Monday, November 16, 2015

what’s looking good in the garden—november

I was out in the gardens today and noticed that, though most plants are basically gone or very shriveled, one plant is doing particularly well right now—all my ajuga  (bugleweed). 


It is looking really glossy and vibrant; it must be liking the cooler temps and more rainfall! 

I have Caitlin’s Giant:




and Burgundy Glow:


Ajuga is a ground cover and will quickly spread to form a nice thick mat (when happy).  Most of them are only a few inches tall, except for Caitlin’s Giant which has grown around to be 5-8” in my garden.  I have to say Caitlin’s Giant is my favorite so far as it is a really pretty plant and fills areas in quickly, yet I can just easily pull it up when it is getting too rambunctious.  Also, it is very showy in spring with taller blue flowers.  I only have young plants of the other kinds, so we’ll see…maybe I’ll end up liking those just as much or more than my Giant friend! 


Friday, November 13, 2015

inside the house—kitchen lighting

Now that the temps are cooling down and there isn’t as much to do outside anymore, I’ve been thinking more about projects I’d like to do in the house.  We are planning to build a deck next year and that is our “big” project, but there are a few things I’ve been hoping to do inside.  Our home is on the newer side and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance (thankfully…our previous home needed a big overhaul of some of the spaces, most notably the kitchen as you can see here) but it could use some updating as it is stuck in the 90s with the honey oak trim and other dated finishes.  I’ve been meaning to change out some of the lights for a while, and finally this summer I went and bought one and yesterday I bought another, for our kitchen area.  I feel that part of the house doesn’t get as much light so it could use some extra lighting there—and the lights we have right now really just aren’t cutting it.  I have to have them all on when I’m cooking or washing dishes or I feel like I’m not able to see well (and no, it isn’t my vision!).  

Excuse the awful grainy photos (my camera’s battery needs charging so I’m using my phone), but these are the lights we have right now in there. 


(Over our kitchen island)


(Over the sink)


(Over our kitchen table)

You get the idea.  One of the things that annoys me most about the lights is that they are not. centered. over. things.  The light over the sink is not centered on the window (whyyyy????), the light over the island is almost not even over the island at all, and the one over the kitchen table—though not the worst offender, is still not quite in the right spot. 

I know we can easily change out the light over the table (I’ve decided it isn’t worth moving as I reconfigure the table often) so we’ll do that ourselves (and by we I mean my husband as I am scared of wires, hah!) but I do think the others should be moved so we’re in the process of finding someone with the know-how to do that.  And then we can put up the new lights! 

I haven’t picked out anything TOO exciting.  When you have perfectly good lights that are working just fine it is hard to spend a lot of money on new ones, even though they will look a lot better.   These were both actually discounted at a big box store near here so that made buying these a lot easier. 

I’ve earmarked this one to go over our kitchen table:


And this one to go over the kitchen sink:


Apparently this is the post of awful photos.  ; )

I’m still on the hunt for a good light to go over the island.   I’d like something that ties in with the other two lights, but not too matchy-matchy.  And I’d like something that will really light up the island, because that is where I do the majority of my cooking and baking.  I found this one from Barn Light Electric:

I first came across this one on DIY Squirrel, and I love the pop of color it gives (and I’m a huge fan of jadite so the color is perfect!).  I have a feeling this is something that could be DIY’d, though I don’t have a huge amount of time for that anymore. 

But wait, I just found this on the Ikea website!


FOTO Pendant lamp IKEA This lamp gives a pleasant atmosphere for dining, spreading direct light across your dining or bar table.

Admittedly, the other is definitely prettier,  but I wouldn’t have to DIY this so it could be well worth the compromise!  I think three of these over the island would look great and would blend well with the other two lights.  AND most importantly give me the light I need to avoid chopping off a finger while cooking!  Nobody wants that.  Now to plan an Ikea trip to see the lights in person…

I am really excited about the prospect of changing things up in the kitchen.  I’m hoping to do some other things with the kitchen cabinets (sadly, nothing white!) but that will be a larger project than switching a few lights around.  I haven’t done any house stuff for a very long time but this has my creative juices flowing! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

autumn leaves—5 reasons they are nature’s gold

Not that long ago I was not a fan of fallen leaves.  They were pretty while they were on the trees, but after they had fallen…not so much, because then they had to be raked.  And when you have a lot of oak trees on an acre or more of lawn—that is a lot of leaves!!  I can literally feel my arms aching just thinking about it, because I sure have been raking a lot lately!!  (And I’m not even done!)


(Just one of my leaf piles—that is 5 foot fencing!)

