A Review: My 20 for 2020 Goals

The world was a wee bit different when I made my 20 for 2020 list back in January.

My 20 goals for 2020:

  1. Journal every day for a month: I did this in January and I’ve been journaling consistently since then.
  2. Read 30 books: this is something the pandemic has encouraged, I’ve already read 23 books and I still have six months to go, so I should definitely exceed 30 books.
  3. Sew something: I made pillows and Roman shades. I also made two face masks (not what I would have predicted I would sew back in January).
  4. Make soap: I haven’t done this yet.
  5. Make a cleaning and maintenance schedule for my home and follow it: well, I made the schedule, but haven’t actually followed it!
  6. Start a new vegetable garden: I’m still working on this, but I do at least have half of a vegetable garden growing and producing.
  7. Plant fruit trees and shrubs: I haven’t done this and probably the only fruit trees I’m going to get around to planting this year are apple trees which are going into the garden.
  8. Join the YMCA and go to an exercise class: Well, this isn’t going to happen. I know I can do some exercise classes online, but the garden building has taken much more time and physical effort than I anticipated, so I’m not going to worry about other exercise until I’m done with the garden.
  9. Volunteer 20 hours: I’ve been doing the Master gardener hotline, so I might make it to 20 hours.
  10. Pick another charity to donate to monthly: I haven’t done this yet.
  11. Take Domino to the beach: Nope
  12. Go camping: Nope
  13. Host something at my home: Yes! I did this in the nick of time, I hosted February’s book club at my house.
  14. Install garden watering system and rain tank: The watering system is set-up, but a rain tanks aren’t going to happen this year.
  15. Go to a meditation class or retreat: Here’s another one that’s not going to happen in person, I can look for something online or wait until hopefully next year.
  16. Buy foods in bulk: I just made an order for bulk dried goods at Azure Standard and it should arrive by the middle of July. My goal is to order bulk goods twice a year. My original reason for this was to reduce waste, which is still important to me, but after the pandemic and people going crazy buying up stuff, it will be a comfort to know I have the basics in stock.
  17. Make a landscape design plan for my yard: I’ve made a design plan and then edited it again and again. I can’t say I have the final version, but I’m happy with my current version. I expect this to be a continuous work in progress as I plant and things grow.
  18. Learn something new: take a class for fun: I went to a gardening symposium at the beginning of March and also took the Slow Retreat course with Brooke McAlary this summer.
  19. Do a digital detox challenge: I haven’t done this yet.
  20. Write letters to agents for my garden book: Nope.

Here’s what I’m going to focus on for the second half of 2020:

  1. Read at least 7 more books.
  2. Make soap.
  3. Finish my vegetable garden.
  4. Plant apple trees.
  5. Take at least one exercise class per week online starting in September.
  6. Volunteer 20 hours: I think I have 14 hours to go.
  7. Pick another charity to donate to monthly.
  8. Take Domino to the beach: hopefully in the fall, he’s not a fan of the summer heat
  9. Go camping: another good autumn activity
  10. Do a digital detox challenge.
  11. Write letters to agents for my garden book.

As long as I have my vegetable garden finished by the end of the year, I will be happy with my 2020 accomplishments. I’m thrilled to be getting summer produce out of the garden. All feels right in the world when I’m out in the garden searching for green beans or checking the color of tomatoes (even though everything is far from alright in the world).

First tomato of the summer along with Rattlesnake green beans and Tatume squash
My first tomato went into a salad with mozzarella, lettuce from the garden, and a balsamic dressing.

Summer Garden

I love summer gardens when all the tiny seeds and puny seedlings grow steadily towards the sun and start flowering and producing veggies.

Of course veggies aren’t the only thing unceasing in their growth.. all the insects are too. I was hoping that a new garden would be stealthy and stay under the insect radar for its first year, but no such luck. I’ve been battling the squash vine borers in my zucchini and squash. I also think slugs timbered several malabar spinach and swiss chard seedlings during their nocturnal visits. Something has also enjoyed munching on eggplant leaves.

Vine borer damage to a squash stem. I cut the vine borer out, which sometimes damages the plant beyond recovery, but sometimes not. I’m hoping for not.

Despite the growing insect populations I’ve started harvesting summer crops- my first yellow squash and bell pepper of the year. There’s a tomato almost ready for picking and a zucchini that I have my eye on for tomorrow.

