Tomato Love

dirt on my face, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, photography

My garden is a sad sight right now, and looking through these gorgeous, green pictures has me really missing summer.

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At the beginning of this gardening adventure, I took us through the six varieties of tomatoes that Sister and I planted in our garden. They were: grapettes, yellow pear tomatoes, the mortgage lifter, brandywine, beefsteak and Ruth’s Perfect variety.

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LOOK AT THE BABY TOMATO PLANTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Brandywine was our absolute favorite. It was basically everything a tomato should be: firm, tart, sweet, tomatoey. We bought that and our other favorite (the grapette) at the Country Caretaker in Canaan, NY. I tried to take note of where we bought different plants to see if there was any kind of longterm trend about their health and productivity. We started the tomatoes with a handful of worm castings and some Neptune Fish Emulsion oil. It stank, but maybe helped?

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Our yellow pear variety completely took over a whole corner of the garden. We ended up using five or six stakes to hold it up and it sprawled all over everything, which was unfortunate because it just wasn’t that good.

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The yellow pears were beautiful, but quite pithy and relatively flavorless. I’m not sure why, but am open to any suggestions about why that would happen so I can avoid it in the future.

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The beefsteaks were yummy but never got to the really massive size I expected of beefsteaks and it didn’t produce very much, either. In fact, when we needed a great big slicing tomato, we usually went to a local farm stand to get one. Garden Goal for next year is to find some really good, juicy slicing tomatoes that produce consistently throughout the summer. Of course, I was a little late getting the plants in this year, but we still should have had more of a yield.

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The grapettes performed spectacularly, however. In fact, they rarely made it back into the house. SO tart, juicy, and with just the right amount of bite to them. The plant stayed pretty small (probably because it was seriously overshadowed by the yellow pear vines) but still produced gorgeous little red grape-sized bunches of tomatoes. My mouth is watering…I miss them…and summer…and heat…

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If I’ve discovered something about gardening though, it is that it is about far more than food production. There is so much that goes into the whole endeavor. Research, preparation, and care. I loved to watch things go from little baby plants full of so much promise and potential; I liked to find out what was harming the plants and then do battle with the disease or insects; I liked to watch them ripen into the exact thing they were meant to be.

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I love the sensations of gardening. The heat, the dirt, the connection to the earth and the food. The velvety feel of the tomato leaves. The smell of them when crushed between thumb and forefinger. The horror of the wasp-infested tomato hornworm.

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And, more than anything else in the garden, I enjoyed eating the tomatoes. Here is my favorite way to eat them (if they make it into the house). Chop up cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell pepper and sprinkle with crumbled, soft feta cheese. It is the best and simplest salad, and I could eat it every single day (and sometimes I DO!).

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I’m excited to start seeds in a few months, it’ll be my first time starting them myself and I know it will entail a lot of research and notes and hope and I am looking forward to the whole process. Let me know what you think about the first little tomato patch I ever grew and if you have any tips about starting seeds or growing healthier, more productive tomato plants feel free to share them in the comments!

I think I can confidently say that this is the year I became a gardener. It is going to be an activity and a joy that stays with me throughout my life, I am quite sure, and I’m thankful for the friends and family and the plot of land and the seeds, advice, and tools that made it possible.

Also that the groundhogs stayed away. It was a miracle.

Kale, Kale, Kale, Kale. Kale, Kale, Kale, Kale. Kale, Kale, Kale, Kale, Kale Kale Kale Kale.

dirt on my face, garden, gardening tips, recipes

I wrote all those ‘kales’ to a song in my head. CAN YOU HEAR IT?

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So. Kale. It is a miracle plant. It produces, and produces, and produces. It is a produce producer. Get it? Because it is produce?

Yeah, yeah, forgive me…I’m tired guys. As I write this I am struggling through some epic Whole30 cravings and I don’t WANT ANY MORE KALE EVEN THOUGH IT IS GOOD FOR ME I WANT A BOWL OF CEREAL AND SOME ICE CREAM AND SOME PIE.

Last night before I went to sleep I found myself watching short videos on the Food Network because GLUTEN-Y FOOD!

I miss gluten.

And dairy.

And sugar.

And carbs.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, LET’S GET TO THE KALE.

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Kale has been a workhorse in our house this summer, and Sister and I have thoroughly enjoyed going out to the garden and snipping off leaves and filling literally bags and bags with our haul.

Yes, Claire, I know, I know. YOU’RE the one who goes out and harvests it. In a future post I should discuss how I love to dig, plant, weed, grow, and photograph the plants…but for some reason I lose interest right around the time they’re ready to be eaten? Hmm.

IMG_2701 2This is our favorite recipe, which is loosely based on one over at Epicurious, but is also different because it has evolved over time and also because of our laziness. Now, I don’t like things with sausage with few exceptions: one being my mom’s spaghetti sauce (HI MOM) and another being THIS RECIPE SO MAKE IT, OK?

  • Boil water. Add pasta to water. Preferably shells or something that can hold onto the sausagey/kaley/cheesey yumminess coming your way.
  • Buy Italian Sausage–remove from casings, break it up, and brown it in a pan
  • Add a little bit of chicken broth to that pan.
  • Chop up the kale FINELY (or else it gets too clumpy later); add it to the browning sausage.
  • Drain the pasta, setting aside some of the starchy pasta water.
  • When everything is cooked, stir it all together and then add more grated parmesan cheese than you think you could possibly need (I miss cheese), and then ADD MORE.
  • Add some of that starchy pasta water and stir over high heat for like…a minute…

It should be saucy, delicious, fragrant, kale-y, cheese-y, and mmmmmmmm the best meal of summer. We have made it at least once a week!

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AND FINALLY: there have been a lot of capital letters in this post and, frankly, you can and SHOULD read it as if I am yelling at you. Know why? No carbs or sugar have entered my body in a few days and I’m currently at the place where I’m kind of internally rage-y about that. Whole30 for the win!!

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Now, MAKE THIS RECIPE AND EAT IT AND LET ME KNOW HOW IT GOES.

🙂

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PS: the video below is of a caterpillar on a kale leaf, don’t say I didn’t warn you

 

Root Vegetables: Beets, Turnips, Carrots

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips

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Am I the only one that pronounces veg-ed-i-buls in my head every time I write it?

No?

Oh, wait, yes?

Oh, you did say no. Okay.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

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IMG_3240After the Zucchini Disaster of 2017 I decided to plant BEETS. They grew rapidly, and I hardly had time to take a picture before it was time to yank them out of the ground, let them sit for a while on the porch (because, again, I’m more willing in growing things than actuallyIMG_3268harvesting and eating them), let them sit out there a little longer, listen to my family nag me to go get the beets off of the porch and do something with them Alex, for crying out loud!, and then take them inside, peel them, roast them, cube them, cover them in feta cheese and asqueeze of orange juice (TRY IT! SO GOOD! WHOLE30 MEANS I MISS FETA CHEESE SO MUCH! FETA EMOJI IF THERE IS ONE, AND IF THERE ISN’T ONE THERE SHOULD BE!) eat them and then a few weeks later write a blog post about it and NOW YOU’RE HERE!

(Hmm. I feel like I might have covered everything in that sentence. I hope I can think of more things to add to this post. Oh wait, I never run out of things to say. ONWARD!)

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CARROTS

Brother T brought some heirloom seeds from Baker Creek. In fact, they were these seeds: the Cosmic Purple Carrot. They grew and they grew and they grew…one thing I have grown to appreciate about root veggies is that they are willing to wait for you to be ready for them. Lots of veggies are READY WHEN THEY’RE READY (tomatoes, squash, beans etc.), but the root veggies can hang around a little while until you’re ready to use them. These were a big success and we even boxed up a few and mailed them out to Brother T and Sister KT in Portland so they could experience the sweet purple and yellow carrots for themselves.

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Stole this photo from Sister’s phone.

Turnips, turnips, turnips.

I love turnips, but these didn’t go as well as I hoped.

