“Spare Time”

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I’m becoming acutely aware of how much quicker nightfall is arriving with each passing day. I practically leap from my car when I get home from work, thrusting myself into any sort of outdoor activity that needs doing before night settles in like a blanket. Fall in the Pacific Northwest is a slog of unrelenting rain that chills you to the bone for weeks on end, and I’m determined to not get caught in it with unfinished projects.

Fortunately, the rain hasn’t begun yet. We’ve had a few small showers here and there since I last wrote, but last week was mostly clear, sunny days, and this week has continued the trend. The air is a little crisper, and the trees surrounding our house are teasing us with hints of red and yellow.

In whatever “spare time” I find myself possessing before nightfall, I’m either pulling invasive English ivy from our yard or moving wood chips. The ivy removal has been quite the process, as it’s grown over itself in layers of four or five deep, and some of the vines are as thick as rope. Some days it honestly feels hopeless, and I wonder if I’m a bit mad for thinking I can succeed at such a monstrous endeavor. But then my husband drives by on the lawnmower and tells me how amazing it’s looking, and that’s enough to convince me to keep at it. (I sincerely wish I could give a stern talking-to to whoever thought it was a good idea to plant this ivy, because it’s quickly become the bane of my existence.)

Nevertheless, the removal is coming along well, if a bit slower than I’d like. I had visions of planting swathes of daffodils between the trees for spring, but that will have to wait until next fall, unfortunately — but that’s just one more thing to look forward to down the road. A reward, of sorts, for all my hard work.

I’ve also been getting perennials in the ground that have been sitting in pots on our deck for a while — tansy, some irises, sedum, a blueberry bush, a peony, a Koko Loko rose — in hopes of getting them comfortably settled into their new homes before winter arrives. It’s also about time to bring the poinsettia inside and see if I can coax her into blooming in a few months’ time. (She was given to us by our realtor last winter, and I’m awfully proud I’ve managed to keep her alive the whole year!)

There is not much left to do in the combination veggie/flower garden other than pick bouquets of dahlias or cosmos every few days and deadhead as needed. Things are starting to die back (except for the dahlias, they continue to soldier on), and I’m fighting the urge to rip everything up. The cabbages and peppers are still growing, though, so I’ll resist for the time being. Once I succumb, I’ll cover the whole bed in layers of cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, and wood chips — and hopefully that will suppress the weeds until spring.

In the evenings lately, after dinner has been put away and all my jobs outside have been completed, I’ve been focusing on knitting and painting in an effort to cut back on screen time and return to some of my neglected hobbies. It’s been such a welcome change of pace, and I’m looking forward to much more of it with winter’s inevitable arrival.

So long, summer — you were so very good to us.

Canning Season & Summer Slowdown

Summer is chugging right along, and yet again I found myself frantically canning something late at night before leaving town last weekend — those cucumbers weren’t going to pickle themselves! The garden has been bountiful, and nothing will go to waste.

This last weekend we headed to Bellingham for a wedding, and while I sorely missed my little veggie plot and fussing about with my dahlias, I admit it was nice to get away for a little bit. The weather was much cooler there than it’s been in our neck of the woods, and it was good to see more of my family.

I took solace in the fact that I picked and preserved everything I possibly could before heading out, which always makes leaving for the weekend much easier on the mind. (It may seem extreme, but a lot can happen in the garden in two days’ time! You neglect picking one cucumber, and when you return, it’s monstrously swollen and won’t make a good pickle.)

My mind was so at ease, in fact, that on the way back we took a little detour to stop by Snoqualmie Falls and grab lunch at Twede’s Cafe — the infamous filming location of the RR Diner in Twin Peaks. It was fun to play tourist for an afternoon — something we don’t do nearly as much anymore after buying our house. It was a much needed mini vacation.

Now that we’re back, I’ve been picking wild blackberries almost daily, filling my basket to the brim in preparation for canning some blackberry jam this week. I’m aiming to double the amount I put up last summer, plus some extra jars for gift giving. (My mom has become my biggest blackberry jam fan, and her birthday is coming up.)

I’d also like to make some blueberry or raspberry jam, but I’m running out of room on my dedicated “larder” shelf rather quickly, and there’s still applesauce to put up. I suppose freezer jam would be an appropriate answer to that, but I quite enjoy seeing all my hard work lined up on the shelves.

