Forward - From the Heartland of Carolina

This is a continuing story of the journey Forward shared by 2 people, Lynne and Tom. Both love to LIVE life to it's fullest, which currently means spending lots of time outdoors, working on various projects from gardens to patios, flowers to vegetables, sunrises and sunsets, birds and woodland critters, and spending time with family. Don't forget to check the monthly archives, and please feel free to leave us a comment so we know you stopped by.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tomato Cage Christmas Trees

Don't put your tomato cages away yet!

That's right, it's still tomato cage season!!! With a little wire (I use 16 gauge galvanized craft wire),

some twist ties and/or plant wire,

tomato cages and plant stakes (for larger cages)

and mini-lights, it's real easy to turn those cages into outdoor Christmas trees for your yard.

Help usually isn't needed - it's pretty much a one person project, but if they come by and offer... well, good help is hard to come by...

Turn the cage upside down and slightly bend the 'legs' of the cage so that they make a nice, even cone shape from bottom to top (or top to bottom, since the cage is really upside down now---or is it?). Cut the wire where you can make 2 rings - one near the top of the 'legs', and one mid-way between that and the first welded ring on the cage. Attach them in place with twist ties.

When I'm using the taller cages (4½' or taller) I like to use a plant stake as a 'trunk' to help stabilize and form the top of the 'tree'.

Center the trunk/stake inside the cage by using the wire, tied off at a couple different rings towards the top of the tree.

For my large cages (5') I use 2 strands of 100 mini-lights. It's always helpful to test the lights before you start to tie them off to the cage ;) Replacing any burned out bulbs is always much easier in your lap or on a desktop.

Starting at the bottom, twist-tie off the first light at the base of the cage, and string it up to the top of the cone (in this case, a 6' plant stake inside a 5' cage). Tie the string off at the tip, and run the string back down to the bottom. Tie it of again about 1/3 the way around the bottom ring. Then move over another third on the bottom ring, tie it off again, and run the string back up to the top.

Take your 2nd string (again, test the lights first)

and tie it off half way between where the first string of lights was attached. Back up to the top, tie it off, back down, tie it off between the first strings, move over again 1/3 of the way around, again between the first string, and run it back up to the top and tie off.

When you're stringing the lights, don't stretch the light string too tight against the cage...kind of let one light point left, and one point right, in a zig-zag sort of way. After doing this a couple times, you'll figure out just how much to stretch the wire while running it up and down the cage. Then, go back and twist-tie each string off at each loop. This will keep the lights from swaying too much in the wind and possibly breaking.

On the 4½ foot cages, I use just 1 100' strand of lights, attached to each leg. For the 42" cages, I also use just 1 100' string, but make 5 lines of lights up and down the cage, equally spaced around the bottom ring.

Once you're set up, it only takes about 15 minutes for each tree, other than a little tweaking to get the lights spread out right.

Up close, they might not look like much. Strategically placed around the yard, however, it adds a special magic to the nighttime Christmas landscape.

Now, go plant some tomato cage trees!!! 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Falls Last Hurrah

Every year it gets harder. Always trying to extend the Summer and Fall gardens just a few more days.

This year is no different. Despite several nights below freezing, numerous frosts, and very little rain here at our Heartland Gardens, some plants are just refusing to admit it's the 3rd week in November, and continue to surprise us with new or continuing blooms.

However, all good gardens must be trimmed and cleaned, weeded and covered and put to bed for the winter, so hopefully, they can once again produce whatever our flowers of choice will be next year.  Ours are slowly getting there. Probably too slowly this year, since it's already Thanksgiving Eve and soon time for Christmas decorating, inside and out.

One last trip around the yard these past  few weeks brings these photos, some plants that will hold out a little while longer, some that have gone to that great wildlife berm along the back property line for the birds to feed on for a while longer.

When Lynne isn't watching over me like a hawk, making sure I'm just pulling the annuals and not any perennials, she leaves this guy in charge.

Tomorrow, I'll raid our VERY scant pumpkin patch and bring these cute guys in for decoration :-)

Now that the gardens will be resting for the winter, Lynne will be here, filling everyone in with the decorating she's been doing during the fall, and what we're doing in the weeks leading up to Christmas... That is, if she can remember her password and figure out the changes that Blogger has made since her last real Blog post :)

Tonight, however,we are most thankful for our new-found friends on Twitter and Facebook, our long-time friends from various forums and blogs, and most especially, our families. All of you, near and far, add so much to our lives, and we wish  all of you a Wonderful Thanksgiving with you and yours.

Please leave a reply so we know you stopped by... we'll be back again soon!

