Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Field trip to my new garden!

Our view
Wow, I realized it's been a year since my last post. What have I been up to? Well, mostly chasing around a very energetic 22-month old and a three-and-a-half-year-old. But on top of that we sold our old house with my beloved garden, bought a new house right on the Ipswich River and have taken on the task of completely relandscaping it with native plants and shrubs. Plus, adding a veggie garden, of course.

One completed section of woodland border

Two yards of loam: BEST TOY EVER!
So come on over to my new blog: A Riverside Garden Makeover: from nothing to native paradise in one summer.  Our landscaping project is also partially funded by a Federal grant from the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, which means our yard will become a demonstration garden for the grant program (the pressure is on!)  It's going to be quite the journey for me and my whole family, and we're really excited about it. You can never have too much playing in the dirt!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First milk jug greenhouse salad of the year

The milk jug greenhouses Lizzie and I planted back in early March are finally ready for their first hair cut. The black seeded Stimpson lettuce has been growing for about 6 weeks now and I just harvested these two jugs for our first salad. This is a full six weeks before salad greens start coming in from our local farm CSA share.

These are so easy to do and care for, for directions see this this earlier post. If you have a toddler who drinks two gallons of milk a week you pretty much have everything you need to get started. I wish I knew about these last fall so we could have been eating home grown salad all winter long. From what I've read, you can leave them out in the snow on a sunny day. Mine stayed on an unheated, but glassed-in, porch even on nights with temps in the teens and the salad grew just fine. I've also grown spinach, collards and a leaf lettuce mix. Can't wait for dinner time!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lizzie's new and improved chickadee house

A lot of people land on this blog because they google "should I clean out a chickadee nest box". The short answer is: yes.

Last year, when I cleaned out Lizzie's chickadee house, I took out a really cool nest made mostly of the neighbor's dog's hair. You can see the picture by clicking here. This year, when I cleaned it out a few weeks ago, it was entirely different.

The nest was almost entirely twigs and feathers. I never got a really good look at the bird going in and out but I know for certain it was either a marsh wren or a house wren and not a chickadee. Who knows who will nest in it this year but the little old bird house has competition with a new house on the block. I bought Lizzie a paint-your-own bird house kit and this is what she made:
Your guess is as good as mine as to what bird will decide this is its dream home. All I know is there's a two-and-a-half-year-old eagerly awaiting move-in day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Milk Jug Greenhouse

Want home grown salad in winter? Live where your garden is under four feet of snow until April? Have a child obsessed with starting seeds? Yes, yes and yes! So we started milk-jug salad greenhouses!

My little girl demands to plant seeds everyday and I'm running out of flat surfaces on which to start them. Luckily, last week I heard about milk jug greenhouses!

Of course you don't have to be a kid to make these. It's a great way to start cold hardy plants if you have a sunny glassed-in porch, as I do, that still drops below freezing at night but can hit up to 90 degrees during the day. You could also keep these indoors if, unlike me, you have sunny surfaces not already taken over by flats of non cold-hardy seeds.

It's easy:
-take an empty gallon milk jug.
-poke a few holes in the bottom.
-cut almost all the way around it about three inches from the bottom (see photo above). Leave a few inches still attached so it stays together but so you can open it up to get the plants out later.
-add a few inches of dirt and your seeds.
-tape it back up.
-you can also cut the very top off (as I have in this example above) so it's easier for a little face to peer inside every half hour to see if the seeds have sprouted. If you do this put some clear tape or plastic wrap over it to keep the heat in.

Had I stumbled upon this idea in the late fall we'd be eating milk-jug salad by now. But, sadly, I just planted our first one on March 15th. So far we only have these little black-seeded Stimpson sprouts to the right but they came up in four days even with the porch getting down to 20 degrees at night.

Hopefully we'll be able to eat our greenhouse greens long before I'm able to plant seeds right in Lizzie's Organic Garden. It's just emerged from the glacier that was my backyard so it will be some time before she can demand seed planting out there. I already have plans to build another raised veggie bed before she stomps her little feet when I tell her we've run out of room and can't plant anymore. Luckily for me she likes to weed!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Teaching your toddler to love learning

My kids will be nerds, they kinda have no choice. Their dad is a computer/surfing/road bike/barefoot running nerd and their mom is a nature/science/bird watching/aquarium nerd. Basically, both my girls will end up going nuts over something. Right now my toddler is into birds as well as Thomas the Train, insects, seeds and anything that she can check on every two minutes to see if it grew or changed in anyway.

I heard a sad sad fact on our local NPR station last week that an alarming number of five-year-olds are starting kindergarten not even knowing the parts of their own body. I can't imagine if my two-year-old couldn't name her own nose or feet! NPR claimed it all comes down to parents not reading with their kids or spending enough time teaching their kids and planting them in front of the TV instead.

Sure my kids like Thomas and Super Why! and a number of other PBS cartoons (it's been a LONG and snowy winter), but I try to limit what they watch. I could have turned on the TV all morning today but instead I got out my laptop, downloaded pictures of the birds we've been seeing in our backyard and made a chart with my toddler (click photo to enlarge). OK, she did the gluing and I helped her figure out which column to put each bird in, but at two and five months she can already identify a chickadee, squirrel, crow, hawk, owl, loon and a junco. And that's not because she's super smart but because I took the time to teach them to her, and I was excited about it, and excitement is contagious.

I know parents who claim they don't have time to do activities like this with their kids, but every minute of the day is a minute you could be teaching your kids something. Even if it's just the parts of their face, or in my kid's case more bird species than most adults can recognize. As soon as they wake up from their naps I must go out and buy a bigger piece of poster board since we've run out of room and it's not even bird migration season yet!

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Volcanic' Winter

Blame Iceland. Yes, Iceland. To anyone experiencing crazy weather this winter there is a theory that it's all because of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano that erupted in Iceland last spring, spewing ash all over northern Europe and causing air travel to grind to a halt. While this eruption might not have been big enough to cause a true 'volcanic winter', our local weather guy reported the other day that the ash in the northern atmosphere pushes the cold air down from Canada giving us more snow.

Who knows if he's right but we sure have had A LOT of snow. Here in New England we have received almost record amounts (I think it was over 71" at last count by the Boston Globe) where a lot of that would have been rain if the temps would actually get out of the 20s.

A true volcanic winter is caused by a really really big eruption, where the ash in the atmosphere actually obscures the sun causing a global dip in temps. You can read a list of the past volcanic winters here, many of them causing famines that lasted up to three years.

Here's what got my attention today: latest news out of Iceland is another big volcano is acting up, and this one is big enough to cause a volcanic winter. The Telegraph reports that the Bárdarbunga volcano is showing signs of increased activity. This volcano dwarfs Eyjafjallajokull and what's really cool is this as reported by The Telegraph:

"The last recorded eruption of Bárdarbunga was in 1910, although volcanologists believe its last major eruption occurred in 1477 when it produced a large ash and pumice fallout. It also produced the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on earth."

Wow, this news was cool enough to snap me out of my blogging break (caused by two very energetic little girls) and find the time to research this more. Hopefully if Bárdarbunga blows it won't cause a planetary mess, but it will at least remind us that humans are most definitely NOT in charge. I was planning a return visit to Iceland in the next year or so, perhaps I wait and see....in the meantime I think I'll work on expanding my garden and storing emergency "volcano food".

A quick thank you to all my followers who have contacted me to see how I'm doing since I've been "off the air". I'm doing very well, just busy with two kids that are a handful, luckily a very happy and giggly handful, but still a handful.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lizzie's toad house

Yesterday Lizzie and I found a little American toad hopping around in our grass. Never having seen a real live toad Lizzie was pretty excited, and so was I! We immediately caught it up and transferred it to the carrot patch where I've seen numerous garden snails and other pests that make tasty toad-treats. I was hoping the toad would make a home of my organic garden, and sure enough he was still there this morning.

"Let's make a toad house!" I said to Lizzie and "YEAH!" was her immediate enthusiastic reply. I rummaged through a pile of old clay pots, found a hammer and we smashed a side off each pot and had instant toad homes.

You can buy toad homes online and spend around $20 for each house. Or you can knock a small opening in the side of a clay pot, or even stack a few bricks to make a small shelter. Toads will be attracted to the shelter, use it during the day and claim it as their territory coming back year after year. Each night one toad can eat up to 100 slugs, grubs, grasshoppers, tomato beetles, cutworms...anything you don't want eating your garden. The tadpoles also eat mosquito larvae! And the average adult toad can live for nearly a decade, that's a nice family pet you don't have to feed or take for walks.

So give your toads some houses and enjoy their stay in your garden. Lizzie's already moved the houses around three times this morning and can't go a minute without looking to see if anyone moved in. I'm trying to explain to her that she should leave them alone so the toads don't get afraid and move out. But you try explaining that to a curious two-year-old.