Monday, November 30, 2009

Garden Blogger's Death Day :: November 2009

Ding, Ding, Ding… bring out your dead!

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

Garden Blogger's Death Day is becoming a bit tough this time of year. Most of the rest of the country isn't growing anything so I'm killing things alone down here in Florida. I have gardening guilt for plain forgetting about GBDD last month. I blame the fact that I was hand-making costumes for two little boys and then decorating the house on Halloween to rival any professional event and then trick-or-treating until the kids dropped. I told myself I'd never let blogging get in the way of the family and I guess October I allowed myself to drop the blogging ball.

I may have dropped the ball in October, but Marie over at Garden in Bethlehem PA did not. She still posted a Garden Blogger's Death Day entry for October and I missed the whole thing. Thanks Marie!! I'm glad someone is showing the Death Day love!

But here we are in November and I've killed some nice little plants this month. You read about the vile little armyworms that treated my Swiss Chard like an all-you-can-eat buffet, leaving me with two stunted plants in one box and only stems in the other box.

I also managed to kill of a yellow bell pepper without even trying. I am not a good transplanter because a plant's most precarious time in my house is when I first put it in the garden. The little bell pepper barely made it a week before it gave up the fight.

My other two bell pepper plants are short and stunted and have oddly-shaped peppers on them, but at least they're growing and alive!

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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Swiss Chard tasted GREAT!

This week has been one of those busy weeks that involved moms brag about. Turns out I had an event at my son's school every single day this week. From volunteering at the book fair to going into the classroom and making sugar-cone cornucopias with the kindergarteners, it's just been a crazy-busy week. Because I had such a busy week I didn't get a chance to go out to the garden all week, but the weather has been mild and it appeared green and lush from a distance so I knew all was well.

I went to the grocery store and bought some Swiss cheese, mushrooms and some ready-made crust to make my Swiss Chard and mushroom quiche. I've got a ton of eggs in the fridge and I thought it would be a wonderful brunch this weekend. I went out into the garden today to harvest the final ingredient and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the Swiss Chard.

Total and complete carnage.

I checked the plants the other day when I saw holes in them and didn't see any bugs on them. I looked under the leaves and on the stalk and figured it was some random caterpillar who had gone on his way. Apparently I need to bring my reading glasses out to the garden.

Today I didn't need my glasses, obviously.

I have never seen so many creepy-crawly beasties on one square foot of greenery in my entire life. After my initial shock and disgust and a not-so-pleasant temper tantrum as visions of my Swiss chard and mushroom quiche faded quickly, I grabbed a bucket and started ripping off leaves that were heavy with these nasty-looking caterpillar things and stuffing them in the bucket.

When I was done, I didn't have any plants left. Nothing was worth saving because the leaves had more holes than green and more bug poop than I cared to wash off. I assume I need to pull these plants and discard them. Luckily I have a couple of Swiss chard plants in the other box that seem to be bug-free…so far. I think I'll spray them with BT tomorrow just to be on the safe side.

I figured the way to make me feel better about this was to dump the buggy chard in the chicken run and let them slaughter the little buggers and eat the holey leaves. My youngest son and I dumped two bucketfuls of Swiss chard and caterpillars into the run and the chickens went to town. Poor Clementine missed out on the feast because she was busy laying an egg. Maggie and Sookie don't believe in waiting and politeness and left her with nothing by the time she waddled out.

Later on in the afternoon I found three of the bugs on my radish greens so I pulled the remaining radishes, that were overdue anyway, and gave the radish greens to Clementine who was finished with her egg and indignantly waiting for her buggy treat.

I looked up the bugs in my organic gardening book and they might be Fall armyworms. Shudder. I'm not down with bugs and any kind of worm gives me the creeps. Wouldn't you know they show up and eat my chard the ONE week I left the garden alone?

So apparently my Swiss Chard tasted great…or so the chickens and caterpillars lead me to believe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cone of Torture

Thanks so much for all the kind words about my fEARless kitty, Damian.

He's acting as dramatic and sorry for himself as any self-respecting post-surgical cat should. I can tell his ear and head hurt when the cone-of-torture slides forward and rubs on his stitches. They're in a bad place on his head so the cone rubs them constantly. If we take the cone off he begins scratching instantly. It's a no-win.

The good news is that there was no place to put a drain tube on the back of his head, so we don't have to worry about that this time around. He just sort of sits or lays in one place all day looking like his world has come to an end. Then we'll hear a scrape-scrape-scrape as he drags himself around the house in slow motion to a new spot to sit and look sad. I'm sure the 20 days he has to wait for the cone and stitch removal will just fly by! (Please read that dripping with sarcasm).

In other news, I've had some unlucky developments in the garden that I'll be photographing later if all goes well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Guess who's under the knife again?

Poor, poor Damian.

I know some of you have been following his story and know that the final surgery to fix his aural hematoma was guaranteed to be the final fix after those unsuccessful ear drainings. Well guess whose ear swelled up again this weekend? I took Damian to the vet yesterday morning that they were all dumbfounded at the site of his swollen ear. The vet kept looking at him and saying "This isn't supposed to be possible."

Turns out that when you sew an ear in that odd quilty fashion to fix an aural hematoma you do not sew the base of the ear to the skull. You only sew the flappy part of the ear. The base of the ear isn't the part that swells up so vets don’t have to worry about that part. But Damian proved them wrong and the base of his ear into his skull swelled up and completely closed off his ear canal this weekend. The good news is that the crinkled up cauliflower part of his ear did not swell up, so the original surgery did its job.

He is shaking his head, hiding and obviously in pain. The only solution was to do another pricey aural hematoma surgery to fix the base of the ear. This means 20 more days of stitches, a drain tube, a cone on his head and antibiotics. Like the first 20 days of that weren't tough enough for him…and us. I was just commenting to Farmer B that I think I finally got up the final blood spatters from his last drain tube.

So Tuesday morning he's under the knife again and we're hoping it's for the last time. His poor little ear has been through so much - and so has our bank account. Right before Christmas too. But I'm a firm believer that a responsible pet owner does what they can to make their pet comfortable when they still have a good quality of life - and when Damian's ear isn't swollen he's one of the happiest, craziest kitties you could ever meet.

Cross fingers for him this time please?

Monday, November 16, 2009

A cloudy shuttle launch

I wandered outside today to catch the launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It is NASA's last shuttle flight of the year and one of only six remaining. The shuttle will return to Earth the day after Thanksgiving, bringing home a seventh astronaut who has been living at the space station since the end of August.

I figure since there are only a handful of launches remaining I should try and photograph as many of them as I can. Wouldn't you know that today there were two big fat clouds right between us and the shuttle? So typical of my luck. I only got a couple of glimpses of it between the clouds - even the rumble of the rockets was quite muted today. But I'll take this anytime considering most of the rest of the world will go a lifetime and never see one.

(If you'd like to see more pictures of shuttle launches from our neck o' the woods, click here)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wildlife Weekend: Gator Crossing

I was rummaging through some old photos this weekend when I came across a photo my mom sent me back in 2002. She is the manager of two beautiful resorts on Sanibel Island, Florida, which is a stone's throw from where I grew up. Sanibel is known for having lots of Florida wildlife and it's hard to spend any time there without seeing an alligator.

It's typical to see gators sunning themselves by the side of ponds or floating around in the pond. Locals don't blink an eye at a sleeping gator, but the tourists get downright giddy. We get our fair share of gators here in Central Florida, but they're so much more prevalent on Sanibel.

This leads to the photo. (You can click on any of the photos to make them bigger.) One of the problems of having so many gators is that inevitably they'll need to do like a chicken and cross the road. This causes a bit of drama when you have tourists with tasty-children walking along the side of the road. My mom caught wind of a gator on her property and walked out front to take a picture of the cops trying to steer it off the road and into a pond.

There are some interesting things to note about this photo. First is the size of the gator. I made marks to show you where the side of the road is in comparison to the gator. If the average lane is about 10 feet wide, how big would you say this gator is? I'd say a good 10 feet.

Do you see the weapon that the cop has in hand? He has a hollow plumbing pipe. I guess he's going with the "10-foot-pole" philosophy when it comes to gators. I can guarantee you that if that gator ran toward that cop he would drop the pole and run, like any normal human being should.

Now notice the car coming in the other direction. You can assume that at that distance they can just see some people in the road with a large moving log. I imagine it's tourists on their way onto the island from the airport, map in hand, oblivious to the dinosaur speed-bump just seconds ahead on the road. And FYI, if you hit a gator while driving, your car doesn't really recover.

