Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Wedding Flowers: Planning and Seeding

It's time to get into the really nitty gritty! I'm about to seriously brain dump on you, so please fasten your seat belt. 

The first step in planning your wedding flowers starts months before in advance. Most plants need to be started sometime before the last frost date if you want to get timely blooms. If you want them to flower before their normal time, you'll need a greenhouse or cold frame to start them, but I'm getting ahead of myself here. 

Let's backpedal to step 1:You need to choose what you want, how many you'll need, order seeds, and figure out exactly when you need to start seeds. 
This is a great project for those rainy winter months. You get to dream of the big day, the colors you want to work with, and just get everything planned out (because you're not going to have ANY time once things really get rolling - January is the time to do this). 

You will want to choose flowers that are specific to cut flowers. These tend to be taller, sturdier, and longer lasting than their garden counterparts. 
Some seed sources include, but are definitely not limited to:
*Note* Do not go to the nursery or the store and just buy whatever annuals they have in six-packs. These will not be satisfactory for arranging at all. 

When choosing what to grow make sure that you include the following:
- feature flowers (this would be your roses, peonies, dahlias, etc.)
- 2nd fiddle or background support (bachelor buttons, zinnias, calendula, carnations, cosmos)
- spires or spikes (lavender, stock, celosia, butterfly bush)  
- spillers (amaranth, dusty miller, etc.)
- fillers (baby's breath, corn cockle, saponaria, ammi majus)
- whispies (grasses and seed heads)
- greens (bupleurum, bells of ireland, basil, scented geranium, oregano, lemon balm, grape vines, you name it!)
Now, understand that these are generalizations. You most definitely can have something that usually plays a supporting role be the main feature of your arrangement if you want. Also keep in mind that some things can play multiple roles in your arrangement. It just depends on how you use it and what it looks like. 
It can be EXTREMELY tempting to buy ALL the seeds because this is a very exciting part of the process. Keep in mind, though, how much space you have. If you only have a small plot, maybe you only grow one kind of flower for your wedding. Because I live on 6 acres, I was able to go all out. Remember, the larger the scale, the more work you sign yourself up for. 

Knowing exactly how many you need is kind of a guessing game because you don't really know what will cooperate with you and what won't. My advice would be to grow more than you think you need. Just to give you an idea of how many flowers I used for 25 table centerpieces, 6 bridesmaid bouquets, 1 bridal bouquet, 9 boutonnieres, 4-6 arrangements for buffet and drink tables, and using flowers wherever else I felt like (this doesn't include what's still in the field):
- 4 buckets of 80-100 stems that I grew or cut from shrubs around the house
- 5 buckets of 80-100 stems from a local flower farm
- 2 buckets of daisies, lavender, and hydrangea from my grandma's garden
This gave me a lot of creative space and allowed me to use nice blooms without settling on sad-looking ones. 

Now we get to the brain-wracking part. Figuring out when to start seeding all this craziness. Look at the date you've selected (I'm going to use July 7 as an example since that is what I was working with). Make yourself an excel spreadsheet because things are going to get messy here and my excel skills are embarrassing, so please bear with me. Because I'm a plant nerd, I have scientific names in there as well. :P 
Disregard the sowing and germination columns (those are for my own personal curiosity); the important part here is the plant name, days to maturity, and when to plant. You need to know when you want the flowers, count back 1 week, then add on the days to maturity (DtM). The DtM lets you know approximately how long it takes for that particular plant to come into its own. To give yourself wiggle room, add the extra week. Because I have to have flowers on July 7, I planned on having blooms a week before, then started counting backwards to find when I needed to seed. The times that I have on here are the latest possible points that I would want to get those seeds going. Even with all this counting, weather is going to be a huge influence on the growth rate of your plants. My stock were ready 2 weeks before the wedding, but that was just in time for the bridal shower. The carnations were just in the early stages of bud break the day before the wedding, so we couldn't use any of them for their intended purpose. C'est la vie. It's how things go. That is exactly why I planted so many different kinds of flowers. 

