Squirrels


Not in the xmas mood yet? I’ve got two tricks under my Santa hat for you:

1. Get your rhythm going with Peter’s 2011 Squirrel Christmas song, The Family Tree.

2. And if you’re the silent type, head over to google.com and type into the search box, let it snow, hit return and sit back with your hot cocoa.

Now go get your Merry on!

It’s finally done! Peter’s added one more squirrel Christmas song to his roster:

 

It’s been over a month since my last confession post, and much has happened:

  1. tilled corner of back yard for garden
  2. stripped 12 layers of paint from front porch and repainted
  3. helped launch the Forest Park Community Garden
  4. planted my plot at the FPCG
  5. dug compost pit in corner of back yard for green manure
  6. bought a rain barrel, still not installed
Here's the big green mess as it is today. Hard to tell where things begin and end inside the fence.

Here's the big green mess as it is today. Hard to tell where things begin and end inside the fence.

This shows the stage in mid-July, just before everything took off.

This shows the stage in mid-July, just before everything took off.

Three paralel rows: cabbage and kohlrabi, peppers then tomatoes in the back.

Three parallel rows: cabbage and kohlrabi, peppers then tomatoes in the back. Oh, and weeds.

Garage trellis with runner beans finally growing upward. Took them forever. There are also purple 'bush beans' in the forground. Bush being a relative term and all.

Garage trellis with runner beans finally growing upward. Took them forever. There are also purple 'bush beans' in the forground. Bush being a relative term and all.

Finally, a watermelon. Only fist sized for now but I'm hopeful. There are lots of Barbi sized watermelons on teh vine. Got my blocks of wood ready for them.

Finally, a watermelon. Only fist sized for now but I'm hopeful. There are lots of Barbi sized watermelons on the vine. Got my blocks of wood ready for them.

I’ve got over 42 tomato plants and 99.9% of the tomatoes are still green. This summer in Chicago has not been kind to tomatoes: too cool. And tomatoes love heat. I think we may have had about 2 weeks of good heat, at best. I started the tomatoes indoors under lights in March and April and yet, I still didn’t get a jump on things.

I tested several methods for trellising the tomatoes:

  • Florida weave, this is by far my favorite method and would have worked better if I’d only put two plants between each post instead of four but I was having budget issues at the time. Next year, this will be the way I go and I’ll just have to buy more posts.
  • Square tomato cages, flimsy and not very tall. Only used these in the community garden.
  • Planting along the chain-link fence and tying them to the fence, not bad but if they get taller than the fence, that’s a problem. This is working well for the Borgheses that I planted along the fence. They are semi-determinate anyway so they don’t extend above the height of the fence.
IMG_0781-floridaweave

The Florida Weave is my favorite method for trellising tomatoes although I should have spaced the poles closer together.

How NOT to trellis tomatoes: don't use a haphazard version of The Florida Weave without the weave part nor the steady post.

How NOT to trellis tomatoes: don't use a haphazard version of The Florida Weave without the weave part nor the steady post.

The Stupice seedlings I tried failed. They never got over 3 inches tall.

Only about 4 pepper plants grown from seed actually survived. I had to buy pepper plants and many of those were mis-tagged. So rather than having 3 sweet bell plants, I’ve got all long hot skinny things.

Really cool purple peppers. I love purple food.

Really cool purple peppers. I love purple food. Should have bought more of these.

Herbs are doing well. Some are planted in an old wine crate and others are planted around the crate. Also planted Borage to arract bees.

Sage, chives, thyme, oregano, dill, borage and cilantro in an old wine crate.

Sage, chives, thyme, oregano, dill, borage and cilantro in an old wine crate. Not shown are tarragon, rosemary, lavender, curly parsley, flat parsley, arugula, fennel and sorrel planted to the left and right of the wine crate and catnip and lemon verbena planted a few rows over near the squash.

Bought two eggplants, different types, one long term and one short. The short term is failing. It sets fruit too close to the ground and they get infested with fruit flies.

I sure hope nothing eats these, they're so pretty.

I sure hope nothing eats these, they're so pretty.

The chard is almost completely eaten away by something and yet I’ve found absolutely no Japanese beetles this year. Am told it could be flea beetles.

Chard eaten away by some unseen beast.

Chard eaten away by some unseen beast.

The strawberries I bought took hold and rooted well, I just need to make a cover/cage for them so the critters don’t get all the fruit. Or having DH make a cage cover is a more accurate statement. The alpine strawberries I tried to start from seed totally failed.

After the initial sunny spring, before the trees filled in and the sun got higher, we had good sunlight on the fabulous deck planters that DH made. Unfortunately, no sooner than I planted them, the sun moved and nothing grew. We will have to seriously trim the trees to try to get more sun. AND staple chicken wire to the tops so squirrels can’t dig.

