Monday, December 19, 2011

Cabbages and More Cabbages

"Don't think about cabbages."
I had to tell myself that several times after I went to bed the other night.
I know, you have that same problem. You just can't sleep at night for thinking about cabbages...
I had just spent a couple of hours researching cabbages and only after several subtle hints from my husband did I tear myself away from the cabbage research and go to bed. The research was for a newspaper column that I was to write the next morning, and, as often happens when I begin a creative project in the evening, my brain kept wanting to work on the column instead of sleeping.
So I had to tell myself several times, "Don't think about cabbages."
What's to think about? You might ask. A cabbage is a cabbage.
Oh... but if it weren't for the cabbages, my fall and winter garden would be bare... except for the lettuce and spinach.
When I say cabbage, this is probably what you think about...
That's a romaine lettuce between the cabbages.
Perhaps your vision is of a rounder head, but it is essentially the same... a cabbage is a cabbage... right?
Well... this also is a cabbage.

No... you say... that's broccoli...
What about this cabbage...

Cauliflower... you say, with the patience of someone talking to an idiot.
How about this?

No that's.... wait... what is that? you are wondering.
It is collards greens. Georgia Southern Collards, to be precise. I prefer these to the Vates variety.
After all of these we've also got...

Brussels sprouts. Yes, they are suppose to be red. Here is an array of green ones. Look at all of those tasty greens. So yummy after a couple of frosts.

And I actually got a few sprouts off of mine this year. Finally. They were mighty good.

All of these are cabbages. All the same species... Brassica oleracea... All cultivars and selections of the wild cabbage that grows from chalk cliffs, and stalks the coastal areas of western and southern Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate Asia. Thousands of years of selection have produced a widely varied species. The collards pictured above, and kale are closest to the wild cabbage.
But which kale is closest to the original?
This Dwarf Curly Blue Scotch?

How about this robust Red Russian?

Yes, there is a White Russian Kale. Looks the same, just with white ribs and veins.
How about this pebbly lacinato kale, also known as Walking Stick Kale, Dinosaur Kale and Tuscan or Black Tuscan kale.

And there are even more types of kale. These are just the three I grow. So we've got variations on the variations within this species. We don't need genetic engineering to create such variety. Just hundreds of generations of selection and some hybridization within the selections. So we have orange, purple and green cauliflowers and various head types of cabbage -- round, conical, flattened, savoy, as well as red and even white ones.
A bumblee dining from the cross-shaped flowers of collards.
And one final B. oleracea is kohlrabi (I have none growing this year, so no pics), which has few leaves but sports a swollen stem that is eaten. All of them a single species.
Are you giddy yet? Just one step away from these same-species garden plants are a whole range of other closely related members of the cabbage/mustard family, which includes, of course all of the mustards -- leaf and seed mustards. The arugula that laughed at the cold (why don't I have pictures of arugula?) is a member of this family, the Cruciferae (aka Brassicaceae), or cruciferous vegetables, so named because of their cross-shaped flowers of four petals. Arugula and some of the others sport white instead of yellow flowers. Those include horseradish and these little guys....

...little radish seedlings now sprouting amongst some of the lettuces under my low tunnels. You can see the family resemblance in the seedling leaves. All cabbage/mustards look like this when their seeds first sprout, in my experience.
Daikon, a long, white radish also belongs in this family, as do the turnip and rutabaga, and numerous Oriental greens -- bok choy, Chinese or napa cabbage, mizuna, komatzuna, tatsoi...
Daikon growing in the garden.
What else? I know there must be more... oh yes, canola and rapeseed and the head clearing wasabi...
These are only the cultivated species -- the most important of the cultivated species,  anyway. Many more wild species exist. My heart races at the thought of tracing this plant genealogy. But then, my heart also races when I start learning the scientific names of all the plants in my garden... Yes, I am a garden geek.

