Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lush Life

It's mighty lush around here these days. 
Just look at those snap peas reaching for the sky.  David had to add some bamboo to extend the trellis a few feet higher, soon we'll need a ladder to pick the ones up top.  They are just now starting to be ready, we had  a couple of handfuls with the last of the asparagus in a stir fry last night, sweet, crisp and so tasty, a favorite treat of spring.  The potatoes are the tall plants this side of the peas, I'm looking forward to an excellent crop thanks to all the rain we've had so far.  Beyond the peas are the onions and garlic which are starting to bulb up and the asparagus, now going to fern, hiding the tomatoes from view over by the fence.

After about 5 inches of rain last week and several days in the mid to upper 80's we were blessed with the passing of a windy cold front that dropped the humidity and the temps considerably.  In fact folks in these parts had lows in the 40's on Friday night, some even claimed upper 30's, kind of wild for late May.  We were delighted to be home and able to be outside and enjoy the breezes and clear dry days. I took advantage of what might be the last such weather for some time to wash loads of laundry including sheets and blankets, I also hung all the pillows out in the sunshine to air out and disinfect.

Tomorrow I'm heading south to Southern Pines and the Weymouth Center for a week long writing retreat with the gals from my writing group.  I'm thrilled to have the opportunity and so looking forward to 5 solid days dedicated to R&R and writing every single day for long stretches.  I'm hoping to make good progress editing a piece I've been working on during our weekly group meetings for several months about my early days as a chef, moving to Austin and getting my legs in the world.  I think it has potential and want to spend this week incorporating all the excellent feedback that the group has given me as I've shared each section with them.  The Weymouth Center is such a fantastic spot to escape to.

What a lucky girl am I.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Close Encounters With Wildlife

I was in bed reading the other night when David called from the bathroom "you've got to come see this right now, and you might want your camera."  Perched on a giant peony that I had cut and brought in that morning was this gray tree frog.  He must have been wondering where he was after sleeping inside that flower all day.  I was grateful that David spotted the little guy before a) it began singing during the night and woke us from a sound sleep or b) it hopped off into the house, where it may not have survived too well.  I'm also sure the frog was grateful to be released back outside.

Heavy rains last night and today were rough on the peonies but I got this photo before these blooms got their faces rubbed in the dirt.  This pompom double flower is almost over the top!
Raspberry Sundae

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's Official

You might remember me saying one of my goals for 2013 was to complete my environmental educators certification.  And I did, actually back at the beginning of March, I finally finished, that means I completed 200 hours of classes, teaching and community service projects and finally, today, my documents arrived in the mail.  I'm kinda tickled about getting this done after 4 years of working on it, not sure what it will do for me exactly, but the experience did give me lots of great ideas for teaching EE and the opportunity to meet  many interesting and dedicated folks in the EE field. And there is that sense of accomplishment which isn't a bad thing when you're scattered in as many directions as I often am.

Some other highlights of the week:
  • Baby bluebirds continue to chatter in the nest, I expect to see them fledge any day now
  • Peas are blooming and there are tiny pods forming
  • Peonies are in full bloom as a result of the high temperatures that finally came BOOM, from 70 on Tuesday to 90 today.
  • Potatoes are blooming which means taters are forming under ground 
  • Strawberries are coming in ripe and sweet
  • And finally, another thing that's official.  I removed the last vestiges of the community garden from the Duke Energy site on James Street, a sad scene for me to see it end, but also, it was time and I'm very glad to be done with that project which was hard emotionally and physically.  Now I can concentrate 100% on the one community garden I am still managing. 
You know I can't help gushing about the peonies, so here are a couple of reasons why:
  • the flowers and foliage are large and lush
  • the petals are silky
  • the fragrance can be spectacular; ginger, rose and citrus, all rolled into one
  • the colors and flower variations are many
Gaze upon these and be a believer
Looks like a horseshoe wreath of flowers

Bowl of Beauty

Need I say more?  I wish you a good night!

Sunday, May 12, 2013


 Shrimp salad: asparagus, lettuce and radish from the garden, olives and avocado from afar

We had planned to take a four day camping trip to the mountains this past weekend but when we saw the forecast for rain both Saturday and Sunday we decided to stay home but vowed not to work too much.  We reminded ourselves at regular intervals that we were "on holiday".  Even though we did work a fair amount, we only did things most urgent, like trellising the tomatoes which were flopping on the ground and puttering sorts of tasks that we enjoy like what I call the precious work of weeding, fertilizing and mulching young spring vegetables.  We took great walks in the woods, went kayaking at Jordan Lake on Friday morning, read, took naps and fixed some seriously good meals like the one pictured above.

We did a lot of birding as this is supposed to be the biggest week of bird migration for the spring.  At Jordan Lake we saw loads of great blue herons as always, along with numerous eagles and osprey, brilliant yellow prothonotary warblers and orchard orioles.  The cliff swallows were nesting under the bridge and we watched them a long while and then a brilliant blue tree swallow with a black eye mask and white belly, a real stunner, sat still on the top of a dead tree and let us take a long look, unusual for the swift flying acrobats.  We also saw a spotted sandpiper bobbing its way along the edge of the shore.

Around home we have been checking out some amazing wood ducks both nesting at the pond and cruising down Morgan Creek.  This is a spectacular bird, it looks more like something out of a cartoon than real live ornithology.  Red bill and eyes, iridescent green helmet like mane that hangs off the back of the head like a relaxed mohawk, yellow flanks edged by white pinstripes, this is one stylin' bird.  We stalked three of them along the creek this morning, scaring them up several times, then sneaking up on them again, we kept overestimating how quickly they would move down the creek as they stopped to feed in the rocky riffles, but we got several very nice looks at them.

At the pond we also saw a solitary sandpiper, a good find during migration, on its way to Canada to breed, our resident kingfishers, common yellow throats, and indigo buntings.  In our yard we were treated to a tanager spectacle while we enjoyed elevenses on the back stoop.  First two male scarlet tanagers, neon red with jet black wings, flew across the yard and landed in a big oak, then two male summer tanagers, deep orange with greenish wings, flew in to join the discussion about exactly who was going to get to nest in our yard this year and just how big the territory was and other likely bird kinds of questions.  We also saw the first cuckoos of the season this weekend.

Amidst it all, the bluebirds are feeding a chattering brood of babies, I am guessing four, the babies chirp like mad each time the parents appear at the mouth of the terracotta clay nest pot.  Poor parents, I actually timed them today, they are at the nest almost every 5 minutes to feed.   ALL DAY LONG!  They will be happy when those babies fledge I think.
We've been joking about watching rose TV, as the days have gone by this rose has opened wider and wider, the flowers fuller and fuller, causing us to sit dumbfounded on the back stoop just soaking it in.

In the end, the weather was fantastic here, very little rain accept on Saturday night and a marvelous cold front blew through today bringing dry air and a forecast in the low 40's for tonight!  What a topsy turvy, long wet spring we've had, it's been nice.  I'm vowing to take more staycations, it's free, comfortable, no need to pack or travel, get ready to go or deal with the returning mess.

Clematis Niobe in the foreground, wall o'wood in the back ground

With all that we have right in our own backyard, well Dorothy, there's no place like home.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Between Rain Showers

I just dashed out between the rain showers to snap a few photos and cut some lilacs to bring in before they got all smashed and ruined in the rain.  I can't believe that it is already the 6th of May and 3 weeks since my last post.  Apologies faithful readers, it's been a busy patch.  This Gold Flame lonicera (honeysuckle) has been spectacular over the past week and continues to delight, especially nice that it can be seen from the kitchen window.  Last season it bloomed 4 times over the course of the season, a real winner.

What have I been up to since last I wrote?  Learning more about bird banding over at Prairie Ridge and taking a few bird walks around here in search of spring migrants, they seem a bit late due to the cool weather.  I've organized work days and planting at the community garden. I went to a two-day writing workshop on "Those who shape us - character portraits"  with my long time teacher Carol which was really good, now I need to put the learning into practice as I continue to work on a long piece about "my life in food" and my early days in Austin, Texas.

We've had two more meetings of the garden club mob, one at a new garden and one at Spanish for Fun Academy child care center.  This was our "community service" effort of the group as one of our members works at SFF and has no garden space at home.  I have been working with them for 2 years on their naturalized play space, adding more bit by bit. Click here for photos of the play space over time, I was just looking at them and its kind of amazing how it has changed, going from having nothing growing there to adding 16 trees, many shrubs, blueberries, apples, strawberries and a fig tree, veggie and flower beds- remarkable! 

Yesterday I  worked like a maniac all day trying to get the rest of our summer veggies planted before the next long rainy period which started just about the time I could no longer stand up straight last evening and is to continue through Wednesday!  I was a success, planted 16 assorted pepper plants that I started from seed back in March; red, yellow and orange bells, Carmen Italian stuffing, Hungarian round pimentos, one Serrano, one new Mex Joe Parker and one Marconi Gold yellow Italian.  I also prepped beds and sowed 3 kinds of cukes; Tasty Jade, Diva and Suyo Long, 3 kinds of squash; sunburst patty pan, romanesco costato zucchini, and yellow crook neck- the seed viability test of the year with seeds from 2000!  I sowed 3 kinds of beans, are we picking up a theme here?  Roc d'or yellow wax, Tavera haricot verts and Pension Italian flat. I also set out some basil and parsley plants.

I had managed to get most of the tomatoes in back around April 15th, but yesterday I added 4 cherry tomato plants to round out the tomato planting to a total of 28 plants.  This years goal was to have more plum tomatoes for sauce and canning and fewer slicers, but because we like so many kinds and want a variety, I still planted more than we probably need.  Seven Mariana hybrid romas and 7 Red Agate romas, and a couple of each; Cherokee purple, Georgia streak, Celebrity, Bolseno, Mosckvich and beef steak, and the four cherries; Sungold, Sundrop, Bi-color and Sweetie.  I think we won't see a shortage of mates this season!

I will leave you with a couple of photos of clematis that have started to bloom in the past couple of weeks, they're very happy with all the rain.  Here is Niobe, transplanted last year to this sunnier spot, it grew and grew but never flowered, this year it is covered with buds.
 This is Nelly Moser below, very happy on the fence between the veggie garden and the lawn.
and up close
I'm glad for all the rain, but am looking forward to warmer weather, it is May after all, seems weird to have the heater running.  I'll try to write more this month, there is certainly plenty to write about!