November

I returned from Germany and quickly started to get some things in the ground before the leaves started to fall. These included a nice box of spring bulbs and another one of garlic. I was successful, and now the trees are slowly providing a blanket of mulch. This year’s garlic was the “small garden” collection from Filaree Garlic Farm. The source is new to me. The garlic has sprouted already. Hopefully that’s a sign of a good crop in 2017.

The weather has been unseasonably warm for November and we’ve gone without a freeze for a very long time. Because of this, I’ve been able to harvest a few more handfuls of tomatoes. It makes me think of the guy at the Farmer’s Market back at the beginning of September who I overheard say he doesn’t eat garden tomatoes after August because they don’t taste as good. This year he would have missed out on plenty of tomatoes.

a few more tomatoes

green purple tomatoes

A freeze warning finally came last night, so I spent the late afternoon picking every lima bean I could find. We had a bunch in our supper, I froze others, and I’m drying the rest. I planted four varieties of heirloom beans in a range of colors, including one called “Alma’s PA Dutch Purple” that came from a garden blogger from Bucks County Pennsylvania, close to where my mom grew up. The other varieties were called “Wick’s”, “King of the Garden”, and “Christmas”.

I had also planted two varieties of cowpea called “Holstein” and “Mayflower”. For reference, black-eyed peas are a variety of cowpea that most people know about. I don’t think the cowpeas liked the spot I gave them in my garden, so only a couple plants made it. I didn’t even know that I’d gotten some of the Mayflowers until I was shelling some funny-looking lima beans that it turns out weren’t lima beans.

There are still a few blooms around my garden. I should try to find a few more autumn flowers because it is so nice to have some color as everything else turns brown. I read in the paper today that we haven’t had a significant rainfall since July. I wouldn’t have predicted that I would continue to water my garden through November to try to assure that everything will go into the winter in good shape. Even then, things are more than a little crispy.

German Adventures

Europe on the horizon

I’m just back from a week in Germany visiting my sister and her family. The occasion: my youngest niece was being baptized and my sister and her husband asked me to be the godmother. I also got to be part of everyday life for a short time and saw a few sights around Nuremberg. It was a good visit.

my sister's village

My sister and her family live in a village near Nuremberg. Her apartment looks out on a photogenic old garage and a wonderful bakery. The day before the baptism we picked some leaves off the garage to decorate the reception room at a church in a nearby town. Then my older niece and I had to wait together for a ride.

While we waited, she found a green leaf and a red one for me to use as flags. I was supposed to wave them to direct her to go or to stop while she was riding her bike in the driveway. Soon, she started to disobey the traffic signals and told me I needed to be the police and stop her.

Then it was our turn to go to the reception room to help decorate. Along the way we stopped for some pumpkins. I am so envious at the great variety of pumpkins at the little farm near my sister’s house. They were both beautiful and looked tasty. We intentionally chose mostly edible varieties so they could become dinner when they were done being centerpieces.

After setup was over, my niece and I had to wait together again. It was a gorgeous day. I was inspired by the church’s mosaic garden ball. My niece picked a bouquet of red leaves and weeds to give to “the best Mamma.”

The next day was the baptism service at the 600-year-old church in the village where my sister and her family live. The minister was very nice and knew some English, so he incorporated a few things in English to help make it meaningful for me despite my lack of German language skills. It was a nice service and a new experience for me.

At the end of the service a candle was lit for each of the three children who had been baptized. In addition, their siblings had been invited to bring back the candles that were lit at their baptisms.

After the service, we all went to the reception for a big meal, time together, and a walk at the edge of the town. On the walk, we passed an interesting tree with odd apples on it. There was an explanation for what they were, but I didn’t quite follow it.

The next day I had some time by myself, so I took a walk in my sister’s town. It was a misty and atmospheric day. I started at the church and church cemetery, which are located at the highest point in the town. German church cemeteries are interesting because most plots include a stone monument inside a small, personalized garden. I enjoyed seeing all the different kinds of plants. From the church, I walked through the fields just outside of town.

On my last day in Germany, the kids, my sister, and I visited a botanical garden in the town of Erlangen. The kids had voted to go to the zoo instead, but my sister and I were interested to see what the gardens were like. We were afraid that the kids were going to be super bored and would pick everything in sight, but were happy to find that the kids found plenty of interesting things to look at and enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

Growing Crispy

After a wet spring and early summer, Evansville has dried up. Despite my watering, my garden is getting crispy.

whole garden in October

It feels like everything is ready for the cold weather to come so it can stop wasting away, go into dormancy, and start fresh next spring. It’s difficult to fight my garden on that.

There’s not too much to eat from my garden. My tomato plants are struggling onward with a few green knobs growing on them. There’s a little basil and a mass of lima beans. Dreaming of my friends’ bright stands of zinnias and sunflowers, I’d planted a couple sections of them but only ended up with a couple spindly pops of color.

a couple tomatoes

zinnia

Then the other day I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a crazy orange orb suspended at least ten feet above the ground in my neighbor’s tree. It was like an alien egg pod or a giant, mutant butterfly chrysalis. Then I realized it was one of my super overgrown cucumbers. It was pretty impressive. I later saw it had fallen to the ground and had a few small bite marks in it. Apparently the squirrels didn’t find it as delicious as my tomatoes.

alien egg

mutant butterfly

Now that the downtown farmer’s market is over for the year, I’m sadly without local produce. In September, I’d snagged some purple plums that turned into a fantastic fruit platz. I finished my sole bag of local apples today and have squirreled away some winter squashes (But, ha-ha Squirrels, didn’t take a bite out of them first.). I’m sad not to have better access to fresh, local autumnal produce.

plums

Maybe part of my problem is that I need to plant a few more autumn-blooming plants. My toad lilies are happy and beautiful in the face of other plants’ crispy brownness. I’m glad to report that all three varieties have returned. I was afraid I’d lost at least one to the city’s herbicide. They’re much diminished because of it, but they’re there.

toad lily

 

toad lily

toad lily

I also love the horny seed pods of the moonflower. They’re great at accentuating my garden shed and garden art.

moonflower

moonflower and art

And today I was surprised by the beauty of the flowers turning to seed pods on my hearty begonias. I’ve never noticed it before, but it’s very wonderful. The flowers slowly stretch and extend and fade from pink to a beautiful green. They’re quite elegant.

begonia flowers

planter

And finally, my good, old cat turned 19! For his birthday, I let Shamoo wander around outside and tried my best to let him stay out for as long as he wanted. It’s pretty dull supervising his outdoor time because he doesn’t do much, so I tried taking so photos. Eventually I made him go back inside, but I gave him some fishy treats as a consolation.

He still seems content with life, although I hate to tell him that the time of coldness will soon be upon us again. He’s moved back into his heated cat bed already.

Garden Update and…SQUIRRELS!

The rain has slowed down and things are getting crispy. My plants have lots of greenery but not too much to show for it. In my vegetable garden, the lima beans are growing like mad. I think there are some beans in there, but it’s really hard to find them in the mass. The cucumbers are also spreading like mad but with few results. They all started out so sweetly, too:

growing

getting bigger

little cuke

lots of green

Meanwhile, it’s been a strange year for tomatoes in my garden. I decided to move them to a new spot, although in my garden there’s not much distance between the old and new spots. This year, my tomatoes have been going badly since the seed starts. The timing was bad and I didn’t get them in a greenhouse for the usual boost. After the transplant to my garden they grew slowly.

The best producing tomato is actually a variety that originated here in Evansville with one of the great Evansville founding families. The variety was contributed to Seed Savers as an exemplary specimen and was chosen from over a thousand new seed varieties as one to highlight in this year’s seed catalog. I thought it was a nice connection, so I got a packet. The tomato clearly knows it is home, because it’s growing and producing very well. It has nice, little, yellow grape tomatoes.

My other tomato plants have not. I got a couple big green-when-ripe tomatoes off one plant earlier this summer. I always enjoy trying new varieties, but unfortunately this one will not be a new favorite. I’ve gotten a couple smaller, pink tomatoes off of a volunteer plant from last year, and that’s been about it.

tomato crop

tomatoes and basil

A couple other plants have green tomatoes on them that are taking forever to ripen. They’re new ones with exotic names that I’ve been curious to taste: Dragon’s Eye, Cosmic Eclipse, and Lucky Tiger.

Dragon's Eye

Yesterday evening, I noticed that one Dragon’s Eye tomato was starting to change color. At last! Soon I would behold the tomato billed as, “Very pretty pink-rose colored with green stripes that turn gold.  They look shiny and almost fake.”

It crossed my mind: should I pick it so it could safely ripen inside? No, I thought. Vine ripened is the best. After all, what could happen?

Someone just the other day had asked me whether the squirrels were messing up my tomatoes. I’d responded that I haven’t really had any problems with them for a long time. So long, in fact, that I’d considered changing the name of my blog from “Squirrels and Tomatoes” to “Raccoons are Sneaky Jerks”.

Well. This noon I went outside to pick some basil for my lunch and I realized that that marginally ripe tomato was gone. Was it hidden by a leaf? NO. Had it fallen onto the ground under the plant? NO. IT WAS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN! Had I dreamed it?

I went back inside and was fixing my lunch when John said, “Hey, there’s a bunny right over here in the lawn! It’s right next to the house.”

“Weird,” I thought. I looked out the window and there was a big, adorable rabbit right next to the house…strangely close to the house. What was that thing it was hopping toward?

“THAT’S MY TOMATO!!!!!”

I ran out to view the carnage.

NOT MY TOMATO!

I know that bunny didn’t climb up into the tomato cage to pull this down.

Stupid squirrels. [Grumble. Grumble.] It wasn’t even ripe.

Sigh.

garlic pile

Right now I’m attempting to ferment garlic in honey. It is the first use of this year’s garlic from my garden. I read about fermenting it on a gardening blog that I follow and it sounded intriguing. I found the instructions here. The honey takes on some of the garlic flavor. John eats raw garlic medicinally to ward off colds, so this sounds like it will be even better.

There was a whole lot of peeling involved which was time consuming, but the finished product looks really neat in the jar. It’s supposed to be ready in about a month.

lots of peeling

fermenting garlic

One final plant happening to note: I got a bloom from the third and final orchid that I own that I’d never seen bloom before. All three mystery orchids came from plant sales without any indication of what the bloom would be like. All three have been gorgeous. This one is miltassia Dark Star ‘Darth Vader’.

Darth Vader

Up North

John and I are recently returned from an absolutely fantastic, picture perfect vacation with family in Northern Michigan. The weather was stunning, and I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect time with my family. No one was missing, not even my cat.

Above is a series of my nature photos taken during the vacation. Each is labeled with the location, if you’re curious. You can click on any one to get a closer look and a slideshow. We went fishing, we swam in the lake near my family’s cottage, we swam in Lake Michigan, we toured a family-owned sugar bush, we went hiking, we saw an artful garden, we went to Tahquamenon Falls, and we saw other sights.

My cat wasn’t excited about having to share a cottage with children, but he was happy to be on vacation with his people and didn’t mind the road trip.

me and my cat

Less than a week after we left Michigan my aunt died suddenly and unexpectedly. She had the cottage next to ours, and this summer there had been a lot of traffic across the peaceful space between the two cottages. The morning that we left for home, it had struck me how beautiful that little space was and I made a photo of it. I’m thankful for that glimpse of a memory of that time and place.

my aunt's cottage

 

Hither and Yon

I’m sitting here listening to roofers tear all the shingles off my roof during a heat wave and hoping they don’t do any damage to my garden. So far so good. My garden also needs a drink, but I’ll just get hit in the head with falling debris. Hopefully all the plants can hold out till this evening. It’s the end of a three-month saga of trees and storms and critters.

In the last couple weeks I’ve harvested my beets and carrots. They did much better than I expected and were tasty with a grilled steak dinner. The wild side garden continues to bloom with another fancy coneflower adding itself to the mix. And the caladiums are growing big and colorful and look great against the chartreuse “Sun and Substance” hosta.

It’s green apple season, so I made a batch of apple sauce. I should have gotten twice as many apples. There is only one orchard in town that grows the super tart, early varieties and by the time I decided I wanted more apples I couldn’t catch the grower at any farmer’s market. That makes my two bags of applesauce all the more precious.

Meanwhile, the hydrangeas have faded beautifully, I managed to get one sweet nasturtium bloom, and the blackberries are changing to purple.

We continue to fight the critters. I believe they have been investigating our wounded roof, so we don’t want them around. A few weeks ago we got another raccoon that we released at sunset at the nearby fish and wildlife area. John and I got to enjoy the view as consolation for our ongoing troubles.

Last weekend John and I trekked up to my hometown of Archbold, OH for its grand sesquicentennial celebration. There was a parade and a party in the park and a historical play. It was great fun! John and I drove by the farm where I grew up, and I enjoyed being back in the Northwest Ohio landscape.

Home

While driving through Northwest Ohio, an amazing yard caught my eye.

“Wow, John! Did you see that amazing place?” I said.

“Can you cram any more stuff into one yard?” said my brother-in-law in the car behind us.

Both statements were true.

What a yard!

We were running late for the parade at the time, so we couldn’t stop, but John and I made a detour on the way home so I could get a closer look. A guy was in the driveway grilling out.

“Hmm,” I thought. “How can I casually take a couple pictures. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about strangers gawking at his house.”

John stopped in the street and I hopped out of the car and started casually taking a couple pictures from the sidewalk. Then I heard someone greeting me warmly and telling me I could go inside the garden and walk around.

The woman who lived there had apparently been out front and had seen me. She was very nice, but had to go in to finish making supper, which was just fine with me. I wandered through their great garden in peace.

There were several kinds of bottle trees in styles I hadn’t seen before. And I loved the blue bottles suspended from the real tree on chains. There was also a kind of palm tree made from a 6 ft dead stump with kind of a chandelier on top (unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of it. Plus there were bowling balls and all kinds of other chotchkies, both handmade and found. It was fantastic!

Click on any photo below for a closer look and a slide show.