Tag Archive | garden

Just Peachy, Really

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One of my best friends this summer has been the peach tree.

With James and the Giant Peach entrained early in life, there has always been something special to me about peaches, and this tree itself holds such meaning. Maybe that story is also why I love bugs and all other living creatures. That story, and “Are You My Mother?”

One of the first fruit trees I planted here, over the graves of a dog and a cat, I planted in memory of a woman I loved, Daryl Ann. She died of breast cancer twelve years ago, and lives in my heart for all time. So it’s a special tree, the peach tree.

It took a few years before it made more than a few peaches, and even since has only produced a bounty of peaches once before. This year, against the freeze odds, it made so many! I thinned, as I’ve been taught to do, a few weeks after the tree itself shed almost half its first flush of tiny green fruits. I’ve paid particular attention to it since then, nurturing with extra food and water, watching the growth and ripening of fruits closely, monitoring it daily for the past month in order to catch the most peaches as ripe as possible before the birds get them all.

On cold snowy days in spring, hot sunny days in summer, the oppressive smoky days of high fire season, cooler ripening days, I’ve spent time with the peach tree, dusting early for aphids before they could cripple early leaves, thinning, communing, watering, weeding around, photographing; generally keeping company with the peach tree, hanging out with and appreciating it.

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early summer

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mid-summer

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A month of smoke from wildfires

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and finally, ripening!

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Cocktails with the peach tree before first harvest

 

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This summer’s first peach harvest, about a third of what was on the tree. I watched and waited every day, until after a big wind I saw a couple of peaches on the ground. That evening I picked every peach that would let go easily.

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Plenty of peaches left, growing brighter every day.

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The August Manhattan includes a dash of peach bitters in addition to the regular Angostura and the secret ingredient, and is garnished with chunks of fresh peach.

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We made a peach pie with the last frozen peaches from two years ago, in anticipation of a fresh harvest. Thawed slightly sitting out, or 20 seconds or so in the microwave, the peels slip off easily and flesh pops right off the pit. Thanks, cuz, for taking pictures!

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Silicone mat (thanks, neighbor!) makes crust rolling easy.

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The second harvest from the tree, a bowl to share and a bowl to keep.

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And STILL peaches ripening on the tree, irresistible after a light rain. Altogether I picked three big bowls, and a few in between, always only pulling those that gave up easily. 

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An early sign that I’d better get the last of them off the tree…

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… and after birds, just a picked-clean pit. I did leave a couple of dozen on purpose for the birds, including one with a perfect view from the patio, so I could catch someone in the act.

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Last peaches, gifts for birds, glowing in the August sunset.

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… the best part of the August Manhattan.

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The peach tree finally at rest after a fruitful season.

 

 

On Fire

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Hummingbirds surf the desert willow as she continues to throw out waves of flowers.
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Sunset the other night behind the western edge of Grand Mesa. Smoke from a distant fire… also some closer fires, including the Buttermilk Fire just ten or twelve miles away.

This is the first day in over a month that I’ve been able to spend a whole morning outside. I usually get to spend two, at the very least one day a week devoted to the yard and gardens. With oppressive smoke and heat outside all day and night these recent weeks, and inside flames, of love, fears, blame, I’ve been neglecting my garden, my center, my path. I am still learning to walk.

The patio pots are out of control, in desperate need of deadheading and trimming. Stellar can’t stand that I’m talking to myself about it and not to him. He flops onto his left side and rolls his head toward me, then tries to roll his bulk onto his back, pawing at the path and making little noises. Rolling after running and eating is dangerous, so I go to him, get up baby, such a fine boy… He comes to standing, shakes, leans against my knees as I fold over him rubbing his belly, my cheek pressed to his velvet ear, his chocolate cheek, murmuring love words as he emanates his whole-hearted response. I’ve been neglecting the dogs as well as the garden.

A light shower last night and an even cloud cover this morning gave hours of enjoyment and work, nurturing the place that gives me succor: pulling prostrate knotweed and bindweed from paths, deadheading rampant gladioli and snapdragons, cutting back early salvias and dahlias, pulling from cracks between flagstones the errant catmints; leaving thymes and gourmet salad-size purslane. All the pots are buzzing with bees and other aerial creatures. Below, honeybee drinks from abundant Gaura in the pink clay pot.

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Honeybee prays for clarity on a smoky day

The sky has also been abuzz. The Buttermilk Fire at the west end of our mesa held my attention for a full week. I readied the Mothership for evacuation though I didn’t really think it would be necessary. This time. To date, around 750 acres have burned, mostly in wilderness piñon and juniper in steep canyons and ridges. Firefighters have contained 15% of the burn area and remain focused on keeping the fire heading south and east into the wilderness, protecting human habitations at the northeast edge and minimizing the threat of an ember rain.

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One water chopper coming in empty just south of the house, on its way to the reservoir. Below, another heading back on the north side, carrying 2000 gallons of water in its bucket. We all, when we gather, speak of our gratitude for these hardworking women and men. People bring them treats. Little kindnesses matter in the midst of chaos.

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Honeybee treats herself to pollen from a dahlia, gathering as she wipes her face.

What blooms along the seam of the path and the patio foundation varies year to year depending on what seeds sow, what weeds grow, what gets mowed down by the tortoise, dogs, garden cart or hose in daily passing. I keep hoping snapdragons will self-sow here, as they do at Rosie’s house, but so far the seeds haven’t landed in optimum conditions. As I trim and weed around the patio I wear gloves and watch closely. There’s always a chance of a black widow, though they don’t tend to inhabit this kind of niche, they prefer a deep and secret place with little or no traffic of any sort.

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Bumblebee on a snapdragon, maybe Bombus griseocollis, the brown-belted bumblebee.

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A bee fly, Bombylius, feeds at the Gaura. This delicate beauty is a parasitoid, feeding in its larval stage upon the larva of a solitary bee, killing it. In a sense, a predator as well as a parasite. Who would guess, from its gentle appearance?

Leafcutter bees have been crazy for the dahlias this week. I’ve finally figured out how to overwinter them: leave them in pots, bring the pots into the mudroom after the foliage dies back, and keep a paper bag over them. All those I saved in a box or a bag over the past few years since I started growing dahlias have withered, despite occasional misting, and failed to revive in the ground. Those I kept in pots last year grew again in abundance. Next spring when I bring them out I’ll divide them into even more pots. They bloomed early this year, like everything else, but they keep on going as long as I keep tending to them, and it’s hard to name a more cheerful flower.

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Share and share alike, at least with flowers…

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…or maybe not. Next time, more fun with Rocky Mountain Beeplant, Cleome serrulata. 

All the west is burning. Smoke obscures horizons for days. This is chaos, not change. The practice is to witness. The work is love. Our living planet needs each of us to rise up. Some hearts burn with passion, some with shame. Mine smolders with both but at least I’m on fire again.

 

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.