Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Solstice

Sunrise on the Winter Solstice 2015.
May Light find you in the depths of your Darkness.
May you arise from Darkness renewed, refreshed, reborn.

Festival of Lights
The Sun appears to stand still on these days surrounding the Solstice. For several days, the Light does not appear to grow. But it does. In the far North, night is 24 hours long on this day. But it turns around quickly up there. This is a Turning Point.

Today the seeds of Summer are sown even though the Earth appears still and dormant. Within the soil Seeds prepare for their Spring transformation; Roots grow until the soil freezes.

As much as we can, let us use this time of Stillness in Nature to bring Stillness into our own lives, during which the Seeds we have planted change and transform so that they may put down roots into earth and stretch up shoots to the light -- all at the proper time. This Stillness in Winter also allows us to put down Roots in spiritual contemplation, in strengthening relationships with friends and family, in Being more who we truly are.

And on this Winter Solstice night we'll see a Full Moon -- double the light.

May you find strength, peace and joy on this Solstice and on any other holiday/holy day you desire to celebrate at this time and any time. May each day in your life be a holy day.

And the Wheel turns.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Beauty is in the Eye...

The structure of this lettuce plant became more apparent as we harvested leaves.
Our front room, which I have recently taken to calling the "Green Room," is filled with life. Green plants, from little sprouts to small trees, sit on shelves and line the walls. Most of these plants spent their summer outside, on the front porch, where they are happy and healthy.

The room, which is rarely used in the summer when it is devoid of green life, has become one of our favorite hangout spots. The plants provide beauty and oxygen. And most of them are food, seasoning or medicine.

The food and medicine plants have ornamental value, as well. Some vegetables have beautiful forms and colors. The Swiss chard's glossy green leaves and white stems and veins add a robust aura to the collection of plants. The lettuces also provided ornamental value. In these photos you can see the beautiful structure of the Batavian-type lettuce plant, even after we'd removed many leaves. Batavian lettuces are, in my opinion, among the most beautiful in form, while others delight with their colors.
Few flowers can exceed the beauty of this Batavian lettuce
plant's architecture.

During a warm day (upper 40s) last week I cut all of my radicchio because I was not confident that they would survive the harsh cold much longer. Two plants did not have heads of a size worth harvesting, but they were in much better shape than some of the other small plants. So I dug them up, pulled off ugly leaves, put them into pots and set them under the lights in my green room. These varieties of radicchio have beautiful colors, and will add additional color and form to my collection of edibles, if they thrive.

Also among the edibles/seasonings are a couple of pots of garlic for harvesting their greens, the chard, a bay tree, two curry leaf trees, dittany of Crete (medicine, tea, seasoning), aloe (medicine), and some little pots in which I've started more Batavian lettuce and Extra Dwarf bok choy, hoping they will reach ornamental and edible proportions. Along with these a number of half flats  contain various microgreens, some of which are brilliantly colored (I'll talk about microgreens in a future post).

Utility can be beautiful. Don't be afraid of growing vegetables in your living room.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Getting Radicle

Watermelon radishes pulled the day before the low hit 10 degrees.

Not exactly at the top of the list of everyone's favorite vegetables.

But don't we all grow them anyway?
They're one of the first vegetables we can plant in the spring, and one of the last we can plant in the fall. They grow quickly and readily -- practically foolproof -- making them a great thing for a kid's garden or any first time gardener.

You can slice them into salads, use slices of large ones to dip out guacamole, carve them into roses as cute little garnishes, and... uh... and... Well you can eat them raw as a spicy snack.

Oh. come on. Can't you come up with anything else?

Radishes provide numerous nutrients -- vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. And they help support the body's detoxification system, so eating radishes can help clear out the toxins you've built up from all of the not-so-good-for-you stuff you've been eating. They are especially good at removing bilirubin from the blood, which is the stuff that builds up when you get jaundice. So I'm presuming they're helpful in keeping your liver healthy.

Like you, I always grow radishes... for salads. I'm not so much into carving radish garnishes. However, in Oaxaca, Mexico, Dec. 23 is Noche de Rabanos -- Night of Radishes, when everyone gets into the act of carving great displays out of radishes. This began more than 120 years ago, when merchants carved radishes as part of their magnificent vegetable displays to attract shoppers on their way home from Christmas services. Now it's tradition.

But carving isn't the only thing you can do with radishes. Why not roast them?
Because you never thought of that... right?

Well I didn't either until recently when someone mentioned roasting radishes, or I read about it somewhere online. Anyway, I tried it and love roasted radishes. It's so easy, too. Just slice, or halve, or quarter the radishes (depending on their size), toss them with a high quality oil -- I recommend avocado oil or good quality extra virgin olive oil. Lay them out in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, sprinkle on salt and pepper (you can sprinkle on other seasonings if you like), and roast at 400 degrees for about a half hour, or a few minutes more, turning or stirring halfway through. They're great warm or cold. Make a big batch and heat them up in the toaster oven.

I'll be roasting most of my radishes from now on. Now I am glad that I had such a bumper crop of radishes this fall.

Radishes can be found in many colors and shapes -- red, pink, purple, white, multi-colored, small round, big round, long ones and really long ones. Spring radishes tend to be smaller and mature more quickly. Winter radishes tend to be larger and take just a little longer to mature, although you can harvest them at a "baby" size.

On the left you can see why they're called "Watermelon" radishes, also "Red
Meat" radishes; because of the pink-red centers, the white exterior rings and
green skin. On the right are Cherry Belles, maybe some Crimson Giants.
These are about to be roasted!
I usually grow Cherry Belle, a spring radish, in both spring and fall. Supposedly that's the variety you're most likely to find in the grocery, but mine always carry so much more heat than those I've bought at the store. But roasting -- or cooking them some other way, such as in a stir-fry -- dampens the heat. I also grow Watermelon radishes (a winter radish). They don't reach the size of watermelons, but they do get pretty big. Some sources say that they can reach the sized of a softball -- never seen one that big, but I've seen some slices from some pretty big ones on restaurant plates. I don't think any of mine have quite hit the tennis ball size, but they've gotten much bigger than ping pong balls. I should thin them more diligently. A bit wider spacing would get me bigger radishes.

