Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thursday afternoon

It's a typical late-July day in South Carolina. Hot and humid, with hazy skies that are especially thick looking today because (believe it or not) smoke in the atmosphere from the wildfires 3000 miles away has reached us. Except for a quick early morning walk with George, watering the garden, and a late afternoon dash to the grocery store (in the un-air conditioned truck, ugh!) I've been hibernating in the house with the a/c most of the day.

While outside watering the garden this morning, I saw a beautiful and new-to-me butterfly. I believe it was a Red-Spotted Purple, and I wanted to get a picture of it to show you. Instead, here's an image I found online:

    
                                                Limenitis arthemis astyanax

I had plenty of opportunity to take a picture of my particular specimen, but I decided to spare you. He was perched on top of a giant pile of dog turds and was not moving.* Apparently this is a thing butterflies do sometimes. But anyway, you're welcome. 

In other garden news, today I harvested my 80th individual tomato! I've only had a gram scale to weigh them with (don't ask) so I haven't totaled up the number of ounces or pounds, but I believe I've had at least 40 pounds of tomatoes. As soon as the season ends I'll total everything up, but in the meantime it's 80 fruits, approximately 40 pounds and counting. Most of my plants are still growing and setting fruit. This is almost unheard of in this area. 

Another 1+ pound Mr. Stripey.  


Mr. Stripey, sliced. I love the colors. It's a mild, sweet tomato.


Mr. Stripey and a couple of others are taller than me, now.




And my bananas! Have I mentioned that my bananas are blowing up? They're also taller than me these days.





Last but not least, I had to share a picture of Marco for all his fans out there. Here he is posing beside one of the bananas. He had just flown a circle around the porch and landed there. If we didn't have screen to stop him, I assure you he'd be out in the wild right now. 

*Doesn't this seem like some sort of allegory for all of Life?


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Slip slip slipping away

It's the last week of my summer vacation. They always goes by quickly, but this year takes the cake. First we had to work an extra two weeks in June to make up for a pandemic related late start that year, and now we're returning two weeks earlier than usual as we begin a new modified "year round" schedule. That cut the summer shorter than normal by a full month. 

So here I am in the middle of my last week of freedom, and every day I have that Sunday afternoon feeling deep inside. Just mild dread and anxiety that I'm trying my best to ignore. The days are ticking by fast but I'm hoping to do a couple more fun things before this week is out, things to take my mind off returning to work.

Here was my project this past weekend: salsa!





I had a ton of mixed tomato varieties that had come ripe all at once and needed to be used up. This salsa is so delicious that I might make another batch when/if I get another big harvest of tomatoes. Some of the plants are over seven feet tall now and most still have plenty of green fruit. This afternoon I plan to pickle and can some sliced jalapenos--my garden is still pumping out loads of peppers. 

If we get another hot and sunny day between now and Sunday, I may be able to go swimming at my friend's house. I'd like to spend a little more time in the sun this week, the vitamin D seems to boost my mood. Even if I don't go swimming, I'll try to spend plenty of time outdoors just the same.

Oh, and I have jury selection next Monday to look forward to--who knows, I may end up with jury duty and miss the first week of work altogether! That would be an interesting way to start the year. We shall see. 

What are you up to this week?

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Tempted

 Do  you guys remember this cat? The one that comes out to be petted sometimes when we're walking George?



We've recently learned that it's a boy cat named Simon. Simon is the sweetest cat ever. He runs out when we walk past, and will stand up on two legs to be petted. He craves love and attention and we're happy to stop and give him both! 

Today Gregg met Simon's owner at the pet store when she came in to buy fish. Turns out that the few cats we see hanging out at her house are strays that she got spayed/neutered and feeds, but she doesn't really consider them hers. She asked Gregg if we wanted Simon!

How I wish we could say yes. He would probably follow us home with very little encouraging, and we love him. (Especially Gregg). But I'm terribly allergic, George barely tolerates us petting Simon, and to top it all off we have a bird in the house. One morning we saw Simon trying to kill a dove. George would be a danger to Simon who would be a danger to Marco. And unless Simon were an outside cat, I'd be in the ER having breathing treatments.

But it sure is a nice thought all the same.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Mid-July harvest, and a garden pest.

