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Showing posts from April, 2012

The Planting of the Peas

Now that the root vegetables in my backyard garden plot are doing nicely, I've decided that it's time to plant something new.  Sugar snap peas sound like a yummy idea, especially since they're some of the few vegetables I can actually get my daughter to willingly eat.  She calls peas "green corn."  I'm not about to dissuade her from this name choice, either.  Not if it gets her excited about them! I'm not actually sure how well they'll do in an area that's been tainted with black walnut , but the seeds were only $1.50, so it's worth a shot.  That's less than the cost of a Sunday newspaper in some places, after all. I selected a spot next to the shed wall, and started uprooting unwanted plants.   Dandelions , creeping charlie , catnip, and even a maple sapling were some of the items in my "weed pile".  The pile was quite large. At last, the area was cleared.  The next step was to loosen the soil. With this work done,

Maple Heaven

Pancakes!!!!!!!!! Amazing how reading that one simple word can conjure large amounts of yearning and excitement, isn't it? The Nature Center had a 5k run and pancake brunch, which my daughter insisted on going to.  Naturally, I was only too happy to comply! Proceeds from the Maple Syrup Fun Run and events like it go toward supporting the Nature Center, so it was definitely worth participating in. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to do anything more that have brunch.  No running for us!  That's ok, though.  We were happy to be there. And, after all, it had pancakes . These weren't just any pancakes, however.  The sticky maple syrup that oozed over our plates came directly from trees within the park.  Bonus! Tapping maple trees is something that I've always been interested in, but I've never actually seen it done.  I had to know more. The number of taps that a person can have on a single tree is largely dependent on the tree's diameter.  From w

Hoverfly Identification

It's time for a new identification !  Today it's another insect. Helophilus (fasciatus?) Scientific Name:   Helophilus (fasciatus?) Common Name:  Hoverfly, damselfly, syrphid fly Color:  Yellow thorax with vertical black stripes, abdomen has black horizontal stripes Size:  about 1/2" Distinguishing Characteristics :  Bee mimic Looks like a bee, doesn't it?  No?  Maybe a wasp?  Yeah, I thought so, too, at first.  That's because the helophilus genus mimics bees and wasps as a defense against predators.  Who wants to get bit or stung, after all?  It's better to leave this guy alone, and go after something a little less risky. Helophilus means "sun lover".  Indeed, these flies come out in force when the sun is high in the sky during the spring and summer, and they forage for pollen while basking in its warmth. I should point out that I'm actually undecided as to which species of Helophilus this particular hoverfly is a membe

The Crow Was Eating What?!

As I prepared breakfast this morning, I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a crow.  Not a grackle , mind you, but a crow.  It was in my neighbors yard, and it was eating something. I stared for quite some time, trying to puzzle out what exactly it was eating.  The crow was quite set on consuming as much of this feast as possible, and nothing else was capable of catching its attention.  Very unusual, in my opinion.  Crows have a tendency to notice everything around them at all times, which is one of their most interesting qualities, in my opinion. Whatever it was eating was red at the top, with white hanging down from it.  At first, I thought it was an apple. After a while, however, I realized that the white area wasn't rigid, so that couldn't be right. In an effort to tear away at its food, it kicked up some grass.  Gray grass. But grass isn't... gray... Oh! Eew!!! It was eating a small animal.  I'm still not sure what the animal was, considering that

Healthy Milk Jug Covered Root Vegetables

The root vegetables that I had planted in the raised garden in the backyard have done quite well, for the most part.  I had a bit of an upset when I looked under their plastic milk jug environment and discovered that one full section of carrots didn't sprout at all, but I shrugged it off and planted some radishes in that area.  Those radishes have taken off like crazy! I removed the halved milk jugs a few days ago, and they're all still doing well. The very top of this picture is unnecessary in this post.  It's merely a large amount of catnip resting beside a halved milk jug covering some dill that I transplanted in a frenzy.  I'm hoping the transfer into the ground will keep the weak sprouts from dying off. So pretend those don't exist - I'll get back to them later. What you're seeing in the top row (from left to right) is a section of carrots, one of radishes, and then another of carrots.  Below that I have two sections of onions, which basica


I have chives! Huge ones!  Big, tall, green ones with flowers near to appearing! Yippee!!!!!!! You're probably thinking it's a little too early for me to be seeing chives. If these were the ones I had just planted in my cinder blocks or in my spaghetti garden , I'd agree with you. But they're not. I found them growing along the edge of the pathway up the hill, in the wild section of the yard.  These chives are in perfect health, yet I never saw them growing.  Peering closely at the photo, you can see why.  Much of that section is filled with long grasses, so the chives just sort of blended in. Naturally, I did a taste test, and the flavor was great.  This rental home is just filled with fun surprises!

I Will Have Mint, Darn It!!!

After transplanting my canterbury bells , I was energized.    I had one more built in planter on my porch, and I refused to sit around just staring at it. Ok, I had actually started on that planter a while ago, planting peppermint and anise seeds.  That was only semi-successful, though, due to the digging of an overzealous squirrel in search of his missing walnut.  None of the peppermint I planted ever sprouted. The halved milk jug that I used to cover the anise seeds was also lost, but I was fortunate there.  Those seeds did sprout up rather nicely. That just wasn't enough for me, though. A few days ago I attempted to place some peppermint seedlings that I had been growing into the space where the original peppermint had been planted.  They're still there, but the squirrel has already upset the area a few times, and I'm not holding out much hope for them. I needed more, and I wanted mint.  Peppermint, spearmint, sweet mint... it didn't truly matter to me,

Crammed Canterbury Bell Seedlings!

At long last, I've decided to return to my winter sown canterbury bells .  They've been sitting securely in their little milk jug containers for about two months now, and it's getting warmer. I opened my container, fighting with the gorilla tape I secured it with, as well as the additional clear tape I used to re-secure the pieces after the wind sent the top portion flying.  The seedlings were crammed together, with very little space between them at all.  I had actually thinned them out previously, but due to re-sprouting, the huge supply of seedlings was overwhelming. Originally they had been placed in well thought out spots within the milk jug, but after the three days of rain that flooded the container, I imagine the seeds distributed themselves throughout the entire jug, thereby allowing more of them to take root than normally would. I did, after all, have a hard time managing the amount of seeds that were placed in each area, owing to the fact that the seeds are

Buried Treasures?!

I left something out when I talked about my retaining wall garden.  Specifically, I didn't mention the excitement that occurs when you dig through and loosen soil, only to discover that there's more than just dirt inside. No, I'm not talking about rocks.  Sure, there were plenty, but that's pretty much business as usual when you dig into a garden plot. I'm not talking about the variety of bugs and worms, either.  Again, this can hold my attention for an unusually long amount of time, but that's business as usual, as well. Rather, I'm talking about the extra little treasures that were buried, the ones that were never supposed to be there in the first place.  I found all sorts of items that I puzzled over, wondering why they were there.  I found a smashed up vent cover, a washer (for nuts and bolts - not the kind you put clothing into! Although, the magic tricks in doing that would be pretty cool.), a marble, a plastic bag from Macy's, two nickels,

Cinder Blocks As Garden Planters

I had been dragging my feet for a while, in terms of finding new and interesting spots to place additions to my garden.  Learning about guerrilla gardening , however, fixed that problem instantly. No, I didn't run out to plant poppies inside potholes... although, that would  have been pretty fun. Rather, I scanned my yard for a new area that I could plant within.  Something different.  Something unique.    My gaze landed on the driveway's retaining wall. Pretty ugly, right?  Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree.  I smiled, though, because I knew I had found the perfect spot for a few more herbs.  There was great potential here.  Those cinder blocks seemed to yearn for my attention.   This was going to be a huge job, so I decided to go about it piece by piece.  I started with the section at the forefront of the photo.   While clearing the weeds, though, I discovered a huge infestation of pill bugs within every section of the cinder blocks. Look at

Walking The Hill... Again

Even though I've tried to reduce my ecological footprint , I've had to use my car for the past few shopping trips due to weather conditions.  I'd like to say that I have superhuman endurance, and can carry groceries through wind, hail, rain, or snow, but realistically... I can be a big wimp. It seemed that every time I had to go to the grocery store it was rainy.  This isn't enough to keep me from walking, though, because I actually enjoy the rain. Unfortunately, I'm not very big on the cold, though, and each time it rained, it was freezing!  Well, ok.  Those people that are used to living in the upper Midwest probably don't consider forty degrees to be freezing cold, but I'm a desert rat!  To me, forty degrees is the equivalent of the ice age. So I waited. Finally, it was warm enough to walk to the grocery store again, and I raced for the stroller.  My daughter was just as happy to go to the store as I was.  So happy, in fact, that she insisted on

Allergies and Itching?! Say it isn't so!

For the past month and a half I've been plagued with itching.  It started with my head, and it continued all the way to my feet.  It was unstoppable.  At first, I thought it was dandruff.  I haven't had a case of dandruff since before high school, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption.  The itching did start at my head, of course. Sadly, no dandruff shampoo helped.  The annoyance continued. I then decided that my skin was simply drying out due to the fact that the moisture in the air was being sucked out by my heater.  I realized after a while, however, that lotions and oils were of very little help, my skin was perfectly smooth, and I was still itching!!!  Maybe I just needed a little more lotion, I thought... Once the itching started taking over places like my hands, thinghs, and feet, however, I knew it had to be something other than dry skin.  I was beginning to look like a dog that was covered in fleas, scratching so many spots on my body that I was beginning

Guerrilla Gardening? Sounds Exciting!

A few days ago I looked at my How-To of the Day gadget and saw a term that caught my interest:  Guerrilla Gardening.  Sounds exciting, doesn't it?  But what in the heck is guerrilla gardening?! Well, it turns out that guerrilla gardening is simply gardening on public or private land that has gone into disrepair.  Basically, you're making use of space that's been ignored by the people who are supposed to care for it.  Kinda like when people that are homeless temporarily move into an abandoned building.  You garden with the knowledge that your space could be dug up or destroyed at any time. I found the above image through flickr, so I can't take any credit for this great example of guerrilla gardening.  Rather, this image was taken from Jean-Luc Henry in Canada.  I've also seen examples of people gardening within sewer grates, inside potholes in city streets, and so much more!  This is a great concept for anyone that wants to build a garden, but doesn'

My Daughter's Strawberry Garden

Since my daughter has so much fun helping me with my garden, I decided that it was time to let her create one of her own.  A garden, after all, is a great way to teach children not only science, but also responsibility, independence and confidence.  There's a reason that many homeschooled children work in family owned gardens, after all!  I told my daughter about this decision and was rewarded with an excited smile.  I asked her what she wanted to plant in it, and she thought about it for a while.  Finally, she looked up at me and responded. "Ice cream seeds." It took a bit of time to convince her that this wasn't an option.  I finally assured her that we could make ice cream and place what we had planted inside it.  Naturally, she decided on strawberries, since strawberry ice cream is her favorite.  For a few days after this, my daughter continually talked to me about how she needed to get some strawberries.  She was very much looking forward to her garden.

Earth Day, the EPA, and My Family

The first Earth Day occurred in 1970.  That was also the same year that the EPA was created.  Now, the EPA is a little more special to me than it is for the average person.  Yes, it produces environmental legislation, and yes, it works to ensure that we don't go overboard throwing large amounts of chemical waste throughout our country, but it does so much more than that. I've noticed, however, that most people see the EPA as a joke.  These tend to be people who haven't been personally touched by its actions, and that makes their lack of respect for the EPA totally understandable.  It also means, however, that those of us who do have stories have the responsibility to tell people about them.  How can you have respect for a government organization when all you've seen is talk and paperwork?  How can you understand something's importance when you haven't heard about a positive change that it's made in someone's life?  It's possible to have this res

Transplant of the Lonely Soybeans

Because my goal is to have an edible landscape that allows me to harvest my own food without having to worry about where it came from, or how it was grown, I need to have a nice variety.  One thing I hadn't planted was any sort of bean crop, and soybeans are a particular favorite of mine. Soybeans are one type of crop that sets me very much on edge, however.  As many of you know, a large portion of the soy in our grocery stores have been genetically modified.  Now, today is not the day that I'm going to argue about the evils of genetic modification - I'll do that later, but today I'm just going to point out that this is not something I'd consider an advantage.  One reason for this is the high amount of pesticides that are used on these crops.  I don't use pesticides.  I don't believe in using them, at all.  Growing my own soybeans gives me the knowledge that none have been used, and this makes me a very happy person. Now, soybeans grow fast.  Of cours

