Friday, December 26, 2008

St. Louis Organic Garden Club Details

Thursday, January 8

Missouri Organic Association's Organic Garden Club 6:30 - 8:00 pm, $5
Whole Foods, SW Corner of Clayton and Woods Mill, Town and Country, MO

With Molly Rockamann of EarthDance Farms Everyone is welcome to join the inaugural monthly meeting of St. Louis's first organic garden club! This time, Molly Rockamann will help us get inspired for spring in the dead of winter, answer questions about growing organically, and screen Connoisseur of Fine Foods, the short film about the Mueller Organic Farm in Florissant. Join us for a great conversation and a chance to win a raffle prize.

Molly Rockamann has a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Eckerd College and a Postgraduate Diploma in Development Studies from the University of the South Pacific. After graduating from the Center for AgroEcology & Sustainable Food Systems at UC-Santa Cruz in 2005 with a certificate in ecological horticulture, Rockamann worked with small farmers in Fiji and Ghana, as well as with food activist and author Anna Lappe on the Eat Grub! Tour of 2006. Molly is a St. Louis native, and the co-founder of EarthDance, a new organization dedicated to celebrating the culture in agri[culture]. Founded in 2008 to grow and inspire local FARMS - Food, Art, Relationships, & Music, Sustainably!, the EarthDance Organic Farming Apprenticeship program will begin on the historic Mueller Farm in early 2009.

Interested folks can register by stopping by Whole Foods in Town and Country, or calling the Customer Service Desk at 636-527-1160 or online at

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Organic Garden Club Forming Jan. 8

I'm excited to be able to report that an Organic Garden Club is forming here in St. Louis County. This club will be an offshoot of the Missouri Organic Association, an organization here in Missouri with a mission to bring together growers, consumers, gardeners, and other advocates of organic methods.

Our first meeting will be on January 8 at the Whole Foods in Town & Country. I believe it starts at 7 pm but we're firming up the details (reservations will be required since our meeting space is small) and I'll post them as soon as I have them.

Our first speaker will be Molly Rockamann, co-founder of EarthDance, an organization dedicated to supporting and encouraging local farms. Molly will show a short film documenting the historic Mueller Farm, a tiny organic farm just in our backyard, with city limits of Ferguson, MO.

Future talks will include tips on beginning organic gardening, seed-starting, and more!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Take care of the birds

Birds are an important part of an organic garden. If you have made a commitment to not use chemical sprays to kill bugs, then you can no doubt appreciate the birds that eat insects in your garden. Not only do they provide a valuable service, but the birds are enjoyable to watch and listen to (especially if you have indoor cats!).

It may seem that feeding birdseed would make birds less likely to eat insects, but in reality what you're doing is providing an inviting place for the birds to live. A steady supply of seed will encourage them to nest in your yard because food is plentiful, and most of the birds that are attracted to your feeder eat at least some insects as part of their diet.

If you have large windows in your house, bird strikes may be a big issue. Often the reflection in the window looks like more sky, and when birds fly into the window full force they can get badly hurt, even killed.

Bird splat on one of the back doors

Some birds, like sparrows, are more prone to fly into your windows in spring when they're nesting and feeling particularly territorial. They see their reflection in the window and try to protect their little place in the world.

However, I've had a particularly bad time with doves hitting our windows this fall. I think it has more to do with the position of the sun and the lack of leaves on the trees than anything else: due to the reflections they just plain don't see the glass and think they're flying into blue sky. We have a couple feeders in the tree outside our kitchen window (Cat TV), and as a result we have a LOT of doves.

It got so bad last weekend -- 5 strikes before noon last Saturday -- that we ended up putting large masking tape X's on the kitchen windows in hopes that the tape would break up the reflection and keep them from flying into the windows. Masking tape does work moderately well. After applying the tape, we had one or two doves hit the window over the last week but not nearly at the rate they did before. So this weekend we went looking for a more appealing solution: something tmore effective while at the same time better looking (I'm just glad the kitchen faces the back yard!).

