Friday, December 28, 2012

Plan Your Asparagus Patch


A meal of fresh asparagus picked from the garden and brought into the house for a quick sauté in butter and a sprinkle with salt is one of the first signs of spring in my garden.  The first indication that anything is growing in my asparagus patch is the green spears that push through the mulch and look like the ones you buy in the grocery store.  After I pick the asparagus for about 6 weeks for my mature patch, I stop picking and allow the plants to grow.  The spears grow into 3 feet tall feathery bushes with foliage that resembles that of a very fine-leafed fern, and visitors to my garden are often mystified as to the identity of those strange plants.
 
Garden centers and catalogs sell seed year-round, and they sell crowns, which are dormant asparagus roots, in the late winter and early spring.  Start seeds in early spring.  Some common varieties are the heirloom “Mary Washington,” which has male and female plants, “Jersey Knight,” a hybrid with all-male plants, and “Purple Passion,” a hybrid with purple spears.  All-male plants produce bigger harvests than female plants because they do not waste energy making seeds.

Crowns, although they are the most expensive way to start asparagus, produce an asparagus harvest more quickly than plants started from seed.  Plant them as soon as you obtain them about six inches deep.  After planting and watering the crowns, cover the bed with 4 to 6 inches of mulch, leaving a small opening on top of every crown for the first tiny spears to emerge.  After the spears emerge, tuck mulch around the spears.  In subsequent years, mature plants have no trouble pushing spears through the mulch, so cover the entire bed with mulch. 

Unlike the asparagus you see in the grocery store, homegrown asparagus varies in diameter, but all tastes the same.  Harvest asparagus when it is 6 to 8 inches tall by pulling over the stalk until it snaps.  If I don’t have enough for a meal, I store spears for a few days in the refrigerator, with the ends wrapped in a moist paper towel in a closed plastic bag. 

Harvest no asparagus the first and second springs after planting if the plants were started from seed because the plant needs to devote all its energy to growing larger.  Finally, the third spring, harvest asparagus for a couple of weeks.  When the newly sprouted spears look consistently pencil-skinny, it is time to stop harvesting.  In subsequent years, harvest until the spears become skinny, usually after 6 to 8 weeks of harvest. 
Harvest a few spears the second year after planting if the plants were started from crowns, and harvest for 6 to 8 weeks in subsequent years, but stop when the spears begin to be skinny.  The remaining spears will grow into ferny little trees to adorn the garden until frost. Harvesting for longer than recommended weakens the plants.

Winter is a great time to prepare an asparagus patch.  The weather is pleasant for work, and fall leaves are available for mulch.  Asparagus is one of the easiest vegetables to grow, but planting it does require some planning since a healthy asparagus patch can produce spears for decades.  Choose a site with well-drained soil in full sun. 

Enrich the soil with compost, organic fertilizer, and lime if the soil requires it.  Eradicate any serious weed problems before planting because tilling the soil among the plants is impossible, and removing invasive weed roots from among the spears is a tedious job.  If you don’t have enough room to devote an entire bed to asparagus, mix in some plants with your perennial flowers.  Asparagus comes up at about the same time spring bulbs bloom, and the mature foliage complements flowers. 



Monday, December 10, 2012

Build a Cold Frame and Harvest Vegetables All Winter


If the cold temperatures a few weeks ago damaged your garden plants, perhaps it’s time for you to build a cold frame.  Because the runners of a nearby blackberry bush scurried under the base of the cold frame and sprouted a new plant inside the open box, and I procrastinated about removing it, I managed to plant my cold frame just before the recent cold snap.  However, the protective environment of the cold frame will cause the seeds to germinate, and I’ll soon have happy lettuces and spinach for the rest of the winter.

Unless snow falls or the temperature remains below freezing all day, which rarely happens here in SC,  I open the cover of the cold frame every morning.  Winter vegetables do not enjoy temperatures much above 70°F;  think about how easily your car heats to that temperature and beyond on an otherwise chilly day if it’s parked in the sun. 
My cold frame

My husband and I made my cold frame, which is a box covered with glass, with a discarded shower door.  Any glass or Plexiglas door or window would work; the glass allows sunshine and heat to reach the plants inside the cold frame.  If you were going to open the lid daily to allow sunlight to reach the plants, even an opaque lid would work.  The plants will be fine in the shade for a day or two if very cold weather threatens.  After you raise the lid, make sure to attach it to the ground in some way so that strong gusts of wind do not suddenly close it and shatter the glass. 

We made the sides of my cold frame out of treated lumber.  We caulked the joints and put some weather-stripping along the top of the frame to prevent drafts.  The back of the cold frame is about 18 inches high, and it slopes down to the front at about a 40-degree angle toward the southern sky; the front is about 8 inches high.  This slope is supposed to maximize the amount of captured sunlight.

If carpentry is not your forte, use stacked hay bales, concrete blocks, or landscape timbers.  My mother surrounded some of her vulnerable plants with black plastic bags full of leaves and found they provided sufficient insulation to protect them from much damage, especially if she draped a sheet of plastic over the top of the circle of bags.  Plug as many cracks as you can.

Place your cold frame directly on the ground, fill your cold frame with compost-enriched soil, and plant the seeds or transplants.  Because of the greenhouse-like moist environment, seeds sprout quickly and are the most economical choice.  Water the soil when it begins to dry out and fertilize the plants as you would in your garden. 


The best plants for a cold frame are lettuces, spinach, collards, and other cool-season greens.  Carrots, beets, and parsnips also like the protected environment.  Depending on your cold frame’s interior height, you might also be able to grow broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  This winter, I am growing broccoli inside a cold frame without a lid, because it shattered in a wind gust, and I am protecting them with a sheet of plastic.

Gardening supply companies carry prefabricated cold frames; harvesting your own salad greens instead of buying them will offset the purchase price quickly.



 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Southern Gardener Visits New England


Fall, if you can avoid hurricanes, is a perfect time to travel to the New England states.  My husband and I traveled there for our first trip in mid-October, fortunately for us the week before Hurricane Sandy struck, and we enjoyed the beautiful leaves, perfect fall weather, and absence of crowds of tourists.  The tiny beach communities, which tourists packed a couple of months earlier, were pleasantly empty, but the businesses had not yet closed for the winter.  Of course, it was too cold to go to the beach, but who wants to go to a New England beach when we have beautiful ones at home?

During my trip, I sought out farms and gardens, and was again fascinated, as I was during my trips to the Midwest, to see corn, tomatoes, beets, and lettuce sharing space in a farmers market where all the crops were locally grown.  The farmers did confess that they grew the tomatoes in greenhouses. 
Boston Public Market


In Boston, in the spaces among skyscrapers and 400-year-old churches, farmers brought beautiful potatoes, lettuce, spinach, and apples for sale to city residents; I said, apologetically, that I was a tourist without a home or a kitchen and couldn’t buy anything, although I wished I could.  Free range eggs were $7 a dozen, but organic meat cost about the same it does in SC.  Some of the farmers confessed that they were looking forward to the end of the season when the work would end for a time; farmers can work year-round in our mild climate. 

A variety of products at the Boston Public Market
Garden in the courtyard at theBoston Public Library

In Maine, we visited Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport.  As we drove up, we saw a farmer unsuccessfully trying to get a recalcitrant pig back into his quarters; he failed, and the pig later greeted us, wagged his tail like a dog, and scratched his back on picnic tables and benches.


We saw a pen of cranky chickens in the barn; they were nearly silent instead of constantly clucking.  Most of them were molting, or shedding their feathers, and that process irritates chickens.  They had access to the outdoors, but only a few seemed interested in venturing outside.  Perhaps they knew that 6-8 months of snow and ice would come soon, and they were mad.
Gardens at Wolfe's Neck Farm

Although frost had nipped some of the tenderest plants in some places, fall-blooming flowers such as salvias, dahlias and asters shone among the brilliantly colored fall leaves.  We saw flower gardens in any place I could peek among fence slats to see the garden.  I especially enjoyed the gardens, and touring the house at the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, inspiration for the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name.
Gardens at the House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

Although I complain about my clay, and I loved the beautiful black soil in New England, I am glad I do not have to contend with the rocky soil of New England.  Rocks cover the coastline and beaches, and farmers in New England pick more rocks out of the soil every spring as the frost heaves them out over the winter.  I look on my relatively rock-free soil with new appreciation, even if I have to recreate the topsoil that long ago washed away while the land was farmed for cotton.
Gardens at John Adams and John Quincy Adams home site in Quincy, Massachusetts

I enjoyed my trip, but I am glad to be home. It’s nice to know that most of our winter weather is as lovely as their fall weather.  I would like to see a New England spring.  I imagine that April and May, still too cool for the beach crowds but perfect for spring flowers, would be beautiful, as long as all the snow was gone.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poor, Poor, Mr. Cuteypants, You Crazy Guinea


I wish my guineas, The Pearl and Mr. Cuteypants (named by my 6-year-old daughter) would learn to fly on purpose.  It shouldn’t be that hard, should it?  Most birds do it all the time.  I imagine normal birds think about flying the way we think about walking: “Oh, dear, there’s a dog I need to escape.  I will fly to safety.”  They fly to safety.  “Now the dog is gone, so I’ll fly back to my nest.”  They fly home. 


Guineas apparently lack such logical thought, because nearly every day I have to help them solve some problem.  A few weeks ago,  I went out after dark to close the hen house door.  The guineas were absent.  I found The Pearl inside the 6-foot-tall fence surrounding the garden, and I found Mr. Cuteypants outside the fence opposite The Pearl.  Both birds had snuggled themselves on the ground, separated only by the fence wire, for the night, ignoring the supposedly powerful instincts they have to fly up to roost at night. 
The Pearl and Mr. Cuteypants


I managed to chase Mr. Cuteypants into the pen with the chickens, but I did not even try to get The Pearl out of the garden and into the pen.  I still have a scar on my leg from the last time I tried to remove him from the garden at night.  The next morning, The Pearl paced along the fence in agitation because he was not with the rest of the birds.  I went out into the garden and chased him (keeping a safe distance from his claws) until he was sufficiently startled to fly over the fence and out of the garden.

Another night, I had some of the chickens inside my fenced garden to do some clean-up work of frost-damaged bean plants.  I put up a temporary fence to keep the chickens away from growing plants and to direct the chickens to sleep in the guinea castle my husband built in which the guineas refused to sleep.  Somehow, because I put their favorite chicken, pictured below beside them on the roost, in the pen inside the garden,  they figured out how to get inside the walled garden, inside the temporary fence, and into the guinea house.
They got into the guinea house, but do you think they could figure out how to get back OUT of the garden in the morning?  


One evening, as I walked across the yard, I was astonished to see the guineas fly across the yard and onto the roof of the house.  They seemed as surprised as I was by their sudden ability to fly to such heights. They walked around for awhile on the roof, and, despite my worries that they wouldn't figure out how to get off the roof and would stay there, squawking, all night, they did manage to figure out how to get off the roof.


 
The guineas appear to become alarmed about something and fly out of the pen, without conscious thought.  Then they circle the pen, trying desperately to fit through the electrified netting (which apparently does not shock them) the way they were able to when they were smaller.  Now they cannot fit through the holes, and they cannot remember how in the world they managed to get out of the pen.  My husband says I should just leave them alone, and eventually they will figure out how to get back into the pen.  That may be true, but I do feel sorry for them when they are separated from the rest of the flock and pace around the pen for hours while they try desperately to get back inside. 

This is when I started worrying about whether or not they could figure out how to get off the roof...

Every day I say something along the lines of, “Poor Mr. Cuteypants.  You really are too stupid to live.  God bless you.”  Or, “Mr. Cuteypants, you goofy bird, stop that!”  My mother reminds Mr. Cuteypants that he was once in the mouth of a blacksnake and that he should behave.  He (she) doesn’t care.

Names notwithstanding, I think Mr. Cuteypants is a female, because he (she) calls “buck-wheat!” or “pot-black!” when something unusual happens.  The Pearl has larger wattles than Mr. Cuteypants, and does not say “buck-wheat.”  He also tends to bully the other birds.  Mr. Cuteypants scolds visitors to my home, but he knows who lives here and doesn’t scold the residents.

My husband saw The Pearl running across the yard, with Mr. Cuteypants following behind him.  Poor Mr. Cuteypants looked away, and The Pearl stopped running.  Mr. Cuteypants rear-ended The Pearl, resulting in a squawking mass of feathers flying into the air as they scared each other.  I saw Mr. Cuteypants trip over a root and fall on his face.

