Sunday, 14 December 2014

Euphorbia Christmas Wreath

Today was a clear and lovely December day.  Earlier in the week I had picked up fallen evergreens left behind from the previous night's storm. While walking home from my daughter's school I used my son's stroller as a method of transporting all the greenery. I guess my pile of storm refuge on top of stroller looked a bit odd and I was teased by one neighbour on my way home.  I decided to make use of my windfall of evergreens to make the base for my wreath.  While constructing the  wreath I decided it  needed something more then the usual evergreens and I spotted some euphorbias in the front garden that still looked fresh and had a nice bluish hue in their green.  This particular Euphorbia is a herbaceous perennial, meaning a plant that comes back every year and usually has finished and rotted to the ground come winter time. It also usually drips a lot of  sticky white sap when cut, however, it seems at this time of year there is not much sap left to contend with, not that it would have stopped me anyway.

Below you can see the plant lowest in the picture is the euphorbia going strong beneath my evergreen magnolia.

Below is a picture of the finished wreath and my newly painted red door, BTW the red  is a Benjamin Moore "Canada Post Red".
Below is a close-up pic of my Euphorbia Christmas Wreath.  I like that it is natural looking, as if the euphorbia has grown out of the wreath.
Well I may not have my Christmas shopping, baking or cleaning done but I do have a Euphorbia Wreath hanging from my red door.  MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


When we built the cedar pergola in our yard, we always planned to grow grapes and kiwis over it.  Our plan has come to fruition and we have been enjoying grapes off of it for a couple of years.

The grape is a hybrid named Himrod.  It is a seedless white grape that is sweet, juicy and tasty.  Himrods ripen in our climate around late August early September.

I'm not really sure how to properly prune a grape but it didn't stop me from climbing up a sketchy step ladder this past weekend and trimming away at it.  From a quick google search of grape pruning it appeared you need to cut back a large percentage of the plant and so that is what I did. 

I only left a few main branches.

I'm still waiting for the kiwis to produce....maybe next year!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Late Harvest Pasta

It is surprising to see zucchini still growing in the garden in October!  I suppose this is just more evidence of the lovely warm Autumn we've had this year.  The following recipe came out of necessity on Sunday evening when the cupboards were bare but luckily I was able to pull a few things from the garden and make this quick and tasty dinner.

Picture above is Zucchini with blooms on October 21, 2014.
Late Harvest Pasta with Zucchini, Garlic and Red Cabbage from the garden
1 package of fresh or dry linguine
1 can of clams (with juice)
3 cloves of  minced garlic
1 small zucchini diced
1/4 small red cabbage finely shredded (with mandolin if you have one)
1 heaping tablespoon dried basil
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Get water boiling in pot for linguine.
Meanwhile in a sauté pan on low heat add olive oil and garlic.  Leave this for a couple minutes then add the clams with juice followed by all the other ingredients except the cabbage and parmesan.  When the pasta is cooked scoop from the pot directly into the pan using tongs or whatever scooping method works for you.  Stir ingredients together for a minute or two and turn off heat.  Add lemon juice parmesan and finely shredded cabbage - serve immediately.

Twirl and enjoy!

Thursday, 31 July 2014

DIY removing grass to make a garden bed

Over the last 6 years I have removed a lot of grass to make new garden beds throughout my yard.  Once a bed is in place, by the next year I've decided it needs to be expanded.  Making more garden bed space is not just an obsession it makes for a more appealing bed that has enough space for tall, medium and low  height plants.  The first 4 years of garden making, me and my trusty spade became an efficient grass removal machine.  If you gave me 30 minutes and a napping child,  I could cut out a 10 ft sq swath of land.  If you've never removed sod,  the process involves jumping down with one leg onto your spade to cut down as deep down into the earth  under the roots of the grass and then pushing the shovel and sod up.  This jumping down action in addition to childbirth has done a number on my pelvis, I won't get into pelvic anatomy but let's just say I end up in quite a bit of pain when I forget I am not a machine.  So last summer when I realised my back yard bed needed to be expanded I decided to try out the "lasagne method" a gentler form of turning grass into a bed.

Below is a picture of the first step.  Just the perimeter grass of the bed needs to be pulled up. My trusty spade can be seen in the foreground.

Step 2:  Cardboard is laid over top of the grass.  A layer of organic matter is put overtop of the cardboard, in this case lawn clippings and fresh compost.  Another layer of soil is placed over top.  The idea is that the cardboard will work to smother the grass and then eventually decompose.
Step 3: Patience.  Once your layers are in place you can really only plant shallow rooted plants until the grass is smothered and the cardboard layer has decomposed which will take at least several months.  I cheated a bit to plant a lemon cypress, cutting through the cardboard.  Below 2 pics of the bed one year later.

