I hope this works….

If you don't experiment, you don't learn.

Spring Challenge

I have a friend who lives in the Carolinas, in an honest to goodness antebellum house.  I have never visited, but would love to see what she and her hubby have done.  We knew them back when we were all in the Air Farce, stationed in the UK. They were the consummate antique hunters. They had some amazingly beautiful furniture. We still have the piece they found for us.  It is a coffer….like a giant foot locker on legs, that they used to store clothes in.  It is carved on top and all around the sides and is made of Bog Oak, so is very dark.  If I remember correctly, it is about 300 years old.  It sits under the main window in our house and I have put a piece of glass on top and all my plants are on it.  I love that piece.  It has a lot of memories.

Anyway, She also has a blog and she is doing a Spring Challenge.  You can read her post and see her pictures here, but this is what she says:
The Challenge
Everyplace has it’s own unique sign that Spring has finally arrived.
I will show you three pictures for examples.
I want you to post a picture, a paragraph, or even a poem, describing your idea of the ultimate sign of spring on your own blog. Then leave a comment on this post with a link to yours.

So that is what I am going to do.  Keep in mind that the three pictures I am going to post were all taken on the same day.

These fall off our Silver Maple every spring.  I think they protect the leaf buds.

These fall off our Silver Maple every spring. I think they protect the leaf buds.

This was taken in the morning.

Is it starting to snow?

Is it starting to snow?

This was taken a couple of hours later.

Yes, yes it is.

Yes, yes it is.

This was taken around 2 in the afternoon.

These are the two signs at my house that Spring has arrived. Those bud protectors falling off the Silver maple and snow.

I love living in the Rockies……:)

 

 

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Sleeping with the Animals

So now that we have thwarted the skunks, I find we have raccoons as well…..  Still signs of digging, just not as much damage and not every night. Raccoons can climb. Fences are useless. Grow a garden with good organic methods and you find out what kinds of wildlife thrive in urban environs. Do ‘possums live in Colorado? At least I haven’t had to weed hardly at all this year…

I went out and bought a cool outdoorsy thing last week.  It is a camping hammock, so no wooden spreader bars that make the hammock unstable.  It is made from rip-stop nylon and the design is only a couple thousand years old…  I hung it between the maple tree and the outside deck post.  It is very comfortable.  It sways in the breeze. I can lie on my side and my back, but not my stomach. You don’t lie in the exact center, you lie crossways or diagonal, so you are more flat. Here is a better explanation. I would like to sleep in it.  It has been raining every night since i got it. I haven’t slept in it yet.  Perhaps the other reason I haven’t slept in it has been the garden raiders.  The hammock is further away from the house and quite low to the ground.  I don’t really fancy waking up to find a baby skunk or raccoon curled up with me. However.

Last night I was sleeping on the back deck and wake up this morning (it was raining) to find that the  2 container plants had been dug up/gnawed on.  The lovely Jade plant is no more. My Basil has been shortened a good deal.  Anyway, the point is that while I was sawing logs, the critters were right next to me…like a foot away and they had to practically walk on me to get to the plants. They didn’t wake me up and they didn’t bother me either.  So, with that in mind, I only have the rain to worry about.

I shouldn’t be worrying about the animals anyway.  We camped a lot when I was a kid. Growing up on a Ranger Station in the Cascades meant we camped most of the summer and into the fall.  Two week hikes were not uncommon.  Sometimes we stayed at lookouts or guard stations or with trail crews, but mostly we were alone. Just our family of 5 wending our way through the mountains. I loved it.  I love the hollow sound the ground makes when you are up high. The pink alpenglow in the early morning. The sound of snowmelt and the rushing green silt water.

I never remember being threatened by animals.  We saw cougar and deer, beaver and marmot, and of course all the birds, but we only heard stories about bear, we never saw them.  In fact, the animals I remember best are mice.  We encountered them at one of the guard stations. It was a floating station on Ross Lake, next to the dam.  I remember those little buggers running around on top of our sleeping bags. All night long.  It got real tiresome. Kinda funny….out in the wilderness we were never bothered, but in a man-made structure we were overrun with mice. My mom made sure we never stayed there again.

In an interesting side note, one of the kids I grew up with turned those floating guard stations into a floating resort. I’m trying to convince my hubby we should go there some time.  i think it will be fun and I know we won’t have to worry about mice this time.

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Skunk Thwarting

All that ranting I did earlier on squirrels?  It turned out they were a mere practice run for the main event – skunks. Yes, we have skunks.   I was reading a random post on a random gardening journal and it was about how to get rid of (or protect your garden) from deer. However, the author also answered  questions about other animal problems and one of them was about skunks. All of a sudden it clicked. Skunks are powerful diggers. Skunks don’t eat the plants, they are after worms and grubs. Skunks are nocturnal.

My garden was getting dug up at a prodigious rate.  They figured out how to pull up the staples that were holding the netting down and were busy turning my healthy, green, growing plants into uprooted, just sitting there, sickly ones. The skunks were up-rooting the plants and I would plant them again in the morning.  Poor babies just couldn’t grow. The beans they hadn’t touched were almost 5 ft tall on the trellis, the ones that kept getting up-rooted were like 6 INCHES tall…..I was amazed they still stayed green.  The swiss chard that was unbothered was about 10 inches tall, the ones that were getting disturbed were 3 inches tall……in July…..  I tried putting rocks around the beans and swiss chard, it just slowed the critters down a little and they found a new place to dig. Soon my veggie garden was looking more like a Rock Garden….and not a pretty one either. It is not a nice way to start your day….going out to the garden and surveying ruin.

Then I read the garden journal. And read it again. Skunks. So I began to try some of the home-made garden protector ideas. Red pepper flakes didn’t bother them. Mothballs didn’t faze them.  They were hungry and after worms, what was sprinkled on the surface didn’t even slow them down. I say “them” and “they” because it seemed as if a mom and her brood were at work.  The holes were all different sizes and way too many for just one skunk it seemed to me. I finally found a wildlife website that offered solid advice. They said there were only two things that worked for discouraging skunks: bright lights and fences. Ya see, the little buggers can’t climb.  At all.

I was so happy!  The first night I remembered to shut the garden gate. Next morning there were still holes and dis-lodged plants. Perused the fence line. Aha!  Our garden is enclosed, but the north side is “shadow fencing”.  Slats which are offset one from another.  The cats could come in and out of the yard at will through this fencing, apparently the skunks could too.  I proceeded to screen the north side fencing using the leftover plastic hail/shade cloth.  Perfect length. anchored with zip ties and heavy rocks. Then I got my hubby to make a “sweep” for the garden gate. He used zip ties to attach a piece of wood to the bottom of the gate.  Success!  I say again “SUCCESS”!!!!!

shade/hail cloth put to another use

shade/hail cloth put to another use

I still had the south garden to secure. A while back my hubby had acquired a 100 ft of that red, 4 foot high, plastic “Danger Will Robinson” fencing and the stakes that went with it. We surrounded each bed with the red fencing, making it about 2 ft, 6 inches tall.  I am short, so that height will still allow me to lean over the top to harvest and weed

another use for this fencing....keeping skunks out, but not people.

another use for this fencing….keeping skunks out, but not people.

I am pleased to report that the skunks have been thwarted.

I  planted more lettuce, spinach and beans and know they will be safe…..except for the squirrels……oh noes!   I forgot about the squirrels!!!!!!

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Overkill

Well, that’ll teach me.

Yesterday I went to my local nursery and bought some shade/hail cloth and a container of Diatomaceous earth. I was really mad at the ants as they had destroyed (or helped destroy) three of my Brassicas…..two cabbages and one brussels sprouts. I mean, every time I looked at the cabbages on the one side of the bed, I could see tons of little black ant bodies clustered around the stem.  After a while, the cabbage would fall over.  It sounds like a cross between a cutworm and ants, but I never saw any cutworms….and why would they be working together anyway.  Ants want something that will attract aphids, a dead plant will attract no aphids.

