Getting to know Valerian

It’s basically fall now, and I feel like I’m just getting to know my garden. It does make sense, we’ve only been here a few months, and it takes at least one growing season, if not longer, to really get a feel for an outside plant. But today I was working in the backyard and for the first time I gave some real attention to one particular plant.

It’s actually truly the one plant in the yard that has been a rock star this whole summer. If I remember correctly it was already blooming when we went to England, and it’s been blooming the entire time since. All I’ve done is deadhead it a few times really quickly, and those pieces rebloomed. So of course I’ve barely paid it attention, because I’ve been too busy poring intently over leaves that have been savaged by spider mites or overwatered or covered in aphid galls. I sat down today to do some more deadheading because it had gotten fairly unwieldy, and all of a sudden I noticed one of the seedheads. I literally gasped out loud. They are delicate beautiful dandelion type seedheads, with the seed at the bottom and a wispy umbrella at the top.

And then I started looking at the flowers and was so charmed. Vibrant pink cymes, each little individual flower is so perfect and sweet with the pistil and stamen totally visible. I love cymes and other floral arrangements where multiple tiny flowers make up something big and showy.

So I was deadheading and taking pictures and boring the hell out of my husband when I was like, “Uh. What even is this plant?” And I realized I had no idea. I hadn’t even bothered to figure it out all summer, while it was over there looking awesome. I used iNaturalist and it was Valerian. What??? I thought I knew what Valerian looked like? I had some in a garden long ago? (I really like to grow plants that have useful properties, even if I never intend to ever use them that way. Like, I am not out here harvesting Valerian root and making tinctures. People are! And those people are rad, and I’m not being sarcastic! But I am not those people.) Turns out it’s one of those situations where the common name is misleading. This pretty plant is Centranthus ruber, whereas the medicinal Valerian is Valeriana officinalis.

They are in the same family (Caprifoliaceae) and have similar star-shaped flowers in cymes, but the Valeriana has white or pale pink flowers, not the intense pink of my Centranthus. And the leaves, flower stems, and growth habit of the plant are all quite different. Also the Valeriana is very fragrant. Some websites say the Centranthus is fragrant, but I haven’t found it to be noticeable.

Unfortunately once I started to pay attention I realized my new favorite perennial has self-seeded and is popping up in some places I don’t want it, like right in the middle of a tragic patch of thyme I’m not sure what to do with it. I can see it potentially becoming a bit too aggressive. Also, it REALLY flopped over , and I don’t mind it exactly, but the center is pretty bare and ratty looking, plus when I pulled it up to look under it today I was like, “Whoa there bindweed.”

So anyway. TMYK, which apparently stands for The More You Know, but I think since I know what it means the kidz probably stopped saying it five or so years ago. But on the subject of getting to know my garden, here is my favorite story that is super funny to me but maybe my sense of humor is lame and specific.

I think I’ve mentioned the pigsqueak in my crabgrass bed, which we overwatered and watered from above, resulting in some very yucky pigsqueak, which I guess I will try to rejuvenate in spring. But the other day I was like, “Wow! It’s sending up another flower stalk!” We’ve had a weird summer in Portland, and I’ve heard that some gardeners are experiencing kind of a second spring, with getting surprise second blooms and new growth on plants that are normally shutting down in the heat, and I do know that pigsqueak can bloom a second time under certain conditions. So I was pointing it out to the big kid when I look a closer look at it and realized…it is not a flower stalk. It’s a very robust Buckeye weed! There’s a Buckeye across the street and probably a squirrel buried it. I actually tried to pull this particular weed up once already and it was rooted in too hard and I meant to come back with a trowel but at the time I just sort of ripped it in half. Well, it did not give a shit and the foliage came back looking healthier than ever. So that’s my story.

I’m naming this Bergenia aesculifolia.
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The 41-year-old gardener

We got the keys to this house and moved our very first boxes in on June 2 of this year. Then school ended, and the big kid had various camps, and we went out of town for two weeks, and it was just busy for a minute. But since about mid-July, it’s been pretty chill. And every day, every single day, I have tried to get the big kid to UNPACK HER DAMN ROOM. The day the movers moved our stuff in, she and a dear little 2nd grade (I think) friend unpacked and organized her stuff. She was VERY excited and had grand plans. That was the actual last time she put any effort into unpacking her room. School starts this coming Wednesday, and finally last Friday I told her that whatever was left to do in her room would be done on Sunday, and she was going to pay us to help her. It worked! She spent all day Sunday unpacking and cleaning, and on Sunday night she was done, capping off what was basically a perfect birthday weekend.

You know what makes a perfect birthday weekend for me? Gardening presents, and time to garden. Also, snuggles, amazing food, fun childless time with my husband, and more amazing food with dear friends in my wonderful failure of a garden. Oh! I even spent some time in my garden but NOT DOING GARDENING. This is rare! Usually if I’m outside, I feel like I have to be doing something. But on Saturday friends were soon to arrive, and I was wearing basically the one thing I don’t want to get ruined – my aspirational denim jumpsuit from Goodwill. So instead of sitting in the dirt, I actually laid down on my hammock and just breathed. That was kind of incredible.

Anyway, my thoughtful husband heard me randomly say to myself one day that I needed a gardening apron, and he found a perfect one! And it even came with knee pads. So I spent all day Sunday gardening in my hilariously awesome get-up, while the big kid cleaned her room and my husband played with the little one. So what’s going on out there?

Well, I cleaned up the entryway bed, which makes me feel so much better. I just really hate walking past a bunch of dead stuff as I walk into my house. It’s another kind of messed-up bed, with plants planted willy-nilly as far as I can tell, and not with any sort of thought to sun needs. That’s the worst thing that whoever planted this yard did – NOTHING is in the sun it needs. So this poor fern is in the north-facing yard, with basically no protection. I just cleaned up us much brown foliage as I could, and I have no idea what I’m going to do with it.

But I did discover that it’s actually putting out new growth and it is SO FUZZY.

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Also fuzzy and from a healthier fern a few feet closer to the house, more protected.

It feels just like petting Jasper the bunny’s feet. And now I know why there is that fern called rabbit foot fern, except let’s be real – those “rabbit feet” look like tarantula legs and I will never, ever have one of those. They scare the shit out of me. Anyway, this north-facing unprotected bed also has tragic hostas and a super crappy bleeding heart in it and it’s just infuriating to me.

But! After I did some stuff to the entryway bed, I was like, Ugh, I guess I gotta deal with the corner of the yard. This corner, it’s so weird. It’s one of the front corners of the front yard, up against the sidewalk. They landscape fabric-ed the whole sidewalk edge, but they only planted the very corners, and this corner…it has one blue fescue. That is it. And it’s not even really in the corner, it’s like…in a couple feet, all alone. Completely surrounded by the damn mallow. This is the first time I’d even weeded this corner and the mallow was GINORMOUS and at least not going to seed but whoa making some taproots. So I was out there cursing the weirdos who designed this yard, when a butterfly visited me! It was such a lovely experience. I put down my tools and just sat there and watched it, for a long time. Of course my picture sucks because iPhone 6, but it was honestly probably the calmest moment I’ve had in months.

Then I went to the stupid crabgrass bed, and I had a great time with a sudden bed renovation! I realized the strawberry coming in from the neighbor’s yard was being choked out by the kinnickinick and I was like, Oh hell no. Something that will give me delicious berries versus an aphid-harboring overly aggressive groundcover that the weirdos overplanted? Duh. So I ripped out a bunch of kinnickinick. I should maybe probably have cleaned it up and put it up on Buy Nothing or something like that, but that is not the half-assed way. I even discovered a tiny little Lupine struggling amongst the crazy! So that bed is looking much nicer, except of course for the constant onslaught of crabgrass.

After that I still did even more! There are these two Weigelas in the back yard that look terrible. They are obviously supposed to be a deep purple, but they really are not. I cut some back and the new foliage is looking better, but one still was a lot of dead sticks, so I did a very slow, thorough pruning while poor husband continued to play Octonauts with the little one.

Hi, Ikea weeding bin.
If it all looked like this it would be really pretty. It doesn’t and it’s not.
Weigela glow-up.

Oh and I even deadheaded my lavender! And that was a really lovely way to end the gardening, very slowly intentionally deadheading and dropping the seeds on the ground to see if they’ll take. I have no idea if they will. But it smelled so nice and was so calm. Then I had to go back to real life and play Octonauts while husband made dinner.

So anyway. 41 is looking pretty decent. I’ve got a garden and a thoughtful husband and good friends and funny kids and there is good food for us all to eat. And a bunny. The big kid starts MIDDLE SCHOOL Wednesday. How is that even possible? Go back in my posts – it seems like she was a funny little baby with raspberry juice all over her face yesterday. Wish us luck.

Oh by the way something made a hole in my yard WHAT IS IT HELP ME PLEASE.

The discouraged gardener

Do you like getting advice about successful gardening, and looking at professional-level photographs of beautiful blooms?  This might not be the blog for you.

