Friday, June 29, 2007

Make Your Tomatoes Grow!

Stare at them! They can feel it and it makes them happy. Check them several times a day! So they don't get lonely. If you don't have time in the morning before work, that's okay. Just look at them when you get home and then again a little later. Tomatoes don't have a very good sense of time. Keep positive thoughts about your tomatoes. No negative thinking allowed. Take pictures! And then compare. See, they are growing. Here's the proof right here.

Super Bush. You remember him, right? Remember that new little tomato that was pushing it's way out not too long ago (21 days to be exact)? Well, he's about 3 inches across now and there's lots more smaller ones right behind him. I counted 22. Then I realize from outside of the garden fence, that there were other ones that I didn't see. So lets just call it, more than 22. Wonder how long it will be till ripe ones. I think that first one, has a little bit more growing to go before ripening.

Now, now, don't be jealous. If you have one of these plants and you're wondering why you don't have a three inch tomato on there yet, maybe it's because I started this one just a wee bit earlier this year. Just for fun. I thought I could put it in a container and put it out early and get a few early tomatoes. Next year, I'm going to start one tomato early again, but even earlier! Also, the staring and checking and photographing helps too. So if you haven't been doing that, you better start! If you do have a three inch tomato, bravo!

Here's an update of Tumbling Tom Red. Don't know which tomato was the one I showed you before. The plant is covered with tomatoes and still cranking out flowers. Being cherry tomatoes, many are about full grown now. Time to ripen! Tumbling Tom Yellow is also covered with tomatoes, but not quite as many and not quite as big a plant. I'll give him a break since that seed was started later. Don't you love cherry tomatoes? They grow so quickly. They give you a constant supply through the summer. They don't quit till frost. What more could you ask for?

I guess it would be hard to make a nice juicy sandwich with cherry tomatoes. So we must also grow some biggies. Beefsteaks are starting to do their thing now too. Here's Cherokee Purple. If it's not quite clear yet, I really like growing purple veggies (there will be more coming soon!). Although, Chereokee Purple (Oops! Typo! Wonder if there is a Chereokee tomato, perhaps it sings poorly in a bar on Tuesday nights! Or goes well with that ringed cereal!) has purple in it's name, in tomato lingo, purple doesn't really mean purple. It's more like a dark pink/red. Well, I'll show you when they ripen. These are still small, bigger than a cherry, but smaller than a ping pong ball, they will get much bigger. The word Cherokee in the name, comes from the belief that these heirloom tomatoes were grown by the Cherokee Indians. Isn't that a neat thought? That these seeds were passed down from generation to generation and we are eating the same food?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Small But Wise

Somehow, these baby birds have a wise look to them. As if they were born with some knowledge, that we humans do not have. To say they have to grow up fast is an understatement. Can you believe they are only 13 days old? When I open the box, this little girl gives me a look that says, I have my eye on you. I think she is the big sister. The leader of the clutch. I imagine that she was the first to hatch. The hunkered down babies look like a pile of feathers. It's amazing how they've changed just since Friday.

Getting a little higher on my ladder, I can look down on them. The ones that already have bright blue feathers are boys. Hard to say if there's three or four boys, as one of the birds is covered by the others around his/her wings. At this point, I think it's two girls and three boys.

I haven't been shooting any video of the babies since they don't move when I look at them now. Only the occasional flinch when the flash goes off. Maybe this generation of bluebirds will grow up to not be afraid of my flash.

Mr. and Mrs. Blue must be of the new school of bluebirds. They are very brave when it comes to protecting their babies. While outside gardening a couple days ago, I witnessed them attack a bluejay (a very mean bird) by flying at him criss-crossing back and forth. They won't even give him a chance to get close to the nest. Just yesterday, I saw a squirrel who did somehow slip past their security and was dangerously close to the nest box. The squirrel was oblivious to the nest box, as he was foraging on the ground for wild berries that grow nearby. Mr. Blue dive bombed him and actually hit the squirrel repeatedly. The confused squirrel turned this way and that, not knowing which way to go. He finally ran off into the woods and was left alone by Mr. Blue. Without the parent's vigilance, those predators would eat the baby birds. This type of aggressiveness is a good trait to find in a bluebird, as they are known to be the wimps of the bird world. The reason why there aren't as many as there should be. Maybe it's not courage, so much as they too were born wise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

