Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Cardinal Virtues

We have a crappy little $3 bird feeder that hangs from the basketball stand in the front yard. We don't get that many interesting birds that feed from it, but sparrows and blackbirds seem to enjoy it, which is all that counts. But the other day my eagle-eyed 5-year-old who misses nothing was quite excited to see a male cardinal getting seeds from the feeder and taking them over to a tree in our front yard.

We watched him for quite awhile from the kitchen window and wondered if he had a little lady in the tree sitting on a nest.

A few minutes later, he disappeared and she showed up. It looks like we have a mating pair.

The boys are amused by it and now I feel compelled to make sure the feeder is fully stocked at all times. Just what I needed - more birds on my list of things I feel compelled to feed. As if a husband, two boys, one dog, two cats, three chickens, and a mating pair of doves in the backyard wasn't enough?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Chicken Jumparoo - The Video

The long-awaited video has finally been made. Three chickens. One plate of leftover spaghetti. Instant entertainment.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project

About a week before the rains came and my garden fell victim to the deluge, I planted a row of Mammoth Sunflowers next to my row of Jack Be Little Pumpkins. I was really looking forward to having tall beautiful sunflowers to brighten up the garden, and once they dried out I planned on throwing them in the chicken run to let the girls eat the leftovers. Not only do I like sunflowers, but I planted them to do my part in the Great Sunflower Project.

Professor Gretchen LeBuhn, a San Francisco State University biology professor, is signing up citizen researchers for the Great Sunflower Project, a program in the United States and Canada that aims to assess the health of bee populations, some of which are collapsing. Volunteers agree to plant one of bees' favorite flowers, namely sunflowers, and record how often the bees visit.

Bees are a lot more important to the welfare of our planet than many people realize. No bees means no pollenization, which means the disappearance of certain plant species, which in turn means the disappearance of certain animal species. And if we're all connected…what does that mean for us? It turns out that the reason for the disappearance of many bee species is complicated, but it can't be argued that man has a huge hand in the decline of the bees - specifically all of the pesticides we use to kill the bad bugs that have done a number on the good bugs as well. Plus there's global warming and the eradication of a lot of natural areas due to building that hasn’t helped either.

But enough about my soapbox and more about the project. If you're a gardener you owe it to the little pollinating bees to sign up with the Great Sunflower Project online. Just go to and sign up. It's completely free and they'll even send you a packet of sunflower seeds to get you started. Once you sign up you fill out an online form all about your garden. It's quite detailed and you'll need to say what part of the country you live in, what type of area you live in, what size your garden is, etc. Then there is a form to record the comings and goings of the bees that visit your sunflowers along with a detailed how-to sheet for participants.

If you're not a gardener, but you have some big pots and a sunny spot, you've got what it takes to plant some sunflowers. They'll grow like mad this summer and you'll have something pretty to look at and you're doing your part to help with the Great Sunflower Project.

If you're interested in the decline of bees you can find a lot of information online. You'll find out pretty quickly that it's a worldwide problem with websites from almost every country abuzz with information about declining bees. Here are some articles from a French website, an Australian website and an English website, all of which are pretty darned depressing if you ask me. It's no secret that I'm a bit of a tree hugger when it comes down to it, so hearing about the decline of a species, especially one this important, just makes me sad.

I think all of us owe it to the bees to take part in this project and see if we can help researchers shed some light on what is happening with bees across the United States. If I can grow sunflowers and attract bees, anyone can!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


I went out into the garden yesterday to see how bad the damage was and rescue any survivors. I'm afraid my mission went from a rescue mission to a recovery mission pretty quickly. Almost everything is dead and some of the plants have just washed away. What's still in one piece is droopy, yellow and wet. It's a pretty sad state of affairs to be honest.

According to the local weather, our area got close to 14 inches of rain and overall the state of Florida got more rain than it did during Tropical Storm Faye - I think around 27 inches. It's also more rain than the state has ever received from a non-tropical system. So we set records left and right. The initial damage estimates are at $100 million dollars for the state. So I guess my flooded yard and ruined garden don't matter in the grand scheme of life, although in my little world it just plain sucks.

But on to the survivors. A couple of the younger tomato plants look like they might recover, but the established plants look like their time is numbered. I plucked any tomatoes that looked like they had a hint of red on them and left the green ones for another day. This is the stash that I recovered and placed on the patio to ripen.

It looks good until you have a closer look and realize most of them have completely split open and are inedible.

Why aren't the birds eating these tomatoes? Maybe their tiny little bird bellies are full from all the good tomatoes they snarfed down before the rains came.

There was one lone green bell pepper clinging to a soggy plant so I plucked it off and brought it inside. The other bell pepper plant is missing so I'm guessing it washed away.

My leeks that I've had a loving relationship with since October of last year are starting to droop, so I got nervous when I saw them. I pulled two of them out to see how they looked because I'm worried they all need to come out of my soil-soup. I yanked two of them out and they seem okay, but they were only the size of thick scallions.

I won't go into the list of what's dead in the post because this is all about the survivors. I won't talk about the dead pumpkins, beans, peas, cucumber, zucchini, cantaloupe or okra. I'll keep this post about my sick little harvest of survivors and show the death and destruction for a later post.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wildlife Weekend: Oh Deer!

The other week I passed about 25 deer standing in a field (well actually someone's back yard, but it's big enough to be classed a field in my world) on the way to Aidan's school smack in the middle of the day. We rarely see more than the occasional deer or two in the daytime around here. We see entire herds at night, but the daytime is not deer-time around here. When I told everyone around here about my flock o' daytime deer I got looks of disbelief.

Didn't I feel vindicated when I had my camera with me on Friday and there they were again!

Granted I only got a pic of about half the group before they took off, but at least I got photographic proof of my great daytime deer sighting. It's the little things that get me through the day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Video Entry: A Wade to the Chicken Coop

Rare Saturday post. Thought you'd like to join me on the wade out from the house to the chicken coop. It's good fun. I realize that the video itself isn't very interesting, but I thought you'd want to see what I am currently experiencing. My favorite part is when I get to the chicken coop and I peer around the attractive piece of plywood I put there in a pathetic attempt to keep the hay dry, and my girls walk up the steps and do their special "we're happy to see you" clucks.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm not enjoying "it" right now

Yeah, you read it right. I'm not enjoying it. And by "it" I mean the garden and the chickens. All of this rain has meant taking care of both has turned into a chore that I dread each day. Funny how I enjoyed both last week and this week I'm ready to kick everything in the back yard to the curb.

The back yard is flooded. I think we've had over 10 inches of rain in one week. Granted some areas just north of here have had 24 inches in one week and there are roads and schools closed. But 10 inches of rain means the entire back yard is flooded with some areas having about 6 inches of standing water, our pool overflowed and our septic is making us nervous with bubbly digestive gurgles in the back yard.

We can't go out back without the dog getting soaked, the boys getting soaked from head to toe, requiring a full change of clothes when we get in, and me getting soaked from overly-enthusiastic splashing boys. The novelty of this for me wore off after the first day. We're on day 5 now. The novelty of this has not worn off for the boys or the dog.

When you wade over to the chickens you discover that this much rain turns their coop into a stinky-soupy-poopy-cesspool. I had to go to the feed store to buy another bale of hay because their tarp-covered bale of hay is now floating in our wheelbarrow. Their coop has hardwire sides to keep them cool in the oppressive Florida heat, but this ingenious solution means the rain gets in too. I spent close to 2 hours yesterday scraping out gobs of floating hay and poo, digging out clumps of wet chicken food from their feeder and scooping out bucketfuls of heavy, wet shavings from their transportation box (more on this later). Keep in mind I'm doing this while it's pouring with rain and I'm standing in about 4 inches of water. I finally left the coop dry and clean and was thoroughly exhausted when I was finished, but glad I wouldn't have to do anything like that again for a long time.

Last night I got smart and threw a huge tarp over the coop, but left one little part open so the chickens didn't get overheated while they slept. I knew they'd enjoy their first night in a dry coop all week. After hours of procrastination, I waded out there late this morning to discover that the little part I'd left open for them to get fresh air was just enough to make the coop look exactly like it did the day before. Exactly like it did the day before. Exactly. I can't begin to tell you the level of dismay I felt when I saw that. It took a lot of willpower not to grab the chickens and chuck them over the fence into our neighbors yard to mingle with their flock.

Then I waded over to the garden to see how it was holding up. The okra seedlings look quite pretty reflecting so perfectly in the puddle of water that has formed around them. The peas look like they're working on their suicide note and will soon be compost-bound. And you already read about my #&%@! cracked tomatoes. I don't even want to get in there and pull any weeds because my boot squelches down several inches when I step onto our nutrient-free soil, so I think it's best I stay out and watch it drown from a distance.

Before you think I'm really ready to throw in the towel, please know that I've read enough Hallmark cards and listened to enough Country music to know that things always get better after the rain, that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger, that if you can get though this, you can get through anything, that the sun will come out tomorrow... and that no matter what I'll still have the dog and the truck at the end of the day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

TOMATO WOE - a limerick

TOMATO WOE - a limerick

My first ripe tomato turned red
But it developed a crack on its head
Then a bird ate its skin
Before I could dig in
And now I'm eating some store bought's instead.

Seriously - am I not meant to enjoy a mater from my garden? I haven't had any watering issues (up until this week's torrential downpours) so I don't know how the damn thing cracked. And this morning - THIS morning - was the morning I had put aside to pick the tomato. My first ripe tomato. I had fresh turkey and cheese and a hoagie put aside just for this morning's first tomato. And wouldn’t you know that a bird decided to peck at the damn thing right before I got there. A garden is definitely a lesson in patience...and humility.

Woe is me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wet Weather Karma

We've had unseasonably dry weather lately, which has led to wildfires, watering restrictions, insanely high pollen counts for allergy sufferers (me) and just all around crunchy grass and plants. Do you know what happens if you complain about this? Karma comes and kicks your butt and you get days and days of heavy rain, which leads to street-level flooding and overflowing drainage ditches.

And…it leads to me and Farmer B spending some quality time together from midnight to 1 a.m. last night (or should I say this morning?) in the back yard. Such a sweet time to spend with your spouse outside in the pitch dark and the unrelenting pouring rain…there's nothing like pulling wellies and a raincoat over your pajamas and wading out into your yard in the middle of the night to make you feel special.

Our first concern was the chickens. Although their coop has a nice shingled roof, the main roosting area for them is walled in by hardware cloth. It had been raining heavy and sideways all night and I just knew the girls were soaked to the bone. I was right. Their coop was soaked. Their food was wet. The hay was floating around and the hens had water pouring off their backs. There is a covered area where the nest boxes are, but they don't like going in there yet. We brought them in to the patio in the chick brooder box to dry out under the heat lamp. They're a little big for the brooder box, but I could tell they were happy to dry out for the first time in days.

Then we noticed that the pool had overflowed. It was seeping over the edges and lapping on the patio. This means that all the gross muddy yard goo can flow straight into the pool. So Farmer B hooked up a hose at about 12:30 a.m. to begin draining the pool water down to a safer level.

And finally Farmer B whipped out one of his favorite hurricane supplies: Downspout extenders. Do you know about these? They saved our house last hurricane season. They open up like a big accordion and link together. You make as long of a snake as you want by attaching them together then attach one end to your downspout from your gutters and then point the other end as far away from the house as possible. This prevents the gush of water from the downspout from making huge puddles next to the foundation of your house, causing house flooding. We know this because we learned about these extenders after our house started flooding in Tropical Storm Faye last year.

So I'm tired today. And I have a lot of clean-up to do. And an ark to build. But at least my allergies are better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Soil test results are in - and they're not pretty

All is not well in the faux-paradise that is my garden. From a distance it looks really good, but the closer you get, the more depressing it is. It looks spectacular if I am not wearing my glasses, which is the new key to my garden happiness.

I decided that instead of blaming myself for the lackluster plant growth, I'll pass the buck and blame the soil again. I quite enjoy feeling like a victim of crappy soil so it pleases me to test the soil so I have proof of my victim status. Last night I decided to whip out the soil test we purchased last year and retest our soil pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. I'll admit to thinking our soil is probably about average, after all, it actually looks like soil this year and we added some old manure a few months ago, so I figured the results might be a little off, but nothing dramatic.

Oh how I fall for it every single time. We have drama. Major soil drama. It's a barren wasteland cleverly disguised as soil and I am flying my bad-soil-victim flag high now that I have these results in my hands.

As far as I can tell our pH seems okay. When we took a soil sample to the extension office we got a result of 6.5. We added a very thin layer of lime at their suggestion and according to the soil test, it does seem a little lighter than the green square next to 7.0, so I'd guess that means the soil pH is still okay.

Look at that Nitrogen. The test says to "match pink color to the Nitrogen Color Chart," but as you can see I don't have any pink - at best it's hovering around low. I think that means our soil is pretty devoid of nitrogen. I don't know much about these results, but I know enough to know that plants need Nitrogen if they're going to live longer than five minutes.

Now let's look at the Phosphorus. It doesn't seem to quite register on the chart either. It looks like the blue is lighter than the lightest blue on the chart too. I'll admit to having no earthly idea what low Phosphorus meant, but after reading about it online I discovered its necessary for good root development and for fruit and seed production.

Finally the Potassium. I had trouble reading the Potassium results last time and I'll admit to being a bit iffy about what they read this time. I'll venture a guess that our Potassium is right about medium, but I can't be sure. I find it hard to believe that it's in the middle range, but I'm going with it because it makes me feel good to have something actually fall within mid-range on the chart.

I think the grand results mean I have some pretty sandy nutrient-free soil and a gardenful of plants who are starving to death. I'm thinking my light spraying with fish goo didn't fix it all. Instead I'll need to find out what fertilizer product to buy, where to apply it and how often to apply it. The worst part about the results? They look exactly the same as the results from when we first dug out the garden last year. So here we are almost a year later and nothing has improved. I really do feel like I'm constantly fighting an uphill battle with this garden, but I'm determined to beat it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oh holy edibleness!

We finally did it. We grew something edible this season. We can call it quits now and know we ended on a high note. I think I'm most excited about the zucchini because its success means I've accomplished quite a few things on my gardening to-do list, namely starting something from a seed on the patio, transferring the seedling to the garden, and having it turn into a full-fledged plant that lived long enough to bear fruit. I seriously feel like I'm ready for my own TLC show at this point.

So here they are in all their glory.

Nevermind that all three of my zucchini plants seem to have issues. The one in the pot is always very wilted by mid-day and only seems to only revive first thing in the morning. One of the other zucchini plants in the garden has yellow edges to all of its leaves - just like someone got a marker and colored a fine yellow line around the edges. That can't mean anything good. And the other one has a hint of yellow leaf edges and is tipped over and is lying sideways on the soil. Once again, it can't be a good sign, but for all I know zucchini plants do periodically chillax on their sides in gardens. Afterall, my zucchini plants are the only zucchini plants I've ever seen, so what do I know?

Remember those bags of strawberries that my mom got me for Easter? They're actually doing pretty good (pic here).They're on the patio, safe from whatever evil creature of the night is eating my garden strawberries. This location is safe, but it requires me to remember to water them, which I've actually been doing even though I'm genetically predisposed to poor plant watering.

Look at the first little berry harvest.

They're small, but they're sugary-sweet! I don't know what happens when their "season" is over. I'm not sure if I take them out of the bags and put them away, or leave them hanging, or if I just discard them. I assume strawberry season will be over soon and I'll have to figure out what to do with them. Until then it's a nice sweet treat by the pool.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Little Moo

If you think Sandhill Crane families are the only wildlife families that I stalk, you're wrong. Apparently I stalk cows too. There are plenty of fields full of cows around here, but there is one secluded field with a small cow family that just captivates me. There are four white cows and one big brown and white bull. I'd venture to guess that the cows are all brahma cows, but I'm not so sure about the bull. They always seem like such a content little family. And then one day I saw this.

Just standing there. All wobbly and new.

Mom and Dad seemed proud. It was hard to get a photo of the calf because Daddy kept standing between me and the baby. And the thin barbed wire fence between us didn't seem like I could bet my life on the fact it'd hold if the new Daddy got sick of the deranged paparazzi. The Daddy is such an attentive bull, nuzzling on mama cow, always laying wherever the cows lay and always standing between crazy-me and the calf.

Since then I've seen a little dark brown one show up and then four days ago a little white one with a brown bum. I enjoy my secluded little brahma family and I hope you do too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is there a Fishmonger in the house?

I decided recently that because we don't have great soil, don't do raised beds, and don't know what we're doing that we should start fertilizing the garden on some sort of schedule. I did a few minutes of online research and looked in my gardening books and determined that the safest fertilizer for us fish goo.

This fish emulsion is supposed to be quite good for many plants in the garden, but the kicker that sold me on it was that it's supposed to be quite foolproof and isn't supposed to burn plants. I'm sure other fertilization methods might be better, but they probably involve a learning curve and my garden can't afford another Kate-learning-curve if it's going to continue to grow this season. The Kate-learning-curve is like playing Russian Roulette with my plants and I can see them quivering with fear as I stand there squinting my eyes trying to read another set of directions on the side of a bottle.

Fish emulsion fertilizer was hard to find, but we eventually located a gallon of the stuff at our local small-town Ace hardware store. When I bought it the cashier (who's worked there for 20+ years) told me that I should save myself some money and make my own. She then told me her recipe for stewing up fish guts and storing it in big pickle buckets for use on her garden. I told her that we don't fish (which surprised her because everyone fishes in her world) but that I'd definitely come to her if we ever end up with any spare fish guts and no plans of what to do with them.

So I mixed this junk up and sprayed it on the garden. I couldn't find anywhere online that said how or where to apply it so I just sprayed it all over everything - the leaves, soil, stems, anything that looked like it would benefit. The problem with this method is that if you are getting spray-happy and waltzing around your garden spritzing the most foul-smelling rotten fish juice you can imagine on your plants and then find yourself downwind of the stuff, you're covered from head to toe before you know it. I didn't think it'd be that bad - afterall, the stinky smell was clearly the garden and not me.

When I was finished I walked over to the boys who were catching lovebugs and feeding them to the chickens and Aidan said "AHHHH! What's that stinky smell?"

"It's the fish goo I sprayed on the garden," I said. "You're smelling the garden."

He walked closer and sniffed my arm.

"YUCK!" he wretched. "It's you! You smell like cat food."

Well the boy was right. I came inside and washed my hands - twice. I tasted fish when we ate dinner last night, yet we had ham. My two Siamese cats were following me around all night in a most-disturbing manner - chattering and flicking their tails as I wafted past them.

So lesson learned: Never stand downwind when you're spraying fish fertilizer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Case of the Composting Creeps

I knew that composting was going to be a mental exercise in extreme grossology when we started last month because I've read enough to know that composting and worms go hand-in-hand. But I think I was in denial when I was drilling holes in a brand new shiny trash can and then bunging in freshly-grated carrot peels and fluffy straw.

Then the other day my worst nightmare happened.

I went out to the compost bin and I heard it. That noise. That noise that makes your stomach go all squirly and flip-floppy and makes your arms break out in goosebumps. It's hard to describe it exactly - but it's the noise of worms… moving. It's kind of like the noise you hear if you thrust your hand into a bowlful of Jell-o and squish it between your fingers. Now if you are not a wormphobe, you can't appreciate the intense physical reaction that the worm-noise causes in a wormphobe. It's so visceral and primitive and there's nothing I can do to turn off my complete and utter revolt.

I knew that no matter what noise I was hearing, I still had to open the top to throw in the bagful of scraps I held, but if I opened the lid, I'd probably make eye contact with… "them."

"Them" is my worst worm nightmare. "Them" refers to the m-word that rhymes with faggot (and by faggot, I am obviously talking about the decorative stitch on my fancy sewing machine, thank you very much). When I was a kid on the beach one day around sunset I heard that noise for the first time and glanced over to see something moving along on the sand. When I walked over to see what it was, it was a fish completely alive with m-words, seemingly undulating across the sand. I think I showered six times that day and I'm still scarred by it 20 years later.

I took off the lid to the compost bin the way I always do. It's done in such a graceful way that I'm always glad no one is watching. I spring off the bungee cord and hang it on the fence. Then I step as far back from the can as possible and reach my arm over to the far side of the lid. When I've got a good grip I fling the lid off, opening it up toward me and hop like mad about 15 steps backward. This ensures that the millions of little compost-loving flies that live inside won't shoot up my nose and suck out my brain. But you knew that.

Then I stood there wondering if I could toss in the scraps from where I was standing, but I didn't like the idea of touching the slimy scraps with my hand either. So I walked a few steps closer and tried very hard not to look, but you have to look to make sure those brain-sucking flies aren't mounting a nasal assault. Then I saw it. Wriggling, writhing, undulating, segmented light-colored vile creatures of the compost bin. I can only assume they were the m-word, but I didn't stick around long enough to do a complete scientific analysis.

You need to know that because of the worm issue our compost bin hasn't been rolled around the yard to mix it up like we intended. I can't bear the thought of some cylindrical biological being slipping out from one of those holes and somehow making contact with me - if not the being, then one of its…its…its...ugh…eggs.

Maybe I wasn't put on this earth to compost, but dammit I'm trying. It might not be pretty and it might make me feel girlier than anything else in my life, but we'll continue to chuck scraps into the bin with the hopes of one day making our own black gold. Let's just hope that this is all worth it when I eventually get my therapy bill.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chicken Jumparoo

When we visited Gatorland earlier this year the highlight of the trip for the boys was the "Gator Jumparoo" where handlers hold up raw chickens above the water and the crowds watch the gators go airborne to grab the food. So it only seemed logical that given enough free time, we'd end up doing our own jumparoo involving chickens, but in a less morbid capacity.

We had a bit of leftover spaghetti from dinner the other night and having two little boys, the conversation led to how much it resembled worms. The lightbulb went off and the Chicken Jumparoo was born.

This is by far the most entertaining thing I've done in a long time, which is either a sad commentary on my life as a stay-at-home-mom or it's quite amusing, depending on how you look at it. The first time we did a Chicken Jumparoo I called Farmer B at work excitedly explaining the entire hilarious event over the phone and instead of laughing along with me, he paused and told me I need to get some real friends - then he specified that the chickens don't count as real friends.

We've had three Chicken Jumparoo's now and the chickens see the bowl of spaghetti coming and work themselves up into quite a savage frenzy of snapping beaks and karate-kicking chicken legs.

Here is Clementine showing her best moves. She's definitely our smallest chicken, but our highest jumper too. She likes to close her eyes as she goes in for the noodle and does a mean kung fu kick if one of the other girls jumps with her.

Look at those chicken legs, tense chest muscles and closed eyes. She's a chicken on a mission and has more concentration than the other two combined.

Sookie is a much calmer jumper. She's done some mad moves, but overall she just propels herself directly upwards and grabs the noodle in a very calculating manner.

Here's Sookie in mid-air with her beak clamped firmly around a noodle and a deadly side kick whacking out with her left leg.

Maggie prefers to hop up and down without much effort and then steal the noodle from whoever just jumped up and grabbed it. She has discovered it takes much less work to reach over and grab a noodle from the beak of a tired jumping chicken than it takes to actually jump herself. Sure she'll jump if the other two are fighting over a noodle, but she's not as prone to Jackie Chan moves as the other two.

And here's Sookie and Maggie doing a chicken version of the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp.

So if you have chickens and you have spaghetti, you know what you have to do. I'll film this next time and attempt a video post because it's definitely a site to see.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm a wiener!

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the email from Road Trip Journal last week!!! I won!!! I won a $100 gas card for my Blue Spring State Park article that was featured on their site and up for the April Reader's Choice award!! Apparently I won with just over 30% of the vote!!! I never win anything, so this was such a great surprise!

I didn't prepare a speech or anything, but I'm sure if I didn't win I'd start out by saying what an honor it was to be nominated. But since I won, I can honestly say that I'm as happy as a hot chicken with a cold slice of watermelon! I want to thank all of you who visited Road Trip Journal and voted for my article - I think it's a fun little blog with lots of great travel stories from a traveler's point of view, and hopefully I'll be able to submit more blog entries to it in the future.

Thanks everyone!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Need advice for rogue tomato plants

Last time we planted I didn't have the pleasure of consuming one lousy tomato, despite having an entire row of tomato plants. If you've been with me long enough you'll remember that I had some "minor" (okay major) watering issues, which led to every single tomato cracking open on the stem. After the season was over I got rid of every plant in the garden and Farmer B tilled the garden so that we could replant.

I was out in the garden over the weekend and discovered the oddest thing. There are strange little weeds growing all over the garden that look a lot like tomato plants. I inspected them closer. I rubbed the leaves. They smelled like tomato plants. They even have little yellow flowers on them. I have rogue maters all over the garden!!

Is life continuing with complete disregard for my black thumb??? Did last season's plants want to live so badly that they hid out in my soil just waiting for the perfect time to sprout again? If this works out we WILL get to eat some of the tomatoes from our first tomato plants - even if it is one season later!

We counted about 10 little rogue tomatoes today. Some are in good spots and will probably continue to grow just fine, but some are in horrible spots, like right under other plants, namely our Jack Be Little Pumpkins.

What should I do? Is there a safe way to dig up these plants and move them? If there is, how do I dig up ones that are right up against another plant? I know that hard core gardeners would probably say to just dig them all up and chuck 'em in the compost heap. But you know that I want to save anything that has a zest for life in my garden. Purposely killing something that's growing in my garden goes against my gardening creed.

Does anyone have any advice for me? And if you're kind enough to give advice, please remember that I'll need specifics if I'm going to pull this off. I've never dug up a plant in the garden and moved it, so this will be a first for me. Anything dug up in my garden ends up in the compost bin, so I am completely new to this endeavor. I want to save these tomatoes though so I'm asking for help if anyone's willing to give it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day today and it's time for all of us to say thanks to our moms for going through all the trouble of raising us. Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mom, who always encourages me to try anything because it might just work out. My mom is the one who encouraged me to start my web design business, my sewing business, to start gardening and even to get chickens. She really does believe that I can do anything if I just try. It's nice to know that no matter what I have someone out there who'll support any hair-brained idea that pops into my mind. Thanks mom!

And Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful gardening mamas who stop by and read my blog from time to time! You're teaching your children an amazing life lesson that will stick with them forever if you've got a family garden! Hopefully they'll continue gardening with their own children one day.

Since today is a day dedicated to mothers, I thought these photos would be appropriate. Aidan is the one who spotted this in the tree by our shed, which makes sense since his eyes are only 5 years old and are in full working order.

Do you see it?

How about now?

A little closer?

There's mama dove on a nicely-made nest just as still as a statue keeping those eggs warm. She's doing what moms do best - putting herself second in order to nurture her little ones and keep them safe.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Intruder Alert!

Yesterday morning was chugging along when I decided it would be a good time to go outside and move the chickens from their coop to their run. This is a daily occurrence, so like clockwork the boys and the dog wait at the door for me to let them out. The chicken coop is hidden behind our shed, so you cannot see it from the back patio, but it's a nice hidden spot so it's perfect for my clandestine coop.

We all walked about 10 steps out of the back door when I saw something dark streak across the yard from the chicken coop toward the trees. The dog instantly darted over there and chased the thing into the trees.

I could tell by its gait that the dark thing was a chicken, which made me realize the inevitable: I must have forgotten to lock up the chicken coop the previous night and the girls had been loose all night. Instantly I had thoughts running through my mind of loose chickens being scooped up by creatures of the night. I imagined crying children and a very upset ME as I managed to save the one rogue chicken who had stayed in the yard and was now being chased by the dog.

I peeked in the chicken coop and saw two chickens. Sookie was missing. How on earth did Sookie get out? This was very confusing. I grabbed the dog and tried to drag him to the patio door to lock him up so I could catch her and put her back in the coop. The dog has one defense when you're trying to make him do something he clearly does not want to do. He goes limp. It's beyond frustrating. You can't drag him or move him because he just lays there limp and then when you give up he scampers off and taunts you with high annoying barks.

So I decided to pick him up and carry him to the house. Please note that he's a full-grown adult male German Shepherd. This is just how much I love the chickens. I got him in the house and Aidan comes running up and says "There are three chickens in the chicken house! Sookie is on the stairs!" I ran up to look and he was right.

Well who on earth just streaked past us?

Then I hear a man's voice and look up and hanging over the top of our 6-foot privacy fencing is one of our neighbors. He's a Korean man in his 60s wearing a big floppy hat and doing his best to tell me that one of his chickens flew over my fence. This involves a lot of arm flapping and pointing in his description. Our neighbors are a Korean family who speak very little English and we've never spoken to them - only because of the language barrier. We wave all the time though.

I know they've been building a secret chicken coop and I have seen their chickens through a hole in the fence. I tried explaining to the man that we have chickens too so that we would be united in chicken solidarity, but I'm not sure he got what I was saying.

"We have three chickens!" I said, pointing to our coop.

"No, only 1 chicken fly" he says pointing at our yard.

"Yes, I'll get her and throw her over, but we have three of our own chickens!" I say.

"We have 27" he says.

Really? I must have heard him wrong.

So we continue the hunt for the small black chicken. The dog is barking up a storm from the patio. The boys are running and squealing like mad and our neighbor is still hanging over the fence screaming directions to me in Korean and pointing at various trees. It was quite a scene.

We chased her all over the yard. Have you ever chased a chicken? It's quite a scene, I assure you, especially with 3-year-old and 5-year-old boys helping. I eventually found the chicken hiding in some bushes under a tree. By this point our neighbor had given up on me and had gone back to gardening.

Once I caught her she was so calm! She was clearly a Polish chicken and a very sweet friendly little bird. I'll admit to wanting to tell him she was eaten by our dog and keeping her because she was such a friendly little thing. But instead I walked over to the fence and climbed up and screamed "HELLO!" with the chicken in my hands.

An older lady in a big straw hat walked over and smiled and waved, then motioned for me to throw the chicken over the fence. I said goodbye to my little rogue chicken and tossed her into their yard. We all then ran over to our secret chicken peephole and watched her run into her coop with a whole mess of other random chickens. She appeared to be the only Polish chicken so she'll be easy to spot in our covert through-the-fence chicken spying. It was fun while it lasted though.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's splitsville for me and the radishes

The one thing I successfully grew last year was the radish. The big Sparkler White Tip radish to be exact. The one thing that made me think I had enough hidden gardening skills to keep up this pathetic gardening gig was that row of perfect little red round radishes I pulled out of the ground last year. So of course I've been touting myself as the Radish Queen to all my non-gardening friends who don't know that an ape should be able to successfully grow radishes. I even shared my radish and apple salad recipe with them to further prove what a radish connoisseur I am.

This time my radishes have been bombing along at full speed and looking grand. Then the vacation happened upon us. The day we were slated to leave I decided to have a last-minute check around the garden. I was poking around for evil-doing bugs and making sure that the sprinkler was hooked up and pointing the right way and that the timer was set.

I peered down at the radishes and thought "Damn, those look ready - like really, really ready."

I pulled one out. Perfect.

I checked my watch. We had to pack the car and leave… what to do…what to do? If I pull them all out, I can't get them cleaned up and packed up in time to take with us. And even if I did, what would I do with a bag full of radishes on vacation? We certainly weren't planning on buying lots of salad bits to go with radishes. I didn't think they'd do well in the fridge for 10 days so I decided to leave them in the ground, figuring that they'd be okay when we got home.

Oh how wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

I pulled them out of the ground the day we got home. I expected one or two to have cracked from a big gut, but I didn't expect almost all of them to be split. I tossed them into a big bowl of water on the patio with the intention of letting them sit for about 5 minutes and then separating the radishes from the greens and soil for the compost bin.

Fast forward to this morning. I stumbled out on the patio to let the dog out after a very sleepless night thanks to a 3-year-old with an overactive imagination and a series of bad dreams and banchee-like screaming fits. I got to the screen door and instead of the dog bolting past me to get outside, I hear "slup, slup, slup, slup." I turn around to see the dog gulping water out of the container full of radishes. GAH!

I had forgotten about the radishes! And what was that smell? That horrible rotten smell? That would be the bucket o' radishes. Apparently they'd been sucking up water all night, which in some insane chemical reaction causes the leaves to turn to mush, the radishes to go all puffy and squishy and the water to smell worse than a port-a-potty at a high school football game.

Not one little radish was saved. This is why my blog isn't called "Gardening With Skills." I felt like such a dope and have abdicated the Radish Queen throne. I do have some leftover seeds that I'm going to plant later this week with the hopes that I can make it to the position of Radish Duchess before the summer is over.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The great big fat garden update

It turns out that the chickens aren't the only things that grew with reckless abandon during our vacation - the garden went ballistic too. I wish I had footage of us all dashing out into the yard to oogle everything we'd left behind. After being beyond shocked at the size of the chickens, we glanced over to the garden and we were all gob-smacked by the size of the plants. Aidan raced over to the garden and was dancing around and pointing and screaming "Look! Look! We grew tomatoes!"

That was the understatement of the year. Not only did the tomatoes grow insanely fast and large, but everything else really packed on the pounds too! When we left we had lots of small droopy sad-looking plants. We returned to the healthiest-looking garden we've ever had.

Now I know what you're thinking. I know this because Farmer B already said it to me. And I quote "Wow - the best thing to happen to the garden was YOU LEAVING!" Well he's right. Apparently the gardening gods noticed that my two black opposable thumbs were far enough away to allow major sproutage and growth to take place in my absence. I'm okay with it, no matter how it happened.

Look at the leeks too! They're very strong and getting quite large. The transplanted leeks are about 1/3 the size of the "original" leeks, but they appear alive, so that's all I can ask for. I feel like these leeks have been in the ground for a year and it turns out that I have no clue when they're ready to be picked. I think the package said when they hit about 1" in diameter, but what if they never get that big? How will I know when it's time? In my world, it's usually time to pick things when they're not quite ready or when they're completely overdone.

The corn is growing well. At least I thought so until I drove out of the neighborhood and saw the garden of my gardening rival "Mr. Miagi," as I call him. His corn is so big and strong that they could film the third installment of Children of the Corn in his garden. I'm convinced he has some magic potion he sprays on the garden late at night, but that's another story.

I have two zucchini plants in the garden that are doing really well and the one on the screened-in patio is outstanding too! I have no clue if the one on the patio needs to be put in the garden for pollination purposes. I'll have to look into that. Although I fear that putting this really healthy-looking plant too close to the garden will be like bringing a lamb to slaughter.

My green beans and peas have started to grow and appear to be thinking about climbing up the teepee and trellises that we set up. I just know that as soon as they start climbing up the teepee and Aidan catches sight of them that I'll hear a crash and a snap as he tries to climb it on his way to reach the ogre. I know this because he talks about it constantly. Daily we have this conversation "Is it big enough to climb yet mommy?" "Um, no Aidan. Don't climb anything in the garden unless you want to see Mommy cry." Repeat this everyday.

My row of Jack Be Little pumpkins is looking healthy, but I think they should have been thinned. I worry they're too close together, but I'm running with it now because they all seem like they're doing fine and last time my problem was not enough flowers for pollination - well that and my complete lack of gardening skills, poor watering plan, craptacular soil, some sort of mildewy disease and oppressive heat.

My one green bell pepper plant managed to sprout a bell pepper while we were gone too. I have to figure out when you can pick these because I don't know much about how bell pepper plants work.

I have a handful of other things that aren't photographed that seem to still be clinging to life, which is a shocker. I have some okra and carrots that aren't dead and I have something green sticking out of the soil in my potato row. I have no clue if it's a potato or a weed. I'm famous for babying weeds like they're a priceless heirloom only to discover it's a big, fat dandelion, so I'm not sure if I have a potato growing or just an evil weed. I'll research this further before I claim potato-growing prowess.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin