Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day :: June 2009

Ding, Ding, Ding… bring out your dead!

Welcome to Garden Blogger's Death Day for the month of June, 2009! This is the day for gardeners who overwater, underwater, maim, prune or otherwise neglect their plants to a state of dismal droopage or untimely death. This is the day for gardeners like me with black thumbs who kill more than they cultivate, for cadmium-green-thumbed gardeners who have a lapse in judgment and commit accidental planticide, and for any poor soul whose plants fall victim to that fickle mother who controls us all - Mother Nature.

This has been an unusually death-ridden month for my garden. The recovery from the flooding has been impossible in the oppressive heat of this fun-filled Florida summer and I am left with one loan surviving vegetable - the okra. Embarrassingly, everything else is brown and overgrown with weeds.

I have three rogue okra plants who insist on giving me one vibrant green okra every other day. I have no earthly idea what to do with about one okra every two days, so they're going to waste. I'm treating the okra plants like gold since they're my lone survivors, even though I have no clue what to do with the okra they produce.

Everything else has gone belly-up. Roots in the air. Kaput.

Here is my oh-so-sad corn crop. Brown. Dead. This is especially disappointing since we have a huge corn farm not far from here that grows acres of Zellwood Sweet Corn in extremely sandy soil - just like mine.

Here are the bug-ridden, deformed, rotten and downright un-scrumptious ears of corn. The chickens quite liked them, but that's about it.

The tomatoes are brown sticks. And what's left of them has become overrun with weeds. On a bright note, I did have a pretty good tomato harvest before they bit the dust.

My bean plants washed away, leaving me with one lone dried-out bean pod clinging on to the teepee. I'm sad about the beans because this is twice now that I've lost my entire bean crop to flooding.

So how about all of you? What fell victim to your gardening wrath this month? Feel free to leave a comment explaining what you killed or maimed this month. If you have a blog leave a link to it so we can visit and check out post mortem photos too.

Remember, we're here for you. Let's not judge, but support each other like a good pair of pantyhose or a well-staked garden trellis.

(And if you haven't done so yet, don't forget to enter to win a free garden gnome! The contest ends tonight at midnight and the winner will be announced tomorrow).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Who you callin' chicken?

I don't know how it happened, but it seems like overnight our big German Shepherd is afraid of everything. He just seems so hen-pecked these days and we can't put our finger on what's different about him. Maybe this means he'll be nicer to the hens, but we don't want to count our chickens before they've hatched.

I mean he's always been a bit of a bird brain, but now he's getting his feathers ruffled over every little thing. The other day there was a thunderstorm and he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off! Could this be a sign of our dog becoming friendlier? Possibly, but we don't want to put all our eggs in one basket.

I guess he's turned into...

...a real chicken!

Okay, not really, but I amuse myself sometimes. I suppose it's my way of compensating for my lack of wildlife sightings this week, which means I'm plum out of ideas for today's wildlife weekend photo op. This'll have to do.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Happy Bloggiversary to me! And a giveaway to you!

It was one year ago tomorrow that I created this blog and announced that I'd be starting a garden with the goal of relying less on the produce aisle and more on ourselves. Oh how lofty and naïve my goals were! I may still be slinking round the produce section of the grocery store with my hat pulled tight down over my eyes, but I have had enough success in the garden over the past year to make it all worthwhile. It has been a great year and I'm happy to have managed to continue telling our family's gardening story for a full 365 days. To thank you for reading I've got a giveaway tucked in at the end of this post.

First, let's look at the bad things that have happened in and around the garden in the past 12 months:

· Garden flattened by a freak microburst.
· Garden washed away by record-breaking flooding in Tropical Storm Faye in 2008.
· Garden washed away by record-breaking flooding from sub-tropical rain system in 2009.
· My best friend Baillan died. She loved to sit by the garden and chew on a stick while we worked. I still miss her so much.
· Mad infestation of tomato hornworms leaving me with green leafless sticks where my tomato plants used to be.
· Lots and lots and lots of dead plants.

Now let's look at all the good things that have happened in and around the garden in the past 12 months:

· My boys now know how plants grow. They actually understand where fresh vegetables come from.
· We've actually eaten things we've grown in our garden!!!
· My boys have developed an appreciation for gardening and are understanding a bit about sustainability (even though we aren't sustaining much at all right now).
· I've met some of the nicest people in the world via this blog. Garden bloggers really are a great group of people and it's been more fun than I could have imagined interacting with you all.
· I've found an outlet for my need to write and love for photography - my first time finding an outlet for my hobbies since becoming a stay-at-home-mom.
· We have three wonderful pet chickens and are on our way to fresh eggs soon.
· My boys have seen mommy fail miserably at something and still stick with it. I think that's a pretty good lesson for little kids these days.
· I actually like gardening now.
· I have learned how to compost and between the compost heap, the chickens and recycling we hardly have any trash by the curb anymore.
· I had never stuck a vegetable seed in the ground before we planted last year. I started with no skills whatsoever. Now I think I can safely say I have gained a skill or two now. Although, I don't think I'm ready to rename the blog "Gardening with Two Skills."