So I poured out my vengeance. I prolly used too much of the Diatomaceous earth.  It does dry things out and I dumped a lot right on the ants clustered around the stem, so I prolly killed the cabbages too……sigh. I didn’t think it would kill the plant.  I only have one healthy  looking plant out there right now.  The other 11 are dead or very wilted. Maybe the wilted ones will spring back to life.

I bought way too much of the shade/hail cloth.  Math has never been my strong point.  The only time my dad swore at me was once, when he was trying to help me understand a math concept.  He was so embarrassed that he never helped me with math again. However, he did teach me how to change tires, the oil in my car and how to put on chains in the ice and snow.  In college, I needed to rotate my tires, so I arranged to use a garage that belonged to one of my mom’s friends. This friend had 3 daughters and they all had boyfriends. As I was working on the tires, a boyfriend would show up and ask if I needed any help. I would shoo him off and then about 5 minutes later another boyfriend would show up.  I thought it was quite funny.  I got the job done without any help and I got a glass of lemonade after. Go me.

So I bought 8 feet of the hail/shade cloth.  What I didn’t pay attention to was how wide the cloth was. Probably about 20 feet wide. (they tole me in inches, I should have suspected something…).  I rolled it out and began cutting and got all the beds covered that I wanted and I still have an 8×9 foot piece left over. At least I will not be running around in my Chinese Rain Hat whilst the hail is pounding down around me.  My kids got me the Chinese Rain Hat.  It is one of those classic cone-shaped hats you see on workers in the field .  It works great to protect your face and shoulders from hail. Let’s see if the hail/shade cloth works as well.

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Argh! (and aints)

I come home from 2 days…count them, two days….in Denver to find my corn seedlings have been dug up and destroyed.  I thought the squirrels only ate the seeds, which is why I did what you are not supposed to do…..transplant corn seedlings.  I started 20 corn in the greenhouse and planted them in the garden last Friday.  I swear, they grew 2 inches in two days. I figured they were very happy.  Then I had to go Denver on Sunday.  Came home tonight, to discover them dug up and only one left. ….

sad face.

You can’t have just one corn, they need to cross-pollinate; you need to plant a block of them so you can have corn cobs.  I will try again, this time I will put netting down.  I just don’t think they will be knee-high to an elephant by 4th of July…..

A friend suggested “baby electric fencing” a lower voltage electric fence that won’t kill them, just knock them for a loop.  I just can’t quite figure out how to set it up?  Do you run the wire next to the seedlings?  Do you make a little box around the whole area?  Squirrels are agile and arial little creatures and there is a tree overhead.  They might just parachute into the garden rendering a fence line in-effective…unless you run wire over the seedlings too. That might be bad for my health. I don’t know if it is worth it for 20 plants.

I shouldn’t have fed them leetle furry-rat-varmints this winter and then stopped feeding them when the weather got warm.  They are taking revenge.  My book on how to deal with squirrels should be arriving soon.  Then I will take re-revenge.

In other news, my squish is doing well.  I am growing both winter and summer squish. The summer squish is the ones doing well, the winter squish hasn’t shown heads up (or should I say leaves up) yet.  I am trying to start some Acorn and Butternut squish in the greenhouse, but they didn’t get watered when I was in the big city.  They got pretty dry in there.  We shall see.

My Egyptian Walking Onion is doing great!  We have had the leaves…tubes…green things growing str8 up without any bulbettes on them, for dinner several nights in a row.  They have a strong flavor and are great both raw and fried.  Thanks to my friend Erica, who is a fantastic, under-appreciated librarian, for giving me a start.

No lettuce or Swiss Chard yet.  Spinach and carrots are starting to show. The sugar aints are eating my Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts. I’ve lost three plants over the last week.  I must away to the garden shop and buy diama……diamota……buy that white earth stuff that you sprinkle around plants to keep them safe.   Last year I had to dig the aints up to convince them to leave, but they showed themselves before I planted anything last spring.  So, this year, I am going to have to resort to other methods. I don’t want my Brassica’s covered in Aphids.  Those 2,000 ladybirds I wee-weased are gone to parts unknown. Oh, Bob, I hardly knew ye….. Hey, Bob is a lot easier to remember than 2,000 names.  Don’t judge.

When my eldest was a small, he was fascinated by ants. He conducted various experiments on them all the while saying, “Aint, Aint! very pointedly. Most of the ants didn’t survive the experiments, which included things like stepping on them or dropping rocks/dirt on them.  This is why ants, aint.

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Gardening and Food

Today was a busy day.  The squirrels have decided to leave me alone, which meant I actually got some gardening done!  I only have a few things left to transplant, but the big news is that my DH is helping me (read: cut the wood) to make a strawberry bed!!!!!  It will get done this weekend.  Yay!!!!!

I was at the local nursery this afternoon to pick up some chives, thyme and some bagged dirt as I have run out of readily available compost, when I saw the strawberry plants.  Sweet memories of childhood surfaced…..eating strawberries til I got sick of them….. My summer job one year was picking strawberries.  I was around 12.  I didn’t make very much money as I kept eating them. I have not liked strawberries very much since then, but home-grown ones always taste better anyway….and I can’t eat 5 quarts in one go.

This year the new things I am trying are: Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries and my new fave, the afore-mentioned in an earlier post, the Italian Snap Pole Bean. I am also thinking ahead (gasp) and want to do a straw bale cold frame for growing things in the winter.  It should only take about 8 bales and a bit of heavy plastic for the cover. It is a cheap and easy way to make a cold frame and I got the idea from this book, Year Round Vegetable Gardener.

And now on a completely different subject:

I make my own yogurt and cereal.  They taste yummy together. Especially with fresh fruit on it. Usually I like variety in my breakfasts, but I have been eating this for almost three weeks straight now.  It is Very Good.

The cereal is comprised of raw rolled oats/nuts and seeds/dried fruit/flavorings.   I don’t like Quaker oats as they taste stale, so I buy the bulk oats at the health-food store – only 99 cents a pound! I fill a mason quart jar about half full of oats, then add in different things.  The one I have now has sunflower seeds, flax seeds, chopped cashew nuts, dried cherries (from my parent’s orchard) cinnamon, raw sugar and shaved coconut. I put between a tablespoon and a quarter cup of each thing (depending on my mood).  Then I shake it up.  It keeps a long time, but I eat it pretty fast.  It is good on ice cream and in fruit salads. You could also add cocoa powder or chocolate chips for something different.

Yogurt is easy-peasy to make.  I use a cooler to incubate the yogurt culture for 10-12 hours.  I put a half gallon jar of hot water in the center of the cooler and then place my yogurt jars around it (not touching) and then throw a blanket on top and shut the cooler.  It works great!  You don’t need a commercial incubator, I’ve seen ppl use a crock pot, a cardboard box, the oven with only the light on, an old electric skillet, and on top of the refrigerator….basically anyplace that keeps your culture between 110 and 105 degrees f.  I usually add about a third cup of instant milk and honey to it.  The instant milk adds protein and thickens it up a bit.  There are a lot of yogurt-making websites and Youtube vids out there, so I’m sure you will find one you like.  The only time I had my yogurt fail was when I didn’t scald my milk and when I added too much of the starter.  I’m afraid I was guilty of the “more is better” style of cooking and you really only need a tablespoon or two of the starter per half gallon of milk to make yogurt….it likes lots of elbow room to grow.

I picture a little yogurt dude in a cowboy hat standing on the open range singing,  “Giiiiiiiive me Roooooooooom!”

 

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Squirrels……

Can you believe it? Those squirrels tried to steal my sunflower seedlings!

I am hardening off my seedlings as our  Frost Date is fast approaching.  All my little green babies are basking in the sun, enjoying the breezes and generally making me feel better.  I am talking on the phone with a friend and what do I see, but two BRAZEN squirrels making off with one of my sunflower seedlings. Usually they are just content to steal the seeds and leave the seedlings alone, but this….this display of wanton cruelty made my blood boil. I run out on the deck and stamp my feet and clap my hands and they look at me like ….”Wha?” and continue to cart off the little expando-pot!  My friend is all like, “What is going on?” and she has the gall to laugh when I tell her what the noise was about.

Humph.

