Summer lovin’

Tonight’s post is written by guest blogger and friend-of-the-blog (not to mention proprietress of the Spatial Anomaly Coffee Bar and Refueling Station) Mary

I used to think I was a cold weather person. When I was a kid I got hot very quickly causing my apple-cheeked face to go from really white to really red and make me very cranky. Long sleeved shirts, especially turtle necks, were my idea of torture during the school day. I’d run around and think blissfully of crisp fall and winter days when I could bundle and unbundle myself as necessary. Summer represented freedom from school, poolside fun, and air conditioned shelter. The hot and humid swamp that is my hometown does not invite outdoor fun during the months of July and August. Fact: diplomats stationed here during the, uh, warmer months get a little something called Tropical Pay to offset their discomfort. In my childhood I understood their pain and I, too, looked forward to that day that I could leave the swamp and abandon the confining humidity for a cooler climate and the possibility of snow.

Fast forward 20 years. I can’t believe I’m writing this…I actually like summer. Sure, the swamp heat still takes a little adjusting at the beginning of the season, and, sure, I don’t want to do any heavy labor outdoors during the day, but I can now say that I don’t hate it. In a way, I actually enjoy it. I love the cicadas, I love the thunderstorms, I love the vats of iced tea I get to drink. There are some things I still don’t care for, especially in my current set up, but I know they’re temporary and will ease up come September.

My current domicile, as both Kristy and Cammy can attest, is not the most pleasant place to be of an evening in mid-July. I dwell in a mostly original and very beaten down bungalow constructed in 1936. As a mostly original and very beaten down bungalow constructed in 1936, it has no central air conditioning, a state that has brought expressions of horror to the faces of most of my acquaintances. These peeps, who are mostly not from around these parts, are shocked at my ability to live with one noisy window unit and a warehouse worth of electric fans. But, Dear Reader, trust me when I say it’s not that bad. If the air is on then all blinds are closed, the door to my bedroom is shut, and the fan is switched on to move the air about. If the day isn’t hot enough to make the devil want a glass of lemonade, then the windows and doors are opened and the fan stays on to help with circulation.

But Mary, how do you sleep at night? Easy, I’m tired. Well, that and my room stays cooler than the rest of the house and it sits in a shadier portion of the property. I keep the windows open, position my bed in the middle of the room, keep the sheets to a minimum, and park my head directly under the ceiling fan. This is not to say that I haven’t had a couple of miserable nights that take me forever to fall asleep, but I find it’s actually pretty comfortable.

My current state of Abstract Employment also allows me the opportunity to enjoy the summer days. Instead of being locked up in an air conditioned vault for 9+ hours of the day, I get to job hunt and listen to the cicadas waking up and feel the sizzle of the day when I go out to run errands and remind myself that there is a world beyond the bungalow, my computer screen, and the seemingly interminable process of applying for jobs.

Could I live in a land of Forever Summer? No. Florida is my idea of purgatory, but ask me again when I hit 70. I like the change of seasons and process of change and renewal. I like changing out my wardrobe and adding a blanket to the growing pile on the bed. But will I enjoy summer while it’s here? Yes. It’s good for the soul and humidity is good for the skin. That’s my mantra, anyway.

Attack of the Killer Tomato Worms

I am all kinds of evil.  Not only did I miss my post for Friday, I’m coming in with one that’s disgusting:

Tomato Worms.

Every year, I get a least a few.  Normally I don’t find out I’ve gained a parasitic little party-crasher until a least two branches of my tomato plant have been stripped bare.

I thought I was done for this year.  My larger plant started showing signs that it was the munchy-of-choice for a tomato worm.  Since I’m trying to be pesticide free in my little garden, I hunted for the worm and any of his friends to find them and squish them.  But hunt as I might, I couldn’t find the little bastard.  I was forced to resort to Sevin dusting the plant–lightly as possible.

That was about a month ago.  Thursday, I started seeing it again.  The little bastard was killing my plant….so I hunted, never found him, and went for the Sevin dust–heavily.  Screw pesticide free, it was ON.

