Belle of Dirt

Missouri Ozarks mom, mover of earth, photographer, maker and plant enthusiast


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Baby it’s COLD outside  

BRRRR! I got spoiled with our mild October weather. Today really FEELS like winter is on its way. It feels like it for my garden too. Everything that wasn’t covered last night is wilted and frost-nipped today, but the REAL cold hasn’t even truly hit us… yet. It’s supposed to get down in the 20’s this weekend, followed by several nights of at or below freezing temps. The garden is taking a true dirt-nap, any annuals that have struggled along are now down for the count. 010
I have a few things around the yard that are perennial, but they need a bit of help surviving a Missouri winter. Mostly I buy plants that will be suitable for zone five or below, even though the Lake area is in a tiny hot spot of zone 6b. Sometimes though, even plants that are properly zoned can use a little extra help for a year or two until they get deep root systems established. Also, I don’t like digging up my elephant ears every fall, (it’s a pain to pot and store all of them) so I’m going to try caging them year and see if the bulb can survive in the ground till spring.

It doesn’t take too much work or cash to see a tender plant through the winter. I’ve caged a very small rose bush, two little crepe myrtles (a new type, supposed to be cold hearty to zone 4, but until they’re bigger, I’m 009not risking it!), my Japanese Maple that Tom and E bought me (it’s the graft site on this that concerns me) and the elephant ear. I save my cages from year to year and use them as compost towers in the garden during the spring/summer/fall. They made some great compost this year to toss on top of the garden mounds and served as an convenient place to toss organic waste while I worked in the garden.

These cages are nothing more than a bit of that plastic coated garden fence (3 to 4ft), formed into a cylinder and held in place with yard stakes. I use the leftovers I have lying around from where we fenced the yard years ago, but they do sell it in smallish rolls at the garden center if you don’t have any scrap handy. My cages are only about a foot or so across, so a 3 foot long section will make a single cage. For the elephant ear, I made a new one that was about 3 feet across. This took a section of fence about 5 feet long. I snipped off one end with wire snips, leaving the long horizontals, these can be used to wrap around the fence after you roll it into a cylinder- no extra wire needed.


I carefully place the towers over the plants I want to protect. The bigger the plant, the bigger your cage is going to have to be. I used cardboard this year to line the cages before stuffing them with leaves. Last year I lost almost 50% of my leaves to breakdown and wind before spring. By the time it started warming up; the tips of my plants were showing through the top. The crepe myrtle and rose are no more than a foot tall. The graft on the maple is about 2 feet up and the elephant ear, I’m really only protecting what’s in the ground. I use about 3 garden stakes per tower, kind of weaving them through the fence a couple times before shoving them in the ground. You want to do this BEFORE the ground freezes!

Towers in place, I raked the sidewalk. This filled about a tower and a half, so I had to mow the back yard and use that to finish off the rest. Mowing has the added benefit of chopping up the leaves and adding other coarse yard material. Leaves are excellent insulators. Just ask any kid that has climbed into a giant pile of leaves, raked up in the fall. They are nice and warm under all those little layers of air. The cardboard adds another layer. I stuff the towers from the bottom up, packing them firmly, but not ramming the leaves down so hard that it snaps branches or crushes the plant. You want to protect it from freezing, not ram it into the earth.

Mowing the yard to get leaves gave the added benefit of my not having to rake massive piles and then figure out what to do with them after. Burning leaves sets off my asthma in a big way, so I hate having to burn those huge piles every fall. I spent all of 20 minutes raking this year and we have a BIG yard. The only intensive raking necessary with the mulching mower is to get the leaves away from the fence so they can be chopped up. (Mulching mower isn’t some highly specialized machine BTW- it’s simply a push mower with a grass bag attached)
I did rake the yard lightly after mowing, to get up any remaining leaf bits, thatch (common with Zoysia grasses) and little rocks that have surfaced. 20 minutes of raking and my yard looks like this.
After I’d filled up my leaf towers, I used the rest to put mulch rings around our trees.

