Category Archives: Gardening

Brrrrr …

My first assignment this morning has been canceled because of the weather. Probably a good call.

Remember the other day when I was daydreaming about what it would be like to look out the window and see parrots playing in the neighbor’s yard? This article kind of continues that train of thought. In my gardens, rabbits and squirrels have always been the freeloaders. I can’t imagine trying to protect my tomatoes from vervets.

Guess I’d better bundle up and go out to see what’s new in the yard this morning. I need to unearth my car so I can head out to an assignment this afternoon. I’d rather stay in bed. Snowy days are good for sleeping. The snow muffles all the sounds outside; the quiet is intense.

My mother would be shocked.

I’ve done a lot of things in the past 10 years that have probably shocked my mother. I turned into a history buff. I got over my fear of heights. I started listening to Johnny Cash. I ran a marathon. I quit swearing.

All of that would be shocking to anyone who knew me in high school.

But today was a shocker even by my standards.

We just got back from running an errand with Songdog, and as soon as we got home, he went running to the pond to get a drink. I chased him out (I don’t think he needs to drink that blue tint I put in the water to prevent algae bloom) … and it’s a good thing I did, because a big orange wasp was floating in there, struggling to keep her little head above water.

Here’s the shocking part: I went and got a stick and rescued her.

That shouldn’t be shocking. But it is. Because I spent my entire childhood terrified of wasps and bees and virtually every other type of insect known to man.

My attitude toward bugs changed when I became a gardener. I always loved ladybugs, but it’s only been in recent years that I developed a tolerance for the strange, alien-looking mantids and big black-and-yellow garden spiders that keep destructive pests off my tomatoes and peppers. I’ve fallen quite head over feet for the green lacewings, and I think you know by now how I feel about that colony of gorgeous little Golden Italian honeybees who live in the hive behind the garage.

It wasn’t until three years ago, however, that I made my peace with wasps. I’d always been a bit leery of them, and after a run-in with a particularly belligerent character when I was 17, I was downright terrified of them. I knew they were good for the garden, but I didn’t want anything to do with them. Thanks for pollinating the tomatoes. Don’t let the garden gate hit you in the ovipositors on the way out.

But when the peppermint patch started taking over my garden in Belleville, every imaginable size, color and species of wasp came to dine on the plants’ fuzzy blossoms and sip water from the surface of my goldfish pond, and I couldn’t help being a little awed by the diversity of my pollinators. There were red ones and black ones, orange ones and yellowjackets, and — most fascinating of all to me — shiny black ones that glimmered iridescent blue in the sunlight. Gorgeous things, and I caught myself weeding the garden far more often than necessary just to have an excuse to watch them.

Still, thinking of my unfortunate altercation with the wrong end of a wasp a few years earlier, I couldn’t imagine getting close enough to save one of them from some impending hazard.

But it’s hard to watch a friend struggle for life in a hazard you’ve created … so I found a stick and lost my fear and rescued the little creature who was fighting to keep her head above water on the surface of my pond.

Last time I saw her, she was clinging to that stick in my dormant garden, drying her wings in the sunshine.

Tomatoes, etc.

Looks like I’ve got a couple of Mortgage Lifter sprouts trying to come up in one of the Gatorade-bottle terrariums.

I think I’m going to spend part of tomorrow evening starting cilantro and chives for this year’s herb garden. Back in Belleville, I had this fantastic herb garden right outside the back door. It was terrific — I’d decide to make pasta, and I could walk outside and grab a half-dozen different kinds of fresh herbs to put in the sauce. Most of the herbs were either perennials or self-seeding annuals, too, so once I got the garden established, it basically took care of itself. I’d just walk out in the spring, grab the seed heads off the previous year’s plants, and give them sort of a rub and a shake to scatter the seeds. It wasn’t a perfectly orderly garden, but there was something charming about it anyway, all this tousled wild fertile growth barely confined by (and sometimes spilling across) the stone and concrete paths between beds. I just loved it. I want to get something like that going here.

Ron sent me a couple of links to pass along to y’all. The first: The Audubon Society is holding its annual Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 17-20. People observe the birds in their backyard or wherever they happen to be, fill out a checklist, and send it in.

Dr. John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, said the data provided by amateur birders over the past eight years has been really valuable to scientists:

This project has become a major source of scientific information about North American bird populations. It is a classic example of the vital role citizens and the Internet now play in understanding our planet.

