A Blueberry Summer (Almost)

One day there was a bird was in the blueberries. This spring, I had planted Top Hat blueberries. It is a compact variety developed at Michigan State University and the perfect size for containers. Surprisingly, a number of berries started to come on rather quickly. While I like the birds, I don’t like them in the berry patches. So, I found some stakes and chicken wire and constructed a makeshift cage in order to keep birds out.

It has been dry. Very dry. Keith’s patch of forest greens dried up. Some of the garden plants are drooping every time I see them. Still, daisies and coneflowers are adding some color to the garden. The tomatoes are coming along well also. We’ve been picking romas for weeks and have started to harvest some heirlooms. Carrots are looking good. We have about harvested all the garlic and the onions. Note to self – yes on both Walla Wallas and growing garlic for next year.

I think the newly emptied spaces will be perfect for more Bloomsdale spinach and another attempt at Bulls Blood Beets (something ate them in my attempt earlier this year). I added a ghost fern in a shaded part of the garden. Wrens have hatched in one of the nest boxes. Snakes are living in the compost bins. Hummingbirds are fighting for sugar water.

My excitement about the blueberries was short lived. I checked on them one day to find them gone. Something small enough to fit through the chicken wire had a sweet dessert one day. I am blaming the chipmunks.

Along Came Summer

Summer has arrived and it brought some things along with it. It brought the heat, right on time according to the calendar.

It brought along some wildflower blooms; bluets, mountain laurel, daisies, pink lady’s slipper, and orange daylilies. Others are on the way, I added three new Purple Coneflowers to the herb garden. Black Eyed Susans will soon follow.

Summer has brought multiple garter snakes. I am not sure what is bringing them in nor what is causing them to grow so large. I have never seen so many that exceed twenty inches in length. I like garter snakes but would like to see some other varieties sometime. Come to think of it, the only other snake I have ever found here was a red bellied snake.

Summer brought more wood frogs and some spotted salamanders. Maybe those things are what cause the garter snakes to get so big. Mom found a box turtle in the yard. Keith found one on the sand mound and Jennifer said she saw one in the lane. Joe once saw a snapper just before it dove into a pool of water. I am glad to hear about all this turtle action, but feel a little cheated. I have never seen a turtle back here (not a live one at least).

Summer brought the sounds of gray tree frogs, catbirds, barred owls, and the song of the wood thrush. It brought two spotted fawns into the yard. It brought two nest boxes full of twigs. The male wren makes multiple nests and the female comes around later to decide on which one she likes best. As it turns out, she didn’t like either of the nests that are in the boxes. Fickle wren.

Summer found me in the poison patch. Usually this doesn’t bother me so much, but it woke me in the middle of the night thinking it might be better to remove the outer layer of skin between my fingers. That prompted me to counter attack. That battle isn’t yet over. Summer also brought the start of a new hornet nest. That will be much easier to get rid of than the ivy.

Summer has crept north of Shade Mountain and along with the usual pulling of weeds and watching the hummers and turning the compost, it has brought some other things with it.

Spring Eating

Garter Snakes and Red Efts and Wood Frogs and one American Toad have been showing themselves up close. Hopefully to eat some things I don’t want around. Raccoons and fox and deer and a wild turkey have shown themselves on camera. Probably looking for something to eat. Keith planted a patch of clover with the hopes that something would come along and eat it. It is growing well off the southeast side of the property.

The ground is finally warm enough for new things to go in the garden. The new beds are filled with dirt. The perennials are all looking good. We are picking the last of the lettuces and pickling the last of the radishes. The arugula and the spinach have been eaten; I sure hope we will be eating more in the Fall. Mental note, I will get the Bloomsdale spinach again.

Bloomsdale Spinach is an heirloom vegetable. Heirloom vegetables are colorful, nutritious, and have a fascinating history. For example, Cherokee Purple Tomatoes were rediscovered by a guy in North Carolina who received some seeds from a family in Tennessee. The Tennessee family claims they have been growing them for generations and that they first received seeds from the Cherokee Indians. That makes me glad we have a Cherokee Purple and some other heirlooms as well.

Carrots have been planted. So have tomatoes and peppers and zucchini. So have raspberries and strawberries and blueberries. I am guessing we will have to work to keep critters away from them later in the year, but so far critters have showed a preference for parsley and basil and beets and swiss chard. Whatever critters have been sharing our food, it was certainly a larger critter that tore down the bird feeders to eat the bird feed. One day they were attracting a lot of bird life, the next the feeders needed to be replaced and the food had been eaten. Undoubtedly, a bear passed through for a bite.

Things are growing. Many of them are getting eaten. I am just glad that I get to do at least some of the eating.

