Saturday, June 26, 2021

Ups and Downs and Diggers

A recap of my summer so far: 

 May -- Will it ever stop raining and warm up? 

 June -- Will it ever rain again and cool down? 
             What is digging up the garden?

With almost constantly cloudy skies throughout May and cooler than usual temperatures the spring cabbage crop was phenomenal. (Why did I think we needed 60 cabbages?) But I was worried about the summer vegetables. I did eventually get the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in the ground not too much later than usual. They all seem to be doing fine... except for the eggplants. More about them later.

After we received 8.5 inches of rain, about three inches or more than average for the month (with some areas near us receiving much more) it finally quit raining and warmed up. 

I mean heated up to warmer than "normal" temperatures for June (as if there is such a thing as normal anymore). Highs in the mid- to upper 90s Fahrenheit, I was concerned about all of the new plantings baking. The weeding and some other projects moved along slowly, or not at all, as I spent a good bit of time everyday watering. The heat just sucked the moisture out of everything, which had not put out extensive root systems because the soil was drenched in May. The water levels in my rain storage tanks were running dangerously low. But then...

As you can see by the water dripping off these lilies it did rain again, on Thursday morning. Then it rained again yesterday (Friday), bringing thunder and lightning. Quite nice. It's showering this morning.

And we found out what was digging in the garden.

Every morning we'd go into the garden and find the edges where the path meets the raised beds dug out -- hay mulch pulled off the sides of the beds and the chipped wood mulch of the paths disturbed. This didn't occur in just a few places, but all along several beds. Initially I thought mama rabbits were going nuts with nesting behavior. But the digging became more extensive, not destructive yet, just a big mess Every Single Morning. This can't be just one animal, I thought. Then the holes became deeper, going into the soil. Maybe it's not rabbits.

One night my husband couldn't sleep so he went out around midnight and discovered the culprits.

Raccoons. He saw at least four adolescent raccoons. 

Out came the live trap and the marshmallows. We would relocate them.

So far we've given three of them new homes, but not before they started digging in some of the growing areas. Fortunately, no serious damage. Not until I fertilized my struggling eggplants with liquid fish. 

I know, I know, stupid move. Stooopid move. They didn't dig up all of them, however. I replanted and watered the ones that looked as if they would potentially survive, and a few days later went to a local nursery to get a few more plants. To prevent that from occurring again, I put chicken wire around them. Plus I laid chicken wire in areas where the digging was threatening plants.

And the raccoons?

We trapped a fourth one. My husband saw it in the trap at 3:30 in the morning. But when he went out at 7 a.m. to take it for a ride it was gone.


We don't know.

No vandalism last night when we had storms. 

Was it the storm, or did the vandals decide to go somewhere safer?

Only time will tell.

The forecast contains chances of rain every day well into next week, with cooler but more "normal" temperatures. Are we heading into another period of me wondering if it will ever stop raining again? 

Whatever. Our rainwater storage is full again, and I'm ready (more or less) for when it stops raining again. I'll spray insecticidal soap on the eggplants to curb the flea beetle population, and I hope the eggplants will grow better.

Up and down go the temperatures and the rain chances. In and out of the garden go the diggers (I hope out for good now). I'm waiting for blackberries to ripen and watching the tomatoes swell and possibly we'll have cherry tomatoes very soon.

Ah, Summer. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Third Winter?


So, this morning.

Yes, I know. It's beyond mid-April. Isn't it supposed to be Spring?

At least it's not the second of May, which is when it snowed last in 2013. Like all spring snows here in Kansas it didn't last long, and neither will today's snow. These photos were taken late morning, after some melt had occurred. 

Snow started falling off the trees even before snow quit falling from the sky. I'm not sure it ever dropped below freezing here, so the melt was on quite early. That makes it difficult to tell just how much snow fell overnight. It was a heavy, wet snow, so it brought a fair amount of moisture.

We are in a freeze warning for tonight, still. While the forecast low for this morning was 31 degrees Fahrenheit, the low for tomorrow morning will be 28 degrees F., according to the National Weather Service. I hope that it does the same as this morning and does not fall that low. At least I hope it does not fall lower. I spent yesterday, all day yesterday, doing what I could to protect the baby plants in the ground -- 60 cabbage plants, 199 leek plants, rows of snap peas, garlic, and lettuce, radish, kale and collard seedlings. I put tubs and blankets over strawberries that had started blooming (the plants will survive freezing, but not the blossoms), lilies (some of which were almost two feet tall already, but most were shorter), tarragon, and twice-blooming iris that are beginning to blossom.

