Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thank you, sir. Can I have some more please?

We had a great little shower last night, and it was much needed. I was really surprised it rained because the forecast has been absolutely abysmal with no hopes of rain, but this storm blew in seemingly out of nowhere, and liquid gold poured from the heavens. Everything is looking a lot greener this morning, and it's cooler this morning than it has been for about a week. Even better I didn't have to water the garden! I put a little water on the tomato plants yesterday morning, and was going to water the rest of the garden this morning, but now I don't have to. yippee!

The garden is really doing well. I can't believe how moist my beds are staying - even in the heat and dry. The heavy dews have subsided in the past few days, but the Mel's Mix is still damp in even the boxes that receive the most sunlight. I'm so impressed with how much the mulch helps retain moisture. I know I've mentioned it before, but considering last year's abysmal "can't-keep-enough-water-on-the-beds" failure I just can't get over what a difference it makes.

Yesterday morning I went out to take pictures of the garden. My squash is blooming like crazy. I've got tomatoes coming on really well. And everything but the okra is looking really good. I took the pics, came in and showed them off to The Brawn as we ate breakfast, then went to the computer to download them, and they were gone! I tried putting the card back into the camera, and still no pictures from the day. I was so sad. I had taken some really great pictures, and I didn't have time to retake them. I think there's something going on with my card reader. So today I took no chances. I hooked my computer directly up to the camera and downloaded them that way. And voila:

Black Cherry and Fooled You seedlings. I lost one Fooled you, and the others look kinda blah, but the tomatoes look good.

Female squash blossoms. When are they going to open up already??

Eggplants are looking good. I hope that's a bloom about to open up!

Peekaboo little squash blossom.

This guy isn't shy at all. I just hope I have some male flowers left by the time those two chaste girls up there open up.

Sweet baby girl tomatoes.

The Fantastic is finally blooming and getting fruit

I think this is an Early Girl

Cherokee Purple is still looking good.

Zuke blooms. Still no females though.

And another Zuke off my smallest plant.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chickens & SFG?

I've been telling my husband since December that I really want to get a few hens for laying purposes - maybe half a dozen or so. He is an egg eater extraordinaire. I think the man could eat eggs three meals a day, seven days a week. Despite his love for all things eggy, he immediately and emphatically told me no. His dad and stepmom had chickens when he was younger, and that experience has tainted his view of chicken ownership. (He also refuses to own goats or rabbits). I found it very unfair that I had to suffer because of his poor childhood memories of chickens roaming free and pooping on everything, especially given the fact that I don't want free range chickens - just chickens in a large pen. But since he's the brawn behind my brains, I slowly started to accept that I might never own a chicken.

Of course, that didn't make me drop the matter altogether. Especially after I got my June/July issue of Organic Gardening with its cover story of Happy Hens. I once again voiced my desire to have a few laying hens. No dice.

So I had to call in reinforcements. I told his mom that I'd like to have chickens. She always buys yard eggs for her bed and breakfast, and she is forever extolling the benefits of yard eggs vs store eggs. She also told us about a set up her brother had told her about. A farmer who had chickens built large fenced in area. He set up the chicken coop in the middle of the fenced in area and divided it into two halves. He gave the chickens access to 1/2 of the area, and planted his garden on the other half. The next year, he moved his garden to the other side of the enclosure and turned the chickens loose in the old garden site. The chickens ate the bugs, picked at the weeds, kept the soil scratched up and added fertilizer, so the next year when the farmer again switched the chickens and the garden, the garden was good to go. I thought that was a pretty ingenious idea, but The Brawn was still unimpressed.

Last night out of the complete blue, The Brawn told me he'd been looking up chicken setups similar to the one his mom told us about on Google. I almost fell out of bed. I'm not sure what was more shocking - the fact that he was now expressing a willingness to own a few chickens or the fact that he actually Googled it!

He had found this website and accompanying picture of their garden set up:

Gardening “With” Chickens by Self Sufficient Steward

I like the fence that's run around this chicken/garden set up. Click on the link above to check out the photo.

I found this one:

Save time and energy with the fenced chicken coop/garden By John Silveira

I like that the compost pile behind the coop is incorporated into this design.

Now we have a lot of decisions to make. How should we set it up. The two examples above have given us lots of ideas. What kind of chickens should we get? How many should we get. I know I said 6, but now that I've got him on board, maybe I'll add a few more.... How much is it gonna cost to get something like this built.

I'm also wondering if a setup like this will work for the raised beds of square foot gardening. Yeah, the chickens will probably poop in the boxes, but they're also gonna poop on the ground. Of course, I guess it's not that difficult to scoop up the poop and throw it on the compost pile.

Lots of research to do. I'm giddy with excitement. I think I need to get out more...

Coming along well

I'm very pleased with how my garden is doing, especially given the late start I got this year, and it's not quite been a month since we got everything set up and planted. My tomato plants have lots of blooms on them (except the Fantastic - thus far zilch for flowers??), and my squash and zucchini have gotten quite large. The squash has been a much faster grower than the zucchini, which surprised me, but I've never grown either before so this is a new experience for me. The squash plants are probably 2 feet tall and have spread to about 2 feet wide too - at least the ones that get more sun. The plants that get a little more shade during the day haven't fared quite as well, but they still look healthy and have plenty of blossoms. This morning I spotted three female blossoms on the squash plants. The little blooms already look like itty tiny squashes. How cute is that?

