Potatoes Out, Garlic In

Potatoes out

Potatoes out, garlic in. It’s that time of year. Potatoes come out of the soft, warm earth. No matter how many times I pull potatoes out of the earth, it’s a wonder seeing them appear. It’s amazing how potatoes suck in carbon out of the air, combine it with water and minerals out of the ground, and store the result in delectable nuggets full of vitamins and minerals.

Garlic ready to plant

And as I pull out the potatoes, I push the garlic in. This year I’m taking out the potatoes bit by bit. Instead of digging entire rows of potatoes out, I’m just pulling them out as we eat them, and planting a handful of garlic gloves. I should have most of the potatoes out by the end of November and the garlic cloves snug in their winter beds.

Bright afternoon sun

One recent afternoon a bright sun and unusual clouds made me stop on the way to the post office. It pays to look up. Clouds are always being quirky. So quirky at times it makes me wonder if they are watching to see if anyone notices what they are doing.

Curved clouds

How often do you see clouds like this? It’s like someone went crazy with a paint brush up against the blue sky. Show something like this to a psychoanalyst and what would they make of it?

calendula in bloom

Made Me Want to Cry

Blue skies on the morning of September 10.

I thought we’d escape dealing with forest fire smoke this year. In a normal year, by September 10 the fall rains would be back. Labor Day weekend is often a wet one in the Puget Sound. One year to escape the Labor Day downpour, we took off for Canada and on the other side of the border headed east. We had no plans as to where to go other than to escape the steady rain.

We ended up in Banff and on to Calgary. A bit extreme, but we left the rain behind for a few days and discovered the beautiful, California like, Okanagan valley of southern British Columbia, as well the spectacular Canadian Rockies.

Already on Friday, September 9, the smell of forests on fire was in the air. The skies were still blue, and on Saturday morning they were still blue, though the smell of burning wood was stronger.

After skies, orange with smoke on September 10 make me want to cry.

But billowing smoke poured into the skies from the Bolt Creek fire burning sixty miles to the southeast of us. Since the fire was on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, the smoke quickly turned the skies a Martian orange. It made me want to cry.

Sun through smokey clouds

The sun was barely visible. Maybe the sun looks like this on a clear day on Mars. I wonder how intrepid souls who travel to Mars will adjust to life without blue skies. Blue and green are the colors of life. We’ve evolved over millions and millions of years bathed in blue and green. Can we be content never seeing blue skies? Never being able to see blue skies again would certainly make me cry. That’s a key reason I won’t volunteer to settle Mars.

Bolt Creek Fire

Someone flying from Seattle to Spokane took this picture of the smoke billowing from the Bolt Creek Fire and spreading west over Puget Sound. Mt. Baker is the snow covered peak in the upper right.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to endure days on end with smoke in the air. By the next morning, there was enough of an onshore breeze to push the smoke east, and the skies were blue again. And this morning, a short spell of rain dried my tears.

What a Radish Becomes

Radish blossoms, dainty white with pink blush.

Radish have delicate white flowers. This one’s petals have pink blush tips. But by the time a radish blooms it can be a huge plant and hardly edible.

Radish plant pulled out of the ground and spread out on the pavement.

I let one go and pulled it out of the garden yesterday. Huge! Hundreds of blossoms. It would have produced thousands of seeds.

Chickens on radish plant.

But I wanted the space the radish took up to plant some fall crops. A huge radish bush with hundreds of blossoms is a treat for the chickens. It must have been a host to many insects, too small for me to see, but not too small for them.

Chickens enjoying pecking at radish plant.

Summer has past. Labor Day often heralds the start of the rainy season here. We had a few sprinkles yesterday evening, but the sun is out today and the forecast is for dry weather for the next week. The heat is gone and the days are more fall like than summer.

Radish root

And what of the radish? It’s turned into a gnarly root. I’m sure it is chock full of fiber but it would be like chewing on wood. When you think about it, the radishes you see in beautiful bunches in the market are but babies plucked out of the soft soil. Little babies who will never experience their true destiny of becoming a bush with hundreds of butterfly like blossoms.

Ripe blackberries

Blackberries are in peak picking condition. I like to pick them in the late afternoon when they are warm from being in the sun all day. It’s like eating warm blackberry pie fresh out of the oven.

Spaghetti squash flowers

And the spaghetti squash seeds I tossed on composting Alpaca droppings have turned into a jungle of green vines and lovely yellow flowers. There’s still time for the spaghetti squash to ripen before frost arrives in a month or so and puts an end to their vigor.

Wonders Just Outside the Front Door

Wonders just outside the door - a funnel web weaver spider web

Just outside the front door, a wonder awaits. A gossamer cloud floats just above the grass. The taller grass blades poke above it, like mountain peaks above a cloud covered valley.

Funnel web weaver spider’s web close view
Funnel web weaver spider web

It’s a funnel web weaver spider’s home. No human can weave such delicate lace. Imagine wearing a shawl so delicate. And it to think it comes out the butt of a spider.

If we had such silk spinning mechanisms next to our anus we could put them to use and delicately wrap our droppings in fine silk and not need to worry if a toilet was nearby. We could encase them all in fine silk along with a handle so we could dispose of them politely. Just saying.

Flight attendants might say after a long flight, “Passengers, we hope you had a pleasant flight, and please deposit your silk encasings in the appropriate receptacles as you disembark.”

Funnel web weaver web from above

I used to think that the spiders waited inside their funnels for an insect to fall inside. But they wait inside their funnels and race out at blinding speed to bite and inject venom into hapless victims. Spiders who build these webs are among the fastest spiders. The webs aren’t sticky so what do insects feel when they walk on these cloud like sheets? “Have I died and gone it heaven?” Is that their last thought?

Funnel web weaver web side view

If I was an insect, I think I’d be lured onto this shimmering cloud, if only to rest my weary feet. I suppose there are many insect parents who have warned their million or so offspring, “Now children, if it looks too good to be true, it likely is.”

Quick Results

Quick results - culled bunch compared to uncalled bunch of grapes

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.

Pink roses

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.

Blue hydrangea

The hydrangea are in bloom. They look like gatherings of blue butterflies. Just looking at them gives a cooling effect.

Bee on flower
Sungold tomatoes

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.

A Gentle July

Potato flowers bloom in a gentle July

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.

Dogwood in full bloom

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.

Cut fiddle ferns make a soft path.

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.

A July sky with puffy clouds

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.

Roses, lavender, and mint flowers.

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.

Snip, Snip, Snip

Japanese grapes

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.

A bunch of my grapes

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.

Grape cluster before thinning

So I’ve taken these forming grape clusters and snipped them to this:

Grape cluster after thinning

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.

Thimble berries on the bush

But a side benefit of grape cluster thinning is being out with the ripening thimble berries. It is high summer with these berries ripening.

Thimble berries in the hand

Nothing says summer like a handful of thimble berries.

Not This Year

Snow off the nest - she won't be hatching ducklings this year

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

After the solstice a bee on an English daisy

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.

Bee on a red English Daisy.
A dead bee in an English Daisy flower. Is there a better place for a bee to die in the summer?

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?

Lavender blooms

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.

Stewartia blossom

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.

Let It Peel

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.