Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tommorow is D-Day, or is it?

We had a nice little surprise in the mail this week. Our seeds arrived from Seed Savers Exchange. I'm quite intrigued with the little packets of seeds, but can't imagine we'll ever get them to grow into real live veggie-producing plants. The seeds came really quickly, much to our surprise, and arrived with a little card saying that Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties. Fancy huh? So now I have the added pressure of making sure these little packets of seeds grow so I don't disappoint the Exchange - I know they won't know...but I have serious guilt issues. Seed guilt. I'll add it to the list.
The boys and I went to Lowe's and Home Depot this morning to buy our seedlings. When I see the cost of seedlings, I see why it pays to start from seeds. But our plan was to do half seeds and half seedlings our first year, which is much less intimidating than an entire garden of seeds. We brought the seedlings home and loaded them into the boys' little red wagon. As we're loading them it started to rain. I panicked and quickly pulled the wagon into the garage so the plants wouldn't get wet. Yeah, I really did that. Then I realized that the seedlings actually need rain, so I ran into the garage and pulled the wagon out... as the rain stopped. I'm a natural, don't you think?
Tomorrow was supposed to be the big planting day. August 1st - our gardening D-Day - the first day of the Fall planting season. But there has been a snafu. We've got the seeds, the seedlings, the garden has been tilled, hoed and left to sit ready for planting. But the rain. Oh the rain. Oh the never-ending rain. If you don't live in FL you don't know that much of FL was once a swamp and the developers came in and built subdivisions on the swamps. So when it rains, our yard returns back to its prehistoric swampy state. Aidan is just shy of 50 lbs and when he stood in the garden today his boot was surrounded by a little pool of water. It makes a fun squishing sound when you walk and it moves like a pit of quicksand. But something tells me that this swampy wet garden isn't the optimal medium for planting seeds and seedlings. Although I can find nothing online that says you can't plant in this - I have a gut feeling that it won't be a good thing. So now what? Do we wait for the rains to stop? That's another month at least. And then we're in the meat of hurricane season. What do we do with this wagon full o' seedlings? I think Farmer B and I need to have a gardening conference tonight and figure out what to do next. This is not in the gardening book.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back from vacation, grasshoppa!

The boys and I just returned from a long weekend away visiting the grandparental unit in Southwest FL. Farmer B had to stay home to work, but managed to get a snazzy photo of all the flooding in our yard caused by the torrential rains we've been getting lately (see blurry camera phone pic of our new lakefront property). We definitely missed him, but made the most of a long weekend without him.

We managed to have some fun in my mom's back yard. Their house is one of those wonderful houses that is graced with citrus trees that keep producing fruit no matter how many hurricanes flatten them and how much they are left to their own devices. They have several orange trees, a grapefruit tree, some banana trees and a lemon tree that grows enormous lemons. All of these trees have been overwhelmed by salt water on many occasions, thanks to hurricanes and tropical storms, yet still keep growing strong and producing fruit. (This bothers me because our orange tree is a black stick of death and our local nursery blamed us for not taking good enough care it.) Most of the fruit on my mom's trees are quite green right now and not ready to be picked, but Aidan insisted on using a citrus picker to get the oranges on the top of mom's tree, even though they were from last season and were drier than sandpaper. A long-handled citrus picker is a handy little contraption for people with big fruit trees, but apparently it only works if you're at least 4 feet tall.
We then found an Eastern Lubber grasshopper to play with. I am not a fan of bugs, but have played with Eastern Lubbers since I was a kid. I remember that we’d grab one and chase another kid around the schoolyard with it in our hand and try to make it "tobacco spit" on another kid. This spit stains clothes, so it was good fun. Now I look back and realize it was quite mean, but we never really hurt any of the grasshoppers, and a small brown stain on a Van Halen concert t-shirt couldn't have ruined a kid's life either. That tobacco spit is actually regurgitated recently-consumed plant material that they spit out with a big hiss as part of their defense mechanism. They look like a drunk redneck with a wad of Skoal when they get mad.
We were very gentle with this grasshopper, so we have no tobacco spit incidents to report on. The boys were both disgusted and intrigued by this slow moving creepy crawly and they perfected their girly squeal - all good times. Enjoy these photos of their first experience with a big tobacco-spittin' grasshopper.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cyber Gardening for Kids

While we wait for our seeds to come in, we’re talking to the boys a lot about how plants grow. Our 4 1/2-year-old has been able to explain photosynthesis since he was about 3 years old thanks to his fascination with why some of the leaves fall off the trees in the winter. Granted it’s a child’s explanation, but he gets how it works. It goes something like this “photosynthesis is when the sun gives plants energy and makes green leaves grow and gives us air to breathe. And air is good.” If he sees someone cutting down a tree he gets sad and clutches his chest and claims it’s now harder for him to breathe. Gotta love a kid's flair for the dramatic.

