Tag Archives: Gardening

Garden Beneficials

My garden is entirely organic. Other than a limited use of Sluggo when the slugs get completely out of hand, I don’t use even natural sprays.  And hopefully, I’ll be able to discontinue even the use of Sluggo eventually. I have noticed SUCH a difference in my yard since I stopped trying to control nature.

Things that used to be a problem, like aphids, just really don’t exist for me anymore. I used to have aphids covering my rose buds in spring, now I rarely see any. If you leave the bugs alone, the predator insects will come! I have tons of ladybugs instead. Last year, I planted a lot of currant bushes, and I had little worms eating the leaves. I fed a few to the quail, but otherwise, I left them alone. This year, I saw about two worms…before something swooped in and devoured them. I have never seen such gorgeous currant leaves!

It really bothers me when people’s first reaction to seeing an unfamiliar bug is to kill it. So many posts on my gardening groups are something like: “What is this bug and how do I kill it?” Killing things should not be our first reaction! Just today, I was out by one of my mini ponds, and I saw these gross-looking larvae swimming around in it. They looked like maggots with rat tails…and no joke, when I googled, them, that what they turned out to be named: Rat Tail Maggots! Ick! Kill them!!!!

Not so fast. Turns out they are the larvae of Drone or Hover flies, and they are a very important beneficial bug in the garden. Resembling pretty little bees, these flies are great pollinators, and are one of the top predators of worms, caterpillars, and aphids. I want these guys in my garden. I’m willing to let their gross (but weirdly interesting) larvae live in my pond. So glad I didn’t just dump out the water and kill them.

I also enjoy having non-bug beneficials in my garden…like moles. Yes, moles ARE beneficial!

Contrary to public opinion, they don’t eat your vegetables…or any vegetation at all. They burrow through your soil, improving it while consuming worms and grubs. Having a mole take up residence is usually a sign that you have pretty good soil…and you’ll have even better soil by the time he moves on. Sure, he pushes up little hills of dirt here and there, but that’s no biggie.

The only critter I’m having a problem with right now is baby rabbits. Wild ones, from the field behind me. Once they are grown, they are too large to fit through my fence, but baby rabbits are tiny and squishy and cute. Cute…until they eat every single kohlrabi you plant…and do it over and over, because you think you have covered all the holes, so you plant more, and THOSE vanish overnight too. I have a bunch of scrap wire and wood lining the bottom half of my fence now, but my kohlrabi are safe at last. I don’t mind sharing – but I do want some for myself and my chickens!

It is amazing how useful birds are, too. I do have to cover my sunflower and pea sprouts, but otherwise they leave most things alone. And they eat tremendous amounts of bugs. I see the little nuthatches hanging upside down in my roses, looking for bugs. It’s far more interesting, then simply putting out a feeder…because you get to see birds doing actual bird behavior. I need to get more nest boxes out there! The one in the picture above has been in constant use so far this year. The nesting pair gathers feathers from my chickens to refresh the nest after clutch. Even though it is right above one of my most used paths!

One thing I don’t have…yet…is snakes. I’m working on attracting some, but until then, I make do with $1 plastic ones from Walmart. I place them where I really don’t want birds – with my pea sprouts, my ripening strawberries, etc, and they really do keep the birds from coming too close. Even the chickens stay away!

It seems like every time I go out in the garden, I see some new wildlife activity, and it’s so cool.

In other garden news, I have so much lovely fruit ripening from trees that I planted. This year, my very first espalier apple is producing: Cox’s Orange Pippin, a very old heirloom variety and reputedly one of the best tasting…if not THE best tasting. Apparently the taste depends a lot of which part of the world it’s grown in.  It’s from England originally, and since the Pacific Northwest is basically the exact climate as England, I have hopes it will be amazing here.

Also going crazy are the little peach trees I planted just last year. I can’t believe they are producing at all – much less so bountifully! There are at least two dozen peaches developing.

And since I picked great old varieties with leaf curl resistance, I’m having no problems with no spraying.  One is Indian Free, the other is Charlotte.

A garden is a magical place.

Beginning the New Rabbit Colony Pen

Today was a lovely sunshiny day – very Spring-like. I’m betting that we are going to have an early Spring in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Although we will likely have a few more frosts, I think we’re past the hard freezes. I certainly hope so! But whether we are or not, these lovely days are giving me a chance to do a lot of yard work – including build the new meat rabbit colony house.

I think in my previous post, I shared a pic of the site where I’ll be building it, all full of pruned apple branches and various other messes. Today, I cleaned all of that out, and started preparing the site. Since it tends to be lower ground, and thus wetter, the first job was to raise it level. Since I have a former duck pen full of pea gravel that I want cleaned out, that’s what I did today. Shoveled gravel from here:

To here:

Since a very old apple tree is also here, I am working around it.  The pen dimensions are roughly laid out by the boards. The narrow end of the pen (closest to the camera), will have a gate, so I can divide off the buck if I decide he’s causing problems – or just doing his bunny-making job too well! The wide end, shown in the below picture, will be the doe’s quarters.

Over the gravel, I will lay hardware cloth to keep out rats, and then build the pen up from there. To increase the space, there will be various levels inside the pen, and I hope to allow the rabbits access to the rest of the east yard on a regular basis…especially when there are young rabbits in the colony. I will also have a “rabbit tractor”, to allow them lawn grazing privileges.

Speaking of rats… You know, guys, I do try to look on rats as ‘squirrels without fluff’ and allow them a little respect. Like everything else, they have their place in the world. But their place is not chewing holes in my studio wall, so they can get underneath the floor and and nest in the insulation.

I just found this yesterday, and needless to say, I am not pleased. Time to reduce the rat numbers! Last night I set out the Snap Trap, and bagged one extremely pregnant female. I’ll keep putting out the trap until I stop catching them, and then I’ll fix this hole…and perhaps add a bit of hardware cloth along this wall.

Yesterday, I also planted out a bunch of seeds. Brassicas, mostly…kale and cabbage…but also some early lettuce, in the cold frames.

And in the greenhouse, too!

I also started onions, which normally don’t do well for me. I never get large bulbs. But this is the year I will succeed, right? I’m trying Green Mountain Multiplyer onions, because you can leave any bulbs you don’t harvest in the ground, and they will reproduce naturally.

Last year, I started doing the Back to Eden gardening method, using wood chips as a deep mulch. Now the ground has unfrozen, I can see that the chips are already starting to improve the soil. So many earthworms! The chickens, granted access to the east yard “vineyard” are thrilled! You never saw such happy chickens.

Before I had the wood chips, I had to really restrict their access to this yard, because they would busily dig immense holes in the dirt, usually right at some poor plant’s roots. With the wood chips, the layers are so deep that they dig and dig, and before they reach the dirt, they have lost interest in that particular hole and moved on.  And like I said, tons of earthworms! Over the last couple days, they’ve been digging and eating…and then curling up together in a sunny corner to nap and purr with contentment. Yes – chickens do purr! If you search on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few videos. (Mine are too shy of the camera to purr on cue.)

As a result of this happiness, we are going to cover all parts of the chicken’s outside runs with wood chips. It looks much nicer than straw, and I won’t have to:

A) Buy the straw.

B) Run the risk of the straw being contaminated with pesticides, thereby contaminating my garden.

It’s good that the chickens have a new source of forage, because they are running out of the veggies from last summer. The kales are finally eaten completely, the bags of tomatoes I froze for them are almost gone, and the kohlrabi are down to the last few. And looking pretty nasty – though still tasty to the girls!

Thankfully, signs of Spring are everywhere!

June Garden Update

The strawberries are producing like crazy. And they have such lush leaves that birds really haven’t been bothering them.

