Monday, February 18, 2013

Inventive hanging planters transform a rough backyard into a living sanctuary

Neat stuff from Houzz.  I have an ugly backyarded-neighbor whose ugly, cluttered backyard I want to block from view.  It starts at about 4 feet above ground, and needs to go up another 2 feet.  Above that horizontal altitude is a view of the mountains, which is terrific.  So I just need to block that band of view.

And!  I live in a snow-in-winter climate.  So this poses some interesting challenges.

Inventive hanging planters transform a rough backyard into a living sanctuary

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Leaf Scoop is a Wonderful Composting Tool

The willow tree spread it’s small, knife blade-shaped leaves all over the backyard and driveway.  These will make a wonderful nutrient in compost.  The thing I love about compost is that it is free and perfect soil.

Willow trees grow throughout Carson Valley, Nevada.  I previously wrote about how the green leaves and stems make rooting compound.  But now these leaves make the house look haunted.

Today I used the yellow Gardex Leaf Scoops.  Though I like to buy used or find things free, I paid full price for these and they are so worth it.  At the very least, they halved my time moving piles of leaves to the compost pile.   I would recommend these to anyone who has a deciduous tree.

Though I bought the yellow ones, there are at least two other manufacturers who make the same thing for about the same price.  The yellow ones are the only ones I have felt in my hands but they seem pretty sturdy and will probably last a few years if I don’t leave them out in the sun.

Happy composting!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Farmhouse Apple Pie, a First By Many Accounts

First baked dessert I’ve made at The 1966Farmhouse; first apple pie I’ve made in two decades; first baked dessert I’ve made in a good 5 years; first dessert I’ve ever made with my own apples.  You get it.  Novice time.

I like to think of myself as a purist when it comes to cooking, but (gasp) I am using Marie Callender’s pre-made frozen pie crust.  Important note:  They do not tell you until you open the package that the crust has to be somewhat thawed out before you put the pie filling in it.  Thank goodness I thought of that.

Now for the boring part:  peeling and coring apples without the peeler/corer.  Hello family?  Guess what you should add to my Christmas list.

Mood music of choice:  a custom mix of Carly Simon’s Christmas is Here, James Taylor’s James Taylor at Christmas and Christmas With Willie Nelson.

The recipe --

  • Remove two frozen pie crusts in the aluminum pie pans from freezer and follow instructions for separating and thawing.  (My recipe called for 20+ minutes of thawing).
  • 5 cups of  cored, peeled, and thinly sliced apples (This can take from 6 to 7 apples, I used red ones off of my tree that are similar to a Fuji.  Also after I cored and peeled and halved the apples, I sliced them thinly by running them through the food processor with a slicing blade on.  Per my usual, all of the fruit peelings and cores went into the compost bin under the sink).
  • Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
  • Stir into apples, and coat them well with,:
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 1/8 tsp. salt
    • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
    • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
    • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
    • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
    • 1/2 tsp. of grated lemon rind
  • Spoon apple mixture into bottom pie shell and mound a bit in the center
  • Before you put the top pie crust layer on, dab onto apple mixture in little pieces a total of 1 1/2 tbsp of butter (I used regular butter with salt)
  • Put second pie crust on top following manufacturer’s instructions
  • Cut slits for air to escape
  • Brush top crust with a little milk (optional, for causing sugar and cinnamon sprinkles to adhere only)
  • Sprinkle a little sugar and cinnamon on the top crust
  • Place in oven on cookie sheet or with a sheet of aluminum foil underneath to catch drips and/or broken off crust
  • Bake at 450 for 10 minutes
  • Bake then at 350 for 30 to 50 minutes (I had to turn it down lower because my old gas oven was cooking the crust too rapidly).

Voila!  Breathe a sigh of relief that you just made the American classic! Eat pie with or without vanilla ice cream.  We ate it without.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Living in Harmony with the Seasons

City living.  I knew only that way of living before 1966 Farmhouse landed in front of me.  Except for a few years in the 90’s when I lived in rented space in Tahoe, climate rarely caused me to radically alter daily activities.  Harsh winters change all that, as I am learning.

A fine layer of snow blanketed the valley night before last, melted yesterday, and then returned stronger last night and this morning.  Certainly, the apples are now over.  Pears, too.  Frozen lettuce does not endear itself to cold-sensitive molars.   Certainly, cilantro has laid down to die.  But still, the kale carries on.

Being a farmer requires following the writings on a calendar closely.  The plans for taking green cuttings from grapevines and flowering bushes to propagate for next spring have now wilted like the beet greens.  I missed that deadline, or dead vine, as the case may be.  Unheeded instructions to move winter crops out of what is now shade to a sunny area of the yard are now crumpled and water stained on October’s page, folded over onto the back of the stiff calendar backboard.

Where did summer go, with its radiant heat and intense light?  At 6,000 feet in altitude, the light and heat fades in November.  My plans of experimenting with the Ruth Stout method of gardening were only partially implemented.  Regardless of which method one uses in the garden, work is still required.  My energy and attention faded with the heat.

Growing food while also working as a professional consultant requires daily decisions on whether to work outside or get a new retainer agreement written and signed.  Work up a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of taking such and such position?  Or, go outside and set up mini-tents over onions?  Cut down brittle and brown sunflower stalks looming overhead or help a company get incorporated?

While the consulting work remains at less variable constants year-round. each day passing moves the garden closer to a new change in the season.  Why must the climate always be waxing or waning in a certain direction?  I mourn all the applesauce I did not make.  Now the apples sit frozen beneath an inch of snow.

The creativity at 1966 Farmhouse now must turn to the interior -- the unpainted floor, the prior owner’s taste in mint green wall color, and the grocery bags holding dead plant bundles saved for their seeds.  Now that I have to enjoy the outdoors by looking through glass, I realize I never cleaned the windows when I moved in.  One wonders where the Christmas tree will go in this new, old house.

Must I take up doing needlework in the winter to make the transition to country living a perfect caricature?    I will save that for old age.  Renovation will resume, as long as the money holds out.

Au revoir mes peches.  Ciao ciao arugula.  Adios tomatillos.  Hello new life of falling white snow, clear windows and crackling fires.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Willow Tree: Life Sustainer When Used for Rooting Hormone

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about owning this piece of property, which is less than .20 of an acre, is the option to create food and beauty on the land itself.  And, not just on the land, but with the land and the things that grow and die here.  I’ve heard it said at TV-dramatized funerals “ashes to ashes and dust to dust”.  Perhaps that is a biblical reference.
But it’s true that all living things die and return to the form of the basic minerals in existence.  What I am learning about composting puts those dead and dying things to the purpose of creating and sustaining life.  For so many years, I have read parables in the Bible that refer to agricultural principles and happenings.  Of course, the mind can understand them.
However, once one starts working with the land and the things that grow here, one begins to see the truths demonstrated in the Bible first hand.  So, what does this have to do with the willow tree?  Maybe nothing.  Perhaps I have digressed.
Many plants can be reproduced from seeds and through propagation.  I have posted before about gathering seeds from the food plants in my yard.  My kitchen dining area has turned into a seed ripening and storage area.  Harvesting seeds is just basic household economics.
Plants can be reproduced through propagation as well.  When one propagates their own plants, they have more for little to no money and they can also create more to sell.  Bringing in a little cash on the side can help subsidize the whole growing operation which is not cost-free.  But, again, what does this have to do with the willow?
According to many sources (here, here, here and here), willow contains a chemical called indolebutyric acid which makes an excellent rooting compound.  Rooting compound stimulates the cuttings you make from certain plants in order to ensure propagation works.  Guess who has a willow tree in her backyard?
The willow you are seeing is scheduled to be removed by Sierra Peaks Enterprises, located in Carson Valley, Nevada which can be contacted at (775)265-8444.  The reason is that the phone or electrical crew contractor came through and cut down all the limbs and trunks in the high-wire right of way.  You can see from the pictures below, just how lopsided this tree is.  It’s a danger to the house.
Even when it gets cut, I may elect not to have it totally removed because the shoots will grow year after year, providing me with free and fresh rooting compound.  It’s just another example of the cycle of life that goes on on this little plot of property.  And I think that’s pretty cool, don’t you?

But if you don't have a willow tree and you think propagation is a neat idea, you can just buy some rooting hormone and have it shipped to you.  Here are a few options:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Neat Idea to Create Seeding Cups from Toilet Rolls

From the blog of Sonja & Joe - Life, Love, Laughter: How To... Cardboard Seeding Cups (gardening)

How To... Cardboard Seeding Cups (gardening)

My friend Joyce posted about this on facebook a couple of weeks ago and I thought since I was beginning my gardening venture, I'd give it a try. Using empty toilet paper rolls or empty paper towel rolls you can make seeding pots to start your seeds in. Then later transfer the whole cardboard cup to the ground (or remove plant and put in ground). 


  1. empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls
  2. scissors
  3. potting soil or soil disc
  4. seeds
  5. water
  6. plastic tray or shallow box

1. Cut the toilet paper tube in half

    (paper towel tube into 4ths)

2. fold roll long ways to crease

     fold long ways again 

3. open the tube and
define the creases
to make it 'square'

4. Cut 1/2 inch up each
of the creases 

5. Fold the sides towards the
middle over lapping each
as you go around

6. Place cups into plastic
tray or bin

7. Place potting soil or a soil disc
into the cup

8. Add seeds and water
9. Cover with plastic wrap

Sonja & Joe - Life, Love, Laughter: How To... Cardboard Seeding Cups (gardening)