I manage to get the sunflower seedling back and put it in the house, along with it’s brethren  and sistern.  The furry little beasts come back and I can see them plotting, staring through the screen at my tender little sprouts. I run noisily  at them again and eventually they get the message and leave.

I suppose I should tell you that I  feed the squirrels in the winter.  In the coldest days in the heart of winter, I put out food for them. It isn’t winter anymore. You would think they could figure it out.  Food appears in the winter and not during the rest of the year. Squirrels are supposed to be smart.  Maybe these ones didn’t do well in Squirrel School.  Maybe that is why they are married.  Maybe we will get a whole crop of un-smart squirrels.  Maybe I could capture them and start breeding them and market them and make a fortune with my dumb squirrels…..Gardeners the world over would laud me.  Maybe.

I go down and check on the seedlings I had planted earlier in the day.  My Italian Flat Pole Beans.

Let me digress a bit.  I love green snap beans and usually grow the bush beans, having had a bad experience with pole beans in my formative years. But last year something happened to change my mind.  We visited some friends who were farm-sitting and  the owners had this beautiful, lush, veggie garden.  We picked lots of good stuff for dinner, but the only thing I remember about the whole meal was the pole beans.  They were the most luscious beans I had ever had the fortune to eat. They changed my mind about pole beans….forever. This year I decided to grow only these Italian Flat Beans and forgo the Bush beans. I planted 17 of them. For only two ppl, that is a lot of beans, but I don’t care, I am in love.

So I told you that, to tell you this. Imagine my dismay upon arriving in the garden to see that the squirrels had been digging in the garden…..they have 8 beds to choose from and where do they dig? My Italian Flat Pole Beans…… Luckily I managed to arrive early enough so that they didn’t wreak too much damage.   But.  War.  has been. declared. No-one messes with my pole beans.  I am expecting a book to arrive in the mail within 3 weeks that will give me some advice on how to wage a successful war.  I have told  Squirreletzer and his mate, Squirrelette,  that they should consider moving before things get really serious. Tomorrow I will put down some netting.

The war begins.

 

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Trial by Fire…. or Dirt

Lasagna Gardening is a cool thing.  A bit of work to get things ready, but nothing onerous and far easier than tilling and double-digging. Last summer I added 4 new veggie beds and got a real mixed bag of results at harvest time.  My DH and I had made 4 new raised beds on the south side of the house, (the older 4 beds are on the west side) and we filled them with “compost” from the local nursery.  I say “compost” because it looked and smelled nothing like the compost I have in my composter.  I just didn’t have enough to fill 4 new beds so I bought some. I got great results with tomatoes, herbs and eggplants, but the bush beans and squash did poorly…I mean, they are the easiest things to grow…but half the size of the squash plants in the west garden, what the heck?….so I blamed the “compost” which looked dark brown but had bits of bark mulch in it and was really water phobic.  and dusty. I had always distrusted it and now it had proved it’s infidelity to true dirt traditions…  Hey, it was something I could fix. Maybe.

Last fall, I saw the Lasagna Gardening book on Amazon and it looked like a good idea, so I ordered it and went to work as soon as it arrived.  I collected leaves and newspapers from neighbors. “Hey Marge! There is a crazy lady outside raking the leaves and she wants our old newspapers too.” Ah, the burdens I bear for my garden. Anyway, I bought straw and peat and found a place in Black Forest where they were giving away free goat and chicken manure. My hubby was so very patient as he hauled all this stuff around. (Bless you dear.)  Once everything was assembled I piled it on the bare dirt of all 8 veggie gardens, starting with the newspapers.  Soon I had piles between 12 and 14 inches deep.  I ran out of materials, so didn’t go the full 24 inches the author recommended. Then I let it sit for the winter.  The piles shrank a bit over time, but looked pretty much the same. I was dubious.  Would this really work?  Had I wasted time and money? Should we move, so the neighbor’s property values wouldn’t go down?

Eagerly awaiting Spring.  Five. weeks. of snow. In April and May. Started seeds inside.  Tried planting seeds outside at various times.  Just ended up killing them.

