Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Monarch Chrysalis

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38For everyone interested in seeing the photo progression of the monarch chrysalis…this post is for you!

Of course, a few weeks back, my milkweed plants were teaming with monarch larvae:

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

Eventually, they got big and fat:

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

 

And then they proceeded to trek away from the milkweed to find a place to pupate (build their chrysalis). We found them cruising in the very far reaches of our yard. Incredible.

But I was especially astounded when I went to give my Lady Scarecrow a spring makeover (her clothes are so Spring 2013), and as I was stripping her down, I found this!:

Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

It was attached right to her wrist, like a little charm. Of course, I carefully readjusted her clothes and left everything just as it was.

So thrilling!

I proceeded to check on it everyday. For about a week, it looked just the same, and then suddenly, one day, it looked like this:

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

 

I knew it must be close, so I started checking on it about once an hour, like a maniac. When it didn’t hatch that day, I knew that probably as soon as it was warm the next morning, the game was on.

The next morning, it looked very similar, but those pretty golden accents had all but disappeared, and the shell of the chrysalis was so very transparent, it was crazy!

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

Once it began to warm outside, we began to check on it at five minute intervals.

And lo and behold, we missed it emerging! 😦

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

Within a five minute span, it had hatched, and pumped its crumpled wings full of fluid.

I was so upset that I missed it, that I swore I was going to sit there and watch it until it took its first flight. So I sat and watched.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

Slowly it flexed its wings and legs, and made its way up from the chrysalis and into the sun.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

I waited.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

And I waited.

A Monarch Chrysalis from Farmhouse38.com

And the white dog waited.

Until finally…it really began to stretch its wings in the sunshine.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

At this point, I was finally able to tell that this was a male (by the two black spots in the center of each lower wing).

They say that it takes about an hour before a monarch is ready to take flight, but the white dog and I waited two and a half hours for this little guy.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

I could see him start to vibrate and really pump his wings, and I knew it was the moment.

And then–just like that–he was off!

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

A bit out of focus, but there he went–tumbling clumsily around.

And then we were super tired so we had to rest on a nearby rose bush:

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

First flights are exhausting.

After a bit of a rest, he flitted to a few different resting spots in the yard, and then he was off, tumbling and flying with the other monarchs that had been playing in the garden that day.

Magic. Complete and utter magic.

A Monarch Chrysalis at Farmhouse38.com

The white dog just really wasn’t all that impressed.

 

Of Monarchs and Milkweeds

Monarch Butterfly Gardening at Farmhouse38.comI attended college at UC Santa Barbara, and my very first apartment was just outside of campus in Goleta, CA. My neighborhood there butted up against a chunk of undeveloped land peppered with trails that led all through and eventually down to the beaches there. I felt very fortunate to live so close to such a place and spent a lot of time exploring and running on those trails, always taking different directions and footpaths to see where they would take me. One afternoon, I was doing just this, running a trail, and all of a sudden, I stumbled into a eucalyptus grove that was alive with monarch butterflies. Stunned and all alone, it was just I and the butterflies, the flipping of their wings dripping from every leaf, every branch, and ‘puddling’ in various spots on the grove floor. It was magic, and I have never ever forgotten it.

Monarch Butterflies at the Goleta Monarch Grove via Farmhouse38

This is how I remember all the trees looking when I happened into the grove back then. Image borrowed with permission from the City of Goleta’s Butterfly Grove website.

What I didn’t know then was that I had probably stumbled into what is now the Goleta Butterfly Grove; at the time, I was totally unaware of its existence (it wasn’t designated as such until 2005, several years after I would have been there). But that beautiful, spiritual, quiet moment has haunted me ever since, and is a large part of what bothers me so much about the current decline of these incredible creatures.

