Category Archives: all

Please Don’t Rock Your Yard!

As an update to this post: spread mulch where you would have put rock. Read along about how taking permanent action against a short term problem, creates even more problems and stops permanent solutions.

While we were in Colorado there was a trend to rip out anything that was growing and replace it with a gravel landscape. Every time I saw someone ripping out their grass to do this: I wanted to throttle them. Here is why: rock is not low maintenance. I understand those who don’t garden are looking for a low maintenance option for their yard. Please. I beg you. Do not put gravel across your property!

Please Don't Rock Your Yard!!!

An example of what a rocked yard looks like after a few years.

Now it might seem counterintuitive to hear that rock is not low maintenance but rocks do not stop weeds. Sure: you might like the way it looks the first season you have it down, but gravel and rock are permanent. The problems associated with gravel and rock are permanent too.

Here are six very good reasons NOT to replace grass with gravel:

#1 You can’t rake up the leaves or other plant debris that drift into your gravel landscape.

Nature makes soil out of leaf litter. If you put rock down, the leaf litter will still come. It will create a layer of soil on top of your rock and in the end the rock layer and soil layer will be indistinguishable.

Nature makes soil out of leaf litter. If you put rock down, the leaf litter will still come. It will create a layer of soil on top of your rock. At some point the rock layer and soil layers will become a single unit.

Your gravel will look just like you want it to for about a season. However, as soon as you put it down: you will have things blow into your yard that you will need to pick up by hand. This will be an almost insurmountable task and delaying picking up organic matter will only create pockets of composted material (aka dirt) that weeds will take root in.

#2 Rock is expensive, it takes an enormous amount of effort to put it down. It is even harder (and way more expensive) to remove it.

Pea gravel runs a little over $4 a bag. If you are considering having a truck deliver a load from a local rock yard: you will also need to consider the delivery fee. You will need an enormous amount of rock to be successful.

Pea gravel runs a little over $4 a bag. If you are considering having a truck deliver a load from a local rock yard: you will also need to factor in the delivery fee into your quoted price. You will need an enormous amount of rock to be successful.

Digging out rock is a lot more labor than spreading it. It is backbreaking work to try and remove gravel because you have to do it shovel by shovel full. Gravel that has been down a while will settle into the soil below it. To get it up: it will need to be dug out. I was stuck with a strip of rock in our last yard. I had several contractors come out and bid to remove the strip. I couldn’t afford to remove the rock. We are talking $500 to remove it! It was way too heavy and too much work to do it ourselves…and if you know my blog: I am willing to do a lot. Once gravel is down: you are pretty much stuck with it. Even if you manage to get it all up, you will need to find a place that will take it, and there will be a disposal fee for it.

#3 Sooner or later you will end up with weeds.

20140411_134816

The weeds will find a small patch of soil between stones. All it takes is a few leaves drifting in and sticking in your gravel to give weeds something to grow in. The first plants to move into an area after it has been cleared are called pioneer plants. These plants will grow where nothing else will grow. They usually have deep tap roots and are a pain to remove (Dandelions are a common pioneer plant. Nobody enjoys removing dandelions. In my experience though, the worst pioneer plants to pull from gravel are tree seedlings.) Pioneer plants are natures answer to events like fires, mudslides, overgrazing and volcanic activity. They also move in after man-made activities like clear cutting, grading land for development and in our farms and gardens. They will show up all over your gravel yard and they will require constant removal.

#4 Weeding through gravel is really hard work.

20140411_133950

I love to garden, but I absolutely hate trying to weed through gravel and rock. Anyone who has done it will agree with me. You usually have to move gravel away from deep rooted plants to remove them (in the case of large rocks you will need to roll each one away from the weed to pull it.) The larger the size gravel or rock you are using the harder it will be to weed. Pea gravel is the easiest to weed through (outside of garden soil.)

If you have ever had to weed through gravel that has been down a few years: you know that weeding gets harder the more settled the rock gets. I lived in a home that had lava rock and crushed rock that had been down for decades. I absolutely hated it. It was down so long that it was like someone had just mixed the surrounding soil with a ton of rock. I couldn’t remove it, I couldn’t weed through it and I couldn’t get enough out with my shovel to plant through it. This experience showed me how permanent the choice to rock a yard becomes.

Rubbing your hands repeatedly on rocks while weeding will tear them up (and frequently bruise them) even with gloves. You will need to dig to remove most tree seedlings. The gravel will be in the way of the spade making for a frustrating experience.

Rock is way too much work!!!!

Herbicides aren’t the answer either. You can spray roundup all over your rock landscape but you are still going to have to pull the plant out after you kill it. Round up (or vinegar, boiling water, etc) doesn’t make the plant go away, it just makes it stop growing, turn brown and look ugly. You will still need to dispose of the plant. I don’t use spray in my beds, I prefer to hand pull weeds. Normally, in decent dirt, it’s quick work. In gravel or between rock: it is a long and laborious process.

20140411_134328

Removing things like grass around rocks takes a while. It frequently means you need to move the rock to remove all of the weed.

My advice for weeds is: put on some gloves, grab a large screwdriver to dig out taproot plants (like dandelions) or get a hoe and remove the plant directly. Outside of use in maintaining a large grass lawn: I think herbicide is a waste of money. Spraying gravel with herbicide leaves the plant. You will still need to remove the plant, so why bother with the spray? You can use a pre-emergent herbicide across gravel if you already have some rock down. This will stop seeds from sprouting, but it is still a chemical and you’d be better off without the gravel in the first place. Weeding torches will remove the weed but they scorch rock. You also have to know what you are doing if you are going to use a torch. In a dry area you could easily start a fire that you can’t control.

20140411_135512

My beloved stirrup hoe! (Like the one in this link. Some stores call it an action hoe.) I love it because it is super fast and I don’t have to bend over to get most weeds. You could use this in deep pea gravel but it would eventually ruin the blade on the hoe. Here is a good comparison of different weeding hoes: link They recommend a different kind of hoe. When my stirrup hoe dies I may try a different kind. Right now a stirrup hoe is my favorite way to weed.

As far as pushing for the idea of getting dirty in the first place: There are microbes in the soil that alleviate depression. This is an excellent reason to get dirty pulling weeds! That and natural vitamin D from the sun…what’s not to like about a little weeding? If you don’t enjoy weeding: don’t put something down like gravel and rock that will just make it harder. (It’s also been my personal experience that being inverted while weeding and planting seems to cause more blood flow to my brain and helps chase away the blues! Try it!)

wpid-20140330_140302.jpg

#5 Most people don’t read up on how to lay rock mulch correctly.

20140411_133639

Most recommendations I have seen say to use a minimum of 3 1/2 inches but 5-6 inches is ideal. At over 4 bucks a bag…pea gravel is an expensive option.

For a rock mulch to work it needs to be deep. To keep weeds out of the soil below you need to use a heavy duty landscape fabric underneath the rock. No matter what you do though: eventually you will end up with leaves and other organic matter over the top. These will eventually break down, fill in the spaces between rocks and support weeds.

#6 Rock does nothing to alleviate the heat island effect.

heat-island

Rock reflects and absorbs heat. Plants create shade. There is a phenomenon called a “heat island”: the more pavement, the more asphalt and the less natural shade: the higher the ambient temperature. Cities are especially affected by this because flat (often man-made) surfaces are much better at heat retention and absorption than natural surfaces that have variations in depth.

