Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thinking of Pets

I've been thinking about our pets a lot today. This is probably because last night we discovered that one more of our original ten 4-H chickens died. We have only one hen from our original flock remaining. It is hardly surprising, given that it has been over 10 years since the little box of furry peeps arrived for us in the mail. When we finally gave in to our daughters' endless pleas to raise poultry, we decided as a family that our chickens would die of natural causes. None of us wanted to raise chickens for food. We do, however, savor their big, brown eggs. We gave them names and a nice place to live. Over time, our hens became pets, as much as chickens can become pets. We discovered that chickens do have personalities, and while they don't garner the affection that dogs and cats do, we've felt sad at the loss of every one of them.

In the past seven months we have also lost a dog, Cruz, and Ozzie, my beloved Siamese cat who graced our home for 16 years. Cruz could be a grumpy old fellow, and some people were afraid of him as he was big and slow to warm up to strangers. To us he was a big baby and a big part of the family. No one misses him more than our second dog, Toby. Without Cruz as company, Toby does not see why he should have to stay outside in the pen. (We have been considering changing Toby's name to Houdini because he quickly escapes from his pen every day. He never does it while we are secretly watching, and we have yet to figure out how he is getting out.) Toby has decided he much prefers being in the house with us and his two cat buddies.

I have grieved for our cat Ozzie more than I ever could have imagined. While there are many people in my life that love me very much, none of them have spent the day curled up next to me when I was sick, regularly appeared out of nowhere to snuggle with me when I settled on to the couch for the evening, or begged me for canned cat food promptly at 9:00 every night. After 16 years of unconditional love and affection, well, let's just say you really, really miss it.

Our family really loves our pets and I wouldn't have it any other way. As sad as it is when they leave us for the rainbow bridge, the fun and joy pets bring to us during their short lives makes for wonderful memories that will be treasured forever.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Serenade of Birds

Just yesterday I paid special attention to a song bird that serenaded me as I worked in the garden. This evening, as I went to the garden to pick our salad for dinner, I was aware of the most incredible chorus of birdsong. In fact, the word "cacophony" came to mind. But as I don't use this word every day, I decided to look it up to see if this was indeed an appropriate description. According to Websters, the word means "harshness of sound" which is not how I would describe the symphony I enjoyed. Honestly, I can't find just one word to describe the joyful riot of noise in our back yard. I'm not sure if we really have more song birds this year, or if I'm just taking more time to enjoy them. I do know we have an abundance of mulberries which attract birds, and the sour cherries and sand cherries in our yard are also ripening. We use very few chemicals in our yard and have several mature trees. Perhaps this combination is to thank. One thing is for sure, and that is that I am thankful for the music the birds bring to our little piece of the country.

I found a wonderful website to visit if you want to learn more about the birds in your garden: There are even sound clips of bird songs you can listen to. Be sure to check it out.

The garden continues to do well. I found the first watermelon on one of the ice box melon plants. It is about the size of a small walnut! It will be fun to watch it grow.

That's it for now. Be sure to take some time to listen to the birds in your own yard.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Working Between the Rain

Today was a strange day; hot and sunny one minute, cool and rainy the next. Repeat. In between storms, however, we got a lot of work done. It was a day of mowing, trimming, weeding, and hauling mulch, and I'm happy to say we are seeing some results. We hauled 3 1/2 carts of cedar mulch to the garden box area and it really looks nice. Next, I took down the odd sizes of plastic fence and that with the most holes in it and put up new. I also put up new posts so all are the 3' size. The fence is 2' high plastic poultry fencing and it works well in keeping the rabbits and dogs out of the garden. I also put in tomato ladders next to the tomatoes which are close to needing staked. At last the garden really looks nice and is a pleasant place to work or just hang out. The whole time we were working in the garden there was a bird nearby singing his heart out. I couldn't figure out what kind of bird it was but my neighbor told me it was a Brown Thrasher. I sure hope our friend has a nest nearby. I could listen to his songs all day!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

One month

It has been a month since the boxes have been planted and I am amazed at how some of the plants are growing. Look how stocky the stem is on this tomato.

The beans are starting to sprout, and there are blossoms on the squash plants. Some broccoli are ready to harvest but I am waiting to see if they'll grow a bit more first.

The flowers are looking pretty too, although I need to trim the grass around all the beds. In the flower bed next to the garden we hung a buoy bell wind chime. I love it. It doesn't make a tinkly sound but more of a mellow tone that just blends in with all the natural sounds. You hear it, but you almost don't hear it, because it just blends in with the background and sounds like it is a part of the outside. It's hard to explain, so I'll just say the buoy bell is a really nice addition to the garden.

