Tuesday, June 30, 2015


The first freesia has bloomed, and it's yellow!  The second spike is just starting to swell, and I think it's going to be purple- you can just see a hint of color at the tips of the buds.  I love the fragrance of freesia.

First freesia blooms!

And speaking of fragrance, here's the sambac jasmine I got last weekend. (I know, I know...)  It's spectacularly perfumed.  I had one of these plants 15 years ago when I lived in North Carolina, but left it with a friend when we moved to Friday Harbor.

Sambac jasmine. Heavenly.

It's been giving me a flower or two every night (today I have three!), and I've been carrying it back and forth between my bedroom and the deck.  It's inside at night so I can enjoy the perfume while I sleep, then back outside during the day to get lots of sun.  Even just one flower fills my whole bedroom.

I pick off the previous night's flowers when I put it back outside in the morning, and drop them in a little jar of 190-proof alcohol.  I'm making jasmine extract to store the fragrance.  The flowers won't last through the heat of the day anyway, and this way I get to enjoy the scent longer.  It's slow going with just a flower or two at a time, but I've got all summer.

Now, let us pause and take a moment to appreciate this next picture.

Oh lovely tomatoes!

I look at that and almost hyperventilate, it makes me so happy.  That is a lovely bunch of Amish Paste tomatoes.

Also, the first cucumber is almost ready to pick!

First cucumber!

And the grapes are moving along fine!

Grapes developing well.

As I was leaving for work today I grabbed a handful of chocolate mint, and one sprig of orange mint. (Yeah, there's an orange mint now.  I know, I know...)

Chocolate mint and orange mint trimmings for my first mug of tea at work.

Chocolate on the left, orange on the right.  I chopped them up and made a lovely mug of tea to start off my day in front of the computer.  There was a bit too much greenery for one cup of tea, so I only used about half of the orange mint.  I'm rooting the rest... because I need more mint...

The yummy result, plus rooting the extra orange mint.

And to wrap up this post, here's a view of the newest resident at my address.

Flycatcher nest in the inside corner of the porch roof

This little flycatcher built her nest in the inside corner under the front porch roof, a lovely protected spot.  She doesn't seem too fussed about us coming and going through the front door, and just sits up there quietly and watches.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rain barrels!

So... remember this picture?

Hey hey, what have we here?!

I got these three barrels from the local Coca-Cola bottling plant (free!) on June 2, right before I embarked on my two-week adventure in the sagebrush.  I have always wanted a rain barrel, and with all the planters on my deck I decided that now is the time.

Then work exploded into busy-ness, and the weather was horrendously hot, and the project stagnated.
About a week ago, I had a chance to get started.

These barrels are the type that have two bungs that screw into the top, rather than a complete lid that comes off.

The tops of the barrels, that will become the bottoms

Quite fortuitously, the bungs have a central recess that is threaded, and matches the threads on standard PVC!  So I started by drilling out the middle of one bung from each barrel.

Drilling the bungs

That left a threaded hole that I could screw a PVC elbow into.  I sealed the bungs and elbows liberally with caulk.  Hopefully that will keep everything watertight, since the tops of the barrels (with the bungs) will be on the bottom in the finished setup.

Bungs all sealed, elbows installed and sealed

In addition to the threaded elbows, I also got the bits and pieces for the manifold system that will link all three barrels together.  They will obviously be connected with lengths of straight pipe.  This whole system is 3/4 inch Schedule 40 PVC.

I didn't construct the manifold yet at this point, because I needed to get the barrels in place to determine the pipe lengths.

The bits of the manifold

The next step was to construct a platform for the barrels.  Each barrel will get a base of four cinder blocks.  I bought the blocks last weekend, then the project stalled again for a week.

Blocks for the platform

The reason for the stall was that I was dreading clearing and leveling the space.  This is my west side yard, just off the back deck.  It's been really hot and I didn't want to muck around with digging out a forest of cocklebur bushes and hefting cinder blocks around.  Excuses excuses.

Side yard before...

I had built this task up in my mind into something much worse than it ended up being.  Once I went out and, you know, actually LOOKED at the space again, I decided it wasn't so bad.  I really wanted to get the barrels installed.

