Thursday, June 26, 2014

Turning Tortoise

*This is not a Tortoise.

     The way we live this time of year in the foothills reminds me of the desert tortoises we used to watch in Southern California when I was young. In the heat of the day they would find a shady spot and close up tight. When the heat began to subside, they ventured slowly out into the desert to do whatever things it is that tortoises do. So, every evening at around 9:00 we fling all the windows open and let the cool air in. Every morning we close it all up tight and roll down the shades. Our windows are double-paned and our walls have thick insulation. It stays  cool  almost all day inside our little shell.


     Garden flowers this year are few and far between. It looks and feels very much like the deserts I remember from long ago camping trips. This is pretty much all that's left right now, lots of lavender and one single black eyed Susan. I haven't been watering much. We're in survival mode because of the severe drought. Me and Darwin are gardening partners this year - whatever survives, survives. Whatever doesn't will be replaced in the coming years with less thirsty things.

          I was so happy today to find the first pumpkin! They're the hull-less "pepita" kind, something I've wanted to grow for a long time. The apples are doing very well in the heat and dryness. I'm surprised. I'm only running the drippers on them a few hours a week. 

     The vegetable garden is thriving. It's getting the lion's share of the water. These beds are arranged East-West so that the long side you see here with the bush beans is facing the hot Southern sun. Here's a planting arrangement that works well in this kind of heat: plant something very heat tolerant along the southern exposure (in this case, bush beans). They will shade the roots of the tall things growing alongside them (in this case, tomatoes). Then the tall things can shade the shorter things planted next to them (in this case, peppers) which shade the roots of the viney things planted next to them and dangling down the shady and protected North side (in this case, pumpkins). I do this with different plants in all 3 of the beds each year - it really cuts down on the watering, plus you get tons of food!

     As usual, it all started here. This was back in November. I hadn't been good about turning the compost, so it was pretty chunky. It still had a long way to go, but I was having surgery in a few weeks, so I needed to do something right away. I scraped half of the soil to the sides of the beds, put down a layer of the "compost", then scraped the soil back over the top. When I had done the same thing to the other side, I had a nice layer of raw material under a layer of soil - I buried it!

     Then I was able to plant seeds and shallot bulbs on top. Everything did great and I had something to watch while I recuperated. 

     The shallots loved rooting into this sandwich. They towered.

And towered!
And towered!

     The day I pulled them out, I was planning on braiding them, but the thought made Sugar Baby and Blue Cat too tired.

     So I just bundled them up and hung them under the asparagus instead. Now that the story of the vegetable garden is current and up to date, I'll tell you a bit about our Summer vacation.

     *The little lady you saw in the first photo is actually a giant Leatherback Sea Turtle. We met her late one night on Matura beach on the island of Trinidad. She had come up on the sand to lay her eggs. After a sea turtle digs her hole and begins laying, she becomes very single minded. Nothing distracts her from her mission. We were able to sit next to her and touch her. Here you see her taking a deep breath to push out the eggs. Each exhale sounded like a loud hiss and was kind of scary. Her skin was soft and a little warm. Do you see the tears in her soulful eyes? Well, that's how they get rid of the extra salt they take in every day from the massive amounts of jellyfish they eat. What a wonderful experience to meet this beautiful, beautiful creature!

     On Trinidad we also took a boat trip through the Caroni mangrove swamp. Tree boas dangled overhead, and bright birds flashed through the trees.

     As the sun began to go down, the Scarlet Ibis returned to their nests in the trees. This is a sight everyone should see. The rippling  glow of the red feathers as the birds fly in formation through that setting sun is too amazing for me to describe.

     Here are a few funny things I saw that I think show the sense of fun of the people here. Look at my grinning photobomber in the first picture!!

     We also visited the island of Tobago. It was more beautiful than any postcard and the water was really this color.

     This wasn't the boat we went out to see the coral reef on, but I sure wish it was.

     And lastly, the incredible view from our hotel. It was hard to come home.

     So now here we are, just trying to stay cool and make it through the next few months. I'll let you know how it goes.


  1. Shame everything out there is so dry! Glad your veggies are doing well though. Your vacation looked amazing. Love the turtle photos.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    1. Thanks Cher!
      It's just as dry as dust. We sure had a great time - the turtle was the best part!

  2. AnonymousJune 27, 2014

    Ohmigosh what a glorious vacation! I am so glad you got to go Kate. That turtle is beautiful, but the sky and water images--a real paradise and something to keep in your heart while you cope with the hot summer. I appreciated your vegetable garden strategies, quite brilliant. I will have to keep them in mind, because western Oregon, where I live, is known as rainy, but we have two very hot dry months in summer. That window opening/closing routine is exactly what I do in August.

    1. Linnie,
      I'm glad we went too, and I really can't quite believe it.. Everyone I care about keeps telling me you just have to take your adventures when you can. I wish I had been able to show the people, (it might have seemed a bit rude to photograph them). They were even more beautiful than the sky or the sea. Corny, I know, but they absolutely were.

  3. I love how you buried the compost and planted the garden on top. I too have discovered that bush beans love extreme heat, not that I have as much extreme heat as you do :) Your holiday sounds wonderful. I watched turtles lay eggs , many years ago when I lived in Kuantan, Malaysia.

    1. Bush beans are really hard to beat for toughness, that's for sure. I grow several different colors and save the seed each year. One of the drawbacks of such a productive plant is what to do with the excess - just like squash. I'm always looking for creative bean recipes, although we mostly just steam them and smother them in butter. Aren't the turtles amazing? The guide said they're a living fossil.

  4. AnonymousJune 28, 2014

    What a good idea, to bury the compost. It's such a good idea, I'm going to copy it. You know the saying, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"?

    1. I'm glad you like the idea! That's why I like to share. I've gotten so many good gardening ideas from blogs, including yours! You know the saying, "What goes around comes around"?

  5. Hi, Kate!

    What a great way to start the summer! Glorious!

    We have moved and your gardening advice is exactly what I need for my new gardening situation. Thank you, thank you!

    I hope all is well with you and yours!

    1. Hey Anastasia!
      How nice to hear from you again. All is well here - a bit crunchy is all. It will be very interesting to see what lives.


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