Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mighty, Mighty Jimmy & The Legacy Trees

On the road to the South Pasture.
Meet the Mighty, Mighty Jimmy. Hazel's 1969 GMC Pick-Up.

Hazelnut likes to call her ancient pick-up the dude magnet because every time she fires up Jimmy and drives him into town some well-meaning fellow asks if Jim is for sale.

Bad Dog thinks Hazel is cool because she lets him ride in the back of her pick-up. Such shenanigans are okay out here but a blinky no-no anywhere one drives faster than 15 mph. (So sayeth Bad Dog's human.)

The nerve of those guys ~ lumping The Mighty, Mighty Jimmy into an impersonal category of buy 'em, sell 'em cars.

He is soooo much more than that. Hazel's Dad bought Jim way back when she was knee-high to the truck bumpers. He's an important part of the family.

Plus, he's the only guy that can reliably transport us yahoos into the remote outback of Western South Dakota. (When the going got tough, we parked my Ford Explorer by the side of the road.)

Hazel lives in rough and tumble cattle country where tall prairie grasses wave back and forth in a hypnotic pattern, very similar to ocean waves.

This important road trip was an inspection of her back-breaking labor earlier this summer.

When she planted 300 native trees in the sheltered areas of this wild land she inherited from Mom and Dad.

Think it's hard to make a living as a human?

Try life as a deer or an antelope. They don't exactly play out here.

They spend the better part of their day searching for water and protection for raising their young.

That photo above is a few of Hazelnut's 300 tree seedlings. They don't look like much right now but just you wait a few years.

As these seedlings grow, Hazel's trees will provide a safe haven for animals, a legacy to her family, and an essential windbreak to thwart the top soil erosion that plagues this part of the country.

Jimmy keeps a watchful eye on Billy & Lori

So, that's the news from Western South Dakota as I make my way through the hinter lands, back home after what I was originally boasting to be my 'Still Can't Believe I'm Getting Paid for Gardening' vacation.

Update: Things didn't exactly work out as planned. I did not get paid. In fact! I sort of got fired.

You see, the foundation collapsed on my brother's house. Now, I highly doubt I'm such a curse that my showing up in town (after I swore I never would again) caused the old gal to give up the ghost. But ya never know...

Perhaps this old house, where I was born and raised, entertained the notion of a landscaping face lift, rolled her eyes and called it a permanent day. Or, maybe she just doesn't like me.

Whatever the case, here is the trouble I caused ~ the collapsed basement of my brother's home:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

East River

My Evening Retreat, John's Lake

The next stop on my Still Can't Believe I'm Getting Paid for Gardening vacation took me to a quiet little lake cabin, East River.

The term, East River, makes no sense. Unless, of course, you were unfortunate enough to be born and raised in South Dakota, where the mighty Missouri River neatly slices this state in half.

Moonflowers bloom ecstatically near the lake. Opening as the sun begins to set, flowers reflect moonlight until the sun rises when they close up for the day.

'West River' is cattle country ~ a hard scrabble existence, with dry, desert conditions and more rattlesnakes than people.

'East River' is lush, green, laden with soft, nutrient-rich garden soil that sometimes makes me wonder why in the world I ever chose to move farther west.

Blossoms bigger than your head: Hibiscus flowers easily east of the Missouri River. In my home state of Utah, they require 'round the clock care. (And they're still not happy!)

Interestingly enough, it was West River South Dakotans who coined the term East River as a derogatory label for us 'softies.' (We East River folks label them: jealous.)

So, I landed in the place that I called home for the formative years of my life. And, our first task was the saddest one of all.

Taking down the old cabin that stood forever on my parent's property. It was a fully functional teeny, tiny house that had been there for ages and had finally decided it was time to fall down.

Bye-Bye Cabin.

If this place could talk, oh the stories it would tell. Over these long years 'The Cabin' served as temporary housing [aka free lodging] for many a wayward 20-something and friends down on their luck. A silent cave where my Father read entire libraries of books.

For me, it was a giant playhouse. With room enough for all my friends and most of their Barbies, too.
Early mornings, John's Lake. (You'll just have to imagine me in this shot because I couldn't figure out how to set the camera timer.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kit Cats & Migrating Monarchs

Met this impressive Monarch Butterfly in Hazel's Zinnia Garden. Her wing span was enormous.

Migrating Monarch Butterfly snacking on the Zinnias

Ten days ago I filled my car with the tools of the trade, squeezed Bad Dog into the passengers seat and off we went on my first ever working vacation.

'Been a long time coming... But, some silly fool [that would be my brother] finally agreed to PAY ME to do a landscaping project!

It's a 2 day, hellishly dull drive to my hometown of Wide Spot In The Road, South Dakota.

Lucky for me, I have a good friend who lives half way between Here and No Where.

I just love to visit her gardens because she grows a lot of annuals ~ gorgeous, true blue Morning Glories...