Tom and Lynne

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Monarch - Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time ... Ahhhh, the beginning of a good story. Yes, this blog is always about stories ---- from our home, our gardens, our decorating, our lives. We'd like to think that, no matter the subject, you'd find it a good story, no matter the subject... so, this story continues...

Once upon a time,this past August, there was a Monarch Butterfly...

Not unlike this one.

Early one morning, that Monarch fluttered along and spied one of our potted Butterfly Weeds(Asclepias tuberosa) , a variety called Bloodthroat.
After feeding on the flowers for a while, Lady Monarch proceeded to lay some eggs on the leaves. Not just some eggs, but apparently, many eggs. We'd seen the Black Swallowtail do this numerous times on our Parsley, or other leafy herbs, but this was the first time seeing the Monarch begin it's life cycle.

In a few days, the eggs hatched...

In a few more days, as more eggs hatched, that poor Bloodthroat had been stripped clean of its' leaves. It must be stated here that unlike many butterfly species, the Monarch caterpillars only feed on those plants in the Milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae. We had picked these particular plants up at our local Farmer's Market in downtown Clayton, NC earlier this past spring. As stated, soon the plants were leafless..

The caterpillars, now, 2 weeks later, started to wander off from their food source, looking for just that right place to morph into their chrysalis stage. Fortunately, for the one that we were following, it was the edge of the house siding, just a few feet away from the pot that it was hatched on. For a day, it didn't move, then it attached itself to the siding, as I learned later, in a very familiar hanging "J".
It stayed in this position for about 24 hours - maybe a little longer. By this time, we had done some reading up on what was transpiring right outside our side door, mainly information gathered from The Butterfly Site. Soon, in what could maybe best be described as a caterpillar doing the hoochie-coo, and maybe a little Texas two-step thrown in, the caterpillar shed it's striped skin, and in short order, revealed it's final chrysalis stage.

For 10 days, something magical was going on inside that little chrysalis, and then as if a magic wand had been waved, we witnessed the 'birth' of our very first Monarch.

While all this was going on, most of the other caterpillars had wandered off to other morphing locations, which we never found, but there was one sibling caterpillar who decided to allow us to re-witness, in a sequence delayed by a few days, what we were following so closely. Now knowing a little better the timing, we were able to follow along a little more closely, our 2nd hatchling.

After spending a little while stretching and drying it's wings, this one made it's way to the driveway to complete the process in the warmth of the September sun...

About 2 hours later, this Monarch took flight...and wandered about the gardens. How long it it was with us, we're not really sure, because in the ensuing weeks, we saw many of its' siblings...

We did, however, learn quite a bit about the Monarch. Once they reach their breeding grounds, they go through 4 life cycles, of about 6-10 weeks. The fourth, and final cycle, is a remarkable, and most important one. The one we witnessed. For whatever reason, the first three life cycles each year are only meant to create the fourth generation, the generation that migrates to Mexico every year, only to return the following year and start the process all over again.

Tonight (11/13/10), while watching a show on the National Geograpic Channel, originally aired last weekend, a series on Migration, we also learned something very sad. Last winter, it is estimated that almost HALF of the migratory Monarch population was killed due to adverse weather conditions down in Mexico where the Monarch overwinters.

So, here at Heartland Gardens, we did our little part, somewhat unknowingly at the time, to repopulate the decimated Monarch butterfly population. What's cool is, these pictures only reflect a part of what happened from one potted up Butterfly Weed. The clump pictured in the first image had many many more caterpillars...creating many many more Monarchs, that hopefully, are on their way to a much less destructive winter haven this season.

What's cool is, you don't even have to have a garden to help repopulate, like maybe we did, the Wonderful Monarch Butterfly population. While we have our little clump of Orange Butterfly Weed, that was equally stripped of its' leaves, the images above were from little seedlings grown in just a 6" flowerpot. Next year, they will be planted out in the perennial bed, hopefully, becoming a larger host plant, with many more leaves for many more caterpillars.

Oh, that plant posted above that lost all its' leaves? Here's a picture 2 weeks after the Monarchs 'flew the coop'. Since then, it's even filled out even more, and is still blooming, believe it or not... despite already having several nights below freezing.

We're always happy watching, and sometimes, lucky enough to observe the magic that occurs in our yard and gardens. And we enjoy sharing that magic. We hope you've enjoyed the magic in this blog tonight.

Maybe those who stumble across this post will consider finding some Butterfly Weed seed, and someday share their own Once upon a time... story with their friends...

Until next time, from Heartland Gardens
Peace and God Bless...
Tom and Lynne