But this was all before I started leaf-hoarding.  Now I am asking people to give me their leaves so I can have more! 

Turns out leaves are good for SO many things, and best of all they are FREEEEEEE!!!  : )

1.  They are amazing in the compost heap.  In fall, I pile a huge pile of leaves next to our compost.  The following summer, whenever I add a good layer of green stuff to the compost, I try to throw a layer of leaves on next.  It really helps to balance the carbon:nitrogen ratio you want to have in your compost heap.  Pardon my messy looking compost heap—it isn’t pretty, but it sure makes the plants grow well!


2.  They are great as a mulch in the garden.  I use mine primarily in the vegetable garden as mulch for the paths. It starts out 5+ inches thick and breaks down over the summer to less than an inch.  I find it works well to keep weeds down and is such good organic matter for the soil.   I’m sure it would be great in flower beds too but I don’t use it in there as I prefer the neater look of wood chips or bare soil.  That’s not to say a stray leaf (or 100) doesn’t end up in my flower beds though. 

3.  If you have chickens, the leaves can be used as bedding material.  I run the lawnmower over a dry pile of leaves a couple times to shred it up a little and use it like straw in the coop.  Best of all, when you clean the coop and add all that goodness to your compost heap, you already have a great mix of nitrogen to carbon going on!  And did I mention it is free??  I have several tubs of this stuff stored away in the shed, ready for winter. 

4.  Leaf mould (decomposed leaves) is good good stuff for your soil, just rotted down on its own.  Worms love you and your soil when you add it!  And your plants do too!  Learn how to make it here.  I have some that isn’t quite completely broken down yet and it is already such good stuff. 


5.  Insulation.  Not for your house, or you—let me explain.  If you live in a cold climate like I do (or really whenever you are trying to stretch the boundaries of your “zone”) and you have a plant/shrub/small tree that likes a little warmer climate than you have in winter, you can protect it and hopefully help it to survive the colder climate by insulating it with leaves.  For perennials, you can do this just by piling the leaves on top.  For larger things like shrubs, by circling the plant with wire fencing and filling that with leaves until the plant is covered on all sides.  Obviously this won’t work for tropical plants in my zone, but some plants that are zone 5 (I’m in zone 4, so colder) may be able to survive this way.  I was able to overwinter a sage plant last year by covering it with leaves, and they definitely do not normally survive here through the winter.  Leaf insulation is helpful even for hardy plants when you have really cold spell in winter with no snow to insulate them.  Case in point:  I bought this Oakleaf Hydrangea this spring even though I knew it was a zone 5 plant (I fell in love with them at a botanical garden in Madison WI) and while I know I might lose it, I’m going to try my hardest to overwinter it using a cage of wire fencing containing lots of leaves. 


We have so many leaves that leaf transport becomes an issue.  For big piles, I lay a tarp on the ground and simply rake the leaves onto it, then pull the tarp to my permanent leaf piles.


For smaller areas, I use this pop-up basket.  It is super light but sturdy and has handles on both ends.  My husband got it for my birthday and, along with my bulb planter, has really been useful this fall!


Watch out—you might become a leaf hoarder too.  Or maybe you all knew about how great leaves are and I was the last to know.  : )

Monday, October 26, 2015

waiting for spring (already)

It may only be October, but I’m already waiting for spring!  Partly because this big box (all 47 pounds of it!) came in the mail on Monday…


Tucked inside are bags of bulbs (around 500 to be exact). 



and crocus.

I’ve never ordered bulbs before so this was a new experience, but certainly a good one!  I ordered from Van Engelen (this post is not sponsored by them in any way, they don’t know who I am except for the name on the order form when I ordered!) as they had good prices on larger amounts of bulbs and mostly good reviews on Dave’s Garden Watchdog.  (As a side note, I always check on the Watchdog before ordering from any new-to-me garden company.  I’ve found some really good companies this way.)

I ordered a lot of “California” landscape daffodils:

some “Thalia” daffodils
some Hyacinthoides (or Spanish Bluebells) “Excelsior”

a lavender mix of crocus

and a few “Black Beauty” lilies.
I had to exercise extreme restraint as I wanted to order almost every kind of flower they had but thankfully the budget got in the way or I’d be in big trouble finding the time to plant everything.  As it is, I’m really glad my husband got me this for my birthday last week as I still have a LOT of bulb planting to do!!

I’ll update in the spring as things come up and bloom, but all the bulbs look really good so I have high hopes for a very colorful spring display next year! 

Are any of you planting spring bulbs this fall?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

getting in the garden harvest, 2015

With the first frost fast approaching (already past by the time I got to writing about this), it is time to get everything out of the vegetable garden!  This year the first frost has been unusually late, so everything had lots of time to fully ripen…as evidenced by this giant rutabaga!


