Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sea Lion and Polka Dots: Coleus and Begonia

If you had asked me a few months ago how polka dots were invented, I would have told you they were a product of the endlessly fascinating human imagination. But, in fact, there is a polka dotted plant. Who knew?

I came across it this spring, when I was exploring the annuals at Rosedale, my favorite nursery. This one is so pretty, I might have to take it indoors this fall -- something I never do. In fact, there are two plants I might take indoors. Or maybe three.

I've had houseplants in the past, I usually do still have one or two, but I'm notoriously bad with them. I forget to water them, and they get dustier and dustier and the sad ones hang on far too long before they die. My favorites are the rosemarys. They look like they're still alive, and then you go to water them and touch the foliage and they've dried on the bush, totally dead as a door nail.

The last time I killed a round of houseplants, I was living in the city, and I put the live ones out on the sidewalk, one by one, and one by one they disappeared into other city dwellers apartments, usually within a half hour.

But this plant, I've already had to work to keep alive. I brought it home and put it on the patio, and it almost burned to a crisp within a week. So then I put it behind another plant on the shadiest side of the patio, and it did fine, but was completely and totally invisible. Why buy a plant like this, if its not visible.

So yesterday, I shifted around some plants. I took this coleus, which is named sea lion, out of the yard, where it was baking and had stopped growing, and put it in a pot on the front porch, where it is a perfect foil for the polka dotted begonia.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Stick Furniture and fallen leaves

This is apropo of nothing, but we went to a fair a couple of weeks ago in upstate New York, and there we saw a table made with sticks for legs, many, many legs: 

I said to Capel -- I want one of those, and he promptly crawled underneath to see  how it was made. They're just sticks with the bark peeled off.

Later, on our way home, we found a mysteriously beautiful green pond. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The end of the voles? Eliminating voles from the garden ...

Spoiler alert, this blog post includes photos of dead voles in traps. Don't read on if that's not your bag.

In the last month, I've mentioned a couple times that I seem to have developed a vole problem in the back garden, off the studio. Last summer, there was a friendly and totally cute chipmunk in that garden, who used the drainpipes and patio pots as convenient hiding and perching spots. This summer, I've never spotted the chipmunk, and instead, nasty two-inch sized animal holes started popping up in unexpected places. They seemed to pop up and then disappear in the yard, but in the garden, they popped up and stayed, mostly masked by the growing zinnias. When I weeded, in July, I found three or so.

This was combined with a weak spot in the yard, just outside the studio garden, that started slowly sinking. And then one day without warning, the area developed into a sink-hole about two feet in diameter and a foot deep. We plugged it with a log, temporarily, and then filled it in with dirt, and lo and behold the next day another small exit hole popped up beside it.

That was when I realized we had some sort of critter issue. I started looking online and, fairly quickly, determined that the problem must be voles. I learned that voles like to eat the roots of plants as well as tulip and crocus bulbs, and that they love hostas. I went and explored the one hosta in the angle of the studio garden off the patio, and sure enough, something had been munching around its base:

It doesn't take much poking around on the web to realize that there are many ideas about encouraging voles to leave the garden, and no agreement about what works, except for trapping. Multiple sources suggest that the only real way to eliminate voles (short of poison) is to trap them. They are apparently prolific, and not dealing with a vole problem can apparently result in a population explosion in a very short time. And everyone agrees that feeding birds enourages the critters.

I thought about that for a few weeks, finally stopped feeding the birds, and another week later, rummaged around and found my little stock of mouse traps, baited them with peanut butter and put them in the garden, unset, to see what was what. Something ate the peanut butter.

I let the traps sit for a week in the garden, untouched. Then last weekend, Capel and I pulled them back out of the garden, wearing gloves to try to avoid scenting them up with the odor from our hands, baited and set them and put them back.

Nothing. I went out the next morning and the peanut butter had been eaten from one, which remained unsprung. The others had been moved slightly, but were otherwise untouched. I left them alone, disappointed.

Then this weekend, my fall bulbs arrived. I'd ordered them back in mid-August, before I realized I had a vole problem. Now, I thought, I really have to deal with these voles. I'm not going to plant dozens of bulbs only to provide a tasty winter smorgasbord for the critters.

Saturday morning, out we went for a laundry list of weapons to combat voles: 1) traps, 2) granulated castor oil, 3) spray castor oil, 4) sharp gravel, 5) hardware cloth and wire to make bulb boxes.

I came back and waded into the studio garden. Those disappointing traps? There were dead voles in two!

So. I waded into the zinnias. Pulling them up from the roots and watching holes multiply under my eyes. Areas where the ground was soft and gave way, where either the voles were living or eating roots, or just multiple exit routes from a den? I don't know.

It all got dug up. Then, I dumped in a couple of bags of sharp gravel, which apparently they don't like to dig through, and mixed that up into the top 3-4 inches of garden soil.

