Friday, June 22, 2012

Butterfly and bee gardens

To help with pollination issues, I've planted two small butterfly gardens in the backyard.  The first and biggest is in the northwest corner situated under a locust tree, between the Wall of Tomatoes and the compost bins. It features sedum, asters and a few other flowers and shrubs that I just can't remember the names of.  Which I'm sure happens to Martha all the time.

The most prominent butterfly-attractor is a large purple butterfly bush. Next to that is one lonely milkweed stalk. For those of you not in the Midwest, milkweed is essential to the Monarch butterfly. The caterpillars feed on it, and it's usually where they make their chrysalis to turn into a butterfly. 

I've been told that milkweed is invasive. If so, I hope it invades the heck out of this corner of my yard. The more butterflies in my garden, the better!

Already the butterfly bush is working...see the bee collecting nectar?

There's another small gathering of flowering plants in the southwest corner of the backyard between the strawberries and the beets. This bee/butterfly garden is much smaller with one butterfly bush and two asters.  There are no flowers yet, but hopefully I'll see some action soon.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

What the...?

Lots of kitchen scraps go in my compost bin: vegetable peels, seeds, apple cores, etc.  Early this spring, I turned the piles to help aid the breakdown of all that organic matter.  Despite my best efforts, something in the compost bin didn't decompose; instead, it's growing!

I really don't know what this plant is, just that it's growing noticeably bigger with each passing day. Already it has filled up the middle compost bin and is spilling over into the adjacent bins.  Seriously, this thing is growing 10x faster than anything else in my garden.  A testament to the power of compost, perhaps?

Based on the vining, leaves and blossoms, I'm guessing this is some sort of cucumber or squash.  Already a little something is growing. 

This mystery vegetable is really quite exciting. I just hope it isn't some sort of cannibalistic alien a la Little Shop of Horrors.  If it says to me "Feed me, Amanda!" then I'll know we have a problem. 

Just don't blame it on the compost.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New garden space

Yesterday, I shared my perimeter garden. In the spring, as I was starting a gazillion seeds in my dining room, it became apparent that I had more sprouts and seeds than I had space to plant them.  Whereas some people might cull their collection of seedlings and seed packets at that point, I simply decided to carve out some more garden space.

It's what Martha would do.

Here are my two brand-new garden beds on the west side of the backyard:

Each bed is 4'x16'. The first bed contains cauliflower, carrots and peppers.

The second new space contains winter squash (acorn, butternut and two other varieties), blue corn and summer squash (zucchini, patty pan and one other variety).  This bed in particular is flourishing.  I expect to be eating patty pan squashes in the next week or so, with zucchini ready shortly after that.

And because even after creating two new garden beds I still needed more room, here is the flower-bed-turned-corn-field area on the south side of the house. 

I have four planting of corn there, all planted ten days apart. My hope is that even if each section only gives me 10 ears or so, there will be time to eat and enjoy it before the next batch is ready for harvest.

So there you have 2012 Garden Extravaganza!  Math is not my thing, but I put my garden's area at 368 square feet.  I weeded everything over the weekend, and that task took me a full two hours.  All things considered that's not bad, though I'd rather have spent that time reading a book and eating bonbons.

I'll weed again in another month or so. In the meantime, I am ready for some strawberries and summer squash. Happy first day of summer!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Perimeter garden

Last year, I made garden beds around the perimeter of the backyard but severely underutilized the space.  I was new to the gardening game, and I didn't want to get in over my head. Last year I enjoyed a good harvest from nearly everything I planted.  This year, I was determined to get the most use out of my garden space. 

I may have gotten in over my head.

Along the north fence with the pear and peach trees is the Wall of Tomatoes.  I believe there are 25 or so tomato plants along that fence, though I've lost track of the exact number. There's a pepper or two nestled amongst the tomatoes, and two basil patches thrown in for good measure. This area gets a decent amount of sunlight which hopefully lead to bushels and bushels of tomatoes.

Along the west side of the fence, I have two sections of potatoes. This is my first time growing potatoes so I have no idea what to expect. So far, not a lot is happening.

Moving south along the west side of the backyard, you'll find the broccoli. As with the potatoes, this is my first time growing broccoli and I really don't know what's going on here.  The broccoli is green and the leaves get bigger each week, so I'm taking that as a good sign.

I planted four varieties of eggplant: Epic, Fairy Tale, Gretal and Hansel.  In that order. Which is alphabetical, you might have noticed.  Which gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

I have two strawberry patches along the west fence.  All Star is a June-bearing strawberry, and Ozark Beauty is an ever-bearing variety.  Strawberry plants can take a full year to get established, but once they are the plants will last for several years.  While I won't get nearly enough berries for freezing or jam, there have been a few to nibble on. Yum!

