Monthly Archives: April 2012

What a difference composting makes

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Just a warning, this is a motivational post on composting. Motivational hopefully for you, but also for me to keep going on it this weekend! A two or three months ago we ordered a whole truckload of compost and have slowly been spreading it out here and there. The front lawn got a layer raked in and some flower beds got an inch laid down too and oh what a difference it has made. So much so that I had to share. Above is the front lawn that we got the compost down on, below is the back lawn which we haven’t gotten to yet. What difference!
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These two pictures are of one flower area, above is to the left side of the path, where I got the compost in, below is the right side, which hasn’t been touched yet. A major difference! I utilize compost similar to a mulch, just layer an inch on the dirt and water it in well and leave it. Look how large and lush the plants are above compared to how spindly and little they are below!
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Healthy robust composted calendula.
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Spindly in-need-of-nutrition calendula.

We of course make our own compost, but every few years we order a few yards to really give the garden a good boost. In the past we’d always gotten mushroom compost from Sonoma Materials in the past, but we got a tip from our favorite nursery, Sonoma Mission Gardens, to order from Sonoma Compost (and yes, if you own a business in Sonoma, you seemingly must start your business name with ‘Sonoma’!). And so we did, we got 10 yards of the Organic High-Test Compost and we are thrilled with it. The compost is cheaper, though the delivery fee higher, so that is why we ordered as much as we did. If you live in Sonoma County, I highly recommend giving Sonoma Compost a try.

And after you’ve ordered your compost, head over to the plant sale tomorrow (Saturday, April 28th) at the Sonoma Garden Park from 9am to 3pm. We’ll be there picking out our peppers and other goodies!

Happy composting!

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Filed under compost, Life in Sonoma

It’s all the buzz around here

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Saturday afternoon I arrived at this welcoming place, above, Beekind in Sebastapol, to pick up the bees. I have had this date on the calendar for months now. Beekeeping is something I’ve wanted to do for years now but between city ordinances (which have since been relaxed), and having a baby and knowing we were going to move, I had to wait. Now that we are on this property and I have a few beekeeping friends I knew this was as good a time as any. Last August I picked up a copy of Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees to give me a good introduction into what I was getting into.
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(the boys were glued to the two bee boxes!)

When we first moved in our generous neighbor gave us an incredible basket of edible goodies and one of them was a canning jar full of honey. When we finally met in person we asked her if she kept bees and she casually replied that she caught a wild swarm in her backyard and this was their honey. Holy Cow! Incredible! Turns out she wanted to learn a little more and start a traditional hive this year too, so together we ventured out to Beekind a few weeks ago to take on of their hands on hive installation and inspection classes. Taking that class, for me, was invaluable. And knowing that there was someone over the fence with whom I could shout out to for moral bee support is also invaluable.
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Now, despite that I’ve read a book and taken a class, I am still a bumbling newbie in all of this, so when it came time to install the packages all sorts of little stumbling blocks came up such as. ‘Oh wait, the boxes are nailed together, what do we do about that?’ After finding that a hammer wasn’t going to pull out those tack strips easily we resort to a saw.
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A lot of deliberation, debating and worry went into the location of the hives. We finally decided upon a part of the yard that gets little foot traffic, has a high hedge to protect from the wind and is slightly overhung by a tree to give a little afternoon shade.
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What’s been great about the process is seeing how excited the boys are about it all. Our youngest son is well known to be a bee petter and the first question he had for the lady when we picked up the bees was, ‘can I hold one?’ But our oldest, as you can see above, wants to be right into it, picking things up, moving things around. He told me the other day, ‘Let’s go check on them, I just can’t resist the bees!’ I’m looking forward to them learning along with me.
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Installing the bees was a little heart racing but I didn’t get stung and all in all, it went smoothly. Inside those larger boxes of bees is a small box that the queen comes in. You can see me above brushing bees off of her with some grass. There is a cork in that box that you take out and replace with a mini-marshmallow. You then rubberband her to a frame and the workers eat their way into her.
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At the end of the day I got them all buttoned up and was quite proud and excited about our new venture. Yesterday I had to go back in and take out the bee boxes and reduce the hive down to one box (I had to start with two boxes since I’m using shallows), which went mostly easily, except when I came back a little later and found that one hive was swarming the removed bee package box…apparently the queen was attached to that. Sigh. So back the package box went into the hive. Then I also found that the ants (I really do hate ants!)  had broken through my cinammon border and had infested the syrup of the other hive. Sigh. So more cinammon was applied and today I need to create little oil moat around the bases.

