In the Garden

Whoa. Summer came to Oklahoma with a bang. After all those extra months of freezing weather and our recent weeks of rain, it is finally 90+ degrees and dry. Is there no such thing as a happy medium? Or do those days happen fleetingly? I’m guessing the latter.

Those days have come where I now have to check my flowers and vegetables daily. A simply soaking every evening only seems to make my plants thirstier. When I walked past my potted petunias last night I was shocked by the condition of the soil. It was cracking and parched and it made me feel so silly for proclaiming only last week how hard it was to kill petunias! PUBLIC APOLOGY, PETUNIAS – I take it all back.

I never had an interest in gardening for most of my life, although I have had a lifelong interest in eating food grown in other people’s gardens. When I lost my job nearly two years ago and Florida’s economy failed to provide me with another, I decided to turn my spare time into a useful tool. The following spring and summer, I grew tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, carrots, ground cherries, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, herbs, and edible flowers.

Jack, my parents’ piebald dachshund, accompanied me every morning to the garden space. The two of us made our rounds collecting ground cherries that had fallen or thinning out the carrots and nursing the cucumbers back to health. Actually, I did the work while Jack chased squirrels and investigated the deep roots of a philodendron.

Jack, my garden buddy

Jack, looking especially short next to the lettuce patch

Matt and I decided this year’s garden would be a small and manageable one. Everything we hope will be edible is growing in container pots and recycled whiskey barrels. There are three varieties of potted tomatoes, cucumbers trailing on our iron porch rails, and okra being held upright with a metal trellis. All those mornings I tossed the water out of those saturated pots are paying off and things are finally starting to grow.

sunburst cherry tomatoes

sunburst cherry tomatoes

okra is happening!

okra is happening!

It seems I have a new garden buddy these days to go along with my new garden. As I made my rounds this morning redirecting the cucumber vines and marveling at the height of my still-growing sunflowers, Teddy rarely left my side. There is a story behind this dog and I wish I knew what it was, but for now I’m happy to imagine he was treated well by someone who appreciated his constant presence and liked to take him for long walks outside.

my handsome boy

my handsome boy

Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

Macro? And Mammoths.

Having a camera doesn’t make one a photographer, but it’s still fun to play around with pictures. I have a few friends who are photographers and, as artists of any medium will probably argue, some believe in the art of digital manipulation while others do not. I am not a photographer, I just have a camera, so I can do whatever I want and not feel like I’m cheating.

Last weekend, before all hell broke loose, I decided to enjoy the few hours of decent weather we were expecting to have for three days. My hour-long walk in a nearby park in full floral bloom produced some gorgeous photos. When I was finally able to upload and filter them, and just downright redesign them into what I wanted them to look like, I ended up with these:

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a rose

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an iris

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a marigold

yellow goatsbeard

the fuzz of yellow goatsbeard

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a petunia

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another rose

I don’t dare call this macro photography because I didn’t exactly follow the rules. Actually, are there rules? I simply cropped close-up photographs for an even closer-up view of the flowers’ insides. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with my camera without the help of editing software. Besides, it’s fun!

Some of these flowers are from my own front porch. I think a lot of this might be stemming from my need to be in the garden. Stemming? The pun was not intended, but now you can possibly see where my head has been lately. Speaking of stems, though, my mammoth sunflowers have broken through the soil, way ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting them for at least another ten days but the rains during the last week must have hurried them along. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll reach their full height of 12 feet when I’m still here in Oklahoma to enjoy them!

mammoth sunflower seedlings

my mammoth sunflowers, in infancy

 

Living Greenery

Last weekend my husband and I filled our home with plants – all kinds of plants! It is pretty incredible what a little bit of living greenery can do to a room, not to mention one’s mood (namely mine). We now have a lovely cordatum cascading from the high kitchen cabinets and a Norfolk Pine tree in the office.