According to the Web site,

Everyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to seasoned experts. During the count, bird watchers tally up birds for as little as 15 minutes, or for as long as they like, keeping track of the highest number of each bird species they see together at one time. People are encouraged to report birds from public lands and local parks, as well as from their backyards.

They’re having contests and stuff this year. If you want to play along at home, click here.

Ron also sent me a link to a blog he really likes. Duke City Fix, an Albuquerque-based blog, has some advice on building a $6 compost bin and a $10 cold frame here.

Happy building!


Good news and bad news

The good news is that I saw a tiny sprout in one of my Gatorade-bottle terrariums last night. The bad news is that it is not a tomato sprout. I don’t know what it is, but the tomatoes are not sprouting yet.

This morning, I interviewed a couple who grow African violets. They had the better end of 200 plants in varying sizes, many of them blooming in a rainbow of colors. Beautiful plants.

They also had several mourning doves playing in their yard.

I should keep a few more houseplants. Maybe I’ll have time for that one of these days. Succulents are about all I can handle at the moment. I don’t have time to take care of higher-maintenance plants, especially when I’m trying to start seedlings and get the garden the way I want it.


Iggy babies?

So I looked in the worm bin again tonight. It looks like some kind of worm swingers’ club in there. This time two days ago, I had never seen worms mate. Tonight, I look in the bin, and they’re all over each other like a bunch of teenagers at the drive-in.

I am, of course, delighted. Their bedding looks a little too wet — especially the lower layers, which are mostly castings, which I need to harvest soon — but apparently they like it. I hope they have lots of babies so I can feed them lots more of my kitchen scraps. Tomorrow, we are going to find out how they like sweet potato peelings, as I am planning to make a batch of candied sweet potatoes and some stuffing for dinner tomorrow night.

Here is a picture of some of the worms:


I also took a picture of two tiny spiders that were hiding in the zipper part of the Ziploc bag that I am using to store my okra seeds. I need to find a safe place to release them. I don’t want them to starve to death in that bag (I see no signs of other bugs — just spiders), but I don’t want them running around my house, either. Tiny as they are, they are still arachnids, and I still am not cool with arachnids taking up residence in my home.

Anyway, here they are:


That’s about all I have to report today, aside from the usual pigeons hanging out above the Broken Arrow Expressway.


Seagulls and worms and tomatoes (oh, my!)

1. I saw a seagull circling the parking lot today at work. It was gorgeous.

2. I looked in the worm bin tonight. They have been busy chewing up the stuff I put in there (except the lettuce, which they continue to ignore) and have made a pretty good supply of castings. As I was checking their food and moisture levels, I saw a pair mating. I’ve never seen that before. I did not take their picture, as I was afraid the flash might bother them. I know how it disappoints you to miss out on the opportunity to view some gratuitous earthworm porn, but just imagine how you’d feel if some giant started flashing a blinding strobe into your bedroom just to satisfy some weirdo’s curiosity….

3. I spent about an hour this evening turning a dozen 32-ounce Gatorade bottles into terrariums for starting tomatoes. I planted two varieties: Early Girl and Mortgage Lifter. The Mortgage Lifter seeds are a couple of years old, so I planted extras to increase my chances of germination.

It’s really about two weeks too early to start tomatoes, but I figured I’d go first and see how these mini-greenhouses perform while you start rounding up Gatorade bottles. If I have healthy seedlings by Feb. 15 (seed-starting time in my zone), then you’ll know this project is worth the trouble. If you decide to try this at home, here are the instructions:

Rinse out the Gatorade bottles and remove the labels.

Put a garden trowel full of perlite, vermiculite or small gravel in the bottom of each bottle for drainage, then add a scoop or two of potting soil.

Plant three or four seeds in each bottle, using a chopstick or fondue fork or something to poke the seeds down into the soil about a quarter-inch.

Give them a little water, cap the bottles, and use a Sharpie to write the varieties on the lids.

The finished project will look like this:

Tomato starts

Obviously you should keep these in a sunny window and watch the moisture level to be sure it’s not too wet or too dry. Add water or remove the lids to let the moisture evaporate as necessary.

I am going to try an experiment next week. Tomatoes supposedly love the color red, so I am going to try to find some sports drinks with red labels and leave the labels on when I do my next round of seed starts. I guess if you left your labels on the bottles and drank different flavors of Gatorade, you could use the labels to sort of color-code the different tomato varieties you planted.

Hopefully this will get my plants off to a good start.