Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Our Little Neighbors

One of my most favorite delights are the little unexpected things that pop up among the regular ordinariness of our days.  (No, not those turn of events like my refrigerator dying this week and having to get a new one while we're planning a wedding.  I said unforseen 'delights.')  I'm referring to those prodigious moments that add an extra depth or sparkle to life that you had no idea were around the corner.

Or in the tree.
Or between the pillars.
Or on that branch.

Gardening has brought a depth of living to my life in the growing of our food.  I've just loved watching to see the first green of shoots pushing up through the soil; checking on their progress and maturation each day; picking ripeness of reds, greens, and blues; even snipping fresh blooms and dead-heading old ones.  It has also tucked in little twinkles of the wonderfully unpredictable.

Last year we found there was a frog living in a crack at the base of one of our trees.  As I sprayed my cucumbers with water one day, out he (or someone who looks alot like him) came, jumping up to his front door once more, blinking in his pleasure at the shower I gave.  Here he is:

What was even sweeter was a few weeks later.  I aimed my hose at his doorway and he obligingly greeted my girls and I.  But as we watched, here came another frog just a bit smaller, climbing forward to sit on his head.  And unbelievably, just like in a quaint storybook, there came an even smaller frog to sit on top of his head!  I didn't have my camera with me that day to capture their unassuming pose, but my daughters and I laughed with surprised delight at the gift we were blessed to witness that afternoon.

On another day, I'd sent L out to move some fragments of cement stones out to place around our back garden bed.  She came inside a little while later, all in excitement.  There between two old ornate pillars was resting a small little bunny rabbit.  The girls donned gloves and carefully captured him, cuddling and loving on this little bit of fluff before we released him back into the wilds of our backyard.  We have no neighbors behind our house, so no doubt his real home is hidden within the woods there.  Want to see him?

Last week I was collecting cherry tomatoes.  I was aware that the birds around me seemed to be making a good bit of ruckus rather close by.  Suddenly I gasped as I spied a precious little baby cardinal sitting on a branch right in front of me, not one foot from my face.  What a dapper little 'do he had, growing in a little to one side.

His Mama was trilling away in the tree above me, watching over her wayward one.  We monitored events over the next few days as she fed him and repeatedly demonstrated flying from branch to branch. Eventually he was gone - we're sure he learned his lessons.

What sweet unheralded delights we've been given among our sweat and toil.  Thank You, Lord.

Shared with Better Mom Mondays
Titus T2sdays
Works For Me Wednesdays
Women Living Well
Raising Homemakers
Simple Lives Thursdays

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fighting Poison Ivy

So I'll ask the big question up front: If you have an ecological conscience, what do you do with Poison Ivy?

As I cleared and trimmed within and around my garden this past week, I pulled a bit of delicate vine away from around this little tree near my tomatoes.  There are so many things that come with stickers and prickles from roses to squash to borage.  It's habit for me to come in and wash up to my elbows after every foray out into my yard; but I didn't realize I'd met up with that nasty little creeper, otherwise I'd have done an even more thorough job.  Now I'm looking for it everywhere: "Leaves of three, let it be."

That's no joke.  Here's the worst spot, although we think it's improved a bit.  Little blisters are still popping up here and there on my arms even as of this morning.  I got some on my face and neck in addition to this beauty, but those places haven't been as bad, thank goodness.  Turn away if you're squeamish, kids.

I looked online for all kinds of natural remedies.  I recognized the pretty orange flowers of the jewelweed from our neighborhood path, so L and I went out there to carefully harvest some.  We brought it home and I then cooked it to make a warm poultice which I applied to my bubbling forearm, wrapping it in gauze.  It took away the itching immediately and worked for about 24 hours, then it was no good.  (Later on I read that it must be used fresh.  I guess I should have gone and picked some more since I was still using what I'd cooked up and it must have lost its effectiveness.)  I read that apple cider vinegar stings at first but works great so I gave that a go - it not only stung but seemed to make it all the redder, not a winner for me.  I've applied Anbesol for its numbing quality, then moved to Caladryl which was also helpful.  Benadryl is getting me through the night.  Time is just going to have to do its thing, I'm afraid.

