Tag Archives: Gardening

Outdoor office

I bought a new laptop a few weeks ago. It’s much smaller, lighter, and sturdier than my old one, which makes it just right for using outdoors.

I really like the idea of taking my lesson plans and curriculum-writing projects outside to work on while the dogs play in the yard. I like my home office, but fresh air and sunshine are always better than sitting inside on a pretty day, and this is the time of year when we’re likely to get a few pretty days.

With that in mind, I’ve been surfing Pinterest and poring over hardware-store websites in search of furniture of the right size, stability, and durability to use in an outdoor office.

Most of the ready-made stuff I found was either too light to withstand New Mexico winds, too top-heavy to withstand regular assaults by a blind rat terrier and a clumsy shepherd puppy, too finicky to sit up straight on uneven ground, or too expensive to meet with Ron’s approval. And none of it seemed to fit my style or go well with anything else in my yard.

As I was winterizing the pond and trying to figure out what to do with the cinderblocks I’d been using to support the now-obsolete clarifier and gravity-fed external filtration system, inspiration struck.

Monitor-riser mode. If I want to work on a deeper surface with the laptop keyboard lower, I just move that top paver down.

Twenty minutes’ worth of elbow grease and a few flat pavers yielded a dog-proof, windproof, mid-century-inspired, faux-Brutalist desk and stool with a top that easily converts into a monitor riser if I feel like bringing out a keyboard and mouse.

Ignore the color variations. Some of the blocks were wet because I’d hosed dirt and cobwebs off of them.

I rummaged around in the carport shed and found a couple of bungee cords just the right length to anchor an outdoor pillow (purchased on sale for $3.50 at the dollar store) to the pavers on the seat.

Bungee cords anchor the cushion to the seat.

I test-drove it while blogging the day I built it, and it works just about right. If I end up using it a lot, I might see if I can rustle up some breeze blocks somewhere and expand it into a bigger and more ornate desk with some built-in storage, but for now, it’ll work just fine for typing up lesson plans and posting blog entries on sunny afternoons when it’s just too nice to stay indoors, no matter how much desk work I need to do.

Emily

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Winterizing the pond

While I was working in the garden last week, I decided to do some cleanup work around the yard and start getting the pond ready for winter.

Sometimes winterizing includes a water change. Sometimes it involves skimming out fallen leaves. But it always involves removing floating plants and bringing a few inside before they freeze. Too many times, I’ve neglected to do that in a timely fashion, and I’ve found myself scooping slimy, dead, decaying water hyacinths and sludgy remnants of what used to be water lettuce out of the pond in the spring because fall turned to winter faster than I expected, and I didn’t get the plants out before they froze.

Gross.

Not this year. Last weekend, I used a pitchfork to scoop most of the plants out of the pond, leaving just a few lonely specimens floating on the surface to provide cover for the goldfish until it gets cold enough for them to go dormant.

If you look closely, you can see some of the fish under the water.

When I removed the plants, I was delighted to discover all six of the feeder goldfish I’d dumped out there this summer were alive and well.

I moved a few plants into a bucket of water and stuck it in a sunny corner just outside a south-facing window, where it should stay above freezing all winter.

Hedging my bets, I also half-filled a miniature washtub with water, threw a hyacinth, a clump of water lettuce, and a few stray bits of duckweed in there, and parked it in the living-room window, where it should make a nice centerpiece for the next few months.

With nothing but fish and algae to muck up the water, the pond doesn’t really need the elaborate, multi-stage filtration system I designed for it last spring, so I disassembled the whole setup and replaced it with a variant on the biofilter I had on my pond in Cape. I upgraded the original design by placing the pump inside a half-gallon sherbet tub with 3/8-inch holes drilled in it, wedging chunks of old memory foam around it, and setting the whole thing inside a one-gallon ice-cream tub with 1/4-inch holes drilled in it. I slipped a layer of Scotch-Brite pads between the tubs, providing additional filtration, and anchored the lid with a bungee cord.

After I put away the excess filter components, I was left with a stack of cinderblocks just right for another project I’d been considering for several months. I’ll show you that one tomorrow.

