Friday, August 29, 2008

Chicken coup; starting over on fall planting

As you can see, the hens have lost all respect for boundaries, and have taken to strolling up the steps whenever they hear us on the porch or coming out the back door. This IS NOT good. The dog is so disgusted he won't even turn around! Still no eggs from Lena, but I expect one almost any day now. The other girls are slowing down as bit as the light changes and they probably get ready to go into their first molt. We get 2 rather than 3 eggs now at least twice a week.

Remember those lovely collard and kale plants that sprouted immediately from seed a few weeks ago? Well, I ignored them for 10 days while I had company, and in the hot dry weather they all died. I am now amending bed 1 with some extra composted cow manure, as the soil there is too light, and have transplanted some purchased broccoli and collards into place. Kale is my favorite, however, so I need to get some kale plants started, again. The time is now for most all of your fall vegetables! I hope to plant carrots, beets, rutabagas, onions and more greens soon, and at least three types of lettuce in a few weeks when things cool down.

Finally, what is in this week's harvest? Huge beautiful figs and my first sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Passion, bliss . . . and weeds

This is what a passionflower looks like, growing happily on my fence here in Carteret County. On the whole they do well here, coming back stronger each year. I understand that the fruit is edible, but I am sure the flavor is dependent on the variety, and I just grabbed this one on sale early in the summer. It did not have a tag, so I don't know what variety it is. The flowers are probably one of the most spectacular you can find. (Do you recognize this as the basis for the recent cell phone commercial?)

The hens are spending time every day in their spa spot: a hole they dug in the yard where they can dust bathe. The snuggle down, fluff up their feathers, and kick dirt up under their wings and between every single feather shaft. They flatten out like a pancake and burrow with their shoulders (ok, you know what I mean, the tops of their wings). They do it singularly and in groups. You can look in their eyes and just tell they are in complete bliss. The point: to control all types of bird mites. Here is Lou, just getting started on her spa treatment.

Finally: If you feel bad about the weeds in your gardens, look at this. All of my ornamental beds look like this today. I have quite a crop of common bermudagrass and pennywort, and if I don't get it out soon it is going to be a really big battle later. Maybe after this rain I will get out there and pull it out.

Nothing to harvest now or in the immediate future from the vegetable beds. Some of the greens I planted came up, others did not. The squash is up and going strong. I have bush bean seeds to plant, and will be ordering more seeds soon for the full fall garden.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The skinny on worms; worm snacks

After my last post I had a number of requests for more information on worm composting. Worms can be used to efficiently decompose kitchen scraps while producing an amazing "worm juice" fertilizer and a wonderful soil amendment of worm castings. The worms and bin are easy to build and maintain, or can be purchased on the web.

There are a number of worm compost bin options, the easiest and least expensive being two plastic bins set inside one another, with drainage holes drilled in the bottom of the inside bin. I know of one Master Gardener who has an amazingly successful bin, full of happy worms, that she built this way. I have a product call the "can of worms," which is three round worm bins that can be stacked on one another, sitting on legs and with a watertight bin on the bottom to catch the worm juice. A waterproof lid fits over the whole setup.

My worms have been working hard and have fully processed many pounds of kitchen scrap into beautiful worm castings. The photos show the worm bin with castings ready to harvest, worm castings scattered around the base of my new baby kale plants, and fresh shredded newspaper bedding in the worm bin to start a new cycle. The worms used are red worms, different from the worms you find in your yard. These worms do not live below the soil, but in organic litter (such as leaves) on the surface. That makes them a perfect choice for kitchen worm bins. The only issue I have with the worms: who gets my kitchen scraps, the hens or the worms???

The few worms that I accidentally removed from the bin with the castings became a snack for the hens. They thought they were yummy. Oh, and Expresso starting crowing this morning. He was quite proud of himself, and continued to crow for almost 15 minutes!

You can find information and resources on worm composting at North Carolina State University's web site and

Monday, August 4, 2008

Out with the old; Basil harvest

Despite the fact that each plant still had one or two green tomatoes, I balanced the possible future yield against the amount of space being used and the ragged, sad look of the plants, and decided to rip out all the tomato plants. What a pile of vines! These will go in the compost pile. The two spindly hot pepper plants (one ancho and one cayenne) are now the only vegetables in that bed, so I will be renovating the soil with some worm casings (yes, I have a worm composter) and some organic fertilizers, then planting fall crops. I also saved two little shoots from the tomato plants I removed, and may try to start two new plants for some fall tomatoes. My fall squash, kale and collards that were planted in the other bed last week have germinated and are starting to grow.

Yesterday was a great day to harvest basil, and I wanted you to see this colander full of beautiful, fresh basil leaves. Pinching off the tops of the basil branches helps the plant to bush out and keep growing, so I did as thorough a harvest as I could. Since basil does not keep very well on its own, I pureed it with high quality olive oil in my food processor, then scooped it into the sections of an ice cube tray. Once it freezes, I will pop out the cubes and store them in the freezer. They are a great addition to sauces and soups, or can be used to make pesto later in the year.

An update on the coop: The big ladies continue to pick on poor Lena, but she seems to be adapting. I hate to see her struggle with the pecking order. Maybe in a month or so, when she starts laying and fills out, things will get better. I can't wait to see what color her eggs are!