Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer Awakens Garden Life

 

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It is that time of year when the heat of the summer is upon us, but it is also the time when flowers are blooming, bees are buzzing, and butterflies are beginning to emerge. This year, I’ve got squash, large tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and butterfly plants in my garden. The chocolate mint has really been a sensation this year. News of it has been spreading around the preschool that I work at and my dad has been drying it to distill. Other exciting happenings, are that my hollyhocks (picture below) are blooming with it being their second year and my native Common Milkweed is getting flowers. I’ve been waiting two years to see them bloom.

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Hollyhocks getting ready to open.

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A bumble bee enjoying lavender.

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Yarrow which is a herb used for fevers.

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Penta

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The squash and zucchini have started producing. I’ve got an entire row for them, though it looks like the squash borers might soon steal my family’s feast. With gardening, you’ve got to get used to the fact that you will have to compete with insects and animals in the battle for food. It is all part of the journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing pictures from my garden.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Our Gentle Giant Blizzard

 

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I guess you could say it was love at first sight. A bond between our sheep and a young puppy. Blizzard isn’t just any dog. He is a Great Pyrenees, a giant of the dog world. The breed has been used for hundreds of years as a guard dog. They can be gentle and affectionate, yet highly protective against strangers or animals that would harm the animals they are protecting.

Blizzard is part of our family. He can be stubborn though. Mom used to take him up our stairs to say hello, but one day he decided that it was not time to return to his domain. I had an idea. What if I could lure him back into the fence? I grabbed a spring of parsley, doubting it would be found appetizing, but boy was I wrong. Blizzard took after me. Our neighbor starred as this large dog chased after me with my mom close behind. It did the trick. He ate the parsley and then went for my pocket knowing that another parsley leave was inside.

 

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Blizzard is now 7 months old and still growing! He will continuing getting bigger until 2 years of age. We are teaching him not to jump on us and have manners. I was sitting on the bench one day and then all of a sudden Blizzard was licking all over the back of my hair. He is quite the licker.

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Blizzard spending time with Cody. Blizzard came home July, 2015.

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He will always be our puppy. You can see the video of him coming home here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzKhjyKEpnE

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Ray of Hope for Pollinators

 

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We hear a lot about the decline of pollinators, but how often do we hear people speak of the ray of hope that remains amidst the negative news? There is much to be concerned about and it may at times feel like we are swimming against a raging current, but saving our pollinators is worth the struggle when you consider that 75% of our crops rely on them. They fly from flower to flower carrying the pollen that will develop into fruit, vegetables, nuts, and more. Surprisingly, there are 20,000 bee species with only a few that our in charge of pollinating our crops and so it is important to save them.

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First, let’s consider the greatest threats to pollinators and then optimistic side. Habitat destruction is among the leading causes for population declines, but an even greater enemy threatens their health and even ours. What I’m referring to is pesticides. Our crops are laden with cancer causing pesticides. If workers have to wear masks when they spray these lethal chemicals can you imagine how they effect bees, butterflies, and other wildlife? Our mentality needs to change. We need to step back to get new perspectives.

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Now that you’ve heard the bad news, what is the good news? The good news is that even if you aren’t a gardener you can do great things to help. You can slowly or quickly incorporate organic/local produce into your menu. You can support organizations that are working towards saving pollinators. The greatest thing though is starting a butterfly garden. Planting a garden of native wild flowers is ideal. Include a variety of annuals and perennials. Try looking at their different bloom times so that you have flowers from spring to fall.

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Cosmos flowers are just one example of many that you can plant for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

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Sunflowers are very popular among bees. I get a lot of small native bees and bumble bees that come for a visit.

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I was surprised that flies like to visit flowers. This is a flower on the herb Yarrow.

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This Gray Hairstreak butterfly is also enjoying Yarrow flowers. You are sure to make great discoveries when you start a garden. No matter what, never lose hope.

Monday, September 21, 2015

A World Without Butterflies

 

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When you see a butterfly, what do you feel? Do you feel happiness? Maybe even a sense of peace? Now, consider for a moment a world without butterflies. Would the world really be all that different? Yes, the world would go on, but at what cost? When we skip the recycle bin for the sake of convenience or use paper plates because its been a long day, we are living in the present and not considering the future. The choices we make effect the whole environment and especially the butterfly. The butterfly is such a fragile creature and it truly reflects the health of an environment. The slightest shift can cause a decrease in the butterfly’s population. We grab round-up instead of old fashioned weed pulling just to save some time, but do we consider the fact that our laziness could decimate a population in our local area. I get passionate when I speak of such things. To think that the choices I make every day really do effect all creatures large and small. You see, I really want you all to feel the disparity of us ridding the world of butterflies. If they do go extinct, there is no one to blame, but ourselves. Each year, we see less and less until one day not a single one may be left. What a shame that would be, but only if we let that happen. I believe that you like me will do everything possible to keep that from happening.

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I will not give up until I’ve made every possible effort in conserving the butterfly. You see, when we start caring about the butterfly, we start caring about a lot of other things. We start thinking about the plants and trees that are essential to butterflies to complete their life. God has used the butterflies in many ways to start me on a journey that is passionate about inspiring people to take action. I pray it takes me on many other journeys that goes far beyond just butterflies. My mom has been taking me to libraries in North Carolina to share this passion about butterfly conservation. It has really been a blessing to meet people that are also concerned about butterflies. If you are interested in how to help butterflies, please leave me a comment or check out my book. https://www.createspace.com/4083202

Library presentations: http://www.wakegov.com/libraries/events/Pages/butterflies.aspx 

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Butterflies and Insects of Summer

 

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There is something magnificent about spring turning into summer. Yes, it ushers in the heat, but it is when the butterflies begin to come out and flowers begin blooming. It is the time when the sounds of crickets feel the night air and all sorts of insects begin visiting my garden. You simply have to accept the good bugs with the bad. That is part of nature and maintaining a balance in the garden. A few chew marks are worth accepting if it means protecting the butterflies from fatal pesticides.

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This is the second year of my garden and it expands each year. I have host and nectar plants for the butterflies. The host plants supply a feeding frenzy for butterfly caterpillars and nectar plants provide food for the adult butterflies. A Monarch caterpillar can consume an entire plant so it is better to have “too much” than not enough.

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There are all sorts of bugs that visit my garden. Some familiar and others unknown, but many are welcome in my garden. There is one insect though that I can’t tolerate and that is the Japenese beetle (pictured below). They multiply by the day so in order to avoid pesticides, it requires a daily ritual of picking them off. If you hold soapy water beneath them, you can knock them into it. We just knock them into water and then dump them into the chicken coop. They devour them in a matter of seconds. They say one persons trash is another’s treasure. Well, chicken treat in this case.

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Here is a Japanese beetle on my bee balm.

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A Cosmos flower.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Zinnia flower

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Zinnia

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A sunflower getting ready to bloom.

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Flies on a carrot flower.

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I’m working on planting hundreds of Milkweeds. I have to replant them yearly since they are tropical. They are fast growing, so I’m planting them while I work on establishing my native Common Milkweed. You can get free Milkweed seeds here. http://livemonarch.org/

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To learn more about butterflies and how to raise them, you can buy my butterfly book here: https://www.createspace.com/4083202 I recently finished this second edition the end of May. It is available at Create Space and on Amazon.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

SHAPE Eco Farm’s Garden Journey

 

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My garden known as “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” on SHAPE Eco Farm is bursting with life in elaborate display. Flowers are beginning to bloom and many hours of work are paying off. A garden requires patience and planning, but the great thing is you get to see the “vegetables” of your labor unfold before your very eyes. The important thing is not to give up and use everything as a learning experience.

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My kitchen garden continues to flourish. A fun fact is that if you leave your carrots for a year, they will go to seed! I had lots of baby carrots sprout with zero effort. Well, except for watering. Those carrots sprouted, but only a few that I planted actually sprouted. My carrots and my leeks currently are developing flowers. I’ll have to be surprised of the variety of carrots I had planted. Do make sure you label the varieties you plant!

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My pea plants are looking gorgeous. I love the pinkish purple flowers that are beginning to bloom. These peas were actually chicken forage my dad spread for me as a winter cover crop.

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Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs. I’d use it for pretty much everything (except deserts. lol). It is great in Mexican dishes and in guacamole.

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Nasturtium is a companion for many vegetables. Companion planting involves planting vegetables or herbs together that work as a team to ward off pests. Nasturtium is especially helpful against aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin. You can plant them around tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and fruit trees as a barrier against pests. The herb’s leaves are said to have a peppery taste and can be used in salads. The flowers can also be used in salads.

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Snap dragons are a beautiful flowers that can be perennials in zone 8 or higher. I live in North Carolina and even after a few times of receiving snow they came back! Plants can surprise you. The very ones you figured were goners just might come back. That unfortunately includes invasive species.

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My Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies was small a puny last year so I figured they were dead, but then the rhizomes must have spread resulting in even more than last year. Now I know why people call it a weed, but I see it as a treasure since I’m a butterfly raiser.

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My vegetables include kale (pictured above), beans, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, beets, butternut squash, cabbage, and more to come. I have a plethora of herbs to choose from as well as flowers.

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If you are interested in seeing “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” on SHAPE Eco Farm is now open and provides educational tours and classes for track out camps, schools, home schoolers, girl scouts, youth groups, preschools, and families. To schedule an event, call Kim Mann at 919-435-4099 or email kim@shapeecofarm.com.

Our event schedule runs from April 1st – mid-November. Go to shapeecofarm.com to learn more about our events.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Start of My Spring Garden

 

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Spring is the time of year that birds begin their spring songs, animals give birth, and the earth sprouts new life. How glad I am to replace my winter jacket with work jeans, a sun hat, and sun glasses. My hands were just itching to get dirty and my finger nails are already stained from the dirt, but I don’t mind. Gone are the days of pretty painted nails. Instead I’ve embraced the quote on one of my favorite shirts that says, “Farm girls ain’t afraid to get dirty.”

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The greenhouse gave me a jump start with gardening. I would be behind schedule without it. It also saved me hundreds of dollars. I see dollar signs when I look at my plant babies. The hardest part is keeping the seed trays moist now that the sun’s penetrating rays have hit. I water sometimes 3 times or more a day, but I just keep my garden vision in mind.

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After just a couple of weeks, my seedlings were already ready to transplant. Squash are fairly quick to get big, but tomatoes and eggplant are my slowest growers. Gardening is part perspiration and the other part patience. If you are too early in the year your hard work will freeze before your eyes literally!

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If you look closely you will see the new green growth coming on my lavender. Many of my herbs came back despite the snow. Even my peppermint is coming back. I had a lot of leaves piled around the plants which was like insulation. Gardening isn’t all about appeal. It is also about being practical and using what you’ve been given.

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Speaking of using what you’ve been given, my parents got two truck loads of mulch for free. Yes, it had twig, pine straw, and even garbage in it, but you can’t beat FREE! My plants don’t seek to mind. I think it is oak mulch with pine mixed in. It really locks in the moisture. I did research and found that oak mulch attracting insects is a myth.

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To show you the lengths I go to for my plant babies… My mom and brother helped me get my seedlings inside when some late cold spells hit.

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Having a ground cover crop was a great idea, but it ended up looking rather weedy. It is technically chicken forage and the chickens indeed like it, but I can’t stand the weedy look. So about three garbage bags later, I’m making head way. The nitrogen fixing pea plants did go in the compost bin so no worries. I was so intense on getting the weeds that I broke the hoe! It was what I call a “baby hoe” anyway. I had to laugh at myself for that. I ended up relieving my stress, but broke the tool in the process. It is really old anyway. Oh, well. Add it to the wish list.

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Cut worms are the critters you don’t want hanging around your garden. The biggest thing is prevention. I saved my toilet paper rolls all winter and I’m recycling them to protect my seedlings. I even used them to stop the bug that was eating my spinach plants. It is so frustrating to lose seedlings you’ve put such effort into.

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Last year the squash borer took the life of my squash. It was painful, but got me into researching. This year, I’m putting aluminum foil around the stem. I hope it works.

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My plants are coming back especially green. They have been acclimatized after the snow and the rough weather they’ve been through. Each week it seems like a new plant appears. The latest surprise was that my Common Milkweed which is the native host plant for the Monarch butterfly came back!

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This posting would be complete without a picture of our chickens. They have a part to play in my garden. We compost their manure to use in the garden. A funny fact is that our rooster is named “Mr. Darcy” after the key character in “Pride and Prejudice.”

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Also, my family has two new baby goats! This is mocha and our other goat is cocoa. I hope you enjoyed the update. I’ll keep you posted on the happening around SHAPE Eco Farm and Elizabeth’s Secret Garden.

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeths-Secret-Garden/200110980006101?ref=hl

SHAPE Eco Farm’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shapeecofarm