Tag Archives: gardening

Fall Routines

Spring and summer put rural living in high gear for me. The happenings depend on my fall routines.

There are the goat kids being born, growing up and being sold. Chicks are ordered, arrive, grow up and are sold or moved into the hen house.

goat breeding season comes in the fall
My Nubian buck High Reaches Augustus spends most of the year talking to the does and being ignored. In the fall the does decide he is a handsome beau. The Nubian doe is High Reaches Spring.

Seeds are ordered, seedlings started, garden planted. Wildlife depredations and harvesting take up the summer.

Suddenly it’s over. Fall routines take over.

planting garlic is one of fall routines
In the Ozarks one of the fall routines is planting the garlic bed. I usually plant it around the first of October through six inches of mulch. It’s up and doing well by November. The plants mature in the spring.

Spring kids don’t just happen. Goats have a five month gestation. The does are bred in the fall, preferably in October for March kids. (More goat facts and trivia are in “Goat Games“.)

Killing frost hasn’t been by yet this fall. Still, the deer eliminated so much of the garden, I’m closing it down.

greens are a fall into winter crop in a raised garden bed
The wire cages are deer deterrent. The plastic is pulled up over the plants in the raised garden bed on frosty nights after removing the wire cages. I’m still dreaming of a particular deer becoming venison. The greens will do fine all winter. It is one of the only ways to enjoy spinach in the Ozarks as it usually bolts quickly in the spring.

All of the vines and plants from summer crops must be pulled up and carted off to the compost heap. The various cages are cleaned off, stacked and stored in the chick house for the winter, after the house is cleaned out thoroughly.

I’ve been reading “The Worst Hard Times” about the Dust Bowl survivors. People want to blame the drought for the disaster. In truth, people were the cause because the stripped the land of its grass leaving it open to the drought and high winds.

My garden isn’t on that scale, but the lessons about not leaving the ground uncovered matter here too. I cover the beds with cardboard and mulch.

cleaning out summer crops is one of the fall routines
The long beans, summer squash and okra are done for the year. The plants are pulled. This gives me a chance to repair the beds, dump on compost, cover with cardboard and mulch. The cardboard is optional, but offers better weed control than plain mulch.

This serves three purposes. One is covering the dirt to prevent erosion. A second is to kill out the weeds, mostly dead nettle and chickweed, growing in the beds. The third gets back to another of the fall routines: keeping the old bedding cleaned out of the goat barn.

Goats are messy eaters. As I am now feeding grass hay, more than usual is landing on the barn floor. Every week I cart out loads of this damp manure-filled hay and move it onto the garden. It means a lot less work cleaning out the barn in the spring and good fertilizer on the garden.

Boring as these fall routines are, they are the foundation for a good spring and summer season next year.

Garlic Chives Hum

People wonder why I have such a large patch of garlic chives. It’s about six by ten feet. The answer comes when the garlic chives hum.

Unlike regular chives with found leaves and oniony taste, garlic chives have flat leaves and a peppery taste. They are great in scrambled eggs, stir fries, cheese sauce, salads and more.

wasps make garlic chives hum
Several kinds of wasps visit the garlic chives. These have two white bands. Another has a red abdomen. Another has a red band. They climb over one umbel and move to the next one.

Still, I do have a much larger patch than I really need. Even with the goats helping, I have more than I can use.

So why not shrink the patch?

In mid August my garlic chives hum. I can hear them as soon as I enter the garden.

moths on garlic chives
Moths usually come out at night. These thought the garlic chives too good to miss. The usual butterfly crowd includes buckeyes, 8 spot grape, dusky skipper, skippers, occasional monarchs, fritillaries and swallowtails.

All right, plants can’t really hum. The patch can.

The patch is a field of white flowers. Bees, wasps, beetles, bumblebees, butterflies, moths add the hum. The flowers seem to shimmer with movement as the insects move from umbel to umbel.

The types of insects stays much the same from year to year. The numbers of each type changes. Their single minded activity remains the same as I can walk beside the patch touching flowers and not disturb them at all.

honeybees make the garlic chives hum
Almost 30 years ago a beekeeper abandoned two hives. The bees moved out into the wild. They still live somewhere in the area. The garlic chives were a magnet for them this year.

Although the garlic chive flowers are the focus of the activity, the insects do spread out across the garden. The tomatoes, okra, peppers and squash appreciate being pollinated too.

My garlic chives hum with frantic activity for about two weeks. Then the flowers are slowly replaced with seed heads.

My patch is large enough. These plants spread aggressively both by seeds and by shoots.

bumblebees make garlic chives hum
At least three different kinds of bumblebees live in the area. All come to gather nectar at the garlic chives.

When the seed heads make up most of the umbels, it is time to slow down the inexorable spread. The pruners cut down the seed heads as far into the patch as I can reach. These are tossed into the middle where new plants can muscle in.

New leaves grow up for use in the kitchen until killing frost puts the plants to bed for the winter. But next year I will hear my garlic chives hum once again.

Chickens Love Tomato Hornworms

When chickens are mentioned, people think about eggs. There’s much more to chickens. Chickens love tomato hornworms and other delicacies people would rather weren’t around.

Tomato hornworms are the caterpillars of a large sphinx moth. These show up around dark to visit night blooming flowers like Datura and mullein. They lay their eggs on tomato leaves.

tomato hornworm
This is actually a tobacco hornworm as it has that little red tail. They avidly consume tomato and pepper plants. They work quietly under cover of foliage until the foliage is gone and they have no place to hide. That doesn’t matter much at the end of September with killing frost a week away. It does in August when big crops of tomatoes are beginning to ripen. The hornworms eat tomatoes too.

By the time I usually notice tomato hornworms, they are four to six inch monsters. Only experienced chickens love tomato hornworms this large.

Younger chickens need tempting with the two inch and under worms. Once they get a taste for these treats, they will tackle bigger ones.

Size does matter to chickens. Mine love mice. Any mouse that dares to appear in the hen house or yard becomes dinner.

Speckled Sussex chickens love tomato hornworms
Speckled Sussex hens are a bit small and lay a medium tan egg, but there is nothing small about their hustle. Tomato hornworms are grabbed and beaten on the ground until tenderized before being consumed. Another favorite is large horseflies.

The other day one of my standard cochins caught a mole. The flock knew it was good to eat. It was too big for them to tear apart.

Another delicacy for chickens is a Japanese beetle. They will leap up to snag the beetles off leaves of the wild grape vine on their fence. Wild grapes are a catch crop for the beetles. The chickens are the disposal end.

At times it’s tempting to let the chickens find the hornworms themselves. That notion stops as soon as a spoiled tomato is dropped into the chicken yard.

Chickens love tomato hornworms, true. They love tomatoes even more.

These birds also love earthworms, grubs and other soil denizens. In the garden mulch and dirt fly as they scratch their way along looking for edibles.

My garden fence doesn’t deter woodchucks, raccoons or opossums. It does keep the chickens out. That leaves me searching for the tomato hornworms.

Since I am the one who delivers hornworms, grubs and spoiled tomatoes, the chickens keep an eye on me. Yes, chickens love tomato hornworms, but they love food offerings of many kinds. They cluster in my vicinity waiting.

Chickens are great first homesteading livestock as Hazel finds out in “Mistaken Promises“.

Garden Resident Northern Fence Lizard

My garden is an insect magnet. Last year a resident Northern Fence Lizard moved in to help reduce these insect populations.

This lizard hung out around the raised bed often basking on the rock walls in the late afternoon. She got used to me going back and forth and found me interesting to watch.

I do know my resident Northern Fence Lizard is a female as she was visited by a male wearing his bright blue sides and bobbing his head toward her. She grew fat with eggs after that.

resident northern fence lizard
My garden resident Northern Fence Lizard is sitting on a corner stone of the raised bed watching me carry water buckets from the rain barrels to thirsty plants. Her new tail is short with small, packed brown scales. A male must have visited as her belly is starting to swell with eggs.

As the weather warmed up this year, my resident Northern Fence Lizard appeared on the raised bed walls. She still remembers me and watches me as I go back and forth.

Last year something happened to this lizard’s tail. One day she had a tail. The next day she didn’t. Luckily for us both, she was fine and continued to consume both good and bad insects.

This is one way to recognize this particular lizard. The missing tail has regrown, sort of. The replacement is short and curved.

I don’t know if she eats my number one enemy: squash bugs. She does visit the summer squash bed nearby. I seems doubtful as bugs wiped out three of four plants in two nights.

Northern Fence Lizard head
There are plenty of lizard sized gaps between the stones of the raised bed. When the sun gets too hot for basking on top, my resident lizard slips between the stones. She keeps a head out to check on passing meals or threats.

Other undesired insects are the cucumber beetles and biting flies, deer, horse and stable. These may be more likely. The frogs work on the mosquitoes.

According to “The Amphibians and Toads of Missouri” by Tom R. Johnson of the Missouri Department of Missouri this may be the last year I see my resident Northern Fence Lizard. These lizards only live about three years. She is growing fat with eggs again and could lay two clutches this year.

Perhaps next year I will have one of her baby lizards as my new resident Northern fence Lizard.

Grow some pumpkins in your garden. Check out “The Pumpkin Project“.

Gardening Season Here Again

Seven inches of snow just melted. Temperatures were below zero. Still, gardening season is here again.

In some ways the season never ends. Seed catalogs and orders occupy January. I grow mostly the same vegetables, same varieties every year. However, there are so many other things in the catalogs, something new is added possibly for only that year or maybe a permanent addition.

plastic over raised bed lengthens gardening season
Winter and spring are windy times. This year I’m trying a tie down system to keep the plastic over the raised garden bed from being blown apart. Baling twine is looped on one hook inserted between the rocks, tossed over the plastic and secured to a hook on the other side. Twine going over the front and back are secured to the two heavy pipes. The plastic is staying in place. It is difficult to get inside to plant and to water. It does work better than laying pieces of cattle panel onto the plastic.

February begins gardening season for me. My raised bed is again operational. It’s full of dirt waiting to grow vegetables.

Isn’t February too cold?

The plastic draped over the raised bed turns it into an unheated greenhouse. The air inside on a sunny day reaches summer temperatures. The rocks hold the heat for some of the night.

Spinach is supposed to go in about Valentine’s Day here in the Ozarks. I’m not too enthusiastic about working outside in snow and cold. I waited.

raised bed lengthens gardening season
The metal liner is working well for keeping the soil inside the raised garden bed. The plastic was pulled away for several rains to soak the dirt. Now the spinach seeds are in and the problem will be keeping the dirt moist as the raised bed does dry out quickly.

Now the ground is clear. The sky has been clear for a few days. My spinach seeds are planted.

This year I’m trying a new variety, Noble, is addition to the Bloomsdale Longstanding. The bed is eight feet long and I put in a double four foot row of each.

Spinach likes cool to cold temperatures. If it isn’t started early here in the Ozarks, it bolts as soon as it comes up. And the seeds will germinate in forty degrees.

My next challenge will be keeping the rows watered. The plastic does a great job protecting the raised bed, but it is difficult to open up. I keep the plastic tied down because of the wind.

What’s next?

Snow peas and sugar snap peas go in next week. Greens go in the next week. Potatoes go in in mid March. Tomato and pepper seeds get started in the house the end of March. Gardening season is heating up.

As usual, I’m not ready. The pea trellises aren’t up yet. The tomato cages aren’t up. The weeds are up. I’ll just pretend I am ready and go from there.

Science investigations and lots of pumpkin fun is in “The Pumpkin Project“.

Carolina Praying Mantis Hunting

Usually we find Chinese praying mantises. Their eight inch length is impressive. The Carolina praying mantis is a mere four inches long.

The Chinese mantis is green with brown wings. The Carolina is either all mottled brown or green, not mixed.

A Carolina praying mantis has moved onto a potted plant. She spends the day poised below the flower umbels or munching on unlucky insects she captures.

Carolina praying mantis eating insect
The mantis captured this insect when it came to the flowers. It might be a bee fly or a kind of bee. It’s hard to tell. The mantis starts eating while the insect is still attempting to escape.

Gardeners like mantises as they eat lots of pest bugs. Garden supply houses found they could ship Chinese mantis egg cases easily. These large mantises quickly adopted their new surroundings and spread from gardens to yards to wild areas.

Native Carolina mantises slipped into the background. Their smaller size meant they ate less. Their egg cases were harder to ship as they are wrapped around twigs.

Mantis cleaning arms
After eating, the Carolina praying mantis carefully cleans up her forearms so they are ready to catch the next meal.

Our resident mantis is one of the mottled brown ones. I went out to take her picture. She turned her head to look at the camera.

Mantises have no poison. They do have front legs lined with sharp spines. Once an insect is trapped between them, there is no escape.

This mantis caught what seemed to be a wild bee. It was struggling as she started munching. She eats it all, cleans her front legs and moves back into position.

Carolina praying mantis looking at camera
Praying mantises have good eyesight for motion. This one was focused on the flower umbel above it until the camera showed up. She immediately looked over in case she was in danger.

Although the mantis stays on the plant, she isn’t above going sightseeing. The telephone repair man arrived and found she had hitched a ride on his arm. He was understanding, didn’t stomp on her and we chased her back to the potted plant.

Later a board was carried by and she hitched a ride into the garage. She was coaxed onto a small board and returned to the potted plant.

Her abdomen is swelling with eggs. She will lay them soon. She will die with the summer.

Next spring the eggs will hatch. Perhaps another Carolina praying mantis will hang out on the potted plants.

Garden Zipper Spiders

Some kinds of spiders survive all year. Others like garden zipper spiders begin as tiny spiderlings in the spring, grow all season and die at frost leaving behind, if they are lucky, a case full of eggs to hatch the next spring.

Each egg case releases a cloud of minute spiderlings too small to capture insects. Hay fever sufferers are miserable in early spring when the trees bloom releasing clouds of pollen, but tiny spiders depend on this pollen to survive. Pollen is rich in protein and other nutrients and easy to catch in tiny webs.

As the surviving spiderlings grow, they begin to capture insects for food. The bigger the spider, the bigger the insects their web can catch. By late summer garden zipper spiders are an inch long and easy to spot dressed in deep black, vivid yellow and white.

A new web is spun each morning. A spider tends to stay in the same area unless no food seems available there. Watching a spider spin a web is interesting.

The big spiders are all females and nearly blind seeing little more than light and dark. The web is spun by feel.

garden zipper spiders are web builders
The cephalothorax or head and body region of a garden zipper spider has a woolly look to it. The abdomen is deep black and yellow. The signature zipper is below the spider.

First the spokes are put up. Then the spider starts from the outside and puts the sticky spiral silk down attaching it to each spoke. Garden zipper spiders finish by putting a thick zigzag both up and down from the center.

The spider takes up position behind the zipper and waits. When an insect lands in the web, she races out to subdue and eat it.

Male garden zipper spiders are much smaller than females and don’t spin webs. They hunt for web of females and begin the hazardous task of wooing and mating. They tap out a message on the strands to announce their presence.

garden zipper spider
This garden zipper spider is getting ready to lay eggs. The abdomen gets bigger until it dwarfs the rest of the spider. From the underside a zipper spider is black and yellow.

If the female is interested, the male can advance and mate. Otherwise or even after mating, he can become dinner.

The female’s abdomen gets very large. One day she spins a tear drop shaped egg case and fills it with eggs. Securing it in a hidden sheltered spot those eggs will wait for spring to hatch into next season’s garden zipper spiders.

Meet more spiders in both “Exploring the Ozark Hills” and “My Ozark Home.”

Garlic Chives Pollinators

One section of my garden is turning white and humming with visitors. The garlic chives pollinators are holding their annual convention.

buckeye butterfly on garlic chives
Garlic chive flowers are popular with the butterflies. The monarchs found them one year. Several buckeye butterflies were busy this year. They tend to fan their wings while sipping nectar.

Years ago my father gave me a ten inch pot of garlic chives. He had several rows of it in his garden. He would cut off a row and feed it to his goats every week.

wasps are garlic chives pollinators
This is a stout wasp. When it buzzes in, the other insects move to other umbels. The reddish color is from red hairs.

I knew what chives were, or so I thought. They were this kitchen herb used to flavor eggs and other such dishes. Except those are onion chives.

honeybees are garlic chives pollinators
There were honeybee hives behind the house when we first moved here. The beekeeper was old. The hives were abandoned and the bees moved out. Now they nest in the wild, but still enjoy the bounty of the garden such as the garlic chives.

Garlic chives can be used as a kitchen herb much as the other is. The leaves of the garlic chives are flat and have a more peppery taste.

dusky wing skipper
Skippers are fun to watch. Their wings tend to separate as they sit on a flower. They are smaller tan many butterflies. The dusky wing group has several kinds.

Potted plants and I don’t do well together. I tend to forget to water or overwater, both of which lead to dead plants. The garlic chives moved into the garden in a nice two foot square area.

striped wasps are garlic chives pollinators
This jet black wasp has two white stripes on the abdomen. It may be a fierce insect other times, but ignores me going by as it gorges on one flower after another.

In August the plants put up their flowering stalks and the garlic chives pollinators moved in. The flowers made seeds. The garlic chives spread and now cover an eight foot by ten foot area.

small red and black wasp
I’m calling this a wasp, but it may be a bee. It is the size of the native bees and holds its wings like they do. It still was enjoying visiting the garlic chive flowers.

The flowers are in umbels or bouquets. The visitors include bees both native and honeybees, bumblebees of at least two kinds, four or more kinds of wasps, flies, beetles, several kinds of butterflies and an occasional hummingbird.

silver spotted skipper
One of the largest skippers, the silver spotted is common here. I see them here and there. The garlic chive flowers are the cue for a convention. The name comes from the white spots on the lower wings.

My garden never seems to lack pollinators. They enjoy the squash, peppers, tomatoes, okra and flowers. I enjoy the harvest.

But the bounty found by the garlic chives pollinators attracts many more kinds and numbers. They are so busy with the flowers I can walk along the paths around the patch to look at and photograph them.

bumbleebees are garlic chives pollinators
Several kinds of bumbleebees live in the area. This is the smallest one and the dullest in color. These do well on the garlic chive flowers. The larger ones tend to bend the umbels toward the ground.

Much as I like seeing the flowers and insects, my patch is large enough. After the flowers are done blooming, before the seeds are set, I will cut off the flower stalks for an arm’s length into the patch from all sides tossing the stalks into the patch. The new plants will fill in between the old ones and not spread further out.

Meet more Ozark insects in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Summer Squash Season

Hot summer weather is good summer squash weather. There are lots of varieties to choose from with lots of different tastes.

