March 30, 2011

Big Chicks

The chicks are now 5 weeks old, which means I can hopefully move them to their garage coop and awesome chicken run in a few weeks. I'll be glad when that time comes. Although I enjoy having them in the house, the dust they produce is making a mess. Everything in the basement is covered with a fine layer of "feather-sprouting lubricant"

My aracauna and barred rock at 5 weeks.

Nearly everything in my basement surrounding the chicken enclosure is covered in chicken dust including the food bin my buff orpington is standing on. Can you see it?

March 28, 2011

Starting Peppers and Tomatillos

This past weekend I started all the seeds that need to be sown 9 weeks before last frost. For me, this included swiss chard, sweet peppers, and two kinds of tomatillos. Normally, peppers and tomatillos would be grouped together with the tomatoes (to be sown 7 weeks before last frost), but I've had a really difficult time with these two crops in the past. I'm hoping my heating mat will help things along this year.

Still no sign of germination in the celeriac from last weekend. Hopefully they're coming along okay.

Next weekend I will be starting broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi. The real fun starts in two weeks when I get to start sowing my tomatoes (all 20 varieties, over 100 plants total).

I can't believe it, but I sowed the entire packet of 'Carnival Mix' sweet peppers. Assuming they all germinate, I will be inundated!
I probably only need 4 tomatillo plants, but I think I must have sown at least 30 seeds! I think I'm overcompensating because I've had trouble with tomatillos in the past. 

I have struggled with starting swiss chard indoors in the past too. Maybe these peat pellets will give me better results (or maybe direct sowing is the way to go)?

From the sounds of it, my week 9 crops will be the trickiest of them all. Maybe I'll have better luck this year. If not, I can always buy seedlings from the garden center.

Are there any crops you have a particularly difficult time with?

March 25, 2011

More Beef Jerky

I made another batch of beef jerky using my new food dehydrator. This time I used bottom round instead of top round. Bottom round was on sale at the grocery store, so I thought I'd try it out. There is a lot more fat in the bottom round than the top round, so hopefully the jerky won't be too gristle-filled.

This is what 4 pounds of beef looks like.
I mixed my own marinade this time (I ran out of the packaged stuff that came with the dehydrator). I used Memphis steak seasoning, garlic salt, pepper, chili powder, and soy sauce.
The slices of beef were a bit thicker this time, so they will take longer to dry. My dehydrator is pretty efficient though and I expect it to take less than 12 hours.

March 23, 2011

Botany for Gardeners

I've been slowly working my way through the book Botany for Gardeners over the last couple weeks.  This book is really good if you are interested in learning some of the biology behind plant growth, development, and environmental response.

Botany for Gardeners: Third Edition

I'm currently preparing for the comprehensive exams for my PhD in horticulture. The comprehensive exam process involves taking a series of written exams (one for each of my committee members) followed by an oral exam (where all my committee members grill me on the details of horticulture all at the same time). The entire process can take several weeks to complete and is generally very stressful (no matter how prepared you are). Comprehensive exams are a right of passage for PhD students, so I'm looking forward to getting it over with!

This book isn't particularly enlightening for me (I've heard all this information before). However it has turned into a nice leisurely read that has helped me review some concepts and at least get me thinking about plant physiology in my free time (without it feeling like work). The author, Brian Capon, tends to leave out a lot of the specifics, which makes the book easier to read for non-scientists. These gaps in detail are great for me because I can read a section on a particular topic, fill in the details from memory, and get a little studying in at the same time.

March 22, 2011

Growing, Growing, Growing!

The chicks are now 4 weeks old and they're still rapidly gaining weight (although it is not nearly as visibly noticeable anymore).  The heaviest chick is now over 350 grams (that's over 3/4 pound)!

March 21, 2011

Winter Compost Bin

The melting snow revealed quite a mess in my compost bin. I've been adding stuff to it all winter, layer upon layer (pet bedding, egg shells, freezer burned vegetables, cardboard, kleenex, carrot peels, etc.).

Hopefully with warmer weather, the contents of the bin will actually start to decompose. It looks kind of gross right now...especially the brain-like cauliflower in the upper right-hand corner (can you find it?).

I should probably stop adding citrus peels to my compost bin, they never seem to decompose.

March 20, 2011

First Day Outside!