After looking back over the past year I tried to think about what had grown the best in the garden. The answer I came up with was simple when I looked at the photos: my boys! I can't believe how much they've grown in the past year! …. And really can't believe how much their hair has grown! Here's a comparison from June 2008 to June 2009. What a difference.

To thank my readers for popping in to read my little blog, I'd like to offer this most important garden talisman to one lucky reader! As you know, I have a thing for garden gnomes. They're considered good luck and you'd be hard-pressed to find a garden in our family (in the UK, that is) without one. This little gnome stands about 8 1/2 inches tall and he's holding a watering can to give your garden just the right amount of water - the one thing I've needed more than anything since I started gardening.

If you'd like to win this gnome, just leave a comment on this entry and I'll pick a winner at random using the random number generator. I'll ship the gnome off to you so that he can hide in a corner of your garden and bring you great gardening luck. I'll pay for shipping too, so all the gnome needs is a new home. If you do become the lucky owner of this gnome, please promise me you'll keep him safe from the radicals at the GGL (Garden Gnome Liberation). I couldn't bear the thought of him being liberated by the extremists!

I'll announce the winner on July 1st, so you've got until midnight on June 30th to enter. Please check back then to see if you've got a gnome headed your way!

Good luck and thanks again everyone!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garden Memory Game for Kids

I've got two exciting anniversaries coming up - This Saturday is the one-year anniversary of the blog and it's also the day we officially decided to start our garden! (I'll be celebrating my bloggiversary on Friday if you want to stop by). I wanted to find a fun way to document the first year of our adventure into gardening for the boys, because at 3 and 5 years old, they aren't big blog readers. I thought about making a photo album from the past year, but how often do you see young kids thumbing through photo albums? Instead I found a way to combine our first year of gardening into a game that my boys love. So we came up with "Our First Garden Memory Game."

I should warn you that if you try this, it's much more time-consuming and fiddly than I originally anticipated, but the end result was awesome.

I went through the past 12 months of garden photos and tried to pull out a representative group showing some of the gardening events that would be memorable to the kids. We've got our first harvest, hornworms, ladybugs, making a space toad house, building a tent from garden stakes, fishing for tadpoles, making mud puddle angels, and even pictures of the pets, the whole family making butter and some close-up photos of our best harvest.

I made a grid in Photoshop and placed each photo inside 2.5 x 2.5 squares on the grid so I had 12 photos per page. I printed out two copies of each photo on cardstock paper. I made 36 matching pairs and tried to get an equal number of both boys because…well, if you're a parent I don't need to finish that sentence.

Then I cut out the photos so I had 72 little square photos. I then got some green construction paper and folded it into thirds lengthwise and then folded it down into four squares widthwise. This makes a nice green backing for each photo and gives each one a nice green mat effect. This step was very time consuming, but we have another fun memory match game I printed out from Jan Brett's website that the boys love, and although it's done on cardstock, my 5-year-old has figured out that if you stare hard enough at the backs of the cards you can make out some shapes and colors and make a match every single time. This sends my 3-year-old into an unrecoverable downward spiral. To prevent this, I went with the green backing.

I then glued 72 green squares to the backs of 72 little square photos. You only need one tiny little bit of glue in the middle, so this step went pretty quickly.

I then put the cards inside a laminating sheet, leaving just enough space between each one to be able to cut them down to size. The problem with this was that the green squares were each about 1/8th of an inch too big to fit perfectly inside the laminating sheet. This would have caused me to use a TON of laminating sheets since only about 6 per page fit. So I sat there with scissors cutting a thin strip of paper off the edge of every single side of 72 little squares - the entire time thinking, wow - this was clearly a dumb idea. But I made it so that I got nine per sheet, so it was worth it. So if you try this, make your backing squares small enough so you can line up plenty of them inside a laminating sheet BEFORE cutting out all the individual squares.

I ran them through the laminator and ended up with a handful of laminated sheets of memory cards. I cut them out and the game was complete.

My mom found a cute green box at a craft store for $1 that we decorated to use as the game box with a little graphic I also made in Photoshop.

The boys are in love with this game. Because 36 matching cards are entirely too many to use at once at their current skill level, we start out each game with each boy picking out a handful of pictures they like and the remaining ones get put back in the box. We then mix their cards together, flip them upside down and start the memory game.

The boys are more thrilled with this game than I expected. I love hearing them get excited about the photo and then start talking about the memory associated with it. I knew it would be a memory game, but I didn't anticipate the garden memories that went along with it. It's great hearing them say "Ohhhh - this was when we learned to shell peanuts!" and "Oh! I remember when we planted those seeds in that tray!" and "Look how dirty Jace is!" and "Look! There's Nanny making butter!" I know that as they get older, we'll be able to keep adding cards into the game until they're finally using all 36 matching pairs at once. It'll be fun in a year or so to look back at how little they were in the pictures and remember the first time we planted a family garden.

A personalized memory game like this would be tons of fun for any child - from a first soccer team, to a kindergarten class, to a fun summer vacation. Kids love turning over pictures of themselves and family members and talking about the memories associated with the pictures. Making our garden has been such a great memory for us and I'm glad to know that the boys won't soon forget their first year as junior gardeners now that they have this game.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Garden Chicken Moat

As you may have read before, Farmer B and I are on the quest for the perfect attached run for the chickens. They currently have a run-less coop and a separate hoop-run that we move around the yard every couple of days. We know there has to be a better method, so we've (meaning "I've") been researching the heck out of chicken run alternatives.

One alternative that I found fascinating is the Chicken Moat. When I mentioned this to Farmer B it led to an interesting discussion about whether chickens can swim. (This has been much debated, but yes they can swim, although usually NOT by choice. Who knew?) Instead of a water-filled moat, this is a ground-level fenced-in "moat" around a vegetable garden.

picture from Mother Earth News

The chicken moat is a fenced area that runs along the perimeter of a garden that keeps the vegetable garden pest-free as the chickens scamper around the moat snapping up weeds and bugs. I read about it on Mother Earth News and think it is a great solution for someone with a vegetable garden and serious carpentry skills. I envision little drawbridges, turrets and dragon stencils around the edges, but that's just me. You can click here to see some great photos.

Another really cool idea for people with a raised bed vegetable garden is to build a chicken run that is the exact size of your raised beds.
picture from Garden Girl TV

Each season you place the chicken run on top of one of your raised beds that is out of commission for the season. That bed becomes the flooring for the chickens who will scratch around and prepare that bed with all their nitrogen-rich chicken poo for the next planting season. Each season you rotate the chickens to a new raised bed where the process continues again. You let them do the work for you.

Yes, you there - you chicken - you lay fresh eggs AND prepare my garden bed for next season's planting!

Garden Girl TV has some great photos of a chicken run on a raised bed and even a tutorial for making a raised bed run.

As cool as both of these ideas are, sadly neither one will work for us. I think we'll end up renovating a chain-link dog run into a chicken run if we can acquire one on FreeCycle or CraigsList. We don't have the time, energy and mad carpentry skills to make a nice, fancy wood and wire chicken run, so I think adapting a pre-made dog run to meet our needs is the way we'll go.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Deer Ole' Dad

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who read my blog and to the dads of my readers too!!!

Farmer B woke up this morning to hand-made cards, creatively-wrapped presents, wrestling with the pajama-clad boys on the couch and then a breakfast of home-made French toast...just a really great start to the day.

Father's Day is a bit bittersweet for me. I love celebrating it with Farmer B and the boys, but I'm always a bit sad that my dad is no longer with us.

Here he is on the last day I happened to take a photo of him - less than a week before he died. He's wearing the dog's reindeer antlers on his head because that's just the sort of guy he was. I was about eight months pregnant when I took this photo and my oldest son was just shy of two years old. He was laughing his toddler head off that his Grandad was wearing the dog's reindeer antlers and acting like it was totally normal. It's such a great memory.

Miss you Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day: Announcement

Ding, Ding, Ding… bring out your dead!

Due to the awesome response from my fellow plant-killing garden bloggers, I have decided to host Garden Blogger's Death Day on the last day of every month. It's the perfect time to confess your gardening sins for the month and come clean as to what fell victim to your wrath. Instead of gardening blogs filled with gorgeous blooms and fat, healthy vegetables, this is your time to expose the dead and dying withered messes that breathed their last breath under your care.

As a relatively new gardener who's light on skills, but heavy on dead plants, it makes me feel better to see some of the seasoned pro's unveiling their garden corpses instead of just reveling in their mad gardening skills. It's a big fat case of "misery loves company" in the garden.

If you'd like to join me in Garden Blogger's Death Day, come back here on the last day of the month and leave a comment as to what kicked the bucket in your garden that month. Feel free to put a link to your blog so we can visit it and see pictures of the plants that bought the farm, became one with the compost heap, and crossed to the great gardening beyond.

Still confused? Click here to read more about Garden Blogger's Death Day.

Hope to see you all on June 30th!! Sadly, I already have plenty to contribute…as always. Here's a free button if you'd like to use one.

Display the Garden Blogger's Death Day button on your blog with pride! Just copy and paste this text below onto your site.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

The insanity of the Chicken Transportation Unit

Do you ever do something day after day without thinking about what you're doing and just assume what you're doing is normal? Then one day you stop and actually LOOK at what you're doing and realize how insane you'd look to someone else? This is a very true statement for me, especially with my Chicken Transportation Unit.

Right now the hens live in a coop. You all remember the coop, right? Insanely bright teal and white number that was built by my mom's generous employees just so that I could have chickens. And you remember the hoop-run that my mom and I made using our Womanly Powers of Construction with power tools and whatnot??

Have you ever wondered how the chickens get from the coop to the portable chicken run?


Do you wonder now?

Okay, good.

Well let me clue you in to my insanity. Every morning after breakfast I trek out into the already-humid-and-so-hot-that-your-hair-sticks-to-your-face backyard and say good morning to the girls. They hear me clomping over to them so they wait at the door of their coop for their driver.

I open the coop door and pick up each hen and place her into the large tupperware container that used to be their brooder box when they were hatchlings. It's filled with a layer of pine shavings and has a makeshift wire "roof." Clementine loves to be held and walks right up to me to be picked up. Maggie loves the chase and waits patiently for her turn to be picked up. As soon as I grab for her she BA-GAWK's as loud as she can and scurries around in circles. When I catch her, she continues to kick me with the hopes of scratching one of my fingers off. It's delightful. Then it's Sookie's turn. Like Maggie, she enjoys the chase, but instead of running around in circles, she merely ducks down and bobs and weaves without really going anywhere. Thankfully when I catch her she is quite content to be held and rarely puts up a fight. Here is Maggie charging the camera lens on one of her escape attempts.

Then I have all three chickens sitting in a box on a Little Red Wagon. Like a big goober, I then grab the handle of the wagon and pull the whole contraption across the yard to wherever the hoop-run happens to be sitting that day. The boys help me about once a week, but the other 13 times a week, it's all me.

We try to move the hoop-run around the yard every 3 days or so. This gives them fresh grass to graze on and stops the run-area from getting stinky from chicken poo. I get to the hoop run and open the door and then pick up the entire tupperware box and place it in the opening. I lean it over toward the run and open up the lid and give it a little shake. Clementine always hops out daintily and proceeds into the back of the run. Sookie always hops out with a mess of feathers and squawking and dashes to the back of the run. Maggie always flaps and flies with such mad abandon that she always knocks over the food container. Always.

Yesterday was even more special. We had workers in the yard digging a drain and they were quite amused with the odd blonde chick walking along with a red-wagon full of chickens. When I got to the run and lifted up the roof of the box, Sookie made a run for it. She veered off left and ended up in some trees. I then ended up crawling through spiderwebs and bushes calling her name, all the while hoping Maggie and Clementine didn't make a break for it since I had left the door to the run open to shoo Sookie back inside. It was awesome having an audience during this experience.

In the evening after I put my boys to bed, I repeat this ritual, walking out to the run, gathering up all three chickens into the box in the little red wagon, trekking across the yard to the coop and unloading them into the coop. And this was all seeming so normal to me.

Until yesterday...

...when I thought to myself….who DOES this?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Awards Show

I received a nice message the other day from Annie's Granny over at Annie's Kitchen Garden saying that she's sent me a Kreativ Blogger Award. It turns out that as much as I love to receive blogging awards from my fellow bloggers, I'm terrible at following through with the tasks necessary to pass the award along. It's not that I don't want to pass it along. It's just that I mean to do it and then next thing I know I forgot and then it's been so long that it's awkward and weird to pass it along. I'm not proud of this. It's definitely one of my shortcomings.

For example, Cheryl at Cheryl's Garden Goodies was kind enough to pass on "The Blogger Award" on May 1st of this year. I thought it was so nice of her to think of unskilled-ole' me, but then I plain forgot to pass the thing on to anyone else. Here we are about six weeks later and I'm just now mentioning it. Again. Not proud of this. Intentions in right place. Actions…not so much.

With that being said, I'm doing my best to follow through with Annie's Granny's award tasks, even though I fear I'll bore the pants off of my readers. One of the tasks is to list seven things about yourself that people might find interesting. I think it's hard to judge what others find interesting since what you are, just "is" in your world, you know? Nevertheless, after minutes of hard thought, I came up with the following list of seven things.

1) I can play the spoons. Yeah, I can rock out with two spoons, thank you very much. This is why I was so popular in high school. You think being a band geek is tough? Try being a spoon geek. LOL.

2) I'm quite versed in Cockney Rhyming slang. I don't have the accent anymore, but I am fully bilingual in Cockney Rhyming slang. It's not coming in very useful in Florida though. I could tell you to lift your Uncle Ned off your weeping willow, head down the apples and pears and put on your daisy roots to go for a ball of chalk on the frog and toad. And then you'd see why this hasn't come in very useful in Florida.

3) I don't remember most of 1995 due to a little stint with amnesia. Seriously. This explains a lot. Farmer B refers to the "incident" frequently.

4) I hopped a fence and illegally climbed to the top of Mt. Vesuvius when it was closed due to dangerous weather conditions. Farmer B was the instigator. We did it with a lone Royal Mail Postman and two girls traveling in their gap year.

5) Deep down inside I'm a writer, so one of my life goals is to publish a book. I don't know what kind of book. Maybe it'll be about a trio of chickens with special powers since we tell those stories daily around here.

