Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Beauty

The colors come alive with light shining through the petals

This was a very lucky shot. On a rainy afternoon, the sun finally came out from behind a cloud and illuminated this iris bloom. I love how the light brings out the saffron-like golden "beards" hanging down the side petals. Absolutely glorious!

Iris blooming in my mother's yard
Heard County, Georgia25 April 2010

Friday, March 30, 2012

My kind of weather

Weather Channel "classic" Doppler radar
30 Mar 2012, 7:35pm EDT

Tonight in LaGrange, there's a steady rain with occasional thunder. The window next to my desk is open; I can smell the rain as the cool, fresh air flows in through the screen. Perfect evening, perfect weather.

Many people have a personal crisis when it rains. Not me. I'm delighted on wet, stormy days. Why not be happy? Water is life, after all.

Regular rain means plentiful crops, beautiful gardens, thriving wildlife. Those are reasons to be happy when the forecast calls for showers. Okay, so having to be out in it isn't fun. But eventually, you'll get home, where you can watch the rain while staying warm and dry. 

Last summer's Southeastern drought was terrible. It was heartbreaking to watch West Point Lake and other local reservoirs drop to historic lows. The crayfish in the small creek near my mother's house were nearly dried out of their home, and saved only by a couple of early-fall downpours. Animals, plants, crops, communities, you and I need precipitation more than we can ever know. Without a storm now and then, life ceases to exist.

Rain means that life continues. Now that's a reason to be thankful!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

THIS JUST IN: Heirloom tomato seeds!

Very quick shipping from Maine...thanks, Pinetree Seeds!

Yesssss! The little manila envelope from Pinetree Garden Seeds was waiting when I opened the mailbox this afternoon. It took my order just three days to get here all the way from Maine. Impressive!

I have roughly 100 seeds of Mortgage Lifter, Brandywine, Druzba, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes. Between work and graduate school, I won't have a chance to pot them up until the weekend. That's all right, because it gives me time to decide where I'll put the seedling trays.

That "grape soda" smell means wisteria

It's springtime in the Deep South, and the air smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheap-store-brands grape soda. Or maybe it smells more like year-old grape bubble gum, the wonky kind that nobody will even shoplift off the clearance rack at Big Lots.

Whatever sticky grape confection it smells like, that smell means wisteria, also known as the Other Vine That Ate the South. Say what you will about wisteria, but I always look forward to its glorious Pointillist creations draping the trees.

Greens, purples, lavenders, smokes...wisteria's got 'em all.
(LaGrange, Georgia—21 March 2012)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Just for Fun: An FP&P word map

Commonly used words and tags from FP&P in a common farmyard silhouette.
Created with Tagxedo on 23 Mar 2012.

Funny how real life and blogging life sometimes cross paths!

Working on an assignment for Information Graphics class, I stumbled upon Tagxedo, which bills itself as an online "word cloud [creator] with styles." Enter any text, URL, news story, or other document, set a few parameters, and voilà! You have a visual representation of the doc's most commonly used words. The bigger the word, the more often it appears in the original text. 

As part of my assignment submission, I used this blog's URL as the text source, and chose the rooster shape you see above. Of course, you can upload your own .jpg file to set the shape on your Tagxedo cloud.

Head over to Tagxedo to see what kind of fun you can create. If you choose to post your word clouds on your blog, I hope you'll leave the URL in the comments section so we can see what you whipped up.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tomato dreams

On Tuesdaythe same day I blogged about the Tomat-O-Match—I ordered my tomato seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds. This Maine-based family operation offers an amazing selection of hard-to-find heirloom vegetable, herb, and flower seeds at great prices. Their mission is to help preserve old-fashioned plant varieties, and they've been doing it for nearly 40 years. Staffers test every seed before listing it in the catalog, and those catalog descriptions are often written with wry humor. All these qualities make me happy to do business with Pinetree.

After much hemming and hawing, and a consultation or 12 with the Tomat-O-Match, I settled on four old-fashioned tomatoes.
Why these? They're all good for fresh eating or canning, and are indeterminate (they grow and bear all season long instead of stopping in mid-summer). My gardening friends have recommended these varieties or similar ones; these tomatoes hold up pretty well to our punishing summers. They bear heavily all summer long, and sometimes until frost, putting out as many fruits as a gardener can eat. And they produce interesting-looking tomatoes in varying shades of red, maroon, pink, and purple.

My mother bought a pack of seedling pots, but I have the feeling we're going to need more than a dozen. Thank goodness I have a PotMaker and a few months' back issues of the Market Bulletin.

My seeds should arrive by the end of next week. Mom has already set aside an area in her laundry room for our seedlings and a grow light. Last month, she and my stepfather tilled a half-truckload of composted leaves into the dormant garden soil. At least 30 days lie between potting up and setting out; at least 90 lie between now and the first harvest. It will be a while yet—and the wait is worth all the trouble.

In the meantime, I'm dreaming of luscious, home-grown heirloom tomatoes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: 3/21/12

How many pops would a maypop pop...

Maypop (also called passionflower) in bloom on wire fence
Heard County, GeorgiaEarly September 2011

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Choose an heirloom tomato variety with Tomat-O-Match

After three disappointing seasons of tomato FAIL, last summer my mother and I gave up on the garden. One of the Ten Commandments of Gardening is, "Thou shalt know when to give up." Or at least give it a rest.

Along with hot peppers, tomatoes are supposed to be the idiot-proof plant in the vegetable garden. "Anyone can grow tomatoes!" the garden guides proclaim. Evidently not. The last few summers have been incredibly humid, even for the Deep South, and nearly windless. This does nothing to aid tomato pollination. Add to this unusual summer heat and a reduction in the number of bees around to visit our 'mater blossoms, and you have much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair. And no tomatoes.

This spring, we're back and hoping for better luck. "Let's try heirloom varieties," I suggested. "We'll grow them from seed. Maybe they'll be better adjusted to the yard and weather when we set them out."

Mom sighed. "Well, why not?"

Believe it or not, I've had a tough time choosing heirloom tomatoes. So many different kinds, and so many variables: canning, fresh eating, or cooking; indeterminate or determinate; paste or sandwich; early yield or later yield...the list goes on. So thank goodness for Fine Gardening's Tomat-O-Match

Here are six of 61 potential heirloom tomato varieties to try!
(From's Tomat-O-Match game, 19 Mar 2012).

Amana Orange and Bison look particularly hardy and interesting. Heirloom varieties were developed before the age of hybridization to stand up to harsh weather and unexpected drought, and are particularly suited to the weird weather patterns we've been seeing the last few years. I'll still ask my fellow gardeners' advice, though. A friend in north Georgia suggests Mr. Stripey. FarmGirl Susan suggests heirloom varieties like Brandywine, but adds, "Just see what works for you." 

We'll see how this goes. Tomato updates are forthcoming...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tiny. Early. Purple. Heirloom.

These muscari aren't much bigger than the bee at center-right.
(6 Mar 2010 - Denver, Colorado)

I've been seeing Muscari in plant catalogs for years. They're called grape hyacinths becausewell, you can see why. Their upside-down-bunch-of-grapes form lends unexpected texture to the early spring garden.

Purple and blue are also unexpected flower colors. When I think about it, I can name many more plants boasting red, orange, yellow, pink, or white flowers. But there don't seem to be as many purple or blue flowers in the garden. Hmm...grape hyacinths, dephinium, Virginia bluebells, Texas bluebonnets, wisteria, hydrangeas, a couple asters, smoke bush, maybe a purple Buddleia, lavender, periwinkle. Oh, and I think I've seen a light-lavender foxglove somewhere before.

Lord knows I'll come up with more later. Still, I could spend nearly all day naming non-blue-or-purple flowering plants. Warmer colors naturally attract pollinators. That makes sense in nature. In the garden, though, blue and purple are eye-catching because we don't expect them.

