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Ahem.  It’s hard to talk about these things, you know.

Especially at this time of year.  We’re suppose to be grateful and happy and delighted.

We shouldn’t be having feelings of…overwhelm.

But I am.

It’s Harvest Time and the garden is overloaded with vegetables to harvest.  There were beans, green onions, lettuce, cucumber, kale and tomatoes to pick today.  Oh, and don’t forget the broccoli. 

I’m afraid I got a little stressed this afternoon.  Too much to do.

Gangly green onions

Gangly green onions

One shouldn’t even be complaining this year.  It’s not like the garden is on over-drive or anything after our incredibly almost record-breaking cold summer.  Canning isn’t even happening yet!  Freezing is only moderately happening.  I’m not making zucchini relish, pickled beets or pickled beans, as in past years. 

But there is still a mountain of vegetables to pick and wash and cook and eat.  A never-ending supply.  I spent…how many hours was it in the kitchen today?  Two, three?  On and off, trekking between the garden and the kitchen sink.  The refrigerator is over-flowing.

The tomatoes are finally turning lovely shades of orange and red.  We have picked and eaten maybe four of the luscious globes.

Look at this orange one!  Should be ready to pick in a couple days.

Look at this orange one! Should be ready to pick in a couple days.

And I discovered the first of the zucchini poking out under all those huge leaves today.  Imagine that!  A month ago there were dire predictions that we would not see a single zucchini this year.  But, there she is:

Zuchinni growing out of its flower

Zucchini growing out of its flower

Here is my problem.  I want to do be doing other things, rather than slaving in the garden and kitchen for hours.  Here is what I wanted to be doing:

1)  reading a really good book called “The Help” on the lawn chair on the deck in the lovely warm weather with a cup of tea.  I tried.  For five minutes.  Then the 1001 other chores took precedence and the day’s relaxation was abandoned.

2)  reading other people’s blogs.  I am once again ‘way behind on the adventures of friends and acquaintances. 

3)  calling certain friends.  It’s been too long since some of us have caught up.

4)  oh this list could go on and on.  But I was in the garden and kitchen.

Wouldn't it be nice...?

Wouldn't it be nice...?

Every September I feel this way.  My two part-time jobs are at their busiest.  And the garden is always a hard task-master, demanding you keep up every single day, whether you feel like it or not. 

At the top of the list for tomorrow morning is:  dehydrate wild mushrooms.  That must be done, pronto.  And then there’s all those tomatoes coming on which means salsa.  All before I leave for Georgia in one week to visit my in-laws.  (Really looking forward to outdoor adventures near Athens, Georgia!)

So, anyway, thank you for listening to this confession.  I really do feel grateful for all the vegetables and mushrooms and berries.  Honest.  If only the harvest didn’t come all at once.  But it does sure taste so wonderful…

P.S.  almost forgot to tell you!  It’s our anniversary today.  We’ve been married…how many years now?…31 years!

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And the mystery photo from yesterday’s blog is…

And the mystery photo is…

Close your eyes if you don't want to see this dead snake.

Close your eyes if you don't want to see this dead snake.

I made the mistake yesterday of showing Barry this picture while he was eating lunch.  Note:  do not try that at home.  Some people apparently do not want to view dead animals while chewing food. 

Today was a garden day.  Tomorrow will be a garden day.  The next day will be a garden day.  Because this is the time of year when the garden demands to be harvested…or else.

Or else the peas grow hard and gnarly.  Or else the cilantro turns to seed.  Or else the lettuce grows bitter and stringent.  Or else the onions fall over and rot. 

It’s tough work, gardening.  But so worth it in the end when you sit down to a freshly tossed salad with some minced onions and herbs and mini cucumbers and tomatoes and carrots.  (Not that we’ve seen any edible versions of these last three vegetables…yet.)

Jack (of Jack & the Beanstalk fame) could climb this pea plant up to the heavens.

Jack (of Jack & the Beanstalk fame) could climb this pea plant up to the heavens.

