Zucchini divas
Saturday July 24th 2021, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

We have had a trio of young mockingbirds for days, teenagers teasing their nest mates as far as I can tell.

But today the first tomato got its first tinge of pink. And suddenly there were eight of them! Mockingbirds do not come in flocks. This time there was more chasing out of territory, mixed with perching all around my veggies.

But they did not find their way in yet.

One, however, had learned that if it stood on top of the square-metal-cage’s netting where it was a bit loose and bounced up and down, it could get close enough on the downbeat to snag a blueberry. I was so impressed that I figured it had earned it.

Interesting: if you put the phone’s camera right up to the netting you get its shadow in sharp lines looking like it’s draped directly on half the plant, whereas the actual netting is those blurred-out thicker edges perpendicular to the squares below.

While the flowers demand, never mind all that, look at ME.

Unreal estate
Thursday July 22nd 2021, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

The late afternoon shade disappeared into the wood chipper. Thirty inches. The apricot tree is on a roll!

Meantime, I know it rains a lot in Portland and I can understand wanting the kids to be able to play inside as well as out. They do have a nice play set outside.

But, but, that picture # 12.

Someone hung a child’s swing from–tell me that’s not track lighting? With metal hooks into it to the metal chain to the swing? What could go wrong? (No, don’t spill that juice box!) With it set up exactly so that a little kid’s feet can gleefully help you clear that table and that puzzle you’ve just finally put the thousandth piece into.

Note that the other metal hooks don’t have swings (anymore?)

I have questions.


Toss it back to the grizzlies
Monday July 19th 2021, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden,Life

(Lillian ducking into the sunbeam.)

Back when Sam and her family lived in Anchorage, she took us to an ice cream shop, Wild Scoops, that sold local flavors including from fruits I’d never heard of. Salmonberries? Birch syrup? What kind of flavor is Fireweed?

So I ended up buying a cute little 2 oz jar of salmonberry jam as a souvenir to go with my scoop so I could taste that, too, and a small jug of birch syrup by mail after we flew home.

The syrup was okay. I don’t need to buy it again. The jam was sugar+pectin+an orange color to it but no berry flavor I could discern and other than the fact that it was a local thing and a novelty to us, there didn’t seem to be much point to it; let the musk ox and moose keep the berries.

Fast forward a few years. We were at a kiddy park with Mathias and Sam in Washington State July 5th where there was play equipment and a bit of grass surrounded by deep, lush trees and a short trail along the fenced perimeter.

Cherry trees! That’s why all the happy robins bouncing around! Clearly a holdover from when that whole area had been prime cherry and berry farmland a hundred years ago; the now-feral trees dangled Rainier-esque solid yellow and who knows what dark red promises mostly well out of even my 6’8″ husband’s reach.

But we managed to bend some branches downwards enough and we got some and shared them around and they were delicious. Sam pronounced that moments like these were why she was glad they had moved there.

She had already told us that blackberry bushes were the devil, that they ran rampant all over everything with their thorns: the Pacific Northwest’s version of kudzu with an offering but an attitude.

And then I pointed out a berry bush. The leaves were a lot smaller than the blackberries her husband had cleared away from their side of the fence at home; I wondered what they were.

Oh those are salmonberries, she said, a park ranger told us that.

Very small. Half the usual thumbcap depth at best of a red raspberry. Tasteless. Seedy.

And the color. Suddenly I knew.

Some garden catalog three or four years ago had had a spiel about a woman who’d found an abandoned farm that had had red raspberries and blackberries and had found something else growing down by the creek that she thought must be a hybrid of them of some kind. The thorns were a lot shorter. She’d taken some cuttings home. She’d tried growing her new variety in good soil, bad soil, sandy soil, clay soil, and it grew in everything! And now here they were offering this rare find to their customers! In high demand!

I’m a long way from being a knowledgeable gardener yet, so foolproof sounded good to me and I ordered one. I grew it in a large pot, because I do know enough to know that thorny berry plants like to take over the world and I wanted it contained.

