Signs of life

December 31, 2005

WOW … there is SO much going on in the yard today!

I went out to see what was happening after Ron put the dogs out and announced that there was a dandelion blooming in the back yard. It wasn’t just blooming — it had already gone to seed!

I got dressed and went out to see what else was happening in my yard. Here is what I found:

1. The dandelion
Dandelion

2. Some kind of groundcover behind the back fence
Ground cover

3. Two kinds of garlic coming up
Garlic

More garlic

4. Purple deadnettle blooming
Purple deadnettle

5. Holly
Holly

6. An old wasp’s nest and a spider web with egg sacs in it next to the front door
Wasp nest

7. Some kind of plant coming up in the flower bed (I don’t know what it is; probably a weed)
Whatsit

8. Wild carrot
Wild carrot

9. A sapling (I don’t know what kind) putting out buds. Funny … I never even noticed this thing growing next to the house, and it’s already taller than I am!
Bud

10. Those berries I was talking about the other day. Upon inspecting the leaves more closely, I realized it’s definitely not holly — the leaves are too thin and not glossy and rigid like holly — but I still have no idea what it is. Pretty, anyway.

Berries

Oh, and I heard the rooster this morning, too. We think he’s probably a little guy, because he isn’t very loud.

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m going to go spend part of it with my friend Beverly and her dog. Maybe we can go for a walk and soak up some of this gorgeous sunshine.

I’d better get offline here. I need to take a shower, figure out where I put my clicker and Scout’s old training leash, and pick up a jar of bacon bits.

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to walk along the river trail and take some pictures. A guy at work told me a trick to make my camera turn sunlight into diamonds sparkling on the water, and I want to see if I can do it. I’ll post it here if I figure it out.

Have a good day, and go play outside for a few minutes. See what there is in your yard to make you smile.

Emily


Happily Grumpy

December 30, 2005

My boss let us all leave a little early today because there wasn’t much to do, so I stopped by Grumpy’s Garden on the way home to see what was going on.

I like Grumpy’s. It’s like a little bit of Old Town Albuquerque hiding out at the corner of 15th and Owasso in Tulsa. Pinon smoke billows from the chimineas outside, and the owner just carries stuff she likes — elaborate metal bubble wands, Janis Joplin coats, jars of local honey, jewelry, broomstick skirts, Burt’s Bees products, incense, sage smudges, and a spectacular assortment of stuff for the garden. In the spring, she’ll have flat after flat of every kind of flower, herb, and vegetable seedling you can imagine. If she doesn’t have it, she probably knows where to get it.

I stopped by today just to putter around and see what was growing. Not much — it’s too cold for plants — but she had a few flats of pansies that were too stubborn to die, and a big pot of parsley was hanging in there. I bought a bottle of sandalwood oil, a crazy tie-dyed patchwork batik shirt, and a long, light brown skirt that matches a shirt I’d bought there a couple of months ago to match my favorite Birkenstocks.

Ron said he was cleaning up the yard today when he heard a rooster crowing its head off somewhere to the east of us.

I don’t want a rooster, but I want some hens.

OK, that’s not really true. What I really want is a flock of Coturnix quail. And some meat rabbits. And a pony. (OK, so a Clydesdale filly is not exactly a pony. But Clydesdales are nicer than ponies, and much easier to handle.)

But I can’t really afford a horse, and if my friend Rich found out about the rabbits, he’d never speak to me again. So I’d settle for the quail.

Ron should say yes to quail. A few little birds can’t be that much trouble. I’ve heard their eggs taste good. They would help keep bugs out of the garden. And if I had little birds, I couldn’t have a cat (which I really want, and which Ron really doesn’t want), because it would eat them.

Besides, little birds are cheaper than a pony.

Maybe Ron could get me some little birds for my birthday this spring. That would be nice. I like little birds. :)

Emily


Mystery berries

December 29, 2005

Today’s project: Try to ascertain exactly what I have growing in my front yard. It’s too dark to take a picture right now, so I’ll have to wait until this weekend, but I have a pair of large evergreen bushes in my yard. They have flat leaves instead of needles. The leaves are shaped sort of like a bay leaf. This fall, they produced a prodigious amount of little white flowers, which eventually gave way to little orange berries encased in white husks. The husks have mostly disappeared at this point, leaving the little fruit.

The leaves make me think what we have are Burford hollies, but the berries look more like bittersweet. I know it can’t be bittersweet, because it’s an evergreen (bittersweet is deciduous), and the growth habit is different.

I’ll post a picture sometime in the next few days and let any botanists out there have a go at it. I suppose I could get off my duff and snip a sample to take to the extension service, but that would be too much like work.

I hope we get some rain here soon. They’ve banned fireworks at New Year’s because our recent drought has turned most of eastern Oklahoma into a giant tinderbox, but I don’t see the citizens of Red Fork honoring that ban this weekend. A good soak tonight or tomorrow would go a long way toward preventing any mishaps if someone gets carried away with the sparklers Saturday night.

Have a good evening, wherever you are. Time to slip into the kitchen and see what I can rustle up for dinner. Somebody on a forum I frequent mentioned Vegemite today, so I’m thinking supper might involve Marmite (the British knockoff of Vegemite that we get at the health-food store here in Tulsa) and tahini on toast. Too bad I don’t have any homegrown tomatoes this time of year.

Ah, well. Summer will be here eventually. In the meantime, you can start making your wish list and planning your garden here.

Emily,
thinking that the best thing about winter is that it makes you appreciate summer more.


Strawberries

December 28, 2005

I got outside a little earlier today and wandered through the garden. To my great delight, I discovered a few strawberry plants were still alive. Not much else going on back there, although Ron said the bees were going crazy earlier in the day. They had sucked down all their sugar water and were apparently enjoying the warm temperatures here in Tulsa this week. After losing a colony two years ago to a combination of varroa mites and cold weather, we wised up and bought a Styrofoam hive. Ron has taken some other precautions as well — he treats the hive with menthol to keep the mites at bay, and he feeds the bees extra sugar water, because it’s a young hive (we just set it up last spring), and the girls can use all the help they can get until they’re a little better established.

While I was in the back yard, I also found a lot of dog poop, so I am adding this to my list of projects for this weekend.

We were originally planning to travel to the Oklahoma Panhandle this weekend, but we decided to save that trip for Memorial Day weekend, when the weather will be a little nicer and I (hopefully) won’t have quite so many projects on my plate.

I’m going to fill up the bird feeder Saturday morning and see who shows up for lunch. We used to get lots of sparrows and cowbirds and a few cardinals and bluejays in Southern Illinois. I don’t know what we’ll see here in Tulsa.

What’s new in your yard? Go take a look. There’s probably more going on out there than you think.

Emily


Spring dreams

December 27, 2005

It is 51 days until the Chicago Cubs’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

The temperature was so warm out today that I took off my coat while I helped Ron change a tire on the Insight. While I was getting breakfast this morning at Sonic, I watched a trio of sparrows play under the building’s canopy. We have something coming up in the front flower beds that looks like periwinkle but probably isn’t. We’ve never had periwinkle out there before, anyway.

There were only two signs of life in the garden:

1. Honeybees

Honeybees

The girls were working today, feeding on the sugar water Ron left next to their hive. There aren’t many clustered outside the hive in this picture, because I shot it just at sunset, when the bees were coming in for the evening. Earlier in the day, you would see a lot more activity.

2. A promise

Okra pods

I gathered some dried okra pods. The stalks in the garden are taller than I am, and the pods are completely dry. Baby okra (which we harvested this summer and stashed in bags in the freezer for winter gumbo) tastes wonderful, but once it gets bigger than your thumb, it’s practically inedible. If you miss a pod and it gets big, you just ignore it until it goes to seed. I have had extremely good luck growing okra from seed. I don’t even remember where I bought the seed I planted three years ago. Probably either Seedsavers Exchange or Eisler Bros.

Anyway, okra grew really well in the St. Louis area, and it grows really well here, just half a planting zone south. This variety is Clemson spineless, which produces dozens of gorgeous ruby-throated, pale yellow blossoms every day. The blossoms turn into pods in a matter of hours, and if you don’t check the plants twice a day, you’re sure to come out the next morning and find pods that you overlooked that have already gotten too big to eat.

