It’s Time For Spring Chicks!

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Yep, it’s that time of year again- time to start raising the next batch of chickens.  In the past Sal has gotten 6 or 7 day old chicks from our local feed store every other year or so.  This time we’re doing it differently and have decided to get new chicks every year so there won’t be any reduction in overall egg production as the youngsters grow to maturity and the older hens stop producing.  Our 7 Rhode Island Red chickens from last year (now 1 year old) are still producing reliably and haven’t started to molt yet, so we should have plenty of eggs until the little ones are ready to start laying.  This year instead of our usual Rhode Island Reds we got 6 White Leghorns.  The Reds lay brown eggs and the Leghorns lay white eggs, so we’ll be able to know who’s producing and how much.

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One of my Rhode Island Red chickens

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Our 6 new White Leghorn chicks

So far we’ve had good luck getting our day old chicks from Olsen’s feed store.  A few days before we’re ready to pick them up I wash the chick cage with soap and water and scrub it thoroughly (I do the same thing before we put it into storage too), then spray it with vinegar to sanitize it.  Their feeder and water container get the same treatment and everything is allowed to dry in the sun.  Sal made this cage years ago, when he first started raising chickens and it has served us well.  By the time the chicks get too big for this cage they’re usually ready to go out to the coop.  There’s a removable tray under the bottom of the cage that we line with paper so it’s easy to clean.  Of course the bigger these critters get, the more often I need to change their paper (they can be messy little buggers!).

For the first few weeks (or longer, depending on the weather) we keep the cage on the island in the kitchen, with the heat lamp positioned over the top.  Figuring out the right position of the heat lamp is a bit of trial and error, but the basic rule is if the chicks are all clustered together under the lamp they’re cold and you need to move the light closer.  If they’re avoiding the lamp and are scattered around the cage, as far from the light as possible they’re hot and the light is too close.  They should wander around the cage comfortably and sleep in small groups all around the cage floor.  It took me a while, but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep them comfortable.

The really fun part is always introducing the other animals to the chicks.  I do like having the chicks get used to the cats and dogs so they’re not afraid of them, and having the dogs especially realize that these chicks are not prey, but family members they’re supposed to protect.

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“This thing is fascinating!”

This is Dewey Dude’s first experience with chicks, and I’m making a special effort to get him familiar with them.  He’s getting better with the older chickens, but still wants to jump on them sometimes.  He’s a very skilled hunter (he caught his first mouse when he was just 3 months old, and since then has caught a variety of birds, rodents, and rabbits) so I want to be sure he understands that this is not the same as the critters he hunts.  He’s very intelligent and watches me talking to the chicks and holding and petting them, so that also reinforces the idea that these little things are part of the family and are to be protected.  Ziggi’s been through all this before and really has very little interest in the chicks (or the adult chickens, for that matter).

Then of course there’s the cats.

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Ginko is utterly fascinated with the chicks.  He’s always been a housecat and has never caught anything bigger than a spider, but he’s got some pretty strong hunting insticts.  He’s not quite sure what to do with these things, but they sure do smell interesting!  BTW, I’m very careful that no animals get hurt or stressed out during these little meetings.  I’m actually surprised at how calm the chicks are when I take them out and let them interact with the cats and dogs.  Of course if the chicks were running around the house unsupervised I’m sure it wouldn’t take Ginko too long to figure out what a cat does with a critter like this.  Calcifer, on the other hand, is a complete love.

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I could probably let all 6 chicks cuddle with him in the chair and he wouldn’t mind at all.  He’s actually a little afraid of them when they start cheeping loudly and fluttering around in their cage (they really get excited if a gnat or something flies into their cage!).

And so this is just another sign of spring around here- the peeping of fluffy little chicks on the counter 😉  When the weather warms a bit more we’ll put the cage out in the garage with the heat lamp and I’ll start taking them outside for brief “field trips” to get them used to the outdoors, the sun, the wind, the feel of grass under their feet, etc.  Sal’s going to build them a separate little coop in the main chicken enclosure so when they’re big enough to go out full time they can safely be with the big chickens.  When they’re the same size as the Reds I’ll allow the flocks to intermingle.  If I put them together when the chicks are too small they could get hurt- chickens can be pretty vicious.  And when the Reds stop producing we’ll give them away to someone who wants them for bug patrol like we did with the last batch.

