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Archive for August, 2007

The Monarchs are back

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The annual migration has begun.   These beauties were enjoying the torch tithonia that I always allow to reseed itself and grow in my vegetable garden.   I do this because I know they like it and it is always blooming at the proper time to sustain them in their yearly journey.

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How to have beautiful flowers

Many years ago, my son’s Little Fiancee told me one day that she loved flowers and that she admired my gardens and “really wanted” to grow flowers.   “How do you do it?” she asked me.   To this day I do not know if she was actually serious, or just trying to butter me up, but I answered her in all seriousness.

“Well, L.F., I’d say there is one key to having beautiful flowers.  It sounds simple when you say it, but in practice it is hard.”

“What is the key?  What do you have to do?”

“In order to have beautiful flowers it is important that you go out to your garden and look at it every day.”

“That’s all?  Go out and look at it every day?”

“Well, that is the first step.   If you don’t have time to go look every day, or at least every other day, you will not have time to have a garden.   Because you cannot garden while you are sitting at work or in front of the TV.  Once you have established the habit of going out there, then you have to practice actually looking.”

I was espousing my pet theory of beautiful flower gardens.   You have to observe them closely.   You cannot just walk by casually and say, “Wow, look at that pretty day lily.”

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You have to actually look closely at the plant, notice if there are aphids colonizing the inner leaves, notice if it has enough water, notice if it is being attacked by weeds.  And another thing you have to notice is whether it needs to be dead-headed. 

It was a long time ago when I discovered how important deadheading perennials is.  While I realize that this is not an original concept with me (gardeners have been removing spent flowers from perennials for centuries), the experience I am going to relate was a revelation to me.

I was living in Bremerton and I had planted Peach leaved bell flowers (Campanula persicifolia) in my front rock garden.    This absolutely lovely plant was enjoying the placement and the mulch, and blooming her heart out.   I really had not done a lot of deadheading in my previous gardens, but for some reason I decided to start doing it on this plant.  I walked by it every day on my way to the mailbox, and so every day I would pinch off the spent flowers.  

Each flower originated at the leaf axil on the stalk.   It wasn’t long before I noticed that at every axil where I had pinched out a spent flower, the peach bell was now growing TWO buds.   It wasn’t long before my plant had a dozen flowers where it had originally had six.   I rewarded it with more compost, figuring it was spending a lot of energy making flowers and it ought to get something to eat.   I continued deadheading, and it did it again!   Everywhere there had been a flower made 2 buds.   Now I had a stalk with 24 flowers on it.   I was amazed.

I had another peach bell planted in the back yard, which I did not deadhead.  It finished blooming out the first flowers, made seed pods, and then quit blooming altogether.   That amazed me also.

The point is, what a plant wants to do is propagate itself.  Some plants only have seeds to reproduce with.  Others have more than one method.   Day lilies can make seeds, of course.  But they also spread by making extra roots and you can divide them after a couple of seasons.   Lilies will make seeds, the bulbs will divide, and they will also make little nodules in their leaf axils that grow if they fall to the ground. 

But a plant only has so much energy.   If you allow a day lily, for example, to reproduce itself by making seeds, it will throw a lot of energy into growing and ripening those seeds.   Think pregnant woman here.   Unless you really feed them heavily, if you have allowed their seeds to mature and fall, quite often the next year you won’t get nearly as many flowers, because the plant did not store up enough energy to survive the winter and make flowers the next spring.

Additionally, I have found that if I allow my day lilies to start ripening seed pods from the first flowers of the season, they will also stop opening flower buds.   After all, they have successfully propagated now, why bother to spend the energy to open any further buds? 

I have found this to be true with irises as well.   By going out every morning and removing the spent flowers, I end up with half again as many flowers as my neighbors.   You have to be very careful when deadheading irises, because the replacement bud is nestled under the ovary of the spent flower.  If you aren’t careful, you can break off that bud right along with the dead flower, which is very frustrating if you are trying to encourage extended bloom!

Flower plants want to make seeds so badly they will go to extreme lengths to do so.  Not long after my balloon flowers had finished blooming, I cut them back so they could put their energy into their roots.   A couple of days ago, I was wandering around with my camera in hand, and just look what those silly things have gone and done!

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More buds!   They really want to make seeds!

The other keys to having beautiful flowers is to make sure that the plant has adequate nutrition.   Think pregnant lady (again!).   The flowers are the reproductive organs of the plant, and if the plant doesn’t have food it can’t reproduce.   And it can’t just be nitrogen, either.    Plants need magnesium and phosphorus and potassium and calcium and other micro nutrients just like we do.   I compost fanatically, and mulch my flower beds and vegetable gardens with the results every year.  You want all that great nutrition to go to your flowers, so it really is rather important to remove the competition.    Oh I know, that means weeding.  

Finally, those of us who have been suffering from the drought know, that it takes a lot of water for a flower to bloom and keep blooming.   A layer of mulch around the plant can make all the difference in how much moisture stays around its roots.  Again, you want to remove the competition for the water.  Sorry.   More weeding.

So, that’s how to do it.   Look at the garden.   Water it.   Mulch (feed) it.  Weed it.  Frustrate its desire to make seeds. 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Let me show you my callouses.

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Wheel barrows

The saga continues.   I don’t know whether to still be mad at the plumbers or to forgive them.

As you may recall, I mentioned in passing yesterday that they broke my wheelbarrow while they were hauling road base to the ditch across the driveway.   It was annoying, but the wheelbarrow in question was 20 years old.   Of course, it was perfectly serviceable until it got slammed by the trackhoe bucket.  Not pretty, but it worked really well.

Yesterday, they attempted to make amends.  They came by during the driving rain storm (we got 5 and a half inches!) with a brand new shiny wheelbarrow and presented it to me. 

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Once again, they interrupted a massage.  I think they may do this on purpose, as you will see from the ensuing discussion.

At the time, I was suitably pleased and impressed by the fact that they replaced my wheelbarrow with a new one.   It seemed like a wonderful thing, to have my sturdy old tool “made new.”  From my porch, looking through the pouring rain, it seemed like a worthy successor.  I was gracious, thanked them effusively, and reminded them that I hadn’t wanted a new one, just to have the old one fixed.

This morning, as I put on my boots and prepared to address my the front yard again, I was filled with the milk of human kindness, gratitude towards the plumber for bringing me a new wheelbarrow, etc . 

I no sooner put my hands on the handles of the New Wheelbarrow in order to position it to receive rocks, than I noticed a huge difference.   First of all, the handles were quite a bit higher, and the thing was hugely lighter.   As soon as I threw the first rock in, I knew that the new wheelbarrow was a piece of junk compared to my old one.  It sounded thin and cheap.

I now post two pictures of the two tools side by side, taken from different angles, so you can have an opportunity to compare the old with the new.

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First of all, look at the handles.   Aside from the obvious size difference, which clearly indicates that the new wheelbarrow is not designed to deal with the heavy duty loads that the old one is, look at how they are attached.   On the old one, the handles come out at a lower angle.   This means you have to bend your knees to lift it up, but once you have it tilted forward, you can walk along with your arms straight and when you go over a bump the back legs will clear the obstruction.   The new one barely has 2 inches of clearance.  This has already created a problem once, and I was only on the job half an hour.

Next, look at the back brace between the rear legs.   The old one is of heavier metal, much wider, and secured to the legs using four bolts.   The new brace is thin, flimsy, and simply slides into slots in the legs.  It is not even attached using paint, much less screws or anything so sturdy as a bolt.

Everything — the handles, the wheels, the axles, the bracing, the legs —  is bigger, more solid, sturdier, better put together on the old wheel barrow.   The barrow is larger, has a better shape in front for tipping loads out, and is made of heavier gauge steel.   Additionally, The barrow on the old tool rests directly on the handles, is bolted to them.  For some reason the newer barrow is attached to the handles by means of a wedge of plastic.  This looks to me like a place that will fail rather quickly. 

I stood and looked at the new wheelbarrow, and thought that I would not have bought such a cheap-ass piece of junk.   I wondered if the plumbers had thought I was so ignorant I wouldn’t know the difference?   After all, I’m a homeowner and a woman; what do I know about tools?  Then I thought maybe I was being unkind.   After all, it has been twenty years since we bought that wheelbarrow.   Maybe they don’t make them that well any more.  After all, everything is made in China, cost cutting measures, etc. etc. ad nauseum, blah blah.

So I reserved my judgment until I visited the Lowe’s site.   And this is what I found there.  Take especial note of the Jackson 6 cu ft Heavy Duty Wheelbarrow, and compare it to the Homeowner’s 6 cu ft Steel Wheelbarrow.   The Homeowner’s is what they brought me, the Heavy Duty is like what I had.   Notice the difference in price:  $39.90 for the Homeowner’s vs. $99.98 for the Heavy Duty.

Did they not notice the difference between what they broke and what they brought me?  Did they think I was so unobservant and ignorant that I would not notice the difference?   Did they think I would believe that because the two were the same color that they were exactly the same?  Were they just trying to make a gesture to appease an angry customer so they wouldn’t lose their business, and didn’t want to pay too much for it?

I don’t know.   And I don’t know whether to be grateful or annoyed at this point. 

I do know that I am going to go out and get a proper wheelbarrow to replace the broken one.   I think I may take the gift back and leave it on their doorstep, with a note for them to use it and see how long it holds up for them.   Bet it won’t last 20 years.

What do you think?   What should I do?  I’m confused.

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We got .83 inches of rain last night.   It was wonderful.   You could almost hear the shrubs and flowers sucking in the water.   The temperature dropped during the night too, and today we had a nice breeze and the high was only 82.   What a relief..

None of the animals liked the thunderstorm last night.   It was a little nerve wracking.  There was a lot of energy in those clouds, and there were a lot of ground strikes.  I saw one during my 5 o’clock massage and counted it off, it was about 2 1/2 miles south of here.  Today when I called my friend who is a dairy farmer, I asked her how they had enjoyed the blessing of the rain.   It turned out it was a mixed blessing.   That ground strike I had observed hit one of their bale rings and killed 7 of their replacement heifers.  

There was a strike right behind our house too, and all the street lights on the next block over are still out.   The block was without power for several hours too.   The outage didn’t affect us, but when lightning is hitting the ground all around you, it isn’t exactly a comfortable feeling.   But you hate to complain when you have been praying for rain, and at least there were no tornadoes.

Since it was so cool today I got busy working on straigtening up the front yard.   I was cleaning up rocks, and raking the soil out even, trying to patch the big gouges left by the track hoe.   As I was working, I kept hearing drag races.   Seriously, there was the sound of screaming engines, and then an announcer saying things like, “He got up to 124 miles per hour!   How about that, folks?  Give him a big round of applause.”   Then it would be quiet for a while, and then I would hear another acceleration.  Every once in a while there was loud music, too. 

My irritation level went up a notch when I discovered that my lovely plumber had broken my wheelbarrow when he borrowed it to move road base from our pile in the back yard to the ditch he had cut across the driveway.  The screaming engines disturbing my peaceful afternoon  work in the yard began to really annoy me, especially since I could not figure out where the noise was coming from.   I even walked around the block, but could see nothing.   Finally, I called our police dispatcher, and asked them if there were drag races going on somewhere.  

They didn’t know of any, and so I told them that it was very curious.  I said maybe it was somebody with their TV or stereo turned up real loud, or a party.   The police don’t like to think people are drag racing, and we do have an excessive noise ordinance, so they said they would check it out.   I went back outside, and presently a cop car drove down the block.   He went off around the neighborhood, and disappeared.   

The drag racing continued, intermittently.   Finally, I couldn’t stand the curiosity or the annoyance any more, so I hopped in my truck and began to drive around looking for the source of the noise.   Sure enough, over a kilometer away and across the interstate from where I live, I discovered the source.   There WERE drag races going on.   The Harley Davidson dealer had an event going on:  DynoDrag racing.   

There was a big flatbed trailer fitted out so you could put your motorcycle up on some sort of rollers, and do a quarter mile drag race without ever moving.   The rig was equipped with a miniature christmas tree, and could sense the speed and time it tood for the “quarter mile.”  Actually, pretty cool, except for the fact that everybody within a mile radius had to listen to it whether they liked it or not.   I wouldn’t have minded the engine sounds so much, it was the announcer and the pounding rock music that was sort of bugging me.    I approached the owner of the store, and asked him if he knew that people over a half mile away could hear his event.   

He was pretty amazed, actually, and even sort of proud.   I suggested that perhaps he might consider rearranging the speakers, or even turning them down a bit.   “Oh,” he said.  “We’re done now.”

“That’s good,” I said.   “Maybe the next time you could figure out a way so that everybody for a mile around won’t have to listen to it all day.”

“Oh, you’re just lucky we aren’t doing it tonight,” was his sneering reply.

Obviously, he really didn’t care whether he bothered anybody or not.   Rather than get into an unpleasant argument, I contented myself with saying, “Well, I sure do appreciate your helpful attitude.   I’ll make sure that if I ever need a motorcycle not to purchase it from here.”   Then I got in my truck and drove straight over to the police station.

My stress level has been pretty high the last few days.   It was really high when I approached the dispatch window where there is a sign that says “Ring bell for service.”

The girl was sitting right there, so I just said “Ring a ding ding!”

“How can I help you, Ma’am?”

“I called a couple of hours ago about drag racing.   I just want to let you know that there WAS drag racing going on.  DynoDragRacing.  It was over at the Harley Davidson dealer.   He had some sort of event going on.”  The dispatcher told me that they had sent an officer out to try to find what I was complaining about, and I said I had seen him drive by.  She went on to say that he had not been able to find anything.   I told her it wasn’t surprising since the source of the noise wasn’t actually in my little neighborhood, but all the way across the freeway from there.

When my annoyance about having to listen to the noise all afternoon started to get brushed away, I’m afraid that I got a little perturbed, and even raised my voice.  There were several very interested cops gathered in the dispatch area, listening to me rant.  The burden of my diatribe was something about excessive noise ordinances, and eventually the dispatcher told me that someone would be out to talk to me. 

Well, I ended up having a long conversation with a nice older officer.   He is the one they send out to soothe the troubled public.  He exudes calm, and has extremely good listening skills.   Eventually, he got me calmed down, and after a good twenty minutes of discussion, we came to the conclusion that the best course of action for me would be to go down to the City Hall come Monday and ask about whether a business needs to get a permit to have an event that involves so much noise and outside speakers.  And if they do need a permit, did the Harley guy have one or not?   Anyway, he got me settled down, and so I went on home and proceeded to work on the mess the water line replacement left behind for a couple of more hours.

I had just come in the house after quitting for the evening, and was removing my boots, when the phone rang.   It was Jim.   “Have the police been by yet?”

“The police?!   Why would they be coming by here?”

“Well, I just called them and asked them to check on you.   There was a garbled message on the cell phone when we got here.  It sounded like you had hurt yourself or something.   When I tried to call you back, there was no answer, so I got worried and called to ask them to check on your well being.”

“Well, I never called you.   It must have been a wrong number.”  Right about then, there was an authoritative knock on the front door.  “That is probably them right now, Jim.  Let me answer the door.”

I rushed to the door, sweaty and dirty, one boot on and the other one off, and opened it to find two of Lebanon’s finest in attendance.   Both of them had been interested bystanders during my rant earlier in the afternoon.   I’m sure that they probably thought I had gone back over to the Harley dealer and gotten into a shouting match, and then he had come over here to retaliate.   Or something.  They were certainly ready to rescue me, they had their flashlights in hand, and looked quite alert.

“Is everything all right here?”

I reassured them, told them that the phone message that concerned Jim must have been a wrong number, and apologized for putting them to a lot of  trouble.   As they were leaving, I said to them, “Gee, you guys have really been attentive.   This is the third time you’ve been bothered by me today, and I really appreciate the care.”

“Just doing our job, Ma’am.”

“Well, I really do appreciate it.   And it is very reassuring to think that if there had actually been something wrong someone was willing to check on it and help me out  You have a good evening, now.”

My mother told me the police are your friends.   I think she was probably right.

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Jim left for New Hampshire on Wednesday morning.  He’s off to another chair class.

For the last week, the grapes in the vineyard were busy ripening in the scorching August heat.  These are the chambourcin variety.

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Every day Jim would go out the vineyard, open up the bird net and pick a few grapes, bring them into the kitchen to test their sugar content with the portable refractometer and then test  their pH.  

A week ago he was saying he thought they could wait to be picked until he got back from the chair class.   On Tuesday morning, he came into my massage room as I was changing the linens and cleansing the room after my first customer of the day, and said, “I have some good news and I have some bad news.”

I knew he had been testing the grapes, so I had an inkling of what his news was, but I bit anyway.   “So, what is the good news?”

“Well, the good news is that the grapes are ready to be picked.”

“Ah,” I replied.   “And the bad news is that the grapes are ready to be picked and we had better do it today.”

“Boy, you’re quick!   I’m going to get started.”

“As soon as I get the linens on the table I will come and help.  I can help pick grapes until Debbie gets here for her massage, I’ve got an hour before she’s scheduled.  Then after her massage I will get back out here and help you.   There is a three hour time slot between her and my next massage, we ought to be able to get them crushed by then, right?”

