I’m grateful the scarlet runner bean vine is finally taking off. Hammered hard by deer outside the fence, they struggled to gain many blooms. Once the wild sunflowers grew up they provided a barrier to the voracious does, and the vine was able to blossom. I planted eight seeds: only one of them sprouted. Look at her now!
I planted it for the hummingbirds, and finally was in the right place at the right time today to catch a few enjoying the nectar. The first one checked me out before feeding on the flowers. Thereafter they ignored me. I am grateful for intrepid little hummingbirds.
I’m grateful for scarlet runner beans, and grateful I had some time today to sit with and appreciate them in their flourishing glory. I’m grateful for the gentleness of this day just passed, mild ambient temperature, flowers all around, abundant harvest of tomatoes and tomatillos, joyful energy expended in the kitchen canning and cleaning. I’m grateful for finding support this evening in being with the excruciating awareness of life’s vivid, finite beauty.
It’s been a year since this beautiful creature bit the dust. Look at him draping there languorously along the back of my office chair, which he and he alone clawed to tatters. He was a singular animal, as devoted, communicative and interactive as any dog, and as wily and unpredictable as any cat. He was a treasure and a joy to share the world with, and I miss him every day. There are moments when I remember so vividly finding his remains that I once again inhabit the numbness of the shock. As clear as it was in that moment, I am looking at a swath of his grey tummy fluff across the forest floor, holding his dear dead perfect head in my hands. I’m grateful to come across pictures of him like this one when I search my archives for some unrelated image, pictures of Ojo very much alive that convey his brazen personality, his solid vibrancy. It was a gift to have him live with us for six years, and it’s a gift to recall him now. It was a gift to find his remains rather than suffer uncertainty at his absence, and a gift to suffer the jolt of his impermanence.
A couple of the bonsais-in-training got potted down over the past few days, including this culinary sage. It grew in the garden for a few years until it got crowded out, and then it was in a regular pot a few more years, so it has a sturdy trunk base. I clipped off all the old growth to leave the miniature new leaves, trimmed the roots, and wired it into a new pot. I’m grateful for the gift of leisure to enjoy pursuing this longtime passion with new vigor.
The magic beanstalks have slowed production to just a handful of immature pods every couple of days, while many out-of-reach or simply missed in the foliage earlier outgrow this harvest season and wait to be picked dry for winter storage. The first heirloom Pizzutello tomatoes are ripening, as are tomatillos, and a few more cucumbers. I’m grateful for the gift of garden harvest, and the gift of another day in this glorious world.
Spectacularly weird weather continues to give us extraordinary skies, sunrise through sunset and beyond.
The kittens continue to make themselves at home, gradually extending their territory one windowsill at a time.
This morning they claimed the Cradle of Civilization, and because they were too cute in it, and because this is a game of give and take, I ceded the basket and the garden table to them. I made it clear, though, that the tables on either side of that one, and my desk in the corner, are off limits. As they explore the house further each day there is a constant negotiation of territory.
Meanwhile the garden roller coaster opened the throttle a long time ago.
The raised beds, looking north from inside the horseshoe. Dahlias from seed, gladioli, tomatoes.
The raised beds from the entrance, looking south towards the bush beans and melons.
Tomatillos have set a new burst of flowers after I fed them last week.
I may have made a mistake. I gave bloom food to all the flowers and vegetables last week, and it seems to have done some of them good, the flowers, the squashes, beans, eggplants, but I fear I’ve undone my tomatoes and tomatillos. They’re sending off prolific new shoots with blossoms, and some of that new growth on the tomatillos is turning yellow. What do I add to help them, and should I cut off all those flower shoots? And what should’ve I given them instead of bloom food (1-4-5)? Bloom foods I’ve used before have said “for flowers and fruits.” This one I bought in bulk, and don’t really know much about it. I used the same company’s grow formula (3-2-4) earlier this summer, maybe more than once. I think I also did a bloom feed earlier. I thought that doing it last week would help the fruits that were already on there, but instead I think I may have sabotaged them. Live and learn.
Then I called my next door neighbor, who has a true subsistence garden for his family, and asked him what I’d done wrong. He said his tomatoes are doing the same thing, lots of new shoots with flowers, and he didn’t give them anything. So that made me feel better. He agreed maybe I should cut off the new shoots. I started doing that and suddenly it seemed like I was cutting too much growth. It’s been a hard year for a lot of vegetables, late to go in because of the cold, way too much rain leaching nutrients from the soil early and compacting the beds with some clay in them, then hot and dry baking those beds, then cool and wet, then super windy, then rainy, then hot and dry… Fluctuations.
