Path, Finale!

I have been working very hard to complete the garden path and it is done!  I am very pleased with how it came out.  I am waiting for a good rainstorm to finish cleaning the rocks as there was a fair amount of dirt that came along with them, but given how the weather has been lately, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Completed path, reverse view             Completed path

Most of the bricks are a grey-blue but I included two red bricks.  I am crazy enough that I pulled out a lot of the reddish rocks and surrounded this brick with them.  It’s really too subtle for anyone but me to notice.  People won’t know unless I tell them.

Path detailMy flower beds in the back have been terribly neglected and need weeding.  Well, properly, they need mulch.  If I’d mulched them back in May when I cleaned them up they’d still be in great shape.  (Mental note: buy mulch).  After that I will be freed up to finish working on the front flower bed where the pebbles in the garden path came from.

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Strawberry season

Prices are coming down on strawberries so I’m buying up what I can so that I have stock to turn into jam.  I might have gotten too much.  This is me preparing part of 25 lbs of strawberries.  I washed, hulled, sliced, and froze all of them yesterday.  It works out to five 1-gallon ziptop plastic bags.Preparing StrawberriesOrdinarily I wouldn’t recommend freezing strawberries as they turn to mush when defrosted but since these will become jam the mush actually works in my favor.  When I’m making jam from still-fresh strawberries I will sprinkle them with some of the sugar and allow the sugar to macerate them; it makes mashing them so much easier.  This is what the twenty-five pounds of berries looks like.  It doesn’t seem like so much in the photo.

25 lbs of strawberriesI also took stock (ha ha ha) of my inventory of preserves.  The top shelf is strawberry jam and applesauce, next down are pureed tomatoes and apple cider jelly.  The last shelf has salsa, roasted and pickled bell peppers, and chicken stock.  Based on what I know of how we use them, I know I will also need to make pureed tomatoes, salsa and chicken stock.

PreservesMaking jam or preserving vegetables is fairly straightforward but it is important to follow a reliable recipe.  I’ve seen some fairly unsafe canning suggestions out there.  In a home kitchen you just cannot safely can pureed pumpkin, or flavored oils.  You also need a pressure canner to preserve products containing meat, like the chicken stock.

The rules for chicken stock are different from the jam.  not only does it have to be done in a pressure canner but you need more headspace at the top of the jar.  You can see that space in the photo above.  The white stuff in between the stock and the lid is probably a combination of chicken fat and “scum”.  The scum is what rises to the top of the pot as the chicken is cooked into stock, and clearly I was too lazy to properly skim off the scum and later to lazy to properly remove all of the chicken fat.  Too much fat can compromise the seal on the jar so even though I check the seals when I move the jars to the basement for storage, I check them again when I pull the jars out.

If you ever have a jar that hasn’t sealed properly you will almost certainly have to throw out the contents.  The only exception is if the seal fails in the original canning and you catch it right away.



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Path, Part 1?

I am tired.  Seriously tired, but for a good reason.  I am half way to a new path next to the driveway!  Once again I didn’t properly get a “before” photo.  These were taken when I had already started at the street end and had removed the existing stone wall and started digging the base.

Before    canon 003

I  think it was almost two years ago that I asked my friend J to help dig out this path.  We struggled with a rented rototiller and after an hour gave up and confessed our butts were kicked–not something we readily admit.  It was only on returning it that the store clerk said, “well you know you need to remove this piece so it will dig properly.” Uh, no we did not. He also said, “and they told you at pick up that it will run more smoothly if you do…” Uhhh, that would be negative again.

We were so mad.  And tired.

In order to buy some time while I decided what to do about the path I put down some red mulch and ignored the problem.  Well, the time to ignore is over!

I dug the path, and then went back and re-dug it deeper to allow the gravel to actually stay on the path and not in the driveway.  I started at about 10:30 am and the digging was done a little after 3:00 when M came home from school.  I lost count at about 20 5-gallon Home Depot buckets.  I am very grateful to DH for taking the buckets from the driveway and putting them on my dirt pile.  We sort of ran out of room for more dirt but the other places to stash it were too far to carry.

dirt pileI think I can start thinking about that raised bed now.  I’ve got the dirt to fill it now.  The pile is almost waist high.

I rebuilt the stone wall.  It is tucked into the cutting I made in the ground, which means I could make the wall about 3 rocks high and it still lies flush with the grass.