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I planted the turnip seeds between rows of potatoes, then transplanted them because the potatoes took up way more room than I thought they would, they actually survived the transplant and they THRIVED* but then I didn’t realize it was time to pluck them out of the ground and they got too big and kind of bitter and sort of woody. According to Uncle Gee they would taste better if they grew in colder weather. According to my Mom they would taste better if we bought them at the store, peeled them, boiled them, smothered them in butter and salt and pepper.

According to my dad they would taste better if they didn’t exist.

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That being said, I will never cease to be amazed that I can put a tiny seed in the ground and it will grow into exactly what it is supposed to be, if given enough time and the right circumstances. It is truly a miracle.

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I also thought this would be a good time to display one of the only Zucchinis that survived the Zucchini Disaster of 2017 as well as the ONLY CUCUMBER I GOT BEFORE THE BUGS RUINED MY CHANCES OF CUCUMBER HAPPINESS!!!

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I will have to make a separate post for the potatoes but (spoiler) they were good. I also have a few posts languishing in the drafts folder about tomatoes, peppers, furniture refinishing, art, raspberries, more photos of riding horses, July 4 (I know.), climbing a mountain, climbing a different mountain, kale, flowers, waterfalls, Norman Rockwell, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., the county fair, peaches, and MISCELLANEOUS.

Huh. I’d better get busy.

 

*throve?

 

 

Something About Lettuce

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips, humor

Hello!

I found this post in my drafts folder with a somewhat cryptic note from Past Alex which said, “ALEX TURN THIS INTO A STORY OF THE LETTUCE”

I don’t know what Past Alex wanted! I know that the following pictures were included in the draft:

1. Lettuce Seeds

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2. Torn Packet of Lettuce Seeds

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3. This photo of Claire watching Trevor hurl a tree branch into the field

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4. A selfie of me looking skeptical with Baby Garden making an appearance just over my right shoulder. Unsurprisingly, there appears to be some dirt on my face.

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Perhaps Past Alex is thinking, “I don’t really like lettuce. Will I eat this lettuce?” and I can confidently say no. I still don’t like lettuce and I didn’t really eat enough of it. Which brings us full circle and technically makes this a story about lettuce. There was a plot (a garden plot, get it?), and some conflict (will she eat the lettuce?) and some resolution (this sentence is ending now).

 

 

What Devastation Hath Been Wrought

dirt on my face, family, garden, humor, photography, Uncategorized

OH HELLO THERE

Anyone ever heard of an eggplant flea beetle? A squash bug? A tomato hornworm? Or how about powdery mildew or infectious plant diseases?

Reader, I had not.

A warning: grisly plant death and mutilation images ahead.

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A picture of Sister in front of our booming tomato plants and next to the towering sunflowers. This picture is not representative of this blog post, I am just lulling you into a false sense of security.

The garden is producing lots of wonderful things: colorful zinnias, tissue-paper-thin cosmos, meaty and delicious tomatoes, endless kale…but not all is well in Alex’s Garden.

I’d like to say I purposefully went organic…and it’s true that I am resistant to the idea of spraying everything in my garden with harmful pesticides (have you noticed that those words always go together? It’s a collocation!) and I have also been resistant to using things like Miracle-Gro. I’ve mostly fertilized with fish emulsion and worm castings and have occasionally branched out into diatomaceous earth and some bug spray.

But, like I said, while I would like to say that was an intentional move, it was partly intentional and partly just lazy. I kind of figured everything would be mostly ok! And you know…so far things have been mostly ok! But there are a few things that haven’t worked out and this post is all about them!

FIRST UP: SQUASH

“You can’t kill a squash plant.” –Everyone

My squash plants looked AMAZING. They were big and leafy and taking over half of the garden; there were vibrant yellow squash blossoms and miniature little zucchinis.

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Deceptive! It looks like the bush beans and zucchini are thriving here, but UNSEEN plagues infect and squash bugs plot angrily.

But then, one day, I noticed there were horrific little alien creatures all over my plants. They mated! They laid eggs! They mated again! To be honest, there was a lot of mating and a lot of egg-laying going on.

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Motel Squash Bug visible on left.

I looked them up in my garden books and identified them as SQUASH BUGS. The advice of the book was to spray with an organic insecticide (I did that), to handpick them and drown them in soapy water (EW I DID THAT TOO UGH), to remove the parts of the leaves with eggs on them (UGHHHHHHH YES I DID IT READER, I DID IT!).

But it was to no avail. The squash bugs–carrying disease and a strong proclivity for reproduction–killed my plants.

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Death lurks.

NEXT UP: EGGPLANT (or aubergine for the elegant and European among us)

The eggplant plants were attacked early on by the eggplant flea bug. It is a very, very tiny black insect that almost looks like a speck of dirt. They crawl all over and chew the leaves. I don’t know if I had almost no fruit because of those little guys or because the blossoms weren’t pollinated or maybe some kind of disease got to them.

One way or another, the leaves looked like this:

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And the plants looked like this:

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Notably fewer eggplants than expected.

AND THEN: BUSH BEANS

Honestly, I don’t even know what happened with the bush beans. They grew some bean pods and then…they never grew. They never got bigger or smaller or more alive or more dead; they just froze.

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The equivalent to this picture is like if you had a teenage daughter and when you took your wallet out and proudly showed pictures of her to your friends, they were like, “But she looks like a newborn baby.” And then you would be kind of defensive but also embarrassed and then resentful of your own embarrassment because she’s your daughter whether she grew past baby clothing sizes or not. 

AND THEN: CUCUMBERS!

Yes! My cucumbers have perished.

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A sad, sad sight.

There were cucumber beetles buzzing around for weeks, with their little yellow and black, dotted and striped jackets. They are a good-looking insect, and you can tell that it has gone to their heads. I hope none of them are reading this right now because the last thing they need is for their ego to be more inflated than it already is and to go swarm someone else’s sweet, tender cucumber vines.

They aren’t that harmful in and of themselves, but they carry disease, and probably they carried powdery mildew right into my blossoms and the cucumbers ended up looking like sick yellow globes. No me gusta.

FINALLY: THE TOMATOES

I’ve saved the most horrifying for last. Meet the tomato hornworm.

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HELP ME

What does this even become? GODZILLA?* 

You know what is worse than the tomato hornworm? A tomato hornworm that has been inhabited by a predator wasp which has laid eggs inside its body and then those eggs burrow out through the segments while feeding on the still-living hornworm until such time as they hatch.

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You’re like, “Alex, why are you subjecting me to these pictures?” And then I’m like, “JUST LOOK AT THEM. LOOK. LOOK. LOOK AT THEM RIGHT NOW. LOOK. please look.” And then I start sobbing.

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LOATHSOME CREATURE BE GONE FROM MY PRESENCE

This is what it’s like to find one of these bad boys…you’re like, wandering through your fairy-like enchanted wonderland of a vegetable garden, flitting here, flitting there–when–LO–your head is suddenly mere inches from a FOUR INCH LONG FAT CATERPILLAR WITH WASP EGGS DANGLING FROM ITS BODY.

!!!

!!!

This is what my garden book helpfully pointed out. It is noticeably less horrifying in illustrated form than it is in person.

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See how it says “don’t destroy cocoon-covered hormworms”?

HAHAHAHAHA. GOOD JOKE GARDEN BOOK.**

And that is a catalog of the garden disasters, such as they were. The rest of the garden is going GREAT and I need to get my act together and post some pictures of the beautiful peppers and tomatoes and carrots and beets and kale SO MUCH KALE!

Until next time!

 

*UPDATE: I JUST LOOKED IT UP AND IT TURNS INTO SOMETHING CALLED A HAWK MOTH. DO NOT CLICK ON THIS IF YOU ARE AFRAID OF MOTHS. 

**I destroyed them.

 

A Photo & A Conversation

family, friends, garden, humor, Uncategorized

 

SUMAHHHHHHHHHH

Dear Summer, never leave. Not ever. Not ever, ever.

Here is a photo of some watermelon and some blue skies and some red nails. Isn’t it nice? I love summer.

 

 

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You know what comes after summer?* Fall!

