Sunday, March 30, 2008

Buried treasure

I went out again today and tore out a bunch more weeds. I uncovered the peas I planted back in January (they're doing just fine, but they'll do a bit better with some tomato cages supporting them), one lettuce plant that must be from previous years' seeds, and a one-inch high tomato seedling.

After I stopped for lunch, I almost didn't go back out. I was already tired, but I wanted to finish up that corner.

I don't know quite what persuaded me to fiddle with my compost today, but I'm glad I did. I have a couple of bins that I filled with grass and leaves during the fall and winter, and I even turned them a couple times along the way. I decided this afternoon to see about moving them along a bit.

Sure enough, the bottom of each bin had a pretty good layer of finished compost, so I put this in the areas I'd cleared today. I've turned those areas before and I was exhausted, so I just top-dressed this time. It'll be ready for tomatoes and things as soon as I get around to planting some.

There may yet be hope for a garden this year.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The annual spring attempt

This is my back yard (please click to zoom in). It does include some mature trees and shrubs. Other than that, it's a fifty foot (about 15m) flat square of suburban clay. I'm standing (or perhaps sitting) on our deck (more like a gangplank) to take this photo.

I've mowed most of the stuff in the foreground. It's not really lawn, just more weeds that I've managed to keep a bit shorter than the rest. The stuff further back is a bit too much for the mower. You can also see our lilac doing its thing, the compost bins (some years, compost is my best crop) and some knee- to waist-deep weeds. The ground underneath is already going from hopelessly sticky mud to impenetrably dry clay. This, I think, is what adobe is made from. Who knows? Maybe I should mix in some of those weeds and build an adobe wall somewhere, and then haul in topsoil.

I hacked back a mess of weeds today, and if I'm very smart I'll go out and make another dent tomorrow, but I did this sort of thing a month or so ago and they just came right back.

Actually, I think I could control this mess if I really wanted to. I even think I could improve the soil, and I've done it in that back corner a bit. That's where I put vegetables when I get around to planting them. The trouble is, I really don't have a grand plan in mind.

I have at my disposal one person (me), available very part time on weekends. I've managed to install an automatic sprinkler system in my front yard, and I left a stub pointing toward the back, but I don't want to put a spigot somewhere and then decide it would be a perfect spot for a patio.

I'd like to grow plants that are useful (fruits, veggies, herbs) as well as those that are attractive (flowers, shrubs, etc.). I'd kind of like them mixed, so the vegetables are tucked in among the whatever-else. This is the view out the kitchen window. I'd like colors besides green, especially in summer when all this dries out and turns to brown. At the moment, I'm going easy on the poppies because they're colorful and basically weeding around them, even though many are right where my tomatoes should go.

I'd like little or no lawn back here. I think grass is a rather silly crop, especially in our arid climate. I think I have a patio in mind to put against the house in place of the gangplank, but I haven't thought through paths or where to put what. I don't mind putting stuff in, but I don't especially like doing things over and over, especially weeding. Going out trimming stuff back, one section per weekend, is far lighter work, and something I could probably get myself to keep up, especially if I automate the part about schlepping around a hose.

What do you think? Is there hope for this yard? Are there any obvious directions I can take it?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Creativity isn't made of plastic

I made an uncharacteristic visit to a craft store today. Anyone who knows me will tell you I don't shop very much, and I can scarcely remember the last time I went into a craft store.

The place I visited today is a craft store more than it is an art store. While you can find such things as paints and canvases and good drawing pencils in this place, you have to wander past rows upon rows of beads (largely plastic and ugly), rubber stamps, scrapbook supplies, fake flowers, things that aren't craft supplies at all (stuffed bunnies for Easter this month) and a whole host of other things that strike me as exactly the antithesis of creativity. They're mass-produced and combining them in various ways would most likely result in some object I would be even less inclined to use than something somebody didn't pour hours into decorating.

When I'm in a creative mood, shopping isn't what I generally do about it, and especially not there. What I find in stores, mostly, is things that somebody already thought of. A truly creative person can do amazing things with a pencil and a piece of paper, or even just the paper itself. I tend to start with what I already have sitting around. In the mess on my desk currently there is a cookie tin that may someday be redecorated and repurposed into a pencil container or perhaps a cam in a marble machine. There's a roll of excellent string that represents one of the best dimes I ever spent at a garage sale. There are two plastic cups full of colored pencils and one full of writing implements, though I do most of my writing these days online. There's a roll of craft wire that I periodically mutilate and rearrange. I like to start with basic items and sometimes found items and see what they suggest.

Though I've never been trained in art, I've reached the point in my drawing where I think it might be worthwhile to look beyond the printer paper and plain-old #2 pencil I've been using for drawing. I'd like to have a better range and depth of color pencils, someday, too. So I ventured to the back of this store, where the real art supplies (canvases and pencils and things) reside. I hadn't a clue what to get. I found myself faced with a bewildering array of pencils and paper. Asking one of the employees to explain the merits of the various supplies didn't help much. She waved knowingly at various things with large, artistic price tags, and I felt no wiser.

I decided to start with a $3 box of pencils. There are six pencils in the box, each with varying hardnesses. I figure I can try those for a while and see what difference it makes compared to the plainer, older ones I was using. If I like them, I might go looking for a proper sketch pad one of these days. Perhaps I'll look in another store, next time, one more focused on basic art supplies.