Monday, August 31, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day :: August 2009

Ding, Ding, Ding… bring out your dead!

Welcome to Garden Blogger's Death Day for the month of August, 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.

I have an admission to make that I've honestly been scared to mention on this blog. I took a blogcation earlier this month to focus on the boys with school starting...and it turns out that I took a month-long vacation from the garden without realizing what distasterous effects would come from it. Yep, I went one full month without setting foot in the garden. It didn't seem like a bad thing at the time. The sunflowers had wilted. The okra had seen better days. So I figured, what could be the harm?

Well this could be the harm. This is what a month straight of sunny days, lots of rain and no weed control will do to a garden.

I am embarrased to show this to you all. This is a gardening blog and my garden could indeed be housing a Yeti and I'd never know it. We've spent all of our free time building a chicken run (done!) and Farmer B and the boys have been digging trenches to expand our French Drain system through the rest of the yard (without paying to have it done like we did last time - VERY time consuming, but a HUGE money saver). So the garden just kind of sat...and see what happened.

The French Drain addition should be finished by next weekend and then Farmer B is going to work on the raised beds so we can begin SFG for the first time!! We're going to pull up the garden fence, mow the garden, till it in, mulch it and then build the boxes on top. So we have a plan, but right now all we have is death.

Big. Fat. Gardening. Death.

So how about all of you? What fell victim to your gardening wrath this month? Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your blog showing what you killed or maimed this month. 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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wildlife Weekend :: Lizard brain really skinks!

The other day we looked out on the patio and saw something that moved like a snake but was small like a lizard. It was faster than brown anoles move, but very slithery looking. I ran out to see what it was and discovered it was a skink. We don't see more than a couple of skinks a year around here and they're often so fast that you can't get a photo of them.

This poor little skinky sucker was stuck on the inside of our screened-in patio and was frantically trying to find a way out so I was able to capture him on camera.

I believe he's a Southeastern Five-Lined Skink, which is pretty unremarkable as far as skinks go. Juveniles have a bright blue tail. Adults usually have browner tails. That website I just linked to says that they are not poisonous, but leave a bad taste in predators' mouths. I'm not sure I buy that.

Anyone that lives around skinks has heard stories of cats eating skinks and getting very sick and then going crazy. I wonder if it's the urban legend of the Floridian cat-owner's world, but I'm more apt to believe it. I found plenty of stories online about people whose cats ate a skink and then got a case of lizard brain. Everyone I know knows someone who ended up with a cat with lizard brain.

I found one very captivating story from Gulfshore Life magazine, a prominent magazine in Southwest Florida. The story "The War Between Cats and Skinks", says that the author's cat ate a skink and almost died. It then ended up with a serious case of "lizard brain," a term used to describe a cat after they eat a skink. When a cat gets lizard brain they walk like they're drunk or wobble their head from side to side and can't jump well anymore. It never fully goes away. The cat is always a little "off" after the skink-nibbling experience.

We have two inside cats who like to spend time on our patio. The idea of them ending up with lizard brain did not appeal to us at all. As soon as I yelled to Farmer B "It's a skink!" he yelled back "Quick! Get the cats inside!" We then chose to keep them off the patio for the rest of the day and the following morning just in case the skink came back. Are we victims of a false belief in an urban legend or is lizard brain real? I know where my vote goes. Those skinks might be pretty to look at, but I'm convinced they're a slithery enticing poison to cats.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm back! With a celebratory cornsicle to boot!

Thanks so much for the kind words about my oldest son starting Kindergarten. Today was a bittersweet day, but he seemed to enjoy himself, so I went along with it for his sake. I missed having him around all day and think that will be very hard to get used to. We've never used babysitters and have no family in town to look after the boys so I've had them both by my side since the day they were born - save the times when my mom comes into town for a visit and looks after them so I can grocery shop alone. It did feel very quiet and empty in the house with just one kid and little bro declared after being home about a half hour that he missed his big brother. I realize that I'm more cut out for some sort of alternative schooling environment, but since that's not an option we're plugging along with regular ole' school.

Things are progressing around here and I have some exciting chicken-related news to share later this week. To start with I wanted to show you the chickens newest favorite treat: a cornsicle. I actually made a melonsicle and a cornsicle, but the melonsicle was outmatched by the sheer awesomeness of the cornsicle. (Or should it be a cobsicle?) And it wasn't frozen, but I believe you can add "-sicle" to any food invention on a stick, thank you very much.

I jammed a bamboo skewer into the bottom of a leftover piece of grilled corn on the cob and poked it in the ground in the chickens' hoop run. They're naturally wary of new things, so I wasn't sure how they'd react.

They were on it like lions on a fresh kill. They attacked the thing with such mad abandon that I knew we'd found a new favorite chicken snack.

Maggie and Clementine made short work of the thing and by the time Sookie made her way over to it, there wasn't much left.

And after about 10 minutes there was merely a cob carcass left on the stick and three fat and happy hens.

Life is good in their world.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A little back-to-school blogcation

I'm sitting here in the final week before my oldest son starts Kindergarten and I'm wondering where the summer went...and honestly where the past five-and-a-half years went. I've decided to take a little blogging break to concentrate on the boys before school starts and we adjust to our new life together with one child in full-time school and the other child starting part-time preschool. It's a big adjustment for all of us and not surprisingly, I'm the one who's having the hardest time coming to terms with it all. In order to savor our final days as a family with non-school-age kids I'm taking a short blogging break. Once school starts and the boys and I settle in to things I'll be back with tales of the garden, the chickens and life around here.

Thanks and see you soon...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project - My 1st report

I was very excited to participate in the Great Sunflower Project when I first heard about it, and as I mentioned on this blog, eagerly signed up the minute I learned about it. I planted my sunflowers, fully confident that they'd grow because growing sunflowers in Florida takes about as much skill as growing weeds.

And then they didn't grow.

After all that rain I assume the seeds or roots just got waterlogged and the tiny seedlings never grew after they sprouted.

But after several weeks in a post-flood stasis, they picked up again and recently bloomed. Granted I only have three of them and only 1 has fully opened. And they're stunted and small and far from the Mammoth sunflowers I've grown before. But they're alive and they're attracting bees!

I was quite excited to sign in to the site and actually enter in some bee information, but then it asked for the type of bee and I had to select "I don't know" from the drop-down menu. The options were bumble bee, osmia, honey bee, carpenter bee, green bee and I don't know. I am far from an insect expert and can only assume this little guy is indeed a bee. I can recognize a big furry bumblebee, but when they're not obvious I'm not entirely sure about bees, wasps and bee-mimicking flies.

Any thoughts on this little guy? His head is covered in pollen so I assume he's a bee. He's got a striped body, so that gives off a bee vibe. His wings are folded on his back. Again, a bee trait. Could he be a carpenter bee maybe? He was pretty small, but definitely felt bee-like to me.

So even though my summer garden has been a failure - again - at least I'm somewhat able to participate in the Great Sunflower Project, which was one of my big summer gardening goals.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Behold the Magnificence that is the French Drain

I have mentioned on here a ridiculous amount of times that we have major flooding issues here at our house. It's ruined our garden several times and makes our backyard a wet swampy mess for most of the year. The flooding is due to two issues:

1) We get entirely too much rain here. We've had about 17 inches since June 1st. I could go into a long drawn out explanation that would cause you to stop reading about why our area gets rain, but the nutshell is this is just what happens in the middle of Florida where the clouds from both coasts clash in the hot summer afternoons.

2) Most of Florida has been built on a swamp. You can put grass down and build a house, but it's still a swamp.

But Farmer B came up with a solution to our yard flooding. This solution is the French Drain system that now snakes through most of the left side of our back yard. Farmer B looked at me lovingly the other day and said that the French Drains were the second best thing we've ever done together - second to having children, of course.

We paid for the current French Drains to be installed by a company, but after watching them Farmer B is convinced he can install the final 5 we need to make our backyard a perfect system of interconnected plastic pipes and sloshing underground water. He has purchased the pipe, the grates and the safety googles and he's ready to dig.

In case you aren't aware, this drain system is a set of little plastic boxes with grates on top (about 12 square inches) that are buried in the yard. The boxes are connected to each other with pipes that are dug underground. These pipes connect with a big pipe that runs to the ditch out front. Farmer B always said our biggest problem was that all the water we get has nowhere to go. It just sits in the yard for days and days getting deeper with each afternoon shower in the summer. The French Drains have given our water somewhere to go. Adding to the problem, our roads and ditches used to flood and stay flooded for days on end, but the county recently dug out our ditches so that the road-water has somewhere to go now too.

I wanted to show off the second-best-thing-to-having-children.

Behold the awesomeness that is the French Drain system. I have posted a series of before and after pictures from yesterday's storm. The amount of flooding you see in the before photos would normally stay in our yard for days upon days. The French Drains have taken this time down to about a day on average.

This is our backyard after one afternoon shower yesterday. I think we got 4 inches in this afternoon shower.

Two views of the left side of our back yard yesterday at about 4 pm

The same views yesterday at about 6 pm

Here is one of the plastic drains. You can't even see it because it's so deep under the water. Trust me. It's down there.

Here is that same drain about two hours later. It's still draining water, but it's visible now.

Where does all this water go? Well it comes out in a torrent of water from a big pipe they installed in our front yard that empties into our ditch. Seriously, all that water is coming from our back yard. Crazy, isn't it?

And that same drain just hours later

Now the front yard down by the road, which floods dramatically too. You can't even walk down the road after our daily afternoon showers.


Facing the other direction in the front yard.


And finally the culvert under our driveway


All the water you see in the before photos came from one afternoon storm. The entire area was dry as a bone before the storm. About every day or two or three it rains buckets and it floods just like in these photos. And now, thanks to our new French Drains and our new front-yard ditches, we're drying up almost like a normal people in a normal house that wasn't built on a swamp.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hentastic photo shoot

From time to time I hold a little photo shoot with the girls. I don't know if you realize this, but photographing a chicken isn't an easy job. They don't pose or sit on command and their heads do that quick jerky bird thing that means you get a lot of blurry photos. Plus Maggie acts like the consummate middle child and almost always gets her head in front of whoever I'm trying to photograph.

I've been working on getting some straight-on shots of their heads lately. Once again, not an easy task because they prefer to look at you from a slight angle so they can tilt their heads just so and peer at you with their beady little eyes. It doesn't seem natural to them to stare at you head-on.

I wanted to show the front view of their pink dangly bits - one of my favorite parts of a chicken. We are, of course, talking about their wattles. I love a good wattle. My Lab had some great dog wattles in her old age, but there's just something about a nice red chicken wattle that makes me smile. Did you know that chicken's combs and wattles are really warm to the touch? They're like little hen heaters.

So today I managed to get a good shot of each girl from the front.

Here is Clementine looking plucky and sweet.

Here is Maggie poised to peck the camera lens.

And here is Sookie showing off her kickin' muffs - the sticky-outy feathers on the sides of her face.

I couldn't stop at frontal photos and decided to complete the chicken mug shot vibe I had going by doing profile shots as well. It's interesting to me to see how each breed is different in their ears, combs and wattles.

Ms. Clementine, a Buff Orpington.

Maggie, a Barred Plymouth Rock.

And finally, Sookie, an Easter Egger.

They're very interested in the new chicken run that Farmer B and the boys are building and stand in their hoop run peering quizzically at the strange contraption that is now partially attached to their coop. I can't wait to take pics of them enjoying their new digs.

On a side note - thanks to all those who inquired about Farmer B's eye. It's healing nicely and he's back to work and to working on the chicken run already!

Monday, August 3, 2009

How much does a chicken run cost to build?

How much does a chicken run cost to build?

Let's see…

We have a trailer full of lumber, plywood, wire and roofing shingles that cost several hundred dollars.

We have the beginnings of assembly in the back yard.

We saved money by buying two 12-foot pieces of wood instead of four 6-foot pieces of wood. But they had to be cut in half. Of course.

So Farmer B got the circular saw. Thought to himself… I don't need to take the long walk to the garage to get eye protection just for two quick cuts. I mean, it's just two quick cuts, right? I've seen Farmer B saw through piles of wood and never had an issue with it. He always wears eye protection. But this was just two cuts.

Wind kicks up at just right moment.

Sawdust in eye.

Ever heard someone say they'd rather gouge out their eye than do something? Well Farmer B now completely disagrees with that expression. Completely and totally. Apparently a splinter in your eyeball sucks. Like really, really, really sucks.

First walk-in ER was on Saturday night. All sorts of gross eyeball procedures. They said we'd be good to go on Sunday morning with no pain.

Sunday morning. Pain off the charts. Trip to second walk-in ER on the other side of town.

Nurse begins eye irrigation, but she can't hold his eye open right. I said "You should use one of those eye contraptions like in Clockwork Orange" - giggle, giggle. Doc says "Great idea! We've got one of those."

10 minutes of eye irrigation with a Clockwork Orange-type eye contraption. Farmer B seething at my suggestion. Numbing drops. Pain killers. Eye antibiotic drops.

Super small pic so I don't get in too much trouble


Scratched cornea.

The doc asked Farmer B what he was building when he got the sawdust in his eye - was it a deck, he asked? Farmer B gave me the sharp one-eyed stink eye when he sheepishly said to the doc, "No, it was a chicken run." The doc perked up and said that one of his nurses has chickens and the eggs are to die for! He was quite interested in our brood and started up an excited conversation about chickens.

This didn't help Farmer B's mood though. He still had the Clockwork Orange contraption squirting fluid into his bright red swollen eyeball.

So how much does a chicken run cost to build?

Apparently they're priceless.
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