I also love fall** because the days are crisp and lovely and the leaves change spectacularly–especially around here, where we get “Peepers” who come to drive slowly down our country roads and point at the leaves.

Chrysanthemums are the flower of fall, and that brings me to what I really wanted to say here:

SCENE: Garden Center, surrounded by potted mums.

Sister (points to a pot of mums): Hey Alex, I thought you said those were chrysanthemums?

Me: They are.

Sister: But it says they’re mums.

Me: Look Claire, I don’t want to have to tell you what I’m about to tell you, but they’re the same–

Sister: –Never mind. Never mind. I just got it. We don’t need to discuss it.

Me: –thing.

 

 

*Summer, do not take this as permission for you to leave, thank you.

** But not enough to wish that summer would leave. Do not leave.

Swiss Chard

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips

I spent a few minutes trying to come up with a pun for the title. “Let’s Re-Chard Our Batteries!” or “How to be Elegant and Chard-ing” but titling things has just never been my forte. (It’s just too chard.)

(Haha?)

Well, I haven’t been very good about updating the blog in the last two weeks. They have been full and good weeks, and I’ve taken a ton of pictures with the intention of posting, but then time slips away and days are busy and I just don’t feel like opening my laptop. Then there is this dumb perfectionist streak in me which likes to do things THE RIGHT WAY, and THE RIGHT WAY means I need to write all of the posts that I’ve been intending to write, RIGHT? And that makes me reluctant to start writing at all…

Sister told me to stop being a doofus (I paraphrase…) and just to write a post about what I did and I can catch up later, or not at all, and who cares, and stop being a perfectionist already. (I’M TRYING!)

So, I bring you Swiss Chard.

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You guys, the garden is looking good. It makes me so happy! There are little baby veggies cropping up now…tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers, and the littlest, cutest, tiniest eggplant. IT’S SMALLER THAN MY THUMB! I will take pictures and post them soon, I (almost) promise!

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The greens section is looking particularly good. We told my little cousin that we were growing salad ingredients and he looked at us with a serious face and asked, “Are you guys growing croutons, too?”

He’s 17, he should know better.

JUST KIDDING, he’s 4, and it was super-cute.

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Yesterday, Sister and I decided it was time to harvest some Swiss Chard! We planted both red and yellow varieties and we bought them as tiny seedlings from the Country Caretaker. They’ve done really well and are mercifully insect-free. I read that Chard is the one thing that is better to harvest by snapping the leaves off rather than cut them, so while I got other parts of dinner ready, Claire went out to the garden and snapped a bunch off. Aren’t they GORGEOUS? C. thinks I should paint them, and maybe I will.

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I was also excited because I received Nigel Slater’s cookbook “Tender” for Christmas, which is overflowing with recipes based on whatever was in season that he picked from his backyard veggie-patch and last night I got to pick veggies from my own backyard patch and get some inspiration from Mr. Slater.

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The book is fantastic. It combines stories of gardening and poetic prose and delicious recipes. I will also point out that I think these photos look pretty nice, but just be aware that I carefully cropped out the clutter on the table, the rickety back porch, the unglamorous photos of dunking the leaves in water to get the dirt off of them, the kitchen floor that needs to be swept, etc.

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We were running low on supplies, so I didn’t have everything needed to make any specific recipe, but I cooked the stems first and a bit longer as per his suggestion, and then added the leaves to the sauté pan.

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I heated up some leftover BBQ chicken by cutting it up and adding it to the pan in the hopes of having reheated chicken that wasn’t rubbery and dry and it worked! Added some baked potatoes and slathered them with butter and ricotta cheese.

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Sister made some fresh lemonade and added mint from the garden which was amazing. Dinner was garlicky, lemony, BBQ-y, and delicious.

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There is a lot more to write. We went to Tanglewood again, and the Shaker Museum, and on a hike up a mountain. We had a birthday party for Brother T with a lot of sprinkles, and we started taking tennis lessons, the fireflies are out, the Tiger Lilies have EXPLODED and they line every country road, the cornfields are getting tall and ripply, I went on an impromptu tour of the big farmhouse where my dad grew up and almost cried at seeing the rooms and spaces that I’ve heard so many stories about. The first Cosmo bloomed, Brother T thinks I should start an online store for watercolor prints, we went to a crazy July 4th parade, and our Pilates teacher has started doing REALLY HARD PRIVATE WORKOUT SESSIONS WITH SISTER AND I and at this very moment I am kind of struggling to type because my arms are so sore. 

