Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Update: Baby Killdeer

The little killdeer eggs hatched last Thursday afternoon. By the next day, the babies were off the nest and everyone was out, doing what they do. J was gone over the weekend, so I visited the garden on Friday and again on Sunday by myself, to try and catch sight of those little birds. No luck. Hadn't heard from anyone else that they'd seen them either. I feared the worst, as I tend to do. J read that the babies leave the nest right away and head off to find their own food -- presumably though, the parents stay close to defend their little ones from evil-doers (like the Cooper's Hawk we spotted flying above yesterday). Well, good news people! J and I stopped at the garden last night, and of course, it took his keen birding skills to find our little feathered friends. We saw two of the four -- sorry, no pics of those -- scurrying around looking for dinner. The parents were indeed nearby, calling to each other about the predator in the area.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Can you see them?

These little ones hatched just hours before we snapped the picture. The mama did her best to distract us away from her nest, feigning a broken wing. We dutifully followed her to reinforce this strategy that has worked for her species for however many bazillion years. One little guy was already off the nest and running around. These three were still staying put though. Isn't it amazing how inconspicuous they are? While this nesting site seemed a little suspect at first, the benefit is now pretty clear.

Oh so sweet.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bring on the heat

We spent a chunk of time on Sunday at our garden plot... such a lovely day and way to spend it. We transplanted tomato plants I'd started from seed a few weeks ago ('Sungold' and 'Bella Rosa'), along with some red bell pepper plants picked up at a local nursery. Now at least half our plantings are in sync with the above-normal temperatures -- except then temperatures dropped back to normal for a few days (figures). So then we decided to add a Wall O'Water to a couple of the maters to create a little microclimate for them. Kinda silly in Mississippi, I know. These are the kinds of things that Idahoan gardeners use (notice the snow in the picture) to get the growing going in May. Still, J's hesitation gave way to my argument to run a little experiment. Not much replication, but what the heck. Can't really hurt. It if does, we'll find out soon enough. We also planted edamame, green bean, and patty pan squash seeds on Sunday.

J started worm composting at our house last summer. He dug a big container into the ground (to protect the worms against the winter cold and the summer hot) and goes out and feeds them our kitchen waste every so often. They're kicking butt! We used some of the castings with our transplants and then we even brought some out to add to our plot.

The more normal temperatures we had at the beginning of the week seemed to be good for our kale, arugula, and chard. We've got new leaves, although the plants don't seem to be getting much bigger. My radishes look okay (in the pic below)... at least the second leaves are looking green and strong. The beets, well.. they're still teeny tiny.

Sunday was a very nice day to be at the garden. Other people thought so too! During the course of two+ hours, we saw five or six other plot holders come and go. One plot holder is doing a great service to the garden, installing above-ground spigots near each water box. That, along with being able to leave the hoses out now since the gates all have locks now, makes it much less trouble to water the plots. The easier it is to water, the better for sure. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our mulching strategy (newsprint+leaves) is working to keep the soil pretty moist.

Grow little plants, grow!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

oh, okay

Yeah! several days of +70 degrees, the last two +80. Summer seems to have arrived already. (This is more like a twitter thing than a blog post. excuse me.)

Monday, April 12, 2010


It's currently 81 degrees here, if you can believe that. P&D planted tomatoes and peppers over the weekend, thinking they were tempting fate, putting in those tender plants nearly a whole week before the frost-free date. Uh, no worries there. In fact, I think it was us who tempted fate by planting kale and arugula in mid-March. Who in their right mind does that in the south? Westerners and Yankees, that's who. I'm already writing off our first venture here and planning for the fall, when we'll direct seed and enjoy a first harvest in late January or early February. There. I guess I've convinced myself to be optimistic despite our first setback. On to the summer vegetables!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

in living color

Even if largely just two colors: green and (shades of) brown...

Here you can see the salvaged cedar we used to border our plot. We're thinking that, over time, the soil of our plots will build up to match the height of the border. Our plot partners, D&P, have a variety of materials on hand that we can consider using to complete the inner borders. In the background, behind the fence, you can see a long line of soil that is characteristic of northern MS: clayey.

Above is a close-up of the portion we've planted. Kale on the left, chard at the top right, one of the thyme plants is visible if you direct your attention to the edge closest to you, just left of center. The little dots on either side of the parsley (right lower side) are radish seedlings! (hint: click on the pic to see better) The beet seedlings aren't visible here, but they're there, in that big bare spot in the middle. The weird pattern on the surface comes from our mulching around the bigger seedlings to keep down weeds, and not yet where we planted seeds. Once the radish and beet seedlings are big enough, we'll mulch there too. Check out the community garden mascot:

Precious. Even when she's screaming or acting all big because you've gotten too close. Mama killdeer is sitting on four eggs -- caught sight of them when she was off the nest last week (no worries, either she--or Papa--was nearby and ready to defend at the drop of a hat). Can't wait to see the little birds, which should hatch out in about another week or two. J told me that killdeer like to nest in open areas that are gravely or sandy, like on baseball diamonds. In fact, our garden site used to be a baseball diamond. Made me wonder if this pair had been nesting here for a long time, and when we moved in, well, they just went ahead and did what they've always done. Glad the lot of us is able to accommodate. Last weekend, J taught a group of scouts about these beautiful creatures, as well as about gardening, when the pack was on site to help in the garden. It has since been reported that at the end of the day, a number of the little guys inquired about getting plots. Good job, J.!

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The awesome thing about J being an academic and having his own lab space is that he has a "soil" room with potting soil and fluorescent lights on a timer. Comes in VERY handy this time of year. Even though I understand the process of plant reproduction and development, putting a tiny little seed in some soil and watching a little green thing emerge is always exciting. That little bit of vibrant color against the brownness is kind of mind-blowing. What fabulous design! A little packet of nutrients swells up with a little bit of water, and voila! new life. See?

The problem with starting plants from seeds is that a packet comes with a gazillion seeds. Geez. we really only need 10 or so. I showed considerable restraint this year with the tomato seeds but we're still well-endowed. Funny thing is that we went and ordered three other kinds of tomatoes (heirloom varieties). Not sure what we were thinking there. Whatevs. Guess we'll have some to share if we run out of space. We're on track to have a whole bunch of basil plants too; if these grow like all the other basil I've ever tried to grow, then we should have enough for a batch of pesto and maybe a salad -- I've never had much luck with it.

Won't be long now before we hit the frost free date -- in go these little guys, plus seeds for patty pan squash, beans (green bush and edamame), maybe lemongrass.

The weather has been silly hot here this week. Like 80 abnormal degrees. You can't grow kale and radishes in that kind of heat! Fortunately, it's cooled a little today after a big storm blew through last night, so maybe our little plants have a fighting chance. Sure get why farmers pay so much attention to the weather.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Getting going and already catching up

Hi Y'all. So, it's official--we're blogging. Here, T and J will chronicle the trials, tribulations, triumphs (and joys, jubilations, and juxtapositions) of their efforts to grow yummy food at the Oxford Community Garden. In our favor: Lots of sun, lots of heat, lots of moisture, and a nice long growing season. Working against us: The bugs and the fungi, which also love the heat and the moisture, along with the clayiest, stingiest, poorest-draining soil you can imagine. Let the games begin. Hopefully, the collective power of the OCGA blogosphere can help us all make fewer mistakes and grow a better tomato.

With this first post, we're going to get caught up, with a reverse-chronological account of our activities since the shovel first hit the first chunk of clay:

April 3-4, 2010. Always the good news first: Beet seeds are germinating! J & T used cedar half-logs to line the outside edge of the plot, and added some more soil/compost/manure to the edges to fill it out. Also planted a second round of radish seeds today. Added a layer of newspaper and then mulched with leaves, all around the kale, chard, dill, parsley, and arugula plants. Did some general community garden maintenance by adding woodchips to thinning areas of the paths in the northwest zone of the garden. Momma Killdeer is still patiently sitting on her four eggs. Other birds noted today at the garden: Black Vulture, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren. So many “Northerns” in such a Southern place.

April 2, 2010. In J & T’s plot: Radish seeds are germinating! Also: J thinks he found a cucumber beetle eating our kale. It got squished (by J; T is not a fan of killing, even if it's better for our harvest). Our first insect pest met an untimely death, so hopefully word will get around that our plot is a tough place to make a living as a pest. More cucumber beetles were seen eating dandelion pollen/nectar in the nearby field.

J helped Marie and some parents corral a big group of Cub Scouts at the garden today, and gave tours to small groups of the little rugrats. We hope some of them learned something about gardens, compost, the smell of thyme, and the Killdeer nest in one of the garden plots. The scouts and their parents were a big help in piling leaves and straw around the border of the garden, and in moving a bunch of soil into the future blueberry patch.

March 27, 2010. First day of planting! In future years, we hope to start a bunch of things from seed, well ahead of time, but this first year it’s a bit off-the-cuff. T & J planted one of our two plots with kale sprouts from Frank & Liz’s Farmer’s Market store, and chard sprouts, parsley, dill, arugula, & thyme from the Garden Center. All of the holes for these sprouts got a handful of worm compost from J’s backyard worm bin, plus a handful of alfalfa pellets (pet food type) for a nitro boost. We also planted a row of beet seeds and a small square of radish seeds. Now we’re crossing our fingers. Plan to check on the plot every couple of days, watering when needed and watching for bugs and weeds. We also ordered some more seeds for warm-weather plants like tomatoes and green beans, and some row-cover material to help keep pests off some of the short-stature brassicaceous plants.

March 20, 2010. First day working on our plot at the community garden. T, J, and P prepped the plots as follows: 1. Used shovels to skim off a layer of weeds and turn them over. 2. Laid a thin layer of newspaper to help keep the weeds down, wetting the newspaper as we went along to keep it from blowing away. Could’ve probably used a thicker layer of newspaper. 3. Covered that with a layer of straw. 4. Covered that with a layer of aged manure (cow?). 5. Covered that with a layer of aged, shredded leaves. 6. Covered that with a 1:1 mixture of nice black compost and “topsoil” (red, sandy, poor soil). Whether we've got an adequate layer of soil is TBD, but we're banking on rapid decomp of our leaf layer. But next year, watch out!

We divided our 16’ by 16’ plot into four 7.5’ by 7.5’ squares, with a foot-wide straw path in between. Gonna need to add at least one stepping stone in the middle of each square for easier weeding, pruning, etc. P & D get two squares, and J & T get two squares, but we plan to do lots of helping each other with watering, bug patrol, etc.

So far, so good.