If you think your summer is too hot: look around and see if there is a way to create some shade. City temperatures are up to 10 ̊ F (5.6 ̊ C) higher than rural areas. Here’s a government site that explains this: http://www.epa.gov/heatisld/resources/pdf/HIRIbrochure.pdf People in cities frequently equate their personal experience in a heat island with global warming. These are two different things, but if you don’t understand the two you aren’t going to be able to create solutions. Cities wouldn’t be so damned hot if they were designed with heat in mind.

Examining satellite images is a simple way to visualize what causes the heat island effect. When we were looking for a home I searched areas by looking them up on Google maps using the satellite image setting. I was completely awestruck with the amount of asphalt and concrete housing developments create. Even within the same developed area you will easily see what causes the huge discrepancies in the ambient temperatures caused by heat reflective/absorbing surfaces.

parkinglot

Here is a great example of an area that will contribute to a heat island effect. In this photo there is a huge parking lot with stores surrounding it. Everyone down here is aware of how concrete and asphalt absorb heat and then radiate it out until late in the evening. We can stay over 100 degrees after midnight in the summer. During those awfully hot times of the year: the concrete and asphalt stay hot to the touch until well after dark. A treed area does not absorb and radiate heat in the same way. (If you are interested in the technical side to this look up thermal radiation to see this effect in more detail.)

grasshomes

This housing area has unshaded: grass lawns, streets and sidewalks. There are a few immature trees. There is almost no shade to relieve summer heat in this area.

worstoffender

Here’s an example of what high density living does to the heat island effect. There is almost nothing but asphalt road, asphalt shingles and concrete. People who live in apartments and town homes don’t have yards to take care of, but they are completely surrounded by the worst of the heat offenders. I would imagine it is pretty miserable outside in the summer in this area.

maturetree

Here is a good shade example: These houses are benefiting from the shade of mature trees. This area has intense shade. The trees are so large that you can’t see the homes. You can tell the streets and sidewalks are shaded. These people probably can’t have a vegetable garden, but their homes are going to cost less to cool and their yards will be much more enjoyable.

All of these examples are choices. If the problem stems from having the original trees removed to develop land: the solution could involve homeowners who later choose to plant large shade trees. The choice of a resident in a high density home like an apartment could be: to show the managers and owners examples like what I have put in this article. See if there is room for more trees. If not: a balcony with a few plants can be a personal choice to add a little shade. Planters (of any size) around high heat areas can be an inexpensive way to start. Those who don’t want lawns can choose not to rock their yards and instead search for low maintenance perennials. There’s always room to apply solutions, no matter the size of the impact.

20140411_154000

My neighbor’s tree graciously offers shade as I wait for the school bus. Trees need water, but unlike rock: they offer a solution, not more problems.

If you see a problem and you know the answer: find a way to implement the solution. Solutions don’t need to be huge overhauls. Solutions start with one person who has the will to make a difference in what they have the authority to change. Make your personal changes while you share what you know with others.

Nature makes shade. Man makes reflective surfaces. Unfortunately, down here (and in most of the world) the habit is to tear down trees, clear brush, cover everything in man made surfacing that is heat absorbing or reflective and maybe add some grass. In comparison to the natural state of things, we create some ugly (and not especially intelligent, in regard to heat) structures and surfaces.

I’d never really noticed how different the satellite images are between the subdivisions and the country until we moved down here and I started looking at areas to buy a home. Miles of concrete and asphalt make heat islands possible. Trees can be a part of a larger solution. Rocking yards just contributes to the heat island affect.

20130517_134730

If you don’t want to take care of lawn grass: consider planting some trees, wildflowers and perennial ornamental grasses. Think about what the builders in your area had to remove to build your home. See if it makes sense to replace some of that original plant material.

If you live in the United States and are at a loss as to where to start with plants:

In your computer’s search bar: put the name of your county and “county extension”. This will pull up the county sponsored horticultural experts in your area. Hopefully you have access to local people who are Master Gardeners. Master Gardeners earn (and keep) that designation by volunteering hours educating the public. Don’t have anyone local? Find a university in your state. Most universities have an agriculture or botany expert. Use their expertise!!!! They should be able to point you towards people and groups that can help you. Extension advice is usually free. Most plant people are excited to share with new gardeners and want to encourage you to learn.

You will also find pages of information on your local extension office website directly relating to whatever planting questions you have. Most importantly: you won’t feel so overwhelmed that you want to give up and rock your yard.

To be successful: start slow and do your research. The tab at the top of this page called “Gardening Basics” will walk you through the process. If you choose to use the information provided: you will be able to make informed decisions and be happy with your property for years to come.

20140411_153924

If you are in a dry or hot climate you definitely need to create shade, so plant some shrubs and trees. Native plants are usually xeric (low water) and fairly low maintenance. It is a combination of the terms xeros ξήρος (Greek for “dry”) and landscaping.

Look up xeriscaping online. High Country Gardens is a great place to start: Xeric Zones. They have a ton of great information. Their site is a great place to see xeric plant variety examples. You can get an idea of what you are going to get with xeric plants.

20140411_153621

xeric plant choices under a tree.

Even if the native shrubs and trees for your area are some scraggly, funky looking varieties: it is so much better to add green and shade than go without! Native flowers are also better nectar sources than plants that have been bred for showy flowers. You will make the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds happy with native plants.

Nature will not allow you to keep her out. She will eventually win, and those who fight her, will end up with a yard full of tall weeds that have lots of seed and insignificant flowers. Something will grow. You get to decide what that will be.

Tickseed (coreopsis) A beautiful spreading perennial that is long blooming.

Tickseed (coreopsis) A beautiful spreading perennial that is long blooming.

Go out and plant something: It’s important!

If you enjoyed this article please make sure to share it with others (especially if you are involved with a Home Owner Association or other property governing system.)

Follow this blog via Facebook. Look me up under crazygreenthumbs or follow my link on either WordPress or
Bloglovin’ at the top of this page.

Best Damn Rainbow Fruit Skewers And Dip Out There!

This Easter we went to our family’s low country shrimp boil in San Antonio. I love the food every year! This year though, was a bit different. I discovered last year that I can’t eat wheat. I’ve developed an allergy to it, and it’s pretty serious.

I’m not gluten intolerant, either. I can eat other grains with gluten, but wheat is BAD news for me. It causes my esophagus to narrow and then I just can’t swallow.

It’s pretty scary and I aspirated the first time it happened, trying to wash the stuck food down with water. This crazy thing is inherited, but I’m the first one who figured out it’s caused by wheat (thanks to a specialist and an elimination diet he put me on.) It’s in my mom’s side of the family and I’ve apparently got the worst case of it of all the women on her side. Lucky me.

I’m sure that part of the sensitivity, is from climbing up into the grain trucks at my grandparent’s house, when I was a kid. I had the worst hay fever when it was time to bring in the wheat! I remember I could hardly breathe. All you got back then: was a cool cloth and maybe some benadryl. I guess that allergy never went away, it just transformed a bit. Again: lucky me.

So I needed something wheat free and I didn’t want to mess with weird ingredients to make some sort of baked goody. I wanted to bring a pretty party plate, so I decided that rainbow fruit skewers sounded really fun, and were the way to go. But, still, that’s just fruit on a stick, and I didn’t want to be lame, so I decided I should make a dip.

I looked online. I didn’t really see anything I wanted to use. I saw some interesting ingredients but nothing that really made me think: “Wow! I need to make that!”

So I looked at what I did like and came up with my own version… And it is damned good! This had everyone (including me, my husband and my kids!) loading up on the dip (and cleaning their plates of whatever didn’t end up on the fruit.) It is crazy good and I will probably never make any other fruit dip. It’s just: Oh. My. Gosh. GOOD!

Here’s the recipe for both the skewers and the dip:

Rainbow Fruit Skewers:

1 medium container of fresh strawberries (my container made about 20 skewers, so how many you need can be approximated through that number per box.)

2-3 oranges or cuties peeled and segmented. You need to count out what you want with a couple extra “just in case”. (We always have cuties, or other seasonal, small, oranges, so I had a large bag to work from.)

Container of cored fresh pineapple (or whole, if you want to cut it yourself. Either save the juice from the pineapple, or: you can buy prepackaged pineapple juice for the dip.)

Green grapes

Container of fresh blueberries

Red grapes

Long wooden skewers

Half an icebox (ie. small) watermelon

A plate (to bring it to your gathering)

Add the strawberries (from the top down) to the end of your skewer and then slide the rest of the fruit from the bottom up, from the pointed end. Do this in the order of the ingredients mentioned above. The most fragile fruit is the pineapple and if you aren’t careful it will split. If it does: try to use larger sections or just rotate it a quarter turn and try again. Blueberries are pretty fragile too, so be careful with those, as well. The rest is easy peasy.

Place your skewers in a baking dish, if you are making it ahead. Put some plastic wrap over the dish and put them back in your refrigerator. (I made mine 2 days ahead.)

For the day of the party take your skewers and punch them, pointy side down, into the watermelon half. Try and keep them upright for ease in portability. Tent them in a big piece of saran wrap and you are done with that part!

Best Damned Fruit Dip Ever:

1 container cool whip (I used cool whip “lite”)

1 lemon, zested (I zested about half of mine and it was plenty.)

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup pineapple juice

I made this ahead and mixed all of the above ingredients with a whisk, put it back in the cool whip container and returned it to the refrigerator.

The next day I put the cool whip mix in the bowl that I was bringing to the party and whisked half a large container of honey strawberry “Greek Gods” Greek yogurt into the mix. In my opinion: this is the best tasting Greek yogurt out there.

I’ve always referred to it as “ice cream” with my kids and they love it. I always put some in their lunches. Every day I have to drain off a little of the whey that separates in the container. This is why I waited to add it to the cool whip mix. The yogurt is thick and loves to separate.

I also don’t like any other Greek yogurt (or regular yogurt, for that matter), but if you have a favorite you can sub that. If you’ve never tasted “Greek Gods” and you can find it: use it!

After I whisked in the yogurt I tasted the end product. I added a teaspoon more lemon juice and a couple more Tablespoons of pineapple juice. That’s the great part of this: it’s super flexible. If you want more flavor: add a little more pineapple and lemon juice, until you are happy. Be aware that the dip will eventually separate (once its been out of the refrigerator for a while) and get soupy, if you add a whole lot of liquid.

You can end here or do what I did: add a teaspoon of orange blossom water. It makes it very French and upscale. (I loved the cool crazy, foot long marshmallows I bought in France with flavors like: rose, violet, lavender and orange blossom. Ah. I wish I could just drop everything and travel like I did when I was young. Maybe after my kids are grown? We’ll see.)

You can’t take the orange blossom water back out, if you don’t like it, so add a drop to a spoonful and see if you want to commit to it. I LOVE orange blossom water and have enjoyed it in all sorts of dishes. Just make sure you you don’t overload your dip. A little goes a long way! It is in our international aisle at the grocer and is frequently used in Turkish dishes.

I provided small plates and forks to eat the fruit (I don’t recommend trying to eat it on the skewer. We slid them off and onto the plate. The skewers are all for presentation!) and a big spoon for the dip. It went fast and everyone wanted to know what was in it!

It was so good people were adding it to the baked goods (like the brownies.) It’s really a stunning way to present a healthy snack. I also love that the dip was light and fluffy and not some thick, heavy calorie bomb.

If you have leftovers: mix the dip with the fruit for an old fashioned fruit salad. It won’t be around for long! You will eat it right up!

There you have: my freakishly good dip and cute rainbow fruit skewers. I’d love to hear your comments about it if you make it. Let me know what you think of the orange blossom water addition if you try it, too!

Spring Is The Time To Begin Backyard Foraging!

I love researching things that strike me as interesting. I’m creating a food forest in my backyard, so I want to know what parts of plants I can incorporate into my meals. Spring is a great time for edibles in the garden. I’m not talking fruit but instead: leaves, flowers and even pollen!

I bought an incredible book years ago that’s basically the Bible of medicinal plants. It’s here: best medicinal plant book

I trust that book and it is written by one of the foremost authorities in holistic healing through plants. It’s also handy to look up foraging websites like this one: learn about foraging!

Dill flowers

Of course many herbs are the leaves of plants so dill, basil and cilantro may be familiar to you, but did you know their flowers (some flowers are over poweringly strong, so try them before you include them in a salad.) are delicious too? Take a glance out your window and make a list of what you already have growing (even some weeds, like dandelion, are edible) and start your search. If you can’t completely identify a plant take a piece in a sealed zip lock to a nursery and ask for help. Don’t eat something if you aren’t absolutely sure what it is!

After identifying your plants and once you know what kinds of foods, teas and tinctures you want to try you can go out into your yard and browse! My leaves from trees are at their best in the spring. By midsummer the wind has them torn up and they are experiencing bug and disease pressures. So now is the time to use them.

If you are new to foraging: slowly dip your toes into this idea. Overconsumption or a rapid change in your diet can cause intestinal distress. Our modern diet is full of predigested simple carbohydrates and chemically laden empty calories. It takes a little while to get your body used to doing the work of breaking down whole foods.

Here are a few of the ways I use edible leaves, flowers and tubers:

Fig leaves. Popular from ancient times the fig tree has a lot to offer. Wrapping a meat like chicken or fish, and steaming it in a grill, imparts a coconut flavor. It’s very mild but a good addition to a lot of recipes. Click here for: Fig leaf cooking ideas

Here I have fish in fig leaves and a homemade tartar sauce. You can grill these but I prefer to oil the leaves and then place them on a cookie sheet with a piece of fish with sauce between two fig leaves. Then I cover them in foil and bake them. You can use any baked fish or chicken recipe. The coconut flavor is not sweet, so it goes well with many dishes.

Persimmon leaves. These make fantastic tea. You can roll the leaf from the tip back towards the bottom and stick the stem through the roll for a tidy treat. Click here for: Persimmon leaf uses that’s one in the cup below!

Pomegranate leaves. I love my pomegranate. It has soft seeds and is incredibly good. But the leaves make a great tea for insomnia. They have the most beautiful flowers, too! You can also use leaves and petals in your next smoothie: Uses for pomegranate leaves.

Goji (or wolf berry). These are great in salads. In fact, you could make an entire salad of all of leaves above! goji berry leaves

Red raspberry leaves and blackberry leaves have historically been used as teas to treat a variety of medical issues: WebMD uses for red raspberry leaves

NCBI uses for blackberry leaves

The white Mulberry (morus alba) are the best Mulberry variety to eat leaves from, as they are tender and have good flavor. Use as a salad, tea, or instead of grape leaves in recipes.

I grow olive trees and yes, olive leaf tea is also something you can make at home. My trees are young so utilizing the leaves creates a use for an immature tree. Here’s a link for the benefits of olive leaves: olive leaf

Lavender makes a beautiful tea and I also eat the flowers in salads and even sandwiches.

Nasturtium is a peppery tasting plant and the flowers and leaves are good as an addition to salads. Here’s more on nasturtium: nasturtium

Begonias are edible too! begonia and other edible flowers

The caladiums at the base of this tree are not edible, while the begonias surrounding them are. Always check before you try something new.

Canna is a substitute for asparagus in the southern garden. The plant is related to banana and ginger and the leaves can be used to wrap food for cooking: as banana leaves are used. The tubers taste like potatoes and are a great addition to a food forest (or a supplemental garden for those who want to try and outwit the end of the world. While people may steal your tomatoes, they will overlook your patch of canna!) canna uses

Daylilies? Why yes! They’re also edible the edible daylilily

Cattails, which I walked past for years and not had a thought to eat, are great in spring with their new shoots peeled and you can also use their profuse pollen as flour. cattail pollen

Fiddlehead fern fronds are a great spring treat and incredibly delicious! Edible fern frond

For those of you in cooler climes: pine needle tea is yummy. pine needle tea for vitamin C! Down here you can get your fill of vitamin C in cactus pads (or nopales) which I can get at our local grocer. lots of prickly pear cactus recipes!

One of my very favorite flowers for tea is hibiscus and turk’s cap (same family as okra and other mallows) which make a beautiful, tasty dark red tea. They sell dried hibiscus flowers this far south at our grocery store. Hibiscus tea is popular in Mexico as well as Central and South America. But I grow the plants every year for their gorgeous showy flowers. All hibiscus flowers are edible, the color does not matter.

An okra flower. These are great as fritters. You can find a recipe for those up on the daylily link.

Add a little honey and mulling spices, it makes for a lovely tea.

And last I’ll leave you with another plant I would have never thought to eat, and that is: fushia berries! Not only gorgeous blooms but edible! Who would have thought to pop a few of those in your mouth? fushia berries

I’m going to stop there, but I’m definitely not done going through what you can eat in your own yard. The list is incredibly long, so I advise looking up anything you have (or want, in the future) in your garden. So many things with so many flavors! Here’s a link to a few vegetables that do double duty as you are waiting for their main crop.

I will also leave you with a tale of caution. I grew up in the south. My mother used to put Lantana leaves in our sun tea every summer. They had a wonderful citrusy taste. They are also: poisonous. It had a great taste, and we never got sick, but I would never use Lantana for any purpose outside of pollinator gardens and for it’s beautiful flowers. SO, with that said: even if you taste something, and it tastes great, it doesn’t mean it’s edible. For heaven’s sake: look it up online first! We didn’t have Google when I was a kid, but there’s no excuse for ignorance now!

Happy foraging! And let me know your favorite garden plant to enjoy in early spring!

I Love My Clot

So I’ve been a little busy lately focusing on my breathing. No. I’m not doing yoga. I had a pulmonary embolism a couple of weeks ago and it’s been a real eye opener. This isn’t my first foray into the world of clots. I had a TIA (self resolving stroke) about 3 weeks after I had my youngest child. That was 8 years ago. So, I assumed it was just a weird pregnancy thing and after a billion blood tests my doctors agreed.

Me two weeks after the PE. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue my life!

Before I go any further: if you are in hospital right now and desperately looking for information; calm down, you are OK. I know you are scared, I was out of my mind with fears coming from 50 different directions, but once you are stabilized and getting blood thinners your chance of dying from your clot goes down drastically. (I wished all posts I read while I was in the hospital started with that fact! Usually, I was several pages into information about clots, before people would share that.)

Can you get more clots? Yes. Can you die from them? Just like my TIA I am at a higher risk from dying from a clot in the next 3 years. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture for you and say you get one and you are done. That you will go back to life with no risks, no effects and you don’t have to worry:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080225213715.htm

It makes a big difference in WHY you got a PE in the first place. Being immobile is something we can usually work on. Stopping supplemental hormones? Yeah, I can definitely change that. Get my leg veins worked on? I can only seal off so many bad veins. Had surgery caused it: I would be aware of that as a risk factor. But inherited clotting disorders? The possibility that the strep infection I had influenced my DVT? Yeah, you really need an expert (no matter what we think caused our clots), that you trust and are comfortable with, to help you along this path. This is a long haul issue, not a get it and forget it disease.

2011-12-02 15.50.24

I’ve taken a lot of photographs over the years for this blog. It is a strong reminder to appreciate everything. These pictures are of moments I don’t get back but have the opportunity to enjoy again. My new life will be full of those once in a lifetime, gentle and profound moments, too. If you have had a PE diagnosis: you are already a survivor!

I don’t know if you’ve had a big health scare, but I think it’s very human to go into denial about it. Like: for a decade! I’m serious. I even contemplated another pregnancy. I lived in lala land, and for a long time that worked for me. I think it’s the same nagging voice that used to tell me I needed to quit smoking (which I did about 15 years ago) as I lit my next cigarette. It was the “one day I’ll deal with this” voice. This voice of urgency, accompanied by ritualistic denial and procrastination, also appeared 16 or so years ago when I found out I had inherited the bad leg veins that run in my family. I was told they “weren’t that bad” but they would be covered if I wanted them closed. I put it off. I got married, I had babies, I was a completely focused and dedicated mom. But I put it off too long.

It’s human to deny what you are terrified of. But that doesn’t really help you, if you are really needing a lifestyle change (or in my case vein surgery and to stop my hormones!)

20131113_174331

A couple of months ago I dragged myself into the doctor and told him I was peri-menopausal and miserable. (I am sorry to let you younger gals in on this, but it is just as bad as puberty. Mainly: Hell.)

20170118_1812252075776920.jpg

I got to visit Hawaii last year. Such wonderful memories!

He had the answer: take estrogen. You’ll feel like your old self! And I did.

I took the estrogen. I felt awesome! In fact I took the estrogen pills after I was prescribed the cream (which I guess is less likely to get into your blood and try and kill you.) I figured I was only taking half of the dose and I had a half of a bottle left so I’d finish it up and then start the cream. (I’m good about being frugal and it made sense at the time.)

I don’t know if you are vain like this: but I had my hair growing back in (thicker than in high school), my skin wasn’t crepey looking, I was losing weight and I had energy. It was really fairly miraculous. I loved my estrogen pills! Plus, all the annoying girl stuff that was happening: constant pain, unusual “times of the month” and the super short fuse I’d developed was gone.

I find these little time capsules, called photographs, amazing. All of these small moments become amplified as I look backwards. What new and wonderful things would I have missed, had this blood clot been fatal?

This is the river that runs through Vail Village in Colorado. My family is from here. I’m so grateful that I can still go back and see the beauty with my own eyes!

Yes. My doctor mentioned blood clots. But either I’m super stupid or he didn’t explain exactly how common blood clots are (and therefore your chance of sudden death) and that they are not only a serious but… common… issue. I have always heard about the clot issue. I had been shrugging it off since I was old enough for “the pill”, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

20171124_190722190415886.jpg

My pulmonary embolism started in my leg. My foot (out of the blue) became really, really sore. I’m a mom. I always put myself last. This wasn’t any different. But by the third day my entire leg was sore. I couldn’t relax the muscles in my foot or leg. It was like having a charlie horse but nothing would make the muscles release. I couldn’t put weight on my leg to walk. I had my husband drop me off at the ER. I have some medication that might cause muscle issues, so I was focused on that.

As far as history, my family on my dad’s side, including my younger brother, have had to have their leg veins closed. My vein problem is hereditary but… mine never really bothered me much. Sure, my legs swell up on long flights and long car rides, but then they go back down. I have had compression stockings, but those are so incredibly difficult to get on and off that I rarely wear them. I think it was a combination of risks that added up to my clot.

It took them two hours at the ER to even see me. I’m 45 years old. I don’t fit the profile for blood clots. They did an ultrasound on my leg and found nothing. But: while they were pushing around on my leg it stopped hurting. My d-dimer test was positive (this is a test that indicates that there is a possibility of a clot). But there were a few things that could cause that other than a clot.

At this point I’ve been at the hospital for several hours. I’m tired. I am not getting any answers and my leg is finally relaxing. I was ready to go home. The ER doctor was getting ready to discharge me. He came in, and we were discussing my release, when he asked me whether I’d had chest pain recently… “Why yes, yes I have.”

(This is the other reason I haven’t been keeping up with my blog!) I am so incredibly stressed out! Three years ago my husband lost his job. Then after a year he got it back, only to work out of state for a year and a half. I raised our two children, on my own, during that time. Then, suddenly last summer he lost his job AGAIN! Eight months before his retirement! It’s been Hell. But when I get stressed I get angina (chest pain) and I’ve learned to ignore it. (Don’t worry his job is stabilizing again and he’s about to finish his 8 months.)

Did I have chest pain? Yes. Is that unusual? No. But it was enough to have him delay releasing me and to send me in for a CAT scan. And THAT was when they found the clot in my lungs.

As far as my symptoms: I had very mild chest pain in my right lung. The pain in my leg was 100 times worse but my leg was only slightly swollen. My oxygen level was at 100 percent. I was not having trouble breathing. My pulse rate was high (115 or so) but it’s always high. Now I had noticed, for about a week, that my lips looked a bit blue. I was sick with strep throat at that time so I thought it was just from being sick or maybe the new lip balm I was using. I will never overlook that again!

Me as soccer mom! I didn’t think I could make it through a year and a half of single parenting, but I did and we still made time for soccer!

The strep is a constant problem with my kids in elementary school. We’d all been on antibiotics. I was on my third set of antibiotics. The strep my kids bring home is no joke. But that was part of why I got the pulmonary embolism. I had been sick for almost 3 months. I was laying down a lot. I had helped my son in from the trampoline the day before the leg pain started. He’d hurt his ankle and I was supporting a lot of his weight to get him into the house.

All of these little things apparently caused the perfect storm in my body. Just simple little things that led up to a serious problem. It made me extremely aware that just a few things can bind together and create chaos. I need to be very cognizant now of everything when I get ill.

PicsArt_10-31-11.01.01

Halloween 2017. I had a blast decorating our home and yard! I was a jester (or maybe a “not so evil” clown…if those do in fact exist.)

Had this doctor sent me home, I would have gone home, the clot would have grown (which is apparently the tendency of clots) and I would have died. I would not have come back to the hospital until it was probably too late.

God be praised that that scenario did not happen!

If just one question had not been asked…wow, I wouldn’t be here.

20170715_202956 (1)1062885240..jpg

My kids are young. I am not ready to say goodbye! It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around what could have happened: Me in a box in the ground and my family completely adrift in mourning.

I was in the hospital for a couple of days. I was getting a blood thinner shot in my stomach every 12 hours (good Lord those hurt!) But, it honestly was a miracle! It also was a miracle that one of my nurses (who looked my age or younger) had also had a PE. It was so helpful to talk to her. She told me everyone I talk to will tell me how “so and so” that they know died from a PE. She told me to tune them out, and so I have. One out of every three people who get a PE don’t survive. That is a horrible statistic.

I will say it again: I am a survivor! This lady’s blog: https://bloodclotrecovery.net/how-long-does-it-take-to-recover-from-a-pe/ helped a lot when I was first diagnosed. She has endless comments and they really helped me realize that I am not alone! There are comments that start in 2013 and go right up to today. It is so wonderful to stop the free-fall through your fears and grab a cyber-based hand to comfort you. I hope my story will help you in this way, too.

Back before I got the CAT scan though, I was talking to the doctor: “Yeah, but wouldn’t I know if I had a clot in my lungs?!”

Apparently not. And I’m not some weird statistic. Most pulmonary embolisms either kill you straight out, when they hit your lungs or cause mild symptoms which get worse as the clot grows. I’ve read on some forums that the symptoms (like shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain) of the pulmonary embolism can take a couple of years (after it happens) to get back to normal.

BTW most of these are selfies. I’m the only person in my family other than my MIL who takes photos. If I wanted a photo, that I was included in, in the last 12 years of my life it’s had to be a selfie. “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup does not happen in mom-ville.

Hospital time is super boring and I read a lot about PE’s, especially since I thought everyone who had them died. If you have had a PE and you are feeling scared and alone look up PE forums. You will find thousands of entries with people of all ages and there are updated new posts almost daily. They were so helpful in the early days of my diagnosis.

So what have I learned in the last three weeks?

1.) There really are miracles and I’m one of them. If you have had a PE: YOU ARE A MIRACLE TOO!

2.) Pulmonary embolism is not a death sentence if it’s caught early and you do not have complicating risk factors. Here is a pretty thorough site that can help: http://www.clotspot.com/pulmonary-embolism-risk-factors-and-prevention.html

3.) This isn’t just going away, and I’m not all better, but I am slowly improving. Some days suck. Some days are almost normal. I am grateful for both. I am alive, and that’s a pretty awesome gift to be granted.

4.) I can’t take estrogen. DUH! And when your doctor mentions clots associated with medicine, your mental answer should not be: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

5.) I am tired. I get winded easily. It’s bad enough that just standing and trying to do something else (like: making lunches for my kids, showering, talking) is really hard and I need to rest. Sometimes I have to stop before I can get it finished. (There’s no way I could hold a job right now and I’m so grateful my husband is home to help with the kids!) Sometimes: a gift is a horrible occurrence (like my husband losing his job for 6 months) that turns out to be perfect in its timing for something else! Having him home is so huge. I would have put off the ER visit if he hadn’t been here (which means I probably wouldn’t be here!)

6.) Having a pulmonary embolism puts you at a higher risk for another, but that doesn’t happen very often, especially if you stay on blood thinners. However, you should count yourself lucky if you get to the end of the time you are prescribed thinners and get to discontinue them. Some people won’t ever come off of them, but don’t freak out if your need for them ends. It’s a good thing if you don’t need them anymore!

7.) They don’t give you clot busters, or do surgery, unless you are in dire shape. You take blood thinners to prevent the clot from growing and your body works on the clot on its own. Once you start the thinners your clot will not get worse and you are probably NOT going to die, so dial down the anxiety if you can. It doesn’t help. Sometimes the clot never leaves and turns into scar tissue. Your body will reroute around the clot if it can (or if it needs to.) But yes, the clot causes damage, permanent or not: you need to watch for things like infections and pneumonia.

8.) I can’t do anything that puts me at risk for an injury. The blood thinners are not reversible and if I get badly cut… or fall off a ladder and smash my head… or go sky diving and slam into a tree: I’m going to bleed to death. And the ball park for continued blood thinners so far is 6 months.

9.) I technically (according to the pamphlet for the thinner I am on Xarelto… and from trying to find out on forums) could have my weekly glass of wine with a movie, but my body processes the blood thinners through my liver (where it processes alcohol) and its risky. I’m voting no on that, unfortunately. And then there are things that you have no choice to say yes or no on: aspirin or Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol… there’s a lot of stuff that can increase your chances of internal bleeding that are on the “no” list that you just don’t get a choice on. Look up your blood thinner and get acquainted with the “no” list for your particular drug. Also, set your alarms for your medication. You cannot screw up your blood thinner timing. It’s important to take it EXACTLY as prescribed!

