Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bolting

The rain has cleared and it's warm and sunny.  The warm, wet weather has brought my flowers out in spades.  Including some flowers that I don't really want to see. 

Mustard 


My spring veggies are going to seed.  Bummer.  They were so tasty, I wish they would stick around a little longer.

But all is not lost.  Those flowers produce seeds, and those seeds will grow a new crop of cool season veggies in the fall. 

Chinese broccoli with seed pods


I only wish I'd managed to get a radish to eat.  They never did set a good root.  Actually, I've never gotten them to set in the spring.  They do wonderfully in the fall, though. And the flowers are quite pretty.

Radish Flowers

But not as pretty as the arugula.  I love the purple streaks through the petals.

Arugula flowers


Everything in this bed came from George of From Seed To Scrumptious.  I named it "George's Garden".  Those dandelions were almost too beautiful to eat, but they were also too delicious to leave alone!

Who says a veggie garden can't be pretty? 


I do see some blooms that are welcome in my veggie garden, though.

Tomato Flowers!


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Blooming

Finally!  My roses are putting on a show.

"Midnight Blue'


'Showbiz'
Ignore the weeds, I haven't finished the rose beds yet.  I plan on adding more roses, and then doing a final "reveal... like all those fancy shows on HGTV have.


'Marmalade Skies'




'Firefighter'

Blogger has been giving me fits this past week.  I'm having trouble leaving comments on other's blogs and even posting on my own.  I think most people are having these issues, too.  Hopefully it will be resolved soon!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Stinkbugs!

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

I hate stinkbugs.  I really, really hate them.  I loathe them with an all consuming passion that defies logic and sense.

It wasn't always this way.  When I first started noticing them last year I was fairly indifferent.  I had heard that the East Coast was facing a plague of the things, but it didn't really seem so bad.  They didn't seem to be doing much damage.  They just had an obnoxious tendency to be places they shouldn't be.  Then, upon being disturbed, they would release their stink.  Annoying, but not really harmful.  Little did I know.....

It started innocently enough.  I was on the tractor, minding my own business.  It was a warm, sunny day.  I had a nice cold beer.  I was riding my tractor.  I had not a care in the world.  And then I was assaulted.

One of those horrid little bugs flew down my pants

I did what anyone would do in such a dire situation:  I screamed like a little girl and started leaping around and flailing in an attempt to get rid of the stinkbug.  The stinkbug, obviously offended by my histrionics, released its stink.  So, now I had a stinkbug in my pants and I smelled like stinkbug.  Oh, and I wasn't driving the tractor.

Tractors have very sensitive steering.  They also don't necessarily stop just because you take your foot off the gas pedal.  Luckily, tractors are also very slow.  As I flailed and leaped, the tractor careened about like a drunken turtle. 

I eventually managed to remove the stinkbug and regain control of the tractor.  Then I looked around to make sure no one had witnessed that spectacle.  I can only imagine what an innocent bystander would have thought: "What's up with that lunatic on the tractor?  Does she have rabies or something?"

My hatred of the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug was cemented that day.  I have since learned that they also destroy crops and are a real threat to local agriculture.  I've also heard that they have no predators here.  My chickens and ducks won't touch them.  Even my cat, a bug connoisseur, turns his nose up at them.  I have however, discovered one animal that eats them:

Got Stinkbugs?


That's Tex, my Texas cichlid (creative name, huh?).  Not only does he gobble up stinkbugs with glee, but he is also an American native.  Unfortunately, his species is not native to the Northeastern U.S.  Texas cichlids (Herichthys cyanoguttatus) range from Northeastern Mexico to central Texas, which doesn't really help with the current stinkbug problem in colder climes.  Unless you just so happen to have a Texas cichlid in an aquarium in your kitchen.  If you do, you can round up all the stinkbugs you find and feed them to your Texas cichlid.  It probably doesn't really make much of a dent in the overwhelming plague of stinkbugs, but it sure does make me giddy to watch Tex inhale those nasty critters!


