This summer I did a good deal of gardening. I came across a large inexpensive planter and was inspired to grow an elephant ear bulb for the first time. I was intrigued by the idea that I could make a small investment (I think I paid around $7.00) and get a long lasting “pet” of a plant. My elephant started as a softball sized root ball and I put it in the center and planted Caladium around it.
The planter lived on this ugly cement slab in my backyard on the south east side of the house. It required daily watering and regular feeding to get the leaves to measure up to 20 inches long and shoulder height (I regret I did not get a photo of it when it was large) but it was a cheerful companion in the garden and did a nice job of adding some lushness and covering up an ugly recycling hopper.
I understood that after a hard frost I could bring in the root ball and plant it again next year. I watched a couple YouTube videos to get some instructions. This was the most useful.
Here are some photos of what I found on October 21st in Michigan so I went to dig up my Elephant.
After the first frost.
Root ball dug up.
Here you can see the original bulb.
I wanted to overwinter the Caladiums however many were missing and the ones I found were slimy. If you look closely you will be able to see the multiple off shoots that grew from the one bulb that gives me hope that I will have a lot of plant growth next year.
So my Elephant is going to hang out in this box in the basement for the winter. I am going to check on it frequently to make sure it is not too moist or too dry etc and then leave it alone. Fingers crossed.
My husband and I were honored to attend a dinner titled Toward a FutureLand: Ceremony To Honor the Land and Welcome the FutureBuilders hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College. The Center brought together an astonishing collection of people from around the world who are engaged in global struggles for land, examining the commodities and consumption of space as well as the reach and watch of colonial and corporate power. Theywelcomed conference participants and representatives from:
Associacion National De Afrocolombianos Desplazados (AFRODES)– Bogota Columbia
The conference theme, Toward a FutureLand (which I did not attend) facilitated discussions exploring land as essential to indigenous sovereignty, strength and nurturance. It is these types of educational experiences that make Kalamazoo College award winning, and I am proud to be an alumni.
The dinner’s food dancing and music were provided three bands of the Potowatami Indians (Gun Lake Band, Nottawaseppi Band and the Pokagon Band.)
It was especially nice for us to be able to meet the Tewa women from New Mexico because we lived in Santa Fe, NM for 12 years and we were happy to have lived and worked among many Pueblo Indians.
The dinner was a powerful combination of people and ideas that focused on the impact of colonialism and the ways that native people continue to be marginalized, most notably seen in the shocking pattern of missing native women in the US and Canada.
The event included a Water Ceremony, reminding us all that however far away each groups individual missions are, we are all joined by our shared need to protect our land and water. This was made more personal highlighting how locally, the Kalamazoo River and more broadly the Great Lakes, are threatened by corporate agendas that put the movement and sales of oil ahead of the protection of our water. Andrew DeGraw with Kalamazoo Remembers helped close the ceremony and shared some shocking information about Enbridge Energy’s behavior in our community even after being responsible for the second largest inland oil spill in U.S. history in July 2010. According to Wikipedia the largest was the 1991 spill near Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Most days I take it for granted that clean water will run out of my taps. However, in Michigan it is becoming more and more clear that we can no longer assume corporations share our interest in protecting our water. Between the Flint Water Crisis and our current concerns regarding PFAS chemicals in Parchment Michigan’s water it is clear something needs to change.
I encourage you to click on one or more of the links I have provided, once you have been made aware, you begin to change; just like you can not separate out each drop of water from the ocean.
In Spring 2018 we added two dogs to our family of three humans and two cats. Of course certain chores accompany pet ownership and I am the person most often on poop patrol. I got this job for a couple of reasons, but primarily they all lead back to… I don’t want to step in poop. Interestingly this morning as I was scanning for poop (and sticks) preparing to mow the lawn, I noticed that there was a lot going on down there.
I attribute these mushrooms to years of mulching grass clippings and fallen leaves into the lawn and not to dog poop, but I could be wrong. Here is what I learned:
The Jack-O-Lantern mushrooms will glow in the dark faintly and make you very very sick if eaten.
The Stinkhorn Mushroom really does stink and looks like severed fingers after you mow over it in the lawn…gasp!
I am giving this impressive collection its own slideshow so you can see how big it is and how cheerful in the lawn.
Others I found..
I’m trying to refrain from putting in a silly amount of photos..
So, to be fair those amazing Jack-O-Lantern Mushrooms were growing down the street from me and not in my lawn however they are so impressive I knew you would want to see them. I am confident that these are correctly identified because I asked my uncle John Trestrail and he is a poison specialist, he said don’t eat them. I guess eager mushroom hunters can mistake them for Chanterelle’s. There was at least one other mushroom out there that day but I could not figure out what it was, and I am certain that I may have mislabeled some here, so if you know better leave me a comment.
Back to the little stinkers…
So it felt wrong to introduce my menagerie of pets (and their poop) without including photos of them so here we go…
Yes, all of the sweaters are knit by me, one of the perks of owning small dogs in Michigan. Cats are not any fun to knit for however, they do like a plush knitted square to sit on year round.
Next time you get a good rain, stop to study what is growing, it may be far more then you ever imagined.
So this summer heralded a lot of lifestyle changes for my family and, having more time than money I thought I would try to grow some vegetables. I was inspired by what I found in my shed: decades old EarthBox’s. An EarthBox is a planter that is designed to be filled with potting soil, fertilizer + lime, covered in plastic and watered through a tube. In addition to the three planters I already owned, I inherited three from my mother-in-law so I knew I could grow a lot of plants and have a generous bounty.
As you can see I was pretty determined to avoid weeding, and mowing around planters (been there, done that, no thanks.) I put down weed barrier fabric and bark mulch; to keep everything in place I used a handy edging system. This year we also added two small dogs to our family and keeping them away from my veg was important (read: don’t pee on the veg.) By creating a permanent home for the container garden I hoped I could allow the planters to overwinter in place and get refreshed with new fertilizer and topped off with potting soil, covered and replanted in the spring. I put the planter’s on 2×4’s, in case they needed to be moved and to avoid the drain holes getting clogged by bark mulch.
If you are a skilled gardener you may notice my naive belief that the tripod I constructed would be adequate support for SIX cucumber vines. I have never met a cucumber vine, I just know we like cucumbers and I quickly had to build another 8 foot tall tripod as well as a trellis on the deck railing to support the vines. In the end I think the vines grew about 20 feet long and climbed over 10 feet high.
I also learned something about the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. Because the entire project was born out of a desire to have vegetables and do very little work I did not take seriously the invitation to “pinch” tomato plants. This failure triggered the construction of more 8 foot tall tripods to respond to a 12 foot tall tomato plant. No, not even at this point did I think about pruning, I think I was so delighted to watch everything grow. Eventually my daughter and I cut off the tops of the tomato plants because we couldn’t build anything tall enough to support the heavy fruits.
Taking Stock: What I Would Do Differently.
I put one bush style Roma tomato and one slicing tomato in an Earthbox. I think I would avoid this configuration in the future. The slicing tomato got huge and took all of the water and nutrients and the Romas did poorly. While I will want four tomato plants again I need to rethink who bunks with whom.
I planted one EarthBox with six bush style green beans. This was a lot of fun and I was able to pick green beans everyday and by the end of the week we had a healthy collection of beans to eat on Saturday. The plants continued to provide beans all summer and we would still be in October if a bunny had not taken out a lot of the plants.
I put six pepper plants in one EarthBox; this was pretty successful and I would have gotten more bell peppers if I had staked them better. One plant was badly broken under the weight of the fruit. I talked about my pepper projects in a previous blog post: Hot, Hot, Hot! In the future I won’t need to grow hot peppers and if you have any suggestions for what to plant leave me a comment.
In another EarthBox I planted six different herbs, and other then the quickly wilting cilantro this was a brilliant success. I also planted some Chocolate Mint and Dill in flower pots and was able to harvest and dry a lot of herbs.
The planter full of cucumbers was amazing and was so much fun that I would definitely repeat this set up next year, especially since I have the trellis and tripod already constructed.
The biggest disappointment and hiccup in the process was running out of nutrients and the development of blossom end rot. The indeterminate tomato took a lot of nutrients and water, as did the cucumbers and because I am a low work, high yield sort of a gardener I didn’t think to begin watering twice a day and providing supplemental fertilizer until the plants were already stressed. Next year I will be sure to add a richer fertilizer when prepping the boxes and begin using a water based fertilizer about 8 weeks in or at the first sign of stress. The EarthBox website makes the claim you can get your entire yield from the fertilizer put into the potting soil before planting. Maybe that can be accomplished with their proprietary blend but not with what I was using. Both the tomato and cucumbers got yellow leaves but eventually responded well to epsom salt and miracle grow added with weekly waterings.
For next year I still have some questions:
When do I stop providing plant food?
How do I know when a plant will stop giving fruit?
If one plant appears done for the season will it harm the others to cut it off at the soil level? Or should I just leave it until I pack up all the plants for the season?
Do I overwinter with the plastic covering on? or off?
How many years can I reuse the potting soil before I should just toss it all and start fresh again?
If my tomatoes did not get as large as stated on the label is it because of light or nutrients?….or both?
I think the project was a success and it gave my family of three enough produce to keep things interesting and to put some food aside for the winter months. If any of my readers have suggestions or feedback it is most welcome.
I became fully aware of my love for apples when I was pregnant. In 2003 I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and while the area did grow some apples it was clear there was an apple “season.” When apples were out of season they became expensive and it was hard to find any varieties other than Golden and Red Delicious (my least favorite). I cried that day; that was the only thing to move me to tears during my pregnancy…I had to settle for pineapple.
Michigan is another story, they grow SO MANY apples. And, right now is apple season! I’m such a nerd for apples, I have even named some of my Etsy offerings after apple varieties. Apples can be eaten fresh, cooked, pressed, fermented and when the cider is no longer sweet you get vinegar! Truly amazing! According to R. Jacobsen’s book Apples of Uncommon Character: 123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics, & Little-Known Wonders, in the 17 and 1800’s a typical homestead would have a dozen different apple varieties growing. In the 1900’s, as the self sufficient American farm declined America saw the rise of the industrial-scale orchard and the surviving varieties were the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, and MacIntosh; gone were the thousands of regional varieties.
Jacobsen says “apple trees are very patient. It’s nothing for them to wait a hundred years, even two hundred. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is 215 years old and still gives a crop of midnight- purple apples each fall.” He says the last old varieties are dying out and he has set himself to trying to find the identity of these varieties before they are gone forever.
I think the desire to explore more apple varieties is catching because locally I can find up to 6 varieties at my grocery chain. Every fall we drive to the outskirts of Kalamazoo Michigan and visit Gull Meadow Farms – an orchard, pumpkin patch, bakery and family fun center (but I think these games and props are just a distraction from the enjoyment gained picking apples with your family, but I know kids under 13 would disagree.) I visit the orchard weekly during apple season; they even have a text message service that tells you when new varieties are being harvested. Our current favorite is Crimson Crisp and I brought home its cousin Candy Crisp for us all to try. I am not a fan of the largely popular (and expensive) Honey Crisp because it is TOO sweet. I prefer an apple that is nicely balanced between tart and sweet with some complex flavors.
If you can, go out and try some different apple varieties. Avoid apples flown in from New Zeland or other far flung areas (even though they are also amazing) and when in season buy local or regional offerings. I gave myself this pep talk at CostCo and pushed past their apples to make a commitment to drive to the local orchard.
Too many apples? No problem, just cut them into even shapes and add them to a pot with a 1/2 cup of water or apple cider (less if they are juicy, more if they are dry) and cook stirring often until you get applesauce. I remember arriving in Munster Germany as an exchange student in 1991 and Frau Witz offered me some apple sauce made from apples grown on the tree just outside her backdoor. It was so comforting, and was the very first thing I had to eat in Germany. I learned how to make it for myself and ate it many times that winter (with cinnamon, no sugar.) I never did learn the name of those apples.
I told my husband that I was going to write about my love for apples and he told me about Michigan’s Apple Crunch. On October 23rd, 400,000 or more people will eat apples to celebrate this amazing fruit. Here is what I learned from their website:
Apples are a member of the rose family
It takes the energy from 50 leaves to produce one apple
The largest apple ever plucked from a tree weighed three pounds, two ounces, and was picked in Caro, Michigan.
There are 900 family-operated apple farms throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
Michigan is the 3rd largest apple producing state in the country
Apples are Michigan’s largest and most valuable fruit crop, with a value of about $100 million annually
On average, Michigan harvests about 20 million bushels (840 million pounds) of apples per year
Apples are a great source of the fiber pectin. One apple has five grams of fiber
The science of apple growing is called pomology
Maybe you can get your hands on some Michigan apples and will join me! Register to take part at Michigan’s Apple Crunch.
Today, I have two pecks of apples in the kitchen and I am not going to think about the end of the season.
So here in Michigan a fall chill or even full-on winter weather has been known to come too early. Notably, we often have to send our kids out to trick or treat in their coats and one year it snowed on Halloween! I am not sure when it started, but somewhere along the way I made it a point of personal pride to avoid turning on the furnace until the last possible moment. September is totally unacceptable and if you’re such a cupcake that you turn on the heat this early, then yes, the rugged people of Michigan are judging you. Now that it is October we are getting into some marginal territory; where it is acceptable in *certain circumstances* however, not fretting about your gas bill when you open the door 50 times for trick or treaters is the real treat.
Here is a Weather Channel chart for when the first snow can be expected. If your area is not listed, follow the link below for other regions in North America. In 2006 we had record snowfall on October 12… these are the certain circumstances mentioned above.
Portage Michigan is about half-way between Chicago and Detroit so there are two techniques I use to maintain my ability to proudly say “I have not turned on my furnace yet” even when the temps get chilly:
Use the oven
Making a pumpkin pie or roasting some vegetables is a great way to get your kids to stop complaining about the cold. Here is what I prepared today …
This was a good way to keep the oven on for at least 45 min shoveling trays in and out at 425 degrees. Just in case I am the only one who eats the brussels sprouts I baked an Apple Dapple Cake (sans frosting) to make sure everyone has a full tummy.
I could not bring myself to add the frosting after dumping two cups of sugar into the batter. The cake kept the oven on for one hour and we are all pretty happy about that with overnight temps in the 40’s.
The other approach is knitting. This is the time of year we start wearing hats in the house; including snuggly sweatshirts, socks and scarves. I have just finished knitting for my new grand niece and can begin everyone’s hat for this year any time. Here is a collection of hats made last year; most of them gifted.
This mini Mackintosh Jacket will need to wait for the little one to grow into it. However, having the yarn piled into your lap is a nice way to stay warm. Here’s to making it to Halloween before turning on the furnace, wish me luck!
I love growing hot peppers and the jewels in the crown of my garden this year are the Tabasco Pepper and The Gong Bao Pepper. The plants were beautiful however I suspect their location did not deliver enough sunshine as the Anaheim’s were short and less abundant. I grew four kinds of peppers that are prepared in very different ways.
Serrano- eaten fresh red or green in salsa
Anaheim- roasted and diced, added to anything you want to have a little kick
Gong Bao- dried and crushed to eat on pizza, pasta and soups
Tabasco- mashed and fermented into a hot sauce
I will share more about the hot pepper sauce we are planning to make with the Tabasco Pepper but today I thought I would share how I am preserving my Gong Bao Pepper.
While the Serrano and Anaheim peppers are meant to be eaten green the Gong Bao are intended to be a brilliant red pepper with thin walls, good flavor and moderately intense heat. This plant was so beautiful and delivered red peppers in July and continues to produce into October. So that I don’t get overwhelmed I created some ristras.
This is a simple process of stringing the chilis together and hanging them in a dry airy place. In past years I have strung chilis by piercing them at their stem however when they dry the stems want to fall off and this can make the ristra more fragile. Here I simply pierced them in the middle of each pod and keep the needle attached so that I can add more as they ripen and are harvested. When full I tie it to some cardboard and start another. Don’t forget to wear gloves for this project the fresh chilis will emit juice when pierced with a needle.
Eventually these will be dry enough to process into red chili flakes. The green stems are removed and the pods placed into a blender. Depending on the level of heat you enjoy you can remove some of the seeds for a milder effect. My husband likes to grind them with a spice/coffee mill and put it in a shaker so hot pepper can be added to everything.