Today, I noticed the tiny cherry tomato plant on the opposite side of the patio–the worm equivalent of a whole continent away–was looking picked clean.  Son of a…..out I went.  This time I was going to find the offender and squish him.  Or possibly snip him with my garden clippers.

I found one right off.  About an inch and a half long and slightly less diameter than a pencil.  Snipped off that end of the stem and squished his green body under the leg of a patio chair.

But something told me he wasn’t alone.  So I went back.  For over an hour I hunted.  Nothing on the bigger plant.  And nothing left on the smaller…..and then I saw it.  Like something from a bloody sci-fi horror film.  Straight from the intergalactic hub of alien invasions, Vancouver, B.C.   Clinging to a spindly volunteer tomato that was trying to reach its way out of the man-eating-squash jungle, was the biggest, most disgusting tomato worm I’d ever seen.

Seriously, I didn’t know they even GOT that big*.  I usually get these things when they’re around the size of the first one I spotted–an inch to an inch and a half, and never any bigger around than a pencil.  Sometimes they’re even smaller when I end them.

This sumbitch was bigger than any of my fingers.  He was bigger around than my thumb and at least 4 inches long–when he was contracted.  I’m pretty sure he alone was responsible for 98% of the tomato plant carnage I’d been seeing.

And I was pissed.

I clipped off the already-stripped stem he was devouring and flung it onto the patio.  As big as he was, I couldn’t risk a close-range squish–it would be begging for a coating of green goo, and no one wants that.  I finally rolled him over with a garden cart.  Even with the green goo emanating from his back end, the little fucker KEPT EATING THAT STEM.  He was technically still moving and going at it when I went in the house.  I mean, there’s no way he could survive having his guts trailing out his ass, right?

Honestly, I give loads of thanks he wasn’t bigger than that or I would have been facing a reenactment of Tremors.  If he has similar-sized friends out there that I missed, I may yet be forced to take more drastic measures.  I’m seriously considering assembling my arsenal of large cal ammo and “a few household chemicals in the proper proportions.”

If you don’t have a post from me as scheduled this week?  Send Kevin Bacon.

 

*Now that I have googled I’m horrified to see they DO get this big. WTF!

Weed

For those of you thinking that Cammy has taken a turn for the laid-back-but-munchie prone….

Please.

You know I’m about to talk gardening again.

Yeah.  So, I’m not really enough of a horticulturist to know one green sprout from the next.  And since the seeds I did plant this year I did NOT plant neatly, in rows, in easily identifiable locations, I’m having to experiment a bit.

All the little green things coming up in my garden beds?  They get a temporary stay of execution until they get big enough that I know what they are.  I keep hoping that some of these turn out to be the basil I planted from seed. So far I’m not winning that one.

This works out to some extent.

Until I realize the plants are crap I and get to spend excess time picking them out of the ground. Like today, when I played executioner to a number of plants that were clearly not basil.  It was like bloody Huntsville, Texas for green stuff out there.  I honestly don’t know where they all came from.  What the heck?!?!?

Summer Gardening – Year Two

For those of you who were not interested in my patio gardening exploits last summer, well, you should have said something when you had the chance.  Since you didn’t….

My plants are in the ground, slightly earlier than last year, I believe.  This year’s line up features a reprise of the rosa bianca egg plant after last year’s success.  Also representing the egg plant family is the satin beauty.  With no volunteer tomatoes in sight (and given the oddness of the ones last year), I went with a single Roma and a patio cherry.  And I triple checked that the cherry really is patio sized after last year’s cherry-tomato-that-devoured-the-Midwest debacle (unless, as was apparently the case last year, “patio” is defined as “taller than Cammy”).  The Hungarian wax pepper is also making a return–hello cheese-stuffed goodness!  And, of course, I couldn’t get rid of the chives if I tried (and in some spots I have…they’re insidious).

On a more advanced level, we’re stepping up to seeds this year.  I wanted squash, so, Mom suggested I just try from seeds.  So far there are little yellow-patty-pan seedlings coming up nicely.  Here’s hoping we can buck Mom’s trend of winding up with a powdery mildew that destroys them.  And I thought I’d give beans a shot–so I tossed a few pintos into the ground, and I think I saw signs of sprouting today.

All this ties in to my second attempt to be outdoors more this summer.  Last year wasn’t quite as successful as I’d have liked, but at least the gardening gave me something to force me out for at least a short time every evening.  I’m a bit concerned the real-life job thing might be more invasive this year than last, so it’s up to the squash, tomatoes and egg plant to ensure my fresh-air in take is not confined to the time spent walking between the door of a building and the door of my car.

Garden Planning

Despite the fact that we’re not entirely done with the whole ice and snow thing, I can tell that the end of the frozen days is coming.  So, for the first time since about October, I ventured out the back door onto the patio to survey the flowerbeds and ponder what to plant this year.

The whole garden thing actually went pretty well last year, up to the point where the over-abundance of cherry tomatoes led to me eating so many I wound up with an allergic rash.  Oops.  But aside from that, it was nice to have veggies just out the back door, and it was an activity that got me outside, in keeping with my attempt to spend time outdoors for the summer.

Last year I had chives (volunteer), onions (volunteer), tomatoes (volunteer, and the cherry tomato that tried to kill me), basil, egg plant and a Hungarian wax pepper.

It’s not too early to plan again.  I think we’re a go on the egg plant, basil and the pepper.  The tomato will have to be a smaller variety.  Squash is a possibility.  And beans.  If I knew for sure we’d have a summer as humid and hot as the last one, I’d go out for okra.  I killed my rosemary (again), so I’ll try that one (again).  My mint froze back, so that will go back into one of the pots (I would never, ever put it in the bed unless I wanted a flowerbed full of mint).  Mom’s had bad luck with cucumbers, but I might give them a shot.

Any other suggestions out there (other than bell pepper–yuck)?

 

*update: how did I manage to type “basic” instead of “basil” twice?  Corrected.

Last Ditch Effort At the Outdoor Summer

The great summer outdoors experiment has been mostly a bust.  Yes, overall, I did manage to spend more time out of doors than I have in the past decade or more of summers, but it wasn’t nearly as much as I’d hoped for.  The hammock spent a lot more time hanging in the basement than outside, and while I grew a lot of food outside,between my work schedule and the uncharacteristic humidity, I didn’t consume much of it there.

But, as with most things, the good part often comes at the end.  Yes, gentle readers, as I type this, I am in the hammock, outside, on a sunny, gorgeous made-to-order day with low humidity and a current temperature of 73 degrees with a light breeze.  Here on what most people use as the weekend marking the end of summer, I’m finally getting some outdoor enjoyment.

And just for today, I’m not going to say better late than never.  I’m just going to bask in moment and hope that there are many more like it next year.

Happy Summer

1 Fish, 2 Fish, Dead Fish, Eww Fish

I stepped out on the back patio the other evening to pick a few of my tomatoes.  When I opened the door I was hit by a foul odor.  At first whiff, I thought maybe I had some vegetation rotting with all the rain we had.  Second whiff, however, assured me that, no.  There was a dead animal.  I began to root around under the plants, thinking I had a dead chipmunk, but came up empty.

Then I looked down toward our neighborhood pond.

It was covered in belly-up fish.

Neighborhood ponds are common in my area, not so much for the visuals as for the flood control.  The pond next to my house, unlike some others, is constantly filled with water due to a spring at the north end.  It’s not overly large, but not tiny.  The walking path around the thing is just shy of 1/4 mile.

Poor fishies.