I also grow daikons -- great big, long, white radishes that you plant in the fall. One year I tried a spring planting and they just kept bolting instead of enlarging their roots.

The green leaves of radishes are edible, as well. I've never been that fond of radish greens, or maybe it's just that I have so many other types of greens available when the radish greens are large and lush, so I've never bothered with them much. But today a sauteed some green onions in ghee (clarified butter), added the chopped radish greens, along with some turnip greens and radicchio, then sprinkled on salt and pepper. When the greens were cooked I added lime juice. Now I wish I'd saved more radish and turnip greens. Maybe the daikons will come through this bitter cold to provide more fresh greens.

Radishes do best in moderately rich soil, with sufficient moisture, and cool weather.

The word "radish" comes from the Latin "radix," meaning "root." So radish is just another word for root. Go figure. Radishes are a prime example of a tap root. Another word derived from radix is "radicle" (no, I didn't misspell "radical" in the title), the first tiny root that emerges from a seed.

This is a great time of year to pick up lots of roots, from radishes to rutabagas, turnips and sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, even celeriac, burdock, etc. It's a good time of year to get to the root of things.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Rutabaga Moon

This is the top of one of the rutabagas that I pulled last week before the deep freeze.

You see what you see.
I have no apology.

It takes some cheek
To show that kind of freak,

And make bun puns.

(Slinking away...)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Snow Show

I walked out my bedroom door yesterday morning, ready or not to greet the day.

"Wow." I said, finding no other words. "Wow."

Snow had started falling the previous afternoon, picking up its pace as the evening darkened. I knew I would find snow on the ground, but did not anticipate the view that greeted me.

The snow was a wet one. It billowed on the ground where low-growing plants had not yet died back, and clung to tree branches, starkly white against the deep green of the red cedars. It piled on the horizontal wires of fences, and weighted down the white row covers on the low tunnels so they sagged like horses who had borne too many riders,

According to my husband, the sun broke through the clouds the very moment I opened the bedroom door, as if the universe had been waiting to gift me with this view. Almost as if it wanted to make up for the fact that the temperature on our hilltop would drop to a mere 10 degrees Fahrenheit that night.

I forgave the universe (the forecast being for "just" 15 degrees that night) and almost immediately grabbed my camera. I headed outside, with my feet still bare (I didn't go far), to snap some shots before the snow disappeared.

As predicted, the wind arrived shortly after that and I watched snow-laden branches of the cedars begin moving like waves on the sea. I was mesmerized and momentarily considered taking a video. But photos and videos never capture the true magic in a moment, only memories can. So I stayed in my chair and watched. Then the wind rose higher and began shaking snow from the branches. Today, hardly a flake of snow is left.

I will wait a few days before checking to see if all the blankets, hay and other coverings saved the cabbages and kale and lettuce from death by freezing. We harvested some stuff during the days before the deep freeze, lettuce, rutabaga greens, bok choy, radishes and kale -- just in case. I opened one little tunnel with the intent of just letting most of it go -- but the turnips were so beautiful that I pulled them all, salvaging a couple dozen or more baby turnips the size of my thumb or larger. I saved a few of the turnip greens, too. I'm not that fond of turnips, either root or green, but I like them well enough to eat a few, for the diversity. And when something is that beautiful I can't just let it go.

So, did three days effort (when I wasn't feeling well mind you) save my cabbages and rutabagas, or was it all in vain? Regardless, it was worth the effort. At least I tried. I made the effort. I've done other things in my life that did not come to fruit, but I'm satisfied in that I made an attempt. And so, after I'd spent time laying blankets and scattering fluffy piles of hay, it did not matter so much what the aftermath will look like. I felt better both mentally and physically having done the work. That is enough.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Last Whiff of Summer

Summer is definitely over.

Nothing blooms in the prairie or the garden, except a few straggling asters, such as the pale lavender ones above (trust me, in the prairie they're pale lavender), surprising atop browned stalks among browned prairie grasses, as well as a few white asters. The last whiff of summer. They might be natives or introduced varieties, I can't tell them apart. So many aster species exist, and often the only way to distinguish them is by a few subtle differences.

In the flower bed an aster is the last to maintain a few sparse blooms. Maybe it's aromatic aster? But the online pics don't look quite right. I might have mis-remembered it's name.

The summer vegetables are gone. The peppers have been roasted and frozen, and the plants quietly decompose in the compost heap

The last crisp, brown corpses of tomato plants have been removed. In their place tidy beds rest, covered in either hay mulch or short green oats and clover. I love the tidiness of season's end almost as much as the rampant growth of high summer.

Cabbages, lettuce, and other cool-love vegetables do their thing under white-draped low tunnels.

We had a couple of nights of freezing weather in the middle of October, followed by the most wonderful Autumn weather. Even the dark, rainy days were glorious. I've been able to work outdoors with just a light jacket, even in my shirt sleeves.
Goldenrod seed head in the prairie.

But that has changed. I'll need a coat today, and shoes. Freezing is in the forecast again. A bit deeper this time. Today I'll start adding layers to the fall-winter vegetable garden, pulling back row covers, harvesting some, then spreading row cover over the top of the plants, and closing the tunnel again. I hope this gives enough extra protection to keep things from getting burned.

Most of the tunnels are covered with a bit heavier row cover that they call a "frost blanket." It holds just a couple of degrees of extra warmth, which is all that is needed at this point. I will go through and determine which beds are covered with the lighter version and decide whether I need to replace it with frost blanket. In a couple of weeks I'll have to decide whether to add more layers of protection, or just harvest everything and give it up to the season.

But that will be then. Today I'll focus on what I know needs to be done and watch the season deepen. My mind and body follow the season, settling deeper into a resting state. I sleep a bit later. Feel sleepy earlier in the evening. I lack creative energy. That's fine, I tell myself. This is a period of restoration and gestation. Those creative seeds I've planted will spend their time evolving in my subconscious, and when the time is right, they'll send down roots and poke up shoots. Like the seeds in the ground, I must give them time.