I got a few stubby shallow little berries with not much flavor–well, any, really. I figured the critters had eaten them before they’d gotten ripe or big yet. Right? I kept waiting for them to grow into, y’know, proper raspberry shapes. They didn’t.

I got maybe two whole berries to myself last year, but this year the plant grew a lot more and produced more. But the fruit didn’t change at all.

They’d sold me a salmonberry plant and didn’t even know enough to know that that’s what it was and I certainly didn’t. But there is no question. I recognized that plant and that fruit in that park because it was growing in my back yard and knew that it was only a matter of time, and a brief time at that, before I’d be ripping mine out.

All those pretty leaves it took so long to bother to produce.

I confess I’m still giving it (increasingly brief) sprays of precious California water to keep it alive. I guess it’s just plain hard to assassinate a plant you’ve nurtured, even one that would rather stab you than feed you.

Apricot-sized peaches
Friday July 16th 2021, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

Anne stopped by yesterday and got a tour of the trees. We both noted a couple of chewed peaches on the ground–so much for the critters being good about staying away.

I ended up sending her off with a Baby Crawford and an August Pride to let ripen at home; that’s when she was here and even if they weren’t absolutely as perfect as they could be it was definitely better her than the squirrels. She sniffed them and exclaimed over the peachy smell.

That was a good reminder to me to appreciate rather than wish for more. I needed that, and I should have given her more. They just didn’t quite seem to have bragging rights in them yet and I allowed that to hold me back.

But in truth, the Baby Crawfords were already sweet and the yellow was coming in and if it were a commercial orchard they’d have been picking them. Richard and I decided last night that the right thing to do would be to pick all of those in the morning, because once the critters start going after your fruit it disappears fast.

I missed three, it turns out, but I got the rest. (I’m giving the less-ripe tree next to it a little more time.) Stem side down after I snapped this picture and a paper towel over them for ripening, as one does, but it only seems to take a day or two on the few I’d already tried and they were surprisingly good.

But at that size they weren’t going to last us very long–and more importantly, I owed a box of Andy’s peaches to the friend who drove us to the airport two weeks ago at an hour when he would have preferred to have still been asleep.

And so I did, I have boxes now from Andy’s: his big peaches to give our friends and to last us past the weekend, and an older box with mine in it looking cute. Cut them in half to share and they’re a bite each. But a good bite.

Small world
Wednesday July 14th 2021, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

I was looking for this page comparing Anya seedling characteristics vs their fruit and somehow ended up instead at the gardening forum page that had the link that I’d originally found it from. For a heartbeat I was disappointed. Then I decided to re-read it anyway.

Only, this time, while recognizing that familiar thread, I did a sudden doubletake because, wait, if that internet name is the guy’s initials and his unusual last name–!!! and I squinted at the tiny photo–it IS! That’s Cassie’s husband!

Yay for photos on Facebook, because I’ve never met the man, only my friend who married him after she moved away from here a dozen years or so ago.

So I sent her a note. I said, He wrote that two years ago but that has to be him and I have no idea if both of you have any interest whatsoever but if you seriously do, I’ve got some seeds and you’re welcome to a few.

She wrote back quoting her stunned husband: “Those are like GOLD!” He’d so wanted to try, but the four hour drive each way to Andy’s to buy apricots while raising kids and running a small business, there was just no way, he’d finally given up on the idea because it was never going to happen.

And then Google gave me a page that was not the page I was looking for but was the one where he needed me to be to find him and actually see him this time. I don’t have a lot of kernels, because Anya season overlapped with our going out of town, but a few are coming their way.

If I gave you some for this growing season and they didn’t make it, you’re not the only one and it’s okay and let me know so you can have a do-over if you want it.

Tuesday July 13th 2021, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

From Drew51, writing on a garden forum six years ago:

“Reminds me of the fact that Bamboo flower about every 120 years. 95% die after flowering. About 10 years ago a very popular bamboo hit that 120 mark, and thousands of clones throughout the United states flowered and died. Young plants, small plants, big plants, old plants. All the clones flowered, the wood knew its age!”

