Friday, August 29, 2008

Cyber Gardening Part II

One of the keys to a successful garden is being organized. You should know what you're growing, where it's been planted, when it should bloom and, in my case, where it's located so you can put on scuba gear and swim down and see it.

If you're a bit of a techno-nerd and you're wondering how you can cyber-up your garden, I've found a solution. If you've got an iPhone or an iTouch you can download the "MyGarden" application for $1.99. It allows users to keep track of everything they've planted in their garden. You can track your plants' light requirements, watering needs, bloom time, planting date, soil requirements and more.

I've become an iPhone application freak lately. I only have a few, but I love browsing through the iTunes application store. Instead of MyGarden, I think I'd get more use from DivePlanner. It's $2.99 and substitues for your dive computer. Once I dive down to the bottom of my back yard, I can start looking for my yellow waterlogged plants.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recovery of Rom, Part 3

This is hopefully the last chapter in the Recovery of Rommel. Our 4-year-old German Shepherd's brush with death has passed and hopefully this is the end of our medical drama with him. His staples were removed yesterday at the veterinarian's office. Farmer B called me from the exam room and said that quite a few staples had twisted in Rommel's belly causing him quite a bit of discomfort, squeaking and some blood upon their removal. The vet was quite impressed that Rommel was the same weight yesterday that he was the day he went in to have his spleen removed 10 days ago. His spleen weighed about 4 lbs, so that means our skinny dog actually put on 4 lbs in 10 days - quite a remarkable achievement for any dog, especially one recovering from major surgery. The pathology results showed that his tissue was consistent with a flipped spleen, so this surgery definitely saved his life.

Although we're still making him take it slowly, he's back to his quirky, nutty self now. We all feel like we can safely breathe a sigh of relief that he'll be okay. When someone you love (or some pet you love) experiences a brush with death, that's when you realize how much you really love them and how life wouldn't be the same without them. I'm glad we got that second chance with Rommel.

So this silly dog is getting extra hugs right now. And we're all trying to remember not to take each other - or our pets - for granted.

Here is the new spleen-less Rommel showing off his personality.

Hope that last picture of him showing off his teeth didn't scare you too much.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Polywog in a Bog

Since we're still swimming around here, I thought I'd dedicate another post to the amphibians in our yard who are at least enjoying all the excess water. In my attempt to look on the bright side, happy frogs is all I can come up with.

This little tree frog likes to hang around our pool safety fence. We have a few more who love to hang out on our front door and kitchen window. The ones on the front door like to jump at your face when you open the door. That's always good fun.

We recently had an explosion of baby tree frogs. They all cling to the windows early in the morning and are downright fascinating to the boys. They're so little that they're almost transparent.

And here is the toad who lives in our garden. Well...he did live in the garden. I haven't seen him since it flooded. I think he's our first space toad.
And finally - the best frog-related song out there! My boys love their new Barenakes Ladies CD called "Snacktime." It's got a bunch of great music on there that's fun for the kids and not painful for me to listen to. One of the favorites is Polywog in a Bog . You can watch the music video for it here. This video is featured on CNET and on's best new music videos page. It includes a really cute animation of a tadpole turning into a frog during the best part of the song. If you've got kids, they'll love this. They should listen to it while doing their tadpole-to-frog crafts to get into a froggy kind of mood. Enjoy!

Monday, August 25, 2008


I didn't necessarily have visions of a lush garden full of plants heavily laden with vegetables when we started this garden, but I really did not envision the dying swamp we have now. I really thought I'd be able to keep up this blog with tales of the garden, but instead I have tales of flooding. We do still dream of replanting... if we ever dry out...

Farmer B took these pictures tonight on the way home from work. It was getting dark and they were taken with his camera phone, but this is our street. He said the kids were going underwater and resurfacing, like they were in a swimming pool, but it was the road. You can click on them to see them bigger.

It's just crazy. The rivers are overflowing. The lakes are overflowing. Neighborhoods are still being evacuated. The road from our house to Aidan's preschool is closed due to flooding.

And we just leaned about Tropical Storm Gustav - with Florida in his path.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Metamorphosis Lesson

Since the garden needs to drain for awhile - a long while, we needed to find another nature outlet to occupy the boys. Farmer B spent most of the evening yesterday digging a trench from the corner of our front yard between the two septic drainfield humps and out to our front ditch. It's surprising how fast the water is flowing through this small trench and it's really helping to lower the water level around the house. Farmer B has a sore back and blisters on his hands as a reward for doing this…and once again, I got tired just watching him. Our big fantasy is that we can walk through our back yard instead of wading though it. How your priorities can change overnight.

With all of the rain, we've got more frogs than you can imagine. And this newly-dug ditch is now home to an entire army of tadpoles. We thought it would be fun to give the boys some buckets and see if they could catch a few. Afterall, gathering buckets of tadpoles is a rite of passage for kids. You'd be hard pressed to find an adult who didn't spend at least one afternoon in their youth dipping a bucket in some nasty water to fish out a tadpole or two. So it was our turn to take the plunge. There is something about gross brown storm runoff water that doesn't appeal to me, but the boys didn't seem to mind. The boys had a good time getting dirty, as all kids do, and we now have two overflowing buckets filled with murky brown water and tadpoles. Jace always manages to find a spot that's just slightly deeper than the top of his wellies. That's a special knack of his. He was less interested in getting tadpoles than he was dumping out water over and over again.
Aidan was very serious about his catching technique. He preferred the sneak approach and then he'd slam his bucket in the water and scream "Take that, tadpoles!" Somehow he caught a small fish in his bucket too, which we cannot figure out. How we ended up with a fish swimming in our front yard storm water runoff is a mystery. There's not even a lake or river next to the house that would explain the fish. I guess it just really did rain that much.
Hopefully we'll keep some of these little guys for awhile and see if they sprout legs. We'll let them go when they get bigger to live out their froggy lives in the great outdoors. That is, if they ARE frogs. I've been reading up on tadpoles and it turns out that these might be toad tadpoles. If indeed they are toads, we can have some more residents for our Space Toad House. I read that toad tadpoles are usually small and black and frog tadpoles are larger not black. These all appear small and black, but I guess we'll have a better clue when they start to grow.
Since we're always trying to sneak learning in wherever we can, we found some great online resources for learning about tadpoles and the metamorphosis process. We'll be using all these this week with the boys while we talk about our new tadpoles.

Grow-a-Frog Learning Guide - This is a 20-page teacher's manual all about frogs and their life cycle. This is a homeschooling mom's dream lesson plan guide.

Tadpole to Frog cut-out transformation activity - Color in the parts, cut them out and you can act out the metamorphosis with your very own paper frog. Aidan colored in our frog and I cut him out. We didn't have the special clips it suggested for the frog parts, so we're just taping them on as we go. So far our frog only has a tail since we have tadpoles, but we'll soon add rear legs when they become froglets, then front legs, then we'll rip off the tail.

How to raise toads for organic gardening - How to catch a toad and make him happy in your garden.

All About Frogs - Including kids activities and coloring pages.

Frog Life Cycle coloring page - Love this!

Something Froggy- Online frog guide. This is really well done and has two different books depending on the age group of the child.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Damage Done

There was a break in the rain today that allowed me to wander out to the garden and take a look at the damage. It's flooded. The plants have either washed away or are floppy and submerged. I suppose there is a chance that some of them might perk up if the soil drains and the sun comes out. But it's quite obvious that the majority of the garden is a complete failure. If it wasn't bad enough before the storm - it's done for now.

Here's the once-beautiful row of pumpkins.

And the once-vibrant green beans.

Oh and these…these are sunflowers.

The yard is a lake. You have to wear knee-high wellies to wade through the grass. The frogs are so loud at night that you can barely speak over them. At least someone is happy.

On a bright note, there are more butterflies and dragonflies in the yard than I've ever seen before. It's funny, all the birds go away when there's a hurricane and you know it's past when you see them come back. Apparently butterflies and dragonflies follow the same logic.

One of our back rooms has started to flood. We have heavy gym equipment on the carpet so we can't pull back the carpet all the way to see how much of it is wet. It's quite clear that the edges are very wet though. It's heavy gym equipment that requires a professional to assemble/disassemble so we don't know what we'll do at this point. We discovered it last night and spent the night drying out the room with a fan and a humidifier - then today we got torrential rains again and it's even wetter than it was the night before. These pictures are not that exciting, but they're a real cause of stress for us.

