Have you lost too many snow fall contests because of inaccurate or untrustworthy measuring? Take things into your own hands and decree that this Leaf Snow Gauge is the gauge by which all contests shall be measured.
It is well made and measures the snow by the foot. Each foot is marked with a gold painted leaf so, not only will it be accurate, it will look beautiful in the garden all winter as well. The bottom is a stake which can easily be pushed into the ground.
This is technically a children's book and it is only pictures - no words. However, I think it is one of the best gardening books ever "written". And the fact that you aren't bombarded with words is such a relief. It allows one to sit quietly and notice all the activities going on in these incredibly detailed pictures as if you were outside by yourself observing nature.
The pictures (paintings) are beautiful and take you through all the seasons and times of day in this yard. A Day in the Garden is available from Amazon for $10.98.
Here's a happy little chickadee on GardenSnob's bird feeder. This feeder holds thistle seed (niger seed). It's not the first choice of birds around here but they'll eat from it if the other one is crowded. You might notice the sedum on the lower left corner of the photo. We decided to leave it for winter interest and will cut it down as soon as the snow melts. The dark silhouette looks nice against the white snow.
Beekeepers usually feed their bees in the winter. Typically, it's not because the beekeeper harvested too much honey and didn't leave enough stores for the bees to get through the winter. Rather, it's usually because the bees have moved through their hive in such a way that they are too far from their food stores and they can't move to their saved honey because of the cold temperatures. When it gets cold, bees form a cluster around their brood and keep each other warm by trading places from center to outer edge just the same way the penguins do.
When there is a January "thaw", the bees leave the hive for brief cleansing flights. They will never soil their own house so the mid-winter thaw is crucial to their health and lets them relieve themselves outside. Here you can see evidence of these cleansing flights - small puddles on top of the snow. hmm they are honey colored!
Here are more bee droppings and also a few dead bees that didn't make it back inside. That's no cause for alarm - with a population of 20,000 to 60,000 depending on the time of year, bees are always dying off.
Most beekeepers feed their bees a sugar/water combo. We think sugar is bad for us and for the bees so we feed them their own honey. Sure, it is hard to give up 2-3 jars of the stuff, but they were the ones who gave it to us in the first place! We would rather have a healthy hive and a little less honey than give the bees sugar.
Here's the jar of honey with two tiny holes drilled through the cap. The bees will extract the honey from the holes as they need it.
We set the jar on the opening of the inner cover and the bees immediately crowded around it.
Time to close the hive before they start charging us! We will check the honey supply every few days by lifting up the outer cover. They should be set for 2 1/2 - 3 weeks with that jar.
This is the crown jewel of window bird feeders in my opinion. Maybe that's why they named it "Jewel Box". It's another great feeder from Aspects and this one brings those elusive hummingbirds up close to the window. You probably won't see any birds in winter in the North, but in California and other warmer spots, this is a great feeder for the whole year.
The red color is a little startling but it does attract the hummingbirds well. I guess that's a small price to pay for watching these amazing birds up close. The Aspects Jewel Box Window Hummingbird Feeder is available at Amazon for $20.49.
In GardenSnob's opinion, Duncraft makes the best bird feeders. This Classic Window Bird Feeder is no exception. It has a simple, sleek design with minimal lines so as not to interfere with bird watching. The suction cups are strong enough to hold the feeder at its full capacity. The price is reasonable as well. Available at Amazon for $14.69.
Our last movie in the winter cartoon series, The Bio Da Versity Code is a 5 1/2 minute short about species extinction and the web of life. The snow is beautiful but I can't wait to get back into the web of life in my backyard!
The Window Cafe Hopper is another bird feeder that attaches to the window. Again, it's clear plastic so there are no unsightly colors to block the view from your window. The window cafe hopper is a little larger than yesterday's feeder and holds 3 cups of bird seed.
The other thing to consider when looking for a bird feeder is the ease with which you fill it and (especially since this is clear plastic) clean it. The designers at Aspects thought of this and designed a lift off roof that slides out and off for filling and cleaning. Wouldn't it be great if my roof would lift off for cleaning!?
The Perky Pet Wild Bird Window Feeder is a great way to bring birds closer to you for observation. This feeder holds 1 cup of bird seed. The suction cups have no problem keeping the feeder attached to the window even with the seed weight. It's made of plastic so lightweight and clear. What a great way to watch your feathered friends in the winter! Can't beat the price, too. ($6.97)
Here's a handy mount bracket by Audubon for hanging bird feeders. And who couldn't use another bird feeder? This bracket is sturdy and clamps easily to any deck. Appears the color is green so if you're hoping for black, check before you order it.
Here's another heated bird bath that's a little less expensive (Amazon says it is on sale for $46.40) and, in my opinion, better looking. It attaches to your deck with a clamp and keeps the water from freezing with a 75 watt heater. The green color is subdued and looks like it matches the green of pine trees. Nice work, Farm Innovators!
So, what do people do in the northern states when they're not shoveling? They watch the birds bathe in their outdoor, heated hot tubs.
If birds are your passion, this heated bird bath bowl might be the next level of bird watching for you. It has a built-in thermostat and a clamp for attaching to a railing or "summer" bath. Made of plastic so it won't break if the power goes out and the water freezes.
This does seem a little extravagant at $69.95 but maybe it could double as a steam therapy device. Just add an essential oil and breathe deeply. Plus, if it keeps you out of the insane asylum for the winter, it's worth it!
While it may seem like an extravagance, the convenience and peace of mind it brings is well worth the price. And anyway, have you heard what other people are spending on THEIR PETS? Good grief! At least chickens give you eggs as well as companionship.
If your chickens are out foraging for bugs and grass during the day with electric fence netting or some other type of fence to keep them contained (and I really hope they are!), you have to lock them in at night so they are safe from predators. Obviously, they also need to be let out in the morning as well. But, chances are, you won't be home at sunset every day to make sure your birds are safely tucked in for the night and, in the summertime, you won't be up at 4:00 a.m. to let them out.
This automatic chicken door is the answer. The door opens and closes on a timer. Set it to open at sunrise (or just a little later after the foxes have slunk away for the day) and set it to close just after sunset. Chickens automatically go to their roost every evening when it starts to get dark so you won't have to shoo them in. Just make sure the door is set to close after sunset so no one is left out in the dark.
I confess I'm still dreaming about my automatic chicken door. But, this spring . . .
Since you've decided to raise chickens, you'll need a little house for them. Some people use the traditional shed style coop and some are using innovative designs such as the chicken tractor.
Carol Ekarius' book, How to Build Animal Housing, will tell you everything you need to know about building a coop. Whether it's big or small, this book has plans, sketches and dimensions for several different sizes of chicken houses. It also has 60 (yes sixty!) pages of basic construction including using a laser level, calculating lengths of rafters, installing windows, and basic electricity and plumbing. With no other training or experience, a reasonably handy person could build quite a nice structure with the information in this book.
Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens: Care / Feeding / Facilities by Gail Damerow is one of the best books on keeping chickens. She knows the subject thoroughly and describes everything well. This book covers chicks, feeding, feeders, housing, eggs, chicken health and even how to raise a bird for show.
There are many other books about raising chickens (Living with Chickens by Jay Rossier, American Poultry Association, and Geoff Hansen comes to mind) and I suggest you get two books so you can read two different approaches. As with most everything, there are many ways to get the job done and many different approaches and solutions to problems.
However, Gail Damerow's book is the best in my opinion. She has written a number of farm books and they are all excellent.
Why not start the year off with a new endeavor? How about keeping chickens?
These Buff Orpington chicks are the kind we started with. They are adorable, friendly, quite cold tolerant, and lay brown eggs. Fresh eggs laid by chickens that spend the day outside eating grass and bugs in the sunshine have yolks that are orange, not pale yellow. Even some of the grocery store eggs that brag about "cage free" and "free-range" won't compare to your own fresh backyard eggs.
Chickens are fascinating animals and use over 30 sounds to communicate with each other. If you get to know them well, they'll try to talk to you, too, but sadly, there is no language translation book for Chicken to English. You will come to know what some of the sounds mean, though, especially when they are excited about a treat or when there is a hawk or other predator around.
The McMurray Hatchery is a reliable source of baby chicks. They send 24 in a box so they can stay warm while they travel. You'll have to find someone to split the order with or just keep all 24. The post office will call you when they arrive. There is nothing quite like opening that box of fluffy chirping little birds! They are so cute!
Here are three funny cartoons that tell the not-so-funny story of factory farm development and the origins of our meat and animal products. These short, animated clips also give alternatives and a message of hope for better farming in the future. It all depends on our (consumers) choices.
If you're not that handy, but you still want a cold frame, this is the only one worth buying. It's
made in Maine from 1 1/4" white cedar. In other words, it's built to last and it won't blow away in the wind like some of the flimsy ones available on Amazon. They use double-walled polycarbonate glazing which is lightweight and also not prone to breaking like glass. It also has 2 open positions for the "roof" that folds away from you instead of one big panel that lifts up.
Available at Johnny's Seeds for $325.00. No, it's not cheap, but, then again, you won't be calling up to find out how to return it, either. Think of it as a mini-greenhouse and the price won't seem so high! Or, calculate how many salads you could grow in it to make your money back.
Here's a great winter project that you'll use very soon. Build your own cold frame with these plans from Wood Magazine. Download the PDF which includes zoomable pictures, exploded-view drawings and a materials list. This cold frame foldable so it stores easily when not in use.
At $5.95, it's the most affordable way to get a cold frame. Plus, chances are, you'll build it way better than the cheap and flimsy ones out there for $100+. If you spend a little time over the next few weeks, it'll be ready for those early lettuce plantings.
GardenSnob is busy pouring through seed catalogs, taking inventory of last year's seeds and checking germination rates for seeds we saved ourselves. You can review the catalog offerings online or ask them to mail a catalog to you. Here are a few of our favorites:
Unless you are a farm or very experienced gardener, I suggest limiting your variety of each type of vegetable/flower to one or two. That way, you can grow more kinds of vegetables and probably won't mix up the 10 different types of tomatoes in the tray because the labels fell out. Yes, this happened to GardenSnob last year.
This year, we're planting two outstanding types of paste tomatoes from seeds that we saved and we'll also go with a slicer and a cherry. That's it - 4 varieties. We'll do several peppers - hot, medium hot and bell, and one kind of everything else. It just gets too confusing unless you are a full time gardener or farmer and have help.
I usually choose all the typical vegetables that we eat and flowers that I'm familiar with and then one unfamiliar veggie and one unfamiliar flower. It may be a keeper or it may not, but it's good to try different things and experiment.
It occurred to me that readers might not want the backwoods, industrial look of a metal trash can next to their front door like the one GardenSnob uses. Here's another storage solution for your sand, salt or ice melt and spreader for the winter season.
The Suncast Winter Storage Box ($40.24) is made from durable resin construction that won't corrode or dent as our trash can might someday. It has a clean, unobtrusive look and doubles as a seat. Hmm . . . this could do double duty and work in the garden in the summer as well.
Lo and behold, look at what I found!
Those tricky Amazonites! They're selling the same exact thing for an additional $10.25, just because it's winter! Smells like Wall Street to me. So, if you want a storage box for sand or salt, buy the Suncast SS1000 Storage Seat for $29.99, use it all year round and buy extra seeds with the money you saved.
If you don't have a Hand Held Spreader already, you might wish for one tomorrow. Yup, another ice storm is headed our way. This handy item is curiously similar to the Earthway broadcast seeder that was featured here when the grass was green. It seems to work the same way, too, although the seeder has a 110-cubic-inch hopper capacity and I don't know how to relate that to pounds. Hmm I suspect it's the same thing but just a different color - gray for winter. (I would have picked a deep blue.)
The Suncast Spreaderholds up to 6 lbs or sand, salt or ice melt. It makes covering your driveway or walkways much easier and you also get an even distribution of the sand or salt. If you're like GardenSnob and you keep a small metal trash can filled with sand by the front door, store this spreader on top of the sand inside the can. Just scoop a little into the spreader and walk back and forth over the driveway. Oh, what a little planning ahead can do to make life easier! After all, there's no bad weather, only bad preparation.
Although there aren't any plants or weeds and you don't get dirty, Farmopoly has many of the same components of gardening and farming such as passing "grow", being sent to "drought", utilities, farm equipment and insect infestations. The tokens include a pig, a cow and a tractor and instead of houses and hotels, you put up acres and barns.
As a long-time traditional Monopoly player, I do get the properties mixed up a little (Boardwalk changed to Homestead and the railroads are now harvesting equipment) but the basic principles of the board remain and it's just as enjoyable. Highly recommended for a long winter's evening along with a bottle of your favorite homemade cider!
Boy, after yesterday's review, this shovel looks like cave man equipment. Just looking at the picture makes my back hurt. Maybe it works well enough for an old fashioned shovel, but you can't get away from the fact that you still have to lift the shovel. OW!!!!!!
At $21.71, it is less money and it does have the "ergonomic handle" and wear strip but I can't stop thinking, "Big deal -so what!". I'm saving up for the Wovel.
This is certainly the strangest shovel I've ever seen, but the reviews are glowing so I thought I'd put it out there as an option to pulling out your back this winter. In fact, Time Magazine awarded it Best Tool of 2006. The Sno Wovellers keep improving upon the design of their unique combination of the wheel and leverage. This is the 3rd version.
Here's a short instructional video for the Wovel:
Let me know if you've used one and like it (or dislike it). We keep thinking about getting a snow blower but this shovel might be a better solution. The snow waiting for me right now on the driveway is too deep to ignore but not deep enough to warrant starting up the tractor. I'd love to have something like this instead of a snow blower. It's cheaper and there is no maintenance. If gas prices weren't so low right now, I bet more people would be trading in their snow blowers for one of these.
This shovel would take up less room in the barn or garage because it folds nicely for storage. Look how happy she is about that!
Every year I force a handful of paperwhites to bloom in January. They are so fragrant and pure white and cheer up any room. If you can, start a new batch every week throughout the winter. You'll need a container without holes in the bottom and some small stones (I like 1/2" diameter). My container is much shallower than the one pictured above and it works well, too.
Fill the container 1/2 way up with stones. Make a small well in the stones for each bulb. Typically they are arranged in a circle. Put the bulbs in the wells and make sure they are stable. Eventually the roots will stabilize the bulbs. Fill the container with water until it is 1/3 of the way up the bulbs. Keep the water level constant and watch as the bulbs sprout slender green stems. After a few weeks, they will bloom!