Catching Up

For the last month my computer has been on the fritz, and it’s really cramping my style. With it out of commission, I don’t have my photo file organizer or my photo editing software. Normally I take a lot of photos, download them to my computer, sort and organize them there, and edit each one–even if it’s only to reduce the file size to help keep me within my allotted online storage space. I’ve not been able to do any of that for a while.

Luckily it’s the slower time of the year for garden photos. Below is an assortment to update you on my garden in the last month. It’s Southern Indiana, so the weather has swung from cold and icy to a balmy 70 degrees last week. However, because it’s been mostly colder this time around, my first crocus blooms have been a little later. The first one opened on Feb 8. Then with the warm day, others exploded across my lawn. I’m always glad to see their reminder that the seasons are slowly changing.

The warm day also meant that the Ladies could survey their domain from the back door and Perry could try out his new walking jacket. I hope that walks will offer him another positive activity to keep him occupied. I’m still not sure what he thinks.

And finally, the squirrels found the little bird feeder I’d put up for the Ladies. It was full of the good seed, too! I came home from work at lunch on Friday and the base was off the feeder. I had some suspects at the time, and my suspicions were confirmed today when there was a sudden skittering going up the window screen and the Ladies went on full alert. Stupid squirrel!

Rare Harvests

I have figs! I have figs!

Perhaps six years ago, I got to taste a fig straight off a friend’s fig tree. It was the most unique and amazing flavor. I decided I wanted to grow my own, and so the saga began.

The winters here are borderline for growing figs. The first winter mine all died. The second winter I wrapped them in burlap and moved them to a protected corner of the yard. And they still died. I thought.

After I planted new ones, the roots of the previous years’ sprouted fresh. That winter I brought them inside when it got below 20 degrees outside, but then it stayed cold and they stayed indoors and came out of dormancy. They leafed out and sprouted fruits but didn’t get enough light and the tiny figs fell off.

Last winter I brought them inside when it got below 15 degrees outside, but got them back outside quickly. The winter didn’t have too many cold snaps, and they happily started growing at the first signs of spring. Like every other year, this summer they were nice and green and leafy. Unlike other years, I saw figs forming!

I held my breath, ready for the figs to drop too early, but, no! They turned dark and heavy with sugar. Would the flavor be as extraordinary as I remembered?

Yes indeed.

Another rare harvest is the butternut squash. I got four small ones off of that volunteer vine! It looks like it’s true that the squash vine borers don’t like butternut squash because the vines never succumbed. I will definitely plant more in the future. The only problem came when we brought Larry the cat inside after he’d spent a month roaming my garden. It only took a week before the squirrels were making a mess of it.

I’ve also harvested a couple melons (one too early, sadly), the corn is looking good from a distance but aphids have damaged the ears, the okra is blooming (really the flowers are the main reason I grow okra!), I’m collecting one blackberry at a time in the hope of having enough to make jam (though with Larry the cat outside, the birds and squirrels left me more berries this year), the beans finally started to amount to something, the flowers are blooming, and tomatoes continue to ripen (although I have yet to taste some of the most intriguing varieties including Dragon’s Eye and Cosmic Eclipse).

Larry the cat has been doing OK in his life indoors. He is a difficult cat, which we anticipated when we brought him in. He has tons of energy, he is a gawky teenager, and his brain seems to short out regularly which results in people being bitten. He’s loving, too.

This morning I felt like I bargained for his soul. It turns out that he belonged to the relative of a neighbor but had come to live with the neighbor when the relative lost her apartment. No one at his new home could stand him indoors, so they put him outside. Then he disappeared for the last week and everyone was worried.

I told them we’d taken him to the vet and were treating him for problems that the vet had found. I told them I could tell that he’d been cared for. I offered to take over caring for him and said I had been planning to see if we could work him in with our other cats. His previous caretaker seemed a little relieved and agreed.

She did make sure I knew his real name is Raja and that he’s part Bengal. She said if she could find them she’d drop off his vet records.

He always turns to look when he hears voices across the street. He still considers her his person.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are a little stressed about another cat being around, even though we can’t officially introduce them all until Larry’s intestinal parasites clear up. The one good thing for them now that he’s indoors: they can sit uninterrupted at their back door once more. They can’t complain too much about their life of leisure and luxury.

Then Along Came Snow

February was warm and toasty. The magnolia bloomed early. The crocuses were up. Leaves were starting to bud. Other plant sprouts started to poke their way out of the ground. I planted a few patches of lettuce because everything looked so nice and because regular precipitation was forecast. Maybe a little of that precipitation was supposed to be snow, but they always say that and it never happens.

Then the forecast got more foreboding. A freeze warning. Snow.

I prepped my bird feeders for the cold weather by adding the seed squirrel I’d gotten around Christmas. I was going to hang it inside my squirrel cage and watch the squirrels be thwarted in their attempt to eat it. But it didn’t fit inside the feeder, so I had to wire it in place and watch the squirrels have their way with it. It was a little disturbing to watch its eyes buggy over being cannibalized butt first.

Because the freeze warning lasted several days, I also cut and brought in all the daffodils that were blooming. I thought of my mom as I did it. When I had my senior art show in college, she brought me a huge bouquet of daffodils that she’d cut from her garden. She said she’d cut them because it was going to freeze at home. They were a special gift.

And then the snow came and it was beautiful. Nothing perks up the drab end of winter like snow covering the early flowers. Many of the magnolia petals had fallen to the ground, which made interesting pink undertones for the snow. The magic was all gone by afternoon.

And the deep freeze hit. It was rough on the plants. What was left of the magnolia blooms turned brown on the tree, but my crocuses persevered. I gave up on the little patches of lettuce seed that I’d started back when it was warm, but then last weekend I noticed a small spot of tiny green leaves: the year’s first seeds were up.

Growing Crispy

After a wet spring and early summer, Evansville has dried up. Despite my watering, my garden is getting crispy.

whole garden in October

It feels like everything is ready for the cold weather to come so it can stop wasting away, go into dormancy, and start fresh next spring. It’s difficult to fight my garden on that.

There’s not too much to eat from my garden. My tomato plants are struggling onward with a few green knobs growing on them. There’s a little basil and a mass of lima beans. Dreaming of my friends’ bright stands of zinnias and sunflowers, I’d planted a couple sections of them but only ended up with a couple spindly pops of color.

a couple tomatoes

zinnia

Then the other day I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a crazy orange orb suspended at least ten feet above the ground in my neighbor’s tree. It was like an alien egg pod or a giant, mutant butterfly chrysalis. Then I realized it was one of my super overgrown cucumbers. It was pretty impressive. I later saw it had fallen to the ground and had a few small bite marks in it. Apparently the squirrels didn’t find it as delicious as my tomatoes.

alien egg

mutant butterfly

Now that the downtown farmer’s market is over for the year, I’m sadly without local produce. In September, I’d snagged some purple plums that turned into a fantastic fruit platz. I finished my sole bag of local apples today and have squirreled away some winter squashes (But, ha-ha Squirrels, didn’t take a bite out of them first.). I’m sad not to have better access to fresh, local autumnal produce.

plums

Maybe part of my problem is that I need to plant a few more autumn-blooming plants. My toad lilies are happy and beautiful in the face of other plants’ crispy brownness. I’m glad to report that all three varieties have returned. I was afraid I’d lost at least one to the city’s herbicide. They’re much diminished because of it, but they’re there.

toad lily

 

toad lily

toad lily

I also love the horny seed pods of the moonflower. They’re great at accentuating my garden shed and garden art.

moonflower

moonflower and art

And today I was surprised by the beauty of the flowers turning to seed pods on my hearty begonias. I’ve never noticed it before, but it’s very wonderful. The flowers slowly stretch and extend and fade from pink to a beautiful green. They’re quite elegant.

begonia flowers

planter

And finally, my good, old cat turned 19! For his birthday, I let Shamoo wander around outside and tried my best to let him stay out for as long as he wanted. It’s pretty dull supervising his outdoor time because he doesn’t do much, so I tried taking so photos. Eventually I made him go back inside, but I gave him some fishy treats as a consolation.

He still seems content with life, although I hate to tell him that the time of coldness will soon be upon us again. He’s moved back into his heated cat bed already.

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

Tulip Time

My garden is coming alive and the impressive blooms keep coming.

The real show stoppers are the tulips. I got a wide variety of new bulbs last fall, so this is the first time I’ve gotten to see their blooms. It’s been exciting. First came miniature red ones called “Lilliput” that surprised me with how small they really were. Then some red and yellow ones with thin, pointy blooms.

And finally the showy parrot tulips called “Professor Rontgen” that were my indulgence. They’re like swirling flames and perfectly match the glass garden art behind them. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried! They’re so warm and brilliantly colored that they just make me smile.

Along with the tulips, the tiarella, daffodils, epimedium, and fritillaries are blooming and the heuchera leaves are new and brightly colored. The hostas are emerging in tight curls that are bright, new, and green. Even the dandelions and violets scattered through the lawn are brilliant and new.

My friends have wondered if I’ve planted anything new yet. I’ve got my greens planted in the raised bed in the middle of my back yard and everything is coming up. Arugula was up first, followed by Asian greens, then the salad mixes, then beets and carrots, and finally mache and cilantro. I like the varied patches of green that they already make and look forward to the variations becoming even more pronounced.

They’d be doing even better if the squirrels would quit rooting around in the bed looking for their hidden acorns. This year I remembered that I had some really old cayenne powder in my garden shed, so I’ve been sprinkling it liberally in hopes of discouraging the squirrels. I’ve told myself that it’s working. Mostly.

arugula

patches of green

lettuce mix

And finally, I went looking for wildflowers last weekend, and I found some nice ones: anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty, trillium, May apple, trout lily, violets, ferns, and more.

They always make me happy, too.