Crazy wet winter brings beautiful rainbow over city

We have had five straight days of rain, with thunder storms, tornado warnings, flooding all over town, and hail.  This is not our typical winter.  However, there was a beautiful rainbow at the end of today.P1190141.jpg full rainbow over Long Beach, Ca picture by GardenNerd P1190141.jpg full rainbow over Long Beach, Ca picture by GardenNerd

© 2010 – 2012, .

Dealing with Weeds

As a gardener, weeds are a fact of life.   Some weeds are worse than others.  My current battle is with burclover in the front lawn.  It has a velcro spiral seed following the pretty tiny yellow flowers.  At first glance the foliage looks like other clovers, until it sets seeds.  My next door neighbor has a lawn full of it, so I continually find it sprouting in mine in spots.

Some of the weeds found in my yard:

  • dandelion Taraxacum officinale
  • burclover Medicago polymorpha (prolific throughout our neighborhood and spread by pets and kids.)
  • morning glory imopoea (the neighbors have it in epic proportions and let it crawl over the block wall)
  • Bermuda grass Cynodon dactylon
  • Bermuda buttercup oxalis pes-caprae (I like this one and leave it is some areas)
  • Creeping Woodsorrel Oxalis corniculata
  • Lawn burweed soliva sessilis (spurweed)
  • Sowthistle Sonchus oleraceus
  • Creeping Spurge Euphorbia serpens
  • Crabgrasses Digitaria spp.
  • Nutsedge cyperus spp. – was a problem when I first started gardening here, but through diligent removal of the tubers and the rhizomes, I managed to eliminate it.

UC Davis has a photo gallery for identifying weeds as part of their integrated pest management program:

Organic Weed Control

  • My favorite weed killers are my chickens, but they are indiscriminate.  They scratch up any newly sprouted seed in the garden beds they have access to.  If they are enclosed in a fenced pen over the area, there are effective.  They did seem to enjoy eating the few patches of burclover that sprouted in backyard.
  • Hand Pulling and digging out tap roots works for things like dandelions.
  • Boiling Water essentially cooks the existing plants and their roots if it goes deep enough.  I like it because it is cheap, is readily available, and no long term side effects.
  • Vinegar sprayed on plants works best on the surface areas, but not always on the root systems.  Use vinegar during daylight hours for best results, the sunnier the day, the better.  Adding a tiny bit of biodegradable dish soap acts an anionic surfactant, thus making the vinegar wetter and stick better. I have read some folks on the internet recommend mixing salt in with the vinegar. I generally would not recommend using salt in the garden. Most yards around here have heavy clay soils, and adding sodium causes decreased fertility and impermeability in clay soil.  Vinegar is less effective on plants with tap roots like dandelions or rhizomes like Bermuda grass.  Vinegar can lower the pH of the soil and if you have alkaline soil that isn’t usually a big problem, but if it is acidic already, you could be causing other issues.
  • Corn Gluten or Corn Meal doesn’t kill already growing weeds or plants, but it works as a pre-emergent organic herbicide on the seeds.  I buy a big bag of corn meal and spread it out in the fall where I don’t want annual weeds to come up.  I usually use this on the lawn.  The bagged commercial versions of corn gluten sold specifically for the garden aren’t cheap.  Also, as it breaks down, it helps to amend the soil.
  • Newspaper– A thick layer, sprayed with water, and then covered with mulch is very effective at smothering weeds. As it decomposes it actually helps to improve the soil underneath.  This is my favorite long term solution for large areas and I typically do it to areas where I am starting a new bed.  In addition, it can be planted in immediately by cutting a hole, big enought to accommodate a root ball, through the paper and planting in the gap.
  • The only organic solution I have found for getting rid of Bermuda grass, is digging deep and slowly sifting out every piece of the rhizomes. Unfortunately, it is a necessary lawn grass at our home because it is less thirsty than fescue type grasses, but because it is so invasive I have a hard time appreciating its good qualities.  As soon as I turn my back, it creeps back over the edging and into the flower beds.  If there really are levels in Hell like in Dante’s Inferno, Bermuda grass will be on the level where evil gardeners are sent.

