Saturday, May 31, 2008

Black Widow Spiders

Evil! We have found them in the yard several times, always under the swimming pool. It was a pool where the sides went all the way to the ground creating a nice dark area. When we first tilled up our back garden area about 5 years ago I could have sworn a spider I saw was a black widow but David crushed it into the dirt and we couldn't find the body to get a good look. I don't know of any other shiny hairless black spiders around here. There are always small messy looking spider webs on the ground all over the place under plants. Well on Thursday I was watering an eggplant and realized I was staring at one of the biggest Black Widow spiders I have ever seen in a web around the base of the plant. Well, it helped ruin my day!

I can not stand the thought that there is a tiny creature in our yard that if it bites us will potentially kill or cripple my children. I knew a woman we bought milk from several years back whose teen daughter was bit by a Black Widow spider when lifting up a piece of wood she didn't look under first. Last I talked to her a year after the bite she was still having a lot of problems. The spider crawled back in to the straw mulch after I spotted it and I haven't been able to find it since to kill it. Our chickens love to eat anything alive they can find however I doubt setting them loose will lower the Black Widow spider population enough to compensate for the near complete destruction of our plants. I guess I need to look into getting some Guineas again and the book Gardening with Guineas. They are supposed to be great about eating bugs and not plants. However they are notoriously stupid. I guess we would need the Guinea X'ing sign on that page.

Friday, May 30, 2008


Homestar Runner anyone?

Here are the birthday boys and their sisters. They are all or almost 8,7 and 5 now. David Benjamin was just telling me while we were out in the garden picking peas this afternoon that he can recall when Fintan was born. He remembers my parents taking them to the hospital to see us and coming in the room where I was holding Fintan. He had just turned 3 then. I am truly surprised he remembers that. He says he can't remember when Isaac was born. LOL I wonder why!
He is just the sweetest big brother ever.It would have been better if we didn't all get sick that weekend. It ruined our camping plans. We need to go before it gets too hot.

Such big blue eyes and sweet chubby cheeks!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The first chicken tractor

David built this for our chickens. I think he did a great job. We copied one we saw on the net. There is a little door in the front to let them out to graze. We have the larger side door for easier cleaning access. And then there is the door behind the laying box to gather the eggs. The chickens are clearly thrilled to be outside. We let them out every morning after we eat our breakfast while the children play outside to help deter the hawks. And the hawks are definitely there. We will hear them or see them after perhaps noticing the large shadow crossing the lawn.

This is a picture of the birds from just a couple of days ago. They grow so fast! It's unbelievable. We need to make more tractors and paint this one. I am not looking forward to having to decide which of our roosters to weed out. We are starting to be able to differentiate the roosters in all the chickens except the Silkies. Too late we learned that it is actually very hard to determine the sex of a Silkie until they are much older and you can catch the rooster crowing perhaps. See the fluffy white Silkies? They are like balls of fluff running across the lawn. We love the personality so far of Silver Laced Cochin Bantams best. They are so friendly. They love to be held and on their back at that to get their tummy rubbed!

My first salad!

Here is is. An assortment of lettuces, chives and violas. It was delicious.

And here is our first pot of greens. With the obligatory blob of bacon grease. Mmm. I turned it into a cream soup.

There is something so satisfying about eating something you have grown yourself. It also makes it all the more likely that you will find an inchworm in your salad bowl after you have eaten 2/3rds of it!


I pulled back the mulch to plant some amaranth and look what I found! A nice big pile of worm castings. There was a great big earthworm who took off as quick as he could from the pile when I pulled back the mulch.

This is what it looks like under the thick layer of straw we put down. The paper and cardboard are very decomposed. The ground is soft and moist without being too damp. I planted some amaranth and put a very thin layer of coffee grounds over it.

In general I am very pleased with the mulching. I have found that it is not killing all the weeds though. My straw and paper mulch has been on the garden for over 2 mo now. And despite that I have consistent trouble with dandelions and sorrel pushing its way through. Of course it is NOTHING compared to the mess I would have if I hadn't mulch and if I had tried to till and weed it all by hand. I have a hard enough time trying to deal with the weed seeds in the herb garden that is not mulched like this. I am planning on mulching it better once the seeds I have planted recently come up. I also can not plant directly in the mulch like Pat Lanza says you can in her book Lasagna Gardening. I tried it at first with my squash and cucumbers and it was a disaster. The compost I put in as a soil pocket became just that...a hardened pocket in the mulch. The plants just did not send roots through the peat pots into it either. They were basically stalled until I dug them all up, removed the peat pots and dug down to the soil and replanted them. They are doing great now and we have some blossoms!

The okra is just coming up. I can not wait to enjoy this okra. We have an assortment of squash and cucumbers here ( bush butternut squash, two bush cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash and a scalloped patty pan summer squash) and the okra is planted in a row down the center of it all. It is hard to see it all right now with the angle and the straw.

Here is a shot of part of the herb garden. We have this 4 square area and then another area behind it equal in size. However the plants have completely taken over the back half of the herb garden. It was planted all in perennials and the rosemary has an 8 ft span and the thyme with the rosemary has pretty much engulfed all the paths. I'm afraid the rosemary is going to have to go eventually. It looks awful. A giant pine tree fell on it this past New Years and just made a mess of it. I didn't prune it either and it has become too sparse on the inside. But it provides its own microclimate to the area and just cutting it down will drastically change things. It's nice how little weeding needs to be done in that area of the garden because the plants are so dense.

In the herb garden we have rosemary, a variety of thymes, oregano, marjoram, french tarragon, lambs ears, echinacea, bee balm, egyptian topping onion, saffron crocus, phlox, nasturtiums, lettuce leaf basil and genovese basil, daisies, sweet williams, a David Austin rose Anne Boleyn, violas, chives, borage, marigolds, variegated loosestrife, St John's Wort and variegated St John's Wort, ice plant, dill, lemon balm, anise hyssop and whatever else I can't recall right now. I just planted some achillea, garlic chives, traditional chives, salad burnet and cilantro too and hopefully they'll come up! I am in the process of mulching with coffee grounds if you are wondering what's going on with the dark ground in some areas.

The tomatoes and tomatillos in the bed on the side of the house look wonderful. The ones in the back garden however have evidence of being eaten by flea beetles. I don't see any flee beetles though just the tiny holes. I need to figure out how to get rid of them.