Monday, September 22, 2014

Althea The Rose of Sharon

The Althea or Rose of Sharon is really Hibiscus syriacus which you can easily guess by looking at the frilly stigma. The stigma is connected to the ovary and carries the pollen down to the ovary to start the seed formation. It looks like an okra flower and announces its kindship by this similarity.  The rose of sharon referred to in the Song of Solomon probably refers to a crocus which of course is not remotely related to hibiscus. The hebrew word for crocus somehow morphed into Rose of Sharon.
My Altheas ( I can't keep myself from using the name my mother and grandmother used) usually are at the height of their beauty in august, but flowering for about 2 months. The bushes can form low trees here in SE Alabama and cardinals seem to find them attractive nest sites. I have had nests in mine several times.
They root easily and that's how I got the plant pictured above. They also reseed readily and  like a lot of other reseeding plants, care should be taken to leave only the ones you want, else you may be growing a thicket of Altheas in a few years. A mature althea is quite large, maybe 20 feet tall and 8-10 feet wide, so they require pruning to keep them in bounds.
I enjoy their old fashioned beauty and would not want to be without mine. There are a number of different colors and color combinations as well as single and double flowers. Just take your pick.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ladies Tresses

Ladies Tresses (Spiranthes) are a type of  perennial native white orchid and this year there is a bounty of them. When I first noticed one out my front door ascending  straight up from the grass, I was surprised. Then looking around, I counted 25 of them. I found 8 more in the dry area behind my mailbox. Last year I counted them along the road as I went walking and every day one or two more popped up. There are 8 species of these orchids that are native to the Southeast and I believe this one is S. grayi. The tallest one I have seen is about 45 cm tall and theleaves appear as a rosette after the flower passes. It has no detectable fragrance to me, grows in full sun, and in areas that might at first glance appear too dry and inhospitable for orchids, yet this is the place they have chosen to grow.
Seeing them reminds me of all the small miracles that surround me everyday in the natural world.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2014 Fig Bounty

My fif tree has had more figs this year than ever before. I wonder if something about the cold of last winter triggered this bounty. Although they are almost gone now, I enjoyed eating them and even made a small jar of preserves from some I could not get around to eating. (Which I have already eaten now!) I didn't use a recipe for the preserves. I just dumped some sugar over them, left overnight, added more sugar the next day and cooked til the liquid began to thicken. Yum!

After the initial burst of production the birds again (as in previous years) found the figs and began to do away with them. But how can I blame them? They're SO good!
There's nothing quite like the smell of a fig bush(tree) when the sun is shining on it. Standing inside the bush, smelling it, and pushing figs in my mouth is a joy remembered in the winter. Also reminds me of my mother who could barely wait for the figs to ripen. I can picture her now standing by that old fig tree. When figs were in season, she greeted every morning with a trip to pick and eat the ripest. She beat the birds to them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Morning Glories

My morning glories are beautiful right now. I have them growing in a couple of pots on the stoop so they can twine around the railing. I have two colors of the picotee (with the white edge on the petals), a blue shown above and also a pink. I saved these seed from last year, so it is possible that the pink is the result of out crossing or some other sort of gene mixing. But regardless, it is pretty.

I enjoy having them so close to where I go in and out numbers of times every day, and have noticed that they open in the early evening and stay open til it warms up or the sun gets on them the next day. Somehow I never knew that. I guess I thought they opened at 6AM or something! This night blooming habit tells me they are probably pollinated by a moth(s).
The leaf color on these morning glories is a light green, almost lime green. I would think it was a fertilizer problem, except they were the same color last year--and I have been fertilizing them. The pots have several plants each, so they usually require water every day.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Armenian Cucumber Sculpture

This is not the way a regular Armenian cucumber looks. All the ones I picked were  12-18 inches long, straight or somewhat curved, not doubled over.

A friend gave me some Armenian cucumber seed. I was extremely pleased with the every aspect of this fine cucumber. It is light green in color and has ridges on the outside The taste is mild and the flesh is much drier than ordinary cucumbers, which leads to longer storage than regular cucumbers when they are cut. As regular cucumbers enlarge, the inside devoted to seed seems to increase. Armenian cucumbers (at least the ones I grew) had less space devoted to seed, even when they became quite large. They grow fast, like regular cucumbers, and need to be picked regularly to as they do not remain at their best as they get extremely large. Online the test for when to pick was suggested when you can reach around the cucumber  with your thumb and index finger. Virtually all of mine were bigger than this when I picked them, but still delicious. The heat does not seem to faze them, nor does irregular watering make them bitter. Most of the mention I read on line was from growers in Arizona, so you know they are heat tolerant. In fact, my plants continued to produce til early September. Whoever heard of a regular cucumber producing that long!

I did not try pickling, but have every reason to suppose the pickles would be as good as the unpickled.

Maybe what accounts for the difference in Armenian cucumbers and regular cucumbers is that Armenian cucumbers are not really cucumbers. They are melons which taste like cucumbers when they are young.

Another reason you might enjoy Armenian cucumbers is they can be made into interesting vegetable sculptures, whether you mean to or not. This one started small, hanging into a cement block. As it grew larger it was forced to make accommodations. I was able to get it out of the block by pushing it out the bottom.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Big Wasp Nest

Opening the pump house door disturbed a wasp nest and elicited a very angry response from them. I was able to escape without stings, but only because I am so fleet of foot, and had good luck. In the evening I went out with a can of wasp spray and let them have it while they were settled in for the night. The next morning I opened the door, found one lingering wasp, sprayed it, and pulled the nest down. I laid the nest on a bench under the oak and forgot it. A few days later I noticed the nest was torn all apart. I wondered if squirrels were after the larvae in the nest, or if their motive was not food, but revenge. Or could it have been those chipmunks?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kabocha (Sweet Potato) Pie

I purchased a Kabocha squash (grown in Mexico) out of the "priced to go bin". I let it sit on the counter a week or so before I got up courage to deal with it. I am not a great fan of baked squash so I kept contemplating what to do with it. When I finally took it in hand it had started to soften a bit on the bottom, but when I cut it, it  looked fine inside. I peeled it with a potato peeler and cut in cubes and boiled til soft. Then I mashed it using a mixer. I added a wee bit milk, margarine, brown sugar, and  butternut flavoring. If in doubt, add little more margarine by taste. I sprayed the  dish, poured it in a pyrex dish, and cooked about 350/400 til it started to brown on edges. Yum! Had no squashy taste at all. Could easily be mistaken for sweet potato. The butternut flavoring really added a tasty element to the dish
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