Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Garlic

One of our best selling items at the farmers market last summer was garlic.  Not the mild little generic garlic that you see in the supermarket.  But, garlic with names like Romainian Red, Persian Star and German Extra Hardy.  I'm not a garlic expert, but I can tell you that these are much more flavorful than the generic supermarket garlic.  The Romainian Red is a hot, pungent garlic that brought some of our customers back week after week for more.

Most people assume that you plant garlic in the spring, like onions and other vegetables.  But that is not the case.  In Oklahoma, garlic should be planted in October.  In fact, most seed companies will not even ship it to you until after September 1.  

We order most of our garlic from Filaree Farms.  They are located in Okanogan, WA, are organic certified and have a wide selection of different types and varieties of garlic.  They shipped our order to us the last week of September.  Planting garlic is pretty hard work, so Tom spread the work out over about a three week period devoting a couple of hours several times a week to planting garlic.  The garlic is shipped to you as "heads".  Heads consist of several "cloves".  You break the heads apart into the individual cloves and the cloves are what you plant.

After planting, it takes 2 to 3 weeks before the garlic sends leaves up through the soil seeking the light.  At that time, Tom mulches it with leaves or pine needles.  This year he planted oats between the rows as a winter cover crop.   Now that we've had several killing frosts, the garlic looks pretty sad.  See below.

The leaves have been nipped back pretty badly by the cold weather.  One would think that it is ruined.  However, once the weather warms up in the spring, this garlic will come to life and begin growing again. 

By June it will be ready for harvest.  You know it is ready to harvest when the tops begin to die.  It is a lot of fun and quite exciting to dig the garlic.  It seems like magic to see how one small clove has grown into a head of garlic that may be a couple of inches or more in diameter!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Leaf Mountain

We use a lot of leaves for mulching and for incorporating into our clay-based soil to add organic matter.   However, even though we have some large trees west of the house, most of the leaves that fall off them blow away.  Remember our name....Windy Acres!  Therefore, we have to get the leaves elsewhere. 

During the fall, Tom keeps an eye out for leaves that people set out for the trashmen and will pick them up and bring them home when he finds some.  Here is a picture of what we have accumulated so far in our "leaf bank".

I suspect that by spring this pile will be 2 - 3 times as big!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thornless Cacti

We have moved most of our potted plants into the hoophouse for the winter.  Remember the hoophouse is our big unheated greenhouse.  We grow lettuce, spinach and other greens in it during the winter months.  These will survive the cold just fine in there......although, during the coldest part of the winter, they don't grow very much. 

Among the potted plants that we have moved in there this year are the rose bushes that I started from cuttings I took on Mother's Day weekend (see May 30th post) and some lilac bushes that I didn't get set out this fall.  But, the most interesting plants that are spending the winter in the hoophouse are some "thornless" cacti.  Here they are.

My son in the Dallas area is a math teacher, but he should have majored in horticulture because he has a flare for landscaping and growing things.  He is the one who told me how to root those rose cuttings and he is the one who came across these thornless cacti.  If you cut a pad off of a cactus, put it in a pot of dirt and don't water it too much, then it will grow into a large cactus, like the ones you see here.  Each of these started from ONE pad.

Our son gave us one of these thornless cacti several years ago and we set it out on the south side of our house when we lived in town.  It grew into a large cactus about 3 feet tall with many pads that have yellow flowers in the spring.  I was surprised that it survived the winters this far north, but it seemed to thrive in that location.

In this picture, it looks like it has thorns, but those are soft little "leaves" that grow on the new pads each year.  They fall off as the pads mature.

All of the cacti we have in the hoophouse are from the "mother" plant above.  We sell a few of these cacti at the farmers market, but I want to plant a few of them out here at the farm too.  I just have to figure out where to put them.  I'm not very good at landscaping......maybe I need to get my son to come up here and give me some advice!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Team Tag

I've talked about Lizzy a couple of times recently.  Lizzy is our beagle.  She loves to go outside and sniff all the new smells that have been deposited since the last time she "read" the yard.  Occasionally, Sally joins her on these excursions and they make a good "tag team"..... Lizzy doing most of the work and Sally standing back waiting and hoping for her to scare up a mouse or something.

A couple of weeks ago I caught them on camera during one of their "hunts". 

As I was watching the action here, I saw a small mouse run out of the grass and escape.  But, who was I to spoil their fun!  Just figured I would wait and see how long they would keep this up.  As it turned out, this went on for quite a while with Lizzy digging a hole.
 Sally helped some....just enough to get her nose dirty.
They never found the mouse, but they wore themselves out trying and had to take a long nap afterwards to regain their strength.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Greenhouse

Ever since we moved from our house in town we have missed our little greenhouse in the back yard that was just a few steps from the house.  This summer Tom became acquainted with one of the Mennonite men who has a plant nursery and sells flowers and bedding plants at the Farmers Market.  This fellow also builds greenhouses and decks.  We went to look at a large greenhouse that one of the other farmers market vendors purchased from him and were very impressed.  We don't need one that large, but he builds smaller ones, too.

Tom stewed about buying one of the smaller ones all summer.  Finally, in October, he decided to use some of the money we've made this year from our Farmers Market endeavor to buy an 8X12 greenhouse.  Here's a picture of it.

We had them put it next to the house.  You cannot see very well, but there is about 2 feet between it and the house.  Notice that it is located so that we can walk into it from under the patio cover so in bad weather we won't get wet going to and from it.

You can't see the sliding door that leads out onto the patio from the house; nor can you see the patio itself. But, there is a strip of dirt between the patio and the greenhouse. We plan to build a deck to cover this area. We had this area covered by a conglomeration of mismatched paving stones and bricks. These were uneven and somewhat of a safety hazard!  I've been wanting to do something about this area ever since we moved here and am looking forward to finally making it into a nice enjoyable outdoor area.

Once the greenhouse was in place, we had a dump truck bring in a load of gravel and we put about 6 inches of gravel over the floor of the greenhouse.  This will keep it from getting muddy when we water plants and will also act as a "heat sink" to collect heat during the day and release it at night.

I was pretty impressed with the dump truck.  Guess I've never seen one up that close.  The guy in the picture is standing in the door of the truck while he is dumping the gravel so he can keep an eye on the electric lines above. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Wildlife

Our wildlife camera continues to amaze me with pictures of deer and other animals.  A couple of weeks ago we captured this picture of a herd of 5 deer eating the corn that Tom puts out for them.

The wildlife camera is motion activated and has an infrared flash so it does not scare the animals away.  All you see when it "flashes" is a red light on the camera itself.  Even with just this little bit of light, you can tell that most animals notice it and some of them look somewhat alarmed.  These deer, however, have been coming to eat the corn for several weeks now and seem to have become accustomed to it.

All of the deer in the above picture appear to be female or else too young to have antlers.  And, I've been wondering why we have not seen any bucks . . . UNTIL this week when the camera captured a picture of this big guy.

Isn't he magnificent!  It is hard to believe that all these deer come to eat just a few yards from the house every night.

The little coyote that I wrote about on October 25 has not been back and we've not seen any pictures of raccoons this year.  Last winter we had lots of pictures of raccoons.  So, I'm wondering where they are hanging out this year.  However, we did get a picture of one animal that we've not seen before.  See below.

No, not the deer....the little black and white animal to the right of the deer.  It's a skunk!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Compost Dog

Lizzy is our beagle.  We don't know how old she is because she was a stray that we found running around our neighborhood in town in 2004.  She was a grown dog, perhaps 4-5 years old at the time.   So, she  is probably at least 10. 

Beagles are hounds and were bred to be hunting dogs to sniff out small animals.  We had never had a hound as a pet before we got Lizzy and I'll have to tell you that they are a different kind of dog.  For one thing, they have the "melodious voice of the hound" as I read in one book.  Lizzy doesn't just bark; she bays.  But the main difference between hounds and other kinds of dogs is their sense of smell is so much more acute.  In fact, Lizzy's nose rules her whole being.  Sally, our other dog, can be allowed outside and will rarely venture off our 5 acres.  But, we can't do that with Lizzy.  She has to be on a leash or watched very carefully because she might catch the scent of a rabbit or other small animal and be gone in a matter of seconds.

Lizzy loves to explore our compost pile.  We have a small compost pile near my herb garden where we put our kitchen waste, weeds we pull out of the beds and things like that.  But we found that we had way too much composting matter for the small one.  So, we decided to pile all this stuff out in the field where we could turn it with the tractor. 

Here are some pictures of Lizzy investigating the compost pile.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Recycled Coffee Grounds

Our local Starbucks recycles their coffee grounds by bagging them up in large bags and setting them in a container by the door for people to take and use in their gardens.  We don't go to Starbucks very often to drink coffee.  But, Tom goes there a couple of times a week to pick up these free bags of coffee grounds.  A full bag weighs about 5 pounds.  Here's pictures of what they look like:

Coffee grounds have up to 2 percent nitrogen, some phosphoric acid and varying amounts of potassium, all of which are great for plants.  Coffee grounds are on the acidic side and thus have a low pH.  Your garden soil should be close to neutral.  Since much of Oklahoma has soil that is on the alkaline side, it is okay to add coffee grounds directly to the soil.  The coffee grounds will help to neutralize the soil.  But, you should not go overboard on this.  If in doubt, you can take a sample of your soil to the local county extension office and have a soil test run.

Of course if you are growing blueberries or azalias or other plants that like acidic soil, then you can probably add as many coffee grounds as you want!

You can put coffee grounds in your compost pile, too.  To balance out the pH when adding coffee grounds to your compost pile, I've read that adding a cup of agricultural lime to every ten pounds of grounds is a good rule of thumb.

I appreciate Starbucks and their efforts to recycle and keep as much waste out of the landfill as possible.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Official End of Summer

We had a frost this week that killed our tomatoes, peppers, climbing okra and basil.  Brace yourself.  What you are about to see is pretty gruesome.

Above is the climbing okra (actually a gourd that people cook like okra).  You can see one of the large ones that Tom is saving for seed in the lower left.  Below is a picture of some bell pepper plants.

To the left of the pepper plants is some arugula (a spicy green that can be used in salads).  Notice that it was not hurt at all by the frost and we took a lot of it to the market today. 

Most herbs, except for basil, are fairly cold tolerant, too, and will survive unscathed until it gets really cold.  Then they will go dormant for the winter, but will come out in the spring.  Here's a picture of some herbs that survived the frost.  This shows catnip, chives, sorrel and just a little oregano on the extreme left edge.

Even some flowering plants are fairly hardy.  Below is a picture of a Purple Basil plant next to some Lamb's Ear.  The Lamb's Ear survived the frost just great....the Purple Basil did not!

The first frost of the season brings a certain amount of see the vegetables and herbs that one has cultivated and nurtured through the hot, dry summer die overnight.  But, then by this time of year, we are also pretty tired and ready for a rest. 

By January, though, we'll be looking at seed catalogs and dreaming of what we are going to plant next year.....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coyote and Other Wildlife

We got new batteries and put our wildlife camera back out a couple of weeks ago.  It is motion activated and uses infrared light to take pictures in the dark.  We bought it as a Christmas gift for ourselves last year in December and had it out until early this summer.   We totally enjoyed it last winter and caught pictures of lots of deer and some smaller animals, like racoons and birds. 

We attract the deer by putting out corn for them.  You may know that hunters lure deer close to their deer blinds by putting out corn for them.  We, of course, have NO intention of shooting them, except with a camera!

I was somewhat surprised (and disappointed) last year that we caught no pictures of coyotes on the camera because we hear them often at night and many times they sound very close by.  So, you can imagine my delight this afternoon when I brought the camera in and found we had captured a coyote on film (digital film that is).  Here he/she is:

There were 3 other pictures of a coyote, probably the same one, taken on different days and times.    We also had pictures of deer.
And finally, Sally, the dog, and Marmaduke, the cat, got in on the action.

I'm looking forward to seeing what other animals we catch this year.  It should be fun.  I'll keep you informed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bodark Tree

We have a Bodark tree on our land.  It is known by a variety of other names, including Osage Orange, horseapple and hedgeapple.  It's a rather large tree and probably many years old.  Here is a picture of it from a distance.

And here is a picture of me standing beside it.

That's our beagle "Lizzy" with me. 

The word Bodark is a pronunciation derived from the French phrase "bois d'arc" meaning "wood of the bow".  French traders and explorers named it this because they found Native Americans using this tree's wood to make bows.  In addition to making excellent bows, it also resists rot so that it makes good fence posts which made its wood prized by early settlers.

The fruit of the Bodark tree looks like a green orange, thus the name Osage Orange.  Squirrels love them and will shred and scatter the pulp to get at the seeds.  Also, as the name "horseapple" implies, horses will eat them if there is a Bodark tree in their pasture.  Here is a picture of one of the fruit.

The tree can be a pain (literally) in that it has thorns.  This was, however, a desirable trait by early settlers before the invention of barbed wire.  One could create a "hedge row" of these trees by planting them close together so that their flexible lower branches could be interwoven creating an almost impenetrable barrier to large animals.  In fact, some historians credit the Bodark's thorns for inspiring the invention of barbed wire.  Here's a picture of some of the thorns.
The wood of the tree is yellow and a yellow dye can be made of the roots.  This fact found an industrial application for coloring the khakis worn by the "doughboys" of World War I.

Needless to say, I have gained a new respect for this tree after reading about its history.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Castor Beans

Last spring a friend who was cleaning out some of her flower beds invited me to come over and help myself to some of the clumps of daylilies and other things that needed thining.  Amoung the things I came back with were some castor bean plants. 

Tom was happy that I had brought these home because he said he had read where they helped to repel deer.  However, he cautioned me that the seeds were poisonous, so not to think we could eat them.  Well, I was not familiar with castor beans and really did not know what to expect of them.   But, this had peaked my curiousity and was I in for a surprise!

Tom took most of them out to the garden and planted them around at various places.  I'm not sure they helped much to repel deer.  (See my post of September 14 about the peppers that the deer grazed on.)  However, I saved one to plant near my herb garden. 

This thing grew into the most awesome plant.  It is taller than me (over 5' 4") and has huge leaves about the size of dinner plates that are dark purple when they are young and turn to a sort of greenish purple as they age.  It is a very striking plant and is quite pretty.  Here is a picture of it.

The flowers of the plant are very strange looking.  You can see a couple of flower stalks through the foliage of the plant.  But, here is one close up.

I didn't know what to expect the seeds to look like and, again, this plant surprised me.  The seeds grow inside marble-sized, spiny pods.  You can see some of these in the above picture.  These pods dry and become hard.  There are three seeds in each pod.  See below.

The seeds are grayish, streaked with black and shiny.  Although they look like beans, they are not even related to beans or the legume family and they are, in fact, deadly for one to eat.  This is why many people cut the flower stems off before they produce seed.

The Latin name for the castor plant is Ricinus communisCommunis means common in Latin and Ricinus is the Latin word for tick.  Apparently, it is so named because the seeds look somewhat like ticks, particularly large ticks engorged with blood.  Yuck!  I think that thought alone would keep me from eating them!

Anyway, castor plants purportedly repel moles.  And, there are a number of industrial applications for castor oil.  When dehydrated, castor oil is converted into a quick-drying oil used extensively in paints and varnishes.  In fact, one of the largest single uses for castor oil in the United States is in the paint and varnish industry.  Some experts say that dehydrated castor oil has qualities superior to linseed oil and tung oil.  Castor oil also has water resistant qualities that make it ideal for coating fabrics and for protective coverings, insulation, food containers, and guns.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Buy Fresh, Buy Local Food Guide

The market where Tom and I sell is located in Stillwater and  is run by the Payne County Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of which we are members.  One of the rules of our market is that only produce grown in Payne or one of the surrounding counties can be sold there.   So, you won't find spinach from California or cantaloupe from Texas at our market.   You will only find produce that is "in season" in this area for sale at our market.  For example, you won't find corn in April or strawberries in August.

Customers who are new to the market sometimes find this frustrating.  But, after we explain that they can always be assured of the freshest produce that has not traveled hundreds (or thousands) of miles to get here, then they come to appreciate how unique our market is in this regard.  

A national movement called "Buy Fresh Buy Local" has been ongoing for the last few years, and a chapter was recently organized in Payne County.  The chapter has produced a 12 page food guide that lists the farmers markets in this area along with the farmers who participate in these markets.  It has different sections for vegetables, herbs, eggs, meat, etc.  So, you can easily find a local producer for just about anything you want to buy.

You can find a link to this food guide on the following web site: 

Click on "Payne County Region - Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Guide".  This may take a few minutes to download, but then you can print it off or save it to your computer so you can refer to it often.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life of a Sunflower

We planted some "domesticated" sunflowers earlier this year and I posted a picture of one of them in an earlier post.  They have matured, lost all their petals and are in the process of making seed.  They are really pretty ugly at this point in their lives.  Today, Tom cut the seed heads off of them to save for the birds to eat this winter.  Pretty soon, he will plant garlic where they have been.

But there are still a bunch of wild sunflowers around here and they really are very pretty.  I've been bringing bouquets of them in the house to cheer up my kitchen and have had a chance to observe the "life of a sunflower".  They go through stages as illustrated below:

On the right, you see a fresh sunflower.  Notice how its center is dark brown.  After a couple of days, the there are tiny little yellow flowers that "bloom" in the center.  You can see these tiny flowers if you click on the picture to make it bigger.  These little flowers produce copious amounts of pollen!   See just a small portion of the pollen produced by a bouquet below.  No wonder the bees love them!

The flower on the left in the first picture is on its last legs.  The petals have shriveled and the flower is drying up. 

It is wonderful to witness the life stages of animals and plants around the farm.  This summer I've watched many black swallow-tail butterfly caterpillars chomping on my parsley.  It is amazing how fast they grow.  Other things take much longer to go through their life cycle.  Since the weather is cooler, I've noticed just the slightest hint of red in some of the trees and bushes along the road.  Soon they will drop their leaves and go to sleep for the winter.  Then it will all start over next spring.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Four O'clocks

I love Four O'clocks.  You know what they are, right?  They are those perennial flowers that bloom late in the afternoon (thus the name Four o'clocks).  They attract night flying insects, especially those big moths that look like hummingbirds.  And, they have the most heavenly smell.  I've noticed that they don't begin to put off this scent until almost dark. 

I had a nice patch of them at our house in town, but didn't manage to dig any up to bring with me when we moved to the farm.  So, I was kind of bummed out about this last year and missed my Four O'clocks.  Then, a friend that I know through the Stillwater Community Singers came by the farmer's market this spring and told me she was cleaning out her flower beds and I could have some of the plants she was culling.  Well, I am somewhat of a scavenger anyway, so I jumped at the chance for some free flowers. 

As it turned out some of the loot I got were Four O'clock tubers!!  Hooray!  I planted them right beside our patio and have been making a point to go out and sit on the patio every evening for a while to enjoy the wonderful aroma of my Four O'clocks. 

Here's a picture of them.

This was taken during the day, so there were not many blossoms on the plants.  At night, there are a lot more.  Also, you cannot really see how big this plant is.  It is about 2 feet tall and grows from a large tear-shaped tuber.  Four O'clocks are notorious for coming up volunteer.  So, you may want to watch where you plant them.  This one is not planted in a flower bed.  I just stuck it in the ground right beside the patio.  So, if volunteer seedlings come up, that will be fine.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wild Grapes?

We have what looks like a grape vine growing on the fence that runs along the road.  The other day I noticed it had small light purple fruit on it.  Here's a picture of the fruit.

(Click on the picture to make it bigger)

As you can see, these don't look anywhere near like the grapes you get in the supermarket.  But, I got to wondering if you could eat them.

One web site I found that talked about wild grapes was by Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia

All this says about eating them is that wild grapes are "not often eaten by people".  But, apparently, a lot of animals eat them and use them for shelter.  In fact, it says that "there are few plants which feed so many different animals".  I can see how these vines might become a problem in some situations.  But, it sounds to me like the benefits to wildlife far outweigh their liabilities.  So, I'm all for keeping them and letting them grow on our fence!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Deer Damage

Earlier this spring I posted a picture of a deer taken by our wildlife camera.   We put the camera away early in the summer and will probably put it back up this fall.  Anyway, we've not seen any deer this summer, but we have seen evidence of them.

Tom was showing me a pepper plant that looked like it had the top stems cut off with clippers.   Here is what I am talking about.

I would not have believed that this was done by deer until he showed me incriminating evidence, a deer track!

I don't mind sharing a few pepper leaves with the deer. They really don't hurt the plants much.  In fact, it seems that it might spur the plants to produce more growth.

The odd thing is that deer apparently like some types of pepper plants and not others.  The pepper plant above is an Anaheim pepper.  And, they have eaten the tops off of several of these.   However, there is a row of Jalepeno peppers right beside these that have not been touched!  I find that rather amusing.  I have this picture in my mind of these deer strolling through the field as if they are sampling items on a salad bar.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chaste Tree

I have a dear friend who has a beautiful flower garden.  I have always admired her skill of being able to put plants in the right places so that they complement each other.  And, she has a talent for knowing when various flowers are going to bloom so that there is always something in bloom in her garden from early spring until late fall.

Last year she gave me several Chaste Trees that she started from seed off a large one that she has beside her house.  They are very special to me, so I have taken a lot of time to decide where to plant them.  This spring I set 3 of them out near my herb garden, one at the end of each bed.  They are still small, but they still bloomed this year.  Here's a picture of one of them.

I love the beautiful shade of blue of their flowers and wanted to know more about them and how they got their name.  I found that they are Native to southern Europe and central Asia and that they quickly grow into a multi-trunked tree about 10 to 20 feet tall.  They have a broad, spreading habit and get their name from the erroneous medieval belief that a potion made from them could curb the libido.  I also found that the Chaste tree is one of the very few winter-hardy trees out there that sports true blue flowers.  The tree is also said to have some medicinal value in treating PMS and menopausal symptoms. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Can you see me now?

Tom cut some sunflowers this afternoon for us to sell at the farmers market tomorrow.  While I was trimming them up and putting them in water, a small beautiful little yellow spider fell off one of them onto the kitchen counter.  Here's a picture of it.

It is exactly the same color at the sunflower petals.  Can you see it in the picture below?

It is in about the 4:00 position on the sunflower.  I've been trying to figure out what kind of spider it is and have determined it is some sort of crab spider.

They are called crab spiders because they look a lot like crabs, having two powerful front pairs of legs angled outward and bodies that are flattened and often angular. Also, like crabs, they can move either sideways or backwards with ease

Crab spiders do not build webs to catch prey, but are hunters and ambushers and use camouflage-hunting techniques to trap their prey.  Obviously, this little guy is making good use of the camouflage technique.

Individuals of some species of crab spider can change color to match the flower on which they are sitting. It is, however, a very slow process that can take days.   I assume this spider may be one of these since his color matches the sunflower so closely.

There are over 3000 species of crab spiders! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Heading into Fall

On January 24th, I posted a picture of spinach growing in our cold frames to illustrate how you can continue to garden through the winter.  After we pulled the spinach out of the cold frames this spring, we planted tomatoes in them.   This worked out well because we could close the lids when the plants were small to protect them against late frosts.

The tomato plants did quite well, but quit producing when the hot weather hit and have suffered for the last few weeks.  Usually tomatoes perk up when cooler weather comes and may put on a new crop of green tomatoes.  But these rarely have time to get ripe before it frosts.  So, this past weekend Tom and I pulled them up and planted lettuce seed. 

Even though it is still hot and seems like summer will never end, the days are getting shorter, the shadows are getting longer and it is time to plant a fall garden.  With lettuce, you have to protect it from the heat and water it every day until it gets established.  We have "shade" cloth that we put over the beds.  We leave the lids up and clip the shade cloth to the frame with large plastic spring clips like this:

I've been very diligent to go out and water the beds every evening and today I was rewarded by seeing tiny lettuce plants.

You can click on the picture to enlarge it and see the little plants better.

These plants will grow very rapidly when the weather cools off and we should have some nice lettuce to sell at the Farmers Market later this fall. 

After you garden for a few years, you get in tune with how the seasons ebb and flow.  And you learn to anticipate the new vegetables and fruits that come with the arrival of each one.  Just as I anticipated and craved fresh blackberries in June, I now look forward to fresh lettuce in a few weeks.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rabbit Watch

There is a drama that is occasionally played out here on the farm.  This summer there has been a rabbit that comes out early in the morning and late in the afternoon and eats grass and sometimes just lays around in front of our shop building.  The building is located behind the house.  You have a good view of the building and the rabbit from our back porch.

I like to spend a few minutes drinking coffee on the back porch before I go to work in the mornings (normally about 6:45).  Sally, one of our dogs, usually joins me out there and she has begun to take notice of this rabbit as well.  Here she is watching the rabbit.  Her ears are at attention and are about as big as the rabbit's ears!

Most days she is content just to watch the rabbit, but occasionally it will do something that triggers her predator instinct and she starts to stalk it like this:

Now rabbits are wild creatures and only survive in the wild by being ever vigilant.  So, I can assure you that by the time Sally gets into her stalking mode, the rabbit is already aware of her and her intentions.  It is really funny to watch because Sally will slink out toward the rabbit in plain view.  The rabbit never seems very concerned but will eventually run off into the brush on the other side of the shop.  At this point, Sally runs as fast as she can, but never even gets close to the rabbit.  Here she is as she chases after the rabbit.

Sally returns after a couple of minutes all out of breath and panting hard.  She has already done a hard days work.  And, we can breathe a sigh of relief that she has once again saved us from the evil rabbit that lurks in the bushes!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Black and Yellow Argiope

If you are afraid of spiders, you might ought to stop reading here because the blog tonight is about spiders.  This is the time of year for spiders.  You have probably noticed (or run into) the webs that are being spun by those huge spiders that like to make their webs right across your doorway every night.

Tom has been telling me about a couple of spiders that have webs out in the garden.  So, today I went out there to take a look.  I was delighted to find a Black and Yellow Argiope, one of those big spiders that builds a web that has a zig zag pattern in the middle.  Actually, I didn't know what it was called until I came back to the house and did a Google search for "spider zig zag web".  Tom says there are 4 of them are at different places around the farm.  This one  made its web between the rows of tomato plants.

I wish you could see the spider a little better.  It is really beautiful.  Black with yellow spots and black legs.  These spiders eat flying insects that get trapped in the web, mainly aphids, flies, grasshoppers, bees, and wasps.   They prefer sunny places to build their webs and each night they eat their web and build a new one. 

I'm fascinated with spiders because there are so many different kinds and they spin many different kinds of webs.  This spider is called and "orb web" spider because its web is circular.  There are even spiders that carry their young around on their backs!

Maybe I should have been a entomology major instead of a math major.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Water-saving device

I'm somewhat embarrassed to share this.  But since this blog is about gardening sustainably, and saving water fits in with that, I thought "What the Heck!".  So, here goes.

As I've mentioned before, the house out here on the farm needed some TLC when we moved in.  We spent most of last year working on the windows, new roof, new siding, new geothermal heating and A/C system.  So, finally, this summer we started on the inside.  The first project was redoing the downstairs den.  I'm not a fan of carpet and my goal is to get rid of all the carpet in the house.  So, we started out by ripping up the carpet in the den, putting down new porcelain tile and painting the room.  This took about 6 weeks to accomplish since we only had limited time to work on it at nights and on weekends.  But, it was well worth it to see the finished product.

Another project is to redo the master bathroom.  The tub and lavatory are PINK and are stained and chipped.  The tile was obviously a DIY project done by some past owner and the bathtub faucet leaks.  But, this is going to be a big project and I've decided to hire a contractor to do most of this.  So, it's going to take awhile to get all the players in place to do this project. 

In the mean time, this leaky faucet is driving me nuts.  I don't want to spend any money or time replacing it, since we'll just be tearing it out in a couple of months (hopefully).   But, I hate to see all that good water go down the drain.  I tried catching it with several different containers.  Nothing worked very well. 

Then one day I came home to find the following set up in the tub:

Tom had come up with the idea of using one of our watering cans.  The water drips directly into the snout and is ready to use to water plants whenever we need it. The can holds about 2 gallons and we empty it about twice a day. It really has come in handy during this dry spell!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jim's Climbing Okra

We have some dear friends who are a few years older than us.  We have known them for many years.   Jim does a lot of back-yard gardening.  Earlier this spring he gave me some seed that someone had given him.  He said it was "climbing okra".  Hmmmm.  Well, I had to try this, but had trouble finding room for it.  I finally decided to harvest all the lettuce in one of the cold frames and plant it there.  It was late in the spring when I finally got it planted and it took a long time to come up.  I had almost given up on it when a few plants finally poked up through the soil

Tom rigged up a trellis for it out of some short pieces of cattle panels he had on hand.  We don't have any cattle, but use cattle panels for a lot of things.  They are normally used to build pens for sheep or goats or cattle, but if you are creative, you can figure out a lot of good uses for them.  Here's a picture of one someone bent into an arch in their back yard.

Anyway, it took the climbing okra a long time to start growning, but when it did, it really took off!  Here is a picture of it now.

For the longest time, it was all leaves and no flowers.  Then a couple of weeks ago, it started blooming.  Now it has bunches of pretty yellow flowers.  I've been watching it closely for signs of any "okra".  Finally, this week I found one.  This is what it looks like:

It does look something like a piece of regular okra, but I am relatively sure this is a variety of luffa gourd.  These can be eaten when young and tender and are a standard staple in many Asian cuisines.  If you let them grow, they get rather large and develop a fibrous core that can be dried and used as a pot scrubber, hence the name "dish rag gourd".  These are also sold in many bath shops as body sponges.  We grew some one year and I sold them at the farmer's market.  I had several customers surprised to learn that these "sponges" came from a plant and not the sea.