Interestingly, just to the right is a bed of naturalized grape hyacinth, that hasn't been touched at all. So it is true that some bulbs discourage the voles. I had been doing research in the evenings, and learned that several of the bulb types I'd ordered are poisonous to voles, and so those got planted throughout the bed. No tulips. No crocuses. Only the bulbs that voles won't eat.

Last, I dealt with the largest entrance hole, which seemed to be the "main entrance", so to speak, to the den. 

Sure enough, underneath it and in the vicinity were several areas of empty air, about a foot down, between the yard and the garden, and with a convenient "exit" into the garden directly up into a tangle of oregano:

Capel helped to fill all that in entirely with dirt. And I added gravel there, too, for good measure.

Then I planted my "poisonous" bulbs:  lycoris radiata, and fritillaria meleagris. All of this fol-de-rol took up the whole morning. 

Meanwhile, Capel had fashioned tulip boxes out of what is called hardware cloth. Cloth is a misnomer. It's like chicken-wire with small, square holes. Nasty on the arms. 

Instead of sprinkling my tulips around among several beds, I decided to concentrate them all in the new corner garden in the front yard, and protect them with homemade tulip boxes. There hasn't been any sign of voles up front, except for near the front porch. But, I figure, if I eradicate them from the back garden, the nearest place to go is, you got it, the front garden!

Since I put that garden in this spring, there are no spring bulbs in it. So this is my chance to protect them once and for all. Except the lilies, that is.

Long-story later, boxes ...

These are made with 1/4" hardware cloth, wired together. The tops are a separate square of 1/2" hardware cloth. I filled the boxes with tulips and dirt (and hyacinth and crocus, in a few cases), then wired the tops on with red twist-ties, and covered the tops loosely with a bit of dirt. I'll go back and mulch them for the winter. In the spring, I'll take off the mulch and the tops, to let the tulips sprout. And then after the tulips flower and the foliage browns and dies, I'll put the box tops back on.

It got dark long before all the bulbs were in. It's much slower to plant them by digging up entire foot-wide squares of garden.

So yesterday morning, in a driving mist, I planted a few more, and then went back over the studio garden with granulated castor oil.

Capel is quite proud of his handiwork. And, for a guy who doesn't like to garden, it's a pretty big investment in the health of a couple dozen tulips. So, let me advertise his vole boxes, custom crafted, handmade by ... The Ossining Vole Box Company. Cheap, except for the labor (10 boxes, two sizes, 6 hours).

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A day in the life ... DIY September mania (and on the 7th day she rested)

A few weeks ago, Capel declared a fiat. No DIY projects on Sundays. I went along reluctantly the first Sunday. The second Sunday I enjoyed myself. Yesterday, Saturday, I noticed a curious effect. I worked harder and more efficiently because I knew I was taking today off.

But it's September. There's a lot to do before winter sets in. And I was thinking, as I raced around from thing to thing yesterday, that on this blog I present each topic discretely. But in reality, I am always juggling multiple projects and errands and other chores around the house. I'm sure this is totally normal.

I'm beginning to learn that part of the skill is in managing the juggling (just as in my professional world), in defining priorities, and what does and does not have to be perfect, and managing the stressors, to stave off burnout. So today, I am going to write about the juggling.

My primary project yesterday was to assess the repair of the shingle siding on the southeast corner of the house, caulk the siding at the corner trim and prime the siding. And, at the same time to prime three other bits of wood around the house that needed primer. And to ... clear out last winter's ashes from the fireplace (don't ask), clean the bathrooms, do the bills, check the wood under the downspout on the northwest corner, put in one of the new screens, take out the A/C, order herbs, go to the farmer's market, do something with the bumper crop of tomatoes, repair the corner trim, get grass seed and put it down, do some paperwork, water, and put down traps for the voles!

First thing I did was to negotiate a division of labor with Capel. He took on the bathrooms and bills. And bringing out ladder ...

While I went to the farmer's market. What a great division of labor! Corn. Pears. Apples. Mums.

Then Capel went off to the city for a volunteer job, and I was off to the races.

Up first: evaluate last week's repair of the siding on the southeast corner ... where I am worried that the siding is sticking up past the edge of the corner trim, like so. Is it perfect? NO! Is it acceptable. Well ...

I look around. Wait, just a foot away on the studio addition, the siding sticks out past the window trim. And there don't seem to be major issues there.

I walk around the entire house. It's not common, but does exist elsewhere. And nowhere does it seem to cause major issues. So then. Done is done. (Or, as Sheryl Sandberg quotes more than once in her recent book Lean In, "Done is better than perfect.")

On to caulking. I assemble my tools.

Back to the southeast corner ... caulk. Where I have company ...

It takes a little trial and error, but it comes out clean. I'm pretty proud of that bead, if I do say so myself. Pause for minor celebration.

Then I leave the caulk to set up and go on to the next project ... installing the last of the new screens for the year (yes, I am aware that it is almost October, but it is perfect sleeping weather for open windows and I want an open window beside my bed. I've wanted an open window beside my bed for two years, but with cats, I can't open a window without a screen. ... And you've seen the cats. They want out!)

I wish they would catch the voles, I think, for the thousandth time, rounding the corner of the zinnia bed and noticing again what seems to be the most well used of the vole holes ...

I put away the caulk tools and bring up Screen #11 for the bedroom.

It's getting warm out. A beautiful, sunny fall day. I shed the second layer of the day, going straight to sleeveless tee, with glee. 

On my various trips around the house, I've noticed that all of the flower pots and hanging pots look parched, so I bring in the watering can to remind me ...

Then it's up to the bedroom to take out the A/C ... which frees up a great extension cord for the drill ...

And unhook the storm window, preparatory to taking it out.

Then, watering. Poor things, it was a dry sunny week, and despite the cold weather, they're all a bit fried ...

But it's a gorgeous, gorgeous day ...

And Minky keeps following me from window to window ...

I stop to smell the roses ... um, geraniums ...

And, because it's lunch time, I take a few moments in the garden to pick all the ripe tomatoes. And to notice, by the by, that my favorite 8 foot dahlia has started to fall over and needs to be tied up to a stake.

I eat two tomatoes for lunch, set aside two for dinner, and spend my lunch looking at recipes for roasting tomatoes to go into the freezer. 

A colleague from work, Gretchen, happened to mention Friday that this is the time of year she makes sauces and pestos, salsas, and any and everything tomato-y from her extra tomatoes. I told her I have a few extra and never know what to do with them. Roast them, she said, and put them in the freezer for the winter. So, I take her advice. Core them. Garlic them up. And pop them in the oven.

Then, it's back to work. Tools for hanging a screen ...

Then it's up the ladder I go. 

What a beautiful day!

I decide to investigate the front and corners of the house first, and go up and down, checking for soundness and repairs needed. I'm busy making a mental list for next summer. I notice, by the by, that here too, are a few places where the siding extends past the trim. It really doesn't seem to pose a major issue anywhere. That relieves me.

I take the storm out, and, while the sill is exposed, go ahead and mark the sill #11. 

Then, a little bit of marking and drilling later, the screen is in!

I pick up the storm to put take it down for repairs and re-painting and notice, fondly, that someone before me had marked it, #5 with an arrow north. I take a few moments, as I always seem to, sometime during a repair, to feel grateful for the owners who came before me, and to remember, especially Martin and Marguerite, the last owners, who did so much and have taught me so much, even though I never got to meet them.

Then in through the window goes the storm. And back down the ladder go I, clunking with my tool belt. And up the back stairs, for the umpteenth time.

And, whoops, I got the wrong size hooks, despite having measured. It happens so frequently with projects, I no longer get frustrated. This will require a trip around the corner to Melrose Lumber (and hardware store), which fortunately should still be open, as it is only about 3 p.m. And then I can also pick up the grass seed. Off I go, this time taking the hook from the storm window with me.

Twenty minutes later, ...

Voila! Right size hook. Now we're in business.

 Putting the hook in is the work of a few moments. And it is time for another minor (okay, major) celebration. Screen #11 is installed!!!!!

For good measure, since I found it while looking for the screen hanging hardware, I install an experimental sash stay that I found online. Pretty. But is it functional? I will let you know.

Then its back to the basement with all the tools. And on to primer. Various things get primed all at once, to save on time and brush cleaning and, well, you get the picture. Whatever got missed the last time (or two, or three). So, the bit of wall I've just repaired ...

The edge of the basement door that Capel painted and then had to trim down to fit, and ... a piece of corner trim from the bathroom that never got painted LAST fall!

Better late than never, my father would say.

Then of course the brushes get washed. Always. Wash. Brushes. (And Capel's brushes from his last painting project get washed too, by yours truly.)

And after a short break to take out the tomatoes, which have quietly been roasted into oblivion. And to find a recipe for roasted pears and start those (of which all evidence has since been devoured).

Then, my favorite part of the weekend. Gardening!

I dig the ash can out of the garage, empty the ashes into the yard trash bag (it is yard trash, I reason). And, by the by, now, Sunday morning, the ash can has still only just gotten as far as the front doorstep ...

And, final chore of the day, planting a few mums, in and among the overgrown alyssum. I'm hoping the mums will winter over and get established for next year, so I will probably cut all the blooms off and bring them in the house, to get the energy down into the roots before winter.

And finally, in the last light of day, weeding, glorious happy weeding ...

Later, much later, into the freezer goes one bag of tomatoes. A small bit of summer stored up for the long winter ahead.

So now, it's almost 9 a.m. Sunday morning and yours truly is about to take a day of rest. A happy and restful Sunday to you, too.