Friday, August 31, 2018

waving a trowel

Greetings from the gardens! We've had several days without rain, but some extreme heat and humidity - Heat Index of 100F or higher. Today was lovely by comparison, and I spent much of the day very happily puttering in the paddocks and the gardens.

Plants that struggled to grow through the weeks of deluge have been rallying and are now growing and blooming at a great rate. I've brought a few pictures from the garden to share, but first: a question for the chard-lovers among you.

How do you like to prepare it? Some of the chard plants are now growing fast enough that - by moving briskly - I can occasionally pick a few leaves before the bugs devour them.

So far, I've taken my usual approach to a vegetable: eating it raw. This is sometimes as far as I need to go - lots of things are delicious raw. But with chard, well, I'm positive there is a better way. Alternative suggestions welcome and requested.

The highbush blueberries by the workshop are done for the year - and a surprisingly fine year it has been for these precious gems, considering all the days of hard rain. Quite often I picked my daily handful by running out between rainstorms.

My last little handful of 2018 was enjoyed earlier this week, and I left the few remaining berries ripening on the bush for the wildlife to enjoy the next day. Fair's fair.

I say "wildlife" not "birds," because I'm not sure exactly who I share the blueberries with anymore. I even saw a tiny mouse in the birdfeeder, five feet off the ground, the other day. Shinnying up that pole and then vaulting over to the feeder is quite a feat, even for the intrepid squirrels and a thrill-seeking chipmunk. When I walked past the feeder and saw a mouse peeping at me from eye level, it was quite a surprise.

Speaking of tiny things, I've discovered three Minnesota Midget Melons in the garden so far. The largest is about the size of a softball, as expected. People who have grown these melons describe them as "individual-serving." I'm hoping to find out, but it will be a while before they ripen. Meanwhile, they remain as safe as possible from predators, hidden in the undergrowth.

Massive vines are producing my favorite winter squash - candy roaster - in the undergrowth as well, but some individuals are no longer able to hide very well. This one is probably 20 inches long and it appears to have grown considerably larger each time I see it:

But today I noticed this little candy roaster on a trellis, cleverly disguised to blend in with the neighboring pole beans:

I'm still picking pole beans every day or two, eating some and tucking some into the freezer. My fondness for bean salad is unabated:

So good.

Monday, August 27, 2018

monday snap

Feel free to correct me on this identification:
young male Eastern Pondhawk.

If it's a pondhawk, I don't know what it was doing in my garden.
But it's very welcome here!


Saturday, August 25, 2018


Looked out the sliding glass door today and saw this:

There was no sunflower seed on the ground today.
I thought he'd nose around in the greenery a bit,
then move on toward the bird feeder or the barn.

But instead, he came a little closer, and hung out for a while.

And then he moved over to the exact spot where Della had been yesterday.

He just waited and waited, looking through the door.
He did everything but tap on the glass, and call,
"Will Della come out and play?"

He's on tippy-toes in this one:

And where was Della?
Asleep on the porch.

She had already been outside for a long time,
and had come back in for a snack and a snooze.

Maybe tomorrow, Squirrel!


Friday, August 24, 2018

friday frolics


Note on these snaps: not a compressed telephoto illusion - the squirrel was about 14 inches from Della the whole time, munching on sunflower seeds and saying, "Chase me! Come on, chase me!"

Which Della resisted for a few minutes, knowing that the anticipation of chasing was much more exciting than the actual chase would be. This was not Della's first Squirrel Rodeo.

I often see Moxie playing tag with a squirrel - spiraling up and down the big oak trunks. But Della is playing the ground game.


Tuesday, August 21, 2018

going out for breakfast

One of the finest things about gardening is being able to step outside,
gratefully harvest something you have planted and nurtured and watched grow,
and have an organic meal on your plate an hour later.

This morning, it was more like 15 minutes.

The French pole beans are producing so well this year,
there are already a couple of pounds in the freezer.
Imagine how delicious they may be, when the garden is covered with snow.

I also pick a meals-worth of beans for non-gardening friends
who will be able to prepare and eat them right away, at their very best.

That is another of the finest things about gardening - 
being able to share something special with special people.

Come on by.

Monday, August 20, 2018

to the woods

Yesterday, or as I call it, the first day of summer,
I had planned to take Piper to the woods.

She has been having a very dull time of it, with all this rain.
Piper does not enjoy rain.
She has been going outside for only a few minutes at a time, every day.
Even with the new portico, she has not wanted to spend one extra minute outside.

But yesterday, the gorgeous day, Piper surprised me.
She did not want to be outside.
Maybe she just expects rain every day now?
Maybe she has begun to enjoy spending most of her time on her couch?
I kind of understand that feeling.


This morning seemed almost as nice as yesterday.
The second day of summer!

Time for some Pup Psychology.

After chores and gardening, I started putting some things in a little pile.

my camera
my sketchbook

Piper, snoozing on her couch, opened one eye.

I filled up my water bottle
sorted through my pencils
selected a pen

Piper opened both eyes and raised her head.

"Ready?" I asked.

