Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gnat Hats and Okra

A neighbor brought us okra, freshly cut --five pounds of it.

We'll eat it fried and eat it boiled. Tasty!

We were standing outside fighting gnats who swarmed out faces. His grandson went to the truck and got out a gnat hat: a straw hat with little lengths of Mardi Gras beads. They gave us a couple of necklaces and I cut pieces to attach to our straw hats. Hey! It works. 

 It doesn't take long to get used to little beads swishing around your heads, much less annoying than gnats in your eyes and ears and nose. We look festive with our red or green beads.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Fresh Dates

Those dark dried fruits with the papery skins that Mama used to buy for fruitcake were the only dates I ever ate. They are sugary sweet and I considered them a treat.

 Our friend Kenneth brought me a bucket of fresh dates from his Mama's date palm.
I didn't know dates grew locally; never did anybody point out dates growing when
I used to travel 10 counties in SW Georgia.

These are not the long and slender medjool dates that we bought at the store. These are round and oh, so fragrant.

I spent time looking for directions on ripening and preserving these fruits and how to best use them.

It seems there are 4 stages of a ripe date:

 Khalal: full size fresh fruits, but still green and not edible
    Bisr: colors start changing and sugars start developing
    Rutab: softening and darkening
    Tamr: ready for packing

These are past Khalal, I think. They have tints of red and yellow and are not astringent when bitten into. They aren't as sweet as I imagined so I guess they have not yet reached Rutab. Kenneth and Rose eat them, and 2 of their 3 grandsons. He told me I would need to ripen these further.

The various ways of ripening include freezing, which I am going to try; air drying which is in progress and dehydrating. With temperatures outside in the high 90s I opted not to try having the oven on at 180-190º F for an extended period.

Right now they are spread on an enamel broiler pan lid with nylon net above and below to keep out insects and perched on a cardboard box in the Mule Barn where they'll be hot enough to dry. I will pick out a few to freeze and a few to refrigerate.

One of the sources that I read described an acid pretreatment. They used lemon juice. Lacking lemon juice, I used vinegar and water. They needed washing anyway. There was no explanation of why pretreatment is necessary, but I figure it is to prevent mold.  It isn't to prevent color changes, because dates naturally turn brown as they dry.

This morning as I read, I noted one source suggested that dates be chilled before eating fresh. There is a definite difference between the taste of mango at room temperature and cold mango flesh, so I decided I might like my dates chilled as well. Chilling mango removes the turpentine like aftertaste. It will be interesting to see if chilling enhances dates. 

Among the recipes I may try are date bread pudding and oatmeal bars with date filling.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Gardening for Wildlife

Mostly I garden for Butterflies and myself.

This morning I went out to see what were the favorites for nectar.

Not necessarily the top favorites, but popular with Swallowtails are Caesalpinia and Tecoma stans. They are my summer favorites because of the large size shrubs and huge clusters of bright blossoms. In winter, they're just sticks, coming back in late spring for summer bloom until frost.

This morning's favorites are Porterweed in two colors. The tiny clusters of blooms will fade by this afternoon, replaced next  morning by a new cluster until they reach the top. That spike will then have seeds and new spikes follow elsewhere on the stem.  There is a native Stachytarpeta and one from the tropics. Butterflies seem not to care which one grows in the garden.

If Porterweed gets crowded, there's always a nearby daylily to dive into.

Mostly, butterflies like flowers that are kind of flat or a cluster of tiny shallow blooms. It's always fun to see one dive into a deep blossom.

Another favorite is Pentas. Pentas come in all heights, this big rose color one is a hardy choice.
I have cuttings of white and pink Pentas that are still waiting transplanting.

 A fiery skipper and a checkerspot whose picture didn't turn out well were nectaring on white Lantana.

 Gulf Fritillaries like lantana, too. For some reason white Lantana is most vigorous this year, crowding and shading out even Bermuda grass
 Echinacea is popular with beneficials of all kinds.

Okay, why am I letting weeds grow among my butterfly plants? Rabbit Tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) is a host for ladies: American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) and painted lady (V. cardui) butterflies. I rather enjoy the aroma of a pinched leaf; resinous, a little like sage.

I was on the way to see if I could find larvae on Pipevines in a kind of out-of-the-way spot when I noticed peaches behind the greenhouse. 

As I circled around, I noticed that a volunteer Red Cedar had dead spots, so it may die before It is finally taken down.  

Suddenly, as I'm talking to myself about the tree, something sprang from bushes where Pipevine grows into an oak. At first I thought it was the red-eared rabbit that hangs around the upper garden. As it ran, I realized it was a fawn with bright white spots, heading for the cornfield.

After it disappeared while I stood there looking, I realized I had a camera in my hand, turned on and ready. It was too late. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Versatile Strobilanthes

Persian Shield is one of my favorites. 

Growing in shade under a Magnolia.
Strobilanthes dyeranus is a mouthful, the name Strobilanthes comes from the Greek for cone flower. Its flowers are never seen in the summer garden where Persian Shield is used as a bedding plant.

 These plants are root-hardy in zone 8b. I tucked some new azalea plants into the bed with Persian Shield whose companions did not return.

Companions with Pink Pentas and Brugmansia. 
All plants shown are second year plants from roots.

These plants need no flowers to get noticed. The blue cone shaped
flowers are seen when days are short, usually in the greenhouse. 

Cuttings are fairly easy to root from a single house plant if you want 
a large bed,  or dot them around as accent plants.

I tucked a plant in the rear of a Bromeliad Tree.

Left to grow unpinched, it climbed the tree. 

I thought of Persian Shield when I read the latest issue of Green Profit. Kylee Baumle featured Strobilanthes in her article.
Kylee featured Persian Shield in a cream separator display.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Benign Neglect and Butterflies

 This morning I finally wandered out to see what survived mostly neglect this summer.

Somewhere between last August and now, I lost interest in Garden Life. I still look at what blooms and pick up the inevitable sticks that fall in every storm. Pruning low-hanging branches is in my DNA. The inmates are running the asylum when it comes to what grows and what stays. 

Echinacea in a sea of white Lantana. 

Hibiscus syriacus, we say 'Althea' 
Hummingbirds visit these hearty plants.

One of my new notions is to let the fittest survive with no dragging of hoses on my part. Putting out hoses is a small task. Moving them every time the grass is cut is more work.

Melampodium, a good filler, self cleaning.

Pentas, a butterfly fav.

This morning's favorite nectar source is Porterweed. Stachytarpheta

My efforts to plant over the years with Butterflies in mind paid off.

Caesalpina pulcherrima  and Tecoma stans

Shrimp plant is attractive to hummingbirds and a garden staple.

Tithonia is just now reaching blooming size, a dozen self-seeded plants.
This is the favorite of butterflies in late summer. My contribution was to 
remove enough weeds that Tithonia could thrive.

Blue Porterweed is as popular as the coral.

Salmon Sheen. I saw a butterfly in one yesterday.
 Sometimes a butterfly will dive into a daylily blossom to find nectar.
Pay attention to daylilies that rebloom and tolerate drought and cold.

 Lantana montevidensis
This lantana smothered out bermuda grass. In the upper corner I left
Rabbit Tobacco because I like the resinous aroma of its ripe foliage.

Agapanthus 'Storm Cloud' about to bloom in a pot.
I plan to pot up more Agapanthus next month. 
I am doing less, not giving up completely.

Yesterday I knew it was Bloom Day but I was dealing with the dog's health issues. TMI to tell about, but we left the vet's office in pouring rain, both glad to be headed home.