Category Archives: Projects

Peppers and eggplants – Day 1

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On Sunday, I managed to start seeds for every kind of pepper we have — sweet peppers, green peppers, red chiles, ancho peppers, habaneros and some mysterious, unlabeled pepper seeds we saved from last year.
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I only had a few eggshells but I feel optimistic about the fate of the nested jalepenos and habaneros.
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I also started a few eggplant seeds. We don’t have the growlights rigged up just yet, so these babies have once again taken over our kitchen counter. I set up a heater nearby to help them stay warm in this room with high ceilings.

The trick now is to make sure they don’t dry out too fast, as I’m learning egg cartons do.

The gardening gods of the internet advised me to keep water in the bottom of the pans, which the cardboard egg cartons will wick up. I’m also using a spray bottle frequently and improvising with pyrex and clear plastic hoods placed over the cartons.

Wish me luck!

More planting — of strawberry seeds, cauliflower and more eggplants — to come on Wednesday evening.

What’s your favorite thing to grow in the garden?

Seedy intentions


Some people got flowers for Valentine’s Day. My sweetheart gave me future flowers. Future flowers and future food. (I was stoked!)

We kinda dropped the ball on the whole ordering-seeds-from-a-catalog thing.

Fortunately, even big box stores now stock a good selection of organic seeds in their garden centers. That kind of stuff makes up a big chunk of our seed stock for this season. (Next year, I hope to get an order in to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.)

We also have a weird variety of seeds we saved from things we grew and things we got from friends or the farmers’ market last year, including: all kinds of peppers, naked pumpkins, some weird heirloom melon that totally took over our yard and seeds from some delicious and colorful string bean things.

This is our second spring trying to start things from seed. Last year, we started a lot of things too early, during a very cold winter,  in our very bright kitchen. Although we diligently left the lights on above the seedlings, opened the windows very early every morning and used a space heater to counteract the draft, the majority of our seedlings didn’t make it.

I attribute the widespread seedling death to:

  • Artificial light was too far away from the plants
  • Inconsistent temperatures
  • Us being too wussy to thin the seedlings we planted too close together in the first place

The other part of my Valentine’s/birthday gift should solve the first problem:

Yay for plant lights!

As for the other two problems: I am banking on the continuation of our obscenely mild weather and the convenience of the old space heater to assist with the temperature issue and common sense to negate overcrowding.

Last year we started by throwing a whole bunch of seeds into all different sizes of pots. This year, we are smarter. We are using egg cartons, which should help us resist the urge to overplant. If Zach will stop throwing them into the compost bin, I hope to start some seeds in eggshells.

As with most things we enjoy (dogs and houseplants, for example), Zach and I have accrued way, way, way more seeds than we will ever need. We also splurged on some exotic species that we probably have no business attempting to grow.

But I just couldn’t resist going for the olive tree. I did swear back on Thanksgiving that we would give this a try someday.

Hello, someday!

We are already late in getting this project underway, so I will be pouring dirt in eggholes yet today. It’s not too late for advice, though, so please leave words of wisdom in the comments below, along with what you are growing this year.

Big thanks to the love of my life, my friends Jen and Erik and Bear Creek Farms for stocking us with seeds for the 2012 growing season.

Related Reading:

The Doodle House’s awesome post The Need For Seed

We saved 6 dogs in 2011

While brushing Minnie on Friday afternoon, I spotted one of our old wayward dog friends sniffing her way down the trail. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to catch fleet-footed Stella, the boxer/pit bull/greyhound mix that we helped home more than once over the summer.

True to form, Stella zagged toward me when I called her name, but zigged in another direction before I could get close enough to grab her collar. Luke and I tailed her for a couple of blocks, and another young couple, dressed in formalwear, pulled over and tried to catch her, too, but Stella wasn’t having it. When we gave up, she appeared to be running toward home.

While I wasn’t able to ensure Stella’s safe return this time, six months into the Wayward Dogs project, and at the beginning of a brand new year, I would like to review the results of my attempt to help lost dogs get home. Since June 11, 2011:

  • Zach and I have helped “save” — by returning, rehoming or fostering — a total of six dogs (including Stella).
  • We also spotted or unsuccessfully pursued seven wayward dogs (including Stella).
  • Nearly half of all loose dogs we encountered appeared to be bully mixes (including Stella).
  • The vast majority of the dogs we spotted or caught had collars or were otherwise recognizable to us as neighborhood dogs (including Stella).

The two truly wayward dogs we caught — whose owners, if they existed, we were never able to track down — left special paw prints on our hearts.

One of those dogs is, of course, Charlie Machete, who remains with us as our foster dog.

We knew from the moment Zach slipped a leash on this big, black dog with a pitty head would have little hope at Kansas City’s high-kill shelter. And so, with some initial vet care assistance from Friends of KC Animals, we embarked on a mission to find this dog a home. Fostering him hasn’t been easy or fun all of the time. But this gorgeous, mischievous, whipsmart and cuddly creature has taught us so much and shown us more love than we ever could have expected. We truly hope that early 2012 brings Machete face to face with someone or some people who will appreciate him, farts and all, as much as we do.

Ironically, the other traildog who captured our hearts in 2011 also went on to become a Charlie.

This handsome Boston Terrier started out with us as Meatball. Had we not already been caring for Charlie Machete at the time, we no doubt would have fostered this snuggly and polite hunk. Instead, we passed him to a friend, Luke’s foster mom, who enrolled Meatball with The Animal Rescue Alliance when his owners could not be located. A true charmer, Meatball immediately bewitched a forever family, who changed his name and are, reportedly, massively in love with him to this day.

I honestly don’t know what the past six months of wayward dog experiences mean. Do I just notice more loose dogs because I keep an eye out for them? Do we actually encounter more because we happen to live on the Trolley Trail, a jogging path frequented by dog owners and therefore a mecca of scents that naturally attracts wayward dogs?

Or do I have some kind of pheremone only noticeable to dogs that means “total sucker”?

Regardless, I plan to continue keeping track of the wayward dogs we run into on the Stats page. Maybe over time we will begin to see more patterns.

What are your experiences with wayward dogs? Do you know how many you tend to see in a year?

A lemon tree blooms in Missouri

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The sweet and subtle scent of citrus has permeated our dining room since our little Meyer Lemon Tree began blooming. We purchased the dwarf citrus on sale at Loew’s last summer. They also had kumquats, limes and dwarf oranges available, but I decided to start with the Meyer lemon, since I’ve heard it’s the easiest citrus plant to grow in a pot.

The photos above show the progression of the buds to blooms, which all happened over the past month. The petals are currently dropping. Our baby tree does not seem mature enough to produce fruit this year, but I hope that under our care someday it will. Maybe eventually we won’t need to buy bags lemons like the one from Whole Foods at the end of the slideshow.

Although we are just novices at this whole gardening thing, I am inspired by what nature will allow if you do the right things. For an inspiring look into the possibilities of permaculture, check out this video about Sepp Holzer‘s farm in Austria — he grows organic citrus trees on the side of a snowy mountain!

Sweet potato time

The chill in the air borders on frosty lately, which means our garden is about to go dormant for the winter. Actually, that’s a bit of an overstatement.

Our gardening mentor Steve told us the other day that our radishes, turnips and carrots will be safe in the ground for quite a while longer. If we lay down some straw with the carrots in December, we could even wait to harvest them until January or February. What a delight garden fresh veggies will be in the darkest period of winter!

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Our sweet potatoes, however, Steve said, had to come out. And so we pulled back the rings of vines that had created a beautiful green crown around our cedar stump all summer. As Steve predicted, there was treasure buried in the dirt we’d mounded around the stump — swollen, edible roots. The sweet potatoes we dug up with our bare hands came in all shapes and sizes. Some were round and fat; others with long and skinny; some have crooked necks like a summer squash.

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We don’t have a scale, but we estimate we hauled about 25 pounds of sweet potatoes out of the dirt. I can’t wait to eat them roasted and salted or mashed, or maybe I’ll learn to make a sweet potato pie. If you know a good recipe, please send it!

Initial thoughts on the 100 Thing Challenge

Dogs are anti-depressants.

In my attempts not to accumulate too much stuff, I do my best to resist purchasing too many needless knicknacks. But as an American, sometimes I just can’t resist. In addition to useless but pretty things, I am, according to Zach, prone to bringing home gadgets and supposedly purposeful items that I will be lucky to use once.

Examples that Zach might cite: a cold brew toddy coffee system, a dry-cleaning system for the dryer, bandanas for the dogs, a pair of ill-fitting (but adorable!) Puppia harnesses for Scooby, a silicone contraption that is supposed to make it easier to remove canning jars from the hot water bath, an ornate pie plate, a holographic metal etching of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach. The list could go on.

Admittedly, I’m not quite ready to go on the 100 Thing Challenge. But I do like the tenets of the philosophy I recently learned of that is espoused by author/blogger Dave Bruno. His motto: reduce (get rid of some stuff), refuse (to get more stuff), rejigger (your priorities). That all sounds a little wayward in a way that I like.

I think I am on the right track, too. I already do a lot of my shopping secondhand — and as clothing goes, it’s mostly swapping with friends. Even most of the items in the ill-fated list above came from rummage sales. So did the piece of refrigerator magnet wisdom up there, which happens to be a piece of original art created by a volunteer at the Kansas City, Missouri, animal shelter. And the money I paid for it benefitted Friends of KC Animals, the organization that has helped us with our foster dog Machete. Plus, that handmade magnet was a gift for my Corgi-owning mother.

So, that must mean it counts toward her 100 things, right? Or maybe it’s a charitable exception.

How do you resist impulsively buying things you don’t really need? Can you imagine living your life with just 100 possessions?

Saving the harvest

Jalepenos, cayenne and pepperoncini peppers.

I’m ashamed that I haven’t posted more photos and stories about our gardening adventures this summer. In a nutshell, we failed at tomatoes, but succeeded with basil, eggplants, melons and peppers. Our late crop of radishes (both red and icicle) and turnips is generous, and the carrots are starting to come on. In a week or so, we will probably try harvesting our sweet potatoes.

In the meantime, we’ve been experimenting (and by “we” I mostly mean Zach) with pickling and preserving our excess veggies and goodies from the farmers’ market.

Turnips, radishes, carrots, curry and green onions.

Beets, okra, peppers and cucumbers

Icicle horseradish

Fellow gardeners: How do you preserve the things you grow?

Bats: Like dogs that can fly

Credit: My Free Photos

Bats are really cool. I have always thought so, and not just because I used to be slightly obsessed with vampires. Bats are mammals, but they can fly. Some species, like Giant Indian Fruit Bats, even look like dogs with wings. Seriously —  that’s why they’re also known as flying foxes.

I think miniature pinschers might just be the wingless Dodo birds of the bat kingdom. At least, Scooby has the look. Every Halloween, I swear I’m going to get him a little Batman cape, but then I never do.

What I should do instead is build a bat house. Along with so many other species, bats aren’t doing so hot. Bat Conservation International does a great job of explaining — and organizing against — the various threats to the world’s bat population.

White nose syndrome — not what was going on with Machete in the photo at right — is a biggie. The fungus that grows on their bodies and disturbs their hibernation spreads easily in bat colonies and is almost 100 percent fatal.

Wind turbines are super dangerous to bats (as well as birds), too. This is a mega bummer, considering that Zach and I dream of someday installing a small, residential turbine like the Jellyfish by Clarian on our house.

At this point, building a bat house would be a more practical project. The aforementioned Bat Conservation International has blueprints. However, like Scooby’s batman costume, this is something I have been talking about for years. I am hoping that commiting to it on this blog will increase the likelihood of my getting it done.

Also, I think that inviting some bats to hang out near our garden would help control the mosquito population next summer. The photo at left is a bathouse I saw while walking Machete recently. I don’t think it’s homemade. In fact, I am pretty sure that I saw bat houses just like this at Planters Seed and Spice, a kickass local garden center that I am ashamed to say I only recently discovered. So, maybe I don’t have to get out the hammer and nails afterall…

Why keep this blog?

Note: This post was originally a sort of explanation page called Where Wayward Dogs Go. I decided to make it a standard post because I think it’s better suited as such. The new “explanation” is a Disclaimer, which spells out the point of this project more clearly and succinctly (and, I hope, assures you that I am not too much of a self-righteous, crazy pet lady).The idea for this blog stems from a realization that there are a lot of wayward dogs in Zach’s and my life. All three of our dogs were wayward — either lost or escaped — before we got them. One of them we first met cowering on the walking/jogging/biking trail near our house about a year ago. As it turns out, that trail is a regular dog magnet.

It’s no wonder that dogs are so attracted — for them, the trail presents a bounty of smells and intrigue. Not a canine that travels it — on-leash or off — fails to leave a mark. The trail is also bordered with grasses, trees and weeds that feral cats and other animals like to hide in.

Don’t get the wrong impression — we do live in an urban area. Our trail runs parallel to and crosses really busy streets at various points. But the sometimes-gravel, sometimes-paved pathway also leads through swaths of gnarled trees (which provide great cover for someone’s backyard chickens) and passes by a bad-smelling creek. This trail is like a little artery of nature running through our part of Kansas City.

In that sense, the trail itself is wayward. It is a departure from the concrete, glass and metal of regular city living and therefore bears an obvious appeal for animals that — even after thousands of years of domestication by humans — still like to dig in the dirt and roll in the grass. Those are doggy urges I can understand. We usually spot loose dogs because we are outside digging in the dirt and tearing out grass for a massive and possibly too-ambitious food garden project.

In just the past month, we have found ourselves dropping our spades to chase after other people’s wayward pit bulls, a border collie, a half-deaf and half-blind old mutt, and a beagle. Some of them we caught; some of them we chased unsuccessfully; at least two of them we happened to unknowingly chase right back onto their own family’s property.

In the midst and aftermath of these little rescue missions, people have expressed both gratitude and puzzlement at our actions. We hope they realize that we are not trying to be the neighborhood animal control. We are just demonstrating the concern we hope our beloved dogs (or cat) would encounter should any of them ever become go wayward.
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