My Squirrely Plan

About that chicken wire solution: it works really well but there are tricks. It works best if your container is wood and you can staple the chicken wire to the top edge of the planter. Then trim the wire flush. And I’ve tried two different planting methods, one where I filled the container to the top with dirt so that all I had to do was scatter seeds over the chicken wire and the seedlings grow up through it. The other where I cut holes in the chicken wire for transplanting seedlings worked best if I kept the holes small. I had a few that were too large and the squirrels managed to dig around the seedlings. Trying to affix chicken wire to ceramic or plastic pots was next to impossible. I did it but it’s not very secure and is very messy looking. Also, the wire could spin around and lop off the seedlings if not careful.

More Successes and Failures

I haven’t had a lot of success with spinach, parsnips, carrots, melons or squash. The spinach never sprouted and I tried various methods including refrigerating the seeds, soaking the seeds and sprouting under lights. Not sure what else to do but I’m going to try again this weekend.

The asparagus seems to be taking root. Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll have some great harvest.

Mache never really took off. Had some sprouts but nothing too big. Will try again for Fall this weekend.

Almost all my squash and melon seeds started but most failed when transplanted. I attribute it to the soil difference along the sidewalk versus in the middle of the yard. The neighbor poured a new sidewalk a couple years ago and the soil on my side of it is now hard gray clay. Nothing grew there but weeds. I’ll have to hand till some amendments into it as well because his sewer clean out is on our side of the fence. Can’t really use a tiller in the area I don’t think. So next year, all squash get planted in the main part of the garden.

The corn is doing great at the community garden. I went by today and I now have both tassels and silks. Some silks look like they’ve already been pollinated so I think we may actually get corn.

This photo is from a few weeks ago so the corn actually ahs tassles and silks now.

This photo is from a few weeks ago so the corn actually has tassles and silks now.

Beans, beans, beans, the more you eat, the more they grow. No shortage of beans and they seem to be the best thing for the chain-link or chicken wire fence.

I did plant garlic cloves early in the season to ward off pests from the tomatoes. It seems to be working decently. While there are a few aphids here and there, there’s by no means a major infestation. I will plant more garlic in the fall for spring harvest.

Oh, and nasturtiums are doing well inter planted among the cabbages.

Nasturtiums gettin it on with cabbages.

Nasturtiums gettin it on with cabbages.

The parsnips never sprouted when direct seeded. They ONLY sprouted when kept for 1 to 2 months in wet paper towels then transplanted when the little main root appeared. Next year, I’m going to do the paper towel method but start them in February.

Carrots just don’t like me. I’ve planted 2 packets of 2 different types and got 3 to sprout. Not sure what to try next on those. Maybe skip it since they’re cheap at the grocery.

Oh, one more thing that I haven’t had much luck with are spring onions. I’ve planted 3 varieties in May and although they did sprout, they’re still Barbi sized.

I never did plant the straw bales like I wanted. DH was so incredibly grossed out by the idea of vegetables growing in straw bales that I didn’t do it.

Things I’m happiest with:

  • Basil: plain basic basil is the only one that grew, I will continue to grow lots of basil.
  • Other herbs: sage, lavender, chives, dill, fennel, tarragon, rosemary, parsely have done well.
  • Radishes: I was surprised to learn that home-grown don’t suck. They are NOTHING like store-bought radishes.
  • I have lots of green tomatoes so the jury is still out on those and their flavors. I have Black Krim, Persimmon, Costoluto, Brandywine, Marvel stripe, Black Prince, Green Zebra, Borghese, Long Keeper and Keepsake. So far, only the Borghese are starting to ripen. Next year, I’ll probably eliminate the Green Zebra and Long Keepers. They both had issues sprouting.
A row of fall radishes along the rabbit fence and also beans climbing same fence.

A row of fall radishes along the rabbit fence and also beans and peas climbing same fence.

Lessons Learned for Next Year

  1. Start seedlings a few weeks earlier in Feb and March.
  2. Transplant seedlings under hoops in April or early May.
  3. Save money to buy real mulch for everything, straw is just too messy looking and creates large unwieldy protrusions embedded in the mud on my shoes making it difficult to walk.
  4. Save money to cut down those two trees blocking the sun in the back yard. The mulberry is rotting anyway and the buckthorn is just in the wrong place.
  5. Create a spell that will take down the neighbor’s two-story garage and the four-story tree to get more than 4 hours of direct sun.
  6. Buy taller tomato stakes, 7-foot just doesn’t cut it.
  7. Don’t plant so much, everything’s too tight and I suspect that affects the sun’s ability to ripen the tomatoes.
  8. Earth Buckets are great but come up with a better trellis structure for tomatoes using them.
  9. Adjust flower bed around Buddha so that it’s more shallow and easier to walk around when weeding or harvesting beans.
  10. Never believe the seed packet when it says the beans are bush beans. They’ll still try to climb and will fall over without supports.
  11. Plant more peas, way way more.
  12. Work on lower fence edge to better rabbit proof.
  13. Plant Borage earlier to get bees earlier.
  14. Create better location for squash, pots too small.
  15. Try Kabocha again but this time,transplant in a better location.
  16. Start parsnips indoors in wet paper towels before transplanting. NONE started when direct seeded outdoors.
  17. Skip the catnip, it annoys the cat anyway. She actually pushes it out of her way so she doesn’t have to deal with it.
  18. Plant less kale and collards because DH doesn’t like them so I’m the only one who eats them. Likely more efficient to just plant a full row of spinach.
  19. Skip planting cabbage next year, takes up too much room in my tiny area and it’s cheap at the store anyway.

Overall, I’m very happy with the effort this year. BUT next year, must get started earlier and plant less. And maybe install some bigass mirrors to reflect the sun blocked by the trees and my neighbor’s garage onto the garden. Of course the annoyance factor would only be a bonus.

[Editor's Note: Following is the cover letter than went out with my DH's annual Squirrel Christmas Song email to his friends and followers of all things squirrelly. Since vegans tend to like most critters in general, I thought I'd share this with you. Cheers! Julia]

o my fellow sciurus lovers

snow-squirrelIt has been an interesting squirrel year. As you know, “interesting” is often used as a euphemism for “tainted by unforeseen impediments.” In this case it has to do with neighbors whose garden was, unbelievably, not intended for squirrels, and whose attic, incredibly, was not meant for rodent habitation.

Now, this is a Christmas missive so I won’t go into the unpleasantries of neighborly disputes. I will, however, say that when you wish to confront one of your neighbors concerning their wildlife-feeding habits, you should never begin with the phrase, “I have squirrels in my attic.” This is akin to the Hunchback of Notre Dame saying, “I have bats in my belfry.” Whilst it may be true in a literal sense, it does tend to take the wind out of one’s argument. At any rate, a certain truce was drawn up with said neighbor which included my no longer feeding the squirrels in our backyard.

As you can imagine, this has caused considerable distress in my life. The squirrels don’t understand this truce at all and still show their hungry faces at our window. Perhaps that’s why they’ve now moved into our attic. They do that to people who don’t feed them. And it doesn’t help that our Christmas decorations are stored up there. Perfect for sprucing up the old nest around this time of year.

So, lately I’ve been trying to understand what drives squirrels to tap dance in the wee hours. I thought they were supposed to be diurnal creatures, yet I can hear the little Arthur Furries up there strutting their stuff at all hours. I should add that I’m only assuming they’re squirrels, as I’ve never caught them in the act. A 170-pound man creaking up the attic stairs of a 100-year-old house has never been known to catch anything other than hell for making such a racket. However, other evidence has presented itself in the form of very audible squirrel chatter emanating from the plaster overhead. Squirrels dancing with the stars. And moon.

Since they seem to be having a regular hootenanny up there, I decided to give this year’s squirrel song a little country-midwestern flavor. In doing so, I brought my friend, Mindy, in as a guest vocalist — she’s a Midwest gal and she also lives in the country. The USA, to be exact. Perfect. Plus she can hit those notes that I can’t, now that my voice is changing.

Anyway, the whole point of this is that Christmas is hands-down the best holiday. It’s spirit is infectious and it’s intentions are pure. And squirrels are hands-down my favorite rodent. Their spirit is infectious and their intentions are purely singular: hoard, baby, hoard.

So sit back, pour yourself a cup of whatever, click on the link and give “Happy Holidrey” a listen. While you’re at it, you can listen to the squirrel songs from Christmases past. I think I can safely say, you’ll hear them nowhere else.
holidrey

Above all, have a very, very merry happy holidrey!

Squirrelfully yours,
Peter

Just an FYI for squirrel fans and animal lovers in general, DH’s 2008 xmas song is just about ready for prime time. He’s wrapping up background vocals and final mix over the next few days. Hopefully, this means the song will go out via email later this week, barely under the wire. He’s cutting it kinda close this year do to a new recording method he’s trying out. That and he broke a few pickin’ nails and had to wait for them to grow back to complete the guitar track.

If you want to be on the email list to receive immediate notice of the new song, send me your email address and then add Peter Martz, peter at mondovox dot com to your address book. This will lessen the likelyhood of the email notice going into your junk folder.

Also make sure your computer can play MP3s. On the Mac, it just does so I don’t really know what you’d need to do on the PC side.

If you want to hear his past songs, go here: http://www.mondovox.com/squirrel07/index.html

We’ll likely change the URL to something more permanant so we don’t have to keep changing it in future years, maybe something like …/squirrel_xmas_songs or some such thing. That will be confirmed in the email after the 2008 song is posted.

And for rabid squirrel nuts, he also wrote a song for the city of Olney, Illinois. They’ve adopted it as their official city song and it’s about their white squirrels. It can be found here: http://www.mondovox.com/Olney/

Cheers and merry stuff and all…

Julia

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