Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Name that chicken!... or "The Naming of the Crew"

Although the blog doesn't reflect it, we've been doing plenty of gardening around here, but right now the chicks are the focus of attention. I'll be updating the blog on our gardening exploits later this week, but today I need your help.

Our three little chicks are nameless and we need to give them names soon or else "yellow guy, black one and chipmunk" will stick. I know this because we had ducks in the past and after coming up with cute names for the first three, the latter six ended up with magnificent names like "big boy" and "little girl."

On to the names. I know I have some creative readers and I'm desperately in need of help. I have compiled a short list of names given to me by some friends and relatives, but I'd love to have a good list to go off. Aidan, my 5-year-old, would like Pokemon, Daphne and Velma after his two favorite Scooby Doo characters and one of his favorite cartoons. Jace, my three-year-old, likes to squeal and yell the word chicken over and over again, so he's not much help.

For inspiration, here are the girls. These photos were taken this morning on their first outing into the back yard.

Here is the little black one followed by a picture of what she should look like when she grows up.

Now we have our little yellow one, followed by a picture of what she should look like when she grows up.

Finally, we have our little chipmunk-colored one. We have no clue what she'll look like when she grows up, but she might look like the photo you see below - but this could vary quite a bit.

If you're willing to help come up with some name choices, please leave a comment. All three birds need a name so put your chicken-thinkin' caps on!! Thanks!!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Peep Show has begun!

I got a message on our answering machine on Friday afternoon from the Feed Store saying that the chicks were in a week early. GAH! I was like a pregnant woman going into early labor without packing my hospital bag or finishing the nursery! I'm the poster child for poor planning sometimes. We decided to pick up the girls on Saturday after we bought all the necessary chick gear in a mad dash earlier that morning.

The very authentic rural Feed Store employee who went out to the brooder with me to get the chicks was quite annoyed that I wanted to pick out my own chicks. The other equally-authentic, but older, rural Feed Store employee noticed we were at the brooder for longer than the normal 5 seconds that it must usually take them to bung three chicks in a box.

She shuffled over to us from her perch out front. "Don't you know how to tell them chicks apart yet?" the older Feed Store lady said to the younger Feed Store lady (aka Ms. Personality), who was helping me out. "Course I do," she growls back "but this 'un wants to pick out her own chicks." Insert huge eye roll here from Ms. Personality and a snort of disgust from the old one. Nice duo working at that Feed Store.

I wasn't swayed by their animosity and took my time to pick out three beautiful little chicks. The boys were vibrating with excitement as we drove home with the PEEP! PEEP! PEEP! entertaining them from the front seat.

To make the brooder, we bought a large Tupperware container and filled it with pine shavings. On top we put 2 layers of paper towel because young chicks sometimes eat the pine shavings, thinking its food, and it gums up their digestive systems. We put in a feeder full of medicated feed and a one-gallon waterer, and I suspended our old red heat lamp from an expensive camera tripod above the entire contraption.

And chicken experts out there, I do realize that with only three chicks I don't need medicated food, but Ms. Personality at the Feed Store begged to differ with that line of thought. "We don't sell unmedicated feed 'round here," she scoffed when I questioned her. "Chicks only get medicated feed 'till their feathers come in." Whatever. Medicated it is.

So here are our three little peeps.

Cutest things I've seen in a long time. Don't you agree?

This one is our Buff Orpington. She's going by the name "yellow guy" right now. We hope to change that.

This one is our Barred Rock. She's going by the name "black one" right now. Again, not the name we are hoping will stick.

Finally we have our Americauna, that I am 99% sure is a generic Easter Egger. She is going by the name "Chipmunk" right now because she looks like she's wearing a chipmunk pelt on her back.

They're settling in nice to life in our house and we're handling them every few hours in the hopes of creating friendly hens who want to be near us. The boys are amused by them, the cats are scared of them and the dog can't believe another forbidden "thing" has entered the house.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Leapin' Lizards!

