Monday, July 24, 2017

A Faerie Ring

I couldn't believe my eyes: a faerie ring in my very own front yard!
July 24, 2017

Around 5:00 today I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed a big brown area on the other side of one of the oaks in the front yard. What the heck? I stared at it for a long moment, and then I realized what it was. I grabbed my camera and raced outside in the rain, which has been coming down steadily all week. 

We always get mushrooms this time of year. They thrive during the monsoons, when everything outside is wet for long periods of time. However, I'd never seen them grow in a circle in our area. To my eyes, it was a magical moment. As a child, I was very much into faerie tales and fantasy stories, so I'm quite familiar with the lore of faerie rings.

A closeup of the toadstools in the circle.

You see, the ring of toadstools protects the ground where faeries and elves love to dance, in the middle of the night, when prying eyes are closed in slumber. In some cases, the ring rests above the underground homes of a faerie village. If you should be out after dark and come upon a faerie circle, don't attempt to enter and join in the merriment, for you are likely to fall under their spell, unable to leave for a year and a day. Even then, you may only leave if a human outside the ring knows one of the counter-spells to release you.

Furthermore, do not be tempted to destroy the faerie ring. If you do, the best you can hope for is to be beset by horrible-bad luck for the remainder of your days. At worst, you may die a terrible death. I had planned to have Mark mow the yard when the rain let up, but now... On the other hand, if you respect the faeries' ways and keep your distance, you may actually gain their favor and enjoy some good luck. And I can use some of their charmed luck, especially in my garden.

Little mushrooms are growing literally all over my yard!

We've had so much rain that I haven't had to water my garden for almost a week. For the past three days, I even quit uncovering the plants I'd put under the bell-cloches. At first I took off the cloches whenever it rained so the plants could enjoy the natural moisture, but there's been so much steady rainfall lately that they've been getting plenty through the air holes on top, as well as from the extremely saturated ground.

The cucumber plants are recovering beautifully.

After marveling over my own personal faerie ring for a while today, I went back to check on the garden. Since the rain at that time was falling gently, I decided to finally un-cloche the covered plants. I was astounded and thrilled to see how full my cucumber plants have become. They are really thriving under their individual "hot houses," protected from bunny attacks, although I know soon they'll outgrow the cloches. I hope they'll be hardier by then.

The protected berries are getting their chance to ripen!

My three covered strawberry plants are also doing well under their cloches. Several berries have had an opportunity to turn deep, juicy red before being snatched by those ornery garden varmints. Next year I will be ordering about a dozen more cloches! The only drawback is that the new blossoms on the plants may not get pollinated, unless an enterprising bee finds its way through the little air holes on top. Thus, I intend to spend a little more money and get the rabbit-wire cloches, which will allow in bees, sunlight, and rain, while keeping out hungry rabbits, squirrels, and birds.

Some strawberry plants are even sending out runners, which start new plants.

The bean plants are filling out nicely, and their vines
have outgrown the tower, waving freely in the air above.

My bean plants are gorgeous and quickly filling in their tower. No problems there, knock wood. (That's another faerie reference; that saying comes from the Old English custom of knocking on an oak tree to obtain good luck from the faeries who made their homes in the tree.)

The tomatoes are also doing well. I have close to forty tomatoes maturing on the four bushes so far. There was an issue with the bottom branches turning yellow, so I dealt with them as recommended on several gardening websites. So far, so good. New blossoms bloom every day while the baby tomatoes keep growing.

My lone bell pepper continues to grow.

My only remaining concern is the pepper plants. Despite being covered with blossoms that start to form into little bell peppers, none of them make it to fruition. Only the first one continues to grow, all alone. Meanwhile, little blooms keep getting snipped off and cast to the ground, lying all around the plant. According to my research, this is indicative of a problem with snails, which seems odd because I've never seen a single snail in the twenty-four years I've owned this house. They say they come out at night, but it was broad daylight when I was weeding and heard the "snip!" just as the bloom hit the dirt. And I searched the plant and found nothing.

I treated the tomatoes and peppers with diatomaceous earth one day last week when there was a rain-less night and six hours of clear skies before the next storm. You see, diatomaceous earth only works to kill the pests when it's kept dry. As welcome as the monsoonal rains are this time of year, the constant dampness makes it hard to treat the plants long enough to effectively dehydrate the little critters. I'm watching for another dry night followed by several hours of sunny skies, hopefully for a few days in a row. Maybe Wednesday... 