Stone wall

The black layer is landscape fabric which is supposed to stop weeds from growing while allowing water to pass through.  In reality I find that some weeds work their way through the fabric, and others simply grow on top of the landscape fabric in the dirt that ends up there.  So why did I put it down?  Because I had some in the garden shed and it does not need to be there for the mice to nest in, and because perhaps and maybe there are some weeds it will 011

It still needs gravel between the bricks, that will be Part 2, but that is a whole ‘nother project as I need to collect the rocks from elsewhere in the garden.  I’m not sold on the pattern of bricks but it’s a start and I still need some more bricks to complete the pathway.

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Oh Deer Fence!

Is this where I put the joke about the best defense is a good deer fence?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  Deer can be a big problem for gardeners–you open the shades and your plants are cropped to the ground, or you are left with Addams Family-like shrubs.  Our yard is fenced, and one side has tall forsythia shrubs down the length of it, but we lost a section of fence last year and the deer have found us out.

I can see there is a deer trail running down the hill past our house, so my hope is that by protecting the gates and fences at the top of the hill I will prevent most of their visits.  To that end I have attached bamboo poles, harvested locally and donated by kind friends.  I used plastic conduit straps and decking screws to allow them to with stand the weather and I’m hoping they won’t create too much additional strain on the fence posts.

Bamboo deer defence

Some people say that 7 feet is height enough, but I’m not taking chances, these poles are much higher.  Since the goal is to deter the deer I’ve left some of the cross branches intact. If I find the deer are still coming over the fence and through the bamboo, I can add deer mesh at a later date.

Another option that I saw this weekend, and provides a nice rustic look.  Branches are trimmed to the central pole and crossed through metal mesh netting.  Baling wire holds the fence in place.  Since the support poles are pushed through the wire mesh, you could have the mesh extend higher than illustrated below.

Deer fenceI’ve seen a number of the black plastic mesh fences and I must say they do disappear quite well, all you can see are the posts holding the mesh.  Other elements that I am considering using are trellises and lattice panels.

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Stealing Ideas: Garden Paths

I once had a teacher tell me “if you like something, steal it!” Her larcenous ideas were for when you see a dance movement you like, that you should copy it, but the same applies for gardening ideas.

This weekend I went away and saw some wonderful gardens and stole some great ideas.  This collection is of interesting garden paths.

This first example is made from timbers and adds to a Japanese atmosphere in front of a very American Colonial style house.

Japanese-style wooden pathPlease excuse the quality of the photography.  I was in a rush to get a photo the path, omg the path is so awesome! that camera technique sort of lapsed.

I’m guessing it’s cedar or other untreated hardwood.  While one could use pressure treated wood, it would leech some serious chemicals into the ground.  I love the staggered line and the grand curve of the path.  Since it rained the whole time I was visiting, I didn’t get a chance to see how the wood looks when dry.  I’d love to see how that changes the way it looks.

Another path idea I like is one I’ve thought of using in the garden here.  I created a path along the driveway and it needs finishing.  I love some of the ways people use stepping stones through gravel.

Stepping stones in gravelThis path has a Japanese air to it as well, albeit a modern Japanese one.  Purely coincidence, I assure you.  This path is made with perfect squares, but I’m inclined toward irregularly shaped rocks.  Unfortunately, I have learned from experience (ahem) that the irregularly shaped stepping stones are irregularly flat on the tops and bottoms and are difficult to lay firmly flat.

The last path is photographed from a formal garden.  Although it’s at a non-profit, their budget for materials is clearly higher than mine.  They used slate edging stones to divide the gravel paths from the formal planting beds.

Gravel pathBack at home the gravel paths are lined with rocks of all lumpy sorts and sizes but of course my rocks are free since I’m forever digging them up.  I can create a similar look with concrete bricks, but perhaps red brick would look better.

I also was noticing that in this formal garden they hardly need to use mulch because the plants are so closely planted together.  This is something I am striving for but am really not yet there.  This pair of beds is densely planted with lavender.

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Gutters and gutter covers

I’ve been putting it off for long enough.  The gutters get pretty awful this time of year because the oak trees drop those string things.  They get pretty bad in the autumn too.  When I peeked my head over the edge of the roof this is what I saw:


Oh my that’s gross.  I’ve come up to find the gutters full to the brim, and once the gutter was full of teenie tiny maple sprouts in a lovely pale green from end to end.  Can I tell you something else about the gunk that gets in the gutter?  The bottom is always wet and it smell of poop.  Not the phrase “it smells like poop” but that it smells like a pack of dogs came up and relieved themselves here.  I know the neighborhood dogs are talented but … not that talented.


DuringI had another shot of the length of the gutter before I’d put any of the gutter covers but not only did I manage to have my finger in the photo, but I didn’t realize it until just now.  That’s a special kind of smart to do that.  As you can see I installed gutter covers while I was up there.  They slip under the shingles on one side and the other side clips onto the outside of the gutters.  They go in pretty quickly, the difficulty predictably being getting up to the gutters without getting the willies.
AfterLook at how clean and white the gutter covers look.  Enjoy it now because I’m sure they won’t stay that way.  I’m not altogether sold on the white mesh on top of the diamonds–I fear it will catch the oak string things and make the rain just roll off the gutters altogether.  I do feel confident that any water that makes it to the gutter will drain away properly and if needed I can use a utility knife and strip the mesh away.

I have a lot of other gutters that need cleaning and covering.  I did everything I can reach and I will need an extension ladder to get the rest.  And I will need a large dose of chutspah since some of the gutters are waay up.  Those are the ones I really want covered since they will hardly be cleaned very often.  Forza!

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About Spades

Someone asked me what makes an edging shovel an edging shovel–because aren’t they really all the same thing?  Not exactly.  You can use them interchangeably but you won’t get great results and you will probably work quite hard if you have the wrong tool.

These are three of the spades I have.  On the left is one I don’t use very often.  It works best for picking up things from a hard ground, like for putting mulch into a wheelbarrow.  Its flat edge allows you to scrape along the ground to collect stuff.  Next is my favorite one (nerd!) and it is best for digging holes.  The pointed edge allows you to get the blade into the ground more easily.  The one on the right is the edging shovel.  It has a thin and flat blade that isn’t very wide, and when you look closely you can see it has a slightly sharpened edge.

004Each of these has a spot to put your foot for greater leverage, and each is angled so you can pull the handle down to lever your payload if needed.  They also have a D-shaped handle which is also helpful.

You can use hole digger for edging but the smaller point means you will get more of a scalloped edge.  The flat mulching shovel is too dull to be an effective edger.  If you use the edger to lift mulch or dirt I think you could actually bend the blade since it is so flat.

Come Winter I will discourse on snow shovels and the merits of ice choppers, if you are so inclined!  LOL!

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It’s been so hard to get anything done lately but finally I achieved real progress today.  I did paint touch-ups around the house and when telling Charlotte about it I realized I used red, blue, yellow and white.  Gee, I could have been painting a portrait.  In the afternoon I worked in the yard and re-edged the river rock plant bed.  Before and after shots:

Before It’s pretty amazing the difference.  I have an edging spade–I know, crazy, right?–and it has a very flat blade that inserts nicely and creates an edge as you go.  By cutting down into the sod you cut the rhizomes (runners) from the grass in the lawn so that you minimize the lawn-creep into the flower beds.

I still need to do the rest of the edges all over the yard, but this is the place where it’s the most noticeable.  Further down in the lawn I need to transplant lilies of the valley while I re-edge so that job will be a tad more involved.

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Hurricane Sandy

We have been very fortunate to be only minimally affected by the storm.  Tuesday night was pretty awful, the wind sounded like a train passing very close to the house.  I was reading “Winter Holiday” to Margaret and as it happened we were on the bit where Dick and Dorothea are on the sledge with the sail and are in a blizzard flying on the ice.  Very appropriate, but really, the sound effects were unnecessary, tyvm.

Hubs and I went outside briefly but I felt that one could just as easily be beaned by branches while standing on the front lawn as if you were driving your car out in the weather.  We scurried back in.  Power went out at about 9pm and by some strange but wonderful miracle we had power back within 24 hours!  I spent Wednesday morning picking up branches but really the cleanup took maybe an hour or two all told.  Not bad at all, particularly when neighbors have whole trees uprooted.

We’ve had people over for hot showers and hot meals–I’m so glad we have lots of food in the freezer!  We’ll have more tonight so I’ll see what we can defrost.  It’s kind of nice to have extra people to cook for.

I think our preparations were pretty good.  I still worry about the trees when we have a big storm but I’m not exactly going to cut down the seven or so giant oak trees “just in case”.  We brought in some of the small potted herbs, and harvested our potatoes.  Oddly enough the potatoes were already sprouting but they were still small plants.  I’m not sure what is up with THAT.  It was super neat when we dumped the potato buckets because in three of them we found newts!  Two were adults and one was a baby (an eft, I think they are called).  We were careful to leave them alone, though we were worried they got hurt in the dumping process.  They did go away when our backs we turned so I hope they weren’t hurt too badly.

I threw extra rocks on the tarp over the woodpile and it didn’t budge–probably because it was tucked in tightly and had 200 lbs of rocks on top.  We winterized a lot of stuff, taking in the hammock and hoses and lawn chairs.  Pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down got put in the shed or otherwise secured.  Our shed has a tendency to come open in a big wind so I rolled a giant log and left it on end to hold the doors shut.  Hubs said that if the wind is strong enough to blow THAT open, it’s strong enough to blow the shed over.

We have lots of batteries on hand that we rarely use.  I found that the LED flashlight was better than the ordinary ones, so I think I’ll get some more of those in time.  We have one flashlight that I got as a freebie from a vendor while I was still working, the thing must be almost 15 years old since we stopped using Ingram Micro years before I left!  The thing just won’t quit!

We had some of the glow jewelry left from parties but I think some of the thicker glow sticks will be a good idea for next time.  They are pretty bright and will provide night lights for my scared-of-the-dark kids.  We did put glowing bracelets around the flash light handles in their rooms so they could find them, but the girls didn’t want to just keep the flashlights on, bless their hearts.  The glow sticks are nice since they are not an open flame, nor do they need batteries.

I’m also glad I filled my tank before the storm.  We were advised that the governor is rationing gas–actually not so much rationing but scheduling when people can buy.  Odd license plate numbers can only get gas on odd days, and vice versa.  I think I have half a tank still.  I’d have more gas but I had arthroscopic knee surgery yesterday!  How amazing is that they they still went ahead with it!  My surgeon said he didn’t have power at his house, and a number of the nursing staff said the same.  I imagine that the hospital was a nice place to go for them–lights and heat plus hot showers.  I have to say that everyone at Hackensack Hospital was so very nice.  So it was a good thing we had enough gas to get there and back since it’s not our closest hospital, it’s the one where my surgeon works.

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DIY Tricks, follow up

Following up to my prior post about DIY Tricks, I tried letting the peroxide sit for longer on the pan and it really was no better for me than waiting about 5-10 minutes.  I’ve been using Barkeeper’s Friend and I find it works better then ordinary cleanser, so I’m settling for Barkeeper’s Friend plus elbow grease for now.

I’ve been quite busy with the kids this summer–this is the fallout for not having regular full day camp.  I think the kids like it, me not so much.  They have found many new and interesting ways to argue and bicker.  My current trick is to separate them wen they fight and then when they come out of timeout they have to do a chore.  If nothing else the windows on my sliding doors will be so sparkly.  They are also good at sweeping the kitchen floor, that particular job is Charlotte’s favorite right now.  Can you see it? a four year old sweeping with a full-sized broom.  Watch out for the back swing!

We did do one week that was nothing but adventures.  We went to Hoboken one day and played at Elysian Fields.  I want to stop and appreciate the name “Elysian Fields” which is the name for the ancient Greek heaven.  It is also said to be the place where the first organized game of baseball was played.  If that isn’t evocative and lyrical …  We brought a picnic lunch, I brought a novel, the girls played and got wet in the sprinkler and I read.  We even found a stupendous parking spot, which in Hoboken is unheard of.  Hoboken is a combination of a college town and a place where young professionals live so there are lots of apartments, lots of people with cars, and never enough parking.

We went into New York another day and played in the sprinklers at their favorite park, Tear Drop Park.  They love the ferry ride and they love the long slide in the park.

We went to The Newark Museum and had lots of fun there.  I let the girls decide what to do as we went through.  We started at an exhibit on healthy eating and exercise for kids.  I liked the Xbox Kinect best, Margaret liked outwitting the docent as to which foods were healthiest.  She *knows* she should eat vegetables, it just has yet to translate into *eating* those veggies.  There were  some fun rooms with dress-up: one was a dressing as people from Tibet, and in the fire museum they dressed as fire fighters and valiantly fought many imaginary fires.

We had one day with back-to-back story times at the library, and one day when we went to the pool for most of the day and we all got sunburned.

As you can see, it leaves very little time for fixing the stuff that is going wrong in the house, and forget about starting something new.  I have some exterior bits that need painting but I never seem to have both a dry day and free time.  The can of paint is still on my desk. I have plans, though.  Oh yes, I have plans.

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