Making space for more

David and I took a break from inside work to head outside and tidy up.  While I was helping my sister with her patio garden last week, I purchased a flat of marigolds.  Those marigolds have been staring at me every day, waiting to get in the ground. Marigolds are great companion plants. We tried growing them from seed, but they’ve been taking forever.

While I planted, David got to work at hacking back our herb garden.  Rosie was glad when we finished, because we created her a great little shady spot to hang out.

I also took some of the herb cuttings to make herb vinegars.  We made chive blossom vinegar earlier this year, and it’s been fun to use in salad dressings (and it’s bright pink).  Today we made three different vinegars: tarragon, rosemary and chive blossom vinegar.  These will hopefully go to the next food swap, although we may just keep them for salad dressings.

We’ll need lots of dressing soon, as the cucumbers are starting to take off.  20140615-144956-53396854.jpgThe mint was trimmed the other day.  A few pieces are flowering.  Our mint seems to always attract more flies than bees. 20140615-144958-53398190.jpgFinally some of our tomatoes are coloring up.  The cherry tomatoes are also coming. 20140615-144952-53392522.jpgThe blackberries are red. I wonder how long until they get darker. Notice the strawberry in the background? We’ve been eating a few a week.20140615-144951-53391716.jpgThe onions are actually starting to look more onion shaped! I’ve been pulling some to use as we need. We think we’re going to pull a bunch to bring to the produce exchange this weekend.  We have way more than we need, especially since it seems like these won’t be good storage onions.20140615-144955-53395033.jpgIn the front yard, the Thai Red Roselle is getting bigger. This is our first year growing this crop. We just learned that if we want to make hibiscus/ Red Zinger tea, we’ll need to wait until they flower and then grab the calyx from each flower. I planted marigolds and salvia under them to help keep the area looking a little more colorful.20140615-144949-53389857.jpgOur peppers are starting to flower, finally.  They were stunted for so long. Here’s a flower!20140615-144950-53390874.jpgThe peppers in the raised bed still have a ways to go.  Today I sprinkled herb seeds, such as Thai basil, parsley, dill and cilantro, in this area.  Hopefully they’ll take. Oh, this is also where we planted okra, which hasn’t done well for us the past two years. We have seeds, so it’s worth another try.20140615-144953-53393361.jpgThere’s one section of the sideyard, which never gets watered. We planted drought tolerant plants there earlier this year. I suppose the little water we’ve given them recently have encouraged them to flower, as they all look great right now!20140615-145000-53400922.jpgThis verbena we grew from seed last year, and then transplanted earlier this year.  Remember it was taking over under the apricot tree last summer?20140615-144959-53399374.jpgOur roses are flowering again as well. I love having a hedge of roses. 20140615-144954-53394188.jpg

Spring time is time

First, please excuse the quality of the pictures.  I’ve been busy in the garden, and have been snapping pics along the way, but these days they’ve been going to Facebook instead of here.  So, in an effort to get back to blogging, I’m posting my phone pictures here.  Hopefully I’ll squeeze in time to continue to garden, and share it!

What’s great about spring in California, is things are taking off and starting to grow.  The past week has been quite windy and a bit cool at night (50s), so some of the new plants are a little stressed.

Our roses have been loving the weather though!  They’re just about in full bloom!

20140403-170119.jpgThe mint below our roses is perfect right now! Usually the roses go through an aphid phase, when they first start leafing out.  That didn’t happen this year!  I blame climate change. Heh.

20140403-170344.jpgThe onions are still growing.  A few look like they’re going to flower soon.  I’ve never grown onions, and would love any advice you all have.  Should I snap off the flowers?  Can I cook with the flowers?  Are my onions ok?  So many questions– I’ll probably look up some of them later, but I’d much prefer to spend time playing with the dog, cooking dinner or grading papers.

20140403-170357.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I pinched off all of the chive blossoms to make chive blossom vinegar. Today, I noticed that this one flower is showing off.  Perhaps it should go into a salad?  20140403-170410.jpgWe’ve planted almost all of our tomatoes already.  They’re small, but they’re growing and looking great!

20140403-170453.jpgMost of them went into the backyard lasagna beds.  David is going to put in T-stakes for the Florida Weave.  The closer to the wall row has slicing tomatoes, and the front row has tomatillos intermixed with San Marzanos.

20140403-170526.jpgWe’ve been picking broccoli every few days.  This is probably the biggest head we’ve grown.  Any great broccoli recipes to share?  I keep wanting to freeze it for later in the year, but David really likes to eat it fresh while we can!20140403-170541.jpgHeads of lettuce hasn’t been my thing.  I’ve always grown leaf lettuce.  Since living in this house, I haven’t been able to keep up with our salads.  So, I decided it’s time to plant heads, and plant them in intervals.  Here’s the first few (as well as a chard that seeded itself). 20140403-170555.jpgOur strawberries and blackberries are new this year.  We’ve been watching our first berry grow.  Today I looked, and it was too late.  It was shriveled on top, and full of tiny millipedes who were eating it!  To my dismay, when I look a bit closer at the other ones that are growing, I noticed most of them are deformed.  I’m no longer optimistic about the strawberries.  The raspberries are just starting to form buds, so I’m now hoping they’ll produce at least one fruit for us. 20140403-170615.jpgWe have a volunteer tomato by our hose faucet in the front yard.  David and I have harvested 5 small tomatoes so far.  Unfortunately, they taste like winter store bought tomatoes (which I don’t ever buy because they’re so gross).  However, the tomatoes did taste good in the guacamole that we’ve been making and it IS nice to be able to pick some.  I wonder if these will become piccalilli, or green tomato salsa…

20140403-170645.jpgOur apricots.  We’ve been watching these, with great anticipation.  I’ve never grown apricots before.  Each time I look, I notice that some have fallen from the tree.  I hear that it’s normal for the tree to do that, but it still is hard to watch!  Here’s what they look like today. 20140403-170634.jpgSo many more things are going on outside.  Most of the direct seeding still needs to be done.  The broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are finishing up.  We have a few eggplants ready to go in the ground when the brassicas come out.  Our squash is just about big enough to go in.  We didn’t have very good germination on the squash and cucumbers, so this week I reseeded them as well as seeded herbs, hot peppers under the grow lights.

I can’t believe it’s already April.  It’ll be summer before we know it!

 

Beginning of July tour

The past week has been spent more in the kitchen than outside.  Finally the heat wave broke and it’s back to the 70s outside!  David and I took advantage of the cool weather and spent a couple hours outside tidying up and working on projects.  I figured it was time to show what’s been happening in the garden.
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The roses are in full bloom again.  I’ve been searching for ways to preserve the blooms and am thinking about everything from rose water to rose petal preserves.  I found a decadent recipe for coconut rose petal semifreddo, which may be an option also.  I’d love suggestions if you’ve done anything with your roses before.

Notice the tomatos in the raised bed are getting larger.  David and I staked them up the other day and we can finally see the fruits.  I also spotted two finches taking advantage of the perch.

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This is Rosie’s obedient look. She just is wandering around the yard, hasn’t found her ball yet and may be getting a little impatient with my photographs.  I asked her to stop by our Abe Lincoln and Purple Prudence tomatoes.  They are both (finally) just starting to flower.  Notice the stunted peppers on the right.  I believe they are serrano or poblano and hope that they get the message to grow soon.

Behind Rosie is the mystery garden area.  There are now two mystery tomato plants as well as prolific nasturtiums.  These nasturtiums are the current source of seed pods for our pickled nasturtium pods.

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We decided that it was time to fertilize the potted plants and cucumber vines.  I recently watched a video about fertilizing cucumbers and noticed that mine were starting to get a little yellow around the edges, as he described.  So, I grabbed a box of Epsom salt from under the fish tank (I bought it for the fish water years ago, and never used it) and the organic fertilizer from the garage.  I mixed the two together, applied the side dressing and then watered.  Hopefully the little guys will enjoy it!
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The front herb bed finally got cleaned up.  There’s still more to do, but I started with cutting back the bulbs.  The chasmanthe had become too large for the space, so in addition to cutting them back, I dug out a couple dozen corms to bring to school this fall.
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I felt like I was pulling potatoes while digging them out.  Some were large, others were tiny.  Often there was a large one with little ones clinging to it.  We will probably pull out a few more to make space in the front of the house.  I didn’t want to take out too many, because it was so wonderful watching the hummingbirds flit by this winter.

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I finally pulled out our giant coriander/ cilantro plant.  We had planned to harvest the coriander, possibly in it’s green stage, but ran out of time.  At this point it is full of powdery mildew, and I’m not sure that we should harvest the coriander.  I brought the plant back to our compost bin, because it was full of lady bugs. Some of them were even spotted making new ladybugs.

Our garden in the back, near the compost bin, is full of aphids.

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The borage has had ants and aphids living on it for a month now.  David and I decided to sprinkle cornmeal around the plant, hearing that it could help get rid of the ants.  It seems to have worked well so far; we have noticed significantly less ants, more ladybugs and other insects.  There are still ants, as you can see by the is two poking the ladybug in this picture. The ladybugs seem much more brazen these days.  David told me that he spotted a ladybug being chased by ants while carrying an aphid in it’s mouth!

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The tomato next to the borage has it’s own ant situation.  When we returned home from vacation, we noticed that our tomato plants in the back have ants frozen in place along the stems.  They are dead and it’s an odd and gruesome scene.  We have no idea how it happened and would love to know any theories that you have.

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While I played with the bulbs in the front yard, David raked up avocado leaves and added them to the side yard.  This is the last stretch of dirt with nothing in it.  We recently mulched it and then added grass clippings.  David put down avocado leaves.  Next we’ll spread a few bags of composted manure, then mulch it again.  This area has to be hand watered, and the hose is not convenient.  Our succulent pots have been hanging out here recently.  This fall we plan to plant sages, lavenders and possibly native grasses.

The backyard area is starting to fill in.  We’ve been needing to finish the A-frame squash support, but the squashes don’t seem to notice that we are slow.
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The cucumbers and delicata are attempting to climb the bamboo tripod (front left).  I snagged an unplanted little leaf cucumber from the school greenhouse the other day, and planted it to fill in the front of the support.  Two baby delicata squash were flowering when I took this picture. Behind the cucumbers are the overzealous tomatillos.  We’ve been checking their paper husks, and we’re hoping to start making salsa verde in a couple of weeks.

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The buttercup and red kuri squash climbing up the cattle panel trellis are doing great!  We’ve started to guide the squash back down the same side that it came up.  The supported squashes are maturing and the small arbor provides shade for us to rest on a hot day.

P1020393This is taken from underneath the trellis where a new red kuri squash is growing.  It seems to be supported by the fence and we’re debating giving it a little hammock.  While watching our squashes grow, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell when they’re ready to pick.  A lot of what I read is not helpful for Southern California gardening.  For example, I learned that I should harvest winter squash before the first frost, but it’s ok to leave it on the vine if it’s not a heavy frost.  We don’t get frost.  Ever.  (Year-round gardening is wonderful, and our bugs are huge to prove it.)

So from what I gather, I look for mature fruit color and size, as well as the stem starts to turn brown and my fingernail can not pierce the skin.  I’d love confirmation on this from the people who know.
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Our sweet dumpling squashes are just starting to grow.  I put straw underneath them, and now I notice they are covered in tiny black bugs.  Looking at the pictures, I notice that the straw is as well.  This is new to me. I wonder if it’s from the straw and hope that the squash are healthy.

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We’re watching our Pinnacle spaghetti squash and I wonder why I thought smaller squash was better to order than larger squash.  The compact vines have three fruits right now, and we’re hoping for more.  The plants are getting a bit hidden by their prolific neighbor, a buttercup vine, and we’re working on fixing that problem.  The A-frame trellis got a bit held up, and we’re rethinking the support system.  I’ll write more on that as we resolve the issue.
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Our Kazakh melons are taking over.  There are three fruits right now, the largest is about the size of  a softball.

P1020396The vine, however, has taken up four feet of the 8×8 bed.  You can see the thai basil poking through by the bamboo pole.  This melon has many branches, and I’m trying to get them to grow up the fence, or up the start of the trellis, but they are resistant to being tamed and keep making more vines.  This variety is supposed to be a good climber, so perhaps if I give it more attention, it will climb.  We’ll see how the melons taste before deciding if we’ll grow this again next year.  Our space is small, and we both really want squash but this year is more of a test year for the vines. Most likely we will still save seeds from this rare heirloom, even if we don’t plan to grow it ourselves.

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We have a chocolate sunflower! Besides sounding delicious, we picked these because of their size.  We are enjoying it in the garden while it’s flowering.

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Our yarrow has opened and the color is so bright, it’s almost florescent.  We made our first three cuts of apricot branches to allow this plant to grow up straight.  The yarrow had been reaching into the garden aisle because there was a tree branch over it’s head.  We haven’t wanted to cut our baby apricot tree, but it was time to take a few snips and help it branch out.

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While we were in Florida, we picked up a friend to keep the tree and yarrow company.  This is our new giant fly, and it will hopefully protect our garden from bad bugs and welcome in the good.

P1020405We planted our sweet peas too late.  All spring we watched them climb up the fence.  Currently they are covered in powdery mildew and will be torn out this week.  So now they start to flower.  And they are beautiful.  Each of the two blooming flowers is beautiful.

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Further down the fence, our yard long beans are starting to grow beans.  They are filling in the fence, flowering and climbing away.  David loves long beans.  I haven’t quite acquired a taste for them.  I’m excited to see what he does with them.

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We’re also starting to get scarlet runner beans.  This is our first year with these plants and I’m in love with their luscious red flowers.  I’ve found a few recipes for them, and think we’re going to let the seed pods dry on the vine.  I must chat with people who grow these regularly to find out what they do with the beans and how they enjoy eating them.

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Our zucchini that fell over during vacation is back up and fruiting!  We look forward to grilled zucchini and more zucchini pickles.

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And finally, we have our first eggplant flower.  This is an oriental eggplant (unknown variety).  We are also growing rosa bianca, hansel, gretel and fairy tale.  We had grand plans for perfecting our baba ganoush this summer.  We were hoping to have so much eggplant that it was coming out of our ears.

We are thankful to have a flower.

David and I also decided that we haven’t been watering our garden enough.  We read an article that suggested when you water, dig in the soil a couple of inches down to see how deep the water percolates through the top layer. It flat out said that soil lies.  The next time we watered, with a sprinkler for 15 minutes, I barely scratched the surface and saw that it was bone dry underneath.  Having a new garden, our soil is still breaking down and we are learning what it needs.  As we don’t get rain in the summer, we must learn how to properly water our garden.

Today it is cool and overcast.  Often the marine layer burns off and it warms up.  I plan to get the tomatoes in the dehydrator started soon, and start some seeds in our nursery.  It’s time to replant green beans and plant another crop of lettuce, carrots and radishes.  Hope you’re enjoying your long weekend!

They hatched!

Today when I came home from work, as with every day for the past month, I check my praying mantis ootheca to see if it hatched.

And it did!

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(This picture is actually of the one on the rose bushes that David checked after we found the first one.)

My ritual of checking each morning and night was rewarded by the joy of feeling little critters all over my hands.  And we got to gently place them in their new homes and bid them happy hunting.

A couple of weeks ago, I cracked the lid open on their cage. Whoops.

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About 5 of them were crawling on the screen.

They hatched some time between 7 pm and 4:30 pm today.  When I saw them, I ran inside to beckon David to join me, and grabbed the camera. He ran. We then tried to determine where we wanted to spread them, as our aphid infestation is at a low point right now, and our ant infestation is at a high point.

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There’s been bark at the bottom of the enclosure since I got it.  I only today realized it probably wasn’t the best idea, as it was tough to scoop these critters out.

How many can you spot in this picture?  I see two, but there could be more. As they were spread on the outside, the walls and over the inner mulch, my scientific brain had to be quieted, and we didn’t try to count the babies.

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This shy newbie turned away from the camera.

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As I picked them each up (or handfuls of mulch with one on it), each one made it’s way to the plant in a different way.  Some would bounce onto a leaf, others the ground. Some would be placed on a leaf and then crawl around for a bit.  Others would stay very still, until I blew on them or poked them.

P1010656Here’s a little one that we put on the side yard tomatoes.

They were spread in both the backyard and side yard. The one in the roses spread all over the side yard roses.

David and I are optimistic that the praying mantises will survive; last year we released lady bugs and we see quite a few of those around. We’ll keep our eyes open for them and fingers crossed.

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The tour continues…

When David and I moved into our house three years ago, we were so pleased to see this beautiful row of roses!  During the past years we’ve added mulch to the ground to soften up the soil and help replenish nutrients, pulled out the random canna lilies that were located in the middle of the row, and pruned them back for the past two years.  The first time that David pruned them, he cut off piles and piles of dead, thick wood, cutting them about a foot tall. It seemed like they hadn’t been pruned in years!  This past January he pruned them to about three feet tall, and we’re getting our first bloom now!  Finally the stems are long enough also, that we can start cutting them to bring into the house!

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Somewhere in this stretch of roses, we hung one of our praying mantis egg cases!  Last year this is where we released lady bugs and hopefully the two will coexist!

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Growing under half of the rose row is the most delicious mint!  David cut it all back this winter, and we tried to get out the Bermuda Grass that is growing in amongst it.  The mint grew faster than I could dig out the grass.  This mint looks like it’s time for our first round of spring mojitos.

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I’ll let you in on a secret (which isn’t too big of a secret if you realize that Rosie is a Golden Retriever).  When Rosie is in a picture, and looking like this, her ball is somewhere near me and the camera (which for this photo shot was my iPhone 5). Often you’ll actually see her ball in the picture, or her running at me it.

This part of the garden is where the canna lilies used to be.  We grabbed a ladder that was left here by former tenants, and planted Dragon’s Tounge shell beans (which someone has already been munching on), lettuce (peaking up from behind the shade of the ladder) cucumbers, nasturtiums, and marigolds.  Garlic chives are right about where Rosie’s ball would be, if you could see either of them.

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These tomatoes have been in the ground about two weeks.  This raised bed was the first bed that we added to the yard and it will be our third summer planting in it.   We freshened it up with compost, potting soil that had been laying around, and a few bags of composted steer manure.  Over the past few months, I’ve been reading up on companion planting and we’ve decided to interplant marigolds and basil with our tomato plants.  Someone’s still taking little nibbles on the Reisentraube tomato in the foreground. This year, in the side yard, we also planted a Jaune Flamme, Isis Candy, Indigo Rose, two San Marzanos and a red bell pepper.  The bed also contains cilantro, dill, cabbage, chard, beets, leeks, lettuce and three different kinds of radish.

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A close up of baby cilantro, planted in between two tomato plants.

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The second half of the raised bed.  This section is what we were using for the last part of winter (brocolli and cauliflower were on the far end and they finished growing back in March). These cabbages are ready to be picked!  I’ve grown savoy cabbage before, but never this kind- Copenhagen Market Early.

Which reminds me: I enjoy growing heirloom varieties.  Perhaps it’s more than enjoy… I believe in it.  David and I are currently not buying seeds. We somehow have a bunch laying around from the past few years. We’ve had to place a moratorium on that type of shopping (I am also not allowed to buy any new tea). However, we agreed that we could skirt this ultimatum buy getting free seeds from friends. David picked up a 100 pack of small plastic bags from Michaels, and I sat for about an hour with my friend Sheila’s seed collection. I did the same thing at school, after bringing in all of our tomato and pepper seeds as a trade.  Trading seeds is the way to go!  I have a student who offered me blue corn, which I’ll be trading him for Mexican Sour Gerhkin seeds as soon as they arrive.  In the future, we plan to join the Seed Library of Los Angeles.
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The chard is gianormous!  Each leaf is longer than my arm.  I tucked Rosie’s ball in the picture for scale.

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We tried to grow a few leeks this winter.  Two survived.  One of the leeks is big and strong and the other little and slow to grow; it’s kinda like that Schwarzenegger/ DeVito movie, Twins.  I’ve been piling up the mulch around the base of this guy to help the white part become larger.  Soon, we’ll cook with our one leek.

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This area is our wildflower/ compost garden.  It’s a newer area, where last year we grew giant cosmos flowers and sweet peas.  This year we decided to sprinkle it with a wildflower mix that I bought for school, and to let our compost sprout.  We’ve already noticed nasturtiums, cosmos, and sunflowers.  This should help with our weed identification also!

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Our front door herb garden.  The cilantro self sprouted, the sage is new this year and the oregano is taking over!  We also have lavender, rosemary, basil, tarragon, parsley and thyme.  The daffodils, hyacinth and the chasmanthe are wrapping up for the season and it will soon be time to dig them up.  Ugh, I’ve never had bulbs that I’ve had to dig up before. To be fair, we don’t have to dig up the chasmanthe, but we want to move most of them since they’re taking over our herb bed.  When it was flowering this past February  we had a hummingbird come by every 5 minutes!

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We’ll be planting more pots as we fill up the garden.  Right now we have three pepper- jalepeno, cayenne (which we didn’t mean to buy), and banana pepper. In between the peppers, we’ve planted green onions.  Currently we have two other pots planted- pineapple sage and calendula.

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Doesn’t everyone love ladybugs?  These were chillin’ on the banana pepper.  Dave told me that the one without spots hasn’t had babies yet.  I thought they were different subspecies.   Well, I looked it up, as I needed to know. Ladybuglady.com says,

“Do the spots tell you how old they are?
A. No. Different ladybugs have different numbers of spots. Some have no spots while some have as many as twenty four. Ladybugs generally complete their life cycle within one year. The spots are with them all their life. They don’t get more spots as they get older, nor do they lose spots.”

I guess they don’t mind being together on the same plant.

IMG_1816Here’s the nursery area, set up at the bottom of the driveway next to the garage.  The squash and melons are waiting for the last lasagna bed.  The eggplant are slowly coming, and the other containers hold various flowers, and herbs. I also took a cutting of our citronella plant.  On the back right is our praying mantis hatchery, made by an art teacher at our school.  I’ll be bringing this egg case to school next week!

Thanks for sticking with me for the tour.  In the future I’ll give updates, as well as fill in some of the stories of how things go this far!

Happy gardening!