Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Pets and Gardens, Gardens and Pets

No time for blogging. Life's all about gardens and pets now. And, oh yeah, my job.

It's hard to appreciate this chicken ritual in a still photo. It's the avian version of dry cleaning. I hadn't given the chicks any dust for a few days. When I finally took time to do it, they plunged in, even overcoming any diversity inhibitions they may have had. The idea is to throw yourself on your side or even on your back and use your wings to flick as much dust as possible into your spread feathers.

On this occasion they kept it up for fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally satisfied that they've absorbed as much dust as possible and that the dust has had a chance to absorb as much oil as possible from their feathers, they get up and start shaking the dust out of their feathers. Eventually they settle down and spend the rest of the day poking the oil gland at the base of their tail and laboriously spreading fresh oil along each and every feather.

I'm a little behind in the garden - well, really I'm a lot behind. And, of course, everything's happening at once - or should be. I planted the tomato seedlings yesterday. In years past we've had frosts in June. But this year, I'm optimistic. There are 37 plants - 18 or 19 on each side of this 24' fence. That's pretty close spacing, but the soil in these raised beds has been improved over the past fifteen years. It's kind of like gardening in giant flower pots.

Almost all of these varieties are new to me this year. We stuck with Sun Gold and Snow White cherry tomatoes 'cause we loved them last year and added Black Cherry and Sugar Snack red cherry tomatoes for what promises to be an extremely colorful and flavorful salad.

I'm focusing more strongly on paste tomatoes this year since I had such fun making tomato sauce last year. After hours of poring over the catalogs I chose Opalka 'cause it's all about flavor, flavor, flavor. For mid-season beefsteak tomatoes, Tomato Growers offered a free sample of Marianna's Peace. I like the concept and the catalog says they're delicious and productive. Over the years I've lost interest in early tomatoes 'cause they don't have much flavor. But this year Jung Seeds offered a free sample of Wayahead - 63 days to maturity and "true tomato flavor." Those red saucers around the first three plants in the photo are supposed to do wonders for tomato growth. Three of the Wayaheads are planted in them. We'll see.

The onion transplants are doing great. Check here to see their names and how they looked at the beginning of the month.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Nothing like an outside threat to bring a team together. Murphy and Tang are on the lookout for the Yellow Cat. They've both achieved a certain level of detente with him. They'll creep up stealthily and keep him at bay by staring at him. But given an opening, Murphy is still inclined to dash up and give the Yellow Cat a swipe.

The St Laurent Rhode Island Reds are visiting the Sumner Silver Wynandottes for summer camp while Simon and Angelica are in Germany celebrating their marriage. I was worried for about a minute that the bigger red birds would pick on the little black ones. But no. They hardly go near each other at all. You think maybe some diversity training...? Nah.

I wasn't quick enough this morning to get a picture of the Downey Woodpecker on the Hummingbird feeder. It occurred to me he was looking for ants. After he left, I checked the feeder. There are some ants stuck to the sticky tape above the feeder, but none in the feeder. I'll never know whether or not that's because the woodpecker got them.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

This stray cat has been hanging around for more than a year. It's hard to call him a stray anymore. He sort of lives here, at least part time.

I often know he's here 'cause I see one of the house cats staring intently at some spot where I can't see the other cat, but they can. Apparently the yellow cat's becoming more confident. Today he was out in the open lawn. I cropped this photo, but beyond the frame to the upper left, Murphy's watching from behind a tree.

Last fall the yellow cat nearly drove out Murphy just a few days after we brought Murphy here from the SPCA. But through the winter I fed the yellow cat on cold nights when I knew he was here. When I realized he was sleeping in the woodshed, I left a blanket on the floor for him.

There have been some cat spats. But they're beginning to tolerate each other. The yellow cat's learning that now I'll only feed him when I see him. He comes to the kitchen door with increasing frequency. Usually one of the house cats yowls to announce his presence. One morning, months ago, Murphy ran straight into the glass door in a misguided attempt to run the yellow cat off.

Yellow Cat and Tang look an awful lot alike except for the long-hair/short-hair thing. That's Tang at the top and Yellow Cat peeking over the leaves. Yellow Cat has extra toes - as does Tang. In fact, he has the longest toes I've ever seen on a cat.

I got within five or six feet before Yellow Cat took shelter under the porch.

He looks pretty relaxed but I'm pretty sure he's fully aware of Murphy watching from above.

Weekend Project?

I really, really don't need another weekend project. But doesn't this herb spiral look like fun? Rebecca found it at Gardening Tips. I've often wished the herbs were closer to the kitchen. And I've been wanting to try my hand at stonework. And I'd like to add a focal point to the yard.

If I add up the time I spend walking to the vegetable garden for a pinch of this or that (tho' I really enjoy these walks) and the time I spend asking Maggy to go get something for me (and explaining to her where to look for it) it seems like a good investment of time to build this.

If you wander over to Rebecca's Pocket, check out the 2007 summer reading lists that are starting to show up. Or even previous years reading lists.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fun with Squirrels

I may have found the simplest ever way to discourage squirrels. I usually don't mind letting the squirrels share the birdfood. But Monday night I was annoyed when eight squirrels dominated the feeders in the early evening while birds lined up in surrounding trees waiting for a chance at the food. So, when I went inside at 7:00 I took the tube feeders with me.

The next morning the eight squirrels were there feeding on the ground. I'm sure they would have been in the platform feeder but it was empty. The birds still had access to one tube feeder (which is surrounded by a squirrel proof cage) and the suet feeders which hang in a hawthorn whose thorns discourage the squirrels. By late morning the squirrels were all gone. So I rehung the feeders expecting to have to take them down again by evening. The birds promptly returned. But surprisingly the squirrels did not.

I really didn't expect the squirrels to stay away. So, at Agway later that day, I bought one of those spinning things. Tuesday evening the squirrels still weren't back but I assembled the spinning thing anyway and put it up Wednesday morning. Wednesday evening we sat on the deck eagerly awaiting the circus we expected when the squirrels inevitably returned. But, again surprisingly, no squirrels. Thursday one kind of ratty squirrel showed up to feed on the platform feeder but wasn't tempted at all by the tube feeder with the new spinning mechanism. Friday and Saturday, still just the one ratty squirrel.

But this morning, there they were. All eight squirrels - maybe more - lined up waiting for a turn on the merry-go-round. While the one ratty squirrel diligently ate from the platform feeder, the others, one at a time, each ran across the bar over the platform feeder to reach the merry-go-round. Each one in its turn gingerly stretched down trying to reach past the spinning mechanism to get a grip on the tube feeder. Each one would just make it as the feeder started to spin slowly. As the spinning speeds up, the squirrel wraps his or her legs around the feeder and tries vainly to hold on. One tried valiantly to climb back up to the bar but failed and plopped to the ground like all the others.

The instructions with the merry-go-round warned that batteries might wear down quickly at first because of the squirrels experimenting. I had missed the beginning of the show, but it went on for about fifteen minutes before abruptly all the squirrels except the one on the platform feeder ran off. I'll be curious to see if that particular group is satisfied that they can't actually get anything to eat at that feeder.

So, I'm not sure I recommending the spinning thing, except for entertainment value. But I'm pretty sure I can keep most squirrels away by taking down the feeders for a few hours once a week.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

It's Summer

Toads are singing. I can walk in and out of the house without changing more than my shoes. The lawn is covered with beautiful Veronica, Violets and Dandelions. We'll hold off a bit on the mowing while we enjoy the flowers. I got my first glimpse of Hummingbirds yesterday and Wood Thrushes showed up two days ago. All kinds of garden plants are chiming in, including this Bleeding Heart.

Bill and I couldn't resist buying a couple of woodland perennials from The Plantsman (whose website I can't locate at the moment.) And these plants from Little York Plantation for the pots on the deck. I don't have much success with roses in the garden but I think these in pots will provide as much pleasure - at least for this season.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Derby Party

We had a great time with the Derby theme last weekend. Most people said it was more fun than they expected. Hmmm... not sure that's complimentary.

We watched the pre-race coverage on and off with our delicious mint juleps. The juleps were definitely the part I thought was better than I expected. I don't like mint very much. But with Bourbon - hey, who cares.

Some of us picked favorites tho' no one actually bet. I think Ed picked Street Sense strictly on the number of the post position - not anything about the horse. Most people were picking favorite numbers or names with apparently no regard at all for the odds. The race itself is the part that people said was more exciting than they expected. You've probably heard, Street Sense came from 19th (out of 20) to finish with a strong lead.

I used the Kentucky Burgoo recipe from the May issue of Cooking Light and it was delicious. The grits, with swiss cheese and garlic was (were?) so good I think I'll make it again. Jimmy's broccoli cornbread was great. I had to chuckle during dinner when someone was trying to remember the name of the winner and simultaneouly from around the table came "Street Smarts," "Street Wise," and "Street Walker." And finally there was the chocolate-pecan tartlets (with a drop of bourbon) - excellent, tho' I think I'll use my own pastry recipe next time.

Carl wins the prize for best costume (or would have if there was actually a prize.

With Leslie and Ally close behind.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring Flowers

About half my garden reflects some planning but the other half results from standing in the garden with a plant in one hand and a trowel in the other trying to figure out what to do. Sometimes I just get lucky with garden flower combinations.

This double bloodroot (top left) went in to the garden about twenty years ago the Ranunculus (lower left) perhaps ten years ago and it's spread over to this spot, the Anemones (on the right) - I'm not really sure where the came from or when. But here they are, in a photo that's not very flattering. They look really great in the garden.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

New Stuff

Yes, Simon and KAZ, I have baby chicks, too. These are Silver Laced Wynandottes. I like to get a different variety each year so I can tell how old they are. You know, it's surprisingly difficult to get a decent picture of them.

Here they are trying to stay as far away from me as possible. Don't they look worried?

But here they are in their usual feeding mode.

We also have baby onions. Not so cute, but very useful. I splurged on onion plants this year to see if they do better than direct seeded onions or sets. In this picture there's Ailsa Craig Exhibition an English heirloom variety and Mars a sweet red onion. In another bed there's Copra which stays "rock hard for up to a year in storage and are just as flavorful in spring as they were when harvested."