Cola bottle cloches

It has been longer than usual since I last posted, and for all the usual reasons that people don’t write — hectic times, and no wherewithal to bring things to a standstill for long enough to put anything down. I dislike it when the days get away from me, and every day that goes by without writing feels a little heavier than the last. When the boys are asleep, time seems to slow back down though. So instead of turning in early to get those extra hours of sleep (since they never get added on at the waking up end of things) I thought I’d put myself out of my misery and put a few words down about what’s up in the garden.
We are well and truly in the northern hemisphere, but autumn is still not quite a done deal here. Our daily highs are in the 80s/20s and although it has started to rain now and then, we are not in the soaked earth days of winter.
With the temperatures still so high, there are lots of grasshoppers and other hungry characters at large in the garden. All of my winter veg seedlings were getting devoured before they could grow much; even the chicken patrol has its limits (and lately the chickens have been invading the veg beds, too, leading to reinforcements of our chicken wire perimeters around the beds).
Before I go any further, let me point out that I know no self-respecting person would admit to having enough cola bottles to hand to do what I am about to describe. Any plastic bottle will do, of course — water bottles, which even the best of us end up with from time to time, would also work. This is just my way of putting the things to use.
So anyway, Ali pointed out that cloches might help matters. This is how I acted upon this useful bit of advice:
I sow our veg seeds in paper pots on trays that hold 24 pots, so I armed myself with that many bottles, cutting them just below the middle with a bread knife, and grabbed my favorite transplanting hoe. I was going to need short stakes, and it just so happened that there were lots of dried out asphodel stalks about (they grow wild here), so I gathered those.
I dug a hole and placed the stake:

added a seedling:

and once I’d gotten the seedling settled in, sat the bottle top onto the stake:

I started using the bottle top cloches about a month ago, and those first seedlings are doing really well. After about ten days under the cloche they got big enough to be liberated and the majority of them are still going strong. Being sheltered just gave them time enough to get big and tough enough to withstand the attacks inevitable in an organic garden. I bet they would be nice little shelters against frost when the time comes.

In My Kitchen, October 2012

The clouds had been gathering all day, but when the first fat raindrops began to fall, it felt like a surprise. Within about five minutes, the rain was coming down in sheets; Kaya and I were making dinner in the kitchen, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get it to the house without getting soaked. (Umbrella to the rescue.)
When we woke up this morning, the air felt as if it had been scrubbed clean. It was the first morning that had the air of an autumn day, redolent with the smells of damp leaves and soaked earth. Everything seemed clearer and brighter, and the kitchen seemed particularly inviting. So, without further ado, I offer the first glimpse of the kitchen this fall. (To see what’s happening in the mother lode of kitchen glimpses, head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.)
In my kitchen…

…there is the distinct feeling that the maximillian sunflowers are about to stage a world takeover. They are great because they explode into bloom at the very tail end of summer/beginning of fall when everything else is swooning from the heat. Another sign that fall is here at last.

… there is a bowl of popcorn from the garden. Baki and I planted some Dakota Black popping corn and we harvested it a few weeks ago from skeletal, dried out plants. Out of the blue, Baki asked for popcorn this morning right after we ate breakfast, so we tried it out. After much energetic popping, I am pleased to report that it is unbelievably tasty — I swear, it tastes buttery! I like, too, how it looks burnt, but it’s just the hulls and kernels from the corn.

… there are quince, ready to be eaten. These might look green and unappetizing, but they are sweet and fragrant once you get them out of their fuzzy peels. Ali picked them from the tree, which was bent almost double under the weight of the fruit, and we’ve eaten plenty of them already. I will be making quince jam this week, and will post the recipe. It’s my mother-in-law’s no-fail easy-peasy pressure-cooker quince jam.

So these sights, smells and flavors of fall have gotten me well and fully appraised of the change of seasons. Summer is but a sweaty memory. I’m digging out the wellies and the sweaters. Hooray for fall!

Meet Max

A few years back, I was looking at the Seeds of Change seed catalog, choosing seeds for the following year. I was looking at the perennial flower seed section, out of deference to Ali’s perennial preference, and was surprised to find a sunflower listed there. Maximillian sunflowers (Helianthus Maximilianii), the catalog promised, come back in abundance and grow prolifically enough to form a hedge. I did not hesitate.
In the first year, they grew much as you might expect a sunflower or Jerusalem Artichoke to grow, sending up tall stalks and flowering obligingly at the end of the summer. The second year, though, we noticed that where there had been Maximillian sunflowers the year before, there were numerous stalks emerging. These promising sprouts soon grew into thickets, and I saw what they meant when they mentioned hedges. By the time they flowered at summer’s end, they had colonized huge tracts of the garden.
Their display only lasts a few weeks, but they really go for it:

I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for some carefree color and possibly hoping to obstruct a view. I have tons of seeds if anyone is interested. (I take a handful for myself each year and the birds get the rest)

It isn’t so easy to get things done in the garden these days, with only the weekends available to me. On Sunday, though, Ali watched the kids for a little while so I could put some chicken wire up around a nice new raised bed that he’d made. Then I went and planted some garlic in our old corn bed. Garlic is one of my favorite things to grow; you just plant it and forget about it until the spring. It is like money in the bank when you put a bowl full of garlic cloves in the dirt. We used all of the largest heads from our harvest this past June, and my mom sent a lovely big head of garlic that she had gotten at the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC. That one is a hard-neck garlic, which I have never grown before – we always grow soft-necks and I make them into braids. It’ll be interesting to see what the hard-necks are like.

I guess the boys got restless, because I ended up with an audience: