home with my mom to vacation in her sunny windows. These in the greenhouse will be trimmed when it gets cooler so we can put cuttings in water and start new plants for next spring.

Seems like there's just as much gardening to do now as there was during the summer.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Voices of A Thousand Little Gnomes....

"Gnomes live ten times faster than humans. They're harder to see than a high-speed mouse. That's one reason why most humans hardly ever see them. The other is that humans are very good at not seeing things they know aren't there. And, since sensible humans know that there are no such things as people four inches high, a gnome who doesn't want to be seen probably won't be seen." Terry Pratchett

"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf's a flower." Albert Camus

"It's hard to stop Muggles from noticing us if we're keeping dragons in the back garden - anyway, you can't tame dragons, it's dangerous." Ron Weasley

"It is only the farmer who faithfully plants seeds in the Spring, who reaps a harvest in Autumn." B. C. Forbes

"Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change." Edwin Way Teale

"Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns." George Eliot

"Autumn wins you best by this its mute Appeal to sympathy for its decay." Robert Browning

Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees." David Letterman

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wise Old Sage

This is what some other fortunate person's sage patch looks like -mine did look like this, until this summer (which shall be forever known as The-Summer-Of-the Dead-Garden).

However, I am lucky enough to have a friend who has tons of sage, and she was kind enough to cut me a grocery sack full a couple days ago.

For the various projects I had in mind, it needed to be processed while it was fresh.

First step: strip off the leaves and leaf clusters. I had enough for two large potfuls. This lot will be dried, a bit at a time, so that I have sage throughout the winter.

The stripped stems can be planted out in your garden to come up next year. Just lay them down and cover with a bit of dirt. Each segment will produce a new plant, leaf by leaf.

And this is the second pot -it was actually much darker green. This will be a sage rinse for my hair. Sage is great for dark hair, keeps it shiny, gives it body, and used over a period of weeks will cover any elusive gray hairs.

The rinse recipe is simple: strip the sage leaves (1/4 cup to 2 cups of water for a single batch) while bringing a pot of water to a boil. Add the leaves to the boiling water, remove from heat, and let steep until cool (for a pot's worth, this will be overnight). Then pour through a strainer, removing the leaves, and bottle the sage water. Keep it in a cool,dry place, and use once a week as a final rinse left-in rinse on hair.

The discarded leaves can go into the compost bucket or out into the garden.

Meanwhile, the first lot is drying, bit by bit in the oven. You can do this in your regular oven too. Lay the sage out in a thin layer, set on 250 degrees, and let it dry. Note: keep a close eye on your first batch, so you know how long *your* oven will take. According to the manual, this little oven was suppose to dry herbs in 16 hours. It actually only takes 35 minutes. Something probably got lost in the translation.

Make sure you have containers (airtight, clean and dry) ready and waiting. The sage is ready when it's a light gray, and crumbles easily.

This is one batch worth -it took 6 batches to fill the jar. The pot of sage water made 6 bottles of sage rinse, enough to share and still have enough for winter.

Finally, I kept a couple sprigs of sage and just stuck them in a glass of water. They've already started rooting and will make beautiful plants.

Then you can do this all over again next fall.

*For those with lighter fair hair, substitute fresh or dried chamomile flowers to make a rinse.

**To add red highlights to light or dark hair, substitute fresh or dried hibiscus flowers.


If possible, store your extra sage rinse in the back of the frig until needed. Since there are no chemicals or preservatives in it, after several weeks, mold will form and float on the top. that's just the impurities coming out. Use a q-tip to scoop it out - the liquid rinse underneath is absolutely safe to use.

Also - an idea from my friend The Damsel - put your rinse in a squeezeable plastic bottle (I bought a 97cent ketchup style bottle). That way you can squeeze a small amount on exactly where you need it (like roots maybe), and it goes much further. I love that idea, can't believe I didn't think of it myself!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cranking Up the Greenhouse

Remember this from last week?

A little tossing, a little junking, a little chopping, and I ended up with this:

Everything in it's place, and a place for everything. More or less.

So this afternoon it was time to start planting (and this really should have been done in early September, but whatever).

Today's goal: get flats of lettuce and spinach planted, and a pot of cauliflower.

The first flat of lettuce sits in the left foreground - it's just a plastic container, lined with plastic since it already has huge holes in sides and base (remember the three R's: reuse, recycle, reduce).

I've been known to get used cat litter pans at yard sales and scrub them out with a salt solution, then scalding hot water, add drainage holes and plant in them. Works great -but the sanitizing is an step you must never forget (no matter how clean the owner got it before they threw it in the sale).