We ended up at WalMart, looking for those tacky beaded curtains. You know, the kind that, back in the old days, used to signal that something very naughty hid just beyond the doorway. I've seen them back in stores in the last couple of years, as pre-teens continue their worship of all things 70's.

We didn't find any beaded curtains (thank goodness, we were spared putting up anything in the color "princess purple" outside our house!), but the lady at the craft department pointed us to some by-the-yard gold garland that had become popular with people taking belly dance lessons (go figure!), but were now on clearance for $1/yard. So we decided to make our own.

I strung a few lengths of the garland on a wire, making a knot above each length to keep them spaced at about 10" apart. I purposely left the length a bit long, so the ends would drag on the ground. Although these will still move a bit in the wind, I want them to be heavy enough to more-or-less stay put.

Here's a photo of the finished project. I hope that the shiny disks will draw the birds' attention long enough for them to figure out there is a house there. If it works, I may try making some more bird-strike-avoiders out of beads.

What type of berry is this?

For some reason, I thought it was a serviceberry, but I read they fruit pretty early, and the birds will normally get them before the people can.

Ours still have some fruit on the trees, and they make a real mess when they fall on the sidewalk. I don't remember when they began fruiting, sometime mid to late summer I think.

We have two of these trees, multi-trunked and ~15 feet tall.

Praying Mantis on the Back Door

I was going through my camera pics and found this one from early October.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fuzzy caterpillar

Had to do a plant walk before heading out shopping and found this guy. Will need to look him up later.

Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone with SprintSpeed

I just looked it up. He's a Wooley Bear Caterpillar, that will turn into an Isabella Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

African Blue Basil

As was the case last year, our African Blue Basil plant is attracting a crazy number of bees again this summer. Unlike last year, though, we haven't seen a whole lot of honey bees. We've mostly had bumblebees this year, and most of the summer it's been the really big ones. At any given time there are at least half a dozen on the one plant. For a week or so, we also saw some smaller bumblebees, about 1/2 the size of the current residents. I'm not sure if they're a different species or if they're a younger version of the big ones.

UPDATE: I've been looking all over the web trying to figure out what kind of bumblebees we have, and just figured out they're not bumblebees at all: they're carpenter bees. Bumblebees have fuzzy butts, while carpenter bees have a smooth and hairless back-end, like my photo. I knew we had carpenter bees by our deck this spring, but I didn't put two and two together. The web pages I've found indicate that the carpenter bee is a good pollinator, and they do bore into wood as their name suggests. However, they don't usually do serious damage unless generations of them stick around the same location.

Japanese Maples

We planted a couple more Japanese maples that have been in pots for most of the summer. The red one, 'Bloodgood,' was a housewarming present when we moved in two years ago, and it's been in the ground for awhile.

The one on the left is 'Sango Kaku,' and the small one on the right is an 'Orido-Nishiki' that Doug bought on Ebay.


I planted a couple of eggplants about a month ago. Today I harvested my first mini-eggplant. I suppose I should have let it get a little bigger but I wanted to get it before something else did! There are several more blooms on the plants so hopefully I'll get some more.

I also got a couple small zucchinis -- they definitely aren't growing as fast now that the weather has turned cooler. I only got a handful of beans -- some of them are plain old bush beans and some are scarlet runner beans. I keep finding little onions that I missed when digging up earlier, and I even found some potatoes that I missed when harvesting several weeks ago. This should make a nice little stir fry.

Here are blooms from the scarlet runner bean (along with little beanlets!) and my bush beans.

Mulching with hay

I managed to get in several hours in the garden today, and got a lot accomplished. I took lots of pictures so will post a couple different items.

This summer we're trying something different: mulching with straw instead of hardwood mulch or the composted leaves we get from the city pickup mulch pile. It's not the best looking when it's just been put down, but after a few rains it'll looks fine.

Why straw? It seems to be more economical than the hardwood mulch we get in bags at the big box store: one bale will cover as much area as probably 4-5 bags of mulch. We pay a bit too much right now because we don't have a pickup truck. That means we only can get 4 bales in the back of Doug's car, and we end up buying it at a feed store for about $5/bale. If you have a truck and can get enough to make the drive worthwhile, you can find farmers selling straw on Craig's List for as little as $2/bale.

