Spring in Mendota 2017

Following the flood two weeks ago, it turned cool.  Then, it turned even cooler as we entered what is called “Blackberry Winter”.   It’s called Blackberry Winter because it always turns cool when the blackberries are blooming.  Here are a few in bloom behind my house.

Mike wanted to go to California to see his mother.  We talked about the best date since we’re approaching the kayaking season.  I told him that he could count on Southwest Virginia being too cold to kayak on or around the first weekend in May.   It worked out well.  We had a frost last night while he was out there.

But today, he is returning and spring has returned.   It’s a low humidity day where the sky is clear and blue and everything is green.  Well, not everything.  My flowers are blooming.  These snapdragons can handle a little cold, so they fared well in last night’s frost.

These perennials are always here welcoming the spring.   The blue is some type of phlox and the yellow is coreopsis.

If I had an English home, I’d have an English garden.  I’m lucky because I have a country home and a country garden which welcomes everything — even a few weeds.   I covered many of the flowers last night.  I’m not adding any mulch to this bed as in a few weeks, it’ll be tight with flowers and color.   Hopefully, they will drown out the weeds!  That is my plan anyway.

I weeded the raised beds yesterday.   Here’s some garlic that looks like corn!

Gotta have a few onions.

I’ll plant tomatoes this week.   One thing that was noticeably absent in this garden was the abundance of bees.  I sold my bees.   This is temporary.  I’m going to try a new type of hive next year — especially if I don’t start seeing some bees here.   One thing that is still in abundance is our furry friends.  This is my neighbor’s doggy, Belulah.   She is supposed to be a sheep dog, but she could care less about sheep.  What she really is interested in is kayaks.   She works with us all summer as an unpaid welcome committee/member of the launch team.

And here’s her sidekick, Poopsie.  Poopsie is required to stay home more so he does not work with us often.

And what does my sweet boy, River, think about all this?

Back to work!!

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Plan Your Garden in the Kitchen

Looking at any seed catalogs or starting to drive a little slower past garden centers?   Are you thinking of planting a garden?  Of course you are.   Don’t wait until you’re walking around your yard thinking about where you’ll plant things to start planning your garden.  Start in the kitchen with the foods that you eat.  Here’s the perfect setting for planning your garden.

Counter Top Cookie Scene

I started thinking seriously about the garden Sunday while I prepared 11 freezer meals.   If you work full-time, you know how wonderful it is to come home and not have to cook.   Mike and I split the cooking.   I cook three nights.  He cooks three nights.  We go out one night.  I didn’t go back to work to eat up all of my hard-earned money!! He’s good at grilling and making salads.  I’m a soup, stew and casserole kind of gal.   Soups, stews and casseroles all do well in the freezer.   They make great freezer meals; and on Sunday afternoon I was an onion-chopping, tater-chopping, soup-slopping fool resulting in 11 meals that stacked so sweetly into the freezer.   I made vegetable beef soup in the crockpot, ziti casserole and lasagna rollups.

Freezer meals make you feel good.  You’re ahead of the curve.  On your game.   You’re Martha!  Takin’ butt and kickin’ names.   Or something like that.    Organize your ingredients and get to work chopping and stirring!     You can see from what I’ve got laid out on the counter, I lean toward tomato-based soups and pasta frozen dinners.  I love lining my ingredients up before I start.  It makes me feel organized.

Ingredients

If you’ve ever grown any food, you know why I am so proud of that picture.   I grew those potatoes and grew and canned those tomatoes.  Too mah toes!!  I like saying that.   If you’re thinking…even thinking a little about a garden…even though it’s January– now is the time to plan what goes in that garden.     Even a little garden is so rewarding, and preserving the food that comes from that garden is just as rewarding.   Please make a garden!

Canned Tomatoes

So pretty!!   I eat those tomatoes right out of the jar.   And look what we have below…how gorgeous is that?

Lsagna Sauce

$1 per seed pack results in fresh basil all summer

Basil from seed

And dried basil in the winter (which I’m running out of so I bought fresh basil for Sunday’s freezathon.)

Basil Dried

So…if you’re even thinking about a garden whether it’s raised beds, a few pots here and there, or a traditional garden, add #1 “buy basil seeds” to your list.   No….make that “buy basil and parsley seeds”.  I threw parsley in, too.  Anyone can grow those two things–even if they’re on a pot in a windowsill.

I put onions in everything Mike and I eat.  We never raise enough, but we always try.     This year, in addition to hanging them up to cure and using them that way, I dried onions.

Onions on Dehydrator

#2   Put out onions…you’ll cry if you don’t!  Hang them up and use them later, and if they look like they are starting to rot, they are just telling you that it’s time to dry yourself some onions.    Root crops such as onions and potatoes can be high in pesticides when commercially grown.  Grow your own and you’ll know that there’s nothing but water, compost, sunshine and your amazing green thumb in those onions.

Onions look so pretty and curly when they’re dried!

Onion Flakes

#3 Don’t be a a tater hater!   Potatoes are super easy to grow.  Plant them on Good Friday and watch them grow!!    These are a little dirty.   I swear I scrubbed these before I put them in the soup. 

Taters

I want to show you the lasagna rollups.    I’m sure they are low calorie.   Right.  Here’s how they look when they’re nested in their pan lying on a bed of sauce.  I found the recipe from the Pioneer Woman’s site, so I know this is good.    Okay…I licked the spoon a little, too; that’s another reason I know they’re good.     Here’s the link. 

Lasagna Rollups Without Sauce

The picture above was when I was using a wider aluminum pan.  I quickly discovered that these little loaf pans work better.   I loaded on the Parmesean and mozzarella cheese.  This is a perfect meal size for two.

Lasagna Rollups

And the true secret to freezer meal success?   Wrap your creations like crazy so that your creation doesn’t get freezer burn.   Swaddle them!  I wrapped these in foil and also shrink wrapped them in the vacuum sealer.   It pulled so hard that it pulled the center of the pan in.    I got better at this by the 6th one.  This was the first.

Sealed Lasagna

I realized from looking at my recipes and thinking about my garden that I will need to grow some garlic this fall.   I’m excited!

I have about $40 in my 11 meals.   The stew meat, Italian sausage, and ground round were about $18.    I also bought the pasta, the cheeses,  tomato paste, frozen vegetables, etc.  I could reduce that by making vegetarian lasagna, and I think Mike and I would be fine with that, too.

$40 seemed like a lot until I realized that it’s less than $4 for the entree in 11 meals for two people.   Plus, I made four lunch-size portions of the above that I didn’t mention.     I’m actually starting to feel like a genius.   

Do you have any great freezer recipes?   Please send one to me!!

Pssst….if you have a second…hop over to Adventure Mendota and say hi.  Our marketing expert, Ms. Kitty Barker, said a blog really helps search engine optimization with websites, so…heck I can do that.       Here’s the  River Blog. 

 

 

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Fall or Spring

I love Coneflowers (Echinacea).  However, I have had no luck with them.  I buy them at Lowe’s and they come home with me and get all gnarly.   I’m always optimistic when I buy the 1.5 gallon Coneflower…here’s a picture from an ad.

Lowe's coneflowers

During the summer, I bought one of the Coneflowers (croaked) but I also picked up Lupine seeds and at the same time, grabbed a pack of Coneflower seeds.  I read the seed pack and decided it probably had been a waste of time…they’d never grow…and it was too late to plant them.   I tossed the seeds in the ground and forgot about them.

But Mother Nature did not forget about those seeds.   Nope…she whispered to them to grow.  And they did.  Here’s a crazy plant blooming on October 30.    I’m so excited, and it’s supposed to be back again next year.

Cone Flower Large

It will be fun to see what happens to her next summer. We’ve been cleaning up the yard for fall. My country cottage garden is all snipped back and composted for winter. I weeded and snipped and hurt my back in the process. Or could it be from loitering around the computer all time time. Hmmm…

Fence Row

There is no sign of that clematis as I completely whacked it off. I’m still treating it like a weed, since after 14 years of trying to get it to grow and then giving up, it thrived.

Clematis Plant

And look who else heard Mother Nature’s whisper? I took this picture this morning (October 30) as I picked green beans!

Green Beans

I am having this moment of gratitude for the good things in life.

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First Day of Fall

Fall is here!!   While today is the first official day of fall, it’s been feeling “fallish” in Mendota, Virginia for quite a while.  I love the cool nights and the warm days with low or no humidity.

This morning I went out to the garden and pulled up the remainder of the onions.  There were only a few.

Onions in Basket

I’ve never dehydrated onions, and I decided to try.    I use onions in soups in the winter, and I think dehydrated onions will work as well as regular onions.  I decided to “test” this little sampling of onions.   Let’s take bets..this will result in one tablespoon of dried onions?  Two tablespoons?  Whatever it is, it will be small!!

Here they are…I only had enough for two of the dehydrator things.

