Category Archives: Gardening

The Last Days of Summer

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Now, in September, the signs of fall are sneaking in. It’s inevitable. And it makes me appreciate every precious bit of summer that is left.

Nights are cooler, now, often dipping into the low 40s. It’s lovely for sleeping, but I put the little heater on in the morning and wear my fleecy robe while I have morning coffee. I sometimes put a jacket over my work clothes before I go out the door. And yet, by midday, the sun is bright and has warmed everything up. Another beautiful summer day!

The garden is almost at its end. The tomato plants have withered and died, but the tomatoes hanging from the vines continue to ripen. I eat them raw every day, My lunch yesterday was a salad of fresh tomatoes, avocado and chunks of mozzarella cheese in a light vinaigrette. In the afternoon, I stewed a kettle-full of the sweet little plum tomatoes, and put them in the freezer. The bush beans are done for the year, but the pole beans – planted later – are still producing. I’m still getting summer squash each week, more than enough for my needs. I have two little muskmelon on the vines that may – if frost holds off long enough – have a chance to ripen.

I’ve pulled up the pea vines, once they were finished. When I dug my little mound of potatoes, I added the withered plant to the compost heap. Otherwise, I leave things in place. Where a plant is taking up space, it helps to keep the weeds from coming up there. The rows of bush bean plants are still green and healthy; the zucchini vines are waist high, and beautiful. Whether they continue to produce or not, I’ll continue to appreciate their lush summer greens.

The cooler temperatures have made walking in the woods a pleasant activity again, and the dogs and I are taking full advantage. Even in the big woods behind my house, mosquitoes are now rare. We take that trail every couple days, to gather the blackberries that grow on either side. Cotter’s Trail, which begins across the Fox Lake Road and leads off  through the woods to the west, is another regular walk.

When we go to Fox Lake, and after the dogs have had a swim, we walk up the access drive and down the Fox Lake Road to the big rock and beyond. Fall mushrooms are out, and now and then there is an early glimpse of autumn color. Mostly, though, these still feel like summer days: the best, most appreciated summer days.

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On Into September

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It rained, here on Beaver Island, long and steady through the night. It was perfect for sleeping, and I took full advantage. I’ve taken a few phone calls, but otherwise have had only the dogs in and out activity interrupting my coffee-drinking, news-watching lazy day.

The clothes I put on the line yesterday are still there. Last evening, they were damp, after hanging in the still, humid air all day, and I decided to just leave them, to finish drying. This morning they were dripping wet. My newly tightened clotheslines were drooping with their weight. The second load, waiting for clothespins and clothesline space, remains in a basket on the floor of the laundry room.

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Every meal, this time of year, includes something fresh from the garden. Fresh cucumbers and sliced tomatoes show up daily. Beans get a place on the plate day after day. Last evening, golden rounds of summer squash, sauteed, accompanied hash browns made from a potato dug from a plant that came up as a “volunteer.”

I didn’t plant potatoes this year, in my small garden space. I compost my potato peels, though, along with other kitchen scraps, and use the resulting humus as fertilizer and top dressing in my garden. Now and then, a plant will spring up from composted seeds or – in this case – the eye of a potato. it always feels like a bonus. This year, the volunteer potato plant, which grew up not too inconveniently in the pathway between a muskmelon and a zucchini plant, yielded eight large, firm potatoes!

Yesterday, I set squash to simmer in the kettle, and tomatoes to stew in the slow-cooker while I went out to pick beans. Today, I’ll be filling the freezer containers. I pick blackberries every day, but have not yet gotten enough to consider putting them up for winter. I eat them fresh over cereal, in yogurt, or simply topped with milk. The rain might change that. If conditions are right, the canes will continue producing berries right up until frost.

It’s early, yet, to think about frost, but several nights recently the temperatures have dipped into the 40s. That’s a reminder that it is inevitable…and not that far away. I set a large, sickly jade plant outside this spring, to take advantage of the fresh air and sunshine. It has thrived! Before I look to bringing it back inside for the winter, I have to consider a larger pot…and which piece of furniture it will replace!

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Other than an occasional bloom here and there, the flower beds are almost finished for the year. Except for the upright Sedum, which is just getting started. The Autumn Joy pushes up in the springtime and spends most of the summer looking an awful lot like broccoli. In September, it has reached its full height, developed flower heads, and started to show color. Soon it will be in its full glory. On, into September!