It's not quite as economical as the leaf mulch we get in University City in the spring, but I think it's cleaner. The free mulch comes from leaves the city picks up curbside and piles up to compost all winter. However, I've found enough garbage in that mulch -- pull tabs from cans, plastic bags and other assorted plastic items, cigarette package wrappers, etc. -- that it really makes me wonder exactly what all I am adding to my yard. And who really knows what people spray on their trees.

Here's a view of the same garden area from the driveway. You can't really see the mulch until you're right up by the fence so I don't have to worry about what the neighbors think. :)

Saturday, September 20, 2008


When driving home from work I avoid the highway because it's pretty clogged up that time of day. Winding through one of the suburban neighborhoods on my way home the other day, I had to wait for a turkey to cross the road. Seriously!

I held up traffic a bit as I stopped my car in the middle of the road to snap some pics.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fairy Ring

There's a fairy ring growing between my neighbor's driveway and mine. It gets more mushrooms as time passes but I thought I'd get a photo while I'm thinking of it.

Here's a better view, taken after a different rainstorm. Note how lush the grass is in the middle. As the fungus grows, it dies out in the center and decays, feeding the soil.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dog Vomit Fungus

Yesterday was a busy day for my camera. While (unsuccessfully) chasing the snake the first time we saw it, I came across some weird-looking fungus that I've seen in my yard before. Since I had the camera for the snake chase, I went ahead and snapped some pics.

This fungus isn't a mushroom, but a slime mold. The name, though disgusting, is very descriptive (I didn't make it up!). More information can be found here, here,and here.

Black Rat Snake

One of my rules of blogging is to never post something that I'd be afraid for my parents, friends, or employers to see. I'm about to break that rule.

My mother doesn't yet know about this blog. It's bad enough that my little brother ratted me out about the worms in my kitchen. I showed them to my father last time they visited and he thinks it's cool, but I knew it would just ekel my mother. I'm afraid if she sees this photo she'll never come to visit again.

We've seen him before, but this time we got a better look since he was right outside our back door, and I think it's a Black Rat Snake rather than a Black Racer Snake. The main differences are: the Rat Snake is chunkier, shiner, slower, and less aggressive than the Racer. I believe the definitive proof would be if we could see the coloring on his underside, but I don't think either Doug or I are going to ask him to show us.

Zucchini recipes

I spent about 3 hours cooking last night: two types of zucchini bread, and stuffed zucchini rounds. Everything was experimental, and not everything turned out the way I had hoped (the low-fat raspberry-zucchini bread was particularly disappointing so I won't post a recipe for it). The garlic cheese zucchini bread, however, was excellent! I messed around with a recipe I found here, and it was so easy I didn't even need a mixer.

Garlic Cheese Zucchini Bread

2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup grated zucchini
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Beat together the eggs, buttermilk, sugar, and butter. Mix in the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix in the flour until it's moist (don't over-mix).

Stir the garlic and onion into the zucchini, then fold the zucchini mixture into the batter. Stir in the cheese.

Pour into two 4 x 8 loaf pans, and bake at 350 for ~45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. The top will still be pale, or just slightly golden.

Stuffed zucchini rounds

My next experiment was another stuffed zucchini. I usually make a loose stuffing, browning some meat & onions, then adding to a grain of some sort (brown rice, bulgar, couscous, quinoa or whatever's on hand). This time I decided to go for more of a solid, meatloaf-type filling, and to cut the zucchini into rounds instead of lengthwise to make serving easier.

Consider this more of an idea than a recipe; I can't remember what all I used to spice it. As an afterthought, I added a garlic spice mix that I received in my last Fair Share, and I didn't catch that the mix's top ingredient was salt. Because I had already done some seasoning, the result was way too salty.

1/2 to a whole large zucchini (depending on size)
1 pound ground buffalo (or ground beef)
1 medium onion
1 green pepper
olive oil
chicken broth
1-2 cups cups cooked quinoa, rice, or bulgar
1 egg
1 packet unflavored gelatin
seasoning to taste (use what you would for a meatloaf)
shredded cheddar

From a large zucchini, cut several ~2 inch rounds. Scoop out the center (save what you scoop out), place in a pan with a little chicken broth in the bottom, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft (not soggy).