Right now I’m feeling very content — sure, the weeds are invading the garden and there’s a haze of wildfire smoke smothering the entirety of the west coast, but I can feel the season slowing, and I’m so happy with all I’ve accomplished in the last few months. They’ve sure flown by, and I think I’ve earned some much needed hibernation and hermitage.

Playing With Dirt

When I start to feel overwhelmed is when I most often need to stop what I’m doing and go play in the dirt for a bit. This last weekend was the last “free” weekend I had before three consecutive weekends of large commitments (which means three straight weekends of no time in the garden). This introvert is already feeling a little worn at the seams, and I’m trying not to let the stress swallow me.

My “free” weekend wasn’t really all that free, and it hardly afforded much time to decompress in the garden — it consisted of a lot of shopping and baking for my sister’s bridal shower, which is my first big commitment this coming weekend. I’m excited for sure, but, wow — planning an out-of-town party is exhausting. Especially when you’re an overachiever and insist all the foodstuffs are homemade. I’m lucky we have a spacious chest freezer, otherwise I don’t know how I’d manage!

My lovely bride-to-be sister requested lemon-blackberry cupcakes, so I made two dozen homemade cupcakes, plus homemade lemon curd my that mom and I will fill them with before frosting with blackberry buttercream. I also made sourdough bagels (one more batch is in the works) and two loaves of peanut butter bread. The leftover lemons were just enough to make a pitcher of lemonade for Jordan and I to enjoy in the evening, which was a very nice treat indeed!

In the evening, once the heat of the day had cooled slightly, I was finally able to grub about in the garden. My first dahlia is about to burst into bloom, the beans are going strong, the peas are shooting up, and the pickling cucumbers are just coming on. Summer is flying by in leaps and bounds, the garden relishing the sudden heat July has brought. I haven’t gotten to take a weeklong staycation like I’d hoped, but there’s always next year.

I’m starting my mornings slower these days, trying to soak up as much summer growing time as possible — cooking oatmeal on the stove while tending to my seedlings on the porch as the sun peeks her face through the trees. I so enjoy seeing how much they’ve grown each morning. And there’s canning to look forward to — pickles and kraut and apple sauce and peaches. My heart is very full these days, and even though I feel stretched a little thin, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Patience, Failure, and Fall Garden Planning

It seems too early, doesn’t it? Here we are, just coasting into summer, and I’m jumping right into fall garden planning.

When I started my seeds in the spring, I was disappointed that I’d started late, and I felt sort of like a failure — the tomato seeds I started hardly got bigger than an inch, and neither did the eggplants. The pumpkins grew too fast and grew leggy, and I had to start over. The failure was always magnified after scrolling through Instagram at the end of the day and seeing others’ beautiful, lush gardens. I feel left in the dust by people I don’t even know.

If anything, it’s been a good reminder to do what I can, with what I have, where I’m at; to be patient and present in my own garden; and to actively choose not to “live” through the pixels of someone else’s garden on a screen. Comparison is the devil. And even though it can be hard to put those feelings aside sometimes, I’m still learning from observation.

Case in point: my mom, the farmer’s kid, never taught me about succession planting, let alone the idea of planting a second crop of  hardy vegetables for fall a harvest. (To be honest, I don’t think she even knows about it.) I learned about it though those same gardeners I envied on Instagram — and it got me really excited, because it’s a chance to start again and put aside the failure I felt.

I promptly researched frost dates in our growing zone, and I took a little lunch break trip to Lowes to get some seeds. I know probably I won’t get everything sown that I’d like to try growing for my first fall harvest, but I can sure try! So far I’ve sown beets, kale, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, and turnips, and I plan to sow mustard greens, more cabbages, and Swiss chard this weekend.

And, finally, the geranium that was left outside all winter is suddenly sprouting new leaves — yet another reminder that growth does come from failure.

Welcome, June

Holy moly, how is it June already? I can’t believe it’s just about summer — my husband is done teaching for the year in just two weeks, and soon after that he’ll get to work putting up some fresh paint around our house. (I already have a lovely shade of green picked out for our dining room.)

