Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dabbling in Dirt

Having considered the matter these past few days, I've determined that literal dirt, like the figurative kind, is best kept to oneself.

It started with an idea I had last Wednesday.  Obviously, when it came to the excess dirt in the south garden bed, shovelling it into the cart and then bagging it up or whatever was not going to work.  Then, too, the possibility of coming with a pickup truck seemed increasingly remote.  If I were going to get this soil to my friends' house, I'd have to think of another way.

Well, how about this?

I took one of my big wheeled trash bins, and lined it with a 45 gallon lawn bag.  I then shovelled the dirt into it-- twelve scoops per bag worked out all right--then wheeled it over to the side of the yard, tipped the trash bin over, hauled out the dirtbag (sorry, couldn't resist), and slung it up on the rock mulch under the Norway maple.  Where it could lie pending further ideas.

I think there's 16 or 17 bags here, all told

Did three bags like this on Wednesday, and was thinking of asking my friends if they knew anybody with a truck who'd be willing and able to help.  But Thursday came and I was looking at my front yard.  At the need for soil in the new garden bed where the sod as dug out.  At the rest of the lawn where I've dug out all that soil to try to root out the nutsedge.  I'd planned the make up the difference with compost, but unless I wanted to commit myself to a major tilling operation, that wouldn't make sense.  Even if the yellowjackets let me get to it, it wouldn't make sense to try to grow grass in compost.

So I shifted gears.  Mentally, I mean.  I kept on loading up the bags-- even though it was raining when I started and I wasn't all that thrilled about it-- but with a different destination in mind.  For while I dislike being an Indian-giver (i.e., making promises then going back on them), I see I need the dirt from my backyard in my front yard more than my friends in New Brighton do in theirs.  And as depressing and onerous and Volga-boatmen-convicts-hauling-the-barges a process somehow schlepping those bags of dirt to my front yard would be, trying to boost them into the back of my PT Cruiser and unloading them again in New Brighton would be even worse.  Not to say impossible doing it single-handedly, but close to it.

Got the tomato bed flattened out before time to head for work. So at least that was done.
Almost there
That afternoon, too, I talked on the phone to my friends, explained the haulage problem, and begged off.  Happily, it was okay with them-- I think half of it on their part was wanting to do me a favor and give me a place to put the dirt.

That was one very heavy problem solved, or at least eliminated.  Still had to figure out how to get the bags into my cart to get them round to the front.

But today, I discovered I could turn a defect into an advantage.  A defect in my backyard walkway, that is.  There's a place by the Norway maple where one walkway slab sits a good inch or more higher than its neighbor.  So if I tipped the cart over on its front end and dragged a bag of dirt into it,

I could brace the wheels against the walkway lippage, like so

and pull it upright with the bag in it.

That done, I could empty the dirt into the cart, ready to take around front.

So good for me, I got seven bags of vegetable garden dirt (primarily a mix of compost and sand) into the new front garden bed.

While I was at it, I rejiggered the brick border at the toe of the slope so it'd come out square,

Swiped a couple of matching bricks from another part of the yard
and mixed the remainder of a carton of Preen into the lower part of the new garden bed.

We'll see if it does any good-- it was pretty old.

If I had nothing better to do I'd also figure out how much the average shovelful of that soil weighs and calculate how much dirt I moved.

But I do have better things to do.  Like plant stuff in the dirt I shifted.  But that's a separate post.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Bit of a Break

Me, showing off
Today was my birthday, but I had no time to celebrate in the usual way.  No cake, no ice cream, no kicking up of the heels.

For that matter, except for some dirt-shifting late in the afternoon, I didn't really get any work done, either.

On the house or garden, I mean.

This is because I had the annual recertification training for substitute teaching in the morning, work at the Big Blue Box Store in the late afternoon and evening, and errands in between.

But that doesn't mean I can't be festive here on the houseblog.  And frivolous, too.

"Frivolous" is exactly the way to describe one of my errands this afternoon.  For I have an Idea of what I want to do with the paving in my new front garden bed, though I don't have the cash to do it and won't have it for the foreseeable future.  Nevertheless, being in the neighborhood I stopped at a local stoneyard and checked out the flagstones.

This is Colonial wall stone.  It matches my bluestone windowsills and some other flagstone paving I have on the property.  Nevertheless, I don't like it as much as I do this:

It's called West Mountain stone, and it comes from over by Scranton.  I really love the colors.  Wouldn't it be great if I came across someone who had some stone similar to this on their property that they wanted to get rid of?  Barring that, for this while I can only dream.

There's that.  But I can also treat you to some pretty flower shots from my garden, of what's currently in bloom and blossoms from earlier this spring.

Flowering quince, backyard west border, April 21st
Columbines, backyard, east border, May 12th

Kerria japonica pleniflora, backyard, north fence; also from May 12th
Lilac; "Miss Kim," I think.  Side door, May 18th
"Brother Cadfael" rose, front border, June 2nd
"Don Juan" rose, west side of house, June 8th
"Clio" rose, back porch steps, June 11th
There are a lot more I didn't get decent pictures of this year.  But I hope you enjoy these.  I only regret not being able to depict how wonderful the lilacs and roses have smelled, too.  Maybe I can convey a little of it in a haiku I wrote about three weeks ago:

Through open window
Scent of lilac breathes rapture
Soft sultry May night

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Sound of Crickets in the Night

You know what happens when you put out a call like this on Facebook?
Help! I have some garden soil I need to get out of my yard and some friends who live seven miles away who need it in theirs. Anybody have a pickup truck I can borrow to load it onto?
Nothing, that's what.  Crickets.  Because you have sensible friends who know that it's not just their pickup you want to borrow, but their shovels as well, and also probably (ok, certainly) their muscles and time to wield them.  And that's assuming that any friends who might have pickup trucks even see your post, given Facebook's arbitrary practice as to whose news appears in whose newsfeed.

I posted that plaintive appeal last night around midnight, after an afternoon of fun in the south vegetable garden bed, the one where the tomatoes are to go.  Spent about an hour and fifteen minutes weeding it (though it seemed a lot longer),

then started sieving the dirt into the garden cart.  I have too much and some friends up above New Brighton need some yard fill, but I didn't want to give it to them complete with roots and weeds.
And when I considered how much dirt is involved (and they can't help me, because the wife is older and the husband has a bad back), I was feeling very discouraged.  Like existential-angst discouraged.  Why don't I have some nice, useful, significant-other type guy attached to me who could help me do this?  Why am I not making enough money so I could hire it done?  How could I ever bag up all this and load it into my car?  I'm pretty strong, but that would take forever!

Thus the idea to appeal for a pickup truck.  Finished filling up the cart with cleaned dirt-- and slow work it was-- parked it over to the side with a yard bag over it in case of rain, and focussed on transplanting the volunteer lettuces.
(If they want to pop up without my having to plant them, the least I can do is give them a safe home for the season.)

But as I say, nobody (at least not so far) has risen up to be a hero and champion in the way of pickup trucks.  Not even after I pleaded for mercy for the tomatoes:
This is kind of urgent-- I can't plant my tomatoes until I remove the mound that's built up in the garden bed.
So this afternoon I took stopgap measures and potted them all up in gallon pots using the soil from the bed where they'll eventually grow.  Sunk them deep in the bigger pots to give them more support and encourage them to develop roots from the leaf nodes.  Should give the "Red Brandywine" a chance at survival, if anything can.

Other than that, dumping yesterday's cartload of dirt in the new planting bed in the front, and digging out a few more trowels full of nutsedge-infested soil from the lawn, I've let things sit today.  Let's give it awhile longer.  Maybe there is somebody out there I know who's dying to haul a few loads of dirt for gas money and free pop.  Maybe my friends in New Brighton know somebody who has a truck.  Can't hurt to ask.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Plugging Away-- and Getting Plugged

Just a little progress report.  All garden related, of course.

My friend brought the tomatoes he promised to give me to church this morning.  One "Italian Goliath,"
one "Red Brandywine,"
one "Brandymaster,"
and one miscellaneous cherry.  Just now they're all leggy seedlings in 8 oz. yogurt cups.  The "Red Brandywine" broke on the way home, which is too bad, since I like me a Brandywine tomato.  But maybe it can be nursed and recover.

They won't get planted for awhile, though:  Over the years the garden bed that I'm rotating the tomatoes to has gotten so mounded up with soil amendments that it's more than a foot higher at the center than at the edges.  And the beds in the round vegetable garden aren't that big.  It needs to be levelled off before anything goes into it.  Oh, yeah, and it needs weeded before that.

Which didn't happen this afternoon or evening.  What did happen is more digging and spading of dirt off the bare places in the front lawn, where the nutsedge is emerging where I dug it out before.  Not as thickly yet as before, but still there.  It's very depressing having to deal with this, such a waste of time and topsoil, too, but what can you do?

Finished cutting up sticks and shifting leaves from the part of the open compost pile I began cleaning off yesterday.
There was a little finished compost at the bottom of it, which I spread on the new planting bed in the front garden.

At least, I think it was compost.  May have just been a mounded bit of topsoil.

Whether or no, after that it was time to make a new compost pile where that bit had been.  Didn't have a lot of "green" material, unless you count the Virginia creeper I pulled off the fence.
Organic parfait
Instead I made layers of grassy sod and leftover unmulched leaves.  Yeah, I know you're not supposed to put dirt in the compost heap. But what else am I supposed to do with all those turves?

A lot of the leaves I was using for that I shook off the branches and sticks that came off the limb that fell down last year.  There weren't too many large ones left on the pile to cut up for kindling today, so I just took the leaf rake and drew the leaf residue off the old pile to use it on the new.

Where things got left, in a hurry
Or I did until some apparent residents of the old pile took exception to this disturbance. First I knew of it was when something  tried to fly up my right nostril.  I sniffed out violently and tried to bat it away, whereupon it stung me twice on my nose right above the lip, on the septum.  Ow!

Quick but careful removal of self into the house-- don't want to be precipitous and trip on the porch stairs-- all the time hoping it wasn't a honeybee, since their stingers remain in and you have to tweeze them out.  Quick, find the baking soda and make a poultice with water.  Dab it on the affected area . . .  know one looks like an idiot, but never mind.  It kept the swelling down where the creature plugged me, and within five minutes the pain was gone too.

Returned to the scene of the incident, though not to do any more raking.  Yellowjackets, it was.  There were still three or four hovering around.  Not going to mess with that pile again until I've consulted the exterminator.

So as much as I wanted to get that pile turned for the first time in three years, it was time to drop it and do something else instead.

Like plant the Berberis thunbergii "Crimson Pygmy" barberry I bought Thursday night from the Outside Lawn & Garden department at work.  I was thinking I needed a reddish specimen in front of the right-hand Alberta spruce . . . but one will do, since my neighbor to the east has four or five or these.

She was out in her front yard, too, while I was planting this.  I told her about the yellowjacket sting.  I mean, I didn't expect to go into anaphylactic shock from it, never have before, but I know some people develop that reaction when they get older.  So in case I suddenly quit breathing and keeled over . . .

I didn't.  I finished getting the red barberry into the ground and went on to transplant a few volunteer Blackeyed Susans into the little strip next to the Siberian iris at the toe of the slope to the sidewalk.

Still so much to do, but the light ran out.  It'll all get done-- eventually-- if I keep plugging away at it.  At this rate I should be able to go back to working on the inside of the house by, oh, late September or so.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

It Never Fails

Well, after studying over it and contem- plating it and poking at it ever since Memorial Day week- end, I put in a plant order with Wayside Gardens early this morning.

Was not that easy a process.  The biggest hassle was trying to come up to the minimum order to qualify for free shipping while incorporating only plants that'd make the biggest impact.  If I were flush with cash I would gladly have sailed on past that benchmark and loaded up on shrubs and perennials at up to 70% off.  But no.  Even as it is, I'm making this order on faith that this investment will turn out to be worth it later.  Made my final decisions early Thursday morning and was ready to submit my order, once I would receive the free-shipping promo code they were supposed to send me via email for signing up on the site.  But there was some sort of hitch and the code never came.  Waited two days, and by last night some of the plants I wanted were sold out.  Annoying.  I'd get even more annoyed, except that my computer has been working really slowly lately and my email software is even worse.  It's just possible that the registration message to Wayside never got out.

Never mind.  The plants I wanted most were still available, and I came up with replacements for the ones I couldn't get.  And found another promo code via a Google search that was better than the one I was trying to get before.

So the order is on its way, as of 1:55 this morning (I know it is; I got the confirmation).  It includes
  • (2) Berberis "Helmond Pillar" European barberry shrubs (to flank the gate from the back yard on the east side of the house)

  • (3) "Royal Candles" speedwell plants 

  • (3) "Blacknight" Alcea rosea hollyhock plants (as I pursue my never-ending quest for something tall for the back of the front border)

  • (3) "Millennium" Allium ornamental onion plants

  • (1) "Ostbo Red" Kalmia latifolia mountain laurel shrub (Pennsylvania's state flower-- this'll go over by the west fence, probably where the useless woodpile now is), and

  • (1)  Asteromea mongolica Kalimeris double Japanese aster.

  • All at very good end-of-season closeout prices.

    So this noon I walk over to our town's annual Garrison Day fair, and I make a point of visiting the booths that have plants for sale.  Got a new rosemary plant (to replace my old potted one I underwatered and killed over the winter) and some basil seedlings at one.  But at this same booth what else did I see?  Three (count 'em, 3) "Blacknight" Alcea rosea hollyhock plants, in gallon pots, for sale for a buck less each than the pint-potted ones I ordered last night.  It never fails!

    Just for a moment, I considered running home and calling to see if I could cancel that part of my order, and replace them with something else to keep the discount, and . . .  No, forget it.  What's done is done.  

    A grassy mess
    And on a brighter note, what else is done as of this afternoon is rooting the grass out of the ground- cover roses and the ornamental deadnettle in the front border.  Figured I should do that before I plant anything more.  It's true the thorns will get you if they can, but I discovered that if you pull the trailers aside with a hand-held garden fork, the weight of the handle will keep them out of the way as you weed.  So the flower bed got a hair cut.

    Gradually pulling it clean
    Cleaned up

    And I got the first third of the open compost heap turned.  Which is to say I pulled the brush off it and cut up the sticks to give to a friend to use for kindling.  Got too dark to do anything else this evening.
    The compost heap is next to the fence.  The pile in front of it is turves from the front yard.


    What else?  I picked up a used thatch rake Thursday afternoon but haven't used it yet, and the trash haulers took the bags of nutsedge-contaminated soil I put in the trash to go to the landfill (not into the borough compost pile!).  So far, so good.

    What I'm hoping now is that the plant order takes its time getting here.  I have so much to do before I can get them in.  And I still have those lupines, and the broccoli and eggplant I bought in May to plant, and the herbs I got today at the fair.  Not to mention the vegetable beds have to be cleared for seeds, and tomorrow I'm getting some tomato plants from the guy the kindling is going to.  So much to do, and I'm still fighting nutsedge in the front garden, and well, you know, life is so comic that the Wayside order will probably show up the day after tomorrow.  It never fails.