Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day :: September 2009

Ding, Ding, Ding… bring out your dead!

Welcome to Garden Blogger's Death Day for the month of September, 2009! This is the day for gardeners who overwater, underwater, maim, prune or otherwise neglect their plants to a state of dismal droopage or untimely death. This is the day for gardeners like me with black thumbs who kill more than they cultivate, for cadmium-green-thumbed gardeners who have a lapse in judgment and commit accidental planticide, and for any poor soul whose plants fall victim to that fickle mother who controls us all - Mother Nature.

I am pleased to say that this is the first month that nothing has died in the garden, making me unable to participate in GBDD! I am ashamed to say that nothing died because we didn't have a garden this month. But I'm PROUD to say that we're planting our brand new square foot garden today (that I posted about last night) so hopefully we'll be back in the gardening game soon!

And if anyone needs any proof that I have anxiety about our new SFG setup failing miserably too, I had a dream last night that I was planting broccoli in the garden and the seedling wouldn't stand upright and kept flopping over. I decided to tie a brick to the roots to keep them down and as I did our neighbors houses exploded in big fireballs. I looked over my shoulder and a large alien ship was firing at the neighborhood. I knew my large floppy broccoli plant had hidden me from their view and saved our lives.

I seriously need garden therapy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I'm an SFG club member now! When do I learn the secret handshake?

We finally took the Square Foot Gardening plunge and have become official SFG club members!!! Woohoooo! I can't wait to get my club card, secret handshake and funny hat! If I don't get any of that, I'll settle for some live plants instead of dead plants as a consolation prize.

Farmer B has been such a trooper with these raised beds. He bought me the SFG book as a get-well present when I was recovering from my surgery and as soon as I mentioned 6-inch deep boxes he dashed to the lumber store, bought the wood and built two 4x4 6-inch deep boxes. Then when so many commenters on this blog told me that six inches wasn't going to be deep enough for the Florida heat - and EG emailed me some wonderful advice too…well Farmer B got on it without complaining.

He bought 4x12 lumber and made one deep box and attached the other two six-inch boxes together with brackets.

I should mention he did this all for me with a 96 degree heat index outside, but he did hire two small boys as assistants.

We tried very hard to do everything "by the book." I know a lot of you told me not to take the SFG book as gospel and to experiment a little and make it work for us, but this blog isn't called "Gardening With Skills," is it? Whenever I experiment, plants die. Those are just the facts. So I figured we'd do out best to approximate Mel's Mix and not try to get too creative.

We bought some thick landscaping cloth to lay under the boxes to prevent weeds from growing up. We overlapped it quite a bit in the middle with the hopes that it'll actually work. We have terrible luck with landscape cloth and it usually ends up working like one of those seed mats with 9 million weeds per square foot growing up through it.

Jace helped carry in the vermiculite. We used two large bags that we purchased at our local nursery. We also used more bags of composted cow poo, mushroom poo and random un-named poo than I bothered to count.

We mixed it all together on a big tarp and then transferred it to the boxes with a wheelbarrow.

Finally Farmer B added the slats to the top of the boxes to mark out the squares. The slats are kind of wide so the squares are only about 10 inches in width. I think that seeing where to plant can only help us, not hurt us.

If all goes well tomorrow I'll plant some seeds and a handful of seedlings I bought at the local nursery and my journey into raised bed gardening will have officially begun. Thanks to all of you who encouraged me to give this a go!

* * * * *

On a separate note, I wanted to thank all of you who expressed concern about my floppy-eared cat. His ear swelled up again and we had to take him back to the vet to get his ear opened up and drained again. And thanks to his weakened immune system he caught a nasty cat cold too. So he has a floppy sore ear, a runny nose, a cough, watery eyes and a slight fever. Poor thing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Tragic Tale of the Cauliflower Cat

If you've read my blog before you've met Damian, one of my Siamese cats. Damian is a beautiful seal-point Siamese cat with long pointy chocolate ears and a penchant for the taste of ribbon and tulle. He was the subject of my LAPCPADPOUB Day poem back in October of last year and he often finds a way in front of the camera along with his "brother," Darwin, a blue-point Siamese.

Darwin and Damian are best pals, but they do enjoy a good playful cat brawl of an evening. Last Monday we noticed that Damian's ear was starting to swell up a bit. We assumed that he and Darwin had got into a scrap and maybe Darwin had bitten his ear. There was no blood and only a bit of swelling so we didn't worry.

But then it continued to swell.

