July

My garden hasn’t taken a break yet, despite the hot weather. There are still plenty of interesting things to observe and new blooms happening. There are also some dry spots and brown edges that reflect the intensity of the summer sun.

The slide show below shows my garden’s developments during the month of July. I added captions to give you an idea of what you’re looking at. It includes:

  • The beautiful beginnings of bean plants. I got them started a little later than is ideal, but hopefully I’ll still get some beans.
  • My precious red raspberry harvest. They are one of my favorite foods, but I can’t find anyone around here who grows them so I decided to grow them myself. They were delicious.
  • Spreading butternut squash and ripening tomatoes.
  • Blackberries. I picked an absolutely perfect berry that had been heating in the sun. It had baked its own sugars and each little bead exploded with flavor in my mouth.
  • Humidity!
  • Blueberry picking. I’m stocked up for the winter! I probably picked at least 25 pounds in 95+ degree heat. It’s a test of my willpower.
  • Bugs, birds, and blooms.
  • The whole of the zinnia patch that I highlighted in my last blog post.
  • Video of one of the many hummingbirds that are visiting my garden. For me, growing plants is so much easier than trying to keep the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder fresh. I’m OK with that.
  • A video panorama of my garden at the end of July.

Early July was the time for Lodi apples. They make deliciously tart applesauce that’s just like my mom used to make. “Nosh-stalgia” is what one friend has heard it called. I’m thankful that there is one orchard in town that grows them.

Several years ago when I discovered the secret to my mom’s applesauce was June apples, I also discovered that I could purchase a cheap approximation of the Squeezo Strainer that she used to make the sauce. My new strainer worked pretty good, but I always wished for the real thing.

Last year, the cheap plastic crusher that pushed the fruit into the strainer folded in on itself, and I knew it was my chance to get a new strainer. I ordered a brand name Squeezo Strainer on Ebay and hoped it was going to be a good investment. It came in time to make applesauce. It wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined, but overall I think it’s a better product. There are a couple design details on the cheap knockoff that I miss on the real thing, the particular Squeezo I got had a couple pieces that were bent ever so slightly so it leaked a little, and for some reason it really made the apples oxidize, but look at that wooden smoosher! It gave the apples a pounding and it didn’t break. I think it also did better at extracting more pulp. Plus it’s like mom’s.

I’ve also been working on more garden art. My Fairy Tree is starting to shape up. I painted the apple pickers, I added faces in them that were inspired by some garden art I saw last summer, I added another fairy created by the kids at Patchwork Central, and I added all the empty bottles I had on hand. I like where it’s going. I’ll add more fairies and more bottles and decide on what to place atop the two former trunks of the tree that don’t already have apple pickers on them.

And finally, cats. They’re all good. Perry continues to be a challenge, but with play time and regular walks he’s doing better. He’s a little like a 2-year-old in that he gets tired and cranky. He can’t leave me alone while I work on the computer, even though I know he would be happy to take a nap. But he likes his carrier and is content sitting in it next to me while I write. And don’t worry. When he’s had enough of the carrier he lets me know.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are quite lovely. In one of the photos below I managed to catch Ygraine at her most floofy and cute. She’s a queen. And I love to sit and read the newspaper while the Ladies look out the back door in the mornings. It’s a relaxing way to start the day. When they get tired of that, they play. Morgaine does lovely dances while chasing her tail.

The Cost of Frost

The weekend before last began warm and beautiful. A few leaves were still on the trees, but the forecast was for a sudden change in the weather. I did some organizing and cleaning as the cold front blew its way through the treetops and into my yard.

In the time since then, my garden has seen a beautiful collapse of the leaves and plants. They’ve been invisibly broken apart by the jagged edges of internal ice crystals as we’ve finally had many nights in the 20’s and low 30’s.

Below are a series of photos that I took in this time period. You can spot the same plants as the frost changes them. Some colors deepen. Some leaves grow translucent. Some grow leathery.

