Not a Zucchini?

There are three volunteer pumpkin vines growing along the side of our deck. At least I thought so. Upon closer inspection, one of the plants might be a zucchini.

Zucchini or Pumpkin plant

Zucchini or Pumpkin? July, 2017

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Zucchini or Pumpkin? August, 2017

Zucchini is an American term for courgette or summer squash. They’re harvested when the fruit is small and cooked in a variety of ways. When left unchecked, they will grow substantially. I learned from Sarah the Gardener that overgrown courgettes are known as marrows.

I’ve never been a fan of zucchini. People wonder “how can you be a vegetarian and not like zucchini!?”  I don’t mind it in soups or zucchini bread, but otherwise I’ll give it a pass. My favorite greens, in the following order, are broccoli, green beans, snow peas, bell peppers, and several others I’m forgetting and then zucchini. Technically, zucchini are a fruit, but most of us think of them as a vegetable. That said it still doesn’t make the list when I could be eating pears, green apples, kiwi, grapes, and melon. Sorry zucchini.

I digress.

Pumpkins and zucchini (or courgettes) are members of the Cucurbita pepo or Cucurbita genus. The leaf and flower of both plants look quite a bit alike. Our plant, however, didn’t develop a trailing habit. It grew more like a shrub.  While making the garden rounds, I notice the unusual growing habit of the fruit. Unlike a typical pumpkin it was long and narrow. When Mike returned from a long trip to South America, he pronounced “It’s a zuke.” He grew up in an Italian family where his mom prepared lots of zucchini in her day.

Apparently I had an overgrown zucchini (marrow) on my hands. I would follow Sarah’s lead and prepare it for eating. Sarah made marrow chips with her overgrown fruit. She’ll show you how here.  Sarah says they’re delicious. I could disguise the flavor and texture through food preparation. Brilliant!

I cut the fruit from the plant and left it to harden off on the deck for a few days. I kept an eye on it outside my kitchen window.

Zucchini or Pumpkin?

Miniature Buddha for scale

You know where this is going, right? It started turning orange!

Not a zucchini?

Time will tell.

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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.

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A Garden Under the Influence of Rain

wisteria vine

Wisteria refreshed

It’s been an extraordinary spring!

Everywhere I turn I see a happy garden under the wonderful influence of rain. I’m taking none of it for granted.

From the self-seeded pumpkins,

2016 garden pumpkin near patio

Self-seeded pumpkin, impervious to the cool night temperatures

to the spontaneous cottage garden

2016 sweet peas love in a mist poppies

My all-volunteer (self-seeded) garden

everything seems larger than life.  It’s rare for San Jose to get rain this far into the year, but we continue to get small storms every week or so keeping things fresh and alive.

I prepped an Earth Box for some pumpkin seeds, and following the package instructions, waited for warmer nighttime temps. I needn’t have bothered. There are two self-seeded pumpkins growing across the back garden doing just fine. They don’t mind the cooler nights and show no signs of slowing down. Emboldened by last year’s pumpkin success (no water, no squash bugs) I’m happy to see these two doing well.

2016 pumpkin vine self seeded

Another self-seeded pumpkin, already setting flowers

The tomatoes doubled in size within a few weeks. I’m glad I staked them from the start. They always looks so small when they’re just getting started, but I’ve learned the hard way how difficult it is to stake them once they are under way.

2016 garden tomatoes

Tomatoes Doubling Down

The raspberry canes survived the move and several of the canes are setting flowers. There is nothing quite so good as a fresh, warm berry from your garden. Grow, berries, grow!

I missed the memo about Nasturtiums taking over the garden, but I don’t mind. They’re beautiful, colorful and edible and they’re supposed to keep the bad bugs away. So far so good so I say “go Nasturtiums.” There are strawberries hiding under the flowers which is probably just as well. If the birds don’t see them, they can’t eat them.

nasturtiam close up

Variegated Nasturtium

Thanks to the heat and rain, the basil is already flowering. The flowers are pretty but they take away all the energy from the leaves so I’m pinching them back every other day. I made this same mistake last year. The tomatoes take longer to fruit so while I’m waiting for tomatoes, I’m having to discourage the basil from flowering. Hopefully I can stay on top of it. Caprese salad is in my future!

I’m really happy with my raised (Trug) planting bed. I wrapped the legs with copper tape before adding a single plant, and it worked. No snails! I used strips of burlap as mulch this year, with plenty left on the roll for years to come. It was also supposed to discourage the cats from using the boxes for other purposes, but they think it’s a delightful place for a nap.

2016 slinky in the planter box

Slinky found her way to the planting box

slinky in the planter box

Cozy

mouse in the garden bed

Nasturtiums and Mouse the Cat

What an incredible spring.

March 10th vegetable garden

March 10th, 2016

vegetable garden may 5th

May 5th, 2016

 

The Garden Hums Along

June is a month of growth. My boys turn another year older, with a year’s growth dutifully marked on the wall. On the other side of the wall, the garden is humming along.

Teenage boys have hearty appetites, while gardens continuously quench a powerful thirst. They appear to grow overnight. It’s thrilling and unnerving at the same time.  Suddenly everyone’s growth accelerates.

On the garden front, the sunflowers have dwarfed the Salvia, though they are by no means behind the curve.

Sunflowers, Salvia and Pumpkins

Sunflowers, Salvia and Pumpkins

By season’s end the sage should double in size. Planting sunflowers in the same bed is a one-time affair. By next season it will be too crowded. I’ve planted sunflowers in five different locations over the years, and as long as they receive sun and outsmart the squirrels for a few weeks, they do well.

sunflower buds

Sunflowers ready to bloom

dark sunflower bud

Another Sunflower Variety

The seedlings at the front of the beds are doing well. They stayed under the screen savers long enough that they were able to take a foothold. The taller plants in the back row didn’t have the same protection, and most of them succumbed to snails. One or two hung in there evading detection, and within a few days most of them will bloom. I can hardly wait.

The EarthBox pumpkins are sending out flowers daily. The bees are working their magic.

pumpkin flowers

Flowering Pumpkins

pumpkin tendril pretzel

Look…I grew a pretzel

pumpkin tendrils

I call this one ‘threading the needle’

pumpkin tendril on trellis

Just like the old-fashioned telephone cord

Today I harvested the first of the delicious, sweet tomatoes and remembered to pinch the flowers from the tips of our basil. Once the basil starts to flower, the leaves aren’t as sweet. I’ve learned to nip them in the bud early. This keeps production going.

If you bend your ear to the earth you should be able to hear it too: hummmmmmm.

tomato harvest

Harvested tomatoes with a cherry on top

Just a Day in the Garden

Things are humming along in the garden these days.  Our tomatoes and raspberries are jockeying for position, and the basil is finally growing up. If you look carefully, you can see it in the lower, right corner of the box near the hose  I was too lazy to put away. [ahem]

tomato, basil and raspberries

Tomatoes, Raspberries and Basil

The potatoes I didn’t plant, jumped the edge of the box, happy in the heat.  The strawberries look nice, but for the first time in my gardening history, they’ve been over run by ants.  Ack!  I reached in for a juicy red berry and came out with a handful of swarming ants along with the fruit.  When I did find an unencumbered strawberry, it looked great but tasted bland.  I think this is the last season for them.

strawberries and potatoes

Compost potatoes spill from the box

My EarthBox pumpkins are growing well, but for some reason the water wicking system isn’t working.  I’ve had to hand water three days in a row as they’re drooping by mid day.  I may remove the compost covers tomorrow when it’s still cool and give them a long soak.  I’ll let you know it that does the trick.

Ever-mischievous Mouse the cat cornered an iridescent lizard on the garden path.  I put Mouse in a ‘time out’ for a spell, then encouraged the tiny lizard to make haste. He was happy to oblige.

Western Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Mouse asleep

Mouse looks innocent when he’s asleep

One of the squirrels dropped by and offered to sample the apricots and plums.  Just a couple of bites out of each one should do it.  Yep, yep…carry on, carry on.  Nothing to worry about here.

half eaten fruit

Sampled Fruit

grey squirrel

Taste testing the fruit: we passed!