Norfolk Pine

A philodendron in the living room is doing a nice job of filling out a corner in which nothing else seemed to belong. The kiddo even chose a beautiful orange bromeliad for her new bedroom desk/work table. California ivy hangs down from a bookshelf and kitchen herbs now take up a part of the kitchen that had been reserved for junk mail in the past. We are constantly motivated now to keep the counters cleared of paperwork, especially since the ceramic planters match the kitchen curtains so perfectly.

And this? This is a very unique looking succulent, chosen by the husband and Elle.

succulent

Sometimes I look at it and imagine it’s some kind of alien life form. Anyone have any advice on how not to kill a house-bound succulent?

Opportunities

Some opportunities require more work than others.

Tomorrow, we will submit Elle’s portfolio and admission application to a particularly desirable public school here in Oklahoma City. She’s been working hard these past few weeks, getting some tips from our photographer friend, Kurt, and staying after school for additional art instruction from her art teacher (we can never thank these two people enough), learning how to grid, working with watercolors, and getting a general understanding of what it’s really like to put in a lot of extra time and work for something you really, really want, like an acceptance letter into a particularly desirable public school.

(One of these days, I will have to share my feelings on public school magnet programs, Title I school classifications, the wastefulness of your education tax dollars, KIPP schools, union retention of shitty teachers, and how I actually got angry and cried while watching a documentary called The Lottery. I simply cannot grasp why children have to beg and compete for a decent TAX-FUNDED education.)

Her artwork submissions include black & white drawings, watercolor landscapes, and some of her favorite photographs she has taken over the last year. The artists over at Red Dirt Gallery (another group of people we can never thank enough), where Elle placed first in their student art show with her photograph of Chimay, provided us with a recommendation letter to hand over to the powers that be on the school’s admissions board, even though we never asked for such a letter (seriously, wasn’t that awesome!?). Later, there will be academic placement testing and a sketching/drawing skills test (a few times in the next month), but we’ve explained to Elle that these are mere moments of her life. Also, I’m sure I have bored her to near-death with my interpretation of “the big picture”.

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On a less tedious note, I was contacted earlier this week by an assistant editor at Hobby Farm Home regarding a photograph from my spring garden in Florida. After a few emails back and forth, the magazine now has my permission to use it in their upcoming issue (a piece about cosmic purple carrots). There is no monetary payment but I will be compensated with a free issue in my mailbox!

purple carrots

such a teeny carrot (and, no, this is not THE photograph)

I wasn’t very successful at growing cosmic purple carrots (I don’t know if it was because of me, circumstances, or just bad luck) but I won’t be growing that kind again. I want more lycopene in my life (read as: atomic reds, baby!) but I am delighted to know that someone appreciates my obsessive need to make good use of those cosmic purples. They tasted like crap, but they sure were pretty.

Fluttering Frenzy

caterpillar

These gulf fritillary caterpillars and butterflies are certainly keeping me in a constant state of wonderment. Mostly because there are quite a few chrysalises hanging around my house, more than I have ever seen before. It’s quite exciting!

A week or so ago, I stumbled upon a mess of gulf fritillary butterflies in the passionflower vine and it took me an embarrassingly long minute to realize I was witnessing a fluttery threesome. Most entomologists would probably find the whole thing interesting to watch, as I did, but probably wouldn’t feel like entomological perverts, as I did. It was a little awkward.

three gulf fritillary chrysalises

on the porch railing

gulf fritillary chrysalis

in the passionflower vine

As of right now, I can count ten chrysalises on my front porch alone (some are even attached to the brick frame, flower pots, window sills, etc.). This place is going to be a frenzy of butterfly hatching activity once the weather warms up again – by next week, I hope. There is a cold front moving in Thursday night and a second push on Saturday. The butterflies will emerge once they’re warm enough to do so and, in this case, I’m crossing my fingers for warmer weather so these little guys can easily carry on with their happy little life cycles.

gulf fritillary

gulf fritillary on passionflower

Ladybugs & Aphids

A fellow gardener/blogger (Linda at Southern Rural Route) mailed me some seed packets a few months ago, one filled with rain lily seeds and another filled with milkweed seeds. They were both from her garden so it is nice to know I have a little piece of Florida right on my front porch (and, because milkweed is the food source for monarch caterpillars, I am hoping to add to the butterfly population).

I have never grown milkweed before and I didn’t do much research on it, only looking up when and where and how to plant. So when I started seeing little yellow dots on the stems of my seedlings, I figured they were part of the plant. I even stared at them for minutes at a time some mornings trying to convince myself they were actually bugs, but they never moved so I assumed all was okay.

Over the weekend, I decided to take a really good look at them from a different perspective: my camera’s super close-up lens. And yes, those things have legs! They are yellow aphids (or Oleander aphids) and are definitely not part of the plant. Silly me – always trust your instincts. Or at least Google.

Oleander aphids on milkweed

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Don’t they kind of remind you of the minions from Disney’s “Despicable Me”?

After researching a little more on aphids (gee, you think I would have done this last month), I learned that ladybugs are the aphid’s natural predator. I couldn’t adopt that gorgeous little schnauzer at PetSmart this weekend, so Monday morning I decided to adopt approximately two thousand ladybugs.

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ladybugs attacking the aphids

This is my favorite ladybug shot because of that little guy hanging halfway off the stem and waving his arms around like it’s Spring Break. Woooo!

It was overcast enough that the gardeners at my local nursery said I wouldn’t have to wait for dusk to release them. I’m not quite sure of the reason why and, judging by my past record, I will probably not research this either. I just did as the experts told me to do and released the ladybugs around 10am with gray skies and a cold wet chill in the air. They all seemed very excited to get out of the bag.

ladybugs on me

I scattered them all over my “problem site” (the aphids-infested milkweed seedlings) and since I had seen ladybugs in my passion flowers many times before, I decided to put quite a few of them on the vine, too, as well as on my lavender, lamb’s ear, and cockscomb. I would seriously hate to have brought home thousands of ladybugs for my benefit only to have them find something better over at the neighbor’s house.

When I put it that way, it sounds almost adulterous.

yellow ladybug on my lavender

Click here if you would like to see photographs of ladybugs on things. If I had more ladybugs and things to put them on, I could totally start a new blog to rival this one.

Weekending

          • We almost adopted a bloodhound even though I worried she wouldn’t fit through the doggie door. She ended up being taken in by a search and rescue group that is going to train her to save people’s lives. I bet she’d even be willing to save the family that gave her up and left her at the pound. Dogs are cool that way.
          • Friday night I had a dream that the branches of our front yard tree were filled with tiny whimsical birdhouses. So, this weekend Elle and I started painting some and hanging them on a different tree. I’m finding this therapeutic.

birdhouse tree

          • I had another dream (or possibly the same dream?) that we adopted a giant schnauzer and named her Mo. She did fit through the doggie door.
          • There was a beautiful sunset in Choctaw while we were at Oktoberfest and a cold front moved in. There was also wind, rain, and lightning Friday night followed by sunshine, cooler temperatures that reminded me of Fall, and spending the next two days and nights with our windows open.
          • I did no schoolwork at all. Well, almost. I couldn’t help myself and had to proofread and edit one paper before submitting it a day early, but that was only so that I could enjoy the rest of the weekend without it lurking around me and stressing me out.
          • Matt got the VW Golf running again! I learned that the smoke coming from the undercarriage as the engine turned over for the first time in months was from the car burning off debris, not a prelude to an impending explosion.
          • My lavender outgrew the pot so I took advantage of the cooler weather and transplanted her into the front yard. I also found a couple more patches of dirt for the Indian blanket and black-eyed susans to go in. The good news is they’re not dead, they’re just ugly. Here’s to hoping being in real dirt might bring them back to their glory days.
          • All the spiced pumpkin biscuit prep work in the world won’t matter if your Greek yogurt has gone bad. It isn’t enough to take inventory of your pantry’s baking supplies. Smell the dairy ingredients, too. This is imperative.
          • Sunday morning breakfast was saved when, two hours later, I baked pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling. (I really wanted biscuits or something more biscuit-y, but I just don’t have cups of chilled lard lying around. Do you? I must get my hands on some.)

pumpkin muffin with cream cheese filling

        • Sunday supper was ruined by my first-ever attempt at lasagna. I will proudly toot my own horn here and acknowledge that I cooked the ground beef perfectly (unsupervised, I might add!), but that was it. The whole mess reminded me of my mother’s goulash. I hate goulash.

Front Porch Gardening

It’s too late to start a garden here in Oklahoma, at least with the intention of growing anything worth eating. The only things that might make the endeavor worth the late season dig would be radishes but nobody in this family eats enough of them to grow them and I don’t know anyone else who would want the bounty (yes, I expect I would be successful!).  There is always garlic and onions although both of those won’t be harvested until next year and I’m too impatient for that. Besides, I researched a bit and came to find out that the time to actually plant for fall harvest is ideally no later than the first of part of September. I have no seeds, I have no Okie red dirt know-how, and I have no dugout or patch of dirt with which to work. Not now, anyway. That’s what spring time is for. Matt is quite relieved, I’m sure.

So, in the meantime, I’ve been tending to a few potted plants that line my front porch. It started with my Spanish lavender, which after the most recent rain has doubled in size, and a couple of petunias that grew so quickly that they could actually fend off the strangling tendrils of the passion flower vine. Over the past few weeks, though, I have acquired a few more flowers and herbs: daylilies, Indian blanket, black-eyed susans, lamb’s ear, celosia, cockscomb, French lavender, milkweed, rain lilies, and a couple different types of mint. All of them are living in pots at the moment and have to be watered each day by hand.

new cockscomb

budding cockscomb

lamb's ear

fuzzy lamb’s ear

celosia

celosia

Sadly, Elle’s beloved ruby-ball cactus, named Ophelia, keeled over. It seems when I showed Elle how to water the cactus, I didn’t specify how often and so the poor thing was watered nearly every day. Ophelia drowned, practically choked on her own stem-goo (it was odd), and flopped over sideways. Have you ever tried pulling a cactus from a tiny ceramic pot? It’s uncomfortable at times and wearing gloves seems pointless, too.  Just know this.

Chrysalis

gulf fritillary caterpillar

gulf fritillary caterpillar on my passion flower

Remember the caterpillars I mentioned last week? Here’s an update:

I had been keeping an eye on the cocoons, but I wasn’t obsessing over them. They are both hanging precariously just a few feet outside my office window so watching them has been a relatively easy thing to do. Throughout the day, I would notice the cocoons moving directions – it was kind of strange, seeing as how at 9 o’clock in the morning or so the cocoons would face east and three hours later, they would turn completely around to face the other direction. Nature is smarter than us so I’m sure there is a good reason for this, though I would like to know if it is related to the position of the sun or not.

gulf fritillary cocoon

There’s life inside! (Doesn’t it remind you of Batman? A little…?)

Some of Matt’s family visited us this past weekend and while they were packing up their truck to head back to Missouri, I came into the office to make sure nothing was being left behind. That’s when I noticed it. I slowly walked out of the office with my camera and excitedly yelled back to Matt’s sister, Julie, “She hatched! She hatched! Get your camera!” We each snapped quite a few pictures of the newly-emerged Gulf Fritillary, also known as a passion butterfly.

gulf fritillary out of the chrysalis

gulf fritillary out of the chrysalis – it’s finally a butterfly!

I consider myself lucky at times, or maybe I’m just pre-destined to be a witness to certain things, but that I was able to see a butterfly come to life right in front of me still kind of blows my mind.

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Later that day…(wouldn’t it be incredible if it’s the same one that just emerged from the chrysalis? Oh, I’ll never know. They all look alike to me.)

They love the passion flower and it is where their life cycle begins and is sustained. There is one more cocoon with a butterfly inside of it, hanging on my porch railing and changing directions throughout the day. Matt and I did find a few more empty chrysalises around the house. .

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Empty chrysalis. You can still see the actual shape of the caterpillar that once lived inside, too.