Mr. Cuteypants doesn’t scold our dachshunds either, but he knows deer don’t belong in the yard.  How he knows all this but he cannot figure out how to fly on purpose is beyond me.  The existence of guineas, with their crazy behavior and wild punk rock spiked neck hair, are, along with dachshunds, proof that God has a sense of humor.


This week, The Pearl redeemed himself for eternity for all his antics by chasing a hawk out of the chicken pen.  A hawk descended into the pen, and all the chickens ran into the chicken house.  Mr. Cuteypants flew out of the pen in agitation, but The Pearl fought against the hawk, scaring him away where he tried to recover his pride about twenty feet off the ground in a pine tree.  The Pearl flew up near the hawk, continuing the attack, and the hawk flew away into the woods.  Of course, at bedtime, I had to hold up the fence so The Pearl could slip under the fence and back into the pen with the chickens.




Monday, November 5, 2012

"Uh-oh, Mommy, I Breaked the Egg!"

Hens lay fewer eggs when they days get shorter; their bodies tell them it's time to rest, just as we feel the need to stay inside and rest when daylight fades early.  Yesterday, I got two eggs from my eight hens; today I got one egg, and that one egg will not make it to the table.

My three-year-old daughter wanted to carry the egg, which she did, and to hold it (we didn't go directly to the house) for awhile.  I tried to get her to lay it down, but she wasn't interested in doing that, and I didn't want to make an issue of the egg.  Three-year-olds can be careful, right?

Then the predictable conversation occurred:  "I not break it, Mommy."  "Okay, good.  Be careful!"

"Uh-oh Mommy, I break it a little bit.  There's a crack.  It not open up."  "Okay, be careful!"

In the interim I was trying to get a fence up so the chickens didn't destroy my garden, and was shooing away a chicken that was pecking at my Brussels sprout plant.

"UH-OH MOMMY!! (egg streams through the fingers).  I breaked it!!"


Monday, October 29, 2012

Plant Bulbs of Spring-Blooming Flowers Now


Each spring, I look forward to the arrival of the flowers that emerge from bulbs I have nearly forgotten while the earth covers them for more than six months out of the year.  After the flowers bloom, I leave the messy foliage to grow, because that is the way the bulb obtains nutrients for next year’s flowers, until the foliage melts into the soil and the exuberance of the summer garden covers the area.
I enjoy driving country roads in the spring and seeing the clumps of bulbs marking the sites of long-rotted houses.  I imagine a farm wife stepping out the door one fall day to plant them with apron pockets full of bulbs a friend or relative gave her, for the farm wife in my imagination would not have enough extra money to spend it on something as frivolous as flowers.

She kneels in the soil, digs a spot for the bulbs, and tucks them beneath the soil.  In spring, she awaits their green shoots as they push through the soil, and admonishes her many children to stay out of the flowerbed.  However far they may travel from home as adults, the scent and sight of those sorts of flowers forever remind her children of spring in their mother’s garden.
One of my babies is puzzled by this flower as we enjoy the spring bulbs


Over the years, the bulbs multiply. While the bulbs are dormant, in the summer and early fall, she digs the bulbs and passes along the bulbs to some other wife, or she sends her newly married daughters or daughters-in-law with bulbs to decorate their gardens.  Depending on the bulb, she might even decide that that she has more than she knows what to do with, so she digs bulbs and tosses them over the fence into the cow pasture, where they put out roots, grow, and bloom.

My grandmother tossed some bulbs over the fence into the cow pasture many years before I was born, because she needed them out of her garden and had no one else to give them to, and there they grew and bloomed.  We call them “Butter and Eggs” and the ruffled blooms are tinged with green.  I dug some bulbs out of the cow pasture and brought them home to my garden.
Bulbs decorate the winter garden.  The white plastic protected the winter vegetables, and it must be a warm day because the lid on the cold frame is open at the rear center of the photo.


My mother has beautiful white daffodils by the back door, and some more tiny yellow ones by the basement steps.  I have helped myself to those bulbs, and I wrestled a hole in the hard clay at my house to put in the bulbs.  Now my bulbs need thinning, and I will pass bulbs along to someone, or I’ll expand my plantings of
bulbs.

Daffodils turn towards the sun, and unfortunately for the situation of this flowerbed, that means they turn away from the   viewer of the flowerbed


I have planted daffodils throughout my woods, and in early spring, the woods are speckled with spots of yellow and white flowers.  If you want daffodils, obtain some from a friend or buy some at the garden center.  Daffodils are reliably perennial, or come back every year, here.  Deer do not usually eat them, and so they are the perfect bulb to plant nearly anywhere in full sun.

Another baby thinks daffodils might be tasty (don't worry, I didn't let her munch down)


Tulips are beautiful, but they do not reliably come back here because our winters are not cold enough to give them the winter chill they need to prosper.  I plant them anyway, and encourage them to bloom by either putting them in the refrigerator, inside a paper bag, away from ripening fruit for about six week before I plant them, or by planting them in a container outside where they get cold temperatures without the insulating effects of the earth.  Although the aforementioned farmwife would think me extravagantly wasteful, I usually treat them as annuals, and I pull them out and discard them when they have finished blooming.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Enrich Your Soil with Cover Crops


As I clear the summer garden of plants that are past their time, in the areas where I do not have mulch, I am planting cover crops.  As every gardener knows, something is going to grow on bare soil.  If the gardener plants nothing, weeds will take the job, and weeds are better than bare soil.  Weeds prevent soil erosion and enrich the soil when they decompose.  The only problem with weeds is that either they shed thousands of seeds that make more weed plants, or they have invasive roots that make life difficult for the plants you actually want to grow in the garden.

A cover crop is any crop you plant in an otherwise bare section of the garden to enrich the soil or to prevent weeds.  If the gardener tills in the cover crop, soil microbes and worms decompose the crop and enrich the soil.  If the cover crop remains on top of the soil and dies, worms and microbes will come up to consume the crop.  Turning a flock of chickens into the cover crop nourishes the chickens as they eat the crop, helps till in the cover crop, and enriches the soil.

