Gardening is a huge subject, and the volumes of knowledge you can attain over time are immense. You can read, you can try and learn by your mistakes, and you can get advice. And, you can be totally overwhelmed by something as simple as figuring […]
The holidays are always an exciting time around here, but I always hated the waste of the season—especially wrapping paper and bows. Now, each year we have our gifts under the tree without any wrapping paper, tape, or plastic ribbon: we use fabric! When my […]
Reviewing your seed catalogs in the (finally!) rainy autumn, you see the beautiful colors that dent corn can come in–blue, red, even rainbow “Gem”–and you don’t know why you’d want to grow corn you can’t eat fresh. What’s the point? Why colorful cornbread, of course!
Dent corn varieties are grown to be consumed dry, not fresh. Popcorn is similar, in that it should be dried, but not all dent or flint corn can be popped well, just as not all popping corn would make good meal or flour. Dent corn is used for cornmeal and polenta, others work best as flour. Blue corn flour is even considered more nutritious than yellow corn flour!
We have a Victorio hand-crank mill, but there are attachments for mixers or even for blenders to make the job a lot-less time consuming. For our family, we don’t grind corn often, but when we do we delight in the fun colors and different flavors of home-grown corn meal. My kids also loved the opportunity to watch the corn turn into meal as they turned the crank.
We made skillet cornbread for Thanksgiving this year from Bloody Butcher corn (such an awesome name!). The final product is not pink, unfortunately, but is definitely a different tone than ordinary cornbread, with dark crimson flecks.
I’ve never seen cornmeal for sale in any color but yellow, so I find grinding our own colorful meal to be a fun benefit of growing our own. And, since we keep the kernels whole in storage, they will keep indefinitely, so one harvest will keep us in Bloody Butcher cornmeal for years to come!
Amongst the drool-inducing nurseries along Route 92 in Half Moon Bay is a sign that seems almost out-of-place between the more trendy, Sunset-style stores. Succulents, Native Plants, and…Carnivorous Plants? If you venture inside, you will find no Little Shop of Horrors, but a sparse space […]
My kids, especially my seven-year-old son, asks me if we can get a pet all the time. The requested animals range from fish, to hamsters (“they poop every 5 minutes!” he says, like it’s a positive attribute), to a new dog (since ours died in April). I don’t want any more pets to take care of, clean up after, or (in the case of small animals that die) dispose of. That is the beauty of raising butterflies: almost no mess, they stay with you only a short time (much of that in their chrysalis), and then they fly away. The perfect temporary pet!
Of course, there’s more benefit to having a butterfly in the home, including bringing the outside inside, engaging kids in the garden, talking about insect life cycles, reducing any squeamishness around insects, and teaching about respecting creatures by not touching delicate ones. And, who doesn’t love looking at a butterfly up close?
Butterflies are also important pollinators in the garden, and aiding them in their delicate transition could make the difference between survival and becoming a snack.
The Swallowtail Butterfly starts its life on plants in the carrot family called “Umbellifers.” This family includes carrot, dill, and parsley, and indeed the caterpillars are sometimes called “parsley worms.” Another plant in this family is fennel. As you may know, wild fennel is an abundant weed in the Bay Area, and the very worst weed in my yard and garden. Despite my most violent and merciless eradication efforts, I often have to cut down huge trees of the stuff. When I do, I employ the kids to help me search the stalks and fronds for Swallowtail eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises. Those that we find, we place in a special enclosure with a plate underneath (most enclosures have a soft base), and a container of water to keep some cut fennel alive for the caterpillars to eat.
If you do bring a caterpillar into your home, be aware that you should always cover the water with foil or plastic wrap to ensure a very clumsy caterpillar doesn’t become a very drowned caterpillar.
Caring for Caterpillars
All the caterpillars need is fennel or dill fronds to eat. They should be fresh, so when one stalk wilts, bring in a new one and then remove the old ones when the caterpillar moves to the newer stalks. The caterpillars will eat (and eat and eat), and it is adorable, and then they will poop a lot. Luckily, all they eat is fennel, so it’s pretty dry and boring poop, but it is spherical and will roll off of surfaces.
When the caterpillar is plump and full, it will choose a sturdy place from which to hang his chrysalis. Starting out, this will look like it just glued its feet to a stalk or wall of the enclosure and made itself a thin seat belt to hang from. Slowly, the chrysalis will turn solid green and then a light brown. It is fairly sturdy, but don’t jostle the chrysalis. Keep the enclosure safe, away from direct sunlight, for about two weeks, but be sure you’ll be checking in regularly. Butterflies are fairly quiet, and you don’t want to miss noticing the emerged butterfly.
Releasing the Butterfly
The newly-mobile butterfly will need a few hours to get its wings ready for flight, but once it emerges, plan on releasing it in a few hours. When you see the butterfly attempting to fly, you’ll know it’s ready for the big wide world.
If you need to leave the butterfly in it’s enclosure for a long period of time, such as if you have to go to work, leave some cut citrus fruit or a small container of sugar water (large ones might allow an awkward new butterfly to drown!) in the enclosure. However, you should plan on a release as soon as possible after the wings are ready.
Housing a caterpillar and releasing a butterfly is a wonderfully fulfilling activity for kids and adults alike, so keep an eye out for those adorable caterpillars when you are hacking that fennel!
Organic Gardening is incredibly rewarding, but there are those moments when you question the amount of work you put into it. Harvesting heads of cauliflower is one such moment. When to Harvest Cauliflower, when ready to harvest, are fully sized at about 6 to 8 […]
DIY Slug Force FieldYou’ll need:
- a plastic yogurt container or similar container
- 2 or 3 ground staples or something else that will anchor the force field to the ground
- copper tape that’s at least an inch wide
- the lid of the container, which can be used to make the force-field double as a greenhouse for your seeds & sprouts (optional)
Step 1:Cut off the bottom
Step 2:Poke 2 or 3 holes near the base, about a 1/2 to 1 inch from the base.
Step 3:Wrap the container all the way around with copper tape, in the middle closer to the top. Overlap at the edges, and flatten the tape out as best you can.
Step 4 (optional):To benefit from a bonus greenhouse add-on, cut a hole in the center of the lid. This works with clear or opaque lids, and it depends on how hot your area gets. The sun in Brisbane can be too hot for tender sprouts in a greenhouse, so I sometimes use the clear lids, but add duct tape to darken the lid. The moisture stays inside, helping seeds sprouts, but I don’t have to worry about roasting the baby plants.
Step 5:Insert the staples into the holes, drive the staples into the ground, and settle the force field onto the soil, ensuring the bottom edges are touching or even into the ground. You can pile soil up around the outside if you need to. No gaps allowed!
Step 6:Plant your seeds or transplant seedlings and water. You’re done!
How does it work?Slugs/snails are gross and wet, as you may have noticed, and their slime contains ions that, when touching copper, creates an electric shock in the slug/snail. The shock is unpleasant, so they won’t keep going when they feel it. Thinner lines of copper may allow them to cross by not providing enough contact, so I always use an inch wide or wider to repel them.
Best Plants for Slug Force FieldsI love these for plants that benefit from being sown in the ground, like pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, and even beans, but it would also work for brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and any other plants you might otherwise find eaten down to a nub in the morning.
MaintenanceThese force fields are pretty maintenance-free. The copper gets tarnished over time, but I’ve used them for more than one season with success. The plastic will eventually break down after repeated years in sunlight, but making them is cheap and easy. While plants are young, you do need to ensure that no pathway forms for slugs after the planting until the spouts are big enough to be safe. That means a stick or leaf that makes a bridge, or something jarring the container so that a tunnel forms underneath. Containment is key!
Using with drip linesWith my drip irrigation lines, I have had to carefully bury them, then bring up the emitter inside the container, and then bury on the other side. I use more ground staples for this, and it makes seed-starting very easy, because if you forget to water the seeds at that critical sprouting time, slugs aren’t your biggest problem. Let me know if you try out some slug force fields in your garden, and I’d love to know if you have any improvements on them!
You’d think the folks that sell seeds would know better than to collect and package weed seeds for sale, but they clearly don’t. There are plants that, in the Bay Area, at least, are meddlesome weeds, and yet companies sell them as ornamental flowers and […]