Who’s Been Eating My Garden?!

I’m not happy.

I feel like the Three Bears who come home to find their house trashed and their porridge eaten.  ‘Someone’ has been munching on my garden and I’m not happy about it.  Normally I’m quite philosophical about sharing nature’s bounty with all creatures great and small but this time I say enough!

Just yesterday I was admiring my variegated hydrangea, noting its lush, bushy foliage and its obvious verdant health.  And then this morning I woke up to this:

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Carnage and devastation.  All that lush foliage eaten down to sticks and nubbies.  Grrrrr.

And then I found my okra.  The same okra I had been admiring just yesterday for its lush, verdant foliage and cute baby okras it is starting to grow.  Which now looks like this:

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More carnage and nubbies.  Grrrr.

My raspberries have fared no better …

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… nor my peppers or tomatoes, although I suspect a two legged predator may have ‘harvested’ the later.  Grrrrrr.

And then, to add insult to injury, wanna see what I found in the mulch?

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Hoof prints!  Grrrrrr.

Clearly I need better deer defences.

Last year I used these deer repellent stakes with much success and so I put them in again this year.  

This year they are not working.  Grrrrr.

I’m not happy.

How do you keep the deer away?  Short of filling them with lead I’m open to just about anything.

Grrrrr again.

And sigh.

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How to Keep Your Cool When the Temp Heats Up

We are in the second week of June and already melting through our first heatwave of the summer.  The temperature today is expected to reach 99*F (37*C) with temps climbing to 101*F (38*C) tomorrow and remaining about the same over the next 16 days.  Truly, it feels like we are walking on the surface of the sun and it is only June!  #WhyDoesItFeelLikeAugust?

The kids and I are hiding out inside in the AC enjoying a Wii marathon and dreading the swim meet we have to go to tonight (or at least I am) but how are the new plantlings managing outside?  I didn’t put them in all that long ago and certainly not enough time has passed for them to have established robust root systems.  They all may well fry within the next two weeks.  Sigh.  But I’ll tell you what I did do to help get them through the start of a brutal summer.

1. Install drip irrigation systems.

I love drip irrigation.  It is easily found at all the big box stores, is not that spendy, and is easy to DIY.  I have it all through most of my gardens and they are all connected to timers which, really, is my favourite part about the drip irrigation – I don’t have to keep remembering to turn the water on, move the sprinklers, or turn it off again!  The ultimate in set-it-and-forget-it lazy gardening.

Drip irrigation also increases water efficiency as the water is only ever placed exactly where it needs to go – at the root zone of each plant – rather than sprayed from above drenching everything in the garden whether it needs watering or not.  The effects of evaporation can be lessened when the timer is set to water in the early morning hours before the sun rises, and reduced once again if the emmiters are placed underneath the mulch.  Just awesome all around.

2. Add extra layers of mulch

Not only does a thick layer of mulch smother out any weeds but it acts as a barrier between the hot burning sun and the soil underneath, literally holding the water in the ground and preventing it from being evaporated by the sun.  It also helps regulate the temperature of the soil reducing stress on plant roots.  I spent last weekend adding an extra few inches of mulch around the plants I thought would be most vulnerable to the weather this week.  I hope it helps.

3. Water deeply, but infrequently

When I water I try to water more deeply but less often, say 20mins, 3 times a week rather than 10mins a day.  This encourages roots to dig deeper into the soil in search of water rather than staying close to the surface in order to sip at more frequent water sprinklings that never get to soak in.  Long term, a nice deep root system will produce a more robust plant that is better able to handle temperature extremes as the added layers of soil the plant has above its roots will insulate the roots from the temperature changes.  Clever, right?

4. I use baby diapers in the bottom of hanging baskets (really, I do!)

I don’t remember where I heard this tip but I’ve been using it for years and it really helps.  Try putting a (clean) baby diaper in the bottom of your hanging baskets and pots.  The crystals inside the diapers will retain lots of water which the plants can ‘sip’ from when they start to get dry.  At the end of the season you can just throw the diapers away as you normally would, or even dry them out and keep them for next year.  They last quite a few seasons (it’s not like the crystals wear out) and I feel less guilt if I get a few uses out of them rather than just adding them to the landfill so quickly.

Admittedly, not all my plants are perfectly sited and some are probably in more sun than their labels said they would like (sigh) but with these added measures maybe I’ve done enough to help get them through the worst of this weather.  Fingers crossed!

“What is a Food Forest?”, You Ask?