My garden continues to flourish! The tomatoes are really starting to come ripe now, as you can see in the following photos. Tomorrow I'm thinking of making some homemade salsa to try to use up some of the extras, because we're about to be overwhelmed. We're also still getting loads of peppers, the occasional cucumber, and yesterday the very first cantaloupe!


Our counter runneth over.


A perfect Brandywine on the left, and the biggest tomato I've gotten so far this year on the right--a Red Beefsteak weighing in at just under a pound.


I love the gorgeous color on the Mr. Stripey. It's the big yellow one on the left with the pink blush. They look so pretty sliced, and the flavor is sweet and slightly fruity. We've had a nice assortment of varieties to try this year!

So I've had to deal with a few minor pests in my garden, small hornworms and some kind of little black worms that love to chew on unripe tomatoes and damage them. I've been able to keep both under control with close observation and hand picking, and I thought I'd make it through the season mostly unscathed. Well, lo and behold, the real pest and danger to my tomatoes lives inside the house:


I take all my tomatoes straight to the dining room table after I pick them for weighing and recording in my garden journal. Yesterday I turned my back for less than a minute and you can see for yourself what happened!


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Here it comes!

Yesterday afternoon our next door neighbor on the right, Heather, had a landscaping company out to do some work on her property. There used to be a nasty, thorny, wild hedge between our yards that kept coming back and needed to be dug out by the roots, as well as some large shrubs that needed pruning. There was also a big dead tree right beside our driveway that we worried was going to fall on our house or cars one day. Heather had been worried about it too, apparently, so she asked the landscapers if they could cut it down while they were out there doing the other work. 

I happened to be watching out of the window in the den when they started preparing to take down the tree. Three young guys wrapped a big chain around the trunk of the tree and braced themselves to pull it down in the direction they wanted it to fall while a fourth went to sawing at the other side with a very small chain saw. 

I turned to my husband. "This looks like a straight up, good ol' boy, hold my beer y'all kind of operation to me."  We both laughed. 

Then approximately ten seconds later I found myself gasping, "HERE IT COMES!!!" as this was happening:



Nice work, fellas.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

How we spent the 4th

 It was a nice long weekend here. We got some work done in the yard and garden, spent extra time with Marco on the porch, took George for nice walks around the neighborhood, and grilled out on Sunday. Later that night lots of our neighbors blew up fireworks, and for the first time it made George nervous. We stayed inside with him, watching tv with the volume up a bit. Downton Abbey has come to Netflix so we've been watching a few episodes every night recently.


Our 4th of July feast from the grill. Hotdogs, sausages, sweet corn (grilled in the husk), tomatoes and cucumbers from my garden, and potatoes grilled with rosemary, parsley, sea salt, and olive oil. Obviously this was enough food for two or three meals!



The ornamental pomegranate is blooming. Isn't that a lovely shade of orange? The miniature roses are finishing up a second flush of blooms, too.


We've finally harvested a couple of German Queen tomatoes.  They're meaty with a full tomato flavor and very few seeds. Definitely a variety to consider again for next year!


The Mr. Stripey tomatoes are starting to ripen. We haven't tasted this one, yet. It won't be long.


And before this month is out, we'll be eating our own cantaloupes. I'm ridiculously excited about it!
 



I hope you've all had a good weekend, too!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Flying by

I can hardly believe it's already the first of July. The summer is flying by, which makes me a little bit sad. It will be over and done before we know it.

One of our neighbors put out this Pride flag at the beginning of June. It makes us smile every time we walk past their house with George. We don't know the people that live there, but we'd probably be friends. 


I'm supposed to go back to work on the 26th, and guess what? I got a summons for jury duty on that day! I've never had jury duty despite being registered to vote since I was 18 years old. From what I understand, I'll appear in court that day and the attorneys will decide whether or not they want me to serve. So I might or might not end up missing more than the first day of school. 

If I end up missing the first week, that's fine by me. The students don't come back until August 2nd, so most of that first week in the office will be spent helping with all the last minute registrations and answering hundreds of phone calls. Not a fun time. And for the first time I'm apprehensive about going back to work this year; some serious problems had developed that didn't get resolved before we left for the summer. I need to have a meeting with the principal early on so we can work some things out. The stress was starting to get to me at the end of last year. I didn't even realize how stressed out I was until I had a couple of weeks off and saw what a difference it's made. 

But enough about that! I still have three and a half weeks off before I have to worry about going back to work. I'm really enjoying my summer and trying make the most of it. Speaking of which, here's the master of finding a moment of zen on a summer's day:


Porch naps in the sunshine! What could be better?


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

End of June garden notes

 The marigolds I started from seed to serve as a kind of living mulch have surpassed all my expectations. I never knew marigolds could grow so big and tall and lush. Butterflies seem to love the flowers; I saw another species yesterday and took some pictures.





Planting all these marigolds under and around my tomato plants instead of mulching really seems to have worked out. The only pests I've had to deal with were a few hornworms, which I caught early and picked off before they had a chance to do much damage. A close inspection of every plant every day really pays off. 

I've been weighing the tomatoes as we pick them and keeping a log of their productivity (and taste) for future reference. So far we've harvested 11 Celebrity tomatoes with a combined weight of just over 5 pounds. I knew they would likely be first, and that they would taste okay but without the richness of heirlooms and later varieties. I planted them for earliness and quantity, and so far I've been pleased with them. They still have lots of green unripe fruits coming along. One surprise is that we've already gotten 4 Brandywines totaling 2 pounds. These are the tomatoes I've been most excited about, and for good reason. The flavor is outstanding, rich and fruity and complex. We also tried the first two Red Beefsteak last night. The flavor was so-so, not as rich and complex as the Brandywines but it did have one advantage: thick meaty fruits without very many seeds. If it proves to be productive it might be a good choice for canning in the future. Speaking of canning tomatoes, I have one San Marzano tomato plant which has produced a few of its paste-type fruits, but the plant has been spindly and weak almost from the beginning. I took a cutting from it and have started another one to give it a fair shot, but if the smaller one proves to be as wispy and  unproductive as the first, I won't be growing it again. We're still waiting on ripe tomatoes from German Queen (lots of big beautiful fruits coming), Mr. Stripey (a few fruits are still ripening on it) and Bonnie's Centennial (loaded with big, almost-ripe tomatoes). I'll report back on how they taste later on. Oh, and one other plant is filling up with tomatoes. I bought it as a seedling and it was supposed to be a Husky Cherry Red, but was obviously mislabeled. The clusters of tomatoes on it are much bigger than cherries so I have no idea what it could be, but it is a sturdy, low growing bush. We shall see!

My cucumbers are barely producing anything. I'm not sure why, since there are lots of flowers and the bees love that area of the yard. They're planted beside the cantaloupes which have also been flowering like crazy. We have several small cantaloupes slowly ripening right now--I can't wait to taste one!





The jalapenos are doing really well. I'm leaving most of them unpicked for now so they'll have a chance to turn red. After that I'll be pickling some of them and maybe making salsa with the rest.

Also, some of you may remember that I potted up an ornamental pomegranate into a big concrete planter. Well, it's been blooming up a storm in the past week or two! Too bad the fruits are ornamental. I had lots of blossoms on my regular pomegranate this year, but they all fell out and didn't develop fruit. I'm not sure why--possibly they bloomed too early for pollinators to get at them. That's not the case with this ornamental, though. Not only do we see bees all around it, but yesterday we saw a  hummingbird sipping from one flower after another!


That's most of the news from the garden right now!

Saturday, June 26, 2021

First harvest

Here are some photos of what I've harvested over the past two or three days. The garden is finally starting to pay off!

BLTs for supper tonight made with the very first Brandywine tomatoes...





Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Homebody

Cooler weather and rain swept into the area on Monday. After more than a week with everything baking in the hot summer sun from dawn to dusk and a mild drought still in effect, it was a very welcome relief. So far this summer I've learned that water from a hose can't compete with a good drenching rain for making a garden happy. Watering will keep the plants alive during the hottest part of summer, but rain makes them thrive. I'm beginning to harvest the earliest tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, parsley, and basil. The indeterminate heirloom tomatoes and the cantaloupes are coming along nicely. Then there's all the flowers I planted as a living mulch, the marigolds and nasturtiums. They're blooming like mad.



                            Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) and marigold blossoms.

I've been spending a great deal of time outdoors these days, even when it's hot. It's a pleasure to be off work and enjoying the garden, the porch, and the neighborhood at my leisure. This morning when we were out walking George one of our neighbor's cats came out to be petted. She's sensible enough to wait for Gregg to walk on ahead with George before trotting over to say hi. (George can't be trusted around cats, unfortunately). She's a sweet little creature.