Just one forgotten pod will produce more seed than I could ever hope to have space to plant in my garden. There are many pods out there right now, so if you want to plant okra next year, e-mail me at sundayjohn66 at mac dot com. :)

I love warm winter afternoons. They’re a nice reminder that spring really will get here some day. While I wait, I am dreaming of spring and working on some plans for next year’s garden, which I will unveil in the near future.

Emily


Back in Red Fork

December 26, 2005

I got back from my mom and dad’s about an hour ago. The stars were gorgeous on the way home. It had been cloudy all morning, and then as I was leaving Southern Illinois this afternoon, the sun broke through the clouds, and I had a pretty drive home (although I spent a lot of time squinting and trying to leave extra space between my car and the one in front of me as I drove into a Missouri sunset between St. James and Rolla).

By the time I got to St. Robert, it was pretty well dark, and somewhere between Vinita and Tulsa, I glanced up and noticed Orion above me. It made me think of a song we used to sing in sixth grade that went: “Orion is a-rising; you can see his stars a-blazing/In the middle of a clear-eyed country sky.” It was a good song. It was about the environment. We used to sing that and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” all the time … which is probably another reason I grew up to be a hippie. :)

(NOTE: If you surfed in here while searching for “Orion,” please click here to find a recording of the song.)

Somewhere west of St. Louis, I saw a seagull — my second on this trip. I think it had been fishing in a retention pond on the north side of I-44. It came gliding across the highway.

Speaking of seagulls, I saw something interesting a few weeks ago while I was interviewing a guy for an article I was writing. I was talking to the guy who runs the big sewer plant here in Tulsa, and he was showing me the different parts of the system and how they all work. One piece of equipment is a sort of giant paddle submerged in a huge vat of blackwater. The paddle turns, very slowly, to help separate the sediment from the water, or something like that. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but it’s very popular with seagulls. There had to be 50 of them perching on the top of the paddle, riding it around in circles, and scavenging stuff to eat out of the water.

The guy said the gulls mostly eat bits of grease that get in there from people’s dishwater and bits of food floating around from garbage disposals. I always felt vaguely guilty when I used the garbage disposal, like I was depriving my compost pile. But I like seagulls, so if I feed them instead of the compost pile now and then, I think that’s OK. Especially right now, while I am waiting to have a fence installed to keep the dogs out of the garden and the compost pile. They seem to think the compost pile is their personal buffet, and no amount of yelling will convince them otherwise.

I didn’t find much going on in the yard tonight, aside from a dandelion growing next to the house. (No blossoms yet — just leaves.) I expect our honeybees will be out tomorrow. Ron says it is supposed to be 70 degrees. It was warm enough tonight that I didn’t need a coat to go out and putter around the yard.

Hope you’re warm wherever you are.

Emily


Christmas

December 25, 2005

I went over to Carbondale for church this morning. It was nice. One of my eighth-grade English teachers, whom I had not seen in years, is the Second Reader over there.

On the way back to Herrin, I was driving across Crab Orchard Lake on Illinois 13 and saw a seagull gliding from the south side of the road to the north. It was really pretty.

My sister and her boyfriend are visiting his family this weekend, so their dogs are spending the weekend with my parents. I took their corgi out for a run around my parents’ property. He’s a good dog — very attentive on-leash. I hadn’t gone for a run in about a month, so we had a good time.

It was misty out, but not too cold. The sky was gray, but the rain had intensified the color of the grass and the tiny patch of moss we saw on the ground. I love moss. I love the texture — soft and spongy and nice to walk on barefoot — and I love how it looks like a zillion minuscule ferns, all bunched up together, when you look at it up close.

I think the thing I like best about it, though, is where it grows. Moss is a shade lover, so it brightens up dark places with its vivid green color. I wish I could replace my whole front yard with moss. 

My little brother is here now, and Mom is making some kind of dessert for us. I need to fill up the gas tank, and I think everybody would like for me to pick up some ice cream while I’m at the convenience store, so I’d better get offline.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying your Christmas.

Emily


Rainmakers

December 24, 2005

I got to my parents’ house around 10:30 last night after a nice drive home that included a stop in Belleville, IL to visit old friends at the paper.

