Archive for July, 2010

July Storm Part 1: Flying Canoes

Saturday, July 31st, 2010


Kirk had never been to White’s Ferry, so last Sunday, I thought he’d enjoy the short trip across the Potomac on the Jubal Early. I knew that some storms were blowing through, and I’d been watching their progress on my iPhone, I’d lived through a squall and tornado warnings the day before at Chautauqua Lake, but I was still surprised by the ferocity of this thing.


It was very calm when we pulled onto the Jubal Early ferry. The Potomac was almost mirror calm.

The imminent arrival of a storm was clear to anyone looking up and seeing the gust front.  Within a minute or two, all hell had broken loose. The wind hit hard and fast.  Overhead, everything was churning, with sycamore trees writhing in the gale and countless bits of leaf, stick, and stuff not just blowing through the air, but churning in it.  The wind seemed to be blowing every which way at once.

The ferry, which is tied to both banks by heavy steel cables, stayed fairly stable, but the cars were buffeted by the wind. The waves in the Potomac were breaking over the side of the ferry.  A stack of red canoes that had been neatly piled along the bank had been blown all over the place (probably hitting some of the cars waiting to cross from Maryland to Virginia.

Although it continued to rain and blow for awhile, the heaviest winds were gone by the time Kirk drove us off the ferry on the Maryland side.  As you can tell from the video, we were mightily impressed by both the suddenness and the violence of the thing. It would turn out that the storm damage was much worse than we expected.  Sitting in the car in the middle of the river, we had ringside seats when the squall blew through, but it still didn’t prepare us for what we would encounter next.

(If the above video didn’t work, or if it shut off before we completed the crossing, a Shockwave version is available here.)

How does my garden grow?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Jay's Garden July 29, 2009
For the most part, I’m pleased with the way the garden has turned out. While it isn’t exactly providing a significant percentage of our family’s calories, most of it is doing alright.

I’ve got both dent corn and field corn tassling right now. They were planted at different times, but pollination has coincided to a greater degree than I’d hoped. I don’t know if my small blocks will be adequate for complete pollination or not–I’ll find out soon. I’ve got two more later plantings that are a bit thicker.

The beans on the right side of the picture, Genuine Cornfield, has turned on 8′ trellis into a vertical jungle. There must be 200 pounds of plant matter, but until this week, nothing looked like a flower bud. The Christmas Limas, behind the sunflowers, set a few seedpods, but nothing much came of it. Willowleaf Lima is not very lush, and still has no blossoms.
Last night, I picked enough hybrid bush Limas for several servings, serving them in olive oil with kosher salt and fresh sage. Elizabeth and Kirk are out of town, so that means another couple meals for me.

My attempts at planting onion didn’t work out very well. I harvested two very small bulbs this week. The smallest is just barely large enough for a double martini.

I’d saved a little more than half of my seed potatoes to plant for a fall crop, and I put them into the ground today. I’d left them in the basement, which was the coolest and darkest place I could find, but the potatoes had put a lot of energy into long stems and were looking more than pathetic. I wonder if they’ll grow.

Walled Flowers

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

I had visions of some sort of lush field of lovely yellow sunflowers, visible from my office window. I probably should have planted more than 6 of them.

Sunflowers, at least this variety, are considered a delicacy by just about everything that crawls, walks, or flies.  Half of my darling babies managed to survive a gauntlet of ground hogs, deer, and a bewildering variety of bugs, most of which are stink bugs, but at least one of which looked like a small scarab beetle.

Anticipating the benefits of heliotropism, I just assumed that the flowers would all sort of wave at me in my office window as the sun went over my head at noon.  Imagine my disappointment when the first two blossoms are pointed in almost opposite directions.  The seem to have issues with each other.

These are supposed to be MAMMOTH sunflowers.  One of them is about 5 foot tall, the other twice that (over 2 meters), with the third, which hasn’t yet bloomed, stuck in the middle. I expected a flower like a manhole cover on the biggest of these, if not on all of them.  What I got was a pinheaded sort of thing that barely unfolded today.

As it turns out, only the buds are heliotropic. Once they’ve flowered, they stay fixed, usually pointing east.  I’ve got one more yet to bloom, but at this point, the closest I can come to an entire girasol field, each facing the same direction in military discipline, will be for this one to split the compass difference, just as it split the height difference.  I wonder if it will bloom before the first flower (immediately above) is finished.

