Monday, August 13, 2012

Open Shelving

It's Monday afternoon and the dog has convinced me to join her on the sofa for a minute. Plus I'm not really eager to tackle the next pile of blighted tomatoes that need to be cut into pickle chunks, so I've been flipping through the latest issue of Country Living.

I'm not sure why I subscribe to Country Living. It's not like my log frame home is decorated in a really country style, unless you mean in an eclectic-chaotic-haphazard way with a few quilts, vintage goods, and half a dozen cows out back. Mostly I like to look at the decorating trends and styles featured in the magazine, but frankly I don't think I'd actually try much of what I see pictured.

For instance, take the concept of open shelving as featured on the cover of the September 2012 issue of Country Living. This is a gorgeous picture with the apple green shelves covered with white dishes and contrasted by the dark ladder and door. I love the idea of having open shelves where I could see my dishes on display in the kitchen.

But the reality is that this is not a viable option at my house and probably not for most of us.

1. I have an odd, random assortment of dishes that don't always match. Sure, my everyday set that we received as a wedding gift would look swell on those shelves, but not with stacks of Ally's plastic cups from various child-friendly restaurants beside it. Usually examples of open shelving in a kitchen come from houses featuring childless couples.

2. Floor to ceiling opening shelving just means that the dog has open access to lick any plates she wants.

3. Our house has spiders, wasps, and occasionally birds, mice, and bats. None of which I want anywhere near my cereal bowl and I certainly don't want to contemplate washing dishes before I use them every day.

4. Open shelving would make it a lot harder to stash the leftover Halloween candy if Ally and Steve could see right into the big bowls I use sometimes.

5. I can only assume that people who have open shelving for their dishes must live in areas where pollen is not a problem in the spring. At our house those white dishes in the above picture would be approximately the same shade of green as the walls behind them in only a matter of days thanks to the pollen in our area. And if pollen's not floating about, we still have our usual dust year round.

6. Dishes on open shelves seem awfully vulnerable to a stray ball, frisbee, dog toy, or Steve's remote controlled helicopter.

No, I think I'll keep my dishes in the cabinets behind close doors where they'll stay safe, clean, and away from the dog. And where those leftover Twix bars can stay hidden.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

So, where was I?

It's early August and I'm already pulling up my tomato vines. That pretty much tells you how my summer has been this year. The garden was doing pretty well up until late June, right about when we had a freak derecho blow through town. We were lucky in that we had no property damage and didn't lose power for a week like some people did locally. Even my garden survived intact, but the derecho marked the start of the end.

After the derecho we had weeks of dry, relentless hot weather with little rain. My sweet corn started to tassel when it was only about 4 feet tall, but the heat caused the silks to dry out prematurely before good pollination occurred. My half runner beans got tough and stringy right away. The squash bugs took all my yellow squash, patty pan, zucchini, and pumpkins in just a week.

Determined to save what was left, we set up our irrigation system and began watering regularly. We traveled to Texas in early July and I worried about the garden, but it did fine in my absence with the irrigation. The tomatoes took off and were gorgeous. Tall, full of yellow blossoms, and repeatedly needing more staking to prop up the rampant growth. The okra, peppers, and tomatillos were looking good, but by golly those were the prettiest tomato plants I'd ever seen.

Then right before we left for a week at the beach in late July, I found late blight on my tomato plants. If tomatoes develop late blight in late August or early September, you can often still get a decent harvest in before the fungus kills the plant. However, July is early for late blight in our state. My plants still had small, hard green fruit. I didn't have time to get the material and equipment to spray my plants before we left for vacation, plus sprays for late blight are most effective when applied preventively, not after the plants are already infected. Nearly in tears I realized that there wasn't much I could do about my plants and I didn't know what might be left when we returned from the beach. And recognizing that our regular watering schedule, along with me planting the tomatoes too closely together, hastened the development of this fungal disease didn't make me feel any better.

Every one of my tomato plants was infected when we returned. (To add insult to injury, the corn ears that did develop should have been picked while we were gone and had already started to turn starchy.)

