Sunday, October 28, 2012

As Seen on TV; a Lesson in Maths

Last week I was in my local Big Lots discount store looking for wrapping paper for the holidays.  Incidentally, the wrapping paper was kept right next to the garden clearance items; so, you know I was right in there, digging through plastic mulch, kids garden gloves, and foam knee cushions.  I managed to get a bunch of peat seed starting pots, seed starting soil, and Topsy Turvy strawberry planters.  I had been contemplating one of those round strawberry pyramid-looking things, but after my quotes for gravel and screened topsoil (at nearly $1,000), spending $200 or so for a strawberry bed was out of the budget.  These  planters were on clearance for $2.50 each.  I bought the four that they had and hoped that buying strawberry plants wouldn't cost a fortune.
They were practically giving them away!

Of course, I had seen the Topsy Turvy tomato planters on the television: "Now you can grow 4 billion pounds of tomatoes right on your deck!"  Yada, yada, yada.  I hadn't seen the strawberry planters before, and, truth be told, I don't relish the idea of them hanging out on my deck looking like large, red, lanterns with plants stuck into them.

But, thinking about it a bit more... I generally spend about $50 at a U-pick strawberry farm that uses mostly organic practices and applies commercial pesticide, "when they need to."  Now, this is better than that prescribed six times or so pesticide/fungicide applications that are done on conventional strawberry farms, but still... it's a big unknown.  Anyway, $50 for about 8-10 quarts of strawberries.  The Topsy planters are comprised of red mulch, with openings on it so that the plants can grow through the sides and bottom.  Some studies have shown that strawberries grown on red mulch produce sweeter berries than on black mulch, and yield doesn't show consistent improvement with colored mulch over black mulch.  Either way, growing them in a hanging basket means I don't have to spend time weeding or mulching them on my own.  Each basket holds 25 plants, and can be double-planted to hold 50.  Since I don't want to crowd them that much this year, I ordered 125 Honeoye strawberry plants from Peaceful Valley Garden Supply.  A bundle of 25 plants are $4.99, plus shipping, but 5 bundles are discounted to $4.74 each, bringing my grand total to a little less than $24.00, plus shipping, which cost more than the plants at $26.00.  Honeoye are one of the best strawberry plants for my climate, which is USDA Zone 5A.  So where are we?  $50 for the plants themselves, plus $10 for the planters.  I have organic potting soil floating about, so that is free.

This is where the math gets fun.  How can I justify spending $10 more than I usually spend at the U-pick?  Remember, I said I paid $50 for 8-10 quarts of "organic as possible" strawberries.  The Honeoye strawberries, under the best conditions, are expected to produce "one basket" per plant.  I'm going to assume that "one basket" is one pint.  There are 2 pints per quart, so to equal the amount of berries, I'd have to get one pint per each of 20 plants.
I have 125 plants.

Assuming I don't get the best conditions, even if I only get half of the estimated yield, that's still 30 quarts of berries... which I would pay $150 for at the U-pick.  Which means that I've theoretically saved $90.

And that makes me a very happy woman indeed.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paint swatching

While I love the color pink, I don't want it in my bedroom.   I want to sleep in a dark cocoon of a room, especially since there is a 5x8-foot window in the room.  It's not so bad in the winter, when I wake up before the sun comes up.  In summer, however, it is very much like someone flicking your lights on at 6 o'clock in the morning, every morning.  I want it dark.

The issue, at present, seems to be the belly-board wood trim in the room.  It is a light reddish-oaky color, unlike the wood trim on the first floor, which is dark and rich.  This is almost a blonde wood, but decidedly more red.  It is a yellowy-orangey-tan color that I may paint a high gloss white (but I haven't decided).  On the one hand, it is beautiful.  On the other hand, it makes choosing paint colors nearly impossible.

Testing on the walls right now is Glidden's Driftwood Grey (WGN27) which is a richly saturated greige.  It didn't photograph well at all, and the color looks somewhat flatter than it does in real life.  There is more of a beige tone to the grey, with a slight olive tint:

The plinths are hand-carved and original to the house.  

Above the Driftwood Grey, is a swatch of a previously rejected color, called Lantern.  I picked it up at the local hardware store, and it was a brand I hadn't heard of previously.  It was far too light for my taste.  

