Jul 30, 2015

Summer Backyard and Front Yard: July

One of my favorite things about our yard is that there is always something blooming from April through October.

The mailbox garden is really filling in nicely. I'm very pleased to say that all of the transplants came back and they are all blooming this year.

Right now in the mailbox garden the butterfly bush is beginning to bloom with the pretty purple flowers and the pink echinachea is just covered with blooms right now - it's so pretty!

The new butterfly weed is also finally blooming! I love the bright orange flowers.

The rest of the front yard right now is green (or brown grass). The hostas are blooming on the far right behind the tree, but everything else is either spring blooming or an evergreen. With all the craziness and travel going on, I never replaced the pansies in the porch boxes and they have died in the heat. It looks terrible - the porch railing boxes had to be taken down to repair the porch, I won't be putting them back until I can get some new flowers. If takes long enough, I might even hold out for some fall-friendly flowers to put in there.

In the backyard we have so many things blooming... like our hollyhock trees in pink and white and our dark pink crepe myrtle. The crepe myrtle fully recovered from the cold winter, it's so beautiful when it blooms. The quince is growing so much I have to cut it back. The asparagus is still alive too - I always worry about the new plants that don't have robust root systems yet when it's so hot and dry like this.

The new clematis (the replacement for the one that died) is also still alive, another accomplishment during this heat wave / dry spell.

Other vines are easy to keep alive... the sweet pea is completely out of control despite how often I cut it back to keep the blackberry and raspberry bushes from being taken over.

I don't know what this purple spiky flower is. I thought it was something else so we let it grow... it's probably a weed, but I have to admit the purple blooms are beautiful! It's in the way back so I think it's okay to leave it alone. We have so many crazy weeds coming through the fence from our neighbors hard it's impossible to keep up.

I didn't get the best picture, but I have a lot of pretty dahlias blooming near the fence and patio. I planted 10 and 9 came up, all are blooming. There's red, orange, magenta, yellow, pink-yellow, and purple.

The rose bush, strawberries and peony plants...

The hostas and lilies are blooming now and the anemones are about to start...

The hydrangea is blooming! I didn't acidify the soil around the hydrangea so it has pink-purple flowers. They are really pretty though.

Here are the blueberry bushes, they are still small but growing steadily. There are some strawberry plants around them that seem to come back year after year.

Also as a side note, the July garden is going strong with tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers. There are also a ton of green beans (not pictured) now too.

Jul 29, 2015

The Updated Porch

The contractor finished the porch! It’s such relief to know that we’re not going to bust through one of the rotting steps walking up, or that the porch roof will come crashing down on us. Of course it’s not totally done - we still need to caulk the gaps, repaint the left side of the stairs next to the house, repaint the railing and paint the new columns (I didn’t realize they are supposed to be painted - that’s why some people’s look like straight up plastic! They are supposed to be sanded and painted to look like wood!). We opted to do those little things ourselves to save a bit of money since this was a painful but necessary expense.

I LOVE the stairs now that they are totally finished (no more gaps!). I know the decking look is more casual but it solves the water problem I previously mentioned. And the color is just so nice - there are variations in the gray that really do look like gray stained wood - to me this is just a million times better than what we had before.

Jul 27, 2015

Porch Project In Progress

Our porch project is under way! Today our contractor came and did the stairs, tomorrow he will do the posts for the railings and porch. We got some good news and some bad news when he took out our rotting stairs. The good news was that we could move forward with our original plan of replacing the stair treads and risers without replacing the stringers - the important stuff was there and in good enough shape to support the new materials.

The bad news was that a peek under our stairs and porch revealed that the porch is not original to the house. The mahogany flooring on the porch might still be original (they could have replaced the porch and reused the floor) or at least is very old. We knew the stairs/post/railings were cheap Home Depot replacements, but we also learned the most of the porch itself was a badly done replacement.

The base/foundation of the porch is still sturdy cinderblock, it shouldn't come apart on us anytime soon. However the wood setup under there would never pass inspection - it's just a jigsaw of lots of little pieces of scrap lumber nailed together. Worse, someone dumped scrap cinderblocks under the porch in a massive stack and there are more crumbling cinderblocks under the stairs stacked as high as possible. It will take a backhoe or a ton of manual labor to move them all and will be expensive to get rid of (unless we want to bury them the backyard). And of course the jigsaw wood work under the porch can't be done without moving the blocks. Basically someday in the future we are in for a massive headache/extra expensive full porch redo... but not today at least.

On a happier note - I LOVE how the new stairs look so far. The gap at the top of the tread won't be there, tomorrow the contractor is going to cut up a couple composite boards and cover the space. The downside to composite is that they only make the boards in one width, so it takes more than one strip to cover the stair tread and riser (we knew this going in - our neighbors have composite stairs too).

There are two things about these stairs that make me very happy. First, that beautiful gray that looks like gray-stained wood is plastic and it will never need to be painted. Ever. I am SO tired of painting and caulking and patching these stairs - I haven't really written about how many times I've had to patch or caulk a soft spot or touch things up. I am so thrilled to have that behind me.

The other thing I love is that gap between the stairs. I know for some people it's more of a casual backyard deck look than a front porch look, but to me it means that water has a place to drain. The old staircase always had a puddle of water on each step after it rained (probably made worse from sagging since it was cheap pine rotting away). And in the winter the snow melt off the roof puddled on the stairs the same way and turned to a dangerous sheet of ice. And when we'd try to shovel the snow off the steps, the shovel would once again damage the paint and require more touchups.

I'll share the rest of the porch tomorrow when it's (hopefully!) all done!

Jul 24, 2015

July Garden Update

After yesterday's update, last night I finally managed to finish weeding the garden and garden pathways so that it looks like a garden again. (The little plant in the pathway above is a runaway zinnia about to bloom... I didn't have the heart to pull it!) This year has been hard on the garden because it has been very humid in June and the first half of July - we haven't necessarily had a ton of rain but the air has had a lot of moisture in it - hot and humid or cool and damp. And moisture brings blight on the tomatoes, powdery mildew on my cucumbers, squash and melons, even the green beans are vigorous but spotted. The dampness has also encourage the slugs to come invade in hoards, which I'm currently trying to resolve. Usually the garden looks its best in July, but this year it's raggedy.

This is has been a rough year for tomatoes, and since tomatoes are my favorite they are a big factor in considering the garden a success or not for the year. The blight has been terrible on the leaves, the bottom half of all the plants were decimated and now they are just stringy stalks. I do have a lot of flowers and a bunch of green tomatoes, but not nearly as many as this time last year and the plants are just not healthy (this reminds me a lot of 2 years ago, which was probably my worst tomato/garden year). Usually the cherry and yellow pear tomato plants are bursting with bunches of little tomatoes and this year there are only a few bunches.

This is the first tomato to about to ripen  on the vine though, I am very excited about that.

The cucumbers are doing okay. Last year they were amazing in July, this year they are struggling with powdery mildew already. I've had several cucumbers already and we have a bunch more growing and a lot of flowers, but the mildew is definitely already a problem and it's not even August.

Starting the melon seeds indoors this year though was a success! I already have 3 full-sized melons ripening, several more little melons growing, and there are a ridiculous number of flowers and vines in this trellis. The seed packet instructions say to direct-sow, but the head start really made a difference!

I knew the squash was going to be an experiment. I am happy to report that we've had so many squash and zucchini I'm already sick of eating it and we've had to pass along several to friends and neighbors. The plants are now at the end though, the powdery mildew is hurting the leaves and I'm pretty sure the squash vine borers are sucking the life out of the plants already - the one year break wasn't enough to break the cycle, they are back.

One of the new dahlia bulbs never came up, but the other 5 are growing and 3 are starting to bloom! The yellow is so bright it's hard to photograph (it's practically neon) and the dark red one is really pretty. The slugs are being hard on the dahlias. The zinnias are going crazy as usual - once they get going they are always so easy to grow and bloom so much. The sunflower I planted was doing great, but then mysteriously died while I was away. A new, much smaller one is coming up though, so we'll see.

After I took the pictures of the garden, I picked most of the flowers (I left a few zinnias for the bees and butterflies) - I love how nice the bouquets look!

Herbs, Carrots and Beans
Since June the lettuce and peas bolted and died back in the heat so I pulled them up. The lettuce provided us with many great salads. The lifespan of the peas was much shorter than I would have liked, though we had enough to top a few salads. The carrots are doing very well, the oregano and thyme are doing well and the basil is still alive (though it's struggling like so many other plants).

The beans are growing like crazy, despite the fact that many leaves have powdery mildew. There are tons of flowers and lots of tiny beans starting to grow... in a another few days I'll have more green beans than we will know what to do with!

The Rest of the Yard

Fruit and Pots
The fig trees are growing back very nicely, the brown turkey fig is dotted with tiny figs (it takes about 3 years for them to produce fruit, so the chicago hardy should start producing next year). The blueberry bushes are still growing (no blooms or fruit this year). The raspberry bushes produced a few nice raspberries, though we definitely had to fight the birds for them and the harsh winter was hard on the plants. The blackberry bush is ripening now, though the blackberries are once again very tart - not as tart as last year, but still pretty tart.

In the pots the lemon and lime trees are doing well, they have finally fully recovered from all the winter aphid damage. There are lots of little lemons and limes all over them after a good blooming season. The hot pepper plant has 2 big peppers and a couple tiny ones, plus some flowers.

Jul 23, 2015

Hello There!

Hello! I know it’s been way too long since I’ve last posted. July has just been crazy. Things have just been even more hectic than usual, and things are usually really busy and hectic for us these days.

It’s been the sort of month with lots of good things and a few tough things. We’ve spent a lot of time with family and friends, gone to the pool, made trips to the zoo and the beach. But Oliver also got sick over the holiday weekend with strep and croup and passed it along to me as bronchitis. We had quality bonding time though too - Ollie and I were home together for a week while his daycare was closed for a planned holiday, but then I had to go away traveling for business.

I was in Seattle for a week for a work conference and it was amazing.

Mike and Oliver had to fend for themselves at home, with me on the other side of the country, while Oliver was only one week into potty training. Mike successfully made it through on all counts.

And now I’m home again and there are just a thousand things to do. My regular day job is crazy because I’ve been away from my desk for the entire month. I (foolishly) said yes to a big freelance project that started the second I got back from Seattle. It’s too hot so everything in the yard needs watering, Oliver wants to go to the pool, there’s a ton of laundry to do and dinners to make and errands to run and there were weeds overtaking all my garden beds in just a week (seriously I couldn’t even SEE my strawberry plants when I got home). I want to share a July garden update but I need to finish weeding the paths and beds, I’m only halfway done and I’m too embarrassed to take pictures until everything is cleaned up (it's that bad).

In bits and pieces we’re also just trying to get organized again, trying to sort through the disaster that is our basement and office. Keep the lawn mowed and the garden bed plants from dying. Next week our porch redo should finally kick off too.

But for now, all I really want to do is go back to the beach this weekend. In between trips to the pool of course.

Jul 8, 2015

Basement Electrical - We have Light!

Mike worked on the basement electrical over the past couple of weekends and finished the lights in the front half of the basement. It looks amazing and it’s so nice to finally be able to see! We opted for a light switch at the base of the stairs, it made the most sense for how we’ll use the lights going forward.

Next Mike is going to add a couple of high up outlets around the media stand so we’ll have a place to plug things in (but up high just in case we ever have another Hurricane Irene and get a foot of water in the basement again).

The only downside to having so much light on this side? Now we can really see how much of a disaster the basement has once again become…

Ugh. I have a lot of work down here to do... (I don’t know why but we have a really hard time keeping it clean despite our best efforts.)