Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Eagle Is Watching

A juvenile eagle surprised me this morning on my bike ride. Perched on a power line that runs diagonally over the highway, the eagle was watching a dead raccoon that was in the middle of the road. 

With mottled feathers and a scruffed up tail, the young eagle was patiently waiting for a chance to swoop down and claim some road kill. 

Two hours later, when we drove the same route, there was absolutely no sign of a dead animal on this patch of highway. The eagle was patient and it was watching. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bisected Horizon

I had finally settled into my easy chair with that holy first cup of coffee when the light in the room changed. I glanced toward the horizon where morning expanded in golden brilliance.

Grabbing a camera and fiddling with settings, I stepped outside. Two ships, barely visible, sat along the horizon. Like tiny lead figures in a diorama, highlighted by a band of rich ochre, they inched toward each other and the rising sun. I snapped photo after photo of the setting.

Sun, clouds, ships, bisected horizon. A magic morning.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Best Greens This Summer

What a delight it has been to walk out into the garden and pick greens this summer. My absolute favorite is this Little Gem Cos romaine that I grew from seed purchased from Jung's in Wisconsin. The heads are small, about enough for a main meal salad for one person or a side salad for two.

Dressing clings to the ruflles of the leaves. The stalks are tender and tasty. The color ranges from deep green to almost white. The plant forms a fairly tight head. I find that if I pick this lettuce carefully, I can rinse and spin it and it is ready for eating.

The seeds are tiny so I sow them carefully. Little Gem Cos grows best when it is thinned out so there is room for the small heads to develop. I have transplanted this lettuce successfully and will be planting another bed of it for fall right after Labor Day.

I wash and spin greens when I bring them in from the garden. Then I store the fresh greens in a zip top bag with a half sheet of paper towel. The towel absorbs water droplets, but keeps the humidity in the bag. Greens stored this way will often last up to a week.

I'm really going to miss this lettuce when the killing frost comes. Little Cos Gem has been the best greens of this summer.


Maple Mustard Vinagrette, a good dressing for fresh greens.

Monday, August 25, 2014

First 2014 Pickles

Mmmm. The first pickles emerged from their water bath today with nary a problem. That sweet pinging sound of jar lids sealing sang a late summer melody as the hot jars cool on a folded checked tablecloth on the kitchen counter.

This batch is bread and butter pickles, made with a sweet white vinegar brine that is seasoned with mustard seeds, whole cloves, and a touch of turmeric. The cucumbers, raised from seed in my garden, were picked late this morning, soaked in salted ice water all afternoon, and pickled by 6 pm. The plants, a variety called Marketmore, have been bearing fruit for almost two weeks and there are still more cukes to pick. 

There is something so eminently satisfying with growing and preserving one's own food. While I don't do the volume of canning that I once did, these jars of bread and butter pickles have made my day and will be a reminder of summer in the dead of winter. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

After Sunset

After sunset one night this week, the sky was painted with streaks of light. Clouds glowed iridescent against a blue background. It was a fair weather night late in the summer when the cold air of the evening reminds one that fall is coming.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Meet & Greet Mark Schauer

Liesl Eichler Clark, Ed Eichler, Mark Schauer, Wanda Hayes Eichler

A whole lot of people joined Ed and me and our daughter Liesl at Cedar Bluff lake house today as we sponsored a meet and greet reception for Mark Schauer, Democratic candidate for governor of Michigan. Liesl has worked with Mark in goverment in Lansing. Through her we have come to know Mark as a person of integrity with high leadership skills and great drive. He will be a tenacious and committed governor.

So a bunch of us from Huron County (and other parts of the state) enjoyed some good food, got to shake hands with Mark and hear his vision for our state, and (get this) even had a bald eagle do a fly-by for the event.

How cool is that? Friends and family, the next governor of Michigan, and one of our resident shoreline eagles -- all in a summer's afternoon!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sugar Beet Doe

Take a drive almost anywhere around Huron County and you will see whitetail deer. This doe, attentive to the camera, but not at all minding my presence, watched me as I set my camera and took her photo one evening this week. She was grazing in a sugar beet field along M-25.

In deer county, when there are two in a vehicle, the non-driver is usually on the lookout for deer, especially in the early evening and twilight hours. From the tiniest of fawns to some pretty good looking bucks, the whitetail population in Huron County has had a good summer.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Classic Anvil

Driving home from the city tonight, I was watching the cloud formations along the way. A severe thunderstorm watch has been issued for most of southeast Michigan throughout the day and into the evening.

I usually listen to traffic and weather reports on my way into the city and WWJ 950 AM radio was reporting caution through the day. That made me realize how on edge the Detroit area is with another thunderstorm threat after the storm that dumped over six inches across the area just eight days ago. People in Detroit and the suburbs are still cleaning up after the extensive flooding that damaged homes and roadways.

