Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

So, I'm guessing you've heard of Murphy's Law, right?

My kids are 11 and 13. Some people would say they are too old for trick-or-treating. But that is something you just don't really grow out of here. As far as I'm concerned, if you'll put on a costume, I'll give you candy. But at 13, my daughter's friends are on that iffy border. And the friend she has always trick-or-treated with- and who has been planning with her for months- came by last night to say she was going to a party tonight instead. Oof! To her credit, my daughter was fine with this. And she was ecstatic when this same friend invited her to go over to U of D with her mom and her today to hear Joe Biden. Until the phone call this morning. Can't go, her mom's sick. I will not even try to describe to you the scene this news produced in my house.

All I wanted to do was go back to bed, because you see... I am sick too. In a kicking-my-butt-please-put-me-out-of-my-misery kind of way. You know, where you are waiting to see which will happen first: yours eyes bursting into flame or your sinuses exploding. But! This is Halloween! So, we take our skeleton- which arrived yesterday afternoon- out to the toilet by the front door... And apparently, one gets a bit stiff at the skeleton stage. We could not get this guy to bend in the appropriate way to mimic vomiting into the toilet. And his hands are sort of on backwards. Cheap damn skeleton. So, we just propped him up on the toilet and had him hold the bowl of candy. It seems to be all he's good for. But, people find him hysterical. They take his picture. They laugh belly laughs. And I don't have to spread my germs to innocent kiddos. Plus, I tossed a couple glow sticks in the toilet bowl, so he's got a bit of a green glow from below. I'll try to get a picture of that later. But don't hold your breath. For now, this is my handy helper...

Happy Halloween!

Baby Pictures

Well, I finally managed to get a few decent pictures of the sunroom garden babies: Tomato flower, bush bean, and potato.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Nuked The Leaves...And, Baby Beans!

So... after wasting a lot of time hemming and hawing about it, I went ahead and nuked the leaves in the microwave before putting them in the worm bin. I can tell you that 30 seconds is NOT long enough, because after 30 seconds I opened the door and found a rather disoriented flying bug stumbling about. Sorry! But nuking it a bit longer works fine, didn't start a fire, and provides a neat visual show as the leaf pile shrinks (due to water loss, I assume). So there you have that!

Even more exciting...and this also falls under "how could I be so stupid"... remember that bean flower that crumbled in on itself? Um hmm... yep, it's formed a baby bean. It is absolutely the cutest baby veggie I have ever seen. Naturally, my camera refuses to capture this awesome cuteness. But I will try to find a camera that will be more accommodating so I can share this. Woo hoo! Beans a'comin'!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Laura's Vinegar Pot

Laura, at Mas Du Diable, recently posted about making wine vinegar. The article is inspiring and now I'd like to try my hand at it. However, I have a serious case of pot envy. Laura has a beautiful French vinegar pot that you can see here. I must find one of these pots, but it can't cost me my firstborn! If anybody knows of a source stateside, please let me know! My kitchen and I thank you!

Winter Sunroom Garden Update

Just a quick update...

The first bush bean flower opened today. The flower I thought would open first ended up "failing"- it sort of crumped in on itself. Not sure why. But I have a first bloom and more on the way.

The paste tomatoes are thinking about flowering. There are "buds" in various stages of development. One set in particular looks as if it may open very soon. Homegrown tomatoes for Christmas? We'll see...

The spinach is doing its thing, although the seedlings are a little leggy. I need to correct their lighting.

I did bring in a pot of parsley today. And then the cold, cold rain started. I may bring in some more tomorrow- as well as the eggplant, if I can find a large enough pot for that. Maybe I have another empty kitty litter jug I could repurpose for that? Hmm...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sing With Me!

*WARNING: You won't be able to get this song out of your head*

Yes, it's true. The world is laughing at us.

And, if this was a real movie, I'd soooo go see it.

Tomato And Potato And Teak, Oh My!

Just a few quick photo updates. The following are: a shot of some of the tomato flowers forming in the sunroom; the potato sprouting in the sunroom; and Teak, keeping an eye on things.

Good Dog.


Things are amiss...