I generally try to, at least publicly, deal with my negative emotions with a sense of humor.  As you may have guessed.  But I need to be real for a second.  My garden is kind of sucking right now.  I don’t think I have ever, in a personal garden, dealt with so many annoying factors on so many plants at once.  You know what is maybe the worst thing about it?  I live next door to such a nice family, and yesterday the lady said hi to me and I just casually asked her if she had spider mites all over everything in her yard, because I sure the hell do, and she told me that actually, there was all this stuff in the yard when they move in ten years ago and she doesn’t know what any of it is and doesn’t do anything to take care of it.  Her yard looks AWESOME.  Meanwhile, every single time I go outside I see another dying plant.  And, I keep adding new plants, and they keep looking terrible.

Let’s think this through.  I have over twenty years of home gardening experience.  I have a degree in Horticulture.  I worked in commercial horticulture for years.  I have read a bajillion books, nerded out on all the websites, followed all the Instagrammers, and joined the Facebook pages.  I AM JUST SO INHERENTLY HALF-ASSED.  I don’t really need any advice about most of my tragic garden, I know what I’m doing wrong.  Although I will accept advice and also sympathy, but not judgement please.  I just needed to vent for a minute.

So what’s going on out there right now?  Well.  I have this vine maple that rather suddenly got some brown leaves and then even more brown leaves.  I was actually surprised that there was a vine maple in this full sun bed because I would have imagined it would do better in a shadier situation, but the internet tells me I am wrong, so my theory that it was sun damage was wrong.  I went to just cut back the dead branches, and then found that the branches were not, in fact, dead after all.  Just the leaves.  I see a very small amount of stippling and very, very small amount of webbing, so I suppose it does have the currently ever-present spider mites, but I really don’t think that’s what is doing the damage.  The stems are a bit sticky?  I just don’t know.  I ended up taking off all the brown leaves and leaving the branches, maybe it will put out new healthier growth?  It’s not truly my tree since I rent, so I’m not ready to heavily prune it yet because I don’t know how much the owner cares about the eventual shape of the tree.

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This just doesn’t look like spider mites to me.  

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But this does.

 

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Vine maple glow-up.

This vine maple is in the crabgrass bed, with the strawberries I didn’t plant right away.  The FIRST batch of strawberries I didn’t plant right away, because I AM SO HALF-ASSED THAT THERE ARE TWO BATCHES OF STRAWBERRIES I DIDN’T PLANT RIGHT AWAY.  These strawberries are actually not looking so bad, whereas the ones in the strawberry pot, yikes.  Anyway so this bed as the dying vine maple, the brown strawberries, the kinnickinnick with the aphids, whatever the hell that ugly perennial was that is now past bloom and covered in powdery mildew, and the oregano that went to seed and I did not realize would then completely defoliate, the half dead ratty sandwort, and the really beautiful when I bought it Campanula that the big kid did not notice so she did not water it at all for the first week after I put it in the ground.  It was in the high 90s that week.

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I see this every time I drive into my driveway, and it just makes me cringe.

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Wondering if this oregano will self-seed.

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See how pretty the red parts are? They are galls caused by aphids and I had to cut them all off.

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Wondering if something else is going on here.  Those crunchy black parts are only where the plants are meeting the rocks, maybe they don’t like the heat from the rocks? Is that even a thing?

Right in the middle of this gruesome bed is this tall, healthy plant that iNaturalist tells me is Fagopyrum esculentum, common buckwheat.  I…really don’t care for this plant.  It’s the one plant in this bed that is thriving other than the crabgrass, and it’s basically a weed.  Sigh.

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Buckwheat? Seriously?

 

 

The spider mites really got to the Veronica that is at the end of the driveway and is the first plant you really see as you enter the yard.  I had to pull out about 2/3 of the whole plant that was just straight up dead, and cut what was left way back.  It’s brutal.

I’ve spent all my gardening time over the last two days laboriously planting teeny tiny bare-root sedums.  Someone on Next Door posted they had sedums to give away so we scooted over there on the way to run some errands and grabbed the trays and brought them home.  I didn’t realize until I went to plant them that the lady had pulled them out of the ground individually and I guess shaken all the soil off, then laid them on the trays.  Each of these is just the tiniest, barely rooted bare root fragment of sedum.  But, as I said to my poor husband, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of time in order to save some money.  And truly, if they take, they are perfect for what I’m doing with them.  I think.  Remember the garbage can area that is two unidentified unhealthy shrubs and a lot of Malva that I pulled?  Well, I put the sedums there.  It’s a pretty sad soil, covered in crushed rock.  I just dug holes, dropped some decent potting soil in, laid in like five sedum fragments, and covered the roots with the ground soil and the rocks.  I also put them against the fence on the other side of the sidewalk there, then today I put them all around the gravelly perimeter of the patio.  I STILL HAVE SO MUCH SEDUM LEFT.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with all of it!  And the lady is so nice, after corresponding a bit, she has invited me over to her house tomorrow to get MORE sedum, and also to do a garden tour to see what other extra/dividable plants she might be able to share with me.  I can’t turn it down but holy cow.  Do I just throw the sedum at a rocky area and run???

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Like 1/6 of all the sedum in the garbage can area.

I guess somewhat finally, while I was planting and weeding today I noticed a little area full of tiny seedlings, most of them don’t even have their first true leaf yet.  I honestly have no idea what they could be.  I’ve had some suggestions from Instagram, but nothing that sounds correct to me.  They are near the bindweed, but don’t look right for that, plus I’ve been keeping the bindweed way too small to seed.  They are closest to a crocosmia, but the seedlings are dicots.  They are near a birdfeeder, but no birds go to the birdfeeder so they wouldn’t be scattered seeds.  I’m stumped, so I’m leaving them alone for now, but I’ll probably regret it when I figure out which awful invasive I’ve let live and start feeding its taproot.

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Oh, finally finally, a note on pictures…again.  I just really wish they were higher quality.  My iphone is great to grab when the little one is doing a funny dance, but for a carefully composed shot of the teensiest first baby leaf, it’s terrible.  I really like photography and have done it as a hobby in the past, and this is just super frustrating to me.  Right now I just filter the hell out of everything on Instagram and then shrug my shoulders, but I’m hoping to get a macro lens for my phone for my birthday which is FRIDAY.  I have a feeling I am getting lots of garden and bunny accoutrements, which is perfect.

And that’s that!

 

AKA the broke-ass gardener

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So I was putting some strawberry plants into a strawberry pot, and I was reflecting on the name that I’ve chosen here, and how there are lots of other words I could have used to describe my gardening style.  I think “half-assed” is a pretty good umbrella descriptor, because I think maybe some of the other adjectives one could use are just facets of half-assedness.  Contributors to my half-assedness.

I was thinking about it because these strawberries looked truly awful.  Perhaps it makes more sense to go to Portland Nursery and get some beautiful packs of strawberries that don’t have a single brown square centimeter, then immediately put those plants into a brand new pot with fresh, perfectly amended soil.  But see…we’re broke.  Like, not scary broke!  We’re fine!  I think.  But I want (NEED) lots of things (especially plants) for our house and yard, so I really have to be strategic.  NextDoor and my neighborhood Buy Nothing group have actually both been hooking me up lately!  So the other day a neighbor posted that she wanted to get rid of her strawberry pots, and I immediately was like OH MY GOD ME PLEEEEAAAASE ME because my kids are genuine freaks about strawberries, and also I have done pretty well with them in the past, and also strawberry pots are cute.  Then the very next day, a neighbor wanted to get rid of strawberries.  Perfect!  The only issue is that I was picking up the plants yesterday, and the pot today.  But, like…it’s free!  And I’m half-assed!

I genuinely don’t remember exactly what the plants looked like when the lovely woman gave them to me, but they were definitely in rough shape when I planted them, after a night in my trunk.  Veeeeery wilty, some dead brown leaves, and the roots seemed very crispy and dry.  But I dunno!  Strawberries are, in my experience, pretty badass, so I planted them and watered them in, and we’ll see what happens. Thanks, people of the world, for giving me free things.  I will try not to destroy them.

I’m also, in case you wondered, the sloooooooow-assed gardener.  This is definitely the main reason I am not in commercial horticulture anymore.  I really hated having to make a quota of how many grafts an hour.  I never, ever hit my goal.  Like I made it twice in all the time I was doing it.  Today, I veeeeeery sloooooowly weeded what I am calling the garbage can area.  It has a nice ring, right? It’s got these two little shrubs that are doing so badly, and those two little shrubs are surrounded by Malva neglecta.  Weeding Malva is so demoralizing, because it’s actually really pretty even when it’s just leaves, and then the flowers are sweet too, and also, it’s got one of those stupid fragile taproots that just breaks the second you pull on it, and you know there is no way you are getting it all, and it’s going to come back immediately.  Much like that bastard field bindweed that I am constantly battling.