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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Zucchini Lives On

You may remember my post about the monster zucchini I grew last year.  It was a thing of beauty.  Until recently it lived on the windowsill in the sunroom.  Unfortunately, I forgot to close the windows in one of the many storms we've gotten recently, and my prized zucchini got wet.  And then it started to rot.  Poor Zucchini.

R.I.P. , Dear Zucchini.  You will be missed...


I took it outside, but since it was raining I only put it next to the house rather than taking it all the way to the compost pile.  Then I promptly forgot about it.  Until today, that is.  I happened to be on that side of the house and look what I found:

The Zucchini lives!




I planted it in the garden.  We'll see what happens.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Anticipation Is Killing Me....

It's been raining here for a week.  No sun at all, just gray and wet.  But this afternoon the sun finally broke through the clouds!  And what did I see?


'Marmalade Skies'
My roses are getting ready to bloom!


'Midnight Blue'



I can't wait!



'Firefighter'



Friday, May 20, 2011

Muck

It's been raining for days.  Days.  Everything is muddy.  And, when you live with hooved mammals, you get a special kind of super-sucky mud.  My horses weigh about 1200 pounds.  All that weight is balanced on pointy, sharp hooves that are only about 6 inches in diameter.  That pretty much makes horses the most efficient rototillers ever.  The churning of those little hooves makes the mud around here really, really deep.

Very Large Rototiller


The other important thing to know about horses is that they poop every 2-3 hours.  And, in a cruel evolutionary joke, they lack the opposable thumbs necessary to clean up after themselves.  So, that leaves it up to me to clean up.  Luckily, I have a handy-dandy dump cart to help me.  It hooks up to the lawn mower like so:



With my handy-dandy dump cart and lawn mower I can zip around the pastures and clean up with no problems.  Unless its muddy.  Lawn mowers hate mud.  Especially deep, sticky, hoof churned mud.  Do you see where this is going?  I wish I had.....

I was very skillfully maneuvering my lawn mower through the mud, being careful to stay in areas where it wasn't too deep.  I thought I was very clever.  But, as my cart got more full, it got heavier.  As the cart got heavier, the mower sank lower into the mud.  Eventually, the inevitable happened... I got stuck.  I rocked the mower, I crammed straw beneath the tires, I kicked it and yelled obscenities (didn't help get it unstuck, but made me feel better).  Nothing was working.  I was stuck.

Enter our hero:



I would have to pull the mower out of the mud with the tractor (I probably should have been using the tractor instead of the lawn mower in the first place, but I digress...).  The problem:  the only place to hook the straps to pull out the lawn mower is the back bumper.  The back bumper that had a dump cart full of horse manure attached to it.  I would have to take the dump cart off and move it to get the lawn mower unstuck.  Do you know how heavy a dump cart full of poop is?  I do.

As I struggled with the dump cart in the slick mud, I wondered to myself "How long before I manage to injure myself doing this?".  Not long.  Pretty much as soon as the thought was finished, I slipped and went face first into the back of the lawn mower.  To add insult to injury, as I fell I tripped the dump mechanism on the cart.  All the manure I had diligently picked up was now right back on the ground.  I surveyed the scene:  The mower was still stuck, the cart was also now stuck, there was poop everywhere, I was covered in mud (I hope it was mud) and rapidly developing a nice shiner on my eye.  At this point, I did what any sane person would do:  I went back to the house and made myself a margarita.

Invigorated by tequila and lime, I was able to scoop up the manure, move the cart, hook up the mower and pull it free.   From now on I think I will avoid using the lawn mower in the mud.

Next project: teaching the horses to clean up after themselves!


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Monday, May 16, 2011

Where Have I Been?

'Rutgers' Tomato


In my garden, of course!

Carrots and Lettuces


Spring is an insanely busy time around here.  Horse pastures need seeding:

Add caption


Veggies need planting:

Snow Peas Blooming


 Mulch needs spreading:

Mt. Mulch


And weeds need... "relocating":

Weeds!  Argh!



This spring has been warm and wet, perfect for growing plants, and a weed is just "a plant out of place". Unfortunately, I've got way too many "plants out of place".  Probably because the mulch hasn't been spread yet.  I guess I'd better get out there..... Mt. Mulch isn't going to spread itself!

