Tag Archive | garden

These Planetary Winds

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Weidemeyer’s Admiral butterfly in one of the hanging baskets. Don’t see many of these and it’s always a thrill. This was as close as I could get, and he skipped away seconds after this shot, never to be seen again. Yet.

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The dahlias are blooming nicely with lots of buds coming on, and finally snapdragons are opening in their vivid hues, blue and red salvias are filling in. Gladioli are budding, and the desert willow is packed with more blooms and buds than I’ve seen since it was young, almost twenty years ago. Pink gaura, also called wandflower or whirling butterflies, accents the corner patio pot with a spray of pale pink flowers dancing in the breeze, attracting bees.

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Gaura, or whirling butterflies, or wand flower, with roughly 22 species in the genus.

Funny how some things like the dry, I’ve heard a few people say this summer, unrelated incidents in exactly the same words. Certain cacti thrived this spring, blooming abundantly despite the drought, notably the claret-cup, or hedgehog cactus, Echinocereus. And some other plants did surprisingly well after the driest winter I remember; though not the hayfields…IMG_9345.jpgIMG_9346.jpg

But oh! these planetary winds! I’ve spent hours this spring, more hours than last, and more hours last spring than the spring before, holding down the patio table and monitoring the umbrella so my outside office doesn’t get blowed away. Days like these the gaura wands crack like whips, and swallowtails struggle to hang onto flowers.

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Note the little claws grasping, above and below.

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We’ve had a few brief reprieves from wind this spring but mostly it’s been consistent, day after day after day, swirling and gusting like the winds of Mars, shooting out tendrils that grab a bucket from the table and leave a book unruffled, dropping down microbursts from the larger, raging currents high above.

Nearly constant winds dehydrate leaves on limbs, evapotranspiring plants to their own doom, and fan the flames of wildfires all over the west, not to mention drying our eyes and noses and skin. But on the bright side, at least it’s been an assist in weed management, with ground drying so fast that one or two good mowings leaves bare brown dirt with no more cheat grass…

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Sometimes we feel like this butterfly, tattered and holding on for dear life to what sustains us…

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…or stalled, making no headway against the wind…

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These planetary winds have been building for years, exacerbating global drought, excessive flooding, and crop unpredictability. Most people aren’t talking about it, though: it’s as if most American politicians imagine the world is one big golf course and they can manage climate chaos just fine with enough groundskeepers; or worse, as if they know how terribly it’s affecting the poorest people on earth, and are eager to ramp up the demise of equatorial countries.

But the world is not a monocultural, controllable golf course. It is a vast and miraculous and mercurial thing, with millions of unique ecozones and ecotones, whose climate grows more complex each day as our species continues to blunder over and into it with little comprehension of our devastating effect on our only home. With each war, each oil spill, each frack job, each billionaire born, the cost to Earth grows more complex and irrevocable.

And so we gardeners, we givers to and lovers of the planet, continue as best we can to create as small an ecological footprint as possible, wanting what we have, cherishing beauty and life in its many forms. We provide habitat, water, and food for the wild where we’re able, and TLC to our own food plants, with deepest gratitude to the birds, bees, snakes, frogs, butterflies, and other creatures that keep life spinning in our own little lands.

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The peach tree benefited from all the bees this spring, with abundant fruit. And yes, neighbor, I’ve thinned them since this picture, leaving only a couple to each twig… painful as it was to do.

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Marla Bear, here are those butterflies you loved on the Coreopsis.

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This one tattered tiger swallowtail fed on the patio flowers for hours the other day, braving planetary winds and bringing me into deep contact with my better nature.

 

 

Mourning Cloak

IMG_2690The first butterfly I see in spring is the mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa. The species ranges throughout the northern hemisphere, and is called mourning cloak in many other languages, though in Britain it’s called Camberwell beauty, white petticoat, or grand surprise. It gets a jump on other species because it doesn’t migrate long distances, instead overwintering in suitable habitat tucked into tree cavities or under loose bark, emerging in early spring to begin its reproductive cycle. After mating, females lay their eggs around twigs of host trees upon which their caterpillars feed, including various species of willow, cottonwood and birch, and in American elm, hackberries, wild rose, and poplars among others.