At this point, the state conservation agency has been called, but it will be a day or two before they can make it out.  It could be any number of things:  chemicals in run off from lawns (not from mine–the only thing I’ve sprayed on my lawn in a year is old beer), overgrowth of algae in the water (but I never noticed any algae blooms or changes to the color…), too much sediment (this is a possibility–the path around the pond is new and entailed a lot of digging, plus there’s another house going in up to the north of the pond, a block up, and with all the rain we’ve been having it all washes down to the pond).  It’s also likely that the pond is too shallow, and with all the heat, it’s resulted in a low-oxygen problem from algae growth (typical for smaller ponds, though not something we’ve had happen in the 10 years we’ve been here).

I hope the state folks can give us a diagnosis so we can prevent this in the future.  It’s certainly putting a kibutz on the Cammy outdoor summer plans.

The Gardening Update

Odd fact:  rain is only good for a garden if it comes the right way.

In true Midwest fashion, our rain has been coming in the form of violent thunderstorms (although, even for the Midwest it’s been a bit odd in the timing–usually at this point in the summer we’re dry).  While the volume of water is greatly appreciated, the flow is a bit much.  Until about two weeks ago my cherry tomato plant was about 4 inches shy of being as tall as I am.

Then came “The Storm”

Yeah.  Massive straight-line wind from the outflow, followed by a deluge.  I may as well have aimed a fire hose at my plants.  My tomato plant went  completely parallel to the ground.  The two stakes and massive tomato cage were no match for the weather.  I found myself wrestling it back into an upright position, re-staking and trying to restore it to it’s former vertical glory.

It almost worked.  Until storm two.

The process repeated.

And then storm number 3.

Yeah.  It’s even money as to whether or not I’ll bother to continue this process.  That’s a lie.  I’ll totally keep at it because if I don’t keep it up off the ground, the oodles of little green tomatoes will be in easy bunny-rabbit reach and I can kiss them goodbye (little bastard has already picked clean the lowest part of the bush as well as everything on the smaller volunteer plants).

And thus continues Cammy’s summer gardening adventure (the only part of my great outdoor plan that’s going to survive this humidity).

Another Gardening First….

While my great plan to spend more time outside this summer has succumbed to abnormally humid weather and a job that has decided to become its own time vampire, I can now count another minor success for the season:

My first eggplant!

Cammy's first Rosa Bianca eggplant

I love eggplant.  It’s one of my top-10 favorite veggies.  Possibly even top-5.  With that kind of ranking, it made sense to try cultivating a plant or two in my patio garden.  I figured it wasn’t likely to pan out, but the spindly, sickly plants were reduced in price at the nursery, so I knew I would’t lose any more on trying to grow them than I would spend on buying two eggplants at the supermarket.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, something nabbed my first one before it actually came to fruition.  But this one has survived.  And there are 3 more that are a few days away from harvest.

I can also report that this one?  Was particularly nummy (lightly salted and sautéed in olive oil)

Time Vampire: Lawn Care, Cutting Into My Time

Yeah, what  do y’all think I did as soon as I got home from work today?

The house I’m currently living in is not my own, but I’m responsible for the yard.  A large lawn.  And a push-mower.  Ugh.

I could shell out to have it done, but given that the yard has been growing so fast that I’m basically cutting it 2-3 times per week (see how this qualifies as a time vampire?), and most places would charge at least $40 a pop for a yard this size (including the neighborhood kid who came around with fliers).  Well, in case you’ve not picked up on the clues dropped in other posts by yours truly, I’m too cheap thrifty for that.

So, several times a week, the push mower comes out, the ear-buds go in and off I go, to have about an hour and a half of my life sucked into the whirling blades for a yard I’m not really a huge fan of to start with.

My dream yard has very little lawn.  I prefer gardens/flower beds.  Flower beds are prettier, and garden space is far more functional (and often prettier as well).  Oh, and well placed, climbable trees.  I’m not opposed to grass, I just tend to prefer it in native form out on the prairie, and not so much in my living space.   A little bit of lawn is all right, but if it’s more than I can comfortably take care of with a totally manual push-reel (like this) mower, it’s too much.

But, as I’ve said, I don’t have a choice right now.  So, for those of you out there who are slaves to the conformity of suburbia, I salute you as you suffer the effects of draining away so many summer hours by mutilating foliage.