If my faerie friends could just put in a good word for me...

Friday, July 14, 2017

Growing Things

July 14, 2017: My garden as it appeared this morning.

Everything is still growing! Which is still something like a miracle to me, especially considering the continual challenges that keep arising. You can see how much larger everything has grown over the past almost-six weeks, especially the tomato plants, by comparing the above photo with the one below.

For comparison: How my garden looked back on June 4, 2017.

I even have several young tomatoes growing on all four tomato plants, as well as one bell pepper that's getting big quickly. The other pepper plants have blossoms that have curled in and are starting to form into adorable little bell peppers.

Infant tomatoes and a transitioning tomato blossom.

More little green tomatoes.

Not that everything is going perfectly smoothly, of course. Yesterday, while pulling weeds at 7 a.m., I noticed how many itty-bitty holes there were in some lower leaves on both my tomato and pepper plants. I looked at the undersides of the leaves and found little dark spots that I thought might be aphids. I'm no expert, obviously, but I remember my mother battling them in her gardens. She was a master gardener who clearly did not pass on the gardening gene to me. I don't think there's a problem of epidemic proportions yet, since the plants appear quite healthy and are producing, but just in case... I went to the hardware store yesterday and bought a bag of diatomaceous earth to eliminate any pesky pests. Death by dehydration!

Little bell pepper blossoms preparing to transform.

Also yesterday, while I was weeding around the bell peppers, I heard a snap! and one of the bell pepper blossoms flew off the pepper plant. It didn't drop. It didn't land beneath the plant. It flew or was flung, literally, several inches from the plant. I was stunned. What kind of critter would have the strength to snip off a relatively sturdy little stem and toss it out of the plant? I searched the pepper plant immediately but found nothing. How can I fight an enemy I can't see?

My lone, tiny bell pepper. So adorable!

My bell pepper plants have doubled in size. The strawberries beyond are
also doing well, although I've finally realized I bought two different species!

The strawberries are a lost cause, I think. Oh, they're doing great, producing blossoms galore and making dozens of little green berries. It's just that I never get to see those berries turn red. They disappear as soon as they make a thieving-critter mouthful.

Green and white berries adorn most of the strawberry plants...

...and then they don't. Four of the five berries on that stem were bitten off whole.

Well, there was that one time... One morning last week I was surprised to see a tiny splash of scarlet amidst the emerald plants. It was a lone strawberry! The stem had held five little berries, but four of them had vanished, snipped off whole like all the others before. I presume they're being enjoyed by rabbits or squirrels, since birds don't shear them off neatly like that.

Nonetheless, one minuscule berry remained, small as my thumbnail but bright red. I knew if I didn't claim it now it would be gone by morning. I plucked it off the vine, carried it into the house like a great prize, washed it off lovingly, and savored the tiny burst of perfect sweetness in my mouth. No store-bought strawberry will ever match the perfection of that tiny berry's delectable flavor!

One brave little berry plant valiantly fights its way back from oblivion.

On the bright side, the one little curled and crumbly strawberry plant that had fizzled away to nothingness has staged a comeback. It seems determined to rejoin its eleven siblings, growing larger by the day. You've got to admire that kind of tenacity.

As for the vanishing berries, I'll keep trying, but I'm not going to throw myself on a grenade over it. I have a plan for next year that involves netting, which I hope will resolve the issue so we can enjoy the rewards of our labors.

My pole beans are climbing their tower! The tallest one,
the one farthest left, has curled all the way to the top of this photo.

Speaking of netting, I'm very pleased with the progress of my little green bean plants, which began as seeds buried at the base of a very tall bean tower. After a couple of bunny attacks that destroyed a few of the newly emerged plants, Dylan and Jake helped me cover them with netting, which completely stopped the vandalism. However, they've been growing so quickly that they began to outgrow my netting this week. Their little vines, searching for something to grasp, found the tower and began climbing it quickly. During their search, several of the little clinging vines got themselves entwined in the netting itself and had to be gently disentangled and urged toward the tower. I felt like their mommy teaching them to walk.

Thus I had to remove the netting two days ago. The vines had reached the point where we'd threaded the netting through the tower, and I didn't want it to stop their climb. I'm pleased to report that nothing has bothered them since they've been exposed, but I don't want to take any chances. While the stalks of the tomato and pepper plants have grown thick and sturdy, and therefore unlikely to be destroyed by marauding rabbits, the bean plants are still fairly delicate. 

A closer look at the vines winding their way up the tower, as well as
tiny holes cut into the leaves of a couple of plants below. I'm thinking ants.

So I clipped garlic pens on the lower rungs of the tower and sprayed a foul-smelling liquid around the base, which is supposed to drive away small animals by offending their sensitive noses (I'm trying to avoid chemicals). And then Mark helped me surround the plants with a scat-mat, which is studded with plastic spikes to hurt but not harm the animals' feet, discouraging them from getting too close. I don't know if any of these solutions will work, but this is my season to learn.

Thankfully, I've seen no signs of aphids or other destructive insects on the bean plants. All of them look perfectly healthy, with the possible exception of one or two that have some small holes cut into some of their leaves. And I do mean cut, with squared-off precision, so I'm thinking it was probably done by ants. Nothing recent, though, so I'm not going to worry about that for now.

Mark helped me install this scat-mat around the bean plants today.

My cucumber plants, on the other hand, have become my greatest headache. Early on, after the rabbits had chewed up my pepper plants twice, they abandoned the pepper leaves and turned their full attention to my cucumbers (with an occasional foray into the bean plants). I was so sad, because the cucumber plants were getting so big and beautiful, covered with large, perfect leaves. At first it was just a few leaves here and there, but then the invaders began stripping the plants of nearly all their leaves. I didn't see how they could survive.

However, I soon noticed that the rabbits came to feast on them only once every three or four days, and during that time the plants were quick about putting on new leaves. Maybe there was hope. That's when I bought the netting, and Dylan and Jake helped me cover the cucumber plants the same night we covered the beans, more than two weeks ago. Somehow, the vermin got through the netting and chewed the cucumber plants up again, three nights after we installed the netting, but they must have decided it wasn't worth the trouble because they never came back after that. That gave five of the six plants time to recover and fill out with new leaves again. (One of the plants still looked pretty denuded, with just a couple of new leaves.)

How my cucumber plants looked when I left them at 8:45 this morning.

The biggest issue I had with the netting was trying to weed the patch under it. Everything got tangled in it and it was basically in my way. So I ordered six bell-shaped cloches to put over the cucumber plants at night until they were larger and tougher. This morning I removed the netting and prepared the area for the cloches, which I planned to put over the plants after watering this evening. The plants were looking pretty healthy when I went back in the house around 8:45.

This afternoon, six short hours later, I walked back out to the garden and was horrified to see that some nasty culprit had already shorn half the leaves off my biggest cucumber plant. I gaped at that mass of bare-naked stems and wanted to scream "Murderer!" This brazen vermin had committed planticide in broad daylight!

How they looked when I came back out at 2:30, just 6 hours later!
(Compare to the two plants on the far right in the photo above.)

That means the cloches will have to stay on the plants whenever I'm not with them. I'll monitor them closely to see how it's working out, but clearly I'm not going to have any cucumbers this year if I leave them open to predators. Hopefully they won't get overheated. I would think the increased humidity would be beneficial--unless it causes mold... There are air holes on top, and I'll remove the cloches when I water or otherwise work in the garden. Other than that, I don't know what else I can do.

The cucumbers under their new cloches, where they'll likely remain for a while.

Gardening has been quite the experience thus far. I'm pretty committed to giving it another try next year, so I can apply what I've learned this year. Beyond that...well, the jury is still out. I can't say I've found much peace through gardening, though there is a great sense of satisfaction in what successes I've seen already. Conversely, the frustrations create a lot of stress, and it doesn't always balance out. I've spent a lot more time and energy and pain (very hard on my knees) on this project than I'd expected, to the extent that other projects have had to be postponed, which is also stressful.

I know it will work out in the end, and I believe it will have its payoffs. That's what keeps me going. That, and the anticipation of a flavorful harvest!

The garden at 6:45 this evening, after being watered and armed defensively!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Our Independence Day

My brother Jeff and sis-in-law Dana hosted their annual 4th of July party!
Eleven of their thirteen children were present. Left-to-right: Ashley, Hayden,
Brinley, Justin, Burke, Callie, Elsie, Jeff, Marcus, Dana, Haley, Emma, and Micah.
Missing were Amber (vacationing in California) and Jamison (who lives in Texas).

And here's a quick look at the craziness behind the posed scene...

Almost every year for many, many years, my brother Jeff and his wife Dana have invited all family and friends, and family of family and friends of friends, to join them at their home on the Fourth of July for a barbecue potluck, homemade ice cream, and fireworks. In the beginning, it probably started as a somewhat smaller gathering, but it has grown over the years. I have to applaud their bravery and endurance, because it's no small undertaking!

