Archive | July 2014

Garden News


Things are growing right along in the garden.  The second bean planting is blooming.  This evening I harvested the first picking of beans and we ate them up for supper.DSC08497  In the photo above, the winter squash are in the foreground.  These are acorn squash. The carrots are behind them.

DSC08502The bachelor buttons are lovely.  I never did thin them, yet the plants are producing bunches of flowers. They last for about a week as cut flowers, so pretty.  I’m glad I decided to try growing these.  They are very easy to cultivate.

The Jerusalem artichokes are in the background of the photo at left. They are nearly ready to start blooming.  These plants are tenacious about sending out underground runners with new shoots.  Baby sunchokes even try to grow in the lawn outside the garden fence.  I have to work hard to keep them in their area.

Hot, humid weather with plenty of thunderstorm rain continues, encouraging the corn and cucurbits. Indian corn is well over my head, must be about seven feet tall.  The tassels are formed and the ear silks are ready to receive pollen.  On warm, still evenings, the scent of growing corn fills the garden.DSC08493

DSC08501Pumpkin and squash blooms attract wild honey and bumble bees in droves.  The insects crawl inside the huge flowers and seem to just lie there.  I wonder if there is so much nectar to gather that they rest while they suck it up.

All the pumpkins, squash and gourds are vining.  The plants grow so fast I have to keep on top of pointing the vines in the right directions so they don’t spread across the lawn or into the beans and tomatoes.DSC08494

The first nearly ripe tomato has been produced by the tomato jungle.  I pick the first fruits early and finish the ripening in the house so little rodents won’t steal my tomatoes.DSC08499  Mice or voles have been helping themselves to my beans, eating large portions of any pods near the ground.  For many years we had a canny in-and-outdoor cat who hunted the rodents in the garden and kept their numbers at bay.  She passed away a few years ago at age eighteen and we have yet to find a replacement barn cat.  The rodents have been working their way back into the garden ever since.  I will have to try to trap the little devils because they steal lots of tomatoes, beans, squash and even carrots.

Black Raspberries


The songbirds planted wild black raspberries along the southern side of one of our windbreaks.  I let the canes stay because they are not in the way and they produce delicious fruit most years.  Right now is prime black raspberry picking.  I’ve been gathering the berries to make a batch of jelly.

b3Black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) are not as well known as their relatives, raspberries and blackberries. All are from the rose family.  These are not actual berries, but aggregate fruit forming around a central fleshy stem called a torus.  Black raspberries are a separate plant and not the result of raspberries and blackberries interbreeding.  The earliest of the three fruit to ripen, black raspberries are not tolerant of drought. Just a few hot, dry days will cause the berries to dry up and be lost.  Some years we get no berries due to a dry week in early July.  This year the rain has been abundant, as is the berry crop.b2

The fruit starts out small and white, and rapidly ripens from pink, to red to dark purple-black.  A distinctive whitish, waxy quality is present between the individual cells of the aggregate fruit when ripe.  These are a drier fruit than red raspberries, lower in sugar and very high in healthy antioxidants.  So rich in oxygen free radical fighters, in fact, that black raspberries are showing promise as cancer preventatives.  The dark pigment is also an excellent source of anthocyanins, potent anti-inflammatories.

b5I’m sure I appreciate the health benefits of eating black raspberries, but I enjoy the flavor more.  These are my favorite wild berries.  They are rarer than raspberries or blackberries, and we are lucky to have so many growing around our place.

The fruit is held on long, thorny canes that develop one year then bear the next.  Mature black raspberry canes have a unique purplish-red color. The plant likes partial shade since it is sensitive to dry conditions.  It is also more susceptible to mosaic virus that its relatives and is therefore more difficult to cultivate for production.  Oregon is a major producer of black raspberries.

There are two easy ways to tell the difference between black raspberries and blackberries.  First, the raspberries ripen much earlier, in July.  Blackberries are nearly autumn fruit.  Second, the torus is left on the plant when raspberries are picked, but comes off with the fruit in blackberries.

I have now gathered two quarts of berries, enough to make jelly.  Time to get out the pectin, sugar and canning jars!b4

Poor Otto


Poor Otto, wearing the collar of shame, again.  Some animals are self-mutilators.  When they sustain an injury, even of the smallest proportions, they lick at it obsessively until a large area is involved. Otto is a self-mutilator.

The first trouble we had with him was last winter.  Otto is a very active German Shepherd who loves to run in the snow.  A spell of freezing rain created a thick crust soon covered by a couple inches of fresh snow.  Otto crashed through the crust and scraped a front leg. What began as a simple small area of abraded skin went overnight into a large hot spot as the dog licked endlessly at the area while the rest of the household slept.

When a dog is so persistent about licking, the offending area must be protected.  Sometimes a simple wrap will distract the dog long enough for healing.  Otto tore the wrap off.  He even ingested the top half of an old calf-high tube sock.  Luckily, it passed through.  Next we tried putting an old long sleeved shirt on him.  The sleeves covered the entire leg.  Nope, gotta tear that shirt to shreds to get at the ouchy spot.  So we had to buy an Elizabethan collar for him at the vet.  E-collars usually do the trick.2

Otto never wore an E-collar, so within a few days the collar was destroyed by crashing into things and chewing any part he could get into his mouth.  A new, heavier collar was purchased.  This one did the trick, he couldn’t destroy it and the leg healed, hallelujah! Unfortunately, the collar was so heavy that the end against his neck rubbed too hard, creating a hot spot ring around his neck. Something we didn’t catch until we took the collar off.  The hotspot healed quickly with topical anti-bacterial, fugicidal, anesthetic spray.  Phew!


Offending puncture wound, started out as 1/2″ spot

Then, several months later, friend Otto was playing tag with Holly around the farm equipment, failed to accurately judge his clearance, slammed his head into the side of the wood splitter and opened an inch-long, deep gash right under his eye.  A quick visit to the vet for sutures and then back into the collar of shame.  This time he wore a lighter weight E-collar, similar to the first one he destroyed.  I was pretty concerned we’d have to go through the whole fiasco of ruined collars again, but he accepted the thing and even showed promise with maneuvering it through doorways.

After a week, the stitches came out, his face healed nicely, and the E-collar came off.  As soon as our backs were turned, he proceeded to rub his face on the ground so violently the cut began bleeding again.  Back on with the collar for several more days.  Finally, he healed and we could set him free once more.

All was going well until this week.  We caught him spending considerable time licking and chewing his tail and investigated.  There was a small puncture wound, possibly a bite administered during play by his pal, Holly.  He had worried the half-inch wound into a three inch sore.  On with the collar of shame. With enough flexing, he can reach the area.  Mostly, the collar discourages him so he leaves the spot alone.  After two days in the collar, the site was looking nicely healed yesterday.  I removed the collar.  Big mistake.  Several minutes of monitoring indicated no interest in the spot.  We let him romp around outside.  In just a few unattended minutes he opened the wound and started bleeding again.

So, it’s the collar of shame until the tail is completely healed.  Living with a large dog wearing a large E-collar is no picnic.  He catches the collar on the edge of the water dish when he drinks and sends the bowl flying, water everywhere.  The same thing happens with food.  We have to help him navigate his face into the bowls, then hold the bowls so they don’t get flipped.  Outside, he runs into things with the collar, including people’s legs.  Activity must be restricted so the collar won’t be destroyed, not an easy thing for a hundred pound bundle of energy.

If life is a circus here at Phoenix Farm, then Otto is the top clown.  Just wish I was sending more time laughing.



Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Not, as I’ve always called it, is a native North American wildflower (Impatiens capensis) with many uses.  The beautiful little spotted orange fairy hat-like flowers are favored by hummingbirds.  a1I allow a large patch of jewelweed to grow in an uneven, partially-shaded part of my yard, just for the hummingbirds.

When the jewelweed begins to bloom, the tiny birds abandon the sugar water feeder for the flowers.  Nectar is a better source of hummingbird nutrition than anything humans create.  The nectar gathers in the curled receptacle at the far end of the flower where long-tonged creatures like butterflies and hummingbirds can reach.  Other insects nibble a hole in the curl to get at the nectar.a4

Beyond feeding birds, this plant has many uses.  It is recognized as an anti-inflammatory for topical use.  The stem juice of the succulent annual can be rubbed on insect stings and rashes to bring relief.  The seeds are also edible and are reported to have a walnut-like flavor. I’ve never tried any.

The reason this plant is called Touch-Me-Not is due to the seed cases.  The plant has two types of flowers, one with petals and one that is rounded and doesn’t open petals.  When this round flower matures, it produces a long case resembling a pea pod.  A light touch causes the case to explode, its sections curling tightly and at the same time spraying the seeds for distribution. When I was small I delighted in popping the seed pods.  Still do, actually.a3

The name Jewelweed is attributed to either the jewel-like colors of the flower or the water-repellent quality of the plant.  Water beads on the surfaces and when the sun shines, the droplets glimmer like diamonds.  I took some photos after a rain to demonstrate the water repellency.

This unassuming little plant has been embraced by the natural remedies crowd.  It apparently contains a chemical that is the active ingredient in Preparation H. The anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic qualities of the plant juice are captured in salves, tinctures and soaps. Reportedly, the Native Americans depended on this plant, a natural pharmacy growing in the woods.a5
****UPDATE: I have since written an update to this blog (Aug 23, 2014) and believe the information in this article about how the plant produces seeds is incorrect. The round flowers are the buds and they develop into full flowers. The seed pods form at the end of the stem after the flower drops.****

Anniversary and Mid-July Garden

a3One year ago today I started this blog.  Happy anniversary to me!  Here are the first bachelor button flowers from my garden to help celebrate!

The garden is growing amazingly well.  I just completed the second major weeding yesterday, so let’s have a look at how things are going.  The indian corn is nearing six feet tall.a5  After the hurricane, much of the corn was knocked over.  I stood them back up, tamped the soil down at the bases and hoed dirt well up around the stalks.  The plants will develop a secondary root system higher on the stalks in the newly mounded soil to increase stability.  Such an early hurricane is unusual here and neither the corn nor I were prepared.  Now the corn is developing tassels and will soon flower.

In the right foreground of the photo to the right are the six wax bean plants that survived from the first planting. They are flowering and setting beans.  Our first bean feast is right around the corner!  The second bean planting is growing well.a2  The plants are looking a little yellow.  I’m going to side dress them with well-composted manure to see if they will green up a little.  To be effective, the manure will be worked into the soil on both sides of the row and then watered well.

a4Carrots are surging, they love the abundant moisture we have been receiving.  I will soon need to do the second thinning on them. The horses and bunnies can barely wait!  Most of the baby carrots are about half the thickness of a little finger at this point.  I may get some big enough for us to eat.

The weather has been mostly hot and humid, just what squash and pumpkins like best.  a6The field pumpkins are beginning to vine.  They will take over all the open space around them and then try to invade the tomatoes and corn.  I turn the vines back from the tomatoes, but let them grow among the corn rows. Pumpkins and corn thrive together.  In the background of the photo at right, three sunflowers are visible.  They will climb to ten feet or more in height.

The dwarf pumpkins, called Jack-Be-Little, have a mixed progress.  One hill is doing very well and the other hill is lagging.  a7I have no explanation for the disparity.  Both were planted at the same time in identical soil composition.  The slower hill took longer to sprout, as well.  These tiny pumpkins grow fast so there is still plenty of time for hill two to produce.

Finally, we come to the tomato jungle.  Conditions are thick.  I removed all the sucker growth I could find last week.  The plants have set lots of fruit and some is beginning to ripen.  I can hardly wait!a1a8Now we have to contend with the tomato hornworms, a real threat around here.  One day the plants look lovely, the next day areas will be stripped of leaves, the branches sticking up like winter trees. Close examination will reveal fat, green caterpillars as big as a finger busily consuming the leaves. These pests must be stamped out quickly before they destroy the crop.

The Jerusalem artichokes are forming flower buds.  A hill of winter squash thrives uphill from the corn.  The row of radishes is gone. Three good servings of radishes were produced.  What was left bolted to flower due to the heat so I pulled the plants and fed them to the horses.  My horses enjoy anything I give them from the garden.  I didn’t believe they would eat radish plants, but they gobbled them down.  They must be epicureans!

Vintage California Pottery–Rose Box


Occasionally, I find a well-preserved piece of vintage pottery made in California.  This lovely little trinket box with one perfect capodimonte rose blossom in full bloom was sitting on  a shelf of otherwise undistinguished nick knacks at a local second-hand shop. rose4 Probably made last mid-century, the piece has no damage other than some long, thin crazing on the outside bottom half of the box.  That the delicate petals of the rose survived so many years without a chip is a miracle.  rose7This piece is marked only with California in block letters and the model number 100R.  I do not know the maker.rose6

From the early 1900s through the 1960s, at least, ceramic production boomed in California. Centered around San Franciso in the early part of the century, and spreading south to especially around Los Angeles, hundreds of potteries produced innovative designs and shapes still very popular with collectors today.  Many pieces that I find are marked only with the word California.  Sometimes it is possible to identify the maker by the design or shape, often the producer remains unknown to me.

California was (and still is) a melting pot of cultures that provided ample inspiration for unique designs.  The native soils are a source of fine quality clay perfect for ceramic production.  Early ceramics chiefly supplied the needs of builders with various tiles for roofs, walls and water conveyance.  As the population and demand grew, decorative items came into production.  The 1930s through the 1950s were a heyday for California potteries.  Much of the vintage ware found today is from that period.

There are many very famous potteries including these that I have carried in my online shops: Franciscan, Metlox, Vernon Kilns and Catalina.  Here are some of the items I have currently for sale.

Apple by Franciscan

Apple by Franciscan

Sombrero salsa and chip server, Whittier Pottery

Sombrero salsa and chip server, Whittier Pottery

Old South plate by Vernon Kilns

Old South plate by Vernon Kilns

Small serving bowl, Roselane Pottery

Small serving bowl, Roselane Pottery

Swamp Candles


An oddly romantic name for a wildflower, Swamp Candles are also called Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia terrestris,) and they are native to North America.  I had never seen this flower until I found it while mowing with the tractor.  A wet area near our orchard was covered with the Candles in full bloom. Before mowing them all, I did a bit of research.

Yellow Loosestrife, from the Primrose family, is actually endangered in Kentucky and Tennessee.  The plant grows in moist spots such as the edges of ponds and streams, or in marshes.  a2It is a perennial reaching about 24″-32″ height.  The flowers are striking, growing on a tall raceme.  The five yellow petals have red dots at the base with each flower forming a star.

I was able to preserve a good-sized area of the Candles.  Since they have not bloomed here before, I’m not certain where they came from or if they will appear again next year.  The place where they grow changes it’s flora over the years.  Sometimes it will be all fern, other years, blue flag iris pops up, or swamp grasses.  In very dry years, field grass predominates.  This year was wet, perhaps giving the loosestrife seeds the upper hand.

a4Several flower stalks were pushed down by the tractor, and I salvaged them to make a bouquet. The blooms lasted four or five days. They would be excellent fillers or good for adding height in a large arrangement.

Fourth of July Garden Visit

Tomato jungle

Tomato jungle

Between the cloud bursts this Fourth of July, I took a quick trip to the garden to record the height of the corn and finish the first thinning of the carrots. The weeds are having a festival due to a week of high temperatures and humidity that kept me in the house. In a couple days I’ll put an end to the party with my Mantis tiller.

The tomatoes have grown into a veritable jungle. Last week I mulched around all the plants with a layer of seed-free new growth grass.  The mulch preserves moisture and discourages weeds right around the plant.  It’s time to remove the sucker growth that sprouts up in the angle of the tomato branches. If left on the plant, the suckers would form more flowers and fruit, but they are not necessary. The main branches are loaded with so many flowers and tiny tomatoes that the plants will need the rest of the summer to ripen what they have formed. Removing the suckers gives the plants more energy for this task.

The corn is waist high, mostly.  a2There are some shorter stragglers.  This corn crop promises to be very good. Let’s hope we don’t get any hail.  One quick thunderstorm with hail will destroy a garden.

a3Finally, beans!  Lots of nice plants sprouted and we can look forward to a good harvest and plenty of canned beans to go through the winter.  Beans from our garden are much more tasty than the store-bought variety.  A big bowl of fresh beans with a little butter and salt make a meal.

a1The last week of sun, 90 degree temperatures and high humidity gave all the plants a boost.  Most of the radishes are trying to bolt and flower.  I’ve harvested several nice servings of mild radishes.  Now, with a couple days of rain thrown at us by Hurricane Arthur as it passes nearby out at sea, the garden will take off.

The bachelor buttons have buds and will bloom soon.  I can hardly wait to fill a vase with their flowers!

Harvesting Catnip


Years ago I bought a packet of catnip seeds and started a small patch of cat mint for my kitties. Since then, I’ve not had to buy any more.  Catnip produces copious seeds that sprout up everywhere.  The plant is a perennial of short life, surviving a couple winters before disappearing. Meanwhile, it makes seedlings.  A nice selection of organic catnip spreads around the rock gardens in my front yard.


Toby and Molly enjoying fresh catnip

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the cat mint genus, and the only species favored by cats.  The scent of fresh or dried leaves drives my cats a little looney.  They eat the fresh leaves.  I sprinkle dried, crushed leaves on the scratching post, which then becomes the magic place for a few hours.  You have to watch out for cats on catnip, they can become unpredictable and even aggressive.  Mostly catnip makes my cats excessively loving.

I started growing catnip because it is expensive to buy and the quality of commercial catnip is lacking.  All the stems, flower buds and coarse pieces are mostly filler.  The finest part of the catnip is the leaves.  The aromatic oils favored by cats, and people who enjoy catnip tea, are concentrated in the leaves.  If the plant is kept pinched back, it will not bloom and all the energy goes into producing large, highly scented leaves.

About every other week, in the morning right after the dew has dried, I gather catnip.  I use a thumbnail to pinch off the tender new growth, usually six to eight leaves, taking a long stalk with the leaves.  cat2Left on the plant is a branching joint with tiny leaves just starting.  In a couple weeks those leaves will have formed a new stalk ready to harvest.  I gather the herb throughout summer until August.  Then I give the plant a chance to flower so new seed will be spread.

After flowering, the plant will start leafy growth again. Autumn catnip is the most potent.  The leaves are thicker and often have a purplish tint.  The scent is so strong in freshly harvested autumn catnip that it can aggravate my asthma.  The photo at the top is of fresh autumn catnip.


Properly dried catnip

The fresh herb is bunched, four or five stalks together, and held with a small rubber band.  The bunches are hung to dry upside down in a dark, well ventilated area.  One of the secrets to preserving the full potency of an herb is to dry it quickly, upside down and out of the light.  The leaves can not be allowed to mold or leak their juices.  Light will fade the color of the leaves and cause oils to evaporate.

Since good catnip is hard to buy, I decided to offer some of my highest quality for sale in my online stores.  This offering is very limited and usually sells out fast.  I sell dried, whole leaf catnip with the coarse stalks removed.  Preserved as whole leaf, the dried mint retains more of the aromatic oil cats love.  I make sure the leaves are well dried then seal the catnip in plastic so the oils will not evaporate.  People rave over how well their cats respond to my catnip compared to what else is available on the market.  I’m glad to make so many cats happy.cat4

Baby Fig Update


The baby fig tree almost didn’t make it.  Things were touch and go for a bit.  Several of the leaves turned yellow and dropped and the rest of the leaves looked sickly.  I was confident that even if all the leaves dropped, the root ball would still survive and send up new growth.  Then I noticed that the terminal bud was a little ill.  I was worried my baby would die.

Only a couple days ago, a tiny green leaf appeared near the base.  More popped up, almost overnight.  The new leaves are growing quickly.  The remaining older leaves have gotten green again, along with the terminal bud.  The little fig snapped out of its funk and decided to grow.  It’s supposed to reach six feet, so it’s got a long way to go.