And an all time favorite: Zinnias!

Bright, happy colors, easily grown by seed in a summer garden. Why don't I do this??? Next year... maybe next year.

When you stroll Hazel's gardens you're stalked by the most precious of predators.

They look a little worried because big old Bad Dog is standing right behind me and my camera. BD is scared of kitties though it took them a few minutes to figure that out.

Messy birds planted this Sunflower Garden that stretches 10 feet into the sky. (Can you spot the half moon peering down upon us?)

Zinnias make a delightful dinner for migrating Butterflies.

Last but not least. Meet Cookie. Isn't she the cutest little thing you've ever seen?

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Favorite 'Coming Attraction' ~ Autumn Joy

Of all the perennials in my garden, Sedum is the one that truly deserves the title, 'Coming Attractions.'
That's because this big, beautiful, drought-tolerant, sun-worshiping succulent teases me for months on end.

She grows ever-so-slowly throughout the season.
Providing nary a hint of what's to come.
Pale green leaves make a nice backdrop to summer flowers.

Sedum patiently waits for a cool, crisp morning, just like this one. Because she's not trying to please you, she's much more interested in feeding the migrating butterflies and busy, little bees.

Sedum Autumn Joy has a great personality, changing colors as she blooms. This plant (photo above) is the same plant as photo below, shot 4 weeks later.

Right about the time I've forgotten all about her, I step outside, with my morning coffee and see a brightly blooming bush. Or, 2 or 3, or 4... Since every time it's in bloom I hightail it to the nursery to buy another one!

There are 400 varieties of perennial Sedum. I'd list them here, but I don't want to get carpal tunnel. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is best known and most popular. The flower heads change color throughout the season, just like our favorite trees, ending up a rich, rusty brown.

Sedum Autumn Joy: Purchase this fall bloomer from Home Depot or other discount shop. They are such easy-care perennials, it's not worth the expense of specialty nurseries.

I love the succession of colors ~ buds have a hint of pale pink, blooms are deep, rich reds and pinks. The copper and browns of spent blooms look lovely in the freshly fallen snow. USDA zones 3-10.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Watermelon Pickles

You gotta be quick. When Levo's melons are ripe, it's a free-for-all, kind of like Filene's Basement. Perhaps it's a secret in the soil. Or, maybe it's just good old-fashioned know-how. Whatever the case, when Levo turns the lights on at his stand, summer is officially over and the pickling season has begun.

Turns out old Levo knew what's what long before the rest of us. Watermelons are one of the world's healthiest foods - higher in cancer-fighting antioxidants than any other fruit. Make this recipe with your kids. It's a fun time and a whole lot sweeter than taking them to McDonalds.

Watermelon Pickle Recipe
*Quantity: Makes 2 1/2 pints
*Prep Time: Takes forever (Hey, it's a labor of love.)

2 pounds watermelon rind
1/4 cup pickling salt
4 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon broken stick cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

Day One:
  • Trim the dark green and pink parts from the watermelon rind.
  • Cut into 1-inch cubes and measure 7 cups.
  • Soak watermelon rind overnight in a mixture of the pickling salt and water.
Day Two:
  • Drain and rinse watermelon rind.
  • Cover rind with cold water in a large saucepan; cook just until tender.
  • Combine sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, whole cloves, and 1 cup water in an 8-quart kettle. Simmer mixture 10 minutes, then strain.
  • Add drained watermelon rind and lemon slices.
  • Simmer until watermelon rind is translucent.
  • Fill half-pint jars with watermelon rind and syrup mixture, leaving 1/2-inch space at the top of the jars. Adjust the lids.
  • Process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

* Find Levo's historic watermelon stand along route 37 in South Dakota. By the time I arrived, most of the goodies were gone. Slackers get to explain to the kiddies why they're roasting pumpkin seeds instead of cookin' up pickles.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Awesome Easy Bloom [Product Review]

Hmmm.... The pinks I planted in early springtime but when did I plant this greenie?

That's actually a trick question. The short answer is 24 hours ago. First I planted it here. And, then I planted it there. I've been moving this little gadget back and forth amongst the gardens every day ~ ever since I pressured the last borrower to return it.

It's called the Easy Bloom Plant Sensor.

Stick this cute little gadget into the soil, turn it on, and allow it to gather data for 24 hours.

Then plug the same plastic flower into the USB port of your computer and something magical happens...

First it analyzes all of the data and offers fun facts and interesting tidbits about your garden. Such as... how sunny that spot truly is, what's the moisture content and so on and so forth. (I was hoping it could actually analyze my soil but I realize this is an awful lot to ask for little green flower...)

So, first it gets smart on your garden.

And, then!

It tells you what types of flowers will survive, and probably thrive, in that particular spot in your garden.

So far, everyone who's borrowed the Easy Bloom has had a lot of fun with it.