One thing that’s been really nice lately is that my big kid has been actually helping in the garden.  Like, not pulling one weed and then wandering away (although that also totally happens), but really sitting down and working, and listening and learning!  But it was as we were pulling that Malva that I discovered my new favorite super-identity – The Lopsided Gardener.  See, my brain understands science.  Pretty well at least.  I think because I can get away with understanding big concepts, and connections, and I don’t know, my brain just likes it.  I am not so good with disciplines like history.  So we were weeding and I was explaining taxonomy to her.  She really, really did not get much science in elementary school, which is tragic, so the idea of Genus species was pretty new.  So, my poor, poor daughter says to me, “Who speaks Latin anyway?”, and I say, “Oh, nobody anymore, it’s what they call a dead language.”  And she says, “Oh, well who did speak it?” and I sat there in increasingly uncomfortable silence, until she says, “The Romans, right?” AND I SWEAR TO GOD I SAID, “No, silly, Rome is in Italy, the Romans spoke Italian.”  And my genius child persisted, “But then why did the Romans use all the Latin stuff in Percy Jackson?” and I was beginning to be horrified and thinking, “Wait, was it the Romans?  Uhhhh, it was someone…ancient, so like…the Greeks, but they would have obviously spoken Greek….” Until my husband, who is very, very smart and much better educated came out, and luckily he is also very sympathetic so I was able to laugh as if I was not dying inside and say, “Hey, I know this is dumb, but who spoke Latin?” and the poor guy said, “The Romans!  Who do you think spoke Latin?!?!?”  This all has very little to do with my gardening, but I thought it was funny.  Also, literally the very next day I told the same kid that Napoleon was Italian.  I think I had Napoleon mixed up with the word Neopolitan.  I wish I was kidding.  You do not want me on your pub quiz team until it’s Life Sciences Night.

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I started this post three days ago and I kept thinking of other “The __________ Gardener” things but I can’t think of any of them now and it’s very sad. I am just now finishing because I’ve been dealing with this “bunny condo” debacle that I won’t even go into, and I only have one picture of the Malva and one of the strawberry pot, so I’m adding a picture of the bunny because she’s cute.  Perhaps more people might follow me on Instagram if my pictures were not all of weeds and dying plants?  Just a thought.

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The Half-Assed Blogger

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Here’s a nice picture of the beautiful, awful bindweed I discovered today after I thought I pulled it all yesterday. Posted from Instagram where I am “halfassedgardener”

So here’s the thing.   I would not consider myself to be a “digital native”.  In fact, I’m probably not even using that term correctly.  What I mean to say is that I am not very comfortable with a computer or anything associated with a computer.  I don’t know what words mean, what acronyms stand for, or how to make things do things.  And yet.  I like to write, and I like to take pretty pictures of plants.  So here I am, having a blog that nobody reads!  Hi, five people from yesterday!

This is just to explain that I have this blog, a Facebook page, and an Instagram account, and none of them are the same, and they aren’t very good.  I am actually even more half-assed about this venture than I am about my gardening, which is really saying something.

As previously mentioned, I started this blog in 2012, maybe before “homesteading” was such a loaded term.  And maybe just as more people were actually starting to do that in a serious way!  I did have ambitious goals, but I was never realistically going to have a “homestead”.  I was just being folksy!  But the thing is, that term is kinda played out now, and also people are legit doing it!  Like, on my block!  So I have to retire that term for myself, out of respect and self-respect.  So at first I was going to be “the half-assed human”, because believe me, I am half-assed in all areas of my life.  But, I just realized that I will be writing about my garden like 90% of the time, and also half-assed human just sounds weird.  So, I settled on “The Half-Assed Gardener” . I don’t like it as much as the half-assed homesteader, but it will do.  This is where things get complicated.

WordPress will let me change the name on my pages, but not in my actual site address.  So my pages say gardener, the address says homesteader.  So far I can’t get Facebook to let me change the site name so it’s homesteader over there.  Instagram let me change though, so I’m gardener there.

Oh and finally, I really enjoy photography, but I have a lot of conflicted feelings about it, but more importantly I don’t have the time to really play with taking or editing pictures, nor do I want to spend money on a fancy app.  So a good 90% of the time my pictures are nowhere near as nice once they are on the site as I thought they were going to be.

So, that’s it.  Half-assing everything, as usual.  Just a brief explanation of why everything I do is janky.

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And a beautiful, awful web, sign of spider mites.

 

 

Hell is other people’s weeds

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My view from within the crabgravel

Y’all, how is it that when you google that with quotes it returns NOTHING.  I can’t believe there is not a wacky t-shirt with that saying on it already.  If I was in any way an entrepreneur I would make one, but…I’m not.

But it’s the truth.  Other people’s weeds are my hell right now.  Namely, the previous tenants of this house and my neighbors.  I am, let’s face it, not staying on top of them, even though I’m trying so hard.  Which, of course, means that my own crabgrass going to seed is someone else’s hell.  I’m sorry, person!

Let’s discuss what I’m battling, and my strategies.  Well, I have this perennial bed in the front yard, which I dislike immensely anyway, and am going to try to adjust so it flows a lot better.  But, as mentioned previously, this thing truly seemed almost more like a lawn than a flower bed.  The crabgrass was SO THICK.  I hand-weeded all of it, because it is my understanding that crabgrass can regenerate from root pieces.  This is my first experience from crabgrass, so I’m taking someone’s word at it.  I did manage to get most of it before it went to seed…but…right on the other side of the chainlink fence is my neighbor’s crabgrass, so, I don’t know.  That bed also has a ton of Euphorbia maculata, spotted spurge.  That stuff is everywhere in this yard.  It’s probably my lowest priority weed though, because it is actually so easy to pull usually, and I haven’t seen it rooting along the stems so far.  I am making sure to get it before it goes to seed though, because I know that is bad news bears.   I had intended to put Preen corn gluten meal down in this bed to try to prevent new crabgrass, but then I noticed some lupine and some columbine are naturalizing in it, and I really want that to continue, so I guess I’ll keep up the hand-weeding for now.

Oh, more crabgrass, by the way.  There is this super awkward rectangle, maybe 2′ x 5′, that runs between my entryway bed and the fence, and is covered in gravel.  It’s a bit hidden, and I did not notice that it had gone batshit crazy, because, when my kid is mowing, she can’t mow back there because of the gravel.  And I just spaced it.  So, this is definitely where my weeds are someone’s hell.  That grass was like a foot high and all seeds.  Luckily, it was super easy to hand pull, because it’s basically gravel over landscape fabric, and most of the roots hadn’t gone through the fabric.

While I was working in that area, I was thinking about how much I actually enjoy weeding.  There is obviously a satisfaction in looking at a cleared area, but beyond that, I really enjoy the physical sensations of both gently pulling a shallow-rooted weed to make sure nothing gets left behind and trying to get the most solid grasp on a taproot to take as much out as I can.  I honestly think there’s almost an ASMR quality to it, as you pull up something and hear the roots quietly separating from the soil.  Yesterday I knew I was going to be weeding for a long time, so I turned on some music, and after maybe five minutes I actually turned it off and weeded in silence.  It just felt better.

So anyway, this crabgrass gravel, OR CRABGRAVEL IF YOU WILL (and I will, because I love portmanteaus) was super satisfying to weed but while I was there I saw two things that made me sick to my stomach.  One, coming through the fence, was Ranunculus repens, or creeping buttercup.  EFF THAT STUFF.  It was one of my all-time worst weeds about ten years back and I am absolutely terrified that it’s coming into my yard.  I mean, I guess I will just try real hard to keep it from rooting in my space, but it just feels really hopeless.  I’ll do more research, but all the literature I read today basically said, “Dang, that sucks.”  Also, if I am correct, I believe my neighbor has an Ailanthus altissima (tree-of-heaven) growing in his yard.  My guess, based on the glimpses I get of his property, is that he’s not going to cut that thing down.  Sooooo….that’s gonna suck.  Again, feels pretty hopeless.

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I hate you, creeping buttercup, even though you have a cutesy name.

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Stealth picture of possible enemy tree.

In the walkway between the front and the back, I’ve got two very sad looking shrubs.  They look a bit better than when I moved in, but they are still not very happy.  I thought they were a Daphne, but iNaturalist is telling me something else, so I’m just not sure.  But the gravel area around them is COVERED with Malva neglecta (so many cute common names, I especially like cheeseweed.) I have no idea how I’m going to deal with that.  I guess it’s also low on the priority list, because it’s so slow growing and won’t go bananas if it goes to seed, but still, I know they’ve got burly taproots developing under there, taking away all the good stuff those sad little shrubs need.

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Imagine this but times a hundred.

More effing gravel in the backyard.  Ugh.  All around the patio is pea gravel, where the spurge is constantly sprouting, but the worst is the tons of Convolvulus arvensis, field bindweed.  It’s partly in the gravel and partly in the adjacent bed.  I’m trying so hard to deal with it, but this is another one where all the literature basically says to set it on fire and run as far away from your house as you can.  I’m at least trying to keep it small, so it doesn’t go to seed or choke out the nearby plants, and I’m hoping maybe if I keep cutting the top down the roots will starve, but I’m pretty sure that’s wishful thinking.  The stats on this and the Ranunculus are so disturbing, about how far they can spread in a single season and how resilient their roots and seeds are.  I just feel totally screwed.

On the upside, I think the neighbors might have heard me complain about the blackberry that was creeping over the fence, because they got rid of it!  Me 1, plants 1 billion!

Lastly, sort of, I’m trying to figure out what to do with what I’m calling the “firepit area”.  I call it this because I want to put a firepit there.  And I think the previous tenants might have had a firepit there!  But, I don’t have a firepit.  So right now what I’ve got is a sort of baseball diamond shaped dirt patch, where I think they cleared away the soil.  Ideally, I guess I’d like to put flagstone down?  But like, I don’t even own this place, and also I am broke, and also, that is way beyond my sphere of understanding.  Whenever we’d get into hardscaping when I was in school I would just completely zone out.  So I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but for now it’s just a very happy landing place for weed seeds.  And, I have to be honest, today I used a product called Pulverize on them.  I give a LOT of thought before I use anything on weeds, and I give a LOT of thought as to what I will use.  Without going into detail about how I chose Pulverize (that can be another post), I’ll just say the following:  this is the first time I’ve purchased it and the second time I’ve used it, and I’m not super thrilled.  It, like most “organic” herbicides, does not translocate to the roots, it just kills the top part of the plant.  So that’s discouraging.  Also, it is getting really foamy and doesn’t spray very well.  But I’m just looking at it as buying me some time until I figure out what my permanent strategy is.

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Wouldn’t this be dreamy with a nice patio type thing and a firepit? And some smelly nice vine planted behind?

So.  There’s my essay on all the weeds in my 5000 sq ft lot.  Today was overcast, which was actually lovely for dealing with weeds, although I guess it will probably decrease the efficiency of the Pulverize.  And, I only use any kind of chemical, no matter how theoretically safe, when my littlest one is at school and won’t be home for a few hours, so today was good for that reason as well.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  What horrible pernicious weed will I discover next?!

Overambitious underachiever

I did it!  I officially finished my first year of grad school.  Monday, my first day off, was full-on relaxation day: had lunch at the food carts downtown, sat in the sun reading a trashy magazine for an hour, saw a movie, went to happy hour.  Tuesday, I ran approximately twelve thousand errands, did as much laundry as I possibly could, and that was basically it.  So by today, Wednesday, I was already beginning to feel this sensation of panic – “It’s been two days and I haven’t done anything in the yard or kitchen OH MY GOD SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER AND I AM WASTING IT”.  So, as is totally typical of me, I decided to do a week’s worth of projects in one day.  Project goals for the seven hours between dropping family off and picking them up:

  • Pickled asparagus
  • strawberry freezer jam
  • first attempt at homemade yogurt
  • first attempt at homemade white wine vinegar
  • first attempt at rhubarb drinking vinegar

Amazingly, I actually accomplished almost all this, plus I did some unexpected things, and nothing was an abysmal failure!  Although I would not be me if I had done everything according to plan…

I started with the asparagus pickling.  Part of the reason nothing every really works quite right for me is that I never do the same thing twice.  I really liked the pickled asparagus I made last summer, even though the recipe kind of bewildered me, so I decided I’d try it again and try not to screw it up this time.

Again, as last year, I bought the asparagus weeks ago, but at least this time there was no mold, it was actually really sturdy and pretty.  I felt sad salting it.

One of the reasons I don’t can or pickle as much as I’d like is that my canner is HUGE and just waiting for the water to boil takes more time than I usually want to devote.  I’m hoping to experiment this summer with some different equipment.  I saw this post about small batch canning the other day, and now I really want an asparagus pot, but for today I just ended up using a stockpot, which is really only slightly smaller than my canner. I definitely think it cut down on the timesuck though.

Of course, my canning rack didn’t fit in there, so I stole this awesome idea from Northwest Edible Life, and because my stockpot was pretty skinny I only needed to use a couple of random rings I had laying around.  Ingenuity!

