Sunday, May 31, 2009

The *#%@&^ Honeysuckle

You may remember that several weeks ago (May 12th, to be exact) I mentioned cutting down a bunch of honeysuckle at the back of our property.  Well, we are finally getting it chipped up, which I'm really glad for.  I was less than thrilled, however, to see the stumps with numerous new shoots that are about a foot high.  A foot.  In three weeks!  That's more growth than my sunflowers!  Is there any wonder why this stuff is invasive?!?!  So my task this week once we get the rest of the branches chipped is to start the tedious job of digging out the stumps.  "Yay - I mean boo!"  (If there are any fans of the NewsRadio TV show out there, can you tell me who said that quote?)  Unless someone has a better organic method of getting rid of it?  The only methods I have seen involve an add for some honeysuckle remover gadget, which I can't justify buying, or painting the freshly cut stumps with Roundup, which is hardly organic.  More ideas welcome.  Pretty please!

**I also solicited ideas from friends on my facebook account, and after doing so feel the need to clarify the fact that burning the honeysuckle and any forms of fire are out of the question, due to the honeysuckle's proximity to the wooden stockade fence which does not belong to us but rather to the property behind ours.  I would like to stay out of court and avoid criminal charges.  Thank you. 

I am extremely happy by all the wood chips though, which are providing a mow-free walkway around the gardens (Mark is also very happy about not having to use the string trimmer against the raised beds any more).  I put down a layer of newspaper (2 layers thick) under most of the chips and then about 3 inches of chips, which should keep the weeds and sod from growing through.  Depending on how many wood chips we actually end up with, it may be thicker in the end.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Gate!

I am so happy I can hardly stand it.  I now have a gate in the back part of our fence!!!  For some reason, whatever previous owners of our house that built the fence in the backyard did not put a gate in the back of it.  The fence ended just before a small hill covered with honeysuckle, etc but our property line went partially up the hill.  Well, the commercial property behind our house sold several years ago now part of that hill is gone and there is a large stockade fence separating us from the "professional offices" that were built behind us.  Well, the part of our  property between the stockade fence and our fence has been totally useless to us before this, because we had basically no way to access it.  We've been saying we were going to put a gate in our fence since we moved in over 4 years ago.  It's now finally finished!  Plus, Mark is off to borrow a wood chipper and hopefully by this evening we'll have all the honeysuckle I cut down a month or so ago chipped up before the day is done (or at least before the weekend is done).  I am planning to move both compost bins to the area behind the fence, and once we get all the honeysuckle stumps out I'll see what things look like and go from there...

My new back gate!  Yay! (All the brown brush is the honeysuckle I cut down a month or so ago, and will be gone by the end of this weekend thanks to a wood chipper we're borrowing.)

The current view from my kitchen window

The view from my kitchen window in Fall 2006.  Pre-commercial development.  However, there is a billboard visible on the left side, so it's not like we were in pristine wilderness, but I still miss it....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More 2009 Plants

Here's an update of some things I have put in the garden in the past few weeks. I will try to get some photos of everything tomorrow afternoon:

Carrots: Danvers Half Long
Leeks: Pandora
Bush Beans: Blue Lake
Tomaotes: Amish Paste (3), San Marzano (1), Cherokee Purple (1), Mr. Stripey (1), unknown volunteer plants that germinated from the compost (5)
Peppers: Jalapeno, Red Beauty
Eggplants: Black Beauty, Ichiban
English Thyme
Basil: Genovese
Califlower: unknown variety (I didn't record it, and I'm kicking myself for it) - this was planted at the first update, but for some reason I didn't remember to list it.

I am also considering growing a squash if I can get a trellis for it built and grow it vertically. They had spaghetti squash at Varnau's last night, and I really like spaghetti squash, so I may try it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Feed Barn

After playgroup this morning with the girls at Sharon Woods Metropark, I realized two things:
  1. I am out of eggs
  2. I will be going right past The Feed Barn at Gravel Knoll Farms, which sells eggs from their organically raised chickens
So I thankfully remembered this on the way home, instead of once we were already home like I usually do, and stopped to get a dozen eggs.  I hadn't been to The Feed Barn in a couple of months (since I bought my seed potatoes there) and I had forgotten how much I love it.  Linda, one of the owners of Gravel Knoll Farms, which is also one of our local CSAs (community supported agriculture), was working and when she opened the egg carton to check on the eggs, she determined that they were "kind of small" (they didn't look that small to me) and so she took 50 cents off the dozen.  You don't get that kind of service at the grocery store!  I am now officially vowing to buy the majority of my eggs there, rather than the grocery store.  They're $3 a dozen, which for organic, cage-free eggs is cheaper than the grocery store.  Plus, you get spontaneous discounts occasionally like I did today, and you're supporting community agriculture and organic practices.

Plus, Linda and her husband Jim are the "founders" of the West Chester Farmer's Market, which I also love.  There are going to be a lot of booths this year, which is great (28 according to the website).  Plus, it is going to be set up right in the Square at Union Center, in the road in front of another awesome business The Learning Kitchen (a great place to learn some cooking skills for those veggies you're growing).  Hopefully some new people stumble into TLK and discover it - I discovered it last year when I poked my head in on the way back to my car from the farmer's market.  They have a homemade noodles and a pastry skills class, both of which I am dying to have come around on the calendar again so I can take them!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Organic Gardening meets Industrial Farming

I almost forgot to post about this.  This weekend we went to my in-laws for the long weekend.  My father-in-law is a farmer, of the industrial type.  He has farmed and worked in a factory since graduating from high school (which was pushing 40 years ago).  I have a lot of respect for him, despite the fact our agricultural views are often opposing.  It is interesting knowing someone who is so involved in the industrial farming system.  For many farmers, like my father-in-law, it is the only thing they know; the only thing anyone they know knows.  To him, the idea of "Round-Up Ready" beans is simply a way to get more yield and therefore more income.  "An Omnivore's Dilemma" had an interesting section on how backwards the economics of industrial farming are... prices drop, so the only thing farmers can do is produce more, which simply drives prices down more, etc.  The system is so messed up, and the farmers know it too, but are pretty much helpless to do anything about it. 

He farms about 500 acres or less, his neighbors farm almost 2,000 - hence the reason he also works in the factory and they don't. My maternal grandfather was also a farmer, and he farmed 240 acres, and supported his family on it.  That is completely laughable in industrial farming in this day in age, even with the fact that my grandfather owned the land.

Kate loves riding the little yard tractor with Grandpa when we visit, and since he was still planting this weekend due to all the rain earlier in the month, she actually got to go in the big field tractor with him.  They were both in heaven.  It is really hard to tell who was more excited about it, Kate or Grandpa!  He loves it that Kate thinks it is fun to do farming things with him.

Potato Update & More

I got two bird feeders for Mother's Day, and love seeing the birds out often.  Kate absolutely loves it, and is learning bird names quickly.   Her favorites are the goldfinches, like the one I caught this morning on the feeder.  I need to get a telephoto lens for my camera very badly, as I can't zoom in much more than this without things getting blurry.  Though this was taken through my closed kitchen window, so it's not too bad!

The thing my husband dislikes the most about the sunflower feeder.  All the seedlings in the grass underneath.  I think it's funny.
People think you need special skills to be a gardener, and that it is hard to grow things.  This always makes me laugh for the most part.  The seedlings in the grass above are an example of why this makes me laugh.  Here's another one.  This is a potted zebra grass (which died, because I didn't get it planted quick enough after it came) and out of one of the bottom drainage holes of the pot is growing a tomato.  It sprouted from a seed that must have been in my compost bin.  And it has grown this far, out of a drainage hole in a pot, which absolutely no special treatment, as I didn't even know it was there until last night. I don't know what kind of tomato it is, but I'm thinking it may be a lemon drop cherry from last year.  If I can get it out of there, I may try planting it and see what I get.  It will probably be the same as the 5 other volunteer plants I saved from other areas of the garden that sprouted from the compost.

Here's an update and some photos of the potatoes.  They are coming along fine, it appears.  All I can see is the leaves, obviously, but I filled up the baskets with more dirt last night, and probably should have done it at least a week ago.  The leaves are going strong, and one of them even has a flower bud on it.  I figure that's a good sign.  The shoots are starting to grow through the sides of the basket too, which Kate thinks is fun.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Almost Gardening

I had an "almost gardening" day today, and it was almost perfect.  We had a beautiful low 80 degree day today, and this morning I took the girls to the Highfield Discovery Garden at Glenwood Gardens which is part of the Hamilton County Park system.  We have a membership to the Discovery Garden and it's such an awesome place for kids.  The program today was about vegetables, and Kate, my 4 and half year old, did me proud and could identify all the vegetables the staff member held up, including cauliflower, eggplant and a radish.  I was impressed.  They have awesome raised beds there that they do square foot gardening in, and Kate was even willing to take a bite of spinach (which she spit out and said yuck, but it she was willing!)

After nap this afternoon, the girls had fun playing in water in the backyard.  I filled up some buckets that they played in on the patio, and then we busted out the Dora sprinkler, which we put next to the garden in the hopes of some of the water hitting a few of the plants.  They had an absolute blast, and Kate taught Claire, my 15 month old, how to drink from the sprinkler once she turned the water pressure down.  Precious, precious photo op!  

Then at dinner Kate said she was willing to try a piece of lettuce "with dip" (ranch dressing).  She ate the whole piece, then she ate a small salad, heavy on the dressing, with croutons which are a favorite  of hers.  Plus, she tried a bite of my cheeseburger, which is also a first.  We finished the evening off with a trip to the "ice cream store".  What an absolutely wonderful day of "almost gardening".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hope for the Blueberry?

