Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Neighbor's Garden - Join me!!

Since I have created, I have been thrilled to find an extremely prolific garden blogging community. Never would I imagine the many others in cyberspace with similar passions.

I am going to begin a series of posts called "My Neighbor's Garden". In these posts, I will leave the comfort and safety of the chair in front of my computer and travel on foot to actually knock on doors of neighbors with great gardens I would like to learn more about. If the gardener is interested and willing, I will take photos and have a chit chat about his/her garden. The interview and photos will be posted here. I would like you to join me in this project! For me, there are many purposes and benefits...

To build relationships with people in real life. There are gardeners in your actual community who may think similarly, who have ideas to share, who have their own garden philosophies, and it would be community building to get to know them. To share the love. Gardening is often a solitary activity - at least the day to day part of it, and what joy for your neighbor to know that you're out there too, also soaking up the sun, analyzing the soil, weeding, watering, mulching, planting, etc. To pump people up. Wouldn't you be thrilled if someone knocked on your door and told you they liked your garden so much they wanted to photograph it and talk with you about it? To help your neighbor share the love. Through your post on your blog, you'll be able to give your neighbor a link that he/she can share with family and friends anywhere. You may not be a famous person with a famous website, but for someone to say his/her garden is on the Internet may be very cool for lots of people. What a great gift for your neighbor! To build relationships with others in cyberspace. What garden blogger wouldn't want to see more pictures of real people and their real gardens? We all want to see what's going on in different communities in different parts of the world. I live in the 'burbs and I love to see rural vegetable gardens. I also love an urban balcony garden. We want to know what you're doing and what you're posting about.

I am willing to bet that this project will be somewhat nerve wracking. However, we know that gardeners tend to be approachable, kind, and sharing people. I also bet this project will yield unpredictable results. It's unlikely, but possible that you'll get a "No, you're crazy, I'm paranoid and don't want wackos to fall in love with my garden and start stalking me". But you might also begin a relationship that will last a lifetime. You may find a friend to trade bulbs or swap seeds with. You may find someone who is willing to tend to your garden while you're away on vacation. The possibilities are limitless.

Having said all this, let's now go forth with pen, paper, and camera in hand. You know that person down the street with the really pretty garden you look at each time you drive by? Start at that house. Share your blog site with them. Come up with some standard questions about gardening (What is your favorite vegetable or perennial to grow?), but also some sillier ones (Do you talk to your plants? If so, what do you say?). Let them know how much you love gardening and begin the conversation. Let's work up the nerve together and go into the community to talk with people. I'll meet you here next time with an update. Post a link to your blog here, leave your thoughts, and check back. I got a few gardens in mind in my own neighborhood - will let you know how it goes...

Repurposing a large flower pot

Don't let the swelter of a humid July afternoon prevent your kids from staying cool. Below, you will see that a large flower pot has become an impromptu pool. If you have a large container sitting around, simply plug it up, fill it with cold water, pinch your nose, and jump in! If there's a little one who needs in as well, why not plug up the holes in the wagon with rags, and fill that up too!

To become the ultimate spectacle, take both kids in the poolwagon for a ride around the neighborhood, dripping water the whole way around. Contain your embarrassment when they're chanting, "Pool on wheels! Pool on wheels! Pool on wheels!"

These kids really deserve their upcoming beach trip. See ya on the other side!

Rain barrel rebates are available

I am lucky to live in a city that aims to be green, and offers incentives to residents who make an effort to be as well. Recently, our city started a program with a mission to "help residential
property owners improve stormwater runoff conditions on their property by installing
more natural drainage projects. These projects are designed to reduce the amount of
stormwater entering local streams, increase groundwater supply, and reduce chemical
and nutrient pollutants entering waterways."

One way residents are encouraged to help is by installing rain barrels. The city believes that installing rain barrels offers "benefits to each homeowner as well as the environment. For example, a homeowner may reduce the risk of flooding in his backyard or basement by collecting water for later use or slow release. Additionally, using water collected in rain barrels to wash cars and maintain landscaping will conserve water and lower your municipal water bill."

A nice financial incentive is offered as a part of this program - a $50 rebate on the purchase of the rain barrel. Very enticing to me since I recently installed one and paid quite a bit more than that. Here's how my rain barrel works: A spout diverts rain into the barrel. You can barely make out this spout behind the clematis, sitting on the black rim of the barrel. It fills up completely during a steady rain. I will use this rain water to water my vegetables, flower boxes, containers, and any new perennials throughout the week. Just as the barrel empties, we get another rain. Since I have installed my rain barrel, I have almost NEVER used the hose - a benefit since I am saving money on my water bill, confident my vegetables are not being watered by a hose that may potentially leach lead, and using the rain water that would have gone down the drain anyway. Any way that I can reduce any type of waste makes me feel good and responsible inside. An interesting plus is that the water sometimes STILL smells like the peppers this old Greek pepper barrel used to contain! To ward off mosquito larva, I use natural disks that kill larva. Behind the clematis on the downspout, is a Y-shaped connector with a switch I can use to divert water to the barrel or down the spout. I will use this if we have torrential downpours. Once the barrel fills, I'll flick the switch so that the rain is diverted to the downspout instead of the barrel. This will help prevent floods close to my house. Another option would be to install more rain barrels connected by hoses. This will increase your rain saving capacity.

Here's the frustrating part about my city's rebate program- because there's always a frustrating part when you're dealing with the government, right? In order to claim a rebate from the city, residents have to fill out and submit an application, purchase an "approved" rain barrel, install it properly, have an inspection conducted by city staff to ensure it is installed properly (honestly, it's not rocket science), and finally receive a rebate.

Forget about the rebate if you're ahead of the curve and already have a rain barrel installed. You can just pat yourself on the back and continue to be a shining example to the rest of your community. You'll just have to fight that feeling that you've purchased something only to find it on sale the next week - no price adjustment option.

If you have NOT yet installed a rain barrel, please check with your city or county. A rebate may be offered. Workshops on making your own rain barrel may be offered. If not, consider installing one anyhow. You will be stunned that you ever stood there in front of your garden, hose in hand, watering your plants.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Growing Challenge: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright frustrating

One Green Generation's Growing Challenge update: click on the link to read updates from 150 other garden bloggers! In my garden, the veggies are really representing. I've got the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright frustrating. This pictorial tour begins with the good...

Lots of Hillbilly tomatoes growing. That's one beautiful hierloom if I do say so myself.

A Thai pepper plant producing loads of peppers.

In the foreground below, a little army of light green edamame plants, Georgia Jet sweet potatoes vining out, and behind that, a little strawberry patch planted this spring, sending out runners.

The sweet potatoes - you can't see the pretty purple blooms hidden under some of the leaves.

Moving on to the bad. I have no idea what's going on with this tomato below. It has always been squat, short, and most of its leaves are tight. It's producing flowers, but no fruit. It is either a Cherokee purple, hillbilly, or hierloom beefsteak (you always think you'll remember...).

Now we go to the ugly. I have been picking on my tomatillo all season,but it's just so hulking, branches akimbo, and just sloppy. Lots of fruit growing in their perfect papery husks though.

This below is just downright frustrating. The butternut squash plants are all but dead, leaving only 4 once-perfect squash behind - that is until some animal decided to dig in.

Until next time...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Grilled jalapeno cilantro turkey burgers

A most delicious burger was BBQed last night. These days, there is no shortage of jalapenos and their little zing is added to everything I cook. I read about a roasted jalapeno cilantro pesto and planned to top my grilled turkey burger with it, but at the last minute, decided to just mix most of the ingredients into the meat to keep it simple. Due to my time crunch, I also didn't roast the jalapenos. For a most delicious and very low fat burger, add all to taste, then grill:

ground turkey
chopped jalapenos (I use seeds and all)
a couple of minced garlic cloves
chopped cilantro
pine nuts
salt and pepper

Edited to add: I tried to make this burger again cooked in a pan, and it was horrendous. I think there's something about the grill that seals in the juice and adds a little some 'um some 'um.

