A Frosty Start to 2018

2018 started out with an icy cold blast that wouldn’t stop. On the coldest night my thermometer hit -1. That cold stuck around for over two weeks, but we thankfully had a warm home to be in. The furnace created an impressive stalagmite under the exhaust pipe. I thought it was interesting to see all the differently shaped furnace stalagmites around the neighborhood.

After a brief break from the frigid cold (one day the high was in the 60’s) we got a nice little snowstorm with 4″ – 5″ of photogenic snow. Frigid temperatures have returned with it, so the snow will be sticking around for a few more days. It looks festive, but our cars are completely stuck.

I’m sure the cats don’t know how good they have it. They’ve been spending a lot of time by the heat vents and on their heated cat beds. In between they have play time and Perry does his all-important laundry inspection. They’ve also¬†thoroughly loved watching the throngs of birds at the feeders trying to survive the cold. I’d failed to stock up on the safflower seeds that the cardinals and other bigger birds eat, so I made an emergency run to Rural King today so I wouldn’t run out. The cats were very happy that their “stories” went uninterrupted.

Last week I got a window bird feeder for the Ladies. The birds finally found it yesterday, and Lady Ygraine quickly found the birds. They haven’t been back since she lunged at the window, but she’s eagerly awaiting their return. The sales woman at Wild Birds Unlimited assured me that she has a the same feeder and a cat and eventually the birds learn that the cats won’t get them. I hope so!

Here’s a slideshow of the first two weeks of 2018. Click on any photo for a larger image and a description.

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Closing Out the Year

Everything is pretty well tucked in and dormant in my garden. We’ve had several blasts of frigid air and surely many more will descend on us before spring. Really, winter has barely arrived.

2017 has been stressful, and 2018 promises to have new challenges all its own. John and I didn’t even feel like we could manage a Christmas tree this year, but I did put up Christmas lights outdoors. It’s enough to feel festive, shining light with abandon into the darkest, longest night.

I continue to rejoice in the beauty of the changing seasons, including the deep, earthy colors and the pale decay seen throughout my garden. They are what the end of the year looks like, so I’ll leave you with them–and a little bit of pre-Christmas snow.

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!

You’ve Peaked, Evansville.

Every fall in Evansville there is a beautiful moment when the leaves have changed gloriously and enough have scattered across the ground that we are surrounded by a world of autumnal color. The streets are lined with reds, rusts, pale oranges, and yellows. My back yard is bathed in golden light filtered through the maple leaves, and it’s the color of happiness. But, the moment is always brief and an instant later the branches are bare and the leaves on the ground are dry and grey.

(Click any of the photos below for a bigger image and a slideshow of the changing leaves.)

My garden has fully embraced autumn. We didn’t have freezing temperatures until a few days ago, so most things were still growing though they seemed to anticipate the killing weather. Many leaves were tinged with orange and yellow and seed pods were prominent. I picked the last of my beans and brought my house plants indoors for the winter. The Ladies enjoyed adventuring in their new jungle in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, a few photos of the cats. We keep working with Larry to improve his behavior, though he’s still a challenge and very bitey. One thing that we’ve discovered he loves: clicker training. So far he can touch a target with his nose, stand on a mat with all four paws, and sit. He seems happy to do it and happy to have very positive interaction with John and me.

Of course, the Ladies are simply delightful, as always.

All three have the following advice as winter approaches:

Find a warm spot…

 

Enjoy your warm bed…

Wrap your tail around your nose to keep it warm…

And enjoy the changing seasons.

 

Turning to Fall

Now there’s the promise of cooler days mixed in with the warm ones. Last night was cold enough I needed to bring my houseplants inside. They’ll go back out tomorrow for more direct sun and fresh air, but it won’t be long before they’re in for the winter.

I’ve got some final tomatoes still ripening. The Atomic Grape variety has been getting nice and ripe and I’ve decided I like them better than I thought. The color still isn’t as dramatic as it was in the seed catalog, but they’re still pretty, especially in big clusters.

I’ve been picking my lima beans. A couple weeks ago I got a nice collection of both fresh and already dried. They’re tasty and beautiful. It usually takes all summer to get a nice crop ready to pick. The hearty begonia flowers are gracefully descending into seed pods and the toad lilies are blooming, so it must be time for fall. The zinnias and marigolds continue to bloom and add nice autumn color.

A big, fat, orange cucumber is hanging on a dying vine with drying beans nearby. It is the image of early fall. And the corn has been pulled and sits by my front stoop looking festive. A few weeks ago I was sitting next to someone at a gathering of nonprofit professionals and he kept talking about going out to his farm to get some corn to decorate his nearby nonprofit. In Patchwork Central style, I got my fall decor from my yard and not from my second home.

And finally, the cats are enjoying the changing seasons from the back door. We’ve been trying to try to prepare for merging the household, so Larry has even gotten in on the garden viewing action. The merger hasn’t gone great so far, so keep us all in your thoughts. About a week ago we let them all meet, but Larry just got excited and chased the Ladies around the house. He just wanted friends to play with. The Ladies didn’t like his game. John and I continue to try to train him not to communicate with us using his teeth, but it looks like that work will be ongoing. He’s a much tougher to than average cat to figure out. Meanwhile, the Ladies continue to be their usual lovely selves.

Another Not-So-Famous Garden in my Neighborhood

Walking around my neighborhood, it’s fun to get glimpses of interesting gardens that other people have created in their back yards. There will be a sunflower here, a rose there, and a tomato plant over there. Actually, there are some fantastic gardens hidden here and there near downtown Evansville.

One such garden belongs to Dee. She works at Patchwork and has lived in this neighborhood for a very long time. I saw a small part of her garden earlier this summer and wanted to see more of it so I stopped by last week with my camera.

Dee’s back yard is a lot like mine in that the Victorian family that built her house paved the entire thing. As a result, Dee has narrow raised beds along the edges of the property that are densely packed with vignettes of plants and art.

I love Dee’s quirky combinations of figurines and garden art. I envy some of the weirder pieces in her collection. Some spots in her yard are elegant and then there are the places where her fantastic sense of humor shines.

Here’s a tour:

2017 Tomato Round Up

My tomatoes didn’t do great this year, but I got to try at least one fruit from every variety. I always have fun picking new varieties from the catalogs when they come in the mail mid-winter. The descriptions always make my mouth water, so it’s interesting to taste to see if I think they live up to the hype.

Here’s what I grew this year:

Chadwick:

This one I’d mislabeled. I thought the plant was a variety I’d grown before that is called “green grape”. It was a terrible green grape tomato, but once I realized the mix up, I decided it wasn’t that bad of a tomato, but it isn’t a new favorite, either. There wasn’t anything too noteworthy about it other than the fact that it grew pretty well.

Rose Blush:

This one is a new favorite. It had a sweet, strong flavor that lived up to its wine-inspired name. The small fruits were abundant, attractive, and delicious. I’ll definitely grow it again.

Atomic Grape:

The photos of this one in the seed catalog were so cool with swirls of red, orange, green, lavender, and silver. The description said the flavor was incredible as well. Mine didn’t turn out so well. They have stayed very green with streaks of orange until the squirrels made them disappear completely. The flavor was also kind of fleshy and green. They never seemed to get luscious and ripe.

Blue Berries:

These were a returning variety. I had two plants and one of the two plants had strayed a little from the traits it was supposed to have. I was less impressed with that one, but wasn’t sad that I’d planted it again. The flavor is nice and it’s a pretty fruit with touches of dark purple on it.

Green Grape:

This is one of my all-time favorites, but I haven’t grown it for a little while. I missed it, so I brought it back. Unfortunately it didn’t grow well and I only got one or two fruits to enjoy. It’s a variety that stays mostly green, but the flavor is complex, a little sweet, and citrusy.

Mystery Compost Tomato:

This one popped up in the spot where I’d spread my compost, and I let it grow just to see what it would turn into. Surprise! It’s yellow and pretty. But it’s really bland. I remember a tomato like that from many years ago. I didn’t like it much then, either.

Cosmic Elcipse:

This was another one with a very pretty picture in the seed catalog, a great name, and assurances that it tasted great. I only got two fruits off of this plant, and they were good but I think I picked them a little early. They definitely were pretty.

Dragon’s Eye:

I’d tried growing this one last year but didn’t get any fruit. The description of the fruit in the catalog was intriguing, so I tried it again this year so I could see what it looked like. Wow! It was pretty. And it tasted good. I just wish there had been more.