“That should be no problem.  We’d better be able to get it done, because by then I’ll have to get ready for work.”   And so that is exactly what we did.  This year we picked 120 pounds of grapes off our four rows.   We only got 5 pounds off the Marechal foch variety, which was the row which had sprouts 16 inches long and was fully budded out when we had the big freeze last April.  the vines did not die, they even put out secondary growth, but the production was severely curtailed.   In contrast, the Chambourcin grapes, which had not broken dormancy when the frost came, produced 56 pounds of fruit.   And we are still not experiencing full production yet, the vines are very young. 

So, here are a couple of pictures for contrast.   The first one is the picture of our tiny harvest last year, after we severely pruned back the blossoms to limit berry production, and the birds ate all the grapes on two of the rows.

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Now, have a look at what we got this year!  Each container has a different variety in it.   Boca noir is on the left, Beta in the middle, the Chambourcin on the right.   The Marechal foch were in the kitchen in a stainless steel bowl  when this picture was taken.  Notice that the harvest container in the middle is the same as the one we used last year.  I’m thinking that we may need more containers next year.  

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We ran them all through the stemmer-crusher, and put them into their fermentation container.   Jim sterilized the berries and juice, installed the fermentaion lock, and then went off to work at the salt mines (I mean liquor store).   He packed for his trip Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday, since we picked grapes during the time he was planning to pack.  I pitched the yeast Wednesday evening.  

All day yesterday, the dining room and kitchen smelled like a winery, all yeasty, as the fermentation progressed.   The must is resting now, waiting for Jim to come home.  When he does, we will press it and the must will be transformed to young wine.

The plumber finished cleaning up today.   The yard looks as well as can be expected after hosting a trackhoe and a bobcat,  and receiving about a hundred feet of trench.  There are definite scars and still lots of rocks for me to move.   I plan to work on that tomorrow and maybe Sunday.    Anyway, the plumber and I parted on cordial terms.  I don’t think he lost any money by being forced to do a proper job of filling in the trenches.   He is still receiving commentary from the local plumbing supply stores, though, and has yet to come face to face with Mr. C.  (He told me he’s been avoiding him.  Hard to do in a town this size, especially since they are both working on the same project over at a local factory.)  I’ll bet he doesn’t make this particular mistake again!

 One of my clients was looking at the shambles in the front yard today.   After I explained about having to replace the water line, she mentioned that it is always something when you have a house.

“Yeah,” I replied, laughing wryly.   “I had to pay those guys $1900 to destroy my front lawn!”

“It will look a lot better when we have had some rain and the grass recovers from the heat.”

“Yes it will.  I’ll have to do some reseeding, and spread straw mulch.   It’ll be okay.  Every one needs rain BAD!”   No disagreement there, the whole area has been sweltering in over 100+ degree heat for a week and a half, there has been no rain for the whole entire month of August.  One of my clients is a cattle farmer, she has been worried about her pasture.   Yesterday she fretted, “If we don’t get some rain real quick, we’ll have to start feeding hay.”   No farmer likes to start using their winter’s supply of hay in August, I can tell you.  

That is almost as bad as having your tenant come across the street to ask if the air conditioner over there is under warrantee, since it quit working the other day and the repairman is there to fix it.  After paying for the water line, I was not really excited about the idea of replacing an air conditioner in the same week.  Fortunately, all it needed was a new condenser.  Whew.  It felt almost like a miracle.

At 5 p.m. today, a real miracle occurred.   The clouds gathered, grew heavy, the lightning flashed and thunder rolled, and rain pounded down onto the parched earth.   It rained for an hour; we got .53 inches (1.3cm).   As I sit here to write, I hear the thunder rumbling again.   The radar showed another band of rain coming from the south, the remnants of tropical depression Erin.   I think I hear drops hitting the ground.

I’d better post before Embarq turns off their servers.   They hate having open lines during big thunderstorms.   Makes me wonder about how good surge protectors are.  If a major internet and phone service provider doesn’t trust them, should I?

Oh, and while I was wandering around the yard today praying for rain and moving the sprinkler, I noticed that one of my clematises decided to have a resurgence, and was covered with blossoms.  

I take it as a sign that things are returning to their normal positive state at The Havens. 

Well, except for the fact that I’m still stuck cooking for myself  for two weeks while Jim learns to make a Continuous Arm Windsor chair.  Oh well.  This too shall pass.

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