Thursday, May 28, 2020

Baby Birds

This spring we were honored to have a pair of Eastern Phoebes select our front porch as a nesting site.  Phoebes are small flycatchers.  They have short, thin bills used for catching insects.  Their calls seem to say their name "Fee Bee".  I love these little birds!

(Photo courtesy of Epi Shemming and Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

We frequently see them perched on a fence post or other low perch from which they make short flights to capture insects, often returning to the same perch.  They like to use a shepherd's crook plant hanger near the porch where the nest is.



The nest is made of mud, straw and grass.  It is an amazing feat of engineering which was built in about 2 days time.


The female laid 4 eggs in the nest.  There were five, but apparently one of them got broken.  You can see shell remnants clinging to one of the other eggs.  This picture makes the eggs look much larger than they actually are.  In fact, they are only about half an inch long.


After a couple of weeks, four chicks hatched.


The parents were kept busy feeding them and they grew quickly.  After 3-4 days, they looked like this.


Before long, they outgrew the nest and were sitting on the edge.


And then early one morning they fledged.  I was able to get this picture of two of them before they were gone.


It was an amazing experience to watch this cycle of life unfold right in front of our eyes.  It has been about three weeks since this brood left the nest for the big wide world.  Today, I noticed the female phoebe was back on the nest.  So, looks like we are in for another brood to hatch in a couple of weeks.  

Cornell's All About Birds website is a great resource for identifying and reading about birds.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Spring Things

Back in March I wrote about the way we are starting seeds this spring.  After we downsized and moved to our new house, we lost our little green house and are using our garage.


This has worked well for our smaller garden.  Most of the plants you saw in that post have been transplanted into larger pots and moved to another area.

This week I selected a few small sweet potatoes from last fall's harvest and put them in jars of water.  In a few days they will begin to grow roots and send up leafy shoots called "slips".  When the ground is warmer, these will be transplanted directly into the soil where they will grow into mature plants and form sweet potatoes.


The  parsley that I grew in our cattle supplement tubs last year is beginning to send up flower spikes. Parsley is a biennial plant. It grows the first year it is planted producing the leaves we love so much. The second year it makes flowers and seeds.  This plant is from last year.  I will let this plant make seeds which I will harvest and plant next year. By the way, native pollinators love the flowers.
A Phoebe built a mud nest on our front porch.
Phoebes are in a class of birds called "fly catchers". In Oklahoma, we are all familiar with our state bird, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Well, there are other less showy birds in this same category. We had a pair of Phoebes at our old house. They returned year after year to build a nest above a light on one of our outbuildings. Many times I watched one of these little birds sit on top of a post or some other structure on the lookout for bugs. Suddenly it would take off and catch some unfortunate insect in mid-flight. I've not been able to get a good picture of one of these birds, so I copied this one from allaboutbirds.org.

Finally, we are beginning to get some early produce from the garden.  A couple of days ago I pulled these radishes out of the ground.  They are a little small, but I just couldn't wait!


Happy springtime everyone!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Gearing Up for Gardening

We gave up our small greenhouse when we moved to our smaller place.  However, that doesn't mean we cannot continue our gardening activities on a smaller scale.  In my last post, I showed the new raised beds we were working on.  These will be easier to maintain.  If you missed it, here's a link:


In this post, I'll talk about how we are starting seed in our garage.  First, here's a picture of our "mini" greenhouse.

I know it isn't much to look at and is a far cry from the basement in our old house that we used for seed starting.  But, it works very well.  Curious about what's inside?

We started with these little discs that we ordered online.



When you soak these in water they absorb a huge amount and pop up like this. There is a shallow indentation in the middle that makes a small hole when hydrated where you can place your seed.


If needed, I use a toothpick to make the hole bigger, place the seed in it and cover with a little of the surrounding soil.  I then set them in containers on heat mats inside the mini-greenhouse.


I put a different variety in each container.  After a few days, tomato seedlings will begin appearing.  It takes a few days longer for peppers.


In a week or so, they will  begin to grow their second set of leaves.  In the picture below, the 2 Early Girls in back of this container are at this stage.  Actually, there are 3 plants.  If the seed is old, I usually put 2 seeds in each plug.  Tomato seed is viable for several years if stored in a refrigerator.  


Now,  they can be transplanted into larger pots.  I like to remove the outer fabric even though the roots are supposed to grow through it into the surrounding soil.


In our old "life", when we were growing for the  farmers' market, we would have had 10-12 flats of tomatos and peppers.  But, this one is plenty for now!  More later.

Friday, March 13, 2020

New Raised Bed Garden

2019 was a dismal gardening year here.  The reason:  too much rain!  The ground stayed saturated for weeks at a time and, because our main garden is on the lowest part of our land, we had to plant most crops at least twice and sometimes 3-4 times before they came up.  Several of our tomato plants died and the ones that survived were stunted and never produced much fruit.  The only exception were plants that were in a couple of raised beds we built before we moved to the new house.

For this reason, we have built additional raised beds on higher ground and closer to the house.  We have spend a lot of time working on these beds. 



Here's a view from the opposite direction.


On this day, the head gardener was filling the black tubs with soil and planting blueberry bushes.  If you are not familiar with blueberries, they need a more acidic soil than most other garden plants.  So, we decided to grow them in these tubs where we could control the soil acidity better.  Most Oklahoma soils are too alkaline for blueberries.

He works so hard!  



Here's one of the bushes. 



The bed below contains asparagus.  Not much to see yet.  You normally do not plant asparagus from seed, but from "crowns".  Basically, these are one-year-old roots of asparagus plants.  As the season progresses, the crowns will send up "spears" from which the foliage of the plant grows.  You normally cut and eat the spears when they are about 8 inches long, but you shouldn't harvest them the first year because the plant needs time to get established, produce foliage and grow strong.  The foliage takes sunlight and provides photosynthesis to feed the roots helping them store nutruients to produce next year's plant.



You may have noticed in the first picture that we put cattle panels down the middle of several of the beds.


We will use these as trellises to support tomato plants and for vining plants.  It is still very early in the season and lots of work ahead.  But, I'll keep you posted on our progress.  I like to say that gardening is an "ongoing creative endeavor".  You learn from your mistakes and, if something doesn't work out this year, then you can try again next year.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cats and Raccoon

Last fall we started feeding a couple of stray cats in the pole barn.  I have hopes of getting them tame enough that we can catch them and get them spayed/neutered and vaccinated.  But, in the mean time, we are hoping they will help to keep the rodent population down around the chicken pen.

Here are some pictures of them.  I call the first one Smokey because he/she is gray and white.  This cat usually comes during the day. 


Then there is Pretty Boy (or Girl).  This one comes to eat both in the daylight and at night and usually comes around several times each day. 


And here we have Monster Cat.  At first glance, he looks a lot like Pretty Boy, except he has shorter ears and a LOT more hair.  This cat only comes around at night and usually only shows up once.


As expected, other wildlife eventually found the cat food.  Not sure you can see it, but there is a little mouse by the big food bowl.  Where are the cats????


The raccoons found the food last week and have turned out to be pretty entertaining.  This guy looks like he is posing for the camera.



In the following two pics he seems to be taking it easy, just lolling around after eating.




He's acting like he is a meercat here.  I've never seen one stand up like this!



He seems to have decided to climb the wooden frame (which happens to be a wooden frame that forms a pen used on warm days to put young chicks in to get them used to being outside and scratching in the grass).  


 I guess he decided he needed company because he showed up with a buddy one night.


We don't want to waste cat food on raccoons, so we only put the cat food out in the morning.  The cats are starting to learn that they need to come during the day or early in the evening and usually there isn't a lot left by the time the raccoons show up.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Chicken Update

After we moved to our new house, I posted this about our new chicken coop and pen:


All was well at first.  But after a while, chickens started disappearing.  We would let them out to free-range in the morning, but when we went out to shut them up in the coop that evening one would be missing.  After losing a couple of chickens, we quit letting them out of the pen.  They were NOT happy about this and would try to get out every time we opened the gate to the pen.  The pen was built with 6 foot dog fence panels and, since we always shut them up in the coop, we thought they would be safe.  After all, most critters that prey on chickens are nocturnal (or so we thought).  

One day we came home from a 4 hour trip to Oklahoma City to find 4 dead chickens in the pen and another one missing.  Whatever killed them got over the 6 foot fence in broad daylight.  This left us with only 2 chickens.  After reviewing our wildlife camera, the mystery was solved.  There was a picture of a bobcat that was taken during the day.  Obviously, we had to put wire over the top of the pen.  

This spring we basically had to start our flock over from scratch and decided on 2 breeds of chickens, Australorp and Americauna. We got six of each.  Here's a picture of them for comparison.


Australorps are solid black and lay brown eggs.  Americaunas are tan/gold/black colored and lay bluish, greenish eggs.  


Americaunas are interesting chickens because they have "whiskers".


We have begun letting them out for part of the day, usually in the afternoon.  So far, we've not lost any.  Hopefully, the bobcat has moved on. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Fall is Here

We've had crazy weather this fall.  It stayed really warm into October, a couple of light frosts, but not enough to kill most of our garden.  The tree leaves were not even beginning to turn color.  Then, suddenly we had a hard freeze.  Leaves just turned brown overnight.  Consequently, we had no fall color to speak of.  It was sort of sad.  Then, it warmed up again.  Then another hard freeze followed by a warm up.  However, I believe fall has finally arrived.  It is rainy today with a north wind blowing.

Before the first frost, I started bringing my outside plants inside.  I put most of them in our garage.  It is insulate and stays above freezing.  I'm hoping to sell most of the aloe vera plants this winter at the farmers market.  The market moves indoors during the winter and is only open Saturdays from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.  


We have lemon grass in large cattle supplement tubs.  That we also brought into the garage.

After the freeze, we tilled under all the dead plants in the garden and planted cover crops.