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Garden harvest
Our vegetable garden (in southern Maryland) is doing its usual August thing of putting out cherry and Roma tomatoes on an almost production-line level, plus one or two peppers every week. We have a couple of raised beds, which is good enough for our 2-person family size. I've lost a lot of the Roma and most of the full-sized tomatoes so far to cracking, which I suspect is because we had a long stretch where it rained or thunderstormed every day, then the last few weeks has had barely any rain at all, and AFAIK that combo is a big contributor to cracking even with the timed irrigation watering system we use.

The lettuce was coming up gangbusters when we were getting a lot of rain, but then just started to tail off and bolt when a groundhog visited and decimated it; we have a couple of old apple trees which are having good years, so we think it was attracted by fallen apples and decided to diversify its diet while it was at it. My squash was also heavily chewed sometime in the past week, I'm suspecting the same fellow. But, on the plus side the leeks are doing very well, and there's a rogue watermelon that sprang up from my experiment last year at growing a small globe variety (but too seedy for my tastes), so we may get an unintentional watermelon or two this year as well.

I'm also trying South African gem squash in three different places, so far so good (they're still too small to make good. I'm hoping I'll get something off of those before the first freeze.

Finally, this is a Cosmos bipinnatus, its the first flower to come up in a new butterfly garden that I seeded in the spring. I'd worried that the whole bed had been taken over by weeds without any flowers coming up, but this is a hopeful sign.
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Our vegetable garden as of today. The tomatoes are loving all the heat we're having. Had to cut the wire cages off the zucchini and cucumber plants because they were constricting their growth.
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Just to give a look at what our vegetable garden looks like today. Compare with the June 6th post below (with pictures from early May). We're getting lots of tomatoes and jalapeno peppers off this, plus a few green peppers here and there, and hopefully it will produce some squash and cucumbers at some point (had some trouble with rabbits and groundhogs, which apparently both like to eat gourd plants, so I had to enclose them in wire and netting). Our concord grapes are starting to turn color to purple, but they are supposed to be actually ripe in early Autumn.
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I put in our raised bed gardens late in May. It doesn't look like much, but it should grow in well. I put in seven tomato plants and a mix of jalapeno and green peppers, all bought at good prices from local nurseries. The cages will eventually be full of tomatoes by August, if last year was any indication. I also have small plots of squash and cucumbers growing, as well.

Unfortunately I lost all of my tomato seedlings this year (again). On a nice weekend day I decided to put them outside to get some weatherization, then promptly forgot about them. When I remembered them a couple days later, they were all withered and crisped. This, on top of putting my batch of seedlings in too early (early May) last year and losing them all that way. Sigh.

We also put in a hedge of "Emerald Green" arborvitae shrubs in the front. It will probably take at least a couple of years for them to grow in to any kind of barrier, but after the problems we were having with the (now former) neighbors letting their dogs run loose into our yard, among other things, and not wanting to fence in the front, we decided to go forward with this. They're connected to the same soaker hose system that the raised beds are, so every morning the beds and the shrubs get watered automatically. Plus, we saved a significant amount of money by buying the plants ourselves and having a local landscaper plant them, so that was a nice win.

I've also bagged around 20-30 apples on the three apple trees we have. Unfortunately we do get codling moth damage on most of our apples, and bagging has proven the only way to get edible apples off the trees.

The grapevines we put in last year below the clothesline have taken off this year, and it actually looks like we might get grapes off of them this season.

Flower from a poppy plant I managed to coax through the winter indoors.
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Harvested five cucumbers and one small tomato from the garden over the weekend, with more cucumbers on the way. Its been a very good year for cucumbers for us, after barely getting three all year in '09, but a poor year for tomatoes and peppers, and I still have yet to harvest one full-size zucchini.

What hasn't helped: we recently started to have an infestation of tomato hornworms on our plants - found two on our bigger plants three weeks ago, and I found four on our hanging basket ones yesterday. All of them have/have had parasitic wasp cocoons on them, though, so I've left them alone. The wasps did kill the first batch I noticed in a few days, so I'm hoping they'll hatch quickly and finish off the ones on the hanging tomatoes.

I planted our winter garden in the raised bed near the kitchen. I have in three short rows of lettuce, and behind it a trench of kale. That bed doesn't get a lot of direct sun in the summer, but as the leaves come down it gets a lot more light, so it should be a decent place for that.

Also mowed the lawn for the first time in months over the weekend. We were driving around in St. Mary's County to the south and noticed how dry and brown much of the corn looks - there just hasn't been a lot of rain this summer, and that's been reflecting in how slow the lawn has been growing. Hurricane Earl could change the rainfall amounts quickly, depending on its track, and that of the storm right behind it - should know more about where its going by tomorrow.
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This is our front garden. The hydrangeas seem to be doing well.

Vegetables in our two raised beds in the back. We've started getting flowers on the zucchini plants in the past couple of weeks. And, yes, the comfrey plant is taking over, I have to keep it trimmed back.

This is a jasmine plant I planted in the back. I'm very pleased with how it has adapted to the trellis, it should be quite fragrant next season.

Raised planter along our patio. This is a good place for lettuce, as it is shaded during the day. I had a couple of extra tomato plants and decided to see how they do here as well - they're actually growing surprisingly well.

Finally, here's our two upside-down tomato planters. This is our first year using these, and the results so far have been good. Also, we're trying to train the grapevine we planted last year to grow up, rather than horizontally along the ground.
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As a remedy to the piles of snow which are dominating our yard, I bought some cut flowers a few days ago, then at Lowes yesterday while picking up some snow melt I also bought mini-roses and a blooming hyacinth for Donna for Valentine's Day. The paperwhites we planted a few weeks ago are also blooming now, so the family room is smelling quite fragrant right now between everything. We also received a herb pot on Christmas, and all the seedlings in it are now fighting it out for dominance. We'll see which ones win out. Also, we have a geranium (?) that my Mom bought back from one of her cruises to Puerto Rico which is also blooming, it seems almost impossible to kill the thing: it keeps coming back even from no-leaves status time after time. I also planted some cat grass (oats) yesterday, which judging from past performance should be sprouting by next week and ready for the cats the week after that.
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Well, the foot-plus of snow knocked out the winter garden (lettuce and kale), so that's pretty much it for a few months. I cut back my pitcher plant indoors, we'll see if it grows back.

I did an inventory of the seeds I have left over from the '09 planting season, just to see what I don't have to buy more of this coming spring (we're starting to get seed catalogs here already, wheeeee) & for something gardening-related to do on a day where the windchill outside is 2 degrees F. Here's what I have seeds for: cilantro, squash/zucchini, cucumbers (3 varieties), milkweed, cat grass, wildflower mix, blackeyed susan, beans, parsley (few), tomato (sweetie cherry).

Obviously I'm going to need more vegetable seeds or starters, but that's not a bad foundation. My big mistake in '09 was getting overanxious and planting my seedlings too early, so except for the zucchini they didn't make it through to summer and I had to rely on starter plants. Of those, the only one I was really happy with production-wise was the Roma tomatoes, the "Big Bertha" peppers and "Big Boy" tomatoes didn't really come through nearly as well as I would have liked. I wanted to try growing regular-sized tomatoes, since while the cherry tomatoes in '08 were numerous I got tired of them after a while, but they had problems with splitting and especially with slugs getting to them before they finished ripening, so that's something I have to address next year. The zucchini produced like gangbusters in early summer, but they did die out once the weather turned really warm.
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  • We had a good harvest this weekend, I got 7-8 tomatoes off the plants, plus three green peppers and a couple jalapenos.

  • Google Maps has posted images of Disneyland Paris to their StreetView feature. From seeing them, I can already tell that seeing it in person is going to be a surreal experience. Its Disneyland in most details...but its not California. Other neat shots from DLP: Phantom Manor, Skull Rock.

  • Julia Ecklar has a new puppy!

  • I finally finished Zerg Mission 7 in Starcraft. That was hard. I found the solution somewhat unsatisfying, basically requiring a final banzai charge where you throw all your units at the final goal and hope the bad guys are so busy killing off all your remaining forces that your character can slip through, akin to in the DS9 episode Sacrifice of Angels where a lot of ships are sacrificed to create a small opening for the Defiant. I don't know if I want to invest much more time in this game, given that the remaining missions are supposed to be much harder than this. sigh.

  • Megan McArdle at Atlantic Monthly touches on whether portraying the protesters at the health care town hall meetings as insane is a useful strategy for the Democrats. I fully agree with one of her responses in the comments section:
    If you've managed to convince yourself that the only opposition to your plan comes from crazy people, you are not going to communicate very effectively with those whom you wish to persuade.
    Basically, its a lazy strategy of dismissing all critics as nuts, rather than doing the much harder work of crafting a message which can persuade those with concerns that reform is a worthy idea.

  • There's been an interesting cross-blog discussion going on regarding Catholic's beliefs on Communion and when it is appropriate to receive it. Rick of "Brutally Honest" decided to receive Communion after years of not attending Church and without going through the traditional preparation step of Confession, then returned the next week and also encouraged his (non-Catholic) wife to partake as well. He represents an 'ecumenical' viewpoint towards Communion, and his retort to critics has been "What would Jesus have done? Would Jesus have turned my wife and I away?" The Anchoress provides a 'traditionalist' answer to Rick's question. As with certain threads, the comments are really worthwhile to get a diversity of viewpoints on this.

