December 29, 2011

A New Year, A New Beginning

For some time now Cynthia and I  have wanted to find a house with a little acreage so that we could have a larger vegetable garden and have a place for a chicken coop and some chickens. A couple of years ago we found a place that we planned on buying but because of various problems and restrictions it just didn't work out. We had all but given up on pursuing our dream and resolved ourselves to remain in our current home and develop the back yard which had been the dogs domain for all these years, and create a new home for  the giant "Buddha" head I purchased several months ago. ( See earlier post ).

My wife's father's health has declined dramatically in the past year and he recently developed diabetes requiring daily blood sugar monitoring and Insulin injections. Cynthia retired last year so that she would be available to help her parents because of her father's declining health and to relieve some of the health care burden from her mother.  Because they are both elderly, 88 and 85 respectively,  we had decided that if we could find the right place we would move and have her parents move in with us so that we could help care for both of them.  Recently Cynthia's dad had to stay three weeks in a nursing home for physical therapy and it was very apparent that he would not choose to live there if at all possible.

About a month ago, our daughter Mary Kathryn and I were on our way to a chicken meeting at the "Old Fart's Farm" ( no, I am not kidding) in Springville and saw a "For Sale" sign in front of a house that I have admired for years.  We both could not believe that it was for sale and Mary Kathryn immediately tried to look it up on her telephone to find out the sales price, but was unable to find it.   Later, I found the listing and discovered that is was a foreclosure sale and that it would be sold "as is" and the listing price was far below the appraised value for the house and the five acres that came with it.  I was in shock and immediately told Cynthia that we had to go look at this house. We called our Real Estate agent and asked her to arrange for us to look at the house and property. We were all blown away with the size of the house and the property. It is situated on a knoll in the middle of a horse farm with pastures all around it. The house was structurally sound but was in need of some "TLC" which could be done fairly cheaply. The only major expense we could foresee was to replace all the old windows which were in terrible condition with new energy efficient vinyl windows.

We submitted a contract to the listing agent the following Monday and were told that he was expecting multiple offers on the property and that it might come down to the highest bidder.  We waited with anticipation for several days and to our surprise none of the other offers were forthcoming and we were notified on Thursday that the bank had accepted our offer and that if we still wanted it, it was ours!
We could not believe our good fortune. The events and circumstances in the whole process just seemed to fall into place. We truly believe that we had God's blessing in this venture. An answer to both what we wanted and what we needed in order to assist Cynthia's parents. The house is large enough ( 5300 sq. ft.) so that we can move about without getting in each other's way and still preserve our privacy.

We closed on the property Dec. 15th  and officially moved in on Tuesday Dec. 20th.  We have been moving boxes, clothes, yard art and planters today for the past two weeks.  The only remaining items to move are the basement/garage and in the attic.  We hope to finish moving everything else in the next week or so.  I  plan on moving quite a few of my plants from the old house, but will probably wait until after the first of the year. Except for a few foundation plants and some trees, the new property is a blank slate that I look forward to developing it in the coming years.

So it is with great pleasure that I present to you our new home and future garden "Southern Oaks".

October 16, 2011

"Le poulet de cuivre noir maran"

 Recently my daughter Mary Kathryn and I took a trip to Newnan Georgia to purchase a group of "Black Copper Marans" consisting of a rooster, two hens, and two pullets ( a pullet is a female chicken less than one year of age).   Black Copper Marans  are one of the rarest breeds of chicken in the United States. It is a fascinating breed of laying chicken; producing one of the darkest chocolate-brown eggs known. It is one of the rarest breeds in this country due to the import ban on fowl in the US. They are quite common in France.
Black Copper Marans eggs are prized by French chefs. They are also the favorite egg of James Bond. Using them for eating in the United States is almost unheard of, as they are so rare and prized. A three-egg omlet would cost more than $30. wholesale.
One of the difficulties faced by breeders of the Black Copper Marans in the US is the lack of genetic diversity. Much of the breeding stock left in this country 10 years ago was of the English variety; with smooth, unfeathered legs. The French standard calls for lightly feathered legs. There are only a few breeders that have been able to produce Marans stock that comes close to the French standard.   Fortunately, we are now the proud owners of the Wade Jeane line of Black Copper Marans. Below, is a picture of "Frick" our rooster, and yes he had a brother named "Frack".  