I'm also happy that I'm not having to water as much this year. Between the mulch I put on the boxes and setting the boxes on the ground my need to water has been significantly less this year than last. And so far this year has been much drier than last. But we are getting some pretty heavy dew in the mornings so that probably helps too. We had a nice shower on Monday or Tuesday of this week, and when I checked this morning the beds were still pretty moist. I will probably need to water some of them tomorrow. It's either that or I need to break out my best rain dance. I know the rest of my dry yard would welcome a few drops from above.

The floating row covers have done a great job keeping insects off my squash and zukes. (Well, except for the millipedes. But technically they're not insects; they're arthropods, and they were probably already in the boxes before I put in my plants. So far they are not bothering the plants, and there don't seem to be as many of them as there were a week or so ago.) I'd read a lot of horror stories about squash bugs, so I'm really glad that I went with the row covers. Of course, since this is the first year I've had squash and zukes, it may prove more challenging to keep them at bay next year.

My real camera has been resurrected, so I'm posting some updated photos of the baby tomatoes from the other day as well as some pics from this morning.

Dew on the Fantastic tomato plant

Lonely little okra. Maybe I'll get around to planting it some more siblings today. I think I said that yesterday...

Baby early girls

Baby cherokee purple

There are two squash plants in the box. I know I'm insane. Mel says one plant per 3 sq feet, but I wanted more than 2 squash plants, so lets see how this turns out.

Two of my female squash blossoms. Two days ago these looked exactly like all the other soon to be blooms. Can't wait til they open up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Two more and yet two more

Got up this a.m. to a couple of more pepper plants sprouted. Now one four-pack has completely sprouted, but I'm still waiting on 3 cells of the other 4-pack. Not sure what the deal is with that...

I also discovered that there were TWO more tomato sprouts awaiting me in the vermiculite. I seriously don't remember putting 8 seeds in there. But maybe I did. I know I had a pretty low germination rate the last time I tried to start tomato seeds, so I must've overcompensated a wee bit. Especially considering I only have ONE spot left in the garden for another tomato plant. So I'm faced with a dilemma. Give the extras away to folks who don't mind having to wait til July to get any cherry tomatoes or have Charlie build me another box for the extra tomato plants. The problem with option two is that there's not really any extra room inside the fence. I guess I'll have to go with option one.

My little sprouts

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It won't be long now

As I was checking on my pepper plants in the entertainment center this morning, I noticed that another tomato had sprouted out of the vermiculite. I honestly didn't know I put 6 tomato seeds in that container, but I guess I did. That or we have our very own immaculate conception...

After my discovery I had to go out to the garden and get some more soil to put my new sprout in. As I came back from retrieving the Mel's Mix from an empty square I glanced at my tomato plants. To my shock again I noticed a little bitty baby Cherokee Purple. I got so excited about that discovery, that I wasn't paying attention to where I was going, and I got tangled up in the electric fence. I almost busted it, and that would not have been pretty! But at least the ground is soft because of the rain.

As I mentioned earlier this week 2 of my jalapeno seeds have sprouted. They are in different 4-packs, so I snipped those cells loose from the other ones and placed them in the sunny windowsill where I have my sprouted tomato seeds. So far all my little sprouts are looking pretty good. I think this is the best I've done with seeds I started myself. When I checked the jalapeno seeds last night I noticed one more little sprout is just pushing up through the soil. I'll give it a couple days to get a little taller then place it in the window too.

So far no more okra plants, so I will probably reseed them tomorrow.

Please excuse the blurriness of the following pictures. The batteries in my real camera died, so I had to resort to using the camera on my phone.

Black Cherry Tomato seedlings

Fooled You jalapeno seedling

Early Girl baby tomato

Cherokee Purple baby tomato - looks like it's split. hmmm

Lots o' soon to be squash blossoms

Monday, May 17, 2010

What a difference a little heat makes

Well, less than 48 hours after my epiphany, 5 of my tomato seeds have sprouted, and one jalapeno seedling is peeking through the Mel's Mix. Yeehaw! We may be in business after all.

Tonight we are getting some much needed rain. Not sure what our rainfall has been year-to-date, but I can only assume we're down for the year. It's been very, very dry, and today it got up in the 90's for the highs. The rain has cooled things off temporarily, but it probably won't stay that way for long.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

They're back. I guess they never left.

I just thought I'd gotten rid of the little worm things, but I checked today, and they're back. Not in as high numbers, but they're still out there in my garden, and I still don't know what they are or what I need to do about them. Anyone out there know??

What are they??

My tomato plants are all starting to bud out, and so are the squash and zucchini. Still nothing from the eggplant though. Maybe they take a little longer to put off buds. I can't remember when my eggplant started blooming last year, but that was a different variety, and I got a much earlier start.