He’s been playing some online computer games about creating gardens too, so he’s starting to understand the whole seed, roots, plant, sun, rain connection. Every time it rains he comments on how it will make our garden grow. This makes me realize that since nothing has been planted yet, it’s just making weeds grow. Here are some great websites with free gardening games that are appropriate for preschoolers:

Disney - Rabbit’s Garden Patch

PBS - Caillou (once you’re in the house, go outside to the garden)

Noggin – Dora’s Magic Garden

Disney – Goofy’s Garden

BBC's Gordon the Garden Gnome

And I would be remiss if I didn't include at least something for the adult cyber-gardening nerd, if there is such a thing. Here is BBC's Virtual Garden creator, available for PC and Mac.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Peanut Envy

A peanut sat
On a railroad track,
His heart was all a-flutter,

Round the bend
Came the number ten.
Choo! Choo! Peanut butter!

Peanuts are high on our to-grow list. They are one of the fun things that fall into two of our gardening categories: 1) Stuff that isn't supposed to grow because it's out of season, but I feel I know better than the gardening book and I'm going to try it anyway. 2) Kid Stuff.

Our book says that in Central and North FL you should plant peanuts from March 15 to May 15. However, in my online nut research I’ve found several sites that say if you have a 130-140 day growing season you can grow peanuts in your garden. So… why not rebel against our garden bible and plant them in August? I mean who knows more? The premier FL gardening guy from U of F that wrote the best selling FL gardening book? Or us – the family that’s never successfully grown a plant before? Right….. we think we do. So according to this, our peanuts will be done by around Thanksgiving – just in time for Christmas peanut butter fudge! Hey, it says that peanuts are one of the most common things to plant in a Florida garden, so we’re moving forward.

Apparently you don’t need to buy peanut seeds – you just need to buy raw peanuts in the shell from your local grocery store. You open up the shell and pull out the nuts. You plant them about 2 inches down about 6 inches apart. Apparently peanuts prefer sandy soil with generous amounts of compost and manure. We’re supposed to provide plenty of drainage and slightly elevate or mound the rows. Easy right? I did learn that peanuts are not truly a nut, but a pea, and the peanuts grow into the ground from pegs that come off the main plant. The little diagrams of the growing peanuts are quite fascinating. We may end up with so many nuts that we’ll be nuttier than squirrel poo.

Peanut envy anyone?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Quest for the Holy Seeds

I've been reading up on what types of seeds to buy for our garden since we'll be planting our August vegetables next week. Turns out you can’t actually buy seeds around here this time of year. Farmer B went to Lowe’s and Home Depot and was told at both places that they have already sent back their seeds and won’t get anymore until spring. Apparently they haven’t read our gardening book where it talks about the Fall planting season. You have to buy seeds online or choose from the world’s smallest seed packet selection at our local nursery. They have a cardboard box jammed underneath a giant cooling fan that has about 4 vegetable seed packets in it. It’s very inviting.

It turns out that the Rolls Royce of vegetable seeds are Heirloom seeds. These are considered the aristocracy of seeds and are even the focus of gardening groups and seed exchanges. I bet those are some happening get-togethers. Some Heirloom seeds are for very rare plants and vegetables, but most are just plants from good stock and old lines – most are from the 1920s or earlier. A selling point is that if you save the seeds from an Heirloom plant you can plant them again next year and get the exact same plant. Typical seeds that you buy are sterile. Who knew?

We’re going to do ½ seeds and ½ seedlings this year. I feel that we have more of a chance of something growing if we do it that way. If we plant some seedlings we're guaranteed to have at least a few days with something green growing in the garden and that will just feel good. Seeds intimidate us, but then again so do gardens and look where we are today. Farmer B and my dad spent about 3 years trying to grow grass from grass seed and never had one single blade sprout. Ever. So we crossed our fingers, took the plunge and ordered our seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. This is “the” place to buy seeds, if you’re cool hip gardener, that is. We ordered these seeds:

Cornfield pumpkin squash – The boys are adamant that we grow a pumpkin for Halloween. This one is listed as their top choice for use as both carving pumpkins and for fall decorations. It says they are perfectly shaped 12-15 pound fruits are 12-16" wide and 10-12" tall. Ha - we'll see about that.

