Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017-the month is halfway over

Greetings from a very dark Saturday morning. It is 6:15. It is still dark. It is difficult to garden in the dark. Two months ago I would have already been in the garden by now.

We had over an inch of rain on Tuesday. That was in addition to the third of an inch last Saturday. The rain on Tuesday was more rain than the entire month of September. I am thinking that maybe I can just put away the hoses for the year. (There is a front yard hose and a back yard hose.) We have actually been fortunate the last few years as to rain. There were several years when I did not have to get out the hose at all.

One word for the garden these days is quiet. Not much is going on. I am gathering the plants together for the plant migration inside. Each day when we go to work, we take a few plants. We have a plant light stand at the office. In addition we have four offices that have south windows with nice window sills.

The leaves are falling. Is that why they call it "fall"? We have 5 very mature trees in the yard. They all have lots of leaves. In alphabetical order there is a Buckeye Tree, an Elm Tree, a Linden Tree, a Sycamore Tree, and a Walnut Tree. They lose their leaves at different times. We have to rake leaves for months.

Last Week's voting
The top vote getter last week was the Silk Road Ascelpias. I made rootings of this plant all last winter. I must have set out several dozen plants grown that way.  Most of those plants are blooming at the end of about a three foot single stem. There was absolutely no side shoots or other clumping. On the other hand there are lots of seedlings starting to grow. These are not perennials. Sometimes gardens have to make harsh decisions.

The full vote count was:
Silk road Ascelpias  9
yellow hibiscus  7
Blue monkshood 4
Air plant   3
Hibiscus closeup    3
orange zinnias   3
Hoya jewels   3
red abutilon  2
purple zinnia  2

This Week's Pictures

#1 Full Hoya globe
This is the cluster that was a bud last week. Like many of the pictures this week, I think this is a much better picture than what you saw last week.
I am so pleased that it bloomed now.
I repotted the plant this summer and it seems to be thriving.
It does make me think about getting more hoyas.

#2 Croton, variety Petra
I have four of these nice big potted plants. The variety is Petra. They are the most common Croton, always on sale at the grocery store. Put together they make a wonderful display. I would like to make a jigsaw puzzle out of this picture.

#3 Gingerland Caladium

These big leaves suffered during the dry hot time. They also fade as the temperature drops below 50. I now have to decide whether to dig the bulbs and keep them for next spring.The alternative is to just get new ones at that time.

#4 Bouganvillia
I cannot wait for the first really sunny day. This plant is starting to put on a show.

#5 A single monkshood
This picture lets you almost see the face and its elaborate hat.

Bonus Pictures

Some flowers are interesting when they are way past their prime.
This is the white anemone.
It leaves the yellow seed pods.

Remember the little air plants Pat sent me from Florida in early July?
Let me take you through the blooming and then show you the plant now.

This is what they looked like when I got them.  There were several of them. This is July 1.

This is July 4.

This is July 12.

This is yesterday, October 14. Note the seed pod on the right. I have spent some time thinking about what you would do with air plant seeds. Actually I assume if you were crazy enough to grow them from seed you would plant them, like orchids, in some kind of  very light medium, which would replicate being grown in a part of a tree, where it is very humid.
There is new growth coming down by the center.
If I knew more about these plants I would know how much of the old growth to keep.

Here is this little toy on my computer I just discovered. It is a magnifying glass circle. You can see the new growth better.

At this time of year some hosta still look good. Here are three hosta to give you an idea.

Here are the many varieties of Crotons I have. With little leaves, which in one case, is grass like, they do not photograph well.

Julia's Recipe
Apple Butter

Apple butter is an old-fashioned tasty concoction, with thrifty roots. A long time ago when we lived in the country, we had access to apples trees and made applesauce and apple butter from apples that we gathered from the apple trees. Like I said, thrifty. Later when we moved to town, we were able to buy windfall apples from one of the orchards at a very low price - windfall apples are bruised (among other things) and good only for cooking or making cider. Then the orchard stopped doing that, I think at the behest of the county health department. So now apple butter is not so thrifty, but it is still old-fashioned and tasty and worthwhile.

Apple butter starts like applesauce. I had about 4 pounds of apples from our current favorite farmer's market orchard. I cut the apples in quarters and cut out the stems and the blossom ends. That's it: no peeling, no coring.

I added about 1/2 cup of water and cooked the apples until they had given up, as at right. This took about 1 hour on medium-low heat, and I checked the pot from time to time to give the apples a stir and to make sure they were not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If they stick, add more water. The length of time the apples take to reach the stage of giving up depends mostly on the nature of your apples. Some take longer. Let them cook until they had disintegrated.

Next, I pulled out my conical sieve and set it over a bowl, near the pot of disintegrated apples. I like the conical sieve. One moves the wooden pestle-like instrument around and the apple pulp comes out the sides through the little holes. The seeds and skin and other unappetizing bits stay in the sieve and can be discarded.

It is because I sieve the pulp that I do not need to pare or core the apples.

Here is a close-up of the rig. When the bowl had some strained pulp in it, I poured the pulp into another pot - oven-safe enamelware. I ended up with about 4 or 5 cups of sieved pulp. By the way, periodically, I did need to scrape the pulp off the outside of the sieve and then scoop the debris out of the inside into a compost bowl. The debris does pile up inside the sieve. 

Here is the enamelware pot of apple pulp. I stirred in 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Then I put the pot in a 300 degree oven and let it bake gently until the apple stuff had reduced by half, which took a couple of hours, during which time the house smelled very nice, apple-y and cinnamon-y. And that's apple butter.

Instead of the long, slow bake, you could cook the pulp, sweetened and spiced, on the stove-top for 10 or 15 minutes, let it cool and put it into containers of some kind and you would have very tasty applesauce, which freezes well. Apple butter is applesauce, reduced to a thick brown confection by long cooking.

We canned the apple butter using the usual protocol: 1/2 pint jars washed and dried in the dishwasher; screwbands at the ready; new canning lids in a small pan and brought to a boil then turned off; bubbling apple butter ladled into the jars; jar tops wiped clean with a wet paper towel; canning lids affixed with screwbands; jars turned upside down on a tea towel to cool and seal. Here they are, all done.

A few notes: if you do not have a conical sieve, you can still make applesauce or apple butter. You will have to peel and core (and quarter) the apples at the beginning. Instead of sieving them to get to the pulp stage, you can mash them very thoroughly or process them (after letting them cool down some) in a food processor. I am not sure whether a blender would work well. The amount of sugar can be varied, depending on your taste and the nature of your apples: some apples are sweeter than others. Some apples will take a long time to disintegrate: Granny Smith, for example. It is fine to use a combination of apples. If you do not like cinnamon, try a little orange rind or a little cloves or a little nutmeg. Go lightly with spices, as their flavors will intensify with cooking and in storage. I do not know why flavors intensify when the apple butter is bottled up and on the shelf. Probably science. Instead of water at the beginning, you might use apple juice or apple cider or orange juice or white wine. Apple butter is good on toast, of course, but it is also good with plain yogurt or with vanilla ice cream. Play around!

Odds and Ends

We had more rain yesterday. It does seem to go in cycles.
Gardening was held to a minimum.
The pictures this week would have been better if there was sunshine. It is scheduled to return soon.

One of the taller hibiscus, an older one, did not look as full as I had remembered one day this week. I then realized that some of the branches did not have any leaves on them. Since we do not have 3 foot tall rabbits, I have concluded that the deer are back. They did not eat the nearby zinnias, nor did they eat the other hibiscus plants. Small blessings I guess.

Stuff happens.
I should just sit down with the bulb catalogue.
As I review this one last time, under Sunday morning before I post it, it is still dark.
Have a quiet week.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Finally there is some rain- October 8, 2017

Hello again. We are home after our trip east. And as I sit down to think of all the things to write, it is raining. Here in the dark, at a little after five in the morning on Saturday, it is just a sound. But it is a wonderful sound.

We have not had much rain for what seems like forever. It has been dry since July. There was over three inches of rain on July 22. I had forgotten that. In fact there was about 8 inches of rain in Iowa City for that month. Then it mostly stopped. There was a total of about 2.5 inches for August and September combined. It was also hot. We had 8 days over 90 degrees in September. There were no such days in August. The garden was baking.

You ask yourself how does this person speak with such precision. Well, there is a website, from Iowa State University, which provides weather data for the State of Iowa.  Here is the site

Gardeners sometimes, well really always,  obsess about the weather. Maybe the word is complain. It is too hot, or too dry, or going to freeze soon. I can report that with the dry weather, the ground had gotten to the point where it was not very workable. It was hard to pull weeds. Attempts to work the soil would leave nasty clods of dirt. I have had the garden hoses out for the first time in maybe two years. I was spending more time watering than doing other work.

So now it is raining, and it is a Saturday, the day when I had planned to work in the garden. Is that maybe a complaint? How can I go from the joy of listening to the rain, to complaining in such a short time? But the radar is all full of green. It should rain for a while. That is good. I will find other things to do. Then I can pull weeds.

Many of you are just waiting for the pictures to begin. I will contain all the thoughts that are crowding my mind, waiting to be put down on paper just like the planes on the runway, waiting to take off. I will let some of those come out later in this post.

While we were on the road there was a post two weeks ago, with pictures of iris from times past. Here was your favorite, just by a little bit. I wish I knew the names of these little guys.

Full voting was
#10     6
#7       5
#9       4
#3       3
#4       3
#5       1
#6       1
#8       1

My apologies for not enabling the post to allow you to vote for two. (There is this button you have to push.) I was just being a giddy grandfather that weekend.

So I did find some garden pictures this week. There are some things blooming, amidst the dry weather. Here are those featured pictures for this week. You can vote for two. I pushed the button even before I wrote in the names.

#1 little airplant bloom

I have had this airplant ball for over two years. In the winter it lives over the kitchen sink. Last fall it also decided that it was time to bloom.

Yellow hibiscus- Sunny wind

I have found that, for whatever reason, the non hardy hibiscus put up a flush of flowers right before frost. It is probably one of those hours-of-sunlight things.
When they are ready to come inside, if they are finished blooming I will cut them back.

I can then try rooting some of the cuttings. Then of course you have many plants. I have grown a five foot tall hibiscus plant from this yellow one. Now I just have to figure out how to make lots of growth at the top.

#3    This is an abutilon, or flowering maple.
I can keep them alive. The goal this cold season is to make them grow. The plant with this flower is not much more than 10 inches high at the moment.
It may go under lights at the office.

#4  Closeup of yellow hibiscus
Since we are still playing around with this voting thing, I can give you two pictures from the same picture. Here is the cropped version of #2, showing the fun part that sticks out.

#5  Many Japanese anemones

These are not quite finished blooming. They do make a nice clump. It is kind of a wild clump.

#6  Orange profusion zinnias

What a great clump. They just cry out for more space next year. This is along the curb on Fairview Street.

#7  Silk Road Asclepias

I like this picture as you see the flowers in so many stages.

I grew these last year, bringing several inside for the winter. I then made cuttings all cold season ( I am avoiding that "w" word.)
They got a little leggy for me this year. I do not know if I could have just kept cutting them back or what. I do know I have seedlings coming up at the moment from seeds either from last year or earlier this year. They will not bloom. I will have to decide if I want to bring them in.
I could just buy a packet of seed.

#8 Interesting purplish zinnia

I liked this color combination.

#9 Blue monkshood

This reliably blooms in October.
And it is blue.

#10 hoya jewels

This hoya limped through the heat and the dry weather, and is now blooming. Another cluster is on the way.

Pictures from our trip

The pictures start in Maine.
Here is Christopher Philip. Our grandson was 8 months old when we visited him 3 weeks ago.
He finds lots of things funny.

Sometimes he is serious. There are just so many things that are new.
He liked dogs, when we went for walks.

This is down at the water's edge. It is all a wonderful adventure.

Here he is enjoying apple peels, cut into long strings.

After Maine we went south to Virginia.
Each year we visit Chincoteague, Virginia, a little island off the eastern shore of Virginia. There is a little piece of Virginia on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay. My father was born there. We actually stay in the room where he was born. We have visited there every year for 41 years. My, that seems like a long time. But we are encountering those big numbers a lot these days.
This month is the 40th anniversary of my starting my law practice. I visited my first prison just about about forty years ago.

This was the beach when we first arrived at Chincoteague.
Hurricane Maria was out there about 200 miles.
The waves were breaking out about 300 yards.
The wind was blowing about 30 mph.
The sand and light rain was stinging your exposed skin.

Here is what we usually see. This was near the end of our stay.

There is a wildlife preserve on Assateague, which is the outer barrier island and also a wildlife refuge and federal park. Birds migrate through, even though it seemed that the migration had not really started yet.

This is a great blue heron.

An exception was this group of monarch butterflies. They showed up as a group near the end of our visit. It is incredible to think about butterflies migrating. There would of course be winds. They might be going the wrong way.

The mass of butterflies on Assateague was good.
Then there was this story this week.

One thing that is going to bloom soon is this bougainvillea. Once again I assume it is one of those shortening days things.

Julia's Recipe
Spiced Tomato Jam

I remember there was tomato jam in the kitchen when we were kids. I think it was made by Smucker's. Anyway, it was sweet and tomato-y and with a little bit of cinnamon and was terrific on toast. Later, I made it myself when I found myself with more tomatoes than I knew what to do with but not so many that we were propelled into the making of tomato sauce (which is the protocol when there are way too many ripe tomatoes). I found myself with extra tomatoes from a neighbor this summer, and so I made spiced tomato jam.

This is a picture that includes some but not all of the ingredients. Note the box of CERTO. This is a liquid form of pectin, and this recipe calls for pectin, and specifically for two packets of liquid pectin like Certo. Certo comes two packets to a box.

As a preliminary matter, I ran 7 1/2-pint canning jars through the dishwasher and left them there until needed. I tracked down 7 canning jar screwbands and 7 new canning jar lids. I put the lids in a little pan with water to be ready to be heated up later in the process.

The recipe called for 2 1/2 lbs. of tomatoes. This is hard to gauge if you don't have a kitchen scale and I don't. I used 2 very large tomatoes and 5 or 6 smaller ones. Which turned out fine.

First, the tomatoes had to be peeled. To peel tomatoes, one puts a big pot of water on to boil and drops (gently!) the tomatoes into the boiling water (as at right) for 30 to 60 seconds. I did that and fished them out with a slotted spoon into a colander under cool running water. The skins slipped off. If there are stubborn spots, cut them off.

I put the skinned tomatoes in a little bowl and one by one, I cored them and cut them up into little pieces.

I put the tomato bits in a pot and simmered them for about 10 minutes. Then I measured out 3 cups. The extra (and there was a little extra) I put in a container into the refrigerator for the next time I wanted some cooked tomatoes, like for spaghetti sauce.

I added about 2 teaspoons of grated lemon peel and 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves to the 3 cups of cooked tomatoes. And I measured 6 1/2 cups of sugar into the bowl shown at left next to the pot. I mixed the lemon products and the spices and the sugar (added in one big dump)into the tomatoes with a big wooden spoon.

Next I put the pot on the stove on high heat and stirred until the contents reached a state called "a hard rolling boil that cannot be stirred down." This is an apt description, which is pictured at right. I let it boil away like that (a little worried, as always, that it would go completely berserk), stirring like mad, for 60 seconds.

Then I took it off the heat and stirred in the contents of both packets of Certo. I had cut the tops off the of packets earlier and stood them up in a cup, as I anticipated not having enough hands to do that at the end. I stirred the jam thoroughly and let it sit and compose itself for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I turned on the little pan with the canning jar lids. I let the pan just come to a boil and then turned that off too.

Next we canned the jam. The pot was on a trivet. To the right we placed some newspaper and to the right on that, a tea towel. I took the clean hot jars out of the dishwasher two at a time. I used a canning funnel and a ladle to fill the jars to just about the bottom of the threaded part of the jar. Philip wiped any jam off the very top of each jar with a clean, damp paper towel, placed a hot canning jar lid on each and then screwed on a screwband.

After the jars were filled and their lids and screwbands applied, we turned all of the jars upside down on the towel which helped them to seal. And they did all seal. There was a little left over which went into the refrigerator in a dish for immediate toast consumption.

If you are worried about home canning of jam (which I do not worry about having plenty of other things on my mind), please understand that you can freeze jam in jars or in some kind of little plastic containers. If you freeze, you will still want the jars/containers to be freshly washed and hot. You do not need to use new canning jar lids, but rather any lid that is clean and fits the jar you are using. Or you may choose to can as described above and then to process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Very old school.

Odds and Ends
This time of year really is the time to think about preparing for the big cold coming.
One way that is ever present is in watching the ten day forecast. What you are watching for is that first frost. I expect it by around Halloween. Last year it was almost Thanksgiving.
Frost means that plants that need to come inside...need to come inside. As you may remember from falls past, this is a big deal in our garden. There are all those orchids and cacti and other succulents (all those jade plants!) and the crotons. We are starting to take at least one plant to the office each time we go. We have a light stand there and then there are the window sills.

Fall also means pumpkins. They are not just for Halloween. I carve them and then hang them in the trees. So far this is a feature of my garden that has not caught on elsewhere. The ideal is that you hang them when a hard freeze is coming, so the pumpkins freeze solid and then stay that way for a while. Usually this means we carve pumpkins at Thanksgiving for long-term winter display, hanging in the walnut tree.

There is no frost in the forecast.
It is time to shut this down and read my book.