Tuesday, July 18, 2017

S'mores on the Backyard Fire Pit!

I guess it isn't really a "pit" since it isn't sunk in the ground (at least that's what my son said), but it's more than a "ring" now.

We used it a few nights ago to make s'mores!  If you live in an area where that is a foreign word, let me explain a s'more!

Take a marshmallow, roast it on embers (or flames if you can't wait) until it's toasted and gooey.  Sandwich it between graham cracker squares with a square of Hershey's milk chocolate (I have never used anything buy the plain ol' Hershey's), and press so the chocolate melts from the heat of the marshmallow.  It's so good you will want S'MORE!

Anyway, the pit worked perfectly.  The fire was just the right size.  I didn't mind placing it in the middle of the lawn, as it isn't a nice lawn, it's bare and bumpy and dog-worn!  I was going to put a strawberry pyramid here next spring anyway.  If I do that it will go into the far back yard. 

The moon and star cut-outs glowed in the dark.

My silly daughter trying to melt her s'more by hand!  The glowing square in the center is a marshmallow on a roasting stick.  I waited for embers. 

The best part is a tie between the wonderful smell (like camping in the forest) and time spent with family.  We even told "ghost stories!" 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My Mints

I find I am collecting mint plants and searching for more!

It started with a humble spearmint growing wild in the yard when I got here in 2011.  I'm pretty sure it was not cultivated, it was in the far back part of the yard where the original owners had done absolutely nothing (imagine, nothing, not even fruit trees, since the house was built in 1962!).
Growing up in California we had spearmint growing near the back kitchen door, which my mother would pick now and again.  I dug the plant out of the ground, put it in a pot, and still have it!  It's scent makes my mouth water for gum!



Chocolate mint and peppermint:  From there it was peppermint and chocolate mint for the herb garden, before I knew mint liked more water and less sun than the Mediterranean herbs in the same bed.  So, they died... I have yet to find healthy looking replacements.  The chocolate mint smells just like a York Peppermint Patty!

chocolate mint


Woolly apple mint came next, found at the farmer's market in town.  I still have it growing in my herb bed, it would do better elsewhere.  It's leaves are furry and soft like a lamb's ear. 

woolly apple mint in bloom
woolly apple mint

After that it was all downhill...  mint after mint has found its way into my home and heart!

Pineapple mint:  I chopped up some pineapple mint leaves to toss into a fruit salad (fresh watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, red seedless grapes, strawberries, and pineapple chunks) last month on my daughter's birthday, and it was extra refreshing! 

pineapple mint pruned back during summer

Strawberry mint: Rub the leaves of this mint and be prepared to be amazed.  It smells just like a strawberry! 

strawberry mint

Sweet pear mint:  Eh... it's a variety I'm glad I have, but as for as fragrance goes, I don't smell the pear. 

sweet pear mint

Citrus basil mint: A nice citrus scent, with broader leaves than most of my others.  I recently transplanted it to a large pot. 

citrus basil mint
Just today I noticed white specks on the new growth of the citrus basil mint.  Through the magic of today's phones I was able to get a photo, and zoom it in close enough to see this...  EWWW!  On my mint! 

nasties on my citrus basil mint!

Orange mint (bergamot mint):  Talk about invasive!  I thought I'd lost mine a few years ago, and put the sad little stems in a garden bed.  They took off to fill a 4x4 bed.  I'm going to have a heck of a time getting it out of there.  Right now it's ready to bloom, so I'm leaving it for the pollinators.

orange mint strangling boysenberries

Lemon balm (a mint family member):  Rub the leaves of lemon balm and it smells just like a lemon drop candy.  You can use the leaves to make tea or stuff under the skin of chicken before roasting.  I got my original plant from a woman when I dropped off some homeschooling materials I didn't need any more.  She gave me lemon balm, and an oregano plant.  I haven't found lemon balm to be invasive as far as underground roots popping up, but it does self-seed and I have plants in unlikely places. 

lemon balm

lemon balm volunteers

cabbage white butterfly on lemon balm

Catnip:  Yes, catnip is a mint!  Nepeta is the genus,  catmint, and Nepeta cataria is what is sold as catnip.  Smelling the dried leaves makes cats silly, but eating the fresh leaves, as Benny does, makes them sleepy.  

Horehound:  Another mint family member, horehound does not smell like lemons, or chocolate, or anything nice!  It's supposed to be hardy under even the most inadequate conditions, but mine has always looked sickly from the day I transplanted it.   It does easily root in water, but even the newly grown plant is not looking too healthy.  

variegated horehound - not a stellar specimen

Mints need to be cut to ground level in the summer. I wait until they have finished blooming, since pollinators absolutely love mint flowers.

catnip - summer cut

woolly apple mint blossoms

catnip blossoms

strawberry mint blossoms

lemon balm flowers

lemon balm flowers

Mint offers nearly an endless opportunity to feed my addiction!  "Julep," variegated ginger, "Mojito," "Eau de Cologne," grapefruit, the tiny "Corsican" mint that's perfect between paving stones...  there's even one that tastes like chewing gum, called appropriately, "Chewing Gum" or mentha spicata, a type of spearmint!  

Patio Baby Eggplant

As I've mentioned before, I dislike eggplant as a food.  I love eggplants as garden plants though.  I will grow one plant each spring just for its looks.  This year I picked "Patio Baby," a mini variety that can be grown in planters.  Boy, am I glad!  It's a really cutey!

Patio Baby can be grown in a container as small as 18", which is about what mine measures.  The "eggs" are ready to harvest when they are between 2" and 3".  They should be glossy; dullness means they are over-ripe.  I'm giving my first fruits a few more days.

The white is diatomaceous earth - something was making those holes in the leaves!
When you take the beautiful shiny "eggs" and the beautiful purple flowers with yellow centers, add a mini-size, why not grow Patio Baby?  No worry on the fruit, I'll take them to work, surely someone there likes to eat eggplant!  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Muffins and Fire Pits


I made blueberry muffins this morning with a mix of Jelly Bean, Draper, and Legacy berries.  The recipe is under "recipes" of course! 

Remember the fire ring deal I got back in May?  The project's done!  My son helped me finish it this afternoon, in the heat.  We had hoped to use it tonight for roasting marshmallows, but it's too hot to weed eat around the edges.  Plus, I realized how silly it would be to sit outside on the night of the 4th of July in the United States, with the knowledge Edward the Goldendoodle can't stand "boom-booms."  BARK!  BARK!  BARK!  It's bad enough in the house with the AC noise.  I have s'more fixin's too.   

Anyway, the "fire ring" is now a part of a "fire pit."

I didn't come up with the design myself, it's based on a customer's review photo on Amazon.  It was just the perfect plan, one that I could actually do myself!  (OK, with help from a strong son.)

There are three parts:
1 - the outer ring is made with 18 retaining wall "flagstones," which are concrete, but random so look pretty nice. 
2 - The middle of the fire ring where the wood goes has three bags of all purpose sand (I killed the weeds underneath prior to putting in the sand). 
3 - The outer ring is filled with river rock (a use for that ridiculously small size river rock Lowe's is now carrying), five or six bags (depending on whether any of yours were 50% off because they were broken and missing product - that's the kind I buy!).  I placed cardboard under the river rock, since I didn't have time to use weedkiller. 

The firewood is just from the grocery store!

Coincidentally, our next door neighbor had a backyard fire just last night!  I feel like a "copycat" even though our ring and edgers have been sitting on the lawn for weeks.  Hey, maybe they saw it and copied us!  Let's just say it went that way...  Still, it's odd we both built one.  (I haven't peeked over the fence, or through a knot hole, so don't know if it's this kind.  That would be even stranger.)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Identifying "Butterfly Garden Mix" Seedlings - updated July 16, 2017

So, I planted the Butterfly Garden Mix seeds in late May (huh... I thought it was a lot longer ago that that -  no wonder they're still small!), and now a few of the young plants can be identified.  Most are still mysterious to me. 

Here's what I think I have, based on searching online for the name of the plant as a seedling (for instance, "butterfly milkweed seedling" or "seedling butterfly milkweed") and comparing photos.

Boy, I've been so wrong...

Bishop's Flower (the one poisonous to dogs, go figure it'd be the one that grows!)  - the rounded leafed plant in the bottom left corner.  Wrong!  Bishop's Flower is actually just another name for Queen Anne's Lace.  I don't think I have any. 

Butterfly Milkweed - the tall pointy leafed one in the center. Nope, that's actually a bachelor button, with vivid blue flowers. 

Looking again today, I wonder if it isn't a Pink instead of a milkweed!  Today there is a bud at the top, and it looks sort of like a carnation, and pinks are part of the family.  Update: It's a blue bachelor button!  Although that wasn't listed on the packet. 

Sigh... I'm no good at this.  All I can do is wait and see what they turn into.  Next time I'll buy individual packets of what I want.  

Pink?  Milkweed?  Only time will tell... 

Candytuft, naturally.  Naturally, because I am not a candytuft fan.  It's flowering already!  Well, this is embarrassing... it's only alyssum.  I may not like candytuft, but at least it's a perennial. 

California Poppy.  The lacy blue-greens in the lower right corner. I am not too sure if the one in the upper center is or not, it might be the mystery-until-it-blooms plant I have a lot of, which also are lacy, but much, much taller than poppies. There is another blooming candytuft (oops, make that alyssum) in the center. 

Mysteries that have to wait until the flower for me to identify them.   These first two are getting very large, and there a quite a few of them.  I didn't think I sprinkled the mixed seeds in all three circles, but they've grown in them all. 

Cosmos - silly me, I bought the seeds at Winco and forgot all about them! 

Of the individual seeds planted I am not sure any germinated.

At least the entire Butterfly Garden is looking nice.  The white lavender (Ellagance Snow) is blooming, as seen below.  In the center is the pineapple sage, still without flowers.  The Moonshine yarrow is dwarfed behind the ferny mysteries on the left of the front circle. 

I saw a swallowtail butterfly this morning!  I was on my way out the door to work, so couldn't get its picture. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How Does My Garden Grow?

No "cockle shells" or "pretty maids," in a row or otherwise, but some things are growing nicely. Here's an update on the edibles.


The raspberries haven't done much this year, beyond miles (or so it seems) of brambles. The berries are small, and most are drying out before ripening. Probably my fault some how.  Maybe irregular watering.  I think I'll move some of the new plants (that will fruit next year) to a different bed and reclaim this one (if it's possible to get out all the berries, which pop up many feet from where they started) for veggies.

Nice boysenberries though!  I've been taking them to work to add to my break-time yogurt.  My family doesn't care for boysenberry's "core" or seeds, so they're all mine.

Blueberries are beginning to ripen in earnest.  "Jelly Bean," a compact (very small!) plant has plump full-size berries.  The plant itself is rather fragile, and so bushy I have to be careful not to snap off branches when I harvest.  "Jelly Bean" is a Bushel and Berry (www.bushelandberry.com) variety, formerly known as BrazelBerries.  Draper, Legacy, and Blue Crop are ripening too, with Draper and Legacy producing the most.  The Blue Crop dropped most of their fruit, I think due to underwater during a brief hot spell a few months back.

The blueberries are located in a sunny spot nearly under a cedar tree, which provides them with ongoing acidity from its needles.  Because of the tree roots there was no way to plant the blueberry bushes in the ground, but they do well in large containers.  They may need an upgrade to larger nursery pots next year.


Tomatoes are right on schedule!



 Brandywine is a potato-leaf tomato.  It's pretty obvious why when you compare their leaves with potato leaves!

Brandywine tomato leaf

German Butterball potato leaf
The blue chocolate tomatoes have been planted.  They were slow to germinate, and after a few false starts I got four nice seedlings.  Two are in a big planter, the other two await containers.

Blue Chocolate

The potato cage has become Earwig City.  I knew something was eating the leaves, and badly...

... but I had no idea what.  Whatever-they-weres were not affected by the Sluggo Plus (I guess potato leaves were more tempting).  So, I moved aside some of the straw this morning and there were the culprits, earwigs!  I'll try some diatomaceous earth, they don't have to eat that for it to take affect, they just have to walk through it, or have it dusted on them.  I hate killing, even garden enemies.
Apparently the taters themselves are still growing fine.


Nothing much of note.  They are growing, and one has tendrils.


Starting to climb.  This one has a tomato cage to help it get to the fence trellis.


The less said about green beans the better.  Let's just say they aren't doing well, despite the photo above showing one looking good.  I think it's earwigs again.


Again, damaged leaves.  I'm not sure they will amount to anything producing fruit.


Having never grown them before I don't know if they are on track or not. They are bigger than when planted.


It's an edible, but I don't eat it!  Patio Baby is full of beautiful purple blossoms.

Not much was planted this year.  Next year I really need to schedule some vacation days to prep the garden more.
* Move the raspberries to the bed the Brandywine is in now (or move that bed to a sunny spot and forgo the berries).
* Build two beds with the raised bed corners I bought.
* Attempt to remove the orange mint and boysenberries planted in the 4 x 4 recycled gate bed.  It gets great sun, and has productive soil that are wasted on what were supposed to be temporary quarters.
* Lots and lots of organic matter - compost of all sorts (plant based from the garbage company, steer manure, chicken manure, mushroom compost, even my own finally dug out of the compost heap).