Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Flowers the Size of My Head!

A twitter friend sent me this cool site: http://madmenyourself.com

So, this is my avatar...my glam 50's (I think it is the 50s) gardening persona...expect make it a glass of wine instead of a martini. It was a lot of fun to pick out everything and make your own little cartoon. I did my guy, too.

Except he would have a bottle of Dr. Pepper in his hand instead of a scotch. Lots of fun, you should try it. Anyways....

My new hibiscus has started blooming. I was astonished to see that the bloom is not only much bigger than my hand, it is at least as big as my head! That is what I call a flower. I am very impressed with these varieties. I don't remember the name of the pink ones right now.

This is of course, Lord Baltimore...but who wouldn't love that fantastic deep red. I also have Luna Red, and I believe Kopper King. I also have one that I have no idea what color it is going to be...

I have to say that hibiscus is one of my top three perennial flowers EVER. I want to get a hibiscus tattoo on my shoulder if I could find an artist that knows how to draw it so it doesn't look like a tropical hibiscus. Those are pretty too, but I know the difference, and this is what I want. That is down the line, though. My next tattoo is most likely going to be English ivy that goes up the top of my foot. Ha...I know I'm crazy. I already have a purple bearded iris on my leg. I swear, I look mild-mannered and respectable when I go to work.

The bee bums have been in everything lately. I have so many of them in my yard. My son used to reverse word parts when he was younger (think maryrose) and he was deathly afraid of the 'beebums', as he said. Now, it is a family word, and they will always be beebums to me. This one is checking out the brown-eyed bettys. Of which I have three. I know the seasoned gardeners out there are laughing hysterically now. 3!!!!??? Only three?!!!! You silly girl. What is even funnier, is that until about 3 weeks ago, I only had one. I am hoping that they self-seed themselves (which I understand is a theoretical certainty) and fill in that section of my part sun bed. I am still a new enough gardener to relish and be delighted by plants that make more of themselves without my doing anything to help them. I also knowingly planted mint without a sunken pot in my shade bed. I am living on the edge...ha ha.

I got some lettuce blooms finally. They still weren't all open...but you can get the idea. They are very delicate and starry. I have received some conflicting information on whether I can save the seeds from the two varieties that are blooming at the same time. One is a hybrid romaine, and the other is an heirloom, 'Grandpa Admire's'. I heard that they will cross, so I am probably will have to buy them again next year. Which I might do...both were excellent producers, and actually neither of them bolted until late June. The arugula was done by midMay.

This was my iris bed. Try not to notice my solar lights that are broken and keep falling off the little posts. I don't think I have weeded the iris bed ONCE this year. It has some major issues. Number one, the clay soil. A recurring problem in my new yard. I think the clay soil is rotting some of my bearded iris rhizomes. So, in September, all of the bearded iris are going to get dug up, the soil amended, and replanted. I didn't get a single bloom this spring. Talk about irritation. Problem number two and three, the weeds and the mulch. Remember, a year ago, this was a TOTALLY BLANK YARD. So, last fall, I just dug holes and plunked stuff down where I thought I wanted it. No mulch, no weed control. It was almost November, and I had no time to lose. I just needed to get stuff in the ground immediately. We didn't know where we were moving until only a month before we moved, so I had to haul. When spring came, I started laying down newspaper layers and covering with mulch to suppress all the weeds, because this was all grass and weeds in October. I know it is not recommended to mulch iris rhizomes, but I had limited options at the time. The creeping charlie in this yard is vicious.

So, a few hours later, much better. I have quite a bit of Siberian iris mixed in with the bearded. The Siberian did bloom, but they were little short ones, instead of the usual tall flowers. I don't think it was too bad considering what was there before. Hopefully as time goes by, I can scale back on the mulch, and after I amend the soil, the rhizome health will improve. Here's hoping.

