Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Early morning in the backyard

If you read Martha's blog, you know she regularly steps outside her home(s) in the morning to take pictures of the early morning scenes before her.  Now I may be lacking in the perfect gardening/homekeeping/scrapbooking department, but I am a pro at wandering outside my home bra less and in a bathrobe.

Please enjoy these pictures of my backyard, taken by me at 5:30am this morning:

The fog had just about burned off the prairie when I stepped outside.  It's amazing how light it is this early in the morning. 

The tomatoes are doing well, but needed water. The kids helped me water everything before I headed in to work this morning.

The compost bin is doing well. The first bin is 2/3 full, and I'm going to haul in some more manure to help fill the other two bins. 

Below: my apple trees are leafing out.  Next summer I'll add two more dwarf apple trees to my mini-orchard.

The peach trees are doing well, too.

My pear trees are concerning me, though.  Some of the leaves are turning red.  Is this normal? 

Here's a close-up view:

I have several pumpkins planted in the back and front yard, and this one seems to be doing the best.  I'm hoping for a few homegrown pumpkins this year because those are really, really expensive in the store.

I hope you've enjoyed this early morning view of my backyard and vegetable garden.   Next time I'm up this early I'll try to put on appropriate attire and actually do some work in the yard.  It's nice to have goals, don't you agree?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Manda Monday--Martha would freak out...

...if she saw my front flower bed, because it was awful. Really, really awful.  It's difficult to tell by the picture because everything is green, but my front flower bed had been overtaken by weeds.  It was a weed party out there, a Weed City even, and my precious flowers were getting choked out.

In the spring, I planted twenty flowers, 50+ bulbs and three pumpkin plants in the new flower garden, located just outside the front door where the bushes used to be.  But you'd never know it because there were just too many weeds obscuring the view of the good stuff.

Like the above bloom, for instance. I had a full Asiatic lily flower in my bed, and until I got in there to do some weeding, I had no idea!  I bet this never happens to Martha Stewart.  I'm betting that her flowers open on command and weeds don't come within a two mile radius of her property.

This is another flower I missed.  The Big Guy's Uncle Dennis knows how much I love native perennials, so this spring he divided a bunch of his echinacea and black-eyed Susan and sent them over. Isn't that sweet?  So far this is the first bloom, but there are several more ready to burst over the next week or two.

I know Martha has an enormous crew dedicated to making her flower beds/house/life look  spectacular, but it's easy for me to forget that sometimes.  Fortunately, I do have good friends, and as I was weeding the flower beds my friend Yogita came by to give me a hand. Thanks, Yogi!

Here's just one of THREE tubs of weeds that I added to the compost bin.  Because I have a very busy summer planned, this may be the only time I tackle the weeding for the next month (or maybe longer), so I'll enjoy the view of my flowers while I can.

Sometimes, in my quest to be just like Martha, this is as good as it gets. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Living well and spending less in the summer

We're one day into summer, and already I feel it slipping through my fingers.  Like any season, it comes and goes too quickly for me. This year, I am determined to have a full and fun summer...and, because I am frugal and already spent all of my money on my garden, the activities to fill my summer need to be free

Fortunately, there's lots of free (or low-cost) and fun activities in the Fox Valley.  Already, my summer calender includes dates of free concerts, festivals, farm days, kids activities and more.  For example, this weekend we'll attend River Night (including an outdoor concert) in nearby Yorkville, and then head to Blackberry Farm for a kid-friendly Tractor Show.  But how do you find out about such things?

I always start my search with the internet at city websites.  Take a look at the "Events" (sometimes listed as "Calender") page of your city/town/village, and see what they have listed.  Then look at the websites of cities/towns/villages within driving distance to see what activities they offer.  The fun stuff I found by looking at the city websites of Aurora, Yorkville, Montgomery and Oswego were enough to fill our calender for the next two months. And I haven't even gotten to North Aurora's website yet!

If you aren't finding much on your city's website, or you want even more options, try looking for fun free activities here:
  • Local park district--Ours offers a number of free programs throughout the summer, and they also sponsor several outdoor concerts at park locations.
  • Local library--I've stated before how much I adore our library for its free programs and seminars.  Occasionally, they also have visiting musicians/musical groups for free.  Many libraries have summer reading programs (including prizes!) for kids. 
  • Local forest preserve--This is an often-overlooked resource.  Many forest preserves offer free or low-cost educational/fun programs and activities.  Check not only your local forest preserve, but also the forest preserves of your neighboring counties.
  • County fairs--Nearly every populated county in America has a fair in the summer.  These cost money to attend, but it's worth it.  If the fair is too costly for you, keep in mind that the fairgrounds are in use throughout the summer for other activities. Our county fairgrounds hosts shows, concerts and monthly flea markets.  Check out the schedule for fairgrounds of neighboring counties--you might be surprised at all they have to offer. 
  • Local businesses--many home improvement stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, offer fun and free activities on the weekends for kids, as do craft stores, such as Michael's and JoAnn's.  Take advantage of these crafty clinics! Your kids will love them.
  • Do a google search of your city + free and see what comes up!  That's how I found the blog "Free Things to do in Aurora, IL."  How handy is that?  Perhaps you have something similar for your town.
This is just a snippet of the stuff I talk about in my Live Well. Spend Less! class at Waubonsee Community College.  The next course is July 18-August 1 at the Sugar Grove campus.  If you'd like tips and ideas for living a full life on a budget, then please join me for the next session.  Now get planning for a fun summer!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Martha Monday--60 Days of Summer

Tuesday is the official start of summer, and Martha has you covered. 

