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.

Growth

Looking over photos from the last month in my garden, I can clearly see its mid-summer expansion. My new raised bed holds corn, okra, edamame, and red raspberries. Just when I’d doubted that the corn would produce anything, it shot up and started to tassel. Hopefully it doesn’t fall over before it’s all said and done. I harvested my soybeans this week. The okra is just now starting to think about blooming. All is good.

Expanding even more are my mystery vines. This spring, I spread compost on a section of my garden before planting melons, one squash, and cucumbers. Lots of little volunteer vines of some kind popped up from that compost, and I was curious to know what reminders of good food past they would become. I kept a few and clearly they were something big. The plants headed out of the official garden space (partly due to my attempts to steer them away from the plants I’d meant to plant).

I went out of town for a short vacation at the end of June and when I got back, I got a note from the person garden-sitting for me that marveled about how well my squash plants were doing. So, that was the grand reveal. I checked the backyard to see what she was talking about and found a beautiful little butternut squash forming on the vines.

I haven’t intentionally planted winter squash for years. I tried it twice and had the heartache of watching them wither and die as squash vine borers burrowed into the heart of each vine and did their dirty work, pooping sawdust-like excrement where the plant met the earth. I looked for remedies, but there was nothing that seemed like it would work for me. It was also a heartache that after the plants died I had a big hole in my garden that represented the missed opportunity to grow something else that would have thrived in my space. With not much space to grow things, that lost opportunity is huge.

The first little squash on the vine has been joined by several more. I’m sending positive thoughts their way and hoping to get at least one ripe one before squash vine borer or some other disaster strikes. It will be a great achievement to eat a squash meal grown in my garden. [Though while working on this post, I saw an article that said butternut squash is less susceptible to squash vine borers, so maybe my happy compost accident will lead to future years of fruit!]

The one squash I intentionally planted this year was a quick-fruiting summer squash. I hoped that it would be able to stay ahead of the squash vine borer and produce some fruit for me (the borers have to have a certain number of warm days before the larva stage that burrows into squash vines becomes active). I did manage to get a couple mature summer squashes from the plant, but then the borers swooped in and killed it.

The melons and cucumbers are doing fine, but I knew they would. They aren’t bothered by the borers. Actually, I’m not that fond of cucumbers, but they grow so well. And their flavor has its good points.

And there is a lot of other great growth and bounty to be had around my garden and kitchen:

  • June apple season came and went. I managed to get enough lodi apples to make a batch of applesauce, although I’m ready to upgrade my squeezer and may go online to get a vintage one like my mom used to use.
  • I also picked and froze gallons and gallons of blueberries. By now, the people at Wright’s Berry Farm in Newburgh know me by name.
  • My “Bobcat” orchid is blooming again. It looks like a bunch of roaring cats’ muzzles.
  • I have a couple planter areas where I add annuals every year. I use similar types of plants, but each year’s arrangement unfolds differently and I enjoy the subtle variations. One such spot is my brick pile garden. Another is my mosaic planter.
  • I harvested my carrots and I’m enjoying some blackberries and the first of my tomatoes.

RAWR!! It’s a Bobcat! Critters in the Garden.

I’ve gotten behind in my garden postings…or summer is flying ahead of me.

My harvests have moved into the early summer sorts of things. I dug up my garlic a couple weeks ago and planted a variety of beans and cow peas in its place. The seeds are beautiful in their variations. The plants sprang out of the ground with just a little extra water.

I also harvested some carrots.  They haven’t done well for me in the past, so I’d given up on them, but then I got a pack for Christmas and the promise of multi-colored carrots was too much for me. I thought they hadn’t amounted to much, but on closer examination there were a few there. The pinkish-orangey one was particularly tasty.

My own tomatoes are still in the early stages, so I’ve had to get some from the farmer’s market. Still they taste great in a sandwich. Today’s lunch was a fried egg, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes on locally-made cheddar broccoli bread with an avocado/cilantro sauce.

I followed that with several handfuls of blueberries. I’ve been picking them for the past three weekends. Maybe I’ve got enough in the freezer now to get me through next winter.

Elsewhere around the garden, the hostas are blooming and things are generally looking good. Suddenly my elderly cat Shamoo has (for some reason) gotten it into his head that he needs to go outside and walk around, not just observe from a perch in the back door. Someone has to stay with him because, let’s face it, he has no survival skills. He’s happy, though.

And speaking of critters, we’ve had even more in our live traps. We’ve been concerned that they have a renewed interest in possibly living in our house, so we’ve been motivated to move them along. Unfortunately that has included a whole adorable family of raccoons.

I found an old, beat-up marble in my garden, so I gave it to my concrete raccoon. I also dried my alum blooms and then spray painted them. I liked the way that they made the concrete raccoon look like he’d been to a wild party. I also like the way the ugly garden gnome behind him looks aggravated and irritated by his presence.

Also sort of related to little critters, I’ve got the coolest plant blooming indoors. It’s an orchid that I picked up at a Master Gardener Plant Sale a couple years ago. It’s name was listed as “Bobcat” from the Wildcat series.

Huh, I wondered. How does this resemble a bobcat?

Now I’ve got my answer and it’s really neat.

The flowers look like they have little cat muzzles at their hearts, complete with rows of white teeth and little cat noses. Every time I walk by it makes me smile.

And in other generally pretty blooms, the garden I started last year at the side of the house is happily blooming with abandon. I’d filled it with plants I knew would spread, so it’s not really a surprise that things over there are kind of wild. There are a couple things (like the black hollyhock that fell over in the wind) that really are too big, but I’ll let it go for a little more before I pull anything out.

Up North

John and I are just back from a vacation in Northern Michigan. It’s been too long since we were up there last. We had plenty of time to explore favorite haunts and go on new adventures. We also spent plenty of time reading in the solitude of the cottage under big trees near Crooked Lake. This time we had a fuzzy tag-along: we brought our cat who is elderly and in need of thrice weekly fluid treatments. Surprisingly, he seemed to enjoy himself and adjusted to a new window to look out of every day.

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Shamoo

On our first day, we stopped at a farmer’s market on the top of a hill. The vegetables were beautiful and there were several things that I love but just can’t find in Southern Indiana: apricots and red raspberries.

Flower Field on a hill

delicious veggies

There’s a wonderful bike trail near our cottage that’s been finished since our last trip. It’s on an old rail line that cuts through forests and meadows and skirts two lakes on its way to Petoskey. One day we biked to Petoskey and another day we walked to Alanson where there are the best donuts ever at the Dutch Oven Bakery.

In Alanson, there’s also a great little boardwalk on an island. You reach it on a small ferryboat that’s guided by an underwater cable and powered by a wheel that one rider turns by hand.

ferry boat

Crooked River

warning

And one day John and I went to the shores of Lake Michigan.

Followed by a trip to a fantastic garden on the grounds of the Three Pines Studio in Cross Village. The studio sells locally made art, including some garden art. There was an artist’s statement in the garden: “As the greenery grows and surrounds the glass, the art becomes part of the living floral setting, blending the brilliant colors of both the flowers and the glass. Gentle breezes often make the flowers sway and lend kinetic motion to the hanging glass as the birds and butterflies flit in and out.”

I was so envious of the garden. (Click on an image below to enlarge it. Flip through the slide show and see if you see all the faces!)

And then John and I walked through the forest to a bog. The guide book said that carnivorous plants lived in the bog. We didn’t see any of them, but we did find that it was full of wild blueberries! Joy!

We were sad to leave Crooked Lake.

 

Crooked Lake at night

Summer Growth

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A lot has happened in my garden in the last month. The big thing is that my raccoon count has increased by four. It all started several weeks ago when I noticed a few plants out of place and some damage here and there.

My super fancy begonia: CRUNCH!

The sedums on the top of my brick plant wall: What a GREAT perch!

The sedum-filled bird bath on the ground: DIG, DIG, DIG!

Then one morning I awoke to find a good part of my perennial garden flattened. It was as if a bunch of juvenile raccoons had shimmied down the tree and had a kegger underneath it. Irises, coral bells, hellebores, hostas, Solomon’s seal, wild geranium: all crushed, “I’m sorry, but was there something growing under my butt?”

One neighbor asked how I knew the damage was done by raccoons and not something else like a cat. The answer is that it looked like the damage was done by a bunch of real jerks–the tell-tale sign of raccoons.

This was exactly how it all started three years ago when minor backyard trashing led to John and I discovering that the raccoons had moved in with us. This time, John and I decided to trap prophylactically before the raccoons got too comfortable. In the last week and a half we’ve hauled off three juveniles and an adult. The juveniles are a problem because they decide to get defensive as you try to release them instead of running for freedom. John’s tired of their attitude.

MEANWHILE, I chopped down my forest of greens in early June, stowed them for use in tasty soup, and then planted basil in their place.

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Note the awesome, poorly spelled garden marker created by the kids at Patchwork. I’ve got a fun collection of the oddly spelled and spaced ones. Here’s another:

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I’ve also harvested my garlic. I’d cut the scapes off a couple weeks before the harvest and John and I just used the last of them in a garlic scape and pistachio pesto last night. Tasty! Above ground the garlic plants were huge, but below ground I still haven’t achieved consistently large garlic cloves. Still, I think it’s a fun plant.

scapes

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I’m cautiously optimistic about the corn. Maybe it will work! A few ears have beautiful purple silk on them. The other day I was watering the raised bed and it was as if the corn plants sighed a breath heavy with the scent of corn pollen. I could have closed my eyes and been transported back to my time growing up in Northwest Ohio.

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The lima beans have a new trellis to climb:

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And it’s blueberry and apple season!

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Blueberry Pies Forever

It’s blueberry season! I’ve made two pies already and have I-don’t-know-how-many gallons of berries in the freezer. Yay! I may even make one more trip over to Wright’s Berry Farm to get one more batch.

blueberries!

Another fun thing from the last couple weeks is that one of the guys who was repairing our porch found a stone oddity under the porch and pulled it out for me because he saw all the odd stuff I have in my back yard. Very cool! Right now, it’s serving as a lookout mountain for my garden guardian.

mount lookout

Meanwhile in my garden, things are still looking nice. For the Fourth of July, lots of things were in bloom.

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I tried different sunflowers this year. Before, I’ve done Mexican sunflowers but they take forever to bloom–though the monarchs love them. My new sunflowers are blooming happily already and they’ve attracted goldfinches. I love it. I look out my back door and see a shard of yellow sunflower zipping across the yard on wings.

sunflower and sky

New tomatoes are ripe. This year I decided to try all new varieties for a change of pace. They all sound so exciting in the seed catalogs. I’ve got a couple new color variations.

the first tomatoes

I love this brave little volunteer marigold that is toughing it out in a crack between some of my containers. It’s even managed a bloom.

the brave marigold

I also love the effect of water droplets on caladium leaves.

caladium and brick

This year, one experiment is a melon plant. So far, so good–but it’s got a long way to go. I’ll keep you posted!

melon

Hey, Bro! Quit wrecking my plants!

First there’s this:

And that was in the shade.

My little weather guy dresses in layers and takes them off as the weather gets progressively warmer. I’m pretty sure that he would have taken off his swim trunks at this point if he could have.

As a result of the super hot weather and drought, I’m watering my garden like crazy. That makes the birds love me. While in theory I’m happy about providing nice bird habitat, the juvenile robins, sparrows, starlings, grackles, and cardinals are driving me nuts. They party all day in the sprinkler spray and then dig around in all the wet earth looking for easy food? more moisture?

Whatever it is, all I get is trashed plants. It’s pretty annoying, especially when it’s a bunch of plants in the little rock garden I just created.

Over the years, I’ve pulled so many bricks out of my yard and garden. Since early on I’ve piled them up in a couple places. A couple weeks ago I partially dismantled one little wall I’d built and I added more bricks that I’d had waiting for a project somewhere else.

The old brick pile was slug heaven. Here are just a few…

I made several pockets in the bricks that can hold plants. Then I indulged in a trip to the plant nursery to get some fun little plants to tuck between the bricks. I rearranged the archeological bits of art that I’ve pulled out of the garden over the years, and voila!

It always looks so good right after you finish and before the plants realize what’s happened to them and that they really don’t like their new location. It also looks so good before the juvenile delinquent  birds start to pick apart all the vaguely worm-like bits of plant. Sigh.

I’m so happy with my little blackberry patch. I’ve gotten some nice bowl-fulls of berries. I also found the mythical beast lurking at the very center of the bush–an enormous berry that was perfectly ripe and oh so sweet. Needless to say, it didn’t make it into my bowl.

There are also the beautiful plums from Patchwork’s tree.

And I just made a pie with the last of my fresh blueberries.

My garden has had some unusual visitors lately as well. A couple weeks ago I went to check my garden after work and saw a lime green flash in one of the Rose of Sharon trees: someone’s pet bird gone rogue.

We also added a third possum to our backyard wildlife trapping count. This one came out of our basement. Not terribly charming, but I prefer it to the raccoons.