This will be the fourth year that I’ve raised chickens, and each year I learn a bit more.  I’ve already learned that Leghorns spook easier than Rhode Island Reds.  Loud noises have the chicks peeping and fluttering all over the cage, and any time I change the water or feed them they all spaz out- LOL.  They are getting used to me though, and I hope spending  a good bit of time with them will help them calm down and realize I’m not going to hurt them.  They do seem to enjoy it when I hold them and pet their little heads- they close their eyes and get this blissful expression 🙂

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Just hanging out with my peeps 😉

So that’s life down on the farm 🙂  I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post now that it’s getting to be planting season, but I’ll try to keep you all up to date on the latest happenings.  On that note, the seedlings are all doing well.  I’ve got them under lights in the guest bathroom like I did last year (you can check out this post to see just what I did last year https://gettingcreativewithcreativecritters.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/starting-seeds-indoors-the-beginning-of-the-2015-gardening-season/).  I’ve been putting them out in the greenhouse during the day for extra sunlight and that seems to really be getting them off to a good start.  Then I bring them back in before it gets too cool in the evening.

Hopefully this season will be at least as productive as last!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

2015- A Very Good Year!

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Yes, I know, we’re already two weeks into 2016, so I’m a bit late in posting this 😉  But, as usual, I’ve been rather busy and just haven’t taken the time to sit down and blog.

2015 was a very good year indeed.  The garden did quite well, and for the first time (since I’ve been in Arizona anyway) I started the seeds indoors and allowed the seedlings to mature a bit before moving the trays out to the greenhouse.  This strategy worked very well and resulted in strong healthy plants that thrived once they were transplanted into the garden.

P1030693 There were some insect issues, as usual, but the regular applications of Neem seemed to keep the squash bugs and cucumber beetles somewhat under control.  We’re considering getting Guinea Hens this year and allowing them to free range in the garden.  I’ve heard they’re excellent at insect control and not as destructive to plants as chickens can be.  If anyone wants to share any info on Guinea Hens with me please leave a comment below- I’d certainly appreciate it!

In March we got 7 new chicks to replace our older chickens who were no longer producing many eggs.  We gave the older chickens away to a lady who wanted them for bug control in her yard, so no chickens ended up in the soup pot 😉  I’m not sure if I could actually slaughter our chickens- I do tend to get attached to them, so I’d much rather just find them a new home when we get new chicks.  And our chicks have been very happy and healthy little critters!

chicks 10 days old 3 And now these cute little things are full grown and giving us delicious fresh eggs every day 🙂

Then in April we found out that Sal’s daughter, Christina, was pregnant 🙂  Anna was born in September and both she and her mother seemed to appreciate the gifts I made for her.

The kitty was named Miss Kitty and Christina used the booties and hat and blanket the whole time she was here visiting in early December.  We spent a very enjoyable 5 days together and I had a chance to get to know Christina even better, as well as spending some quality time with Anna.  Such a beautiful girl!

Anna and Miss Kitty In June Sal and I spent 5 glorious days relaxing on the beach in Mexico.  His friend has a beach house in Rocky Point and let us use it for our vacation 🙂  We played in the ocean, had dinner on the beach, and chilled out by the fire at night.  Of course Ziggi was with us and he just completely wore himself out chasing sea birds up and down the beach and swimming in the ocean.

rocky point mexico june 2015 3 The trip to Mexico was one part of my 40th birthday gift.  The second part of my gift came in July.  We’d been discussing getting another dog for almost a year and Sal decided that the time was right this summer.  And so we adopted the sweetest, most wonderful German Shepherd/ Rottweiler mix ever ❤  Dewey Dude has been such a joy and has brought even more happiness into our household.  And I finally have my own dog, which is something I’ve desired for years.  This is what my little guy looked like when we brought him home at 2 months old.

