Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Cotton

Red foliated white cotton 
(Gossypium hirsutum)
31 Oct 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beyoncé, There's a New 'Roo in Town!

After many Thoughts and Deliberations, Romie and I have decided on a name for "Not Dennis," the Giant Metal Chicken that arrived at our house about a month ago. We solicited suggestions for a name via this blog,'s not just every day that a Giant Metal Chicken becomes part of the family.

We considered Cornelius and we liked that a lot. Lindbergh seemed like a real possibility; we even thought we could call him "Lucky Lindy" as a nickname. Gus was in the running, too.

But when I was doing a roll call of the names for one final time, Romie declared his final choice for the name and I wasn't surprised in the least. It just makes sense, especially for Romie.

Hawkeye Pierce, played by
Alan Alda, from CBS
Television [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons

This man watches reruns of Mash every time he gets the chance. It's one of his favorite shows, so when he said "Not Dennis" should have the name of Hawkeye, I agreed. After all, he's out there keeping an eye out for hawks, right?

Perfect. Hawkeye, it is.

Thanks to rika for the name suggestion. Thanks to Zaer Ltd. International for sending Hawkeye to watch over our flock by night (day, too). And thanks to Storey Publishing and Timber Press for providing the great books as prizes.


Don't forget, if you want a Giant Metal Chicken of your own, you can order it directly from Zaer Ltd. International, the wholesale distributor, at a 10% discount, BUT you have to  mention that you read about it on my website to order directly and receive the discount They're making this available to you, dear readers, at a greatly reduced price of $184.50 (shipping is extra). To order, call 215-766-2010. (And no, I don't receive any kind of compensation for orders of "Dennis.")

Zaer Ltd. International kindly provided me with my Big Metal Chicken, free of charge, for which I will be eternally grateful. It's amazing how happy a Big Metal Chicken can make you when you see it in your yard.

A Tale of Two Nuthatches

While doing some cleaning up in the yard a week or so ago, I heard the familiar yap yap yap of a nuthatch above me. Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I hadn't heard them in awhile.  Some find their repetitive chatter annoying, but I like it.

As I worked around the large oak tree just outside our back door, I looked up at the feeder, and saw two red-breasted nuthatches looking for food there. The feeder was nearly empty and I made a mental note to fill it when I finished my work.


Red-breasted nuthatches??

White-breasted nuthatch
Sitta carolinensis
The white-breasted nuthatches are fairly common here, but seeing a red-breasted was not. According to the Cornell website, Ohio is home to the white-breasted nuthatch year round, but it's only in winter when the red-breasted stays here. And experience has told me that even then, they aren't all that commonly seen here in northwest Ohio, likely due to our being on the northern border of their wintering grounds. The last time I'd seen one was back in 2007, when one was just passing through in August.

What's the difference between a red-breasted nuthatch and a white-breasted one?

The answer to that might seem obvious, but it can be confusing. The red-breasted nuthatch has a cinnamon-colored breast, as you might expect. But the white-breasted also has some cinnamon coloring to its underside, closer to the tail. The best way to distinguish between the two is by their eye markings. The red-breasted has a distinctive black band running through its eye area. The white-breasted does not.

I filled the feeders and then watched to see if they would stick around and dine some more. As luck would have it, I didn't see any for several days after that. But this morning, they're here in numbers. One by one, they fly in to grab a seed from the platform feeder and take it to the safety of the tree. Over and over, they make the trip to the feeder and back. They're eating from the hanging feeder too.

Red-breasted nuthatch
Sitta canadensis

There's a reason we're seeing red-breasted nuthatches here. We're experiencing an irruption.  When birds travel in numbers outside their usual territory, it's most often due to a shortage of food. This year, there was a decline in the number of pine cones - one of the red-breasted nuthatch's favorite foods - in the north. So, they went in search of them elsewhere. My yard!

Northern birders have been reporting regular sightings of them since the irruption began in August.  This graph, adapted from, shows the frequency with which the red-breasted nuthatch has been seen at a nearby observation station (seven miles from our house) for the year so far:

Sightings are definitely UP!

Of course I'm hoping they'll stay all winter and maybe if I keep the feeders full, they will. Even if they don't, I'm sure enjoying them now!

Red-breasted nuthatch
Sitta canadensis

Friday, October 26, 2012

Full Circle Kitchen Composter: Review and Giveaway!

Ever since we started composting garden waste several years ago, I have not looked at the garbage from our kitchen the same either. I started saving that and running it out to the compost bin, too. It's located at the very back of our acre, and that was all fine and dandy in the summer, but come winter, I would drag my feet at taking it all the way out there.

I tried saving it in a mini metal garbage can, but soon, the fruit flies appeared and made that an undesirable option. I put it right outside the back door, but then I'd forget and I'd end up sending scraps down the garbage disposal. The other problem was that the metal can got frozen to the back deck step and I couldn't take it out to the compost bin when I needed to.

So I stopped saving my kitchen scraps in the winter. It was just too much hassle.

Part of my food waste issue was taken care of earlier this summer, when I got a Worm Factory 360 and I started feeding some of the scraps from my kitchen to my worms. They're pretty efficient at eating stuff, but they can't keep up with all of it, all of the time.

Then along came the Full Circle Fresh Air Kitchen Composter!

I was sent one of these free of charge to review and I was anxious to try it, because I was really impressed with all the good things I'd read from others who had used it. No smell, no gnats, they all seemed to say.

The composter is made of plastic and measures 11.4 x 8.5 x 9 inches.  It uses
special biodegradable bags for collecting the waste so you can throw bag and all
into your larger compost bin.

I kept the composter on my kitchen counter, right by the sink, so it was handy for me to add kitchen waste to it. But after about a week, I noticed a bad smell and an abundance of fruit flies around the composter. None of the reviews I'd read mentioned this being a problem, in fact, they were singing the praises of the Full Circle composter because those two things weren't an issue. Why did I have a problem?

It turns out that I didn't follow the rules - the basic rules for composting. And I knew better! There are certain foods that you just don't put in compost. Like meat. I knew that and I hadn't put meat in there. Or anything greasy. I knew that too and I hadn't added anything greasy. Eggs.


Egg shells are allowed, but not the eggs themselves, and I'd added a couple of hard-boiled eggs that had been left in the fridge too long. Do not do this. Trust me. Ick. Ugh. Yuck.

So I started over, reviewed the list of things you can compost, and after about a week with no smell and no fruit flies, I declared the Full Circle Fresh Air Kitchen Composter a success.  The bags they use are fairly tough bags of this kind, but you should be careful when handling them and not be too rough with them. They "breathe," which allows any heat build-up to escape, as well as excess gases which may form as scraps begin to decompose. When it's full (or sooner), you just take the bag out and throw it in the compost bin, bag and all.

I discovered why they recommend disposing of the filled bags in about five days. The biodegradable bags are designed to begin breaking down when they come into contact with organic materials. Because there was no smell and no fruit flies, and because I was still feeding some table scraps to the worms, I didn't fill my Full Circle composter very quickly. After about four weeks, I began to notice a few fruit flies. Hmmmm...

The bag doesn't take long before it
starts to decompose!
I decided to remove the bag even though it wasn't full and discovered that indeed the bag does decompose! It had a hole in it and the fruit flies had found it. So I learned what not to do and that you really should follow instructions!

I have found the Full Circle Fresh Air Kitchen Composter to be very easy to use, and that it does everything it claims to do, if you follow their recommendations for use.  I've been using it for about two months now and can highly recommend it for kitchen composting.

The people at Full Circle were kind enough to offer to give a composter to one of my readers, so here's how you can be entered to win it:

  • Leave a comment to this blog post, telling me if you compost your kitchen scraps or not. If you don't, what is the reason you don't? Even if it's just that you don't want to, feel free to tell me that. It's okay!


  • Enter your contact information on the Rafflecopter form. I'll be using this to choose a winner via and will contact the winner using the information entered there. (But don't forget to also leave a comment to this blog post!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can read more about the Full Circle Kitchen Composter and other products the company makes, as well as where to purchase them, on the Full Circle website.

UPDATE:  Congratulations to Carolee, winner of a Full Circle Kitchen Composter of her very own! Thank you to everyone who entered and to Full Circle for providing the composter both to me and to the winner of the giveaway!
*Full Circle provided me with a kitchen composter free of charge. My experience and opinions stated here are my own.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Wonder If Our Chickens Would Eat This. Would YOU?

Every year, what's left of our giant oak tree that split in a storm several years ago grows chicken. Chicken of the woods, that is. An edible mushroom, Laetiporus sulphureus forms on the wounds of trees, mostly oak, and leaves the tree in even worse shape than it was to begin with by causing  brown rot.

Some years, we have bigger clusters of it than others; this year it seems to be average-sized. I've never been brave enough to try it, though it's supposed to be one of the few that is safe for beginners because of its easy identification. Since it is said to taste like chicken (thus, the common name), I wonder if our chickens would eat it. There isn't much that they won't eat, but if this tastes like chicken, would they want to eat something that tastes like THEM?

For more information on this edible fungus, go here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Knock, Knock - It's a Chicken Book Giveaway Extravaganza!

Just every once in a while, I like to have fun. (Shocking, isn't it?) I enjoy sharing my gardening experiences and what I've learned through trial and error as well as through classes and research, but there are times when I let my hair down and just get silly. Since I have very short hair - none to let down, really - it doesn't take much to get me going and make me happy.

Many of you are familiar with Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, and you may have gotten to know her through a certain blog post she wrote a year or so ago entitled "And that's why you should learn to pick your battles." There were towels involved (or should I say NO towels) and a certain giant metal chicken named Beyoncé. If you haven't yet read this blog post, STOP RIGHT NOW and GO READ IT. (Warning: Language may be offensive to some.) If you don't, you won't get as much bang for your buck in this blog post of mine that you're reading right now. Go on... we'll wait.


Now you have the back story. Millions have fallen in love with Beyoncé (the Big Metal Chicken, not the singer, although millions love her, too), including me, and I started randomly looking for one of my very own.

We have six chickens in our backyard and no roosters. I'm told that every flock needs a rooster - for protection - but I didn't want a cocky bird that could possibly spur me or ride the hens and all we really wanted was eggs, anyway. Roosters are very poor at providing eggs.

Even if I could find a giant metal rooster, I knew I could never pass it off as an anniversary gift the way Jenny did, since we're into year 38 and everyone knows that Big Metal Chickens is for 15 years. So I was on my own and would just have to deal with Romie's reaction when the time came.

I couldn't find Beyoncé's twin, but as I was running through the aisles at the Independent Garden Center Show in Chicago this past August, this caught my eye:

Zaer Ltd. International is the wholesale distributor of this Big Metal Chicken

Since I was rushing to an appointment, I didn't have time to stop and talk with the vendor. I emailed them when I got home about the possibility of obtaining the Beyoncé wannabe, and to make a long story short, it ended up on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago.

Knock. Knock.
(Max is not impressed.)

Now of course this rooster came with a name - "Dennis" - and it's not that I don't like the name Dennis or anything, I just want my rooster to have his own name. Because he's mine. Even though there are hundreds of other Big Metal Chickens out there, only one belongs to me.

So here's the thing: After having to come up with eight names for my live chickens, I'm at a loss as to what to call my rooster. Will you please help me?

For all your thoughtfulness and generosity in helping me by suggesting names, the folks at Storey Publishing and Timber Press are generously providing a mini library of chicken books to the reader who submits the name I choose for my rooster:

If you're considering getting backyard chickens or you've already got them, this collection of books is a treasure trove of information!

In addition, Zaer Ltd. International, the wholesale distributor of "Dennis," is allowing readers to purchase this rooster directly from them at a 10% discount, BUT you have to  mention that you read about it on my website to order directly and receive the discount They're making this available to you, dear readers, at a greatly reduced price of $184.50 (shipping is extra). To order, call 215-766-2010. (And no, I don't receive any kind of compensation for orders of "Dennis.")

My girls feel a bit safer now that What's His Name (you tell me!) is standing guard over the coop.  I'm certain of it. I mean, really... what kind of predator would DARE even get close to the coop when this Giant Metal Chicken is in da house? (Truth be told, I think the hens were a bit leery of it at first, too.)

Tinkerbelle:  "Are you real?"

But he needs a name. Submit a name. Submit two names. Submit however many you want and next Friday night (October 26, 2012) at midnight EDT, I will choose the one I like the best. My Big Metal Chicken gets a name and someone gets some awesome books!  So have at it, y'all!

By the way, I got new towels, too. How lucky can a girl get?

Contest rules here.

Zaer Ltd. International kindly provided me with my Big Metal Chicken, free of charge, for which I will be eternally grateful. It's amazing how happy a Big Metal Chicken can make you when you see it in your yard.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saffron Crocus Season

While I was traveling in Arizona over the weekend, the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) burst into bloom back home here in Ohio. I planted the corms in the fall of 2010, and only got foliage last year. No blooms. But they were busily reproducing as they grew. I started with 10 corms purchased from Easy to Grow Bulbs and I can count foliage from 31 of them now, although one corm can produce more than one bloom.

This morning, I was astounded at what I saw as I rounded the corner of the conservatory and saw the brilliant, streaked petals with red stigmas and bright yellow stamens.

Those red stigmas - three per bloom - are the source of the spice, saffron. As you can imagine, they must be harvested by hand, contributing to their notoriety as the most expensive spice in the world. They also must be harvested shortly after blooming because the heat of the sun wilts the blooms. 

It takes 75,000 blossoms to produce just a pound of dried saffron threads which sell for $70 per ounce WHOLESALE. Iran is responsible for more than 90% of the world's saffron production.

Saffron corms aestivate in the spring. No, I didn't know that word before today; I had to look it up. It means the act of a flower forming within a flower bud. In the case of the saffron crocus, this takes place in spring, but the flower buds don't emerge and open until fall, typically in October. It can be grown in Zones 6-9, but does well for me in Zone 5b.

The flavor of saffron is said to be an acquired taste, being sweet and bitter at the same time. It is a popular addition to Indian dishes and is also used in Spanish paella. Though it's expensive, it's an intense spice, so a little goes a long way. Saffron is the spice that gives paella and other dishes that golden yellow color.

I grow saffron crocus because they're unique and beautiful, but since it doesn't take much when used in cooking to impart its flavor, I think I'll have enough to make a rice dish that features saffron. So far this fall, my saffron harvest consists of the stigmas from 17 blooms, which amounts to 51 threads. They are drying in my kitchen now.

Dried saffron should be stored in an airtight container in a cool location. In Pennsylvania Dutch country near Lancaster, special containers made of wood for storing saffron are made, and these have become quite the collector's item. Some vintage saffron boxes have sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Frost Bouquets

A couple of weeks ago, we had one night where frost was predicted. It was a bit early and thank goodness, we managed to slip under the radar that night. It was patchy around us, but we have just enough tree cover that afforded us a bit of protection.

Tonight, we won't be that lucky, I'm afraid. They're predicting a low of 29° and if we hit that, it won't just be a dusting of frost, it will be a freeze. I got the last of the tender plants put in the conservatory or brought into the house for the winter, but there was one other thing left to do that's de rigueur on the eve of the first real frost/freeze.

The cosmos are blooming like there's no tomorrow and for them, there isn't. The zinnias that I planted too late (by seed) just started blooming two weeks ago and are loaded with buds. The rains in recent weeks did the roses a world of good and so many of them are blooming as if it were June. So what's a gardener to do?

Make frost bouquets.

When frost is imminent, I cut flowers and bring them in. No frost is going to have the pleasure of ruining my flowers' good time. I'll get to enjoy them for another week and I don't have to put a coat on to do it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Mad About Mums!

As I re-enter the world outside of new granddaughter Hannah, autumn is firmly in place and things are starting to wind down in preparation for winter. I love this time of year, but things in the garden and landscape can get to looking "tired."

We have two flower boxes hanging on the front railing of our house and we finally got that railing repaired after it being damaged in the derecho. The flower boxes have been great all summer, but they were starting to look rather blah. We've had a light frost here already, so many of the plants that would normally give the front porch some character are tucked away in the greenhouse. The front porch just didn't have the oomph it had earlier in the season. (Kind of like me!)

I love mums and since Lowe's gave me a gift card to purchase some, I decided to spark up the front of the house with some color. My favorite mum color is red, so that's what I got.

By this time of year, I don't want any garden chores that require much work. Adding a bit of color this way was SO easy. I didn't even take the mums out of their pots. I simply dug a hole and sat them down in it, even in the flower boxes. (I removed most of the dying Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight' and replaced it with the mums.)

Of course, if I'd wanted to plant them permanently and try to overwinter them, I would have needed to properly prepare the hole and get them in the ground as soon as possible, so that their roots could get established a bit before the ground freezes.

These were only $4.95 each, and I even got four of them for $1.00 each, because they were already in full bloom. With our cooler weather, those blooms have lasted a very long time.

Chrysanthemum x morifolium

Thanks to Lowe's Creative Ideas for the gift card, allowing me to extend the color season with mums! And congratulations to Kristen, who won the $50 Lowe's gift card in my recent giveaway. Thanks to all who shared their fall flower favorites!

Have you used mums in a particularly creative way?

For more ideas, visit the Lowe's Creative Ideas website.

As part of the Lowe's Creative Ideas Garden Club, I was provided with a Lowe's Gift Card to cover the cost of the mums.

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