Wet carpet - mildew on the baseboards - saturated carpet padding.

And we lifted up the black gym mats and found mildew underneath.

But, this is a gardening blog, so we will wait for the soil to dry out and continue with the mission. We will replant. And I will learn how to grow something if it kills me. I realize this blog has turned into a bit of drama over almost losing our dog and now the events of Tropical Storm Fay, but as soon as we dry out enough to get back to normal, we'll be back to figuring out how this garden growing thing works again! Thanks for sticking with us while we deal with all of this...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fay Away

It seems that Tropical Storm Fay has finally started to move away from Central Florida. She has left behind more flooding and water damage than any of the experts predicted. We woke up this morning to find that the water in our yard has receeded some, which was a happy moment. It's still raining on and off and a bit squally, but we came out of it all with a dry house, which is more than most people can say.

I took the boys to get haircuts today and we saw some of the local flooding. The hair salon has no A/C because it flooded out. The hairdresser said she has 4 inches of water in her garage that is coming into her house - and everything in her garage is ruined. We couldn't drive past the local high school on our way to the mall because two retention ponds have overflowed their banks and have met in the middle - on the road. There are detours everywhere from washed out roads. The roof in the mall is leaking so much and there is a lot of water damage inside.

We also drove past the local sod fields. Normally on the left and right sides of the roads are large fields of grass for the local sod farm. Here's a before picture I found online.

Today I noticed two large lakes complete with waves where the sod farm used to be. It was very odd. All the cars were slowing down to look. Here are some pictures I took with my camera phone of both sides of the road.

And just outside of our neighborhood the streets are down to one lane and some houses look like islands. It's pretty outrageous to say the least.
If it stops raining this afternoon we're going out to the garden.... (gulp).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Sick Twist of Fay-t

Tropical Storm Fay has been stalled over our house for two days now. School has been cancelled this week. Roads are flooded. Neighborhoods are under water. And oh yeah, our garden is swimming. We are currently on hour 36 of torrential rain and wind and according to the local news, we've had over 12 inches of rain. We're much better off than the coastal counties where people have 3 to 4 feet of water in their homes and it looks like their version of Hurricane Katrina.

So what's our damage?

Our neighborhood is only passable via SUV. Cars flood out too quickly, so it's SUV only right now. Our backyard has 2 to 6 inches of water in it and we've had small waves of water on our patio. We can only get to our mailbox while wading in wellies and our street is a nice lake. It's very hard to tell where the street ends and the ditches start.

I wonder if our garden will be a total washout. Literally. Guess once the rains and wind stops we'll truck out there and see what's left.

The whole experience has been stressful and I can't wait until it's over.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Recovery of Rom, Part 2

As you know, we've been waiting for the pathology results from Rommel's spleenectomy. All of the literature says that most dogs with such a contorted, enlarged, rupturing and blood-filled spleen would have a very aggressive form of cancer. So we have been anxious since his surgery on Friday. In addition to waiting for Rommel's results, we have been dealing with Tropical Storm Fay. School has been cancelled locally for two days and Aidan missed his first day of Preschool today. It's just been a messy couple of days.

But the phone rang yesterday morning with the results and we're happy to report that Rommel is all clear and cancer-free! No one knows why his spleen decided to go supernova, but at least we know we can focus on his recovery now and move past the drama of almost losing him. He is such an odd dog and even though he can be high-maintenance at times, he is a member of our family.

He's been wearing the e-collar more than his anti-lick shirt lately because he has recently discovered the IV wound on his leg. He can lick it red raw in about 2 minutes. So we're not sure what's worse - wearing an e-collar or wearing a tshirt with a crotch-guard made of fleece and a large tube sock over one leg.

Our little Siamese cat, Darwin, just discovered Rommel's lampshade the other night. The cats normally give Rommel a wide berth because he does like to chase them from time to time. They never walk right up to him just in case he gets a wild hair and decides to chase them. Darwin took one look at Rommel with the lampshade on his head the other night and had to investigate. Luckily Rommel was too tired to chase him - and he gets stuck on every piece of furniture in the house when he walks, so it would have been a feeble chase anyway.

