A Little Thyme . . .

Baby Thyme Seedlings
New Thyme

The thyme seeds I planted are coming up. Barely, but there. I had no luck with thyme the last time I tried starting them from seed, but with a bit more experience knew that one of the important things with many seeds is that some of them need light to germinate. Thyme is one of them. Our instinct when planting is to cover the seeds with soil, but that can be counterproductive. I’ve got a flat planted up with a bit of everything I normally grow in the herb category; thyme, basil, dill, and sage, maybe a couple of others I’ve forgotten. These were sown in the six packs on 2/27/21, so just at a week old. None of the others, except for a couple of very tiny dill seedlings, are showing signs of life yet.

Also today I planted some of the potatoes, the red ones, and I’ll get the russets tomorrow after their cut sides have a chance to dry out and “heal”. These are just supermarket potatoes, I’ve done both, planted “certified seed potatoes” and potatoes from the store that are sprouting and quite frankly I’ve not seen a whole lot of difference in either quality or quantity. One thing is that when one buys the seed potatoes at least the varieties are known whereas with the supermarket spuds the best I can usually do is “red” or “russet”. This year I opted to intentionally purchase a package of organic potatoes specifically for planting reasoning that they would be unlikely to have been sprayed with chemicals that inhibit sprouting (specifically CIPC – Isopropyl N-(3-chlorophenyl) carbamate). Now, I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to be eating a foodstuff that has been treated with chemicals. Everything in existance is pretty much made up of chemicals, but there is a limit, all things in moderation as the saying goes.

Potato Bed

This particular bed hasn’t had much done to it beyond being topped off with a couple inches of homemade compost and tilled with the Mantis mini tiller. Sunny does that, the Mantis does not like me but he knows how to coax it and sweet talk it into working. I also scattered a bit of a homemade organic fertilizer concoction in each trench – basically blood & bone meal, Tone organic fertilizer, plus a bit of green sand. Earlier in the season I lightly scattered some wood ash on top. Who knows what will happen?

I’ve got green peas, sometimes called “English” peas here, started in another bed. It’s real iffy planting these here, we get hot so quickly. This particular variety is ‘Green Arrow’. I’m hopeful, but it really depends on the weather. If it gets very hot, very soon, then they may not do well if at all. That said, I have run across a mention somewhere on the web of someone in, I think, Arizona (!) that grew them successfully by keeping them well watered. I’ll try that, but since we have such a high humidity and the Desert Southwest is, well, desert, that technique may not work here. We’ll see.

Young Shelling Peas

Been A Long Time

Back Again after a very long hiatus. I keep thinking I’m going to be more proactive in keeping up with my blog, but then Facebook gets in the way. However, at least for a while, I’ve abandoned Facebook as it really is a time waster (this isn’t, of course,) and it seems like these days people have a very difficult time staying civil. Also, to paraphrase a well known meme; “Spring is coming” and I have things to do. That video doesn’t look like it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see 70°F next week.

The snow was a bit of a surprise. Our local meteorologist mavens didn’t see it coming but my understanding was it was a very difficult forecast to pin down. We were right on the cusp of an ice/no ice line and snow wasn’t even mentioned except for the possibility of a few random flakes in amongst the wintry mix. Not to worry, it was gone by early afternoon even though the temperature never got above freezing, and was pretty while it was here.

It’s been very wet so far this winter, actually this whole past year and some. 2020 finished off with over 73 inches of rainfall! In a normal year we will get around 56 inches give or take. Even at that however, it was “only” the Birmingham area’s 5th wettest year on record according to the Alabama Climate Report.

I really can’t be having with all this rain either, because even though it’s still winter, as is obvious from the video, and is going to be winter for a couple months yet (at least technically,) as I mentioned I have things to do in the garden. It’s time for onions to go in the ground. Past time really, to which end I need to get one of the beds ready. But it’s too wet to till, and almost too wet to hand dig and that’s saying something. I know I’ve seen video of Brits out there in the rain digging in the mud and planting but I am not sure I want to go there to be honest.

Onion Plants

We did at least get by an acquaintance’s stables a couple weeks back to pick up a truck load of much needed horse manure. Last year’s okra crop was pitiful, that is to say, non-existant with the okra only getting about two feet tall. And this was with all that rain! We got enough manure from there, plus another smaller load from an old schoolmate of Sunny’s to put 3-4 inches on the front four beds.

We also did a quick ‘n dirty replacement of the wood on the front four beds as the old wood was almost rotted completely away. The eventual plan is to get the rest of the beds replaced with the pressure treated wood with corrugated metal liners.

Been a long vacation . . .

So to speak. I decided I might crank up the blog again after quite a long hiatus. Although there’s not been too much doing in the last couple of years.