My nephew Burke and my brother Jeff oversee the grilling.

Besides the fun of getting together with loved ones and feasting on delicious food, a big draw for this annual event is that Jeff and Dana live right behind Show Low High School. This is where the big, local fireworks extravaganza is presented every year (except those years when we're under severe fire restrictions, of course, since we're surrounded by national forest). The show starts at 8:30 and begins with music and ground-level fireworks, which we can't see from Jeff's yard, obviously. However, right about 9:00 the sky almost directly overhead fills with a spectacular display of colorful explosions. And we get to watch from the comfort of camp chairs or blankets on the ground, rather than hard benches in the bleachers.

Among the first to start filling their plates: Ashley's husband Matt;
Dana's sister Jona; and Dana's mom and stepdad, Cheri and Dee.

The official starting time for the family gathering is 5:00-ish, but in reality people come and go throughout the evening. I'm willing to bet there were well more than fifty people there last night. Most of the attendees were relatives of Dana's, but they've become like family to us, as well, since we've known them since Jeff and Dane were married in 1983. That's a long time!

The potluck table is the place to be! The chicken was grilled to perfection!

The first event, naturally, is always the food! Along with the variety of salads and chips and other sides brought by guests, Jeff and Dana provided grilled chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs for everyone. Dana bought forty pounds of chicken! Jeff and their son Burke (who's becoming quite the chef--I know because he's cooked for me before!) grilled it all up perfectly in Jeff's new smoker.

My contributions to the potluck: a red-white-&-blue cheesecake fruit salad
(on the left) and my mom's traditional potato salad, chock-full of vegetables. 

Once the food was ready, we all filled our plates and settled in for a nice long visit until dark. While the adults chatted, the many children in the group (along with some of the young-at-heart adults) played games and chased each other around. I loved to watch them. It brings back so many memories of playing with cousins and friends at similar gatherings during my growing-up years.

Dana's mom, Cheri (otherwise known as "Nana"), and Dana's sister Kara.

If you know me, you know how I spent those waiting hours. I chatted with everyone here and there, too, but I also wandered around with my camera to capture some of these memories. I tried to catch everyone I could, but I know I missed some. It's unintentional, but I always seem to miss someone. It's hard to keep track of who all was on the other side of the lens throughout the night. To those I missed, my apologies.

Dana and her daughter Hayden find a moment to sit.

Mark and Sarah find a place among our many grand-nieces and -nephews.

My son-in-law Chris takes a seat to chow down.

My nephew Micah (on the left) with his friends Daine and Martin.

Three of my lovely nieces: Emma, Hayden, and Haley.

My nephew Justin and his wife Jessica.

Dana's niece Emily, her husband Michael, and their two sons.

Two pregnant ladies at the buffet: Dana's niece Emily and Dana's sister Tahna.

Lots of eating, chatting, laughing, and playing fills the afternoon.

Sarah loves those babies! This is Ashley's baby, Adelynn.

My nephew Burke dishes out the ice cream: pistachio or cherry?

As dusk fell upon us, the ice cream freezers shut off and the ice cream was dished up. I don't care that much for store-bought ice cream, but homemade ice cream is something else altogether. Just try to keep me away! It was warm enough outside that I didn't hear anyone complaining about brain-freeze or getting a chill from their cold, creamy cups of goodness. And it's a great way to pass the time until the fireworks begin.

Hanging out in the dark, waiting for the fireworks to start.

Finally, at exactly 8:59, the fireworks began bursting in the air overhead. It was a wonderful 25-minute program that we all savored, with "Oohs" and "Ahhs" heard all around. The only thing that would have made it better for me would have been if my son Dylan could have joined us. He didn't get off work until 9:05, so he didn't make it. Otherwise, it was perfect. (But my pictures were far from perfect, so no fireworks photos on the blog this year; at least, not from me...)

Meanwhile, in Utah...
Danielle and Jacob at an Independence Day Celebration in Lehi, Utah.

Not long before we were enjoying the fireworks extravaganza in Show Low, Arizona, my son Jacob and  his wife, Danielle, were watching their own local fireworks presentation with her family in Lehi, Utah, at a place called Thanksgiving Point. Danielle thoughtfully sent us these photos to enjoy.

