A hundred days is a long time

ink drawing of a corner store

I’ve been doing the 100 Day Project, a creative challenge that bets I can’t make an art each day for a hundred days. Some people cut paper, some people make colour palettes; in 2015, I depicted teacups. This year, I’m drawing shops.

Naturally, I’m a couple days behind by now, but I’m happy with how these sketches are trucking along.

day one: a fuzzy drawing of a shop

Early on, I thought, hey, if I draw this one shop for 100 days, I’ll probably be really good at it by the end. Twenty days later, I was bored as hell. Like, “what’s the point of life anymore” level of boredom. I tried to mitigate it by drawing shop-related objects every once in a while. Then I moved onto 5-minute speed sketches so I’d spend less time being bored. It helped, I guess?

day 19: a 5-minute speed sketch

Ultimately, I needed variety. It’s been great getting to draw different things each day. The novelty of finding new shops has rekindled my enthusiasm for the work. But am I actually improving?

day 22: ink drawing of Little Way bar

It’s hard to say. I don’t feel more confident, and I definitely notice my mistakes more. But I’m also seeing where mistakes could happen before they actually occur. So maybe there’s some fluency developing. I feel like enthusiasm keeps a person interested in practicing, and that can foster improvement by the by.

But I also feel knowing your subject means you can draw it more smoothly and comfortably. That certainly helped over those first twenty days.

ink drawing of a corner store

Once I catch up to day 30, I’ll have filled up my little sketchbook. It’ll be time to buy a new one. I’m contemplating adding watercolour, focusing less on inky details and letting colour do the talking. But watercolour paper is expensive, so we’ll see.

A hundred days is a long time, and I’ve been regretting my choice of such a high-effort art form. But, as they say: no pain, no gain. I took up the challenge because earlier this year, someone asked me whether I’d consider selling my paintings. I told them no, because I don’t feel I’m good enough yet. These 100 days are a crucible to, hopefully, make me good enough.

If you’d like to follow my sketches over the remaining 70ish days, you can find them on my insta: @pizzathyme.

A short piece on my short piece

It’s March, it’s Autumn, we’re already pushing for quarter time in 2017. Tempus fugit and all that.

The last month has seen a little less ‘productive’ productivity from my me-time, in that while I’ve often felt nothing but pant-searingly busy it doesn’t seem like I have as much to show for it. Generally this is a sign that I’m working more for other people than I am for myself… which is okay in small bursts, but not something I want to do so consistently over the long haul.

Thankfully things are settling down a bit now,  with free time swinging a little back in my favour. While I intend to wrestle my to-do list back under control, I have already had a pocket win this week: I’m now a published flash fiction author. I just got paid actual dollars for a small piece I wrote late last year. Not only that, it was also received well enough that they added it to their first anthology.

It’s a small thing but I feel a lot of pride, with perhaps a dash of imposter syndrome. I love that something I cobbled together was good enough to publish (and get paid for!), though I now feel a little more guilty now for not having picked up my Nanowrimo project since crossing the line last year. That’s well and truly on my radar for this year, ideally sooner rather than later.

I will get back to writing, and try to tame the beast that is my first novel. Carpe noctem!

Draw a box… then several hundred more

Draw A Box - ant

Drawing up my ‘100 things I want to do’ list, it quickly became apparent that some tasks have a bit more prep-time than others. Be it time, money, skill or opportunity, inevitably some goals just need more of a run up than others.

Then there are the goals that can start with hardly any prep at all! The low-hanging fruit, the no-excuses ‘start right now’ objectives… like my item 83: ‘take a drawing class’.

For just eight of your earth dollars, I’m now the proud owner of two fine-liner pens. I chose these two pens on guidance from Draw A Box, the online resource I’m ploughing through to build my drawing skills. Draw A Box is a solid instructional programme, offering a balance of lessons and exercises that seem to align particularly well with my learning needs (read: low attention span).

Initially, the lessons cover ‘simple’ principles like how to freehand straight lines and curves, through the titular box-drawing lessons, then onto drawing basic organic forms.

Drawing a freehand straight line is a right bastard. To make it more hilarious, the exercise asks you to retrace that line accurately eight times:

Draw A Box - lines

Drawing freehand boxes is no easier, and my lovely straight lines were the first thing to go:

Draw A Box - boxes

Things get a little more interesting when you move onto the organic forms, which for the first night felt like little more than just drawing sausages, over and over. The culmination of that exercise series was a lesson on texture, which marked the first time I sat back and thought, ‘hang on, I don’t immediately hate this thing I’ve drawn’:

Draw A Box - texture sausage

With a tiny ember of confidence glowing, I moved into the more complex exercises that focus on drawing plants and insects. While the complexity means my work is a little hit and miss in terms of quality, the whole point of the course is to plough right through the barrier that says ‘you can’t draw’.