After the frost had worked its way into everything and most of the final leaves had come off the trees, I spent the day with my leaf blower coaxing all the leaves on the ground into one garden bed or another. As part of the process, I took down my bean trellises and found a few final dried beans to add to my collection. There was a mixture of pretty limas and several more Mostoller Wild Goose pole beans that I think are gorgeous.

And finally, something freshly cooked but completely out of season–blackberry jam! For many years, my blackberries have fruited well but never produced enough at one time to make much of anything. Mostly, the birds would eat the berries as they ripened a couple at a time. Patchwork’s blackberry bushes were larger, so if I wanted to make jam I could collect enough berries there.

But for the last few years the Patchwork bushes haven’t done well. John’s eaten all the jam I had from recent years, so I decided I needed to do something differently. This year I collected the blackberries in my garden and froze them one at a time. By the end of the summer, I was pretty sure I had enough for a batch of jam and over Thanksgiving weekend, I finally had time to make it.

I used my strainer to separate out all the seeds, running the pulp through the hand-cranked machine over and over to try to get as much moisture out. I knew I wouldn’t have any pulp to spare. In the end I was a cup short, but thinking back to some jam I’d seen sometime this year, I steeped some sage leaves in hot water and added the water to the blackberry pulp.

The result? 4.5 jars of particularly delicious jam!

Rare Harvests

I have figs! I have figs!

Perhaps six years ago, I got to taste a fig straight off a friend’s fig tree. It was the most unique and amazing flavor. I decided I wanted to grow my own, and so the saga began.

The winters here are borderline for growing figs. The first winter mine all died. The second winter I wrapped them in burlap and moved them to a protected corner of the yard. And they still died. I thought.

After I planted new ones, the roots of the previous years’ sprouted fresh. That winter I brought them inside when it got below 20 degrees outside, but then it stayed cold and they stayed indoors and came out of dormancy. They leafed out and sprouted fruits but didn’t get enough light and the tiny figs fell off.

Last winter I brought them inside when it got below 15 degrees outside, but got them back outside quickly. The winter didn’t have too many cold snaps, and they happily started growing at the first signs of spring. Like every other year, this summer they were nice and green and leafy. Unlike other years, I saw figs forming!

I held my breath, ready for the figs to drop too early, but, no! They turned dark and heavy with sugar. Would the flavor be as extraordinary as I remembered?

Yes indeed.

Another rare harvest is the butternut squash. I got four small ones off of that volunteer vine! It looks like it’s true that the squash vine borers don’t like butternut squash because the vines never succumbed. I will definitely plant more in the future. The only problem came when we brought Larry the cat inside after he’d spent a month roaming my garden. It only took a week before the squirrels were making a mess of it.

I’ve also harvested a couple melons (one too early, sadly), the corn is looking good from a distance but aphids have damaged the ears, the okra is blooming (really the flowers are the main reason I grow okra!), I’m collecting one blackberry at a time in the hope of having enough to make jam (though with Larry the cat outside, the birds and squirrels left me more berries this year), the beans finally started to amount to something, the flowers are blooming, and tomatoes continue to ripen (although I have yet to taste some of the most intriguing varieties including Dragon’s Eye and Cosmic Eclipse).

Larry the cat has been doing OK in his life indoors. He is a difficult cat, which we anticipated when we brought him in. He has tons of energy, he is a gawky teenager, and his brain seems to short out regularly which results in people being bitten. He’s loving, too.

This morning I felt like I bargained for his soul. It turns out that he belonged to the relative of a neighbor but had come to live with the neighbor when the relative lost her apartment. No one at his new home could stand him indoors, so they put him outside. Then he disappeared for the last week and everyone was worried.

I told them we’d taken him to the vet and were treating him for problems that the vet had found. I told them I could tell that he’d been cared for. I offered to take over caring for him and said I had been planning to see if we could work him in with our other cats. His previous caretaker seemed a little relieved and agreed.

She did make sure I knew his real name is Raja and that he’s part Bengal. She said if she could find them she’d drop off his vet records.

He always turns to look when he hears voices across the street. He still considers her his person.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are a little stressed about another cat being around, even though we can’t officially introduce them all until Larry’s intestinal parasites clear up. The one good thing for them now that he’s indoors: they can sit uninterrupted at their back door once more. They can’t complain too much about their life of leisure and luxury.