In the past I’ve grown patty pan with its cool melon honeydew taste. Zucchini and its similar varieties are a favorite. Yellow crookneck has that difficult shape. The yellow straightneck is nice.

Zephyr summer squash plants
My winter squash plants are racing along with vines trying to cover the garden. The zephyr summer squash has foot long vines and huge leaves.

This year I’m growing Zephyr. Its shape is similar to a zucchini. It’s color is yellow at the narrow end and green over the seeds. White spots scattered over all aren’t very noticeable, but pale the other colors. It has a mild flavor.

Summer squash is easy to grow from seed. I dig down and turn out a shovel full of dirt. The hole is filled with compost. The dirt is replaced to form a mound. Seeds are stuck in the mound and watered in.

zephyr summer squash fruit
Since their vines are so short, summer squash plants send up lots of closely spaced flowers. The tall ones are males. The short ones with tiny squash below them are female flowers. Zephyr squash is partially yellow and partially green.

Seeds germinate in about a week with large oval cotyledons. Small leaves follow. The plants remain small for about two weeks.

The plants are busy putting down roots. Unlike winter squash, summer squash plants do not vine. The roots arrive at the compost. Overnight the leaves reach a foot across and the plants double in size.

adult squash bug
An adult squash bug has long antennae on a small, long head. The thorax is triangular. Wings begin behind the thorax and cross over each other making a triangular shape marking the bugs as members of the true bug family. All members of the family have a stabbing mouth part. As squash bugs feed on sap, insecticides don’t kill them as they don’t eat them. The squash bugs are similar to wheel assassin bugs which prey on other insects.

My summer squash plants are waist high and as big in circumference. They are blooming madly. Squash is forming and overflowing in the refrigerator.

That bane of any cucurbit grower has noticed my squash. Squash bugs do prey on other plants out in the pasture. They prefer the taste of squash.

summer squash bug eggs
Squash bugs lay lots of eggs. They are often in a triangular formation between two veins. These are more scattered. Other times they are in a long line up a stem or petiole. In hot weather they can hatch in a few days.

These pests are in the true bug family which means they have wings that cross on their backs making a little triangle at the top. They feed by stabbing their mouth into a stem or leaf and drinking the sap.

Squash bugs begin as eggs. These are often laid as a group between two veins near and under the leaf. They can be strung out along a stem. They can be a cluster on top of a leaf.

I remove and squash as many as I can find.

The eggs hatch into little gray nymphs. They stay as a group sucking the leaf dry. The nymphs molt and grow larger.

squash bug nymphs
Squash bug nymphs start as tiny dark grey things like in the upper right. They molt and become the small gray nymph. These molt and get bigger. The next molt gives them an adult shape. All of them drink sap and drink leaves and stem dry. They will feed on juices in a developing squash stunting or destroying it.

Finally the nymphs become winged adults. These and other adults hide during the day in mulch, nearby grass, under leaves and stems. Whenever I find them, I squash them. They stink when squashed.

Eventually the bugs overwhelm the summer squash plants and kill them. Until then I will battle their infestation and enjoy the squash.

Stone Walls For Raised Garden Bed

With the first raised garden bed, I found I liked having the stone walls. I like the looks of the walls. And stones have advantages.

Stones heat up quickly in the sunny south facing wall. They stay hot after sunset. This keeps the dirt in the bed warmer for the plants.

Stones do get cold when the temperatures drop and clouds hide the sun. Using the liner inside the walls should help insulate the dirt as there is air between the two. Air is insulating.

stone walls of raised garden bed
I’ll admit a few of the stones are purely decorative. They are ones I saw along the creek and found interesting or pretty or both. However, the main walls are solid enough to sit on or lean on. Presently the gap between the walls and the liner is large enough to harbor a chipmunk. This is probably a mistake. However, it is cute. It probably won’t last long as a copperhead came through the other day. That was a surprise. It wasn’t impressed with the flood coming from the hose and moved out quickly.

Building the new stone walls was different. The first time I put in a rock layer, filled in with dirt, then repeated the process. This time the walls were free standing around the lining of roofing tin.

The walls had to be solid. I sit on them. I lean over them. I work around them. The stones are heavy and I don’t want them to collapse under or on me.

Assembling the rock jigsaw puzzle was challenging. I assembled, took down, repositioned, took down, tried another rock and rebuilt several times. The final test was leaning on the stone walls to pull the numerous morning glory seedlings coming up inside.

Now that the stone walls are up, the raised garden bed needs dirt. The bed is roughly three feet wide, ten feet long and two feet high. It will take sixty square feet of dirt to fill it.

That is a lot of dirt.

dirt needed inside stone walls
The roofing tin liner will hold the dirt inside the raised garden bed. The front corners needed corner pieces as the gaps between the front and sides was too big. As the dirt fills the bed, the tin is pushed out closer to the walls.

I had some dirt in feed sacks from disassembling the old raised bed. I dumped it in. The raised bed now has one inch of dirt in it.

There is a small pile of dirt I can move. There is a big pile of composted goat manure to move. I plan to fill and move four buckets of dirt every day, more if possible.

Why so little each day? Heat and humidity make working outside in the sun impossible for me by noon. Shade doesn’t return to this area of the garden until late in the afternoon.

As the dirt level rises, the liner will press outwards against the stone walls. This will further stabilize them. And I have about six weeks before planting time to get that dirt moved.

Assembling Rock Jigsaw Puzzles

Many years ago I tried building a raised garden bed out of foundation stones from an old home site. I grew wonderful spinach in it all winter, but had major problems. The only solution was to take it down and rebuild leaving me again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

There were two major problems with the old raised garden bed. One was the wall construction. Since the rock walls were stacks of rough stone with gaps between them, every rain washed dirt out.

raised garden bed site
Once the old raised bed was removed and the dirt raked level, the site was ready to begin rebuilding. The old bed was up against the garden fence. The new one is a foot away. The bed shape and size will be dictated by the piece of welded 1″ x 2″ wire used as a mole deterrent under the dirt.

As the dirt washed out, the rock walls leaned in. Some parts collapsed.

The location was great for winter spinach growing. I needed plastic over the bed in really cold weather. The wire method from Straw Bale Gardening worked well for putting the plastic up.

