Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The plants are in the ground.

I looked at the calendar the other day and noticed that it was April 18.  That's well past our usual last frost date.  I hadn't noticed this sooner because I kept seeing 39-40* low temperatures in the forecast.  Maybe I worry too much, but when I see temps in the 30's I fear that it might drop lower than expected and kill my plants.

Anyway, the point is, I've moved my plants from the containers to the raised beds.
Every stake sticking up is a tomato.
More tomatoes.
Still more tomatoes.
Peppers.  I don't know if they are hot or sweet.
Peppers in the front and tomatillos in the back.

Friday, April 8, 2016

We lost all of our chickens.

Something killed all of our chickens.  My father-in-law was staying with us this week.  On Wednesday he went out and found one of the chickens dead and decapitated near the coop.  The rest of the birds were gone.  He went into the woods behind the house to look for them, and found nothing.

I went out later to investigate.  There were feathers everywhere.  They were all over inside the coop.  Due to my travel schedule I hadn't been locking the coop at night.  That allowed something to get it.
Outside of the coop I noticed a number of little mounds.  Upon closer inspection I found 4 missing chickens.  Something killed the birds and then took the time to bury them.
The first buried bird I discovered.
It's hard to see, but there are two buried birds here.  The one on the right is only visible because I moved leaves before taking the picture.
Here are three of the birds uncovered.
There was a pile of red feathers nearby, but the Rhode Island Red bird was nowhere to be found.
I didn't closely examine every bird, but it looks like they were bitten in their necks and shaken.  They had puncture wounds on their necks but were otherwise fine.  They weren't eaten or torn open or anything.
I had a total of 8 birds.  One was found uncovered by the coop and 4 more were buried by the coop.  Three were unaccounted for.  After lunch I found two more.  They had been buried elsewhere in the yard. 
This bird had been completely covered.  The picture was taken after I removed mulch.
There was a bird under this pile.  It was well covered.

Here's the bird that was buried under the leaves in the picture above.
I am very puzzled by this situation, and have 3 nagging questions.
  1. I have a fenced in yard.  How did the predator get into and out of my yard?
  2. What happened to the 8th chicken? 
  3. Why were the birds buried?  And what kind of predator buries its prey?
I don't know that I'll ever get answers to those questions.  I've been all over the woods with my son and dog and we didn't find any evidence of the last chicken.  If it escaped it didn't stay close.  It was the smallest bird so maybe it got carried away and the other birds were too heavy to take.  Who knows.  All I know is that we are going to take a break from chickens for a little while. 

I have to say though, the yard just isn't the same without them.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

An update on the garden progress.

I'm not having much luck with seeds this year.  I thought I had lost some of my transplanted seedlings a few weeks ago.  I don't remember if I lost any, but I did have several survive.  Some have done so well that they had to be potted up again.
Now the bad news.  The plants in the above picture are all that I have.  I think I counted 6 tomatoes, 3 tomatillos, and 6 pepper plants.  I normally have more than that going by now.

I've been trying to start more seeds, but I haven't had any luck.  Every week or so I put more seeds in some peat pods.  I don't know what went wrong but the pods have gotten all slimy.  Some are even green with a moss or algae.  I probably had too much water in there, or too much heat, or both.  I haven't had this happen before. 

I have some peppers in the pods below that are trying to hang on, but they aren't looking so great.  The tomatoes I've planted have failed to germinate. 
Since the peat pods weren't working so well I thought I'd try bigger pots with plain old soil.  Nothing has happened with those yet either.  Maybe I don't have enough patience, or maybe my seeds have gone bad.  I didn't order any new ones this year.  I'm using whatever I had left over from the last few years.  That could be the issue.  I'm going to throw out whatever I don't use by the end of this year and start over with fresh stuff next year.  

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Whoops! Maybe I started my seeds too soon.

I started seeds on January 31.  That might have been too soon.  I had several seedlings appear so I transplanted them to bigger containers. 
The tomatillos were transplanted first, maybe a week ago.  I transplanted  two peppers yesterday.  They fell over almost immediately.  It got down to 38* in my garage last night.  I guess they weren't ready for that. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

It begins! The 2016 garden.

