Friday, August 26, 2011

Funky harvest

My garden is a land overflowing with abundance and mutations. Seriously, I apparently can't grow anything normally. I planted over a dozen zucchini, which ANYONE can grow, and while they flower exuberantly, no squash appear. I mean, shit, everyone else in the world accidentally grows so much zucchini they have to force them on others at gunpoint. Then I plant carrots and cucumbers, which all decide to grow perfectly round. Instead of long, slender, beautiful vegetables, I get this:

I mean, what? I can maybe understand the carrots, since they might decide the ground is just too wearying to try to push through, but the cucumbers? They are all like fat weird balls.
Also, my marigolds are MONSTERS. I grew them from seed. For a long time, they didn't look like they would live. They drooped, and looked depressed, and lost leaves. Then, after two months of being emo, they shot up five feet into the air and exploded into flower. I've never seen marigolds so tall. 

 My corn looks beautiful... from the outside. I peeled back the husk on a few ears of corn, and found that each one seemed to be the home of a new and interesting bug. None of them would be edible. They certainly didn't look appetizing. I am disappoint.

 Speaking of bugs, the yellow jackets are doing fine. Bastards. I tried to take a picture of them as they flew in and out of their burrow, but they were not cooperating. They were flipping me the bird as they buzzed past. So, instead, here is a dumb picture of their evil festering nest.

Also, here is a caterpillar. She's huge. I was picking tomatoes, and I was startled to find this big darling hanging underneath one of the tomato plant branches. I poked her a little, and she pulled her face out of the branch and drooled juice everywhere. I would be annoyed, but as you have read before, I have approximately 28,000 tomato plants. I can afford to lose a few. I already have gathered several big baskets of tomatoes by now and there are still dozens green still on the vine.

I found a nifty catepillar ID guide online so I could figure out what she is, and found that she's a Great Ash Sphinx. I like her shiny green face.

Despite everything else being weird and funky, my green beans are still producing like mad, and if I'm REAL FAST I can scoop out some potatoes a few at a time, and I'll eat the carrots and cucumber despite their questionable heritage, so I can get a whole big bucket full of happy fresh foods! I look at this and feel pretty damned satisfied with myself. And I think, someday I will grow normal-looking things! And maybe even the mighty zucchini!

In other news, my bees are not making me any damned honey yet. I mean, they are finally making some honey, but I'm worried they won't have enough even for themselves once winter hits. I really don't want to have to feed them syrup to get them through to the spring, but it looks like I might have to. I also noticed two weeks ago that Small Hive Beetles have finally found the hive. At first, I freaked out. I thought they would kill the colony. I made a bunch of stupid and worthless traps that managed to catch, like, one ant. But the last time I got into the hive, I saw that it wasn't that bad. There were only a few beetles, and when I opened the cover, the bees were actively murdering the couple of beetles that were suddenly exposed. Rock on, you hardcore babes. Here is a picture of them looking busy without actually doing much work:

Newsflash: Yellowjackets are little bastards

I haven't posted in a long time for two reasons. 1) I've been very busy and haven't had much time other than mowing and random weeding. 2) I forgot my password to this blog and it took forever for me to remember it.

I still had adventures, though.

About a week ago, I decided I REALLY wanted to have potatoes for dinner. I didn't have any in the pantry, and I didn't want to go to the store, but never fear! Because I have a beautiful lush garden full of opportunistic weeds and also potato plants.

Last spring, I had read about all the different and strange ways people grow potatoes, and I picked what sounded like the easiest method, which is under straw. For those who are not seasoned gardeners ('cause I sure ain't), it's the simplest thing in the world. You simply mow the future potato patch as closely as you can. Then you put down the seed potatoes right on the ground. Then you just cover them up with a thick layer of straw. The potatoes grow throughout the straw, and there's very little weeding, and the soil under the straw breaks down and makes it ready for it for planting with something else next year.

I had noticed that my potato plants had yellowed and began to fall over, so they were ready for harvest. Rock on. That means it's potatoes for dinner! Get yo forks and butter!

So I go out there and start digging around in the straw. I pull out a few spuds, but they are small, so I want more. After another few minutes, I notice one of my hands kinda hurts. As I'm thinking that, I realize, no, it REALLY HURTS. Like burning acid and horror.

I yank my hand out of the straw, and a damned yellow jacket is stinging the crap out of my finger. I go to smash it off, and then my world turns to pure hell as an entire swarm of the little beasts come flying out of the straw right at my face.

I had dug directly into their nest. Like a boss.