Speaking of things we don't expect—even though I'd seen Muscari dozens of times before in photos, I didn't realize how small they are. In the photo above, the individual flowers are half the size of the bee who's dropped by for a snack. Even Barbie would look huge next to them. Now I understand why catalogs sell them in orders of 100 or more: they're tiny! You have to plant at least a hundred to get the full "river of blue in my garden" effect.

Grape hyacinths are native to the Caucasus, in countries such as Turkey and Armenia (hence Muscari armeniacum). Muscari neglectum was introduced to Western gardens around 1568, according to Brent & Becky's Bulbs. That's definitely heirloom. And as with many older plant varieties, it doesn't need constant care. After all, its name ends in neglectum.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: 3/14/12

Last year's drought was the worst in many years.

Dried-up pool in the waterfalls at the defunct Wehadkee Yarn Mills
Rock Mills, Alabama—August 2011

Courtesy of Gina Adamson-Taylor

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chickens: "Old-fashioned" animals

Eggs from my backyard hens, November 2009

Every freshly-laid egg looks a little different from all the others. These were laid by my three hens in November, when the days are short, and chickens wind down the egg-laying season to begin their yearly feather moult.

Late-fall eggs are very exciting for backyard poultry enthusiasts. My friends in Minnesota and Michigan say their chickens stop laying in October, and don't start again until spring is well underway. There's a lot to be said for mild winters and a long growing season.

Since I've blogged about old-fashioned plants and abandoned old houses, it makes sense to blog about chickens. Sixty or so years ago, nearly every household included a chicken coop. Many working people raised their own meat birds, and kept layer hens too. It made sense in a time before refrigerated food transport and big grocery chains. People were close to their food sources—they were directly responsible for what they ate, and for how well they kept the livestock they would eventually consume.

I keep chickens for their eggs. It means a lot to me to know my birds are happy and healthy; when I eat their eggs, I know just what the girls ate to produce them. My hens eat cracked corn (scratch grains), insects, leftover cornbread and rolls, alfalfa pellets, steamed brown rice, watermelon and canteloupe rinds, raisins, white clover and other greenery from the lawn, and as many juicy bugs as I can round up for them. (They seem to get a special thrill out of the common garden slugs that gloopity-glop onto my porch in the summer.) My chickens also have room to roam, unlike battery-caged hens in commercial egg operations.

There's a lot more I could write about chickensand Lord knows I will some other time. Wherever you see heirloom-variety plants around the ruins of an old house, remember that "old-fashioned animals" likely once lived there, too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: 3/7/12

Peonies may be old-fashioned, but they never go out of style.

This one's about 6" wide.

Peony blossom in my back yard (LaGrange, Georgia)
April 2011

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Daffodils up front?

Truck hauling chicken manure north on U.S. Highway 27, Carroll County
(trust me, it was chicken poop)

On a drizzly February morning, this roadside in southern Carroll County doesn't look special. The six-inch-high stubble tells me the D.O.T. mowed this shoulder in early fall; the privet and wild blackberry brambles haven't had time to break dormancy.

But the D.O.T. mows roadsides all over the state. So what?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

When a place is no more

What's it like to drive past a place you knew for many yearsand then discover it's gone
Perhaps I shouldn't say place. Perhaps building, or what used to stand at that place. The site, the location, is still there. It's not going anywhere. Its appearance, though...

Well, shoot. This is probably all a matter of semantics. And you probably understand what I'm talking about, anyway.

In my family, our longtime Labor Day weekend tradition is to spend a day at the Powers' Crossroads Festival. I pick up my Mom at her house in the cool hours of the morning, and we drive the 26 miles to the Festival grounds on the Heard-Coweta County border. To get there, we take Georgia Highway 34 through Franklin. This route intersects Bevis Road, which in turn winds past my old elementary school.

We take the same route every year. Nothing differentwell, until 2010.

The old Heard Elementary on Bevis Road, early to mid-1980s
(courtesy of Heard County Elementary School)

The hand-lettered sign at the intersection caught my eye. "Salvage sale at Heard Elementary this weekend?! What the—"