If I remember this summer, I’ll try to re-post here about whether or not the leaf tower worked for the elephant ears. They are zoned for 8-10, but I’ve had them survive winters in the past by keeping them right up next to the foundation of our house. This one is on the foundation, but it’s on the North side not the South- which means it doesn’t benefit from the warmth of the sun- EVER. One more note on the towers… I can imagine some people find these cardboard and leaf towers standing in the yard to be an eyesore. Wrap them in burlap or black weed barrier fabric if you like. It will add an extra layer of protection and hide the ugly. I put Christmas lights on mine last year. 🙂

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My daughter put in Frozen for us to watch today, built a tiny 3 inch snowman from last night’s flurries in our yard and made snow cones out of collected snow and Gatorade. The radio is playing Christmas songs, every other commercial on TV is about holiday shopping. I have to concede that my growing season is over and the chill is here.

Stay warm folks.

B


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Yeah, I know.

It’s been ages since I’ve written a new post. It’s not that I haven’t done anything worth posting about, I just haven’t finished any of it. I could share half- finished stuff that I’ve started and have a few pictures of… SQUIRREL!!!!

The new bathtub. Did I mention I also had to put in a toilet… after I broke it with the sledgehammer?

…and then I was actually surprised to find the surprise lilies still in the top of my daughter’s closet.

Now you understand the problem. Or part of the problem anyway. My best and probably the most truthful excuse for not posting is Life got in the way. I was going to do an article on winter garden chores, but then our new shower started leaking and I was afraid it was going to rot out the utility room and maybe short out the electrical box and burn the entire house down. So I had to drop all projects and demolish the other bathroom, then get the new tub and surround in ASAP so we could quit using the other shower. This is the shower we JUST put in last spring, mind you.

In the past five minutes, I’ve gotten up twice from this post. Once to exchange Candy Land for Monopoly for my daughter, who is playing board games with the dog (She’s 6. Should explain everything.). Once to check the fire I started outside an hour ago, trying to clean up some brush and the old tub I tore out of the bathroom. In the middle of burning there was a thunderstorm and it’s nearly put the fire out.

Yeesh- my posts are now starting to sound like the inside of my brain.

So we remodeled the shower in the main bathroom. I never did winter chores and I never wrote an article. I’m still working on the bathroom. I haven’t played Monopoly in 20 years or more and now my daughter wants to know all the intricacies of the game. >.<

Rocks kept getting all over the sidewalk, so I’ve removed all the rock and started re-doing the edges of the walk. I’ve faithfully taken pictures and PLAN to do a post on this… when I finally get it finished. I also started constructing and space for a vegetable garden, using the Hugelkultur mounds I’ve previously written about. It’s not finished either. Although we did put together part of a trellis this weekend and I dug post holes for concrete.

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Leaf Towers. Yay! My forsythia is quite lovely this year. 🙂

Is it even possible to play solo Monopoly? I should probably go put that fire out and get in the shower so I can start dinner.

I can share with you these lovely leaf towers that I put in front of the garden. They were formerly protecting my rose bushes and Japanese Maple’s graft over the winter. I cage the plant, then fill it with leaves. It worked like a charm. No damage to the caged plants at all and it got below zero for sustained periods a couple times this winter. I decided I would put the cages by the garden- that way I have them to use again this fall to protect tender plants. In meantime I can fill them up with leaves, vegetable scraps, wads of dog hair from the vacuum cleaner and grass clippings I don’t put in my composter or on the garden mounds. I’m hoping to just dump the tower’s contents on the mounds at the end of the season- sort of like really coarse compost. We’ll see at the end of the summer how it works out.

What the hell happens to your piece when it lands on Free Parking? /sigh. I’m going to go put the fire out and take a shower. More structured posts are coming soon. I promise.

B

PS. This post is NOT an April Fool’s joke. Although it probably sounds like one.