December 29, 2014

Winding down......


As 2014 comes to an end and again I find my blog woefully delinquent, I sit here and reflect on the many blessings from the past year.

In January we took a cruise with friends to Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John's.



February brought snow to Southern Oaks.


March- we said goodbye to Belle, a really sweet and loving dog.


Feb.-April we took beginner's bee classes at the Botanical Gardens and installed our new bee packages in April bringing our total hives to three.


April we took a road trip to the Amish Community in Ethridge, Tenn. to purchase heirloom tomato and pepper plants.


May - Roses and Clematis.

  Year two of the shed garden. Hard to believe it has changed  so much in one year.

June- busy time in the garden. The tomatoes and peppers did exceptionally  well this year and we canned about 65 quarts of tomatoes, 40+ quarts of green beans, lots of okra, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, stuffed bell peppers, jalapeƱos, blueberries, and pears.  In July, we harvested 3.5 gallons of honey from our oldest hive.




July- blooms in the garden.



August- sunflowers and zinnias.





September we finished our bottle wall project after two years of collecting bottles, drilling holes and procrastinating.



In September we also added two new members to our animal menagerie. We rescued Kate and Pippa, miniature smooth dachshunds from the local shelter.

It had been almost two years since we had to put down Duncan our old guy of 19 years and the longest we had been without a dachshund in almost 35 years.  Needless to say, they have become welcome members of our family and just a "little spoiled" as well.

October brought us our greatest and best blessing to date. We welcomed our first grandchild!
October 14th, we welcomed Madeline Amelia Bunt into our lives.


Needless to say, she is the center of our universe. What a blessing! 

November- Fall/winter garden is doing well. Harvested kale, broccoli, turnip and mustard greens, with spinach, savoy cabbage, and brussel spouts coming on. 



December- Best Christmas present ever from Drew and Cat, baby grandson on the way and due in June!  
So excited and can't wait for him to get here!


2014 has been a great year for which we are truly thankful. Looking forward to the coming year and spending lots of time with the grandkids on the farm! Wishing everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

September 5, 2014

Finally Finished!

We started this project almost two years ago and at long last finally finished it. I initially got the idea from Pinterest and decided that it was something we could do. After doing some research on the best way to drill holes in wine bottles via Youtube, we embarked on our quest to build "The Great Bottle Wall".  The first order of business was to collect wine bottles for the project. Being good Presbyterians, we reached out to our fellow brothers and sisters for their contributions, needless to say, our cofers were soon overflowing. We had estimated that we would require somewhere between 150-200 bottles for the project.  I think we ended up with about twice that number.  While we do have friends that consume their fair share of wine, having a son who sells wine for a living didn't hurt either.
I ordered some 12 mm 1/2 inch diamond tipped metal drill bits for ceramic glass that I found on Amazon at a very reasonable price.   Next, we filled a 5 gallon bucket about 3/4 full with sand and pushed the wine bottle neck first into the sand to hold the bottle snug while drilling the hole. We had found that if you mix up a little soapy water and put it on the bottom of the bottle, it reduced the friction and prevented glass particles from getting into your eyes.  Just the same, we wore protective  eye glasses while drilling. It takes approximately 5 minutes to drill a hole in the bottle of a wine glass, sometimes longer if the bottle has a particularly thick bottom or nipple. You have to apply even pressure and avoid angling the drill bit to prevent breakage. Once the learning curve was mastered, we began the process of removing labels,  cleaning and sorting the different wine bottles by size and color.  Since we had so many other projects going on with renovations inside and out on the house, landscaping, putting in a new garden, the chicken tractors,  the bee hives, etc., left precious little time to devote to such a low priority project, therefore, we did what we could, when we could.  Recently, after almost two years we decided that it was time to finally close the chapter on this project.

We decided to install the wall between some Maple trees on the north side of the house adjacent to the side yard garden I installed last year.  I installed a partial section of the wall in Feb. 2013 to make sure the plan was feasible before proceeding further.


By doing so, it gave us an idea of the approximate number of bottles per row based on size of the bottles used and spacing of the rebar that would traverse through the bottles, and bracing to hold the wall in place. It remained this way until we started the final project about two weeks ago.  We decided to move the wall to the trees adjacent to the garden fence to add continuity to the landscaping and other structures. In doing so, we found that we could complete the project with the bottles we had already drilled and stored.  First we told down the temporary structure and removed the bottles from the rebar and relocated the overhead support to the new location. Next, we dug out and leveled the ground and installed a treated 4x4 timber at the base of the proposed structure. We drilled holes to correspond to the holes on the upper support structure.  Next, holes were drilled into both ends of the 4x4 and two foot sections of rebar hammered into the ground to hold the bottom support in place and  prevent movement. 


Next we installed one section at a time with no particular pattern in mind,  just varying color and size 
as we progressed.  We decided to leave the excess rebar at the top in case we ever needed to replace broken bottles or insert new colors, or unusual bottles at a later date. 

The finished project!


Stained glass effect 



Although it took a long time, we are very pleased with the end result.  Now,  what do we do with the rest of these wine bottles?

June 27, 2014

"Summer Time and the Garden is Steaming"

What can I say,  it has only been two months since my last post so I am getting better at posting on a consistent basis.  Seriously, I've been meaning to sit down and chronicle everything that has been going on, but somehow it just doesn't happen.  Instead, I've spend an inordinate amount of time catching up on old episodes of the  wonderful BBC program, "Gardeners' World "with host Monty Don and about 15 hours of the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  I can say without any doubt that the English are truly passionate about their gardening,  and I am in awe of how knowledgeable they all are in all aspects of gardening and horticulture. I only wish we had a gardening program half this good in the USA. Thankfully, I can access old episodes and the current season on Youtube thanks to some gardening enthusiasts willing to share this excellent series. I have probably learned more about gardening in the past four months than I have in my whole gardening career.  If I didn't learn anything else, the most important thing I have come to appreciate is the use of the gardening fork in the garden. Prior to this, I had rarely ever used it, but since I began watching this series, I have discovered that it seems to be the British gardeners' tool of choice in the garden. It is great for cultivating, weeding, lifting, and does a better job of loosing the soil than a tiller. I am never without it now.  I thank you Gardeners' World for my enlightenment.


Gardeners' World presenters: Rachel De Thame, Monty Don, Carol Klein, and Joe Swift.


The Flower Gardens:
Things have been progressing nicely in the flower beds. I have been very pleased with the second year progress and I continue to move things around and hopefully attain the balance I am seeking.  I doubt  however that I ever will, which is ok. 

                   Year two back porch planting with knock-out roses, crepe myrtles, and daylillies. 



     
     Shed garden I installed last year. I hope to extent this area in the coming months. 



                                                      View from the back porch.
 Poolside garden.
                                                         
                                                       Honeysuckle and Jasmine on yard art.


 I am really pleased with the overall progress of the garden. Plants that did reasonably well last year are doing exceptionally well this year. I sowed some California poppy seeds last fall and had quite a few come up this year, hopefully they will reseed and continue to make more.
                                 

The Veggie Garden:

Last fall I decided to expand the vegetable garden so I used our old swimming pool cover to kill the grass on the area I wanted to expand. I left it until last spring at which time I removed it and incorporated several loads of compost/gin trash in the new beds.  The garden is now approximately 30x80 and I have plans to expand it a little more this coming fall.  The veggies did reasonably well last  year but they have gone bonkers this year. Everything has done exceptionally well and I am using fish emulsion and epsom salts as fertilizer this year. So far, I am really happy with the results. 
In April we took a road trip to the Amish Community in Ethridge, Tenn.  to purchase vegetable plants  at really great prices from several Amish farmers who had greenhouses on their property.  Each house had a sign in front of the house which indicated what they had for sale.  Eggs, quilts, canned vegetables, hand made soaps, birdhouses and plants were just a few of the items offered for sale. I bought  heirloom tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeƱos, bell peppers and eggplants.  We had a great time and will plan to go again next spring.
Ground cover removed for the new garden expansion. 

After composting, cultivating with garden fork ( my new best tool) and planting.
                                                           

 Squash and Cucumbers

                                                           
Tomatoes, cabbage, kale, broccoli.


  Fresh from the garden. 

This week, I continue to harvest kale, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, in addition to rattlesnake pole beans, and okra.  The first of June I harvested garlic I planted last October. Cynthia  braided it and it is now hanging in the barn to dry for storage.

Today we harvested some honey from the bees in our original hive that we installed last Spring.  The new hives continue to do well and we have already added supers to both hives.  We will not harvest any honey from these hives this year, but hopefully will be able to next year.  We also helped our good friend and mentor Mike McMahon process the honey he collected from his three hives, which yielded almost 18 gallons of honey.  We hope to do as well with our hives in the next couple of years. 




April 14, 2014

Spring Cleaning



Things have been hopping the past few weeks. I've been busy pruning back roses, cleaning flower beds, cleaning out and replacing the fountain/water feature, and planting some things in the garden.


While cleaning the water feature/fountain I discovered that the unusually cold weather we had this winter had taken its toll on the basin and fountain, and it practically fell apart when I removed it for cleaning.  In retrospect, I probably should have taken it down and stored it over the winter.  After cleaning all the debris from the basin, I decided to put my old millstone back in its place.





I am very pleased with how it turned out, and I know that I do not have to worry about it falling apart like the old fountain. I was also pleased at how well the tulips came back this year. 

THE VEGGIE GARDEN:

So far I've planted broccoli, kale, cabbages ( regular and savoy),  Bok Choy, and sugar snap peas. Before planting, I picked up a load of gin trash and incorporated it the planting bed. After planting, I noticed that most of the plants started during a whitish yellow a few days later. I  assumed that the gin trash might be too hot, and had almost written off all of the plants.  I replanted again in a new bed and was about to remove the old plants when to my surprise I discovered that the plants  had made a remarkable reversible and had started to put out new growth.  I've put wheat straw around both beds to retard weeds and provide some protection from  possible late frosts. Hopefully, the first planting will continue to recover and still be productive.  The sugar snaps were planted back in March and are doing well. I had bad luck with my last attempt, so this time I soaked the seeds for about 8 hours before planting and just about every plant germinated. 


Initial planting and second planting. First planting has make shift hoop tunnel for frosts which did come in handy on one occasion. 



Snow peas, garlic and onions.


THE BEES: 

Cynthia and I attended  Beginner's Beekeeping Classes for six weeks at the Botanical Gardens, sponsored by the Jefferson County Beekeeper's Association.  It was a very comprehensive program instructed by some of the best beekeepers in Alabama.  We were able to purchase two packages of bees ( a package is three pounds of bees (3500-4000) and a queen) at a discount price which we received about two weeks after our last class. 


Cynthia with Dr. John Hurst, one of our instructors receiving her certificate.

Picking up the packages

Installing the packages



Placing (sugar water) feeders on new hives

When installing the packages, the queen and several attendants are in a small cage which is  plugged with a small cork. This cork is removed and the sugar plug is perforated with a small nail. The worker bees will eat through the sugar plug in 3-4 days releasing the queen. This allows the bees to get used to the queen and accept her. If released too soon,  the bees will sometimes reject and kill her. We installed the packages on Saturday and checked again on Tuesday. Both queens had been released. Hopefully they have made their maiden flights and mated with the drones and returned to the hives to begin laying eggs. We will check in a week or so and see if any sign of the queen is present and if any brood cells are present. ( Keeping our fingers crossed ).



NEW PROJECTS:

Painted section of fencing in front of vegetable garden. Initially starting painting by hand but ended up purchasing spray painter. Uses a lot more paint but is significantly quicker. One section down, now only 1/4 mile to go. 

Installed new planting bed adjacent to driveway.  Plants include Forest Pansy Redbud tree, Snowcap Indian Hawthorne shrubs, and pink knockout roses.



I started this project last fall when I saw a segment on P Allan Smith's Garden Home in which he packed lots of tulips into a large pot in layers. I thought I would give it a try, and I am glad I did. It turned out fantastic!   I will do this again this coming fall.




IN MEMORY OF.....

In March we said goodbye to one of our old girls, Belle. She was my dad's dog that came to live with us after his death. She was 5 or 6 when she came to live with us and has been a great pet and family member for the past 9 years. She was much loved and will be missed.