Friday, July 15, 2016

Scary Garden Visitor

Credit -File photo coral snake - I didn't have time to photograph the one I found

Yesterday after taking a bucket of old veggies out to the compost pile I went to rinse it out.  While I was hosing it down I spotted movement in the planter by the house.  It was a snake and it's colors immediately caused alarm as I've made a point of teaching the girls to beware of these as they work and play in the yard.   Now here was one so close and on the move next to the house and heading towards the dog yard.

I grabbed a shovel and went after it and when it tried to dig in under the mulch I quickly dug up the area and was able to pin it to the ground. Unfortunately the shovel was a dull, flat tipped one so I couldn't finish the snake off. I had my cell phone in my back pocket and called my son who because of the early hour was still asleep.  He quickly dressed and ran out with his machete to dispatch the snake for me.

My hero - Cameron didn't have time to completely dress in coming to my rescue.  Glad he was at home!!

I don't mind snakes that are good for the yard and keeping vermin down, but ones that have such lethal venom are not allowed to remain in an area where my kids, pets and myself are regularly so active.  The information on the Florida Wildlife Site describes the differences between the coral snakes and two others that mimic, but are not venomous.  While I gladly welcome non venomous snakes in my yard, I'm not so gracious with ones that can cause serious harm.

I do need to take my own advice though because my hoe had broken with the metal separating from the handle I had been hand clearing (minus gloves) this same area these past few days.  This served as a wake up call for me to exercise a bit more care now.  So while I still relish my garden and time in it, I will also be a bit more cautious before reaching hands in the midst of thick weeds or plantings. And it's time to buy a new hoe to help me with this!!

 So happy and safe gardening to all!!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Baba and Grandpa's Visit

We just enjoyed a nice, albeit too short visit with my parents. They arrived Thursday afternoon and left very early this morning. Despite the brevity it was great seeing them.  Unfortunately for them Florida's temperatures and humidity soared making it a rough stay for outdoor activities, but that's the risk with Summer visits here.  Have to get them back during our cooler seasons!!!

In March my mother's brother Bill bought a house just around the corner from us and became a neighbor.  We were thrilled when he and his dog Tarzan moved in.  With my parents planning a car trip and bringing my niece Clara with them, they opted to stay with Bill in his new home. So we all got to enjoy their company and his hospitality during their stay.

Uncle Bill and Tarzan on the day they got the keys to their new home

With the heat we made a trip to New Smyrna Beach to enjoy some time outside with the cooler ocean breeze making it more bearable.  We spent time under the cabana by the beach walk and watched as Kevin helped Hannah fly her kite, and Uncle Bill helped Lauren search for seashells.

Hannah was able to get some decent air time with her kite and catching the ocean breezes

Uncle Bill and Lauren searching for seashells

A piece of sea grass blew into my view just as I took the picture of Uncle Bill with the girls

We enjoyed lunch at the Barracuda Restaurant before heading home.

Had an enjoyable meal here

Looking from the restaurant past the parking lot towards the beach.  On the left is the covered area I could sit with my parents and watch the kids with Kevin and Uncle Bill

The kids enjoyed his pool while we lounged on the patio.

Then all too quickly it was off to our last night out together for a meal and to celebrate Father's Day.

Kevin, mom, dad and Uncle Bill

My niece Clara, Cameron, Kevin, mom and dad - all waiting for our meals 

Hannah and Lauren
Time to say good bye - Hannah rushes in for first hugs

Hannah and Lauren with Baba and Grandpa

All the kids

And finally me with mom and dad

So long for now mom and dad, looking forward to your next visit.  We love you.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Banana Circles A Year Later

Our first bunch of bananas after about two months of growth since flowering

Last year at this time we planted our first two banana circles, and then began to create raised beds throughout our side yard to get our food forest truly started.  We began the first one just behind the old orange and apple trees that were here when we moved in.

This was the space behind the apple (on left) and orange last year at the end of May.

Here it is last year right after planting the first circle. You can see their size next to Kevin as he waters.

This is the same circle today with the tallest banana ( the one with the fruit growing on it) now at about 9 feet tall
Since bananas are such heavy feeders and need a lot of water we put compost piles in the center and built up the dirt in a circle around those to plant in and mulched heavily.  That way when we water or it rains it catches and holds the moisture needed.  Since bananas will fruit once in their lifetime, it's important to cut down the spent plant and let the energy go into the suckers it has produced limiting their number to the two healthiest for continued production.  With the circle you can continue to keep the plants in their space for constant new growth and fruit.