When Teak and I went out the front door this morning, we discovered a large, sawed off branch in our front yard between our house and the neighbor's. This particular tree, a particular type of maple, is not in our front yard. It's not in our neighbor's yard anywhere. It isn't across the street. No, this particular tree is in our back yard, on the other side, by the other next door neighbor. Did I mention this branch was sawed off? Well, actually, it looks like one of those long-armed branch clipping tools was used on it. Sooo, we took a stroll around to the back and had a good look at this particular tree and lo! there was a clipped branch missing it's end. Now, this particular tree is up close to our house. It isn't anywhere near any of our property lines. Nobody has any excuse for cutting this tree, except me, should I so choose! Who would have done this? Naturally, I suspect CAN (that's Crazy-Ass Neighbor for the uninitiated). But he lives behind us. And why would he, or anyone, do this? What beef could he possibly have with this tree? I am baffled, and more than a bit miffed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

What's Happening In The Garden?

Oh, where to begin?

It rained today, off and on, but mostly on- thanks, I am sure, to my to-do list involving almost entirely outdoor things. I did lime the garden bed out back though. And continued preparing the garlic bed. My garlic should arrive any time now. Hopefully Monday. I am feeling very behind. But I am plugging away nonetheless. What else is there to do as a gardener?

In the sunroom garden things are coming along nicely. The banana tree is putting out new leaves at an impressive rate. The celery forest is, well, just that. My spinach is coming up nicely. It has nearly all germinated and every time I check in on it I am surprised by the appearance of a few more stragglers. The yellow pepper plant I brought in from the patio seems to be much happier inside. It was looking a little sorry when I brought it in and repotted it. But it is now putting out all kinds of new growth that looks great. If it decides to flower too we'll be in business!

The bush beans are beginning to flower. Some of the plants are still somewhat crippled by whatever nasty they developed immediately upon arrival- but most of them seem intent upon performing their duties. One of them I pulled early on, and another needs to go. It has pretty much called it quits. But the remaining four continue to sally forth, and one of those four appears almost entirely free of whatever the others got. It is, however, also the last to start putting out flowers. Here's a picture of one of the sick, but recovering/hanging on ones.

The radishes that survived the kitten attack are bent but not broken. I am really hoping they will pull through. They continue to produce greens, so I think that's a good sign there. I will sow more in the spot left when I pull the other bean plant.
The Amish paste tomatoes flowered just after arrival and then decided they wanted to grow big instead. At first I thought maybe I had a nitrogen imbalance. But I did a little research and found that tomato flowering is greatly affected by temperature. I also read conflicting opinions about the importance of light with tomatoes. I think the sunroom was cooling off too much at night. I think I've got that corrected now- at least until it gets really cold. And, to be on the safe side, I have added supplemental light during the earlier and later hours. And it looks like these efforts may be working. I see evidence of new flowers forming. Woo hoo! Meanwhile, the cherry tomatoes are just barely beginning to change color.
One of the reasons I love gardening so much is because every time I turn around in the garden, something new amazes me. In the rest of life not too much surprises me. But in the garden I feel like I'm in a perpetual wonderland. Today while I was out liming, I noticed that the stub of the one eggplant I planted this year and had mowed down a couple weeks ago has put out new growth. With a vengeance. I may pot it up and bring it in to see what it can do. And I'll bring in some parsley too. It's looking really good right now and we'll use it all winter.

Also, I tried to get a picture of the potato that is sprouting for Melinda, but something is not right with my camera. I can't zoom in on things I'm already close to. I don't know what happened. Used to be able to; can't now. One of these days when I don't have a million other things to do I will read the book and try to figure out whats wrong. But until then, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Keeping Busy

While Meg has been busy making lovely pillows and rock gardens and stockpiling antiques for winter, I have been keeping busy too. Yes, I have installed a toilet on my front porch, conveniently located just next to the main entry, and even furnished it with current reading material for those who like to multitask.

No, I'm just kidding. This 40 year old toilet was running non-stop, using far more water than the new efficient ones, and then the seal decided to fail and it leaked around the base as well. So, I learned a new skill- toilet replacement! Even though I had to get my father to pull it out- the bolts had rusted for 40 years and I was physically unable to budge them- overall I am pretty happy with myself. I did manage to install the new one completely on my own. Unfortunately, I did this the day after our town's bulk trash pick up. So here sits the old one until the next pick up date. We have been tossing around ideas for how to use this for Halloween. The most disgusting idea so far is to place the candy bowl in the toilet bowl. But I just don't think I can go there. We also considered installing a couple of arms so they are reaching out of the bowl. And my personal favorite would be to sit a skeleton on top, reading the newspaper. Oh, no! Yesterday my daughter suggested my new favorite! Have the skeleton retching into the bowl and fill the bowl with candy. Yes! Diabolical, disgusting, and hysterical!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Worm Bin News

Just a quick update... And it's good news! There have been no more fruit flies out of the worm bin. So perhaps it would be safe to stick with freezing the scraps before adding them to the bin. I still haven't decided what to do about adding leaves to the bin. To bake or not to bake? What if I put them in after taking something else out, to use the residual heat? I am pretty sure nuking the leaves would be a bad idea. I am probably putting far too much thought into this question. But, you know, the idea of a winter sharing the house with bugs is just sooo unpleasant.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Growing Challenge!

I've joined the Growing Challenge! Check out my cool little challenge doodad over there to the right, and then click through to Melinda's site to learn more (and join in). The challenge is to grow (at least) one new fruit or vegetable and grow it from seed. And then post about gardening (at least) once a week. Easy enough, huh? (Oh, and you're supposed to tell Melinda your zone and where you are, which I forgot to do- Zone 7, Maryland)

At the moment, the sunroom winter garden includes: a pot-o-celery, three tomato plants, four not-dead-yet bush beans and one ha-ha-I'm-immune-to-whatever-you-have bush bean (with any luck at all I'll save seed from that one), several radish seedlings (those that survived being pounced on by the kitten), one yellow pepper plant brought in from the garden, a pot of mint, two pots of basil, a just sprouting potato plant, and the Dwarf Cavendish banana. Oh, and a flat of spinach that should germinate soon. And two giant aloe pups given to me by a fellow freecycler. That might be it. Oh... nope... also a bucket of flowers I couldn't bear to see succumb to the frost. That might be it. So far. But I really do need to start some more seeds.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Worm Bin Update

The good news is that the worm bin seems to be maturing. It is full of worms and they are munching through the bedding and edibles at an impressive rate. I have not added any new paper to the bin since adding the worms; but the worms are so efficient that I will have to add more bedding. I am considering adding dried leaves (happen to have a yard full at the moment) instead of paper. However, I've read that you sometimes get tag-along bugs when you use leaves- so I'm considering running the leaves through the stove first. Does that sound too crazy? I don't mind a little crazy, but too crazy is just going too far. Plus, I'm not really all that eager to provide my children with yet another "remember when Mom..." story. Know what I mean?

The bad news is that when I opened the bin last night a fruit fly flew out. Just one. But where there's one... I am pretty sure I can tell you how that fly entered the bin. The day before, I added a tub of food scraps I had been keeping in the freezer for a number of days- maybe even a week. (Remember that post about freezing and microwaving food before it goes in the bin to avoid fruit flies?) That tub of scraps had, prior to the freezer, been sitting out on the counter and I remember seeing a couple (evil) fruit flies lurking about. So, the lesson here, I think, is that freezing alone is not a cure-all for the fruit flies. I will switch to nuking the scraps and see what happens. Fingers crossed that there are no more signs of fruit flies when I next open the bin... Stop laughing. It's possible...

Friday, October 17, 2008

On To Happy Things!

Well! The election business is stressing me out. So, I will share with you something I have really enjoyed recently. Rebsie Fairholm, folk musician and Daughter of the Soil, has a couple of truly fantastic posts up about the breeding of peas. Quit laughing. If it was good enough for Mendel, it's for darn sure good enough for us. Seriously, if you have even the slightest curiosity about the development of plant varieties, go read her illustrated (and wait 'till you see the photos!) posts on Mendelian segregation and "the joy of genes." They're just outstanding. And they have nothing at all to do with the U.S. presidential election. I promise.

I'll Have A Future Please... Do You Want A Plan With That?

This link will take you to an article that originally appeared in the New York Times. I think it does a good job of highlighting the (scary) differences between Obama and McCain when it comes to science and technology, and specifically, the value of actually having a plan versus winging it. The platform differences on science and technology haven't had much play in the media. But they are absolutely central to our economic well-being. The United States has been hemorrhaging science and technology jobs for years. This is a bad thing! Completely morphing into a nation of consumers of foreign innovation should not be our goal. I hope this issue will make more headlines in these last few weeks before the election. This article is a good place to start. Pass it around!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Blog Action Day- Poverty

Well, apparently I missed it. Actually, I hadn't heard of Blog Action Day before, being a new blogger and all. But Laura at Mas Du Diable has a fantastic post on the importance of seed saving and it's relationship to poverty. I encourage you to check it out here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Last Debate, Thank Goodness

Well, as anticipated, John McCain came out swinging tonight. If he had done that weeks ago it might have helped him. But I would be surprised if it does now. He made a much, much stronger showing tonight than in the last debate. But he really turned me off. In fact, the amount he turns me off has increased with each debate. I really dislike the "divide and conquer" approach McCain has taken in his campaign. He has run the most negative campaign during my voting life- and yet tonight he shrugged it off as if to say "all's fair in war." I don't want a president who goes after his adversaries like he's rabid. I really like the way Obama can face down a vicious attack and simultaneously explain himself and redirect the conversation to an issue of substance. Now, I'd like it even more if he'd get into more details about those issues of substance. But I understand that there is only so much you can cover in a two minute response. It will be interesting to see if he provides any new info in his half-hour ads that will be running... hmm, I think it's Oct 29? Is that right? But honestly, I am ready for the campaigns to end. If nobody's going to tell us anything new, let's just vote.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Debate, A Bit Late

Some of you may be wondering why I never blogged on the second presidential debate. The reason is... I found it just too depressing. Seriously, I found the debate actually painful to watch. I thought both Obama and McCain stumbled through the first part. Obama eventually found his groove, although he didn't offer up any new info. That would have been nice. But McCain... oh, it just hurt. And I'm not even planning to vote for him. Still, I felt I was watching the undoing of a man who, perhaps, should have quit while he was ahead. And the whole time I listened to him I kept thinking "That's not McCain, but I know who it is...if I could just remember..." And then, the next morning, I did remember. It was Ronald Reagan. Now, Ronald Reagan doing Ronald Reagan is one thing. But McCain doing Reagan is just creepy. And that, I think, was what bothered me so much- McCain came off as a creepy old man who has no plan. This will probably be McCain's last presidential bid, and frankly, "creepy old man" is not how I want to remember a man who has given so much to his country.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Sunroom Garden Grows

I finally remembered to take a few pics in the sunroom before it got too dark. One of projects nearing the top of my list is to build a more proper work table out there for the sunroom garden to hang out on. But for now, things will have to continue resting on the floor or perched precariously on lawn chairs.

Can you see them? These are radish sprouts I planted in the gap left when I pulled out the dying bean plant. These babies were poking though the soil the third day after I planted them. I am always amazed by germination! I had hoped to have a close-up shot of one of the baby radishes. But my camera and I have been having some rather heated disagreements over whether or not it should focus properly for close-ups. Personally, I feel I have made some good arguments; yet the camera continues to win.

Next up, an update on the new banana tree. Can you see the new leaf it has popped out the top there? I have really been enjoying watching this tree grow. How does it make such large leaves so quickly?

In the same picture, but in the background, you can see my tub-o-celery. I haven't grown celery before; but I think this looks like it is doing pretty well. I may have too many plants in the tub. But space is at a premium in the sunroom, so I am taking my chances there.

