Saturday, October 06, 2012

Well, that was a dumb idea

I have a habit of over complicating my life. As if maintaining three blogs were not enough, I tried to start up a Twitter account for each. Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad. So I am going to pare that down to one Twitter, and while I am at it, combine my three blogs into a single brand new one: Between Rome and Paradise. I hope you will give the new blog a whirl. Regardless, thanks for your readership!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

An experiment

For my upcoming milestone birthday, I bought myself a smart phone, which is rapidly becoming my new BFF. While playing with it, I downloaded the Twitter app and discovered that, unlike on a PC, I can have multiple Twitter identities on the phone. Like one for each of my blogs. So I am going to experiment with that. I doubt I will suddenly become entertaining or provocative or fun in any way, but I thought I would give it a try. See side bar to read and/or follow me.

Which brings up the question: Do you Tweet?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When the gardener gets sick

I live alone, and for the most part like it that way. However, that becomes problematic when illness strikes, like it did a few weeks ago. I'm fortunate that my SO is retired and could chauffeur me around to my various appointments, that my daughter lives in town and delivered groceries to my door, and that my son lives close enough to help mow and weed. There was almost enough rain - the zinnias succumbed to neglect but they were near the end anyway - so no real worries there, either. Still, it is hard to look out the window and see everything I *could* be doing, if only I felt better. Fortunately, I am almost back to "normal".

At my age, any illness gives pause. I have a big yard and big ideas for that yard, but now I'm thinking I need to focus more on making things easier to care for. For example, after so many dry summers, anything drought-resistant would be good. A watering system would also help tremendously. And edging, to keep the lawn out of the beds. And an electric trimmer. And, and, and.... Any suggestions?

Now I'm going to put on my overalls and spend some time in that yard o' mine.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Just add zinnias

I have various and sundry shrubs for attracting hummingbirds, but they grow on the perimeters of the yard. The zinnias, however, are on the patio. I took these pix through the patio door.

You lookin' at ME?

This is my best side.

Gotta scratch that itch.

Ready for takeoff.

Engage wings.

And we have liftoff.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Smells like green pepper

The zucchini in the CSA box is now being outdone by the peppers. I have given many peppers away, and have chopped them and sliced them and put them in the freezer. Today I decided to try dehydrating them. I have not dehydrated very many things, so I am the first to admit that I don't know what I am doing. First I dried them for several hours at 135 degrees - hmmm, leathery but a little crisp around the edges. After a while, I decided I'd rather have them crispy, so I could grind them into powder. Back into the dehydrator, but at 125 degrees instead. We'll see how they turn out.

The CSA beets accumulated enough to bother with cooking them. They will be chopped and frozen, for later use in red flannel hash. Assuming I remember to make a note of their presence in the freezer AND will be able to find them. Things get lost in there!

Today I planted peas and snap peas, hoping for a fall harvest. There were just enough pea seeds for one 1'x4' patch. I planted two such patches of the snap peas, but for one I doubled the number of seeds. In the past, I have planted peas in broad rows and never thinned them. I'm thinking they can be a bit denser in my square foot garden than what I planted in March.

The Irish potatoes have behaved rather oddly this year - growing, blooming, dying back, then partially recovering. It was probably too hot for growing potatoes in grow sacks. Today I emptied one of the grow sacks and found more potatoes than I planted in it, but not much more. Maybe next year I will plant them in the ground.

Although raised beds are not exactly "in the ground". And when it comes to watering, raised beds are basically large containers. Large enough that the dog can climb into them in pursuit of rabbit scent.

Yes, my attempt at rabbit-proofing the backyard is turning into a big FAIL. There are at least two bunnies now, one adolescent and one baby. Betsy Beagle has been having a ball, and so far there is no plant damage, but I am rethinking how best to move forward.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Rather be lucky than good

A co-worker recently complained to me about his Rose of Sharon and the massive reseeding of itself it attempts every year. I had no idea what he was talking about, as my Rose of Sharon is very well behaved. Sooo happy I accidently wound up with the one I have. He said at least he got some free ones to transplant to his lake property. "Spreading the problem, huh?"

