Monday, August 30, 2010

Oh how I love a Zinnia

There are different plants and flowers that you fall in love with at different times in your life, at different times of year and on different days.  Today I love zinnias.
When I planted my vegetable garden I knew I would want some flowers to bring a smile to my face.  Vegetables just aren't pretty enough for me.  So I bought a packet of cactus flowered zinnias in mixed colours.  No latin name on the packet but likely a hybrid of Zinnia elegans.  
Zinnias are an annual flower so they will only last one year.  My plants reach approximately 36 inches high and flowers can be 6 inches across.  However, you can find zinnias in all sizes and shapes.  Some are just 12 inches high and perfect for pots.  Some have pompom type flowers or bi-colours.  Some are ruffled.  Whatever your passion there's a zinnia that will likely fit the bill.
While my tastes run to the very bright and some might say, very gaudy, zinnias are available in more subtle colours for those looking for a more tasteful selection.
The nicest bit of all is that zinnias are easy to grow.  I paid $1.69 for a packet of seeds and I threw them in with my veggies in spring.  The seeds are extra large so there's no fiddling involved with teeny tiny seeds.  Just find a nice sunny location is all.  No pampering, no greenhouses.  Just push them into the soil and several months later you will be blessed with big glorious blooms.

If you would like to discover more great plants please visit Eliza at Appalachian Feet and check out her monthly meme - How to Find Great Plants

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fall Harvest

In the spring of the year it's very easy to get carried away planting a vegetable garden.  All those pretty seed packets and pictures beckoning us to try just one more variety of tomato.  It's very easy to forget that come Fall, there's a lot of produce to process. *

I've been busy as a bee lately but my efforts have been restricted mostly to the kitchen.  I began my weekend by collecting tomatoes from the garden.
Scotia tomatoes ripening on the vines
The tomatoes are ripening very quickly and in large numbers so I had to find a use for them quickly.  Along with the tomatoes I also picked a small handful of cilantro, a couple carrots and an onion.  Can you guess what those ingredients might make?
If you guessed salsa you'd be correct.  Now a fresh salsa doesn't use that much produce or preserve anything but it makes a great snack while you're attempting to cook other things like apple cider.
I've never actually made apple cider before but considering we've got several boxes of apples in the basement right now waiting to be used and more apples to come yet on the trees I've decided to branch out and try some new recipes.

I also needed to find a use for all those tomatoes.  So I've made several batches of tomato soup, some to eat and some to freeze.  There's nothing like fresh soup straight out of the garden to warm your tummy and fill you up.
I'm really enjoying all this wonderful food but I've hardly made a dent in all the produce we have available.  Looks like I'll be spending a lot more time this fall cooking in my kitchen.

*that's right, I said Fall.  I don't like it any more than you do but the indicators are all there.  Children back to school next week, ripening tomatoes and apples, fat carrots waiting to be picked, fall fairs, and temperatures dipping at night.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to tell if an Apple is Ripe

How can it be Friday already?  I'm very sorry but there will be no Triumphs and Tragedies this week.  We're interrupting the regular programming to bring you apples.

A whole lot of apples
Basket of Yellow Transparent apples
I came home last week to find Jody in the orchard, pondering.

There were a lot of apples on the ground beneath one tree.  He told me he had tasted one.  It may have been ripe he said.  He ate the whole thing but he still wasn't sure if it was ripe. 

Here's your first clue is an apple is ripe.  If you can eat the whole thing without your mouth turning inside out from puckering, it's ripe.

Another clue, when the apples are falling off the tree and there's no wind.  Good chance they're ripe.  Although this is deceiving as we found out.  I've spent a lot of time crawling around on the ground this week, picking up apples and biting into them.  Sometimes a sweet rush of juice runs into your mouth.  Sometimes not.  And you're on your hands and knees in the orchard spitting apple chunks into the grass.  What the neighbours must think.

I think some of our trees are infected with various diseases, fungus and insects.  Perhaps the tree knows these apples aren't any good.  No idea how a tree would know this but it seems many of these lesser quality apples fall to the ground.  When you open them up they are often discoloured and sometimes have worms in them.  

Another sign of a ripe apple is brown seeds.  The seeds of an unripened apple will still be white.  As the apple ripens so do the seeds inside them and they turn brown.  Like this.

Of course you'll have to cut into a few apples to test them but it's better than biting into them and finding out they aren't ripe.

Another thing to look for in ripening apples is change of colour.  That doesn't necessarily mean they will all turn bright red.  In fact the change might be quite subtle.  The Yellow Transparent apple below changed from a green apple to a opaque kind of yellow.  Not readily noticeable but if you're paying attention you'll see the difference.  

