Probably Not the Safest Toy

25 Aug Bug's hands

Bolt gave me a really dirty look. But the baby was fussy and he needed something to distract him. He’s just learning how to grab things and fling them around, much to his amusement. So I gave him the closest thing I had. It just happened to be a knitting needle.

Now, before I get voted worst mother ever, I’d like to say in my defense that it was a circular needle and the part attached to the cord was pointing toward his face, not the pointy side. So, I was reasonably certain that he wasn’t going to poke his eye out. Which, he did not, for the record.

Bug's hands

I have been spending the last almost three months of Bug’s life relearning how to knit with a baby on my lap. It is slowing me down something fierce, especially as he is getting better at grabbing.  We’re making do with a slower pace on everything  around here. I have to choose recipes that can be executed in 20 minute chunks, because that is the longest amount of time that Bug will sit happily in his bouncy chair.

I both love this forced slow-down and deeply hate it. It is the essential duality of my motherhood experience so far. For instance, right now, Bug is fast asleep on my chest. I am so completely in love with him and love feeling his little hands wrapped around my chest. But, we’re having guests over for dinner in an hour. I should really be cooking dinner or showering or something.  I’m stressed, when I think about it, but calmed when I feel him.  I am learning, slowly, to deal with the stress I feel to get things done.  He is the pressure I need to prioritize. And I only resent him for that occasionally.  It is kinda like if my vitamins were dipped in chocolate half the time and bitter the other half.

So, Bolt’s new sweater might take a lot longer than it would have if I had started it BB – before Bug. But, it will get done. And, presumably, I’ll find some more suitable toys for my baby in the meantime.

Caring for a New Tree

15 Aug

So, as I mentioned before, our memorial tree for Bug is looking a little rough. More than a little rough, I think it might actually be a goner. This makes me incredibly sad. Way more upset than is actually warranted, I suspect.  I hate when plants die anyway, and then you associate a particular plant with my baby. Well, it isn’t pretty.  (Luckily Bug is growing better than the tree. Much better.)

But, it is motivating. We plan to replace the tree, it is an integral part of our overall backyard plan. So, I am going to damn well be sure that we don’t kill another tree.  I’m going to do the research that I should have done the first time around.  Here goes…

Bare root vs Root Ball

We initially made our decision on this front because the bare root tree was more economical (read cheap). Plus, it got delivered directly to the house, which is important because we still haven’t found a nursery near the new house that we like.

From what I’ve now read, the advantages to bare root (aside from the cost) is that the entire root system can be inspected. Also, more roots can be included in the shipped product because there isn’t as much soil and weight. On the con side, the tree is necessarily smaller when it is a bare root tree. So really it comes down to size. Oh, and skip the containerized trees because then you have to worry about circling roots.

Seasons

I assumed, much like the vegetable garden, that Spring was the right time to plant our new tree. From what I can tell, that was a pretty accurate assumption. Bare root trees need to be transplanted in either spring or fall. Root ball trees can be planted anytime, where as the bare root trees should only be planted in the spring and fall when it isn’t such a shock on their poor little system. We’re in Zone 7, so it is entirely possible that Fall is a better time for planting so that the plant stays dormant for a little longer. Our fig trees, planted in September, are doing great. Even so, we perhaps waited a bit too long to get our tree in the ground in the Spring.

Seasoning the Soil

As best I can tell from my research, we should’ve mixed some compost into the soil when we were planting our tree. We unfortunately just used available soil and covered that with a layer of straw as mulch (keeping a 3 inch radius away from the trunk though). On the other hand, we should lay off the fertilizer until the tree starts to bear fruit.

Water, Water Everywhere

This was undoubtedly our biggest challenge with the current tree. The tree really didn’t look good after the deluge of water that it got during our mini-monsoon season. Then, we clearly didn’t water enough after it got hot and dry again. We have some sort of mental block against watering to begin with, so we need to clarify how much water the tree actually needs.

So, new trees need 25 gallons of water per week to stay alive. According to Casey Trees, that’s equal to 1.5 inches of rain fall. The more I’m watching this, the more I’m thinking that not watering was a bigger sin in our case. Given our track record, we clearly need to get one a tree gator to help us remember to actually get the water out.

If You Want More Info:

There is some great information from the U of M here.

This is a great resource from Virginia Tech about all things trees.

Last of the Baby Crafts

10 Aug For more details: http://ravel.me/fasterpanda/vhe5o

For other people’s babies. At least for the time being.

This sweater is a baby-sized play on a Aran sweater. I have never really done a full on cabled sweater before, so baby-sized seemed like a good place to start. If I hated it, it just wasn’t big enough to give me real grief. Luckily though, I didn’t hate it. I rather liked it, in fact. It doesn’t make for good TV knitting , but that’s largely because I seem totally incapable of memorizing patterns. I mean really, what is wrong with my brain that I can’t get this pretty simple repeat down? Oh well, that’s what the chart is for, I guess.