Burpee’s Stringless Bean - This fancy bean was introduced in 1894 by W. Atlee Burpee who obtained their stock seed from N. B. Kenney. At the time it was claimed to be the only absolutely stringless green podded bean. This one looked like a bean the kids would eat, so it won the bean contest.

Giant Musselburgh Leek - It says these are enormous size, 9-15" long by 2-3" diameter. We got these because we eat leeks instead of onions and because saying you took an "enormous leek" in your garden is just plain worth it.

Scarlet Nantes Carrot - It says these are 7" long and have bright reddish-orange flesh, fine grained, nearly coreless, great flavor, and are sweet and brittle. Aidan wanted a bright purple carrot that was listed as “spicey” but we gave that a miss and this carrot was the consolation prize.

DeCicco Broccoli - This broccoli was introduced to U.S. gardeners in 1890 and since broccoli is the boys' favorite veggie to have with dinner, this one seemed to look most like typical store-bought broccoli.

The rest of our plants will be from seedlings acquired at Lowe’s...poor little homeless seedlings just sitting in pots cooking in the hot sun waiting for a family to adopt them. We do not know why we can’t plant them until August when they’re sitting there in the July sun growing in pots, but the book says we can’t, so we won’t. We’re sticklers that way.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Results are In

A small miracle happened last night - after many paper towel changes, our soil sample finally dried out. After a long and arduous day at work, Farmer B came home to find me in the kitchen giddy as a schoolgirl with a pile of dirt and a mess of test tubes and colored pellets. I was waiting for him to get home to begin the testing since he knew the hidden location of the distilled water in the garage. So instead of relaxing on the couch for the evening, Farmer B and I indulged in a romantic night of soil testing.

So the testing began. It involved spoons, measuring cups and a shot glass (don't ask - we improvised). Add water to line, drop in pellet, add soil, shake, repeat, etc. All very fancy stuff that reminded me why I got a C in High School Chemistry. After about 10 minutes of this nonsense our kitchen looked like a meth lab. There was a lot of shaking involved, but the funniest part of all? We only needed to use 2 teaspoons full of soil. Good thing we did all that digging, collecting, drying, removing of non-soil-bits, and squashing of bits larger than a pea. Two stinking teaspoons. Nice.

After all that we found out that our soil is much like us: confused. The pH (green tube) appears fine...maybe? The Nitrogen (red tube) appears low.The Phosphorus (blue tube) appears low. And the potassium (yellow tube) was too confusing to read, so we took that as a sign that it must be perfect. (You can click on the photo in this post to view it larger and see the results yourself).

So now we have the results...this changes nothing. We are still planning on planting next week in that very same confused soil.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Responsibility Kicks In

You know, Farmer B is a responsible guy. He does all the responsible "man" things that you'd hope a husband would do. He makes sure we have every feature possible in our house alarm system, he makes sure both dogs get their heartworm pills on time every month, and he makes sure that we never run out of beer. But he skimped on the soil testing and tossed down lime and 6-6-6 on our garden anyway. That is until a trip to Lowe's this weekend to buy seeds for our August planting. After searching the entire garden center of Lowe's with no avail, we asked an employee where to find their seed packets. Her response "Seeds? This time of year? No, we only carry seeds in the spring" (insert condescending chuckle here).

Since we doubted that insanity we went inside the store to look around, when Farmer B saw something we couldn't live without: a "Do It Yourself" soil testing kit. Apparently soil testing is only for chumps when it involves driving around town looking for the soil testing office, but soil testing is for winners when it involves an intricate system of test tubes and hazardous colored pellets that you can do in your own home. So we are now the proud owners of the "Soil Master Soil Testing Kit." This is one intense little kit. The first step involves getting your soil from your garden. It turns out that you have to dig down 6 to 8 inches every three feet and get a spoon-sized sample and place these samples in a cup (in our case a flourescent green beach bucket) to get a "representative sample" of your soil. Then you let your soil dry out on a sheet of paper towel overnight and begin the testing process the next day. Newsflash: our soil is a muddy heap o' goo right now thanks to all the rain we've been having. If you have followed this blog you'll know that we had a deluge of biblical proportions recently and our yard still has not dried out. Turns out this deluge was thanks for newly-formed Tropical Storm Cristobal.

So, Farmer B dug down and brought in a half-bucketfull of dirt, that is so wet that it left a big puddle of water on the table when we dumped it out on the paper towel.
This morning it was my job to change the paper towel under our wet clump o' soil to help it dry out quicker. You know life has changed for you when you're not only changing diapers, but changing your paper towel underneath your soil sample. If the day comes when the soil actually dries out I then get the fun job of picking out all the sticks, rocks, leaves and other non-soil bits that could "skew the testing results", as the instruction manual says. This should be fun because our wet sample appears to be made up of at least 50% random crap and 50% soil. Then I have to use the back of a spoon and crush any lumps larger than a pea. How far of a drive is that soil testing office again?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The urban chicken. Yo.

With all this talk about creating a backyard garden and relying less on the grocery store, I got to thinking about the new hip thing for home- owners this year - urban chickens. I am fascinated with the idea of the urban chicken and have done entirely too much reading up on the topic. First of all you should know that urban chickens are not chickens with a penchant for rap music and hip sense of street fashion. They're chickens that live in the backyards of suburban homes, in the community garden plots of city-dwellers, and anywhere else that is considered atypical.

The move toward sustainability and creating less of a footprint on the planet has people planting gardens and now raising backyard chickens. I like the idea of fresh eggs and I respect the idea of fresh chicken meat and knowing where your food comes from. We raised fancy ducks and ate a few duck eggs in our time, so I have a bit of experience with yard fowl. But there are three issues with urban chickens that I can't get past.

1) Pet hens can live to about age 8 or 10. Some breeds of hens lay for about 2 to 3 years. There's a lot of years between age 3 and age 10 where you have a chicken without a purpose. I know you can still use this chicken's poo as a great composty fertlizer for your garden, but when it comes down to it, you have an eggless poo machine for about 7 years. And since chickens shouldn't live alone, you'll have about 3 eggless poo machines for about 7 years.

2) Once they stop laying a "real" farmer will turn that cute little pet hen into General Tso's chicken. I understand that chickens are what we eat, but from past experience I can tell you that once an animal lives in our house it gets named, and we can't eat named creatures. Our dogs and cats base their lives wiith us on that fact. So although you *should* slaughter the chickens and eat them to show a truly sustainable lifestyle, I'm not sure we could do it. If urban chickens are the new in-thing for sustainable living, what will happen to all these chickens in about 2 to 3 years if other families can't play assassin either? Will the day come when mom goes out back and sees sweet little Petunia the hen come running up for a cuddle...and instead of picking her up and scruffing her cute little hen head, mom re-enacts the whole "here comes the chopper to chop off your head" line from the "Oranges and Lemons" nursery rhyme?? I don't think so. I fear an influx of chickens to humane societies down the road... maybe causing urban chicken rescue centers to be built. Possibly humane societies will turn away the chickens and desperate people will drop off their chickens in the middle of the woods causing an overpopulation of wild ex-urban chickens creating chicken gangs and stalking people in the woods? Think about it.

3) Chickens have got to take some looking after. We had ducks and they took a LOT of time and energy. We loved having them and they made great pets (see Artie relaxing like a baby with Farmer B in the pic), but just making sure they all got put away in their coop at night was a pain. It would get dark, we'd realize we forgot about them, they'd make us chase them all over the yard in the dark herding them like we were deranged sheep dogs. The cleaning out of their duckhouse, the feeding - the watering... it's not a quick process. And try finding a duck (or urban chicken) sitter to look after them while you go on vacation. One time a bobcat killed and ate one of my favorite ducks too...our big male called Jack. It was a very sad day.

So although I'm all about sustainability and we're doing our best starting this garden, I'm not sure the urban chicken is the way to go...although I must admit, I am tempted. Secretly, I'd love to get an eglu and give this chicken thing a shot, but I don't think it's right for us. If you want to learn more about the urban chicken phenomenon, click on the Backyard Farming blog in my blog list off to the right or on any of these links. Yo.

"My Pet Chicken"
"Just Food - City Chickens"
"Bucky Backaw's Backyard Chicken Broadcast"
"Chicken Breeds"
"Chicken Laws - by city"

The Deluge

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can't do a handstand--
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said--
I'm just not the same since there's rain in my head.