Much. I Finally got going once more on Colossus: The Bathroom Project which has been (literally!) ten years in the making. I’ve also started in on the final largeish bit of the flower gardens hardscaping I want to do, that being the patio planned for in front of the decks. I’ve created two flower garden extensions, one to the Copse, and one to the Deck Border. Both of them are a bit on the bare side at the moment I’m afraid as I slowly find my way forward to flowers and shrubs that will do decently well and fit the mostly non-existent plan. The Copse and Deck Border drip irrigation has been re-done although now they need extending, and I’ve just started building replacement, and hopefully the last raised bed boxes for the veg garden. I haven’t even had a veg garden for the last couple of years which, as it turns out is probably a good thing as I was laid up for half of last summer (2017) with gout. I seem to have that sorted now though and am trying to make up for lost time.

No more bees, unfortunately. One hive just didn’t have the population it needed to stay warm in a severe spring cold snap, and we really aren’t sure what killed the other one although we suspect that they had too much population when that same cold snap hit and not enough resources when we, as novice beekeepers weren’t paying as much attention as we should’ve been.

We are talking about re-opening and putting the old drilled well back into service so that we will not be caught out if we have a repeat of the severe drought of autumn 2016 when there was no rain for almost two and a half months. That’s unheard of for here.




Cat Tree Building 101

I actually built this a number of years ago, around 2005; it was previously on the RoseHawke website, so this is somewhat in the nature of a re-run.

When we decided to become Maine Coon parents once again after Melichus’ passing, we knew that we would need some sort of a cat tree so that kitties would, at least so we hoped, favor said cat tree as a perch instead of counters and tabletops which in our house are off-limits to furry felines. After some shopping at area pet emporiums which resulted in profound sticker shock and much head shaking at what you actually got for an absurd outlay of cash, I decided to do what I always do in such situations.

I built my own.

I had a hazy idea of what I wanted to do, but never actually made any specific plans as I knew the final design would really depend on the branches I could find. Sunny and I took a trip into the woods, chainsaw in tow, to a couple of trees that had recently come down in some storm or other. Mostly, I was just looking for a good assortment of limbs that seemed “interesting” – I’d try to configure them later. We dragged half a dozen good sized limbs back to the shop and I set to work.

First I knocked together a base, quite arbitrarily choosing a size of about 2×3′ – only found out later that it was perfect for the corner where the cat tree ended up. It was pretty simple, basically a box made from 3/4″ plywood and 2x4s, which I covered with beige carpet on the top and sides. The carpeting was stapled down with an electric stapler – my manual stapler just didn’t have enough “oomph” to do it. This was a small remnant I’d bought specifically for this purpose, but being a high-quality remnant, didn’t want to go around corners very much. I ended up securing the corners with roofing nails as even the electric stapler wasn’t enough to get through two thicknesses of carpet.

Base in progress




I then moved the finished base and the limbs into the den, as it was fairly obvious that once built there’d be no getting it through a normal door. By this time there was a set of French doors between the Living Room and the old den. Those were large enough to get it through.

I set the limbs I liked most on the base, determined a rough height, and cut them by clamping down to a sawhorse and using a reciprocating saw. Getting them square was difficult and involved a bit of trial and error. When I got it to where I was satisfied, I fastened them with large lag screws through from underneath the base and into the limbs. trees These would be the main framework. Where one limb crossed another, I fastened them together with a smaller lag screw to help with bracing.

Once I got everything sort of roughly situated, I started making patterns for the actual platforms. I did try to make sure that they would be in some sort of a configuration to aid kitties hopping from one level to the next. The easiest thing to do was to take cardboard, draw out a shape, and sort of tack it in place to see if it would work. If it needed to be bigger, I’d tape another piece of cardboard over it, try a new shape, and go from there. Again, trial and error and much standing off and seeing how it would work.pattern The plan was to get the main bits around what was already there to suggest “tree” – but I knew from the get-go that would not be enough support from what was likely to be 40# worth of Maine Coons bouncing around on it, so I planned to beef that bit up by cutting one good sized branch into pieces that would fit between the platforms and fastening those so that they would give the illusion of one branch going all the way through.

P1000108Then it was a matter of tracing the patterns onto 3/4″ plywood and cutting them out with a jigsaw. The accompanying photo shows sticks that I’ve cut to help support the shelves temporarily until that branch was cut. They also helped as story poles of a sort to use for measuring the lengths for the pieces.


