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.  : )