We've experimented with shade gardens, sun gardens and even this spot, in the photo below I call the dead garden. Doesn't matter what I plant in this spot, odds are pretty good it will die.

In this spot that I call The Dead Garden, Easy Bloom recommended a highly drought tolerant plant called 'Mormon Tea.' (Ephedra boelckei)

Bottom Line? I'm sold.

There's really only one drawback to this clever gardening gadget. It was so popular with my master gardening friends that for awhile there I never thought I'd ever see it returned to me...

* The Easy Bloom Plant Sensor was given to me by Plant Sense, Inc. to test and review.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Strolling the Tour de Suds

This week's Friday Afternoon [Hiking] Club involved a 4 hour walk in my favorite direction: downhill!

Through a Sunflower meadow:

Along a rocky trail, where brightly blooming purple Asters speckle the landscape:

Wildflowers exert a grand effort, feeling the competition on all sides. Suddenly everyone is in the mood to put on a pretty show:

Farther down the mountain, we abandoned the sunny meadows for the cool shade of an Aspen forest:

Where Monarch Butterflies munch wild Milkweed:

Black bears (oh, my!)* nibble on the plentiful berries:

And, flower lovers, such as me and KC, brazenly snoop around secret gardens ~ aka people's backyards in the Old Town neighborhood of Park City.

This Downhill Day
To do this much hiking without putting forth any effort at all, one must first make like tourists and ride the Deer Valley Ski Lift to the top of Bald Eagle Mountain.

From there, we meandered downhill to the legendary Tour de Suds hiking/biking/misbehaving trail that, sooner or later, drops you right in front of a brew pub. Long live our Mountain Trail Foundation. I mean... is that fantastic planning or what?

PS: I don't believe there are any bears around here. Squirrels, maybe, but I don't think they'll eat you.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Dried Green Tomatoes

Took a walk through the Veggie Garden of Wunx last night.

'Twas the Intermittent Meeting of the Ladies Irregular Supper Club and I was in attendance in body, if not in mind. I'd had a rough day though it was rapidly improving since I discovered her husband's wine cellar and [hey, whaddyaknow!] found a lovely bottle of Viognier.

At some point, I'll yak about her pretty flowers but what struck me when I rounded the garden corner were tomato vines, taller than me.

It got me thinking about how tricky tomato seedlings can be. Sneaky, conniving little monsters. They act so sweet and innocent in the springtime. So tiny. There's room! Let's plant a few extras!

Twelve weeks later all hell breaks loose and, well, you can run but you can't hide.

So, it IS Labor Day weekend and these tomatoes SHOULD be red by now. They'll probably get there but how does one cope with a truckload of tomaters?

Never fear. Hazel is here. She dries tomatoes in her oven and Wunx can, too. :)

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
  • Start with firm, ripe (not overly ripe) fresh-picked tomatoes.
  • Slice cherry tomatoes in half, slice larger tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Sprinkle sea salt to improve flavor and speed up the drying process.
  • Set the oven to 175 - 200 degrees (F).
  • Place tomatoes, skin side down, on a baking sheet. Perforated pizza pans are great because they allow air circulation.
  • Slowly roast these babies. It could take anywhere from 3-12 hours (depending upon the size of the tomato slices.)
How to Know if You've Screwed Up:
√ Dried tomatoes are done when they feel pliable, kind of leathery.
√ If your tomatoes are brittle, they're over-done and you get an A for effort, nothing more.

To Rehydrate Dried Tomatoes:
Soak in water for 1-2 hours or toss directly into soups and stews.

* You can dry green tomatoes. However, you might be a whole lot happier if you ripen them the old fashioned way and dry them when they're ready. That's why windowsills were invented, way back when.

I'm not an advocate for frying, or drying, green tomatoes. I simply titled this blog post Dried Green Tomatoes 'cause I liked that old movie. Especially the part where they slow-cooked the mean guy!)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sweet Stargazer Surprise

So, that sweet, shock o' the world, surprise in my 'done flowering for the summer' garden was, indeed, a Stargazer Lily.

Or, I should say Lilies, plural, since each morning I race out there to discover another big fat fragrant flower!

I never intentionally plant such stellar perennials because I live in a hot, dry, high plains desert. Torturous conditions for wimpy beauty queens.

Or, so I thought. Ms. Stargazer being a fine example of me selling myself short. She blossomed in my sunny window easy enough. And, like most of my flowering experiments, once done, she got shoved into the mud with fingers crossed she could survive life in the great outdoors.

Turns out she's tougher than I thought. :))

* I was online this a.m. wondering how hard it is to grow Stargazer Lilies outdoors. Based on the watering, fertilizing + 'feet in the shade/flowers in the sun' yada yada tips it appears difficult but it's not. In fact, I'm not sure that meticulous care is even necessary. I didn't remember she was there so I never even watered her. USDA Zones 3-8. (Meaning she could probably overwinter in a container on your deck no problemo.)