Draw A Box - plant Draw A Box - flower Draw A Box - bugs

I’m a few lessons away now from drawing actual human form, a real mental milestone for me. However it goes, I’ve already rung one bell that can’t be un-rung: turns out I can draw things that aren’t terrible, and with practice it can only get better. High fives.

It’s nice to have buddies

Once, I found a book that said we tend to stick to things better if we have buddies. Hard to disagree with that. When you work your arse off at something, it’s so rewarding to be able to share. Even moreso when you can share it with someone who can spot you; someone who knows.

I made a 100 things list too and am fascinated by how nearly all of my solo goals still involve other people. No use publishing a novel if no one’s going to read it, right?

Well, I’ve been blogging for about 15+ years, and have always wanted to blog with someone. I didn’t put this on my list. Maybe it’ll be fun and mind-expanding, or maybe it’ll form the crux of what we’ll one day call “irreconcilable differences”. But I’m here now and ready to do things.

I never finished that book, by the way. I wonder if I would have if I’d known someone who read it too.

Oh hi there

Look, I don’t quite understand what’s going on… but it’s 2017 already.

With the turn of the year come the inevitable mumblings around resolutions (where I’ve traditionally scoffed without making any real plans), I thought it might be time to actually honour the milestone with an attempt at setting and achieving some goals. So… goal number one, starting a blog… tick.

Right on cue, an article entitled How To Invest In Yourself landed on us last week. While I’m usually a little bit completely terrible at committing to self-development pieces, this one felt like an interesting challenge. It’s a simple proposal: take however long you need and draw up a list of 100 things you are going to do in your life. Not things you want to do, but things you will do, that you plan on doing. As the author notes, it can be full of anything… from ‘ride a bike’ to ‘be a dad’.

Easy. Right?

Turns out no, and this is just the first part of the exercise. Pulling together a hundred meaningful entries requires a decidedly furrowed brow and a well-stroked chin. I churned out an easy thirty to kick the list off, but by about the halfway mark things had slowed down. A lot. After several hours (over a couple of days), I got there… but summoning the last ten (without taking the piss) was like pulling teeth.

In sitting down to properly think about my hundred, I learned that it’s important for my ambitions to have some level of definition. So while it’s one thing for me to say and know that I enjoy doing athletic or physical things, clearly articulating that I’d like to ‘race in a whitewater event’ or ‘run a five minute mile’ actually gives me something real to aim for. It’s like the difference between saying ‘I’m hungry’ versus ‘we’re going for burritos’: with a target, enthusiasm has a destination, and turns into motivation.

I have a strong feeling I’m late to the party in realising that there’s a difference between want and ambition, and for a long while I’ve stubbornly subsisted on the former. I’m a lot older than I’d have liked to be in coming to this sort of realisation, but there’s plenty of time yet on the board.

So… 2017, let’s do it. I’m still fine-tuning my list… but just the act of fleshing these goals out and committing them to paper feels like I’m flicking a lighter in front of a can of hair spray.  If I keep at it, we might have a modest little fire going on here. That or a fun explosion. I’ll take either.

3 steps for dealing with hydrophobic, sandy soil

sand

When I water my garden, the water just sits on top of the soil and doesn’t soak in. 🙁

I’ve heard this complaint a lot from fellow Perth gardeners. We live in a small city on a big old dune, and there’s a lot of sand up in our business. With our warm seasons being mad hot and long, any water we do hang onto gets sucked back into the air.

Faced with hydrophobic, sandy soil, you’re actually looking at a few different but related issues, which all contribute to insufficient moisture in the soil for your plants. But, you guessed it, the solution is simple once you understand the theory. So, let’s go!

1. Add clay to improve soil structure

Unless you live up in Perth hills region, your soil probably contains a lot of sand. Sandy soil isn’t a bad thing if you fancy growing Australian natives and coastal plants that have evolved to cope with those soil conditions. The loose texture and easy drainage of a sandy soil can even be a blessing for your garden, especially when growing plants that prefer drier conditions.

melaleuca hypericifolia flower

Melaleuca hypericifolia is an Australian native that can handle sandy soils.
Photo by C T Johansson (CC BY-SA)

A good soil is usually described as a “sandy loam” – a mixture of sand, silt, clay and decomposing organic matter (humus) in varying proportions depending on what you plant. ‘Sand’, ‘silt’ and ‘clay’ refer to the size of the inorganic particles in your soil. Larger particles (eg. medium and coarse sand) allow water to pass through, while the tiny particles (clay) are what help your soil retain both water and the water soluble nutrients that come from your humus and fertilisers.