Prepare the gelatin per package directions just prior to mixing the stuffing. If you prepare it too far in advance it'll be set up already, but you want it to be liquid.

Sautee the onion and pepper in a little olive oil. Dice the zucchini that was scooped from the rounds, along with any leftover zucchini that wasn't cut into rounds. Sautee with the onion/pepper mix. When stuffing a zucchini, I go ahead and sautee any squash that I have left. If it looks like too much, add to any leftover grain with a little cheese and some seasonings and cook it along with the stuffed zucchini.

Mix the raw ground meat, grains, seasoning, and sauteed vegetables in a large bowl. Add the egg, and add about 3 tablespoons of the prepared gelatin, which will keep the stuffing from drying out while cooking. Stuff the hollowed-out parts of the squash rounds, and form into a semi-circle on top.

Bake at 375 until a meat thermometer inserted into the stuffing reads 155. Start checking temperature after about 40 minutes. If the tops start to look dry, then cover loosely with foil.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Summer Zucchini

I've had zero success with tomatoes this year. I only planted 4 plants, and they must have been a variety not well-suited to my area; I had a much easier time of it last year. However, with just two zucchini plants -- one in a pot and one in the ground -- I've already had plenty of zucchini. It seems the only way to find the ones big enough for stuffing is to befriend a gardener, or to grow them yourself. The last one I stuffed (I forgot to take pictures!) was so big that I had to cut off the ends to fit it on the cookie sheet!

Here's the plant that makes the giant squash:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Vermicompost (worm compost)

I wrote this awhile back on my other blog, but am pasting most of it here because it's garden-related. I've been vermicomposting indoors for about two years now, and occasionally someone asks me how to start. So here's how my favorite bin was made:

I started out with two Rubbermaid bins. I have removed the labels long ago so I can't tell you how many gallons they are, but they are approximately 16" x 20" x 9" deep.

I drilled three large holes in each side near the top of one of the bins, and stapled window screen material over the holes. If I had to do it over again I'd bond the screening on using some silicone caulking material. If you do that, make sure you let the caulking cure for awhile (I'd give it a week) until it no longer smells like vinegar.

Punch several holes in the bottom of the same bin that has the other holes so any excess water can drain.

You will end up stacking the bin with the holes on top of the second bin. However, you will probably need to put something in the bottom of the intact bin so they don't nest too tightly together: you don't want to block the screened holes from the first bin. I found a small dish shelf, but you could just as easily line the bottom with a few rocks. Don't make it too heavy or your bin won't be very portable.

Stack the two bins together and lay some screening material in the bottom of the top bin to keep the worms from falling out of the drain holes.

Now it's time to fill up your bin. I used coir (expanded in water to the consistency of a moist sponge) as my main bedding material. I usually keep some of this material around to make potting soil (I hate potting soil with peat moss), so it was handy. I made that initial layer several inches deep, then buried some of my kitchen scraps in it. Don't use meat or dairy, but fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. are ok. I also added a little bit (~1/2 a trowel full) of compost from my pile outside to help the kitchen scraps break down more easily. Add some water until the coir is damp: worms need moisture to survive. Then dump your worms on top. I used 500 red wigglers I bought from a bait shop. If they have two different types of red wigglers, get the small ones: they are cheaper, and they are supposed to be better for composting.

I shredded some newspaper on top of the coir, and sprayed it with water. That seems to keep the coir from drying out too fast, and it's more material for the worms to work on. You may want to keep the lid off for a couple hours in a brighly lit room to make sure the worms dig down into the coir instead of trying to crawl out of the bin. They seem to get confused when they're first put in there, and if the bin is in the dark right away they are just as likely to crawl up the side of the container -- or out the screened holes -- as they are to dig down. Once they made it into the coir I haven't had any problems with escapees.

