Monday, December 29, 2008

Vermiculture: The Squirmy way to Compost

I know, you're thinking it's the middle of the winter, compost piles don't get hot in the winter, but not all composting happens outside. Vermiculture is a type of composting you can do under a kitchen sink, in the corner or your laundry room, under a shady tree (for those in more temperate locations than mine) or any other area that doesn't suffer temperature extremes. All you need is a container between 8 and 16 inches deep, a tight lid to keep rodents and flies out, and worms.

Yes, I said worms. The red worms like you buy at bait shops are best. One pound is plenty to start with.

I know I just told you to bring worms into the house. Unlike the quail in my living room (in a cage, as opposed to the rabbit running wild and free in my upstairs bath) my dog isn't going to break into their home, the worms are silent, and there is no smell! This is a great way to raise your own worms for fishing, to compost organic kitchen wastes (vegetable peelings, apple cores, extra pasta, coffee grounds--which gave lots of uses in the garden and can be picked up free at any Starbucks, it's company policy--dried bread ends, but not greasy or animal-based items which worms can digest, but might cause rot and other problems in the bin), and make great additions to garden soil or plant pots.

First the container. Worms are surface feeders, so you don't need it to be very deep, but it needs to be about a square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. It also needs drainage/air holes in the bottom, in case it gets too wet. If there isn't enough air flow the bin can start to smell, and you could end up killing off your worms.

There are lots of different materials you can use for this from wood, to metal, plastic to styrofoam. Some people are concerned about using metal becasue of rusting and possible leaching of heavy metals into the compost, and there are some with similar leaching concerns with styrofoam. Plastic bins don't absorbe extra moisture, so some kind of collection system underneath is more necessary than with wood.

You need bedding (newspaper ripped into one-inch strips is ideal, and free. Alternately, you can use saw dust, hay, cardboard, dried leaves, or any other carbon-based material.), which needs to be as wet as a wrung out sponge. A sprinkle of horse or cow manure (or at my house, chicken manure) added to this can absorbe extra moisture and help lighten the bedding. Add a couple handfuls of soil, crushed rock, or finely crushed egg shell for grit and you're ready to start adding your worms and food.

Start out adding a little food at a time, burrying it in differnt spots in the bin, and slowly add more over time. If you get back to your original hole, most of the food should be eaten, but if not, don't burry as much for a little while to allow the worms to catch up. They reproduce quickly.

Next time I'll post ways to harvest your compost and/or worms, other types of bins to use, and things to watch out for.

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January Writing Goal

Well Tristi Pinkston has issued her quarterly challenge. She has been calling them her book-in-a-month challenges, but since some of us are planning to edit, it's whatever writing goal we want to accomplish. I didn't do so hot last time, but my goal for this challenge for this month is to get my edits done on the book I took to our critique group this past spring and summer (which hasn't had a full edit through since we finished it there yet), so I can get it to my critiquers for a full-manuscript review. I really want to get it out to them by the tenth (This is pushed back from earlier goals of Dec 15th, Christmas Day, the Saturday after Christmas...I don't know why I thought I would get anything accomplished while my family was all in town, but sometimes I have these delusions.).

I also want to get my WIP finished, which will only happen if I don't get the edits back from CFI before the end of the month. If I do get them back earlier than expected, my goal is minimum 20,000 words on my WIP. I already know February is going to be insane because I'm taking a EMT-Intermediate course starting the last weekend of January and running through the first of March, so I need to get as much of my WIP done as possible before class starts.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Recycle your Christmas Tree

I'm not talking about artificial trees, here, though of course, if the tree is still in good condition and you won't use it again, donating it to the DI or Good Will (or similar program) can be a great way to keep your tree out of landfills.

No, what I'm talking about is that wonderful pine tree--the one you searched the lot over to find. Or maybe you got a permit and trudged through the mud (if you lived in Utah, chances are it was mud not snow this year) to find the perfect fit. We won't be pulling our tree down for at least another week--though if my cats had their choice, it would stay up year round.

So what do you do with the tree? There are lots of possibilities. Many cities have a Christmas tree recycling program. They allow you to put the tree out on the curb, or provide a drop off spot for old trees. These trees are then chipped and used for mulch in city parks, or as mulch in orchards, on playgrounds, daily cover in landfills, or are turned into compost. Remember these trees need to have all lights, tinsel and metal hangers removed before you drop them off.

Other recycling programs use whole trees for dune or coastal restorations, rebuilding wetlands, providing safe hiding places for deep fishing spots and more. In Louisianna thousands of old trees each year are used to protect coastal marshes to prevent salt water intrusion.

There are other options if you have your own yard, too. Trees can be placed on their sides in a back corner to provide shelter for birds and other small animals. They can be strung with strings of popcorn or cranberries, bags of suet, or other bird feeds.

You can save the tree yourself for chipping into mulch in the spring for your garden beds, or you can pull the branches off the trunk and lay them directly onto the garden bed.

Another option is to pull the needles for potpourri projects. Dry and crumble them, then add cinnamon sticks and cloves for a great Christmas scent. Put the potpourri in a tight jar. This can be added to a simmering pot, one cup of water to a quarter cup of potpourri, to make the whole house smell like Christmas.

Some municipalities will allow you to burn your tree, bu you should check into your local ordinances first. Remember, flocked or other types of treated trees should not be burned, as it releases chemicals into the air and can affect air quality.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

The true meaning

First things first: Merry Christmas.

This has been a crazy season so filled with projects it seems the month has zoomed by. I don't have a very long shopping list, and my laptop's been in for repairs for ages (finally got it back on Monday) which means I didn't make it onto my favorite Internet radio site to listen to Christmas music

I have at least four Nativity sets (Now if I can only find the white one, where did I put it last January?), and with one thing and the next, I've heard a lot about remembering Christ's birth this season. The ward Christmas program was nice, sweet. My annual involvement in my community performance of Handel's Messiah was totally enjoyable, the solos gorgeous, the music breathtaking, but I don't remember focusing on the words, the meaning behind them.

It wasn't until earlier tonight (or should I say, last night, it is nearly one in the morning), as I sat around my parent's living room, surround by family with a toddler running wild, and the other girls fidgety and active that I really listened to the message of the scriptures, the meaning of the familiar Christmas hymns.

I tend to veer away from discussing serious topics on my blog--it's much easier to talk about my latest hatch, gardening techniques, or silly tags from my friends, than to write about things that matter to me. This Christmas day, however, I want to express how grateful I am for Christ coming to Earth to show us how to live, to teach us His Father's gospel, to provide the only way for us to return to live with Him again.

I have a long, long way to go before I could even begin to be worthy of his great sacrifice, or of the many blessings he has bestowed me with, but knowing the gift of forgiveness is there for me gives me hope.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, have the chance to tell your loved ones how much you love them, and give thanks to the Lord for all he has blessed you with, remembering the true meaning of Christmas--that we can all have the chance to return to live with our Father again because he sent his Son to lead the way.

Bless you all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Grow Pineapple in Your Living Room

Unless you live in a tropical area, chances are you've never seen a pineapple growing near you, but did you know you can grow them in your living room? It can take up to three years for them to produce fruit, but it is possible.

For a plant to produce fruits the size of what you're used to seeing at the grocery store, you'll need to be prepared. Pineapple plants need lots of light and often grow up to six foot across, though you can keep them trimmed back a lot smaller and still get fruit. The resulting pineapples will be smaller, but at least you won't have to give up your living room for it.

The first thing to do is make a trip to the grocery store. Look for a fruit with green, firm leaves with no yellow or brown. Check where they attach to the base of the pineapple to ensure there are no gray spots, which are scale insects. Also, you want to the fruit to be golden brown with no green, and when you tug on the leaves, they shouldn't come out, as that is a sign of overripe fruit.

Now that you've got your fruit home (or two if you want to give yourself a better chance of success) twist or cut the top off of the fruit. If you cut it you will have to be certain none of the fruit clings to the top as it will rot and could kill the entire plant later.

Remove the bottom half inch to an inch of leaves, and make sure the little root buds are exposed. Next, some people recommend letting the top sit out for a week or so to dry out before starting roots, while others put the top directly into water.
It can take three weeks or more for healthy roots to develop and you need to change the water every few days while you wait. You can use any container, clear, colored, or even a coffee mug for this portion, just make sure you place the plants our of areas that experience temperature extremes.

