Sunday, August 12, 2012

The drought takes its toll on the Nesmith Farm

It's been a tough year to have a community garden.

On the one hand, we haven't had to deal with fungus diseases.  Or the river flooding (that has happened, and not just in 2008).

But the hot, dry weather hasn't been optimal.

The pumpkin plants and two of the gourd plants have died.  Eli did get a couple of gourds from them and made this cute gourd container out of one.

The watermelon plants survived, but only yielded softball-sized, seedy fruit!  It tastes fine, but looks unappetizing.

Luckily, some of the plants are doing OK.

The flowers look nice.  They're State Fair Zinnias, and I bring back blooms to decorate our table every time I'm out there.

The Brussels sprouts don't seem to be bothered by the drought.  I find them amusing to look at--they're like cabbages on stilts.  You can see the little sprouts forming on the stem.

Not sure what will happen with the Romanesco broccoli.  There are no heads on it--it's too hot.  I'm hoping it'll get heads this fall as the weather cools down.

Eli's snake gourd plants are happy, though not very productive.  One did get a gourd, and it's growing bigger and bigger.  It's about 15 inches long now, and still growing.

Eli wants a garden again next year.  I'm not sure!  If we do have one, I'll grow zinnias and Brussels sprouts for sure.

And maybe beets; my neighbor is growing them and sharing hers with us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Update on the Farm

Stopped out at the farm today to water.  Things look good, though the flowers were a bit wilty.  Behind them are the Romanesco broccoli.  I hope it'll have heads once the weather cools down  . . . which won't be for a while!
The no-till approach seems to be working fine.  I'll probably mow it again this weekend.

Brussels sprouts don't seem to mind the heat.
I have watermelons!  There are 5 fruits altogether on my 3 hills.  Each hill has 2 plants--I couldn't bear to to thin them to 1 plant each, and they're doing fine.
 Eli's gourds are happy.  They like hot, dry weather.

Neighbors are doing well with beans, planted thickly.
This neighbor did well with pumpkins.  Next year, we'll just plant our pumpkins directly.  We started them in pots this year, and we think they did not survive because of the transplanting.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lucky/Unlucky day at the Farm

Lucky:  got up at a reasonable time to get out to the farm (our community garden plot at a city park) before it got hot.

My plan was to mow the half of the plot that had pumpkins in it--they all died--so that we did not have to cultivate it.  Then I'd water the gourds, watermelon, Brussels sprouts, Romanesco broccoli, and zinnias.

I got the water, hedge trimmers, and mower into the van and off I went. Pulled up right near our plot.

Unlucky:  Really, I thought this button said "unlock"
but I have presbyopia.  So when I went around to the trunk, it was locked.  And, oops, so was the van door.  And my keys were inside on the seat.  I stood there outside the van thinking "ummmmm . . ." for a while.

Lucky:  I was there in the morning, so lots of other farmers were there.

Unlucky:  No one had a phone.

Lucky:  the third person I talked to said "I don't have a phone, but there's a guy from Darrah's towing over there.  He can probably get your door open."

I went over and found the guy, who was trying to start a car that had been stalled out at the garden.  He said he could get my door open for me, but had to get the car up onto his flat bed tower.  Not only was the car dead, but he was allergic to bee stings, and there was a swarm of insects flying around under a tree near the car.

I assured him that the insects were not bees, but cicada killers, but he was still worried.  So I shooed them away while he pushed the car out of a ditch and then got it up on the flat bed tow truck.

Then he came over and got my car door open!  Amazing how quickly he did it--with a device that looked like a blood pressure cuff and a long wire hook.  I couldn't use my AAA card, but he said I could just submit the bill to AAA and they would pay it.

I thanked him and told him that it must be my lucky day!

Unlucky:  The mower battery was dead. :-(

Lucky:  All the plants (except the dead pumpkins) looked fine despite the heat.

I clipped back weeds with my hedge clippers and watered everything.  I'm going to leave the weeds/crabgrass as a kind of lawn/mulch.  I don't think the grass will use much water, and besides, it'll be nicer to walk on than dirt.  Plus, I think it looks nicer than this!

All around, most of the gardens look good.  My neighbor's sunflowers are pretty.

Another neighbor has corn interplanted with beans.

There are some cabbages back in there, too.

I'm going to try the mower again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The crops

Eli and I went out to The Farm today--our 20x50' community garden plot.  It's been very dry here in Iowa, so we wanted to irrigate our crops.  Our irrigation system = a 5 gallon collapsible water container (identical to the one we took camping when I was growing up!), two 1-gallon milk jugs, and a plastic watering can.

 Here's Eli on our plot.  The community gardens are on a stretch of city park along the river.  It floods every so often, so the soil is more sandy than my back yard, but it's mostly that black Iowa soil that everyone in the world covets.  I feel so fortunate to be able to garden here in Iowa!

As you can see, our plot has a lot of crabgrass growing in it.  Most of our crops are space-hogs--pumpkins, gourds, and watermelon--so there's a lot of empty space around each plant.  We did some hoeing last time, and mulched with straw, but there's still plenty of space for weeds . . . maybe we'll just have to keep hoeing until weed season is past (they slow down around mid-July).

I love seeing the other plots here.  I would guess there are about 200 or so, each 20' x 50'.  Our neighbors have these beguiling pea frames made of branches.

Others have rows of crops of various sorts, many with gallon milk jugs still protecting the tomatoes from frost (and cutworms?).

Despite the dry weather, our crops are doing well.  The pumpkins are especially healthy-looking.

My Brussels Sprouts are doing fine, as well.
The Romanesco Broccoli and Zinnias are up and looking good, but are just tiny seedlings yet.

On the home front, I bought flowers for my big concrete pots that are on the patio.  I moved one pot close to the back door--the one most people use.
Looks handsome there, I think.  It'll be fun to see that when I come into the house.  And there's another pot almost exactly the same, near the chair where I like to sit and read or crochet on the patio.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Kindle


The boys bought me a Kindle Fire for Mother's day and I am enjoying it very much!

Look at how easy it is to use, even when there's a kitty on my lap.  

Mostly I'm using it as a web tablet.  In this photo I'm looking for online patterns and tutorials about how to make a case for it.  Already I've used it to search for recipes and browse on Ravelry, of course.  

Before this tablet, I just used my laptop for this kind of thing.  I can sit at my little desk in the kitchen, or take my laptop to the couch.  But sometimes when I sit on the couch, my lap is occupied (see photo)--no room for my laptop.  Plus, laptops--mine anyway--get HOT.  A small tablet will make it easier and more fun to look for stuff.

I've been shopping around for a tablet for a few months now.  Just kept putting off buying one.

Eli knew I was shopping and thinking about tablets (he loves shopping for electronic devices, too, and thought a Kindle would work well) so he spearheaded a campaign to get one for me for Mother's Day!  

So it's great for web browsing, but will I use it to read?  I did buy one of those long article/short books already from Amazon, Don't Trade the Baby for a Horse by Wendy McClure, who wrote The Wilder Life (awesome book, BTW).  But probably I'll stick to books if I can.  I like going to the library, and I have nothing against books.  

Still.  I'm guessing that eventually I'll shift to e-books.  The thing is, what I really like is reading, not books (unlike my brother, who likes both!).  I don't buy books because when I'm done reading them, I'm done with them.  Although it'll have a different feel--and paging around in them will take some getting used to--I'm thinking that reading is reading, and that I'll have no trouble using e-books.  

As long as I can sign e-books out from the library, because with my reading addiction, I'd go broke if I had to buy all the books I read.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


From my Penzu:

When Bruce came home for lunch, I went out to join him in the kitchen and almost stepped on a bird.  It was lying, face down, wings outstretched, on the family room carpet.  How did it get in the house?  Bruce pointed out that I'd left the sliding door cracked open--to let the kitty out.  I wondered briefly if the kitty had brought the bird in, but knew that she wouldn't have.  She can barely catch butterflies, and she was outside basking in the sun.

Probably this bird got confused by the windows of the sliding door, maybe hit one and ended up flying inside through the partially opened door.

I picked the bird up, gently.  It moved a bit, but settled in my hands.  Its heart was beating briskly.  No blood.  Its eyes were closed, but it opened them and looked around, then closed them.  

I felt badly that it had gotten inside the house.  A few years ago, I bought some window decals after the red-bellied woodpecker I'd been watching all winter crashed into the window and died, its long woodpecker tongue flickering out one last time as I came out to see what had happened.  I was so sad about this that I'd cried as I buried the woodpecker.  

I didn't know what kind of bird this bird was.  It was tiny with stripy brown feathers.  There was a bit of yellow at the rump and along the wings.  I took a picture; I didn't want to put down the bird to page through my Peterson's guide.

I took it outside to see if it would try to fly away, but it didn't. It just sat in my hand and panted, heart pounding. I decided against just putting it on the ground--afraid the kitty might see it, though probably she wouldn't--when it comes to stalking, she only sees moving things.

