30 December 2011

December Rainfall

0.00 inches during the first week of December - it rained a couple of times, but not enough to register in the rain gauge.
0.00 inches on December 7th
0.10 inches on December 12th
0.10 inches on December 20th/21th
0.10 inches on December 25th
0.75 inches on December 27th

1.05 inches total rainfall for December

12 December 2011

Countryside and Small Stock Journal

During the last couple of years, I would pick up issues of farming, chicken, gardening or otherwise "rural living" types of magazines in order to get some ideas about gardening or raising chickens or living a greener life.  One of these magazines initially struck me as odd in their articles and their advertising.  It seemed like a freaky source of information about living off the grid - solar power, composting toilets and the like.  I now think of this magazine, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, as an interesting facet of living the rural life.  Recently I've gotten some good information about raising chickens and growing potatoes in straw.

After looking for some of these articles online, I found a site that seems to have the past eighteen years of this magazine online, free.  It's something I'd like to spend a little time going through during the winter.  Maybe I can learn a little something.

02 December 2011

November Rainfall

0.20 inches on November 16/17th
0.30 inches overnight on November 22nd/23rd
1.30 inches on November 27th/28th

1.80 inches total rainfal for November

22 November 2011

Really? Another Rooster?

One of our supposed hens started crowing the other day.  It wasn't that much of a surprise - even though he was supposed to be a hen, it was clear for a long time that "she" might be a "he".  What does surprise me is that this rooster came from a batch of sexed day-old chicks.  They were supposed to be hens, but obviously sexing chickens is not an exact science.  Because of that, most chicken breeders have a return policy for roosters.

I say they have a return policy - I went and talked to the neighbor I got him from and found out he ordered them from a hatchery in Ohio - not exactly a returnable rooster.  So, once again, I have to figure out what to do with a rooster.  He's not a problem right now.  I hear him crow early in the morning, but he's pretty quiet - I haven't heard him during the day, but Robin has.

I'm not sure what we're going to do with him.  We'll probably end up putting him on Craigslist like the other roosters, but until then, we have a pretty large chicken running around our yard.

08 November 2011

October Rainfall

0.00 inches on October 9th
0.40 inches on October 10th
0.20 inches on October 10/11th overnight
0.10 inches on October 11/12th overnight
0.50 inches on October 12/13th overnight
0.20 inches on October 29th


1.40 inches total rainfall for October

27 October 2011

Local Feed and Seed Sources - Updated - Fall 2011

For those interested, I thought I would update my list of Feed and Seed sources.  I've gotten recommendations from friends and I have a few personal experiences to share.

First of all, this past spring and summer I spent a lot of time driving to Tractor Supply Co. in Summerville.  I know - they're sort of a big box version of a feed and seed, but they are really convenient.  When I was looking for fence panels to make trellises, I was able to go online and figure out which one I might need before going to the store.  Most other stores close around 5pm, which doesn't always work for me.  Tractor Supply is open until 8pm every day except Sunday, when they close at 6pm.

For spring and fall vegetables, I've been in the habit of going to one of the feed stores outside of Summerville, either 17-A Feed or Dorchester Feed.  My friend Gretchen pointed out to me that Red Top Feed on Savannah Highway is closer than those.  Being in North Charleston, Summerville seemed closer, until I went to Red Top recently.  It was a quick drive on I-526 and 17 South and I was there.

I've had friends that have been to Cordray's on Johns Island in the past, but recently I called them about fall vegetables, and they really didn't have any.  Either they had sold out of most of their plants, or they didn't have a lot to begin with.

I've contacted Cainhoy Feed in the past looking for veggies, and they have never had any.  I never bothered to ask why until recently.  I called them up and found out they specialize more in farm animal supplies rather than in vegetable and the like.  So, if you need chicken supplies, they might be a good source, but I would call first.

I saved the worst for last - 17-A Feed and Seed - I had been there in the past to buy onion or potatoes.  At the time I didn't have a real preference for any particular store.  I finished building our chicken coop on Memorial day and we couldn't wait to get chickens.  I called six stores and they were the only one open, but they were closing at 2pm so he could go fishing.  We got out there and on our way through the store to the outside to the chicken coop, we seed a brooder with baby chicks in it - one is dead.  While we're trying to grab some chicks out of the pen, we see a rooster in another pen that has something wrong with one of his legs.  While we were buying supplies, I felt like he gave us some bad advice as far as what to feed them.  Months later, the "hens" turned out to be roosters.  When we bought them, he said we could return them, if they were roosters, but when I called later, they asked if I had my receipt.  Then they said that I would be taking a chance on the replacements, because they didn't know if they were hens or roosters either.  Later, friends went there and told me how bad it was - I think they even filled up the chickens' water bowl.

So here are my recommendations:

Red Top Feed and Tackle Shop
3815 Highway 17, Charleston
(843) 763-6651
Friends like it and it's the closest.

Tractor Supply Co.
1672 North Main St Ste 5, Summerville
(843) 821-5386
Good selection of feed, bedding and other chicken supplies.  No plants or seeds, to my knowledge.

Dorchester Feed and Supply
10310 Highway 78, Summerville
(843) 875-9776
I've only been here for cool-season vegetables, but I'm sure they have everything Red Top has.

Cainhoy Feed and Seed
1925 Clements Ferry Rd # 3, Charleston
(843) 884-8787
As best as I can tell, they sell mainly horse and chicken supplies.

Cordray's Grocery and Feed
3455 Maybank Highway, Johns Island
(843) 559-0102
I'm sure they have what Red Top has, but it's farther and they were sold out of what I needed.

17-A Feed and Seed
2026 North Main Street, Summerville
(843) 832-0540
DON'T GO HERE!

22 October 2011

Housing (and Feeding) Two Flocks

After getting our second "flock" of chickens recently,  Gretchen suggested that we think about keeping them separated from the others, because they were being fed medicated starter feed.  I kept everyone together for the first few days - by necessity - until I could build another little coop for the new birds.  Once they were in their new home I felt good about everything - I could feed them their medicated food safely, they had a home of their own.  In theory it seemed perfect - until they were separated.

Once that happened, they wanted nothing more than to be with the rest of the chickens.  I would let everyone out for a while in the evening and the new chicks would end up in the hen house at dark.  I spent a few nights grabbing chicks from the roosts and putting them in their new home.  I couldn't do this anymore, so I put everyone together and started trying to figure out how to feed them so they get the proper nutrition.

Presumably - feeding starter to everyone wouldn't be bad, except the laying hens might need more calcium for their eggshells.  Feeding layer rations might be fine too, but the young birds might be stunted.  I did some research and had a hard time finding solutions to this problem.  What I found out about feeding chickens was informative.  This is in no way definitive, but it sounds good:

When to switch from starter/grower feed to layer feed:
Some people switch around 20 weeks of age.  They think it's good to get a head start on the extra calcium, so, when they do begin laying, they're ready for it.  Other people did thinks differently.  Some didn't think there was an exact time to switch.  I read a post where someone recommended that when they start laying, to finish off the bag of starter/grower before switching to layer feed.

People do have strong opinions about feeding layer feed to chicks that aren't laying yet.  Young chicks don't need the extra calcium that is found in layer feed.  Apparently it has some negative health consequences - affects bone development.  Makes sense.  The one recommendation that I saw the most was to feed everyone starter feed and put out crushed oyster shell for the layers who need the extra calcium.  That seems like the best idea to me.  So I'm off to the feed store to get starter/grower feed and some crushed oyster shells.

21 October 2011

Our New Flock

Along with getting rid of a rooster last week, we had plans to get a couple more hens from our neighbors, Scott and Fred.  We also had other neighbors Gretchen and Haley, who had been raising some young chicks, offer us a few.  All of us were in contact with each other and the plan was for Gretchen and Haley to give Scott and Fred a couple, and they were planning to give us a couple that were closer to laying.  That's what we were expecting when Haley showed up at our door with a box of chicks.  What can you do when someone shows up on your doorstep like that?

I left them in the box, but put chicken wire over it, to give them some air, but to keep them from getting loose.  We've had trouble in the past introducing new chicks to our flock, so we waited until it was very dark to try it.  We did the same thing we have done in the past - we put the new chicks on the roost in the hen house and wait to see how the others react.  Our chickens were a little curious, but they adjusted well to the new additions.  I'm looking forward to watching them grow up.

13 October 2011

Little White Rooster

I found out recently that our roosters were bothering our neighbor behind us.  I tried several times to talk to her, but she never answered the door.  I would see her mom cutting the grass, but she would be gone before I had a chance to talk to her.  I finally saw her mom at a recent plant swap, introduced myself and asked her about the chickens.  She told me that they wake her daughter up every morning - if this was really the case, I would hope she would say something.

To be fair, I did locate the chickens as far away from our house as possible, and hidden behind our garage - which puts it maybe a hundred feet from our neighbor's bedroom.  So, it was time to get rid of a rooster or two.  Unless it was a big problem, I wasn't going to get rid of our silkie - as I've mentioned before, we all like him and he amsues us when he runs.  So that leaves only the little white rooster.  I had some success giving away roosters on craigslist, but I had heard that some of the people who respond to these ads were planning to eat them.  I was concerned about this when I got rid of the first two roosters, but was happy when the guy showed up with his kids.

I had similar concerns this time, but my fears were allayed when I met the person.  It's a little quieter at our house - it was especially noticeable after the first two roosters.  I feel like we're down to our core flock now - one rooster and five hens, plus four new hens that we just got.  I don't expect any more, but you never know.

Postscript:  I had recorded him crowing before we got rid if him, and I just got around to editing it and posting it online.  Here it is:


29 September 2011

September Rainfall

0.00 inches on September 4th - a few drops and it threatened, but real rain.
0.00 inches on September 5th/6th - rain overnight but nothing in the gauge.
0.50 inches on September 6th
0.00 inches on September 11th/12th - it rained overnight, but nothing in the gauge.
0.60 inches on September 13th
0.70 inches on September 16th
0.25 inches on September 21st
0.70 inches on September 22nd
0.30 inches on September 23rd
1.10 inches on September 24th
0.50 inches on September 25th
0.00 inches on September 28th

4.65 inches total rainfall for September

Master Gardener - Weeds

One of the activities for the chapter on weed ecology was the following:


"Visit your lawn. Choose three weeds and identify. After you've identified them, discuss the implications of these weeds in your lawn. Now visit the edges of your lawn, perhaps in the food garden bed or your ornamental plant beds. Find three weeds there and identify. Are they the same as the lawn weeds you saw? How do you manage these weeds in both situations (lawn and other)?"


I would say the main problem weed in my back yard is Florida betony (cool-season perennial).  When we first bought our house, I didn't know what it was.  In the summer, digging in the ground, I would find these white tubers - I didn't put the two together at the time.  For some reason they are almost exclusively in my back yard, so I don't do too much with them.  Since I know they are perennials and grow from those white tubers, pre-emergent herbicides will not work.  After doing some research on control methods, it appears there are a couple of post-emergent herbicides that will work, depending upon your grass type.  I have a good bit of bahiagrass in the back yard - which, to me, is a weed in itself - so I mostly leave it alone.  It take a different approach when it comes up in my garden.  When I see the tubers I get rid of them, and I tend to hand-pull the shoots when I see them, hoping that, if I pull them enough times, it will exhaust the plant.
I have a problem weed in the front yard, but, for the life of me, I don't know what it's called.  I should know this - it is a cool-season perennial, tap-rooted plant with a yellow flower.  I guess it could be dandelion, but the leaves are a lot different.  It has started coming up recently.  I have a tool with tines at the end - it's called a Garden Weasel Weed Popper.  It's hinged and spring-loaded.  You stick the tines in the ground near the weed and step on it, then catapult the weed across the lawn.  It proved effective against these tap-rooted weeds more than half the time, but it's labor-intensive.  Usually I'll take some time and spray Roundup on all of them, but I don't realize how many I have until I start doing it.

I used to have dollar weed (warm-season perennial) around my vegetable garden, but I was very vigilant about pulling it up overtime I saw it.  It's not a problem anymore.  It became a problem in one of our landscaped beds out front, but it was easy to get rid of.  The stolons were growing in the top layer - mulch/compost, and it was easy to hand-pull.  Long strings of it came up out of the loose mulch.  I notice from the photo that it's in the turf as well, but I can tolerate that.

I've been pulling up spurge around our vegetable garden all summer.  It's a warm-season annual that I've begun to notice a lot this year.  It grow outward from a taproot, hugging the ground.  It looks like it covers a large area, but all you have to do is pull it up from the single root and it's all gone.

The past year or so, I've gotten a little purslane in our vegetable garden.  I was curious about it, because it have very succulent stems and leaves.  It's a warm-season annual related to Portaluca.  Like other weeds in my garden, I try to hand pull weed now - since I Roundup-ed my pole beans last summer!

There is another plant that resembles dollar weed, that I believe I have in my yard as well.  It's called dichondra and it must get confused with the other because it's mentioned in the dollar weed article on the HGIC website.   From what I've seen, it is more of a clumping type of plant.  I could be wrong.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There were other weeds I could mention, but these were the ones I knew the most about.  I'm sure a lot of people know what this weed is in the photo - I'm am just drawing the biggest blank.  I'll post the answer when someone tells me on the message board, but until then, I'll be in the dark.  Comment, if you think you know!

24 September 2011

Fourth Annual Fall Park Circle Plant Swap

It was that time of year again - time for the fall plant swap.  We had a lot of stuff going on this weekend and the thought crossed my mind that I might not have time to go this year.  Can you believe that?  It was only a passing thought - I came to my senses pretty quickly.  We have had a lot going on, and I procrastinated until this morning as far as pulling plants together for the swap goes.  I got up at 5am and was outside at 5:30 trying to get plants together, realizing that I couldn't see a thing!  I promptly went back inside and read the paper, ate breakfast and watched tv until 7am, when I resumed my activities.

I came up with a large pile of plants - more than I expected on such short notice.  Earlier in the week, I had dug up all the pups from our century plant.  This morning I dug up some irises and some phlox and potted them up.  I thinned out the water irises growing in the waterfall of our pond - it needed it.  It needs a good cleaning out and repotting, but that will have to wait.  And hostas - I have to explain the hostas.

While at the previous plant swap in April, I was in the middle of planting a shade garden and was looking for enough hostas for a mass planting.  I didn't find many at the swap, but I met a woman there that offered me some from her yard.  A week or so later, I went to her house and we walked around and dug up parts of almost every clump she had in her yard.  When I got them home, I broke them into smaller plants and had them in a couple of buckets of water.  I planted as many as I could and put the leftover bucket of hostas, dirt and water in the driveway, intending to plant them in the next couple of days.  Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, and so I ended up bringing them to the next plant swap.  I wanted to tell her the story, but she wasn't there.  I did save a clump for myself - I still have plans to plant some in the near future, along with what I got at the swap.

I mention this every time now, but I don't find as many plants that I have to have as I used to, and it was trued this time.  Inevitably I end up doing more socializing in the beginning, rather than scoping out plants.  I see people who I don't see all the time and I end up talking to them.  I eventually find my first selection - there's usually one must-have plant - but I didn't see one today.  Just like last time, I found my groove - I changed my first selection from a Euphorbia trigona to a citrus I found after Darren mentioned that there were some mixed in with the rest of the plants.

Before I go any further, let me mention the plants I didn't get.  These were high-ranking choices, that got picked by other people while I was picking other plants:  Euphorbia trigona, night-blooming cactus, corpse-flower cactus, giant papyrus, canna and ginger lilies.  I think that's about it for the plants I didn't get.

I had a little trouble prioritizing this time.  Every other time Robin was there and, for the first few rounds, she would help me get the plants I wanted.  So I started out with the citrus and then I found some daylilies.  I saw someone with one of my friend Joan's Yuccas and I decided to get one of those.  I would have preferred Echinacea, but I got some of Joan's Black-eyed Susans instead.  I found some more daylilies - I wasn't sure what they were at first.  They were in a plastic bag and extremely leggy, like they didn't get a lot of sun, or they were over-fertilized with Nitrogen.  They reminded me of the Narcissus bulbs I brought previously - in their case, it was not enough light.  I got some Persian shield and a couple of beautyberrys to add some native plants to our landscape.  As always, I feel satisfied by what I brought home from the swap, and the fewer plants mean that they won't be neglected because I don't know what to do with them.  I've already planted the Yucca and I know what I'm doing with most of the others - nothing should be neglected this year.  I would say that I'm happy about this swap and look forward to more in the future.

01 September 2011

Colorful Hydrangeas

I read a "Garden Q&A" item in the New York Times earlier this summer. It was about what affects the colors of hydrangea blooms.  I've always heard about blooms changing colors from red to blue, or the other way a round.  the article referred to the availability of aluminum in the soil.  I thought it was interesting, but not very relevant to me.

Fast forward a few weeks and I started noticing our hydrangea about to bloom again - and the blooms are pink.  It's been a while, but I could have sworn they blue earlier in the year.    We transplanted from the back yard just before it bloomed this spring.  I found the first photo of the hydrangea when it was still in the back yard.  It's definitely blue, but there is a hint of pink in there.

Now look at the plant - the flowers are definitely pink.  I have heard about people changing the pH of the soil, just to change the color of the flowers, but I have never seen it before.  Very interesting!

31 August 2011

August Rainfall

0.00 inches on August 5th - it rained, but just enough to scare the dog, and that doesn't take much.
0.50 inches on August 6th - it rained light and steady, a good soaking, but not that much.
0.10 inches on August 9th - it looked like it was going  to storm, but we hardly got any rain.
0.00 inches on August 10th - There was rain, but none in the gauge.
0.75 inches on August 13th
0.25 inches on August 14th
0.60 inches on August 18th
0.10 inches on August 22nd
0.30 inches on August 23rd
0.40 inches on August 26th - from Hurricane Irene
0.20 inches on August 30th

Total rainfall - 3.20 inches

21 August 2011

SC Master Gardener Class - Online

A few years ago I decided I was ready to take the Master Gardener class that the Clemson Extension offers every year.  I filled out a long application with a short essay and had a phone interview.  I felt proud to be accepted, though I didn't take the class because of scheduling conflicts.  I bought the MG Training Manual in advance, so when I didn't take the class, I decided that I didn't need to, now that I had the book.  Even though my intention was to slowly work my way through the book, I hardly even cracked it, except to read the vegetable gardening section and to identify pests.

Recently, I felt like my gardening skills had plateaued and I wasn't getting as much out of gardening as I used to - so I decided to look into signing up for the class again.  I thought I still had time, but when I looked it up, the class was closed and wouldn't be open again until next fall.  I was disappointed, but a couple of weeks later, I found out that they were going to offer an online version of the class.  It's pretty much the same structure, except there are video lectures, and home activities instead of classroom work.

I signed up for it and it started this week.  We have reading assignments, video lectures, activities to do at home, class discussions on a message board and online quizzes.  I haven't taken a class in a number of years, so it's going to be a little tough at first.  The first chapter on soil has a little bit of chemistry in it, but the good thing is that I can take my time and let it all soak in, since I have a whole week.

Like I'm doing with gardening tips, I think I'm going to do a series with stuff I'm learning in this class.  I have at least two ideas in this one chapter alone that I want to write about.  I may find too many things and not be able to keep up with it, but we'll see.

Containing the Chickens

Earlier this week some of the chickens decided to hop the fence and go exploring in our neighbor's yard.  There have been a few times before when one has ended up there and we've had to go catch them (we thought they were spooked and flew over the fence and couldn't get back), but this time was different.  I watched a few of them perch on the fence, at its lowest point, look down into the neighbor's shrubs and hop down there.  I knew I shouldn't worry about them - they would be back - but the fact that they could escape that easily bothered me.  I also didn't know how the neighbors felt about it either.

They were back a little while later, which made me feel better, but I saw it happen again the next day.  Our black rooster has risen to the position of alpha male in the flock and this time it was he who lead the incursion, followed by the six hens, who have turned into his little harem.  I mentioned this on Facebook and my aunt recommended that I should clip their wings.  I read many times about doing that before we had chickens, but it hadn't occurred to me to do so.  At the time, my first thought was to put up a taller fence, which I had always thought I might have to do in the future.

Thinking it might be a huge undertaking to catch and clip the wings of every chicken, I opted to clip only the wings of the alpha rooster.  My theory was that if the hens followed him around, and he couldn't jump the fence, that would contain all the chickens.  My first attempt at catching the rooster was rough.  I was able to get my hands on him, but he fought so much that I couldn't hold onto him.  I was back to the idea of taller fencing, but in the meantime, I really didn't want to let them out of the pen, because I didn't know what they would do.

On a whim this afternoon, I was able to catch the rooster fairly easily, and got Robin to help me clip his wings.  I had never done this before, but I had read enough about it, that I thought we could do it.  We trimmed the flight feathers on both wings - even though they say you only have to do one.  I wanted a little extra assurance that he wouldn't leave the yard.  After doing this, I wished some one had taken photos.  When I mentioned that we should do the other rooster so we could get photos for this blog, Ella go upset that we would do that just for the photos - so all I have is the diagram.

Thinking we were safe from chickens leaving the yard, I let them out to forage.  Much to my surprise, the hens immediately jumped the fence, and the recently-clipped rooster wasn't too happy about it.  At that point there was nothing I could do until it was time for bed.  Hours later I come home to find only one chicken in the yard - the silkie.  The hens are in the neighbor's yard with the black rooster - I'm not sure how he got there, but he might have trouble getting back.  And the other rooster is in the other neighbor's yard.  He was frantically trying to get back into the yard by running back and forth along the fence.  We've dealt with this before - both Ella and I tried separately to get him back over with no luck.  He's going to have to try a little harder, or let us help him.

A taller fence is definitely going up back there soon.  I just have to figure out the logistics.  After talking to some neighbors, the best plan is going to be putting up a fence AND clipping their wings.  I don't know why ours have such wanderlust and others we know are so well-behaved?

