Monday, April 28, 2014

Year One Down

Well, on Friday, I wrapped up finals week and my first year of nursing.  This year has been a whirlwind of early (4 am!) mornings, challenging skills to learn, and far more med cards than I ever thought possible.  I loved every second of it!

Now that break is here, it's time to get stuff done.

Today, I set the seedlings out on the back deck to begin the hardening off process.  We'll still be in danger of frost for another 5 or 6 weeks, but I'm hoping to get some cloches rigged up before then.  The seed potatoes have been sliced into 3-eye chunks and are scabbing over on the deck as well.  This step is important to protect them from simply rotting away in the soil, which has totally happened to me before.  At some point over the early spring/late winter... neighborhood kids cut down my sapling apple trees with steak knives (which I found in my yard).  I'm devastated, to say the least, but the one "stump" has sprouted buds this week.  It will never be a strong tree, but I'm hoping it can be used to either feed bees or pollinate another apple tree.

The fan I was using to circulate air in the dining room seedling central died and I thought I could get by without it... big mistake.  I've lost half of my peppers to damp rot (all of the hot ones).  I've planted more seeds, and the remainder are enjoying a slightly breezy day on the deck.

I also broke the hose... Well, one of the hoses.  It, however, is the hose that reaches the raised beds, so a new hose is also on the list.

There IS good news.  The peas and garlic are up.  The strawberries are doing well.  Hon Tsai Tai, spinach, basil, cilantro, beets, and carrots have all been planted (and some are sprouted).  I finally sanded down the little Moroccan side table I picked up at the antique mall last February.  I have a few options as to how it'll be painted, but I'm leaning toward something that'll look good on the front porch.  I've also figured out how to add my Instagram feed to the blog.  I took the girls to the creek for a photo shoot, and I'm planning on doing something with the results either in the entry or in the dining room.  Haven't decided, but I'm leaning toward the entry.

Oh, I did manage to finalize the front door's new color, and that'll be in the works soon.

It hasn't been ALL work and no play... I finished a book that I had started over winter break.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And So It Grows

As you may or may not know, I live in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania.  Due to our proximity to the Great Lakes, we have rapid weather changes.  In fact, last week we experienced temperatures as high as 80*F (26C) and as low as 16*F (-8C)... in a 30-hour timeframe.  Due to such fluctuating temperatures, you can imagine how difficult it is to get a garden in place.

Our first average frost-free "safe" day doesn't occur until the very end of May, and our first average killing frost date is mid-September.  It makes for a very short growing season.

So, what's an avid gardener to do?  Start seeds inside!

There are quite a lot of benefits to growing your own plants from seed.  First of all, the sheer abundance of variety trumps anything you can get at a big box store or even at a landscaping center.  You can find varieties that are collected by small mom-and-pop seed companies who are passionate about revitalizing nearly extinct seeds.  You can grow the same melons that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello, or tomatoes whose seeds were brought to the U.S. by a singular immigrant nearly 100 years ago.  Much of the produce sold at the grocery stores today have been grown simply for their ability to withstand shipping stress.  When you grow your own vegetables and fruit from seed, you can grow solely for flavor.  Everyone knows a vine-ripened tomato tastes worlds better than anything you can get from the produce aisle in the dead of winter.
just one page of lettuces at High Mowing Seeds!
Seed packets have a wealth of growing information on the back

I've waxed poetic about my favorite seed companies before.  I like to stick to small companies that have a commitment to selling seeds that aren't genetically engineered or genetically modified, who sign the Safe Seed Pledge, and who refrain from doing business with Big Ag giants like Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Seminis (now a subsidiary of Monsanto), or ConAgra.  That said, I love the folks at High Mowing Seeds, Filaree Garlic Farm, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  I've been ordering from these three companies for a few years, and I've had consistently excellent germination results... not to mention that their customer service is truly excellent.

Just some seeds I'm growing this year... purple carrots, anyone?
If you have never started seeds before, I would advise you start small.  Get a couple of varieties that are suited for your growing zone and grow something that is easy that you really like.  If you like green beans, I would highly suggest starting out with those.  They are nearly foolproof, yield beans all summer, and can be grown outdoors or in a container on a sunny balcony.  You can up the ante with cherry tomatoes and zucchini.  Easy, prolific, and delicious!  Heat-loving plants like peppers and melons are a bit more finicky, and require higher temperatures to germinate (or sprout).  If you do grow them, you might benefit from investing in a heat mat specifically designed for growing seeds.  Lastly, seedlings need about 16 hours of sunlight daily, and I solve this issue with a couple of shop lights that I picked up from Home Depot for about $15 each.  Plant light bulbs run about the same price, so for about $30 you can start enough seeds to fill your garden.  My current light bulbs have been going strong for 3 years now, so it really is an investment that'll pay off in the long run.

