Thursday, April 25, 2013

What a week

You know how sometimes your week starts with terrorists bombing your husband's home town? And then unrelated to that, your husband ends up in the ER at 2am and is in the hospital for three days (he's fine now, thank goodness) while in the meantime all his family up north are on lockdown because of the previously mentioned terrorist-at-large roaming the Boston metropolitan area? And then you get on a plane for a visit to your parents, which is great, and they catch the terrorist while you're flying, and you have a wonderful time, but when you finally get home Sunday night, you're just whipped?

Yeah, me too.

To make up for my absence, here is a picture of a beagle covered in poop.

"I was pushed!"

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mulch Madness 2013

It's come and gone and I can't believe it!  In less than a week, seven cubic yards of mulch have moved from the driveway to all the beds in the front and back yards. The front yard was done in two days:  last Friday after work and then during a three-hour mulch marathon on Saturday. Didn't this used to take us a lot longer? We must be getting good.

"I would mulch 7 cubic yards..."

"...and I would mulch 7 cubic yards more..."

(PQ weeding)

(PQ striking a truly awful pose)

"...just to be the man who mulched 7 cubic yards..."

" fall down at your do-o-o-o-o-or."
(Apologies to the Proclaimers)

The backyard was finished last night, after three workday evenings of weeding and mulch spreading. But it was coming on dark when we finished, so no pictures yet. But it looks fabulous. You can trust me.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A conversation on the patio after dark

Potato Queen (gazing up at the dark sky between the towering trees): I miss the bats.

Mulch Boy: I'm sure they'll be back. It's early.

PQ: Not enough bugs yet.

MB: Exactly.

PQ: Omigosh, is that one??

MB: It IS! No bird can fly like that.

PQ: He must be the scout.

MB: Yeah, he's Batmartigan!

PQ: Wait, who?

MB: Like Val Kilmer in Willow!

PQ: I love our bat.

MB: Batmartigan is the best bat in the whole neighborhood.

PQ:  Obviously.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Adventures of Mulch Boy

It must be made clear: Mulch Boy is all Mulch Man. You must not let Mulch's diminutive title lead you to believe that he is anything less than a co-sovereign of our little kingdom. I did actually ask him whether he wanted to change his title from Boy to Man, but he says Mulch Boy is his preference. And let's face it: it's funnier.

I mention this as preface to a description of Mulch Boy's current adventures. So far I've pretty much focused on my own labors, but Mulch has been laboring mightily himself and deserves appropriate coverage.

Last Saturday, you may recall my somewhat haphazard approach to my garden plan of the day. Lots was accomplished, but I got no high marks for organization.

In contrast, Mulch Boy had but two missions: cut down the dead cherry tree and organize the compost heaps. Unlike his wife, who would have probably attacked this plan by cleaning mulch out of the creek bed, he approached his chosen tasks with laserlike focus.

The first was easily dispatched. We found two sour cherry trees in our backyard our first spring here. They are lovely in flower; when the cherries are ripe, they resemble every cartoon cherry tree you've ever seen on Washington's birthday.

Alas, the one in the very back of the yard began to slowly perish two years ago, from what grievous cherry tree disease we do not know. This spring, Mulch decided to put the poor thing out of its misery. And so Saturday, out came the handsaw and down went the cherry.

It was just a little thing. Mulch dispatched it in less than twenty minutes, taking off the branches until all that was left was its slender trunk, which he brought down in two pieces. From where I sit now on the porch, I can see the tiny stump, perhaps five inches high, all that is left of our pretty tree.

The real challenge of Mulch's day was not so easily overcome.

The compost heaps. Several years ago, my friend and I attended a free class provided by the city of Falls Church on how to make your own compost. If you are like me, you've Googled and read any number of articles about making compost, and have found yourself intimidated by numerous authors warning you about the delicate balance that must be maintained between hydrogen and carbon, the correct proportion of green versus brown matter, required frequency of turning and watering, tumblers versus three-stage bins, and so on.

Luckily, the nice ladies teaching this class talked about all these variables and then told me what I really wanted to hear: it just doesn't have to be that complicated. If you are willing to wait for the big payoff, all you really need to do is throw your leaves and grass clippings in a big pile and leave it there. Eventually (depending on whether you chopped up your leaves first, six months to a year) the bottom of your compost pile will have transformed into actual compost, or as Mulch likes to call it, Super-Soil.