Lots of other things are also coming into season: blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and currants! I need to pick enough gooseberries to make a small pie. I hear they make delectable pies! I need to can some currant jelly.  I also do local U-Pick, since my garden can’t produce everything I want to preserve. Last week a friend and I picked a few buckets of strawberries, and I canned some to make sauce with, and dried and vacuum-wrapped some more.

I really enjoy preserving food. Just the process of it is enjoyable. Partly I just love old-fashioned things, just the pure history of them. Like hand-spinning with a spindle. I’m getting better; this latest attempt at yarn looks actually legit!

And look! I made mitts! There is just something so satisfying about starting with wool, making your own yarn, then knitting a functional piece of clothing.

The bees (after two failed attempts at getting a hive started) are finally taking off. Their numbers have increased so much, and they have the first box full of comb, and are working on filling the second.  Maybe in the Spring I’ll actually get my first batch of honey!

The biggest news, however, is the ducks. Sadly, they are no longer part of our little farm. I gave them away to a lady with more property and a pond. While I loved seeing them patrolling the garden (and they definitely helped with the slugs and bugs) none of the coop methods I tried worked well enough for us. I really thought having gravel in the coop (and using the hose to spray the poop down through the gravel) would work, but it didn’t. The poop did not break up well enough, and the coop was still too stinky.  And honestly, chickens are SO much easier to keep.  So while I will deeply miss seeing the ducks wandering around, and I am sad to not have their eggs anymore, it’s been somewhat of a relief to have them gone.

Their coop is not going to waste, though! It’s had a move and an update – next time I’ll tell you what is moving in! (And what my plans are for the gravel-y place where it used to be!)

Bees, Quail, Fruit Trees, and Ducks

The peach trees are still doing fantastic. No leaf curl here!

And the peaches themselves are still growing!

The rest of the garden is looking great, too. I love this time of year.

The wood chip mulch makes everything so woodsy. And so far, it’s really helping with the soil. Although we’ve had some record scorchers, I haven’t had to water anything – other than a few things that I just put into the ground. When I pull back the chips to plant, the ground is dark and rich and full of earthworms!

To the chickens’ great sorrow and lamentation, I blocked them out of the east section of the side yard.  The plan next year, is to turn this part of the yard into a colony setup for meat rabbits. Right now, I’m growing a few excess squash and other things that the chickens would rip apart.

The strawberries are loaded with green berries, and see the little apple espalier in the corner? I love espaliers! So much fun!

And this year? I think the bees are going to make it! The queen is laying up a storm, and they are so self-suffient that they completely ignored the sugar water feeder I set up for them. Once I realized I was only feeding ants and hornets, I took it down.

Also, don’t you love the little waterer I set up for them? It’s a giraffe footstool (formerly inside the house until I got tired of it) with a shallow bowl on top. I’m glad I thought to do this, rather than just donate the footstool!

The newest trees, two little plums, are so cute.  I did a count the other day, and I have TWENTY-FOUR fruit trees in my backyard. And this is not counting the bushes, like the gooseberries and blueberries.  Grow a Little Fruit Tree changed my gardening life!

One of these plums is actually a plum/cherry hybrid, so I’m really hoping it fruits before too terribly long. I’m quite anxious to taste them!

The three new ducks are all grown up now, and they are all three boys! Since I wanted a drake, and only intended to keep one anyway, it doesn’t mess up MY plans, but the friend I was planning to give the extras away too already has a male and needed females. So I have two cute little guys up on Freecycle as we speak. Anyone out there want some ducks?

The one I’m keeping, I’ve named Montgomery.

Maisie, Millie, and Montgomery!  See the new pea gravel bedding inside their coop? They like it, and so do I. Much easier to just wash the poop away with the hose set to ‘jet’.

Oh, and look! My teeny tiny little mulberry tree is producing mulberries this year! I’m so excited, because I’ve never even tasted a mulberry, but folks say they are wonderful.

The most exiting news, however, is what’s currently in my incubator. While I am still absolutely keeping my coturnix quail, I’m branching out to bobwhites! I found a seller with Snowflake and pure white bobwhite quail eggs, and of the 12 I put in the incubator, 11 are currently developing into chicks. When they had only been four days in the incubator, I candled them, and was able to see their tiny hearts beating! Such an incredible experience!

Snowflake bobwhites are gorgeous.

bobwhiteAnd the whites are so floofy!

bobwhite2

If you’re interested, I do recommend this seller. His eggs were wonderfully packaged, and although how they are treated by the post office is out of his hands, I’m impressed with getting 11 out of 12 to develop. Sounds like he raises his birds really well, too!

 

Kefir, Chickens, and Garden Pics

Chickens love kefir.  I do too, but I always have more than I can drink, myself, so I started giving the extra to the chooks.  It’s so fun to watch them cluster around the bowl and just drink like graceful little ballerinas.

Plus, two of my girls have always had an issue with poopy butts. It doesn’t seem to be a health issue; they’ve been tested for parasites, and they show no other signs of ill-health. But once they got on kefir, that problem started clearing right up!

In other news, the newest package of bees has been installed in the hive, and (fingers crossed) this time they will thrive. So far, they are doing better than the previous attempts, and are refusing to eat any of the sugar water I’m putting out for them. That’s a good sign, I think; they must be finding plenty of natural food on their own.

The strawberry bed is thriving, with tons of blossoms.

I bought a couple of plastic owls, and have posted them on guard wherever I have seedlings that might be eaten by birds. Usually, I have to put screens over my sunflower and millet seedlings, and sometimes my peas. The birds just eat them out of the ground, otherwise. With the owls watching over them, I haven’t needed to do screens. I can see why the birds are frightened of them; I’ve come face to face with them a few times, and been startled myself. They are really quite realistic!

Roses are blooming already.

And surprise! This year, instead of chickadees in my bird house, I have bumblebees! So cool.

But perhaps coolest of all is the peach trees.

I just planted these last Spring, and never thought I’d get blooms, much less fruit. But here we are, with little green fuzzies!

It’s still too soon to tell how many will develop into actual fruit, but so far it’s encouraging!

Out of Eden Goes Back to Eden

One of the reasons I’ve been lax on posting lately is because I’ve been working crazy-mad in the garden. We have new ducks (which I’ll post about later), and we’ve been hauling in wheelbarrows full of gravel (for the duckyard) and wood chips (for mulch).

Have you heard of the Back to Eden gardening method? If not, you can watch the film for free here: http://www.backtoedenfilm.com/

Basically, you use wood chips for a mulch, and it provides incredible benefits for your soil and plants – including not needing to water anything other than new seedlings. After last year’s drought, I’m very attracted to this concept! Plus, if you live near a tree-trimming service, you can usually get their chips delivered to your door completely free.

Which we did. Two of these piles.

After shoveling dirt and gravel, it’s surprisingly pleasant work to haul chips. They are light, and they give such instant gratification.

We put a layer of chips over all the dirt areas of the garden, and a few small areas, like below, where we had grass, but found it awkward to mow such small spaces. In the future, I may plant a green groundcover here, or I might leave it chips. I do like the woodsy effect of the chips.

I also put it over the entire vegetable garden.

The chips that appear brown in the pictures are from the first load, and have had time to decompose a little. The greenish chips are from the second load, and still fresh. Lots of evergreen needles. It smells like Christmas!

Perhaps because of the smell/prickly nature of evergreen needles, I’ve noticed that slugs are keeping away from my plants. Slugs love marigolds, and for awhile I had some planted with chips around them, and some with just a straw mulch. The ones in straw were being eaten; the ones in chips weren’t. Nice.

Also, did you notice my espalier pear tree? It’s doing so well!

