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Make hay while the sun shines

Getting good (i.e., not raining) weather in the early spring here at Chez Siberia is a rare enough occurrence that when we get it, and on a weekend to boot, it’s all hands out in the garden and get that work done.

Lots of work got done:
General cleanup in the vegetable garden. No, I did not get the plastic out on one of the beds; with any luck, I’ll get a chance for that this coming weekend.

Blueberry bushes got hauled out of their snug winter heeled-in spot and planted, along with compost, bone and a bit of blood meal, and wood chips. (more…)

Getting things started in the garden

Well, spring really sneaked up on us here at Chez Siberia (and probably a lot of other places as well). One moment, we have six inches of snow with freezing temperatures and the next… 50 degrees and sunshine.

Nothing like that to wake up the ‘we’d better start the tomatoes’ feelings.

Now, all long-range weather forecasts are telling your old Aunty that this summer is going to be not very warm (of course, all things are relative) – they are calling for temperatures in July and August to be 5-10 degrees cooler than normal. Which means that I needed to choose tomatoes that have a note on them saying something like, ‘cold tolerant’ or ‘will set fruit even in cooler temperatures’, because tomatoes are one of those tricky beasts. Most of them require warm night-time temperatures to set fruit. If temperatures are going to be iffy, then this is the way I hedge my bets.

Starting tomato seeds is really pretty simple. You need all the usual things – seed starting mnix, something to put it in, some warmish water, the seeds and a source of bottom heat. I use a heating mat, but I also got a metal grill to put on top of it to hold the box above the wwarmth a little bit. If I put the box of soil right on the mat, the soil mix gets to a temperature of over 80 degrees. Yes, I want warm soil but that will cook the seedlings, so I hold it away. If I didn’t have a metal grill to raise the box, I’d put an old towel on top of the mat to do the same thing. I also am a keen re-user of those plastic boxes that you can get salad mix in at the grocery store. They are relatively sturdy and have a lid that snaps on tightly to hold in the warmth and the moisture for the early stages of growing the seedlings until I need to transplant them out into bigger pots.

Now, this really is something you can do on the window sill at home as long as you have a sunny window, though you do need to keep watch to turn the seedlings so that they don’t grow all in one direction. I have an unheated greenhouse (and right now the temperature in that is 36 degrees – once the sun comes around the corner of the house, it will go up nicely into the 70+ range), but between the warming mat and my covering up the box with a big clear plastic bag, the soil is warm enough to keep the seedlings going.

Something that I am doing new this year (and I realize this sounds a bit daft at this point in the game) is that I am not putting any sort of seed identification markers IN the box. I’ve actually ended up numerous times with mold and other issues inside the box with the wood tags that I’ve used, so I’m doing something different this year. The humble piece of masking tape on the outside of the box.
I figure I can just write on the tape and won’t have as many issues inside the box until it is time to transplant.

Speaking of temperatures (digression), this year’s long winter and very cold temperatures have set me way back. Usually I can get out, put clear plastic or glass over one of the beds and get the soil up to 50 degrees so that I can put in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbages, beets, chard and lettuces. Not this year. I went out this week and took the soil temperature and it was still under 40 degrees F. Not warm enough for me to encourage it with a piece of glass or plastic, I’m afraid. I’ll try taking the temperature again today since we’re supposed to have a nice warm sunny day (again, all relative; it’s supposed to be 50 degrees F). Perhaps I’ll have better luck today.

In other areas of the garden, we’re starting to see the leaves from some of the many bulbs I planted in the fall. The crocuses are up, bless ‘em, but nothing else so far. It will be very interesting to see how the bulb patch looks once it’s in full flower mode. The patch, frankly, is a supremely ugly spot under which is our new septic system. So, of course, in the digging, installing, and filling in, we lost all of the top soil (despite our begging the contractor to set it aside on a tarp that we oh-so-thoughtfully put out for him) and have nothing there but horrific weeds which we have been assiduously yanking out and replacing with hardy perennials, in the hope that they will beat the nasty guys back (I know, wishful thinking). In the fall, I planted several hundred bulbs of various sorts and we shall see if that gives us a little bit of pleasure in the next couple of months.

Hope your spring gardening is coming along! Anything new and exciting in your garden?

The Pillow Project: Zips, Snips, and Done

So, let’s get down to business, shall we?

First things first: How are we going to close up the pillows? Well, yes, I can leave one edge completely open, stuff in the pillow form and then whipstitch it closed. Which I hate because it frankly requires me to keep the pillow form under some sort of control while I’m doing it. Very tiresome. I could also do a double flap and put in buttonholes and buttons. But I’m not going to do that either; I’m just going to put in a zipper. This makes stuffing the pillow very easy and it’s a neat and tidy closure. There are two ways to do this – in one of the seams (and if you follow directions on the package the zipper came in, then you are home free). Or, I can split the back into two pieces, make a seam there and insert the zipper in that seam. (more…)

The Pillow Project: Ideas

Sometimes, it’s actually quite overwhelming to try to get your arms around what you are actually going to do. Of course, the simplest thing to do is to just go out and buy pillows or pillow covers, but perhaps you can’t find anything that is either in the budget or that you like or that fits the decor/colors and so on. So. (more…)

The Pillow Project: First Principles

When it comes to making pillows, I have a couple of rules for myself which have stood me pretty well.

1. Measure the pillow form. I don’t care what the label on the bag says. Measure it anyway. If you are re-using a pillow form, also measure it because having people karate chop the pillow for ten years is bound to compress and shift the filling and this, believe it or not, will change the measurement. See the photo at the top. Take that measurement — that is how big you make the piece of material. NO, YOU DO NOT ADD SEAM ALLOWANCES. This is one of those ‘take it on faith things. When I have added seam allowances, I end up with a pillow cover that dwarfs the pillow insert. You want that pillow cover to be literally as tight as a drum. If you are putting a zipper into the back side (or a button flap or whatever), you need to complete that particular operation (putting in the zip, making the flap and the buttonhole and pinning it down as if it’s buttoned up or whatever), and THEN measure vertically and horizontally. If it’s greater than your original measurement, then trim down the edges until you DO get to that measurement. Again, once you sew this (and I use a half-inch seam), and put in the pillow form, it will look like Jane Mansfield at the beach, which is actually what you want. You don’t want corners that droop, or wrinkles or whatever because the pillow cover will then bunch up and wear out in odd spots. Remember: Think Jane Mansfield. (more…)

The Pillow Project

I think I can safely say at this point that even at Chez Siberia, it’s spring. Most of the snow is gone and I’m seeing the little leaves of the spring bulbs start to poke up.

Not that it is warm by anyone’s stretch of imagination. It’s 22 degrees F. this morning and windy so it’s not warm. But we are seeing the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, winter-wise, here. Which means only one thing.


After being cooped up for almost 5 months (and given the series of storms, horrific cold, wind and so forth; that 5 months seemed to last forever), there is part of me that requires massive change. Ordinarily, this revolves around getting my hair cut but this time, it’s more global. (cue scary music) I need change in the house.

Change in the house usually requires painting (which I don’t want to do; I actually like the color in the house at the moment). Some people go for a giant ‘slip-cover-a-thon’ for the furniture or a big change-over in the drapes. And not that I could not be convinced to change out the drapes in the livingroom for spring/summer/fall. I actually think that might be a good idea (something light-colored perhaps), BUT from a budgetary standpoint, I always go for ‘biggest bang for the buck’, which I think in this case involves… cushions for the two couches in the livingroom.

Above you see one of the couches. We have this one and a dark blue one and a red and blue and ‘some other colors that I’m not quite sure I can identify at the moment’ rug to tie everything together in the livingroom. I certainly lay no claim to great expertise in home decor. We tend toward the ‘find a hole and fill it’ school of decorating, especially on the walls. But after living with these couches for five years (one is an ancient one we inherited from one of my great-aunties which went through a complete re-do from the inside out), I have to say one thing:

They look a lot better with cushions on them and they look a whole lot better with cushions that are highly contrasting. At the moment, cushions are a bit ‘thin on the ground’ as they might way.

Hence the title above: The Pillow Project

Pillows, as a home decor project and as a sewing project are about as simple a deal as you can possibly find, as long as you measure the pillow insert correctly. If you want to be very technical, you can make cushion covers with zippers in them, or you can devise an opening that is held closed with buttons (meant to be seen, or not) or with a clever use of folded fabric at the back, like an envelop. But I need to make, as they might say out West, a ‘whole mess’ of cushions. I might even change out the cushion covers I already have (just to put something else into the rotation. So far, the plan includes printing cushion covers and fabric with screen printing. I might even use fabric paints on the fabrics and come up with my own fabric as well. This is an opportunity to let my creative ‘freak flag fly’.

So, stay tuned.

Last Minute Holiday Gift

So, here is how the script goes: You get the call. Or someone at work invites you to come over or whatever and there you are with ‘Oh, Jeeze – I need a ‘take along gift’. Should I do the obvious and drop by the liquor store on the way or ?

Well, your old Aunty is here to tell you this: You know this is going to happen because it always happens. And you know that dealing with the whole ‘take along gift’ thing is always stressful, so why not get it out of the way right now. If you are not prepared with holiday cookies or the odd bottles of wine (and the concomitant holiday box with metallic embellishment), where else to look? Well, if you have one of the sorts of things pictured at the top of the page, you look there. (more…)

Fall Gardening: Evaluating how things went

This week was, to certain extent, the ‘last hurrah’ for the garden here at Chez Siberia. We had several ‘killing frosts’ here – this is the sort of frost where basically it coats all the grass in whiteness and crunches when you walk on it. It also will literally melt everything that is not hardy to a certain extent — it explodes the water in the plant cells of plants such as tomatoes, peppers, squashes, non-hardy greens and so on. (more…)

Greenhouse goings – transplanting

Once upon a time, back in June, I did a post on rooting succulents and I cut up and planted some orchid cacti cuttings that I’d gotten out west when the DH and I did a trip and visited an arboretum. Rooting Succulents And, at this point in the season, I always figure that I may as well transplant cuttings into something bigger and most hospitable before it really gets cold, so I rooted (heh) around the greenhouse to find these again (your Aunty is really quite negligent and we grow and root so many things out there that sometimes things get pushed to the side, out of the way, under something else and so on). Now, just looking at this photo at the top (and this is only one of the big cuttings I cut up and rooted), you can see that one of the cuttings did really really well and the other two look sort of ‘meh’. But, you never know with succulents. The other two big leaves that I cut up and planted actually looked much worse and when I dug them out of their little pots, they had all sorts of little roots on them, even there there was no top growth and the cuttings themselves looked pretty ‘peely-wally’ (as my deal old Mum used to say). But in this case, if you guessed that the other two cuttings did not root, you would be correct. Too much water? Not enough water at the right time? No way to tell. But I’ve got one rooted cutting out of it, which is a very good thing and when it gets bigger, I can root other parts of it. For the moment, to let them settle in, I have just put them into potting mix and will let them sit there for a day or two before I water them a little bit. Again, with succulents, too much water is actually worse than not enough.

On to the next bit of negligence:

One of the members of the plant kingdom that I really adore are ferns, which are, from a plant perspective, one of our connections with the ancient world of the dinosaurs since they have been around since literally that time and have not changed one iota since then. The major difference between ferns and gymnosperms (that is, plants that make actual seeds) is that they don’t make seeds per se – they develop structures on the undersides of their leaves which create spore structures underneath a membrane on the leaf called an indusium, which basically lifts up when the spores are fully developed and ripe. Then, through wind and rain action, the spores get out on the wind or fall to the ground, where a gametophyte forms and the sperm and eggs do their reproductive thing, forms a zygote and grows into what we think of a typical ‘fern’.

Earlier this summer, I found some fern fronds with brown sori (spore bodies) on the backs and just for the heck of it, I put one of the fronds on a piece of dry paper, waited a few days and gathered up the spores that had fallen on the paper. I then scattered them on top of some potting medium that I had in one of the many former salad mix containers that come with a lid and put it aside in a not very sunny spot in the greenhouse. When a green haze formed (and I can’t describe it in any other terms but that), I gave it a good spray with a spray bottle. This gives the sperms a medium to travel to the eggs so that they can get together.

Today, in rooting around, I found that salad container again and I dug it out and look what I found:
The surface was covered with structures that looked like this. How exciting!!! So I dug out a few to transplant into other little containers and I’ll give them a good spritz so that they can continue to develop into more ferns.

This really is not too difficult. And the structures are very interesting to look at.

If you want to grow ferns yourself, you can use fronds that you find in your own garden, or even fronds from flower arrangements. Also fern societies offer ‘spore exchanges’ and so on that you can participate in. Lots of fun. And you can see what’s going on close up.

Timely suggestions

OK, folks, sometimes it is good to, as they say in the classical music biz, ‘recapitulate the theme’ before we go on to the ‘variations.’ In your Aunty’s case this weekend, it hit me (literally; the calendar fell off the fridge) that we are now half-way through August, which means many things to many families:
1. School will be starting soon and many of you will be head-first in those lists that get sent out from schools for what your child is expected to have with them when they go back (if they have not gone back already – some school districts have started I think).
2. Even though it is still warm (and still very warm) in many places (except for our readers in Australia and NZ who are moving into the spring), fall and winter are making their inevitable march.

So, as I seem to do every August, your dear Old Aunty is here today to remind you of a couple of things which may be useful in terms of the next 8 weeks or so (depending on where you live):

First, it is still warm, which means that we have a window of opportunity (as they say) to use substances such as caulk, paint, wood putty and so on, which require temperatures of at least 55 degrees F to cure.

Second, if you have been cudgeling yourselves over the head with doing something about making your home more energy efficient, now is a bloody good time to actually take steps to doing it. There is literally nothing worse than laying on your back in a crawl space in December putting in insulation (well, actually, there IS something worse and that is laying on your back on a filthy barn floor when it’s 0 degrees F. at 2 a.m. and trying to help a ewe have her lambs. But we don’t do that anymore, hey nonnie nonnie and a fiddle-dee-dee). Doing this in August, September or October is much less nasty.

If you’ve been thinking about getting into canning or freezing (even if you don’t have a garden yourself), now as as good a time as any to do this. First – the farmers markets are exploding with gorgeous produce and so-called ‘U pick” is humming out there with fruits and veggies. Check with your county Cooperative Extension to see if they are having any canning, freezing, jam making etc. sorts of classes.

Let’s say you do have a freezer – now is a very good time to check it out and bring all the older stuff (you DO label what you put in there with what it is and when you put it in, right?) to the top or the front (depending on what sort of freezer you have) so that you can use it up before winter starts.

If you have a garden or beds or planters of plants, you may look out and feel that all the flowers are looking just a tad peaked at this point. Deadhead the perennials and cut back the annuals and give everything a good dose of organic fertilizer like compost tea or fish emulsion in water. That should give them a good pick-me-up to carry them into the fall.

For those folks looking for some posts to help them along, here you go:
Saving Energy

Freezing, Canning


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