Tuesday, April 15, 2014

No-Bake "Resurrection Cake" for Easter

 Sometimes an idea starts rolling around in my head and will not be gone....like Easter = empty tomb = resurrection.  So, here I am, with these supplies and high hopes.  But I can tell you right now that the Marshmallow filled, Oatmeal "Pie" is likely too soft to do the job I have for it.  We'll see.  So, here goes...
I supposed that a mixture of chocolate and vanilla icings would result in either a beige or a gray, either of which could reasonably pass for the color of rock.
I cut the cake to stand it on end, then cut a slice or the remainder to fill in the back...
and cut the little end piece in half to help round out the shape.
 Added a little icing between the pieces to act as glue (I used the Chocolate because it looked like I was going to need much more of the Vanilla for color).
Then, on to icing the whole thing taking no care at all with mixing the colors...just letting it blend as it wanted to.
I did, however, use more Chocolate around the base and blended it on to the plate.
Now for the most dreaded experimental part: Crushing Vanilla Wafers into "Sand" and "Pebbles".  Oh, what ever did we do before zip type bags?!  Crushing was actually easy although patting the crushed cookies onto the icing was a bit messy.
The secret to using the cookie/pie (as the large stone that sealed the tomb) was to open it and "fill" it with the lid from one of the icing containers.  Stiff plastic...just cut off the rim and it worked fine.
A battery operated tea light provides the glow from inside.
And there you have it...a No-bake Easter Resurrection Cake.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Blowing Eggs for an Easter Tree

Sitting around a table with a group of children blowing eggs out of their shells is an amusing way to spend a warm, spring afternoon amid comments of "Yuk" and "Ewww" and "Gross" not to mention the comparison comments.
The operation is a 2-hole process that requires a bit of a light touch.  My preference is to use my trusty X-acto knife by planting the tip of the blade in one spot on the pointed end of the shell and twisting the knife back and forth.  Others at the table used an ice pick.  It was certainly faster but I had fewer accidents. The sharp edge of the X-acto blade acts pretty much the way a drill does but you are in control of the pressure and go at a much slower pace.  Eventually, there's a bit of eggshell "sawdust" and a grinding sound to be heard just before the tip of the blade pierces the shell completely.
Enlarge the hole slightly by twisting a bit more and repeat the process at the opposite end of the egg.  Next, insert a wire or a straightened paperclip into the egg and wiggle it around quite a bit.  The object is to break the yolk and mix the egg contents up as much as possible.  Then, lean over a bowl and blow.
While the color tablets are dissolving, there is time to rinse the insides of the eggs with water to clean them out as much as possible.  Then, dye as usual.  Just be aware that the empty shells want to float so they need to be turned or spun in the cups of dye.
The children had just as much fun dying and decorating these lightweight, delicate eggs as the hard boiled kind.  And, they were not as fragile for little hands to handle as one might think.  The twig for their tree was about 3' tall and held almost 3 dozen eggs. 
My twig was much smaller, holding one dozen eggs, and stands in a bud vase.
Ribbons or yarn or pipe cleaners can be used for hanging.  They can be threaded through and knotted (like I did) or hot glue can be uses to simplify things.  It's a pretty little decoration...a pleasant activity for adults as well as children.
It was a good day.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

HAY BALE GARDEN - Photo How-To

In little more than 4 weeks, I've gone from the idea of a Hay Bale Garden to actually having one that is thriving.  It's the most space-conserving and easiest gardening I've ever done.
Step 1:  Apply weed-barrier cloth to the chosen area.  I also added chicken wire as a deterrent to the many moles who make regular visits to our yard.
 Step 2:  Position bales.  (Straw is best because it contains fewer seeds but I could only get Hay.)  I chose three bales and set them in a "T" because it suited my space and other limitations.  Unable to get definitive advice concerning hay "strand" direction, I'm trying both positions. 
Step 3:  Water the bales thoroughly and often for a day or two.
Step 4:  Fertilize the tops of the bales with a high nitrogen fertilizer and continue watering daily for another week to 10 days.  I actually fertilized a second time.
Step 5:  Mound on a few inches of good garden soil and water well.
Step 6:  Plant.  Using a trowel and fingers (and a knife when necessary to get through the hay strands), fashion holes for the plants.  Here is where I really noticed a difference in which way the hay strands were set.  The bale with the horizontal strands was MUCH easier to penetrate but it is collapsing more quickly and looking a bit ragged along its sides.  The two bales with the strands standing upward, were a challenge to penetrate...but the knife did the trick and the bales are standing neatly.
 Step 7:  Enjoy.  Remember to water regularly and keep an eye out for pests and watch your garden grow.
I've planted heavily in my 3 bales, perhaps more than might be recommended but so far so good. 
The Bush Beans are already making tiny beans.
The Tomato plants are already in blossom.
The Cabbages are healthy and beautiful.  
Also planted are Squash, Red Bell Peppers, Eggplant and Lettuce (and Marigolds - of course).
SCROLL DOWN TO 4 PREVIOUS POSTS FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION.
 I will post occasional updates and look forward to a good harvest.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

(4) Hay Bale Garden - Oops, a freeze

 Click the (#) for links to previous Hay Bale posts (#1) or (#2) or (#3)
Just as the little, potted Meyer Lemon Tree began to burst into bud and flower, celebrating the return of spring,
just as the old, dry-twig Mint proved it cannot be killed,
just as the little broccoli starts in the planter began broccoli-ing...
ALONG COMES AN UNEXPECTED, OVERNIGHT FREEZE.
Thank goodness for old sheets, tomato stakes and clothes pins.
 In a matter of minutes, the Hay Bale Garden was protected
and this morning's first peek showed healthy, thriving squash plants.
The tiny tops of the tomato plants have more than tripled in size.
The bean plants are recognizable as bean plants.
The single red bell pepper plant is a stand-out specimen.
The lettuce is already ready for picking (hello salad!), and...
the late-planted cabbage is well on its way.
SO FAR, SO GOOD...
weed free, bug free and growing great.
IF YOU'VE GOT A HAY BALE GARDEN STARTED,  LET ME KNOW.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

(3) Hay Bale Gardening - Planting

(Click HERE to link to Hay Bale post #1, and HERE for post #2)
 Todays unexpected cloud cover seemed like the perfect condition for planting.  Of course, knowing my impatience, I might have thought the same of a sunny day.  Nonetheless, I grabbed my big, long, kitchen knife (with an edge that will cut most anything) and the trowel and set happily to work.  Now I understand why some decomposition of the the hay is desirable...not only for the plant growth but for the ease of digging a little way into the bale.  And, by the way, it is easier to cut into the bale with the stalks parallel to the ground than it is into the ones with the stalks standing upright.
Between the knife, the trowel and my hands, the knife and my hands were by far the better combination.  I don't know that the trowel served any purpose at all.
Waddling out a hole deep enough to fully insert my fingers was just about perfect for planting
...though it did make for ugly finger tips.  I know, most people wear gloves but what a great excuse for a manicure.
Marigolds have never been one of my favorite flowers, for flowers sake, but I love them in the vegetable garden for their insect deterrent properties.  So, I loaded the bales down with the little yellow balls.
A TOMATO GROWING TIP:
 (taught to me, long ago by an actual farmer, is this)
Before planting, pinch off all the side leaves, up to the cluster at the top, and plant the seedling deep enough to include the newly exposed stem. 
It seems that tomatoes will send off root shoots from the buried stem and produce a stronger plant...gotta love that.
After planting the lettuce, I trimmed whatever outer leaves were wilted or broken and added mulch to avoid further episodes of the leaves coming in contact with the soil.
So, that was pretty much it.  Lettuce, Red Bell Pepper, Bush Beans, Summer Squash, Eggplant and Tomatoes are all planted and cabbages will be added to the three bales as soon as I remember to buy them.  But I did get the little Weeping Willow in the ground and planted the Sweet Mint AND I have a tip for the Mint and/or any other invasive plants...
INVASIVE PLANT TIP:
 Several years ago, I cut the bottoms from a couple of plastic planters and set the bottomless containers in the ground.  Originally, the edges stood a couple of inches above the surface of the garden soil but since I've added so much mulch, I'll have to keep an eye out for leaf shoots over-hanging the edges and trying to root.  But, the good thing is that the roots are contained and the Mint, as well as the Oregano, stay where they belong.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

(2) Hay Bale Gardening - Update

(Click HERE to link to previous post )
I've spent a week and a half dutifully adding fertilizer to my hay bales and enjoying being able to let the rain do most of the watering. A couple days ago, I piled on potting soil and watered it in well.  Sure enough, with a hand over the soil, you can feel the radiating heat...that's supposed to be a good thing.
The 2 bales with the hay stalks standing upright are nice and tidy looking. where the bale with the stalks running parallel to the ground looks a bit ragged though it does have a wider planting surface.
  .Today I cleared the rest of the little 8' x 8' garden area, put down more weed barrier and added a great deal more mulch.  I'm using the "no-float" cypress mulch which costs a few cents under $2 a bag.
I feel quite accomplished in being able to say that I actually weeded the onions and garlic, which are returning from last year...
 and it looks like the lavender is willing to keep on growing.
So, I rinsed off the sidewalk and watered the bales and sprinkled the new mulch, thoroughly enjoying the drips that were leaking into my garden clogs and cooling my feet on this sunny, productive day.  
The change to daylight savings time had lowered the sun more than the clock said it should and the shadows from the remainder of the pergola quickly walked across my work.  
But, there in the remaining bright sun, stood my little potting bench complaining of its winters neglect.  I thought to myself, "I'll re-stain it this week". but the dread reality that the entire deck is due a re-coating crossed my mind and dampened my spirits for a moment.  Then I noticed the Weeping Willow tree waiting to be planted.  That reminded me of the two rose bushes waiting by the front porch for the same thing.  Suddenly I felt tired and wondered for a moment why spring is always my favorite time of year.  Then I remembered that I am so thankful for the sheer ability to deal with the list of things that need to be done.  It may take me longer and the periods of rest between chores may be more frequent but the sun still feels warm on my shoulders and reminds me of spring as a child.  It's just a good and hopeful and energized time of year and  the buds on the dogwood are bigger each day and when they bloom, my entire world becomes a wonderland.