Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Watering the Compost Pile

Back in the fall, we started working with Oklahoma State University's office of sustainability to collect some of the produce scraps generated by the Student Union and other dining units on campus.  I wrote a blog entry about it in October of last year.

This has been a hugely successful endeavor for us.  We use the produce scraps to add wet material to our compost piles which, along with the bagged leaves that Tom has gathered around town, has helped to keep our compost "cooking" all winter.  This is evidenced by the temperature of one of the compost piles last week.

Currently, we have 3 compost piles in different stages of decomposition.  The one below is finished compost waiting to be used on the garden.  This one was started last summer.

Next, is the one that had the compost thermometer reading of 160+ in the first picture.

We have stopped adding new material to this one and are letting it "cook".  We turn it with the tractor every couple of weeks to help keep it aerated.  In a couple of months it should be ready to use ... just in time for planting the garden this spring.

Finally, the one we are just starting has a lot of fibrous stalks from tomatoes, okra and pepper plants that died after the first frost last fall.  It is shown below.  Notice all the OSU produce scraps, pineapple tops, citrus peels, etc.  This one has a long way to go.  

One of the things necessary to get a compost pile going is water.  It hasn't rained in a good while and the produce scraps aren't wet enough to supply enough moisture.  So, I recently drug a hose out there and gave it a good watering.

It took two hoses to reach out to the pile from the nearest hydrant.  So, I got a good workout just wrangling the hoses around! 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Horticulture Industry Show - 2014

We have attended the Oklahoma/Arkansas Horticulture Industry Show (HIS) several times since we began market gardening.  It is sponsored by the University of Arkansas and Oklahoma State University and alternates meeting between Fort Smith, AR, and Tulsa, OK.  This year it was in Tulsa and we attended.  There is something for everyone there.  Here's a link to information about this year's meeting.  Click on the link to the agenda under "Program and Registration" about half-way down the page.

This year they had a tour of a community garden sponsored by the north Tulsa DHS office.  It was very interesting.  Here are some pictures I took at the event.

In the above picture, they were demonstrating the use of black plastic film used over the beds to help warm the soil and prevent weeds.  In the spring, you punch a hole in the plastic and set your  tomato or pepper plants in the ground beneath.  We don't use plastic like this in our gardens because it is a mess to clean up and get rid of in the fall.  Plus, it just adds more trash to the landfill.

They also demonstrated the use of frost cover over winter crops to protect them from the cold.  In the first picture, notice the white PVC hoops.  They cover these hoops with a lightweight material that allows air and light in, but protects the plants.

We thoroughly enjoyed the meetings and the many topics that were covered.  They also produce a CD of all the Power Point presentations that were made there.  Everyone who attends gets a copy of the CD in the mail.  This is great since there are multiple talks going on at one time and you can't go to them all.  I highly encourage anyone who is interested in gardening to think about going next year.  Just check the link I gave above for information on next years show.  It should be available starting in November or there about.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Birds Aplenty

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry showing the many different kinds of bird-feeders we put out for the birds each winter.

Well, we are still at it and today I have pictures of some of the different kinds of birds we've had this fall and winter.

First is a picture of a Downy Woodpecker.  He is the one on the suet feeder.  You can't see it in this picture, but he has a little bit of red on the back of his head. 

Next, a picture of some Gold Finches.  They usually travel in large flocks.  In the spring, the males turn a bright yellow and are just gorgeous with those contrasting black and white feathers on their wings.

A supply of water is also much needed in the winter.  In the following picture a couple of Bluebirds are enjoying a bath on a mild day.  Bluebirds prefer insects and do not frequent our seed feeders.  They do, however, enjoy fruits of various wild plants when insects are scarce in the winter months. Some preferred winter food sources include wild grape, dogwood, hawthorn, sumac, and hackberry seeds.  They will also eat the fruits of Virginia creeper, honeysuckle, eastern red cedar and pokeberries.  In fact, the availability of a winter food source will often determine whether or not Bluebires migrate.  

We also have crows and doves that come to eat the corn Tom puts out for the deer. Below are some of the crows, they are very large birds and very smart.

One time we had a large flock of black birds come visit us.  The tell-tale long tails indicate most of these are common Grackles.  We've had a few Red-winged Blackbirds, too, but I don't have pictures of those.

Finally, during the fall we had a flock of Painted Waxwings visit us for a few days.  I was delighted to have them because they are some of my favorite birds.  They travel in flocks and announce their presence with high-pitched sort of "hissy" whistles.  These whistles are what first called my attention to this flock high in one of our trees.

Some of them visited our birdbath.  The following picture shows a couple of waxwings along with a gold finch.  The waxwings are the ones with the black stripe above their eyes.  It looks like they are wearing mascara!  The term "waxwing" comes from the fact that they have bright red tips on the ends of their wing feathers that look like they have been dipped in wax.  The red wing tips on these birds are hidden by the lip of the birdbath.

The following site is great for identifying birds.  It also has recordings to show you what the birds sound like.  Here's the information for Cedar Waxwings found on the site.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Preserving Garden Goodness - Parsley

I always grow some parsley in my garden.  It is packed with nutrition and is an ingredient called for in many recipes.  I tend to tuck it here and there in my garden.  Here is some that I planted in a bare spot in a row of lettuce.

Parsley did well this past summer.  We had more rain and it wasn't as hot as the previous two years.  So, I ended up with an over-abundance of it.  I hate to have anything go to waste, so I looked for ways to preserve it.  There seemed to only be 2 options:  drying and freezing.  

I know from experience that parsley loses a lot of flavor when it is dried.  So, I went with the other option .... freezing.  I have never tried freezing parsley before and found several references to chopping it up and freezing it in a bit of water in ice cube trays.  That sounded easy and I was about ready to try it when I found the method I'm going to describe in this blog entry which I really like because you end up with a product that is almost as good as fresh parsley.  Here's what you do.

First, wash the parsley and pull the leaves off the the stems.

Get a quart-size plastic freezer bag and label it with the date.

Stuff the parsley in the bag and squeeze out as much of the air as you can.

Then roll it up tightly into a "log", put a rubber band around it and pop it in the freezer.

When you get ready to use it, just remove the log from the freezer bag and cut off the amount you need for your recipe.

Put the remainder back in the freezer bag, roll it up and put it back in the freezer.  I've found this is the next best thing to having fresh parsley.  Give it a try if you find you have extra parsley in your frig about to go to waste.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Ice Storm

A couple of weeks ago we had an ice storm.  Fortunately, the temperature hovered just below freezing when the precipitation was falling and the ground remained warm enough to keep ice from freezing on the roads.  So, what we ended up with was a landscape where all the exposed surfaces were covered with ice while the roads remained ice-free.  This made for some amazing scenery.  I ventured outside to take some pictures and here they are.

Icicles hanging from the roof.

Ice covered stems on a crepe myrtle bush by our front porch.

Ice covered seed pods on the same bush.

Ice covered grass clump.

Trees across our fence by the creek.

Sunrise over an icy landscape.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Free Mulch

A few weeks ago I wrote about our home recycling efforts and mentioned that we hauled our recyclables to the municipal recycling center near where we live.

Earlier this week, we hauled our recyclables to the recycling center.  Here is a picture of the bins at the recycling center.  Each bin holds one type of recyclable item.....paper, plastic, cardboard, etc.  

While we were there, we noticed they had a fresh pile of free mulch consisting of chipped tree limbs, bark, etc. They don't have mulch all the time.  It depends on whether the city crews have been out trimming trees or clearing brush.  

When they have fresh mulch, like this, it usually goes pretty fast.  And, since we only haul our recyclables there about once a month, then we miss it most of the time.  I was determined to not let this opportunity pass us by.  So, we headed home to get shovels and then back to the recycling center to load up.

The mulch pile was as tall as the truck!

Tom climbed up on the pile in order to make loading easier.

We used most of the mulch in the walkways between our raised and around our Chaste Trees.

But, we have a small pile left that I will put to good use this spring.