Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 - The year in review

This was the year I decided to get serious about gardening again, as I was no longer traveling for work and was tired of having one of the worst yards on the block.  Here's what happened on the floral front:

I planted roses for the first time, despite my wife's objections that the grand kids would hurt themselves on the thorns (hasn't happened); I'm relatively happy with the results, but am considering removing the Climbing Golden Showers.  It's an aggressive climber, but the blooms are uninspiring and short lived. I'm amazed that the miniature roses I got at the dollar store are doing well, as I've never had success with them before. The daylilies were a bust, but the daffodils put on quite show and I can't wait to see how they do this spring.  The gladiolas were planted too late and the blooms got sunburned, but next year they should be glorious.  The dahlias were also planted too late and even though I got a few blooms, the plants didn't make it through the summer. I've planted alliums in their place and they're already sprouting nicely; I'm hopeful they'll do well. The petunias are going great and some even made it through the summer.  The vincas are looking tired after two years, so I'm currently replacing them with various annuals for some winter color.  The hyacinths are coming up, even though it's a bit early, but it has been relatively mild so far, so hopefully we won't have any hard freezes in the next six weeks.  The Asiatic lilies are coming up in their pot and present the promise of a shower of red blooms this spring.  The salvia is still blooming like crazy; hard to believe how much they've filled out, since I was sure I didn't have enough when I planted them.

On the veggie side of things, the green beans and bell peppers did very poorly and won't be back next year.  The radishes and carrots weren't worth the effort for the yield received and also are off the roster for 2012.  On the other hand, the Roma tomatoes were fantastic, as were the chile's and are all still growing out back.  The okra did very well, but weren't a hit on the culinary side of things, so they won't be back either.  Zucchini and cucumbers produced well enough to be replanted this Spring, with the exception of the lemon cucumbers, which only produced a few flat tasting fruits.  The leeks did well, so they'll be back as well and this time I'll put the effort into mounding soil or sand around the bases to get more white parts.

In the fruit and tree department, the Anna apple gave me the biggest yield ever, probably due to the high number of chill hours we had last winter.  I had enough to eat fresh, plus make apple butter, apple sauce and apple pie; I still have a little of the apple butter left in the cupboard.  The grapes tried to produce a few clusters this year, but next year should be the first year for any real production, as it generally takes three years to get the first decent crop.  The nectarine disappointed yet again, this time not producing a single fruit. This spring is it's last chance; if I don't get fruit this year, the tree is gone!  Planted a "Eureka" lemon and it's doing well but don't expect any fruit until 2013.

I got a few projects done in the garden that are worth noting, including converting an old dresser into a potting station, recycling some old cedar fencing into a six unit birdhouse and a soaking sink next to the potting center.  I also created three solar light posts from vintage floor lamps, two of which have been installed on concrete bases, with the third to be done soon.  I also turned an old kid's scooter into a planter and built some window boxes that currently contain lettuce and spinach.

In August I created Larry the Scarecrow and he's been a big hit with the on-line community, the local kids and my grand kids, but my wife, children and siblings all seem to think I've gone nuts.  I think my wife is beginning to get a little annoyed when we go shopping and I wind up finding something for Larry.  As long as I'm having fun with him, he'll continue to be a fixture in our front yard.  When I first placed him there, he was in a back corner, but after Halloween, I moved him up front so he's more visible from the street as his former location will be undergoing renovations this spring.  I also created this blog in August, the 18th to be exact and I'm at almost 900 pageviews, which I think is pretty good.  I've had visitors from the U.S., Russia, South Korea, Germany, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, the U.K., Latvia, Mexico, Egypt and India and maybe others that don't show in the statistics available to me; to all of you, I say welcome, visit often and tell your friends.

All in all, 2011 has been a good year and the gardens are beginning to take shape, but there's plenty more planned for 2012 and we'll see how much can get done based on available time and finances.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Paging Dr Larry

Paging Dr. Larry, Dr. Larry to Labor & Delivery; it's time to bring forth the Baby New Year.  Happy New Year to all my readers and fans of Larry, even if it is a few days early, and may 2012 be all we hope it will be.

