Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Goodbye to the garden

That killing frost: Oct 25, Monday night.
Got the tomatoes, peppers, zinnias. Such a sad sight, the olive droop. (Did not do a thorough inventory: basil? carnations? green beans? chard?)
We put away the fountain, trussed up the swamp cooler, brought in some plants, harvested some sweet potato cuttings after Teresa said they will overwinter in water & be ready for spring planting. ?! Put away the solar fountain & G cleaned out the chimney for the wood stove this weekend. Monday she ran around getting filters, etc. and after we wrestled with the thermostat for half an hour, got the heater working.

On the whole, it has been a very gentle fall. With some rain here and there, and mild temperatures. How lovely.

Dark, dark, dark in the mornings. :( So hard to get up in the morning.

The last 10 days have been hearing the sand hill cranes passing by. Made a sound recording of those distinctive calls.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rain on dry ground

Last night, the wind hiked up around dinnertime, whipping/ lashing/ ripping at the damp sheets on the clothesline. The sky was blue and innocent on three sides, with a ball of cumulonimbus only to the west. The usual tease. We started to take in the sheets, but they were still damp. We shrugged, and laughed, telling each other we would leave them as a small sacrificial offering. (Knowing it was useless superstition.)

Under cover of darkness, an hour or so later, it poured. A torrent. Overshooting the rain barrel, rushing in a muddy gush down towards the tomatoes and peppers, headed for the neighbor's bare yard on the other side of the wall.

So many days inbetween times. Even the weeds sere, leaves curled. I stopped to count. 16? 17 days? A long heartless death if you're a mammal: dessication. A pain that stretches down into to each of a billion cells. Multiplied like grains of sand. Motes of dust. Pray, pray for rain. Hold out your hands and be ready to catch it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No, really, go on without me...

And a good thing too: Gloria keeps watering and tending the garden. For me the last month seems like a blur. I feel like I haven't been out rooting in the plants in a month! (Reaction: puzzled. baffled. annoyed at myself. Exactly what HAVE I been doing?!) Considered more carefully, this turns out to be hyperbole.

Raisins & dried cherry tomatoes
Gloria bought a second dehydrator (a week ago? ten days?) After we harvested mounds of rosy shooter-marble-sized tomato bon-bons, washed, halved, dried them for a day then tasted the results. Which left us swooning. This one was expensive (all the cheap ones already plucked off the shelves by people who, unlike us, planned ahead.) But very nice. Much better temperature controls than the old one we are also still using.

Grapes as microclimate
I am always humbled by the sheer number and variety of insects who apparently make their homes in the vines, in the myriad crevices in a particular cluster of grapes. Snip them, bring them inside, put them into the sink because you are busy with other things and will get to them after awhile. Soon the counter is spotted with tiny spiders of every shape and color. And a particular variety of beetle. Not too many worms thankfully. The wasps we chase away while harvesting--very grateful that those don't ride in then bump and bustle trying to get out again. Not too many ants. But wow. >Labor Day Weekend, Susan Mintor and Linda Johansen came over and harvested 2 paper grocery bags of grapes. To Teresa's dismay. She said later that she ended up cleaning and plucking for nearly 5 hours. All to make jelly they themselves really won't use. I have to agree, we ourselves probably consume a dozen jars in a year... between the crab apples and our grapes, she said they had around 80 jars? Hmm.

Basil, Potatoes, Beans.
Constant battle to keep the basil from going completely to seed. (That I HAVE done several times over the last month). The plants are big as 5-gallon landscape plants. Potatoes cranking along: sweet and otherwise. I've carefully harvested green beans for nearly 2 weeks: in a baggie in the fridge. But somehow I always get lazy and tired and there they sit. :(

Second Crepe Myrtle got planted by yours truly over Labor Day weekend. Since the heat got the most recent batch (well, not THAT recent) of spinach and lettuce, G planted a new round in the oak barrel along the front walk. ((...there's a lot of hope out there.))

Winter Squash
Our little mound of winter squash plants yielded a pleasant hill of delacottas and acorns before the squash bugs got ahead of us. G got annoyed with them and called it quits: yanked them all out yesterday. She took them, along with Teresa's infested plants, and several buckets of windfall apples down to Soilutions. Came back with a load of ... aged wood chip? [Maybe it has a name... forest floor mix without the compost.] She is supposed to use it as mulch. The fellow there shrugged and said, you have plenty of time to put on compost. Keep your soil moist! She told me she really did want to try the lasagna layering thing this winter. (We talked about it last year, then never got around to it. We still have an unsightly pile of by-now-very-weathered cardboard slabs to mark our good intentions.)