So this classic anvil cloud, container of bad weather, caught my eye. It wasn't a tall anvil and it wasn't billowing, but it definitely is indicative of weather that can bring heavy rains and lightning strikes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hosta Kettle

Forlorn and rusting, the Weber Smokey Joe sat in the garage for nigh onto two years. This summer I looked at that lovely bowl of a BBQ grill and said, "What shall we do with you?"

The answer? Plant it with baby hostas. Since there were a ton of little hosta plants sitting around my sunroom and in pots scattered throughout the garden beds, it was an easy task to plant this bowl of hostas.

While the roots take hold, I have the hosta kettle near an entrance door so I can water it easily. Soon it will be moved to a shady location where it can spend a leisurely fall. I'll bring it into the sunroom for the winter and, just maybe, there will be a lovely porch pot for next year's enjoyment.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rainbow Maker

Ed found this nifty solar powered rainbow maker in a National Geographic catalog. Powered by a wee little solar panel, the gizmo has plastic gears that turn two Swarovski crystals. The crystals act like prisms and throw their rainbow spots along the window trim and onto the floor in the dining room.

It seems like magic. I love the colors and the movement. It's a cool device.

Oh, yes. For those of you who have cats, kitties love these things. We bought one for my Dad and for my Aunt Nieta (well, for their cats) and the cats would bang at the windows where the rainbow gizmo was turning. Pretty cool.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Squash Talk

Ed has a squash patch going in the garden at the farm this summer. We bought squash seeds at Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona, with the hope that some of them would grow well in Michigan. The soil at the farm is clay, and the farm, on the west side of the county, has summer temperatures that are much hotter than the lake shore where our lake garden is located.

There are four different kinds of squash or gourds growing. Ed has them separated by patches of corn in an attempt to keep the squash from cross pollinating. The variety of squash shown above is called "Mayo Blusher" and it will be round to elongated in shape and a blush pink when it is ripe.

Mayo Blusher has an apricot colored flesh that is supposed to be sweet. This squash is a good keeper, according to the Native Seeds/SEARCH catalog. It is a variety that is a landrace, heirloom, or wild crop relative with a long time connection to the Southwest. The collection of squash seeds at Native Seeds is phenomenal.

Ed is also growing two different kinds of Hubbard squash this year. The one pictured above is called "Navajo Orange Hubbard" and it is a squash that is grown across the Navajo nation in the southwest. The seed was collected at a Navajo fair in northern New Mexico and is available from Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson.

He is also growing a Hubbard variety called "Improved Blue Hubbard." We are both hoping that these two kinds are planted far enough away from each other so that the pollination will be unique to each variety. Otherwise we will get crossed squashes. Maybe we'll see a new variety of the big Hubbards.

One last word about squash and this is a warning. I grew four Butternut squash plants in the lake garden last year. We harvested over 60 pounds of squash off those four plants. This year there are four KINDS of squash and many more plants.

So this is fair warning to my Thumb area friends. If you see the hatchback up on my Chevy Volt and I'm standing in the parking lot by my office handing out squash, well, you can run the other way, or you can enjoy the bountiful harvest that is growing in our August garden and eat squash.

LINK to an interesting article about pollination of squash

Native Seeds/SEARCH website

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wonderful Daylilies

Surely I have bored most of you to tears, dear readers, with my loving praise of the daylily. Here is yet another blog post that extols my admiration for these summer flowers as pictured in this vase of blooms that are illuminated by the morning sun.

Some years ago, six or eight, I'm not sure, Ed and I drove over to Stone Cottage Gardens near Gladwin, Michigan to see their daylily fields. We made the trip in mid August, toward the time of our wedding anniversary, and gifted ourselves with a trunkful of daylily clumps.

That trunk of flowers has turned into loads of lilies which start blooming at the end of June and bloom almost until Labor Day, thanks to the descriptive plant lists that Stone Cottage Gardens keeps on their daylily offerings.

We were able to identify early, mid, and late bloomers, as well as plants that die back completely, versus plants that stay semi evergreen. Some of our lilies are spider types with slender, reaching petals. Some are tough and tall tetraploid lilies. There are two clumps that are a pale cream tint. And then there are the big Ruby Throat lilies that tower over the children who visit our gardens.

I probably should blame all of this daylily nonsense on Matt Esch of Esch Landscaping. During the fall of 2005 when we were choosing plants for the beds around our Cedar Bluff lake house, I asked for traditional plants. "None of this new fancy-schmancy stuff," I told Matt as I passed over hydrangeas and butterfly bushes in favor of roses and daylilies.

So Matt's crews planted the big clumps of orange lilies on the south side of the garage that fall and the rest is history.

