Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween - Florida style

We're low on pumpkin patches here in Florida. When you're a kid in Florida you grow up thinking that pumpkins grow on grocery store shelves or on wooden palettes in a parking lot. Some local pumpkin patches make a good attempt at creating a Fall-like environment by tossing down some hay over the palettes and decorating with craft-store faux-fall leaves so you feel a little less like the pumpkins rolled off the truck that morning.

I grew up in the UK, where there were no pumpkins for Halloween. Then we moved to a barrier island off the coast of Southwest Florida, where there were also no pumpkin patches - or even the parking lot patches that we have up here in Central Florida. So I never carved a pumpkin until my freshmen year in college. I would say how pathetic that was, but I did win the carving contest that year for managing to carve the words "Happy Halloween" into the pumpkin's mouth.

This is leading to the ultra-cool present that my boys received in the mail yesterday. My mom's friend is a Kindergarten teacher in the elementary school I attended eons ago. It's a very small barrier island school and she only has 8 kids in her class. Each year for Halloween she makes them a Florida-style jack-o-lantern. It's a coconut painted to look like a pumpkin. She gives one to each kid in her class and was nice enough to make one for my boys too! My mom shipped it up here and the boys think it's the funniest thing ever.

Although Aidan, my little caveman at times, desperately wants me to get an axe and chop it open. When the boys shake it they can hear the sloshing of coconut milk inside and they both want to drink the milk and eat the coconut. I'm convincing them that it's so much cooler left as-is, but we'll see how long it is before they're both outside with rocks and sticks busting the thing open. Ahhh….boys.

So Happy Halloween everyone!! Hope you have a wonderful time with all the little ghosts and goblins in your neck of the woods!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Bonehead

Our dog is a real bonehead. I finally have proof.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

And you said I couldn't kill a SFG. I'm proving you all wrong.

I'll admit to being uncharacteristically optimistic about the plants in our two SFG raised beds. I think we did pretty good at approximating Mel's Mix and the weather hasn't been extreme so I thought we might just get a nice Late Fall-Early Winter crop from this planting. But, as is always the case with anything we plant, it isn't going as planned. I'd appreciate it if you'd all act shocked and surprised please.

First we'll talk about the Kentucky Wonder Beans. Farmer B built an awesome trellis for these little buggers (more on that later) and they sprouted wonderfully, but they're fizzling out fast. I noticed that the edges of the leaves were turning white last week. Now this week the plants are curling up and dying.

I am seriously the Gardening Grim Reaper. Anything I touch expires rapidly. Farmer B said I should wear gloves so my death-touch doesn't affect any more plants. It's very depressing. Here is a photo of me pointing at my dying plants.

I figured that maybe the Kentucky Wonder beans just weren't meant to be, but then I noticed that the yellow bush beans in the other box are starting to do the same thing! What gives???

On a bright note the broccoli and the black-eyed peas seem to not be suffering under the wrath of my black thumb.

But oddly enough one of my bell peppers has completely died - it didn't survive the transplant torture I put it through. One of the other bell peppers always seems to have red ants on it when I look at it, although I can see none in the rest of the garden. And the center leaves are all dark and curly and stunted-looking. The other bell pepper seems to be without issue - so far.

I have two squares of Bok Choy and they just aren't as healthy as I hoped they would be. A couple look like they might just live if I don't make eye contact with them, but most look like the one you see in the photo below - sort of a bedraggled limp mess.

So I'm not sure what to do with everything. The SFG book says I shouldn't need to fertilize, but maybe that's what everything needs. I wonder if I should be watering more, but I assumed 2-3 times a week with a watering can was enough (especially since it's rained a couple of times). We did have some hot weather when the garden was first planted with heat indices around 100 degrees for almost two weeks, but then we got a super-cold front with lows in the chilly 50s for a few days. Was it the temperature variation?

Or is it just the sickle I seem to carry with me when I visit the garden?

Discouraged I am.

Surprised I am not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Got Deer?

It's no secret that we have plenty of deer in our neighborhood. It's one of the nice things about living in a rural neighborhood. Our neighbors have horses, I can hear cows mooing when I stand outside early in the morning and we often see deer in our front yard.

Luckily we have a 6-foot privacy fence around our backyard where the garden is so we don't have to worry about adding deer to the list of possible culprits for our ever-so-prevalent gardening demise.

I woke up yesterday morning to find these out front crossing the street to our yard.

They ended up right outside our front door, which irritates the dog to no end. I read that there are over 700,000 deer statewide, but that in the 1930s there were only about 20,000 deer since so many were killed off in an effort to eradicate tick-borne diseases. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission responded to this by purchasing deer from various sources-- including a game farm in Wisconsin--and transplanting them to unoccupied areas in Florida. I wonder what the Wisconsin deer thought of our oppressive heat, humidity, gators and panthers?

They're pretty things though...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wildlife Weekend: One Gassy Chicken

After picking my oldest son up from kindergarten on Friday, I stopped at the gas station near the school to fill up the tank. As we pulled up to the pump, he screamed "MOMMM!!! CHICKEN!!!!" so I slammed on the breaks.

And there in front of me was a chicken at the gas pump just strutting along. No one blinked an eye.

You may have read about the beautiful chicken we often see in the Library parking lot and maybe you think that the gas station and the Library are close to each other and it's one roving band of wild chickens I keep photographing.

But the gas station and the Library are 8 miles apart. The two chickens clearly do not know each other.

I just seem to run in to a lot of random chickens around here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Korean eggs

I was in the garden yesterday trying to figure out a trellis system after reading all of your lovely suggestions when I heard our neighbor talking to my boys over the fence. I immediately panicked and assumed that one of his chickens had flown the fence and was loose in our yard since that's the only time he's spoken to us. Our dog was loose so I knew this couldn't end well.

I dropped what I was doing and bolted over to the fence, hoping to shoo his chicken under a bush and then wrestle the dog back into the house. When I got there I noticed that our neighbor, an elderly Korean man, was standing on a ladder leaning over the fence with a large dish of brown eggs in his hands. The boys were yammering on about all sorts of things to the man who only responded with:

"Too many - too many - you take - thank you"

I was thinking how nice it was of him, but I have my own excessive egg issues so I motioned to our chickens and said,

"Yes, yes, we have too many too. We also have chickens and lots of eggs."

To which he replied,

"Too many - we have too many - you take - thank you, thank you."

I started to explain to him that we didn't need his eggs, but that we appreciated the offer, but then I realized that the only thing worse than his English is my Korean so I thanked him profusely and took his eggs. I also know that you should never look a gift horse in the mouth and always appreciate a neighbor who's kind enough to share anything with you…even if a common language isn't what you share.

We now have 9,837 eggs in the fridge. Actually it's closer to 3 dozen, but it feels like a lot. Luckily my mom is visiting this weekend and she'll take some off my hands and Farmer B is going to dole some out at work too. Plus there's all the delicious egg dishes I like to make, so I have no fear that all the eggs will be put to good use. His eggs are bigger and browner than ours, but he has different breeds of chicken so that's to be expected.

I'm wondering if I should give him some of our excess eggs next time?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The good egg

My three funny little hens have turned the chicken coop into a finely-tuned egg-producing factory for our family. We get three eggs a day most days and about once or twice a week we get only two. We have no clue who the hold-out is or if they rotate which hen gets a day off, but I like to imagine there is some sort of due process involved.

I read so much about how to get chickens to lay in a nest and what to do if they're laying all over their chicken run, yet my three have only ever laid in the nest boxes. I attribute this to my finely-tuned chicken-whisperer-like skills. They repay me by leaving me three perfectly-shaped eggs in one of the nest boxes at the end of each day. It's beautiful.

Or maybe it's payback for all the treats we give them. They're so insanely happy to get our leftovers and I am happy to oblige. Between the compost and the chickens we don't waste any food anymore. They love any leftover scrapings from our plates, but don't worry, we keep the leftovers to ourselves if we have a poultry-themed dinner dish. I'm not about to end up with mad chicken disease, thank you very much. Here they are eating some leftover white rice, green beans and grapes. That's the chicken breakfast of champions.

We must be doing something right because the egg shells are insanely hard. The other morning I grabbed an egg from the carton on the 2nd-from-the-top shelf in the fridge. Because I like to try and carry 20 things at once, I accidentally dropped the egg straight down on the tile floor. I quickly scooped it up and noticed that nothing had leaked out onto the floor. The shell had cracked, but the egg was still contained inside. I carried the egg to the counter and cracked it into a bowl. I was completely floored that the egg survived such a big fall and didn't break open.

These are some chickens, all right.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Growth Spurt

A couple of weeks ago I had the exciting job of beginning the Fall planting in our brand new raised beds. I found the Mel's Mix soil a bit weird to work with because it's so fine and moveable and very unlike the weird heavy thick sandy soil we had in our rows. I planted mostly seeds this time, but bought a couple of seedlings at Lowe's to jumpstart the garden and give me the instant splash of green I need to feel good. The thought of planting a seed-only garden gives me a serious case of gardening anxiety. I am just not "there" yet in my gardening journey.

