Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Moth is a Regal Moth

Updated: 6/27/2008 We have an ID from an Entomologist, this is definitely a Regal Moth! Thanks for all the help identifying this creature.

For those of you following today's little story about the big moth, I have released him. Before I did, I took a few more photo's. There have been plenty of guesses as to his identity. The most recent comes from my freinds at the local public library, reference desk, they suggest it may be a regal moth. Check this out, click on the Adult link to see a larger photo. I think it looks pretty close.

Here is a picture of it's underside

A photo from the top with my hand for a size comparison

And another of his top side, a bit closer
Thanks for all the help and the guesses. I set him under the lilac bush in the shade on the towel with a portion of the towel water soaked. Last I looked he was gone.

Help Me Identify this guy, Please!

Here are a few photo's taken this afternoon of a moth that was caught early this morning in the back yard/garden area. He/she is quite large and I am left to wonder if he is a menace to the garden or if he/she is a helpful creature.

I look forward to hearing who you think this is!

With my hand for a size comparison

Here is his face


Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Strawberry Post

Today's Menu Features:
The Indoor Strawberry Pyramid
Fresh from the side yard garden, from our pyramids. The Berry on top is the from the first crop of strawberries harvested from the newest pyramid. The plants in the newest pyramid came to us thru Freecycle last year. That berry on top is a beauty! I can hardly wait for all the runners from these plants to shoot out! I intend to catch and root them. I will be giving some away and repopulating the older pyramid with new plants. It's almost tempting to establish a third pyramid for us! It is so wonderful to step outside and pick a ripe berry, the flavor is marvelous.

This is the fun part, when you reap the benefits of all that hard work.

Monday, May 26, 2008

SFG's, 2nd Story Addition, and My Helper

Well, it's the last day of our long weekend off, working together on the garden. We have accomplished a lot! Things are really shaping up! I can really see things coming together and I am able to begin to imagine what it will look like in the midst of this years growing season. I dreamed about it all winter, and some of those plans have changed as circumstances and other plans changed but all in all, I can sit back and feel quite pleased with all we've done!

Before heading to the hard work of building and digging and moving garden things this morning, I surveyed what we had done and watered and plucked at a few things. I discovered several beautiful strawberries on the pyramids! They are hiding in the floiage so you have to look carefully in the picture I took for you below.

Ripe Strawberries!
Next I checked in on the Upside Down Garden, sadly I must report that one of the already planted tomatoes, a "Mortgager Lifter" passed away in the night. I had feared that result but I did not give up hope until the bitter end! I will be replanting that pot tomorrow along with several others.

On a brighter note, the beans and nasturtiams are doing beautifully!

Baby Hyacinth Beans!
My boring photo's of the beans developing are likely as stimulating as watching paint dry for the rest of you. I am still taken with watching how quickly they progress! I will try to not go on and on about them but, consider yourself warned, there will be more bean photo's.

The Nasturtiams Have Sprouted Too!
I never got the nasturtiums to germinate last year so, I am really pleased that these seeds are doing so well. (these are seeds left over from last year) I do look forward to watching them blossom and climb up the twine trellis we have running up the side of the garden structure.

Once everything had checked out and been watered, I got to work moving the dirt from one of the side yard SFG's. It is not well protected in the side yard and we really wanted to use that space for other purposes so, I got my garden cart and shovel and got digging.

Digging All The Way To Empty
Since reading Mel's "New Square Foot Gardening" book, I have gotten in the habit of using tarps to move and, to mix dirt whenever I can. Today, I lined the garden cart with the tarp and it worked beatuifully. When I was done moving the dirt, there was no need to clean out the cart. I'm lazy, I love saving myself work.

Here comes some, sort of "technical stuff", I hope it will answer an often asked question of many folks new to square foot gardening, regarding how the wood holds up and how long will it last etc. The frame I emptied and re-purposed today is going into it's third year of service. It was built using 2x8 lumber from one of the big box stores (Lowes or Home Depot). It has endured two growing seasons and 2 winters. I remember, when we built these first frames wondering how long they would last.

These next three photo's show you the inside of that wood, the pieces that were in direct contact with the soil that entire time. (2 growing seasons and 2 winters)

Side Rails
On the left, you can see that the wood is a darker color than when it was fresh, the darkness deepens as it moves to the edge of the board that was in direct contact with the native soil here in Northern Virginia, mostly clay, not very well draining soil. I must in fairness note, that we experienced drought last growing season, but we did keep out crop watered throughout. We also had a tremendous amount of rainfall this winter and spring.
On the right, you are looking directly at the edge of the board that was in direct contact with the native soil here. Darkened but no sign of rot at all. These were all painted on the exterior areas that were exposed to sunlight, none were painted or treated in any other way on any interior surfaces.

