Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Rain Day

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe spp), a native of the prairies.
Today's rain was a pleasant surprise. Although less than half an inch, it was just the thing the garden needed. Now I am certain that the bean and cucumber seeds I planted a few days ago have a chance. I hope the cucumbers planted more than a month ago will start production soon. Cold cukes are a feast on hot summer days.

One bonus of getting up early to send my husband off to work is that I can get outside early, before the heat of the day. This morning I headed out to pick black raspberries, other berries and snap peas before the sun appeared over the tree tops on the east side of our property. I was finished with the harvest by 8:30 a.m. and about two hours later the rain began to fall.

Beans climbing to the sky. Where's Jack?
The peas will not last much longer, but the pole beans are climbing their trellises a foot a day, and I swear the little watermelon plants are twice as big now as they were two days ago.

Will this be a year that I get melons? It's always a risk. Too hot, too cold, too dry... Watermelons or not, the Prescott Fond Blanc cantalope-type melons are sure to produce. They haven't failed me yet.

LETTUCE REPORT: In spite of the heat, the lettuce keeps going. Although it did not germinate well, the May Queen lettuce has been nice, forming loose, crinkly heads that have stayed sweet, so far. The first planting of Super Jericho romaine keeps wanting to bolt, yet  it has had only the slightest bit of botterness.

If these two are doing well, I can's wait to taste the "heat resistant" varieties growing in the shade of the tomatoes.

ENCOUNTERS: I continue to meet our guardian black snake about the grounds. It seems to like the stack of hay and straw bales at the back of the garden. The spot also is probably attractive to mice. The black snake left another beautiful, shed skin in the bales the other day.
Baby bunnies also are living in the garden. Our loose hay mulch is a perfect nesting spot for them. The other day I scared up four or so (they're hard to count) quite little ones in the pea patch. I try to catch them for relocation to the woods, but they easily slip through the small spaces in the pea trellis. Since I cannot go through or over the trellis, I must go round. The bunny slips through and stops. I go around. The bunny slips through again, just half an inch from where it was before. I go around...
I know that someone out there is giggling at this little comedy. Fortunately, the bunny spares me too many go-rounds, as it vanishes into some unknown hiding place.
My latest encounter involved a black widow spider capturing one of the thousands of hackberry emporer butterflies that are now about. The last black widow I discovered (two or three years ago) was crushed under my shoe. But for personal reasons, I had to let this one live, although she has made her lair in the stones around one of my berry beds. If she weren't in the midst of gathering a meal, I would have tried to give her a new home in the woods. For now, I will just be very, very careful when picking those berries.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June Explosion

"June is a bustin' out all over..."
A line from a show tune that comes to mind today, as we approach the middle of June. The flower beds are full of blossoms, the berries are ripening and the vegetables grow a foot a day. During June here in northeast Kansas, everything grabs onto life with such gusto that it sometimes takes my breath away.

Flowers are not the only color exploding in June.
Butterflies are everywhere.
Periodical cicadas now add an unusual layer to the daily sounds around us (which at the moment include the patter of rain on our roof, yay!). Periodical cicadas spend either 13 years or 17 years as underground larvae, emerge as adults with only one thing in mind and are gone by July. Northeast Kansas, according to entomologists, has only Brood IV of the 17-year periodicals. Since they last emerged in 1998, they are not scheduled to arrive until 2015.

Echinacea paradoxa.
But Missouri, just 50 miles or less away, is now in the throes of an outbreak of 13-year cicadas (mistakenly referred to as "locusts"), which also last emerged in 1998. Ours could be a bleed over from Missouri, or some "stragglers" (early arrivals) of the 17-year brood. Even the entomologists aren't sure which. I have seen only four specimens -- and haven't been able to get a photo -- and the mating calls are not deafening, so I suspect these are just a few stragglers. I remember the 1998 emergence. They were everywhere.

An E. paradoxa specimen in an unusual, but gorgeous color.
They are called periodicals because they do not arrive every year. As a rule, the entire brood emerges in the same year. And since we supposedly have only a 17-year species, we should hear them rarely. "Annual" cicadas are present every year and are the dominant nature sound here in August. They live as underground larvae for two to eight years, but are around every single year.