Speaking of the chart, the pattern is from the ultimate source of free patterns, Knitty. It is, as to be expected, well written and easy to follow. It took me way longer than it should have because my knitting was rudely interrupted by the arrival of one adorable baby of our own. He isn’t conductive to knitting just now, because he demands to be held all of the time. I’m not complaining, mind you, just noting. As it turns out, holding him is a pretty awesome past time. However, with a steady stream of guests that were interested in partaking of that particular past time (and could care less about what I was doing or if I was paying attention to them at all), I was able to finish off the last of the knitting for this sweater.

Said adorable baby

Said adorable baby

I used an all cotton yarn that I received as left-overs from a sweater that my mom knitted for our baby. It is a really fun rusty salmon color that we choose to be appropriately gender neutral and not too stodgy for a tiny baby. It knits up a little stiff, I’m sure in part because of the density of the stitches here. I’m hoping that it loosens up a bit when I wash it.

All that’s left is the closure. I’m thinking little wooden or leather buttons in keeping with the old-man sweater nature of this little cardigan.

While I’m hopeful that I can get this project entirely done soon so that I can give it to it’s intended recipient, I’m not too rushed. It seems crazy to give someone a sweater when it is this hot out. All self-respecting babies should be as naked as possible right now.

08_09 Trelis for Finn2

Baby Haze

29 Jul

We have been in the most wonderful and all consuming baby haze for the past two months. Everything else has been on hold, because a) I just want to stare at our baby all day, and b) I am too tired to do anything but stare at the baby.

The haze lifted in ernest this last weekend. Bolt had his regular Friday off, so I handed him a baby and promptly spent all day doing projects. While there is nothing finished or ready to report, it was really great to be productive again.

It also gave me the opportunity to spend some time in the garden. Unfortunately, in addition to the baby related neglect, the garden has been taking a beating from the weather and pests. This past July saw torrential rain followed promptly by searing heat. This was compounded by some human error as well. All in all, our garden hasn’t been as successful as we could have hoped, but we do have a lot to learn from.  Here are some of the mid-season take aways:

  • Spread out the tomato plants: We planted our tomato plants far to dense for their liking. Next year I think we should aim for about half as many plants in the given space. I also want to do some more research about tomato production. We’re getting a few paste tomatoes and some (albeit small) cherry tomatoes, but no Brandywines at all.
  • Attack pests early and often: This is highly related to the first issue. We struggled with aphids on the tomatoes and Squash Bore on the zucchini. In both cases we were slow to start treating the problem with the Neem Oil. Early and often should be our mantra in the future! Also, we need to make sure we’re pruning to help ensure healthy plants to resist the pest naturally. There is a good video here to walk through tomato pruning.
  • Okra!: We planted 9 okra plants this year. They’re now fully in their productive stage and we’re getting a pretty perfect amount of okra pods to really do something with.
  • Beans have a heavy water requirement: Water the beans, a lot. They get yucky and woody if you don’t. They are, however, bouncing back with a little love.
  • Spread out the carrots too: We just broadcast seeded the carrots this year.  As a result, they are really crowded and vying for soil space. As a related note, we need to figure out something to do with all those carrot tops.
  • Don’t always trust the landscapers: the bee balm that was planted in our rain garden apparently doesn’t like rain. Well, at least it doesn’t like as much rain as we got this month.

The most upsetting mid-season note is about the peach tree. It started to look a little bad with all the rain. Then it started to look really bad with all the heat. We took some advice from the local tree non-profit, Casey Trees, that we probably shouldn’t have. They were advising folks not to water, because we had so much rain. However, I suspect because our tree was so young and the root weren’t totally with it yet, we should have been watering anyway. I hope it bounces back, but I’m pretty worried about it.

I think that’s all for now.

Sheldon Gets a New Shell

16 May

I started Sheldon with a purple shell, but thought the yellow would be a better fit in the end.  I like how well he goes with his blanket. Sheldon now is ready to be packed up and sent out into the world with his super comfy blanket! Just in time too, I don’t imagine I’m going to be working on any knitting projects in the days to come…

Coming Up Roses

15 May

Blue Eyed Grass One of the most interesting and frustrating things about moving into an old house is dissecting how things are put together.  After many years and different levels of code adherence, every aspect of our home is a mishmash of projects and approaches.  This is incredibly apparent in our garden.

In the vegetable garden, while we might have had some complications, we were mostly able to construct what we wanted with relative ease. However, we’re now starting to tackle all of the other beds. And, well, we’re not loving what we’re finding.

We decided early on that we were only going to be able to focus on the backyard this year.  While our neighbors suffer by staring at our decidedly un-pretty front yard, we wanted to get as much as we could set in the back this year with the hopes that it would be the more functional space for us in the future. And, miraculously, we’ve gotten most of the work done before baby. However, we wanted to turn the bed right up against the back of the house into an herb garden, potentially with some perennial vines to add some vertical interest. (In particular we were thinking a hardy kiwi and a flowering clematis vine.) And herein lies our stumbling block. It is gravel. And tons of it. It appears that a former owner added 1) a layer of plastic, 2) about 12 inches of gravel, 3) three inches or so of top soil and, finally 4) bark mulch.  To the entirety of the existing beds.

BlueberriesSo, of course it would be easiest to simply build a raised bed over top of this mess.  We could easily ignore it all.  However, we never do anything the easy way. Plus, all that gravel will come in incredibly handy when we make the patio that we’re planning on for next year (or maybe the year after that, we’ll see).  So, with the help of some hardware cloth, we’re sifting out all the gravel and removing the plastic. It is, as you can imagine, very slow going. This made even slower by the fact that I can’t do much at a time (that whole big belly thing again) and that Bolt has been focused on making sure the veggies are growing just fine. Needless to say, our herbs aren’t getting into the ground anytime soon.  Certainly not before baby Bug, who is coming any day now. Really, the midwife says that she’d be very surprised if I make it to my due date (May 23rd).

So, that is not exactly the fun part of unearthing the hodge-podge of an old house. However, it has been interesting to see what Rosescomes up in the rest of the yard as Spring springs out.  I have heard several times that you shouldn’t do anything drastic to the landscaping in a new house until you’ve lived there for at least a full season-cycle.  For instance, we have this crazy rose bush that is growing like crazy (plus one that I keep expecting to be dead, but isn’t).  And tons of lilies everywhere I look. I’m watching the side yard closely this year, because it is the only area I don’t have a good plan for yet.  It offers a fair bit of space (if a very narrow space) with full to partial sun. It all remains to be seen!

Also noteworthy, lots of things we’ve actually planted are coming up!  The beans are almost all germinated, as well as chard, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots and okras. I think we’ll be able to actually harvest some arugula next week (we got that in late, so we won’t be able to harvest much before it bolts. Unless of course it stays so cool.) We planted Waltham butternut squash seeds this weekend too. We were going to buy some seedlings to replace to the ones that didn’t make it (tomato and peppers mostly), but we had a frost warning for last evening. So, we decided to wait until next weekend.  We did get a marathon weeding session in too, in between all the rain.

Seedling Blues

1 May

05_01 Bean BabyThis weekend we got another round of seeds and seedlings in the ground.

From seed we planted:

  • Homemade Pickles Cucumbers
  • Hill Country Heirloom Red Okra

And the seedlings were:

  • San Marzano Paste Tomatoes
  • OTV Brandywine Tomatoes
  • Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes

And perfect timing, just after planting we had two full days of misty, spitting rain.  Godspeed little guys.

We haven’t had the best of luck with seed starting this year, in general. Other than the Brandywine tomatoes, which were really stubborn in the beginning but quickly started going all gang-busters, all the other seedlings have been a little anemic. For instance, our dill and basil seedlings were so tiny and wasted looking that we ended up just direct seeded them a couple weeks ago. Half of the eggplant seedlings were looking ok, but then completely died off.

We think that there might be a couple of problems that need to be dealt with.  We did get a heat mat last year, and according to the thermometer we’ve been at a consistent 70ish degrees.  So, we think that is generally ok.  We’re not convinced that the lights are quite right though, probably just not strong enough.  So that’s one issue.  Two, we didn’t use sterile seed starting medium.  I’m not sure how detrimental that can actually be (here are some ways to deal with it next year though).  I’m not sure if the little guys had enough nutrients.  Also, there was some mold/fungus growing on the paper planters that could have been a result of the potting soil. However, it could have come from another source, which leads me to issue number three. I think there was an inconsistent watering issue. The plants were either dry or too wet, often too wet.  It certainly seems like we might be suffering from a case of the ‘dampening off‘. Seems as if this is a common enough problem, but an annoying and seedling-fatal one nonetheless.  So, lots of things to think about next year. Like new lights, cooked soil, less water and a fan.

It is sometimes overwhelming how much I don’t know. The garden seems so simple – seeds+water+sun=food – and often despite ourselves, it is that simple. However, often it really is not. There is an amazing amount of science to this art. Fortunately for us, we’re both pretty big nerds and we rather like the science of it.  We’ll figure it out, little by little.

05_01 Peach LeavesIn the mean time, nature is continually defying our learning curve by moving forward on its steady march. The peach tree, in the ground for two weeks now, is starting to bud out. The raspberry plants a neighbor gave us (and we rudely stuck in a pot, unprotected, all winter) have leaves all over. And then, inexplicably in the other direction, we have a crazy crop circle of dead grass forming in our front yard. Never a dull moment.

Good Things Come to Those that Wait

28 Apr Buffet redo full shot

Buffet redo full shotI inherited an old buffet from a past relationship that, while practical, was really ugly.  I carted it from house to house with more than a little reluctance.

This last summer I decided it was time to do something with the thing.  It was either going to get lost in the move or it was going to be rehabilitated. I stripped the nasty, very dark stain and discovered beautiful wood.  I though the whole thing was a veneer, but it turns out to be really nice under there.  However, I somewhat overestimated my ability to find time for projects that summer.  Something about buying a house really ate up all my time. Anyhow, because I was somewhat distracted I ended up leaving the whole thing outside for a month or so. With a tarp over it. Did I mention the rain?

In any case, my newly-discovered beautiful piece of furniture was now covered in mildew stains.  Well, not entirely covered, just the top bit.  Disappointed was putting it mildly, but as I mentioned before, I wasn’t exactly rolling in time.  I considered telling the movers to chuck it, but in the end we carted it to yet another house and politely instructed our guests to ignore the big, mildew-stained piece of furniture in the dining room.

buffet redo doneNow, almost 10 months later, I decided to take on the mildew and finally finish the damn thing.  I read online lots about removing mildew from untreated wood, but it mostly pointed me in the direction of power washers and oxalic acid. Instead, I used bleach to kill the stuff, but it greyed the wood a bit and didn’t remove all the stains. So, then I took the sandpaper to it and took off the rest.  To finish it, I used tung oil.

So now, nearly eight years later, I actually have a something I like to look at. Another small victory.

Bug gets a Tree

24 Apr Peach tree from a box

When we bought our house, it was clear that no one had loved this place in quite awhile.  Everything basically works, but there was nothing extra and no attention to detail. The house was a rental for four years or so before we moved in and from all reports it was a real hard livin’ four years. In the nine months we’ve been here we’ve been slowly working through each room trying to make it shine again (with our limited budget, this is not a complete overhaul!)

Any work inside the house has come to a complete standstill these days though. As you maybe can see reflected in our recent posts – it is all about the garden. And, well, rightfully so.  It is so beautiful outside these days and the landscaping has been just as neglected as the rest of the house.  Plus, it is our intention to make the yard as edible a landscape as we possibly can.

Peach tree from a boxTo this end, and again cognizant of that limited budget, we put together a master plan for the yard to be implemented over the next couple years. That master plan includes a couple trees. Now, we don’t have a big yard. Our whole lot is just slightly more than 3,000 sq. ft., less than a tenth of an acre (just the way Bolt likes it, ask him about urban density some time…) But, the trees are important and an important part of a larger plan to make the District a truly great place to live. And despite the fact that they’ll take up quite a bit of our limited space we want to add several for their shade, beauty, permanence and fruit.

It was important, when we started making our plan, for us to plant at least one of the trees this year. Bolt suggested, almost as soon as we found out that I was pregnant, that we plant a tree this year in honor of the birth of our little boy-to-be.  It still makes me a little misty to think about. It is our living memorial to his life and the myriad ways in which his life will change ours. They will both grow and hopefully thrive, marking the passage of our time together. A little sappy maybe (pun intended), but it makes me really happy.

So, after a fair amount of somewhat agonizing research chronicled here, we decided on the tree we wanted.  It is a semi-dwarf peach tree (which will be our third fruit tree to join the fig trees that Bolt gave me for my birthday last year).  We decided on the Contender variety for its general pest and disease resistance and per The Farmer’s Almanac recommendation. After some more research, we bought a bare-root tree online and had it shipped to the house (a process that was totally painless and one that I don’t imagine will mimic Bug’s entrance into our lives).  This weekend it went into the ground.

The peach pit (pun also intended...)

The peach pit (pun also intended…)

Peach PitBolt reports that a 3ft x 2ft hole is really big and takes a while to dig. I report that it is still a little weird to me that I can get a tree in the mail.

Stumped

20 Apr Kibo and Matt Cuddles

Kibo and Matt CuddlesI have been trying to put pen to paper (metaphorically) all week.  However, the truth is I just don’t have it in me.  When I sit down to write, I end up obsessively checking the news or twitter instead. It has been a long, hard, emotional week, made all the worse for the crazy hormonal ride I’m on these days.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t just been the news too. Our neighborhood has produced a certain amount of drama as well.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the weekend. On some sort of closure in the news and our spring time celebration of new life (we’re planting a new tree for Bug). And on being thankful for my loving and growing family.

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