We spent this morning on the Boardwalk in Makanda, where I picked up a copy of the 2006 Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion, along with a new skirt, a calendar that includes a listing of natural events, and a cool butterfly ring made by Dave Dardis of Rainmaker Art. Dave free-flows metal to make beautiful hair barrettes and bracelets and things in his cavelike little shop on the Boardwalk. Behind the shop is a stunning and elaborate garden (scroll down to the July 5, 2004, entry to see a picture and description). We wandered around back there for a while and discovered the following:

Two kinds of ivy (English and something I couldn’t identify);

Lots of rocks covered in moss and lichens;

Frost-killed hostas with dried seed pods that had burst open and were scattering their bounty to the ground around them; and

A friendly tabby cat.

Dave named his shop Rainmaker because he used to go to a lot of medieval fairs and things to sell his work. Every time he would go to a festival, it would rain.

I mention this because, in an interesting coincidence, while I was puttering around in Makanda, Ron was e-mailing me to take credit for being Tulsa’s own Rainmaker: We have not had any significant amount of rain in Tulsa in weeks and weeks, so with weather forecasts calling for warm temperatures this weekend, Ron decided to wash his car yesterday. There was supposed to be only about a 20 percent chance of rain, so he figured it was a good time to wash his car.

He came out of the office last night to find the streets wet, and this morning, he awoke to find it had been raining steadily. So he’s the Rainmaker today. :)

Gotta run. My little brother and his wife just got here, and I don’t want to miss the fun.

Emily


Purple deadnettle

December 23, 2005

I had a long day today and didn’t get home from work until almost 1 a.m., but the dogs and I went outside a few minutes ago to look for signs of life. I suspect their sensitive noses and sharp ears found more than I did, but I discovered three survivors in my back yard:

The false strawberry growing in the flower bed on the north side of the garage — which choked out my watercress and stifled my pineapple mint last spring but looked too pretty to rip out — is still hanging in there.

The sage I planted in my herb bed is still thriving.

And next to the house, I found an old friend: A small patch of purple deadnettle is growing right next to the foundation.

Deadnettle always makes me smile. It grows in the winter, little fuzzy green leaves with tiny, pale purple flowers. It’s one of the few plants with the audacity to stand up to the cold and bloom in the watered-down light of December and January.

I like it because it makes me think of my maternal grandmother. One winter afternoon when I was maybe 9 or 10, Grandma and I were out on the back stoop at her house for some reason, and Grandma called me over to look at something amazing: Flowers blooming in the dead of winter.

She had discovered a patch of purple deadnettle blooming next to her house, up against the foundation. She let me pick a fistful to take home so my mom could see those crazy flowers that bloomed in the cold.

Purple deadnettle is a member of the mint family that looks similar to henbit, except its leaves aren’t as frilly, and its flowers aren’t as bright.

When I count my blessings tonight, I will have to count purple deadnettle … and memories of a grandma who loved me enough to take me outside to pick flowers in the middle of winter.

Emily


A new beginning …

December 22, 2005

If you read the title of this post and immediately conjured up an image of the cover of the January/February 1970 issue of The Mother Earth News … welcome home.

A few years ago, while living in Southern Illinois, I ran across a little publication called The Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion. Created by Jim Jung — owner of the late, great Hillside Nursery in Carbondale — the almanac contained all sorts of fascinating information, including a wonderful day-by-day account of all the interesting events occurring in the forests and fields of Southern Illinois.

When my husband and I moved to west Tulsa last year, I searched in vain for a similar publication covering northeastern Oklahoma. I finally gave up and decided that I would simply have to keep my own record of what was going on in my back yard every day … my own personal little Red Fork almanac.

This is the beginning of that effort. If you feel like listening to the musings of a latter-day hippie, come on in, pour yourself a cup of Red Zinger and tell Scout to make some room on the papasan for you.

It’s 2:30 a.m. CST, and Red Fork is dark and quiet. It’s cold and clear, and as I went to let the dogs out one more time, I looked up through the pergola and saw a star twinkling so frantically I almost mistook it for a plane.

It’s a grand night for sleeping. Rest well.

Emily


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