Saturday, May 23, 2015

First time to be organized!

The white board, calendar page and sticky notes
that have changed my life as a writer.

I am so happy to report that I have passed a major milestone in my writing projects. I have been organized for nearly a month!

I write for four publications: Image magazine, Quirky Cultivator (my blog), Zone 9 Garden (someone else's blog) and a novel I've finally started.

Aside from writing  several stories a day as a newspaper reporter, I have never had so much writing to do in such a short period of time. In my present role as a free-lance writer, I have to regulate my time or I basically go nutso. So as you can imagine, it is essential for me to stick to a schedule.

In an emergency meeting with my logical side a few weeks ago, I came up with a system that enabled me to get all my magazine articles turned in at least a week early. For me, that's unheard of.

Anyone who knows me as the free spirit that I am will know that being this organized is a major feat for me.  This organizational system involves a white board, a large calendar page, and sticky notes of various sizes. Each sticky note denotes a particular appointment or deadline.

One reason I'm writing so much is so that I will keep my writing muscles in shape -- for my novel. I joined a writers' critique group so I would have to write chapters. I have never written book chapters before and for that reason it scares me to death. Fear of the unknown? Probably.

And while I've not met my goal of writing the six chapters I had planned to write by this time, I consider even writing two as a major milestone. I had to email them to the group over the weekend so they would have time to critique those first 2,500 words and share corrections and such with me tomorrow night. I don't mind telling you that I am nervous.

But it's something I'll just have to get over, as I have gotten over procrastination. Wish me luck. - QC Karen

Friday, May 22, 2015

Collecting things on the side of the road

This treasure found in my neighbor's trash
has lasted quite a number of years.
Looks like it needs its yearly paint job.
I'm one of those crazy women who pick up things by the side of the road and carry them home.

"Hey, that's a perfectly good lamp! (My friend and I were walking and I carried it the whole way back. It merely needed new wiring and is still in service today.)

Wow, look at that wicker chaise lounge. I think I'll paint it red and put it on the patio as a plant stand! (It rotted out in three months.)

"There's my neighbor's rusted out wheelbarrow with wooden handles intact! (I used it as a cute planter under the oak tree in my front yard, until it rusted through a couple of years later.) 

"Why is my neighbor throwing out that great little cast iron table; what's a little rust? (I simply sprayed it black with Rustoleum and it's still serving the purpose today, probably 15 years later.)

"Why is my next-door neighbor disposing of those cute, cute, cute birdhouses?" (She let me have them but made me promise she would never see them again.)

And so on. I guess all this makes me a scavenger.

Well, I've pretty much cured myself of picking up junk because I really don't need any more junk. I'll admit, though, that it still fascinates me to see all the stuff out there on large-trash day. I have learned to avert my eyes.

All this to say that there is one thing I will pick up on the side of the road, and that's big bags of leaves. Awkward but true. I can pretty much find treasure troves of leaves all year round, but primarily in the spring and fall. When I need leaves, I just drive around, park, pop the trunk, look around to make sure nobody's watching me, and stuff three bags in my microwave-sized trunk.

In my first such foray, I netted 21 bags of leaves, which found a new home on my concrete pad thankfully behind the privacy fence. My bounty stayed in place for several weeks before my husband, the Chemist, convinced me to follow through with the job. So I dumped all 21 bags in the walkways and around each plant in my vegetable garden.

Using leaves as mulch is one of the best things I've ever done for my garden. Since starting this leaf mulching about a year ago, I have had hardly any weeds. Yes, you read that right -- hardly any weeds!

I pile the leaves 3 or 4 inches deep, and keep on adding as they compact down. The leaves I walk on in the aisles turn into a really nice compost that I can later till in. The leaves around the plants act as a slow-release fertilizer.

And aside from relief from the bane of weeds, I don't have to water as often because the leaves hold in the water and keep the roots cool (or warm in cool weather). Periodically I do pull the leaves away from the plants, water the bare ground, and replace the leaves. But that's just common sense.

Very often you will find me
loading more leaves in the garden.

So if you want to make life in your garden much, much easier, collect bags of leaves by the side of the road and dump them in the garden. It's infinitely better than pulling all those weeds and doing endless watering. - QC Karen

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hail damage

Little by little, I'm learning to be patient. 

A couple of weeks ago we got a freak storm with hail and really high winds. I had just bought seedlings and naturally they were outside in the elements. They got shredded.