~Shel Silverstein

You all may be aware of the four seasons that grace this beautiful country - I've seen pictures of them. They looks so nice. But until you've lived in Florida you will never understand the "real" seasons. We have two seasons here: Hurricane season (6 months of the year) and Tourist season (the other 6 months of the year). These seasons are also known as the hot-as-hell season and the rainy season. Right now we're deep in the glory that is hurricane season, where life is centered around the local meteor- ological yahoos on the news blathering on about low pressure systems and possible circulation and then donning rain slickers and hanging onto palm trees as tropical systems come ashore. So the reason for all this rain we're experiencing now? This never-ending rain? This rain that is flooding our yards and our roads and our ditches? A low pressure system swirling around in the Gulf of Mexico that could turn tropical and is "worth watching" as they like to say. Goooood times. Our garden is a muddy pit of despair and our yard is perfect for skimboarding. The dog is obsessed with drinking muddy water. The boys are continually soaked. And this isn't even a storm worth naming. Welcome to sunny Florida. Pass the umbrella.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Stage 1 complete

The first stage of our garden is complete. The soil is ready to go. The fence is up. The appropriate tools have been purchased (including a pitchfork - just 'cos). So now we sit. And wait. The garden book says that a new garden plot should sit for one month before you plant in it. This is so the magical garden elves and pixies can have their secret ceremonies on the earth, thus creating a bountiful harvest when you plant your veggies. Yeah, I have no clue why it has to sit for a month before we plant, but the Fall planting season in Florida starts in August, so now we just wait. I'm sure this month of waiting will give me plenty of time to pull all the weeds and grass that are going to inevitably sprout thanks to the deluge of rain we've been getting lately. It's rained so much that the frogs have moved in and are trying to overtake the house. We have frogs of biblical proportions right now. But don't fret! I have plenty of garden-related things to talk about in the upcoming days to keep this blog a-hoppin'.

Monday, July 14, 2008

6-6-6 The Evil Vegetables Begin

We haven't done much to the large rectangle o' dirt lately because we've had days of non-stop rain. One of the fun things about Florida summers is the insane thunderstorms that can last hours, flood your yard and if you're lucky ruin at least one major appliance with a power surge. Today was our first day to get outside since the rains didn't come until 7 pm.

Remember earlier I mentioned that our gardening book said "Don't Guess - Test!" and we both agreed that the exclamation point meant we really needed to get our soil tested? Well that was then and this is now. Now I have a man who doesn't read assembly instructions and likes to use power tools and who said "Bah! Soil testing? Bah!" So he bought a bag of Lime and a bag of 6-6-6 fertilizer and got to work today.

He got a little hand-spreader thingy that did not work at all to spread the lime all over the soil. It looked like some sort of biological warfare with this white powdery stuff floating all around the garden, but Farmer B insisted that we must have acidic soil because all his friends have acidic soil. So there. Lime apparently makes your soil less acidic and apparently less acidic is good. Then he spread half a bag of 6-6-6, which is some sort of fertilizer disguised as cheap bird seed. Finally he tilled it in, like a good farmer should. Afterwards we sat back and wondered whether lime and 6-6-6 should actually be put on a garden at the same time... and if not, what sort of horrible mutations that could cause.

What were the boys doing in all this excitement? They found a lone mud puddle in the yard. After splashing around in it for awhile, they decided to get sticks and go fishing in the puddle. That was fun until they realized nothing was biting and my old yellow dog kept standing in it. Then they decided to throw tiny little white flowers in the puddle and make a potion. They were very serious about the potion and said it turns people into bats. This occupied them for about 45 minutes. You know, it's fascinating stuff...being a kid with a puddle or a man with a hand-spreader thingy. I was worn out just watching them.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Hit List

PBJ Haiku
Peanut plant becomes
Organic peanut butter
Where's the jelly plant?

I have received a few emails from people who want to know what we plan on growing in our large rectangle of dirt. We have drawn out a garden map at the advice of our gardening book, "Vegetable Gardening in Florida." The map shows what we *hope* we can stick in the ground to turn into vegetables. I have separated the garden into five sections that make perfect sense to me and I'm sure this must be how fancy high-falutin' gardeners divide their gardens too:
1) Tall Stuff
2) Spaghetti Sauce
3) Stuff that isn't supposed to grow because it's out of season, but I feel I know better than the gardening book and I'm going to try it anyway.
4) Girly Stuff
5) Kid Stuff

In the Tall Stuff section we're hoping for cucumbers and pole beans. Having something crawl up a vine on a stick just seems fun and cucumbers and pole beans were the only things that sounded edible from the list in the book.