Of course I've also been looking for a natural way of killing this monster.  M wants to spray Round-Up on it, but I hate to even hear the word.  A armed up with long sleeves and gloves and removed the rest of the vine, but it's got this serious hairy stump from which it's growing and there was no budging it, even after a couple days of good hard rain. In fact, the little tree has grown up around it, enveloping it between two stout shoots. The other day I cooked up a boiling pot of vinegar, salt, and soap, dug a hole at the base of the tree and poured my concoction in.  My plan is to do this every week until the witch is dead.  

Now A and L have had itchy spots and stripes popping up as well.  Today we stopped by CVS and I picked up some Zanfel scrub and TecNu spray.  We went straight to the bathroom and used it.  Ahh, sweet relief...

I'm weakening.
I might wind up giving it to Round-Up as well.
Sometimes having such an earth-conscience is really a drag.

Note of warning - be careful not to use to wide a shotgun approach.  Read more here.

Shared at Better Mom Mondays
Works For Me Wednesday
Women Living Well
Raising Homemakers
Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gardening Update #2

As I think back over the on-the-job-training I've received via my little plot of fertile ground, I find myself fingering over the bruises I've gotten during the daunting challenges faced.  They've been the turns that have threatened to be game changers - with me as the loser.  I want to document these for both the sake of other novice gardeners so as to give you a head's up and hopefully be an instrument of preventive care in your lives, as well as having record for myself of the mountains and molehills faced in my maiden foray into floriculture.

Lesson Seven will be positive: Plant borage.

These have been a wonderful addition, attracting busy, buzzing, beneficial bees.  They've grown at least 3 feet tall and sport such pretty blue flowers, just what I wanted.  I used them as a border, but next year I will place them in more of a background position rather than front and center.  They are quite prickly once they have reached relative maturity, and after a while the winds and rain we've received have caused them to topple over, necessitating bamboo stakes for support.  However, I have been absolutely pleased with them.  I've gathered quite a few of their seeds so that I can plant them next year, but I've a feeling that I will have to be on top of it to keep them from popping up on their own - they appear to be willing to reseed themselves quite happily.

I put in three cucumber plants where we have planted tomatoes for the past seven or eight years, expecting the soil to welcome them as a long overdue change.  Something was ready and waiting for a change, and quickly ate my little ones up before they had a fighting chance.

Lesson Eight: Know when you've been beat.  There's no shame in cutting your losses and moving to a new field if one's available.

I planted another three cucumbers in a different plot.  It's not as sunny, but they are doing much better.  I believe the adversary contending for dominance there is the teeny-tiny spider mite, so a 3-in-1 product was applied.  Here's hoping.  As it turned out, I got a volunteer cherry tomato plant that sprouted up in that original bed.  Its fruitful mother of last summer was well-loved and appreciated by us all, and the daughter is coming along grandly.

One day I sat by the window as my own daughters were taking a math test, when what to my wondering eyes appeared but a miniature chipmunk walking along my stone border for all the world like it was his own private sidewalk.  He nibbled on a few borage flowers, and I considered this thoughtfully. "Well, that's ok - but if he encroaches over into the fruit of my sweat-filled brow, it's on."
Guess what?  Two mornings in a row, my cry of delight at a bright red tomato turned to one of outrage as I picked it and stared into a gaping kid-sized bite taken out of their sweet ripeness.

Ah!  I can't believe I almost forgot to include the latest!  This really amped things up.  

Of all the things we've planted, there have been two I have most looked forward to harvesting - sweet potatoes and my various tomatoes.  Last week, A was finally able to rejoin us outside after having her wisdom teeth removed and being tended back to full health.  She hadn't seen our verdant oasis up close for about five days, so with delight she drew my attention to the changes in the sweet potatoes.  All she noticed were the increase in vines.  What I noticed from seven yards away were the little naked stems all along the vines - shorn of almost every one of their beautiful leaves!  I came howling around to the other side of the yard, absolutely incensed by this new violation! 

Lesson Nine: Don't take it lying down. You have to have a strong stomach, steely nerves, and a willingness to engage with "whatever."
Lesson Ten: Lesson Nine Part II - Desperate attacks call for desperate measures. 

So that's when the blood and rat traps were set out.  Feeling a bit like a witch doctor, I hummed a little tune as I sprinkled (purchased) dried blood 'round the perimeter of my garden wall, then moved on to setting a few rat traps out while Luisa whimpered in pity for poor "Alvin." Of course she named him.  Oh, and two squirrel traps too. The next morning, I began my day with no eerie premonitions, just my regular cup of coffee. Heading outside, I quickly spied one squirrel trap flung several feet from where we'd set it up.  I went to look at the other and froze.  Something not a squirrel was inside.  Dark, a rather narrow nose, and what appeared to be a light stripe down the middle of its back.  Once again, I was overtaken by hysterical laughter so that I could scarcely speak by the time I got back inside the house.  What was I going to do with a skunk in a cage??!!!

One call to a wildlife control representative later, and I was left to consider how to explain all of this to my husband.  The rep quoted me over $200 in permit and removal fees.  How sick is that?!  The clock ticked by - over an hour.  Boy, was this guy making me sweat.  Finally, I decided to risk the need for testing that tomato bath theory and headed outside to take a picture of my trapped irritant.  Slowly, slowly, I edged closer... and spied a skinny tail.  Going around to the front of the cage, I snapped a quick photo.

It's an opossum.
I had the girls scurry over the creek to return our intruder back to nature, hopefully freaked out enough not to ever come around here again.  He tried to play dead for a bit and scared us all, 'till I recalled the proverbial phrase, "playing opossum."  Out he went with a little shimmy, and I rushed back into the house to call off the wildlife rep who assured me that I can expect this now-experienced opossum to run amuck throughout my garden on a regular and increased nightly basis. Splendid, just splendid.

I bought some screen netting that I am now anchoring over my naked and shocked sweet potato vines at night, then removing when the sun comes up again.  I'm trying to give them a fighting chance.  It's a pain, but it keeps me busy and feeling like we might pull this out.  So far, no dead chipmunk, but I have been able to pick all my own tomatoes since then all by myself.  After all, it is my garden.

Next installment, I'm sorry to say, will be early blight.  

But let me reassure you, dear reader - I am still having fun!  I guess this just might mean, hands in overall pockets, shoulders hunched, toe digging in the dirt, "I'm kind of a farmer, huh?"

Shared at Titus Tuesday
Works For Me Wednesday
The Better Mom
Women Living Well
Raising Homemakers
Simple Lives Thursday

Gardening Update #1

I thought a little gardening update was in order as it has become such a significant part of my life this year. There is so much to cover, however, that this is clearly going to take two posts.  How enamored am I with my little swatch of farmland?  Well, this past Friday was my 27th Anniversary, and while I did remember it the night before, my first thought when I woke up that morning was to get outside and water the garden's flowers and vegetables before the 104 degree temperatures came to kill them.  My dear husband wandered outside a short time later to find me, bestowing a commemorative reminder kiss upon me as I'd clearly come under the hypnotic early morning thrall of tending to my nursery beds.  I do love you more, honey - I know you know this.  And thank you again for my garden - my Christmas/birthday/Mother's Day/Anniversary present.  Well done, my sweet.

This being my first year, I've had such a roller coaster learning curve of a ride even in these three short months. Let me try to do a little recap.  Our first seedlings were planted in March and everything came up leafy and green and beautiful and all was wonderful.  Gardening gives one a new appreciation for Spring.  And then the velvety cabbage worms came along.

Lesson One: Don't take the Polly Anna approach of simply hoping that all those bugs will not find your garden.  Buy what you will need so that you are prepared to do battle at the first sign of attack.

I went to Garden's Alive and ordered the necessary biological weaponry: Green Step Caterpillar Control.  It arrived a few days before I was leaving to visit my family for two weeks, so I asked somebody to please mix it up and spray it on my collards, cabbage, bok choy, and broccoli while I was gone.  Many wonderful projects were completed in my absence, but the spraying for the eradication of these pests was not.  So I returned home to two surprises.  One was "Jurassic Garden."  Evidently, my plants maintained a moderate pace of growing in my absence until the two days of rainfall just before we flew back in.  They drank it up like steroids.  The girls and I got in pretty late, but I probably woke a few of the neighbors with my hysterical laughter!  My shock over the change was simply overwhelming.  I was worse than the ridiculous auntie who can't believe how much you've grown in the time since she last saw you.  But it was crazy!

Lesson Two: Plants fantastically love and flourish under God's provision of rainfall over our man-made water systems, so make sure to rely as much upon that as you can.

My second curveball was the copious riddling of holes in the leaves all the afore-mentioned brassicas, not to mention the arrival of irritating, harder-to-kill worms turned cabbage moths!  Don't you know I looked like a loon whacking my tennis racket around in attempts to decrease their population (it's what we quasi-hippies do when faced with flying foes, or at least so instructs my internet gurus.) Vain attempts, I might add, as I have absolutely atrocious aim.  But I now have a homestead to protect and cannot concern myself with appearances.  Read: The protection of my public semblance of full sanity dropped a few more notches.  Oh well...

Aphids on my rose bushes were next, as was
Lesson Three: A homemade water and soap spray solution works for these pests, so save your money for more serious threats.
My spray bottle was a weenie, so I wound up pouring it into my palms and hand applying it, but this took care of them overnight.  Boo-yah!

I didn't yet know a new nemesis was about to descend: the Japanese Beetle.  At first these metallic little buggers charmed us, but we quickly came to realize they are voracious devourers and had arrived as they always do - en masse.  They favored my plum tree, borage, roses, and most especially my zinnias.  Initially, this swarm pumped up my blood pressure something awful as I stressed over them off and on throughout the day.  I tried an insecticidal spray first, then others I whipped up via instructional youtube videos, but they weren't tremendously effective. Eventually, I began to relax and have even learned to have a sort of appreciation for these little nitwits.  I mean, all they do is lie around in the sun and mate as much as possible.

Lesson Four: A jar filled with water and a drizzle of soap works wonderfully as a drowning pool for them.

There's a good deal of satisfaction in having an enemy that is so stupid and lazy.  I typically take a stroll out to my garden about three times a day and swipe these green little glints off leaves and petals, dropping them into their watery demise. Proportionally, I realize the score is still probably JB 1,000 / Me 1; but I am appeased.

Lesson Five: Although I was initially tempted to cut the unsightly leaves they created, I've found that they are ridiculous creatures of habit, returning to eat from the same spot again and again.

So leaving the riddled leaves provides me with a ready-made meeting place from which to catch them. Plus, I have another secret weapon I am preparing to pull out.

Lesson Six: Japanese Beetles come from a nasty little grub, and I plan on using a two prong attack against them: Milky Spore in the near future, and beneficial nematodes in the fall.

In addition, Lesson Six: We now love wasps, bees, even yellow jackets, and ugly little guys like assassin bugs. They are our friends, and our enemies are their's as well, so we are co-existing quite peacefully.  Even my girls have learned not to shy away from them!  Well, unless they try to land in our hair or something.

More tomorrow....

Shared at Titus Tuesday
Works For Me Wednesday
Raising Homemakers
Women Living Well
The Better Mom
Simple Lives Thursday