Celebrating the End of Solar Winter

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

– Genesis 1:14-15 KJV

My apologies for no “Robin Tuesday” or “Willow Wednesday” posts this week, but the past few days have been full of illness and body aches, and the Deck Farm has preoccupied a good bit of my time. Mr. Awesome came down with a nasty stomach bug Monday and spent Tuesday and Wednesday recuperating. I’ve either been having a touch of the flu myself or a wicked Fibromyalgia flare. But enough of what has been going wrong. Today is a special day in my new gardening year, the end of Solar Winter in our area!

Solar what?

In Four-Season Harvest, author Eliot Coleman refers to the period of the year when there are ten hours or less of daylight as “Solar Winter”, or the “Persephone Days”. This is the period of the year when plants grow the least, even under cover. After doing a web search it was fairly easy to determine that in our area, Solar Winter lasts from around November 8 to January 31. That means today is a new beginning!

Now, as Coleman is quick to point out, there is a big difference between Solar Winter and what the thermometer says. In our area, February is traditionally one of our worst months for low temps and generally nasty weather (not to mention illness), and that can often last well into April. Looking at the weather forecast, we aren’t supposed to get above freezing for the foreseeable future, so I’m not going to be starting my tomatoes and cukes any day soon. But I do have the majority of my cold hardy crops and annuals started, and Lord willing, between the garage setup and cold frames, they will survive to see more pleasant weather (one of the great perks of container gardening, you can haul your crops inside if you really want to!).

I have to say, this has been one of the most pleasant winters I’ve had. The Garden Antsies haven’t been nearly so bad this year, thanks to Coleman’s book and what I’ve tried to implement into my gardening program after reading it. I haven’t had much by way of Garden Withdrawal, praise God. I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’m learning a lot. I’ve been able to add a number of things to the Deck Farm that make me more excited for this year than any of those past. Jesus has been good to us, and I feel incredibly blessed.

So what now? Having done so much for the Deck Farm in January, I’ll admit that February is looking rather dull. But I can read. And blog. I can sow a few more things, and above all keep an eye on what I’ve started to see if it was worth it to start it all so early, and pray that God will give us the best garden yet.

The day is thine, the night also is thine: though hast prepared the light and the sun.

– Psalm 74:16 KJV

 


Image Credit:

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “An analemma, shewing by inspection, the time of sun rising and sun setting, the lengths of days and nights, the beginning and end of twilight …” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1786. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f2b72690-857c-0132-40ce-58d385a7b928

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A New Year. Maybe Blog Again?

By this time I’ve become good and tired of writing those “I’ve fallen off the blogging wagon, but here I am to try again!” posts. There’s just been too many of them over the years and I have little doubt there will be more. So I am going to just skip it, as I don’t believe there is a blogger existing who can not relate to the fact that life happens and when things get busy the blog is oftentimes the first thing to get chucked. That said, I hope anyone reading this had a truly blessed Christmas and is excited for the prospects of 2018. May God give you all much peace and joy in the year to come!

I have to admit, I am thankful 2017 is over. It was a rough year for Mr. Awesome and I, though also full of many blessings. There were times when we didn’t know if Mr. Awesome would have a job in a week, or even a couple of days. I struggled with illness and medication issues for most of the year, not to mention three protruding disks in my neck. These things combined brought about a lot of worry over finances, and our one and only vehicle gave us some rather expensive problems. But, praise God, good things happened too.

We welcomed a new sister-in-law into our family. Our newest niece celebrated her first birthday in style. The garden was a bigger success this year than any other, and our two birds are doing well.

Yes, two birds. We lost poor little Arthur a couple of weeks after he became ill. Willow and Robin continue to do well, though Robin has good days and bad days with his heart condition. We thank Jesus for whatever time we get with him.

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Bathrooms are still her favorite places

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“Daddy” rigged him up a new play gym that gets him even closer to The Budgie In the Mirror

And with that, I’d like to once again wish you all a very bright, Happy New Year, which, Lord willing, will be filled with plenty of consistent blogging.

Autumn Impressions

Got the camera out this morning.

During summer and winter I often chide myself for not taking a few minutes to grab the camera and capture some images of spring and autumn. The seasons are so fleeting, and it’s easy to be complacent and miss them.

