The Tastiness Continues and the Critter Count Goes Up

Lots of things are blooming and growing in my garden. I tried alums this year and I like them so much I’ll add more next year. They add some nice sparkle among the other plants. For anyone unaware, they are the globes of purple flowers set on long stems that are in the first two photos in the slide show below.

I’d always resisted them because they were something I always thought was cool when I was 5. I’d look through the seed catalogs my family got in the mail and cut out my favorite plants and alums were always among them. So, I’ve been avoiding them as an adult as being too gimmicky (along with with rainbow ponies and magic talking cats). It turns out that they’re great!

They bloomed along with plenty of other things including the Asian greens that we couldn’t eat fast enough (yellow flowers below) and hydrangeas everywhere including my pink one and my neighbor’s blue ones. My cone flowers out front are blooming. The cilantro grew into a forest before I cut it to turn it into cilantro pesto. And the garlic has grown scapes. They are beautiful when cut.

I also added some new garden art which is an original painting by Billy Hedel that I found in the alley behind his gallery one day. It’s not a spot I frequent, so I guess it was meant to be. I confirmed that the art was really available for the taking. It goes great with my yellow wall.

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We’ve had many recent meals that celebrated produce from my garden and from nearby farms. They’ve included tuna with black garlic sauce, tomatoes, cilantro and a side of asparagus; strawberry tart; salad with strawberries, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds; and fresh cherries.

While I was photographing my neighbor’s beautiful hydrangeas, I happened to notice…evidence…of critters. We got the trap loaded and in position and caught two possums and a raccoon last week. Blech. It was evening by the time we could transport the raccoon elsewhere, so because of it we did get to see a beautiful sunset over Bluegrass FWA.

And here’s a cute, non-invasive critter for you: Shamoo continues to live out his happy little life with me as his person and John as his staff. He has arthritis and we recently started him on new medication and that may be why he’s been a little perkier as of late.

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An Object of Beauty

I first laid eyes on it back in January at the Bluffton, Ohio fireworks store. It was beautiful, but I let it slip by.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was destined to own it. That my garden would never be complete without it.

So last weekend when I was back in Bluffton, I went back to the fireworks store and inquired about it.

“$30. No returns.”

“Perfect!!!”

And so I present to you…

concrete raccoon

My new concrete raccoon!

It’s beautiful!

My sister suggested that I probably could have haggled on the price, but I was too excited. She also suggested that I should make a raccoon shrine in my yard, which I think is a good idea. Maybe it will drive away the raccoons.

And another I-kid-you-not fact for you: In November 1931, one former resident of my house caught an opossum in the back yard. People were so astounded to find such wildlife in the city that it made the newspaper.

catches possum

It was so remarkable that the guy offered the opossum to the local zoo.

possum presented to zoo

I’m disappointed that there’s no record of whether the zoo took it.

(All this is courtesy of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library’s new searchable database of historic newspapers and staying up too late because I found it so intriguing.)

Raccoons’ Revenge, part 2

Well, for those of you following the critter count, I’ve added another raccoon. That’s 15.

grasshopper

John and I are sure that about a week ago our basement was invaded once again by one of the raccoons left homeless when their condo across the street was torn down. We set up traps and caught a possum. We tried again and got a raccoon. We’ll keep trapping and see what we get.

A couple weeks ago, I cleared most of my garden for the winter. The tomatoes had pretty well given up, so it was a great opportunity to take everything out, spread some of our compost, and add a little extra garden soil. Then I planted garlic. It’ll start growing over the winter and be ready to harvest by June or July.

fall garden ready

I’ve been meaning to harvest my basil for pesto. The bees have continued to frequent my basil plants, so I was sorry to cut down their food supply.

bumble bee

So I let my basil grow as long as I dared before risk of losing it to the cold. I’ve decided it’s like the Christmas trees we get from the reclaimed strip mines–it looks like it’s a perfectly reasonable size until I bring it inside. I spent hours and hours clipping leaves off the stems and now have a respectable amount of pesto frozen for winter. My dad was visiting, so I had a wonderful kitchen buddy to keep me company while I worked.

Josh

I used two giant piles of basil and a bunch of garlic from my garden. I’ve had pretty good success growing garlic for the past several years. Both the garlic I harvested this summer and the batch I just planted are from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They sell a nice garlic sampler pack for small gardens. The amount I received was just a little too much for my tiny plot, which was better than past years when I had way too much. It’s a random array of varieties and they’re fun to try.

Here’s what I harvested this summer:

2013 garlic

Left to right they are:

S&H Silverskin Softneck — Hot, pleasant flavor that I liked best raw but I didn’t like as much when it was cooked and the flavor turned milder.

Duganski — A hardneck. It didn’t work well for me at all. The bulbs were small and didn’t keep. Raw I didn’t like it so much, but it was nice and nutty cooked.

Chopatka Mountain — Artichoke-style softneck. This one grew the best for me and had large, consistent bulbs. These weren’t incredibly flavorable, but weren’t bad.

Turkish Red Hardneck — These grew well, producing a bunch of nicely-sized bulbs. The flavor was consistently good, both raw and cooked–better than the Chopatka Mountain.

Another big project around my garden has been another round of refurbishing my birdbath mosaic. I redid the center last summer but then the edges started falling off. Now they’re fixed. It seems to be a never ending project because the water that the birds appreciate all winter freezes into destructive ice.

Before:

before

After: after

Meanwhile, I’ve had more fall color appear in my garden. The cardinal creeper slowly climbing up the side of my shed finally bloomed:

cardinal creeper in the rain

A couple coral bells have taken on some nice, subtle fall color:

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And the toad lilies are blooming like there’s no tomorrow–and with a frost coming, maybe there isn’t. One of the later varieties has blooms cascading all the way down the length of the plant. Pretty cool.