I don't know how long this mud dauber nest has been hanging above my front door. I vaguely recall sweeping the cob webs away last May, so it was sometime after that. Mud daubers eat spiders, but the arachnid population on the front porch does not look diminished.

First year for hyssop (Agastache 'Blue Fortune'), lobelia (Lobelia x speciosa - 'Fan Scarlet'), and pineapple sage. I thought the latter was a perennial, but while leafing through a book on attracting birds to one's backyard, I discovered it is NOT. Further research reveals that it blooms late, so late it may be too late. I'm contemplating digging it up before first frost and wintering it over inside.

It took a while, but my SO and I finally repaired the patio canopy. We relocated it a bit to the north, to make part of the patio seem more roomlike. I also abandoned the idea of weaving the canopy through the rafters, as I think that contributed to its downfall.

I love, love, love this hibiscus moscheutos 'Luna Red'. I love it so much I bought another.

It loves, loves, loves its new location in the raised bed by the patio.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

How do you like them (road) apples?

Last Saturday my SO and I fetched another load of horse manure. There were only two raised beds to fill, so I layered the rest in the compost pile. I think of myself as a "slow composter" - I just pile it up and a year later dig it out. The result is compost with little labor but a lot of weed seeds. I'm hoping the manure heats things up enough to reduce that little problem.

While poking around in the compost pile, I noticed my neighbor's elm tree had a big crack in the trunk.

The theory is the 90+ mph winds we had a while ago twisted the tree to the point of splitting the trunk. My neighbor cleaned up that corner just last year, removing a mulberry and a dead apple. I'm sorry the elm has to go as well.

If all the blooms on the tomato plants had produced fruit, I would have had a bumper crop. The 100+ degree days interrupted that daydream, but I am getting some tomatoes. I am freezing them for later processing - assuming I get enough 'maters to bother with getting out the sauce maker.

The contents of the CSA are still zucchini heavy, and I am not sure what I am supposed to do with one beet, but there has been sweet corn and slicing tomatoes, green beans and what I thought were boysenberries, but are actually blackberries. There are never enough for a whole pie, but inspired by this site, I've been experimenting with tarts.

And last Saturday I mowed the lawn! For the first time in almost two months! I am amazed that 1) the grass had not died, and 2) the mower started on the fourth pull. It is nice to see so much green again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Blessed rain

We have been so rainless for so long that I forgot what it is like to wake up to the sound of thunder or open the door to the smell of rain. This past week, the weather gods blessed us with several little soaks and one big one. Maybe watching those Native American rain dances on YouTube helped.

I made salsa with some of my garden Roma tomatoes and was rather disappointed over how bland they tasted. Is it because of the weird weather? Or from being watered from a well instead of the sky? Or maybe it's the potting mixture they are growing in? There is not much I can do about the first two suppositions, but Saturday my SO and I did something about the last: brought in a trailer load of horse manure. I am fortunate to have a source that is not only free but mixed with wood shavings instead of straw, so it is virtually weed seed free. My little trailer held enough to top off five of the seven new beds, and I threw a little of my own homegrown compost on top, to add some starter microbes. Next weekend we hope to get another load. We'll let it all cook, then in the fall, stir it up and distribute it to the other beds. That should help.

Speaking of weeds, I spent some time clearing the area around the gas meter. It tends to get a bit overgrown, to the point where in the not so distant past, I have received a nastigram from the gas company about it. But now it is all neat and tidy.

Pea gravel is not my favorite landscaping tool, but in this case, it is perfect. I hope the meter reader appreciates my efforts.

This is the first year I have grown hyssop, and almost every bee that visits it has orange saddlebags loaded with pollen.

And did you know that goldfinch eat the seeds of lemon balm? I did not until this past week. Or if I did know it, I had forgotten. Why watch TV when there are so many interesting things going on in one's own backyard?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A garlic for every purpose

A few years ago, I did not even know that there were different varieties of garlic. All I knew about was what is in the produce section at the grocery store and elephant garlic (which isn't actually garlic at all). It was probably someone's blog that got me interested in growing garlic, which exposed me to the fact there are lots of different kinds. I haven't comparison-tasted the varieties I grow (although last night I used the Georgia Fire in a stir fry and it was not very garlicky at all), but I did select them with a purpose.

Bogatyr - good keeper, important if you want fresh garlic in the spring

Broadleaf Czech - small cloves, all-purpose, good flavor

Georgia Fire - for fresh use, in salsa and salads, nicely hot

German Extra Hardy - HUGE bulbs, perfect for roasting

I have found garlic to be extremely easy to grow - lots of information may be found here. This year's crop was my first attempt at square foot gardening - planting nine cloves in a square foot worked out perfectly.

I'm 95% sure these are labeled correctly

Ordinarily, one removes the flower heads when they appear, to force energy into bulb formation. Which I did this year, but a couple popped up later than usual and formed bulbils.

From what I read, the bulbils may be planted like the cloves; the first year they get larger but don't form bulbs. They are dug up like bulbs, though, and replanted in the fall, and the following year become bulbs. I thought about trying that, just for fun. The garden has not been very fun this year, however, and right now I am not in the mood for experiments.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I'm hoping to indoctrinate my granddaughter in the joys of gardening, even though this has not been a very joyful year. Right now, this very minute, it is RAINING! Please, a little more of the same.

I have been harvesting the garlic one variety at a time, to help me not mix them up. This is the Georgia Fire. Two down, two to go.

I keep finding chipmunk caches, this one on top of the strawberry planter. Also, the other day I saw a dagnabbit RABBIT in the yard. I blame the meter readers for not securing the chicken wire when they pass through the gates.

I spotted a few butterflies recently, but they don't hang around for portraits. Plenty of yellow jackets, though. This one is on the fernleaf dill.

This week's CSA box was better than usual: two ears of corn, two personal-sized eggplant, four tomatoes, lots of sweet peppers, a couple of cukes (destined for cold cucumber soup), the usual summer squash (froze zucchini soup base with some), some beets, and still more lettuce.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chin up

If I were dependent on my vegetable garden to feed myself, I would starve. The tomatoes are ripening - I had the first ones in a BLT tonight - but those first ones also suffer from blossom end rot. The rest look healthy but puny, despite my ministrations. The onions are better than last year, but not up to expectations. The green beans have yet to blossom.

It is hard to believe that, once upon a time, I fed a family of four year 'round with the literal fruits and vegetables of my labor. Three things contributed to that success: chickens (and their manure), two acres of lawn (lots of grass clippings for mulch), and regular rainfall. Gardening thirty years ago on a mini-farm was easy - and cheap! Suburban gardening, not so much.

Last night I felt very discouraged about the whole yard - the brown grass, the thirsty plants, the kinked up hoses, the weeds that survive no matter what. All I could see was the bad and the ugly. (My mood was influenced by a bit of sciatica, no doubt.)

Today I can focus on the good: the arborvitae that provide privacy, the juniper that will shade the west side of my house once they get a bit bigger, the Georgia Fire garlic (nine for nine!), the redbud trees that completely recovered from that late frost, the sweet potatoes that thrive in the heat. And the strawberry, asparagus, and raspberry beds all look great.

Last night I was ready to turn the yard back into one big lawn and take up golf. Today I'm looking forward to the changes I will make next year. Gardening may be good therapy, but sometimes it makes me feel schizophrenic.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


I was waiting for the 100+ degree heat to subside a bit before watering the garden tonight, but procrastination pays off.

For once, my yard was under the bright red splotch on the weather radar. The rain gauge registers just under 3/4" but I'll round it up since some of that rain was falling sideways. Despite the wind gusts, nothing blew over.

A few days ago, I discovered that the visiting chipmunk was not just digging in my containers, but burying as well. Here and there, clusters of sunflowers have sprouted. Hope the little critter appreciates my efforts at providing him seeds and a place to cache them.