I love photography because it forces you to pause and focus on the beauty of something you may otherwise have appreciated for only a fraction of a second then moved away from. It helps you revel in the beauty of Christ’s creation a little longer before becoming distracted.

I thank Him for it.

 

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But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O Lord, make no tarrying.

– Psalm 70:5 KJV

The last few weeks have been rough.

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Since early spring we have been waiting and watching to see what direction Mr. Awesome’s current job situation would take, but we are now in the final hour as it were, and we are still waiting and watching, wondering where God will lead us next.

Arthur’s recovery continues to be slow. At one point during his round of antibiotics he lost a lot of his mobility. He is unable to perch, so we keep him in the hospital tub, which we eventually moved back out into the bird room so he could be near Robin and not feel ostracized from the flock. It seems to have helped a bit, but Arthur’s progress continues to be a one step forward, two steps back affair, and we are wondering if he will have special needs for the remainder of his life.

Being stuck in a tub, Arthur needs cleaning twice daily. He was having trouble getting his head up to eat and drink from his normal food and water dishes so we picked up containers that would be easier for him to access, but being smaller and lower to the ground they need to be changed more often. With the current setup we can’t leave him alone for more than a few hours, making even overnight trips to visit family problematic.

Throughout Arthur’s illness, poor Robin has had to take a back seat to Arthur’s needing special care and Willow’s insistence on being the center of attention. Still, he appears to be quite content not having to share his toys, and I believe having Arthur back beside him has helped him a bit too. If nothing, it gives him something new to investigate.

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Willow continues to be Willow, and that’s a good thing.

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And so, with all of the stresses and unknowns of our immediate future (I have to add the looming presidential election to the list), what do Mr. Awesome and I do? We pray. And we wait. Because even though it feels like the world is crumbling beneath our feet, we know there is a Rock underneath that will remain solid for us.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.

– Matthew 7:24-25 KJV

I have been through enough rough times with Jesus to know that no matter how dark everything gets, His light will pierce through it. I don’t know what His plan is for Mr. Awesome and I, but I know it’s going to be great when it gets here.

Introducing the Roses

I went rose crazy this spring.

When I first became interested in gardening I thought I would be focusing mostly on edibles, as the whole homesteading/self-sufficiency thing is very appealing to myself and Mr. Awesome, who comes from an agrarian family. But then catalogs and library books happened, and suddenly I was entranced by the idea of having a rose garden, albeit a potted one. I prayed that I would be able to get three rose bushes by the end of the 2016 growing season. I ended the year with fourteen, praise God! Most of the roses were an early 30th birthday present from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother.

The majority of the roses came mail order via High Country Roses out in Colorado. I really can’t recommend them enough if you are looking for young, own root roses. Their selection is great, shipping costs are reasonable, and the customer service is very good. One wet April morning, I received one of each of the following:

  • Cardinal de Richelieu
  • The Fairy
  • Gruss An Aachen
  • Buff Beauty
  • Marchesa Boccella
  • Ballerina
  • Zephirine Drouhin
  • Mountain Mignonette
  • Distant Drums
  • Madame Pierre Oger
  • Bill Reid
  • Awakening
  • Honorine de Brabant
  • Reine des Violettes
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Rose order before being taken out of the box. The bloom you see above is the Gruss An Aachen. Though the petals were not at their peak, it smelled wonderful.

Before their arrival, I made sure I had all I needed for my new charges. I had found enough good sized pots to house them in in the recycling bin of a local nursery, which cost me nothing (if you have a nearby nursery or home improvement store that lets you raid their recycle bin, this is a great way to get plastic containers for free). I had also picked up a bag or two of Dairy Doo and some cedar mulch.

The instructions High Country Roses sent along with their order recommended hardening the little plants off before planting them out. Since they were going into pots and I could stick them under our balcony until they were more comfortable with their surroundings, I called HCR and asked if that would be an adequate hardening off period. The gentleman said it would be fine, so I geared up to plant.

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The Fairy, planted and ready to grow.

All of the HCR roses got the same treatment. I made a mix of some soil I had left over from the year before, peat moss, homemade compost, Dairy Doo, and a bit of Espoma’s Rose-tone. After planting them in their containers, I surrounded them with a thin layer of Dairy Doo, mulched them with the cedar, and gave them a drink.

The two climbers, Awakening and Zephirine Drouhin, got the largest containers (at least 20 in. and probably close to 20 gallons of space) as well as a couple of homemade trellises I DIYed.