When the roots are an inch or so long, you can plant the tops in any good potting soil that is at least 30 percent well composted matter or perlite. It's important to provide good drainage, as growing plants don't like to have their feet wet, so place a piece of broken pot or some similar object over the hole in the bottom of the pot and then use half an inch of gravel across the bottom before adding potting soil. Tamp the soil in firmly around the plant. Keep the soil damp, but not wet as this will cause rot.

It take at least eight weeks for new roots to be established. Do not fertilized until roots have begun growing, and then only every couple of months. Water about once a week for the first year, a bit more if you place the plant outside in the heat of summer. New leaves should begin shooting up about eight weeks after potting, and the original leaves will begin to die back. Remove dead leaves throughout the first year. The plant will probably require repotting into a twelve-inch pot after the first year. This is the last pot it will need. The fruit takes six or eight months to mature once it begins to grow and will provide an interesting show of flowers several months into its growth. Below is a pineapple growing in someone's house--what a conversation piece that would be!Return to the Neighborhood.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

No-calorie Christmas treats

My mom got this in her e-mail from one of her mailing lists and I had to share. For more funny stories and quips, check it out at

I hope you all have a happy holiday!

Cookie Rules

If you eat a Christmas cookie fresh out of the oven, it has no calories because everyone knows that the first cookie is the test and thus calorie free.

If you drink a diet soda after eating your second cookie, it also has no calories because the diet soda cancels out the cookie calories (water has the same properties here).

If a friend comes over while you're making your Christmas cookies and needs to sample, you must sample with your friend. Because your friend's first cookie is calorie free, rule #1 is yours also. It would be rude to let your friend sample alone and, being the friend that you are, that makes your cookie calorie free, as well.

Any cookie calories consumed while walking around will fall to your feet and eventually fall off as you move. This is due to gravity and the density of the caloric mass.

Any calories consumed during the frosting of The Christmas cookies will be used up because it takes many calories to lick excess frosting from a knife without cutting your tongue.

Cookies colored red or green have very few calories. Red ones have three and green ones have five - one calorie for each letter. (Make more red ones!)

Cookies eaten while watching "Miracle on 34th Street" have NO calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel.

As always, cookie "pieces" contain no calories because the process of breaking causes calorie leakage.

Any cookies consumed from someone else's plate have no calories since the calories rightfully belong to the other person and will cling to their plate. (We all know how calories like to CLING!)

Any cookies consumed while feeling stressed have no calories because cookies used for medicinal purposes NEVER have calories. (It's a rule!)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Grow Avacados at Home

I'm sure you've all at least heard of people growing avocados from the leftover pits of whatever variety you bought at the grocery store. You may have even tried it yourself, but did it succeed?

Avocados first. There are lots of ways to do this, here are a few of them:

Many people try skewering the pits with toothpicks and putting them in a sunny window with the base in a bit of water. Plants can be started this way, but it can be difficult to manage. First, it's best to start with an avocado that is so mushy it is nearly moldy. If you are going to start them in water with toothpicks sticking out of the sides to keep the pit suspended, the fat end goes down, and most people have the best luck if they remove the tough outter skin at the bottom so the roots can emerge more easily. It's important to keep the bottom covered with water, so you have to keep an eye on the water level.

Some people have better luck plenting the pit, pointy end up, in potting soil so it is only half burried. Others struggle to keep their pits wet enough, and have opted to wrap the pits in damp paper towels and close in a plastic zipper bag and place in a warm spot. Others use potting soil dampened in a zipper bag.

Some people swear pits germinate best in the dark, and place theirs in a warm cupboard. Whatever method you choose, they can take easily six weeks or longer to germinate, so be patient. The pits and plants need to be kept warm and damp throughout the first bit.

People have been known to grow full trees this way, but unless you live in an area that is warm all year round, you'll want to bring them in during the winter because they don't survive freezing weather.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Great Gifts for Gardeners

Christmas is no longer sneaking up, but rushing toward us with the stealth of an elephant, and harried shoppers are trying to finish off their lists. If you have a gardener you're still looking out for, here are a few great ideas bound to please.

1) Gardening books--There are thousands out there, just do a search on Amazon if you don't believe me. Topics can range from styles of gardening, types of plants, regions and much more. Nearly any gardener is going to welcome a book more new ideas and plans.

2) Gardening totes--These are a great way to keep those tools all organized. I know I'm constantly trying to figure out where I put my gloves or pruners. These come in various sizes and shapes and range in price anywhere from $5 on up.

3) Gardening tools--These range anywhere from spades and cultivators to shovels and rakes. Also, don't forget a nice pair of gardening gloves to protect their hands from thorns and stickers.

4) Seats--these come in many shapes and sizes. The best of these are easy to move, lightweight and put up with the weather. Even for a young gardening, it can really make time spent digging weeds easier if there is a seat close to the ground.

5) Watering cans or wands--these are great for gardeners with lots of potted plants. Some cans have long nozzles to help the user reach high places and distant corners. My watering wand has a valve at the handle to turn the water off, which allows me to cut the stream between beds or areas I'm working in.

6) Cute new pots--There are lots of great ideas out there, some come in kits with plants or seeds, others are pots only. There are hundreds of types and prices on the Net or in a nearby store.

7) Plant labelers--Nost plant labels sunbleach before the first season ends, but there are some great options out there that stand up to mother nature, whethere it's engraving the plant name onto stakes of copper or other metals or special print outs that won't fade. Trying to keep track of different varieties is much easier with a good stake.

8) A nice calendar or notebook for writing down when seeds were started, when the first blooms appeared, or any other details the serious gardener may want to keep track of.

9) Garden decorations--From statues to gazing balls to fun or funky small water features or fountains, there are plenty of ways to dress up the garden.

10) Forced flowers--A pot with blooming flowers always makes a great gift when the snow is piling up and spring is still months away. These can be paperwhites, amarylis, or even mums. AN added advantage is that many of these plants can be kept through the winter and put out in the garden during the summer for further flowering.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Things I've done:

I have a to-do list as long as my arm, and it's snowing outside like crazy, but I thought I might take a few minutes to work on this list I saw posted on Julie Wright's and Josi Kilpack's blogs. Nothing like a few minutes break from procrastinating. I was curious just how many thing I haven't done yet, actually.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain (does a mesa count?)
9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Been to the top of a lighthouse
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort

25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Ran a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run (Are you kidding me? I'm lucky to hit the ball at all.)
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37.Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David (do pictures in books count?)
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance (I regularly transport *other* people in ambulances, too)
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (if you count the 4th grade production my elementary school did)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Eaten New England clam chowder in New England
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book (give me a few more months)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (I'm not counting my work as an EMT, there's always someone better qualified telling me what to do)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone

99. Been stung by a bee

I'm not sure I want to admit to all of those, and can you see how pathetic my traveling experience is. I've hardly been anywhere. *sigh* I guess I'll just have to start saving my pennies, maybe someday I'll be able to cross a few more off.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comfrey, a great medicianl herb

I'm constantly learning new plants and things about them. Last summer Keith Fisher from my critique group picked a stem of a perennial plant from his yard for me to identify. I had never seen it before, but luckily, Tristi Pinkston had. The plant that had been growing in a corner of his back yard since before he bought the house was comfrey. This anti-bacterial, anti-fungal plant has many medical uses and even makes a great fertilizer--more on that in a munite.

This native of Europe loves damp, gassy areas and is prolific in the british Isles along river banks. The plant is recognizable by it's broad, hairy leaves and black, turnip-like root. It puts off bell shaped flower in white, pink, or purple. Some varieties will propogate from seed, while Blocking 14 won't. This Russian cultivar was introduced in the 1950s and has grown quite popular. Root cuttings is the best way to propagate this variety, as well as many others. If one has a strong, mature plant, a gardener can use a spade to cut the green leaves off the top of the root sliding it horizontally about three inches below the soil surface. THis removes the crown and makes separating the offsets easy. They can then be replanted and will recover quickly.

New offsets should be planted in a weed free area with the root a coupel of inches below the soil surface and the growing points just below the soil surface. The plants should be well watered while being established and should not be harvested the first season. ANy flowering stems should be removed the first year so the plant can focus on establishing the root system. The plant is very nitrogen hungry and will benefit from applications of manure as mulch. It grows quickly and can be harvested four or five times a year when the stems grow to two feet in height. Because the haris on the leaves and stems can be irritating to the skin, gloves should be worn when harvesting this plant, which should be done about two inches above the soil surface with shears or a sickle. Once established, this plant can be difficult to remove from an area because the roots go o deep and are nearly impossible to co mpletely remove.

