Category Archives: Gardening

Steaming bunny poo


Manure: $30
Tarp: $10
Plunging a pitchfork into the compost pile and watching clouds of steam roll out of it: Priceless.

Anybody who gardens will understand the incomparable beauty of steam coming off the compost pile. For the uninitiated, I’ll explain briefly: A healthy compost pile that is functioning at peak efficiency will give off heat. The heat is a byproduct of decomposition and indicates the presence of thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria, which break down organic material very quickly.

To get a pile to heat up, you have to have a good balance of “greens” (organic matter high in nitrogen, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps or animal manure), “browns” (organic matter high in carbon, such as dry leaves, sawdust or peat moss), moisture and oxygen.

The fastest way to get your compost good and hot is to start with some type of barn litter, turn it daily, and add water as needed to keep it about as damp as a wrung-out washcloth. You just add stuff to it as you get it — grass clippings, kitchen scraps, whatever — and keep turning and watering every day until it all breaks down into rich dirt for your garden. Lovely stuff.

This is the area we had tilled up for our garden. From the garage back was our old garden plot. We’ve doubled the size for this year.


This guy was sitting on the back fence while I was working. I couldn’t get very close to get his picture, so this is a little fuzzy, but you can see him pretty well:


And I found a bunch of henbit growing under the deck tonight. Here’s a closeup of some of it:




I am rejoicing today because I got a belated Valentine. I had asked Ron for poop — lots and lots of it — so I could start a compost pile for the garden. Yesterday afternoon, he hired an ol’ boy with a Troy-Bilt to come out and bust up the sod where we want to expand our garden. The guy also delivered us 10 feed sacks full of manure — five each of rabbit and chicken — to fertilize the garden.

I went out this afternoon after church and turned the pile and soaked it down. The chicken litter is awfully dry and powdery, but I think if I keep it wet and rustle up some horse manure and sawdust from a stable somewhere, the pile will heat up fine.

Hooray! Compost!


P.S.: I saw two daffodils in the big flowerpot next to the side door at church this morning.

Wick, or: Lazarus, come forth

Our elusive goldfish, Lazarus, decided to make an appearance while Ron was cleaning the pond today. I didn’t get a picture, but oh, my goodness, he’s beautiful.

Laz was the last survivor of a school of four feeder goldfish I bought about a year ago. Ironically, he’d always looked sickly — an eye problem here, missing scales there — but somehow he was the last man standing.

A few days after I put him into the pond last spring, he just … vanished.

We searched that pond over and over, and that little fish just flat wasn’t in there, so we quit feeding him and gave him up for dead.

Several weeks later, I came home feeling very sorry for myself, ready to give up my volunteer work for Route 66 over a combination of factors that had me frustrated to the point of tears.

I walked out into the backyard that evening … and saw the water hyacinth in the pond blooming for the first (and only) time in its life. As I went to get a closer look, I saw a flash of orange and white dart through the water.

I gasped. No way. My previously unnamed fish was alive and well and three times bigger than he’d been the last time I’d seen him. We christened him “Lazarus” in honor of his apparent resurrection.

I took his sudden reappearance as a message from God: That which the world would give up for dead is very much alive.

Of course I couldn’t give up on 66, no matter how frustrated I was. So I redoubled my efforts and wound up having a summer filled with wonderful Route 66 projects that blessed me — and many others — in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Lazarus has disappeared and reappeared several more times over the past few months, surviving against what seem to be insurmountable odds. He’s my gorgeous little reminder never to give up, no matter what material conditions seem to suggest.

To quote my favorite song from “The Secret Garden”:

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.
Come, and let me show you what I mean.

When a thing is wick, it has a light around it.
Maybe not a light that you can see.
But hiding down below a spark’s asleep inside it,
Waiting for the right time to be seen.

Bees and frogs

Lots of bees

This is how our bees looked while Ron was messing with their hive today. The brown spots on the front of the hive are from the liquid smoke we use to keep them from getting too agitated.

It was ridiculously warm today. It got up to 80 or something. It’s supposed to be warm tomorrow, and then on Thursday, it’s going to cool off again, and we might get storms. I hope we do. I heard frogs singing this evening on my way home from the gym. If we get rain, I might hear more frogs.

I hope they come and sing in our pond and lay eggs in there so we’ll have a pond full of polliwogs like we had when the toads bred in our yard in Belleville. I love frogs.


Beautiful day

Today was bright and warm, but very windy. This character was seeking shelter from the wind on one of the crocus blossoms in the front yard when I came home for lunch:

Crocus bee

The crocuses were really putting on a show:


I spent several minutes in the back yard, watching our girls zip in and out of their hive. They seem to be thriving, and they’re obviously finding plenty of pollen — take a look at the bee on the lower left:


We had another glorious sunset this evening, but I didn’t have the camera handy to catch it for you. 😦

I think on Wednesday evening, Ron and I need to go for a walk along the river trail and watch the sun set. I’ll remember to bring the camera along.

Hope your day was as beautiful as mine.


Ask the Hippie, Vol. 1, Issue 2

Yeah, I know, I was gonna do “Ask the Hippie” more often than this, but I got sidetracked. Sorry. Hippies are known for creativity and pretty dreams, not organizational skills.