A lot. It looked like the skin was about to burst in his ear.

And his ear didn't stick straight up anymore. It sort of stuck out sideways like an airplane ear. Damian was feeling very sorry for himself and began hiding in strange places in the house. He stopped eating and playing so we knew it was time for a visit to the vet.

We learned that Damian has an aural hematoma. This means that there is a collection of blood within the cartilage layers of the ear. It usually shows up as a fluid-filled swelling on the pinna, or floppy part of the ear. Some cats get them just from scratching their ear or shaking their head, but we think Darwin bit him in some sort of WWE showdown on the patio. It could have even been from one of his signature moves where he'll grab Damian's head and kick him like mad with his big back legs. Before you feel too sorry for Damian, you should know he weighs about 10 lbs and Darwin weighs about 5 lbs.

The worst part of this diagnosis is that most animals with an aural hematoma are left permanently disfigured with a kickin' case of cauliflower ear. I immediately searched online for photos of pets with cauliflower ear and was shocked - it makes animals look like they've gone a few rounds in a boxing ring with one short, dumpy fattened ear.

So the vet said that since this condition is extremely painful and obviously affecting Damian he would slice open the ear and drain the blood. Regardless of what he did, we'd still end up with a cat with cauliflower ear.

We brought him home and he seemed a lot more comfortable without this enormous bulbous bubble of blood in his ear. The incision had to be left open to drain so everytime he flopped his head we got a blood spatter in the house, making our house crime-scene worthy for two full days.

Sadly his ear is permenently flopped. I can tell it's a strange sensation for him to have a floppy ear because he's constantly twitching it and he's not acting 100% himself yet, but he's eating and he's stopped hiding, so we can tell he's on the mend.

Poor Damian has been plagued with a life of being "different." We bought Darwin first from a well-known breeder in Florida, but then Farmer B decided Darwin was lonely and needed a friend. One week later he made the long drive back to the breeder to get another kitten. She sold us Damian for a discount because he has a bend in his tail near the tip and would be no good for the show ring.

A few years ago he took a hard fall and chipped one of his snaggleteeth and had to have it filed down. And let's not forget his insanely crossed eyes. A crooked tail, crossed eyes, one filed-down tooth and one long snaggletooth and now one floppy cauliflower ear.

And we love him just the same. But you've got to admit, looking at the first photo in this post - then looking a the last - it is a bit heartbreaking, isn't it?

Friday, September 18, 2009


The thumb surgery is over and although typing is still a bit slow, I appear to be healing quite well. Thank you so much for all the well wishes!! I have learned that you can never fully appreciate the awesomeness of opposable thumbs until your dominant hand has to spend a week or so opposable-thumb-free. Instead of adapting like a pro, I dragged around a useless paw for a week and found a long list of things that became impossible like taking tops of jars and bottles, buckling kids in and out of carseats, writing, drying my hair, tying kids shoes, etc. Luckily I got my stitches out today so I'm just dealing with the leftover discomfort from a healing incision. The doc said in a couple of weeks I'll be good as new. I suppose I'll be able to hitchhike like a pro soon!

But good things can come out of something like this. My mom came up and cooked dinner and washed dishes for a few days, which as any stay-at-home-mom can tell you, is as heavenly an experience as one can have. I also got a wonderful bouquet of roses from her that really made my day. It shouldn't be a surprise to any of my regular readers that I don't get a lot of flowering plants around here, so seeing a dozen gorgeous roses on the counter was a nice experience.

Farmer B got me the best get-well present a gardener could ask for. I received my very own copy of the SFG book!

And if that wasn't good enough, he cleared all the overgrown weeds from our garden and cleaned up the whole area. Then he went to the hardware store and bought all the supplies AND built me two SFG 4 x 4 boxes. I realize we're starting very slow with only 2 boxes, but we're hoping to add two more in February for the next planting season, so we'll be up to four. We're both very iffy on anything growing with only 6 inches of depth, but we're going with what the book says and can always make deeper boxes next time if we need to. Thanks to all of you who encouraged me to go the way of the box and give up my flooded rows!

We haven't been able to find five different bags of compost as the book suggests. We went to three places and were only able to come up with two different brands of compost - one is Black Kow compost and one is a mushroom compost. I'm hoping that mixing this with our "real" compost from our compost pile will be good enough. Figuring out how much "real" compost we have in the math of "Mel's Mix" should be interesting, but we're going to give it a shot and hopefully plant by the next week.