10.) I have a follow up with a hematologist. Don’t freak out if they send you to a cancer clinic. It’s a dual specialty.

11.) Keep MOVING!!! Your single best bet that you can do to not only help your recovery but decrease your chance of another clot is to get up and move every 2 hours. If you are on a flight: get up and walk the isles. Tell your flight attendant you’ve had a PE. They will support you in stretching frequently! If it’s a long car trip: get out of the car and walk around every two hours and stretch your legs in the car as you travel. As far as altitude changes: check with your specialist. My family lives in the mountains in Colorado. I am not sure I can visit, especially since I get altitude related edema and I already struggle to breath up there. That will definitely be a call for my doctor to make.

20170503_134204 (1)654665286..jpg

My life isn’t back to normal, but I’m also not asleep all day (like I was in the first week and a half.) I’m progressing slowly. Also: (YAY!) my husband got fantastic news about his job today (and we have family who can help me while I recover.)

So. I’m grateful. I love that this gave me the opportunity to really appraise my life and where I am going. I have had to slow down considerably, so I am doing fun, low energy things with my kids that I usually don’t make time for.

20170101_011120669748563.jpg

Every breath I draw is yet another gift!

Am I freaked out? Oh yeah. Still! But I tell you what, as long as you live through your challenges: you have got to love the new perspective it gives you. So, I love my clot. I love it because I was going to have it whether I decided to love it or not. If that is the case I will look at it with gratitude. Gratitude because if I hadn’t had it: I wouldn’t be continually amazed at every little thing I get to share with my kids and my husband. Gratitude because the odds are not great for surviving this, and I did. So thank you clot for the wake up call. I am grateful for the new perspective… and thank God I didn’t die!

If you have a story you’d like to share about a PE, DVT or a stroke, please share below. It helped me so much to read about other men and women who have been through the exact same thing. We’re strong ladies (and gentlemen!) So much stronger than we realize!

Mother’s Day Raised Hugelkultur Bed!

This is a great time of year to plan and build raised beds. This is how I built my raised beds and I have given them no supplemental watering in the last two years of San Antonio heat and I’ve had bumper crops with almost no input outside of planting and occasional weeding! This has been a super fantastic bed for me and I will only build duplicates of these from now on!

2014 mother’s day raised beds:

I had a fantastic Mother’s Day!

20140511_150636

My boys and my husband made me a cake!

The best part of the weekend? I got another hugelkultur inspired raised bed! Don’t know Hugelkultur? Learn more here: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

20140511_174748

This is the second year I’ve gotten a raised bed on Mother’s Day and I am super excited! The first one we built is here on my post: “Hugelkultur, Keyhole Gardens: Bridging Ideas”. We did this one a bit differently, but kept the main ideas we used on the original  Hugelkultur inspired bed.

20140511_163553

This is a cinder block bed. The inner dimensions are 6 by 10 feet. We lined it with cardboard.

20140511_164036

You need to wet this as you go. Cardboard and paper take a ton of water. It works well to step on it as you water. That will squeeze the air out and help your dry materials absorb the liquid.

20140511_164838

There’s a layer of packing paper. This is a great use of all the stuff you end up with after a move! We chose to add the wood chips again. These wood chips will eventually absorb water and act like a giant sponge. Through each new addition to the bed make sure you wet it well. It will be impossible to wet it thouroughly later on.

Expect to have the giant grubs if you are in Texas. You can see my solution on my post “When Life Gives You Grubs, Serve Them Nematode Tea!” I’ve seen a lot of queries about giant grubs on search engines from people down here so I know I’m not the only one!

20140511_165253

We used about 5 bags of mulch in this bed. I just bought the cheapest mulch I could find which ended up being pine bark mulch. The larger the chips: the longer the chips will last. Remember to wet as you go!

20140511_172741

The next layer is compost. I don’t buy anything I haven’t touched. I won’t buy anything that feels like there’s a ton of sand in it. We went to a local rock yard and were disappointed as usual. I’ve always done price comparisons between hardware stores and rock yards and have chosen hardware store bagged soil every time, but this rock yard had really poor quality soil as well. Bagged soil at Lowe’s was about a dollar less a yard and much, much better quality. I haven’t found good soil at Walmart or Home Depot locally, but you can certainly check whatever is near you and see if you have better luck. I skipped the hay in this bed. Since we’re in a severe drought: hay is not a cost effective option right now.

20140511_173341

Your access to brands of bagged soil will depend on your location. If you see this stuff at Lowe’s, it is what I choose for amending. It’s a good price and a great quality soil. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need something that has a certain “type” of soil listed on the bag. Touch it and judge the soil by what you feel. This bag says

“compost”, I call it: great soil. The only thing you need to stay away from (as far as it being too rich) would be manure (composted or not). Watch your added Nitrogen levels with manure. It will burn your plants if you add too much and will be full of the salts they add as supplements to animals in feed lots.

Please refer to my post “Making Sense Of Old Sayings” to help you learn the importance of building great soil and how to recognize good bagged soil.

Don’t know if you are dealing with hot or cold manure? Read up on adding valuable natural fertilizers to your soil here: http://www.garden.org/ediblelandscaping/?page=201104-animal-manures and here: http://www.moongrow.com/organic_gardening_guide/fertilizers/manure.html

Here’s a site that explains why our rabbit is my favorite source of fertilizer: http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/8156/rabbit-manure-in-the-garden

20140511_173413

We added a bale of peat humus to lower the pH and help hold water. Everything down here (including the water from the tap) is basic. The water has such a high pH it will kill acid loving plants even if they are potted in low pH soil. I make my coffee in a coffee press. When I’m done I pour more water in, let it sit in the old grounds and then go water my gardenias with the water. Be careful with the grounds themselves. You can easily kill a plant with coffee grounds…even acid loving ones. This is the voice of experience.

In the last bed I used another concept called Keyhole Gardening. There is a beautiful how to video from Africa on this concept and it makes the idea really easy to understand: http://youtu.be/ykCXfjzfaco . I tried this with the last bed I built. Over the year that it’s been installed: the feeder areas that I made with chicken wire have collapsed. This year I am going to use different, more permanent materials (three large pvc pipes with holes drilled in it for drainage instead of chicken wire) and add another aspect to it: worms! I got the idea from this blog: http://milkwood.net/2010/10/12/how-to-make-a-worm-tower/

So, I’m creating 1-3 permanent worm bins inside the bed. I may put one in and see how I like it and add others later. The site above calls it a “worm tower”. This is the basic idea of the keyhole garden which is set up to feed and water the beds, but with updated materials…and some red wigglers, which will do fine as a permanent outdoor worm bin in our climate. I love the new addition to the theme because: I have no interest in keeping up with feeding and emptying independent worm bins. I also was wondering how I was going to keep critters out of an outdoor bin full of wonderful kitchen scraps and yummy worms. We’ve already got armadillos in the yard tearing up areas looking for grubs. So far, they have stayed out of the raised bed.

wpid-20130601_183551.jpg

Last year’s melons. I had a bumper crop but had problems with a family of opossums helping themselves to the ripe ones!

On the to do list: My husband is going to enclose the garden with fencing. I had trouble with opossums in my melons last year so I will probably end up using electric fence in conjunction with the fence my husband wants to put in.

This bed is cheap to construct, permanent, easy to maintain and I don’t have to deal with our crummy natural soil. I will be planting it this weekend.

20140511_174700

Instead of lining this with plastic tarp like we used on the last one I have discovered that filling the holes in the blocks with soil does about the same thing. We will then cap them with concrete block pavers. I am soo ready to get out and plant this!!!!

Watch for next weeks post! I will teach you a great way to water your raised beds and keep it from losing water to evaporation. Down here in the summer we have days over 100 degrees for weeks at a time on top of water restrictions. They have promised an El Nino year which will hopefully end our drought but will bring torrential rains. Either way, this bed is going to provide us with a great area to grow veggies this year, and for years to come!

Want more information?  The “Gardening Basics” tab at the top of this page will walk you through everything you need to know to start you on the path towards a successful gardening experience. The information is free and I’m genuinely interested in helping you succeed. Let me know if you would like more information on specific topics for future posts. I’m here to help. Good luck and go out and get your hands dirty!

Get updates on this blog via Facebook here: www.facebook.com/CrazyGreenThumbs

Ever Had Spiced Hibiscus Flower Tea?

One of my favorite plants to grow down here is hibiscus. It is truly a beautiful plant and the flowers are breathtaking.

20130607_194143

I am not the only one who appreciates hibiscus. We frequently have hummingbirds in the garden sipping hibiscus nectar. My favorite part about the plant though, is that it’s edible. Hibiscus is high in vitamin C and iron. It is high in antioxidants as well. I find it interesting that it is iron rich considering hibiscus often suffers from iron chlorosis (a condition caused by a lack of available iron in the soil. You can spot it in the above picture as the light colored leaves with dark veining). Hibiscus may use and store more iron than most plants which might make it more susceptible to iron chlorosis. That would be a great question for a specialty grower or botanist.

Hibiscus is a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae.) It’s a kissing cousin to okra (one of my very favorite high heat vegetables.)

20130922_154400

This is an okra flower. You can see the mallow family resemblance!

20130827_190209-1

I grew okra in my front yard last year. Nobody complained! It isn’t as showy as hibiscus but you get the okra pods as a consolation prize!

Hibiscus is in flower most of the summer down here, which is quite a feat. Most plants (and people) wilt in the mid summer soaring temperatures. Everything tends to shut down and wait out the heat. I know I’m completely nuts, but I can honestly say that the heat usually doesn’t get to me. But I grew up in Texas, it’s highly probable that I just don’t register heat like people do who are from cooler climates.

When the flowers are in bloom I can usually be found enjoying hibiscus tea. I make it daily in the summer and it’s a simple process.

20131113_173734

Gather approximately 8-12 newly opened or unopened flowers in the morning. Use flowers from plants that have not had chemicals sprayed on them. I have used flowers from later in the day. The problem with this is: that you need to remove any damaged areas of an older flower. You will need more flowers to make up for what you remove.

Twist off the stem and the sepal (the green part).

20131113_180514

Open the flower if it is still closed and remove the reproductive parts: the pistil and stamen (Flowers are a plant’s sex organs! You can deal with your issues over that new found knowledge later.)

20130725_200255

You should be left with just the petals. Put the petals in a strainer and rinse them off.

20130725_201246

Start a pot of water on the stove. I usually use about four cups of water for the tea, enough to share. You can measure out the water by using the cup you intend to drink from.

I don’t advise drinking more than two cups of this in a day. In high enough quantity: the spices you will be adding will upset your stomach. So, unless you are sharing with a crowd or storing some in the fridge for later don’t try to make gallons of it. Moderation, in all things, is a good plan.

20131120_133110

Gather up your spices. I like chai and use some of the spices you would find in it. For this tea I use: cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and fennel. You don’t need much, maybe a teaspoon to 2 teaspoons combined total. In quantity the spices will quickly overpower the hibiscus flavor, so start conservatively. Omit anything you don’t feel like shopping for or using.

I use whole spices and crush them in my mortar and pestle, but pre-ground spices from your grocer are fine. If you are interested in a mortar and pestle you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for a set while you’re out and about. A good place to try would be a spice specialty store or you can search online. Unfortunately it’s a pretty outdated tool here, but it’s a wonderful addition to a kitchen collection for those of us in the know.

20130725_203053

Bring your water to a boil and turn off the heat. Add your petals and spices. Let steep for 5-10 minutes but no longer or it will get bitter. The petals will quickly transfer their color (and flavor) and turn a light purple/gray color. If you want a stronger flavor: add more flowers, instead of steeping the tea longer.

20131113_180409

Scoop out your petals and put them in the compost pile. Pour your tea through a strainer to remove the spice pieces.

20130725_204902

Add a dollop of honey, stir and drink up. You can vary the spices according to your taste.

20130725_204959

For an entirely different way to enjoy hibiscus tea you can try this site: link There is a short video at the bottom that shows how to make a tropical iced tea version.

20131113_174331

Now you have one more reason to grow and enjoy the beautiful and tasty hibiscus!

Follow this blog via Facebook here: www.facebook.com/CrazyGreenThumbs

Solution For Sore Shoulders: Microwavable Rice Sock

I went to a fair that offered job advice, help with nutrition and health, free haircuts (by cosmetology students…that was interesting!), scalp massages and this: the microwavable rice sock. Oh, have I enjoyed making (and using) these!

This is really a simple project and after being out in the yard raking, digging, weeding etc: I got mine out and soothed my sore shoulders.

Today I am making one to send to my granny. My granny is 87 years young this year and while her gardening years are behind her: the sore muscles are not.

Image

My granny. A radiant beauty in her youth!

Image

Still beautiful at 87!

She and I share the genetic gift of fibromyalgia. If you have ever wondered about this “cluster of symptoms” (they don’t consider it a disease because it doesn’t progress): it sucks. If you ever meet someone who has this and wonder why they are sitting by themselves with a sour look on their face: it isn’t because they are a grouch; it’s because it hurts…all over, all the time. Heat really helps mine, but it’s hard to use a heating pad on my shoulders. This is why I love this rice sock. It delivers heat for a long time with about a minute of time in the microwave. This is so easy to make but I wouldn’t have figured this out on my own. So here is the super simple, warm and comforting rice sock instructions:

Things you need:

A groovy looking knee high sock (Yes, I use that word!) My granny loves purple so that’s what I got.

Image

2 cups uncooked rice. DO NOT USE INSTANT RICE: IT WILL CATCH ON FIRE IN YOUR MICROWAVE!!!! I’m using Thai jasmine rice because that is what we eat. Do not fill the sock completely. It needs to be pliable to lay correctly on your shoulders.

Image

Optional: Scented oil. I’m using lavender. You don’t need much. Maybe two drops. If you use more you will want to hide this thing  somewhere until the scent dissipates. (This is experience talking.)

Image

You need a glass or ceramic bowl to mix the rice and oil. The scent will stay in plastic.

Image

A tube to keep the sock open and get the rice easily into the toe. You can use the a tube from a toilet paper roll or a paper towel roll (the paper towel roll will be easier to use.) I am using a tube from one of my kid’s toys.

Image

Pull the sock up so the tube is down in the toe.

Image

Scoop the rice up with a measuring cup with a lip. You can hold your hand around the tube top to act like a funnel. I wouldn’t suggest using an actual funnel unless it has a very large hole. The rice doesn’t move through them well.

Image

Pull the sock off your tube.

Image

Tie it towards the top.

Image

You are done! Here’s mine (rainbow stripy sock!!!) and my granny’s. Image

Microwave your sock in 30 second intervals for about 1 minute total. If you get it too hot, just wait for it to cool a little. Drape it around your neck and know you have beaten some of the the spring fever pain you caused with overzealous yard work!

Make sure to celebrate your achievement! My four year old and I took a celebratory bounce on the trampoline!

20140403_133732

Get updates on this blog via Facebook here: www.facebook.com/CrazyGreenThumbs

Link

Simple, Inexpensive Vine Support

You can spend a lot on garden products like trellises: but you don’t have to. Trellising vining plants improves air circulation by getting them off of the ground and letting them grow vertically. Most vining plants suffer from powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that can quickly defoliate and kill your plants.

I love growing vining plants like cucurbits (which include melons, gourds, cucumbers and squash) and also members of the legume family (like peas and beans.) These all have issues with powdery mildew. I am always fighting this fungal disease. Air circulation helps slow this disease down, so trellising is a great way to go.

I don’t believe in using wood for structures in the garden. Wood breaks down, kills a tree and wood is more expensive anyway. If you want wood to last it needs to be painted and that means extra work on a yearly basis. I have too many things to do to spend time painting garden supports. I could also use the money on so many other things!

image

My answer? I use concrete reinforcing mesh (7’x4′ remesh at lowes is about $7.25). It will hold multiple 20+ lb fruits with ease.

image

You will find it in the lumber area with the concrete bags and rebar. It’s laying flat at the bottom of this picture.

image

I also use zipties (about $7.50 for 100 in the electrical department)

image

around a few metal u posts (about $5.50 each in the garden area under field and farm) to hold it in place.

image

I left the length on the zipties to photograph but I’ll go back and cut off the loose ends. (These links are all for lowes but any large hardware store will have these products.)

At the end of the season I cut the zipties, completely remove the concrete reinforcing mesh and rake up the spent plants. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s easily removable and it’s strong.

image

Last year’s melons

The mesh is spaced wide enough you can reach through it easily. Although, it isn’t wide enough to bring a large melon or pumpkin through. You need to either: pull anything growing through the holes in the mesh to a side you can harvest from (while it’s still small) or make sure you can access both sides.

If you are new to melons I would not trellis them until you get better at judging ripeness. A ripe melon will release from the vine. It will drop and split if you miss harvesting them at the right time. Pumpkin (winter squash), cucumbers and gourds will not drop.

Other uses for this include hanging it from a cross beam on a privacy fence. This would work well for flowering vines like morning glory or scarlet runner beans. Just make sure your privacy fence is strong enough to hold what you want to grow on it.

You can cut this into smaller sections and bend them into a triangular or square shape and make tomato cages. They also sell this by the roll so it’s already in a circular shape, but it gets expensive to buy this in 150 foot lengths. It’s still only about 75 cents a foot though, so if you know other gardeners: you could all go in on a roll.

image

You can make a tent shape with two sections of remesh with a post on either side of the center to support it. More than likely, you will have to go underneath to harvest things but at 7 feet each, it is doable. It would make a great play area for kids. We’ll be doing this for my kids this year with beans on the trellis.

If you wanted to get fancy: you could dress it up with 2×4’s on either side and even add an arbor to the top, but you’ll be painting the wood every year. If you can’t stand the thought of rust you could always paint it with some Rust-Oleum brand spray paint. I wouldn’t bother, you aren’t going to see the support when something is growing on it and you would need to repaint it every year. Be aware these come rusted so be prepared with old sheets or a tarp if you are putting it inside a larger vehicle.

image

My peas are happy climbing mine right now. The mercury has already risen past 90 degrees this week and my cucumbers are in the ground waiting for their turn on the trellis. I love Texas!

Get updates on this blog via Facebook here: www.facebook.com/CrazyGreenThumbs

Hugelkultur, Keyhole Gardens: Bridging Ideas

I do a lot of research before I try new things. There are two ideas floating around right now that I really liked. One is Hugelkultur. The idea is basically a huge, permanent, water retaining, slow composting hill. This is a great site about it: http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/ Down here, anything that saves water is welcome. The other idea I have seen around is Keyhole Gardens. These are used in Africa. It is way to farm otherwise unusable areas. Best explanation I have seen is in video format (I almost never watch videos but this one was worth it.) http://youtu.be/ykCXfjzfaco I also overcame my initial feeling that Hugelkultur was going to be too massive for a backyard garden with this lovely lady’s breakdown of the idea that she labeled “Half-Ass Hugelkultur”: http://www.nwedible.com/2012/03/half-ass-hugelkultur.html (I really get a kick from this gal’s site!) Anyway, I decided with my emphasis on site preparation (and my wonderful husband offering his back) that I would bridge the two ideas and create something that incorporated the best of both ideas. I wanted the slow breakdown of wood (I used bagged mulch. I could have found something free, but I didn’t. It was a simple and disease and insect free choice, plus I was still recovering from an illness. Easy was the only available route. I did almost nothing on this other than instruction from a chair and the photography. It was a wonderful Mother’s Day gift!)

20130512_161257

I had saved our packing materials from our last cross country move with this bed in mind.

20130512_161247

I also used rotted baled hay I had left over from another project.20130512_161304

I used bagged soil and compost.

20130512_161313

Most importantly I wanted to use the cheapest construction method I could find. I settled on cinder blocks. They are fast, cheap and pretty permanent. Since my husband lovingly volunteers to do the heavy labor, it was possible to use them.

We have evil Bermuda Grass (which I hate and wish I had never had the opportunity to try and deal with) so we sprayed roundup and laid landscape fabric over it. The cinder blocks are on top of the fabric. Like many of my projects this one started and stopped at random intervals. We got the cinder blocks down and I had some serious health issues that slowed our forward momentum. As the cinder blocks sat there I watched them wick water during the day. I soon realized these were going to make it a challenge to keep the bed wet. For better or for worse I decided to run plastic tarp around the inside of the cinder blocks. I taped the tarp down with painters tape to keep it up and out of the way as we worked.

20130512_161153

Next came the lining of cardboard and packing paper.

20130512_174048

I made wire cages to hold the hay and the future compost material from the kitchen. I estimated I needed three to keep the bed hydrated and fed equally. (Chicken wire is a hazard to work with but I always seem to be using it.)

20130512_175919

We filled the beds with mulch and placed the cages.

20130512_182012

Added a layer of hay and the soil and compost20130512_183747

Then with some help from my boy’s favorite pet:

galaxy s3 pics 139Red, Red, Rabbit Head,

20130512_185718

we mixed it rich with the expectations that the first season would be a rocky road: with the things that were composting drawing nitrogen and the soil not having enough adhesion to draw water effectively.

20130512_190556

Despite the soil being new I have had a wonderful year. I have peanuts and Amaranth growing this summer and it has exceeded my expectations with it’s water retention…even in three digit heat. I love this bed, it will continue to bear the fruit of it’s (extensive) labor for a very long time with only minimal care from me. Thank you to all of the innovators who inspired me, and a very special thank you to: my husband and kids, for the best Mother’s Day ever!

Here’s an update! One year after building it the soil has settled and we were able to remove a course of the cinder blocks. We’re now building our second bed. Everything will be built the same. The only thing we will not use this year is the plastic. It really helped the original bed retain water down through the center of the bed, but has proven difficult to remove. I had originally planned on using much thicker ply plastic…but: “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.” I love
this bed enough to duplicate it!
image

image

See the second completed bed and what we changed here: Mother’s Day Raised Hugelkultur Bed!

Get updates on this blog via Facebook here: www.facebook.com/CrazyGreenThumbs