I generally start seeds between New Year's and Valentines Day.  Tomorrow is February 1, so I figured tonight was as good a time as any.  I picked up a seed tray at Home Depot around Christmas time.  They had them out early!
I added two quarts of water and waited for the pucks to absorb all of it.  Then I grabbed my boxes of seeds from the closet.  I'm not good about keeping seeds.  I have so many packets of things from a number of different years.  I haven't labeled any of it.  That means I have no idea how good my germination rates are going to be.  To help my odds, I put 3-4 seeds in every peat pod. 
I plan on growing mostly peppers and tomatoes this year.  I grew peas last year and they dried out on the vines before they were picked an eaten.  The same thing happens with beans.  We do eat cucumbers, so I'll probably plant some of those too.  Anyway, back to seed starting.  I put the lid on the tray and placed it on my seed heating mat.  Now all I have to do is wait.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fall garden work.

Last year I filled my compost bin with leaves.
It took a few months, but eventually I ended up with some nice compost. 
I used the compost to fill my raised garden beds.  I do this every year.  I fill them to the top in the fall, and by the end of the following summer they are 3" lower.  I don't know where it goes.  Maybe it just settles, or maybe it continues to break down.  Anyway, I have a free resource, so it's not a big deal.
I think this PVC drip irrigation might have to come out next year.  I pulled the end cap off and the inside of the pipe was green with algae.
I have a couple of pepper plants hanging on even though it's November.
This bed contains oregano that I can't get rid of.  I cut it back severely last year and even dug half of it out with a shovel.  It's still going. 
I still have a number of tomato plants producing.  I'm hoping that the tomatoes turn red before we get any frost. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Improving my overflow rain barrel

Long ago I stuck a barrel under my deck and called it my over flow rain barrel.  I put a float valve near the top of the barrel so it would fill when the water in my other barrels was above its height.  I installed a hose bib lower on the barrel, attached a check valve to it, and plumbed it back into the tubing that connected the rest of the barrels.  This worked well, but there was room for improvement.
Overflow barrel in relation to the nearest rain barrel.  It's 8-10" lower.
Closeup photo of the overflow barrel under the deck.
The first problem was that this overflow barrel only filled when the water in other barrels got to a level higher than the overflow barrel.  That's not a huge deal, but when it rains hard the barrels fill fast.  The water then goes out the overflow on the barrel and doesn't make its way into the overflow barrel.  This is due to pipe sizes.  The tubing going from the main rain barrel to the overflow rain barrel is only 1/2".  Water moves rather slowly through it.  The overflow on the main rain barrel is 3/4".  

The second issue is getting water out of the overflow barrel.  The hose bib is 12" up from the bottom.  That meant that there was a foot of water in there that I couldn't get out.  It was unusable.  This also made moving the barrel out from under the deck very difficult.  (I like to check it once a year to make sure nothing is growing inside.)

My improvement started by moving the float valve from the top of the barrel to where the hose bib had been.
Float valve installed at the hose bib location with strainer attached.
Then I added a long chain to the float. I've always used these float valves with the float directly attached to the valve.  I wasn't even sure that adding a long chain would work.
Initially I took a guess as to how much chain to use.
Next I had to address the issue of getting the water out of the barrel.  I decided that in order to get the most out of the barrel that I would have to put a drain in the bottom.  I drilled a hole and installed a Uniseal bulkhead adapter.
Then I inserted 1/2" PVC pipe and attached a hose valve to it.
Then came the big test.  I put the barrel on some blocks since it could no longer sit flat on the ground.  Then I filled it with water to check for leaks and verify that the float valve would work in the new location.
Success!  The float valve worked just fine.
Once I was convince that the barrel would work this way I had to empty it.  I didn't want to waste the water, so I used my pump (not pictured) to move it into another rain barrel.
I had some concern about the chain on the float getting tangled by repeatedly draining and filling the barrel.  To lessen this possibility I added a short section of chain to the float and attached it to the top of the barrel. 

The last step was to put the overflow barrel back under the deck.  I connected it to the nearest barrel with some drip irrigation tubing.  Eventually I'll tie it into the tubing under the deck that connects the rest of the barrels together.
The final thing I did was to add a short piece of clear tubing that would show me the level of the water in the barrel.
I've been real pleased with how this has turned out.  The barrel fills sooner since the intake is lower, and I'm able to completely drain it.  Eventually I'd like to expand my water storage capacity by adding several more barrels under the deck.