At night, this color is dark, dark, dark.  I think it might be a winner, but I'm still on the fence.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Garden Progress Report

We just had our first killing frost on Saturday, when temperatures dipped to 20*F/-6*C.  I cleared out the now-dead beans from the garden, leaving the kale and lettuce (which are thriving).  I also laid sticks on top of the garlic so that neighborhood stray cats don't dig them up.
Isn't that kale gorgeous?
Yesterday I took my brand-spankin'-new loppers outside to dispatch the oak saplings that were growing through the concrete pad in the back yard.  In order to create a new, much bigger garden, they would have to go.  Eventually, they would've been girded by the concrete anyway, and would have died a premature death.  With the help of my cleanup crew (a.k.a. my three daughters), we managed to cut and clear all but one stump to ground level.  I'm going to have to get the saw out and cut the last stump to the ground.  The diameter of the stump was about four inches, and far too wide for my loppers to cut (not to mention, my upper body strength to manage).

This is what we started with at the beginning of August:

overgrown concrete pad full of weeds and saplings

And here is what it looks like today:

Slow progress, but looks much better!

I still need to weed the remaining plants that are growing through the cracks, as well as apply white vinegar so that they don't grow back again.  I ordered a 100-foot roll of weed barrier from Amazon, and I'm going to double it over the concrete, once I've filled gravel between the deeper cracks to level them.

We're trying to plan on the number of raised beds we'll need to grow all of the food we'll need to harvest for a year.  I'm thinking we're going to need eight to ten 8x4-foot beds.  I received my seed order from High Mowing Seeds, and I've divided them into seeds that are directly sown and seeds that we'll start in February.

Organic seeds are the only way to go
I'm really looking forward to next year's garden already.  I've also started hunting for heirloom organic apple trees, and hopefully, I'll have some luck finding varieties that'll do well in my clay soil.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Making Use of an Apothecary Jar

Before my best friend, Lola, got married this summer, she asked me to look for apothecary jars for her dessert table.  Since I had a HomeGoods nearby, I scored all of the jars they had plus a glass cake dome just in case it was needed.  Sadly, only one jar and the cake dome survived the move to Pennsylvania, and Lola found a few jars on her own.

The empty apothecary jar sat on my fireplace mantle for a while, adding an element of light to my otherwise dark paneled living room.  But, it was boring.  I was bored just looking at it, sitting next to the television, like a sad, thrift store discard.

While walking Lily, I noticed an abundance of moss had grown under my weeping cherry tree.  I scoured the interwebs, and found several instructional sites on making a terrarium.  A brief trip to Etsy revealed the cutest felted sheep... and my decision was made.  I couldn't stop thinking of terrariums.

I happened to have some organic potting soil laying around, but I did have to go to Big Box Store to get activated charcoal (about $7) and river stones for the base ($2).  I also had cotton balls, an empty spray bottle, moss, and my wee felted sheep ($18).

So, here's how it went down:

I started off with a clean jar.  Since it is rather thin glass, and dropping river stones into the jar created anxiety that the glass would break, I tipped the jar on its side and placed all of the stones in.  

When I tilted the jar upright, the stones fell into place.  I used my scissors to nudge the stones until they looked good, but I should've used the handle of a wooden spoon.

I then cut a piece of paper towel to somewhat fit over the stones.  As an alternative, Spanish moss can be used as a filter to keep charcoal from mixing with the stones.  Since my stones were black, and the charcoal was black, I didn't think it was a big deal if they blended a bit.

I then put a one-and-a-half inch layer of charcoal on the paper towel.  After that, I pulled a few cotton balls until they were flattened, to create a filter between the soil and the charcoal.  

I then placed these with my scissors, since my hand couldn't safely fit through the narrow neck of the jar.

Layers of rock, charcoal, and cotton.

On top of the cotton, I added about two inches of potting soil, which I had moistened with about 1/4 cup of water.  Preferably, you want to use soil that doesn't have any fertilizer in it, since you want the moss to grow slowly.  My potting soil had some fertilizer in it, and I couldn't find any without fertilizer, since it is the end of gardening season here.

Using a spoon, I made some hollows for the moss itself.  As you can see, I still need to add soil around the moss to level everything out.

After adding the soil around the moss.

I wiped the interior of the jar with some of the leftover cotton balls, since it had become flecked with soil and charcoal dust.  This cleaned things up nicely.  My little felted sheep, from Weegreenspot, came with the wires exposed so he could be pushed into the soil.  Isn't he the cutest?

Once Cedric was in there, I sprayed the moss with about 10 sprays of water.  Cedric is a perfectly good name for a sheep.

Then I popped the lid on.  

And Cedric now lives on the windowsill in the kitchen, where he can peer out at the neighbors and look at them in his disapproving sort of way.

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