How much do you feed your worms? I have yet to measure anything so I can't give you a precise answer. You want to make sure whatever you add can be buried within your bedding material because you don't want to stink up the place or overwhelm the worms. I've been checking the bin every few days and if what I put there before has been mostly broken down then I'll add a little more.

Getting the bin cat-scanned is optional -- for the worms. Maybe not for the cat.

Natural Pest Control -- Slithery Edition

The moles (voles?) have been taking a toll on our lawn this year. Strange patterns are written all over in dead grass, where their tunnels have disturbed the roots enough to kill it. Since we're organic, we won't poison them. We don't like killing things anyway, which makes them hard to control.

Yesterday I found out that help is already on its way.

"Help," in this case, is in the form of a 3 to 4 foot long black snake. I didn't get a good enough look for positive identification. It's either a black rat snake or a black racer. In my book, a snake that size is "giant," especially when I almost stepped on him, and of course my first reaction was to scream. His response was to vibrate his tail really fast, mimicking a rattler (I've since read that is pretty common among non-venomous snakes). My second reaction was to bang frantically on the back door until my husband came out. I needed him out there not to protect me, but to keep an eye on where the snake went while I ran for my camera. The slithery one is living in a hole in the flower bed next to my kitchen window, and unfortunately was most of the way home before I had a chance to snap the pic.

When we bought this house a year and a half ago, the yard was beautifully kept but, like most suburban yards, it seemed so.... sterile. We didn't even have that many squirrels last summer. Not that we need a lot of squirrels! But with our previous yard we just grew used to having all sorts of animals around (eventually I even came face to face with the coyote that was sleeping in my compost pile!) and it made the view out the back window much more interesting.

In the time we've been here, though, we've been seeing steadily more wildlife, thanks no doubt to the bird feeders and the lack of poisons. In addition to the snake, another newcomer is a chipmunk we spotted this weekend on our back porch. In addition to the chipmunk and snake, here are the other creatures we've encountered out back:
- Lots of birds, most are common ones (sparrows, robbins, finches, starlings, etc.)
- Woodpeckers: downy and flicker
- An unidentified hawk or two
- An occasional owl passer-by (never to be seen, only heard)
- Raccoon
- Squirrels
- Rabbits (although none in the back yard this year... maybe because of the snake)
- Moles (or voles... I don't know how to tell the difference)
- Mice

Some of the critters are pests, but once you make your yard inviting to urban wildlife, you don't exactly get to choose which wildlife must remain on the other side of the fence. So we take the "bad" with the good. And it's always interesting to see what nature sends around when the "bad" starts to get out of hand.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fool-proof Produce

If you are a beginning gardener and you want to grow vegetables, I recommend trying lettuce and zucchini. Both are easy to grow here in the St. Louis area, and neither one requires a huge investment in time or energy.

It's too late in the season to plant any more lettuce: I just harvested the last of the crop I planted last winter. Although technically I think you're supposed to wait until later in the winter, I planted leaf lettuce seeds in February and they did just fine, even though we had plenty of cold and snow. Once the seedlings came up, I fed them every couple of weeks with alfalfa meal and tried to keep the clover out of the bed. Other than that, not much maintenance is required. If you plant from seed, don't worry about neat little rows: when it's time to thin the lettuce you can eat the little plants you pull up.

Last year my first zucchinis ended up rotting on the vine (has to do with uneven watering and weird weather conditions), but the second round was pretty prolific. However, the continuous moisture this year means that the first round of flowers on my plants are actually producing fruit. I have two plants I got from a nursery and put in the ground two weeks ago, and each one already has a small zucchini. Several other flowers are blooming right now, so the females should turn into fruit this week as well.

I have been feeding my zucchini with alfalfa meal for the nitrogen, and Jamaican bat guano (available at Worm's Way) for the phosphorus. Phosphorus is necessary for good flower and fruit production. I don't feed on a particular schedule: just whenever I think about it, every other weekend or so. They are extremely prolific, and two plants should end up providing plenty of zucchini for two people for the whole summer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bad Brassicas

Earlier this spring I planted broccoli, along with a bunch of other brassicas (stuff related to cabbage). Although little heads started to form, they got leggy and tall and went to seed before ever really developing.

