Category Archives: gardening

Too Much Mulch

It’s my Menards time of year.

One of the upshots of the “more flowers, less grass” way of life at our house is mulch.  We like the look of mulch around all the flowers and now that the front yard and boulevard are essentially all flowers, that’s a lot of mulch.

“A lot of mulch” and “very small Honda Insight” aren’t usually phrases you see in a sentence together.  That’s because you can only put 8 2-cubic foot bags of mulch IN a Honda Insight if you want to continue to see out the back window. (You could transport more if you used the backseat and not just the hatch but that lesson learned was ugly.)   If you go through 25-28 bags of mulch in the spring, that means several trips to Menards.  Yes, I’ve looked into having a boatload of mulch delivered, but one of the things I know about myself is how unhappy I will be with a mountain of mulch that might get rained on before I get to it, is taking up driveway space and is also making me feel guilty until it’s all gone.  And the savings isn’t that great anyway.

Mulch trips are in the morning – it’s cooler, plenty of room in the parking lot, not too crowded in the store – so for four mornings in a row, there I am, with my mulch on a big cart.  There is an older woman who works the first register shift every morning and she is NOT a happy person.  Could be that she resents working so early.  Maybe she resents still having to work at all at this stage of her life.  Might even be that she’s just not a morning person. 

I try not to take this personally, but I’m a chatter.  Every morning I say “good morning”.  Once I said “Eight of them (the bags), if I counted right”.   Couple of times I’ve said “see you tomorrow”.  Yesterday was “Thanks”.   Nothing from this woman.  Not even a smile, which I would have thought would be helpful in a customer service role. 

The mulch trips are probably over for this spring but I have determined that if I need more, I will probably just leave this poor woman alone when I go through her lane.  It won’t hurt me and maybe it will give her a little relief at 6:15 in the morning.  Of course, it’s not as much fun.

Tell me about a time you’ve gotten GREAT customer service!

Farming This Week

The weekend farm report comes to us from Ben.

Another Minnesota spring, jumps from rain and cold to 90°. Bailey still has her winter coat, she needs to start shedding soon. 

Remember the three Roosters? The dynamics are changing. Number Three is the boss now. Number Two can hang out with Three, but number One has been outcast. And three is kind of a bully. One and two got into it a while ago, full on neck feathers raised and jumping at each other with their claws. Bailey ran over and broke it up. Later, all three of them got into it. Again, Bailey ran over and broke it up. 

This week was supposed to be all about commencement. Turns out I spent more time at the doctors office than I did at commencement. The backache became a kidney stone, which became legs and feet numb. Lots of tests that are negative so far but I’m having kind of a tough time getting around.

Commencement went well, it was a real team effort and it wouldn’t have gotten done without student worker April, my brother Ernie, my theater partner Jerry, and Kelly, who drives me everywhere and helps out before going to get Amelia and doing all the chores at home. 
The lights were rented from a local guy, and he even offered to deliver them, which was a huge savings especially since I’m not driving. Had all the helpers getting things set up, hung, cabled, and focused. I was there some of the time pointing and giving helpful suggestions. Some phone calls, one video chat, and several text messages later, April is running lights for the nursing graduation and she did good and it looks great! 
Had help to take it all down again and the local guy picked it all back up. I am so lucky to have friends like this. 

Weather looks to be nice now for a week. Get my brother going in the tractor and I’ve talked with the neighbors about planting my corn.

Ducks and Chickens are still good and hanging in there. With the nicer weather, we could open the screen door so the chicks get some sunshine and fresh air.

When was the last time you stirred up trouble? Was it worth it?

Old Tech

This past weekend was a “comfort tv” weekend.  After a LOT of hours gardening and then recuperating in my studio while it rained, I was all about watching some of my standard oldies but goodies.

WarGames.  Looking at the technology that was over the top when the movie came out, it’s a little laughable now.  Rotary phones.  Dot matrix printer.  Oh, and Matthew Broderick makes a call from a phone booth.  Except for the ones that they keep around in London for tourist photo ops and the one that Dr. Who uses, are there phone booths anywhere anymore?

Hopscotch.  Walter Matthau types up his anti-CIA memories on an old typewriter, which he drags with him through the movie.  It’s not even an automatic return typewriter.  Phone booths in this movie as well.  Also, all the information on agents and criminals in on paper in a file room: when Matthau shreds his personnel file, they don’t even have a photo of him any longer.

Romancing the Stone.  At least Kathleen Turner is typing on an automatic return typewriter.  There are a few calls from phone booths in this one as well which is interesting since most of the movie takes place in the Colombian jungle.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash.  Whoopi Goldberg works in a bank on a data terminal (not even actually a computer).  She doesn’t have a phone on her desk – although there is one for the whole department of workers that they are only allowed to use in an emergency.  This means she ends up in a phone booth down the street.  (Then she gets dragged in the phone booth all over Manhattan but that’ another segue.)

