Garden & Pond Update

I’m documenting the growth, successes, and failures in our backyard space. It’s been about a month since I introduced you to the pond, and two months since I introduced the garden.

We have reached the height of summer here in the mountains. This is our hottest month, and while it seems dry out there, August is usually even drier. As you’ll see in the photos, there have been some real successes here in the garden, but what you don’t see is that there have also been a few failures/areas for improvement.

Fist, a surprising success : look at this clematis!

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That vine grows in a small bed, that’s more like a container built into a little nook in our deck. It doesn’t have any irrigation, so the soil is extremely dry if not watered regularly. Last summer I was so busy with baby Luc, that I completely ignored this area. I barely watered it, and I didn’t care that the vine never grew (seriously, it grew maybe 10 inches and then died). Fortunately, with ample water, it came back in full force this summer and is covered in beautiful blooms!

I think that it also serves as a great reminder of the resilience of plants, and about how lush a garden can be with just a bit of care.

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In the photo above, I’m showing off the echinacea that I planted this summer. I planted four of these around the yard (two in this bed and two near the pond). As you can see, these are successfully blooming, and I’m hoping to let their seed ponds fall into the bed for some self-seeding action. Unfortunately, one near the pond died – it suffered from a lack of watering and also an attack by our garden mice!…

The mice seem to be living in the beds along the deck, and I’m looking for ways to get rid of them or at least minimize their foraging. They’ve been eating some of the black-eyed susan flowers that I planted as well as the veggies in our veggie patch (so we haven’t been eating the vegetables, just to be safe). Any mice advice?

Behind the echinacea is an extremely large pot – I have two of these, and both are planted with a purple grass and those flowers. I’m totally blanking on the name of those flowers. It’s a nice combination that’s done well for me two years in a row.

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The photo above shows one of my potting surprises. I planted these violas and pansies in early spring when I wanted something to fill the pot but knew that only something cold-hardy would do. I expected to fill the pots with something more heat tolerant once summer arrived, but these beauties keep flowering! They do look a bit leggy, but really not that bad, so I’m going to keep them here for a bit longer and then I’m hoping to transplant them to a shade spot under one of our Aspen trees, and see how well they do there (the violas should come back as a perennial).

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As I surmised in my introductory post, we have raspberries that fruit on old growth (known as floricane-fruiting). Since I cut down all of the canes when we moved in (spring of 2015), new canes grew last summer and now they are all producing fruit! We have so many berries out there right now, only a small handful of really ripe ones so far, but more and more and ready every day.

I’m not sure what method I’m going to use for maintaining the raspberries. Part of me wants to cut down all of the canes again after this growing season (new and old growth), but that would meant that then we won’t have any fruit next summer. Or, I could go in and selectively thin the canes – cutting down the old growth and keeping the new growth. If I’m feeling ambitious and have the time, I may try this method… either way, I’ll keep you posted, and in the meantime, we’re enjoying this year’s bumper crop! 
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In the pond, our waterlilies are doing fantastic!… so is the algae! It’s a daily battle to go in and remove the string algae, but if I stay on top of it, the pond looks beautiful. We have these two lilies blooming right now, and I can see that the plants are multiplying – sending out new roots and plants within the containers. They seem to be such vigorous growers that I’m thinking about putting them in even bigger containers next year to encourage new plants.

The smaller plants floating around the lillies are the fairy moss. It’s growing well, but I think that next year I’ll order even more, because it’s not covering the pond as quickly as I’d like (I want it to cover the pond to help shade-out the algae).

A few of our other pond plants are doing well, but are still relatively small, so I’ll share updates on those in a future post.

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I’d still like to add a couple of fish to the pond, but without more plant cover, I think they’d be immediate prey for the birds and other wildlife around our house…

I’m definitely highlighting the successes, because that’s what makes the gardening fun, and these are the areas my eyes turn to every time I walk out the door. Maybe I’ll share more of my “eh” areas in the next post. There are a few spaces where I was hoping to see big changes this year, but I’m starting to realize that I may have to settle for a slower evolution of the space.

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Garden Update : The Pond

Throughout this summer, I’m documenting our garden. How it’s growing, what we’ve planted, and any changes we make to the space. Here’s my introduction to the bulk of our flower and veggie beds here.