No blossoms yet, but hopefully next year?

After we spread the chips over all the dirt areas, we decided to continue on, and put chips on the gravel pathways, too. Gravel pathways are somewhat difficult to keep weed-free, and I’ve never been hugely attached to the look.

It’s only been a few weeks since we spread the chips, and already I see a difference. The earthworms are very active underneath, and I haven’t had to water, and the soil has, indeed, stayed moist. The real test will be later this summer, but I have high expectations.

New Babies, and DUCKS

It’s that time of year again! I have babies.

This is a Golden Italian Coturnix quail, just hatched. Notice she’s just slightly damp from the incubator, still. I wasn’t sure if it was too early for my quail to have fertile eggs, but I decided to take a chance, and put 11 eggs in the incubator awhile back, and surprise! Five were fertile, and hatched.

Four of them were strong and healthy, but the fifth needed some help getting out of the shell, and he was obviously weaker and smaller than the others. His legs were unable to support his weight, and he was crawling around by pushing himself on his stomach. I tried taping his legs like you do for spraddle-leg, but that didn’t help him at all; what he needed was something to help him stand upright. I came up with the idea for a therapy box.

Just a simple box, too narrow for his legs to spread out in.

It started working right away. With the help of the box, he was able to stand up and start strengthening his legs.

It definitely helped, and by the fourth day, he was walking around fairly well, and I thought he was going to make it. But you just can’t tell with animals, sometimes. On the fifth morning, he died. I figure there must have been something more wrong with him than just his weak legs. Well, at least I tried, and I know have a technique to try again if I ever get more weak-legged quail.

The other four are growing by leaps and bounds, and already have their wing feathers growing in. Here’s hoping most or all are girls. I can’t keep any more boys – I already have one too many!

I just love having ducks in the garden. They make me laugh, every day.

Besides being on constant slug patrol, I’m pretty sure they are actually keeping my small lawn clipped. It’s been very wet here, but warm, and I know the grass would have been too high by now if it weren’t for their grazing.

They are absolutely in love with the chickens, who they believe might be drakes. They are constantly following them around, necks a trembling, hoping the chickens will one day return their love.

It’s not going to happen. Ever. The chickens think the ducks are possessed lunatics.

I can see both sides. The chickens are insanely gorgeous, and the ducks…well…they are just a bit looney.

Every chance I get, I’m out in the garden. This time of year is so splendid for working outside. I finally finished the duck yard fence, and put in their cute little duck door.

I also put up a new trellis, and now I need to figure out what to grow on it. One half (the sunny side) is a white clematis. The other side gets more shade. I need something there…

And hog fencing panels are the best trellises ever. They last forever, and they are STRONG.

My peas are coming up.

And so are my kale and radishes.

The new fruit trees are in the ground, and pruned to knee height.

You know, I counted the fruit trees I have the other day, and I have twenty-two. TWENTY-TWO. In a small(ish) city garden. And that’s just trees, not counting all the bushes, like currants, gooseberries, blueberries, or other fruits. Some of them are potted, some are espaliers, and some are growing according to the methods in Grow a Little Fruit Tree.  It’s going to be fantastic when they all start producing. Last summer, I got a couple of apples, this year, I’m hoping some of the other trees will produce. I’m really excited about the peaches and pears!

The chickens are also hard at work. Here they are preparing one of their garden beds. After they finish prepping it, I’ll plant it in wheat grass for them.

In the front yard, I’ve taken over part of the too-large driveway, and put in raised beds of blueberries. Inside the area formed by the blueberry beds, I’m planting potatoes this year, under straw. Though it’s a bit early, I’ve got a few potatoes out already – they were sprouted ones that I grew last summer.

And if you’re local to me, I’ll be doing a program Monday evening at the Mount Vernon City Library with two of my friends on our trip to Europe last fall. We’ll be covering Iceland, England, Scotland, Venice, and Paris.

girls