22 March 2014

Carolina Yard Gardening School

I had a lot of fun at the Carolina Yard Gardening School this weekend.  If you don't know about it, it's put on by Clemson Extension and the Tri-County Master Gardeners every March.  There are two classes, two hands-on workshops, a keynote speaker, gift bags, compost, and lunch, as well as plants and other gardening-related items to for sale.

I volunteered two years ago, and one of my favorite things about it that year was all the free stuff I got to take home - seeds, plants, compost, and even food.  I missed it last year at the last minute - the night before I hurt my back, bad enough that I was out of work for close to two weeks.  This year was different.  I've been out of gardening for most of the past year, for a number of reasons, and I've been pushing myself to get back into it - I worked the Master Gardener office earlier in the week, and I went to a couple of seminars earlier in the year.  I knew today might go a long way in reigniting my love of gardening...and I think it did.  More than anything else, I enjoyed the people this year.

When I arrived before 7:30am, I didn't have an assigned task, but found work hanging baskets around the building, and helping people with rain barrels they had purchased.  Then I was told I was going to help run a powerpoint presentation during the opening segment, "Making It Grow", with Amanda McNulty, Amy Dabbs, Millie Davenport, and Zach Snipes.  I'm not usually a fan of being put on the spot like that, at least not with a rehearsal (don't ask me about being a page turner for pianists!), but it turned out to be a no-brainer and it was a lot of fun watching the "show".  The rapport among Amy, Amanda, and Millie was fun to watch, and Zach's great too - he's the new kid, literally - very young, and a new agent at the Clemson Extension.

There were a lot of volunteers, so after the first segment, I was able to attend some of the classes and workshops.  During the first time slot, it was a toss-up between heirloom gardening and integrated pest management, but the science geek in me won and I went to the "IPM in Your Backyard" that Zach gave.  Plant pathology is one of those very dense subjects that take many times hearing to sink in, at least for me, but I've immersed myself in it enough over the past couple of years that I'm starting to get the hang of it.

I sat in on parts of two lectures/workshops -  Spring-planted Bulbs and one about creating backyard bird habitats - and then I went to Amanda McNulty's lecture called, "Where de Rice?".  It was completely fascinating.  It ranged from the link between sickle cell and malaria resistance to rice steamers and division of labor on plantations.  I can't say enough about it - she really made my day.  The last class I saw was Amy's vermicomposting workshop.  I've heard her talk about worm composting a number of times, but I think this was the first real class setting I have been to, and she went into much greater detail than she has in the past.  It was very interesting - it's something I would definitely do if I didn't have chickens to feed my kitchens scraps to.

Like I was saying before, it was the people that made today fun for me - Amanda McNulty and her craziness, Amy for just being Amy, Zach and his love of plant pathology, and Millie Davenport and our conversation about our chickens!

31 October 2013

Art of Nature

I've been doing a lot more photography and a lot less blogging this summer.  Most of my photos have been gardening- or nature-related, but that doesn't make up for not blogging.  It does have its rewards - a month or two ago, I found out that our local paper had a weekly photo contest, so I started sending in submissions.  They would have a different theme each week, and recently the theme was the "Art of Nature".  Since that is what I take more pictures of than anything else, I had a lot to choose from.  I narrowed it down to a few and got Robin's help picking the one to submit.  I had been enjoying just sending them photos every week, but then I had to go and win.  To see the article they published on the web, click here, or take a look at what they published in the paper.

06 October 2013

Woods Bay State Park

Earlier this year I wrote about how Venus' flytraps are only found near Carolina Bays.  These are still a Woods Bay State Park.  It is a small park that features a large Carolina bay and a cypress tupelo swamp.  I have a friend who is a connoisseur of swamps, but to me, they all look the same.  To be honest, I haven't studied them enough to know the differences - maybe these formations are more interesting from the air, as this picture shows.  You can even see another one to its left that has retained its shape, even though it looks to be farmland.  For a slideshow of the park, click here.
mystery, and rightly so.  They are mostly found along the coast of the Carolinas, elliptical in shape and all align in the same general direction, northwest.  I won't speculate on their origins, but I did visit one this summer.  I was on another trip and was looking for something else to visit in the area and found

29 September 2013

Summer of the Orchids

Soon after I posted about the native orchids growing in my front yard, I decided to go to the Coastal Carolina Orchid Society meeting.  I usually don't like being in these groups, because the focus is on one type of plant - it's not these groups, per se, but me.  I can be obsessive about things, as well as be a completist - someone who has to have every one of a certain thing.  I'm better about it now, but I still avoid them.  I like variety.  Back to what I was saying - the main reason I went to the meeting was that they were doing a repotting workshop, and I thought I might learn a little something, get continuing ed credit as a master gardener, and probably get a free orchid as well.  The afternoon was one that I won't forget.

