Friday, August 31, 2012


 I know how I have been out of touch the last few days. I just want to say "IT'S NOT MY FAULT". The DSL company broke something for half our neighborhood and refuse to admit it. As a result, we have had no internet for a few days. Last night Daddy got fed up and cancelled our service. Guess what this morning it was working (intermittently). However they said they will shut it off at some point today. At which point, we will be without it again until we get the new cable stuff squared away. All this basically means is sorry, we have been gone, I hope to have things back to normal by early next week.

In other news, I walked outside on Sunday to see this: One of Pooka's sunflowers had fallen over. It was still very much alive, no real damage to the stem. Pooka of course got very worried that something had hurt it. Best I can tell (in my novice opinion) that it just was too top heavy and fell over. Which was only made worse by the fact this was a "volunteer sunflower" that had decided to grow THROUGH the fence from the side yard to the back yard. As a result it didn't even have the house shielding it from winds (we had a decent storm on Sunday).

Sunflower down

I went into the garage, got my trusty plant tape and with help tied it back up and attached it to the fence. It seems to be doing okay even after the fall. If not, well I tried I guess. We tied up another one that was trying to fall over as well. All in all, he seems to be doing okay, and Pooka was very excited to see all her sunflowers standing upright again.

5 days later

This last picture was taken about 5 days after the flower initially fell (its the smaller one towards the corner of the fence). It seems to be pretty happy and has no real signs of distress. As it was, after I took this, I went out and grabbed a few of the drier heads to grab the seeds off of. The goldfinches had been to work on them and a Pooka decided she is rather fond of homemade sunflower seeds. Guess our daily harvests need to start including the sunflowers as well.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Peppers and more peppers

So this year, we were not getting much yield out of our pepper plants. It took forever to get 2 peppers, and we hadn't seen much else in the terms of fruit. I wasn't too upset, but it annoyed me. If it is one thing we eat around here, its cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers and I had a huge garden, why did I still have to buy peppers at the store.

One day I was wandering around the interwebz (as I am prone to do) and quite literally followed a link to a link to a link that said how to boost pepper production. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I bought a new spray bottle, added a small amount of epsom salt and some water and sprayed it before we left for our vacation.

Upon our return, we saw so many flowers and young fruit floating around. The directions said to spray it again after 2 weeks, so I did.  Imagine our surprise when I went outside this morning and found this.
This is only 1 of the sweet pepper plants. All of them are this way (aside from the store bought yellow pepper plant. It has FINALLY decided to flower).  Now I just need to wait and see if these will be yellow, red, or what. They look yummy at least.

Long post short.. I am keeping the epsom salt spray around (1 tsp. Epsom salt to 3 cups warm water).  Imagine what we may get next year if I do this earlier in the year.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Playing in the dirt again

 I have another confession to make. School has started up again around here and as a result, at least the first week or so, its been hard to get into the garden, let alone get posts made. Sorry about that all. I am going to try (now that the first week is over and we are settling into routines) to get posts up about 3 times a week, maybe more. It all depends on the one thing I can't change the number of hours in a day.
A few days before we stumbled into a seed display still (I thought they were all packed up). Pooka and I had talked of doing radishes, but by the time we made that decision, we thought all the seeds were put away. Turns out Meijer's of all places still had all their seeds out. So we grabbed a packet of early radishes and away we went.

Then yestereday Pooka, Brother and I were at Target and I was looking at the clearance. We had noticed a bit before that Target was clearancing out some ready to plant herb crates. Daddy and I had talked about it before and decided if they were under $5 we would pick them up. Turns out, they started knocking them down to under $5. Pooka and I bought one dill crate since our dill has been struggling since it went to flower while we were gone. We figure we can bring it inside after the frost starts.
Once we returned home from our errands, Pooka wanted to go get dirty. I collected our tools and we got to work. We did 2 pots of radishes (And still had some seeds left over we may plant in a week or 2 to start learning to stagger plant). The pots look a bit big, but with my charcoal in the bottom of the pot trick, the pots are pretty easy to move. (Charcoal helps with drainage and keeps the pot lighter).

The dill Pooka decided she wanted in a pot. I was on the fence about the crate since I knew having it in wood with a plastic liner outside may not handle the elements well. The kit came with soil, but we added a bit of mirical grow to it as well. The pot was another Target clearance find. $0.25). The crate Pooka and I decided will go in our garden toolbox (another clearance find) and hold our seed pouches. It will help keep them from sliding around the drawers.

I thought about showing you the pots with just dirt in them. But I am sure by now you know what those look like. Now we wait and see. If nothing else, we eat small (Hopefully) radishes and I got a free crate.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

An odd visitor

This morning we were trying to get ready for school. Kids were packing up and Pooka saw a birdy on the deck. Now, I will be the first one to tell you, I have NEVER been good with birds, so we are going to call this one "Bird that is not good to eat" or just "Bird."

Well Bird was quite happy sitting on the deck amid Pooka's pots. But something about Bird made me pause.  Maybe it was the fact that as I opened the door, expecting him to fly away, he continued to sit there. However, our female cat (who hates anything that isn't inside), was interested. I opened the door for a moment and watched as she struggled with "I can get it.. but it is out there... But I can get it" Realizing that I am wasting time, I walked outside and stomped. Again noticing that Bird walked deeper into the pots.

Now I start to wonder (and I closed the screen door) if Bird is hurt and what I am going to do with a hurt bird when Kiddo is due at school in 15 minutes. Bird continues to go deeper into the pots and while I am staring at him, he attempts to take off, and proceeds in hitting the oregano pot he is hiding next to.

At this point I am kinda thinking I may just let it be, see if he is still here when I get home. But the dog needs out before we leave. I open the door, and she does exactly what I think she will, she walked straight at it and that is when Bird flew rather erratically up to the top of Audrey's trellis.
Bird continued to sit there staring at me and making this very pathetic little chirping noise while the dog went about her business. I collected the dog and had decided to leave Bird to his chances. I also made a mental note to check the back yard before I let the dog or Pooka outside upon our return. As I open the door to walk into the house Bird takes off... not majestically. In fact, he looked like he was hurt and missed landing on a bush in the neighbors yard. He fluttered and flapped and tried to not crash. Reminded me of Woodstock actually now that I think about it.

Whatever happened to Bird. He made it to the neighbors yard. And while we wish him luck, I am glad he isn't in my yard and I am glad he didn't trill "Doom"  (if you don't catch the reference, it is from a book called Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey. It is a wonderful book and is well worth the easy read).  Good Luck Bird and don't eat the Carrots.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunflower seeds

I know today was suppose to be about how to finish drying your herbs. I finished them, I swear, I just well, haven't had time to write it up or make it look prettier since school started yesterday for Pooka, and today for Kiddo. Life kinda sorta gets in the way of blogging sometimes.

Instead, I thought you would like to see how we harvested some sunflower seeds from Pooka and Kiddo's sunflowers. We have been planting sunflowers on our south side in this tiny planting bed for a few years now. It is super narrow, and has alot of the stuff in it (see here the gas meter) so unless you have a reason, you don't go there often. In fact, we almost never use our side yards, and the first year we planted the sunflowers, we saw what a difference it made to the number of weeds in that bed (as opposed to putting NOTHING in it).

Mammoth on the Left, Multi head on the right
Now, we originally planted mammoth sunflowers, but for whatever reason, they didn't seem to grow real well. However, we had some volunteer sunflowers from last year which were smaller multi headed but they actually grew taller. They grew quite well. I went out Saturday night on the side of the house for well something (I couldn't tell you what at this point) and noticed the seeds were drying and ready to come loose. I figured with as many goldfinches that are coming around anymore, we better get some now. A quick google search told me what I think I needed to know. 

Now first you will want to check that your seeds have little black lines on them. That plus the drying of the head you see here means your sunflower seeds are ready to harvest.  Make sure the petals have all fallen off and the seeds are fairly large and plump. From what I read, that means they will be better seeds overall. 

To do this, you have to take a paper bag and hold it over the flower head. Then you cut the head off with up to about a foot of stem attached. In our case, this wasn't always possible since some of the multi heads were attached 6 inches apart. Once the flower is free, we left it in the paper bag till we were ready for the next part.

 Next comes the destruction, I mean seed removal. I won't lie, this part is a bit gross. Bugs and things will fall out of the flower. It is nature and it happens. That being said you are suppose to rub the sunflower to have the seeds "pop" out. Well our seeds didn't want to pop. Instead they wanted to be forcibly removed. We did end up breaking some of the heads, but in the end, I dont think it mattered much. It just meant there was a bit more clean up to do.

 Here our the seeds when we were done. We washed them off in just regular water to separate out some of the gunk and the seeds. Now if anyone has a better way then picking through each one, please let me know.

Being that this our first time harvesting seeds, I am curious what kind of response we will get. We saved about a fifth to replant next year (and Pooka is talking about putting some in her goodie bags for her next birthday party), and the rest we roasted. But that is another post. We are contemplating planting one to see if they will even plant. I just haven't had the time to set that up. Maybe this weekend.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Drying Herbs the cheap and quick way

Last week we decided the herbs were getting too overgrown. We needed to do something with them. So I got the grand idea to dry them.

Except we don't own a dehydrator. I know there's a way to hang the herbs to dry, but with the large volumes of herbs that we will need to dry (especially before winter comes), I was hoping for something a bit faster then "Hang here till black and not yummy looking".

Then Daddy, the fan of cooking shows and storehouse of useless information he is, remembered seeing a Episode of Good Eats, where Alton Brown invents his own drying set up. (See the info here) So off we went to our beloved hardware store and purchased supplies.

Now 2 things to keep in mind when you do this. A) DO NOT USE FIBERGLASS filters, you want the ones that are basically paper and wire. B) Do not use anything with anti - anything chemicals. Neither are very yummy or good for you.

Once you have your hardware, go out and pick some herbs. This day we decided to try with some sweet basil, purple basil (that was looking kinda green), oregano and thyme (since all are in abundance).

After you harvest your materials, you will need to blanch them. Basically dip them in boiling water for 5 second, then throw straight into ice water. Once they have cooled, place them on paper towels to dry (or as in Alton's case, a salad spinner.)

Proceed to lay out your herbs in a single layer on the filter. Try to keep them as even as you can, but realize that sometimes you just can't get them flattened out (like thyme).  Once your layer is done, put another filter on it, which in our case we put MORE herbs on, then a top filter to hold it all in place.
Once you have your nice stack, bungee cord them tightly onto your box fan and plug in and run on medium for 12 hours. After twelve hours, flip the filters over, then repeat for another 12 (Note, don't start this too close to bedtime, or you will have to take it all off the filters at bedtime as well the next day).

 Extra bonus to this, we ran the fan in our garage, and it smelled WONDERFUL in here. You could smell all the herbs in the filter in the garage for 2 days after. This can be done in the house, we just didn't want anyone playing with it.

How did it turn out you ask? Well come back tomorrow to see the final results.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Long day

I had planned to spend today working on the garden. Pooka was itching to get her fingers dirty and help me harvest.

Sadly, my job had other ideas. I got called in early and stayed longer then I had hoped. We were still able to get a few things done, we got some herbs harvested to dry (Stay tuned for that on Monday) but Pooka found a surprise when she went to look at the garden.
Baby carrots are starting
Her carrots are sprouting. This discovery turned a tired grumpy Pooka (and a tired Grumpy Mommy) into a much happier girl. We are all anxious to see which colors we will find. Brother asked if he could only take orange carrots to school in his lunch. I told him he will get what I find that morning.
Pot numerous dos with little green sprouts
By the looks of things, both pots will probably need some thinning, however the 2+ inches of rain we got yesterday seems to have helped. Pooka's beloved cilantro does not have any real sprouts yet, but I told her not to worry, they have been in the dirt less then a week, and then they will go wild as soon as they emerge. Cilantro in our experiance (in the one time we have grown it) will suddenly just be there and from then, we better have alot of tacos.

A good end to a long day. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's raining

Today is going to be a short post because it is raining. We are hoping it stays JUST rain, however they did say we may get more hail. Talk about a weird weather year. Either way, we got a quick harvest in this morning and while Pooka was sad she couldn't use her fresh herbs for Daddy's dinner, she is happy it is raining for her carrots and cilantro.
Raining on the dill and thyme

Rain rain, please stay.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Garlic Results

If you all will remember, we stuck some garlic in the ground in the first part of June. It had already started to sprout in the fridge and I never expected much from it.

 Well it grew quite well, even survived the drought, but from everything I had read in our gardening books, it said to harvest garlic when it is half dried and falling over, which these were. So we dug them up...

Pooka enjoyed this part since it was more playing in the dirt. And as she said "I Love playing in dirt because it is messy."

And to our surprise....
We had what looked like 2 - 1 clove bulbs. They were actually kinda bulb shaped. Now granted, had I planted them at the correct time, or had I thought even remotely considered putting them in early spring... well I would have better garlic. For now, Pooka's garlic is hanging in the garage to dry.