A Close Up, Cross Section, Of The Side Rail, Showing The Interior Side

The End, Near the Wood Joint, Shows The Contrast In Color
This photo shows the section that was inside the frame, in direct contact with the soil and athe section where it was butted together with the end piece, in direct contact with the wood at the end of the frame.

All in all, I am impressed with the condition of the wood frame. I really expected to see more signs of rot. I think it's just another indication of how well the "Mel's Mix" drains.

Once we had the frame empty and the wooden parts separated and cleaned off (we brushed off the dirt to be nice to our saw and saw blades) we modified it. My plan originally was to find a space for this frame in the rear section of the SFG garden (the spot with all the "junk" you see in most of the Aerial Photo's). After some pondering, I had already taken some of the soil out to finish filling a new bed we set up earlier so it wasn't full, I decided that it would maximize the value of what I had on hand to set up a "2nd story" on the one un-planted bed. We had that bed/frame on the schedule for weeding today. I had already planned to use 6 squares of that frame for two zucchini plants, that filled a nice square spot on the end, leaving us 5 feet of frame length or 10 square feet, not yet spoken for. We sawed off 3 foot from the end each side rail and slapped the pieces back together with screws, forming a 5 foot by 2 foot box.

Voila! 10 Square Feet, 5 Feet Long x 2 Feet Wide, Our New 2nd Story
I set the 2 - 3 foot pieces aside for later use. the little fella inside the new 5 foot frame is Murphy, he is my sidekick and my constant companion. He has been learning about being a gardener right along with me these past 2+ years, his favorite 2 activities are, finding a shady spot, close by, to rest and, watering things!

Second Story Installed
It's not quite full of soil but that will be easily remedied. I will add some more compost, peat and vermiculite ("Mel's Mix") as soon as I can get out to the store to buy more compost, likely tomorrow. (I still don't have enough home made compost to meet my needs - fingers crossed next year will be better for compost production). I also need to subdivide it with twine (like the others) to mark out the square feet. I like to make sure that I plant it carefully and make the most of the space I have.

This second story should make a great place for growing our rutabaga's, carrots, and other larger root vegetables. I am pleased with my decision to build a second story.

This afternoon's Aerial View 5/26/2008
I did my best to "crop out" the left over mess and visual distractions, I needed to see it looking nice after the weekend of work we've put in. Sorry for the odd size/shape of the photo.

Tomorrow's expected weather is rain. That will give me time to make bread for the family and run a few errands, maybe even do some "behind the scenes" work for dressing up the garden a bit.

It's good to have goals but, I may just sit quietly, rest and ponder.

I hope to get more planting done after the rain subsides. Stand by, I still haven't shown you the upper deck garden! And there are plans for another container garden area and...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

We Have Wings!

Yesterday the lumber was cut and fitted for the Upside Down Garden expansion project. The new, two wings. The lumber was cut and notched, the corners were trimmed, final fitting was checked and braces were cut and fitted. The entire thing was installed, one on each end of the frame.

Installation in Mid-Afternoon 5/24/2008

A Closer Look At The Brace
The new extensions had the screw eyes installed, were painted and then, left to dry overnight.

Complete Project, built and ready to go, 5/25/2008
This view gives just the perspective of one end of the garden. The two "window" boxes are planted with Hyacinth beans (in the left side box) and nasturtiums (in the right side box) Both have germinated and I hope when I take photo's again during the coming week you will be able to see the growth. We strung the sides of the upside down garden with twine to help support these climbers. This side closest to the house, seen from the deck and the bedroom window first thing in the morning, has the "pretties". The other side was planted, just today with "Kentucky Wonder" Pole beans.

The Upside Down Garden Now supports 10 "Planters"
And, the sides will act as trellis for others plantings. You may wonder why I have the window boxes up on cinder blocks and, why I have a fence around the square foot gardens. The fact is, I try to think about lawn maintenance and the ease of care, The plastic boxes take a beating from the grass string trimmer in the hands of some operators, putting things up on blocks means no need to worry about damage and no need to be "extra careful" around the gardens. It also means, I don't need to worry as much about my little dog (he's a boy) "adding" to the garden (those window boxes are a might short without the risers).

I have gotten quite a bit done in the SFG as well, including quite a bit of planting. We have one more SFG bed to weed.

Square Foot Garden 5/25/2008
We will likely put that on the top of the list for tomorrow. I hope to have things well in hand by the end of this holiday weekend!

The two front SFG Frames are covered in plastic mulch, topped with wood chips. (I have only mulched those square feet that have been planted) This plastic mulch is this years experiment. Lots of folks swear by it and I am hoping it will conserve water resources but, I am very concerned about the solar heat gain from the plastic being too much for the plants and their roots. I am taking a wait and see approach, if it looks like things are not coming along nicely I can always, easily tear up the plastic and return to the original plan of mulching in the hottest season, with wood chips. We have plenty on hand.

I will go into further explanation about the milk jugs that line my frames soon. They are also a "testing system" I think they are working well on the conventional "New Square Foot Garden Frames" I'm not sure how well they work with the plastic mulched frames. Time will tell.

There is always something going on in the garden. I hope you'll stop by again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Sweet Potato Adventure

I had a difficult time finding simplified information about sprouting sweet potatoes. To help fill the void, I will be adding all the info I learn, including lots of photos of my sweet potatoes to help other folks with similar interests and curiosity. Here is the first of what I hope are many Sweet Potato entries. I hope there will be some that are of interest to folks. I look forward to learning more about growing sweet potatoes as I go along. I will share my research and any worthwhile links I find along the way.

Much earlier this spring I haphazardly stuck three toothpicks in each of two sweet potatoes that we purchased at the local grocery store. Resting those toothpicks on the edge of a coffee mug filled with water, I waited. I was not sure what I would see, but I waited and I watched. In a few days it began to sprout shoots, those shoots grew and got leaves and grew more. I had no idea what to do with them, no idea what I was really doing. I had no expectation, I was just playing. It grew and grew and grew! There were 5 or 6 shoots growing from each potato, getting longer and longer and developing lovely folliage, the roots the had grown out of the bottom of the potato (that part submerged in water) iand nearly filled the cups, leaving little space for water. Now I was watering them twice a daybecause they were drying out quickly. I asked online for advice about what to do with these new plants but did not clearly understand what folks were instructing. I was told to simply pull off the shoots and put them in water. I was totally unsure of myself and afraid if I did that they would just break and I would kill what I had begun.

Time passed, and the leaves on the long and slender stems began to turn brown and shrivel up. Once again I turned to the internet for help, this time I expressed my complete ignorance regarding these potatoes and how to manage them, I asked for specific, very simple instructions. I was told to firmly grip the sprouts close to the potato and snap them off. Once free of the potato they were to be placed in water. I was apprehensive but, I steeled myself and "just did it". Here is what they looked like 5 days later!

Sprouting Sweet Potato Starts

Here are the roots, a little closer. Impressive growth for 5 days in water.
I did lose a few more leaves to the browning phenomenon, but clearly I have plenty of root development and the leaves that survive seem vital. I hope to get these planted in soil within the next week. It will be interesting to see how many potatoes we get from the plants.

Just for fun, because after all, this was just a lark to begin with, I stuck the potatoes back into the water to see what might happen, now that the shoots were all broken off. Surprisingly, one of the potatoes is beginning to grow some new shoots again!

A Second Crop Of Shoots?
I will try and post regular follow ups about my sweet potatoes. Including the planting, the growing season, and of course the harvest, if and when it happens. I don't have places to grow more potatoes but, I am just so amaized at the tenacity of this little potato, I can't help but be curious to learn what it can and will do. Stay tuned! I intend to follow up on this adventure.

Planting the SFG Frames

Today I began the actual planting of the SFG (Square FootGarden). I planted 20 pepper plants, some hot peppers and some sweet peppers, several different varieties. Also planted were 2 summer squash plants and 2 eggplants.

Aerial View of SFG 5/21/08

With all this recent rain the soil in the newly flled beds had settled a good bit, making the soil level lower than was optimal. We stole a little soil from one of the new beds, the one closest to the gate. We have plans to replace it very soon. We have still not gotten back to weeding out the older established beds (those we built last year). As you can see, the cardboard is still in place over the weeds, I sure hope it is helping!. Maybe tomorrow or Friday we'll get to them and get them weeded. I need to get on it soon, the tomatoes need to get in the ground and start climbing those vertical frames. I think they are growing tired of their tiny pots.