Archive for February, 2011


March events, workshops, tours, and family fun

February 28, 2011

Got cabin fever? Check out the 2011 March events for some well-deserved fun.


The Morning After

February 26, 2011

In spite of the outdoor mess, I do love the morning after a storm. When the sun first emerges and calm whispers across the rolling hills every speck of foliage sparkles. Late winter, droplets cling to barren branches pushing out tiny buds wet by rainwater. On mornings like this, the air smells like the waterfalls of Yosemite, fresh and clean.

My house is positioned east and west, so I have the advantage of watching the sun escalate then later slide below farmlands and vineyards. After a rain, in the dawn sunlight, everything shines. But this morning the pasture grasses, perennials, and lawn blades are touched by frost—so much for raindrops on branches and buds. I didn’t expect to see frost but there it is white and cold, clinging to every available surface. And here I am looking from the inside out of my warm and cozy house. This is why I chose a house plan with lots of windows, so I could enjoy the view without getting cold.


Rain, Wind, and Domestic Work

February 26, 2011


What a storm. Pouring down rain and strong winds practically all day, and then sun–beautiful sunshine kissed by blue skies and frothy white clouds. I hope those without power have it soon, but I know from listening to the news many won’t for two to five days.

In the past, I’ve lived powerless longer than five days, had rain fall through the ceiling, attic pipes burst, and power surges execute most of my appliances. I always feel blessed when my lights work and I can use the computer, cook a hot meal, and look through the windows and see all the trees standing tall after a storm. Out here in the sticks, we don’t have neighborly buildings as windbreaks, just a barn or shed. Limbs and debris fly like paper but never beyond my landscape where clean up is a day’s work.

I took advantage of today’s lock-in and became a domestic diva with duster and mop in hand. Knowing there’s a mess outdoors it feels good to be in a pristine environment. The fireplace is roaring, hubby and Ralphie are playing indoor catch, the storm has calmed, the clothes dryer is humming, and I feel like baking a cake. This country estate is still standing—rubbish littered, muddy and wet—but safe and warm. So cake it is. After all, there’ll be plenty to do outdoors, tomorrow, to work it off.


Soulful Plotting

February 25, 2011

Hardening Off

To gradually toughen plants for new environment before transplanting into the garden.

This is done over several days, increasing the time outside each day after taking seedlings or transplants home from the nursery, out of the greenhouse, or moving them outside to a cold frame or protected area.



How to Grow Potatoes

February 23, 2011 Registered & Protected

Potatoes are easy to grow in raised beds, cages, potato bins or in the ground. This year, I’m experimenting with Smart Pot, a 20-gallon fabric container. The manufacture (High Caliper Growing) claims that Smart Pot has “unique breathability and excellent drainage.” Concerned how to sterilize the Smart Pot before reuse I emailed the company. Charles Jackson wrote back, “I would wash it in the washing machine with a little bleach. Do not [heat] dry, the spin cycle will dry the Smart Pot. I may even do this twice just to make sure.”

How about that—a pot you can launder!

At first thought, this seemed like an awkward nuisance. One would have to hose down the Smart Pot to remove dirt granules before shoving it into the washing machine. On the other hand, this method eliminates the use of gloves and a mask, hand scrubbing, and finding a place (if you don’t have an outdoor sink) where bleach won’t infect the soil, plants or run down street drains.

Whatever method you use to grow potatoes, in the ground or in a container, the process is the same. Here are the steps.

 Choosing seed potatoes:

  • Buy certified disease-free seed potatoes. Supermarket potatoes are not seed potatoes and oftentimes treated with a sprouting inhibitor.
  • Choose varieties that you and your family like, but just for fun try something new.

Before planting:

  • Set seed potatoes in a warm room with lots of light. This will cause the eyes (dimples) to sprout.
  • With a clean, sharp knife cut potatoes in half, quarters or 1-inch chunks with one eye per piece. Let the seeds air-dry until the cut edges seal. This helps resist disease.

How to plant:

  • Choose a sunny location with good drainage. Don’t plant in the same area (or follow in rotation) as tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers. These are in the same family as potatoes and can easily spread diseases to potatoes.
  • Containers should be at least 12 inches deep.
  • Work in one trowel or half a shovel of compost per square-foot area of soil. The soil needs to be loose enough for seed potatoes to easily send down roots.
  • To help prevent fungi, shake seed potatoes in a bag with a small amount of sulfur powder until evenly coated.
  • With the ‘eye’ facing up, press seed potatoes firmly into the soil 8-10 inches apart for limited space or 12 inches apart.
  • Cover with a 6-8-inch mound of soil or mulch. Water gently and keep evenly moist.
  • Mound soil or mulch around the plant stems each time they grow about 6 inches.


  • Maturing day will depend on the potato variety.
  • Harvest in the morning while still cool. If the ground is frozen, wait until the soil warms.
  • You can harvest fingerlings and/or mature potatoes after the flowers bloom or wait until the plant dies. Either way, stop watering after flowers bloom. When the plant dies leave the potatoes in the ground for two weeks so the skins can cure.
  • If the soil is wet when harvesting, let the potatoes air dry on the surface.

Copyright © 2011 Dianne Marie Andre


Weather, Projects, and Dreams

February 21, 2011

Earlier this month, I thought winter had signed up for springtime sports. It was so sunny and warm (in the mid 60s) the landscape transformed from a wet, chilly icebox to a bright and beautiful pause. Outdoor activities increased and my mind began to cultivate modest possibilities and far-fetched dreams. Between the shedding of layered clothing and accomplishing alfresco projects, I felt revived—as did Ralphie.

Thankful to be outside, I spent several hours gathering debris and raking last fall’s remaining oak leaves. A few days later, I popped potato seeds into the earth and transplanted volunteer snapdragons and calendulas. In the days ahead, in the garden, I pruned two large shrubs, one crape myrtle tree, and six buddleia bushes while my husband, Joe, trimmed a huge Chinese maple in the backyard. We ran our trimmings through a wood chipper then laid the shredded mulch around a raised bed for weed control. Sustainable gardening at it’s best!

Since Joe was out of work during the springtime capsule, I nudged him to tackle a few projects. Using recycled material, stashed in the barn, he installed a new garden faucet, put a hose post next to three old faucets (the hose holders will have to wait), built a cover for the woodpile, and laid tile on the garden house floor and windowsills. I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for these tasks to get done.

Everyday that we were outside working, Ralphie wandered the pastures for cow pies and gopher holes, he chased cats, sandhill cranes, and cattle. Then he rested in the sun. We accomplished a lot. Even Ralphie, in his own way, filled sunny days with boundless deeds.

The beautiful spring-like weather could have held me hostage forever. But winter rain and gusty winds returned, then yesterday another sunny day. But there’s more rain in the forecast. What can I say? It’s Fickle February. Regardless, indoors or out, I can still visualize modest possibilities and far-fetched dreams, and that’s a delightful place to be.   2011 © Dianne Marie Andre


Soulful Plotting

February 18, 2011


The plant crown is where the stem meets the roots. Most crowns are planted at soil level or a little above ground level. Burying the crown below the soil can lead to rot and eventually kill the plant.


The Big Apple Tree

February 16, 2011 Registered & Protected

By Bernadine Chapman-Cruz

I always dreamed of owning an apple tree, but this wish remained on my to-do-list. Then, one day while channel surfing, something not only caught my eye, but made my mouth water. Staring back at me from a shopping channel was a big, steaming hot apple pie. I could almost smell the sweet, spicy aroma drift into my living room.

“With giant apples from the Big Apple Tree, you’ll be able to bake a nine inch apple pie with only one piece of fruit.” The pitch further enticed me, as the camera moved from the pie to a close-up of the hostess’ sparkly teeth, perfectly coiffed hair and Cheshire cat grin. I knew she was talking directly to me.

“Ooh, it smells so good,” she said, taking a big whiff, her eyes closed leaving at least a half inch of false eyelashes resting on each cheek. I followed the hostess’ lead inhaling deeply.

When I opened my eyes, the screen had changed to ‘The Big Apple Tree Orchard.’

“Renown for apple trees producing giant apples big enough to make a nine inch apple pie out of each piece of fruit,” she reiterated.

“Delivered directly to your doorstep, The Big Apple Tree comes with a root ball ready to plant for only $39.99, plus shipping and handling. It can be yours today.”

Hooked, I couldn’t get to the phone fast enough to place my order.

As promised, within five days, my Big Apple Tree arrived. My heart beat wildly beneath my sweater as I ripped open the long thin box, revealing a large bulge the size of a small grapefruit encased in sturdy burlap. Apples! Apples! pounded through my brain, but it was only a root ball. On a mission, I dug deeper, flinging crumpled paper over my shoulder as I inched up through the protective wrapping.

To my dismay, instead of giant apples, I discovered a skinny stick no thicker than the thin bone of a skeleton’s leg, with three dead leaves clinging to four tiny branches no bigger than chopsticks. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. This tree will take years to mature, and even longer to bare giant fruit. My hopes of ‘a big apple pie’ were shattered.

Heartbroken, I rewrapped my coveted Big Apple Tree placing it back into the box. I pasted the pre-printed return label on the outside, grabbed my car keys and headed for the post office, stopping at the bakery on the way home.  

That night, as I cut into the local baker’s juicy apple pie placing a big piece on my plate, I looked outside to where my Big Apple Tree would have been. A lump rose in my throat. I couldn’t even take a bite. Dejected, I pushed the plate away and picked up the remote control to watch television.

“Today we are offering ‘Pie of the Month,’” I heard.  My heart began to beat wildly beneath my sweater as I gazed at a dozen luscious fresh-baked pies on the shopping channel table.

My eyes grew wide. My mouth watered. I knew I shouldn’t, but I reached for the phone. Copyright © 2011 Bernadine Chapman-Cruz


Valentine Wish

February 14, 2011

Be with Us in the Circle of Our Love

Be with us in the circle of our love,
Even if by chance you are alone.
Our greetings we have hope your heart will move,
Uniting our good wishes with your own.
Remember there are those who think of you,
Vested in the will to be a friend.
As distant hills give depth to what we view,
Let these words some grace to your day lend.
Each life is lived behind a sheltering veil,
Not lifted but for love. Yet when we will,
There is a wind that shifts the rampart frail,
Invading with sweet scent the spirit still.
Now may we all enjoy this fragrance fine,
Each other’s secret Valentine.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon


Soulful Plotting

February 11, 2011


Rotting of seedlings and cuttings caused by any of several fungi; a fungal attack near the soil line that cases cuttings or emerged seedlings to fall over and die.

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