Normally I would growl and pitch all of the little plants. However, I decided that just this one time I would see if they would recover.

So I left them alone and guess what, they came back to life!  Now is that a life lesson, or what?

Here are the various plants that are going strong since the hail damage. - QC Karen

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Growing thyme

All you need to do is pick a little sprig of thyme to find out it really smells good.  Thyme comes in pretty handy in Italian food, plus it's one of the top four herbs immortalized in the Simon and Garfunkel hit from what, the 60s?  One of those protest songs from back then.

However, I digress. You may not know that there are several types of thyme, with what's known as common thyme grown in most gardens.

Thyme is a perennial, which means it comes back year after year. It produces a shrubby plant that at its maturity will be about a foot tall. That's a lot of thyme, people.

Thyme leaves are gray-green and the flowers are purple, although I've never noticed any flowers. Maybe they're really tiny, since thyme leaves aren't that big. Or maybe I wasn't watching for the flowers.

If you want to keep your thyme happy and productive, give it dry soil and lots of sunlight. Sounds like my kind of herb.

If you're putting in thyme seedlings, space the plants about 12 inches apart. If you're planting thyme seeds, you can plant the seeds close together then thin them to 12 inches apart once they start coming up.

Harvest your thyme often to prevent the little bush from becoming woody. 

No matter what region you live in, it's probably a good time to plant thyme. - QC Karen

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Enlarging the compost enclosure

The original compost enclosure was between the white posts. We added a few feet to the right. Then I forked the pile, which was on the left, over to the right.
I might already have shared that the ideal compost pile is 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft, which according to the Chemist is 1 cu yd. Memorize that fact.

So ... My compost pile was about 1 cu yd. Because it was that size, the interior temperature got up to about 123 F before it cooled down about a week later to about 88F. I have found that the cooling down means the pile needs to be turned and watered to crank the heat back up.

I decided to enlarge my compost pile enclosure and add an extra "parking space" to the side. So the Chemist and I enlarged the compost enclosure using one more fence post and a little chicken wire. One was wired onto the other.

To test it out, I forked the compost (thus turning it) from the left side to the right side, adding a little fertilizer and water in layers.

The forking only took me about 20 minutes instead of the two hours last time. Yes, it's work, but I like that kind of work for some reason. It makes me feel great! Am I the only one who likes hard physical labor? Let me know in the comment section. - QC Karen

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Always drink 1 cup of cool water
every 15 to 20 minutes when you're working outside.

Be careful when working outside, wherever you live and whatever the local definition of "hot" is.  You absolutely must keep your body hydrated, wear a hat and wear loose cotton clothing. Otherwise you're courting danger. The most common heat illness is heat exhaustion, which comes on suddenly. It is caused by dehydration, which leads to lowered blood volume.

Heat exhaustion symptoms:
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Profuse sweating
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Skin that is clammy and/or cool
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Body temperature that is at or lower than normal
  • Low fever
  • Skin tone that is ashen or pale
 Dealing with heat exhaustion:  

Here are some ways to deal with heat exhaustion, according to webMD (always consult a doctor). Call 911 if these measures don't help within 15 minutes.

  • Rest in a cool room or shady, cool place.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (but not caffeine or alcohol).
  • Remove any extra or tight clothing.
  • Take a cool shower, bath or sponge bath.
  • Use fans or ice packs to make you cool off more quickly.

Heat stroke Heat stroke occurs when your body can no longer cool itself down. Body temp can rise to 106 degrees F within just a few minutes.

Heat stroke warning signs 
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Body temp above 103 degrees F
  • Hot, dry, red skin
  • No perspiration
  • Rapid, strong heartbeat
  • Rapid, sallow breathing
  • Throbbing headache
  • Faintness
  • Nausea
  • Unconsciousness
 Dealing with heat stroke, as recommended by webMD (always consult a doctor):

  • First, call 911. Heat stroke can be deadly.
  • Move into air conditioning or cool, shady area.
  • Remove unnecessary clothing.
  • Cool the body down to about 101 degrees F. There are several ways to do this:
  • Wet the skin and fan air over the skin.
  • Apply ice packs to groin, neck, back and armpits.
  • Put the patient in a cool shower or tub, or an ice bath.
 So by all means, enjoy your work outside, but be smart and avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Your life may depend on it.