A Very Augusty September

Because of my travelogue (thanks, again, to everyone who traveled along with me), I haven’t posted anything about my own garden for two whole months! Well, I decided I better rectify that situation before the month of September is over. I only have a few more hours, so let’s get posting!

My garden made it through my trip to Europe thanks to watering from the house sitter. When we left, there were zinnias blooming, surprise lilies, beans, and honeysuckle. When we came back, the zinnias were still going strong, squash were ripening nicely, the autumn clematis was blooming, and a few lima beans were ready to pick.

Overall, August was hot and unforgiving and things quickly moved into the crispy, tired stage. I hoped some relief would come in September, but we continued to have dry weather and highs in the mid- to upper-nineties. Now at the end of September, my plants are all ready for a winter’s rest. The heat, bugs, and mildew have taken their toll.

At the end of August, John and I prepared a meal of summer on a plate: corn fritters and tomato gravy. It was my mom’s favorite food, but as children my sister and I grumbled about having to eat it so she didn’t make it often. It also requires some fiddling around, so I guess that could be another reason she didn’t make it often.

At some point many years ago, I asked for the recipe and she wrote it down for me. I have no idea if she actually copied it out of a cookbook or if she just wrote it from memory. If it was from a cookbook, I’ve never found that book. Several years ago, I did another blog post about corn fritters and tomato gravy and found it interesting that one of my mom’s sisters commented that she didn’t remember this particular combination of foods.

Now that I’m an adult, I’m sorry that we were so overly dramatic about not wanting to eat corn fritters and tomato gravy. It’s really good! Though, it isn’t particularly photogenic.

Late summer is also the time of year when my most unusual and dramatic orchids bloom. One variety is called Miltassia Dark Star “Darth Vader”. The other variety is called Odontocidium Wildcat “Bobcat”.

And with that, we come to my own lovely cats. They survived our trip to Europe, but clearly missed their humans immensely while we were away. They didn’t seem angry, but when we returned they required more than 24 hours of constant reassurances that everything would be all right.

Things quickly were back to normal, though. The Ladies are lovely and Perry is a challenge. Perry does much better if he has a couple enrichment actives every day. Usually that’s at least one play session and a walk outside, although sometimes it’s clicker training or a puzzle feeder. It’s good that both he and I can easily spend an hour just wandering aimlessly around the tiny yard and looking at what’s new.

Perry tends to get all the good stuff because we’re working so hard to try to modify his behavior. He’s got two big cat trees and lots of toys and if John or I have only one spare minute to play, he’s the one who is most likely to get the play time.

But, the Ladies love to play, too, and they enjoy their little cat tree. So we finally ordered and assembled a giant cat tree for the girls. Lady Morgaine is absolutely enamored with it. So far, Lady Ygraine has decided that it’s just not her thing.

And finally, a postscript for our European trip. Here are all the goodies we drug home with us. We’ll probably be enjoying them for the next year! There are a wide variety of German gummies, German beer, German and British chocolates, British cookies, British drinks, and a German garden weasel. Plus two German flags handmade for us by my niece.

All the Zinnias

This year was finally the year for zinnias in my garden. For several reasons that I won’t get into now, I decided to buy packets of as many types of zinnia as I could and dump them into nearly a third of my garden. I’ve always admired mass plantings of zinnias–I’ve envied them in friends’ gardens–but I’ve never done it myself because previously I hadn’t wanted to sacrifice valuable vegetable-growing space.

But, here they are and they’re making me happy. I’ve taken hundreds and hundreds of photos of them blooming. They’re beautiful as they start as the tightest buds, grow feathery extensions and tightly curled petals, then expand to full flowers. I’ve also enjoyed viewing so many different varieties with their variations in color, petal shape, and petal structure within the flower. They’re also attracting a wonderful variety of insects and birds, adding even more to the beauty of my garden.

Drying Up

Things have slowed down considerably in my garden. My gardening activities are cut down to watering and harvesting the few odds and ends still popping up. In contrast to the 12″ of rain we got in 4 weeks in June-July, in the most recent 4 weeks we’ve gotten about a third of an inch of rain. Especially with the ever-increasing herbicide damage, my whole garden looks tired and ready for the winter’s rest.

Without so much gardening to do, I recently took a tour of new, odd garden art discoveries I’ve made in my neighborhood.

There’s my friend Jane’s bottle tree with quirky bottles:

bottle tree

And the awesome squirrel garden sculpture that, from the angle I photographed it while I leaned over her fence, looks like it’s begging for food from the Greek goddess nearby:

please, can I have more?

(By the way, a parent in Patchwork’s children’s program gave the squirrel to Jane. I’m envious, but then this weekend at an art fair I claimed a concrete arm holding a solar light before Jane could get it, so maybe we’re even. Plus I got another bizarre raccoon sculpture at the same art fair, so it was a total win!)

Jane also has a row of massive sunflowers that are beautiful but too big for my garden. I’m envious of those, too.

sunflower 2015

And she has other nice flowers in a wild and weird garden:

flower combination

Then there’s this community garden not too far away from me with wonderful, healthy hops, unlike my sad specimens.

hops against the sky

hops hopping

And these wonderful, weird cat guardians that have popped up on Washington Avenue:

cats: you shall not pass

meow!

And this, that I happened upon while circling the block to get a better look at the cats. I’m not quite sure what’s all going on here, but it’s awesome:

Mary in a bathtub

cool

Meanwhile in my garden, there are highlights, including the scent of autumn clematis, okra blooms, the last hosta blooms, a wonderful variety of white marigold that I love, a butterfly, and a monarch caterpillar:

This year has not been good for tomatoes. I chose all new varieties this year, and the ones I chose just aren’t my favorites. And then it just wasn’t a productive year for tomatoes, so we haven’t had many to eat. Here are the varieties I had:

tomatoes 2015

The stripey one is “Green Copia”, and I thought it tasted the best, but it’s a beefsteak and it cracked and the caterpillars dug into what was left, so I didn’t get many that were edible to me. The bigger yellow/orange one is “Djeena Lee’s Golden”, which apparently won first prize at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row. It has a spicy flavor, but isn’t very juicy, so I’m not fond of it. The little yellow ones are “Sunrise Bumble Bee”. I thought it was a tasty sounding name, but (alas) I don’t like the flavor and I can never tell when they were really ripe. I liked the flavor of the little pink ones enough that I might plant them again next year. They’re called “Blue Berries”, but were mostly pink. These also were difficult to discern when they were ripe. Another downside is that they are the ones where the insects ate half of every tomato all summer, leaving very few that were appetizing to me.

And then, my total disappointment: the death continues in my garden. Since it’s been so dry, the death due to herbicide blends in with the death from the dry weather (despite our inflated water bill due to my watering). Still, the state of the honeysuckle on the back fence clearly has nothing to do with water and everything to do with herbicide.

Here it is on September 7. Much more dead than my previous post about the poisoning, but still with some green hints of hope:

September 7 death

And September 13, with pretty much no hope left:

September 13 death

And from the inside: September 6 and things look happy and nice, though a little hole has opened up in the back corner (center of photo) because the vines are dying:

September 6

And the hole is considerably wider by September 13. (It surprised me how much of a difference I saw when these photos were side-by-side)

Sept 13 yuck

Here’s a closer photo. It took two weeks or more for things to really die. I think a lot of the slower death was on plants that got a drop or two of herbicide on them, not a direct hit.

damage

Thanks, City of Evansville!

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:

Raccoons’ Revenge

So that house I told you about…the one across the street that was a raccoon condo?

Ha ha ha. Maybe that really wasn’t a raccoon hole in the roof. Maybe?

It was torn down one day last week and that very night the homeless raccoons were everywhere around our house. Fiddling with things out front. Bashing down the “raccoon detector” newspaper panel under the porch. Fiddling with things our back. Walking across the side porch and looking in our window.

Gack!

tell-tale prints

(shadowy footprints in the porch dust)

They were back the next few nights…but maybe not since. It’s hard to tell.

I spent last weekend on a retreat with some friends who suggested that I speak to the raccoons and tell them to go away. OK, so they’re right. I’d actually try it at this point.

MEANWHILE, my garden is closing itself up for the year. The tomatoes are dying. So are the cucumbers. I got a couple last melons off the vine before it died. A few weeks ago things were still looking good.

melonBut then the mildew set in. The melons are nice–green and crisp and not very sweet. The good thing was that I’m pretty sure that the plant survived the squash vine borers that wrecked havoc with several other things earlier this summer. I might try this plant again next year.

cut melon

In place of the things that died I’ve planted some greens and lettuce. Hopefully I get some tasty things before the cold comes. So far it’s looking good.

Asian greens

There’re also more interesting insects to be found. One of the big garden spiders spun an egg case on our trash can and guarded it for a few days.

spider and eggsAnd then there is the praying mantis who’s been living in one of my fig trees. I’d thought it was kind of cute until one of my friends reminded me about the time a praying mantis living in her back yard grabbed a humming bird mid-air and ripped its heart out. Ew.

hello there, killerAutumn is starting to feel present in the back yard, from the changing leaves to the blooming mums to the last few butterflies visiting late blooms.

mum

fall leaves

final butterflies

And during that retreat last weekend I got to enjoy early autumn in the country. I remembered to bring my binoculars, so I could look for birds. Migration seemed to be in full swing. I saw some warblers, kinglets, and rose breasted grosebeaks, among others.

early autumn

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

It has come to this: the raccoon taxi service

The raccoon count has reached 11.

Can there possibly be that many raccoons hanging out on our block? Or is it just one or two raccoons who don’t mind a night in a trap and a quick trip to the river in the animal control truck in exchange for a marshmallow snack?

We’ll see. John and I finally decided to pay someone to cart our most recent catch to the far reaches of the county. The guy was a little surprised that we already had the raccoon in the trap. I guess his service usually includes the trapping and everything. It sounds crazy, but we’ve reached the point of hiring a taxi service for our raccoons.

Meanwhile, fall is starting to settle in a little. The days are getting shorter, the sun is lower in the sky, and it’s gotten cold enough at night that I’ve needed to bring my houseplants in. Still, the leaves on the trees around our house have really only started to turn in patches here and there. I imagine that one of these days I’ll wake up and the leaves will all suddenly be on the ground.

Still, everything is getting its last blooms in before the frost. The marigolds and zinnias are blooming with wild abandon.

My tomatoes are starting to dry out a little, but still they’re producing. One is a currant tomato variety that I decided to try this year. They were billed as an intense tomato flavor with hints of wine. They are attractive little gems, but I won’t grow the variety again next year. They’re just so small that they’re a pain to pick, so I’ve barely eaten any.

The tomatillos are still going strong, in contrast with this time last year when I was vainly willing just one on to ripeness before the first frost. I turned a second batch into a great pozole (chicken, hominy, and tomatillo stew) that was perfect on a chilly evening. We’ve also been making some nice, warm meals with some winter squash from the farmer’s market.

Now that the market has closed in Evansville for the year, I would love to find somewhere with nice, local squashes and apples for my fall cooking. Anyone know of such a place?

Meanwhile, my toad lilies have been blooming very well–multiple varieties, even!

And there are more butterflies.