Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shadow Gardening

What a strange Summer we had, shadowed as we were in smoke, in the remains of countless dead trees. I know everyone probably heard about the big fire at the end of the Summer near Yosemite, but we also had dozens of smaller fires in our county and the counties to the South starting very early and finally ending just a few weeks ago.

Here's the Rim Fire plume seen from our place when it first started. Every afternoon it would raise its ugly head on the horizon to the North. Mostly the smoke blew North too. The smaller fires to the South are what killed me.

This smokey haze filled the air in June and July. To avoid the smoke, I mostly gardened early in the morning or just before sunset depending on the wind direction and the current fire location. Some days I had to just give up and retreat indoors. I did a lot of reading.

Here's how Sugar Baby felt.

Here's how Max felt.

And here's how I felt.

The Summer wasn't a total loss. Other than me and the tomatoes, lots of things did fine in the smoke. Sunzilla's daughters started a little family and I've never seen so many bees.

They swarmed the sunflowers.

And mobbed the mint!

Squashes did fine. (I know, what a surprise.) So did hot peppers. It's been sad not to have tomatoes with those hot peppers. Every time a heavy smoke would drift through, the tomato blossoms would drop. I had to think up other things to do with the peppers. My favorite was creole made with shallots, hot peppers, canned tomatoes, and a couple cans of chopped clams over rice.

Speaking of shallots! I never weighed them, but I bet I got 25 or 30 pounds.

I let them dry in the garage for a couple of months. What I thought were leaves were actually flower stalks. When they began to flower in the Summer, I just pulled the flowers off the tips. The stalks never fell over so the shallots stayed in the ground way too long because I thought they weren't ready yet. By the time I pulled them, a lot of the little papery tunics had turned to mush.  I used those up first. Then, the bulbs in contact with the fat, wet stalks started to rot.

So I dehydrated them. I still have some for cooking fresh and plenty to plant out next month. Now I know to be careful and remove the entire flower stalk.

I didn't have enough cucumbers at once to make canning worthwhile, so I just made refrigerator pickles. You layer your cucumbers, garlic and dill in a big pan and pour the hot brine over them. Cover them and chill them and they're delicious the next day and for several weeks after.

While I'm on to helpful hints, if you just pinch the tips out of your basil plants, each plant will get bigger and bigger every week. The first few weeks there's not much so I just dry little batches until there's enough for pesto. Then I make more pesto than anyone would ever need.

Then I let the plants flower. This is the last treat the honeybees will have for the year. They've worked hard and they deserve it.

I feel the same way about the plants. They grow so furiously all Summer just for the chance to drop a few seeds. If you let the first few bean pods ripen, you still get plenty of beans plus you get seeds for next year.

Besides the nice vegetables, a couple more happy surprises were in store for me: Apples! Beautiful Arkansas Black apples. I picked them with the assistance of my ever present little grimalkin.

And behold the dahlia! The bulb was a Mother's day present from my daughter. It's just now blooming with no time to spare.

Today I was out walking around enjoying the last of the lovely weather. This has been the nicest Fall in memory, but it can't last forever. These tomatoes better hurry up too! I hope the cold holds off long enough for me to get a few.

The bumble queens are tanking up for the Winter. See the drop of nectar on her chin!!!

The Catalpa trees are vibrant this year, but they still have a lot of growing to do.

All the shade trees do.

Grow little trees, grow! We need your lively shadows...

 They are the only good kind.


  1. Wow I can't even believe what all you had blooming and all the veggies and fruit you had growing. You have been one busy lady. And the nectar on the bee is fantastic.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    1. After I downloaded that bumble bee photo and saw it enlarged I couldn't stop laughing. I've had drooling dogs for a long time, now I have drooling bees!

  2. The drooling bee is priceless, and you've given me an idea for my shallots! I guess the downside of living in or near a forest is the threat of fire.

    1. With fire, we just prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Shallot drying was my first project with the new dehydrator that I bought for all those tomatoes I didn't get. I think they turned out pretty good. Helpful hint: locate your dryer outside or your house will smell like an onion ring factory for a long, long time!

  3. My geography is terrible and although we heard about the Yosemite fire, I hadn't realised it was close to you. It must have been terrifying. On a more cheerful note - love the picture of the bee. It looks like a little mole from this angle. Basil - snails eat it with enthusiasm here - it hasn't a chance. I've recently bought a grapefruit mint which, despite its name, smells like basil. I keep forgetting to try it out in cooking though.