Redbud in full bloom, coated in snow.

I began the day in kind of a "we're doomed" mood, but as I got into the task, I felt better. By lunch time I had at least a third of it done. I was quite tired at the end of the day, but I didn't have to go out after dinner to finish up. Yay.

So much else is green, however, and I am holding my breath hoping, hoping, hoping that the weather is kind to us tonight. All the columbines and other irises, leaves on trees and shrubs, lilac buds, all of those I am hoping, hoping, hoping will survive tonight. 

If you want evidence of climate change and the impact it will have, this is it. Weather that is far more erratic than usual. Yes, Kansas has always experienced these kinds of anomalies because we sit where many weather fronts collide. But not every year an anomaly. I used to be able to depend on the seasons following a certain progression. I cannot entirely count on that anymore. Raising my own food has become more difficult because of it... and I am not alone. I feel for the market gardeners who depend on their crops for income. I feel angry at people who, in spite of the evidence before their eyes, continue to deny that climate change exists, and at the people who want to continue the status quo of reliance on fossil fuels when we have the technology to implement cleaner power. It's time our governments take this seriously.

Thank you.

Off my soapbox now.

Love to all.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Frosty Flowers

The dwarf Liberty apple tree at the edge of my garden, planted in 2009.

Sunday, April 11, was beautiful -- warm and sunny. This lovely little apple tree was in full bloom, with tiny bees visiting its flowers. But I stood near it, not paying attention, focused on cilantro seedlings in a bed nearby.

And then the little tree reached out and grabbed me by the nose, the fragrance of the blossoms released by the sun and warm temperature, enticing bees and me to Pay Attention. I stood by the little tree inhaling its rejuvenating fragrance, dreaming of juicy apples come fall. I did not know until then how fragrant apple blossoms are.

Fragrant apple blossoms. Take a whiff.....

Now, today I look at the forecast for next week -- rain mixed with snow. Tuesday morning's low 32 degrees F. Wednesday morning's low, 28 degrees F.

Time to pull out sheets and blankets to cover young vegetable plants -- lettuce and leeks, kale and collard seedlings, cabbages -- and snuggle the pea seedlings and asparagus shoots with hay.

But what about the apple, cherry and pear blossoms? I cannot do much there.

However, I have a list -- provided by K-State Research and Extension -- of tree fruits and the temperatures at which flowers and new fruits will be killed. According to this after petal fall blossoms-soon-to-be-fruit for each of these will be killed at a rate of 10 percent with a temperature of 28 degrees. The percentage of kill increases with each degree downward, until you get 90 percent kill at 25 degrees F. Pears are a tiny bit more hardy, being 90 percent killed at 24 degrees. 

I feel a little better having checked this, but am keeping my fingers crossed that we won't drop below 28 degrees. My heart goes out to all of the local fruit farmers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Buds and Roots


Spring progresses with a procession of blossoms.

First we had crocus and winter aconite, after which a couple of little snowdrops appeared.

Next came these beautiful little rock irises, no more than six inches tall. During the week that followed their blossoming, the wind beat them up a bit, but rock irises in another bed came after the wind.

Now daffodils bloom.

This is an exciting time of year. Our first harvest was stinging nettles. Once cooked the sting is gone, leaving a richly flavored and highly nutritious food. And we've got chives again.

Today I saw bits of peppermint peering out. Soon I can brew peppermint tea again, my stash of dried herb having been used up a few weeks ago.

This week I hope to plant little cabbages and broccolis, as well as leeks and onions. Pea seeds are in the ground and radish seedlings are up. In a day or so I'll plant more radish seeds, as well as lettuce.

An exciting time of year, indeed.

And one filled with a tinge of sadness.

Just minutes after publishing my last post I learned that a friend and neighbor had died in an accident. I did not know him well, but considered him "friend," and the news shocked me. It also took me back to the death of another friend, which also occurred in March but toward the end, so the fourth anniversary of his death is imminent.

Death in Spring. Is this a mercy or a curse? 

On one hand, it can be difficult to take joy in the budding of new growth, in the blossoming, the increasing activity of birdsong, the raucous singing of the frogs when mourning a death. 

But on the other hand, one can take comfort in all of this -- Life renews itself again and again and again.

Sixteen years ago a faithful cat companion died in the spring. I buried her beneath a spirea bush that showered white petals on her grave. She was laid next to her sister, who had died a few years earlier, also in the spring.

Both times I took comfort in the return of life seen through my tears. 

As I do now. 

In this season it is difficult to not believe in the never-ending cycle of life, in renewal of the spirit, in the return, as the roots of Soul dig deep into the soil of Spirit to return shoots to the Light, and blossoms. And in this season we can dig in the dirt to bury seeds that appear lifeless, but in truth contain great potential. Comfort.

Death in Spring. That is the time I choose, if I have a choice. To lie down among the green and blossoming, when the roots are awakening and digging where they may find nourishment in me as I have found in them.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Spring Marches In



And Winter Aconite!

Pretty things to make it seem as if Winter is closing up shop. Crocus come back year after year. I keep saying that I will "plant more crocus this fall," and then it doesn't happen. But this fall, for sure.

The winter aconite is a pretty bit of sunshine that I planted years and years ago. It doesn't bloom in the spot that I originally planted it. When the first few blossoms broke through last week, I thought it looked as if it were diminishing. Then more and more popped up. I'll plant more of this, too, along with the crocus, and daffodils, maybe tulips again. I haven't had tulips for some time. Now when the earth is wakening and I feel my energy rising I am confident about getting those in the ground in six months' time. The first step is to get the bulbs. Often the middle of summer, when I need to order them, I can't get myself to put out the effort. Start sooner. I want more of these pretties. 

Oh, yes. A couple of snowdrops have decided to come back, too. No picture, though. But Yay! And on Saturday I planted peas, radishes, lettuce and turnips! (More on that later.)

Spring is marching in.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

February Funk

My world remains locked in snow. 
It's not much snow, we might have gotten a bit over an inch after several days of snow. Unlike most northeast Kansas snows, however, it has remained on the ground for days. Usually sunny days follow a snow, at least after a day or two, and thawing ensues even if the temperatures don't climb above freezing but just hit the upper 20s.

This snow, however, was followed by the coldest stretch of weather we've had in years, and the forecast says it's about to get even colder. They say the sun will shine tomorrow, for the first time this week, although the temperature will remain in the single digits Fahrenheit and even fall below zero.
The bitter cold and cloudy skies don't do much good for one's mental state. I've been feeling scattered and distracted all week, unable to end the day feeling that I have accomplished much.
February is like that.
I started the month on a high note. I'd learned that some ancient cultures considered February a time of purgation, when they would conduct cleansing rites. So I decided to "purge" by doing some deep cleaning. I spent an entire day on our bedroom and master bath. Then moved on to the kitchen. I picked up an old writing project and refreshed that. Started organizing the recipes on my computer so I can print them out and tidy up the binder in which we keep recipes.
The first few days of that first week were a whirlwind, then my energy dropped, it picked up after a couple of days and then fell again. So this week I've kind of been at a standstill, although I feel that I'm doing stuff, I'm not just sitting around... sort of.
February is like that.
I find that getting outside helps me stave off the winter blues. This past week I've meant to get outside and wander around. My insulated overalls, heavy coat and work boots keep me quite warm, especially when I'm moving around. But highs in the teens and cloudy skies and February have kept me inside.
I do get outside a little each day though. Every morning and every evening before bed, and sometimes in between I step outside my back door without putting on a coat and stand for a few minutes just breathing fresh air. Feeling the cold, really feeling the cold and embracing it puts me in touch with the natural world around me. I feel more connected. 
Sometimes I go out barefoot, even stepping into the snow, my footprints alongside those of birds and rabbits. The biting cold of the snow reminds me that I am alive, washes away the numbness of dark February days spent indoors.
The amaryllis have quit blooming, but this little orchid  has 
stepped in to brighten the winter days. The blossoms last for
quite a long time.

I started the habit of stepping barefoot in the snow many years ago, when I went bobbing for apples on Halloween and came up with one in which an exclamation mark had been carved. I took that to mean I needed to get more exclamation marks in my life. Stepping barefoot into the snow certainly does cause some exclamations. It's invigorating, enlivening, exhilarating... I've begun to crave it.
I stand outside my back door on a 10-degree F. morning and sing to the wakening world. 
I stand outside my back door as the frost forms in the late evening and look for the moon and stars. Even if it's cloudy I search the sky.
I step barefoot into the snow and feel the cold bite as a freezing breeze brushes my face and seeps through my sweater. 
I breathe deeply of the bitter air.
I am at one, at peace with the frozen land around me bound by snow.
This gets me through February.
It gets me through.
I go back inside and check the tiny cabbage seedlings that will go into the garden in just six weeks or so. One more turn of the calendar page and I'm looking at planting season. But the planting has begun... cabbages, broccoli, leeks... Soon I'll start some lettuce, then eggplant and peppers, then... then...
Suddenly it's March.
This gets me through February... the "longest" month, when we are so tired of winter.
It gets me through.

Monday, February 8, 2021

We All Dig This Vegetable

Good morning from Spirit Bird Farm.

Everyone loves them.

Boiled, steamed, mashed, baked, and fried. In stews, in soups, in salads, as chips, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even turn up in desserts and other bakery goods in the form of starch and flour. For everyday meals, as well as holiday meals. Some of the best comfort food around. They've infiltrated nearly every one of the world's cuisines in about 500 years, although many Europeans initially thought they were poisonous. They are among the top most important food crops of the world, right up there with wheat, rice and maize (corn). They had become such an important crop in the 1800s that when Ireland experienced a widespread crop failure, famine ensued, killing maybe a couple of million people. A few decades later, Luther Burbank developed a variety resistant to the fungus that killed the Irish crop... potato blight.

Ah, yes, the ubiquitous potato. 

Let me take you back, to the very beginning....

The story of the lovely potato begins when the line that developed into our mashers split off from the parent line of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family a long, long time ago... 350 million years ago to be precise. Maybe not precisely. Dinosaurs weren't good at keeping records, what with their focus mainly being on eating other dinosaurs and/or NOT being eaten by other dinosaurs. They figure this out through deeply studying genes. I don't know how they determine it... by magic is my guess... but they can make a good guess.


The story is foggy after that. But at some point the Incas or their predecessors in the Andes region of South America began gathering the tiny, but tasty and nutritious tubers as food, maybe as early as 8000 BCE. Archaeological evidence, however is not quite that old. I couldn't find reliable accounts of what the oldest archaeological evidence shows -- some sources said 3400 BCE, some 2500 BCE and one just 400 BCE. Regardless of the archaeological evidence, we know that the Andean natives have used and cultivated potatoes (about 20 different species) for a long, long time... developing thousands of varieties, most of which continue to be grown only in their native region.

Those early potatoes and many of those still grown in Peru, were much smaller than the large tubers of the species Solanum brevicaule now grown worldwide. In my search for information about potato's history, I found so much more written about it's introduction to Europe than about its use by the native people of South America. The Spaniards introduced the potato to Europe around the mid 1500s, but most of Europe resisted it as a food crop because of its relationship to the poisonous nightshades (the tomato also suffered this). 

The aristocracy of some of the European countries recognized the value of the potato as a food source, because of its nutritional and caloric density and its ease of growth. So they worked, sometimes using a little subterfuge, to convince the agricultural class to grow and consume potatoes. The little tricks worked, but for the most part potatoes were considered working class food, except in China, where it became a delicacy of the Imperial family. Go figure.

Then a little fungus caused the Irish potato famine, where it had replaced the rutabaga and turnip as a staple crop. And can you blame the Irish? I like turnips and rutabagas, but given the choice between them and potatoes... guess which wins.

So that's enough of that. You can find that stuff anywhere. But I had to look in a lot of places for info on the Inca use. The Incas apparently thought quite highly of their potatoes, even making pottery vessels in the shape of the tubers, which looked more like the fingerling varieties of today. They used them as medicine and possibly even in religious ceremonies. I believe that the ancient people of the Americas held their food plants in much higher regard than we do today, considering them spiritual allies. 

According to most of the history I found, the potato was first grown in North America in the 1600s, introduced by European settlers, of course.


Recent archaeological discovery has uncovered that North American indigenous people used a species of potato more than 10,000 years ago. Starch grains on stone tools found at a site in Utah were identified as belonging to that of a potato, S. jamesii. That predates evidence of potato use in South America. What's more, that potato species still grows in North America, in the Four Corners area of Arizona, thus it's called the Four Corners potato. Indigenous people there still use the little tuber.

The next time you sit down to a helping of mashed potatoes, thank the Incas and their predecessors for discovering the delicious goodness of potatoes. They are "Inca" potatoes in truth, not Irish at all.

NOTE: I did not intend to make this blog post all about the history of potatoes. I was supposed to put some growing information in here. I promised the readers of my newspaper column a link to the K-State Research and Extension publication on growing potatoes in Kansas. So here is the growing potatoes link. It looks like I will need to do another post for all of you wanting to know more about growing them. Maybe I'll wait until I'm planting my own potatoes, for the first time in many years, then you can follow my experiences on that. Or I'll do my next post on them so I can let you know about their awesome nutritional value and tell you how to make the best baked fries.