Along with my skinny, flowering broccoli I planted cauliflower -- which hasn't formed any heads yet -- and cabbage, which is still a collection of loose leaves. My Brussels sprouts have also yet to show anything more than a few loose leaves, although I'm pretty sure that my husband has been beaming bad thoughts to the Brussels sprouts every time he's outside, so maybe it's working. ;)

I haven't grown most of these plants before so I thought it was something I did wrong, but I was at a gardening class yesterday and found others who are in the same boat. We speculate that the weather this spring may be the culprit. I don't know if the amount of water was a problem, or maybe it was the lack of sunshine. Other than the lack of vegetables, the plants seem to be pretty happy so I guess I'll just wait and see if they do anything before the weather turns too hot.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Earth Day

St. Louis has a big Earth Day Festival each year, but we missed it today. The weather was just too nice not to spend it in our own yard. Doug raked acorns and de-thatched* the front yard, while I started on a wine bottle border for one of our garden beds. I managed to get all of my food plants fed and mulched today as well, so I feel I've accomplished something.

In early spring, just before the first time you mow, you may notice a lot of little purple violets in your yard. It blows my mind that so many people think of them as weeds: I think they're beautiful. The leaves and flowers are also edible (provided you do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides on your lawn). They taste mild, like a lettuce, and they make for a beautiful salad!

As with most plants, violets seem to look fresher if you pick them in the morning. If you're not going to eat them right away, place them in a bowl and cover with cold water. They'll keep that way for hours, maybe longer but I've never tried. I use a "Salad Spinner" to dry them before use. That's all the prep you need: even the flower stems are edible.

* When you've been organic for awhile, you shouln't have to de-thatch your lawn. However, we're in transition since we have only been here 18 months, and the lawn has suffered from years of high fertilization and short mowing: a perfect recipe for thatch.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fabulous Weekend!

The calendar says spring started weeks ago, but this was really the first weekend of spring in the St. Louis area. We had two perfect days (60's & 70's), and trees everywhere are in bloom!

The nurseries are starting to get a better selection of plants, so I picked up a columbine, a calla, and a few gerber daisies to fill in some areas of the yard. I planted brussels sprouts, garlic, cauliflower, and onions in a bed that my husband double-dug for me a few weeks ago. I don't know how I'm going to line the raised bed (wood? bricks? bottles?) or what its final shape will be, so instead of letting it sit there while I make up my mind, I just planted it. Most of the veggies in there will be through by mid-summer so I can deal with how the bed should look then. At least it no longer looks like a grave!

Other beds got cabbage, broccoli and lettuce. Some spinach that I planted in the fall and gave up on seemed to spring up overnight, and we ended up eating two bunches of it with dinner yesterday. A bunch of the vegetable transplants ended up in flower beds. I love mixing flowers and veggies!

I also made some progress on planning for the garden club. No details yet, but it looks like things may get off the ground in July.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Images for bloggers

I came across this site while reading a web analytics (that's my day job) blog, and thought I'd try it out. The site is called PicApp (, and it provides legal copyrighted photos for use on blog sites, in exchange for some advertising embedded in the photos. They do have some gardening photos so I thought I'd give it a try.

My disclaimer is that I have no control over what they advertise, so obviously I don't endorse anything you might see in the ad.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Last weekend's near-80-degree weather is just a distant memory with our 10+ inches of snow outside. This winter -- our third in St. Louis -- has by far been the coldest and snowiest.

I vermicompost in my kitchen, and last summer I also started an in-ground worm bin outside. Before winter, I piled 3-4 feet of shredded oak leaves on top of the bin with the hope that it would provide some insulation: prior winters weren't all that cold, at least not for any extended period of time. I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to discover that not only have the worms survived this cold winter so far, but they appear to have thrived!

After yesterday's snowfall, I'm probably more concerned about flooding them out when it melts than I am about the cold, since the snow provides a lot of insulation and it's not the bitter cold we had earlier.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Copyrights on Seeds

Here's an interesting (and scary) post on Techdirt about another way that big agribusiness is trying to push small farmers out of business.