Friday, February 27, 2009

Help me ID this plant?

Does anyone know what this is? It smells like garlic when it is stepped on, and is the first flower to appear in the spring. The flower is a little less than an inch across and more cornflower blue than shown in the photo.

I inherited it with the house when we moved in. It is a very cheery plant, if a bit smelly.

Ready or not, here we go...

It has been a busy week here at the Bike Garden. We are in midterms at school, and both students and faculty alike are walking around looking sleep-deprived and stunned. The weather has been lovely, though, with balmy temperatures and a bit of wind to remind us that we live on the plains. All week I've needed to get out into the prairie homesteader's garden and plant the snap peas, but I just haven't had the time.

Today, however, I think there will be enough of a break in the madness to get it done. It should be a quick job--a bit of chicken compost tilled into the soil, pop the pea plants in, add a little of that sweet harvested rain, and step back to watch what happens...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spring chores

The sugar snap peas are just about to take over my study, so I think it's time to get them in the ground. I've got a tripod structure built now from salvaged wood (that story is here), but I still need to prep the soil where I'm planning to plant the peas. It still feels early to me, but everything I've read says to get those sugar snaps out there early--even before the last frost date. So sometime this week, I've got to muster up some energy after I get home from school and get the peas in the ground.

I also want to run a drip line to each of the peas, and the line will be hooked up to a central drip irrigation system I've got planned, but have not yet installed. So this is another chore awaiting me.

And as long as I'm thinking about these two spring chores, I thought I might as well go ahead make a list of "must do" items that need addressing before too many more days go by.

(In roughly this order)

Before last frost date:
Prepare planting beds
Plant sugar snaps
Install drip irrigation system
Plant arugula and cover with cold frame
Clean storage area behind woodshop
Move bags of leaves to storage area
Replace stone on patio raised bed (shown in the photos above and below)
Clean front beds
Fix the split rail fence that a drunk driver ran over late one night while plowing through my yard in that big ole pickup truck with the mud tires and cattle guard grill (yes, I'm pretty sure I know who you are, because I've seen the chipped paint and tire tracks. Not that I'm irritated with you or anything, but what would your mama think? Shame on you.)

After last frost date:
Transplant tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, etc.
Plant beans, etc.
Transplant buffalo grass to front yard
Transplant sedum in front yard
Plant rainwater harvest garden

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Experiencing technical difficulties...

The Bicycle Garden's home wireless is acting all cattywampus, expressed as pages sloooooooooowly opening. The administrator (moi) is finding this very frustrating, so there may be moderate radio silence over the next few days until the issue is resolved...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Stick and carrot

Okay, here are the results of the carrot/cold frame experiment. (Warning: It is not pretty. You might need to avert your eyes.)

This is "Amarillo," a yellow carrot, so I think the color is right. However, they were small and not especially tasty (they were supposed to be sweet, according to the catalog). I planted in September and harvested in February, so they had plenty of time to get bigger and tastier. They were thinned to 1-1.5 inches apart.

So help me out, carrot people. What happened?

Too little light? Too little water? Soil not fluffy enough with compost? All three?

Post 'em!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Rainwater Harvest Garden: Putting a lid on it

The rain came and it was clear to me that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to collect it, even though the new tank was not quite complete. But after it was full, it was also clear I couldn't leave it like this indefinitely:

So on Saturday I set out to make a cover for the tank. It was a fairly straightforward operation, without any tricky bits to slow the process down. Push a few boards together, slap some battens on the top and bottom to hold them together and keep the cover flat and stable, and voila! A simple topper for the tank.

There were a few things I did to spruce it up, though, including putting a screen on the underside to keep out mosquitoes:

I've used this method on the smaller tank with great success. The combination of the close spacing of the boards and the screen do a good job of discouraging breeding of the pests.

That square of wood has a purpose, too. I've always wished for a little door on the smaller tank's cover to check water level (otherwise, I have to take the whole cover off), and so I cut one in this cover:

The wood on the underside forms a "lip " to keep the mosquitoes out when the flap is closed.

I had considered leaving a cover off and putting fish in the tank, but since the primary purpose of the tank is for irrigation, there probably will be periods when it will be drained dry.

I also used the boatbuilding technique of using a thin strip of wood (also called a batten) and some nails to hold it in place to mark my curve for cutting:

And now this is what the Rainwater Harvest Garden looks like with everything in place:

I've had a couple of people ask about the galvanized tanks themselves. You can usually find these at a farm supply store or, if you live in cattle country, even at some Big Box Hardware stores. I bought mine at the latter, since they are a little cheaper there. You can expect to pay just a little less than a dollar a gallon.

I like the look of the galvanized tanks. The big, green, plastic barrels (available online or at enviro-friendly nurseries) I have on the other side of the house are also attractive, but since these would be the first things someone would see on entering the back garden, I wanted something I could use as a design element in themselves. The little tank was left over from using it as a holding tank for some pond fish many years ago, and when I needed something to collect rainwater from the gutter, I stuck it underneath. I like that look so much that there was never any question about what I would use when I expanded.

The galvanized tank goes well in a Texas cottage garden, and Pam Penick has written a couple of very nice posts about it over on her blog, Digging. (I've tried to include a link directly to those posts, but it isn't working. You can find them by doing a search on her site for "galvanized tanks.")

I think mine looks so good, I'm now thinking of putting a similar set-up in the front garden for all the world to see.

But design element or not, green plastic or galvanized, I am committed to harvesting rainwater. Rain shed from a roof during thunderstorms is a gift from heaven. Fifty percent of the water treated for drinking in my little city is used to irrigate lawns and gardens in the summer, and no matter what we wish to believe, that is simply unsustainable in a semi-arid climate. The small amount of water I collect, the drought-tolerant plantings, and the no-water lawn will all help to defray some of the strain I place on the system.

The only thing left is to fill the containers with drought-tolerant plants. I'll do one more post on the rainwater harvest garden in the summer to show how it all looks in its lush form.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rainwater: making the connection

So, when we last left off the saga of the rainwater harvest garden, I had the two water tanks in place, and the big one neatly on its pad. There was still plenty of work to be done, even so. Since they were predicting the first thunderstorm of the season for Sunday night, I figured I needed to get cracking on it. So on Sunday afternoon I took some time off from writing and course prep to do a little construction.

First I set the little tank up on pavers, partly to make it easier to work the valve for the hose, but mainly because I like the look of varied heights between the two tanks.

Next, to cut the holes in the tank for the overflow pipes, I borrowed a knockout cutter from my neighbor, Tom, who is the only person I know who owns more tools than I do. Here is Tom:

He and his wife Mandy are two of our favorite neighbors.

And here is me using the tool after a helpful tutorial from Tom:

I attached two overflow pipes. The first is one from the small tank, into which the water from the gutter flows, to the larger tank. When the small tank fills, it then overflows into the larger one.

You can see that pipe in this photo, and you can see the neat hole for the second pipe as well:

I offset the holes slightly, with the pipe that flows from the small tank into the larger one a little higher. That way when the big tank fills up, it will start to overflow into the garden instead of backing up into the pipe from the little tank.

The pipes attach by slipping a threaded end through the hole into the tank, and screwing in a thingy against a gasket. Here is a view illustrating that:

Slick. I found these flexible pipes in the plumbing/electrical section of Big Box Hardware. I have no idea what they are really used for.

Here is a view of the tanks with all the pipes in place, looking fairly unobtrusive:

And another view, this one showing the pavers under the little tank:

If I want to, I can attach a hose to the second overflow pipe and direct water further out into the yard during the heaviest rains.

I also took this opportunity to attach a shut-off on the hose that I'll use to distribute the water, as well as a shut-off valve on the big tank (the small tank already had one):

I still needed to make a cover for the big tank, but my break from "real" work had been long enough. The finishing-up will have to take place this weekend. So I left it at that and went on about my business. Later that night the rains came--a good 3/4 of an inch--and water poured off the roof.

After a short period of time, I ran outside to see if the overflow pipes were working:

Mind you, wind is howling, thunder and lightning are crashing all around me, and rain is pouring from the heavens as I take this picture. What I won't do for the blog!

The next morning, I saw this beautiful site:

It is filled right up to the big tank's overflow pipe, so it must have done its job and directed the excess water out into the yard when the tank topped out.

With these two tanks and the two more 75 gallon ones I have on the other side of the house, I collected 300 gallons in one moderate thunderstorm.

Think of all the water I didn't collect--water that rolled down that roof and got away!

I need more tanks. I am practically awash in greediness for them as I write this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

A friend sent me a basket of tulip bulbs last month after my father's passing. Here they are after blooming.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A detective story...

I went out to the farm (my veggie garden) a couple of days ago and noticed that something seemed amiss. For one thing, the wheelbarrow was lying face down on top of the cold frame lid. Hmmm. Puzzling.

Wind? I'd been out of town so maybe Walu had come out here in a windstorm, found the lid flapping around and put the barrow on top to hold it down. I dismissed this idea almost as soon as I thought of it--not because we don't have winds strong enough to do that (we do), but because it is simply unimaginable that W would a) go outside in a windstorm for recreation, b) notice the cold frame lid flapping around, and c) think to put a wheelbarrow on top of it.

I love Walu, but he's a rather bookish man, if you get my drift.

Then I noticed that the galvanized trash was in the wrong place. In fact, it was on the opposite end of the farm, and it was standing upright, so I knew for a fact it couldn't have been wind that moved it.

And there were pecans on the ground--everywhere. And little branches. It was almost as if someone had taken a good shake to the tree and...

Aha! I remembered a little notice I'd gotten on my door the week before, announcing that the city was going to prune my pecan trees in the alley. Fair enough, since they need to do this to protect the electric lines that run there, but I've seen what they do to trees they "prune." It's less a pruning than a butchering.

I wasn't too concerned, though, since I'd been planning to have someone come out and prune those trees anyway. I need more light in the veggie garden. I just figured my guy could clean up the city butchering when it was done.

Even so, I raised my eyes tentatively to the big pecan...

And couldn't really see much that was different. Maybe a nip and tuck, here and there...

So I look over at the smaller one at the other end of the yard:

Okay, that's not so bad, really. It even looks like an elegant cut, right at the junction. It's one I might make myself, in fact.

But then I saw my neighbor's trees:


So why would the city tree butchers prune mine so delicately and then turn around and do their usual whack job at the next house? And why would they take pains to move things like the wheelbarrow and trash can out of the way of danger from falling branches? The only thing I can figure is that when they climbed over into my yard, they saw that a gardener lived there. And it is equally clear that gardeners do not live next door.

It would be tempting to think that they did it out of respect for a gardener, but I'm guessing that they just figured I'd be more likely to complain about brutalizing my trees than a non-gardener. And normally, they might be right, but for the fact I'd planned to tidy up their usual shoddy work anyway.

And here's a little more irony: You remember the respectful way they neatly place the wheelbarrow on top of the cold frame lid? They broke the lid when they did it.

Good thing I'm handy and was able to fix it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Veep's Dinner Party Challenge

For those readers of the Bicycle Garden that don't know about it, there is this simply amazing directory of garden bloggery called "Blotanical." The challenge of the blogosphere, of course, is that you could waddle along forever posting your polished little gems, without ever having anyone but your mother and best friend finding your site. Oh, maybe you'll pick up the odd neighbor or two (not that my neighbors are "odd," meaning "peculiar," though that could be the case, too...), but really, with all the stuff on the internets, the chances are that you could spend most of your days spinning your trails of wisdom out there into the vast emptiness of ether-ness with nary a connection to another living being. Or something like that.

So one day, shortly after I started on this dubious enterprise myself, I managed to find another garden blog. Over on the sidebar it had this little button with the name "Blotanical" on it, and out of curiosity I clicked it. Faithful Readers, shall I tell you that it was much like going through a portal to an alternate universe? There were garden blogs all the heck over the place, talking to each other. I signed up in a heartbeat and suddenly my little blog had a readership. (Well, it was not quite so easy as that. I had a little password problem, and for awhile nothing seemed to happen. Then Kate, over at The Manic Gardener, took pity and contacted me to alert me to the fact that I was not getting the full Blotanical Effect. I in turn contacted Stuart, the creator of all this bloggery goodness and he got me all straightened out...I am indebted to both. Truly.)

But the best part about the Blotanical thing is not that other blogs found me, but that I found other blogs. My goodness, Fair Reader, if you have never clicked on the little Blotanical button on my sidebar to check it out, hie yourself over there right away. There you will find multitudes of garden blogs so much better than my meager offering. Go ahead, do it now. I'll wait.

Hmm, hmm-hmm, mmm, hmm, I'll al-waaays love something something hair, dumm da dum, something something moooons and dah dah dah along the chicken wall, hmmm mmmhhhhm...

Are you back? Good. Anyway, one of the reasons I bring all of this up is that one of the many blogs I found through Blotanical was a British site called Veg Plotting, run by an energetic woman we know as "Veep." Earlier this week, in a fit of inspiration surely brought on by too much snow in the garden, Veep put out a dinner party challenge to her fellow bloggers on Blotanical. If you could invite three to five gardeners to dinner, she asked, who would they be? We were all supposed to think about this for a few days and post our guest list today.

Well, it was indeed a challenge, but I've finally finished my cogitation, and so without further ado, here is mine:

Sue Hubbell tops my list. For many years, SH was a professional bee-keeper on a small farm in the Ozarks. She has written two books about this experience that have become all-time favorites of mine, A Country Year, and A Book of Bees. Can I say that even before this challenge, every time I read one of those books (and since one of them is on a book list for one of the courses I teach, I read it often), I think I'd like to have SH as a neighbor. She is full of curiosity about the natural world, dryly funny, and down-to-earth. We could talk chickens and bees.

Michael Pollan is on the list, too. Yes, we all know MP from his writing about food, but he's also written two more of my favorite books, Second Nature and A Place of My Own (which is about building a writing hut from scratch, so you know that's going to appeal to me). However, where I think I'd have no trouble at all talking to Sue Hubble, I confess that I think I'd be too intimidated to talk to MP. I just get all tongue-tied when I'm around people I don't really know, and when they are famous people I don't know, the problem is surely compounded. Sorry, MP, I'm sure you're a nice guy and all, but I'm shy. So to take up the slack, I'll invite another big-name author to talk to MP for me,

Diane Ackerman, a poet and author who wrote a charming book about gardening called, Cultivating Delight. From her writing, I can say that DA seems like a very intelligent, interesting, and kind person, and I'm convinced that the conversation between SH, DA, and MP would be enriching and more than a little fun. And a shy person wouldn't have to make a peep.

But there's a bit of a problem left with which I must grapple, and that is who will do the cooking. In truth, I love to cook, and I think I'm pretty good at it. But I am absolutely phobic about cooking for people other than myself and my husband. Seriously. I hyperventilate and everything. I just can't handle the pressure.

So to help me in the kitchen I'd like to invite Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host of The Splendid Table, a radio show that is all about food and cooking. I love this show. And I listen to it on podcasts when I'm out in the garden, so I'm thinking that qualifies LRK as a guest, even if it turns out that she is not a gardener herself (I have no idea about her status in this department, since I can't recall if she's ever mentioned it). I'm being a little devious here, since my impression of LRK is that she enjoys cooking so much, she wouldn't be able to stay out of the kitchen. And I could use the help in there.

She can pick the menu. And the wine.

Well, there you have it, my little dinner party. I think I'd like to have it during late summer, after I've started harvesting my tomatoes and peppers. We could grill outside. In the summer evenings here, after the sun finally sets, the air cools down marvelously in this dry air. I'll fire up the twinkly patio lights that circle the back garden and we'll sit around on the flagstone drinking wine and supping--it'll be like magic.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Split personality...

Look! It's a bird blind!

No, wait! It's a potting bench!

A spate of nice weather led this gardener outside to do a little re-potting, in the long yellow light of late afternoon.