Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Flower Seed Preview!

I've already begun harvesting flower seeds for next year. There will be a few more varieties to choose from for next Spring, aside from the Mammoth Sunflowers and Morning Glories, which by the way have been marked down 50% in my end of the season seed clearance sale.
Here's a preview of just a few of the flower seeds that will be packaged up soon and available for next Spring!

 Bright Pink Cosmos!

Bright orange Marigolds!

 Zinnias in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mystery Moth

A couple weeks back I found a black wiry-haired caterpillar munching away on my morning glory vines. I haven't kept a caterpillar since early elementary school, but I thought that Lee's boys would enjoy watching it. I scooped him into a jar and gave him some more morning glory leaves. For about a week and a half he ate, and ate, and ate. He required about three large morning glory leaves a day. Finally, one day he had wound himself all up in a little cocoon.

Unfortunately, I almost forgot about the little thing, sitting on the counter amongst jars of seeds that had gotten stacked in front of it's own jar. Last night I found his jar and thought that he may have just died. The leaves that had been left in the jar had wilted and withered over the top of the cocoon, sort of sealing it in. I felt bad. This was why I didn't keep little bugs in jars.

So I took the jar outside and found a stick, I nudged the leaf off of the cocoon. Then I thought I saw a little wiggle! I tapped at the cocoon ever so lightly with the stick. It wiggled again! Suddenly there was a little crack! I could see something white and orange moving around inside. I ran to get Lee. By the time we had gotten back to the jar, like less than a minute later, the little thing had already emerged! Just like that! I thought it was so strange that I had seemingly woken him up and he had hatched instantly!

Lee took a look at the weird looking moth, who was pretty white with Dalmatian-like spots, spindly black legs with white spots, and teeny tiny underdeveloped wings and a huge orange abdomen. "It doesn't look ready. You woke it up too soon. He's not finished. Can you get it back into it's capsule?"

I gave him a sideways glance. I did feel horrible though. The moth was crawling all around and couldn't fly. I was certain that I had ruined his chances of being a normal moth. As I sat there and watched him crawl on the ground, I saw the chickens run up. I didn't shoo them away, as I thought, "Well, it's probably more merciful to offer him a quick death than to let him wander around on the ground and slowly starve. Something would end up eating him eventually, anyway."

So I cringed as I waited for Red to pluck him up and swallow him, but the chickens would have nothing to do with him after they got a closer look. Wow! That was a first. So I let the little guy crawl onto a stick and took him over to our garden fence. He crawled up the wire, all the way to the top, and then just dangled there. I thought for sure he didn't have any strength to hang there, being just hatched and all, but little did I know that this is just what the little guy needed. I went in to make dinner. Every now and then I glanced out the window to check on the little white "spot" on the fence. He stayed put.

While dinner was cooking, I quickly did a web search on what happens when you wake up a moth or butterfly too soon or why the wings were undeveloped, and found nothing. I was shocked. Surely other people had run into this problem before? Then I read the development of a certain kind of butterfly, which stated that after it emerges from the cocoon, it climbs a tree and lets it's wings fill with blood, then flies away. Ah hah, that had to be it! I told Lee, and we both went outside to check on the mystery moth.

Sure enough, he had wings! In about an hour, his short stubby wings had filled out all the way down past his abdomen, and he looked beautiful! I tried to get a picture despite it being dark, as you can see above.

Later on I found out from a web search that he was a Salt Marsh Moth. Not only did his coloring obviously give this away, but it stated that one of his habitat preferences were marshy areas, which are close by here. And, that one of his favorite foods is the cotton plant, also nearby, since this is the cotton capitol of California.

He flew away sometime while we were eating dinner. We felt relieved.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Best Milk Comes From a Plant

I'm going to plug hemp milk today, just because so few people know about it and how nutritionally fantastic it is in comparison to other milks.

Have you ever tried hemp milk? I swear, out of all the milks I've tasted, it's by far the best. I've been drinking it for about 6 years now. Taste aside, it's a good alternative to soy which isn't the wonder-food we thought it was, hemp kicks it's be-hind all over the place. Soy is just too controversial, and because it's fed to a lot of factory farmed livestock, that definitely makes cow's milk even more evil.

As for cow's milk, the dairy council would like you to believe all sorts of things about their white snake oil, like how good it is for your bones. Anything to get you to buy it. Well that appears to be hogwash, as I have read in several different sources that milk, in fact, can contribute to osteoporosis. Have a hard time believing that? The tobacco industry wanted you to believe that cigarettes were actually good for you once upon a time, so why wouldn't other big industries spread lies until they get caught? Anything to get you to buy it.

Hemp milk may be a tad pricier than other plant-based milks, but in my opinion the extra buck is well worth it because of all the nutrients that are packed in. Plus, I don't use a whole lot of it. One container lasts me for a week. My favorite brand is tempt, who also makes protein powder and ice cream!, but there are other brands that are just as good and a little less costly if you can find them. Try your local natural foods store. Ask them if they might carry it if they don't already. If you can't find it locally, you can order it online directly from tempt's website or other online natural food stores, google it.

Oh, and by the way, you can't get high consuming hemp food products. [eye roll]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Peat Pots Shmeat Pots

It's crazy, the things we throw our money away on. I only bought peat pots a couple of times before realizing just how much they can add up if you start a lot of plants from seed. Plus, they never seemed to work that good. I was never able to just plant the seedling whole in the ground, I always had to peel away the peat pot before planting because they often got root bound and thus their growth was stunted. In my humble opinion, when you add the cost of soil and seeds, you may as well buy your plants already partially grown from the nursery. So then I tried one of those wooden peg pot maker thingys with quite a bit of success. I was able to reuse the newspapers that Lee accumulates. It was certainly a lot cheaper and paid for itself in one season.

Then I checked out the book Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century from the library (which is an absolutely brilliant book I might add, do check it out) and happened upon the fantastic idea of repurposing toilet paper tubes for seed pots.

It was one of those moments where I gave my forehead a good slap and thought, now why didn't I think of that? I had been saving toilet paper tubes for months and had a paper grocery sack full. Lee had been bothering me about what I was going to use them for and why they were taking up space in our tiny house. I finally gave up on finding a good practical use for them and tossed them in the compost bin only just before the book had arrived. Grrr. Up to that point, I had been spending afternoons cutting newspaper into the right size strips and folding them around the pot maker carefully, pressing each one into it's own finished product. The toilet paper tube trick was sooo much simpler! And more convenient. And less time consuming. Plus, it put those tubes to use.

I know a lot of you probably just throw them away. Save them. Even if you don't have a garden yourself, you can teach a gardening friend how to do this and save your tubes for them! If you only have flower beds and buy annuals, save yourself some cash and grow your own! You might spend $2-$3 on a six pack of marigolds? You could grow a whole flat of 70 plants for about the same price.

After learning about this trick in Self-Sufficiency for the 21st Century, I then started finding several versions of this idea online, and everyone had some tiny twist that they did differently. Here's how I do it, as plain and simple as possible:
First of all, you are going to find a nice, shallow box to hold the tubes. I have discovered that repurposing our strawberry flats are perfect for the job. They hold a lot of tubes, you can probably squish about 68-70 tubes in the entire flat. Of course, any shallow box will work or you can cut a taller one down. Just be sure it's at least half of the height of the tubes. A little taller is fine too, just not so tall that the walls make too much shade. Your seedlings will want all the sun they can get.
The first simple step to make a TP Tube Seed Pot, is to make several little snips at one end of the tube. The snips should be about an inch long, and they should be about a half an inch apart.
When you are done snipping, you should have a tube that looks like this with a bunch of little flaps.
Next, fold the little flaps inward.
Voila! That's it. Don't worry about securing the flaps, that's not necessary. They will stay put once all of the tubes are squished back together in the box, snipped sides down of course. Fill with seed starting mix and plant your seeds.  Simple.

Now is a good time to start saving your TP tubes so that you'll have a good supply on hand for next Spring's garden.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yard Sailing

One of the the things I love about summer is yard sailing. You don't need a boat or a life vest, yet it's just as exciting. It's always a new adventure, with new treasures to be found. End of summer seems to be a really good time of the season to grab up great deals, as our recent yard sailing treks have panned out quite well. It appears that as summer plants begin to die back, people are more likely to let go of their gardening items, which means big score for us! 
Here's some of the loot from just the last two weekends:
A groovy pair of red wellies with pink polk dots, previously worn but plenty of miles left. I couldn't pass them up because I only have one other pair of wellies, and they are just boring black. I am such a polka dot freak. Cost: $3.
Various medium sized clay pots. Still had a little potting soil in the bottom, and one had a spider in it, but you know how expensive these things can get. Cost: $1 each. Spider was free.
All leather rose pruning gloves. Great condition. No tears, no holes, no seams undone. Just a little mud stain on the palms, but I at the price I got them for, I can live with that. Cost: $2.
Now for the score of the summer. Compost bin. Used, but in perfect condition. No cracks, no broken parts. All good. The fella even threw in the metal turning fork. He said he just didn't want to have to drag it back into the garage. Brace yourself... Cost: $5!

I also picked up an armload of embroidery hoops for $3. I got a bag full of vintage aprons, embroidered tea towels & napkins, and a vintage sewing needle kit all for $3! Some wooden drawer organizers for $2. A cool vintage stationary set for $1. Two very nice cardigans for $4. Last, but not least, a vintage book on string games with the original string still in it: $1.

Now is a great time to go look for some bargains, so why not plan a sailing trip next weekend? Here's some tips to consider:

*Early birds don't always get the cheap worms. We don't feel we need anything bad enough to get up super early, especially on a Saturday morning when it's nice to sleep in. While we may miss some of the better stuff, we feel the deals we get later in the day are better worth waiting for. Most people who put on a yard sale don't want to drag their stuff back into the garage at the end of the day, so they are more willing to mark things down or haggle over the price as it gets closer to their closing time, just to get rid of stuff.

*You are more likely to get a better deal when you buy an armload of stuff, rather than a single item. Most people don't take the time to price each individual item from what I've seen. They just do a quick glance over what you have when you bring it up to them and rattle off a price.

*Haggling is not my forte, but it never hurts to ask for a better price if you are quoted a price that seems a little steep. Make an offer. For instance, if they say $5, ask if they would take $4. Be reasonable. Don't be rude and offer $1 when they ask for $5. Most of the time, if it's just small difference they won't argue. The worst that can happen is that they may say no, but you can always still buy the item at $5. 

*Craigslist is a good place to find yard sale listings. My mom gets all organized and writes down a list of addresses from Craigslist and then gets out her local map. I feel the best way to do it is just look for signs on main roads or highways, unless I find specific listings that give a sneak preview of what they are selling and see something I can't pass up. I do look for country sales on Craigslist though, because it's highly unlikely you might come by signs for these. Most of the time though, Lee and I just like to fly by the seat of our pants see where the signs lead. Last weekend in town it seemed we were playing a game of connect the dots. We'd find one yard sale and then right after that we would see a sign for another. This went on until we had found about 20 odd yard sales! We didn't even have to write down one address.

*Consider the neighborhood you are sailing in. We tend to stick mainly to the older, downtown areas and country sales because we figure those folks are more likely to have similar interests & tastes and sell stuff we actually want, rather than people who live in McMansions in the suburbs. Old people are going to have cool vintage stuff. Country folks are going to have gardening tools and other useful things. I'd say that over 75% of the time this is true, but sometimes on the rare occasion we may stop by a suburb yard sale and be pleasantly surprised to actually find something we can use. So don't judge too harshly.

Happy yard sailing!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A New Sunflower Forest

Can Sunflowers smile? This one sure seems to be.
This morning when I checked on the garden, I found that one of my Mammoth Sunflowers had fully opened. Of course, this one is just a "baby" only standing at about 6 feet tall. Some of her bigger sisters are standing at 10 ft tall right now and haven't yet set out any blooms. I've read that the further you space your Mammoths, the bigger they get. I indiscriminately dispersed seeds all along our garden fence line, so we have sunflowers of the same seed in all sizes, from super tall to some dwarf sized ones that are only about 3 feet tall with thin stalks.
The long, tall, 10 footers!

These are my third generation Mammoths. I like to say they came from outer space because when I still lived at the ranch, three of them just magically appeared in the middle of the beets and carrots. I hadn't planted them, my mom hadn't planted them. In fact, neither of us had even purchased sunflower seeds that year, so it's a big mystery as to how they got there. I'm a pushover gardener though, I often let wild things grow in (and sometimes takeover) the garden, and boy, did these ladies get huge! I couldn't even close my fingers all the way around their stalks and the faces were enormous, with one that spanned almost 2 feet wide!
The flowers at Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch.
Last year we visited Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch at Fox Creek Ranch to let the boys pick out pumpkins, and marveled at their stunning display of rows upon rows of various types of sunflowers, layered with a rainbow of zinnias and jumbo marigolds, in their corn maze. I was inspired to create a similar display in our backyard for this Fall in homage to our honeybees, and so I ordered more flower seeds from a great seller on eBay. I received my parcel two days ago, which included these varieties of sunflower: Lemon Queen, Velvet Queen, Italian White, Autumn Beauty, and Japanese Taiyo. Zinnias: Orange King, Purple Prince, Cactus Flowered, and Mixed Garden Elegans. I also ordered mixed Bachelor's Buttons and Black Gem Bachelor's Buttons. I can't wait to plant them this weekend! Perhaps if these all do well in my garden this year, you will see them in my Etsy shop this Winter and next Spring!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's Time For a Food Fight

Have you heard about GMO's? When I watched a video about GMO's and public awareness a few weeks back, I was really surprised to discover that a lot of people really don't know what they are or why they should be avoided! It's easy to start avoiding them today, some simple ways to do so are to:

* Buy organic!
* Check the labels- if it doesn't specifically say NON-GMO, it probably contains GMO's.
* Be wary of the 'biggy' crops: Corn, Soy, Canola, Cottonseed.
* Download a NON-GMO shopping guide.

Isn't it crazy that cows will avoid the GMO grain if given the choice? Isn't it even crazier that we will eat them because they are "cheaper" than organic? Let's get our priorities straight folks! Cut out that daily Starbucks drink (or other vice/unnecessary luxury) and use the spare cash to buy organic produce. No more excuses.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Shaking Off the Dust

Last Sunday evening I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. The following day I had what could only be described as a 24 hour stomach bug, but I couldn't remove myself from the sofa all day. Very unlike me, and in my mind it was torture because there were so many things I needed and wanted to get done, but my body was telling my mind to just shut up. So it did. I missed a day of squash picking, and ended up with extra gigantic squash on Tuesday. For the rest of the week my energy came and went, so I just rolled with it and let myself take naps as needed. Yesterday I started to feel somewhat normal again finally.

This weekend is our "Finish That Project" weekend. We are hoping to complete a hand-laid, mortar-less patio area on the side of the house with some salvaged bricks that were given away for free by a local in town. Then it's time to finally get the shingles on the hen house, which are going to be cut from reclaimed plywood that I once used as painting supports for my art classes. Yes, this is the same hen house I started and never finished last summer. We have a tarp over the top of the roof right now, and the girls have been living in it just fine so far. They just recently started laying regularly in their attached nesting box. For a while, they were nesting on the floor of the garden shed and Scout, our most devious mutt, was stealing their eggs.

I was just given another bag of homegrown cucumbers from Lee's mom last night, so that's another project for this weekend. Maybe I can test out a new Bread and Butter Pickle recipe.

Oh, and I swear that this concoction made my stomach feel almost instantly better on Tuesday when I tried it:

* 1 cup of warm water
* 1 TBSP of honey
* the juice of one lemon