10 August 2011

Weeds and Watermelons

I feel like I've done a lot in the yard during the past week - it's been mostly weed pulling and brush clearing, but there were some weeds I was going to have trouble getting to.  They were in and around what has become my watermelon patch.  I didn't plan on having one of those - I was trying to trellis the plants so they would be neat and orderly, and sometimes you can't do that.  I finally let them take over a corner of the garden, and they have paid me back with a few surprises.

I started cleaning up the area the other day by pulling all the weeds that the watermelon vines weren't growing through, and then I got out there tonight to do the more tedious part.  I began finding watermelon vines, making sure they didn't have any fruit on them, and following them back to main plant and pruning them.  I can't tell you how much I cut back, but it was a lot.  I must have been a little careless, because I accidentally cut a vine that had a watermelon attached.  It wasn't all bad - a 14-pounder that's supposed to grow to 15-20 pounds.

I knew about two fruits growing in the tangle of vines, but I found a third one last week.  When I moved it out of the way tonight, I discovered it was split on the bottom.  The chickens were nearby so I broke it open and gave it to the chickens.  That would have been three fruits, counting the one I accidentally harvested and the one still growing, but I found another one - this one is very small, but that means we'll get to save it for later.

08 August 2011

Gardening Tips - Homemade Liquid Fertilizers

I read an article in Mother Earth News recently that piqued my curiosity.  I've been wanting to use organic fertilizers, but I didn't know where to start.  The article explains how to make and use homemade organic liquid fertilizers.  I'm not going to get into all the whens and wheres of using this fertilizer, or "tea" - you can read all about it in this article.  Though I will lay out the process of making them.  Be warned - one of these you might not like so much.  We'll start with something almost everyone has in their yard:

Grass Clippings
Fill a five-gallon bucket 2/3 full and then top off with water.
Let sit for three days, stirring/shaking once a day.
Strain or decant the "tea" and mix with water at a 1:1 ratio.
Use within a day or two.

Like all of these recipes, they are a good source of instant nutrients.  They are good for giving seedlings a boost of energy, or giving potted plants food that they can't get in their containers.  While these are fairly diluted forms of fertilizer, you should only use on plants once every two weeks.  Something fewer people have that is a good source of fertilizer is:

Dried Chicken Manure with Wood Shavings
Fill a five-gallon bucket 1/5 full with manure(33%) and wood shavings(66%)
Let sit for three days, stirring/shaking once a day.
Strain or decant the "tea" and mix with water at a 1:1 ratio.
Use within a day or two.

The last one I'll mention is a little different in several ways.  It needs a lot more dilution and it doesn't need to steep:

Urine
Dilute one part urine with twenty parts water.
Use within a day or two.

See?  That wasn't so gross.  I've never done it, but I'm tempted, knowing how much fertilizer it could produce!  I will say a few things about their use.  Watering plants before using liquid fertilizers is always a good thing.  It helps plants that are drought-stressed, and it keeps plants from absorbing too many salts in the fertilizer.

Gardening Tips

I've decided to start a series of posts, collecting gardening advice I've gotten out of magazines, off the web, etc.  As much as I will be sharing this advice with my readers, it will also help me collect this information in one place and make it easier for me to find - instead of in a stack of magazines on the floor.  Look for these posts in the very near future.

New Rain Gauge

I've been looking all over for a good rain gauge, but I have had a lot of trouble finding one.  Last year I bought the only one Lowe's had - a tiny glass tube with markings on the outside.  It soon got broken and I don't know how.  I'm guessing it could have been a stray shovel or rake handle - who know?  I bought a second one just like it and everything was fine, until the measurements wore/washed off.  Luckily there were some still on it when we did Ella's science fair project, but they were gone soon after.

In my search for a new rain gauge, I've found a lot of similar ones, or none at all.  The other day I found a combination rain/sprinkler gauge.  I wasn't happy with it at first, because it looked like the only way to secure it was with a stake in the ground.  It was also too complicated for what I needed.  You could also hang the larger rain gauge from a nail or screw, but from the top, which I think would interfere with its accuracy.

After looking around some more, I found this same one again, and after looking at it some more, I realized that I could make it work.  The smaller gauge has a place to hang it on a nail or screw, and the larger gauge will lift out of the smaller one, in order to read the measurements and pour out the rain.  The one thing I remember from growing up, is the rain gauges my dad and grandfather used had raised hash marks where the measurements were - so if the writing wore off, you still had the raised plastic to indicate the amount of rain.  This one doesn't go that far, but it seems like it will be a better rain gauge and last longer than the first one I bought.

Remembering the Roosters

This post is a little premature, as we have not gotten rid of any roosters at this point.  I've been a little anxious about them, because we never wanted roosters, and we're not sure how all of our neighbors feel about them.  We talked to one neighbor before we got them and said we wouldn't have roosters - now that we have them, they say they can't hear them unless they're outside.  I talked to another neighbor that mentioned the roosters recently.  I told her that we were getting rid of them, and she was disappointed and said that we shouldn't do it.

I've been trying to talk to yet another neighbor, but she's never home and we don't really know her.  The biggest reason for talking to her is that the coop is probably closer to her house that it is to ours.  Being behind our garage, the sound is blocked a good bit, and we can hear the roosters clearly inside the house.  I can only imagine what it sounds like at our neighbors.

When the week that I thought we would be getting rid of them was fast approaching, I recorded their crows in the early morning, and then I had to figure out which was which.  It turns out this is the rooster that crows the most.  I was thinking it was the other standard chicken, but I guess it's our "mysterious black chicken" that rules the roost.  When we first got them, he kept to himself more, a loner.  It didn't surprise me that he was a rooster - it did surprise me that he would be the most vocal.


This rooster was the one that I thought was the alpha. He acts the part, but I don't hear him crow as much as the black one.  He even has little skirmishes and standoffs with the black chicken.  So, he definitely acts like he the boss of everybody.


The silkie was the first one to crow - and the only one we didn't want to be a rooster -  Robin and Ella fell in love with him. He tries to blend into the flock now. He doesn't crow very much, and he doesn't fight for dominance. Not much of a rooster, but we like him.


We've been back and forth about getting rid of the roosters. No neighbors have complained - which we thought they would. One neighbor doesn't want us to get rid of them. At thins point we decided to keep them, or, at least, not get rid of them right away. After this weekend, I think we want to get rid of them. They're starting to crow all the time - all throughout the day. I know someone who has a farm in Georgetown who wants them, so that's probably where they are going. Say goodbye!

01 August 2011

July Rainfall

0.10 inches on July 1st
0.10 inches on July 6th
0.75 inches on July 8th
0.75 inches on July 9th - so far! 3.50 more inches - can that be right?
0.25 inches on July 13th
1.00 inches on July 14th
0.10 inches on July 24th
0.50 inches on July 25-6th
0.75 inches on July 26th
0.75 inches on July 27th
0.10 inches on July 30th
0.20 inches on July 31th

Total of 8.85 inches

We had a lot of rain this month, but we needed it.  I think my rain gauge has serious flaws - like all the numbers have washed off.  Even the sharpie I used to remark it has washed off.  I just bought a new one today - so, from now on,  the data will be more accurate.

31 July 2011

Chicken Sitting

We've chicken sat for our friends Gretchen and Haley when they go out of town, but this weekend was a little different.  Several weeks ago they decided to try hatching some chicks, since one of their hens went broody again.  They got eight fertile eggs from other friends of ours, Scott and Fred, and they didn't realize that they would be out of town the weekend the eggs were supposed to hatch.

Their plan was to set up a brooder in the house - a box with bedding, food and water, and a heat lamp.  They were afraid the hen might abandon the chicks while they were gone.  As it turns out, most of the eggs hatched before they left town and they decided to try the way Mother Nature intended.  They transferred the hen and chicks to a larger box with food and water and put it in a cage to keep the other hens out.

When I checked on them Friday night, all the chicks had hatched.  I was a little concerned about the chicks, so I've been checking on them a couple time a day.  I have to take the hen out of the box to see the chicks - that means I have to grab her without getting pecked.  The last time I did it, she wouldn't get back in the box immediately.  I got a little worried, because if she didn't get back in, I would have to set up the brooder and the heat lamp in the house.  I thought she might just be stretching her legs and getting a little bit to eat.  That was the case - within five or ten minutes, she got back in the box and I put the box back in the cage.  All I can say is, what an experience!

30 June 2011

June Rainfall

1.50 inches on June 15-16
0.00 inches on June 17 - storm, but nothing in the rain gauge
1.25 inches on June 23 - nice evening rain storm
0.10 inches on June 24/25 - some rain overnight, but not much in the gauge
0.10 inches on June 29 - thunder and lightning, but almost no rain
1.30 inches on June 30 - thought it might be like yesterday, but it wasn't

4.25 inches - total rainfall for June

I should have used up my rain barrels between the 17th and the 23rd so they could fill again, but it's been so dry that I didn't know when it would rain again.  And then on the 30th I did something stupid.  I left the spigot of one of the rain barrels open by mistake, and didn't notice until after the rain.  So I have an empty rain barrel now!

17 June 2011

You Crow, You Go!

I don't feel like we had the best shopping experience when it comes to the chickens we have.  One reason I say that is the guy at the store wasn't completely sure which were hens and which were roosters.  We took our chances and the guy said we could swap them if they turned out to be roosters.

Over the past few weeks we've been looking at them closely, trying to figure out which ones might be roosters.  Of the three standard chickens, we have a feeling that only one is a hen.  We had no idea about the silkie - until now.

Thursday morning I was checking on them after the rain, and giving them more food when I heard one crow twice - or tried - who can speak properly the first time one tries?  I didn't know which one it was, but I suspected the silkie, only because it was older than the others, and of course, it was the one that Robin and Ella fell in love with.  A short time later I went out to watch them for a few minutes, when I heard our neighbor's roosters crow.  Immediately the silkie perked up, flapped his wings, and crowed back!  That settles that - we're going to have to get rid of the silkie.

We haven't made any decisions yet, and he hasn't crowed again - to our knowledge - but if he is a he, the rule applies, "if you crow, you go."

02 June 2011

Chicken Training

Clockwise from feeder - Leghorn, Silkie, Barred Rock, Unknown (we think)
If you hadn't heard, we got chickens on Memorial Day.  I plan to write about that later, but I wanted to write about something a little odd - chicken training, specifically training them to do what normal chickens do.

After getting the chickens home the other day, I started to wonder how they know to go in the hen house at night if they've never used one before.  I also wondered about the angle of the ramp - was it too steep?  The first night I decided that I would spend the first week teaching them that this was their home, so when I let them out to roam the yard, they would return at night - instead of roosting in a tree or something else.  About a half an hour before dark, I started catching chickens and  putting them in the hen house.  I caught one and put her in and as I'm catching a second, a third one(barred rock) goes in on her own.  That was very gratifying.  The fourth one, the silkie, was a little harder to catch, but she was the only one to actually use the roost the first night - the other three huddled together on the floor.  We weren't at home around dark on Tuesday, but when I went and checked on them later that night, the silkie and the barred rock were roosting in the house, and the two others were huddled together on the ground.  Wednesday I got all four in the hen house, but when I checked on them in the morning, the white one - one of the two either huddled together or on the ground - was on the ground by herself, while the other three were on the roost.

Tonight I went to put them up tonight and the barred rock was already on the roost.  I have no doubt that the silkie will be there as well.  It's just a question of what the other two will do.

01 June 2011

May Rainfall

0.20 inches on 5/5
0.10 inches on 5/9 - morning shower, but not enough to measure.
0.25 inches on 5/11

0.55 inches total rainfall for May

Scattered thunderstorms were predicted for 5/8-5/17, but there weren't any.
Now they're predicting a drought this summer.  I need to get more rain barrels.

18 May 2011

Spring / Summer Vegetable Garden

First Purple Majesty Potatoes
A few weeks ago I decided to pull up some of our potatoes that were dying back, and also get a salad out of the garden - something I've been neglecting to do all winter.  I pulled up one the purple potato plants and I was surprised at how small the tubers were - and how few.  I also pulled a couple of red potatoes and we didn't seem to be as many as last year.  After getting some lettuce from the garden and making a salad, I was disappointed in the taste - it was very bitter and "stemmy" (as opposed to "leafy"), if that's a word.  It was pretty late in the season - some of the lettuce was beginning to bolt - grow a stalk and flower.

I thought I was off to a less than great start this year when it came to harvesting our vegetables, but things have turned around a bit.  I have pulled more potatoes and they're looking better, and we're starting to have good luck with our summer garden - we're picking squash daily right now, tomatoes and peppers are coming and beans and corn are right behind them.  What I haven't had a lot of success with right now has been cucumbers and watermelon, but I think I know why, at least with the watermelon.  The seedlings have been shaded a lot by all of the potato plants, and it's been significantly cooler this spring that others - I think some of these summer vegetables need a little more heat to really get started.  I have noticed the watermelon starting to grow more, but I'm still waiting on the cucumbers.  I'm always experimenting with new ways of growing things and sometimes this is what happens.  You live and learn!

11 May 2011

Bamboo Revisited

More than a year ago I wrote about trying to kill bamboo behind our garage.  I decided to smother it with carpet, and I planned to leave the carpet there for a very long time.  I didn't know how long - I just wanted to make sure the bamboo was dead.  More than a year later I had to remove the carpet, because our Magnolia tree was being removed.  It wasn't  long enough, in my opinion, to kill the bamboo, and it looks like I was right.

Recently I've spent time back there removing wood chips, leveling the ground and building a chicken coop, and I've noticed the bamboo coming back with a vengeance.  I've pulled up some shoots, but I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I'm hoping the chickens will help when they arrive.

Removing Grass - Dig, Till or Smother?

This spring a neighbor was laying out his vegetable garden and debated how to remove the grass.  At the time I was laying out a shade garden and had been digging up the grass.  I recommended that idea, because it seemed like it got most of the grass without getting a lot of the soil.  I warned against tilling, remembering how tedious it was picking out all of the pieces of sod from the turned ground.  I was probably going to till after all the grass was up, but not until then.

After I did half the bed that way, I was ready to be done and I ended up tilling the rest of the bed instead of digging up the grass.  It went a lot faster, but I ran into the problem that I mentioned - all the small pieces of sod that needed to be pulled out.  I wasn't too upset, because this is the last time I plan to do this for a while.  I'm finding small pieces of grass growing in the shade garden now, but it's not nearly as bad as the first time I did something like this.

The first time I laid out beds, I decided to smother the grass.  I had a few months before I needed them, so this looked like a good idea.  It was for the most part, but it does take grass longer to die than you would think.  Even after a couple of months it wasn't dead.  On some parts I think I used black rubber pond liner which got the job done, but didn't look very good.  I've had moderate success with newspaper and mulch, but it's time consuming and not completely reliable - I'm having to go back this year and dig out grass that survived that method last year.  It seems the best method may be a combination - digging up the grass like I did with half the shade garden, combined with newspaper and mulch afterward.  I know - it sounds like a lot of work.

10 May 2011

Rattlesnake Master

I'm learning more about native plants lately, and I got one at the plant swap called Rattlesnake Master.  It's a prairie plant, native to North America, and it makes sense that my friend Joan brought it to the plant swap - her yard is almost entirely native.

After reading about it, it seemed the place for it was in the desert garden.  Being a prairie plant, I think it should be drought tolerant, once established.  And it has an interesting look to it - it should compliment the coneflowers nicely.  It's still small, but hopefully it will get bigger and bloom.  We'll be waiting for that!

06 May 2011

April Rainfall

This past month I started looking at my rain gauge and thought I might want to track rainfall at my house - create my own almanac, if you will.  This is by no means accurate, especially this month.  My rain gauge's measurements on the outside are coming off.  These are the numbers for April and I'll try to get a better rain gauge before May.

I know I said this is for April, but I have numbers for the last week of March as well:

1.25 inches on about 3/23
0.50 inches on 3/26-7
1.25 inches on 3/30

Total rainfall for late March - 3 inches

0.30 inches on 4/5
0.00 inches on 4/12 - it rained but only a few drops in the gauge
0.25 inches on 4/21 - it hailed, but not at the house
1.25 inches on 4/22
0.12 inches on 4/25 - scattered showers, maybe 1/8 inches
0.12 inches on 4/26 - scattered showers, maybe 1/8 inches

20 April 2011

Ajuga

I've been slowly getting rid of grass to mow in our yard - replacing it with some other landscaping.  We've got a narrow strip of grass along one side of our driveway that I've been wanting to replace with a groundcover, like ajuga, for a long time.  We have a few plants in our yard and I got a few from the plant swap last fall.  Amy Dabbs, a Clemson Extension agent, brought some last time and I she said she had more if I wanted more.  Instead of getting it from her, I was hoping she would bring some more to the next swap.  Unfortunately there wan't much there this last time.

The next day on craigslist, someone posted that they were getting rid of theirs, free for whoever wanted it.  I went expecting to get all of their ajuga, but another person showed up to get some as well.  It didn't matter, because they had enough to go around.

This ajuga is not the compact variety that we have in our yard, but it was free all the same.  It's got large, floppy leaves and, at this point, a tall, almost two-foot, flower stalk.  I couldn't plant it that afternoon, but I planned to get out there first thing in the morning.  I managed to get the grass dug up and the hundreds of ajuga plants in the ground by lunchtime.  I've spent almost every day since watering them, making sure they don't die - it has been fairly warm during the past couple of weeks.  It doesn't help that it's getting more sun than I expected, especially since they like a little more shade.  If I can get them adjusted to their new environment, I'll be doing fine.  Wish me luck!

11 April 2011

2011 Park Circle Spring Plant Swap

Plants I took to the swap
When I first started going to plant swaps, I tried to take as much as I could, because I knew I would be coming home with a lot more.  I even started propagating plants specifically for the swap.  I don't feel like I have that kind of time now, but I do try to take as much as I can.  Leading up to this weekend's swap, I had picked up a few plants from people's trash that I repotted, divided or nursed back to health; I had a number of plants from the previous swap that I never did anything with; and I had some plants from the yard that were volunteers or extras that I felt like I could part with.

Neglected Irises
On Saturday morning, as soon as I could see outside, I started gathering plants for the swap.  I put the obvious ones in a pile and then I started looking around the yard.  I had some Narcissus that I dug up who-knows-when that grew and flowered, just sitting next to the house.  I pulled up half of those.  While I was at it, I pulled up a couple of irises that had rooted where I dropped them.  I unpotted a couple of small cactuses that I had gotten from a previous swap.  Doing that reminded me of another cactus growing near our back fence where I had discarded a piece years ago.  When I went to trim the cactus out front, I saw some canna that I didn't really want, so I put those in my growing pile.  While looking for more plants, I found a couple of pine trees in an untended area of the yard as well as a couple of volunteer root beer plants.  After all of that, I was ready for the swap.

I mentioned before that I usually come home with a lot of plants - that used to be the case in the beginning, but not so much now.  I have to say I'm more particular these days.  This swap I had specific plants I was looking for - ferns, hostas and anything else for a shade garden, ajuga and other groundcovers, and possibly some hardy succulents.  I didn't find much of anything matching that description at the swap.  I saw maybe five ferns, a few pots of ajuga, a few hostas and five or six fairly large hardy succulents.  After perusing the several hundred plants, I decided my must-have first plant was the Agave attenuata, a hardy succulent with variegated leaves - it would be a good addition to my desert garden.  (I didn't want to be greedy, but there was another hardy succulent next to the one I had claimed, that I was planning to get next if no one did, but, alas, someone did!)  My next plant was going to be a hosta, but they were all gone, so I got some ajuga.  During the third round I got the last, sad-looking holly fern.  After three or four rounds, we got to grab two plants, so I started getting pots of this Japanese herb that Scott and Fred brought.  I'll use it as a groundcover like the ajuga.

By this point I was at a loss for what I wanted.  On more than one occasion, I would survey the remaining plants, identify my first choice, and when Darren gave the signal, I couldn't find the plant.  Obviously someone beat me to it.  I picked up a few more plants, but I didn't take all the leftovers like I once would have.

Plants I brought home from the swap
I am happy with what we brought home.  I've already planted the agave and the fern is ready for the shade garden and I have a number of plants I need to learn about.  I made a few contacts as well - the woman who brought the hostas gave me her number and said I could come and get lots more hostas from her anytime.  And the man who brought the large succulents has more he wants to get rid of.  Apparently there's another plant swap at the Elliotborough Community Garden this Saturday at 1pm - I'm not going to be able to go, but Robin's going, so I'll have to put together some plants for her to take.  The fun never ends!

07 April 2011

Green Roof Science Fair Project

When Ella wanted to study green roofs for science fair project, I thought it was an interesting idea.  When it became necessary to build a green roof (or two), I said sure.  That was the first of my mistakes on the road to completing the green roof project - "Rainwater retention in green roof systems."

I knew I was winging it in my plans to build mock-ups of two green roofs, but I thought I had a really good idea and it was cheap.  I had a plan to build a chicken coop out of pallets later this year, so I thought I would test them out, while using them to build a couple of green roofs.

I ended up finding some free pallets and I had some various pieces of wood stashed in the garage for a future project, so I thought I was set.  Then I found out we needed four roofs, a flat green roof, a 40 degree green roof, a traditional flat roof and a 40 degree traditional roof.  The traditional roofs were the easy part - a piece of plywood on a pallet for support, and we even had a pile of shingles in the garage to put on one of them.  Working with the pallets was not what I expected.  I thought I would be able to take them apart fairly easily, but this was not the case.  I practically had to destroy the slats just to get them off the frame.  I kept slats on one side and reinforced it with some plywood.  I lined the pallets with plastic and landscape fabric to keep the soil from washing away.  I got most of this accomplished in a day, and then we got to work on other logistics, like what kind of soil, plants and how to set them up.  We ended up mounting them on our fence - it saved energy by only having to build supports on one side and we were able to adjust their angles as needed.  Once they were up, we attached gutters for rainwater collection.  We found really good soil at Lowe's - it was a lightweight, moisture-retaining mix that was similar to what we had read about in green roof literature.  We also found a variety of sedum from local nurseries and free from craigslist.  After planting those, we were ready for the science to begin.