Farmer B also spent much of the week building the roof on the chicken run and it just needs shingles now. He did it without any help and I can't believe he pulled it off so amazingly well considering he says he has no carpentry skills whatsoever. The chickens have repaid us by laying two to three eggs a day, which has been wonderful! We've been sucking down fresh omelets like they're going out of style!

So I'm recovering. The garden is recovering. The chickens are laying. I'd give all that two opposable thumbs up!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some deteggtive work and a leave request

I knew for sure that as soon as the chickens started laying eggs I could go back to being a semi-normal person and would no longer have egg-anxiety. Of course I was wrong. Now I am so curious as to who's laying and who's not that I sit around devising plans to catch the hens in the act. I decided to do some detective work today and snuck out to the chicken coop about an hour earlier than usual. I've watched enough episodes of Scooby Doo to know how to sneak, so I was pretty confident in my technique.

I opened the pop door and Clementine and Sookie charged out flapping their wings and squawking. But Maggie was nowhere to be found. I peeked in to the nest boxes and found her on the nest sitting peacefully. A-ha! So she must be our morning layer.

When I started snapping pictures she got irritated by the nest box paparazzi and stood up for a moment. Underneath her I saw one golf ball and no eggs. At least I know she wasn't sitting on someone else's egg. I figured I'd give her some privacy in her egg labor so I came back inside. I cracked the patio door just a bit with the hopes of hearing an egg song so I could dash back outside and see her egg.

After about 45 minutes went by and we were well past the time of day when we've been getting our morning egg, I went outside to check on her and when I opened the nest box doors there she was. Just sitting here. No egg. Hmmm… I waited until lunchtime and went out and checked on her again and look what I found:

So I think one mystery is solved - our morning layer is Maggie. Now I'm off to devise a plan to catch our afternoon layer in the act. We got egg #7 tonight so I have to determine if it's Sookie or Clementine who's our late-in-the-day layer.

* * * * *

On to the leave request. I'm going in for some surgery on my bum-thumb early Thursday morning so I don't know when I'll next be able to post. I have a bizarre case of "trigger thumb" and tomorrow is the day the surgeon will cut out the offending thumb tissue and stitch me back up. Mom is visiting to help Farmer B take care of the boys and the pets, but neither of them have agreed to blogging for me. Maybe I'll be back to posting in a day or two or maybe I'll go days dragging around a paw completely unable to take care of myself and drooling in the corner. I have no idea what to expect. So if you don't see me for a few days, you'll know why.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Most Eggciting Weekend!!

We had quite an eggciting Labor Day weekend starting with Farmer B's 40th birthday on Friday. The boys and I had ice cream cake, presents and hand-made cards ready for him and it ended up being a really great day. The icing on the ice cream cake came on Friday evening when I went to the chicken coop to shut up the hens for the evening.

I peeked into the coop at the roost to say goodnight to the girls and realized that only Maggie and Clementine were snoozing on the roost. Sookie was missing from her usual spot. I was quite nervous because the chickens are very predictable and I've never had a missing hen on my bedtime check-in. I dashed around to the nest boxes and whipped open the doors and what do you know? Sookie was sitting on a nest! I knew this was a sign that laying was imminent!! I knew I'd have our first egg the following morning.

The following morning I ran out to the nest box with the boys to see the egg that Sookie must have produced and found…………a golf ball. She had apparently just been practicing by sitting in the nest. No egg. No nothing. Just a warm golf ball.

The wait continued. I checked a few more times that Saturday and found nothing.

On Sunday morning Aidan reminded me that we hadn't gone out to see the chickens yet. I suppose I'd been putting it off because staring at golf balls in nests isn't as much fun as it sounds. He convinced me to go out there and check the nest boxes and to bring the camera just in case. He's one tuned-in 5-year-old because when we opened the nest box doors we were in for a huge surprise!

Our Titleist had a friend! A small brown egg was just sitting there in the nest! We were so excited and couldn't believe we had finally become members of the egg club! Our free-loading hens had anted up and were finally producing members of the family!!!

It didn't end there. I brought Farmer B out to the nest box on Saturday afternoon to show him where the egg was layed and as I opened up the nest box door to re-enact the morning's excitement there was another small brown egg sitting in the same spot. Two eggs in one day! We were giddy. Here they are compared to a store-bought egg. (Don't worry - our chickens will lay bigger eggs once they get the hang of this egg-laying thing).

I know that some chickens often go one to two weeks after laying their first egg before laying a second, so I assumed we had two chickens lay their first egg in one day. I have no clue which chickens are laying, so until I catch one in the act it's going to be a bit of a mystery.