What’s making the tomatillos turn yellow? Is it too much water? Grasshoppers eating stems? Competition from the snake gourd next door?
Plus the grasshoppers! Everyone is complaining about their plague-like populations. Fortunately in my yard there is so much growth of all the ornamentals, from the wet spring, that they have plenty to eat without doing too much damage to the food crops. Still, I’ve been cutting back spent beds where they’re congregating, and setting out Nolo bait stations every few days. Maybe I’m making a little headway, I can’t tell, but the little piles of Nolo get eaten before the afternoon thunderstorms arrive.
A beautiful combination, Callirhoe involucrata, or poppy mallow, with creeping germander, and full of native bees for the past few weeks. But also, if you look closely, crawling with grasshoppers.
Despite the grasshoppers, there are some nice tomatoes forming, and the marigolds are happily blooming.
Our very first little gherkins!
And finally, back inside to kittens. I’m still not sure about their names. I’ve been trying on several different names for each of them in the past couple of weeks. For Ojo, the little black boy, I’ve considered Pepper and Alcide. For the tortoiseshell girl whose working name was Ajo, I’ve considered Garlic, Cinnamon, and Sookie. But in the back of my mind I can’t get past the soft, sweet custart-colored patch on her tummy, and I think I’m going to call her Flan. A as in father, not as in Ann. It sounds as soft and sweet as she can sometimes be, and if the name does make the kitten, I prefer that to a spicier moniker.
Kittens, they are each other’s toys, and I have become their furniture. Flies in the windows teach them to jump. The big dog lies on the futon while the girl kitten stalks a fly by his nose. She creeps, she inches forward tensed, then pounces, lightly, on the cushion by his face; he remains still, watching this curious puppy that has several times hissed at him.
Ojo with the beautiful green eyes.
He’s claimed the forgotten dusty shelf in the laundry closet.
The little black cat rolls and purrs on my chest as I write. His sister sits on a forbidden table. I disrupt him to go scoop her up and bring her back to my lap in the recliner, disrupting his nap preparations. He almost seems to be jealous of her, curled on my chest, settling for one of the first times on the bed he claimed last week. Eventually all three fall asleep, Stellar where he lay, Ojo in the window bed, and Flan, finally, on the footrest between my feet. I find myself feeling more relaxed and happier than I have in a long time, and I know that living with these little kittens is good for my heart. And if it’s good for my heart, it’s good for my art.
Last summer my friend David stuck a couple of surprises in one of my garden beds, and a few weeks ago I pulled two sweet little Vidalia onions. When I called to thank him, he offered to send me a bunch of starts. He just finished planting 1950 of them in his central Florida garden, where they’ll grow long and well until they’re four or five inches fat. There’s no chance of that here! In fact, it’s almost certain they won’t survive the winter. But the slim chance of their success is worth the gamble.
So here, on November first, I’ve planted about fifty little onions and watered them in. I’ll set up the hoop house over one bed, and gradually mulch the other with a foot of straw, and whatever snow slides off the hoop house on top of that. If I can coax either bed through the winter it will be well worth the effort come summer.
First of all, call me crazy. I just planted fifty Vidalia onions on the first of November. It’s not even a root day. But close! I missed that yesterday with errands in town and of course the Halloween frenzy. I did get the beds ready, turning and breaking up the clayey soil, but when I had twenty minutes in the afternoon between other tasks and dressing for the party, I chose to lay on the patio chaise with my feet up the back. Toes up time!
I’d spent the day before canning tomatoes and freezing pesto, and the morning canning tomatillos. Last night at Halloween dinner we were talking about how none of us has ever lived in a place before where so many people know exactly where their food comes from. If we don’t grow our own vegetables, our neighbors give or sell us some. We don’t have much in the way of farmers’ markets, but we have a lot of farms where we can go directly to buy vegetables. If we don’t make our own bread we know someone who does. If we don’t slaughter our own meat we have friends who hunt, or grow pigs or cattle or lambs, or we visit the Homestead Market and buy meat grown without chemicals and hormones on local ranches. We are very connected to our food on the Western Slope, and we revel in our collaborative meals.
Chrysanthemums flowering around one of my few ripe Early Girl tomatoes in late September. I pulled most of the tomato plants up before leaving town the last week of September, and hung them in the tower to slowly ripen. A surprising number of them have turned red and gone into the pot or a sandwich since then.
September 22’s harvest of carrots, parsley, coriander, and tomatoes, all went into a frittata with Pamela’s eggs.
One of many rounds of garden pasta sauce in the making.
The Romas produced prolifically; unfortunately, not until early October. I learned from this to protect the plants from deer, who ate the first round of tomatoes in late summer just as they ripened. But the plants rebounded amazingly from the grazing, tripled in size, and put out a bunch of late blossoms. Which turned into late tomatoes. Which did, in fact, ripen slowly on the counter, contributing to several batches of sauce and soup.
The Last Zucchini. I swear, I checked this plant every few days all fall, hoping to avoid another giant fruit. And suddenly, when I started pulling plants up after the first real frost on October 8, I found this biggest-of-all hidden right along the bed wall.
As much as we celebrate our bounty together, I celebrate the gifts of subsistence that we exchange throughout the year. One of my favorite presents of all time was one of Suzi’s homegrown chickens for my birthday dinner. The best part about the chicken was that she brought it to my house uncooked, so I got not only the delicious, home-grown, free-range, organic chicken, eating the skin without guilt, but I got the smell of it roasting with savory and rosemary for hours during and after in my house, I got three pints of stock, chicken salad, and dog gravy for three days. Other gifts of subsistence in recent years have included dozens of eggs, cords of firewood, a case of organic oranges and grapefruits for Christmas; a bag of elk burger, steaks and loin, wow; a bag full of last summer’s preserves, pickled green beans, pear butter, pepper jelly, peach salsa. Truly the gifts that keep on giving.
I am not the only one who enjoys toes up time on the chaise.
October 13. Freakish reblooming of some spring and summer flowers, including blue flax and this apache plume, flowering and seeding again even as the leaves of Foresteria in front of it turn appropriately yellow.
One Amur maple turns scarlet, while this one bronzes. Hardy plumbago leaves turn deep red while blue blossoms keep coming, in the berm behind the Wall of Inebriation.
The sum total of my entire fruit harvest this year, one little Fuji apple. The rest, the handful of apricots, peaches, and almonds that survived late spring freezes, fed the birds and chipmunks before they ripened.
This little aspen tree that sprang up unexpectedly from a Potentilla transplant out of Linda’s garden comes into its own this fall as a focal point in the garden.
A peck of tomatillos from Dawn’s garden gave me more than three quarts of salsa for the freezer and pantry. And for giving away.
Playing with food. Fresh garden salad in the last week of October. Not only have gardens kept producing well past usual, but I’ve only burned three fires in the woodstove by Halloween. Instead of the usual dozens.
This harvest season various friends have given me tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos. I’ve given away zucchinis, parsley, garlic, and kefir, and traded some carrots for an artisanal dog collar. We live close to the land and we share. I am grateful every day. An unexpected gift began last weekend. Three of us were driving to town for what turned out to be a truly extraordinary Bach and Schubert concert. Bill mentioned that he had an extra piglet. Before long, Deb and I committed to sharing that pig, and ended up picking up a fifth piglet in Montrose which we delivered to Bill’s pigpen. While we’re paying for the pigs and our share of their feed, Bill is giving his time to grow the pigs through spring slaughter for what turns out to be seven households in the neighborhood. It is imperative that I diligently eat up all those packets of peaches, cherries, tomato sauce, soup, pesto, and grated zucchini I’ve stuffed into my chest freezer over the past few months, so there’s room for half a pig by springtime.
Adventures with Pigs: Farmer Dave kicks up dust chasing piglets.
Pig in a net on the way to the dog crate in the car.
Farmer Dave in Montrose last week, where the cottonwoods still blaze in fall glory.
Unloading the fifth piglet at Farmer Bill’s pigpen on Fruitland Mesa, Zeke and Rocky supervising.
The fifth piglet joins his four litter mates two days after they arrived in Crawford…
At first, they turned their backs on him, as if they didn’t know him…
…but then they gave him a warm welcome. Actually, they chased and bit and humped him for about fifteen minutes, then they all lay down. Bill said the next day it was as though they’d never been separated.