My next few posts will include a review of 2011 in the garden and a preview of projects for 2012.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas at Mr B's

After all the hours spent decorating, shopping and wrapping presents, we were finally prepared for Christmas here at Mr. B's.  The family gathered for a Christmas Eve dinner of Ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots, rolls and green bean casserole, then after dinner, gathered in the family room to divvy up the gifts.  We then took turns opening up the presents, until two hours later, the room was littered with empty boxes and everyone was admiring each other's gifts and preparing to head home.  Today we'll have roast duck and NY rib roast, with rolls, veggies, potatoes, gravy and butternut squash soup, then we'll settle in front of the TV to watch the Packers play the Bears, and hopefully beat them to secure home filed advantage throughout the playoffs.  Go Cheeseheads!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Through the eyes of a child

Ever since this Spring, when my grandson Kaleb was about 6 months old, a visit to my gardens has been a nearly daily ritual.  Back then I had to carry him and we began to develop a routine, visiting the plants in a specific order, and for the most part that hasn't changed.  Slowly he began to let me know he wanted to go outside by pointing out the window or the French door to the back yard and as he started to talk, pretty soon, it was "Outside".  Now he walks, but the rounds still haven't change; first the petunias, where he'll stand with his arms outstretched until I pick him up so he can see and touch them, one planter, then the other.  Next it's off to the potted mint for a touch and a smell, then back to terra firma so he can run to the salvia, then the rosemary, the peppers, okra and back again, until he's had his fill of touching and discussing each one.  If the roses are in bloom, he has to stick his nose into them to check their delicate perfume.  Before leaving the backyard, it's time for some swing and slide action, broad grin plastered on his face and loud laughter shaking his body; I can't help but smile and laugh myself.

Next it's off to the front yard to visit Larry and Chuck, give them a pat or a poke and then once or twice or three times around the yard, checking the grapevines, the basil which he loves to touch, but won't smell, too pungent I guess.  He has to check out all the potted plants and depending on the time of year, the yard decorations.  It wasn't until we started these tours of the garden that I really began to appreciate the texture of  plants, not just how they look, but how they feel to the touch; the sticky fuzziness of petunias, the coarseness of cucurbites and okra, the softness of basil, all have become part of my garden experience.

Kaleb's parents are hoping to buy a place of their own soon, and while it would be great for them, I know I'll miss our daily sojourns in the garden most of all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weed wars

After two straight days of rain and gray skies, the sun decided to show itself, so after work I decided to survey the yard.  The back yard is still too soggy to really do anything other than look around, but the front yard is another story all together.  The lettuce is coming along nicely in its' window box and the spinach is finally starting to sprout in the other window box.  The alliums are coming up, as are the daylilies and the hyacinths.  The snow peas are getting to the point where they should start climbing soon and the basil and sage are still going strong.  The Asiatic lily I bought last year has turned into a half dozen sprouts that should flower in the Spring.

Despite all the good news, there is plenty of bad, namely weeds, and lots of them.  I've been fighting an ongoing war against weeds for the last 3 years, and it's been bloody hand-to-hand combat, as I don't use any weed spray except on the Bermuda grass that keeps popping up in the cracks in the driveway and sidewalk.  I've gotten the upper hand on most of the weeds, except the spurge, which seems impervious to my efforts at eradication.  I spent an hour this afternoon pulling up half a grocery bag full of the stuff and when impending darkness called an end to my efforts, I surveyed my surroundings, only to realize that I'd only managed to weed an area of approximately five square feet, or less than a third of the major patch of spurge.  What's worse is the knowledge that this is only round one and I'll be forced to deal with this same patch of ground several more times before the Bermuda grass comes out of dormancy and begins to crowd the spurge out until next Winter.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fighting the weather

Last week we had freeze warnings for most of the week and I had to cover the veggies each night.  I had minimal damage, with some of the salvia lost to frost damage, but overall came out of it okay.  This week it's going to be rain, and potentially lots of it, with only 4 out of the next 10 days having no chance of rain; in fact it's raining as I write this.  The winter rains are usually more of a gentle, soaking type, unlike the intense, short-lived storms we get in summer and are much more beneficial.  Once the rain is done, there'll be lots of weeding to be taken care of, as winter is prime time for weeds in my neck of the woods.  It also means I won't be able to start working on cleaning up and prepping the side yard for the new raised beds that are planned for my salsa garden, but on a positive note, I shouldn't have to soak the ground before I can work it.

Since this week will be spent inside, guess it's time to get started on holiday baking; cookies, pies and cakes, oh my.  I'll be making mint chocolate chip. oatmeal raisin and/or oatmeal cranberry, peanut butter and sugar cookies, plus stollen, pumpkin bread and maybe a chocolate chili cake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Part 2, finally!