P1000110coveredUnder most of the shelves there is an angle bracket screwed to the platform and uprights for additional support. Then it was a matter of covering the shelves with the cheap green carpeting I’d bought, again for this specific purpose. Cheap was better than expensive as the expensive stuff was just too stiff to mold around any sort of a curve. As it was, it had to be tinkered with much like sewing fabric or upholstering a chair to make it fit the curves. The electric stapler once again proved its value. Generally speaking, I worked my way from the bottom to the top, cutting, fitting, fastening, as I went, standing off to try to catch problems before they happened, and making sure I was happy with it.

kittytree2When it was finally finished, Sunny helped me to drag it into its spot in the Living Room (where it remains to this day) and we let the (at that time) kittens in. They knew immediately that this was theirs. None of this “OMG! What’s that?!” business.


a_kittytree1One thing that I did end up doing later, after the boys were bigger, was putting an additional support under the lowest front platform (about where Narsil is in the photo) because as it turned out it wasn’t quite sturdy enough and was taking a lot of punishment from the boys leaping on and off. It was threatening to come loose, but the additional “log” sturdied it up nicely.

Adventures in Beekeeping – Chapter the First

new hiveAaaaand – the adventure begins to borrow a phrase. This was delivered yesterday. Brand spanking new bee house. Look closely, it’ll never look this pristine again. I’m not “getting into” bees because I’m all that interested in bees per se, but because I’m more interested in what the bees can do for me (pollinate the veggie and fruit garden) and because it appears that the country – and perhaps the world – has put all their eggs into one basket by depending so heavily on crops that also depend on, mostly, one species of pollinator, that of the European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera. There are other pollinators out there, but not in the numbers needed for so much of the monoculture farming that is the normal (there’s a misnomer if ever there was one,) method of crop production these days. And now the honey bees are apparently threatened on all fronts, disease, parasites, malnutrition. The diversified crops and extensive wildflowers that the bees need for proper nutrition are a mere shadow of their former selves, and without proper nutrition this beneficial insect falls prey to all sorts of parasites and diseases that ordinarily they could shrug off.

So, I’m just trying to do my bit.

And maybe get some honey into the bargain.

First starts in the ground.

2013-02-20 11.50.41I suppose this is the “real” beginning of the gardening season then. I got the first plants into the garden proper, the broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, and the cabbages. I came up one cabbage short due to losing so many seedlings to damping off, but everything else came out just right with no leftovers. That can be a good thing, there’s no waste; or a bad thing, if I lose any of the plants there’s nothing to replace them with unless I buy some at a garden center. I didn’t do a whole lot to prep the bed; when push comes to shove at this point they really don’t need much. I spread 4 bags of mushroom compost over the top, and mixed in some 10-10-10. I thought about putting in organic fertilizer, but it has blood meal as one of its components I believe and I do not want critters digging up my freshly planted brassicas. They might do it anyway of course, but there’s no sense in asking for trouble.

2013-02-20 11.50.36Although the t-tape drip irrigation system is down,  as wet as it’s been the last couple of months, it’ll be some time before there’s any necessity for additional watering, especially in these raised beds which are really glorified potting soil that hold the moisture quite well. A for instance is the thyme which I planted last year and which did not do very well. Come to find out it actually prefers things a bit drier so that I think it was just too damp for it getting watered every day. This year I may leave the herb bed drip irrigation cut off and just water the individual plants so that I can tailor the watering needs to the individual plants rather than using a blanket method. We’ve gotten notification from Stark Bros that the peach trees have shipped. There are three holes dug, only three more to do, and the trees can just be popped in the ground. So that will be done by this time next week I hope.

Twenty-five, and counting . . .

Two weeks ago Sunny and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. At first we’d planned to go out, but came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn’t enjoy going out all that much and it was going to be very expensive, especially taking into consideration that  neither one of us really has any “going out” clothes. I’d sort of wanted to buy a nice, dressy outfit, but we’re also both dieting (successfully, I might add) and I really didn’t want to get something that was only going to fit for a month or so.

I did indulge myself by investing in some bits and bobs for the table, silverplate chargers, a vintage double damask actual linen tablecloth off of Etsy and napkins which are an amazing match off of eBay. Considering the price of new linen tablecloths seem to be in the hundreds of dollars range, I think the $35 spent for the tablecloth and the $12 for the napkins a real bargain. And I get to use them again. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any plates that would go nicely with what was turning out to be a very formal table, so had to make do with the Mikasa Arabella. It didn’t look quite right with the sterling and crystal, being more of a casual quality of dinnerware, but the King crab legs and Sirloin Strip tasted just fine off of them :-). And the table still looked nice. Mr. Carson would be appalled though, the dinner fork is crooked ;-).

The sterling is a pattern I’ve been trying to collect for years, since I graduated High School to be precise as the very first piece was a fork given to me by my Aunt Jennie as a graduation present in 1975. It was years before I was even able to identify the pattern as of course there was no internet in those days. Finally a friendly antiques dealer was able to pinpoint it as Reed & Barton’s “Les Six Fleurs“, first produced in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death and Edward’s ascendance to the throne of Great Britain. Being an antique pattern well over a hundred years old, they can be very difficult to find – and also expensive. I call this my one vice. It could be worse, I could have a closet full of clothes. At least this stuff is hard to find. It keeps me honest.