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The 52 Lists (for Happiness) Project #36

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List the scents, spaces, textures and sounds that bring you joy:

  • Ah, for scents there is lilac in spring and milkweed in summer, sheets from the clothesline, a ripe tomato, and the fresh smell of the air when on the water. There is the foul odor of whatever my dogs have last rolled in, that makes me smile only because they take such pride in it. “Oh, Rosa Parks, you smell disgusting,” I say. In response, she smiles, her head held high.
  • Spaces: in the woods, near the water. I like wide spaces like fields and beaches; I like close spaces like narrow lanes, city streets, my little garden, and my comfortable chair.
  • I like the textures of velvet, corduroy, linen and silk. I enjoy the textures found in nature, from patterns in the sand, to the lines on a leaf.
  • Birdsong is bringing me joy this morning. The sounds of laughter, baby chatter, and the voices  of people that I love. Music.
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My garden

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The wooded path I take to walk the dogs

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Fox Lake

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Hollyhock entertaining one busy bee

 

Home Again (A Photo Essay)

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After being waved off on the ferry boat by these good friends…

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Bob and Gary

…I spent a few days with my sister, Brenda, and her husband, Keith. I got in a visit with my brother, Ted, and sister, Robin. I did some shopping to round out my planned Chicago wardrobe. Keith and I both went to get our hair cut. I packed up my carry-on bag.

Wednesday morning, I boarded the train to Chicago, along with my daughter, Kate, her husband, Jeremy, and two of my grandchildren, Madeline and Tommy. It was a marvelous time, that deserves its own essay. My daughter is an excellent planner/organizer who managed to fit an amazing number of wonderful things into a four-day trip while allowing it to still be relaxing and fun.

Travel was always an adventure for me. We took trains, water-taxis and ubers. We enjoyed wonderful walks through many beautiful and interesting parts of the city. From the cutest sandwich shop, to the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, to the brightest southern-style breakfast, to a fabulous pre-theater Italian dinner, to (of course!) Chicago-style pizza, every single meal was memorable.  Likewise, every day was filled with wonders: a  blues concert on Navy Pier; Millennial Park; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History; and – on the evening of my birthday – the Broadway production of “Hamilton!” It was all made richer by the company I kept; their insights, love and humor surrounded me, and I couldn’t have chosen better travelling companions.

Then, on Saturday, it was back to Lapeer, where I once again enjoyed the hospitality of my sister and her husband. Though they left early Sunday morning on a vacation of their own, I took advantage of their laundry facilities, their lovely view, the company of their cat, and the steak Brenda had left in the refrigerator for me.

Monday morning, Kate and Jeremy picked me up early, for the long drive up north. It was good to have the day to talk, as I’d been missing them already. We made good time, chattering along, and finished up with lunch and lots of good-bye hugs.

Back on the island, I retrieved my car from the long-term parking lot, loaded my luggage into it, and went to pick up the dogs. They were almost as happy to see me as I was to see them! Home, then, to unload the car and settle back in.

A  glance toward the garden sent me scrambling, with bowls and baskets to fill. I picked what is probably the last of the peas, most over-ripe, two green peppers, five pounds of  Italian green beans, a few pole beans of the Blue Lake variety, three huge zucchini squash, four large yellow summer squash, and over one hundred tomatoes. I then walked the perimeter of the yard, to check the status of the wild blackberries. It was a good haul!

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I took the dogs for an evening walk, enjoying the woods and the quiet and remembering all the things that I love about this place.IMG_3627

Back in my kitchen, I cleaned and lightly sugared a bowl of blackberries.

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I cooked Italian beans with bacon for my dinner.

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As a storm brewed outside, I cleaned and peeled tomatoes, and set them to simmer on the stove in the large enamel pan. I filled the big kettle with diced squash, some peas, green pepper and tomatoes with a little water and put it on the back burner to cook. Then, before I had time to tackle the mound of beans, the lights went out.

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That signaled the end of my long home-coming day!

Bounty

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From what I hear, this has been a difficult year for a lot of gardeners. Michigan weather offered snow late in the spring, unseasonable cold that lasted through planting season, then suddenly hot, and dry, dry, dry. Along with many others, I worried, watered and waited. Like most gardeners, I know that there’s always something that gets in the way of perfection. Still, there are always rewards.Big winds and pouring rains toppled one tomato plant (not fatally), gave the pole beans incentive to reach for the sky, and caused the summer squash to produce overnight.

This year, the cabbage butterfly has found my kale, and it is pock-marked with holes. The pole beans were late in going in, and slow growing. They have finally climbed up the tepees I fashioned for them, and have blossoms, but no beans yet. I’ve had two small pickings of bush beans, and there will be more. The peas are still offering a few delectable pods each day; the Chinese cabbage is sprawling out its beautiful puckered leaves. Tiny “Juliet” plum tomatoes offer perfect red jewels every day.

Even when the garden offers almost nothing, it’s okay. I enjoy the process of preparing the earth and putting seeds and plants in the ground. I love watching things grow. Where there are failures, I think about how I’ll do things differently next year. When it is productive, it’s like Christmas every day. To me, it’s always worth it.

So Unlike Me

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Today, I was up early, showered, dressed and in town by 9AM to go on the Beaver Island Garden Tour.

Sponsored by the Beaver Island Wellness Garden, this is an annual event that I have taken part in for the last four years. We form a caravan of vehicles, each loaded with a group of garden-lovers, to travel around the island to four or five pre-arranged homes for a guided walk through their yard and gardens. We visit different homes each year. Some are mainly vegetable gardens; others are heavy on ornamental plants. There is always much to see and learn. I always have a wonderful time.

It’s not like me, though.

Tuesday is a day that I’d normally stay home, sleep in, write my blog, work around the house and yard, and give lots of attention to the dogs. In fact, unless I absolutely have to go to the Transfer Station, Post Office or grocery store, I rarely ever go to town on a day off. This week, I had something to do on each of my days off. Yesterday I attended a pastel workshop at the Beaver Island Studio and Gallery. Today the Garden Tour.

It was noticed.

“You look so nice,” I heard more than once, with a bit of surprise in the tone, “What a great hat!” I was wearing a nice pair of cream-colored slacks with a sleeveless cotton sweater in the same color, with slip on black shoes and a black raffia pork-pie hat. I had put a little thought into the outfit, true, but it was nothing outstanding. Mostly, it was just that it was not the well-worn dark slacks and T-shirts that form my hardware store “uniform,” that is mostly all that folks ever see me wearing.

“I’m so glad to see you finally have a day off,” was another frequent comment. Unbeknownst to everyone who has never seen me outside of my workplace, I get a day or two off almost every single week. It’s just that no one sees me then. On my day off, I am usually out here on the Fox Lake Road, being social only with my dogs.

Speaking of the dogs, they’ve taken notice, too. They were unhappy when I left the house yesterday. It didn’t seem normal. Today, they were completely beside themselves. When I came home today and sat down here to write, they flopped down, completely dejected. As soon as I’m finished here, I’m going to load them into the car and take them down to Fox Lake for a romp. Just so they know I haven’t completely changed!

 

Good Things

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Sometimes it’s easiest to see what’s wrong: with a particular situation, or a day, or with the whole world. It takes more energy to find the good things. Not always, though. There are times when my natural propensity for looking at the negative flies right out the window. I am left, then, with a humble appreciation of my rich life, and all the blessings in it.

I’ve had a lovely weekend. Well-balanced. It was productive, but not in a crazy-making way, where I plan more projects than I could possibly ever finish. Busy, but not too busy. I put laundry on the line…but also sat on the shore, reading, for one entire afternoon. I tended the garden, but also wandered the fields to collect wildflowers. I went over my notes for a class I am planning, and put hanging wires on a dozen framed collages. Then, I spent the rest of the day in my studio in frivolous and playful pursuits. I cooked and cleaned, but also took time to relax.

I could list the things I didn’t accomplish; there are quite a few. But why? They’ll be there, waiting for me. Right now, I’d rather just relish the good things.

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dried Rhododendron flowers make a nice bouquet

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wildflowers make another

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one almost-ripe tomato, two days before I harvested it for a wonderful BLT

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a row of collages, ready for the Museum Week Art Show