Here are the girls last year adding mulch to the second of the banana circles

Second banana circle June 2016

We also grow pineapples, sweet potatoes, bromeliads, squash, pigeon peas, lemon grass and a few flowers for color in these spaces.

A butternut squash, an Asian Lilly and sweet potatoes at the base of these bananas

The yard today from the opposite side near my newest bed just planted with giant blue corn and jungle peanuts seen here in the center foreground.

Since our first circles were put in we've added groupings with 2 pears, 2 new apples  in addition to the older established one, 3 peaches, 1 plum, 1 custard apple, 2 dwarf lemons, 1 dwarf mandarin orange, 3 pomegranates, 2 Brazilian cherries, 4 Avocados all started in from our compost piles, Mexican sunflower, Buddha belly bamboo, 4 olives, 2 jack-fruit trees, 3 fig trees, 2 nectarines, a loquat and a mamey sapote. Within the groups are more pineapples, elephant ears, flowers, sugar cane and cranberry hibiscus. This property already had 2 established orange trees and a struggling grapefruit. I'm always looking for and adding to the plants or flowers in my current beds and am planning to build on to this total by adding new beds.

Since completing the Chicken Hoop Coop I've added a new bed recently with giant blue corn and jungle peanuts.  This will be the first year growing these so I'm interested to see how they'll do.

The side garden last year already had two established papaya trees and the asparagus had been started in one bed.  The rest of the plantings were seasonal.  This year I still have these with the asparagus giving us our first small harvest.  We have loads of onions ready to pick, the Seminole pumpkin that was a volunteer from a smaller plant last year has been producing like mad and I've cut it's growth back several times to try  and keep it somewhat contained.  I have artichoke plants that have been added as perennials to another bed and we have several peanut, tomatillos, lemon balm and cilantro that all came back up as volunteers from last year.  I've added to these giant sword beans, Chinese purple hot peppers, dill and will be adding more kale and okra to these beds.

The girls in last years garden at the beginning of June 2015
This years garden with the Seminole pumpkin taking over this bed.  By this time next month the giant sword beans will cover the tall trellis

I've already harvest two pumpkins and have 3 more almost ready with loads more growing!

A couple of the pineapples I have this year - there are 10 in all.  These two are in the garden bed right next to the house.

We've also been creating more planting areas throughout the yard and shade house that I will cover in another post.  I am determined to reach a point where when I need fruit or vegetables, I can simply go to the yard or my veggie bin and have what I need.  With the tremendous amount of growth we've seen in this first year with these beds I feel good about the future return on our efforts.

These were my banana circles and planting beds last June

Here they are today

Our food forest June 2016
This is the yard last year with the view from the side of the orange and apple trees. - 2015

Here is the yard today from the same spot. (2016)

Another view with the hoop coop in the background

Can't wait to see how these will look by this time next year and how much more produce we will have enjoyed by then!!

Happy Gardening **

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chicken Hoop Coop

We first began to build the hoop house for more tender plants to grow in, but when we got all our chicks we looked at this space and decided to add to it and make ourselves a chicken hoop coop.

The first thing we needed to do was add a second hoop house and then figure out how we wanted to build out the enclosed coop portion.  After considering our options we chose to buy an 8 x 6 metal shed to place at the end of the hoop coop. We also placed a door between the two hoops so we could separate the two hoops and to be able to finish the first part of it sooner rather than later.

Original hoop house we intended to cover with shade cloth and  use for plants

The second hoop will go up right next to the first,  doubling the original 12 x 12 space

Gluing the pvc sticks together for the hoops span

The girls helping Kevin secure the hoops in place

Preparing the wood end pieces for securing the two hoops together and to be able to install a door between them

Both hoop houses ready to go

View from the end we'll put the shed and side access doors on

To buy time as we built the coop and with the chicks outgrowing their multiple tubs in the garage, we picked up and built this temporary coop next to the house, reusing a coop that was being removed at a house my uncle toured when he was looking to buy a home to move into down here. He asked the owner about taking it off their hands and she was all too happy to have us finish taking it down and haul it away.  It worked out well, and gave us the time we needed to complete the build out correctly. Plus saved us having to invest in a temporary coop - got to love that!

Kevin putting up the temporary coop by the side of the house
Shed base added to the end of hoop area.  It took awhile to get this completely level
as the ground here was really uneven

Shed build out

Shed ready for doors - We also had to cut and add extensions to the last two pieces of pvc to allow for the height of the shed roof.   Then added extra wood on the shed to staple the hard wire to.

Shed doors being built

Kevin worked to have the door panels overlap for security and weatherproofing

The window design for both doors - hinged flap with hard wire and screens

Door installation

And the hardware added to lock everything up
Windows cut into back of shed
As the shed went up we put in features we felt would be useful.  These included insulation, moisture barrier, plastic on the lower part of the walls and laminate flooring with a board across the double doorway for using the deep litter method with pine shavings.  The windows have both hard wire for safety and screen to keep the little bugs and mosquitoes out. The chicken door has a rope for opening and closing from the outside by the main doors, and the main double doors have larger windows for good air flow.

Windows and chicken door framed out

Sizing laminate for floor

Flooring in and framing done

Plastic for wall barrier being cut

Chicken door added and wire for windows.  Moisture barrier up on walls
Roosting bar in, plastic over moisture barrier and on chicken door

Pine shavings down

The roosting bar inside was made using scrap wood and branches cut from our trees.  The nesting boxes are dollar store plastic tubs in a repurposed homeschool cabinet the girls had broken the doors on. We can add another set of nesting boxes as needed.

Old school cabinet repurposed for nesting boxes. Kevin still needs to add bars to the front for access.

Ceramic eggs for nesting boxes

Nesting boxes installed. These have the stepped up bars across the front for access to all levels.

Window hooks installed to keep windows open for air flow

Close up of the hooks

With the shed interior completed, it was time for the hard wire to go up on the first hoop attached to the shed. We carefully overlapped the wire for added strength and security.  Once the wire was in place, the side doors were installed.  We intend to make chicken tunnels to move the birds around the yard so these doors will assist in more easily channeling the birds out and into the tunnels or chicken tractor.

Looking at the hoop coop from the opposite side - ready for wire

First side wire up

Back wall - putting wire up. My uncle came over to help us out.

Covered with wire. You can see the cut pvc and extra wood to secure the wire and the hoop to the shed.

Wire with extra security and base wire

Overlapped wire is zip tied and wire wrapped together

Base wire is stapled to side, zip tied and weighted on bottom

View from the back

Once the wire was up on the hoop, we overlapped and added wire to extend out from the base for anything that might try to dig in and then weighted it down for now with large pine logs from the tree we had taken down. With all this done it was time to add a roost.  We reused the roof portion of the free coop we got and added branches to its sides.  Now it was time for a cover to protect from rain and sun.  I found an agricultural fabric cover at Tractor Supply that was perfect and less expensive than the shade cloth we were originally looking at using.  Once I had this up and secure it was time for the chickens to check out their new lodgings.

Exploring and loving their new space

They made quick work of clearing out the lawn and weeds as they happily scratched and pecked at the ground.  We still had the chicken door to the shed closed off because the interior shed temperature remained too warm. We decided after considering our venting or cupola options, to add a second roof when we found the light weight, but well insulated corrugated cellulose fiber/asphalt roof panels at Lowe's.   Even better they were clearing out their stock of white panels and the price was half what it had originally been.  We decided to buy four and the center roof vent, then build side supports so there would be a shade and rain overhang for the sides and front of the shed.  We also added a layer of insulation between the original shed roof and the second roof.  The temperature difference was substantial and made the interior comfortable, even with the recent heat wave we've had.

Putting the furring strips down to attach the panels to

Adding insulation between roof sections

1st panel in place

Putting the roof vent on
Second roof on with vent weighted down while liquid nail product dries

Side support lumber added - I still need to paint this and the doors
Hoop coop with side support up and agriculture fabric on hoop

With the roof done it was time to open the door and let the chickens check out the interior.  Despite all our hard work it took them two full days to get past being "chicken" and willingly walk and stay inside.  Now they love it and regularly hang out in there.
One of the Polish chickens deciding if its safe to come inside

Right side access door

Left slider side access door

We still have the second hoop to complete with an end door and wire.  For now it's partially covered with the agrofabric and makes for a nice shady area to stand and watch the chickens antics, or duck under when you're working in the yard and the heat or sudden rain shower causes you to seek a bit of shelter.  Once the two side are complete, I'll work to add planting beds next to the coop, some paint and trellises to make the coop more attractive and to make use of plants to act as insect repellent, shade and additional feed for my girls.

View from window in back of shed at hoop with shade cloth that covers part of the second hoop.

Hannah holding one of the Polish chickens inside the coop

So that's it for now on our hoop coop. I'll update once we complete the second section and add some decorative touches to improve the appearance and add useful shading plants on a trellis.