Thriving Green Lettuce and Spinach

My lettuce survived!!!  It made it through the past few cold nights, through the frost, and through the wind.  It not only survived, but it's thriving! It's only been a few days since the wind made them look pathetic and wilted , and yet they're growing with extreme gusto!  I'm completely dumbfounded by this sudden burst of health.  The leaves are shooting straight up, they've got some curl to them, and their green color is gorgeous!  I guess there's some truth to the old addage of "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I decided to go ahead and remove the cover from my spinach after seeing how well the lettuce was doing.  Both lettuce and spinach can handle cooler weather, and the exposure to breezes would be good for the stems of my spinach.  Besides... I knew they needed to be free of their container.  Peeking through the hole at the top let me know that my spinach was beginning to grow quite large. I didn't, however, reali

Spaghetti Garden

As upset as I was about having sad, purple tomato seedlings staring up at me from their spot in the window sill, I had other things that needed to be done for the day - like figuring out what to make for dinner.  Therefore, before transplanting my tomatoes I needed to decide on that.  Opening up the cabinets, I saw something that gave me an idea not only about what to make for dinner, but also what to do with my transplant location. A jar of spaghetti sauce!!! No, really.  Think about it. Spaghetti for dinner.  That's the easy part.  Anybody can figure out that's what I was thinking of.  It's a quick dinner, too, so I didn't have to worry about my time being limited. But what does this have to do with my transplants?  Well, spaghetti sauce isn't just tomato, after all.  It's also mixed with things like basil, garlic, oregano, chives... the list goes on. "I'll plant a Spaghetti Garden!"  I squealed.  My daughter looked at me in confusio

My Sad, Purple Tomato Seedlings

For the past two weeks I've been staring at my tomato seedlings with absolute dread.  They haven't been growing.  Sure, they had gotten their first true leaves, and the stems were reasonably strong due to the fact that I'd blow on them every day (breeze simulation), but they were still only about two inches tall. Not only that, but the leaves were turning purple.  From what I've been able to discover, this is probably due to a deficiency in Phosphorus or Magnesium.  Of course, there could also be too much calcium in the soil.  As if that's not enough to cause me a headache, ammonium poisoning is another possibility when dealing with purple tomato leaves. It's enough to make your head explode! Fortunately, I was able to eliminate ammonium poisoning.  This is mainly caused in soils that are under 55 degrees that have been well fertilized.  Cold soils are far less Phosphorous rich, so the ammonium caused by Nitrogen fertilization can spike out of control due

DIY Potato Grow Bag

The potato grow bag project  that I talked about in my last post is complete!  It's really an easy thing to accomplish, and I'm excited to see how everything turns out.  This post will be a bit more picture heavy than usual, so please be patient if loading times end up taking longer.  I really want to be sure nothing is left out! I began by cutting my seed potato into three sections.  You don't actually need to do this.  A whole potato will grow just as well, but if you cut a seed potato into sections, each section will grow into its own plant.  When cutting a seed potato, be sure that each piece has at least one eye, and preferably two or three. I ran into some difficulty deciding what to do next.  Some people tell you to leave the pieces out to dry for 24 hours before planting, while others go straight to planting them.  I elected to wait the 24 hours, just to see what would happen. The following day I gathered my supplies. We're looking at a big bag of tops

Potato Grow Bag Time!

For quite some time now I've been pouring through DIY potato grow bag information.  I know I could simply buy a grow bag, but they cost more than I'm willing to spend right now.  Creating your own, however, doesn't seem difficult at all.  They've been made using potting soil bags, trash bags, reusable shopping bags, and so much more.  I saw no reason to go out and buy one, when I can simply reuse something I already have! You may question why I feel the need to have a grow bag when the yard of the home I'm renting is large enough to accomodate potatoes quite easily.  The answer, as usual, is because of those black walnut trees we have all over the place.  Not only are potatoes intolerant of black walnut's phytotoxin, but it's nearly at the top of the highly sensitive list.  Basically, any potatoes I'd attempt to grow in the soil would never even have a chance at survival. And I really love potatoes. A grow bag, then, is really the only likely op

The Wind and the Lettuce

When talking about my newly sprouted radishes , I mentioned the rain and wind that had occurred due to the rather terrifying storm system that developed in our country's midsection.  Fortunately, due to a very nice amount of advanced warning by the National Weather Service, casualties from those tornadoes were surprisingly low. Also, thankfully, none of the tornadoes that developed were this far north.  We just got wind - a lot of it - coupled with a nice thunderstorm that both lit up and drenched my gardens.  It's been dry here, so the rain was very welcome. Unfortunately, my lettuce was not amused by the storm system.  Not at all. The halved milk jug that I used to cover my lettuce had gotten blown off.  This wouldn't have been a problem at all, since it was about time to remove it anyway, but because it was removed by the wind the stems didn't have a proper chance to get used to their newfound freedom.  The stems of my lettuce were still very weak. If you

Yay For Radish Sprouts!

The radish seeds I planted in the second tier of my sloped garden have already begun sprouting! Two of the sprouts are very obvious, but the others are so small that they're very difficult to see.  In a direct line with those two sprouts there are an additional four.  If you put your eyes right up to your monitor you may be able to see them, but I really wouldn't recommend it! The second row of seeds, which is to the left of this one, has also begun to sprout, but I elected not to take a picture of that row, since the sprouts were smaller.  There's a limit, after all, to how much eye strain I'll make you go through! I planted these icicle radish seeds about seven days ago, which means they've sprouted on the early side of the listed germination time.  Still within normal limits, though, so I'm in the clear!  No worries that I planted them too close to the surface, or anything. I do have one concern, however.  We had massive rain yesterday, since we

Sand Wasp? Really?

Earlier, I mentioned that I had witnessed what looked like two bees fighting .  Originally, I thought the attacker was a beewolf.  Beewolves are sphecid wasps that prey on bees (of course) in order to lay their eggs within the victim's body.  Well, it turns out that beewolves are way bigger than the bug that attacked my bee.  It took a while, but I think I've finally managed to identify it. Bembix americana Scientific Name: Bembix americana Common Name:   Sand wasp Color:   Black and white or yellow thorax, Size: Roughly 1.5 centimeters in length Social Type:   Solitary insect It appears to be a sand wasp.  The female, as the name implies, digs short single chamber tunnels which are used to deposit their eggs.  They place insects that they've collected inside the tunnel to feed their young. Sand wasp 'nest' And they dig really, really fast.  A single wasp can dig a chamber in just a few seconds.  I found a great example of this on YouTube,

Ground Ivy Invasion!

A new wildflower has sprung up all over my yard.  It's beautiful, it's everywhere, and it's highly invasive !  As you've already guessed, I've decided to make it next in my identification list .  Glechoma hederacea Scientific Name:   Glechoma hederacea Common Name: Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie Leaf: Simple leaf with scalloped edges Flower:   Irregular flower, shades of purple Growth Habit:   Prefers partial to full shade, propagates through seeds and through cuttings.  Roots easily grow from stems that have bent toward the ground, thereby producing a 'creeping' effect. Height:   Grows to 5-8 inches high This plant is highly invasive in my area.  It's been kept reasonably in check this season, however, because this spring has been rather dry.  Ground Ivy needs decently moist soil to survive.  It looks like I'm going to have a great deal of work ahead of me if I want to keep it from covering my lawn. There are some relativel

Fighting Bees???

I love bees, and become horribly upset about anything that causes them harm.  I've went on at length about systemic pesticides and I've worked toward ensuring bees that enter my yard are comfortable here.  Bees are incredible creatures that are worthy of deep respect. I spend a great deal of time watching bees go from flower to flower, stopping beside puddles for drinks of water, or just resting upon leaves. Yesterday, however, I saw something odd. While my daughter and I were leaving the hilled area of the yard so that we could go inside, I saw something fall from the sky and roll... right at my feet. I stopped and bent down to get a closer look.  What I saw caused me to decend into complete confusion.  It appeared to be two bees fighting, one on top of the other's back. Strangely, they didn't seem to mind me hovering a few inches above them, literally breathing on their backs.  Yes, I was that close. I actually sat down to be able to get a closer l

Suet Feeder Fiasco!

I decided to add a suet feeder in order to entice birds not only into my backyard, but also to the front.  I elected to hang it on the trunk of one of my gigantic black walnut trees, in order to convince woodpeckers to visit the front yard. It's been a few days, though, and aside from one squirrel (Who merely glanced at it in curiousity), I've had zero visitors.  I'm beginning to think this may not be the ideal location. Granted, it takes a while for birds to recognize a new feeder as a safe place to eat, and realistically, it can be a few days before anyone visits at all.  Patience, therefore, is required with any new feeder. My gut tells me I may have done something wrong, though.  I've seen birds that should be quite happy with the fruit and seed mixture within this suet feeder, so I know they're out there.  I also know that there are plenty of woodpeckers, since I watch them in my yard quite frequently.  Woodpeckers are suet eaters, and they enjoy fe