Maple Flowers

Maple Flowers
Decided to capture these beautiful electric blossoms on this dark overcast day.
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Mr. Groundhog, Please don't be wrong. . .


First Crocus.
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Last Swiss Chard

Here is the last of the swiss chard crop before it was harvested this past weekend. It will be part of this year's Thanksgiving bounty. With one last hurrah It's vibrant colors salute autumn's gold before we see winter's white.

Last Swiss Chard 1
Last Swiss Chard 2
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Blue False Indigo

False Blue Indigo

Here's a somber image from the garden. This is Blue False Indigo or Baptisia australis. The flowers are beautiful in the summer when the plant explodes with delicate blue pea like blooms. In late fall it turns what looks like black, but it is really a beautiful deep indigo. The pigment is unmasked by migrating chlorophyll and displayed upon a decaying brown canvas. The color is deep and rich. This day the Lensbaby offered up a very sharp foreground leaf, adorned with a single droplet of water. The image was exposed using the f4 diaphragm magnet. This was taken at sunset on an overcast day at the same time this one was taken.
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Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Oak Leaf Hydrangea

From the garden as it prepares for dormancy. This spectacular plant is showing some of it's "winter Interest." This was taken during a very gray sunset yesterday. I love the way the LensBaby has caused the color shifts with the background. There was no blue, purple or magenta to be seen until the image was rendered.
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Hydrangea

Hydrangea
Now that I know how to spell hydrangea, I can now write about them. This is the single bloom that came from our potted h-y-d-r-a-n-g-e-a (the e-a kills me), that sits on the front stairs of our porch in the summer. In the winter it lives in the basement. It has finally come fourth with a small contribution to our floral display, and it's a beauty. You may notice I use plural possessive pronouns when I refer to the upkeep and ownership of the garden. Although technically an accurate use of said pronouns, it is really my wife who takes care of the garden. I get to enjoy it. My domain is the lawn, vegetables and compost. Yep, monoculture, food and rotting organics. This picture was taken with my Lensbaby G2. I really have a lot of fun with this lens and I'm finally getting used to it.
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Gooseneck

Goose Neck
Surrounding the birdbath is one of my favorite plants in the garden, gooseneck. Many shun it due to it's invasive qualities, but in our difficult dry shade environment it is kept in check. Anything we can keep growing year after year is a victory. I love it's s-curve shape and the way the compound flowers open gradually from base to tip. The insects love the many flowers and there is never a time in daylight when something isn't buzzing about accepting its offering of nectar in exchange for pollination help.

The creation of this photo is another step in my struggle to become reacquainted with photography. I have now stepped fully into the digital SLR world. This has lead to a whole new way of working with images and includes many new skills both before and after the picture has been shot. I'm now working on my workflow skills utilizing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2. I want to thank Eric for all his patience in helping me to get acclimated to this new software. The learning curve is steep but the rewards are amazing.
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New And Improved For 2008

New and Improved

If you remember last year I asked the question, what to do with a pile of sticks. This year we did not have quite as many sticks but we still wanted a quick way to start our fires. The materials this year were a bit different in that we had a lot of smaller branches and twigs to get rid of. The bundles would work but the smaller stuff was falling out and causing a mess. When you have a problem like this it deserves a creative solution. In this instance we not only solved the problem but actually improved upon the idea we had from last year. The new 2008 models now sport a newspaper wrapper that not only keeps the twigs from falling out and messing up the place it also helps with lighting the bundle. We use newspapre anyway to start the fire so this just makes even more sense. It even eliminated the box we used to align the bundles. We still do like the box for bigger bundles of sticks though. Go wrap some up and burn 'em yourself.
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Peppers are ready

Lettuce and Peppers from the Garden
The peppers are going gangbusters. All the plants are bearing lots of peppers and there are more flowers. Looks like these plants will yield multiple times. We have also shifted into high lettuce consumption mode. It's been nice to bring in a fresh salad in to work everyday for lunch. We are harvesting several heads of lettuce at a time now. Additional seedlings from seeds we got from Florida are sprouting.
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Garden 2008

2008 Garden
We rearranged the layout of the garden this year. No longer do we have one long raised bed, which was hard to get around unless you stepped in it. I opted instead for diamonds and triangles which is much easier to walk around but it's a bitch to maintain the grass surrounding it. Live and learn. One of the other benefits is isolating plant types to control and rotate the harvest. I no longer have to fear the squash taking over the entire garden. They can fight amoungst themselves in their own sixteen square feet of growing space. The plants also seem happier to be in roomier beds living with less competitive neighbors. The diamonds are 4' X 4' squares and the triangles are half of that dimension. I am loosely following the Square Foot Gardening techniques. I need to read the book. We also opened up the canopy so that more sun could get to the veggies. So far with pretty consistent rain and the new layout, the plants are doing very well. I'll list the varieties of plants we have below. We have over twenty five different types. I was surprised by that tally.

Peppers - Sweet Banana and Garden Salsa
Basil - Perfume and Lemon
Swiss Chard - Bright Lights
Chinese Cabbage
Braising Greens - several varieties
Arugula - Perennial and Mediterranean Rocket
Tomatoes - Brandywine, San Marzano, New Girl, Marglobe, and Sungold
Squash - Multipik and Sunburst Patty Pan
Lettuce - several varieties; Oak Leaf, Butter Crunch, Romaine, Trout Leaf, Red Oak and others
Cutting Celery
Flat Leaf Parsley
Fennel - Zefa Fino
Oregano
Sorrel
Lovage
Thyme - Silver Edge
Summer Savory

These vegetables, along with our weekly distribution from our CSA, eliminate our need to get any produce from the supermarket. We are truly becoming summer locavores.
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Following Sara's Instructions

Naked Jack-in-the-Pulpet Seeds
Per Sara's instructions, I donned surgical gloves and began squirting woody white seeds from the little red berries that could burn my skin off. The seeds were encased in a rusty colored goo that resembled the consistency of snot. After a while I figured out that if you rolled the seeds on a paper towel, the rusty snot would liberate itself from the seeds. Then they air dried for just a few minutes. After drying I rolled them on a new clean paper towel. This rolling removed the rest of the lethal snot/goo. I then placed them in a screen type strainer and gave them a light rinse, then it was back to a new paper towel for more drying. The picture above is the end result. They have now been placed in a paper envelope (never put them in plastic) where they will await planting in the spring. Why so much attention to detail? Any time you plan to propagate a plant that looks like this one does you take extra care. This plant has the potential to resemble a penis.
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Jack-in-the-Pulpit Seed Propagation

Jack-in-the-Pulpi Seeds
Sara, Mary and I have been having discussions about the Jack-in-the-Pulpit seeds from our garden. I just thought you'd like to read more about it.

Wasn't that just the quickest little post?
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What do you do with a pile of sticks?

Need to get rid of these!
The above pile is one of two. With the impending arrival of a front end loader coming to increase the size of my lawn, they had to be dealt with. We usually pile sticks someplace in the yard and hallmark them for fireplace kindling. With all the trees that have been trimmed or removed recently we have more than our fair share of sticks! What we like to do is leave them for a while and let them dry out and exfoliate naturally. Once that is done they get broken up and shoved in boxes, bags, bins, and whatever else will hold a bunch of sticks. They are then moved into the house and used to start our fireplace insert - wood stove contraption. Getting unwieldy sticks into the stove in a clean, neat and quick way is a contradiction in terms. I gave this a little thought and came up with making faggots. They would be self contained neat. We would also get the sticks removed from where we need to do the heavy equipment work.

Here's how we did it.
First you need a way to tame the sticks and make them a uniform size to fit in the stove. Most people know the maximum log length for their stove or fireplace. Ours is eighteen inches. You can use any container that will match your requirements. We used a container that is ubiquitous around these parts, a fish box.
Box and string are ready
The box is important because it keeps the sticks from getting all over the place while you collect them and allows the twine to stay put during stacking and tying. There were already holes in the sides of the box and we used them to thread the twine through. This was a lucky find as it really helped keep the string in place. The twine we used is a huge roll we had found in my parents basement. My dad has a neat trick that I'd like to share with you. He always kept string in a coffee can. Poked a hole in the lid and fed the string out from the top. This makes dispensing the string very easy. Another tip - always take the twine off the roll from the inside of the roll. It tangles less and you can keep the packaging on the roll.
No Tangles
OK, back to the sticks. After you have enough sticks for a bundle, it's time to tie them up.
See how tidy!
When tying the bundle I tied the string using several wraps on itself. Instead of one over and under, I did three or four over and under twists. This stopped the string from slipping apart and you could still pull on the string to compress the bundle.
This keeps the thing from exploding after you compress it
Please note I used two pieces of twine to wrap the bundles. This keeps the bundle more uniform and will aid in maintaining it's shape. I alternate the tension until the bundle is snug and then tie the same knot again on top of the first knot. This knot is now like a square knot on steroids. (right Barry?) I used a lot of twine and so I wrapped the bundle several times with the string. This is what you get when all is done.
Anal bliss!
Once you have done one, repeat the process and start stacking. We used an old pallet.
We stacked them on an old pallet
We finished with 52 bundles!
Anal on a large scale
We should be able to now start fifty two fires easily.
If only the wood stove wasn't broken.

One important note. If you use these bundles to start your fire, make sure they will be contained when the string burns. The bundles may expand slightly. We keep ours behind the andirons so they don't fall forward.
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First Harvest

Some brazing greens were harvested today. Washed them well, whorled them in the salad spinner. (We use an OXO spinner. The thing is amazing. You could dry clothes in it. OK, OK, . . . just your bathing suit) A quick saute in butter and olive oil and we took a trip straight to organic veggie heaven. YUM! The first batch of lettuce is doing great. It will not be long until the summer salads start coming straight from the garden. We will need to stock up on salad dressing.



This is our first Planting of Lettuce. Sorrell and brazing greens are in the foreground.
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