Am I finished yet? What more can one say about cabbages and their family? Oh, so much more can be said. I won't say it now, though. I have to go have a lie down and let my heart rate return to normal. I am glad that it is morning, or I would have a hard time going to sleep and not think about cabbages.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Diversion

By Lewis Carroll
From "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There"

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

I love Lewis Carroll's work. At one time, I could recite his poem "The Jabberwocky." Perhaps I still can. This poem came to mind as I sat down to write about cabbages... More on cabbages later.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lettuce See...

I finally got out to the garden today to check on the green stuff growing there. Even after Tuesday night's low of 13, stuff was alive. It wasn't all necessarily happy, but it was alive.

The lettuce did fairly well. Some of the plants looked bad, but most looked pretty good. The cabbages are ok, but a bit droopy.

The Red Russian and Dwarf Blue Scotch kales, which had the same amount of protection as the lettuces were wondering what all the fuss was about. "Cold? You mean this fine, brisk weather?"

The brussels sprouts are under only a row cover, with sheets and tarps thrown over for extra protection on the really cold nights. They look droopy when viewed through the row cover. After tomorrow night, when the low is forecast at 16 degrees F., the weather warms a bit (lows in the upper 20s) and we'll see how things are doing with a bit of recovery time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lettuce Worry

An image of late May to brighten the day.
At 7:03 a.m. it is 19 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The National Weather Service says 11 tonight.
I worry about my lettuces. I worry about the kale and collards.
Three layers of separation sits between them and the outside cold -- a row cover, then plastic and on top of that sheets and blankets.
But I worry.
It didn't get above freezing yesterday and will not again today.
Tomorrow they say it will rise to 38 degrees and be sunny. Saturday will hit the 40s.
So on Thursday (because I am busy all day tomorrow) I will check on the welfare of my "babies."
I hope this is not the end. The lettuce has been so lush and fresh and beautiful.
I will not rest easy until I see it again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Tis the Season

Wednesday's brilliant sunset.
I am slowly preparing for the inevitable bitter winter weather.
Each day I pick a bunch of greens, some to eat now and the rest to freeze, in preparation for the cold times that not even the brussels sprouts and kale will stand up to.

Early this week I drained the rainwater catchment tanks -- all 3,000 gallons (more or less) of water. Some of it was used to water the elderberries and blackberries, as well as the lettuce and greens still growing under cover. The rest was simply left to run down the hillside.

Then on Wednesday, my husband diverted the water flow from the tanks into the in-ground drainage and I -- being the smallest of the two of us -- hopped down inside each 1,500-gallon tank to bucket out much of the remaining water and then suck up the last bit of water and mud with the shop vaccuum and wipe away the ring of algae at the top.

Kale and collards.
That took a couple of hours on a chilly day with a light breeze. I was the lucky one, down inside the tanks, away from the breeze, even though the cold water chilled my feet through my rubber boots. My husband sat atop the tanks (in the frosty breeze), grabbing and dumping the buckets of water I handed up, and then holding onto the shop-vac.

Last winter, we drained the tanks in November, but waited until spring to clean them. I am glad the job is done.

And now I've got a teeny bit of a cold. Not because I cleaned the tanks. It is more likely due to all of the human exposure I received during recent family holiday gatherings and other outings.

It is the season when colds and flu abounds, largely because people are cramming themselves together indoors and not getting out much, going to parties and holdiay gatherings, shopping and just spreading around germs like there is no tomorrow.

The garden is a great place to find preventatives and treatments. So I will, over the next week or so, cover a few of my favorite herbs to grow and use against winter ailments.
My first line of defense is always garlic. At the first hint of something coming on -- a scratchy throat or just that "not 100 percent" feeling -- I peel a clove of garlic, cut it in two and pop it in my mouth, holding it between cheek and gum for 20 minutes or so. (You will need to move it around in your mouth, as garlic can irritate the mucous membranes.) Repeated several times a day, this generally wards off whatever it is that is trying to manifest.

I wasn't quick enough with the treatment this time, so my throat go scratchier and my nose got snifflier. Yet, one day of treatment has significantly reduced my symptoms and it is only a slight annoyance and unlikely to become much more than that. Ideally, I would continue the treatment until all symptoms are gone, but my garlic supply has been affected by some mysterious thing and much of it is not usable.

Some people swallow a whole clove of raw garlic every day to prevent any viruses or other germy things from getting even a tiny foothold. Garlic does indeed have excellent antimicrobial properties and can be used to treat both viruses and bacteria, as well as fungal infections and intestinal parasites.

Garlic can be used internally for many respiratory infections, such as colds and flu, and even digestive tract infections. However, raw garlic swallowed by itself, or eaten in large quantities, can cause heartburn in some people, so eat small quantities frequently in food. Cooked garlic loses most of its antimicrobial properties, but still provides many health benefits. It and its relatives, like the onion, are quite nutritious and of benefit as a common food in the diet.

Garlic also creates an environment in the gut that is friendly to beneficial microorganisms that help us digest food and assimilate nutrients. While it supports the beneficial gut flora, it kills disease-causing microorganisms. It also can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and possesses several other stellar qualities.

Garlic also can be used topically to treat acne, ringworm and other skin conditions caused by bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Cut open a clove and rub the infection with the cut end or mash it and rub on or use as a short-term poultice. Be cautious with even topical applications, as garlic can irritate the skin, even causing "burns" in sensitive individuals. Test it before using it over a large area or leaving it on for any length of time.
Aside from the heartburn when raw garlic is swallowed, negative side effects are few and rare. Except for the "garlic breath." Odor-causing compounds in garlic are excreted through the lungs, so there is just no way around it. Parsley, basil and milk supposedly reduce the garlic breath, if that is of concern to you.

Garlic also thins the the blood, and will interfere with blood thinning medications, as well as certain other types of medications. If you are on any medications always check with your physician and/or a qualified herbalist before using any herbs in a therapeutic manner. Also, because of its blood-thinning capability, which is beneficial in certain ways, cease any garlic supplements a few days before having surgery of any kind.
What?! Me eat garlic?! Me no eat garlic!!

Garlic can even be used as a garden ally. Planted near other plants, it repels some pests. Aphids in particular are absent when garlic and its relatives are planted in close proximity. You also can mash and steep garlic in hot water, then strain for use as a pest repelling and probably fungus killing spray on plants. Some people recommend putting garlic in your pet's food to ward off fleas. My cats would never eat garlic-laced food, but a dog might.

Garlic is an ancient herb and has been in use for thousands of years as food and medicine. It is relatively safe, widely available and easy enough to grow. Since I already covered the cultivation of garlic in my 8/31/11 post, I won't go into that today.

The message here is, grow garlic, eat garlic, and when the bugs start to jump around on the coughs and sneezes, grab garlic for good food, good health and a glossy coat. And you, too, can survive the cold and flu season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Late Night in the Garden

I check the weather forecast almost every time I get online, which means I often check it several times a day -- because I might look for the daily highs one time, then look at the lows, then have to check again because I can't remember what the precipitation chances were. And then they change. Quite regularly. Especially when cold fronts are involved. Supposedly, cold fronts are less predictable than warm fronts.
Winter Density Romaine.
Anyway, I was winding down after a busy day on Saturday evening and checked the forecast (for the first time that day, actually) a few minutes before guests were to arrive.

I was not pleased when I saw that Sunday night's low was supposed to hit 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Ack! My lettuces!" was my immediate response. The weather had been quite lovely for November. Cold enough for a fire in the stove, but not so bitter I had to worry about the lettuce and cabbage and other cold-weather vegetables in the garden.

I knew the hard weather was coming, however. By Thanksgiving last year, I had the lettuce tucked under a plastic "low tunnel," with lights and black buckets full of water, and all kinds of contraptions for adding a few extra degrees of warmth. If you were around the blog last year, you read my tale of near disaster on the night before Thanksgiving. The weather this year was a bit kinder. Yet I had intended to put the plastic over my lettuce beds last week, so I wouldn't have to rush.

