This is For the Birds

We had such a cold, snowy winter I worried that the local birds (especially the cardinals) wouldn’t find enough to eat.  I found some bird seed that had been a give-away at a wedding and laid it out on the back deck in a tin pie pan.  The birds thought that was wonderful.  They came by the dozens, and soon there was no seed left.

Since my little experiment had gone so well, I purchased a bird feeder and some seed.  Well, the local bird community thought that was just the best idea ever.  I must confess that I thought that having bird feeders was such an old-lady thing to do, but the whole family has really enjoyed watching the birds.  Especially the cardinals.  There’s a big cardinal we named Brutus.  He’s so fat he looks like a dirigible coming in for a landing.

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As the season has changed, so has our bird population.  Warmer weather has brought all kinds of new birds, including a bunch of rather unwelcome crows.  I have nothing against crows in general, but these fellows chase all the other birds away and completely dump the feeder every day to pick out the corn.

I read somewhere that switching over to black oil sunflower seed for a couple of weeks would discourage the crows.  They do seem to be coming by less frequently, but they still check things out.  It has only been about a week so far.  Hopefully they’ll find some new feeder soon so I can switch back to the other mix.  Black oil sunflower seed is more than twice the cost of what I was getting before.

Just so I have it documented somewhere, here’s a list of what comes around so far: cardinals, house finches, mourning doves, american goldfinches, crows, american tree sparrow, chipping sparrow, black capped chickadee, red breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, pine siskin, and carolina wren.  Some of them have stopped coming since we changed the seed.  Right now the cardinals, house finches, and american goldfinches are our primary visitors.  Maybe summer will bring us different birds.  We’ll see.

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Garden Prep Time

We had so many responsibilities in town this week that we had to skip an event, which sucks.  But the advantage of staying near home is getting a lot done.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Natalie and I went to the hardware store to buy some seed starter.  The hardware store is a dangerous place for me (and her too, it turns out!).  We bought so many seeds!  I also got yard weed & feed and some black plastic to kill off existing vegetation where I want to put a border along the back fence.

12662685_10208599242197530_3365714783705255403_nSaturday was beautiful and nearly 70 degrees.  I tried to put the weed & feed on the lawn, but my drop spreader is broken.  Fail.

So for my next trick, I rolled out a 10×25 foot stretch of black plastic, cut it in thirds lengthwise, and used yard staples to pin it to the ground along the back fence.  It’s about 45 feet too short, but it ends behind the shed which sort of looks as if we planned it.

After that, I cleaned out the near square foot garden bed.  It’s all ready to receive plants as soon as they can go in the ground outside. We probably have 7 weeks before it’s safe around here to do that.  Even though I let that bed go at the end of the year, cleaning out was just tedious, not hard.  I started on the other square foot garden bed, but gave up half-way through.  When I put that one in, I didn’t do as good a job digging out all the grass beforehand. It wasn’t so bad the first year, but last year I overwintered onions and didn’t bother to plant anything else.  And then it got ignored.

I did dig out some of the weeds after the onions were lifted, but by then the grass had found it’s way in and I gave up.  The same thing happened yesterday.  After about 40 minutes of pulling grass, I threw in the towel.  Perhaps we will have more warm days before planting time and some more weeding can get done.

Today I did some extra house cleaning because some friends were bringing by an antique screen that I bought. It looks marvelous, by the way!  I also started some peas, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and peas so they will be ready to go into the salad garden when it is warm enough.  We are also going to plant carrots, beets and radishes, but we’ll direct-sow those later, along with more peas.  The boys want watermelon, and I have lots of flowers too.  We’ll find places for it all.  And Moe promised to put two 4x4s up for me so I can plant grapes too.  Fingers crossed that I don’t kill them.

Reluctant Gardener

A friend of mine went to the Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh this weekend and helped me out by picking up some roses for my soon-to-be garden border out back. She knows I love old garden roses the best so she picked up Rose de Rescht, Blush Noisette, and Souvenir de la Malmaison. They will soon join the hydrangea, the cherry bush, and the lilac by the back fence. Boy do I have a lot of grass to get rid of!

The bushes will all be spaced eight feet apart and the spaces between them will be filled in with whatever strikes my fancy. I will be looking for a hardy lavender, some rosemary, a bunch of bulbs/tubers (gladiola, iris, tulip, lilly, daffodil, grape hyacinth), salvia, garlic, alium, daisies, coreopsis, monarda, thyme, dianthus, and gosh, just whatever isn’t a dandelion, chickweed, crabgrass, or some kind of thistle, which is what grows there now. I can picture what I want, but not how to describe it. Maybe like a cottage garden – only not as messy.

I’m a bad gardener in that I did not prepare beds at all. I just plopped the bushes in the ground and left all the grass and weeds in and around there. It’s going to make my life a lot harder now to get the border in, but it seemed preferable to leaving the plants in pots to die of dehydration like I have every other year. This is a long term project anyway. It’s not like I’m going to have a picture-perfect border by the end of the summer. There’s a lot of work to do, and I hate digging, being dirty, and heat. But I like flowers, so there’s that. Just call me a reluctant gardener.
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The good news is that the front yard looks pretty good. We have a service do the lawn treatments up front so it’s pretty much all nice, green grass. The front landscape beds are starting to shape up too. Mom’s irises bloomed this year and look nice with the clematis and other plants already in there. The heirloom peony has about 30 blooms on it waiting to burst open. The new peony just got transplanted so it’s a bit small with no buds, but it’s alive and we may get flowers on it next year. The lilies seem to be settling in, and the knockout rose is well, a knockout. Once I get bulbs bought and planted this fall, the front yard should start really coming into its own.

It’s Alive!

I have to say for the record that the square foot gardening method worked for me. This is the first year ever that I have gotten to the end of August and still had a living, thriving garden. The tomato plants are taller than I am. The dahlias and zinnias did fantastic. The cucumbers, peas, beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, radishes, bell peppers, and marigolds all did wonderfully. I will not grow onions or pole beans again, I think. They did poorly.

The family all agrees that the produce from the garden is much, much better than what we get from the store. There have been so many tomatoes that we can’t eat them all. And weeding has been a complete non-event. I have pulled maybe three stray blades of grass from the garden. Overall, I am calling it a win. I might even expand it next year to grow more things. We’ll see.

Now that it is almost September, it is time to put in some cool weather plants. I will do another round of radishes, some lettuce, more peas, and maybe some spinach. I won’t go overboard and will probably confine it all to one square so that I can do some amendment to the soil in the first one. Seriously, guys-I never thought this square foot gardening thing would work out. I’m really pleased with this project.

Garden Update

I have been terrible about taking pictures, but thrilled with the garden progress.  The peas are four feet high now with tons of flowers.  The flowers are all white so far, with the exception of one purple and lavender flower.  Yesterday there were just flowers.  Today, half of them are baby pea pods.  I almost can’t wait to eat the peas!  Next year I will plant a ton more.

The beans are still only about six inches high.  They seem to be getting a slow start as they are short and don’t have any flowers yet.  The replanted cucumbers are just about three inches high, but starting to gain some momentum.  The giant cabbage is definitely gaining ground – finally starting to create that tight ball of leaves in the middle.  When we beat the birds to the strawberries, they taste amazing.

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Tonight I harvested all the spinach, half the lettuce, two early onions, and four radishes to make into salads for dinner.  I can’t imagine a salad tasting any better than this one.  There is something about the taste of food that was harvested only 15 minutes ago that is delightfully different.  It tasted alive.

Most of the tomatoes have flowers and one of the romas has begun to set fruit.  The peppers look spindly and weak.  I really don’t have any luck growing those.  One is attempting to flower, but overall, they look pretty terrible.  It makes me crazy that I can’t grow a bell pepper to save my life.  However, we can’t eat the radishes fast enough.  Even though we planted them in stages two weeks apart, we had a week of rain and now they are all ready to eat, and some have split from all the precipitation.  The carrots are wimpy.  Maybe we’ll have better luck with them in the fall.  These just don’t seem to want to grow at all.

As far as flowers go, the zinnias and calendula grown from seed are doing well.  The bought zinnias are stumpy, fry fast, and have a bit of mildew.  Nasturtiums are still small, with just foliage so far.  The dahlias have beautiful leaves but no flowers; but the marigolds make up for them all with simply stellar growth.

I would say that the garden experiment is going well, and I am glad that we decided on the square foot method.  We did end up adding a slow release fertilizer that has made a huge difference.  More compost will be added prior to the next go round.  The mix we made seems to be lacking essential nutrients.

In other news, I only have three plants left to go into the ground.  One is the lilac bush.  Then there is the fuschia peony, and the rosebush the kids got me for mother’s day.  We will be returning the pomegranate tree as it died.

 
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Of Spinach Greens and Other Things

Plants grow so slowly.  I’m not usually an instant gratification sort of person, but I’m eager to see some sort of positive results.  There are some, but nothing nearly as dramatic as I had hoped.  We are 30 days post-sowing for most things, and about half still only have first or second leaves still.  Radishes should be ready by now.  One seems ready to pick.  The majority aren’t even close.  I think I may not have mixed my soil properly, because the spinach has some yellowing on the outer leaves too, and everything seems to be growing much slower and remaining much smaller than I remember from when we used to plant directly into the earth.  I expect the problem is that I underestimated the volume of compost needed.  Now that the plants are in, the only solution I can see is either top dressing, or fertilizing.

In other garden news, the frost did not completely kill those two tomatoes, the two peppers, or the nasturtiums.  They are back!  It took some time for the plants to recover, but they are sending out new shoots and leaves so I have hopes that we will see them mature.  The replanted cucumbers have first leaves now too.  The onions are doing quite well, with only one succumbing to failure so far.

I think I will buy some Miracle Gro; and in the meantime harvest some spinach leaves and that radish for dinner tonight so I don’t feel like such a loser.

Here’s the radish.  Still a bit twee, but tasty!

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The diet is going well and is encouraging me to get creative for meals.  We had fallen into a bit of a rut and keep going back to the old tried and true favorites, which get boring after a while.  Since those don’t work for me right now, I have been trying new recipes, which I make enough of each time to let everyone try.  Saturday night I learned how to make cauliflower breadsticks.  It’s not bread, but they make a great substitute when bread is out of bounds.  Everyone liked them, so it’s something I will make again.  The recipe makes a decent pizza crust too.  I will be trying that next.

Last night I wasn’t as well prepared as I was for the breadsticks.  I ended up Googling for a few ideas with the contents of the pantry in mind.  What we came up with were tuna burgers.  The tuna patties turned out fantastic!  One of the children declared they were good enough to eat, which from an eleven year old translates to a compliment.  The youngest was turned off by the fishy smell.  He ended up pouring himself a bowl of cereal instead.  Can you tell we never serve tuna fish?

Frost Dates Lie

Outside, the temperature is in the upper 70s.  However, tonight we are expecting temps of 32 degrees.  Guess what the predicted last frost date for my area is?  Yup – today.  It has been so warm that I didn’t pay much attention to that.  Yesterday we got the last of the tomatoes planted.

The last time I did this (why yes, I do tend to repeat mistakes), I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal.  It was, and we lost all the warm weather plants.  This time, even though I’m not sure that we will have frost, the low temperatures are sure to affect the plants.  I did some research and decided that some kind of cover would be sufficient as long as it let the plants breath, so I came up with this.

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It’s a couple of bedsheets pulled tight over the kids’ soccer goals and held down with pavers.  It’s pretty windy out this afternoon and the setup appears to be holding up well.  I worry about what happens if we get more rain.  I hope that I pulled the sheets tight enough that they don’t sag and damage the plants.