Ugg, we’re such lazy bloggers lately! I realized that if I didn’t put this post up soon, then I’d miss my window of opportunity for pond introduction photos. Without further ado ~

When we lived in PA, I experimented with a few water gardens on our deck. Click here to read more about those experiments and the Thai water gardens that inspired my experiments.

With this house we inherited a small pond. It’s not something that either Calder or I would want to instal in our yard, especially in such a dry area where it seems a bit frivolous, but since it’s here, I’m so excited to expand my water gardening to this bigger space!

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The Pond

This pond is created using a waterproof rubber liner that is then covered with rocks. The pond is about 10 feet from our deck, and between those to spaces is a flagstone path with mint growing between the rocks (that’s what you see in the foreground above). The pond has a filter and pump system that pump water to a waterfall that’s about 6 feet high and 10 feet away from the pond. The water then trickles down a stream and into the pond. Last season we turned on the pump once (right after cleaning it), but then never used it again. This summer we’re hoping to tweak it slightly and use it a bit more, but I’ll discuss that feature in a future post.

Spring Cleaning

Both last year and this year we started the season by draining the pond and spraying it down to try to remove as much algae and silt as possible. I didn’t photograph that process, but realized I should next year. We learned a lot of things last year that made what was at least a 12-hour project the first time just a 2-hour jaunt this time.

We drain the pond with a big hose using this technique. You just fill the hose with water, submerging one end in the pond water and putting the other end at a lower point, letting gravity do the rest.

With a pond of our size, it takes a while for it to drain completely, so while it’s draining, I get to work removing the algae. I drag a large pitchfork through the water, picking up sheets/strings of algae that I then dump outside of the pond. As the water level goes down, I’ll hook another hose up to a water source and start spraying down the rocks on the side of the pond, trying to remove any algae and slime on them.

Once the pond is almost completely drained, you have to be careful that the draining hose doesn’t lose suction. It’s just a pain because then you have to fill it with water and get suction going again to get any remaining water. During this phase, I’m almost constantly spraying fresh water onto and between the rocks to wash out as much silt, slime, and algae bits as possible.

I don’t remove every bit of gunk from the bottom of the pond, but once I’ve done a fairly good job, the process is done and I start filling it again with fresh water.

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Algae

If left unchecked, our pond came become overgrown by string algae. From what I understand, the algae is not a danger to us or other organisms, but cosmetically, it’s a bit unsightly and makes the pond look more like a swamp than an oasis.

One of the reasons that our pond seems to be a prime target is because it gets a lot of direct sunlight throughout the day, and just like other plants using chlorophyl to make their food, sunlight will encourage growth. I was told that I could eliminate the algae and have crystal clear water by adding bleach to the pond, but this is only a solution if I don’t want to have any other plants or animals growing in the pond (and if I don’t mind dumping bleach into the environment, which I do). There are a few other solutions, so this summer I hope to keep you updated with my algae successes and failures.

In addition to physically removing the algae (as described above) and using an algaecide (discussed below), I can try to physically limit the amount of sun reaching the water’s surface. One easy way to do this is by adding water plants that will grow on top of the water, so that’s what I’ll be experimenting with this summer.

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Mosquitos

Because of the cool weather in the mountains and the lack of standing water in our dry climate, the mosquito population in the mountains is generally low. That said, we don’t want this pond to become a mosquito breeding ground. There are a few ways to avoid that.

Generally, mosquitos will successfully breed if they have access to the surface of still water and if nothing eats the larva. If we keep the waterfall on, this would agitate the water enough to deter mosquitos from laying their eggs. It’s unlikely that we’ll do that because of the noise, energy use, and increase in water loss that would happen. Another option is to cover the surface of the water in plants so that it’s hard for the mosquitos to lay their eggs. I’m going to attempt to cover most of the water with plants (more below), but it’s unlikely that we’ll completely cover the surface. If I do achieve relatively good plant cover, then I would love to add a few goldfish to the pond, and they would help to eat the larvae. So, there are some options, but they aren’t guaranteed to work at this point in our pond’s lifecycle.

So, for now, we’ve decided to add Mosquito Bits to the water. The mosquito pellets/dunks contain BTI, which is a bacteria that is toxic to the larvae and will kill them. The dunks are considered safe and non-toxic (when used correctly) for all other animals.

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Plants

This year I’m hoping to do some experiments and expand the variety of plants that I grow in the pond.