It only rained a few times between when we built the roofs until the data was due.  Another factor we should have considered was the weather - winter was not the best time to do this.  In warmer weather, the plants would grow and spread and cover the roof, giving more accurate measurements of rainwater retention - and I probably would have built the roofs differently.  But it is done - it is over. and Ella's grade wasn't horrible, despite all of the project's flaws.

The roofs have been sitting there for the last couple of months, waiting to be dismantled.  I broke down the traditional roofs and put them on the street a while back, but I hadn't tackled the green roofs yet.  I finally got to those a little over a week ago.  I planned to plant them in our desert garden, but I thought some would look good in pots as well.  Most of our succulents that were on the porch died back in December - they weren't hardy and I forgot to bring them in on some of the colder nights.  These are hardy sedum and will do well all year long.

I pulled up the aloe that had died and I amended the soil in the desert garden with the mix I used on the green roofs to give it better drainage.  I had a lot of sedum in it when I first planted it and most of it died - I think it was too wet and didn't drain very well.  I'm hoping the soil mix I added will prevent that this time.  Most of the sedum is planted in the desert garden and I hope it thrives.  We'll have to wait and see.

For a slideshow of the Green Roof Science Fair Project, click here

06 April 2011

Goodbye, Magnolia Tree

When we bought our house there was a large Magnolia tree behind our garage.  I thought the area had potential, but there wasn't much we could do with it at the time.  I raked leaves for a while, but It was pointless as they never kept falling.  There was also a lot of running bamboo, and enough leaf litter that I was afraid to walk back there, not knowing what was underneath.

Eventually I decided to try to kill the bamboo by cutting it down and smothering it with old carpet.  While dealing with the bamboo, I had to wade through the leaves and I was surprised what I found.  It's not very interesting in hindsight, but,  it was the first time I had walked back there.  The area was a lot larger than I thought and there were a lot of nandina plants as well.  I tried to dig them up, but the ground was so full of roots, from the Magnolia and the bamboo, that I could never get a shovel in the ground.

Just after Thanksgiving, a few large limbs fell into our neighbor's yard.  They didn't hit anything, but it was an ominous sign - is this tree dying?  Will more limbs fall?  This ended up being a long, drawn out process.  We called the city to find out about permits etc. and they sent an arborist to look at the tree and the he gave his approval to take it down.  I got a permit for the work - the only thing left was to find a tree company.

Our neighbors recommended a company that did work for their church and had given them a good price.  We had no idea how much this would cost, but we wanted it to cost less than $1000.  Someone from that company came and gave us an estimate of $1550.  It was definitely more than we wanted to pay.  We tried to get recommendations from other neighbors, but no one had any - we had no other plan than to pick 5 names from the yellow pages and get estimates from them.  The next people we called quoted us $850 without grinding the stump, because his stump grinder was broken.  Another company gave us an estimate of $1850 - it was not looking good.  We started thinking we couldn't afford to have the tree removed, so we got quotes to trim it as well.  Most of these were between $600 and $800.  Finally we got a quote that sounded too good to be true - a guy came and quoted us $675 for everything.  Once we got a price we liked, Robin asked me if still wanted to cut it down or just trim it - I said, "for $675, I wanted it gone!"  She thought the price seemed too low and called to get more information from him, including references.  When she called them, they said they felt the same way about his price, but he did a good job.

He came with a couple of guys on Monday afternoon and, in about three hours, they had removed the whole tree, with the exception of several trunk pieces and the stump.  He came back Wednesday afternoon and loaded the large pieces onto his trailer and used the stump grinder to finish the job.

Now that the tree is gone, I need to get back there and clean up a few limbs, leaves and a little bamboo - and level out the wood chips left over from the stump grinding.  Once that is done, it's probably going to be the site for our new chicken coop.

03 April 2011

Summer Vegetable Garden

Flowering Purple Majesty Potatoes
Our vegetable garden is coming along nicely these days.  I'm close to adding another bed, and adding a composting pile - also, I just added trellises that I really like.  Since my seed starting didn't go as planned this year, I needed to go out and buy a few plants.

I went to Lowe's this morning with the intention of buying squash, pepper and tomato plants and watermelon seeds, and came home with:

Crookneck Squash
Better Boy Tomatoes
Red Bell Peppers
Sweet Banana Peppers
Crimson Sweet Watermelons

To me, the cost can really add up when buying vegetable plants.  I try to find the best deal by looking at the price and the number of seedlings in the pack.  A number of 4-packs, for example, will have more than one per section.  It might not be the best idea to divide these plants, but it's worth trying.  There were nine tomato plants in the 4-pack that I bought this morning.  I divided the tomato plants and planted the three largest ones in the garden, stripping off lower branches and planting them deeper, to encourage a better root structure.  I also potted the other six and I'll either leave them in pots or plant them in the garden at a later date.  I put the plants next to one of my new trellises, hoping to use it to support the tomatoes as they grow.

I got 5 banana peppers, but I had a hard time finding bell peppers.  I looked for a long time and only found green ones - I finally found individual pots of red bell peppers instead of multi-packs.  I bought two pots of those which got me 4 plants.  I had planned to put the squash in the same bed, but after planting the peppers, there wasn't enough room - knowing how big the squash plants will get.  I had plans to devote a whole field to corn - when I say "field", I really mean a 4 x 8 bed  - but I needed more room to plant the squash.  I almost have a "3 Sisters" garden going on there.

Before I went to Lowe's, I planned to buy watermelon seeds - they were cheap and I have all summer, right?  So, when I was looking at all of the vegetable plants, I ran across watermelons.  There were a couple of different varieties - one would grow 20 pound fruit or the other, Crimson Sweet, would grow to about 10 pounds.  I chose the Crimson Sweet variety for a couple of reasons - I grew it last year and it is a recommended variety of the Clemson Extension, and I plan to trellis these plants.  I don't know how well this will work, but I thought I might have better luck with smaller fruit than trying to support 20 pound watermelons on a trellis.

Wish me luck and hopefully this season will be great!

29 March 2011

Seed Starting 2011...Revisited

About a week ago, I wrote about starting seeds in Sphagnum peat moss - that doesn't seem like a good idea now.  It's been four weeks since I planted the seeds - probably 8 flats of 18 seeds each - and no more than 5 have sprouted.  About 9 days ago I planted some of the same seeds in the garden and they have sprouted, so it must be the peat moss.

As I do every year, I felt like I was getting a head start on summer gardening, and as always, I get behind - I don't feel that way this year, though.  I'm happy about my new trellises and I've enjoyed working in the yard this spring.  Some of my landscaping plans are coming together and my vegetable garden is coming along. 

I'll definitely have to come up with a different plan for seed starting, but I really won't need to do that until next spring.

27 March 2011

Spring Has Sprung

I was walking around the yard the other day and was surprised at how many things had started growing again.  We've had a lot of consistently warm weather this spring - I was expecting it to get cold again or one last freeze, but it looks like it's here to stay.

Queen's Tears Bromeliad
We had our second bad winter in a row, and it looked like it killed a lot of things - but that doesn't always seem to be the case now that it's warmed up.  The most obvious mistake I made when posting obituaries for my plants was including the Queen's Tears bromeliad.  As awful as it looks, I noticed the other day that it starting to bloom.  This plant has always had odd behavior - the last couple of years it has bloomed very late in the year, so the fact that it's blooming now (which I think is the right time) is odd too.  I remember thinking that my bromeliads died last year too, but I was wrong again.