In the Spaghetti Sauce Section we have tomatoes, leeks, bell peppers and zucchini (all ingredients in my favorite homemade spaghetti sauce recipe).

In the Stuff that isn't supposed to grow because it's out of season, but I feel I know better than the gardening book and I'm going to try it anyway section we have sweet potatoes and mint. Sweet Potatoes are supposed to be planted in June - no later! I don't get why this matters since we don't get cold weather here, so I'm going to prove a point and try and grow some in August - gasp! And I've read that mint should be grown indoors in Florida, so I'm planting some outside to see what the big deal is. Apparently it can get out of control. Ha! I have yet to successfully grow a plant, let alone see one get out of control on my watch.

In the Girly Stuff section we have carrots, lettuce, broccoli and herbs. I should be able to sit out there with a bottle of fat-free 1,000 Island and a fork and just forage if I ever get locked out of the house.

In the Kids Stuff section we have things the kids will be interested in, namely peanuts, pumpkin, watermelon and strawberries.

I am well aware that if we cannot find seeds, or seedlings or slips or whatever else you're supposed to stick in the ground to grow the aforementioned veggies, that the list will be modified.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Little Tools

No, not the kids. I'm really talking about their tools. Sheesh. I've learned some important things about getting my boys interested in this large rectangle of dirt that we're calling a garden.
1) Expect them to get dirty. Encourage them to get dirty. Dress for dirt.
2) Give them kid-sized tools. It makes them feel important and they want to help and get involved.
Simple huh?
For starters, our boys each have their own pair of wellies for going out in the garden. The wellies originated because portions of our yard flood when it rains and the wellies kept them dry for playing. They now know that wellies are for working in the garden since it prevents their shoes from getting ruined. All the odd socks floating around in their drawers who have sadly lost their mates get worn inside those wellies. My boys may be wearing one blue Spongebob sock and one red Thomas the Train sock inside those wellies and no one cares.

Each of the boys has their own kid-sized rake. These were super cheap little numbers that Farmer B got at Toys R Us. For about $6 each, these wooden handle rakes work great and look just like the "grown up" rakes that we use. We also bought the boys a Sears Craftsman Mini Utility Shovel. Farmer B got this on sale at Sears for $5. It's a real shovel, but it's the perfect size for the boys to use - it's very heavy duty and isn't designed to be a kid's tool.
I have no idea why an adult would need a small shovel though - maybe to take with you on your ATV for some off-road mini-digging? Who knows?

We also have some great kids gloves, courtesy of Aidan's Aunt Karen. These little green gloves have a praying mantis on them and look scary, which is uber-cool if you're a kid. I found them here at Insect Lore and the price is right at less than $3, currently on sale. The boys also grabbed their buckets and shovels out of the sandbox and have relocated them in the garden. It's all about making sure they know that this big rectangle of dirt is also their rectangle of dirt… so digging and getting down and dirty is the icing on the cake for them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Don't Fence Me In!

We picked today to start putting the fence around the garden. Today seemed like the best day to work outside because the temperature combined with the humidity made it feel about 180 degrees. That is one of the special joys of living in Florida - humidity so high that you feel like you want to die after standing outside for 30 seconds. I learned a little something about humidity today from a weather website:

When you sweat, the only way you cool down is through evaporation of water from your skin. But if the air is holding too much water already due to high humidity, the sweat stays on your skin and you get little to no relief from the heat. A high Heat Index value shows a small chance of evaporative cooling from the skin. You even feel like it is hotter outside because you can't rid your skin of the excess water.

This explains why Aidan, who is recovering from being sick with a high fever, spent a lot of time leaning on things and begging to come back inside, and why Farmer B, who is recovering from a sinus infection, was feeling dizzy, and why we all came in after only 45 minutes complaining of seeing spots. It's all fun and games 'till you get heatstroke. Who starts a garden in July in Florida? No one with an ounce of common sense. That's for sure.

So back to the fence. We bought a green fencing that is more intense than chicken wire, but less intense than real chain link and seems suitable for keeping out boys, dogs and some wild animals (notice I said *some* - we have had bobcats in our yard and nothing stops them).