Which brings up a good point.  If you know what variety of apple you have you'll be better able to pinpoint at what time they're likely to be ripe.  Yellow Transparent is also known as August Apple.  The reason, quite obviously, is that they are an early apple that ripens in August.  Had we known this before we would have known to watch this tree a little closer.  In our case we have 26 trees of unknown heritage so it's a guessing game at this point.  One of the reasons we were able to identify this apple was because it ripened early.  We knew we were looking for a variety that was yellow, tart, had soft flesh and  was one of the first to ripen.  In case you've never heard of Yellow Transparent, we discovered it is an heirloom variety imported to North America from Russia in 1870.  Because it blooms earlier than other varieties it is a good pollinator for other apple varieties.  It bruises easily and does not keep well but it makes very good sauce and I can attest, very very good pies.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday

Yes, I know it's Thursday.

I tried to do a wildflower post yesterday but when I looked up the plant I intended to feature I got muddled and my post began to morph into another "Is this a Wildflower or a Weed" struggle.  It seems I'm having a lot of problems with that concept these days.  I think I'm trying to define a rule that says this is a weed or this isn't a weed.  But life is not black and white, just infinite shades of gray and a wildflower (or weed) will not be hemmed in by rules.

So instead I'm joining the Wildflower meme today, courtesy of Clay and Limestone, and showing off some plain old field plants.  I'm not looking them up, not questioning their parentage, and not debating their weediness.  I'm going to appreciate them simply for their looks and their willingness to grace my former lawn with their presence.

You can just make out the vestiges of our former lawn under the carpet of tall dried grasses.

Clove and yarrow are beginning to fade and dry out in the hot August sun.
Something in the legume family

Climbing nightshade
Witch hazel
There, that wasn't so hard.  Much more interesting than the plain old lawn that was there before.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August Monthly Garden Bouquet

I was very tempted this month to pass on the Monthly Garden Bouquet, the garden meme created by Noelle at Ramblings from a Desert Garden.  I looked around outside and thought, it's just too hot and everything is wilting and done at this time of year.  There's nothing but weeds out there.

Really Marguerite, you can't see anything worth cutting for a bouquet?

Dear hubby has a saying that goes something like,

If you want to see something new, go outside and stand where you were yesterday.

What I really needed was to just step back and open my eyes.

Sometimes you can't see a bouquet for all the weeds.

Cilantro, goldenrod and unknown sedum
Hydrangea paniculata, unknown cultivar

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Little Green Worms

At least that's what they look like to me
Wouldn't you agree?

My poor baby birches are being attacked by these small green monsters.  The stress of being newly planted and perhaps not watered quite enough (okay, I admit, I don't water as often as I should) has made them susceptible to this.
Is that black stuff caterpillar droppings?
Luckily I discovered this fairly quickly and have been hosing the trees down with water and knocking the creepy crawlies to the ground.  But this hasn't solved the problem because every night I come home and there they are again.  Their numbers aren't as high as the first time I saw them but they are still there.  The good news is that these trees have been able to spend all summer getting cozy in their new homes and very soon their leaves would drop anyway so the damage is not hissy fit inducing.  However, they are new baby trees and need all the help they can get and caterpillars stripping them of their leaves could be one step towards eventual demise.  I think I've said this before but any newly planted tree will experience stress the first year it is moved.  This is inevitable.  And any tree, or any plant, under stress will always be susceptible to insect damage.  I'm not a particular fan of chemicals so I'm attempting to deal with this problem in a more holistic way.  First step was to knock the green slimies off the leaves and continue doing so each day.  Next step is to weed around these trees as I've let things slide a bit in that department.  Hopefully a good weeding and raking will remove many of these pests.  Next job after that will be a good soaking of water.  And finally a thick layer of compost out of my compost bin.  The compost will accomplish two things.  First the vitamins and minerals from the compost will slowly begin leaching into the soil below and provide a slow release type of fertilizer for the trees.  That should help build up their strength and make them healthier thereby discouraging more caterpillar attacks.  The second thing it will do is keep the soil below moist so the trees don't lose all that prescious water.  It will also keep the ground at an even temperature.  This is important during periods of freezing and thawing over the winter months.  Soil that has no insulation will react to fluctuations in temperature by heaving and throwing any plant roots up to the surface.  Mulch will help to negate this problem.
They are kinda cute though in their own way
By the way, if anyone is able to identify these caterpillars please let me know.  I think it's best to know the enemy in order to properly defeat them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Triumphs and Tragedies

Another holiday day this Friday, although this time it's courtesy of the Province of PEI.  Instead of a long weekend at the beginning of August we take a holiday in the middle of the month to celebrate The Gold Cup & Saucer.  That's right.  We are celebrating a horse race.  (Gotta love these islanders!)  And the end of summer.  *sigh*

Anyway, I took a little tour of the garden this morning and have been watering non-stop since then.  Despite having rain showers throughout the last month there hasn't been a good soaking so some plants are looking a little wilty and bug damaged.
Highbush cranberry is rather spotty
Other plants don't seem bothered by the heat at all.  I'm not sure if this is such a good thing.  For instance, do you remember the Plume Poppy I sort of accidentally purchased in the spring?  I thought it was an actual poppy and didn't realize it's invasive nature.  Well look at it now.
That's it in the foreground.  Already about half the size of the apple tree behind it.  A little triumph and tragedy all mixed in one package.  It's doing so well but when does it decide to move into the house and evict us?