City on a Lake

So, hubby had to go to a suburb of Chicago for training for work, which he's had to do from time to time. I decided to tag along and check out Chicago. I'd never been there before and figured what the heck. I blended in with the locals taking the Metra commuter train into the city each day, $3.45 and 40 minutes later, you're in Chicago. Their trains are basically the same, except that they are double decker. There's a top level with single file seats. After his first trip on the train, my hubby informed me that I ought to sit up there or expect people to see down my top. I did happen to notice that it was almost exclusively men sitting up there! I'm sure they keep their eyes straight ahead.

During the day, I wandered around the city visiting tourist attractions by myself. In the evening, I'd meet up with John and we'd go for cocktails and dinner. One of those nights, we went to the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Tower, known for great views, especially from the (smudged) ladies room windows. There are parks all along the water. You can see in this photo a patch of sand that is a beach where you can swim in the lake, that's Olive Park.

This picture was taken looking at the city from the South, at the Shedd Aquarium (more on that later). The lake water is a pretty blue color that reminds me of Caribbean waters. It's so vast, it looks like you are looking out onto the ocean.

There are water taxis, which I'm sure only tourists take, but hey, I'm a tourist. I found the water taxi a good way to get from the remote Shedd Aquarium, back to where I could catch a bus or regular taxi. Along the way, I got a great view looking back at Chicago from the water.

I found it pretty easy to get around and also find my way around the city. I noticed a few differences though. People tend to wait for the walk signal before crossing the street, instead of jaywalking and they walk much slower.

The pictures above and below are the Chicago River. It leads from the depths of the city, out to Lake Michigan.

Before leaving home, I did investigate about Oprah tickets, but you have to plan ahead more than a week. However, now that I've been to Chicago, I feel much closer to Oprah.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Where Have You Been?

Well, I know where I've been. Gone to Chicago for a few days (more on that later). A few days away, turns into a week or more with preparation before and then, a few days of catching up with things once I'm back. Don't worry, the babies, tomatoes, and kitties were carefully watched after while I was away. The baby birds are starting to get feathers!

This picture was taken on Friday, day 8 for them. The babies don't bother to wake up for me anymore. They now know the difference between the sounds I make and bluebird sounds.

The mama and daddy birds feed the babies quite often. At first, it was only a worm or two for each baby per feeding. Here is Mrs. Blue four days after the babies hatched.

Now they load up as many worms as they can fit into their beaks for each trip to the nest box. Here is Mr. Blue eight days after the babies hatched. He feeds the babies just as often, if not more than the mama. The food we provide is only a supplement to what they catch on their own. The parent birds are constantly feeding the babies throughout the day.

I was worried at first when the babies didn't react to me when I opened the nest box and whistled for them. Then I watched from inside the house as the parents fed them. With the window open, I was able to hear their frantic peeping each time Mama or Daddy entered the box with food. Each baby has to compete for the attention and food from the parent birds. The loudest peep, gets the worm. I think I know some humans like that too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Five Fuzzy Fresh Friends

Look at my new friends! Aren't they adorable? They have cute little fluffy Afros. I have to restrain myself and limit my visits to once a day. The parents tolerate me, but I don't want to push my luck.

It's sleepy work being a baby.

All that sleeping makes them hungry!

Five beaks now. All the eggs hatched!

Time for another nap.

It is a very happy day here at the Hilladay Inn. All the eggs have hatched. It's the most we could have hoped for. Our Mr. & Mrs. Blue are doing a great job. They fly back and forth feeding the babies. I wonder if they have 2 a.m. feedings like human babies do? I shot another short video. This time, we brought a light out with us for better viewing. Press the play button arrow on the image below to view the video.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bird Announcement

Hooray! We've got babies! So far only two have hatched. There were a total of five eggs, but it's not unusual for the eggs to not hatch all at the same time. Hopefully, tomorrow we'll have more. They look so fragile at this stage. So tiny you feel sorry for them. Here you can only see one in this picture.

