Thursday, August 31, 2006


The waterlilies, fish and frogs are the only things not bothered by all this rain.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ashes ashes all fall down

Last year I had a 40' row of sunflowers at the north end of the garden, but OUTSIDE the raised beds. We got lots of rain and wind one day and they all bit it. It seems if you have a pancake-shaped root system, and you're tall, you're doomed in this clay, as the clay when wet lets go of you.

This is the damage from yesterday. Amaranth and sunflowers. Same root system. I thought they would be safe inside the beds...sigh. Though now I am wondering if I should bother with them at all next year. These can be rescued, though now I am wondering if I should yank them out and use that real estate for the fall broccoli.

So I (re)read this last night.
"The garden is an unhappy place for the perfectionist. Too much stands beyond our control here, and the only thing we can absolutely count on is eventual catastrophe. Success in the garden is the moment in time, that week in June when the perennials unanimously bloom and the border jells, or those clarion days in September when the reds riot in the tomato patch--just before the black frost hits. It's easy to get discouraged, unless, like a green thumb, you are happier to garden in time than in space; unless, that is, your heart is in the verb. For the garden is never done--the weeds you pull today will return tomorrow, a new generation of aphids will step forward to avenge the ones you've slain, and everything you plant--everything--sooner or later will die. Among the many, many things the green thumb knows is the consolation of the compost pile, where nature, ever obliging, redeems this season's deaths and disasters in the fresh promise of spring."
Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, by Michael Pollan (New York: Grove Press, 1991)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Drip, drop.

I was going to blather on about weeds again in today's post, as that's one of my favorite topics, but I got sidelined by rain rain rain.

It rained all day yesterday. This is normally not a problem, except yesterday's rain was more a deluge than a trickle. Even the chickens, who're clad in wash-and-go feathers, appeared soaked when I got home. It is still raining now, and I am wondering what the damage is in the garden.

You see, with our clay soil, big beautiful tall August plants tend to fall down. Once the rain lightens up, I will have to do an "after" picture.

This is the "before" pic taken last Thursday during a bubble-blowing session.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

In praise of volunteers

I did a lot of weed pulling yesterday, too. There is strong botanical evidence that the things we consider to be weeds are just as cultivated as anything we would put into our gardens. I had time yesterday to reflect on my own definition of "weed," which is basically something growing where it shouldn't be. Though I do suppose I am much more laissez-faire about some weeds than not. I enter into evidence the following:

Birdhouse gourd. The one closest to the camera is almost 2' long, and weighs about 7 lbs. You're not even seeing the whole plant. There are about 50 gourds growing altogether on vines stretching 20-30'.

Red-seeded Asparagus Long Bean, which is an Asian variety related to crowder or black-eyed peas, growing amongst the limas. YUM. I didn't think to get more of these seeds this year, so this is a most welcome surprise.

And finally, tomatoes growing with the figs. These'll be pulled. Though volunteer tomatoes did save most of the crop lost to a late frost this year, I have begun to tire of finding them everywhere I turn.

Bean flower

Why can't all days in the garden be like yesterday? Overcast. Muggy. Not hot. Damp ground for easy weed pulling. And LOTS of time to pull them.

I even fired up the tiller and started on two new "projects."

Friday, August 25, 2006

Chicken run?

Footprints on the damp deck

When I got home from work last night, I noticed one of the chickens was missing. Oh no, I thought: I had been an idiot yesterday and had left their coop's door open all night. So I called out to Tom, and he hadn't remembered seeing her...but I had a vague recollection of Phyllis following me in to my garden shed. Maybe she is still in there, I thought.

I also noticed the garage door was closed.

Yep; poor Phyl was trapped in the garage since Tom went to pick M up from school at noon. She's fine.

But I was so sad there for about 20 minutes. Poor Phyllis! And just when she started laying, too. For it was she who was producing those beautiful blue-green eggs, not the fluffy hypersexualized Maude. I even started looking at Maude during those long minutes thinking, girl, if you were laying, I wouldn't feel so bad about losing your sister.

But then I thought again. Who is Maude most like, in the human female world? She's kind of a Dolly Parton or a Marilyn Monroe type. And then I remembered that neither of those fabulous, fluffy, hypersexualized women were mothers. And we all like them just fine.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fall plans

Babies! Aren't the cute? (Mesclun salad)

My goal is to grow and harvest things all year long. That sounds like a stretch; this is Michigan after all, and we're zone 6A here, which means it rarely gets below zero degrees F. But it can, and does about 2x a season. So it isn't a stretch so much as a challenge, in my mind.

