Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Benefit of Chemical Free Gardening

Having a chemical free garden has many benefits for you and your family.  But it is also good for the living organisms that surround your home.  I know we all have problems with nuisances such as aphids.  However, yesterday, I got a beautiful surprise in my garden.

It was a caterpillar:

20140729_173112

After a little research, I found that this critter will transform into a Black Swallowtail Butterfly.  The caterpillar will feast on the parsnip that it’s living on now before it rolls itself up into its cocoon.

I am grateful that my garden is the home of this caterpillar.  Yet another unexpected benefit of gardening without chemicals.

Never Give Up – Another Lesson from Trees

There are times when all feels lost.  When it feels like nothing will work, and I feel dead inside.  I know, depressing.  To deal with this, walking around outside always helps me to feel grounded.  It also gives me some hope.

You see, last year, we planted a Chicago Hardy Fig Tree.  We put it to “bed” over the winter by covering the whole tree with straw to to keep it insulated from a cold, harsh winter.  In my typical fashion, I got excited at the first signs of spring, and uncovered the tree before the risk of frost had passed.  Frost came, and it seemed all was lost.  I thought our fig tree had died due to frost.  So I cut the trunk about two inches above the top of the ground.  I figured the fig tree was nothing more than mulch.

20140714_124208[1]

After a month or so, that small dead stump started to sprout branches.

20140714_124301[1]

 

And now the tree which I had written off as dead is now sprouting figs.  We have over ten baby figs on our tree.

20140729_131715[1]

 

We thought we lost another tree.  One of our paw paws started to die.  The leaves started to shrivel up and we started to give it lots of TLC.  However, we lost it.  Our small paw paw tree was transformed into a stick.

20140729_131140[1]

 

We were okay with this.  When you plant trees, some are bound to fail.  But time passed and nature worked another miracle:

20140729_131243[1]

Our paw paw tree sent up shoots from it’s roots.

From what we thought were dead trees came healthy shoots.  Not only did our fig tree astonish us with leaves, it blessed us with fruit.  This is such a beautiful metaphor for life.  Sometimes when we feel like all is lost, we need to take a break and walk away.  When we come back to our problems, who knows what life may have been regenerated within us.

How to Make a Cheap Brooder

Our 15 chicks are here!! And we’re ready for them.

20140711_103922

We had our brooder all set up and ready to go.  We only bought a few special chicken things.  The majority of what we used to build the brooder was things that we hadd around the house.

20140714_214020(0)

The base of our brooder was a kiddie pool.  We found this along the side of the road.  Yay for free things!! Your base should not have any corners.  The baby chicks could get crowded in a corner and be smooshed to death.  As most prefer their chicks alive and unsmooshed, please use a brooder with rounded sides.

Our live birds will want to be warm.  After all, at the beginning of their lives, they are designed to live in the warm protection of a mother hen.  That’s why a good source of heat is super important.  We used old heat lamps my husband had for his snake.  We hung two up as we had so many chicks to keep warm.  The older the babies get, the less they need a heat source.  Therefore as the chicks age, we are slowly lifting the heat lamps higher.  This is essentially the same as turning the heat down.  A rule of thumb: if the chicks are all huddled together under the heat source, they are cold and need more heat.  If they are spread out away from the heat source, you have too much heat.

Being that the chicks are living beings, they need food and water.  I purchased the waterer and feeder.  No creative solutions here, but plenty exist.  I bought regular chick feed and use water from our faucet.  When you first get the chicks out of the box they come in, make sure you show them where their water is by gently dipping their beaks.

20140711_104028

Finally, we bought pine shavings for their bedding.  Pine shavings are slightly acidic which helps keep the stinkiness factor to a minimum.  You can use almost any sort of bedding, but being that the chicks are living in my basement, I spring for the good stuff.  DO NOT lay newspaper down flat, it is too slippery and the babies will hurt their legs.  DO NOT use cedar shavings, this will hurt their lungs.  Make sure you change their bedding on a fairly regular basis.

As they get older, they start to get a bit flighty.  At that point, the sides of our baby pool are not high enough to keep the girls in.  We take some old fencing and place it around the perimeter of the pool.

This whole set up took us less than 15 minutes.  And the best part is that everything is reusable with the exception of the pine shavings.

We’ve Remodeled! (Our Chicken Coop, that is)

Chris and I have remodeled the inside of our coop.  First and foremost, its to make room for babies!! That’s right! We are expanding our flock from 10 ladies to 25.  We decided to make this addition due to a demand for our eggs.  Friends and family have been asking to buy eggs from us, and right now, we don’t have enough to supply ourselves and both Chris’s and my parents.

What did we do to remodel and make our coop so that it will happily house 1.5x more chickens?  We expanded the roosts up.  That way all of the girls can find a place to sleep at night.  Before we made this change the girls only had three perches.  This was perfect for our ten girls, but would not have been enough for our additions.  Also, the perches were made from bamboo, and needed to be replaced anyway as they were aging and becoming brittle.

Before:
20140519_151032

 

After:

20140711_070936

This was made out of 2×4’s.  It only takes up half the coop, as the other half has the nesting boxes.  The nesting boxes used to be straight back from the door.

20140519_151052

Our girls stopped laying in there, and all ten of them started laying in the southeast corner of the coop.

20140519_151016

Ten girls laying in one spot is not ideal, so we decided to work with them.  After all, a chicken knows best what makes a chicken happy.  We moved the nesting boxes to this location.

20140711_070953

So, did it work?  Let’s take a closer look at the photo above:

20140711_070849

YES!! and they use all four of the boxes. So it’s not ten girls vying for one spot.

We will be adding an extra waterer and feeder later.  I hope the big girls are ready to add to their flocking family (pun intended).

It may take some time for everyone to adjust to their remodeled home, but we wanted everyone to be used to their new place before the little chicks were added.

 

Dragon’s Tooth Beans

Fall of last year, I saved my dragon’s tooth beans from my garden.  That way I wouldn’t have to buy any bean seeds.  I saved myself a whooping $2.50!  But we all know it’s not just about saving a few dollars here and there.  This was about a sense of self-sufficiency.  About being able to save them myself and gain the knowledge.

I planted them mid-April, about an inch deep in the soil.  I planted them in between my corn.  So my rows alternate one corn seed followed by one bean, and so on.  I didn’t really water them, as we didn’t need it.

So, did it work?  YES! We had rough start at the beginning of the season. Most of our leaves resembled lace.

20140704_145042

We left them go.  Our hope was that the insects that were eating these plants would attract some natural predators and the population would balance out.  We were right!  The plants got healthier as time went on and gave us these beautiful blooms:

20140704_145152

I just finished bringing in my second batch of beans.  They all look very healthy and happy.  And they are super tasty.

20140704_144941

We ate them raw with dinner last night, but you can prepare them anyway you would regular green beans.  A favorite in our house is pan frying them in bacon grease with a few sliced almonds.

We successfully did a full round of our food from beginning to end: We saved the seeds, sowed the seeds, and harvested them, all without any outside resources.

Attack of the Aphids – and What to do about it

One of my good friends called me last night.  She found aphids in her garden.  Aphids are not a beneficial insect.  In fact, they are generally bad news for a gardener and considered to be one of the most destructive insects on cultivated plants ( that is your kitchen garden).  What is a gardener to do?

Well, you could spray them with toxic conventional spray, But if you spray, you are poisoning the FOOD THAT YOU EAT.  Please don’t spray.  Don’t poison yourself, your family and the groundwater.

You can cover them with soapy water.  This method has been used for over 200 years. The soapy water will kill your aphids, but leaves critters like honey bees and ladybugs alive.  Live ladybugs are very good for your garden as they eat these aphids. Honey bees are good since they pollinate our plants.

Be cautious as this soapy water can be damaging to you plants.  You can try to test a leaf of your plant to make the soapy water won’t damage it.  However, you plant isn’t too happy right now being covered with aphids, so it’s not like you’re covering a prized plant.  To make this spray, dilute 2 tablespoons of dish soap to one gallon of water.  Use a spray bottle to apply this to the affected leaves of the plants.  Make sure to spray both sides of the leaf and spray any little bugs dropping to the ground.  Let this sit for one to two hours and then rinse the residue off with a garden hose.  Do this treatment once a week for as long as you may need.

Be cautious of ants with aphids.  Aphids are beneficial to the ants (aphids secrete a fluid the ants love to eat), and the ants will attempt to protect them from any natural predators.  In fact, some refer to ants as “aphid farmers”, since ants take such good care of the aphids.  Controlling the ant population may be a necessary step in aphid control.  One method that controls both the ants and the aphids is food grade diatomaceous earth, or DE.  You can read more about it here: Diatomaceous Earth Article and Ant and Aphid Control.  One thing I really do not like about DE is that it will kill the good insects, as well.

Finally, if you have chickens, feel free to set them loose on these bugs.  They won’t get them all, but they will have a fun time trying.  Chickens also cannot be in your garden for long periods of time, or they will destroy it.  So keep them in there for limited times, but let them come back and visit from time to time.  (Their droppings will make for a healthier garden)

Do what you need to do to protect your plants from aphids at the current time, but be sure to take steps to prevent aphids infesting your garden next year.  Here are some aphid prevention:

  • Include plants throughout your garden that repel aphids.  These are strong aromatics such as dill, chives, cilantro, garlic, mint (be careful, this spreads quickly!) and nasturtiums.
  • Include plants (or allow weeds to grow) that ladybugs like.  These include: marigold, dandelion, Hairy Vetch (this is a great cover crop that fixes nitrogen in the soil!), and cilantro.

I hope this helps for your present aphid problems and any problems you may have in the future.