Friday, April 27, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Oh my, it has been a long time since I've written.  We're almost to the end of April already and as I said in my earlier post this month, before I know it May will be upon us.  April always did fly by like quicksilver for me.  With the ongoing exercise routine stuck in my day for at least an hour and a half in the morning and gardening and the greenhouse and a bunch of other obligations plus trying to reform myself from a Night Owl Extraordinaire to a Person Who Keeps Regular Hours, I've plumb run out of time to blog as much as I'd like. This is truly a problem for me, and how I miss reading all the other lovely blogs out there, too.  I have to reschedule some time somewhere, somehow.

But anyway...........

We've been very busy throwing rocks around and (gasp) sawing down trees and limbing others up and other general madness and mayhem.  There has been progress in the Formal Garden with the new wall  but it is slow-going.  Since Carl and I don't see eye to eye on that particular project, when he's home, he's working on the wall pretty much alone while I'm off doing my usual GADS thing--heading off on one task only to be sidetracked by another.  (I'm sure most of you can relate, that is, if you're afflicted with Gardening Attention Deficit Syndrome like me.)

And to make matters worse, I put another project on Carl's list of Things To Do this past weekend.  Something he wasn't very happy about, but he obliged me anyway, albeit grudgingly.  Remember the tree grates we bought as our Christmas present to each other from an antique 'junque' dealer last fall? 

Well, I came across them sitting out in the Back Eight when I was moving pallets of stone around for Carl's wall building project and I got to thinking it was high time we did something with them.  My idea from the first time I saw the grates was to put them in the entrance to our driveway somehow.  
I'm so out of practice with blogging lately that I forgot to take a 'before' picture of the way the end of the driveway used to look so here is one from last spring; do you see the split rail fence right in front of the bus and the three cedar trees all glommed together there?  I've been unhappy with this view for quite some time and kept grumbling to Carl that it needed something but I didn't know what the something was.  Until I saw the grates, that is.
And looking at this picture reminds me that our first garden event this year is the first week in June which is when the group in the photo toured a year ago.  June isn't the prettiest time in the garden; I wish I could stall them off until July or August, but they're coming to see hostas and not my annual flowers.  Carl started to panic when I pointed out we have less than forty days to get stuff done before the garden walk we agreed to host for our garden club.....but I didn't remind him of that fact until AFTER the grate project was done.  (I am not very nice, am I?)

So, anyway, back to the driveway and the tree grates saga.  We were thinking of putting one half of the tree grate pair on either side of the driveway, but after standing them up, they were a bit too short.  That's when Carl got the idea of putting the two halves together instead.  Neither of us were sure if it would look right or not, but we figured we'd give it a shot.

The first thing we had to do was take out the split rail fence which wasn't too hard since most of the posts were very rotten.  I had found the entire fence in a landfill almost twenty years ago, so they were second-hand cedar posts then already.  (We didn't dispose of them; I have ideas for another area of the garden they might look good in.)   Here's a picture of the area after the fence was removed:

The three cedars have really grown in the last few years...the green ones are 'Smaragd' and the yellow one is thuja occidentalis 'George Peabody' or 'Aurea' as it is known now.  The 'Aurea' was planted at least eight years after the green 'Smaragd' pair and it was rapidly overtaking the area.  We needed to find a new home for it.
We decided to plant the yellow cedar down by the Pachyberm in front of the house.  Here Carl is digging the hole with our homemade tree spade.

Nothing wanted to work right last Saturday.  First, Joel's tractor, the 184, had a dead battery.   We got a chain and I pulled Carl on the 184 with the 574 to get it running.  Once it started, Carl backed up to the tree spade only to find the tree spade battery was dead, too. Then it was off to search for jumper cables which we found in Carl's car.  We had to leave Joel's tractor running to charge the battery, so we thought we'd jump-start the tree spade from the 184, but there wasn't enough power there.  We had to drive the 184 out of the way and then I drove the 574 in close enough to the shed to reach with the jumper cables and after another half hour of attempts, Carl checked the spark plug, which was fouled.  After cleaning the spark plug up, we finally had the spade running.  But then we had to pull the 184 again because Carl had shut it off while we were messing around with the tree spade.  We finally were able to get the show on the road and a tree moved after an hour and a half.  Gads, indeed!
Fence is gone but there's too many trees here.

View from the driveway side.....before the move.         
Carl digging tree out
Lifted out of the ground and ready to roll.
Down the road they go.
Carl went all the way around our property and came back in from the other side with the tree.  We like to use Joel's tractor because it is lighter and has turf tires which don't make so many ruts.
Back it up.
Lowering the tree into the ground and raising the shovels.

Instant tree.'s crooked  No worries, we watered it in heavily and staked it.  
Would you like a quick hole dug? 
We moved three trees on Saturday.  The last one was after dark which really made the job more difficult.  But at least we had them in new homes.  The tree spade has saved us countless hours of digging by hand.  Carl built it from scratch over 20 years ago and it's had a lot of modifications to it from having to pound the six shovels in by hand (oh, talk about work!)  to his wonderful addition of hydraulics for each shovel and power shift side to side and front to back.

