Country Living Series

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Spring is inching its way forward here in north Idaho. In fact, for the last week the weather has been delightful... which always triggers in me the need to get my hands dirty.

The tulips we planted last fall are starting to come up.

The garlic, also planted last fall, is doing well.

I can also tell it's spring because the chipmunks are all over the place. And I mean we're dripping with chipmunks. They may seem awfully durn cute, but let me tell you collectively they're a terrible pest on a farm. Last spring they ate down all my seedlings in the greenhouse. They nibble through bags of chicken feed. They get into everything.

So forgive me if I don't have a lot of sympathy when I find the occasional critter drowned in a cow's water bucket.

In fact, last year's seedling disaster in the greenhouse meant we had to do something about it this year before attempting to plant anything.

We have grandiose plans to turn the entire south side of the barn into a lean-to greenhouse, but right now we can't afford the materials, so we'll put it off. For the time being we'll use our tiny greenhouse.

Here's our greenhouse. It's a little shed we rescued a few years ago when we took down someone's barn for scrap wood. The shed was in fairly decent shape, so we took it whole and added windows and made it a greenhouse.

(This is what the building looked like when we first brought it home.)

Anyway, over the winter I used the greenhouse as a catch-all for anything related to gardening. I would literally open the door and pitch things in, mostly milk jugs donated by friends (we're saving them for seed planters). There's also a tangle of bird netting in addition to a whole lotta other stuff. First job: clean it out.

I cut all the milk jugs in half. With holes punched, the bottoms can be used as planters. The tops can be used as miniature greenhouses to place over planted seedlings in case frost threatens.

I also paused to do something I should have done last fall: planted some acorns. Arching over our booth at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival is an enormous burr oak tree. This type of oak drops huge acorns, some of them almost two inches across. Last fall our booth managers send me a bagful of acorns for me to plant. I finally got around to it (and hope it's not too late).

I also had a bagful of regular acorns (not sure what species) that I scooped up last fall under a line of very pretty oak trees in Spokane. You can see how much smaller they are than the burr oak acorns. I planted some of these in pots as well.

When the seedlings sprout and get a little established, I'll plant them around the property in hopes some will survive.

Anyway, this is what the greenhouse looked like after it was cleaned out.

Next step: chipmunk-proofing. The floorboards are so widely-spaced that chipmunks would slip through them and devastate my seedlings.

There were also large gaps up near the roofline, perfect for chipmunks to come through.

So Don and I measured and cut some hardware cloth...

...and fitted it across the floor.

He used metal staples to hammer the hardware cloth down firmly.

By the way, this hammer belonged to Don's father, who died in a car crash when Don was a young man in the navy. He cherishes this hammer and uses it often.

We stapled smaller pieces of hardware cloth over the holes near the roofline.

Next we needed to do something about the big gaps in the door, top and bottom.

Don put boards at top and bottom to block the gaps.

In short, we plugged every hole we could find. Let's hope it works!

Next I decided to plant a few seeds. Not many, since we can't expect truly frost-free weather until the beginning of June; but onions have a 120-day maturity, so I need to plant them early. I decided to plant a few broccoli seeds, as well as two tomatoes (just for fun). Needless to say these are all heirloom-variety seeds.

First I had to make some potting soil. I always make my own out of composted manure...

...topsoil (bought last year for the strawberry beds)...

...and sand.

After mixing, I filled some pots.

First I planted onion seeds with the help of a seed spoon, which is just a plastic gizmo with a tiny depression at either end into which a single seed fits. I have two seed spoons with scoops of different sizes, for a total of four scoops.

I planted four seeds per pot, in twenty pots, for a total of eighty onions.

I also planted ten broccoli plants, one seed per pot. I'll plant more in a couple weeks, rather than planting a whole bunch at once.

For slips and giggles, I also planted two tomato seeds. I'll probably end up bringing these in the house if the weather turns cold.

I gave everything a good watering.

A nice day's work!


  1. Good work, Patrice.

    I've been working hard in the strawberry patch and elsewhere up near the house, as I'm in the same northerly region as you are, where serious dirt stuff can't happen 'till pretty much June.
    But the strawberry plants all look good and the first rhododendrons are in full bloom.

    The exciting surprise this year is the number of wild bees. We have more than any of the other seven seasons we've been here. They're unusually colored this year, too. They're normally docile and on the blond side, but some this year are a deep redish orange that almost glows in direct sun. A couple seem a little more aggressive than the other ones, but not hostile. They share the garden and everybody works side by side with no problems. What cool little critters!

    A. McSp

    1. It's great how things work out sometimes...

      After reading your greenhouse post this morning I was the beneficiary of some good timing and a willing husband, and lo! the long awaited conversion of the former cattery into a greenhouse got off to a great beginning today.

      It's 12x18 of chain link panels and has a good tight moss and grass floor over the chain link on one side and astro-turf on the other. It's been idle for three years and open to the weather, and had kitty-friendly features that provided ready-made, off the ground work and storage surfaces.

      It gets full sun most of the day and can be shaded for summer and wrapped with visqueen easily for winter. It's right under the kitchen window and five feet from a faucet. Did I score, or what? And no trips to Home Depot, the hardware store, nada. No money was spent. No miles were driven. We fired up the tractor and liberally applied the required amount of elbow grease and boom there it was.

      Now whether we'll have a chipmunk issue remains to be seen. We have some cats and they hunt, although they're too well fed to do it in earnest. One of them will occasionally try and bring a mouse in to play with, but this is seriously frowned upon. They have, however, instantly taken care of business with great efficiency on the only two occasions when a mouse came into the house.

      We do have a chipmunk show up from time to time, and even a pine martin, so I still need to put up some grill cloth in the area where the edibles will grow. There's never been a chipmunk problem in the garden, so hopefully we won't have one in the greenhouse.

      And so, to top off such a blessed day I now have a Charles Dickens movie to watch, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Oh boy!

      With that I bid you good night and happy gardening!

      A. McSp

  2. Patrice,

    I love your greenhouse. Now that it's finished, and you have it the way you like it, would you would you like to trade it? I have items I would trade for it, lol. Just teasing! Love the pictures, thank you for sharing. Now you have me thinking on finding away that my hubby will build me a greenhouse :-)

  3. It looks like you are well on your way to having a good gardening season this year. good job on fixing up the green house.
    Good luck with keeping the chipmunks out of everything.

    shalaee, SE ID

  4. You need a nice big black snake to eat the chipmunks.

  5. I live in northern Louisiana where we are planting or harvesting something from the garden every month of the year except August and September (due to heat and lack of rain). This year has been so odd for us. Spring came in late February and never left. The early start has been chalkenging but sooooo enjoyable. Good luck with your garden!

  6. I have chipmunks and the cat and I enjoy them. I was distressed with the pic of the drowned chipmunk.

    My chipmunks like to eat seedlings too so I use the top of 2 liter soda bottles to protect them and it also provides a nice greenhouse effect. The chipmunks here plant sunflower seeds and then eat the sprouts - I like their planning and execution.

  7. Acorns? We would be happy to send you tons of them come fall. You just about have to wear a helmet when they start falling there are so many. :-) Great work on critter proofing your greenhouse. I was told by a neighbor today if we are going to put in a garden we need a tall fence to keep the deer out. (first year in this house).

  8. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)April 14, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    Great pics! We have too many chipmunks also - they live in our rock walls. When they get into the chicken pen, the hens chase them. It's so funny to watch - they haven't caught any yet and I don't know what they would do with one if they did!

  9. Are chipmunks edible? If so send the kids out for target practice and let us know how canning them works out.LOL

  10. We have a green house similar to yours except the walls and non glass roof are insulated. I have found that the lack of mass causes the space to cool off to much at night. I see that yours is similar up to the fact that the floor is raised off the dirt. I have tried adding 5 gallon bottles of water but this proved to not be enough. I now am burning several votive candles inside of a metal tub for additional heat. Do you have the same problem and have you or any of your readers come up with a solution?

  11. I know you hate them, but I was still sad to see the drowned chipmunk. I''m such a softy for anything furry.

  12. My cats love spring...they feast on the little critters that venture forth, leaving the skulls and some entrails on the porch! Do you have cats? They work cheaply and ours even allow the lone dog house privileges.

    We are enjoying spring weather today in the form of spring snow. It's much wetter than winter snow, LOL. That's how we know it's spring.


  13. At our old house we had chipmunks too. They trashed my moms flower bed every year. But one day this stray cat showed up and apperantly he was some kind of professional chipmunk assassin because he killed tons of them. He ate some but most he would leave by the front door in neatly stacked piles. He turned out to be a great cat he hunted moles in our yard and even killed a snake.

    1. Wow, what a great cat! Hope he still lives with you.

  14. sounds like your chipmunks are like my squirrels...public enemy no. 1 around here..i do believe they breed faster than rabbits and they sure do a lot of damage..not just to plants, greenhouse but will wreak havoc with a house as well. had to replace a floor and two bathtubs cause of squirrels. anyway, looks like you got your greenhouse battened up pretty good. i would love to have a greenhouse-been using saw horses, sheets of clear plastic and clothespins for going on five years. hubby thinks we should not fix what aint broke...:) there are at least fifty species of oak trees and i think we have most of those on our homestead, mixed in with lots of loblolly pine and sweetgum and a few cedar. would be happy to send you acorns from water oak, white oak and red oak.-lol, probably this is why i have so many durn squirrels-all those acorns that are available.

  15. What great photos and I love your green house. Question: What is a Burr Oak and why are they special/different from a regular oak? What do you do with acorns? Are they used for animal feed? I grow fruit trees, but have never thought about nut/acorn trees so I am intrigued.

    1. Obviously there are many, many different species of oak, and burr oaks are a common species in the midwest. Here in the Inland Northwest (as this region is called), the dominant tree species are all coniferous, so oaks are rare. In fact, the only time we see oaks are when they're planted, i.e. in urban areas. It would be fun to get some oaks established around our place.

      We're not growing them for their acorns (though they're certainly edible, as long as the tannic acid is leached out) because they're too slow-growing. An oak might only grow a foot a year, so it's not like we could look forward to a healthy crop of acorns next year, LOL.

      Nope, these are purely for fun.

      - Patrice

  16. The photo of the floating chipmunk reminded me of a trap we heard folks had made when they had a flying squirrel infestation: Fill a 5 gallon bucket 3/4 of the way with water then gently pour bird seed on the top. Some seeds will sink but many will float. When the chipmunk/squirrel goes for the seeds they fall in and cannot climb out. That may be an idea for you, Patrice!

    Also, love your greenhouse! We're planning to make one this summer using cattle panels and heavy-duty plastic. We're just hoping it holds up - yours looks a little more sturdy! Blessings, Mary Beth

  17. Have you considered hunting or trapping the chipmunks? In many states there are seasons on them or they are "unregulated". It would be a great way to work on small targets with a 22.

  18. Ratwire!(or hardware cloth) I bet I've cut and put down square miles of that stuff(the 1/8th inch mesh is best)under floors, in attics,across vents, sometimes under furniture(like dressers and things). That, and steel wool(in small holes, or around where pipes come thru floors or walls). My neighbor's cats keep the chipmunks under control..

  19. My husband answered the question about chipmunks being edible.They are edible but he says you would need a lot of them.Sounds like you got that covered.As far as squirrels go they are also edible.Why not add these pest to your diet? They are free and there for the taking.I would think that a bb gun would be the better choice for shooting them.I read an article about a woman in Seattle that was using human traps to catch squirrels, and then she would drown them and eat them.That might work for the chipmunks too.As far as canning them,maybe do the same as chicken.What do you think?