Solar Eclipse in My Garden

It’s been an exciting day here in North America. Depending on where you live, you could witness the first total eclipse of the sun in the U.S. from the Pacific to the Atlantic since 1918.

AccuWeather total solar eclipse

Map of total solar eclipse route. We live in the 70% range – Source: AccuWeather

Here in San Jose, we witnessed a partial solar eclipse for about 2 1/2 hours. It reached its maximum impact at 10:21 a.m. when I popped outside with my camera to take some garden pics.

The occluded sun cast crescent-shaped shadows on the ground and the side of the house. I took this photo one minute before maximum impact.

crescent shaped shadows eclipse

During the eclipse: Crescent shaped shadows cast by the tree on the side of the house

Here’s what I noticed in the garden:

Most of the flowers in bloom remained open with one exception: the pumpkin blossoms. The flowers started curling in, and when I checked on them after lunch, they had closed up tight. Fascinating!

pumpkin blossum during solar eclipse

During the Eclipse: Pumpkin blossom closing in 10:23 am

It was eerily quiet when I went outside. We had less birdsong than usual.  The bees, however, continued on with their day.  I admire their industrious nature and silently thanked them for keeping our planet afloat.

bees during solar eclipse

During the eclipse: the bees didn’t seem to register any difference

National Public Radio aired live updates throughout the day, and though it’s radio and not TV, they managed to convey the excitement as the eclipse crossed a thin ribbon of states.

Back in the garden, I enjoyed the interesting shadows.

Pumpkin in shadows solar eclipse

During the Eclipse: Pumpkin fruit in shadows 10:23 am

California poppies during the solar eclipse

During the eclipse: California poppies 10:24 am

pumpkin shadow during solar eclipse

During the eclipse: Arching ribbon of shadow on the pumpkin’s surface 10:35 am

Indoors, the cats were oblivious. (See Monday through Sunday for comparison…ha!)

Did you witness all or part of the eclipse today?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Giving Pumpkin

On a cool winter day, long before its scheduled appearance, a tiny pumpkin seed broke ground. How quaint, I thought, but how could it last? It was still cold at night.

pumpkin-march-4th

Pumpkin Sprout * March 4th, 2016

According to my seed packet, pumpkin seeds should go in the ground in May after “danger of frost has passed.” It was early March after all.

green-pumpkin-in-gravel

The start of something special

pumpkin-vines-may-2016

Pumpkin Vines (foreground). My crop grown from seeds in the Earth Box. RIP my failed little crop. * May, 2016

pumpkin-vines-may-26-with-mouse

Pumpkin Vines and a Strolling Mouse the Cat * May 26th, 2016

As weeds appear, they are unceremoniously tugged from the earth, but I let other tiny seedlings grow. When it comes to my garden I’m part dictator (off with their weedy heads) and part socialist (everyone deserves a fair chance).  I didn’t pamper the pumpkin, but I didn’t discourage it either. Before long, we were checking on the plant every day.  In the heat of summer, pumpkin vines grow like weeds. Curly tendrils grab hold of nearby plants and meander across the garden. The Giving Pumpkin took off before spring!

If you’re new to planting pumpkins, it goes like this: the seed sprouts and a small plant appears. Several leaves form and the vine trails. Male flowers start to grow on the vine, opening by day, closing at night, and dropping from the vine within a day or two.

pumpkin-flower-may-7

Male Pumpkin Flower * May 7th, 2016

Then the female flowers appear and the bees are on the job. The bees travel between blooms, cross-pollinating as they gather nectar for the hive.

female-pumpkin-bloom

Female Pumpkin Flower

Presto! Tiny green pumpkins begin to form on the vine. It’s not a done deal by any means. Those tiny pumpkins might last a day or two before shriveling and dropping to the ground. Sooner or later though, a glorious pumpkin takes hold and off it grows. If you’re lucky, the fabulously forming fruit goes undetected by rats, squirrels and the dreaded squash bugs.

pumpkin-turning-color-june

Turning Orange in the Sun * June, 2016

The size of the mature leaves closely determines the size of the pumpkin.

large-pumpkin-leaf

Pumpkin leaf correlates to the size of the fruit

Here’s what’s new this year with this fabulous giving pumpkin. As the fruit forms, the energy diverts from the plant to the fruit.  In the past, once that happened there was no turning back. In rapid succession, the leaves turned ashy, literally crumbling to dust in your hands.

pumpkin-leaves-turn-an-ashy-grey

Pumpkin leaves turn to ash

I removed the dead leaves, harvested all three pumpkins, and figured that was that. My son asked it we could leave the vine a little longer, as we spotted a tiny budding pumpkin. So we did. To my delight, several new leaves formed at the joints and the vine took on a second life: more leaves, more flowers, more fruit. I’ve never “grown” such a prolific pumpkin.

pumkins-at-dusk-june-10

Pumpkin Vine at Dusk * June 10th, 2016

new-growth-on-self-seeded-pumpkin

New growth on the self seeded pumpkin

three-pumpkins

Tall twins and a cousin * August 9th, 2016

pair-of-pumpkins

A Second Pair of Pumpkins * August 9th, 2016

The average life of a pumpkin plant is 90 to 125 days from seed to maturity. When I harvested the last pumpkin we were well into October.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

What a fabulous crop! I may start following Pauline’s advice. I’ll just toss a bunch of seeds over my shoulder and let nature do the rest. This season was great fun.

*With a tip of my hat to Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree.

Note: On October 31st, my husband carves the pumpkins and we display them on the deck. We average 300 costumed children at our door each year. It’s a festive night. Here are some of his carvings from prior years.

Save

Save

Save

Autumn on My Mind

Are you following Kerry at Love Those Hands at Home?
If not, you won’t want to miss her sumptuous love letter to Autumn. Here’s an excerpt

Autumn seduces me, energizes me, makes me feel alive. My blood sings and fizzes like champagne when autumn comes to me.  – KerryCan

You can read her entire post here.

It’s a gorgeous piece of writing, and one that perfectly captures my feelings of the approaching season.

Even in California with our subtle, seasonal changes, the arrival of autumn is unmistakable. Breezes finally blow through the valley, chasing away the ugly smog. The last of the pumpkin vines shrivel and die, but not before gifting us their wonderful fruit.

Dusk settles in earlier, and for this fair-skinned gardener, working longer hours outdoors is no longer unthinkable.

I cleared out the back corner of the garden, pruning away overhanging limbs, dead leaves and the growing layer of pine needles.  Look at this pile?

garden waste pile

Pile of pine needles, dead leaves and tree pruning. (Slinky’s tiny feet in the background)

garden corner after pruning

After: I don’t have a good before, but you saw the pile (Slinky’s ears in the lower corner)

Ironically, the pumpkins I planted in May were a complete fizzle, while the self seeded (squirrel-planted) vines were a hit. One of those vines produced four tall, hefty carving pumpkins, ready for our resident, master carver (Mike).

A second vine produced one basketball sized pumpkin, took a rest, then pumped out a second pumpkin, turning a lovely shade of orange.

round pumpkins four days apart

A third vine tip-toed up on us, producing a perfect little pumpkin the size of a cherry tomato. Then in the dead of night a critter ate it for supper.  Boo-hoo! But wait…another pumpkin eventually took its place and it too is turning orange.

protected pumpkin

“Under Armour” Pumpkin

protecting the pumpkin long view

Tiny pumpkin, big fortress

Summer is far from over. Even when the autumnal equinox rolls around, we’re still in for a few more heatwaves. That said, the California Gray squirrels have stepped up their game, knowing intuitively what lies ahead. Indoors, Slinky is getting a head start on snuggle weather. She’s resting in my lap on a soft blanket, her coat still shiny on her diminished frame.

slinky, august 2016

Slinky Malinki

There’s an interesting conversation going on in the comment thread of Kerry’s post on the origins of  the use of the word “fall” vs “autumn”. Here’s what I learned:

Fall and autumn are both accepted and widely used terms for the season that comes between summer and winter. Some who consider British English the only true English regard fall as an American barbarism, but this attitude is not well founded. Fall is in fact an old term for the season, originating in English in the 16th century or earlier. It was originally short for fall of the year or fall of the leaf, but it commonly took the one-word form by the 17th century, long before the development of American English. So while the term is now widely used in the U.S., it is not exclusively American, nor is it American in origin. – Source: Grammarist

I love learning the origin of a word. While I know my Southern Hemisphere friends are looking forward to fall, how about the rest of you? Are you ready to say goodbye to summer and to welcome the ‘fall of the year’?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Pumpkins in July?

Seriously.

After my squash bug infestation a few years ago, and a follow on year resembling squash bug Armageddon, I stopped planting pumpkins for a few years. With little rain over a four-year period, those pumpkin-sucking bugs easily over-wintered and destroyed my meager crop. Twice.

Last summer, something amazing happened: one noble pumpkin grew in the middle of my former lawn. Without any water and not a squash bug in sight, the plant served up a perfectly formed and cherished pumpkin. I’ve since learned that pumpkin plants can survive on morning dew, taking in the moisture through their straw-like stems and delivering it to the root of the plant. Color me impressed!

This year we had our first season of near-average rainfall. We also installed a rain water catchment system.

rainsavers collage

Rain Catchment System

I took the plunge and bought a package of seeds. I prepared one of my Earth Boxes and waited for the temperatures to rise. The packet directions said to plant once night-time temperatures were consistently above 50 degrees F (10C) which for San Jose is usually May.

Meanwhile, seeds planted last fall by our neighborhood squirrels took root. They found a home near the patio in the newly planted, drought-tolerant garden. I let them grow of course, but figured the cold nights that followed would dash our hopes. As the temperatures rose and I planted my own seeds, the squirrel’s garden happily meandered along, pest-free and robust.

Pumpkin Vines 2016 collage

A pumpkin we will grow

One plant stayed small, and produced a single, perfectly formed round pumpkin. It started out dark in color, almost a pine green, before turning a lovely orange. The sister plant took off across the garden, racing toward the swing and sending out runners in both directions.

Pumpkin Vines near gravel 2016

The Meandering Pumpkin

The second pumpkin plant produced four tall pumpkins before the vine started dying back.

We were eager to harvest them before the squirrels stopped by for lunch. We put them in our garage to let the stems dry for a few days, then brought them into the house. Typically we wouldn’t be harvesting until September.

As I ready for my trip to Canada on Monday, I’ll leave it to my son to harvest the last three pumpkins. He’s looking forward to it. Meanwhile, the tomatoes are flush, producing a delicious crop. My new favorite is a ‘Black Cherry’, a sweet and juicy heirloom tomato that is melt-in-your mouth delicious. I’m definitely saving seeds for next year.

assorted heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes: ‘Mr. Stripey’ and ‘Black Cherry’

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

Tomatoes and Pumpkins in July

I’m in count-down mode: Edmonton here I come!

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Busyness of Life: Wires, Cables and Primary Elections

I know, I know. That is such a labored title for this post. I haven’t blogged for a while and I didn’t want to leave anything out. It’s not that I think you’re sitting around waiting to hear what I have to say. It’s more that when you write a blog, it gives you the opportunity to express some of the jumble that occupies your brain.

Let’s start with the wires, the electrical transmission wires that travel along the fence line of our property and carry several thousands volts of electricity. I glanced out of the kitchen window to see a firefighter approaching our front door. I asked him if everything was okay and he said “yes, as long as you stay out of your back yard.”

Oh no!

My garden!

my garden

My garden, not far from the pine tree

He said that a neighbor reported sparks coming from the power line and that a crew from PG&E (Pacific, Gas & Electric), would arrive shortly.

Yikes!

By the end of the night it seemed to have all blown over and no one said another word. We assumed it was a false alarm.

The following morning, three PG&E trucks were on the scene, along with two large tree-trimming trucks with crew and a couple of supervisors assessing the problem. It turns out that the neighbor’s pine tree, a tree large enough to span four properties, had a broken limb resting on the line. The crew disconnected power to our home and surrounding neighbors while crews went up into the tree and removed the offending branches.

I brought Slinky indoors for the day, worried that she would either get under foot or have something fall on her. They were able to restore the power by late afternoon, and all was well. No fire as a result of the falling branch, and a nicely trimmed tree in the process.  I’m always a bit unsettled to see workers climbing so high into trees, followed by the awful noise of chain saws and stump grinders. It was a relief when they were finally done.

This past Tuesday, we offered our garage as a local polling place. This is something we’ve been doing for a decade. It’s a nice way to take part in our civic duties in addition to voting.

Our garage the night before the election

Our garage the night before the election

If you follow the primary process in the US, you’ll know it’s been a contentious year. I’m happy to have cast my ballot *in our garage* and delighted too that my son could vote for the first time. He turned 18 last June. With all that foot traffic, I made sure Slinky was outside all day, safely enclosed in her favorite outdoor spot.

slinky in her greenhouse

Slinky’s shelter from the rain

The poll workers, all volunteers, are a wonderful group of people. I served coffee and tea along with bagels and cookies throughout the day, and enjoyed the festive environment of seeing neighbors and friends approach our home to vote. The poll workers arrive at 6 am and stay past 9. It’s a long day for them. I appreciate their commitment to the process. I also wonder to myself why everyone doesn’t exercise their right to vote in this country.

roses from Barb

A stunning surprise. These flowers arrived after election day from my friend, Barb. The card said “thank you for your public service. I would vote for you and day.” The sweetest! These flowers and her thoughtfulness  made my day.

Friday, while I was out running errands, a friend called to tell me that Comcast (our internet and cable company) had a representative walking around our garden. I headed home to a note on the door with a vague description of the problem and a request to call their toll-free number. Time spent on phone calls and trouble shooting led nowhere. The customer service rep kept reading from a script, and was ultimately unable to tell me what was wrong.  We went to bed that night without internet, and woke to another Comcast worker wandering around the garden. It’s been one of those weeks.

This morning’s technician told me that squirrels had chewed the lines, weakening the connections so they shut them all down. He had to string new cable through our yard as well as the house behind us. Once they replaced the cable, our internet was up and running. As the technician headed for the door, he told me that I had the “perfect garden for squirrels.”  If he only knew.

My 2016 swing cover remains intact, while the squirrels moved to higher ground.

garden swing cover 2016-004

The Garden Swing: 2015 Edition

I told the tech that the squirrels were doing their part for the economy, keeping Comcast workers employed.

In between the comings and goings of firefighters, PG&E crews, cable technicians and voters, it’s been a hectic start to June.  I’ve been gardening early to avoid the oppressive heat, working on a couple of big projects during the day, and still managed to squeeze in our monthly book club. We celebrated our oldest son’s 19th birthday and both boys finished school for the summer.

I’ve been wondering why I’ve been so tired, but I think I know. I’m missing my introvert time, the hours spent in quiet solitude, reading, writing, gardening or just sitting and petting one of the cats.

It’s been lovely visiting other blogs today and nice to catch up on everyone’s news.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Perhaps like me you’re a bit of both.

Save

Save

Mad About Pumpkins

We’re mad about pumpkins. We grow them, dress them up and carve them for Halloween. Without further ado, some of my favorite pumpkins from the past decade.

Decorating for Halloween

This is my favorite time of year to decorate. It’s fun cobbling things together, letting my creative juices flow.

My 15-year-old son also loves to decorate using over-sized lawn inflatables. Between the two of us, we draw lots of passersby, though with the under five set, my son is the reigning champ.

marcia in the arms of the dragon

My friend Marcia poses with the dragon

That’s Boomdee on her recent visit, checking out the dragon after dark.
kelly with dragon inflatable

Our home office and kitchen both face the street, so part of the fun for me is watching others enjoy the decorations. Neighbors  stop to comment and occasionally pose for pictures with the giant cat or dragon. My next door neighbor runs a daycare, so those children run and play between the inflatables in the late afternoon as they wait for their parents.

Occasionally the inflatables annoy one or two dogs, which makes me smile. It’s hard to imagine what must go through the dog’s head when he sees a towering dragon suddenly appear on his daily walk. Lots of barking ensues, but by Halloween, even the dogs have sorted out real from pretend. In short, it’s a lot of fun outside my window this time of year.

Here’s what we’ve been up to.

Throughout the summer, tree rats feast on our oranges, then drop the hollowed rind to the ground. Most of the fruit decays, but several simply dried leaving a hard shell. One of them reminded me of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.  I started collecting the hardened rinds and created a  display.

I used one of my glass vases, some dried moss, old bits of Baby’s Breath flowers and the dried oranges. I topped it with a spooky spider for a “decadent” display. I used a burlap remnant left over from Fran’s bunting project as a table runner. You can read more about that here.

dried orange arrangement

Dried Orange Arrangement inspired by The Scream

Halloween decorations on deck

Rearranged Deck Furniture

Every year I haul out this old, plastic skeleton. The head is long gone, so I improvised with a plush pumpkin, a rain stick and my garden hat. That’s my doppelgänger this year. She has her feet up and an elongated neck from slumping too much on the couch. I seem to need an inordinate amount of sleep lately, so when I sit in the evenings on the couch, it’s not long before I fall asleep.

garden skeleton

Skeleton Gardener

Indoors, I decorated a side table with several of my autumn and Halloween treasures.

My friend Stephanie made the chalk art as a gift for last year’s birthday.

That gorgeous art canvas is the handiwork of Boomdee’s fellow Urban Girl, Lynette. Boomdee convinced her to part with this beauty and brought it all the way from Canada for my birthday.

The Halloween card is also a gift, along with the bewitched cat. It’s pretty cool having a birthday and Halloween in the same month.

indoor Halloween decor

Halloween-ready side table filled with personal treasures

Do you remember this?

dried pumpkin

Last season’s pumpkin shell

When I turned my compost pile, a shell from last year’s pumpkin rolled out in near-perfect shape. The crown is missing but no matter. I brushed away the dirt, wiped the surface with a soft rag, and painted on a bit of sparkle. Good as new. I filled the opening with a handful of green yarn and this toy ring. It’s my pumpkin send up to Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster.

compost pumpkin

The shell of a pumpkin, rescued from the compost pile

This little clay pumpkin is a favorite. My son made this in art class a few years back. He did a nice job reproducing the details of a real pumpkin from memory.

clay pumpkin

My son made this clay pumpkin one year in art class

The clock is ticking. Halloween is just four days away.

Do you like Halloween as much as we do?