Here's what went in:

Yellow bush beans - seeds
Green bush beans - seeds
Kentucky something-or-other pole beans - seeds
Garden peas - seeds
Black-eyed peas - seeds
Leeks - seeds
Carrots - seeds
Swiss Chard - plants
Parsnips - seeds
Cabbage - seeds
Romaine lettuce - plants
Green, Red and Yellow Bell Peppers - plants
Radish - seeds
Broccoli - seeds and 1 plant
3 types of tomatoes - plants

Turns out that I hadn't planned on the whole trellis system necessary for some of these climbing plants. Apparently the Kentucky-something-or-other beans and the black-eyed peas that my oldest son insisted on are both climbing, vining plants. Luckily I used my fine gardening skills to plant them in different boxes, so now I need to figure out how to pull off some sort of trellis in both boxes. Both plants have two side-by-side squares dedicated in each box, so I am clueless as to how to cheaply and effectively trellis these suckers. We bought a couple of trellis nets, but I'm not what to attach them to. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who's read this blog in the past, but I never had to worry about a trellis before because everything died before getting tall enough to need the trellis. So I'm prancing around in new territory. I assume the bush beans need no support.

I'll admit to being quite guarded when it comes to all of these plants. Since I've had such crappy luck in the past, I don't have a lot of confidence that any of these will grow to the point of producing anything. But I'm going to continue as if I know what I'm doing and let nature take its course. Let's just hope that nature doesn't get lost.

Surprisingly many of the plants have sprouted already and look quite strong. I thought the seedlings would thrive nicely in the slightly cooler October weather, but the heat has been a bit overwhelming. The heat index has been around 100 degrees every day for about two weeks now so my youngest son and I have been watering the garden often and hoping the new sprouts don't get burned in the heat. We're about to set a record here in Central Florida for the most consecutive days in October with temperatures over 90 degrees.

Honestly, Fall in Florida just plain sucks. It's just Summer part II. Let's hope my Summer Part II garden falls into place because I could do with something to boost my gardening confidence.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Patchy the Quilted Cat

Poor, poor Damian.

Poor, poor bank account.

It's been one of those weeks around here. The kind of week that makes you wake up in the middle of the night and wonder when it'll all be over.

Damian's ear swelled up again. We had it drained twice and 10 days after the 2nd procedure to have his ear drained, it swelled up like a potato again. We went to the vet and were given three options:

1) Drain it again with no guarantee that it won't swell up for a 4th time.
2) Drain it again and put a tube in it for 10 days to aid in the drainage…with no guarantee that it won't swell up upon drain removal.
3) Do the oh-so-attractive (but not cheap) "quilting" surgery to fully open up his ear and fix the problem.

We chose option number 3. Keep in mind, we've already paid for option 1 a few times. Damian came home with a lampshade on his head and a purple bandage on his ear. He was miserable and doing that low cat yowl that lets you know he's not a happy camper. Within 30 seconds he had the bandage off and the goopy drain was free-flopping from his quilted ear.

He has to have the drain removed in 10 days and we have to make sure that the drain doesn't get plugged up with blood and goo. Are you jealous yet?

Then in 20 days he has to have the quilting sutures removed and he can get his lampshade off then too. I'm not sure if you're aware, but cats and lampshades don't do well together. He's miserable, walking backwards, not eating much and hiding. We have to keep him separate from the other cat, Darwin, and the kids and dog in case anyone decides to pick on him. So he's lonely too.

Lonely and goopy and very sorry for himself. And let's face it - his ear is downright gross to look at.

I took the lampshade off him for a few minutes last night so he could sit on my lap. He was so happy and flopped on me purring and acting sweet. Then he got up and ran around the house like a normal cat for a few minutes. As soon as he got a few feet away he scratched at his ear drain and now I'm worried he shook it loose. It looks raggy as all get out, so now I have something else to worry about.

It's going to be a long 20…I mean…18 days for us.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Sunrise

One of the benefits of having small children is that you see a lot of sunrises, but most of them aren't pretty in pink. As my three-year-old and I watched the sun rise over the back yard this morning he wanted to know if a fairy painted it that way.

You can click on the photo to enlarge it if you'd like too see the full splendor of a Central Florida sunrise.
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