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Growing Gorgeous Peonies

PinExt Growing Gorgeous Peonies

Perennial Favorites and Fragrant, Too

Peonies in the garden Growing Gorgeous Peonies

Peonies have been a Midwestern garden favorite for as long as I can remember. We always had these beautiful plants at home, as did other family members.

In May and June, when they bloom, we had beautiful and fragrant bouquets in the house.

I’ve grown a few peonies in my time. If you live in a climate where you get some cold weather in the winter (necessary for the plants to bloom in the coming year) you will be able to add this long-lived perennial to your garden or landscape.

You will need a few things to successfully grow peonies.

Peony Nick Shaylor Growing Gorgeous Peonies

What Do You Need to Grow Peonies?

When you garden in a zone with some cold in the winter, you can grow peonies. Once established, they are winter hardy to Zone 3, showing their origins in Siberia, China and Japan.

Paeonia are usually free of insects and diseases, and when they are not sporting their showy flowers, they provide dark green foliage for your herbaceous border or landscaping.

Peonies are easy to grow.

You’ll need good stock, good and well-drained soil, and a sunny location. That’s it.

Just one more thing…when you plant them, be sure to get the depth right. Like Goldilocks, not too shallow and not too deep. Use a straight ruler or shovel handle across your planting hole for some help, to accurately replant the peony at the same depth as it was growing in the nursery.

I also recommend that you choose a location where you’ll want them to stay for a long time. You can move and divide them, but they’d rather you didn’t.

You can plant in spring, though fall is ideal because the plants are dormant. Either way, keep an eye on them their first year, and mulch for the winter if you planted in the fall.

After that, your peonies will bloom for years if you got the depth right. Still going strong after 50 years is not unheard of. Undisturbed peonies can bloom for 100 years. Now that’s a perennial!

Pink peony in vase Growing Gorgeous Peonies

More Peony Growing Tips

Your peonies will make great cut flowers if you follow these tips…

  • Support your peony plants to keep the blooms upright, especially in windy or wet weather. These support are similar to what you find for tomatoes, but generally greater diameter.
  • Trim off the side buds on each flower stalk, leaving only the terminal flower bud, to get the biggest blooms.
  • Leave the stems long on the peony plant, so that it can use those leaves to build next year’s flowers.
  • Cut blooms when the flower is just beginning to open. They will continue on indoors, and you’ll get a week or so to enjoy your beautiful peony flowers.

I like named peony varieties, but the unnamed ones are wonderful as well. I’m sure the ones my folks had years ago were not named, but they produced great flowers and were often fragrant as well.

You’ll see some samples of lovely peony plants available through garden centers, both on and off line. I also encourage you to visit your local nurseries, if peonies are on your mind. When you get to see some of the plants in person, you could be hooked…



Organize for the New Year with Rolling Storage Cabinets

PinExt Organize for the New Year with Rolling Storage Cabinets

Are you a neat freak, or are you working to get more organized? Is that one of your New Year’s resolutions this year?

My rolling storage cart 300x215 Organize for the New Year with Rolling Storage CabinetsDo you have a lot of little things to keep handy at your desk or workspace, like office supplies, art supplies, or the tools and supplies for sewing, needlework, scrapbooking or other crafts?

Then a portable, rolling storage cart with drawers could be the ideal solution to your home storage needs.

So Handy for Storage

I’m getting another rolling storage cart for myself, to organize my home office (again)

I’ve always got more office supplies and small tools to store, and it’s time to get yet another rolling storage cabinet.

These are the attributes I have on my list. They all part of the points to consider as I’m choosing my next little cart.

• What I have to store. I have a lot of little stuff, like pencils and binder clips. (I know, how old school.) I’ve also got headphones, which need a deeper drawer.

• The spot where the cabinet will go. Ideally, this cabinet will go underneath a table. Second choice is a certain spot near the wall. That won’t be as handy as the first choice, but will do if I need to get a taller cabinet.

• Open or fitted drawers. The cabinet I already have has drawers that fit within a structure, to keep out the dust. That’s a big benefit. But open drawers can make the contents more visible. That’s a mixed blessing… Opaque drawers will make the cabinet look less cluttered.

• Material: metal or plastic. Metal is generally more durable, but plastic is lighter and offers more choices. Plastic with metal casters is my ideal choice.

Lots of us have home office challenges, just like anyone else who works partly or completely from the place they live.

Some of us cannot devote an entire room to a home office, and rolling storage can especially help in those cases. Just tuck a well-chosen cart like this away in a closet or corner when not needed, and bring it out when it’s time to use your supplies.

Enjoy your workspace, more organized than ever with a rolling storage cabinet!


Enjoy Blooming Bulbs in Winter

PinExt Enjoy Blooming Bulbs in Winter

I like to force a few bulbs in winter, and fall is the time to plan for that, as a reminder that spring is on its way.

Hyacinth beginning to bloom 300x300 Enjoy Blooming Bulbs in WinterBlooming bulbs are a beautiful and often fragrant way to bring the outdoors inside. Forcing is the process of coaxing flowering bulbs to bloom before their usual season.

Certain varieties of bulbs are associated with forcing. The first one I think of: paperwhite narcissus, or just paperwhites. Amaryllis and hyacinth are on the list, too, due to their large, showy flowers and wonderful fragrance.

You may be familiar with amaryllis, because their large bulbs and dramatic flowers are hard to miss. As for hyacinth, the fragrance will knock your socks off.

Crocuses, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and any other spring-flowering bulb that will bloom outside after a cold winter (often called hardy bulbs) are suitable for forcing.

Read on and I’ll show you some of the possibilities for forcing bulbs!

Blooming Bulbs Fit Your Home Decor

There are lots of choices to consider when choosing bulbs for forcing. The variety of colors and shapes will surprise you. Flowers in white, red, purple, yellow and pink. Green stems and leaves. What a contrast to the winter cold and snow outside, in January and February.

Forcing bulbs are available to fit into any home décor.

I think anything that says “spring” is a charming addition to your home. The ancient Romans did it. Victorians did it. And you can, too.

Forcing Bulbs – How To

This process is meant to imitate the natural process of cooling and darkness, then warming and light that would occur if the bulbs were growing outdoors.

That’s why it varies somewhat depending on what kind of bulbs you want to force. Hardy, spring flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils need the cold phase for this. Paperwhites don’t.

By compressing the season for your chosen bulbs, you can have blooms when you want them.

These are general steps:

•Select high quality bulbs. Don’t buy bulbs that are soft or sprouting.

•Pot the bulbs. A well-drained clay pot will work well. Use some gravel for drainage in the bottom, and use a potting soil mixture of peat moss, sand, soil and vermiculite.

•Plant the bulbs as you would outdoors, with the right amount of soil over top. Leave the tips exposed for tulips.

•Plant only one type of bulb per pot, so you can give each variety the right amount of cold time. Label each pot so that you will know what it is, and when to bring it out of the cold.

That said, some bulbs, like paper whites, amaryllis and hyacinth, don’t need much or any soil. They can go into a pot, dish or glass designed for forcing them with just some gravel, or nothing at all.

Paperwhites don’t need the cold phase (described below). Amaryllis should have been put through dormancy when you buy them.

•Give the bulbs a good drink, but make sure they drain well. For those that will need a cold period, now is the time for them to go onto the back porch, cold room or another place where they will stay dark and safe from animals that would eat them, for 12 to 13 weeks.

•When the bulbs have shoots that are 2 to 3 inches high, bring out the pot and put it in a cool place, like an enclosed porch, unheated entry or bedroom that has been closed off – anywhere with temperatures in the 50s and indirect light. Keep it watered lightly.

•Once the buds form, move the plant to a sunny window where the temperature holds around 65 degrees. When the buds open, move to bright, indirect light to make the blooms last longer.

Bulbs forced in a pot with soil can be planted in the garden after their time is done, but don’t try to force them again. Those bulbs that have been forced in water will be exhausted, and should go to the compost barrel.

Once you try a few bulbs, you might be hooked on forcing bulbs every year!


Our New Apple Peeler Is A Whiz

PinExt Our New Apple Peeler Is A Whiz

We got the Apple Pro Peeler recently, which we saw on a television product demo on QVC.

When I saw it on the air, I wasn’t sure about it, because it’s made of plastic. But the presenter said she’d been using hers for many years, and so, we tried it.

Apple Peeler Pro 300x300 Our New Apple Peeler Is A Whiz

Two cooks at our house are giving this peeler a work out!

Fall is the height of apple season, and we are eating them just about every day.  And I have to say, we appreciate how quickly we can peel a lot of apples with this kitchen gadget.