Right now our pond contains two groupings of water lilies. Both are made up of lilies that I put in the pond last summer and they successfully spent the winter out there. Not only did they survive in our little pond, but they thrived, multiplying successfully in their pots. This year I repotted them and added another one that came as a dry root from Home Depot. I bought that one because it was so much cheaper than the live plants and I wanted to grow it as a test this year to see how well it does.

I’ve also added a curly rush, two canna lilies (from dried roots), and another mystery lily that I picked up in the pond section at Home Depot. You can see the leaves of the mystery lily just starting to sprout in the photo above. All of these plants live on the “margins” of waterways ~ along the edge where their roots may be submerged in water, but their stems and leaves aren’t. So I have them in pots near the surface of our pond. It isn’t the most beautiful presentation, but I’m hoping that the floating plants will disguise the pots, and if they plants are successful, then I’ll come up with a better solution next year.

I was going to use duckweed as a floating plant to cover the water surface, but I wasn’t happy that the batch I received in the mail. So just this week I placed an order for fairy moss (it’s the small floating plant growing in the photo above), and a couple of water lettuce (another floating plant that is larger, like a small head of lettuce, and multiplies like crazy).

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That’s our pond in early spring. I’m hoping to get some lush growth from the plants this year. I would love to add a couple of goldfish, knowing that they will be super attractive treats for birds (thus wanting some good plant cover for them to hide under). We have a couple of frogs out at the pond now; we hear them but can never see them! Last year they laid eggs, so we’re hoping for another batch of tadpoles this year.

I’m excited to keep you updated as the pond grows and evolves this summer!

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DIY Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is our ingredient of the season. So far we’ve made some vanilla-infused vodka (great for milkshakes!), a savory roasted chicken with vanilla bean, and some homemade perfumes with vanilla essential oils.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but today we’re finally hitting on the key ingredient in every kitchen – vanilla extract! Who doesn’t have a bottle of vanilla extract in their kitchen? It gets used in everything. In fact, yesterday the boys and I baked our favorite chocolate cake, and even that called for two teaspoons of vanilla extract. 

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My fist exposure with homemade vanilla extract was a few years ago when I received a bottle from my BFF for Christmas. It was amazing, and I cherished that bottle, wanting to use it but also keep it for ever because it was just so good. As you’ll see, DIYing your own extract is so easy that I probably should have reigned in my emotions a bit…

The key to make a quality vanilla extract comes down to two things : 1. quality beans and 2. time.

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How-to

For this bottle of extract I used 8 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka. Split each bean by slicing through it lengthwise, then place the beans in a jar, add the vodka (making sure that it covers the beans), and let sit for at least two months.

After that time, you don’t have to remove the beans. In fact, you can let the extract sit longer to get a richer flavor. And as you use the extract, you can top it off with more vodka to keep your batch going.

That’s it!

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For how simple this recipe is, there are many ways to personalize it. Try different vanilla beans for different flavors (for example, Ugandan beans are supposed to have a more smokey flavor). You can also use different alcohols. I used vodka because it’s flavorless, so I would really only taste the vanilla from my beans, but you can substitute rum or bourbon. Personally, now that I have this bottle, I’m excited to experiment with a few more bean/alcohol combinations.

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And if you just happen to have a big bottle of vodka sitting around, don’t forget that with a single vanilla bean and a few days, you can turn it into a smooth vanilla vodka! If you’ll remember, Calder made fun of my idea to make vanilla vodka, but the joke’s on him because that stuff was so good that it’s already gone and I’m thinking about making another batch (maybe with lime this time!).

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Go Away! Natural DIY Spider Detterent Spray

Oh spiders. I love them, but I’m also terrified of them. I definitely keep a handful of them in my house to get rid of little flying pests, but big furry spiders? GET OUT! This past week, we had to catch and release a spider every.single.night. They’re big, brown, and hairy and I’m sick of seizing up in fear every time I see one, so I made this natural DIY spider repellent.  Full disclosure, today is the first day I’m using it so I will definitely report back to let you know how effective it is. live seasoned spring 16 spiders go away spray-2 copy

Apparently spiders are discouraged by strong scents like garlic, lemon, peppermint, citronella, and eucalyptus. According to my research, spiders also detest the taste of tea tree oil. While there are plenty of combinations you can mix up to deter spiders, here’s how I went about it:

Add 3 Tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Oil Soap & 5 drops of Eucalyptus Oil to a spray bottle and spritz it around all the windows and doors and other area where spiders may enter your house. Don’t spray it directly on spiders, I mean you could, but that’s just cruel.

