Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: In summary:
In gardening you are really at the mercy of mother nature.  You do your best to make everything nice, and you just try to make the most of what you're dealt.
The winter was hellamild, the spring was wet, the summer typical, and since July we've barely seen a drop of rain.  Now it's almost 2013 and I don't think it's gotten below 30 yet as you'll see in my Dec 21st sunflower picture.

You can always tell when a bird has been sharing your tomatoes, what does a butterfly bite look like?

The crops:
  • Garlic, onions, and leeks did fine
  • Peas were astounding.  wasted too many in the fridge waiting to get eaten.
  • harvested a few carrots as usual, let plenty more go to seed as usual for my pleasure.
  • Beets weren't as productive as last year.  still made about 8 jars of pickled beets.
  • Spinach was typical.  Froze several batches and had lots of spring salads.
  • Planted more spinach and less lettuce, but the lettuce was good for plenty of salads.


  • The tomatoes were as bountiful as ever.  Lauren mentioned last night that we should diversify a little more in the summer and maybe not plant as many tomatoes.  Good time for me to practice selective hearing.  I love growing tons of tomatoes.
  • The peppers were a complete failure.  I think it got a little too dry even for them.  Last year we were drying, pickling, and eating the mess out of them.  This year we had a few to add to recipes for flavor.
  • The squash were great.  When they were getting crazy in June it was hot and wet and they were everywhere.  I froze a couple batches of squash soup and froze a couple of squash casseroles. I haven't tried the soup yet, but i needed to not add the crackers to the top of the casserole before freezing because they got really mushy.
  • The okra handled the lack of rain fine.  As usual, the dozen or so plants we had were plenty to keep us eating as much as we wanted in the fall.
  • Beans- not too shabby.  the purple violetta green bean are still my favorite.  the huge speckled limas did well this fall in the pit despite the dry conditions.  I harvested them a few times and found plenty of stragglers when I pulled down the vines in November when we finally got a light freeze.

 The tropicals on the porch stayed nice with regular watering and plenty of hot days.  The moonvine wasn't nearly as big or as productive as usual.  Some years there would be 40 or so blooms/night.  this year we were lucky to get 15.

Summer time on the grill. The corn and ribs didn't come from the garden but the pot of tasty beans, tomatoes, and onions were a nice, homegrown compliment. 

  • The sweet potatoes were as domineering as ever in the pit this fall.  I knew better than to try to plant anything else out there that might get swamped by their vines.  The dry fall made a big difference in the 2012 harvest compared to 2011.  This year there were still lots of sweet potatoes, but they were all small. On the bright side I think they may have a little better flavor this year.  Still it's sad to use 8 or 9 potatoes to make a casserole for thanksgiving when 1 monster tater made almost 3 casseroles itself last year.

 Looking into the pit in early November.

 A November tomato holding on.

 The seat beside the bay tree on the porch is favorite spot of mine for imbibing a cool drink.

 Holden and I enjoyed the November weather when we got topless and dug sweet potatoes in the pit.
 So Lauren and I went walking with the dogs on Forestview's cross country track one weekend and I started eating these wild pears.  I thought they were tasty so I went back the following week and picked a bunch to mix with the sweet potatoes for a thanksgiving treat.  As best as I can tell this tree is called a Callery pear, some hybrid of a Bradford pear that is pretty invasive around here.  Lauren said "I hope you don't poison your whole family" so I made sure to eat plenty of them before thanksgiving as a little assurance to my family's perpetuation on this earth.
 Fall/winter cont.-

  • Cabbage- this was the first time I was successful with cabbage, and I use the word successful loosely.  I grew a few little, not dense heads out in the garden.  They make for nice single serving slaw portions.  It was tasty slaw; not bland like what you would get in the store, but not overpowering either.
  • Broccoli-  The first time I've had any luck with this brassica too.  I only had 1 successful plant in the garden and Lauren ate it's little head while we were walking around out there a couple of weeks ago.  It has a couple of little heads growing in some leaf axils that I hope will get a little bigger.  There is one in my bed at school that has a pretty big head going on.  Hopefully I can get to it before some scavenger harvests it. 
  • I planted 3 cauliflower plants in the garden and they all made big 'ol heads.  One I overcooked in the oven and it tasted nasty, 1 we chopped up and took to a panther's game with some other veggies and ranch dip, and 1 is still sitting out there turning yellower as I type.  The one we took the the panther's tailgate was a little yellow and uneven but very tasty.  I think the other folks there were a little scared of it's appearance so I got as much as I wanted.