Knockout Rose
Whenever there are free plants posted on craigslist, if it's something I might want, I do my best to get it, even if I don't know what my plans are for it yet.  Last fall someone was giving away knockout roses.  I spent part of my Friday evening fighting traffic, digging them up from their yard and getting them home.  I kept them in pots over the winter and kept them sheltered some.  I was a little concerned they might not make it through the winter, but they did and they're starting to bloom.  Now we have to decide where we're going to put them in the yard.

Since my bog experiment failed in the fall, I've had my carnivorous plants in pots, sitting in a container of water.  The pitcher plants look bad, but I thought they would be ok.  I also got some Venus flytraps and sundews in a strange internet trade - I repotted those and put them in a little water and when winter came, I put them in a sheltered place.  The flytraps stayed green through the cold, but the sundews appear to have died.  I got a close look at them the other day and the flytraps are flourishing - and the sundews appear to be making a comeback.  That's a good thing to know.  I plan to create a permanent bog garden, hopefully by the end of the summer, and I'll add these plants to it.

21 March 2011

Seed Starting 2011

I try to be a frugal gardener, and I know it works against me sometimes - I'm hoping it doesn't for my latest plan.  I've never bought special seed starting mix or peat pellets - I've tried to mix up something on my own that I hope would have things seeds need.  This spring I decided to try something simpler.

I've had a large bag of sphagnum peat moss ever since I repotted my carnivorous plants last year.  I decided to try using an all-peat mix to start seed in this time.  I figured it should be good because, peat can hold a lot of moisture and that's what seed need most of all.

The first thing you need to know about working with peat is that it takes a while to prepare - It's very fluffy and you need to let it soak up as much water as you can.  I usually take a large pot of water and add peat to it, continually submerging handfuls of it until it's completely soaked.  I was a little disappointed in the peat I had - it wasn't as fine and uniform as I remembered.  There were a lot of stems and other large pieces, which I tried to pull out as I came across them.

Once I had the seed flats filled with moist peat, I buried my seed in it - I had a variety of them, from flower to vegetables, slow to fast germinating and reliable and unreliable.  It's been almost three weeks for most of the seeds and the only one that has sprouted is the squash - one of the reliable ones.  I'm wondering if the peat was packed to tightly, or if they were affected by the frost we had one night, or the opposite - the driveway where the seeds flats are, has gotten hot with highs near 80 degrees recently.

The only thing I can do about it now is try to learn from it and move on.  Since our last expected frost date is a little more than two weeks away, I went ahead and sowed seeds directly in the garden.  With any luck they'll sprout and my summer gardening will have begun.

27 February 2011

Trellising

I had plans to write about growing plants on trellises last year, but I never got around to it.  We have some latticework hiding our garden storage area and I was thinking about growing vining vegetables on it this spring.  Those plans changed when we decided to expand the kitchen into the garden storage.  We haven't done that yet, but I'm giving up on using it as a trellis.  I've decided to add trellises to each of my  raised beds to increase the varieties of vegetables that I can grow.

During the past several summers, I had constructed some sort of trellis for supporting pole beans, but it was always temporary or very last minute - it never lasted longer than the season and I would do something different the next year.  This year I'd like to do something I can use every year, but also, so that I can put it away in the winter.  There's a section in the "Square Foot Gardening" book about building garden structures, but I think I donated my copy during a recent decluttering.

While I'm curious about growing interesting vegetables, I'm also practical.  Recently I started growing only vegetables that I knew we would eat and growing as much as possible.  Some of the plants I plan to trellis are either curiosities or untested as to whether we will eat them.  I saw a photo accompanying an article on trellising and they grew pumpkins - they used stockings to support the fruits as they grew larger.  I want to do that!

So, my trellising - I'm definitely going to plant pole beans and cukes in the spring.  As it get later into the summer, I'll be planting more experimental plants.  In my search for vining plants, I've decided to try winter squash.  It's just another variety of squash that takes longer to mature, but will keep for a lot longer - good for use as a winter storage vegetable.

I got a dried apple gourd from a recent plant swap and at some point I cracked it open and collected the seeds.  I planted some last year, but they never made it out of the seed flats.  This year I think I'll plant some on a trellis and hopefully get some apple gourds of my own.

09 February 2011

Planting Potatoes Again

It's that time of year again - potato planting time.  Everywhere in my list of feed and seed resources had potatoes this time.  Two of them had three kinds of potatoes - white, red and Yukon gold, and the other just had red and white.  I'm never sure how much space I want to dedicate to a single crop.  They might not be completely harvested until almost June, and I need room to plant warm season crops.

I planned to buy three kinds of potatoes, plus the purple ones from Walmart, but when I got to the feed store, they were sold out of the Yukon gold potatoes.  I bought five pounds each of the red and white, and a bag - maybe three pounds - of the purple ones.  In the past I have planted them whole, rather than cutting them into pieces, and possibly getting more from them.  Everything I read talked about fungi and treating them or letting them "heal" for a few days before planting them, so that's why I never did it before.  Since then I've talked to neighbors who do it and have no problems, so I decided to consider it this time.  As I was looking at the potatoes, I never saw one that was really fit for dividing.  Most of them had eyes on one end or the tubers were small to begin with.  The packaging for the purple ones instruct you to plant the whole spud.

I was doing some research on the purple potatoes and thought I would share what I learned about it and the other varieties.  Do you know which varieties are better baked, or mashed or made into fries or chips?  I don't, so I decided to find out.

Purple Majesty potatoes were created by crossing an All Blue with a white chipping variety.  They are high in Anthocyanin, which is an antioxidant found in blueberries.  They taste like white potatoes and are good for almost any kind of preparation, but apparently make great fries and chips - plus they retain their color after cooking.  Red potatoes have smooth, thin, red skins and white flesh.  It is usually firm and mainly used in casseroles, soups, salads or boiled, steamed and roasted.  White potatoes are good baked, boiled or roasted, and especially good for potato salad.

Broccoli Flowers

Once again I didn't harvest the broccoli soon enough.  We really must not want to eat it around our house.  This seems to happen every year.  I think I ought to just stop planting it and grow something we will eat.

I really just wanted a reason to post these photos today.

08 February 2011

Country Wisdom

I say "country wisdom" for lack of a better term - I know there is one, but I can't think of it.  I'm referring to that intangible knowledge that older people/country folk have that others don't - call it a "hunch".  My friend Darren, neither old nor country (but a master gardener), saw signs of a cold winter a couple of years ago.  Oaks were putting out massive quantities of acorns, squirrels were busy gathering them up.  From what I remember, he was right.

Our neighbor Mr. Hiers has a feeling that we haven't seen the last of the brutal cold this year.  I went by his house last week to see if he wanted me to by him any seed potatoes.  Over the last couple of years we have talked about gardening and he seems to get his plants in a haphazard way.  I thought I would offer to get him these same plants when I go get mine.  So, when I asked him if he wanted potatoes, he said no.  He thought we were going to get more cold weather and was going to hold off until March.  I tried to tell him there probably wouldn't be any potatoes available in March, but actually he was the one that had me second-guessing my decision to plant in mid-February.  I wasn't worried about it until I talked to him.  I'm still planning to plant potatoes this week - the weather looks fine for the next week, except for a couple of nights near freezing this weekend.  The average low for the rest of the month is 40 degrees.

I bought potatoes today - I got red and white from the feed store (they had sold out of Yukon gold) and I got some Purple Majesty potatoes from Walmart I want to try.  I'll probably be planting a bed of each potato and then growing lettuce and spinach on top of them until the weather warms up.