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Rainbarrel…and bench?

Okay, I think this is sort of cool–

The company is called Second Rain. They make these “integrated rain harvesting systems”–basically, cubes that fill from the bottom, so you can connect them to your downspout through tubing…you can use several of them in tandem, or stack them, or do all kinds of useful-pleasant-looking things with them…I think this is a very cool idea! Maybe when we re-do our backyard landscaping to get rid of some grass and gain some patio space and nice self-caring perennials…


Pussy willows!

Today is a good day.

After last week’s foot or so of snow, suddenly temps have sort of risen to the comfortable mid-thirties (yeah, in a Chicago winter that is considered comfortable) and stayed for a couple of days.  And since today is my day off, and the sun is shining, and I’m about Wii’d out for the season, I put on a couple of sweaters and my new eco-sneaks and went for a nice long walk.

God, it felt good! Real air, real sunshine, real exercise (I sort of alternated walking and running till my asthma kicked in; once it’s warmer I’ll be able to run longer)–it was awesome.

And about 2 blocks from the house coming back I passed a pussy willow bush with the little fuzzballs emerging in all their herald-of-spring glory.  Crocuses mean it’s actually imminent–but pussy willows are more like the hopeful promise that it’s actually getting closer.

The official groundhog in Pennsylvania saw its shadow this year; the one at Brookfield Zoo, nearest to Chicago, did not.  So I’m taking every hopeful sign I can think of to get spring here as quickly as possible.  And this year, our second growing season in our new-to-us House With Actual Yard, I want to do the growing right.  I want to start plants from seed, I want to grow so many tomatoes that I will have enough canned to last through next winter, I want carrots and peas caged so the bunnies won’t eat them, I want more zukes and this time I want yellow squashes too and maybe some winter ones…we’ll see how much of it actually happens, but on the day of the first pussy-willow sighting in February, anything is possible…

Cucumber Craziness: recipes link

I love cucumbers.  That’s why I planted all 4 of the little plants in my plug pack in our garden, rather than giving some away–in the past, I’ve usually lost one or to to bugs or rot or too much sun or something. 

However, you may remember that, at spring planting time, I looked up what kinds of plants naturally repel insects, and I put a marigold border and several fennel plants in my vegetable garden.  Either I was lucky or it really worked, because without any chemical insect repellents I haven’t seen a single nasty thing in my squash, cukes, or canteloupe plants. (I also haven’t seen any canteloupes on my canteloupe plants, but that’s another story.)

Which is a long-winded way to explain why I have way more cucumbers this year than I know what to do with.

I did find one fabulous recipes link, where there are tons of great cucumber recipes.  I would be all over these, and I hope the link will be useful to some people, but I am operating with a handicap.  No, it’s nothing as dramatic or valid as a food intolerance, it’s a spousal thing.  My husband likes cucumbers, but he doesn’t like a) creamy things (so much for tzatziki), vinegary things (so no pickles), or cold soup (too bad, gazpacho).  Sigh.  I mean, of course there’s nothing stopping me from making these things for myself, but there’s no way I’d be able to eat enough of any of it to compensate for our cucumber plenitude.

So I’m looking for other things.  There are only so many nights when we can have peeled cucumber sticks for dinner, you know?

(By the way…we had a problem early on with this yucky bitter edge to our sliced cucumbers.  I looked it up–God bless the internet–and it turns out the bitterness is the result of a compound called cucurbitacin which is located closer to the stems of the plant.  It’s suggested that if you cut off an inch or so at the stem end and peel the cuke under running water or even just rinse it after peeling a lot of this bitterness can be alleviated.  So far it’s worked for us.)

This cucumber salsa recipe (found here) looks very promising:

Read the rest of this entry

Weedless Gardening

Tonight we went out to our truly annoying raised bed and the kids and I did a lot of weeding. This made me think again of the concept of “weedless gardening” that I really hope we can embrace in future years…

The basic principle can be found here; I love that the Goode Olde “Mother Earth News” that my crunchy parents used to read all the time is now a website, still going strong.