You can see from the first "before" picture that some plants have been shuffled around.  Shannon gave me some rudbeckia  and I added the lemon cypress which really glows in the winter time.  I've grown some carrots at the apex of the bed for easy access for kids needing a snack .  I'm quite pleased with the result of the new bed and found the "lasagne method" to be kinder to my body. I would recommend this method to others looking to eradicate grass in order to establish more garden space.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Stone versus Steel

Lauren started landscaping her front boulevard slope recently and she decided she needed some boulders as part of her design. So we loaded up all the kids in the back seat of my truck and headed to the quarry in Pitt Meadows.  The entrance into the quarry was sketchy and we had to pull over to let tandem dump trucks pass but this did not stop us.  Lauren convinced somebody in the office to sell her a boulder even though they don't normally.  They drove her up to the rock pile so she could pick out the perfect boulder. 

It turned out the perfect boulder weighed in at a hefty 600 kg (1300 lbs).  It was loaded in the back of the truck with a giant machine and we were off.

Back at Lauren's we unloaded the kids and set them up in front of the TV, we figured boulder moving isn't the safest thing for children.  I suggested we take off the tailgate but Lauren confidently said that I wouldn't want my truck bumper to be damaged by the falling boulder so we left it on.....  Our first attempt to move it resulted in panic, after both of us pushing on it with all our force we were not able to budge it, and the possibility of us not getting the boulder off before our husbands got home began to loom.  Lauren asked an inquiring neighbour if we could borrow a large metal pry bar and she kindly obliged.  We grabbed some scrap plywood and were able to pry up the boulder high enough to slide the plywood under.  Then with a combination of prying and pushing with all our might we were able to slowly move the boulder out of the bed of my truck and onto the tailgate. Then forward movement halted and that is when I saw the tailgate start to slowly bend in the middle.  We pushed and pried some more but the tailgate continued to bend essentially making a nest for the boulder to sit in.  Somehow we gathered all our strength and had to pry and block the bolder to inch it off of the tailgate.  After letting out a few hollers of success a couple neighbours came over to congratulate us and asked us how the tailgate faired.  I was able to close it but there was a gaping 3 inch space between the truck bed and the bottom edge of the tailgate.  The next day we were at my brother's house and he was able to bend the tailgate back to a much smaller gap of only an inch and a half. 

Luckily the truck has a few injuries besides this one and a 2x4 fills the gap very effectively. 

So at the end of the day Lauren got a boulder and I got a bent tailgate.....I think I came out the loser. I understand Lauren wants a couple more boulders, anyone game to help her out?


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Strawberry Jamming

This is the DDS' second annual strawberry jam making cooperative.  Last year we messed up Shannon's kitchen so this year it was my turn.  In one afternoon we processed about 20 pounds of strawberries into jam.  We chose to make batches of strawberry rhubarb, a lavender infused strawberry and a freezer strawberry jam.  Working together definitely makes the task less daunting.  This time around I washed and hulled the strawberries, while Shannon cut up rhubarb, prepared the jars (water bath to sanitize) and measured all the ingredients.  We follow the recipes that came with the pectin.

Below: Chopping rhubarb picked from Shannon's abundant patch

Below: Berries being washed in my sink in prep. for hulling (removing the stem).  My mom has a very old tool made especially for hulling strawberries.  I just push a small teaspoon into the top of the berry and twist out the hull.

Our folks picked up the two flats of berries from a local farm in Langley.  There is nothing like the flavour and colour of fresh local strawberries.  You can tell they are not GMO as they definitely don't keep for long and need to be eaten, frozen or jammed very quickly.

Below: Some of our lovely jars of jam.  The darker colour jars are the lavender infused and the lighter is the strawberry rhubarb.
For the Strawberry rhubarb we followed the recipe provided with the pectin.

To make the lavender infused jam, I packed two tea bags (designed for loose leaf tea) with fresh picked lavender, added to the strawberry mixture and let it infuse during the cooking and stirring portion of the process.  I removed the lavender bags before putting the jam into jars.  The flavour added is quite subtle.
If you have room in your freezer for freezer strawberry jam I highly recommend it.  For freezer jam you don't need to sterilize or seal your jars or containers and it tastes more like fresh picked strawberries than the cooked jam.  Often it is a little runnier than cooked jam and thus makes an amazing syrup for waffles or ice-cream.
Though I don't think we save money by making are own jam, it is satisfying to see the jars lined up on my shelf and know exactly all the ingredients that went into them.  It doesn't hurt to support local farmers too. 

