Kevin the Tree Killer

Last year in the Winter Wonderland post,  we showed you how beautiful the Little House is with a 1/2″ of ice.  What we didn’t show was later that day when part of the tree by the front porch decided it didn’t like the ice as much as we enjoyed the day off work.  Unfortunately, it left a gap in the front where greenery should have been.  That tree next to the front porch looks a little off, doesn’t it?  Trust us, in real life, it looks pretty bad.

In the Beginning

In the Beginning

So, we decided the tree had to go.  Plus, we recently got a chainsaw that we’ve never used before and were excited to give it a go.  The tree had three tall remaining sprouts that had to be cut off.  The entire project took about an hour and was super easy…but we haven’t dug up the stump yet!

After Branch #1

After Branch #1

After Branch #2

After Branch #2

After Branch #3

After Branch #3

I cut the third branch down by hand to feel manly (as if using a chainsaw wasn’t enough).  This is my serious tree murdering face (#selfie):

Kevin's Serious Face

Kevin’s Serious Face

Fortunately, in Dallas the city comes around once a month and hauls off branches and bulk trash for free!  Well,  I guess we pay it in our property taxes, but it feels free.  Here was the pile:

Standing on our porch

Standing on our porch

Looking at the Little House

Looking at the Little House

 

This opened up the Little House to so much more light!  We were planning on planting another tree, but now we may just put in a couple hydrangeas and call it a day.  Here are the before and after photos to compare:

In the Beginning

Before

After

After

 

Would you plant another tree in its place?  Do you think grass will grow by where the tree was now that it’s gone?  Did you know it is NOT wise to run a chainsaw without oil (I knew I forgot something my Dad told me!)?  Alternatively, we could have used a woodchuck/beaver-like animal for this.  If you have a pet that eats wood, can we borrow it for the stump?

The Little Garden 2014

Here we go with Round 3 of the Little Garden.

Our first garden got scorched by the sun, pummeled by hail, and only produced a single salad’s worth of spinach. The tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and squash withered and died in the July sun shortly after this photo was taken.

The Little Garden 6.28Last year’s garden had a different fate – but the same result. Instead of getting crushed by hail then scorched by the sun, the Little Garden was destroyed by a one-two punch of tree and dogzillas.  The tree we lost last April too down our chicken wire fence just enough that the dogs could jump it. They ended up digging up every single thing we planted by their roots. Nothing survived.

Little House Big Heart Garden Repair 1

This year is going to be different. We’ve repaired the fencing around the garden, reinstalled the gutter gardens with more screws to hold them against bashing hailstones, and gave the puppies a stern talking to about digging up Mom and Dad’s veggies.

This weekend we took advantage of temps in the mid-70s to get our early spring veggies planted.  We plant according to a guide published by Texas A&M for the North Central Texas region, so everything that went in the ground this weekend was right on time (I know it seems early!).

Garden 2014 3

On the end above we have three rows of broccoli, followed by three rows of baby cauliflower. (We’ve never tried growing these before, so if you have any tips, let us know!) We also have two rows of carrots, beets, and Swiss chard in the center of the garden.

We didn’t hang our gutter garden last year because we had the fence restained, but this year we hung them back up. The top and bottom gutters have spinach planted in them and the middle gutter we’ve sown with arugula.

Garden 2014 4

We’re in for some cool nights in the next week, so here’s hoping all our little baby veggies make it through! If they do, we’ll be having spinach salads by the time we get back from Southeast Asia!

Do you garden? Is it time to plant where you are? What are you planting this year?

Handyman Wednesday: Weed and Feed (Plus Kill the Bugs)

Hi everyone, it’s the Hubs again for another edition of Handyman Wednesday.  It’s that time of year again.  Time to start paying attention to your yard, killing the bugs, and fertilizing the grass.  If you own grass and don’t fertilize, you need to definitely consider it.  The investment is relatively small (especially if you just laid $600 in sod like we just did).

Tools Required:

1. Spreader:  I like this model from Scotts.  It has an “Edge Guard” knob so I only spread fertilizer straight and left.  This way, it doesn’t get in my flower beds and kill plants.

Scotts Edge Guard2. Weed and Feed: This is simply the nutrients to help your grass thrive mixed with weed killer to kill all the bad stuff.  Don’t get it in your flower beds though, or you can kiss them goodbye.  We got a kind with Fire Ant killer mixed in too!

bonus_s_max_std

3. Old pair of shoes (you don’t want to get the fire ant killer on your feet)

4. Watering hose

How to:

1. Set the spreader pouring speed by turning the knob on the back.  If you buy Scotts weed and feed and a Scotts Spreader, it should have the recommended setting.  Our setting was 4-1/2.  Also turn on the “Edge Guard” on the front of the spreader.