There's beauty in a morning run

If you know me personally, you may know that I've recently lost 16 pounds - in part by curbing my hedonistic glutton ways, and in part by exercising at the gym almost daily. The beauty in working out at 5:30am before work is that you're done and don't need to make up excuses for why you can't hit the gym after work. You also make better decisions about food all day. This summer, I have found that contrary to the feelings I've had about it my entire life, running is actually an enjoyable thing to do as well. To enjoy running, first and foremost, you need good shoes. I learned this the hard way when I started having knee pain after a few consecutive days of running. After an Internet medical self-diagnosis, I discovered I had flat feet. It really hurt my ego at first (ducks have flat feet), but then I got proactive. I went to a store specifically geared to runners and spent a million dollars on some kick-ass sneakers, and my knees are now fine. Secondly, you need good music. Thirdly, you need a destination. Katie told me about where you can click and drag your route and see how far you've run. Finally, you're off. The beauty of morning running for exercise, is that there is actually beauty in it as well. My observations this morning:
  • One neighbor majorly expanded and changed the shape of her garden. She added some very pretty hot pink annuals around the beds. It was quite lovely.
  • Grace's yellow gladioli are beautiful in full bloom and her window boxes positively glow.
  • The city must have removed weeds that had enveloped the creek, because there is beauty in the sight and sound of a gently flowing stream.
  • One neighbor had a great iron planter mounted on her house, planted with annuals. I need to figure out where to get one of these - it would work perfectly on a blank space on the front of my house.
  • One neighbor had thriving squash and tomato plants hidden behind his hostas right in front of his house.
  • One neighbor has the really cool money plants growing in the shade of his front yard.
  • One garden was planted with annuals, weeded and mulched meticulously, and decorated with 6 inch Mickey Mouse statues.

There's beauty in the fact that during an early morning run, my neighbors don't really see me ogling their gardens. One morning, I was so bold as to stop, and on tip toes, actually peek over the fence of a neighbor's garden (it was a beautiful vegetable garden with meandering path). I can run past plain lawns, and slow to a light jog in front of gardens I like and that I want to remember details of.

There's beauty in the fact that on this Monday morning, I estimated that about 90% of homes in my neighborhood had gardens of some size and of some style, that someone has been tending. Every garden did not necessarily fit my taste, but there's beauty in the fact that in my neighborhood, people work to make their little spot in the world a little more beautiful.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nature is weird

Since I started gardening 4 years ago, I have found it a ... "fun" ... challenge to learn about new bugs, mostly in an effort to diagnose a problem. I am a wannabe master gardener afterall, and that's part of a master gardener's job. I know what the different stages of boxelder bug development look like, and how to prevent infestations. I can spot leaf miner damage a mile away. Ultimately though, I hate bugs. I know they play an important role in ecology, and that probably most bugs serve some purpose (except for maybe the stinkbug), but I don't like them. Even the beneficials. I know ladybugs are a happy vision, but I'd rather they fly away home.

My sister has been asking me about a white, triangular-shaped bug with a "little puff of fuzz on it's butt". Interesting specimen indeed. Oftentimes, it's the fact that these bugs are so totally interesting that disgusts me so much. You can't NOT look, but at the same time, you know it will bring nightmares. For example, what if I told you that if you clicked this link here, you would find a photo of something I find particularly fascinating yet disgusting - parasites on a tomato hornworm. If you're like me, you'll click, you'll practically pass out, but nonetheless, you'll click. Before you quickly close the window, you might even subconsciously try to take in as much detail as you can.

One morning, I am on my way out for work when I spy on my front door a tiny triangular-shaped bug that looked like it had a little tuft of fuzz - perhaps on it's butt (well, I guess if bugs had butts, it'd be on it's butt). I thought, "Hello, you weird little fucker" (Granted I have a potty mouth anyway, but I almost always curse in any dealings with bugs). I remembered that my sister said it was almost "cute" looking and if you got close, it had these eyes that would follow you if you moved. I got close to the bug. Real close. I could not see any eyes on the thing, but the little tufts of fuzz on the bug were really interesting indeed. Sort of reminded me of cotton candy thread. Very delicate silky threads. I got even closer so that I was about 4 inches from the specimen. Then the most horrifying thing that could happen to me at 6am on my way to work happened. The cute triangular bug exploded on my face. If I would not have awakened my younger daughter, I would have screamed. I know it exploded because it was there, 4 inches from my face one second, and the next, it was gone and in it's place, minuscule dots of clear liquid . On my face, cool, moist bug guts. What the hell happened? Defense mechanism? My theory until now was that it exploded. Now that I've had time to think rationally, perhaps it sprayed me with something and flew away while I was momentarily incapacitated. Either way, nature is really weird.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shhh...I know the secret ingredient!

Over spring break, we took a fantastic road trip to several locales that included visiting: the cutest baby you ever did see, children's museums, carriage rides in the country, mansions, drive-in movies, waterfalls, pygmy goats, a dollhouse made of human fingernails, one of the Natural Wonders of the World, and to top it all off, Foam Henge. During our last stop, we stayed at the Blacksmith Inn in Lexington, VA, just next to Natural Bridge. The inn, hosted by Yorkshire transplants, was tops, and the food was something we're still talking about (click on the link to see the spread), but what I can't get out of my head is the tomato side dish Beryl made one morning. They said it was a simple recipe, but I knew there must have been some secret ingredient. I had the nerve to ask for the recipe and they've agreed to allow me to post it here. I have several tomatoes in the garden destined in about 2 weeks to become the main ingredient in:


Slice and core tomatoes (preferably Italian). Fry in a little bacon fat until soft. Add some hot strong tea to maintain a nice sauce texture. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Slice white bread from an uncut loaf about medium thickness. Beryl makes her own bread each evening, and no doubt this cannot be reproduced, but we'll make do. Fry in bacon fat until golden brown on one side only. Place tomatoes on fried side of bread. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The biggest landscaping project of my life! (photos)

This is the horrible slope. This slope takes up about 1/3 of my already small backyard and adds nothing to the aesthetic of it. I have a big bow window in my living room that faces out back, but the view it frames is this slope which is usually covered in weeds of all sorts and often up to several feet high. After removing most of the weeds, we found there were also small trees, lots of weedy roots, some trash, and many broken vodka and gin bottles - seems our slope has had quite a past!

Plan A was to hire someone to build a retaining wall. The estimate for this simple, straight, 2 foot high wall was over $5000. Time to move to plan B. I would build a retaining wall my damn self. You can see where we cut about 2 feet into the slope where I was going to build the wall. Then I realized that if I was going to do this project myself, I did not need to limit myself to a silly low wall, that would ultimately, not add too much to the aesthetic of the yard anyhow. In the picture above, you can see the blue paint I used to mark how I envisioned my project. I wanted to be able to walk up steps on one side, walk across the slope, sit on a circular patio in the middle, and walk down steps on the other side. I also wanted to be able to build a garden on the slope. The picture below shows what the slope looked like after we (paid someone to) dug into the slope. I asked him to dig a trench in front of where the wall would go to fill with gravel to aid with drainage. *** If you're thinking of doing this kind of project, please do your research. I spent weeks obsessing over this wall, changing my design, learning different ways to create drainage, prevent erosion, etc. I watched many videos on the internet and spent hours in the bookstore. If the wall is going to be large or high, it's particularly important to do some research. You may need to check into local regulations - I know some areas require permits for building walls over a certain height. The digging of this slope was a really horrendous job and it took 4 men all day to do it. With all that clay you see, it was really worth hiring someone. Plus, as you'll soon see, there was no shortage of work for us to do.

After the shape was dug in, I did comment, "Well, there's no turning back now", but was pretty excited because I could really envision the end product now. It was also very cool to be able to walk on the slope. After the 5 pallets of stone were delivered, I started to feel a little panicky inside but simply said aloud, "Well, now there's really no turning back". There's a lot of stone that is easier to stack than the stone I purchased. However, this stone was reasonably priced and had a natural color I liked. I'm not going to lie. It's not easy to build with. I was shocked when we unpacked the stone and saw that many pieces were shaped like pyramids. How do you build with that! It was certainly NOT like stacking legos as I had thought it would be.

My dear husband, who probably hoped I would not really pursue this landscaping idea, or perhaps was not listening when I explained, didn't know he'd be spending every weekend for several weeks moving stone to the backyard one wheelbarrow at a time (we went through 2 wheelbarrows during the length of this project -tip: invest in a good one, cheap ones will just break). To his dismay, after we moved the stone and our driveway was finally empty, I called in an order of 8 tons of gravel. As you can see, this needed to be moved from shovel to wheelbarrow, and rolled to the backyard. These were very tiring days. "Code orange" (Motrin?) days.