I go AAAAAAHHHHHH! and throw myself backwards. They are all over me - my shorts, my shirt, my legs - stinging like mad. I keep screaming and start swiping them off of me as I dash for the fence. I notice they are stinging right through my clothes, so in my panic I just start ripping my clothes off in the yard as I'm still running for the house. On the other side of the fence, all four dogs are barking HOORAY! at me, because obviously this is some new and incredibly awesome game I've thought up.

I finally rid myself of the yellow jackets and most of my clothes, and make it into the house in only my boxers and shoes. I want to vomit. I start shaking. I realize I'm crying like a baby. I see that my shoulders and my knees are covered in red swelling welts, and my hand is on fire. I think I'll probably die of some ridiculous sudden new allergy to stinging insects.

And I think, fuck... all I wanted was some damned butter potatoes for dinner and now instead all I get is pain. Blah.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gardening = Terror?

Saturday, I took a break from studying and spent some time in the garden. I mucked out the pond (and found teenie tiny baby goldfish!!!) and planted some flower seeds. At one point I was digging around the base of a tree with a hand trowel, wanting to make a space for some shade flowers. I'm stabbing away at the dirt and, suddenly, this THING popped out of the ground like it was on a damned spring and almost splatted into my chest. Thankfully I have ninja-like reflexes developed from a lifetime of being highly anxious and tweaky, so I was able to throw myself back while shouting like an idiot.

This horrible ball of slime is what sprang out at me:

It was the exact size of a chicken egg, covered in 1/2 inch thick layer of slime, and smelled terrible. I thought I had dug up an alien baby. I was not happy that my serene garden contained such horrors. I knew Dani wouldn't believe me if I simply described it to her, so I scooped it up on my trowel and carried it into the house. She was taking a nap, but this was too important for sleep! Her reaction was: what the crap is that? Is it alive? How about you put that outside? 

I plopped it onto the front porch and, in the interest of science, I cut it open. That little bastard was as hard as a rock. It also released a hideous stench once it was sliced into. It took being putrid very seriously.

I have no idea what the crap this thing is, which means I need to hit the internet. I'm guessing if it truly is not an alien baby that is about to sprout tentacles at me, then it is probably a fungus of some kind. I get on Google images and type in the most unfortunate series of words, bringing up pictures I should have never seen, wish I could erase from my brain, and will probably alter my psyche forever. Things like mucus, eggs, slime, gross, fungus, etc. It was a bad idea.

Finally, I discover that my unholy friend is a stinkhorn "egg" or fruiting body. How interesting is that? It's deliberately nasty to attract flies, and the adult stinkhorn looks disturbingly like a phallus with some kind of terrifying STD. 

Of course I had to show the girls. They were delighted and yelled, "GROOOOOSS!" and poked it with sticks. Then I put it in a bowl on the porch and forgot about it until today. I went to dump it out and saw that it has grown. AHHH! It's still alive! It's trying to reach for me! And it's slimier! I don't like nature anymore!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bike for coolness

Dani and I have very recently bought bikes. My last bike was trashed (by me, on purpose) a year ago. I had bought it at a large chain department store for super cheap. So what I got was a super cheap bike. As in, it was TERRIBLE. It was heavier than a car, the gearshift locked up, the brakes squealed despite everything I did - and what finally made me go crazy and bust it up and throw it away was that every time I rode it and had to shift gears - the stupid chain would spin right off. So I'd be pounding up a steep hill, attempt to shift, and suddenly I'm pedaling against zero resistance and I have a dramatic fall to the ground. FURY I tell you.

I wanted to like bikes. I wanted to ride my bike to work every day and be a good-for-the-earth citizen. But hell no.

But Dani *really* wanted a bike, and the idea seemed more attractive as time went on, so she bought one for me because she's awesome like that. Now I have a nice bike. A *very* nice bike. As in, it's bloody expensive and it's rugged and manly and wants to crush you under its thick, mountain-bike tire treads. I love to ride it. It's like the wind. And the frame is delightfully feather-light. I look for excuses to zip around the block on it.

What's funny is that, all of sudden, I have unintentionally joined the Cool Bike Kid Club. A dread-locked about-to-be-a-Cambodian-missionary dude went into spasms at the sight of my bike. That I could understand. But today I rode to the local farmer's market (I'm such a goddamned hipster now), and this old man with an impressively huge bristly beard and large dirty overalls ran up to it to gush over it like it was a prize race horse. He takes his cigar out and drawls, "Now thiiiiiiiiis is an expensive bike!" And then he touched it in a way that made me uncomfortable.

