2013 was the "Year of Living Large" here on my farmette in Amishland. That's a phrase which to me means that you are having the best of everything and loving every minute of it. And the tomatoes? Try a height of 15 feet for my summer record breaking tomato plants "Ferris Wheel"! The rest of my tomatoes were no slouches either, with an average of 8 to twelve feet. Here is a photo of Bill, my wonderful raised-bed builder and garden helper extraordinaire, with one of the monster "Ferris Wheel" plants.
Remember the Cosby, Stills, Nash and Young song Our House? That is my theme song here at my farmette. (my)" .... house is a very, very, very fine house. With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, Now everything is easy ....". I have 2 outdoor kitties now, besides my indoor pals Duke and Earl. Frankie and Killer are my "shadows" when I am outdoors all season long. You will see photos of Frankie rolling around with the "Shutunski Bogitir" tomatoes. Killer got his name from his amazing ability to hunt vermin. Frankie, a fox colored long hair, is a bit more subdued about it but still helpful indeed. That is an important attribute with all my seeds in various stages of fermenting and drying outdoors and in the cottage. But now these two kitties are fat and happy in the colder weather and not hunting for their supper nearly as much. I am including photos of both kitties. As for the song, I am truly happy here for the first time in my very eventful life. Life did used to be hard but not anymore.
I keep a daily tally of nature sightings and notes on growing. It's just a few words on the lovely calendar that my multi-talented friend, Dennis, makes up and sends as Christmas gifts to a lucky few. He is a gifted photographer who is always documenting what others miss. A few notes from this past year will give you an idea of my daily round up here on this mountain.
January was filled with many sightings of hungry deer, nightly. They were so starving they were even eating dropped birdseed. Add a few seed foraging jumbo coons, too.
February's high point was another closely sighting of a pileated woodpecker and lots more deer who were oblivious to the annoyingly loud pie pans I put up in hopes of spooking them. And forget what they say about bars of strong Irish Spring soap keeping them away, hah.
March was punctuated by the bucks and does. But I also noted my first Daffodil blooms. And I was overjoyed to see 2 bluebirds scoping out the woods by the edge of the meadow.
By April I was chasing coons, opossums and the never endingly relentless deer. The pear was blooming and the apple tree about to do so. Nothing is as charming as fruit trees in bloom.
April is so full of wonder. I had “fiddleheads “of ferns coming up in the front of the house. (years back I'd collect "fiddleheads" of the edible sorts and sell them to the gourmet restaurants.) Pink and white dogwoods deep in the woods were blooming. The wild cherries and the wild celandine were in bloom as well. The may apples or maypops as we called them when I was a kid, were popping up overnight mostly by the stream that feeds the waterfall. The always stunning coral flowering quince was half hidden behind the shed. The Japanese maple unfurled its lacy leaves literally overnight.
By May, the bluebird house my helper Bill built for me was promptly overtaken by wrens- damn, no bluebirds there. The azaleas by the waterfall were about half in bloom by May 3 and by the 8th the lilac was blooming by the cottage. The strange black blossoms of the pawpaw were out. And it's just not spring without baby robins. A nest in the small pine by the waterfall held three. By the end of the month the huge old fashioned rose over the waterfall was blooming its perfect pink flowers 5 inches across. I never saw such huge roses. The old fashioned dark purple rose was in wondrously fragrant bloom- you can follow its scent from 20 yards away.
My big excitement was finding a large box turtle. Amphibians are a sign of the good health of the land and they are dwindling fast due to pollution and other poisons. Oh, and I saw my first 2 hummingbirds on the last day of May, by the red azalea, not the pink one.
June was such a celebration as my wildly anticipated cottage rose climbers were covered in their cerise and white kaleidoscope stripes. The woods were filled with the tiny pink or white blooms of wild “dog roses". Fruits were forming on the apple tree, but the pears were way ahead of them and turning a reddish color. The big day was the 8th when I spotted my first fireflies, a sure sign of summer. I lie on the chaise by the waterfall and watch my nightly "sound and light show" all summer long, because you could hear the tree frogs singing along.
But the high point of the year so far was, appropriately enough, June 21, the first day of summer. I ate my first ripe tomatoes off of the “Bloody Butcher" tomato. And for cuteness personified there were the three tiny baby coons the size of puppies. The came tumbling out of the woods making whistling noises and were headed for the road. I shuffled them along (without actually touching them) back to the woods while expecting to be attacked by mama coon, who luckily never appeared.
By July, Mother Nature was in full swing. I ate my first ripe Sikkim cucumber by the 2nd. The sound of cicadas began in the morning mist on warm mornings, a true sign of summer. Then the war began of the mean hummingbirds at my blooming red cannas inside the garden. They are downright scary when they fly right into your face trying to chase you off. They dive bomb you like miniature helicopters. I had no idea they were so fearless. The singing tree frogs were coming down to the garden now. They have tiny suction cups on their feet. They make the strangest squeaky sounds when they hop over the plastic mulch. Makes me giggle every time I listen to them. July 20 I heard my first crickets, another sure sign of summer. Oh and the blue jays had their “berry blast" gorging on the wild raspberries and blackberries. You never heard such consternation! Jays are naturally loud and while filling themselves to the brim, their fighting over the berries was at an unreal noise level.
Summer was in full swing in August. The ripe apples drew a huge 6 point buck who was snacking nightly. "Bucky", as I called him, took care of all the windfalls, those fallen fruit which draw so many bees. So congrats to "Bucky" as I am very allergic to bees! My adorable baby coons were somewhat larger but still fluffy and cute, and oh so destructive. They made nightly raids. And I learned fast that the wonderful fish emulsion I use for fertilizer is one of their favorite snacks. They licked it off of every plant.
In September I was so excited about the huge, ripening pawpaw fruits but just when they were perfect the coons “harvested “them. “Bucky " was eating the cottage tomatoes (foliage mostly), which were volunteers of "Hartman's Gooseberry" and "Little White Rabbit". He also loved the morning glory vines. Who knew? But hey, he didn't go near my big raised bed garden with the 9 foot tall deer netting fence around it. So that idea was a total success.
October, despite the encroaching cold, was glorious, for all the roses bloomed like no tomorrow in one last gasp of beauty. The strangely beautiful Amanita muscaria, (commonly known as the fly agaric) come out now. These incredibly lovely and poisonous mushrooms are amazing, reaching over a foot across. October 24 was our first frost.
It had been a lovely, pleasant, cool summer which is fine for humans, but bad for veggies, especially peppers. So I was still trying to ripen my peppers halfway through November, covering them every night and uncovering them when the day warmed up to get a bit more sun. I have never had such a late harvest, but did get a fair amount of seeds of these rare varieties after all. The fabulous rare white Hungarian peppers relished this cool weather and made it through several hard frosts with some cover at night. Finally, on November 10, I "put the garden to bed" as they say. Then we had a warm night again with crickets on the “full beaver moon” the 17th. But by the 25th we had our first snow here in Amishland.
So now you have heard a quick version of my “Year of Living Large" and I have shared a few of my nature high points. As I enter my third year at my farmette here in Amishland, I am still dreaming and planning of the next spring which is just around the corner. Tomatoes, start your engines, it's gonna be quite a ride!