Those big round pots were used last winter, but I think this year they'll sit to one side, and be used up by the house next summer in the Swing Garden. I'm looking for more efficient space usage this winter.
My lettuce of choice: Romaine. I never bother with iceberg lettuce. Unless you have a perfect soil/mineral mixture, it almost always turns out bitter, and it's nutritional value is next- to-nothing. But romaine is one of the healthiest foods you can eat -packed with Vitamin K,A,C and so much more.

It's one of those rare good for you foods that actually taste great too.
So I plant LOTS of romaine. Today alone three flats are done. If I want enough lettuce for all winter, plus some for friends, the planting needs to be done in succession. Next week, I'll plant 3 more. When I pick, I try to pick from one bed, and replant it as I pick. This keeps us in fresh lettuce most of the winter.

Come late January, there will probably be a cold snap lasting a couple weeks. I have an idea this year to put the lettuce flats inside a second baby greenhouse inside the large one. Hopefully that will help it pull through till it warms up again.

This is the planted flat, just before watering. Below in the closeup, you can just pick out the long thin lettuce seeds, sprinkled thinly over the surface. The thinner you sprinkle, the less thinning you'll need to do after they sprout.

These tubs will be filled with fresh water when we get closer to a frost, so that the main waterline can be cut off and drained for winter. Water can be dipped out as needed, while the tubs act as a heat collector during the daytime, releasing that heat during the night to help keep the plants warm.

More lettuce -right next to my giant bag of MiracleGro -I always use it, sometimes mixing it with top soil if I need to stretch it. No, they didn't give me a free bag for saying that (but if they want to, I'll take it).

Next tub up is prepared for cauliflower. Cauliflower is incredibly easy to grow, and while the homegrown heads are sometimes smaller (mine are anyway), they have a nutty flavor the store-bought ones don't. One year, I was fortunate to get to plants for caulibroc, a hybrid of cauliflower and broccoli. If you are ever able to find it, try it - think broccoli florets,with little heads of miniature cauliflower.

Cauliflower tub, filled partway with top soil, maybe 3 cups of peat moss mixed in, topped with the balance in MiracleGro. The cauliflower seeds are lightly mixed on top.

And finally spinach. It would probably grow better outside (it's a cold weather crop), but I have to completely clean out my garden this year so it's being relegated to pots in the greenhouse. I'm trying an experiment using these containers we've gotten with deli chickens - it seems they would make perfect miniature greenhouses to start plants in.

Spinach, being hardy, has volunteered to be the guinea pig.

Mix of peat moss, MiracleGro, with a couple drainage holes in bottom. Seeds sprinkled on top.

Top popped on after watering. Should form the perfect environment for germinating seeds.

Here's the timetable according to the seed packets:

Little Gem Romaine Lettuce: 7-10 days to germination, thin at 8 inches, harvest in 45 days (approx Thanksgiving Day)

Early Snowball A Cauliflower: 8-10 days to germination, 55 days to harvest (approx Dec 1-3)

Teton Hybrid Spinach: 8-10 days to germination, 45-50 days to harvest (approx Thanksgiving to Dec 5)

Looks like we'll be eating our own harvest for Thanksgiving Dinner!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Walnut Dodgeball

It's that time of year again -here's our 150 year old walnut tree (it may be older than that). There are several different kind of walnut trees - this one is a black walnut tree - the nuts have a particular oil in them that can cause allergies in some people, and that same oil gives the nuts a little sharper taste than the English walnuts found on store shelves.

This is what a loaded walnut tree looks like.

Each walnut is 3-4" in diameter. They are hard as rocks. Hard enough so when you have children, you spend the first 13 years of their lives randomly yelling: "*DO*NOT*THROW*THE*WALNUTS*AT*EACH*OTHER*."

But then comes fall, in more ways than one, since there is no Mother Walnut to tell the tree itself Not To Throw The Walnuts.

And the only way to pick the walnuts up, is to stand under the tree.

Yep. Picking up 33 bags worth of black walnuts, dodging that rustle that tells you are about to be IT, cleaning up the loose branches that fell with the walnuts, then finishing up the last mowing of the season....

Until the wind picks up again.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gourds Gone Wild

Remember these? From back in late May?

And then they grew into this in mid June?

And then in mid July, they were off and running?

Well, it's all over now. The vines have died down and dried up, and all that's left is gourds. These are birdhouse gourds. About half are dried, and the other half are on their way.

Once dried, these make great bowls, bottles, maracas, and, of course, birdhouses. Easyto grow, drought tolerant to a degree, and they have huge green leaves that smell like baking bread.

My personal favorites are the bushel gourds (get up to 3 feet in diameter -we make permanent jack o' lanterns out of ours) and dipper gourds (long extended necks that can be trained to wrap themselves in spirals).

Couldn't find seeds for either this year, so we grew the old-fashioned favorite: : birdhouse gourds.