Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nature Lesson

      As I was headed across the kitchen this morning to go to the porch, a blur of motion outside caught my attention.  A fox right near the house.  With a dead squirrel.  The best kind of squirrel in my opinion.  Quick, where is my camera?  This may not be heady stuff to you bloggers up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but this is a nature show at its finest here in Delaware.  This first picture does not include the prize, so if you don't want to see dead squirrel, please check out some other post and come back later.

Successful fox,  3/28/2012
      I don't think I missed the actual catch but by a couple of moments.  Here the fox is about to pick up the squirrel that is hidden by the liriope.  He may have actually hidden in that bed at the base of the ash tree.

Look Ma, I actually caught one!

      It was a beautiful young fox.  Nice markings, black ears, no mange.  The fox had to make sure that this squirrel was not going anywhere.

Better find out if I can move this thing

      He moved his prize to the middle of the yard and sat back down to start sampling.  All this activity attracted a crow that flew in and perched in the ash tree.  The crow cawed, probably hoping the fox would run off.

Forget it, this one is mine
      The fox stayed in the yard for 15 or 20 minutes.  Then it did me a huge favor by picking up the squirrel to probably take it home to show off to the other young foxes.  So I didn't even have to deal with the aftermath.

      Quite an unusual start to the day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What is He Thinking?

Bellevue Cold Frames,  3/26/2012
      You might think that these cold frames plus the two in the backyard would be enough to keep me busy and satisfied.  And yet,

More glass, 3/26/2012
      I just couldn't resist.  A neighbor three doors down is having new windows installed.  How could I let these go to waste?  I drove around with these framed storm windows in my truck for over a week before I finally decided that the exterior frames were not needed.  Luckily for me, the window man was still around, so those empty frames went back on his truck.  This pile is just from the family room, there were a bunch we had already removed from the upstairs.  If you twisted my arm really hard, you could probably sweet talk your way to some free glass.
      The thing that excites me is that for every two pieces of glass, there is one matching screen section.  I am hoping that I can have some cold frames still covered in the summer with a combo of glass and screen that would keep out cabbage moths and harlequin beetles.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Delaware State University Aquaculture Tour

      This post is going to be a little bit off topic.  Most of you do not know that I am a tropical fish nut, killifish in particular.  I am a member of the Keystone Killy Group, that meets generally once a month at a host member's house.  Once in awhile we take a special trip.  A couple of months ago we were looking for a location for our March meeting, as a possible visit to a Maryland aquaculture site fell through.  I thought that Delaware had an active site in Lewes, but was asked to contact Dr. Dennis McIntosh at the Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware.  After a few emails, we had a meeting set up for Saturday, March 17th.  We invited the members of the Chesapeake Area Killifish Association to join us.

Dr. McIntosh on left, and most of our group
      If I remember correctly, the facility is located on thirteen acres, and includes 34 in ground ponds of about an 1/8th of an acre apiece.  Behind the group is a maintenance shed and general work space.  Off to the left of the picture is a very impressive Wetlab.  The green spot behind Dr. McIntosh is one of the empty ponds.

      This picture shows several of the ponds, most of which use aerators.  Species being studied are tilapia, trout, and baitfish.  In the far right you can see the University football stadium, and beyond that is US 13.  Who would have known that all of these ponds were tucked away at the back of the campus?  The little orange strips above the pond are used to discourage egrets and herons from landing on the ponds hoping to steal a free lunch.

      This is a better shot at an empty pond.  The ponds are at a higher altitude than a large retention pond not seen here.  Each pond has a stand pipe that can be rotated to drain the pond by gravity feed.  So when they harvest, they "pull the plug" and simply pick up the fish.  The Wetlab is in the center back ground.

Dr. McIntosh talking about the lab
Rearing tanks

      Unfortunately the Wetlab had been hit with a disease, and they were just getting back online from the disinfection process.  Tanks had water, but the fish are not yet in place.
      I had a great day touring the facility, and certainly want to thank Dr. McIntosh for volunteering his Saturday afternoon with a bunch of fish nuts.  I hope to go back again in the summer when the lab is in full swing.
      To learn more about killifish, please visit the American Killifish Association website at:

Parsnips and Spinach

Overwintered spinach in center,  3/23/12
      I had almost given up on growing spinach as it seems to be a critter magnet.  Particularly little teeny, tiny sap suckers that you will miss unless looking for them.  This plant in the middle of the above photo has overwintered, and is now putting on a great burst of new, clean spring growth.  Planting spinach in the fall to come back in the spring before the bugs get it, is probably the best way to grow organic spinach that I have found.  But still willing to try to get in a fresh spring crop, I started this America Spinach with the paper towel method:

America Spinach starts,  3/23/12

      The larger plants are a couple of spinach that overwintered.  The smaller ones are the starts just put in yesterday.

Parsnip starts, 3/23/12
      Thirty some years ago in Michigan was the last time that I grew parsnips successfully.  Usually they just don't bother to come up when seeded directly in the ground.  So I started these with the paper towel method and transplanted them just after germination to cell packs.  The garden pros do not suggest starting root crops to transplant, as it may deform the root.  Hopefully these little guys are not aware of that rule.

