Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Summer Bliss

Each year that I've grown corn in containers, by the time they are about four feet tall, I wonder if it's worth it. Corn wants a lot of water and fertilizer to develop well, and the last few years, California has been in a prolonged drought. Even though last Spring saw our reservoirs filled by rain, we still have restrictions on watering; that means that most of the water we collect from the sink or shower waiting for the hot stuff to come out of the faucet has to be carried out to the corn.

Is it worth it?

Then, by the time the corn is seven feet tall and corn silk begins to be visible, I wonder again if the investment in water is going to allow good formation of ears.

The tassel at the top of each stalk begins to shed pollen, and ears begin to show. I touch the silk, gently squeeze the ears. Is there any bulk in there? Is the silk drying out a little?

Time for a test: I peel back a little bit of the husk ... and there are white and yellow kernels, pretty as jewels in a treasure chest. The corn is ready.

And with the first bite of tender, sweet, fragrant front yard corn, I know that all the water was worth it, and that I'll plant more next Spring.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Carnage

The piece leaning against the car is the first piece he tore off: the lid.

We bought a new garden shed for the north side of the house, and it arrived in an enormous cardboard box. I knew that I'd never be able to get the empty box into my car's cargo area to take it to the recycle center,  so I asked for some help breaking it down.

Kermit said that he'd be glad to assist me, and after jumping into the box, he dismantled it from the inside out. I think it took him 30 minutes.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

300

Not long after I planted my tomatoes out in the front yard, I was bullshitting with the owner of the empty house next door. "I got over 150 pounds of tomatoes last year, but I had a few unproductive vines. This year, I'm thinking I'll get 300 pounds of tomatoes out of here."

I hoped I wouldn't regret my words later, not wanting to be known as a bullshitter, even though I was in the bullshitting mode.

Then, as can be seen in the previous post, I had a record tomato picking day. A few days later, I added another 44-pound picking. And THEN, on July 3, I broke the record and picked 55 pounds of beautiful, beautiful tomatoes. At that point, I knew I'd get my 300 by the end of tomato season.

On the 28th of July, I hit my goal. 301 pounds of tomatoes from a small suburban front yard. 


 The vines are getting a bit weary at this point, and who can blame them? So I did a stout trimming on the indeterminate vines (Early Girl and Gladiator) and took off all the branches that are done with production or that looked like they would be unproductive. The Shady Ladies are still producing; they're not ready to be pruned just yet. 

I'll keep track of what I pick until the end of the season, of course. But no more bullshitting. I have no idea how many more tomatoes I'll get this year.

That's Kermit beside the tomatoes, being such a good, calm dog. And the picture of the yard is taken from the next door neighbor's yard -- a next door neighbor who will own the house starting tomorrow. Seems like a really nice guy, and he says his wife loves raising tomatoes. Wouldn't that be cool?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Record Tomato Harvest

This morning I enlisted Bernie's help, and we picked tomatoes.

On the tray in front, the variety is "Gladiator" a new variety this year, raised from seed.  On the left, in the low basket, is "Early Girl." The rest are "Shady Lady."

51 pounds, 10 ounces.

In one picking.

That's the most ever. Last year I think the heaviest day brought in 28 pounds. On the other hand, last year I had a number of unproductive loafer vines that just didn't produce worth a damn. This year I went with the big guns (plus Gladiator) because we have a use for some tomato sauce in the future.

Aren't they a bit pale to be picked, you may ask. Not at all, really. They will finish coloring up just fine sitting on my counter.  The ones below started out picked just as blushy as the ones on the table.
They are just as flavorful, too. But the reasons I pick them just as they start to blush are three-fold: one, the sun can cook them on the vine in the afternoon heat; two, if they color up, the bugs bite them and birds peck them; and three, if they get too ripe on the vine, they soften up and the weight of the other tomatoes on the vine crushes them. Tomatoes are not only delicious, but fierce.
 
Here's what I mean about bug bites:
These are Gladiator tomatoes, a paste-type variety with a thin skin. All they have to do is start blushing, and bugs nibble or sting them. They can still be used for sauce, but they look ugly and can rot quickly once the skin is breached.

Incidentally, the description of "Gladiator" from Burpee's Seeds says it's a patio or small garden tomato. That would be only if you don't want to see your patio or small garden until next fall -- all of the plants are wide and taller than I am.


I do have another variety in the yard, a San Marzano that was on the verge of being thrown out at the nursery; I'm a sucker for orphan tomatoes and just brought it home and tucked it in with the sunflowers and overgrown onions. If it produces a fruit, I'll be glad to taste it.

From left to right, Gladiator (8 oz.), Shady Lady (8 oz.), and Early Girl (6 oz.)

 High time for a BLT, I say.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Too Hot

All gone.

