Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Sucky Side of Learning

I wanted to write a post that talks about a truth that I've realized about pretty much any hobby that I'm trying to learn more about: Sometimes learning isn't fun at all, even in something I enjoy. Sometimes learning just sucks.

I guess a pre-reveal: no one got hurt in this adventure, so don't worry.

One of the things about handling horses is that they are, for the most part, giant animals. Bodi is an exception- I like to say that even if he kicks me he'll just take out my shins. But Aspen is a large, sometimes timid and spooky horse, especially if I'm also feeling spooked by something. The fear of getting hurt or of him hurting someone else when he's frightened and not thinking clearly is always in the forefront of my mind. As it sort of should be with any large animal. Second is my fear of him injuring himself, since he has tendon issues in his back legs and can become lame if he spins in a tight circle or something and re-injures the tendons.
Handsome but not super sturdy in his back legs.
So I made the perhaps not super fantastic decision to take Aspen out for a walk while people were working on the roof in the pony pasture. In order to get him out past the workers I needed to bring him around the back of the barn, then through the gate to the ring where we would have our walk. I was feeling pretty good about how we had been working together and I'd been able to work with Bodi earlier that day even with the roofing noises. I figured as long as I could get Aspen safely past the back of the barn we would be fine. Later that day I'd be helping out with a children's pony picnic but I had a good hour and a half until that started so I figured we'd have plenty of time to go out, have a 10 minute walk, and get back to the field.

The trip out went fine. Aspen was jumpy when we walked past the roofers but we got past them ok and into the ring. Once in the ring, however, Aspen just kept spooking in circles around me. We'd start off in a straight line, then some noise would come from behind the barn and Aspen would surge forward to the end of the lead rope and then circle me at a fast trot until he could calm back down enough to stop, eyes bugging out of his head, ears perked to the max. Then we'd start walking side by side again for a few steps, then repeat the process.

Aspen is scared of many noises, including people on the rail trail, loud vehicles, and sheep.
Reactions vary from slightly nervous to OMG WTF OMG.

I realized we weren't going to get any sane walking done and decided to just take him back in since that was probably going to take awhile, but then kids started arriving an hour early to the barn. Small kids. Kids who might not listen to me when I yelled at them to stay back and not run up to us. Thankfully the first two were kids I knew well so they listened and their mom was right behind them, but my "Oh crap, someone is going to get hurt" buttons were pressed pretty firmly at this point and Aspen could feel me getting stressed out, which only made him circle more frantically. I managed to drag him by degrees to the farthest corner of the ring away from the roofing noise and the gate so we would be as far out of the way as possible.

Like, this size of small children. Terrifyingly small and breakable.

I tried for a few minutes to do some deep breathing and visualizing us confidently striding back around the barn, but standing still only made me feel a deeper and deeper fear. I was almost relieved that Aspen kept distracting me with tense circling. It at least gave my brain something else to do. I was stuck. I realized we couldn't go anywhere like this. We were going to be stuck in the corner of the ring until there were no small children or roofers between us and where we needed to go. I supposed this wasn't the worst thing- uncomfortable and tense, but not quite as terrifying as getting any closer to the gate, children, or roofers. Then I spotted Barbara and asked for help.

Barbara, of course, was able to drag Aspen back into the field with no problems because she wasn't a panicked mess. Aspen just needed a person who was sure of what was going to happen to get him back safely. I at least had the presence of mind to realize that person was not me. Meanwhile I closed the gate and attempted not to cry in front of several children.

Learning like this is not fun. I already knew that Aspen needed confidence in order to make it back into the field. I just didn't know how to magically make myself into the person that Aspen needed right then. The step I took was suddenly too big. I'm hopeful that someday I'll have the confidence I need to work through something like that. Until then I'm glad I have mentors who can help me out when I get stranded.
I much prefer interacting with Aspen in his calm moments,
like when I'm brushing him in his stall.







Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Oh, Cold Snap.

