Wednesday, February 28, 2007

I'm Hungry for Spring on Wordless Wednesday!

the rest of the story

see other Wordless Wednesdays!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How to get rid of Blister Beetles Organically

I do not believe in using chemical pesticides to rid garden pests. So how do we as organic gardeners get rid of pest insects? There are many ways, but that is not the topic of this post. This post is about my garden's arch enemy: The Blister Beetle!

The blister beetle is usually a problem in alfalfa hay fields, but for some reason, they were especially attracted to my heirloom tomatoes last year!

Perhaps one of the drawbacks to growing heirloom tomatoes is that they are less resistant to disease and to pest insects.

Blister Beetles get their name from the fact that they contain a toxin called cantharidin that will make your skin break out in blisters if you come in contact with it. Usually you would need to touch a crushed beetle to break out, but some people can have an allergic reaction just from touching one of the beetles. The blister beetles in my garden ate a lot of tomato foliage, but the most disgusting part about them was that they left huge droppings behind as well!

Enough already! They disgust me so!

That was way too long of an introduction! This post is supposed to be about what I'm going to do about blister beetles in the garden this year. They bothered me so much last year that I put controlling them high on my 2007 garden to do list. If you look at the list you will see that I plan to grow horseradish next to my heirloom tomatoes to keep away the blister beetles. Where did I get the idea that horseradish would keep them away? From a great book about companion planting:

Carrots Love Tomatoes, by Louise Riotte is the foremost authority on companion planting ideas. Riotte writes in the book that horseradish will keep blister beetles away. Using horseradish root in water as a spray will deter many insects. She goes in to what deters animal pests as well. I am following her advice and growing morning glories on my fence to keep deer away and cucumbers to keep raccoons away. Radishes next to those cucumbers will keep the striped cucumber beetle at bay.

This is a great book because in addition to advice on what to grow to keep pests away, it lists what vegetables and herbs will enhance the growth of others if grown at close proximity. The title tells of one; carrots love tomatoes.

I am planning where to place each vegetable in my garden this year based on these companion planting recommendations, which is number one on my to do list.

So there you have it, number one and two on my list. I hope to be able to write about most of the items on that list.

Thank you for reading this whole post. I apologize for the disgusting beginning. Now you know why I'm determined to be ready for the blister beetles this year!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Fresh Apples for Green Thumb Sunday!

My family went grocery shopping yesterday and I was surprised and upset at how expensive fruit was, not to mention that the variety and quality was very poor. It made me remember the wonderful apples we had just four months ago. So this week's Green Thumb Sunday photos make me hungry!

I wish I could say I grew these apples, but I can't. This past October, I did take these photos and I did pick and eat many of the apples pictured! I do have two apple trees of my own. Unfortunately, they did not produce very well last season so the family and I headed to Evans Apple Orchard in Georgetown Kentucky. They have a great pick your own apple orchard as well as many fun things for children.

We ate our fill in the orchard and took home bushels of apples. The children also enjoyed the pumpkins, some farm animals, a corn maze and a playground. They also had a giant slide perched high atop a mountain of hay bales. I didn't get a picture of the slide, but this next one was taken from the top of the slide.

I can't wait to go back this summer and fall. I wish I had one of those apples right now! I will have to settle for going outside and pruning the two apple trees that I have, and of course I will have to do what every gardener hates the most... wait.

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Friday, February 23, 2007

Garden 2007 To Do List

In my earlier post about what I should be blogging about in February, I came up with a list of "new" things that I plan to do this year in the vegetable garden to hopefully make the harvest better. I wanted to post the list again since I will be referring back to it in the coming weeks.

The original list:

Now for a few more items that need to be addressed BEFORE the outdoor season:

I realize that my list is pretty big. I will try to write posts addressing each thing on the list to either report that I accomplished an item, or explain my ideas. Later in the season I will report back on each item to see how I did. As I write a new post, I will update this post by making each item on the list a link to the corresponding post.