However, we have started looking into where we will plant garlic come fall. If for no other reason then I want to see if I can get it grow correctly. Pooka was asking when she could plant some more, but I told her we had to wait a bit more before we can.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One strawberry project ends, another begins

So I am sure you all remember when Brother asked me to let him have a strawberry plant. Well, when we got back from our Vacation, we decided the other start was ready and gave it a snip. Brother was so proud to have his own basket of strawberries.

He got to decide where they will sit on a shepherd hook until we (being adults and Brother) decide a bit higher location for them. This is due to the current location is a bit too close and low to where Momma Bunny tried establishing herself.
This whole project worked so well, it makes me wonder... does the strawberry start need to be connected to the mother plant to set or can I cut it off and start it (which would be alot easier to manage)? So like any good scientist, Pooka asked if we could try it. So we got out 2 pots (a small one for the neighbor) and a larger hanging one for us. Filled them with soil and laid out which ones would go in it. 

I know the little pot is pretty small. But the neighbor asked for a cutting, so I figured I would give it to her in something small then she could put it in whatever she wanted to. I didn't want to take a chance with her cutting, so she is getting it done the "traditional" way, or in science terms, that is our control group.

The experimental group, or "New way" is the one I cut off and stuck in some dirt in a hanging pot Pooka and I picked up (on clearance) for about $3.  I am not as concerned if this works or not. As Daddy put it "it's not like we are hurting for strawberry plants." So we will see how this goes. After just 2 days, it is looking pretty happy. It got a tad wilted yesterday, but I think it just needed watered since it perked up overnight. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Harvesting and planting seeds.

Ready to hang up. 
When we returned from our vacation, we noticed the last cilantro plant was ready to be pulled and hung out to dry so we could collect the seeds. The seeds were trying to fall/grow into the snapdragon plants. And I don't feel like trying to pull them out of it.

Shake shake shake...BANG.
While we were hanging the new one up to dry, we noticed the older cilantro had dried out and the seeds were ready to harvest. I forgot to get a before picture, but we put it in a  paper bag and let Pooka shake it and bang it on the floor, the tool box, whatever. She had alot of fun with this step.

Once it was well separated from the stalks (Well most of them). Pooka and I sat down and sorted the seeds  out. We used coffee filters as our plates since that is what I had on hand in my gardening supplies. It would of worked a bit better on paper plates. But that's a live and learn moment.

After they were sorted out, we planted them with a bit of the debris to act as a fertilizer. I used the same container they had been in before, and on the left side I used commercial seeds that I had bought previously (not thinking to harvest my own) and on the right are our home grown seeds. This should give us a good control group to see how well we did.
Commercial vs Home Grown
Colorful carrot mix
 Since we had the dirt out, I promised Pooka that this fall we would start some carrots. In true Pooka style, we can't grow just orange carrots. We have to grow colorful carrots because we all know how Pooka's love color.
Good luck little carrots

We got the seeds into their new pots as well. Hopefully we will have alot of carrots to take to school in lunches. I am not sure how Brother will feel about having purple carrots for lunch tho. 

So that's it. We have seeds going into the ground in August. This seems counter intuitive, but we will see what we can get.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Overdue Harvest

This is what we harvested after our vacation. It was suppose to be a weeks worth, but I know I told the neighbor helping to tend the garden to take whatever she wanted as part payment. This has helped us keep from finding rotting things on the vine. However I still haven't had any of our peppers, but we are waiting on the new ones to finish getting ready (well the ones the hail didn't remove from the plant).

As you can see, we had 3 good sized tomatoes, about 6 ripe strawberries (and 3 that were too far gone) a ton of cherries (aside from the 3 green ones an over excited Pooka accidently grabbed), and about 9 cucumbers. We actually had about 4 more cucumbers I found the following day while I was retying up the cucumbers from the hail. 

My grandmother had also been stockpiling tomatoes for us, and Friday sent us home with 2 big trays of them. We are thinking to turn them into salsa since chicken quesadilla are a staple food around here when we have leftover chicken. Daddy even made me my first batch of cucumber salad for the year. So that will taste good as a breakfast later this week.

So we weren't too overwhelmed, but we had quite a bit. Now to find things to do with them. 

Friday, August 10, 2012


Today was an easy day to decide what to post about. I had plenty of options, how big was the overdue harvest, how to harvest garlic (and the results of our late year attempt), or even, what is the status of the strawberry project or the coriander drying.