It’s a good article, and the principles make sense.  The basic idea seems to be that you use a raised bed and just keep throwing organic matter on top of it all summer, as mulch (including grass clippings) then all fall and even all winter, and let it happily compost itself as it goes, so you don’t really even need to fertilize your garden. 

We’re going to need to do something about our landscaping next year; the raised bed is falling apart and the soil back there is just awful.  If we can get some basic landscaping done even in the fall, and then can throw dead leaves into it over autumn and just keep on feeding and feeding it, we may get some actual life in our veggies.  Admittedly, the weather has pretty much stunk this year, but our backyard plants are way too spindly and wimpy for mid-June–contrasted with the front yard herbs and flowers that are going gangbusters. It’s that crazy silty soil; we added a ton of amendment to it, and this year at least tilling wasn’t even an option, we pretty much had to–but even still it’s not doing so well.

At least the peas are looking hopeful.  And the basil I started from seed is actually big enough now that it resembles basil…I’ll have pesto this year!!


Landscaping Rant, part the First

Okay, fine, I get it. It was their house, they could landscape it any way they wanted. We bought the house. No reason, seeing this lovely carpet of evil cypress mulch around everything, that we should have just assumed there was, oh, say, dirt under it.

Apparently the house’s previous owners employed Landscaping With Gravel in their past life, and then just covered up the gravel beds with mulch at selling time.  And under the gravel is this horrible landscaping cloth, the stuff designed to prevent weeds from coming through.  In some places the gravel is thicker than others, but it’s plenty thick everywhere.  This is pissing me off.  On the one hand, yes, there are very few weeds.  On the other, trying to plant anything is HELL. 

The right thing to do would probably be to hire a landscaper (or take a week off work and do it ourselves) to completely rip all the old stuff out, give us nice planting beds and start from scratch.  But we being we, it’s not gonna happen.  We bought the plants, we knew where we wanted them to go, we tried to dig the holes to plant them, and we discovered what lay beneath the lovely but anti-earth mulch (see ) was anti-plant-life mess, so naturally we just hacked through what we didn’t like and planted our plants there anyway, with a bunch of manure and soil and hopefully healthy otherness.  This is probably not a landscaper’s best suggestion, and we may live to regret it. 

The yarrow, being yarrow, is thriving like crazy.  Something keeps chewing on my echinacea, so it’s not growing at the rate I’d like to see.  And I ordered some basil, carpet thyme, marsh mallow, and St. John’s Wort from Richters ( –they are awesome!), and the basil and SJW seem to be doing okay so far.  The mallow and thyme aren’t planted yet.

We also discovered that as part of last year’s landscaping efforts, some lovely peonies and dwarf lilacs had been planted around the property, which has been a nice discovery.  But the gravel thing is driving me nuts.  I’ll probably just perennial the hell out of the front yard, punching out most of the landscaping cloth as I go, and give the whole area to things that laugh at barriers.

In back, where the veggies are growing–the peppers  and zukes look good, but one of the tomatoes looks sort of stunted, the canteloupes are dying, and the rest is sort of mediocre.  As much amendment as we tilled into this soil, it’s still probably too dense and silty to support really fast-growing life, and we don’t want to put nasty chemicals in there to grow our veggies, because then we’d be eating the chemicals…

Sigh…the bucolic dream of happy lovely gardening sweetness is so not happening, except for the lettuce…

More later. New ugly discoveries about the backyard are making my husband curse, so I should probably get out there.


From the White House Blog:

Friday, March 20th, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Spring Gardening

“This is a big day. We’ve been talking it since the day we moved in,” said the First Lady as she and two dozen local students broke ground on the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House.  Those students will be involved in the garden as it develops and grows, producing delicious, healthy vegetables to be cooked in the White House Kitchen and given to Miriam’s Kitchen, which serves the homeless in Washington, DC. 


The First Lady and DC students garden

(end blog quote–but I may have to subscribe to  …this particular little excerpt and photo are found at

I think this is awesome, of course. (Doing my little “Go-bama, go-bama, Michelle so rocks, go-bama” dance…guess you have to be here.) What’s even cooler is that it’s going to be an organic garden. 

What is both funny (in a sick way) and sick (in a funny way) and highly unsurprising (in a very sick and not at all funny way) is that apparently Corporate Chemical is completely going nuts about this, all but accusing her of undermining the fabric of the United States economy (i.e. Big Agriculture) by publicly deciding not to spray poison…excuse me, crop protection products…on her family’s veggies.


Pro-Pesticide Group Criticizes First Lady’s Organic Garden

“And First Lady Michelle Obama is coming under criticism from a pro-pesticide industry group for deciding to plant an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America CropLife Association recently wrote to the First Lady to urge her to consider using pesticides, or what they call “crop protection products.” One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” Mid America CropLife represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.”

from (down at the very bottom)



And here is the letter Big Ag , or more accurately the Midwest America CropLife Association, sent to Mrs. Obama:
(copied from –a site I may have to bookmark and read more often.)
  Read the rest of this entry

Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise

The peas are germinating.

They are incredibly cute. I didn’t know peas could be so cute.

The basil I planted in a pot a week ago is not germinating. I’m wondering what I did wrong.



p.s. the subject line is the title of a particularly delightful children’s book my kids both loved. It encourages small children to play with their food and hurl their peas out the kitchen window.  It was a gift from their grandparents, with whom, believe it or not, we are still speaking.

Insect-Repelling Plants

This is interesting…

Ants pennyroyal, spearmint, southernwood, tansy
Aphids garlic, chives and other alliums, coriander, anise, nasturtium and petunia around fruit trees
Borer garlic, onion, tansy
Cabbage moth mint, hyssop, rosemary, southernwood, thyme, sage, wormwood, celery, catnip, nasturtium
Colorado potato beetle green beans, horseradish, dead nettle, flax, catnip, coriander, tansy, nasturtium
Cucumber beetle tansy, radish
Cutworm tansy
Flea beetle wormwood, mint, catnip, interplant cole crops with tomato
Japanese beetle garlic, larkspur, tansy, rue, white geranium
Leafhopper petunia, geranium
Mexican bean beetle marigold, potato, rosemary, savory, petunia
Mites onion, garlic, chives
Nematodes marigold, salvia, dahlia, calendula, asparagus
Rose chafer geranium, petunia, onion
Slug prostrate rosemary, wormwood
Squash bug tansy, nasturtium, catnip
Tomato hornworm borage, marigold, opal basal
Whitefly nasturtium, marigold

Given what I’ve planted, I should perhaps find some tansy.   Seems to work for borer, squash bug, AND cucumber beetle.  Assuming this site ( is correct…

Then again, on another site, I found this:

“Annual Marigolds can be used anywhere to deter Mexican bean beetle, squash bug, thrips, tomato hornworm, and whitefly. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries. The root of the Marigold produces a chemical that kills nematodes as they enter the soil. If a whole area is infested, at the end of the season, turn the Marigolds under so the roots will decay in the soil. You can safely plant there again the following spring. Nasturtium is another annual, in this case a trailing vine, that keeps away Colorado potato bug, squash bug, and whitefly.” (

Which implies that the $16.99 I spent on a flat of marigolds is probably worth what I paid for it.  I may try to throw some Nasturtiums back there too, since I like them anyway and they taste yummy in salads.  I could train them up the fence, maybe…

Garden off and running…

Greengrade for the 2-day period:
Bad: bought gogurt for the kids’ special snack, ate off disposable plates and out of disposable bottle at lunch
Good: brought the drink bottle back home to recycle, since the place I got it from doesn’t. And planted LOTS of veggies!

I think it’s almost all in place now.

This morning I planted a row of lettuce plants along the fairly shady side of my house, so hopefully they won’t get completely shredded in the summer heat.  It’s sort of weird landscaping, I guess, but I know myself well enough to know that if I have to put on shoes and walk out to the garden in back in order to get salad, I won’t eat salad.  This way, I can wander out onto the patio barefoot and grab a handful of leaves, and there you go.

And the backyard veggie bed is nearly full. (Still worried about the distance factor–reference previous paragraph!–but it’s what we’ve got.) I planted snap peas along one side, which I’ll train up a cage thing, then my 2 tomatoes and 3 peppers, then 3 cukes and 2 zukes.  At the other end, on a whim, I put in a couple of cantelope plants–never tried growing them before, but I thought, what the hell?

