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17th April 2017

12:14am: Last week was eggs. This week is flowers.

Uvularia perfoliata, Bellwort

While the warm season grasses rise above last year’s stubble and the trees are beginning to leaf out in earnest, all of the ground layer of plants are grabbing sunshine while they can. The meadow is sporting blue eyed grass (Sisyrhinchium), violets, pussytoes (Antennaria), and wild strawberries (Fragaria). The cool season Junegrass (Koeleria) is already spreading its pollen, along with all the Carexes. In the woods, the violets are joined by a delicate carpet of bellwort (Uvularia).

The redbuds are wrapping up; as hot and dry as it has been, those flowers won’t last much longer. The dogwoods are well into their season. I’m hopeful we’ll get some of the rain forecast for the coming week, or these won’t last long, either. The highbush blueberries have only just gotten started. I don’t think the groundcover blueberries have opened yet.

In the greenhouse, I’ve transplanted the peppers into larger pots. It may be hot, but I don’t trust that we won’t have a sudden cold snap, and these plants take a long time to reach plant-out size. I’m not taking that chance. This year’s varieties are sweet peppers Super Shepherd, Sweet Banana, Corno di Toro, and Ashe County pimento, and hot peppers Jalapeño and Tiburon poblano–most of them aren’t locally available.

Today I also sowed the larger portion of the plants I’ll be setting out in three or four weeks. So many seeds! We’ve got six varieties of tomatoes (slicers Vinson Watts, German Johnson, and Illini Star; plums Illini Gold and Black Plum; and Pink Princess cherries), three varieties of tomatillos (Everona, Cisneros Grande, and Purple), and herbs Thai and Genovese basils, catnip, borage, parsley, and cilantro.

Daucus carota ‘Dara’ – OMG

I’ve started another several pots of the Daucus carota ‘Dara’ I flipped for two summers ago in hopes of actually getting a decent stand of them this year. I also started a bunch of Red Drummond phlox, something that came up on its own from a set of plants I purchased elsewhere and which I liked so much I located a source to start my own crop. And for the bees I’ve sown three marigold varieties (Jaguar, Spanish Brocade, and seed saved from marigolds that self-sowed in the garden a couple of years ago), Tithonia, and two varieties of sunflowers (Tiger Eye and Lemon Queen).

Later this week, I know I’ll be laying hoses and running water out to the garden, even though the outside beds won’t be in use for another couple of weeks. There’s only just so much hauling of jugs of water a person is willing to do, and I just doubled my watering duties.


14th March 2017

1:35am: Cool season

Carex pensylvanica and Nassella tenuissima along the path.

The other morning, it was 24F in my corner of the world, the second or third frosty morning in a row. The little garden behind my house – the one visible from the kitchen window, and called the winter garden because it’s the only one I spend much time with in winter – has an increasing number of native plants in it. There are several Carex pensylvanica in there, all self-sown.

On this particular morning, I happened to be checking the plants in the winter garden, looking to see which ones had survived the weather. I blinked, then leaned closer to the Carex. Damned if it wasn’t blooming.

Cool season grass (“grass”), yep.

2nd March 2017

5:49pm: New Certification!

I’m pleased to announce that I am now a certified Chesapeake Bay Landscape Pro! The program involves a rigorous series of practicums (practica?) and testing, and emphasizes a dedication to sustainable landscape design.

So, what is sustainable landscape design, and why do you need it?  Essentially, sustainable landscape design aims to provide not only beautiful landscapes, but also landscapes that serve the invisible lives that share those landscapes with us (and without whom we stand no chance of life on this planet).  Sustainable landscapes feed soil, protect water and air, support the flora and fauna indigenous to the project site…and at the same time bring beauty, health, recreation, and solace to those people using the landscape.  Win-win, right?

Of course, climate change being the juggernaut it is, deliberately setting out to not only maintain, but to actively improve the conditions in which we live is becoming more and more important.  Let’s not kid ourselves:  the very air and water are at stake, here.  The combination of greed and a simple lack of education on what really matters – how what we do, the choices we make, affect everything around us – degrade everything we know and love every moment of every day.

All is not lost, however.  Changes we began to make two decades or more ago have made our water safer, our air cleaner.  It’s returned the bald eagle to a common sight along waterways.  It’s reducing sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the water that runs off into the Chesapeake Bay, and increasing the numbers of native oysters in beds of native grasses replanted along the Bay’s shallow waters and the numbers of crabs and fish whose babies grow up in those grass beds.  It’s bringing the Bay back to you, and me, and everyone around us.

We must not give up.  We cannot simply shrug and say, Oh well, at least today is pretty.  Our children and their children won’t be able to say the same if we don’t work to make our landscapes truly sustainable.

I, for one, have hope that we can slow this juggernaut.  I think we can help all life adapt as inevitable change continues.  If you want to talk about sustainability in design, or want to see what your personal landscape can do to help with the greater battle, give me a call.  If you want to read up on the subject, allow me to direct you to Dr. Douglas Tallamy [Bringing Nature Home:  How you can sustain wildlife with native plants], Larry Weaner [Garden Revolution:  How our landscapes can be a source of environmental change], and Claudia West and Thomas Rainer [Planting in a Post-Wild World:  Designing plant communities for resilient landscapes].

Yes, it’s a pretty day.  Let’s make sure tomorrow is, too.

8th February 2017

8:44pm: Just a Step to the [South]

The ruins garden waterfall at Chanticleer

Hang onto your hats, Central Virginia folks! The weather’s weird this year, weirder than it’s been in a while. Thanks to accelerating climate change, it’s likely to continue being weird for the foreseeable future.

So, you may ask—why should you care? For any number of reasons, but specifically in a landscape vein, I think it’s important to note that climate change is pushing the temperature zones northward. Plants which were barely able to handle summer’s heat and humidity in years past are going to be even more stressed, and some will probably have to come off our list of reliable species for our zone 7A or B (depending on where you live).

Additionally, you should expect to get heavier, and more infrequent, rain (or snow) events throughout the year. This means longer periods without rain, too, so keep an eye on those plants in your garden which tend to droop anyway without moisture; water them, or replace them with something better adapted to droughts. Preferably native plants, please! Natives are already adapted to local temperatures and moisture levels and, while those things are changing, the natives are better positioned to do well overall than something not from our local area. In short, you’ll have to water and fertilize a native plant less, and you’ll spend less time fussing over it. Want low maintenance? Plant natives.

Seedheads of Andropogon ternarius

15th January 2017

3:14pm: LJ to DW
I know I'm not the only one making the journey from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth, given the crazy climate of the day. I look forward to seeing who also came across, and to building a vibrant community on this new soil.

11th January 2017

10:30am: ::ding::
It seems the time has come to complete the switch over to Dreamwidth and away from the possibility of interference by, or my unwitting contribution to, malicious parties, so please consider this a final note on this journal. You can find me from this point onward at Dreamwidth under the same name (Clarentine). All other means of contacting me remain in effect.

(If you're also on DW and I haven't yet stumbled upon your journal, feel free to shout at me so I can add you!)

I will miss my LJ contacts and reading friends. LJ was a rocking place in its heyday. Too bad the diaspora could not be recovered. Adios - hasta mañana.

11th July 2016

9:06pm: War!
Hornworms to the left of me, hornworms to the right--the carnage was everywhere. Tomato plants raised denuded stumps to the sky, crying out for help. Frass littered the scene.

I surveyed the terrain and struck! One hornworm. Two. Three, four, in quick succession. Then, employing an old scout's trick, I crouched and moved in closer.

The enemy thus revealed was appalling. Well-hidden, they had only to wait silently, they thought, for their natural predators to retreat once more, convinced that all was as it should be.

Woe betide those overconfident in their camouflage! I inched nearer, poised just so, and then snapped off a series of fast assaults. Eight-ten-twelve rapidly added to my coup. Fourteen. Sixteen. Eighteen!

At the end of that morning, under the pitiless bowl of cloudless July sky, I tallied my feat: four and twenty they numbered, brilliant in their sleek, striped skins, their lacquered horns raised uselessly against an unexpected foe. Dripping in gore, I escorted my prisoners to their ultimate fate.

And the chickens loved every one.

29th February 2016

11:51am: Growing season, ahoy!
Whew! Now, that was a day. I've been to a client's house to measure out the front yard for a base map - thank you, T., for your help. Bought and ate bagels. Drafted up that base map and did some preliminary work on the new circular driveway loop.

Out in the greenhouse, we got the new strawberries watered and set up ten flats of greens: Tyee spinach and Lacinato (both standard and variegated) and Red Russian kale. Screwed down some of the support frame that came unmoored in last week's tornado-y winds. Cleaned the chickens' waterer out and refilled it and their feeder. Dug up a mess of weeds from the onion and garlic bed and fed them to the chickens (who know to watch from that corner of their run when I go into the garden).

Back at the house, we refilled the kindling boxes for the woodstove and refilled the water jugs that live in the greenhouse, and finally I mixed up the latest batch of dog bikkies.

I think that's enough for one day. Don't you? :-)

6th January 2016

8:26am: Winter is here
Nine degrees this morning - rising to ten just before I left for work. Yay. :-/

18th September 2015

9:37am: 7-7-7-7 Memeage
What else are Fridays for, but for playing along with the current meme?

Instructions: Go to the 7th page of a work in progress, go 7 lines down, post the next 7 lines, then challenge 7 other writers to do the same. (I'm passing on the last part; I don't think writers need much encouragement to share what they're working on. But please do share!)

Here's my entry in today's challenge:

He had learned long ago never to correct his father, not on any provocation, but how to answer this one? No said she'd lied, and was doubly dangerous if it caught his father in the black mood which had been almost constant since the spring. Yes painted him a coward, and would not stop the punishment, anyway. Behind him, he could feel her spirit salivating in anticipation. He did not look up again.

"Sir," he said.

10th September 2015

8:55am: A Country Dance
This is a tune many of those who don't live in the country sing as well, only with slightly modified verses. No doubt you'll recognize your own version.

There's a bear in the field, oh my. A bear!
Suet feeder, sunflowers, rows of corn all sniffed.
(Suet feeder was found to be tasty. Uh oh.)
Countermeasures contemplated, none of them fun.
Ugh. There's a bear. What shall I do?

There's a rooster in the field, oh my. A rooster!
Not my rooster--don't have, don't want.
(Hens don't need rooster, thank you very much.)
Means of trapping him and rehoming contemplated, all of them conflicting with bear issues.
Ugh. There's a rooster. What shall I do?

There's a delivery to be picked up for the field, oh my. A whole pallet!
The greenhouse-to-be needs a face, but the truck can't get up our driveway.
(No, we can't be available at a half-hour's notice to meet the truck nearby. Sheesh.)
Long-distance trip to trucking company's warehouse contemplated; won't be home to handle either bear or rooster issues.
Ugh. There's a delivery. What shall I do?

Put out corn to lure in rooster. (Catch him when he goes to roost?)
Store new suet feeder in garage tonight.
Caravan - car and truck - to warehouse (in rain).
So very many moving parts. For just one day can we avoid disaster?

25th August 2015

9:13am: Not quite autumn
It's August, and the weather gods are not above reminding us of that fact: we are still deep in late summer's sticky heart. Nevertheless, as we sink closer to autumnal equinox, the occasional chill snap in the air and the angle of the sun remind us - in case we needed the warning - to pack up the fruits of the season and get ready. It won't always be warm breezes and plenty. If we are smart, we will be ants, not grasshoppers.

Right now, though, it's August, and I could do with a breeze. :-)

This weekend, we had one of those cold front weather blessings cross our path, and I seized the opportunity to get the fall greens planted. That meant, of course, that the beds had to be cleared of summer's crop of weeds. By noon on Sunday, however, I had two forty-foot rows planted in Premier kale, collards, and purple mustard greens. I'm trying out a new ground cover, too, for after the corn, a Crotalaria called 'Sunn Hemp' (which isn't a Cannabis at all). Lovely seeds, glossy like sun on an oil slick and about the same range of colors.

The tomatoes are all but done. Once again, German Johnson was my star performer, giving me gorgeous, deep pink fruits the size of softballs right up to the point where the vines gasped their last. I was somewhat more pleased with the Virginia-adapted version of Brandywine I tried out this year than I have been with Brandywines in the past; they did their best to keep up with the Johnsons. The fruits have a bad habit of cracking at the stem end, however, and rotting there. If it had been a wet year, we wouldn't have gotten a single one of these. Illini Star, my other main crop tomato, had a really rough time this year for some reason. More often than not, its fruits would just about ripen, then rot on the vine. Could have been the bugs, I guess. We were heavily infested with brown marmorated stinkbugs this spring.

Of my two paste varieties, the Black Plums gave their many, many small tomatoes as expected and fought whatever blight it is that afflicts them regularly every year all the way to the end--a good producer. Illini Gold always catches blights, too, but it gave me less fruit than last year.

Only the cherry Pink Princess is still producing...hand over fist. The fruit tends to crack after a rain, but it's been dry on the farm this season (not so in the mountains and on the plain around us, but right here, we're dry). Kay takes every opportunity she gets to come down to the garden with me and graze on the cherry tomatoes. Silly dog. :-)

Otherwise, the first planting of corn is gone, its stalks uprooted, and the second is tasseling. The tomatillos continue to give me an enormous crop. The cucumbers failed even more quickly than I'd expected, with only the Asian and Persian cukes persisting any real length of time. The winter squash are beginning to ripen (the summer squash all croaked but for a single plant). The sunflowers I transplanted all did just fine. The pole beans and butterbeans are just ripening for picking; I expect to be down there this evening, filling my basket.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll get a little rain today. Maybe.

30th May 2015

12:08pm: Summer's here
It's official - summer has arrived. The fireflies are once again decorating the night with semaphore declarations of love. The heat has been here a good week, and the deer flies are already driving us crazy, but until the fireflies return, it isn't summer.

25th May 2015

6:34pm: 2015: Coming up green (and not all of it's weeds)
The garden's doing just fine, growing quickly now that the heat's arrived...wait, I didn't say what I'd planted, did I? Okay, for the record, this year we have:

Last fall's Rocambole garlics and the potato onions which are sharing a bed because they're both all-season crops. I decided to see if the voles, which have yet to bother the garlic, could be kept away from the onions by planting garlic in rings around them, and thus far the experiment has proven successful. I also put my spring-planted shallots in the gaps between plants. They're also doing well.

(Pam Dawling recommends digging garlic three weeks after the scapes show up, which is a lot earlier than I've done it in the past. I noticed scapes today, so that means the weekend of June 14, the garlic should come up. I'm curious to see the difference if they're pulled this early. I think the onions will have a while yet. Fortunately, I don't have to disturb them.)

Purple Peacock broccoli. It's a hybrid with one of the kales, I think, something with purplish, frilly leaves (like Red Russian kale, actually). Looks nice when I pull off the insect cover to weed that bed. This one's not to be harvested until some time in the fall. I think I planted it way, way too early. This is the first time I've planted broccoli, though, so it's all a learning experience.

The spring-planted Premier kale has long since bolted, but the leaves are still nice and tender. I cooked up a mess of the greens last weekend, and will pick and cook more this coming week, before I pull all the plants. The late corn should be in there afterward, but I think it's going to see buckwheat first for some green manure.

Speaking of corn...again this year I've tried Augusta early sweet corn. Last year, in a different bed, I got poor germination. This year, I got none. Too wet and cold? Probably. So, this weekend, I've planted the first batch of midseason corn (new variety Tuxana, as a replacement for the Silver Queen I'd been planting) where I'd planted Augusta. We'll see how it comes along. It certainly doesn't have the same excuse of cold and wet!

And, at the end of this bed, the tomatillos and peppers are doing fine. They all got off to a slow start - tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos - in the seed flats. Part of that was damping off fungus, I think, but the rest...I just don't know. Not warm enough?

In the next bed is even later-planted Premier kale, doing just fine (if besieged by weeds). The cilantro and tatsoi both bolted quick when the spring warmed up; I'm waiting to collect seed for both before turning them under.

The tomatoes I planted two weeks ago are really starting to hit their stride. This year we have Pink Princess cherries, paste tomatoes Illini Gold and Black Plum, and slicers Illini Star, German Johnson, and a Virginia variety of Brandywine. I need to get the first row of Florida weave trellising up, but it's been wicked hot today. Maybe tomorrow evening.

The cucumber trellis is up and I planted out the cucumbers yesterday: Garden Oasis (a beit alpha type) and Chelsea Pride (an English-style cuke), both old seed and showing poor germination after a couple of years, and new cukes Suyo Long (an Asian) and Empereur Alexandre. I really like the beit alphas for their tender skin and juicy, sweet, never-bitter flavor, but they just don't germinate well. We'll see how the new cuke varieties handle our heat and humidity.

I'm planning on seeding out some Senposai for summer greens - it was indeed durable last year - but that hasn't happened yet. Too many weeds to clear and not enough good-weather hours in which to do so. When I finally got down to it yesterday morning, I cleared half the bed before the heat and the sun sent me indoors.

I still need to plant out beans, both my favorite green snap Grady Bailly and the limas I grow for a customer at work, but that hasn't happened yet, either.

Yesterday I also planted out my summer and winter squash: old reliables Butternut and Seminole winter squashes, and summer squashes Costata di Romanesco, Dark Green, Black Beauty, and Greyzini. Both Dark Green and Black Beauty are new varieties; one of the two is a trap crop for squash bugs, a practice recommended by Pam Dawling. I could cover the plants, but that's a pain and they'd still need to be uncovered for pollination. If the trap crop idea works out, I will be pleased. I planted a lot, deliberately; I promised the woman who coordinates the local food pantry that they'd get my extras, so this is my attempt at planting an extra row (I should also have cukes, Senposai, chard, peppers, and tomatillos, and maybe tomatoes).

(I had two more of the volunteer winter squashes turn up where they'd been grown last year. My two varieties had cross-pollinated two years before; they gave me something we were calling Butternoles last year, a nice, tasty, bell-shaped squash. I'm hoping the two volunteers are both Butternoles and have put them in the row with the deliberately sown ones. I want to save seed from them this year.)

Last year, I modified my rotation plan and planted Lemon Queen sunflowers in the middle of the winter squash bed. I thought the birds had cleaned up all the seeds, since when I pulled the plants down there was nothing left on the discs. Ha! The bed that has corn and summer squash this year bore a beautiful crop of self-sown sunflowers first. I transplanted as many of those as I could to the far side of the new winter squash bed.

Still to plant out, though I have them in pots, ready to go (or nearly): Swiss chard, both Scarlet Charlotte and Gator (which is supposed to be perennial but froze over the awful winter); tithonia, the Mexican sunflower, which turned out to be a favorite of the Monarchs headed south last fall and which are great markers for the ends of rows; Sweet Genovese basil; and borage. I sowed marigold seed, but none of it came up. Fortunately, I do have some self-sown stuff coming up where I grew them last year. Those need to be transplanted.

And that, in a long nutshell, is my garden this year.

3rd March 2015

8:49am: Why you keep your eyes open, part 1
This morning, headed down the sidewalk past Capitol Square from the bus stop, I was composing a post about the effects of this long, cold winter on the camellias planted there when there was a rustle and a heavy thump on the other side of an azalea. I glanced in that direction and then came to a dead stop: it was a big bird. Not one of the hawks that hunt in the park, either - it was one of the peregrine falcons who live in downtown. I'd never seen one in person, but they're popular webcam subjects because they like to nest on the ledges outside of upper floor windows in the office buildings downtown. I gazed, and it gazed back, and then since I knew there was someone coming down the sidewalk a ways behind me I went on, leaving the falcon to continue with whatever it was doing in the underbrush undisturbed.

And the camellias? Hardly even popping out of bud. No color showing at all. On March 3. This week, we're expected to be near 70 degrees on Wednesday...and there'll be 1-3 more inches of snow on Thursday. ::whines::

15th February 2015

8:31am: Brrrrrr
Well, I now have empirical proof that you can, indeed, freeze your hair. :-) No damage done, though it was very weird to wonder what was poking my scalp as I turned my head and realize it was my hair. Fortunately, the wood stove was already fired up for the morning, so I stood there in my coat for a couple of minutes until it thawed.

There's a most hellacious wind howling through the trees right now. The thermometer says something like 10 degrees, taking into account that it's up alongside the house and thus reading slightly higher than it would without that shelter. The weatherbeings have been warning that, with the wind chill, the outside temps are down into negative territory. I am always grateful we invested in the wood stove, but never more on a morning like this. The stupid heat pump that came with the house would never have kept up.

So, we're tucked up inside the house, dogs, cats, and people. The chickens are huddled in their coop, having come out only long enough to eat the scraps and scratch I put out for them when I was out freezing my hair. We filled the wood boxes yesterday morning before the weather blew in and it began to snow - sideways - so we are in no danger even if the power should go out (which it has not, despite the wind, and thank you very much Rappahannock Electric Cooperative). The weather report has this misery continuing until some time Monday, when the next front comes through and supposedly brings us snow before dropping the bottom out again. Argh.

I wanted to come to Virginia because I genuinely like having a full four seasons. I don't mind the cold, so much, if I can get out of it into real warmth, like we have in this house. Right now, however, I think I have had enough cold for one year.


