After thinning the grapes from some of the grape bunches, I wasn’t expecting to see a difference so quickly in the size of the grapes. But just a few weeks out and the grapes on the thinned bunches are already much larger than those on the unthinned bunches.
We survived our six day heat wave. It’s the first time we’ve ever experienced six days in a row of 80º days. “You poor babies,” someone living in the Midwest told me when I told them about our unprecedented heatwave. Which if you are used to real heatwaves is the truth. Still it is troubling and it seems that the Skagit Valley is destined to be California North in a few decades.
The hydrangea are in bloom. They look like gatherings of blue butterflies. Just looking at them gives a cooling effect.
The Sungold tomatoes are ripe for picking. These are my favorite tomatoes. They are like popping candy in your mouth and they rarely make it indoors to the dinner table. I can pick a handful of them, but by the time I walk inside, they are all gone.
Potato flowers bloom in a gentle July. I’m not sure why potato flowers aren’t a stable in floral shops during mid July and early August. I like cutting them and putting them in vases.
The dogwood at the edge of the woods is in full bloom. Hemmed in by cedars, it climbs between the evergreens. It’s flowers look like a flock of birds flying between the trees. Why “dogwood” and not “flying dove tree”? One idea is that “dogwood” comes from the Old English “dagwood” meaning that the slender branches were good for making “dags” (sharp objects). Though there is no documentation to back this up. Then again, there isn’t a huge library of Old English material. There are some 400 surviving manuscripts from this time. So the chances of one of those manuscripts bothering to mention “dagwood” is slim.
I took an Old English class in college. My textbook from that class is somewhere. None of us would understand a thing an Old English speaking person would say. You can hear someone recite the Lord’s Prayer in Old English here. Though I doubt someone from 200 years in the future will be able to understand a thing we say.
Fiddle ferns overgrow a stretch of path each spring. They are drying out now. So I pluck the fiddle ferns which tower over my head and lay them down on the path. As their fronds dry out, they make the softest of paths to walk on.
Can a sky be more like a gentle July? White clouds on a cobalt blue sky. What would it be like if we could hear the clouds float by and we could tell by the sound if it was a puffy cloud or a thin, scrabble one. Instead of lying in the grass and watching the clouds go by, we’d sit with our eyes closed listening to them, getting chills up and down our spines as we hear approaching ominous ones, waiting for the crack of thunder. Or the soft sounds of puffy clouds would lull us to sleep.
Happiness is a bounty of flowers at hand to decorate the table. The roses and lavender I planted last year bring me more happiness than I imagined. A good reason to plant more this year.
Grapes in Japan tend to be huge. The clusters have individual grapes two to three times the size of the grapes my grape vines produce. I was curious how they do this. Is it years of selecting varieties? Special fertilizers? Secret growing methods?
I recently saw a news feature explaining how this works. It”s all snip, snip, snip. When the grape clusters are just forming, the grape farmers reduce the number of clusters to a few per stem, and then remove most of the budding grapes from each cluster, leaving just 10% or so of the grapes to form.
With so few grapes left, the grapes grow fat and juicy.
These are my grape clusters from prior years. There is nothing wrong with them, but I’ve got so many grape clusters I have room to experiment.
So I’ve taken these forming grape clusters and snipped them to this:
I’ll experiment with more clusters to see what is the optimal pruning to get the biggest grapes. One site I looked at said I need to remove the top third of the cluster or so, and thin out the remaining cluster.
The news article I saw showed AI smart glasses developed for pruning the clusters. When someone looks at a cluster through these AI smart glasses, software highlights the sections of the cluster to remove. So even inexperienced people can wear the smart glasses and see which grapes to remove. The AI smart glasses being developed by University of Yamanshi also count the number of grapes in a cluster.
There are hundreds of clusters so I can run all kinds of experiments this summer. I’ll skip the AI smart glasses for now.
But a side benefit of grape cluster thinning is being out with the ripening thimble berries. It is high summer with these berries ripening.
Nothing says summer like a handful of thimble berries.
Snow gave up brooding a few days ago so she won’t be hatching ducklings, not this year. She still fluffs up like a brooding hen when I approach her. It would be nice to have a chat with her. “What went wrong, Snow?” Or how she feels about her eggs not hatching.
Gray is still on her nest. I’m hopeful she will succeed in hatching her eggs. Her nest was more defined when she started brooding and it is well hidden.
What does a duck think while she waits for her eggs to hatch? Does she spend most of the time sleeping? Or does she look down at the pond and wish she could spend the day swimming about?
Someday we will have figured out how brains work and our phones will be able to pick up the slightest electrical impulses any brain emits. All we will have to do is point our phone at a brain and understand what it is thinking. We won’t have to try and decipher a cat’s meow or a dog’s bark. Our phones will tell us exactly what our pets are thinking. Which means we’ll have to go about with special helmets that shield our brains from everyone eavesdropping on our thoughts. If we don’t when we walk into a store, the store will know instantly what we are wanting to buy, correlate it with our mood, and up the price of everything we want to the maximum amount we are willing to pay for it.
But it’s not something we need to worry about yet, at least not this year.
The future sounds bleak and dystopian. It can also be one of endless possibilities. Which way will we go? What is dystopian for some will be paradise for others, and vice versa.
The Loosestrife is in full bloom. From a small sprig, it has grown into a huge sprays of lovely yellow flowers. A Lysimachia there are many varieties of this genus. Though varieties of Lythrum are also called Loosestrife.
The name Lysimachia comes from the ancient king of Sicily, Lysimachus. He used a Loosestrife to calm a mad ox by feeding the plant to the ox. He must have been quite the character because historians report that Alexander the Great tossed him to a lion to punish him. But Lysimachus earned Alexander’s respect by killing the lion with his bare hands.
After the solstice the sun appears. Warmth finally fills the Skagit Valley and bees are everywhere, at least in my little neck of the woods.
I planted English Daisies this year. I read that they are also called lawn daisies because they can establish themselves in lawns. Go at it English Daisies. Cover as much of the lawn as possible. I’d rather look out over a carpet of red, pink, and white flowers than green lawn. The bees would prefer English Daisies to grass too.
One tired bee died in one of the English Daisies. Maiden bees live but six weeks or so. What a lovely place to have your last breath. What do bees dream of when they tire out and are about to expire? Do they dream of returning to their hive? Or are they glad to rest forever inside a soft flower? What about the other bees from her hive? When they fly by and see her there, do they go tell the others when they return to the hive?
The lavender I planted last year are blooming. This is another favorite of the bees. Sometimes a swarm of bees vibrates every flower on a lavender bush. Maybe the lavender have a word for when every one of their flowers is being vibrated by bees. A beegasm? It must make the whole lavender bush shiver with delight.
The Stewartia is blooming. One of my favorite flowering trees. The name comes from a Scottish botanist, John Stuart. A native tree of Japan, Korea, and China, they had names for it well before John Stuart ever came along. Oddly that it is name after him. In Japan it is called Natsu-Tsubaki 夏椿 – which translates to Summer Camellia.
It finally feels like summer here. The forecast shows 83ºF, 28ºC, for Monday, June 27. A scorching heat wave for around here.
We are almost at the longest day of the year, yet summer seems a long way off. Chilly mornings, gray skies, cool breezes. Will it ever get warm this year? Last year’s unbearable heat is a distant memory.
The cherry trees are laden with heavy bunches of fruit. A sunny week or two will make them divine. Then it will be a race to pick them before the birds do.
Speaking of birds, a small group of starlings delight us these days. Throughout the day, five to ten of them pick through the grass and bushes hunting for slugs. They drag the slugs onto the pavement, peck at them for a bit, and fly off with them.
They must be taking them off to their nests to feed their young. It’s the first time I’ve seen starlings eat so many slugs. They can eat them all.
Salmon berry are nearly ripe. Tart with a touch of sweet. They are one of the berries you never see in a store.
The horseradish blooms are a delight. From the sweet, honey-like fragrance, you’d never imagine the plants have roots filled with fire. It’s a mind-bending experience nibbling on the sweet smelling flowers. They taste like mild horseradish. Imagine spreading honey on bread and tasting horseradish instead of honey. Your nose says, “Sweet honey!” But your tongue screams, “Burning horseradish!”
I found a garden snake skin. It’s so light and delicate. What would humans do if we shed our skin every year in one whole piece? We’d have skin-shedding salons where staff would help us wriggle out of our skins without making a single tear. Wouldn’t it be freaky to take a full skin we just wriggled out of and stuff it to make a life-size replica of ourselves?
“This was me back in 1980,” you’d say, proudly showing off a skin you shed in high school and mounted as a science project. And parents would embarrass teenagers when they bring their date over to see the family by bringing out a stuffed baby skin. “Robert was such a cute baby. Do you want to hold him?” Could you say no?
Some people would keep their skin each year and have a special room with their skins stuffed to show off what they looked like year by year.
People would paint shed skins and make art from them.
“Cool,” you’d say when you visit someone and they point out that each lampshade is their skin from a different year.
Skin Preservationist would be a licensed profession. DIY enthusiasts would have YouTube videos showing the best way to preserve your last skin shedding for posterity. There would be skin shedding competitions to see who can shed their skin most creatively. Celebrities would auction off their last skin. And in some cultures you know that just shed skin would be part of the cuisine.
It’s marshmallow harvest season in the Skagit Valley. Marshmallow berries in the marshmallow fields are plump and ready to be picked. Marshmallow berries are the largest of all berries. In the mild Skagit Valley climate they grow to epic proportions.
Even though they are so huge, they are so light that they can be hand picked and stacked onto the marshmallow trailers.
Marshmallow farmers in Skagit County are a major grower of marshmallows. From the vast marshmallow fields, Farmers haul the marshmallow berries to marshmallow packing plants. Dedicated workers in the packing plants cut the huge marshmallow berries into bite size marshmallows and place them into bags you find in your local store.
Despite all the rain this spring, this year looks like a good year for harvesting marshmallows. And from how plump this year’s marshmallows are, this year’s crop will be a great tasting crop.
So how can you tell if the marshmallows you buy are fresh? Look for the harvest date on the bag. You’ll find it in tiny print somewhere. By law, marshmallow packers must include the harvest date on the package.
Marshmallow farmers in the Skagit Valley harvest marshmallow berries from June into August. So if you want the freshest marshmallows buy them from mid June through August.
I need to take pictures when the sun is out so on days like today when the rain pours all day long I can remember the sun. According to the National Weather Service, Seattle had 5 hours in all of May when it was 70ºF or higher. In a normal year there are 80 to over a 100 hours of 70ºF weather in May. So you can see how off we are this year.
What do the spiders think of all this cool, rainy weather? They can always crawl into a crack to escape the steady rain drops.
Snow waits patiently on her nest, waiting for her eggs to hatch. She picked a perfect place to hide.
When it isn’t pouring rain, I do like to let the chickens enjoy the nice weather. Do they compare this spring with sunny springs from years past?
On a totally, not a man and his hoe type of topic, with all the horrific shootings happening recently, I decided to get the latest numbers on gunfire deaths in Japan. And for that I turned to a reliable source, the National Police Agency of Japan. So these are the statistics for gunfire deaths in Japan from 2017 through 2021. The English labels for the rows is on the right.
The figure that popped out to me was that in all of 2021 there was just one death by gunfire in all of Japan. If the US had the same ratio of gunfire deaths, there would have been just 3 deaths by gunfire in the US during all of 2021. The number of gunfire homicides in the US during 2021? 19,384. A far cry from 3.
The goal of the National Police Agency of Japan is to have zero gunfire deaths. They are almost there.
Letting children get gunned down in elementary schools is a choice not an inevitability. Some countries choose to let this happen, others do not.
From me to you, a photo of a bee gathering nectar and pollen from a Thimble Berry flower. Cool weather still dominates here with the occasional warm, sunny day breaking the wet, cloudy days. I’m sure the bees are wanting warmer weather more than we humans.
Despite the cool spring, the bees did pollinate many of the cherry. The proof is the green cherry fruit where white cherry blossoms used to be.
And the three duck eggs in the second duck nest are now seven. So how many duck eggs will the ducks lay before they decide it is time to incubate them?
The chickens do enjoy foraging in the meadow. But the bob cat is back, so how much time to let the chickens roam is something to consider. Two nights ago the dogs were still out at 2 in the morning. It was too quiet. Something wasn’t right. I grabbed a flashlight and went looking for them. I found them at the gate, looking up at the archway. And on the top of the archway was a large bobcat.
When I aimed the flashlight at the bobcat, it jumped off the arch onto the roof of the garden shed and disappeared into the neighbor’s woods.
I did find it odd that the dogs were so quiet. Normally if they corner something in a tree like a squirrel or raccoon, they bark constantly. They were eerily quiet with the bobcat.
So how do these pictures get from me to you? When you look up into the sky, do you imagine that at some point the pictures I take were at some point radio waves bouncing around 550 kilometers (340 miles) up in the sky? They go further into space than the International Space Station.
So how do my words and photos get from me to you? I use my iPhone to take the photos. I edit the photos and words on my MacBook. From my MacBook the words and photos get beamed as radio waves from our StarLink antenna to a StarLink satellite orbiting the earth. From there they get beamed back to a StarLink ground station and sent to our host company’s servers, and sent on to you.
This morning, there are 1,877 functioning StarLink satellites orbiting the earth. Each one circles the earth in 90 to 95 minutes. Which means they are overhead for just a few minutes. If I could grab a tether from one, I could be in Tokyo in 12 minutes.
Every little white dot is a StarLink satellite orbiting the earth. The long strands of satellites are recently launched satellites which are still climbing. As they reach their final orbiting height they will spread out and blend in with all the other orbiting satellites.
The hexagon cells are areas where StarLink provides service.
Our StarLink antenna tilts north, so it mostly communicates with StarLink satellites zipping across southern British Columbia. Which in turn communicate with ground stations in places like Redmond, North Bend, and Brewster. And this happens in millionths of a second.
Summer skies have returned to the Skagit Valley. It’s finally warm and dry enough to work in the garden.
The late spring warmth has the bees buzzing about. Speaking of bees, I’ve been reading and listening to Jacqueline Freeman’s Song of Increase. The book is about the life of bees. After keeping bees for many years, Jacqueline Freeman wrote down what she heard the bees tell her about their lives.
“Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World,” is how she describes her book. “When the bees speak, I listen,” she says. Throughout the book she sprinkles sections where the bees speak for themselves, like this:
“We wake up to the understanding that we are all one, all the time. Human beings exist connected each to each, but believe that they are not. Honeybees dwell in the full realization of that connection and have done so for eons. The unity we embody is a reflection of the kingdom-wide Unity that dwells in us all. This is the gift we bring: complete, sacred unity in body and spirit. To be in the presence of Spirit [God], to simply sit and be in such presence, offers the opportunity to be transformed by it. This we offer you. Come sit. Be with us. Drink in the Unity as you would fresh rain. We offer our gift with great joy and love!”
For a refreshing, different view of bee society get a copy of Jacqueline Freeman’s Song of Increase.
The harsh winter killed our grand California Lilac. So we were debating how to cut it down today when we noticed a green sprig sprouting on one of the main branches. It lives. We won’t chop it down yet.
A harsh winter followed by a long cool, wet spring has given way to summery days of delight.