Let winter do its job.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Covering Your Assets

Oats and crimson clover sprouting in a cleared area of the garden.
Whether spring, summer or fall, I find something satisfying about clearing plants from the garden. I love the way the garden takes on a more spacious, tidy look after sprawling and declining plants are gone.

But that doesn't last long. In spring and summer I'm likely to plant another veggie crop there, or I will plant a cover crop. At the very least, I will cover the soil with old hay.

Without a doubt, soil is your biggest asset in the garden, and keeping the soil covered is one step in building and maintaining healthy soil, alongside adding compost or other forms of organic matter, avoiding walking on and compacting the soil, minimizing tillage or other disturbance (including cutting off annual plants with extensive roots systems at soil level instead of pulling them), and maximizing the diversity of crops in the garden (including rotating crops, companion planting, and cover cropping).

Buckwheat seedlings cover the bare spaces between the celery and parsnips. 
Buckwheat makes potassium in the soil available to other plants.
Maintaining living roots in the soil is possibly one of the most key ways to create healthy soil (which is much more than just dirt), according to the Extension horticulture agent who gave a presentation on cover crops at last month's Master Gardeners' meeting. Those roots give beneficial microorganisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) someplace to live.  Without those organisms plants will not thrive, as the microorganisms in the soil assist the plant in taking up nutrients. You can maintain living roots in the soil three ways:

   --By planting perennials; which only works if you don't plan to use the area for annual crops for a while;
   --By intensifying crop rotation. This means that as soon as you take out one crop, plant another, preferably from a different plant family, but not necessarily. I usually plant my fall brassicas (cabbages etc.) in the same places I planted the spring brassicas. Then I give that area a rest from brassicas for the next two years.
   --By planting cover crops, which are the focus of this post.

Besides maintaining living roots in the soil, cover crops also help smother weeds, add organic matter to the soil, prevent erosion and oxidation of the soil (thus, keeping nutrients in place), and in some cases, make nutrients more accessible to other plants.

Examples of the last benefit include legumes "fixing" nitrogen in the soil through a symbiotic relationship with certain bacteria; deep rooted plants pulling nutrients from deeper soil levels, making them available to other plants when their upper portions die; and modifying other nutrients to forms other plants can use. Nutrients might be in the soil in sufficient quantity, but in forms your garden plants cannot use. Some cover crops take care of this.

Key aspects to planting cover crops: choose the one right for the season, warm-season covers for late spring and summer, and cool season covers for late summer through winter. Decide whether you want a high biomass crop (which gives you lots of green growth that breaks down slowly), or a low biomass crop (which is not as bulky and decomposes rapidly). Plant high biomass covers in late summer and fall where you will plant late spring and summer crops, as you will have plenty of time to "terminate" them and watch them decompose before planting. Low biomass covers are good as winter cover where you will plant early spring crops (like peas and brassicas) or in spring and summer where you will plant again within a couple of months or so, as they will break down quickly upon termination.

Perennial cover crops are beneficial in areas that you intend to let fallow for a few years (some are short-lived perennials), and around large perennials, such as fruit and nut trees and berry bushes. I am rethinking my practice of keeping the area around my berry bushes and brambles clear. But not all perennial plants are good for this purpose and some may be detrimental. Do your research.

Cover crops also can break the cycle of some plant diseases and pests. For example, marigolds help manage crop damaging nematodes; grassy covers also break the cycle of certain diseases. Cover crops also can help break up compacted soil. Tillage radishes (the long-rooted daikon) and turnips are particularly good at this. Some cover crops also provide food or habitat for beneficial insects.

Crimson clover in bloom in late spring.
I can't cover everything about cover crops here, just the three I currently use. But I offer a couple of links to good resources on cover cropping. Most cover crop resources focus on large scale agriculture, but that info can easily be adapted to gardens. You can buy a hard copy or download for free "Growing Over Cover." I have not yet read through this, but it is published by the Kansas Rural Center -- an awesome program -- so I trust that it contains great info. This cover crop periodic table also has great, easy to access info, plus additional slides that describe individual cover crops. And here you can either buy hard copy or download free Building Soils for Better Crops by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. This covers much more than cover crops, and again focuses more on large scale production. But healthy soil info can be translated to even the smallest garden plot, containers even. I have not read through this one either (but I've got it downloaded), but I see it referenced a lot when I'm doing research.

OK. The cover crops I use are oats, buckwheat and crimson clover.
-- Crimson clover is a legume, which fixes nitrogen. It does this by taking nitrogen from the air (where it is quite abundant but not usable by plants) and through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria converts it to a form that plants can use. When the plant dies (or you terminate it), nitrogen is returned to the soil. This is a high biomass, cool-season plant. It is my go-to for winter cover and early spring cover. It survives my winter when well established, so it grows again in spring and keeps the weeds at a minimum while fixing nitrogen. It's crimson flowers provide nourishment for bees and other pollinators. However, it's usually recommended that you not let cover crops set seed or they will reseed and become weeds themselves. I have not considered this a major issue, and because I don't always get around to things in the most timely manner, my crimson clover covers usually flower. They're beautiful.

--Oats is a grassy cover. Seed is cheap. It grows quickly and can be used throughout the season, even as a winter cover. While it winter kills when the temperature hits the high teens, it remains in place, providing cover and roots to keep the soil intact. I usually interplant it with crimson clover or buckwheat. Since it is a high biomass plant, I interplanted it sparingly with the buckwheat. You also can consider a patch of oats as homegrown hay mulch. If you let it set seed, you can harvest the grain at the "milky" stage for a great herbal medicine for soothing nerves.

Arugula self-sowed to become a cover crop in a bed where the beets and
carrots did not take.
--Buckwheat. No, it's not related to wheat at all. It's not even a grass. Buckwheat is related to rhubarb, dock and other members of the polygonium family. This warm-season cover can be planted mid-spring through early autumn. I've planted it in March and gotten very little germination, but planted in April and it grows thickly. Until the Master Gardeners' lesson on cover crops I didn't give buckwheat a second thought as winter cover. It is killed by temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s. However, because it is low biomass, it is great for planting where I will put my early spring vegetables. Buckwheat takes up potassium from the soil and converts it to a form other plants can use. It grows rapidly, so when planted about a month or so before your expected first frost, it makes a nice stand. It was the first of the three covers to sprout this fall. Bees adore buckwheat flowers and make a rich, dark honey, that works great in suppressing coughs from the nectar. A large patch of flowering buckwheat nearly roars with the industry of bees.