The meeting was held in a science lab classroom at a local university, and when I got there, it was fairly full.  I wandered around, looking at all of the orchids on display - for a "show-and-tell" later, and found out they were having a raffle as well.  They had close to 50 orchids to be raffled off at a dollar a ticket.  People were buying ten to twenty tickets at a time, but when I opened my wallet and I had only four dollars - but I had a strategy.  I bought my tickets, but I waited until most people had made their choices as to which orchid they were trying to win - there were cups next to each one that raffle tickets went into.  Then I went around and tried to put my tickets into only the cups that were empty.  I would have to wait to see whether that strategy would pay off.

The meeting got underway, and they covered club business first.  There was a demonstration of some orchid-cataloging computer software, then a discussion about the best size and type of bark in which to plant orchids - and how much a pallet of it would be if everyone chipped in to buy one.  They finally got to the repotting part of the meeting - they talked about the orchid that everyone was getting, and we just went at it.  There was little discussion on how to actually do it.  After everyone had potted their orchid, they did the show-and-tell like I mentioned before.  Members had brought in their plants to talk about them - there were a lot of great specimens, but it had been about two hours and I was ready for the raffle.

I was a little nervous, because either I would be taking home a lot of orchids...or I wouldn't.  I thought I might win all four orchids, but I didn't want to be that person that shows up for a single meeting and wins a lot and never comes back.  So, drum roll, please...I won 3 out of 4 orchids, and if you add the one I potted up, I brought home four orchids!

They were four different species(?) of orchids - phalaenopsis, cattleya...actually, although a couple of them looked fairly different, two of them were cattleyas.  The fourth was an oncidium - it didn't last very long.  At first I chalked it up to beginner's bad luck, or the fact that it might have different enough growing conditions that it should have been treated differently than the others, but I don't think that was the case.  The leaves died very fast, and from the base toward the tip - the best answer I could find was that it had some kind of virus, and that there was nothing that I could do for it.

It has been close to four months since I brought the orchids home and they are doing fine.  I water them about every two weeks with a little liquid fertilizer and water, and they seem to be doing well.  Now the next thing I need to figure out is how to make them bloom!

22 September 2013

New Chicken Drama

I've considered getting more chickens, either by hatching them, buying day-old chicks, or by getting some that are ready to start laying, but most of that involves a little drama.  Hatching them means that you will have roosters to get rid of eventually.  Getting day-old chicks means raising them yourself, or, if you have a broody hen, hoping she will do it for you, but being prepared in case she doesn't.  Introducing older chickens to the flock means taking the risk that they will be rejected by the flock.  One of the first times I introduces a new chicken, she got run off almost immediately.  We found her a few days later a few houses away.

I had the opportunity to adopt three Dominiques from a neighbor this weekend.  He had a situation that forced him to get rid of his chickens.  As I am writing this, he still has seven more that need a home.  Hopefully we'll be able to find one.  I got some of his Dominiques because I remember reading that they were all around good birds.  Most people getting chickens want ones that are fairly young, and at 2+ years old, these are probably close to middle-age.  I think I like the chickens as much for the entertainment as I do for the eggs, so it doesn't bother me to have older hens.

Once I decided which ones and how many I could take, it was just a matter of how to go about this.  I thought his chickens were fairly friendly, and I could walk up to one and pick her up - that wasn't the case, but the first one wasn't hard to catch, since there were ten of them in a confined space.  I put her under my arm, walked back to the house and dumped her over my fence, away from my other chickens just to be safe.

With the second and third ones, I decided to use a net to make it easier.  So after dumping the third one over the fence, I went to observe all the chickens to see if there was any interaction, good or bad, but I could only find two of the three new hens.  I looked in every hiding place in the back yard, but no luck - she must have gone over the fence.  I happened to spot her in the front yard - she was just wandering around out there.  With a little luck I was able to catch her fairly easily and put her back in the back yard.  The didn't seem to interact with the rest of the flock, but they weren't being harassed either, so that was good.

The next important time to see how they interact is when it is time to go to bed.  My experience is that the first night can be the hardest for the new birds.  They're somewhere they've never been and may not know exactly where to go, even though the other chickens do.  Once it got dark, I went to see if the new hens has figured out what to do, and they hadn't.  One was in the run, but hadn't gone into the hen house to roost.  I was able to grab her, and open up the house, and put her on the roost, but it was like she physically couldn't sit on it.  I had to try several times before she didn't fall off.  I had never seen anything like that before.

I found the second one nesting under some giant elephant ears near the hen house.  She was easy to grab and put on the roost.  Then I had to find the third one.  I got a flashlight and looked in every hiding place I could find, but no luck.  The one place left was in a large Japanese privet that was growing in the chicken area.  Sure enough, she was roosting in the giant shrub.  I was able to grab her and put her on the roost next to her sisters.

While writing all of this, I've been monitoring the integration process while taking lots of photos, and there is just too much to write about right now.  Print news can't handle breaking news.  Anyway, that's the situation so far.  I will write more later.  Stay tuned.