Oh, how my garden grew! 2013 in review

Spring came late in 2013.

Spring came late in 2013.

For many, winter’s dormancy is empty and cold. Gone are the days of summer abundance, with leaves, fruits, flowers in profusion. Green fades to gold and gold to brown. Beneath the hard, bare, ground, life hums. The world is not dead during winter, but sleeping. Asleep, the earth dreams until it’s ready to stretch then stir into life again in the explosion known as spring.

This cycle of activity and repose used to be entrenched in human lives as well. Winter was a time to rest, to catch up on chores, to learn new crafts, to think, to plan, to be still. That ebb and flow is missing from life now that most people do not rely on the land for their living. Without rest, action is ineffective. Without reflection, action lacks purpose. During the dark, cold hours of the year, our bodies yearn for stillness. While I haven’t had the luxury of granting myself this much-needed winter repose, I have felt dormant.

Now, midway through the mercurial Kansas winter, life is beginning to stir again in me – as I know it is in my garden. It’s still invisible, but the seed of an idea has started to germinate.

Last summer, Tyler and I planned a garden for the first time together. We’ve had gardens before – haphazard affairs or half-forgotten plants in pots, and I used to help with our family garden – but this was the first time I embarked on gardening as a serious hobby of my own. Tyler built me 3 raised beds (2-4′x4′ & 1-8′x4′) out of cedar, which I stained and helped fill with soil. The two square beds were tiered with smaller 2′x2′ beds centered inside them. We thought these would be plenty, especially considering we had isolated most of our herbs in another part of the yard.

The cedar planting beds are ready to be filled with plants.

The cedar planting beds are ready to be filled with plants.

By the end of the summer, our garden had overflowed its banks.

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We planted snap peas, carrots, radishes, onions, lettuce, spinach, green beans, garlic, brussels sprouts and kale in the large bed first, planning to follow early season crops with warmer-weather plants. 

Baby radishes peek through the ground.

Baby radishes peek through the ground.

This was also the year I discovered my skin is allergic to radish leaves.

This was also the year I discovered my skin is allergic to radish leaves.

We were careful to be completely organic with this effort so our beds would be “safe” to use for many years to come. We never use chemicals on our plants (although Tyler does use fertilizers and other products on the lawn from time to time).

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Within a few weeks, we were enjoying the first fruits of our efforts. However, due to a series of cold snaps, we didn’t plant most things until the last weekend of April. So, our “early spring” vegetables were enjoyed around Memorial Day.

Eager strawberries.

Eager strawberries.

One of the square beds will be dedicated eventually to strawberries, although for this year the were contained in only the top tier. An overbearing variety proved true to its name and started producing almost immediately! Learning as you go is a lot more fun when the prize for a successful experiment is a sweet red strawberry.

By early summer, plants were growing stronger in spite of the heat they had to battle as young transplants.

By early summer, plants were growing stronger in spite of the heat they had to battle as young transplants.

Surprise successes: Leafy greens! We picked basket after basket of lettuce and spinach late this spring and well into summer. Picking leaves instead of harvesting whole plants extended our harvest for weeks and kept us well-stocked. We had plenty to give away. As usual, tomatoes, okra, peppers, eggplant, carrots, radishes, onions, basil and other herbs performed well. Surprisingly, the leeks I started from seeds did great, too. It was a sort of random experiment that paid off nicely! Cucumbers and Armenian cucumbers thrived and we are still eating freezer pickles.

Miserable failures: Broccoli, kale, and brussels sprouts. The brussels sprouts were the constant target of ravenous little caterpillars, as was the kale. The broccoli I unknowingly planted next to peppers and both were stunted as a result of their proximity. I managed to get some kale to eat, but the other two plants did not produce and zapped my time fighting off the pests. The snap peas struggled, planted too late to thrive before summer heat. The green beans had trouble getting established due to window and blazing sun on the seedlings.

All in all, the garden would have done much better if we had been able to plant before late May. Hopefully this year, the weather and our schedules will cooperate! Several extended vacations also took us away and made it hard to get an accurate count on the harvest. The tomatoes also struggled a bit – I planted them in late June as discount transplants from a going-out-of-business garden center. This was the first year I tried square foot gardening and many of the plants were simply too crowded. It was also a year for learning about the sun in that location – many plants suffered from too much sun initially, then grew too shaded later on. All of these things have been excellent learning experiences!

