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.