8th February 2015

3:28pm: Almost too good to be true
Oh, my god, what a glorious day - what a beautiful weekend - this has turned out to be. Clouds gave way to sunshine and a warm, southerly breeze yesterday about midday, and today is an incredible 70 degrees! I changed out the bedding in the chicken house in my shirtsleeves. I helped stack up the next bunch of logs to be split, and then took Kay down into the garden and stood around in the sun while she explored where the rabbits have been hiding out. Days like this don't come along all that often in February; I'm glad these two happened on a weekend so I could make use of them.

30th January 2015

8:35am: Driving through Woods on a Weekday Morning
Yesterday, my commute gave me the complicated lace of branch tips stark against a salmon-pink winter sky.

Today, it was a pod of whales swimming ponderously across a sky gone just pale with the coming dawn.

Whenever I feel down, or overwhelmed, the remedy is always there waiting for me. I just have to remember to step outside my head, quiet my thoughts, and really see.

29th January 2015

12:25pm: Don't Panic!
This post - https://medium.com/message/never-trust-a-corporation-to-do-a-librarys-job-f58db4673351 - and the news it communicates, is awesome. So very awesome. Every generation has computer software it uses, and loves, and then abandons when something that seems cooler comes along...only to find out later the previous software did some things better or was more fun to play with. The past seemed lost forever; software is all too often now not backward-compatible, so the early versions might as well not exist. Old movies, books, games, all rendered as if they'd never been.

But they do exist, and so does the Internet Archive, and things we had given up on might now, again, be accessible. Read the article; I know what I am struck most by having once again available (MS-DOS-based Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game, anyone?), but like those thousands of old games and movies, we each have our own favorites. I hope you discover yours there. And if not, who knows? It might be the next item the Archive team turns its attention to.

I just acquired another non-profit worth donating to. (And another reason to despise Google, but let's not go there just now.)

3rd January 2015

6:17am: Good Omens!
In case you hadn't yet heard: BBC Radio 4 is playing the radio show of Terry Pratchett's and Neil Gaiman's "Good Omens" - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04knthd.

6th December 2014

2:19pm: The two-protag dynamic
A friend once observed, while critiquing one of my novels, that I appeared to be using one of the pair of main characters as a whipping boy. Bad stuff always fell worse on the one character, not the other, though the other is the one who instigated the situation. The other, in fact, often was being forced to watch as a punishment; the bad guys explicitly damaged the one to hurt the other. Which called into question why the whipping boy was there at all - what was their purpose, aside from soaking up punishment I subconsciously did not want to inflict on my chosen character? A very good question.

(An excellent critique overall, and a good friend for being willing to pull no punches. I needed to hear that.)

In revising the current novel, Switchback, it occurs to me that I'm still exploring the dynamic between two main characters, one of which inevitably becomes my favorite by the end of the first draft. I'll probably always be re-learning the lesson of that earlier critique, I'm afraid - I've done it again here, trapping the secondary protagonist and leaving the primary character to dig him out - but I am at least aware of what I've set up (and why robbing that character of agency is not a good thing for either character or story).

So here I am, on rewrite, considering that secondary protag. I can't do the obvious thing and combine the two characters, not in this story; it needs to remain a story about two brothers. What I can do, though, is build in goals for that secondary character. What is being trapped doing to him and his goals?

What I can't do is consider the scene solely from the standpoint of how it affects my primary character.

I'm going to go make some pound cake and think on that.

3rd November 2014

8:52am: Always Something
On a farm, even a small farm like mine, there's always something needing to be done. This weekend, we wrapped up preparations for the first frost, forecast for Monday morning. This meant checking windows in the chicken house, picking the last little bits of the summer garden, and laying in a bag of wood for this year's inauguration of fire season. We finished filling the woodshed last weekend, with the help of a neighbor and his wood splitter.

As if that wasn't enough, we also set the footers for the final three pairs of posts for the greenhouse. I was warmed at first with the digging and hauling at the start of Saturday afternoon's project time. By its end a couple of hours later, my hands were chilled and I was ready to head indoors.

With all of the produce gathered late on Saturday, I needed to find something to do with a bumper crop of tomatillos. I ended up making a small batch of tomatillo salsa and canning it - fabulously tangy stuff! The tomatillos were one of my test crops this year. They've earned their spot next year. I have one last batch of tomatillos to can up, and am looking forward to sharing their goodness this winter.

And now...it's greens season. I'll find out in the next couple of days which greens (seeded earlier this autumn) will be freeze-hardy.

19th September 2014

9:15am: In honor of
It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and in place of a bunch of really bad puns I offer you (courtesy of the Decemberists) some song lyrics that get at the heart behind what creates a pirate. Along with "Where's all the rum gone?" ::wink::

Get the rocks in the box
Get the water right down to your socks
This bulkhead's built of fallen brethren bones
We all do what we can
We endure our fellow man
And we sing our songs to the headframe's creaks and moans
And it's one, two, three
On the wrong side of the lee
What were you meant for?
What were you meant for?
And it's seven, eight, nine
You get your shuffle back in line
And if you ever make it to ten, you won't make it again
And if you ever make it to ten, you won't make it again

(Decemberists, Rox in the Box)

14th September 2014

10:05am: Exeunt, Summer
Summer garden report; I'm on the verge of fall planting, so might as well report while it's relatively fresh in my mind.

Starting at the lower end of the garden:

Corn, Silver Queen and Augusta. It was a good year for Silver Queen. Even the ones I had to rescue from the self-sown cosmos roared back, despite the dry year (and no, I don't water the corn), and produced plenty of nice ears. We put up 14 cups of cut corn. Augusta did not fare so well - thin germination to begin with, and it tasselled earlier than the Silver Queen I'd planted to pollinate it, so we got few ears and none I'd call well filled out. If I grow this again, it needs to be started two weeks before Silver Queen (which I will absolutely be growing again). Note: there are honeybees in the area, all on their own. We know this because, while the Silver Queen was full of pollen, the entire bed was positively vibrating with honeybees. I find this interesting because corn is an ancient, wind-pollinated crop; it didn't need those bees at all.

Summer squash. None of the summer squash did well. We had a strong showing of squash bugs rather early, plus a lot of heat and dry weather, and that did it for the squash plants before most of them produced much. The grey zucchini I'd specially sought after produced some of the weirdest fruits I've ever seen, curved and corrugated - not what I'd wanted. Only one of the dark green zucchinis fruited at all, and it succumbed quickly to disease. It's a good thing I still have zucchini in the freezer from last year.

Tomatoes, cherry. We grew three varieties this year, two seed-saved here and one I ordered from Fedco. (http://www.fedcoseeds.com) The Rose cherries I've been saving for three years produced, but succumbed early to disease. The Kumquat cherries (also seed-saved, though I only selected these last year) were an odd pinky-orange color, strongly productive, strong grower. The fruit cracks quickly after rain (though not as quickly as one of its parents, Sungold). Not sure about this one. The Pink Princess from Fedco was an exceptional grower and producer of gorgeous dark-pink fruit, and I think this variety will be taking over from Rose; Pink Princess showed none of the disease issues that knocked Rose down, despite a planting location with less air circulation (upwind of the early corn).

Tomatoes, main crop. We grew five varieties, two plums and three slicers. German Johnson still gets top marks for productivity and flavor; this tomato remains the backbone of the tomatoes that go in my freezer to make up sauce. Cherokee Purple will never be high on the production list, but the fruits are flavorful and the plants keep going despite disease issues and dry weather. (Most definitely not a tomato for a wet year, as we discovered last year.) The new slicer was Illini Star, which was (and still is) solidly productive of smallish, perfectly round red tomatoes that are a gorgeous dark pink inside, lovely to see on the plate. The two plums, Illini Gold and Black Plum, were quite productive this year; I've already put up 11 half-pints of tomato paste using just these two tomatoes. Black Plum was the only tomato I had that produced in last year's washout season, and only then because the fruit came on early and tends to be small. If any of these plants gets substituted out next year, it'll probably be Cherokee Purple.

Peppers, hot. We grew poblanos and jalapeños. Both have been very productive. The poblanos seem to want drier weather, though; they keep rotting on the plant before coloring up at all. It's definitely not sunscald, as the plants are heavily leafed and somewhat shaded by a massive tithonia plant. By contrast, the jalapeños have already gone red on the plants, which are growing right next to the poblanos. We also had volunteer Cayenettas show up in the herb bed (which had been the pepper bed last year). I'll probably dry whatever hot pepper fruits don't get used, sold, or given away and make up more deer bombs with the resulting powder. It was wonderfully effective this past winter at keeping the deer and rabbits away from the overwintering kale.

Peppers, sweet. Ashe County pimentos and my favorite Corno di Toro were the varieties we chose, and I'm pleased with both plants, though I could have done with more pimento fruit, as they came in very early and it would have been nice to have fresh sweet peppers in salads over the summer. The Corno di Toros are already coloring beautifully; have to go pick some to take in to work for gloating over.

Beans. I planted one wax bean and two of the Grady Bailly pole bean plants; as anticipated, I cannot keep up with Grady Bailly, and the wax bean is already done. Both took a battering in the early-and-heavy Japanese beetle attack, but Grady Bailly keeps its flowers up under the leaves. The butterbeans (limas) I put in by customer request also got pretty badly chewed up by the beetles. I think we might be starting to finally get some production on them.

Herbs. I put in Genovese basil, some Italian flat leaf parsley, and the pitiful remnants of the cilantro I started in pots; the cilantro bolted and disappeared. The basil has all but filled the area, duking it out with the volunteer Cayenettas and an enormous mound of volunteer marigolds. I'll be trying again with the cilantro over the fall. I know it overwinters pretty well, and will self-sow if it has a long enough season. I don't like cilantro, but a lot of other people do, so I won't mind if it shows up next year.

The tomatillos are in the herb bed, too. This is a new crop for me. All three varieties - a green, a yellow, and a purple - are interesting, and I'll probably plant all three again next year. I'll take some to work with me and see if I can drum up interest. Fortunately, they're not heavy producers, or I'd really be at sea. Points for the purple variety: I came upon a praying mantis laying eggs on one of the stems yesterday.

Winter squash. We planted Seminole and Waltham butternut again this year. The effects of much less rain are pretty stark where the Seminole plants are concerned; hardly any fruit, unlike last year, where we had boxes of it that went to the chickens because we couldn't use it all up. The butternut is a reliable producer. Interestingly, some of the fruits which rotted in the beds last year sprouted in amongst the corn this year; they hybridized into something very odd. If they taste good, I guess I'll save the seed and see what they do next year!

Greens. The summer greens were Senposai, Scarlet Charlotte swiss chard, and a perennial chard called Gator. Senposai got off to a roaring start, but then had a bad period where the cabbage loopers ate holes through all of the leaves. It's a very strong grower, though, and it's come back nicely. I'm having to pull the last plants out to make space for the fall planting of kale and other greens. I'll probably grow it again next year, as the chickens like it (and so do the dogs), but must remember to either cover the rows when the cabbage butterflies show up or spray with Bt. The chard both grew well, though I like the texture of Gator better than Charlotte. Charlotte's awfully pretty, though; it'd make a nice planting in a perennial border, I think. Neither had real problems with cabbage loopers or Japanese beetles, and are both growing very strongly now. It's nice to have plants that don't require coddling.

Onions and garlic. I had some small sets leftover from last year's late planting of yellow keeper onions; those grew to massive proportions once in the ground this year. I also bought some sets from the co-op, and we've been eating off both since earlier this summer. The garlic planting was in the top bed this year, and it did a lot better there than in the bottom bed where it had languished last year (to be fair, the bottom bed was the wettest last year, so that probably didn't help). Last winter's test planting of potato onions did okay after I repelled the voles, so I have starts to put in the ground next month with the garlic.

Other things grown and not accounted for elsewhere: Lemon Queen sunflowers, which took a while to settle in, flowered nicely, and then died back earlier than I'd expected. The plants also have a tendency to get heavy early on and end up sprawled across the planting bed, never making the tall central stalk I'd expected. The local goldfinches were quite pleased I'd planted feeders for them. *g* Cleome is flowering nicely at the other end of the bed from the sunflowers; it'll get invited back next year (will probably self-sow, anyway). The tithonia got huge points for being the one plant which attracted Monarch butterflies - well, that's appropriate, given they're Mexican native wildflowers and they grew so large they towered over my head.

17th August 2014

7:43pm: Fantabulations!
I just caught up with this year's Hugo awards - yay for Liz Bourke and her second-place finish in the Best Fan Writer category! And WOW! XKCD's Time panel was deservedly awarded a win for Best Graphic Story; what a fabulous series of panels that was. (If you haven't seen it, run don't walk - it's that wonderful. And time-consuming. :-) http://xkcd.com/1190/)

Congratulations to all the rest of the winners and nominees. What a talented group of people make up the SFF genre.
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