Rain, Rain

29. October 2012 20:48

Shortly the arrival of fall came the weather.  Summers on the central coast have so little variation in the weather that if the local forecasters didn't go out and report from various community events, it would be hard to prove we weren't seeing reruns. 

In the past few weeks we have had some rather hot days, a couple warm and humid ones, and even a few cool days that actually felt like an autumn day.  And then we had our first real rain.  Since I was planning to water so the ground would be soft enough to weed and plant some groundcover seeds, I was happy to be spared the effort of dragging the hose around and adjusting the sprinkler to get at the needed spots.  A week later, the weather was very hot again and all of a sudden there were thousands of baby weeds popping up.  What had been looking like an hour or so with the hula hoe turned into a project for Roundup.  It cooled again after the area was sprayed, but then got hot again. 

As the weather cools once more, it looks like the weedlings are dying off.  As there is no rain in the forecast, I probably should water the area to confirm it is ready for the clover seeds to be planted.





The Good, the Bad and the Ugly ... Bugs

9. October 2012 18:14

Aphids attacked one patch of corn and the sunflowers growing nearby. They didn't seem to really do much damage other than cosmetic. So when I went to check how the corn was ripening, the first thing I noticed were the ugly black spots of the aphids. Then I saw some other much bigger and ugly looking bugs sitting on the growing ears. So back to the house for the camera and bug jar. I didn't know what it was, but I was afraid it might be something nasty and wanted to get an identification. After paging through a number of references, I finally found a picture that matched. It was only bad if one was an aphid. It was the larval form of the multicolored Asian ladybeetle. Although ugly, it turns out to be one of the good guys.

Hall Lizard

9. October 2012 18:12

Yesterday afternoon, I found this little critter lounging in the sunlight streaming though the panes of the front door.  He was way too comfortable to run off right away, so I had time to get the camera and take a few photos before going to find a container to use for the capture and release effort that followed.  He was about three inches long, most of that being tail.  When I got him outside in full sun, the colors of the scales on his back were apparent - yellow and blue - at least for a second or two before he dashed away.

The Scorpion and the Spider

9. October 2012 17:00

A couple weeks ago I was in the kitchen and whatever it was in the corner next to the desk did not look right for just a bit of the debris that has been following me in from the garden.  So I looked closer.  Then went for the camera and the bug jar.  It was a scorpion that had managed to get its tail tangled in a spider web.  Since it was still alive, I got it into the bug jar after I got its photo and then took it out to the front hill for release.  The scorpion looked a little worse for the experience, but maybe was the winner of the battle.  Some time later  I went to sweep up and found a dead spider in that same corner.  Perhaps the scorpion managed to sting his opponent before he was snagged in the web.

We seem to find one of these somewhere in the house every few years.  One prior visitor had gotten its sting hooked in the family room carpet and the threads needed to be cut to free the critter.  A couple others just appeared in the middle of the hallway or even an upstairs bedroom.  How they get to where we find them remains a mystery. 

Ring Neck Snake

9. October 2012 16:56

Last week as we went to put the trash and recycle out by the street, my husband found a small snake outside the front steps.  It was pencil thin and perhaps 15 inches long.  The sun was already past the hill, so in the poor light it looked mostly like a plain gray color with not much in the way of markings.  Of course, we had to get a camera to take photos of this visitor, since we did not recognize him.   Apparently that was a bit threatening from the snake's perspective and he responded by coiling his tail into a cone and pointing the underside at us.  That was how we found out that the bottom of the snake was a dark orange red color and finally noticed that there was a band of the same color around his body behind his head.   So we were then able to identify this one as Diadophis punctatus, the ring necked snake. 

You can find more information about this species at http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/pages/d.p.pulchellus.html

Arrival of Fall

9. October 2012 15:10

Usually I am aware that official change of season is close by on the calendar and start noticing the changes in the length of the days and nights.  Other things had my attention last month and it was a surprise to hear mention that it was the autumnal equinox already.  Sure enough, it was getting darker a lot earlier.  The weather started varying instead of the same thing as yesterday that is the forecast for the entire summer around here.  And no wonder the garden looked like it was well past its peak.  The veggies obviously were paying a lot more attention to the amount of sunshine than I was and it is time to harvest and store the results to have in the coming months.

There have been both successes and failures with the garden this year.  And a lot of learning experience which should help for next year's attempt.  There was just too much, too close together after a while and the peas fell victim to powdery mildew.  I did not take action quickly enough and it spread through the pumpkins and squash.  It was either that or an equally annoying result of vegetation crowding that has been killing the leaves and stems of the tomato plants.  While the peas were a loss, I got a decent crop of pumpkins - one white, three cinderellas, two plain ones so far, and two more still turning orange.  There was a giant pumpkin vine, but the two pumpkins that started growing, did not continue ripening after a point.  The spaghetti squash vine was quite prolific.  We have not had any of that yet, so hopefully when I try it later this week it will be as good as the acorn squash.   The acorn squash plants were supposed to be producing fruit just right for two people to shares, but the majority of them turned out a bit smaller than that.  Hopefully, that was just the result of the growing conditions and it will be more uniform next year.  And of course, there was the zucchini.  We probably got enough of that, but it has not been as productive as expected due to lack of male flowers for pollen.   I will give it a try again next year to see it having a better layout of plants in the garden will solve that problem.

The potatoes have also been harvested and we got a lot of small and medium sized ones, and a reasonable number of large ones.  No Costco sized monsters in the batch, thankfully.   We baked a couple of them last week and they were excellent.  The attempt to boil and mash was not so successful since  they started falling apart before they were done and were too watery to mash well.  They should do well boiled in their skins, the way my grandmother used to do them.  While there were a lot of potatoes dug up, I was actually hoping for more.  I think the soil mix used for the beds may be partially to  blame.  I have found someone who has a much nicer blend that we can use for the additional beds we are going to be making and will distribute this heavier mix around to the bottom layers where it will be fine.  At least it was good enough that earthworms had worked their way up into the beds.  While I was being careful to avoid poking the potatoes as I dug them up, I was also finding worms that I did not wish to injure.

The tomatoes are a partial success.  Like the corn, they seemed to take a lot longer than the catalog indicated to get ripe.  They have produced a lot of fruit despite the problems.  Yesterday I canned the first big batch and had seven and a half quarts.  There are a lot more still hanging on the plants so depending on the weather this week, I could be doing the same again next weekend.  The tomatoes that were supposed to be the ones for sauces turned out to be a problem.  They weren't just lobed like the pictures, but distorted shapes with all sorts of folds that made skinning a very slow process.  It will probably be easier with those to just core and then put through a food mill. 

The corn was the biggest disappointment.  The SE varieties were not supposed to need isolation.  However, apparently they did need to be separated from other types of corn.  When it was time to harvest them, one patch had a lot of colored kernels.  Most likely that was the result of pollen from the ornamental/flour corn.  That was listed as having a harvest time much longer than the others, but they all produced their silk and tassels at the same time.  And the normal corn was not as sweet as I expected.  I will try one of the super sweet varieties next year -- and definitely not let any other variety ruin it.

There are still onions and shallots growing.  They should be about done, but have not gotten the message that it is time.  With both I tried sets and seeds.  The ones from sets were a complete failure.  That was probably due to the huge tomato plants on either side.   For some reason, I did not expect to get much when trying to grow onions from seed.   They took a long time to get going, but now there are some very respectable sized onions out there.  I probably will not bother with sets again if the results in the kitchen match what it appears to be in the garden. 

According to the garden calendar for this area, I should have started a winter garden already.  Apparently garlic, leek, carrots, broccoli and other cool weather crops are better when started in the late summer, allowed to winter over and harvest in the late spring.  Maybe next year when the rest of the beds are in place I will give that a try.

(See additional photos of fall in the garden at http://gallery.vistagrande.com/album.aspx?aid=121&page=3)

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