Monday, May 31, 2010

Madcap Monday - A prickly encounter

Hmmm.. what are those lumps in the hayfield?

Groundhogs maybe?

Not groundhogs.

Uh oh, that one looks mad. I'm outta here.

Where's Henry? Keeping a safe distance, I see.

"You go check out the lumps. I'll stay right here, thank you very much."

Guess he learned from his last encounter with a prickly pig.

P.S. This is my 100th post! Yay me :)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Garden nasty ID: Asparagus beetles

As we only have three small patches of asparagus tucked into the old perennial beds, I thought we'd seen the last of our harvest for this year.

I was surprised -- and pleased -- to see a few spears poking out from under the poppy leaves... until I got a bit closer.

What I first thought was lady birds turns out to be asparagus beetles. Yuck.

According to the University of Minnesota, there are two kinds of asparagus beetle: the common asparagus beetle (Crioceris asparagi) and the spotted asparagus beetle (Crioceris duodecimpunctata).

The common asparagus beetle, which is more prevalent and causes more damage, is bluish black with six cream coloured spots on its back. The spotted asparagus beetle is reddish-orange with twelve black spots, six on each wing. Both are 1/4-inch long.

We've got both species, though it appears we have more of the spotted variety. Lucky us.

The beetles feed on the asparagus spears, causing scarring and browning. They also devour the ferns, which appear later in the season.

Asparagus beetles overwinter in sheltered areas such as the hollow stems of old asparagus plants... or overgrown perennial gardens. Crap.

Common beetles lay lots of dark brown, oval-shaped eggs on the spears, ferns or buds and within a week, the larvae hatch and start feeding. Two weeks later, they fall to the ground to pupate in the soil and about a week later, the adults emerge to begin the cycle again.

The spotted beetle has a similar life cycle but appears a bit later than the common beetle, arriving in mid-May and disappearing in late July. The eggs are greenish instead of brown.

Apparently, the best time to find the beetles is in the afternoon when they're most active, though I didn't have any trouble finding them in the morning. If you have a small crop, flicking the beetles into a pail of soapy water removes them and gives the owner of the crop a delicious sense of satisfaction. But you have to move fast -- those little blighters are quick.

If hand picking isn't your thing or if you don't have hours to track asparagus beetles armed with a trusty bucket of water, Tetrastichus asparagi, a tiny metallic green wasp parasitizes up to 70% of asparagus beetle eggs. Anyone know where I can find said parasitic wasp? Anyone?

Removing plant residue around the asparagus helps decrease the number of overwintering sites available to adults and should help decrease the population of beetles next season. Out of my three small patches, only one was affected and I'm thinking of removing it completely and establishing a new bed with the 20 asparagus roots we just purchased.

But first I've just got to dig me a great big trench. Any volunteers? Hello?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Foto Friday -- What's blooming

When we moved to the farm, the house garden was an overgrown mess. It was full of grasses and weeds and the perennials hadn't been separated or managed in years.

But you could tell it had been a well-loved garden once, filled with peonies and poppies, irises and lilies.

I've been told I should dig up the perennials I want to save, till over the beds completely and replant my prized specimens where I want them. I'll do that, eventually. But in the meantime, I'm cutting back the grasses, digging out the weeds and admiring the blooms in all their old-world beauty.

I love how a poppy starts like this...

... and then overnight, unfurls like a fancy flamenco skirt, all ruffles and grace...

... to open up like this...

and this...
... and this.

There's also the garden peonies...

and the irises.

I've also started adding my own favourites to the garden. This is Jack's lupine that I planted last year. I love how the blooms start at the bottom and bubble to the top.

And here's some Montana cornflower (Centaurea montana), tucked underneath a lilac...

... and beside a purple columbine.

Of course, I can't forget my absolute favourite garden bloom.

What can I say? The girl likes pink.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like reading this one.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Frustration and a good life lesson

The last few days have been unseasonably hot so I decided not to put the veggies in the garden yet because I figured they'd just fry in the heat. I'd thinned and transplanted some lettuce and radish seedlings just before the searing started and they'd been reduced to little shrivelled vegetable crispies.

Besides I had everything in the garden under control, or so I thought. Lucas had tilled the two new plots a couple of weeks ago and I'd finished hoeing and hand pulling all the remaining roots, grasses, weeds and other assorted nasties just before the weekend.

After a lovely visit with my dad here at the farm earlier this week, I was looking forward to a productive day in the garden, especially since we'd had a big boomer of a thunderstorm last night that broke the heat and gave us some much needed rain.

But what looked like this just a few days ago, perfect for starting seeds...

... looked like this today.

Okay, I'm exaggerating a bit. It didn't look like that... but it almost looked like that.

What it actually looked like was this.

It's hard to see in the photo but the whole area was infiltrated with a massive invasion of grasses and weeds with nasty tentacle-like roots that twisted just beneath the surface.

Okay, you still can't see it really well but trust me, it was bad.

I grabbed my trusty hoe and spent several sweat-filled hours manning an all out offensive against this turf invader. The more I hoed, the more choking roots I uncovered.

I feel like I'm back at square one. There's no way the kids and I can seed this big plot this weekend. I can probably get three of the four smaller beds in and possibly the tomato bed (unless it turns out to be "infested" too) but this one? No way. I don't know when it'll get done but the longer I leave it, the worse it'll get.

As I nattered on to myself, all the usual doubts started creeping in: you can't do this on your own; you have no idea what you're doing; once again, you've bitten off more than you can chew; maybe you should just quit now....

And on and on the mind monkeys chattered.

I was hot and tired and frustrated and upset and above all, thirsty. So I threw down my tools, stomped inside for a drink and quickly realized that it was time to meet Jack from the bus.

So Ella and I walked down the driveway, hand in hand, and chatted about the the simple things in life -- how some frogs make chirpy sounds while others make whirring calls, how many more robins and blue jays and mourning doves and goldfinches we've seen this year, how the gazillion dragonflies that zoomed around our heads were doing such a great job eating mosquitoes for us and wow, can you believe just how blue that sky is and yes, I do think that cloud looks like a airplane.

Minutes later, my blond mop-headed boy sauntered off the bus and made his way up the driveway.

He was interested in two things: visiting his new tree house (more on that soon) and playing a quick game of tennis in the driveway with his sister before sitting down to homework.

He didn't care about the weeds or the garden or the drama that I'd created: he was just happy to be home. Repeat after me: just happy to be home. A good life lesson that, out of the mouth of babes.

I settled the kids with a post school snack and I took my camera back out into the garden so I could capture all the good that's going on in there. Of course the chattering monkeys started droning on about "slim pickings" and "you don't really want to show off photos of YOUR garden, do you?" but damn you monkeys -- at least I have a garden to grumble about!

So while some of the plots are looking at little worse for wear and the paths are a mess and I'm feeling totally overwhelmed and more than just a little inept, I've still got a little bit of good growing.

My peas are starting to climb their trellis.

My spinach is still small but it's coming in. At least, I hope that's spinach. I ate some and it tasted like spinach. Really good spinach. If it's not spinach, don't tell me. Unless it's hemlock or something and then maybe you should drop me a wee FYI note...

The radishes are doing better now that the crow is gone (thanks to Tattie)...

... as is my lettuce.

And I put some more seeds of both in a few days ago.

The garlic is coming along...

... as are my onions.

And I just put in some Red Russian kale transplants...

... as well as some Bright Lights Swiss chard that I got from the farmer's market this past weekend.

So here's the deal: If you've read this blog for more than 10 minutes, you'll know that I tend to be a bit of a drama queen at times. I make mountains over molehills. I sweat the small stuff. I take things too seriously. All the time.

But I also share my life with two little people who know how to bring me back down to earth. They know how to keep it real.

They don't care that other gardens are better or more productive or more beautiful than mine.

They're just happy to be home.

The harder I hold on to the end result of how things are supposed to look in the garden -- or in life -- the more stress I feel and the more I notice what isn't working/right/perfect rather than appreciate and be truly grateful for what is beautiful/wondrous/perfect.

So as frustrating as today was, it was a good reminder to simply do what I can, let go of the result, be grateful of what comes and leave the rest up to Mother Nature. Because really, she's the only one in control here anyways.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Madcap Monday - Chicken magic tricks

Hey, do you want to see a magic trick?

Watch my head. Now you see it, now you don't!

Cool -- the headless chicken trick! Let me try.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Meet our new resident: Mr. Tattie Bogle

This is Mr. Tattie Bogle, or Tattie for short.

Being a fashionable scarecrow, Tattie is wearing a pair of my son's old Osh Kosh jeans and a worn out Gap button-down shirt (both originally thrift store finds), Ella's "mum-Henry-chewed-my-Nerf" ball, a pair of old gardening gloves and a baseball hat that I'm sure my husband doesn't need anymore. Of course, Tattie wouldn't be complete without his pie-plate accessories.

The kids and I made Tattie as a response to the questions, "Why are my radishes growing there but not here?" and "What happened to all those lettuce seedlings?"

Yes, crow, we're on to you. That's right. You heard me. Your days in the garden are numbered.

As for the name: in case you're wondering if I spent too much time in the sun today or if I've been playing with those online name generator programs again, "Tattie-bogle" is the Scottish name for scarecrow.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

KinderGARDENS week 6 - New plan

When I first revealed our plans to create a kids' garden with a bean teepee and three sisters corner plots, the idea was to place it in the front field.

But since that post, the teepee has stood alone and naked.

I reasoned that it was too early to plant any seeds yet and besides, I've been too busy working in the garden to devote much time to this project. But once the garden was in, THEN I'd have time.

And if you believe that, I have a nice piece of swampland to sell you.

Then just the other day, when I was standing in the vegetable garden trying to figure out how to trellis this year's bean crop and where to put the pumpkin patch, I was hit by a flash of sheer brilliance -- move the kids' teepee INTO the garden.

I'm sure you're all impressed with my remarkable cranial acuity. I certainly was.

But here's the deal: I've been taking this year's food garden too seriously again. I've turned growing food into a political war against cheap tasteless imports and harmful pesticides, which it is, sort of. But that doesn't mean the vegetable garden needs to become a battleground with my kids drafted as soldiers.

Jack and Ella are naturally enamoured by the wonders of the garden... I've seen it time and time again. But only when I'm not nagging at them to weed or stay on the path or pay attention or simply take this whole thing a bit more seriously. Only when I'm giving them space to just be in the garden.

So instead of having yet another uber-ambitious project, this time to reclaim an overgrown hayfield, I've turned one of the larger plots of already prepared garden over the to kids and placed the teepee in the centre. We'll still grow the three sisters garden with corn, beans and pumpkins and of course, sunflowers.

Who knows what else we'll put in there. I'll leave it to the kids to chose this weekend.
Whatever they decide, it will be a part of the garden, not separate from it. And every time I visit this place and see the sunflowers and beans and morning glories, and everything else growing at the hands of my little ones, I'll be reminded that functional can still be fun... and to stop taking everything so bloody seriously all the time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An answer to the question, "why?"

Since moving to the farm, there's one question I get asked all the time: why?

The answer is here: "A life you don't want to leave" by Minnesota blogger Mama Pea.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Made by hand -- cedar arbour

I've got a new arbour at the front of the house, just waiting to be adorned with beautiful clematis and maybe a rose bush or two.

It's not just any arbour. My husband built this by hand, using materials found on our farm.

It sits just to the left of our house, serving as an inviting entranceway to our future orchard.

That's the corner of my home office there, to the right of the rain barrel.

It's a wonder I get any work done with such a view.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Madcap Monday - Where's Chris?

We have a game on our farm called "Where's Chris?"

This is Chris.

Chris is a barn cat.

We got Chris from a rescue facility that was looking to place him and a few other cats in our barn as they were "unsocialized" and "wild" -- generally unsuitable for life as a domestic house cat.

We've been looking for that unsocialized cat ever since.

What we have found is Chris the super spoiled barn cat who'd much rather be anywhere else but the barn.

Like in the garden...

Or up a tree...

And yes, we had to talk him down from that tree.

Or by the bird feeder...

Or under the hammock...

Especially, when he's got a friend.

While he roams the farm three seasons out of four, he does sleep in the barn during the winter. That's because he doesn't like getting his feet wet.

Of course when he does venture outside, guess who has to piggy-back him back to the barn.

Whoever said barn cats have a hard life certainly didn't know our Chris.
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