A Week in the Life

As I listen to people these days, I am reminded of one of the Beatles great songs. It begins “I read the news today, oh boy…” That song is titled “A Day in the Life.” Most of us have heard it. Most of us probably enjoy it. Most of us are probably following the lead of John Lennon and reading (or at least watching) the news. Any guesses of what the news will be this week? I think we can all answer that question. Some event may provide a slight distraction but the focus will quickly return to the latest on COVID-19. There is nothing wrong with watching the news but I do hope we all have found some other ways to spend time as well.

 

I hope most of us are involved in things that keep ourselves and others healthy. Your “day in the life” will likely be at least slightly different from mine, but due to the restrictions placed on social interaction I have already become pretty predictable.

 

I will eat oatmeal. I’m ok with that, there’s not much better than a combination of oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla with a fruit topping. I will probably cook something a little more complicated at some point. Maybe a soup. Maybe something on the Weber. I like to smell like smoke after cooking. “You smell like smoke” someone may say. “Thank you” I will reply.

 

I predict that on Tuesday I will send a song to Karissa and Keightley. We do it every week and call it “Tunesday.” Last week it was “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra. This week I will be sending out “Hallelujah.” The Jeff Buckley version.

 

I have entered the world of vlogging. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have attempted to communicate some sense of meaning and hope through short video vignettes. I suspect I will be at it again this week as one way to maintain a sense of connection with the people of the church. It seems like such a trendy exercise, maybe I’m destined to become trendy. The earlier one I call “Tuesdays With Randy.” The next one I call, you guessed, “Thursdays With Randy.” Pretty trendy eh.

 

I always enjoy reading but admit my reading time has increased during quarantine. Most recently, I am rereading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. It is assigned for a class I am taking and I always consider it a bonus when I am assigned a book I have read before. It does encourage the risk that I will start to think I know what I’m talking about. That will be up to the professor to decide when I complete my critical review essay.

 

I will spend time in the garden. We have planted cabbage, radishes, onions, arugula, spinach, swiss chard, romaine and bibb lettuce. We have already started to harvest lettuce, arugula, and spinach. I will add to the compost. Probably kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and crunchy brown leaves. When I don’t smell like smoke I like to smell like soil.

 

These are the things that make up a week in the life. At least for one average guy trying to be compliant with social restrictions. It has become rather predictable. I am hoping to shake things up a bit in the near future. Maybe I’ll follow John’s lead. Later in the song he sings “I saw a film today, oh boy.” Yeah, I’ll probably do that.

Quarantine with Owls and Lions

Quarantine has become an oft used word. I suppose if it is necessary then to find a place far away from the masses is a good idea. So, I find a place where the closest business establishment happens to be a big cat sanctuary. A half mile lane takes me back to a little hide-a-way in the shadow of Jacks Mountain where I have decided to overnight in a tent.

 

There is a dog that lives here, I don’t think he knows he is under a quarantine. I have strong suspicions the local birds do not know either. We watch birds of all colors and sizes fly back and forth between the feeders and the tree line. Others eat what falls to the ground. And others scratch at the edge of the forest for spring dinner. I fear that I am feeding the rabbits back here also. Something ate the parsley down to stubs; I am blaming the rabbits. I haven’t decided whether to be upset or to admire them for doing it while I was sleeping in a tent just fifteen yards away.

 

Perennials are starting to show themselves. I see thyme and sage and chives and lavender. I see daffodils and tulips and garlic. I replaced a rosemary plant. Bibb lettuce and romaine are in the ground. So is arugula and spinach. So are radishes and beets and onions and leeks and cabbage. Creeping phlox and lily of the valley have been added to the shade garden. I have traced an outline for a new garden parallel to the vegetable garden. Daryl has agreed to come up on the Mahindra and level it out like he did the original space last year. Joe and I moved the serviceberry tree in order to give the tractor more room to work.

 

There are some other things going on as well. One week, the wood frogs started to sing. The next week, the spring peepers joined in. That same week, I saw a garter snake soaking in the sun on the northern edge of the yard. Chickadees have been investigating the bluebird boxes. I would prefer bluebirds, but I’ll settle for chickadees. It is the time of year when the property changes daily. It is technically spring and did get up to seventy degrees earlier in the week. You might think that makes it a good time to overnight in a tent. As it turned out, it dropped to twenty-five degrees and when I woke up my feet were freezing.

 

But, the dawn chorus always makes it worth it to sleep outside. So many birds singing a song it is hard to pick out the individual sounds. Two barred owls sing. And then, a lion roar can be heard from the big cat sanctuary. This sounds so unnatural, but a lion joins the dawn chorus. It’s like I walked into a scene where lions lay down with lambs. Or at least a scene where they sing along with birds.