Friday, 13 June 2014

potato tower

I got sucked in by a pin on pinterest. I was innocently scrolling through pins when I came upon a picture of a potato tower. I visited the website and the project seemed easy enough and I happened to have extra galvanized wire fencing on hand so I figured this was a sign that I should make my very own potato tower. I also thought that the tower would save me space in my garden and prevent rogue potatoes from popping up in unwanted places the following growing season. This pin should have come with a warning: do not attempt on a windy day, it didn't. You are supposed to place straw around the inside perimeter of the wire fencing to keep the dirt from falling out.  When I attempted to place the straw it was flying everywhere, it didn't help that I had positioned the planters next to my chain link fence and had neighbours not only watching me fight with the flying straw but also giving me weird looks like what is the crazy gardening neighbour doing now.... It was about this time that I realized that digging a trench and throwing some potatoes in the ground is much easier than trying to make a potato highrise. Eventually I got my two towers built and planted. The potatoes are growing like wildfire and I'm looking forward to the first fresh creamy nugget potato. The verdict is still out as to whether I will plant potato towers next year.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Yellow spreads in my garden at an alarming rate

It seems yellow is a theme that can't be stopped in my out door space right now.  The yellow poppies have arrived in my east border.  I also received an outdoor toss cushion for my birthday with a mod yellow pattern.  Then I scored another free outdoor chair left at the end of a neighbours driveway.  It was a rattan style chair that I washed and sprayed a bright yellow which perked it up considerably.

Now if anyone has an organic solution to rid my grass of buttercups please let me know!  For now I'll try and appreciate them as another yellow addition to my yard.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

diy corten steel planter/bench

Back when we tore down our old shed, we found a large 3"X11" timber shoved in the back corner. I immediately started imagining what I could do with the  big chunk of wood.  Around the same time I had been dreaming up what I could make with Corten steel for the garden. I decided I could combine these two components into a single project: a bench with an attached planter.  First off I had to find somewhere to supply the Corten steel.  This proved more difficult than I had thought but eventually I found a localish supplier that would take a small order.  I combined my order with Lauren's under her deck stair riser project.  I found out later that Corten steel is also called weathering steel by engineers and if you refer to it as that to the supplier you get a cheaper price.  In case you're not familiar with Corten steel, it is steel that's composition allows it to form a protective rust layer that doesn't continue to rust.  It is often used landscape projects and sometimes as cladding for buildings.  My dad still doesn't understand why anyone would pay extra for rusty steel! The planter consist or four pieces of the steel welded together to make the planter box (it is open at the bottom end). HH and me both had a welding lesson from my dad and took turns welding the tube together as our first ever welding attempt.  The welds may not have been the prettiest but it is holding together and the welds are covered by dirt!

HH joined the wood corner of the bench together with biscuit joints.

We connected the bench to the planter with flat bar that we had welded on and with lag screws from the inside of the planter into the end of the wood.  We also sealed the wood to slow decay. I bought a dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny") and grabbed a few plants I had on hand for the planter, the plants will likely change at a later date. I'm now waiting for the rusty patina to happen.  Below you can see the completed project with my mini-assistant as the model.

Now when I find the time to take a break from gardening, I have the perfect place to far I haven't found the time!
  It can also be used to jump off of in case that's what you feel like doing instead of sitting!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Birthday Blooms

Every year I watch my peonies and wonder if the day they decide to burst open will be on my birthday.  They were a few days off this year but it is their best year yet with more then a dozen blossoms on one bush. 

Some years being confronted with a plus one addition to my chronological age can be daunting.  Being in my garden, now coming alive with spring growth and colour, makes me glad to be around to experience all that is yet come, this garden season and beyond.

Pictured above: lilacs in the foreground and white wisteria in the background.

Pictured above: alliums in the foreground in my west facing front garden.

Wishing everyone some time outside to enjoy spring!

Monday, 21 April 2014

diy retro concrete block pad

 So we built a bench (for another post) and then discovered we had no where appropriate to put it.  I thought we could place in front of the new shed, directly on the grass, but was informed my multiple people that the wood would wick up the moisture from the grass and rot in a hurry.  We needed some sort of pad. My husband thought we could use some left over bricks from another project but that seemed too boring and really not special enough for the awesome bench we are going to bestow upon it! I decided the solution was to find some used decorative concrete blocks that were common in the '70's  and fill the voids with pea gravel. I knew my only chance of keeping HH on board with this plan was to not spend too much so I needed to find the brick for free or really cheap.  I scoured craigslist for the concrete blocks but nothing was panning out until I happened to spot a pile of rubble next to the highway at an old motel.  I contacted the motel and they gave me the concrete blocks for free. Lauren had some left over pea gravel that she donated to the cause.