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Dewey Dude

How cute is he?!  And this is what he looks like now at almost 8 months old.

dewey dude.jpg He’s grown into such a handsome dog!  Of course he’s still got a lot of growing left to do 😉  I love this guy so much!

One sad thing this year was that Calcifer got sick and I had to take him to the vet where they put him on antibiotics for an infection.  He hadn’t been eating well and had dropped to just 8 pounds.  I started feeding him kitten chow, which he loves now, and once the antibiotics cleared up the infection his appetite really came back.  Now he’s up to 11 pounds- more than he’s ever weighed!  He looks great and seems to feel as good as he looks.  He’s still eating Kitten Chow (it’s the only dry food he’ll eat) along with his canned food, and he has a good, healthy appetite now.  So what started out as a worrisome thing ended well.

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In October  we took Dewey Dude to Beaver Creek for the first time and had a blast watching him romp and play with Ziggi.  This was also the first time he was allowed off leash on a hike, and he did very well when it came to sticking fairly close to us and coming when called.

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Since then he’s been on several more hikes with us and I feel confident about allowing him off leash when we’re out in the wilderness.  Of course when we’re around other people or dogs I keep him on a leash.   Sometimes he can be a little too friendly, and not everyone appreciates that 😉

In November Ziggi was the one headed to the vet when he cut his leg.  We think he was running past some sheet metal Sal has in the yard and sliced his leg open.  He had to get about a dozen stitches then had to wear the cone of shame for about a week.  The cats couldn’t figure out why the dog was wearing a lamp shade on his head 😀

Ziggi and cats He’s as good as new now, although he does sport a very macho scar on his front leg.  And the incident did prompt Sal to go around the yard and try make all his scrap metal as safe as possible so this wouldn’t happen again.  The dogs just tear around here at breakneck speed, so we have to try to eliminate or safeguard as many obstacles as possible.

And then there was December, and December 23rd, which turned out to be a very important day in our lives (and not just because it was Calcifer’s 6th birthday ;))  That was the morning that Sal proposed to me!  I love this man with all my heart and have had every intention of spending the rest of my life with him, with or without being married, but I really did want to be his wife, rather than just his girlfriend.  And yes, I did cry when he slipped that diamond engagement ring on finger, tears of the utmost joy.  And the days that followed were filled with even more joy.  Later that day we headed out (with the dogs) to the Embassy Suites where we had a room booked for two nights and Sal had arranged a banquet for his birthday (which was on the 24th) that night.  And the birthday banquet ended up doubling as an engagement party 🙂  There was so much love and laughter in that room that night!  Sal’s family is wonderful and I am thrilled to finally become a true part of it.  Most of them have considered me part of the family already, but this makes it official 😉  On the 24th we got engagement pictures taken and then headed over to his brother’s house for the annual Christmas Eve dinner and party- always a fun time!

engagement pic.jpg Oh, and when I was planning my outfit for the Christmas Eve party (before I knew we’d be getting engagement pictures taken), I picked out Gramma’s necklace, bracelet, and earrings to wear with my dress.  Not only did they go nicely with the engagement ring, but it felt like Gramma was there with me, at least in spirit.  I wish she could have lived long enough to meet Sal- I know she would have liked him, and I know she would be so happy for me.

We headed back home Christmas day, taking our time and stopping a few times along the way to let the dogs out to run and play in the desert.  We had a very peaceful Christmas day, and enjoyed being back home.

Then to start off the New Year we put our Christmas gifts to use.  Without planning it his aunts gave us gift certificates for dinner at the historic Hassayampa Peacock Room and his daughters gave a gift certificate for an overnight stay at the hotel.  We had a wonderful  time and I think the best dinner I have EVER eaten!  Life is so good, and I am thankful beyond words for all the many blessings in my life!

