Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A resilient glad

I remember Mama used to gather her gladiolus corms in the fall into a bushel basket and overwinter them in the cinder block well house.  I liked the way the brown corms looked, and the dark red glads, which were my favorites, had a darker corm.  They would be replanted in spring, and in summer there would be a row or two along the upper edge of the vegetable garden.  It seems I remember how we would look at the row as we were leaving for church on a Sunday morning to see which colors were blooming. 
Years ago, I got a few glads myself.  It's been so long I don't even remember where I got them, but I probably ordered them from a catalogue such as Henry Field's.  Only a white one still lives, but it survives the winter in the ground and comes back every year even though it is getting shaded out by the Japanese maple and crowded out by honeysuckle, poison ivy, and leriope that the birds "planted."  I remember once, ages ago, a neighborhood kid yanked the glad out of the ground just for meanness.  At the time, I cut the bloom off and put it in a vase; I replanted the corm, and it just kept going.  I'm amazed at how it has managed to survive.  I think there have been some years that it didn't bloom, but it did this year.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Great grey slug?

Just in the last few years, I've been encountering some giant slugs around here.  I view them as pests.  Here is one I found on the house siding this morning.  If this is a great grey slug, it is not a US native, but an accidental introduction.  Sometimes those introductions can have a dramatic impact on the ecology of an area.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Blue potatoes and color on the dinner plate

Eat your colors.
I guess it's a sign that I'm still a novice that I brag, "This was from OUR garden," but it might be a sign that I want credit for the hard work I put in.  Anyway, the cuke, tomato, blue potatoes, and squash were from our garden.  Classic summertime fare.  Darling husband was a little leery about the potatoes, but I love expanding an old man's horizons!
The cuke was the first one of the season in my garden.  Just a few days ago, I had glanced and only seen little 1 to 2 inch prickly nubbins, so I was startled to see this 6 inch cuke.  I had better check the vines more closely today.  (Those muffins are the second batch from my own blueberries.)
 
I wasn't terribly impressed with the blue potato harvest.  I had started out with 3 seed potatoes.  I had cut 2 of them in half at planting.  This is the harvest.
 
It's more than I started out with, but it's a poor yield.  I don't know if the rodent that was in the neighboring Yukon Gold potatoes got any, but there is no evidence of teeth marks on the potatoes here.  (There are some fork marks where I accidentally pierced them in digging.)  So if a rodent ate any, he ate the whole kit and caboodle.  Also, the potatoes I cooked had just a little slit or opening in the middle, a "hollow heart" in potato speak.  That is supposedly caused by environmental factors, but some varieties are more susceptible to it than others.  The flavor was good, but I've had better.  I may try to keep a couple of the potatoes for seed.  (They say the early ripening varieties don't keep as well, and this is considered "early midseason.")  If they rot over winter, I'll probably not buy any to plant next year.  Overall, a bust, but the novelty of it was worth at least a little. 
I hope you're enjoying a colorful plate this summer.
 
 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Daylily blooms

The ample rain we've had lately has been a boon to the daylilies.  Here are the first blooms on this lily that opened yesterday.
This one can have blooms as late as October.  It's a winner, in my book.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blueberries, tomatoes, six confirmed kills of vine borers

I'll start out with 2 nice pictures, and then if you don't want to look at the vine borers, you don't have to scroll down.
The weather has been favorable for the blueberries--generally speaking, but of course I will proceed to the nuance of the specifics in a moment.
Here are some premium sized blueberries that I picked last night.
 
I had already made one batch of muffins from the berries I picked Monday or Tuesday. 
I have noticed that the birds are eating a lot of the blueberries.  There is no wild cherry crop this year, and when there are no wild cherries, which the birds love, there is more bird pressure on the blueberry crop.  Perhaps the cold snap back in the spring, which only did a little damage to the blueberries directly, hurt the wild cherry crop; indirectly that is affecting the blueberry crop.  Interesting connections, I say.
Birds in the berries, stink bugs on the tomatoes...  We ate our first tomato last night.  It had sustained some stink bug damage, and I had brought it indoors to finish ripening.  I picked a few more tomatoes last night to let them ripen indoors as well. 
 
We've been eating squash practically every night, but I don't know how long that will last with the pressure from the vine borers.  I killed 3 more borers this morning.  That makes 6 confirmed kills.  At first, when I would see a little of the "sawdust" oozing from the vine, I tried to stick my tiny knife in and hopefully kill the borer without opening the vine up, but I never knew if I was hitting the borer or not that way.  This morning, I did get enough of one part of a borer out to know I had killed it, plus I got 2 additional borers out entirely.  One was quite small, the other was large.

 

 
I'm still picking off some Japanese beetles and tossing them over to my neighbor's chickens, but there haven't been so many lately.  My neighbor put up a trap, he said, so that undoubtedly is helping.
In other news, we've gotten 2 3/4" of rain within the last week.  The rain that waters the vegetables also waters weeds (including those that we call our lawn).  Things are starting to look, to use the word Mama would use, rank.
That's the update on the garden "plot."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

More hornworms, vine borers, and stink bugs

When I checked my tomato plants yesterday, I saw this on a leaf.
That alerted me  to this.
I found another one also and smashed them both with a brick.
 
This evening, I cut the third vine borer out of my squash vines.
 
The stink bugs are wreaking havoc on the tomatoes.  I'll be out to get them in the morning.
The bug battle rages.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Planting for pollinators

I recently watched an online video which described the problems facing bees.  Essentially, bees are suffering due to human agricultural practices such as use of pesticides and monocropping and from loss of habitat and from disease.  A practical way to help is to plant flowers that benefit pollinators (and, of course, refrain from using pesticides on those flowers).
I have noticed that things that sometimes would be signs of failures in the lawn and garden, such as white clover in the lawn and Queen Anne's lace in the border are actually things that benefit the pollinators.  Letting things be a little loose around the edges has its benefits.
Right now the bees are loving the white crepe myrtle.  (I assume this is a pollen source for them.)  I also have a few other things that the pollinators like.  I made a bouquet of some, but there is plenty left outside for the bees and butterflies.
 
Some of the flowers here are butterfly weed, purple coneflower, oregano, yarrow, Queen Anne's lace, and hoary mountain mint.
I'm sure there are lots of online guides for choosing good plants for pollinators.  Here is just one example:  http://www.pollinator.org/guides
My coneflowers are from a packet of wildflowers I planted about 20 years ago.
As a side note, I thought it was fascinating that, according to the video I referenced above, the bumblebee loosens the pollen from tomato plants by vibrating its flight muscles at a frequency similar to the note C.  Darling son said he was surprised it wasn't the note of "bee."  Then he added, "I guess that bee was sharp."  (B# is C.)
When I consider what bees do, I'll say they are sharp indeed!
 


Friday, June 16, 2017

Trying to prove she still can (make a pie crust)

I remember as a youngster listening to Jerry Lee Lewis' song "Middle Aged Crazy" on an eight track tape.  It was sort of sad to me in a way, though we kids found a way to make it funny.  The line that said, "Don't look for the gray in his hair, cause he ain't got any...." seemed to call for us to add "hair, that is."  Bald at 40, that was funny.
In any case, there did seem to be a bit of haunting pathos to the phrase "trying to prove he still can."  Just yesterday, I said I had gotten lazy in my old age and just used store bought pie crusts.  However, on my last trip to the store, the premade crusts were all broken, so I passed on them.  I thought it might be better just to make my own than make another trip to the store.  Yeah, I had something to prove.  Some folks are organized and make it look easy.  Check out this video if you want to see what I mean.  I wouldn't have wanted to video my process, but the pie came out looking pretty good in the end.  We haven't yet done the taste test on the pie, but the little crust scraps I baked were very good.  I used coconut oil and real butter in the crust.



Now I just need to get a sports car and some high boots.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Am I affecting the beetle population by hand picking?

The beetles are back.  In glancing back through my blog with the search term "beetles," it seems I'm not making a dent in the population of Japanese beetles.  I wonder if they would be worse if I didn't bother trying to pick them off.  I have to ask myself if there are enough of the ones that I can't reach that they attain their maximum sustainable population each year anyway.
Anyway, I've tossed quite a few over to my neighbor's chickens, and I've also drowned some in sudsy water.  Here are some I knocked off over the course of a couple of days (not counting the ones I gave to the chickens).

All I can say is here we go again.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Garden update

The weather has been mostly favorable for the vegetable garden this year.  Here are some pictures which show what's going on in my garden.
 
This is the best garden bed I have.  The two elephant garlic blooms have been standing sentinel for quite a while now.  I like the ornamental touch they add, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how long lasting the blooms are.  Beyond the elephant garlic are some good looking bell peppers, then squash.  Beside the elephant garlic are some of the French marigolds I planted from seed I had gotten from Mom.
Here is a closer view of the peppers.  I think these are the best looking peppers I've had in years.
 
The round wire cages I have for tomatoes are never sufficient, so I decided to use the system my grandparents used.  Darling husband helped me drive some stakes in, and I fashioned "cages" around the stakes using strips of an old sheet.  

 
The variety is 'Early Girl,' and it should be ripening soon. 
 
Next to the tomatoes are the garden peas, which were a bust this year.  Besides the attacks from aphids, stink bugs, and powdery mildew, what I suspect is fusarium wilt ravaged them.  We did get enough to taste, which is important to me; and all is not lost because that bed is prepped for a succession crop of green beans.  I will probably try to plant the peas a little earlier next year since fusarium wilt favors warm soil temperatures.  I might try a different variety, too.  That seems to be the recommended strategy for dealing with fusarium wilt on peas.
 
I prepped a short row and planted some butterbeans for darling husband.  Prepping with hand tools is a lot of work.  The beans are coming up nicely.  There is row of cat tracks just to the left of the emerging beans.  I don't have a cat, but I hope the one that visits here is catching some rodents.
 
Beyond the butterbeans are two hills of cukes.

Above the cukes is the asparagus bed.  I have finished harvesting for this year and am letting the foliage grow.  I've had to weed lots of morning glory seedlings out of the bed.
 
It will soon be time to dig the potatoes.  The 'Adirondack Blue' will be the first to be ready.
 
Then I'll harvest the 'Yukon Gold' and 'Kennebec.'

 
So far, we've eaten asparagus, garden peas, new potatoes, and squash.  I'm looking forward to tomatoes and peppers soon.

 

 



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tobacco hornworm on pepper plant


This evening when I went out to check my pepper plants, I noticed some black frass scattered over the light colored soil under one of my pepper plants.  That's a tell-tale sign.  It is best not to ignore it because large hornworms can demolish a plant in short order.

I looked at the plant to see if the culprit was on the pepper plant.  Sure enough, I found some leaves that were half eaten.
 
It's amazing how something so big can be so camouflaged, but I finally found the critter that is pictured at the top of the post.  I smashed it under a large rock.  I will be sure to check carefully tomorrow morning to make sure there aren't other hornworms on my peppers or tomatoes.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Filé powder?

When I dug my sassafras roots for tea a couple of days ago, I uprooted a few young sassafras suckers.  Some of the leaves in the top part were quite tender, so I thought about trying to make some filé powder, which I'm told is used in some gumbos.
I washed the leaves, put them on a paper towel, and microwaved them for about a minute, I guess, in 30 second intervals.  (I don't remember exactly.) 
 
After, I took my blackberry pie from the oven,

I let the oven cool some, and then I laid the paper towel and leaves in the oven and just left them overnight.
The leaves are nice and dry.  I put them in a plastic zip bag.  I will probably just rub them in my hands to crush them.  If I had a larger quantity, I would probably use the blender to grind them.
Now, I just need to find a suitable gumbo recipe.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sassafras tea and blackberries

Real sassafras tea has fallen out of favor with the FDA because it contains safrole, which is a potential carcinogen.  Of course, you can probably find people who claim their grandparents used it with no ill effect, so I guess you have to chose whom you want to believe.  Anyway, it seems to me if it is used in moderation as a spring tonic, it might be okay (but who really knows).
The first sassafras tea I ever tried was some my older brother made.  I think he was probably in high school and had come across Euell Gibbons' book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus.  I think my brother experimented with several things from that book.
I made a little sassafras tea this evening and drank a cup with supper.
I boiled some fresh roots from some small suckers.  (This is what they looked like after boiling.) 

I added about a quart of cold water, boiled it for about 10 minutes, then let it steep on the stove eye for another 10 minutes or so.  I strained it through a closely woven cotton dish towel into a quart jar that had about 1/4 c. sugar in it.
 
One of the side effects of sassafras is sweating.  I went out and picked a few blackberries in the backyard this evening, and even though the blackberries were already in the evening shade, boy did I sweat!  Of course, that is not unusual for me even when I haven't had sassafras tea, so no conclusive evidence there.
Here are the blackberries--hopefully enough to make a pie.
 
Will the antioxidants in the berries offset the safrole in the tea?


Friday, June 9, 2017

A visit to the North Carolina Museum of Art

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art with my friend, Lea.  It was a great outing and the weather was extraordinarily pleasant, which made the one mile loop around the outdoor art a wonderful experience. 
Lea treated me to a delicious lunch at the museum restaurant, Iris, which featured great contemporary American cuisine and a knowledgeable and attentive wait staff.  A tender-crumbed rosemary parmesan biscotti started the culinary adventure.  I had a lentil-mushroom soup (garnished with toasted coconut) and a half sandwich of curry chicken salad along with a side of sweet potato fries.  Lea talked me into a scoop of blueberry sherbet for dessert.  (It was lovely, garnished with fresh berries.)  Our waiter, Kyle Jackson, said he was an artist and suggested we look for his notecards in the gift shop.  We did not find them, so they must have sold out.  I hope he gets them restocked soon.

Here are some pics of the art along the outdoor trail.
I liked the wire mesh heads.
 
I thought the rock in a tree was more of a dangerous-looking engineering feat than art, but the bluebird found it useful as a perch.  (Functional art, one could say.)
 
 
I found some harmony in the large concrete rings.

 
I also gave this piece a thumbs-up.  The pattern reminded me of a quilt, and the shape reminded me of a stingray. 
 
It also got the bluebird's approval as a perch.
 
There was a sculpture on the hill that didn't do much for me.  From the far side it looked a bit like an oil pumpjack, and from this vantage point I could sort of imagine a donkey on the hill, though the piece was not meant to represent either one.
 
The next piece turned out to be interesting to me because it was made from the brick of the prison, Polk Youth Correctional Facility, that used to be on this location.  When I first moved to Raleigh (way back in the day before GPS, internet, and Google Maps), I believe I might have used the prison as one of the landmarks to help me anticipate the turn onto Blue Ridge Rd. where I attended church and also where the lady lived who rented out a room to me.  My older brother had probably given me directions since he had lived in Raleigh a couple of years.  I have had dreams in which that area of highway and the prison were imagined, and I can only guess the significance was that it was a landmark to me.
I think this piece looks rather like a fir cone or spruce cone from the distance.  (I remember a kid's book where a little homely girl (elf, maybe?) was sent to the moon on a fir cone to marry the lonely man in the moon.  This rocket is quite reminiscent of that or perhaps a mullein seed head.)
 
The swiftly moving clouds gave the appearance that the tower was toppling.
 
I liked the warmth of the brick, most likely made from local area red clay.
 
 
 
We also viewed quite a bit of art inside the museum.  There were sculptures, pottery, paintings, and more.  Some pieces of pottery were as old as the second or third century BC, which I found mind boggling.
Here is a modern piece, called "Truly Grateful" that I thought was particularly expressive.



A point of pride for the NCMA is the Rodin exhibit
Of course, I had to get a picture of "The Thinker."  I first saw a replica of "The Thinker" in my pastor's house when I was a child.  That pastor and his wife were both educators who had a positive influence on me.
 
We had a great visit, and Lea and I agreed there was enough that we didn't see that we'll have to go back sometime.