For the first time in years, I planted snapdragons this past winter. Here in Central CA, snaps are "winter color." Not this year, though, as we had so much cloud cover and rain that the plants just didn't want to bloom.

Once April rolled around, though, they were beautiful, and grew tall and blossomed and smelled delicious.

June, and a heat wave. I mean HEAT WAVE, with temps in the hundreds for a week. Right now, as I type this, the weather report is that it is 107 out.

I expect heat like this at the end of July, but not in June. Especially since I just stopped wearing winter clothes about 10 days ago.

Even the plants were not expecting it. Bernie's peppers are cooking on the stem; my container corn is withered and trying to tassel too early, and all the snaps have given up. Pansies, too, are suggesting that they are ready for the compost bin.

By this time next week, temps are supposed to be back to a seasonal level. But I wonder how many more plants we're going to lose by then.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Creepy Day ... and Night

Alex had just snitched the last piece of my bacon that I'd cooked for my breakfast, and was munching it while looking out at the back patio off the kitchen. I was in the front room, fiddling with my computer.

I heard Alex squawk, and she came back-pedaling into the front room, talking around the bacon in her mouth. "A BEHEADED RAT JUST FELL OUT OF THE SKY!!!"

Everybody leaped up and ran to see if she had lost her mind at last.

"Is it an omen, like the wolf pup being dropped into Claudius' lap in I, Claudius?" she asked, a grimace of horror on her face.

No, not likely, but since I've found bird feathers scattered at the exact same spot as the toes-up headless rodent, it seems likely that the little hawk I'd seen being chased by crows earlier in the day had sloppily dropped his lunch.

"Is that our rat?" I asked Bernie. ('Our rat' lives in the neighbor's roof and comes into our yard to steal bird seed and I haven't been able to kill the bastard yet.)

"That's a mouse," he said, disappointed as I was that Rat had not met his demise.

Just then, a scrub jay began to hop down from the tree, purposefully and strangely possessively.

Speculating on whether or not the jay wanted the dead mouse, or could successfully carry it away even if he did want it, we all withdrew to the house and watched from the windows. Sure enough, the jay pounced, grabbed the mouse, and flew off into the neighbor's yard with it.

"Good job on clean up, Jay."

But although a decapitated mouse falling from the sky was creepy enough on its own, that same night brought a troubling incident.

Allergies are really bad here this year, and Bernie and I take turns sleeping on the couch when our sinuses are bothering us. He was on the couch, I'd had a pretty sneezeless day, so I was back on the futon with Kermit. It was a warmish night, so the door to the outside was open.

At some point I felt Kermit roll up from his sprawl, and I turned over to see what looked like a dog sitting outside our sliding screen door. At first I thought that someone had found a black dog and shoved him in our gate, thinking it was Kermit on the loose. But then I remembered locking the gate before bedtime. I disentangled myself from the covers and got up to have a look.

Nothing was there.

I'd have thought I was dreaming, but Kermit was still staring intently at the door. And whatever it was that I saw was sitting, while Kermit was still lying down, so it wasn't a reflection from the glass part of the door.

I shut the door for the rest of the night.

The next day Bernie told me he'd heard something on the fence that woke him up, there being an open window beside the couch.

Makes me kind of nervous now to sleep with the door open.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dog Toy

The toy I got Kermit for Christmas went right into the trash twenty minutes after he unwrapped it. The packaging said that it was made for aggressive-playing dogs, made from firehose material, made to hold up under rough play.

Plainly they had never tested the toy on Kermit's jaws. I threw it for him once, and then he systematically sawed it into pieces and gutted it.

So I don't buy him cute doggie toys like I used to with Howie, Babe, or Desi (a border collie/collie mix who took excellent care of all his toys) -- there's no point, I might as well throw a ten dollar bill at him and let him shred it.

However, after I filled the salt shakers in the kitchen, I had a sturdy salt box to put in the recycle bag. Had I been wearing shoes, I'd have stomped on it to flatten it and break it down a little, but I had sandals on.

...Oh, wait, I know who can help me with deconstruction. I showed it to Kermit, who was keeping me company as he always does, and then tossed it into the front room. He leaped after it, scooped it up.

The salt box fit in his jaws perfectly, and he began to gallop from the kitchen back door to the front door in eight-foot leaps, growling around his new toy. He tossed it in the air, chased it across the floor, chomped it, capered while shaking it, ran back and forth over and over again.

When he was done scampering and had settled down to eat the box, I traded him a big dog cookie for the container, and took a picture of it to remind me that there is one dog toy I can get for him on a regular basis.

Makes me feel a lot better about being able to give him a new thing to play with. Next time I'll take the label off before I give it to him -- he'll be able to play with it a few minutes longer.