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Awakening with the bamboo trellis I made by tying poles together with fishing line. May not hold up for long, but at least it’s light weight.

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Zephirine Drouhin with the much heavier trellis I made by screwing together 1 1/2 x 3/4 in. untreated pine lumber. Much heavier but more professional looking.

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Buff Beauty

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Honorine de Brabant up on our balcony.

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I believe the rose in front is Bill Reid. I think that’s The Fairy behind it.

Overall, everything went in just fine. In hindsight I think I should have been a bit more conservative with the amount of compost I put in with them, and perhaps left off the Espoma as Buff Beauty and Reine des Violettes ended up quite leggy. I also regret a couple of my container choices. A few simply did not drain well and with the unusually wet summer we had, it was a bit of a shuffle to keep the roses from drowning.

A few weeks later I was looking through the discount section at a local nursery and saw that they had a few David Austin roses there with mildew ravaging their leaves. Despite the mildew and the fact that they were grafted, I couldn’t resist the price tag of $10 each and brought home a Harlow Carr and a Wollerton Old Hall. I tried to keep them away from the other roses to keep the mildew from spreading and treat them as best I could. Eventually I just defoliated them both. Harlow Carr Survived by Wollerton Old Hall did not. That week  Zephirine Drouhin showed up with mildew. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if I had infected her by bringing in the new comers, but if I had to do it over again I think I would have left the discounted roses where they were. Still, Harlow Carr gave me some very lovely blooms this season, even if it is a bit of a thorny monster.

Poor Distant Drums had a bit of a struggle. It ended up on our balcony where I think it simply got too hot and eventually expired. A big bummer considering the lovely coffee fading to lavender color of its blooms.

It is amazing how quickly roses grow though, and I was very happy that Awakening, The Fairy, Gruss an Aachen, Marchesa Boccella, Ballerina, Mountain Mignonette, Distant Drums, Bill Reid and Harlow Carr all bloomed at least once.

I’m very thankful to have the roses around, and am excited to see how they do next season (assuming I don’t kill any more of them before then). I look forward to them becoming big, mature plants. Most if not all of them will be overwintering in our garage (a perk of growing them in pots). Most should safely grow in our zone, but I see no reason to take the chance. We had a mild winter last year, but the two years before that were quite brutal.

Eventually I plan to re-pot them into larger, more stately containers, but for now they should have plenty of room to stretch their legs, at least until spring arrives.

2016 Growing Season: What I Learned

Last year the gardening bug bit me in the worst way, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Living in a condo, Mr. Awesome and I don’t have property of our own to plant on, but what we do have is roughly 516 square feet of porch, deck, and balcony space. You can grow just about anything in a container provided it’s large enough.

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Winter-sown seeds germinating

I had just enough success during the growing season of 2015 to get me wholeheartedly curious and moderately obsessed with gardening. Thanks to a slew of mouth-watering seed catalogs and a number of library books, I was determined to plan 2016 down to the minutest detail and have an epic year. But once the leaves began changing their colors and fluttering to the ground and the days cooled down, the realizations that I had not fulfilled half my plans for this growing season, that I would have to wait another six months to try again, and that what I could do this time of year I probably shouldn’t be spending money on, threw me into a full fledged pity party.

Ungrateful much?

Saturday morning I sat in bed with my journal. As I sipped my cup of coffee, I thought about all that had gone on this past spring and summer, and I realized that, far from having wasted the year, a good deal had been accomplished and I had plenty to thank Jesus for:

  • God answered my prayers about our light situation. Our condo is in a fairly wooded area and our deck is shrouded by several large walnut trees. This caused me considerable worries as most of the things I’ve been dying to grow do best in full sun. After praying for some help in the matter (“Lord, would you please just get rid of that tree… and that tree?”), I decided to go ahead and experiment, and praise God, the tomatoes ripened and roses bloomed in places I had some serious doubts about. I now have a better idea of what will grow where.
  • I end this season with fourteen rose bushes and three ferns I didn’t have last season. The ferns came from a kind neighbor and the rose bushes were mostly birthday presents from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother. I became fairly rose obsessed early this year and prayed that Jesus would let me have three roses by the end of the year, which He more than answered.  A subject, no doubt, for another post…
  • This past winter I discovered I could compost in plastic totes in our garage with few issues.
  • I made my first seed order by mail, the result being I purchased entirely too many varieties. But now I have a large mason jar full of seeds, most of which should be viable next year.
  • I gave winter sowing a try and had a good bit of success with it, though I think I will  make some changes to my method if I try it again.
  • I grew enough tomato plants from seed that I had more than enough seedlings to give away to family and friends.
  • I discovered Dave’s Garden and the Garden Watchdog, which have proven to be very valuable resources when choosing mail order seed and plant companies to order from.
  • I improved the soil in our containers by adding our homemade compost as well as Dairy Doo.
  • I attended a garden expo at a local nursery and took in several seminars. It was a joy to be in such a contagious gardening atmosphere.
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The Bill Reid rose

