Aug 28 2009

Roses In Syracuse


Sometimes it pays to get a little lost, or have a daughter who’s a little late. I noticed this rose garden yesterday morning, and had a few minutes to stop today. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t grow roses…or worse, kill them. I hope these beauties survive my brief visit.
(posted from the iPhone)

Aug 27 2009

Autumn In The Air


350 miles here to the north, in Syracuse, a preview of the season to come. The morning and evening air has that touch of crispness and freshness that says Summer will soon be on its way out. A new grandson, a daughter off to college – this week surely is full of transitions. Thank goodness I have such a pillar of support in Natalie, and in such good family and friends.
(posted from the iPhone)

Aug 24 2009

The August Garden


Despite the tomato crisis and the cucumber mystery,  I have loved this garden–my first real experience growing something that didn’t come already potted  from WalMart or HomeDepot.  When I read this poem in the “Writer’s Almanac,” I thought of the day I wrestled the carrots out of the ground.  After the experience of coaxing a carrot from the soil, I can’t imagine willingly eating a packaged baby carrot ever again. 

“Vegetable Love”
by Barbara Crooker

Feel a tomato, heft its weight in your palm,
think of buttocks, breasts, this plump pulp.
And carrots, mud clinging to the root,
gold mined from the earth’s tight purse.
And asparagus, that push their heads up,
rise to meet the returning sun,
and zucchini, green torpedoes
lurking in the Sargasso depths
of their raspy stalks and scratchy leaves.
And peppers, thick walls of cool jade, a green hush.
Secret caves. Sanctuary.
And beets, the dark blood of the earth.
And all the lettuces: bibb, flame, oak leaf, butter-
crunch, black-seeded Simpson, chicory, cos
Elizabethan ruffs, crisp verbiage.
And spinach, the dark green
of northern forests, savoyed, ruffled,
hidden folds and clefts.
And basil, sweet basil, nuzzled
by fumbling bees drunk on the sun.
And cucumbers, crisp, cool white ice
in the heart of August, month of fire.
And peas in their delicate slippers,
little green boats, a string of beads,
repeating, repeating.
And sunflowers, nodding at night,
then rising to shout hallelujah! at noon.

All over the garden, the whisper of leaves
passing secrets and gossip, making assignations.
All of the vegetables bask in the sun,
languorous as lizards.
Quick, before the frost puts out
its green light, praise these vegetables,
earth’s voluptuaries,
praise what comes from the dirt.

Aug 23 2009

Cucumber Conundrum: Any Ideas?


We planted the cukes late; I think it was late June.  The vines were vigorous, and we’ve gotten a number of fine cucumbers.  The vines are still loaded with blossoms, but the vines and leaves are turning brown and evidently dying off.  No idea why, and haven’t researched it yet.  Any insights?

Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus


Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Aug 23 2009

A Monarch Send-off to Syracuse


We spent Saturday in a frenzy of preparation for Nicole’s send-off to Syracuse.  Even though I was cooking, blowing up balloons and making creative orange and blue decorations, I had half an eye to the garden.  I was rewarded with a flash of orange–a monarch butterfly! I dropped what I was doing and (literally) went chasing butterflies. . .

Later, Shirley gave me an article from The Washington Post by Joel M. Lerner about creating a garden habitat for butterflies.  This year’s garden was an accidental paradise–no pesticides, the right plants, small puddles, flat rocks, sun, and the shady green bean arbor.  The caterpillars all over the fennel that I insisted should be exterminated (but we only got as far as purchasing the organic pesticide) were the beginnings of our beautiful eastern black swallowtails.  We were ready to strike fennel off of our growing list for next year.  Now we plant more!


Aug 15 2009

More Butterflies


Roger and I spend the day catching up on yard work.  For me, that meant weeding in short bursts in between running back and forth to the zinnias to look at the butterflies.  This is my third and last post concerning lepidopterology (for today).  These two insects are less flashy than the swallowtails but interesting all the same.  The orange butterfly with the spots is some kind of brushwing butterfly–maybe an Aphrodite Fratillary  The second one with the white markings is a Silver Spotted Skipper.  Interestingly enough, this butterfly has big eyes, and almost never lands on a yellow flower.  I watched both of them flit from flower to flower, completely fascinated.  I have already demanded a complete revision of next year’s garden plan to include more flowers that attract butterflies. (Poor Roger!)

Aug 15 2009

Black Swallowtail



Add to my recent butterfly observations, the equally common Black Swallowtail.  I’ll be very sorry when these zinnias finish blooming!

Aug 14 2009

Swallowtail Butterflies and Bees


I was in the garden selecting the flowers I hoped to enter in the fair when I took these photos.  There was a butterfly on nearly every zinnia.  I knew they were swallowtails, but I didn’t know much more (shame on me, Cousin Diane).  I also discovered that the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (our common variety)  is the state butterfly of Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, Delaware and South Carolina.

Maryland, by the way, has chosen the Baltimore Checkerspot. I’d like to see them!

At the same time, I heard a loud buzzing and knew there were bees nearby.  The volume was alarming.  Around my ankles, in every cucumber flower, there was a bee!  That’s I good sign, I learned.  Cucumbers depend exclusively on honey bees for pollination.  According to a North Carolina Department of Entomology bulletin, it takes an average of 12 honeybee visits to ONE flower in ONE day in order for pollination to occur.  By the sound of the garden, Roger and I should brace ourselves for large cucumber harvest.  Pickles anyone?

Aug 12 2009

Flower Show Winners


I insisted that Roger enter his flowers in the flower show at the fair.  He asked me if we needed glass containers.  I said not to worry. We could recycle plastic water bottles for vases.  When I arrived with our flowers, I was confronted by the site of many gardeners and their carefully arranged and labeled flowers in delicate little glass bud vases and containers.  Yikes!  Did I miscalculate!  One woman was misting the flowers as she was checking them in with the judge.  Still, we won second place for our dahlia, third place for our zinnias, and third place for our marigolds.  The beautiful white gladiolus that I entered looked sad next to the winners, but, that’s just fine.  Wait until next year. . .

Aug 11 2009

Hunting and Gathering


This morning, we’re getting ready for company–meeting my student teacher for the first time.  We thought we would buy a loaf of bread to make garlic bread to go with Tuesday night pasta.  The oppressive heat today is one reason for dreading the drive.  The other is that it will be a minimum of a 40-minute round-trip, with time added for a side trip to Walmart for ant traps.

While reading Plenty, I came across these statistics: 

  • A study in the United Kingdom showed that the amount of time people now spend driving to the supermarket, looking for parking, and wandering the lengthy aisles in search of frozen pizzas or pre-mixed salads is nearly equal to that spend preparing food from scratch twenty years ago.
  • Americans spend an average of forty-eight minutes shopping each day, and seven on religious and spiritual activities.  More than two and a half hours watching television, and eight minutes volunteering for civic groups.

OK.  Those are my depressing thoughts for the day.  I ought to be baking bread!

Aug 9 2009

Home Arts Winners at the Fair


I’m very proud of my nieces and nephews.  EVERY ONE of the entries won a prize ribbon.  Tobias and Elliott each took first place.  Nicole had a total of 10 entries in fine arts, woodworking and arts and crafts this year!  She earned ribbons in both the 8 – 11 age group and the 12 – 18 age group.  Our youngest fair participant, Oliver, submitted a fruit label box that took  fourth place.  Katie’s magnificent purse won a third place.  Garrett, who had a very difficult craft, took third place.   I’ve already started making a list of possible fair projects for 2010.  Yikes!  Watch out for this group of competitors!

Aug 9 2009

Prize Winners At The Fair!


Live blogging from the Howard County Fair. Great showing. Firsts for Italian sweet peppers and yellow bells; second for green bells; third for green beans. The squash ducks photo won second in the adult still life/flowers and vegs category. Yeah! BTW, first time posting using WP iPhone app. Fingers crossed.

Aug 8 2009



The top two political news stories last week appeared to be the Republican/Democratic opposition concerning health care and their split over the confirmation of Sonya Sotomayor.  It seems that nothing productive can be done in the name of CHANGE that doesn’t include the test of who can shout his point of view (whether it’s right–and often it’s very wrong) the loudest.

I saw this poem on The Writer’s Almanac and decided that this is the kind of patriotism I want to support.

Patriotism  by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

Aug 8 2009

Time For Fall Planting!


Gardeners and other people of the outdoors are always thinking one season ahead.  In the past month, I started shooting the bow again to prepare for the season that starts September 15 here in Maryland; I’ve got my MD license, and PA license and doe tag.  Also, I’ve been thinking about getting the greenhouse ready for growing greens all winter.  But now, it’s time to plant for fall!

I’ve got lettuce seeds ready to go in, and places to put them, thanks to Natalie cleaning up the garden…she’s been so great about keeping up, I’ve hardly had to pull a weed.  I’m getting spoiled.  She also has planted the cabbage plants she bought up in Meyersdale at the Amish greenhouse when we visited my sister.  Anyhow, the lettuce should be good to grow through October; with some floating row cover to keep the heavy frost off, probably into November.

Also to go in the ground now:  beets, turnips, and kale.  If you’ve never grown kale, you should.  It’s easy, productive, and one of the healthiest things you can eat (lots of calcium, take note, ladies!).  The nice bonus:  if you plant now, you’ll get a good fall harvest, and it will one of the first and most prolific things to grow again in the spring, without you having to do anything.