The crystal is Waterford of the pattern “Powerscourt.” Something else I’ve been collecting one . . . piece . . . at a . . . time. Mom always said I had champagne tastes and a beer pocketbook. I’ve really just now gotten to the point where I can set two place settings. The next goal is to have four place settings, then I can have company!

I have, at last, and purely by accident, found a dinnerware pattern that I’m happy with for formal place settings. There was a Craigslist entry for 4 place settings of Noritake Shenandoah for $400. I was curious as to what the heck was so special about it that this lady wanted an astronomical price for it so I looked it up. Turns out she was apparently just clueless. The real value of a place setting is somewhere in the $50-60 range. However when I saw the photos of it, it looked like it was exactly what I was looking for. True, it wasn’t Royal Doulton or Limoges, but Noritake has a good reputation and is an old company. This particular pattern is a delicate floral, opulent without being over the top, and with that “old fashioned” flavor which I love. Of course it’s a discontinued pattern so now I’m  collecting those as well.

The Seedling Factory

seedlings_021613The seedling factory, as I like to call it, continues to perform. I’ve got to get these babies in the ground real soon now although if I can get them in within the next few days, they’ll be right on schedule as far as the plans I threw together way back in the autumn. Actually I’ve got to get them out, either that or buy some more lights to turn the seed starting stand into a double decker. It’s time to get the next chapter started: tomatoes, peppers, etc., the tender annuals.

These have done really well, although I had some problems with damping off early on, something I’ve never had a problem with before. For some reason the diCicco broccoli was especially prone to it so that I lost about half of them. Of course those were the most expensive seeds so I’m not surprised, such is my luck.

baby leeks

Baby Leeks

I’m drawn toward doing things “the old way” and the more natural way in many cases, so that I’ve started collecting some small terracotta 4″ pots to use as seedling starters. Terracotta has its pros and cons, just like plastic, but I honestly feel better about using a more natural substance rather than petroleum based disposable plastic cell packs. Besides, they just look neat :-).

When I do get them planted, I’m probably going to have to fill out the ranks a bit with some purchased cabbages, etc., since I lost so many to damping off, but that might not be a bad thing as it’ll give me a bit more variety and a chance to see what does the best.


Cabbage ‘Earliana’ starts

The cabbage in particular is just going insane. I swear some of them look like they’re already trying to head; I just hope they’re not in for a rude awakening when I get them out into the garden proper. I’ve never tried cabbage before, it’s really a cool season crop. For this reason I purposely chose an early variety Burpee’s ‘Earliana‘, which is supposed to mature quite quickly. Excessive heat will cause cool season crops to “bolt” or shoot up to set seed; it also will make them bitter, and while not exactly inedible, not very nice. This is one reason that we here in the South will plant collard greens in the fall with the expectation of the greens maturing after frost. I tried planting some of these cool season crops in the fall a couple years ago and wasn’t very successful, so I’m trying something a bit different this year.

A (different) Apple Every Day


Sunny helps out

So I guess this will be a week’s worth. I’ve received an order of seven apple trees, each a different variety, from Century Farms Orchard in Altamahaw, North Carolina. We got these the week of February 3rd, right on time. They arrived in excellent shape. I wish I could say the same for the weather. Of course it seemed the time of the Inundation was coincident with the trees arriving, and I’d procrastinated about digging the holes and having them ready so that when a fairly dry 2-3 day window appeared I was faced with the problem of planting seven apple trees in a short amount of time. In the mushy field. I managed to get four of them planted on Saturday by really pushing it, and Sunny helped with the remaining three on Sunday morning so that we just missed the next storm system and its 2-3 inches of expected rainfall. And then of course this weekend, we’re expecting a hard freeze with temperatures down in the 20s. Fortunately everything I’ve read seems to point up that once in the ground the trees shouldn’t suffer from the temps.

apple tree

Newly planted apple tree

As mentioned, there are seven different apple varieties, all old Southern types: ‘Carolina Red June’; ‘Summer Banana’; ‘Roxbury Russet’; ‘Bevan’s Favorite’; ‘Mary Reid’; ‘Mollies Delicious’ (that’s apparently how it’s actually spelled); and ‘Aunt Rachel’. These trees are all grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstock, so I’m hopeful that they won’t take quite as long to produce as a standard tree would. I’ve got these a bit close at 12′ although most of the recommendations I can find do say 12 to 15 feet apart.

Now of course, I get to dig six more holes for the peach trees that are supposed to arrive next week!

infant orchard

Orchard in the making