Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Into the Autumn Spirit

It's been over a month since my last post. My apologies, to any of my regular readers. After a full year of unemployment, I started a full-time, 3-month assignment which hopefully will become permanent at year's end.

So now that I'm "back to the grind," my weekends are even more precious than usual. With the nice weather we had for the past few days, I was in the mood to do something "seasonal" yet local. (My commute makes local activities much more desirable.)

So a friend and I dropped in at Hollandia Nursery in Bethel to admire both the Halloween (30% off a week before Halloween!) and Christmas decorations.

From there we moved on to Shakespeare Gardens in Brookfield (the former Burr Farm). The gardener there has a flair for re-purposing old items for use as planters, be they old wash basins or bicycles. Here are a few of their many planters favoring succulents.

And another...

They also have an assortment of stone plaques with bits of gardening-related poetry inscribed on them. They're meant to be propped up in the garden, something that's done very nicely at the Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield.

We really dallied in the lovely gift shop; there were so many things I admired there, and I did end up buying a creamy orange pumpkin covered with warts (the best kind!) along with a ceramic pot that looks like an artichoke, and 3 paperwhite bulbs to fill it.

By this time, it was well past lunch hour, so we headed back toward home for lunch at The Inn at Newtown. We got a coveted seat in front of the large window overlooking historic Main Street. We were able to watch the passers-by as we enjoyed our meal. I had the lobster corn chowder and my friend had the turkey/wild rice soup. We both ordered the grilled vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash and portabello mushroom) with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar.  Mmmm.

Then we headed over to the library where I was able to catch up on the latest issue of the Newtown Bee, a subscription I let lapse when I was unemployed. Perturbed at having missed the Lutheran Church Harvest Festival on Saturday, I decided I should renew my subscription. I love the local church fairs, craft fairs and even the senior center sales with their hand-knitted and crocheted items and home-baked goods.

It was a nice afternoon.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Monetary Value of This Year's Vegetable Garden

Yesterday I pulled up the slowly fading pole beans, bell pepper plants and tomato plants, so I was able to crunch some numbers and tally up what my vegetable garden yielded this summer based on its monetary value.

To calculate prices for my organic produce, I used prices for organic produce at the grocery store I shop at most regularly...Shop Rite.  In three cases (string beans, spaghetti squash and raspberries) I could not find an organic equivalent, so I used non-organic prices.

As for the raspberries, what I harvested on my property in July are actually wineberries, but they're very similar to raspberries, so I used Shop Rite's price for raspberries to calculate their value. I've never seen wineberries for sale, anyway.

And although I picked enough basil to make 12 servings of pesto sauce, I ddn't bother to estimate a price for this. Nor did I bother to price the 9 miniature ornamental gourds I grew, just for fun.

But here's what I did count, ranked by order of greatest dollar value first:

Wineberries: These grow in wild profusion in the backyard. Last year, I only picked 2 3/4 cups of berries, enough to enjoy on my breakfast cereal for a few weeks.This year, I got more serious, picking nearly every day during the month of July. (One benefit of unemployment is time.)Those I didn't use immediately, I froze for winter use.

This year, I picked 39.5 cups, or 316 oz., of berries. Shop Rite charges a pricey $3 for a teeny 6 oz. container of non-organic raspberries, so at a value of $157, the wineberries proved to be my most valuable "crop." Ironically, it's the only one I didn't actually plant.

Tomatoes: If you grow your own food, you'll remember that last year was a bad one for tomatoes. Last year, I got just 45 cherry tomatoes and 25 regular tomatoes at an estimated value of $20. This year, my 5 plants did much better, yielding 152 tomatoes weighing 48.35 pounds with a value of $144.56 ($2.99 a lb, organic).

Zucchini: Last year, I picked just 5 zucchini, perhaps because I didn't try hand-pollinating the blossoms. This year, I did hand-pollinate and I was rewarded for my effort with 26 zucchinis weighing about 55 pounds and worth $109 ($1.99 a lb, organic).

So to recap, wineberies, tomatoes and zucchini were my most valuable crops. After that, the monetary value of my produce drops considerably.