Here’s to more of the same in 2016! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

 

 

The Garden in Review

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Well it’s been a long hot busy garden season, but the end is coming closer.  The nights are starting to cool off to the 60’s and the days are seeing fewer 100+ temps and more 80’s and lower 90’s (hey that’s actually considered cool in Arizona!).  All in all I’d have to say that the garden was pretty successful this year.  I started most of my seeds indoors under lights, then moved them out to the greenhouse as they got a bit bigger.  I did about three batches like this, starting the plants that took longest to mature first.  Some plants, like the zucchini and squash, I started in the greenhouse in the spring as temps warmed up a bit more.  I had a really good success rate and only lost a few seedlings- a big improvement over last year.

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I think it really helped give the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants a jump start by starting the seeds indoors a bit earlier than usual.  By the time I put them out in the greenhouse they were already strong and healthy and able to handle the temperature variations.  I also took extra care to harden off all the seedlings before planting them in the garden.

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For the first day or so I set them outside in a sheltered spot for just a few hours, gradually working up to all day in full sun.  By the time Sal tilled the garden they were ready for the conditions they’d be living in 😉

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Sal cut the bottoms off of plastic pots and I put these over the newly planted tomatoes and peppers to give them additional protection from the wind and keep them a bit warmer.  It also made it very easy to water directly at the roots of each plant and protected them from crawling bugs.  None of the seedlings suffered from transplant shock or wind damage this season, and I think these pots had a lot to do with that.

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The lettuce in the back garden did really well and didn’t even begin to bolt until mid-July, which is just amazing considering the kind of heat we’ve had.  Of course I’ll be saving seeds from this batch!  The rapini did well too, but once the intense heat hit it quickly went to seed.  Last week I planted another crop which should go through fall.  Rapini definitely seems to prefer cooler temps.  I’m also trying collard greens for the first time.  I love trying new things and seeing just what I can do with them 😉

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And by July this is what the big garden looked like!  Down the center I have the butternut squash, which should give us a nice harvest in another month or so.  In spite of squash bugs and cucumber beetles the plants managed to do pretty well.  I did spray them with Neem on a regular basis, along with hand picking as many bugs as I could, and I think that really helped.

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And here you can see the carrots at the end and the onions next to them.  I just harvested the last of the red onions and they’re drying in the garage.  I harvested the yellow onions a week earlier and they’re down in the root cellar now.

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And the Japanese eggplant have done extremely well.  I just made a big batch of eggplant croquettes which turned out really well.  I’ve started harvesting peppers in the last week and they’re coming on strong now.  I’ve been harvesting tomatoes for some time now and have already made two batches of sauce.  And of course I now have my little garden helper, Dewey Dude, to keep me company while I’m working out there 😉

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Some things are coming to the end, like the zucchini and yellow squash, while others, like the tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are just hitting their stride.  I’m already thinking about the fall garden though.  I’d like to plant some broccoli and Brussels sprouts along with some more kale in the next few weeks.  And by October it’ll be time to plant the garlic in the greenhouse again.

So you can see why I don’t have much time to blog about the garden- I’m too busy working in it!  I love being able to plant, grow, harvest, and cook with all these delicious veggies and herbs though.  It’s certainly worth the hard work and sweat that goes into gardening.  And speaking of cooking it’s about time I get some lunch on the table 😉

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

The Seedlings Have Sprouted

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As promised, I’m keeping you all up to date on the progress of the garden this year.  About two weeks ago I planted several varieties of seeds in starter pots and got them settled under the grow light in the spare bathroom.  You can check out this post to read more about it.  Within a week nearly all of the seeds had begun to sprout.  I was very happy with the high germination rate!  I think I owe my success so far to the fact that I used high quality seed starting mix, kept the mix evenly moist, and had the trays in a room that maintained a fairly steady temperature.  Most seeds sprout best between 65 and 75 degrees, which is why starting them indoors seems to work better than starting them outside, or even in the greenhouse.  Temps outside and in the greenhouse can vary widely throughout the day and depending on the weather.

Once all my tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers sprouted I did start taking them on “field trips” to get some extra sun out in the greenhouse during the day while it was warm.  Grow lights are nice, but they just don’t have the solar power of the sun itself!  I have the lights on a timer so they’re on during the late afternoon and through the night.  This allows the plants to actually get nearly 24 hours of sunlight between the greenhouse and the grow lights.  Plus the lights warm the bathroom up a little bit during the night when it would normally be a bit cooler.  I’m trying to do everything I can to make this gardening season the most successful yet.  Between Sal and I we have MANY years of gardening experience, and we’re constantly learning new things.

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This is a shot of the peppers ready to be taken out to the greenhouse.  I’ve got these handy trays to transport the plants in, then once in the greenhouse I’ve got plastic trays to set the different varieties in and I can then add a few inches of water to the trays and water the pots from the bottom.  I check on the plants occasionally during the day to make sure they haven’t dried out, which can happen pretty quick in the greenhouse.  Then about 4:00 or 5:00, when it starts to cool down a bit and the grow lights have kicked on I pack up all the little pots, careful to keep the different varieties together, and bring them back into the house.  I also have a small fan blowing on them lightly for a few hours a day.  The movement helps strengthen the stems so they’ll be able to withstand conditions outdoors better.  Once the plants get at least two sets of true leaves I hope to be able to keep them out in the greenhouse full time and start another batch of seeds (different plants) inside.  Of course that will also depend on the night time temps.  If the young plants  get too cold growth will slow or stop.  Temps have been really nice for the last few weeks though, with highs around 70 and lows around 40 (and it’s only the middle of February!).

All in all I’m very happy with the progress so far and am really looking forward to a productive season.  While this is all a lot of fun for me, it’s also the main source for all of our vegetables, so it’s pretty important that we get a good harvest.  We’re mainly vegetarians, eating meat just once or twice a week, so we need to grow lots of healthy and nutritious veggies!

Until next time, happy gardening!  And as always, please feel free to leave me a comment.  I’m always interested to hear ideas from others, or answer any gardening questions I can. 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

Starting Seeds Indoors (the beginning of the 2015 gardening season)

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It may only be the beginning of February, but here in Arizona it’s time to get some slow growing seeds started to give them a jump start on the season.  Back in Ohio I always started nearly all my seeds indoors because it took so long for them to sprout in the cold, heavy clay soil that I had to work with.  This is the first year I’m starting seeds indoors since I moved to Arizona, but I figure even with our warmer spring (and even winter!) temps some of the slow growers could do with some early season pampering.  So I’m starting the peppers, eggplants, and a few tomatoes in the guest bathroom.  Sal worked hard to get everything set up for me, including the plastic covered trays that fit over the top of the tub and the plant lights.

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So today I filled 69 2″ plastic pots with organic seed starting mix and sowed the first vegetable seeds of 2015.  It was a gorgeous day here and a real pleasure to be outdoors and getting in touch with nature.  It got a bit breezy, so I moved into the greenhouse to avoid having my tiny seeds blown all over the place.

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Once I had my trays filled with pots and my pots labeled and my seeds sown I watered everything well then brought the trays inside and placed them under the lights.

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Then I covered the pots with a sheet of plastic to help them retain moisture.  If the soil dries out none of the seeds will sprout.  I also have a spray bottle filled with water so I can mist the top of the soil as needed.  Once the seeds start to sprout I’ll remove the plastic.

I’m really excited to be starting a new gardening season- hopefully the best one yet!  I’ll keep posting on the progress on the plants, and what I’m up to in the garden (this will also help me remember what worked and what didn’t).  And if you have any gardening tips you’d like to share please leave me a comment- I’d love to hear from you!

Happy gardening!

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

The Garden Is In

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It took a few weeks, but I managed to get all the plants and seeds planted in the garden (gardens, actually).  I’ve been gardening for almost 20 years now, and each year brings new challenges and learning experiences.  Back in Ohio I had to deal with cold, wet spring weather and heavy clay soil.  Here in Arizona it’s the intense spring winds that have probably been my biggest issue.

We had a warmer than usual winter and spring seemed to come earlier than normal (although I’m still figuring out exactly what’s “normal” for Arizona), so I started the seeds in the greenhouse a few weeks sooner than Sal normally would have.  Unfortunately I didn’t have his help this year because he was so incredibly busy at work.  Things took a little longer to accomplish, but I still managed to get it all done.  Actually, having his help last year was a new experience for me since I’ve always done all the gardening on my own.

I’ve already decided to do some things differently next year based on some of the problems I had this year.  Sal has always used a combination of garden soil and compost to start seeds in, which is what I did as well this year.  However, it seems that the cucumbers had Fusarium Wilt ( a disease that remains in the soil) and all of my cucumber seedlings died.  Next year I plan on using sterile seed starting mix for all of the seeds, as well as plating resistant varieties of cukes.  I did rotate the crops this year and planted more cucumber seeds directly into the garden.  Hopefully these will fare better than the first batch.  Last year we lost quite a few plants due to wind and sun burn and the fact that we forgot to properly harden the plants off before setting them in the ground.  This year I made sure to harden off the plants (exposing them to the sun and wind slowly increasing their time outdoors) for at least a week before planting.  So far most of the transplants seem to be doing fairly well.

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In the first picture you can see where I planted the carrots and onions, and further back the eggplant and peppers.  I think I’ll start the carrots and onions a little earlier next year since they can handle cooler temperatures and still sprout reliably.  To maximize the use of space I planted lettuce seeds between the rows of onions.  I think this will work out pretty well, although I’ve never done it before.  The carrots and lettuce seeds are already starting to sprout, no more than a week after planting, so that’s a good sign.  Another change I need to make is to thin the carrots more aggressively.  Last year there were too many, too close together and the result was a reduced harvest and smaller carrots overall.  I make mistakes, but I do try and learn from them.  Last year WAS the first year I’ve grown carrots, so I’m still learning how to get it right.

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I started new eggplant and pepper seeds in the garden (most of the ones I started in the greenhouse didn’t do well- more issues with the soil, I think) and covered them with Wall O’ Waters to help keep them warm and moist and protect them from the wind.  These seeds are always slow to sprout, so I’m just trying to be patient.  I’ve got some surviving pepper plants in the greenhouse too.  I want to wait until they get a bit bigger before transplanting them into the garden.

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I also have some cantaloupe and muskmelon seeds and plants in the garden, all covered with glass or plastic cloches to help keep them warm and protect them from the wind.  I love cantaloupe, and although I’ve never had it, I’ve heard muskmelon is just as good, if not better.  I’m really hoping these will do well and produce lots of fruit.

Down the center of the garden I have the butternut squash which I’ll train up onto the trellis as they grow.  we did it like that last year and it was so much easier than having the plants trail on the ground.  Whenever possible I like to grow vines and trailing plants up on trellises.  It takes up less space and the fruits and vegetables seem to be less likely to get damaged.

I also have beets, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, more lettuce, and yellow and green bush beans planted.  As the zucchini and yellow squash get bigger I’ll put tomato cages over them for them climb up and keep the veggies off the ground.  That worked pretty well last year and is so much easier then trying to tie the plants to stakes.  The tomatoes are also grown on a trellis and I weave the stems through the openings as the plant is growing so I really don’t need to tie them at all.  I created a wind barrier using a floating row cover over the trellis to help shield the young plants from the intense winds (and to keep the straw mulch from blowing away).

And that’s just the big garden!  We also have two smaller herb gardens with parsley, cilantro, chives, scallions, basil, and fennel, as well a a salad garden with more lettuce, broccoli raab, Swiss chard, jalapeno and Hungarian wax peppers.  And throughout all the gardens I’ve planted flowers like marigolds and nasturtium, not only because they’re pretty, but because they help repel insects.

At this time of year I’m pretty focused on the garden, spending most of my time outside tending the flowers, fruits, and vegetables.  These make up a large part of our diet, so it’s important that the gardens do well and produce what we need not only for the spring, summer, and fall, but right through winter.  I blanch and freeze whatever we don’t eat fresh and we’ve got a root cellar to store the root crops.  And of course everything is raised organically- no chemicals here!  The chickens are kind enough to supply us with plenty of fertilizer, as are the neighbor’s horses.  Weed control is 100% manual, and pest control is done by hand picking the insects or using one of the many organic recipes I have (often using garlic, hot peppers, or onions along with Neem oil to create a bug killing or repelling spray).

So if you don’t see me online too much over the next few months you know I’m out in the garden, tending the plants. 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters

 

Spring Has Sprung in Arizona!

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This is my second spring living in Arizona and I have to say, it’s MUCH better than this time of year back in Ohio (where I lived all of my life until about a year and a half ago).  The winter in this neck of the woods (Dewey, Arizona) was really quite mild, with only a few nights dipping below freezing.  Apparently this isn’t actually normal, but I’m not complaining.  I do remember it being much colder here last winter (the pipes even froze at one point), and it took longer to warm up in the spring.  I know this is a subject of much debate, but based on personal experience, I have no doubt that the climate is changing.  My boyfriend has lived in AZ for at least 30 years, and in this particular house for about 16 years, so he certainly knows what’s “normal” and what’s not.  He says the summers have been getting hotter, the monsoon rains MUCH more intense, the winds are lasting longer and are stronger than ever before, and the winters are getting milder.  Me, I just go with the flow and try to work with whatever Mother Nature decides to throw my way.

When we got back from our vacation in Mexico at the end of February I checked the salad garden in the back and was delighted to see that tiny little lettuce seeds left over from the Fall had started sprouting.  So I planted more lettuce (Oak Leaf, Red Oak Leaf, Romain, and Buttercrunch) and within less than a week the seeds had sprouted.  Back in Ohio I never would have considered planting lettuce outdoors in February!  But look how nicely my little seeds are coming up 🙂

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This is a picture of our salad and herb garden.  Sal built this to keep out all the different critters (rabbits, pack rats, deer, javelina, birds, and more) that would otherwise decimate everything we planted.  Not only do we plant our salad greens in here, but we also plant Swiss Chard, cantaloupe, beets, chives, dill, oregano, jalapenos, green onions, and Hungarian Wax peppers.  And I discovered that you can cut the Swiss Chard back when it starts going to seed and it will regrow without having to plant new seed.  The same goes for green onions.  If you cut them about an inch from the ground they continue to grow, so you can have a continual harvest of green onions from just a few plants, rather than pulling up the whole thing.  It’s funny- I’ve been gardening for about 20 years now and I’m STILL learning new things.

Normally we wouldn’t have started the seeds for the vegetable garden until mid-to late March (at the earliest), but since the weather has been so much warmer than usual I decided to start the seeds in the greenhouse at the beginning of March.  The greenhouse has been very productive all winter as well.  We’ve got LOTS of garlic growing, along with Swiss Chard, more green onions, a patch of oregano, lettuce, beets, arugula, broccoli raab, and even peas.  The only issue we’ve had is a serious attack of aphids, which did wipe out our second planting of lettuce and broccoli raab.  Since the winter has been so warm the little buggers weren’t killed off by the cold and they multiplied like crazy.  I tried the soap and water spray, the Neem oil spray, diatomaceous earth- nothing could bring those suckers under control!  I finally just had to pull up the lettuce and broccoli raab and feed it (and all the aphids living in it) to the chickens.  The chickens were happy and I got rid of the bulk of the insects, so in the end I guess it worked out.  My little lizard, who’s been living in the greenhouse since he wandered in there last Fall, did his best to help control the bugs, but this little guy can only eat so much!

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One thing I absolutely love about gardening here is that we have crops going all year long.  Once the heat of summer hits about the only thing that can handle the high temps in the greenhouse is the garlic, but during the cooler months we’ve got plenty growing in there.  And by the time it’s too hot to grow in the greenhouse, the outside gardens are hitting their stride.  At this time of year the greenhouse is the perfect environment for starting seeds.  I created a nice mix of sandy soil and rich compost to start the seeds in, something Sal has been doing for years.  I used to buy commercial potting soil or seed starting mix, but when you plant as many seeds as we do now that can get pretty expensive.  Sal’s method seems to work pretty well, and this year I added my own adaptations, so hopefully things will work out even better.  Between the two of us we’ve been gardening most of our lives, and when we combine our knowledge and experience we can do some pretty awesome things with plants 😉  This year I added more sand to the mixture since the pots seemed to get a little waterlogged last year.  I also figured out a way to water them from the bottom so the tiny seeds wouldn’t be disturbed by overhead watering.

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I used the plastic drawers from a few dressers I wasn’t using at the moment and fit the various sized pots in there, leaving space to pour water into the drawers.  This is just perfect because it helps retain moisture and makes watering much quicker and easier.  Another change I made was planting certain seeds in “transplantable pots”.  Seeds like melons, peas, cucumbers, and squash don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so by planting them in pots that can go directly in the ground I’m giving them a much better chance of survival with less transplant shock.  I planted the peas in toilet paper tubes, and as soon as they’ve got a few leaves I’ll harden them off and plant them in the garden (TP tube and all).  For the plants that get larger and need to stay in their pots for longer, like cucumbers, melons, and squash, I used the bottom half of my soy milk containers.  With these I’ll simply slice the cardboard to avoid disturbing the roots when it’s time for the plants to go out in the garden.  Once I had everything set up, planted, and watered I covered the drawers with plastic to help retain moisture and heat.  Most seeds need heat and moisture to sprout.

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Additionally, I use a mist sprayer to keep the surface of the soil moist.  Once a day I spray them with this Soil Energizer Tonic (from one of Jerry Baker’s recipes).  Just mix 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap with 1 tsp. ammonia and 1 tsp. whiskey in 1 quart of weak tea.  This is supposed to get the seeds growing quickly and keep the soil free from disease.  This is the first time I’ve tried this particular recipe, so I’ll have to see how it works.  I’ve used plenty of other recipes from Jerry Baker before (he’s got lots of gardening books) and they usually work pretty well.  Once the seedlings start to emerge I’ll pull back the plastic so they can get some air flow, otherwise the seedlings can actually suffocate.

There were several different things that I didn’t bother starting in pots, like the beans, beets, green onions, chives, and most flowers.  These seem to do better if they’re planted directly in the ground, and with the warm temps and wonderful soil here they sprout pretty quickly.  Last year we started the beans in pots, then transplanted them into the garden and we ended up losing most of the plants to stress.  I replanted seeds directly in the garden and those plants fared much better.  I always try to learn from experience and improve on what I did last year.  Actually, last year’s harvest was amazing, in spite of a very windy start (we should have hardened the plants off better before putting them out), not to mention really intense monsoon storms.  This year I think we’ll do even better.  I’m learning how to garden in Arizona, which is actually quite different from gardening in Ohio.  Heck, we’re still eating veggies we blanched and froze last summer.  And considering that we’re almost vegetarian (we only eat a little meat once or twice a week), we use a lot of vegetables, all from the garden.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am blessed.  Blessed, to be able to garden the way I’ve always wanted to (I never had the space, the soil, or the awesome greenhouse I always wanted before).  Blessed to have a partner in life and in gardening, someone who shares my love of gardening and thinks along the same lines I do.  Blessed to live in this little bit of paradise I now call home.  I used to dream of having a great big garden, big enough to plant everything I wanted to grow, and a greenhouse so I could grow veggies and herbs in the winter and start my seeds in the spring.  I used to dream of having chickens so I could have fresh eggs, and a big ole farm dog to keep me company while I worked in the yard.  I never knew where or how this might happen, but I just let things unfold as they were meant to be, and here I am, living the life I always wanted.

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Stay tuned for future posts on the progress of the garden, tips and tonics for healthy plants, recipes for all those great veggies and herbs, and much more related to organic gardening.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing my joy in this amazing life I’m living! 🙂

~Michelle of CreativeCritters