Unfortunately wind got under the plastic and blew it around. The plastic had to be held down. Weighting the ends wasn’t enough. I finally ended up leaning lengths of cattle panel on the plastic.

pieces for assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
As I removed the rocks from the old walls, I set them in sections according to length. Depth separation would have helped. Few are rectangular. Sizes vary. Ends slant or are rounded or knobby. Almost all have at least one fairly flat side to go on the inside against the liner. Selection of each block is done carefully as they are heavy. And, as work progresses, I seem to need more rocks. Luckily the Ozarks has lots of rocks, many of them suitable for adding to my raised garden bed wall.

On warm days I wanted to slide the plastic down the wires and let the plants enjoy the weather. The panels were difficult to handle and a mess to work with.

The first problem had a number of possible solutions. One was to replace the stones with cement blocks. This was ruled out due to expense and, besides, I like the stones.

I could cement the stones together. This would require putting in a gravel foundation to protect the walls from winter freezes and thaws.

Building a raised garden bed using cement implies permanency. Judging from what has happened to the rest of this valley over the years, no one will use this bed but me. This place, like the others, will be allowed to grow up in brush and trees and used once a year by deer hunters.

challenge of assembling rock jigsaw puzzles
This raised bed has new end rocks from a place where they are no longer needed. Although I am trying to fit the rocks together closely, the spaces between won’t matter as much because I will line the bed to keep the dirt in the garden. What the rocks will do is gather heat to warm the garden during the winter, define the garden and look nice. The rock wall is a nice place to sit, if the rocks aren’t too hot.

Instead I will put up a liner of old roofing tin inside the rock walls.

The old raised bed is taken apart. The area is surrounded by piles of stones. I am again assembling rock jigsaw puzzles.

Assembling rock jigsaw puzzles is challenging. Each stone must be evaluated for height, width, length, flatness along three sides and top and bottom. Each is fit into place. That last stone in a row must be the right length or several stones get replaced until they all fit.

The bottom layer is done. Next I will construct the lining. The resident lizards are watching eagerly for the new raised bed and return of their basking stones.

Basil Variety Exists

On the grocery store herb rack there is one variety of basil. This might lead a person to think only one basil variety exists.

basil variety Sweet or Mammoth
This is the variety of basil I usually grow. Mammoth or sweet basil lives up to its name. The plant can be three feet tall with large crinkled leaves. It is not very compact. This variety tastes much like the market dried variety.

The herb pages in seed catalogs might disillusion the prospective gardener, if that one looks at these pages. I rarely do.

A friend gave me a purple opal basil plant one year. It was interesting to grow.

basil variety Purple Opal
I’m not sure what gives this variety of basil the deepest color. Purple Opal is a smaller plant and bushy. The flavor is mildly spicy.

The local market has a greenhouse set up for another local company to display transplants in every spring. I browse the shelves simply because I like to see what is available.

basil variety Genovese
Genovese basil is said to be the best for pesto. The plant is large and a vigorous grower. The flavor is intense and spicy enough to make it hard to keep a half leaf in the mouth very long.

I raise my own seedlings or try to every spring. They get a late start due to temperature and light challenges so are never as big as those transplants. However I get to raise the varieties I want to grow instead of the standard ones available.

basil variety Cinnamon
The leaves on Cinnamon basil are not the crinkly ones of other basils. They are also a bit smaller. When I tried chewing on half a leaf, I discarded it before I really tasted it as my mouth heated up like with a spicy hot pepper or a wild spearmint leaf.

By the end of May most people in my area have put in their gardens. The past few years they’ve done this twice due to late frosts. My seedlings get a chance to catch up in the house safe from such weather vagaries.

basil variety Lemon
I expected a basil flavor from the leaf of Lemon basil I tried. It was there behind a tangy lemon flavor. The plant has a yellow tinge to it. It is larger than Siam, but not big like Genovese and is tightly bushy.

Some transplants are left behind and put on drastic sale. This year those leftovers included six varieties of basil. I succumbed to temptation.

basil variety Siam
Siam basil is a compact, decorative plant. It does have a nice basil flavor, but not as intense as the other varieties I grew this year. It is a pretty plant with green leaves and dark red stem tips.

My tomatoes are now accompanied by six varieties of basil: Mammoth or sweet basil; Purple Opal basil; Siam Basil; Cinnamon basil; Genovese basil; and Lemon basil. What I will do with such a basil variety in my kitchen, I’m not sure.

In the meantime the plants are big and healthy. They are blooming. (I know I should harvest the leaves before the plants bloom, but everything is behind this year. I will pinch them back and get them to branch out again.)

All of the varieties have a typical leaf shape, although the size varies. Their coloring varies.

Now I need six paper bags. Why? Each basil variety will go in a labeled bag, closed and put in the refrigerator to dry. This method works very well.

Cooking is important to Hazel Whitmore in Broken Promises, Old Promises and Mistaken Promises. Recipes are included in the books.

Baby Praying Mantises

Early summer is a very busy time for gardeners. It doesn’t leave much time to go out walking. Baby praying mantises in the garden bring some nature home.

My invasive bamboo is beloved by many creatures which makes me reluctant to get rid of all of it. Birds nest in it. Fireflies rest there during the day. Praying mantises lay their egg masses on it in the fall.

baby praying mantises go hunting
Unless a baby praying mantis moves, it is hard to see. There were at least five egg cases in the bamboo. There are lots of these two inch long mantises scattered around the garden. They need to hide well as northern fence lizards also patrol the garden although these prefer sunnier areas, but will probably eat the mantises until they get big. This one is hunting across the chocolate mint plants.

I’m not sure when the baby praying mantises hatched this year. The weather was been much cooler than usual this spring. I do know they hatched.

One year I was lucky enough to see the baby mantises hatch. These are the Chinese ones sold to gardeners. The egg case was on the wild grape vine on the back garden fence.

The babies were a half inch long and squeezed out of the case. They lined the vines and fence weaving in the sunshine. They moved off in various directions by walking and jumping.

baby praying mantis reaching for another leaf
This was a most determined baby praying mantis. It wanted to get away from me and sped swiftly up into a patch of bamboo shoots. It stretched out, grabbed the next leaf, pulled itself over, sometimes leaping to the next one.

Baby praying mantises can not fly. Their wings are only nubbins on their backs until they molt into adults.

The mantises are now two inches long and spring green in color. They like to be in the bamboo as they blend in and lots of insects rest on the leaves.