Piper scrambled down and away we went.

We headed for the pond, and walked first to my favorite blueberry spot, just in case.
But the blueberries are gone.
Completely gone.
We found not a single wizened berry clinging to a branch.
I'm lucky my highbush blueberry at home still has a few berries left to ripen!
I pick a little handful each morning and savor every one.

The day could not have been nicer for a walk in the woods.
Mostly sunny, but not too hot.
Sometimes cloudy, but not muggy.

And no mosquitoes.

No. Mosquitoes.

Piper ambled and explored and intently sniffed hundreds of things.
I took photographs, then set up my wonderful backpackable sketching chair.

"What shall I draw?" I asked Piper.

"The root end of this deadfall looks texturally interesting," she said.
"And speaking of interesting, isn't it time to bring out the treats?"

Outdoor sketching with Piper always involves treats.

My viewpoint was close to the ground, so the deadfall loomed large:

We spent over two hours in the woods, and every minute was a pleasure.

This summer is going great.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

sunday afternoon

It didn't rain.
The humidity fell.
The sky was blue.
There was an occasional breeze.

I literally could have wept with relief.

The goats were so pleased with the change in weather, three of them would not even come into the barn for their buckets.

For the first time in many weeks, I took a sketchbook outside. Dusted the latest muddy hoofprints off the lawn chair - because they were dry and I could dust them off! - and settled down in the south paddock to Draw August.

There was company.

Lots of company.
The silver goat is Fern, and she is leaning against my chair.

There was close interest in the artistic process.

There was distraction. 
(Iris is trying to untie my shoe because I wouldn't let her jump into the chair.)

There was oversight.

There was drama!

(Bashing heads. This is a mother and daughter. I make no further comment.)


And eventually, there was Day 19 of Drawing August,
which is also #231 of Daily Markmaking 2018.

I had to come in and flatten out my spine for a couple of hours,
but it's still clear and pleasant outside.
It will be a genuine pleasure to do evening chores tonight.


Saturday, August 18, 2018


If you've been following Comptonia for a while, you may recall that I've been trying to establish milkweed plants for several years. They are very interesting plants all year round, and I photograph them often. In the winter, there is usually a dry stalk or two in a jug on a windowsill.

For many years there have been a few milkweed plants up by the goat barn - at least, I think they are milkweed plants - but they have never produced flowers in that shady spot. So when two plants appeared a few years ago on the steep, sunny bank next to the terrace vegetable garden, I took care to protect them.

Last year, instead of two plants, there were a few. I saved some of the seeds and scattered them on the other side of the driveway - one of the last holdouts for bittersweet because it's not fenced, and it's hard for me to let the goats browse there.

July 2018

This year, enough milkweed plants sprouted that I felt that the population was established and I can start balancing a bit. In fact, there were enough plants growing on both sides of the driveway that I took a few down that had appeared right in the garden, shading the new raised bed.

The main reason I have tried to establish a milkweed "stand" is in hopes of bringing back the Monarch butterflies.

And yesterday, for the first time, in the big vegetable garden:

Yes, it is a Monarch.

 It is a Monarch on a zinnia.

The milkweed is only a few feet away, so maybe it will go there next.

Nope. Another zinnia!

I'm sure it knows where the milkweed is.

I was taking these photographs from such a distance, I could not even be sure it was a Monarch - or that any of the images would be in focus - until I put them on the laptop last night. So happy to see these snaps!

Let's hope it will be the first of many sightings.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

garden questions for you

It hasn't rained yet today, so after chores Piper and I ambled around taking photographs and rolling in enchanter's nightshade and getting covered in tiny sticky seeds. I'll let you guess which of us did which.

Tall plants have been having a difficult summer. The amsonia, bellflower, anise hyssop, bee balm - even the generally unstoppable comfrey - have been taking a terrible beating from almost daily downpours and thunderstorms. The moment the amsonia was finished blooming a few weeks ago I cut it way back, but I try to retain the pollinators' favorites even when the stems are horizontal. Unfortunately, a lot of anise hyssop has been knocked down across my working paths, so it must either be cut, stepped over several times each day, or trodden into the ground. So far I'm doing a little of each.

When the rain stops however briefly, the bees are out in full force. They must be having a challenging time. Even the flowers that managed to bloom despite a lack of sunshine have often been shredded by the rains. I'm making sure the hummingbird feeder is always freshly filled, to help take up some of the slack.

And here is a question for you. Have you ever seen bee balm do this?
Some of my bee balm stems are producing a second inflorescence rising from the center of the first:

I am very curious to know if this is unusual or if I just haven't been paying attention!

That anise hyssop is certainly popular!

The first goldenrod has just begun to bloom and is covered with insects.
Does anyone know for sure what these are?
I'd love to know.
They look a bit like wasps but I'm terrible at insect IDs:

For such tiny flowers, this plant - Verbena urticifolia - 
carries quite a collection of long common names.
Three are: nettle-leaf verbena, nettle-leaf vervain, and white vervain.

I just love finding these flowers. Such a miniature treat.