The tomato seedlings I received recently were really leggy when they arrived. I am hoping they will out a bit. But already the cherry tomato is setting fruit. Don't those little buggers grow fast?!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stalking The Wild Cucumber

Yesterday I was several hours west of here looking at properties. As the real estate agent and I were scooting around the side of an apartment building, we walked past the overgrown remains of a flower bed. Crawling all through the bed were these:
I had never seen these before; and the agent had no idea what it was. I regret not stopping to take a better picture. But when I got home last night I set about trying to find out what this is. My best guess is "wild cucumber." If anybody recognizes this plant and would care to chime in with an ID, that would be great!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Roses That Won't Quit

These roses have been repeatedly pounded by hurricane weather recently. And yet, they just keep blooming. There are a few rose hips. But more than that, there are buds everywhere. Amazing.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Save The Beans!

So, I may have mentioned that I recently received some seedlings that I hope to grow to the edible stage in the sunroom this winter. Among them were fairly hearty bush bean plants. They are all potted up- but one of them seems to be dying and I have no idea why. The leaves seemed to curl and then the stem withered, but not at the base- more out the branches. So, I was disappointed, but not too worried since there are five more. But now I am wondering if the plant next to the dying one is also on the decline. Most of the plant looks great, but one section is starting to look iffy. I will probably cut that part off tonight in hopes of stopping whatever this is. But I see no obvious evidence of... anything! Help! Does anybody have any idea what this might be? Save the beans!

Winter Sunroom Garden

Our new house (new to us) has a sunroom off the back. It is a good size space built in the 80's on a conrete slab. Currently, there is no insulation in the ceiling. The exterior door is actually only a storm door. And the windows are the old style and not the new, energy conserving ones. Still, I am determined to grow some food in this room this winter. My long-term goal for this room includes replacing the awful carpet with tile that is radiant heated from below. But the radiant mats are expensive and I don't think it will happen this winter. So, I will focus on replacing the storm door with an actual exterior door and figuring out some way to keep heat in. Perhaps insulated curtains to pull shut at night? I bought some of that window film, thinking I would use that, but then I realized the window cranks stick out further than the window sill. So I'm not sure that will work- although I will probably try it out on a window just to be sure. And I'll try to get the attic area insulated, although the access door- or rather, panel, is so small I am not sure I can actually get my whole body through it. On the upside, the sunroom has a ceiling fan and a baseboard heater. So we should be able to keep the air moving and prevent things from freezing- though I have no idea what that will do to the electric bill. Any suggestions? Warnings? Encouragement? :)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

Here is how my day began...

At some un-godly early hour, as the sun was just starting to drag its sleepy butt over the horizon, Teak started barking. Teak likes to bark, but he also likes to sleep. Usually, he doesn't start barking until the neighbors head off to work. But this morning was different.

I tried to ignore him. I really did. But he sounded so... scared. I stumbled down the stairs and tracked the sound to the office. There was my brave dog (cough), hunkered down on the far side of the room, barking madly to alert me to the mass exodus of the worms!

Okay, it wasn't really all the worms. The older, wiser worms and the younger, less mobile worms all seemed content to remain in the bin. It was the darn teenage worms who were out roaming. I think they may have been on drugs. One of them had actually made a beeline for the sunny sliding glass door. What kind of worm goes toward light? Well, I'll tell you! A very confused worm!

I think perhaps they were jostled a bit much en route to their new home. At any rate, I think I can now add "worm wrangler" to my resume. And by tonight, they all seemed content to hang with the 'rents in the bin. Much to Teak's relief...

Good dog.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Biden-Palin "Debate"

Can we just talk about this "debate" for a moment? I promise I'll get back to the happy stuff afterwards...

First, let me just say that Palin's handlers did a really good job prepping her to the "basic foreign issues" level of knowledge. Not foreign policy; but to the level of being able to drop names... names I strongly suspect she was previously entirely unfamiliar with, such as Ahmadinejad. Clearly, she was not prepped to the level of being able to actually engage on foreign policy issues or economic issues. Which brings me to what irks me so much... She was not there to debate. She said as much herself. When did it become acceptable to go to a debate and announce that you don't plan to answer the questions? Buy an ad lady!

I have to admit that Palin had me smiling when she spoke. But it wasn't a smile of agreement. I can appreciate her skill at "folksiness", although I think the winking at the camera bit is going too far. For this voter, at least, that is the wrong angle to take. Sarah Palin wants me to believe she's so much like me she understands my concerns. She's one of us! Well, yep... she is just like your neighbor. Would you put your neighbor in the White House? I wouldn't put any of mine there.