Late blight will infect tomatoes at all stages of development, so now in August I'm culling as much of the green tomato fruits as I can. I tried leaving a few infected tomato fruits on the vine to see if they would ripen more, but the blight lesions simply spread too much into the fruit before it changes color and the whole thing becomes inedible. At least I can cut the lesions out of the green fruit and make pickles with the remaining good part, but it's a lot of extra work that I hadn't planned on doing.

It's incredibly disheartening to pick all those green tomatoes and then pull the vines out of the ground when I should be up to my eyeballs in red, ripe tomatoes at this time of the year. Plus, late blight smells foul. The infected plants are susceptible to secondary bacterial rot and that part of the garden just reeks of decay. Luckily the spores won't overwinter on my tomato stakes and the infested plants won't be a problem if they rot down entirely, which shouldn't be an issue in early August.

So it's been a rough season in the garden. Other gardeners I know in my area have had similar problems with drought, disease, slow plant development, and various unwanted wildlife, so I know it's not just me. On the bright side, we were able to join a CSA through Steve's workplace while at the beach, so we do have fresh local produce each week now. And thankfully I'm not trying to feed my family out of my garden through the upcoming winter, but y'all can probably expect a jar of green tomato pickles for Christmas this year.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Texas Lorikeet

Truly, you have not lived until you've had a lorikeet stick its tongue in your ear.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Rambling about Brambles

It looked like it would be another good year for blackberries. My wild canes were full of blooms this spring.

Fruit set looked pretty good, and then some questionable visitors showed up.


These are rednecked cane borers, Agrilus ruficollis, on the wineberries. The females lay eggs in the canes and the larvae produce gall-like swellings that predispose the canes to breakage. However, they're the least of my worries when it comes to harvesting blackberries.

This is the brown marmorated stinkbug, Halyomorpha halys. It's feeding on the developing drupes of the blackberry fruit. Keep this picture in'll be more relevant in a few minutes.

Some of the plants are looking pretty good. These are mostly canes growing in part shade.

Some plants growing in sunnier areas are marginally okay. The fruit is ripening but the berries are small or only have a few drupes.

And this is what many of my blackberries look like right now. The excessive heat and lack of rainfall is killing the canes, often right before the fruit ripen fully.

And remember the stinkbug? This is what stinkbug damage on blackberries looks like. Many of the drupes are brown and look somewhat mummified. I've heard that stinkbug feeding with make the fruit distasteful, but honestly....bad blackberries are hard, seedy, and sour so I don't think the fruit could taste any worse.

Combine heavy stinkbug feeding with excessive heat and you get this: brown berries with no juice! Ugh!

We have black raspberries, blackberries, and wineberries on our property. There are only a handful of black raspberry plants and they did fairly well, escaping much of the damage I've shown here, but I probably only get a cup or two of fruit from them. The wineberries are just starting to ripen now, and they also seem to have escaped much of the damage as well even though they grow side by side with the blackberries. I think this has to do with how the plant blooms and sets fruit.

For a couple of years I've wondered why I never saw the wineberries in bloom. They have fruit, but I never saw any flowers. As it turns out, their flowers are small and immediately forgetful.

Wineberry flowers are no where near as showy as blackberry blooms. And after flowering, the calyx encloses the developing fruit, which might protected it from marauding stinkbugs.

As the fruit nears ripening, the calyx splits apart. By this time the blackberries are also ripening and maybe the stinkbugs find those berries far more attractive in size, number, and availability than the wineberries.

Wineberries will slowly turn from a bright orange color to a deep wine color. They seem to be sweet as soon as they begin to color up, although the flavor continues to develop until they are wine colored.

Wineberries are a type of raspberry from Asia. The fruit is composed of drupes around a pity core that remains on the cane after the fruit has been picked. Wineberries are considered a naturalized plant at best and can be downright invasive in certain areas. I don't mind having them on my property and I'm wishing I had more of them given the blackberry crop this year.