Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gardening Is For The Birds

The weather was so nice today, overcast and temperature in the low 70s, that I took the whole morning to do some gardening.

First, I used most of a bin full of rainwater to soak my bean plants, cucumbers, the tomatoes I'm growing in a (non-self-watering) bin, and other plants.  I used an upcycled cat litter jug to transport the water from the bin to the plants. I love reusing/upcycling things that other people would just throw away!

The first pole bean plant has wrapped itself around the bean cage. I love how nature knows to do

Then I transplanted 2 pineapple tops that had been in (upcycled, of course!) jars of water on my windowsill and that had grown roots.  I reused the 2 pots where the ginger had been growing and reused the potting soil as well. To water them, I just dumped the water from the jars right into the pots.  I marked the pots with plant labels that I had cut out from another cat litter jug.

My next task was to transplant the various flowering plants that I had started from seeds from the Dollar Tree.  I had several planters where vincas had grown last year.  Yesterday I had set about to trim the dead stems from several of them and realized that they were pretty much all dead and that what I thought were vincas were weeds!  So I had pulled the dead plants and all the weeds. Today I transplanted my Sweet Williams, Zinnia, Sweet Peas, and Cosmos into the same planters and soil.  Same thing, I marked the planters with my homemade plant labels.

Lastly, I transplanted the 3 little pots of spearmint that had I also grown from seed into a spare planter that I had in my gardening shed ($1 at Dollar Tree, several years ago) and used potting soil that I already had.

The Monarch caterpillar had been munching on the milkweeds and I was worried that he would move to my parsley next, so I relocated the milkweed plants a little further away.

While I was at it, I decided to plant some milkweed seeds that I had collected a couple of weeks ago from those same plants.  I had dumped some very soggy potting soil on the ground because I wanted to store the "seed nurseries" that contained it in my gardening shed.  I reused another $1 planter from the Dollar Store and mixed that potting soil with some dry one and planted several milkweed seeds in it.  I also used my homemade labels for this planter and the spearmint planter.

I sprayed some blossom spray on the blooming tomato plant that came back from the dead and also on my pitiful cucumber seedlings. It's mostly calcium so it should help. Since one of the cucumber seedlings is flowering again,  I decided to take the screen off the metal hoop over them so they could try and get pollinated by the bees flying around. I hope it works and the darn squirrels stay away...

In the next bed over, I decided to try planting bush beans. I haven't had much chance in that bed before... the squirrels find it irresistible!  I used some bush bean seeds that are pretty old, though, their expiration date was 2010. I decided to spread the screen over that bed to keep the squirrel from digging out the seeds.  We'll see if any germinate.

The basil and marjoram are loving the great outdoors and look pretty lush.  I need to remember to try collecting basil seeds from the plant that is flowering right now.  I will also get some cuttings to propagate them in water. It's very easy.    In the meantime, I decided to start some basil, cilantro, and parsley seeds indoors, so I can stagger my harvests.  I moved my potting shelf back indoors behind the sliding door and started a new seed nursery.

I'll try to start more next week, and then also the week after, You can never have too much fresh basil and cilantro!  I reused the plastic wrap that I had used when I started the first seeds back in January, as well as the wooden clementine box and the plastic watering tray cut out of a cat litter jug (what else?!). Again, I used my homemade plant labels.

I used some cilantro seeds that I had collected from my own plants back in 2012. Dollar Tree has cheap seeds (25 cents a packet!) but collecting them from your own plants is FREE and not all that hard.  Cilantro seeds are very very easy to collect and dry. Did you know that coriander is made from crushed cilantro seeds?  Another reason for you to grow cilantro at home.  Scrub some coriander on a salmon fillet before cooking it... yum!

I probably should have stored them in a darker jar though...
I decided to plant some zucchini.. again. I had planted some in February, but it was before that freeze that we got so nothing germinated.  I only planted 2 seeds in my mixed cabbage/collard greens bed. We'll see if they germinate now that the weather is really warm.  I used zucchini seeds from the Dollar Tree.

Inspecting my cabbages and collard greens, I found one tiny snail having a good old time eating the leaves of one of them so I relocated him by throwing him far away from the veggie garden and telling him to "go eat some weeds over there, why don't you?!". I hope he takes my advice.

It made me think about slugs and reminded me that I did have some crushed eggshells that I had baked and processed last year (such a stinky operation!). So I spread some around the cabbages (although the soil is covered by landscaping fabric so they'll probably get washed away next time it rains) to deter slugs and snails from getting to them... and thought it might be a good idea to spread some at the foot of each tomato plant from my self-watering bins as well, since tomatoes do need the extra calcium (as explained on the bottle of tomato blossom spray). It can't hurt, at the very least.

This reminds me that I saw a very interesting article on Lifehacker or Gizmodo this past week, about using red "mulch" (which is actually red landscaping fabric from what I can tell) under tomatoes and other vegetables to encourage a more bountiful harvest. Of all places, Gardener's Supply sells it (and the comments are VERY encouraging) for about $13.  If I had waited another week or so before ordering the tomato blossom spray and the bamboo tie thingies with my credit, I would have gotten the red mulch for free!  Arrrgh. I was trying to think of other red things that I could use instead of buying this red mulch but I haven't come up with anything that would withstand the Florida sun and rain showers so I might have to bite the bullet and spend some money... hopefully they'll have another free shipping with no minimum promo soon :)

I decided to harvest some of my collard greens again today because the plant was really overshadowing the cabbage growing right next to it. I'll make spicy collard green stir-fry to go with the Easy Loaded Grits that I have already baked.

The stem of the green collard plant is covered in tiny leaflets pushing their way out... methink we'll be eating collard greens from the same plant for a few more weeks!

I gave this bad boy a drastic haircut!
Later on, as I was enjoying lunch on my back patio, listening to the birds chirping in the trees all around me, I looked up to see a bright red male cardinal partaking in the bird seed I had just set out this weekend (it's a cardinal bird feeder so it was very appropriate!). What a thrill. Of course, those cool bird sightings always happen when I don't have my good digital camera with the 40X zoom out with me.  I tried taking a picture with my phone but it's an old iPhone 4 and the zoom is crappy and the bird was hidden by the bird feeder.  So I got up and went to get my good camera. Of course that scared the bird away and when I came back, it was sitting on the back fence, waiting for me to settle down, probably.

If you squint one eye, you might be able to see his tail peaking out from the right side of the feeder...
But the biggest thrill wasn't even the cardinal: I was turning on my camera to take a picture of it with the zoom when I saw this big "bug" flying over the pop-up veggie tent closest to me. Before my mind could even formulate "wow, this is the biggest weird bug I have ever seen!", it came to flitter around the planter closest to me, a mere 4 feet away, and I realized that it was a huge bug, it was a hummingbird!  A real hummingbird!  I had never seen one in Florida before!  I was so, so, SO excited that I had tears in my eyes (huh, PMS going on here, consequently, emotions all over the place!). Of course the camera didn't turn on in time (that's how quick this whole thing was ) and it flew off almost right away so I didn't catch it on "film" :(  In the meantime, I tried to take a picture of the cardinal on the back fence, but he decided to fly away while I was zooming in.  Arrgh.  I was wearing a bright purple T-shirt and sitting a red/burnt orange umbrella, and the information I have read about hummingbirds is that they love purple and red so that's probably what attracted it. I'll have to make a Nathalie Hummingbird stand-in/scarecrow!

To console myself for missing a shot of the hummingbird, I took a picture of this small wasp having a "spot of thyme".

A few minutes later I saw a hawk circling overhead in the distance (probably this one that tried to catch a squirrel in my neighbor's backyard a few days ago and obligingly then perched itself above Greg's shed so I could take a picture of it!) and as I was trying to take a picture (too late to get a good one of it again!), I spotted the cardinal in the orange tree.  I think he's waiting for me to go back inside.  We stalking each other!  I did go back inside for a second, but it was to grab an extra battery because with the luck I've had so far, my battery will probably die the instant I see another cool bird in front of me :)

Taken on 3/20/15
In other bird news, crows are building a nest (nests?) in the old oak tree between our property and the neighbors on the other side and I just observed one of them flying from one oak tree to the next with a twig and Spanish moss in its beak. I wonder if he had just stolen it from a squirrel's nest because I had caught a squirrel using the electric lines going over our backyard as a highway to travel from one backyard to the other and a big kerfuffle had ensued in the foliage of the tree where it headed... and from where the crow flew a few minutes later.  There is actually quite a large amount of bird activity in this tree right now, it's like a Richard Attenborough nature documentary!

And my friend the woodpecker came out for his lunch. He comes out every day at about the same time. It's like having a woodpecker clock instead of a cuckoo clock!

Anyway, those bird sightings really made my day:) I think I'm going to look into making a hummingbird feeder now :) I've already scrounged up some material from my recycling bin.

A Mountain Dew bottle (I'll need to find a cap, I think I threw it away), a Parmesan container
that I'll cut up, and the red border from the empty bag of Market Pantry flour that I used this
Does anyone else grow their own vegetables?  Do you like observing birds?  Do you have a blog that you would like to share?  Please let us know in the comments!

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