So here’s the garden report.  The peas are skyrocketing.  They reached the clouds this week.  Laden with bright flashy peas and white flowers.  They dazzle; they zoom.  They’re good eating.  We have the edible pod variety, and the non-edible pod.  Some of the pods were blanched and frozen today. 

The lettuce:  abundant.  Too much to eat.  Need to clean it in bags and give to friends.  We’re thinking people at Barry’s work might especially enjoy.  Onions:  falling over and ready to harvest.  They’re not too big, but our onions never would win county fair prizes.  There’s enough to eat until Christmas.

Onion power!

Onion power!

Carrots…well I’m still working on thinning them adequately.  First you do an initial thinning, to allow room for the orange roots to grow.  Then you thin the thinnings to allow even more growth space.  And finally, later this month, you pull one up and test to see if it’s adequately grown.  Usually they’re small, but adequate.  We don’t live in a field, you know.  One makes do in the middle of the woods, especially when the biggest plant in our garden is a large spruce tree that thirstily drinks up the moisture needed to nurture the plants.

The round curve of our carrot crop

The round curve of our carrot crop

Now let’s discuss something really measly.  Our zucchini.  So far it isn’t spreading and flowering very well.  (I think they’ve just announced it was the third coldest July on record.  The warm weather plants have been whining and whimpering daily.  They’re sun and heat deprived.  And refusing to grow until  they see some higher temps.  There’s rumors that this might happen by the weekend.  And frost is usually showing its white face by September.  We may have to cover the garden plants this year, that’s for sure.)

Measly stunted zuchini, wouldn't you say?

Measly stunted zucchini, wouldn't you say?

Beans…iffy.  They may make it or they won’t.  They’re reached the top of the bean fence, but they look stringy and not very enchanting.  Barry says they won’t make it.  I say they will.  I would show you a picture so you could better assess, but liked the angle of these leaves better.

Sweet bean leaves wrap around pole

Sweet bean leaves wrap around pole

And finally, the tomatoes.  They are coming, oh so slowly.  Round balls peek up from amidst the greenery.  If they’re dreaming of red, they have many nights before ripening.  We have many days before the knife slices a sweet round tomato, salt and pepper bless it, and the eager mouth finds it.  Until then…still searching for that farmer’s market tomato.  Maybe Saturday?

Some day.  Some day.

Some day. Some day.

The garden

The garden

This morning I was minding my own business in the garden.  Weeding the carrots.  Checking on the progress of the plants.  Watering.  You know, the usual garden chores at the beginning of July. 

When suddenly it seemed like you could hear the plants murmuring, “thank you, thank you for watering us, thank you for weeding us” in some sort of plant-language that comes without words or sentences or paragraphs or exclamation points.

Of course that led to the next idea.  Why not let the plants write this blog?  I am going to step out of the way and attempt to let the plants utilize these typing fingers.  Let’s see if this works. 

Rounding curves of tiny carrots

Rounding curves of tiny carrots

Carrots:  Oh!  We feel so good this morning.  Even though that hose water felt so icy pounding against our green tops.  Water feels so good as it swims down to our roots.  Even though we’re lying flattened to the ground now from the deluge, we’re pulling in that lovely moisture and pretty soon we’ll be standing straight up and growing growing growing toward that sun.  It is hard to grow underneath that spruce tree though.  That’s why we never get very big.  The spruce sucks up the water and shades us and it’s hard to grow as big as we could.  But we like our sweet little selves.  We’re orange fingerlings.  Thank you for the water. 

Squash (buttercup, butternut or acorn)

Squash (buttercup, butternut or acorn)

Squash:  You’re dreaming of late December when you gather me from your food room in basement, bring me upstairs, split me wide open, scoop out the baby-seeds and roast me in your oven, aren’t you?  It’s a long long time until then.  A whole lifetime.  Don’t let those taste buds get too impatient.  I’m gathering sunlight and moisture, ready to send out runners in all directions.  Ready to ripen from tiny green nubs to light green squash and finally harden into a ready-to-eat squash in the early September harvest. 