Blooming Cherokee Purple. At least I hope it is. But it could turn out to be a Green Zebra. It wasn't labeled so it's a crap shoot. Who knows I may like green tomatoes, but how do you know when they're ready to be picked??

Zuke covered in blooms. Can't wait to try out that zucchini lasagna recipe I found.

Speaking of starting on Tuesday I attempted to start some Black Cherry tomato seeds as well as some Fooled You jalapeno seeds. So far I've got bupkus on the tomatoes and jalapenos, but my dad told me peppers take a long time to sprout. The tomatoes should be up by now I would think. Part of my problem is deciding where I put them to germinate. We keep our house pretty cool, and though it's warm during the day outside at night it's still getting down in the upper 60's. I've read to put them on top of the fridge, but our fridge is cold.

Wait! I just had an epiphany! I'll put them in our entertainment center. It's always warm in there. I think I did that last year. I really need to go back and read some of my old blog posts. That's the whole reason I started this blog - so I could remember what I did each year and learn from my mistakes and my victories.

I also planted 8 okra seeds I saved from last year's neglected plants. I was pleased as punch when I went out to the garden this morning and saw that one had sprouted!! It's my first sprout from my own saved seed. How awesome is that?! Not sure how the germination rate is going to be, I just picked the old okra, put them in a ziploc bag, set them on the kitchen countertop and forgot about them til this week. We'll see.

Baby okra. Will it soon be joined by its siblings?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Apparently it's not the card; it's the card reader

Was finally able to download the pics off my camera. Guess my card reader is on the fritz...

The culprit - the only worm I could find after I got home from work and took pics, and this one was dead. Hopefully the problem had been squashed. (Sorry for the bad pun. I couldn't resist)

Withered part of plant. Not sure if the worms caused the damage or careless humans did it when watering....

Little blooms on the squash. yippee!

As the worm turns

So I think I mentioned that I bought some floating row covers to protect my squash and zucchini from insects. Imagine my dismay when I went out to the garden Wednesday morning to discover my squash plants infested with a bunch of worms!! They were little tiny tan colored worms - at least a hundred of them all over the plants and in the dirt. So I started picking them out and squishing/tossing them on the ground and stomping. They were not soft and squishy worms. They were kinda hard like a millipede. I'm still trying to figure out what they were. I took a picture, but apparently my brand new sd card has decided to go kaput. argh!

I also found a lot of little black eggs all over the plants, so I wiped those off as best I could. So far I haven't seen any more of the little worms, but I'm trying to be more vigilant. I found a few of the worms and eggs on the zukes, but apparently these worms have more of an appetite for crookneck squash.

On the bright side my squash and zukes have pretty well doubled in size, and it appears they have a few little buds on them. Can't wait til they start flowering - and even better - til the fruit starts ripening.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The coast is clear

Well, it's been about a week and no more mysterious holes have been dug in my garden boxes. Perhaps whatever burrowed in there last week got a taste of 110 volts on his/her way out, and decided not to come back. Whatever the reason, I'm just happy that the electric fence is working - so far.

Made a call over to Lufkin Farm Nursery on Thursday, and, sadly, they had not received any Fooled You pepper plants, and the lady who answered the phone informed me they wouldn't be getting any more this season. :( Once I recovered from my sadness of hearing that bad news, I ordered some Fooled You seeds from The reviews over at Dave's Garden Watchdog were positive, so I'm looking forward to receiving the seeds some time this week. According to what I learned it takes about 60 days before the plants start producing, so at best, I'll have some peppers in mid-July. I guess that's not too bad, and we have such a long growing season I should be able to keep harvesting them til late fall. But I am disappointed I won't have any peppers sooner. Guess that's what I get for waiting too late to get started gardening. Yet another reason to get an early start next year!

After reading more about the garden pests that are harmful to squash and zucchini, I learned about the dreaded Squash Bug. It seems the squash bug is a fairly hearty bug that sucks the lifeblood out of squash plants. They don't have many natural predators, and I'm trying to garden as organically as possible (within reason and within the confines of my limited patience), so I decided to order a floating row cover to keep the bugs off my plants altogether. I only have 4 crookneck and 4 zucchini plants. The loss of one plant could prove devastating to our potential yield.

My row cover came in today, so I got to spend a little time in the garden cutting it up and putting it over the squash and zucchini. I ordered a 118" X 50' row cover, and just cut out what I thought I'd need to cover each box and allow for plant growth. I tucked the excess cover down between the interior of the box and the Mel's mix. It's probably gonna be a real pain to water the plants from now on, but if I can prevent squash bugs, I guess the extra effort is worth it.

While I was in the garden I also went ahead and mulched the tomatoes and eggplants with pine bark mulch to help with moisture control. I would have mulched the squash too, but I ran out of mulch. However, while I was putting up my tools, I did notice another bag under the barn. Guess I have a little project for tomorrow. Of course, that means untucking the row cover, and spreading the mulch around, then retucking the cover. Maybe the row cover will help with moisture control, and I won't need the mulch???

Covered zucchini - the row cover is very thin and gauzy

I think that's a squash under there

The mulched maters and eggplants

More mulched maters

The cover Charlie built for the electric fence to keep out the rain (when we get it)