Garlic, Beans, & Cats, Oh My!

A couple weeks ago marked the biggest switchover my garden sees every year. It was time for the garlic to come out and the beans to go in. The garlic harvest was good. I always get a small garden sampler from one organic garlic supplier or another. This year it was four varieties from Southern Exposure Seed Catalog. Their garlic has always done well for me.

Since I have such limited garden space, swapping garlic for beans is one thing I have discovered to maximize what I have planted. Ideally, I could plant the beans sooner, but it’s workable putting them in now after the garlic gives up its spot in the garden.

I’ve found lima beans do well for me, so I plant several varieties of them. This year I also added one variety of pole bean and some Native American beans that a friend gave me. I love the beauty of their varied colors and shapes.

Names of each variety of garlic and bean are noted in the following slide show:

Meanwhile, as promised, the cats. They’re all doing well. The Ladies are delightful and floofy. They are sweet and can get pretty much anything they want because of it. There have even been some summer days that were cool enough for the Ladies to sit in the back door and watch the birdies and whatever else is going on. And I’ve kept the bird feeders stocked for additional entertainment from their cat tree.

Perry continues to get marginally better, but he still has a long way to go. He’s funny and interesting and smart. It’s just too bad that his primary language is bites. We continue to work with him, even though it can be frustrating and disappointing.

Here he is showing off his clicker training skills:

And finally, some photos from the alley. Alleys are always very interesting places. In back of our house is a wounded stand of junk trees. One is a dreaded Tree of Heaven that is constantly invading my garden with its suckers. The others are relatively weak varieties of maple. They’ve grown forgotten for years and are quietly consuming the urban detritus around them. Their contortions are beautiful.

*Sigh*

In just a few short weeks I’ve gone from fairy sightings to a few melancholy sighs. I’ve reached the point in the year when it is clear which plants didn’t like the spot where I planted them and aren’t going to make it. I’ll never see the really cool flowers that were promised or the full, mature foliage. It’s also the point in the year when the Tree of Heaven growing just beyond my garden relentlessly sends a forest of suckers up into my garden. They get in the way of everything I’ve planted and look terrible as they die. I use extremely limited chemicals in my garden, and the Tree of Heaven is just about the only thing that gets herbicide treatment. If you simply pull it, one sprout turns into two then four then six. It’s a terrible, invasive plant.

As much as I notice the holes and weeds in my garden, I’m sure most anyone else wouldn’t see any problems at all. Really, there are many, many, many things that are growing happily and healthily, and my yard is a mass of green. I guess there are still plenty of fairies hiding here and there.

I’ll start a little garden tour with the space on the east side of the house. This spot has a lot of sun-loving plants and some native plants. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get an attractive photo of the whole garden. It looks like a kind of a shaggy, straggly mass with peeling house paint behind it. Focusing in on the plants, though, you’ll find orange butterfly weed, dark lilies, and several echinaceas blooming right now.

I only began building the little strip on the west side of the house last year. It’s a difficult spot because it only gets afternoon sun. I thought that it would be a little less sunny than it turned out to be, so I used plants that like shady sun. Some are just fine with it, but others that I really liked haven’t been able to manage the harsher light. My first hostas to bloom for the year were located here along with a blooming astrilbe. There’s also a nice little clump of hardy begonias surrounding a tassel fern that is happy in this spot when it wasn’t happy elsewhere. Again, the photo of the strip doesn’t really do it justice.

And there is a lot of great stuff happening in the main part of my garden. Let’s start with a snake! A couple weeks ago I spotted this black rat snake. It’s the first one I’ve seen in my garden, so it was pretty neat. Last week, Squire Percivale and I were out for a walk and Perry almost caught a mouse in the same spot, so I guess the snake knew where its supper was. On the same night I saw the snake, I cut the scapes off the garlic. When I was looking through my photos, I liked the similarities between the two things.

Also in bloom are the hydrangeas. In my yard I’ve got a variety called “Lady in Red”. It was the big statement plant I got to serve as a centerpiece back when I first started my garden. Just across the fence from my vegetable garden are my neighbor’s hydrangeas. They’re very nice, and I’m glad they serve as kind of an extension of everything blooming in my yard.

This year I’ve got red raspberries lining my side of the same fence. They look great with a birdhouse created last summer by a kid at Patchwork Central. I managed to string up bird netting over the raspberries. The birds got almost all of them last year. I know I’ll only get a few handfulls this year, so every one is precious. They are one of my absolute favorite fruits, but I’ve never found anywhere around here that grows them. That means I have to grow them myself.

There are plenty of other things growing and blooming in my garden, too. I encourage you to flip through the photos below as a slideshow. I’ve labeled them so you know what you’re looking at.

People who have seen my garden only through my blog are often surprised how small it really is. The best angles for photographing everything tend to be the ones that offer a broader panorama. I stick to the ones that show off my garden well. You would never know that to get them I’ve backed all the way up to a fence or my neighbor’s yard. I realized that this photo taken from all the way in my neighbor’s yard gives you more of a sense of just how narrow the space is between the back door and the shed. The alley fence is on the other side of the shed.

And here are a few final sights and sounds from my garden: rain out the back door and my cool wind spinner.

I’ll do another blog post soon that will star the cats!

Warming Up to Summer

The seasons are changing in my garden. The garlic is out of the ground. The lettuce is getting bitter in the heat and I should pull it. The beans are in the ground (and I love the many variations in color and shape and great names). The cucumbers, squash, and melons are starting to explode (particularly the surprise ones that popped up from the compost I emptied into the garden this spring). The tomatoes have green fruits forming.

Soon I’ll be tasting summer coming from my garden!

Summer flowers are also starting to bloom next to my summer vegetables. The hostas have started blooming along with hydrangea, lilies, coneflowers, yarrow, and butterfly weed.

And the weather has been [mostly] lovely lately. I’ve rediscovered our side porch, how easy it is to take a quick break in its shade, and its great view of the garden.

Here’s a view with my wind spinner, sun catchers, and wind chimes all in action:

And one in the evening with the fireflies, night insects, and my sprinkler (I know it’s not best to water plants in the evening, but you’ve got to go with the opportunities that you get). The sprinkler makes nice rain sounds:

And with the weather being so nice, John and I have taken many sunset walks to the Ohio River. Here’s a nice one from a time when I thought to bring my camera:

And it was particularly great to have brought my camera this particular time because we passed an actual human being carrying her cat in a baby carrier.

She told someone as we passed by that it was a standard Walmart baby carrier. She said she’d tried to put her cat on a leash but he didn’t like it at all. He seemed pretty chill. It was only later when I looked at my photo that I noticed the woman’s shirt. The shirt is as awesome as taking your cat on a walk (click the photo to get a closer look).

My only complaint at present is in regard to the bunnies. Recently, I noticed a bunch of my plants slowly shrinking in size. Hmmmm. Did they look nibbled?

Then one afternoon Ygraine went on high alert in her doorway window:

She definitely saw something. What was it?

Dun, dun, dun…

Notice the sad flower heads all over the ground on the right where the bunny already nibbled away their stalks. Apparently these flowers are extremely dee-licious. So much so that they’re only a few inches tall now. And the bunny started eating my beans, too! I’m hoping I can still salvage everything, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. I suggested to Ygraine that she hand the bunny some threats of physical violence, but she’s too sweet for that.

Plus, if the bunnies were gone, she’d loose a serious source of entertainment:

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.

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

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.

Autumn Arrives in My Back Yard and Farther Afield

I’ve been enjoying autumn falling across my back yard. Nice things are happening.

First, I was so happy to see toad lily blooms. I’d been sure that they were going to be casualties of the city’s herbicide campaign, but there are still several of the beautiful flowers gracing the back corner of my garden.

P1330186

blue toad lily

There’s also a lovely, viney mass of plants in a wonderful autumn rainbow of greens, yellows, reds, oranges, and browns. My yellow wall looks good with the yellow maple leaves.

My cat continues to insist on viewing his domain every morning. He doesn’t believe me that it’s getting colder outside. He thinks John and I should do something about that. Now.

And this weekend I finally cleared a section of my garden in order to plant garlic. I’d hoped that the plants that had been growing there would have been killed off by now, but they’ve been tenacious. There were a few tomatoes and some marigolds that simply were not quitting. A collected the marigold blossoms that I could and brought them inside to enjoy for a few more days. And now the garlic is in the ground!

I’ve also taken a couple walks around the Evansville area to enjoy the fall colors. I’ve found plenty of beautiful trees. I’ve underestimated Evansville’s beauty. I think I need to get out into the area parks more! There’s a lot to see.