    I will say, if I don't get to Confession in the week before a Sunday, I don't receive Communion at that Mass. I'm not saying Confession is at all easy, not at all (1), but I think it is a necessary precursor for Communion to be received properly. I also think Rick is missing the larger statement that Communion makes, which is that one is by and large gemutlich/in accord with the beliefs of a particular faith, and that you are part of the body of believers that one is sharing Communion (and hence communion) with.

    (1) - the only thing that makes Confession at all easier is for one to remind oneself that God already knows everything you confess, so the process of the sacrament is more for cleansing one's own being, rather than to make an admittance of guilt, which I think too many people tend to view it as.
  • tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    We're getting a steady flow of tomatoes out of our vegitable garden now - very glad I went for the fullsized versions more than the cherry tomatoes I did last year, the fullsize ones just taste better to me. Delicious on sandwiches for lunch! On the other hand, the green peppers aren't producing nearly as much as they did last year, only getting one or two medium-sized ones a week, if that. The jalapenos are doing better. The cucumbers and zucchini are struggling along, there's some fruit growing on them but its 50-50 whether they'll start rotting before they mature or not. I planted three zucchini seedlings a couple of weeks back, and they're gradually coming along.
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    * Uploaded 11 photos from our trip to Gatlinburg TN, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Cumberland Gap National Park over July 4th weekend to my flickr account. Also included are three pics of our garden, one with annotations.

    * Gatlinburg was OK. We took the tram up to Ober Gatlinsburg. The trip up was fun, but the place itself was a tourist trap writ large - lots of shops selling crap-crap-crap and kitchy amusement-park rides you'd find at any state fair. We visited our main objective, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. That was OK, but not of the caliber of Monterey or Scripps. The highlight was a slow-moving path through a shark tunnel, I've uploaded the best movie I took of that here on YouTube.

    We went over the mountains through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and stopped at Harrah's Cherokees. We did some mild gambling there and ate at their buffet. It was OK, but quite smoky. Definitely didn't compare to a Vegas strip casino or Mohegan Sun/Foxwoods in New England. At Cumberland Gap National Park, we drove to the Pinnacle over some very twisty hairpin curves, but the view from the top was well worth it.