A very exciting triumph for me is the status of the vegetable garden.  It has gone from looking all vegetablelly to pretty.
My zinnias have started to bloom and the cilantro has decided to follow suit.  Not that I don't like vegetables but they often look so drab.  Some bright colours go a long way to making my vegetable garden a delight to the eyes as well as the senses.
Did I really put pink and red together?  oh ya!
And a final triumph for the day.  I saw these sedums pop up in the spring but really haven't paid them any mind till now.  In the past I've had a variety called Autumn Joy which frankly didn't set my bells to tinkling.  Kind of ho hum pink eventually darkening to a more cherry then russet colour.  I assumed, incorrectly, these would be the same.
Not so.  They came out with a bang in a very extreme pink almost purple colour.  I like these a lot better.

Well that's it for the day, Happy Friday everyone.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

PEI Potatoes

It's that time of year again.
The signs have gone up.

The stalls are full.

and there are potatoes to be found on every corner

and gas station

Now you know why I didn't bother to plant potatoes in my vegetable garden this year.  Why plant them when I can buy them fresh off the field?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Garden Accents

While we were on mini-break we did some shopping.  And not just of the new socks and trousers kind.  I suppose some would call it Antiquing, Junking, or Thrifting.  We simply find second hand stores, yard sales, and antique shops and peruse.  The area from Peggy's Cove to Lunenberg is full of this type of shopping.  It's a leisurely type of activity.  You don't generally know what you're looking for.  You just wait for something to jump up and catch your eye.  Like this.

I wasn't looking for a jug but I couldn't take my eyes off it each time I walked by so it came home with me.  This type of shopping suits us really well because it generally matches our budget (minimal) and our home (old).  I also like it because many of the objects can be used in the garden without worrying about how much money I spent on them.  If this Welcome sign accidentally spends a winter in the snow and becomes tattered I won't be stressing over the $1 that I paid for it.

Some items are out of season when I find them, like these hanging baskets.  I'm not going to put up baskets this late in the summer but at a dollar each I wasn't going to pass them up.  I'll be prepared when next spring rolls around.

Some items require a little imagination.  I look at this old milk bucket and think about using it as a cheery display of bright red geraniums on the front step. 

This wine rack was missing it's connecting pieces but I think it could be a lovely trellis for nasturtiums to hang off of.

Another place we like to haunt are auctions.  I bought this wonderful specimen at an auction a month or so ago.

I saw it and just knew it was perfect for the garden.  I haven't a clue what it is and nobody else seems to know either.  I still haven't quite figured out how I'll use it but I have a good feeling about this piece.

So keep an eye on my garden photos in the future.  You never know in what shape or form one of these items might turn up!

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Weekend Mini-Break

I've been missing for a couple days. I took another Friday off from work and we went on a short holiday to the province of Nova Scotia.

This is the first time I've left PEI in over a year and it was wonderful to get out and see some new sights. 

First we went to Halifax and did all the big city items like searching for parking spaces and getting stuck in traffic   ;-)

In all seriousness we enjoyed some shopping as there are stores in Halifax that Charlottetown doesn't offer.  I now have new socks and a lovely woolly winter hat while Jody got wood for his latest furniture project.

We also strolled the boardwalk and happened on the Busker's Festival which was a great way to spend an evening.

From Halifax we drove south to the famed Peggy's Cove.  The landscape here was beyond amazing.  I believe the word they use to describe it is Barrens.  I've never seen anything quite like it.  Large boulders sitting in the most precarious spots, tough rock plants hugging every scrap of dirt they can find.  I would recommend stopping on the pullout outside of town (the north end) and walking the trail to really get a taste of this landscape.

From Peggy's Cove we continued South towards Chester and Mahone Bay, finally stopping in Lunenberg.  Each of these seaside communities featured gorgeous old architecture, plenty of shops, restaurants and lots to see within easy walking distance.  We spent two days taking in as much as we could and could easily have spent many more days.
Peggy's Cove, NS
Town of Lunenberg, NS
Lunenberg has the added charm of being a UNESCO World Heritage site and many of the buildings have plaques stating the year they were built and for whom.  If you hadn't guessed (based on our choice of home) both of us love old buildings so we spent quite a few hours wandering Lunenberg and admiring the architecture.

This lovely house even offered a tour of their garden!  An offer I couldn't refuse.

It was a lovely weekend and a wonderful break that I didn't even realize I needed but it was with great happiness that we returned home.  There's no other place quite like it.