  •  Collards-  What a shame.  New year's is next week and we won't be able to harvest our collards.  A couple of rows just dried up and died with their little leaves turning brown.  The little bed just to the right of the garden entrance and the front row of the left side of the garden were looking good early but all of the leaves got what looked like some kind of white powdery mildew going on and they are worthless now.  We harvested the outer leaves off of the plants a few times earlier in the season and had some tasty collards but now when we need them the most they look awful.

 This is a picture of a sunflower in the bed outside of my classroom the day before Christmas break.  December 21st and a sunflower is blooming. The okra beside the school is gone, but the less tender sunflowers are still going.  Global warming?  I think yes.
A picture I took yesterday when I was checking out the sprouting garlic.  I love that the garlic and leeks are green in the middle of the winter like harbingers of the spring to come.

Friday, November 9, 2012


This is the wikipedia picture of the crab nebula (m1).  Looks like a poster in Jimi Hendrix's bedroom.  I set out looking for this guy again tonight and once again came in with a cold nose and no check beside M1.  
So I found out more about a Messier's Marathon.  These guys try to find all 110 objects in one night.  I'm trying to find one stinking blur of light in the night sky and I'm getting stumped.  Saul texted me about 10:30 and said I needed to get outside and enjoy the stars tonight. I shuffled my scope out the door and resumed the search for M1.  I googled "how to find the crab nebula" and a explanation came up first.  (The article on  I looked between one of taurus's horns and betelgeuse and I saw the star that marked the other horn.  I scanned with my binoculars-nothing.  I looked through the low-power eyepiece on my scope that I still have no idea how to use- nothing.  I even put in a higher power eyepiece- big surprise, nothing.  

Here's a picture from that shows how to find M1.  

If this marathon is supposed to last 1 night, what is my search gonna be called if i've finished day 2 without taking my first step?  Messier's ____________?  I did get to check out Jupiter while I was out there.  It was in Taurus and looked nice.  I also scouted out my marathon route a little by checking out M42, the orion nebula.  That makes two of the 110 objects that I've checked out through my scope.  
I tried to take a picture through the eyepiece with my iphone and that was another unfruitful venture for the evening.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


There's definitely plenty of garden status to update, not to mention my new garden at the school house as Ronnie Davis would call it.  But, tonight I started my messier's marathon.
For our first anniversary, lauren got me a nice telescope.  We went down to Kara's house on Dewee's Island and she had these huge presents in the back seat.  I couldn't fit the cooler in the car to take it to the beach because of the gifts, but I knew she was trying to be sweet so I figured I could handle warm beers on the beach.  Anyway, the night we got down there she wanted me to open my presents.  She got me a nice scope and a bunch of eyepieces.  I got her a pearl necklace but she already had one so she took it back to the store when we got home and got some nice earrings.
So I was thinking about the telescope at the schiele the next weekend and I thought I could try to see all of the messier's objects.  I thought it was a pretty original idea until I started looking for a list and found books called the "Messier Marathon" and variations on that.  Well, I haven't read any of those books but i have checked on wikipedia and I know that M1 is the crab nebula in taurus.  Theres a pretty good story about ancient civilizations seeing a star go supernova and it later being linked to this nebula.  I went out on the back porch and unpacked the scope and prepared to start my marathon.  It wasn't the clearest of nights ever and I had been at a baby shower and checking out Kurt's new house in unsober conditions, but I thought it was a good night to start this thing.  There was a 3rd quarter moon low on the horizon and Jupiter was still behind the trees to my east.  Aldebran, the bull's red eye, was above the trees.  I read tonight that M1 was in Taurus so I thought I had a shot.
I don't really know how to work my scope and I had no real idea where or if I could find M1 from my back porch.  How did Messiers find this thing first.  How was the pleiades 45th?  I checked the internet and found out that M1 was between one of Taurus's horns and betelgeuse.  It might be above the trees now, but when I was looking it was too low for me to see.  So I started my Messier's marathon with M45- the pleiades.  I'm not sure if you are supposed to go in order or finish in a certain amount of time. I tried to start with 1 but it wasn't up yet.  I needed some success tonight so I tuned into the 7 sisters.  I even woke Lauren up to share the start of my journey.  She looked through the eyepiece and said " I see a lot of stars."  It was magical.  She immediately went back to bed and I thought I'd catalogue the nights events.  By the way I just went out back to pee over the porch and betelgeuse has made it above the trees.  I could break the scope back out and try to see M1 now but this is a messier's marathon, not a sprint.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20, 2012-  Summer is officially here.  And here comes the heat.  Every day around 90 and just a slim chance of afternoon showers.
The squash looking a little droopy in the midday sun.

Last year it was hotter earlier though.  I remember all of the blackberries turned brown before they could turn black.  This year we're getting in a few blackberries that the birds leave us.  The squash are starting to slow down.  I only pulled in about a dozen this afternoon.  I think they are pretty picky about what the conditions are when they set their blossoms.

 aptly named bee balm

 The pit- from the outside looking in.

The tomatoes are just hitting their stride though.  I brought in a pile of cherry tomatoes and 3 real tomatoes.  The beans are growing well, and there are little cukes growing on a couple of our plants.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 17th 2012-  The week in review:
Squash continues to be the headliner in the garden.  We're harvesting from our 20 or so plants every 2 days and the picture above shows what we brought in one afternoon.  10 of those plants were supposed to be zucchini but from the looks of it I got straight necks instead of the big green monsters.  We've given them to our folks, we made a squash casserole for the freezer one night, this afternoon we made little squash pizzas and I made some squash soup for the freezer.  I feel like bubba talking about all of the shrimp he ate.
Squash pizzas?  1/4 inch slices of squash with pizza sauce(not homemade yet), cheese, and some turkey peppperoni.
Max clearly enjoying himself beside the freshly picked produce.

The squash pizzas made a great lunch because we knew we'd be grilling out and eating heavy tonight for fathers day.  The squash soup is in the freezer so I'll know how that turned out in half a year.  I sauteed some onions in a big stew pot, added some coarsely chopped squash and cooked for a bit.  I thought I'd get crazy and add some sweet potatoes that I aimlessly boiled earlier in the week.  I added a little salt and pepper, some cinnamon, and a cup or two of milk.  I mashed it up instead of pureeing just because I'm lazy and don't want to clean the blender.

You can also see beside my self-gratifying cat that Lauren harvested some cherry and grape tomatoes.  It seems really unusual to be eating tomatoes in the middle of June.  We had a couple of big ones earlier this week- last night on burgers and Friday night we just sliced up a couple and ate them on the side.  These little guys went with us over to make their place in about the best destination possible for a vegetable- a Deb salad.

We took turns posing beside the enormous tomato plants out in the garden and then we gave the ones on the left side of the garden a solo shot.  Lauren is out there after a bodypump class and she sent this picture to some friends saying that the tomatoes were overgrowing our house.  I'm sporting the most essential garden implement- malt liquor.

The tomatoes were getting out of control and I really didn't want to deal with them.  A couple of plants were falling over, the plants were blocking the paths, and some of the stems bent over above where I tied them and it looked like they were going to be pinched off.  I went to Lowe's and bought a couple 10-packs of conduit for staking up the plants.  That set me back 40 bucks but the stakes are pretty reusable.  I used sticks my first few years as tomato stakes.  The conduit is strong, cheap, and is good year after year as long as you don't mind those metallic poles sticking up everywhere in the spring.

Anyway, I started in the pit and tied up the plants that could be contained on their original stakes.  The overachievers earned an extra-long pole, usually between 2 plants.  I pulled the sagging stems over to the new poles and steered them up with some string.  The pit wasn't too bad, I maybe had to use 4 long poles as reinforcements.  Then I moved to the right side of the garden where I only have a dozen or so plants.  I had to grab a stick from the wood pile to drive in a couple of the original stakes that had developed a saggy lean. I put a few new posts near some of the plants on the left side of the garden but I didn't get to the worst offenders and that job is glaring at me for early next week.

It will all be worth it in a little while though because there are countless green tomatoes out there right now.

Blooms- The cardoon opened up this week.  Suzanne at the Schiele said that people piled hay around the stems and used them like celery.  I just think its a cool looking plant.  The bees dig down through the purple fluff of the flowers looking for nectar.  Some other stuff blooming- Oregano, the celery( I don't remember planting celery but we have one plant right at the entrance to the garden), leeks still blooming, parsley at the end of blooming, borage just started, rue is finishing, some leftover radishes and kale are trying to bloom again, sage, basil.

Bugs- I picked my first squash bug this week.  That's the only one I've seen, but I'm on the lookout now.

Birds-  So lauren texted me earlier this week when I was still at home and said she saw a brand new bird and she needed to know where the bird book was.  She texted me back in a couple of minutes and said she saw a great crested flycatcher light on the rosebush outside and then fly down and eat a bug.  I was a little skeptical because she saw a brand new red-headed bird last year that turned out to be a house finch.  Everything she said matched what I could read about the bird and a mecklenburg audubon guy posted a sighting of one at Forestview when he came to see the scissor-tailed flycatcher last week.  She said she saw him while she was eating breakfast so I made sure to hang out with her for breakfast for the rest of the week, but no bird.  I took my computer outside and played the songs of the great crested flycatcher from the porch.  I earned supergeek status, but still no bird.  My luck changed this morning.  Lauren and I were sitting outside enjoying this incredible weather( high: 82) and I saw a couple of birds land in the top of the maple at the back side of the garden.  I ran inside and grabbed my binoculars and sure enough, Lauren made the right call on that bird.  There were a pair of them in the top of the tree and they sang away as they flew to the neighbors yard.

I guess I need to do a better job of knowing who's at the top of the leaderboards in Dancing With The Stars and who's being devious in The Bachelorette, because Lauren's done a great job of being interested in what drives me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Early June Update- 6/7/12

The weather continues to smile on the garden.  We're getting pretty decent rain, hot afternoons for growing, and occasional cool breezes that help with working out there.  There are red jars of beets pickling in the back of the fridge.  A big tupperware thing of peas in the fridge waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.  Onions and garlic are drying on the porch and being used in the kitchen.

I picked 3 squash sunday and sauteed them up with some onions.  I went back out tuesday and found 5 more.  I put 1 in with some pasta and there are still 4 sitting on my counter with another round of picking planned for this afternoon.  Time to get creative with some recipes or else get generous with the family.
A bee on a leek flower
The lillies adding a nice dose of color to the yard.

Between the ligustrum, gardenia, and the nandinas, the yard is smelling pretty good.  The bees seem to have plenty to keep them busy.
The eggplants have their first blooms, and Holden is watching the beans growing around the edge of the pit.  Because the peas were still doing well, the beans and cukes got in the ground a little late.  The beans have made the top of the fence, but there aren't any blossoms on the them or the cukes yet.  I'm still struggling with the okra too.  Some of the plants are up, but I've put out seeds in a few spots 3 times now.

And the Scissor-tailed flycatcher is back at Forestview.  I posted the sighting on the Mecklenburg Audobon Society listserv and the fellows with their telephotos have already been over here taking some nice shots:

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Yesterday I took the carrot and beet above to school for lunch.  All the lunch guys are eating their usuals:  Dan and his fast food, free chicken, or daughter food, Pat had some sort of vegetarian mush plied into patty between a couple of buns, Kurt had some crackers and tuna, John, i don't even have time to begin talking about the stuff that man chokes down in our 20 minute teacher lunch.  With all that freaky food around the table, my root vegetables were the weird stuff.  The only comment that the carrot brought was Kurt saying that he "smelled dirt."  John mentioned his mom's concern over me feeding her a piece of asparagus that I had rubbed on my shorts to clean it before I handed it to her.  Everyone agreed that the dirt was favorable to pant legs.  The beet sparked some interesting poop discussion.  There's not much that isn't suitable for lunch discussion at that table, so we all took beet poop in stride.  Of course John brought it up.  He said after you eat beets your poop turns dark red.  I agreed and said it even bleeds dye into the water so you think you have a serious issue if you don't remember the beets from the day before.  I passed my beets today and didn't even take a picture or video as members of our table suggested.
Yesterday's highlight wasn't the lunch discussion.  It was going to my college roommates book signing.  Lauren knocked off of work early and we headed to the library.  We barely made it into the packed out room, but I am so glad we did.  This was the first time I've seen Wiley in 8? years, and now he's at a podium in front of a room full of people holding up his first published book.  Listening to him and seeing his face took me way back to a carefree but formative part of my life that I don't think much about anymore.  I got to see Johnny Wadd, and lauren called me with a list of names that had made facebook comments that I haven't heard in years.  When we were leaving Wiley at the library he said that he'd read my blog.  I think i write this stuff down for myself and it made me a little nervous thinking about Wiley laughing at my sophmorish rambling.  It was good to feel connected to a true friend that I'm very proud of though.  That's the only line that I want Wiley to read.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


  Today I went through the garden and pulled up most of the onions and garlic.  This stinky endeavor left us with about 100 onion bulbs curing in the shade on the back porch.  In the past I've ordered sets of onions from dixondale farms.  This year I got 2 sets of white onions and 1 set of reds from Ford's.  I usually find a little stick out in the yard that's about 1/2 an inch wide and poke 2-inch holes in the ground for the little baby onions.  I space them 2-3 inches apart and then there's nothing else to do until harvesting time in a few months.  I probably planted them in early February so I guess it took them about 3 months to grow.  The greens had been falling over like the one in the picture above so I figured it was time to get them out of the ground.  If you leave them in the ground too long they get hard to find because their leaves turn brown and blend in with the mulch, and I've had some start rotting when they stay in the ground too long.
 Today I went through and just pulled them up by their necks.  The ground wasn't too dry so they didn't break off in the ground and leave me with a hand full of onion greens.  I had to use a trowel for the garlic, but the onions were easy.  I can't grow enormous onions like I see in the store.  Most of ours are roughly golf-ball sized with a couple of the monster ones just smaller than a baseball.  The organic gardening book told me to set them on a mesh to dry with their greens attached so they're sitting outside right now getting cured up until I can start cooking with them.


  The unrivaled prize of the garden is a heavy, sweet, bright red tomato in July.  I figure each plant needs about 2 square feet, and I squeeze as many into the garden as possible.  I buy our tomato plants from Ford's Seed Store every year.  I get as many 3-packs of different varieties as possible and buy them a flat at a time.  I get supersweet 100's, cherokee purples, mr. Stripey's, and whatever I can find on the shelves of Ford's.  This year I planted the first flat at the end of March because it had been so warm, and the 10 day outlook seemed safe.  There were a couple of scary nights in april when there was a frost warning, but our plants were never phased.  It's May 20th and the 36 early tomatoes out in the main garden are humongous.  They are covered in blossoms and some like in the picture above have some little greenies on them already.  I've put in about 70 plants in all now,  and its looking like another bumper year for 'maters.
  Suckers.  I've always heard the little stems that grow out of the leaf axils of tomato plants disdainfully called suckers.  My dad taught me to pinch the suckers off and I've always done it.  I would go out every week in the past to tie the plants to the stake again and pinch off all of the suckers.  This year I've got a little experiment going.  I'm going to try to be the friend of the suckers and I'll see if they return the favor.  The plants are way fuller this year as they consist of more than just the main stem.  They are harder to tie up and I've had to use multiple strings on some plants to try to keep all of the stems close to the stake.  I'm not sure what the outcome of this trial will be; I might end up with more but smaller tomatoes, or I could just end up with more of a jungle than I usually have by the middle of July.  I'll keep you posted on the sucker progress.

 A row of tomatoes inside the pit after being tied up.
 A string around 3-4 stems and the stake on this plant.
 a couple of supersweet 1000's before the latest round of harnessing.
the same two plants after I tied them up.

Monday and Tuesday afternoons this week I tied up the tomatoes again.  In the past I would go by every plant, pinch off the suckers, and then tie up the 1 stem that I was letting grow.  This year I'm using multiple strings per plant to try to keep 'em under control.  I go through a row and cut the string first and throw it on the plants.  I'm getting better at gauging the lengths of strings that I'll need.  With just 1 stem you don't need much string.  It's taking me a while to figure out just how long the piece needs to be to go around multiple stems and the stakes.  I go back through the row trying not to bend the stems too much when I'm tying them up, I just want to support them.  Most of my stakes stick out of the ground 5-6 feet.  In the picture of the plants above the stems are already growing above the stakes.  The plants in the garden are a couple of feet taller than these and they're getting fun to try to tie up.  I'm just tying stems together, I'm tying bunches of stems to other poles, I'm letting them sag over to another pole that I'm tying them to.  There are flowers everywhere and little greenies all over the place.  Lauren and I each had a little red cherry tomato tuesday.  June 5th seems pretty early for the first tomatoes, but the german teacher at my school says she just ate her first tomatoes this weekend too.


5/20/2012: A Spring Update:
  Last weekend we ended the peas' run this spring by pulling up the plants to make room for the beans and cukes around the pit.  That left us with a pile of peas and a couple hours of shelling last saturday.  It turned out to be a good time to start the new seeds because Sunday afternoon it started raining and it didn't let up until wednesday.  We got 4 inches of rain in 4 days and a couple of nice storms to boot.  Everything except for the okra seemed to like the conditions.  The okra seedlings that are still alive are looking very frail.  It's supposed to be in the 80's and push into the 90's this week so I'll replant the okra seeds again.
The few beets that we have are huge, the tomatoes that we planted in the main garden at the end of March are gigantic- some over 6 feet tall, and I harvested the onions and garlic today after a pretty good spring growing season.  The tomatoes are growing so fast that I cant go a whole week without tying them up.  I'm keeping the mulch thick and that's probably not helping the okra, but weeds haven't been much of an issue- yet.
  Since my soccer season ended a week-and-a-half ago i got home early a couple of days this week and made dinner.  One night I picked some Swiss Chard, rinsed it off, deveined it, and cut it into inch-wide strips so I could steam it.  It turned out really good.  It tasted a lot like spinach but we don't have any fresh spinach now as it went to seed a couple of weeks ago.  The chard is a tasty green and it is attractive with it's multicolored stems there in the pit.