Thursday, September 29, 2011

Outdoor Work

I have wanted to spend every sunny moment puttering outside.
Many garden chores remain that couldn't be done during the weeks when the weather was so hot and dry.
D. came over on Sunday afternoon wanting 'something to do.'
I suggested he might mow the grass--roaring about on the lawn mower has a certain appeal for him.
He knew that I have been wanting to move some of the rocks that form the boundries of an old flower bed and this was the task that he chose.
Within days of arriving here in March 2010, I discovered the legacy of the two peony bushes at the edge of the area we chose for the main vegetable garden.  It wasn't until early July this year that I tackled clearing along the fence line with the thought of putting in more peonies and some filler plants.
I grubbed away, pulling out clumps of tangled grass, disrupting a mole run, wrenching at some tenacious and un-named prickly shrubs.  I persisted, laboring in an afternoon of 90+ [F] heat until I realized that I was becoming light-headed!
It seemed wise not to continue this project in the punishing heat of high summer.
Time was that I would have tackled moving rocks or digging up roots--and suffered the physical consequences with an air of 'mission accomplished.'
I can't say I am wiser now--I simply recognize that wishing and willing to do a task that requires physical stamina isn't realistic.

D. tore into clumps of grass and the wiry roots of the bushes with shovel and  the small tiller, while I followed on hands and knees to grub out and pile the loosened debris and unwind poison ivy vines.
Willis, as usual, joined us to inspect our work.
He behaves as though any turned earth is for his benefit!

The area isn't ideal for a flower bed.  The water maple on the other side of the fence sends out the vast shallow root system typical of the species. The utility pole must be worked around.
D. chose large flat pieces of stone and angled them around the base of the pole.  I will be watchful whether the poison ivy sends up new shoots around the rocks. 
[If so, I shall be ruthless and hit them with Round-Up!]
D. took advantage of the slightly sloping ground to create a rustic stone step up into the little garden.

We had to quit before we were quite finished.
There are a few more rocks to be placed on the far end of the wall and dirt needs to be
barrowed down to deepen and level the planting area.
I have two young peonies in the perennial bed to move here.  I have divided the clumps of iris which we rescued from the weeds; they will be set along the right side of the bed. I have two varietes of nepeta--Walkers Low and Sibirica-- which have gone rampant in the rose border.  I will plant some at the back of this new bed where it can do battle with the encroaching grass and spread itself along the fence.
I think that thyme or some low growing 'pinks' would make a nice edging.
Another summer I plan to till [have someone till!] along the fence on the veg garden side and plant sunflowers where they will have the support of the sturdy wire.
My kind of flower gardening is very informal, a rather rustic interpretation of cottage gardening.
D.'s creation in rough stone gives me the sense of a New England farm dooryard.
Mr. Rogers, the former owner of the place, stopped by today with a gift of
watermelon seeds for next year's garden.
He told me that the rocks we are using are some which he salvaged from a massive stone chimney, demolished, as was the old farmhouse on the site, to make way for our present small house, built in 1980.
I like knowing these bits of homely history.

Today was beautiful and sunny.
I had coffee and a bowl of warmed apple crisp while sitting on the front porch, then hauled out sacks of potting soil, an assortment of pots and such.
The rosemarys needed potting on as did the beefsteak and angel wing begonias which have spent the summer on the porch.
I consolidated three Christmas cactus into one large pot.
[The Christmas cactus is one of only two plants which survived the move from Vermont to Wyoming 13 years ago.  My large rosemarys, begonias, and an assortment of geramiums all turned up their toes and died in protest over the alkaline content of the water there.]

Sun splashed over the south-east end of the porch all morning.
I went down to the creek and picked up small stones from the gravel track, using them for drainage in the bottoms of the flowerpots.
I like to make a rather gritty light soil mixture for rosemarys, but found that the local Wal Mart has put away all their gardening supplies--no bags of vermiculite or builders sand--or even mulch, so all my plants
have to thrive, willy-nilly, in the all-purpose mix still available in ridculously small bags.

I made a grand mess on the porch: spilled soil, pots which needed to be scrubbed, prunings, clay shards from a cracked terra cotta pot which I bashed up to serve as drainage pieces.
The larger jagged shards are stuck in the soil around the repotted plants which will be coming inside for the winter, as Charlie Cat and his children have a love of making 'salad' from house plants.

The Angel Wing begonias are offspring of  one that came from Vermont.  Heidi took cuttings before the original plant succumbed to the alkaline water and gave me several small well-rooted plants.
They were quite battered after a winter of cat attacks, but  summer on the porch has given them new life.
I am hoping the bristling stakes of bamboo in the pots will deter feline interest.
A friend started the beefsteak begonias for me a year ago when I admired hers.
I have had these since late June and they were ready for larger pots.
Space for plants is a problem in this small house.
In Wyoming I had many large windows, but toxic water.  Here in Kentucky our water quality is good but space for indoor plants is minimal [and such as there is, invaded by cats!]

My Amish neighbor Delila grew a  garden row of the brilliant cockscomb [celosia.]
I brought home several of the flowerheads last evening and laid them on the porch to dry.
As I worked there today I noticed a pair of hummingbirds zooming close--I think they were attracted by the bright flowers.
I made the hummers a fresh batch of sugar syrup for their feeder.
Then, with the porch swept, two lavender seedlings set out at the edge of the herb garden, and
newly potted plants in a tidy row, it was time to sit with a mug of green tea.
If only I could learn the gentle art of sitting still--without a renewable list of "things to do"whirling through my mind!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quiet Autumn Days

Mornings have continued to be cool and misty.
Yesterday I went out in J.'s old raincoat and my wellies to give Pebbles her grain and to feed the barn cats.
Pebbles had her hooves trimmed on Tuesday and is looking very smart.
I went into the upper garden to dig a few carrots for the beef/barley soup I had promised D.
Pebbles lurked near the fence knowing that she would be offered a carrot.
In spite of the drizzle I was reluctant to hurry inside.
I snipped fresh thyme, marjoram and parsley for the soup and brushed fallen maple leaves from the small lavender plants which I raised from seed.

The creeping thyme which I planted around the stepping stones in the herb garden has spread
 into a springy mat.

I had several catnip plants in the near end of the herb garden but removed them as they were very invasive.
I'm hoping the lavenders will over-winter and that the two seedling ones in the forground
will thrive and spread.
I need to add some low-growing plants along the cellar stair wall at left of the photo.

Kentucky Colonel Spearrmint, Apple Mint, Lemon Balm and Catnip are growing in front of the Red Knock-Out Roses by the garage wall. By August the mint stems had turned brown and the leaves had lost their  savor. I cut it back and the recent cool rains have inspired it to flourish.

It is possible to pick fresh catnip through much of the winter here.  New leaves huddle at the base of the stalk waiting to shoot up at the first sign of spring.  I may dry some catnip for winter as the cats love to wallow in a handful sprinkled on the kitchen floor.

Red Knock-Out Roses.  I have been disappointed in the hollyhocks [foreground] as some sort of tiny caterpillar turns the leaves to rusty lace. The hollyhocks which managed to blossom had rather feeble pastel colors which looked bleached out in the heat of summer.  I may ruthlessly uproot these!

The Michaelmas daisies by the grape arbor are at the height of their bloom.

This is a very tall variety as you can see here.

The scent of the Michaelmas daisies is brisk and clean.

Trumpet vine threatens to take over any plant or structure that it uses for support. J. pulled it away from this crabapple tree in the spring but it has crept back.
In New England a trumpet vine was something to be coaxed through the winter.  If it managed to send up hesitant shoots, let alone flower, it was a triumph.  Here, it is an invasive pest.  There are many volunteer plants in the dooryard, massive vines have been pulled down from the old barn walls, still they spring up along the boundary line woods and in the pasture.

These "puffballs" are edible.  J. has been slicing them to fry with onion, green pepper and sliced okra.
They taste very similar to Portobello mushrooms.

I have felt that my rugosa roses were not flourishing, perhaps not adjusting well to such hot and humid summers.  Roserie de l'Hay has put out a runner which has resulted in this  new seedling which I will carefully replant in the border.
There are still many garden chores to be done before cold weather, late crops to harvest.
Today I gave in to the need for some quiet time.
With the horse and cats fed, litter boxes clean, and breakfast cleared away, I pulled the wicker loveseat into a sunny patch on the front porch and made myself comfortable there with a book and a mug of tea.
J.'s old Raisin-Cat prowled around the yard, then came back to sprawl in the sun for a meticulous bath.
She surprised me by leaping up to my lap--which required that I move my book to accomodate her .
We stayed there until the sun slid around the corner of the house leaving us in chilly shade.
I tipped Raisin off my lap, unfolded myself and came inside to heat left-over soup and toast a bagel.
My book kept me company at the table while the cats milled in and out the sliding door.
They have been restless and twitchy this week, perhaps echoing my own response to the unsettled weather.

Willow prowls;
 Charlie has made a bed in the laundry basket.
Raisin and Teasel are politely edging each other for possession of the big rocking chair.
I stand at the sliding door for a moment, sniffing the cool scents of a damp autumn night, listening to the faint chirring of the cicadas, no longer the noisy nocturnal presence of July and August.
Across the hall pillows are piled invitingly at the head of the bed and there are books on the small table.
Perhaps if the mistress of the house leads the way, the cats will agree that it is time to call it a day!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Autumnal Equinox

J. and I decided on Monday to drive to the next county to an apple orchard we had seen advertised.
It was an old orchard, family owned, and located on a spur of road off the main highway.
We had expected to pick our own apples--a prospect which lost its appeal as a chilly drizzle turned to bursts of hard rain.
The elderly proprietor of the orchard had several bins of ready picked apples in his sales shed and we opted to take a bushel of Red Delicious and a half bushel of Winesaps.
Our second destination was the Mennonite produce auction.  We were early [not having to pick our apples] so went up the road a mile or so to the bulk foods store for whole wheat flour and a few items to stock my baking supply cupboard.
Produce was being arranged on pallets on the auction floor when we returned.  Some of it is brought in from away, but as we watched, several local Mennonite farmers arrived in buggies, bringing small amounts of their home grown produce.
I was intrigued to note that one fellow came clanking down the road on his iron-wheeled tractor, a huge umbrella fixed in place to shelter him from the drizzle.
His wife huddled on the trailer, seated amidst crates of squash and pumpkins.  She wore a zipped sweatshirt with her sprigged calico dress and apron and had a headscarf over her requisite white cap---but
 she had no umbrella!
The flowers were sold first--mostly ranks of mums in every possible color.  I liked the flats of pansies with their rain-dampened faces.

A gnarled and bent old fellow with a leathery face wheeled in several dozen of these potted mums. They were lovely in their full-blown state, but wouldn't 'hold' long if bought for resale.

Peppers have been an abundant crop this year.  These red ones stood out on such a gloomy day. 

Most of the produce in this aisle went in lots--the highest bidder being allowed to declare how many boxes he wished to purchase.
I had J. buy me a single box of sweet banana peppers.

J. likes the pickled sweet peppers in sandwiches and I have bought them before ready made.
It was tedious removing the seeds and slicing these, but once that was done it was quick work to bottle and process them in brine.

This stand of tall Michaelmas daisies must have been planted years ago.
They fill the space between the old grape arbor and the clothesline.
The recent rains have weighted them down.

These are likely one of the many hybrids available.
In the northeast where I grew up, the wildlings along the roadsides are known as New England Asters.
I have noted that in different locations the color can vary from a blue-purple through a clear deep purple.  Traveling through Ohio years ago in September I found asters of a deep dusty pink growing in roadside clumps where the thru-way rolled through farming country.  I'm guessing that the type of soil may alter the coloration within related wild varieties.

Hawkeye Belle.
I wasn't expecting to be so taken with this hardy shrub rose.
It has continued to bloom in spite of heat and drought and invasions of Japanese beetles.
With the return of cool moist weather it is producing a steady show of lightly scented blooms.

Double Red Knock-Out is likewise proving her worth as a landscape rose that takes all weather in stride.
Nearly every local dooryard that has flowers has a hedge or speciman plant of these tough survivors.

Yellow Simplicity has also appreciated the recent rains.
Some of her foliage is looking tatty but the blooms still captivate me.

A red salamander on the rain-wet steps that go out and up from the basement level.
I was on litter box duty and nearly put my foot down on the sally, noticing it at the last moment.

September is my favorite month of the year. Where ever I have lived I have noted the week of the autumnal equinox, stirred to restlessness by the storms of wind and rain which so often accompany this season.
I am Christian in my belief and practice, yet have empathy with those who honor the turning of the seasons from a pagan's perspective.
I grew up in the country, well versed in the folklore of weather and seasons. My father and my Grampa Mac who lived next door were men who knew and noted the harbingers of seasonal change, hoarding the recollected wisdom of other years which informed their predictions of weather to come.

With the hay crop stored and the oats harvested and threshed, Grampa Mac spent sunny autumn afternoons digging potatoes, lifting the onions and spreading them on the newspaper covered porch floor to dry.
The wide door to the dirt floored cellar stood open while the potatoes were trundled to wooden bins in the cooler chamber beyond the wood furnace. Great chunks of maple, beech and elm
[Grampa pronounced it 'ell-um'] were ranked along the walls opposite the squatting furnace.
The big crocks which would once have held a winter supply of sauerkraut or dill pickles or salt pork, stood empty now save for a few spiders.  The few glass jars of currant jelly and ripe cucumber pickles produced by my Uncle Bill lined the wooden shelves of the small first floor entry to the cellar just above the
 crooked wooden staircase. 
I loved the nose-crinkling reek of the place--packed earth, the homely smell of potatoes and onions, the slightly sour tang of the firewood. It was a small-scale labyrinth of damp rock walls which jutted unevenly, of beams and the furnace duct work to bump the heads of those adults who forgot to bend low.

Grampa Mac grew pumpkins in the field corn rows which had to be harvested by hand before the corn could be cut and chopped for silage.  These were laid tenderly on horse blankets in the bed of the horse-drawn wagon which was left parked near the porch until Grampa had time to sort the pumpkins and take them down to the cellar shelves. He kept seed of winter squash [Hubbards] from year to year, throwing some each spring onto the richness of the horse manure pile, sowing a handful in hills at the bottom of the vegetable garden.  Over the years the squash plants had "crossed" and we never knew whether the squash rinds would be deep orange, blue grey or dark green, whether their skins would be warted or smooth. If a squash when baked proved to particularly 'meaty' and sweet the seeds were set  in an old tin in the warming cupboard of the wood kitchen range, to be saved when dry in a carefully labeled screw-top jar.

Autumn sobers me with rainy days that seep into the early twilight of a chilly night.  Autumn exhilerates with afternoons of such golden light and warmth that to stay indoors is unthinkable.
Delicate woodland flowers and the blowsy heady-scented blooms of the summer perennial border
have given way to the astringency of Michalemas daisies and goldenrod,
 the tannin of wet oak leaves, and the rich scents of ripeness which stops short of decay.

Misty mornings are tinged with wood smoke, a fire more to comfort than a necessity.  In New England we watched the sky, listened anxiously to the weather reports especially as the September moon waxed full.  Many a September twilight found me tucking old sheets and towels and tattered grain sacks around tomato plants and tender herbs hoping to extend the harvest for another few weeks.
Here in Kentucky I am wary, not yet well acquainted with warmer seasons, but alert to protect my fall plantings of vegetables.
If I could have my way, where-ever I have lived, the joys and the harvest labors of September would be extended, shrinking winter to a mere month or two of cold and darkness.
As it is, each of these fleeting autumn days is savored to the full, stored in memory like the apples and the squash and the bins of potatoes are stored in the cellar, to be taken out as sustanence during the weeks when the earth and my garden sleep.

A Bit of Silliness

After a damp and rainy start to the day, afternoon brought warm sunshine and puffy white clouds
drifting on a blue sky.
J. and M. were away, so I enlisted daughter G. and grandson D. to help demolish the left-overs from last night's roast chicken and fixings.
We made short work of the food and D. suggested we trek down to the creek.
Big Creek has recovered from the drought of August and its rippling surface mirrored the sailing clouds and the lazy downward spiraling of yellowed leaves.
G. is on a binge of decorating her porch in autumn  finds, so we gathered vines to be twisted into wreaths, picked up glossy acorns, judged the merits of various seedpods and grasses which might
be dried to add to a display.
I suggested a few ears of field corn could be tied into a spray for the front door and we were off, boots swishing through the tall dank grass, jewelweed and boneset which line the shallow ditch between the barns and the 15 acres leased out to corn.

I wasn't surprised to see that stalks on the outer edges of the field have suffered damage from wild animals.
It is racoons, and possibly possums, who topple the stalks so that they can feed comfortably on the kernals of drying corn.
D. pointed out that it would be deer who stripped back the husks and nibbled at the ears of corn, leaving the stalks upright.
Shouldering our way into the interior rows we found any number of places which bore the evidence of
four-footed diners.

Then---we all got purely silly.
[Be it known that I am usually of a fairly sober turn of mind.  If anyone can inspire me to sheer foolery, it would be G. and D.]
D. and I clown at the edge of the corn field.  I have my trusty garden clippers clutched, ready for action.

Look out--we're on the prowl!

G. put down the camera and plunged into the thicket of corn
providing me with inspiration!

G. had bundled up her ears of salvaged corn when I reminded her that there was apparently
a tradition of poor country people using corn cobs in lieu of fancy toilet tissue.
She struck a naughty pose while I threatened to administer discipline.

A salute from Cornfield County!
[Anybody remember Hee-Haw?]

The long edge of the cornfield borders the neighboring woods.
Here it appeared that raccoons had chosen their corn and carried it from the field to enjoy at their leisure
in the shelter of the vine-draped trees.

A tree had toppled near the fence line since I have walked there.
Its lichen covered trunk was an easy vault for D.

G. decided to join her son on the damp lichen-slicked trunk and began crawling from the broken end which rested in the tangled grass. She got part way across, looked down the four feet or so into the ditch and got the wobbles.

Mother and son share a love of ridiculous posing.
[I could be prejudiced in thinking they are a good-looking pair!]

We often see wild turkeys hurrying across the back pasture and I hear their wittering calls from the darkness of the woods.  Today I found two beautifully marked bronze feathers.
I daresay the turkeys are pecking up the corn kernals which the other animals
carelessly scatter.

Je te plumerai le bec.....
D. cannot resist the urge to be a "ham" for the camera!

As G. says, it doesn't take much to entertain us country folk!

The husks on this ear of corn had been pulled back--whether by hasty scrabbling claws or the
determined teeth of a deer.

It was already cool in the shadows cast by the two old barns.
D. discovered this garden spider who has strung her web between an upright edge of barn siding and a sturdy stalk of grass.

This grasshopper, his armour blending with the weathered boards
had no idea that he was enjoying his last moments of life.

The spider packages the unlucky grasshopper in a mesh of sticky thread.

Tex-the-Dog plods after his family as they load their decorative harvest in the back of the truck.
With the sun sliding behind the woods the air was growing cool
and we reluctantly headed back to our two welcoming houses.