So, in the end, my opinion of Palin is not really changed. She still misuses vocabulary. She still relies upon verbiage (which btw Sarah, is a word I can use correctly). She still relies heavily upon making a "connection" with the voters, and avoids anything substantive. She's all gussy, no guts. She brought a good show, but had little to add to the conversation.

Biden, I thought, had a pretty good night. He managed to not shove his foot in his mouth. And he clearly demonstrated his knowledge and experience. He also was able to offer specifics about the Obama-Biden "plan" and to humanize himself to voters by sharing an emotional, personal, and traumatic aspect of his own life. Two actually. The mention of his first wife's death was touching, but in a wholly to-be-expected way. It was a little bit unexpected to see this seasoned senator convey his emotions surrounding his son's deployment. It is easy to expect our senators to be emotionally removed from the decisions they make with regard to war. It is good to be reminded that they are personally invested in this too. It's not just a job.

Actually, come to think of it, I think maybe Biden presented himself better than Palin, McCain, and Obama. Go Joe!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Worms Have Arrived!

Well, Bentley was right on the mark when he said the worms could arrive today. I was very busy this morning preparing their new home. I thought I'd share a few pics of the process and product.

Hmm... well, for some reason this first pic turned sideways when I uploaded it. I'm not sure what that's about. Anyway, this one shows the holes I cut in the Rubbermaid bin for air and drainage. There are three long, skinny air holes along the tops of both long sides of the bin. And there is one square-ish hole cut more or less in the center of the bottom for drainage and to allow the worms to migrate from one bin to the next when the bins are stacked.

This next picture is of the package of meshy stuff I used to cover the air holes. I wanted something that would permit good air-flow, but inhibit bug infiltration. I am sooo not a big fan of fruit flies! I have read that some people either freeze their scraps or microwave them before adding them to the worm bin in an effort to prevent fruit flies (by killing any eggs laid on the scraps). The "worm food" I've been saving the last few days went into the freezer. Anyway, this meshy stuff is actually replacement filter material for window air conditioners. It is washable, so if it gets gross I can clean it and re-use it. I read Encyclopedia Hydroponica's blog entry about the modifications he made to his worm bin. He used nylon pantyhose to cover the air holes on his bin. I worried that nylons would be too fine for good air flow and would possibly grow mold from the humidity of the bin. So I went with this air conditioner filter stuff. I'll let you know how it works out.

This next pic shows the section of hardware cloth I cut and set in the bottom of the bin. It serves a couple purposes. It helps distribute the weight over the whole bottom after I cut that hole in the middle. It also allows the worms to pass through into the next bin, while supporting and retaining the materials accumulated in the bin. The bottom hole looks dark because it is covered, on the exterior, by a piece of the air conditioner filter. That should keep the worms from exiting prematurely and also deter bug infiltration. But back to the hardware cloth- this picture doesn't show it, but because the edges were sharp, I melted a little paraffin wax to coat the edges. Don't want my wormies getting torn up! For the second bin I will probably coat the entire piece of hardware cloth. But this time I was racing the clock...

Here you see the exterior view of my duct taping handiwork. Okay, it may not win any beauty contests; but if it keeps fruit flies out, I think it's a shoo-in for Miss Congeniality. You can sort of get an idea of how much air this filter material allows through by the amount of back-light you can see through the air holes. I tried to get a close-up of the filter material, but my camera just did not want to focus on it.

This is just an exterior bottom view. You can see a hint of the hardware cloth through the mesh. Nothing too exciting. I tried to get a picture of the worm pile after I put it in the bin. None of those shots really turned out.
And last, but certainly not least, here is a shot of the finished set-up. I have the bin resting on a couple of broad landscape pavers that rest on an upturned bin lid. There is room underneath for me to place a shallow tray to catch any drippings from the bin without having to pull apart two bins like you often see with these Rubbermaid bin systems. This is all an experiment. I haven't cut the second bin yet bacause I want to wait to see how this set-up works out. If I need to make adjustments, I will.