Anyway, here is a much-belated answer to Teen’s request for information about growing marigolds.

Marigolds were the first flowers I grew when I was little. I think I was about 5 when Mom and I planted marigold seeds we’d harvested off my grandmother’s plants.

In any case, marigolds are generally tough plants that resist insects (some gardeners plant them alongside food crops to discourage pests, because the flowers release a scent that insects find distasteful) and thrive in a variety of conditions.

Like most annuals, they prefer full sun and loose, well-drained garden loam, although I once grew them with moderate success in a contaminated bed under a shade tree that allowed only dappled sunlight to filter down on them now and then. The area was right under an old oil-change rack at a historic service station that some members of the Illinois Route 66 Association were restoring. The ground where I planted the marigolds was so contaminated that I could smell the oil every time I plunged my spade into the dirt, and when I went out to weed the area a month or so later, no weeds were growing there, aside from a few tough blades of grass.

The marigolds didn’t exactly thrive in that environment, but they survived, bloomed, and set seed. They didn’t produce a lot of foliage, and they looked pretty stunted, but given the soil conditions and the lack of light, I thought they did remarkably well.

Marigolds need moisture, but like most plants, they don’t like wet feet, so don’t get too carried away. If you plant them in a container, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom, and put about a one-inch layer of charcoal, vermiculite, perlite, aquarium gravel, or similar material in the bottom before you add the potting soil. If you plant outdoors, make sure they are not directly under the drip of the house, and make sure the soil drains well. If in doubt, dig a hole trowel-deep, put a handful or two of sand in the bottom, and add a handful or two of compost before replacing the soil. If the soil comes out of the hole in a big clump, smack it around and/or chop it up with your trowel to break it up and aerate it a bit before you put it back in the hole.

When you plant, you can either direct-seed the marigolds or start them indoors about six weeks before you plan to transplant them. You get earlier flowers if you start them indoors, but I’ve done them both ways. Plant them after the last frost (April 15 is generally considered safe here in Oklahoma), as they will not survive a heavy frost.

Other than that, you really don’t have to do much to them. Just keep them moist but not soggy, and they’ll generally take whatever else you can dish out. They are annuals, which means they’ll die off at the end of the season. Just harvest the seeds (which are wrapped up in a neat little husk that looks almost like a tiny brown paper bag — click here to see a picture) and you can replant next year. One or two flowers will usually produce enough seed to grow a whole garden of marigolds.

For more on marigolds, click here.

God bless Aunt Eunice

Check out this charming piece in today’s online edition of the Christian Science Monitor, in which writer Danny Heitman describes his Aunt Eunice’s enduring kindness and concern for nature as she returned to her home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

After an hour of pitching pickles and butter, bread and beans, jam, cheese, and dozens of decomposing delicacies into bulging garbage bags, Aunt Eunice retrieved a small brown block from the back of the freezer. It was still cold to the touch as she placed it in her palm and offered it for inspection.

“I think this can be saved,” she said as I leaned over to sniff the sweet scent of sugar, oatmeal, and peanut butter. “The woodpeckers will love it.”

At the end of the article, you’ll find her special recipe for bird treats. You can bet I’ll be whipping up a batch for the critters here in Red Fork. I’d been thinking of getting out the stepladder and appropriating some pinecones off the tree in my front yard to use as birdfeeders like we used to do in Girl Scouts, but Aunt Eunice’s recipe sounds like an even better idea.



Lee’s Feed here in Tulsa is already selling baby chicks. It’s a little early, but they had a whole flock of ’em under heat lamps today when we stopped by there during lunch. They were SOOOOOO cute … little and fuzzy and noisy. You could hear them peeping all the way out in the parking lot. I didn’t have the camera with me, or I would have taken a picture. They had yellow ones and brown ones and little light yellow ones with black stripes on them. It was a little cool for them, so they were piling up on each other and huddling up under the heat lamps for warmth.

I want some baby chicks. They had some araucanas there — that’s the kind that lays blue-green eggs — but Ron says if we get chickens, we have to get Barred Rocks, because they’ll do a better job of scratching up the soil and picking the bugs and weed seeds out of the garden before we plant stuff out there.

We’re talking about building a chicken tractor.

I want some meat rabbits, too, but Ron thinks I’ll get attached to them and won’t want to butcher them and eat them. I don’t think that’s likely to be a problem. Baby bunnies are cute, but I’ve been around too many nasty-tempered does to have any sentimental attachment to them once they get big enough to cop an attitude. Plus rabbits are among the easiest livestock to raise (especially where we live; a small lot in town really limits your options), and they produce some of the world’s best fertilizer, so even if I did turn into a sentimental sap and keep them as pets, they’d earn their keep by feeding my tomatoes. They can recycle weeds into rich fertilizer about as fast as anything out there.

Speaking of critters who produce fertilizer, I checked on my worms last night, and they are thriving. I harvested several cups of finished compost from the two drawers (I’m storing it in the bottom drawer for the time being) and found tons of what I assume are egg capsules in the bin. Hooray!