It might all seem quite entertaining until you realize that gators actually do occasionally eat pets and even people. I can think of many stories of gators eating pets and a couple of them eating people right there on Sanibel Island. They say that tourists want a photo op and will feed the gators, then the gators see a local a few weeks later and associate them with food and … well… it's not a pretty ending.

I'd say the average gator just wants to live out his gator life and leave people alone, but sometimes someone's pet is in the wrong place at the wrong time and looks appetizing. Since Florida opened up alligators to hunting a few years ago it's safe to say that humans still have the upper hand. I know that alligators taste like chicken… I wonder what alligators say about us?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Is this why they call it 'Swiss' chard?

I guess I finally figured out why it's called "Swiss" chard.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Score one point for the gardener!

The last time I updated you with details about my new SFG, I spread tales of carnage and gore complete with my own personal grim reaper. I'm not sure what happened between then and now, but things have really perked up. I gave the garden a nice bath of fish fertilizer, which is about the most vile-smelling substance on the face of the earth. It makes your entire garden smell like cat breath. Maybe the stink bath helped? Or maybe the garden just had to sort of grow into itself… but whatever it was things are growing surprisingly well.

Here are the two boxes. First the one on the left.

Then the one on the right.

The broccoli is coming in nicely, although the broccoli seeds I planted were duds - none of them sprouted, oddly enough. I'll take the one seedling I purchased and run with it since it's daring to survive.

The black eyed peas are nice and green and tall. I have no earthly idea how they grow or what they look like upon harvest or even how to cook them, so it's a given that these will be my best producers. If I have no idea how to eat a vegetable it's a given it'll be the only thing that grows. Hence my successful okra this summer. I'd like to add that I still have brand new okra plants that are growing up through our lawn with flowers and baby okra on them. Go figure.

Neither bell pepper plant looks especially healthy, but one has three bell peppers and the other has one bell pepper. They're all mishapen and twisted, but I'm down with that if they continue to grow. One bell pepper plant lasted less than a week under my care. RIP.

I've got three tomato plants doing well. One has small green tomatoes, one has tons of flowers and one isn't looking so great. Two out of three is a big fat win in my gardening book so I'll take it! Hell, one out of three is great in my book. I don't know at what point tomato plants decide that it's too wintery to keep growing, but I don't think they'll last into next year will they? That was rhetorical. The answer is obviously no. We're talking about my garden afterall. I'll be lucky if they survive the month.

The Kentucky Wonder beans have bounced back and have started slowly climbing up the trellis. I'm dying to see if any of these will survive my black thumb and actually produce. I'm definitely crossing my fingers for these. Farmer B is quite happy that his trellis is being used. I was about to glue dead bean plants to the trellis to make him feel better about building it when these little shoots started climbing up of their own accord.

The Swiss Chard seems to be doing well. I have no earthly idea when this is ready, how to harvest it or what to do with it once harvested. Do you cook it? Put it in with a salad or what? Once again, this is a guarantee that things will grow well in my garden. Any thoughts? Dare I chop this beast down and eat it?

The English peas aren't doing well at all. Please take some time to marvel at my awesome trellis complete with green tape and sticks. There are white flowers, but the plants are thin, yellowed and sickly. I'm guessing these will be chicken food before Thanksgiving.

I got a few radishes the other day, which was nice. Apparently any idiot can grow a radish so I won't brag about it. I had an egg in my pocket when I was pulling the radishes so it snuck into the photo too.

There's my big SFG update. I'm always surprised when I go out there and things are alive. The plants may quiver when I come near, but when I stay away from them for a couple of days they seem to thrive. I'm still not holding my breath that anything edible will come from the garden, but we're on the right track for once.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A photo of ME and the chickens!

There's a slew of reasons I don't post pictures of myself on the blog. I don't particularly like photos of me and the last thing I want to do is offend my readers with a big self portrait of yours truly. The other reason is Farmer B doesn't take photos - ever. I'm the camera girl so months and months can go by without a photo being taken of me. The boys draw lots of pictures of me so at least we have that. My life is like a courtroom drama - lots of odd sketches detailing the goings-on, but no cameras allowed inside.

But I decided to break from tradition today and post a picture of me standing in the chicken run holding Clementine and Sookie. It's not a very flattering photo, but it's how I am on a typical day with the boys. I thought it was better than a Glamour Shot of me wearing a jaunty cowboy hat with prom hair and my thumb in the collar of a bedazzled denim shirt. Not that I have one of those pictures, of course. But here I am holding Clementine and a very wiggly Sookie.