We dug out the sod and then put in a couple inches road mulch (gravel) as the base.

Next we placed the concrete blocks with a couple inch gap between them and filled the voids with pea gravel.
After some tinkering with getting things level the patio was complete!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

DIY Grass Couch

I have a grass couch in my backyard.  This is something I don't share with everyone except on the internet.  It all began in the fall when I had a lot of dirt and a husband away on a business trip.  In trying to dig out under our deck I had run out of places to off-load the extra dirt and thought I could be more creative than just piling it up in a corner.  After searching the usual websites I did come across some stock photos of grass couches - some looked rather less than organic, i.e. sod thrown over old couches.  These images looked great but I'm sure they were really only meant to last the day of the photo shoot.  Can you imagine an old couch in your backyard rotting beneath a layer of sod with springs and wood poking out?  I did find a public garden in the UK that used  bales of hay to make their grass couch base, this idea looked like it lasted for sometime, but I had soil, not hay to work with.  My idea then evolved, I picked up 20 cardboard boxes from the liquor store and filled and stacked them to make the couch structure.  I was pretty sure my husband would not be onboard with my engineering plan and I didn't feel like justifying my crazy idea so I had to work pretty hard to complete the project before HH arrived home.  You can see the soil filled and stacked liquor boxes below.

The image below shows the backside "support" for the couch backrest.

 I mudded (not sure if this is a real word) all surfaces with a dirt, water and grass seed mixture.  You can see below it had started to sprout before winter arrived.

 At the end of winter, to everyone's surprise the cardboard box and dirt structure had held together, grass was growing, even on the vertical surfaces but it was pretty patchy.  I ran out of patience and decided to speed up the process with a trip to my local turf farm (bet you wish you had a local turf farm too).

Pictured above is the final version of the couch draped with fresh sod.  The kids don't look particularly impressed in this photo.  Let's hope the grass couch holds together a little longer and that I can capture all the fun that a grass couch adds to ones life.

Thank you to my local liquor store for helping to make this project happen in more ways than one.

Monday, 7 April 2014

rhubarb muffins

I have happy rhubarb.  It is already growing like gangbusters so I decided to make some rhubarb muffins.  I've been eating these rhubarb muffins since I was a kid, I'm not sure where the recipe originated.

Rhubarb Muffin Recipe:
1 and 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1 and 1/2 cups rhubarb
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
2 and 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Topping (optional)
1 Tb melted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine sugar, oil, egg, vanilla and milk
Stir in rhubarb and nuts
Add dry ingredients
Put in muffin tray and sprinkle with topping

Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes

Now off to eat a muffin with my coffee.  Do you have any favourite rhubarb recipes?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

DIY paving stones under the deck patio: part 2

This is the continuation of our project to create a patio under our sundeck. 

With the concrete retaining walls complete it was time to lay down the paving stones.  I wheel barrowed in 3/4 yard of road mulch (fancy gravel that compacts well) into the area.  On another snowy March Sunday we rented a plate tamper, the snow helped us slide the heavy machine down into the base.  After tamping down the road mulch I wheel borrowed about half a yard of sand and raked this out.  The next step involved a term I've recently learned called "screeding" which is a method of pulling a straight board over two one inch boards inset into the sand to create a track that aids in pulling the sand into a perfectly level surface. You can see the method pictured below.

Finally on another rainy Sunday we are able to lay the pavers, using Shannon, her HH and handy paver saw to lay them down.  Pictured below is the new yoga pose: downward facing level.

HHs' completed the paving stone patio by  sweeping, spraying and hand tamping in special sand to fill in the cracks and keep the pavers in place.  Below you can see the results of our labour.

Pictured above: I filled up my cortan steel steps 3/4 of the way with road mulch, tamped this down and then filled to the top with pea gravel.

Shannon just completed an order for some plants for landscaping and I have a few other pieces of furniture I'm looking for to complete the space.   If anyone spots a vintage bar cart suitable for the outdoors in their travels, please let me know.

Thank you to all our family members whose time, effort and skill made this project happen!

Some of you may recall this area was once dubbed the "pit of despair".  I think we need a new name for the pit, please comment with  your suggestions.