Saturday, June 30, 2012


Thunder. Wind. Rain... supposedly. It's on the radar closing in. Haven't heard drops on the roof yet, though. A 10 percent chance of rain today. "Would be like hitting the lottery," I said. Have we hit it?
So close, so close, so close...
Stay tuned...

Friday, June 29, 2012


Winter squash vines mixing it up.
Day 6: It was Hot today. Yada yada yada. Same old story.
Going to go back out this evening (now that it has dropped to a cool 94 degrees) and water a few things so I can go into town tomorrow morning and not worry about things dying of thirst.
Squash blossoms yawn in the early morning.

Was feeling a bit crabby this afternoon about nothing in particular (although probably it was the heat and the politics). Got better with a little dark chocolate and music.
Look at these lush squash vines. The mottled leaves belong to Musquee de Provence, a flattened pumpkin type. The plain leaves are Galeaux d' Eysines, a warty winter squash. Some squash bug damage is evident, but the vines are obviously thriving. Has the heat slowed the squash bugs, too???? Or have my strategies worked?

It is too early to declare success, though. Time will tell whether the bugs give the squashes time to mature.  Or whether the heat will take them down. Or whether giant hail stones smash them up or an early September frost does them in. Not counting my chickens... I mean, squashes, yet.

The watermelons have gone from golf ball size to baseball size in a couple of days. Can't wait! Well, I guess I have to.
This baby-faced Galeaux d' Eysines will eventually become all warty.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

And Even Hotter...

Day 5: closing in on 110. At 6 p.m. it is 103 degrees.
Even though I watered them this morning, the cucumber leaves were wilting when I went out just after noon.
Peaches are ripening, but they look suspiciously fewer tonight. Hmmm.... Wonder if I should go pick this beauty...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sunny, Sunny, Sunny...

And Hot. This time 100 degrees for real. Outside by 6:30 a.m. (before breakfast) in spite of a restless night. Sprayed poison ivy (the salt and vinegar seems to be working, didn't find the ivy in places I'd seen it before). That plus the 100 degrees and sun should do it in.

Took my breakfast bowl outside and watered some more stuff. Picked a large basketful of elderberries that are still on the counter waiting to be plucked. Dug up all the blueberry plants I plan to give away. Watered some more.

Had lunch (was starving) and laid down for a bit. Now it's on to some kitchen work. Day 4, and counting... Just got to stick it out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reprieve, Sort of...

Baby watermelons the size of golf balls.
Day 3: As I laid in bed waiting for the alarm to sound I thought about the day ahead. I would head out immediately to do some more watering, trying to help things survive the next few 100-degree days. I wanted to just stay in bed. How long will this heat last? It's only the end of June. What will July and August, usually our hottest months, be like? I felt discouraged.

I took my bowl of breakfast fruit out to the garden (at 6:30 a.m.) so I could have breakfast while I started watering. It was a lovely, cool 70 degrees, or lower. The morning warmed slowly. By noon, it had barely breached the 90-degree mark. No 100 degrees today. Just 93 at its height. Yes, I know, that's still hot. But it is tolerably hot (to me) and not as stressful to the plants as 100.

As if the world were offering extra encouragement, I found tiny little melons on my watermelon vines (at top) and this lovely bunch of zinnias in the cutting garden.

Low 90s instead of low 100s... I am grateful for whatever relief comes my way.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sunny Today...

Day 2: Sunny today. And Hot.
The capitalization of Hot is on purpose.
Just after 1:30 p.m. and it is 98 degrees outside... after cooling a few degrees.
It's Hot and the forecast promises even more.
I got out of bed at just after 6 this morning, ate a quick breakfast and headed outside. It was quite pleasant, until the sun topped the trees.
But it's a dry heat. (Heh!)
Lavender gladiolus!
I spent the morning watering, trying to prepare things for the 100-degree day.

Blueberries, strawberries, cucumbers, carrots... all received a good drink.
I found three little cucumbers on the Salt and Pepper Pickle vines. We still have many jars of pickles on the shelf, but these pale little cukes are tasty fresh, too. I went out after lunch and saw that the cucumbers were wilting, in spite of their morning drench. 'Cause it's Hot.

Yet, more zinnias are blooming. Today I discovered beautiful lavender gladiolus in the cutting garden.
Last week I took the row cover off of my two winter squashes because, well squash bugs got in anyway. Could have been that hole in one of the row covers, I don't know. I scattered diatomaceous earth at the bases of the plants -- which were trying to break out of the row cover containers anyway -- to give the squash bugs a hard time. The plants still look magnificant and are sending vines everywhere. Huge, they are.