Julia Mummert said she heard recently that if our month were to end this week, we'd have one of the hottest Septembers on record. Sure feels the last couple of days. And no rain in sight. :(

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Do I seem obsessed with the subject? Last night, after assiduously skirting around us for--nearly 3 weeks?--we had a real rain in the north valley. Probably would have filled the rain barrel, but I can't really use it as a gauge this time since I kept siphoning the water into buckets, and eventually into the blue plastic kiddie pool. (Wonder how many gallons it holds?) Along with the rain came an electrical storm. Very dramatic. Someone posted a photo in the UNM student paper this morning (left).

We ate our first Brandywine over the weekend (August 22nd or so), and have started collecting 1-2 cups a day between the cherry tomato plant and the grape/mini's. Lots and lots of all 3 coming. Gloria started her first batch of raisins in the dehydrator over the weekend too.

Oh, and we have a million zillion tiny white spaghetti hair worm babies in the worm composting bin *finally!* Trying not to starve or over feed them... And keeping an eye on the water in the bottom so they don't drown. (How does mother nature DO this?!)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Crowded corner

So many shapes, attitudes, habits, layers, shades and colors. How is it possible that this happens in the space of a couple of months, and then dies back to nothing?!

Flower and Herb bed... a belated update

Could this be only the second year for our herb and flower bed? It looks dramatically different from 2009.... My strapping sage plant and a smaller Bells of Ireland are holdovers. This time we put in basil (?! not sure which variety). She looks great.

Put in some dill and a purple basil plant [picture] purchased from one of the box stores. She's actually doing okay! We transplanted a volunteer echinacea--she seem to have really liked her new home. And tempting fate, put in 2 zinnias just before that blazing heat spell in June when I was suddenly in charge of watering while G was away. I can't really take any credit, but they are enormous! Does something always have to dwarf everything else? G put in a delphinium... she is peeking quietly out from under her huge neighbors. Also noteworthy, but not pictured: a variegated sage. Very pretty. In my experience, not very hearty. A small rosemary plant. She's growing very slowly: hope she'll overwinter. The silly xeric cascade of color pot I got on sale--a purple salvia and two maroon blanket flowers are holding down the north end of the bed. Still blooming. Looking quite handsome. Also [not pictured] a couple of graceful lacy things I'm not familiar with--ask G. Summer savory?

The graceful, petite white spikes (below) are either garlic chives or society garlic. I have this dim sense that I asked the flower and bush lady at UNM if I could have a start from the thriving patch that adorn one of the fountains near my office. Gloria thinks she spread garlic chive seeds... So once again, erring on the side of being informal and experimental and surprising ourselves, we really don't know what it is. grin. PRETTY. Very pretty.

Wild promise: 4 or 5 varieties of tomatoes

"Wait for it... wait for it...."

We have a dense vine hedge along the west wall: intertwined cherry and Stupice vines, loaded with flowers and fruits. Daubs and doodles of paint on a palette.

Not pictured, we have several other varieties. Two strapping plants in the garden proper. Several in the double-dug bed--varying degrees of size and robustness based on how close their volunteer sunflower neighbors are. The ones in the middle are puny, having been threatened by botanical giants.

Also not pictured, the 5 or 6 plants of unknown variety in 3-gallon containers crouched under the Mulberry tree. In a previous post I already confessed this greedy sin... they were transplants from the raised bed. Removing them gave us the possibility of more salad greens anyway. The spinach seeds have germinated, and have sent out their quirky second set of leaves--so spiky, so unlike the round lobes I dearly love to eat. (It has taken me a couple of plantings to start recognizing them at this stage.)

Gorgeous grapes

The grapes are gorgeous. The vines, heavy laden--make me wish I was an artist. They seem to be begging for someone to sketch or paint them, capture their glory and promise. G planted these two 5,6,7? years ago. For many seasons, they did not produce any fruit to speak of. Whether it was due to age/ maturity or generous rounds of ditch water, suddenly last year they went crazy. (We still have raisins from the 2009 crop! ... And speaking of, that was a strenuous undertaking, all those tiny guys plucked off the bunch and carefully arranged in trays, even though the results were very tasty.) G thinks cold weather killed one of the vines back to the root stock. [Interesting, huh? I don't understand any of it, except in the most general sense. Grafting. Yikes!] So far, the wildlife in the yard hasn't done them much damage. Not to be cynical, but the sparrows and finches seem to be focusing on the apples. You know, a peck or two from each. Just enough to spoil most of them. We console ourselves by imagining that they are wormy and still bitter. If it keeps them out of the grapes, I suppose we'll count ourselves lucky! grin.

The vines themselves are so enthusiastic, we are starting to consider how to create more robust structures for them to scale. As you can see, they are starting to trail along the ground out of desperation.

Big Fat Summer Day

First week of August.
RAIN: Last Thursday (the 5th?), the monsoon clouds took pity on us at last, and gifted everything with a generous rain--the kind of hard showers that left an inch of water in all the 5 gallon buckets strewn around the yard.

G with the first 2 eggplantsSaturday G picked the first two globe eggplants. Small but perfect. We took a deep breath and chopped back 10' sunflowers and ripped up some volunteer pole bean vines to give plants number four and five enough sun to thrive.

On a whim, I planted some peas. A few in between the sweet potato vines, since there is a lazy rope trellis already dangling there, and put the rest in a tidy row where the garlic was.

Blossoms on the trumpet vineLIZARDS We have a lot of lizards this season. [Need to explore and see if I can find out what scientists call them...] It's hard to be anywhere in the yard/ garden without hearing a faint rustle. So far, I have not figured out how to capture them on camera or video. But they sure are cute. Planting the little gallon Bluebeard (check name) up in front of the fence by the trumpet vine, we must have disturbed their home. We spotted not one but two youngsters prowling around. They were about three inches long, from the tip of their snubby noses to the end of their slender, metallic blue tails. Whether it was due to their youth or just general lizard pluck--they did not seem to be afraid of us. As we crouched there in the dirt, they calmly explored the spot where we had been digging. They got so close that G started telling it, in a stage whisper, NOT to climb up her pant leg. Since I was further away and wearing shorts, I thought it was funny and chuckled softly.

Bean flowers are just flat-out gorgeous. And as I have confessed elsewhere, I LOVE eating their babies. Here is a long-awaited photo of our first bean of the season--a purple snap.
First purple snap bean

Wide shot with winter squash, a blur that are snap beans, and a  second blob that are the biggest of the eggplantsWe waited until practically the end of July to finally plant the winter squash plants. G read somewhere that they liked mounds, so she put these guys on a small hill. Most of the greedy squash bugs should (a)have not found this part of the yard yet and (b) be dead by high summer. We have been carefully watching, having fought vicious battles last year. Saturday I found and killed 2 pair, one pale green adolescent and two half-hearted batches of eggs. We'll see. As we often say, either smiling or sighing, "There's a lot of hope out there." And yes, we are being unashamedly species-centric: Hope for us bipeds, NOT for the crunchy brown insects with the rapacious piercing and sucking mouth parts!

Not sure why, but haven't kept up with my photo documenting process this summer. Yesterday I finally ran around and snapped a shot of everything--for posterity. Here is a sudden bumper crop. The blossoms on the trumpet vine never fail to arrest my attention. So sensuous. And ditto the sunflowers framing our huge western sky. They help me stop for a moment, and see, really see the clouds. I accidentally caught a bee in mid-flight in this one. The blooms are covered with them, though it seems to be one gal per flower. I witnessed what I think was a dog-fight between 2 bees for the rights to harvest one blossom in particular. ?!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Week of July

Stingy skies. All weekend there were banks of dark clouds prowling around. It was alternately frustrating, heart-wrenching, and funny. We had a couple of periods of light drizzle both days, but nothing when compared to those fat juicy clouds! However, the ditch was muddy--all stirred up and full from gathering the runoff along the way from here to Santa Fe. G opened up the gate Sunday morning and we gave the yard and garden a thorough soaking. When I can stop pouting about the heavy rains we haven't gotten, I realize that the cloud cover and unseasonably cool temperatures have been a terrific boon in and of themselves. Average high for Saturday and Sunday: 92. Actual highs: 79 and 75!

The first plum-sized Stupice (stu-peach-ka) from down at the bottom of the plant, hidden next to the stem. It was delicious! We shared it right off the vine. Yum! The leaves on this plant certainly are unusual looking. >In other tomato news... last year's tomatoes in the raised bed (think a pair of Godzillas dwarfing tall buildings)... last year's sprawling giants left seed behind. By Saturday's count, there were easily half a dozen. We PROMISED each other we wouldn't let them dominate this prime salad greens spot, so we bought a bag of dirt, scrounged pots, and Satuday afternoon I either transplanted or weeded out the lot of them. The cold spell we had over the weekend turned out to be the perfect opportunity for this ill-advised exploit. We're pretty sure they are all going to make it. Was this a dumb thing to do? Maybe. I dimly remember last season thinking that the tomatoes had gotten WAY ahead of me. And that however many plants we had, they were too many for my half-hearted canning/ freezing/ cooking/ distributing efforts. (Garden greed is a terrible thing.) I can blame heredity: I have a lot of Scottish blood. Hard to throw anything away. I hereby vow publicly to do better with whatever they proffer. I can also blame curiosity. I believe we had three different varieties in the bed. Wonder what the seeds will be?! Yellow pears. Mexican mini's. And something else. (Hmm. Should look that up.) >A medium cherry variety. The full-sized ones were in the garden proper, at the back. We didn't have good luck harvesting from them, though I don't remember why. This season G is trying potatoes in that spot. They started blossoming 10 days ago. [Need to photograph them. They are very pretty!]

G collected a full cup of blackberries, with twice that many on the way. ((It's been so dry, and she used the ditch so much less I thought maybe we wouldn't have any berries to speak of. Happy surprise.))

Basil plants looking very handsome. (5 at the back of the garden proper) They started to blossom about 3 weeks ago. With pesto in mind G & I have both been very diligent tipping them the last 2 weeks. Should be able to make some soon.

Skink in the worm composting trench--eek! Gloria told me she had found it. But I hadn't been back there in awhile. I'm embarrassed to say that I am a little squeamish about pulling back the wood covering and peeling back the old cardboard. I had a bin of moldy watermelon in my hands... not stinky, but peppered with the tiny, fuzzy engines of decay. Yeesh. So of course I shrieked when something huge and wiggly blasted from up out of the trench, pausing for a split second to glare at me over its shoulder before vanishing into the compost proper. I will have to ask Gloria again... Clearly I didn't appreciate her story the first time (several weeks ago)?

Worm bin inside on the counter. Been there three weeks now. We're feeling very protective of it. Not sure what we'll do. We have talked about buying a commercial bin. The problem would be the size, and finding a place for it. Yesterday afternoon, I gingerly opened the cover: pulled back the top layer of newspaper, laid in some chunks of moldy watermelon, a filter full of coffee grounds and the crushed shells from 3 breakfast eggs. As I ground the shells between my fingers, I realized, with the shock that I think is typically reserved for children, that these bits of crunchy hard stuff had been fabricated by the soft insides of a bird. Imagine their bodies creating this substance.

Crepe Myrtle Redux. Dug an ample hole, mixed in compost, with a generous well this time and planted the pale pink crepe myrtle. Am hoping we won't have a repeat of last September's killing cold...

Monarch that crawled into a patch of chives to die. I was deadheading the plant and didn't even notice until my hands were nearly on it! [Take a photo]

Two batches of tri-colored bush beans coming along. I pestered G until she planted another group of seeds yesterday, tucking them in behind the klatch of eggplants. She also reluctantly planted the three little melon seedlings she bought from Alameda in June. We are pretty sure that our rapacious squash bugs are still legion. And still waiting--piercing mouth parts sharp, compound eyes, sniffing antennae peeled. Sigh.

Last word from the weekend: bush tits, the requisite wave of them, flowed in and out of the yard all afternoon Sunday. Were they scoping out the apples? Interested in the stand of sunflowers? I am proud that I know what to call them, but that's about where my stash of lore for them ends. [?!] While I was catching my breath from cleaning the kitchen, watched a female western finch take a dust bath in the sand under the middle apple tree. Very cute. Can't remember ever seeing anyone do that before. Maybe the word has gotten out that the cat has retired? And finally, a ring-necked dove has decided to nest in the elm, above the front edge of the shade area. Have seen her making repeated trips with sticks dangling out of her mouth. Honestly, every time she or he land, they sound like they are about to crash. Not graceful. Also aodd--when either of them leave the nest, about three flaps out they call out--a rasping strange bit of a shriek. Can't imagine what they are saying. "Honey, I'm making another trip. It's your turn to guard the door?!"

Half a dozen nice-sized beets ready to pluck and roast. Maybe tonight.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Non-rain report

Out of the last seven days, we had just a bit of rain Sunday evening. That's it! With our wide vistas, we have spotted "locally heavy" showers here and there. But north valley is parched. I do not have a rain gauge, so my guess is that we had half an inch. The official report from the airport weather station is .1" for Sunday and .1" for Monday nights. *In a word, they didn't get nuthin' either.* Hope springs eternal: maybe tonight! Oh, and we had a string of record high temperatures the end of last week and into the weekend. Over 100-degrees. Pshew.

Today's projected high seems significantly milder by comparison. Mid-90s. And low 90s for the rest of the week?! Great news.

In garden news--very jealous AND proud of Teresa Johansen. She has squash of all descriptions coming out her ears, the first of her green beans, sprawling, draping sweet potato vines, two-inch eggplants and the first blush from some strapping tomato plants. Oh, and her garlic did very nicely. And they have made 3 batches of pesto from her over-achieving basil plants.

**Garlic and chemical burns! Teresa burned her fingers peeling garlic!? Linda said she looked it up & substantiated this. (Research it ... )

We spotted 2 pale purple blossoms on one of our eggplants and a couple of small white blooms on one of the pepper plants over the weekend. !! Our basil plants are not nearly the size of hers... believe they are a bit younger and have had less water. Still looking quite handsome. We have green beans sprouting everywhere. And have continued to hack down sunflowers we had so many. The grapes are coming along nicely. And we have continued to thin the young apples as we can reach them... G has four beefy potato plants and a bunch of sweet potatoes in the ground and thriving. And our tomatoes are coming along. We have them planted in several different places, so that's intriguing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Settling the dust

So far the July monsoons have been a bust. For the record, however, we did get enough drop Thursday night to settle the dust & make a pretty dappled pattern in the dirt. A trace. A couple hundredths?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Questions, questions, questions

Hot. They have brought out the angry orange icons again.

When did it rain last?
Monday afternoon, June 28th. ~.7" So it has only been two weeks since the last one. Somehow it feels much longer.

What is known about ladybugs?
They are actually beetles. Have 6 legs.

Where did garlic come from & what do we know about it?
I was hoping the 1940s Ntl Geographic piece on Traveling Vegetables would include garlic, but it doesn't.

I began the day Monday stomping about two dozen. They had all congregated in the dog's water dish... {George's funny story about his former housemates in Portland. Doing research. Gathering them, feeding them cornmeal for a day, then boiling, and finally sauteing them in butter sauce. He laughs about the whole thing. "It took some getting used to, but I got into it. He shrugs. They just tasted like butter sauce."}

Woodhouse toads?!
Over the weekend I bumped into Gloria's big, fat toad. She startled me (that seems to happen every time). She had recently seen once of those silly YouTube videos that featured someone petting a toad. Rubbing its head gently. It seemed to like it. (?!) It didn't try to escape. Didn't seem alarmed. In fact, it looked a little like it was purring. [This could be sheer, unmitigated ignorance & anthropomorphism... I wonder what the froggie field biologists have to say about it?]

Can you raise crepe myrtles from seed?
The one we put in last summer got killed by the hard frost at the end of September. We are trying again--a lovely pale pink one this time.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sidewalk chalk on the back wall

So you've got a big juicy pile of sidewalk chalk and a huge ugly expanse of wall...

G got us started with a fat yellow sun, then got a hand full of pretty colors and started a butterfly. I kind of wanted to do ants and bees, but they seemed to hard. So I drew a red circle and pulled fanciful lady bug out of my imagination.

How many legs does a Ladybug actually have?
Ugh.... It turns out that Sue Hubbell has a chapter on them in her Broadsides book. Fascinating! Six. The answer is six--with the ability to detect taste built right in. We think they sleep at night. They have a hibernation period that kicks in when the weather dips below 55degrees: they huddle as a group. They are omnivores. And chew side to side. They are beetles not "bugs." (Which made both G & myself scratch our heads. Apparently neither of us were paying attention in 5th grade science class when we were supposed to be learning all of this.) Oh, and they have a larval and pupal phase before they start to look like anything we recognize.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weed Report

Battling silver leaf nightshades & elms from seed or impossibly small root remnants. A few pigweeds, some bindweed, and those wildflower dandelion relatives... [ugh. we looked up the name, wonder where I put it?!]

Globe mallows and blackberry bushes have dreams of global domination. :(

Urban Chicken Workshop

Note to self: add verbiage here. [Yes, I wrote about it shortly after we did it.] But really, people only want the photos anyway.... grin.

Belatedly -- the peas.

Very sweet and juicy. How did they do it, given that our weather was so hot and dry?! Somewhere G read that in terms of yield, you need to plant roughly 40 plants per mouth you want to feed. I suspect we will plant more generously in the future.

Bolting onions

They are just so gorgeous, we didn't have the heart to rip them out. The purples are last year's leeks. The whites -- yellow onions.

The fence at the back...

We are trying to document all our baby steps as we work on the yard and gardens... because it is so easy to look forward, be irritable and impatient, and forget to feel proud of all the things we already HAVE accomplished.