Actually, while he was moving this stuff every weekend, I was busy in the back working on the wall. Below you see landscaping fabric, added as a barrier to keep the dirt in place and not sifting through to the gravel. The fabric was pinned in place. You can see some mounds I've dumped a bucket at a time to fill the 8 inch trench. Notice there's still a little bit of grass in our yard!

After the trench was filled, the fun began. You quickly learn how to stack the stone. Since it was irregularly shaped, you backfill with gravel to create as level a surface as possible for stacking the next row. You also notice that each stone has a good face and some ugly ones. Obviously you want to show the good face. You want your first layer to be made up of the larger, most stable stones. You also stack it like a bricklayer would. Two stones on one and so forth. You have to mix it up too - don't put all the small ones in one area and the large ones in one area. Also, I tried to put the nicer looking stones up front and center where people would most likely set their eyes. Finally, stop, stand back, and check regularly to see how things are going. You do want this wall to be attractive as well. Since this wall is a dry laid wall - there is no cement involved. I made sure each row was set back just a bit so that weather, gravity, pressure from what's behind the wall, etc. would not push it forward over the years. Do your research and find the exact angle. I didn't measure but did take the time to eyeball it from each side often to make sure it looked good and had the right pitch. You can see what I mean if you look at the wall on the very left side of this picture below. Notice each level sets back just a bit. Also, the wall is built up, and you need to backfill that big area behind it with gravel. See that blue bin? That's my trusty blue bin. I would stack some stone, go fill my blue bin with gravel, walk it over, dump it out, walk back, fill the bin, walk it over, dump it out, etc. I had Popeye arms by the end of the summer!

In the picture below, you can see that I've started working on the steps. I couldn't find any instructions for building this exactly like I wanted, but I had seen some natural looking steps in different gardens and took some pictures. Then it was just a matter of dreaming it up at night, daydreaming about it during the day, and experimenting in real life. I built, dismantled, built, dismantled, and finally built these steps properly. The trick was to make each step level, able to bear weight, and blend it in with the wall surrounding it. This was the hardest part of the job. I am most proud of these steps and the "stairwell" around it. After I built the steps, I decided that I wasn't going to push my luck by building the steps I planned on the other side of the slope. One set of steps was enough! At this stage, our family also decided to make a time capsule to bury behind the wall. :)

Notice the backyard is a total construction pit. There is no grass in our yard at this point. There were days I was very alarmed looking at the materials, tarps, dirt, and the amount of work ahead of me, but I just had to not think about it and get back to work. And just when my husband thought his part was done moving materials from the driveway to the backyard, I called in the order for compost. Instead of gravel, when I got near the top third or so of the wall, I added a layer of landscaping fabric and used compost so I could plant a garden on the slope in the future.

When backfilling with the compost, it's important to really tamp it down behind the wall. Below is the end product of all this work. The walls are done, the slope is planted with mostly shade plants, and most of the area is mulched. I may move the fire pit to this area where I envision fall nights toasting marshmallows on the slope. The most amazing thing is that the slope has completely changed the look of my backyard. When it once looked boxy and small, it now has a much more interesting shape and actually looks bigger even though the wall takes up more space in the yard. The shade plants are beautiful and the ferns, hosta, hydrangeas, azaleas, and all the spring bulbs look a hell of a lot better than the poison ivy and bullweed looked. Finally, because of the ability to actually walk on the slope, the usable space in my yard has increased. In lieu of the steps on the left of the slope, I decided to use the area as a children's area. I added some large steps that a child could jump, and set in all the mosaic stepping stones my kids have made. I had planned to create a fairy garden in this area, but lost steam on that idea. I'm not sure you can see from the pic, but the patio is indeed circular shaped. The bottom rounds out and the top all rounds in. This is the slope 2 years later...

This is the view from the entry into the backyard.