Fireworks at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.
(A much better capture than the shots I got...)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Not Dead Yet

July 2, 2017: Blossoms on my pepper plants started opening yesterday!

Tomorrow it will be four weeks since I planted the first part of my garden: the tomatoes, the cucumbers, half the strawberry plants, and the pole beans. It's been three and a half weeks since I planted the pepper plants and the other half of the strawberries. Not only are they still alive, but they are growing and blossoming!

The strawberries have been blooming like crazy since I planted them.

In all honesty, I'm a little surprised when I go out everyday to water the garden. I always half-expect to find every plant wilted or dead, but instead they seem to be thriving. Well, except for the one of my twelve strawberry plants that just seemed to wither away into nothingness. And, as beautiful as the strawberry plants have been--putting out big leaves, pretty white flowers, and tiny green berries--I don't really expect to see a harvest this year. As soon as the berries start to blush, they mysteriously disappear.

Our scarecrow owl, whose head spins slowly in the breeze or rain, and
the young bean plants that survived the rabbits (two or three of them did not).

I bought a big owl statue to, hopefully, scare away the berry-eating birds (and maybe the bunnies?), but apparently they don't take him too seriously. I'm already plotting on how to handle next year's crop differently. The battle for the strawberries will rage!

Blossoms have been covering my tomato plants for the past week or more.

Seeing all the cute little blooms on my tomato, strawberry, and pepper plants has been satisfying and gives me hope for at least a small harvest starting in August. However, I didn't expect to start seeing actual "fruits" (except for the berries, of course) for a while yet. So imagine my surprise when I was watering last night and saw an adorable little green tomato dangling from a branch!

The first little green tomato I spied yesterday!

After the watering was done, I hurried into my house for my camera to capture the moment. Then, the closer I got to the plants for their moment in the spotlight, the more little tomatoes I discovered! I did it! Okay, I admit there's still plenty of time for things to go wrong before the harvest begins, so I'm not exactly a farmer yet, but I'm on my way!

And then I found more!

And my battle with the neighborhood rabbits is just heating up. After an initial attack against my pepper plants, the bunnies haven't bothered them again. And the rabbits never have gone after the tomatoes or strawberries (I've wondered if it's because they don't like the plastic devices I have around each of those plants), so those plants are all progressing well.

Unfortunately, though, they really, really like my little bean plants and cucumber plants. Both were thriving and filling out nicely with fat green leaves when the bunnies launched a night attack, chewing several of the plants down to nubs. It's been all-out war since then. Dylan and Jake helped me cover the plants with netting, which seemed to work well for several days. And, so far, the bean plants that survived the early attacks are still untouched and doing well.

Little tomatoes everywhere!

However, night before last, the rabbits somehow got through my defenses and ate up my cucumber leaves again. Luckily, the plants aren't dead and they seem to regenerate new leaves at an incredibly quick rate, but that won't continue to be the case if I can't find a way to keep these critters off them!

My poor, mangled cucumber plants. Will they make it?

When  I got home at 6:00 from dropping Mark at work this morning, there was a small rabbit hopping around my front yard, nibbling here and there (the garden is in back). I thought to myself, "Of all the nerve...!" and I marched through the gate and toward the rabbit. I hoped to scare the heck out of him, but he didn't seem too worried. He just kept slightly out of my reach.

Then the wildest thing happened. I remember my second husband telling me years ago, while we stood in this very garden, that the rabbits could go right through our chain link fence. Not under it, but through it. I gave him a doubtful look (expressing doubt aloud was not allowed, as that apparently meant I was disrespecting him, which always led to more ugliness), and I silently figured it was merely an optical illusion or an exaggeration.

By golly, if he wasn't telling the truth. It didn't even happen so fast that I distrusted my eyes. This little rabbit did not wiggle under the fence. He didn't even slow down to squeeze through one of those tiny diamond-shaped spaces. He strolled right through the fence without breaking stride, as if it weren't there. And then he looked back at me from the other side, through the wire.

That wascally wabbit paused just on the other side of the fence.

I was dumbstruck, unable to comprehend what I'd just witnessed. It was like seeing the greatest David Copperfield magic stunt ever staged. I even took a few steps forward to be sure the rabbit really was on the other side of the fence, that it wasn't simply an illusion. How do you fight an enemy with such incredible superpowers?

Yesterday I went online to my favorite garden supplier,, and ordered an arsenal to launch against my cuddly bunny enemies. There will be a three-pronged attack, and it won't be pretty. It's on now, Mr. Rabbit. It's on.