Archive for May, 2013

When we moved to Texas I was thrilled because we had a big backyard and lot of space to put a garden in. Before I did anything out back I waited to see what was growing back there in the “flower” gardens. The previous owner had said, “oh the back gardens are beautiful with so many blooming things,” so I waited and watched. Hmmmm….. looked like a huge unkempt mess to me, all over the property, and after waiting and watching, that is mostly what it was – a mess. As  I slowly made my way through the mess I also started planning the vegetable garden. Lots to do.

When it came time to put tomatoes in, I got out my old tomato supports – you know, the galvanized support that is round and bigger on top, then tappers done to 3 or 4 spikes to anchor it in the ground. They had served me well in the past, but after using them here, they just weren’t big enough or heavy-duty enough to support the tomato plants.

A roll of galvanized wire

A roll of galvanized wire

My neighbor showed me the cages he made. They were made from reinforced concrete mesh. It is really rusty, but it worked. So I picked up some hog rings, borrowed my neighbors bolt cutters and a special pair of pliers (that he modified to secure the hog rings) and I was ready to make my own tomato cages.

The tools I use

The tools I use

These cages have worked great for all of my tomato plants, and I even use them for some of the pepper plants like Anaheim and bell peppers that tend to get real tall. The other peppers I plant (banana, cubanelle, jalapeno, Serrano, cayenne get bushy, but so seem to need the support of the cage so I just don’t cage them.

If you do a quick search on the internet for “tomato cage images” you will see 1000’s of examples. The cages I make and use are just one example.

Originally, I bought a roll of the concrete reinforced mesh and I still have those original cages today. A few years ago I bought a 300′ roll of galvanized wire and have been using that roll as I needed more cages and other things around the yard.

The supplies I use:

  • Sturdy wire mesh/fencing
  • Bolt Cutters
  • Hog Rings
  • Hog Ring pliers or tool
  • Gloves

I usually do this kind of stuff on my own, so to keep the unrolled section of fencing from rolling back on top of me and (biting me as it springs back,) I take two rocks (see photo above) and to anchor the ends down as I unroll the fence just enough to make one cage at a time. I count the squares off and stand on the section of fence that makes up the cage. I have found that using bolt cutters cuts the wire so easily for me. You can use a wire cutters, but since I struggle with tendon issues in my hands the last thing I want to do it aggravate that, so I use the bolt cutters – no problems. Cutting off the raw endsMake sur I am have picked them all upOnce I have cut my section of fence, I cut off the the exposed, raw ends.  You can use those ends to wrap around and secure your cages with those end, I just don’t want those rough ends – I tend to scratch myself up on them while picking tomatoes.  Before I finish my tomato cage, I pick up the raw ends I just cut off. I count them each time to make sure I didn’t miss one. The last thing I want to do is run over one of those with the lawn mower!

How I keep it togetherNow, it is time to connect the ends of the wire fencing to make the tomato cage. I use three hog rings per cage. You can use more if you want, that is up to you. I get one hog ring ready in the special pliers. My neighbor cut notches in a normal set of pliers so the hog rings wouldn’t slip out as he was using it. I think you can buy a set of pliers specifically made for this tasks, I am just using the tools that my neighbor has. I start by securing the middle section of the cage first, that way I don’t have one end of the wire gaping and flopping around ready to scratch me up. I roll the wire fencing into a tube and hold the two ends together near the center. My other hand is ready with the hog ring. Then is is just a matter of securing the two ends.


Your cage may be a bit out of shape. Just roll it and push down on the wire to get it formed into a nice circular tube.

These make very study tomato cages and they will last for many many years. My neighbor just started replacing a few of the cages he made using the reinforced concrete mesh that he made 15-20 years ago.

What do you use to support your tomato (or pepper plants)

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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I am a member of the San Antonio Herb Society and we do several outreach events each year where we work at educating people about herbs. The display we have is called Everyday Herbs and it is made up of many examples of boxed and packaged foods that you can buy in your grocery store that contain herbs. Along with those boxes and packages we have pots of each herb to show people what that herb looks like before it is added to those foods, and educating them how herbs are a part of their everyday life. We also focus on 12 basic herbs that grow well in our area.

Herb Market 2012 006

Last year three of us worked at freshening up the display and finding more healthy and organic examples to use in our display. We used to use these neat ceramic plant marks, but they were so heavy that the 4″ potted herbs would end up falling over a lot of the time so we decided to take a normal terracotta/clay pot and use blackboard paint on them and use a white marker (to look like chalk) and write the herb on each pot. Those pots would make a nice strong and steady base to place the 4″ potted herbs in and help them remain upright throughout the day.

Herb Market 2012 002

This is a really simple way to label your potted plants. We used two different pots shapes and sizes to give the display some variety. The blackboard (chalkboard paint) paint in permanent and the white marker we used it also. We will be using these pots over and over again, so it was important that they would hold up. You could also use regular chalk, but just remember that it would wash off in the rain.

We only did the 12 basic herbs that grow well in the San Antonio area to keep the focus on what herbs are easy for people to start with if they were interested in growing herbs. The pots turned out great and the display turned out well.

The pots have really freshened up the display. This is an ongoing display as we continue to to switch out the older boxed foods with examples of more organic and healthy options.

Do you have a creative way to label your potted plants?

Sincerely, Emily

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It takes a pretty ginormous container to pot up a tree. When ordering fruit trees this spring I was looking for dwarfing root stock (even mini-dwarfing if I could find it) because I had a plan in mind. Last week I posted about my newly built deck that I’ve installed to fill a section of my yard that has terrible soil. This week I want to share with you the planters that I have completed to sit on this deck and add interest to the corner of the border.

First, I located some food-grade (grain alcohol) barrels on craigslist. They were $20 a piece, though I’ve read online that some people have found them as cheap as $10 each. I then used a drill to make a hole roughly midway down the barrel (I did make some shorter and some taller planters as well by changing where I cut the barrels) and then stuck the blade of my jigsaw in the drilled hole and used it to cut the barrels in two.

Next I purchased some drip irrigation tubing and cut it to the length of the rim of each barrel-half, and then carefully split it down the center. This was difficult, and there were a number of almost-injuries, but I managed to complete it without sending myself to the emergency room, which is always nice. I then took the black irrigation tubing and shoved it onto the rims of the barrels, using it to create a more finished look.

After the rims were attached firmly (or sometimes less-than-firmly, as I’ve recently discovered) with industrial adhesive, I sanded the exterior white of the barrels a bit, drilled lots of holes for drainage, and broke out the nifty plastic-covering spray paint that swears it is durable enough for plastic, but really means it is durable enough for plastic that won’t ever be touched again. Ah well. It flakes and chips a little bit, but it isn’t terribly noticeable and I’ve stopped shuffling the pots around the deck now so it is less likely for scratches to appear. This would’ve been much better if the plastic of the barrels had started out the color I wanted them.

I used brown and burgundy spray paint, and the brown covered very nicely and opaquely. The burgundy left very noticeable spray and drip marks, but once I filled the planters with soil they became considerably less obvious. I put 2-3 inches of gravel in each barrel for drainage, and then used a mix of soil, composted manure, perlite and peat to create a light and moisture-retentive to create the perfect (I hope) environment for my new trees.

So now I find myself using my new deck to store the bareroot plants that I purchased and potted up (because I wasn’t quite ready for them). It is definitely cluttered, especially now that I am moving my rare strawberries and antique currants outside. Hopefully this week I will manage to get everything in the ground and in the greenhouse that belongs there and my deck will remain pleasantly bordered by my newly potted dwarf European plums and my English Morello cherry (as well as the fig trees that I already had in half barrels).

How do you upcycle in your garden?

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Ever have one of those weeks where the money just beats a path out your door?

I actually have very careful plans for the money to make its way, under my control, into various repairs and upgrades. Yes, one must save for the new roof, but replacing the 50 year old piece of junk NOT an antique couch would be nice too. I have some great, fun projects on that list– I desperately need a new front door. Bet you didn’t know that a door can  break, did you? Mine is a beautiful, ancient thing with a large piece of beveled glass.

That slipped out of its mooring and can’t be either replaced or fixed, at least by anyone that I can afford. I’m terrified to try it myself, because the piece of glass is huge and heavy. So I really need a new door, and while I’m at it I’d like to just rehab the whole foyer, which is an ugly mess (very bad chi for your entryway to be an ugly mess, and I really don’t need any more bad energy right now).

I’d love a dining room rug.

I always promised myself that once the food-dropping, mud-shoeing kids were gone, we’d get a nice dining room rug.

I am very very good at stretching a dollar, and at saving for things like this, even on a meager income.

And then the gas company discovers that your stove is improperly installed and disconnects it.

And then they discover that the switch on the water heater is broken so they disconnect that too. And your daughter, who is living upstairs, makes a strong case that water pressure would be nice.

