Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fling is here! The Fling is here! I'm giving away a Troy Bilt string trimmer!

The two things are not really related, except, of course, that Troy Bilt is one of the sponsors of this year's annual awesome get together of fellow garden bloggers, set to kick off tomorrow in San Francisco. Oh, it will be BIG! This, my friends, this is the way conferences should be run: garden tours and networking with fellow writers. Hard to say which is more valuable and instructive.

As for the Troy Bilt string trimmer (shown below), the company sent me one to try for a review (which I get to keep, though I've already given it away--more on that in a moment). And for an extra special bonus, they want me to give away one for some lucky reader as well. So if you are interested in a free Troy Bilt gas-powered, four cycle trimmer, leave your email in the comment box (or contact me via message on the Bike Garden's Facebook page), and if you are the lucky winner, I'll pass your info along to the Troy Bilt rep and you all can work out the details on how to get it from Point A to Point B. Leave the comment by 6 PM, Monday, July 1, and I'll have a neighbor draw names out of a hat to determine who wins.

Now here's my review of the Troy Bilt 4-cycle gas string trimmer:

TB675 4-cycle gas weed trimmer
First, let me say that I have a real love-hate relationship with string trimmers. I've use several in the past, some electric (which mean that you are always dragging around extension cords and searching for outlets), and other battery (which means that you are always running out of juice halfway through weed-whacking the purple nightshade in the alley). With every trimmer I've used, there also have been multiple frustrations with the string feed (sometimes it is no feed at all, sometimes it is too much feed, sometimes it breaks loose and flies directly at your legs like a swarm of angry hornets, and always, always, it is running out).

And yet, I really need a trimmer. I've reduced my lawn to such a size that I gave away my gas-powered mower and now use only a push reel--which doesn't work on the aforementioned alley-growing purple nightshade. I'd be OK with that, except that the city seems to take exception to a forest of nightshade growing next to their lovely dumpster.

Anyway, when Troy Bilt contacted me about trying out a gas powered trimmer, I was excited to give it a spin. At a minimum, I figured it might eliminate the fussiness of always running out of juice. I had some worries about have to start a gas engine by pulling a cord (one of the many, many things I hated about the gas lawn mower), but they also sent this little item the Troy Bilt Jump Start, which is supposed to eliminate all that pulling:

Everything arrived, was put together without any trouble at all, and in short order I took it all out to the yard to do some trimming. Here is my assessment:

First, the Jump Starter works like a charm. I never once had to pull the string. My neighbor Jeremy, a professional landscaper who is now the owner of the both the trimmer and the Jump Starter, is old school, and has only used the string to start the engine. He reports that the trimmer starts up each and every time without any trouble at all.

The trimmer itself is a beast. I didn't use the string head long enough to know how often it needs to be changed, but it seemed to work well and seamlessly (no swarming hornets). The trimmer is also very powerful (it is, after all, a 4-cycle engine--sort of like attaching string to a Volkswagon Beetle). It has attachment capabilities, meaning that with appropriate accessories, it can also be an edger, a brushcutter, or a cultivator. It is certainly powerful enough to do any of these tasks with ease. My overall assessment is that this is a well-built, heavy-duty trimmer.

But lordy, it is heavy, and the fact of the matter is that it is too heavy for me to use. So I walked over to Jeremy's house and offered it to him. Jeremy is a big guy, but he thinks it is a little heavy, too. Even so, he's a good pick to get the trimmer, since I'm thinking that this thing is really more for a pro or someone who has some serious brush cutting/farming/yard work to do.

I'm going to have Jeremy cut down some unwanted trees in our neighborhood garden plot in trade, so I figure I got a good deal out of this. After talking to Jereny and getting his positive feedback about the trimmer, I think he feels like he got a good deal, too.

And now you can also get in on the goodness! Just let me know you want one in the comment box below by 6 PM on Monday. Be sure to leave your email address so I can get you in touch with Troy Bilt.

And now I'm off to the Fling for a few days! Gardens and writer friends await!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

6/5/2013 Digging projects update

The city has cleared the backyard for digging. I am going to put in two fence posts each for the fig and pear tree espaliers, as well as sink two metal posts down about two feet into the ground, just off the back patio. The latter will be used to support a shade cloth I've ordered, which will float over the backyard kitchen.

I've been reading up on how to espalier a tree. Rather drastic cuts are made at the beginning, with very long waits in between. It will take about 3-4 years to get the basic framework. For the pear tree, which will be in a tiered "cordon" shape, the first cut is on the main leader, about 18" above the graft. Then you train two lateral branches and one vertical branch. When the vertical branch reaches a height about 1.5' above the first cut, you cut above a bud again. When the tree puts out new shoots, you select two lateral branches and one vertical branch, prune everything else away, and start a new tier. Continue until you have 3-4 tiers, ~1.5' apart.

I need to do some more research on how to train the fig, which I want to have a palmetto, or fan shape.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer 2013 Notes: Planting an espaliered pear tree

This morning while I was out in the garden puttering around, I caught myself thinking, "You really need to sit down with your journal and note the plants you've put in this year so that you won't forget their names. And while you're at it, you should make some notes on your hard scape projects for future reference."