This is how I looked at the end of each day. What you can't see is that I'm so sweaty my clothes are soaked. I remember my face was literally dripping. You also can't see the scratches on my arms, my smashed purple thumb, and the bruises on my legs. The project was very fun and incredibly rewarding, but there were a few touch and go days. Some days were so hot I literally felt myself starting to black out and would need to stand still and close my eyes to keep from fainting. I got one of those neck tie things filled with gel that you soak in water to keep you cool - that REALLY helps. A bandana tied around my wrist as a sweat wiper also really helped. In total, I worked an average of about 6 days a week (I don't work over the summer), and most days from about 12pm-3pm while my baby was sleeping, and then again from about 6pm to 10pm (notice it's dark outside in the picture!). My husband spent about 1 long day a week moving the materials from the driveway to the back. I'm not sure I would have been able to do this project if I had to do this part too. It's a tedious, laborious job, and even though I had no shortage of moving, the building of the wall, and backfilling was more satisfying and being able to see progress fueled my days. I did help with moving the materials and I'll tell ya, you do hours of work and your 8 ton pile of gravel does not seem to go down! The project took about 3 months total from start to finish. One last thing to keep in mind is that I'm not a power lifter, not a landscape architect (except in my dreams), not a stone mason, and not particularly creative either. I am just ambitious and determined. If this sounds like you, dream it up and do it!

Strawberry, rhubarb, mulberry, apple pie

2 pack deep-dish frozen pie crust
about 2-3 T butter

5 cups fruit
3/4 cup sugar
3 T cornstarch
1 T lemon juice
1/8 t salt

Set the crust out at room temperature. Mix your sliced fruit, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl and let stand 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Pour fruit into crust. Dot the top of the fruit with 2-3 T butter. Remember to dot the top of the fruit, NOT the crust. The second pie crust should be at room temperature, soft and easy to work with. Place on top and crimp edges with your fingers or a fork. Cut a few vents in the top of the crust.

I usually make sure to line the bottom of the oven with some foil in case the fruit bubbles over. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes on the lower 1/3 of the oven, then put a baking sheet under and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Check the edges of the crust to be sure they don't burn. If the edge get a little toasty, you can lightly cover the edge of the crust with foil part way through. Enjoy (preferably with ice cream)!

A note about my pie: This recipe is my sister's recipe for pie. She is the most amazing baker, chef, whatever. She would never dream of using frozen pie crust and makes it all from scratch. I'll just say...I don't have a rolling pin, so unfortunately, I need to use frozen pie crust. It still makes an amazing pie - not as delicious as her pies - you can't fake a real pie crust - but it comes very close. My plan was to make a strawberry/rhubarb pie for my 11 year old's (who doesn't like cake) b-day. Since we only planted strawberries and rhubarb this spring, we didn't yield a lot of fruit by June. Luckily there were mulberries ready for picking across the street, and an apple in the fruit bowl to bring the amount of fruit to 5 cups. The final result was one amazing fruit pie. I took the edges of the top crust that hung over, rolled it out (did you catch that?), and cut an 11. The vents on top were also 11's. I'm not a great baker, so the pie might not look so beautiful, but I can tell you it sure tasted good.

July is breakdown time in the garden

July is when morale is at its lowest in the Greenish Thumb potager. All my plants, all heirloom, all organic, all beginning with such promise as seeds, treated to only tender loving care since way back in early March, are all currently under stress out in the garden. They are hot, uncomfortably large and crowded, dehydrated, suffering under the insidiousness of the bugs, under attack by fungal organisms, and they all call for my help, but alas, I don't know how to help.

I think one factor here is that I tend to have periods of neglecting my vegetable garden. Here's how it usually goes: early spring, I start seeds. During this stage, I obsess over these babies so much that I begin to neglect my human children. Later in early summer, the veggies are tucked in the garden, and once I see that they are established, I start focusing on my perennials - weeding, new planting, mulching, etc. At this point I begin neglecting my vegetables. Well, now we're into July when the perennials are self-sufficient and I turn my focus back to the vegetables. To my dismay, the lettuce has bolted, and the basil has begun flowering. The tomatoes should have been staked properly, but are now so huge they're pulling their cages over. The strawberry patch has turned into the strawberry/pigweed/clover patch. The tomatillo has gone crazy. It has grown straight up, then split, calloused over, and reminds me of Sigmond the Sea Monster because it's so large and all over the place, with hundreds of tiny tomatillos hanging off of it.

In a few weeks, my vegetables will face their ultimate test as they are every August. While we're away, they will not only be neglected, but will not even get a regular watering. Only the strong will survive. Stay posted to hear how this story ends...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'm joining the Growing Challenge

One Green Generation is a great site with an ambitious but achievable mission to urge others to help create a sustainable planet. The plus for me personally is that Melinda offers challenges, and those who know me, know I cannot resist a challenge, from my hubby's doubt that I, as a new roller blader, could not roller blade from the suburbs of MD to the middle of DC (my legs paid for about 5 days, but it was worth it proving him wrong), or that I could be the chubby bunny winner at work (tip: you have to really squeeze the marshmallows against your teeth). You can modify the Growing Challenge to suit your gardening skill level, and can check out the site for more details.

My first year growing vegetables, I really had no clue what I was doing. I was trying to grow artichokes in zone 6 by putting a seed in the ground in June (really), and bought most of my plants at various stores. The second year, I started a few seeds at home with a little greenhouse kit. The third year, I got fancy and started using a heating pad for germination, grow lights, and a little pop-up coldframe to harden the plants off. This season marks my fourth year, and I think I've really got a system down now, and 100% of the plants in my little garden were started from seed. It's really something to be proud of!

Today I officially begin the Growing Challenge and have added a special twist to my own challenge. This fall, I will save my own seed to use next year. This is something I'm nervous about for a variety of reasons that involve my parents, my upbringing, and probably a psychologist, but we don't have the means for that in this blog. Anyway, I will do the research and set upon this challenge. Will you join me?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hatching Ducklings (photos)

Marley was born at 5am on July 18th! The ducks my father currently keeps have a great life under the big willow tree and share a pond edged in waterlilies and lotus flowers. The only thing more that they could ask for is perhaps more friends and a bigger family. There is a lot of information out there (a few links at bottom) about the proper incubation and care of eggs, and there are probably things my father didn't do quite right, but this is his second year and he has been very successful. Disclaimer: I am only going to regale you with our personal experiences.

Below is a closer pic of some of the ducks. You can also see his new Chinese geese. Look for the pair of white and the pair of brown geese. He just picked these new babies up from CornerStone Farm in Red Oak, VA. The white geese are 2 years old and the brown about 6 months.

For a few days prior to the decided incubation day, my father gathered eggs he found in nests by the water and under the willow tree. The eggs were just stored in the garage until he gathered enough eggs to start. Here are the eggs in the incubator. It's a simple incubator. There's wire mesh on the bottom where the eggs sit, and he leaves little dishes under the wire with water to help with humidity. There's no automatic humidity control. There is a hole in the top with a peg in it that you take out or put in. There's a little knob for temperature control. He aims for the temperature to be at exactly 99 degrees F. Since there's no automatic thermostat, it's important to have a thermometer in the incubator and important to make adjustments. ***In fact, you should probably do this for at least several hours before you begin incubating***

You probably can't see in this photo above, but the eggs are marked A and B. This helps you with the turning of the eggs. One website said the eggs must be turned 4 times a day, but my father turned his eggs twice a day. It's simple. Take the cover off, and flip the A sides to the B sides. Marking them A and B just helps to ensure you don't miss an egg.

After a week or so, you can try candling to see how things are going, but when we tried this last year, we didn't see anything. Of course, we probably didn't know what we were doing! This year, we didn't even bother trying.

On day 25, 3 days prior to the expected day of arrival, my father stopped turning the eggs and just watched every day, checking the temperature regularly as usual.

On day 26, we noticed some some eggs had a spot where the soon to be hatched ducklings had started pecking.

We didn't have to try too hard to hear the little peeps!!! You'll be amazed to ponder the fact that very soon, you'll see the baby ducklings. Go ahead and cry. It's an amazing and emotional thing to witness! You will eventually see a hole pecked through and if you look closely, you'll see the duckling respirating inside. At this point, you should call everyone you know. Have your kids or grandkids spend the night because there will be lots of excitement in the next 24 hours.

Here are pictures of a duck hatching from it's shell. First you'll notice a little crack in the shell.

Below is how the same egg looks 40 minutes later. At this point, there is loud peeping and the egg rolls/moves slightly every now and again. If you could zoom in, you'd see the little egg tooth (to the right of the crack).

It stays like this, moving around a bit and peeping for another 45 minutes. Then, the next several photos show the duck hatching from it's shell. These pictures were taken within 10 minutes.

If you're hatching ducks with kids, be prepared to explain that it only LOOKS like it's dead because it's very, very poopered from all the hard work pushing out of it's shell. Within a few hours, it will dry off, and everyone will be suprised to see how hearty these newborns are.

