Thursday, October 29, 2009

My nectarshake brings all the insects to the yard

A few weeks ago, we got fed up with the bland and generic shrubberies in the front yard. Well, we like the shrubberies just fine. They are healthy and relatively symmetrical, so we have no objection there. But the Ms. wants flowers and color. Quoth the Ms.: "Color is what makes me go 'woo'."

So, we we found some of these awesome purple coneflowers, a.k.a echinacea purpurea, and put them in between the shrubs. Coneflowers are like the redneck cousins of daisies. They're wildflowers, and not as popular in gardens because of their big orange seedheads.

We quickly noticed, within 30 minutes of planting them, that local bees (I assume they are local and not out of towners) were big fans. Well, it IS autumn, and there's not a lot of pollen to be had. I wonder if the bees would love us so much if it was Spring. Here's a bee making overtures to our new plant.

 Well, yesterday we were swarmed with butterflies as well.

I think there are 4 butterflies and 2 bees on this one slutty plant.

Traditionally, Echinacea was used to help heal insect bites, diphtheria, typhoid, blood poisoning, and other diseases such as tuberculosis that affect the body's immune system. The American Botanical Council states that "Echinacea may be of value for any infection, chronic or acute, but especially where there is not long-term immune deficiency or dysfunction." (Herbalgram #30 supplement, 1994).

But I think they're too attractive to eat, and the insects have apparently called dibs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Recipe: Almond Chicken

The Ms. asked me to try making one of the recipes from her yoga magazine. Normally, I prefer recipes that involve smoke, fire, and rubs. Nevertheless, I decided to try the this almond chicken, and it turned out fantastic!

1 to 2 lbs boneless breast of chicken.
1/2 c almonds, sliced or slivered
1 clove garlic
1/2 t kosher salt
3 T olive oil
1 bunch baby spinach
1 lemon

1. Preheat Oven to 425 F

2. Toast the almonds over high heat. Combine in food processor with garlic, salt, and oil. Grind into a chunky paste.

3. Season chicken breasts with salt and black pepper. Coat breasts with almond paste and place on greased baking sheet.

OPTIONAL: If you have extra almond paste, try slicing diagonal cuts in the top of thicker breasts, and pushing paste down into the pockets.

4. Bake chicken for 15-18 minutes at 425 F.

5. Remove from oven and plate immediately onto a bed of raw baby spinach, garnished with a lemon wedge.

This was simple to make and did not take long. The hot chicken wilts the spinach and the juices and bits of almond make a savory dressing for the greens.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dawkins made me mulch

Problem: The area of our backyard under the roofline has been eroded by rainwater pouring off the roof. The result is a ditch about 8 inches lower than the turf level, filled with sand and rocks.  It reminds me of a neat story...

Richard Dawkins uses the example of how the force of pounding surf, given enough time, will eventually sort all the rocks on a beach, tossing the lighter rocks farther up the shore, and leaving the heavier rocks closer to the water. To the passing observer, it would seem that this order and organization in nature must be the result of intelligence. But no, it's just physics.

So, that's what I was thinking of when I saw this ditch full of sand and pebbles. Then I realized the ditch was ugly, possibly dangerous to the foundation, and Dawkins is a shrill and bitter man.

So, what to do? Probably the smartest thing to do would be to install gutters. I've got them in front, why not in back? But that seems complicated (it probably isn't), plus I don't own a ladder. Well, why not dig a flower bed next to the house and fill it with an assortment of shrubberies? Yay! New project!

First, chop up the earth, mix the tough clay with topsoil and compost, and level everything out. No toads were harmed during this project. Several, however, were relocated aerially over the fence.

Look at all the red Carolina clay. Fun fact: the clay turns red because of a complete lack of aerobic bacteria. It suffocates life! Normal soil particles are irregular shaped, and allow moisture and air to flow between them. Clay is made of flat plates that lock together forming a nearly impermeable barrier. Jerks. Hopefully, by amending the soil with compost, we will break up the consistency a bit.

Next, we plant! For this bed, we decided on a mixture of Japanese Box Hollies and Purple Diamond Fringebush. Both will only get to be 4'-6' and do not require full sun.

The Ms. and her sharp instruments of agri-wonder:

With shrubs planted, it's time to mulch. I've never lived in a place with red mulch. Always brown. Well, I'm an adult now, and I'm getting red mulch.

Maybe the red doesn't set off the purple fringebush as well as a tan mulch would. Oh well, too late now. I had already bought nearly 30 cubic feet of the stuff. (nb: When guesstimating how much mulch you will need, go ahead and multiply your first guess by like 11, and save yourself a couple of trips to Lowe's).

The finished product:

It didn't occur to us until after the whole job was done that the new flower bed, on the North side of the house, gets absolutely no direct sun. Check back in a year to see if these plants make it!

My hypothesis is that the combination of mulch, shrubs, and flower bed borders will thwart the erosion of both my topsoil and the credibility of robust divine action.

Trees: Round 1

Our first priority were trees. We have quite a bit of space to work with in the side and front yards. We decided to go with two to begin with.

For the front, I wanted lots of color, and maybe something flowering. I probably should have done more research, but I got impulsive, and just picked up a couple of trees from the local Lowes.

First, a Yoshino Cherry. Now, I'd never planted a tree before, so here it goes...

Our soil is a mixture of sand and clay. Mostly clay.

The Cherry tree will eventually look like this (in Spring):

Also planted an Autumn Blaze Maple,

which will eventually look like this (in Fall):

For now, however, the trees are babies, and it kind of looks like we've planted sticks in our yard.

Fauna Alert

Shortly after moving in, we noticed that every night, we were stricken with adorable plagues.

First we noticed the grasshoppers, locusts, and cicadas. I really like the noise. It reminds me of my childhood in Texas. The Ms., on the other hand, is baffled, and is now convinced that Mother Nature lacks any reason or compassion.

Also, at dusk, our porch and sidewalks were covered with dozens of toads, ranging from dark red to gray and brown.

We also get the occasional bat flitting around, killing the mosquitos. Go bats!

Then there was this:


Scared the Ms. and the wee one into the house. I snapped a few photos before shooing it into the woods behind our fence. Later researched confirmed it was a nerodia, commonly known as the orange-bellied water snake. Non-venomous but aggressive. The experts tell me this one was probably gravid. Look it up.

Backtrack: Let the Yardscaping Begin

We moved into the new house in July of 2009. As you can see, the landscaping is serviceable and pleasant, if nondescript.

the flag belongs to the previous owner

Neither Ms. Groundskeeper nor I have any background in gardening, planting, or anything else. Initially, our plan was to mow the lawn, maybe grow a flower or two, but not get involved.

This blog will be a running account of how unable I am to leave well enough alone.