July

My garden hasn’t taken a break yet, despite the hot weather. There are still plenty of interesting things to observe and new blooms happening. There are also some dry spots and brown edges that reflect the intensity of the summer sun.

The slide show below shows my garden’s developments during the month of July. I added captions to give you an idea of what you’re looking at. It includes:

  • The beautiful beginnings of bean plants. I got them started a little later than is ideal, but hopefully I’ll still get some beans.
  • My precious red raspberry harvest. They are one of my favorite foods, but I can’t find anyone around here who grows them so I decided to grow them myself. They were delicious.
  • Spreading butternut squash and ripening tomatoes.
  • Blackberries. I picked an absolutely perfect berry that had been heating in the sun. It had baked its own sugars and each little bead exploded with flavor in my mouth.
  • Humidity!
  • Blueberry picking. I’m stocked up for the winter! I probably picked at least 25 pounds in 95+ degree heat. It’s a test of my willpower.
  • Bugs, birds, and blooms.
  • The whole of the zinnia patch that I highlighted in my last blog post.
  • Video of one of the many hummingbirds that are visiting my garden. For me, growing plants is so much easier than trying to keep the sugar water in a hummingbird feeder fresh. I’m OK with that.
  • A video panorama of my garden at the end of July.

Early July was the time for Lodi apples. They make deliciously tart applesauce that’s just like my mom used to make. “Nosh-stalgia” is what one friend has heard it called. I’m thankful that there is one orchard in town that grows them.

Several years ago when I discovered the secret to my mom’s applesauce was June apples, I also discovered that I could purchase a cheap approximation of the Squeezo Strainer that she used to make the sauce. My new strainer worked pretty good, but I always wished for the real thing.

Last year, the cheap plastic crusher that pushed the fruit into the strainer folded in on itself, and I knew it was my chance to get a new strainer. I ordered a brand name Squeezo Strainer on Ebay and hoped it was going to be a good investment. It came in time to make applesauce. It wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined, but overall I think it’s a better product. There are a couple design details on the cheap knockoff that I miss on the real thing, the particular Squeezo I got had a couple pieces that were bent ever so slightly so it leaked a little, and for some reason it really made the apples oxidize, but look at that wooden smoosher! It gave the apples a pounding and it didn’t break. I think it also did better at extracting more pulp. Plus it’s like mom’s.

I’ve also been working on more garden art. My Fairy Tree is starting to shape up. I painted the apple pickers, I added faces in them that were inspired by some garden art I saw last summer, I added another fairy created by the kids at Patchwork Central, and I added all the empty bottles I had on hand. I like where it’s going. I’ll add more fairies and more bottles and decide on what to place atop the two former trunks of the tree that don’t already have apple pickers on them.

And finally, cats. They’re all good. Perry continues to be a challenge, but with play time and regular walks he’s doing better. He’s a little like a 2-year-old in that he gets tired and cranky. He can’t leave me alone while I work on the computer, even though I know he would be happy to take a nap. But he likes his carrier and is content sitting in it next to me while I write. And don’t worry. When he’s had enough of the carrier he lets me know.

Meanwhile, the Ladies are quite lovely. In one of the photos below I managed to catch Ygraine at her most floofy and cute. She’s a queen. And I love to sit and read the newspaper while the Ladies look out the back door in the mornings. It’s a relaxing way to start the day. When they get tired of that, they play. Morgaine does lovely dances while chasing her tail.

Catching Up Again

Our computer is finally up and running after about two months of a busted hard drive. So here I am, catching up on over a month. It’s still early in the gardening year, so the pace has still been slower. Highlights include:

  • My orchids did not disappoint this year. There were a couple fewer bloom stalks than last year, but I still got an impressive show. Three different varieties were blooming at once!
  • My many varieties of crocus put on a colorful show scattered across the lawn. Most years I’ve added a few new colors and I love all the variety that I have now.
  • The hellebores are blooming. They are really interesting as they emerge from the ground. I first got them because I thought the name was interesting, but now I love them for their complex flowers.
  • Snow! I love the way the snow looks on the daffodils and crocuses. It’s such a pretty combination. The flowers are tough, though, and pop back after the snow melts.
  • Everywhere there are signs that spring is well on its way.
  • The poor magnolia has been waiting and waiting for the perfect blooming weather. It’s been holding back on a full bloom for weeks now. Today it started a halfhearted bloom in the middle of a swampy, rainy day. I miss its usual magnificence.
  • I have some beautiful tomato plants that are eager to get in the ground! It’s the best looking set of seedlings I’ve had since I lost access to a greenhouse. This year I found grow lights at Lowe’s. I should have bought some sooner. These are cheaply made, but that also makes them really light and portable, so I tucked them away in a corner of our upstairs bedroom.

So there you are, caught up on my garden at least. I’ve got a whole bunch of cat pictures, too, though they will have to go in another post.

 

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.

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.

My Least Favorite Season

I love the changing of the seasons. I love snow in winter and the stark brown of the landscape. I love the emerging greens in the early spring and the lushness of the new plants after they fully emerge from the ground. I love midsummer when the garden is still expanding to fill the space and the vegetables and fruits are fresh and new. I love the crispness and deep colors of autumn.

However, late summer into early autumn gets me down every year. The lush expansion of my garden is over and things are starting to sink into themselves. The jewel tones of fall have yet to appear. Everything is simply brown and crispy. When rain comes, there isn’t the fresh, green rebound that happens earlier in the year. Everything seems tired and ready to quit, but it’s way too hot. The last fruits hang on the plants. They’re not ripe and may never get a chance to ripen before the frost. It’s now clear which plants were failures. They’re the ones that are crustier than the rest or are simply represented by empty spaces filled with my hopes for what could have grown.

Right now I’m ready for fall and not eager to be out in my garden.

Nonetheless, there is beauty to be found here and there. There was my one perfect ear of shoepeg corn (along with several imperfect ears), finally a few morning glories and sunflowers, one zinnia that managed a happy bloom, the sweet autumnal clematis in bloom, interesting bugs, my favorite hosta blooms, and, indoors, four flowers on my spectacular orchid.

Of special note is my okra. I grow it mostly for its beautiful flowers. We’ve eaten some of the pods, but most have quickly grown too big to be tasty. I’m trying to dry those pods to make okra-sicles for this year’s Christmas tree. With three young cats, I have a feeling that all our usual the glass ornaments will stay in storage this year.

And finally, the cats. The Ladies have been spending as much time as they can sitting in the back door and surveying their domain. They carry themselves with the grace and decorum of royalty.

And then there’s Larry. He’s sweet when he’s giving us hugs and kisses and when he’s playing. But then he attacks us and it’s brutal. He doesn’t understand that RAWR! is not the best communication technique.

From what we’ve read, bengals love heights so we got him another cat tree. He helped us assemble it then added a couple RAWR’s for good measure. He loves it and sleeps on the highest platforms. While we were setting it up, he also did another thing that I’ve read bengals do: he was intrigued by the metal parts and started to carry one away with him. He was foiled by an evil box flap that he thought was solid but that collapsed under him.

He’s finally been cleared of his parasites, so now we can work to try to integrate him with the Ladies. We’re very cautiously optimistic. Wish us luck.

 

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.

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.