Back to the subject of my previous post, Jason wanted to know if raw milk is "prohibitively expensive," a relative term. Not counting the one-time expense of the share (which I cannot recall offhand), I calculate that the boarding fees translate into just under $7 a gallon. If I had a family to feed on a limited budget, I admit this would give me pause. But I was the kind of mom who drove miles into the country to purchase fresh (pasteurized) goat milk at a premium price, because at that time (30 years ago) cow milk was blamed for triggering allergies.

As for the taste, at first I did not think the flavor was all that different. But recently, when I had reason to sample some store-bought (organic) milk, I was horrified at how bad it tasted. It literally tasted like sh*t. Between that and the pasture-raised meat I buy, I am so spoiled. It would be hard to go back.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mooove on down the road

As I've posted before, I own a share in a dairy herd, for which I receive fresh-from-the-farm milk. Today my SO and I braved the fallen branches and dead traffic lights to participate in a tour of the farm.

Pasture's Delights is a small operation, with a growing herd of Ayrshire cows. The animals were friendly, once we lured them out of the barn with apples.

The farm itself was formerly a commercial dairy, so the infrastructure was there, although since the cows are fed no grain, the silos are empty. The soil, dead from years of so-called modern farming methods, has been brought back to life. The animals are pasture-fed, receiving no supplements other than minerals and, in winter, molasses, so the milk is free from hormones and antibiotics.

As part of the tour, we were shown the milking parlor and the sanitation methods were explained. The underside of the cow is wiped down, the individual teats are dipped before milking to clean them and afterwards to close them to bacteria. Samples of each milking are kept in a freezer and once a month, a sample is sent to a lab for testing.

The cows are mechanically milked once a day - it currently is not cost effective for them to milk more often - and the milk goes from cow to stainless steel containers. From these containers, it is poured into a larger tank with a spigot where it is "jugged". The plastic jugs go into a freezer for a few hours, to quickly cool the milk, then into refrigerators.

The farm did not escape damage from the recent storm. Not only did this tree go down, a shed roof fell in (no cows were injured). While some of the surrounding communities were without electricity, the farm had power.

When I started receiving my share of milk from Pasture's Delights, I initially was afraid to drink it because it is not pasteurized; the brainwashed me kept screaming "Danger! Danger!" The logical me found this a bit ridiculous, as milk from commercial dairies has a longer supply chain and the milk is mixed in with the milk from other dairies and shipped long distances, all of which provide many opportunities for contamination in spite of pasteurization.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of "raw" milk. There are news stories that hype the dangers without providing the whole truth. Pasteurization came about because of poor sanitation methods, not because milk is intrinsically bad. When properly handled, fresh milk is perfectly safe to drink.

I am a proponent of farmers being able to produce and sell raw milk directly to the public, but I am NOT in favor of raw milk being sold in stores. For one thing, that would extend the supply chain, inviting opportunities for mishandling. For another, agribusiness would butt in and squeeze out the small, local farm operations. Also, there is value in knowing the person producing the food you eat.

While obtaining fresh milk is more expensive, I consider the money spent to be an investment in my health, similar to buying organic produce and pasture-raised meat. On the other side of the ledger, I have returned to making my own yogurt and have experimented with making cheese, plus I no longer take a calcium supplement.

Some of you don't approve of my consumption of raw milk, and I understand that. But please respect my right to choose my food sources. It is important to me to know where my food comes from and how it is produced.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

This week's box

I didn't mean to disparage all CSAs in a previous post. I was just frustrated with the overwhelming amount of green leafy stuff I have received so far. When I picked up my box yesterday, I was informed that the problem is the hot weather - a lot of plants just won't grow or blossom or set fruit when the temperatures are consistently in the 90's. That I can understand, having witnessed it in my own garden.

Under the greenery, there were some veggies: broccoli, beets, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, peppers, and two small still-a-little-green tomatoes.

I still have not identified the plant below, but I think it is Swiss chard, something I have never grown, cooked, or eaten. My daughter and her husband tried it and declared it inedible. Now it is my turn.

More storms last night, but tamer - just thunder, lightning, and rain. I haven't checked the rain gauge yet, but there are puddles on the patio, which is a good sign. I will set the hoses aside for a few days.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Look through any window...

Winds peaked at 92 mph. Rainfall 0.25". Temperature dropped by 30 degrees, to 66.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Irony example 1: Several years ago, I attended a seminar on rain gardens. Since I planned to replace my driveway, I held off on planting one. If I had planted one, it would be one more bed of plants for me to water.

Irony example 2: That same year, I signed up for a free rain barrel, which never materialized. Just as well - rain barrels don't work if it never rains.

Irony example 3: My backyard is a registered wildlife habitat - and is surrounded by poultry netting to keep out the rabbits.

* * * * *

Today I harvested the Broadleaf Czech garlic, as it was ready. I planted nine cloves, harvested six seven - would have been seven eight (editor's note: I can't count), but I foolishly tried to pull one out instead of dig it up and the stalk broke off. Digging around for the bulb only resulted in damaging the volunteer sunflowers.

Tomorrow's temperature is predicted to be 103. Ugh.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lettuce (try to) be thankful

Since this is a rebuilding year for the vegetable garden, I decided it was a good idea to subscribe to a local CSA. The web site was a bit confusing, and I am pretty sure that it said a small share (which is what I ordered) was just right for 1-2 people. If you look at it now, though, it says a half share is just right for 1-2 people. (Or you could look at it, but the site is down.) Anyway, I figured I could share some and freeze some, so no big deal.

The grower is Amish, so there is another person who handles the marketing and delivery. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but she has got to be the most disorganized person in the world. It took much back and forth, by phone and by email, before I was satisfied that I was really signed up. Then there was much back and forth, by phone and by email, to get straight which location and day I had chosen, and when delivery started. Finally, finally I started receiving my share, but today when I picked it up, there were two other women trying to pick up their shares as well, but their names were not on the hand-scrawled list.

If I had opened my box at the pickup location, I would have given it to one of them, because MY GOD, how much lettuce can one (or six) people eat?!? The temperatures have been in the 90's - shouldn't it have bolted by now? And ZUCCHINI?!? I sometimes don't plant zucchini until June, and this year I am already sick of it.

This CSA also sells to restaurants and at farmer markets, and I am beginning to suspect that the best and most varied selection goes to those customers. Beyond the tons and tons of lettuce, something I can't identify that appears to be a cross between celery and cabbage (and a favorite of flea beetles), and too many zucchini, I haven't seen much to get excited about: one white kohlrabi last week, one purple one this week, a scant pint and a half of strawberries all told, two sweet banana peppers last week, some incredibly gnarly radishes early on, etc. And some of it has been picked a day or two past its prime, like the snow peas (starchy) and broccoli (starting to yellow).

Am I being too picky? Is this what CSA's are like elsewhere? I imagined getting a boxful of vegetables similar to what I would get from my own garden, but maybe my expectations are too high given the realities of market gardening? The food is local and organic and fresh; with a few exceptions, it all keeps quite well in the refrigerator. And maybe, once lettuce season is over (and it will end, right?), there will be more variety and more stuff I can stick in the freezer.

One can only hope.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

So close, yet so far away

I can see the clouds. I can hear the thunder. But will it rain in my backyard? NOOOOOOOO.

While I am waiting for it to cool off a bit outside (again), here are some macro and super macro experiments:

Shasta daisy
Geranium - Calliope
Coreopsis - Creme Brulee
Hosta blossom
Purple-ish coneflower
Marigold - Safari Red
Coneflower - PowWow White
Potato - Carola
Tomato - Roma
Meyer lemons
Bumble bee on Shasta daisy
Bumble bee on hollyhock - Creme de Cassis
Yellow jacket drinking
$25 "as is" fountain
Fountain bubbling
The story about the fountain is, the nursery was practically giving them away. Their reason was, the pump was too strong for the design, spilling water over the top. I figured I could do something to alleviate that - and I could, once I realized the pump is adjustable. The trick is to provide enough oomph that the water clears the lip of the spout, but not so much that the water runs over the sides of the saucer. And then tilt the whole thing a bit forward. Voila!