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.

The flowers say it’s September, so I guess it must be

It’s been a long, difficult, tiring summer. I think I can tell because  haven’t been cooking nearly as much as last summer. Still, I’ve had a little extra time away from work recently, and John and I have had a chance to do a little bit of cooking from garden produce. It’s been mostly recipes from my book of favorites, which is safe, but good. I did make some great peach shortcakes for dessert on Labor Day which were a new recipe and particularly good.

This weekend was finally cooler, but I’m still having a hard time believing that it’s September and that really, pretty much, fall has arrived. However, Saturday I saw the first toad lily blooms, so I guess I can’t escape the fact that falling leaves aren’t too far away.

The marigolds are really starting to get big. It was about this time last year that I couldn’t stop photographing them because they looked so nice. This year I’ve had a bunch come up as volunteers half way through the summer. Surprises are fun!

And the hostas have bloomed.

And the sweet autumn clematis is blooming throughout the neighborhood. It smells so nice.

However, it’s also the time of the year when the raccoons get nasty. I heard a loud noise in the middle of the night last week. I was suspicious, so I looked out the back door and saw a raccoon waddling toward the front of the house. It sounded like he had been jumping onto the lid of the compost bin as if it was a trampoline. It’s been hard to sleep since. Every creak in the house wakes me up because I’m afraid that it’s the raccoons crawling through the duct work again. Then I stay awake listening to hear if there’s another creak. It’s not very restful.

Meanwhile, my garden’s happy with all the recent rain.

I’ve got beans, tomatoes, cukes, and a few peppers.

I also have a mass of lima beans that are in a better location than last year, but are still way out of control.

And look! I finally have some tomatillos! The first year of my garden I picked up a plant somewhere thinking they would be fun, and I made some good food with its fruit. In the two years since, I tried to start my own from seed but, I haven’t been able to get the fruit ripe before the frost came. This year, I got them started super early in the greenhouse. It’s been so long that I don’t remember what tasty food I prepared with them that first year.

The cardinal creeper is taking over the side of the shed, just as I’d hoped.

And the elephant ears are still marvelous, but they’re in a really unphotogenic spot by the air conditioner and compost bin. That’s why they have generally appeared as close ups.

I also continue to get produce at the farmers’ market. It won’t be open much longer, sadly. These peppers were so beautiful. They look like the sunset. I didn’t really need them, but they looked too delicious.

We’ve also had a lot of continuing activity related to the house construction in our neighborhood. They’ve got foundations built for three on our block alone. There’s supposed to be one more across the street, but they haven’t been able to remove the giant tree stump in the middle of the lot. Here are the workers phoning their boss to tell him that the giant crane can’t get the stump to budge.

That was a couple weeks ago and they have yet to come back with a new plan.

All the dirt that’s getting dug out to create the foundations is getting piled behind our house. It’s a crazy little alien mountain range that’s replaced the football field that had been back there. The kids have fun walking across it.

Explosions of Green

I realized this weekend that my garden really looks like a dog days of summer garden. I’ve got a mass of beans and tomatoes starting to explode everywhere.

This year I planted a couple random zinnias and marigolds here and there among the vegetables and I’m enjoying the touches of color that they’re providing.

The blackberries are finishing their delicious run.

Peaches are in season, including the lovely Carolina Belles that are packed with complex flavor. As a special treat for me, John has now decided that peaches taste pretty good. Make way for some great peach desserts now that I have someone to share them with!

The sunflower that was planted by the birds at my bird feeder has finished its blooming and now will perhaps feed the birds itself.

My potted plants are happy.

The cardinal creeper vine is starting to look great on the side of the shed.

And we’ve had some more interesting little visitors. First there was this red iridescent dragonfly that I was lucky to spot one night on the cardinal creeper.

And then there was the evening I walked into the kitchen to find a dusty little lizard hanging out on the stove top. I have no idea what it was doing. John and I managed to trap it and release it outside.

Fruits & Labor

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything about what’s happening in my garden. The big news is that my garden is looking good despite my absence for half of May.

Just before I left for Coshocton in May, I’d picked up some more plants at the annual Master Gardener’s Plant Sale. Check out this photo of John and I. I love to get there just before the opening bell and join the mob on the hunt for plants. The best plant is one you were able to grab before someone else did–don’t you know? I managed to get my plants in the ground during the week between my Coshocton and Northern Michigan trips.

Also during that week I realized that the June apples on our tree were ripe, so I went out with my apple picker and collected what I could. I hadn’t realized how loaded the tree was last year until I saw how few apples were on the tree this year. I had enough to fill my kitchen sink and make a decent batch of applesauce. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that what this year’s apples lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. Last year’s applesauce tastes so watery in comparison to this year’s. I guess I’m tasting last year’s spring deluge versus this year’s drought.