I have a new theory about their bushy tails. I think that’s where they store their ego.

In better news, the  fruit covered in netting remains untouched.  Hurray for that.

Thanks for following along on my garden adventures. Your companionable comments are among the highlights of my day.

It’s all in the Timing

Great cooks make it look easy.  They pull together a variety of dishes and manage to have everything on the table at the same time.  It’s all in the timing.

For three years now, I’ve tried to plant the tomatoes and basil so that they’re ready to go at the same time as well.  I love caprese salad, and the novelty of growing two of the three main ingredients is fun.

Here’s one of our salads from last summer.

Caprese Salad

Caprese Salad

In prior years, the basil took off, and the tomatoes took a long time to catch up.  This year all the tomatoes self seeded in late winter, sending me scrambling for basil.  I purchased a small plant from the nursery, and planted it near the volunteer potato.  It was about the same size as the tomatoes when it went into the ground, so I patted myself on the back and figured a job well done.

Ha!

potato plant

Scene of the crime

Something devoured my plant!  I’m not naming names or anything, but their initials are ‘S’ and ‘S’.  Those slippery, slimy garden pests noshed my lovely plant down to the nubs.  Boo!

Now here we are three weeks into spring, the tomatoes are taking off and the basil is…well…gone.

basil plant eaten by snails

Once upon a time I was a Basil plant

I was chatting with my friend Kirra today and she mentioned planting her basil by mistake too close to the tomatoes.  Then it hit me.  Last year I planted the basil and the tomato side by side without any problems.  Since tomato leaves are poisonous, I wonder if the proximity kept the S’s away?  It’s worth a try.

Just before hitting the publish key, I searched the term ‘tomato companion planting’ and you’ll never guess what came up: basil!  Last summer was a happy accident.  So I’ll be headed to the nursery for another small plant, and now I know exactly where it should go.

tomato plants

Hearty Tomatoes

Do you have a favorite summer salad?

Tomatoes, Cubed

Last year I planted Baker heirloom tomatoes from seed, a gift from my nurseryman friend, Doug. They produced beautifully through the early fall.

orange tomatoes 2013

Tomatoes on the vine, 2013

Tomato seeds are small, so I left a glob of wet seeds together to dry on a piece of cardboard.  I usually dry seeds on wax paper, but I was fresh out, so I used the back of a tea box instead. Once dried, all the seeds stuck to the paper.  No worries.  I just stored them in a glassine bag, cardboard and all.  Earlier this week I planted the seeds along with the cardboard in my mini green house.  We’ll see how it goes.

Tomatoes, squared:

In order to hedge my bets, I bought a packet of seeds from fellow blogger Stacey Weichert at Down To Earth Digs.  The seeds from Stacey’s garden are  also heirloom.  She calls them Natures Riddle.  They came packaged in a cute paper envelope. You can check them out at her Etsy shop.

Tomatoes to the third power:

While busy saving and buying seeds, my garden bed had a good chuckle and then planted a few of its own.  They’re  spaced nicely, too so minimal thinning required. Prior experience tells me that these volunteers will be a hardy bunch.  Since I planted five or six varieties last year, I don’t know which ones will come up.

Volunteer tomatoes

Volunteer tomatoes

Tomatoes cubed:

The mathematical goddess of tomatoes is really having a good time with me.  One small tomato plant seeded and grew out of the bottom of my cylinder composting bin.  I don’t know what it’s chances of survival are, but I’m inclined to let it grow and see what comes of it.  Plenty of people grow tomatoes upside down in Topsy Turvy containers.  Why not a compost bin?

Compost tomato

Compost tomato

tomato in compost bin

Composting bin, the long view

In the world of gardening, anything can happen between now and tomato time. Blight, tobacco horn worms, the Cosmos.  Preferring the optimists path however,  if things work out I’ll be giving away little tomato plants all over town.

I’ll leave you with this funny quote:

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad.”

― Miles Kington