No news on the garden. It's too windy and blowy and wet to check out our little deathpatch of vegetables. Once the storm moves away and the tornado watches are lifted, we'll assess the damage - like it could really get any worse.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Status Report: Situation Critical

It's been two-and-a-half weeks since our plants went into the deathtrap that we call a garden and I thought you'd be interested in a status report. I will say that although I was apprehensive about starting a garden with no prior gardening skills, I was also naive enough that I expected at least 50% of our plants to grow so that I could call it a success. I can honestly say that I'm disappointed in our results because I plain don't know how to fix them. When we started the garden and carried on about how hard this was going to be, we kept hearing that all you need to do is stick plants in the ground and water them… that it's not that hard… that I'm making this seem more difficult than it is… Well all of these people obviously assumed we knew what we were doing. The photos below show how little we know. The worst part for us is not the dead plants, but the realization that we have no idea what went wrong, how to fix it, or how to prevent it from happening again. Take a look for yourself at the carnage. If you have any suggestions as to what we did wrong, please leave a comment or email us - we're desperate.

If you have small children or have a weak stomach, please do not scroll down. This is not for the faint of heart. (And these photos were taken around lunchtime - it had rained a lot the night although they all appear to need water, they had just received a lot of rain).

Bell Peppers
We started out with a handful of green, orange and red bell pepper plants. All of these came from plants we purchased and transplanted into the yard. One of the green pepper plants actually grew a little green bell pepper. You can see it on the end of the green stick that used to have leaves on it. All of the leaves have fallen off or died or are drooping.

String beans
We grew these from seeds and they have sprouted up quite nicely. A few have completely died off, but the row looks quite good. I need to research online if I am supposed to thin these - and see when I put in the sticks for them to climb up. So far though, these are alive, which is huge!

Oh dear. Well… what can I say? Brown, wilted, dead stumps formerly known as cantaloupe plants. There are two green leaves on one of the plants, so we're clinging to hope with that one.

We bought these a week after we started the garden and transplanted them into our deathtrap. They were vibrant green lil' things until their roots stepped foot into our vegetable grave. They are completely wilted, floppy dead things now. Both are history.

We planted these from seeds from raw peanuts we bought from the grocery store. They are getting larger and are green and leafy, so we're optimistic - about 15 look great. Two have completely withered and died, so we're hoping that whatever killed those two isn't going to kill off the rest. Again, I need to research if these need to be thinned.

We planted these from seeds that we purchased and they are our best-looking plants so far. A couple have completely withered and died, but the row looks great. Add this to the list of plants that we need to research about thinning.

I got about 6 beautiful healthy strong tomato plants and transplanted them into the garden. One is doing quite well (not pictured) and is in a tomato cage. Its bottom leaves are yellowed and withered, but the rest look strong. The rest of the tomato plantss are very withered, yellowed and droopy and I fear their days are numbered.

I'm particularly sad about the watermelon plants because the boys were so excited about growing them. What can I say? The picture says it all. Droopy. Dried. Dead.

Zucchini/Squash/Banana Pepper
These are lumped in together because I can't tell which dead lump is which at this point. They are all dead brown lumps formerly known as plants.

Not pictured. The lavender is dead. The mint and cilantro are withered, but the basil is doing well. The broccoli has sprouted and surprisingly so have the carrots - both are very small and aren't big enough for me to make a judgment yet.

I really don't know what to say about it. We thought we did everything right. We bought fancy organic soil - we tilled it into our soil - we tested the soil (ourselves) - we tilled the soil again - we left the soil for several weeks before planting - we put down lime and fertilizer. We watered that garden any day that it didn't rain. We added fertilizer around the bottom of the plants at the recommendation of The Doctor at our local nursery. We bought gardening books and organic pest control books. We sprayed with a safe pesticide. We released ladybugs. We even hired a good luck gnome for pete's sake. We're just sad that we have such a big failure and no idea how to prevent it from happening again. I fear that buying more little plants and putting them in the ground will just kill them too. If we haven't learned anything from this failure, then how can we proceed?

The worst part of it? About 1.5 miles away there is a man who has grown an enormous new garden in the front yard of his house. The plants are huge and leafy-green. He started his late spring-early summer and it's beautiful. We picked all the plants listed for August planting in our zone, so it wasn't his early start that gave him the advantage. I have to drive past this garden at least twice a day and it taunts me with its lusciousness.

We are low on luscious. Very low.
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