The suction cups hold very well on our solid surface counter tops. No question of the peeler slipping while we use it, or damaging the counters.

The business end of the peeler — its very sharp blade — rides over the surface of an apple, kinda like the razor you might use on your face or legs. It peels the skins off in one long piece, just as advertised, and thin, too, so we retain far more of the apple than we would if peeling by hand.

The Apple Pro cleans up quickly, with just a quick sponge-off in soap and water. We’re keeping it handy, either on the counter top, or in a nearby cupboard, because it’s the easiest way to peel an apple, whether it’s just one or a bunch.

It’s funny, the sound of the gears inside the peeler reminds me of the Spirograph drawing set I had as a kid. That’s charming in a utilitarian device.

Apple crisp, apple fritters, applesauce, apple coffee cake – we’ve made them all in just the past few weeks.

Does the Apple Pro Peeler Have Any Problems?

Like any new tool, you have to get used to how to use it.

  • Getting the apple centered on the holders is important. If you don’t, the apple won’t peel evenly. And for an apple that’s misshapen, you could have a few missed spots.
  • Removing the apple from the four spike holders is a learned skill, too. It’s on there firmly, as it needs to be to hold as you crank the peeler. You don’t want to encounter the blade while pulling off the apple. I just make sure that the blade is away when I take off my apples.
  • Clean the peeler by sponge and rinse off, vs. immersing it, because water will get inside the base. I clean the peeler right after use, and it’s been fine to keep it clean, ready for its next use.

Overall, I give the Apple Pro Peeler 5 stars. I’d get another one, and give it as a gift for anyone who loves to eat or cook with apples.

We eat a lot of apples, so this gadget will be kept handy in our kitchen all the time, year round. Peel that apple a day quickly and efficiently with the Apple Pro Peeler.

Peeled apple Golden Delicious 300x300 Our New Apple Peeler Is A Whiz



Shopping for an Atomic Clock

PinExt Shopping for an Atomic Clock

I love my little atomic alarm clock. So convenient, because it sets itself. Now it’s time to add another satellite clock to my home  décor. This time, it will be a wall clock.

Atomic alarm clock self setting 300x247 Shopping for an Atomic ClockTerms like atomic, satellite, radio-controlled and self-setting are used to describe clocks that use technology to access the time  of very accurate atomic clock, via satellite.

Government agencies keep clocks that measure the activity of atoms, to an accuracy  of one second in 300 years.

When the power goes out, or Daylight Saving Time comes and goes, I can just relax. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, in Boulder, Colorado, takes care of it for me, because the operate the atomic clock and arrange for the signals to be  sent out.

Set it and forget it? Actually, the clock takes care of the setting by itself. I choose the time zone, then give it about 5 minutes to  talk to the system, via a simple antenna and receiver.

I’ve written about this atomic clock before. It’s now made by the Oregon Scientific brand. I just replace the batteries every so  often.

I want a wall clock this time, and there are a lot of models. I’ve got it down to two candidates:

One is the wood trimmed LaCrosse wall clock with moon phases, oak trim.

The other is another LaCrosse model with jumbo numerals on its LCD display.

I guess I’m spoiled. However, there are features that are important to me in addition to having another atomic clock. The most  important attributes to me are that it have:

  • Numbers are large and readable from a distance
  • Size and shape of the clock fits my space
  • LCD display, and
  • Compatible with the pictures and décor of my room

That’s why the oak trimmed model is currently leading my wish list. Most of my pictures have medium-tone wood frames. A bonus is the moon phase section, big enough but not so much data on the clock as to make it hard to read.

This one also has a wide range of worldwide time zones available, though I’ll only need the four standard US zones.

I also like the model with extra large numbers, about 4.5 inches high. That’s awesome, because the room is large and everyone will be able to read it from a distance.

Having accurate clocks helps keep everyone on time, especially when schedules get hectic.

It won’t be long before I decide which new clock to buy, and a new atomic wall clock will come to our house. Its space is waiting. Another time change will come and go, without me having to reset the clocks.

How To Choose The Best Drafting Table For Your Space

PinExt How To Choose The Best Drafting Table For Your Space

Over the years, I’ve owned several work stations or drafting tables. I’ve used them for fabric crafts, drawing and also as stand up writing work space.

Here’s my checklist of points to consider when you are shopping for your own drafting table.

 How To Choose The Best Drafting Table For Your Space How To Choose The Best Drafting Table For Your Space

Consider your décor. Does the table you select need to fit into a room with other elements, or can you go strictly functional?

Assess your needs. Will you draw, paint, scrapbook, or lay out fabric on this table? Do you need a hard or clear surface, like tempered glass, or would wood or metal be a better choice?

Measure your space. The legs make a footprint on the floor, but the table top is larger. I know from my own experience that you will want room to move around the tabletop, and not have it tightly pushed into other furniture. That way you can get a different angle on your project as needed.

Go big enough. You might normally paint or draw on paper of a certain size, but what else do you want to have close at hand? Think about everything that you will want to have nearby on the table, and allow for some extra things you might not have thought of when you evaluated the best table for your needs.

Remember the details. How high will the table go? How is it supported at height, and how top heavy will it be? Is it easy or difficult to raise and lower the table, which can be a two-edged sword. You want it to be easy enough that you can adjust it, but not so loose that it comes out of adjustment unexpectedly.

Tilt as needed. What’s the maximum tilt angle? It won’t matter if you’ll always work with the table flat, but if you need angles, can it tilt as you need it, and is the range of adjustment infinite or only fixed intervals.

Check out accessories. On a drafting station or table, that means pencil trays, attached drawer units and stands for your brush pot or even coffee cup. Many of these are attached to the legs, under the top, and may or may not extend beyond the width of the table top. Which ones do you need, based on the main use of your table.

And, do you want your table on wheels, or flat footed? If you have casters, I recommend that some have locks, so you can keep it from moving without your permission.

To complete your work area, consider any room lighting, task lighting, and additional storage like rolling carts and shelf units you might need.

I love my rolling cart for pencils, clips, paper and lots of other small things. It can go wherever I need it.

And I love using my current drafting table because it gives me extra work space, and lets me continue working without so much sitting.

In the photo: Studio Designs Glass Top Vision Rolling Drafting Table How To Choose The Best Drafting Table For Your Space


March Is For Maple Syrup

PinExt March Is For Maple Syrup

Maple syrup and pitcher 280x300 March Is For Maple SyrupEvery Saturday and Sunday in March is a day for maple syrup somewhere. Producers, public parks, even restaurants, organize special events to celebrate this North American treat during the season.

In states known for maple production, you’ll even find entire weeks devoted to it.

Eating pancakes with maple syrup is the immediate draw to these events. And if you’ve never had the real thing, I encourage you to try it. It’s so good, and you may never go back to anything else once you’ve had the best.

Any day you want, or a weekend, can be Maple Syrup Day at your house. You’ll need to get some syrup, of course, and the fixings to make pancakes. Along with a good skillet or griddle (stove top or electric) and you’re in business.

Then invite some hungry pancake eaters. Making pancakes is a quantity project. Hard to make only one or two.

I recommend practicing on smaller size pancakes, about 3 or 4 inches in diameter, using a recipe or mix for some good buttermilk pancakes, unless you have experience with other flavors.

And I really like a griddle because it’s open. It’s easier to flip on a large open space with no sides.

A well seasoned skillet certainly works. It just takes practice.

The most popular electric griddle on Amazon is a smaller model, which works well when making pancakes for a few people, at home or in your RV. I see it as a good way to develop and test your flap jack making skills as well.

The Presto Cool Touch is about 10 by 16 inches in size and it has a non-stick finish. It’s immersible and dishwasher safe after you remove the electrical control. Priced under $25, you can learn on this one, and if you graduate to making pancakes for a crowd, upgrade to a larger model.

Visit Maple Syrup Festivals

Maple tree tapped for sap 300x300 March Is For Maple SyrupAnother way to celebrate March as Maple Syrup Month is to organize an outing to the woods, or sugar bush, if you live in an area where syrup is produced.

That means New England, the Great Lakes and Eastern Canada.

It’s interesting and educational to see how maple tree sap is boiled down to become maple syrup. A search online will help you find programs in your area.

Some areas even have events where you can participate in tapping the trees and making the syrup.

If you decide to do this, be sure to check ahead. The sap won’t run if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Many of us are looking for spring, come March, when we’re often tired of winter. Maple syrup is one of those things that lets us know that it won’t be long.

Pancakes with maple syrup on a cold Saturday or Sunday morning…I can think of worse ways to spend the longer days when spring is not too far away.



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