Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Fruit of My Labor -- Well, Almost

This evening, after doing some routine compost maintenance, I decided to take one of my big cherry tomatoes planted in February and transplant it into a large 2 gallon planter. I filled the planter with potting soil, seed starter, not-quite-finished vermicompost and a handful of crushed, dried egg shells. Then I planted the seedling and mulched with the remaining sphagnum peat moss I have. I watered it with compost tea and put it beside the mini greenhouse in the kitchen.

It's a beauty! I'm very proud that I was able to take some of last summer's cherry tomatoes, collect and ferment and dry the seeds, save them in an envelop all winter, plant them in February and nurture them to the point that I now have a fresh new plant growing in my kitchen. The beauty of this is that until last year I had never successfully grown any vegetables other than one or two dried up jalapenos that yielded a few inedible peppers. It just goes to show that with a little determination, even amateurs like myself can garden successfully.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Luna Moths and White Birch Seeds

Sadly, my last living Luna moth is near death. All the others are gone, having petered out indoors or flown away. We released the beautiful #5 two days ago -- he happily flew off, never to be seen again. Now I'm left with three dead moths, one clinging to life, and two trays full of tiny eggs.

I'm not sure if all the eggs are fertile. I never saw #4 mate, so I separted the eggs of #3 and #4 as best I could, simply to find out if #4 did the deed in the middle of the night, or if she simply dumped her unfertilized eggs. Either way, she is now desperately laying the last of her eggs with whatever remaining energy she has. I've been dreaming about Luna moths for about two years, so at this point I kind of feel a little girl with nothing to do on the rainy Sunday after her birthday. Blah.

It's not really over, though: the big question now is whether the eggs will hatch, and, if they do, whether we'll be able to find leaves for them to eat this early in the spring. I'm crossing my fingers that we'll have White Birch, Sweet Gum and/or Black Walnut tree leaves before we have Luna moth caterpillars. I have a Black Walnut and my neighbor has a White Birch, but I have no idea what a Sweet Gum looks like. Guess I'll have to spend some time at Google Image Search to do an ID.

In the meantime, I manged to clip some seeds from my neighbor's White Birch. I read online that white birch seeds can be germinated under light; while the process described in the aforelinked .pdf is elaborate and complicated, I'm hoping that my oversimplified method of letting the seeds dry out under plant lights and then sowing indoors will work. This experiment, if successful, will involve an attempt to grow white birch in containers, outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter. I would prune to control height and possibly use the leaves as a food source for future generations of Luna moths, mostly to supplement outdoor tree leaf harvesting.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Plant Recovery

Despite the unhappy events of Friday afternoon, my tomato, cabbage, watermelon, cilantro, jalapeno and chamomile sprouts are recovering in the indoor greenhouse. They survived the crash!

Baby Strawberries

I just transplanted my four adorable strawberry sprouts (from seeds I'd purchased on a whim from Target's "One Spot") into 4" pots. For now I'm going to keep them under my kitchen grow lights to see how well they do there. I may end up planting two outdoors and keeping two inside.

Here's a photo, provided by my own personal photographer, Steve. The strawberry in the picture is actually about 1 cm. tall!

New Spinach

Today my new flat of Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach under the kitchen grow lights sprouted! I also decided to start over with the original flat of Melody Hybrid. I "harvested" the leaves last week thinking that pinching them all back hard would encourage growth, but I think these plants are spent -- there's been no new growth in days and the remaining stumpy, leafless stems look pale and weak.

I did make use of the leaves -- I enjoyed a couple of sandwiches with fresh spinach and made a pita pizza with spinach and feta. This time around I'm going to see what I can do to make sure the new flat of spinach yields more. I'm adding a second flat with drainage holes to the original flat without holes and mulch with the very fine sphagnum peat moss, instead of the less-fine variety I had been using a few months back. I'm also going to water more regularly with compost tea. Still going to use Melody Hybrid in this particular flat. It'll be interesting to compare the growth of two indoor spinach flats, each with a different variety of spinach.

Mango Sprout

Last night I checked on my mango seed and found a thick, pale green sprout coming out of the seed's side. I planted the mango core on March 13 and did see one sprout a few weeks ago, which prompted me to take the seed out of the plastic bag in which I was hoping it would germinate and half-bury it in a planter filled with potting soil and dusted with a sphagnum peat mulch. Doing that seemed to cause the sprout to disappear rather than grow, so I thought I had killed it. The other day I examined the seed and it looked to be withering, like being buried in moist soil and peat moss for over a month had finally caused it to start rotting (There's no odor, mind you -- just a shrunken sort of look about the seed).

I was quite surprised when I found a sprout, although perhaps this semi-rotten state is precisely what is necessary to encourage germination. Either way, I'm just glad there's growth and I'm excited to see what happens next.

Here's a photo of the little sprout, taken by Steve with his Nikon D50:

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I apologize for misleading anyone who read the previous post about Mad City Chickens: the aforementioned video at Wisconsin Public Television is not the full-length film, but rather an interview with the filmmakers. I can't find the film online (even searched at Netflix and found nothing), but I did happen upon this fun deleted scene as well as a film trailer, both at The 'Mad City Chickens' DVD can be purchased from Tarazod Films for $21.95.

Mad City Chickens

I was crushed to have missed the screening of Tarazod Films "Mad City Chickens" at Lakefront Brewery the other night because I had a meeting to attend on behalf of the Tosa Farmers Market. Today, however, I happily stumbled upon a version of the film that can be viewed online at Wisconsin Public Television's Director's Cut.

I've been interested in backyard chicken rearing for over a year now and have been eagerly following the progress of groups like Shorewood Chickens, figuring that if folks in a suburb like Shorewood can compell their city to change an ordinance banning chickens, perhaps Wauwatosa can do the same. Strapped as I am for spare time, however, I don't really have the ability to organize a movement of our own in Tosa -- yet. So I'm watching and waiting to see what happens in places like Shorewood and Milwaukee proper.

In the meantime, a friend of mine and I thought it might helpful to start a "fan page" at Facebook called "Tosa Chickens" to gauge interest in this concept. If you support backyard chickens and live in Tosa, please become a "fan" of Tosa Chickens on Facebook.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Plant Crash

Today I experienced a heart-wrenching plant tragedy at the Blue Bungalow. Remember how I decided to experiment with hardening off my seedlings earlier today? Well, let's just say this experiment was very, very educational -- in a bad way. I learned to never put a cheap, flimsy mini-greenhouse anywhere near where children play -- or ride their bikes.

I was working on my daylily removal project (a laborious process in the hot sun because the lilies are really clinging to the clay-rich soil) when I heard a yelp and crash. I found my 7-year-old's bike covered with plant flats, peat pots and dirt. The greenhouse frame was disjointed and leaning. My seedlings were scattered. Several were destroyed.

I pouted. I teared up. I swore a little, almost threw up my hands and went inside to sulk. I've spent months nurturing these seedlings, misting them once or twice every day, turning them for better access to sunlight each morning. I've carefully transplanted them when necessary. They are my little plant babies. I was very proud of them -- how lush and green they looked, and how I had helped them to get there.

I once heard Oprah say that when something bad happens to you, you get about 30 minutes to feel sorry for myself and then you get to work. I wanted to sit and feel sorry for myself, but I knew I had my own work to do. So I picked up what I could off the ground, put everything in the fallen flats and brought them into my kitchen, where I spent at least an hour repotting, clipping off broken leaves, watering and nurturing. This was a painful and depressing project, but I did console myself with the thought that this tragedy forced me to repot little cherry tomatoes I transplanted into play-doh containers a while back. They are pretty tall now and looked cramped in the tiny plastic cups.