But, the forecast said rain on Friday. After this dry summer, I was not going to pass up a chance to get rain on the garden, so I postponed the plastic application. About an inch of rain fell Friday night, a very nice amount. I was glad the lettuces had gotten a final drink.
Rouge Grenobloise Lettuce. Don't ask me to pronounce it.
Saturday was spent preparing brussels sprouts for roasting and a tofu "turkey" (which I mangled, but it tasted good) for my family's Thanksgiving feasting on Sunday, and I cleaned the house for Saturday evening guests. Taking care of the lettuces could wait until Monday... or Tuesday, or even Wednesday.

When I saw the 17 degrees forecast for Sunday night, my heart sank. No time to do anything Saturday. No time before heading out on Sunday morning. I could look forward to hauling out the old sheets and blankets to cover the lettuce beds after getting home Sunday night. Yay.

So, after a feastful day with my family on Sunday, I arrived home after dark, put away the leftovers, changed into warm clothes and went out to the garden with a wheelbarrow full of old sheets and blankets. Frost was already forming on the grass and everything else by the time I went out. It was dark under a moonless sky. The outdoor light on the side of the garage gave marginal illumination of the garden.

Young Deerstongue Lettuce, still growing.
After a bit of wrangling with sheets and a little cursing (all right, a lot of cursing), I finally went inside for a headlamp. With the extra light, my job was easier and went more quickly. When the lettuce was tucked in I looked at the rows of kale, broccoli and brussels sprouts protected only by a thin row cover and hoped they could take the plunge in temperatures.

I went inside and immediately checked the forecast again, hoping for another change. Maybe 17 was a mistake. Good. They increased the low... to 19.

My husband asked about the brussels sprouts and other greens. Would they be OK? Should they be covered, too?

Oh, I don't know. (Big heavy sigh.) I'd have to get into the attic above the garage to get more sheets and blankets (which meant moving the cars), then go out into the cold, dark night. That's a lot of hassle.

How would you feel if you lost all of our winter greens? my husband asked.
Royal Oakleaf Lettuce. Very robust.
Not good -- Really, I would feel bad. (Another big heavy sigh.)

We moved the cars and got more sheets and blankets out of the attic, piled them in a wheelbarrow and went back out into the cold, dark night. This time I say we, which made the task easier to swallow.

Then we went to bed. The thermometer fell to 24 by the time we rose at 5:34 a.m.

I went out late Monday morning, when the thermometer had risen to the mid 30s. Shady spots still had frost on the ground, but the sun was shining and the air was calm, so it was pretty comfortable working in the garden. Later in the day, I had to take off my coat because I was sweating, although the temperature didn't get above 45.

A tiny little cauliflower head -- Finally!
Anyway, the lettuce made it. So did everything else. The still air made putting the plastic over the beds a fairly easy job. I picked some kale and collards, some more lettuce and three lovely cabbages. The heads were on the small side, but the big leaves that surrounded the heads were perfectly lovely and won't go to waste. The heads will become sauerkraut and the outer leaves will become cabbage soup.

Tonight's low is suppose to only fall to 29. Then tomorrow night it falls into the upper teens again. I guess winter has entered the stage.

I don't know whether I will bother with lights in the lettuce beds again. I did leaves some row cover scrunched to the side under the plastic tunnels, so I can easily cover the lettuces on the chillier nights. The sheets and blankets also will remain at ready for the really cold nights.

Now I will need to vent the plastic tunnels whenever the weather is warmer than 45 and sunny, so it doesn't get too hot in there. (Keep my eye on the weather forcast, whether it's up or down.) But the lettuce should keep growing for a little while, and with any luck, the radish seed I planted while the tunnels were open will sprout and give us early spring radishes. I haven't tried that before. We'll see. The garden is always an experiment.