I brought home from the class a free compost bin, which was simply a black sheet of flexible plastic with holes in it to allow air to permeate the pile. Thus our first compost pile was born.

What I did not know was that Mulch Boy had a cherished family compost heap tradition, one that my three-foot wide, three-foot high bin could not honor properly. As I learned, Mulch's grandfather not only maintained an enormous vegetable garden in his day, he maintained an enormous compost heap to support it, perhaps six by six feet. My little bin was fine for what it was, but dreams of a Grandfather-worthy heap took hold in Mulch.

And thus our second compost pile--truly a heap--was born. Behind the shed, where it would not take away from the glamour (hee) of our decorate backyard beds, Mulch began The Big Heap. As long as the length of the shed and perhaps four feet deep, The Big Heap was created by piling together the accumulated leaves already trapped between the fence and the shed, plus adding more leaves vacuumed from around the yard. (It's a big yard, surrounded by hundred-foot-high trees, so that was not an insubstantial amount of leaves.) Finally, an enclosure of chicken wire to keep Dogs out, and The Big Heap was a done deal. And then there were TWO, TWO compost heaps--ah ha ha ha!

Two compost piles would seem to be plenty for your average suburban farmer. But there was a problem. The Big Heap was big, yes, but its demure location behind the shed grew more inaccessible as the plants we installed in the area grew. What's the point of cooking all that fine Super-Soil if you can't actually move it where it's needed?

Then last year came the dry creek bed project. As you may recall, a lot of earth moved to make way for the 92-foot trench that ultimately made our basement safe and dry during rainstorms. Much of that earth was incorporate into the veg garden and the flower beds, but far from all. What to do with all that dirt?

Why, hide it along The Dark Side of the house, of course! As you face our house from the street, you see that the only thing separating our house from our neighbor's on that side is an old aluminum fence and a tiny walkway. This walkway is more tunnel, s it is overhung by four enormous overgrown holly trees, planted mere inches from each other and towering over our house.

It was here that the former homeowners inexplicably plopped several tiny shrubs, I suppose to impress potential buyers. I rescued as many of those poor stunted guys as I could, leaving that dark corner to itself as ill-suited for supporting plant life.

But what about compost? As Mulch Boy moved the dirt displaced by our creek bed to The Dark Side, it occurred to us that this was perhaps a better location for The Big Heap. Not only was it discreet, but imminently more accessible from the front and back yards--not to mention the fact that it appeared to be constantly fed by the continual shedding of the holly trees above it. Brilliant! Pleased with the new plan but exhausted by our labors with the dry creek bed, we left the pile in The Dark Side to do as it would, and left building an actual enclosure for another day. Or, as it turns out, year.

And so finally to the weekend of March 30, 2013. (You thought we'd never get back, didn't you?)

After dispatching the cherry tree, Mulch Boy turned his attention to our various compost heaps... and began to have doubts. Was it too dark in The Dark Side for compost to cook? Wasn't The Big Heap behind the shed much more practical, given its size? Let's hear what happened in Mulch Boy's own words.

It was declared by PQ (Royal Decree # 42) that the big compost pile [The Big Heap] in the back (which has not been mined for two years because we’ve been using the new small compost pile at the side of the deck) was too difficult to get at, and potentially dangerous for MB’s back. MB disputed this at first, saying that he could get back there, and that if in future there was no path for the wheel barrow to get to the compost pile he would just park the barrow by the shed and move one shovel-full at a time to it.
Furthermore, PQ determined that the spot on the outside of the fence by the cellar stairs [The Dark Side] would make a nice secondary compost pile, as it would be easier to get to and because the holly tree sheds back there all year round. Mulch initially didn't agree to this, as that area does not get any sunlight and he wondered if it would compost as well without light. PQ then pointed out that Mulch often got some really good soil from that area from the holly leaves that collect there year round and pile up in the corners. Mulch was forced to grudgingly admit this was so.
After much gnashing of teeth MB acquiesced to the queen’s decree (avoiding open rebellion and maybe an angry stare from the queen when he eventually injured himself trying to get to and from the pile out back and then using some vile language that the children should really not hear), and so decided to move as much of the super soil from the back of the shed to the new spot and as much of the dirt that was in the new spot (leftover dirt from THE TRENCH) to the back.
This was not rebellion, as Mulch saw it. This was a one-time dispensation. Like the repatriating of funds from overseas banks by US corporations (something MB approves of and wishes POTUS would allow) only with super-soil. It took four or five round trips, but the deed was finally done (“for heaven, and the future’s sake” as Robert Frost may have said). Now the new spot is 80% super-soil and 20% leftover dirt from THE TRENCH, and the old back of the shed compost pile is 80% leftover dirt and 20% super-soil. It has been smoothed down so it is even, and the fencing has been removed. It will be left to itself for another two years, at which point the process may be repeated, if needed and allowed. The new area has now been fenced in and will be left to itself except to give it a stir in mid-fall to incorporate any new leaves that will surely pile up there.
The results of Mulch Boy's labors are seen below. (And no, he is NOT as downtrodden as he would have you believe!)