So today I tackled it.  It was 106° F (41° C) this afternoon, and I was literally dripping with sweat, but by golly, I got it done.  

However, taking pictures was suddenly much less important, so sorry about that.

I chopped and dug the cockleburs (there were only two, but the roots went down a good two and a half feet), raked and pulled the rest of the weeds, and leveled the ground.  I raked gravel over the area.  I pounded the gravel firm with a maul and a board.  I went and stood in the sprinkler for a while.

I set up the cinder blocks and leveled them (with some adjustment of the gravel base).  I put the barrels on the blocks and measured for the pieces of the manifold.  I cut the pipe for the manifold and dry-fit everything together.  It all worked, so I took it all apart and put it back together with PVC primer and cement.  I stood back and admired my handiwork.

Support blocks leveled, barrels mounted, and manifold constructed

Then I went and stood in the sprinkler for a while again.

So now I had three upside-down barrels linked together, with an outlet on the bottom, but no way to get water into them.

For that I needed a downspout diverter.

The downspout diverter

This fits into the existing downspout, and diverts water into the barrels until the barrels are full, then the hose fills up and the water overflows back to the downspout.  Pretty spiffy.

Installing this required cutting into the downspout, notching the lower section, and setting the gizmo in the gap.  Then a hose connects the diverter to the barrel, via a hole I drilled in what was originally the bottom, but is now the top.

That pretty much finished the system, but since these are sealed barrels, there has to be some way for the air to escape as they fill with water.  To solve that, I drilled a small hole in the top of each of the barrels, ran a length of aquarium air line tubing from that hole up along side the downspout, and sealed around the hole/tubing with caulk.  As long as the top of the airline tubing is above the level of the diverter, it's still in effect a sealed system as far as the diverter knows, and the diversion function remains effective. 

And voila!

Ta Da! Finished 165-gallon rain barrel system, including vent lines from each barrel.

My finished 165-gallon rain collection system!  I'm quite ridiculously proud of myself.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cucamelon update

Well.  It's possible that my fears for the slow-growing cucamelon seedlings were unfounded.

This is the exact same plant I photographed yesterday.  It now has four sets of leaves, and more little curled up ones visible in the middle.

Cucamelon, with another set of leaves.

I guess once they get going, they really go!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Solstice!

This is very exciting.  In this picture, you see five Black Krim tomatoes (the fifth one is still inside its calyx, to the right of the big one).

Black Krim tomatoes

With these five tomatoes, I will have exceeded my total tomato harvest for the past eight years.  At my old house, the deer were persistent and usually succeeded in nibbling my tomatoes down to stumps, even with a cobbled-together fence around them, and the plants could never make enough headway to actually produce fruit.  There wasn't a good garden spot, and to be honest I just wasn't terribly motivated to build one at a rental house.  I didn't try tomatoes every year, but it was probably at least five or six of the eight years.

In all that time, I got four ripe tomatoes.  It was frustrating.

But now, NOW, I will have tomatoes!  The Black Krim has seven fruiting branches already, and the Amish Paste has six!  And they are not nibbled!

And look, the Amish Paste tomatoes are getting big too!

Amish Paste tomatoes

I spent a little time out there yesterday, and finally got the tomatoes staked and pruned.  I had left this a little late for the Black Krim and Amish Paste- they should have been attended to several weeks ago (or when I planted them, actually, since they were already a foot tall), and were flopping all over the bed with suckers running wild.  Oh well.  They're staked now and most of their suckers have been removed.

I left one big sucker on the Black Krim and two on the Amish Paste, so that I'll get bigger yields than if I had pruned them to just one stem.  I just tied the suckers to the same stake as the main stem.

I am SO EXCITED for ripe tomatoes!

Tomatoes, safely pruned and staked, plus volunteer sunflower

You can also see the volunteer sunflower there in the tomato bed.  Definitely NOT a lemon cucumber! D'oh!  That'll teach me to make snap judgements on seedling identity, based solely on the cotyledons.

Other excitement in the garden includes the first blooms on the Jackmanii clematis opening today.  These are such a beautiful deep purple.

Clematis jackmanii flowers opened today!

The sugar snap pea harvest continues.  I think we've gotten about six quarts of peas so far, but it's hard to tell for sure when we're out there grazing all the time.  I know for sure that there are four quarts in the freezer.

Emma likes to eat the components of the peas separately.  First one side of the pod, then the peas, then the other side of the pod.

Peas in pods

The freesia is also developing well, and a second flower spike has formed.  This was a bag of mixed colors, and I can't wait to see what these turn out to be.

Freesia buds

The daylilies have started to open, an old-fashioned favorite.


The blueberries continue to ripen.  We've had one little handful of ripe berries already, but they disappeared too fast to be photographed.

Oh, and I may or may not have bought three more blueberry bushes a couple weeks ago....


The Tomato Annex is going well, and I'm headed up there to do some staking and pruning this evening after it cools down a bit.  Six of the plants are flowering!  The ones in the back two rows are the ones I started from seed, and are still looking pretty puny, though they are growing.

The Tomato Annex 6.21.15

The Basil Annex is looking great, though I apparently forgot to take a picture when we were up there this morning.  The plants have been pinched back twice and are getting nice and bushy.

The cucumbers are growing well, and have female flowers with little proto-fruits!  Hooray!

Future cucumbers!

Back in my yard now, and here's another experiment we're trying.  This is a cucamelon (Melothria scabra), also called Mexican sour gherkin or mouse melon, which is a new plant for me.  I saw these on Pinterest, and lemminged along and ordered some seeds.  The fruit looks like a tiny (1" long) watermelon and it supposedly tastes like a lime-flavored cucumber.

I started these seeds indoors in early April, and they are taking f.o.r.e.v.e.r. to do anything. This is the biggest of my three plants, and it's still only 1/2 inch tall with three tiny sets of leaves.  I'm hoping that now that we're into hot weather they will start growing.  If we get fruit off these this year it'll be a miracle.

Cucamelon sprout.

The yellow snapdragon in the barrel has started blooming,

Beware the dragons

and Emma's black petunia is going strong.  This is a pretty flower, and makes a nice contrast.

Emma's black petunia

It's been a hot day today, into the low 90s, but it was quite pleasant in the breezy shade.  I read a book on the deck, and Emma the Garden Artist (and Coco) enjoyed the lawn.

Garden artist

Friday, June 19, 2015

All better.

The mint transplantation was successfully accomplished yesterday afternoon.  Peppermint on the left, chocolate mint on the right.  I'm cautiously optimistic that no pieces of chocolate mint were left behind- I excised a large chunk of soil from the half barrel to try and avoid breaking off any buried pieces of stem.

Now they can go as wild as they want.  The bigger the better, in fact.  Both these mints are great in tea, and I will be drying as much as possible.

Repotted mint. All better.

We filled the bare spots in the half barrels with a cheap six-pack of red and purple annual salvia (on the left with the Jackmanii clematis) and a cheap Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue' (on the right with the Princess Diana clematis). Victoria Blue is listed as a tender perennial (Zones 7-10), but has been reported to sometimes overwinter farther north (and/or self-seed).  I'm in Zone 6a, so we'll see.

Mint removed, salvia added. All better.

It's a big relief to have the mint out of there.  I actually had a nightmare about rampant mint in the wee hours of yesterday morning.  It was growing up through the floor, the drain in my kitchen sink, and covering my counter.  I kept picking it and making tea as fast as I could, but it was growing faster than I could pick and was wrapping around my arms.  I woke up in a cold sweat.

My subconscious is perhaps a tiny bit overdramatic.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The problem with mint...

The problem with mint is that it's so aggressive and invasive.  I know this about the plant.  I thought I was prepared for it.  Ah, hubris.

Chocolate mint poised to run amok.

This is my chocolate mint.  I planted it in this half barrel on May 18, exactly one month ago.  It was in a 3-inch pot and had 5 stems showing above ground, with all foliage completely contained within the diameter of its 3-inch pot. 

Judging from the amount of growth it's shown in the past month, the $1 plant I bought was approximately 15 minutes old at the time of purchase.

The red arrows are pointing to the subterranean stealth runners that are spreading throughout the planter.  The one in the top right quadrant is particularly horrifying.  The stem of the runner is fully a quarter inch in diameter, and sprouting a new shoot every quarter inch or so.  It's eight inches long, and was not there on Sunday.