Turning the corner to the south side of the yard (same side as the apple trees), you'll find my beet patch.  I first tasted fresh beets at Uncle Rich's house last November. They were delicious, and I was compelled to plant some of my own this year.

To the left of the beets is the kale patch. I've been collecting kale recipes on Pinterest for quite some I just need to pick this stuff and start cooking!

Next are the peas and carrots flanked by two more tomato plants.  The trellis is actually a broken baby gate I found by the side of the road. Peas don't grow very high, so I thought this support would be sufficient.

Pole beans are next.  The seeds I used were from last year, and so far only half of them have sprouted. At this point, I think that's all I'm going to get.  Soon, I'll get some trellis' up for the beans.

Trellis' are already in place for the cucumbers. For some reason, my cucumbers are not getting off to a great start.  Maybe they aren't getting enough sun?  Though last year, I did have one cucumber vine along this fence and it did just fine. Maybe they're just slow to get started.  I planted three varieties this year, and if I have a large enough yield I'll try my hand at making homemade pickles.

Finally, this last section is a mish-mash of the peppers and tomatoes I couldn't fit anywhere else.  I'm not complaining, though...there is no such thing as too many peppers or tomatoes.  Overall, I think I have 20 or so pepper plants (I'll share those pictures tomorrow) and 30 or so tomato plants. I lost count.

So that's my perimeter garden, which accounts for almost 3/4 of my total garden space. I'll share the rest of it with you tomorrow. 

Have a great day!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Martha Monday--Garden watching

Martha Stewart has some amazing gardens.  Her gardens, combined with her expansive property and animals, actually resemble more of a farm. In fact, that is how she refers to her property (named "Cantitoe Corners") in Bedford,  New York. 

Martha's amazing vegetable garden is....amazing:

My vegetable garden is not quite there, but I am working on it. Also, I'm working on getting a staff of 40 to do all the work my house and ginourmous garden will require. I'll keep you posted.

Martha does fancy things in her garden like install time-lapse cameras so she can monitor the progress of the peas:

I'm not into monitoring my own peas (at this point I am just crossing my fingers that I'll harvest some), but I have been keeping on eye on my neighbors' gardens.  Next door neighbors Sara and Yogita are doing a great job growing veggies in their backyards.  Both ladies have some great gardens coming up with everything from herbs to eggplants to tomatoes.

This is Sara's garden just next door:

That's Little Miss taking a peek inside.  Sara has cilantro, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and a few other things in there. Everything is growing at such a rapid pace!  My tomatoes are not this big and lush yet. I can only assume Sara is sneaking into my garden at night and sabotaging my tomatoes' progress.

Yogita also has a wonderful garden growing. This year, she doubled the space so she could grow more tomatoes, herbs, spinach, everything!  Yogi's garden is beautiful and looks like a miniature version of Martha Stewart's.  Behold:

And just like in Sara's garden, Yogita's plants are so much more lush and full than my own at this point.  Maybe they are both sabotaging me!  Of course, a more likely explanation is that they both water their gardens regularly. 

That, and the fact that they are better gardeners than I am is probably the real reason for their success.  No matter, I'll just steal their tomatoes while they are sleeping.

Don't worry Sara and Yogi, I am totally kidding about stealing tomatoes.  Though I will be willing to trade them for Ice Pops.  Let me know!

Happy Monday, everyone!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer reading, gladiator-style

The Aurora Public Library, like many libraries, has a summer reading program for kids. You know how this goes, right?  Kids read a certain number of books (or in the case of non-readers, kids are read to for a certain number of hours) and they receive a prize when they meet the reading requirement. 

Last year, I signed the Little Guy up for this and we had a good time.  Prizes included pencils, bookmarks and coupons for free dinner items at local restaurants.  It was nice.   

This year, I learned that the APL also has a summer reading program for adults.  Adults have to read six books for an entry into a Grand Prize drawing, and there's something in there about receiving a free book.  Each person can enter the Grand Prize drawing up to four times.  

Now, I don't know what the Grand Prize is nor do I care. I do know that the adult summer reading program gives me the chance to read (which I like to do anyways) on a competitive level.  Competitive reading...isn't that awesome?

Finally, a sport at which I can excel.

The contest, er...reading program, started on June 4 so I am a little behind.  Here's my first stack:

First up is Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened.  Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, and if you don't read her blog I suggest you start immediately. 