Finally found the time to complete the Christmas decor, both inside and out.  Got the replacement tree for my frog ornaments and I like the new tree better, as it is sturdier and pre-lit.

The village got put up last night; it's over 7' long, has 16 buildings, 2 dozen trees and several battery powered items, including a billboard.  I vary the layout each year to keep it fresh and new.

The outside decorations are pretty much complete, except I still need to make a sign that says "Twas the night before Christmas..." and that is my project for the weekend.  I have an 8' snowman on the roof, with icicle lights and a double swag on the eaves.  The nectarine tree has 560 randomly blinking lights, the fence is strung with lights and the apple tree has lights as well.  There is a lighted buck with moving head next to the apple tree and then, of course, there's Larry.  This year he's portraying the narrator of the famous poem, "A visit from St. Nicholas", better known as "The night before Christmas".

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pickled Peppers

Made a batch of pickled peppers today on my lunch break.  I used a 3 to 1 ratio of vinegar to water to make 8 cups of pickling liquid (ended up having to make a second batch) so I could use the hot water bath method instead of having to use a canning pressure cooker, since I don't have one, yet.  Also added 2 tablespoons of pickle crisp to the liquid, along with a teaspoon of kosher salt, then brought the liquid to a rolling boil.  I added a garlic clove to each jar, along with cilantro and cumin seeds, plus another teaspoon of pickle crisp.  I made a quart of pickled okra and 2 pints of pickled whole peppers, using Hungarian Yellow and Jalapeno peppers with a slit cut into each one.  I made a mixture of sliced leeks and sliced Hungarian Yellow, Jalapeno, Big Jim, Poblano and Habanero peppers, then filled 2 pint jars for pickled sliced peppers.  By adding sliced carrots, sliced radishes and cauliflower florets to the pepper mixture, I was able to put up 6 pints of Giardiniera.  They will need a few weeks to really marry all the flavors and a few months would be even better, but I'm not sure I can wait that long to see how they turned out.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Another bountiful harvest

Today was a chilly, dreary day not well suited to working in the garden, but I did manage to harvest over a pound of Hungarian Yellow peppers, a few poblanos, Big Jims and habaneros (the first of the year), some okra and the last of the leeks.  Tomorrow they'll become pickled peppers and pickled okra; some of the peppers will be pickled whole and some will be sliced, along with the leeks and some basil to become Giardiniera to be served with Italian sausage on a hoagie roll.

I bought some more Christmas decor and if the rain holds off long enough, I'll get it all put up tomorrow and will post some photos; if not it'll have to wait until later this weekend.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pork green chile stew

I know you were expecting Christmas 2011 - Part 2 and that's the post I had expected to make, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.  Got most of the lights up outside, but have some spots where the lights aren't working and I've spent around 2 hours so far trying to get the problem corrected.  Might have to buy one of the gizmos they're advertising on TV that fixes bad lights.  To make matters worse, my frog tree broke tonight as I was plugging in the lights, but the good news is none of the ornaments were damaged.

Now, on to the subject of today's post. Yesterday I decided it was time for some of my fabulous pork green chile stew and it was delicious as usual; my daughter came over today to score a big batch for herself.

Pork Green Chile Stew:

3-4 lb pork butt, bone-in
1.5 lb green tomatillos
5-6 cloves garlic (peeled)
1 tsp dried oregano (Mexican preferred)
1 Tbs fresh sage
2-3 bay leaves
1 fresh Habanero pepper
1 fresh Jalapeno pepper (medium sized)
1-2 fresh Anahiem peppers
1 fresh Yellow Hungarian pepper
1 fresh Poblano pepper
1/2 Tbs kosher or sea salt (add more later to taste)
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 14 oz cans of chicken stock (recommend use one w/o MSG)
1 onion (optional)

Trim fat from pork butt and cut into 3-4 large pieces, put in stock pot and add chicken stock, garlic, herbs and seasonings and place on stove over low heat; cover.

Put skillet or flat pan on high heat and once it's really hot, roast the peppers to blacken the skin and add a smoky flavor to them. Sliced the blackened chiles and remove the seeds, then add to stock pot. NOTE: this makes a fairly hot batch of stew, so unless you really like hot food, start with 1/4 of the chiles and add more to adjust to taste after several hours. DO NOT eliminate any of the chiles, as each adds its' own unique flavor to the dish.

Husk the tomatillos, rinse them and remove the part where the stem and husk were attached to the fruit, then quarter them and add to the pot.