My goal for the upcoming weekend is to plant or compost all the plants remaining on the front porch. Hard to believe it is mid-June. Summer goes by so fast.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Steady Progress

A violent storm blew through last Sunday evening with wind gusts up to 60 mph. Power lines were blown down, tree branches were everywhere, and there were reports of roofs blown away, but the garden held up pretty well. Most of my plant collars were blown off, and one of my pie tins, but these things were easily fixed. The only plant damage was to the broccoli and cauliflower, and it was minor. They didn't hold up well to the wind and were leaning every which way. I rigged up some stakes so I could make a twine frame to support the stalks, and they seem to be doing fine. I really don't know if the plants would have fared any better if planted in the ground instead of in the garden boxes, but I doubt it.

I continue to be impressed by how stocky and strong the tomatoes are looking. The zucchini and acorn squash are growing like crazy. No bean seeds have sprouted yet, but it won't be long.

At this point I would have to say I am enjoying gardening in the boxes!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Getting Back on Track

I am feeling very pleased with the garden boxes. After a busy week, I finally got to spend some time in the garden today. The rain and sunshine has done its work and the plants are thriving. Today I spread the boxes out and rearranged the fencing so that at last it looks like a garden. I put collars made from soft drink cups around most of the plants to protect them from whatever keeps trying to bite them off. The most vulnerable planter I set up on 4 clay flower pots which I think lifts the box up high enough to protect the plants from most critters. Alumnimum pie tins were hung in strategic locations as well. Their flashing and clanging does help to scare away the critters. I am happy with the results. I still need to tackle the weeds coming up and get mulch down, and do some more work on the temporary fence, but it is coming along.

The plants look great. The tomatoes are growing stocky, strong stems. The zucchini is growing fast, and the cucumbers I planted from seed have really caught up. I decided today to plant green bean seeds in some of the boxes where I have space. I planted the green bean 'Provider.' I believe I will have about 10-12 plants. I haven't yet decided if I'll plant more later. I do have plenty of space to plant some in the ground. I also have one more tomato plant that will probably have to go in the ground. It is a big, yellow variety so I think it will do better in the ground than in a garden box. My hope has been for the garden boxes to make gardening fun again. I'm starting to feel optimistic they are doing their job!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Some Disappointments

I was in for a shock when I went out to the garden this morning. Several plants were shriveled and dead. I couldn't imagine what happened. Upon closer inspection I found that something, probably a groundhog or rabbit, had bitten off some plants.

I lost 3 tomatoes (Tami G, Robert's Best Black, and a Buffalo Springs tomato), the only Poblano pepper I had, and 2 cantaloupes. Each of them had been neatly bitten off just above planting level and left to die. I decided all I can do for now is wrap some more of the 3' tall plastic poultry fencing around the rest of the boxes to protect the plants. They'll be safe, but I just hate it. The plant boxes look like they are in prison and surely won't be easy to access. I was trying to set up the garden so it would be an attractive place to go visit and work. Now it looks depressing. I need to think what I can do to grow my plants out of reach these nasty critters. I am going to have to try concrete blocks or something else to elevate the plant boxes. If you have any ideas, please share!

One good discovery was how well the cole crops are doing. Earlier in the week I discovered some holes in cabbage leaves indicating slugs were feasting on some of my plants. I took care of them with some es-car-go from Garden's Alive and the cabbage are looking better already. This morning I was pleased to see the broccoli coming along so well. Here is a picture. I have never grown broccoli before, so it is rewarding to see it doing so well. Hopefully this will continue!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

So far, so good

We returned from a trip to Ohio and were surprised by all the changes that have taken place in the yard over only 5 days. Many new blooms greeted us: the white clematis, more iris, Top Brass Peony, Oriental Poppy, the Dutch iris, and I'm sure others I'm not thinking of just now. The plants in the grow boxes are doing very well, and held up just fine through the torrential rainfall we had one night during our absence. I planted two more boxes this evening, and now have only one more to go. I am carefully considering how I want to use my last box. I've decided to plant beans in the garden instead of in boxes since I want so many. Maybe a trip to the garden center is in order for some ideas. I still have some tomatoes left if I can't think of anything else. All that is left under the lights are some small basil plants I started late, and some Jacob's coat amaranth seedlings. It feels good to have most of the seed starts planted.