Sometimes I’m envious of the summers he gets off because he’s a teacher — I can easily see myself spending hours in the garden if I had a summer break. But then I remember how he is surrounded by children all day, and that is something I personally would never want to do. I don’t know how he does it — but he definitely deserves those few months of vacation time. He’s earned them for sure.

Last weekend I didn’t spend as much time in the garden as I would have liked. I got my cucumbers, cabbages, and a few more flowers in the ground. I tended to my roses. I weeded a little with a new-to-me tool I picked up at an antique store — I call it “The Claw” because it looks like a creepy little hand. It’s very effective at removing the small clumps of grass that are rapidly sprouting here and there in the veggie patch. (I call it the veggie patch, but really it has a good dose of flowers mixed in, too.) Hopefully soon I’ll get some mulch down.

“The Claw”

I’ll be honest, the reason I didn’t get much done last weekend is because I’ve been feeling under the weather. I’m exhausted all the time, no matter how much I sleep. It’s hard for me to muster the energy to get anything done around the house — even something as simple as putting a load of laundry in takes a lot of energy. I spend a lot of time on the couch. The vitamin D supplements my doctor told me to take don’t seem to be helping anymore, and I’m just so irrationally irritable and anxious all the time. I can’t really remember that last time I felt “normal.” I’m suspecting I have some sort of thyroid issue, but I don’t see my doctor until the end of the month, unfortunately.

I try not to talk about my health too much, so I apologize, and I’m sorry this veered off the garden path. But it seemed important for me to mention that my day-to-day isn’t always how it appears in my Instagram pictures or the carefully written words on this blog. I try to share only the good things, because who wants to hear about my health issues? I most certainly don’t want to write about them any more than I already obsessively think about them, and focusing only on the good things helps with my anxiety a little.

Anyway, here’s a picture of part of my garden from two weekends ago, when I was feeling more myself and had a productive day. I made this funny little trellis for my beans to climb up and got all my impulse-buy dahlias in the raised bed. I planted that catnip off to the side, which you can see our cat is immensely enjoying, and out of sight are pumpkins, sunflowers, and onions. While I worked, I could hear my husband and a friend playing some music together in the garage, making it feel like a truly Rock Homesteady day.

Here’s to more days like that — and hopefully another raised bed!

“There’s No Place Like Home”

It’s cheesy, but it’s the truth. Boy, does it feel good to be back in our own space.

You might have noticed my absence — my husband and I spent the last five days visiting my parents in Spokane. It still feels like home to me in some ways, but Jordan and I truly love our little house and the home we’ve made here. It feels so good to be back in my own element. I missed the lush greenery of southwest Washington.

My grandmother passed away last weekend, so that was the reason for our spontaneous visit. After the funeral, the rest of our time in Spokane was spent garden hopping with my mom, cooing over my sister’s kittens, taking the dogs for long walks, and dividing irises with my mom in her perennial garden. It was wonderful to spend so much time with my family.

Northland Rosarium in Spokane, WA, was a dream to wander through.

We left Spokane yesterday with the backseat filled with plants. I can never say no to free plants! My mom shared so many things from her garden with me, and when we were out shopping together she bought us “matching” peony roots. This one is “Bowl of Beauty,” and I think my peony madness has officially hit maximum levels. Once planted, it will be my seventh peony. Hoo boy.

Lightbulbs courtesy of my dad.

Pictured: Pansies, dahlias, peony, lilac trees, catnip, red-twig dogwood, irises… and something that flowers yellow and spreads prolifically.

The prior weekend, Jordan and I attended the Clark County master gardeners’ annual plant sale, and wow, what a great event! We went on the last day, so everything was pretty picked over, but there was still a lot to choose from at insanely great prices! I only spent $12 dollars and left with four plants: a mystery peony for $3 (duh), a begonia, and three little chrysanthemum starts.

The mums were purchased from the Clark County Chrysanthemum Society’s booth, and the members staffing it were so nice and helpful. The man who helped me was really friendly and helped me pick starts that would be good for a beginner chrysanthemum grower (me!), even down to asking me which colors I gravitate toward.

Here is Jordan, thrilled to be carrying the plants.

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So, I have a lot of planting to do. In addition to everything purchased at the sale and brought back from Spokane, the seeds I planted are just about big enough to go in the ground now, and I still have half our veggie plot to rake.