I feel like I'd better educate myself on bike etiquette and bike secret handshakes and bike winks and nods and accessories. I don't want the Bike Club police to realize I'm an outsider and take me down in some vicious bike gang back-alley murder. Bike riding is intense, yo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Beekeeper's daughter

Ivy has expressed a lot of interest in the beehive; to the point of occasionally getting in trouble for inviting neighborhood kids over to check it out and getting a wee bit too close. So today I suited her up for the first time and took her with me when I went to check the hive. I wanted to teach her how to act around the bees - how to be responsible, slow, and quiet.

Normally a not particularly cautious person, she surprised me by showing some reservation about this situation. So I duct taped her pant legs' closed, let her wear the enormous hive gloves, as well as the big hat and net. This made her feel more confident - though she was constantly paranoid that a bee had somehow made its way under the hat and she refused to believe me that it was one of her braids moving around.

The bees seem to be doing alright. I'm not sure, though, since I don't exactly have any experience yet. There do appear to be less of them. Bees live only about 3 weeks during the summer months, and since there hasn't been much time for the next generation to be born, and it's been a good three weeks since I've had them, there looks to be a sharp dip in the population. I'm crossing my fingers that nothing terrible is happening. They haven't made much progress since I checked them last weekend.

I couldn't find the queen, but again, I suck at that and haven't seen her since I put them in the hive. So that doesn't mean anything. I looked closely and didn't see any evidence of disease or mites, which is awesome. They are also still very chill about me pulling out the frames. They just don't seem to give a damn. I use a smoker, but only lightly. They are all, "Whatever!" and completely ignore me.

My garden is doing... not too shabby. I haven't been able to give it much attention because of school, so I can't complain too much, but I do wish I could have it looking/producing better. I have to keep reminding myself that 1) I am not supporting my family with its bounty, so it's ok if it fails, 2) it is only for my own amusement, and 3) I am not trying to get in Better Homes and Gardens or some shit like that. 

But I'm sad because my spinach bolted. It's been so damned hot that they barely made it six inches tall before farting out on me. I love spinach so I'm bummed. I did read that in my area it's easier to grow spinach in the Fall because spinach also prefers short days. I'll try again then.

My potatoes are getting tall. I forgot what potato flowers looked like and I think they are puuurty. Here, I took a crappy photo for you. I think that I had a smear on the lens.

 My regular peas did not grow at all, which is bizarre, but my snow peas have gone crazy. All of a sudden, there are snow peas all over the damned place. I picked several handfuls, ate a good dozen of them as I went, and then made dinner with them. I am very excited that this is the first time that my dinner was dictated by what was growing in my lil' garden. It feels really good, you guys.

Very first garden meal! Stir fry with snow peas, spinach, carrots, and "chik" patties. This is one professional food photo - it deserves to be featured in a snotty food blog. Or something.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Filtration - The Totally Sweet Method

After seeing how much it would cost to buy a properly sized filtration system for my little 1,000 gallon pond, I decided to build my own. I love projects. This one seemed perfect: I get to research something extensively, I get an excuse to buy more tools, I get to be creative, and I get to muck around outside. Honestly, I probably could have spend the extra money to buy one premade, but I love how mine turned out.

Instead of focusing on mechanical filtration, I went for biological. The basis of this method is having water flow slowly through a reservoir containing something that houses beneficial bacteria. This bacteria then nabs the ammonia produced by my fishes and fixes it. Then plants can take it and use it for their own planty uses.

First, I bought a big plastic planter and drilled out a few holes for inlet and outlet. The PVC piping is where the water flows in and down to the bottom. When it comes out of the elbow joints, the water swirls around and then up through all the filtration media. The media could have been just about anything, but I choose cut up sponges (can house a shit-ton of bacteria) and lava rock (also good surface area and also looks awesome).

The biggest problem is that I only vaguely knew what I was doing. So there was a lot of false starts and many frustrating return trips to the hardware store. My daughters and their various neighborhood friends all found this pretty damned amusing. So I'm sweating and cursing in the hot, hot sun, trying to figure out how to make everything work, while they sat in a row and watched, making comments such as:

"Why aren't you wearing a shirt?"
"My dad is more bald than you."
"Was that supposed to happen?"
"OoooooOOOOoo! That was a BAD word!"

I finally finish with the pot and its innards, and go to hook it up to my pump. Well, great - somehow I break the damned pump while I'm cleaning it out.

This is what I find when I clean out the pre-filter on my old pump. This is some damned fine American homegrown marinated fish crap. You want some. You know you do. Don't hold back now.