Take a look at Martha's 60 Days of Summer which covers crafts, recipes, activities, ideas and Good Things.

One suggested activity is to find your perfect summer hobby.  You can take the quiz here.  My result was scrapbooking, and they're absolutely right: my plan for the summer is to get caught up on the kids' photo albums and scrapbooks. 

It's hard to find time for that in the summer, though, when there's just so much fun stuff to do!  Between family gatherings, weddings, graduations, and parties, there's free outdoor concerts, festivals, farm days and flea markets that I'd like to attend this summer. 

Maybe that's why the days are longer, I need the extra time to fit it all in!

Whether you're headed off to a family barbecue or just enjoying the heat, take a look at Martha's 60 Ice Cream Treats.  This rainbow sorbet cake is amazing.

There's also a slideshow of 60 Summer Sides.  These dishes are perfect for taking to a potluck or for dinner with your family.  I'm looking forward to making this beefsteak tomato salad once my tomatoes start coming in.

 Take a look at Martha's ideas, come up with some of your own, and then get busy enjoying summer!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Juvenile detention

While my dear brother Freddy was working on my compost bin, my two little cherubs just had to get involved. Instead of shooing them away, Freddy was kind enough to let them play and take plenty of pictures for me.  Enjoy these pictures of my children in a new kind of juvenile detention.

Thanks to Freddy for the great pictures and amazing compost bin system!  Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Compost queen

Now that I have a compost bin system, I am quickly becoming a Compost Queen. 

Not the most glamorous title, I know, but I'll take it!  And see the little Compost Princess peering into the wheelbarrow?
For the most part, I followed Martha's Composting 101 guide on her website. 

I started by putting a layer of twigs/branches down to provide aeration underneath the pile.  The lilac bushes didn't survive their relocation, so I yanked those up and cut off the branches for the bottom layers of the first two bins.

Next, I added a layer of manure.  Ideally, a compost pile should have more browns than greens (manure is considered a green) for a better rate of composition but I'm working with what I have. No matter what, this stuff will decompose. Eventually.

I've found that the Little Guy and Little Miss are eager to help Mommy in the garden. I can only hope that this attitude holds over the next ten years.  Maybe they'll love gardening so much that they'll insist that their dear, sweet mother go inside to rest and have a glass of lemonade while they take care of all the garden chores.  That can happen, right?

After the manure, I added a layer of mostly dead grass clippings.  It's my understanding that fresh grass clippings are considered green, and dead grass clippings are considered brown. Can anyone confirm this?

I hope they are brown, because until this fall, all I have for browns are dead grass clippings and shredded newspaper for the piles.

Here's a side view of the bin so you can see how the layered lasagna effect looks:

I'm even adding kitchen waste (veggie/fruit cores, peels, etc. No meat or dairy scraps!) to the pile.  For my birthday, I'll probably ask for one of those super-cool small buckets to store scraps for a few days until I can get them outside to the bin. 

In the meantime, this system is working out just fine.  I never knew I could get this excited over a mixture of horse poop, grass clippings and kitchen waste.  All hail the Queen of Compost!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Building the bins

My brother Freddy built the compost bin system while I was at work, and thankfully he documented the process for me with lots of pictures.  Here's a glimpse of all the work it took to make my composting dreams a reality:

Isn't it gorgeous?!  And bonus: this gets me one step closer to Martha-dom!  At this rate, I'll be poised to take the helm of MSLO by the end of the summer.  Thanks again, Freddy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Martha Monday--Compost

Martha is a master gardener, and master gardeners are all about compost.  Martha is no exception: her compost piles are so big they have to be turned with front end loaders!  

Compost is great for so many reasons: it's great for your soil and plants, and it also keeps organic matter out of landfills and puts it back into the earth where it belongs.  For these and other reasons, I decided to get a compost bin for my yard.  There are many free online plans (just google "compost bin plans") so you can make your own, or you can just buy a ready-made composters found at a home improvement store or online.

For my purposes, I wanted to have one built.  Specifically, I wanted a three-bin system I found on Martha's website:

Of course, while I have big plans to use it, I don't have the time or know-how to build it, and that's where my brother Freddy comes in:  he can build/fix just about anything.  Thankfully he took on this job, and had a bin built in no time.

After it was built, the Big Guy and I moved it out to the backyard against the fence and that's where it will stay for the next few years.  Here it will be mostly protected from the west winds, but exposed to plenty of elements to encourage decomposition.

In keeping with my plans for an organic garden (or at least as organic as I can make it) the bins were built out of cedar planks as opposed to processed/treated lumber.  Cedar will hold up against the weather for years, and since it is not treated, no chemicals will go from the wood to the compost to the ground in which I'm growing healthy veggies for my family.  Win!

For something that's going to hold manure, leaves, grass clippings, dead plants and fruit/veggie waste, that sure is one attractive bin!  Thanks to Freddy for doing such an amazing job!

I'll have detailed pictures of the building process for you tomorrow.  Happy composting!