Me: Given that bamboo requires solid concrete poured 18″x24″ wide and deep to keep it from punching through, say, the floor of your garage if it’s growing next to the house, maybe a do-over on the landscaping like that is not so bad.

Meantime, I found a spot on my scalp a bit forward of my skin cancer scar and got it seen today. The doctor declared it early enough and not a problem enough that she simply froze it.

My head has gone cryogenic.

Cheating on their vegan diet
Monday July 12th 2021, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

I put two tiny squash seedlings to a 15″ pot when none of them were growing at all, figuring it was better to give them a chance than tossing them all straight out, and a month later two plants suddenly finally took off–both in the same pot, of course.

The one that’s dominant is (finally a female flower today after all the males, showing that it’s almost certainly) a zucchini; the smaller one at bottom has yet to announce itself and may get yanked out because you only need one zucchini plant and you’re not supposed to have them that mushed together, are you?

And then there’s this other pot. A squash sown at the same time, transplanted at the same time, treated the same way. Might be a butternut, might be my sister’s Italian white zucchini, might be another green zucchini. All carefully labeled, once upon a time. But it is definitely a bit silly, and I continue to debate trying to somehow get the littler guy in that other pot over into this one before it gets crowded out entirely.

Clearly, planting them inside in the winter did not get any of them the least bit ahead and they got so root bound in their 4″ squares that they couldn’t cope. Or at least I think that’s why.

Anyway. At 23″, apricot 2021 seedling #1 has grown an inch and a half since Friday. I understand now why that other guy said he was able to harvest his first fruit off his tall ones on the third year. Nice.

And on a random note, just because it’s so strange: white-tailed deer caught on camera. 

Eating birds. And eggs.

Deer. I’m trying to grok this. Eating the adult nesting birds, their young, and their eggs. They tested by putting out quail eggs and the deer said why thank you very much! It says elk have been caught eating endangered sage grouse and whatever’s in their nests, too.

Foxes, raccoons, and–deer. Who knew?

Stone fruit from fruit stones
Saturday July 10th 2021, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

Better photos: 2020’s plant, above, started slow and pale and short like that little one and one side branch and the top of the original trunk died by the end of the summer. And yet it survived my overwatering and look at it now.

Two from 2021, below. The taller one grew over half an inch in today’s heat. It’s going to outgrow the cage I have over it when I’m not taking pictures and it’s too fragile for the birds to perch on it yet so let me figure that one out.

I had a trio of mockingbirds, probably newly fledged teenagers, horsing around on the apricot and tomato cages today and over on that peach tree when I wasn’t looking.

By the way, if anyone wants some, I have some new Anya kernels now. They of course haven’t gone through the necessary three months of refrigeration yet before they can germinate.

Five got promised to someone today. I have some set aside for my sister, and the rest I’ll either try to sprout or if anyone reading this wants to try (or try again) let me know and I’m happy to share.

Meantime, a still-cute-sized August Pride peach got rescued from the mockingbirds. And then I zapped the ground around the trunk with an update of the grape Koolaid solution to say hey no guys those are mine.


Friday July 09th 2021, 10:23 pm
Filed under: Garden,History

Anya apricot seedling planted in January, 21.5″ high now. Picture taken when it was too bright for the upper side branches to show up well but they’re there. It’s taller than the one on its second year and much much taller than the others planted this year, one of which is still stuck at about 5″ high. Clearly, planting this one in a mix that was mostly that Quoddy blend of composted lobster shells was successful; it’s the only one that was, but then, I chose the best-looking specimen for that in the first place. I wanted to try something totally different from what last year’s baby tree got.

Clearly, the older one should be repotted in the good stuff too come the winter.

Today this one got voted most likely to end up planted permanently in the yard. Helped by the fact that someone else said the fastest and tallest of his was the one whose fruit came out most like the hoped-for Anya parent.

(Don’t mind me, I’m trying to keep a record of what worked where I’ll know where to find it.)

