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. 


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! 

 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."