--Other plants not usually called cover crops can be useful here, as well, even some weeds, such as henbit. (Why weed it out then? Just let it serve you.) Definitely don't let these weed plants set seed, though. Also some leafy green vegetables and annual herbs can serve as covers, it they sprout thickly enough. Right now I have a cover crop of arugula growing where the spring crop dropped seed. The beets and carrots I planted there did not germinate well (too hot and dry), so I let the arugula take over. Not only will it remain there until some pretty deep cold, I can eat it, too.

When planting cover crops, keep the seed bed moist until significant germination occurs. Then water occasionally until they get well established.

I will say no more. Check out my links for much more information. Just get your assets covered.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Garlic chives in full bloom produce an arresting site. Shortly before this photo was taken a tall Lady in Red salvia sported tall spikes of scarlet blossoms in front of this clump of garlic chives; scarlet and bright white together made a striking picture -- unfortunately I didn't get around to taking a photo until the red blossoms had dropped.

Garlic chives bloom relatively briefly in late summer -- for about two weeks or so. During that time the clump of garlic chives becomes a popular dining spot for all kinds of nectar-loving creatures. When the blossoms fade, they are replaced by little green capsules, that in time dry and spit out a black seed each. Dozens and dozens of seeds per clump of chives. Dozens and dozens of viable seed ready to turn into more garlic chives. This can be considered a good thing, or an annoyance. It all depends on where the garlic chives grow. These in my "ornamental" flower beds prove to be an annoyance when they start to spread. So before the little white flowers turn to seed I've got to cut off all the flower stalks.

One of the many visitors that dine on nectar of garlic chive blossoms.
However, I intentionally scattered seed around some fruit trees, where they've created a lovely spattering of starry flowers. Some friends of mine who live in the woods have a large patch of garlic chives (which do taste and smell like mild garlic) along the narrow path to their house. It is quite lovely.

These plants are hardy, suffering through heat and drought with no complaints. And -- I don't know if it's proper to use this term in relation to a non-critter -- fecund, with all of these seeds ready to make babies. I did not realize how persistent these gems are until I recently went to my parents' home for a family reunion. Around the southwest corner of the house, where I planted my first herb garden, garlic chives bloomed. Some of them had obviously been taken down with a string trimmer or mower, but numerous small clumps bloomed. I'm sure my mom didn't plant garlic chives, so the only explanation was that they were remainders from the herb garden I planted as a 16-year-old. Decades have passed since then.

As I've lately pondered about the impermanence of life (as I often do when summer moves into autumn, trees lose leaves, etc. etc.) I came up against something that wasn't quite so fleeting. The original garlic chive plant that I set into the ground decades (I mean decades) ago no longer lives, but its progeny do. The herb garden planted when I was a fledgeling herbalist/herb grower still survives in some form.

I wonder, will the offspring of these chive blossoms flower beneath the red cedar trees that overtake this land decades from now?

NOTE: Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, also called Chinese chives. Distinctly garlic in flavor; leaves are flat rather than round like regular chives. Originated from Asia, particularly northern China. Related to onions, etc. A member of the Liliaceae (Lily) family.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Fleeting Glory

The actual color of these beauties is a deeper purple, but the camera didn't pick it up. Grandpa Ott's morning glories.
Every morning I take my daily cup of tea or coffee onto the screened in porch where I meditate on the landscape before me. These days the sumac at the edge of the woods has taken on a bit of red. In a few weeks all of the sumac foliage will be brilliantly scarlet.

Trees still adorned in green rise behind the sumac; I think I see a bit of color in the green canopy, however. In front of the sumac the black raspberries lean on the trellis and stretch their canes down, hoping to touch tip to ground and take root (something I keep trying to discourage).

Long beans cover a trellis at the front of the vegetable beds on this side of the house. One end of that trellis is studded with rich purple morning glories -- Grandpa Ott's morning glories that have gone feral. They climb the pallets and fencing that enclose my compost area, so their seed winds up in the compost and morning glories spring up everywhere. I weed out some, let some grow, and miss some when I'm weeding leaving glorious weeds.
Is this the Heavenly Blue morning glory? An appropriate name.

While they grow all summer and start blooming about mid-summer, they are at their most glorious in late summer and early autumn. At some point I must have planted morning glories other than Grandpa Ott's because this lovely sky blue glory has covered the wire cage that supposedly supports a purple tomatillo. That's ok, because the tomatillo plant didn't fare so well. At least it's been replaced by something pretty.

A trellis in front of my house boasts a differently colored glory, an incandescent pink. While the blue glories might be descendants of a variety appropriately named "Heavenly Blue," I have no idea of the variety name of the pink, perhaps I'll call it "Stunning Pink."

Shall I call this one "Stunning Pink" morning glory?
Whatever their variety names, morning glories (genus name Ipomoea) belong to the Convolvulacea family. A black sheep of that family is the nefarious field bindweed, as well as the hedge bindweed, two small vines with pretty trumpet flowers (just smaller versions of morning glory flowers). Unlike morning glories, the bindweeds are perennial and extremely difficult to eradicate -- one reason they are designated a noxious weed.

A sweet potato blossom.
Morning glories also are close relations of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas), which produce a much more robust vine. And, yes, the vines that grow from our vegetable sweet potato roots also bloom, although not nearly as profusely as the morning glory vines. The ornamental sweet potato vines are possibly just varieties of this vegetable, but they are not tasty in any way, and I've never seen them flower.

To enjoy the morning glory blossoms I must get into the garden during the first part of the morning. By late morning they are closed and withering (except on cloudy days). Glorious as they are, their time is brief, impermanent.

And so they remind me, that while my "blossoming" is much longer than theirs, it also is impermanent. Everything I labor for on this land is impermanent. Once my hand no longer touches this place, everything will change.

At some point, I presume, human tending of this land will cease and Nature will do what she sees fit. Most likely the area will be covered by woody species -- first the sumac and flowering dogwood, an occasional hedge, elm or redbud, all of which will eventually be engulfed by the red cedars. Beneath it all, sleep the roots of an old prairie that began its days when the glacier retreated. As massive and powerful as that glacier was, shaping the hills and leaving behind gravel and large stones from places far to the north, it also was impermanent. Deeper down, the limestone bedrock tells the tale of an ancient seabed, now permanent in its impermanence. Beneath that, I don't know -- tales a billion years old. None of them permanent, yet the memory of all of these lies embedded in this land.

My tiny little piece of time here will go unnoticed in the sea of time. Like the morning glory blossoms, it will be brief. However, they flowers remind me to do my best to make it glorious.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Triage Begins

Raindrops on the plums.

These guys are ready to pick. They're not fully ripe, but in year's past I've learned that it might be a mistake to leave them on the tree too long. So I'll pick them and leave them out to ripen. Most of them will probably be dried. They are prune plums, after all.

Back to the raindrops... It's only been a little more than a week since our last rainfall, but two rains then totalled little more than a third of an inch. In all of July we received slightly more than an inch. And it's been hot. The water in my catchment tanks was getting low. As I started my weekly watering schedule yesterday I denied some plants their usual dose.

Hoping the rain forecast came true, I held off watering the asparagus and sweet potatoes, knowing they could withstand some dryness better than many other things in the garden. But the most critical decision was to hold off watering some of the tomatoes. It's time for triage.

I don't expect this to be a drought-breaker. We got just 0.61 of an inch this morning. It's a relief. It means I don't have to water as much today. But it's not a drought-breaker. The 10-day forecast calls for another good chance of rain in another week. However, too often we've missed out when the forecast was 80 percent chance, or just received a small dose. And often I've gotten excited about a rain chance just a few days away, only to watch the percent chance dwindle as the day nears. So this lets me kick back a little, puts more water in my storage tanks, but it's no drought-breaker.

So, yesterday, I decided I could let go of most of the Black Plum tomatoes. As always happens with this variety, they've started looking pitiful before all of the other tomato plants. Their leaves are turning brown, and some of the stems are dying. It does this every year at this time. This variety is so productive, however, that I've gotten about as many as I can stand by now. Quite a few pint jars of roasted Black Plum tomatoes have been stashed in the freezer for later. I'm OK with letting them go. I've earmarked a couple of plants for saving -- the best looking ones -- and next week I'll start taking down the rest. I actually like being forced to remove some of the tomato plants early. It saves me time later when cold weather kills the rest.
These squash plants are now compost.

I've already removed one patch of summer squash. They were very happy plants, in spite of the fact that the squash bugs were multiplying. They sprawled into the paths on both sides of their bed, in spite of my constant moving them aside, making travel down the paths difficult. Most important, though, was that I had a difficult time dealing with all the squash. Four more cluster of squash plants grow in another area and are hitting their peak production. I just couldn't anymore. The other day we invited a neighbor to take as much of it as he wanted. I saw him carry several armloads of squash to his truck. Still... more squash. The next day another neighbor picked a large basket full of squash.

Still, more squash. Yesterday I picked another large basket full of somewhat oversized squash and some smaller ones. Yesterday I steamed a bunch of squash that had been in the fridge for several days, and some of yesterday's smaller pickings. A small boxful of  will be shared with people at my husband's clinic. Today I sliced several of them to dry into chips. And I've still got more to deal with. Some (the round lemon squash) will be sliced and dried as chips; the long, green and yellow Zephyrs will become lasagna noodles. Bags of roasted and steamed squash, as well as squash grated for winter batches of "zucchini" bread, sit in my freezer already and I expect to add even more before all is said and done.
Lemon Squash; because of the shape and color.
It tastes like summer squash, not lemons.

When a friend on social media asked people to describe the past few weeks of this summer in two words most people replied with the obvious, "Too Hot," "Too Dry." My response was, "Mucho Squash," as that has been the dominant theme here, other than the weather.

And cucumbers. Lots of cucumbers. What do you do with all those cucumbers? We eat them almost every meal -- slices, chopped, and made into fatoush (a Mediterranean salad that features cukes). We use them in infused water with lime and mint. I've fermented cucumber dill pickles. I'm even toying with the idea of using them in stir fry, as suggested by a few other bloggers. But I took out one of my patches of cucumbers. The earliest one that was looking a bit rough.

Now that it's time to plant the fall garden, reducing the watering seems not just appropriate, but imperative. Anything that's either overproducing or not pulling its weight can go. I'll let the Black Plums go for a while, taking only what water falls from the sky. Then it's "off with their heads." For weeks I contemplated pulling out the purple podded pole beans. Then I saw tiny pods on the vines. Yesterday I picked quite a few. So even though they look really, really rough, they can stay for a while. Until I determine that they're no longer worth the water.


Far from being a sad time, I feel rather excited about clearing some of the planting areas. I love the look of a recently cleared bed laid with fresh hay. Like spring cleaning, only in summer.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Waiter, There's a Bug in My Soup -- Can I have More?

Crepe myrtle supposedly is a favored food of Japanese beetles, but I haven't seen
any on my crepe myrtles.
Many gardeners I know have been talking about Japanese beetles this summer. They've hit some of us in plague-like numbers. They finally worked their way to Kansas (after accidentally being introduced to the U.S. in the early 1900s) in recent years and their numbers are on the rise.

In the last few years I've seen a Japanese beetle here and there, but not so many I became concerned. Last year I heard about them attacking an apple tree and some other things at the Medicinal Plant Research Garden near Lawrence. But I wasn't worried.

This year they descended on Spirit Bird Farm in force, first becoming noticeable on the ripening peaches. This was a blessing in disguise. Because the beetles threatened to consume all of the peaches, I climbed into the trees to salvage what I could, as well as knock as many beetles as possible into buckets of soapy water (which quickly drowns them). This meant I got the peaches before the squirrels did (mostly). My harvest was much larger than last year's.Two quarts of diced peaches in the freezer may not sound like much, but it's more than double what I put away last year. Plus I've eaten fresh peaches and baked a pint-sized batch of peaches with ghee (clarified butter) and powdered vanilla. Extraordinary.

Then I found hordes of the shiny green beetles on the grape leaves, the okra, a tall wildflower called gaura, and some of the apple trees. They were not only eating the apple leaves but some of the fruit on the summer apple. These little beetles can't cut through an apple skin on their own, from my understanding, but took advantage of breaks in the skin made by birds or other critters. Then they converged on the vulnerable apple and ate a cavern into it. They've eaten on the Souvenir de la Malmaison rose a little, but not too badly, even though roses are one of their favorite foods.

So for the past month I've been focused on getting rid of Japanese beetles. Hand picking, insecticidal soap and neem oil, possibly pyrethrum are the organic methods. But they're like the rabbits -- kill a few hundred and there are thousands to take their place. Fortunately, according to a Missouri Conservation publication, the beetles usually disappear around mid-August.

Or is it fortunate?

After seeing the quantities of beetles I collected in the soapy water, my husband asked an inevitable question (inevitable in our household, anyway), "Are Japanese beetles edible?"

I wrote about eating insects last year, when we started looking at ways to diversify our diet and started munching on crickets and especially grasshoppers. When cooked, dried and ground, grasshoppers have a flavor somewhat like chili powder without the heat.
Japanese beetles on the underside of an okra leaf.

Anyway, the answer is, yes, Japanese beetles are edible. Rinse and cook them first, of course. But the answer to "How do we control Japanese beetles?" might just turn out to be "Eat them." So far the main info we've found is to confirm that the beetles are edible. We haven't found recipes, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out how to cook them, especially after our first foray into insect cuisine. Saute them, bake them, boil them. Then throw them into whatever dish strikes your fancy. I can see baked or sauteed bugs as a crunchy salad topping. Or dry and grind the cooked beetles and use them as a protein additive to soups, stews, and even baked goods. No one will know about your secret ingredient.

Their grubs, and those of the June bug and Green June beetle, also are edible. But the adults are much easier to gather.

The bugs are best collected in the cool of the morning or evening hours, especially when in shade, when they are more sluggish and less likely to fly. I've been knocking them into a wide mouth pint canning jar and slapping the lid on before they fly away. My husband just discovered the suggestion to use the upper portion of a plastic bottle inverted like a funnel into a jar. The bugs easily fall in, but can't fly out. That way I'm not constantly dropping the lid.

When I'm done collecting the beetles, I stick them in the freezer. An easy and humane kill.

So now that I've taken to looking at Japanese beetles as another thing to harvest from the garden, their numbers are decreasing. Figures. At least now I can almost look forward to their return next year.


Monday, July 16, 2018


Summer has matured into cicada song.

Yesterday evening I sat on the porch drinking in the magnificent colors of the waning day.

Pink-gray clouds floated against a nearly turquoise sky. The whole world was bathed in a golden light. All the other colors of the world shone with more intensity -- the straw that lines the side of the foremost raised bed became the color of true gold. The red blossoms of the royal catchfly almost hurt my eyes in their intensity.

And, of course, green glowed with brilliance in the golden light.

This was not the soft golden light that envelops the world at sunset in late fall and winter -- the light created by long, slanting rays of sunlight.

No, this light was created by atmospheric conditions hinting at a summer rain and storm -- at least the potential. This light had an energy that said "wake up."

I sipped my tea and watched the colors change.

Then I noticed the cicada song, not the constant drone of the full cicada season, but one buzz here, one over there... In the space between cicada calls I heard a distant bird song, then a frog croak.

A few nights earlier the air was full of frog song.

Now the cicadas, after a year underground, are emerging to live their last few weeks flying, singing, and mating. The cicada song pulled my attention so completely into the moment that I almost felt I'd stepped into a dream.

The golden light dimmed...
And the fireflies began dancing.

Sunday, June 10, 2018


June blooms with typical profusion... sort of. The poppies are rather scarce this year. Previous years' photos show the "flower" beds along the house rife with poppies. I scattered plenty of seed in late winter. But it was dry. And kept on being dry. Still is dry. And no portent for it being wet anytime soon.

Tomorrow night's forecast holds a 50 percent hope for thunderstorms and rain. It could happen. But it's going to take more than one storm to break the drought.

So I'm pulling the plug on the broccoli. More accurately, I'm pulling the hose. The soaker hose I've been using to keep the broccoli hydrated will get pulled tomorrow and placed somewhere else. At some point you've got to ask yourself -- Is it worth the effort to keep the broccoli (or whatever) going?

At this point I've got to say that the broccoli isn't earning its keep. While I'm thrilled with each head of flower buds I take off the broccoli plants, it's not enough to be worth the water to keep it going. So the broccoli will be the first casualty of the drought... anyway, the first intentional casualty.

I made the mistake of putting the eggplants in the garden right before going away for a long weekend. They would survive better in the ground than in the tiny starter pots they were in -- and my husband would have one less thing to water while I was gone. We even got a little rain the first night I was gone, but the heat that followed burned the little plants. I've tried saving them with water and kelp solution. But I think it's time to give up on them... most of them, anyway.

I had planned to transplant a number of things this summer, but that's going to have to wait. Everything I've transplanted so far has been fried by the heat. Maybe it's alive, but I doubt it will be for long. I might go ahead and dig up the thornless blackberries, but I will hold them in pots in a shady spot where I can keep them well watered until fall. I ordered a bareroot Montmorency cherry tree (I couldn't pass up the deal -- $9.99 for the tree and just eight bucks shipping. You can't get a tree for $18 any other time). It's in a large pot of soil waiting for fall. I hope we're seeing wetter weather by then.

Speaking of fall, I'm now wondering just how much of a fall garden to put in. Should I reduce the size because of the lack of rain? Or will it start raining by then? It will soon be time to start the cabbages. I need to decide.

And I'm still waiting for my sweet potato slips to arrive. I'm almost afraid to plant them. Won't they just burn up in the heat? I'll try wetting the planting sites good before sticking them in the ground, cross my fingers and pray for rain. That's all I can do except keep the garden hose going.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

All Aflutter

These stately common milkweed plants (Asclepius syriaca) have flowered wonderfully this year. If you've never gotten up close and personal with common milkweed in bloom, I recommend that you do so. The pale violet-pink blossoms have an exquisite fragrance.

Fortunately these milkweeds -- as well as another stand of them a few feet away -- are readily accessible for a random inhalation. We also have a great view of them from our screened in porch, where we eat most of our meals during the warm months. So we can be entertained by the flutterings of various butterflies taking sustenance from the blossoms.

Most of the butterflies I've seen at the milkweed blossoms have been these little pale, pale blue ones (below), and the majestic orange and black fritillaries. I'm not absolutely certain which fritillary this beauty is -- Kansas boasts five different fritillary species -- but it might be the Great Spangled Fritillary.

I have seen one Monarch
supping at the flowers. Just one. Even if I hadn't seen the one adult Monarch butterfly I would know that the milkweeds have been visited by at least one Monarch female. Otherwise, how would this little guy (see below) be chewing on the buds? I've also seen a few of these caterpillars crawling along looking for someplace to hang their green and gold chrysalises.

After I explained the Monarch's relationship with the milkweed, he began calling these "sacrificial" plants. Indeed, they are. I plant them for the caterpillars. But I get to enjoy them, as well. So far the caterpillars haven't done much damage to the plants, although a couple of much smaller ones have been defoliated and are just crooked stems.

This is one of the reasons for planting native plants, to feed the native critters, which recognize these plants as food, where they might not find some of the introduced plants palatable. And butterflies tend to lay their eggs on only one type of plant, although the adults can sip nectar from almost any nectar-producing blossom. In this case, Monarch caterpillars only feed on members of the milkweed genus -- although I recently read that they will use another plant in a pinch, but I forget which one.

The population of Monarch butterflies has decreased dramatically in part because we've stomped out milkweed populations. Besides feeding the Monarch babies, these beautiful prairie plants also sustain adults of other native butterflies and bees. Last month a cluster of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) was skeletonized by little spiny caterpillars, which I discovered were the larvae of the small, Silvery Checkerspot butterfly. Go ahead and plant zinnias for the adults to drink from, but plant some nursery plants, too.

The butterflies (and the birds and other critters they feed) will thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


The sound of rain falling soothed me as I lay in the hammock on the porch last night. It brought just one tenth of an inch, but I was glad the storm did not entirely pass us by again.

On Monday evening I headed to Holton (nearly an hour drive) to give a presentation for a garden club, and left early (just as refreshments were served) because of thunderstorm watches and warnings. I drove nearly halfway home in heavy rain, listening to reports of thunderstorm warnings -- complete with threat of hail -- for my area. As I drove I calculated that I would reach the warning area at about the time the warning was supposed to expire. So I was relieved I wouldn't be driving in quarter-size hail.

But alas, I reached the area to discover that no rain had fallen. I arrived home as a sprinkle spotted the sidewalk, and nothing more. I enjoyed the somewhat cooler weather that came with the storm system, but felt frustrated by the continuing lack of moisture. I tried not to let the lack of rain dampen my enthusiasm, but I'm not supposed to have to water regularly in May.

Get used to it, Sister. You're going to have to deal with a lot of "not supposed to" weather situations as the climate continues shifting. But the iris are in bloom, prettily colored and fragrant flowers named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris.

And the rain last night helped to soothe other wounds, where I've been rubbed raw by the idiocy that seems rampant in this world.

Thank goodness for rain and rainbows.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Summer Settles In

Ah, I think it's safe to go gardening.

At least I know what season it is...

Summer. And it doesn't look like that's going to change. Finally, a little stability.

The peas are starting to climb. The Montmorency cherry tree has burst into bloom. It appears to be safe to plant beans, maybe even the tomatoes. And we've had a little rain, with a little more in the forecast. Asparagus is popping up. We've survived third or fourth Winter (I lost track).

And I've finished the final edit on my book, so now I can spend the entire day gardening. Look out Weeds, here I come!

I cut the first rhubarb of the season yesterday. Actually, it was the first rhubarb harvest in years. I'd transplanted it from one place to another, and it just struggled to stay alive for a few years (it was probably the walnut trees that kept it from thriving). Now it's in a more hospitable place and thriving. It now has two tiny little companions from One Heart Farm. When I asked if they had any rhubarb, he said yes, he'd started it from seed just because he wanted rhubarb. He had them in little four-packs, but I really only wanted one, so I picked a four-pack that only had two. He quoted a price of $2, which I thought was extremely reasonable. Then he just gave them to me. I'll go back soon. I know I can find other plants I can't live without.

I don't know what variety the rhubarb is. It's got red stems. cute tiny red stems, and he said it is a European variety, "they're really focusing on pies." So maybe it's a bit less tangy than typical? It will be a few years before I can taste test, though. I'll have to do a bit of research on rhubarb, now.

Anyway... Yay, rhubarb. And yay, One Heart Farm in Lawrence. I'll have to do a blog about them, too, maybe.

Oh, and I missed Naked Gardening Day. That was yesterday, May 5. It would have been a lovely day for naked gardening. Next year.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


April 8, 2018.
Yes, it's April; the beginning of the second week in April, in fact.

And it snowed today... again.

And the prairie anemone, also called Pasque flower because it blooms around Easter time, is opening its blossoms. Snow covered blossoms.

In the fields other snow "blossoms" mysteriously appeared. Tiny little spider webs strewn among the tall brown weeds, capturing snowflakes instead of flies. They were everywhere -- among the tall grasses, in the woods. An unexpected blossoming.

Magic is everywhere.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

April Fool

Sweetgrass in the foreground, nettles across the snow covered path. Yes, this is April.
Mother Nature has her own way of playing April Fool pranks.

Thought it was Spring... didn't you?
Guess again! Bwahahaha!

Fifty three baby cabbage plants in the ground (minus one that gotten taken out by a cutworm), plus five bok choy plants. Tiny rutabaga seedlings nestled in the hay. I had planned to get my broccoli plants in the ground before the end of last week. Then I looked at the weather forecast.

Twenty-nine forecast for this morning was no worry. The cabbages have been in the ground long enough that they can handle it.

But tonight's 25 and Tuesday night's 23? That's a bit too low even for the cabbage family, especially if they're newly planted.

Needless to say, the broccoli plants aren't even on the front porch anymore. They're crammed onto the light shelves. The broccoli plants are getting way too big to be in those little pots."

And it's snowing. It was sleeting, rat-a-tat-tatting on the canvas hood of my heavy coat when I went out to put more sheets and blankets on the cabbages. Then it turned to fine snow. But it is beautiful. Early green things show through the fine white stuff. The sweetgrass, nearly a foot tall, glows yellow-green, while behind it the nettle patch hums in deep green. The sleet-snow is so deep that the fuzzy gray-green leaves of the lambs ear barely shines through. Patches of green grass everywhere.

It might feel like winter, but it looks like spring. Green. The snow won't last long. The temperatures will rise this week, but not fast or high enough to suit me. It's April, for crying out loud. I planted peas almost a month ago. Where are they? Too smart to stick their heads up before Winter has its final say.

I watch the snow fall and the temperature stick stubbornly at 27 degrees. I stroke the broccoli plants getting ready to break out of their starter pots. They're safe inside. At least I wasn't that much of an April fool.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


The season shifts...

One week ago I discovered the first cluster of yellow crocus blooms. They grow in a narrow strip of dirt between the house and sidewalk. This spot is much warmer than other areas as the metal wall of the house and concrete of the sidewalk absorb the intense morning sunlight, radiating the heat later.

The next day I noticed the sunny yellow winter aconite blooming, and one lonely little snowdrop. On Saturday I discovered some of the rock iris had bloomed. Today all of these blossoms were buffeted by the stiff March wind. However, one of the rock iris was held steady in the embrace of some thyme, which has not yet regained its color.

One week in and March has shown us all of its moods. It began pleasantly warm and sunny, with a little breeze, then turned moody. It gave us a cold shoulder and gloomy skies. Today its mood deepened with a blustery cold wind and snow flurries. If the forecast holds true, March will again reveal a warm and sunny disposition.
Rock iris in the arms of thyme

Ah yes, March.

We're tired of lugging wood in to feed the fire. Tired of kicking about little bits of wood and sawdust that fall off the fuel logs. Whenever the temperature begins climbing into the 50s, especially if it's sunny, we wonder, "Should we let the fire go out today?" But I hesitate because I hate being chilled. Either we keep the fire going and let it get a bit too warm inside, or let it go out and feel chilly all day.

But March has brought flowers with the winds, and a little bit of greening. Tiny cleavers are popping up and will soon be rambling among the mint. The fuzzy lamb's ear has green hearts. The elm trees are budding. Yesterday I think I saw a turkey vulture circling low over a field. The vultures left about mid-October. Their return means spring also returns. I think it was a vulture, anyway. I was certain when I saw it, briefly as we were driving home with a cord of wood in our truck -- getting ready for next winter's fires. A few yards down the road a crow flapped across the road and then I wasn't certain. But I know the shape and manner of the vulture. It had to be.

Lamb's ear begins to glow green.
Soon we should hear song birds warming up their vocal chords (do birds have vocal cords?) each morning as mating and nesting season arrives. And when I hear the first frog sing, then it will truly be spring.

But today looked a lot like winter. Tomorrow... who knows?

It is March, fickle with its moods. Tomorrow I will set out the baby cabbage plants for a couple of hours to start the hardening off process, so I can plant them in the garden in two or three weeks. Tomorrow I may put seeds of eggplant and peppers in soil filled pots to grow transplants for May. Next week it will be tomatoes. Sow cilantro seed today, spinach, maybe some lettuce and peas. Count down the days until carrots and onions can go in the ground. Spring is on its way.;

March grumbles and growls, then suddenly smiles.
The season shifts...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

My Favorite Time of the Year

A not uncommon question others ask me in reference to the garden is, "What is your favorite season?"

I often feel that they expect me to respond with "Spring," or perhaps "Summer."

My actual response, "Whatever season I'm in."

True to that response, I really love this time of year. Winter still reigns, with all of the ups and downs the local climate has assumed in recent years. The trees remain leafless. The warm season grasses rattle and crunch underfoot, and give a brown glow to the landscape. Even the weeds have almost stopped popping up -- although some that had sprouted before the worst winter cold remain green.

Winter grips the land, in spite of our recent warm days. The only green in the garden, besides the small patches of henbit, can be found in the diminished patch of leeks from last summer. I've wintered them in place by mostly burying them in hay and covering them with an old comforter during the coldest days and nights.

But we have left Deep Winter. One can feel the stirring of Spring. Last week I noticed green spears of crocus leaves emerging in the narrow strip between the house and sidewalk. While digging a couple of days ago I uncovered daffodil bulbs with little white shoots getting ready to poke their heads into the light.

Geese have returned to the sky, on their way to northern
nesting sites. Buds swell on the apple trees. The forecast holds contradictions... today's high winds, and warm and dry weather give us conditions ripe for wildfires; in two days we may experience freezing rain (everyone's favorite -- not). The world transitions from winter to spring, creating highly fickle weather, that even the best forecasters can't accurately predict. We have divided the year neatly into four seasons, but there's nothing "neat" about the real seasons. In truth we have many, including these seasons of transition.

This seems a period of precarious balance in the world. While I can feel the excitement building as bulbs and roots and seeds stir in anticipation of spring, the garden remains asleep. I won't plant outdoors for at least another month. I walk through the sleeping garden without hurry. Many tasks can be done now -- at least when a few warm days thaw the soil -- but I feel no rush, no crunch, no flurry. Weeds don't grow out of control overnight. Few of the tasks have hard and fast deadlines, unlike the tasks of spring and summer.

I feel myself breathing. I allow myself time to walk through my wild places, to sit in my Sanctuary among the cedar trees. And the winter garden is beautiful. I can see its bones. I can feel its soul. In some ways, I feel more at peace now than when green growth threatens to overwhelm me. I rest. I write. I am. I feel myself in deeper communion with the natural world around me.


Yet it is a time of great anticipation.

This has got to be my favorite season.

And next month, when we observe the Spring Equinox. I will say the same thing. But today I will stay here and enjoy the gifts of this season.