First things first; a bit of information on the monarch…

The monarch butterflies comprise two separate but similar migratory patterns in the US: one west of the Rocky Mountains, and one east. The smaller western migration consists of generations of butterflies that overwinter in coastal California (anywhere from just north of San Francisco to as far south as Mexico). In the spring, the migration moves up through the Central Valley and Sierra Nevadas of California, up into Oregon, Washington, and even sometimes as far north as British Columbia. In the fall, a special generation of monarchs are born; ones that live up to 8 months. These special butterflies make the long move back down to their sites in California where they stay until spring. These are the butterflies that I have grown up with in Los Angeles, that filled my childhood backyard, that I witnessed in the eucalyptus grove in Santa Barbara, and are the very butterflies that now visit the Farmhouse garden. These monarchs and I go way back.

The eastern monarch migration is the stuff of legends, with its individuals traveling possibly as many as 3,000 miles in a season! The special migratory generation of butterflies begin in the US and Canada when milkweed and nectar sources begin to die back in the fall, and will then fly all the way to overwinter in Mexico. In the spring, they make their way from Mexico north to the US Gulf Coast, where native milkweed is just beginning to bloom, and it is here that they lay their eggs and start the next generation. Sometimes up to three generations will successively travel north, following the bloom of the milkweed back to their predecessors’ starting points.

This is where milkweed (genus Asclepias) becomes really important. It is on this that the females must lay their eggs, as it is the only thing that the larvae (caterpillars) can eat.

Building a Garden for Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

Tiny babies in the milkweed.

So what is happening to these butterflies (and so many other invertebrate pollinators)?

The Xerces Society website states:

In 2008, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), a tri-national organization covering the United States, Canada, and Mexico established by the North American Free Trade Agreement, published the North American Monarch Conservation Plan. The Plan identifies several factors that have contributed to the steady decline of monarchs across their native range:

• loss of overwintering sites in Mexico due to deforestation;
• degradation of overwintering habitat in Mexico due to forest fires, diversion of water for human use, and poorly-regulated tourist activity;
• loss of overwintering sites in California due to development;
• degradation of overwintering habitat in California due to aging trees;
• loss of breeding habitat due to the ongoing decline of native milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), their larval host plants; and
• disease, parasitism, and predation.

Additionally, The Xerces Society states:

In the western U.S., overwintering populations of monarchs along the California coast have declined from over 1 million individuals counted at 101 sites in 1997 to less than 60,000 individuals counted at 74 sites in 2009. Most scientists believe that this decline is due to the loss of milkweed from a prolonged California drought and the extensive use of pesticides.

Sad face.

So what can we, as individuals, at home in our own gardens, realistically do to help? First and foremost, put down the pesticides and the herbicides. Just stop. It may be a little trickier sometimes to deal with pests and weeds organically, but we’re all better off for it. If you’re spraying for ants (even with some so-called ‘organic’ sprays) any other unlucky invertebrates that come into contact with that stuff are going to suffer the consequences. Pesticides don’t discriminate, even though their packaging would have you believe otherwise. Herbicides are just as bad, if not worse, because they tend to be broadcast in larger quantities across much larger areas; inevitably coming into contact with more organisms, and depleting vast sections of critical native vegetation (milkweed, anyone?). Additionally, they can hang around in plant tissue (especially when we’re talking plants that have been genetically modified to resist such products), soil, and ground water for a very long time. Ick. Beyond the negative impact on pollinators, do you really want to spray that stuff on your lawn and then let your kids and pets roll around in it? Don’t. Just don’t. If you simply must use them, apply them in careful, specific doses; avoid aimless, broad applications.

That brings us to the milkweed. Plant it. Wherever, whenever, however you can (for a fantastic article on planting milkweed, visit one of my favorite blogs: Julie’s Garden Delights). But proceed with caution when going out and buying milkweed plants: most nurseries still subscribe to conventional practices, which means that that beautiful milkweed plant you bought with the bestest of intentions (that may or may not even be the right variety for your region), may be doused in some awful chemicals. Chemicals that, until they run their course (which could be quite awhile) are going to do the exact opposite of what you intended the milkweed to do. So the safest option is to find out what species of milkweed is/are native to your region (there are more than a hundred varieties in the US), buy seeds, and grow it from scratch.  Or find a reputable source for organic, native milkweed plants (don’t know where to go for that?-see below!).