The chocolate mint will be coming out of the half barrel this afternoon.  It will go into its own pot, because children who do not play nicely with others have to be separated.

The peppermint in the planter next door is also spreading, but this one isn't quite as frightening.

Only slightly better-behaved peppermint.

It's spreading, but its runners are above ground and I can see where they are.  This plant also started out as 3 inches in diameter a month ago, and is now approximately 14 inches in diameter.

Actually, come to think of it, this will be put into its own pot this afternoon, as well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Pickin' peas!

We picked three quarts of peas after work this afternoon!

Three quarts of peas!

Wishful thinking on a Wednesday morning

All I want to do is stay home and sit on my deck and sip a mug of peppermint and lemon verbena tea and read a book and dig in the dirt and look at my flowers and smile at the hummingbirds buzzing around and watch my tomatoes grow.

I love my house.

Alas, off I go to work.  Pesky job.

'Doone Valley' thyme
'Doone Valley' thyme

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Garden 6.14.15

First of all, LOOK!  Tomatoes are starting!  These are the first two baby 'maters, on the Black Krim plant that I bought as a plant rather than starting from seed (because I didn't start my seeds soon enough and I was impatient for tomatoes and I won't make that mistake again.).  The Amish Paste tomato (bought as a plant) also has two babies on it, and the Oregon Spring and Mortgage Lifter tomatoes that I started from seed are blooming!

Developing tomatoes!

I didn't check the Tomato Annex today, but when I was there on Friday a couple of those plants were blooming as well.  Watering over there is on my list for tomorrow, so I'll get the full scoop then.

Also of note is the beginning of onion bulbification.  Not much yet, but the stems are enormous and they are definitely starting to swell.  I wish I could remember what variety of onion these are-"Yellow" is all I know.

Bulb-ifying onions

And Yay! The peas have started!

First pea harvest

So many peas coming!  These are sugar snaps, not snow peas, and we're trying very hard to restrain ourselves from eating them all before they fully plump up. The ones we sneaked at the very edge of being ready have been delicious.  Peas just taste like spring.

A plethora of peas

Strawberries taste like summer, and Emma is always out there foraging.

Foraging in the strawberry bed

Other newsworthy items around the yard include the blooming Penstemon barbatus 'Rubycunda' in the half barrel on the deck.  This is such a pretty flower, and I saw calliope and black-chinned hummingbirds visiting it this morning.


The red penstemon looks very nice with the marigolds.

Penstemon and marigolds

In the front flower bed the columbines have pretty much gone by, but the daylilies are about to start blooming and the foxgloves opened this week, including this spectacularly deformed one.  This is a peloric flower, and while I've seen this several times in orchids, it's apparently also fairly common in foxgloves.  All the parts of the flower are trying to be the lip.

Spectacularly deformed foxglove

The bed along the east side of the driveway has red roses,


White roses (which sadly, are not very fragrant),


and one beautiful orange iris.

pretty orange iris

The west side of the driveway has a giant mound of blooming thyme, much-beloved by bees.

thyme for bees

And now... back to the backyard for some overview shots.  These are the three original half barrels:
  • The back barrel has a threadleaf coreopsis, a 'Crazy Daisy' shasta daisy, a common thyme, and marigolds.
  • The middle barrel has the penstemon, catnip, a black petunia, marigolds, and a 'Batik' iris.
  • The front barrel has snapdragons, alyssum, lemongrass, and a random clove of garlic that sprouted in my kitchen.  I think I also stuck some nasturtium seeds in there last week.
  • The blue ceramic pot in the back has lily-of-the-valley.


This is the container garden along the edge of the deck.  The long edge hasn't changed; front to back there's lemon thyme, Freecycle peppermint, Freecycle lemon balm, rosemary, and oregano.  Then there's the strawberry jar, the pansy box with stargazer lilies (the pansies are almost done due to heat), and the curly willow with the very pretty little 'Doone Valley' thyme in full bloom.


I think I put nasturtium seeds in the rosemary and oregano, too. I also pinned six stems of the lemon thyme to the soil with rocks to propagate it by layering.  I peeked this morning, and they are rooted!  The peppermint stand in the second box was whacked back by half this week, to be dried for tea.  Yum!  It's extremely prolific.