So I sat there with the bird in my hands on the patio.  Her heart beat quickly against my palm, her beak was slightly open.  (I found out later it was a female Pine Siskin.)  I wondered if she was frightened--of me, or of dying.  I hoped she wasn't in any pain.

As I sat there holding her, I thought about the car accident I was in last week.  A driver ran a red light and ran into the passenger's side of my car.

I only barely saw it coming, out of the corner of my eye.  It was mostly a surprise, as my car was hit (I think I said "Oh!") and spun around, hitting a telephone pole.  I just kind of sat in stunned silence after it happened.  

I also thought about that Lewis Thomas Essay "On Natural Death" in which he writes about seeing his cat with her prey and wondering if the mouse felt pain "all over its body" as it was being carried in the cat's mouth.  A doctor and scientist, he decides that the mouse did not feel pain.  

"Pain is useful for avoidance, for getting away when there’s time to get away, but when it’s end game, and no way back, pain is likely to be turned off, and mechanisms for this are wonderfully precise and quick." *

Thomas had actually seen this mechanism in action, as he witnessed two soldiers trapped in the wreckage of a car.

"The worst accident I’ve ever seen was on Okinawa, in the early days of the invasion, when a jeep ran into a troop carrier and was crushed nearly flat. Inside were two young MPs, trapped in bent steel, both mortally hurt, with only their heads and shoulders visible. We had a conversation while people with the right tools were prying them free. Sorry about the accident, they said. No, they said, they felt fine. Is everyone else okay, one of them said. Well, the other one said, no hurry now. And then they died."*

I wonder if that's what the bird was feeling.  I hope she wasn't feeling pain, just feeling stunned.

I got a rag from the kitchen, because I wanted to set the bird down in the ivy under the hydrangea, but I didn't want her to be cold.  I put her on the rag, and, before I could set her in the ivy, she stretched out her wings once, twice, and then she tucked her beak into her breast and died.

The way life departs from a living being is remarkable.  One moment there is life, the next, there is a handful of feathers. 

Remembering the Thomas essay, I thought of his humane scientific explanation of endorphins and pain receptors:

"If I had to design an ecosystem in which creatures had to live off each other and in which dying was an indispensable part of living, I could not think of a better way to manage."

Dying is inevitable, so there's a mechanism to make it bearable.  But there's also the pain from watching another being die--as far as I know, there's no mechanism yet to turn that off.

*[From The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher, by Lewis Thomas]

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

@ the farm

Eli and I were out at Our Farm yesterday, the 20'x50' city garden plot we've rented down by the river.  We decided we had a small window of dry weather and we'd get our plants in!

Eli planted:
two kinds of giant pumpkins, Big Max and one other type.

snake gourds

Small Fancy Mix gourds

I planted from seed:
Nantes half-long carrots
California Giant Mix zinnias

Sugar Baby Watermelon
Romanesco Broccoli

Robbie requested this one.  "It looks like a 3-D fractal," says Robbie.
I also planted Brussels sprouts from plants I got at Peck's.

I think we'll visit The Farm this weekend in between scattered showers, and I'll try to get some photos!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mitzi and the Skippers

Mitzi loves the painted lady butterfly explosion we've been having this month.  I kept calling them "skippers," but that's another type of butterfly.  But they do "skip" from air to land and back again, which makes them very fun.

She loves to go outside and stalk them.  They seem to be very tame creatures, and get very close to people--and animals. Recently, on sunny days, there's always one fluttering around--or sometimes even two, doing a little butterfly air pas-de-deux right there in our airspace.  They go by so close, I can hear their wings rustle.  So they provide a lot of excitement.

Recently, Mitzi wants to go outside just about any time the sun is out (butterfly weather).  Out she goes into the middle of the yard and sits there, looking around.  She looks very silly and sedentary.
But when a painted lady flutters by, as they often do on sunny days, she goes after it!  She'll wait until it lights on something, then she creeps through the grass until she's within springing distance, wiggles her hindquarters, and springs towards the butterfly.  Usually it gets away easily.

Other times, the butterfly will be inaccessible, but visible.  This makes her a bit nutty, like when she saw one on the thermometer by the sliding doors.  It was probably five feet above her head, but she fixated on it, eyes wide, ears perked.  She made that chattering sound that cats make when they see prey, but she knew she couldn't get it.

She has had some luck with butterfly stalking.  I've seen her bat at them if they were flying close to her. And once I saw her with a butterfly in her mouth. She opened her mouth a bit (to get a better grip?) and it flew off.  I'm guessing she doesn't really want to eat them; it's all about the hunt.

I think the butterflies are on the grass quite often because they're getting minerals from the soil.  Then some of them alight on sunny spots and spread out their wings.  Are they sunbathing?  

