Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas everyone! Here in central Indiana we've had a lot of drama in the weather department. It has been cold, rainy, icy, and snowy, all within a week. Just when a white Christmas looked like a sure thing, the rain moved in and washed it all away, replacing the snow with slush and ice. Last night, the parking lots in town more resembled skating rinks than places to park your car. But now, the errands are done, and we are all settled in at home and ready to celebrate Christmas. Here's hoping that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season full of love and promise for the new year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Fun Day Downtown

It was really cold when we got up this morning--only 7 degrees outside. Thankfully it was a bit warmer yesterday when my friends Diane and Lee and I spent the better part of the day enjoying the "Dickens of a Christmas" event going on downtown. We started the day off with a hot drink and conversation at a coffee house on the courthouse square. We enjoyed relaxing in the upstairs loft, chatting and watching the snow fall, so much that we put off shopping for about an hour. Fortified by our fancy coffees, we finally headed off down Main Street to explore what the local merchants had to offer for the holidays. Despite the snow, it was a lot of fun. Along the way there were carolers, brass bands, and even a hammered dulcimer player sitting in a store window with speakers outside so we could enjoy her quaint music from the sidewalk.

We were supposed to be Christmas shopping, I suppose, but my best find of the day was something I bought knowing I would keep it for myself. I have a weakness for vintage kitchen items, so when I found this unique beauty in one of the antique shops I knew immediately it was meant to be mine. I am a terrible bargainer. My fear of rejection, I suppose, usually keeps me from haggling for the best price. Today, however, I made an offer to the shopkeeper explaining that I don't usually try to bargain, but that I am supposed to be Christmas shopping for others this time of year, and was on a budget, but really wanted this item for myself. Much to my surprise and delight she accepted! What I purchased was a vintage aluminum tea kettle. Actually, it is an "Excel Deluxe Whistling T-Ket-L (trademark)", apparently made before 1949, with a patent number and "Made in Muncie, Indiana" stamped on the bottom. It is in excellent shape. On the front at the base of the handle is a unique feature. It is a little gauge showing how much water is in the pot. Also, I read that the design of the kettle allows it to emit quite a loud whistle when the water has come to a boil. I'm going to have to check that out for myself!

A bit of research on the Internet told me that the T-Ket-L was designed by a man named Jack Reichart who had an appliance manufacturing business until about 1949. In that year a polio epidemic hit the area and the local hospital asked for his help in making iron lungs. It seems the hospital had only one iron lung, and about 30 polio patients. Mr. Reichart did his homework, and with the help of local people who donated materials, built his first iron lung in only about one day. I bought the tea kettle for its appealing and unique design, but knowing the story of the man behind it, and the fact it was manufactured in my home state of Indiana, makes it all the more special to me.

Here is the view from my front porch today. The sun is bright today, but it is still only 17 degrees. I think this will be a good day to stay inside and enjoy some hot tea. Hmmm, sounds like a good opportunity to try out the new T-Ket-L.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Snow

The view from our front porch is quite a bit different today thanks to the first snow of the season. It is a heavy, wet snow, not much good for building snow forts or sledding, but it is kind of pretty. With Thanksgiving behind us, snow on the ground, and Christmas shopping in progress, it really feels like winter.

I got the garden boxes covered with a tarp just in time. I'm glad I took the time to do this because some of the garden boxes had blocks of ice in their water reservoirs. Even though I haven't put water in the boxes for quite some time, apparently we've had enough rain to fill some of them. I drained them the best I could and they should be OK if I can keep any more water from getting in. I also wrapped the three new blueberry bushes with burlap to protect them from deer and rabbits. The weather earlier in this Thanksgiving holiday was so nice (in the 40s) that I was able to get these chores done as well as trim the hedges in front of the porch. What a difference a day makes.

The first seed catalog arrived before Thanksgiving this year. I think this has to be a new record! The honor goes to Pinetree Garden seeds, one of my favorite suppliers. I have to admit that I've already started browsing the catalog and making a wish list. They have seeds for yellow radishes that I would like to try, and Midget sweet corn that grows only about 4' tall. I think this variety of sweet corn might actually grow well in the garden boxes and I think I'll give it a try next summer. I love browsing seed catalogs and look forward to more arriving soon. Browsing catalogs is step 1 in the gardening process, and probably the easiest step as well. Soon enough the real work will begin again, so enjoy armchair gardening while you can.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's November

Cold, dreary, rainy...yup, it's November in Indiana. This is the kind of weather that makes me want to come straight home from work, have some hot cocoa, and simply nest for the rest of the evening. Give me a throw, a cat on my lap and the dog at my feet, add a good book to read, and I'm all set.

My garden chores are finished for the year with two exceptions. The garden boxes have all been cleaned out, but I still need to move the boxes closer together and cover them with a tarp. The company says the boxes can be left out in the winter weather, but I don't think it can be good for them to become saturated and then freeze. I am hoping the tarp will at least keep the boxes from filling with rain or snow and protect them from expanding and cracking.

My final task will be to dig up the English ivy plant that grew in an outside planter box all summer. The annuals in the pot have all succumbed to the cold weather, but the ivy is still pretty and green. My plan is to pot it up and have it as a houseplant for the winter. The whole pot is sitting in the garage for now. Hopefully I won't forget to pot up the ivy this weekend. Once this is taken care of, my physical gardening work is done and I will officially become an armchair gardener for the winter. I'll be content to read from my library of gardening books and magazines, sketch out a few plans, and think about what I'd like to try new next year. To everything there is a season, and I must admit I'm ready to take a break from gardening. I know that once the seed catalogs arrive, and then spring, I'll be ready to get my hands dirty and start the cycle all over again. Not today, however. It's November.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Exercising our Right to a Day Off

Election Day! I hope you took time to vote. Because election days are a holiday in Nick's office, I followed suit by taking a vacation day. We took care of voting early last week so the day was ours, and what a beautiful day it was. We were treated to sunshine and temperatures in the low 70s--pretty nice for November in Indiana. We felt like it was a day for fun instead of a home improvement project, and quickly decided to go to Turkey Run State Park to enjoy some hiking and the spectacular fall foliage. Even though Turkey Run is only about an hour's drive from our house, it has been a few years since we visited. We need to make a point to go there more often as it is such a lovely place. We hiked Trail 1 which is listed on the trail map as moderate/rugged and 3 miles long. It was the perfect choice. Trail 1 follows the Sugar Creek much of the way, and leads to the Narrows covered bridge. The Narrows bridge was built in 1882 and is no longer open to traffic but you can walk across. It is said to be the most photographed covered bridge in Indiana. The Narrows bridge was about the halfway point of the trail which then turned away from the creek and meandered through the hardwood forest. We really enjoyed the peace and quiet. We didn't see much wildlife beyond some squirrels and a pileated woodpecker, but we could see where beaver had been at work and suspected some deer probably stood quietly still to look at us.

On the way to the park we took a quick side trip to visit and photograph the Cox Ford covered bridge. I really enjoyed the scenery on the drive down the narrow country road to this bridge. This bridge was built in 1913 by the same builder as the Narrows bridge, J.A. Britton, and actually looks pretty similar to the Narrows. You can still drive across the Cox Ford bridge, however. On the way home we stopped at the Rob Roy bridge which is also still open to traffic. It is a humble little bridge, not as showy as the Narrows or the Cox Ford, but still quite delightful for being just what it is.

All in all, it was the perfect way to spend a day off. It was the kind of day that makes the prospect of spending the next one back in the office a little depressing. Oh well. We are already making plans for our next trip to Turkey Run. We may even make a weekend of it next time. Unfortunately, pets are not allowed at the Turkey Run Inn. Too bad, because Toby enjoyed the day at the park as much as we did. He is sound asleep now, lying on the floor behind me as I type, but I swear there is the hint of a smile on his face. We are all going to sleep well tonight!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I think that I shall never see. . .

Our trees have started dress in their fall colors and look a little bit different every day. One of my favorites right now is our Scarlet Oak. One reason it is a favorite is that we planted this tree about 12 years ago and it has really grown and become quite handsome. It is at its prettiest right now. Before long the leaves will turn a dull, cripsy, brown, but I like how oak trees hold on to their leaves through most of the winter. The oak looked especially pretty as I snapped this photo with the sun shining on it and making the leaves almost appear to glow.

Another favorite is this Sweet Gum which has turned a brilliant shade of red. The maple tree on the left has not yet begun to change colors, but the little crabapple in front has already lost all of its leaves and is sporting only tiny red apples.

As the tree lose their leaves, bird nests, once so cleverly hidden, begin to reveal themselves. This nest must have been built by a mourning dove because it is little more than a pile of sticks. It is a miracle these nests are adequate enough to hold in the little eggs, let alone the baby birds, yet somehow they seem to manage to do both. Mourning doves are certainly not the Einsteins of the bird world, but the sound of their soulful coos are a sound of summer I never want to be without.

The final picture is the view off of our front porch. This scene will change dramatically over the next several weeks. Once the trees have all lost their leaves we will once again have a view of the river. As the trees have grown over the years our front porch view has changed quite a bit. Sometimes we miss having the more open view, but we love the trees and wouldn't wish them away for anything.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall Festivities

Now that gardening season is pretty much over, there is more time to enjoy other weekend activities. This time of year there are many fall festivals to check out. One I have not missed for many years is the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival. Although the covered bridges are a draw, the festival is mostly about shopping. The festival originated as a way to showcase local crafts and handmade goods but has gone on to include flea market type booths as well. I always start my CBF day in Rockville which is the hub of the festival. I love circling the old courthouse, checking out the new and returning vendors. This year I finally purchased some handmade wooden jar lids I have looked at many times over the years. The ones I chose are made of a beautiful Burr Oak. They encase a standard canning jar lid and ring so that you can store pasta, beans, rice, or what have you in a canning jar that becomes a work of art with the addition of the elegant lid. Another stop in Rockville is always the Senior Citizen's Center. A lot of people bypass the Center, which is about a block away from most of the other vendors. The people at the Center really appreciate their visitors and are eager to help. I usually buy a tea towel that has had a top sewn on to it so that you can hang it from your oven door. This year I purchased one from a lady who was only days away from her 95th birthday! I also found pair of earrings I had to have that were handcrafted from a lady that I wasn't quite sure really belonged at a Senior Citizen's Center. However, I think that this is a case of "seniors" looking younger to me every year! My daughter has made a tradition of picking up a jar of pickled okra here as well, and I stocked up on persimmon pulp. There are not many places around where you can pick up all of these items in one stop.

After Rockville, we take a short, scenic drive to Bridgeton. Bridgeton is the home of my favorite covered bridge. Actually, the original bridge was tragically destroyed by an arsonist a few short years ago. However, the bridge was rebuilt using the original plans and is just as lovely as the original, minus the feel of history that you just can't replace. The bridge sits near a stately grist mill which has been continually operating longer than any other mill east of the Mississippi River. In Bridgeton there are miles and miles of booths that are so much fun to explore. There are tents of antiques, yard art, jewelry, purses, artwork, fragrances, kitchen gadgets, and food galore. This year, we discovered another feature of the festival we hadn't really noticed before. Dogs! We saw dogs on leashes, dogs in strollers, dogs in front packs, dogs in specially made backpacks, and dogs with backpacks. We saw dogs of every size, shape, and color. Not only were people out enjoying the beautiful fall weather, hundreds of their best friends were along for the ride. I don't know if my dog Toby would enjoy the crowds and the noise, but the dogs we saw this day seemed to be having a doggone good time, so who knows?

It is nice to have a bit less work to do in the yard and more time to get out and enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful fall foliage. I hope we will be able to take in a few more festivals before it is too cold and all thoughts turn to Christmas shopping. If you would like to know more about the Covered Bridge Festival and the area's many covered bridges, here is a good website with a lot of pictures you will want to visit:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

You don't see this everyday!

Part of the fun of traveling is seeing things you don't generally see at home. There were a lot of things I saw in Colorado that you don't generally see in Indiana. Here are a few more pictures I hope you will enjoy. The first is a poster that was nailed to a telephone pole, much as someone would post a lost dog poster. But beware! This is no lost dog the reader is being asked to be on the lookout for. Even so, some local resident found a way to inject some humor into the situation by adding a personal note to the poster. If you can't read the note, click on the picture to enlarge it.

Another thing you don't typically see in Indiana is a spectacular view from a shopping center parking lot, such as this view that was found in the shopping center across the street from my Colorado Springs hotel. The view from most shopping centers in Indiana usually involves asphalt. I like how the developer left this scenic area open for all to enjoy rather than extending the shops to this corner. Do you see the snow on top of Pikes Peak to the left? I'm happy to say we don't usually see snow in October in my hometown!

This was also the first time I saw someone rock climbing in person. This was at Garden of the Gods. To me, it just didn't seem possible that someone could actually make it to the top. Then again, I didn't stick around long enough to see if he actually made it, but I hope for his sake this climber was successful. I am also posting a picture of a balancing rock at Garden of the Gods. This park is simply a must-see for anyone visiting the Colorado Springs area. Unless you live in Colorado Springs, you just don't see stuff like this every day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Home from Colorado

Like most things you spend a lot of time looking forward to, my trip to Colorado Springs was here and gone before I knew it. It was a great trip. It was a lot of fun to visit with my friend Robin, go sightseeing, and to do a fair amount of shopping. My favorite stop was probably Manitou Springs, shown in the photo below. Manitou Springs is a quaint little town known for its historic mineral springs and funky shops at the base of Pike's Peak. Just walking along the sidewalk was a treat, as well as taking in the vistas and sampling some of the famous waters (which I did not think tasted very good). We also visited a Victorian home and museum that was built between 1895 and 1897, Miramont Castle. Miramont means "look at the mountain" and the home was aptly named as it faces Red Mountain. The home has seen better days and is in need of further restoration, but is nonetheless a treasure that was saved from demolition in the 1970s by the people of the area who knew it was a treasure worth preserving.

It is always good to get away and do something different, and of course it is always even better to get back home again. It was chilly while I was in Colorado and I'm glad Robin told me to bring my winter coat. I certainly needed it! Meanwhile, back home in Indiana, it was sunny and a pleasant 80 degrees. It seems I brought the Colorado weather back with me because since I've been home it has been cooler, and this evening it is raining.

Here are a few more pictures from my trip. The first two are from Garden of the Gods, a beautiful and fascinating place. The third photo is from the Cave of the Winds park. I wish there was a way to also capture the wonderful evergreen aroma that permeated the cool, crisp air that day. The last photo is not very clear, but is the view from my hotel window one evening as the fog dramatically rolled in and hovered about the mountains. With nearly every picture I took I would remark that I knew the photos would not do the view justice, but I had to take it anyway. I spent a lot of time just trying to soak up the view and memorize the grandeur of the mountains. The photographs help you to remember what you saw, but cannot begin to capture the actual sights. The Colorado Springs area is very beautiful, and I am so happy I got to spend a few days there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend Projects

I really enjoyed staying home this weekend and getting many of my end of the season gardening projects taken care of. The blueberry bushes have been planted, and I think they will do well in their permanent home. Most of the garden boxes have been cleaned out. I have left only one cherry tomato plant that is still going strong, plus a banana pepper plant and the parsley. I am going to try to re-pot one of the parsley plants into something smaller and bring it inside for the winter. I also did a lot of clean up work in the herb garden and it looks much nicer. The unused part of the vegetable garden had gotten very weedy, and while it still needs more work, it looks much better as well. I want to get it ready for next spring because this is where I will place the new garden boxes.

I also took some time yesterday to pick some more apples off our old tree. We bought one of those apple pickers that is basically a basket with "fingers" on it atop a tall pole. For some reason, the biggest and nicest looking apples are growing at the very top of the tree. It didn't take long to pick enough for another delicious pie. One funny thing happened while I was picking apples. Some of the apples are not all that nice, and when I would pick one I didn't want to keep, I would toss it into the field for some critter to enjoy. One apple I tossed didn't go into the field, but somehow got impaled on a neighboring tree. This was one of those things that you could never do if you were trying. It looks so funny--like an apple tree with one lone piece of fruit on it. I just had to take a picture!
While I was outside with the camera, I snapped a few other pictures I hope you will enjoy. The first is the Showy Sedum which has turned to such a pretty rosey color for fall. Next is my buddy, Toby, who kept me company as I walked around the yard snapping pictures. Finally, I just had to take a picture of these Impatiens which have been so pretty in the front flower bed this year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

If it weren't for the last minute...

...nothing would ever get done. How true is that? Next week we'll turn the calendar over to October, and gosh, it has become impossible to deny that summer is over. I have so much yet to get done! Fortunately, I have most of the upcoming weekend to cross some more items off my to-do list.

I ordered 3 good-sized blueberry shrubs several weeks ago, and they have arrived--a full week earlier than I expected them. Now I really have to buckle down and decide where they'll go. Years ago in Master Gardener training we received a handout titled "First Plan, Then Plant." I'm sorry to say I have never learned to follow that advice. I've always been more of a "there's always room for a good plant" kind of gal. This logic has served me well when it comes to expanding my collection of plants, but that's about it. For now, the blueberries are planted in the vegetable garden area, but I need to get them in their permanent home very soon. I am thinking of transforming the large herb garden which has been difficult to maintain the past couple of years. The blueberry shrubs would look nice planted amongst the herbs, and near the stock tank that holds the strawberries. I may also move the rhubarb to this area because it currently resides at the edge of my flower garden which needs room to expand. I really wouldn't have to give up much space for my herbs, as much of that garden is filled with plants that have spread a bit out of control anyway. Hmmmm, I am liking this idea.

There is always some sort of gardening to do, no matter the time of year, and I like it that way. But with cold weather fast approaching, it is time to finish up my outside projects. It is a good thing Mother Nature gives me a deadline, or I may never get finished.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Good night, little Starlight

If you did not read yesterday's blog, please go do so now, or this post won't make much sense to you.

I am sorry to say that Starlight made it through the night, but not through today. When I returned home from work she was already gone. I am glad that she was at least able to spend her last hours in a comfortable place and without being picked on. Now it is time to remember that Starlight lived a rare, good life. She lived as a pet rather than as a future entree. She got to leave this life as nature intended.

Now I will tell you the story I promised yesterday. From the day we got her, Starlight humored us with her spunky attitude. She had no fear of our dogs and would simply give them a sharp peck on the nose if they came too close. The dogs quickly learned to give Starlight her space and they got along just fine. She perhaps didn't rule the roost in the chicken pen, but for many years held her own with the other chickens who were about three times her size.

One evening a couple of years ago, Starlight showed her spunk and most likely saved her fellow coop-mates in the process. We were inside when we heard a lot -- a LOT -- of noise from the chicken pen. The flock was squawking and carrying on and emitting the chicken equivalent of terrified screams. We rushed outside with a flashlight to find that somehow a possum had gotten in to their pen, probably drawn by the vegetable scraps we had fed the chickens. All the flock seemed fine except for Starlight who lay on the ground, seemingly dead, with her body on one side of the coop and her tail feathers on the other. It was a sad, sad sight. When we turned around the possum was gone, and all that was left to do was to take Starlight's body into the garage for the night. Just as Nick picked her up, much to our amazement she literally sprang back to life. You could almost hear the cartoon "BOING" noise, she sprang up so fast. Apparently, Starlight was either playing possum herself, or more likely passed out from the shock of having her tail feathers pulled out by the intruder. We'll never know for sure, but we felt certain that Starlight confronted the possum in her fearless manner, much as we've seen her confront the dogs, in an attempt to chase him away. Unfortunately, the possum was not a tame pet but a wild animal, not used to being told what to do by a little hen. What ever happened, we were so relieved to have Starlight spring back to life and go on to regrow a beautiful new set of tail feathers.

Starlight had a pretty good life for a chicken. She must have been at least 12 or 13 years old, possibly more. The two little kids who showed her at numerous 4-H fairs are 1) in college, and 2) teaching first grade. We'll all miss that spunky little bird. Good night, sweet Starlight.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Harvest Moon

What a beautiful day we had today. Low humidity, sunshine, and temperatures in the low 70s--the perfect mix. Best of all, the weatherman promises more days like this are to come. This lovely day is being topped off with a colorful full moon. It is what we call a harvest moon.

The tomato plants are looking a bit ragged, but we are still getting tomatoes here and there. Most of them are smaller than the ones from earlier in the season, but I picked this giant tomato off one of the "Robert's Best Black" heirloom plants. The picture doesn't really capture it, but to me the tomato somewhat resembles a miniature pumpkin. The shoulders are ribbed like a pumpkin, and there is just enough stem to look like a pumpkin handle.
We have also picked some decent apples off our old apple tree. We don't know what kind of apple tree it is, and we give it only a minimum of care, but every 3rd year or so it produces a bountiful harvest of small, red, and fairly tart apples. Yesterday afternoon I picked some of the nicer ones and quickly put together an apple pie. It was absolutely delicious. I was proud of the fact that the apples went from tree to pie in only a couple of hours. Of course I did have help from the store bought refrigerated pie crusts.
The only bad part of the day came after dinner when Nick went to check on the chickens. He brought our little Silver Seabright bantam, Starlight, inside because she was being picked on by the other chickens and looked to be in pretty bad shape. Poor little Starlight's head had been pecked bald, and one of her wings seems to be hurt. She looks pretty bad, and we can tell she feels pretty bad, too. Starlight is one of our more elderly chickens, and the others in the coop have no tolerance for weakness. Sad but true, chickens can be pretty cruel. You've heard of a pecking order? It appears Starlight is currently at the very bottom. We'll let Starlight spend some time in the chicken crate in the basement and see if she perks up. I hope so. We have had her since we bought her from another 4-H poultry family 8 or 9 years ago. Starlight doesn't really know she is a chicken, and given the chance will follow us around the yard or fly up to sit on some one's shoulder. Starlight is the hen that taught us that chickens can have personalities. Starlight has also proven that she is quite a spunky and brave little hen. I'll share that story in another post. Starlight is special enough to us that all summer Nick would take her outside the coop at feeding time to be sure she got her share of the wild mulberries that the chickens loved and fought over. Hopefully, Nick rescued little Starlight in time. I'm hoping to see her regain her strength and spunk so she can go back to the flock, kick some chicken butt, and re-establish herself at the top of the pecking order. That's my wish for the harvest moon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Signs of the Seasons

The rain this past weekend washed away the uncomfortably high humidity we've been experiencing and brought down the temperature. The cooler days are so refreshing and the even cooler nights make for excellent sleeping. In the morning, there is a chill in the air that definitely leaves the impression that fall is on its way.

Because it seems summer is really winding down, we were surprised to discover recently that a sparrow had built a nest within a morning glory vine that climbs an obelisk in a planter near the front door. Inside the nest were 3 little speckled brown eggs. Every time we went out the front door, the poor little mother sparrow jumped from her nest and ran across the driveway to safety. We're not sure why she chose to make her escape on foot, but we felt bad to see her panic and did our best not to disturb her. I didn't realize baby birds were hatched this late in the season. Aren't baby birds a sign of spring? However, the little brown eggs went from tiny, naked birds to youngsters who left the nest in an unbelievably short amount of time. It appears Mother Nature knew there was still plenty of time for our little sparrow to raise a family before the end of warm weather.

Then, this past weekend, I discovered Toby making a game of tormenting a baby rabbit in our back yard. Once again, I was surprised to see such a youngster this time of year. Aren't baby animals supposed to be born in the spring? You may recall that earlier this year, when I was upset that some of my young plants and a rose bush were destroyed by rabbits, I resolved to let Toby do some natural pest control and help keep rabbits out of the yard. My resolve dissolved, you might say, when I heard the little rabbit squeal in terror at being stalked by my dog. I just couldn't stand to think of Toby hurting the baby bunny just for the sport of it, so I sent my buddy to the garage and chased the bunny away. I'm sure I'll be "rewarded" for my kindness by having some more of my favorite plants chomped to the ground next spring. What a choice to have to make.

There also seems to be a sudden increase in the grasshopper population this time of year. All at once, they are everywhere. I hate grasshoppers nearly as much as I hate Japanese Beetles. Every year I consider getting a few guineas to do bug control on our property. I have heard guineas eat enormous amounts of harmful insects, including ticks. I have also heard they are noisy and obnoxious to have around, but would really like to see for myself. Apparently they are pretty wild, sleep in trees, and require little interference from people to survive. If they would really help reduce the grasshopper and tick population, it might be worth the extra bird noise.

So while fall is just around the corner, I am seeing signs that it's not here just yet, which is fine with me. There is still a lot of gardening I want to get done before it is time for the snow shovel!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

30 Days and Counting

One month from today I will be on my way to Colorado Springs, and I am so excited. The purpose of the trip is twofold. First is just to have a break from all the busyness of every day life and to simply enjoy some "me" time. The second and most important reason is to visit my good friend Robin who moved to Colorado just under a year ago, and whom I have missed very much.

One thing I have discovered about vacations, even short ones as this will be, is that much of the enjoyment of the event comes from the planning and anticipation. I am by nature a planner, organizer, and problem solver. Therefore, it has been fun to apply the skills I normally use at work every day to something just for fun. It has been so much fun researching all the details from flight schedules, to tourist attractions, to hotel reviews. I've looked at dozens of pieces of luggage and finally purchased a new carry-on bag. Of course I have already started to think about the clothes I should pack, and which creature comforts I'll have room for in that carry-on bag and which ones will stay at home. Robin graciously offered to let me stay at her home, but I have never been a good house guest and asked her to help me find a nearby hotel, instead. I have to confess I am looking forward to some selfish ME time to simply soak in a bubble bath, read, and watch what I want on TV or simply flip through the channels. After busy days of sightseeing, shopping, talking, laughing, and girl stuff, it will be nice to slip on some cozy pajamas, lounge around, and just listen to my own thoughts. I think they are still in there!

So what does this story have to do with a blog about "gardening and the rural lifestyle"? Maybe nothing, but then again, maybe everything. Because you know what will be the best part of all about my much anticipated get-away? Coming back home, of course. There is nothing like time away from home and those you love the most to make you appreciate everything you have. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like our little home in the country.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Garden Surprises

The last 10 days or so have been so busy at work and at home that not much time has been left for blogging or gardening. These days I really appreciate how the garden boxes have simplified my gardening chores. About all I have to do is keep the reservoirs full of water and pick the ripe tomatoes. The growth of the vegetables has slowed down enough that the boxes only need filled with water every other day. It is very relaxing at the end of a busy day to loiter about the garden, filling the reservoirs with water and inspecting the plants. Even though the season is winding down, there are still surprises to be found.

One recent surprise was a most unexpected visitor to the garden. I was delighted this weekend to spot a colorful green frog sitting in one of the boxes enjoying the shade of an eggplant. I have to wonder if he spends some of his time swimming about in the water reservoirs? Hopefully he feasts on some of the insects in the garden while he visits as well.

The eggplant I am growing this year is another one of my garden surprises. It is a newer variety called 'fairy tales' and it is a delight. The eggplants are baby-sized and very cheerful with colorful purple and white stripes. The eggplants grow in clusters and it appears one plant will easily produce enough for two or three people. To save time, I marinated some of the sliced eggplant in Italian dressing and grilled them on my George Foreman grill. They were pretty good prepared this way, but I think they would be even better cooked over charcoal. Next time I will marinate them in olive oil with fresh herbs and grill them with some other fresh vegetables. Delicious!

Fairy tales is so cheerful and fun in the garden that I have added another goal to my list for next year's garden. My goal is to find even more colorful and novel vegetable plants to grow such as colorful bell peppers and different kinds of squash and beans. Now I can hardly wait for the garden catalogs to start arriving in the mail. I would also welcome your suggestions!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Garden Notes

Early this morning I picked a nice mess of green beans. Once again this year I planted the variety 'Provider.' A bush bean, Provider bean pods are long and straight with small seeds and a nice flavor. My only complaint is I wish the plants were a bit stronger and would hold the mature beans more upright. Even though it would be easier to pick the beans off plants that stayed upright, at least with the garden boxes the beans are held up off the ground and stay very clean. The beans are simmering now with some fresh onion and the aroma is nothing less than heavenly!

A few more tomatoes were also ready, and we now have pretty ones in addition to the less attractive heirlooms. Another discovery yesterday were some ripe cantaloupe. I didn't so much pick them as pick them up. They were lying in the garden already detached from their vines. I'm glad I decided to check on the melons and discovered the self-harvested fruit before they started to rot. The standard sized cantaloupe on the left I believe is Ambrosia' (although I can no longer find the plant tag) and the personal-sized melons are 'Loupey-Lou.' I can't wait to see how they taste!

Today I made a decision to remove the Brussels sprouts plants. All season long I have been fighting worms and bugs on these plants. The sprouts weren't growing very quickly, and I decided I didn't want to eat anything I had to put so much Sevin dust on anyway. I might try Brussels sprouts again next week as a fall crop, or an earlier spring crop, but I sure wasn't happy with them this year.

The garden box which had held zucchini and cucumbers earlier in the year now have some little sprouts of spinach poking up from seeds I planted about a week ago. I guess that even though some of the garden is winding down, I'm not quite ready to give up on gardening for the year.

Soon I will cut seed pods off the lettuce and radish plants I allowed to go to seed. I have also collected seed from the banana peppers and acorn squash. Can you tell I am already thinking about next year's garden?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ugly Tomatoes

At long last, and after a setback or two, the tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. The first to start turning red are some of the heirloom tomatoes I planted. I must say, these are not the prettiest of tomatoes. Having said that, let me add that in my opinion, these tomatoes taste really, really good. Think about it. Many of the pretty, uniform, picture perfect tomatoes available today look good, but lack the old fashioned tomato taste we look forward to every year. This is because so many of them are hybrid varieties, genetically designed to look good and travel well. Many of them have been bred so that all the tomatoes on the vine ripen at the same time, making it easier to pick and preserve them. Hybrid varieties may have their place in the home garden, but I'll never grow them exclusively. Heirloom varieties on the other hand are just what they are. Good, old fashioned tomatoes are not always big on outside appearance, but are straightforward and unpretentious, offering up honest tomato taste. Who would bother to save the seeds of an ugly tomato year after year, from generation to generation, if they didn't grow well and taste great? Given the choice, I'll take an ugly, great tasting tomato any day over the cover girl variety that is all glam and no substance. If you would like to make room in your garden for some heirloom varieties, ask a friend to share some seeds, or check out the heirloom section of your favorite garden catalog. One of my favorite catalogs is "Totally Tomatoes." I haven't yet visited their website, preferring the paper catalog, but their web address is I also like to look for unusual heirloom tomatoes at my local farmer's market. Many growers specialize in heirlooms. If you find a variety you particularly like, save some of the seeds to grow in your own garden next year. Give an ugly tomato a chance. I don't think you'll regret it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fall is Just Around the Corner

How do I know? Here are some of the signs.

There are some pretty good looking apples on the old apple tree.

The resurrection lilies are putting on a show!

The gray dogwood shrubs are sporting these lovely blue berries. I don't think they are edible, but aren't they a pretty shade of blue? They dry nicely for use in crafts.

The sedum are getting ready to bloom and will add some fall color to the yard. In only a few weeks they'll be sporting shades of pink and red.

And last but not least, the State Fair is always a sign that summer is coming to a close. As always, summer flew by too quickly.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Gifts from the Garden

For all the rewards of growing a garden, there are also disappointments. Sometimes gardening can be downright humbling. For example, today I spent some time looking over the tomato plants for signs of ripening tomatoes, and just to see what needed to be done. I noticed that the husky red tomato plants were so husky that in some cases they were smashing their own fruit. All summer long I have talked about what beautiful plants these were and felt they were doing fine. Now that it is too late, I see where I should have staked up stems or pruned away suckers. In trying to make up for it now, I popped 3 nice green tomatoes off the plant. If I would have noticed the need for this 3 or 4 weeks ago, I would not have had this problem. As it is, it looks like we'll be enjoying some fried green tomatoes for dinner.

Some things to add to my do's and don'ts list for next summer:
  1. Don't be afraid to use some Sevin dust (after the plants have finished blooming) on the squash vines;
  2. Do space the garden boxes further apart. Consider some kind of climbing supports for the cantaloupe and cucumbers;
  3. Don't mix different types of plants in the boxes;
  4. Do be more diligent about tying the tomato plants to the stakes.

For all the rewards of gardening, it is also a lot of work. I think that sometimes, people who do not have gardens feel like homegrown vegetables have no cost. The extra tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash your gardening friends share with you aren't really free, however. It takes a lot of planning, sweat, and hard work to have a successful garden. Seeds, plants, soil, chemicals, mulch, fertilizer, and sometimes even water, must be paid for. We gardeners feel these cost are justified and that it is worth the expense to know where our food comes from. We like the ability to be able to enjoy our vegetables fresh from the garden. We have the freedom to choose the varieties of food we grow and eat, and the peace of mind that our harvest is safe. We like to share with our friends and neighbors because we are rightfully proud of our harvest. So, if you know a gardener who offers to share some gifts from their garden with you, be sure to remember the hard work behind the harvest, and smile because they are happy to share their harvest with you.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It's a start!

Here they are . . . the first official homegrown, ripe tomatoes from our garden! We have some large tomatoes which are starting to turn red as well. All of this hot weather is paying off at last.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Chicken Tomatoes

What are chicken tomatoes? Tomatoes the chickens planted, of course. Last year, our small flock of poultry enjoyed overripe tomatoes from our garden. Nature ran its course, and now the spot where the chicken pen sat last year looks like a miniature jungle. Not only are there a variety of very healthy volunteer tomatoes, you'll also spot the odd ear of corn (and of course, some weeds). Early this spring we began to see the volunteer tomatoes popping up all over the place near the chicken pen. Even though we realized they are not in a sunny area, we knew the soil there was very fertile--also compliments of the chickens--and decided to leave the plants alone and see what happened. Now, several of the plants are covered with small green tomatoes. I doubt we'll get a whole lot of high quality tomatoes from the chickens' plants because of the low light and overcrowded conditions, but you never know! If nothing else, I am sure the chickens will enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Below is a picture I snapped on impulse this evening. The end of the large flower garden is a bit weedy around the crabapple tree, but I couldn't help but be impressed by nature's colorful display. Technically, the Queen Anne's lace is a weed I suppose, but it sure compliments the purple coneflower and black-eyed Susans. I am going to be sure and pull the wild morning glory vine, however. I hate those things!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Photo Album

Here are a few pictures I snapped this afternoon. First are a couple of pictures of an heirloom tomato planted from seeds I brought home from Buffalo Springs Herb Farm. I don't know the variety because they are from seeds I took out of some tomato slices served to us at a luncheon that I put onto a napkin and saved! They may be "Mr. Stripey" judging from the stripes on the shoulders. I can't wait to see how they look when they are ripe, and I especially can't wait to taste them. These will be a good sized tomato.
Next is one of the ice box melons that are coming along very nicely. The vines have grown way out of the garden boxes and are all over the garden. It is really hard to walk between the boxes to fill the water reservoirs without stepping on a vine! We also have two varieties of cantaloupe growing, Ambrosia and Loupey-Lou.

Worth the Wait

At long last, the first batch of green beans has been picked. There were only a few, but many more will be ready for harvest in only a few days. We will enjoy these cooked with some crisp bacon and a sweet onion from the garden. On the flip side, the zucchini has bitten the dust, victim to the squash vine borer. Despite my best efforts, I could not save the plant. This may be the only year I am ever able to say I didn't get enough zucchini! Something else has been chewing on the Brussels sprouts, and we pulled a nasty tomato horn worm off one of the yellow bell pepper plants, but not before it did quite a bit of damage. I do think it will bounce back, however, at least I hope so. Despite my wishes to stay organic, I broke down and got some liquid Sevin and sprayed the sprouts and also the eggplant which was being attacked by flea beetles. The tomatoes are growing and look great, but are still green. Some of the tomatoes are really interesting looking with striping at the shoulders and I really must take some pictures of them as they ripen.

Oh, my! It looks like someone left their shoes out by the back door for too long!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Summertime Lull

Hurry up and wait. That is how I'm feeling right now. I thought the gardenboxes would never arrive this spring, but they did, and now everything is big and growing and all I have to do is wait. I'm not good at waiting. I have tons of tomatoes--still green, mountains of melon--still small, a bunch of beans--almost there, but not quite. The eggplant and peppers still have a ways to go. The last cabbage has been picked, we're beyond tired of lettuce, you can only eat so many onions in a week, and the zucchini is already zonking out. Hurry up and wait. I don't sit well. I'm a gardener between harvests without much gardening to do. . . and it just feels wrong. (OK, I guess I could weed the flower beds.) I won't say I miss needing the tiller or the hoe, but it does feel strange to have nothing to do but fill the water reservoirs every evening. I'm ready to harvest that first ripe tomato and share them with friends and neighbors! I'm ready for tomato and mozzarella salad, fresh homemade salsa, and plain ol' tomatoes eaten from the hand warm from the garden. Hurry up and wait, and wait and wait...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend Update

We had a bit of rain yesterday, and the temperatures are milder today. I hope this means relief from last week's heat wave. I noticed today a lot of weeding needs to be done in the flower beds, but it just isn't possible to do a whole lot in this heat.

The vining plants are starting to take over the garden area! Today I saw a nice sized icebox melon growing between the slats of the freezer basket I put on the ground next to the plant to give it support so the weight of the melon would not pull the plant out of the box. The plan backfired on me because I didn't notice the melon stuck halfway between the inside and the outside of the basket until it was too large to save. I thought I could bend the metal or push the melon all the way inside the basket, but all I managed to do was pop the melon off the vine. Darn it!

I gave the plants a good once-over for pests and feel we are in pretty good shape. Since there isn't too much more to report from the vegetable garden, here are some pictures I snapped of some of our flowers in bloom.

This daylily is in a neglected part of my herb garden. Talk about an incentive to get out there and weed! Isn't this the most beautiful shade of red? I've always been an herb person, but you wouldn't know it by the state of the herb garden this year. I still hope to get on top of it before the end of the season.

Here are some more daylilies. I am always amazed at how much return you get from daylilies for so little attention and care.
The false sunflower plant, shown below, has to be at least 7' tall and is just beginning to bloom. I recently read where you should avoid planting false sunflower. I can't imagine why. This is our 4th summer with it and it is one of our favorites. It is a beauty in the garden if you have the room.

The fountain was one of Nick's birthday gifts. I think it is so neat that he wanted a fountain for his birthday. We all enjoy it. Not only is it pretty to look at, the sound of the water is so soothing.

Here are some "red" poppies I direct planted from seed. I'm not sure why they turned out pink, but I really like them.