Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spider Season

Overdoing It

Search the Web for instructions for saving tomato seeds and you will find some really yucky photos of a mixture of tomato seeds and water covered with mold. The instructions declare that tomato seeds will not germinate unless they have been fermented to remove the jelly-like substance that encases them, using a process involves several days, numerous steps, and bad odor.

It isn't true. For many years I've saved tomato seeds by scooping seeds out onto a piece of paper towel and allowing them to dry. Here are some I started drying yesterday afternoon...

When they are completely dry they are stuck to the paper. Then I write the name of the tomato variety and the year on the paper, wrap it in waxed paper or put it in a plastic bag, and store it in the basement. The seeds I started yesterday were completely dry this morning...

When I'm ready to start new tomato plants I pick the seeds off the paper and put them in little pots of seed starting medium. Give them some water and a few days later they pop up. That's it. No fermentation, no rinsing, none of the steps that Web experts consider necessary.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Little Old Man Who Loved To Can

One of my favorite childhood reads was "The Little Old Man Who Loved To Can." He canned so much food that every room of his house was filled with jars of tomatoes, green beans, and other vegetables. When at last the house overflowed with jars, he fell into despair because he wouldn't be able to can any more. Luckily he found an orphanage full of hungry children and everyone lived happily ever after.

Why this story affected me so deeply, I don't know. I only know that I, too, am compelled to can or freeze or dry every extra bit of garden produce. Currently I'm roasting and freezing pimento peppers, and happy to have some ripe ones before the first frost.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mabel* Takes The Bait

More than two years ago our pack rat troubles began. The blower in my car was totally clogged with what the mechanic called "knitting." Actually it was shreds of Kazak's red and yellow blanket, which was already so frayed it looked unchanged to us. That happened twice, costing a little over $200 for removal of nest material.

The last straw came when the cruise control wiring in Dennis' car was chewed to pieces. (If anyone can benefit from cruise control, it's Dennis.) I bought a Have-A-Heart trap. Last night Dennis baited the trap with some good cheese and set it in the garage where our little guest had shredded some newspapers.

This morning we got to meet Mabel. Isn't she adorable? That big eye, the eye of a nocturnal creature.

Mabel was uncooperative during the photo op. What's more, she hadn't touched the cheese.

After the photo op, Dennis took Mabel to an abandoned barn a few miles from our house to release her. He wanted her to have shelter while she finds a substitute for the dog food she's been mooching from Annie.

In the likely case that Mabel has family here, the trap will be set again tonight.

*Actually we don't know whether it's Mabel or Morris. It just looked feminine to us.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two Insect-Eaters

For three weeks I've been trying to capture one of these stripey-leg spiders in a photo. Each August they show up -- seemingly sprung full-grown out of nowhere -- and start constructing webs. They are alert to danger and incredibly fast in retreat. Finally, this morning, I found a lazy one in a place on our patio accessible to me.


On my way into the house...who is this? It's a grey tree frog sitting on a bay laurel leaf. Do you suppose the X has significance?

Aren't life's myriad forms grand?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Eating in Season, Lesson #1

There's a great lesson to be learned from eating in season: Know when it is over.

Here are the last two summer tomatoes.

I've hoarded them past their prime, trying to prolong the season, but it's time to eat them. A tomato hoarded far beyond its prime is a rotten tomato.

Real tomato season is over. Sure, a few tomatoes have set on the garden plants since the weather has cooled, but they won't have the texture and taste of hot weather fruits. We can even pick the green ones when a frost threatens and wrap them in newspaper to ripen. Those will be just a cut above faux tomatoes in the grocery store.

Here in Kansas tomato season runs from July through mid-September if the summer is hot, a bit longer if the summer is milder. Then it is time to eat fall greens and winter squash.

Human life is like that, too. Take for example, the silly New York Times article headlined "The Politics of Polite," by Natalie Angier.* It's about mature women who don't like to be called "Ma'am." Basically, they don't want anyone to acknowledge that they aren't girls any more. But youth is a season of one's life and when it is over, it is over.

As tomatoes, mature women are past their prime. Sure there are wrinkle creams and face lifts, but the results are comparable to grocery store faux tomatoes. The mature woman is in her season of wisdom and grace, if she will allow herself to be. It is a delicious season to be relished and enjoyed.

*August 28, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Early Autumn

Two crashing thunderstorms moved through yesterday, one in the afternoon and one in the late evening. This morning was misty with the smell of autumn. The deck was littered with leaves...

Moss in the patio cracks was greening up...

Even the strawberry bed, cleaned up and spread with a blanket of compost just four days ago, shows new growth...

And on the stone wall by the front door, two of these big, gorgeous moths...

But the morning was fleeting by and in the kitchen apple butter was ready to put into jars...

And here they are, posing in front of a bevy of Colorado peaches, flanked by the last of the really good tomatoes...

The weather turned a trifle warm this afternoon, just right for a good read and a nap.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pasture and Garden, September 5

Dennis, Annie and I went to the pasture to harvest hazelnuts. This bush provided the object featured in the recent contest. The bush, as you see, is about seven feet tall and just as wide.

Having finished this year's crop, the bush now is growing the catkins that will fertilize next year's nuts on another bush. Hazelnuts are not self-fertilizing, so this bush has a partner to swap pollen with.

After harvesting hazelnuts, we moved to the garden to harvest the dried rattlesnake beans. This huge garden spider is living among the dead vines.

Now, little remains from the summer garden to harvest, just a few tomatoes and some peppers. Peppers are very slow to set fruit and mature. Almost every year the first frost comes well before most peppers have ripened. These pimento peppers, for example, might turn red before the frost...

But these won't be big enough.

Midafternoon we went to Jeff's farm to celebrate my 75th birthday. I came home and enjoyed the best sleep I've had in ages. I even slept in until 7:30. If this is a foretaste of what it's like to be 75, I'm going to like it!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Boosting The Local Economy

Retirees who paid off our mortgages early and lived modestly during our working years are among the few Americans who have money to spend. Now we have an obligation boost the economy. We can buy things, but what helps most is hiring people to do things for us. Accordingly, we now have a yard man and a house-cleaning service.

Yesterday two energetic young women cleaned the house from ceilings to floors. The most dramatic evidence of their work is in the kitchen. The stove area...

The baking center...

While the cleaners worked, I spent time at the sewing machine, starting construction of a faux chenille purse. Here's what I accomplished...

After the cleaners left, I retired to the patio to shell beans and sip bourbon, unwilling to mess up the kitchen by cooking.

What a good investment! The workers have money and I have the leisure to do the things I enjoy. May the local economy prosper.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pasture Walk

When we came to Paradise in 1976, the pasture was nothing but brome grass. An ambitious Dunkard lady had cut a worn-out, eroded farm into building sites from three to five acres. The people who built our house bought two lots, so we have almost ten acres. The high part is pasture. The low part is woods. Chicken Creek runs at the bottom of the woods.

One of my first priorities was to restore the pasture to native grasses and flowers. It was slow going at first, but we're almost there. The Indian grass and turkey-foot (big bluestem) are taller than I am and a wide variety of flowers bloom from spring through fall.

Today I found lots of partridge pea and lobelia in bloom.

In part of the pasture we planted fruit trees and made a vegetable garden. We abandoned the vegetable garden when rheumatoid arthritis attacked me, but some of the orchard remains.

One tree - a Victory apple - died, but the next spring it sprouted again from its root. It produces fruit that no one would recognize as an apple. This is how the fruit looked today.

These apples are about an inch in diameter and have a bitter taste. After a hard freeze, though, they turn to nectar of unbelievable sweetness. They are too small to eat, but made into cider they would be divine.

Another planting made many years ago has turned into a huge bush, and it is the source of the contest mystery object. Here are some of its fruits in situ:

On my way back to the house I found this elegant creature on the door step. She seems to be thinking, "If I sit very still on this stone, no one will notice me."

Now a cold front is moving through. Tree tops are wildly tossing and leaves are flying. The temperature is falling. It seems like fall. Let's eat soup!