Our first compost heap 1: My Little Bin. It all started here.
Compost Heap on The Dark Side. Daphne rests comfortably
until I find her a new permanent home.
The Big Heap. Grandpa would be proud.

Pretty much like this every year

Friday, April 5, 2013

Whither an editor?

Would it surprise you to know that I'm an editor in the real world? Given my previous post, I'll guess YES. Have you ever read such long, rambling, badly structured sentences in your life?  Rereading it myself, I can only say "Yikes!"

Even an editor needs an editor. Especially an overexcited one who just cannot wait to hit that "Publish" button and share her glee with the world. Alas, that's me pretty much each time I write a post.

Oh, I try to force myself to go back and trim, but more often than not, my stream-of-consciousness ends up posted for public consumption, barely proofed.

Lucky me, though: I forgive myself because I am probably the least prescriptive editor you'll ever meet. Don't get me wrong: at work, I can be as meticulous and dogmatic as the next guy, if the next guy is another editor. It's our job; it's what we do.
However, I have little patience with the increasing ranks of grammar police out there, patrolling everyone's casual conversation and communication.

You know them: they're on Facebook, and in the comments sections on a million websites, correcting everyone's typos and dispensing the rules of usage for "there," "they're," and "their" with a sneer of condescension. Before the digital age, they were the ones interrupting your cocktail party anecdotes with "you split your infinitive, dear" or "don't end a sentence with a preposition."

This phenomenon is represented by T-Rex in the following cartoon.

See? Even dinosaurs knew better. So c'mon everyone, a little patience, a little kindness. Sure, if your pal is having you review their resume ("they" as a single gender neutral pronoun is another favorite topic for me) or the report they're presenting to the management committee, correct away--you're helping!

Otherwise, you're just being T-Rex in panel 5. By panel 6, nobody will be his pal anymore. Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Glorious Saturday of Fabulousness

Last Saturday was beautiful. I was rarin' to get to the garden. Mulch Boy wanted to do our Big Shop at the grocery store first. I ungraciously acquiesced and was a pouty-pants the whole time. I apologize, Mulch. I was just very very anxious to get as much done as possible before our dinner plans (day-before-Easter dinner with the Besties* and their family).

As I've mentioned before, I usually have a plan of sorts, but rarely do I follow it in any kind of linear fashion. Saturday's plan went something like this:
  • Plant the rest of the perennials.
  • Plant the rest of the vegetable garden.
  • Bag all the yard waste we've created in the last couple of weeks.
  • Water everything.
In practice, the plan went like this:

Stare at the Backyard a Lot

Part of planting the rest of the vegetables included finding a good location for the asparagus. I didn't want to put it in the big vegetable garden, as we till and turn the entire thing every year and asparagus, being perennial, wants to sit still and not be dug up. The backyard was the desired location, but all backyard locations face the twin challenges of finding sufficient sunlight and avoiding the marauding forces of dogs.

When it comes down to it, there are really only two spots that are sunny enough to consider growing veg in: one by the fence that I turned into a rose garden last year, and the space in front of the porch, where we planted our very first vegetable plants (the first victims of our inexperience and unreasonable optimism) and where I'd since transplanted a daphne shrub and planted false indigo and some herbs, who have mostly thrived. [Editor's note: I apologize to the world for this awful, awful sentence. I horrify myself.]

Dogs are a whole other problem. Dogs are everywhere. Including the only two sunny spots. There is no stopping Dogs. However, some places are doggier than others. Charlie and Rosie have definite established paths (racetracks might be a more apt term.) There is no corner they haven't nosed into in the backyard, but the racetracks are where the high-speed chases (and the most damage) occur.

Thus, the best strategy is to avoid planting anywhere near a racetrack. That ruled out Location 1 by the fence, making Location 2 by the porch the winner in the asparagus lottery.