Onions on Dehydrator

There’s so much to learn about things like this. I’m learning the hard way about my potatoes. I had too many potatoes to plant in the raised beds in the spring so I planted them close thinking this would give me extra potatoes.     In the picture below, the beds were bulging with potato plants.

Potatoes So Big
And today?    I have small, gnarly Yukon Gold potatoes.  Turtle taters!!   Some looked like a specific part of a man’s anatomy.   I just stomped them and threw them aside.    Seriously!!

Taters that are crazy

However, we will have plenty of potatoes for winter even if they are funny looking.   I have several of these Sam’s Club boxes full of potatoes.    I’m wiping them down and putting them in a spare frig that we have.

Taters for Winter

These potatoes are part of my “60 days” of food on hand.     If for some reason the stores don’t have food, I’ll be home eating green beans, potatoes, canned tomatoes and, oh yes, one or two tablespoons of dried onions.   Don’t laugh…I’m not alone.  This is definitely an “Appalachia thing”….”a Mendota thing.”    It’s one of our funny twists.

The once-neat garden looks like a jungle.   Look at the weeds in the blueberries!!  Yikes!

Weedy Blueberries

And now, look again, I pulled them!     These blueberries have done really well.  We need to discard the old cages and find a new way to cage and net them for next year.

Bluerberries After Weeding

And now, it’s time to fix some of those potatoes for supper!

Taters

Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage.

 

 

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Keep On The Sunny Side

With so much discord in the world…,I am thankful for my choir…standing tall…faces to the wind.

There’s a dark & a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and sunny side, too
Tho’ we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Sunflowers 1

 Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side

Vista 2
Keep on the sunny side of life

Sunflower Daddy
It will help us ev’ry day, it will brighten all the way

Sunflower
If we’ll keep on the sunny side of life

Wow…I love those sunflowers.   We have a lot going on here at RiverCliff Cottage.   We’re making a barn quilt square in a sawblade pattern (20% done), we’re making candlesticks from parts of an old stairway ballisters (10% done), canning soup stock (0%), and I am pulling out a few things for fall.    I’ll be blogging about all of those.

Thank you for reading RiverCliff Cottage.

 

 

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Raised Bed and Seed Gardening

It’s been raining for two full days in Mendota, Virginia, but we caught a break a few minutes ago,  so I went out to do my daily “bug walk.” Tomorrow will be week four of the war on Japanese beetles. I’ve killed about 40-60 beetles each day. My green beans are holding their own. Look how full the vines are in the raised beds. They are Mountaineer Half Runners, and I have nicknamed them the “Fighting Mountaineers” because they continue to produce even with damaged vines.

Fighting Beans

Here’s the damaged skeletal leaves. The damage is  primarily where the sun hits the vine, as Japanese beetles like to be exposed to the sun where other Japanese beetles can find them and they can party and eat on the vine. And have sex. I don’t want to be crude but I can actually see them humping. They are so distracted they pay little attention to my hand as it swoops down, grabs them and drops them in the bucket for a swim.  I wear gloves, because they bite.  Did I say I hate them?

Damaged Vines

Beside the beans, I have a Crazy Garden. Each year, we have some part of our garden that is wild and crazy. It’s a place for bees and butterflies. I put the Crazy Garden out late this year, so it’s just getting ready to go into bloom.

Crazy Garden

Black closer to the house, since the soil was soft and damp today, it was a great time to sow some zinnias. I just toss them…don’t even bother to cover the seeds. Enough will get pushed in the ground by the rain to germinate.

Zinnia Seeds

Those zinnias will look like this in just a few weeks. I planted these in mid-June.

Zinnia even closer

In the spring, I’m greeted with Lupine — one of my faves. However, Lupine is difficult to transplant if you buy a seeding from the garden center. It’s easy to grow from seed if you are patient and don’t mind waiting until the next growing season for the reward. Today’s little seedlings I planted from seed two weeks ago look like this…

Baby Lupine

Will look like this next spring…I know…run out and buy seeds now!! A pack of seeds is about $1.00 Can you believe one little seed????

Lupine in Beds

And the Black Eyed Susie vines planted from leftover seed from last year look like this today…

Susie Vines

But the Susie vines will look so pretty in the fall when I replace the red New Guinea Impatiens with mums. They’ll spread around like they have in the past. Here’s vines from last year.

Susie Flowers

I stuck alyssum seeds in around this little tree that I bought two or three Christmases ago for the hearth. I could not find alyssum this year, and I thought I’d just stick these seeds in and see what happened. It should be full of trailing alyssum in a week or two. I’ll show you when it happens.

Alyssum

It’s also fun to get “starts” from friends…a trip to a friend’s house rewarded me with about 20 of these five weeks ago. Nice! I don’t know what these flowers are called, but they remind me of an old friend, Patricia Quick. I hope she’s reading this and smiling. .

Cocks Comb

And then…for the bedding plants I DID buy from my True Love’s Half Dead Plant Rack…I’ve perfected the low maintenance flower bed of cramming everything in so tight that no weeds can surface. For this to work, you’d almost have to have a “country” or “cottage” garden.

Bedding Plants

Except for one weed. The Dish weed.

Side Garden with Dish

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Eating From Your Garden Buckets and Beds

I picked the first green beans out of the raised beds today.   Mountaineer Half Runner Green Beans….they are heirloom green beans.

Mountaineer Half Runner

Not one spec of dirt on the beans. No pesticides used. It’s a rewarding feeling to garden this way. If you lived in Mendota long ago, you might not have had to worry about the pests as much as we do today. It’s a daily fight, but one that is worth the trouble. In the morning when I walk through my green beans, my bees fly around me lighting on a leaf now and then. I pretend they are thankng me.   We need these bees.  

Can you find the cucumber in this picture? What is it with cucumbers that makes them so hard to find?   Hint:  it’s in the  bucket…I did a double take when I saw the “message” on the side. I thought…”what kind of bucket am I growing food in?” Well, actually it’s a food grade bucket because it’s warning that children can drown in sugar syrup. Whew!

Cucumber

Do you grow any of your own food? Have you ever tried? Why don’t you comment and tell me? I’m getting lonely here!

I grew this basil from seed, and I believe I’ll start some more. Basil and rosemary…  “go to” herbs. I can keep the basil until frost, but I can usually keep the rosemay throughout the year if I move it inside on extremely cold nights.  I had yellow jackets near where the basil sits last week.   I was stung several times  trying to water my plants.  I water in my pjs, and one of the yellow jackets stung me on my arm, another on my stomach, and another on my leg.     The nest had to be removed.    Did you know that yellow jackets are a gardener’s friend?    I knew this, but Mike said they were definitely not his friend.    One stung him, too.   They had to go as we could not get water to any of the five-gallon bucket plants because they felt their nest was threatened.  Sorry!

Basil from seed

 

Oh no…before I posted this. I did one last “bug run” to pick off Japanese beetles and guess what was on one of my vines.  A June bug…it’s a giant beetle.   Will this ever let up?

 

 

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A Basket Overflowing

There was so much wedding excitement in Mendota last week that we thought and talked of nothing else.   (Well, I did go on a bit about Japanese Beetles in this post.)

Something really nice happened to me during the days surrounding the wedding.   My forever friends, Katie and Lisa, pulled up in the driveway riding in a car I did not recognize.   When they got closer, I saw that it was their Aunt Dottie.  She got out of the car and held this out…

Dottie's Basket

For no reason, other than she said “I just wanted to…” she made me this basket. Whew! Dottie is really Dorothy….she is a “Millard”…Dorothy Millard Dye. My father said “those Millards can do just about anything with their hands.” It is true.

Basket

I love my basket!! I will treasure it. She put energy, heart and I would imagine prayers as she wove this basket. Her hands…her thoughts. She knew she was giving me something special, and that is how I’ll treat it. Oh…it will be a useful basket. It won’t be put away where I can’t see it. It’s pretty and I’ll place towels in it, and each time I look at it, which will be often, I’ll think of Dottie’s kindness. I had been looking for something like this, so it’s perfect. (I’ll show you that tomorrow…or the next day….whenever I get the bathroom clean!).

My cup runneth over. My basket runneth over. Thank you Dottie. You are a treasure, too.

And as we go back to normal in Mendota…here’s my Mountaineer Half Runners. Still organic…which means I’m still picking bugs off.

Green Beans Gone Crazy

By the calendar, I should have green beans on July 6. Thus far, I’m growing lovely vines! Vines and bugs. Got ten Japanese Beetles off already this morning. I’ll be out there at noon again interrupting their honeymoon. I can imagine…a female beetle sets up on a leaf…sort of like a pretty girl laying her towel out on the beach…and then the guys start to show up. Unfortunately, this scene is interrupted by me! Gloved hand, soapy water…romance is destroyed! Don’t mess with a Southern woman and her green beans.

Thank you for reading Rivercliff Cottage, and thank you, Father, for people like Dottie.

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Understanding the Enemy

I am continuing waging a war on Japanese beetles. I spotted them on Saturday night, and thought I would just pick them off and drown them. It’s Tuesday evening, and I’ve drowned about 160 beetles. On Sunday, I found about 40 on my green beans. Here’s some damaged leaves.

Mountaineer Damage

I’ve been observing them and they like to be together, and that makes it easier for me to shake them off in my bucket. I have Dawn and warm water. Mike said to me “you know what is NOT very attractive? Someone who won’t walk through the yard without a bucket of water with dead beetles.” Sorry. I’m obsessed. We had company Sunday and he made me move my bucket. I keep it handy so I can just zip out, shake and drown.

Beetles Abuot 40

I’ve also learned that they prefer zinnias over my Mountaineer Half Runner green beans. Normally I have large rows of zinnias out beside the garden, but this year, they are very late (because I put them out late). BIG MISTAKE as I could have been killing them before they got on the beans. Here’s a few that are up and the beetles are trying to eat them as fast as I try to pick them off and kill them. Just a few beetles and so much damage.

Zinnia Damage

I’m hoping that my soil and plants are strong enough to withstand the damage–especially when it comes to my green beans. I spoke with my neighbor and they have not arrived at her house which is one mile up the river. Maybe I’m killing them all before they get there?

I go out 2-3 times per day to check the vines. It only takes a few minutes, and today there was a noticeable drop in the number of Japanese beetles. My friend, Linda Nunley, shared her recipe for discouraging them, and I may try it, but I so enjoy killing them that I’m waiting a few days.

For some reason, I thought they stayed only a couple of weeks but I read tonight that their life cycle is 60 days. This means I’ve got to be checking for beetles for several weeks. These guys are depending on me to take care of the beetles but to do so responsibly.  In a bee-friendly way.

Honeybee cartoon

I’ve never understood hunting until now. Since this started, I totally get it. Listen up, beetles, there’s a new sheriff in town.

On another subject, Mike kept reminding me that summer had started. Apparently, it was driving him crazy that I had not changed out my chalkboard window. It still looked like this…

Spring NoTalent Chalkboard Window

A quick change to satisfy him!

Summer 2

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Larkspur in the Garden

I said earlier in the week that I was not leaving the house on Tuesday Wednesday or Thursday. I lied. Tuesday turned out to be Mexican food night which I could not turn away, and Wednesday was an unexpected trip to Lowe’s for Mike, and I ended up tagging along for only one reason — to check out the half dead plant rack.

As we drove through the Lowe’s parking lot, I tried to peek through the wires and plants to see if many plants were on the rack. I could see a few–but not many. After breathing in the scent of my True Love’s garden center, I hopped out of the truck and dashed back and found a bunch of really sad, dead plants and one good-looking Delphinium for $5. It was the only one on the rack. I was so excited. Have you ever seen a grown, middle-aged woman skip? That was me! I skipped over to checkout! Happy! Happy! Happy! I’ve been watching these plants for a week hoping they’d come down from their $12.98 price.

I started thinking about the likelihood that someone just sat the delphinium on the half dead plant rack versus its really being there on purpose. Yikes! So…when I told the cashier that it was on the $5 rack of the half dead plants, and I wasn’t certain it had actually belonged there, she said “for you, it will be $5 whether it an accident or not.” I could have hugged her! Thank you!! My True Love has the best cashiers! I was so excited!! Here she is riding in the truck on the way home. Mike suggested I put her in the back (as in the truck bed). “ARE YOU CRAZY???” was my response. I held her close all the way home.

Delphinium

Delphinium is commonly called Larkspur, and the blue ones, like this one are symbolic of an open heart and ardent attachment. This is appropriate, as I am ardently attached to this plant. While a $5 plant, it deserves a $15 hole in the dirt and this one got a big loamy place to live surrounded by that great Bristol City Compost.

Delphinium Planted

She looks tiny in her new home, but she has friends. Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) on one side and a common Marigold on the other.

Delphinium With Friends

A little further off, there is this tricky Clematis that continues to taunt me. I think I discovered a way to beat the wilt! Yay! Read about that here.

Clematis Plant

I’m hoping she does well in her new home. Do you love flowers? Do you place your flowers in an order? I subscribe to the method of just sticking them anywhere so long as the light and the soil are right. The rest I leave to chance.

It doesn’t always work out well. Sometimes, however, it does.

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