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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A GOOD WEEK

dirt on my face, family, friends, friendship, garden, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Good morning!

This past week was a pretty good one. There were, of course, good moments and bad moments, but looking at it as a whole, it was a successful week. Now, if only I had better short-term memory, I could tell you exactly why it was a good week and what we did, but I’ll need to look at the archives (AKA pictures on my iPhone) to remember exactly what happened.

First of all, in Breaking Garden News, we have our first tomato!!!

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HELLO! WELCOME TO THE WORLD! I CAN’T WAIT TO EAT YOU!

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Sister looks on in amazement at the tiny green tomato

I submitted a painting to a contest meant to benefit a local arts group. The jury planned to select twenty works of art and then in September there is an auction where the proceeds are split between the artist and the charity. They were meant to respond by Monday and since I didn’t hear anything, I figured they just notified the winners. It was a little disappointing, but it felt good just to submit something.

But THEN, late Thursday night they sent an email and said they had accepted my painting! It is a botanical watercolor of peonies, and I am so excited!!

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These are a couple botanical prints I’ve been working on this week. I’m hoping that by the end of the summer I’ll have enough to do a small show or even open an online store to sell prints and original paintings. That is exciting, right?!

Sister got her first byline and was published in the local paper. Junior Ace Reporter!!

Both brothers had good news about their respective jobs, which is great.

On Thursday we went with our cousin to one of my favorite places ever…the Book Barn.

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The resident cat, who I’m pretty sure runs the place, is named Dickens, which is a name that works on several levels.

It is a big, dilapidated barn in the absolute middle-of-nowhere filled to the brim with books about anything you can think of. It is a place full of inspiration and magic, and I love, love, love it there.

Uncle Gee and Aunt T invited us to Tanglewood to see a jazz band with them on Friday night, and we accepted because we love to do stuff! I’m SO GLAD WE ACCEPTED because it was one of the best concerts I’ve been to, SO FUN.

The band is called the Hot Sardines, and I would liken it to…the closest you can get to a roaring party in a 1920’s speakeasy. We also had FRONT ROW SEATS, bantered a bit with the band, met the lead singer afterwards and had the best time.

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See the guy in the cream colored fedora? He is the band’s resident mobster/tap-dancer. At first, I thought, does he just sit there and tap his feet the whole time? BUT THEN HE DANCED and now I think every band should have a resident tap-dancer. Furthermore, their rendition of Summertime gave me goosebumps.

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That was a great and spontaneous treat and a wonderful end to the week. Here’s a video from their YouTube page to give you an idea of the music:

Plus, they inspired me to work on a Secret Project which I’ve been thinking about all weekend. I have more than one Secret Project going on right now and I’ll have to fill you all in at some point…here’s a slo-mo video of one of my secret-works-in-progress…

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Secret Project: dirt on my face and everywhere else, too. 

We also got to see the best of little cousins again this week. I love spending time with those two kids, they are the sweetest and most imaginative little buddies to have around. And they give great hugs!

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I’ve also had some of my flowers bloom in the past week, and that fills me up. I love the vegetables, but flowers are food for the soul, I’m pretty sure.

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I played tennis for the first time in over a year and I won, which felt great! Plus, Sister and I have kept up going to Pilates, which we started a few weeks ago. I LOVE PILATES. The class is Wednesday and Friday mornings and I think Sis and I are the youngest people there by about 30 years? Great. A class full of retired women is just my speed. Pilates is fun and it is also hard, but I like all of the breathing and stretching breaks, and if the soreness I’ve felt for the last couple days is any indication, it’s a WORKOUT.

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Okay! That’s it from around these parts, tune in next time for a garden progress report!

 

Thomas Cole and Bad Mexican

family, friends, humor, personal essay, photography, small town life, Uncategorized

Today, the three of us siblings which are present here in New York went adventuring (the fourth sibling unable to make it as he currently resides in the far-off land of Kansas. HI J!).

We drove thirty minutes south-west-ish and crossed the mighty, winding Hudson River, and ended up in Catskill. We were hungry after all of that pre-adventuring, so we thought we would look for a cute cafe or a tasty-looking treat.

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One of the last remaining places with a functional fax machine.

Alas.

There was no cute cafe and there were no tasty-looking treats. We settled on a Mexican joint, and we don’t need to talk about it much as we shall not be returning there. Nor shall we be returning to Catskill in the near future.

But then we wound our way to the Thomas Cole Museum!

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The view from the porch. Wowwee.

Thomas Cole was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School of art, which originated right around here in the Hudson River Valley. The museum was smaller than I expected, but had stellar views off the front porch and some nice flowers. There were a few rooms open to the public and since we were too late for a guided tour, it didn’t take long to see the contents of them.

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Nice flowers

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Re: the Hudson River School of art, I’ll quote Wikipedia, because that is the easiest thing for me to do and it’s late and I’m kind of lazy:

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.

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I will forever have a soft spot for The Hudson River School, in part because I grew up with those landscapes saturating my mind, and in part because both my Mom and my teachers did a great job exposing me to local art and history as a kid. The art that came out of those landscape painters was idealistic and romanticized, but also beautiful and idyllic.

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Back to the Thomas Cole Museum: there was a lot less art than I had hoped for. The house is decked out with cardboard-y reproductions of the paintings that hung when Cole lived there. They are not very good reproductions. However, the “New Studio” has rotating, temporary exhibits and they were featuring some works of Sanford Gifford, who was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School.

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“Going Sketching in the Catskills” Sanford Gifford, 1866

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Details of oil paintings by Sanford Gifford

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There are other famous painters from the Hudson River School around here–I was so lucky to grow up in a place that is so steeped with history! Olana, the home and studio of Frederick Church, is only 25 minutes away, and we visited it a lot when I was growing up. It is a beautiful home full of interesting architecture, although the last time I visited, it was full of contemporary, experimental art which I found really jarring in the 19th-century surroundings. Also, as you will see below, Mr. Church and I have a bit of a history.

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Maybe this is just me, but if you’re at a museum dedicated to one of the country’s foremost landscape artists, should you at least paint feet onto the guy?

The following things happened at Olana:

  • I had many, many, many amazing picnics with my mom, pizza bagels, and siblings
  • I learned from Patty O that I could cross one eye and make the other one go in loops. This is largely a useless skill.
  • I loved those picnics and the pizza bagels
  • Frederick Church put in a heart-shaped pond for his wife, which I thought was the most romantic thing I ever heard of when I was about 10. Now I think it is kind of impractical and hard to see the shape clearly? But good for him!
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In Thomas Cole’s “old” studio

Once, on a school field-trip, our class went to see Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”  which is a thought-provoking series of five paintings depicting the rise and fall of human civilization. The Internet tells me that their permanent home is in NYC, but I think it must have been a temporary exhibit around here, because I don’t remember going to The New York Historical Society, which is where they live. It was a memorable experience and I’ve thought of those paintings a lot over the years.

There were also a few Frederick Church paintings at that same exhibit and, guys, I don’t much like it when people tell me what to do. This was in the pre-moving-around-the-world era of my life and I think I hadn’t been to many art museums, so when they told us not to touch the paintings, the inside of me basically crawled inside-out and demanded that I touch a painting. I chose a landscape by Frederick Church which had lots of little, bumpy green leaves, and I looked to my right (covertly) and saw the museum guard glance away, and I DID IT. I reached out and touched it!

I JUST WANTED TO AND I DID.

I can’t believe it. Present-day Alex would NEVER DO THAT.*

I think the guard saw me and told me not to do it and I had a secret thrill and then I went into the next room and saw that civilization was destined to crumble anyway, according to Thomas Cole, who based his series on a poem by Lord Byron, who is not someone I want to base anything on.

I digress.

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Anyway, in summary, we had a nice time out and learned a few things** and we saw gorgeous views of the Catskills. I also saw a piece of dust adhered to an oil painting and I longed to reach out and brush it away and also touch the painting. Instead, I just weirdly blew on the painting a few times, watching this giant dust bunny flutter around, and then I realized that hearing me suddenly breathe loudly in the very silent New Studio probably sounded super weird to the elderly couple behind me.***

Kindly old man: “Excuse me, I noticed you were quietly appreciating the paintings, but now you are loudly huffing and puffing. Are you having an asthma attack?”

Me: “No, I just saw that there is this clump of dust on the painting and it’s really bugging me, so I thought I would just try to loosely, like, you know, blow it off of there…”

Kindly old man (fumbles for his wallet, rifles through it, withdraws business card, holds it out): “Here, this is the number of my psychiatrist. Maybe he could help you.”

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Why yes, there is a large piece of dust affixed to this painting. Perhaps someone should blow it off or something?

*but she still kind of wants to

**like avoid Catskill and the Mexican restaurant in Catskill

***because it was super weird

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 First Backyard Ballad

backyard ballad, Uncategorized

I think I’m going to start a new feature called “Backyard Ballad” in which I post a couple of snaps of whatever is happening around our yard.

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She really, actually enjoys mowing the lawn.

We have flowers and animals and get-togethers and campfires and hummingbirds and hammocks and I think this would be a nice way to look back and remember the little moments which make this place so special to us.

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A well-earned rest

I thought about calling it Back-yode, like an ODE to the backyard, but I talked myself out of it instantly and then I wrote this sentence.

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These few pics are from one of the two sunny days last week.

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We called these “spit bugs” when I was a kid. These little insects leave white, bubbly blobs on long grasses which look a lot like spit; ergo, spit bug. I just checked on Wikipedia and apparently, they are more well-known as “froghoppers”* and can jump “many times their height and length.”

Anyway, when we were really little we used to pick them up with our fingers and look for the tiny, little green bug inside them.

That is an activity that I have outgrown.

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And this is a pretty little catnip plant** which we planted after Brother T cleared the back part of the yard.

 

 

 

 

*of the superfamily Cercopoidea

**better known as nepeta cataria

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?

Potatoes: A Post for Mom

family, friends, friendship, garden, gardening tips, photography, Uncategorized

Hi Mom,

I know you love potatoes. Here is a post just for you.

Love,

Your Favorite Daughter

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There is only one place around here where you can buy seed potatoes and we were a little late to the party, so there were only two choices left. Fortunately, the Kennebec variety seems to be one of the most versatile and tasty types around.

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So many numbers. So many instructions. I did MOST of them, but I don’t like it when people tell me what to do 😉

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It didn’t smell very good, this bag. There were lots of potato eyes looking back at me and, nestled lovingly in the bottom, a completely rotten potato.

It was really gross.

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Then I chopped them up into the little pieces and set them aside, carefully avoiding the rotten ones.

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It’s pretty cool that we are going to get pounds and pounds of delicious potatoes out of these old hunks of starch.

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Planting potatoes takes up a tremendous amount of space. The little hunks of potato have to be spaced pretty far apart, and the rows themselves are spaced pretty far apart, so in the end I decided to only have two rows so that there was room for the other veggies. I planted them in the ground, on top of a handful of worm castings, with the eyes facing up. Later, as they grow, I’ll continue to mound the dirt around the plant. I learned from a gardener (possibly the wise old lady who told me young people would die if they had to go forage for salad ingredients, but she knew exactly what to pick out of her lawn) that if the hunk of potato you plant is too big, you won’t get many potatoes from it, because it’s happy to just stay the way it is.

And that’s all for now, folks! Tune in next time for more gardening anecdotes.

The First Plants: Tomatoes and Peppers

garden, photography

We have six varieties of tomatoes which we’ve picked up from a bunch of different places based on a bunch of different recommendations. They were the first thing we planted last week, along with a few pepper plants.

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First, Sister and I measured out the garden plot. As it turns out, the posts aren’t exactly evenly spaced, so the straight line down the center looks a little off. But it’s fine. We tied twine to make four quadrants and planned out roughly where everything would go based on (wait for it, it’s going to sound so impressive) the direction of the sun and height of the plants.

I know, you guys.

I know.

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That’s me and the very first plant! Woo! It was a labor of love because Sister and I lawn-mowed and rototilled all day and were just trying to get something in the ground before the rain was coming.

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Then we drove the stakes in next to the plants. Neighbor Bill from a few posts back told us to put the stakes in at the same time because to do it later would risk damaging the root systems of the plants.

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We hurried to get a few pepper plants in the ground. Basic bell peppers: green, orange, and purple.

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For our tomato varieties we have:

  • Beefsteak
    • The classic tomato. It will be thick-skinned and dark red. They might require a cage later on to support the vines because the tomatoes get so heavy. Great for slicing.
  • Brandywine
    • Large heirloom variety. Probably will be pinkish. They have a tangy taste and will also probably need cages as the vines grow “vigorously”.
  • Grapette
    • These are hybrid little guys and grow in clusters, thus the “grape” in their name. They promise to be delightful.
  • Ruth’s Perfect
    • Here is the description for Ruth’s Perfect (purchased from Tomato Lady at the Troy Market) “Variety is almost completely problem free. Produces abundant amounts of 7oz., 2-3″, perfectly round, red fruit. Exceptionally flavorful.” Well, that sounds amazing.
  • Yellow Pear Cherry
    • Another heirloom variety. Produces little yellow pear-shaped tomatoes. Apparently will grow between 6-12 feet tall!! Oh boy. We are in for some major tomato joy in a few months.
  • Mortgage Lifter
    • We talked about this one earlier, but here is another description of this guy, “This variety has become very popular in recent years, after being developed by M.C. Byles of Logan, West Virginia. After crossing varieties for 6 years and selecting the best, he introduced this beauty that he named Mortgage Lifter in the 1940’s after he sold plants for $1 each and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house.”

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One thing we did was based on some last-minute words-of-wisdom from Uncle Gee. He told us that his grandfather (Pop, around these parts) (he of the greenest of green thumbs) gave him some tomato planting advice when Uncle Gee was a youngster. Evidently, if you plant the tomatoes a bit deeper than you would think to plant them, so that the fuzzy stem of the plant is about an inch or two beneath the soil, it will become part of the roots and strengthen the existing root system, thus increasing the tomato yield.

We’ll see, Pop. We’ll see!

Troy Farmer’s Market

family, garden, photography, small town life

Allow me to continue the trend of writing things more than a week behind schedule.

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Last Saturday we joined my dad’s brother and one of his sisters and went up to the Troy Farmer’s Market. It was excellent! Troy used to be a garbage pit of a city, and now it is slightly better!

I shall tell this story through the medium of artistic photography:*

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The entrance to the market.

Below, Sister thinks, “Wow, Troy isn’t so bad after all!” This was right before we witnessed a voluble domestic dispute. It involved a man dragging a woman behind him and then when a ton of the farmer’s market crowd went to intervene, she screamed at them, “LEAVE HIM ALONE, HE’S MY BOYFRIEND.” So, Troy.

 

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Me and the Tomato Lady:

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Every time she told me about a new tomato variety (purple ones! striped ones! pink ones!) I got excited and asked for them and then she would hunt around for a long time and then they would be sold out. I asked what one of the varieties tasted like and she said, “Have you ever had lap sap sue tongue tea?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “What about Mountain Russia Floo Flah?” and I was like, “No.” And she said, “Do you like smoked tea?” and I was like, “I don’t think this tomato sounds very good.”

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Sold out of almost all of them!

We met a lovely woman who keeps goats and makes soap and lotion out of them. I bought a lotion because 1. it smelled good and 2. after Claire used the goat prop below, I felt like I had to.

 

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That’s MY sister!

 

 

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The woman selling these lettuce seedlings didn’t wear shoes.

Mom, we thought you would appreciate this hymnal of temperance songs:

There were all kinds of plants, seedlings, meats, coffees, homemade pastas, breads, bagels, carbohydrates of all sorts!

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Artistic?

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Unless it is Claire, I don’t want to put people’s faces on the internet without them knowing about it or signing off on it, so here we see the back of Uncle Gee’s head and the back of Aunt K’s head as well as the requisite tote bags.

Just look at these beets:

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Here is an obligatory shot of artisan bread product:

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The first chocolate milk I’ve had in about a decade. So good.

Until next time, Troy!

 

* Please construe the word “artistic” very loosely