Bag Yard Trash and Drag It to the Street

Earlier Mulch Boy had asked whether we'd start with cleaning up the yard trash. "No," said I, "I want to do all planting first, that's most important! Planting first!"

Problem is, after all that Staring at the Backyard a Lot, I got annoyed by all the leaves blown into the corners of the porch and patio, and the trash from the previous day's planting. So, bagging. Then I thought, well, the back patio is a mess, too, and dragged my bags back there.

Oh wait, there's the junk I cleared out of the shed last weekend. Let's get that all out of here. I dragged everything down towards the house and the gate. Where I encountered the junk we never got rid of last year that was stacked against the porch to keep a beagle who shall remain nameless from sneaking under the porch and getting trapped. I decided all must go!

Multiple trips to the front yard (and one beagle escape) later, all the backyard mess was now a front yard mess. Luckily, the front yard mess gets picked up every Friday, so that was a good development.

Uproot Daphne, Put in Asparagus

Back to asparagus. Its planting location selected after ample staring, the next step was to make room in its proposed new home. In other words, a current tenant was going to have to be evicted.  There were only two residents to choose from: the daphne and the false indigo.

Now Mulch Boy generally leaves the plant selection for the yard to me. But on rare occasions when he's being dragged endlessly around the nursery, he will spy some piece of greenery that he falls in love with and wants to add to our garden. Because of this, his are the last plants I'll consider moving or changing, and I'll only do so with his permission. Basically, he gets to decide what happens to his plants (such as the heather).

And so with the false indigo. It was one of Mulch's picks, and it's done very well in its spot by the porch. So I turned to Daphne.

Poor Daphne. Before we moved into the little blue house, the previous owners planted several perfectly nice shrubs along the dark side of the house. They languished in tiny holes no bigger than their root-bound selves, invisible unless you decided to walk through the virtual tunnel formed between our house and neighbor's house and their holly trees.

Daphne was one of these poor refugees. When I discovered her, I dug her up (she was barely more than a tangle of dead branches with a few leaves of barely living green) and transplanted her in front of the porch (after a severe trimming of her dead wood). I was determined to give her a chance at survival.

Survive she did, too! In fact, she survived so well she nearly took over the entire area in the space of two years, and I cut her nearly to the ground last year to start over. Which she did, and now she's once again 4 feet wide. Which gave me the confidence to dig her up again because, apparently, she's immortal.

Daphne on the patio. "How did I get here?"

So out came Daphne and in went the asparagus. Then up went the wire enclosure that, hopefully, will keep curious dogs from uprooting my newly planted asparagus crowns. At least they're not in the path of the racetrack. Daphne meanwhile is temporarily squatting in one of the compost piles until I decide where her new permanent home will be.

Asparagus. Not yet at the ornamental stage.

Plant the Daisies and Rearrange the "Source" of the Dry Creek Bed

I love our dry creek bed. Every time I look at it, I smile because WOW we did that all on our own! Not only does our basement no longer flood, but our backyard and vegetable garden look so much prettier. While not the intent of the original plan, the dry creek bed has created beautiful borders to several flower beds and the vegetable garden, and transformed the side of the yard into the most beautiful corner in the backyard.

One part of the creek that's bugged me, though, was the "source," the spot where the whole thing starts. My intent was to create the effect of a spring rising from below a boulder and then forming a stream. Somehow, it ended up looking odd and blocky in the end, and I was never pleased with the effect.

Saturday, I had a vision. The daisies! Yes, the daisies would make everything right! Originally they were to go in the Beautiful Corner, but their true purpose was now clear. I would narrow the creek bed at the top, rearrange the rocks, put in the daisies. So I did. You can't really tell from this picture (and maybe it's only this way in my brain), but it came out beautifully. I get up in the morning and look out the bedroom window to check it out every day. Funny what little things make you happy.

English daisies! Is there such a thing as a bad daisy? I say NO. I am pleased out of
proportion with this little arrangement. Also, Jengo Fett is sitting on top of the
boulder. Garden art.

Oh Yeah, Plant the Vegetable Garden

Wasn't that higher up on the list? Ah well.

Seeds. I planted bush beans, carrots, parsnips, and beets. I even used a ruler and (semi) marked the rows. This is progress for me. I felt very professional.

Professional gardening kit: cookie sheet with seed packets, my
gardening guide, gloves, favorite trowel (seriously, best trowel ever),
stake, and empty bottle of Gatorade.