You could also spray this solution inside, but I’d test an inconspicuous area first to make sure it doesn’t leave soap or oil stains your paint. It didn’t leave stains on my walls, but not all interior paints are created equally 😉  I chose Dr. Bronner’s soap because it’s biodegradable. Interested in other biodegradable bath products? Check out this post.

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I chose to try this DIY natural spider repellent instead of using toxic chemicals (they’re harmful to kids, pets, plants, insects, animals, our waterways and the earth in general) because they’re just plain overkill. I think very few instances call for harsh chemicals to be used. Often times you can find a natural repellent to tackle your pest problem. Along with the DIY spider repellent, these are a few other tricks to discourage arachnids from entering the apartment.

  • Thoroughly clean around doors and windows inside and outside the house.
  • Clean up any clutter in the corners of the cupboards and house in general.
  • Turn off porch lights so as not to attract flying insects aka a spider’s dinner.
  • Move stacks of wood and other debris far away from your home’s foundation.
  • Seal cracks in the home’s foundation and under doors and around windows.
  • Dust often! Spreading signs of activity and life to normally sleepy corners of your house will prevent spiders from parking there.

Happy spider-free homes to y’all!

 

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Vanilla Lavender Room Spray

Vanilla is our ingredient of the season. So far we’ve made some vanilla-infused vodka (great for milkshakes!) and a double vanilla cake. Today we’re venturing out of the kitchen and using vanilla essential oil. If you like experimenting with essential oils, check out our archive of posts.

It’s been almost two years since we shared a room spray, which is surprising because these are so easy to make and do a fantastic job of freshening up a room without any of the overbearing artificial fragrances found in many store-bought sprays.

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Whereas the rosemary and peppermint created an energizing combination, the lavender and vanilla combination in this spray provides a calming aroma. I added some fir balsam to this spray because I wanted something a little more complex. The fir balsam essential oil does a great job of bringing some of the outdoors in when it’s still a touch too cold to have the windows open here in the mountains.

To further enhance the vanilla aroma of the spray, I used our vanilla-infused vodka for the alcohol.

Ingredients and Hints :

  • 3 ounces filtered water
  • 8 drops vanilla essential oil
  • 8 drops lavender essential oil
  • 8 drops fir balsam essential oil
  • 1.5 ounces alcohol (I used our vanilla-infused vodka!)
  • spray or misting bottle

Pour everything into the bottle, give it a good shake, and spray away! You will have to shake it before every use. Really, it’s that simple!

And as we mentioned in the previous room spray post:

  • If you don’t have the alcohol, you can use all water, but the aroma won’t linger as long.
  • Of course, you can use any combination of oils, and increase or decrease the number of drops depending upon how intense you want the scent to be
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How to : Cultivate a Creative Life

If you like this post, you may want to read Sarah’s post on how to Cultivate a Life of Travel, but be warned that you’ll have the sudden urge to buy a plane ticket or two!

We’re coming up on a year of living in our house, and I’m still organizing things. Unfortunately (for me) one of the last places to get some special treatment has been my office, but I just recently spent a couple of days unpacking the final boxes and during the process I thought about the things I do around the house to encourage creativity (mine, the boys’, and visitors).

Sarah and I grew up in a house that encouraged creativity in all aspects of life, and I’m working to do the same now, whether it’s trying a new recipe, playing musical instruments, working in the garden, knitting or sewing. So even if you aren’t “crafty”, I hope you’ll find some useful advice in this post.

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DIY Christmas Gifts

Jingle bells batman smells… We’re back with another round up of Christmas crafts, but this time they’re ones you can gift to your friends.  On Monday, we shared delicious treats that are perfect for giving and today we’ll round out your gift list by adding a few non-edibles for your loved ones.  These DIY gifts range from easy to advanced (mostly because of the ingredients), but we explain everything you’d ever need to know in the posts, so hop to it!  We also sell a few of these items in our Live Seasoned etsy shop if you’re low on time.  All of these homemade gifts have natural, gentle ingredients perfect for any loving home.  We also love to pair these items with other handmade goods to really amplify the maker aspect of these presents.  We love supporting other crafters and creators so after you whip up these potions, browse around on etsy for perfect pairing gifts if you think your loved ones deserve a little more this holiday season.

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Cheap Oversized Photo Art

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How many times have you google searched cheap prints? I have a  l o t. Pretty much every time I have a show or event.  I’m always trying to figure out the best way to produce LARGE photographs inexpensively.  Katie recently introduced me to a new method: Engineer Prints.  Engineer prints reproduce line drawings and graphics with high definition and contrast, but they’re also really great for making large black and white photography prints.  Engineer prints are the perfect low-cost option when you’re looking for a statement piece without the price tag.  Since these prints range from only a buck to $10, the quality is obviously not fit for The Louvre, but they’re definitely awesome enough for a wall in your home or as a focal point at your next art show.

In addition to sharing our love of engineer prints, we also wanted to show you a simple way to add some structure to your print before hanging it. This will help to turn the image from something that looks like a poster into a more substantial piece of art.

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Clothes Moths : Our Common Household Pest

Today we mention the use of essential oils to deter moths. If you’re interested in more essential oil posts, check out our archive. It’s also National Moth Week! Want to know the difference between moths and butterflies?

While we love moths and try to live in harmony with nature, there’s something we just can’t come to peace with, and that’s moths eating our clothes (and yarn!). Since it’s moth week, it’s the perfect time to discuss the ugly underbelly of the moth world, as we like to think of them, and offer suggestions for keeping your house free of these pests.

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If you’ve never suffered through infestations from these moths, count your blessings. On the other hand, if you have had the displeasure of trying to eradicate these moths from your house, we’re here to commiserate, and to share our strategies for keeping our closets moth-free.

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Mold & Mildew Shower Spray

This is the first of a multi-part series on using essential oils in the home and on your body. Excited to make some potions? We already have some essential oil uses in our archives, and you can see our introduction to essential oils here. Also, lemons are our ingredient of the season. You can find more lemony-fresh posts here.

Moving into our new house, I had one thing on my mind when it came to the showers : keeping them clean! Let’s be honest, they are never really squeaky clean, but I wanted to be sure that they stayed free of mold and mildew. We have three showers in the house, and they are all tiled and have glass doors, so there are a lot of grout cracks and door crevices to keep my eye on.

With the limited time I have, I knew I wouldn’t be in there scrubbing them each week, so I was on the hunt for a mold and mildew prevention spray that I could use between deep cleans. I found just what I was looking for in my new favorite cleaning resource, The Naturally Clean Home. That is a great book for anyone looking to rid their cleaning routine of chemicals, and it’s particularly helpful if you’re new to many of the natural alternatives as she provides a great overview of what the common ingredients used throughout the book.

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Today’s recipe uses two essential oils and a citrus extract. All three ingredients are powerful antimicrobials, helping to kill mold, mildew, bacteria, and fungus. All of the nasty stuff that you don’t want growing in your shower. Water is used as the diluting agent, because at full strength, the oils and extracts would cause damage to your skin and possibly to some of the surfaces in your shower.

Ingredients & Materials :

  • spray bottle, 16 oz or larger
  • 2 cups water
  • 8-10 drops citrus seed extract (commonly sold in health food stores as grapefruit seed extract)
  • 2 tsp tea tree oil
  • 4-6 drops lemon essential oil

Mix all ingredients together in the bottle and spray on a wet shower surface (a great time is immediately after you shower), paying special attention to cracks and crevices, especially those that are in the darker corners of your shower. I like to give the bottle a good shake before each use, just to be sure that the ingredients are well-mixed.

While this spray does an amazing job of deterring mold and mildew, and even killing the little colonies that start to grow, I’ve found that there are time when I have to add a bit of scrubbing to completely eliminate some spots. When I have them, I love to use magic erasers for this job. I find that at times they are even better than a traditional scrub brush at getting into small crevices and completely removing all signs of mold and mildew.

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When it comes to this potion, I always use the grapefruit extract and tea tree oil, but will vary which other essential oil I’m using depending upon the season. I’ve used peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender in the past. If you do experiment, I would recommend sticking with an essential oil that has some antimicrobial properties, but off course, you could always add a few drops of other essential oils if you like their aroma.

Now, do yourself and the planet some good : ditch the bleach cleaners and start crafting your own shower spray with essential oils!

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