Remember I was telling you about a local guy who takes note of all the publicly available fruiting trees that are in our area and he makes a point to harvest the fruit rather than let it spoil and go to waste?  Such activity is called Urban Foraging and I talked about it here.

So guess what?  I’m not the first one to be amazed by the idea that there is food, real food, literally hanging off trees all around us that we could, you know, eat.  Others have come across this notion too and have totally taken it to the next level.  Check this.

The city of Seattle has devoted 7 acres of land less than 2 miles from the city center to create a ‘Food Forest’.  “What’s a food forest?”, you ask?  I know.  I didn’t know either.  But it is a community partnership which will eventually create a true woodland ecosystem made up entirely of edible trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, nut trees and berry patches and fruit trees, and family vegetable plots from which anyone can harvest anything.  An urban forager’s delight!  What an incredible concept.  They broke ground early summer 2011 and now this is what the Beacon Food Forest looks like:

It is hard to believe that all this food is free for the taking.  Like, anyone can just walk in and pick whatever looks good to take home and eat that night.  Hard to believe, right?  Here is a recent news article that tells the story.  And for the more visually inclined, here is a great video by the founders of the Beacon Food Forest that explains it all.

I follow them on Facebook now and I love to hear all their news.  They hold monthly work parties that really do look like fun that I soooo want to be a part of!  They run summer camps for the kids, hold yoga classes, do seed swaps, provide lots of education on organic gardening and cooking from the food you’ve grown.  And they had rhubarb compote made from their own rhubarb at May’s work party.  Awesome.

All very 360 degrees and very well conceived.  I just love it and will (one day) definitely take a trip out to visit the Beacon Food Forest.

I think this is such an incredible community outreach project.  Wow, folks.  Just. Wow.

I (heart) My Garden

I do.   I love my garden at this time of year.  Even though it is a dreary, wet and rainy day at my house there is still so much to see.  Forgive my indulgence but here are some of my (current) favourite things growing in my garden.

Lovely nasturtiums that are ‘acting’ as companion plants in my vege garden.  They are supposed to keep all kinds of bugs away and attract beneficial insects but all I see is a big fat black bug taking up residence right inside that lovely crimson nasturtium.  Hmmm.  What is that guy and what’s he doing in there?

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I love my blueberry hedge.  I have 3 bushes planted along my fenceline and although they are still small (only 3 years old) I am excited that all three are fruiting well.  I have thrown bird netting over the top to see if I can harvest any for myself this year.  Birds beat me to them all last year.

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I love my hydrangeas, too.  I have three Endless Summer Hydrangeas that the boys bought me for Mothers Day a few years back that are blooming pink this year.  Our soil is typically acidic which would normally produce blue flowers so I was pleasantly surprised to see these big pink balls pop up.  Perhaps it was something in the compost I gave them ….  I love the mottled white/pink when they first start to bloom.

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Honestly, they are exposed to too much afternoon sun and don’t get near enough water to do really well so I totally bow down and give mad props to any plant for blooming despite the not-so-great location I’ve asked it to grow in.  Gotta love a team player like that!

I’m sure you don’t remember the ugly and under-perfoming Winter Daphne I pulled out earlier this spring.  You can read about my sad Winter Daphne journey here.  Happily, I replaced my sad Winter Daphne with happier Mini Penny Hydrangeas.  They’ve grown pretty well, I think, given that they’ve only been in the ground for 3 months AND have given me almost two whole blooms!  More reasons to love hydrangeas.

From this in March:

Newly planted Mini Penny Hydrangea.  Grow, baby, grow!

Newly planted Mini Penny Hydrangea. Grow, baby, grow!

To this in May:

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Not bad, eh?  I’m a little concerned they are going to be fried in the late summer afternoon sun but maybe they’ll be ok.  Hmmmm.

My one hydrangea sadness is my variegated hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Mariesii’.  It looked like this when I bought it from the nursery:

So pretty, right?  But every year in my garden it looks like this:

IMG_2835Boooo.  Stupid thing blooms on old wood and every year the buds are either lost to a brutal winter or to an early frost.  Sigh.  I’m not certain if I’m going to stick with such an underperforming plant although the variegated leaves might be worthwhile.  If It will ever grow bigger than 3′ it can stay.  Jury is definitely still out on this one.

My hummingbird garden is doing a little better this year with the Black and Blue Salvia and Bee Balm finally blooming.  They don’t look like much right now but my hope is that in a few years they whole bed will be filled with these lovely, hummingbird friendly, flowers.