In past years, I have planted canola (rape), and daikon radishes in the hard clay outside my garden so that their thick taproots could break up the soil.  Last winter, I planted rye grass in the orchard area and in the newly cleared land where we cut pine trees.  The color of the rye grass is an excellent indicator of soil fertility: among the apple trees, where the chickens had spent a lot of time and I had added compost to the soil, the grass was thick and dark green.  In the newly cleared area, the grass had trouble growing at all.  The chickens enjoyed eating the rye grass and seed when we turned them in the area.  
  
Healthy rye grass fertilized by chicken manure

Stunted rye grass in newly cleared area


Inside the garden, I planted wheat and oats in small sections of the garden last fall, and this fall I have planted large areas of the garden in these grains.  I allowed the grains to make seed last spring, which I fed to my chickens.  I cut the grain stalks to the ground, used the straw as mulch, and planted my sweet potatoes among the stubble.  The grain will not grow back during the summer’s heat.


Last year's cover crop of wheat.  The chickens enjoyed the grain!
I tilled some of my rye grass into the soil, and some I mowed.  Heat kills rye grass, and it is an annual, so it will not become a weed.  Rye is one of the easiest cover crops because the inexpensive seed is available in many stores and it germinates quickly. Heat also kills crimson clover, and clover fixes nitrogen in the soil.  One cover crop I do not use is vetch.  Many gardening books recommend using it as a cover crop, and the writers of those books must not have the problems we do with vetch invading the garden as a weed. 

If you plow the garden every spring, using cover crops is easy because you can plow them in and allow them to decompose for a few weeks before you plant.  I do not usually till the soil, so I must plan carefully to avoid having a thick patch of something difficult to remove growing in the place I want to plant my spring vegetables.  However, with some planning, I can mow the cover crop, smother it with mulch, or plant my summer plants along with the cover crop and wait for summer’s heat to kill it. 

Buy seeds for cover crops at local feed stores and garden centers.  Feed stores carry varieties that are successful locally.  Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply, at www.groworganic.com and Johnny’s Selected Seeds at www.johnnyseeds.com also carry many cover crop seeds.  Read the seed descriptions carefully so you do not end up with vetch or some other weedy crop; buy locally to help you buy crops that do not become weeds.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Frost is Coming Soon


As I write this, I am sitting in front of an open window, enjoying the pleasant coolness of the very early morning thanks to a 5 AM wake up call by my 3 year old.  She’s gone back to sleep, thank God, but I remained awake and thought I’d get something more useful than lying in bed trying in vain to go to back to sleep.  As my mother reminds me, just as soon as she starts sleeping to a reasonable hour in the morning, she’ll become difficult to wake up in the morning.   

This column is about gardening, not children, though.  The first frost will arrive within the next month, and it’s time to think about preparing for it.  Open windows at 5 AM will no longer be pleasant, and fresh from the garden tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers will be gone for another season.  I’ll have to fill my girls with as many cucumbers as possible before they are gone.  If you grow cucumbers, you know that they grow from tender, edible vegetables into tough behemoths overnight, and the chickens have certainly enjoyed eating the overgrown ones. 

If the first frost finds you fortunate enough to have green tomatoes on the vine, pick them before frost touches them, wrap them in newspaper, and store them in an unheated, but above freezing, area.  It’s easy to preserve bell peppers by chopping them and sautéing them briefly, then freezing them.  Try to lay the bag flat in the freezer, and to move the peppers around a bit so they don’t freeze into one huge ball.  When your recipe calls for chopped cooked peppers, use some of yours from the summer. 

Although I have enjoyed the abundance of lima beans this summer, they do take a very long time to shell.   My daughters and I shelled about 1 ½ quarts of lima beans last week, and with their help, which was actual help, not hindrance, it took us about 30 minutes.  Do not complain to farmers at the market about the cost of shelled lima beans.  I will be glad for a break from shelling lima beans; I can’t stop picking them until frost comes because I do love to eat them.

My sweet potatoes have taken over the garden.  At the beginning of the summer, a rabbit nibbled the new vines.  I believe he even dug a home for himself near a hole created by a rotting tree stump near some asparagus.  He didn’t do any serious damage to my garden, and now he’s too fat to get through the wire into the garden.  We enjoy seeing a real “Peter Rabbit” in the yard, and his cuteness, and lack of serious damage to any plants, saved him.  Before the first frost, I’ll dig my sweet potatoes.  Temperatures much below 50°F damage the tubers, so I’ll get them out of the ground within the next couple of weeks, let them air dry for a week or so in the garage as long as temperatures stay warm, and then I’ll store them inside the house in a dark closet.

I’ll also take cuttings of coleus, geraniums, and other tender annuals that I will root in water and then transfer to soil and save over the winter.  My husband does enjoy having an empty tub in our bathroom in the summer, when all the houseplants go outside for a vacation, but I’ll soon fill it, which is positioned in front of a south-facing glass block window, with houseplants and other tender plants I hope to protect throughout the winter. 

Go ahead now and find a place for the houseplants indoors, and spray them with water to remove the insects that might have found a home in them for the summer.  Shake them to remove dead leaves, and repot any that need it.  Plan for the arrival of the first frost, and that way, the night before the frost will find you relaxed instead of dashing about in the twilight, filling your entryway with plants, and picking vegetables you are desperately trying to save.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Video of My Chickens Cleaning My Shoes of Beggar Lice

Most people have had the irritating experience of walking through a weedy area and emerging with beggar lice, the little velcro-like seeds of the Desmodium plant, stuck all over their shoes and pants.  I emerged from a weedy area covered in the seeds, and as I thought about how to rid myself of them, I stepped into the chicken pen to change out their water.  The chickens converged on my shoes and quickly picked them clean.      Of course, I had to go back to the weedy area, walk through it again to get more beggar lice stuck to my shoes, and film it.  Here it is.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Teachers, Enter Your Third Grade Class in This Gardening Contest

Photo Courtesy of Bonnie's Plants

Earlier this month, Bonnie’s Plants announced its annual Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program for third grade classrooms.  Although teachers need to sign up their students for the program now, Bonnie’s Plants will deliver the cabbage plants in the spring.  The free plants are OS Cross (Over-sized), which produce giant (as in up to 65 pound) cabbages.

In 2002, Bonnie Plants began the program to “inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people,” according to their press release.  Each year, Bonnie Plants gives more than one million 2-inch cabbage plants to 3rd grade classrooms.  The company provides detailed growing instructions, and each child takes responsibility for nurturing his or her own plant.  At the end of the growing season, in May or June, each class selects a winner based the size, appearance, and maturity of the cabbage and Bonnie's Plants enters the class winners in a $1,000 state scholarship drawing. 

Children can plant the cabbages in containers or in the soil.  The directions include complete care instructions, information about possible pests and diseases, as well as guidelines about how to know when the cabbage is ready to harvest, so no gardening experience is necessary.  Teachers search for ways to make problem solving and research skills relevant to their students, and figuring out how to defeat pests and diseases to grow a giant cabbage is a fun way to use these skills. 
Teachers may register their classes at http://bonniecabbageprogram.com.  As for what to do with a 40-pound cabbage, well that is another problem the children will need to solve.  Maybe they can make coleslaw for the entire school!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Flowers are Blooming


The cool weather this week has me looking forward to all the things about fall I love: changing leaf colors (which will be especially exciting this fall because my youngest daughter has decided her favorite color is orange, and we’ll be on a constant search for bright orange leaves) fall-blooming flowers, and open windows in the house.

In my garden, the palette of flower colors is slowly changing from pinks and blues to yellows, oranges, and purples.  Along the back perennial border, Mexican bush sage is beginning to bloom in purple spires, and the buds of goldenrod are about to break into yellow plumes of color.  Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not aggravate allergic people; ragweed, which blooms at about the same time, causes sniffles.  

Outside the vegetable garden, bright orange tithonia is taller than I am.  Along with the goldenrod, red dahlia, and red pineapple sage, the warm colors contrast well with the cool purple of the butterfly bush.  Russian sage, or Perovskia atriplicifolia, gives more purple color.  The orange berries from my Pyracantha shrub give a spot of bright orange that will last through the winter.


Sedum 'Autumn Joy' with guineas in the background
Sedum, a nondescript succulent green perennial for most of the year, is blooming and attracting beneficial insects.  ‘Autumn Joy’ is in bloom with russet orange flowers, and a shorter sedum blooms in pink.  The dried blooms will give the garden structure and interest through the winter.  Anemones, like ‘Robutissima’ and ‘Honorine Johbert’ provide touches of pink, purple, and white, as do asters. 
Anemone




Anemone 'Honore Jobert'

A few months back, I cut back my chrysanthemums to encourage them to bloom during the proper “mum blooming” time, fall.  I planted mine in the garden like any other perennial, and the poor things do not realize that humans have decided that mums should only bloom in the fall.  They prefer to bloom in the summer.  They form buds in late June, and to prevent the early blossoms, I give them all a haircut to within a couple of inches of the ground with some hedge trimmers.  They have time to grow back so they will bloom in the fall.


Pyracantha with orange berries contrasts well with the purple Mexican Sage

I have no idea why this iris is blooming now, but I do enjoy it


If you want to buy some fall-blooming perennials, garden centers should have them now, or your gardening friends will be happy to share theirs.  Plant them now and keep them well watered and you should have fall flowers in the garden before frost.  If you buy chrysanthemums, consider buying some in 4-inch or smaller pots instead of just the large, showy ones, and plant them in the perennial border.  They will bloom this fall, and if you give them a haircut when the buds form in the early summer, they will bloom again next fall.  Perennials can look ragged during the winter after the foliage has died, so, on a pleasant winter day, go through your beds and cut to the ground any brown sticks and foliage. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Weeds, Oh Weeds!


Many folks start out with plans to have a perfect garden in the spring, when the earth is fresh and the sun provides welcome warmth instead of burning the skin.  It’s easy to ignore the reality of crabgrass and other weeds that can take over the summer garden when life gets too busy for weeding and rain helps the weeds grow. 

I’ve seen many gardens covered with knee-high weeds recently, and I empathize with the gardeners; knee-high weeds appear in my garden, too.  If you would like to start over and plant a fall garden but despair of ever getting through that mass of weeds to find the soil, it is possible to resurrect the plot of soil you lovingly tended back in April and to have lettuce and broccoli this fall. 

If you can, mow the area with a lawnmower with a bagging attachment and throw the seed-filled clippings in the garbage.  Make rows and planting spaces in the grass, and then gather a lot of newspapers and cardboard, mush down the weeds if you can’t mow them, and spread the paper on top of the weeds.  Do try to remove the seeds of weeds that have made seed.  Use thick, overlapping sections of paper—weeds will laugh at a couple of sheets of paper.  Make sure you lay out your rows before you apply the paper, or you’ll have to tear through paper to put in your plants or seeds. 

Cover the paper with hay, leaves, or whatever you can find, just make sure to put down a layer about three inches thick.  Put the paper and mulch up to the edge of the rows.  Plant seeds or put in transplants, and make sure the mulch and paper borders the rows.  In a few hours, you will have a perfect fall garden with little work, at least compared to digging out all those weeds.

Free mulch is easy to find in the fall.  Leaves will soon fall from the trees and people will put bags of them on the side of the road, which you can bring home to cover your weedy garden.  Mulch needs to be so plentiful and cheap that you can apply a thick layer to fully shade out any weeds.

One cause of weedy gardens is that the optimistic gardener, in the beautiful spring weather, plants a garden that’s too large for his or her time and energy.  Maybe you really have time to tend a garden that’s half the size of the one you have, and you can permanently mulch the other half, and rotate garden sides every year.  Or you can put cover crops to enrich the soil and shade out weeds on the unused side.  That way, you can enjoy a well-tended garden all year long instead of dreading a weedy mess.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dachshund Meets Guineas

Mr. Schultz, my fearless dachshund, who has been known to chase after and scare off dogs 7 times his size, has developed respect for the guineas.  Mr. Cuteypants is the lavender/light gray guinea, and the Pearl is the larger one that's in charge.  We think the Pearl might be a male, and we are pretty sure Mr. Cuteypants, so named by my 6 year old, is a female.  If you'd like to hear the squawking of an alarmed guinea, here it is.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dirty Goat Farm


Rebecca and Keith Whiting operate Dirty Goat Farm in northeast Columbia.  Their original plan was, after leaving the Army, to move to the Midwest and operate a hobby farm while going to college.  Life intervened in these plans, and so they decided to stay in Columbia and farm instead.

In the space of a year or so, the family, with five children and  one on the way,  went from ordinary suburban life  to having numerous chickens and rabbits, several ducks, and some goats.  They started farming to be able to provide their family with homegrown meat and eggs at a cheaper price than in stores and to earn some money to supplement their income.  Some members of the family have food sensitivities and tolerate goat’s milk better than cow’s milk.  To avoid paying the high price of commercially produced goat’s milk they got their own goat.

They milk Carrie, a Nubian goat, twice a day, and the family enjoys the rich milk as an addition to many of their baked goods.  Carrie, as well as the children, seem to think she’s an overgrown dog; she seeks and tolerates the affection of five small children.  They have also made goat cheese, and are experimenting with ways to use the goat milk in other products.

Carrie

The family found out that the expression “breeding like rabbits” has its basis in truth: they started out with two rabbits, and within a month, the two rabbits had a litter of rabbits, and within another month that litter had more rabbits.  Now they keep the males and females segregated.  Some rabbits are designated as pets for the family’s children, but they sell or eat the others.

At the All Local Farmer’s Market http://www.stateplate.org/ on Saturday mornings in downtown Columbia, the Whitings sell homemade laundry products and cleaners,  tie-dyed shirts, and eggs from the flock of chickens that roam their yard.  They also offer classes on gardening, preserving food, sewing, and making soap.  Find them on Facebook,  visit Dirty Goat Farm’s blog at http://www.dirtygoatfarm.com/ , or call 803.865-7023 for more information about classes and their products.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preserving the Summer Harvest

Beautiful sauerkraut

What have you harvested this summer?  Overall, I am pleased with my harvest.  No gardener has a perfect year for every crop, and something always makes more than anyone can eat.
After canning 25 or so quarts of tomatoes, with some help from my mother who canned some tomatoes for me when I took a planned trip during the height of tomato season, I don’t plan to buy any canned tomatoes this winter. 

I canned green beans for the first time, and along with the canned beans my aunt gave me from her garden, we have plenty.  My lima beans are producing loads of beans, and I enlist my girls to help me shell them.  I blanch them and freeze them, and we will enjoy them all winter. 

Although my garlic wasn’t as productive this year as in previous years, I have enough to make it until the next garlic harvest.  In a month or two, it will be time to plant garlic again.  Most of my onions rotted.  Although I can grow green scallion onions year round, I have about given up on planting bulb onions for storage.  I could not resist planting some more bulb onion seeds I found, that are supposed to work in my climate, in the fall garden.  Mine have some sort of disease that causes them to rot.  If any of you have any suggestions on growing onions successfully, please let me know.

The okra is doing well, as usual, but the squash bugs and squash vine borers got my squash and zucchini.  I haven’t had nearly enough meals of fried squash this summer.  I suppose my arteries thank me.  I planted some squash seeds a couple of weeks ago in hopes that I can harvest some squash this fall.  I have lots of cantaloupes, watermelons, and cucumbers.

I harvested plenty of Irish potatoes, if I can only manage to eat them before they sprout eyes.  I wish our house had a root cellar or a basement for cool storage, but lacking that, I have them in a closet, covered with newspaper, on an air conditioning vent.  I must remember to remove them before I turn on the heat. I found this recipe for frozen hash browns, and used it to preserve some of my potatoes in the freezer.

Last winter, I made some sauerkraut from some cabbages I planted in the fall.  Sauerkraut is made of sliced cabbage and salt, and it sits in a cool (45-65 ° F) location for about 6 weeks while it ferments.  The garage was a great place for this process during the last mild winter, but lacking the aforementioned cellar, I had nowhere to place the sauerkraut I wanted to make from this spring’s cabbages.

Then I remembered our wine cooler, which keeps wine at 55°F.  I moved some wine bottles, set in the crock of sauerkraut, and it’s fermenting in the ideal conditions.  I made last winter’s sauerkraut from the traditional green cabbage; this spring the most prolific variety was red, and we will enjoy eating the glowing purple-red sauerkraut.
The wine cooler keeps sauerkraut and wine at a perfect temperature


Although preserving all this food is a lot of work, it’s worth it to reach into the pantry for some homegrown food instead of going to the store.  I do most of the work during a few summer months, and then we enjoy the peace of self-sufficiency the rest of the year.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Update on My Guineas


My guineas are finally doing something useful: sending out an alarm when some animal or person not usually in our yard approaches.  One night they began the alarm, the sound of which is hard to describe, and I looked out to see a deer walking up the neighbor's driveway.  The deer laid back its ears and looked nervously at the guineas, and as far as I know, went somewhere besides my yard for its dinner.

The guineas are not, as I had planned, roaming the yard and eating ticks.  They want to live with the chickens and won't use the nice home my husband built for them.    I only have two of the original six guineas left; a blacksnake killed three and one hung itself on a protruding nail inside the guinea house.

Mr. Cuteypants, the lavender guinea I rescued from the mouth of a blacksnake, described in this post.

The two guineas, Mr. Cuteypants and "the other one." My six-year-old daughter named Mr. Cuteypants.
Pearl Guinea, about 3 months old.  His/her (don't know yet) wattles will become bright red as he/she matures.
The guineas roost on the roof of the chicken tractor.  They are wild and won't let me catch them.  I guess they are safer on the roof of the chicken tractor than they would be in a tree; at least they are inside the electronet fencing.  Last night, some critter killed one of my laying hens, a Buff Orpington, and Mr. Cuteypants was missing.

We decided that the same critter that got the Buff Orpington did not get Mr. Cuteypants because there were no Mr. Cuteypants feathers all over the pen, unlike the snow flurry of Buff Orpington feathers.  It appears that the critter dug under the electronet fencing in some soft ground and entered the chicken tractor through some loose wire.  I moved the chickens this morning into a secure pen, and will make fortifications to the chicken tractor and I will move the fencing before I put them back.  The other guinea called for Mr. Cuteypants, and eventually he returned, unharmed.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

My Visit to Ohio


I enjoy visiting the Midwest, in the summer anyway.  My husband and I drove to northern Ohio for the wedding of a friend a few weeks ago and as I usually do when I travel, I sought out opportunities to explore the local gardens and farms. 

In Holmes County, Ohio, just off I-77, a large community of Amish and Mennonites farm the beautiful soil.  The roads have wide shoulders for horses and buggies, and huge barns and farmhouses are scattered across the rolling hills among the cornfields. 
Ohio farm country

We drove past many Amish families going for a drive or an errand in town. Young boys carried a load of tiny calves in a wagon, and older couples drove alone.  The people looked happy, unconcerned as I guess they were with getting to work on time or about the latest Facebook status update.  Couples smiled at each other and chatted as they rode along in the buggy.

Some of our society’s ills might be solved if it was still normal, as it once was, for twelve-year-old boys to be trusted with real responsibilities like managing two thousand-pound draft horses well enough to get the horses, the load of calves, and the boys safely along public roads to deliver the calves to their destination.  I have no twelve-year-old boys, but if I did, I am sure I would not trust them with a team of horses on a public road.  Think of how proud of themselves those boys must have been when they accomplish that important errand for their father. 

Young boys delivering calves

The Amish have their problems, and some of their rules about the use of modern technologies don’t make a lot of sense to me, but I am not Amish. An Amish businessman can hire someone to drive him in a car to the airport, where he’ll fly somewhere to conduct business, and then he’ll return home by hired car to his home without electricity. Somehow it's okay because he doesn't own or drive the car.

Outside of Amish country, I noticed the beautiful flower gardens surrounding many homes.  The sun doesn’t scorch plants in Ohio the way it does here, and maybe people find more energy to work in their gardens than we do because the ground there is frozen for nearly six months out of the year.  It would be nice to take a vacation from battling weeds for six months every year!

We saw fields of corn, of course, and many wheat fields filled with golden grain.  I have become so used to the drought in South Carolina in recent years that I was shocked to see the environment grow drier as we drove north.  Based on the healthy green foliage of the weeds and fields, North Carolina and Virginia appeared to have received at least minimal amounts of rain, but many of Ohio’s fields were brown.  In some places, the corn had formed tassels, but in other fields, the shriveled plants were barely two feet tall.
The drought will reduce the yield of corn, and it will make corn prices, and consequently the prices of meat, milk, and ethanol, increase over the next year.  I read in The State paper recently that because of well-timed rainstorms and some cool nights in June here, SC will produce a bumper crop of corn, for which our farmers are thankful.
Dry pastures in Ohio

On all my trips, I seek out gardens and farms to explore.  I enjoy seeing how plants perform in different areas.  I should probably take a trip to the Midwest during the middle of winter so I’ll think more realistically about the area—my friend had to explain what a sign in Cleveland denoting a street an “Emergency Snow Route” meant—but I also like keeping my idealistic view of this gardening heaven, even though I saw it without adequate rainfall.

Friday, August 3, 2012

When Basil Flourishes, Make Pesto

In my garden, the basil is growing wildly.  Three tiny black seeds that I sowed in the April soil have turned into three enormous plants that are covered with leaves, and, because I have been tardy in picking the basil leaves before they bloomed, flowers.  Herbs have the best flavor before they bloom, but even with the blossoms, this basil will make wonderful pesto.   

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I cut the plants off low to the ground, and they are already growing new leaves which I’ll make into another batch of pesto.  After I picked them in the morning, I let them sit in a sink of water for a while to give any critters time to leave the plants.

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After I picked off the leaves, I washed them and spun them dry in my salad spinner.

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I used one bulb, which means all the individual cloves of garlic on one of these bulbs, in the pesto.

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Traditionalists will be horrified, but I use cashew nuts in my pesto instead of pine nuts.  They are easier to find, much cheaper, and their flavor is similar to pine nuts.  The above picture shows the garlic and cashews I am about to chop in the food processor.

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I add parmesan cheese to the cashews and the garlic.  A food processor makes the entire process much easier. 

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I add basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil to the cashews, garlic, and cheese in the food processor bowl.  I  blend it until it’s the consistency of a thick liquid, adding more oil if necessary, and tasting to make sure the flavors are correct.IMG_2219

Here’s the finished product, ready to go into the freezer. 

I don’t actually use a recipe to make pesto because I’ve made it so long that I don’t need one.  When I was learning to cook, I remember asking my mother for recipes and she’s say, “I don’t use one, I just put in “enough.”  She was kind enough to figure out recipes with me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could cook without a recipe.

Now that I’m an experienced cook, I understand that eventually, you cook something so many times that you no longer need a recipe.  For those of you who need a recipe,  here’s a good one from Simply Recipes.com.  It suggests using walnuts in place of pine nuts.  For a true southern flavor, try collard greens and pecans.

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes

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INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
METHOD

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Yield: Makes 1 cup.

 

If your garden lacks basil plants, make sure to add some next year.  If you want to make some pesto this year, ask neighbors or friends, or your favorite farmer at the market.  Someone surely has some overgrown basil plants they’d be happy to share, especially if you give them a sample of the finished product.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It’s Time to Plant Your Fall Garden!

I know it is too hot to think about fall, but it is time to plan the fall garden and to start some seeds to grow into transplants to put out later in the fall. Many months of warm weather remain before the first fall frost arrives, so, in the South at least,  there is also plenty of time to plant more crops of beans, Crowder peas, basil, dill, cilantro, cucumbers, and winter squash, among other heat-loving plants, before frost arrives. If your first attempt at a summer garden failed, try again. Sometimes pests that attack plants early in the season have moved on later in the season.

I plan to sow some seeds in the garden within the next couple of weeks. I will start the seeds while it’s still hot instead of waiting for cooler temperatures because the plants need to become established before cooler weather comes. If I wait until late September when the weather cools, which I have done, frost will damage the baby plants and they won’t grow well during cold weather. Older plants handle the cold weather fine, and I am able to harvest from them throughout most of the winter. In the spring, they will resume growing ahead of new plants.

Before I sow any seeds during hot weather, I soak the soil with water. After I plant the seeds, I water them very gently, and continue to water them gently once or twice a day, depending on rainfall. Mature plants, with deep roots, need infrequent, long soakings. Seeds, which are only in the top inch or less of soil, need only enough water to keep the top inch or so of soil moist. They need gentle mists of water, because vigorous water applications will wash the seeds away.

After I sow the seeds, I put metal hoops across a garden row and I lay shade cloth across them, pinning it down with clothespins. Shade cloth is available at garden centers or at www.groworganic.com. Old sheets will work also; use something that blocks the hottest rays of the sun while allowing some light.

When the seeds sprout, I continue to keep the soil moist, but I gradually wean them off such frequent watering so they will develop deep roots. I leave the shade cloth up until the weather becomes cooler, and I gradually expose the seedlings to brighter sunlight. If the seedlings look too tall and spindly, they are not getting enough sunlight.

In the South, sow seeds outdoors for beets, carrots, collards, and rutabagas for the fall, and sow seeds of summer vegetables listed earlier. Indoors, sow seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.

In August, begin sowing seeds of kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, and spinach, along with more of the previously mentioned fall vegetables indoors. Keep the baby seedlings inside and away from scorching temperatures until the weather cools.

Outdoors, in August, continue to sow seeds of carrots, beets, chard, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and turnips. Keep the soil moist by frequently misting the soil with water, provide shade as needed, and you should have a garden ready for harvest throughout the fall and winter.

Google “what to plant now” for a list at www.motherearthnews.com, for the entire year, of which plants to sow indoors and outdoors at different times of the year for an ongoing harvest. Through succession planting, which is having another crop ready for the garden when the previous one is finished, I can harvest something from my garden every day of the year, and you can too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Help Your Garden Survive Summer

It is just too hot to contemplate planting anything, but gardeners must help the plants that are roasting in the heat survive. The rain that fell Sunday afternoon may bring our gardens through this heat wave.

My garden is holding up fairly well to the heat because of water conservation strategies I have employed through the years. I work every year to improve my soil because soil that contains lots of organic matter holds more moisture than sand or clay.

Mulch is my ally against drought and heat. Plant roots appreciate shade from temperatures over 100˚F as much as people do, and a thick layer of mulch insulates and cools the roots, and holds in available soil moisture. I choose cheap and plentiful sources of mulch over expensive and hard to get, and so I use partially rotten hay, leaves, grass clippings, newspapers, cardboard, and pine straw for mulch. Mulch also keeps the weeds from growing so I do not need to go out in this heat to weed the garden.

When I water my lawn and garden, I water them deeply and infrequently, and I water them only when rain does not fall. I do not sprinkle them every day because shallow, frequent watering encourages the plants to develop shallow roots that cannot tolerate drought. These lazy roots love their life of leisure without having to search for water. Like lazy humans, however, they are helpless when their water is not given to them. Deep, infrequent watering, which mimics natural rainfall, makes the roots of the plant search deep in the soil for moisture. When rain does not fall, the deep roots can find water in the soil for much longer than roots used to easy provision of water.

Drip irrigation is the best way to get irrigation water to the roots of plants. Sprinklers put most of the water on the leaves of the plants, where it dries up before doing much good. Sprinklers also promote disease by wetting foliage. I do use a sprinkler in the garden, but I try to keep it off my tomatoes and other plants prone to disease.

When it rains, either turn off your automatic lawn sprinklers, or buy a rain sensor to automatically stop the sprinklers if rain falls. I turn on my sprinklers manually when the grass looks shriveled.   And please, please, adjust the sprinkler heads so you water plants instead of asphalt.  I do hate driving by commercial landscaping and having my car bathed by water that’s supposed to be going on the plants.

Ideally, gardens thrive best on an inch of rain per week, so if an inch of rain falls from the sky there is no need to waste precious fresh water by watering the lawn that week. I turn on the drip irrigation to my tomatoes and run it for an hour or two once or twice a week, if it does not rain, which gives the tomatoes the consistent soil moisture they love.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Blacksnakes Love Baby Guineas, Unfortunately


I have always had a pragmatic attitude about snakes.  Blacksnakes and other non-venomous snakes keep the rodent population under control, and after all, they are part of our natural environment.  I am not scared of snakes, generally, although I don’t want one as a pet, either.  I did not mind sharing a few eggs with the blacksnakes that visited the hen house occasionally.  I expected to kill venomous snakes because of the risk they pose to people and pets, even though they are here naturally too.  I have not shared the views of my grandmothers, who broke many hoe handles chopping away at any snake they saw, that “The only good snake is a dead snake.”

My views on snakes changed last week, though, because blacksnakes find baby guineas, or keets, as tasty as they do rodents.  The keets were in the garage, I left the door up so my children could access their toys, the snake came in, and by the time I heard the racket from the guineas, it had killed three babies and had a fourth in his mouth with its fangs sunk into the helpless creature’s back.

I do not recommend my methods of snake extermination and guinea saving; although they were effective they were perhaps a bit foolhardy.  I set the two remaining guineas out onto the garage floor.  As guinea in the snake’s mouth, a gray one that my daughter had christened “Mr. Cuteypants,” looked around with panicked eyes, I grabbed the snake by its middle and shook it until it let go of Mr. Cuteypants.

I knew the snake was not poisonous; even if it did bite me I would be okay, unlike the guinea in his mouth.  The snake had another dead baby wrapped in its tail, where it had killed it through constriction, and I thought it was unlikely that the snake could release all of its constricted muscles fast enough to drop the guinea in its mouth and bite me before I escaped.  I took the box with the snake in it into the woods and killed the snake.

I have no angst over killing the snake.  Over the years of living in the country, I have had several interactions with blacksnakes, and I always try to not to harm them; I even saved one’s life by cutting it out of bird netting in which it had become entangled.  I knew this one would be back for the rest of the babies if I let it go.   

If I see another blacksnake while the guineas are small, I will probably kill it.  Blacksnakes pose no threat to adult birds, although a blacksnake killed my aunt’s neighbor’s chicken while she sat on eggs in the nest.  Hens that are “setting,” or trying to hatch eggs, enter a trancelike state where they sometimes ignore danger. 

I chased the two unharmed guineas all over the yard, finally caught them, and put them in a new box.  I found Mr. Cuteypants, and called several vets before I found out that all I could do for him was clean the wound and put some Neosporin on it.  He had mild bleeding that scabbed over quickly, and seemed perfectly fine, much better than I would be if I had had snake fangs embedded in my back.

As I write this, a week later, Mr. Cuteypants shows no sign of infection from his snakebite, and is as active as the other guineas.  My husband is finishing construction of a snake-proof guinea house, and we will move them out there soon.  The three remaining guineas have spent their days on the screened porch, where they are safe from snakes, and they spend their nights inside the house.  I hope they will soon grow into independent adult birds that patrol my garden to eliminate bothersome insects.