Cucumber: After being completely overwhelmed by too many cucumbers last year (50), I limited myself to just 2 vines this year and ended up picking 13 cukes worth a total of $25, based on organic prices ($2 ea, organic).

Spaghetti squash: These take up a lot of room; I picked just 4 squash weighing nearly 15 pounds in total with a non-organic value of $22.

Salad greens: There was some guesswork involved here, but I ate 17 large bowls of salad greens worth about $20 based on organic prices, conservatively ($6 a lb, organic).

String beans: I tried growing pole beans this year instead of last year's bush beans. I picked 11 pounds of beans with an estimated non-organic value of $14.19.

Acorn squash: I picked 5 acorn squash weighing in at 6.5 pounds, with an organic value of $13.

Red and russet potatoes: I had only enough room for 2 6-foot long rows of potatoes. My disappointing harvest of just 6 pounds of potatoes, compared to last year's 11-pound harvest, convinced me that with an organic value of just $7, it really wasn't worth it to devote so much space to this veggie. (However, potatoes are among the most heavily sprayed vegetables, so avoiding pesticide residue bears some consideration.) Some of the potatoes had to be thrown away as moles, which devastated my lawn, apparently also liked to nibble on tubers.

Bell pepper: I have yet to have a bumper crop of bell peppers, but I did manage to pick 6 this year (5 last year) from 4 plants (!) for a total value of $2.38.

Grand total: $515.13

After subtracting $86.01 in expenses (primarily for seeds, seedlings, horse manure and a few more metal fence posts), my net profit is in the neighborhood of $429.

Compare that to last year's negative net profit of $222, primarily due to the cost of my 6-foot-high deer fencing  and fence posts ($288). I also picked far fewer wineberries last year, and this is my most valuable crop.

Thoughts for next year:

Vining squashes take up a lot of valuable room in my small garden, so I'll ditch the spaghetti squash (though they were fun to prepare and eat) but keep the acorn squash. I'll go with 3 cucumber vines for a happy medium and ongoing supply (but not too much) of cucumbers for my salads. I'll skip potatoes entirely (don't eat much of 'em anyway) and think about trying corn and sunflowers.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Waning Days of Summer

I haven't posted much in the way of gardening news in the last few weeks. That's partly because my vegetable garden has been on auto pilot for the most part, aside for my periodically running the soaker hose during the really hot spells.

The vegetable garden is winding down now; I pulled out all the squash plants, overwhelmed with squash vine borers and powdery mildew, a week or so ago. The tomatoes and string beans are still coming, and I have three or four green bell peppers ready for the picking. The freezer is packed with blanched zucchini, string beans, spaghetti squash and tomato sauce.

In a few weeks, I'll be posting my final tally for the estimated market value of all my vegetable produce. I've done a preliminary calculation and I must say it's pretty impressive for a small garden-for-one.

There have been two other things distracting me from my gardening for the past month. First, during the past 6 weeks, I've been helping a neighbor prepare for a garage sale, and this weekend was the sale.  She did pretty well, taking in about $300; I brought a few of my things over as well and was perfectly pleased to earn about $27. Two of my neighbor's other friends came by for a time, along with the guy who cuts her lawn, who happens to be a friend of mine.I hadn't talked to him in about three years, so we spent most of today catching up while we sat in at the garage sale.

All I can say is, it was a tremendous amount of work, sorting, organizing and pricing items, dragging items out of the house, tending to the sale both days this weekend, and then repacking unsold items for Good Will, the local senior center and the landfill. I also dragged a few things down to the roadside and was pleased that most of it was scooped up by passer-bys.

The other item demanding my attention was my job search. After a long hiatus of nothing shaking on the job front, I interviewed for two different job in the past two weeks and believe it's possible I could get an offer from either or both of them. I hope to have some definitive news in the next week and am crossing my fingers after many months of total inactivity.

The waning days of summer and cooler weather are always a bittersweet time for me. Perhaps it's the signal of the end of one season nearing and another, less welcome, one approaching that often makes me feel a little melancholy this time of year.

I am already preparing for the winter season. I had my furnace tuned up and filled up the oil tank last month. Last week, I had a very worthwhile home energy audit done for just $50. It was amazing to me how effectively the blower door test revealed invisible air leaks throughout my home. Where was the biggest leak? The door that leads to my walk-up attic. All leaks found were addressed before retesting so as to gauge the degree of improvement achieved by caulking and weatherstripping. I'd highly recommend a home energy audit to anyone considering one.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yesterday's haul

My cornucopia
I used my bicycle basket to gather all the veggies. It's pretty deep. Although you don't see all the string beans here, I collected a full pound of 'em, plus cucumbers that are mostly hidden from view.

I spent some time yesterday cooking a 4-pound spaghetti squash in the microwave. After it cooled, I used a fork to tease the strands of squash free from the rind and filled two quarter-sized freezer bags with it.

My freezer "larder" is becoming quite full with excess from the garden, including that spaghetti squash, tomatoes, chunks of zucchini and wineberries.

There's a nearby farm where someone I know invited me to help myself to the (organic!) peaches growing there (on a single tree). I collected a small bag of moldy, green and hard peaches last week. I dropped them on the kitchen counter and forgot about them for a week.

I checked on them yesterday and they were suddenly very ripe. Two had to be thrown away. I decided to adapt my late grandmother's recipe for apple crisp, substituting the peaches and a bag of frozen wineberries I'd collected in July.  The peach skins, partly covered with unappetizing black spots, had to be skinned, and I did find one small worm crawling up my hand as I washed them. It was a messy job, but one doesn't come across organic peaches that often.

The peach/wineberry crisp, however, turned out great and was well worth the effort. I like to add raisins and walnuts to the oatmeal mix.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Floral Scanner Art

I've been interested in trying my hand at scanner art for a long time. I've seen some beautiful "floralscapes" that are arranged and composed en masse on the top of a flatbed scanner. I picked this Queen Anne's Lace flower by my mailbox. I figured it would work well because it's fairly two-dimensional. (Daisies and asters would work well, too, I think.)

Isn't it pretty?

Here's what the same flower looks like with a black cloth draped on top of it.

The stem is not actually attached. I cut it so the flower would lay flat, and then added the stem below it.

If this is what a single flower looks like, imagine how great a small bouquet of blooms would look, carefully arranged (face-down) on the scanner glass.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I'm So Berry Happy

That's because I've picked 32 cups of wineberries in July.

It's a brief season, so I've been making a point to pick at least 2 cups nearly every day. I always save a quarter cup of so for my breakfast cereal, but I freeze the rest and anticipate enjoying organic, homegrown berries all winter long.

It's a simple three-step process. After picking about 2 cups of berries, I put them in a screened basket and rinse them well under the faucet. A colander would do just fine. Then I shake them so they're evenly covering the screened basket and I put them, with a tray underneath to catch drips, in front of one of my floor fans which are constantly running in this hot weather.

Once they're dry, I gently drop the berries into the tray, making sure to wipe it dry before doing so. Then in it goes in the freezer. After a few hours, I'll take them out and store the frozen berries into zip-lock sandwich bags. This way, I only need remove a small amount of berries at any one time. When I use them for my breakfast cereal, there's no need to dethaw them; they warm up quickly.

In other news, I found the large, plump woodchuck near one of the burrows, dead as a doornail. I think it likely, given the recent sighting of the coyote pup, that a coyote, perhaps the pup's mother, killed the woodchuck. I should have buried it, but it smelled pretty bad, and flies were buzzing around it. In fact it was that dead animal smell that led me to look for the source of that odor. So I've just avoided the spot. Pretty soon it'll be history.

I must admit to feeling some relief, as I hoped I could perhaps now be woodchuck-free for at least the rest of this season. I was relaying the news about the woodchuck to my father yesterday on the phone. Just  a few hours later, I spotted a baby woodchuck in the backyard. That's a really big disappointment. Maybe the coyotes will return again, since I've seen their scat, with wineberry seeds, in prominent spots in the side yard, including on top of a rock under the hemlock tree.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Thinking About All the Lovin' Spoonfuls to Come

 Spaghetti Squash on the Vine



Current garden pickings include zucchini and wineberries, which grow in abundance in the back of my property. How much I pick is limited only by my energy level on a given day. Of course, I always don my hip boots, acquired for me by my sister as a (requested) birthday gift, as tick protection as I wade into the brambles.

I've picked about 12 cups of wineberries so far, rinsing, air drying and then freezing most of them for winter use on my breakfast cereal. The season is brief, lasting only a few weeks.

I believe I'm up to about 8 or 9 zucchinis picked, with many given away.

There are 4 or 5 spaghetti squash like the first image above forming like fat loaves of bread on the hay. They can't be picked until they mature in the fall and turn yellow. Right now, they're a virginal shade of white.

I'm waiting (not so patiently) for tomatoes, string beans, acorn squash, cucumbers and potatoes.

Like last year, I'm tracking everything I harvest so that I can ultimately estimate with a fair degree of accuracy the retail value of my organic produce, based on what Shop Rite would charge for the equivalent in the store.

Thank god for today's rain; it was so needed. My soaker hose, which allows water to trickle into the ground slowly instead of splashing the leaves, inviting disease, burst a small pinhole into a much bigger hole. I bought a repair kit but haven't gotten around to using it yet. I also had a plumber over here today to fix a leaky fitting on my water tank, which supplies the well water for my outdoor water use. (It doesn't supply drinking water anymore as it's a shallow well and i have since hooked up to municipal water supply.) The bill was $192. Ouch. But now I can water my garden again without that well pump cycling on and off every 2 minutes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are Coyotes Denning in My Yard??

It's not quite 10:30 a.m. It's an overcast, dank and humid day.

I just saw a coyote pup in my yard.

As is often the case, my cat Luther's behavior as he looked out the window caught my attention. I thought it was perhaps a catbird in the mulberry tree, but when he jumped off the bench in front of one window and jumped on a chair at the other window, I knew it must be something good.

As we both peered out the window, I caught sight of a very small coyote pup grabbing a green apple that had fallen from the apple tree. He gnawed at it a bit, then hurried on, looking like he was exploring/foraging.

See his head in the grass, to the left of the thick mountain laurel trunk?

But where was Mom? And should he be exploring on his own? How far had he ventured from his den?

I lost sight of him after he trotted over to a brushy area on the north side of the house, not 10 feet or so from one of the three woodchuck burrows I'm aware of on my property.

Yes, there are three burrows: the oldest one is behind a thicket of overgrown forsythia on the south side of the house. I went to considerable trouble in April to severely cut back the forsythia, and now that I see how quickly it's recovered, I regret not pulling it up completely, but of course there was the question of what to do with that space so it wasn't simply overtaken by weeds or brush.  The second burrow, the newest one, lies six feet from the north side of the house (!) in another admittedly overgrown area bordered by a waist-high picket fence. It's the area that always comes last on my list because of its large size.  The third burrow is also on the north side of the house, about 25 feet further from the house.

The north side, it seems, has become a little Shang-gri-la for critters, as it contains a productive apple tree that drops fruit from June through fall, a gooseberry patch and a mulberry tree.

But back to the woodchuck burrows. In an effort to get the woodchuck moving on somewhere else, I threw used cat litter into each of the 6 burrow holes. (There's always a front door and a back door for each burrow.) I did that the day before I left to visit my father in New Jersey, and I haven't seen the woodchuck since.  It's possible it's still around, as I haven't been outside much due to the extreme heat.  But now I'm wondering if a coyote discovered the abandoned burrow and adopted it as her own.

Some quick research on coyote ways told me that coyotes will den in a rock pile or hollow tree, but sometimes enlarge the burrow of another animal. And that there are usually three to nine pups to a litter. I am going to have to go outside and look for scat.

Much as I enjoy wildlife, I feel more than a little uncomfortable at the thought of coyotes possibly living so close by.  I've always known they were in the neighborhood. They killed the dog of my neighbors who live behind me.  Maybe once a week I'll hear them barking and yipping late at night, but they seemed to stay up higher on the hillside behind my house.Well, there was that time (noted on this blog) about a month ago that I spotted an adult coyote, during daylight hours, passing through the extreme rear of my property in back.

My other neighbors, next door, just acquired a goat.

Every once is a while, you hear a news story about a coyote attacking a small child or pet. I just started berry-picking at dusk along the perimeters of my yard. The wineberries have begun to ripen. I stand 5'4". I hope I'm big enough to dispel any coyote thoughts of an attack. I think now I'll limit my berry-picking to daylight hours.

