Swinget turned into swing

Backyard Solutions

I’ve been living in my yard for a lot of years, and I’m learning what works for me.Swinget turned into swing

When our children outgrew the swing set my husband made, we pulled down the kid’s swings and replaced them with a swing everyone can use. I planted wisteria on one side and after just a few years we are getting nice shade.Bird bath made of recycled dish

I go through birdbaths like Snickers bars. I try to remember to empty them before a hard freeze, but the water containers always seem to leak after just a year or so.  I’ve learned that a big dish from Goodwill and a rock is all it takes to bring back the bathers.Gourd vine growing up a tree

My yard is a nice size, but gourds and cucumbers and all of those sprawling vines seem to take over everything. This year, I let the birdhouse gourds overtake the trellis and continue right up a nearby tree. The garden stayed neat, and this totally appeals to  my love of the quirky.Hummingbird silhouette

The hummingbird likes it, too.A squirrel peeking out of the the hole he gnawed in the trash can.

And the solution here? . . . Keep the birdseed in a metal container from now on.

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blooming sunflower

here comes the sun . . . flowers

blooming sunflowerAfter a few days of torrential rain, today was beautiful. I saw my first sunflower bloom at coffee time.

full view of gardenJust for perspective:  The lowest finger points to the sunflower bloom pictured above. The finger above it points to the birdhouse gourds that are happily climbing every tree in sight. The finger in the top left points to the sunflower blooms (nearly 8 feet) that are in the near future.

cedar waxwingMy little darling Waxwing greeted me at dawn with his silent welcome. Even though I have studied their sounds online, I have yet to hear them. The nest withstood the heavy rains. For that I am thankful. It’s all right (do do do do do do dododododo).

a most unusual morning

It started out as any July morning:Riley web 002I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the party garden at 6:00 am while Riley stood guard and patiently waited for her run. Hot air balloonWhile we were running, I saw a hot air balloon. We stepped up the pace, got home, and I grabbed my camera and drove out to track it down. (Riley had a drink and a nap on the sofa.)hot air balloon on groundThe balloon had a friend.cedar waxwingWhen I got home, I noticed a pair of Cedar Waxwings nesting in my yard. This is unheard of. I am thrilled to see them once a year, in a group, in winter. I have never seen Cedar Waxwings during nesting season.cedar waxwingThey are very active, so the pictures aren’t great – but I have high hopes for the future.

just picked tomato

tomato time

just picked tomatoBehold: my first tomato of the year. I ate this one warm from the sun, sliced, with sea salt and black pepper.

This is not one of the heirloom tomatoes that I started from seed; they are a bit slower. This is a “Celebrity” tomato. I bought the plants from the farm market down the road. After the first came ripe, I was almost struck with a glut. Never you mind. I can handle the challenge.bread tomato kabobs
First up: Bread Kabobs.  Day old bread, tomatoes, olives, artichokes. Thread on a skewer & sprinkle with olive oil, salt, all sorts of Italian herbs AND red pepper flakes. Grill until toasty. Oh, my.

early july : my favorite things

My yard is bursting: with birds, animals, flowers, vegetables. Sometimes July can feel parched, but not this year. We are ripe with all of the things I love.zinnias in bloomZinnias I planted from seed are in their full glory. When they no longer look pretty to me, I will leave them as a meal for my goldfinch friends.cherry treeThe cherry tree is overripe to me, but it is alive with blue jays, red-breasted woodpeckers (and a fledgling – the first I’ve EVER seen), robins, brown thrashers, finches, cardinals, flickers, and titmice. The hummingbirds spend a great deal of time perching in it – but I have never seen them eating the fruit in any way. There are also a crazy amount of bunnies beneath the tree. Are they eating the cherries that fall?birdhouse gourd plant climbing a homemade trellisThe bird house gourds are happy to climb the trellis I made to keep them off the ground. I have big plans ahead for these, but the hummingbirds love their blossoms right now.tomatoes almost ripeBut of all those things to love, beautiful tomatoes, just days from being ripe, are my current favorite things.

hummingbirds

I have watched the hummingbirds for years now, and they still remain a mystery. They often seem bug-like, as they chase each other around, chattering, oftentimes spending more time defending the food than they spend eating it. But I’ve also seen two hummingbirds rise slowly in flight, beaks touching, displaying what I can only call tenderness.male ruby throated hummingbird at feeder

What I do know: The male Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds (the only kind in our area) arrive in my South Jersey backyard when my cherry tree begins to bloom. This year it was April 24th.female or young ruby throated hummingbirdThe females arrive a week or so later. I tend to see single hummingbirds at my 8 to 10 feeders every 20 minutes during this time.

Then they all go away. For two or three weeks in late May and early June, I rarely see them. My best guess is that they are nesting in the orchards down the road and are sticking close to the nests. young ruby throated hummingbirdBy mid June, they are back, stronger than ever. One bird sits at every feeder, guarding it from any bird or bug who happens to wander by. I keep the feeders by my seating areas, and I am forever being buzzed by them. They seem to be more curious than wary.

If you’d like to join the fun, get a small feeder. (A large one is only useful after you have lots of birds feeding – the nectar gets bad (cloudy) after a week or less.) Heat 1 cup water & 1/4 cup sugar in the microwave until it boils (3 minutes works for me). Stir to be sure it’s all incorporated. Let cool before filling the feeders.Hummingbird and Orange Flower

how to hide a stump

I have several areas of the yard that get neglected every year, despite my best intentions . . .ugly stumpWitness the Stump Garden.

I’ve been reading about Permaculture, and that gave me the idea to incorporate the stump into a planting bed.turniing a stump into a planterI used some cedar shims and bricks I had lying around. I hammered the shims deep into the ground so they would support the bulk of the soil. I just stacked the bricks around that to pretty it up. It was easy after I got the bottom layer level.brick planterHere’s how it looked at the end of April, before soil and plants.brick planterAfter I planted it with a sedum and flower seeds, I added some Native Sedum plants to the cracks of the planter to see if they’d grow.brick planterThey did grow. Just wait till the zinnias bloom!

cabbage success

I am officially calling it a successful cabbage season. I bought plants (Golden Cross) and planted them on April 13th, over a month before our last frost date. They are in a raised bed which I filled with soil from my garden excavation and lots of compost (mostly kitchen scraps).

I planted them with rosemary, nasturtiums, and sunflowers. A few tomatoes volunteered, and I left them in there as well. After the heads formed,  I saw the evidence of cabbage worms on the plant farthest from the rosemary. The outside leaves had been eaten and there was lots of poop. cabbage worm poop and damaggeI used the hose to forcefully clean everything out, and as I directed the hose spray, I made sure to hit the rosemary first. I was sure I’d be doing the same thing in a day or two, but I never saw another poop.raised bed of cabbagesThis picture was taken about a week ago. I just picked my first cabbage this morning and made cole slaw for dinner. I’m going to have to get more creative than that.

seasonal firsts

We recently had our first good rain in a long time, and the garden is loving it. We’ve also had: honeybee on clover

our first honeybee;coneflowerour first coneflower; (thinking of you, Cynthia)Baby blue jayand our first floundering baby bird.baby blue jaySqueaky Pete – King of the Rock Wall.

more garden structures

I love this time of year! Every day I find some new flower blooming or seed sprouting. Lots of herbs are ready to use and the spinach is looking like dinner. We have a mockingbird sitting on her nest, and this year (horray!) it’s above dog-face level. Raised bed vegetable garden with pathsHere’s my revamped vegetable garden. The pathways are filled with trimmings from the spring clean up (no weeds). It’s about 8 inches thick and very nice for kneeling: clean and comfy.

carrot boxI even made an extra deep, rock-free carrot box. No more wacky shaped carrots for me!

garden structures and a special guest

My husband spotted him first while I was at work: a Rose Breasted Grosbeak at our feeder. SO exciting – I’ve seen them before, but rarely, and NEVER in my own back yard. Just plain old sunflower seeds on  a platform feeder did the trick. He was here for several days and I got a good look at him, the little cutie pie.Rose breasted gorsbeak at feederMy husband has been my best garden supporter this year; he signed me up for the organic herbal gardening course that spurred me on; he  gave me a gift certificate to the best nursery in town; AND he spent his birthday money to make me three of these excellent new planters.Raised bed vegetable planter

This one is sporting cabbages (I’ll pick the biggest and let the little ones continue to grow), rosemary, nasturtiums, and sunflowers.

Happy Mother’s Day!

garden structures

I finished my main vegetable garden excavation and rebuild (pictures soon) using untreated scrap wood my husband has saved from our many house projects. That kind of got me loving the idea of using up the rest of the scrap wood by making structures for the garden.