This post will become "home base" for monitoring and reporting my "to do list" progress.

Doing all of this may be more for me than for you the reader. Possibly we will learn some things together.

Happy Gardening 2007!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Nuthatch and Signs of Spring!

I know I said I was going to post about tips for making the garden better this year, but first I wanted to show the pictures my wife took yesterday in our back yard. She got some great photos of this nuthatch:

She had read that the nuthatches are the tamest, friendliest birds. She tested that theory by slowly getting real close to it. Our camera doesn't zoom very far so it is hard to tell from the photos how close she is, but look at this next picture and notice that the nuthatch is looking at the camera without flying away!

The only other bird that even attempted to come to the feeder while she was there was this little Tufted Titmouse, but I think he is our little "cat food friend" that I posted about before!

If you scroll back up to the picture of the nuthatch running down the tree, you'll notice that the titmouse is there too, over to the right!

While outside yesterday, my wife and kids noticed many other signs of spring. We are all happy to see that many perennials were coming up under all of that snow we had.

Some of our Irises!

A Hyacinth!

It is a beautiful sunny day here again today, and almost all of the snow has melted and caused a bit of flooding. Look at the standing water in our yard!

The grass is actually looking green already. I am so happy to see the snow gone. I'm not so sure that my children want the snow to be gone. They still played in the tiny bit of snow that was left.

He may be only half a foot tall, but he's pretty cute! I hope he's the last snowman of the season.

Happy pre-spring!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What should a garden blogger write in February?

What should a garden blogger be writing about in February? This is the question I've been asking of myself all month. Of course it depends on a lot of different things, and to me it raises a second question: Why do you even write a garden blog? I'm not exactly sure about my answers to these questions, but I know why I garden and why I started a garden blog. For me, the main reason for gardening is to harvest bountiful produce!

A good way to ensure that I get the maximum harvest possible, is by recording which varieties of vegetables have performed well and which have not. It also helps to record what I as the gardener did to help or hurt the success of the harvest.

I started raising an intense vegetable garden back in the early 1990's when there was no such thing as blogging or the World Wide Web. There WAS such a thing as logging - keeping track of things in written form. Blogging is simply short for Web Logging - keeping track of things in written form via the Web. I "logged" my garden season on paper, sitting at my physical "Garden Desk" in the middle of my vegetable garden. I started this blog entitled Garden Desk to do the same thing as back then, only this time with pictures!

The other difference between a web log and a paper log is that others can read it and even comment on it! Of course you know that already, but isn't that the most interesting thing about blogging? You can actually communicate with and get feedback from other gardeners. Think about it. That is the true power of blogging.

Unfortunately that can also be the thing that distracts you as the author. Can that cause you to get away from your original reason for blogging in the first place? That brings us back to my original questions. Why do I write a garden blog? The real reason for me is what is written under my title; to document the happenings in my organic garden. If I'm able to get some readers interested and they are kind enough to comment on what I'm doing, then all the better. But even if I can't keep readers interested, I STILL should blog to aid in the success of MY garden.

With that in mind, what should I be blogging about in February? I think I should be writing out my strategies for making the upcoming season a success! I should be forming my battle plan, my game plan if you will.

I have come up with a list of "new" things that I plan to do this year to hopefully make the harvest better.

  • I will use companion planting strategies.
  • I will grow Horse Radish to keep Blister Beetles Away.
  • I will build a tall fence around my corn to keep critters out.
  • I will use vertical gardening techniques to grow crops on the fence.
  • I will use raised beds and square foot garden beds.
  • I will use the Florida Stake and Weave for most of my tomatoes.
  • I will try to have early tomatoes ripe by July 1st!
  • I will grow many new heirloom tomatoes!
  • I will use more composting techniques including "worm composting".
  • I will try for giant pumpkins.
  • I will try some new vegetables and fruits that I haven't grown before.
I'm sure if I thought a little longer, I could come up with more. Wow, I think I just wrote an outline for what I should blog about for the rest of February! I answered my title question.