Moving through May

Between plant sales, cold and rainy weather, a new garden sculpture, and preparations for some friends’ annual visit to my garden, I’ve not had time to post in my blog. I figured I’d better post something before too many good photos built up on my computer!

I hope to have a grand reveal of my new sculpture sometime soon, but there’s still lots of work for me to do on it. Here’s a teaser:

The honeysuckles have been blooming and blooming and blooming. It’s a treat to work outside because I get to smell them. And they were spectacular in the cold rain a few weekends ago. Plus, I was working on my sculpture and I caught a glimpse of a hummingbird drinking from them. That’s so much better than the feeder I tried last year and never could quite keep fresh enough!

And there are other blooms in the back garden and in the garden on the east side of the house. It’s not blooming yet, but this year I added plants on the west side of the house as well. All came from the Master Gardener’s plant sale at the beginning of May. Actually, some had come from last year’s plant sale and then waited in pots because of all our roof troubles last summer.

At this point, I’m pretty well out of spaces for plants, so maybe I need not to go to the sale next year. But it’s so much fun to admire and choose from so many plants!

I had oodles of rose breasted grosbeaks when everyone else in Evansville was inundated with them, the hawks are still around somewhere, I spotted a prothonotary warbler in my neighbor’s trees, a family of wrens is trilling about the back yard as are a cardinal couple and a family of downy woodpeckers, and every morning for at least a week I’ve heard a Swainson’s thrush trilling in the background. I think I’ve even seen it a time or two.

And finally, The Ladies continue to delight. Ygraine is sweet and floofy and she will sit at the back door all day if I give her the opportunity. She loves watching the outdoors but seems pleased with her life of luxury indoors. Meanwhile, Morgaine is sassy and dreams of taking over the world. One day John caught her studying my cordless drills and a mini butane torch as if she was plotting something. She likes to sit on the front table to watch the outdoors through glass, and when she sees us approach, she stands up and inadvertently sticks her head inside the lamp sitting there with her. It’s funny. She looks like a party girl with a lamp shade on her head.

A Very Green Christmas to You!

The…umm…Christmas crocuses are popping up everywhere. Yes, it’s been more than a little warm lately.

Christmas crocuses

Though other things are attempting to stick to the regularly scheduled winter activities. Last week I woke up to find a large presence on the cable wires along the alley: the hawks are back for the winter and are scoping out my bird feeder.

hawk

The hosta leaves continue to sculpt themselves in beautiful ways as they dry, and the blackberry leaves’ colors continue to shift.

hosta

hosta 2

hosta 3

blackberries

John and I spent Christmas morning together. We had a fantastic Northern Michigan breakfast: French toast made with amazing cinnamon bread from the Dutch Oven Bakery in Alanson, Michigan topped with Bourbon Barrel aged maple syrup from Maple Moon Sugarbush near Petosky, Michigan. We got both this summer during our vacation, and they were a great pairing.

breakfast

And as a way of reviewing 2015: a year of Shamoo looking at the garden from a window (yes, he is still alive). He insists on having us set a chair at the back screen door so he can look out of it. When it’s warm enough, we let him. When it’s too cold, he gets angry that we haven’t adjusted the exterior thermostat to match his desires.

I was amazed to be putting his chair into position just this week, which made me think of looking through my photos to create this series. January 2015-December 2015 are represented below. May and November are missing not because he didn’t sit at the back door but because I failed to take photos of him then.

 

Songs of Summer


The summer is winding down. It’s a time of corn and tomatoes. There’s still plenty of heat and humidity weighing down the air, but somehow there’s a touch of fall now, too, hovering just above the treetops.

My garden continues to be a green oasis that’s still full of summer goodness. Whether I’m weeding, watering, clipping, or buried in my blackberries, The Garden Song will pop into my head from time to time. It’s a great accompaniment to all garden work.

A few weeks ago, a big group of old friends was in town, and we sang many favorite songs including The Garden Song. I was happy to record it in the version I first learned and have sung many, many times at Patchwork Central.

The Garden Song

 

A friend named Randy Pease adds another great song to the soundtrack of late summer.

This is usually the time of year when John and I look at each other and realize that if we don’t get to an Evansville Otters baseball game soon, they’ll be over for the year, so we rearrange our schedules and go.

The Otters are part of the Frontier League and play at Bosse Field, which is the third oldest ballpark in the U.S., behind only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. It turned 100 this year.

It’s a great location, and the games can be interesting, too. You might see odd errors, triple plays, stealing home, or a great performance by someone who is a few games from getting called up to the major leagues. For $5 you can sit 30 feet from the action, and there are goofy crowd participation games on the field or in the stands between each inning.

John and I went to an Otters game last week. We got our burgers, fries, and beer and settled in for the first game of a doubleheader. It was a Wednesday and a school night, so the crowd was thin, with only a couple hundred in attendance. There were a few good plays, but it was a pretty unremarkable game until the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Otters were behind by one.

The sky darkened.

They summoned “all interns to the tarps immediately.”

Rain started to fall.

The Otters were at bat and were two outs away from losing.

Rain fell harder.

Another out.

The rain was falling in sheets, and still the pitcher kept pitching. The interns waited at the tarp. Why not roll it out now?

And then a cheer went up (a much greater cheer than you’d imagine for so small a crowd).

The ball was hit out of the park, and two players crossed home in the pouring rain. The game was over. The Otters won.

I Love This Game

Yikes! I’ve been busy…

…And I haven’t been busy gardening (mostly).

I was out of town for work, then in town for several intense weeks of work, then a weekend of many friends and little sleep. In between all of that, I dashed around my garden doing some maintenance but mostly working on my new painting project.

You’ll hopefully see more of that project soon.

My life right now feel like this section of the garden: a bit of an explosion in all directions. It’s more than a little unruly.

Green blob

A lot has happened in the last month in my garden (as always, click on any photo for a larger view and a slide show)…

My harvests have been mixed this summer. I didn’t get into the berry bush often to pick berries, so the birds got most of them. My corn set ears but the kernels didn’t fill in well. And the tomatoes took a long, long time to get ripe. I’m not fond of many of my selections this year (choosing seeds is an adventure!), and the one variety that I really do like is getting devoured by baby grasshoppers. They’re apparently the squirrels of the insect world: taking a few bites from each fruit and leaving the rest.

bug bitesOn the plus side, my basil is finally taking off, the okra is doing well, and I have finally discovered the perfect melon for my space. It’s a little cantaloupe that’s the size of a baseball yet is packed with sweet melon goodness. I’ll definitely grow more.

this melon is greatAnd I had a fun adventure in my new garden out front. Soon after planting it, I noticed two tiny squash plants sprout. Now, I’ve given up on squash in my main garden because the squash vine borers have killed them reliably every time before they can fruit.

“Maybe my secret squashes will outsmart the borers!” I thought. “They won’t think to look for squashes out here!”

But what kind of squash would these become? Where had the seeds come from? I’d mulched the bed using leaves from our yard, and there’s a compost bin in the yard, but no seeds should have escaped.

I waited.

squash plants growing

Tiny squashes formed. Would they be tasty?

tiny squash

I waited (and saw a squash vine borer fly by one morning–drat!).

The vines became monstrous. My friend Jane reminded me that the only viney things that ever grow as volunteers are the stuff you don’t want to eat.

bigger vines

And then the answer was revealed:

baby pumpkin

Right…those baby pumpkins that the squirrels stole from me last fall. I’d discovered the squashes’ skeletons among the leaves months later…the leaves that I used as mulch.

Stupid squirrels.

The insects were having a wonderful time in all the squash blossoms, so I was a little sorry to kill the plants. But once I knew that it wasn’t going to be a particularly tasty variety, I decided I’d better sacrifice it before it annihilated all the plants I’d actually planted there.

bee in the blossomsThough I saved the few mini pumpkins that there were to eat for supper.

mini pumpkin

And finally, the caladium are particularly happy this year and add some nice color to my turning-to-late-summer garden. They make great photos: