Archive for the ‘Lawn and Garden’ Category

The Squirrel Season

One Day's Harvest

One Day’s Harvest

Oops–does my title sound as if I’m hunting for squirrels? I promise that’s not the case, but I am imitating the activity of the squirrels right now. Translation? My garden is coming in in full force. Winter is not far behind, so I’m trying to store up as much food as I can for that time when nothing grows. Just like the Midwestern squirrels I used to watch as a child–I’m getting ready for the days ahead.

It may very well be stubbornness–or something even less flattering–that has caused me to move to one of the driest and least hospitable places for growing crops in the entire Southwest and then take up gardening. But I never had time to do it before. Now I do, and the garden has rewarded us generously.

I love to see pretty jars of canned food lined up in a storage cupboard or on a countertop. You can’t beat the flavor of the fresh tomatoes, corn, and potatoes you harvest at 4:30 and serve at 5 pm. My freezer bulges with loaves of zucchini bread and bags of home grown pumpkin for our Thanksgiving pies. This year, I discovered that our warm Arizona garage is the perfect place to dry herbs, too, so this year’s dill dip will be made with our own dill. It’s kind of fun to be a squirrel after all!

My favorite produce this year came from a peach tree my son Joe and I planted three summers ago. At the time it was not much more than a stick that barely reached our shoulders. This year, despite a late frost that nipped most of the blossoms, the tree (now higher than my head) produced a total of three lush, delicious peaches. Next year, I tell myself, will be the bumper crop. Provided the frost doesn’t get too aggressive, of course.

Our church organist tells me the apples are ready at her house, and we can have all we want. Applesauce, apple butter, apple pie filling–yum! You’ll find me in the kitchen again this week, making like a squirrel. Come on over–I have a peeler with your name on it!

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Fresh-Dried Dill, Sage, Rosemary, and Parsley. No Thyme, sorry.

Fresh-Dried Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Dill. No Thyme, sorry.

First Peaches from a Tree we Planted Ourselves. A red-letter day!

First Peaches from the Tree We Planted Ourselves. A red-letter day!

 

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A Glorious Spring Garden

San Diego Botanical Garden 108  If you are a gardener, like I am, this is a roller coaster time of year. One day it’s snowy and bitter, the next it’s a balmy 65 degrees and spring pretends to have arrived. A gardener can’t plant anything yet and it’s too early to start seeds for transplants. About all you can do is water on warm days–not a very interesting task. Ugh! Hurry up, Spring!

My kind husband took me with him while he attended a meeting in San Diego last week. I explored a huge garden center there and looked at all the plants I’d like to have that would last about 20 monutes in our climate. I stayed in the room one morning and read a novel. But one day I decided to brave the California freeways and go to the San Diego Botanical Garden. I’m not a very confident driver, but I longed to be in a garden that was already up and growing.

What a delightful place it turned out to be! All by myself, I wandered through from tropical bamboo to desert succulents, thankful to see the bright colors and smell the living earth. Birds appeared to be having a convention of some kind there, and the air rang with their calls. Mm-m-m. Just what I needed. There’s an old poem that concludes “You are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” It felt true to me that day in San Diego.

I thought I’d post a few photos from that garden, just in case you need a taste of spring, too.

What a color!

Both desert and tropical plants and flowers are featured here. What colors!

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Zucchini Madness

When Jeff served his first church in Central Wisconsin, a member with a green thumb told me, “Any idiot can grow zucchini.” It’s true that the hardy little squash develops well in most climates–even that of Northern Arizona.

But I’m an agricultural pessimist by nature, so when I was planting my garden this year, I planted 4-5 zucchini hills, because what if they didn’t grow, right? And of course, they grew. And now, I’m swamped by slender green squash. My kitchen counter has had a pile of them in place for weeks–the individuals change, but the size of the pile seems constant.

I have made nearly every possible recipe containing zucchini, and I’ve included zucchini in a number of dishes that didn’t call for it at all.  I have multiple loaves of pineapple-zucchini bread in the freezer and jars of zucchini relish in the cupboard. Zucchini haunts my dreams and turns my scrambled eggs green. It’s getting ridiculous.

The other day I told Jeff I was simply going to pull out three of the plants and get things back in balance. He looked at me like I’d suggested an abortion, so I think I’ll be processing the squash til we leave for vacation in September. And now the tomatoes are ripening! You gardeners out there will relate. I’m a little overwhelmed. A lot overwhelmed, actually. Wondered why the blog’s been spotty lately? Yep. The zucchini did it!

One of the good things about  zucchini madness is that I have found a number of wonderful recipes that include it. My daughter sent me a recipe from one of her cookbooks (sorry that I can’t give credit where it is due–I never saw the book’s cover) that has become this year’s absolute favorite. I thought I’d share it with you today, since at the beginning of this blog some months back, I promised an occasional recipe. If you have zucchini madness at your house, it will definitely help.

Tortellini Sausage Soup

1 pound sausage (I used mild Italian sausage)

1 large onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic

3-14 ounce cans of beef broth

2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes

1-8 ounce can tomato sauce

1 cup dry red wine, optional

2 diced carrots

1 T. sugar

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1 diced zucchini

1-9 ounce package cheese tortellini

Brown sausage with onion and garlic. Add broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine (if used), carrots, sugar, seasoning and zucchini. Simmer at least 30 minutes; vegetables should be tender. Add cheese tortellini and simmer for 10 minutes more. Serve. Sprinkle each bowl with parmesan or asiago cheese (I used some shreds of monterrey jack, as that’s what I had in the house). So, so good!

Snakes…that is, birds…in the garden

I walked out the  door this morning and twelve startled birds flew out of the fruit tree in my front yard, zooming across each other’s paths in guilty confusion. It didn’t take long to figure out what they’d been up to. Those greedy little feathered scavengers were having breakfast.

When we moved to Holbrook, we weren’t sure what kind of fruit tree we’d purchased with the house. It was short, dwarf-appearing, and nicely shaped, but in the absence of leaves or flowers, we had no clue. I asked one neighbor if she knew what kind of fruit grew on it. “It’s an ornamental,” she said firmly. “Pretty flowers but no fruit.”

Another neighbor said, “I remember seeing crabapples on that tree.”

“Citrus,” the third neighbor said, but we knew citrus fruit doesn’t grow here. The tree flowered earlier than anything else in the neighborhood and a few weeks after the flowering was done, I happened to be in the yard near it to water some new plantings. I looked at the tree and saw literally hundreds of small balls hanging on its slender stalks. I could tell they were stone fruits of some sort, but which one? Apricots? Peaches?

After some weeks of fruit-watching and  consultation with yet another neighbor, we concluded they were apricots. They grew larger and larger and finally, just days ago, they began to ripen. We noticed the yellowing fruit, and so did the local bird-life.

This morning, I went to check on my lovely, abundant harvest to find that we’d been beaten to the punch. Dozens of our beautiful apricots had been pecked open and destroyed. I called my friend Irene Enlund, who said, “Take down the fruit that’s nearly ripe and see if it’ll finish ripening indoors. Then hang something reflective and shiny  in the tree to discourage the birds.”

Pre-Bird and Post-Bird Apricots

So I went out with my basket and began picking. When I finished gathering the fruit that was nearly ripe, I hung strips of aluminum foil in the tree. There! I thought. That will fix you birds.

I wish I could say it had, but although the birds circled warily for a few minutes when I finished, I can see out my window that they’re back. In fact, one is sitting on a branch with an aluminum foil strip. I don’t think I’m going to win this battle!

You know, I don’t begrudge the birds their breakfast, if they’d just eat whole apricots. But five little pecks out of each one? Seriously? What’s that about? Wasteful little beggars!

Anyone would think they were human…

Okay, Grass–Ready, Set, Grow!

Our Yard–Amended, Raked, and Ready for Hydroseeding

What can you do for a lawn in the Northern Arizona desert? The answer depends on how much water you have available. Many folks–and after all, it’s their choice and their water bill–decide on good old Kentucky Blue Grass. It takes a ton of water, but it’s pretty, even if not environmentally defensible.

On the other end of the spectrum some folks just say, “Forget it,” and cover their lawn with rocks instead of grass. But that choice is less compatible with grandchildren and it’s hot, besides. Sod? Nope–only available in Kentucky Blue Grass. Seed is available in every type and description, but with Holbrook’s perpetual wind, loose seed simply picks up and blows away. What to do?

As we pondered this problem, our helpful insurance man suggested something new to us: hydroseeding. He explained that water, mulch, and an appropriate mix of grass seeds are combined and then sprayed onto the prepared lawn. The mulch holds the seed in place until the grass starts to grow. That sounded like a winner to us. So just over a week ago, the hydroseeders came to help us out. Here, they are breaking up the green mulch into the tank of water and seed.

Mixing Water, Mulch, and Grass Seed

Soon, a heavy green carpet of mulch covered our lawn. It looked a bit artificial but still seemed hopeful to us.

The lawn is coated with the mixture.

And now, a week or so later, voila! Grass is beginning to grow through the mulch. It’s not rocket science, but it certainly solved a problem for us! Stop by for a visit and see the end result!

Grandma’s Grave Surprise

This morning about 6 am, I knelt on my kneeling bench next to the huge brick flower bed beside the sidewalk leading up to my house. A dozen plants needed to be planted before my flower bed was complete, and I wanted to get them in early, before the sun started scorching them. I planted some blue lobelia, my favorite bedding plant, and then put in some sort of orange colored African daisies, as well as some petunias. Finally just two plants remained–both of them leafy, whitish Dusty Millers.

Perhaps because of the Dusty Millers, or perhaps because we’ve just passed Memorial Day weekend, I remembered something that happened when I was in my first year of college. It’s become a classic family memory. If you’ve known me very long, you may have heard this story, but I thought it worth retelling.

My grandmother, Lillian Mason, died around that time. She’d asked to be buried in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, near where she’d been raised. We lived in Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula then, and as Memorial Day approached, my mom picked up some bedding plants she thought would be pretty together and drove down to Chippewa Falls to plant them on Grandma’s grave. About July first, my mom asked if I’d go with her to Chippewa Falls once again so that she could settle some details of Gram’s estate. We would also, she commented, go to the cemetary and make sure that the plants were okay.

When we arrived at the cemetary, we walked across the peaceful, tree-shaded lawn toward the headstone marking my grandmother’s grave. Even as we left the car, I could see the flowers blooming vigorously in front of the marker. As we got closer, though, it seemed to me that some of the plants looked a little…different. Being the horticultural ignoramus I was then (and still am to some extent), I didn’t say anything about the anomaly.

My mother stopped at the graveside and stared down at the flowers. “What’s that thing? I didn’t plant anything that was supposed to look like that!

I followed her gaze. In the center of the colorful assortment of annuals stood several large, aggressive, green plants with knobbly heads that looked like…”Mom!” I gasped. “That’s broccoli!”

“It’s no such thing,” my mom insisted. “I planted a bunch of pansies and some petunias, and some of that Dusty Miller plant in the center. It can’t be broccoli.”

I reached down to snap off an immature head, holding it up for her inspection. “It is, though. Definitely broccoli.”

My mom’s face reflected the wild impropriety of the moment. Broccoli? Here?

We looked up and our eyes met.She shuddered and shook her head. “How awful! I planted broccoli on my mother’s grave.”

I clasped my hand over my mouth to prevent laughter from leaking out. But the irrepressible chokes and snorts escaped, and my mother also began to grin. And then to laugh and laugh. At last we sank to the ground beside the grave, still chuckling. I patted the mound beside me. “I think Grandma would have thought the broccoli was pretty funny, too, don’t you?”

My mom wiped her eyes and nodded. “Let’s just leave it here. It’ll make people wonder! She’d like that.”

We returned to our car, smiling and content–and somehow closer to my grandmother because of the laughter we’d shared at her graveside.

“You know,” Mom speculated as we drove away. “When broccoli is young, it has sort of powdery looking gray leaves. I remember the greenhouse where I bought the plants had the annuals all mixed together with the vegetables. I’ll just bet someone accidentally stuck some of their broccoli transplants in with the Dusty Millers.”

That’s probably what happened, too. All these years later, I never plant Dusty Miller without a smile, remembering my Mom and my grandmother, and the day we found the broccoli on Grandma’s grave.