Here’s my first little project – a trellis for my Heirloom Cardinal Climbers. homemade wooden trellisI’ve read two biographies of Frank Lloyd Wright lately and am feeling quite architectural. Who knows what else I will come up with?

I got the Cardinal Climber seeds from the great library seed bank we have in my area:  Library Seed Bank  Can’t wait until they get growing!

 

spring garden

I am doing a lot of plant watching, lately. This time of year it seems that the weeds grow while my seedlings sit and pout.

I did have a new plant bloom this year:  yellow flowering ground cover

Me: “Mom, did you give this to me?”

Mom: “Yes.”

Me: “What is it?”

Mom: “I don’t know.”

seedlings

I am worried about my seedlings. They are thin and long, not bushy and hearty like so many I see at my blogging friends’ sites: handmade.homegrown.beautiful life

I decided to get them outside into the sunshine, even though it’s early. I put them out  a bit every day for a week and just recently started keeping them out. I built a “greenhouse” for them (rocks on the sides to retain heat and old windows on the top.makeshift greenhouseThey look to be adjusting (haven’t died yet).

makeshift greenhouseI’m most concerned about my heirloom Golden Jubilee Tomatoes . . . they were SO good last year . . .

tomato seedlings

gardening signs

The weather hasn’t been good, so I have been doing some paper gardening inside. I made a sign for  my kitchen using a great tutorial at Design Cuts.   Spring Poster I also made some signs for my garden. I printed them on cardstock, sprayed them with clear coat, decoupaged them onto wood, and polyurethaned them. Not sure how long they’ll last out in the weather, but aren’t they fun?strawberry sign
asparagus signThe sun is out . . . Time to get dirty!

outside

I’m redoing my vegetable garden in anticipation of all the heirloom seedlings that will soon be residing there. I am digging out a walking path, which I then fill with stones (oh, the stones!) and leaves and whatnot. This will give me a cleaner place to walk and will keep me from tromping in the plant beds. garden excavationI’m using some old lumber (non-treated) and just hammering in shims to hold it all in place. My thinking is that the soil on one side and the leaves on the other side will hold it all in place. So that’s the plan. . . .constructing garden bedsNext time I go out (hopefully this afternoon . . . ) I will bring a level and a square . . .

inside

Things are looking greener, even in my attic. I’ve had great success sprouting a dozen or more different kinds of seeds in my makeshift greenhouse setup.  Adequate light is definitely a problem, though. When the first sprouts appeared, I put them on a cookie tray near the window. I used two shoe boxes to prop a light over them, but they are still thin and leggy.Seed sprouts and a lighting setupI used some cork I had to segregate the different seeds from each other – folded up aluminum foil would also work. I’m hoping the sun comes out soon; I think that would do these guys a world of good.

Sprouts Segregated and LabeledHere at my house we have a little habit of sending each other messages through our spice jars. Here’s my wish for all of us. . .Spring message spelled out in spice jars

gardening resolutions

Even though I’ve been gardening for more than 15 years, I still feel like a doodling newbie. THIS year, fresh from an organic heirloom gardening class and armed with heirloom seeds, is the year I take it seriously.seeds, gloves and markers for plantingI’ve already planted a dozen different types of seeds. I have them in cheap-o plastic greenhouses in my attic. My office is in the attic, so I have a heater up there; the greenhouses are next to the heater.greenhouse near heaterThere isn’t much light, so I put a fluorescent light on top. I turn it (and the heater) off at night. light on greenhouse

I’ll let you know how it goes . . .

free heirloom seeds

So, not only do my local libraries supply me with all the books I can read (no small task), the Woodbury and Pitman branches here in Gloucester County, NJ also lend out seeds.

Free packaged heirloom seeds

a selection of seeds at the Woodbury, NJ seed bank

They give me free heirloom seeds; I plant them, enjoy the bounty, and give them back some seeds at the end of the season. (And no fines if it doesn’t work out.) Sweet deal!

Below are just a few of the flower, vegetable and herb seeds I picked up. All it takes is a library card.

heirloom vegetables, flowers, and herbs

Watermelon radish, Traveler jalapeno pepper, Monarda bergamot, Callipe blend carrots, White sage

I’m hoping my backyard looks like this in a couple of months.