What about you? Why do you write a garden blog and what do you think we should be blogging about in February? Many people will not read this entire post, so if you actually have, please comment and let us know YOUR thoughts.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

My First Green Thumb Sunday

This is my first official Green Thumb Sunday post, and I am excited to finally be a part of it. When the weather is nice and I'm not gardening, I like to do other things outdoors like fishing out on the lake!

Since there isn't much going on in the garden right now, I went back to last summer looking for some good garden pictures to post. The more I looked at those pictures of my sunny and warm garden, the more I longed for this coming season. It finally got to where I didn't want to look at the garden pictures anymore, so I settled on these lake sunset pictures.

But since Green Thumb Sunday really ought to have a garden theme, here is another silhouette picture from the garden:

Can you believe that is a hornet visiting our butterfly bush? I was trying to take an actual color picture of him, but none of them were very good. So even though the above picture was an accident, it is one of my favorites of my insect photos!

So there you have it - my first Green Thumb Sunday pictures. If you want to see other Green Thumb Sunday pictures, there is a blogroll of everyone else who participates at the bottom of my sidebar. Or of course, you could join in the fun and post your own Green Thumb photos!

Join Green Thumb Sunday

Friday, February 16, 2007

More Secret Fortunes in my Future!

We found some more Magic Sproutz Secret Fortunes!

These are such great little novelties that my daughters originally picked up for me a while ago. We grew one and it worked! Our secret fortune was "Money, Money, Money!" If you haven't been following along, I wrote all about it onJanuary 26 and February 1st. If you don't want to go back and read those posts, in a nutshell this is what our first plant looked like:

And here is what the fortune printed on the seed pod looked like:

My family is excited now because we just found them again at Wal-Mart. They were originally $4.86 each but were marked down to $1.00 each! We bought three of them and plan on growing them right away!

Hey, anything to keep the winter blues away, right! Especially since the outdoor gardening season keeps looking farther and farther away. We have had more snow and ice all week and they're calling for a couple more inches of snow tomorrow!

I'm beginning to think that Puxatony Phil is crazy! Who can trust an old groundhog anyway! :)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hippeastrum for Bloom Day!

Carol at May Dreams Gardens is starting a monthly Garden Blogger's Bloom Day in which we are to write a post about what is blooming in our gardens on the 15th of each month. February is probably the month with the least amount of blooms, but it makes it easy for me. I only have one thing blooming right now, but the blooms are gigantic - My Hippeastrum!

These photos were taken a few days ago, but the Hippeastrum is still beautiful today. There are actually more blooms now than pictured. These pictures are from last week's post. In that post, I showed a close-up of a fungus gnat. I am not including those pictures here because this is about the beauty of the bloom!

Thanks Carol for coming up with the idea. I can hardly wait to see what everyone posts in the next few months!

Dangerous Ice but Beauty in the Garden!

We have had a lot of freezing rain and everything is covered in ice. Many people stress out in times like these, but I like to look for the beauty in it instead.

Sure you have to be extra careful when driving, and be prepared for a power outage, but isn't it amazing how the water can freeze instantly as it is dripping off of the trees?

If you want to see even more of nature's beauty in the ice, you have to head out to the garden and focus on smaller things like this ornamental grass.

But you can't even stop here. You have to get closer still.

The droplets are solid yet liquid, random yet uniform, still and yet full of motion.

God is so big and yet he seems to delight in creating beauty even in the so small.

Yesterday was difficult traveling in the ice and snow, but as everyone around me on the highway and at work were grumpy and upset about the weather, I was able to remain focused on the fact that it is all from God and it is all beautiful.

Even still, I hope this morning's commute is a little less treacherous!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Black Widow and Square Foot Gardening!

I am currently reading Mel Bartholemew's "All New Square Foot Gardening" book and it is just as good as his original Square Foot Gardening book from many years ago. Here is a picture of the two covers:

Notice that among other things, he has chaged the way he lays out his squares. In the old days he just layed down wide boards to walk on in between his garden squares. Now he builds raised bed squares and spaces them farther apart with grass growing in between them.

Well Mel, I can give testimony as to one reason that is a better idea. Last season, I layed down planks in between my different kinds of beans like that to walk on. This fall when we cleaned up the garden I turned over the plank and guess what I found living under there? I found ants, worms, slugs and THIS:

Isn't that a great Happy Valentines Day for you! I'm pretty sure that is a black widow spider! Of course I did not get to see its belly to check for the diamond pattern.

What do you think? If anyone reading this agrees that it is a Black Widow, please comment. If I'm wrong, then tell me what kind of spider it is. Here are a couple more pictures of it:

I have video of it as well, but I couldn't figure out how to get it embedded in this blog. (If anyone knows how to to that, I would appreciate some pointers)

So anyway, this season I will have to think twice about using boards to walk on since it provides great cover for such creepy spiders! I don't like Black Widows living in my garden!

On the plus side, it sure makes for a great addition to my close-up bug photo collection! :)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What happened to our Robins?

As I stated yesterday, I want to fill you in on what happened to the robin's nest we found this summer.

Cue the flashback sequence music!

It was on June 15th when we discovered a robin's nest in the lowest branch of one of our peach trees. It was only about four feet off the ground and had three eggs in it.

We checked on the nest every day and the mother seemed to be doing a good job tending her nest. After a few days however, when we checked on the nest we found this:

The nest had nearly fallen out of the tree, but the eggs were still on the ground and not broken. We put the eggs back in the nest and tied the nest more securely to the tree.

We kept checking each day, and a few days later an egg fell out again. This time, I wasn't sure if it would be okay because it was cracked and you could see the fuzzy little bird through the cracks. I put the egg back anyway. This time, the mother bird was screaming at me quite a bit as she sat perched on the neighboring apple tree. I was also pretty uneasy because the local stray cat was watching the whole scene as well.

The next day I went to check on the nest and because of the cat, I expected the eggs to be gone. Instead, I was delighted to find that the broken egg from the day before had completely hatched!

The next day, we all went out to check on them and the baby bird was still there but one of the remaining two eggs were gone! When I looked around on the ground, instead of finding the egg, I found another baby bird that had fallen out. I wasn't sure if I could pick it up without getting my scent on it and causing the mother bird to reject it, so I picked it up using my shirt. I put it back in the nest and tied the nest to the tree even better than before. This was getting a bit ridiculous!

I know this is getting redundant, but the next day...

there were two healthy baby birds but the third egg was gone. It was not on the ground and there was no baby bird either. We weren't too terribly upset, because watching the remaining two babies was a real treat!

The problem was that every time the mother robin took off from the nest, she knocked it over a little bit more. The branch was also getting heavier and heavier because under the nest was a foundation of five growing peaches!

Some time in the next week or so, another baby disappeared. The remaining baby robin seemed to double in size each day until it took up the entire nest. I have no idea how three birds could have fit in that nest.

The remaining baby grew until it looked almost as big as an adult robin. One night it was particularly windy and the next morning the baby robin was gone and blue jays were stealing straw from the nest. I assume they were taking it to use in nests of their own. There is much recycling in nature.

So what happened to the baby robin and its mother? Through our research of how robins raise their young, we learned that the mother kicks the baby out a couple of weeks BEFORE it knows how to fly. She continues to care for it in the undergrowth of thickets and small woods. We have plenty of that at the edge of our yard, so we'd like to think that "Junior" survived to adulthood just fine. We're pretty sure that he would have had no chance at all without our intervention.

Regardless of his fate, that nest in our peach tree was a true blessing to our family. How wonderful it was to see God's work in nature at such close range! It was neat to see the babies hatch and the surviving baby grow! It was also neat to see the mother so diligently taking care of her young!

So ever since that surviving baby robin left us, when I see a robin in the yard, I think to myself "I bet that's Junior!"

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