Two Jersey Wakefield Cabbages and a romaine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Farewell the Seed Catalog

Let's make no mistake, I am not a member of the cyber generation.
When I was growing up, cassette tapes for audio were a big deal. Eight track tapes were not quite yet passe. When I received a small cassette recorder/player, I was at the cutting edge of technology (I thought).

I don't listen to music on an iPod. I still have music on cassette tapes and even a number of movies on VHS. I don't listen or watch them, but I have them and I could play them. Most of our music is on CD and we watch movies on DVD.

I use a computer and the Internet (obviously). In the job I had before I became a full-time gardener, I used the computer extensively. We had begun to rely more on the Internet for business.

But I don't read books from a Kindle. I like holding the paper version in my hand, smelling the pages, curling up in a chair to read. I don't like reading long articles on a computer screen. I like shopping with a real catalog that I can curl up, dog-ear the pages, circle things or mark with an X, go back to it again and again without having to boot up before I make my decision.

Then I will go to the catalog online and order. That is convenient.

However, it is only a matter of time before paper catalogs cease to arrive in the mail. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a seed company of which I have been a long-time customer. They were going to an online only catalog. Today I opened my e-mail and found a message from them that began

"Fellow Gardeners,
"Today we officially introduce our new Virtual Catalog for 2012
" Our newly expanded list of seeds, plants and merchandise whets the appetite for the next round of gardening. This virtual catalog offers most of the experience of a paper format, an accessible index, a place to permanently maintain notes, it's a friendly format that can be enlarged for easy reading. Best of all, no more lost catalogs, chewing dogs or loaned it and it never came back. Please take a look, have some fun with it and let us know what you think…we want to make this work for everyone."

Sigh. No more curling up in a comfy chair by the fire with their catalog to dream and ponder. Doing business online only is like... well, like doing business. There just seems something wrong about not being able to hold the catalog in my hand and curl it and toss it on the floor, bend it back to mark a page... I don't have a dog to chew up things and I never lend a catalog that I don't have a second copy of.

I certainly understand the business sense of cutting costs and paper waste. It is practical. It is wise. It is even environmentally sound. I can applaud that.

But I will miss the tactile sensation of paper in hand. The sense of luxury of curling up in the chair, a mug of tea at my side. It's just not the same experience with the laptop.

I will adapt. I must. While you in the cyber generation scratch your heads and wonder "what's the big deal?" Many of you, perhaps, have never ordered anything from a paper catalog. But I remember the excitement when the large Sears "Wishbook" arrived in the mail. So long ago.

Sigh... Farewell to the paper catalog

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Garagekeeping

Getting organized.
For three days this week we (hubby and I) cleaned the garage!
Yay! Cheers and huzzahs! Sparklers and ticker tape!
No, wait, forget the ticker tape. I just cleaned that.
After three winters of "intending to get to" the garage and clean and organize it, we have finally done it.
Not completed, but made major headway.
New shelves. Purdy!
My husband built another set of shelves, using up a good portion of the lumber that had been piled in the center of the garage. I sorted things into "to keep," "to sell," and "to take to the landfill" piles. (Some stuff had to be pried from my hands. What? You can't see how many different ways this piece of string can be used?)

The shelves are level!
We took some stuff to a small shed at the bottom of the hill. My husband now has a workbench and workspace.

All of the tools are more or less in one location! No more searching the entire garage for a screwdriver! (This is a big deal to me.)

Tomorrow we will do more work. I will stack things on the new shelves. Maybe we'll get a sturdy box built in which to keep all of our kindling. We won't be done by the end of the day on Saturday, but we will be able to put the tractor and at least one vehicle in the garage. And we won't be embarrassed to let people into our garage.

Next week I will head to the landfill with the unsalable junk and take old antifreeze to the county's household hazardous waste disposal site. Items are gradually being posted for sale. If we lived in town, I'd throw it all out on the lawn and have a garage sale. Oh well.

Once it's done, the real trick will be to keep it organized. It is way too easy to "just set it here temporarily," then never get things put "away." I just won't let that happen. No I won't.

Stuff still to be dealt with. Only some of it is junk.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Brussels Sprouts Longing

Churchill and Catskills varieties of brussels sprouts.
Three years of growing brussels sprouts and we have yet to get a sprout. The greens from the brussels sprouts are very delicious, so the crop is not a waste.

But we want sprouts.

Falstaff brussels sprouts.
My hubby thinks maybe we shouldn't harvest leaves, that maybe removing the leaves discourages the sprouts. However, removing the lower leaves was recommended in "Astrological Gardening," by Louise Riotte, to encourage sprouts. My online research also found that commercial growers strip their plants of leaves, and then at some point "top" them (cut out the top growing tip) to encourage all sprouts to mature at once.
After all that research, I have concluded that timing is the problem for us. I harvest the leaves just when little sprout buds start to form, but I should wait until they are obviously forming sprouts. And I plant too late.
Brussels sprouts require a long growing season, at least 90 days after transplant. While I had intended to plant my homegrown transplants in the garden in July (as Mrs. Riotte recommended), I just couldn't bring myself to expose the young plants to the 100-degree highs that we had every day in July. So I waited until early August, when it had cooled into the 90s.

Previous fall plantings had been done at the end of August and early September. Brussels sprouts are best when they mature in cool weather, so planting them really early in the season might get you sprouts (if you don't overcrowd them), but they don't taste as good as they do after a frost.

During a recent gathering with some friends, who also are avid gardeners, my husband turned the conversation to brussels sprouts. He always likes to get another opinion besides mine.

Could these be sprouts?!? Be still my pounding heart.
One person said she's never grown brussels sprouts because she'd always heard they were very finicky. The other one said that she gets sprouts. She plants them out in March, and she agreed, they do taste better once we've had a frost.

I know I need to plant them earlier, but do I really need to plant them in March? Or should I stick with the recommended mid-July planting date? Maybe do something in between, like May? Perhaps I should divide the crop up between all three planting dates.

And yet, it looks like maybe we will get sprouts... maybe. I saw some tiny sprouts on at least one plant today. Sprouts or no sprouts, they won't last past the point when the temperatures hit 20 degrees F. I will harvest what I can, sprouts and/or greens, when that time comes. For now, we'll harvest a few greens at a time and hope for sprouts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Caught... Like a Rat

Caught like a rat in a trap.
The problem with woodpiles and woodsheds is that many little critters of the wild find them to be cozy nesting sites, with the wood shed being particularly attractive as winter approaches.

So we recently found ourselves setting a trap, yet again, to capture a pack rat, more officially known as the Eastern woodrat, Neotoma floridana. Lest you see the word "rat" and go "eww," these guys are actually quite cute. Their appearance is more mouse-like than rat-like, as their tails are covered in fur and they have large eyes.

Cuteness aside, their droppings make a mess and they are notorious for "collecting" things to build their nests (hence the name "pack" rat) and for chewing up rubbery stuff, like garden hoses and the insulation on automotive engines.

Apparently, they like onions, too. This summer, while my onions and garlic were curing on a rack in the garage, one of the critters snuck into said garage. One day as I opened the door between the house and garage I heard a "thump," such as our cat would make jumping down from a perch. But our kitty (named Juniper) was in the house at the time, so I became suspicious. Then I found an onion that had been partially eaten. I was certain that was not Juniper's doing. The pile of pack rat droppings confirmed all suspicions.
Pretty Juniper.
So we set the trap, baited with tasties such as raisins and walnuts. The next morning I opened the garage door to look at the trap and found the pack rat looking at me indignantly from its cage. The fact that Juniper (who spends all night and frequently much of the day in the garage) and the rat peacefully cohabited for several days caused my husband to point to it as proof that Juniper does not pull her weight around here and is pretty much worthless.
Those of you who also are not "cat people" would understand his position. Those of us who are cat people just roll our eyes and pity you for not understanding the value of cats.