I was cleaning up the living room this weekend and saw a little pair of eyes peeking out from the sliding glass door track. A little lizard was stuck in the house - a brown anole to be specific. I figured I'd shoo him outside before he dried out and died or became a victim of our cats, but when I went to grab him, he didn't run. The poor little anole was already starting to dry out. I reached down and picked him up and he bit me.

Brown anoles have two methods of self-protection when handled - they'll bite you or poop on you. This one chose to bite me. We used to wear these lizards as earrings when I was a kid. If you really wanted to disturb your teacher, you'd hang one from your tongue or lip when you walked back into the classroom.

This little guy was thin and not running so I wasn't sure he'd make it. He was already missing part of his tail, and I'm sure my cats were responsible for that. I put him on the patio and sprinkled some water in his mouth and on his back. Finally I put him outside next to a plate of water.

When I just checked on him later that night he was gone. Let's hope he's living out his little lizard life somewhere now. I suppose I should have snuffed him out when I first saw him since brown anoles are a highly-invasive species and are wiping out the native green anoles. Poor little invasive lizards - they don't know they're bad news, but they do know how to bite.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Diving Headfirst into Compost

I've always admired people who compost. It seems so green and earthy and a necessary element to have under your "green living" belt. When you're laying your "green lifestyle" cards on the table, it's hard to show your hand without the composting card sitting happily between the homemade cleaning products and reusable grocery bag cards. But I'll admit to always being extremely intimidated by composting. Having a rotting pile of food in the yard seems like such a bad idea, but so many people pull it off that there has to be something to it. I'll also admit to not understanding the layering and watering necessary for a successful compost. Oh and I have a huge phobia of maggots and I am just so sure that a pile of trash will somehow equal maggots. All of this caused us to remain a compost-free household, up until this past weekend.

I've been teetering on the compost idea since we started gardening. Compost is good for the garden and unless we keep driving to our friend's house for a trash can full of horse poo, we knew we'd have to come up with something ourselves. The thing that just tilted the decision in favor of composting is our soon-to-be chicken addition. We have to do something with all that chicken poo. I keep hearing over and over again to just add it to my compost pile for some nitrogen-rich garden yumminess.

I knew that having an open compost pile would not be an option. I have small children and a very curious dog, so having an open bin was out of the question. Then I eyed up the barrels that you can buy to make composting easy for suburbanites, but the high price put those out of our league. I searched online and found many sites explaining how to make a compost bin out of a garbage can with a tight-fitting lid. This was right up our alley.

We happen to have a brand-new trash can that Farmer B bought for horse poo retrieval and I figured this would make the perfect compost bin since we won't need horse poo anymore if this all works out. And if it doesn't work out, we can still use the holey garbage can for yard waste.

I grabbed Farmer B's power drill and put the wrong drill bit on it (FYI - a drywall bit works even though the man in your life might tell you it's the wrong drill bit for the job, thank you very much) and just drilled finger-sized holes all over the can - about every 6 inches or so. I read that it's important to put holes in the bottom of the can too. You should elevate your can on some attractive cinder blocks like we did, or you could always be crafty and build a little platform for it out of wood. Some people say you can even put a tray under your bin to catch the compost drippings for your garden. We're not doing that because I know it would become the sole source of water for the dog.

I keep reading about the brown/green ratio necessary for successful composting. Apparently you put a layer of brown, like leaves, chipped branches, brown paper and mulch and then a layer of green, like your kitchen scraps or grass clippings, and then wet the whole thing down and repeat. You avoid anything meaty if you want to keep it from smelling vile. Every week or so you should tip the can over and roll it around your yard to mix up the compost, then roll it back to its perch and repeat the process until at some point you have compost. This is why you need a tight-fitting lid and a bungee cord to ensure it doesn't bust open.

To get started, I threw a bunch of garden soil in the bottom of the can because I read somewhere that soil is a good start if you don't have sawdust. Then I tossed in some mulched-up leaves. I have yet to figure out if a "layer" is 1/2 inch of "stuff" or 5 inches of "stuff." After those layers, I've been tossing in my leftover raw fruit and vegetable peelings from the kitchen. Finally - because the internet told me to - I ripped up some newspaper and put that on top and sprinkled the hose on it too.

I went out there today to add some more kitchen waste to the pile and when I opened the lid a veritable army of fruit flies came swarming out at my face to attack me. That was so delightful. I read online that fruit flies are to be expected if you have rotting fruit in the bin. I tossed in my kitchen waste and then added some more leaves and put the hose on it all again. Once again - do I hold the hose on it for 5 seconds or 5 minutes? I have no idea. I've read that your compost pile should feel like a damp sponge. Who are these people who are digging their hands in this crap and comparing it to sponges? Blech!

It's funny. I have no natural feel for gardening or composting. But I feel quite confident with raising animals and kids. Let's hope when these little chicks appear next week that I'll do something right. I've never had chickens before, but yet I feel confident that I can pull it off. I don't feel so confident that I can make compost out of the crap in that trash can.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We have a thief in our midst

I have two little strawberry plants that are growing in two pots in my garden and are actually doing really well. I have one big beautiful strawberry on one of the plants and two little ones on the other plant that were ready to be picked yesterday morning. I've been watching them turn from white to pink and finally almost all the way to a bright beautiful red.

Yesterday morning I got up excited that it was berry-picking day - I am well-aware that picking three strawberries hardly warrants naming a day "berry-picking day" but we're just that desperate. I skipped out to the garden to get them and was so excited that this was going to be one of the first things we'd actually be able to eat from the garden. I went out there and reached down and…


Son of a . . .

Well I'm sure the two little red berries on the other plant are safe, right? Right?

GAAAHHH!. . . not so much.

Some evil creature of the night sunk his fangs into the berries and gave me the salute of victory as it scampered off with my three red strawberries in its clutches. What sort of evil creature did such a thing? A shifty-eyed squirrel that taunts our dog every morning is my primary suspect. Plus there's that evil mockingbird that chirps away in the tree next to the garden. They're both on my list now.

I'm tempted to tie the German Shepherd to the strawberry plants at night to protect them, but he's a soft dog that requires a feather-stuffed dog bed and air conditioning and with my luck he'd develop a taste for strawberries and fall under the spell of the berry-loving creatures of the night and end up working for the enemy.

What can I do to stop this? Anyone have an idea for me?? There are three more white berries on the plant that will inevitably be the next victims of this sinister creature now that he has tasted their sweet juice. How can I save my berries? Do I have to keep them on the patio from now on?

Update: Went out to the garden this morning. Now all the little white berries are gone. You can see that they've been eaten. I bet those damn squirrels have been waiting patiently for something in the garden to grow and now it's their morning breakfast stop. Sigh...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Garden Journal Reviews

I started a Garden Journal the other day because I realized that last time we planted I wasn't sure when "things" were supposed to happen. Seed packets got lost, so germination dates got forgotten, thinning instructions were lost and harvest time was pure guesswork. And I use the term "harvest time" very loosely since we didn't grow much at all. Harvesting the one green bell pepper we grew wasn't exactly rocket science.

This time I decided to outsmart myself and write everything down. I'm creating a Gardening Log of sorts to help keep me on the right track. I went to a free calendar website and printed out a monthly calendar for the rest of the year and stuck it in a binder. I made a note in the calendar of the dates the seeds should germinate, when they should be thinned and when the harvest window falls. I also wrote down when I should feed the plants in the garden - so every couple of weeks I have a little yellow star to remind me to add some sort of plant food to the garden. Right now I'm using Miracle Gro because I have no clue what else to use. I'm also going to make a notation for when I should spray the BT and whatever other anti-pest methods I come up with.

Then I have some sheets I made up on the computer about each plant I'm growing - a place for me to write down vital stat's about when they sprouted and if I had any problems with them such as pests and diseases. I can also write down what was successful and what was a royal flop. I've left lots of room in the "royal flop" column since I'm sure I'll have a lot to write there. I also created a table with pertinent information from the backs of the seed packets for each plant so I can refer to it all in one place.

Finally I created a garden plan to show where each item was planted. I did this for the last planting and I'm doing it for the current planting. Since crops should be rotated I figured this would help me remember where to plant them next time. My memory is shot these days, so writing everything down is a necessity.

Then I got to thinking - I like this little setup, but I'm sure you can buy something that covers all this and more and even has pages pre-printed out with the things you should be making notes about. I researched what was out there and spent entirely too much time coming up with the best Gardener's Journal options I could find. Here's what I discovered:

Little House in the Suburbs - Free 2009 Spring Garden Planner- this is a free download, so you can't beat the price. It's a nice little guide to get you to write things down and it's great for anyone who is planting according to the last frost date. It'll help anyone who wonders when you're supposed to start tomatoes indoors, sow carrots outdoors, or transplant your peppers, etc. Down here in Florida the last frost date is irrelevant, so I think I'd personally have a hard time working with their set-up. For the rest of the country, I think it'd be great. It's a great blog too, so definitely check them out.

A Gardener's Journal - This company sells filler pages for their binders that you can keep adding to for the life of your garden. It's a neat concept and reminds me of the Day Timer planners that used to be so popular. You can keep buying refills for the sections that apply to you and skip the sections that don't. To buy a complete set with a binder is about $50, but you can buy the inserts for less if you want to buy your own binder. I think this one is by far the most comprehensive journals out there.

Garden Scribe Plant Organizer - This is also a vinyl binder with insert pages, but this one focuses more on pockets to keep your plant tags, photos and plant care information. It includes tabbed sections for the most common types of plants found in an ornamental garden such as Perennials, Annuals, Biennials, Shrubs, Trees, and Vines. This is for a more hard core gardener and seems a bit much for beginners. It's about $40 to buy and it would make a nice gift.

A Gardener's Journal – A Ten Year Chronicle of Your Garden - This journal is set up as a ten-year perpetual diary, which you can begin at any time. In the diary section, one page is given to each day of the year, and each page is divided into 10 sections – more than enough for 10 years of notes. In addition to the diary pages, there is also a section on such gardening techniques as composting, digging garden beds, tree care, soils, and garden tool maintenance, etc. This is also about $40 and is definitely a good tool for someone who knows they're in this gardening gig for the long haul.

Garden Planner from Gooseberry Patch - I'm not quite sure if this is a planner to record information or if you're supposed to just read it and get tips. It's marketed to beginners and seasoned gardeners, and says it has everything you need to make gifts from the garden, host a garden party, plant swap, recipes & more. Twelve pockets will help you organize the inspiration you find along the way. This softcover planner runs about $15.

Garden Essentials Garden Journal on Etsy- I'm a huge fan of Etsy because I love buying handmade and stickin' it to the corporate man. I've got my own store there too so I'm partial to anything I find on Etsy. This seller makes a nice little bound journal that has sections including plants in bloom, purchases, planning sheets, photos of your favorite things (& spacers so the book does flare out), journal pages, inspirational quotes & more. This runs about $22.

Even though I love these Garden Journal products, as for now I will be making my own. Maybe when I figure out what I'm doing and start actually harvesting real live vegetables and understanding the process a bit more I'll branch out into a real journal. I'm putting my pages in an old 3-ring binder with some photo sleeves I found in the office so it'll work for now. How about all you gardeners? Do you journal about your garden's progress? - not in a Dear Diary sort of way, but in a more "for the record" sort of way? Do any of you have an tips for things I should include in my journal as a new, inexperienced black-thumbed plant killer?? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nursery School

Our seedlings in the little seed starting greenhouse actually sprouted, so the boys do not need to be my scapegoats after all. Now that things actually sprouted, I'm taking full credit for it. It should be no surprise to you that I had not planned for what I'd do after the seedlings poked through the soil. I learned that they need to go into a larger container pretty quickly because their leaves smash up against the plastic lid within a day or two of their first appearance.