Finally, finally….the weather changed and I planted seeds again and put compost (mine) on the top of the lasagna beds. and waited some more. Today I put up a trellis for the pole beans and planted cabbage and brussels sprouts seedlings.  The straw topping in the west beds was covering wonderfully rich dirt the lasagna method had produced over the winter. It smelled good and was a lovely color.  The straw topping in the south beds was mostly covering straw and and leaves and I had to carve little holes in it.  I filled the holes up with compost and then planted the cabbage and brussels sprouts seedlings.  I wonder why the difference between the two areas.  I know they will grow, but I wonder why the south-facing beds were not as decomposed as the west-facing beds. Curious.

I tried to treat them the same way,but I am notoriously fickle and I think I watered the west garden more than the south one. I know I put pretty much the same amount of things on each bed.  Maybe the fact that they were newer beds meant they didn’t have the same amount of glorious earthworm action as the older gardens????

Anyway, the upshot is the Lasagna Method of Gardening works pretty well so far. I hope I will get a far better harvest this year even with the strict water rationing.  The straw and leaves alone will keep moisture in the soil better, so I won’t have to water as frequently.  Assuming I get the drip lines in soon…..

Stay Tuned for more….  ADVENTURES    IN    GARDENING…Gardening…gardening.  Same bat-time, same bat-channel.

 

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More Gardening stuff…I am obsessed right now.

It didn’t snow and I did play in the garden this afternoon!  I re-planted the spinach and the peas….the spinach I planted on the 4th of April didn’t grow at all, but there were three pea plants….:)  The squirrels got the rest I assume, as the pea patch was riddled with holes.  I also planted Butterhead Lettuce and Rainbow Swiss Chard.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did the garden up last fall using the Lasagna Gardening method.  Right now my gardens are heaps of straw and manure and leaves.  When I “planted” the seeds, I put down compost on top of the straw, broadcast the seeds on top of that, then added a shower of dirt and then watered them.  I have no idea if it will work, but the book says it will.  I am trusting the book.  I want a healthy garden this year.

Last year I had tons of aphids and cabbage eaters and this white mold-like stuff on all my squash leaves.  All the rest of my green babies did well, except for the bush beans, they hardly produced at all for no reason I could discern.

I went to a local gardening shop and bought stuff I forgot to get seeds for.  I forgot to buy Cucumber seeds!  Can you believe it?  I can’t, yet I did. So I bought 2 baby cukes and 2 baby golden sweet peppers and 1 baby parsley plant, 6 cabbage and 6 Brussels sprouts…I have had no luck with the last two veggies, but hope springs eternal and I love to eat them, so I am going to try again.  Of course, last year we had 2 horrid, terrible hail storms in two days, so a lot of things got damaged and never quite recovered.

I also bought 2,000 lady bugs today.  I find it funny that you have to water them every day. I think if I name them all “Bob” (a friend’s suggestion) and make that sound when I mist them, they will come to associate that sound with sudden flooding and run in the opposite direction.  I might be able to control them that way……

 

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Springtime in the Rockies

Five whole weeks of SNOW!  Really now, mistress weather.  Let’s be reasonable. I want to plant my garden outside instead of in little expando-pot-like thingies. Both my seedlings and I are tired of this cold…. Well, to be honest, they are still tucked into little pots and sat over the heater, whilst I am out in the cold…working.  On a side note, I bought an old Trek Bicycle and am waiting to ride it on dry pavement, not cold ice…so it’s not just seeds I am worried over, it is my ownself too.

My toms are about 7 inches high and I still don’t know which ones are which.  The Bell Peppers NEVER came up, so I planted some more today, along with Italian Pole Snap Beans (which we had last summer when we visited Gabe and Erica at the farm they were house-sitting at and which were amazingly delicious).  I will plant the technicolor Swiss Chard outside tomorrow…if it doesn’t snow…..and maybe even if it does.  I will go look for cucumber seedlings because I forgot to buy cucumber seeds.

We did go to Whole Foods and get the free compost, but they only gave us a limited amount…mainly because it was very heavy and they didn’t want anyone breaking their backs…BUT, we got it and it is still sitting in the container and I haven’t done anything with it because of the SNOW……grrrrr.

I am grateful for the moisture.

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