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Gardenias are starting to bloom and I can smell their fragrance waft right across the garden.  Just lovely.  I do wish they would get a little more sun as I’m sure they’d bloom better.  They catch a lot of shade from my neighbour’s trees.

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And the girls have been doing their thing.  I love our chickens.

Girls

Girls

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I think May/June might be my favourite time of year in the garden.  There is so much to see without it all being overwhelming yet.  What’s growing in your garden right now?

Do you play Jeopardy?

I’ll take Urban Renewal for 200, thanks Alex.

Answer: The world’s smallest urban park.

GreenEggs:  What is … Mill Ends Park?

YES!  On my cyber travels I happened upon one of the strangest things I’ve ever happened upon … in a gardening sense, that it.  The World’s Smallest Urban Park – can you believe it?  Mill Ends Park, a diminutive two-foot circle and only just big enough for one plant, sits in the middle of a median strip on what is now SW Naito Parkway, in Portland, Oregon.    It also happens to be home to the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland, although that point seems overlooked by the Guiness Book of Records.  Can’t imagine such a place?  Here’s a picture.

Mill Ends Park, Portland OR.  The smallest park in the world and home to the only leprechaun colony West of Ireland.

Mill Ends Park, Portland OR.

The story goes that in 1948 the site was prepared for a light pole to be installed on busy SW Front Avenue.  Time passed and the lightpole never arrived, yet weeds and nasties sprung up as they do when a plot of ground is left unattended.  Dick Fagan, a columnist with the Oregon Journal planted some flowers on the site, declared it a park and named it after his column in the paper, Mill Ends.  The park was officially dedicated on St Patrick’s Day, 1948, as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland”, according to Fagan.

From Wikipedia:

Legend

Fagan told the story of the park’s origin: He looked out the window and spotted a leprechaun digging in the hole. He ran down and grabbed the leprechaun, which meant that he had earned a wish. Fagan said he wished for a park of his own; but since he had not specified the size of the park in his wish, the leprechaun gave him the hole.[4] Over the next two decades, Fagan often featured the park and its head leprechaun in his whimsical column. Fagan claimed to be the only person who could see the head leprechaun, Patrick O’Toole.[3]

Fagan published a threat by O’Toole about the 11 o’clock curfew set on all city parks. O’Toole dared the mayor to try to evict him and his followers from Mill Ends, and threatened a leprechaun curse on him should he attempt to do so. Subsequently, no legal action was taken, and the leprechauns were allowed to stay in the park after hours.[5]

Evolution

Fagan died of cancer in 1969, but the park lives on, cared for by others. It was named an official city park in 1976.[2]

The small circle has featured many unusual items through the decades, including a swimming pool for butterflies—complete with diving board, a horseshoe, a fragment of the Journal building, and a miniature Ferris wheel which was delivered by a full size crane. On St. Patrick’s Day, 2001, the park was visited by a tiny leprechaun leaning against his pot of gold and children’s drawings of four-leaf clovers and leprechauns.[2] The park continues to be the site of St. Patrick’s Day festivities. The events held here include concerts by Clan Macleay Pipe Band, picnics, and rose plantings by the Junior Rose Festival Court.[3]

Mill Ends Park in 2004 before remodeling.

Mill Ends Park in 2004 before remodeling.

I love the absurdity, I love the leprechauns and I love the teeny tiny park!  But it is not all roses and hollyhocks though.  There is a contender for the title of World’s Smallest Urban Park and they are not going down without a fight!  Prince’s Park in the Staffordshire town of Burntwood, UK is challenging Mill Ends Park in the teeny tiny park stakes, claiming that Mill Ends isn’t really even a park to start with!  Prince’s Park is a full 15’x30′ in size and boasts home to the first and only World’s Shortest Fun Run, a full 55 strides around.

Not far to go now!

Not far to go now!

In 2003, nearly 400 people showed up to race around Prince’s Park completing the race in just 7 seconds flat!  Awesome!

So, which do you think has the best ‘small park spirit’?  Are you Team Portland or Team UK?  I can’t get past the cute factor of Mill Ends Park but the World’s Shortest Fun Run at Prince’s Park is a really fabulous community event.  I’m torn but leaning towards Team UK.  You?

Urban Foraging

It’s funny the way some things happen, isn’t it?

I came across a post in my recent cyber travels about a fellow Charlottean, Mike Orell, who is (apparently) wild about the amazing tree canopy that we have here in The Queen City.  In case you didn’t know, Charlotte is known for having one of the finest urban forests in America and it is one of our most recognized and treasured natural resources.

