Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year: The Garden I Have Now

early January, aloe vera blooming
In April of 2011, I moved to southeast Louisiana to join my husband, who had been hired as a wildlife refuge planner (Natural Resource Planner) for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tom had already been working in Louisiana for ten months. In the almost four years since I have lived here (twenty-five years ago we lived in another Louisiana town while Tom finished his PhD at Louisiana State University and I taught there in the Department of English), I have really enjoyed year-round gardening and recording my gardening experiences on this blog. I first began the blog in 2007--in a different town, in a different state-- as a way to keep myself connected to the world--to demonstrate to my children that even though I had given up on my career, such as it was, I hadn't given up on living and creating a meaningful life beyond a paycheck. In these past four years, I have been involved in social justice issues (creating and writing a blog for a social justice group, attending meetings of the Louisiana legislature, educating myself and then writing letters to local leaders against allowing hydraulic fracturing in our parish with its sole-source water aquifer, among others) and in helping encourage transparency in local government (attending and taking notes at the Planning and Zoning Commission meetings in our small town and publishing those notes on the Facebook page of our local "sustainable growth" organization). Many of my friends here are far more politically active than I am, but I am happy to have done my part--as long as that part did not take me away from my garden too long.

And despite the very wet weather we experienced the last week of the old year and the cooler weather we're experiencing now, the garden is still producing. Our loofah experiment was mixed. The plants grew very quickly, taking over the bamboo trellis Tom built for them and then spreading past the garden and into the yard. The fruits grew huge, but as they were still green when we had our first frost, we were afraid we would lose the entire crop. However, Tom managed to harvest several large fruits that had matured to the fibrous texture of bath sponges, and he is now trying to cure them out. This requires peeling them and soaking the spongy interiors in a solution of bleach and water. The hot, humid Louisiana climate made them moldy, but we will be able to salvage some of the loofahs for sponges.
loofahs
The arugula, mustard mixes, and dill that I planted in the fall are doing very well. Home for the holidays, our daughter suggested that I make an arugula pesto to serve with pasta. I found a recipe online and was very pleased with the result (recipe below).
arugula, mustard, bronze fennel
dill
Our winter garden also includes garlic, which won't be ready for harvest until June, green shallots (onions), and looseleaf lettuce and mesclun mixes. The radishes we planted did not do very well this year. And while the gourd plants grew very promisingly, most of the gourds dropped off the plants and rotted in the humid Louisiana weather. I managed to salvage a couple of gourds, one which I emptied of its seeds and made into a decorative box for my daughter and the other which I painted and kept intact as a musical shaker.

Usually at this time of the year I begin planning my spring garden, but this year we're expecting some big changes in our lives, and so I am enjoying the garden I have now.  

Recipe: Arugula Pesto (Original recipe here)

4 cups packed fresh arugula
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup pure olive oil
2 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted, plus 1 tablespoon (I used pecans because that is what I had on hand)
1/8 teaspoon vitamin C (optional) (I did not include)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl, and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the arugula in a large sieve and plunge it into the boiling water. Immediately immerse all the arugula and stir so that it blanches evenly. Blanch for about 15 seconds. Remove, shake off the excess water, then plunge the arugula into the ice water bath and stir again so it cools as fast as possible. Drain well.

Squeeze the water out of the arugula with your hands until very dry. Roughly chop the arugula and put in a blender. Add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the pine nuts (I used pecans), and the vitamin C, if using. Blend for at least 30 seconds. In this way the green of the arugula will thoroughly color the oil. Add the cheese and pulse to combine. The pesto will keep several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

Pull out before dinner to get to room temperature. Before serving, add the remaining 1 tablespoon toasted pinenuts (or pecans or walnuts).

Recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello


Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/arugula-pesto-recipe.html?oc=linkback


gourd box with a crocheted surround that I made
bottom of the gourd box--I made up the pattern as I went along, so I'm glad the crocheted bit turned out as well as it did.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015: Preparing for Changes

The new year of 2015 is just hours old, and we have had our annual dish of black-eyed peas. This year, Tom served up the peas (seasoned with turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, salt, cayenne pepper) with arugula  and tomatoes over rice. This was a very tasty dish and, I hope, a harbinger of a good year. We know it will be a year of changes, some of which we have hints of already, others which remain yet to be identified. Our daughter will finish up a nine-month teaching practicum in environmental science and will be transferring to another university--perhaps to another state than the one in which she currently resides. She has begun to submit applications for further graduate study. Our son will be researching to discover the focus for his PhD work in aerospace engineering. And we have changes in sight, as well, which I will be writing about on this blog as the year progresses.

Several of our friends are preparing for changes, too: our daughter's boyfriend will be moving to the Northwest to work after finishing his undergraduate degree in December; our best friends are hoping to sell their house in the Northwest and move to Texas to be closer to family. 

But the year is yet young, and all of those changes, while visible on the horizon, are for another day's worry. Meanwhile, I am thinking of all the good things I have enjoyed this past year: another year of gardening in a state where gardening is a year-round possibility; another year of relatively good health; another year of travel and of seeing places I had not seen before and enjoying again places I had visited in the past; a year of being involved in social justice projects, of investing time in trying to make this place where we live a better place. 

It has been a good year. I hope this next one will be even better.

Below, a few photos from 2014


from Bayou Cane, looking across Lake Pontchartrain toward New Orleans (our daughter and her boyfriend)

anole shedding its skin on a potted poinsettia at the edge of the patio
Afton, WY
Jackson, Wyoming--view from Teton Pass
Fossil Butte, near Kemmerer, Wyoming
Campo, Colorado

Friday, December 26, 2014

Year's End Stuff--Crafts and Cookies

Except for raking pine needles to mulch my flower beds and to improve the paths between my herb beds, I did not do much gardening in the late fall. Tom and I harvested all the peppers we could before that early freeze in November, and we made habanero pepper jelly for the first time. Two batches included habanero peppers, apples, and rosemary; one batch included habanero peppers and green peppers. All batches turned out to be quite tasty, and we made so many pints that we could give several jars away to friends and family.

After weeding, mulching, and canning, I abandoned the gardening and spent most of my time making things--which meant that for weeks, my dining room looked like this:

The latter half of November I was busy making Christmas presents--plush, shaped pillows for my grown children and my daughter's boyfriend. The project started out simply, as projects do: I had seen a cat-shaped pillow in a catalog a couple of years ago, drew a rendition of it, and thought I would try my hand at creating a cat-shaped pillow for my daughter.

I finally set about doing so in mid-November, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. For the past several years I have been collecting second-hand wool sweaters at Goodwill stores, washing and drying them to felt the wool, and then cutting up the wool to store for projects. In the past, I had made several folk art quilts with the felted wool--see here, here, and here--but I wanted to make some smaller items before setting off again on a quilt project.

I first drew a large pattern--and pieces of the pattern--for the cat pillow.
One of my goals for this project was to use as many recycled materials as I could, so in addition to the felted wool from second-hand sweaters, I used material cut from an old, stained linen tablecloth as backing for the wool pieces. I would be embroidering and appliquéing the wool so needed some kind of closely-woven backing to stabilize the wool.

The project took me longer than it might had I used a sewing machine for some of the simpler sewing because I did it all by hand.  I re-learned some things I had forgotten about sewing (clipping rounded corners to prevent puckering, for instance), and I made some errors that I happily did not repeat in the projects that came later.

Here is a finished version of the cat. In retrospect, I would have made the nose longer and would probably have chosen white wool for the cheeks instead of  light tan.
close-up of the mouse (stuffed separately to give it a 3-D effect--but I didn't attempt to stuff the tail)
When I make something, especially if it's something for which I have created the pattern--whether a hand-sewing project or a crochet project--I tend to make multiple versions. For instance, seven years ago when I began crocheting hats of my own design, I made a LOT of hats; when I created a pattern for crocheted Santa gnomes, I made not one but THIRTY of them. And then I usually don't repeat the project again. After creating the first cat pillow, I knew I had to make something else in a similar vein, so I made a Grumpy Cat pillow for my son and a fox pillow for my daughter's boyfriend.
Grumpy Cat pattern (minus an ear)
Grumpy Cat, front
The "Give a Damn" pennant is a pocket for the smaller flag, which can be taken out to make a different statement.
back of Grumpy Cat
The decorative sashes cover up imperfections in the assemblage of the pillow.

My daughter's boyfriend creates video games, so I wanted to make a pillow that reflected that interest. I drew a fox design that might be at home in a video game and that is also a little reminiscent of the simple and playful features of amigurumi .

pocket on the back of Mr. Fox
Finally, on the craft front, I had a wacky wreath to make for the Raucous Wreath Auction at the Holiday Party held at the Abita Mystery House in Abita Springs, Louisiana. For my wreath, I used some crochet methods I had developed in creating earrings and broaches out of bottle caps. Recycled plastic caps helped shape the wreath; recycled Abita beer bottle caps completed the decorative bit. The final result was a little cuter than wacky, but the winning bid on my wreath was $55, which I designated as a contribution to Doctors Without Borders. A couple of days after the auction, I saw John Preble while shopping at a Rouse's grocerty store, and asked John how much money was raised: "over 18," he said, and I assume that meant over "$1800," as the auction brought in about $1500 last year.
Wacky Wreath I ("Not My Grandmother's Crochet"): the crocheted wreath I donated to the Raucous Wreath Auction at the Abita Mystery House Holiday Party
back of the wreath: You can get a peek at the recycled plastic caps I used to create the wreath form.
Never satisfied with making one of something, I followed up my Abita beer bottle wreath with a wacky wreath for me to keep, using materials left over from previous projects. When I was creating my art car from 2003-2008, I ordered a lot of second-hand buttons on e-bay, and I also collected beads and baubles that I thought I could use in spiffing up "The Lady." Consequently, I have a craft closet and metal files full of stuff I'll not be able to use in a lifetime of craft.
Wacky Wreath II: made of red veggie mesh bags, wooden beads, pony beads, jingle bells, glass ladybug beads, old metal buttons, Mexican milagros
Finally, as Christmas approached, the holiday members of our household, which had increased from two to five as our son, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend arrived, I began baking. For most of the year, we cook fairly simple foods, relying on our garden to supply a lot of our vegetables. And I generally don't bake desserts except for holidays. At Thanksgiving, I usually bake a sweet potato pie or two and maybe a pound cake, and for the Christmas holidays, I bake cookies, two recipes which are family traditions--old fashioned teacakes and gingerbread men. For the past few days, I have been baking a different cookie batch each day, filling the cookie jar and watching the jar empty over the course of that day and the next. Today I baked my final batch, gingerbread men. After cutting out several batches of typical gingerbread men, I turned the batter over to the younger adults and let them create their own strange gingerbread creatures, results which can be seen in the photos below. Also included at the end of this post: recipes for the four kinds of cookies I baked this year.

All in all, it's been a good year for us. There were the usual disappointments, of course, and worries, but I try not to dwell upon those, especially as the unknown quantity of the new year approaches. It's best, I think, to imagine new and happy possibilities rather than to dwell on mistakes, disappointments, and sorrows of the past. In our case, new possibilities may include moving again, as our government continues to cut services in response to Tea Party and Republican pressure. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had several severe budget cuts, and while no one is being let go, there is the possibility that more budget cuts could eliminate many of the planner positions for wildlife refuges in the Southeast region. Just before last year's government shut-down, Tom and many of his colleagues were told that the budget cuts could affect their jobs. Rather than letting people go, the USFWS has tried to eliminate positions by attrition and by moving people to other, better-funded positions. Rather than wait for the hammer to fall, Tom decided to be pro-active and to apply for planning positions with the U.S. Forest Service, which seems still to have funding to pay people to write the Congressionally-mandated plans for national forests. But those are concerns for next year.

Meanwhile, we will enjoy friends and family here, a few kayaking paddles on nearby bayous, and holiday cookies from my year's end baking.

Gingerbread men--I used a very dark, organic molasses for this year's batch

Gingerbread aliens

Rolled Ginger Cookies
1 cup butter (or shortening, if you're into that)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
5 cups sifted, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I always add a little more)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2-3 teaspoons ground ginger (I add 3)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg, molasses, and vinegar. Sift together the dry ingredients; blend into the butter mix. Chill for 3 hours. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick for crisp cookies, a little thicker for gingerbread men, on a lightly floured surface. Cut in shapes. Bake at 375° (on greased cookie sheet) for 5-6 minutes. Cool slightly. Remove to rack. Makes about 5 dozen cookies, according to the original recipe. Note: I use Red Hots (or cinnamon candies) for the buttons, raisins for the eyes and mouths of the gingerbread men.

Teacakes with Lemon Glaze (a family favorite for three or four generations)
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter (or oleo, if you prefer)
2 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons vanilla (I add 2)--can also flavor with nutmeg or lemon
flour (4-6 cups)

Mix ingredients in order given. Mix enough flour to make dough stiff enough to roll out (4-6 cups). Roll dough on lightly floured surface. For crisp cookies, roll dough thin. We like our cookies a little thicker and cakier. Cut cookies to shapes and brush with lemon glaze. Bake at 350° for about 10 minutes.
Lemon Glaze: Mix together 1/4 cup lemon juice with 3/4 cup sugar. Brush mixture onto cookie dough before baking.

Ranger Cookies
Mix:
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 cups oatmeal
2 cups cornflakes
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup pecans (chopped)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add:
1 cup butter (or shortening)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla (I add a little more)

Roll in balls and press out on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for about 9 minutes. Makes 4 dozen.

Cranberry Crisps (similar to the Ranger Cookies)
1 cup butter (or shortening)
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups dried cranberries
1 cup coarsely ground walnuts (I use pecans)

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts (or pecans). Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield, 5 dozen
Ranger Cookies and Cranberry Crisps


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Myth of Our Stewardship of the Planet?

Photo from the 1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer.
source of image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bison_hunting
The way we are burning through fossil fuels and creating a climate that will have (and has already had) devastating effects on the planet, its people, its animals, its plants, its countries reminds me of what I read in a book about Red Cloud, leader of the Western Sioux during those peoples' last fight with the U. S. government. I recalled this bit of history when I read Bob Drury's and Tom Clavin's The Heart of Everything that Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend. In 1840, though already depleted, the bison of North America still "number[ed] upward of 25 million to 30 million, nearly double the 17 million Americans counted in [the U.S. census of that year]." By the early 1860s, the buffalo had disappeared from the Platte River Valley, where Red Cloud had spent his younger days, "having lost the battle for the corridor's already scarce water and vegetation to the 100,000 head of cattle and 50,000 sheep that passed through the territory annually."

Drury and Clavin describe the rapid demise of the massive buffalo herds:
A solitary hunter equipped with an accurate large-bore Sharps rifle could fell up to 100 buffalo in a single stand, and this technology marked the beginning of a Plains-wide slaughter that within four decades would reduce an estimated 30 million animals to less than 1,000. It was the greatest mass destruction of warm-blooded animals in human history, far worse than what the world's whaling fleets had already accomplished, and, as Sitting Bull was to lament years later, "A cold wind blew across the prairie when the last buffalo fell. A death wind for my people."
 In 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad was completed across southern Wyoming, Northern Utah, and into the goldfields of Montana. The wide open West suddenly became even more accessible to buffalo hunters with those 50-caliber Sharps rifles who could kill thousands of buffalo in a short amount of time. The white hunters took only the fur and the tongues, leaving the huge carcasses to rot on the prairie. The U. S. government promoted this massive slaughter as a way to subjugate the Plains Indians, who depended on the bison for food and clothing, and to force them on reservations. The slaughter also made way for cattle ranching--with its own devastating impacts on the environment of the West. 

It is difficult for me to read this history and not get depressed over our current grappling with massive environmental degradation: we seem to be systemically unable to curb or control our voracious appetite for destroying this planet. We dress up our dreadful maw in words we hope to disguise the rotting carcasses of our environmental rampage: "Manifest destiny," "civilizing the natives," "economic growth," "job opportunities," "regulation over-reach." We slaughtered the bison that once were so numerous a herd could thunder by for days; for our sins, we then put the image on our coins and in nostalgic paintings that represent a West we say we yearn for yet willfully destroyed. 

The negative reactions to President Obama's climate deal with China underscore my worries that we will not be able to face successfully the greatest challenge of our time: global climate change caused largely by fossil fuel usage. Even as a supporter of this initiative and of other movements to curb carbon emissions, I can't completely subdue the doubts I have about our real commitment to mitigate the negative effects of the dangerous levels of carbon in the atmosphere.  The article to which I have linked above in Mother Jones notes that the deal with China includes "[e]xpanding funding for clean energy technology research at the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, a think tank Obama created in 2009 with Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao." All of this sounds wonderful, but I am also reminded that during the Obama administration, hydraulic fracturing (or, fracking) has been touted as  a "clean" fossil fuel. Another Mother Jones' article, "The Chevron Communiqués," explores how "[u]nder [then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's] leadership
the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe--part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel.
How "clean" fracking is, however, is very much open to debate, as research suggests the environmental consequences of this process, from an increase in earthquakes to  well water contamination to methane leaks to the possible health hazards posed by the chemicals used in fracking. The fossil fuel industry's protective tendency to downplay any hazards makes many people all the more suspicious of those claims to "clean energy." In a public forum that I attended last night at Lakeshore High School in Mandeville, Louisiana, one person testifying for a local oil company unequivocally stated that contamination of St. Tammany Parish's drinking water by fracking was "absolutely" impossible. The industry's secrecy also raises suspicions. The U. S. State Department's first shale gas conference in August of 2010 included "delegates from 17 countries," other departmental agencies, and industry representatives--but the media was barred from attending. And the fact that U. S. oil companies are "snapping up natural gas leases in far-flung places" calls into question just what our government is promoting--good stewardship of the earth or the bottom line of industry giants such as Halliburton and Chevron, in their world-wide attempts to wring the last bit of profit from diminishing fossil fuels?

Government and industry fail to engender the trust and commitment needed to make real changes in energy use, and few people seem to understand the global impact of their energy choices. This short-sightedness was particularly brought home to me in a single event at the public forum in Mandeville, Louisiana, led by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources but requested by the town of Abita Springs and Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany. One of the representatives of Helis Oil and Gas Co., had just described all the extra efforts the company "promised" (but has not committed to legal contract) to ensure the safety of its fracking operation and asked what more could the company do. "Drill somewhere else!" a local citizen yelled. Many in the crowd shouted and clapped in agreement, waving "Don't Frack St. Tammany" signs. It was difficult not to be sympathetic--such is the pull of tribal allegiance--but at that moment my support wavered and disillusionment increased. If we are concerned only with our little patch of paradise, we've learned little about global environmental degradation. Will it take the last drops of fossil fuel, just as it did the few remaining bison of the millions that once roamed the American West, to teach us the folly of our rapacious plunder of the earth? Too bad the lesson doesn't seem to stick.

Science has proven that global warming is driven by fossil fuel usage, and we need a united front--citizens, industry, countries--to cut our carbon emissions to prevent massive changes to the planet as we know it--but we may be too late. We already may be standing on the bones of our failure to fulfill what must have been a fantasy of our stewardship of this planet.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Melancholy Loveliness of Late-Fall Gardening

iridescent green bee on wild mint
Yesterday we heard the song of the white-throated sparrow for the first time this fall. The sparrow winters in the south and breeds in the north. The first time I heard its call was in a coniferous forest of northern Minnesota; its song was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard, coming as it did, waveringly, through trees that had not yet become familiar to this daughter of southern pines and Gulf Coastal grasses. Its melody conveyed a hint of cool Arctic air, spicy scent of balsam fir, and a sense of melancholy. I never forgot it. Now, here in southeastern Louisiana, I look forward to this memory of Minnesota made flesh in the flash of a winged shadow in the bushy edges of our yard and in the song that intimates to me presences loved and lost.

The white-throated sparrow arrived with unusually early cold weather. Temperatures dipped to 32°F where we live and broke record lows in towns nearby; the average low for this time of year is 53°F. Fearing frost, I had spent the previous afternoon cutting lemongrass leaves to dry for tea--a task I had promised to do for my daughter who is living in Wyoming--gathering what I thought might be my final bouquet of zinnias for the year, making room for cold sensitive plants in our sunroom, and covering the plants I could not bring inside. We had no frost, however, so the lemongrass still lives for another harvest or two, but our sunroom remains filled with the plants of semi-tropical climates: a pink-flowering bougainvillea, poinsettias, ginger, a red-flowering geranium, a Buddha's hand citrus, and a couple of reed palms.

Our gardens, the larger vegetable garden and the smaller flower and herb beds around our yard, are full of late-fall blooms and ready-to-eat tender greens. In late summer, I cleared away the crusty remains of the zinnias of summer to make way for re-seeded plants, which are shorter and more attenuated than their summer parents but covered with flowers. They began blooming in time for the early fall arrival of gulf fritillaries, painted ladies, yellow sulphurs, and a few swallowtails. In the northeastern corner of our yard, I had allowed native fall aster to spread and grow throughout the summer and have been rewarded not only by a profusion of blooms in plants that can be head-high, but also by the hundreds of bees that busily collect pollen as the shadows of a nearby bamboo hedge retreat during the day. The bees are so besotted with this wild bouquet that they have almost abandoned my cultivated blooms.
partial view of the fall aster patch on an October morning
Paying closer attention to pollinators as I have the past two years, I have noted what plants seem to attract the most bees and other pollinators. The fall asters have attracted several different kinds of bees and wasps, while in a nearby patch of tiny wild mint, I can always spy an iridescent green bee or two flitting from one minuscule bloom to another. These little bees are difficult to photograph, as they seem very wary and fly very quickly in a zigzag pattern. I have noted several sizes of bumblebees; some very large bumbly-type bees love the big yellow luffa flowers. One morning I ventured into the aster patch while it was still in shade, and I discovered dozens of very tiny bumblebees hanging from the blooms and branches where they had over-nighted and were waiting for the sun to warm their wings so they could begin their daily work.


another view of a wary green bee
tiny bee on a fall aster bloom
closer look at the wild mint, to illustrate its size in relation to my fingers
Some wasps are pollinators, too.
black bee-like fly
a hornet-like pollinator
We are already enjoying salads of mesclun and tender mustards from the larger garden and also from the herb beds where I planted seeds of dill, arugula, and mixed greens in late September. The last few weeks have been dry, so I had to water the tender sprouts as they emerged. The habanero peppers, ghost peppers, and green peppers are still bearing, and the luffa fruit are huge. We are a little worried, however, that the luffa will not develop into the dry, spongy product one associates with bath time. The fruits are still green and soft. My gourd crop has been disappointing; too many gourds dropped from the vines and rotted in the hot humid weather of southeastern Louisiana.
a luffa fruit
foreground, arugula, mixed greens among the remains of summer's basil; background, flowering Mexican tarragon
Although temperatures are warmer today, we will have cooler weather again, and pollinators will die or hibernate, some maybe venturing out occasionally during milder winter weather. This morning I heard the song of the white-throated sparrow again as I watched the sun rise above the pines. It will keep me company through the late-fall and winter as leaves fall and flowers fade.
one harvested row of this year's sweet potatoes
second harvested row of this year's sweet potatoes

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The September Garden

habanero peppers
This morning under an overcast sky, the temperature hovers around the mid-70s Fahrenheit. After two or three weeks of neglecting the garden, I ventured out in the early morning while the dew was still on the grass and weeded two of my 8ftX8ft raised herb beds. Although rain has been predicted for today (80% chance), only a few sprinkles fell this morning, and while the soil still has moisture in it a few inches under the surface, we have had a rather dry September. The seed Tom planted in the big vegetable garden a couple of weeks ago has failed to sprout except for one or two little plants. Tom didn't water the seed when he planted it, thinking that rain would soon do the job. Onions are up, however.

The soil in my herb beds is also depleted of nutrients. We scattered some commercial fertilizer across the surface, but that's just a stop-gap measure. I need to add compost to the soil if I want to have a successful fall/winter garden.

The late summer and early fall heat has not been the only thing discouraging me from active gardening. As I have aged, my allergies have become worse, especially in the late summer and fall, and my inner ears are especially affected. Sometimes, as soon as I walk outside, my ears begin to fill with fluid, in an allergic reaction to something in the atmosphere: rag weed? cedar elm? I don't know. It's time for another re-fill of the medication my doctor prescribed, though. Meanwhile, I do what I can, and this morning cooler weather encouraged me to ignore my allergies and spend an hour or so in the garden weeding.

Our daughter grew the poinsettias in a greenhouse class, and I've managed to keep them alive for two years.
The gourd vines are still green, and luffa vines are spreading across the lawn of our north lot. This morning, bees were busy gathering pollen from the luffa blooms; I noted at least four different kinds of bees. The peppers are still bearing, especially the habaneros and the ghost peppers. While the sweet potato vines are growing and spreading, they have been infiltrated by that scourge of the southern garden, Phyllanthus urinaria, and some luffa vines have spread through the potatoes to grasp at the pepper plants. We will have a lot of cleaning up to do after we dig our sweet potatoes.
Luffa vines escaping from the garden trellis
vegetable garden, north lot (far background, bamboo planted by previous owner)
Spider lilies are beginning to bloom.
These are the herb beds I weeded this morning. I left some of summer's basil, purslane, and bronze fennel. The fennel probably would have done better in the fall here.
Mist flower and swamp sunflowers are beginning to bloom (zinnias have re-seeded).
more spider lilies blooming near the spearmint.


Spider lilies coming up in the lawn.


ghost peppers--hot, hot, hot!