My mother sent me my grandmother's potato masher. I have been looking for one on Ebay, and I happened to mention it to my mother, because I remembered it from my childhood. I think I used to use this as a microphone. She let me have it, but she said I can't actually use it to mash potatoes. Bummer. So, this one is being kept in a special place, but the search continues, for one I can actually use.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Watched Squash Never Grows

Here is a picture of my son and I at the beginning of our train trip to Michigan last week. It was quite the adventure. Both ways it was about 13 hours. That makes for an extremely long trip with an active 6-year old boy in a confined space. We took lots of coloring books, transformers, snacks, and a borrowed, broken dvd player. We did NOT break it.

My son was very happy to see his pop-pop, and meet pop-pop's new dog. The new doggy is a very enthusiastic puppy. She is anxious to lick your hands, face, or anything she can get her little doggy face close to...here is a video of her checking out my son.

Both puppy and my son got in trouble several times for getting too 'rowdy'. I think they are pretty similar. They both have boundless energy, excitability and bad timing, and are intelligent but immature. I was struck by the similarities between my son and the dog several times.

I think she may be bipedal...she spent at least half the time on two legs. What a cutie!

We also got to spend some time hanging out with (okay follow me here) my dad's girlfriend's granddaughter...whew! I think my son was quite taken with her. He did everything but scrape the toe of his shoe on the ground and say "Gee, shucks!" He isn't used to hanging out with girls his age. We played lunar golf with her...blacklight golf. It was pretty cool.

They enjoyed a post golf icee. I didn't do too bad myself. I usually bite the big one when it comes to golf, but I was averaging about 2 a hole. My son and his little friend were playing a strange game of speed golf ahead of us, simultaneously 'pushing' their golf balls into the holes.

And now onto garden update. While I was gone, many things in my garden doubled in size. The corn is sporting huge tassels now, and the ears are starting.

My bean crop is taking off...I've never grown beans, so I am not sure when they are ready...but I am growing mine for dried beans, so I suppose they have got a while to go.

The squash has absolutely exploded. Here is more sneaky squash creeping towards the tomato area. A blogging friend of mine said recently, "A watched squash never grows", which means mine had ample unwatched opportunity this week to take over a third of my garden.

The lettuce is going to have to go, I think, at least from the west end of the garden. Either way, the squash will choke it out soon. It is going through the carrots, but they are so well established, I don't think it will hurt them.

Here, my lettuce is actually blooming. I have never even seen a picture of this, so imagine my surprise when I go out this morning and see beautiful little star-shaped yellow flowers all over the plants. However, when I came back later to photograph them, they were shut up tight as a drum. Evidently, they are morning bloomers. Maybe tomorrow I can get up early and catch the lettuce while it's blooming.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Visit to Michigan

Today we drove up to Frankenmuth, MI to visit Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. This is a really cool Christmas store that is open all year-round.


It was a kind of surreal experience to walk through the huge store, and have everything decked out in lights and glittery snow. Lifesize Santas are everywhere...and huge decorations hang from the ceiling. Christmas music is even playing. You almost expect to step outside and see snow! We spent about three hours in the store, I think. I didn't spend a huge amount, but I did get a really cute tray for my Christmas cookies and some ornaments for family members.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic This is a pic of my dad and my son, resting after our long day of shopping. I think my dad is rather worn out by a combination of his sore neck, shopping (not his favorite), and my son's constant questions and relentless energy. I guess I am used to it. ; )

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Yesterday we went to a Michigan farmer's market. We got there kind of late, because we needed to sleep in a little after arriving so late the night before on the amtrak train. We got into our station at about midnight. Anyways, there was a Great Harvest bread store right next to the farmer's market, so we went over and got some granola, some 'trek' bars, and a very yummy cranberry white chocolate muffin. The muffin is not pictured because it is 'in my tummy'.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic A lady at the farmer's market was selling these great locally made sauces and salsas. I got a spicy arriabiatta sauce, hot salsa, and roasted red pepper mustard. I can't wait to burn my mouth out with these. The pasta sauce will go really well with my eggplants that will most likely be ready when we get back this weekend.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic Some beautiful pattypan squash and crookneck squash from the market. I am growing both of these at home, but mine are not ready yet. I got started a little late. We also got a fantastic bag of local Michigan cherries. Yum yum. Maybe some will go into smoothies when we get home.

Bronner's christmas wonderland! on Twitpic One of the views in the Christmas tree forest in Bronner's. Maybe some of you get a catalog from them in the mail. Well, the store is much better. All these lights made my eyes blurry.

Listening to mp3 player on train. on Twitpic All these pics are from my phone, which is why they are different. They don't have a card reader here, so I am so far unable to access the pics I took with my regular camera. My son and I rode the Amtrak train up Tuesday, which took from 840 AM in Iowa to 12AM in Michigan. We had to change trains in Chicago, with a two hour layover. That was a mess...that place was more hectic (Union Station) than many airports I've been in. Here my son is chilling out late at night listening to my mp3 player.

We are going for a walk , so I will probably wait and post again on Sunday when I am back home and have all my pictures. Hope everyone is doing well and talk to you soon!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Attack of the Sneaky Squash

I feel like such a dork, because I am sad to be leaving on my trip tomorrow. I am sad because I will miss the lilies. Stargazer lilies at least stay open for a week or so, but these will surely be gone when I get back. I am not sure why I am so sentimental, but maybe it is because they only bloom for a few days out of the year, and it just happens to be when I am leaving for five days. The other kind of lilies, that each bloom only lasts a day, that is even more of a bummer. The last blooms of the year will be tomorrow on a few of them, and I will miss that too. I am really lucky though, because this year they bloomed every day for several weeks.

My new hibiscus is getting ready to open one of its stunning, plate-sized blooms. I guess that isn't as bad, because there are so many blooms left, I won't miss too much of that. Am I a nerd for wanting my guy to text me a pic of the bloom when it opens?

Meanwhile, the sneaky spaghetti squash that is here trying to escape my garden will have engulfed the entire backyard by the time I get back.

Here is a pic of it running amuck through the carrots and around the dill. Don't mind the very very very bolted lettuce. I feed it to my guinea pigs, they don't mind if it's bolted...yum yum yum.

This is the first tiny little crookneck squash. I think they are my favorite, after spaghetti squash. This year, in squash, I planted: spaghetti, crookneck, hubbard, zucchini, chioggia (sp?...a so ugly it's cute green bumpy pumpkin), musque de provence (a green and orange pumpkin thing), kukinza (sp?...a light orange pumpkin thing), ornamental gourds, and pattypan squash. The pumpkins I got in kind of late, so I am not sure if I will get any this year, but definitely next year, if not this one. Think I will have enough squash? Ha ha.

Tomorrow is the big train trip, so it will be a couple days til I get back to the blog probably. I will have lots of pics from Michigan in a few days. Please leave comments if you would. I love comments.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I Love Lilies!...or We're Going to take a twip on a twain...

I just like this picture...and I'm tired, so let's start with that. I am trying to lose weight. I have put on about 15-20 lbs in the last year and a half, due to stress and way too much bad eating. I love vegetables and healthy food, I just eat way too much of it. Before last year, I would have said I ate healthier than most people I knew...but that is definitely not true this last year. Yes...maybe baked fish and steamed veggies, but then later, 1/2 a box of annie's chocolate bunnies.

I am really tired of buying new clothes, so something has to be done. Plus, I am tired of feeling bloated and tired all of the time. My allergies have gotten much worse in the last week, so I gave in and took a claritin-d. And then I noticed something weird...I wasn't hungry. A major ingredient of claritin-d is pseudophedrine. I haven't really wanted to eat much at all the last two days. I figure this is pretty effective, suppressing my hunger and relieving my allergies at the same time. I have had to make myself eat today, which is awesome, because usually I am willing myself to stay out of the kitchen so I don't eat something with too many calories. I know I eat for comfort, as relief for stress, and once you start overeating, it is so hard to stop. You feel like you have to eat until you are stuffed all the time. I want to get back to eating regular portions and just having treats every once in a while, not every day. Now, if I could just give up diet soda, that would be great.