I also might have ordered some dahlia tubers this morning… Swan Island Dahlias is having its end-of-season sale right now, and I couldn’t resist — 30% off you entire purchase is such a good deal! Even if they don’t all bloom this year, I’ll have tubers for years to come.

Hooray for endless planting!

Weekend Weeding & A Garden Plot

 

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Lil garden helper

Some weeks I feel like so much was accomplished around our place, and some weeks I feel like hardly anything got done. This last weekend was spent clearing invasive blackberry bramble from our backyard — it had completely overgrown our water feature/pond, a largish patch of sedum, a red hot poker plant, and it was starting to smother a forsythia by our back gate, too.

I removed a lot of it, but it doesn’t feel like much. There is still a lot more to go. Sometimes it’s hard to keep on top of weeding in the PNW when things (especially weeds) never really stop growing over fall/winter, but the weather is too bad to get out and take care of it.

Nevertheless, I did make a large dent in it, and I got to see our massive frog friend who lives in the pond. He startled me by hopping right over my head when I was leaning over! And there are tadpoles in the pond again, which I love watching dart around. It always reminds me of when I was little and my grandfather took me and my sister to one of his pastures and we caught tadpoles for an afternoon.

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Aside from weeding, the big excitement of the weekend was our neighbor coming over on Sunday and tilling up a garden plot so I can get some veggies in the ground! (See above picture of cute little Archie next to the plot!) The garden plot is laughably small in comparison to the size of our field, but it will be a great spot for my pumpkin patch. Up next is bordering it with large rocks or pavers (I haven’t decided which) and bringing out the raised beds we’ve made and filling them with soil. Those will be used for my dahlias, most likely, since the raised beds will get better drainage.

This coming weekend will be spent removing an overgrown and unsightly Japanese maple shrub from one of our flower beds, tearing invasive English ivy from various parts of our house/yard, and more weeding. It never ends, folks!

Weekly Roundup #4: Peony Madness

Over the course of the last week I developed a peony passion. It’s nuts. I haven’t even gotten my newest dahlia tubers in the ground yet, and here I am planning out a peony garden. Last week I spent my lunch breaks driving all over town in search of one particular variety of peony that I saw at a store but was sold out. It’s like my white whale. I’m not really embarrassed because it’s SO PRETTY. I eventually caved and ordered one online.

I also picked up a few other varieties of peony to plant because I was so jazzed that the root I planted last year is coming up again. And where will this peony garden go?

I’m glad you asked, because it brings me to my next high point from last week:

Last Tuesday we came home from work to see that our neighbor had brought his tractor over and cleared some tall grass for us that our lawnmower couldn’t handle. And that’s where my peony garden will go. It’s my favorite part of our acreage because it was never cleared like the rest of our land — it still has some ancient oak and hawthorn trees, and it’s just such a serene spot to sit and listen. I have visions of a perennial garden with beds spilling over with flowers.

It was so thoughtful of our neighbor to come over and do that for us, and we are so appreciative. He’d been offering for a while and we just hadn’t found the time to go over to his place and ask him. He’s even offered to till up some ground for garden beds!

My parents came to visit last weekend, and my dad really put Jordan to work. My dad is the kind of guy who likes to take a week of vacation time to work on projects around the home, and a weekend getaway to our place was no exception.

In two days he and Jordan installed a new water heater, fixed our toilet, and configured some new plumbing/a spigot off our well pump so I can water my garden easier. AND he brought us a chainsaw and showed Jordan how to use it — that tree that fell way back when is finally gone!

My dad also brought me a rhubarb “root” — more like a whole plant! This came from his rhubarb at home, which came from his dad’s garden. A family legacy!

The seeds I sowed last week sprouted, and so I planted more after my parents left. And made more newspaper seed pots. They’re working quite well, and I usually make 20+ at a time while binging Call the Midwife (my new obsession). This batch I sowed eggplant, more onions, and two varieties of beans — green “Crockett” bush beans and burgundy beans.

Used Popsicle sticks make great markers — waste not, want not, and whatnot!

