Friday, June 29, 2007

Wolf Peaches

Solanum lycopersicum (means 'wolf peach')

There's red mulch, red supports, red water tubes... all especially for tomatoes, which when ripe, are red. It's my favorite color, too. I began seeing all the red accessories tomatoes could wear in the garden sometime last year and wondered what it was all about. Merely a ploy to dress things up, or was there something more to it?

Turns out,
tomatoes love red. Even when they're green. They aspire to be red, and it seems that red light, when reflected by surrounding red things, will stimulate their growth and production, even if they're exposed to it for just five minutes a day. That's the simple explanation.

Rather than purchase red mulch, I got some red plastic disposable plates and cut a hole in the center for the stem of the tomato plant and secured it at the base with some Earth Staples. So far, I've not seen any improvement in growth over last year, but we're also not experiencing a normal summer - with temperatures or rainfall - so that may account for some of it. But from what I understand, red light is supposed to increase the size and number of tomatoes, so maybe the plant itself won't be any larger.

This summer, we're growing just one plant of 'Mr. Stripey', which as you can guess, is striped! We're growing that one just for fun, and since Romie is the only one who eats fresh tomatoes, one plant will take care of us.

We've also got a few 'Sungold' plants - a cherry tomato known for its sweetness. I first learned of 'Sungold' when reading Stronger Than Dirt by Chris Losee and Kimberly Schaye. It's the story of an urban couple moving to upstate New York and starting their own business growing and selling cut flowers and vegetables. 'Sungold' was a best-seller for them, and I wanted to try them, so I bought some seeds from Kitchen Garden Seeds. Romie concurs - he thinks they're yummy, so I saved seeds from last year's crop and planted them again this year.

Vegetable or fruit?

Now there's a controversial subject. Botanically, the tomato is a fruit, as are cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, and zucchini. They're berries, to be precise about it. But we use tomatoes like a vegetable, and for taxation purposes in 1893, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tomato to be a vegetable. This was an important and necessary action, because U.S. tariff laws apply a duty to vegetables, but not fruits. The USDA recognizes this ruling and classifies the tomato as a vegetable as well.¹

Now you know.

¹Wikipedia: "Tomato"
*Tomato photo from Wikipedia Commons

Quenched Thirst

Romie came in the house this afternoon and mentioned that I'd better check the green beans because he saw some that were picking size, so I went out to pull beans. As I was out there, I saw some new blooms had opened, so I went back into the house for the camera.

Just thought I'd share with you. Notice anything?

Oriental Lily (Lilium orientale 'Corrida')
Planted last fall, these are the first blooms in my garden.

Longiflorum-Asiatic (L.A.) Hybrid Lily (Lilium 'Samur')

Daylily (Hemerocallis Hybrid by L. Wolfe - not yet registered)
I got this last year from Lana Wolfe, who is a hybridizer in Ft. Wayne, IN. It's not yet registered, so she said I could call it whatever I wanted. I named it 'Lovely Lana' but that name already belongs to a registered daylily! With over 58,000 registered cultivars in the American Hemerocallis Society's database, it's not surprising that the name was taken.
This thing is HUGE, measuring nearly eight inches across.

Watermelon blossom (Citrullus lanatus 'Quetzali')

Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Wood Sorrel (Oxalis regnellii)

Clematis (Clematis 'Avant-Garde')

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)

There's RAIN in the heartland!
And this time I did the happy dance - IN THE RAIN.

Not a major downpour, and it looks like we'll have to be satisfied with three-quarters of a inch for now. But we are ever so grateful for all favors, great or small.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Evan Almighty

"Is it too much to ask for a LITTLE PRECIPITATION?"

To Vine Is Divine

This summer looks to be much the same as the last one, as far as annual vines are concerned. For the past two years, I've started morning glory seeds inside and plant them out as soon as they're safe from frost. I do this so I can get the most out of them since our growing season is relatively short and they are slow to start for me.

I was under the impression that morning glories could be invasive, in that they vine everywhere - quickly - and are a nuisance because they reseed freely.
I must be doing something wrong, because last year, it was well into August before I saw a single flower on any of them (and I grew several kinds) and some vines were into September before they bloomed! They sat in the ground and did pretty much nothing for the longest time; even the vines themselves stagnated.

They're doing it again.

I planted Japanese Morning Glory 'Picotee' (Ipomoea nil) from seed saved from last year and I've got the healthiest six leaves on each vine you've ever seen. I could show you a picture of them taken a month ago and it would look exactly the same as one I would take today. Argh!

The ones I planted out back are doing a little better now than they were last week and are starting to vine, so I imagine the ones I planted around the light pole in front of the house will take off soon. I'm just getting a little impatient. I thought they were supposed to do well even in adverse conditions and we've certainly had those this summer. Hot hot and dry dry. But I
have watered them every day.

We're growing Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus) again. It did very well last year and it's giving a repeat performance this year. I have it at the very back of Max's Garden and just tonight, I strung fishing line between the top and bottom rails of the fencing so it would have something to vine up and around.

I had some old purple Hyacinth Bean Vine (Lablab purpureus) seeds that my mom had given me a couple of summers ago but never planted. I alternated those with some of the morning glory seedlings and they're growing pretty well, too.

Another vine that I planted this year is Cypress Vine (
Ipomoea quamoclit), using seeds I saved from my vines last year. Now THAT is a self-seeder for sure! I knew that before, so last year I tried to catch all the pods before they burst open and seeded themselves. I guess I missed a few, because some of them are coming up where they were growing last year. I've let them stay, even though I've got a different vine there this year. They'll look fine intertwined with my Five-Leaved Akebia Vine (Akebia quinata), which has a white bloom.

The contrasting textures of their foliage should be interesting, as well as the white and red blooms together. Last year, I grew Black-Eyed Susan Vine (Thunbergia alata) in a salmon color with the Cypress Vine and while the textures were good together, I didn't care for the combined colors. Sometimes something works and sometimes it doesn't, sort of like my cooking...

This year, I've planted the Cypress
Vine around the directional, where the Scarlet Runner Bean was last year.

We're playing musical vines!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Great Black Swamp

*Note that left-clicking on any photo will bring up a full-sized version.

The northwest corner of Ohio was the last to be settled, with most towns and villages being founded in the latter part of the 19th century and after. This is because within its borders lies The Great Black Swamp, a flat, marshy wetland area that took years and years of toiling to drain it and make it inhabitable and useful. Today, much of that land is used for farming, since the terrain and the rich soil are conducive to producing high yields of corn, oats, soybeans, and wheat, its main cash crops.

Today, Romie and I traveled northeast of Our Little Acre for about an hour, to Goll Woods. This 321-acre nature preserve is believed to be the least disturbed woodland area in this part of the state and is home to 200-to-400-year-old trees, some of which have trunks four feet in diameter. Before we left, a quick check of the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources website for information suggested that a visit to Goll Woods be taken prior to mosquito season.


This is the last week that Romie has off work following
his surgery, and this was one thing he wanted to do before he went back. So we packed the Off!® and some light jackets to help protect us from the little suckers and went anyway. We did some geocaching along the way, and didn't arrive at Goll Woods until 4:00 p.m.

Thirty-two acres of this land was first acquired by the Goll Family in 1834, immigrants from France. Their farm grew to include 600 acres and was owned by the family for five generations. In 1966, the state acquired it from Peter Goll's great-granddaughter and in 1975 the nature preserve was dedicated. The Goll family's pioneer cemetery is contained within the preserve.

We started out on Toadshade Trail, wound our way around the west side of the woods to Cottonwood Trail, Burr Oak Trail and continued in a circle around the perimeter via Tulip Tree Trail. Combined, there are 4.25 miles of trails to be explored.

We could see how each trail received its name, especially Tulip Tree. I don't know when I've ever seen so many of them (Liriodendron tulipifera), or any that had such large leaves! Our little "Mount Vernon" tulip poplar at home has a lot of growing to do before it looks like any of those.

It was rather cool in the shade of heavy canopy there in the woods and all that leaf cover and undergrowth had a muffling effect on any noises. Now and then we'd hear a car go by somewhere, or a plane flying overhead, but other than that, the only sound was of birds calling to each other. We were well aware of the peaceful quiet the woods provided.

I kept my eyes peeled and was constantly scanning the trail, left and right, for anything that interested me and that might be a photo op for remembering our excursion. I found many, but even as I was trying to capture on digital media what I was seeing, I knew that it would pale in comparison to what was really there.

We were walking along and as we rounded a turn, there before us was the most shrieking shade of orange made even more so in contrast to the various shades of green and brown surrounding it. It looked like it just didn't belong.

I presumed it to be a Sulphur Shelf fungus (Laetiporus sulphureus), otherwise known as "Chicken of the Woods." A quick google when we got home confirmed it. You can eat this stuff. And no need to take a bite to know just what it's going to taste like either. Or at least that's what they say. We actually had some of this growing on our old oak tree a couple of summers ago, but it was a bit paler than this. We didn't eat that one either.

Romie and I talked about how humid it was, even though we're somewhat in a state of drought. We can only imagine what it would have been like had we been receiving a normal amount of rainfall all along, and never mind how it must have been for our ancestors who cleared land just like this in order to settle here. I think I would have gone further west, like to Kansas maybe.

There were mosquitoes, to be sure, but as long as we kept moving, they really didn't bother us, and that too was due to the lack of rain. We could see many areas that normally would have been very swampy, but now were merely damp and black with rotted leaves and other organic material.

Several large trees had fallen, which I'd read was due to lightning and wind storms. Seeing a trunk that was three-to-four feet in diameter lying on its side was not uncommon. We saw some pretty large ones standing upright, too! Most of the largest ones were oaks, but there were some tall sycamores and cottonwoods, as well as several types of pines.

It was well past the spring wildflower season, but there was Elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) blooming, along with Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Swamp Roses (Rosa palustris), and every now and then we'd see a purple Wild Petunia (Ruellia L.). I recognized the foliage of wild ginger, Solomon's Seal, and violets just about everywhere.

Goll Woods is considered to be one of the best spots in the state for observing wildflowers and native shrubs. We observed numerous raspberry thickets and as the berries are just now coming into season for picking and eating, I did. There's nothing better than to snack your way through the woods during berry season! There were other berries we saw (small red ones), but we didn't think it wise to taste test those.

Butterflies flitted along the trail with us, never stopping long enough for me to get an image on the camera, with one exception, just before we made our exit. It was a small white one, and I'm not sure whether it was a butterfly or a moth, although we both suspect it was the former. It let me get in close, but in a dark environment like the woods and the butterfly being stark white, the camera had a very hard time with auto-exposure. I tried different focusing methods and was never able to get a satisfactory (to me) result, but there it is.

To give you an idea of how dense the tree canopy was, there were many times when I couldn't take a photo without a flash and hold the camera still enough. A portable tripod would have come in handy.

We saw just one squirrel, a few chipmunks, two downy woodpeckers, and evidence of deer, but the woods was pretty quiet on this day. It seemed the wildlife were laying low, out of the heat. There wasn't much else to disturb them, as we only saw a few joggers shortly before we left for home.

Goll Woods is a local treasure and we'd like to return in other seasons. Just after a winter snow, the beauty of this place must be breathtaking. And in April and May, when the wildflowers are putting on their show, I want to be there to see it.

Many dead trees had holes in them, which we assume had initially been caused by woodpeckers, but large ants had taken up residence and were doing their part to help decompose the wood and enrich the woodland floor.

This was one of the largest trees we saw.

The elderberry bushes were in full bloom.

One of the many ferns in Goll Woods


Zig-zag bark

Romie wondered how I saw this, since it was growing low to the ground, and the flower hangs below the leaves. I was looking for things like this the entire time we were there and something orange really stands out!

Pine cones fall where they may...

Lichens were plentiful.

Pine cone mine field

One of the large trees that have been felled by storms

This lily was on the verge of blooming. I'm not certain what it is - perhaps a Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense). We only saw just this one.

I was amazed by this carving from 1968, but at the same time disappointed that the tree had been defaced in this way.

More fungi

A natural allée

We saw these spikey things throughout the woods. I don't know what they are either, but I was fascinated by them.
EDIT: Identified! They are Hystrix patula - Bottlebrush Grass, a native woodland plant.

*Information about Goll Woods taken from The Columbus Dispatch and Ohio DNR.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Place in the Sun

Here in zone 5, we divide our outdoor gardening into three parts. There is a fourth, of course, but I'd hardly call it gardening, unless you're lucky enough to have a heated greenhouse, and I'm not. That's not quite the same anyway.

Spring Workout - After a long, gray, cold winter, this is when we are delirious with joy at performing even the slightest chore in preparing our gardens for planting. Just clearing away the debris that accumulated over the previous months gives us satisfaction, because we're doing something.
We pick up speed like snow in an avalanche as we hurtle towards summer, when we'll be rewarded for all the back-breaking and exhausting days we have spent cultivating, planting, transplanting, mulching, watering - well, you know...all that stuff we need to do to help our little lovelies look their best.

Crawling into bed this time of year feels really good.

Summer Fun - Now this is the life! We can breathe a sigh of relief because it's all in the ground, growing, blooming, producing fruit and veggies, and filling the once-bare spaces.

These are the salad days. The reason we garden. Every breath of sweet fragrance from the blooms and the sight of all that color bursting out of the ground makes us smile and our hearts nearly burst from the delight of it.

It's not that there aren't things to do to keep it going, because there's always weeding, deadheading, watering, and garden pests to deal with. But we can at least pace ourselves a little more and not feel like we're in a race to get more done in a day than we really have the time and energy to do.

This is our reward.

Autumn Wind-down - A melancholy time of year, to be sure. In some ways, we're glad to be done with the seemingly endless upkeep that's required of us. We prepare our gardens for bedtime and the needed rest awaiting them. And we need it, too. Though we say we envy those that are able to garden year 'round, we know deep down that we welcome the respite and appreciate spring all the more because of it.

Still, we are sad to see it go. The first frost signals the garden to slow down and prepare to sleep. We hang onto each and every last bloom that comes our way because we know it will be a long time before we see them again.

So we are caught in the middle now, and the middle is a good place to be. It's the time I really
enjoy our garden. I go out into it and sit and really look at it for the sheer beauty of things. There are flowers for cutting so I can bring the joy inside the house, too. And not a day goes by that we don't eat something that we grew.

The birds and butterflies are enjoying our garden now, too. It pleases me that they deem it fit to visit. Some will even take up residence there and raise a family. Our garden - their birthplace.

Every year it seems that summer goes by more quickly than the one before. Sometimes I'll just sit in the warmth of the sun and close my eyes and try to commit to memory how it feels, so when I'm shivering in the winter cold, I can summon the memory of that time. I keep thinking it will warm me and it never really does, but I don't stop trying to make it work.

Just relishing the moment in the sun is worth enough.

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