  4. Without a doubt, it was the scariest fire I've ever seen. Grapefruit mint, that's interesting. I hope it's a good substitute. I sure don't miss the snails. (Southern California has hordes of them too.) Our plant pests are of the hoofed variety and they don't like mint either!

  5. Came here via Esther and although you are so far away and your problems so different (here in wet Wales we struggle to light a fire) you really strike a chord. Love the photos. Love the bees. Hope next summer is soft and gentle and free of fires.

    1. Hello and welcome!
      It sure is nice to see a new face here. Thank you for the kind Summer wishes!

  6. Hi Sis-- Loved your pics...especially the bees. It's so good to see that they weren't chased away by the smoke. As always your garden is incredible and beautiful. Love you!

    1. Shucks. It was interesting to see how the different plants and creatures reacted to the smoke. A lot of the flowers just shriveled up, the insects didn't seem to notice, the animals (me included) went into hiding.

  7. Sorry to read about the constant smoke playing havoc with the tomato blossoms and you. I suppose flowers stalks on shallots are the same as flower stalks, scapes, on hard neck garlic. What a great idea to dehydrate them.

    1. Everything's ok now. I've finally stopped coughing even! Those shallots had so many flowers. I'm wondering now if I should have just let them bloom. At least the bees would have something to show for it!

  8. Hello Kate,
    I feel very happy with the update of you blog.
    Fire is really a dangerous thing. You must have had spent every day very uneasily until the fire completely went out.
    I have just remembered that I felt strong fear for a big flame some 10 years ago when a big fire had broken out in a nearby mountain on a windy and dry day in winter.
    I also couldn’t have so much tomatoes as well as cucumbers because of the severe heat in this summer.
    So we couldn’t store tomatoes in my freezer for winter.
    Creole dish seems to be delicious with the ingredients you wrote here.
    Although, I have never eaten your favorite Creole, I would like to try it in the near future.
    I had a great surprise with the rich harvest of apples.
    We can grow apples in very a hot area in summer, right?
    I thought you could only grow them in cold places at a hot season. Thank you for sharing the pictures of pretty Sugar , Max and your great harvest.

    1. Kumittyi!
      As always, it's very lovely to hear from you. Everyone who has been near a big fire knows how helpless it feels watching the smoke and hoping the wind blows the right way. We had firefighters from all over the country come to help with the big fire. They are all heroes as far as I'm concerned and I am so glad it's out with no one killed and just a few homes lost. I'm sorry it was hot in Japan too. Better luck to us both next year! I'm glad you're going to try to make Creole. It really is very good, and simple too. Probably my cooking isn't authentic at all. Many years ago my Aunt June taught my old Irish Grandma to make shrimp Creole. (Aunt June was from Louisiana.) My Grandma was a meat-and-potatoes cook. She was very suspicious anything new so it was funny that Aunt June was able to get her to make something so spicy and exotic. She made it all the time in her own Irish way. The basic ingredients are shrimp (or any type of shellfish), tomato, onion, and spicy seasoning cooked together and served over rice. Thank you for bringing back a good memory for me! You can grow apples in hot places as long as there's enough chill for them in the Winter. Each variety has a specific requirement for the hours of cold needed for fruiting. They also like sandy soil and good drainage in warm areas. Hope you are having a nice, cool Fall!

  9. Replies
    1. My first substantial harvest! Good flavor too. I think they would make good pie. They're growing in the granite from the cut portion of the pad for the house. Terrible soil, but doing great anyway. Fertility is from the clover strip of lawn beneath them. Pears are doing well there too and I hope that someday they'll all be big enough to shade the hot southern wall of the house. All the trees I planted in the good soil on the downhill side have died now, fallen victim to ground squirrels and oak root rot.

  10. I am always amaze how much you can harvest and the fruits are so abundant on each plant!
    Wow so many bees buzzing, shows you have a healthy environment.

    1. Sometimes I'm amazed too! It's all just from home made compost (and bees). I love the bees as much as the butterflies and plant lots of flowers just for them.

  11. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with your love ones.

    1. Merry Christmas to you too!! Next year will be a great one, don't you think?!


Creative Commons License
A Garden in Bootjack by http://bootjackgardener.blogspot.com/ is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.