In case you are wondering, I am not a stylish gardener (see earwarmers above) and I just want you to know I am not as scary as I look here…hah!

About a week ago I spent a day out in the garden getting all the last stuff out (except for the potatoes and carrots which are underground and safe from the light frosts we’re getting so far) and it was great to see all the work of the summer come to fruition! 

I got a lot of cabbages this year--


and little baby cabbages which will be yummy sauteed in butter (they grew from where I cut a cabbage in late summer).


Closer here:


The leek crop turned out great, and I can’t wait for leek soup!


The cover crop (oats) planted around the leeks are doing well.  I noticed that where I had spread aged manure earlier in the year, the oats are growing so much taller and are a healthier green than the areas without.  I took a picture but I’m afraid the contrast doesn’t show up as well as it does in real life. 


The winter rye cover crop is slowly coming up.  It emerges as a really pretty purplish-red shoot. 


Sure signs that frost is coming…sheets covering plants (in this case, swiss chard) in the background:


I always cut my brussels sprout stalks with loppers, after removing the foliage.  They’ll keep for a while in a cool place so I’m sure we’ll be enjoying the sprouts (well, the ones the kids didn’t already pick off and eat) well into November. 


The flowers seem especially pretty right before a frost, sadly these were wilted the next day (and I didn’t think to pick them as I had already picked all my dahlias and other tender flowers).  This is a cockscomb.


I started with rutabagas, and I’ll finish with them too.  We really like raw rutabagas (cut up like carrots), though the huge one in the embarrassing photo of me will likely become chicken food as it will probably be woody and tough. 


Speaking of chickens, here they are waiting to find a good route into the garden so they can gobble up my winter rye seeds!


The garden had it’s share of failures this year, like my pitiful tomato harvest, but it is always fun and much more picturesque to celebrate the successes!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

using cover crops to improve our garden’s soil

When we first moved to our current home we were SO excited.  So much more space, inside and out!  So many possibilities!  We set to work making our house a home, and outside—tilling a veggie garden and making new flowerbeds.  It wasn’t until the following summer that I noticed some plants in the vegetable garden just weren’t as robust as they should be and some were downright awful.  I decided it was just because of the weather that year and moved on.  This year, same story—different weather.  Hmmm. 

I realized it must be something else.  I knew from the get-go that we had very sandy soil with some very tough soil underneath.  I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but it appears it is.  It doesn’t seem to have a lot of organic matter in it, at least where the veggie garden is.  I decided to put as much compost as I could on the garden, but my compost heap, although big, can’t churn out enough compost fast enough to make much of a quick impact.  I really want our soil better for next year, not just 10 years from now!

Enter my friend the oat:


(Oats, not just for fiber anymore!)

This is just a bag of oats I got from our local feed co-op.  I think it cost $7.00 for 40lbs.  It may not look like much, but after planting it in the garden over areas that were already “done” (like our sweet corn patch), in a few weeks it looks like this:



And then this (the grassy looking stuff in the lower half of the picture):


Now, that is just oats.  They are not hardy here so they will die when we get a hard frost, but the crop residue they leave behind will be great organic matter when I till the garden next spring.

I later bought winter rye from the same co-op and I have planted some of that as well.  That IS hardy so it will freeze but then re-grow in the spring and will provide some quick nutrients for growing vegetables after I till it under in the spring.  Not to mention the roots will improve the soil structure (or so I have read). 

I will update in the spring on whether it made a noticeable difference to the soil or not—but already it is providing the benefit of keeping weeds out of the areas where I have planted it as it does grow quite thickly.  And it is nice to see lush green blades rather than dried out vegetable plants at this time of the year. 

If you want to do the same now is a great time for doing this!  If you are in a much warmer zone you may still be able to plant oats (I’m in zone 4 and I planted them a few weeks ago in early September) but winter rye will be perfect to plant right now if you are in a cooler area like I am.  All I did was rake the soil with a garden rake, seed by throwing handfuls of seed back and forth on the raked ground, and rake again.  If you water or get a rain right away you’ll see growth within 3-5 days or so, depending on how warm it is. 

There are lots of other cover crops out there (I really want to try oilseed radishes next year!) but I wanted to start with some that are easily accessible and cheap.  My dad, who is an organic farmer, uses a winter wheat/rye called Triticale every year. 

Let me know if you’ve had success with cover crops improving your soil! 

Monday, October 5, 2015

What is this Creating Loveliness?