I made a tasty quinoa salad using green beans, squash, and lettuce from the garden.

Quinoa Salad

Meanwhile I have more beds to build. It seems like my garden will never be finished although I can see the progress I’ve made. I should be able to have all the beds built by the end of July. Silly me thought it would take a month to build my garden, more like five!

Watering the Garden

I would love for it to rain about an inch per week, preferably as a slow, steady rain instead of a torrential downpour. Of course the universe laughs at me as we received five inches of rain in one week and then nothing except a sprinkle that evaporated immediately for the next month. That means I have to water my garden. I have dreams of water tanks and a drip irrigation system. The water tank dream hasn’t come true yet, but the drip irrigation dream is now a reality in my garden.

After drawing out where the PVC pipes will run and the connections I needed, then it was a fun game of shopping online between two Lowe’s locations and Home Depot trying to find the right parts.. diameter, thread or slip, male or female.. in stock. I managed to get everything ordered online and picked it up. Of course I get home and out of all the valves I got, one was slip instead of threaded. For now, I skipped one bed that’s not built yet, so I have a functioning drip system while missing this valve.

Drip irrigation system with valves for each raised bed

Why a drip system?

  • First, I love putting together PVC pipe.. maybe I missed my calling as a plumber.
  • Second, it saves water by slowly dripping into the soil so that it doesn’t runoff or evaporate. Now that I’m on city water, I’m much more aware of how much water I use. The day after I watered my garden for the first time, I get an alert informing me that I used four times more water than my average use – that’s why I’m dreaming of water tanks.
  • Third, it prevents the foliage from getting wet which can help prevent fungal diseases which are common in my hot, humid summers.
  • Fourth, I can make sure to only water my raised beds that need it by having valves. Also, unlike with using a sprinkler, I don’t water paths which once again saves water, but also deprives weeds of water.
Irrigation tubing with drip emitters every six inches

In other garden news, my bed building continues and I was impressed with myself for successfully building a circular bed. I used vinyl siding for the concrete frame along with plenty of stakes. I also managed to build a curve for another bed as well. I’m over halfway done with garden building. I hope to finish by the end of July. Silly me put ‘build new vegetable garden’ as my goal for March. Hopefully five months later, I’ll get to check it off the list.

Circular paver raised bed that will be home to herbs

As for harvests, I continue to pick salad greens and the new harvest this week was green beans.. four of them!

Edible or Native

My landscaping goal for my little property is to only plant edible or native plants.  Edible to feed myself in a sustainable and healthy way and native to feed the animals that I share my space with.  I read Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy that went into the details of how native plants feed the local insects which then feed the local wildlife. As a bonus, native plants are adapted to their environment, so once they are established, they shouldn’t need pampering.

The complication is that I’m a neat and organized person, so a front yard that looks like a jungle isn’t going to work for me.  Luckily there are lots of native cultivars that are smaller and more manageable.  I poured over websites and books (I highly recommend Native Plants of the Southeast by Larry Mellichamp) to put together my front yard landscape plan.

I want a cottage-style garden with cool shades (pinks, blues, whites, purples), seasonal interest, and nothing too large to hide the house while also receiving the correct amount of light and being either native or edible.  I may be a bit too demanding.  It turned into a jigsaw puzzle of plants, which will be a work in progress for years to come.  I discovered that making a plan is only half the battle.  Finding the plants turned into a nursery scavenger hunt!

Big box stores had nothing.  Then I started calling local nurseries and reading off my list of most-wanted shrubs.  They had never heard of these plants.  I ended up having to order some online along with finding a local woman that grows and sells only native plants and a native plant group that held a sale.  I still have many more plants to find, but now that summer heat has arrived, it’s going to have to wait until autumn.

Here’s what I’ve planted so far:

In the bed in front of the porch, there’s a Dwarf Fothergilla in the center (mission impossible to find this shrub) with blue-eyed grass on the left (I need more of these), chocolate mint in the back (edible and contained with concrete), Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ in the front and Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick ‘on the right.  I need some more flowers to fill in this space.. something pink would be lovely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the shady side of the house, I have two ‘Ruby Slippers’ oakleaf hydrangeas.