I also planted sweet fennel in and around the squash and cukes and melons, because it is supposed to be abhorrent to the nasty little worms that get into your squash and cukes and are able to winter over so you can pretty much never plant squash in that spot again.  And I’m planting marigolds all around the bed, because they are also supposed to keep bugs away.  I got a whole flat of nice “french vanilla” marigolds–they don’t have that sort of mustardy color I dislike about the general species, and they are sort of scattered around the bed.  I like it.

I need to research other kinds of “companion gardening,” other plants that grow symbiotically well with each other…

Ow. Pain Bad.

Greengrade for today (so far):

–planted 3 echinacea and 2 yarrow in the front of the house, as well as 3 rescued lilies from church. (They always flood the place with hothouse lilies at Easter, and then as soon as they stop blooming they put them out in the hall for anyone who wants to take them. I’ve seldom gotten those lilies to do much, it’s like they are too stressed out from their one Easter’s glory to do anything else, like the kid who’s super-popular in high school but never amounts to anything later in life…hopefully one of these is a closet nerd…)
–fed the kids a very simple dinner. not entirely local but all good and healthy.  Dessert was homemade yogurt with honey and cinnamon on top. (see , my lj entry on how to make homemade yogurt. Surprisingly easy.)
–felt VERY virtuous when I saw the rest of the takeout Chinese in the fridge (I had some for lunch today too) and realized I really didn’t want serious heavy food and instead ate some goat cheese on crackers, orange juice my mom brought and forgot to take with her (so the buying-non-local-tiny-container negative points are hers and not mine), and a bowl of yogurt myself.  I know, eating healthy doesn’t necessarily count as “green,” but being mindful and paying attention and choosing the simple over the complex-processed is a good thing, as I see it.
–ate a banana for “brunch” rather than stopping at McD’s or Dunkin on the way to work this morning and getting something awful

bad: (not including the usual crap I always do, like generating too much garbage, driving more than I need to, etc.)
–put some yard waste trash into the same bag as trash trash rather than separating.  Hopefully I don’t lose too many points here because it was really not much at all…

neutral (good cancels out bad):
–hubby is outside using a gas rototiller to render at least slightly organic and growable the raised bed in our backyard, which is basically a big block of clay.  It’s horrible.  We’ve been trying to work it by hand but we just can’t do it, so we broke down and he’s now in 2 hours doing what would otherwise take us weeks or more likely never get done.  He’s mixing an appalling amount of manure and sand into it to hopefully give us something that veggies will grow in.  The gas part is bad, the growing our own veggies will (hopefully) be good.  If this bed doesn’t pan out in the long run, we’ll hire landscapers or something, or make a higher bed and fill it with our own dirt, because this is insane.

I also hurt my back putting in the lilies.  It’s appalling to me how much clay weighs–a big shovelful lifted Not Quite The Right Way was enough to do me in. Fortunately that was the last lily, and then I was done, but I would have liked to help Al schlep the gajillion bags of amendments back to the bed. (Okay, I didn’t really want to, but I of course would have.  Now–not a chance. The husband points he’s racking up today will take forever to pay back.)

I hope to hell this works. I want veggies. It would suck to have bought a nice house with a nice yard only to discover we can’t grow anything in it.

Today we went to visit The Growing Place in Naperville–a really awesome nursery with scads and scads of plants.  That’s where we found the pussy willow and orange mint before.  Unfortunately, they seem to specialize in carefully bred hybrids and such, pretty ornamental things, and they don’t have Plain Old Anything. No white yarrow, no St. John’s Wort.  We did get some red-leaf lettuce, a peony, and 3 small echinacea.  All but the lettuce are in the ground–that raised bed, ya know? although I’m trying to find a home for the lettuce that’s closer to the kitchen door, so I’ll be able to just sort of step outside (like with my herbs) and pick a salad.  We’ll see.

Now I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Ow. I’m not 25 any more. I’m not 35 either, for that matter, although this would have done my back in then too.

Ow. If I had some St. John’s Wort oil I’d mix it with helicrysum EO and rub it all over my back.  I don’t. Ow.