The slightly worn wings of the mourning cloak above attest to his long life, having metamorphosed mid-summer last year and overwintered nearby (maybe in my birch tree, or wild rose). This week he is out searching for females, and after breeding he will live only another month or two. Sources say mourning cloak adults prefer to feed on tree sap and decaying fruit and rarely flower nectar, though I always see them in the flowering fruit trees. Not in the compost pile!

In my quest for bumblebees, I’ve been grudgingly rewarded this week. I caught one a few times in the mystery tree, saw one last night on the Nepeta in the south border, and this morning one in the peach tree. Frequency of sightings is increasing, though I still think there should be many more by now than I’m seeing. IMG_2626IMG_3042IMG_3046.jpg

Processing Peppers

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Summer’s BLTs melt into autumn’s grilled cheese. One tomato left!

I’ve come to cherish my garden peppers: shishitos, paprika, jalapeño. I’ve grown peppers before because they’re gratifying; easy to start, often prolific, but I haven’t really loved them until this summer. After a couple decades living in the southwest, I finally sometimes crave a bit of heat in my food; I’ve made friends with the jalapeño.

This summer I picked up a jalapeño seedling from Zephyros Farm, and started a dozen shishitos, some of which I traded for 3 Leutschauer paprika peppers that the Bad Dogs started.

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The jalapeño I planted in a patio pot, and it gave me dozens and dozens of bright green peppers through the summer. Grasshoppers hammered its foliage but that seemed to spur it to greater production. I froze three batches of chopped jalapeños in oil in an ice tray, then popped the cubes into freezer bags for cooking. After chopping the first batch without gloves, my fingertips caught fire. Since drinking milk helps with mouth burn, I thought, I soaked them in a splash of cold cream. It did help. And the plant continues to flower and fruit; before the big freeze I brought it into the sunroom, and it’s got half a dozen new peppers already.

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Shishito peppers provided buckets of delectable appetizers, for cocktails with neighbors…

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… or solo. Just a small batch flash-fried (blistered) in olive oil in a hot skillet, then sprinkled with fresh-ground salt, and served with an adult beverage.

I nurtured those little shishito peppers from seeds in a salad box, lovingly watching over their sprouting and first leaves, potting them up, bringing them in every night for weeks, waiting til late June to put them in the raised bed, wrapping them first with walls-o-water, then covering with row cloth. And finally, with trepidation because of the grasshopper infestation, opening their cover to give them full sun. They thrived.

I planted the paprika peppers at the south end of the same bed. They grew almost two feet tall and were covered in fruit which never ripened. I read somewhere that this particular Leutschauer variety ripened to a bright red by the end of August in Ontario, and made the mistake of assuming a shorter season than they actually require. At our altitude, with nights consistently in the 40s by September keeping the soil wet and cold, these peppers will need to be started much earlier next year; I’ll also plant them in pots so I can bring them inside to finish if need be. Apparently nights should remain above 50 for them to turn scarlet.

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The evening before the first deep freeze, I picked a huge bowl of green peppers, taking nearly all the fruits in hopes they’d ripen off the stalk. 

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Only a couple of them turned red. Most remained green, even those with blackened shoulders. 

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Baker Creek support suggested I could try drying them anyway to make paprika powder. The first batch I roasted at 350 for about twenty minutes, turning a few times, then turned the oven down to 200 and dried them for about five hours. After they cooled, I tried to powder them in the food processor, but that didn’t work. The blender did; I pulsed them, then sifted, then pulsed a few times, and made about a quarter cup of paprika powder. Seemed like an awful lot of trouble for what I got, until I tasted it.

Attempting to improve the result, I roasted the next batch at 400 for about 12 minutes, took them out and let the oven cool to 200, and cut out the seed cores before drying the peppers. It took only slightly less time for them to dry, though they were bigger peppers. For the amount of paprika I use in a year, I got plenty, with a decidedly richer flavor than store-bought.

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Roasted, dried green Leutschauer paprika peppers before grinding; kind of a muddy color…

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Two batches of paprika from a summer’s worth of water, TLC, and three pepper plants. Hmmm.

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My kitchen counter at the height of harvest season…. and below, after preserving.

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Green tomato pickles, roasted green tomato salsa, regular red salsa, paprika, and two types of tomato sauce, with a few stragglers in a bowl. Counting the bags of sauce in the freezer, I can have some kind of homegrown tomato treat almost every week til the next crop comes in!

Driving around the valley the past couple of weeks has been spectacular, and achingly poignant. On the way to town the other day, against a backdrop of dark grey raining clouds, the slopes of Saddle Mountain emerged in sunshine a rainbow themselves, yellow and green aspen, orange oak, blue and purple shadows down juniper green hills.

The road down Rodstrom Grade its own cascade of colors, sandstone cliffs frothing with wild clematis seedheads, spent blossoms of rabbit brush lining the road; russet, orange, red serviceberry, squawbush and apricot trees, cottonwoods turning the canyon gold, chartreuse and yellow. Always a chance on this road of bobcat, coyote, lion or bear. I turn on and off the radio as I drive.

In just the past month, this country, this world, has changed so much, multifarious threats escalating. I tune in and out of the “news” a dozen times a day, tracking the next climate chaos disaster: hurricanes, wildfires, famines, human migrations; shuddering at the latest lies and doublespeak from the current regime; weeping at the most recent man-made tragedy; gauging the latest threat of nuclear war.

Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, we unwittingly adapt to climbing tensions that will ultimately boil us alive; we are crashing toward some unforeseen finale. We might consider ourselves lucky if the Yellowstone supervolcano blows before our democracy does.

Driving home from town, a view never before seen, never this exact amalgamation of earth forms, rain light, autumn palette: Fresh snow on the north end of Mendicant Ridge as mist rises, exposing sunlit slopes through the shadowed gap between Saddle Mountain Lands End. Heavy grey rick-rack clouds lift to reveal a window deep into the West Elk mountains: caught in a beam of sunlight, silhouettes of ranges recede into lighter deeper blues and greys, pale rain falling lightly over layers of gold and deep green aspen-fir slopes. Exquisite wild world, each moment unique.

This is what’s real. This precious watershed, a pawn in the battle for our public lands, our lives and livelihoods that depend on the clean water, clear air, and healthy soil that provide the foods that sustain us. I pack the pantry and the freezer with peppers and tomatoes, and cherish each hazy day.

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The yard begins to give in to winter.

 

This Week in Sunflowers

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This week in sunflowers… and other yellow things. Diverse native bees, including the sunflower bee (Svastra, I think: the males have unusually long antennae) are buzzing and feeding in the sunflowers, and a few goldfinches have come for seeds but fly too fast from me when I come out with the camera. Grasshoppers continue to maraud every living plant, including the gladioli, giving me a window into a bud.Pollinator-9001

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Dahlias are suffering worse than glads from grasshopper predation, though these later blooms are in better shape than those in early summer; enough flower left to provide for this bumblebee. Bumblebees are so complicated, with any one species having so much variety in parts and patterns, queens and workers and males all different sizes with different color sternites, tergites, and corbicular fringes, variable leg part sizes and cheek ratios… It would take more time and focus than I have now to even try to learn them. We have about 13 species in this part of Colorado. But I can’t even remember that many. One, two, or possibly three more species below, on Prince’s Plume, mullein, and Rocky Mountain beeplant respectively.

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Meanwhile, the fernbush, Chamaebateria, has also been blooming, attracting more flies than bees, and a few butterflies as well, including this Painted Lady.

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But who will this adorable, soft creature turn into one day? I rescued it from porch sweepings, and dropped it into some leaf litter, but not before examining it on my breakfast plate. Its antennae surprised me, popping out when I scared it, then sucking back into the top of its round face. Here, they’re halfway back in, after shooting straight out in alarm.

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Dragonfly perched on a radish seedpod.

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Those horrible thunks against the window… I heard one on the west kitchen window last week and saw the body drop. Dashed outside, around the Foresteria loosing masses of purple berries to the ground, beyond the woodpile, and tiptoed through the mess of palettes, hoses, wire cages, and empty pots to find this young yellow warbler out cold on the ground. I carried him around to the south side of the house looking for a good shady perch, and set him in a sturdy crook in the apricot tree. Brought the cats inside and left him there for awhile. When I went back he had flown, so that was one good deed for that day.

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Then, just this afternoon, another smack into the east window. Outside, a tiny hummingbird facedown in a geranium pot. Its beak was a little askew. In my hand it was weightless, but its minuscule heart pounded. Cats secured inside, I set the hummingbird in a shoebox in the shade, putting a twig under its barely perceptible toes, and set a small bowl of water in front of it as it wobbled on its perch. I shut the lid for awhile, then checked, and tipped the water bowl so it could reach without moving. It flicked its threadlike tongue into the water. I dumped the water and filled the bowl with nectar, and it drank again from the tipped bowl.

I shut the lid for another ten minutes; checked again, tipped again, left again. The fact that it was still alive encouraged me, though I was distressed it didn’t fly right off. Half an hour later I returned and opened the lid, tipped the bowl for another drink. I left the lid open and checked again in another half hour, dismayed to see the bird still there. But as I moved toward the bowl, the little bird cocked its little pea-head then zipped out of the box, up and out of sight! Sometimes all they need is a safe space for long enough to get their head on straight.

Not long after that, I caught a goldfinch in the sunflowers.

 

This Week in the Garden

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This week in the garden has been an antidote. The tightness and pounding in my chest belies the calm I bring to each day hearing this mad rhetoric of nuclear threats in the news. Apparently the Korean War never actually ended; our country once had an opportunity to negotiate the conclusion of that conflict, along with some other diplomatic options, to deescalate rather than fan the flames of this shitgibbon standoff.

My uncle, who just turned 92 and retired from the army a 2-star general, was a strong Trump supporter. “He’s a loose cannon,” John said, “But it’s all campaign rhetoric. He’ll settle down and tow the line when he’s elected.” Well, Uncle John, I wish we could talk again. I’d love to hear your take on that position now. He assured me in that conversation that failsafes exist between the President and “pushing the button.” That’s not what the talking heads on media are saying. They are saying that military officials are obliged to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief.

John said the same thing when I asked him, “What would you not do if ordered to? I mean, what would it take to make a conscientious Army officer, a good Christian, a person with integrity, refuse to follow an order?”

“It would never happen,” he said. “An officer will quit before he’ll refuse to carry out an order.” Leaving in his (or her) place someone who presumably, eventually, would  carry out the order, no matter how heinous. Like initiating nuclear war with North Korea. I also asked him about the possibility of martial law, or a military coup. He brushed me off. “Never happen,” he said. Well, this is a career Army officer who served for decades after his retirement as a military consultant. For my peace of mind I had to trust him.

So now there are these pansy white guys in Washington who’ve never seen war first-hand, ignoring all the urgent counsel from men (and women) who have been to war, the officers and retired officers of our military branches urging them to hold their horses, to not be rash, to not be stupid.

Where people lose track of reality is when they call military trainings “war games.” They’re not games. This diluting of the meanings of words (and the word WAS God), this diluting of raw content into an idea of it saps comprehension.

Have you ever seen a wild animal attack? An alligator, for example? A badger? Until you have, you can’t comprehend the instantaneity of it, nor the savagery. Or a raging wildfire exploding trees? I imagine war is like that. Unless you’ve seen its horrors yourself, you can’t comprehend the magnitude of it, or its unpredictability: how far and fast it can spread, and in what unforeseen directions.

Well, enough about that. It has been an exquisite journey on this planet. Through it all I’ve worshiped only one thing, Life itself, in all its glorious diversity. I live where there are lions; hummingbirds and bees, dogs and cats, ravens, fawns, flowers, rain, clouds and trees bring to my day what joy it contains. If it all ends tomorrow in nuclear annihilation, it’s been a brilliant ride. My heart breaks with gratitude.

This week in the garden is like every other week, in some ways; and like no other week, no other moment, in other ways.

This Week in Food Alone:

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The first BLT of the season, with the first Stupice tomatoes ripening the last week in July, with Bad Dog lettuce and the best ethicarian bacon available in that necessary moment. Plenty of mayonnaise, yay mayonnaise! On light bread, Rudi’s organic oat. Some things you can only compromise so far. Remind me to plant at least one Stupice plant next summer; they give early and tasty.

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Glacé garni, with lemon twist and two dried Marciano cherries, one great ice cube in a Manhattan.

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The Colonel’s prized Vichyssoise recipe, which I sleuthed and found in his Fanny Farmer Boston Cookbook. He was so proud of this soup. I used homegrown leeks, a hefty Farmers’ Market Yukon gold potato, and extremely local cream.

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Stuffed Costata Romanesco squash, yum. They doubled in size overnight. I’m trying to catch them in the act.

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Organic white peaches from the Crawford Farmers’ Market, drenched in fresh whole milk from the cows next door, with a sprinkle of organic brown sugar-cinnamon.

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Collecting tomatoes for two weeks, finally enough San Marzano and Stupice ripe to make sauce. Slow-cooked strained tomatoes, with onions in olive oil, plus a splash of red wine. Such gratification to use tomatoes, peppers, carrots, garlic, herbs from my own garden…

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Steaming from the oven sourdough from the starter Ruth gave me last winter, still going strong, a staple now in my weekly meal plan, finally getting the hang of the perfect loaf.

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Mary’s ultimate ginger cookie recipe with a substitution and an omission, almost Lebkuchen in flavor, a grounding sweet even in summer.

These quotidian moments:

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Lola came to like dogs a little bit more after meeting Stellar, Rocky, and Raven. But especially Rocky. And Stellar.

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What is this? I don’t remember seeing this bright red growth in the pinyon tips, and I’ve seen it in a couple of different woods up here on the mesa.

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Black Canyon morning.

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Finding solace, finding beauty everywhere I can. This week in sunflowers, this week in hummingbirds, this week in shooting stars.

Summer After Snow

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Essentially the same shot, same angle and distance, 24 hours apart, of an Icelandic poppy in a patio pot. 

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After the snow, everything rebounded remarkably. The pink honeysuckle whose limbs had been bent to the ground stood tall and fleshed out with plenty more blossoms, and was full of bees for weeks. A few iris flowers froze but no one stalk completely died, and they continue to bud and bloom their last few, three weeks later.

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The Siberian honeysuckle vine began to open as the pink honeysuckle tree slowed, and bumblebees of all kinds are all over it.

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For a week or two the chives were where it’s at.

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Columbine blooms madly in various warm shades, attractive to this digger bee and many others.

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Western tiger swallowtails are coming to the potted salvias, as well as many other blooms.

It’s interesting to notice how tense my life becomes without reliable water. For a week the switch on the pressure tank has been failing, and the plumber has been swamped with the more urgent task of repairing a broken water main that supplies a whole neighborhood. I could have found someone else, but I just found him, and I like him, and he’s good. So we waited. When the tank drained and the pump didn’t kick on, I went out and jiggled the switch. As each day passed, the switch failed more frequently, until each time the tank drained I had to jiggle the switch.

It’s a good thing I meditate. We cut back our use of water to necessity, and all the garden got thirsty, but the seedlings and transplants remained a priority, as well as drinking water for people and pets, water for face and hand washing, and of course ice cubes, for cocktails. We were never in dire straits. We were in anxious straits. And that anxiety, despite being modulated by daily meditation, strained my equanimity. I felt tight, and less than whole, simply because the water could at any moment quit altogether. And I realized how thoroughly the structure of my day depends on reliable, constant water. How lucky we are!

He came this morning and replaced the switch. I feel I can breathe freely again. And so I am back to spending hours a day moving hoses and sprinklers, hearing that darn pump grind comfortingly at regular intervals. Within two weeks of having a four-inch snow with one-inch water content, we are enjoying 90 degree days and the garden is in full bloom. We are all thirsty all the time. And now, for awhile, we have peace of mind. And showers.