Truly wonderful, the daylilies are something I enjoy day after day, all summer long.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lone Turbine

This solitary wind turbine along Ruth Road south of Ruth caught my eye. Standing tall against a dramatic backdrop of stormy skies, the windmill is almost lost in the majesty of intermingled clouds.

I took a short drive tonight in my new Chevy Volt. Yes, I did say new and you will hear more about that in blog posts to come. The sugar beets fields are beginning to mature. There's a difference in leaf quality and in color. Bean fields are just edging toward a yellow green that precedes their golden stage. The air is cooler. Not nippy, just damp.

Tonight is the Perseid meteor shower which we will not be seeing here in Michigan's Thumb due to cloud cover and stormy skies.

Monday, August 11, 2014

First Tomato

In my haste to pick the first tomato today, I now realize that it needed a few more days of sunshine. But the weather has changed. 

Tonight the winds are out of the southeast, gusting 17 miles per hour. It has been raining since mid afternoon and now, almost sunset time, the rain just keeps coming. 

That precious first tomato might not have survived several days of damp, rainy weather. It wasn't quite at that home grown juicy perfection stage when I picked it this noon, but it made a darn good tomato and lettuce on whole wheat toast sandwich today. 

Of course the side dish of yellow beans prepared with a smidge of dill and a smack of butter helped the tomato sandwich. So did the bowl of fresh Michigan blueberries. August is a great garden month, even when it rains and the tomatoes are slow to ripen. 


Friday, August 8, 2014

Ruby Throat Art

Paintboxes and art journals have been laid aside for a few weeks as gardening and other concerns have filled life. I pulled out the paints last Sunday night and had a little session with watercolors. My subject was the big daylily known as "Ruby Throat."

This plant, a tetraploid variety, is a forceful daylily that stands close to five feet high. With thick stems and multiple substantial buds, this Ruby Throat lets you know that it is present and accounted for in a garden bed.

Ruby Throat has a center, the throat part, that moves from red to orange to yellow green in a span of centimeters. You can't miss this beauty among the daylilies in our gardens.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Porch Pot

My favorite porch pot this summer is a trio of a new pink geranium, some ivy, and a strawberry. The strawberry, plucked from the wild ones that grow in the woods, sends out interesting runners. 

The ivy is from last year. I brought it in for the winter and it just keeps growing. My mom loved pink, so pink geraniums make me think of her. And the green pot, well it was a Mother's Day gift from my daughter and her family. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

August Haze

A subtle golden haze settled toward sunset last night as I was driving across Helena Road. Big bales of straw dotted a wheat field that is already green with sprouted grain. Wisps of clouds, fair weather signals, floated over the eastern side of the county.

The wheat harvest is pretty much finished. Farmers are bringing in the straw. The corn is tall. Beans are getting vines. We are in August and quickly tilting toward autumn.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Little Stuff

For the fun of it, I photographed some of the little stuff that makes life easier. There's a split ring marker, the white plastic almost-circle, that knitters use to mark stitches. The open end slips through the knitting to mark a stitch. Golf tees are indispensable, almost, for most golfers. Little chunks of wood or plastic, they keep the ball ready for that first big swing on a tee box.

Jumbo paperclips hold all my paperwork together. I even throw out the little average sized ones, that's how much I favor these big clips. Office clips, this one in purple, fasten everything from potato chips to nut bags in my kitchen. Occasionally they end up used as office supplies. Most often, they are in the kitchen.

Last but not least is the glass head silk pin, my straight pin of choice for sewing and quilting. I use these little puppies, fresh out of the box and super sharp, to pin quilts into drywall, too.

All of this little stuff solves problems and makes life better.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tomato Stages

While pruning the completely overgrown cherry tomatoes, this vine came to my attention. In one fell swoop it illustrates stages of fruit set on this particular tomato varietal.

From the seven pointed blossom, to the withered petals, to the fruit appearing, this vine shows all the stages except for the ripened fruit, which, by the way, I am still waiting for.

Every year I experiment a little differently with tomatoes. This year's big guys are getting pruned so that the sun can reach some of these blossoms. So far, no tomatoes, but it is the first week of August, and I did set these plants during the first week of June.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sockie Samples

My computer and I were big buddies this week as I wrote and rewrote a knitting pattern for my company, Graywood Designs. The work is exacting. The math has to be correct. The photography must be instructive and motivating. It's a big job. 

Choosing colors for samples is critical, since colors that have little appeal translate into a design that is seen as so-so. This design, a little sock that teaches how  to knit a sock, doesn't have to fit anyone's foot. It just has to be a fun and educational project. 

This week's colors for the pattern are bright and punchy. When arranged on my dining table in morning light, they look great and photograph even better. Maybe I can stick with these and knit some more samples this weekend.