Cook on low heat for 4-5 hours, then shred the pork and remove the bone and any fatty tissue. The chiles, garlic and tomatillos should have cooked down to the point where they are liquified. If desired, add more chile to taste and season to taste at this time. Cook on low for another 2-3 hours, then serve with rice and/or corn bread.

Bon appetite

Hopefully, I'll get the light issues fixed and will be able to post the second installment of Christmas 2011 soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas 2011 - Part 1

Started decorating the house for Christmas yesterday and got the main tree where we put all the presents, the fireplace and the frog tree done.  The main tree is done all in silver and gold, with ribbon and bows and classic ornament shapes. It also has ornaments from places we have visited, such as the Empire State Building and Alaska, as well as silver initials for each family member, 12 in all, representing 4 generations.

The fireplace hearth has a firescreen of the 3 wisemen, flanked by gold colored grapevine angels.  The mantel has a lighted swag of "pine boughs", gold and silver stockings and a lighted western village.  The chimney has a giant wreath surrounding a smaller wreath of bells.

Since I love frogs, especially Kermit, I have a 4' tree dedicated to all of my frog ornaments that goes up in the living room each year.

Tomorrow, Christmas - Part 2

Thursday, November 24, 2011


I've been battling a head cold for the past few days, hence the lack of new posts. I did manage to repair my vintage Ranch Oak platform rocker, which was completely falling apart and required regluing of most of the joints and the replacement of one of the dowels.  here are pictures of the chair clamped up for one of the regluings and the finished chair.

I set the table for Thanksgiving today, anticipating 10-11 diners, and only ended up with 6, as half bailed at the last moment due to conflicts with other obligations.  We had turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, sausage cornbread stuffing, rolls and cranberry sauce.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pilgrim Larry

 Here's Pilgrim Larry bringing home Thanksgiving dinner.  His outfit was made using a sweat suit ($15) and hankerchiefs ($5) from Target and the hat was $2 @ Party City.  The belt was borrowed from my wife and the buckle wrapped in aluminum foil.  You may recognize the turkey and shotgun from American Sportsman Larry.  May your Thanksgiving be filled with family, friends, good food and good times; I know mine will, even though this will be only our second Thanksgiving without the in-laws in 31 years; hopefully they'll be here for Christmas.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Clean up day

Today was a clean up day for the most part, but I did plant some snow pea seeds and 2 dozen alliums.  The rest of the afternoon was spent trimming the grass around planters and cutting down the vine that was climbing over my wall from one the neighbor's back yards and cutting back the other neighbor's grapefruit tree that was severely overhanging the back wall.  Saturday I'll have to get out the chainsaw to finish the job, as I plan to add vegetable beds in the corner that the vines and grapefruit tree were overtaking or shading.  I'm planning on acorn and spaghetti squash, onions, garlic, broccoli, radishes and beets.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Propagating roses from cuttings

Went to the in-laws for the weekend and my father-in-law was planning on cutting back his roses the following weekend, so I decided it was a perfect time to take some cuttings to root at home.  I went to Michael's and bought 4 packs of floral water tube picks (4 per pack, $1.49 ea.) to transport the cuttings home.  I took 2 cuttings each from 8 different roses; hybrid teas in pink (2 different roses), scarlet, medium red, white and candy striped, and floribundas in yellow and red.  I forgot to bring my camera, so I don't have pictures of any of the parent plants.

To the left is a photo of two of the floral water tube picks with cuttings inserted through the cap and water sealed in the tube.  Each tube was marked with a permanent marker noting the bloom color unless the varietal name was known (7 out of 8 were unknown).

Once I got home, I prepared a potting mix of equal parts potting soil and vermiculite and filled 8 3" plastic pots with the mixture.  I removed the first paired cuttings from the tubes and using an Exacto knife, made a new base cut at a 45 degree angle leaving about 6"-8" of stem.  Next I held the knife at about a 5 degree angle and removed 1/2" of the bark above the top of the base cut, as shown in the next photo.

The cut end was dipped in a bottle of rooting hormone, the excess was shaken off, then it was pushed into one of the prepared pots.

 A "greenhouse" was made for each pot using a gallon plastic freezer bag with the zipper cut off and a bamboo skewer for a support pole.  The plastic bag was placed over the skewer and secured at the bottom with a rubber band.

The potted cuttings were placed on a plastic tray so they can be watered without having to remove the "greenhouses" and in 6-8 weeks I'll know if they successfully rooted or not.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fall blooms and planning for Spring

Now that the weather has cooled down, the roses are starting to bloom again, as evidenced by the photos (from left to right) of Climbing America, Blue Moon and a miniature red rose.  I also planted bulbs for Spring today; 18 Purple Passionale Triumph Tulips (Liliaceae tulipa 'Passionale') and 12 Blue Grape Hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) in beds in the front yard and some Paper Whites (Narcissus tazetta) in a planter on the front porch.  Tomorrow I need to find a place for the irises I got recently before they dry out, or else I'll have to put them in the frig for a while.  I'm going to Yuma to visit the in-laws for the weekend, plus it's supposed to rain all weekend, so something has to get done tomorrow one way or the other.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Larry honors America's veterans

In honor of America's veterans, Larry's wearing an authentic 1950's-60's era Army uniform.  Larry is proud to honor and acknowledge the sacrifices of the members of all of America's Armed Forces; Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy, both full-time and as members of the National Guard, who have served and continue to serve, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy the freedoms many of us take for granted.  From the citizen soldiers of the Colonial Militias who fought for freedom from British tyranny to the volunteer soldiers currently serving domestically and overseas, this country's citizens have a proud tradition of military service to defend not only American soil, but in defense of citizens of other countries threatened by the yoke of tyranny from their own government as well as foreign invaders.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Veggie happenings

Finally got all the Halloween decor packed up Friday, and just in time, as it rained for several hours that night.  It was too wet to do anything on Saturday, so I didn't get back into the garden until today.  I decided to do something different with the window boxes, so instead of planting flowers, I planted a variety pack of leaf lettuces in one and spinach in the other.  I also planted a couple of heirloom tomatoes, picked more okra and some peppers.  In looking over the yard, I found a small tree growing right next to the back of the house, so I dug it up and potted it until I can decide what to do with it.  I think it's a mulberry, but have no idea how it got there; perhaps I'll take it to my daughter's house and plant it in the front yard.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for more rain, so I'll probably start some seeds for the raised planters I've decided to put in the back yard.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I love Halloween, it's definitely one of my favorite holidays because I get to decorate the yard in whatever scary mode my heart desires.  Yesterday I molded Halloween candies; the red skull is white chocolate I dyed. I also carved 2 Jack o'Lanterns, one from an orange pumpkin & one from a gray one.  As you can see from the photo, they're surrounded by an array of animated items, along with some ghoulish drinks and roaches.
I set up the candy dispensary in the drive way, since it's easier for strollers than grass, with the Jack o'Lanterns, etc, stage right and the items in the photo above on the other side, including "Gertrude", who lights up and speaks.  Printed vinyl backgrounds hide the front porch and carport and are backlit to highlight the graveyard theme.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fun @ the plant & seed swap


Quite of few of the area Dave's Garden members got together today for a plant & seed swap; I brought numerous varieties of pepper seeds, some vinca seeds and Stapelia gigantea cuttings.  In exchange I wound up with  the seeds of 2 varieties of pickling cucumber, yellow Italian squash, black and brown tepary beans and jack o lantern pumpkin.  I also got some lime basil plants, Italian garlic bulbs, rain lily bulbs, surprise lily bulbs and some walking onions.  Can't wait for the Spring swap!!

Friday, October 28, 2011


Harvested basil seed yesterday afternoon and then spent the next 6-7 hours hand picking thousands of basil seeds. It was tedious work and eventually I decided it would take too long to completely separate the seeds from the seed heads, so got as much out as humanly possible. I have a 3" x 5" bag 2/5ths full; enough seed to plant a small field; do I really need to have lawn in the backyard?  BTW, if anyone knows of a simple way to separate the seeds from the dried seed heads, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Inside kind of day

Today was an inside kind of day, as it was blustery and dark clouds came scudding in, looking like all hell was about to break lose, but all we got was thunder and lightning.  Since it wasn't exactly gardening weather, I designed and printed some seed packets for the plant & seed swap on Saturday, then put some of the excess chile seeds from the New Mexico State University Chile Institute in them.  Ran out of colored ink, but still have more chiles to pack, as well as vinca, sunflower, salvia and Iceland poppy from the garden.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bonsai, gumbo and more

Got the Bouganville bonsai potted and wired, then toured the yard to see how things are looking.

The petunias came back from their transplant shock and are blooming profusely and the mint really appreciates the cooler weather.

 The grapes have decided to start leafing out again and I noticed some small grape clusters forming, so I'm going to leave them and see what happens.

Made chicken gumbo from scratch, using okra from the back garden and it was yummo!