Emily

Permanence

An ending marked a beginning of sorts last weekend.

We’ve lost pets before, but until last week, we’d never buried one in our yard, because we’d never lived anywhere I considered permanent, and I didn’t want to leave anybody behind in a place I knew I wasn’t planning to stay.

Last Saturday, I buried Lillian in the garden and installed a new raised bed above her grave.

As I worked, it struck me that Lil’s grave was a tangible confirmation of what I’d wanted to believe when we moved in last year: We are home. We are settled. We are staying.

I mulched Lil’s garden with water lettuce and water hyacinths culled from the pond ahead of a predicted freeze.

After stumbling across an interesting Twitter thread this week, I figured out just what to plant in Lil’s flowerbed.

Sage is readily available here in New Mexico, but apparently it’s hard to find in some areas, and some wild varieties are threatened by overharvesting, so a woman posted a thread listing other herbs suitable for cleansing a space of evil spirits, negative energies, and the like. I’m not certain such entities exist or such ceremonies are necessary, but I am certain that if something gives you peace of mind, and it isn’t hurting anybody, it’s worth doing.

I thought about how easy it is to grow sage here in the high desert (I’ve got a big, healthy plant in the garden right now) and how important it is to feel safe.

Lillian rarely felt safe. When we adopted her, she was a nervous little dog who showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Loud, angry voices terrified her, so I made a concerted effort to stabilize my moods and remain as calm as possible. I didn’t always succeed, but I definitely became more aware of my tone and temper as I tried to reassure my frightened little friend.

Reading that thread, I realized I could honor Lil by using her garden to grow the sort of calming, healing herbs that might help someone else feel safe. I made an offer to my Twitter followers that I also make to you: If there is a particular variety of sage or other herb you need to put your mind at ease, tell me what it is, and I’ll try to grow it for you.

Emily

 

 

 

Duck update

I haven’t really moved in until I have a fire ring full of compost in the backyard. The five-gallon buckets are the latest in my epic quest for an acceptable duck-pond filtration system.

Plan A: Adopt four ducklings, free-range them in the backyard, and give them an $8 kiddie pool to play in and a $60 doghouse to sleep in, because it’s cheaper than investing $300 in the prefabbed chicken coop that I want but Ron says we can’t afford.

Plan B (four weeks later): Get tired of draining the kiddie pool with a bucket every two days. Build pond and biofilter — with hose bibb attached to the top to make water changes fast and easy — out of a $60 stock tank and another $60 worth of gravel, plumbing parts, and other materials. Feel terribly clever.

Plan C (12 hours later): Discover that biofilters made from five-gallon buckets float, even when filled with water. Cuss. Add sand, gravel, and various other media to try to get submersible filter to stay submerged.

Plan D (12 hours later): Discover that five-gallon buckets full of waterlogged sand and gravel also float, because to hell with the laws of physics, that’s why. Cuss. Jury-rig $4 system for anchoring filter in place.

Plan E (12 hours later): Discover design flaw in anchoring system that keeps pump from functioning in new filter. Cuss. Spend another $30 on parts to build an external biofilter.

Plan F (5 days later): Discover that ducks generate way more particulate matter than a simple biofilter can handle, thus choking down the pump approximately 37 times a day. Cuss. Rummage through shed, find small plastic tub and some bungee cords, and construct mechanical filter to protect the pump.

Plan G (3 days later): Discover that pump is way too powerful to get away with using half-inch fittings for the entire project. Cuss. Blow another $70 on parts and materials to construct a finer mechanical filter, a clarifier, and a filter with outlets of increasing size. Damage filter while building it. Cuss. Repair it with duct tape and caulk, because hell with it. Watch in amusement as duct tape and white-trash engineering one-up all previous efforts and filter works better than all previous attempts, ostensibly because of better engineering, but probably because duct tape fixes everything.

Plan H (Somewhere in the middle of all that): Discover, on first warm day, that duck poop attracts a veritable plague of flies. Research problem. Determine that deep-bedding method will control flies while generating good compost starter. Make plans to invest $250 in enough fencing to confine the ducks to a comfortable corner of the yard with their pond, their house, and their favorite tree.

