Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Phases of Retirement

In the garden today: August 2, 2017

While my former colleagues were back in the classroom today, meeting their new students and going over classroom rules and procedures, as is common on the first day of school, I was sleeping in until 9:00 and enjoying a breakfast of bacon and eggs (prepared by Mark, since it's his day off) prior to going out to work in my garden.

In all honesty, I didn't even remember today was the first day of school until well after I woke up. The realization did make me feel a little strange, being the first time in twenty-seven years that I wasn't a part of this tradition, but the feeling passed quickly. There is so much more to be done, and no time to dwell on what is no longer part of my life.

June 10, 2017: The garden has come a long way in eight weeks.

So far, it seems that my retirement has been divided up into month-long phases. June was the initial adjustment period, where I was only really able to focus on one accomplishment--my garden--while also dealing with severe knee pain, swollen feet, and a general feeling of fatigue.

The pepper plants seem to be doing a bit better.

July was the month for refocusing on my health and diet, as well as the garden. It was hard for the first week or two, but it's paying off. I gave up all sugars and breads on July 7th and now, twenty-six days later, I'm down 12 lbs. It's slow but steady. Best of all, the swelling in my feet and ankles has vanished, the Plantar fasciitis (heel pain) is almost gone, and the inflammation in my knees has improved (as long as I treat them gently).

My energy level has also improved, which is essential to my plans for the August phase: the reorganization of my home. A few weeks ago, Sarah and Dylan got my cubical shelves put together, and Mark helped me install them in my office, but that's just the beginning. I've already begun the sorting and stashing that will be the hallmark of the coming month...

A second bell pepper is finally developing, and a third is just starting!

Meanwhile, the garden continues to demand a good deal of my attention. It's coming along nicely (I think). To solve the mystery of the snipped-off bell pepper blossoms, I turned to google. Based on their own experiences, online gardeners claimed that it must be nocturnal snails, but their little capture-the-snails tricks nabbed me zero slugs. I've never seen a snail on my property in twenty-four years, so I doubted that was the issue.

Then while I was weeding one day, I noticed a swarm of tiny black ants covering a small blossom. Knowing that we do have carpenter ants in our area (our attic used to be infested), suddenly the sawing of the stems made sense. I marched right to the porch and retrieved my bag of diatomaceous earth, which I applied directly to the ants. They did not like it. Barely any blooms have been snipped off since then, and it looks like we may be getting some more baby bell peppers at last. Only the plant bearing the original bell pepper seems to be stunted, but I wonder if that isn't due to putting all its energy into growing that huge pepper. It's almost half the size of the whole plant! I suppose I should harvest it soon.

The original bell pepper is probably due to be plucked.

You may notice there's a white residue on the peppers and tomatoes in some of the photos. That's the diatomaceous earth. Ordinarily it wears away relatively quickly, but July was so humid with its daily rains that it was impossible to find a dry period in which to most effectively apply the earth. It doesn't work unless it's completely dry and powdery, and what I used on the ants was clumpy and sticky within hours, when the next storm rolled through. However, since I was able to put it directly and immediately on the ants, it seems to have helped. At least, I hope so!

The cucumbers are making a comeback! Almost ready to climb the trellis.

On the plus side, I only had to water my garden three or four times during the entire month of July! That should help my water bill, and the plants love it. It's been years since the last time we had such a wet July, with solid monsoon rains pretty much every day. And the first two days of August have been the same.

We're even getting cucumber blossoms already.

As for my bunny-bitten, pathetically straggling cucumber plants, they loved being under their humid cloches and regenerated with impressive speed. I even quit uncovering them daily to the sun and rain, because the plants did so well under cover. Eventually the larger plants outgrew the cloche and I had to remove the bell jars altogether. I was nervous about leaving the plants vulnerable to predators again, but the rabbits seem to be leaving them alone for now. I keep the cloches near the plants. Maybe they will confuse or intimidate the bunnies?

The beanstalk is filling out!

Blossoms are popping up all over the bean plants.

The strawberries are growing like crazy and sending runners everywhere.

These two runners have already rooted themselves as new plants.
That front plant is the one that had died and resurrected itself.

Berries are finally ripening on most of the plants.

I don't know if it's due to the presence of the cloches, but since I put them over three of my strawberry plants, the birds and bunnies have mostly been leaving the rest of the plants alone, too. I'm actually able to harvest a few strawberries to enjoy every few days.

My first strawberry harvest, three days ago. They're small but delicious!

Recent additions to the potential tomato supply.

I still worry about the yellowed leaves at the bottom of my tomato bushes, but they seem to be doing better, too. They're still blossoming all over and the young green tomatoes look healthy. I removed the dead branches and treated the plants with diatomaceous earth the same time I did the bell peppers, and I don't think the yellow is spreading. Fingers crossed. 

All of the tomato bushes are filled with tomatoes.

With all the rain and constant humidity, we also have grown some unexpected bumper crops of baguettes and banana chips all over the yard and driveway. At least, that's what they look like. Today Jake and I were looking them over and decided that our mushrooms looked more like they belonged in a bakery than a saute pan...

Toadstools that could pass for baguettes.

Mushrooms that look more like banana chips.

My faerie ring is growing more populated.

Not sure what this batch looks like, but they're under my old Pontiac Vibe.
Snicker-doodles, anyone?

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