UPDATE: An hour after I posted this, I went downstairs to make myself an early lunch. Guess who had returned to eat more apples? The coyote pup. He ate a lot of them. I watched him for as long as he was out there, until he walked past the burrow and up a narrow path. From there, his travels were lost to my view.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Arboretum at Georgian Court University

My dad and I had occasion to visit the arboretum at Georgian Court University yesterday. Located on the grounds of the former winter home of George Jay Gould, millionaire son of railroad tycoon Jay Gould, the school is located in the Pine Barrens town of Lakewood, New Jersey.

The style of the buildings, grounds and statuary is that of an English estate of the Georgian period.

This is the Apollo Fountain, a birthday gift from George to his wife, Edith Gould.The statue depicts Apollo riding a chariot amid sea horses, cherubs and fish. Water for this fountain and others on the school campus are turned on only for special occasions and is drawn from nearby Lake Carasaljo.

This ornate, marble bench is in the Renaissance style. It's a copy of ones found at the Vatican Gardens.

The sunken garden and lagoon, which is fed by the lake, features four eight-foot marble urns on either side of the road. A pair of lions flanks the entrance.

Dear old Dad strikes a pose.

The statuary and grounds distracted us for a while, but what we really came to see was the dimunitive Japanese Garden. Just one acre in size, it featured some lovely, bonsai-like Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), weeping Higan Cherry and paperbark maple (Acer griseum) to form exquisite views at every turn.

A small footbridge with Japanese yew.

These Japanese maples have leaves with a fern-like appearance.

A Japanese teahouse can be seen in the background.

Careful pruning encourages a gnarled look to the branches and an ancient, windswept appearance.

On the way out, the local population of geese seemed unfazed by anxious drivers.

With school in recess, we had the place to ourselves and came away with a colorful booklet detailing the history of the arboretum. There is no charge for admission. It was a great trip and an unexpected find on the New Jersey shoreline.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Musings

A good investment

Alas, my plans to paint the tool shed are temporarily in abeyance. As I approached the tool shed to inspect its condition a few days ago, a little house wren popped its head out of the bird house I'd forgotten was nailed onto the front wall. She has little ones in there, so there will be no painting until they've fledged. Case closed.

Not a lot of gardening has been going on in this wretched heat and humidity. A little weeding, a little pruning. A few forays down to the vegetable garden in early morning to see if there are any female squash blossoms I can hand-pollinate. So far, I've had only male blossoms, which I'm told is not unusual early in the season. I'm not confident that local pollinators can do the job without me as I've had very poor fruit production on my squashes in previous years, despite excellent plant growth. So, around 6 a.m. on most mornings, you can find me traipsing down to the veggie patch, q-tip in hand to do some in vitro fertilization. I have such high hopes for my zucchini, spaghetti squash and acorn squash!

I have seen blossoms on the potatoes and bell peppers as well. The tomato plants have small green tomatoes but nothing yet on the pole beans or cucumber plants. The pole bean tendrils have already topped the 6-foot-high tripods I erected in spring and they have nowhere to go!

The apple tree outside my office window is steadily raining down green apples that are now the size of jumbo clementines. A doe arrives nightly at dusk. If I sit quietly on my front stoop, I can here the sound of her teeth crunching on those apples. I've also spotted squirrels and the resident woodchuck grab the prized fruit.

Last night, the coyotes were making a ruckus. What makes them bark and yip and carry on so late at night? Me wonders.

I never got around to establishing a compost pile this year, something I regret each time a plum pit or watermelon rind goes in the trash. I don't have a container, so it would have to be a freeform pile which I fear would simply attract scavengers the way that apple tree does.

One of my two elephant ear plants grew a second, humungus leaf:

How cool, how tropical! I adore these elephant ears! I see all sorts of outdoor decorating possiblities for them. They are like the outdoor version of the ficus plant, I guess, useful for softening the hard edges of a stone wall or flanking either side of a pair of outdoor lounge chairs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Miscellany & To Do List

I have no "honey" living here with me, so instead of having a "Honey Do List," I keep a "Get Your Butt in Gear" list.