When I look at the photo I realize I look 10 years older than I did last year. I realize I've eaten way too much Halloween candy and wish I'd brushed my hair that day instead of rolling out of bed into my clothes. I added in the mental notes that I make when I see the photo. It's good for my neuroses to put my mental ramblings into notes on a photo - or so says my court-appointed therapist.

The small child attempting to pull my jeans down is extra special, don't you think? He is the sole reason I wear a belt. I think I'll stick to pictures of the pets, the kids and the plants from now on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Blue Bums of Autumn

Isn't it about time I dove head-first into the mating life of the sheep of Northern England? Of course that question is rhetorical because there is no answer other than yes! My aunt and uncle live in Guisborough, a small town in Northern England, that has some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. It's where my dad grew up and one of the places we visit whenever we return "home." Their house backs up to some fields that lead to miles of breath-taking moors just like you've seen in the movies. But this post isn't about the gorgeous scenery from Wuthering Heights or An American Werewolf in London, it's about sheep reproduction. I shouldn't allow myself to stray from such an important topic.

Every Autumn, my aunt and uncle look out of their back window at the fields and see herds of sheep grazing on the grass. And this time of year many of these sheep have bright blue bums. The casual observer might think that the farmer has merely marked these sheep to show they belong to him, but we can only hope the farmer had nothing personally to do with this. If he did, that'd be a whole different post.

In order to see which sheep have gotten personal with the rams and will be pregnant with Spring lambs, the farmers attach a marking harness to the rams. This harness is called a ram raddle and holds a crayon or dye pouch that is strapped to the ram's chest right between his front legs. When the ram buys a ewe dinner and romances her in the way that only a ram can, he leaves his blue calling card on her bum. This marks her as a taken-sheep so the farmer knows how many lambs to expect in the Spring. This is good for the farmer because apparently sheep only visibly show signs of pregnancy about six weeks before the lambs are born - lucky sheep - so this marking technique benefits the farmer since he can safely assume that any lucky lady with a blue bum in the Autumn will be using her wool to knit some lamb baby booties about five months later.

I've posted a couple of photos that my uncle sent me below. See that ewe third from the left? Apparently she is one of those unfortunate ewes who merely has a "good personality."

As the cool Autumn days go on, my aunt and uncle wake up to more and more blue-bummed sheep grazing in the fields. There are only a couple of rams to leave their mark and an entire field of sheep, so they're quite busy.

Today I got an email from my uncle telling me that today a third ram was added to the group with his blue harness on. Not long after his arrival my uncle noticed that the other two rams now have blue bums as well. My uncle said that maybe this new ram doesn't "know his arse from his elbow" or maybe there are so few un-marked ewes left that this final ram just got desperate and jumped on the first unmarked sheep bums he could find. It's like closing time at a bar - last call desperation at its finest.

Blue bums. It's what everyone's talking about this Autumn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frankenkitty's return

I know from the comments sections of some of my previous posts that some of you have been following the story of our cat, Damian, and his ear troubles. After 20 days of having his ear quilting sutures in, we finally made the trip to the vet to get them removed. When we got there the vet came in to the room and scooped Damian out of his carrier and carried him to another room to cut out the sutures.

He was back in minutes and remarking - as they always do - on what an easy cat he is. No fighting, no protesting - just sitting there happily as they worked on him. Some may say the lights are on, but no one's home - I choose to say he's just that well mannered.

He's back to his wonderful quirky old self now that he's home. We're still keeping him away from mirrors because one of his old habits was sitting in front of a mirror staring at himself. I am not sure if he can handle seeing the ear disfigurement so soon after the procedure. Maybe when the hair comes in it will be less noticeable. Please just go with me on this one. If it doesn't, we'll be in the market for a prosthetic ear. Maybe I could even make one with some chocolate brown felt and some elastic.

Luckily he has a brother who's not deterred by his new Frankenkitty-style cauliflower ear and is happy to give it a good wash at a moment's notice.

Unluckily he has another brother who is fascinated with him and likes to try and knock him down with his long snout at a moment's notice.

But little Damian is happy and healed and back to following me around every single waking moment of the day. I think the cauliflower ear actually nicely matches his crossed eyes, single snaggletooth and bent tail. I'll admit to missing his old pointy ear, but now I have a reason to love this little kitty just a little bit more than before.
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