To improve the structure of a sandy soil quickly, whether it’s hydrophobic or not, add clay and compost. You can find clay for soil improvement in most garden centres – Bunnings and Waldecks will almost certainly have them – along with compost products suitable for a range of garden types. Just follow the instructions on the packet.

2. Add compost and soil wetter

If water doesn’t soak into your garden bed, you have what’s known as a “hydrophobic”, or water-repellent, soil. Sandy soils tend to be water-repellent, or can become water-repellent over time. This is due in part to the organic matter in the soil breaking down and coating the sand particles with waxy hydrophobic compounds left over from the decomposition process. These compounds include leaf waxes, resins, aromatic oils and various fatty acids originally contained in the plant.

Here’s the fun part – although soil hydrophobia is caused by organic matter in the soil, it’s also cured by adding organic matter to the soil. Compost, vermicompost and other organic matter are likely to contain microbes that feed on these waxy compounds.

Initially, it can help to apply a detergent-based soil wetting agent such as Wettasoil, or a home-made agar-agar solution (recipe about halfway down), to kickstart your soil improvement efforts with an immediate fix.

cross section of soil

A healthy soil with rich, deep colour.
Photo by Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Campaign (CC BY).

3. Mulch

Finally, a good mulching helps your soil retain moisture and maintain a consistent soil temperature, allowing friendly microbes to thrive. Pea straw, lupin, lucerne and sugar cane mulch are great around veggies, as they’re easy to work with and break down relatively quickly, adding even more nutrients to the soil. For display garden beds that you wouldn’t touch as often, a bark based mulch will last longer. Bark mulches are available in a range of grades to suit the look and function you’re after.

Happy planting!

 

References:

 


Photo credit: Sand (CC0). Originally posted on gardenhand.

Creating a humid environment for indoor plants

pink, white and green anthuriums

Plants selected for indoors often come from tropical environments, where shade tolerance is a key characteristic for survival. This also means your average houseplant prefers humidity, which can be inconvenient to maintain in a climate-controlled home or office environment.

If a room or whole-house humidifier isn’t your thing, don’t sweat it – it’s easy enough to create localised humidity around your beloved pot plant.

Spraying and misting

A fine mist of warm water is the easiest and quickest way to raise humidity in the air surrounding your plants. Simply spray around the leaves. This method would have to be done several times a day, as moisture from a fine spray evaporates quickly. It’s a great excuse for breaks if you have itchy fingers, but easy to forget when you’re busy.

Pros: Works quickly, easy to do.
Cons: Needs to be done a few times each day, spraying too much or too often may encourage disease.

Use a tray with pebbles

Take a tray of pebbles, and half-fill with water. Set your potted plant on top of the pebbles, and voilà – instant humidity tray! As the water slowly evaporates, it gradually increases the moisture in the air around your plant. Make sure the water line rests below the pebbles, so the bottom of your plant pot isn’t left in a puddle – sitting in water can cause the soil and roots to become waterlogged, contributing to fungal disease and root rot. Depending on the air in your home, and the material your tray is made from (one of my terracotta trays wicks water away in 3 days), you can get away with not having to replenish the water for up to a week.

Pros: Low effort, works over time, no moisture left on leaves.
Cons: Must remember to top up the water

Group plants to create a microclimate

If you have several indoor plants that love humidity, you can group them together to create a more stable humid environment. Just huddling them will do, but for the more hardcore among us, deliberately planting an atrium or conservatory will bring hours of joy. The aerial parts of your plants (leaves, stems) trap pockets of air and give off moisture through transpiration. Clustering plants together will achieve a rainforest-like effect, maintaining localised humidity for longer. Combine this trick with a humidity tray for an easy way to periodically add moisture to your microclimate.

Pros: Low effort, works over time and for longer, no moisture left on leaves.
Cons: Only works if you have several plants.

Plant a terrarium, or use a cloche

Terrariums come in a variety of shape and sizes, and may be open or closed. Open terrariums must be misted or watered every now and then, as moisture is lost through evaporation and transpiration. During dry weather, open terrariums may need to be covered or cling-wrapped to slow down the loss of moisture. Closed terrariums require much less maintenance, as moisture in the air has no way of escaping. You can emulate the terrarium effect on ordinary houseplants using a glass cloche.

Pros: Beautiful to look at, good for plants with very high humidity needs
Cons: Expensive setup for larger plants

 


Photo credit: anthuriums by richardoyork (CC BY-NC-ND). Originally posted at gardenhand.

Creating a cat-friendly garden

cat looking at a veggie patch

A well-designed garden can bring hours of joy to both pets and gardeners alike. My post on GardenDrum runs through some of the basic elements of a backyard or balcony suited for feline needs:

Cat-friendly, non-toxic plants

Take care to avoid plants that are toxic to cats. These plants may not be as appetising or attractive as the other options in your garden, but it’s still safest to avoid lilies, tulips, azaleas, dracenas, birds of paradise, baby’s breath, amaryllis, lantana, pothos, cyclamen, daffodils, potato, daphne, and morning glory.

Attractive cat chillout spaces

Rocks, tables, pedestals, statues, bird baths, stumps, and bollards can serve as platforms for cats to attain the above-ground altitudes they prefer. Ropes and ladders would be a welcome addition to trees, giving otherwise stranded cats a way to get back down.

Deterrent no-cat zones

Strong smells may be used to deter cats from areas of the yard. Fragrant plants like rosemary, lavender, rue, lemon verbena and lemon thyme can make areas less attractive.

Local council and wildlife matters

If you keep a birdbath in your garden, ensure the vicinity is clear of foliage that might be used for sneaking cover. Bird feeders should be placed up high and away from platforms that may be used as feline access paths, perhaps with deterrent plants close by.

Indoor ‘landscaping’ for cats

Instead of lawn, fake grass matting can offer an enticing rough surface for scratching or rolling around on. Cover escape gaps in window and balcony railings with bamboo screens or planter boxes, and make cat un-safe spaces inaccessible with pot plants and ornaments.

Read the full article: How to design and plant a garden for cats

 


Originally posted on gardenhand.

Watering your veggie patch

watering can nestled among the greens

All right, you’ve set up your veggie patch, ready for the new growing season. So let’s talk water.

Freshly transplanted seedlings should be watered every day for the first week. Keeping the soil moist will help your plants settle in by encouraging their roots to grow out. No need to manually water on the days it rains, or if the soil is still damp. You can check the soil by sticking your finger into the dirt, up to your second knuckle. If it still feels moist, feel free to wait a little longer before watering again.

For some seeds planted directly in the garden bed, use plastic bottles as a cloche to help keep moisture in the soil and air around the seed. Simply cut the bottom off the bottle and place it over the top of your planted seed. Water your baby plants conscientiously once they’ve sprouted. Until they develop a stronger root system, they’re still very susceptible to drying out.

Water around the plants rather than on them, and as much as you can, avoid wetting the leaves and stems, as this encourages disease – fungus and bacteria thrive in damp conditions!

The best time to water is in the early morning. The cooler temperature and gentler sunshine gives water more time in the soil, available to your photosynthesising plants, before evaporating. It also gives any water left on plant surfaces plenty of time to evaporate over the course of the day, reducing risk of disease. The second best time to water is in the late afternoon, after the hottest, harshest part of the day. Of course, if it looks like you’re going to lose your plants to the midday sun, you may have to resort to an emergency watering. This isn’t waterwise, so use it only when desperate and stick to better watering habits.

Watering at night is sometimes the most practical approach in hot and dry seasons. Water has more time to soak into the soil without falling under the evaporative effects of the sun. If night watering is better suited to your garden, use soaking equipment rather than a standard hose head or watering can, to avoid leaving water on above-ground parts of your plants over night.

Mulch your veggie patch as the weather warms up. Mulch stops the surface layer of your soil from drying out, and helps maintain a consistent soil temperature. For vegetable gardens, use lucerne, lupin, pea or barley straw mulch; they break down quickly, adding organic matter and improving the structure of your soil. Avoid wood or bark chips, as these take a long time to break down, and may interfere with the balance of nutrients ideal for growing food.

Lay down your straw mulch in a layer between 2cm and 6cm thick, keeping 3cm of clearance around the base of each plant. Next season, you can re-use the old mulch along with new mulch, or throw it into your compost bin.

Happy planting!

 


Photo credit: Watering Can by RebeccaVC1 (CC BY-ND). Originally posted on gardenhand.