Winter and a Happy Soul

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain spring bulbs have been planted (some for color, some for flavor. I am talking about garlic). The root vegetables have been cured and we’ve picked the last of the lettuce. It is true that lettuce tastes different when it comes from your garden. A garden is, of course, for the flavors. But it is also for walking past and looking at. It is for food and beauty. It is a combination of charm and productivity. I am not sure ours has accomplished either in a substantial way, but it is a work in progress. Therefore, some changes are being planned for next year.

 
The present plans include growing more carrots (Mom has already eaten them all). Grow radishes and beets. Grow pumpkins on purpose. Add cucumbers and strawberries. More Purple Coneflower, more Black Eyed Susans, more garden herbs. We’ll keep the tomatoes and the peppers. I am undecided about Sweet Potatoes. It’s a tough call, they were brilliant in color and extra sweet (made me think those things at the grocery aren’t really sweet potatoes). But anyway, hats off to George the Tator Man who sold us the slips to get started.

 
Anyway, in order for any of that to happen, the soil is getting a heavy dose of compost and manure and straw. Before anything grows next year we need to amend the soil. Better soil will grow better plants. It’s that simple. I am hopeful that next spring we will already be far ahead of where we were last spring. I have already ordered a second composter.

 
The birdhouses have been cleaned and bird feeders have been filled. The feeders operate on a pulley system that hangs them high enough they are out of reach for any bears. Last week while filling them I lowered the feeders and noticed two Black Capped Chickadees still at the suet. I raised it and lowered it three times and they rode up and down. Why fly when you can just ride the elevator? I have some interest in larger birds as well. There are still a number of Wild Turkeys around. Keith scared them from their roost while entering the woods one morning last week. Soon, I will be watching the nesting box hanging just outside the yard for signs of a Screech Owl.

 
There is a fire inside. Not the most efficient way to heat, but it also warms the soul. Mom has a friend who raises grass fed beef. With gratitude there is a porterhouse on the Weber. Who invented this cut? It’s like a filet and a strip steak, why choose when you can have both? Again, cooking over fire may not be the most efficient way to cook. But it makes my soul happy.

Good Time for a Fire

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain it will soon be time to start a fire in the fireplace. Maybe light up the firepit. Maybe light up a bonfire. As the weather gets cooler, a fire seems to sound better and better. The trees seem to have already caught fire. Yellows, oranges, and reds mix with browns and burn from the surrounding branches. The leaves fall like sparks to the ground where the first frost already claimed the basil.

 
Lettuce, onions, and spinach are still growing. They seem to like this weather. I have pulled up the tomatoes and peppers. Harvested the sweet potatoes. One by one, the gardens are getting ready for Winter. We blanket them with lots of straw and compost. The hummingbird feeders are put away until next year. The other feeders are getting more and more action.

 
I’ve been gathering rocks all summer long. Been digging them out of the yard, finding them in the tree line, and carrying them in from the woods. They are beginning to look like a wall for a Spring garden. I hope it will be the perfect spot for tulips, daffodils, and garlic.

 
The fairly large hornet nest is still hanging from a backyard tree, we’ll wait until it gets colder to take it down. I am still seeing Valley and Ridge Salamanders and Wood Frogs hiding in the leaf litter. Along with deer, a Black Bear, two Gray Foxes, and a flock of Wild Turkeys have been showing themselves on the trail cam. Not satisfied with just being seen on a trail cam, Mom saw twelve turkeys in the yard one day.

 
On another day, we put a chicken on the Weber. Rub it down with butter. Add salt and pepper. Put it over a drip pan on the far side of the grill and add charcoal when necessary. As a bonus, eat the liver, heart, and gizzard while the rest of the bird is cooking. The smells and tastes were awesome. We call it wicked good. Fall is a really good time for a fire. Not too long ago, my favorite season was Summer. Now, I’m starting to think I’m kind of a Fall guy.

Time for Shorter Days and Longer Nights

Here between Jacks and Shade Mountain we are adjusting to change. A phenomenon called the equinox came through and left us with shorter days than nights. We call it Fall and that is ok since we’ve been doing Fall stuff. Leaves are falling. The waning harvest moon is hanging in the sky. That seemed like a good time to harvest the remaining carrots and to pick a pumpkin. We are still picking tomatoes and the temperatures have been great for lettuce, spinach, and onions. Mom brought home a chrysanthemum. Other than that, we have started to clean up the gardens.

Hummingbirds and Monarchs are visiting less. Dragonflies continue in abundance. In the western part of the state, there are so many they are showing up on weather radar maps. We don’t see quite that many but are glad for those we do see. They and their cousins the damselflies are known by a lot of names; spiketails and skimmers and bluets and dancers. These critters are carnivores and they eat critters we don’t want. My favorite name for them is the mosquito hawk. A shout out to the dragonflies!

We have been hearing turkey noises. Young bucks have been showing up on the trail cam. And we have been shooting arrows at a target. Considering that we shoot and garden here and the popular idea of naming properties, maybe we could call the property “The Bow and Hoe.”  Probably not. But if we ever start a restaurant back here, that’s what we’ll call it. It’ll be one of those field to table places.

Keith trimmed the lane and it looks great. I think Mom’s marigolds are still growing and some stubborn Black-eyed Susans are still showing their colors. I pulled up some annuals, planted daffodils, and am still cutting trees at the edge of the forest and raking out places for shade plants. Teaberries are ripening in these places. I have plans for a new raised bed and have been collecting rocks for the project. The bird feeders are hanging again. This time on a stronger rig and we are looking forward to seeing more birds in the yard. I dare the bear to mess with it.

Summer Action

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain, there is a long lane lined with chicory, blackberries, milkweed, and orange daylilies. Back the lane, four more Black Capped Chickadees have fled the nest box. That is seven from that box this year.

At least two toads have climbed onto the deck this summer. You have to appreciate a toad with some ambition. Who knows what else climbs up there when no one is looking? We know of at least one other critter because he left his skin beside the door step. (Mom did not appreciate this). That reminds me, there was a garter snake in the compost bin. It is always fun to find creatures in unexpected places. While walking the property line, I found a Red Eft. He shows off a brilliant color in contrast to the surrounding dark colors of leaf mold and bright greens of moss. I followed him for a short distance before he disappeared under a rotting log.

A new shade garden is developing along the treeline above the vegetables. Hosta (Pacific Blue Edgers) and Coral Bells (Electric Plum) are adding new colors mixed in with the Mountain Laurel and Redbud tree. The deer have left the Hosta’s alone, so far. But something is eating the tomatoes. I may be trapping some critters.

I did overnight near the garden in hopes of learning something new about what is happening in the dark. Hoping for some visitor or at least a strange noise. But it is difficult to hear anything or to know what is going on around you while sleeping. I did listen to a Green Frog and watch Lightning Bugs until I fell asleep. And I did wake to a wonderful dawn chorus that had so much sound going on it was difficult to identify any of it. But I am telling myself that there were some new chickadees singing in that choir.

There was a nest of White Faced Hornets in a rhododendron bush. Something ripped it out one night and appeared to empty the contents, leaving an empty shell. The same night (one week after my overnighter) something tipped over the burn barrel. Maybe that is some new form of rural entertainment. Cow tipping is out, barrel tipping is in. More likely, we have another bear. While I would like to thank him for disposing of those hornets, I wish he would have put the barrel back the way he found it.

A Bear and Three Little Birds

Somewhere between Jacks and Shade Mountain three little birds are sitting in a nest of moss lined with dog hair. Sounds like a Bob Marley song but these are chickadees that recently hatched in a nest box.

On Memorial Day we checked them out. It was also a good day to sit on the deck, hang a hammock, and practice fly casting. It smelled like bratwursts and tasted like Mom’s home brew.

Everything is growing. Both things we want to grow and many things we do not. At the top of the list of things we don’t want is poison ivy. It appears we are surrounded by it. Some trees that border the yard will need to come down as well. I have started to mark some trees as keepers and others to be thinned. There is an abundance of Tulip Poplar, Sassafras, a variety of oaks and maples and evergreens that are just popping up out of nowhere. There are berry bushes that I hadn’t noticed before.

The lettuces are about finished and the sweet potatoes just went in. Mom has been pulling and clipping from the herb garden to brew tea. I just planted another Redbud and am hopeful it takes as well as the first one did. The Serviceberry, the Flowering Plum, and a Colorado Blue Spruce all seem to have a good start also.

Wild turkeys are becoming more visible. Early in the month, I heard them flying into the roost. Past weeks I have found hens on the ground. I hope they are on nests or already raising poults. I have been finding spotted salamanders and wood frogs and American toads. The primary amphibian song has been from Gray Tree Frogs. Numerous birds have been singing.  Notable songs have included catbirds, the wood thrush, and the parents of newborn chickadees. Other birds just seem to be yelling at me. I can’t blame them, things have been inconsistent at the bird feeder. Only the hummingbirds have been happy. A bear bent the initial stake that is used to support the feeders in the air. After strengthening the rig and rehanging the feeders, the bear climbed the tree to bend the pulley from the tree. One day, Mom found him in the yard. Anyway, that bear is presenting a good challenge. If you see that bear before I do, let him know – challenge accepted.