Practical projects and crafts

Month: February 2015

Gardening in February

The last couple of years by the time October (and our first freeze) rolls around, my garden has grown into a giant jungle worthy of Jurassic Park that tries to eat me as I fight my way in to get the last tomatoes/peppers/lettuce and I’m secretly almost glad to see it go to sleep as the weather gets cold.  Now, this may have something to do with the fact that I have a full time engineering job and have been taking grad school engineering classes in my free time…in addition to all the other life stuff that’s been going on.  But that’s been my fall experience the past few years.  (Note, the flowers are the exception, I always miss those.  I refused to pull up my flower bed until they were entirely gone and P. had made a couple of concerned comments about the look of the front yard…)

Still, when the seed catalogs come out at the end of December I’m very much ready to have plants again.  I’ve never been very good at houseplants, and winter is always extra hard to keep up with watering, so I really miss my garden during the winter.  As I learned last year though, no matter how much I want plants starting seeds super early ends badly.  And by ends badly I mean ends up with buying a card table and window boxes for the dozens of extra celery seedlings that were definitely big enough to be planted out by Valentine’s Day… So this year instead of planting everything at the earliest possible date and growing as many different types of plants as possible, I’ve tried to carefully think out what would be best to grow and what would be the optimal time to plant my seeds.

So February ended up being when I could start planting.  The first batch of seeds has been all flowers because they grow more slowly and fit in the six-packs much better and longer than the vegetables, also some of them can be planted out before the last average frost date.  So I got to start my first violas, pansies and impatiens right at the start of February.


This is my seed growing set up in the basement.  I have my own shelf this year.  Last year my plants were sharing space with the pantry goods which was a challenge for everyone.  The shelf is the basic wire shelf for Home Depot, and it’s 4 ft long and wide enough for the lights to fit between the vertical supports.  I got proper EnviroGro lights with four T5 bulbs in each light.  Last year I got two bulb lights by Lithonia from Home Depot that cost almost as much but they didn’t provide enough light and one of them promptly broke.  The new ones are much sturdier and provide plenty of light.  They’re also plugged into an outlet timer to keep the plants on a proper day/night cycle.  I’ve found that the T5 bulbs don’t make a noticeable difference in our electric bill so it’s definitely worth going for the nicer lights to be able to use those.  The other advantage of this set up is that I can adjust the height of the shelves to give plenty of room to raise and lower my lights as the plants get bigger.


I’m also using the seedling trays from Burpee.  I like them because the capillary mats (the black mat in the picture) does a much better job of watering appropriately than I do on my own.  The best part is you can reuse them by washing them at the end of the season with a very diluted water/bleach solution to sterilize them.  Sterilization is important to prevent damping off and other problems.  I now have four sets, two regular (72 count) and two XL (32 count).  For the most part the larger ones will be for the vegetable plants and the smaller ones for the flowers.  They also come with covers so they can function as greenhouses when the seeds are first planted.  You just have to remember to take off the lid as soon as seeds start to sprout.


I’ve also been very careful to label each plant.  Last year I thought just making a diagram would be enough, but I forgot that once I picked up my six-packs to move them outside I would no longer know which tomatoes were on which side…


So far I’ve planted the flowers I listed earlier, broccoli, habanero peppers and Pow Wow White Enchinacea flowers.  The last flowers are perennials which should get pretty big and have awesome white daisy-like flowers all summer.  I’m hoping it will be a nice low cost way to fill in some of the gaps in the slightly neglected landscaping in the house we rent.  The hard part now is waiting to plant the rest…  Next week will be the rest of peppers, and the tomatoes the week after that, and lettuce and marigolds the week after that (I’m getting a head start on the lettuce), and herbs the week after that, and last the zinnias the week after that.

It’s tempting to plant them all now because planting them is fun and it’s exciting to see them grow…  But as I learned last year, this is a bad idea.  So!  As usually, making things is an exercise in awesomeness and patience.

The Trials of Knitting

The hard part about knitting is that you need to be patient.  In some ways this is a great learning tool for life in general.  After all, you can certainly impulse buy yarn, but even if you do, you aren’t going to get a beautiful hand knit shawl or hat out of it today.  Part of the challenge and awesomeness of knitting is that you have to wait, watching your project grow each time you work on it.


Some projects take no time at all.  This fall I knit myself a hat using Tin Can Knit’s Apple Pie pattern.  I cast on September 26 and five days later I had a warm fuzzy hat with a double brim.  For knitting that is practically instant gratification!  It’s a smaller size (only needed 1 skein of Malabrigo worsted weight) and the yarn is a heavier weight, also it was a fun but the pattern had a pretty straightforward repeat that was easy to memorize.

By comparison, some projects take a lot of patience.  A good example of this is the movie night blanket.  I started this in December, and estimated that it would take about 18 balls of yarn to get the size I wanted.  The plan was that it would be an enjoyable knit since the pattern was interesting enough to be fun, but not so complicated that I couldn’t focus on other things like watching a movie or reading.  The other plan was that since it was winter, if I was knitting a blanket I could use it and work on it at the same time!  Given how cold it’s been lately this has turned out awesome.  Even the cats think so!


The hard part though is the further I got, the more I wanted my blanket to be done.  There was definitely some strong motivation when I got down to the last couple of balls of yarn!  I think this is a good part of knitting though, if I wanted my blanket I needed to knit my blanket, there wasn’t anyway I was going to get it sooner.  I think of it as the anti-impulse-buy.  And it’s a good thing to have something like that around, it’s easy to get into the way of thinking that stuff is easy to get.  E-books are instant gratification (and a major challenge for some of us who really love books…at least they don’t take up any space?), Amazon is happy to ship things in only 2 days or even the same day in some cases….  With shopping sometimes the impulse is that if you set up the order or go buy the thing you’ve got everything all sorted out and taken care of.  At least that’s how it feels to me, but then when it arrives or you get back home and you actually need to use it/store it/make something with it, it’s back to the real world.  There aren’t magic solutions, and knitting is a great, and fun, reminder of that.  If you want something awesome you need to build up the skill, the careful plans and do the work and fix mistakes and so on.  Gardening is similar, the seed catalog may promise that their seeds will provide immense numbers of tomatoes with heavenly flavors, but first you need to grow them!

I don’t want this to come off as sounding like making things is a great burden and too tough, instead I’m saying the making part of the process is part of the joy.  Yes, my blanket was two and a half months of furious knitting in order to reach completion, but part of the reason I was knitting so quickly was because I was excited about my blanket and enjoying what I was doing.  And now that it’s done it’s twice as awesome because I was able to make it exactly the way I wanted it.  And now that it’s here there’s awesomeness to be had in hanging out on the coach in a big pile of people and cats and watching terrible monster movies.  Making things, it’s a worthwhile and excellent thing!  And I think, part of what makes life happy.


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