So, I didn’t grow all forty-some varieties of seed I purchased, and many of the ones I tried to grow didn’t make it, but some things did. Two of the sixteen rose bushes I bought expired, and the others had mildew and cabbage worm problems, but some gave us beautiful blooms. I didn’t entirely cover our deck with  pots and raised beds as I had fantasized, but through the kindness of others I received many plants that should last for years.

As six months of winter race towards us, I thank the Lord for all He has given me this growing season and for all He’s taught me.  And I still have much to look forward to. While the earth rests and snow piles up outside, I can armchair garden, sating myself with gardening books and seed catalogs. I can continue to learn, dream, and plan; praying that 2017 will be my best gardening season yet.

Weekend Project: DIY Plant Stand

A little over a year ago I decided I needed houseplants.

All of the houseplants.

Over the next several months I dumped a couple hundred dollars into living greenery and dispersed it about the condo with glee, Mr. Awesome no doubt thinking I’d gone a bit mad.

Long story short, some of the plants lived, some met early deaths, but I did manage to keep a few favorites alive through the winter with the help of a good deal of praying and the two humidifiers we were constantly filling. When spring gets here, I thought to myself, I can unplug the humidifiers, do a bit of fertilizing, and the plants will take off. I spent many spare moments fantasizing of the verdant jungle Mr. Awesome and I would be living in come summer.

Boy, was I wrong.

I over watered, over or under fertilized, moved them to locations they didn’t appreciate, chilled them with air conditioning, and generally neglected them throughout what should have been their season of glory. The result being now most of them look down right awful.

Not really being in the position to throw down another $65 on another fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata) if the one I have fizzles out, I decided it might be a good idea to see if I couldn’t take some cuttings to make my own baby fiddle leaf figs. But where would I put them once I did?

Also, I was praying for a project on Saturday to keep me from brooding over Arthur’s situation and life in general. Thank You, Lord, for some inspiration.

The previous owners of our condo left an old, wooden ladder behind which I had painted a while ago and used as a place to hang throws and an old quilt my grandmother gave me. Seeing as ladders are all the rage in blogs and Pinterest boards, it wasn’t hard to know  what to do with it. Said previous owners also left behind some sturdy glass shelves, God bless them.

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I dug out just about all of the vases we had, filled them, and made my fiddle leaf fig cuttings. The plant in the silver pot is a young Monstera deliciosa I started a while ago.

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Mr. Awesome said he liked the way the shelves looked (win!). I agree with him, though it will need some tweaking to level the shelves. I’m also not a huge fan of where it is located, but if I want the cuttings to send out roots they will need plenty of light, so their location near a pair of south facing sliders is where they will stay for the time being.

 

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If all of these cuttings take off, I’m going to have to adopt out baby fiddle leaf figs.

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Now would perhaps be a good point to mention the potential dangers houseplants can pose to parrots. There are currently no plants in our bird room, and we make sure the birds aren’t munching on the plants outside of their room. From what I can see Monstera deliciosa is toxic to parrots, and Ficus lyrata most likely is as well. If you have parrots (or other pets) and houseplants, be sure to research whether or not they are dangerous for your birds. It would probably be wise to check a few different sources while you are at it, just to be sure. If in doubt, keep the two apart. Below I’ve listed some links of places to research whether or not a particular plant is bird safe. Also, please note, just because a plant is not toxic to dogs, cats, or other animals does not necessarily mean it will not hurt your bird:

The ASPCA’s list

Parrot Products Picture Library’s list

Bird Channel’s list

peteducation.com (Doctors Foster and Smith)’s list