Big plans are in the works for a greenhouse (actually, it will technically be a hoop house). It will be next to the chicken coop on the way to the garden, jutting out behind the ice house...way too technical, yes; let me assure you it is protected from the prevailing winds off Lake Michigan a mile away, and is situated to be in full sun almost all winter. I plan to get some good salad stuff a-growing in there by October.

There are root crops we can harvest well past first frost (around Oct. 20th) like carrots and parsnips, and things like leeks and kale actually sweeten up after they get chilled. Potatoes can stay in the ground for a while, too. Now, hopefully I can keep the chickens clueless about the greenhouse's contents...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sublime, I tell you

This is the time of year when a lot of our (what I considered to be the most NECESSARY) wedding gifts get dusted off and put to use. So, the pasta maker, the food mill and the FoodSaver are now out of their boxes and cluttering up the kitchen.

Last night, I made the most sublime meal of egg pasta with just tomatoes, basil and salt. We had romano beans and purple sprouting broccoli on the side. With this largesse of things like eggs and tomatoes, I have been scrambling to both mix things up enough and use enough stuff up that I am not awash in produce. Alas, it never works, though, so the FoodSaver comes out and in go the processed tomatoes after a trip through the food mill.

Behold, the makeshift tomato fence. Still, when I approached the new fences, I had at least 4 feathered friends cackling away, and I swear they were saying "Brandywine, brandywine, brandywine."


Last night's carnage

Why did I have to go through the trouble of burning the squash plants? The bugs tend to have the disgusting habit of hiding out in mulch over the winter. I didn't want to take the risk of a repeat performance next year by recycling them in the compost piles. The little f*ers can't see too well in the near-dark, and they were mostly too young to fly, so I harvested the plants, the mulch, and some of the surrounding soil and piled the lot on a medium-sized fire. It was kind of like throwing wet blankets on the blaze, though; next year, if this happens again, I will make sure it is a house-sized fire. And next year, I will grow the squash under floating row covers and hand-pollinate!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A.m. dew

Sometimes it is a good idea to slow down.

I am still beating myself up because I have yet to immolate those damned squash bugs, all the while knowing they are breeding and growing and yuck. But last weekend was a busy one. It was Potty Training Boot Camp Weekend, for one thing. I also put up 9 quarts and 6 pints of peaches, and the kitchen ended up only marginally sticky afterward. We went out for dinner Fri., had a houseguest Sat., and went out of town for a birthday party on Sun. and returned well after dark. When COULD I have set fire to those things?

It is scheduled for this evening, though. And I found another club-sized zucchini this a.m.

Monday, August 21, 2006

No time.

Sometimes, one has no time to do anything. But this was quite lovely, all dewy and bright: it is a moonflower.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


Brandywine damage

Okay, last night was too rainy to burn the summer squash plants, and what do you think I found when I looked at them this morning? A club-sized zucchini.

The chickens are no longer welcome near the tomatoes. Very discriminating tastes, these girls...they only go for the ones I have been watching. This tomato, for example, which was the first to pinken up, and was pushing 3/4 of a pound! So today other than burning and canning, it is time for a trip to the farm supply for some fencing. Sniff.

Friday, August 18, 2006

This just in!

Looks like one of the Ameraucanas is now laying, too. My bet's on Maude, who seems so fluffy and fertile, though it could be that little Phyllis is now putting out, too. Yay. Such bounty.

Work ahead

It's rather gloomy and wet outside, so I thought I would take a couple interior shots. Today we are awash in peaches, so we need to attend to them this weekend. We have lots of storage space waiting, obviously, for some canned goodies. The peaches have been the perennial favorite for visitors to take home with them. We have been told that they on occasion do not survive that long; someone once asked to borrow a spoon along with their jar.

We barbecued some peaches last night for dessert. YUM.

I am hoping the conflagration of the squash plants infested with Anasa tristis can still happen this evening. Damp or no, I am sure I can scrounge ample fodder for the blaze. Die, bugs. Die.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Doomsday is nigh

I cannot ABIDE these things. Yep. Squash bug babies. Squash bug teenagers, adults and geriatrics: I foresee a pyre, a big 'un, upon which they shall all commit generational suttee TOMORROW.

Too bad, really. I have tried all known methods to otherwise coexist, then kill, these ugly things. But their legions are too many, and though the squash isn't suffering, I certainly am. YUCK. I even had a gorgeous fried blossom with dinner last night, and that still did not sway me. No midnight appeals, please; tomorrow, the yellow crookneck, the zucchini, and the bush acorn plants will be GONE.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Garden surprises

Red amaranth

While at the annual family clambake last weekend, I was asked what surprised me most about my garden this year. I had no answer. (Believe me, it is rare for me to be speechless.)

I think I have one now, though it is fairly lame. I am surprised by how much I like this amaranth. There are maybe 20 plants scattered around the veg garden, the largest of which is pushing 10' in height. What good the plants do is debatable. We can eat the leaves when they're small in salads, though as Tom said, yeah, if you like hairy leaves, they might just be your thing. These things probably won't produce enough amaranth to even make one cupcake, so there goes the other edible utility of the plants. I suppose I can grind up the thick stems in the chipper and add them to the mulch pile. So mostly I like the things because they're big, and they're red. Is that surprising?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Death, and dinner

Red Russian kale

Things had dried out so considerably that I needed to go out to the veg garden and give it a good soak this morning. It took almost an hour! It is kind of meditative, though, standing with the hose and looking at the plants, coffee cup in the other hand.

My last pro-brassica post belies the fact that I will pull out any plant that is in my way. It has sufficiently cooled down at night that I can begin succession planting all the salad stuff again. I decided these kale plants had to go. So out they came, destined to be part of a potato-kale supper tonight.

Last Thursday evening, I took the Mother of All Colanders out with me to ostensibly harvest ALL the potatoes. I only got to the first 3 rows and the colander was full. So those Yukon Golds are in the shed, atop the old chicken coop, drying out on a burlap sack. We have nibbled at a few since then; quite yummy. There is no comparison to the things you purchase at the supermarket, even though these potatoes CAME from sprouted organic potatoes that we got at...the supermarket. Eat Local, baybee: there's something about one's own terra firma, and the short commute therefrom, but boy, is it nirvana on a plate. Bon appetit.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who is gardening whom?

Lacinato kale, lovage and leeks

There is a philosophy of produce gardening that defines the act of cultivation as an interspecies wrangle. I suppose that is so. I certainly do a lot of killing in the garden, killing at a scale that leads my vegetarian conscience to blanch at times. The veg garden also provides an opportunity for lots of flora and fauna to take advantage of ME. For instance, the species brassica in its many forms: I am a sucker for the whole lot. I have planted entirely too many collards, kale and broccoli for normal family consumption. Its general pest-free status has enabled the things to thrive, too. And isn't this plant PRETTY?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cost/benefit analysis

Who, me?

Swiss-cheesed swiss chard and beets

I am still debating the chickens' 100% free-range status. They really don't do irreparable damage to the gardens (that, and I tend to plant enough of everything) but once they decide they like something, they keep coming back.

But they are fabulous for pest control. You should've seen 3 of them eating a tomato hornworm yesterday. Gross, but satisfying.

Friday, August 11, 2006

August gardens

Benign neglect in the perennial bed

This is often a hard time of year for some gardeners. It has been a long slog: tilling, planting, watering, weeding...and now harvest time approaches, and, well...interest has waned. I am not sure if it is a product of overambitious plans in the spring, or too much going on in one's summer life, or a form of ADD, but there are many gardens out there that are green with weeds and overripe produce, spent blossoms, etc. And it makes me sad.

Not to sound too high and mighty, but I can't imagine getting tired of the gardens. Yes, I prioritize, which means I also neglect some things, but on the whole, the cultivated areas of our land are on the trajectory they should be on at this time. This is what I have dreamed of all winter and spring! Small dreams, mind; but dreams nonetheless.

The one area I will admit that I have neglected is the large perennial bed I began a year ago. I have deadheaded, I have weeded, I have mulched, but it certainly needs to be weeded again, and I have not made the time for that. But the plants are doing very well despite my inattention. I guess that is the secret: know what the plants need, and know when they can just be on their own. I am sure there are parallels to childrearing in there, too. Hopefully I will heed my own advice when that time comes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Peach Festival

Cardoon in bloom

This morning I went to the Fruit Exchange in the next town over. This would be the equivalent of a feed store in most of rural America; here in the fruit belt, though, these places also serve the purpose of processing fruit from the smaller producers. I needed to get chicken scratch and some cheap fall-harvest seeds like spinach and peas, as well as some green manure. (Green manure? It is a cover crop that you let grow in your raised beds in the fall to be turned under the dirt in the spring to add some nutrients to the soil, thus, "green" manure. It is one of those standard organic practices employed by tons of us woo-woo gardeners: one shouldn't let one's beds sit bare and exposed all winter or else the nutrients will leach out and blow away, plus the worms love the cover the stuff provides.)

The back end of the shop was hopping, as it is high peach season. This area is known for its peaches. Last weekend, in fact, was the Peach Festival in our town. We of course avoided it like the plague (as Tom said, what do eagle-printed blankets and tattoo displays have to do with a harvest festival?). So I drove back through our town on the way home and yes indeed there were peaches everywhere on the main drag: spraypainted on the street, hanging on flags from the lightposts, and painted on every storefront. I also had the fortune of driving behind a tractor, driving right down the center of main street: he was even waving to the people on the sidewalks.

We are so not in Minneapolis any more.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Good recycling

Meadow at dusk

This extreme heat and attending storms have kept Tom from his lawnmowing task. We figured the grass could use a break, anyway; last year at this time (in drought) all he was doing was kicking up dust. The grass areas have thus grown to a foot or so, and even taller for the flowering "weeds," and if you squint, the lawn is a spectrum of colors: the blue of the chickory, the yellow of the dandelion-like things, the white of the Queen Ann's lace, the rust of the devil's paintbrush, and the purple of the ajuga.

We got a bagger for the garden tractor this spring. I liked the idea of just mulching the grass and leaving it, but I realized we were squandering an important resource: mulch. So this morning I donned my gardening uniform and headed out with my 5-gallon trug to move the grass clippings around. What a task. I mean, it isn't really that aerobic an activity, but I was sweating away out there, and it is a cool morning! The reason is the grass quickly breaks down and starts to decompose if left in a heap. The stuff is HOT. Okay, maybe not hot, but it is warm enough to steam. I schlepped about 30 lawn and leaf bag-sized loads and sprinkled them over each garden. The rest will go to cover the veg garden's paths. Tom has another 4 hours of mowing ahead of him, so that means a lot more mulch.

And I had to ask the important question every work-at-home person asks themselves each morning: is today a shower day? whom will I see? in the positive. It IS a shower day.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Reluctant recycling

The above is a hose guide that I fashioned from a 2x2 and a tiny pot. Those pots are so tiny as to be relatively useless, plant-wise, because they dry out so soon. But with a wood screw and a washer, I have turned these found items into a garden catch-all. Oh, yeah, and it also acts as a great adult-beverage holder when I am out doing an evening watering.

There are legions of books that focus on how to recycle things for your garden. Like, make tomato cages out of old tires. Well, I am enough of a builder (read: home improvement store consumer) that I have not really gone down the path of recycling my milk jugs, panty hose and onion bags for the greater good of the greenery. I also think this house and buildings have seen enough thrift and misuse of recycled products. SO I am trying to recycle things without making the place look like a trash field.

This morning is gloriously cool. I love it, but then again, doesn't that mean fall is not far behind??

Monday, August 07, 2006

Okay: schmaltz alert: little kid stuff ahead in this posting...

Our referents of late have been little-kid literature. The words of Beatrix Potter and Russell and Lillian Hoban are hummed and recited like a mantra. M is fascinated by all things crawling, hopping and flying, and frogs have been quite especially targeted.

This spring, I got out the kneeboots and shovels and dug a fishpond outside the dining room window. Tom wasn't completely on board at first, but thankfully, the pond is HIS baby, including stocking it and putting in the pump, etc. It is really quite pleasant, and of course its hill of dirt is now a great little perennial garden.

What has been surprising for us is the arrival of the frogs. "Build it and they will come," though their little asses had to hop a very very long way to find the little pond. The number varies but you could expect to see 15-20 frogs in the pond. And they are GROWING, too.

We had one visitor, whom we'll call Mr. Jackson*, who stayed for a few days. Too much girlhandling, though, and he went away. He was the only one who made noise.

*The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, by Beatrix Potter
A Bargain for Frances, by Lillian and Russell Hoban

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I spent the three hour drive back from Ann Arbor this morning thinking about the garden. I couldn't wait to get into my grubby clothes and go pull some weeds.

The tomatoes are numerous and Every single plant is reaching the top of their poles, so that means they are all pushing 6' tall. I guess I will just have to wait, and keep checking.

This is the time of diligence for most gardeners. You certainly can find me anxiously peering under leaves and pulling back branches to judge the growth of my charges. Especially with most of the genus cucurbita, I seem to always miss the first and freshest catches. The cukes, I admit, I am pretty manic about harvesting when they are teeny tiny (under 4" certainly) because their skins are not sour then. But inevitably I will be making the usual harvest and I will come across a gigantic one. Where did YOU come from, I will wonder; shouldn't I have noticed you the past 6 times I poked around in here? Like the schoolkid who suddenly hits puberty and comes back from summer a head and a half taller than his peers, this cuke just appears, and nearly always startles me.

I have decided that zucchini and yellow squash shall have a short tenure in the garden, something like 2.5 weeks of production. You can succession plant these to keep them producing well. But certainly, my curtailing their lifespan will keep me from finding a club-sized zucchini in the patch, and it will also hopefully stop the proliferation of those disgusting squash bugs. Yuck. Nothing is more vile than these shield-shaped scurrying vermin making lunch (or--gah--whoopie) on your beautiful squash plants.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


I once read a book in my heady grad school days that took the concept of mistake-making and applied it to religion. I think the guy was trying to reconcile the human need for godfulness in a postmodern/deconstructivist world. Whatever. What stuck with me after reading the book is the need we humans have FOR error. I think most people would argue otherwise, but erring is something we can't learn without. And gardening is certainly a case in point.

The canteloupe that is taking over the world by the compost heap is NOT a canteloupe but a birdhouse gourd. I actually investigated the thing last night and thought, what smooth leaves, like velvet, wow, that is unusual for a canteloupe...HEY, wait a minute...

Most endeavors worth their salt are lessons in humility.

(The book was Erring: A Postmodernist A/Theology by Mark C. Taylor. And I went to grad school for architecture.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

And the answer is...

Two eggs.

Freeeeedoooom! (Obviously elated, and too fast for the camera...(from top Phyllis, Maude (in white), and Margie head out after a morning's confinement)

The girls went right into their new coop last night. Whether that was because the door was closed keeping them from their big food trough, or whether they knew it was their new home of course is unclear.

They are on lockdown again this morning.

(Sorry about the no-pictures thing; Blogger doesn't seem to like it when I send them in at work.)

We will be stepping away from the farm this weekend, so hopefully the girls get their new routine down pat, as the neighbor will be looking in on them.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


This is what we SHOULD expect daily.

Quite the storms we had last night. It hopefully brought in a cold front, like the storms on Sunday brought in that horrible heat we just had.

The chickens haven't quite accepted their new coop as their own. I have had to physically eithter carry them or tempt them with food to get them to roost in the evenings. And the whole where-to-lay-the-eggs thing is kind of out of whack, too. So we left them all in the coop for a long time this morning, and hopefully we shall find three eggs as a product of their captivity.

Only 3 of the five are laying. The three layers are the Isa Browns, our 3 red birds (Bonnie, Beatrice and Margie). This is a breed that was created in 1978 here in the U.S. as a hyperproducing brown egg layer. They typically are killed off after their 2nd year (when their egg production starts to diminish), but each bird can produce something like an egg a day during that time. The other two girls are Ameraucanas, which are also known as Easter egg chickens; their eggs can be anywhere from green to blue. These are Phyllis and Maude (aka Zsa Zsa). The Isa Browns are horribly friendly and tame; Maude is somewhat aloof, and Phyllis is very chicken for a chicken...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Size matters

Volunteer canteloupe by the veg garden and castor bean plant by the frog pond

I tolerate a few volunteers in and around the gardens. This canteloupe has really taken over its sunny side near the compost heap, though, swallowing Miren's bench and a gooseberry bush in the process. And the castor bean, I knew, would/could reach 8-12', but I simply assumed that meant in tropical (native) conditions. Next year I will plant it a bit further is kind of sheltering the stachys, buddliea and echinacea at its feet. Must be the heat and the rain, right?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Nature, or at least this garden, waits for no one

The heat index yesterday at picking time was 108 degrees, so I didn't venture forth. This morning, though, it was a much more comfortable 85 so I took the Mother of All Colanders out with me and did a bit of a harvest.

This is the haul (all seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds):
Beans: Kentucky Wonder, bush and pole; Romano (bush)
Zucchini: Costata Romanesco
Yellow squash: Crookneck
Eggplant: Diamond
Cucumbers: Parisian Pickling and Snow's Fancy Pickling
Broccoli: Calabrese Green Sprouting
Beets: Detroit Red
not pictured, though destined for dinner tonight is a load of rapini.

Today, we will (really) finish the coop by putting the door on and hanging the roosts. Considering how hot it was in the potting shed last night, the girls will be thankful. Now, convincing them that the shed is no longer home ought to be interesting, though. I will let you know how it goes.