I've only left home in the past week to go to the farmer's market or to the grocery store. Yesterday I cleaned and organized my pantry, tossing expired foods (thankfully there wasn't much of that) and rearranging stuff nearing it's expiration date so that it's closer to hand. I'm thinking about buying some bulk fruits and vegetables at the market (things I don't grow, like peaches and sweet corn) and then freezing and canning them for winter use. Everything is so good right now, at the peak of the season, and the prices are as affordable as they're going to get. I haven't canned anything in years, but I have all the equipment I need to do so. Having all this free time helps.

Today I mowed the lawn to surprise my husband. I can't wait until he gets home from work and sees it! We got a new mower this summer and it's much easier to use than the old one, plus our yard is small. It felt good to be working (and even sweating) outdoors. I've lost a few pounds from the extra exercise and I'm getting very brown from the sun. So far it's been an excellent summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Neighborly

I've met our new neighbors! I forgot to mention it, but a week or so ago I walked over and introduced myself, a gift from a local bakery under my arm.


I had a hard time picking something out for complete strangers, but ended up settling for a strawberry pound cake. It didn't require refrigeration, and was likely to remain fresh for longer than something like a cookie assortment. In a perfect world, I'd have baked them something, but since plenty of people would hesitate to eat something prepared by a stranger (I might) I felt like a sealed bakery offering would be better for a first introduction.

The neighbors turned out to be a thoroughly lovely young couple named Bruce and Mary Catherine! They seemed genuinely touched that I stopped by to welcome them and were very friendly. Although they invited me in, I could see that they were still trying to get unpacked, so after a brief chat on the front porch I excused myself and left them to it. I couldn't be much more pleased. They're very young, have nice manners, and seem happy with their new house. 

I hope they feel welcomed to the neighborhood, and I hope they liked the cake!

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sweet relief, and a garden update

I have a functional neck again! Hooray! When I saw my doctor on Tuesday she gave me a shot in the hip (cortisone, I think) as well as prescriptions for a muscle relaxer and a week's worth of prednisone pills. That night I got my first decent night's sleep in almost a week. That's medicine in itself.

Yesterday morning I started taking the prednisone. I know that oral steroids can cause major problems for people who have to take them long term, but for occasional use they're like a wonder drug. For me, at least. I felt like I'd had a small dose of speed, and combined with the easing of the neck pain and the comfortable night's sleep, I felt good yesterday. I gave the kitchen a fairly thorough cleaning and mopping, dusted a couple of rooms in the house, watered the garden, and then made it to book club to see my friends! 

Marian was hosting this month, and she has a pool, so we wore our swimsuits and had our meeting out there. And that felt positively heavenly. Floating on my back in the cool, cool water was almost as good as a massage for my poor tense muscles. It's a salt water pool, too. I felt so relaxed and comfortable when I left that when I got home we took George for a leisurely late walk around the neighborhood. Another restful night's sleep and now I feel like a new woman. Oh, the relief!

I'll leave you now with some recent pictures of my garden, which is growing like gangbusters. Today I'll pick my first vine ripe tomato (dozens more will be coming along shortly), and I've already had two or three cucumbers and lots of peppers. So far there are at least 6 baby cantaloupes growing and the bees love those flowers so I'm expecting even more. My first garden at this house has been a delight so far!

Cantaloupe vines climbing our repurposed wood trellis:


The first baby melon!



French marigolds I started from seed. 


I plucked a "sucker" from my San Marzano tomato plant and started another one. 


Tomato heaven.



Nasturtium flowers started from seed, now growing happily around the base of the banana plants.


Shhh! Don't tell anybody! These pond plants are illegal to sell or have around here because they can be invasive. A friend of Gregg's gave him these from his little backyard pond. Of course we're responsible people and would never allow them to end up in a local waterway. And aren't the flowers pretty? The dragonflies, frogs, birds and squirrels love this little container pond too--we're providing drinking water to the wildlife!


The first tomato, plucked this morning. It weighed in at just over half a pound.


The cucumbers on this salad came from my garden yesterday.



Finally, a few jalapenos I plucked yesterday. I've started slicing them in half, filling them with soft cream cheese, and wrapping them in bacon. Jalapeno Poppers for the grill!