The good news is that when I went into the hives to rearrange things yesterday I saw that one hive was already drawing out it’s honeycomb and filling it with the syrup, so with any luck and if I can keep the queen in the hives, we’ll have honey this summer!

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Filed under beekeeping

Cut, built, caught

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The boys went on an adventure with new friends this past weekend which left the little girl and I alone to pick flowers…
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…and watch a pair of mocking birds build a nest below our kitchen window. I’ve never watched a bird make a nest so closely before. They spent all day Saturday and Sunday bringing sticks and Monday and Tuesday bringing fluffy things. Wednesday it was finished and the pair were nowhere to be found. Maybe on a honeymoon. Can’t wait to spy on their eggs and babies in the coming months!
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The boys returned with four fresh caught crabs! Two red crabs and two dungeness! A surprising success!

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Filed under flowers, Life in Sonoma

Natural Dying

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(left to right: dyed with walnut hulls, fennel with copper, daffodils, fennel with alum, avocado skins)

Ever since I tried my hand at dying yarn with our walnut hulls last autumn, I’ve had the bug to try other natural dying. I bought a couple of inspiring books (Harvesting Color & The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes) that I’d frequently browse through, but I could never quite find the time to experiment. After giving a fellow knitting friend those two books to borrow and casually suggesting that the wild fennel was starting to sprout up the street, she emailed me saying, ‘let’s try it!’ I made a quick trip down to Dharma Trading Company for undyed yarn and invited her over after we dropped the kids off at school. It was a fun morning, stewing up wild fennel and dried daffodils in large pots while drinking tea and chatting about all sorts of things.
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(left to right: dyed with avocado skins, fennel with alum, daffodils, fennel with copper, walnut hulls)

Natural dying is great fun, as long as you go into it without any expectations. In one of my books, one of the authors got a pale green from her fennel dying, so we were both ready to see green appear on our yarn and cotton tablecloth, we got pale yellow instead and barely any color on the cotton when we used alum as a mordant. We divided the fennel dye water into two parts, one for adding alum as a mordant (we combined mordant with dye to save time) and in the next we put a copper pot into the dye pot to weigh down the yarn. If you dye in an unlined copper pot you don’t need a mordant. Since our copper pots are lined, I did the reverse and put the pot inside the dye bath. We got a much different color, as seen above.

After she left I bravely strained out the second batch of walnut hulls I had been soaking since…oh last November. It was fragrant, let me tell you that, but what a much richer dye color it made this time, in comparison with the last batch! The pink/mauve came from avocado skins! Can you believe that? Who would have though avocado skins would turn wool pink!

I have a romantic notion of making an entire fair isle sweater made from yarn dyed from plants grown on my street (update: I DID make the sweater!). I don’t know if that can really happen, but a girl can dream. It certainly has been a fun experiment. You can really delve deep into the chemistry of dying and change colors by adding washing soda or vinegar or all sorts of different things to change the pH. But for now I’m sticking with the basics. I’m now impatiently waiting for the purple iris’ to bloom and then dye to see what they will do!

These blogs really inspired me about natural dying:  Rhubarb in the Garden, Naturally Dyeing, & Tinctory

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Filed under in the kitchen

Things around here

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Things are starting to shape up around here. If you can change your mindset to overlook the vast amount of weeding and yard work we still have yet to do, and focus on things that fit into a small camera view, things look quite beautiful.
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(do you know what kind of flowering tree this is?)
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(mushroom hunting has gotten a little too close to home! ‘Fix patch of dry rot’ has all of a sudden moved up on the priority list!)
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Have a good weekend! I’ll be back next week, we have a lot to catch up on!

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Filed under state of the garden, what's blooming

on the outside

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It’s been a nice mix of rainy days and sunny days around here. I’ve heard a few times this winter that this is the driest winter we’ve had since the Gold Rush! That was a very long time ago! So any rain we get is very welcome around these parts.
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We’ve noticed that the lady bugs are out in profusion the past two weeks. They are everywhere and we’re very happy they are here.
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Iris’ among a carpet of Love in a Mist.
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Apple blossoms.
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We have a whole smattering of seedlings coming up….and then getting immediately eaten. Though we moved about three short miles away, I feel in some ways that we have to relearn gardening all over again. The soil here is completely different and the garden pests too are different. We’ve never had such a problem with seedlings being eaten as we have had here. We’ll learn soon enough what we need to do to grow successfully here. It’s just a matter of not giving up before we find the right answers.

In the meantime the lilacs are starting to bloom and there is promise of new apples to press later in summer.

What’s happening in your garden lately?

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Filed under state of the garden