My feelings on Chemical Herbicides

I typically don’t recommend the use of them and I prefer to use organic methods, but I understand there are situations that chemical herbicides are necessary.  Glyphosate based broad spectrum herbicides (like Roundup) are very effective in killing plants, but they are toxic to birds and fish.   This type of herbicide stays tied up in the soil, especially soils high in organic matter, for as long as 6 months.  Rain and irrigation do not leach it from the soil.  It has to be broken down by microbes over time.  Based on these factors, I choose not to use Roundup.

If someone told me their only effective option is to use a chemical herbicide on an area, I would suggest they follow the directions very carefully, wear protective clothing and mask, and after applying it make sure to keep pets and kids off the area twice as long as instructions on the bag recommends, just to be safe.  Any shoes that walk on the area should also be left outside, rather than come in the house and track the chemicals on to the floors and carpets.

© 2010 – 2012, .

Brooding our Little Flock of Chicks

Brooding Our Little Flock


My family and I are suburban backyard chicken keepers that can only have a few hens at time.  We do not plan to be hatching chicks frequently throughout the year, so we needed something cheap and easy to brood our chicks in.  I looked around for anything that could be either recycled, re-purposed, or collapsible.  There really aren’t any construction photos of my brooder set ups, since it was mainly a matter of getting the things out of the garage.  Set up instructions come with most dog crates.


Stage 2 – The dog crate brooder

The metal fold up dog crate turned into a temporary indoor chick brooder

The dog crate turned into indoor chick brooder.


Stage 1 – The terrarium and fish tank brooders.

Pictured as the Cat TV version with hardware cloth protection.

Supplies we had on hand:

  • Fish Tank
  • Terrarium
  • 2 Reflectors (one from the tortoise, one from the work bench light)
  • 2 different wattage ceramic bulbs
  • Dog crate- fold up metal
  • wooden bar for roost
  • 2 extension cords


Supplies purchased:

  • red brooder bulb
  • white brooder  bulb
  • bedding- pine wood shavings
  • 2 chick waterers
  • 1 chick feeder – new
  • 1 chick feeder – vintage
  • paper towels
  • hardware cloth (used scraps from the coop project)
  • zip ties to hold on hardware cloth on dog crate lower sides
  • feed – organic starter grower crumbles (We ran it through a burr mixer while the chicks needed mash sized food.)



Brooder temperature

Our chicks started in a terrarium.  We used a red light bulb with a reflector for heat in the terrarium to keep the temp around 95 degrees at first.  We kept an old thermometer/ hygrometer on the floor to make sure the temp was correct at the chicks’ level.  Later, rather than always raising the bulb and reflector, we switched to the ceramic heat bulbs our tortoise had used.  The two were rated for different temperatures.  We reduced the temperature about 5 degrees each week or two, until they were ready to go outside.

We did try a number of homemade waterers, but eventually I purchased two chick water bases.  I used my own glass mason jars on top.  We placed marbles in the basin for the first few weeks to prevent drowning. They had to be cleaned a few times a day.  As the chicks got bigger, we propped the waterers up on a block.


We tried substituting an old ice cube tray as feeder in one brooder.  It worked okay, but needed frequent cleaning because the chicks would stand on it.  Again, the store bought version was better in preventing this problem.  I only purchased the bases of the round feeders and used my own mason jars.  A mayonnaise jar could work too.


We covered the bottom of the brooder with shavings and changed them as needed.  Until the chicks figured out what was food, we covered it with paper towels.  The paper towels were changed a couple of times of day due to the droppings.  Also, since we were raising the chicks on non-medicated feed, cleanliness of the bedding was even more important.  The bedding and chicks made a lot of dust, so a vacuum was also necessary pretty regularly in the room the chicks were in.


Some things I would want to change:

  • I don’t recommend trying to use a terrarium for brooding for the whole 8 weeks.  Even with just 6 chicks, they quickly out grow it.  Our chicks were only in the terrarium for about two weeks, until the dog crate was utilized for the second phase.
  • Make it easier to clean the dog crate.  The door is on one end by a wall.
  • Put a different material around the bottom to keep the shavings in (but I liked seeing in.) The dog crate allowed shavings to spill out the sides when the chicks were big enough to scratch them out.

Some things I really liked about our brooder

  • I liked that it was in the house on the floor of the bathroom.  The kids could close the door to the room and open the brooder door.  The chicks would come out on their own to play.  Some chicks were shy and this worked better for them.  It also kept the dust confined to one room, rather than everywhere.
  • I also liked that when we finished, the dog crate folded flat and went back the garage for next time.  Nothing was wasted or disposed of in a landfill.  It is not really taking up much space in our tiny house or our little city lot.

© 2010 – 2013, .

Mid Winter-The Monarchs are in Southern California

Mid Winter

January 1st, 2010

Monarch Caterpillar on a milkweed plant here in Southern California in January

Not much is flowering currently, but it appears Spring is just around the corner for coastal Southern California.  Some of the perennials are starting to emerge through the soil.  It inspired me to go out and clean up a bit today.

According to the nearby U.C. Davis’ weather station, we have already had 217 chill hours.  That is great news for the fruit trees in the yard, since most of ours need about 250 or less.

One of my Asclepias, Milkweed, plants had a half dozen Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on it.  I was delighted to find them since the main reason I keep it planted in my garden is for a larval food for them.

To follow where the migration is nationally, here is a link to a monarch migration map.

milkweed plant with monarch caterpillar

Monarch caterpillar on a “Milkweed” Ascelpias plant

Later in the season we have monarch butterflies all over the neighborhood

Monarch Butterfly on one of the Lantana flowers out front

© 2010 – 2013, .

Saint Francis and Lawns

For many years, I have kept a  little statue of Saint Francis in the backyard to remind me to be thankful for what we have in our little home and yard.  We have been generously blessed by our Lord in so many things.  The feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi is October 4th, so I thought it was appropriate to post about this today.  His feast day is often celebrated with the blessing of the Animals in many Christian faiths.  This year, we took George, Cruella de Vil, and Joey with us this year over to our church to get them a blessing.  The children enjoyed the old ritual and the pets didn’t seem to mind the outing.

saint francis Lawn Humor

As the patron saint of animals and ecologists, I have asked for Saint Francis’s intercession often over the years.  When it comes to pets, we truly have been blessed.  Thank you for your prayers, St. Francis.

I came across this last year, and forgot how much I liked the sarcasm.  I thought I should post it since it fits in with my interests.


(overheard in a conversation between God and St. Francis):
God: Hey, St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature;
what in the world is going on down there in the U.S.?
What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and the stuff
I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan.
Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and
multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms
attract butterflies, honeybees, and flocks of songbirds. I expected
to see a vast garden of color by now. All I see are patches of green.
. .
St. Francis: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. They are called the Suburbanites.
They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and
replace them with grass.
. .
God: Grass? But it is so boring, it’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies,
bees or birds, only grubs and sod worms. It’s temperamental with temperatures.
Do these Suburbanites really want grass growing there?
. .
St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it has grown a little, they cut it….
sometimes two times a week.
. .
God: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?
. St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.
. .
God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?
. .
St. Francis: No sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.
. .
God: Now let me get this straight…they fertilize it to make it grow and
when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?
. .
St. Francis: Yes, sir.
. .
God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain
and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.
. .
St. Francis: You aren’t going to believe this Lord, but when the grass stops growing
so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue
to mow it and pay to get rid of it.
. .
God: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke
of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and
shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to
. keep the moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves
become compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.
. .
St. Francis: You’d better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves fall, the Suburbanites rake
them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.
. .
God: No way! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in the winter to
keep the soil moist and loose?
. .
St Francis: After throwing the leaves away, they go out and buy something called mulch.
They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.
. .
God: And where do they get this mulch?
. .
St. Francis: They cut down the trees and grind them up to make mulch.
. .
God: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. Saint Catherine,
you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?
. .
St. Catherine: ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ Lord. It’s a really stupid movie about . . . .
. .
God: Never mind — I think I just heard the whole story from Saint Francis!


If you would like some information on Saint Francis here is a link:

© 2009 – 2013, .