June Garden Update

We have veggies!

In the last few weeks, we have really seen the vegetable garden thrive.  (“Thriving” is a nice way of saying, “Everything is out of control!”)  Perhaps it’s the heat, the rain, or a combination of the two, but it seems as though some of the vegetables came out over night.  I will let the photos do most of the talking today:

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Then and now

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Green beans

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Heirloom & cherry tomatoes

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Hot peppers & tomatillos

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Zucchini & all the viney things gettin’ crazy

Fun gardening fact:  Did you know that there’s a difference between straw and hay?  We sure didn’t.  Apparently we wanted straw to use as mulch, but we bought hay.  The difference?  Hay is comprised of grasses that still have the seeds and grains attached, which means that when we covered our garden with it to prevent weeds, we actually planted tons of grass seed (you can see it in the zucchini picture above.)  It has really been a joy to pull the weeds that we planted out of the garden. 😉

Despite the weeds, we are so looking forward to harvesting (and eating) all this produce!  We have put in a lot of hard work in the garden, and finally seeing the fruit makes it all worth it.  In fact, after seeing those peppers for the first time a few nights ago, I think Andrew was on a gardening high:

Andrew:  “Is it bad that I want to turn the entire back yard into a vegetable garden??”

Catherine:  “It’s not bad to want that… as long as you know it isn’t going to happen.”

😀

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Garden Update + Homemade Organic Pesticide

Gardens require work, and for two people who are firmly against spraying any type of chemical on their plants, gardens require a lot of work.  We spend hours on our hands and knees pulling weeds.  We chase and yell at squirrels.  I’d like to share a less labor-intensive (and less your-neighbors-think-you’re-nuts) organic method we found for keeping bugs from eating our plants.  But first, a photo update:

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We spread hay last weekend as a mulch to hold in moisture and keep weeds from springing up.

 

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A row of broccoli + tomato plants

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Squash, beets, pumpkin, and strawberries

A couple of weeks ago I walked outside to check on the roses.  They had been looking healthy, and my primary motivation was to see if there were any buds yet.  When I looked at them, however, I saw that the caterpillars, aphids, and some other bugs were enjoying a rose buffet.  They were absolutely devouring the leaves and the new buds.

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I did some quick research and read in a few places that garlic-infused water is effective in getting rid of bugs when sprayed on plants.  I figured it was worth a shot!  Andrew and I crushed a bunch of garlic cloves, put them in a large bowl of water, and let them sit overnight.  The next day I removed as many garlic chunks from the water as possible (or what I thought was possible; apparently I could have done better…), found a spray nozzle, and doused the roses and bugs.

I did manage to break the nozzle, unfortunately.  A small chunk of garlic lodged itself permanently somewhere in the tube.  Andrew asked me if I strained the water.

“I did the best I could.  The internet said to strain it with a cheese cloth.  Who the heck has a cheese cloth sitting around??”

“What about a coffee filter?”

“I didn’t think about that.”

“It even has the word ‘filter’ in its name.”

😉

So, if you decide to try this method, definitely strain the water with a coffee filter.

I am happy to say that it worked!  The following day the bugs were completely gone, with the exception of one dead caterpillar that looked like it had been burned in half by the garlic.  (You’re welcome for that visual.)  While there are obviously still holes in the leaves and some of the buds, we haven’t seen any bugs in weeks.  Crushed garlic, for the win!

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The first rose of the season

We are looking forward to more bug-free roses throughout the summer as well as lots of fresh fruits and veggies!

Do you know any effective methods for controlling garden pests organically?  Have you tried garlic spray?

Youth Stuff and Yard Work: A Full, Fabulous Weekend

Well, I survived the crazy weekend!  Despite the stress I experienced leading up to this weekend, everything went incredibly well.  Here’s what the last two days held:

Saturday morning I went with a group of our youth to volunteer with the Miracle League of Richmond–a baseball league for kids with disabilities.  We “buddy-up” with the players each week during the league’s spring and fall seasons to help them enjoy the great American pastime.  It is an absolute joy to know and be able to spend time with these guys and girls.  Plus, it’s my kind of baseball: everyone gets up to bat, everyone swings until they hit the ball, and everyone makes it home. 😀

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One of our youth, Eliza, and Carrie Rose have been buddies almost every game for about four years!

If you live in the Richmond area and are looking for awesome volunteer opportunities, check out the Miracle League!

When I returned home Saturday afternoon, it was time for yard work.  Andrew was working on the roof installing… something related to ventilation along the very top (not my area of expertise. ;-))

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After thanking Andrew for having such useful life skills, and also having a serious chat about not climbing on the roof when a. no one else is home and b. no one is holding the ladder (seriously, Andrew, what were you thinking?), I offered to mow the lawn.  Now, I mowed the lawn frequently when I was in high school, but the lawn mower we have now stinks.  It just stinks.  The previous owners of the house left it behind, and it works, so we figured, why buy a new one?  It is a full-body exercise to push it across the yard, and only once have I successfully started it by myself.  (Andrew started it for me initially, and then when I took a break after, oh, four rows, Andrew was back on the roof, and our neighbor Gary took pity and started it again for me :-D)

In the garden we thinned the broccoli, Swiss chard, and beets.  I know it has to be done–if two or three plants are too close together, none of them will thrive–but I have such a hard time pulling up little plants that are doing well!

