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July 24, 2014

July Garden

The garden is so lush right now; it has seemingly caught up after its late, slow start.  Many people are starting to say goodbye to their peas by now, but ours are just beginning.  The beans are ready for their first picking; the corn is starting to grow tassels; the cherry tomatoes are starting to ripen, and I found baby squash on the vines just yesterday. We enjoyed our first cucumbers the other night and are excitedly awaiting more.  The Brussels sprouts have set their babies, and the cabbages have lovely little heads. The blueberries are ripening and require daily picking, and the grapes have set an abundance of darling little clusters of grapes.  I am still holding my breath, but this year may be are very first harvest of grapes.  The area beneath my bird feeder is crowded with sunflowers that have self-seeded from the seeds that have dropped from the feeder.  I'm looking forward to the very first blossoms.

Along with enjoying the abundance of our garden, we are also battling the pests.  The weeds are growing just as fast as the vegetables, if not faster, and an army of Japanese beetles has arrived, attacking the grapes, roses and pole beans. They have figured out if they target the plants up high, they are out of reach of the guinea hens that faithfully do their job battling the bugs every day. I have been paying the Littles to hand pick the beetles, putting them into a jar of soap and water, but it seems the more we pick, the more we see. I'm also on watch for a late blight that I have heard has hit the area. My tomatoes are doing well so far, but my mom has just noticed signs of it in her plants. The spinach was doing wonderfully, in spite of the heat we have been having, and only a few plants were starting to bolt. We had been having it in salads almost every day and enjoyed one meal of it steamed. I recently went to the greens garden to collect some only to find that it was completely gone...withered up, brown, dead on the ground. I have no idea what happened.  My only thought is that it didn't like being flooded by a torrential downpour we had during a thunderstorm last week. I have always had a difficult time with spinach, I don't know why. It never really produces very well for us, and I thought that changing its location was going to be the ticket for us this year.  Not so.  I may consider planting much less next year, just enough for salads and try planting Swiss chard instead.  I remember eating Swiss chard at my grandparents long after the spinach had stopped producing and helping Grandma freeze bags and bags of it for winter use.  I think it tends to be a bit hardier in warm weather and continues to produce tender leaves through-out the season without bolting.

Oh, the flowers...they are beautiful right now too, but I must save them for another post.  I simply love this time of year when everything seems to be so lush and verdant. Yes, this is definitely my favorite time of year. I hope you are all having a wonderful summer, and I would love to hear how your garden is growing.

July 22, 2014

Sambucus canadensis L. (The American Elder)

"So repugnant to insects is the odor of the American elder that an eighteenth century gardener recommends that cabbages, turnips, etc., be whipped with young elder twigs to preserve them from insect ravages.  An infusion of elder leaves is often used to-day to keep bugs from the vines.
The clustered flowers of the elder remind one of mellow old lace. They give off a heavy, sweetish, and. to many people, a rather sickening odor...Elder flower water is much used by the confectioner...The young buds are sometimes pickled like capers...
The specific name is supposed to be derived from sambuke, an ancient musical reed instrument -- the prototype  of the crude hollow-stem elder whistle of the barefoot country boy.
The same hollow stalks of the elder play an important role in every maple-sugar camp.  Cut into appropriate lengths and inserted in the incisions of the tapped trees, they serve to conduct the rising sap into the waiting pail or sugar trough.
Other crops may fail, but this plant always produces a full harvest, never yielding to the caprices of the season, be it wet or dry, hot or cold."      ~The Book of Wild Flowers, 1924~

After being so inspired by my favorite British blogger and their elderberry cordials (here and here), I have become obsessed with finding elder bushes in order to harvest the flowers.  I spotted a few bushes in my travels, and last week I harvested enough blossoms to make my very first batch of elderberry cordial. I felt like a little kid that had just come home from the candy store with a bag full of treats. Making sure I had identified the flowers correctly, I pulled out one of my new favorite books, recently acquired from a library sale, Book of Wild Flowers, put together by the National Geographic Society in 1924.  I read the portion written about the American Elder and found it interesting and quite entertaining. I was aware of the medicinal properties of the berries and have made elderberry syrup in the past to help with cold and flu season, but I had not known that the older branches were hollow and used in early maple sugaring, nor that the plants were used by gardeners to ward off harmful insects. I was very  happy to learn of the other uses of this bush, and Hubby and I are already making plans for planting our own hedge of elderberry bushes next spring, ideally somewhere close to the gardens so as to preserve them from insect ravages.
I have since found more bushes in bloom and have plans of making another batch of cordial, hoping to return later in the year to pick the berries.  Many thanks to our British friends for introducing me to the lovely elderberry bush and the delightful cordial made from its blossoms.

July 18, 2014

This Moment

I have been inspired by SouleMama to take a moment ...

{this moment}

"A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see."


July 17, 2014

Trip to the Coast (Part 2)

After leaving the beach, we spent a bit of time touring one of the oldest towns in New England, Castine, Maine, which predates Plymouth Colony by seven years. Hubby and I have such a fondness and respect for the old New England architecture that we would have been content simply driving leisurely up and down the streets admiring all the lovely homes and buildings, but the Littles aren't quite as impressed as we are with that form of recreation, so we made a stop at Fort Pentagouet, presumably the oldest permanent settlement in New England and one with a very turbulent history, being occupied at different times by the French, the Dutch and the English Plymouth Colony.  Of course the boys were immediately taken in by the old fort, and were instantly transformed into "soldiers" hiding out in the nooks and crannies of the remains of this ancient fortress.
As we were wondering the charming streets of Castine, we happened upon an old house that was being renovated by the Historical Society; its porch was full of books and old items that were laid out for free. I picked up a box of vintage, haberdashery items and also some fun, old books that will be a lovely addition to our home library, including a copy of Emerson's Essays; a lovely old (Italian) Italiana-Inglese dictionary, signed by its first owner in 1929, Rapallo, Italy; The Britannica World Dictionary (two volumes) which includes French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, and Yiddish; and old copies of Madame Bovary, an 1895 copy of John Keats Complete Poetical Works, Marie Antoinette, and Romola.  I just love old books and I'm looking forward to a quiet, rainy day when I can find the perfect spot on the shelves for my newly found treasures.  

Our last stop was at Woodlawn, a historical estate that happened to be on our route home.  I was completely in awe of the ten to twelve foot high rhododendron bushes that lined one side of the driveway; the only time I have seen them that tall was on trips we have taken south to the Carolinas. Hubby and I both loved the blue doors on the old carriage house, and we couldn't resist taking a photo of the dog house.  Such a perfect day...the beach, a bit of history, free books, sleeping children on the way couldn't ask for a much better way to spend the day.  I'm so thankful for the opportunities we have to enjoy the wonders around us.

July 15, 2014

Trip to the Coast (Part 1)

Few things are more refreshing than a visit to the seaside.  Mama was feeling a bit tired, overwhelmed, and grumpy so Daddy made the executive decision to pack everyone up for a trip to the coast.  Memories of this spur-of-the-moment retreat will be cherished for many years to come. Watching our little one taste salt water for the very first time, searching through endless piles of seashells dumped on shore by the comings and goings of the tides, drooling over a farm nestled on the shores of the ocean, walking barefoot on the slippery patches of seaweed, breathing in the scent of  saltwater, and feeling the cool ocean breeze on our faces...I want to remember and savor it all.

It was one of those perfectly sunny, warm days that just needed to be spent at the ocean.  Hubby and I both felt like we all needed a break from the routine, and, although packing up our large brood and driving two hours away isn't necessarily an easy task, we were willing to accept the challenge.  After throwing a few towels, bathing suits, and changes of clothing into a bag we were off, stopping at the grocery store for a few snacks on our way out of town.  The little ones were so excited to be going to the beach that they forgot to fuss and argue as they usually do when we are all closed up in the confines of our vehicle.  Instead of going to the heavily populated, more traditional, sandy beaches, we drove in another direction to our state's rocky shore; we are so taken in by the beauty around us, no matter how many times we visit our charming coastline.  Hubby and I spotted a beautiful farm overlooking the ocean near to where we stopped.  How dreamy to be able to raise sheep, yet fall asleep to the sounds of the ocean at night!  We swam, tasted salt water, searched for treasure, had a pretty shell contest, made castles and canals in the sand, and ate junk food; I'd say it was a pretty good day!

More of our day away to come...

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