Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shifting Directions

I have three blogs. I started with one and it just grew from there. I dunno...seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyway, it has become apparent to me that I spend most of my blogging time posting on one of the three blogs, The Creative Diva. The other two, Nature's Conversation,  dedicated to my gardening and Gitana's Corner, which contained musings and anecdotes of my everyday life, have fallen by the wayside. They have become embarrassing reminders that I just can't keep up the pace necessary to maintain all three. So I had a brilliant idea -- why not roll everything into one? After all, life is a creative process so everything I do in my life is creative in one way or another, isn't it? Of course it is! Otherwise how else could I call myself The Creative Diva? So it's settled. As of today I will no longer be posting in three different blogs and compartmentalizing my life. Today I unify all the various aspects of my wonderful, interesting and above all creative life in one blog -- The Creative Diva. This should help me simplify my life, stay on track and provide relevant content in a more timely manner. At least that's the plan.

That said, if you'd like to know what I've been up to, please come visit me at The Creative Diva by clicking here. Join me, won't you? I'd love to see you. Thanks.

Ballo ergo sum,
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

End of season blues

Monarch butterfly pays me a visit.
My first sweet potatoes
I'll admit it. I'm sorry to see the summer end. Although I thoroughly enjoy the fall season, this year I am loathe to see it arrive.  You see, my garden was so vibrant and abundant and blessed my family and me with so much in the way of beauty and nutrition that I just want to keep those good feelings going. Never have I enjoyed the richness of my garden as I did this year. The photos on this page give only the smallest hint of the luscious vegetables I harvested this year. Sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, green, red, yellow and orange peppers, sweet little aji (pronounce ah-HEE) peppers used in Spanish Caribbean cooking, cucumbers, scallions, onions, basil, oregano, cucumbers, canteloupes, honeydews...did I mention cucumbers? I had so many huge, sweet and delicious cucumbers grow out of one little bush that I had to give them away because we couldn't eat them fast enough.

A magnificent Angel Trumpet

Aji Dulce (sweet small peppers)
Everyone in my neighborhood knew when I was cooking dinner because they would see me come out to my garden with a basket and start gathering leaves and veggies. The satisfaction of plucking, peeling and cooking my own home grown vegetables was indescribable as were the meals they produced. I smile just at the thought of it. None of this even begins to address the beauty of my flowers or that of Mother Nature's magnificent creatures that came to visit my garden. Is it any wonder I don't want the season to end?

A monk parrot in my apple tree
Just some of my garden goodies...YUM!
As always,  I learned many lessons in my garden, the most important of which is this: that which you put your attention on will manifest. I paid a lot of attention to my garden, making it a priority in my daily routine. Every day I would get out of bed earlier than I wanted to in order to water it thoroughly before the heat of the day set in. I would remove weeds and thin out excess plants. But most of all I gave it love. I would talk to my plants (YES, I talk to plants), express my affection for them and thank them for their beauty and abundance. I would tend them continually and guard them zealously. I treated them as I would my children.

Oh,  how I'll miss my veggies.  :(
A bumble bee covered in pollen
Already I am planning next year's garden and mentally marking the calendar for when I can begin seedlings in anticipation of next season's harvest.

Yes, I gave my garden love and my garden loved me in return. Why would anyone want such a relationship to end?

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Melon mystery and More

 The strangest thing happened in my garden. I planted a bunch of watermelons. At least that's what the seed packet said. It was supposed to yield round fruit that weighed up to 25 pounds. So I planted all these identical looking seedlings and let them run rampant up tomato cages and across expanses of the garden. Imagine my surprise, now that these melons are ripening, to discover that I have a bumper crop of canteloupes and what I believe are mammoth honeydews but not one single watermelon! There must have been a big mix up in the seed packing plant.

Having never grown watermelons before, I had thought that the strange rough markings I saw on the surface of the melon would disappear as the fruit matured and took on a more "watermelon-y" appearance. Wrong! Those strange markings turned out to be the distinctive texture of a cantaloupe. DUH! Oh well, At least they're turning out to be beautiful cantaloupes as you can see by the photo of a cut melon. I have a "honeydew" ripening that weighs nine and a half pounds. I've got fingers crossed that it's as good as the rest of my crop.

On another front, I was away in Las Vegas for a week attending a family wedding and left my son to tend the garden in my absence. After about five or six days he decided to peek inside the cucumber bush to see if anything was ready for picking. At right you can see his one day harvest. When I first bought the cucumber plant, its tag said the mature fruit would be about six inches long. The tape measure along the bottom of the photo tells you these cukes are a lot bigger than six inches and these aren't even the largest ones that have been picked. I picked one that measured 11 inches long and another that was 9 inches long. The largest was nearly as thick as my arm. The one in the picture at left was as long as my forearm and they are all sugar sweet. The tomatoes pictured are only a fraction of what's still on the vine and the size of what's to come is enormous. I've been eating fresh cukes and tomatoes on a daily basis and loving every bite. I only fertilize when I first plant so I can't say that I'm doing anything particularly special to get such outstanding results. I'm beginning to think my earthworms are pooping steroids into the garden.

Next up: green peppers and sweet aji peppers. I can taste them already.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, July 11, 2011

Early Results are In!

 (Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Maybe I'm just a little impatient this year.
My garden is coming along well in some areas and could do better in others, yet somehow I keep feeling as though things are moving more slowly than usual. Fact is, everything is right on time. My problem is that I started the garden earlier than usual because of the mild weather we had this spring. This has thrown my internal clock out of kilter and I keep thinking that summer is nearly over when in actuality it has only just begun. In any event, my due diligence has been rewarded with some early crops and I was blessed with a visit from a never-before-seen (by me, anyway) black swallowtail butterfly. I frantically chased it all over my garden as it did laps around my azalea bush until I finally snapped this photo of it in flight near my carrots. It was the best I could do under the circumstances but its distinctive markings are clearly visible. I hope this isn't the last I see of this handsome creature.

My cucumbers are growing like gangbusters and I've been enjoying the sweet and cool fruits for a couple of weeks now. Today they were joined by some early onions and a scallion. I can't wait to use them in a meal. My peppers are growing quickly and I should have three or four ready for picking in a week's time. Lots of tomatoes are showing up but they won't be ready for a few weeks yet. My basil has exploded with large fragrant leaves. It is sharing a pot with a lackluster cilantro plant which, in spite of its puny size, has delicious flavor and really added a wonderful touch to a pot of stewed beans I made earlier this week.

I have discovered that some vines I have growing are not the beans I had hoped they would be but are instead watermelons that are threatening to take over my garden. Last weekend I engaged in some ruthless thinning of the plants in order to give the remaining ones room to grow but even that is not enough. I have decided to try a little experiment with the four plants growing on one side of my garden. Three of them have been trellised while the largest one has been allowed to run freely on the ground. I know melons are not meant to be trellised but, like I said, it's an experiment. There are four others growing freely on the other side of the garden and I strongly suspect that they are going to end up in a mutual choke hold as their runners tangle together. The jury is still out.

In the last post's photos I highlighted a pretty little sweet potato plant that surprised me with its beautiful purple-edged heart shaped leaves. It has lost its purple tinge and has tripled in size, butting right up against the watermelons and some onions. I strongly suspect I will get some edible tubers out of that plant so I'm going to protect it from the marauding melons at all costs.

I am truly enjoying this year's garden immensely and am already planning next year's crops.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mother Nature in Her Stride

(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

In my last post I showed you before and after photos of my garden clean-up efforts. Since then I've been busy planting, transplanting and weeding, weeding, weeding. All the rain we've had in the past several weeks worked wonders in helping to establish the plants I set down. The flip side is that all the rain is just as beneficial to weeds. Really now, how much purslane can one garden hold? If my garden is any indication, the answer is an infinite number.

The one thing I await patiently all year is the blooming of my red storm daylilies. I love the spectacular red orange color of those blooms. This year my show of lilies did not disappoint and even held a surprise for me. In the midst of all those red blooms a rare burgundy bloom showed up. I've had these flowers for over half a dozen seasons so far and this is the first time I've seen a nearly purple flower emerge. Also this year, in addition to the Stella D'Oro daylilies, my red storm lilies had more company than usual in the form of orange daylilies that had been traded to me last year by a fellow Freecycle gardener in exchange for some Black-eyed Susans and Stella D'Oros. These towering orange beauties are very tall, measuring anywhere from four and a half to five feet. You can see them in the photo looming above the Stella D'Oros. The hydrangeas in my backyard were not to be outdone and produced a dense cover of massive bloom heads.

On to my vegetable garden. My tomatoes seem to taking off slowly but they are growing. The peppers are also slow although I've got one pepper maturing so far. My little bush cucumber surprised me with a fruit maturing out of sight behind some leaves. A piece of a yam that sprouted in my friend's kitchen ended up in my garden and showed up as a very pretty plant with purple edged heart-shaped leaves. In my pots I've got cilantro, basil, four different kinds of mint, scallions, more peppers, tomatoes and onions.

When I first started the garden this year I had the feeling that I wasn't planting very much. I suppose I was so close to it that I didn't see it. Now that I step back to survey all that I have growing I realize I've planted quite a bit and I wish I had room to plant more. Hmmm, let's see now...if I get rid of that azalea bush and move all the lilies into that spot, it would open up a whole new area for planting. And with a small rototiller the work would go a lot faster and....

Excuse me, folks. I've got some planning to do.

Ballo ergo sum - Gitana, the Creative Diva

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Garden 2011 Update

This Memorial Day weekend was spent engaging in one of my favorite activities: gardening. I spent eight hours a day for two full days shoveling and raking, planting and pruning, watering and weeding. My back, I'm pleasantly surprised to say, does not hurt, my muscles are not sore and the sunburn I sustained in spite of generous amounts of sunscreen does not hurt. All in all, this was a very successful gardening event for me.

These are before and after photos of my front garden. Last year that weedy patch was thick with marigolds. Much to my surprise I only found four marigolds growing there this year. I had expected many more seeds to have been dropped from last year's crop. Since I don't own a roto-tiller, all of the weeding was done by hand. First I loosened the dirt with a long handled shovel, then I got in real close and personal with my hands, breaking up the clumps and pulling out the weeds. this process allows me to be very thorough and get all those tiny little weedlings outs as well as check the general condition of the soil. Thankfully I found very little in the way of Japanese beetle grubs. Unfortunately I also found little in the way of earthworms. This means I'll have to be diligent in amending the soil with compost from my backyard bin which is chock full of worms.

What you really can't see in the before photo are the three plastic crates behind the monster hosta in the center. They represent my makeshift raised garden that I have used for the past two years. This year I moved them back towards the property line and added two more crates, replaced the garbage bag liners, filled them with dirt and compost and planted peppers, tomatoes  and dwarf carrots. The marigolds I found growing in the weedy patch were transplanted alongside the tomatoes to act as a natural disease and insect repellent. Future plantings will include bush beans, more marigolds and who knows what else. I've already got basil, oregano, onions, thyme, spearmint, peppers and tomatoes growing in pots along side the house and by my front steps. I'd love to get some garlic sets but haven't found any in the local nurseries. I may have to order them. The front yard may look a little sparse now but I have no doubt that it will fill out very nicely.

While I was in the mood to uproot and move earth, I took the opportunity to pry up all the edging blocks that had slowly made their way down into the earth, pack soil into the depression and replace them at their intended levels. This work was more difficult than the gardening in that it required me to really use muscle, crowbar and hammer to pry the blocks out and get them all back in again. Of course they don't all fit back into place as neatly as they did before being pried out of place so they needed some vigorous coaxing. That's where the hammer came in. In the end, they cooperated to create a neat looking edging to complement the neat looking garden.

In addition to moving dirt, I severely pruned the ancient azalea bush that's been in front of my house for well over 20 years. It was full grown when we bought the house and apparently had never been pruned. It was a tangled web of dead branches underneath that had been hidden under the dense foliage. Once I started hacking away at it, nothing was sacred. I took nearly half the bush down before I had to stop to clear out the debris. You can see how much I took out of that bush by looking at the photos. There is still more to be pruned but I will get to it when I get to it. No matter how badly I mangle it, it will grow back. Azaleas are tough plants and can really take a beating once fully grown. It had better. I'm counting on it.

My vegetable and herb garden is well on it's way for this season.  My flowers have been a riot of color and the showiest of them have yet to bloom. I have been looking forward to this season since last year and now that it's here I can barely wait to see how my garden grows.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spring is Finally Here!!

Day after Blizzard of Dec. 2010
(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

It's been a looong winter and I'm only too glad that the weather has finally warmed up enough for me to get back in my garden. The fresh memories of the blizzard that socked the northeast in December, followed by more snowstorms in January, are anxious to be melted away by images of compost and earthworms.

You remember the winter storms, don't you? Just take a look at the pictures. They tell the tale. The first was taken the day after the December storm while the snow was still pristine and the snowplows hadn't yet come through. (Heck, they didn't come through for two days!)

Fallen tree limb on my block.
The weight of all the snow seriously weakened a tree on my block to the point that it eventually cracked and came down in the weeks after the storm, damaging a parked car on the opposite side of the street. Thankfully no one was injured.

Yeah, the snow was a real pain in the neck, as well as in the back, but the advantage to all that snow is what is does for the garden. The deep cold stimulates the plant growth process. It's the same thing that professional growers do to "force" flowers to bloom when they want them to. And all that melting snow deeply saturates the ground, giving reawakening plants plenty of fuel for growth. The result? An abundant garden bursting with life.

Crocuses blooming in full force.

Here are just a couple of photos of this year's garden. My perennials are popping up like gangbusters. Everywhere I turn I see the tips of my hostas poking through, my hydrangea's tips are swelling up and leafing out. My ground cover is beginning to spread and the earthworms, well, they are fast, sassy and plentiful. My compost bin kept them warm, cozy and well fed during the winter and now they are ready to go to work fortifying my soil.

Daffodils are not to be outdone.

In spite of this year's record breaking winter, my plants were in pretty good shape. I had brought many of my potted plants and window boxes inside my glass shed where they were somewhat sheltered from the extreme weather. They showed their appreciation by rewarding me with unusually early blooms. In the case of the vinca vine that is going on its third year, it bloomed for the first time, showing off pretty five petaled blooms. My strawberries actually had blossoms most of the winter and now they are blooming like crazy, exhibiting more buds than I have ever seen on them at one time.

Vinca blooms for the first time in 2 yrs.

As I mentioned in the fall, this year I'm planning to plant more herbs and vegetables than I have in the past. I enjoyed the few herbs that I grew last year so much that I want to do more of it. I have already cleaned out the detritus of last year from my pots, replenished their soil and planted several varieties of peppers, cilantro and basil. Looking to plant some oregano, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, onions, short, I'm hoping I won't have to see a supermarket produce section for a long time.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of my back groaning at the thought of all that yard work. But did you see that? That was me smiling at the thought of it.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva

Monday, November 29, 2010

Autumn's Surprise

June Strawberries fruiting in November.
Me and my freshly picked apples.
(Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Summer was coming to an end in my last post and I recounted some of the abundance I enjoyed in my garden, from the magnificent stand of flowers to my fragrant and delicious herbs. Back then I was sure that my garden would be put to bed and dormant by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. I was wrong. Mother Nature apparently wants to hang around my house a little longer and is showing herself in a most unexpected way...I still have flowers in bloom. My pansies and snapdragons are still showing their colorful heads and up until a couple of weeks ago I was still picking aji dulce (pronounced a-HEE DOOL-seh), a tiny, sweet pepper used in traditional Spanish Caribbean cooking, off my plants. Even more surprising is strawberries, which bear fruit only once in June and very early July are not only blooming again, they are fruiting! This is most unusual. The weather is crisping up, the apples on my tree have been harvested and eaten (delicious apple pies and pastries, by the way) and nearly all the leaves have fallen off the neighboring trees, yet my summer strawberries are fruiting.

I find this all the more fascinating because of the brutally hot July we had this year that really put a hurtin' on all manner of vegetation, ornamental as well as edible. As a result of the summer scorch, none of my vegetables did particularly well this year and I am sure I lowered the level of the nearest reservoir in order to keep my plants alive. Still, in spite of the beating my plants took, they all survived beautifully. I suppose this very late bloom is my garden's way of thanking me for taking such particular care of them during the heat wave.

As is my custom, I read the happenings in my garden and relate them to the political events taking place in this country. It was no surprise to me that the Republicans rallied during this past election. Their steady, ruthless onslaught of Democratic candidates all across the country, much like the steady onslaught of July's ruthless heat wave, took its toll and the fickle electorate followed suit. Given the beating taken by the Dems, it would appear that the White House will flip back to GOP control in 2012. But I believe there is hope yet. At least that's what my garden is telling me, specifically my late fruiting strawberries. There is still life and strength in those roots that can rally at the most unpredictable times. I surely hope so. Lord knows we need it.

Ballo ergo sum - Gitana, the Creative Diva

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Summer's End Approaches

The last days of summer are upon us and once again I wonder where the summer went. Thank goodness I have the foresight to take photos else I would think my entire summer was wasted. Just looking at these wonderful images lets me know that my efforts were not in vain and the fruits of my labor, although fleeting, were well worth the effort.

The patch of transplanted marigolds that you saw in my last post filled out nicely. Here you can see a picture of them one month after the transplant and again as they appear today. They have grown so thickly that they have closed ranks with no space between the blossom heads. An insect could easily walk from one end of the patch to the other without need to take wing, so dense is the carpet of bright yellow orange blooms.  My coleus is not to be outdone, exhibiting its green-edged scarlet leaves in an impressive show. As usual, my black-eyed susans were a riot of flowers, completely taking over the northern border of my front garden. Alas, they will riot no more in my yard as I have uprooted them all and given them away to other deserving gardeners, keeping only a large potful for myself. I have reclaimed the space they used for next year's vegetable garden. I have enjoyed the few herbs I have planted this year so much that I am determined to do more of it next year.

This year I had a mystery melon appear in my garden. At first I had no idea what it was until it began to ripen and reveal itself as a canteloupe. I grew two canteloupes, one average in size and the other much smaller, about the size of a softball. The smaller one fell off the vine before it reached full maturity so it didn't sweeten up as  much as the larger one. I also have gourds for the first time, the seeds having been sent to me from North Carolina. Although I was told they would not bear until next year, I have two pears shaped gourds growing. My hope is to have them ready for painting for the Halloween/Thanksgiving season as these gourds are ornamental, not edible.

A Painted Lady butterfly takes a sip.
My garden is not only a haven for plants. It is a way station for all manner of wildlife. Butterflies, dragonflies, bees, spiders, caterpillars, birds...even my neighbor's cat, all seek refuge and perhaps a sip of nectar. For more pictures of my garden, including all it's visitors, please check out my photobucket album, My Garden - 2010 edition.

Ballo ergo sum
- Gitana, the Creative Diva