Along the side fence, I wanted some evergreen shrubs.  I don’t have neighbors at the moment, but I assume that one day the lot next door will be built on.  I do hope the giant oak tree stays. Here I went with edible and got Camellia sinensis, which are the shrubs that are used to make green and black tea.  In three years, I might have enough to make three cups of tea!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In front of the fence, I have the following itty bitty shrubs: Cornus sericea ‘Artic Fire’, a dwarf red twig dogwood, ‘Strongbox’ inkberry holly, Cephalanthus occidentalis ‘Sugar Shack’, and ‘Proud Berry’ Coral Berry.  For flowers I have Echinacea purpurea ‘PowWow Wild Berry’, Verbena canadensis ‘Homestead Purple’, and Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’.  I also want some dwarf Liastris and bee balm but didn’t have luck finding them.

The goal now is to keep all these plants alive.  Next on my to do list is to stain the picket fence white..hopefully I won’t end up with white shrubs and mulch too!

 

My First Harvest!!

It’s a big day here… I harvested and ate my first produce from my new garden!  This first harvest was a mix of baby lettuce and Swiss chard from thinning the seedlings.

Domino wasn’t as excited about the harvest as I was.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI made a simple vinegarette to go with my first salad.  It was delicious and it’s so nice to have something fresh from the garden again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven Domino changed his mind and decided to partake in eating the first harvest.

This week it rained more and I didn’t get as far with my bed building as I had planned.  I did build and fill a bed along the fence that I planted with corn.  Then the digging began for the next section.  My beds have gotten much straighter after a bit of practice with the concrete and pavers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In other news, last week I read Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume, a book about a man and his dog, which is always a dangerous subject matter when it comes to maintaining dry eyes.  And yes, it was heartbreaking but not in the expected way for a dog book.  The writing was beautiful, descriptive without being tedious.

The weather forecast is looking much dryer for next week, so I will continue on with the bed building and hopefully get a few more salads from the garden.

 

 

 

 

My Lucky Summer

Summer vacation officially started this week.  I’m relieved to not have to constantly check my email or sit at my virtual office waiting for the rare student to log in or record lectures that I cringe to hear played.  I refer to summers as my retirement practice.  I should have a significant amount of practice before I reach retirement.

My summer started with a lucky sign.  On Monday afternoon, I was walking Domino in the park.  Walking is an overstatement- we are ambling and then sitting in a patch of clover while he sniffed the air.  I look down and a four-leaf clover was staring back at me.  I don’t recall ever finding a four-leaf clover.  Maybe there was a childhood moment that’s lost and buried in piles of memories, but nothing I clearly recall.  I’m taking this as a sign that this is going to be a lucky summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My four-leaf clover find

During my first week of vacation it rained and rained and then just when it might stop, a random storm brought another downpour.  I lost count of how much rain, I think the weekly total was between four and five inches.  I took advantage of all this rain to dig out the second section of my garden.  The soil is clay here, which means when it’s dry, it’s a rock.  I knew this was my chance to dig.  By the end of the week my body was aching (the arch of my right foot protested from stomping on a shovel time and time again) and every piece of clothing that is designated for gardening was caked with mud.  However, I did complete the digging.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Middle section of garden dug out and ready to build

The middle section of the garden is the fancy part.  The circle in the middle will become an herb spiral and the beds behind it have a curve, plus there will be an arbor in the front.  I may be cursing myself next week.  It took several weeks to get the hang of working with concrete and making a somewhat straight line of pavers.  Now I have to figure out how to make curves and circles.  I designed this garden in the winter while under cozy blankets with hot tea.  I dreamed about how pretty it would be to diverge from only rectangular beds.  Now this dream is supposed to become a reality- this should be interesting!

This week I finished reading The $64 Tomato by William Alexander, which got me wondering how much I’ve spent on my garden so far.  One promise I made to myself for selling the big house with all the land and pond was that when I moved I could build my dream garden with the money I had leftover from the house sell.  I know my new garden isn’t frugal and I may never grow enough vegetables to counterbalance the cost and I’m ok with that.  The good news is I haven’t touched the extra house money and with that I have a two-year emergency fund, which is comforting during a time of uncertainty.  It also makes me not panic about spending money on a garden right now.  I went back and added up all my garden expenses this year and so far I’ve spent $2,942, so I’ll be growing some pricey tomatoes this summer!

Speaking of expenses, one of these was a compost bin.  My compost at the last garden was a pile that I kept adding to and when it got too big, I would start another pile.  The one thing I never did was actually use any of my compost.  It kept compostable items out of the trash, but it never made it’s way back to my garden.  I’m hoping that having a composter will encourage me to make and use compost.  I also know there’s a family of raccoons that live in the park behind me, so I wanted something closed to try to keep them from having a buffet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My composter

Then there’s the other critter that enjoys raiding an open compost bin…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Compost connoisseur and bone gnawer 

My plans for week two of summer vacation include building garden beds (hopefully not getting too angry at my garden designing self!) and working on planting flowers and shrubs in the front yard.

 

The End of a Crazy Semester

The semester ended on Friday and I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more relieved for summer break.  We ended up having half of the semester online with two days’ notice.  It was an incredible amount of work at a time when I felt very little motivation.  It was hard to keep going with the world in the middle of a pandemic while being stuck alone at home with no structure to my days.  But the semester is over and I have three months of summer vacation ahead of me and hopefully by August, life and work will be somewhat more normal.

As much as I’m relieved to have completed the semester, it eliminates what little structure I had left to my days and weeks.  I’m trying to establish a summer rhythm that allows me to get the things done that I want to while still giving me time to relax, recharge, and recover from the past two months.

My main summer projects are to finish building my vegetable garden and landscape my front yard.  I’d also like to work on making Roman shades for more of the windows and take the time to get back into some neglected hobbies like writing, reading, and photography.  I also need to incorporate a bit more exercise into my life (it seems online teaching plus stress plus lack of motivation equals binge eating chocolate!).

My little garden is growing well…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rattlesnake beans reaching for the trellis with zinnia seedlings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m growing Malabar spinach for the first time, here’s my first seedling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First tomato flowers!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First little bell peppers

Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick my first harvests in a few weeks!

Only During Covid-19

After listening to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, I was inspired to make my Covid-19 pandemic lists that they discussed as a way to remember this time.

Buzzwords: flattening the curve, PPE, social distancing, community spread, stay-at-home, reopen, N95, handwashing, herd immunity, drive-through testing

Things I’m grateful for: being able to work from home, spending time with Domino, having time to work on my garden, knowing I have an emergency fund and no debt to ease financial stress, having a park in my backyard, being an introvert, technology for letting me stay in touch with people, reconnecting with friends from college, grocery delivery, the world being quieter and the air being cleaner

Things I’m grieving: going to spring plant sales, seeing friends and coworkers and even students, master gardener activities, nonchalantly going to a store without thinking about viral contamination, my retirement account, the dog store in downtown announcing that they are permanently closing

Items of clothing I wore: alternated between navy or grey leggings with navy fleece

Unique moments: Sewing and wearing a face mask, the store shelves empty of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, hearing hymns over a loudspeaker from a church down the street while sitting on my back porch, seeds and seedlings being sold out as everyone decides to start a garden, walking through an empty downtown.

I dye my own hair by mixing the dye and developer myself (instead of a box kit).  I went to order some dye and there were a lot of negative reviews.  Turns out people are frantically ordering any hair dye in stock without realizing that this is only the dye, you have to get developer separately and mix it.  They order the dye and then couldn’t dye their hair.

What I read:  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Cosy: The British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir, This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide by Geneen Roth, Bringing Nature Home by Douglass Tallamy, The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

In other news, I finished recording my last video lecture for class.  All I have left to do for the next two weeks is grading.  I’m feeling much less stressed now.  I finished the sixth raised bed in my garden and planted it with okra, soybeans, butternut, spaghetti squash, sunflowers, and the last of the pepper seedlings.  My pumpkins, chard, and yellow squash from last week’s planting have germinated.  I’m still waiting on the zucchini.  I got the wire on top of my pumpkin tunnel and was hoping it would flatten out a bit more.  I have bricks sitting on top of it and so far it doesn’t seem like it’s budged at all.  The concrete reinforcing wire is some serious wire!  Next week I’m getting twelve yards of mulch delivered for the front yard, so I’ll be busy shoveling.

Brick paver raised bed vegetable garden

The top section of my vegetable garden is complete!

 

My Pandemic Garden

I had planned to build my garden this spring after moving to my new home in November.  Now I will always remember this garden as the one I built during the pandemic.  I left my large and well-established garden behind a few months ago and thought that was bad timing as grocery store shelves were emptied.  Now I’m glad I had to start a new garden because it kept me busy creating and gave me hope for the future.  It reminded me that it’s possible to start over and make life better the second (or third or fourth) time.