The Charlotte Skyline. See all the trees? Amazing for a city of about 1 million people, right?

I have to admit that I love the trees, too.  One of my favourite things about Charlotte is the abundance of green and the trees are definitely a big part of that.  Sadly, our urban forest is old, fragile and depleted and is at risk of being irrepairably lost if action is not taking to better preserve it.  Fortunately in 2010, our city council recognised the canopy’s importance and launched a bold public/private collaborative, TreesCharlotte, whose task was to assess the condition of the canopy, support and protect the existing trees, and set a goal of planting over 500,000 trees over the coming decades.  It is largely volunteer driven and has been very successful to date.  A truly wonderful community project with a lasting legacy. Trees are important.  Trees are beautiful.  And they increase our land values.

Typical tree lined suburban Charlotte street.  Gorgeous, right?

Typical tree lined suburban Charlotte street. Gorgeous, right?

Anyway, I came across this post, via Trees Charlotte, written by Mike that talks about Urban Foraging.  Have you heard about Urban Foraging?  That is, going out into our public urban environments to find, harvest, and eat fruits (or veges or whatever) that are publicly available, are ripe, and would ordinarily rot on the vine and go to waste if folks weren’t out there collecting them.  What a notion.  Mike talks about the different fruit trees that he’s noticed around his/my areas, when they are fruiting and how often he beats the critters to the bounty 🙂

And then I realised that *I* am an Urban Forager, too.  Well, in that there is this amazingly enormous fig tree along one of my running routes that is simply ladened with fruit in the Autumn, and that I have been known to slow and enjoy a fresh sweet fig or two from its offerings as I pass.  My running buddies think I’m mad.  I’m ok with that.

And then I thought of the people I see walking along the walking paths in Florida carrying the fresh coconuts home that had fallen the night before.  And I realised that *they* are Urban Foragers, too.

Florida coconuts

Florida coconuts

And I remembered the NPR segment I heard months ago about a global (global!) online project called Falling Fruit that crowd sources locations of publicly available fruits and maps them, so you can go and be an Urban Forager in your own piece of the world.  Amazing!

And then my friend, Sarhn at GreenerMe, posted just yesterday about her adventures collecting wild Slippery Jack mushrooms.  Turns out that she’s an Urban Forager, too!  And I remember going ‘mushrooming’ after a rainfall in the Autumn months as a child so I guess I’ve been doing it for a long time, afterall.

It is just all around me right now.  Funny how sometimes things like that happen, right?  All at once?

But what does all that meeaaaannn???  I dunno.  But I like the advice Mike gives: To “pick your head up and start to really see what’s around you”.  Good advice for life, really.

Are there any other Urban Foragers out there?  Perhaps you are an UF and just never knew it (like me)?

How To Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Tractor

We have two chickens, Charlotte and Sophia, who live in a sweet coop.

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Our sweet coop

Cluckingham Palace

Cluckingham Palace

The footprint of the coop is 8’x4′ which gives them a run space of 32 sq ft which is enough for two chickens to share, but even this cold heart thinks the girls would appreciate a day out and a change of scenery on occasion.  Trouble is that we do not have a fenced yard so I really needed to make a day-tractor of sorts for them, something light weight and adjustable to suit our needs.  Ideally, it would be something that could be stored easily when not in use, something I could put over my vege garden to have the girls work that from time to time yet spacious enough to be worth the effort.  I’ve also been asked, recently, to bring the girls to some local preschools and elementary schools as part of their Farm Animal Week as an educational display, to talk about how we take care of the chickens and show the city kids a real live chicken and I was thinking it would be handy to have a something that could hold them for looking at but would lay flat to fit in my minivan to transport.  Hmmm, seemed quite a lot of requirements and a tall order to fill. I searched online until I came across this little beauty:

Collapsible chicken run - inspiration.  Source:Craftlog http://craftlog.org/craftlog/?p=4175

Collapsible chicken run – inspiration. Source:Craftlog

Eureka!  This will be perfect.  It is adjustable to fit over my skinny (just 2′ wide) vege garden, yet can expand to … whatever width the A-frame will allow, say 5′, AND fold up for easy, flat storage when not in use.  And it looked easy enough to build.  Of course, there will be less-than-zero predator protection with this, probably as close to free-ranging (and subsequent security issues) without actually free-ranging as I can get, so it must only be used under supervision.  I thought I’d give it a go.  Here’s what I did.

How to Build a Portable, Collapsible Chicken Run What you need:

  • (7) 1″x3″x8′ pine furring strips (for extra light weight)
  • 16′ length of 48″ hardware cloth, chicken wire, plastic utility fencing for the outside of the big panels
  • 8′ length of 48″ plastic utility fencing for the end caps (needs to be flexible so it will fold up)
  • 3 hinges for the top
  • screws to screw it all together
  • L-brackets to reinforce the sides if needed (I needed these as the wood is so flimsy)
  • U-pins or staples to staple the hardware cloth to the wood
  • paint to better weatherproof it and make it look pretty
  • 10’+ length of utility fencing
  • taples to affix the utility fencing
  • an afternoon

Directions:

Hint #1: Make sure you look for very straight pieces of the furring strips when buying your lumber.  They are hard to find and you might need to ask the guys to cut a new bundle or two open so you can find straight pieces.  Don’t be shy – do it and find the straightest pieces you can.

Step 1.
Cut 3 of the furring strips in half to give you (6) 4′ lengths.  I had the guys at Lowes do this for me.

Step 2.
Join the long 8′ lengths of wood to the shorter 4′ lengths of wood to make 2 big 8’x4′ rectangles with supports in the middle at the 4′ mark.  I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood. You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I’m ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw by myself.

I used the Kreg Jig to make it easy to join the wood.  You do have to fill the holes with wood filler and paint but I'm ok with that as I find these joins easier that trying to toe in the screw.

Making the joins with the Kreg Jig

Step 3.
Paint all the wood with exterior grade paint.  The panels will look like this when done. (Check out my easy Paint with a Sock painting technique to save yourself some grief during this part)

One of the two painted panels.

One of the two painted panels.

Hint #2: Check out the ‘Oops Section’ for cheap paint options while at Lowes.  The only exterior paint I had lying around the house was the cream colour I’d used on the coop and I wanted this to blend in better with the environment.  Lowes happened to have a small tin of exterior green paint for just $2.50 instead of the $18.00 it would have ordinarily cost.  Score!

Step 4.
Reinforce the corners with brackets if necessary.

Step 5.
Staple or use the U-pins to attached the hardware cloth/utility wire to the rectangular panels.

Step 6.
Join the two big rectangles at the top with the hinges.  Best to attach the hinges on the inside of the panels so the hinges will close properly and lie flat.

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Attaching hinges

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Hinges and reinforcing brackets attached.

Right now your project will look like this:

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You can fold it up.

You can lay it out flat.

You can lay it out flat.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

You can stand it up to make a chicken tractor out of it. I like that the width is variable depending on my need.

Step 7.
Staple the utility fencing to one edge of the run.  The width of the fencing will need to be adjustable depending on how wide you make the footprint of the run so make sure you cut it with extra length.  It also makes an easy ‘access door’.

Here is the 'access door', with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Here is the ‘access door’, with Sophia timidly entering the run for the first time.

Right now I have used twist wire threaded through the hardware cloth to ‘close’ the ends of the ‘doors’ but I’m looking for a better solution.  Maybe some cuphooks screwed in the the wood on the side around which the utility fencing could be stretched?  For right now, wire it is.  I do make sure I pull the bottom quite taught so that the chickens can’t wriggle underneath.  So far, so good.

Completed run with utility fencing affixed

Completed run with utility fencing affixed.  Also positioned with a narrow footprint, perfect for setting over my narrow vege garden rows.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

Adjusted to have a wider footprint.

You’re Finished!
Voila!  An awesome, portable, collapsible, adjustable chicken day run that seems to be working nicely for my girls.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

Charlotte and Sophia enjoying a day out in the garden in their new day pen.

One thing to remember is that since I have used flexible utility fencing it is not predator-proof and the girls needs to be supervised(ish) whilst they are in it.  We don’t have fences so my main concern would be for the random neighbourhood dog who might wander in to my yard and get excited to see the chickens.  I would definitely not feel good leaving the house with them in the day tractor.

The whole project was easy to build and cost about $70 total, so super affordable.  I love that it can be folded flat for easy storage (probably affixed to the garage wall somehow with hooks to get it up off the ground) and that it is really really light so I can easily move it around by myself.  It will also fit in the back of my minivan should I want to take the girls to an elementary school for show-and-tell.  Very happy with this project.  Yay!

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground.  Very pastoral over at my house.

Regular chicken coop in the foreground with the new day pen blending in to the mid-ground. Very pastoral over at my house.

Anyone else looking for a day-tractor for their chickens?  Let me know if you like this idea and try it yourself.  Would love to see how other’s modify these plans to their own needs.