    Other notes:
    * Avis rentals have XM radio, and it was a big hit. We were able to listen to the Dodgers and Phillies games while we were driving, and they have all-80s and all-70s stations as well. We also found it amusing to be able to hear the real-time traffic for LA/Vegas/Philly while we were driving around.
    * I finished staining our back fence before our trip. A big job, finally finished.
    * I called in a pothole at the end of our cul-de-sac that was partially filled by the time I got home, and fully repaired by the next day. Very impressed with our county road crews; such a response would have taken at least a couple weeks out in L.A., assuming it was responded to at all.
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    * Picked two zucchini yesterday while I was checking the garden. One was huge - they really do sneak up in size under the foliage.
    * We have cucumbers, a few small tomatoes, and a green pepper growing on the plants, plus lots of zucchini. Most of that won't be ready for at least another week or so, but at least the garden is producing. We have one small strawberry plant with a few small fruits on them, as well.
    * I did have to transplant the tomato plant that has the fruit on it already - it was just too close to the zucchini plants to get much sun. It has been wilted for the past few days, but was looking more normal this morning when I was doing watering.
    * My parents and brother visited this weekend, and Mom put in a lot of flowers and other plants in our front garden, including some lilis (?) which were originally from my Grandmom's house down the Shore, and another hydrangea.
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    * Did another session staining the fence, its getting there. Couple more weekends of work and it should be done.
    * Found two HUGE zucchini on the plants Sunday, bringing the total for the season so far to four. As I said on Facebook, perhaps I've taken the recession gardening thing too far and created a monster by planting multiple z. plants?
    * The cucumbers and tomatoes are showing blossoms as well, a good sign. The comfrey plant is huge again, and the flowers on it are attracting bees into the garden.
    * Replaced the top of the birdbath last weekend, but not sure the birds have figured out that its there yet. Then again we're not in a drought, so they probably have other options right now.
    * Trimmed the hedges by the kitchen window, also chopped down the weed trees that had grown by the screened-in patio. Definitely leaves in a lot more light, and there's actually planting space along that raised bed for a change.
    * After living here for almost 2 years, I finally (I think) figured out what variety the apple trees in the backyard are - they're Mutsu (Crispin), a kind of Japanese apple variant. It fits the Japanese theme of the whole garden, which is understandable since the previous resident was from Japan, and she probably liked having trees and plants around to make it feel a little more like home.
    * Unfortunately, a lot of the apples have started dropping off the tree and are littering the lawn under both trees, so I've had to sweep them up. This is not a particularly good sign, as the apples if they are Mutsu aren't supposed to ripen until early autumn, but I recall this happening in '07 when we moved into the house, so its probably par for the course.
    * We went to see Up on Saturday. It was fun and quality, as we've come to expect from Pixar, but I also agree with some reviewers that its a fairly dark and adult film to take young kids too - more like Miyazaki's work than Saturday Morning cartoons.
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    * Uploaded 3 photos from our trip to Chincoteague two weekends ago to
    my flickr account.
    * Cleaned out the gutters on the house over the weekend. I noted during a thunderstorm on Friday that one gutter had water pouring over its side, and when I reached in and pulled a bunch of leaves from its opening there was a tremendous WHOOOSH and a flood of water came out the other end for a good 2-3 minutes. That probably means it had been completely clogged for a while, and the water had been sitting in there for some time. Not good to have that weight there, and probably more than a few mosquitoes were coming from that, too. Problem solved.
    * Did more fence staining on Saturday, fence is a little over half done.
    * Garden is coming along. We took receipt of a small Meyers' lemon tree that I potted, with the intention of keeping it inside over winters. We'll see how it does. The zucchini is already sprouting flowers, and it'll be an interesting race to see whether the tomatoes or zucchini wins out in the raised beds.
    * The black-eyed Susans that I planted last year in the front came up again this year, we should be getting flowers on them in another week or so.
    * We stopped at Wegmans in northern Virginia on Sunday - its easily the best supermarket chain in the DC area. We always seem to find interesting items there, like this time we discovered they make pretzel rolls - think a regular roll, but made of pretzel bread. Yum! We bought a dozen. They also have a good selection of ethnic foods, though I passed on getting babka this time. Donna did make a delicious French toast on Sunday out of challah bread and fresh strawberries.
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    * On Sunday after church Donna and I drove down to Richmond VA. We stopped at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens which is where the first three pictures above were taken (click on any picture for more). Lots of lovely tulips out, we're going to go back later when their roses are in bloom. Overall not in the same league as Kew, Longwood, or Quail Gardens in San Diego, but still nice.

    * We also stopped at the Huddle House in Hopewell VA, which is the northernmost outpost of the chain. The service was by far the worst we've gotten there so far, our waiter took off while we were still waiting for our food without saying a word, the chef was grumbling aloud, clearly overall morale was low. My steakburger was tasty, but Donna's food was overcooked and our waiter never bothered to deliver our request for club sandwiches to go. We won't be going back there, we'll try the other one in the area next time and hope for better.

    * The Bass Pro Shop in Richmond was OK; not as good as the one in Vegas, but it at least had two levels. I purchased a good jacket by North Face that I'll probably get a lot of use out of.

    * Final photo above is of one of our apple trees, the other big one is also in bloom but not quite as spectacular. I planted some seedlings on Sunday also, which may have been a mistake since some of them may not be quite ready for outside yet (in retrospect) and I didn't harden them off. I still have some tomatoes, the peppers, and a few other things to put in, but we'll see how the ones I put in so far - tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini - do over the next week.


    Feb. 9th, 2009 10:52 am
    tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
    I spent a good part of Sunday afternoon pruning the apple trees. It looks like that hasn't been done in quite a while, at least years before we bought the house: there were numerous branches that were crossing and colliding with one another, not a good thing. I finished pruning the one outside our kitchen window and started in on the other, denser one, and now there's a large pile of apple branches and twigs in my discard pile for Spring. This should help the trees breathe a little and circulate air better; whether all the effort translates to a decent fruit crop this year is anyone's guess.

    I also cut all the dead flower clusters off the hydrangea out front, and found there's already new buds starting to grow on it, a good sign. I had bought a gardenia at 75% off late last fall and stuck it in the garden out front, figuring it probably wouldn't last the winter, but the thing is managing to survive so far. Managed to find the time to wash both cars, mainly just to get the winter salt off them. Weather is supposed to continue in the 50s all week, possibly getting up to mid-60s on Wednesday. I got a jog in yesterday, will probably do another Wednesday and hopefully Friday as well. I'm OK with doing the treadmill and elliptical in the gym at work, but running outside just feels better.

    Interestingly, I thought I had a whole bunch of tomato seeds that I bought at some point, but it turns out that I've only the cherry tomato seeds. So, something else to hunt for next weekend; may go down to Charlotte Hall, there's a decent nursery down there, and also a grocery store that stocks meats from where I grew up (SE Pennsylvania).


    Feb. 8th, 2009 10:01 am
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    I'm appreciative that its getting lighter sooner and later in the day; going to work in the dark and getting out of work in the dark can get a little depressing. We saw a rainbow going into church this morning, which was odd considering we got no rain as the clouds moved in. Hm.

    Yesterday and today its in the 60s, which is a dramatic and welcome change from the frigid conditions we got most of last week. We hit Homestead Gardens yesterday and I picked up some seedlings, including cilantro seeds which I have soaking now for planting later. According to this chart of the most cost-effective plants to grow, dollar-for-space cilantro is right at the top. We also got seeds for lettuce, which I should be able to put in sooner than everything else, probably early March.

    I checked the frost dates for our area and it turns out that we've just entered the top-end of the 8-10 week window where certain seedlings should be started so they're ready to go in the ground when the last frost threat is past. That includes most of my tomatoes, though the Sugar Sweeties say to wait another couple of weeks. This morning I assembled my indoor greenhouse for our seedlings, I'll probably be putting in the cilantro, lettuce, and cat grass later today.

    And this week, pitchers and catchers report in baseball, and in three weeks are the first games of spring training. Spring's just around the corner!
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    Mostly a weekend devoted to projects around the house. On Saturday I installed a P-trap on our laundry room sink. The house inspection we got last year noted that this was something we should do as a safety measure, and for only $6 in parts and some labor (mostly cutting the PVC pipe to fit the existing length) I was able to get it done. I have to say, for once the help at Home Depot was very good, and the fellow who assisted me was able to find the extra pipe part I needed without much trouble.

    I also worked on our shower, since the hot-water shutoff value doesn't work anymore and I wanted to also see how complicated it would be to replace the stems that the shower handles screw into, since they tend to get loose a couple of months after a tightening. As it turns out, quite complicated: the mountings for the stems are behind the tiling in the shower, so removing them would involve taking out the tiling first. No thanks; I settled for tightening the screws again and left it at that. I also couldn't get the nuts holding the hot water value loose, so that project was nixed also; I didn't want to get to a point where I couldn't put it back together and would have to emergency call a plumber, since the shower is working fine right now and we can turn off the water at the main value outside if necessary.

    On Sunday we took delivery of a new clothes dryer. The one that came along with the house had started developing a loud grating screech that made it hard to endure, and since its in the hall next to our living room, that made it difficult to put up with. I found a website that has a lot of info on fixing old dryers and was able to diagnose the problem, but after taking it apart I saw that there was a lot of rust on the inside of the machine already, so fixing it just didn't seem like a good expenditure. The one we got was a Consumer Reports "Best Buy" and I'm pretty pleased with it after doing a load of towels and also de-wrinkling a shirt as well. I did have to reverse the direction of the door on it, which in the end meant bringing out my Black and Decker power drill after the manual and electric Phillips screwdrivers didn't have enough juice to screw the door back in.

    Then I stayed up too late last night, only to watch the Eagles lose at the end when they couldn't get a TD at the goal line. Bleah.

    The garden is pretty much on cruise-control right now, we've been having regular rain so I haven't had to water much at all, even though the rain barrels are all full again. The peppers continue producing at a brisk clip, I'm going to start chopping them up and eating them raw at work for lunch. Tasty! But the tomatoes have pretty much stopped producing anything at all, I think the cooler temperatures and overcast days have slowed them down a lot. The trees haven't really changed much, yet, but they're starting to get that not-quite-full-green colour on them that heralds the coming change.
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    I must say, I am enjoying the recent weather. Highs have only been in the mid-80s, and on Monday it didn't even break 80. Humidity has been low, also; right now its only 64%. As it turns out, the normal average for August here is around the mid-80s, but what usually makes August extremely unpleasant in DC/MD is the high humidity. With the lower humidity we've been able to sleep with the windows up and able to take a break from running the AC a lot.

    The tomatoes are going well, I'm averaging about three cherry tomatoes harvested a day. I got 3 plum-sized tomatoes off the vine yesterday as well, plus one red pepper, and the regular-sized tomatoes have turned a light orange; going to wait until they're red to harvest them, though. We have a number of cucumbers on the vine, I'm just letting them bulk up for now. Unfortunately I think the plants are starting to wind down for the season, so we may not get much more out of them than the current harvest. I cut back my comfrey plant over the weekend, since it had been getting overgrown and I'm hoping to get in some new growth that I can display at the county fair in September.


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