When finished, I put the remaining plants into the flats and returned them to the east-facing greenhouse in my kitchen. No more hardening off for now. Then I used my remaining energy to sweep up the dirty mess in my kitchen.

All in all I think I lost about 1/10 of my plants. Assuming the seedlings I saved survive the double trauma of their first hot day outdoors AND being attacked by a bike, I should still have enough for my gardens with leftovers to share. So I guess it could have been worse.

Now I need to go hug my daughter -- she felt terrible about what she did, and although I was mad at the situation I know that accidents happen. Poor girl!

The Fifth Luna

Today our fifth and final Luna moth eclosed from his cocoon. Yes, it's a male, which is great news because our other living male (#2) snuck out of the terrarium in the middle of the night and is probably resting up high somewhere inside my house. I expect him to start flying around this evening, as did #1 when he left home a few days ago. Our new guy looks just like the others, with one notable difference -- his burgudy markings are darker, and his legs are *very* hairy, almost resembling wolf spider legs. I admit that I was a little spooked when this one crawled on me, because of those dark, thick-looking legs (I'm a bit of an arachnophobe). #5 is now building up his strength on the side of the terrarium. Perhaps we'll have a love match with #4 this evening.

#3 seems to be done laying her eggs. She looks weak -- for a moment I thought she was dead, but then she moved her legs when I touched her. It's clear that her life is drawing to a close, but she may hang on for another day or two.

As #5 was our last cocoon, I will now wait patiently for the eggs to hatch in a week or two. Just hope we have some full leaves on our black walnut and white birch trees so the little ones have something to eat!

Salad Table Sprouts, Hardening Off

The Mesclun lettuce seeds I planted in one of the cells of my new salad table sprouted!

Also, I plan to experiment with hardening off today. It's warm and breezy and slightly cloudy, so I'm going to move some of the plants in my indoor mini-greenhouse to the outdoor mini-greenhouse on the south-facing side of my house. I'm not sure if I'm going to leave them there from now on or bring them inside at night. I imagine the greenhouse cover will keep them from going into shock from cold nighttime temps and/or extreme weather (as long as the light greenhouse doesn't blow over!). We'll see how the weather goes over the next few days. I'm eager to harden off my seedlings, as I'll be traveling in early May and I'm afraid that they'll dry up while I'm gone if I leave them inside. What to do???

Another project for this beautiful day: finishing removal of the "ditch lilies" on the southern side of my house, grading away from the foundation with a mix of dead leaves, compost, and vemiculite, and then planting my patch of herbs, onions, chives, garlic and shallots on top.

And I still need to order my hardwood mulch for this year!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Moth Egg Update

Last night the mating Lunas finally separated and Luna #3 began laying eggs all over the terrarium. She spent much of today quietly moving from place to place to lay small clusters of dry brown eggs (each the size of a small seed) on the terrarium screening and frame. I assume that this behavior would, in nature, increase the likelihood that at least some of her offspring survive. If an egg-eating predator were to find all the eggs in one place, a moth's entire chance for its genetic code to continue would be gone in one gulp.

I have been very carefully collecting these eggs in a repurposed plastic chinese food container with a clear lid. I poked some air holes in the lid with a knife and have been holding the plastic bowl under the egg clusters and gently scraping them with my fingernail off the screening and into the container. I haven't counted, but I have at least a few dozen.

Today my mated pair (#s 2 & 3) look fatiqued -- they've fulfilled the purpose of their adult lives and seem ready to keel over. #4 has hardly moved and still looks pretty fresh. I wonder if #2 has enough juice left in him to take on a new mate.

#5 has yet to eclose. I know it contains a living creature -- when I pick up the cocoon I can feel the moth squirming inside. Hopefully it will come out sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Moth Eggs?

Yesterday was an exciting day at the Blue Bungalow Microfarm. We gained two female moths, witnessed the slow death of one, watched a mating dance begin.

It all started around noon. We were preparing to have our lunch when my 4-year-old pointed out that one of our three uneclosed moths was emerging from its cocoon. We were able to watch as the whole process occurred, this one much faster than the first two moths. #3 had a smooth entry into the adult world, coming out in just a minute or two.

I knew right away that it was a female because of her antennae -- they were longer and thinner than the bushy antennae of the males. As she pumped her wings with life, I also observed that she had a bulge in her abdomen the males didn't have. And I noticed that the female seemed more mellow -- she came out and crawled slowly up the screening until she reached the top of the terrarium, where she sat about six inches from the male (#2). When #1 came out, he was a little machine, charging around everywhere even when his wings were tiny stubs. #2 had that leg-loss trauma but was still more active than #3.

Later that afternoon I walked into my office and gasped when I saw that another moth had eclosed without us knowing. She was sitting on the terrarium screening pumping her wings. I could not believe I finally had a mix of males (well, one male, really -- #1 was barely alive) and TWO females. That meant mating would proceed promptly, right? When I raised Silkworm Moths last year, they emerged from their cocoons and were mating like fiends before their wings were full.

Not so with the Lunas. The three beautiful adult moths sat at the top of the aquarium for *hours* without moving even slightly.

Finally, around 8:30 p.m., some action: one of the females (#3, I believe) started courting the male -- aggressively. She inched toward him, sticking her hind quarters out in a way that made me wonder if she was emitting a hormone to "call" him. The poor dying moth at the bottom of the cage went crazy but could barely crawl to her, let alone fly. And "sticky legs" (#2, the one with the missing appendage) didn't seem that interested.

That is, until he began responding. For the next two hours or so they flew around each other. Then they would rest for a while. It was disappointing that they didn't latch on to each other right away, but not having gone through this complex mating dance before, I still had hope that they would do the deed at some point.

Sure enough, I woke up this morning and found them peacefully "connected" by their hind quarters, which, to the squeamish, might sound, well, gross, but is actually kind of lovely.

The thing is, they have been in this lovely embrace ALL DAY, and truthfully, I'm getting a little impatient. I have no idea when and if they will become unattached and when and where the female will start laying her eggs. I've heard that females like to crawl into paper bags to lay their eggs, so I have two on the bottom of the terrarium and today I even pinned a third bag up high inside the terrarium so she has options. I don't know if she's going to dump the sticky black-brown eggs all over the screening or be more discreet. I'm worried we'll lose the eggs if we're not careful, as I already found two or three stray eggs attached to the screening and lost them in the process of trying to brush them into a container. The tiny things popped away easily and fell to the floor, where they disappeared completely.

So I wait, and wait, and wait -- to find out if I'll be able to collect fertilized eggs, to see how long #1 will hold on for dear life before he passes into the Other World, and to learn whether #2 will attempt to mate with the other female (#4) soon.


On this lovely Earth Day, I was happy to finally receive by mail the dwarf pomegranate tree I'd ordered from Gurneys a while back. The tiny root ball was covered with dirt and wrapped in plastic inside a cardboard box. I planted it in a smallish pot -- the "tree" is only about 8 inches tall at this point. I put it on the plant table in my large south-facing dining room window.

Immediately after planting it dropped several of its leaves. I hope it doesn't go into shock the way my dwarf fig from Gurneys did; my fig is now a tiny stem with a green tip and hasn't grown a single leaf since I planted it over a month ago. It's still alive, though, so I'm hoping it'll recover from transplant shock and eventually pop some new leaves. That's what happened with the dwarf orange tree I bought from Gurneys last summer; it was small and dormant for months until, in the dead of winter, it suddenly started growing a new head of leaves. Now it's looking great.

I decided at the last minute to prune a small amount of top growth off the baby pomegranate, hoping that this might stimulate new leaf growth. This was an experimental gesture which may end up blowing in my face if it causes the pom to go further into transplant shock. Still, I thought it might help. We shall see.

You may be wondering what I plan to do with these potted indoor fruit trees. I will move them to sunny outdoor locations after the frost, let them stay outside all summer so that they can get sun, rain, insect exposure (for pollination), and fresh air. Then I'll move them back in before the fall frost. Hopefully in a few years they'll start bearing fruit.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Plants for Air Quality (and More Spinach)

Right now we're working on a minor "basement improvement project" that has, over the last several months, involved turning our 90-year-old dungeon of a basement into useable space. This winter we started our project by reducing clutter, knocking down some dilapidated interior walls and framing, and vaccumming the dust, cobwebs and chipped paint with the Tosa Health Department's Hepa Vac. Then we painted the concrete block walls with white drylock. Applying drylock took us months of on and off work -- drylock is heavy stuff, which made painting the concrete (difficult even with the lightest of paints) slow going. Anyway, when we finally finished the drylock, we painted the walls with a bungalow color scheme, cleaned and patched the concrete floor and added a few area rugs. We're not quite done, but the space is shaping up to be a decent place for band practice, play, and arts and crafts.

To improve the air quality in our basement and to make the space more inviting, I thought it would be nice to grow some plants in the light from the basement windows on the south side of the property. I bought some coffee plants (not sure if they'll like the cold down there, but it's worth a shot) and a dwarf bananna plant, as well as an English Ivy and a Fern. I'm thinking that the latter two might be the best options for this space, as the air is moist and cool -- kinda like their native environs in the northern regions.

As part of this project, I am going to experiment with propagating Dracaena for the basement. I was googling the other day and found this neat forum on propagating Dracaena. I have a big old spindly Dracaena plant just waiting to be pruned (it's a Dracaena marginata, I think). My basement air quality project offers the perfect excuse for experimenting with the techniques described on this forum.

So this afternoon, I pruned several of the lengthiest canes back, removed the leafy tops, and then cut the canes down to short pieces (approx. 3 to 5 inches long). I half-buried 15 of these pieces lengthwise in a flat filled with top soil and seed starter and then sprinkled them with sphagnun peat moss. I watered the canes and put the flat on the bottom shelf of my east-facing greenhouse.

On a different note, at the end of today's indoor gardening session I also started a new flat of Burpee's savoy leaf "Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach" seeds to grow atop one of two new mini plant tables my father-in-law built to use with my under-cabinet grow lights in the kitchen. My other indoor flat of Hybrid Melody spinach was slow growing until I removed some of the leaves a week or two ago, which seemed to stimulate growth. I'm hoping I can stay on top of this new flat, pinch it back sooner, and fertlize more regularly with compost tea.

Here's a pic of one of my counter-top mini plant tables:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rediscovering Luna #1

He's not dead, and the dog did NOT have a mothy midnight snack early this morning. Luna #1 alive and well! The girls were watching TV a bit ago when they started shouting, "We found the other luna moth!" as the moth flew around in our living room. Thankfully, the girls had received butterfly nets for their birthdays last week, so we grabbed them and managed to catch the moth and return him to the terrarium.

This is when we discovered how he made his escape: as soon as we replaced him inside his "home," he flew straight to the bottom of the terrarium and wriggled his way out of the bottom edges of the screening secured only with one tie on each side of the square bottom. We caught him again and put him back. This time Steve and I tucked the loose edges of the screening under the wooden frame, hoping this would prevent the moth from escaping a third time. Amazingly, he did make an attempt, beating his now-frayed wings frantically around the bottom perimeter of the terrarium looking for an exit route. How does he remember where to go? His brain must be the size of a grain of rice, as I learned from this article.

I wondered if Luna #1 would take notice of Luna #2 when they were together in the terrarium, but they seem completely unaware of each other. The new male moth is quite calm. He flew for the first time about 30 minutes ago only to rest on in a new corner of the cage. The older moth is frantic, flapping his wings noisily about. He probably knows his days are numbered (adults only live for a week or so). I'm sure he's desperate to find a mate. I'd release him outdoors, but it's too cold up here in Southeast Wisconsin, and he'll never find a mate around here this time of year. Our Lunas eclose only once a year, in mid-June. He's better off in the terrarium waiting for his future mates to eclose. Hope we get a female or two soon!

Removing the Five-Gallon Vermicompost Bin

After much deliberation, I have decided to eliminate one of my two kitchen vermicompost bins.

I came to this conclusion based on the following lines of reason:

  • I don't think a five-gallon plastic bucket, even with holes poked in the sides and drainage rocks at the bottom, is the best place in which to grow vermicompost, given the tightness of the space and lack of airflow;

  • I am beginning to think that, while I'm still a novice, I can easily get away with the rubbermaid bin and the outdoor bin. Do I really need *three* compost bins for a 1/4 acre "farm"?

  • I don't believe this bucket can stop smelling like orange diarrhea fast enough.

    So I took about half of the contents of the five-gallon bucket and as many worms as I could save and put them in the rubbermaid bin, aerated it a bit, sprinkled sphagnum peat moss on top and replaced the lid. I'll take the remaining conents in the five-gallon bucket and dump them in my outdoor compost bin as soon as it stops raining.

    Another thought: we drink so much coffee here at the Blue Bungalow that I am going to have to be much more careful about managing the nitrogen-carbon balance in all of my bins (especially the indoor bin). And I am never, ever again going to add a bag of moldy oranges to a small plastic compost bin inside my house.
  • Luna #2

    Still haven't located Luna #1 (my daughter suggested this morning that our golden retriever might have eaten him in the middle of the night -- ugh). In the meantime, we have a new moth! This one started breaking through its leaf-wrapped cocoon at 9:48 this morning; it rested for a few minutes and then was almost totally out by 10:20 a.m.

    I thought we were in the clear at that point until I realized that it hadn't fully emerged. It seemed to be struggling to be free of the cocoon, so I picked it up and noticed that one of its forelegs was stuck to the cocoon. I tried to very gently pry it loose, but was afraid I'd end up injuring the moth. So I ended up breaking apart the cocoon from the opposite end of the hole from which the moth eclosed, hoping to free the leg that way. I was able to get the moth loose, but at the expense of that leg, which remained with the cocoon. Poor thing! I hope it survives this ordeal. It is now resting inside the terrarium.

    I have been wondering over the last few days whether the males or females are the first to emerge; just came across the answer to this question at the University of Florida Extension site: "Adult eclosion (emergence from pupa) typically occurs in the morning with males usually beginning emergence several days before females. Morning emergence allows time for expansion and drying of the wings prior to the evening flight period. Also, during the first day after emergence, the moth voids the reddish-colored, liquid meconium which is composed of the breakdown waste products of the old larval tissues." (Incidentally, as I was trying to help free Luna #2 I got a squirt of tan meconium right on my hand. Ack.)

    I assume that this is another male, given the early eclosure and bushy antennae. I hope the leg-loss wasn't too great of a setback. Despite this small tragedy, its wings seem to be lengthening nicely. So far, so good.

    Moth Mystery

    I woke up this morning and found that my one eclosed Luna moth is missing! I thought it had died, or that perhaps it had crawled to some dark corner inside the terrarium to hide. So I looked all over the inside of the netting and couldn't find a trace of it. Now I'm worried that it's flying around my house. Eek! I'll keep looking.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    The Compost Chronicles: Worm Bin Crisis

    I have two vermicomposters in my house: one is a large converted rubbermade bin in the back-door vestibule and one is a 5-gallon bucket with a lid converted, rather hastily, into a vermicomposter; I keep the latter in the cabinet next to my garbage can. I also use a 5 quart ice cream bucket as a "transitional bin" to keep my compost materials (coffee grounds, vegetable scraps); I put kitchen scraps in the ice cream bucket and then once a week I dump that bucket into one of the vemicomposters or, if both containers contain too much material, into my backyard compost bin.

    I admit that, given the small size of the 5-gallon vermicomposter and the ease with which it becomes too full, I've let it sit (read: neglected it) for the last couple of weeks, thinking it would be good to let the contents decompose in peace before touching it again. The last time I filled it with waste, I'd added an old bag of moldy oranges; since this was a pretty big load for the small bin, I covered the oranges with shredded newspaper and left it alone.

    Oops. Today I opened it up to retrieve some compost (I'm making compost tea with cheese cloth, twine, compost and a sun-tea pitcher, but I'll have to save that for another post) and it was nasty -- juicy, jet black, and putrid smelling. Think dirty diaper after baby has consumed mass quantities of blueberries. Although the worms are still slithering around happily, I'm upset about this, as I just read in the book Toolbox for Sustainable City Living that this kind of smelly scene is an indication that the compost is too wet and nitrogen-rich, which can cause the compost to become anaerobic, creating alcohol. This is good if you're a home brewer, but bad if you're trying to grow healthy compost.

    In my uneducated attempt to remedy this situation, I took a long spoon and stirred up the stuff to aerate the bin's contents, then added shredded newspaper (I manually "shredded" a whole issue of the Shepherd Express with scissors to accomplish this). I also added the contents of a planter with a seeds that didn't sprout, some ripped-up paper egg cartons (to absorb some of the liquid) and a few handfuls of seed starter mix and sphagnum peat moss. I wanted to add dead leaves from my yard, but it's raining, and the last thing I want to do is add more liquid to this compost sludge. When I replaced it in the cabinet, I left the lid loose, to keep the air flowing.

    So then I went to my rubbermaid vermicomposter to see if I could obtain a big spoonful of finished compost to make compost tea. This bin was disturbingly close to becoming anaerobic, as it was a little too moist and the compost was a little too black. I did manage to dig deep and find some semi-finished compost, but the bin needed some aerating, so I stirred it up and, when finished, sprinkled a generous amount of sphagnun peat moss (with a little seed start mix thrown in) to the top to cover up the smelly unfinished compost.

    The silver lining in this dark compost cloud is that I've learned two valuable composting lessons. I need to aerate my vermicomposters more often and I need to avoid overloading them with nitrogen-rich materials. Instead of just letting them sit with an inch of shredded newspaper atop for days or even weeks at a time, I will probably have to check the bins daily, stir them up, and maybe add some more carbon-rich matter (the dry, brown stuff). Live and learn!

    Paschal Plants

    Mesclun lettuce seeds in front porch pots (planted April 9) sprouted today, on Eastern Orthodox Easter (Christos Anesti!)

    We're working on our ongoing basement improvement project tonight, and I'm thinking of trying to propagate some of my tropical plants so I have something to grow near the basement windows, if for nothing more than to improve the air quality down there.

    Looks like I'm giving up on my Calfornia Wonder Peppers, Poblano Chili Peppers and most of the Greek Pepperoncini. It's been weeks now and I've only seen two pepperoncini sprouts, which I just transplanted into larger pots and placed in the east-facing greenhouse. Oh well.

    Still only have one adult Luna moth, although two of the remaining four cocoons have been wiggling on and off for the last couple days. I was hoping to have some Paschal moths, but no such luck. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Luna #1

    One of my five Luna moths eclosed today!

    This morning, while working in my office, I heard a light flicking sound inside the butterfly terrarium a few feet away. It was fairly repetitious, so I figured something was happening with one of the luna moths. Sure enough, one of the cocoons was active; it wasn't long before a tuft of creamy, furry "scales" started poking out just a little bit from a hole in one end of the cocoon.

    After a couple minutes wrestling around inside the cocoon, the moth stopped moving. The girls and I picked it up to take a closer look. I tried to take some photos with my husband's complicated SLR camera but couldn't figure it out (even in auto mode I was only able to take one blurry pic, nothing worth sharing). I put the cocoon down and a minute or two later it became active again. At that point, it only took a couple of minutes for the moth to push itself out of the cocoon. The body was furry and white and limp, but soon it stretched to become a full-size abdomen. The bushy antennae (which indicate, I think, that it's a male) perked up right away. The little guy was very busy from the get go, crawling all over the place. It couldn't fly, of course -- its wings were too tiny and shriveled to be of any use at that point. So I put him in the terrarium and he climbed the screening all the way to the top of the cage, where he rested on the wooden frame for a couple hours, pumping up his wings.

    The girls and I left the house for an excursion to the park, and when we came home the Luna had a beautiful 3 1/2 inch wingspan. The wings are crisp and bright, a pale green color lined with burgundy and with two eyes on the wings. The eyes and tail-like hind wings kind of resemble the face of an elephant. The moth is very calm, sitting perfectly still inside the terrarium (undoubtly waiting to mate with one of other moths). It's really quite a sight -- beautiful, serene. When it flies, its shivering wings make it look like a tiny angel.

    Here's another pic of the moth inside the butterfly terrarium my in-laws created for me:

    There is one more pic (and plenty of other photos that have nothing to do with moths) at my husband Steve's flickr site. Enjoy!

    Hazelnut Trees

    The two American Hazelnut trees I purchased from Gurneys arrived in a large cardboard package in bareroot form last night -- found the box on my porch this morning. I soaked their roots for about an hour in distilled water and then planted them in the backyard. Hope my wood-loving golden retriever doesn't dig them up and eat them!

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Butterfly Terrarium and Salad Table

    Yesterday I had the pleasure of picking up two products developed by my talented mother and father-in-law: a 6' tall, screened "butterfly terrarium" to house my Luna moths, still resting in their cocoons, and a "salad table." My mother-in-law fashioned the screening for the terrarium, and my father-in-law did woodwork for both projects.

    The terrarium is in my office, near a north-facing window. I hope to grow some kind of plant inside and raise future generations of luna moths within the screening.

    I placed the salad "table" (which actually looks more like a drawer with screening on the bottom) onto the rusty metal frame of an antique soapstone utility sink we removed from our basement last summer. It's sitting on a largely unused patch of concrete next to my house. I lined the bottom of the three cells of the table with dead leaves, then topped with potting soil and seed starter. Mixed in some coffee grounds and worm castings, then planted one of the cells with lettuce mesclun seeds. Will plant the other two cells later -- want to stagger the harvest. Mulched, as per usual, with peat moss.

    Here's a link to a page with photos of my father-in-law Stan's other wood projects. My home is filled with mission-style furniture he crafted in his home wood shop.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Various Transplants

    Transplanted Coriander, Jalapenos, Cabbage, Chamomile and two bush beans from my third grader's class project (sprouted in water) into larger pots (some peat, some plastic) filled with potting soil and mulched with sphagnum peat. Placed in east-facing green house.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    Mesclun Lettuce

    Removed wilting black seeded simpson planted in Feb. from outdoor planters (just couldn't make it work) and planted Botanical Interests' "lettuce mesclun" (Lactuca sativa) and black seeded simpson seeds into two large, glazed ceramic planters on front porch. Mulched lightly with sphagnum peat moss. Also added some coffee grounds to the soil of both planters.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Various Transplants

    Small sprout coming out of mango seed; transplanted into large pot (using drainage rocks, then potting soil, then sphagnum peat moss as mulch). Watered with compost tea.

    Transplanted five watermelon sprouts from egg carton cells into 4" pots and placed in east-facing greenhouse. The remaining six seeds appear to be duds.

    Transplanted 16 beefsteak tomato seedlings into 3" peat pots, placed in east-facing greenhouse.

    Transplanted nine spinach sprouts (Melody hybrid, planted Mar. 28) into various small pots, placed in east-facing greenhouse, but put two in repurposed edamame soybean containers on southern window sills.