Then we go around the corner of the deck for more herbs. 

herbs and others

Starting at the back next to the curly willow, there are shallow bowls of cilantro, parsley, and dill, and my ginger and turmeric rhizomes.  The ginger is sprouting from four eyes. No sign of activity on the turmeric yet.

The light green pots have a bush cucumber (back small), sweet mint (front small), lemon verbena (back large), and pineapple sage (front large). The orange pot is the freesia (which has BUDS!!) and a random lettuce seedling.

The front shallow green bowl is my favorite peppermint EVER.  This is the peppermint that's grown commercially on hundreds of acres here in the Grande Ronde Valley.  I snitched a 2-inch piece from the edge of a field and rooted it in a glass of water, so don't tell anyone, OK?  If I could have one mint for the rest of my life, this would be it.  It's the mintiest mint that was ever minted.

And the marigolds are because I have A Problem With Buying Plants, and also A Weakness for Marigolds.  It's not like I don't already have 20-30 marigolds around the garden that have sprouted and are almost blooming size already or anything.  These four six-packs were in the dead plant clearance area at Walmart, and I couldn't bear for them to be thrown out.  They were 75% off, and they just needed to be watered.  For 50 cents each I couldn't leave them there. Now to figure out where to plant them...

Ahem.  Moving on.  Here are the vining half barrels: 

vining barrels

  • The marigolds and zinnias are well up in the back barrel, and the morning glories will probably reach the first string and start climbing this week.  
  • The middle barrel has the Jackmanii clematis (which is about to burst into flower any day now), a peppermint, and direct-seeded marigolds which are also about ready to flower.
  • The front barrel has the Princess Diana clematis, bee balm (3 clumps), chocolate mint, and direct-seeded marigolds ready to flower.
I am apparently collecting mint varieties.  I do so like mint tea.  I'm pretty sure I stuck nasturtium seeds into all three of these barrels as well, but I really don't remember for sure where I put all those seeds on that hot day a week ago, after I got home from the first three days in the sagebrush.  It'll be an adventure when they start to come up.

Whew, so that's all the pots in the back yard. The beds are very pretty as well.


I already covered the peas and onions.  The greens bed still has both kinds of lettuce, although the Black-seeded Simpson is about ready to bolt and getting a little bitter.  The Grand Rapids lettuce is still quite delicious and has formed nice heads, and one head makes big salads for two people.  I planted carrots where I pulled out the pak choi and spinach.  Some of the cilantro has flowered but I let it go, for the bees to enjoy and so I can get some coriander seeds.

In the bed behind the peas and onions, which I realize you totally can't see, the tomatoes aren't growing as quickly as I would like but they are starting to set fruit.  I also planted marigold seeds in there, and stuck in a cinnamon basil plant.  I had some pinchings of the basil on my chicken for dinner tonight, and it was extremely yummy. I don't know that I've ever had cinnamon basil before.

Oh, and that plant that I thought was a lemon cucumber volunteer from last year?  I'm now quite sure it's NOT a lemon cucumber, but probably a sunflower. Oops. When I called it a cucumber it only had one set of leaves, and was where the cucumbers were last year.

And last but not least, here's the revised strawberry house that I constructed this afternoon.  This is 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe, held in place with conduit straps.  It's a big improvement over the jury-rigged version, especially since it doesn't fall over if you look at it sideways. I was very skeptical about the PVC as hoop house ribs, but Pinterest and YouTube didn't lie and it really does bend that far without breaking.

new strawberry house

I had big plans to make this a fully openable cover, with the PVC and netting permanently attached to a frame on hinges, so all I would have to do to access the bed is lift the lid, but when I got home from the hardware store I realized that I forgot to get the boards for the frame.

A previous investigation of the scrap lumber in the garage had revealed that I don't have any the right length/size, and I didn't want to have to go out to the store again.  Also it was really hot out and I just wanted to be done.  So I revised my plan and attached the pipes directly to the existing raised bed frame, and the netting will continue to be draped over and held down with rocks.  It'll be fine for the rest of this year, and I can make my fancy one for next year.