My son and I are taking a train trip up to visit my Dad in Michigan this week. Instead of preparing for a 12-hour train ride with a six-year-old...what I am doing? Planting lilies! I scored 6 lilies for 4 bucks each at a greenhouse clearance on Saturday. I have to get them in the ground before I leave on my trip, because my guy won't water them enough, and then I'll have dead lilies.

I got two kinds of white/pink ones. The all white ones are awesome, they are called Casa Blanca. I also got two stargazers, and two hybrid sparkly ones.

All this, and Nan Ripley's hybrid lily sale is next weekend! Because of my trip, I don't get to go til the last day of the sale, I am hoping it is not completely picked over. At least this way, I got some new lilies no matter what.

My tepee is well under way now...with malabar spinach and moonflower vine. I think I could probably start eating the spinach without affecting the plant too much at this point. Note to self, DO NOT plant fennel next to the tepee next year. They are getting all tangled up together.

I love this shot...it reminds me of a Hidden Valley Ranch commercial...lol. The sun just looked so beautiful reflecting off of the soybean field (not mine, I might mention...we just live next to it) and my sunflowers...which are going on 6 ft tall now.

This is a view from one side of my sun bed...pretty good so far, as some things grow in more, it will be stunning. Tomorrow is packing and cleaning day. My guy is staying behind to hold down the fort, and water the plants. I have got to get everything done tomorrow because we are leaving very early. Hopefully I will have lots of great pics to share from Michigan and our train trip.

Friday, July 17, 2009

First Camping Trip of The Year

The last two days my son and I went camping at Pine Lake State Park near Eldora, Iowa.


This is our favorite camping spot in Iowa lately. It is usually not crowded, and it has a few good hiking trails. And it is only about 45 minutes from our house. While hiking today, we found these interesting flowers. They were everywhere, and most were very tall, from 3 to 6 feet. I am going to do some Internet research and find out what they were...I also got some seedpods.

The flowers cluster along the top of the stalk for at least a foot. They are very pretty, small yellow flowers. The leaves are silvery green and soft, like lambs ear.

They must spread well by seed, because they were absolutely everywhere along the lake and the hiking trail.

So, if anybody knows what they are, I would appreciate knowing. I would like to try growing some if they aren't a noxious weed. lol.

Our little tent. Not too bad for 50 bucks. It is more than adequate more my son and I. I can put it together pretty easily by myself. It goes even faster now that my son is big enough to help with the tent poles.

I tried some adventurous camping cooking last night. Goat stew with vegetables...over the camp fire...no stove. I am kind of proud of my fire building skills. 3 or 4 years ago, I would have never built a fire by myself. I would have brushed it off as one of those things that guys do for you. (sorry feminist chicks) With a little practice, now I can get a good fire going within 10 minutes or so. I bought some goat meat a while back, and decided to try making a stew with it. So, here is my recipe for campfire stew.

Goat Stew *Campfire Style

1 lb chunks of goat meat, or beef if so inclined
2 carrots, chopped into small chunks
2 celery stalks, chopped into small chunks
1 lb small potatoes (any small variety, chopped into 1 inch pieces)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 box container beef broth (at least 20 oz)
1 package onion soup mix
1 tsp oregano

1. Start a fire in a fire ring or pit. Wait until you have a good even heat. To cook this way, you almost have to have a ring with a grill that slides over the fire.

2. I started a small pot of water to boil while I chopped up the ingredients. When the water started boiling, I put the potatoes in to cook.

3. While the potatoes cook, start the goat meat cooking in a skillet. As the meat browns a little, add beef broth to keep the meat from sticking. After about 5 minutes, add the vegetables and more broth.

4. The cooking time will vary according to your fire flame and heat. When the meat and veggies seem to be getting tender, add the onion soup mix and a little more broth.

5. When the potatoes are soft and will mash with a fork, drain the water and transfer into the stew mixture.

6. Add in peas and oregano. Put in more broth, less for a thicker stew, more for a soup like mixture. Let cook, combined, for about 10 minutes.

7. Remove from heat and enjoy with fresh bread!

Camping was really fun. Definitely not something I would have ever thought I'd do alone with a small child. My guy strongly dislikes sleeping in a tent, so we usually just go the two of us. In a couple weeks, I have plans to go to Nebraska and go camping with my brother and his family. That will be a blast, because my nephews, 2 and 4, have never been camping before. I also have not been camping with my brother since I was a teenager. Whoaaaa....serious flashbacks. Ha ha.

It was seriously cold. It is mid July, and everyone is out by the fire in jeans and sweatshirts. We had to bundle down in sleeping bags to stay warm last night. Not to complain, but for everything there is a season...and I will have enough of this weather in October. I want it to be hot in July. Maybe I am never happy...who knows. No matter the temperature, it is always fun to go camping with my son.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It's a Crab's Life

I learned a couple of things today. One, how wonderful it can be when your normally sourpuss child has a day where they are truly happy the entire day with little-to-no negativity. I don't know what kind of happy juice he was in today, but I loved it. Actually, it was kind of twilight-zoney. Kind of like, who are you, and what did you do with MY kid? Is that bad?

He was helping me cook dinner and he was playing chef with a butter knife and some leftover squash pieces and actually singing. Yes, my kid, playing and signing with happiness. He said hi to everyone and laughed and hugged and did what I asked him to the first time! Surely some aliens must have taken my child and left this happy child in its place. Which makes no sense at all. Oh well, I am NOT complaining. I just shook my head a lot and cast weird speculative glances at my guy.

The other thing I learned is how HARD it is to take a picture of an unwilling hermit crab. They don't stand still. If they do, it is because they are hidden inside their shell. They move at lightning speeds. And for reasons I am not sure of yet, my camera seems incapable of taking a picture of them that is not either really dark or really flash washed, so bear with me.

Most people are not aware that hermit crabs require more care than putting them in a clear plastic box not much bigger than a shoe box and throwing in some food and water. When I tell people I own hermit crabs they often say, "Yeah, we had a crab, but he died." And this is usually after a few months. I am a newbie to crab care, but right now all my crabs are at least a year in my care. I just bought the fourth one last Thursday. The first one I got in November of 2007. I got my first crab...Chester...from someone off FreeCycle, they didn't want it anymore. I call them 'him'...but I really have no idea if they are male and female. So I did a little research and discovered that crabs need heat, they can't get cold. I went to a pet store and bought an under tank heat mat. This cost about 20 bucks.

I furtively checked his temperature and provided him with the best crab food (which is made of flowers and smells GREAT) and water I could find. You can't have chlorine in their water, so I end up buying distilled water jugs for the crabs. I found nice, pretty colored sand to put in his tank. At least I got the tank for free from a friend. Or that would have been another 20 bucks or so. Then I read that crabs are not solitary, as the name would suggest, but highly social creatures. I decided Chester needed a friend and headed back to the pet store. Then I bought Hank. Now, I had two crabs and all seemed to be going well. Then Hank died. I checked the temperature and realized poor Hank had probably died of cold, because in our old house, the temperature regularly gets down to 60 degrees on a winter night. Bad news for a tropical crab that needs 75-80 with humidity.

I was distraught and headed back to the pet store, laden with guilt. I bought a 25 dollar heat lamp, plus the bulb cost 8 dollars. I set this all up, and after I was confident that the temperature was stable a few months later, I got another friend. This one had a girl name, but she only made it 5 days, so I don't even remember what the name was. At this point, I was getting thoroughly disgusted with the pet store crabs. I was trying to do everything right, and they still died. I found out that the pretty colored sand was horrible, and switched it out to regular beach sand. Much better for getting wet and digging in. I purchased another crab, which my son named, Sheldon. Very apt, I thought. Sheldon survived, and then Chester went underground. It was as if he was waiting for me to deepen the sand.

He didn't come up for several days and I was REALLY worried. Great, I thought, now he is dead. After extensive Internet research I discovered he was MOLTING. In order to grow, they go underground for weeks or even months, depending on the size of the crab, and remove their outer skin. The new skin is fresh, shiny and sharp...and then they can grow bigger. I was very naughty though and did what they websites told me not to do. I checked on him. I even dug him up once to make sure he wasn't really dead. It is a miracle I didn't kill him because they are extremely vulnerable during a molt. After they emerge they are very soft for a while, and can break limbs easily. They usually eat parts of their old exoskeleton...the calcium helps them harden up.

About a year ago, I found that really cool pet store, the ARK in Ames, Iowa. I mentioned in a previous post that it is a little messy in there...but they had fantastic crabs. The salesperson told me that he had worked for one of the 'chain' pet stores for a couple years, and their crabs have to travel in horrible conditions all over the country before they get to the store. The ARK's crabs are directly shipped. I noticed a big difference in how healthy and vigorous all the pets were there. I bought Fred, my largest crab to date (seen above) and brought him home, hoping that there would be no shell fights.

Fred is about the size of a golf ball, which mean he is pretty old compared to the hermit crabs a lot of people have. To get to that size, they must molt many, many times. When they are captured in the wild, they have already molted several times successfully. Unfortunately, because of poor conditions, their first molt in captivity is often their last. Since he was so large, I was very concerned that he would shell fight with the other two crabs. A shell fight is a confrontation between two or more crabs that involves pinching, aggression, and sometimes chirping or squeaking. Yes, a hermit crab makes a NOISE. The first time I heard it, it really freaked me out. I heard this really high pitch cricket like noise, and saw the crab waving his claws around. I couldn't believe it came out of him. There was one shell fight, where Sheldon was attacked and was naked for a short time. Chester was after his shell, and wasn't going to take no for an answer. I removed them both and coaxed Sheldon into a new shell.


This post from last year shows Sheldon's trauma.

Since then, I have learned so many things, that crabs need to be misted...that they need extra snacks beside their crab powder, and even that crabs need salt water in addition to fresh water. I just bought a bag of special salt to make them an additional water dish. So let's recap. My FREE crab that was supposed to be SO EASY to take care of has cost me:

tank (20$ if I had to buy it)
under tank heater ($20)
heat lamp and bulb ($33)
dishes and climbing things and caves (at least $60)
food (at least $40)
water (at least $30)
crabs themselves ($36)
sand ($20)
rocks from yard and glass dish to make pond in (free, cause I had them)
thermometer ($12)
extra shells (at least $40)
caliper for measuring shells (that's just fun...$3)

Oh yeah...I didn't tell you about the extra shells. They love to change their shells. Sometimes I will put a new shell in, and they will all take turns caressing it, or trying it on. Sometimes someone takes the shell within minutes of me putting in the tank. Sometimes they put it on, change their mind, and then put their old shell on. This is supposedly for the purposes of growing, but I think they just like to change outfits.

Anyways, I am getting away from the point.

My FREE crab has so far ended up costing me: Almost $300!!!!!! Actually I figured it was more than that, so not as shocking as I imagined. I just realize it is no wonder that most people's crabs die, with all the work that goes into keeping them alive. They are every bit as demanding as a lizard, in terms of environment. And they have grown on me. I think they are cute now, in our house, when someone doesn't want to talk about something...they do the claw hand in front of their face. A crab will pull into its shell and cover the hole with its biggest claw to avoid you if it feels defensive.

I just cleaned their crabitat...ha ha. I put the stuff in backwards of the way it was, and they are so psyched. They love change, and get bored if stuff stays the same too long (don't we all). All four of them...including Earl, the newest addition, are roaming around the tank checking things out. And since they are nocturnal, I know they will be up way past me, perhaps partying till dawn. So the next time someone tells you, "I've got crabs!"...resist the urge to run...they may just be talking about my invertebrate friends.

For more information on hermit crabs...try:

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