I know didn't expect to see another egg right away … but guess what we saw this morning?

Yup… egg number 3.

What an eggciting weekend!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A watched chicken never lays

If there was ever a way to turn a person into an anxious neurotic lunatic, waiting for chickens to lay their first egg is now tops on my list. I check the nest boxes, coop and run at least two times a day - sometimes 173 times a day. Each time I search every square inch of their living area and come up empty. It's so frustrating because according to everything I've read, it's time. Honestly it's like the longest labor you've ever experienced. I've boiled the water, fetched clean towels, called the doctor and now I'm just sitting around watching the signs and waiting for "it" to happen. And I've come to realize that much like a watched pot never boils, a watched chicken never lays.

Here are a few signs that means a hen is ready to lay:

1) They're old enough to lay. Around age 5 months is a typical laying time. Mine are over 5 months old. Yes, I know some chickens are late bloomers, but mine feel like early birds to me.
2) They have bright red combs and wattles. Check. Red as raspberries.
3) They start doing the "egg squat." This is a submissive posture chickens do right before they lay. Yup. Egg Squat City.
4) There's a 4th thing that is something to do with their pelvic bones, but I'm not that intimately personal with the hens, so I'm okay with knowing we've got items 1-3 on the list, thank you very much.

Everything I've read online says that most chickens tend to lay about a week after they begin the egg squat. Mine have been old enough, red enough and squatty enough for almost two weeks and we're still buying store-bought eggs. I was seething in the grocery store yesterday as I bought a half-dozen box of $4 organic free-range eggs and was picturing my hens sitting in their coop with tightly-crossed legs holding out until I dropped the money on yet another box of overpriced "hen-friendly" eggs.

I've even sculpted the hay and shavings in their nest boxes into a nest shape with the hopes of enticing them. No luck. They get in there and hold a mini kick-boxing tournament with the nest contents leaving the nest boxes almost empty by evening.

And I put a golf ball into each nest with the idea that they'd see it and think that's a good place to lay an egg. All they do is kick the golf balls out of the nest boxes with great chicken disdain.

Maggie spends a good bit of her day wandering in and out of the nest boxes, which is a good sign. Sookie and Clementine aren't quite as interested, but I have seen them peering at the Titleists I stole from Farmer B's golf bag with curiosity.

But no #*@*$( eggs!

Listen you freeloading hens! It's time to ante up! I have a new quiche recipe, a hankerin' for some eggs on toast and I'm about to have a therapy bill for my newfound first-egg neurosis. It's time for me to lay down the law! Sadly I think that might be the only laying that goes on here this week. But watch and wait I do….again…

(Remind me of this when I have too many eggs and can't possibly eat them all and can't find enough people to give them too).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Grand Unveiling of the Almost-Done Chicken Run!

Farmer B is interested in the chickens, but it's no secret that they're my pet project. He loves animals and is quite pleased we've got chickens, but I'm the one who looks after them. Even though I wear the grand chicken poobah hat around here, Farmer B is the one who spent a good part of August building an awesome chicken run for my chickens just because he's that kind of guy. I should mention that he considers himself to have zero carpentry skills, doesn't particularly enjoy this type of thing and barely gets any time off work. That's what makes this extra special.

Luckily for me and the chickens, an ER visit for a splinter in the eye
didn't dissuade him from finishing the project. And the 100+ degree "feels like" temperatures of a hot Florida August didn't cause him to throw in the towel. He kept on plugging away out there in the yard while the chickens looked on and dammit if he didn't build a chicken run all by himself!

Funnily enough, he built the entire chicken run without the use of a level or plans. He had a sketch on a piece of paper and some power tools and somehow it all came together. The chickens now have a wonderful 6 foot tall, 8 foot wide by 12 foot long chicken run. It's attached to their coop and has two little perches that they so far refuse to use. We still have to dig in the fencing into the ground at the base of the coop to make it predator-proof and Farmer B has big plans for the roof that involve shingles and large sheets of plywood, but those projects are on the to-do list for later this month. Oh and there's the several yards of construction sand for the flooring that will be delivered once this is all finished.

Farmer B even built a cute little pop door in the side of the coop that opens up into a skid-proof ramp. When I open the door in the morning all three chickens shoot out of that opening like three bullets, never touching the ramp on the way down. This has made looking after the chickens so much easier!

Am I the luckiest chicken-owning wife in the world or what?
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