On Sunday afternoon we were right back to work again.  Remember I said Carl's heart really wasn't in this project?   I was starting to get worried, too. 

"This is just one more thing I don't really need to be doing," he said for the tenth time. 

"Yes, I know, but c'mon, it will be great when it's done!" I encouraged.  Deep down I was wondering, but we were too far into the project to quit now.  Remember, this is how the fiasco of Castle Aaargh was started; I had a dumb idea.
On the east side of the driveway we had only two cedars, one 'Aurea' and one 'Smaragd'.  We moved the Aurea out to the back yard.  Joel and Allison were here both days and worked so hard for us.  Joel sawed down a spruce tree that was ailing and we put the little yellow cedar in it's place.

Finally, it was time to try to put the tree grates in place.  Joel drove the H to lift them up in the air.  Carl had bolted the two halves together the way they'd been in their former life as tree grates in sidewalks.  These things are fairly heavy, I'm guessing around 400 pounds. 

That's when we noticed we had a flat tire on the front of the H which makes for very hard steering, good thing Joel is strong.
Carl guiding grates down.  He has installed a tall channel iron which is buried deep in the ground to fit the grates into.
Ok, the grate is in place.  Now all we have to do is level it and drive the channel  iron supports flush with the top of the grates. 

Carl hollering, Joel lifting with the tractor and Allison supervising. 
Joel using the sledgehammer, Carl holding on.
One up, one to go.  Installing the east side of the driveway. 
The leveling process took a long time, over an hour for both sides apiece. 
Joel drilling a hole so we can bolt the grates to the channel irons on the east side.

East side in place by six pm....but now we're missing a tree on the this side.  Hmmmmmm.......looks so unbalanced.  Wait, we have a spare tree almost the same size out in the Back Eight.  Yup, back to the tree spade which had been put away the night before at 10 PM and back through the rigamarole of jump starting it.  I know, I know, Carl was right, this is work that we didn't need to do right now.  (But we did it anyway.)
It just looked goofy without a tree on the left side.   And of course, I had to haul up some more rocks in the meantime, too. 
First we had to dig a hole for the Joel and Allison run the spade.
We ran out to the Back Eight and dug the tree and here Carl is lowering it into the ground next to the tree grate.

And of course, I had to supervise.  It's what I do best, just ask Carl.

Was it a waste of time? Well, I guess it's a matter of personal preference.  I like them and finally even Carl said they look ok.  (A few cars have slowed down to stare a little, is that a good thing?)

East side from the house
The left cedar is the one we just moved in, I hope it survives.  It's not as green yet, but the size is about the same.

The west side after I had some of the rocks in place.  Both sides will hopefully look better after some flowers are planted.  Flowers always help!  I'm going to plant some Karl Foerster grass on either side of the grating for vertical interest and to soften the metal.

I promised Carl this is the last silly job I will ask of him until after the first garden walk.  (Great, now he has it in writing.  Ooops.)   Was it a waste of time?  We'll see, I kinda like it and even Carl said it looked better than he thought it would.  What do you think? 

So, that's what went on last weekend.  This weekend Carl will hopefully be building more walls and I'll be weeding and GAD-ing like always.

I sure miss you all!

Friday, April 6, 2012

April Antics

Here we are almost at the end of the first week in April already.  I have to start paying close attention  because of all the months of the year, this one goes by the quickest of all for me.  Before I know it, I'll be humming that old Three Dog Night tune, 'I've Got Pieces of April' but it will already be a morning in May.  I should never take any month for granted and I try not to, but spring in the garden is so busy and time gets away from me. The weather has gone back to the cool/cold days I'm used to and I'm a happy camper.  No bugs to bite yet and cool enough temps to work hard and not sweat and the weeds are still at bay--now's the time to get those pesky dandelion roots out.

And now is the time to get some major work done.

Well, right after we play awhile.

Joel added another kayak to his fleet of watercraft this week and we had to go out to the quarry and try it out. 

No, he's not tipping over, he's leaning to see how far before he'd take on water.
It wasn't long before he persuaded his Maternal Unit to try her hand at the new kayak, too.

There I am, paddling through the lily pads.
Soon, Joel joined me with one of his older kayaks.  Carl opted to stay on shore and photograph the event.  He is not fond of kayaks.  At all.  He thinks they're too tippy and prefers a canoe instead.

Joel and I spent some fun time going back and forth.  I like the new boat, it's very stable.  The water in the Quarry is down quite a bit from last Spring though it is still a lot higher than we like it to be.  Hard to say what the summer level will be, I think we're going into this season much dryer than normal, so far.

Joel and I nagged Carl to get in the new boat and after some grumbling, he finally agreed to give it a try. 

Carl still prefers a canoe.  (Just getting him into a kayak is a Big Deal though...he tipped over the first time he tried one years ago and the memory hasn't faded for him.)

After disembarking from the new watercraft, Carl went back to work on the wall down in the Formal Garden.  Enough playing around!  We have work to do.  It still gets quite chilly out as dusk draws near.  The wall is coming along, but it's slow, painstaking work, and work we don't do together very much.  I am usually nearby and will retrieve the tractor and haul rocks for him or fetch whatever tool he requires, but we get along much better if he does his wall-building alone or with Ann, who does have an eye for rock wall building and can tolerate Carl's pickiness much better than me.

I guess it's a lesson all married couples of any length of time learn; there are just some things you won't see eye-to-eye on and for us, rock selection is one of them.  I do not have the eye for wall-building and rock selection and I get frustrated when nothing I pick out is correct.  (You may remember this lament from posts about Castle Aaargh?  Not a good idea to put two married people armed with rock hammers in close proximity if one of the party (me) can't control her frustration when she's told for the umpteenth time 'That is not the Right Rock for the area.')  Aaargh, indeed.

So, anyhow, we cut our losses and I go work on the bazillion other things that need doing in the gardens.  If he needs me, all he has to is yell or call me on my cellphone.  We've got 33 years of marriage under our collective belts, we'd like to make it to 34!

Ok, what have I been doing while Carl is toiling in the rock pile?  When I'm not weeding or cleaning up something, I'm working in the greenhouse.
C'mon in.  But I caution you, it ain't very pretty.

This is our homemade greenhouse that I gripe about putting up and taking down every year.  It's a big thing to stick in the yard and have it blend in, 20' x 18' but it works very well.  It's one of my favorite places to be, especially when it's raining and cold outside.  Just to open the door and smell the plants is heavenly.

Carl built the stainless steel heat pans for the greenhouse years ago.  The pans are made in two layers of stainless, much like a Thermos.  They are all individually plumbed with fittings to allow heated water to recirculate from the water container fitted with a hot water heater element and a small fountain pump.

I should have dusted it off for the photo, but this is what the pans look like.  The bottom of the pans are double-lined, allowing heated water to circulate and warm the surface for bottom heat.
This is the tank that holds the hot water heater element and the recirculating fountain pump.  The water runs through the pipes, into and through the metal pans and back to the tank for reheating.  This way, we have bottom heat for the seedlings and we do not need to heat the entire greenhouse structure when the outside temperatures are cold.  Crude-looking, but hey, it works.
We like to keep the pans at a constant 72-75 degree temperature range.  

I filled all the flats with growing mix last Saturday.  I use flats with no holes in them and fill the trays almost 3/4 full of water and allow them to sit on the heated pans for a day or so.  That way, the soil soaks up the water effortlessly.  When I used to plant my annual seeds in the house, we had the entire mess in the kitchen, complete with having to boil water on the stove in an effort to get the cold soil-less mix damp enough to plant in.  It's so much easier to fill 40-odd flats outside in the greenhouse and not have the huge mess in the house.
All of the flats were ready for planting after sitting for a day.  I simply drain off any excess water from the bottom of the flats by tipping them until they stop dripping and then commence to my planting table.

There it is, my glamorous table for planting seeds.  Just a piece of recycled particle board or plywood, whatever is lying around, and a couple of cinder blocks for risers.  Add a bucket of vermiculite for covering seeds and you're ready to go.

Oh, I forgot, you need something else:  a bucket of seeds, this year I've planted just under two thousand, and popsicle sticks cut in half along with a trusty Sharpie marker to mark each variety.  I also use a variety of tweezers and toothpicks for grasping seeds, too.  The sidecutter is for cutting sticks down to smaller sizes if I need to. 

I put one seed in each cell and when the flat is full, 72 seeds later, I label each pack of four and cover it with a clear plastic dome.  Then they're all placed back on the heat pans and we wait for germination.
I planted the first seeds on Tuesday of this week, and by yesterday, Thursday, we have sprouts!  This is always exciting for me. 
And a little nerve-wracking, too, because I don't want to uncover any of the flats until germination is complete.  There's a delicate balance between too much humidity and not enough.  Too wet is worse than too dry, but both can be fatal to seedlings.

Though I've been planting annuals from seed for over 20 years, the sight of new seedlings never fails to amaze me.  Such a miracle.

While the annuals for this coming summer are growing up, the rest of the garden is sailing right into bloom.

Our one and only hellebore, encased in a tomato cage to keep the hens from destroying it, has sent up some blooms.  I think it's time to invest in more of these plants, they are so gorgeous on other people's blogs, too!
Nanking Cherry is stunning in pale pinkish-white.  The bees love it, too.
Not sure if these are 'Tetete' daffodils or not, but they are tiny and prolific. 
I am guilty of buying grab-bags of daffodils and just plopping them in wherever there's room.

I can tell it's time to dig the bulbs again, some of them have multiplied exponentially over the years.

I'm not a fan of digging them up to transplant them and I catch myself grumbling in the fall, but the end result the following spring always makes me glad I did.  Daffodils are my favorite bulbs of all time.

Just look at those faces...

After a long day traipsing around in the garden, they're always a joy to behold.

Oh, drat, it's getting late and Leslie will wonder where I am.

Time to walk.

May you all have a Wonderful, Blessed Easter!