Wow, it looks... just like before! Trust me, everything's been planted.
How's that for a productive day in the garden? And I haven't even told you about Mulch Boy's labors (that will be the next post). Suffice it to say, we slept soundly that night.

*The Besties = our good friends, our best man and our maid of honor.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Taters et. al.

As you may recall, we had an unexpected snow a week ago. This and the chilly winds that persisted the rest of the week kept me out of the garden until Friday, when the temperature climbed up a bit and the sun graced us with brightness. And so after work, I came home determined to finally get my potatoes in the ground and (hopefully) some of those perennials that inexplicably leaped into the car at the garden center the previous weekend.
First things first: gather together the necessaries.

They're alive! English daisies, pincushion flower, and those brown grass...  things.

Seed taters.
Next, a tour of the landscape. Got to put those new plants somewhere. Oh the difference a year makes. What was a dumpy trashy corner this time last year is now our proudest little corner in the backyard.

We still think we're geniuses for pulling this off.
Now in that back right corner was the first heather I ever successfully grew. Mulch Boy picked it out his own self at the garden center, despite my misgivings, and astonishingly it has thrive despite ongoing abuse by dog traffic--in a flattened state, to be sure, but still.

However, Mulch Boy was no longer pleased with poor smashed heather's appearance and wanted to have it replaced with brand-new unsmashed heather. Since heather was technically "his," I could not argue in good conscience, and so condoned the purchase of three new little heathers to replace our stalwart veteran. And so they relieved the old soldier on Friday.
Left, young whippersnappers. Right, grizzled veteran, suspicious of the new arrivals
(Quick parenthetical remark: I bought the new heather on impulse at the Dee-Pot, forgetting that You Should Never Buy Plants at the Dee-Pot. These poor things turned out to be so root-bound, they seemed to be potted twice: once in a plastic pot, and inside that again in another pot made of a solid mass of roots. It took several acts of great violence to pry apart the solid roots enough to make them semi-suitable to plant.)

Free from their root-bound prisons! Fenced in for protection from over-curious beagles.
I have a tendency to anthropomorphize...  well, a lot of things, including sometimes my plants. We have three boxwoods named Big Julie, Nicely-Nicely, and Harry the Horse, just to give you an idea of things around here. I had not named this poor old retired heather, but I had become attached to him (!) and didn't like the idea of just trashing him when he was still alive and healthy, albeit scraggly.

Once he was out of the ground, I notice that many of the branches (thoughtfully mashed into the soil previously by Charlie) had developed roots. I decided to tear old heather into pieces and see if I could turn my first successful heather into a whole new generation of heather. The result: nine potential new heather plants, trailing up the side of the yard and to the very back. If they succeed, free plants! If they fail, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Here are some pictures in which I swear the new heather transplants are shown, but are nearly invisible. I will take better pictures after Mulch Madness, when they will surely show up better.
See right there in the middle?

Three more.  I swear!

There's one there in the right center. Hey, and behind is one of
last week's forsythia transplants and it's not dead yet!

Three more, in front of the boulders.

Last one, all by himself.
This was actually the last thing I did on Friday evening before Mulch Boy got home, but because Blogger doesn't seem to want me to reorder these photos, I'm forced to tell the tale out of order.

Anyway, before any of the heather adventure, I took my seed potatoes out to the veg garden and finally got them in the ground. Turns out we bought rather a lot of seed potatoes. Twice as many as I'd actually mapped for in the garden. I planted them all anyway. Potatoes are fun. For some reason, they seem more improbable than anything else we've ever grown (maybe because we don't know anyone else who grows them), but they are one of our most successful crops. Fifty potato plants for two people? Sure, why not?

This year, I actually used a ruler, and made little trenches, and EVERYTHING.
The top section is Kennebec. The middle section is... uh... red ones. The bottom
section is the other ones that came prepackaged. Yeah, those ones.
I also got those brown grass... things planted on the side of the house by the dry creek bed, flanking the drainpipe where it enters the creek bed. It's very artistic and lovely, but you'll have to trust me because I forgot to take a picture before I got involved in The Great Heather Transplant project, and then Mulch Boy came home and said "You've been out here three hours, get your arse inside and let's eat pasta carbonara," and really you can't argue with logic like that.

Dill knows what time it is

Cul de Sac

Mulch Madness begins today! (That is, 7 cubic yards of mulch will be dumped in the driveway this afternoon.)