After a rough start this year where I was threatening drastic measures with my blueberry plant (like throwing it out), the little guy has decided to flower and I'm hopeful of actually getting some blueberries this summer!  Last month I complained about my pathetic blueberry bush, and here it is a few weeks later and there are a couple of very tiny blueberries growing on it (though it still looks pretty pathetic).  So now I am thinking that I lost track of when I got the bush, and this may actually be it's third summer and not it's fourth, which would be right on track for producing blueberries from what I've read.  

I am also thinking that I need to start filling the raised bed I'm going to put it in now and start working on adjusting the pH of the soil now - our soil definitely alkaline, and the blueberries ideally want a soil between 4.0 and 5.0 - Yikes that's a lot of adjusting, which I have never officially done before. And I now want a 2nd variety of blueberry, but don't ask me where I'm going to put it!  Hopefully they don't have to be right next to each other.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Soil Test

I am finally going to get a soil test.  I know I should have done this as soon as we moved in 4 years ago, but better late than never. I know our soil is pretty tough to work with from a gardening standpoint, but this way I know exactly how challenging it is.  It's pretty obvious that our soil is heavy clay (even Kate knows when I am digging up a new bed to throw the "yellow dirt" into the wheelbarrow so I can dump it in the back), and I am fairly certain it's on the alkaline side. I bought a cheap one today at Varnau's ($2.99) just because I was curious about how it worked.

I'm kind of excited to get the test done, and of course it is raining today so I can't dig the samples.  I'm going to have the two raised beds tested (I'm debating if I want to pay to have them tested separately or just test them together), and the lawn area (which honestly I don't really care about, but I know Mark would like it to look nicer and I really don't want him to have ChemLawn or something like that come).

I'll let you know the results when it comes back in.  One thing that I think is kind of ridiculous is that the Butler County OSU Extension office doesn't offer soil testing - the website has info about how to get a soil test from Michigan State University.  It just seems odd that as rural as parts of Butler County are, they don't have a local connection to soil tests, or even a soil testing lab at Ohio State!  So I guess I will be putting some dirt in a bag and mailing it to MSU with a check to have it analyzed.  If you're interested in a soil test, the info from the county extension can be found here.  A standard pH, P, Ca, K, Mg test is $12, and an organic matter test is another $5 (these are 2009 rates - if  you are reading this and it's no longer 2009, these prices may not be accurate - Google MSU soil testing lab for info on current prices).  So I'm getting both tests for the garden soil and just the standard test for the lawn.  It will cost $29 for everything, but it will be well worth it I think.  If  you are elsewhere in the country, contact your local extension office for soil testing, I have heard some offer it free or at a very reduced rate!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Things

I've gotten a bunch of new things and wanted to share them.  First, the additional raised bed is built - 4'x12', which combined with the existing 6'x12' raised bed brings the total square footage of the raised beds to 120 sq ft, plus the other space I use and the pots, I probably have pushing 150 sq ft of gardening space now, which is pretty good considering the small size of the yard and the fact that I want to keep the swing set and space for the girls to play as they grow up.  Here is a photo of the new raised bed (about 1/3 full of dirt) and the old bed behind it.  You can also note the absence of honeysuckle against the stockade fence, which is down and awaiting the arrival of a chipper.

The second new thing(s) I recently received were 2 bird feeders from my mom, a hanging sunflower feeder and a hanging finch feeder.  They have been out for 2 days and already we have a lot of birds using them.  We've had lots of mourning doves and sparrows (which Kate has declared "mommy birds" and "baby birds" respectively, due to their difference in size), and a few goldfinches.  

I also got quite a few new things at Target today.  I really like Target.  I found plant markers in the dollar bin today (if only they weren't made in China - sigh) and got 3 packs, plus a 2 hr watering timer, which will be WONDERFUL for when I'm running the soaker hoses because I am really bad at getting distracted and forgetting to turn them off.  I also got 2 bottles of the liquid Terracycle fertilizer there for the tomato seedlings and sunflowers we recently planted. I love Terracycle not only because it's an organic fertilizer, but because they package it in recycled plastic soda bottles and recycled plastic milk jugs.  I also got Kate a new pair of rain/mud boots (she picked the dinosaur ones which are really cool), plus a new pair of gardening gloves for her as she lost the last pair she had, and a new watering can because her other two were really cheap and broke so quick.  

The last "new thing" I have is about the worst case of poison ivy I've ever had.  We had a fairly significant poison ivy vine growing up the back fence post behind the garden beds, and late last week I decided to pull it out, as nothing else seemed to be killing it (I even borrowed my neighbors Round Up, I'm sad to say, and it didn't kill it).  I wore long pants, long sleeves, gloves, socks, boots, etc, and thought I was super duper careful, but I still managed to get a fairly good sized patch on the inside of my lower right arm, some on my neck, a bit that has just developed on the inside of my upper left arm and I believe some on the outside of my nose.  Grrr.  It has been a couple of itchy, itchy days.  I have been using hydrocortisone and Benadryl a bunch and trying very hard not to scratch. However, I figure it's better that I have it than one of the girls getting it accidentally and being this itchy.  That would really not be fun.

Finally, here are a couple more potato pictures - I can't believe how much they are growing!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another Potato Update

Here's another update on the potatoes.  They are growing strong, or at least they are with leaf production.  It is time to "hill" them for the first time this afternoon (I'd do it now, but I suppose I need to go to the grocery store and make sure my 1 yr old has something to drink this afternoon, because I'm out of milk and apple juice and many other things... oh, how I hate going to the grocery store with the kids.  But I digress...)  Here are some pictures of the growth since the last post.  A top view of each of the baskets, a side view of one of them, and a view of the pot.  I'll post "after" pictures of the hilling later today.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marvin's Organic Gardens

There is one of the few certified organic nurseries in the entire Midwest about 20 minutes from my house (on Rt 42, between Mason & Lebanon - Marvins Organic Gardens), and I have been meaning to go for over a year.  I had a meeting up in Lebanon yesterday morning and thought that was a good excuse to stop on my way home and see what they have.  It wasn't quite what I expected, but it was a nice place.  They had a lot of your standard annuals grown from non-organic seed, but they had a LOT of vegetables, several unique varieties, and all grown themselves from organic seed.  They also had organic fertilizer, though I had to search a bit to find the liquid seaweed I had been searching for.  The suprise bonus - it was an unmarked sale of 25% off.  Very nice.  I picked up a 4-pack of leeks (but I looked closely and 3 of the cells actually have 2 leeks in them), and 1 heirloom purple Cherokee striped tomato plant and 1 San Marzano Italian paste tomato plant.  I haven't bought any tomatoes yet this year (or peppers) so I thought it was totally allowed.  I have a couple jalapenos, a couple of red, orange or yellow bell peppers and a few amish paste tomatoes to buy yet, and then I think I'll have everything I am planting in the garden this year.  They had Amish Paste at Marvin's, but at $2.95 a plant I couldn't justify them, since the ones at Jungle Jims are about $1.49 a 4-pack!  Jungle Jim's are probably not organic seed, but I'm still supporting an individual vs. a mega-corporation, so I'll buy from Jungle Jims. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

First Harvest!

The first harvest of 2009 is sitting on my kitchen counter.  Yay!  It's actually the thinnings from the row of spinach and the pot of baby red mix lettuce, but I'm calling it a harvest because I do plan to wash it and then eat it.  I'm trying to keep a running total on the right of the pounds of food harvested from the garden and the dollar amount that it's worth.  Some blogs I've seen have fancy widgets for this, but I can't find one and have no idea how to create one, so you won't find one here.

The rest of the weekend was spent on important but much less exciting gardening tasks.  I chopped down almost all of the rampant honeysuckle behind the back fence, which did not take as long as I expected - a couple of hours was it.  Now comes the exciting part of digging up the roots and dealing with the brush.  Luckily it's all small stuff (2" diameter or less) so I think we can get a chipper from a friend and chip it into mulch.  Mark and my dad started tackling a gate in the back fence today also, so we can actually access the space behind the fence, since at least 5 ft of it is our property.  I plan on "claiming" everything up to the stockade fence for us though, since the commercial development behind us sure isn't going to be landscaping our side of the fence!

I also dug up the front flower bed by the house this weekend and removed the hydrangea that was not so happy (which I am just giving away because I'm tired of "babying" it for little result), and dug out the moonbeam coreopsis that was spreading through the bed.  I'm going to give some of that away also.  I have a crepe myrtle in the corner of the bed that will stay, as will the boxwoods along the house, but I'm kind of starting over with the rest of the bed.  The perennials were all kind of thrown in the summer we moved in just to have something in the bed, and now I'm hoping to actually have some order to the bed.  

A final fun gardening thing for today was to plant the large pot on the front walk full of the annuals for this year - I think I ended up with a green sweet potato vine, a purple heart, a osteopernim, a zonal geranium (Kate's pick) a gerbera daisy and a lantana.  Plus, Kate and I started some sunflower seeds today.  I'm really excited for one of the varieties - it's called "Mammoth" and gets up to 12 ft tall.  Kate is excited because they'll be "taller than Daddy".

I also found 8 volunteer tomato plants coming up in the garden which I transplanted into little pots and will move into the new raised bed once it's done.  Hopefully they're not all cherry tomatoes, but we'll see!
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