I am a mom of 3 little-ish ones, two of whom are boys (and all a tad on the destructive side).  I think we all crave beauty in our lives, but it is not always easy to create (see destructive mention above) or obvious like a beautiful painting—especially when your time is very limited.  This blog is not a brag page about what lovely things I have created (hah!), but about the journey we all are on to create beauty in the world inside and out.  If I am able to create or capture loveliness along the way, so much the better.  Perhaps a better title of this blog would be Crazy Woman Thinks She Can Beautify World, LOL!!!

I dabble in home DIY and decorating, obsess over our zone 4 gardens, and spend most of my time taking care of our family, including homeschooling.  Our chickens are our pets and you will see them often on the blog.  We are in the midst of naming them ridiculous names (Brunhilda anyone???) and it is a fun diversion.  I don’t really share identifiable pictures of our kids for privacy reasons and I hope you understand.  They do exist!  :) 

I love comments and will try to get back to you as soon as I can! 


Monday, September 28, 2015

end of summer, beginning of new blog: state of the gardens


Summer is at an end (definitely on the calendar, though not quite in the temperature yet) and while I’m a bit sad about that, I do like fall (though not what comes after).  Most of the plants in my gardens are no longer at their peak and my flower beds are looking rather bedraggled, but I wanted to journal this for my own benefit so I can look back and see what I need to change next spring and summer to make them look better! 

First off, the vegetable garden.  Some successes this year (cucumbers, broccoli/cabbage/brussels sprouts) and some failures (green beans, tomatoes, lettuce).  I changed the layout of the garden this year and I wasn’t a fan—I’ll be switching back to last year’s kitchen garden layout (with a main path right down the center) again next year. 


One of the biggest challenges this year (and the reason I had virtually no lettuce) was because our rabbit population has exploded and they have figured out how to get into the garden.  I have a short fence around the garden (partly chicken wire, partly slightly larger-holed green garden fence) but the small rabbits are able to get through the green fencing and have decimated anything small and tasty.  Next year I’m fencing it only with small chicken wire as I don’t see how they could get through that.  Interestingly enough, I had no trouble with deer even though the fence was relatively short. 

Tomato blight wiped out all of my tomatoes, though I did get some before the vines went downhill.  I even mulched the whole tomato area with straw this year in the hopes that it would prevent rain from splashing on the bare soil and sending pathogens onto the tomato leaves.  Next year I’ll be trying some more blight-resistant varieties as this is the 2nd year I’ve had this trouble here. 

Cucumbers vined beautifully through the fencing arch this year (along with morning glories).  I had more difficulty getting them to climb last year but the variety I planted this year was more “grabby” and scrambled right up!  We are still enjoying them now at the end of September which is unusual. 

Flower beds had highs and lows.  The spring bulbs I planted last fall made spring really pretty this year—at least in the flower bed to the front of the house.  Right now they all look worse for wear, but the success for right now has got to be the tropical garden which is only a little past its peak.  This is a new garden area for me—this spring the whole area was scraggly brush (and small buckthorn trees, yikes!) and a sea of poison ivy. 


I got many elephant ear bulbs last fall for a steal when I stopped at a garden center and noticed they were going to throw them out.  They did amazingly…most of the leaves you see above are 2-3 feet long and almost as much wide.  Some of them are taller than me.  I started many canna lilies from seed this year and those did really well too.


The castor beans did amazingly as well (except for the ones I planted in a little too much shade).  Most of them are taller than me (some by a LOT!) with big beautiful dark maroon leaves and spiky seed pods.  I will definitely be planting these again next year!  They are SO dramatic with the elephant ear. 


Another plant that did really well in the tropical garden was the many dahlias I started from seed this spring.  They were dark-leaved varieties and they really took off!  I hope they have formed tubers beneath so I can dig them up and store for next year.  Otherwise I’ll start them from seed again as they did much better than those I had saved from previous years.   They are blooming like crazy!

Well, plants aren’t the only ones who are in the tropical garden.  Our two-legged friends have discovered it as well.  I don’t think they are doing the garden any favors (maybe fertilizer???) but they do enjoy it so. 


Oh, and they also use it as a water source…


There is MUCH to be improved with that garden (poison ivy is still popping up here and there, ugh!) but this was a good start!  I’m hoping to get some more tropical looking shrubs/trees in there next year. 

The yard as a whole is looking rather tired at this time of the year, but it is still warm enough to enjoy it so that is a huge plus!  The kids are out there every day running around. 


Though many gardening plans didn’t go quite as I had hoped, our family did enjoy being outdoors this summer!  I need to get out there and do some fall planting (including spring bulbs!) soon!