Here are the first three ducklings. The fluffier, dry, dark colored one was born first (this is Marley!) and is about 11 hours old in this next picture. The other dark one was born next, the yellow one was born about an hour ago before this photo was taken. As the ducks mature, the dark ones will get darker, and the yellow will turn white.

As soon as a duckling is born, we move it to the cardboard box. There is water in a dish and moistened "crumble" food in another little dish and they will start eating within about 24 hours. You'll see a heat lamp and thermometer to assure they are kept warm. Within a few hours, they'll also start spashing around in the water.

Look how many more were hatched within the following 24 hours!!

Marley is one of the 16 duckings you see in the photo above. If you're oohing and aahing, please realize how easy it was to experience the wonder of hatching ducklings. There are plenty of jobs for kids, lessons to be learned, and lots for kids to observe. This blogger in Orange County shares how her kids were involved. Probably a great homeschooling lesson as well. I think it'd be fantastic in a kindergarten classroom, but for us, all the excitement happened between Friday night and Sunday night, not ideal if this were to happen while the class were home for the weekend. As I mentioned, this is just my account of how we incubated and hatched ducklings. I would not feel comfortable sending you out there with your eggs and incubator without further details and exact info, so try Cornell's Duck Research Laboratory's page on Hatching Duck Eggs for all the directions on how to hatch ducks. Also, here's a great You Tube video where you'll see a different type of incubator, and more importantly (and cutely), hear the little peeps of a newly hatched duckling!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Establishedish perennials (photos)

Three Augusts ago, when I planted perennials for the first time, I was sorely disappointed. On Halloween, instead of being my usual silly self and acting scared each time I saw a three year old in those Spider-Man costumes with the blow-up muscles, I had to be the mean lady shaking my fist, yelling at the kids to get out of the garden, and muttering , "Damn kids" each time one of those three year olds left my driveway. This is because the perennials I planted were not the size I'd imagined. The baptisia were about 8 inches high and about 3 inches wide. The peony was a y-shaped twig. You get the picture. The following spring, they all grew to a whopping twelve inches or so. The final insult, no flowers. What was the point??? It was barely worth all the anger I had towards neighborhood kids who didn't even know my garden was...(sniff, sniff)...actually a garden.

I titled this post "establishedish perennials" because this year, in their third year, all are bearing flowers that are perfect, fragrant, and the colors in the garden are amazing. The baptisia's little coin-like leaves sway in the wind on stems about four feet high. On most summer days, there are so many butterflies around that you have to practically swat yourself a path to the car. It's strange to think of the years I've lived in this house without them indicating the marking of summer days. The garden is establishedish only because I keep adding on, so there are puny plants woven in between the older ones. It's also establishedish because though I still tend to be an impatient person, I have confidence that as the gardening saying goes - next year will be even better.

Nothing makes a bunch of flowers look more attractive than an old mason jar. The earliest signs of spring...

Is there anything more appropriate for spilling over a wall than carpet phlox?

This photo was taken in early/mid spring. My favorite shrub - sinocalycalycanthus - is in the background with the deep red/maroon flowers. The baptisia bloomed in the second year only, and it was a sad showing. I was pleased this year.

A couple weeks later when the other baptisia bloomed- twilite prairieblues...

This is my new Pass the Wine reblooming iris planted in the fall.

Green Halo Peony. Here's a tip to newbie gardeners, first year, your peony will look like a stick with a couple of leaves. The next year, it will be a little plant. The third year, it will look about like this...

Blushing Rosie - evening primrose on and over the retaining wall in the back

Early summer - blackbird lily, Russian sage on the left before bloom, and salvia peeking in the back.

Astilbe and clematis Rooguchi in the shade garden...

Another of the clematis. Huh. Who knew? A clematis that grows in the shade...

Candylily. I may have missed the first flush of blooms, but notice how these flowers twist. It's a very cool lily to have near the front to observe up close.

Now the late summer colors are in...I have yellows from the moonbeam coreopsis, the orange of the marigolds, the salvia's still going, the white coneflowers are in, the dark red daylilies are still blooming, the keys to heaven have been in bloom all season, and the window boxes are looking good in it's hot pink, deep purple and pale vinca shades. I now turn my attentions to guarding my vegetables from bugs, slugs, and other thugs (like bunnies). Thanks for looking!
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