Meantime, this woman was a kick to read about. I’d never heard this WWII story from the Channel Islands. It was the upper-crust Germans who were sent to that post during her island’s occupation, and because they were who they were it was they who were able to be cowed again and again before someone who so outranked them socially–a weapon she was happy to put to use at a time when there was no other available to her.

The rent for her fief to the Queen has not been updated since, apparently, 1565, at 1.79 pounds. I assume there were no late fees for any interruption caused by the war.

Tree geodes
Thursday July 01st 2021, 10:04 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden,Knit

Dani, whose cheerleading enticed the planting of my mango tree, grew up with two Alphonsos in his yard in India.

They died a few years ago and he told me his mother was devastated.

When I said in a conversation yesterday that we had to get her a new one he said an unseen seed had survived and is now growing back and she was quite happy about that–and I am, too.

That got me to go look. Here’s what you get when you do that. Mangoes come in two types, monoembryonic and polyembryonic. Polyembryonic seeds produce multiple seedlings out of one seed and all will be clones of the parent–except one, and it will be visibly weaker or stronger than the others depending on whose experiences you’re reading on the ‘net. But mostly you get to straight-up replant what you’ve already got and experiment with the outlier. Turns out citrus do that, too.

Alphonsos are monoembryonic. You know what one of the parents is, you know how good it is, but there are no guarantees.

The nearest mango tree to mine that I know of is in Fremont and I’m sure there are no bees making that grand leap across the San Francisco Bay to my yard way over here–I’m pretty darn sure my sweet little Alphonso is a virgin. Still, it apparently means that whatever could sprout from its single-plant seeds could be anything from the tree’s genetic history.

His mom’s seedling is almost old enough now to fruit and soon she’ll find out. I’m really hoping she gets a great one.

Mine tried to fruit in December, lost them to the cold, but bloomed some more and persevered and now it’s covered with them. It takes months longer for them to ripen here than in their native climate but they’re getting there.

But darn if I’m not sitting here after all these back and forth emails wondering what kind of seedlings I might get, too. To find out, I could grow one in a pot, on the patio, on wheels to pull it out from under the awning to full-on sun and back again against the house at night, you know, what I’d originally envisioned as a way of managing a tropical here before Dani insisted I must, must let it grow in the ground and allow it to become what it’s meant to be.

We were both right. It’s much more of a tree and far more prolific that way. Mangoes are deep-taproot types.

So–if I kept and planted an Alphonso seed (space-wise, one would be enough) I could do it planter-on-wheels style, and then gift the tree away once I know the fruit is good. Because by then I’ll be more than happy to give away the impossible amount of excess from my own tree as it is. Hopefully.

Since our rainy/dry seasons are reversed, I asked Dani about watering it, I mean, I’d been doing it once a week all this time so I must be doing something right? He asked his mom.

Oh okay. Twice a week for the summer it is, then. Maybe that’s part of why it took them so long to ripen.

Well that was easy
Sunday June 27th 2021, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Garden

A couple we know called and asked if they could drop by; they’d been baking and had some snickerdoodles to share.


So as we were visiting, I mentioned having this rootstock-regrowth Yellow Transparent tree whose apples were ripe and needed to be processed into apple butter or applesauce; they’re great for those and mushy and terrible for eating out of hand.

They would love to!

And so the four of us found ourselves outside picking apples as the sun headed down. They said how many should we take and I said, the whole tree–please? (It isn’t very big.)They laughed. They got all but the smallest that just weren’t ready to go.

Apple butter needs apple cider–so much better than mass-bottled juice. We had some, thank you Trader Joe’s.

They went home happy to have a tasty project to work on with their boys and we got to be done with that tree for the year. They’ll have four sets of hands coring those apples, and you don’t even need to peel them for apple butter, especially not those super-thin skins that give the variety its name.

And the snickerdoodles were delicious.

Afterwards I baked this recipe with some of Andy’s Yuliya apricots after all that talking about fruit and desserts. Why not, it’s our you-crazy-kids day from when we were 21 and 22. One more year till we get to be Life, The Universe, and Everything!

Friends of trees
Saturday June 26th 2021, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Friends,Garden,Life

Our longtime arborist came yesterday to give me a quote on cutting back where the trees had grown over the house again.

Chris remembered when the mostly-dead olive his men had taken out had been over in that one spot and it just wasn’t that long ago. He kept exclaiming: Look at all the cherries!

His eyes got wide when I said, Yes, and I’ve picked them twice already.

It is one prolific tree. I offered him some, but he said another client had actually already gifted him some. Beat me to it.

I showed him all the fruits on the mango, and he marveled, It was just a little stick! Look at it!

The first time he’d come, he and his wife had had a babysitting crunch and he’d brought his little boy with him. Remember that hat you gave him? he asked me. He loved it!

That six year old is a teenager now and his baby sister is–She’s HOW old?! I asked.

It was not lost on either of us in that moment that kids and trees tend to change before your very eyes, so slow you almost don’t see it and so fast you marvel in awe.

I told him my oldest grandson was ten now. He laughed and proclaimed, You win!

I later asked my friend Nina if she’d like some just-picked sour cherries. She was thrilled. Since we’re all vaccinated, that was the excuse for her and her husband to invite me and mine over for the evening. (Out of curiosity, I weighed the Rubbermaid container before we left: it was over three pounds and even now, the tree is loaded.)

Man did it feel good to sit and catch up as if life had never changed so drastically for so long. We met Calvin and Hobbes for the first time at their house thirty-something years ago, and we have made so many memories since. It felt great to be making new ones.

Holly’s coming by Monday. A bunch of cherries darkened nicely today but I think they can make it till then.

With a cherry on top
Sunday June 20th 2021, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,Garden

(Last week’s photo. They’re darker now.)

I Huck Finned her over by the fence.

Friends of ours dropped by with a jar of homemade strawberry jam and a loaf of banana chocolate chip bread by way of excuse for coming to say hi.

I asked them if they’d like to pick some sour cherries.

Sure! said Phyl.

I’ll wait, said Lee with a smile, sitting down to visit inside with my husband.

I had been daunted by the number of cherries still to go on that tree. They are small and they are many. But being able to offer something she was quite delighted to have felt great. We went through the leaves looking for the darkest reds together and between us we got her enough to maybe make a batch of jam, which is what she was aiming for, and since she’s putting them straight in the freezer for now, that’ll give the tree time to ripen more of them for her.

I’m pretending I’m not hoping for a jar. But I think I will mention I’ve got some Ball 4 oz mini jam jars taking up space in case she needs any.

English Morellos
Friday June 18th 2021, 9:56 pm
Filed under: Food,Garden

I was trying to pick only the darkest ripest ones, but the sun was going down, the going was slow, and it was getting harder to be sure and I left the rest for another day. And because there were so many of them.

I would say there are at least two full 5 quart bowls’ worth left on that little tree.

It still amazes me that you can plant a stick in the ground in the winter and a few years later wonder what you’re going to do with all this fruit.

Thursday June 17th 2021, 11:23 pm
Filed under: Garden,Wildlife

Wait, what? Live in a towering 2977′ Tinkertoy/Lego/AtAt mashup on a lot that is smaller than the footprint of my current house? $1.6M? And it’s only been on the market for 706 days? What? C’mon, people, snatch this one up, pronto!

I was looking at video of the San Jose peregrine nestlings pushing/falling/jumping out of the box today and the thought suddenly occurred to me: I had never really noticed that the dark feathers that grow in first and most prominently are the ones in their faces. The ones that make them look more like peregrines to their parents. (Debating to add about that moment years ago when a two day old hatchling that had barely achieved the white fluffball stage died and a few hours later the parents fed it to its siblings. The kids were hungry. Thus my thought that blackening cheeks are likely protective.)

In the 97F heatwave over here, two of my apricot seedlings grew visibly since yesterday, three did not, and the last one seems to finally be kicking the bucket after a long decline. But it may yet surprise me.