Medicinally, confrey can be used to reduce inflamation and swelling, it can be used to reduce pain, shrink blood vessels, stimulates the clotting of blood, cell growth, and expels mucus. It has been proported to speed bone healing and teeth strengthening, but should not be taken internally.

As fertilizer: Because the roots go so deep, they pull nutrients up from the subsoil. The plant uses a lot of nitrogen, but it doesn't store it in the leaves, also, because the leaves are very non fibrous, they break down easily, releasing their nutrients back intot eh soil. This makes the plant a great choice for adding to nearly finished compost or even for row composting. It can be dug intot he ground around potatoe hills, laid on the ground for a nutritious mulch that is espeically great for plants that need potassium, placed in a water barrel for compost tea in a matter of weeks, used to activate a new compost pile--though it should not be used in quantity this way, or mixed with leaf mulch for a great potting mix.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


You know a book has taken hold of the nation's imaginations when everyone you know asks you if you've read it yet. For the past couple of years my excuse has been that I wanted to wait for the series to be completed--there's little I hate worse than waiting for the next book in the series to come out. Harry Potter nearly drove me crazy. Then Breaking Dawn came out and my husband bought the boxed set. He immediately set about reading the series, and finished it in record time. His mother borrowed the books and read them, and still I put it off.

I knew it would take a large chunk of my time to read all four, and that I wouldn't get anything else accomplished while I was reading Stephanie's Myer's books, so I kept putting it off. After all, I had editing and writing of my own to do.

Then the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my laptop gifted me with the blue screen of death. Well, it was awful, actually, since I lost at least 25 pages of manuscript that hadn't been saved to the server yet (that'll teach me to write my chapter for my weekly critique session so early). Stupid, stupid, stupid. So shortly after one of the women from my critique group nearly lost her chapter, I should have been more diligent.

Often the blue screen can be worked around, data can be saved, and you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Tristi was so lucky. However, even my computer genius husband, who has been known to fix problems the Geek Squad couldn't even *find*, said the hard drive was toast. Whining, moaning, and gnashing of teeth ensued.

I wallowed in self pity for an hour, then picked up Twilight. Six days later despite the holiday and an incredibly busy week working on my local ambulance service, I had finished the series. And last week my husband and I found an evening to drive to Delta to see the movie. It's only 35 miles each direction, what's a little drive when a movie is at stake, right? (This trip may not seem odd to you, but the last time my husband and I saw a movie in the theater was when The Order of the Phoenix came out a year and a half ago. Coordinating our schedule to make it to the theater can be a pain.)

I had no real idea what to expect from the books, since all I had heard was that it was about a teenage girl who falls in love with a good vampire. I tried to keep an open mind about the movie as well. I enjoyed them both. A lot.

I'm not going to rush to create a vampire plot of my own, but then, my imagination doesn't seem to twist that way. I am going to see the movie again this weekend when it comes to my own theater--a experience for anyone who is used to cushy THX theaters. Our local cinema has one screen, is only open four days a week, has no stereo sound, and you can hear the reel turning through the whole thing because there's no glass between you and the projector. My husband's sensibilities are assaulted when we go there, which contributes to our watching our movies at home. Not being the audiophile he is, and feeling comfortable in the familiar surroundings of my youth, I don't mind so much.

The story on screen seemed to start slow as every character was introduced one after the other, and though Bella and Edward seemed to spend a lot of time getting to know each other in the movie, i would have liked to see a bit more of it before they started declaring their undying (or undead, as the case may be) love for each other. There wasn't much build up of the relationship before Bella was able to swallow the truth about him. Some of the funky camera tricks they used --I'm assuming to dress up the show because it was low budget--drew a lot of attention to themselves. If I did that in my writing with flowery words, my critique group would tell me to cut them.

Still, as they managed to keep the heart and feel of the story true, I am going to see the movie again, and I'm sure it'll be joining our DVD collection when it is released. I'm curious to see what writers and directors manage to do with the second book in the series.

And sometime between real life and writing, I'll have to squeeze in time to read the series again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter bird watching

Snow is blanketing much of the country by now, and threatening most of the rest of us. Just because the summer birds have headed for warmer climes, and your gardening projects are mostly put on hold for the winter, doesn't mean you won't find plenty of interesting things going on in the garden. Backyard birding is a year-round prospect. Even if you live in an apartment building, a feeder could be placed outside a window.

If you have one window you look out often throughout the year, it's the perfect place to put a bird feeder. There are some tips to making the most of your bird-watching time.
Put feeders at different levels and offer a variety of treats. This will draw different types of birds to your yard. It can take a couple of weeks for the birds to find your feeders, so keep them full and be patient. Once they learn your feeders are a reliable source of food, they'll keep coming back even in the worst weather.

Most feeders should be hung at least six feet from the ground from a pole, and six or more feet from anything a squirrel can jump from to keep the feed just for the birds.

Black Oil sunflower seeds (the type that all are black, unlike the white and gray striped kinds sold for humans) attract many types of birds, but should be hung from a tree or post to discourage raccoons and squirrels. It attracts cardinals, woodpeckers, blue jays, goldfinches, purple finches, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.

Goldfinches are drawn to Nyger, which is a fine seed. It's also about a dollar a pound, so it's best to put it in a tube feeder made specifically for Nyger. This should also be hung and can even be hung under the eves.

Safflower seeds are white and a bit smaller than a sunflower seed. It attracts several types of birds, but squirrels don't like it.

White millet is best sptread on the ground for sparrows, juncos, and mourning doves. It's the least expensive type of bird feed and can be purchased everywhere from the grocery store to hardware stores.

Then there's suet which is rendered beef or venison fat and can be purchased at most grocery stores. This should be hung to keep it away from mammals and attracts wood peckers. It provides lots of energy to keep birds warm through the winter cold.

There are lots of bird feed recipes out there as well using fats from your kitchen, peanut butter, various seeds and grains. Some great ones are posted by Mother Earth News, or do an Internet search for other recipes.

Mixed bird seed can be a bad deal. I know the type I bought last spring had lots of red millet in it, which the birds totally ignored. It's best to buy the specific types of seed your birds will want.

Also, don't forget the water--something that can be in low supply in the winter cold. There are bird baths or bird bath heaters available out there for purchase that keep the water from freezing, or you can refill your feeders often.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Going Verticle: Making the Most of Small Spaces

Do you have a tiny yard? How about a yard that is mostly covered in shade during the day? Do you think you can't have a garden because there isn't enough room? If you have any space at all in your yard that gets at least six hours of sunlight (more is, of course, even better) you can grow vegetables there, and probably more than you think you have room for.

You might be surprised how many plants can be grown on a trellis. Peas and beans are the obvious choice, but did you ever consider watermelon, pumpkin, or other larger items? Squash and melons traditionally take up a lot of garden space because the plants tend to spread out across huge areas, blocking sunlight and choking out other plants. Because of this, a lot of people don't feel like they can grow these plants, but with a little ingenuity, they can be grown vertically, leaving more space for other plants. Even tomatoes can be tied to a trellis to make them more vertical. This has the advantage of lifting the fruits off the ground so you have less rot and disease.

There are a few important things to remember when building a trellis. First, It needs to be placed at the back of the garden plot. Especially if your garden is covered in shade, or even dappled shade for part of the day, be sure the trellis is at the back so it won't shade the rest of the bed. You may want to check the movement of the sun and where the shadows land in your yard so you can figure the best angle and location for the trellis. Remember that winter shadows are different than in the summer so if you don't remember where the shady areas end, you may have to do some guess work. The back side of my house doesn't get any sunlight from October through February, but the rest of the year it gets bits of morning and evening sun.

Next, consider what your budget is, and what you have on hand to work with. I've seen trellises made from T posts, PVC, conduit, or wooden posts, with netting or wire strung across them. Some people use hog panels, while others prefer field fence (an inexpensive wire fence with six-inch square holes). I wouldn't use netting if you are growing watermelon or pumpkin unless it's extremely strong.

When the squash or melon starts to get to the size of a large tomato, you'll need to create a sling for it to keep them from falling from the vine. Fruit netting like some oranges, onions, or potatoes come in can be tied to the fencing on each side to provide support for the growing produce. I would probably only trellis medium to small melons, but if your structure is strong enough and your sling can handle the weight, there's no reason you can't grow larger varieties--though I'm not talking about giant pumpkins here.
Another trellis option pictures above is a cattle or pig panel to make an arch. The panels generally come in sixteen-foot lengths and are quite sturdy, but will allow some bending. These can be purchased at most feed stores and will last for years because they are so durable. I know of at least one woman who planted her lettuce under the trellis and as the summer heat came on, the plants growing on it provided shade to protect the lettuce--which doesn't like the heat very much.

If you have an existing wall or fence, wire could also be attached to it to provide support for vegetables or flowering vines. The possibilities are endless.

If you don't have any fencing supplies and are on a tight budget, check your local Craig's list, or in Utah, you can also check Classifieds for listing of free or nearly free building supplies.

Also, Danyelle is the winner of the free seeds for Winter Sowing! Congrat Danyelle, I'll be sending those out soon.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

On the hunt

I just had to share some pictures my husband took the other day. We opted to bring my fish in for the winter instead of messing with keeping the water open so they can breathe in the pond, especially since it's shallow enough it could possibly freeze through if we get the cold weather the almanacs have been promising us.

My cat, Tilly has become obsessed with the fish, and spends lots of time trying to get to them every day. She hides behind the pictures that's taped the the back of the tank and tries to sneak on them.
Then she comes around and tries from the front.
And finally, she jumps on top and tries to catch them through the hardware cloth mesh on top. I love hardware cloth, it's way stronger than she is heavy. I love sitting int he living room and watching the fish. Across the room is a larger fish tank filled with four-week-old quail. I bought the tank originally for the fish (used) but it had hairline cracks in it. I think the quail are happier there anyway.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Safety Tips for Holiday Decorating

Did you know that over 12,500 people end up in emergency rooms every year because of holiday-decorating related accidents? Candles start nearly that many fires each year, and over 300 Christmas-tree related fires happen each winter. In hopes that you will not end up as one of those unlucky few, I've compiled a list of safety tips for this holiday season.

Christmas trees: Most artificial trees are fire resistant. When purchasing one, check the box labels to ensure this. For fresh trees, make sure the needles are green and don't pull out of the branches easily. The trunk should be sticky from sap and if the tree is tapped lightly on the floor, it shouldn't loose needles. Keep trees away from high-traffic areas, radiators and stoves. Because homes tend to be really dry during the winter, and most heaters and stoves contribute to the problem, make sure the stand always has plenty of water in it.

Lights: only use lights that have a UL Listed sticker on it, which means the lights were inspected for safety before reaching stores. Most lights coming in from out of the country have to be inspected and thousands are kept out of stores every year for being unsafe.

Always inspect lights from previous years, check for cracked and loose sockets, and connectors. Check the insulation along the light strand to make sure there are no broken or scorched spots.
Never plug more than three strands into a single extension cord. Make sure all cords are out of the way, especially from small children. Even one foot of extra cord is enough to strangle a small child.

Outside lights and extension cords needs to be rated for outside use, and plugged into outlets with a ground fault circuit interrupter. If your outside outlet doesn't have a GFCI on it, check into having an electrician add one. Whatever the cost, the peace of mind and added safety is well worth it.

Make sure all outside lights are securely fastened to walls, eves, and trees to prevent damage to them from the wind. Also, make sure you turn off your lights at night or when you aren't home. If you tend to forget, use a timer to turn them on and off so they aren't left on all the time.

Decorations: Use non flammable decorations on trees and use tinsel and other decorations made of plastics instead of metals, since metals are more likely to cause sparking. Never use lighted candles on evergreens, and always make sure candles are placed on a fire-safe surface and out of reach of small children. Don't forget to extinguish candles when you leave the room.

If you have animals or small children in the house, stay away from breakable decorations or those with sharp edges. Also, decorations with small parts could become chocking hazards for children. In my own house I try to keep away from glass balls on the tree because cats and dogs have been known to bite them, causing cuts in their mouths. The good news is there are lots of great plastic balls available now that look like glass.

Other safety concerns: Avoid using furniture to reach high corners, always use a step stool or ladder where possible. If you do have to use furniture to stand on, make sure it is stable. Always make sure ladders and stools are on a flat surface, and have a helper hold it still when climbing the ladder. When climbing on a rook or high surface, make sure the ladder extends at least three feet above the roof line. If you you have a soft or rocky surface to place the ladder on, use a wooden plank or something similar to give you a stable base. Make sure aluminum ladders are not touching power lines or cords, and never stand on the top step.

Be careful not to carry too much weight, and be sure to use good lifting techniques and body mechanics (lift close to the body, with the legs and not the back. Also, make sure there isn't a lot of clutter left around the house to trip on. Put boxes and packages away after using them.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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