I’m so glad we didn’t waste $300 on a prefabbed chicken coop we could have assembled in one afternoon….

Emily

Squiggly friend

Look at my new squiggly friend! I met him in the garden this afternoon.

Isn't he pretty? I think he's a garter snake.
Isn’t he pretty? I think he’s a garter snake. He’s about two feet long and about as big around as a penny.
I love his little red tongue.
I love his little red tongue.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.
I hope he likes slugs. I could use some help reducing the slug population.

I would like the record to show that I was a very good girl and did not try to pick up my slithery new friend or pet him, even though I really, really wanted to.

I showed my pictures to people at work today, but nobody there likes snakes. I don’t know why. I think he’s cute. I like his racing stripes and his pretty brown eyes and his flickery little tongue. I was pretty excited to find him in the garden, partly because I’ve never seen a snake in my yard before and partly because cold-blooded animals are a sure sign of spring.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Making the beds

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I don’t stop gardening in the winter. Time spent working in the sunshine is a necessity if I’m to keep seasonal depression at bay, and winter is an ideal time to work on a garden’s infrastructure. My focus this year has been adding raised beds. I had six last year, and my goal is to have a dozen by planting time this year — a task that should be accomplished easily enough, as we generally buy one every paycheck, and we’re still five checks away from Planting Day.

I think the bird's-nest concept takes up too much room to work in the garden itself, but it'll be cute around a raised bed in the front yard later on.
I think that bird’s-nest concept takes up too much room to work in the garden proper, but it’ll be cute around a flowerbed in the front yard later on.

I’ve been filling the beds with compostable materials, peat moss, and finished compost. A third of a bale of peat on the bottom provides filler as well as drainage and aeration, and three bags of compost on top will just about fill up the bed, for a total cost of about $8 per bed.

I can’t say enough good things about these beds, which are just plain old 36-inch fire rings. They run between $30 and $45 apiece, depending on where you buy them and whether you catch a sale, and they’re lightweight, easy to position (just roll them where you want them), and make planting and weeding very easy. I installed them out of necessity — the juglones from the neighbors’ black walnut and pecan trees have rendered the soil in my backyard worthless for growing most vegetables — but they’ve proven so advantageous in so many directions, I’m not sure I’d go back to traditional rows even if I had the option.

As you can see in the picture, I’ve also started mulching with cedar shavings in between beds. They look neat, discourage pests, and smell nice when I walk over them.

Emily

P.S.: The tin cans you see in one of the rings in the top picture are leftovers from last year’s plantings. Besides being a good way to start seeds, the cans help protect young plants from marauding squirrels, which love to dig through my raised beds in search of nuts. My tomato plants wouldn’t have survived without them last year.

Daydreaming in a winter garden

I spent a little time in the garden last week, pulling out last summer’s tomato vines and clearing the beds so they’ll be ready to replant this spring. I wasn’t sure what to do with the vines, and while the fire-ring raised beds are neat and easy to work with, they’re not terribly pretty. My long-term goal for the backyard is to turn it into something straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel — an irresistible Heligan in miniature, if you will — and big metal rings aren’t quite up to that standard. I’d been considering various options for making them more aesthetically pleasing and getting them to blend in with the scenery a little better, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on retaining-wall blocks or stackable stone. While I was standing on the deck, surveying the yard and taking a mental inventory of the tasks I need to complete before spring, I noticed an abandoned doves’ nest on top of the fence post nearest the house and had an idea for recycling those spent tomato vines:

I can't decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.
I can’t decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.

I’m trying to decide whether I like it. It certainly blends in better than a bare metal ring, so I’ll probably keep it until I think of a better idea.

Meanwhile, I was perusing the Shumway’s catalog and found this:

I'm not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I'll make an exception for this one.
I’m not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I’ll make an exception for this one.

Obviously I’ll be ordering a couple of these so I can have me a time with a poor man’s lady this summer.

Emily

P.S.: Confession No. 1: When I was 16, I wanted to be Neil Diamond’s backup singer when I grew up. Confession No. 2: I still do.