Pea jungle

Pea jungle

Peas:  We’re racing, racing, racing toward the top of the pea fence!  We’re five feet in the sky!  We’re heading up!  We’re blooming!   We’re excited!  We have so much energy we can’t contain it!  We’re happy!  We can’t talk any more!  The sky is calling!

Brussel sprouts

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts:  Hello.  I don’t know about those peas.  This is a slow world.  We’re moving slowly.  The roots are what is important.  We’re pushing fingers of roots deep into the soil.  We like the moonlight.  Our roots grow up and down.  The upper root sprouts nubs that grow into small round balls.  I know you enjoy us.  We are glad.  Please do not wait to pick us until it’s 35 degrees, as we do not like your impatience and frozen fingers.  We do not mind frost.  But we do not like bitching.  Thank you.

Peppers put a little oo-la-la! in our lives

Peppers put a little oo-la-la! in our lives

Peppers:  Hola!  Que pasa, bebe?  What’s happening?  You like the spice and the heat of our people, si?  You like the way your tongue and lips and mouth sizzle when you bite into our amigo cayenne, eh?  We add the dash of flame to heaten up you northerners.  You’re way too far from the equator, bebe.  Come down and see us growing in Mexico and we’ll show you a good time.  Ole!

A magnificent collard row

A magnificent collard row

Collards:  Ahhhm so glad you eat collards here in the Upper Peninsula.  Why don’t your neighbors like us?  Why don’t most people like us here?  They simply don’t know what they’re missing!  We’re delectable greens, aren’t we?  Don’t you just adore us with black eyed peas?  Don’t we grow admirably?  The folks down in the deep south looooooove us to death.  Literally. 

Looking down into a tomato-caged world

Looking down into a tomato-caged world

Tomatoes:  Thank goodness for your husband.  That’s all we can say.  He cares about us.  We’ve been suffering with that die-back fungus the last few years where our lower branches simply die off early.  And look at all the effort he put into finding some help for us!  That organic copper spray recommended by your greenhouse friend is a good try.  We’re sorry the rain washed it off too soon and you couldn’t re-apply it immediately.  But he keeps following the directions and spritzing us every 7-10 days.  And look how diligently he waters us.  (Unlike some people we know, who shall remain nameless, who would probably allow us to wilt over in the heat thoughtlessly.)  I suppose it’s because he loves us so much. 

We tomatoes shall share a secret.  This Pico de Gallo recipe comes via Sudha.  Chop the veggies as fine or chunky as you prefer.  Use as many of the peppers, onions and other ingredients as you like.

Tomatoes  (start with 2-3)
Green and/or red peppers
1 avocado
diced onion (it may seem strong at first, but it mellows in the frig)
cilantro
fresh lime
jalapeno or chili pepper (don’t use too much.  just some to “hotten” it up)
garlic
pinch of salt
 
Mix in advance so the flavors have time to mingle.  Serve over rice and beans, or with chips, or in any Mexican recipe.

Enjoy! (Also hope you enjoyed the Veggie Speak.  Maybe they should get another Guest Blog some time?)

Kenzie having an outdoor adventure

Kenzie having an outdoor adventure

Oh what a lovely outdoor time today!  The best kind.  The kind where you sit outside with old friends and catch up on years which are sailing by on the waves of time. 

Even before I reached the outdoor visit, the day brought many old friends into contact.  First Mary and John, then Nancy, followed by Sonya, TJ, Evey, Susan and Chrissie.  Faces from the near and distant past kept beaming in with beautiful smiles.

Then it was time to drive to Cindy’s house.  Some of you blog readers (especially the readers of comments) may already know Cindy Lou.  She comments quite regularly.  However, we  haven’t even seen each other face-to-face  in months and months.  Certainly not since the beginning of this blog.  Even though we live across the bay from one another and we drive by her house every time we travel to Houghton, we rarely run into one another.

Kenzie, Jen and Cindy
Kenzie, Jen and Cindy

 My daughter, Kiah, and Cindy’s daughter, Jen met in Junior High band.  They became close friends in junior high, doing so many different things together. So of course I met Cindy during those years of transporting Kiah in and out of town.  However, in the last several years since the girls graduated and moved away to the big cities, we’ve rarely seen one another.  It’s been one of the joys of this blog to be connecting again.

Happy rock face with plants growing in its head

Happy rock face with plants growing in its head

AND…as you’ve already gathered by looking at this pictures…Jen has married and had a little girl in the ensuing years.  Isn’t Kenzie adorable?  Her blond curls are so cute.  And just look at the following photo:

Kenzie just plopped briefly on her patient doggie

Kenzie just plopped briefly on her patient doggie

We chatted and caught up on dozens of stories and happenings during our time together.  Kenzie  kept running off in one direction or another with Mom Jen (or sometimes Grandma Cindy) in hot pursuit.  She fell–plop!–into a big silver canning pot at one point and screwed up her face to protest.  Grandma rescued her immediately, but not until after we all laughed at her antics.

Piled rock garden wall

Piled rock garden wall

Besides chatting, we needed to look at Cindy’s gardens.  She’s another great gardener.  There are treasures spread out all around her house and property.  Don’t you like this piled rock garden wall?  Doesn’t it look soothing?  I am wondering how she keeps her dogs from knocking them down…

Cindy's garden with wagon wheels in the back

Cindy's garden with wagon wheels in the back

And finally, just because we can, another close-up photo of a flower.  I forget the name.  If Cindy shares the name in a comment, you’ll see it beneath the beautiful garden flower.  Love the delicate purple strands.

Ode to purple

Ode to purple (Cindy says it is a Bachelor Button)

Before weeding.  Isn't it a mess?

Before weeding. Isn't it a mess?

To weed or not to weed.  That is the question.

I’m sure many of you are raising your eyebrows and thinking, “What’s she talking about now?  Of course you must weed your garden!  Otherwise the weeds will take over the vegetables and pretty soon there will be a terrible mess.”

Yes, yes.  Those facts are known.  It is the truth.  The garden must generally be weeded.  (Plus, our garden sits squarely in front of our house.  It has to look respectable for visitors.)

But I have experienced moral pondering for many years.  How can we simply, randomly and brutally pull up certain plants in order to make room for other plants?  Who are we to determine that something like this delicious and precious wood sorrel shouldn’t exist in our soil? 

Ahhh, lovely sour-tasting wood sorrel growing in between the beets and kale!

Ahhh, lovely sour-tasting wood sorrel growing in between the beets and kale!

Each plant (or weed) growing in the garden soil contains beauty of some sort.  Some have medicinal value; others nutritional punch.  Some bloom with pretty wildflowers.  Others, like the quack grass, probably have some sort of value that I can’t fathom right now.  Perhaps their roots work up the soil, breaking up dense clods.  (Just a guess!)

Some years I’ve grumbled about the morals and ethics of weeding the entire summer while diligently pulling up the weeds.

Not any more!  Instead this is the new view:  in creating a painting you choose certain colors from your palette and refuse others.   In writing, you cull your words and edit to express just the right sentiment.  (Well, ideally we edit.  Sometimes we just create a garden of words, weeds and all.)  Creation generally demands we choose some things and reject others. 

Therefore, the garden is an act of cultivated creation and weeding simply enhances that which we choose to plant.  Hope that makes sense to the readers, who probably knew this without thinking philosophically about it at all.  In other words, the beautiful wood sorrel can be appreciated and admired and loved growing along the shed.  It is not allowed in the creation of the garden.  Unless we plan to add it to our tossed salads.  Then it can remain growing helter-skelter between the more “civilized” crops like peas and carrots.  The same goes for lambs-quarter.   It shall not be plucked!

The weeded garden!  (OK, I left that lambs-quarter in.  Dinner this week.)

The weeded garden! (OK, I left that lambs-quarter in. Dinner this week.)

Not only do we have vegetables growing in the garden, we also have three flowering plants.  These were gifts to us from a friend who owns a greenhouse.  They are looking over all the vegetables to make sure everything is growing properly.

Tenderly blooming

Tenderly blooming open

I haven’t posted hardly any flower photos in more than a week, so it’s time so get up close and personal with one today.  This variety is called Rudbeckia.  It is the blooming season, you know!

Blooming wide open

Blooming wide open

Dying leaf in dried-up algae pond

Dying leaf in dried-up algae pond

I feel like I’m on a small emotional roller-coaster the last couple of days.  One minute happy and joyful and buzzing…the next minute kind of sad and cranky.  The above leaf picture described my mood as of Friday afternoon.  (By the time this is published later tonight after a dinner with friends maybe everything will be fine again.)

Two nights ago I felt a little overwhelmed about our rather large wood pile that needs to be split, hauled and stacked.  But last night I tried to “play” with the work and turn it around into a fun chore.  It actually worked.

The bugs are out and crazed and sucking blood and biting.  Nothing unusual for June around here.  You put a log in the splitter, swat at a mosquito, take the log off, scratch your bite.  Oh well.  We all expect this at this time of year.

Mosquito eating lunch

Mosquito eating lunch

It’s been a cold spring.  Our garden vegetables are very very slowly poking their heads above the soil and leafing out.  Peas, lettuce, spinach, onions, kale, collards, beets, green onions and carrots sit in the garden wishing for rain.  They have to settle for cold sprinkles from our hose.  They’re not happy about it, but have no choice if they wish to drink some water.

One to two inch pea plants emerging in garden

One to two inch pea plants emerging in garden

Do you ever wonder if Nature herself gets moody?  I think she perhaps she does.  That’s when the hurricanes and tornados roar through and whip us around and mess things up.  When the Earth gets fussy, perhaps It quakes.  Swallows entire towns as it shakes and shifts.  One minute Nature is hot and then she’s cold.  She weeps buckets of tears on us sometimes, and then coldly withholds her rain making the poor pea plants suffer.  Sometimes she freezes us with ice-cold snow and bakes the tropics.  What an emotional lady, do you think?

Then again, Nature is probably neutral and we’re the ones telling stories about her motives.  She’s just shaking herself, blowing up the winds, shifting toward and away from the sun. 

Maybe the “truth” lies half-way between both stories.  Maybe she’s more than scientific, but less than our fanciful tales.  Maybe she does feel emotions, or responds to the emotions and thoughts on this planet.  Who knows?

Maybe this goose family has a clue…

Canadian Goose Family

Canadian Goose Family

P.S.  writing this blog always makes me happy, strangely enough.  Maybe Nature is happy about it, as well.

DSC03880 (1)

Hummingbirds return to the north woods

Every year on May 10th we say “Time to put the hummingbird feeder up!”  Most years we wonder if it will freeze when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, and try to remember to bring it in during those chilly nights.  But we put it back outside during the day, to swing in the breeze outside our front window, waiting for the tiny flash of red and green which tells us the hummingbirds have returned from their southern vacation.

The flashy males return first.  The less flamboyant females appear about a week later.  Then begins the strange mating dance which is prefaced by the males dive-bombing and chasing one other.  You don’t want to get caught in their antics.  Sometimes, if you’re sitting on the front porch, minding your own business, they’ll swoop and buzz within inches of your head.  It’s a little disconcerting.

You’ll be happy to know we put the feeder up on Sunday and spotted the first hummingbird Wednesday morning.  They’re still skittish and quickly zip away if you move toward the window in hopes to get a vibrant picture.  The above photo looks rather like a silhouette, but if you peer closely enough you can almost see the rapidly vibrating wings.

Wild Leeks:  The Sequel

Wild Leeks: The Sequel

Right after work I trekked through the cedar swamp again to reach the wild leeks.  We were hankering for some more soup.  Potato Leek Soup, this time.  I got lost again, eventually discovering the lush growing grounds.  Picked a bunch.  This time they smelled really pungent.  I mean really pungent.

My unofficial theory is that the longer the leeks grow, the more odoriferous they become.  Our kitchen smelled so strongly for several hours after cleaning ’em that my husband said, “OK, no more leeks this year!” 

Fortunately, the flavor of the leeks in the potato soup was very mild.  Just right.  Very delicious.

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling

It’s really challenging to walk in a cedar swamp.  You have to walk carefully to avoid falling in.  There’s trees at odd angles and you can never walk in a straight line.  You have to jag to the left to avoid a rotting stump, then jag to the right to miss a soaked boot. 

This amazing spiderweb shimmered out of an old stump.  So happy the camera caught its lattice-like weaving.

Spider web

Spider web

Before and after our wild leek potato soup we started to plant the garden.  It’s finally time.  The cold-weather crops need to be planted, especially the onions, lettuce, spinach, and peas.  Barry rototilled the garden yesterday, working up the soil.  We raked, planted and set up the pea fence today.  The lovely pole pea vines (which grow five to six feet high) will climb up the fence, eventually supporting the pods which we’ll munch and shell sometime in July. 

Gardening season hath begun!

Two rows of lettuce & spinach planted

Two rows of lettuce & spinach planted

Leftover radish seed from last year

Leftover radish seed from last year

We should be contemplating our gardens now, shouldn’t we?  Thinking about buying seeds or possibly planting starters in our sunny windows.  That’s what good gardeners do in March, don’t they?  Start thinking about everything garden-related with great intensity, planning and dreaming of rows of plants fluttering in the July breeze.

Even when the snow measures deeper than a four foot ruler in places, we all know garden season waits just around the corner.  Some of us actually move into action, leafing through seed catalogs or ordering Heritage or organic seeds.

We must be gardener failures, because we always end up buying our seeds at the last minute from local stores.  We hurriedly grab this and that, that and this, off the racks without too much contemplation, although we’re particularly happy when we discover organic seeds. 

We hurriedly pencil in a list of last year’s crop before going to the store:  (let me so how many I can remember)  carrots, lettuces (2-3 varieties), beets, peas, onions, beans, zuchini, radish, leek, squash (as many kinds as we can find), brocoli, kale, collards, peppers (green & hot), tomatoes, brussel sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, basil, parsley.  I’m probably forgetting some of the basic ones.  Which is why a list comes in handy.

We buy some seeds and some fledgling plants.  During the past many years of gardening we’ve figured out what grows well and what doesn’t.  Every year certain crops struggle or wither or pout because the conditions aren’t optimal for ideal growing.  It can be heart-breaking to watch cucumbers shrivel on the vine.  Or delightful acorn squash.  Or sturdy brussels begin to topple.   Such sadness ensues as one realizes the harvest might not include everything one loves!

However, there’s always enough.  Except for that year (15-20 years back) when the deer ate every last thing in the garden.  Every last thing.  Even the bitter tomato vines.  The next year we bought an electric fence and we’ve been protecting our turf like crazy.  How I hated that fence when it first arrived!  It reminded me of Gestapo concentration camps.  I protested mightily…but enjoyed the harvest in equal proportions that following autumn.  We’ve come to a reluctant true, that fence and I.

Garden shovel and stakes (for marking rows) sit ready in the snow

Garden shovel and stakes (for marking rows) sit ready in the snow

See the shovel and stakes in the garden?  The shovel was utilized earlier in the winter to bury fish guts.  Yes.  Until my husband determined the garden couldn’t digest any more fish innards without destabilizing the soil composition. 

We do use a compost bin, tossing in scraps of vegetables and fruit and other kitchen refuse.  At some point the entire heap is worked into the garden, helping to enrich the soil.  Let me see if there’s a compost box picture for you to view.

Our not particularly beautiful compost bin

Our not particularly beautiful compost bin

As spring and summer settle in, there’s always the question of garden moisture.  Too much rain or not enough?  Luckily, we have a hose which assists in watering.  Unluckily, we do not have an abundant supply of water in our well. 

The mighty hose

The mighty hose

That’s about enough thinking for this early in the season!  We have Time.  Lots of time before the sun melts away all this snow and the garden begins to look ready for its spring tilling.  Those in southern climates may be anticipating planting soon, but we’re in for a long wait.  Maybe I should look for Heritage seeds this year!!

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