Monarchwatch.org has an excellent list of milkweeds by state here, where you can figure out what kind you need to be growing in your yard. And even better: you can actually purchase flats of native milkweed plugs through them by going here. Huzzah!

Xerces.org also has an awesome milkweed finder here.

MonarchJointVenture.org lists some additional resources, and also a fabulous set of guidelines for planting and managing milkweed not only in home and public gardens, but also in agricultural areas (where milkweed populations have been notoriously wiped out), managed corridors, and natural and restored areas. Check out these guidelines here.

Building a Garden for Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

A well-fed monarch caterpillar makes its way around a milkweed stem.

It has taken me a long time to get to planning, planting, and growing the Farmhouse38 garden (had to get the house renovation done first, and, as we all know, that still isn’t done). In fact, it has only been in the last two seasons or so that I have really gotten to give it a go. It was always my intention to make the garden a haven for pollinators, but most especially for monarchs. Two seasons ago, I went to my local big-name nursery and eagerly bought three mature Tropical Milkweed, (Asclepias curassavica) plants to put in my garden. My heart was in the right place, despite being a bit misguided. Firstly, this isn’t a native variety (for my region it is the Narrowleaf Milkweed, (Asclepias fascicularis). And secondly, I have no idea what sorts of nasty stuff the plants might have been treated with. I was clueless. Thirdly…well, three plants is just not enough. Plant as much of it as you can possibly stand and/or fit. If three plants is it, well, then that’s it, but if you can fit more, do it. In its natural state, milkweed grows in thick colonies, which not only provide ample food for the monarch larvae (as well as being a natural nectar source for a variety of pollinators), but offer much needed shelter. Ideally, your garden should have generous native milkweed interspersed with a wide variety of native, flowering plants (with staggered bloom times); milkweed for the babies to eat, nectar-filled blooms for the adults to feed off of, and plenty of shelter for all. I am working towards having milkweed planted in every single bed in my entire yard.

Building a Garden for Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

This season was the first that I had caterpillars on those three Tropical Milkweeds (for the past two seasons, even though there were monarchs in my yard, they wanted nothing to do with those plants–you do the math), and they absolutely decimated them! Hungry little fellas!

Building a Garden for Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

A female and several babies vie for space on a milkweed plant.

So what am I planting in the Farmhouse garden besides milkweed? I’m shooting for as many native flowering plants as possible. Xerces.org has an awesome list of regionally-specific native pollinator-friendly seed mixes here. Additionally, I’ve got many non-native pollinator-friendly ornamentals interspersed with vegetables and herbs (as I am also working towards having a self-sustainable vegetable garden as well as a bit of a cutting garden). It is important to plant your garden for continuous bloom; all pollinators need nectar sources spring, summer, and fall. Here is a really great article by the National Wildlife Federation with some guidelines on planting a butterfly-friendly garden.

In addition to plant selections, the NWF article lists several important non-botanical features that your butterfly garden should have; mainly, that butterflies need places to rest, and they need places to ‘puddle’. ‘Puddling’ is a behavior where butterflies congregate on damp sand or mud to drink water and draw minerals. Make sure there is a spot (or two) in your garden where they can do this, and if need be, place a low dish, filled with sand or soil, and keep it damp. Place rocks and twigs within reach of the sand for the butterflies to land safely on. Butterflies also require spots where they can stop and rest in the sun; recharge, if you will. Provide flat rocks that are placed where they receive around six hours of sun a day. This will ensure that the rock is always warm and welcoming to a little butterfly-style relaxation.

Building a Garden for Monarchs at Farmhouse38.com

A monarch caterpillar begins to build its chrysalis.