A few things are clear.  #1. Phone booths and typewriters were clearly a lot more prevalent 30 years ago than they are today.  A bit of research reveals that you can still buy a typewriter (Brother and Royal are the top manufacturers out there) but they’re not a cheap as you would think they would be.   #2. The plots of a lot of the movies I like would really have to be punched up if there weren’t phone booths and typewriters abounding.  #3. All my comfort movies are way too old.

Do you still have a typewriter?  Do you use it?

Chomping at the Bit

Chomping at the bit.  I think this is a horse reference, right?  I’m not a horse person but I’ve heard this phrase my whole life; I can see a horse chomping at a bit in my mind’s eye and I can certainly understand the feeling.  Something between your teeth that is driving you nuts and you can’t do anything about it.  I’m right there.

Although we’ve had a couple of superb days, the wait for days warm enough for gardening has been tough.  It’s been too cold (and/or rainy) to get out and do anything.  A few mornings last week as I was fertilizing and watering my bales, I felt like an idiot out there.  One of the mornings, it wasn’t even above freezing and it seemed like a fool’s errand to be preparing bales when I was sure it would be at LEAST 2 weeks until I could plant (I almost always plant on Mother’s Day). 

YA and I did hit Bachman’s on Sunday, but all the flowers and veggies are in their little pots, sitting on the front porch in those cardboard boxes that Bachman’s uses.  They’ll have to be watered a couple of times before we get to planting.

I’ve been busy enough at work that I couldn’t take any days off this week and both of my upcoming weekend days have an engagement right in the middle of the day!  So I either go out and get dirty, get cleaned up, then go out later and get dirty again or I only get work done in the yard in the morning or the afternoon.  Maddening.

What spring routines are you chomping at the bit to get to?

Still Winter?

Today’s post comes from Ben

There’s a lot of people reading this blog we don’t know where they’re at. I hope everyone is surviving whatever weather is going on in your area. Snowstorms, tornadoes, cold rain, or maybe you’re somewhere where it’s hot and rainy. Any event, I hope you’re surviving. My chives are coming.

The storms that came through Tuesday night in our area didn’t hurt anything. And then Thursday it was so windy again! Man! I noticed a tree hanging over the road and the trunk is split. I said to Kelly would could wait for it to fall over, or I could call the local tree company. She agreed that might be a pretty good idea. The doors on our machine shed are 20 feet wide and 16 feet tall. Two sliding doors that meet in the middle, one set on the south end, which is pretty well sheltered, and the doors I use the most on the west side. They are out in the open and in a good wind, when closed, they will swing in and out so bad they would rip themselves apart if not anchored at the bottom center. The sides lock, it’s just the middle that moves. When the shed was built there was a metal bracket on the ground that the doors slid into, and that would secure the bottom. This metal bracket was attached to a 6” x 6” post sunk in the ground below frost level. Over the years this metal bracket has been broken and fixed and broken and fixed so many times the top of the 6 x 6 has deteriorated to the point nothing can be attached to it anymore. I really should do something about it someday. It’s on my list. But for the last 20 years, I have been putting a 5 gallon bucket full of log chains in front of the doors to stop them swaying in so much. The bucket probably weighs 80 pounds. The doors will still blow out a bit, but they don’t go in. Except when we have these really strong winds and then it will push the 80 pound bucket back in the shop about 16 inches. which then allows the door to swing in and out much more than it should. I saw another farmer strapped the doors to his tractor, so I do that when it’s this windy.

Lost a poufy duck on Tuesday. It was there in the morning. Later in the day we heard the chickens all squawk and the guineas were making a lot of noise and everybody was taking shelter under the lilac bushes. We didn’t see anything but that night there was only one poufy duck.

Still got a pheasant running around looking for an easy meal. Next day I happen to see out the window a Cooper’s hawk sitting on an electric line. As I stepped out the door to try and get a picture of it, it swooped down and I thought for sure was going to try to take a chicken. But the chickens are bigger than it is. And It thought twice. Flew around the yard for a while. Enough Kelly could get the good camera and get a few pictures of it. 

A G.I. bug went through the house beginning Sunday. 24 to 36 hours later we’re mostly OK.

I’ve been delivering a lot of straw lately. It’s fascinating to me that if you open the rear sliding window of a truck, all the loose straw in the box will blow forward into the cab. Don’t ask me how I know this. It makes quite a mess. Fascinating air currents, but messy.

Got a favorite raptor? What do you think of the Rapture? Or ruptures?

Expert Advice

Husband was highly gratified yesterday to get an email from a local soil scientist who works for the FPAC-NRCS office in town. That is the soil conservation branch of the US Department of Agriculture, and they work with local ranchers and farmers to promote soil and water conservation. The sender of the email had heard through the local grapevine that Husband was a passionate proponent of urban agriculture, and she needed his advice putting together some soil health teaching/demonstrations to help local urban gardeners improve their garden soil and increase their production. She explained she was new to the area and was more familiar with the soil issues of area ranchers than she was with those of urban gardeners and the peculiarities of our local urban soil. Husband replied he would be happy to help.