I then realize the pump should have have heart failure months ago as it was designed for a tiny statuary pool, not a decent sized garden pond. I go back to the hardware store and buy a big-ass pump. I'm excited about this pump. It will sure as hell pump some damned water around.

Problem is, that when I hook up the pump, it is so bad-ass and forceful that water simply sprays through the system instead of percolating through. It's like a damned fire hose. So BACK to the store to get a more reasonable-sized pump.

Full of media:

Full of lava rock, too:

Plants added to the top of the filter:

And does it work? BY GOD IT DOES. And I also bought a bunch of bog plants to put in the top, so the roots can be part of the filtration system. So what I have now is a large pot that overflows into the pond, with some pipe that goes to the smaller pot and adds to the mini-waterfall, and tons of lava rock for bacteria to flourish on. All I have left to do is hide all the the pipes, but I don't want to do that until I'm sure nothing goes haywire in the next few days.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Queen of the Sun

I am taking myself on a date and going to see this independent film tonight: Queen of the Sun

It is only in my city for a week, and it's so timely it's a little bit... mystical? I am suddenly so obsessed with bees, and dream about bees, and go and watch my bees like a creepo, and trying to learn all I can about bees and the culture around caring for them. So, you can't even grasp my excitement that this movie has been made and I get to go see it and ALSO drink a beer while I'm there.

Mostly, I am intrigued by the woman who dances covered in bees. Not sure I'm at that level yet. I probably need to do more drugs and move somewhere more conducive to New Age lifestyles like Arizona or Vermont.

And besides, who would *not* go see a movie with an awesomely weird half-naked French guy who likes to brush his bees with his mustache?? I mean, honestly.

I did not take this photo. As I did not travel to France and track him down and say HEY GUY! Show me your hives and let me photograph you with my cameraphone! But then again.... maybe I did.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Funky pond

Last Fall, when we first moved into this house, I decided to put in a pond. There was a tiny preformed pond at my old place, and I wanted to bring my little feeder goldfish with me and not have to keep them in an aquarium. I wanted a much bigger pond, and I had more time than money, so I ended up digging the entire damned thing by hand.

This is how crappy it looked after this winter:

Woo muddy hole!

A combination of rain, more rain, and tons of goddamned rain made it difficult to get any plants in. And then the dogs enjoyed going after me and digging up anything I put in the ground. Or trampled it. Or ate it. Or generally made me furiously angry.

Well, the rain finally tapered off a bit, and I erected a great big White Trash Pride fence to keep the dogs away, and finally things began to grow. It doesn't look too shabby now. I still need to cement the rocks in (the dogs knock them into the water), and do something about the muckiness in the pond itself.

You can see some pots in the water - I am attempting to grow mini cattails and water lilies. The cattails have sprouted, but nothing out of the lily yet.

The filter I have right now is not up for the job of such a HUUUGE pond. I started looking for a larger filtration system, and was a bit blown away by how much they cost. Screw that noise. Then I stumbled across a site on DIY pond filters using giant rubbermaid containers, laundry hosing, PVC piping, and lots of scrubby pads as filtration media. Hot damn! I love DIY projects. And instead of an ugly rubbermaid container sitting around, I can substitute a large plastic attractive planter. The top will be open, and I can plant bog plants directly into the filter, and the roots become part of the system.

When I get that started, I'll be sure to post photos of the great big mess I make out of it and then you can all snicker at me and say, "Man, you should have just bought a damned professional filter." It'll be great!

I must not be screwing up too badly, though, since the fish all made it through the winter and appear to be pretty pleased with themselves. The other day I thought they were all having a seizure and then realized they were spawning. So hooray! We probably had baby fish for approximately two or three days before the parents all ate them for a snack. Ahhh families!

Ivy says things

Today the weather was hot and muggy, and it made everyone surly and listless. Ivy, my eight-year-old, was lying back in a chair, staring out into space. Then she said, "Dad, do you know what I want to be when I grow up? An atheist."

I said, "Um. Do you know what that means?"

Ivy snapped, "Yes! It means I won't have to believe in anything!"

Later her mood was much improved and I put several tiny braids in her hair. Delighted, she ran into the kitchen to show Dani, exclaiming, "LOOOK! Dad says it's called a Corn Head!"

Friday, May 20, 2011

So many seedlings

At the beginning of March, I was overwhelmed with the need to make a garden. Of course, where I live it was too cold to plant anything other than radishes, so I started many plants in the basement. I set up an elaborate system of lights propped up with books or tied to the wall with string. I started a zillion seeds.