Monday, April 18, 2011

R.I.P. Rosemary



It appears my rosemary did not survive the winter.  This is not the first rosemary plant I have killed.  I doubt it will be the last.  They simply do not like NJ winters.  It's really just too cold and wet for a Mediterranean plant.  I've tried bringing them into the house for the winter, but they don't seem to like the house, either.

This one was actually two years old.  I had successfully overwintered it on the south side of the porch last year.  It was still alive as of the last snowstorm we had back in January, but at some point it gave up.  We've had some pretty hard freezes since then and without an insulating layer of snow it must have succumbed to the cold.

Good night, sweet rosemary.  You were too beautiful for this Earth.  Or, at least for New Jersey.......

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicken Follies


Mama Hen


I posted previously about one of my hens hatching out chicks.  She had been sitting on a clutch of four eggs.  Unfortunately, when I checked on her again, I found that only one of her chicks had hatched out.  Such is nature, sometimes these things happen.  The eggs may not have been fertile, or maybe the chicks had a genetic defect that prevented them from surviving, or maybe they weren't strong enough to get out of their shells.  It doesn't really matter, nature took its course and the strongest, healthiest chick survived.  But I still felt bad for Mama with only one little chickie. 

The Rooster and his Ladies


Plus, I've been wanting to get some new hens for awhile.  Not that I don't like my hens, they're great.  The breed I have is American Gamefowl.  They're tough, smart (for a chicken), good layers and great mothers.  Actually, they're almost too good of mothers and that's a problem.  You see, I have chickens to get eggs.  I like for them to hatch out a few clutches every year for meat and to replace lost hens, but these hens go crazy with brooding!  A hen that's brooding (sitting on eggs or with chicks) isn't laying.  So, when all my hens go broody, I get no eggs.  And my hens love to go broody!

Those good mothering instincts also mean that my hens will take on adoptees.  Seriously, you could give them a rock and they would attempt to be it's mother!  Chickens aren't that bright. 

So, I went to my local feed store to see if they had any chicks.  I wanted a breed with good layers and low mothering instinct.  I ended up buying Golden Comets.  They're a hybrid, a cross between White Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  They're bred to be layers, but also to make it easy to tell hens from roosters as chicks.  Pullets (female chicks) are reddish-orange, males are white.  I bought six adorably fuzzy little pullets and headed home.

Mama was in the coop with her one little chick.  As soon as she heard me come up with my box full of peeping chicks she ran over.  There's a reason overbearing women are called "mother hens".... my Mama hen illustrates that title perfectly.  She knew exactly what was in that box, and she wanted them! 

I opened the box and placed the chicks on the coop floor.  Mama rushed over and rounded up her new babies, gently herding them over to the nest.  She clucked and fluffed at me, telling me in no uncertain terms to get out and leave her babies alone.  She was in charge now!  I left the happy Mama alone to get her little adoptees squared away.

Mama and adoptees


The next day everyone seemed to be getting along well, so I let them out of the coop.  Unfortunately, I had severely over estimated the intelligence and hardiness of the store bought chicks.  When I went out to check on everybody an hour or so later, I found that three of the new chicks had gotten trapped behind the coop door and were hypothermic.  Chicks can't regulate their body temperature that well, they need to frequently get under their mother to stay warm.  Because these chicks had gotten trapped and couldn't get back to Mama, they had quickly gotten too cold.

I herded Mama back into the coop.  She rounded up her four mobile babies, but the three who had been trapped were stranded.  I scooped them up to give back to Mama, who had gotten back on her nest to protect her babies.

Unfortunately, it was not quite clear to Mama what was happening.  She thought I was attacking her babies.  Every time I tried to get the hypothermic babies back under her, she attacked me.  Chickens may look defenseless and delicate, but I can personally attest to the sharpness of their beaks.  As they say, no good deed goes unpunished!  I eventually managed to get the chicks into the nest, after sustaining many chicken bites to my hands and arms, and beat a hasty retreat out of the coop. 

Don't mess with Mama!



This story has a happy ending.  The stranded chicks warmed up under Mama and are just fine.  I blocked off the part of the coop where they became stranded, so we won't have a repeat of that!


Mama and babies, out and about


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bye Bye, Photinia

We finally made the decision to move the Photinia.  If you recall, they were planted against our garage and just did not fit.

Blech


The executive decision was made (and by "executive decision", I mean that we had the backhoe attachment on the tractor and were like "Now what?")... the executive decision was made and they have been relocated.


On the move...


They are now living on the far side of my riding arena, where they can grow and be big and beautiful and not cover the garage.


Happy Photinia


And now for the big question....


Climbing roses, or bush roses?



(I'm partial to climbers, myself)


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Soil Testing Results!

Jar 1                                                                                      Jar  2                                                                       Jar 3                                                                             

Well, the results of my soil testing experiment are in and after much careful analysis I've discovered that I have dirt in a jar!  Ha!

Jar 1 is the native, unamended soil.  It settled quite clearly into three distinct layers: sand on the bottom, silt in the middle and clay on top.  I'm actually a little surprised at the amount of clay in there, I wouldn't have guessed we had that much clay in our soil.  It's about a 1:1 mix of clay and sand, though.  I wonder if that's why I was fooled?

Jar 2 is from the veggie garden and appears to just be a mess.  I really can't see any layers at all.  I've been adding finished compost (made of straw, horse and chicken manure, gardening waste and whatever kitchen scraps the chickens and ducks don't eat) to the veggie garden for two years.  So, maybe no layers is a good thing?  Maybe I should have paid more attention in that ecology class I took in college....

Jar 3 is from the horse's pasture.  The horses make many, many daily contributions to the soil out there.  There appears to be much less sand out there, but the other layers are just sort of muddled.  I don't know what that means.

I'll leave it to the experts to analyze.

Head on over to The Great Soil Experiment Meme hosted by Sweet Bean Gardening and check out what smarter people than me have to say about soil testing and their own results!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cheap Soil Testing

Sweet Bean Gardening had a great idea for a really cheap (pretty much free!) way to test your soil composition.  Then, she expanded that idea into a meme!  That's pretty darn cool!  If you want to join, head over to her site to get the instructions, then post your results and we can all compare soil.  Fun!

So, how do you cheaply and easily test your soil composition?  Well first you take some dirt and put it in a jar.  Then you add water and salt and shake it all up.  Once it settles, there will be three layers: the top is clay, the middle silt and the bottom is sand.  Easy peasy!  The only question I had was "kosher salt or sea salt?"  I went with sea salt.

Now, being in NJ, which is a coastal peninsula, I already know my soil is pretty sandy.  But I've spent the last two years liberally applying compost to my veggie garden and wanted to see what, if any, improvement I had made.  So, I made two jars.

Jar 1 is from an undeveloped part of the property.  It's just the native soil.  Ironically, it is also the only place where flowers are blooming:



Jar 2 is from my veggie garden. 



Then, just for fun (and since I had a third jar, anyway) I decided to take a sample from the horse pastures.  We don't add finished compost to the pastures, but the horses do make quite a bit of, *ahem*, contributions to the pasture soil.  I wanted to see if their many contributions have made any impact on the soil composition out there. 



Of course, being me, I started my jars later than everyone else and they still haven't settled.  (It's been rainy and cold here.  It even snowed this morning!  Who wants to go out in that to collect dirt?  I've got a good excuse....)

I'll update with the results soon......

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Close...

Pansy, overwintered from last fall.


Everywhere I look flowers are blooming.  Not on my property, though.

Sand Cherry, Prunus x Cistena


We have a bit of a microclimate thing going on here.  We're situated in the middle of several wide open fields and tend to get a lot of wind.

Ornamental Weeping Cherry


 Even though we also get a lot of sun, it seems that we're always a bit colder than more sheltered areas.  So, even though there are daffodils and fruit trees blooming up the street, my flowers are hovering right on the brink.

Ornamental Pear


 Oh well.  They'll bloom in their own time....

Daffodil

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