The bounty (approximate):

  • Snap peas: (bust) Equivalent of 1 package
  • Green beans: 60 oz.
  • Cucumbers: 14
  • Summer squash: 11 – biggest weighing 2 lb. 10 oz.
  • Okra: 210 oz.
  • Eggplant (Ichiban :): 23
  • Hot peppers (jalapeños and otherwise): 45
  • Radishes: 32 oz.
  • Carrots: 40 oz.
  • Strawberries: 48 oz.
  • Cilantro: 4 bunches
  • Basil: 10 bunches
  • Dill, parsley, other: 5 bunches
  • Zucchini: 10 (biggest: 2 lb 14 oz)
  • Onions: 8
  • Armenian cucumber: 22 (biggest: 3 lb 11 oz.)
  • Tomatoes (cherry): 320 oz.
  • Roma tomatoes: 10
  • Heirloom tomatoes: 15

Planning for my garden this year is underway and I am ready to leave the period of dormancy and spring into action once more! This year I plan to expand further, set up more hands-free watering solutions, and use pots for some of the root vegetables and herbs, to name a few of the items on my to-do list. Have you started planning your vegetable garden yet? I’d love to know what you’re planting!

Progress… Sort of.

The kitchen cabinets - primed and painted!

The kitchen cabinets – primed and painted!

Hello dear readers (how funny I am, acting as if there is more than one of you despite being fairly sure everyone lost interest long ago). Work has continued on the ol’ homestead over the past several weeks in the stops and starts that have characterized this entire project. I’m so done with it all. Unfortunately, it is not done with me. I plan to share a few photos, taken more than a month ago, and update you ever so briefly on our progress. I don’t plan to share many more photos or updates until we’re done. It’s become rather demoralizing for me, so I hope you understand. Later, I’ll try to provide more detail about specific projects, if there is any interest.  Continue reading

Grout it Out

For everyone (that means you, Arleigh) eagerly awaiting a kitchen update – this isn’t it. Other than to slyly suggest that progress is being made, this post is about another design dilemma. Grout!

We’ll  be tiling the kitchen backsplash soon. I thought I’d made all my decisions. We know where we’re tiling and the previous backsplash has been removed and new drywall installed and primed. We settled on the most basic of white subway tiles, both for ease of installation, cost, and aesthetic reasons. But, as I mentally prepared for the project, researching each step and preparing my shopping list, I realized I still had a rather important decision to make. What color of grout should we use?

Grout is to tiling a backsplash as thread  is to sewing a garment. Minimizing contrast gives a cleaner, more fluid effect whereas heightening contrast can add texture and visual interest. They both are good – just different, with their own inherent risks and rewards. Our kitchen has white cabinets, grey and white marbled quartz counters, nickel hardware, stainless steel appliances, and grey walls. Using a grey grout would be a good way to unify the space, like in these images:

Traditional Kitchen by Flemington Architect Pickell Architecture

Then again, white on white is a classic, clean look and just seems a little brighter.

Which would you choose? Grey or white? I’ll have to make my own choice very soon! Take the poll by clicking the link below!

White subway tile with ____ grout.

From the Archives: DIY Jewelry Frames

Before Annimal Instinct, I blogged at a different location that I’ve phased out for a variety of reasons. I have decided to share some of my most popular posts from that old blog here before shutting it down for good. The following post was originally written in June 2010. This project marked a milestone for me — I used the electric drill by myself! At the time, this seemed like quite a triumph, as power tools intimidated me. Since then, I’ve seen so many awesome women (and men) doing incredible DIY projects with all manner of “scary” tools and that continues to inspire me to learn new techniques. This post made the rounds quickly, and soon I saw many other bloggers creating similar projects and now the idea of framed jewelry storage is ubiquitous. It’s interesting to see which retailer items can inspire the masses to create their own. Some projects are just born DIYs! I still look through Pottery Barn catalogs, making special note of items that are “to buy” and others that are “to DIY”. Without further ado, please enjoy “DIY Jewelry Frames”.

- – Original Post – -

A few months ago, I spotted some adorable jewelry “frames” on Pottery Barn’s website and determined to make my own DIY version. With a few coats of white paint and a $0.99 package of cup hooks, I transformed an old picture frame into my own version. It’s true: my jewelry frame doesn’t look just like Pottery Barn’s. The frame (originally bought at Hobby Lobby and used for my wedding) is more substantial and I am not a big fan of antique finishes, so this is pure semi-gloss perfection. I added more hooks (for more storage, duh!), and even considered adding a wire across the bottom for hanging earrings. But, at an investment of less than 1 dollar compared to the $49 large version on PotteryBarn.com, it’s hard to complain with the results. I’m not going to even bother posting a tutorial because this is such a basic project. If you have questions, please ask. I’m happy to help!

I have actually had this project finished and on the wall for several weeks now. It blends in great with our bedroom. We have a small space and I used the same white semi-gloss paint that we used on the trim and on my dresser, so everything is very cohesive. The one surprise that came out of this project? I have a LOT fewer necklaces than I thought! Time for another DIY?

From the Archives: Heart Shaped Doily Party Decorations

Before Annimal Instinct, I blogged at a different location that I’ve phased out for a variety of reasons. I have decided to share some of my most popular posts from that old blog here before shutting it down for good. The following post was originally written in January 2010 just before my niece was born. Entertaining is one of my favorite hobbies, and despite having a very tight budget, I always love to create an event with style! At the time, I was helping plan a large, open-house style baby shower on a budget. This post was shared on a few different sites and is popular because of its simplicity, I think. Without further ado, please enjoy “Heart Shaped Doily Party Decorations”.

- – Original Post – -

Inspiration. I hear that sometimes it strikes, but usually it manages to avoid me. Don’t misunderstand  - I am frequently inspired, but I normally see a more direct connection between my ideas and their birthplaces. Doilies have been popular in the blogosphere for a while now. I even did a post on them some months back. For Christmas and winter decorations, some suggested cutting snowflakes out of doilies and stitching them together. Honestly, I thought this ended up looking like crap.

However, Hobby Lobby has heart-shaped doilies for Valentine’s Day. Sew a few of these together, as I randomly did the other night, and BAM, you have adorable decorations perfect for a Valentine’s Party or teacher’s classroom, a wedding, a bridal shower, or in my case, a baby shower. The shower is roughly butterfly themed, with a pallet of whites and pinks so these are going to be perfect (although these are hearts the shape echoes the butterfly motif without being overly matchy)! They took mere minutes to throw together and at $1.47 a pack, are affordable as well. I plan to buy more today. I also stitched a few of the larger ones together, alternating the position of the heart, into a quick and easy table runner. These would also be cute glued to toothpicks and used to decorate cupcakes. Of course, you could also use them as doilies, but where is the fun in that.

From the Archives: DIY Curtain Rod Finials

Before Annimal Instinct, I blogged at a different location, that I’ve phased out for a variety of reasons. I have decided to share some of my most popular posts from that old blog here before shutting it down for good. The following post was originally written in November 2009. My husband Tyler and I were living in a teeny tiny rental house in one of Wichita’s historic neighborhoods. We had been married a few months earlier and the only thing smaller than our house was our budget. Although we’re still thrifty, looking back at these old posts reminds me just how much we were able to accomplish with a shoestring budget. Being short on financial resources forces you to come up with ingenious solutions, and sometimes I miss being forced to “invent” due to necessity. Without further ado, please enjoy “DIY Curtain Rod Finials”.

- – Original Post – -

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If you read my blog, you will have learned several things about me. I am crafty. I am thrifty (generally). I am decorating our house on a budget. This third item allows me to apply items one and two in a real-life setting. For example, when it came time to hang curtains in the bedroom, instead of buying two new curtain rods (which were like, at least $30 each! Craziness!) I used two old curtain rods. Being recently married, my husband and I have a mish-mash of possessions from our previous abodes. I was able to find two curtain rods of the same color and the appropriate lengths and the best part was, they cost me zero dollars. However, one was missing a finial (those decorate baubles that stick off the end that look pretty and keep the curtain from sliding) and the other one had two UGLY finials. Solution? Trash those babies and make my own. Note: You can buy finials. The least expensive ones I found were $7 a pair and I’d rather put that money toward my new running shoes than some tacky curtain rod jewelry. You may have different (better?) uses for your time, but for a couple of dollars you can make your own, too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of 6 wooden “dowel caps” purchased for $1.50 at Hobby Lobby. (They have all different sizes and shapes and the dowel caps are predrilled. If you are even thriftier than I am- you could actually make your entire curtain rod setup from scratch using dowel rods and caps from the craft department.)
  • Black craft paint
  • Modeling clay purchased for $1.00 at Target
  • 1 drinking straw
  • Scissors
  • For good measure, I also used glue. This is probably not necessary.

One of my curtain rods was the exact dimension of the dowel cap, so all I had to do was paint, stick a little clay inside, and jam them onto the ends of the rod. If you’ve ever inspected your curtain rods, and who doesn’t, this is basically what manufacturers do- but with classier materials.

The caps were just a pinch too small to fit over the larger curtain rod, so I adjusted accordingly.

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1.) Paint dowel caps desired color and embellish. I considered hot-gluing a mother of pearl button to the end of each cap but decided to go for a minimalist effect. This is going into a serene, stylish bedroom after all, not granny’s craft closet. You may notice that the finials I made are small. They work with the scale of our room and with our style – if you decide to try this but have a grander scale or bolder style, don’t be afraid to go bigger.

