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!