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:

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.