I’ve been concerned about finding new June apple sources, especially since this spring when John and I contacted tree trimmers to trim the apple trees and magnolia away from our house. The trees have gotten so huge that there’s just no way we could do it ourselves.

I figured the result would be no more applesauce apples and I was worried. I saw a local orchard had lodi apples ready, so I picked up a few so I could compare them to the apples in my yard. Here’s the comparison:

Lodi

  • Pros: Clearly better flavor. Needs less sugar for the sauce to taste good.
  • Cons: Costs $4.50 for a little box. Ouch!

Yard Apples (probably Yellow Transparent)

  • Pros: Free! Picking them helps you meet your neighbors. They’re also known as Grand Sultan…oooh, fancy.
  • Cons: Inferior flavor. Too high up to pick.

They’re sitting side-by-side in the photo above. The one on the left is Lodi and the one on the right is from our yard. It’s hard to see much difference.

At the same time that the apples were ready, so were the cherries. I picked a whole bunch at Farview Orchard near Wadesville. Last year when I went they hardly had any sweet cherries, but this year there were tree-fulls of yellow ones. I wish I’d taken my camera to capture the way they glowed on the trees.

Last week saw an explosion of new fruits ripening. There are blackberries ready in my garden and at Patchwork. I’ve already frozen a bunch and made a cobbler. Maybe there will be more than enough this year, or maybe I’ll have to trek back to Farview Orchard for the epic blackberries I found last year.

I’ve also been picking my favorite–blueberries. Saturday I was back at Wright’s Berry Farm in Newburgh and picked for a solid three hours. Hopefully that supply will last me for a year. It’s fun to be buried deep in the blueberry bush and hear all the random chatter of unseen families a row or two away.

I’m also watching the plums at Patchwork and waiting for the fancy white peaches–both of which should be perfect soon.

In addition, the summer squash and zucchini in my container garden have started to produce. I also harvested my cilantro and my garlic after first chopping the scapes off the top. I’ve also traded my peas for beans and lettuce for basil.

Between this and trips to the farmers’ market, John and I are getting plenty of good, fresh food. The squash has been thinly sliced and dressed with a vinaigrette to make a nice salad and has been sauteed and added to some pesto I froze last fall. The garlic scapes joined the lettuce in one of my favorite spring soups and were ground with the cilantro into a pesto. The garlic is drying quietly in bundles around the house.

Oh, and just before we left for Michigan we trapped our 8th raccoon–or maybe it was just Number 7 trapped a second time. The two seemed to share a couple weird quirks. After the first couple raccoons in our traps, we started calling Animal Control whenever we had a new one in the trap. I secretly hoped that Animal Control was euthanizing them to control overpopulation, but we finally asked and found out Animal Control just releases them “somewhere by the river.” Well, that’s not too far away from where we live. Hopefully the Animal Control guy drove Number 8 a little further away this time.

Bowl Full of Awesome

It’s shaping up to be a less than amazing year for blackberries at Patchwork. The bush is having a lighter year, then the overly exuberant kids stripped off everything remotely ripe during Art Garden Week II. Great for them…not so great for me. In the week since Art Garden I’ve had plenty of competition from other blackberry pickers. Fair enough…it’s not my blackberry bush, it’s a community garden, but shouldn’t it count for something that I am Patchwork’s legendary blackberry harvester? No? Oh well then. I’ll adapt.

The blackberries in my garden have been doing well this year–at least until yesterday when a couple of catbirds discovered them and chewed up every berry. Next year I’ll have to get out the bird netting.

My blackberries are all starts from Patchwork’s berries. I had a second variety last year and had eagerly awaited the first ever berries. Then I realized that the other variety literally tasted like vomit: sour, acidic, and just a little sweet. Blackberries’ flavor changes quite a bit when you cook them, becoming more mellow and less “green”, so even the barfy berries were just fine cooked. But,  I didn’t want to mistake one for the Patchwork variety if I was eating them fresh off the vine, so I killed them off. The Patchwork variety has taken over well since then.

While the blackberries at Patchwork aren’t overly abundant this year, the plum tree is loaded so I picked some of them. They’re a beautiful yellow with a blush of red when they’re ripe. I cut up some of them, added some local peaches and some of the blueberries I picked a few weeks ago, brought a few sweet cherries out of the freezer, and threw in a precious handful of the blackberries I’ve gathered.

From that beautiful bowl of fruit I made a fruit platz. It’s kind of like an un-flipped upside-down cake. There’s a nice cake layer on the bottom, a layer of fruit, and then a crumbly topping. It’s the first time I’ve tried this recipe, but it was a good use of my mixed fruits. It’s not the blackberry cobbler I’m famous for, but it tasted amazing. Not too sweet, very fruity, with a hint of spices. I think I can adapt quite well to fewer blackberries.

That, and I really need to keep my freezer stocked with vanilla ice cream all summer so that I’m prepared whenever the mood hits me to make some fruit dessert. Also good with the platz: cardamom flavored ice cream I got at Evansville’s Fresh Market.

I’ve saved up the limited blackberries I have been able to get my hands on so I could make at least one batch of blackberry jam. Last year I discovered that the strainer I’d gotten to make applesauce also had a berry attachment so I could pulp and seed blackberries. It was a significant innovation for me!

Unfortunately, last year I thought my jam tasted too sweet and the sugar obscured the solid berry flavor of the blackberries. This year I tried a different type of pectin that’s supposed to work with much less sugar. It’s called Pamona’s Universal Pectin. I got it at the River City Food Co-op so it’s officially alternative pectin.

I just finished the batch and now I’m listening to the jar lids ping as they seal. The bites I’ve sampled taste perfect. Very berry yet still sweet. This year I also tried adding some sage to the berries make an even more complex flavor. I was afraid to overdo it, so I don’t think I added enough. Sage and blackberry go together so well.

Tastes Like Summer

My garden’s in a slow spot right now. My beans, kohlrabi, carrots, beats, basil, cilantro, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes are all growing fine but there’s not much promise of produce any time soon.  The blackberries are juuuust about ripe, but the birds and squirrels are already helping themselves.

Lucky for me I’ve got access to other gardens where plenty of things are ready to eat. After seeing several friends’ Facebook posts that they were picking blueberries last weekend, I decided to find more myself–and I was successful!

Patchwork’s garden is also growing well, so on Saturday I ventured over to pick a few things including red beets, purple beans, sage, and blackberries. They all look so good together…

I also picked some summer squash at Patchwork. I’m surprised, but last summer won me over on summer squash. Before then I wouldn’t particularly have chosen to eat it, but then John and I shared a CSA share with Jane Vickers. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many vegetables in my life.

It started out fine. Each week it was so exciting to pull open our box of vegetables to see what treats had been growing for us. I felt pretty in-tune with the seasonality of the particular produce as the lettuces transitioned to potatoes and summer squash that then changed to melons and winter squashes. But, by the end of the summer we all started thinking, “Please, please make the vegetables stop!” But then yet another box of vegetables would arrive for us.

Summer squash featured heavily into the blessings and curses of the CSA share. Not having had a fondness for it, I didn’t really have any recipes ready for it. Then we got squash after squash after squash. By the time they disappeared from our weekly CSA share, we had gotten plenty creative with it. A lot of ideas came from Simply in Season. I highly recommend the cookbook, by the way. With all the produce during the Summer of the CSA, my copy got quite the workout.

This year we opted not to be part of a CSA, but I miss the summer squash–just a little. I’m glad I can pick a couple over at Patchwork. They’re great sauteed with onions and added to pesto and pasta.

John and I have been making other tasty things recently. On the Fourth of July we grilled Honey Glazed Chicken, Peach, Sweet Potato, and Onion skewers. They were incredibly good. We added a bottle of some Argentinian white wine and it was perfect.

Last night we grilled burgers and brats. The burgers were dressed with some of the last of my lettuce, local tomatoes, and some fresh mozzarella. We also had roasted new potatoes from the River City Food Co-op and some of the beans from Patchwork’s garden. For dessert? Homemade caramel and toasted almond ice cream with blueberries!

Blargh, Mulch!

Yesterday I finally got the mulch spread on my perennials. I’ve had the bags sitting in the back yard for a couple weeks but only yesterday did I both have the time and dry enough ground to do the job.

I don’t find the process particularly enjoyable. On top of that, yesterday was incredibly hot and humid.

So, here’s how it went…

First two bags done. It already looks better. My frog house from Art & Company looks even better now. My beans and other vegetables are looking good…

And there’re my Cucumbers. They’re really growing well. I never thought I’d like growing cucumbers, but last year my horned melons (a kind of cucumber) grew so well in this throw-away space that I decided to try another variety there this year. Next year I should rig some strings from the ground to the eaves of the shed and let the cucumbers grow up it. It would be a great wall of cucumber.

Oh, and hello Nala. Aren’t you so innocent there on the brick pile. No one would suspect that you’re a deadly bird hunter.

My blackberries are glowing in the sun. Should I try to keep the birds off them? I tried last summer and got a few berries for my tons of work wrapping the bush in bird netting, but then I got more than I could use from the bushes at Patchwork. Maybe the birds can just have these. The mockingbirds are already taking a toll…

Ok, ok, ok. Back to work. Three more bags of mulch in and I can see I’m going to fall just a little short. Drat! And John just came back from donating platelets so he can’t go do the heavy lifting for me when I get another bag. But hey, the mulch has added nicely to the level of the soil in the back corner of the garden…

And while I was at Lowe’s getting the last bags of mulch, I picked up a couple stepping stones so I stop trampling all over everything. But now it’s all done and looks great.

Maybe a break now for some fresh local peaches…