Saturday, July 23, 2022

July updates

It's been hot and dry here, so the garden and the pond have both required watering.  The garden is producing, though.

Mid-July harvest: beans peas, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and not-quite-ready corn.

I suppose the pond is, as well; the fish are getting bigger, and the water hyacinth have been multiplying.

Pond with water hyacinth; there are fish in there somewhere

The sweet corn is not as visually impressive as the popcorn, but it will probably be ready for real by the end of the month.  The test ears were edible but still a bit babyish.

Sweet corn

The first butternut squash is on the vine; I don't know if I'll get as many as last year with the dearth of rain.

Butternut squash

Despite the dearth of rain, the tiger lilies are doing better than any previous years thus far, which is nice, since my zinnias are not doing that well this year.

Tiger lilies

In non-garden news, I started the Yiddish course in Duolingo.  It's been fascinating as someone who speaks English and studied German for several years, since they are all Germanic languages, to see how they've evolved similarly and where they've diverged.

Despite the heat, after about six it's not too bad for walking if the humidity is not too bad, and we went to a new trail last weekend.

Mid-July sunset.
Hopefully we get more rain soon; I have a lot of tomatoes coming on, and I'd like to get at least four batches of salsa out of them this year.

Friday, June 24, 2022

June updates

So after a month of not doing anything with the geography after doing a 100% completion 3 days in a row (so no practice, no review), recall for countries was 99% and for capitals 83%.  Not bad!  I should probably decrease the testing interval to help with retention.  Countries are easier because I can use spatial memory to help with them.

Also I need to learn Turkey's new name.

Garden is coming along.  I have some extra random sunflowers, probably related to squirrels.  The radishes have all been harvested, and the corn's had its first round of nitrogen fertilizer.

Garden ca. late June

 

We lost all the pond fish this winter with the dramatic temperature swings, so after cleaning up the vines that were sucking all the water out of the pond, we got some new fish.  Last time we got two koi and four comets; this time we got four of each.  We had about thirty fish in the pond before, so hopefully in a year or two we'll see them start to multiply.


New baby fishes

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Geography

So last week I decided I want to learn all the countries and their capitals. This was partly inspired by Worldle and partly because I'm reading a book on the history of Africa, and my knowledge of that continent is woefully thin.

Good news: this process has not been as onerous as anticipated. After 10 days, I've been able to list all the country names and all but 5 of the capitals (all in Africa, because a) woefully ignorant of the geography and b) Africa is huge). I want to see if I can repeat the countries for a couple days before I check the continents off on my list, and I don't know what I'll need to do for long-term maintenance of the information, but it's definitely progress. After I've got the capitals down, I'll move on to map locations.
 
Initially, the only continent I could fill in all the countries in was South America. This surprised me, other than it has the smallest number, because after Africa, South America is probably the continent I know the least about.  Since I have a fairly spatial memory, the continents where I do know where or what region a country is located were easier for me to ramp up quickly. Once I start working on the map part, it will probably help with long-term retention.

If this is something you'd like to try for yourself, my process has been pretty simple. First, I made a spreadsheet with a sheet for each continent and made lists of all the countries and their capitals. Then I made a worksheet on another tab to print and fill in, and I made a sheet to track progress in each category. I filled in what I could for each continent, then checked it against the spreadsheet lists, filling in what I missed in a different color. Writing by hand helps me learn things, so repeating this process daily has been useful.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Garden: 2021

2021 has been... busy.  I've had to be selective about which hobbies got attention, and the blog is easily back-burnered for other more time-sensitive activities.  One activity that can't be pushed off if I want it to come to anything that year is the garden.  If seeds aren't planted at a certain point, there just isn't enough time for them to make anything.  But the garden requires some prep work, too.

My wheelbarrow tire was completely flat at this point:

Flat wheelbarrow tire
Flat wheelbarrow tire

The apple tree requires regular pruning:

Apple tree and a polesaw
Apple tree and a polesaw

The grape vine needed new support since it tried to take over the fence the neighbors took down:
New grape arbor
New grape arbor

And of course a lot of digging to turn over the garden and expand the southern bed:
Deep-digging the new bed expansion
Deep-digging the new bed expansion

I did not need to plant new catnip this year, since the previous year's came back, and I think at this point it's firmly established in the raised flowerbed.
Catnip in raised flower bed
Yeah, that's basically all catnip

I set up the soaker hoses ahead of time this year, along with the anti-rabbit fence:
Garden with 2' anti-rabbit chickenwire and soaker hoses
Garden with 2' anti-rabbit chickenwire and soaker hoses

So I set up the soaker hoses and hardly had to use them this year, which also meant we got enough rain I couldn't keep the kaolin clay on the apples, and lost basically all of them to insect damage.  I have plans for that for next year, though.  (Nematodes.)

So this year, my existing edible permaculture included two apple trees, the raspberry and blackberry bushes, the grape vine, and a random surviving strawberry plant, plus the catnip since I guess you can make tea with it if you want.  I added a Stayman Winesap tree since I couldn't find a dwarfed variety of the plum I wanted and a Juliet cherry tree.  The Juliet is a sweet-tart hybrid that shouldn't get much more than 6-8' tall, which is what I needed for the space I've got, and it should be good for both eating and jelly.  We'll see what I have to do about birds when it gets big enough to produce.

I planted out garlic early, so that was in place, and once I got the digging done and the fence up, I added
  • Glass gem popcorn, this year with selected colors
  • Jalapenos
  • Cabbage
  • Pumpkin
  • Watermelon
  • Butternut squash
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini
  • Roma tomatoes
  • San Marino-type tomatoes
  • Early Girl tomatoes
  • Some kind of cherry tomatoes that I had four seeds left from a couple years ago
  • Pickling cucumbers
  • Russian mammoth sunflowers
Something kept eating the cabbage down to nothing, so I picked up some cauliflower and brussels sprouts plants to fill in where they had been.  It was a bad year for brassicas.  None of them wanted to produce their edible parts until very late this year - I harvested the brussels sprouts the last weekend in November, and even though two of the cabbages came back finally, by the time they had gotten big enough to harvest, they had bugs bored all the way through.

Otherwise, though, it was a pretty good year:
Garden in August
Garden in August

I got a new conjoined vegetable this year:
Conjoined yellow squash
Conjoined yellow squash

The tomato harvest wasn't as overwhelming as last year, and the San Marino-type tomatoes got a ton of bug damage, while the immediately adjacent Roma did not, so I know which ones I'm planting next year.

The unexpected MVP this year was the butternut squash.  I bought them to fill in a space I didn't know what to do with because the nursery still had some late in the planting season, and I harvested five and lost that many to (probably) the squirrels.  The vines will try to take over the entire garden and escape through the chickenwire, so I ended up cutting them back repeatedly to keep them out of the tomatoes.  I still have some, cubed, in the freezer.

The pumpkins and watermelon also far exceeded my expectations for them this year; I had never gotten successful ones of either this year, but I put the pumpkins I could reach under extra chickenwire to deter the squirrels, since I lost my one last year to them.  I got three in early September and stashed them in the basement for Halloween:
Three pumpkins
Three pumpkins

One ended up going out as deck decoration and eventually rotted in the rain, so it got put in the garden where I want pumpkins next year, but the other two lasted easily till Halloween:
Carved jack-o-lanterns
Carved jack-o-lanterns

After I picked those three, the pumpkins weren't done.  I got this one at the end of October and brought it in in hopes it would ripen further:
Bonus pumpkin (ginormous) with bonus watermelon (baseball-sized)
Bonus pumpkin (ginormous) with bonus watermelon (baseball-sized)

It did:
Ripened pumpkin with diet Coke can for scale
Ripened pumpkin, diet Coke can for scale

It's still out there, with a bit of frost burn now since we've gotten some snow.  It'll go in back to hopefully disperse seeds once it starts decaying.

