Friday, May 29, 2009

Caitlin Says...

On the very first day of summer break, even before breakfast, the first words out of Caitlin's mouth this morning were:

"I'm bored!"*

It's gonna be a loooooong summer.

* I'm not even kidding. You can't make this stuff up!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The end of another year

School year, that is.


Caitlin with her awesome teacher.

Holy crap! I have a third grader now!

She looks so much older with short hair and glasses. This post seems an awful long time ago now.

Hmm. Must be time to set her up with camp!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stress is...

Going to your child's end of school year award ceremony with screaming twins.

No? Not doing it for you? How about this?

Getting your daughter to a birthday party, when you don't have a present and don't know where the house is and your car is acting funny.

OK, so now you've bought a present, but you've forgotten a bag at home to put it in, so you go home to get it and then head out to the party, but now you're late.

You're late to a place you've never been and your nerves are a wreck from the car's sudden mysterious ailment and you almost run over a teenager who decides to cross the road right in front of you without ever looking to see if a car is coming.

So you're late to a birthday party, your car is acting wonky, you've almost just run over a child and your twins are screaming in back because they haven't napped yet. Your eldest child decides now is the time to start grilling you on your driving technique.

You're late and you're lost, but by God! you've got the present and you didn't run over that teen and you've turned around 4 times in a row even with the map in your hand but you get there eventually and drop off your daughter.

Now seems like a great time to go grocery shopping with tired twins, doesn't it?

How was your day?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pricking Out, Potting Up

So you want to know how to grow on your seedlings, you say? Or you planted them a bit too early for your last frost date and they're too big for their original pots?

I can help.

There are a few key pieces of equipment that will help you produce strong seedlings.

You can use almost anything as a pot: yogurt containers, soda bottles, egg cartons, those plastic bubbles that Costco sells apples in, or actual pots. Feel free to experiment. You can get a bunch of used pots for free from gardening centers if you ask, or bug your green fingered friends (or the friends with black thumbs - they'll probably have plenty of empty pots). They probably have piles of them sitting around. Just clean them out with a 10% peroxide solution (or bleach, but peroxide is nicer to the environment and your lungs) to kill anything left over from the previous plants and soil that were in there.

You'll thank yourself later for printing up labels now. Trust me.

Potting Soil
Moistened potting soil. Not too wet, mind you, just a little damp so it will take up water easily when you're watering instead of repelling it as dry peat moss normally does. And no, dirt from your backyard isn't a good idea for your tender seedlings. You need soil that is going to both retain water and drain well, providing a good temporary home for your plants. They'll go into the backyard soil just as soon as you've hardened them off.

I use 4' long shop lights with both warm and cool fluorescent bulbs in them. The mix of lightbulbs gives a good approximation of full spectrum light, like sunlight. It's also a whole lot cheaper than growlight bulbs. I have them plugged into a power strip which is plugged into an automatic timer that keeps the lights running for 16 hours per day.

Oscillating fan

The fan, you see, is key to avoiding spindly plants. Otherwise they end up looking like this:
Not so pretty, eh?

The fan, you see, is the secret. Out in nature, plants are constantly blown about by the wind which keeps them shorter and stockier than you can grow them indoors under lights. The fan imitates the wind and keeps all of your plants happier.

That broccoli above? Not so happy. It sprang up faster than all the rest of the plants in that tray, so it didn't get exposed to the fan soon enough. This is also why you should plant seeds that like the same growing conditions and spring up at the same time. Do I ever remember to do this myself?


Say you're like me and you have started more plants than you have sense and you mixed them together in the same container.
Tomatoes, zinnias, dichondra and hummingbird sage.

Well, after they've sprung up and put on their first set of true leaves, you'll need to pot them up and let them grow on. Unless you're like me, of course, and you get so busy that by the time you turn around again, they've got 2 or 3 sets of true leaves.

1. Fill your pot halfway with moistened potting soil.

2. Using a dibbler, pencil, fork, spoon or letter opener (my personal favorite), pry your tiny seedling out of the soil and untangle its roots from those of the plants around it.

Be gentle. This part is tricky and since I can't photograph myself doing something that takes two hands, you'll just have to imagine it.

3. Holding your plant by a leaf, not the stem, lower it into the pot and hold it at the level you want to fill soil around.
Since this is a tomato and they grow roots all along their stems, I like to put them in as deeply as I can. This also deals with any spindly stems I might have and will give me a stronger plant in the long run. More roots = stronger plant. Other plants should be planted at the same depth they were growing at originally.

4. Fill the soil around your plant and tap it sharply on the work surface to settle the soil, then fill in with a little more soil. When you're done, press down the soil to firm the plant in.

5. Now that your plant is potted up, be sure to label it before you move on to the next one. Trust me, you'll forget in an instant which variety you were last working on and then you'll be bummed to have a pile of mystery tomatoes sitting around.
Ask me how I know.


6. Finally, after all that your seedling has been through, it needs a nice drink. Now is a good time to feed a diluted liquid fertilizer to your seedlings. Water from below so that you don't wash it out of its new home. Your plant will thank you.
7. Set the new tray of plants together under lights and make sure your fan is on and directly blowing across your plants. I like to plug my fan into the same timer the plants are on, although you could leave it running 24 hours a day. I find that dries my plants out a little too quickly, though.

A week later, they'll probably look something like this.

8. Grow them on until you've reached the proper planting out date for your area. Hot season plants usually like to go outside either right after the last frost date (Here in Colorado, that's supposed to be May 15th, but I usually wait until the weather forecast shows nighttime temperatures staying above 50 degrees at night.) or two weeks later. You don't want all of your hard work to be killed by a sudden cold front, do you?

I didn't think so!

9. Don't forget to harden off your plants before just leaving them outside for the rest of the season. Otherwise, you'll crisp them and then you'll be sad. As will your plants.

It really is that simple (it's not difficult, it's time consuming) to start your own plants from seed and then to prick them out and pot them up. It's a lot cheaper than buying plants from the store* and you get to choose all of the different varieties instead of having to accept whatever is currently being sold.

This way, however, lies the siren song of tomatoes and once you start growing your own plants successfully, you may discover that you have a hard time walking away from the seed racks in spring. Soon you'll discover yourself wanting to try just one more tomato variety and you'll start looking forward to those sexy, sexy seed catalogs that arrive in February.

You're welcome.

Ready? Go for it! You know you wanna!

* Well...eventually it will be, if you bought all of the different gear I suggested. If you did it all on the cheap, or had a lot of this stuff laying around and you're really into gardening, it totally pays to raise your own plants. Otherwise, think of it as doing your part to save the Earth on your little patch of land. Life is better with more plants in it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

How to Start Plants from Seed

You've been tightening your belt recently and you've been thinking about ways to save money and so you thought you'd plant a vegetable garden this year along with all of those other folks.

You could always toss some seeds on the ground and see what happens or you could start them indoors. In a protected environment. Away from all of those birds and squirrels.

Yes, I know it's kind of late to write this entry, but I was working on planting my own seeds earlier when I should have written it. So just think of this as being really early for next season or something you can use for the fall planting season.

Yes, fall planting season. Well talk about that later.

I've been planting both flowers and vegetables from seed for years and years now and the thrill never wears off. I've started stuff too early and I've started stuff pretty late. No matter what, it's always worth it for the experience alone, much less the actual food and flowers you get out of it.

The most useful pieces of equipment for starting seeds are:

Pots or flats
Humidity domes

Seed starting mix


Oscillating fan

Shelving unit

Now, you don't need all of the things I have listed to get started. I sure didn't have them when I started out. However, as you go along, you may get tired of spindly seedlings that fall over and look sad and kind of yellow. Here's what I've found out through my reading and my own experimenting.
  • Seedlings demand bright, direct light and wind. These two things will keep your plants from getting spindly. Starting seedlings in a windowsill seems like a good idea, except that the light isn't bright enough or lasts long enough during the time of year when you're starting seeds.
  • If it's terrifically cold outside that window, your seeds might be too cold to germinate on the windowsill or the fluctuating temperatures might be killing off your seedlings. This is where a shelving unit with shop lights comes in.
  • Diluted fertilizer will keep your seedlings from getting yellow.
  • Seeds like high humidity to germinate and often they like heat, too. (BTW, some types of seeds don't need light to germinate like pansies and violas. You'll need to cover those until they germinate.) Here is where the humidity dome comes in handy. The shop lights, in addition to providing light, will also provide just enough heat to start your seeds, but not enough to cook your seedlings.
  • Provide light for 16 hours a day to get your seedlings up and growing fast. Use the kind of electronic timer you plug your lights into to convince burglars that you're home when you're not. (Hey look! Another use for that sucker!)
Armed with all of this information, knowledge of your last frost date (From which date you will count backwards the number of weeks your seed packet recommends you start your plants indoors. That, my friends, is when you should be starting your seeds. Don't do what I did this year.) and a little bit of gear, let's get started.

1. Just barely moisten your seed starting mix. I usually pour it into a big bowl and using warm water and my hands, mix it together like dough. You want it just moist enough that it will take up water when you're done seeding, but not soggy.
Dry as bone on left. Moistened just enough on right.

In case you didn't know, there is an actual difference between seed starting mix and potting soil. Potting soil is a lot chunkier and often has some fertilizer in it. SSM is finely milled and does not have fertilizer in it, generally because your seedlings don't need feeding until they've got true leaves on them and at that point you're either potting them up or moving them outside.
Seed starting mix on left. Potting soil on right.

You can use those take out containers you get from certain stores that have black bottoms and clear plastic tops. Punch a bunch of holes in the bottom to provide drainage. (This is what I started with, years ago. If you check out this picture, you'll note a large range of containers from ice cream pints to peat pellets to takeout containers.) Or, use a 1020 flat with holes nestled into another without holes. Or egg cartons. Whatever floats your boat.

2. Fill your containers with seed mix and tap it sharply on your work surface to settle the mix. Refill and level off the excess soil.

3. Plant your seeds according to the back of the package. A little shallower or a little deeper is not a big deal, but pay attention to seeds that want to be just barely covered or left uncovered. They're usually pretty small, too.

4. After you're done, label everything. This is a key step. Don't forget. I'm telling you - label! All of those seedlings look pretty darned similar when they first come up.

5. Water from below and cover with humidity dome or place in a plastic bag, fill with air and seal off.

6. Place under lights, about 3" away from your light source.

7. Don't water again until the seedling mix looks dry. No, really. Otherwise you'll waterlog those babies and then they'll die. Or else fungus will start growing on top of the soil. The humidity dome or plastic bag will trap all the moisture you need until the seeds sprout.

8. Once your seeds have sprouted, remove the humidity dome (or bag) and turn on your fan. Ensure your fan is actually moving the leaves a little. You don't need hurricane force winds, but if the air around your plants isn't moving at all, the plants won't stay nice and stocky. Also, reducing the humidity levels will help reduce - if not eliminate - water related diseases like molds, fungus and damping off. You can also get the same effect by brushing your hands over the tops of your plants a few times a day every day, but I'm not OCD enough to remember to do that.

9. Grow your seedlings on until they have their first set of true leaves. At this point, if you have a bunch of tiny seedlings all jammed in together you're either going to want to thin them out (Gasp!) or prick them out and pot them up. Personally, I hate tossing out perfectly good plants, so I'm a fan of pricking out and potting up. More on that tomorrow.

10. Congratulations! You now have seedlings! Now it's time to fertilize (once every two weeks) with a dilute solution of a balanced liquid fertilizer. Read the bottle and follow their directions. Write down on your calendar when you're supposed to fertilize your plants again. Trust me.

Now you just have to keep your plants alive until it's time to move them outdoors. Frankly, this is the tricky part.

- - - - -

I was planning on doing sort of a time-lapse photography photo shoot, but time got away from me, as it usually does. Instead, here are a few images to give you an idea of just how fast these babies grow. These are the squash, melons and cucumbers that I decided to start indoors, as a test. Normally all of these seeds want to be started in situ outdoors, but I like to try stuff like this on occasion. Note that the first sprouts appeared on day 3 after planting (Outdoors, it's usually 10 days before they sprout.). These photos start on the 4th day.
Day 4 after planting.

Day 5 after planting.

Day 10 after planting. (I forgot all about photographing them days 6-9. Sorry!)

In case you're wondering what all you're looking at, from left to right:
  1. Cucumbers
  2. Sugar baby watermelon
  3. Charentais melon
  4. Pie pumpkin
  5. Zucchini
  6. Delicata squash
  7. Butternut squash
  8. Buttercup squash
  9. Straightneck yellow squash
  10. Honeydew melon
The best part is, if they fail to take once I put them outdoors, I can just direct seed replacements. If they do take, then I've bought myself an extra week on the growing season and I'll probably fiddle with it more next year.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Twin's First Sleepover

As an anniversary present my mother-in-law and sister-in-law offered to tag team the twins and Caitlin for us and bought us one night in a hotel room.

They gave us almost 24 hours alone which is possibly the best anniversary present ever! (Say it with me now: I love my children! I love my children! I love my children! I need some down time!)

We dropped off our monkeys, kissed them goodbye and ran like mad.

What is this "separation anxiety" of which you speak? Never heard of it.

We went to an early dinner which was really nice, especially the lack of "Ehn! Ehn! Ehn!" and general whining. I think that's still my favorite part. Afterward we went to see the new Star Trek movie and it rocked! (Insert gushing review here. Gush! Gush! Geek girl crush over Chris Pine! Woo! Sylar as Spock? Perfect! Uhuru is a babe! Etcetera.)

The next day, we gathered up the twins and discovered that they suckered Jenni

and Grammy

into further potential sleepovers. They went right to sleep, slept through the night and had their Cuteness setting turned up to 11. They didn't miss us at all.
Who are you again?

All of the cousins had a great time together. As usual, Caitlin and Max were inseparable.
Caitlin and Axl did a little bonding.
And a good time was had by all.

So I guess you could say that their very first sleepover, their very first night away from mom and dad, went swimmingly. Grammy and Jenni even offered to do it again.

Next weekend isn't too soon, is it? Is it?!

- - - -

On a completely separate note, for your viewing pleasure, here is an extremely slow chase scene:

Snacks? Snacks!

Uh oh.

Emma: Gimme!
Logan: No! No! No! No!

Emma: I can see we'll have to do this the hard way.
Logan: Teehee! Miiiiiiine!


Foiled again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Logan's First Shiner

One for the baby book: my first black eye!


"You shoulda seen dat guy! He musta been 3 feet tall! He outweighed me by at least 3 pounds!"

"Is OK, doh. Emma and me, we ganged up on him laters and beated him up togedder."

At least, that's his story and he's sticking with it.

I suspect it may be the first of many, since he got it while we were playing. He was running with a block in his hand when he tripped and fell. He landed on it face first and got the corner of the block right in his cheek. Suddenly all of those warnings about not running with sticks and/or scissors make more sense. Damn! He could've put his eye out with that thing!

In an instant I went from a good mommy playing with her baby to a horrible mom, allowing my child to play with implements of potential blinding doom.

He says he forgives me, so I guess it's OK.


Emma, not to be outdone, was attacked by one of our cats. No one was in the room at the time, so we have only the big ole scratch on her nose to go by. I'm assuming it was a kiss gone horribly wrong.
"I was just tryin' to be friendly!"

She's mostly healed up by now and has forgotten. The cat, on the other hand, has clearly learned that if he wants to smack babies, he just needs to wait until no one is looking.
"Pucker up, kitty!"

You may note that I skipped the 19 month entry. I was busy...they got older...I can hardly get near them with a camera without them charging me and yelling, "Baby! Baby! Baby!" They desperately want to see the baby in the camera after I've taken the picture. Since they stand right on top of me, it's really hard to get any good pictures of them. Blah, blah, blah.

I'll try again at 20 months.

In other news, I still have a husband and elder daughter.

Although I'm thinking about trading her in for a puppy or something. Surely a puppy won't be rude to me all the time and completely ignore me when I talk to it. Surely it won't? I bet I could train up a really well behaved puppy, too.

I keep thinking it's just a stage. Unfortunately, I think this stage ends when the "tween" years start. Ugh. Then it goes to the teen years. Argh! Then suddenly it will be the college years. Whew! She'll go away to college and...ohmigod! At some point...there will might be dating. Then, her 20s and on and on the "stages" go. At what point do I get to relax and stop worrying about her? When she's 40?

At some point, I'm going to look back on her tantrums, the flinging herself to the floor (Which, by the way, she didn't do when she was two. Apparently she's making up for lost time now.), the near constant whining and I'll laugh. I'm sure of it. I'll wonder what I got so stressed out over compared to whatever the current Caitlin stressor is and I'll laugh at my naivete.

In the meantime, I think I prefer the trauma of a black eye. It's not so bad.
Dis my profile.

See? You can't even see it from this side.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It must be spring

Where are all of these bruises coming from?

Hey, is that a splinter in my finger?

Why won't this cut on my thumb heal up?

I must have some of the ugliest hands in Colorado right about now...ground in dirt, cracked and dry from all of the washing and washing and washing. There isn't enough lotion in the world to save my hands from diapers, plants, dirt and weeds.

These hands, you see, are busy.

I've finally cleared out all 4 of my raised beds in the backyard.
The lump of green in the lower right corner is a volunteer potato. Woo! Free food!

I haven't added compost and I haven't turned them over, but I have ripped out all of the "temporarily" heeled in plants that were popped into one of the beds or 4 years ago. Some of them I decided to place into the bed under the cherry tree, since that soil is easy to work and all of the annuals from last season are dead dead dead.
After the winter debris is torn away and after the new plants are popped in, but before the crabgrass is cut down, the bed looks like hell. Don't worry! It will get better! I might even mulch it this year!*

The rest I pitched onto the compost pile after determining that sometimes you really do have too much of a good thing. (Tip: if you want a spring blooming, easy, xeric plant, go for catmint. That stuff will grow just about anywhere and will spread over time. Not as crazy as lamb's ear, but it is prolific. Nice as a groundcover for when you just want to put something in and forget about it. Bees love it!)

After relocating about 17 catmint, 5 Johnson Blue geranium, a checkerbloom (Wait, it was in a 3" pot all of these years? Yow! Lookit those roots coming through the bottom!), 2 Russian sedum (So far. I've got more!) and several plants of Agastache 'Golden Jubilee' and Agastache 'Purple Pygmy' that survived the winter in the container by my front door.
Close up of over wintered Golden Jubilee and newly relocated catmint and agastache.

I figured that if they were tough enough to handle my complete winter neglect, they'd do fine in the garden bed.

I even took time to fill in the hens and chicks pot. Again.
Plants added: one sempervivum 'Baronesse', a sempervivum 'Hardy Boy' that I pulled into 3 pieces and Sedum spurium 'Tricolor'. Now I just need to top it off with some decorative rocks.

They might be tough, but they're not tough enough to handle no snow cover and no watering and freezing conditions. Some did, though, which is always mind boggling. I'm thinking about switching everything in pots to sempervivums just so I can avoid watering ever again. Who needs flowers?!

Sempervivum: the container planting of choice for people with no free time!

I've turned the compost pile twice and frightened away a small group of mice.

Dandelions are taking over my backyard. Crabgrass is taking over the front yard. My xeric plants are waiting for their spring clean up. My tiny tomato plants need pricking out and potting up.

I have no free time except that which can be squeezed in between naps and sleep.

I've already gotten my first sunburn of the season.

Yup. It must be spring. I am officially insane once again, due to planting fever.

In case you're wondering where I am, I'm off collecting more scratches, bruises, splinters and dirt.

* This is what real gardening looks like. Not the stuff you see in glossy gardening mags or on TV, done by professionals with crews. This is what it looks like when only one person is responsible for getting it all done in their spare time. Your garden can look just like Martha Stewart's just as soon as you have the same money and gardening crew that she has. Reset your expectations!
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