And then it occurred to me that I had, you know, a blog where I could record my garden notes. So that's what I'm going to try to do this garden season--make daily journal notes here. It doesn't have to be fancy. No deep thoughts. No pretty pictures required. No re-writing (so a lot of the free-form thinking probably won't make sense, especially if I am writing early in the morning before my tea, or in the evening, when I am usually a bit heat-sick). No pressure. Just record some notes.

Expect typos.

And careless grammar.

So here is my first journal entry.

I have a Bartlett pear that is refusing to bear fruit, so I'm guessing there isn't another pear tree close enough in the neighborhood to do the cross-pollinating trick. It could also be the late freezes we've had during the two years since it has been planted, but who is to say? I figure I need another pear for pollinating insurance, but I don't really have any room for it, so I've decided to espalier one along the back fence of the farm. I've always liked the look of espaliered trees, and last year I decided to do a fig that way, but it froze back to the ground this winter, so I haven't actually gotten very far with it. Hope springs eternal and usually along thin wires, much like, well, an espalier trellis.

It was too hot to work in the garden this afternoon (I am teaching summer school in the mornings, so my gardening will take place either very, very early, or on the weekends), so I decided to go look for a tree that would be suitable. My go-to place for trees is Tom's Tree Place, mostly because it is on 34th Street, which is practically in the neighborhood, and because I worked on a farmer's market committee for a short while with one of the owners. On the way to TTP, though, is Little Red Nursery, also in the neighborhood, and a bit pricey, but oh-so-magical. On a whim, I decided to stop in, and sure enough, they had a Bartlett Pear already all espaliered-up for me, a tree that was probably 6 or 8 years old, pretty as a picture. And $500.

Which is, like, practically my whole seasonal garden budget. OK, maybe I spend a little more than that each year, but still. A lot.

So I tucked the pretty tree back in my head and thought that if I absolutely couldn't find anything else, I'd reconsider that $500 tub of magic.

Down the road I continued to TTP. They had three pears left that were small enough to train, but it was clear that the lot had been pretty well picked over, and what was left looked a little like what Charlie Brown might find had he waited until the last minute to buy his tree. You know.

But they were $27 each, which is, let's see, eleventy-million, minus sixty, carry the eight...much less than $500. My choice was fairly clear. I picked out one that was already more or less flattened, though whether it was by accident or design was not clear. While I was getting it rung up, I asked the guy at the register if he thought it would make a good tree to espalier.

"Oh sure," he replied, looking up at it doubtfully.

"What about that leader?" I asked. "It's been topped. I can probably turn the new growth outward, right?"

"You bet!" he said.

"You never espaliered a tree before, have you?" I asked.

"No. But we have one in the back," he replied. "But it's a XXXX," (naming something I've never heard of).

"You can pretty much espalier any tree, though," he said confidently.

Well, at this point it was clear to me that we were both just making shit up as we went along, which I am generally okay with, since that's how life is most of the time anyway.

 I trundled the tree home in the back of the 'ru and gave it a good drink. It awaits a hole, which will be dug early in the day sometime this week.

On a side note, I called the 811 phone number you are supposed to contact whenever you are planning to dig. Normally, I don't bother because I generally know where everything is buried (goodness, that sounds mysterious, doesn't it?). But this time I'm sinking a couple of fence posts (for the trellis) fairly close to some lines, and I though it might be good to double-check. The first question I got from the person taking my information was, "Will you be using explosives?"

You know, I hadn't though I'd need them to plant a pear tree, but perhaps I should re-think it, since using explosives is at least common enough to warrant being the very first question they ask you. On the other hand, I'm guessing that anyone using explosives to plant a pear tree is also probably just making shit up as s/he goes along.

Here is a photo of my Charlie Brown pear taking a break in the shade, waiting for someone to show up with some explosives*:

*For the record, I will not be using explosives. Just to be clear on that. I am more or less opposed to explosives in general, and for planting pear trees specifically.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Like fence posts on a highway

That's how fast my life has been going by lately. I'm exhausted from it, I tell you, and since I signed up to teach summer school, something tells me it isn't going to slow down anytime soon, either.

Nevertheless, in a fit of misplaced optimism, I've made a list of summer projects for the garden. I'm too tired to do much more than list them here, without explanation or pictures:

  1. Create utility area/put together storage unit
  2. Make gate for arbor in utility area
  3. Make new compost bin for utility area
  4. Construct rain barrel topper
  5. Build semi-permanent hoop house
  6. Finish laying gravel in back flower beds
  7. Build low gabion wall for front garden
  8. Espalier pear tree
  9. Espalier fig tree
  10. Finish/maintain drip irrigation
  11. Set up sun sail for side garden
  12. Finish outdoor kitchen
  13. Paint trim on shop
  14. Hire someone to put gutter on shop
  15. Etc.
 I'll put all this in a sidebar (replacing the Twelve Days of Cleaning list, which I mostly completed, albeit not in the allotted twelve day...)