Ten minutes after the plumber leaves, the outside water line springs a leak, and then you make it worse trying to fix it yourself so you don’t have to pay a plumber.

Looks like the couch is going to be here a little longer.

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The three water gardens we put in a few years ago are doing really well. In the one that is lower to the ground, we have frogs and toads using it and singing happily on various nights. The little minnow-type fish all also happy and multiplying in all three water gardens,  keeping them clear of nasty mosquito larva. I also have one open 55-gallon drum that catches water from a leaky rain gutter that I have also put those little fish in and they are working hard in there too.

Last spring when 2 mama deer decided our fenced in backyard was a perfect spot to have their babies. They thought it was great. I thought something completely different. since then there are a few deer that frequent the back yard every day…. munching their way through this and that (including all the native and “deer resistant” plants I have back there.

Oh Deer - water garden

I know there is never a guarantee to the “deer resistant” things, what makes me so mad is that things were going along great until these two mama deer had their brilliant idea.  While these deer make their daily and nightly visits one of them favorite treats seems to be the lily pads and water lilies!  Well, I fixed that. I put a piece of hardware cloth over each water garden. HA! it isn’t the prettiest things, but the lily pads and water lilies are able to grow  and do their thing.

This was a great quick fix. One of the water gardens has a metal cage around it and the hardware cloth is raised up above the water lever about 7″ giving the water lilies room to pop up out of the water and flower. The hardware cloth on the other water garden sits right on the top and the water lilies try to come up and bloom, but are scrunched and squished. So my husband built a quick little frame that would raise the hardware cloth up a bit so there is enough room for the water lilies to bloom.

watergarden project 2

What is great about this little renovation is that everything we already had everything that we needed sitting around waiting for just such a project! We didn’t have to buy a thing – that is always a great thing.

watergarden project 3My husband built a PVC frame that would raise the hardware cloth up higher and then he bent it down on two of the sides and trimmed excess off one end and added it to the front. That enclosed three sides so the deer couldn’t nose their way in between the top of the frame and the water garden to get at those scrumptious lily pads! So far, so good, The water lilies are able to pop up and bloom with all the room they need and we get to enjoy them.

One very small REAL Renovation success for us!

Do you have to protect something in your yard from deer or dogs? What is your solution?

Sincerely, Emily

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Here at Tanglewood, I have plants wedged pretty much everywhere. They’re nearly all functional plants as well – plants that provide for us in one way or another, like fruit, vegetables, herbs and companion plants.

Since moving in here, roughly four years ago, I’ve been hard at work. Still, there has been one area that has proven impossible to garden in! There is a south-west facing corner of our house that had a nearly barren space for a border garden when we moved in. I planted all sorts of things there. Each year I’ve tried to plant something else that is easy to grow and low-management, and each year it has died. There’s not much for me to assume other than the soil must be atrocious. Since we are renting, I really don’t feel like it’s reasonable to test, pull out and replace the soil on an entire section of the house border, so I thought of an alternative.

Container gardening!

Of course, containers in the border always look just like that – containers sitting in a border garden that should otherwise be planted in lush border plants. So I solved that problem with another idea.

A Deck! I mean, how hard can a simple deck be to build?

It really wasn’t that hard. It cost me roughly $150 in lumber and hardware. I constructed a simple frame, staggered supports throughout, and covered the whole thing in cheap furring lumber.

After that, I actually decided to cut the ENTIRE THING IN HALF! (Mwahaha… I felt like a mad scientist!)


I did it because I have a number of “wimpy” potted trees (temperate-loving figs and some European plums, and whatnot) that need to be seriously sheltered during the winter. By carefully thinking through the way the deck needed to sit when finished, and the way I could use it to prop against the base of the house, packed with straw, over the winter wimpy-trees, I was able to figure out which boards to cut to make the deck stable when assembled, and yet modular and easy to deconstruct in the fall. We’ll see if it really works, next winter…

Anyway, after cutting it apart and sticking it back together, leveled on the cinder blocks, I installed 2×6″ boards along the edge to give it a nice finished look. The thing I love most about this project was that it is super easy to move if we should ever leave where we are currently living. That way, the poor landlady isn’t stuck with my deck and I get to take it with me.

So now I am awaiting my dwarf fruit tree order (it should arrive in two weeks – woo!) so that I can get to work on filling my deck with potted plants! Of course I may be able to leave a little space for a reading nook or a sunning spot for the dogs… I guess… (Or at least enough room to squeeze between pots and water everything!)

Have you ever had to come up with a creative way to fill an awkward space in your garden?

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I had a (rather wealthy) friend walk into my house once and remark “what a cute little place!”

Which surprised me, because I’ve got 10 rooms and a full basement and “little” is not the term that comes to mind when I’m dusting them.

With my recent, ahem, lifestyle change (husband decided he needed “spark,” whatever that is, and moved out), and both kids gone (ish), I find myself with far more rooms than I need.

So I downsized. Or rather, downstaired.

My house is essentially a really nice one-story house that had three bedrooms, a bath and attic storage added on the second floor. We’ve never been entirely sure whether the second floor is original or not, as the first floor would easily fit a family of four or five. As my son put it, my first floor is a really awesome apartment.

I’ve spent the past month moving myself into it.

I now have a 6-room apartment: living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, office, and studio.  (Office for my consulting business, and the studio for sewing and art.) It’s still a luxurious amount of space for one person.

Most of the “renovation” has involved just moving furniture downstairs, but this brings its own needs. A lot of the furniture left with Wei, so there are bare spots on the walls. Or actually, shadows on the walls, where pictures have been hanging for 30 years.  So there’s been a fair amount of patching and painting.  Some of it has been less “renovation” and more “renewal” like getting rid of books and clothes and things that you store when you have the space, but that you really don’t need. I’ve been applying the “if I didn’t know I had it, I don’t really need it” rule.

Upstairs there’s now a second, rather charming “inlaw” apartment– Living/Dining room, bedroom, office, full bath and tons of closet space, and even a half-sized fridge which I’ve been using for my home-preserves. My daughter is using it right now (that’s the “ish” in the the kids are gone), but I’m thinking of renting it to a grad student or intern.

When you live in a space for a long time, you grow tentacles. Even for me, who does not tend to accumulate clutter, a lot accumulates over 30 years in a space. When you remove stuff you’ve had for a long time, it’s not that you’re getting rid of things you need; it’s that you’re relinquishing myths– the myth that you will fit into your honeymoon suit again, that your daughter will want the baby furniture eventually, that you can furnish your kids apartments from the detritus of your life, that you’ll finally sell all that art you made in your twenties.

There’s an awesome garage sale in my near future.

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Here at Not Dabbling, we suddenly realized we were all knee deep in sawdust and paint chips, so we thought we’d explore the idea of REAL Renovation. For us, that means DIY, sustainable materials, creative reuse and enhancing sustainable lifestyles.


I (Alexandra) have had renovation somewhat forced onto me; I took my husband’s departure as an opportunity to downsize, turning my house from a 10-room family manse into a one-floor “apartment” with an in-law space on the second floor (currently inhabited by my daughter). Over the next month I’ll walk you through the painting, stripping and furniture moving involved not so much in renovation of a house, as in renovation of a family to meet new circumstances.



For me (Sincerely, Emily), there is always a list of things to do around our house and property. Some big projects and some smaller ones. Since I am still unable to do so many things right now I will focus on some of the smaller “renovations” that are happening around here.



You may’ve seen the renovations I did on my kitchen earlier this year. Just wait until you see what I’ve been up to outside!

Every spring brings about several renovations here at Tanglewood farm, but it seems like this year we’ve done more than ever and still have several in the planning stages as well! Many of the renovations going on here are on a fairly large scale (well, not huge, but large). Whether it is redoing a room in our house, adding a new feature in the yard or learning and attempting a new skill around the farm, I am sure to stay busier than ever this season!


Are you planning any major or minor renovations in your life, this month?

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I love this time of year. The herbs and other flowering plants start to come alive and bloom. Sage grows really well in our hot South Texas  dry summers and it requires very little water to survive and thrive.

Sage 3

I have several types of sage planted throughout the gardens and when they start to bloom they are always completely covered with bees. Alive and buzzing!

Sage in bloom 2

The buzzing sound almost drowns out the sounds of the birds that are chirping away.

Sage in bloom 1Four more sage plant were added to one garden this spring. In fact, Sage, one of the writers that I met here at Not Dabbling in Normal, came over to help me plant somethings shortly after I got out of the hospital. She planted three sage plants amongst several other herbs and plants around the back yard.

Thank you Sage – they are all flourishing! I am very grateful for your help and I think of you every time I see the plants that you planted for me!

I have two sage plants in one garden on the east side of the house that aren’t getting enough sun to really do well (never thought I would say that about a plant here with such hot scorching summers) so I will move them this fall to a better spot.

I continue to see planting more sage in the future.

Do you grow sage in your gardens?

Sincerely, Emily


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