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Also cool? One of my garden photos placed third in a local photography competition. And my sculptural ode to this summer’s cacophony of cicadas won the “Tri County Recycling Award” at an exhibit of art made from recycled objects. Yay! Here’s the photo:

Honeybee

Intimidation and Fear

lilly of the valleyThe raccoons are back. So are the squirrels. It’s discouraging, to say the least.

After catching another raccoon about a week ago, we called in a wildlife management guy this week to see if he had some fresh ideas. It turns out that he did.

I pulled up at my house to find him bent over and peering under our front steps, flashlight in hand. He had a big, white beard. His truck was parked in front of our house with its dusty, rusty bed full of live traps and a dog waiting behind the wheel.

“Usually when I get called in, I’m dealing with intimidation and fear,” he told me as we stood in front of the house discussing the problem. “You don’t seem intimidated.”

“Yeah. I’m just really frustrated,” I said. I took his comment as a compliment, along with his observation that I had my trap set up correctly and baited right–White azalea bloomingwith marshmallows “so you don’t catch a cat,” we said together.

We discussed the house and where I think the raccoons are getting in and his thoughts about that. “I guarantee, there are raccoons all around here. They know every house, every hiding place, where every dog lives.” He motioned to an abandoned house across the street with a new hole in the roof. “You gotta make sure you’re trapping your raccoons, not his raccoons,” he said.

He shared random facts about raccoons and information he’d learned from Purdue Extension Office info sessions about their urban raccoon research. He talked a little about other work he does, “I’m working a job a couple blocks from here. A woman woke up in the middle of the night and found a possum in her toilet.”

power pink“Wow. We’re not at that point yet,  and I hope we never get there,” I told him.

The raccoons seem to be getting in under our front porch. We’re scheduled to have it re-done sometime soon, so right now my biggest fear is that one will be trapped in the basement by the construction. The guy gave me several tips on how to tell if raccoons are present and how to set the trap up even better to catch anything as it emerges from beneath.

“You gotta paint a picture for them. Show them exactly where you want them to go. Get the trap right in there so there’s nowhere else to go. You can even cover the area with a sheet so the only daylight is at the back of the trap. They’ll always go toward the daylight,” he said as he cleared a foot-wide path through the weeds that led from the porch to the trap.

cinnamon fernI’d always assumed I should be more subtle so the raccoons wouldn’t suspect human intervention.

He introduced me to his dog before he left. It was a handsome border collie and the two of them were off to harass geese to keep them from nesting (and pooping) around drainage ponds next to some east side business establishments. The dog was eager to get to work but enjoyed a couple of pats.

That night as I was getting into bed, my cat took an unusual interest in the furnace vent in the bedroom. He stared down it for several seconds, then left, then came and stared again. Surely not! I didn’t smell the wet dog stink of raccoon. But the cat knew.

So much for me living without intimidation and fear. I didn’t sleep well at all.

hosta in the gardenThe next morning when I went out to get the newspaper, the azalea bush was shaking as a raccoon tried to get out of the live trap beneath it. The path to the trap had worked perfectly.

That was raccoon #14, if you’re keeping track.

Color coordinating with construction fences

We’re well into fall. Like last year, my Mexican sunflower has waited until now–the eleventh hour–to bloom. Still, its orange flowers fit with the color of the falling leaves. And the construction fences across the alley from us.

Big things are happening back there. Three houses are going up and a mountain of dirt lies between them.

Gone, too, is the final remainder of the little forest that used to grow across the alley. The giant oak stump got chopped up and hauled away.

Meanwhile, John and I were in Tucson a couple weekends ago. We were working most of the time, but we still got to see a little bit of the city and the surroundings. It was the first time either of us had been there. One nice part was that we got to stay in a little guest house in the foothills. This was our view. It was very relaxing.

My only other time in Arizona had been back in 2000 when my friend Jane and I went on a crazy three week road trip to the Grand Canyon. The trip was great, but I was so disappointed to discover that saguaro cacti don’t grow anywhere near the Grand Canyon. I’d wanted so much to see them growing naturally. Now I have!

Lots and lots of them!

Plus many other interesting desert plants.

How Pretty are the Tomatoes

My tomato plants have been happily producing fruits and I’m happily harvesting them. Every time I get a bowl full I just have to take a picture. They’re so beautiful, especially just picked when they shine.

And the tomatillos, too.

I found a good recipe for grilled tomatillo salsa with corn and avocado served over grilled pork chops and John and I tried it last week. It was excellent!

I also froze more pesto for the winter.

Speaking of good eats, I’ve realized how many red flowers are blooming in my garden now–perfect for all the humming birds and butterflies stopping through.

And I’ve got my first Mexican sunflower blooming high above my garden.

Just in time for fall.

In case you’re wondering, the last two weeks have brought updates for the critter count. First we caught another possum, bringing us to four. Then we got another raccoon, bringing us to 10 (including the one that got away). Both were, thankfully, caught in the outside trap.

Unfortunately, we didn’t notice the raccoon right away (you’d think it would be obvious now that the trap is beneath our kitchen window, but no) and he sat in the trap for at least a day. I felt kind of bad, but then he didn’t seem all that much worse for wear.

When I re-baited the trap, I discovered that with so much time to kill, he’d somehow pulled off the heavy wire handle that you use to carry the trap and had it snagged on the bottom and side of the trap in such a way that I can’t pull it off. I’m going to have to cut the wire to undo his damage!

He didn’t escape, though. Have-a-Heart standard models are built like tanks!

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.