Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Fairy Garden is Born

Last weekend, my parents were in town and I took my Mom out for a 4-wheeler ride around the area where we live. There are so many old barns and houses that the property owners are just allowing to sit and go to waste. It's sad to see all of the wasted materials. While driving past one of these houses located on property that belongs to a cousin of my husband, we found 2 old chairs laying next to a barn. I had seen the chairs several times before but could never convince my husband to help me get them home. He could not understand why I wanted those old rotten chairs, but my Mom (who I credit with my creative and often unorthodox ideas) immediately realized the potential. We loaded them up on the back of the 4-wheeler, secured them with some rope, grabbed a couple of loose peices of barn wood for good measure and hauled our treasures home. The looks on husband and Dad's faces when we pulled up with those old chairs on the back of the 4-wheeler were priceless. My husband, I believe, thought I had finally completely lost my mind. My Dad just kind of shook his head. He is no longer shocked by the junk my Mom and I drag home, whether it be from a thrift store or the side of the road or in this case, the middle of the woods.

To the left, is the one of the chairs as we found it. They were both in terrible condition, so I guess I can understand my husband's doubts about my sanity at that moment. I told him I was going to convert it to a plant stand and he seemed slightly less concerned about my mental state. After my parents left to go back home, I decided I better work quickly so my new treasure didn't end up in the burn barrel. I really wanted to preserve the back side posts of the chair but that nasty vinyl cushion had to go. On the first chair I worked on, the side post broke so I had to get the saw and cut them both off. On the second chair that I attempted, I was successful in preserving the posts. Some of the upholstery tacks stayed in place as well, so I was able to use those to wrap the twine and make a crude trellis. Next I was ready to give them a quick light sanding. I was not attempting to give them a smooth finish, it just seemed like the easiest way to clean them up a little before painting them. My youngest daughter chose a light puple for the base of her Fairy Garden. I used acrylic paint that was slightly watered down and a cheap kids paint brush to ensure that I got a distressed finish. After the paint dried and I ran some twine for a trellis, I sealed it with an outdoor spray sealant. I used 3 coats, but I will have to reseal at least once a year. I should have listened to my Mom, and used a marine varnish, but I was in a hurry and didn't feel like making the 30 minute drive into town to buy it.

My daughters and I started gathering our fairies and various other supplies needed to finish the perfect little shade garden for them. We found an old terra cotta bowl-type container, it's already distressed green finish was a perfect compliment to the chair. After cutting a piece of the barnwood to fit across the bottom rungs to support the container, we filled in the gaps with Spanish Moss that we found near the pond on our property and put our fairies into place. Before this thing got any heavier we decided we better move it to the front yard under a large Live Oak tree. We then filled the pot with English Ivy that will fill in the back along the trellis, Wandering Jew (Setcrea) and Caladiums. I also planted a Hosta near the foot of the chair and we will continue to add to our lovely little shade garden.

I do believe that our fairies will be very happy here and I can't wait until the ivy fills in the back. It's the perfect addition to our whimsically themed front yard shade garden. Now to move on to the other chair, I can't wait to see what that one turns into!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomato Hornworms!

Well, they were actually Tobacco Hornworms, but Tomato Hornworms made for a better title. Anyway, when it comes to Tobacco/Tomato Hornworms the potential devastation is the same and the difference only comes down to the color of the "horns" on their bottoms.

My 3 year old daughter and I discovered these viscious little beasts on one of our daily garden inspections. She immediately fell in love "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and demanded that we allow them to stay in the garden so they could become "big fat caterpillars, build a cocoon and become beautiful butterflies". If you have small children and have ever read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle then you know what I'm up against. I convinced her that we should at least move them away from the garden so that they could eat some nice green leaves, then I checked my favorite site for all of my tomato questions, http://www.tomatodirt.com/ and discovered that these were not harmless little green caterpillars. I had a tomato killer on my hands. These little buggers left unchecked are capable of devouring an entire tomato plant in just a few days!!!

As to the fact that I refer to them interchangably, they are very similar in appearance. The most obvious distinction between the two is the color of the horn. On Tomato Hornworms it is dark blue, dark green or black and on Tobacco Hornworms it is red. Mine were definitely red and that's actually how I found them. There bodies are the same color as the tomato leaves making them a little difficult to spot. You should also be on the lookout for leaf wilt and missing leaves. The best way to prevent full blown crop devastation is to inspect your plants daily in the early morning or late evening and catch them early.  If you happen to be unfortunate enough to find these vile little creatures gorging on your prized tomatoes, the best defense is to pick them off and drop them into a bowl of soapy water. The lovely folks at Tomato Dirt were kind enough to give me a little more advice via a very prompt reply to a message sent to their Facebook page regarding prevention of future infestation. As soon as your plants are done producing in the fall, till the soil to deeply bury any larvae that may have been left behind. That should kill 90% of the eggs. Then in the winter burn your leaf piles in the garden area. Not only will it kill any remaining pests and fungi that may be lurking about waiting to feast on next years crop, but it will add nutrients to your soil. I am happy to report that no Hornworms have been found in my garden for 3 days now. It pays to be totally obsessed with your garden!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Organic Veggies... not this year :(

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I have little to no clue what I'm doing in the veggie garden. I'm giving it my best shot, however and this blog is a great way for me to document the successes and failures. For me this garden serves many purposes. It's not just about the fresh produce for my family, it's also an excuse to spend time outdoors, great exercise, and an opportunity to challenge myself. One of the goals that I initially set was to grow completely organic vegetables. Due to the fact that I didn't properly prep my soil with compost, I've had to resort to, *gasp*, using Miracle Grow. It really hurts to admit that, almost as much as it hurt to purchase and apply it. After two applications of it, some areas of my garden still aren't growing quite as fast as they should be ,but overall the plants do look healthier. I started my compost heap at the back of the field so maybe next year I can do it without the chemical fertilizers. The compost pile consists of coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and veggie peels, and  yard debris such as leaves and grass clippings. I do have some friends that are appalled by my decision to use the dreaded Miracle Grow, or MG, as I now call it. In the grand scheme of things, I feel that a little fertilizer is still 10 times better than most commercially grown vegetables that have been shipped across the country or even from other ones. I'm looking into other methods of fertilizing, but being a novice gardener who had never even heard the term "side-dressing" until a couple of months ago, I'm going to try to keep it simple...for now.