We are usually asked for our expert opinions by the Court regarding rather sad and troubling situations. This was a delightful change. Also delightful was figuring out how on earth she got our email. It involved a tangled pathway from former clients, the Food Pantry, a pastor of a Lutheran church we don’t attend, and the pastor’s mother in law who is one our our fellow parishioners. Living in a small town can be quite interesting.

What could you provide expert advice on? What are the informal pathways that news and information travel in your family and community?


I’ve been writing a lot of notes these days and it’s been hard.  I don’t find I have much to say about my life.  It’s kinda boring.  I work, I sleep, I read – the triumvirate.  Then there’s all the day-to-day stuff that makes life run (cooking, eating, laundry, errands).

There is crafting of course.  It goes into the “Other Stuff” category because it’s not a daily activity; I tend to do most of my crafting on the weekend, when the big a** work monitor is moved off my desk in my studio.  It probably accounts for 6-7 hours a week. 

But even with the crafting, my life right now feels boring to me.  I lost my winter attitude way too soon this year and I’ve been feeling trapped in the house by the cold weather.  This is not something I usually experience during Minnesota winter.  The only difference between this winter and other winters has to be the lack of seeing other folks.  Calls, text, even online meetings for work aren’t quite the same as being with people (although I will admit the irony that I wish I could keep working from home starting the first week of April). 

 I am really looking forward go warmer weather so I can add a socializing slice to my pie.  And then there will soon be a gardening/yardwork slice to my pie as well as a dog-walking slice.  Can’t WAIT for a more interesting pie!

What does your pie include these days?  Any new slices coming up for you?

Don’t Give Me Any Sauce!

We now have all our seeds for this summer’s garden. Husband told me last weekend he wants to grow 24 sweet peppers plants and 9 hot pepper plants. This alarmed me. I took him to the basement to show him that we currently have 30 pints of red chili pepper sauce in our freezers, made from a combo of both hot and sweet peppers. We use it in enchiladas and other Southwest dishes.

I asked him to imagine just how many peppers we could potentially harvest with 33 pepper plants. Last year we only had 15 plants. He assured me that he would use up most of the sauce in the freezer by the time the new peppers were ripe. He would bring extra fresh peppers to the Food Pantry next summer. I am doubtful. I remember churning out all that sauce last year, and I really don’t want to be making sauce all summer and fall. We renegotiated to 21 pepper plants. I still think we will have way too many peppers, but we shall see.

What do you have too much of? What is your favorite pepper dish? What are you growing in your garden this year? Any favorite sauce?

Plant Follies

My coworker across the hall is a very impulsive, energetic, and passionate young woman. She is an accomplished therapist and administrator. I have known her since she was a little girl, and it is very fun to work with her as an adult. She had a small potted tropical tree that she had kept alive and thriving in her office under a light, as her office is on the inside of the building and has no outside window.

Last week she decided it needed a larger pot, so she, somewhat impulsively, carried it, uncovered, out to her car in subzero windchills, repotted it at home, and carried it, uncovered, in subzero windchills, back into the office.

It wasn’t looking so good yesterday, and she admitted that she doused it with a lot of water in a panic after seeing it start to fail. It used to have dark green leaves. This is what it looks like now.

With her permission, I moved it to my office by my window, and poured out the excess water. I think the leaves may have froze, but the roots and thick, twisted trunk are ok, so we just have to be patient and hope for the best.

What kind of plant do you think this is? Any suggestions how to revive it? What is your success record with house plants? What are your experiences with someone who has ADHD?

Hotsy Totsy

Last week I made Joanne’s Southwest Salad, a corn, black bean, sweet red pepper, jalapeño, and quinoa mélange that tastes like health and purity. The recipe is in our Kitchen Congress folder.

I usually add the whole jalapeño, seeds and all, but this time I scraped the seeds out of one half of it with my fingers, and added some powdered Chimayo to the mix. It was nicely warm, but not too hot. The Chimayo powder is hot.

I am a life long nail biter, and I was surprised how the jalapeño oils got under most of my fingernails on both hands and made my typical daily nail biting an unpleasant experience the whole rest of the day. I had a choice of being a nervous wreck or having an unpleasantly hot tongue. I opted for the hot tongue.

Our son and Dil love spicy food, and put Sriracha in much of what they eat. Son toyed with Ghost peppers for a while, but decided habaneros are just the right amount of heat for him, and they are easy for him to grow in pots and freeze so that he can throw them into dishes all winter.

We are rather enthusiastic pepper growers and will grow a variety of hot peppers (Chimayo and New Mexico Joe Parker mild red Anaheims), as well as four kinds of sweet red peppers this summer. I am a medium weight for heat. The hottest food I ever ate was my first introduction to East Indian cooking at a Pakistani restaurant in London. I was 21, and the food was so good but so hot I cried all the while I ate it, but I couldn’t stop eating as it tasted so wonderful.

What is the hottest food you can tolerate? What are your favorite curries? Are you a nail chewer?