Showing posts from 2017

End of the Line

Last night temperatures here dropped into the low 20s overnight — and for many hours. That’s officially the end of the growing season, as you can see by the state of this butternut squash vine:

It was quite a cold morning, and the frost stayed on everything well after the sun came up. It was quite pretty, too:

We had already picked our tender fruits last week in response to an (unwarranted) frost warning, so all we had to do last night was put up a few last tunnels over some of our greens:

We tossed an old army blanket over the beets and cut a last harvest of Swiss chard. I left the celery alone, and it doesn’t seem much worse for wear this morning — it’s pretty tough. Still, we should probably bring it in by tomorrow, since the cold looks to be getting worse before it will get better. 
After a very warm fall, it looks like fall is here to stay.

Last Harvest

Earlier this week we had a frost advisory. I didn’t think we’d actually have a frost — and I was right — but it’s still a good idea to bring in the last of the tender crops just in case.

This meant bringing in several ripe eggplants, along with the remaining bell peppers, jalapeños, and anchos. We also ended up pulling out the last broccoli and cauliflower plants this week, since they are completely spent and have succumbed to aphids (ditto on our Brussels sprouts, which is total bummer — we didn’t get any).

We also brought in what was left of our tomatoes, which are in varying stages of ripening. We may just wait for them to turn red, or we could make a green tomato pie. It seems a little silly to bake anything with 20 pounds of a trick-or-treat candy haul lying around, but you never know. 
We also covered over our green for winter though those tunnels are open again now. It was actually quite warm for the rest of the week, and we had a pretty visitor:

Our chrysanthemums do well eve…

"Both Sides of My Skin" Pre-Order Available!

When I was still teaching, I was faced with getting an obligatory master’s degree. All public school teachers in Massachusetts have to do this eventually to keep their licensure up to date, but it’s an awful lot of work to go back to school while still teaching school.

And for an English teacher (which I was for eight years), it’s kind of a nightmare. No one works harder than a high school English teacher. It’s a never-ending cavalcade of shit in the form of a bottomless stack of (terrible) papers to grade. When you layer additional coursework and research papers on top of that, you might as well kiss your sanity goodbye.

So I thought that choosing the Creative Writing concentration of an English M.A. would at least make it more fun and provide a layer of personal fulfillment to the mix. As long as I had to shell out thousands of dollars and hours for an advanced degree, I might as well enjoy it, right?

So that’s what I did. It was still a shit-ton of work, but when it was over I had…

Autumn Apple Cake

We’ve had a bumper crop of small but serviceable Gala apples this year, but this is not a variety that stores for very long. That means we have to make a whole lot of applesauce and find other ways to eat them up before they become a fruit fly infested mess.

Enter the apple cake:

Last weekend Kirk made this cake courtesy of his friend Tressa’s recipe, and it is delicious. It’s like a nice, dense pound cake with layers of lightly spiced apples throughout:

The photo above is of my breakfast leftover portion, but the original was also served with some vanilla custard poured over the top. It’s the perfect fall treat! 
Tressa’s Apple Cake
Ingredients: 2 tsp. cinnamon5 Tbsp. sugar3 cups flour1 3/4 cups sugar3/4 cup vegetable oil3 large eggs2 1/2 tsp. vanilla3 tsp. baking powder1/2 cup orange juice4-5 large apples, peeled, cored and sliced Directions: Stir together cinnamon and 5 Tbsp. sugar. Sprinkle mixture over sliced apples and toss together in a large bowl.In a large mixing bowl, stir tog…

And Now for Something Completely Different...

In non-gardening news, I wrote a book. And it has a cover:

This book has nothing to do with gardening. Instead it’s a collections of short stories that I actually wrote quite a while ago as part of my master’s thesis. It’s due out from Annorlunda Books in December. 
I’ll keep you posted on where you can pre-order (should you be so inclined) starting in November!

A Tale of Two Beehives

Back in August, our bees swarmed and broke themselves into a new hive. I caught the swarm and Kirk built a new top bar hive to house them. Since then, we’ve had two side-by-side hives. 
We helped the new hive get started by feeding them some simple syrup so they’d have extra energy to build all the new honey comb they need. I’m not sure they needed our help, though. They built comb super-fast, and they now have 11 or 12 bars completely drawn in the space of just five weeks.
It’s pretty clear that when the original hive swarmed, they sent out their best and brightest: all workers, and lots of them. We were worried about the new group having enough time to get their house in order for the winter, but they’re doing really well:

This is just one of many combs that is heavily laden with honey. Capped honey (the white part at the top) is ready to go for their winter reserves. The center (where most of the bees are) is full of nectar that is ripening and should be capped soon. The bottom pa…

Goodbye, Lizzie

On Tuesday Kirk went out to look for eggs and found Lizzie lying on the ground underneath the ramp to the henhouse. So he had to go out in the rain and bury her back on the hill. Though the other hens left her body alone, it’s not really the kind of thing that can wait for a sunny day.
You may recall that Lizzie was a very troublesome bird. She had a bad habit of pecking at her own feathers, to the point that her back and butt were totally bare. Painting Blu-Kote on her skin to protect it was always an adventure. Note the gloves in the photo below:

She hated me and tried to attack me every chance she got. I don’t think the other chickens liked her much, but they seemed to mostly ignore her. She wasn’t a great layer, either.
Still, we’re surprised she’s gone, because I sort of figured she’d live forever just to spite me. On Monday we noticed that her comb was droopy, but we figured she was just molting. By Tuesday she was dead, and we don’t know why. She could have had an infection fr…

Spaghetti Squash Ambivalence

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been harvesting our spaghetti squash. This is just a portion of it:

They’re a little dirty because I picked them on a damp day, and they’re out on the porch counter to dry out a bit. This looks like a lot, but we’re not actually going to be able to store — or even eat — all of them. 
Despite the fact that spaghetti squash is a winter squash with a good, tough rind, nearly every one of ours has a breach in it:

Whether nibbled on by squirrels or used as an insect nursery by squash bugs, most of these have problems that have led to a pretty quick demise. There’s no way any of these will hold up in storage over the winter, so our only option is to eat as much as we can right now, before they turn into a liquified, gooey mess. 
It’s not all that appetizing. 
I’m also not all that fond of spaghetti squash. I mean, it’s fun once in a while, but it strikes me as more of a novelty dish than a culinary staple.  
Why do we have so much of something we don’t lo…


September is here, and there’s been a noticeable cooling and loss of daylight hours. We finally have tomatoes — about a month late — and our orchard decided to ripen all at once. That means I had to pick pears, peaches and apples in one feel swoop. That’s really strange, but it’s been kind of a weird growing season. 
On the bright side, our Gala apple tree is having a best-ever bumper year:

That’s just a portion of the apples I’ve picked so far. The tree is still covered:

It’s also hard to tell in the photo — since everything around the tree is also green — but this is no longer a dwarf apple tree. I can only reach about halfway up, so we’re officially in standard territory. We’ll need to bring out a ladder to fully harvest these apples.
We definitely planted a dwarf tree, but over time it looks like the root graft ended up in contact with the soil. This can cause the grafted stock to take root and override the dwarf root stock, and I guess that’s what happened here: This tree is big…

Zucchini-Crusted Mexican Pizza

Zucchini is almost always a sure-fire garden vegetable, often to the point of ridiculous returns on the investment of a few seeds. We even planted ours in semi-shade this year to slow it down, and we’ve still managed to pick more than we can typically eat as a side dish. In addition to baking and freezing our favorite zucchini bread for the winter, we’ve had plenty of zucchini pizzas on the grill, along with zucchini salads and sides. 
There’s still always more to eat, so Kirk dug into one of our favorite summer reference books, the Moosewood Cookbook. This is full of excellent vegetarian recipes, and Kirk decided to try making a zucchini-crusted pizza. This is basically a grated zucchini fritter held together with egg and cheese, but you make it big enough to use as the crust of a pizza. You can find the recipe here. Kirk tweaked the recipe by making it on a flat pizza pan with browning holes instead of in a pie plate, which made it much crispier. 
Instead of the suggested Mediterra…

Our (Partial) Solar Eclipse

You might have heard about the solar eclipse that swept the country on Monday. We weren’t prepared with eclipse glasses, but we caught Jonas heading out with this contraption:

That’s just two pairs of regular sunglasses doubled up, so after a stern talk about eye safety, we built a viewer to take outside. Kirk used an old cardboard tube to make a pinhole projector:

The tube is 4 feet long and 3.5 inches in diameter — it was leftover from a new carpet we had delivered earlier in the summer, and we were glad to have it still lying around. The longer the tube, the bigger the image. 
All he’d die was cover one end with foil tape and poke a small hole in it. The bottom is covered with white paper to make a screen. He cut a viewing window near the bottom, and this is what you see:

This was at the beginning of the eclipse. The rest of the photos below are in order as it changed. At its height, we were at about 62-63 percent in shadow.

It was a fun way to spend an afternoon, and we’re defini…

Catching a Swarm for Our Second Hive

Things have calmed down here considerably since this weekend’s bee tornado, when our colony decided to split and swarm to create a second group of bees. Once they settled down and found their queen, they all clustered up on a sheltered post of our grape arbor: 

This is a lot of bees, and they wouldn’t stay there forever. Their next job was to look for a new place to build comb for a hive — a hollow log would be nice, but it’s just as likely that they would find a hole in a wall and build their nest in a house or garage.
That’s not exactly good publicity for honeybees when it comes to the neighbors, so our job was to catch that swarm and give it a new home. To do that, I dug an old box out of the recycling bin and donned my bee suit to grab those bees and give them some shelter before the sun set. Kirk was called in to work, so I had to do it myself. This would have been better as a two-person job, since climbing on a chair and holding that box in one hand while scooping bees with the…


This afternoon Jonas called me to look out the window because the wind was acting weird and things were flying around in circles in the back yard.
It wasn’t the wind.

What Jonas was lucky enough to notice was that the bees were swarming.
Honeybees do this when their colony is doing well. It’s a way to reproduce by creating a new queen and sending the old one out into the world with a bunch of workers to build a new hive somewhere. 
When they do it, it looks like a bee tornado.

The first video was early — probably not too long after they decided to ship out of the hive — but during the second they were starting to coalesce a bit. You can hear the buzzing if you listen closely. (Jonas was not exactly delighted by any of this.) Eventually I saw that they were beginning to land on the grape vines, and in another half hour or so they had all decided on a post of the grape arbor.

This is a nice, sheltered spot, and hopefully they have a little trouble finding a suitable log or hole to move…

Spaghetti Squash Is Everywhere

When we planned this year's garden back in the winter, spaghetti squash wasn’t technically even on the drawing. We had pumpkins and butternut squash as usual, but when we went to plant, we decided to use some of our spaghetti squash seeds instead of pumpkin — pumpkins don’t last as long in storage, and we really only use them for one meal each year.
The spring was so wet that most of our first round of seeds rotted in the ground. I couldn’t remember which half was butternut and which was spaghetti squash. When I replanted, I only had a few butternut seeds left, so the rest of the empty spots were spaghetti squash. 
Fast forward to today, and it’s all we have. Not a single butternut or pumpkin in sight:

These aren’t ripe yet — they’ll need to turn yellow in the sun, and right now they’re still pale green. This is just a small fraction of what we have going on. The vines have completely overtaken their bed:

You can see them spilling well into the gravel path. In spots they’ve jumpe…

Thuya Garden

Last week we stayed in Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island for our summer vacation. In addition to lots of hiking, rock scrambles, and some sea kayaking in Acadia National Park, we also took time out of a sunny morning to visit Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor.

These formal, English-style gardens are on the site of an old lodge (a great building in and of itself). The property was donated to the town and the gardens are now for the public. It seems to me that the compressed growing season in Maine means that things tend to flower almost all at once — and to pretty marvelous effect.

Different beds have different color schemes, but the clear pinks, blues and yellows above was one of my favorites.

Also impressive are the delphiniums. These are enormous — though they have been carefully, individually staked. This explains why mine always look so floppy and pathetic — that and the fact that it probably gets a little too hot in the perennial border here.

The garden is on the site of an…

The Office Garden, Expanded

The little garden I planted outside of my tiny office is filling nicely. For example, the small nicotiana I transplanted has blossomed:

I like the handling flowers, and it smells nice, too. The container planting has also filled in over the past month or so:

Since this container gets a fair amount of shade, the pansies are still going strong. The whole thing has filled in with all the rains we’ve had:

This garden connects to a tiny strip of land bordering the garage. I filled that in with daylilies that I moved from the perennial border a couple weeks ago. These are a very vibrant red, but that color no longer works with the white-orange-blue color scheme that I’ve switched to:

So now these are hanging out in the back, and once we paint the garage yellow like the office, they should really pop:

The daylilies should also look a little fuller in seasons to come. These are divisions that I transplanted fairly late into the season, so they’re a little droopy this year.

It’s Raining Cats

So just when we decided that Smithy just didn’t come around enough for our tastes and got an indoor cat to play with, another cat seems to have walked into our lives:

This one is a big guy, and — despite the somewhat startled expression on his face in the photo above — is oozing confidence. I saw only his black tail scoot past the back door and thought it was Smithy, but then this much bigger cat sauntered through the cat door onto the porch for what was left of Smithy’s breakfast:

This photo is better, since I opened the door to take it. When this guy was done eating, he came right up to me and was just about to walk on into the house, but I didn’t let him. So ever so calmly turned around and walked away, without flinching or even picking up the pace beyond a slow walk. 
He looked healthy and clean, so I’m not sure if he belongs to someone or is just a solid survivor. We’ll see if he comes around again for more snacks — I wouldn’t mind having him set up shop in the garden, since the…

Meet Fiddle

So this happened yesterday:

After much discussion, we decided that we would really like a house cat in addition to a barn cat. Smithy has become increasingly aloof this spring since we went on our April vacation. He only comes around at night for his food, and sometimes he’ll go a few days without coming around at all. I even tried enticing him with catnip and caught him in a Have-a-Heart trap to give him his tick meds, and though he stuck around on the patio and ate breakfast that day, he wouldn’t come up for a pat. He may change his tune when it gets colder again and he remembers the treats in my warm office, but he seems content to come and go as a barn cat should.
Trouble is, we kind of got used to the ultra-friendlybarn cats of the past, so we decided we should have a house cat to dispatch the errant mouse and curl up on laps. 
So this is Fiddle. He’s an eight-month-old boy who was found in a feral colony, but who the rescuers thought was young enough and sweet enough to be soci…

Adding Color to the Perennial Border

For years I was working with a very limited palette for the flower garden that wraps around the house: all white, with a few touches of red in spots. This was very elegant, but now that we’ve begun painting the house yellow, I’ve found myself leaning toward orange and blue plants. I love the yellow-orange-blue color combination, and we were really happy with how our swath of orange tulips worked with the new paint color this spring.

As is always the case with a flower garden, plants don’t live for ever. This year when I went shopping to fill in some holes, I reached for some more colorful plants to mix in with those white ones. They’re not all blooming right now, but here are a few that have opened for a sneak peak of next year’s color palette:

These apricot blanket flowers actually have orange centers, but it’s hard to tell in this picture. That makes them blend well with the little orange petunias I have sprinkled along the very front of the border:

Since I have officially given up…