Thursday, June 27, 2013

Of Compost and Courtyards

The terrace herb tower

As I promised yesterday, I have a lot of garden tales to relate. After the storm knocked down my herb tower, which I relate in my Storms and Successes post, I put it up again. Then another storm came along and knocked it right back down! While we were on vacation I took the planter apart and set each one on the ground so the herbs might have a chance to recover. They are coming back, as you can see, though in a rather lopsided fashion. Something is chewing them all up, so I'm going to have to make some more spray. The aphid spray I made with citrus juice and baby shampoo in a previous post (I think maybe the Porch Progress post) really lasted a good long time, despite all our rain. It's finally worn off, though. I think I will go ahead and harvest some of the overgrown herbs and freeze them to get the planter a but more even.

I am trying to get our flagstone terrace to have the feel of a Mediterranean courtyard. Right now it has a fence on two sides and the house and deck rail around most of the other two sides, so I just need to build up a wall of greenery along the remaining edge to give it an enclosed feel. Eventually I would like to replace the herb planter with a solar-powered fountain and add a fireplace or fire bowl. The main trouble we have is the children, who keep carrying the stones off for their games and pretending. The terrace and yard are bordered by great many Greenback Magnolia trees, obviously chosen by a non-native landscaper, as they are way too close together and to the house! These do have a more columnar shape than a standard magnolia and I think they stay a bit smaller, but we went ahead and pruned them into an umbrella shape. My university had a huge lawn planted with gigantic, majestic magnolias. They must have been at least a century old. If they had been left to grow without shaping they would have taken up the entire lawn, but they had been umbrella-pruned for many years, and as a result they were fabulous shade trees you could stretch out under on a blanket to study. I am hoping for the same eventual result here! You can see the brown spots on the fence where we took down the rotten fence planter boxes. My dad made new ones for me and once we powerwash and paint the fence we will hang those.

One of many piles of debris in our yard
Saturday before last we worked in the back yard cutting down and thinning trees for six hours. At the end of it we stood back and, except for the pruned magnolias, we agreed you can't even tell we did anything! Now that is a wooded lot! We have piles of debris everywhere, as you can see. We plan to rent a chipper/shredder to make mulch out of the trees.

Another pile of debris
The garden is getting a bit more light now, and I do think it shows. The plants really shot up while we were gone. I'm glad all the work did some good, because it wasn't without harm. When we came in I was covered in giant bruises and had a tiny itchy spot on my neck, but it stung when I scratched it. Within two hours it was a three-inch long welt and by the next morning it had spread across my chest and I had welts coming up all over my legs. We had to leave for our trip and I don't have a doctor here yet, so thank goodness I still have some steroid cream left from that wasp sting back in September! You know, back when we first moved to North Carolina I was so covered with rashes all the time the town doctor went ahead and just mixed up a big pot of steroid cream in his office and gave it to me! I sure could use that stuff again! It's too bad doctors can't do that kind of thing anymore. The bad thing this time is that our reunion was held in a water park and I couldn't shave over the rash, so I had to spend the whole time in a swimsuit with hairy welts all over my legs and a rash all over my chest and I was all swollen up from the reaction. It figures! Having to wear a swim suit to meet people you haven't seen for six years is bad enough without all that! Then, at a rest stop in Tennessee, our daughter announced she had something running down her leg. It turned out she was covered with weeping poison ivy that hadn't emerged before we left. So, we had to stop for medicine and bandages for her. Then in Kentucky our youngest had a huge nosebleed. Ah, the family road trip!

The garden is getting more light with the trees thinned out.
As I mentioned in my last, we were happy to return home to find our tropical seeds had sprouted. I wrote about trying to grow lychee and dragonfruit (or pitiya) from seed in a couple previous posts. Ours have sprouted, so we are hoping for a good outcome.

Lychee seeds sprouting.
Check out my long nails, in these photos, too! I wrote a couple weeks ago about our whey-protein and vegetable diet. I don't think I've lost much weight, but my hair and nails are sure looking good! Of course, a week into the protein shake diet my blender broke. This was a cheap $20 or less blender, and it seems like they break all the time. So, this time I went to the store and picked out a Nutri-Bullet. A friend of mine told me there's an infomercial about this, but I've never seen it. I just picked the mid-priced high-end blender. We are really enjoying it. My kids have been begging for smoothies and voluntarily drinking spinach, avocado, banana or cabbage, mango, peach smoothies! I think surely I must eventually lose weight if I can stay on it.

Dragonfruit seeds beginning to sprout.
Last night after swimming laps for a half hour while waiting for our daughter to be done with swim team practice and then walking three miles and then running on the elliptical for another half hour, I was starving. I fell off my diet and ate a whole tin of smoked oysters. So, this morning decided I'd better drag my butt out to get some exercise. My daughter helped me and we weeded the amazing number of weeds that grew while we were gone and then we decide to check the potatoes. We dug up a whole bucket of potatoes and left many more tiny ones in the soil to grow larger! I'm glad the potatoes are doing well. We never had a lot of luck with potatoes at our old house, but here peas and and peppers and things that really grew in our other garden aren't doing well. The peas keep getting eaten by something as soon as they get ripe, and a lot of the plants withered when it got hot. I suppose it will just take some time to get used to this wet, cooler climate. I am trying to talk Jerry into buying a field somewhere and just tilling it all up for a big garden and maybe raising some chickens, but so far I haven't gotten anywhere.

The garden produced this bucket of potatoes over the past week.

We should have some really good compost ready shortly. I got this Ultimate Soil Machine dual tumbler composter with my Amazon points a few months ago and the first drum is full and should be ready soon. The soil here is really good, but I think you can't ever really have too much compost to add!

My new composter

I've been very happy with the hydrangeas here. We have several Nikko Blue French mopheads and a couple nice hot pink ones. One shrub is very unusual; it seems to be half Lacecap hydrangea in a dark indigo and half indigo mophead. I have picked several arrangements and they last a really long time. I use a cut-flower food to help preserve the bouquets even longer. Here's the recipe:
Cut Flower Food
In a standard vase, drip three or four drops of dish-washing liquid and 1/4 tsp pancake syrup or corn syrup. Run water over these to mix and fill the vase. Add cut flowers, first removing any leaves or thorns below the water line. Change the water every two days, following the same recipe.

The reason this works to preserve the cut flowers is the dish soap inhibits bacterial growth and the syrup provides food for the flowers.
I've been enjoying my hydrangeas.
I love blue hydrangeas. They are the same color as chicory, a favorite flower from Ohio. I've seen chicory here and there in the North Carolina mountains, but never fields of blue like you see in Ohio. I think hydrangeas and chicory are like bit of heaven fallen to earth! My grandmother loved chicory too, and had a big poster-sized botanical print of it as the focus of her living room.

Tonight the kids have a swim meet from 5-9, so I have to cook early and pack a picnic for us to eat there. On this diet I get one traditional meal instead of a smoothie for supper. Then I have to time the swimmers during the meet, so I suppose I'd better get going to cook and get ready. This is, of course, as long as the meet isn't rained out. We have storms pretty much every night, and I woke up yesterday and today with a headache like a press on my forehead. In fact, these storms oppress me so I can feel them coming from my head all the way to my stomach and through my teeth all day. My teenager calls this my "super power", because I am much more accurate than the meteorologist in predicting rain and thunderstorms. I was quite right yesterday; it stormed all afternoon and into the night.

Lightning flares over the lake.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I'm going to get in trouble with my eBay sales consultant again. My store has been doing well, but I haven't posted a link for weeks. I promised to link my store to more blog posts during my last sales conference. So here's my link: Right now I have a lot of child and toddler dress clothes, toys, and of course, dolls.

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