State of the ‘mater

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

I didn’t quite make my goal of a May tomato, but we’ve been in pretty good shape for the last 6 weeks, and there are still some varieties that haven’t contributed to the salad bowl. The photo above shows Early Girl, Glacier, Dr Carolyn, Grape and the big one on the right is my first Brandywine.

I started my seeds indoors during the first week of March. I planted half my seedlings, including a purchased Big Girl, about April 10, and then planted the rest a couple of weeks later. There continues to be a significant size difference between the ones that were transplanted so early, and the ones planted later.  As it turned out, the last frost date was very early this year, and I could have planted them earlier. The unseasonably hot weather over the last 6 weeks slowed down product, resulting in some fruit drop long before some plants were close to having ripe tomatoes.

Early Girl: To get fruit as soon as possible, Elizabeth brought me a very solid and healthy seedling from Merrifield Garden Center.  It has been a solid producer of tasty fruit since early June. I’m guessing that the seedling was planted in February, because it was significantly bigger than my seedlings.

Dr. Carolyn: This lemony-tasting (and looking) cherry tomato has consistently provided handfuls of tasty tomatoes since mid June.

Grape: I bought this one from a local nursery as a replacement for my only fatality. Pickings were slim, and this plant was much too leggy when I bought it. It has provided a small amount of fruit, but looks to be almost tapped out at this point.

Glacier: This is the earliest-fruiting of the heritage tomatoes that I started from seed. It was the 2nd plant to provide ripe fruit, but the small and solid fruit are not as tasty as the Early Girls.  The first fruit were quite watery, although taste and texture has improved. Lately, it has suffered from a lot of split fruit.  It doesn’t seem really comfortable with the hot weather.

Brandywine: Reputedly one of the tastiest varieties, this heritage tomato hasn’t impressed me, yet. The first seedling I planted is the only plant in the garden to suffer from blossom end rot.  I mulched all the early fruit from this one because they were obviously not turning out well. The plant is doing better, but I had to throw away another very large fruit today.  The 2nd plant, which has a lot more sunlight, is ahead in fruit production, with no sign of end rot.  I think Sheryl harvested 1-2 during the second week of July, but I didn’t get one until July 18. It was tasty, but not noteworthy.

Mortgage Lifter VFN: I didn’t get one of these planted in the first batch.  A huge tomato is almost ripe, but it is so close to the ground that I’m concerned about rodents.  Looks like there is more to come.

Long Keeper: I planted two of these with the idea that we’d be able to store some of them in the Fall.   There are a few fruit, and I expect them to ripen over the next couple of weeks.

Old German: Hello?  What are you waiting for?

Are these harmful insects?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

I found the above scene yesterday on the underside of a leaf on a lima bean vine.  It just doesn’t look good to me.  Maybe these are some kind of beneficial bug-eating bug, but I’m guessing no.

It isn’t even clear to me what is happening.  The white things are pretty obviously eggs. They are actually kinda cool looking, with little super hero masks carefully painted on each one (click on the picture for an enlargement).

The red things are too big to have recently originated from inside one of those eggs. I think these are the nymph form of some bigger insect, but I don’t know what.

Are they eating the eggs, protecting the eggs, or just hanging out with them?

Blooms and Beetles

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

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Taking a quick count, we’ve seen about 20 different types of flowers at The Hollow this week. The showiest of the bunch was this lone Canada lily, lonely garding a mosquito-infested patch of poison ivy in the valley behind the remains of the old cabin.

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There are bunches of daisies.

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The clover are blooming everywhere. The morning dew hasn’t evaporated from this one, yet (click on it for a larger image).

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Marsh roses are blooming in our marsh. The skeeters were so thick, I didn’t stick around long enough to get a really good shot.

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This 2′ mystery flower was blooming in the grassy area near the marsh roses. The leaves look like nettle, and the stem is square, placing it in the mint family. Ohio has a flower called hedge nettle, but the leaves are narrower than this one, the stem is more reddish, and the pictures of the flowers are a bit different. The individual flowers on this plant are actually quite complex and pretty (click on the picture for a larger image–depending on your browser, you may have to click on that image also, and then you’ll see a version of the picture almost a full screen wide).

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Other mint family blossoms this week include some peppermint growing in the valley, and bergamot (above), growing all over the place.

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Loosestrife, also near the marsh, adds a touch of yellow.

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A colorful pair of beetles enjoy the flowers from a milkweed leaf.