I also added perennial violas and two bare-root raspberries to our plant arsenal, which have yet to be planted. I’m trying to decide if we should build a raspberry trellis from scratch… or use these three ugly flagpoles in our front yard as a starting point.

We are not patriotic people in the least, and I’d like to put them to some sort of use that doesn’t involve flying a flag (we are definitely the young riffraff who moved into the rural-retiree neighborhood). We have some hog wire we could stretch between them, and I think it would work well. This is the most probable trellis solution since we don’t have a post driver and still don’t totally know for sure where it’s safe for us to dig… but that’s a story for next week. 😉

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Weekly Roundup #3

It’s finally warm enough to line dry! Yay!

Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a great start.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have already seen one of my highs from this past week — I scored 25 canning jars at the ReStore for only $6! Most of them are pints, which I’m really excited about because I have mostly quarts and jelly jars at home. They appear to be a mix of new and old, and most of them are Ball jars.

Be still, my heart!

The woman ringing me up at the register was so excited I was getting a box — apparently a woman had come in and donated four huge boxes of canning jars that morning. The cashier thought it was really cool that I will also can with them, and she told me how it made her nostalgic for her grandma, who had an acre full of fruit trees in Yakima and a dedicated canning room. That right there is my dream.

There’s just something so special, in my opinion, about reusing jars that someone else loved and cared for, and I often wonder what was put up in them before my time, what they looked like all lined up in a row in someone else’s larder.

Look at me — waxing poetic about canning jars. Anyway.

My makeshift potting bench (aka the picnic table, which actually works quite nicely)

We had a beautiful sunny weekend, and it’s supposed to get warmer yet! I started some more seeds (cabbage, two varieties of tomato, two varieties of cucumber, chives, lavender, more onion), and wandered around the yard a lot, scoping out what’s coming up. I’m very pleased my dahlias are sending up shoots! I didn’t dig them up last fall since we have such mild winters, but we did get a little snow and it had me worried the tubers didn’t make it. Hostas, ferns, gladiolus, and strawberries are also coming up!

I’m hoping to sow eggplant, bush beans, and a few varieties of squash in the coming weeks. And hopefully get the rest of my dahlia tubers in the ground. And I’ve been eyeing a bare-root raspberry cane at the store for a while now, too… my wishlist seems to go on and on, and the to-do list is even longer!

We also had a new water heater delivered last week! My parents are visiting this weekend, and my dad has kindly offered to help install it while they’re here. Installing a new water heater is one of our goals for this year, so it feels good that we’re finally crossing things off that list.

This week we are supposed to reach temps in the low 80s, so I’m gettin excited to spend some more time outdoors. What are you looking forward to this week?

Weekly Roundup #2

It was another fairly unproductive weekend around our neck of the woods. Yep, you’ve probably guessed it: rain all weekend. Again. I spent a lot of time knitting and drinking tea while the wind gusted outside.

On Friday night we went into Portland to see two bands I like that were touring together, the Koffin Kats and the Goddamn Gallows. Doors opened at 8 p.m. and we didn’t get back home until about 1:30 a.m. Am I too young to start saying that I’m getting too old for this? The show was great, but the prolonged standing and the people moshing and elbowing you in the back really takes its toll on you.

Koffin Kats put on a lively, entertaining show

On Saturday we met some friends in Woodburn for the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, and it was a blast. We saw thousands of beautiful flowers, ate some delicious barbecue, and the rain even let up for the short time we were there.

Me & my husband in a sea of tulips

And while it wasn’t a productive weekend for yard work, I did do a significant amount of work in the kitchen on Sunday. In one afternoon I made:

  • Garlicky hummus
  • My grandpa’s spicy mustard
  • Dandelion jelly
  • Sourdough banana bread

    These are not jars of pee, I promise.

If you haven’t had sourdough banana bread before, well, you’re missing out on a treat. It is the most incredible banana bread I have ever had. The sourdough starter added to the batter gives the bread a nice rise and crust, which most banana breads don’t have, while still being super moist inside. Yum.

I’d like to do more of these weekly highlights posts, I think. I’m such a pessimist, so it’s a good way to focus on the weekly highs I have rather than all the things that went wrong or I stressed about. But I do think it needs a catchier name than “Weekly Roundup.” Any suggestions?

Hope you’re having a marvelous Monday!