It was always my intention that once the garden was up and running and properly outfitted for monarchs and pollinators alike, I would have it certified as a Monarch Waystation. This is a wonderful program run by MonarchWatch.org that encourages the implementation of monarch-focused butterfly-gardening. Through their site, you can learn about the Monarch Waystation project, see guidelines for buidling a monarch-friendly garden, purchase Waystation seed kits, as well as certify your garden as an official Monarch Waystation. Done and done.

Building a Garden for Monarch Butterflies at Farmhouse38.com

I was so surprised and excited to find this gorgeous monarch chrysalis hanging off the wrist of my Lady Scarecrow.

The plight of the monarchs is obviously a tiny, tiny facet of a broad, insidious epidemic. It isn’t just the monarchs suffering, it is many, if not all, invertebrate pollinators. They are a pivotal and now precarious support on the food chain, directly responsible for the pollination of over 2/3 of our food supply and reproduction of over 70% of the world’s flowering plants. Without them, we are in deep trouble. It is important that we sit up and pay attention, and become more responsible with our actions. The Monarch Joint Venture views the monarch as “a flagship species whose conservation will sustain habitats for pollinators and other plants and animals”; ie, if we all take the urgently necessary steps towards preservation of the monarchs’ habitat, we will be helping all the other little guys, as well.

Now will someone please help me down from this soapbox? Thanks.

Building a Monarch Butterfly Garden at Farmhouse38.com

Let’s do what we can to help them.

Sources:

Adolf, Julie. (2014, March 6). Feed the Monarchs! You Can Grow That [blog post]. Retrieved from http://JuliesGardenDelights.com.

Goleta Butterfly Grove. (n.d.) Goleta Butterfly Grove [webpage]. Retrieved from http://www.goletabutterflygrove.com/.

McLaughlin, Chris. (2009, February 5). The Fantastic Monarchs of Pacific Grove [web article]. Retrieved from http://examiner.com.

The Monarch Joint Venture. (n.d.). Create Habitat for Monarchs [website article]. Retrieved from MonarchJointVenture.org.

Monarch Watch. (n.d.). Milkweeds by State [webpage]. Retrieved from http://MonarchWatch.org

Monarch Watch. (n.d.) Milkweed Market [webpage]. Retrieved from http://MonarchWatch.org

Monarch Watch. (n.d.). Monarch Waystations [webpage]. Retrieved from http://MonarchWatch.org

National Wildlife Federation. (n.d.). How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden [website article]. Retrieved from http://NWF.org.

The Xerces Society. (n.d.). Milkweed Finder [website article]. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/.

The Xerces Society. (n.d.). Monarchs [website article]. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/.

The Xerces Society. (n.d.) Monarchs, Conservation Status [website article]. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/.

The Xerces Society. (n.d.). Pollinator Conservation [website article]. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/.

The Xerces Society. (n.d.). Pollinator Conservation Seed Mixes [website article]. Retrieved from http://www.xerces.org/.

Sour Cherry Margaritas

Sour Cherry Margaritas from Farmhouse38.com

Honestly, these have Valentine’s Day written all over them. But you know what? They also have ‘summer’ written all over them. And ‘delicious’.

For one beverage, you’ll need:

–2.5 oz. tart cherry juice (Whole Foods brand 365 Organic is my fav)

–2 oz. silver tequila

–1/2 oz. maraschino cherry liqueur

–1/2 oz. fresh lime juice

–1/2 oz. simple syrup

For garnish:

–2 tablespoons lime juice

–2 tablespoons unrefined sugar (but refined is doable, too–the unrefined looks a little better, IMO)

–1 tablespoon pink himalayan salt (or red hawaiian or something along those lines)

–3 maraschino or fresh cherries when in season, pre-soaked in tequila

Begin by mixing your garnish sugar and pink salt together in a small dish. Combine thoroughly. Then spread it evenly across the bottom of a salad plate, and on a second salad plate, place the lime juice. ‘Salt’ your glass rim by dipping the rim of the glass into the lime juice and then dabbing it into the salt mixture. Fill your salted glass with ice, and set aside. Drain your three garnish cherries and make sure they are not sopping wet with liquid, then roll them in the salt mixture and spear them on a toothpick.

In a shaker full of ice, combine all your beverage ingredients, and shake thoroughly. Strain into your salt-rimmed glass, garnish with your tooth-picked cherries, and you are ready to rock.

Cheers, friends!

Sour Cherry Margaritas from Farmhouse38.com

Yum.

Sour Cherry Margaritas from Farmhouse38.com

And yum.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day from Farmhouse38.com

Pot O’Gold Terrarium

Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Ever since attending the Terrarium Class at The Nest Reno a few weeks back, I’ve had terrariums on the brain. I figured that St. Patrick’s Day was a good excuse to get it out of my system.

I started with a nice big glass jar (the kind that comes with a lid, but we’re leaving that out this time around), and filled it about two inches or so with some green recycled glass fragments (obtained at a gardening store).

St. Patty's Day Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.comNext, I dropped in two generous handfuls of activated carbon (you can find this, most likely, at your local nursery, but also in the aquarium section of the pet store).

St Patty's Day Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

The third layer is a bit of sheet moss (from the nursery or craft store):

St. Patty's Day Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Now, it’s time for potting soil. Put enough in to accommodate the size of the plants you want to use.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Time for the fun part: planting. I chose several tiny plants from the nursery, including a couple of shamrocks (oxalis) and a couple of seloginella ferns.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

My local nursery has an entire ‘fairy garden’ section with itty bitty plants perfect for terrariums.

But I also just happen to have some wild oxalis growing in my yard, whose leaves are much tinier and more ‘fairy garden-ish’–so I wanted to transplant a few of them, also.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

I wasn’t sure if these would survive transplanting–but they totally did! Shamrock on.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

I planted all my tiny plants and then tucked sheet and reindeer moss all around them, then gave everything a really good misting of water.

Now it was time to make my tiny pot of gold. I started with some broken mirror glass gravel (found at the craft store). It was kind of a cool yellow glass, but I spread it thin and sprayed it with gold spray paint, let it dry, shook it up a bit, sprayed it, let it dry, etc., until it was well-coated with gold. Any type of small gravel would work for this, I just really liked the size, shape, and reflective quality of this stuff.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

On the left is the original look of the gravel. On the right is how it looked lightly sprayed gold.

Now to create the pot: I went with the most wee terracotta pot (also from the craft store) I could find:

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

We have three sizes: wee, not so wee, and FRIGGIN’ HUGE!!! (Who’s good at their obscure SNL skit lines?)

I then sprayed it black with chalkboard paint. When it had thoroughly dried, I ‘seasoned’ it a bit with chalk to make it look a little aged (giving the whole thing a coat of hairspray to help make the chalk stick). I then hot glued a craft stick into the bottom of the pot (sticking out the drain hole). Next I layered hot glue, then gold gravel, then hot glue, then gold gravel, etc, building the gravel up until it looked like a nice, full pot of Leprechaun gold.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Unhand me gold.

Now…for the rainbow. I began with an empty plastic bottle:

St. Patty's Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

I drew a rough guidline, spiraling down the bottle, and then cut along this line.

This left me with a curlycue strip, like so:

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Next, I took some fine gauge sand paper and sanded both sides of the plastic (this removes any printing or label remnants, and gives the surface some ‘tooth’ for the paint to hold on to).

St. Patty's Day Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Tape or weigh down both ends of the plastic so that it is laying flat. Choose your rainbow colors (I used basic craft acrylic paint), and thinly paint your stripes of colors (thin the paint with clear gloss if you have to so that the final result is a bit transparent). Once that has dried, hot glue one end of the rainbow to the back edge of the pot of gold, and place your pot in the terrarium.

St. Patty's Day Pot O' Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

For some reason I really wanted a little paver path leading to the pot. So I placed some tiny stones. I think I am still fixated on Olive and Love‘s adorable pathway in her Terrarium Class terrarium.

St. Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

This little path makes no sense. What leprechaun in his right mind would build a path leading to his pot of gold. I mean, really.

The final step is to apply your cloud to the top edge of the jar. I swiped a handful of fiber-fill stuffing from a pillow, ran a bead of hot glue along the back edge of the jar, and stuck the fluff on. I then ran a bead of hot glue along the loose end of the rainbow and lodged that in the cloud.

And there you have it! A pot o’gold at the end of the rainbow, cloud and all:

St Patty's Day Pot O'Gold Terrarium from Farmhouse38.com

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers: Waste of Time?

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.comWe’ve been composting for awhile here at the Farmhouse (see my composting set up here). I love being able to hang onto kitchen waste for a higher purpose. Some scraps go as treats to the chickens and parrot, while others go into a special compartment in our freezer (so they don’t attract flies) before being taken outside to the compost bins. But I was unaware until recently that certain scraps, mainly eggshells, used coffee grounds, and banana peels, can allegedly go straight into the ground as fertilizers.

There are a ton (okay, slight exaggeration) of these three things going into our compost bins, and so when I realized that they could possibly skip the bin and be applied straight, I got real excited. Because these are the things I get excited about. What.

So I broke out good ol’ Google, and I started doing some research. And just like anything that you hear going around the internet, I came up with really mixed messages. Allegedly, coffee grounds add nitrogen to the soil, and as such, are great as fertilizer for any acid-loving plants. But you’ll find people out there also warning you that they can make the ground too acidic. And you’ll find people saying they do absolutely nothing. Great. Banana peels, buried in the soil near the roots of the plant (or dried and processed into a fine powder), are thought to be a slow-release dose of potassium and phosphorus, as well as magnesium, calcium, nitrogen, and sulfur, and are especially perfect as a rose fertilizer. In fact, banana peels have been used as such since the Victorian era. And yet, you’ll also find people saying they do absolutely nothing. And that the garden rodents dig ’em real quick-like. Super. Finally, ground eggshells mixed into the soil around a tomato plant are supposed to prevent the dreaded blossom end-rot. But there are a lot of people who say this doesn’t even begin to work (that the calcium carbonate in egg shells takes so long to break down and be released into the soil, it’s just not worth it). Fantastic. Furthermore, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone committing to how much of any of these ingredients you should add to your soil. Which is frustrating, and also a bit suspicious. Is this all just wives’-tale-ery?

So what do I do? Test it for myself, that’s what.

Let’s start with adding eggshells to the tomato planting process. Tomatoes need calcium in order to resist blossom end-rot, and there are many conventional products on the market that can be added to combat this. But I don’t want conventional. I want to use my garbage. I’ve got a lot. The Ladybirds make sure of that. And you need a lot of eggshells for this (depending on how many tomato plants you’ve got or plan to have). As you use the eggs, rinse and then store the shells in a bowl in the fridge. I saved up about two dozen for this first trial run.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

The eggshells pass general inspection; ready for processing. Transfer them to a baking dish or cookie sheet.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.comWhen you’re ready to process them, heat your oven to 200-250 degrees F and bake them in a baking pan for around 30 minutes (or until all the moisture is cooked off of them. If they start to brown a little, that’s ok). When the time is up, pull them from the oven and let cool. Now pop them in a food processor (or coffee grinder) and pulverize them into as fine of a powder as you can get them. The finer the powder, the quicker the calcium will break down in the soil. Apparently.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

This batch of two dozen eggs generated a half pint of egg dust.

Your (hopefully) magic egg dust is ready to use! Allegedly, the most ideal time to use it is when you transplant your seedlings; you place it in the bottom of the hole. But here’s where I could find no information on just how much you are supposed to use. So I am going out on a limb and trying several different quantities to see if there is any variation in results. In a few of my plants, I will use 1/4 of a cup sprinkled in to the bottom of the transplant hole, for a 4-inch pot sized seedling, in a few I will do 1/2 cup, and in a few more I will try 3/4 cup . I will report back on how this works; in previous years, I have always had a few plants suffering from blossom end rot–so we shall see how things go this season.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

1/4 cup of egg dust sprinkled in the bottom of the transplant hole.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

Another application method would be to sprinkle the egg dust around the soil at the base of an existing plant, and work it in.

So let’s move on to coffee grounds; acid-loving plants, such as hydrangeas, camelias, and azaleas can benefit from the application of coffee grounds. Even for plants that like it a little acidic, such as roses and tomatoes, they can be used sparingly. Supposedly, worms love them (and they’re great for adding to vermicompost). But…of course, when you start reading all the information out there about this, you undoubtedly run into the same cautionary tale: coffee grounds are great, but don’t use too much! Dear Zeus, no! Not that! And then, beyond that, there are plenty of accounts of how they do nothing at all. Great. Awesome. So how much is too much? Of course, no one wants to commit to this, and just like the eggshells, there are no quantity guidelines. Super. Thanks, The Internet.

So once again, I must go my own way. While I allow a good portion of our grinds to go out and into the compost bins, I reserve some in a bowl in the fridge. When I’ve filled the bowl (approx. 8 or so cups of used grounds), I place them in a baking dish and pop them in the oven (alongside the eggshells) for a half hour at 200-250 degrees F to dry them out. The reason for this is that damp grounds have a tendency to grow mold pretty quickly and this helps to prevent it.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

Bake them till they’re nice and dried out.

It seems as though there are several methods out there for applying the grinds. Many people will make a mulch of it around their acid-loving plants (and the thicker this is, the more likely it is to grow mold, so go thin with it). But if you’ve got chickens, this is not a good idea. Coffee grounds=sick chickens. So I prefer the idea of burying them pretty deep down by the roots of the plants–we’re talking several inches here. How much coffee grounds? Again, I have found no direction with this. For my rose bushes, I decided, at random, that I’d go with 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, buried in a hole near the roots. My hydrangeas are all in the front yard, and therefore, out of the reach of chickens, so I’ve been applying coffee grounds as a mulch basically whenever I have them. I should also mention that I take any leftover coffee and, after it has cooled off, water my hydrangea bushes with it. So, they are pretty much coffee addicts at this point. In previous years, my hydrangeas have been pink, indicating the soil being neutral to basic–if the coffee grounds do their trick, the hydrangeas should become more purple to blue. They are leafing out now, so I’ll have my answer soon.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

My hydrangeas previously…pretty basic. 🙂

Finally, we come to the banana peels.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

These were kicking it in the freezer with the rest of the kitchen compost waiting to be used, so they have a little extra debris stuck to them.

As I mentioned before, banana peels have been used as a rose fertilizer for a long, long time. Burying a single banana peel at the base of the plant is the simplest way to do this. As the peel decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil; nutrients that roses, especially, are said to thrive upon. Some people suggest drying the peels and grinding them into a fine powder (to speed up the absorption process), but I feel like that’s a lot of extra work. So I went with the peel.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.com

I dug a hole several inches deep near the roots of each rose plant, and placed a banana peel and 1/4 cup of used coffee grinds in the bottom of it: a little nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus cocktail.

Of course, truly the only way to be sure of what’s going on in your soil is to do a soil test. I really want to know if these methods work, so I tested my soil in each spot before application, and I will test again in a couple of weeks and see if there is any change, and then I’ll come back through and report my findings in this post.

Kitchen Scrap Fertilizers from Farmhouse38.comI should note that over-the-counter calcium tests are not super easy to come by, that I know of– so I’m probably just going to sit around and wait to see if I still get blossom end-rot. The tomatoes. Not me. In related news: does anyone know of an easy calcium test?

I’m curious to hear from anyone else who has tried these fertilizers; please comment and let me know your experience!

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