Tomato last resort: I’ve surrendered to the late planting and cold spring. Time for extra effort. I saw this mini greenhouse hack on Instagram last night and knew it was the last chance for my seedlings. I’m grateful to have the right tools (almost) for the job: I haven’t been without a cordless drill in my adult life, I just lack the right bit for plastic but used a wood bit and barely cracked the box drilling vents. I’m grateful I had a spare craft storage box. This setup should bring them up to speed. We’ll know more later!
One thing I learned this week is that the seed-starting mix I used is crap. So though I was hoping to plant them directly, I also potted up the peppers this afternoon into a rich compost.
Today I’m grateful for any tomatoes at all. I planted half as many as last year, and they did less than half as well, so I found myself with a decent early crop of ripe tomatoes with which I made a couple of small batches of salsa, and with big expectations for a future which did not come. Yet. Last week I picked all the good-sized green tomatoes because I was nervous about a potential frost, and they are sitting in brown paper bags ripening, I hope. Meanwhile, the basket of ripe tomatoes grew smaller by a fruit or two a day as I was too occupied with other obligations to process them. When I finally got to it today, I roasted them with a couple of paprika peppers and an onion from the garden, as well as a store-bought garlic head. Then I ran them through the food mill to remove skins, and got a delicious thick marinara-ish slurry–but only just over a pint. Last summer I canned quarts and quarts of sauces and salsa. You just never know what you’re gonna get with a garden. I’m grateful for the domestic adventure a garden provides!
Many of Thursday’s tomatoes, above, turned into paste today. These Amish Paste tomatoes ranged from a smallish Roma style to a fat, almost-round fruit weighing half a pound. I grew three of these vines, but one died halfway through the summer. The other two are still ripening fruits, though most of them went into this batch of tomato paste.
I spent most of the day with tomatoes, all the while keeping an eye on Stellar. After our sunrise walk, he slept until after one, napped through the afternoon with a few forays outside, and only since it’s been dark a few hours has he become a bit restless. Meanwhile, the paste tomatoes roasted… then cooled, and then got pureed. Paste is the easiest thing to make–you don’t ever have to peel the tomatoes, just roast, cool, puree, then roast again–but it does take the longest.
The first roast is just halved tomatoes, for about an hour and a half at 350℉. Then the puréed mash roasts another few hours, with stirring every half hour. The mash concentrates over time…
…to a tangy, salty (just a sprinkle of kosher salt on the first roast, but as the tomatoey goodness condenses the ratio changes), sweet tomato essence. The easiest way to preserve and later use it is to freeze it in an ice tray. Once they’re solid, I’ll pop them out and seal them in a freezer bag to use one or two at a time. Each cube is around a heaping tablespoon. I’m grateful today for tomato paste, which kept my mind occupied, my hands busy, and my heart calm. I was present with the process, but it was straightforward enough that I could be equally present with Stellar as he lived through another one of his tenuous last days.
After his scary seizure last night (now his right eyelid droops, too), he slept soundly til morning, and woke eager to walk. His remarkable resilience propelled him to the canyon rim, and he seemed to have the good sense to avoid the very edge. The cottonwoods are half-turned, the ground is dry, and morning air is brisk. Stellar has made it to his thirteenth autumn. I’m grateful to have been present for his puppyness, his magnificent prime, his aging, and with him now as he approaches the far edge of life. He continues to exemplify benevolence, acceptance, loving-kindness, and all the other virtues I aspire to, as he demonstrates the path of presence.
Russet tones of autumn emerged first last month in the Amur maple samaras, now already dried and set with seed. This maple never does as well as the other, on the south side of the house. They’re in different soils, one in native clay and the sad one in more sandy soil. I need to deep water with some extra nutrients before fall gets away.
I’ve seen first hand how leaving a cluster of peaches on a limb will result in crowded misshapen small fruit, how even two opposite on a stem can smash together and provide haven for earwigs, how too many along a slender limb can bend it to the ground; all the things Fred warned me about as he urged me to thin thin, thin.
Nevertheless, my sweet tree delivered bowl after bowl of delicious peaches, that I gave away, froze, cooked into peach jam, infused into vodka, gin, and brandy, and canned in a special syrup…
Canada Peaches! In a twist on the bourbon peach recipes found online, I packed each half-pint jar with peaches, adding about a tablespoon of maple syrup, then filling with half simple syrup and half Canadian whiskey, before processing in a boiling water bath. I hope these last long enough to eat some mid-winter by a toasty fire.
And of course a couple of peach pies.
I ate the last fresh peach this morning, and harvested the two remaining apples on the heirloom tree, I’m so sad I can’t recall its name. Are the finches feasting on wild sunflower seeds also marauding the Fuji apple? It doesn’t appear so; the leaves are grasshopper eaten but the fruit is sound, and so much of it, more than ever before, dozens of apples, I’m so happy I thinned them! At least 59 Fuji apples. I’ve got my eagle eye on these, watching for predation by those pesky birds.
September is like the last hill on the roller coaster. You’re near the top, the wild rush of August harvest has unwound behind you, there is that last push of fall fruits and vegetables to get in before the varmints git ‘em. Rosie has a big squirrel in her garden. I’ve got a stray deer here and there reminding me it’s time to put up fences around trees and shrubs whose protective rings I’ve repurposed on smaller plants throughout the summer. Someone ate two fat cheeks off the biggest tomato of the season; just yesterday I thought that’s about ripe, maybe I should pick it, but it wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t come back. This morning’s rising sun highlighted the glistening dips in its flesh when I chanced to glance over from the patio, where I sipped coffee and listened to the raucous sound of morning.
Cynthia led a meditation on sounds last week that’s reminded me to cherish more the wild sounds and deeper silence where I’m blessed to live, like the cacophony of finches in the wild sunflower patch that sprang up on the south side. It’s been years since I’ve lived with a constant musical soundtrack, and for the past several I’ve lived with only intermittent music through the course of my waking day. More and more I find myself eschewing external music, to simply hear, and listen to, the music of nature: birds, crickets, wind, bees, coyotes at night, more coyotes this summer than I have heard in many years.
A great-horned owl has come a courting me. It must be me he woos, because I’ve listened long and faraway and do not hear another. And so I croon back to him a few times, though Stellar doesn’t like it and tries to make me stop, and soon I do stop, because it isn’t fair; I can’t give the owl what it’s looking for. But I sure do enjoy exchanging hoots with it for a few minutes on a clear full-moon night, or any other.
Rain moved through again last night, this time early enough to leave a double rainbow in its wake. I alerted the Bad Dog Ranch that they were centered beneath it. The next day I received a rainbow alert from them. I love this about where we live, that we care about rainbows.
This morning, rain-washed and crisp, the golds of autumn jingle forth. Last Saturday we noticed the first hint of aspen turning up on Mendicant Ridge. By Tuesday the yellows were distinct, and after that storm moved over Wednesday night, the golds are glowing bright, clearly delineated patches among shades of greens, siennas and ochres, treed and rocky slopes. Air is brisk and the dogs are frisky.
Great cumulus clouds march in close formation lockstep briskly through blue sky, white tops glowing, their grey treads gliding low. It’s too spectacular not to walk the frisky dogs up the driveway, where I meet my sweet neighbor and we stroll our rural, precious neighborhood.
Fall blows in on these winds that feel portentous. March winds last longer than they used to, and winter winds start early, in late summer. The breeze sometimes is just a bit too strong; I feel the atmosphere whipping up, winding up all this energy, that later, maybe elsewhere, will unwind with a fury. Ever since I watched the film Melancholia earlier this summer, I’ve viewed this world differently, trusting and allowing myself to sense and feel the changes, the subtle shifts in seasonal events, in their timing, likelihood, or nature. Something is coming, and all I want to do is make jam.
Apricot jam, peach jam, plum jam, chokecherry jelly, salsa hot and mild, and the new house specialty, Canada Peaches. Also plum brandy, peach vodka, plum syrup, plum sauce, pickled beets and cukes, and all the blanched greens, peeled and unpeeled fruits, tomato sauce and peppers in the freezer, let me feel I’ve made the most of the garden this summer.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not about my garden and what I’ve grown and what I’ve put up and what I’ve enjoyed this summer. It’s about what we’ve all tended and grown and loved and eaten and shared and put up for winter, it’s about what we all do in our lives here on this fragile planet. It’s about not just this apple, but all them apples, too! The change that’s in the wind is about me and you, and the choices we make in the next few weeks. To be continued…
All the frog activity this spring has resulted in a delightful crop of baby leopard frogs hopping all about the pond for the past month.
A whirlwind of work, company, and gardening has blown away the last half of summer; a delirium of fresh food has filled the days and evenings. Every day for the past month I’ve happily harvested something from the garden, filling bellies and freezers.
I’ve gotten into a nice, nurturing routine with the tomatoes, picking a few every morning, then making a sauce once a week or so with the Novas and Costoluto Genovese, enough to eat some and freeze some. And enjoying the cherry-pears and various slicers in scrambletts, sandwiches, and salads.
Oh, and pizza.
Also frittatas, with Pamela eggs, Stout bacon, and everything else from the garden.
The first tomato sandwich, with bread and butter refrigerator pickles I made with cukes from a neighbor’s garden.
Tomato avocado open-faced sandwich on sun-dried tomato/spinach bread from the Flying Fork Bakery. Yum.
Potatoes went in late and spontaneously this spring, in a clayey bed; I just cut up some organic grocery store potatoes that were past their prime and stuck them in the ground. Despite all the spring rain compacting the soil, and me never seeing the tragic-looking plants flower, the Potato’s drive to reproduce gave me a decent little harvest.
Purple velour and golden filet beans planted together in the raised bed gave up beans of both colors for months, providing lots of delicious marinated snacks and several bags for freezing.
One weird looking tomato..
Bad Dogs’ salad with greens and flowers from their garden…
… and a treat from their huge Yukon gold harvest, cheesy goodness.
Garden delights served with planked salmon…
… for just another spectacular summer family dinner.
After losing so many little melons I was thrilled a few weeks ago to spot this little Tigger melon, so I used some old lathe to protect it!
The entire carrot harvest for the year, not one of them more than three inches long. This bed needs serious soil amending before next spring. Just as I suspected, the clay soil compacted so hard that they simply couldn’t grow, so…
… except for the handful we snacked on, the whole harvest fit into one half-pint jar pickled. Also pickled the whole harvest of Mexican sour gherkins…
… for a great martini garnish!
The best surprises of the week, a hidden watermelon, Patio Baby variety, hanging from the potted plant…
… and an undiscovered Alvaro melon off the edge of the raised bed. Fingers crossed these get to ripen before the rodents get them.
Monsoonal flow continued through August and into early September; only just now are we getting a stretch of warm summer days without rain.
Carrots leftover in the ground from last fall, the little round French ones, and a couple of small Chantenays. The new carrots have not done well at all because of all the spring rain compacting the clay soil.
A few fruits and vegetables are finally ripening in this weird summer weather. And as many are being ravaged by beasts.
A sweet surprise yesterday morning, our first Tigger melon!
The Tigger melon vine this evening when I got home from work. Where did the melon go? Who stole it? My only harvest this year may be snapshots…
Who did this to my perfect Alvaro melon? And scratched up the other one? It’s as though a raccoon walked through here. I’m fearful of dearth! If it’s not one varmint it’s another. I no sooner got the grasshoppers under control than some rodent ate my peaches, and now this!
A baby snake gourd. Let’s hope this one gets the chance to grow up. I’ve long suspected the grasshoppers were eating the tiny baby melons, but maybe it’s been rodents all along.
Purple velour filet beans abundant and ripe, with the monster snake gourd resting on the edge behind them.
Velour beans picked…
… and sautéed with chanterelles that Gabrielle brought from the forest. Yum. Deb, I saved you some in the freezer.
Seriously, can anyone tell me what critter left these tooth marks in the melon?
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.