I grabbed some leftover pots from recent landscaping plant purchases and then rummaged through the recycle bin for some yogurt cups to house our seedlings. I jammed a steak knife into the bottom of the yogurt cups and twirled it a bit to create drainage holes. I transplanted all of the okra and some of the broccoli into the bigger containers and then ran out of containers.

Getting the seedlings out of their tiny pots proved problematic. I used a spoon from the kitchen to sort of scoop them out. The problem was many of them had already grown very long roots that were sticking out of the bottom of the tray. I was just grabbing them out before I noticed they were coming out rootless - that's when I discovered the long roots and was a bit more gentle with subsequent seedlings. No one told me they'd have such long delicate little roots so fast. That was not in the gardening book.

When I needed a cheap idea for more mini-planters, my friend EG recommended drilling two holes in the bottom of some cheap plastic cups and using them for my seedling planters. This seemed like a great way to save money so I was all over it. They'll be reusable too so I got over the guilt of buying plastic.

(See my little budding photographer's shadow? He's a natural)

I also learned that labeling the pots is essential. If you're not a skilled gardener you cannot recognize an okra from a broccoli from a watermelon. They're all small green leaves to me. I grabbed some masking tape and a Sharpie and labeled all the pots. Not long after labeling them I discovered my boys wearing Okra masking-tape stickers on their arms. I'm sure I re-stuck them on the right pots.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden stake teepee

I bought a pack of six bamboo garden stakes for less than $3 at Home Depot the other day to use in the garden when we plant the green beans. Last time I planted green beans they all froze before they got to staking size. The package has been sitting on the patio for a few days just calling to the boys. They've been begging me to play with them, but I know if left to their own devices these would become swords in a heartbeat.

So we got the two fat blue rubber bands from around the broccoli and leeks in the fridge, a handful of chip clips and binder clips, two old sheets and the bamboo garden stakes and headed out into the yard.

We put one rubber band around the ends of the bamboo stakes and spread them out in a teepee shape. We jammed the other ends in the ground. Then we got two old sheets and secured them to the top with the other rubber band and used the chip clips and binder clips to clip the sheets to the poles. Instant teepee. Instant happiness.

They got a handmade campfire set for Christmas so they tore in the house to get it and cook up their felt marshmallows in the teepee. They had fun for a good hour or two climbing in and out and playing with the teepee…until the dog tried to get in with them. He couldn't find the door so he flattened the whole thing.

But it was good while it lasted. The stakes are now in the garden ready to go in with the green beans next week and the boys are already planning their next fort with the pea trellis that's in the shed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Stalking Sandhill Cranes

I've been stalking this Sandhill Crane family ever since Farmer B told me he saw two parents with two little hatchlings on the side of the road outside of our neighborhood. I love the baby cranes called "colts" who strut along with their parents and look like little dinosaurs. You can see them in the above not-so-good photo that I took when they were in someone's back yard on February 27.

Today I happened to have the camera and saw them in the cow field across from our neighborhood. The little hatchlings have grown so much in the past month.

I will admit to being insanely curious as to where this family sleeps at night. They can't roost in trees because the babies can't fly yet. I would imagine they hunker down under a bush somewhere and cross their feathers that nothing finds them.

Did you know that Sandhill Cranes mate for life? There are only about 5,000 Florida Sandhill Cranes left and they're protected. We see so many of them in our neck of the woods though. They also live to about 25 years of age in the wild and up to twice that in captivity. Those little colts will stay with their parents for the first year of their lives. Then they'll learn to fly and go seek out mates of their own.

And that's my wildlife weekend for March 21st.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Some Blog Housekeeping

:: New Blog List ::

I'm a big fan of listing the blogs I love so that my readers can read them too. Over there on the left column are my absolute favorite blogs that I read often. Some of them are from gardening friends, like Our Engineered Garden, some are from crafty friends, like The Toby Show, and some are just fun to read, like The Pioneer Woman. I am always impressed by how great so many bloggers are today - how great their photos are, how they manage to come up with something to say every single day and how they keep making me want to come back and read more.

I'm a believer that blogging really is its own art form and so many of these bloggers have really mastered this art. It's easy to say that we blog for ourselves, but blogging is a bit of performance art. If no one reads your blog, you start to wonder why you put on the daily performance of the blog post.

Lately I've been having fun clicking on the user names of some of the people who comment on my posts. It's been a lot of fun peeking into the blog-lives of some of my readers. My blog list in the left column was getting a bit long so I decided to start a new list in the right column with the blogs of some of my gardening and crafty friends who have commented on my posts. This way I'll remember to read their blogs, plus I hope that others will see their blogs and become a fan too.

So - in an attempt to share the blogging love, over there in the right column is my new list. If you're a GWS reader and have some sort of crafty or gardening blog, let me know and I'll add you to the list. If you don't have a blog, check out the list and click on a few - you might find a new favorite!

:: Wildlife Weekends ::

When it's the weekend, few bloggers post. And from the looks of it, few readers read. Hopefully we're all spending time with our families and not focused on the computer.

I'm a photography fan and take entirely too many pictures. I have the external hard drive to prove it. I rarely post these random pictures because there's really not much to say about them and let's face it, blogs are about the written word too.

So I'm declaring my weekends "Wildlife Weekends." There won't be much to say, but if I take a great picture of something in the outdoors, I'll post it for all to see. It might be my pets, wild animals or something growing in the great outdoors - just some weekend eye candy. I may even start out the occasional week with this post holding me over on Monday mornings since at our house the weekend is over on Tuesdays thanks to Farmer B's non-traditional work schedule.

And since I know I'll soon have a coopful of cute chickens, this sounds like the perfect way for me to slip in some gratuitous poultry pic's too!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Let's Talk about Chicks, Man

For you city folk, the term "Chick Days" doesn't bring up the same mental image that it does for anyone who routinely shops at the TSC. And anyone who lives in a somewhat rural community doesn't need to spell out Tractor Supply Company - we just call it the TSC or the "tractor store." Now I don't live all the way out in the country, but we're rural enough that our neighbors have horses, and we're city enough that I have 6 large shopping malls within 40 minutes.

"Chick Days" is a big deal at the TSC. Farmer B was initially disappointed that it didn't relate to Spring Break, but it does relate to Spring. Every Spring, the TSC is over-run with chicks and ducklings sitting in large feed troughs under red heat lamps. I can't help but think of how fast food is kept warm under the same red light that’s keeping these little birds warm - it's a little too close to the #34 General Tso's Chicken that's drying out under the lamp at the local Chinese restaurant.

We've bought ducklings from the TSC before, but we've never bought chicks. We're getting ours from a local feed store in the first week in April since they have them segregated by breed. Also the TSC requires you to buy chicks in multiples of 6 and we only want three. I was annoyed by this until I realized that it's probably their attempt to stop people from buying one chick to shove in a kid's Easter basket and then discard after Easter.

But chick days is big entertainment around here. We stare at the chicks. We touch the chicks. We listen to their non-stop peeping, but we leave the store empty-handed. And like a moth to a flame, about 2 seconds after this picture was taken, Jace reached out to touch the pretty red light. Yes, his fingers are still sore and a bit swollen.

Speaking of chicks, I'm ready to come out of the chicken breed closet and announce what we'll be getting for our new coop. When you research chicken breeds, you realize that you want about 100 chickens, but we were forced to pick three. We're getting:

Barred Rock- For non-chicken-folk, that's a Plymouth Rock who is "barred" in coloration. I'm getting this breed because it's the first chicken-type I fell in love with when I was reading the "Backyard Farming" blog. It's one of my favorite blogs and they have a Barred Rock that is just so beautiful. You can see the pic from the link in this paragraph.

Americauna- I've read that true Americaunas are somewhat rare and that hatcheries and feed stores often sell generic "Easter Eggers" under the name Americauna. These Americaunas and Easter Eggers are special because they lay blue eggs. I'm sure mine will be a generic Easter Egger, but the idea of blue-green eggs is nice.

Buff Orpington- This is actually an Orpington who is "buff" in coloration. I decided on this breed because I read they were developed in Orpington, Kent, in the UK, and I'm from Kent so I felt instantly bonded to this breed. Plus they're known as very sweet docile birds. She'll have to have a very British name.

So there you have it. You've been a part of "Chick Days" and you know the three breeds of birds we'll soon be getting. The boys are giddy with anticipation, especially after their chickstravaganza today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

For the birds: ornaments & eggshells

We're big on wildlife around here and try to give a little back to the wild things that visit our property. We've even thought about getting a salt lick for the deer that hang out in our front yard. I have no clue why our front yard is like a Motel 6 for deer, but it is. Farmer B often gets home very late at night and he often counts up to 20 deer conked out in our front yard.

But this isn't about making deer treats - it's about doing a little something for the birds. This is a two-part project to do with your kids that couldn't be easier. Every year we make edible ornaments for the birds in our yard. These photos are from about a year ago, which is obvious to anyone keeping up with the hairstyles of my boys. Aidan looks quite well-kempt in these photos and barely resemblesthe shaggy kid of today.

Here's what you need:

Cookie cutters
Twine or rafia

To make these beautiful bird ornaments you should gather a handful of old bread, or new bread if you're so inclined.

Use cookie cutters to cut your bread into fun shapes. We used stars and deer for our shapes.

Use a toothpick or ice pick to poke a good-sized hole in the top. When they're complete this is where you'll thread the string or rafia though to hang them up. If you forget to poke a hole in some and then bake them and try to use your husband's 3-hole punch to make the hole, nothing good can come from that. Not that I would know. I'm just saying...

Crack your eggs and discard the yolk. Put some egg white in a bowl and stir it up a bit. Save the eggshells for the next project. Brush the cookies with egg white.

Then sprinkle your favorite bird seed onto the shapes.

Put the bird seed ornaments onto a baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 300 degree oven for about 5 minutes. You want them in there just long enough for the egg whites and birdseed to adhere to the bread. This is the crappy old baking sheet we use for craft projects.

As soon as they've cooled, thread some string, twine or rafia through the hole and hang them up around your yard and watch for birds. Do not hang them up right before a rainstorm, as we did once. They go soggy and fall off the twine leaving very teary child-faces staring out the window at the soggy pile of bready-seedy slop at the bottom of the trees. And then don't let your dogs out when the rain lets up because they'll eat the mushy bready-seedy slop, causing even more tears from your kids. Once again…not that I would know about this.

The second part of this is something anyone can do -even normal people that don't spend every waking moment trying to entertain small children yearning for silly craft projects.

One of the lesser-known ways to attract birds to your yard is by putting out your used crushed eggshells. Female birds who are drained of calcium by egg-laying, eagerly consume them.

Save and rinse your eggshells from Part 1 of this project. If you're feeling squirrelly, save lots of eggshells so you can do a batch at a time like we do.

Bake the shells lightly on a cookie sheet at 250 degrees until dry, but not brown. This sterilizes them and makes them easy to crumble. You can crush them into bite-sized bits and spread them on a patch of bare ground or a platform feeder or even a little bowl on a picnic table. You'll probably find female birds chowing down on this treat after an intense egg-laying session.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

R.I.P. Poor Gracie

My kitchen has become a crime scene. It's a sad sight - not for the weak of heart. I awoke this morning to the shrieks of horror from my children. When I ran into the kitchen to see what they were screaming about, I saw the body. (Please do not read this post if crime scene pics bother you.)

Gracie - DOA - 0700 hours - 18 March 09.
Cause of Death: Unknown.

Her body was zipped up into a potato sack after the CSI's left and she was carted away before breakfast. The chalk outline will fade, but her memory will live on.

What does this say about my sweet potato husbandry skills? I started out with George and Gracie and now Gracie is snuffed out without providing me with one lousy stinking slip?

I knew things with Gracie weren't well when her water started to cloud several days ago and something resembling a tear trickled down her side.

I thought that I might have her in the water upside down since I really can't tell her arse from her head so I flipped her over in the hopes that it would revive her spirit.

It did not.

Sweet dreams, sweet potato. You will be missed.

George, on the other hand, is doing great. He even has a couple of little shoots protruding from his head. So we'll keep a stiff upper lip and focus our attention on our little widower with the hopes that he'll come through with some slips in the end.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's the Final Sproutdown!

After my not-so-hot first time planting experience last season, I decided this time around that buying a lot of seedlings for the garden was both too expensive and too depressing to make it worthwhile. It's expensive because it's about $2.50 to $5 a seedling and you need quite a few to fill up a row. And it's depressing when every seedling you buy wilts and dies within 10 days. Been there, done that. Don't want to do it again.

I decided that I'd buy just a handful of seedlings this time around and try my hand at starting more things from seed. Last time we did great sewing seeds directly in the garden even though many of them died before producing anything. This time I thought we might have even better luck starting the seeds indoors and then transplanting lots of seedlings. It just feels more economical to try it this way and I feel that with our garden there's safety in numbers.

I found a little mini-greenhouse seed starter kit at our local hardware store for under $5, so the price was right for this experiment. The directions were touted as simple enough for a child to understand, so it was perfect. It said to add a special seed starting mix to each little pot, so we filled the little pots with Miracle Grow potting mix because that's all we had on-hand.

Then it said to make a hole and drop two seeds in each hole. I cannot wrap my head around why you put two seeds in one hole. But we followed the directions - reluctantly.

We got a big stash of seeds and read the backs to find out which ones can be started indoors. I let the boys pick out which ones they wanted to try. This involved them in the gardening process and gave me two scapegoats to lay the blame on when this little seed starting gig doesn't work. I can call it the "children's project" and just roll my eyes at their inexperience when nothing sprouts. I'm not above this.

So after packing the little pots, we grabbed a pencil to make holes in each one somewhat close to what the backs of the seed packaging suggested. Then we started planting two seeds in each hole.

There are 12 little sections with 6 pots in each one. We chose 8 different types of seeds - Zucchini, cantaloupe, broccoli, watermelon, cauliflower, okra, tomatoes and lettuce. Then we were left with 4 empty sections. I divided these sections up into 8 rows and decided to see what would happen if we only planted one seed of the above-mentioned types in each pot since the two-seeds-per-pot nonsense bothered me. Is there any question as to why we can't grow things? I doubt everything I read.

I discovered that it's essential to make a little chart in a notebook to record where each seed type was planted. And then it's even more essential to put a sticker somewhere on the seed starter kit showing where at least ONE of the seed types is planted so you can figure out which way up the thing goes when you're referring to your chart in your notebook.

Then we watered them and put the top on them. The directions said to put them under a light, keep the soil wet and wait for life to blossom. So I stuck them on the patio since we have sunlight out there. I can't imagine they'd be better in the house than on the patio, so that's where they're living. We're crossing our fingers that at some point something sprouts.
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