Something happened yesterday that Pooka and I decided was a bit more interesting/immediate. You see last night we had a thunderstorm. A nice, loud and very wet storm, that had included HAIL. Yes, Hail, in August. I was a bit shocked myself, so I took a picture of it after it had ended. 

Do you see what I see? 
Now while that picture does not show very well the fact that the deck was COVERED in hail, or the pots were holding nice little ice balls to melt into them (more free water). This picture was taken about 5 minutes after the hail stopped when I could even open the door in the rain for a quick picture.

After the storm passed, I went outside to survey the damage before Pooka could. I was worried she would get upset if it was in too bad a shape. This is the first sign of damage I saw. Doesn't look to bad right?
Not too bad. 
Bigger, but not too bad
 Then I looked at the broccoli. It had a bit bigger hole that I noticed right away.


 Once I looked at the largest part of the cucumber plants, I saw the real damage. Leaves were shredded or cut in half. The vines had fallen from their spots, but I knew I could fix that the next day. The damage wasn't too horrid, but it gave me a chance to talk to Pooka about what hail is, and why it can be so damaging.

Swiss cheese leaf
It tore it in twain....

Floppy limb

 The tomatoes initially looked much worse from inside. They had blown over a bit, and upon further inspection, there are some bent or broken limbs, and alot of cherry tomatoes on the ground (anyone up for hunt the green tomato), but other then that, they seemed to hold up okay.

A casuality of the hail. 

As far as property damage, we got by without any real damage. Pooka lost one butterfly (Daddy isn't sure he can fix it) and one Dragonfly lost it's wing which was then broken in half. The house and the car had no real damage, but yeah, here is a quick reminder of how Mother Nature can turn on you.

Although, on a positive note: I will always remember listening to Brother and Pooka talk out the back window to Thor and tell him to calm down and that throwing tantrums and ice isn't going to solve anything.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Confession time

As you all have noticed by now, things have been a bit slow the last week or so here on Pooka's Science Experiment Garden. There is a reason for that, we went on vacation for a week. I had hoped to have saved up enough information to do enough posts while we were 400 miles away that no one would notice, but I forgot how on vacation, you never seem to be at a computer as long as you want to.

Anyway, we returned home last night and the FIRST thing Pooka wanted to do was go straight to her garden. She ran out there even though it was raining (FINALLY) and we were all amazed at what had happened in a week.

The few things you won't see in the pictures are : How Audrey the morning glory was standing a good 2 feet taller then her trellis. I had to wind her back down and into it. Neither of us enjoyed that. The dill had all begun to flower, until I quickly pulled them all, and 1 very nice red tomato I saw in the bushes.

This is the container garden. The basil was flowering, the dill was flowering, the strawberries are red and their tendrils are escaping. The last little cilantro plant is at seed and needs pulled to dry, especially since it has fallen over and is laying in the snap dragons.

The pablanos are have fruit and flowers everywhere. Daddy was happy he would finally have peppers. I think part of the peppers taking off is that I read ta thing about using a TINY Bit of extremely diluted epsom salt to increase the magnesium levels in the soil, and it seems to be working. The Broccoli every plant started making florrets. So it looks like we will get Broccoli after all.
The pepper plants are flowering and fruiting. Although the 3 peppers I had hoped to try when we got home are gone. So we will keep an eye on that plant and see how they do. I am pretty sure the neighbor who was watering our garden for us took them with my blessing as part payment. I will have to wait a bit longer to see what they taste like or ask her I guess.
The cucumbers went wild. They are everywhere and I am sure to spend a bit of time training and straightening them out. While I am glad to say they didn't attach themselves to the chairs or the table on the deck, they are quite happy. Doing a quick walkthrough I saw at least 8 that are ready to be picked without moving any leaves. Who knows what else is under there. 
The tomato plants are looking good. We had alot of red cherries and regular tomatoes. Add to that my grandma told me this morning she has tomatoes for me to can, so I guess I have some work to do between the cucumbers and the tomatoes. Oh and the big tomato plants are over 7 ft tall since they are taller then Daddy. And they are escaping all their containment cage again. Here I had hoped 6 ft tall stakes would be enough

I will post a total harvest probably tommorrow. I know Pooka and I have a good days work to do out there today. The upside is there isn't too many weeds to deal with. I think the garden is established enough this year to hold them all off.