Farmer B used a sledge hammer to pound the stakes into the ground and then he and the boys wrapped the fencing around the stakes. As usual, Jace found a way to get involved and got stuck in a curly bit of fencing.

We didn't get the fence finished. We didn't figure out how to attach the fence to the stakes with these little metal clasps that come sans directions.
And we didn't figure out how to make a little gate so we can get in and out yet. Those are all in the plans for a slightly less humid day.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Trailer full o' dirt is empty!

We reached a gardening goal today: The trailer full o' dirt is now just a dirty trailer. We had a half hour or so after dinner and thought that it would be the perfect time to finish adding the organic topsoil to the garden. Besides - how dirty could the kids really get in half an hour? Did I mention that it rained and the dirt was very wet? Actually the boys did quite well raking and shuffling around in their wellies. We told them both not to sit in the dirt since it was wet and not to throw it or eat it - you know, the usual - and they actually listened. Then Jace went missing.

Jace, like most 2-year-olds, has a knack of getting into things and going missing if he is left alone for 5 to 10 seconds. When we called his name we heard a quiet little giggle - from under the trailer. His shorts are in the laundry room in a cold soak right now. Good times.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Extreme Hoeing

Conversation today:

Farmer B: Do we need a pitch fork?
Me: I don't know. What do you use one for?
Farmer B: I have no idea. Maybe on roots?
Me: I saw a picture of someone using them to get up potatoes.
Farmer B: Huh.
Long pause…
Farmer B: I think we need a hoe.
Me: We do? What do you do with a hoe?
Farmer B: Don't you make the rows and stuff with a hoe? - to put the plants in? sort of scoop up the dirt into hills?
Me: I have no idea. I've never gone hoeing.
(lots of giggling)
Farmer B (looking online): Here's a fiberglass hoe online. I want one of those.
Me: For extreme hoeing?

Oh yeah - we're totally cut out for this.

On a more serious note. I got some new gardening apparel today thanks to Farmer B. What a dedicated guy - on his way home from the doc's with a horrible sinus infection he still managed to stop and buy me some awesome new gardening gloves. It says on the packaging that they can also be used for ranching, but I'll stick to gardening. They look like batting gloves from baseball, so I'll be able to do some extreme hoeing in them while still keeping my girly hands oh-so-soft.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mommy, can we turn off the TV and work in the garden?

Did you read the title of this entry? That's why we worked in the garden today. How do you respond when your 4-year-old actually says "Mommy, can we turn OFF the TV and work in the garden?" Today was not supposed to be a gardening day. We've had a setback in the household. Farmer B has come down with something that resembles the bubonic plague, but is probably a head cold. So the boys and I were trying to lay low and watch TV to let him recuperate. It got to be about 11 a.m. and the heat of the day was already a bit much for me…but you know what the boy said and you know what my response was because you don't say no to that.

I decided I'd prove I can pull my own weight so I grabbed the shovel and Aidan grabbed his little shovel and between us we loaded up three big wheelbarrows of dirt from the trailer and spread it on the garden. It was painfully hot though - the kind of hot that makes tourists pass out at theme parks. I even went out in my old lady hat that I bought for yardwork several months ago. That's when you know it's hot - when the old lady hat comes out. I put on some horrible pink shorts that used to be my mom's sweatpants because they already have a stain on them so I wouldn't feel guilty if they got dirty. (Way back in high school I decided I wanted pink sweat pant shorts. My mom showed me how to cut off the legs and hand-sew them into shorts. I have no idea why I still have these atrocious shorts with a paint stain on the leg, but they do come in handy from time to time.) I also put on a white shirt - to prove a point - and my dead-sexy knee-high tube socks (to prevent upper-calf wellie chafing) and my blue wellies. You thought that Farmer B had wardrobe issues. It was not a pretty sight.

So we went to work in the hot midday sun. The little one decided that it was too hot to get dirty and spent most of the time in the shade doing his own thing. The always-energetic-never-calms-down dog even hid under the trailer the entire time with just his furry butt sticking out panting like he was dying. We spent the entire time trying not to step on his tail - notice I said 'trying.' So it was a good day. One long hour later we came in when my 4-year-old said "Mommy can we stop gardening and watch TV?"

Wait! We got dirty

Well hold the presses! We did some more work on the garden after dinner too! Looks like the boys were energized after their long naps.

For the first time ever, we let the kids stay up late to watch fireworks. So that meant we had the fun job of trying to figure out how to entertain two very excited boys for about 3 hours while we waited for it to get dark. Next thing I knew we were all in the yard shoveling dirt. Jealous? I thought so. I don't know if you know this, but if you have a trailer full of dirt and two overly-excited small boys, very messy things happen, but they do stay entertained. The boys got so messy in fact that they had to have two baths tonight. We had to drain the bathwater and start again just so they got a bit cleaner. We got through about 2/3 of the trailer full o' dirt and the boys actually had a blast.

They're working really well in the garden and they might be getting something out of it. It's like a bad after-school special in our own backyard - The More You Know *ting*.

Farmer B was pleased that I offered to help a bit raking things back and forth and that my white shirt didn't hinder me. He went shirtless for the shoveling dirt escapade so that he didn't have to deal with any more outfit changes…for those of you keeping track.

We've talked about what happens once the trailer full o' dirt is emptied. I think we then work on the fence and then we take the soil for testing. I hope it passes the test! Apparently we put something on it called 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 depending on what the test results say. Farmer B is hoping for 6-6-6 so they can be evil vegetables. Our book says "Don't guess - test!" and that exclamation point scared us, so we're doing the soil testing.
And for the cutest pictures you've ever seen of my boys dirty faces, click on these links: Jace's hard-working dirty face and Aidan's hard-working dirty face

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tilling Complete

Today was an interesting day. I definitely learned a lot even if our garden doesn't look much different. Farmer B went outside with the boys to finish tilling the garden so that we could put down all of the topsoil that we bought. It turns out that there were a ton of large rooty dead stick things under the ground that made the job quite laborious, although the dog quite enjoyed all the stick chucking going on. The garden is now successfully tilled, but the topsoil is still in the trailer. Here are some of the things I learned today:

1. It can take four outfit changes before Farmer B feels that he's wearing appropriate apparel to garden AND be photographed. This caused me to laugh until I cried and suggest we call Tim Gunn for tomorrow's outfit suggestion. Tomorrow's ensemble? A knotted neck scarf and a ferosh pair of pin-striped capris and galoshes? Stay tuned.

2. The boys have never seen a garden worm before. We found one. It was very gross. I was sure it was somehow poisonous and could possibly try to burrow into your skin if you touched it. I don't know the difference between a nice happy garden worm and some parasitic poisonous beastie, so we poked at it with a stick and let it crawl away. I am yet to be one with nature.
3. A large german shepherd can till and loosen soil with his front paws quicker than any gas-powered lawn tiller.
4. If you wear a white fitted tshirt and your new denim short-shorts to garden, there is a good chance your husband will accuse you of not wanting to get dirty and not being serious about the garden. He's right about half of that - I am very serious about the garden. Note to self: Must do more wardrobe changes tomorrow.

5. In July in Florida it is apparently too hot to work outside after about 10 a.m. We got started at about 9:45 a.m. This explains why the topsoil is still in the trailer and two of the three boys are napping right now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

It's all Happening Now!

We took a big step today. We started the garden. And by "we" I mean my husband, of course.

We measured out a 10 x 20 area in the yard near the well for easier irrigation and because that's what the gardening book told us to do. Then the hubby (we'll call him Farmer B) took the oldest boy to buy 3 yards of organic topsoil and 3 foot high fencing for the perimeter. Living in FL we have this horrible sandy soil, so we'd heard that buying topsoil was the way to go - and we need all the help we can get. We have two young boys who like to dig and a dog with an obsession with dirt, so the fence is to keep them out - and any yard critters who want a midnight snack. We have armadillo issues in our yard and the periodic bunny, so we'll see if they can get through our fence.

Farmer B then got our new Honda Mini-Tiller and tilled the grass. I do wonder if this garden was just an excuse for him to have another gas-powered man tool. We went back and forth over whether we should remove the grass or till it into the soil. I figure that if (when) this is a huge failure we might be able to leave it alone and let grass re-grow there so leaving the grass seemed like a good idea - and it was less time consuming for Farmer B in the 90+ degree heat. It looked like less work to me from the air conditioned comfort of our living room. We have no idea if we have too much topsoil - or what stops it washing away once we dump that trailer-load of dirt on the garden and our summer monsoon-like rains hit that thing. Maybe we'll look into 2 x 4's or railroad ties?

So today was a good start. We have no idea what to do next.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin