Archive | August 2014

Iris Clean-Up


There is a definite nip in the air, the swamp maples are bright red and the sugar maples are beginning to take on an orange cast to their leaves.  No question, autumn is fast approaching.  Time to start cleaning up the gardens for the winter rest.

The flower bed at the front of our house is planted to several varieties of irises that put on a beautiful display of blooms in June.  After that, the leaves go crazy, getting tall and broad and shading any other plants in their way.  The irises are working to take on the nutrients needed to produce flowers next year.

By late summer, iris leaves are beginning to die and can be cut back.  My plants got a haircut yesterday and the difference is amazing.  There was a garden under all that!  I will divide some of the rhizome clumps and start more irises somewhere else.a2

Gourd Mountain


This spring I dug several small holes in the manure pile and planted a packet’s worth of mixed gourd seeds, then stood back.  The gourds took off until they covered the entire pile and spread out twenty feet in all directions.  The rich growing medium allows the plants to form huge leaves that over shadow any weeds.  gourd2It’s hard to tell how many gourds will be produced, the vines are too thick to allow much searching.  gourd3On the outer edges I found at least three distinct types:  round, warty, green and yellow striped, long-necked, warty white and green with yellow stripes and round, warty white with yellow stripes.gourd4There may be other kinds, the seed packet showed many varieties such as white horned gourds and white, necked ones.  Harvesting gourds is always fun due to the great variation of fruits and the surprise of finding something new.

Since I feed my horses and chickens any excess, damaged or too large squash and pumpkins, there are always volunteer plants around the barnyard in the spring.  This year there are some unusual combinations, formed as the bees cross-pollinate.  gourd6One (photo to left) appears to be a mix of patty pan summer squash and white and yellow warty gourd.  The fruit are held on a bush like the summer squash and are flattish, but have the striations and warts of a gourd.  These will not be edible, but will make fun decorations. The horses and chickens will eat them, as well.

Another mutant volunteer, photo below, looks like a cross between a patty pan summer squash and a dumpling winter squash.  gourd5The fruit are huge, 8″-10″ across and still growing. These may be edible, we’ll find out.  They will make pretty fall decorations.  I might even save some of the seeds and see if they breed true next year, they are very unusual.  The color of the squash is white skin, paler than the photo shows, with green lines and mottles. The skin is hard like a winter squash.

In a couple weeks, the first light frosts will kill the leaves making it much easier to find and harvest the gourds.  After harvest, gourds are cleaned of dirt, washed with a weak bleach solution, and allowed to air dry for several weeks.  After some drying, they can be polished with floor wax to bring out a nice shine.

Little Fig Tree

figfig1To update the development of my baby fig:  it’s doing great!  The photo on right is from when the fig first arrived.  The photo at left was taken two days ago. The little tree is very happy in its sunny window.

The poor thing tried to die soon after I received it.  I believe the clay pot was the problem, too dry.  It has thrived in the plastic pot.  Every other day it requires a little water so the soil stays slightly damp all the time.  The fig has done so well it needs repotting. The roots are starting to fill the current pot.

I will set it outside today to encourage hardening off for the long winter sleep in the dark, chilly mud room.  The shorter days and cooler temperatures will signal it to start dormancy.  Next spring the fig can go outside for the warm weather and I hope to get some fruit.

This everbearing fig should grow to about six feet tall and can produce two crops of fruit in a year. Fresh figs are so yummy, I sure look forward to having some!

Jewelweed Revisited

j1The entire embankment in front of our house is bright with orange jewelweed flowers.  Bees and hummingbirds visit all day.  j4The bees crawl up inside the flower after nectar until just their hind ends are visible. The nectar is deep inside the back of the flower in the curl.j5  It must be plentiful and sweet because the honey and bumble bees put a lot of effort into getting inside the flower cone. The hummingbirds spar over rights to the area, although there is plenty of room and flowers for all.

Since the last piece I wrote about this plant, I have paid particular attention to its growth habits.  I have come to believe that the idea of jewelweed producing round flowers that never open and also that these odd flowers become the seed pods is not accurate.  I find no round flowers that never open.  I’ve watched flowers develop from the tiny ball-like buds, reach their peak and go by to leave a long, slim fruiting body that thickens to develop into the seed case.  The photo below shows the round buds and full-blown flowers.  These round buds definitely develop into the flower. j3
j2When the seed cases are ripe, they are sensitive to the slightest physical disturbance, hence the plant’s alternate name: Touch-Me-Not. A slight touch sends seeds bursting away in all directions. I collected some of the ripe, brown seeds and tasted them, since they are edible.  j6The seeds do taste remarkably like walnuts, right down to the distinctive astringency of the skin on walnut meat.  It would take a long time to collect enough jewelweed seeds to make a meal, but they are a yummy treat.

Wild Turkeys In The Yard


I apologize for the quality of the photograph, my digital camera has a very limited telephoto lens. Close examination will reveal a mama turkey and her four poults.  They have been spending considerable time in our yard.  The first time I saw the hen with her babies, she was in the pasture, a few hundred yards from the house, with another hen and that female’s dozen month-old babies. This hen had six little ones, perhaps a week old.

That was about a month ago.  Lately, the hen has been bringing her brood right into the yard.  I believe she is one of the birds that visited our feeders last winter and is quite comfortable near humans.  The presence of my forty free-range chickens may also encourage her.  She is down to four babies.  One managed to drown itself in the horses’ watering tub.  Very sad.  The other baby disappeared early.  Since she is likely a first-time mother, she is learning about keeping her poults safe.  The older hen with the multitude of babies is experienced.  I’ve seen her for several years, now, and she doesn’t come so close to the house.  That hen may be the younger one’s mother.

One day this week I heard lots of turkey clucking and crying of babies.  I investigated and found the hen in our side yard calling her poults who had taken to the trees.  Something must have frightened them.  The baby turkeys are excellent fliers, traveling well above roof level and flapping strongly.  As they get older, weight will limit them mostly to gliding and quick bursts of wing beating to get in trees.

In the photo above, the birds are crossing our raised septic drainage field, about forty feet from the house.  I find their feathers all over the yard and would not be surprised to learn they go in the barn trying to get the chicks’ feed.  I’ve spotted them in the blueberry patch, an excellent source of nutrition right now.  These birds only become wary if they see a human.  They have no fear of man-made structures or the farm animals, except the dogs.  I worry they will contract blackhead (histomoniasis,a protozoan infection,) from the chickens.  This is a fatal turkey disease carried by chickens, who are much less susceptible to the illness.  I have never seen evidence of the disease in my chickens so perhaps they are free of it.  Hard to say since chickens can carry the protozoa with no symptoms.

The turkeys have ranged in the same space as my chickens for several years without any indication of a turkey die-off.  I love to see these huge wild birds and hope they continue to flourish.

August Garden

2aJust wanted to take a quick tour through the vegetable garden to check on how everything’s growing.  There may be less than three weeks till the first frost.  Sometimes we get a frost in early September.  If we manage to skip that frost, often most of the month of September is good for growing.  Keeping my fingers crossed for warm weather so more of the tomatoes and squashes get a chance to ripen.a8

And hoping for an opportunity to enjoy the sunflower blooms before frost kills them.  a4The sunflowers lagged this year, possibly the weather wan’t right for them, too rainy. They have really taken off in the last two weeks.  We should see some flowers soon.  A few of the sunflowers plants are visible in the background of the photo at right.  The pumpkins and tomatoes have entirely covered their area of the garden.a7


Brandywine tomato


Early Girl tomato

In the tomato jungle, fruit is popping out all over.  I have picked a couple dozen Early Girls.  They are delicious fresh or added to cooking.  The first of the Brandywines is turning pink.  Can hardly wait to get some of that! Brandywine tomatoes are one of my favorites!

The mice and voles are making their presence known, but have not taken too much of my produce. They have nibbled a tomato, bean or carrot here and there.  Some will actually eat the carrots below ground level.  Not sure which ones are doing that.

a1Time to pick more beans, a job for tomorrow.  Bean canning ahead.  I have ten pints in the cupboard so far. Plus, we’ve had several servings of fresh beans, yum!

a3 Six or eight winter squash are developing on the vines. These are an acorn or dumpling variety with white and green skin and deep yellow flesh.  They are sweet eating, no need to add sugar, just a little butter.

a10The mini-pumpkins (photo at right,) are setting plenty of fruit. The hill that was slow to grow has finally spread runners and developed several nice little pumpkins.  I like to use these for autumn decorating, so I hope to get a bunch, if the rodents don’t gnaw on them.

a11Indian corn looks to be a good harvest this year.  The plants have survived one hurricane and several violent thunderstorms.  The silks are dying on the cobs which means the corn should be ready in three to four weeks.  a12This type of corn must stand until the husks begin to pull away from the tops of the cobs for the beautiful colors to develop.  The cobs have to nearly dry on the stalks before they are ready to pick.

And, the highlight of my garden, the bachelor buttons.  A wonderful accent and flash of color among all the vegetable green.  We had a heavy, pounding rain most of yesterday and last night so the tall plants were beaten down some.  I’m glad I didn’t thin them, they use each other for support.  The plants seem to have an endless supply of buds for flowers in a variety of colors.  I keep a vase full of the blossoms on the dining table all the time.  Fresh cut flowers from my own garden, a true luxury.a9


Vintage Jigsaw Puzzle


Every once in a while I find a vintage puzzle at the thrift store.  Recently, this was on a shelf, mixed in with modern puzzles and board games.  The puzzle is from 1951, made of heavy paperboard, and is a Perfect Picture Puzzle.  The title is Breaking It Up, #15W.  The print is from a painting by Arnold Friberg and depicts a cow run amok around the chuck wagon.break3  Coffee pots and rolling pins are flying as the cow tears through camp, perhaps to rescue the calf next to the horses.  Arnold Friberg is the artist who brought us The Prayer At Valley Forge, painted in 1976, of George Washington praying in the snow beside his horse.

Beginning in the 1930s, inexpensive jigsaw puzzles came into favor as entertainment.  People were impoverished by the Great Depression and could afford little in the way of luxuries.  Hundreds of paperboard puzzles were produced and sold at newstands, usually a new one every week.  The puzzle mania began around Boston and spread across America and Canada. break7Consolidated Paper Box Company, makers of Perfect Picture Puzzles, was one of the biggest manufacturers. The fad lasted into the 1960s when tvs became common.

Many of the puzzles have disappeared over the years, as often happens with ephemera.  Pieces are lost or become damaged and the puzzle is thrown out.  Today people collect these bits of history, a reminder of simpler times when a new weekly jigsaw was something to look forward to.

break5This particular puzzle is complete and cut in the old-fashioned manner with many oddly shaped pieces that do not interlock very well.  The color is not great, but I believe it is pretty much as it was when produced. Because so many were made, they were done cheaply. The copyright date for the puzzle is 12/26/1951.  The pieces are in excellent shape with no damage.  The box has some wear, still, it is very nice for this sort of item and age.

I have sold such puzzles for about $10-$20 each.  Being complete and quite rare, I expect this puzzle to reach the higher end of the price range.  Not bad for a ninety cent investment.