We got six watermelons, ranging from baseball to about 8" in diameter.  Surprisingly, they were all ripe, and unfortunately super seedy.  After trying to eat the first one with all the seeds, I made watermelon-lime sorbet with the later ones.  This was 100% the correct decision, and I recommend this flavor if you need to use up some watermelon.

Seedy watermelon
Seedy watermelon

The popcorn turned out as spectacularly as expected, including a couple of very dark ears that I had specifically selected for:
Dark purple popcorn
Dark purple popcorn

I got about twice as many grapes this year as I did last year, which was... a lot, since they're wine grapes, and I just want to make some jelly.  Even with losing about half to bug damage, there was enough for three batches of jelly.  (I did not make three batches of jelly.)
Way too many green wine grapes
Way too many green wine grapes

I did have interlopers in the grapes this year; a robin couple made their nest in the arbor:
Robin's nest
Robin's nest

I ended up doing 3 batches of salsa, two or three batches of sauce, curry ketchup, dill relish, sweet relish, rosemary jalapeno jelly, grape jelly, and grape juice this year.  I ran out of pint jars at one point.  I did discover I can can water (you know, for emergency supplies without plastic leaching in), so I will probably do that with a bunch of my quart jars.  I also froze a bunch of zucchini and yellow squash in slices rather than shredded for side dishes.
Filled canning jars
Filled canning jars

Oh, yeah, those Russian mammoth sunflowers?  They are mammoth.  I did realize that they are too much work without some serious insect deterrent, and too much work to eat anyway, so I put them out for the squirrels and blue jays to fight over, which was quite entertaining.
Sunflower head
Russian mammoth sunflower

So besides the main vegetable garden this year, I decided to try doing fresh herbs, as well.  I don't really have room in back to do herbs in the main garden, and for cooking purposes, closer is better, so I started them out on the deck:
Herbs on the deck
Herbs on the deck

That worked, but they did get kind of big later in the season, and then we were supposed to potentially get some wind from Hurricane Henri (never materialized), but I moved them down onto the back entryway since it was more sheltered.  They liked it back there in partial shade, so then I had to figure out some way to have them back there without blocking the back door.  I had been sketching an herb riser back in January or whatnot when I was initially mapping out the garden and deciding I needed to go with containers for herbs (I have the containers; we bought 100 of them like 15 years ago when I first started wanting to grow stuff).  So I did some Googling, found a design I could riff off, and built one:
Herb riser with herbs
Herb riser with herbs

Oh, yeah, that lettuce did really well this year until it finally got leggy.  We didn't have to buy lettuce for several weeks.

So for herbs, I ended up planting
  • Spearmint
  • Peppermint
  • Lemon balm
  • Chives
  • Marjoram
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Tarragon
  • Mexican tarragon
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Anise
  • Mustard
  • Borage
  • Calendula
  • Beebalm
  • Basil
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
Most of them did pretty well.  The calendula flowered, made seeds, flowered some more, and I put some of the seeds in various other places to see if I can get it established, since it seems to grow from seed really well, and I can use the flowers to dye yarn if I start getting enough of it.  The borage had kind of ugly leaves but gorgeous bluish-purple flowers, so I'll be doing that again, too.

Ultimately the herbs were an attempt to get more butterflies, but a lot of them did not flower to do that.  The zinnias are still more effective in attracting monarchs, along with the endemic milkweed in the front flowerbeds.  I would like to do more with the front flowerbeds, but someone's been stealing the coneflower heads when they go to seed, so I don't want to put anything out there that I want to harvest.

Next year hopefully I can get some apples from the tree; I would like to get to where I can make my own cider vinegar, since I had to trash 200-300 lbs. of apples this year.  I definitely have enough capacity on the tree to do quite a lot with them if I can get the apple maggots under control.

But! We're good for salsa for next year, which was the primary tomato goal for the year, and I got at least two gallons of shelled popcorn, which is way more than we can eat.  I dried some herbs; I gave a bunch a way; there's still oregano out there even though we've had snow.  Next year I'm going to zone the popcorn colors and see if I can get specific combinations.