6) I love 1970s disaster movies. Airport, Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake…yeah, I've loved them since I was a kid. If scores of polyester-clad actors are dying on a cheesy movie set amidst explosions, I'm there.

7) I've lived in two countries, but never lived more than a 30-minute drive from a coast. I worry I'd feel claustrophobic living in the middle of the country. I've lived on top of the white cliffs looking out over the English Channel…and lived on a small barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, but here in Central Florida (at 30 min's from the beach) is the furthest inland I've ever lived.

I'm also supposed to nominate seven Kreativ Bloggers. This is the hard part. Because I have guilt issues, I start second-guessing myself. What if they already got the award and I missed it? Will they want it again? What if they're a fellow procrastinator like myself and then can't complete the award tasks? Will they feel guilty? Oh, what it's like in my head. I can blame my 1995 incident for this insanity. With that being said, I'm only going to nominate three bloggers. These aren't blogs with large followings and I quite like to read blogs that don't have a ton of readers. I like knowing that people are continuing to write about their lives even though they might not have an enormous audience.

1) Kimchi and white rice - this family just seems like people I'd love to have as neighbors. They've got great style, a great veggie garden going on and they've got chickens too!

2) Mad Beach Maven - Kathryn is a 60-something grandmother of 5 who lives in Florida and is pretty new to gardening (just like me). I love seeing pictures of her dog playing in the white sand and it makes me think of the fun times I had with my dog.

3) Garden Now, Think Later - Erin is a military mama whose husband routinely goes away for long deployments, leaving her with two young boys and a vegetable garden. Somehow she manages to keep it all together while he's gone!

So thanks again to Cheryl and Annie's Granny for thinking of me. I really do appreciate it. To be honest, I'm always shocked that anyone besides my own mother reads my blog, so to know others do and actually like it is always a great feeling.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Cow Chip

I pass this cow and her two friend-cows on the way to my son's school every day. They're unique-looking cows and quite unlike the Brahma Cows in the other field that I'm fixated on. I took this picture the other day and was immediately mooed at by the irritated cow, which alerted the bull that someone was leaning over the fence. He then charged the fence so fast that I learned to fly and got back in the car Dukes of Hazzard-style where my laughing boys saw fit to make fun of me for the next hour.

'Tis good having kids...You never have to worry about feeling cool for even a moment.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer Slow-Down

We're in the full throes of summer here at our house and between camps, swimming lessons and entertaining two boisterous, inquisitive little boys everyday, I'm finding that I have a little less time to linger over blog entries than I did during the school year.

Let's not forget that this is mainly a gardening blog and my garden is downright soupy (and dead) right now, which isn't helping. Please don't take this as an announcement of a blogging break, because blogging is one of the few things I actually do for me and I have no intention of giving it up for the summer. I think many stay-at-home-moms get so wrapped up in the kids and the home that they go days without doing anything just for themselves. I am guilty of that, for sure. That's one of the reasons I started this blog - it's my thing that I do just for me and I have no intentions of walking away from it for the summer.

However, I'm currently blogging six days a week and now that it's the summer, I'm going to slow down a little bit. I don't know if that means I'll have entries three days a week or five days a week, but it will be a little less than what I've been doing.

I've got to regroup on the garden and I know I can't plant any vegetables this summer. I made that mistake last year and have been told time and again that only very skilled gardeners dare plant in the summer in Florida. And as the name of my blog suggests, I'm short on gardening skills so summer planting is not in the cards for me. I think I'll focus on sunflowers this summer so I can do my part for the Great Sunflower Project. Sunflowers are something I've had success growing in the past, so hopefully that can be my summer gardening project.

Also, I need to get serious about my kid crafts and activities. Two boys. One long summer. It's too darned hot for mere mortals to go outside for most of the summer, so we spend a lot of time inside. As captivating as I might feel I am, the boys get sick of staring at me pretty quickly and resort to daring each other to jump off the back of the couch onto the tiled floor, so I know I'll need to get creative with some fun kid activities…many of which will need to be thought-up and put together at night while the boys are sleeping since their patience is thin for my prep time. I'm also hell-bent on teaching my 5 1/2 year old to read before he starts kindergarten because he's expressing such an interest in it, but can't quite put it together. So yes, my focus will have to drift away from the blog a little to accomplish that.

Finally, by the end of the summer I should have three mature hens popping out eggs like the lottery machine on the 11 o'clock news. They should be mature and of egg-laying age by about mid-August, so I've got that to look forward to. Plus I still want to build them an attached run to their chicken coop, but have to figure out how to do that on a very modest budget.

So there's my summer in a nutshell. If you see a day or three go by without an entry, just know I'm hard at work playing pirates or sculpting a masterpiece out of dried-out Play Doh or sounding out the word c-a-t for the 100th time. Or maybe like last night, I sat down to watch TV after an afternoon of swimming and fell asleep on the couch. I am sure I'll pick up again on the blog at full speed in the Fall once school starts and the new planting season arrives. But for now it's got to come second to my two favorite little guys because as any parent will tell you, they just grow up too fast.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's the Not-So-Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

I think I've pulled the last of the survivors out of the garden and the rest will be compost-bound as soon as splodging around in 90+ degree heat and humidity sounds appealing to me. The icing on the flooding cake is the vile-looking wormy mosquito larvae that are wriggling around in every puddle of standing water in the yard. I love the risk of encephalitis and West Nile Virus in the morning. Mmmmm....good.

I have a few corn plants that are clinging to life and might produce corn the perfect size for some oompa-loopmas to eat. When I look at our growing cobs of corn I think about that scene in "Big," where Tom Hanks' character so delicately ate the baby corn and realize that's as good as it'll get for our corn. And I have one tiny okra plant that dared to flower - at only 18 inches tall, but the rest is history. Such is life.

One of the vegetables my boys were the most excited to grow in the garden was the pumpkin. They both like Halloween better than Christmas for some odd reason, and think all things Halloween-related are the coolest things ever. My oldest son has fantasies of growing an entire pumpkin patch and then maybe the Great Pumpkin will visit our garden and all will be well in his world.

So when the floods came and our once-vibrant pumpkin plants were reduced to leafless yellow goopy vines, the boys were noticeably disappointed. The good news is that sitting on the barren rain-soaked soil like little orange traffic beacons were the pumpkins that we had been diligently growing and fertilizing all those weeks before.

Aidan was excited to bring them inside and be photographed with them.

He asked if we could cut one open and carve it and put a candle in it and put it out front to scare the neighbors. I thought it was an interesting idea, but I'm just not that skilled with the x-acto knife.

Because the pumpkins were really, really tiny. Only a very poorly-executed Photoshop moment made them as big as Aidan was hoping for…

In fact, they've sat in the sun now for a week and have shrunk considerably more than when these photos were taken. Because, honestly, what do you do with a handful of plum-sized pumpkins in June?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: The GWS Meezers

I've been enjoying showing some of the wild creatures around my neck of the woods to my blog readers on my Wildlife Weekends, but this weekend I thought I'd feature two of the not-quite-wild creatures that stare at me all day long.

Meet the Meezers - Darwin and Damian.

For those of you not "in the know" a Meezer is a nickname for a Siamese Cat. So it should be obvious to you that a Geezer Meezer is an old Siamese Cat. Obvious, right?

Mine aren't geezers yet and in fact they both turned 8 years old in May. They're from different litters, but we call them brothers since we've had them both since they were kittens.

Darwin is a Blue-Point Siamese. He's only 5 lbs and always smells like fresh laundry for some unknown reason. He loves to sit on my left shoulder while I'm typing on the laptop, which is where he's perched right now. This is why all of my shirts have attractive little holes in them on the left side. When he sleeps, he curls up like a little mouse and often holds onto his tail with his front paws.

Here is Damian. He's a Seal-Point Siamese and is much chunkier than his brother. He's a good 11 lbs, but is a lot slower than Darwin. He has one snaggletooth due to an accident last year - prior to the accident he had two snaggleteeth. He's a bit cross-eyed and likes belly rubs. You might remember Damian as the tulle-eating subject of the LAPCPADPOUB Day poem that won me a copy of James Alexander-Sinclair's fun little flower book.

They're both inside cats, but like to spend time on the screened-in patio watching me in the garden. They don't think twice about nibbling on anything from the garden I bring on the patio and inadvertently leave alone for 30 seconds.

So there you have it. A not-quite-wild Wildlife Weekend and a look at the Gardening Without Skills cats.

Friday, June 5, 2009

When Gardening Makes You Hungry :: British Comfort Food

Did you know that pulling up a garden full of plants can make a girl hungry? And when it does, there's nothing like some good old-fashioned comfort food to put a smile on your face and an extra fat roll on your bum.

I've been craving real English Sausage Rolls and decided to whip up a batch last night. I'm so glad I did. They're so close to the "real" thing that they're a perfect stand in when I want the taste of home. You can use fresh sage from your garden in the recipe if you want a really authentic taste to it. I have killed two sage plants in my garden and am determined to get one to grow at some point because sage is such a staple in many British recipes. Sage is a member of the mint family and since I have a mint bush the size of Godzilla I feel like I should be able to grow sage. Nevertheless, you can use dried sage if you want, or if you're a complete freak of nature, you can always omit the sage completely.

I thought I'd share this sausage rolls recipe because I think British food gets a bad rap. Anyone that balks at British food has never been to a village pub for a good pub lunch or savored a hand-made Scotch Egg, Cornish Pasty or Yorkshire pudding smothered in gravy. Real British food is some of the best-tasting food in the world and I'm determined that my boys will grow up with a taste for some of the classics.

On to the recipe. It's not-quite authentic because I don't make my pastry from scratch. However, I'm on a mission to find a good pastry recipe that's slightly healthier than the one in my 1972 Edition of the Yorkshire Women's Institute Cookbook, which seems to insist on a lot of lard in all of its pastry recipes. Until then, it's store-bought. But it'll do.

Almost-authentic British Sausage Rolls

:: 1 roll of pork sausage. I use Jimmy Dean Sage-flavored Pork Sausage.
:: 1 box of puff pastry. I'm partial to Pepperidge Farm.
:: A bunch of good-sized breadcrumbs. You don't want the little tiny ones - you want Panko sized breadcrumbs. You can also buy some Sage and Onion dry stuffing cubes and bash them up with a rolling pin if you want. I used Panko breadcrumbs this time around.
:: One beaten egg.
:: Some sage (dried or fresh) Freaks of nature can leave this out.

Thaw your puff pastry according to directions. It unfolds along two folds so it will look like you have three large rectangles per sheet. Use a pizza cutter to cut along the folds so you end up with 6 long rectangles of puff pastry.

Mix your pork-sausage in a bowl with a heaping amount of breadcrumbs. I'm not sure exactly how many breadcrumbs you want, but it's a good amount. It's about 3/4 cup, I'd say. My mom, who is one of the finest British cooks around, says that you want enough breadcrumbs so that the sausage isn't tough, but soft when bitten into, and enough to soak up any grease so you don't end up with greasy rolls. Sprinkle on some fresh or dried sage to taste and mix it in too. Sage has a strong flavor, so if you're not a huge sage fan, keep it light.

Grab one rectangle of pastry and lay it out in front of you. Get a handful of pork sausage and shape it into a long log o' pork in the middle of the pastry. It should go from end to end right down the middle of the pastry. You want about the circumference of a good sized hot dog.

Use a pastry brush to paint a line of egg down the bottom size of the pastry.

Get the top edge and fold it over the bottom side and sort of roll it. It should just barely overlap. Get your fingers and sort of smush it together a tiny bit so it looks like one long roll of pastry. The egg will seal it so don't get overzealous here.

Cut the sausage roll into thirds, or if you want bite-sized rolls for appetizers, you can always cut them smaller. I like to get three out of one of the rectangles.

With your fingers pinch the ends together a bit. It's fine if you still see sausage poking out of the ends. Then get a knife or your pizza cutter and make three slight angled cuts in the top of the pastry.

Repeat with all the other rectangles of pastry. You'll end up with about 18 sausage rolls if you cut them into thirds. Brush the tops of all of them with the remaining egg.

Put them on a cookie sheet and bung 'em in the oven on 400 for about 20 minutes. You want the tops a nice golden brown.

They are simply delicious and a huge huge hit around here. They're even good cold the next day for lunch. Farmer B has one (or two) in his lunchbox today as a matter of fact. I ate mine with mushy peas, but I don't expect many Americans are willing to take the mushy-peas-smothered-in-vinegar plunge with me.

But you should at least try the sausage rolls so you can experience some real British comfort food and find a good use for that sage you have growing in your garden.

**I should add that before cooking you can freeze these on a tray then pop them into freezer baggies or containers. Just thaw overnight and cook as normal and they're a quick and delicious treat!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Mother of All Rain Gauges

Farmer B isn't what I'd call an overly-romantic guy, so when he does do something especially romantic, it really means a lot to me. The other day when a mystery package arrived at the front door and Farmer B said "Surprise!" and opened up the Mother of All Rain Gauges, I remembered why I married him.

I am now the proud owner of a Rainwise Wireless Dual Counter Digital Rain Gauge that is proudly mounted above the well in our back yard. It has an 8-inch diameter bucket to collect the rain and every time it tips, a count is transmitted to the indoor display and the gauge empties. Each tip shows one hundredth of an inch on the indoor display and you never have to empty the gauge. Suh-weet!

I'm excited about this rain gauge for two reasons:

1) We've had record-breaking rains both times I've planted the garden and we've always wondered exactly how much rain fell at our house. Sure the weather guys tell us how many inches fell in our area, but I'll admit to being curious as to exactly how much fell at our house so that I can brag about it to our friends. This is one of the many reasons I realize what a complete and total nerd I can be at times. Don't worry - I haven't signed up to be a weather watcher for our local news station.

2) Buying this fancy rain gauge guarantees that we'll never have record-breaking rainfall at our house again. This purchase means that no one in our neighborhood will ever be flooded again. Sadly they won't know why, but I'll know that our new highfalutin rain gauge was the reason. It's like going on a vacation to a gorgeous sunny beach and buying expensive sunglasses halfway into your trip - it's a given the sun will stay behind the clouds for the rest of the vacation. It's the Murphy's Law of my life.

This rain gauge meets National Weather Service specifications for statistical accuracy so I'll be all geeked up the next time it rains. As you can see from the photograph, it hasn't rained since we installed the thing 3 days ago since it's still registering at zero. The wireless display works up to 300 feet away so right now it's sitting in the kitchen behind my laptop. Farmer B is itching to install it on the wall so it doesn't get broken by the boys, but I think it's too unattractive to be screwed into the wall, so we'll see who wins this battle.

Maybe I'll lose the two mounting screws... that's guaranteed to throw a kink in his plan...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The remnants

I slogged out to the garden after it started to drain and decided to pull out any survivors before they turned into a yellow, soggy slimy mess. I was very sad to see some of my strongest, greenest most promising plants reduced to yellow leafless sticks, but at least I've learned that I do have the ability to grow some of these things now. Although this garden ended in death and destruction (again) I've discovered an entire list of vegetables that I can keep alive (until a flood, of course), so I definitely got a tiny boost of gardening confidence this time around.

My Giant Musselburgh Leeks were not looking too happy to be floating in the muck so I pulled out the strongest ones. The other ones, only the size of scallions, will be coming out tomorrow if they haven't already succumbed to the pit of despair. But there was a light at the end of the gardening tunnel. I got 1 lb, 11 oz of leeks from the garden! I was quite happy with that because they were planted in October of last year and have been my longest-growing vegetable yet. I'll definitely plant some more of these later this Fall.

I made a delicious heaping portion of Leek and Potato Soup with these leeks and it was divine. When Farmer B was at work I poured a heaping bowl for myself for lunch with the leftovers and savored it while the boys munched down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I then looked surprised when he came home and found there was none left.

The tomatoes actually surprised me. Granted a huge portion cracked completely open and were inedible, but I managed to save 6 lbs, 1 oz of them. They were bright red and everything you'd hope for in a home-grown tomato - sweet, juicy and bursting with flavor. I have about another 5 ounces on the patio right now ripening, but the rest are history. Because it can't hurt, I pruned up the remaining tomato plants just incase they recover.

Since I have so many tomatoes that are ripe and ready to be eaten, I've picked a couple of recipes that will help me put them to good use. The first recipe is Avocado, Tomato and Mango salsa that will be whipped up tomorrow for lunch and seems like the perfect summer salsa to go with my new organic corn tortilla chips. The second recipe is a Tomato Cucumber Salad with Mint. My mint plant has a never-say-die attitude, so I feel like I owe it to him to use him in as many recipes as I can.

So although I missed out on most of the yummy vegetables that I had dreamed of, I did get a few things on the table, which was a huge step up from last year. I'll take what I can get at this point!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day

Anyone that's been around the garden blog circuit for awhile knows about Carol from May Dreams Garden. She's been voted as one of the most influential garden bloggers and she has a popular monthly post called Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month gardeners from around the country can post a comment saying what's blooming in their gardens. It's a great way to see what's growing in other gardens around the country and connect with other garden bloggers.

Then there's Carolyn at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago who hosts Garden Blogger's Muse Day on the 1st of every month. It's a nice way to bring in the month with a poem and a photograph of something inspiring. You'd think as the current U.S. LAPCPADPOUB title-holder, I'd be able to wipe the floor clean with deliciously dire cat poems, but as of now I merely enjoy reading what others write.

But where's the day for gardeners who overwater, underwater, maim, prune or otherwise neglect their plants to a state of dismal droopage or untimely death? There isn't one, my friends…until now.

Introducing my own personal meme: Garden Blogger's Death Day. I've had two planting seasons in my vegetable gardening life and I've had widespread death and destruction both times. I know there has to be some other gardeners out there like me with black thumbs who kill more than they cultivate, or even green-thumbed gardeners who have a lapse in judgment and commit accidental planticide.

Did you accidentally leave the sprinklers on for 13 hours and flood the garden? (check). Did you have an infestation of hornworms and now have leafless sticks instead of tomato plants? (check). Did a freak rainstorm flood your garden and wash away your plants? (check). Did you overheat your seedlings and singe them all to a crisp? (check). Are you so bad at remembering to water your plants that you bought some Aqua Globes from that infomercial and then you forgot to fill them with water and killed the plants anyway? (check). Well here is your support group, baby.

I have decided to host Garden Bloggers Death Day today. I'm so incredibly disappointed that I was actually "getting" this whole gardening gig a little bit this time and then most of it washed away and became a yellow, mushy lump of rotten slush after 14 inches of relentless rain. Here are some pictures of what my garden looked like after the rain - it has since sat in this state for over a week and it's more yellowed and rotten now than when these photos were taken a couple of days ago. It has now been pruned and a bunch of the dead plants have become one with the compost heap.

If you too have had an untimely plant death, feel free to post it in my comments section. Maybe I'll feel like less of a big fat gardening loser if I discover I'm not the only one who can't catch a break from Mother Nature or Mutha Shut Yo Mouth, as she's being called around here lately. Hmph. Maybe we can even support each other like a good pair of pantyhose or a well-staked garden trellis.
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