2.) Cut straws into segments (use your best judgment- the deeper your dowel, the longer the straw needs to be).

3.) Insert a drop of glue into the hollow part of the dowel cap.

4.) Fill hole with clay.

5.) Insert straw into clay.

6.) Insert clay into hollow part of curtain rod.

7.) Jam dowel cap and straw into clay- sealing the two objects together.

8.) Let dry.

Not bad for $2.50, eh?

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From the Archives: First Time Furniture Builders Tackle a Media Console

 

Close-up view of the center shelves.

Before Annimal Instinct, I blogged at a different location, that I’ve phased out for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s just time for a new vessel in which to pour thoughts, projects, and ideas. I have decided to share some of my most popular posts from that old blog here before shutting it down for good. The following post was originally written in July 2009. My husband Tyler and I were living in a teeny tiny rental house in one of Wichita’s historic neighborhoods. We had been married a few months earlier and the only thing smaller than our house was our budget. It was here we started doing bigger DIY projects and began learning the skills we’d use someday remodeling an entire house. This media unit was our first DIY furniture project and it’s actually still in use in our basement! It’s been a sturdy, much-loved piece of furniture. It will be replaced someday soon, as our style has changed as our lives have, but I’ll always have a fond spot in my heart for this media unit. Without further ado, please enjoy “First Time Furniture Builders Tackle a Media Console”.

- – Original Post – -

The quest for a new media unit began almost before the new Samsung LCD TV had shed its styrofoam skin. Although we had planned to utilize the existing TV stand, it was obvious that the masterpiece of engineering otherwise known as an HD television deserved a better home. We searched stores for months. Not willing to confine ourselves to the measly offerings of furniture chain stores in Wichita, Kansas, we searched the internet and I trolled Craigslist and antiques stores for months. Tyler wanted something with lots of storage, I hoped for a piece with a slim profile. Finally, inspiration struck. I was inspired by this post:

http://blog.designpublic.com/2009/06/17/alis-diy-shelving/

We expanded the basic rod/shelving idea and added a few custom tweaks to make it a perfect fit for our living space. We cut the length down to 8 feet and the depth to 12 inches and added extra shelving in the center. The center shelves are spaced to offer the perfect nook for our media components and provide the added benefit of extra stabilization. We also used smaller rods, increased the number of rods, and added wheels to the bottom to add height, stability, and mobility – all of which were especially important to us given that the unit is placed on carpeted floors.

Ingredients:

  • (4) 8′ x 12″ x 1″ pine boards – one of which was cut into 3 equal 32″ pieces [ done for free at Home Depot ]
  • (8) 24″ threaded rods of 5/8″ diameter [ our Home Depot carries these rods in a variety of diameters and lengths and this allowed us to purchase the size we needed and not have to worry about cutting to size ]
  • (64) sets of washers/nuts
  • (8) wheels
  • screws for attaching wheels
  • drill
  • wrench
  • clamps [ For easier drilling, we used a template for hole placement and drilled through multiple sheets of wood at once. The clamps kept everything still. ]
  • level [ to check those shelves! ]
  • pencil, ruler, etc. [ we wanted to ensure that our shelves were spaced evenly ]
  • stain + old socks for application

We followed the directions from the above link – basically, drilling holes in the boards is the only real preparatory step, although we also did some light sanding.

Tyler continues drilling, using the rods to check for alignment.

We opted for a darker look and added two coats of stain to the top of the unit and one coat to the bottom. The color complements the silver of the metal nicely and we were glad to have taken this extra step, even though it did add an extra day and a half to our project. Construction was relatively easy and occurred in our living room. We initially encountered some serious frustrations when drilling the holes that required a couple of extra trips to the hardware store. First, we wore out the wood bore that we bought for the occasion. Then, the holes were a tight fit that made imperfections in the drilling angle a complete deal breaker. By increasing the size of our holes we eliminated this problem. Since we used larger washers for a more industrial look it was not a problem to give the rods a little more wiggle room. In retrospect – we wished we had used a more standard size of rod. The 5/8″ diameter left us with few options for other hardware and for the drill bit. For instance, at our local Home Depot, if we had wanted to use the locking washer of the original plan for the base of the unit like in the original plan, we would have needed to use either 1/2″ or 3/4″ diameter rods as intermediates sizes were unavailable. Consider what is available at your local hardware store when planning your own unit – it will save you a lot headaches!

Tyler did most of the work himself, although we both did the assembling together. This could be accomplished by one person or quite easily by two people. This was the first piece of furniture either of us have ever built – if I can do it, you can do it! I love that this project can be so easily customized. My little sister has already requested a custom unit of her own sized to store her large collection of records. Obviously shelves are great for storing media items or books, but this could even work nicely as a custom closet idea or for storage in a modern kitchen or bathroom.

Almost done - still needs to have wheels added and be stained.
Almost done – still needs to have wheels added and be stained.

We love the finished console. It provides an extremely efficient means of storage in our small space (no wasted depth!) and has a casual industrial feel that we love. The console is 8 feet long on a 9 foot wall. We plan to add a second shorter unit on the right hand side that will turn this into an L-shaped monster storage center that will maximize every last inch of space. Our house is around 800 square feet so even those spare inches behind the door count!

Two coats of stain gave just the look we wanted.
Two coats of stain gave just the look we wanted.

It has been more than a week since we finished this project and I love our media console more every day! I’m grateful to Ali for sharing his idea with the internet and to my husband for turning my sketch into an actual piece of furniture. This is a beautiful solution that appeals to my aesthetics, organizational needs, and DIY sensibility.

The finished product - a fitting home for our new tv!
The finished product – a fitting home for our new tv!

Please share comments and questions! We would love to hear what you think! Would you consider building something like this for your home?

Sea Life Silhouettes – Source Images

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One of the most popular posts on this blog is the Sea Life Silhouettes DIY project I shared on Knock Off Decor. I have received several requests for the files I used, but had been unable to help until now. While updating my computer, I ran across the original files. Unfortunately, these are not the edited ones I printed, but I wanted to share them with you in case they were useful! I can’t remember the source (big blogger no-no) but I do know they were OK for public use. In any case, if you only use these for personal pleasure and not for sale – you’ll be safe. Enjoy! (Read my original DIY post about the Crate and Barrel inspired Sea Life Silhouettes.)

My sea life silhouette prints were inspired by Crate and Barrel.

My sea life silhouette prints were inspired by Crate and Barrel.

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Cilantro Ginger Martini

Cilantro ginger martini.

Cilantro ginger martini.

I have spent 12 hours this week working on the kitchen. At 11:30 P.M. last night, I finished priming. My back ached, my calves were sore from climbing up and down the ladder, and my hand had been transformed into a claw in the shape of a paint brush handle. I deserved a little treat.

Warm weather makes me crave spicy, zesty flavors even more than usual and I’ve had an itch all week to use cilantro in a cocktail. Enter the cilantro martini. I used this recipe, with 3 alterations, which are noted below.

I loved it. It was spicy, strange, and strong. Definitely not a drink for everyone, but I could imagine this being delicious with Mexican food.

Cilantro Martini
Source

  • heaping handful fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated and minced
  • * juice from 1 lime (I used lemon)
  • * 1/2 oz Simple Syrup (I used honey)
  • 2 oz citrus flavored vodka (I used my own lemon-infused vodka)
  • 1/2 oz gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
  1. Fill shaker with crushed ice, cilantro, lime juice, and simple syrup. Muddle well. *Note: I diced my cilantro prior to muddling. This wasn’t intentional, but more a symptom of exhaustion. I ended up liking the bits of cilantro floating in my drink, though I bet many would not. Conclusion: If you don’t want green stuff in your glass, skip the knife. 
  2. Add vodka and gin shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail shaker and enjoy.

Week 13 In Review

Time keeps marching forward and so do we. The pace has slowed somewhat but we trudge forward. This week we were occupied with social and work obligations Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, so the weekend’s work (and a little time finishing up on Monday) are all I can report. However, what a report I can make! In short, Dad and Tyler finished the bar, column, and trim in the kitchen. The simple, flat-panel wainscoting style we chose looks perfect. I do mean perfect. Have you ever drawn a picture or envisioned something — and then had it turn out just the way you imagined? That’s what happened to me. It was amazing to see the design I’d selected brought to life before my eyes. Woohoo! Now (unfortunately) it is my turn to take up the torch, which looks suspiciously like a putty knife as it happens. There are a multitude of holes to fill, wood grain to spackle, and sanding galore before I prime and paint. All the wood will be white before I’m through. What was I doing this week, you ask? Working on the garden, of course!

Week 13

Saturday April 27 – Friday May 3

The paneling is up!

The paneling is up!

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Dad inserts the final piece.

Dad inserts the final piece.

Like a puzzle!

Like a puzzle!

  • Dad and Tyler finished paneling the bar and column
  • Dad and Tyler finished adding trim to the bar and column