Friday Finds: Messy Nessy

Happy Friday everyone! Today I have for you a web site called Messy Nessy Chic that is an amazing collection of pop-culture (much like Retronaut). I got sucked in for hours. But, inspiration can come from anywhere, right?

You're welcome,


Dirty Hands

Saturday, May 25 2013 was a cold, cold day in Madison. But I'd set my mind to buying plants and putting them in the garden. I simply couldn't wait any longer.

So... there I am, at 7:45 a.m., trudging around the farmer's market, freezing and loading up on tender little bundles of future food. A small fortune later and I had cucumbers, tomatoes, arugula, basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary, eggplant, ground cherries, spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard. Oh... and a huge bunch of jonquil bulbs that the woman sold me for a dollar. Of course, once I got home, I felt compelled to get everything into the dirt.

Eggplant and ground cherries in pots. Note how good my willows look!
Arugula, finally not wilting.

Tomatoes, looking good.

The cold was pretty brutal and my new plants didn't take to it very well. They stayed sort of wilty and sad looking for a couple of days. But this morning, with the onset of warmer weather, everyone has perked up. I've already lost one cucumber (it just never took) and two basil plants. I think the basil got chewed or stepped on by the baby rabbit that lives in my neighbor's yard.

My new favorite basil - Pistou. It's a tiny-leaved, globe that's great in pots.

This is the second year that I'm trying to grow greens in a pot. Last year's attempt was mixed. The chard did fairly well (except for getting some pest called a "leaf borer") but my lettuce never really took off. I think I crowded the plants so, this year, I'm going to seriously thin them out after they've established a bit. Fingers crossed.

The other addition to my garden on Saturday was a "As Seen On TV" Pocket Hose. Yes... I couldn't resist. I've been eying on the late-night infomercials for a while and then, the other day, I walked in to Walgreens and there it was - in all its glory.


You may have previously read of my love of all things "As Seen On TV". I make no secret of my obsession. And, once again, the product has lived up to the hype. I'll never own a regular garden hose again. :)  Plus, I get the added bonus of being able to say inappropriate things to visiting friends like, "Would you like to see my hose grow?" (Yes... I'm really a 12-year-old boy trapped in this grown-up woman's body).

Best products, ever.

Here it is at 50' long. Seriously - it reaches my entire back yard.
 The gardening has started in earnest. I guess summer really is planning to arrive this year.

- Alex

Friday Finds: Killer Spoonflower Artists

Lately every time a fabric on Pinterest catches my eye, it's from Spoonflower. Man, that's where the really talented fabric designers live these days. You pay more for the fabric on that site, but if you want something special there's no comparison.

Today for "Friday Finds" I thought I'd spotlight a few talented Spoonflower designers I've stumbled upon recently.

Happy Friday everyone,


Jordan Elise

Unusual Specimens by Jordan Elise

Becky Long

Forest Friends by Becky Long

Nadia Hassan

A Rain(bow) of Arrows by Nadia Hassan

Ladybug: Aphid Killer

Ladybugs are cute - all red and polka-dotted. In childhood books they're portrayed as sweet and adorable.

In realilty, ladybugs and their more aggressive cousins, the Asisan beetle, are stone cold killers.

As I have mentioned (probably ad nauseum), I have a severe infestation of black cherry aphids on my lovely, beloved cherry tree. I've tried a lot of things to eradicate them. The first year, I got so frustrated, I actually used a nasty chemical - against my better judgement. It didn't work. So, for the last couple of years, my tactic as been to manually remove the infested leaves and treat the entire tree with organic insecticidal soap. Yeah... not so much.

At the end of last summer, I did serious research on how to get rid of the little buggers. However, I missed a critical piece of information - the one that said "do all this in the fall". I waited until spring and, of course, by then it was too late to do the preventative stuff. So, I was back to picking off leaves and spraying soap in hopes of keeping them under control. My last ditch effort was the one that I had the least faith in - buying live predators and realeasing them on the tree to kill the aphids.

I read too much online to have any faith in buying ladybugs to eat the aphids. Most of the reviewers complained of releasing $40 worth of ladybugs only to see them fly off into the sunset (or to the neighbor's yard). Short of putting a net up to keep them on the tree, I couldn't imagine that this tactic would work at all.

But... desperate times call for desperate measures. I ordered 3,000 ladybugs - two packages of 1,500 from two different suppliers (just in case one was a dud). I also ordered some ladybug "lure" which is supposed to make the tree irrisistable.

Here, in photos, was my experience:

Box #1 - Nicely packaged. Good air holes. Well branded box.

Box #2 - hand-made airholes. No branding on box. Giant "live ladybug" sticker on top.

In box #1 - a vial of nectar concentrate. Enough to make 1 qt of nectar to feed the bugs.

Box #2 - a bag of nectar powder. Enough to make about 1 at of nectar.

Both sets of bugs came in this type of plastic mesh bag.
At this point, I'd like to point out some differences between my two shipments. Box #1 included a lot of stuff that box #2 didn't (or didn't do as well.) Box #1 had lovely, 4-color inserts with information on the lifecycle of the bugs and how to release them, cross-sell on a bunch of other cool ladybug stuff (including kits for kids), and a coupon for 10% off my next purchase. Box #2 had two sheets of typed information that explained about ladybugs and how to release them. They were copied on green paper.

The biggest difference between the two was the health of the bugs. Box #2 had about 1/2 inch of dead ladybugs in the bottom of the bag. Now... I'm still sure I got my 1,500. There were TONS of live bugs in there. But they were rather weak which, when it was all said and done, worked in my favor. Box #1 had a total of 7 dead bugs in the bag. Seven. Seriously. And all the bugs were super-active and seemed very healthy. This could have been attributed to the fact that box #1's bag had a small piece of "feeding cotton" in it. I'm sure it was soaked with nectar. So, why were the weaker bugs better?? Because they immediately sought out food (the aphids) and they didn't disappear as quickly. The healthy bugs in box #1 ate some, but were perfectly content to fly off.

Check this out:

After releasing the ladybugs, a lot of them stayed around and feasted on aphids. If the information in box #1 is to be believed, they will have laid some eggs and will hatch larvae that will continue to eat the aphids - thus controlling the pests completely. Who knows. Out of 3,000 bugs, there were probably a few hundreds left on the tree after a day. Maybe that's all it takes...

Regardless, the process was fun and it was great to see the bugs do what they were meant to do. Fingers crossed!

- Alex

All in a Day

One of the books read over-and-over in our house is All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Nikki McClure. It is a poetic account of the big and little things that happen in a day of a young farm boy's life. Yesterday felt like our own All in a Day story. And I caught some of it with my camera.

: Beginning to introduce native woodland plants into our modest patch of wilderness

: PB&J picnic with my babies (and daughter's helpful boyfriend)

: The garage was a noisy place with planter boxes being made by my husband and father-in-law for the tomatoes spouted on the windowsill by the littles

: Certain little boys needed a shower and a little Mr. Rogers Neighborhood after a day in the sunshine

: Some work that did not fit in today

: And then, at the end of the day, being gently reminded to stop and be present for a snuggle moment on the couch

Trying to photo capture a simple day at home sort of happened spontaneously. Most of this day I was covered in dirt without a camera in sight. And certain photos may be a little fuzzy, but not every little moment is photo-friendly. But, it was a good experiment and I think I'm going to try it again...maybe more mindfully this time. 

I'm wondering, how was your day?



Last Friday I posted a link to a tutorial with great ideas for covering the worn spots in well-loved children's clothing. So excited by the ideas I had uncovered online, over the weekend I took the "to be mended" pile out of the corner of my sewing room and got to work getting creative with the patching.

I discovered that I had 3 pairs of little boy pants with holes that were perfect candidates. The first pair I tackled had (impressive) holes in both knees. This called for matching patches on both legs, sewn on with a couple quirky rows of zigzag stitches.

What I did was figure out the length and width of the patch required, add a couple inches to each measurement, and then cut 2 pieces (per leg) of my patterned cotton fabric. To make sure the patch was going to hold up to more little boy shenanigans, I also cut a piece of Peel n Stick Fabric Fuse the same size for added strength. This product is sticky on both sides so I took my pieces of cotton and stuck one (patterned side out) on each "sticky" side. That created a really sturdy "double-sided" patch. I pinned the patches on both legs to be even with each other and did a few rows of zigzag to secure them.

I learned a few things from this initial project:

1. The Fabric Fuse was REALLY sticky when my needle was trying to sew in-and-out of it. My needle built up a nice layer of glue that I would clean off every so often and resume my sewing.

2. Sewing a patch on a little pant leg can be really frustrating because something so small doesn't leave much room for maneuvering.

3. It is best to use a larger needle when doing this type of sewing. I used one specified for denim and it worked great.

The next pair had a smaller hole on just one leg. Because the hole was small I didn't feel the need for the Fabric Fuse. I just cut 2 pieces of cotton to size, sewed them right sides together around the edges, and left a little opening to turn the patch right-sides out. Then I pinned it in place and sewed it around the edges with a straight stitch. Super-easy!

The last pair was a little trickier. I'd seen a few images of "monster patches" at various places and thought I'd try my hand at one.

I started by cutting some red fabric and making a patch with the Peel n Stick Fabric Fuse like I did on the first one.

Then, I turned the pants wrong-side-out and pinned the patch in place and drew a circle close to the edges of the patch.

With pants still inside-out, I took 6 strands of embroidery thread and a larger hand-sewing needle and stitched around the drawn circle. I turned the pants back right-side out (admired the new monster mouth) and set them aside.

I took some white and black wool felt and hand-stitched some cute monster eyes and then found a good spot for them above the mouth. I secured those with hand-quilting thread.

My monster may not be as complicated as some I've seen, but I was going for one with "homespun" charm. :)


"I'm Covered in Beeeeees!"

Here's a little something to start your week off right:

And, believe it or not, there's actually a reason for this small bit of comedy...

My first time in an official beekeeping suit!
This was me on Saturday!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I finally donned a bee suit and took a beekeeping class. I know that I've talked about getting bees for a couple of years (post #1 and post #2) but this weekend I took the steps necessary to make it happen this year.

The class was awesome. It was taught by Nathan Clarke of Mad Urban Bees - a unique beekeeping operation in Madison, WI. Nathan has been keeping bees for seven years and moved from hobbiest to entreprenuer last year. He partners with Madisonians to house his hives in backyards around the city. He cares for the bees and harvests the honey and the host families get free honey in exchange for the use of their yards. The also get the benefit of having pollinators living with them... Any gardener knows the value of that alone.

Nathan Clarke - awesome teacher, beekeeper, and entreprenuer.

Nathan sells his honey at a few local, specialty markets as well as through a honey CSA (community supported agriculture). He teaches classes because he believes that everyone should keep bees and help rebuild the bee population. He is building a cool, unique business while being an incredible steward for the earth. I was very honored to be able to learn from him and to have him as a resource.

I learned so much in this class - and I thought I'd done all the reading I needed! As Nathan says, "Ask 10 beekeepers a question and you'll get 13 different answers". As it turns out, beekeeping is a very personal pursuit and everyone has their favorite ways of doing things. However, one of the best things I learned was about how to mitigate mites organically. I was afraid, after all my reading, that I'd end up having to use chemicals to deal with these awful, pesticide-resistent parasites that destroy entire bee colonies. But, as it turns out, there are a number of chemical-free things you can do to help keep them at bay.

The last thing I did this weekend was join the local beekeeping association. Yea! I'm on the path to being a backyard beekeeper for realz!

While it's late in the season for getting bees, I'm still hopeful that I'll be able to get my hands on some to start my hive in 2013. I need to get them established in the next four weeks so the heat is on (so to speak).

Here are some photos from my class. Enjoy!

- Alex the (soon to be) Beekeeper

How the hive is assembled

How the queen is shipped.

My class, suited up and READY!

Opening the brood box to check out the bees.

How to feed the brood.

Friday Finds: Well Mended Wardrobe

Hello folks!

My little boys wear out the knees and elbows in their clothes so fast it would make your head spin. Luckily I've discovered fun tutorials to get some more use out of these torn garments. Hopefully I can share with you some of my creative mending next week. For now, here is a link to a great tutorial from Gabrielle at Design Mom to possibly start you off on your own mending adventure.

Clothes Patching Guide via
Photo courtesy of Design Mom
Have a great weekend!


My Love Affair with Willow

I'm sure I've mentioned it about a million times now but, just for safety's sake, I'll say it again - Madison is a unique place, full of unique people and opportunities.

One of my favorite, unique-to-Madison occurrences are the annual "Plant Guys" sales. The Plant Guys are a group of friends who garden perennials and then sell them "yard sale" style at their homes. Generally, there are about 6  sales per spring season and you can buy nearly any kind of perennial you can imagine. I can honestly say that about 80% of the plants in my yard are from the plant guys. They've introduced me to so many types of flora, I can't begin to describe their impact on my gardening.

Last year, they sadly announced would be their last. They were retiring after lord-knows-how-many-years of doing these sales. More time to spend on their own (glorious, I might add) garden. I nearly broke down in tears as I paid for, what would certainly be my last, Plant Guys purchase. I hugged them both even though I'm sure they have, at best, a vague memory of who I am...

The thing is, because of the threat of never having this resource again, I bought LOTS more stuff than normal -  including a curly willow tree. I figured I'd find somewhere in my garden to plant it...

My fave neighborhood curly willow.
 The one of the plant guys gave me the rundown on the curly willow:
  1. It is super-hearty 
  2. It can be grown from cuttings (that's how they propagate new ones to sell - they just trim their own tree)
  3. It can be left to grow in a pot (ever bigger pots as the tree gets bigger) for YEARS
  4. It can be totally neglected over winter and will still bounce back in the spring
  5. It is curly!
I looked at their mature tree - planted against a side fence - and wasn't crazy about the way they had it pruned. However, I knew I didn't have to prune it the same way.

I looked at their "teenaged" plant - still in a GIANT pot - and loved the way it looked with all it's crazy curly branches.

And I took one home.

It did great all summer. Lots of delicate little leaves on an ever-expanding system of little, curly branches. My neighbors all asked about it. I put it in a larger pot and took great care of it.

When fall came, the leaves dropped and I, dubiously, put the tree, in its pot, in the garage and neglected it for nine months. As soon as I knew that the temperatures wouldn't drop to freezing again, I brought back out to the patio, soaked it with water and waited. About a week later, I had baby leaves. I couldn't believe it!

My willow - still in the pot - after being neglected all winter. LEAVES!

A week or so later, I was walking the dogs and noticed a HUGE pile of curly willow cuttings in front of one of my neighbor's houses. I ran home, got my clippers and went back to salvage some cuttings. I wanted to see if I could propagate curly willow too. The neighbor was all too happy to let me take as much as I wanted. So I cut a bunch - all different size pieces - and put them in a huge vase of water in the middle of my dining room table. A friend called it the Tim Burton centerpiece.

Lo and behold, within a few days I had baby roots sprouting. This past weekend, I bought pots, picked the healthiest looking trimmings and potted them.  So far they seem to be doing well. Fingers crossed!

My willow babies

This phenomena of propagating from cuttings means that the plant has some special kind of rooting hormone. As it turns out, you can "harvest" this hormone and use it to help other plants to root. I found this amazing tutorial, from Mr Brown Thumb, on how to make your own "willow rooting hormone" for use on seedlings, plants, etc. All you need are some willow branches, a mason jar, and some hot water. Easy-peasy!

My friend, Johanna, says that curly willow is an invasive species and, as such, she is not supportive of my growing them but I love them. I love their crazy curly branches and their even crazier ability to live all winter with no water or sun. I love their tenacity and their flexibility. I aspire to be as awesome as the willow.

- Alex

P.S. My cherry tree is blooming!