So, of course, as the jars were sterilizing I started to put together the pickling liquid, and had nothing I was supposed to have, apart from the vinegar and sugar.  I used the same black mustard seed as last year instead of regular mustard seed, because it turned out fine.  Frustratingly, I could never find dill seed to use last year, found the unopened jar a week later, and then couldn’t find it again this year.  And totally forgot to buy an onion for it.  So…I ended up using the black mustard seed and then randomly throwing in some white peppercorns and juniper berries?  Because…they were the size and shape of what I wanted?  That truly was the extent of my reasoning.

I had counted out thirty asparagus and chopped them so they’d fit into the jar, and that was what I salted.  I packed them all in to the jar, poured the pickling liquid in, and was feeling all pleased…until I remembered that I had a whole other jar that was supposed to be full of asparagus.  So, in true half-assed fashion, I just snapped off the very ends of the chopped parts and dumped them into the jar, which actually filled it up.  So maybe…I just don’t know.  Is it supposed to be each asparagus cut in half or something?  I still find it bewildering.  And, I poured in the liquid and it came up only half way.  Again. Just like last year.  So, I processed it, and now I have one beautiful asparagus pickle jar, and one half full of weird choppy bits jar.  I will use them in salads I think.

I’ll leave my other adventures for tomorrow, but I have to say that I feel really happy and proud to be failing in my kitchen again.  My goal for the summer is to work on being more realistic about what I can do during the schoolyear, and to practice skills.  I want to get more into small-batch processing, and I’m working a lot from this book Make the Butter, Buy the Bread which I wish I’d written, about what is easy and worth it to make at home and what you should just admit is easier to pick up at the New Seasons.  I may have made several discoveries about that today…which I will share with you soon!

This is what it looks like.

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Nine months ago I wrote here that I would keep you all informed about what it looks like to be a grad student, mom of a 4 year old, good friend, wife, half-assed homesteader and blogger.  Well apparently what it looks like is nine months of silence.  The truth is that for the last nine months I have not made all my own bread.  I have not made any bread.  I didn’t run out to my garden and pick fresh kale for a salad from under a cover of snow.  I did not once make toothpaste.

What did I do instead?  I taught kids where their food comes and how to grow their own.

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I taught my daughter how to write her name.  I went on dates with my husband, and went out dancing until really late at night with friends.

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I spent Christmas in Arkansas with my grandmother and Spring Break in Palm Springs, laying in the sun drinking mojitos.

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I got a tattoo of a hazelnut.  I wrote a thesis proposal.  Obviously, I got an iPhone and got addicted to Hipstamatic.

What else did I do?  I ate that failed strawberry balsamic jam on toast every other day or so, and a couple of months ago I started eating eggs in the morning from my chicken friends.  I watched with pride and wonder as my apple trees bloomed profusely for the first time since I planted them four years ago, and as those beautiful flowers swelled into the delicate tiny green apples out there now, just tinged with rose. I also watched as the peach tree I planted last year withered and nearly died, and as my quince tree developed a rust that will almost certainly pass over to the apple trees that I am so proud of.  A month ago I planted an entire vegetable garden in one day, a week ago I freed my strawberry plants from the clutches of those evil creeping buttercups again (just like last year), and just today I looked outside and noticed the teeniest hints of green all in a row – the carrots that my daughter helped me sow are coming up, finally.

What didn’t I do?  I didn’t write about it. Mainly, because I was writing a thesis proposal and extra writing suddenly seemed a lot less fun than it normally does.  I suppose I am the half-assed blogger as well, which I was well-prepared for.  But I love that today is the day that I finally decided to devote a few minutes to writing.  Today, I used my first harvest of this spring – rhubarb.  A rhubarb crumble is cooling on the stove right now, of course with  one quarter rhubarb from my garden and three quarters from the market.  Who would I be if I grew enough of any one thing to do anything with it?  The crumble is to be shared tomorrow at a potluck, with all the friends and colleagues I’ve developed relationships with during the last year – a celebration of having come so far together.  And a celebration of it being over!  I have one more week of classes, a final, and then I’m done with my first year of grad school.  Three weeks later, I start the second part of my program.  Not much of a break.

I am absolutely certain that over the summer, and over the next year, my half-assed homesteading will continue.  Soon I’ll be harvesting snap peas and strawberries, then will come the inevitable deluge of zucchini, and with any luck in a few months I’ll have more apples than I’ll know what to do with.  I’m sure I’ll make some cheese here and there, and I have been thinking I really miss sewing lately and I’d love to try to make a dress for my daughter.  My fingers are crossed that I’ll have the time and the inclination to share those adventures here, but if the airwaves go silent for awhile again, it’s probably because I’m too busy sitting outside in the sun with my friends and family, trying to figure out how to use up all that zucchini.