I hope I can get out later and put out more diatomaceous earth and spray some neem oil (in the evening so I don't accidentally douse any bees). If I want to keep these squashes under cover all season and hand pollinate, I will need to make my row cover tunnel much, much bigger next time.

Tomorrow, I will rise early again and head out to water more stuff. That will be the theme of the day for a while.
'Cause it's Hot.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Heating Up, Day One

A spill of thyme in bloom in May.
Sunday: Day 1: At noon today the temperature had already hit 100 degrees F. This is the first day of what looks like a long, hot week. The coolest high forecast for the week is 96 degrees tomorrow. Slight chance of storms Friday and Saturday... slight chance. And we thought 90 to 95 was hot. It's not even July yet. Maybe July and August will be cooler than normal. We can hope. My dad says it's possible. You don't get to be an almost-90-year-old farmer with a pessimistic attitude. I'll just take it a day at a time and be thankful that our water tanks are full again. I will spend even more time watering things this week.

The peaches keep getting more and more color. Maybe this week they will be ready. I am already into the elderberry picking season, which usually doesn't start until late July or early August. The heat probably will mean the red raspberries will go into a holding pattern. Just got to wait it out.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rain, At Last

A lovely thunderstorm rolled through last night as we were getting into bed.
Thank You!
A wasp or hornet inspects the blooms of  Culver's Root.
An inch and a half all in one storm. Yay! Our water tanks are full to the brim and I won't need to water ANYTHING for a few days.

It was lovely walking through the garden this morning, with the mulch in the paths damp and dark and all of the plants drinking to their hearts' content.

Damp soil gives me IDEAS...
Plant something!!
Transplant something!!

Um... um... well...
Some seed for a cover crop of oats and buckwheat... wish I would have gotten it all in before the rain.
Can transplant some of the lily of the valley that is in the way of our planned site for bee hive #2.
Should probably stop there.

Fer now...

Okra, short and blooming!
The perennial gardens look like July and August right now. So many things that would only just be winding down their blooming right now have been cut back and deadheaded for a while.
The zinnias are blooming in the cutting garden. What happened to the Giant Benaries? None of the zinnias are giant.
The okra plants are blooming and putting on pods, even though they are only a foot tall or so. ????!

The heat has caused so many things to mature and bloom before they reach full size. Can't seem to stop it, so flow with it. The Belgian Red peppers have nice fruit (not red yet, though) and the tomatoes have little green fruits. The the first planting of cucumbers is blooming. And the season moves on... a little easier now that we've had a bit of rain.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Still Waiting for Rain

A bumblebee systematically works the tiny flowers of purple prairie clover
Dalea purpurea.

It has been just more than a week since our last rain. That bit of weather dropped only a little more than half an inch on us. Unless I've forgotten to write down one of our May rains, both May and June together, so far, have seen less than half the rainfall that we typically receive in just May. Our next best chance of rain is 50 percent on Wednesday night. (Fingers crossed.) If I wake up in the middle of the night again and do not hear rain, I will go back to sleep, instead of lying awake trying to will it to rain.

Rattlsnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium

We missed a heck of a storm last Thursday morning. When we looked at the radar before we went to bed Wednesday night, it looked as if there was no way we would miss it. I woke up at 2:14 a.m. and heard thunder to the southwest. I kept listening for rain and was awake for at least an hour. We received no rain. The storm diminshed some and tore into two pieces right where we are shortly before reaching us. My parents about 80 miles west of us got 2 inches. So something good came of it.

I harvested all of the kale and collards and pulled the plants. They were getting pretty strong-flavored, and we have half a freezer full of greens from the winter and early spring. Also, less to water.
We plan to reduce the size of our blueberry patch to lessen the watering load. The decision was made one day when hubby was the one who watered them. I didn't cry long, I've been wanting to expand the black raspberry crop and the strawberry patch. Bye bye blueberries, hello black raspberries.
So far, I have been able to water everything from the two 1,500-gallon tanks catching rainwater off our roof. We (I mean, mostly hubby) put a lot of work into building a platform and setting the tanks. Even in this dry summer, I have not yet sucked either one dry. The half inch of rain last week put more than 300 gallons back into each tank. So we don't need big rains to keep them going.

The black raspberries and blueberries are nearing the end of their harvest. The Eversweet strawberries are just getting started, as are the blackberries. The red raspberries should still have their main crop coming -- if we get a little cooler weather and some rain.

Slender mountain mint, Pynanthemum tenuifolium
This week I am working outdoors in the morning and staying indoors in the afternoon. Mid- to upper 90s can be tolerated, but nothing is that urgent. Today I hope to head outside again when the sun is less intense and it cools a bit. I hope that wind dies down a little, too.

On Saturday, I attended a tour of the KU (University of Kansas) medicinal herb research garden, where these photos were taken. All are Kansas natives and all have been used as medicines in the past. The garden provides plant materials that are studied for their chemical constituents. I would like to have all of these plants growing out here. I have been trying to start purple prairie clover again, with no success, probably because of the heat and drought.
The slender mountain mint makes a tasty tea and its flowers were visited by numerous pollinators. I'd like to have big patches of it growing in various spots for our honeybees. The rattlesnake master just looks cool. But, apparently, grazing animals find it quite tasty (it is not hard and prickly as it looks). So I probably would have to fend off the deer.
My elderberry plants are burgeoning.
There's always something. The other day I found that something had nibbled leaves off of several of the strawberry plants. (Grrrr!) The pattern of grazing made me suspect deer, so I put bird netting over all the strawberries. I bent plastic pipes over the beds and attached the bird netting -- it will keep the deer from grazing. Bird netting is incredible frustrating to work with. It snags everything and you can hardly see it, which makes cutting it a challenge. But that also makes it a more attractive alternative to row cover, which sticks out all white and billowing. Besides, the bird netting will allow bees through to pollinate the flowers. I may need to employ it on some of the other berries. Birds haven't been a problem, but deer graze on the new growth of even the most prickly brambles.

Now I've caught myself rambling without any gentle way to end this post. I will just  have to end it and go on waiting for it to rain.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Food Garden Tour

This colorful wagon designated the entrance to one of the gardens on tour.
Yes, it has been two weeks since the Lawrence Food Garden Tour and I am just now getting around to posting about it. No excuses. That's just the way it is.

Garden tours have been around for a long, long time. People open their personal paradises to the public -- usually as a fund-raiser for some good cause. The focus is beauty and design to elicit, "Oh, how lovely."

The food garden tour was different. First of all, it was free, held solely to inspire people to raise food instead of lawns. Second it, well, focused on food gardens.

Mike protects this savoy cabbage from cabbage worms with
Spinosad, a relatively new organic pest control.
My first stop was the oldest garden on the tour, maintained for more than 20 years by Mike, the owner. Previous owners also had an organic garden there for at least a decade. The back yard is packed with a variety of vegetables in raised beds, with a chicken yard at the back.

Mike had strawberries planted in the lower part of a pyramid-type bed that had a lovely crop of beets on top.

The main challenge at hacienda del Hosta was shade. But the gardener there managed to raise a small patch of various sun-loving vegetables, such as squash and eggplant. She also let a small flock of laying hens have the run of the yard. Her favorite hen was a Buff Orpington, which she said is "very sweet."

At the Cosmic Beauty School, a communal living group, the gardens were built up with layers of soil and woodchips, laced with special fungal spores to increase it productivity and degrade common city contaminants. Blackberries ran rampant and trees bore fruit on the street side of the gardens, while fava beans and other annual vegetables were snuggled next to the building.
Food gardens can be quite pleasing to the eye. Logs and marigolds create an inviting entrance from the street to the perennial food garden at the Cosmic Beauty School.

The most unusual "garden" on the tour was the "Fish In a Barrel Garden." Lettuce was planted in pea gravel in two half barrels that flanked an identical barrel filled with water and several "feeder goldfish." The fish water cycled through the pea gravel, which filtered out fish waste, cleaning the water and feeding the lettuce. The whole operation was in the basement.

Pretties beneath a fruit tree at Bob and Kirsten's Own Eden.
I was able to see only 10 of the 21 food gardens on the tour, but at each turn I found people who loved their gardens and were proud of how those gardens improved their self-sufficiency. They are proving that you can grow fruits and vegetables, and even chickens, in small spaces. You don't have to have 30 acres to do that. Spread the word.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Berry Good Time

The yellow tiger lilies are in bloom.

But that's not the best photo of the week.

That would be this one, of me picking blueberries with granddaughters, ages 3 1/2, 4, and 8 1/2. (Those 1/2s are important!)

Grandpa took them out to turn over rocks, looking for snakes. They found one all right -- a copperhead hiding under the tarp covering a pile of compost at the edge of the woods. It quickly slithered back under the tarp, while Grandpa did a jig to stay out of its way. The next morning, they went looking again and found the same snake, this time burrowed into the loose compost. The girls kept a respectful distance, but watched with fascination as Grandpa coaxed the snake from hiding, using a long stick.

The copperhead graciously showed itself, sliding slowly away and back into the woods (sorry, no photos). I will have to be extra careful when digging into those piles of compost stuck at the edge of the woods too keep them out of the way, yet close to the various areas where we use them.

As thrilling as the snake hunt was, the highlight of the sleepover seemed to be the treasure hunt in the berry patches. We warmed them up by picking blueberries (no prickles or thorns), while I tried to instruct them as to how to tell when a berry is ripe. First, ask if the berry is ripe before you pick it.

Then we moved on to the red raspberries (a few prickles, but not enough to ward off eager young girls). Then we all (all except Grandpa, who served as driver) hopped into the pickup bed for a ride down the hill to pick black raspberries. A bit more thorny, but some berries make themselves easy to get to. I had picked through the black raspberries the day before, but we still found a few rich, black and sweet berries to put in our basket.

I love picking berries on summer days. I love it even more with three granddaughters in tow.

Life is rich and sweet as the black raspberries in my breakfast bowl.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Season in Motion

White tigers.
The summer moves on.
The tiger lilies are in gorgeous form-- early, of course. I so love tiger lilies, but have found it difficult to find the bulbs. When I finally got some a couple of years ago, I got a mix of colors. I really just wanted the standard orange tiger lily, but often can only find doubles or other colors. I am so glad I got the mix of four colors. Just look how gorgeous the white tigers (above) are. Or should I say White Tigresses (a nod to Kacey)?
And this beautiful red tiger lily.
The yellow and orange ones are not yet blooming. The plants might be struggling in their spot. We'll see.
The Asiatic lilies are moving through their colors.
They were all pink and pretty at first. As the pinks faded, the yellows moved in and took over. Now the eye-popping-orange Asiatics are opening their buds.

Last week we lost one of our apple trees. One of the best looking ones, too. It was one of the three William's Pride apples. I was picking berries west of the house, turned around to go pick gooseberries in the north garden and saw the tree lying on the ground. We'd had wind the night before, but didn't think it was THAT strong. The trunk broke a few inches below the surface of the soil, below the graft. It did not look rotten. Mysterious.
Yellow Asiatic lilies.

The trunk will be cut down and carved as a walking staff for my husband. Some of the branches will be utilized for some craft or another. I rescues a few of the best looking little green apples for one of my baked apple desserts. Sigh.

We have two more William's Pride trees. They also are lovely trees. William's Pride apples keep only a month or so, so they will have to be eaten up quickly, frozen or made into sauce or applebutter.

Orange Asiatic lilies

We picked all of the apricots today, leaning our tall apple ladder precariously on the slope where the apricot tree is planted. Most of the fruit was wormy, or rotten or otherwise not nice to eat. A few were not quite ripe, but looked worm-free. So they are ripening (I hope) in a paper bag in the pantry. Next year, we will have to take action against the fruit pests. I still have hopes for the peaches, though.

This past weekend I went to the Lawrence Food Garden Tour -- as many of the 21 stops as I could manage, anyway. I will post more about it later.

No Peas Here

Pea blossoms.
This week I pulled all of my snap peas. Usually, they are just now in full production, but the early heat and drought have taken a toll. I was able to feed my craving for snap peas with a few handfuls, but not satisfy it in any way. Certainly, this year no peas went into the freezer.

So I am planning something crazy -- planting peas for fall harvest. That means planting peas -- which like cool soil temperatures to germinate -- in the heat of July or August. Yeah, I know, crazy.

It is even more nuts when you take into account that I have made such attempts before with no success. OK, so once I got a handful of peas.

But I will try. Because I love snap peas that much. First I will water the intended pea rows and lay down boards and heavy mulch to cool the soil for a few weeks. After I plant, the boards might even remain in place until the peas sprout. Then shade cloth will protect the seedlings a bit from the intense sun. With any luck, they will grow well until temperatures cool and rains return.

As extra insurance that the peas will sprout, I can soak the pea seeds for a couple of days before planting, to sprout them before they get into the soil. Or I could even start the peas in little pots a couple of weeks before I plan to put them in the garden. That's a lot of little pots of peas, though. Maybe I could do both.

I've got about a month or so to talk myself out of this craziness. But what do I gain if I don't try?