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Saturday night, this happened.  I am scarred.  Absolutely scarred.

Sunday morning was Youth Sunday at church, which meant the youth were responsible for most every aspect of all three worship services.  This was a large part of my crazy-stressful week last week.  Everything came together beautifully, and all our youth did a wonderful job!  I am one proud youth director. 🙂

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Meg was one of two high school girls to offer the sermon…Go, girl 🙂

After following the bulletin closely and nervously for three services thinking, “What did I forget?  Where is there a hole in the service?” I headed home to rest for a few hours before our youth year-end banquet.  I was nervous about the banquet, but all went well!  Okay, I  forgot to recognize and include one of our mission teams from last summer in the slide show…Sorry, LA Team!  (Or as Forrest renamed it, the “Lost Angeles Team.” ;-))  Oops.  Aside from that, all went well. 🙂

We ate, watched the slide show, thanked our parent volunteers, and honored our seniors and some other youth, including our awesome Servant of the Year, Lauren!

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…and the public speaking wasn’t as horrible as I’d imagined 😉

When I returned home at the end of the night, I enjoyed reading through notes from youth and parents.  Thanks to everyone for your kind words…they brought me a lot of joy!  Perhaps the greatest…item…I received last night was this collage from hilarious 9th grader, Courtney:

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Why, yes, she photo-shopped herself into a bunch of pictures and added captions like, “Our engagement photos turned out GREAT” and “I’m so glad we’re married now!”  😀  Andrew and I laughed SO hard.  What a funny kid.  We’ve considered adopting Courtney, but because she comes from such a loving, outstanding family, we don’t think the courts would approve the request. 😉

While I feel like I say this every Monday, this was a full, but great weekend!  Thanks to everyone–youth, parents, Andrew–who stepped up to make everything run smoothly!

Today, I enjoy my first day off in three weeks. 😀

And Now We Wait (Garden Update)

All the vegetables have been planted.   We’d been spending a little time each evening this week putting seeds and plants in the ground, and we took a few hours Saturday to finish the work.  Now we wait.  And water.  And wait.

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Andrew is proud of this garden.  Don’t you forget it. 😉

Looking at the photo above, here’s what’s in the ground:  on the right, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, pimento peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots, and Swiss chard.  On the left, cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkin, zucchini, yellow squash, and watermelon.  In the pots we have strawberries and lots of herbs.

We planted the broccoli, Swiss chard, beets, and carrots almost two weeks ago, and they are starting to emerge from the ground.

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We transplanted the tomatoes and peppers this week and are still using popsicle sticks to help some of them straighten (the cages will be great when they are bigger, but they aren’t doing much at the moment.)

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We decided to buy 4-packs of herbs rather than grow them from seed for no reason other than impatience. 🙂

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Oregano, cilantro, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil.  (Not pictured: dill, peppermint, and lemon balm)

In addition to the edibles, most of the flowers are in bloom now too!

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I’m going to miss the tulips when they are gone…

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I will not miss the one odd azalea on the left 😉

I don’t think I can fully, accurately convey my excitement about the vegetable garden, but this photo brushes the surface:

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What are you growing this summer?

April Garden Update

Based on the weather, it seems we’ve skipped spring completely and gone straight from winter to summer.  Yesterday the observed high for Richmond was a record-breaking 91 degrees!  Even the squirrels are struggling with the heat:

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We have a bunch of white squirrels in our neighborhood (which we find awesome, in case you were wondering. :))  When I arrived home yesterday I found this one resting in the shade under our wheelbarrow planter.  He stayed there for a solid 30 minutes!

The plus side of the heat is that it is finally warm enough to start planting the vegetables outside.  This week we planted broccoli, Swiss chard, carrot, and beet seeds–all of which can handle a bit of cold, and we have a few 40-something-degree nights on the horizon.

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We also transplanted the plants we started inside in February from the seed starting kit to individual plastic cups (with holes cut in the bottoms for drainage.)  We were way late doing this, and now we are having to do some popsicle stick scoliosis treatment for the tomato plants.  I think they are beginning to straighten…

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This is only half of the plants, and the two giants in the top photo are tomatillos that our friend Matt gave us this week (thanks, Matt!)  We’ve been putting them on the back deck for a few hours each day to let them adjust to the outdoors before it becomes their permanent home.  (If that sounds crazy, you should know that when Andrew comes home from work he says, “How are the babies doing?” in reference to the plants. 😉 )

The downside to the heat is that my tulips–which I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I planted them in the fall–are blooming overnight, opening completely by the afternoon, and losing their petals by the evening.

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DSCN7747Pretty, nonetheless 🙂

By the mailbox:

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You can check out the “before” pictures from a month ago here.  It’s crazy to see the difference!

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Even if each tulip only blooms for a day, I plan to enjoy them while they last. 🙂

The Garden Bed: A Work in Progress

On Saturday, during the few hours of warmth before the cold and rain blew in, Andrew and I began work on our vegetable garden bed.  As I’ve mentioned before, last summer we grew our vegetables in pots, and while we experienced mild success, we have been dreaming much bigger for this season.  Rather than pots, we measured and marked a 10 ft x 20 ft plot in the back yard for the veggies.  Because that is a relatively large area, we rented a rototiller to help with the digging.

The before:

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Don’t be fooled by the greenish hue you see;  it is not grass, but moss. 🙂  First, Andrew dug a few holes to find a cable line we knew was buried so we could be sure to avoid it.  Then we brought out the big guns:

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Using a rototiller is NOT easy.  I had no idea.  Andrew did most of the hard work of breaking up the ground, which was predominantly clay.  A few hours, a lot of rocks, and one hidden tree stump later, we had this:

garden bedPlease note the piles of rocks and roots.  We discovered lots of treasures, including large chunks of cement (seriously?  Why were those buried in the back yard?) and the aforementioned stump from a tree that the previous owners had obviously removed.  That alone was an hour of fun, axing, and shoveling 😉

Next, we amended the soil clay.  We added gypsum to break up the clay and organic compost to add more nutrients.  Let me remind everyone at this point that Andrew and I have only a vague idea of what we are doing.  It’s very much a learning process.

I used the rototiller to mix everything together, which was not as difficult as the initial breaking-up of the soil, but it was still a full body workout!

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Andrew brought home some scrap stone from work (one benefit of being married to a mine engineer) that we used to create a mosaic path through the bed, forming two 4 ft x 20 ft beds.

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Now we wait for slightly warmer weather so we can actually put some plants in the ground and not just have a backyard mud pit (which is exactly what it is at the moment after all the rain we’ve had since Saturday. :))

It is a work in progress, but we are pleased with how it looks so far!

Signs of Spring + Seedling Update

Spring is coming quickly, and winter cannot do a thing to stop it.  While the large picture outside still looks dreary, bursts of color and signs of life are popping up all around.

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By our mailbox, the Sedum “Autumn Joy” is beginning its journey to a fall bloom, the first of hundreds of flowers has emerged on the Creeping Phlox, and tulips and daffodils are beginning to push their way through the dirt.

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The crocuses making the first appearance in our yard

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New growth on the rose bushes

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Gardenia bushes and tulips–lots of tulips–planted in the fall

Winter, you are defeated.

We even did some long overdue yard work this weekend. The shrubs by our front steps were way overgrown, leaving only a small opening to walk up and down the stairs.

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Okay, so maybe it was more than a “small opening,” but those shrubs were out of control.  I attacked them with some hedge clippers while Andrew raked and weeded, and we were left with this:

spring afterSo much better, right?

A few quirks about our yard that we inherited with the house:

1. We have about three types of grass growing (plus the control group of no grass in the back yard…) They are different textures, grow at different rates, and turn green at different times during the year.

2. There are six azaleas in front of our house–three on each side of the steps (the giant shrubs are mostly hiding two of them, but I promise they are there.)  Five of those azaleas are alike.  The center shrub on the left?  Different variety, different size, different color, bloom time, etc.  I don’t have the heart to pull it up and replace it (Okay, I have the heart; I don’t have the confidence that I could pick the variety that does match the others.)

3. While I love spring bulbs–and in fact planted many myself back in the fall–the previous owner of our house planted tulips and crocuses (and monkey grass? Why monkey grass??) very randomly between/in front of the azaleas.  I don’t hate it, but it does look a little silly.

I realize these are very much “first-world problems,” and I am not complaining, simply acknowledging quirks 😉

In other spring news, our vegetable seedlings that we planted about a month ago are doing fairly well!  Well, most of them.

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Notes on the process thus far:

-For the first week we kept kept them in our “greenhouse”: the guest bathroom with a sky light and space heater, the container covered by its plastic top.  Once they sprouted, we moved them to our sunny living room by a window.

-The broccoli is thriving (bottom row in the top photo.)

-The cantaloupe is not thriving (top row in top photo)

-The peppers, while very late to sprout (we thought they weren’t going to make it,) are now growing and looking well.

-The tomatoes sprouted quickly and continue to look strong.

-At some point I know we were/are supposed to thin the sprouts to one per square.  I know ultimately it has to be done, but I can’t bring myself to uproot the ones that look so healthy!

I think the next step is to transplant them to larger, individual containers so they can continue growing before being planted outside.  We need to do some more research on this project, but I am so looking forward to starting the plants outside once it warms up a little more!

Spring, we welcome you 🙂