The other day, I was sitting on the patio, and a butterfly (or more than one?) kept alighting on my knitting bag--the bag was sitting in the sun, as was I.  Later, a butterfly alighted on my hand as I was poised to knit the next row of my project.  I held very still and it rested there for a while, soft as a kiss.  I called to Mitzi, but she was in the middle of the yard, and didn't turn around.

Friday, March 30, 2012

College Tour Time

Robbie's a junior this year, so you know what that means . . . it's college tour time!

We started last summer, during Iowa Private College Week, and have visited five colleges.  We're focusing on colleges that are within a 3-hour drive and are in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest consortium.  Coe is part of the ACM consortium and most of the colleges offer a tuition exchange.  Meaning:  Robbie can go to them tuition-free. One of the perks of being a PK!  (Professors' Kid)

So here's the wrap-up, in chronological order.

Coe College

Coe's take-home message:
"We love you!"
(The tour guides cheered and clapped when the prospectives and their parents went out of the building to go on tours.)
Cool thing about this college:  "I know a lot of people who teach there already," says Robbie.
Memorable moments:  Robbie meets Robbie Benson, who works in the digital music lab.  Also, Robbie wins a door prize, a Coe water bottle.

Cornell College

Cornell's take-home message:
One course at a time--students take just one course at a time. It meets for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week for about 3 1/2 weeks.
Robbie is intrigued by this.  He likes the idea of not being distracted by too many classes, and getting to focus just on one.  But he's not sure about how it would work out.
Cool thing about this college:  Picturesque campus and a cute small town.

Grinnell College

Grinell's take-home message:
"We can make it happen."  (Grinell boasts a $1 billion endowment.  Yes, billion!)
Cool thing about this college:  Awesome new science building financed by one of the Intel guys.  It's where our friend Jean went to college.
Memorable moment:  Discovering the "treehouse"-style carrels in the library.

Luther College

Luther's take-home message:
The Luther Community cares.
Math, science, and music--Luther is known for excellence in those.
Cool thing about the college:  "Luther: it's chill," says Robbie.  I think that means he likes it.  He also liked that it is "north" and has an unusual setting (on a hill, bluffs surround it, there's a local waterfall and caves).  "Can I just skip my senior year and go straight to college?" Robbie asked after our day at Luther.
Memorable moment:  Robbie going to the Jazz Orchestra rehearsal and sitting right in the middle of the trumpet section.  The FT (first trumpet) was a Wash grad.

Knox College

Knox's take-home message:
A glorious past.  (established in 1837 by abolitionists; Lincoln-Douglas debate here . . .)
Creative Writing. (one of their most popular majors. I got some awesome publications with student work!)
Cool thing about the college:  Beautiful old buildings, excellent cafeteria, history.
Memorable moment: Robbie got to attend a Jazz history class, which he enjoyed very much.

Which does he like?  I asked Robbie on the way home from our last visit, Knox.  He said he liked Luther and Cornell best so far.  So we'll find out more about those, and probably send Robbie for overnight visits at both.

And me?  By far, I felt most "at home" at Luther.  It reminded me so much of my college, The College of Wooster--

  • the somewhat isolated location that leads to a tight community, and lots of cultural events on campus, 
  • the socially-conscious students who make things happen (at COW, our "Soup and Bread" night; at Luther, serving locally-grown food and erecting a wind turbine), 
  • commitment to academic excellence--the Luther tour guide was often saying "this is a great place to study," 
  • importance of music
  • spiritual grounding.  Yet, the tour guide at Luther assured us that despite the religion course requirement, she never felt coerced to participate in religious activities on campus. "And I have friends of different faiths, and some who are atheists," she said. "They don't feel pressured either." This last comment was good for Robbie, my agnostic boy, to hear.  I told him he would enjoy the (required) religion courses because he could study religion/bible from a scholarly perspective.

I asked Robbie if he wanted to visit the state schools, University of Iowa and Iowa State University.  Most of his friends are planning to go to state schools.  "Um, no," he said.  "Not really?" I probed.  "Not at all.  I'm not interested," he said.

I would be happy if he chose any of these ACM schools!  You can't go wrong with ACM schools, and I'm so happy we have these choices.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring for Eli

In honor of Eli's birthday, it's spring!  Or maybe summer:  Thermometer reads 74.

Other signs of spring:

New bike tag for the new bike season.

Birds heard singing outside this afternoon as the birthday boy and I rambled about the yard:
Red-tailed Hawk

Buzzards were sighted soaring above, as they always are on March 14!