I've been thinking, for instance, that I should try to paint the tool shed this year.

I painted it oh, maybe 5 years ago (?) and at that time could tell it needed two coats, but I was tired of the job after the first coat and figured I could let it go. I only plan to paint it if I can use paint already sitting in the basement. I'm fairly sure I have more paint in the same colors as shown.

Also on my list is WEEDING the various beds in the back yard. They are quite overgrown. In danger of being wholly consumed, in fact. I've been spending most of my time in the front yard, which is more open and sunny. At times, I prefer the privacy of the back yard, but my neglect there is obvious now.

I cleaned out the second bluebird nest box now that the house wrens have flown. If you compare their coarse nest of branches and twigs to that of the tufted titmouse nest I cleaned out earlier this month, the difference is quite striking.

This is the house wren nest....

And here is the tufted titmouse nest...

The titmouse used moss and leaves, plus a bit of clear plastic, in its nest.

I have a pretty ground cover that grows easily among the cracks and crevices of my stone walls.

It's in bloom now, as you can see, but I've forgotten what it's called.

Here's a closeup:

And now for a bit of eye-popping color on this overcast day...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A One-Eared Elephant

My elephant ears are growing very, very slowly. Is this normal?

I bought two tubers (bulbs?) from Wal-Mart in April and this one, watered nearly daily and kept in a shady spot that gets morning sun, has finally produced one giant "ear," which I think is quite lovely.

But I want more!

I pictured a profusion of lush, tropical-looking green leaves. The other elephant ear is still showing little sign of above-ground activity. When purchased, I couldn't tell which end was up on this tuber. So I planted it with a wing and a prayer. A week or so ago, feeling increasingly impatient that nothing seemed to be happening, I began digging up the soil around the tuber to see if perhaps I had planted it upside down. I saw a number of delicate, white roots just under the soil's surface, so I let it be and hope that this one will figure out how to reach the sun.

In other news, I noticed an interesting four-petal clematis in my garden the other day:

Pretty, isn't it?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Late Spring Cleaning

The tufted titmouse that was nesting in the bluebird box has fledged its younster(s), so I decided to clean out the box in the hopes of getting another pair of birds in the box.

Here's what it looked like before I removed the nest.

There was even a strip of clear plastic you can see hanging out from the bottom of the nest. Here you can see a lot of white animal hair woven into the top. I regularly release the hair from brushing Luther and Waldo outdoors, but neither has white hair. I wonder if this was from a skunk.

A house wren has settled into the other nest box and has been feeding its voracious young for weeks. 

Today is the kind of murky, dank day when I feel like doing nothing. The humidity's high, the air's not moving and the sky is sunless. It's hard to work up enthusiasm for gardening on this kind of day.

Here's the kind of delicious salad I've been eating these days. I used plentiful salad greens from my garden with strips of teriyaki chicken, a chopped hard-boiled egg, toasted sunflower seeds, tomato and cucumber. Yum.

Monday, May 31, 2010

An Abundance of Mountain Laurel & the Value of a Friend

I counted 17 mountain laurel shrubs on my property today. Yup. Seventeen. It was easy to count them now, because they're in bloom. I never realized there were so many. I can't claim responsibility for planting them because they were all here when I moved  in 15 years ago.  There used to be 18, but, sadly, one died due to being completely shaded out by evergreens.

There are mountain laurels to the north...

...and to the south... the east...

...and west...

This one is my favorite. Its flowers remind me up frosting on a pink cupcake. It has become dome-shaped, like many of my rhododendrons, due to deer grazing.

I asked an old friend of mine if he would help me change the battery in my lawnmower. It's a rechargeable Black & Decker with a battery that's lost its ability to hold a charge in this, its fourth mowing season. I really can't complain since I mow about an acre of my acre-and-a-half here.

My friend R. had indicated he might be able to come tonight. Instead, I received a phone call mid-day from F., an old friend of his, offering to come over and help with the mower. Though both F. and I have been friends with R. for over 20 years now, I never really knew F. and had only met him once or twice, years ago. Now he's living in my hometown, quite close by.

This is actually the second time he's been to my house. A month or so ago, I had a sudden, complete clog of my kitchen sink. While trying to loosen the pipe below the sink to clear the trap, a section of copper pipe came off in my hand, totally rusted through.