Set the spreader to 4.5

2. Fill the spreader with the weed and feed.  My bag covered 5000 square feet, so I used about half a bag on my front yard.

Fill the spreader with Scotts Weed and Feed

Fill the spreader with Scotts Weed and Feed

3. Pull handle and walk around yard.  It’s that simple.

Spreading Weed and Feed on the Yard

Spreading Weed and Feed on the Yard

Spreading Weed and Feed on the Yard

4.  You’re done.  Turn your sprinkler system on for about 15 minutes, making sure to cover the entire area.

Or, if you’re like me and don’t want to waste water: wait until the evening before a rain.  I remember my dad always running outside when it started to sprinkle and fertilizing the yard.  Trust me, you want to do this if you want a pretty yard…and it’s a good excuse to add an awesome spreader to your garage.

Do you fertilize?  When one of our friends found out we were fertilizing last night and couldn’t hang out, she thought we were trying to make a baby (we are not trying yet).  If someone leads but no one follows… are they just out for a walk?  Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?  How do you know if honesty is the best policy unless you’ve tried some of the others?  If the FBI breaks your door down do they have to pay for it?

The Little Garden: 2013

Last year, we had big plans for the Little Garden. We planted tons of seeds and baby veggies.

Garden Map

By May, the LG was looking lush and gorgeous.

IMG_0397

Then we went on a week-long vacation. And the hailstorm hit. And the temps hit 100+. The Little Garden didn’t stand a chance.

Middle Veggies

This year, we’ve armed ourselves with a sprinkler system and shade cloth and are ready to try the great garden experiment again. We’ve eliminated some of the veggies we planted last year, giving more space to the things that grew well.

Garden Map

We took advantage of this weekend’s gorgeous weather to get everything planted.

Baby veggies

Jess Planting

Now we just have to wait and hope for rain and sunshine!

Want to know more about our Little Garden? Read how we built it here, what we planted here, and see the monthly updates here, here, here, and here.

Have you started your garden this year? What are you planting? What difficulties does your garden face?

Flowers

Dallas, Texas is hot. Really hot.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say “It’s a dry heat; it’s not that bad!” They’re lying. No matter how you slice it, 105 degrees F (40 degrees C for my non-American friends) is just plain hot, especially if you’re a pansy.

No, not that kind of pansy (although I’ve met a few of them since I moved down here). I mean a real pansy. Down here, we plant pansies in November and they thrive all winter. This time of year we grub them up and plant summer flowers (which kills me a little bit, seeing all the gorgeous pansies being dug up and thrown away… we Tri-Deltas have a soft spot for pansies).

Tri-Delta

The point is that growing plants in Texas is different than any place I’ve ever lived. You have to account for the (much) hotter and dryer summers. Even though we’ve installed a sprinkler system, we can only run it twice a week (on Sundays and Thursdays) because of Dallas county water restrictions.

Some plants just can’t take the heat. That’s why we’re being very careful with plant selection as we’re planning the flowerbeds in our new backyard. We’re trying to focus on plants that are:

  • native to Texas
  • perennials (Plants are expensive, but buying perennials makes it a little more cost effective)
  • heat tolerant
  • drought tolerant
  • safe for the puppies (some plants are very, very toxic to both people and puppies)
  • low maintenance
  • versatile (for example, we might use rosemary as a shrub or plant citronella grass to keep the mosquitoes away)

Here’s some that we’re considering (click on the photos for more information).

purple coneflower

Purple Coneflower, Perennial

 

Yarrow

Yarrow, Perennial

 

blanket flower

Blanket Flower, Perennial

 

Citronella Grass

Citronella Grass, Perennial

 

lantana

Lantana, Annual

It’s been chilly here this week (some of you got snow so I won’t complain about 50 F), but it’s supposed to warm up this weekend. Hopefully we’ll be able to get out and not only plant our new flowerbeds, but also get some veggies in the Little Garden!

What are you planting this spring? Do you have to take anything into consideration when selecting your plants? What’s your favorite thing to grow?

Thursday Dilemma: Simply Succulent

Back around Halloween Anne @ Planing Sequoias turned me to to a zombie-munching game that paid out in Home Depot coupons. After several hours spent driving over zombies with my truck mounted mulcher, I had three bright, shiny Home Depot Garden Department coupons. Score!

Zombie Mulch

I already mentioned that I used one of the coupons to buy the little rosemary tree that’s festive-izing our dining room table. With the other, I bought three gorgeous succulent plants to fill some Ikea flower pots that I’ve had hanging around for about two years. The aloe plant was a housewarming gift from my MIL back when we moved into the Little House (I haven’t killed it yet, Mary! :) )

 

Succulents

I used a cactus blend potting soil to plant my little succulent babies. It’s a really sandy blend that allows for good drainage.  Succulents don’t need much water (only about once a month), so they’re great for people who have a black thumb tend to forget about house plants (like me!).

Right now, they’re residing in our kitchen window where I’d originally pictured them living.

Succulents in the window

Unfortunately, they can’t live here forever. Notice how the middle spiky guy is a little off center? There’s not enough room in between our faucet and the window for the flower pot, meaning that he has to stay to one side or the other. And with my obsession with desire for symmetry, I just can’t handle that. They need new homes… I just can’t decide where.

I’m mainly considering the dining room table, the back of the toilet in the bathroom, and on the windowsill in our office. Where would you put them?

 

A Little Garden Update: 12.10.12

Kevin and I both grew up gardening with our families. Sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans… we grew it all. That’s why when we decided to grow a little garden in the back yard of our very first home. We built a raised garden bed we designed ourselves, planted early, watered often, and waited. The Little Garden grew. It was green and leafy and gorgeous.

The Little Garden

But the Little Garden, she never produced. Between monster hail storms and the hot Texas summer, the weather was just too harsh.

That is until December. We’ve had two weeks in the mid-70s and low 80s and the plants are loving it.

Since March, we’ve got one (rotten, bug infested) tomato off the vine. Currently, we have eight baby tomatoes hanging out and countless delicate yellow flowers.

Winter Tomato Flowers - Little House. Big Heart.

Winter Tomatoes - Little House. Big Heart.

The straightneck yellow squash that threatened to take over the entire garden back in May is finally making little baby squashes.

Summer Squash - Little House. Big Heart.

And our faithful peppers are going as well as ever. We’re getting more jalapenos, bell, and poblano peppers than we have all season.

Winter Poblano Peppers - Little House. Big Heart.

Winter Jalapeno - Little House. Big Heart.

We’re in a cold snap right now (as in we had a blizzard yesterday morning… or just a light dusting), so we’re being very careful to tuck our babies in each night with some nice, warm blankies.

Winter Garden - Little House. Big Heart.

I had intended to clean out the garden this weekend and winterize it, but since I discovered all these veggies, I decided the clearing out can wait. This has got me very excited for spring planting! Come on, February! Mama needs some baby spinach!

Have you discovered any veggies holding on into the winter? What would you be growing right now, if you could grow anything?

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Lights

Is it really Monday already?! I was just getting used to the idea of a four-day weekend when suddenly it’s over and Smack! It’s Monday. Makes me anxious for retirement- only something like 35 years to go!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know we did here at the Little House. Since we weren’t able to get together with any of our family, we had some close friends over for a mini Thanksgiving feast, a bottle of wine or four, and some heated Mario Cart racing on the Wii.

It took most of Friday to recover from the turkey hangover, but we spent the rest of the weekend getting the Little House ready for Christmas. Saturday was chilly (only 60 degrees!), so we spent it inside with a crackling fire, some hot cider, and our Christmas tree (we’ll be back tomorrow with a few pics).


Thankfully, Sunday’s weather was gorgeous and we were able to get outside, mow the yard (yes, we’re still mowing in November), and hang our lights. This year, we went with white incandescent C9 bulbs on the house. We hand planned on going with LEDs, but after visiting four sold out stores, we gave up and went with the old stand-bys.

We only lined the peaks along the front of the Little House this year, opting to wait and add to our light collection as time goes on. Kevin eeked it out to the edge of the roof to attach the light clips to the edges of the house too high to reach with a ladder. The entire time he was up there I had the strange desire to shout “Romeo, Romeo, let down your hair!” I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me either. I’ve been on a strict cough syrup regimen all weekend, so I blame it on that.

I did happen to notice in the midst of all the Christmas-ifying that there are a few parts of the Little House in desperate need of a paint job. Like our eves and siding. Maybe.

Fievel enjoyed watching us from the comfort of his window perch behind the Christmas tree.

We also decided to wrap the (gorgeous, hugemongous, awesomesauce) live oak in our front yard in white mini lights. Fortunately, the hubs is an electrical engineer and made sure we didn’t string too many light strings together. I didn’t even know it was possible to do that.

Thanks to day light savings time, it’s getting dark here around 5 o’clock. That meant that by the time we got the lights on the house, it was pretty much dark- which would be a deal breaker for almost all outside jobs… except for hanging lights. It also meant we got to play with some crazy long exposure times on our camera. This first shot is Kevin wrapping the base of the tree.

This one is both of us, wrapping above our heads. It was a thirty second exposure set at f4.0 and ISO 200. It was pitch black outside (or as near to it as you can get in almost-downtown-Dallas).

The result is gorgeous. We love the white lights along the ridge line of the house and how our live oak is highlighted. We’d like to wrap our little oak tree on the right side of the yard as well, but didn’t have enough lights this time. Maybe next year.

How was your Thanksgiving weekend? Did you get any decorating done? Have you played with long exposure times on your camera before?

Handyman Wednesday #7: Palm Falls (Not to be confused with Palm Springs)

Hi everyone, Kevin’s here again with another edition of Handyman Wednesdays.  Jess and I spent this past weekend in Florida. It was about 80 degrees the entire time and Jess and I got to see my parent’s new house in Zephyrhills, along with my sister and niece.  All in all, it was an awesome weekend.

However, I’m not here to regail you with stories of how I got bit by a Fire Ant (true), how Jess and I successfully visited 3 different Disney parks before 2PM (true), or any of the stories of the International Wine and Food Festival at Epcot (seriously, it’s amazing… but stay on a Disney property, you won’t want to be able to drive home).

I’m here to tell you how I finally got to do something I’ve thought about doing many times at the Little House. We planted a tree! But instead of being the Magnolia tree I’ve been wanting to plant out front of our house,  I got to help my father, Todd, plant a Queen Plam Tree (or two) in front of his house.  It’s quite easy to do, and the only tool needed is a shovel.

Pre-Planting Instructions:

1. Select a spot where you’ll want the tree when it is fully grown.  Pay attention to the sun/shade requirements listed on the tag.

2. Make sure this spot is not so close to your house that the roots will wreak havoc with your foundation.

3. Get a shovel.  Seriously.  You should have one already.  If you don’t, make sure you get  a round point shovel with a fiberglass handle.  This is the one that Jess and I have.

Planting Instructions:

1. Dig a hole about twice as wide and almost twice as deep as the pot that the tree came in.

2. Poke holes around the edges of the hole you dug.  You want it to be easy for the tree’s roots to move outwards.

3. Pull your tree out of the tub it is in.

4. Spread the roots of the tree out so their not entirely in the shape of the previous tub.  This will help them grow faster

5. Put your tree in the hole.  Simple enough.

6. Fill in with soil all the way around.

 

Post-Planting Instructions:

If you’re planting a Queen Palm Tree like us, water once a day, every day for the first week.  The next two weeks, water every other day.  From then on out, water 2-3 times per week.  Be careful not to over-water (yes, there is such a thing).

These general tips will work for nearly any kind of tree, just be sure to read up on your specific variety before planting to be sure that there aren’t any special things your tree  needs.

Have you ever planted a tree?  What kind of tree would you like (I’m a Magnolia man myself)?   

Truth in Blogging: The Little Garden

Welcome to Truth in Blogging, a random series of posts chronicling our fails not so successful DIY projects. We love that you guys read, comment, and admire what we do here at the LH, but we want to be honest. When a project doesn’t go right in the end, we want to share what we’ve learned. So sit back and enjoy a laugh with us as we share some of our biggest flubs!

When we started the little garden project, I had visions of bushels of fresh tomatoes, more fresh cucumbers than we could pickle, and peppers, beets, and carrots coming out our ears. And by early May, it looked like all our veggie dreams were coming true.

Then summer hit.

It’s been a mild one by Texas standards. It actually rained once or twice and there were only about 30 days over 100. Good, right?

Wrong. Turns out even a mild summer is still a pretty harsh one for a veggie garden, especially one grown by novices like us. The result?

Our tomatoes grew to towering heights (almost 6 feet tall at one point), then collapsed over the garden fence. The six plants together produced… one tomato.

The middle veggies – beets, carrots, & peas – did absolutely nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. They sprouted, looked for a few pictures, then withered and died in the June heat. Now it’s just a baby veggie graveyard.

The zucchini never did much of anything either, after that last update in May. I blame it one the variety, early zuchini. Next year, we’ll go with something more hearty. The straight neck squash eventually got so large that it overshadowed (literally) both the zucchini and cucumbers, choking them out. I was really excited ot see the squash grow (even though sad for the cucumbers and zucchini) because I love squash!

It never did anything more than flower. We didn’t get one single squash. It seemed to die out in the middle of last month, but has recently made a resurgence after all the rain we’ve had this September.

The only reliable plants in the little garden this year were the peppers, or at least, the jalapeno and the bell pepper. The poblano grew to be five feet tall, got knocked over in the hail storm, and never recovered.

And have you noticed that something is missing from the little garden? Like gutters maybe?

They got knocked off in the hail storm of the century. Apparently we didn’t use long enough screws to withstand 4″ hail balls. Go figure.

The gutters are still intact, though, so we’ll be putting them back up (maybe even this fall).

We’re discouraged with how the little garden turned out, but we’re not giving up! We’re thinking of planting some fall greens and are already planning a drip watering system, shade cloth roller, and new veggie crop for next year.

How did your garden fare this year? Did you end up with bushels of tomatoes and more cucumbers than you could eat? Did the drought this summer affect your gardening plans? Are you planting a fall garden?