With nearly 70 degree temperatures towards the end of last week, I took the opportunity to take my almost 4-week-old chicks outdoors for the first time. They seemed to have a good time. They ate a lot of dirt, pecked at the ground, and played with dry leaves. A few of them also contributed to fertilizing my lawn grass...
This aracuana, who I originally thought would be brown, seems to be turning grey.

March 19, 2011

First Vegetable Sown for 2011

I've been patiently waiting for months (and months and months) to start sowing seeds for my vegetable garden.  Gardeners here in my part of Michigan are finally 10 weeks away from the last frost date, which means things like onions, celery, and celeriac can finally be started.

Giant Prague Celeriac sown March 19, 2011

Roof Nuggets?

I found this adorable (can you call moss adorable?) chunk of moss on my deck the other day. I think it must have fallen off of my roof at some point this winter and was buried under snow this whole time.  This little roof nugget had a twin brother too! I'm almost tempted to bring them inside and put them in a terrarium.

I didn't realize I had a green roof...

Does this mean my roof is getting old?

March 18, 2011

Photo Friday: Spring Is Here!

My crocus are blooming, so spring must finally be here!

March 16, 2011

"Little Green Aliens"

A friend of mine described my tiny cactus seedlings as "little green aliens". I'd have to agree. They do seem to resemble little alien pods. Maybe if I keep watering them they'll hatch into something cool.

My lithops seedlings seem to be doing well too. I only had 8 or 9 seeds germinate at first, but an additional 15 or so seeds germinated in the last couple days. I'm hoping that I'll be able to start distinguishing between the different varieties soon. They all just look like little green blobs at the moment.

March 14, 2011

Starting Seedlings: Hardening Off and Tranplanting

Hardening off your seedlings is a very important process. Without this acclimation period, your hard work sowing the seed and nurturing the seedlings indoors could be wasted.

Hardening off you seedlings involved placing them outside for increasing durations of time in order to acclimate the plants to increased light intensity, temperature, and wind. The light intensity and temperature of your seed starting area is probably much lower than natural conditions outdoors. If you plant a seedling directly outside without hardening off, the plant may undergo some shock which will either inhibit growth for a while, or kill the plant completely.  It is also important to protect the seedlings from freezing night temperatures that may occur prior to your transplant date.

These trays of vegetable seedlings can be easily transported inside and outside as needed.

Start hardening off your seedlings by bringing them outside and putting them in a shaded area for a few hours. Keep an eye on watering (the higher temps may dry out your plants much faster than when indoors). The next day increase the duration and light intensity. After 4 or 5 days of increasing both the time outside and the amount of sunshine, your plants should be ready to transplant.

These healthy tomato seedlings have been acclimated to full sun conditions and are ready for transplanting.

March 13, 2011

Chick Update

I've been trying to photograph the chicks every few days, but it's hard to find the time (plus they always manage to poop wherever I set them down). However, it's amazing how different they look from one day to the next. I swear they visibly grow between the time I say goodnight and good morning!

Catching some rays.
Just at little gawky-looking.

I'm worried that this one might be a rooster, because it acts very different from the others. While the others stay fairly still while I'm photographing them, this chick is wandering all over the place.

March 12, 2011

Chick Weight Gain

I have been weighing my chicks every other day or so to track their weight gain (more out of curiosity than anything else).

The chicks are now 18 days old. They tripled to quadrupled in weight in just 15 days! It is truly amazing how fast they grow. Considering I have several different breeds of chickens, it make sense that they don't weight exactly the same, but they seem to all be within about 20 grams of one another. They are so flappy and jumpy now that I had to switch over to the full-size waterer because they managed to knock over the chick waterer last night (what a mess).

In addition to rapidly gaining weight, the chicks are also losing their fluffy down pretty fast too! They look quite scruffy at the moment (half-way between down and feathers).

Aracauna chick

March 11, 2011

Growing Ornamental Grasses

I've been the head grower for my graduate student organization for the last two years, which means I get to play around with hundreds of interesting plants each spring.  Our organization has an ornamental grasses sale each year as a fundraiser.  The money we raise is put towards thesis and dissertation completion scholarships, travel grants, invited seminar speakers, our annual graduate student research symposium, and other expenses.

We had a great potting party recently.  In under an hour we potted up approximately 500 plants. In addition to the previous potting session, we now have almost 900 plants and 18 varieties.

A variety of grass plugs waiting to be potted.

Isolepsis (foreground), Festuca (background)

Carex 'Java Twist' (foreground), Pennisetum 'Rubrum (background)

March 9, 2011

Make Your Own Chicken Ladder

I got really ambitious this past weekend and decided to make some ladders for my chicken coop. It will be a long time until my little chicks will be living outside in the coop, but I wanted to get a head start. I headed over the the hardware store and found pre-cut pieces of wood that were perfect for building ramps. I did have to make a few cuts with a hack saw, but other than that it was really easy!  Adjust the length of the ladder to your coop.

I bought three 48" pieces of lath and two 4' x 8" boards (for two chicken ladders)

I cut the lath (by hand, ugh!) into fourteen 8" pieces

I evenly spaced 7 pieces of lath on each board

Then I drilled pilot holes through the lath and the board.

The lath strips were screwed to the board on each side

Add paint or stain if you like

The final result: Two custom made chicken ladders!

March 8, 2011

Baby Feathers

My almost two week old chicks still look very fuzzy from the front...

...but they have all kinds of exciting feathers popping out on their wings, back, and tail.

March 7, 2011

Refrigerator Pickles

These crisp and garlicky pickles are fast and delicious and don't require any canning skills. They will keep in the fridge for at least a week, but I doubt they'll last that long.

Cucumbers: either hothouse cucumbers (the shrink-wrapped kind from the store), or homegrown
Rice Vinegar: a.k.a. sushi vinegar (I prefer this to most other vinegars)
Dill: fresh or dried (I dried some store-bought dill in my dehydrator)

Slice the cucumber very thinly and put in a bowl. Barely cover with vinegar. Chop up garlic and dill (if using fresh dill). Combine garlic, dill, garlic, salt, and sugar (to taste) with the cucumber and vinegar. The amount of sugar you use depends on how sweet (use more) or vinegary (use less) you want your pickles. The pickles will be ready in as little as an hour, but they are best if you let them sit overnight in the fridge.

March 4, 2011

Insecticidal Soap: A Cautionary Tale

I've had mealybug on some of my houseplants for a couple years now. Most of my plants seem to be immune, but a few have it pretty badly. I have a lot of succulents and they seem to get the worst case of mealybug (especially my jades and aloes). 

Aloe with mealybug

Unfortunately, even the "safe" houseplant insecticidal soaps are not safe on succulents. I once lost a gorgeous, enormous jade plant (that I had owned for over a decade) after spraying it with insecticidal soap. I guess I should have done more research before doing the spraying, but I assumed it was safe for all houseplants. Instead, that beautiful jade started dropping all of its leaves, then sections of the stem started to fall off...eventually the whole plant collapsed. The loss of this plant was really upsetting!

From that point on, I've used a different tactic to combat the mealybugs...I just let them be. The infestation hasn't spread to any other plants, and the infested plants seem to do just fine (despite looking a little furry). I put most of my houseplants outside over the summer which seems to knock their numbers down. However, they always comes back when I bring the plants inside for the winter.

Mealybugs on my potted rosemary. I just wash them off and eat it anyway!

March 3, 2011

Naming the Chickens

I think it might be a little early to start naming the chickens (especially because I'm not sure who's who), but my general idea is to give them old-fashioned names that would belong to a sassy diner matron at the local greasy spoon.

Here are some of my ideas:
  1. Bertha
  2. Agnes
  3. Thelma
  4. Louise
  5. Loraine
  6. Francine
  7. Ginger
  8. Roxanne
  9. Betty
  10. Beverly
  11. Pearl
  12. Ruth
What do you think? Do I look like an Agnes?

Do you have any suggestions?

March 2, 2011

Chicks at One Week Old

I'm going to try to make predictions on who's who.

Buff Orpington

Black Australorp


Barred Rock

Gold Laced Wyandotte (this little chick was more interested in pecking at the placemat than getting her photo taken.)

March 1, 2011

Rapid Germination of Succulent Seeds!

I was surprised to see cactus seeds germinating after only 3 days and lithops after 4 days! I'm already beginning to think that ordering seeds from CactusStore was a better idea than buying mystery cactus seeds from the hardware store.

There's a tiny lithops seedlings in the middle of this tray. Can you find it?
Look at all the seeds that sprouted! This is only 4 days after seed sow!

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