Last fall I cut back the size of the bamboo patch by two thirds. The bamboo was not impressed. It sent out runners all over the garden. The runners put up shoots. I am now cutting all of these shoots down and pulling some of the runners.

As I cut shoots, I came across one of the mantises. It was climbing up into the bamboo shoots I was targeting.

baby praying mantises can climb
Baby praying mantises have no wings. They run, jump and climb to get around. They are surprisingly fast. If they stop, they disappear into the green background.

Instead I sat back and watched the insect climb the leaves. The mantis was determined to go up the shoot reaching up to the next leaf, climbing over it and reaching for the next one.

The shoot was cut and the mantis was shifted to a shoot not scheduled for cutting. It’s nice to know many of the baby praying mantises survived the dangers in the garden, found enough food and are well on their way to their ultimate six to seven inch length.

Meet more wild insects of the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Garlic Scapes Harvest

Gardening books often advise gardeners to cut off garlic scapes. This is to force the plant to put its energy into growing the bulbs bigger.

These scapes are the structures enclosing the flower buds of the garlic plants.

For years I didn’t bother. The garlic blooms are typical globular allium flowers and attract bees and other pollinators. The garlic bulbs looked fine.

garlic scapes on plant
Happy garlic plants want to bloom and put up scapes containing their flowers. Gardeners are advised to cut them off.

What the gardening books don’t mention is that garlic scapes are edible. They are great for stir fry dishes, scrambled eggs and omelets and other recipes wanting a little garlic boost in flavor.

I plant my garlic in the fall. Late spring to early summer, normally the latter in the Ozarks as spring is very short, the garlic plants look thick and stout. A round stalk comes up from the top of the plant. The tip curves down developing a bulge over where the flower buds are forming. The tip of the stalk continues on past this bulge.

These garlic scapes need to be cut young. Each plant produces only one.

My garlic patch is small with about fifty plants. Each one yields one scape.

Would the goats eat the scapes? I suppose so. With so few, I haven’t offered them any. They do eat the garlic plants after I pull the bulbs up.

The bulbs are ready when the first few leaves at the base of the garlic stem turn yellow. This is a few weeks after the scapes are cut.

garlic scape
The garlic scape is a long, thick tube with a bulge in the upper part that will open up to reveal the flowers. The tube continues on past the bulge and tapers to a point.

Garlic bulbs left longer, as until the entire plant turns yellow, will often break apart when pulled up. I still use a potato fork to loosen the dirt before pulling the plants up.

My patch has both hard and soft neck garlic. Making a garlic braid is interesting. I have no place to hang one, so I clip off the bulbs.

The bulbs are spread out to dry thoroughly before being put in an open container in the pantry. Having garlic easy to grab to use encourages me to use more of it. The garlic scapes make a nice introduction to the fresh crop.

In “Broken Promises” Hazel Whitmore finds cooking a good hobby and way to cope with her disintegrating world.

Daisy Fleabane Temptation

Bigger daisy type wildflowers like ox-eye daisy and black-eyed Susans are already in full bloom. Daisy fleabane begins the parade of smaller white daisy type flowers that will extend all the way into the fall asters.

This three foot tall plant is easy to spot along roads and in pastures. Its leaves line the stalks with dark green. The stalks split into small stalks branching out to open bouquets of the white or white shaded with pink flowers.

daisy fleabane plant
In my garden the daisy fleabane plants are nearly four feet tall and still growing. The leaves are big and dark green. The numerous flower buds promise a snowfall of white soon. Unfortunately the flowers are followed by even more numerous seeds.

White heath aster is a similar plant. It blooms later. And the flowers are different.

Like all the flowers in the aster family, the flowers are really a group of flowers. Some are tubular in the center of the disk. Others put out what people call petals and botanists refer to as ray flowers.

Fleabane ray flowers are numerous and thin. It gives a fringe like look to the flower group. Aster flowers have fewer and thicker rays.

daisy fleabane flowers
The central disk of a daisy fleabane is a mass of tube flowers that open from the outside edges toward the center. The ray flowers are numerous and thin.

Both daisy fleabane and white heath aster have yellow centers. Another member of the family blooms at the edges of the woods. Drummond’s aster is pale lavender with a lavender center.

This year a few daisy fleabane plants have come up in my garden. They are in an open area used as a path rather than for planting.

The plants look wonderful as garden soil is a big treat for them. They will be masses of white flowers. And I like daisies and asters.

daisy fleabane buds
The flower beetles move in even before the flowers are open. These beetles have the transparent wings, but only partial covering wings.

The temptation is to leave these garden visitors and enjoy the show. I don’t normally plant flowers as I never have time to take care of them.

Moth mullein, evening primrose, chicory, hispid buttercup, corn speedwell, dead nettle and chickweed already grow in my garden. The first four are primarily for enjoyment. The last are for the bees in early spring.

The problem is with the prolific seed production of these wildflowers. Daisy fleabane is a big temptation. I’m sure next year I will be pulling up dozens of plants as weeds.

Read about more Ozark plants in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Starting Snow Peas Early

Missouri springs are unpredictable. Some years spring is a few days. So I like starting snow peas early in an attempt to beat the heat.

The first of March is really early. The ground is still cold. However, this Ozark winter was mild and the selected spot is under mulch.

starting snow peas early requires a trellis
Hog and cattle panels make great trellises. I attach two wires, one on each side near the end of the panel. As I work alone, I trap the other end against a tree and pull the wires and other end closer and closer until I can attach the wire to the other end. Moving the hoop is awkward due to the size. Once in the garden it can be moved from place to place fairly easily.

Adequate rain made the ground a bit muddy. The cardboard and mulch stopped the weeds. The moles do have some tunnels in the area, but they are avoidable.

Yes, the moles are a nuisance. They adore my garden with its abundance of earthworms, grubs and other mole delicacies. Every bed is criss crossed with their tunnels. Some I collapse. Others I plant on one side or the other and ignore.

securing the trellis
Once vines grow up on a trellis, it catches the wind and blows over. This pulls some of the vines out of the ground. The others tangle and make pushing the trellis back up difficult. The solution is easy. Put in a post against one side and tie the trellis to the post.

Moles do not eat roots, only uproot them building their tunnels. Meadow voles are a different case and the cats generally keep them out of the garden.

Snow peas are long vines and need a trellis. An old hog panel pulled into a curve and wired at the base works well. It is tippy so a well placed post is wise. Standing the trellis back up is not easy, especially if it’s covered with vines.

starting snow peas early under mulch
After all winter the thick cardboard is mostly gone under the mulch. I pull the mulch back along the end of the trellis. If the weather is warm, the ground can be left exposed to warm up for a day or so before planting. I rarely have more than a day to work so I hope the snow peas can take the cold.

Starting snow peas early is iffy. The ground may be too wet or cold. But I shoved the peas into the ground anyway. If some don’t germinate in a couple of weeks, I will replant.

The mulch is several inches deep along each side of the pea row. This will protect the ground from late frosts. It will keep the ground cool for a week if the temperatures shoot up to eighty degrees like they did last year.

planting snow peas early
I plant the peas thickly, two inches apart. As the two ends of the trellis are five feet apart and the ground is well manured, the snow pea plants generally manage fine even if all of them come up. Pulling the mulch close to the row lets the straw get the frost and not the ground.

If the spring stays cool, I will enjoy plenty of snow peas to eat. If spring turns to summer in a week, the pea shoot tips and flowers are edible. And the Mosaic long beans will take over the trellis.

Starting snow peas early is my best chance at enjoying these pods and I’m willing to try.

Seed Diversity

It’s time to order my garden seeds for this year. Looking over the leftovers from last year I’m again amazed at the seed diversity.

I’m not thinking about the number of varieties of each kind of vegetable, although these can be dauntingly numerous. I’m looking at the seeds.

Radish seeds are round and red. They dwarf turnip and cabbage seeds which are round and black, virtually identical.

seed packets show seed diversity
Spring approaches. Gardening time approaches. It’s time to look over the packets from last year and make a list for this year.

Those directions saying to space these tiny seeds out are assuming a dexterity my clumsy fingers do not have. Lettuce seeds are even worse, small and flat and football shaped.

Seed diversity reveals relationships too. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are in Solanaceae, the nightshade family. Potatoes are too, but I don’t buy potato seeds. All these plants have flat, fat comma shapes. The pepper seeds are larger.

Then there are the curcurbits: squash, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins. All of these have flat, pointed at both ends types of seeds. The sizes vary, but not the shapes.

In “The Pumpkin Project” I have a quick puzzle. The one here is similar. In the book the reader is to pick out the pumpkin seeds. For this one, try to identify the kind of seed by looking at the seeds.

seed diversity shows here
Do you recognize any of these seeds? Take a few guesses. Seeds come in such a range of shapes and colors. The answers are at the end of the post.

Yes, I did pick out varieties of seeds to show off the seed diversity.

It’s winter again as I look out the window. Too cold to continue my chicken fence. Too cold to do more than wish I could do some garden preparation. “The City Water Project” is nearly done. Seven of the eight water stories are done except for some final fact checking.

Yesterday was a nice spring like day. Spring fever is beginning to creep in. Looking at seed diversity eases the itch to begin gardening a month too early. Hurry up spring.

Oh, yes, the seeds. A radish; B lettuce; C squash; D pea; E tomato; F bok choi; G pepper.

Setting Goals For New Year Plans

New Year’s Day is traditionally a time to make resolutions of things you want to do in the upcoming year. Resolutions are so rigid, easy to break and abandon. I prefer setting goals, some with deadlines, most without.

Nubian kids out to play
Nubian goat kids grow up so fast. At about a month old, these are already going out to pasture. None have gotten lost. They love to play.

The goats, chickens and garden loom large in my plans. This year will add Buff Orpington pullets and standard Cochin pullets to the flock. All the goat kids will be sold.

chicken breeds include Buff Orpingtons
Buff Orpingtons are a favorite breed of chicken for lots of people. They are big, lay big brown eggs and are usually friendly.

Selling goat kids is really hard for me as my goats are family. Bottle babies are even worse. In a way I am glad five of the kids are bucks as they must leave at three months old or the barn becomes a madhouse. Especially since more kids are due then.

Seed catalogs are sabotaging my garden goals of a smaller, more manageable garden of crops we like to eat. On the plus side is the large amount of mulch going out to bury any dreams of weeds to blanket the entire garden. My favorite feed store is generous with cardboard for under the mulch to thwart the more stubborn weeds.

setting goals versus seed catalogs
The garden is finite. My time is finite. The seed catalogs make everything look so appealing. This calls for monumental will power.

Setting goals of a smaller garden will probably fail. It might even get a bit bigger with more containers. And the pumpkins and winter squash seem to do better out in the pastures and on the compost pile than in the garden.

I seem to be a semi hoarder. Perhaps I’m too lazy to keep cleaning out things I no longer use or am too good at deluding myself I will get back to some hobby from the past. The end results are piles of things I no longer use like piano music and a piano and a cedar chest full of material. And a thousand books waiting to be read.

Then there is the shell collection. I last seriously collected in 1972 and have moved the boxes several times dreaming of moving back to the ocean, but I won’t. Missouri is home and it is not on the ocean. Setting goals means these things are searching for a new home.

setting goals for "The City Water Project"
“The City Water Project” is approaching completion. It is a science book for upper middle grades, but can be adapted younger and older. There are 10 investigations, 8 activities, 28 pencil puzzles and 8 stories about water and how you get water in your house. Release is scheduled for March, 2020.

What I love to do is write. For 2020 I plan to release “The City Water Project” in March, “The Carduan Chronicles” in October and “Waiting For Fairies” in October. The last is a children’s picture book. Setting goals for writing does include trying to let people know about my books.

Walking is something else I love to do in the search for new plants. I’ve gone over my botany project pictures. There is a list of pictures needed to complete pages for plants I’ve found. No list is done for plants I’ve not found yet as that would be too daunting. But the search continues already looking at winter trees. So far Southern Red Oak is new.

Setting goals is easy. Set backs are common. Still, the flexible schedule helps make some of them happen and that’s encouraging.

Bamboo Thickets Invade Garden

I didn’t start out to have bamboo thickets in the middle of my garden. I guess I was terribly naive.

My father had planted an edible bamboo on his place. It was big and beautiful. After he died I dug up a small piece of it and brought it home.

Bamboo seems to be hard to transplant. I’ve given pieces to several people and none have had much luck. Lucky them.

Ozark bamboo thickets are dense
This is an Oriental edible bamboo, not the native giant cane. Ozark winters tend to kill the tall bamboo canes. The tallest ones I’ve had were ten to twelve feet although the bamboo is supposed to reach thirty feet or more. So most of my thicket is up to eight feet tall and bushy. The goats will eat bamboo, but are not fond of it.

I didn’t know where to put this tiny plant and put it into a small corner of my garden until I could decide. It didn’t move. Instead it grew tentatively for several years.

Then the bamboo decided it liked this corner of my garden. The bamboo thickets arrived and got bigger each year.

Bamboo is a grass. Like many grasses, it spreads by runners. The bamboo in my garden has never flowered. This is lucky.

bamboo thickets spread with runners
A bamboo runner looks a lot like a bamboo stalk. The joints are shorter making it more flexible. The runners can loop over the ground like this one, go along about four to five inches underground or dive down a foot or more. Removing them is done by cutting it as close to the bamboo thicket as possible, uncovering the underground portions and pulling the runner up. Runners can be ten feet long or more.

The tiny plant now covers a ten foot square and isn’t content. Every year I dig up ten and twelve foot runners going out across the garden. They are tough, well rooted and a back killer.

I decided to get rid of my bamboo thickets. It’s plural as some runners went undetected so there are adjacent patches now.

I discovered the bamboo is used by several creatures I want around my garden. Toads hide in it. Wrens nest in it. Praying mantises lay their egg cases in it.

praying mantis case on bamboo cane
Both Carolina and Chinese praying mantises live around here. The big egg cases are from the Chinese mantises. Bamboo is a favored site for the egg cases and the mantises are welcome in the garden. That makes keeping a small thicket tempting.

I can’t keep pulling the runners up. My back complains mightily. The solution is to kill out the bamboo. Where would these creatures go?

This year I trimmed the bamboo thickets back to a six foot square area. There are mantis egg cases in this area.

Next spring I will destroy any bamboo that comes up anywhere other than in that area. Of course I said that another year and failed. I must get serious or my entire garden will become bamboo thickets. Where is that vinegar and salt spray recipe?

Busy Fall Season

City people seem to have the idea that country people can take it easy fall and winter. All that changes here are the kinds of things being done. I have a busy fall season.

Killing frost left my garden wilted. I knew it was coming so bags of tomatoes, peppers, long beans and squash moved into the kitchen.

These bags await my attention. Some are already sorted. A few bags of peppers are now at someone else’s house. My pepper plants wanted to make sure I had a busy fall season.

The new fall routine is clearing the dead plants out. Then the beds are rebuilt with manure, cardboard and mulch. Garlic is planted. Plastic covers the shade house where cabbage, bok choi and winter radishes already grow.

Nubian buck High Reaches Silk's Augustus wishes for a busy fall season
Fall is breeding season for goats. Nubians will breed all year round, but prefer fall. Every August my buck Augustus begins to smell rank and ogle the girls. By September it’s hard to get him to eat his grain. He spends most of his time pacing the fence or standing on top of the gym watching for the herd to come back.

Dairy goats need attention every day. Fall is breeding season. My busy fall season includes getting some does bred while keeping my winter milkers away from Augustus. And at least one doe will have November kids.

The goat barn must be winterized. And the summer manure build up must be taken out to the garden. Two new lights are supposed to go in, one in the goat section and one in the chicken section.

My busy fall season wouldn’t be complete without a book to complete. “For Love of Goats” is progressing. The front cover is done. Three quarters of the illustrations are done. Sample pages should go up in another week with a release date in mid November.

"For Love of Goats" by Karen GoatKeeper
Watercolor is great for illustrations in my opinion. It takes practice and I’m getting a lot of it completing the sixty or so illustrations for this book. Professional illustrators deserve much more admiration for their work than they are given.

Yes, November. NaNo (National Novel Writing Month). I’m not ready. What will I write? The subconscious is working on this question.

By December I will be back to work on “The City Water Project” for release next March. It’s half done.

Maybe city people can relax over the fall and winter. My busy fall season will morph into an equally busy winter season.

Garden Armadillo Caught

Evidently I have been maligning my garden woodchuck. The livetrap caught a garden armadillo.

The garden woodchuck is not innocent. It ate my fall cabbages except for one now fenced in. It is eating the Jerusalem artichoke leaves. It eats my tomatoes.

It is not responsible for most of the digging.

Armadillos eat things like earthworms and grubs. They can smell them several inches under the dirt.

Mulch encourages these favorite armadillo foods. So the garden armadillo was busy rearranging and removing the mulch to enjoy dinner.

garden armadillo trapped
This was one very unhappy armadillo. It was blundering along digging up my garden pathway and walked into the livetrap. The door closed and it sat waiting for me to come by. As the trap was not baited, I took my time checking it.

I must take some of the blame for this. The woodchuck did dig a couple of holes under my garden fence. I ignored them.

The reasoning went along the lines that the garden woodchuck would just dig another hole or climb over the fence.

Woodchucks are good climbers. That’s how they harvest apples and Asian pears. This one even seems to ignore electric wire.

My back garden fence is covered with wild grape vines which the woodchuck is eating and morning glories which it seems to ignore. Climbing this is easy.

So I left the holes. And the garden armadillo found them.

Armadillos don’t seem to dig holes under garden fences. I could be wrong. They do dig efficiently as their burrow holes show.

armadillo free again
The armadillo was a bit dazed. It wandered out of the livetrap and walked away. This one lives in the nearby pasture but likes the garden. There are enough armadillos around that killing or relocating this one would make no difference. I will reinforce the garden fences.

For now I will fill in the woodchuck holes. And I will watch for new ones. This isn’t easy at this end of the season when vegetable plants and weeds have turned the garden into a jungle.

Over winter I will reinforce my fence. The grape vine will be trimmed back. The morning glory vines will be pulled off. The weeds will be pulled.

Both the garden woodchuck and the garden armadillo and any reinforcements they may invite to the garden will find it harder to dig into. I will at least try.

What I don’t really understand is how I trapped the armadillo. The woodchuck had eaten the bait and departed, as usual. Besides, the bait wasn’t something the armadillo would eat.

Armadillos have very poor eyesight. I suppose the garden armadillo blundered into the trap and triggered it. It was glad to have me open the door and send it on its way.