PLUS, I’ve battled eggplant flea beetles and the super-horrifying Squash Bug.

And yeah, I should share some photos of all of those things, but for now here is Swiss Chard, and another moment of me chipping away at that rock-hard block of perfectionism at my core.

Have a lovely day, all of you. (And take a look at that homemade blueberry-raspberry pie Claire whipped up for the 4th! Mmm.)

Alex

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Backyard Ballad: Peonies and Phlox Edition

backyard ballad, backyard love song, family, friends, garden, personal growth, photography, small town life

As you may have gathered, flowers are my weakness. I love them. I love the way they look, I love the way they seem so fragile but are actually so strong, I love the patterns, the scents, the colors.

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One thing I keep coming back to is how fleeting they are.

When we arrived at the end of May the lilac bushes and trees were BURSTING, and if you drove with the windows down you could smell lilacs all over the country. Then they were gone, and the rhododendrons erupted and there were huge bushes of purple and pink and orange flowers in front of houses up and down every side street.

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These rhododendron pictures are from a house up the street. There’s an old man who lives there and he used to know my Nana since he lived next door. We talked about her briefly and I took pictures of his flowers and, since he was having his weekly moving sale (yes, really, he’s had it every week), I bought two vases for $1 each.

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Then they were gone and wild phlox appeared, lining the roads, hiding in groves, bordering meadows and fields.

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The phlox was everywhere, purple upon purple upon purple. Then the roadsides were mowed and the deer got hooked on the Phlox Phad and ate them all up.

Then there were peonies, and they are almost gone. They super-inflated and then exploded and the peony heads are lying all over people’s lawns, looking exhausted and like someone let all the air out of their tires.

This last picture is one I took a few days ago. I bought myself a peony bush and it’s my favorite thing. I planted it by the front porch and two weeks later there were two giant pink flowers bobbing around and now the petals are decaying on the ground, but look at this photo, isn’t it gorgeous?

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Backyard Ballad: Spring Skies

backyard ballad, garden, personal growth, Uncategorized

As Spring draws to a close, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the backyard sky from the last month or so.

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Not technically the backyard, more like the neighboring side-yard…

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A gorgeous sunset from the side porch.

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A soggy, soft sky after a rainy day.

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An approaching thunderstorm.

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Also not technically our backyard, but it’s my aunt’s backyard, and she only lives a mile away 🙂

Adios, Spring! And here’s to a wonderful Summer!

 

Garden Progress Report: A Photo Essay

garden, gardening tips, photography

We had some extremely hot, sunny days last week, followed by cool, rainy days. The garden has seemed to love it, and is absolutely bursting with new growth and tiny leaves and–yes–even some miraculous little green tomatoes. Be still, my heart!

I’ll just pop some photos up and keep the words to a minimum…

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Bad news first: SOMETHING HAS ATTACKED THE ZUCCHINI PLANTS. Three of them have been taken down by something that chews around the bottom of the stems, and I think the yellow squash is next…

 

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This is a row of lettuce, popping up in a gorgeous green line.

 

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A potato sprout. In the few days since I took this picture, the potato sprouts have gone wild!

 

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Itty-bitty turnip leaves.

 

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Heirloom carrots looking like tiny blades of grass.

 

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I think these are cosmos. We’ll have to wait and see…

 

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Lemon verbena, smells delicious.

 

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Little grapette tomatoes…

 

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The cucumber vines are starting to spread out.

 

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An eggplant blossom, looks like tissue paper and appeared out of the blue!

 

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My flowers are doing well, too. These are dahlias.

 

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All the tomato plants bar one have yellow blossoms appearing from nowhere and multiplying overnight.

 

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A bell pepper blossom and, below, the bell pepper plant:

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