Is Oh Snap too 90's? I can't tell. Anyway, Thursday night is the first night in my area that we will have below freezing temperatures. We're a little cushioned by the city warm zone but it was bound to happen sometime this month: a cold snap. I've been preparing some of my plants for the journey indoors. Others will be left out in the cold, but with some protection in place to make sure they don't freeze. Still others I'll let die off because they're annuals and aren't meant to live through the winter. 

What can survive a cold snap, and what should be brought indoors?
The Rosemary plant prefers above-freezing temperatures
so it will be brought in once it dips below around 35 F
The first to be brought in was my Angel Wing Begonia plant. As a tropical plant it doesn't like temperatures below 50 F and was starting to show signs of cold damage even at those temperatures. If the leaves start getting wilted edges or spots on them it might be a sign of the plant getting too cold. Bring the plant inside gradually if possible, starting by just bringing it in overnight and gradually decreasing the amount of outside time it gets until it is fully an indoor plant again. I have work so the least outside time I could get on a weekday was ~8.5 hrs, but I waited until a weekend and gave it two half-days before bringing it inside permanently. It seemed to do well. Now it lives under the grow light with the other begonias. Be sure to check plants for pests before putting them near your other plants. I got some aphid transfers, but luckily running the infested leaves under water worked to get rid of those.

Begonia living the warm life indoors.

Aloes and other succulents have a hard time in the cold if they are watered too much. They can easily get root rot since they go into a winter dormancy state where they are basically "asleep" and not absorbing much. The water then just sits in the soil and rots the plant's roots. Water your succulents less in winter even if they are indoor plants. If you would normally water as soon as the soil is completely dry then wait an extra week. The exceptions are tropical succulents like Jade and Hawarthias. They use the same amount of water year-round. I can usually tell it is a tropical succulent if it scorches in direct sunlight. Tropical ones for some reason require less sun, not more.

The aloe plant that spent a 40F day outside
but is coming in for the night.

Carnivorous plants that are native to North America like the Venus Fly Trap and some pitcher plants should stay in a cold-ish place for the winter to hibernate. However, they must not freeze. I'm experimenting with leaving my Venus Fly Trap close to the brick wall of my apartment, near the door to my porch. Hopefully this micro climate will keep it from freezing on all but the coldest nights in January and February, when it will be kept in the fridge until the temperature outside gets back around 30 F.
Side note: I did find out that the plant was dying, not hibernating so I switched it
into a better-draining and smaller pot. It is now growing some new
short, stubby winter leaves so I hope it makes it.
Also turns out there were five different plants in that cluster?! Two have survived.
My perennial plants stay outdoors for the most part. Tender herbs such as rosemary get pulled inside on freezing nights, others stay huddled together near the door. I put an old blanket over them on really really cold nights, but the columbine, oregano, chives, and mint have all survived strings of 15 F nights in containers on the porch, as long as they're next to the door with the blanket over them. Having a porch with a "ceiling" (aka: the second floor's porch) really helps with the cold too, as frost can never form all the way back at the back of the porch. The annuals I leave on the front of the porch freeze and die. I tried saving a basil plant indoors last year but by the end of winter it was sticks with a few sickly leaves attached. Basil is not meant to live more than one year. It flowers and self-seeds instead.
Sadly, lettuce does not do well below freezing either,
though some varieties are hardier than others.

If you don't have a south-facing brick wall to warm your potted plants against, another thing you can try is burying the pots up to the brim in the ground before the first frost. This acts like an insulator for the plant roots and will help the plant make it through the winter. The leaves will still die off, but they will come back in the spring if it's a perennial. Putting row covers over your plants can also help keep frost off and insulate the leaves. This is a way to grow hardy lettuces, kale, and brussel sprouts all winter long in our area. Row covers can come in plastic or a thin fabric which lets enough light in for the plants to keep going until spring. If only I had room for row covers on my porch! Fresh kale in February...mmm.

Plant huddle
I hope all of the perennials survive the winter and are ready to go once warmer weather arrives. The hardest part is not planting anything new until April!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A Horsey Connundrum


"So what are we going to get into today?"

One thing's for sure when working with Bodi: It takes some creativity and a sense of humor to get through interactions with him.

Take today for instance. This morning I decided to take Bodi out for a nice trot around the ring, maybe practice some starts and stops. It seemed to go well earlier in the week, but today he wasn't going to go for it. Three seconds into our pleasant trot he decided he wanted to go eat grass instead. The grass was to my left. Bodi was to my right. He attempted to go through me to get to the grass, resulting in me attempting to keep him from doing so by whirling the end of the rope in front of his pushy little face to try to get him to head the other way. Y'know... like they tell you to do. 

Either I wasn't swinging it hard enough or he decided he'd just endure it for that grassy goodness because it merely made him pin his ears and speed up toward the grass. I ended up having to haul on his face. Again. I hate having to haul on his face. He also hates it when I have to haul on his face. It just puts everyone in a mood.

We switched directions, came back and tried again. I went into a trotting pace and clucked at him and we began moving forward. We moved forward faster and faster as he attempted to go to the left and I attempted to body-check him back into the ring. Pin ears, speed up, haul on face.

Ok, this obviously wasn't working, so we changed directions again and walked to the other side of the ring while I thought of what to do. He's a shorty so I'm not too worried about him hauling off and kicking me in the face but he's faster than me so I'm not going to be able to get in front of him and push him back the way I want him to go. Hauling on his face makes him stop, but then we're at a stop instead of a trot and we're usually facing back the way we came from when his rear end finally comes to a halt. Alright- I had a third idea.

We started trotting again, and this time when he veered toward the grass I ran full-speed toward the grass with him. Like, full-tilt "you want grass we're gonna get you some grass" sprint into it. This time I was the one dragging Bodi along, because he was so surprised that he actually came to a halt at the edge of it while I kept going. We went through the grass, then sort of haphazardly to the right where I managed not to careen into the fence and we both stumbled back out into the ring. Bodi snorted at me. "What," he seemed to say, "the horsey hell are you doing."

"Teaching you to trot" I said, and we started trotting again. We were in a different position this time and the grassy area closest to us was directly in front of us on the far side of the ring. We trotted pretty well until we reached the far side, then he attempted to put his head down and speed up toward the grass again. Well alrighty then. I barreled past him like my life depended on reaching grass, then proceeded to turn him toward the right when we got to the fence and charged back out into the ring.

Look, I'm as confused as you are as to whether this is actually teaching him anything. But I'll tell you one thing. We trotted. And he didn't get any grass. (Well, for now.)






Monday, August 28, 2017

The End of Summer Garden


The end of summer and beginning of fall always seems like a busy time for me garden-wise. Usually I'm combining watering every day with some amount of harvesting stuff almost every day in prep for fall. Some plants die off about this time, allowing me to tear out half-dead things and put in new cooler-weather plants.

Getting ready for fall
 This year Barbara was kind enough to take some of my not-half-dead flowers so I could put lettuces in. Actually, I think more accurately I texted her and stated "I'm foisting some flowers off on you" and she said "Well ok." I just hate throwing out flowers that are still at peak bloom. But the lettuce must go in! So she got a forced donation of some lightly-used plants. lol.

Gotta have dat lettuce
The rose plant has really blossomed (hehe) in the past few weeks, and now has three flowers on it! This is the most it's had since I crispified it back at the beginning of summer, so I'm glad it's made a full recovery and will be ready to go next spring. I haven't researched yet whether I should cut it back in fall or in spring, so I'll need to find that out in the next month or two.

Pretty red mini roses
The venus fly trap is either slowing down for winter dormancy or dying. I can't figure out which. It could probably use some more sunlight during the day, but since I'm not allowed to put things out on the front of my porch I can't really do anything about it. I thought about putting it under grow lights in the evening to supplement the light, but I'm afraid that'll mess with the dormancy cycle. We'll see I suppose.

Not fantastic venus fly trap
Ticky got a new batch of oat grass. He's enjoying it. He eats the seedlings before they can grow so I caved and bought him grown stuff from the pet store. It looks like troll hair right now. Pretty soon he'll have buzzed it to the ground though. This guy is a voracious grass eater- I think he's part bunny.

Omnomnomnom
Rosemary didn't grow as much as I expected it to this year, which was a little disappointing. It didn't NOT grow, it has just been really slow. I'm hoping it makes it through the winter so I can re-pot it in maybe a plastic container again. They like dry soil, but maybe the clay pot is too dry or too small for its roots.



The zinnias, however, have been taking over the front of the porch. I love the colors in this wild zinnia variety, I just wish I'd known they're long-stemmed and wispy instead of bushy like the cultivated kind. I kept thinking they weren't getting enough sun, but they were in constant sunlight out on the front of my porch for awhile and still turned into these 2 ft long stems. Well, now I know. They need to be grouped together and staked.
Crazy long zinnia stems

Pretty sunburst-like zinnia flowers
New lettuces have taken over the front sunny area of the porch. I wanted them to be somewhat decorative, so I mixed them with some trailing white mini petunias and bought both red and green baby lettuces. Lots of buttercrunch in the buckets! I also mixed in something called Raspberry Dressing Rumex. It turns out it's sorrel. I didn't know I'd like sorrel, but as the name implies these legit taste like Raspberry Vinaigrette. I am not lying. The leaves are gorgeous too, so they fit well in my decorative lettuce containers.

Some of the bucket containers with a variety of buttercrunch, sorrel, and petunias for contrast
That's it for now! Hoping to harvest my first salad in a few weeks. :)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Waiting for the Sun to Go Out

When I planned a year ago to go to Kentucky to see the total solar eclipse I made sure to plan other activities around it, thinking that it would be a long way to travel for just a two minute event. What if it rained? What if it wasn't that impressive? So we took a week and stopped along the way at J.D.'s parents' house and to visit some friends in Charleston, WV and Murray, KY. On the way back we spent the night at Natural Bridge, VA and the safari park there. I loved the vacation aspect of it, but I was wrong about the total eclipse not being worth the 13 hour trip. It was worth it.

Me standing on the side of the lake, waiting for the sun to go out.
I know a lot of people saw the partial eclipse, and I'm so glad that everyone was so excited about it and went out and saw it! But folks, it ain't a totality. Totality is something that can't actually be captured properly on film. Cameras just can't depict all of the wavelenths correctly, and they can't get the detail of the sun's corona without blocking out the other things like how weirdly lit the world is, and how many shades of color the sky has during the eclipse.

A view of the partial eclipse through one of the solar scopes.

We watched from the shore of Kentucky Lake as the light grew dimmer and dimmer as we got closer to totality. It was like having sunglasses on without actually having sunglasses on, or like stadium lights at a night game. We saw the dappled sunlight from the tree leaves turn into a carpet of crescents. The leaves act like pinhole cameras so they show what's happening above.

Sun crescent shapes in the leaf shadows.
However, it didn't dim noticeably until about five seconds before the sun disappeared behind the moon. Then it was like some cosmic dimmer switch was turned. Suddenly the air temperature dropped ten degrees and everything got dark. Not dark like sunset though. Dark like, well, like something had blocked out the daytime.

Because the sun was almost directly overhead and not shining through a lot of atmosphere like it does at sunrise and sunset, there was no red-ish quality to the light. It was still very much noon sunlight, just blotted out to a sort of alien twilight. It felt weird and off somehow.

Everyone watching the last sliver of sun disappear.
This was about 1 minute before totality.
You can see it's still almost noon sunlight. It dimmed quickly.

Right overhead, waiting for us to take off our eclipse glasses with the last disappearing sliver of actual sun, was a glowing black hole in the sky. No one could really stop themselves from gasping and exclaiming something like "Wow" or "Oh my God" in awe when they took off their eclipse glasses. It was that bizarre.

This is the most accurate to the corona shape that I saw. I counted four corona "limbs"
but the photos all show a more even brightness all around.
Sergio was at our campground so he photographed what we were seeing.
Credit: Sergio Signorini

We could see some of the brighter stars and planets. Jupiter was up, as was Venus. Mars and Mercury were hanging out somewhere in the sun's corona. Two minutes seemed to pass by in ten seconds as we tried to take it all in. Then a flash of bright light on one side of the moon forced us back to viewing it through the protective dark tint of the eclipse glasses. I wished I could put everything on rewind and watch it again, but I will perhaps see this only once in my lifetime. (Though now I've been turned into an avid eclipse chaser so I'll definitely be attempting to catch the one in 2024.)

Credit: Sergio Signorini

Afterwards we crowded around the professional photographer's camera to see what they got. We weren't disappointed. The corona looked more detailed than what we could see with the naked eye, and she'd caught some images of the "diamond ring" which is the effect when the sun is just barely covered by the moon and shines out brightly on one side of it. Even today I've gotten more emailed pictures that various people took of the eclipse, but again- none of them are exactly what our eyes saw. I'll have to rely on my memory for that.

The "Diamond Ring" effect
Credit: Sergio Signorini
\
I am very glad I got to see this thing, and encourage people to try to see the total solar eclipse in 2024 which will run from Maine to Texas. Partial eclipses are nothing like totality. You have to be there to see it!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Puzzle Toys for Ticky!

Ticky has been getting bored during the day, as evidenced by him throwing himself in front of the door in a dramatic fashion when I'm about to leave for work. To keep him busy while I'm gone I've  purchased and created puzzles for him to solve during the day. If you also have a cat that's bored during your work day or just driving you crazy with bad behavior while you're home, maybe these will spark some ideas for cat puzzles of your own!

Ticky and his new puzzle.
He says "put more treats in it hooman."

The purchased puzzle:
I bought a cat puzzle I found online called the "Brain Mover" by Trixie Pet Products. It was only $20 for something that can be reconfigured in different combinations of treat-finding and is also hard plastic so it can (supposedly) be washed in the dishwasher. They make a whole line of pet puzzles for dogs and cats, and have videos of pets actually using them so you can see how they are solved. I took a video of Ticky using his!



Ticky and I are both happy with this toy, but what if you don't want to spend $20 on a cat puzzle? I've also found a few creative ways to make similar toys out of recyclables. The only downside to those is that after awhile they wear out because the cat squishes and tears the pieces apart or the cat food gets the cardboard all oily. However, if you can find plastic recyclables these last much longer! I've seen cat puzzles made from Tupperware that can be machine washable.


The Busy Box: 

Hot glue some sections of toilet paper tubes and plastic bottles with large holes cut in the sides to a cardboard box lid. To cut the holes use an Exacto knife or box cutter to start the hole, then finish it up with scissors if the plastic is really thick. If it's thinner plastic it might be easiest just to cut it entirely with the knife/box cutter. If you have some jagged, uneven edges then either cut them smooth or sand the edge so your kitty's paws don't get poked. Toss a treat or two in each puzzle section before leaving for the day!

I made this from toilet paper tubes and a Gatorade bottle.

The Rolling Treat Dispenser:

This is simple to make from any plastic bottle. Rinse it thoroughly first and then cut holes about the diameter of your finger in the sides.



Make at least three holes, spaced along the length of the tube so if treats get stuck at one end they can still drop out. (Or I guess if your cat is the tenacious type it might keep batting it around until treats fall out even if you just cut one hole.) Make sure the treats you put in it are small enough to drop easily through the holes.

Ticky in action
Ticky loves this kind of toy and bats it around and then looks for any treats on the floor, bats it around again, etc. until it stops making the rattly noise. Hehe.

"Are they all gone?"

I hope these ideas inspire some puzzle-making for your pet! I've seen them used with dogs and even horses. Just stuff it with treats and they'll keep trying to figure a way to get to that tasty goodness.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bean Harvest! And other garden updates.

Bush beans ready for picking.
Firstly I would like to report: Bush Beans are a success! These were a variety called "Tavera," a French Filet bush bean, meaning the bean pods are long and slender. Great for green beans! They have a good flavor on their own but I boiled the last batch for about 5 minutes with some bacon salt and it came out even tastier. Check out the harvest:
That's the second round of bean-picking this season.
The first was super tasty! Looking forward to eating this batch.

There are a few more flowers on some of the plants, but if there's a third harvest it won't be very big. I'm sort of contemplating taking out the beans and transferring some of my other plants to the front of the porch so they can get more sunlight.

Although this is a bush bean variety and stays very compact, they did require a little bit of support when it got windy. I improvised with string, pencils, and good ole' ducttape. It worked well and couldn't be seen from the front. I did have to tighten the tension on the string every now and then when it got wet, but it wasn't time consuming. I just twirled it around a pencil and re-taped it.

You can see my redneck bean support system peeking out from under the leaves.

In other news, that rose that I was nursing back from an early summer crisping is doing so well it's decided to flower again... 

Pretty happy I didn't lose this plant. It's so pretty!

I learned my lesson about small pots and recently moved the lavender up into a bigger pot to avoid the same crispiness problem. Now it has some more room to grow before winter which is good for a perennial. 

Lavender!

The Venus Fly Trap is loving the fact that it's right next to my now-flowering Oregano plant. The Oregano draws in all sorts of tiny flies and sweat bees for it to capture. I'm hoping to keep this plant outside until the first frost. Venus Fly Traps require colder weather to enter a dormant period and store up energy for the next year, however it gets too cold here to leave it outdoors all winter. When it gets frosty outside I will attempt putting this thing in the fridge! 

Mmm....bugs.
 That's about all the updates I have for now. I'll be putting together a new planter arrangement once the beans come out, and cucumber vines will be replaced with fall lettuce. Until then I'm just keeping on top of watering for the most part.








Sunday, July 9, 2017

When Cat Training is Potentially Life Saving

As you know if you've been following this blog, one of my many obsessions is training my cat. Not many people in the past considered cats trainable and that mentality continues today in many cases. However, I'd argue that a trained cat is a healthier cat mentally and in some cases physically, as it's easier to get your cat out of danger or a sticky situation if it already knows some basic training. Granted I don't have a degree in this (yet... I've been eyeballing some cat training courses), but here are a few scenarios where training can save the day:

Ensign Ticky says he's been well trained at the Academy.
He always follows the Prime Directive.
...Ok, maybe not always but he tries his best.
Ticky needed to be comfortable with being handled in order to get him in and out of his harness. He had to become accustomed to being lightly restrained and pushing his head through his harness and then back out of it each time we went for a walk. I never thought about how useful this would be in other situations until Ticky got his head stuck through a bag handle and didn't know how to get it off by himself. Cats are nosy but they can also panic if they think the thing around their neck is "chasing" them when they try to get away from it. Plastic bags, or in one cat's case when I was growing up a string of jingle bells, can become terrifying monsters pretty quickly. Luckily Ticky wasn't in panic mode yet and I managed to lift the bag up and say "head through" like we do every time he has to back his head out of his harness. With a familiar-ish scenario and command he pulled his head out of the bag handle, no problems.

As you can see, Ticky finds himself in odd bag-related
situations pretty frequently.
Training a cat to go into a carrier on their own is very useful for vet trips, but especially so if the vet trip is urgent or if you need to get the cat out of the building quickly in an emergency. Not that your cat is going to go in as smoothly as in a calmer situation, but they will at least not associate that gaping carrier maw only with going to the vet. It is more likely that you won't have as many problems if they go in and out of the carrier on a regular basis. We had a fire alarm go off in our building one time and Ticky was confused enough by the noise that I could scoop him up, deposit him in his carrier, and close the door in about five seconds. We'll see how it goes if it happens again now that he knows what the noise means... But at least getting him in the carrier won't be the hard part. It'll be dragging the cat out from under the bed.

Ticky learning "mark" which tells him to go to a specific spot on the floor.

Cats, like many animals, like predictability. Trick training mentally stimulates a cat when they're bored but it also provides something comforting and familiar to do when guests arrive or your cat is feeling unsettled about something in its environment. It proves to the cat that there's something they can actively do to receive a predictable reward, giving some semblance of control and familiarity in the moment.

For stressful scenarios always return to very simple, well-learned tricks.
For Ticky, these are "sit" and "up".
Finally, if you harness train your cat and walk them around outside then they are more likely to be familiar with the area if they do escape. Ticky runs immediately back to our porch and asks to be let in when something scares him outside. He now knows which door is ours so he can get back home if he's only a short distance from it. When I'm not quick enough closing the screen door and he dives off into the shrubbery then I at least know he's not going to bolt into the next county. I can go fish him out from under his favorite bush.

"Mom, I don't like it out here. Let me inside."
There are countless other scenarios I probably won't even think of until they arise. The point is- a trained cat is not impossible, in fact many people train their cats without thinking about it. Does your cat come running when you rattle a treat bag? Do they sit in the kitchen while you're getting their food? They have been trained! Training isn't as hard as you think and might be something that saves your cat's life.
Ticky trains hard! His motto is "just did it."




Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cucumbers: A Saga

I decided to take a break from tomato plants at the beginning of this year, partly because they had attracted an impressive infestation of spider mites the year before and the area probably needed a break from tomatoes. The other part was because I wanted to try a different type of plant in containers: cucumbers.

A helpful little pollinator

Cucumbers are a pretty cool plant to learn about. To start off with, cucumbers are a type of plant that can self-pollinate, but have distinct male and female flowers on the same plant. I didn't know this at first, and assumed that the flowers I was seeing bloom and then immediately die and fall off of the plant were failed cucumbers. They instead turned out to be the male flowers, which are the first to bloom on a cucumber plant. Later a mix of male and female flowers appear, with the female flowers having what are basically baby, unpollinated cucumbers attached to the back of them. If the flower isn't pollinated, or isn't pollinated well (apparently?) then the baby cucumber shrivels up. If it is pollinated though, then that part becomes the cucumber after the flower dies off.

Here you can see a female flower in the foreground
with a male flower in the upper right

Speaking of which, I now have SO MANY CUCUMBERS. I did not realize that three cucumber plants is way too many cucumbers for two people to consume before they go bad. I'm literally giving them away to neighbors and coworkers and still have enough to put in my lunch every day.

Seriously though, I'm eating a cucumber as I'm typing this.
Maybe I can try pickling them?

The first few were really bitter, so I did some more research to figure out why my cucumbers were basically coming off the vine inedible. It turned out that cucumber plants produce something called cucurbitacin which is normally found in the leaves but migrates into the skin of cucumber fruits when there's inconsistent watering. I'm not sure why...but that definitely explained it- the weather had been unusually hot that week and I'd come home to wilted cucumber plants a few times. From then on it was a half gallon to a gallon of water a day. Each. That means I'm dumping a total of three gallons on my cucumber plants alone in hot weather. Yeesh. Well, they are mostly water after all. I found out that even if a cucumber is bitter, peeling the cucumber takes the bitter skin off of it and the inside tastes just fine!

I'm glad I trellised these. Much more space for cucumbers to grow!
In a couple of weeks the cucumbers will probably be done fruiting and start to die off. I bought "Straight 8's" which are one of the types that loads you up with cucumbers for a month or so and then gives up the ghost. I'm thinking I'll plant lettuces as a fall crop in the buckets. Maybe mix in a few flowers for earlier in August... I'll miss my natural porch screen though! It shades some of my other porch plants a bit too much currently, but it does provide a nice cool place to relax when I get home from work!

People walking by ask me if these are pumpkins.
 I'm like "Nope, just ginormous cucumber plants."