      I put the top row in a couple of days ago, and was so happy with the way they took, that I added more along the bottom.  Quite a few more were put in the bed over by the cardoon.  I am hoping for some big fat roots this fall to store over winter to add to soups or a medley of baked root crops.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fava Beans and English Podded Peas

      The nice thing about having a blog site is that it so easily allows me to mix photos and text to keep track of my own gardening progress.  So next year I will be able to go back to today's blog and see that I could probably have planted fava beans and peas a bit earlier.  Fava beans are not your usual bush bean, and can take quite a bit of cold.  I am still learning about favas, including the need to seek out great recipes.  Favas are also known as broad beans.

Fava Bean Starts,  3/21/2012


   The plot size at the park is 20 ft by 40 feet.  Gardens are laid out in two plot parcels, so there is a path on three sides of my plot, while the left border abuts my neighbor's garden.  He tills his garden, but can't get right next to my permanent stakes.  Thus a weedy strip grows between the gardens, which means that the weeds ultimately send raiding parties into my plot.  So about a week ago, I dug out the weeds, and mounded up the border with mushroom soil.  And since I have very little open space in which to plant, this seemed the perfect place to plant the fava bean starts.

      I do not always follow the companion planting theory, but I read repeatedly that peas and beans DO NOT LIKE growing with the members of the allium family such as onions and garlic.  That tenet I do respect, so it limits where I can put peas and beans in this plot since there are so many onions and garlic.  This picture shows the cleaned up border area, with the fava beans planted at the top part of the bed, away from the garlic row at the bottom.  While digging out the weeds, I came upon many nice grass clumps.  They were headed for the compost pile, but I put them in the truck instead.  They will be used to patch some bare areas in the lawn at home.  Wish I had many more clumps.

      Here you can see the beans a little more clearly.  They are planted directly in the mushroom soil, so I hope that will not be a problem.  The fava bean plants get to be a bush, easily two to three feet high.  The aphids certainly like fava foliage and stems, but don't seem to be a big problem, as the volunteer ladybugs soon find the bed a great place to find tasty tidbits.

      Ah, another spot not close to onions.  This bed is for the english podded peas, name unknown as I had not labeled the bag of bulk seeds.  Years ago I had sworn off growing podded peas, as they take a lot of space to get a worthwhile harvest.  But I planted some two years ago to use up some seed, and they were sooo delicious when eaten raw like peanuts, that I was a convert.  I will still plant some snap peas and snow peas, but the podded peas are worth some space.

English Podded Peas,  3/21/2012
      In this picture, you can see the peas on the bed.  I tried to drop two peas at about five inch spacing.  Then I went along with a long pole to push them into the bed, thus not having to bend over or plant from a kneeling position.  I am sure the peas didn't care that I avoided a sore back.  Hope they don't mind getting started in the straight mushroom soil top dressing.
      These last two pictures were taken yesterday just for archive purposes:

      The plants above are Tango Lettuce that overwintered without any protection.  Where they were crowded, I dug out a plant or two and replanted them with more leg room.  Yep, then added more mushroom soil as a side dressing.

      This is a shot of one of the cold frames showing lettuce and tatsoi.  Those few empty spots were filled in yesterday with new lettuce starts.  And mushroom soil for good measure.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Plant Rescue 103B - Onions

Overwintered onions,  3/19/2012
      My post about onions on March 14th did not contain pictures about cleaning up the onions that overwintered.  There were bulbs from the porch that had started to sprout, and bulbs from both gardens that are starting to regrow.  When they regrow, they send up multiple new plants which should be separated and replanted.  I hope the new shoots make good bulbs, or this activity is a waste of time.  In this picture above, you can see the new growth starting on two of these onions.  I have already started to peel the shiny one.

      Layer after layer needs to be peeled back until you get to individual plantlets.  This onion is nice because it is still mostly firm.  Some in the ground can be pretty mushy and yucky, thus a mess to tear apart.

Onions to replant, 3/19/2012
      Those two onions resulted in this total of eight stems to replant.  I have not found any literature on this topic of regrowth.  Will the newly planted onions think they are two years old, and thus try to go to seed before they form bulbs?  Any thoughts here?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Blooming Arugula

Park Garden Arugula,  3/17/2012
      This arugula plant has overwintered in an open bed at my park garden.  It has a big earthy taste with a nice bite, to me that spells wonderful arugula.  It is now in full bloom, which hopefully means that I can save some seed for a new fall crop to overwinter.  In the meantime, I will still snitch some leaves and flowers to liven up a salad.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Porch and Yard Update - 3/15/2012

Mar  15th:    Day length:   11 hrs, 56 min   -   That's 36 minutes longer than 3/1
                      Sunrise:         7:13 AM
                      Sunset:          7:09 PM
                      High Temp:    61 degrees F      Low Temp:    47 degrees F

Wooden cold frame,  3/15/2012
       The plants in the wooden cold frame have filled in nicely.  The yellow flowers are the mizuna mustard in bloom, a favorite early blossom for bees.  The rescued romaine lettuce is at the bottom of the picture.

Onions,  3/15/2012
      This patch of overwintered onions is right next to the wood cold frame.  All of these onions need to be pulled and cleaned to individual stems for replanting.

Seedlings in the busted aquarium,  3/15/2012
Trex cold frame,  3/15/2012
      The thick stem chinese mustard in the back certainly needs harvesting.  That bibb lettuce over at the right also looks yummy.  The flat in the upper right corner has some chinese cabbage and Walla Walla onion seedlings.  Both of those could be planted now.  Hint, hint.

      Gasp!  There is actually some room on this shelf for more flats.  Many flats have been moved to outside cold frames.  But there are many more seeds started in the basement that will fill the open spaces.