Even though work has been stressful with converting everything to online, this staying-at-home order has given me the opportunity to devote my time to building my new life here.  I imagined moving to a new town and getting involved with my community through lots of volunteering and attending local events. I still want to be involved in my new town, but I know myself, I try to do everything at once.  Being forced to stay home has meant I can settle in here and when the world slowly reopens I can begin to connect.

I haven’t had to make excuses or get odd looks when I say I can’t do something because I have a garden to build.  That’s my silver lining for this pandemic.

As for my pandemic garden, there’s spring excitement: my seeds from last week are germinating!  Rattlesnake and red noodle beans, a mesclun mix of lettuce, Kiku Chrysanthemum melon (a small Japanese melon I can grow vertically), and a variety of cucumbers…

In other garden news this week, I finished the fourth trellis and planted the bed with tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and marigold seeds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got a late start on planting my seeds inside this year for transplants, so I picked up a sweet pepper seedling at the nursery before the stay-at-home order began and it’s starting to flower!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also finished the fifth bed along one side of the fence and planted Seminole Pumpkin and Tatume Squash seeds to grow up the fence and Rainbow Chard to grow beneath them.  I’m in the middle of constructing a pumpkin tunnel for the vines to grow over.  I need to put the wire along the top, but after the wire wrestling I had with the trellises, I’m not looking forward to this.  I think I have plenty of time considering my pumpkin seeds haven’t germinated.

Pumpkin Tunnel

The beginnings of a pumpkin tunnel

As for work, the countdown continues with two weeks of classes and then finals.  I have papers to grade for one section that I’ve managed to procrastinate since Thursday (maybe that’s how I got so much done in the garden).  I’m down to three lectures to record and one lab to write (which I need by this Wednesday, so that needs to happen soon).  Summer vacation (at home) arrives in a few more weeks!

New Garden, First Planting

I planted the first seeds and seedlings in my new garden!  I had a busy weekend building trellises and planting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tomato seedlings in their new home

Ever have one of those projects that looks simple, but ends up harder than you thought?  That was me with these trellises.  My problem was the wire I ordered.  I wanted wide spacing so that I could reach through the wire for harvesting.  Concrete reinforcing wire has 6″ spacing and is affordable, so I ordered a big roll.  Turns out concrete wire is very stiff and if I had seen it in person, I would have never have picked it.  (I ordered online and had it delivered, due to that whole covid-19 thing).

Building trellises became wrestling with stiff, thick wire.  Step one was to unroll the wire enough to cut a piece.  I had to use 50 lb bags of concrete to hold down the wire and in the process, I put a hole in my pants along with two bags of concrete!  I also managed to cut myself. At least my wire cutters could get through the wire (with plenty of effort on my part).  Then I had to stretch the pieces out overnight to flatten them a bit.  It took an excessive number of staples to hold the wire and when I was on my last trellis, my staple gun died!

I do have three completed trellises and on Sunday I planted some tomato and pepper seedlings along with cucumber, melon, green bean, and lettuce seeds.

Paver raised bed vegetable garden with trellises

Raised bed vegetable garden with trellises

It makes me happy to have a functioning garden again and it feels like at least one thing is right in my world again.  I still have plenty more to do.  I’m almost done with the bed along the fence and after I fill it, I’ll plant vining squash and some greens to grow in the shade of the vines.  I also need to finish that last trellis so I can plant the fourth bed.  I put in an online order to pick-up that will hopefully be available soon.

There are no flowers in my yard yet, but I stumbled upon this beautiful trillium in the park behind my house.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Trillium

Of course, I can’t take a walk in the park with my camera without a picture of Domino enjoying the creek.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As for work, it’s going to be a hectic week of grading.  We are in the home stretch for getting to the end of this crazy semester.  I have one more lab to create and seven lectures to record (not that I’m counting or anything).

I’ve been staying-at-home for over a month now, although I did venture out to get my allergy shot and groceries.  I highly recommend going to the grocery store early on a Monday during a downpour.  There were maybe ten people in the entire store.

Video chats have become a regular activity during this pandemic.  Last week I had a chat with some friends from college, a remote coffee break with coworkers, a virtual book club, a chat with forum folk from all over the world, and a catch-up with my family.  Even though it’s just me and Domino 24-7, I don’t feel too alone at the moment.