The Aurora Public Library is having a book discussion for The Zookeeper's Wife in mid-July.  I am thinking of going not to discuss the book, but to check out my competition. I'm hoping to intimidate my fellow reading gladiators by convincing them that not only am I a better/faster/more awesome reader, but that I will win this competition OR ELSE.  My intimidation plan so far includes bringing a huge stack of books to the discussion group, opening them all and reading a bit from each before switching over to another.  I will occasionally, randomly and dramatically slam one shut and scream at my competitors "Another book bites the dust. IN YOUR FACE!"

That sounds intimidating, right? I just don't want to be too over the top and scare someone out of the competition.  When I win, I want my victory to be over thousands of fellow area readers, not just a few people who didn't attend the discussion that day and weren't able to witness my gladiator-level reading skills. Please let me know if this intimidation plan seems like too much.

Candy Construction, while on my reading list, will not be used in my intimidation plan.  Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to be screaming "IN YOUR FACE" and then someone would be all "But you're reading about candy construction!?" 

How can I intimidate competitors with a book featuring edible crafts including this totally adorable rice krispie treat pirate ship (which is perfect for the Little Guy's 5th birthday, by the way)?  The answer: I can't.  And that's why Candy Construction will be read in the privacy of my own home.

So that's my Phase One reading for the Adult Reading Program: Literate Gladiator competition.  Though I have yet to log a book, I feel really confident in my ability to kick ass in this contest. Wish me luck, dear readers!

Unless you are a competitor, in which case....IN YOUR FACE!

Have a book suggestion for me?  I'd love to know what's on your summer reading list! Let me know in the comments.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

(Belated) Martha Monday--Father's Day

Father's Day is just around the corner, and I found some super-cute ideas on  These handmade gifts would be perfect for new fathers, old fathers, grandfathers, uncles and general dad-type people. 

Remake Dad's favorite foods with fun labels:
 Give Dad a booklet of fun coupons:

If handmaking gifts is not your thing, this car care travel kit would be easy enough to assemble:

You can find more handmade gift ideas here, or go here for a fun Father's Day gift guide.  Have a great week!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A sweet harvest

My overachieving garden has already started to produce!  Take a look at what I picked earlier this week:

Four strawberries!  These are Allstar strawberries I ordered from Stark Bros. Allstar is a June-bearer, so hopefully I'll get some more berries from these plants before their season is over. 

I have to say, as far as firsts harvests go, this one could not have been sweeter. The berries were delicious!  Now....time to get all the other fruit and veggie plants on board. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Back from the 2012 Wilton Tent Sale

Some friends and I hit the Wilton Tent Sale on Sunday.  We got there in the late afternoon and were pleased to find plenty of parking and shopping carts, and not a large crowd. Unfortunately, many of the cookware bins were empty, but that's a gamble we took by going at the end of the day rather than at the beginning.

As I've stated before, each year the merchandise changes. This year, the sale was heavy on frosting and fondant stuff.  There were some crafts kits, scrapbooking materials and a bit of Copco brand stuff, but the majority of the sale offerings were Wilton.  Here's the small stretch of sale dedicated to Martha Stewart Crafts:

And here's what I bought:

For the most part, I stuck to my list. Last year I purchased a Copco knife and I really like it, so picking up another of the same brand was a no-brainer. 

I replenished my supply of candy melts:

And I had a few smaller purchases:

Though I had a lot of pirate-themed stuff on my list for Little Guy's fifth birthday party, all I could find were these fun picks. Cute, but not the boatload of pirate-themed stuff I was hoping for.

The only deviation from my list is this super-fun Linzer Cutter.  I've always wanted to try linzer cookies, and this kit makes it look easy:

It comes with seven designs for the hole in the top cookie. Fun!

The 2012 Wilton Tent Sale is going on now through June 19.  If you are in the area and into parties, cakes, cookies and candy, you'll want to check it out.  Happy shopping!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Martha Monday--Skylands

Martha's summer home Skylands (once Edsel Ford's estate) is located in beautiful Seal Harbor, Maine.   Just feast your eyes on all this gorgeousness:

At this point in my life, I can't imagine having a "summer home" so incredible that it deserves its own name, let alone one once owned by an American icon. Or having a summer home at all. I own a tent, but that's just not the same as this:

At this point, I'd like to appeal to Martha...

Dearest Martha, my idol, my inspiration,

Skylands is a beautiful estate, and I do so enjoy looking at all the pictures you post on your blog.  Should you have a shortage of interesting and fun guests at Skylands this summer, please consider adding me, and my two little cherubs, to the guest list.  My children are well-behaved, I make a mean coffee cake, and we desperately need a vacation.

Sincerely yours,
Amanda Grant (mini-Martha)

PS. We could even stay in the guest house:

For now, I'll just get back to pitching the tent in my backyard.  Happy Monday, everyone!