Autumn Appreciation

photography

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I am going to do my best to dwell on the parts of autumn that I like because even though I COULD write a book a post on how little I care for the abbreviated evenings, the encroaching darkness, the leafless trees, and the cold temperatures, there are some things that are nice about this season.

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I mean, there must be, right?

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“Right?” she whispers quietly into a vast, echoing chamber. 

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  • The quality of the light, while greatly diminished in quantity, is quite beautiful in the fall. Right before the sun sets there is the most fantastic golden glow over the whole earth, and I have photos to prove it!

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  • Okay, hunting season, I’m glad you’re there to cull the deer and to perhaps make Lyme disease slow its treacherous spreading. I mean yeah, you make it tough to go into the woods or take a step off the road, but thanks to you I now have a great story about encountering some guy on a trail who was holding the severed head of a deer in one hand as he walked toward me.

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  • Oh, and also that time we were on a walk in the woods and someone said hello and then we looked up and there was a camouflaged bow-hunter sitting high up in a tree watching us.

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  • Thanksgiving (PIE) gets its own bullet point not only for the truly delicious food (AND PIE) but because it was really nice to have Thanksgiving in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving. There’s a whole different atmosphere when the entire country gets a long weekend and everyone is hoarding unsalted butter and eggs. Also, I enjoyed having (almost) the whole extended family together again for the first time in many a year. (PIE.)
  • While it lasted, the fall foliage was spectacular. 

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  • I found an abandoned paper wasp nest which is pretty cool. Did you know that wasps’ nests are built as the wasps chew wood pulp and, when it is mixed with their saliva, it forms a papery substance that they can build with? THAT IS SO COOL.

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  • I have seen some really beautiful wildlife around here now that the fields of corn have been cut and the leaves are gone. A few red-tailed hawks, some bucks with big antlers, and a couple of circling bald eagles high up in the sky.

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  • I’ve been filling up my gardening-void by taking cuttings of lots of houseplants from just about anyone who will give me cuttings. My room is now full of little pots full of snake plants, jade, and christmas cactus. Sister gave me a card earlier this year which said Crazy Cat Lady, but she crossed out the cat part and wrote in plants and I am okay with that. My desk is covered with foraged leaves, dried flowers, a wasp nest, a few picture frames, more leaves, an air plant, some acorns, and some seeds I’ve collected.

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  • The warm weather lasted longer than usual this year which ended up being really pleasant.

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  • I’m really quite grateful for long country walks. I’ve made so many beautiful discoveries along those walks, and the sun on my face and breezes around me just feel healthy and good. Since the sun sets pretty early these days, I’m making a concerted effort to get out and go for a walk or head to an exercise class every day. The activity really makes me feel good both mentally and physically and I don’t want to brag but I can keep up with at least half of one of the Zumba dances.

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  • Finally, I am grateful for having this home to return to, and the beauty of seeing seasons change gradually from one to another, and for having family here to share it with 🙂

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A Local Farm Tour, Some Thoughts on City People & Beautiful Summer

family, personal essay, photography, small town life

Recently, we met some lovely people who live nearby and they offered to take us on a tour of their farm, where they primarily raise chickens, sheep, and pigs. It was a gorgeous day, and I am always up for tramping around outside and taking pictures of things. There were also a lot of City People on the tour, and that brings me to today’s post, which is a lot of opining about the effects of CPs on our small town.

Oh, and a lot of pictures of chickens.

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We live in Columbia County which is a 2.5 hour drive north of New York City. For years, City People have been renting or buying weekend homes up in our bucolic locale so that they can attain rest and relaxation for their weary selves. Their presence is an ongoing joke to locals, who affectionately (or not…) refer to the transplants as “Citiots” and happily share stories about the bewildered Manhattanites.

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It is hard to describe to the uninitiated just how strange City People are. It will sound like I’m being unfair or cruel or hyperbolic. BUT NO, I am not! They are so often…so very…weird. Let’s look at some of the common threads that unite typical CPs.

  • They almost uniformly wear clothes that they think “people in the country” wear. Layers of breezy white linens, floppy sun hats, expensive fleece, chic Sperrys, and sandblasted pre-worn denim. People in the country do not wear those things.
  • Ditto with the cars. What we actually drive (I look out the window at the 2005 Saturn VUE with 170,000 miles on it) is very different from the Hummers and huge shiny Jeeps that appear on Friday afternoons as the Northward Migration begins.
  • They like to say that this area has a lot of “really cool people here now” by which statement they are in fact referring to themselves. They also like to talk about how the locals should move away, and I once heard a lady from the city say that we needed to “clear the swamp” of locals. Ouch.
  • They aren’t very nice. (See above.) Now, that is a blanket statement for sure, but on the whole it holds up. New Yorkers are famously brusque, and that attitude is exacerbated when they are walking up and down Main Street not smiling or saying hello to anyone at all.

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A common theory around these parts as to why they are so uniformly odd is that they have too much money and it makes them go a leeetle bit crazy. I think this is a pretty good theory. For example, there is a lovely old farmhouse down the road and it was restored to original condition. A movie producer from NYC pays many thousands of dollars a month in rent to be able to have a country home, and she comes up here from Manhattan roughly three weekends a year.

 

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We sometimes like to play a game called “CITY or LOCAL?” It is best played on Friday evenings at the local grocery store parking lot. It goes like this:

Me: How about that guy? *points to a well-dressed man in loafers getting into his shiny, expensive new Jeep with a bag of artisanal cheese and a baguette*

Everyone: CITY

Me: How about that guy? *points to two men walking into the store with a small, brand-name dog-suitcase-carrier perched below the shopping cart, from which interior a small dog peers out helplessly into the world*

Everyone: CITY

Me: How about that guy? *points to a guy standing next to a beat-up old minivan and getting changed in the parking lot*

Everyone: THAT’S JOE!

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Okay…they’re not all weird, but it is fun to point out the spectacularly weird ones when we see them traipsing down Main Street wrapped in linen and fleece with their little tourist maps pointing out the architectural details of what we know used to be a run-down store but is now a gourmet cheese store run by a lady from Brooklyn.

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Main Street used to be full of businesses owned by locals, and catering to locals. Now, there is a Yoga studio, the aforementioned artisanal cheese shop, four art galleries, a bespoke linen goods store, a craft-beer brewery and a couple antique stores. Instead of the locally-owned one-screen movie theater with its syrupy soda and three-month-old blockbusters, the theater is now city-owned and renovated and primarily shows extremely artistic Indie films.

None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but there is no getting away from the fact that they all cater to weekenders and the town has changed so much that it would be unrecognizable to my grandparents.

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One good thing the CP’s have brought with them is the money which has gone toward revitalizing certain areas. Rural America is struggling right now, but up here we have had this influx of wealthy Manhattanites who buy some acreage and try their hand at small-time farming; who bring delicious new foods or locally-roasted coffee; who invest in local businesses to make sure they stay open.

The farm we visited is one such place; financed by some out-of-towners and run by some very kind people who open the farm up to tourists on the weekends. We tagged along. It was an extremely beautiful day and the animals were on their best, photogenic behavior.

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There were City People, of course. And they were suitably garbed in many layers of fleece and linen and prepared to be wowed by the agricultural happenings of a small farm.

  • “Oh look! The cow is peeing!”
  • “Do you have thistle growing here?”
  • “Is that a road or a lake over there?”
  • “What do you do with the chickens when they get bigger? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU KILL THEM? MOM I AM GOING TO BE A VEGETARIAN.”
  • “Ooooh look, the cows are just bunched together!” <–grown man in his fifties.
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Sister reacts to the cows being “bunched together”

I had a conversation that went like this:

City Lady: “So where are you guys visiting from?”

Me: “We live here.”

CL: “Where? HERE? What do you mean?”

Me: “I mean we are from here. We live here. My family has lived here for about 200 years.”

CL: “Wow. So you’re a local?”

Me: “Yes. And you’re a City Person. And never the two shall meet.”

CL: *brushing back her linen dress which was billowing in the breeze* “What? Really? But if you come up here a lot and then you buy a home, then you become a local right?”

Me: “No.”

 

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Please note the layers of clothing in the background.

It’s complicated though, because on a deeper level, their presence in our county has provided a lot of industry and work for all kinds of local businesses. Plus, they have brought certain establishments of art and culture with them that add a lot to our little town. Not to mention…there are a lot more restaurants, cafes, and good coffee available now that there is a bigger and broader audience for those places.

Still. It is hard to see the size of the incoming school class shrink more and more every year. As property values skyrocket, the local population is pushed out into neighboring counties and areas because they simply can’t afford to live here anymore. As a result, the incoming class at my old high school this year is somewhere around 60 kids, while my graduating class hovered just above 100. So, it is fun to laugh and make jokes with other locals, but it’s also true that the fabric of our small town is in the process of completely changing.

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It’s also hard to escape the feeling that the influx of moneyed New Yorkers would very much like the locals to clear out so they can have this place to themselves. Except, obviously, the ones that buy them groceries, stock their pantries, and clean up when they go back to the city.

And, you know, it’s a strange state of affairs for me because I have spent so much time living elsewhere that when I come back it’s kind of nice to see new and more sophisticated offerings until the owners aren’t very friendly and you realize the repercussions on all the people you grew up with.

The place has changed, there’s no getting away from it. One thing that hasn’t changed? To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world, and it is Home.

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Who wouldn’t want to live here, right?

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.

 

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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A Country Drive

family, personal essay, photography, small town life

Last night, Sister, Brother T* and I decided to take advantage of our post-Chicken-enchilada happiness and the late-sunset-glow and go for a long, meandering country drive.

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Claire pretended to be a Calvin Klein model

We call it the poor man’s entertainment. There’s a lot of, “Ooh, look at that house–NO, look at that house!” and they are usually giant, beautiful old farmhouses with picturesque barns.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

This is how we got here:

1. We drove up Main Street and took the third exit

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2. We drove and drove and drove until we got to the Mythical Hamlet of North Chatham

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3. Then we took a right and drove for a while

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4. We came to a fork in the road…

…and went left…

…and drove and drove…

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emoji with heart eyes x 3

5. Then we accidentally left the county! So we took the first right, which happened to be the most charming, delightful back country road I’ve seen in a long, long time. Look at that.

LOOK AT IT.

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6. We meandered along, stopping for photos in the perfect golden sunlight. Trevor came perilously close to touching the electric element of the fence.

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7. We disregarded signs.

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8. And we wandered home as the sun set, stopping at DQ for Brother T, who requires at least one (1) cookie dough blizzard daily to energize his magnetic personality.

 

 

*Famed cult leader

THE RAINS THEY ARE A’COMING

dirt on my face, family, garden, gardening tips, photography, Uncategorized

I broke out the real camera for this post, ya’ll. As will be evident in the increased quality, amateurish control of exposure settings, and as much bokeh as I can figure out how to get.

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If I remember to do it, I’ll try and take this same picture as the beans grow. I’ll also let you know if they prove to be “exceptionally tender and delicious”.

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These pictures are from Saturday, I think, and were followed by four days of thunderstorms and rain, so Sister and I were pretty anxious to get all the rest of the garden planted.

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Red Swiss chard

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Let’s be real…there was probably dirt on my face, too.

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Mmmmmmm can’t wait!

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Bush beans and zucchini

There are two questions now on my mind.

  1. MULCHING?
  2. How do I actually, you know, harvest plants?

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Look at that, you guys.

A TOMATO BLOSSOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I planted the pole beans along the Northern fence and hopefully they will climb right up the sides. Our neighbors are professional landscapers, and I told one of them that it’s intimidating to have pros watch you pick up a shovel and plant things, but she said veggie gardens are all about experimentation and to just go for it, so that’s what we’re doing! (She also brought over some Cosmos seedlings and says that they will get big and colorful and bloom all summer long. Can’t wait!)

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So, there we have it. Our hopeful veggie garden contains:

  • six varieties of tomatoes
  • Kennebec potatoes
  • yellow and red swiss chard
  • turnips
  • heirloom red carrots
  • romaine lettuce
  • butter crunch lettuce
  • kale
  • arugula
  • dill
  • cilantro
  • lemon verbena
  • sweet onions
  • red onions
  • chives
  • yellow squash
  • zucchini
  • purple eggplant
  • white eggplant
  • orange, green, and purple bell peppers
  • one jalapeño plant
  • and cucumbers

PHEW!

Wait, do you think I went overboard?