I won't go into more detail as Cicada Mania, K-State Entomology newsletter and Frances Farmer have said it all, so follow the links to them. They have pics, too.

Echinacea pallida. Native to the Kansas prairie.
I finally got the tomato cages up and things are looking nice. The plastic came off the corner of the flower beds where I was trying to kill out the showy primrose and my husband laid down a layer of wood chip mulch. It looks quite nice now and is ready for planting.
An Aromatnaya quince tree and an Ashmead's Kernel Apple were planted last week and I have two grapes, a Liberty apple and a Chinese hawthorn to plant. One section of my compost heap has been moved, expanding the flower growing capacity, where we will have a cutting flower garden. Fresh bouquets are a great bonus of this month.

Lovely lilies. We also have them in pink and yellow.
The Asiatic lilies are blooming in a big way and my beloved tiger lilies are budding. The kale and collards and broccoli and snap peas and snow peas keep me busy picking, blanching and freezing. It is a good year when I get more snap peas than I can eat fresh. They are my favorite garden vegetable and are at their sweetest when just off the vine. So I often eat my fill of snap peas standing in the garden.
Life is good.

Lovely Merlot lettuce. The color is even richer in person.
LETTUCE UPDATE: I've realized I need to adjust my lettuce planting schedule. Very small amounts planted a week or less apart would do the trick, I think. We have not finished eating the first spring planting yet and some of the second spring planting is bolting or at least looking past its prime. The third planting is really going to overwhelm us. Shade cloth now covers the first planting of romaine and the celery, to protect it a bit from the summer sun. Stay tuned.

Shade cloth protects romaine lettuce and celery from
the intensity of summer sun. Does it need a second layer
for more protection?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lettuce Update

Lettuce is always feast or famine for me. I just haven't figured out how much to plant to keep it coming without feeling like it's all going to rot before we can eat it.

The first planting of this spring didn't seem all that large, especially since a lot didn't germinate. But the second planting is ready to cut and the first planting still provides us with more than we can eat, even though it is thinking about bolting. The first planting didn't seem all that large, especially when a lot of the seed didn't germinate. Of course, we had lots and lots and lots of spinach to add to the lettuce in our salads.

It seems that lettuce is always feast or famine for me. I just can't get the hang of how much to plant. When that long row of lettuce in the third planting gets to cutting size I will have to start giving away bags of lettuce to passersby -- if the heat doesn't take it out. The Merlot variety promises to be quite lovely, with a deep, rich color. I will post photos later. Right now, I am too weary from watering the lettuce and all the other tasks, to take photos. So lettuce stay in touch.

Full Swing

Snap peas. My favorite.
Our weather decided to jump straight from May to July this week, bringing high temperatures into the upper 90s.
So I get into the heat-of-summer mode, getting out early (no diddling around online) and spending the afternoon processing all the goodies I've harvested -- today, collard, snow peas, snap peas, cauliflower and asparagus all went into the freezer. I still have bags of collard greens in the fridge to steam and freeze and kale, kale and more kale to pick.
So in the morning I harvest, weed, water, mulch, fertilize and whatever else I can squeeze in. Then I'm in the kitchen most of the afternoon.
No time to take pictures or blog.
The tomatoes are yet cageless. Four little trees need to be planted, along with the grapevines... so much to do, so little daylight, yet these are the longest days.
Not complaining. That's just the way it is.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


We were gone for four days over the past weekend.
Even though I was reluctant to leave the friends and fun behind, I was happy to be home.
And mushrooms were popping.
The first thing I did, after unloading the car but before putting anything away, was take a walk through the gardens. At 8:30 p.m. the light was gray, but there was plenty of it.

I wandered, noting how much larger everything was -- things grow quickly at this time of year. A dozen asparagus spears begged to be picked. I noted that I'd be able to pick snap peas (FINALLY) the next day. A few strawberries were just a day or two from ripe. And, of course, the weeds were doing well, too.

The following morning, as I stepped out my front door, I paused, looking across a riot of poppies -- red, orange, pink and red with a white border -- out to the bean trellises with young pole beans crowded at the bottom, through to the garlic and beyond to the woods.

Everything green (and other colors) and beautiful.

My heart filled with joy and love.

I was home.

In more ways than one.

How much is my garden a reflection of my hard work, and how much is it a reflection of my soul?