So back to the rats...

Our live trap had been set up in the woodshed in anticipation of pack rats looking for winter digs. Yesterday my husband found the trap overturned and the bait stolen. So last night he set it up on the concrete floor of the porch next to the wood shed. It didn't take long for our intended victim to find itself trapped. We let it spend the night in its cage, so it could really think about its crime. This morning, I put the trap in the back of the pickup and drove to a pretty spot a couple of miles away and let it go.
The backside of the packrat running into its new home.
That's one pack rat down and a few hundred more to go.

You never have just one.
Pack rat's new home.
And, because it was pretty, the view across the road.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pepper Passings

Your time is up, little pepper plant.
A south wind plays the chimes. The sun is out and warm. My gardening attire was a shirt and light skirt and I was, of course, barefoot.

It was a perfect day to pick plenty of pretty peppers. They were smooth and shimmery and almost all of them green. The pepper plants were a picture of health, lush and green, large-leaved with new growth. On such a beautiful day, why did I hack up the pepper plants, pull them out and toss them in the compost heap?

Because seasons turn.
While at this moment the thermometer says that it is 78 degrees F outdoors, tomorrow's temperature will peak in the mid-50s by mid morning, then fall throughout the day. The low tomorrow night -- or rather Thursday morning -- will fall just below freezing. Thursday night to Friday morning, the low will fall below freezing  again.

The forecast for the days following is not a promising one for heat-loving peppers. The cool weather wouldn't have killed them (if I'd covered them on the two nights of freezing), but it won't be enough to let them grow.

When it's time, it's time. I have conceded to winter. The last of the summer vegetables has left the garden. We do have plenty of cole crops -- I harvested a big, beautiful broccoli head yesterday and lovely lacinato kale today. And the lettuce is fabulous. Yet summer is gone and winter is on its way. The wheel turns. Just let go.

Found a couple of these stuck to bell pepper stems. It is the egg case of a
praying mantis. I put them in a nearby cedar tree for protection from winter

Monday, October 31, 2011

Garlic: Just Thought You'd Like to Know

Not our barn (sigh), but pretty.
I ordered more garlic this morning, as I did not plant quite as much as I would like. Also, some of the seed garlic that I saved had something brown on it and I am not absolutely certain that all of it will grow. Besides, Peaceful Valley's seed garlic is half price (for how long, I don't know, so get it soon). So why not order more? It is still expensive to buy organic seed garlic, but it was cheaper than what I bought earlier.

I still have a couple of weeks in which to plant garlic (not ideal, but it works). I ordered a variety called Metechi, a hardneck variety with large cloves that is supposed to keep longer than other hardneck varieties. We will see...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Autumn Glory

Dust billows from the gravel road with each passing vehicle, and even the cool season grasses are brown from lack of rain. Many trees provided early autumn color but were quickly blown bare by stiff winds. Those that remained green retained their leaves.

During the last few days, those trees have put on autumn colors and the hills have achieved a colorful perfection not seen following moister summers. While out on an errand, my husband drove north on our gravel road and when he returned he suggested that I take a drive to see the colors in the trees lining the road.

What I found barely took my breath away. The oaks (usually merely an ordinary autumn brown) are dressed in their finest glory of oranges, reds, rusts and golden yellows.

While the elms are brilliant in yellow.

The longer slant of light adds a suffused, otherworldy glow to Buck Creek, which flows near our house and along the road to which it lends its name.

Even in the noonday sun, everything is soft in the autumn light. Shadows are less crisp, less pronounced, as the veil thins and boundaries soften.

Tonight, I will again cover the peppers against the frost. The tomatoes were done in by the first freeze, even though they were covered. The last of the season's tomatoes, both ripe and unripe sit on the counter awaiting their final fate. Tonight, Winter takes one step nearer, while Autumn gives it her all.