A Bountiful Harvest

A Bountiful Harvest

If you read the post on this site last Spring regarding all the blossoms on my apple trees, you might appreciate this update on the results.  (If you missed that one, check the Archives, or follow this link:  http://jcrainbooks.com/?p=444.)  I am happy to report that the heavenly scent of those blooms might just be trumped by the odors that wafted from the big stock pots that were on top of my kitchen stove yesterday.  The idea of cooking apples with cinnamon, cloves, a pinch of ginger and another of allspice was a moment of genius for someone, once upon a time.

Thanks to the priceless assistance of my friend Michelle Furnell, a great number of those apples have now fulfilled their destiny in the making of vast quantities of apple butter.  By vast quantities, I mean almost five gallons worth!  In addition to that, there’s a gallon of applesauce that needs to be divided into smaller containers, but I need to get more rings and lids for the jars, or succumb once again to the convenience of the deep freezer.  Plus, the smaller tree with the red apples still holds plenty of fruit for eating fresh, or making cakes and pies and caramel apples.

As a bonus, (again, with full credit to Michelle for washing, cutting, and soaking), I managed to put up one last batch of pickles this morning, so that four and a half quart jars of dill spears are now ready to take their place on the shelf next to the dill slices and the triple-recipe of bread and butter pickles.  Those cucumbers really produced well this year!

Autumn can be difficult sometimes.  The dwindling hours of sunlight per day, the many trees now starting to shed their leaves, and the cooler temperatures that signal the end of Summer can lead to the doldrums.  And if you were rooting for the same football team that I was during the afternoon game today–well, let’s just say they weren’t at their best.  I think I’ll go out to the pantry and rearrange the items on a shelf or two.  Then, I’m going to line up all those pretty glass jars and bask in the pleasure of a Bountiful Harvest.  Oh, yes, and then eat an apple.

Happy Fall, y’all!


May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

May I Live In Your Garden, Sir?

That may sound like a rather impertinent question, but it was indeed how I felt on Friday.  Except the “sir” in question was not a person, but rather a company, and the idea of actually living there would not be practical or allowable.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Shelter Gardens, located in Columbia, Missouri, is just one of the ways Shelter Insurance® gives back to the community, and this month’s view is just the tip of the iceberg.  To help while away some time in between appointments, my recently retired friend J’Teena met me there, and we strolled the carefully tended grounds of the Gardens, a place I hadn’t visited in several years.  She waited patiently as I stopped repeated to take photos with my trusty iPhone, while I kept wishing I’d remembered to bring a better camera.  The redbud and dogwood trees were blooming, a few tulips and daffodils were still putting on a show, the rose bushes were leafing out with great promise, and the violet patch near the back was next to heavenly.  There were flowers blooming that I don’t know the names of (yet), but the pictures I snapped are preserving the images for later research.  It was an inspiration!

Many of the trees and plants are labeled, and we both felt amazed by the beauty of a very large bush with snowy-colored clumps of small white flowers.  “Korean Spice Viburnum” the tag read.  I immediately took a photo of that, just so I wouldn’t forget the name.  Among all the landscaping efforts I’ve made over the years, the category of bushes seems somehow to have been overlooked, but darned if I know why, and this specimen has me rethinking that approach.  The spicy-sweet scent was strong enough to attract us (and the bees, like last week’s apple blossoms!), but not overwhelming.  And whatever fertilizer they’re using over there, it’s working really well, because this bush could easily be mistaken for a small tree!

So today I’m thankful once again (or still) for all the spring things blooming around us.  Lilacs, violets, azaleas . . . I love them all.   I am thankful for a good friend who drove into town just to help me enjoy the day and catch up on what’s been going on in our lives.  I am thankful for companies who look for ways to “return the favor”, so to speak, to the customers, neighbors, and tourists who might have (or maybe will) support them.  And I’m thankful that I live in a place where all these wonders surround me.

What are you thankful for today?  Leave a comment and tell us about it!


Curse of the Sphinx

Curse of the Sphinx

Sure, we’ve all heard of the Curse of the Mummy, but who ever knew there is also, right here, real-life-as-I-type-this, a Curse of the Sphinx?! The Sphinx Moth, that is, which looks benign enough as it hovers around the honeysuckle vine that twines over and through the wrought iron railing by my front porch steps. In fact, it acts quite a bit like a hummingbird, flitting from blossom to blossom, siphoning out the sweet nectar in much the same fashion. But then the blasted thing lays eggs on the underside of a leaf somewhere, and those eggs hatch into larvae, which immediately look for the food on which they grow the largest and the fastest. Today, that food source happened to be my tomato plants, of which I have only two, but those two growing in five-gallon buckets placed on the concrete front steps just mere feet away from (you guessed it) the honeysuckle vine.

What looked like a reasonably healthy tomato plant just yesterday, complete with little green fruits promising a delicious treat in the near future, had become–before noon today–a spindly, spiky, collection of stems, at least on the north half of the thing. And there, blending in discreetly on the undersides of the few remaining leaves, the larvae of the Sphinx moth. FOUR of them! Never having seen these before, I snapped a quick photo with my trusty phone, and showed it to my good friends Peggy and Bert at lunchtime. “Tomato worms!” they exclaimed. “Mash ’em flat, or they’ll strip the entire plant to nothing!” I told the girls that the little stinkers had already made a good start of that job.

When I arrived home from town I wasted no time in plucking the worms off my poor unfortunate tomato vine, but put them in a plastic container with some of the already-damaged leaves and fruit, to save for a few hours. After work, I did a quick internet search to learn more about them. As it turns out, these particular specimens are most likely tobacco hornworms (manduca sexta) as opposed to tomato hornworms (manduca quinquemaculata – easy for them to say!). The diagonal stripes on their sides are slightly different, and the pointy “horn” on their back ends is reddish colored on this type, rather than black as on the other. But they both devour the leaves of the tomato or tobacco plant indiscriminately, and with a rapid pace that will amaze, leaving dozens of little green and black caterpillar turds in their wake. I know for a fact that those weren’t scattered all over the edge of my porch yesterday!

So, if anyone knows of an organic remedy to discourage the blighters (also called goliath worms, for obvious reasons), let me know, and I’ll keep it in my files for future reference. For now, however, I’m not going to stomp these jolly green giants. I’m going to cradle their little plastic temporary domicile in my hands, and walk it carefully up the hill past the orchard, where I’ll ever-so-gently open the lid . . . and introduce the contents to my chickens.

Keep On Growing

Keep On Growing

Yes, that’s more than just the title of a song by Eric Clapton.  Bonus points if you can tell me what album that’s from without looking it up online . . . (!)

Summer is exciting in so many ways, not the least of which is all the growing going on.  My friend Michelle brought over two heirloom tomato plants from the dozens she had started from seed.  One should produce low-acid yellow fruit–yes, a tomato is technically a fruit–and the other is supposed to be orange.  Because I wasn’t putting in a big garden this year, she repurposed a couple of heavy white plastic buckets, drilling a few holes in the bottom of them for drainage.  With a few rocks in the base for ballast and to help facilitate the drainage, then layers of potting soil, compost, peat moss, and old chicken litter, the tomatoes are going to town, figuratively speaking.  Last weekend I saw the first few blossoms, and now there are little baby tomatoes hanging around.  It’s so neat!!

Up the hill in the orchard between my house and the barn there are pears and peaches.  Not as many peaches this time as there have been before, but this does vary a lot from year to year, and the folks in Georgia are still trucking some very decent fruit up this way for us Midwesterners to enjoy.  One morning this week after an overnight rain, though, I caught a glimpse of the half-grown apples on one of those trees out by the dog kennel.  The raindrops hadn’t yet been evaporated by the heat of the sun, and it made for such a pretty sight.  There’s more than one reason the supermarkets install that misting equipment in their produce departments.

Wheat harvest around here is over, the corn has mostly tasseled out, and the soybean fields are starting to show some definition.  Farm country is a great place to live if you like to watch things grow, especially when Mother Nature cooperates with sufficient rain on a timely basis.  So far, the drought conditions suffered during the few years previous haven’t been a problem, and crops are looking good.  To all my farming friends and neighbors:  Good Job, and Keep On Growing!


Springing Forward

Springing Forward

Following one of the coldest winters we’ve seen around here in a long time, Spring seems to have arrived.  I say “seems to”, out of an abundance of caution, maybe because I don’t want to jinx anything.  Also, this is Missouri, and just about anything can happen.  Last year we had snow on May 1, although that is not the norm by any means.  Nevertheless, almost everyone appears hopeful that it’s real, and that Spring has officially sprung.

Jackson & Perkins catalogs arrive in the mail almost weekly now, with hybrid tea roses so luscious-looking that I’m tempted to forget all about past experiences with Black Spot disease and Red Spider Mites, and spend vast quantities of money and time replanting the entire flower bed that surrounds my covered front porch.  My saving grace came last week when–just after the storms blew through–the first daffodil bloom of the season materialized.  And nearby is a super-fragrant pink hyacinth.  Both of them are close to the concrete steps on the south side of the porch, making me wonder if the heat of the sun on the old rough concrete radiated just enough warmth out into that part of the ground to induce those particular bulbs to produce their yearly beauty show first.  Other plants are sending up shoots, too, reminding me that there’s more color to come.  Their blooms don’t last very long into the season, but at least the bulbs keep producing, year after year.

Pink Hyacinth

Providing, of course, that the moles don’t get to them.  As you may recall, my D.G. dog Albert is quite the mole digger (see Archives!) but he’s still no good on backfill.  And replanting the bulbs that get tossed along with the soil if he finds a varmint in the flower bed?  Not a chance!