                                                            '"Frick and his harem"

                                                     Adult  hen, note feathering on legs.

The deepness of color of these eggs is measured in France by the “Marans Scale”. It is a scale from 1 to 9, with Marans coloring starting at 4, and Black Copper Marans coloring starting at 5. Here is the scale:

In this illustration, a standard Large White egg is used as #1. You can easily see that the Black Copper Marans standard is much larger, and has a slightly less oval (more round) shape.
The French standard for bird size is also fairly large. U.S. genetics have some catching up to do. The French standard calls for an 8 lb rooster and a 6.5 lb hen. That’s a pretty big bird. This would probably be best accomplished with keeping the largest roosters on your hens, but not worrying about hen size unless it is visibly smaller than her mates.
We are very excited about our new "flock". Mary Kathryn has had chickens for about a year and a half and has really done her homework on the raising and caring of chickens. She raised a dozen mixed breed chicks from three days old to maturity. Half turned out to be roosters and were placed in other homes. Her hens have laid consistently for the past year and the eggs are really delicious. The Marans are not laying at the current time since they have just finished molting, but should start laying again in another month or so. 
In the coming year we hope to start hatching some eggs and increasing our flock. We also plan to add a few Blue Copper Marans as well.

On the gardening front, not much happening. I have finally stopped harvesting the okra and letting the rest go to seed for next year. I have been really happy with the "Little Lucy" variety and plan to plant more next year.  I have recently installed another raised bed and using the "Lasagna " gardening process for building the raised bed.  I have decided not to have a fall garden but plan to have an early spring garden next year. 

Recently I noticed my brugmansia plant was loaded with blooms. Yesterday, I took this picture in it's full glory.

Also blooming is the Helianthus angustifolius or Swamp sunflower. A Narrow-leaved sunflower is a perennial to 6 ft (0.6 m) tall with a much branched stem and rough, sandpapery leaves 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) long but only a half inch (1.3 cm) wide. The happy yellow flowers, 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) across, are borne profusely in late summer and autumn. Rays are golden yellow and discs are reddish brown or purplish.  

While most of these plants are typically 4-6 feet tall. I did have one that is approximately 10 feet.

Swamp sunflower with Black and Blue Salvia and Cosmopolitan ornamental grass.

The knockout roses are in full bloom again along with the plumbago.

Finally, I found this little guy at the mail box the other day. I haven't seen a praying mantis in years until this year and have seen two this summer.  They are truly unique creatures.

August 28, 2011


With everything revolving around "Buddha" lately, I have not posted any photos from the garden lately, so I thought I would rewind just a bit and show some pictures taken in the garden this summer.  Currently blooming is the lovely sunflower Moulin Rouge. 

                                             A garden favorite "coneflower".

                                                   Phlox 'David'

                                              New coleus "Henna"

                                                                 Mixed Border

                                Tree form Pee Gee Hydrangea in bloom

                                                                  Pineapple Lily

                                                       The galvanized tub containers

Finally, my new rainwater containers. They hold 65 gallons of water with a hose connection at the bottom. There is a planter on top that you can plant that has a self watering feature built-in.  I bought two and have them on both sides of the garage.  I have used them to water my hydrangeas in the lower garden through a soaker hose just using gravity to empty the containers. 

August 22, 2011

Charlotte's Webb

Recently, I came across this spectacular spider in the "knockout" roses. It is the spider species Argiope aurantia most commonly known as the Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Writing Spider, or Corn Spider which is a common orb spider. Orb web means it spins a web like a circle.

Female spiders are much larger than males,  growing almost an inch and a half long. Males grow about 3/4 inch long. The females have distinctive yellow and black markings on their abdomens and a mostly white cephalothorax.  Legs of these spiders are black with red or yellow bands. Each leg has three claws on the end. Like other members of Argiope they are considered harmless to humans. Because they are large, many people fear them; however, not only are they harmless, but they do a lot of good. These spiders eat large amounts of insect pests, such as flies, mosquitoes, and aphids.

These spiders prefer sunny places with little or no wind to built their webs. They can also be found along the eaves of houses and outbuildings or in any tall vegetation where they can securely stretch a web.  The circular part of the web may reach two feet in diameter. Webs are built at elevations two to eight feet off the ground.

The web of the yellow garden spider is distinctive: a circular shape up to 2 feet in diameter, with a dense zigzag of silk, known as the stabilimentum, in the center. The purpose of the stabilimentum is disputed. It is possible, it acts as camouflage for the spider, but it may also attract insect pray, or even warn birds of the presence of the otherwise difficult to see web. Only those spiders that are active during the day construct stabilimenta in their webs. The web normally remains in one location for the entire summer, but spiders can change locations usually early in the season, perhaps to find better protection or better hunting.

The garden spider hangs with her head down in the center of her web, waiting for prey to be caught. When an insect hits the web, the spider feels the vibrations and comes running. The spider can oscillate her web vigorously while she remains firmly attached in the center. This action serves to fully entangle an insect before it cuts itself loose.

In a nightly ritual, the spider consumes the circular interior part of the web and then rebuilds it each morning with fresh new silk.

Yellow garden spiders breed once a year. After mating the male dies, and is sometimes eaten by the female.

She lays her eggs on one side of the web, then covers it with a papery sac. The egg sac can be up to an inch wide. Over a thousand eggs may be inside. After laying the eggs, the female dies. The baby spiders hatch in the Fall, but they stay inside the sac through winter.

In the Spring, the young spiders leave the sac and go off on their own.  Some of the spiderlings remain nearby,  but others exude a strand of silk that gets caught by the breeze, carrying the spiderling to a more distant area.

A truly spectacular spider, I hope they see fit to grace my garden for many years to come.

August 14, 2011

"Pure Deck-a-dence"

  Well it is apparent that 'Buddha" was successfully removed from my truck and I am alive and well and still posting on this blog. I ended up resorting to Plan B and had the store where I obtained Buddha move him from my truck to a trailer. This will be his temporary home until his final resting place is determined.
                                                       Has Buddha turned his back on me?

Not much as been going on in the garden. It's been hotter than blue blazes and what time I've spent weeding, mowing, trimming and the other routine chores has resulted in significant loss of DNA from sweating profusely to the point of severe dehydration and near heat stroke.  As a result I've been doing these duties early mornings and late evenings.

The yard has always been my domain while Cynthia has domain over the deck plantings. I wanted to take this opportunity to "show off" her efforts this summer.

                          The area was brightened by painting an old chair glider a bright yellow.

                                                                   The Begonia Tree

                                                   Dragon-wing begonia and Foxtail Fern

                                                           Hostas and water feature

                                     A salvaged potato vine from last year. It bloomed this year!

                                                                  The Spiral Tower

                                                       Cast Iron Rooster plant hanger.

                                                        Our "one and only" Bonsai

Cynthia has done a wonderful job of planting and maintaining the container plants on the deck. It is such a joy to sit on the deck and feel like you're in a garden.  Kudos to my lovely wife!

August 2, 2011


This was the immediate response I got when I told my wife that I had found a new piece of art for our future backyard garden. I had been to Southeastern Salvage to look at some slate tables for the deck when I came across this:

 I was mesmerized, I tried to avert my glaze but I could not resist. It called to me, "you need me".
I asked the young lady "how much for the giant buddha head" fully anticipating that it was well beyond what I was willing or able to pay. She told me the original price was right at $900 but because it had a crack at the base of the neck that it had been reduced to $400. My interest immediately heightened when she added, " but I think he (the manager) might reduce it some more".  Not wanting to appear too eager, I told her I was might be interested in buying it if the price was right. She took my name and number and told me she would speak with the manager the next morning and let me know. True to her word the next day she called and told me that I could have it for $200. I  could not believe it, I was prepared to pay the asking price from the day before. Calmly I told her that the price was agreeable and that I would be there shortly with my truck to pick it up. After  hanging up, I jumped up and down for a minute relishing the thought of bringing home my new treasure.

Cynthia accompanied me to pick up "The Buddha" . On the way,  I explained to her why I thought we "really needed" this fantastic piece of art for the backyard renovations we have been planning, and how perfect the "Buddha" could be incorporated with the future Koi pond and what a unique focal point it would be in the landscape, and let's face it, who else has one of these?.  As Mike on American Pickers says "I had to have it".  Alas, Cynthia took piety on me and relented without me having to grovel and beg.  I have a feeling that somewhere down the road I will pay for the granting of this wish.

                                                             (BTW it is also a fountain)

I had been told that it was constructed of fiberglass so I assumed that it would not be very heavy. Boy was I wrong!  Apparently it is constructed of fiberglass and concrete and possibly lead. It stood on a display platform about 12 feet off the ground and after securing it to it's pallet it was removed  from it's lofty perch with the aid of a forklift. They then deposited it in the back of my pickup truck and I strapped it down for the trip home. Needless to say, we drew quite a bit of attention on our trip home.  Safely arriving at home, I then discovered the true mass of by beloved "treasure". I wanted to see if I could move it a little on the pallet to determine if it could be unloaded manually without the aid of heavy equipment. I could not budge it an inch. It must weigh 400 or 500 lbs!  That was last week. It is still in the back of my truck and I am beginning to fear for my life. I had hoped that I could muster enough fellow idiots that we could somehow lift it from the truck but everyone suddenly has something or somewhere else to be. Cynthia who has not needed the truck for two years now must have it before the end of this week. "I am really getting stressed" about the whole situation. We have talked with a local Landscape company about contracting for the Koi pond project and helping us unload the "focal point" of the proposed project in the driveway until we move it to it's final resting place.  They told us they could probably come this afternoon and remove it from the truck. They did not show!

Plan B:  I have borrowed my friend's trailer, purchased a hitch for the truck and am prepared to return to the store tomorrow afternoon after work and have them transfer the "Treasure" from the truck to the trailer. My friend has assured me that he has no immediate need for the trailer and that I can keep it as long as I like. This plan will solve the immediate problem of freeing the truck so that Cynthia can use it, and secondly, it will be easier to remove from a trailer than the truck. Hopefully, the landscape people will show tomorrow and remove it which would be the easiest option. If not, Plan B will go into effect. Either way wish me luck. If I don't get this resolved this week, the next post will probably be made posthumously.

July 15, 2011

Hosta Luego Baby!

At the time we built our home twenty-three years ago, we had been breeding and showing Longhaired Dachshunds for about ten years.  We also had two small children, Drew and Mary Kathryn who were ages 8 and 4 at the time.  We had been very successful showing our dogs but decided raising our kids was more important than finishing another champion, so we hung up our leashes and retired our remaining dogs to just being our pets. Having quite a few dogs when we moved in, it was decided that the back yard would belong to the dogs until their time had passed.  As the number of Dachshunds dwindled over the years they were replaced by our son's Rhodesian Ridgeback 'Jade', our daughter's Rat Terrier 'Susie', 'Duncan' the rescue smooth mini Dachshund,  'Boomer' the rescue Rhodesian and 'Belle' my dad's "Dingo looking dog" I inherited when he passed away.

Belle, Jade, Boomer and Duncan 


The backyard is heavily wooded with some large hardwoods and unfortunately some equally large pine trees. I attempted to introduce some new plants in the landscape that would do well under the canopy such as hydrangeas, acubas, hostas, and a few other shade loving plants. Jade and Boomer decided that I had planted them for their own personal use and they pulled up and ate everything I planted in their domain. After several failed attempts I finally threw up my hands and cried uncle.  Two years ago at age 12 we had to put Jade down due to cancer and recently we bid Boomer farewell at age 13. The three remaining dogs, Belle, Duncan, and Susie who are 10, 17, and 8  do not share the herbivore/beaver palate of their departed friends.  I am sad that Jade and Boomer are no longer with us, but after twenty-three years of patiently waiting, " I can now start developing the backyard".

"The Final Frontier"

The backyard is 77x77 or 5929 square feet. It gently slopes away from the house and as I mentioned heavily wooded.  I plan on removing some of the smaller saplings and trees and possibly the large pines and replacing with Japanese Maples, hydrangeas, and lots of hostas.  Recently I went on a "hosta insanity"  buying spree and obtained 24 new hostas from the "Hosta Farm" that had a clearance sale going on at prices I couldn't refuse for some really great varieties. I think the average price was around
$ 5.17 each. 

I received the plants nicely packaged  and labeled in plastic bags and wrapped in newspaper.  I did receive 3 or 4 bare root plants that had really nice root systems. I immediately potted them up and have been nursing them on the deck for the past couple of weeks. The bare rooted ones have already put out new growth. The varieties include: 'Blue Mouse Ears', 'Big Daddy', 'Captain Kirk', 'First Frost', 'Golden Tiara', 'August Moon', 'Rainforest Sunrise', 'Earth Angel', 'Vulcan', 'Praying Hands', 'Maui Buttercups', 'American Sweetheart', 'Allen P. McConell', 'Blue Angel', 'Brother Stefan', 'Sagae', 'Yankee Blue', 'Queen of the Seas', 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake', 'Komodo Dragon', 'Touch of Class', 'Orange Marmalade', 'Empress Wu' and 'Thunderbolt'. 

I am looking forward to incorporating the hostas into the backyard in addition to the other plants mentioned earlier. I have already bought four "Snowflake Hydrangeas" that will be prominent in the new development.  I am also planning a new water feature in the coming year to include Koi.  

I can't wait for these hostas to mature and become part of the new landscape. Until then, "Hosta Luego Baby".

July 6, 2011

"Play it again Sam"

It's time again for one of my favorite oriental lilies "Casa blanca" whose name also brings to mind one of favorite movies of the same name. This lily has one of the most beautiful fragrances . It is much stronger and more pleasant than any of the other oriental lilies in my experience.  The flowers are big and beautiful and really stand out in the garden.  The only negative aspect of this lily is it's short blooming period which is common with most oriental lilies.

Botanical name: Lilium Casa Blanca

Attributes:  A fragrant, large Oriental hybrid lily that is easy to grow and tolerant of summer heat. It is a hardy perennial bulb that can be grown outdoors in zones 4-8(Peninsula Zone 7) and is very disease-resistant. Casa Blanca lilies usually grow 3 to 4 feet tall and hold up well without staking.  (Mine were reaching for the sun so I had to stake them.)  I think I will move them to a full sun location before next season.

 My other favorite oriental lily is the "Stargazer " oriental lily. While not as fragrant as the Casa Blanca in my opinion, it is still a truly beautiful lily and a great addition to any garden.

From the garden:

I am really bummed about my tomatoes. It appears that wilt is rampant in all my SWC's (self watering containers) which has me somewhat mystified. Typically wilt in tomatoes is caused by lack of water or by vascular wilts Verticillium and Fusarium  which are caused by soil-borne fungi that invade the tomato plants through injured roots. The fungi then spreads into the water-conducting tissue in the stem and blocks the flow of water to the foliage. Foliage of the affected plants turn yellow, then wilts and dies. I'm mystified because with the SWC the water should be consistently wicked to the root system of the plant. Secondly, the soil in the containers was garden and flower soil bought at Lowe's, so I would imagine that it would not contain any fungi.  I am resolved that the container tomatoes are a lost cause at least for this year until I can figure out what I did wrong. What tomatoes I harvested were very good, I'm just not happy with the production.  I still have quite a few tomatoes in the garden that are doing ok without any signs of wilt but are already about four feet tall and kind of spindly in my opinion and are just now starting to set flower. I have a soaker hose that I use to water them and usually water them 1-2 times a week as needed. I am concerned that they may not be getting enough hours of sunlight.  Anyway, live and learn. Thus are the woes of a farmer.

I have been harvesting the "Rattlesnake Pole Beans" the past couple of weeks and they are delicious in addition to the red okra which although limited in quantity is still very good.

The eggplants are doing well in the SWC's .

Finally, meet the newest addition to the family. "Thumbs" She is a polydactyl kitty with six toes  on both front feet.  Looking at the pictures you can see how she got her name.