Also, because the wedding was in early July, I had to start everything from seed in the greenhouse to make sure that things were blooming when I wanted to. You don't want to seed directly into the ground unless the soil temps are around 80 which doesn't happen until May-ish in the Willamette Valley. You get to have some wiggle room when you have access to a greenhouse. Granted, a greenhouse is not without its problems. I had to deal with extreme temperature swings that either roasted tender starts or brought on damping off, and we had fungus gnats that liked to raise their root chomping brood in the potting soil. 
So, I printed out my spreadsheets and whipped out the highlighter because I'm extremely visual. I color coded the different times that I needed to start things (red = February, orange = March, pink = April, etc) so that I could quickly glance and know what needed seeding and when. Filled up flats with potting soil, made labels, and started seeding. I just make tiny trenches with a stick and seed inside that line. Mist the potting media, protect with a plastic cover and some shade, and then wait. Note: some things germinate much faster than others. Be patient. 
Your seedlings have multiple stages; the ones we want to focus on are the first obvious to the naked eye: cotyledon and first true leaves. The cotyledons are the leaves that were developing inside the seed to be the food source until the plant gets enough energy to create the first true leaves. These basically look like tiny versions of the mature size. You want to prick out the seedlings at this stage; if they get bigger than that, the transplanting process will be too stressful on the plant. I simply use a chopstick to gently dig around the babies to get them loosened from their media, and then, using the chopstick, poke a hole in a filled 6-pack to gently put the baby root into.
And you just keep doing that until you've pricked out all the baby plants. This gives them room to grow and develop without stunting them, over crowding them, or making them compete for nutrients. Eventually, you look like you have an addiction.
As the plants grow, you need to check to make sure that they aren't getting root bound. This WILL stunt your plants and stress them causing them to be much shorter than desired. What you're looking for is how much root to potting soil there is, you don't want the segment to be solid roots, poor plant. Before letting them get to that stage, you need to up-pot them into 4" pots. Guess how I spent my afternoons and evenings in April. ;)
Give your babies a chance to acclimate to their roomier pots, and then start to transition them outside; this is called hardening off. You don't want to shock the babies with the harshness of the outdoors since they're used to the comfortable greenhouse space. Start them off in the shade, then I just leave them there until I put them in the ground. Not the most ideal, but they survive. 

Next up will be all about the flower field!
Until next time! 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

So You Want to Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers?

Let me just tell you - it's not the easiest of feats. 
I wish I could just say that it was as easy as throwing some seed out and plunking starts in the ground. There is a lot of planning and work involved in order to pull it off on any scale. 
My sister's wedding was yesterday which is now leaving me breathing space to think and process everything after frantic pace and increasing pressure that has been building since the engagement was announced.  I'm exhausted and sore, but I want to get these thoughts down while it's fresh in my mind (and I really don't want to do much of anything at the moment, so there's that too). 
So without anymore ado: 
"Observations and considerations from surviving the wedding flowers process 
Things I wish I knew before jumping into this thing"
(I was going to make that the title of the post, but that seemed too long)

1. Have some gardening/farming know-how and understand garden planning
Even if you just have a little bit of an idea of what you're signing up for is a huge help. ;) I'll do some how-to posts of what we did to maximize our chances of success in other posts. 
As for the planning side of things - it's hard to plan to have flowers for a specific day. It's easy to plunk plants in the ground and harvest when they're ready. It's another matter entirely to have requirements for a certain day. To do this requires much planning and forethought and spreadsheets. 
My recommendation? Know when local flowers are typically ready. Then plan your special day during the peak flower periods. You have the spring flush, mid-summer bounties, and early fall bloomers. Early July is the wonderful lull in flower times. You've missed the flowers of May/June, but the July/August bloomers haven't quite come into their own. Just another thing to consider for your big day.

2. Understand the costs
Seeds, potting soil, pots, growing space, site prep, fertilizer, irrigation, netting, TIME. 
Your time is money. Remember that. 

3. Have a back-up plan
I had several because I was scared that nothing would work - put more plants in the ground than you think you need, plant more varieties and species than you want or think you'll need, and know a cut flower source (be it Costco, a local farm, florist, or grocery store) just in case you need more flowers. Because I was so busy with other parts of the wedding, I missed the deadline to order flowers from Costco (2 weeks before pick up). It ended up being perfectly fine because I was able to get bulk flowers from a farm located an hour from the venue on a short notice for a much better price than Costco. :fist pump: 

4. Take some flower arranging classes
The more you know, the more you know, right? Then take what you learn and keep practicing! Give your neighbors bouquets, maybe your goat will appreciate a flower crown, fresh flowers on the kitchen window sill is always a bonus. 
Honestly though, I was looking up Youtube tutorials on how to arrange boutonnieres the morning I was going to do all the arrangements because I had never done those before. :face palm:

5. Be extremely flexible with the final product
Know the general look and colors that you're going for, but be okay if they aren't EXACTLY like those gorgeous pictures you adore on Instagram or Pinterest. The flowers coming in from your flower patch will not, I repeat, not be perfect. There will be bugs, discoloring, blooms with their own opinion on which way is up, and more. If you're one with perfectionist tendencies, growing your own might not be right for your big day. 
Also, be flexible with the flowers and the length of flowers that come in. You don't know exactly when the plants are going to bloom. Those seed packets have a general range of when to expect flowers. There are a lot of factors that go into getting a plant to bloom: start day, day length, pest pressures, accumulated heat units, water accessibility, fertilizing schedule, etc, etc, etc... 

6. The flowers might be more fragile
By growing you're own, you get the opportunity to play with flowers that you might not ever see at a grocery store because some flowers just don't ship well or last that long in the vase after going through the process of getting hacked off a plant in South America, stripped of its leaves, put into a box, and shipped across continents. 
So. All that said, understand that you will need to be careful with the flowers coming in from your patch. Keep them in water, use floral preservatives, storing them in a refrigerator would be ideal after you've made the arrangements, etc. 

7. Know how much time you need to dedicate to this
This was a huge thing for me. I spent most my April afternoons up-potting seedlings into 4" pots, and then in May, my brother and I spent most afternoons prepping the site and transplanting all those babies. Once that was done, we both had a huge sigh of relief. Come the preparations for the big day, you will need to be slowly harvesting to not damage the blooms, give them time to condition, etc. I spent the ENTIRE day before the wedding just arranging flowers. All. Day. Long.

8. Never stop learning
There are so many resources out there for slow flowers, local flowers, growing cut flowers, and arranging your own masterpieces! Hit up Instagram to find designers and growers, pour over books, scour websites for hints, tips, tricks, tutorials, and how they do things! Why try to reinvent the wheel when there is so much information at your fingertips? Here's a few of my favorites
Floret Farm's Cut Flower Book
The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley
Debra Prinzing books  
And this is just the tip of the ice burg.  

And that's it for now! Like I said, I'll be posting more of the nitty-gritty how-to's to give you a better understanding of what you're considering jumping into. 
Apparently this smirk is exactly like my great-grandma's
Yes, I did catch the bride's bouquet. 
I had people ask me if I had planned that with my sister; no, I didn't. I just know how she throws. :P
I also had someone ask me if I had homing flowers. 
Nope. If I knew how to do that, I would be making big bucks selling these flowers to all the brides wanting to set up their single friends.

Until next time!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Greenhouse: Transplanting

Last time I posted, I left you with all the panel problems we were trying to deal with. Well, I'm glad to report that we're (slowly) getting those kinks worked out. I'm hoping that we'll have them all worked out by the time the October storms start to settle in. :P 

So when I'm not taping down greenhouse panels when it's windy, what have I been up to? Well, for a few weeks it was non-stop transplanting. 
I kid you not. I brought home 75% of the starts from work, and they all needed to be up-potted. They had outgrown their 6-packs and it was time for the 4" pots. Why did they have to all need it all at the same time though? 
My babies came home!
So I would transplant all the babies at work (sometimes for most of the day) and then come home and transplant some more. I'm very grateful that the wi-fi reaches the garden because I could just turn on Pandora on my phone, plug it into the outdoor radio, and have my tunes while working and not be subjected to whatever was on the airwaves. I had enough of that while I was commuting to school.  
Completely in my element
And just like that, the greenhouse was full. 
And this isn't even all the flower I have. o.O
Since then, I've moved most of the flowers outside to harden off so that we can get them in the ground as soon as it's ready so now there is more space inside. Just in time to start thinking about what I want to seed for the fall and winter garden! :P 

Until next time!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Greenhouse Adventures: Troubles

The greenhouse saga continues! 
Ever since my brother and I put the roof panels into the greenhouse, there have been several that don't want to cooperate. 

We first thought that everything needed to be cinched down. Nope. 
Maybe a few caulking dots? Nope.
Caulking along the entire edge? Nope.
Just keep pushing them into place and pray that they stay put? Nope.

No matter what we did, those panels would always keep sliding down. 

This has officially become a battle of wills. Who will win? 

I came home from work, and my brother told me to go outside before I took my boots off. Uh-oh... 
Those darn panels were so opinionated that a couple finally decided to wiggle out and find a new home on that blustery day. Thankfully, they didn't get far, and we were able to get them before they really went anywhere or got damaged. Thought you could run away, huh?  
Do you see a problem? Something missing perhaps? 
Thankfully, I didn't have any of the newly germinated plants in there yet. 

So I turned to the all-knowing Google to see if it had any advice to dispense. 
And it did. 
I found a guy who grew in greenhouses, and he had an entire clip on what he used to keep his panels in place. 
His recommendation? This stuff. 
It can be applied wet, it sticks even when it gets wet, and (according to the You Tuber) lasted a long time. But it costs $10/roll. Valuable stuff this is. 

So to the store we went. 
We put the panels back into place, and secured the rebellious ones.

Fast forward a few days, and it was a dark and stormy night. Thankfully, my brother was outside the moment the front came through and immediately thought to check the greenhouse. One wall panel had completely come out and another one was seriously thinking about it. So there we were, putting panels in again and taping more all by flashlight this time around. It's a really good thing we had bought two rolls of tape. 

Now no one is going ANYWHERE. 
...At least, I hope... 

Until next time! 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Greenhouse Adventures: Tables

The next step in this larger-than-anticipated project was tables because just putting flats of plants on the ground isn't exactly a good use of space and we'd be crawling over them trying to get everything else finished. :P 
If I was in a pinch, I could have done that (okay, I was in a pinch, but I stubbornly ignored it).

I measured the interior dimensions of the space, drew up some designs, and handed them to my dad. He knows lumber math better than I do. Why do they say 2x4 when it's really smaller? This baffles my sewing brain. 

And then it was table making time. 
These things are built like tanks, and they're HEAVY. It's surprising how much weight wood can put on if it gets left in the rain. 
Isn't it purty!
They fit perfectly! Dad's lumber math was spot on. ;) 
Because the tables were so heavy, it was quite the back-breaker to get them into place. We had to take out the first table to get the back table in, remove a side wall panel, and we still had to use our backs as the lever. It was painful to go to work the next day... 
But they're in, and I think that they'll last longer than the greenhouse. :P 

And I don't know how many trips to the store the tables were. At least 2? 

Until next time! 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Greenhouse Adventures: Part 1

What does every grower dream of having? 
Besides plants, silly. 
A greenhouse. 
A place to start ALL THE SEEDS, overwinter tender perennials, get a jump start on the growing season, and to be able to do grafts and cuttings. I could keep going, but you get the point. ;) 

Well, I can officially tell you, THAT I NOW HAVE A GREENHOUSE!
I'm not excited at all. :P 

For years, I've haunted the listings on Craigslist, poured over catalogs, and scoured stores looking for a greenhouse that was the right size and within my budget. Finding one the right size was no problem, but finding something that didn't cost a fortune? Next to impossible. Every time I found one that might be possible, there were some major no-go warning signs (like free, no paneling, or warped and twisted frames). So I kept haunting. 

Then, last fall (yes, fall), I found a listing that grabbed me. It was for a 8x10 greenhouse for $750. Ooh, that's tempting. I contacted the seller. It was brand new, unopened in the box, for less than what I was seeing, but over an hour away. But why are you selling it? Apparently, her husband bought it for her, but she didn't want it. (??????) I was majorly confused but said that we'd take it after some bartering to bring the price down. 
Little did we realize that the label LIED to us. 2-3 hours? Only 2 people? Pshhh. 
We picked it up, brought it home, set it in the side shed, and there it sat. I knew that we couldn't even think of touching it with the holidays, Christmas trees, and inclement weather. This was a project that would need to wait until things cleared up a bit. 

Fast forward to February, and I'm needing to get the flowers started for my sister's wedding. I didn't have a place to get them started, so my boss graciously let me use space in the greenhouse at work. That's been working fine. 
Until now. 
We're needing that space for the vegetable starts, and what's sitting there? Flowers. Their lease is officially up, and I needed a place to keep them until I can get them in the ground. That bumped the greenhouse project to the top of the priority list. 

First up: getting the site prepped. 
We did what we could during a dry spell in February. Then the 3-point hitch on the tractor broke. Then it rained and poured. Then it was muddy. Not just any mud - sticky, construction, compacted, clings-to-your-shoes-and-makes-you-taller nastiness. 
But it was eventually finished. 

Step 2: Building the Greenhouse
So last weekend, we had beautiful sunshine and a family crew (or pretty much family) that had an open day, and we set to work. Or at least, we tried to. The directions were less than helpful and rather vague. They were most likely directly translated from Chinese using Google translate. 
Somewhere along the way, we realized that we were missing hardware. A lot of hardware. Like the kit was missing an entire bag of hardware. So a volunteer went to the store to pick up the needed parts. But the first store didn't have what we needed. So they hit up another store. It ended up having the wrong thread on the bolts. So another car full went back to the store, returned the wrong ones, picked up the right ones with the assistance of the the really helpful employee. Then it was soon apparent that we still didn't have enough of the bolts. So back to the store to pick up the parts with 7 minutes to go before they closed for the night and for Easter. Got back home, and apparently there were MORE parts that we needed to pick up. Thankfully, the first store did have them. 

Day one: 4 trips to the store. 

A new crew came back from their day trip and jumped into the project with a fervor that we never had. THANK YOU! I was about to have many not-very-nice words for this greenhouse. With their help, the front and back were finished, the side frame assemble, and the roof up. All that it needed would be the paneling. That would have to wait until after Easter, but that was no biggie. That went together quickly. But I still need to pick up 2 bolts from the store to get the last piece installed. :P 

Next up on this bigger-than-expected project: floor. 
Me and math don't get along
I came up with a quick and dirty diagram, priced things out, did some math, grabbed help, and off to the store we went. First trip into town for the floor was for pavers, the next trip was for gravel. My brother and I were able to get the pavers in really fast, but I had done the math wrong. :face palm: So back to the store for more pavers. 
Flooring project: 3 trips to the store

And here is the finished flooring! We'll be building the tables to go in a u-shape. Another project for another day. 
And here it it! I feel like we need to name it with all the time that has gone into putting it together. Any ideas? 

Happy, rolling garden-buddy
And now that it is all set up and looking pretty, we have a potentially big (for this time of year) wind storm this weekend. We've battened down the hatches as best as we can, but I'm praying that it will make it. I don't exactly trust Chinese manufacturing or materials.

This is going to be a huge learning curve for me - it's a new greenhouse, I don't know what it is capable of withstanding, how it handles various temperatures, what quirks and oddities this little structure has, but it's all part of the process.  

Until next time!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

New Beginnings

For several years now, this yearning to be a flower farmer has slowly grown.
It started as an I like flowers to Food for the pollinators! to Ohmygosh! Flower fields are the best! to Hey, look! A cut-flower class! to ALL THE CLASSES! ALL THE BOOKS! to I need a truck bed full of flowers! to where I am now. 
Bam. Truck of dreams, right there. Floret Flowers is a huge inspiration for me.
All this under my belt and buzzing around in my brain, and my sister and her boyfriend announce their engagement. 

What does every wedding need? What costs an arm and a leg and your soul and your first born child and the tears of a crocodile? 

I feel like Chekov running down the hallway of the Enterprise shouting, 'I CAN DO ZAT!' and then I whip out every seed catalog and cut flower book and resource that I have looking like an overeager puppy that found the best stick in the world. We most certainly can do this. 
And then I started planning. 

What did I get myself into? 
It's one thing to put a seedling into the ground and cut the blooms whenever it's ready. 
It's another matter entirely when you're trying to have all the blooms by a certain date. 
So to the spread sheets I went, plugging in all the information I thought I needed to plan this whole thing out. That was a long, brain draining afternoon. But it's done, and now all I have to do is reference my handy dandy spreadsheet to know when I need to have things seeded and all the other information that I'll need to have for planting, growing, harvesting, and special treatment requirements. Just to name a few. :P 
I'll try to figure out how to share it with you so you don't have to try to create your own from scratch.
I just had one problem. The greenhouse that I found (brand new, in the box) on Craigslist that I was able to find for quite the steal, is still in the box. Yeah, I jumped on that deal, but we haven't had the time, energy, or cooperative weather to get it up. So there it sits. Still in the box.  We're starting to get the site prepped, but it will take time. But according to my master sheet, I needed to get some things started in early February. Did I mention that the greenhouse is still in the box? I don't have a good place to get things started. Thankfully, my boss is letting me use some space in the greenhouse at work until I get mine up and running. I'm up to 4 seed flats now. :P Just wait until I start up-potting them into larger containers. I will slowly take over! 

One of the things that my sister :really: wanted was Bunny Tails grass. It looks really cool in arrangements, but do you know how weird it felt to be seeding grass? In a greenhouse? On purpose? 
And I'm just blown away at how tiny some of the seeds are. They're so itty-bitty that they are in tubes or teeny plastic bags INSIDE the seed packets. It's amazing how much growing power is contained in such a tiny vessel.
In spite of the hyperventilating that has happened, the seeds are in fact growing. Just like they should. 
When I finished my master list, I had to have some serious pep talks. 
Why do I have so many flowers on the list?!? 
Because you have no idea what you're doing, so you're covering your bases.
Oh yeah... 
If something doesn't work, then something else will probably be available. 
:deep breath:
You know, we're going to be drowning in flowers if all of these work.
Oy vey...

Seed Sources:

So this is me. Jumping in with both feet. 
I'll keep you updated as things keep growing. Next up will hopefully be about either the greenhouse or flower field prep! 

Until next time! 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sheltered or Hardened Off?

(I've had this in drafts for a while now. The idea was there, but the words weren't quite right. After sitting on it and eventually revising it, it was as ready as it would be for sharing with the world.)

As I was bundled up trying to stay warm at the chef's garden the other day by working with some baby greens in the hoop house, a thought came to me, and it was a rather profound one at that especially considering that it was coming from tending to little lettuces: Being overly sheltered while growing up is the same as not getting hardened off. I'll explain. 

Plants that are started in a greenhouse absolutely need to be hardened off otherwise they fade and wilt when exposed to the full power of the sun, wind, and rain. They don't know how to stand on their own feet because they haven't had to. You give them the best opportunity to thrive by starting them indoors with climate control, mild temperatures, and (filtered) sunlight - all conducive to maximum growing potential. All too soon, they outgrow their pots and might even become gangly if kept inside for too long. It's high time for the baby plants to HARDEN OFF.

There are two options here: plunk 'em in the ground hoping for the best or prepare them for what the great outdoors have in store by acclimating them to those conditions instead of shocking them with everything all at once.

Seeing the same light bulb that I did? How many people just cannot handle what life throws at them, don't know what to do with themselves once on their own, or long for the childhood glory days?

Yes, we want to protect those in our care; we can give them the best start we possibly can. But will your children be ready to stand strong against the headwinds? How do you harden yourself off let alone teach someone else? How do you remain sensitive to others even when you find yourself too hardened? 

Just a bunch of thoughts and questions from the chef's garden. I don't have answers (I'm as single as they come and the only littles I have to harden off are baby plants), and the plants I talk to certainly don't have anything to say. We would have a very different problem if they started talking back. :P 

Until next time,

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Gardener's Garden

Happy New Year!
And I can't think of a better time to dust off the old blog a bit. Actually, a lot. 
Long time, no blog; and I have some updating to do. I'll give you the cliff notes version. 

I finished school in June. Yay! 
Started working full time at the chef's garden that I had my internship at. Yay!
My social life saw a revival. Yay!
Sewed like crazy because I had markets, bazaars, and fairs for my booth. :gasp: Yes, I was a vendor at multiple events this past season. Yay!
Psst, you can keep up with those adventures on my sewing blog. ;) 

And I have a legitimate excuse for ignoring this little digital space.
You know the saying, "The cobbler's children are barefoot"? 
I'd like to add to it. "The gardener's garden is abandoned." 
I went to school to learn how to farm and garden. My garden should be :amazing:
Well, the garden that I work at is well cared for.
Mine, on the other hand, gets very little time dedicated to it. It's weedy, in desperate need of regular watering, and in need of just getting actually finished. I know, a garden is never 'finished,' but I would like to have the basic design and parameters of the space established, and I could just put in plants and garden around it. That would be kind of nice. 
In the summer of '16, we finally bit the dust and built raised beds. We put down weed block because we started finding baby MORNING GLORY. Not cool. At all. I was mad, and upset, and frustrated that I spend all my precious little time digging those things out. So we built the beds. 
It wasn't in time for the summer garden that year, but it was just in time for the fall garden. We took some wire and cut it to the width of the beds, and bought some frost blanket. That was also just in time for one of our snowier, colder winters. 
And that was the first time we had broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, carrots, parsnips, and garlic. Actually, it was my first overwintered garden at home. I call that a success. 

By next the next spring, the overwintered things were all done, and summer plants put in. I loved the minimal effort in getting the beds ready, and the timed drip irrigation, and the noticeable lack of weeding that needed to be done. Compared to everywhere else on the property, it was nice to not have to worry about the vegetable garden for once.

By the end of this summer, I quickly realized that the summer veggies weren't going to be done in time to get the fall/winter crops in, so we made a few more boxes to expand the area. Slowly we will build the full garden plan. Baby steps. :nods:

One of my goals for this year is to set up better infrastructure the areas that we've developed to make our daily routines easier. The blueberries, strawberries, herb garden, orchard, etc.. This year we could get a better handle on the weed pressure, be better about mulching and suppression, installing timed irrigation so we don't have to water everything by hand, etc... We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we'll just keep chipping away at it.  
I have some more fun and exciting things and developments to share with you this year, so hopefully I can get around to updating more often. :D 

Until next time!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fire and Steel and Explosive Gases, Oh My!

This last term at school was a little different - my last required class was online (and boringly easy), and the other two classes had nothing to do with horticulture and were pretty much as opposite to each other as they could be: dancing and welding. 

You already know how much I love dancing, so I don't need to go into detail about that (except to say that swing dancing is my favorite thing ever). But welding... That world was (and still is) completely foreign and unlike anything I had ever done before. 

I picked up the textbook which reads more like a manual than anything else. If you want a dull horror story, you can read this. It will tell you everything that can go wrong while welding and say it in such a matter of fact way that you have to do a double-take to make sure that you read it right.

Between sparks, slag, extreme heat (to the tune of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit), exploding concrete, scorching hot metal, equipment that costs more than my car is worth, gas that is highly combustible and at high pressures... it was all rather intense to say the least. My brain wasn't sure how to process all of that. 
This handy chart would have been useful for the first day of class. I had no idea what the instructor was talking about when he was throwing out all these acronyms in the lecture. 
Exploding concrete? Oy. 
I had to psych myself up for each class. I had already been up early for work, and then to drive across town to school for a late evening class was exhausting. Thankfully, my dad was taking the class with me. We'd stop for Chipotle on the way to class, eat dinner, then start welding. 
The welding booths were hot (I couldn't imagine doing this class during warmer weather), sparks were flying everywhere, you can only see through the tiny window in your helmet, picking up welding sticks with bulky gloves took some serious patience with yourself. 

At the beginning of the term, we were all handed a check-off list of the different welds that we were to work on during class. Once I got over my initial terror of holding the welding torch, things went rather smoothly, and, for me, quickly. I practically flew through the list while others were still trying to bead a straight line. My dad thinks that it's because of all my sewing that I have a steady hand. I have no idea why. 
I just want to add this before going any further: welders have quite the fashion sense. :P Heavy, rough leather jackets, hats in the strangest fabric prints, stiff canvas pants, leather boots, and you can't forget the safety glasses and welding mask. Actually, you're not even allowed in the machine shop without safety glasses on - I'm sure it's an insurance thing, but seriously, there's the possibility for heavy flying things hitting you in the head. At least protect your eyes, kid. 
We started with stick welding, then moved to wire feed, and the graduated to bigger wire feed. That's about as far as most the class got through their lists. Since I finished early, I got to play with oxyfuel welding (the chunkier cousin of TIG welding), oxyfuel torch, and a plasma torch (which was super cool because you can cut a lot of metal really fast and there's sparks everywhere, and I was covered in steel flecks). 

We had the option to do a project in class if we so desired. I had no idea what to make. So to pinterest I went. I narrowed it down to two possibilities: a necklace hanging tree or cattails for the kidney bean of a pond in my herb garden. I headed to the repurposing store to see what I could find. I honestly had no idea what I was looking for, but the owner was super helpful, and I found some steel leaves that someone had hammered out. With that, I knew that I would be doing the tree. I then wandered through the aisles of Home Depot (now I know how my dad and brother feel in the craft store) until I found metal rods. 

Because the metal rods were thin enough, I was able to cut and lay everything out at home with the tools that we have. This is what I came up with
And I used all the pieces within 45 minutes of starting. We had from 6:30-9:50 to weld. My tree looked rather poorly pruned, so the next week, I brought in more branches and leaves.
The finished result:
The log round is from a maple tree that fell on the fence during one of the storms this winter. How nice of the tree to get to a level that we can reach it. :P 

Because I finished the tree much faster than anticipated, I also figure out how to do the cattails since the instructor showed me how to use the cutting torch. My cutting lines are rather jagged, but I didn't feel inclined to smooth them out - it's just going out in the garden... 
They look like I stuck swords in the ground.Now to just figure out how to get in in a stone... Hmm... 
The class certainly felt over my head at the beginning, now I feel like I could pick up a welder and melt metal whenever I need to. I guess the class did what it was supposed to. ;) Do I feel inclined to pursue more classes in this field? Not really. It's not a world that I'm necessarily drawn to, but it is good to know how to wield a welder. 

Until next time!