I wasn't really thinking about just how many seedlings I was growing. It didn't seem like much when they were only half an inch tall. And many died anyway, since the basement was damp and chilly, and I didn't exactly have the best nursery system going.

The flower seeds either sprouted quickly and I put them outside one by one, or I killed them with love. Either way, easy to handle. But then my tomato and pepper plants began to mature.

See, I love tomatoes and peppers. My love borders on the obscene. I figured, a few plants aren't enough to fulfill this love, so I will start LOTS of plants. But when they got big enough to pluck from the cookie sheets and put into individual little peat pots, I began to get a little stressed out. I'm in nursing school so I don't have a lot of extra time. Then they were big enough to transfer outside, and I become VERY stressed out. I hadn't counted before, but I had more tomato plants than a single person would ever need. The Roommate and I both like tomatoes, but Dani and the girls are not enthusiastic about them.

I have been putting those goddamned tomato plants in the ground for the past three days. As of an hour ago, I have transferred FORTY plants. I still have thirty left sitting in the wheelbarrow. Mocking me. Looking depressed and wilted because I won't give them a beautiful place in the sun to spread their hateful little leaves.

Little bastards.

What makes it worse is that I had decided to be all hippie about the garden. I took the advice of internet gardening hippies and I have been making most of my garden with the "double-dig" method. This means you have to: 1) dig a lot 2) dig some more 3) be real pissed off and tired but you still have MORE DIGGING. I had done this because I thought, hey, it's great for the earth! And it'll be a good workout and I'll get some awesome buff arms! But those damned hippies scammed me. They didn't say, "Oh, this will take for-fucking-ever. And you'll want to kill yourself long before your garden is ready."

Also, I didn't realize that I would be uncovering with my BARE HANDS a lost graveyard of glass. I don't know why the previous owners hated glass so much, but there was some serious loathing there. The entire back yard is full of shards of glass. And it's well under the sod, so it's been there a while. I guess they would collect bottles and go out there and go SMASH I HATE YOU BOTTLES and spread the glass around evenly so no area was untouched. I don't get it. I've never seen this much glass in one spot. So I've slashed open my fingers so many times it's ridiculous. I'm also finding bizarre twisted rusted pieces of iron. What?

Anyway, I also planted a small mystery garden today. Why is it a mystery? Because I have NO IDEA what those seedlings are. I had started a ton of flower seeds, moved them out to the little window box in the yard to grow, and promptly forgot about them. A few days ago, I pulled the top off so they could get used to not being in a greenhouse environment - but I forgot out Ranger. That damned dog got into the box and dug it all up - leaving me to find a big pile of potting soil, sad seedlings, and chewed up plant markers. So I went ahead and planted them all and we'll see what happens.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Of Bees and Worms

I'm usually obsessed with something, and lately my boiling, intense energies have been focused with laser-like intensity on bees. For my birthday this year, I got a Langstroth hive and 2 lbs of bees. I thought I was going to vibrate out of my skin waiting for my tiny ladies to arrive. They were over a week late and I was FREAKING. According to the sour, angry old man that I ordered the bees from, I didn't get a tracking number. He grouched, "Do you know how many people buy bees every spring?" As a matter of fact, I had no idea! Four? Thirty-eight? A thousand? It was certainly my first time, and instead of properly educating myself by attending beekeeping classes and going to beekeeping club meetings, I read a book and a dozen web sites written by extremist hippie apiarists. I was totally ready.

Anyway, they did finally arrive, I installed them without incident or stings, and they have been working for ten days now. I confirmed that the queen was laying yesterday, and for the first time in my life I was excited by the sight of larva. Today was the first day without rain in what seemed like years, so I was able to watch them fly in and out of their front door doing their tiny insect jobs. LOOK! They have the CUTEST little pollen saddlebags!

As for worms... I just love them. I don't think I'd like gardening so much if I wasn't so fascinated by worms. Every time I turn over some earth and find a little red wriggler, or a nightcrawler, I get as excited as a five-year-old.

I'm also superstitious about them. I've been trying to dig my entire garden with only an old shovel (that deserves an entire separate post for complaining about), and when I lift up some sod I carefully remove each worm to toss back into the earth. Today, while putting tomato seedlings in my experimental lasagna bed, I pulled aside the cardboard and found a pile of worm castings. It's working! Already the worms are saying "take that, grass!" and are chewing up that smothered grass and turning into super fantastic soil. Go, worms, go!