Here are some of my "babies" that have just sprouted:

A cabbage plant (purple rim) that Evie brought home from school mixed in with New England Pie pumpkins and Obus melon

Toma Verde tomatillos, H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber, Crimson Sprinter tomatoes

All Red and German Butterball potatoes

King of the North sweet bell pepper, Magnum Orange habanero, Ring O Fire cayenne, Little Tam Jalapeno peppers

Nutterbutter winter squash and Baby Blue Hubbard winter squash

Heritage and Latham raspberry canes (didn't start these from seed)

Amish Paste tomatoes

As you can see, you can use just about anything to start seeds in.  I have peat pots, yogurt containers, and half-gallon milk containers.  I do buy an organic seed starting soil mix to start seeds in, and as they grow, I fertilize them lightly with a tiny bit of Neptune's Harvest organic fertilizer that I just mix with water and add to a spray bottle.  For pest control (like the fungus gnats that killed last year's strawberry plants), I use sticky traps.  Sticky traps are SUPER sticky, so you want to make sure not to touch the sticky part, and keep it away from kids and pets.

In other news, it is finally finals week.  Six more days before I can start working on the house again!

Disclaimer:  I am in no way affiliated with any of the seed companies mentioned here... I just love them.  While I do have an Amazon storefront, none of the links provided are affiliated with the 1868Pleasant Amazon Store.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Curb Uh... Peel

It is no secret (to my neighborhood at least) that the front of my house has definitely seen better days.  While the main exterior of the house is a solid tan, the front steps have been painted brown, seemingly to match the... dirt?  Maybe so as not to clash with the yellowish brick that is the sidewalk.  Or... something.  The entry to the front porch is painted burgundy (really, that's all the paint can says:  "burgundy") but it is definitely a bright, purple/magenta version of burgundy.  Perhaps "faded wine stain burgundy" would've been a more accurate name, but I don't name these things.  When you get into the front porch, you're accosted by the sea green hue of the wainscoting.  Here's what we're dealing with:

The door to the entry lost some screws, and the metal has rubbed at the front door

This door has seen better days.  It looks so sad.

The hardware has been changed too many times, and not replaced in some spots.
Paint chips anyone?


Magenta!  I love the door handle here, but it's just decorative at this point

Interior porch.  The rain hits this side of the porch all the time, and the paint has peeled away

bottom of the windows where the caulk has flaked off

None of it looks good.  I've hated it all since I purchased the house, but so many other things needed to be done that this item of business has been lingering at the bottom of the list for a few years.  Until now: The serious lack of curb appeal is highlighted by peeling paint, cracked and missing caulk around the windows, and just plain hideousness.  It looks about as bad as it can possibly be, in my opinion.

This summer's project is to bring sexy back to the front of my house.  I present the following to-do list:

  • Paint!  (and of course, the prep that goes along with painting)  I can't currently afford to paint the entire exterior (so, the solid tan stays, even though that is peeling slightly) but I can get rid of the burgundy/sea green/brown tragedy that is the color scheme of the front porch.
  • Caulk the windows and repair screens where needed.
  • Remove the dead foliage growth from last year, and apply organic weed control, barrier, and mulching.  Sadly, this means all flowers and flowering plants will have to go until the very invasive moonflower and bishop's weed dies off completely... which will likely take a couple of years.  
  • Repair or replace door hardware.  While they're old, they're temperamental.  One slight depression of a button means that the front door locks... and I don't have a skeleton key to open it.  I'm not going to mention just how I open it, but it takes at least 15 minutes to MacGyver.
  • Remove and replace the rotting wood retaining wall and replace with landscaping bricks. 
  • Remove tile house numbers and replace with something modern.
  • If I can swing it financially, replace the exterior lights on either side of the front door.
  • Transform front porch into proper sleeping porch.

I still have a week and a half of classes, but as soon as that is over, it's time to start scraping, sanding, and priming.
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