It all happened on a Friday, and I suffered through the inconvenience of washing dishes in the bathroom sink (and breaking a glass on the tile floor in the process) so I wouldn't have to pay top dollar for a plumber to come out on the weekend. Actually, since I've been out of work for months, I didn't relish paying a plumber at all, so I called my friend R. to see if he could help. He and his dad came over and spent some time on it, but the pipe replacement he attached still leaked. He left, but next day guessed it.... F.over to see if he could improve on R.'s work and still help me avoid a plumber. He did get the pipe replaced and installed properly, but the clog remained.

So I caved and called a plumber. I figured that while he was here, I might as well have him fix a leaky toilet that had been out of commission for over a year too, so the whole deal cost me $300 ($80 for the clogged sink). Most plumbers around here charge $100 an hour. And why did I get a college education?

So, back to the mower. After a few minor issues and a bleeding cut on his hand, F. got the battery in there and it's working fine. As before, he refused to let me pay him something for all his trouble. But R. must have told him I was a big gardener, because he asked me if I might have any bee balm. He enjoys watching the hummingbirds. I don't have bee balm, but I did have an extra hummingbird feeder, which I offered to him with instructions for sugar water-making. He accepted it as "payment," though Ron had a great idea that I plan to follow up on. I'll share some produce from my garden with him. My only concern is that F. won't be conscientious enough to change the sugar water every 3 or 4 days to prevent mold and possible sickness to any hummingbirds who drank it. I tried to impress upon him the importance of keeping that water clean.

I've been enjoying huge salads from my garden in the last few weeks. I imagine it will bolt soon. Tonight for dinner I had greens with toasted sunflower seeds and walnuts, cherry tomatoes, a sliced hard-boiled egg and teriyaki chicken slices from the most incredibly tender chicken breasts I discovered at Costco. They're pre-cooked, frozen, and take just 4 minutes in the microwave to heat up in the teriyaki sauce. Mmm, really good salad.

I usually add feta cheese or chopped cheddar, but I figured I had enough protein here. But guess what? I'm still hungry! Time for peanut brittle ice cream!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Visit to the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, seemed an appropriate time to knock off the first of at least four Connecticut gardens I've been wanting to visit this season.

We headed for the Bellamy-Ferriday House in nearby Bethlehem. To get there, we passed through Woodbury's antiques alley and then headed north on Rt. 61, a lovely secondary road that meanders through some pretty country. We were pleasantly surprised to see we had the place all to ourselves upon our arrival.

Thanks to an Entertainment Book coupon I had, admission for the two of us was just $4. We skipped the house tour and headed for the main attraction behind the house.

They may not be natives, but Chinese peonies do look lovely when planted en masse. I have fuchsia peonies in bloom now, but here at the garden, we also saw pink and white peonies.

Here's a view of the back of the house with the central garden.

Siberian iris lent striking bursts of color.

I was quite excited to see generous plantings of the mystery wildflower that is thriving in my lawn. Thanks to the plant ID cards, I learned it is Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos cuculi).

When it's done blooming, I think I'll transplant them to a sunny perennial bed. My research told me it's a European wildflower that has naturalized in the United States. It''s partial to damp or wet meadow, likes full sun and attracts butterflies.

I've been wanting to get some red coral honeysuckle for my garden. It's a native, non-invasive and attracts hummingbirds. I don't know if this is red coral though.

A vacant one-room building intersects a mowed walkway along the perimeter of the Bellamy-Ferriday property.

The Bellamy-Ferriday House is named after two different owners of the property who played a significant role in shaping its character. Joseph Bellamy was a local pastor and a leader of the Great Awakening religious movement in the 1740s and is the person responsible for building the house around 1754.  Later, in 1912, New Yorker Elizabeth Ferriday and her husband, Henry, purchased the property as a summer home. It was the Ferridays' daughter, Caroline, who restored the house, filled it with antiques and maintained the beautiful gardens.

Lupine and white irises.

I always feel so inspired after visiting little gardens like this.I have so many perennials in need of dividing. But what I really need to do next is figure out how to replace the battery in my lawn mower!