I whistled and they open their mouths for me. This is a good way to get a beak count.

2 beaks = 2 babies.

I shot a few seconds of video. It's kind of hard to see because it's dark in the birdhouse. Towards the end, you get a good view, so watch the entire 30 seconds. Mrs. Blue was nearby in the oak tree off to the side during all of this. She is used to me and doesn't mind if I look at her babies. I was able to guess that there was some hatching going on today because of Mr. and especially Mrs. Blue's behavior. They feed the baby birds twice per hour. So when I saw them flying to and from, in and out of the birdhouse, I knew what they were doing. Today is 14 days since she started incubation. Press the play button arrow on the image below to view the video.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rescue Me!

Sitting on my porch right now, it's both sunny and raining, and this is the perfect spot to watch the rain fall. As I opened the door to come out, my little orange kitty, Clarence, was crouched under one of the chairs. Must have been some thunder. He hates thunder. He's happy to go on inside and let Henry protect the border. But it was Henry who wanted rescuing this morning. I was in my home office and I heard a faint meow, definitely Henry's meow, coming from outside. I look out the patio door and all I see is Clarence sitting on the back patio. Then out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of Henry peering at me over the gutter from the roof. Ra-ow! He says, in a way that reminds me of Azrael, the cat on the smurfs, if Azrael was a nice cat that is. I shove my sneakers on, knowing what he is saying... rescue me from the big bad roof. He forgets that I know how he got there. That he climbed up the dogwood tree on the corner of the house and hopped on from a nearby branch. He didn't get scooped up by aliens, who then missed the mark when returning him to earth. No, I know better. His meowing, ra-owing gets more insistent as I grab my camera, and quickly get a shot of him. He hates when I do that. But hey, that's the price you pay for getting your mom outside in her pajamas and sneakers, and up on the ladder early in the morning. He knows how to get down. My neighbor got photos of him climbing back down the dogwood tree that she took from her house. Evidence! But sometimes a kitty wants to be rescued from the big bad roof. And it's fun to play fire person every so often and climb down a ladder with a cat slung over your shoulder.

Before the rain started, I heard some thunder rumblings off in the distance. I figured I better get out to the garden to pick some lettuce before the rain starts, if I wanted a salad for dinner.

So I pick my lettuce and being a bit hungry as it's almost dinner time, I start to look around. Anything else around here that needs pickin'? Then I remember, the strawberries. Yes, a girl can't live on lettuce alone (although some have tried). It's going to take some strawberries too. There's a few things I have learned about eating your own strawberries. Here's a short list:

-the strawberry must be completely red all the way around before you pick it for full flavor.
-smell the berry's aroma first. That's some strawberry goodness! Soak it up.
-your taste buds really aren't ready for the flavor burst that comes from a home grown strawberry. So prepare your taste buds and try not to drool.
-strawberries taste better if you stand there in the garden and eat them.
-taste better yet if you put them in a bowl and wait for your husband (or other loved one) and share.

Monday, June 11, 2007

There's A Fungus Among Us

Lots of 'em in fact. At least on our little piece of earth here. Our little micro climate with all the big beautiful trees that surround us, makes for a moist environment and the fungi love it. What do the trees have to do with it? Well, it's not just shade they provide, but they also emit water vapor. This makes for a cooler spot in the summer, yes, and less drying out of plants in drought, yes, but also, lots of fungi, yes. I'm not just talking about those cute little mushrooms that the smurfs live in either, although we do have quite a smurf village going.

Fungi comes in all different forms, and most plants, don't like it. Their leaves wither up and die. No leaves=no plant eventually. And, it just looks ugly. To prevent this, I faithfully spray fungicide every 7-10 days. It works. Not all plants are attacked by fungus, however, my roses and tomatoes are the unfortunate ones that do. Those happen to be the plants I like the most (shhh, don't tell the others, although they probably suspect). So this morning was a fungicide spraying kind of morning. Tomatoes first as they do the most vigorous growing and all the new growth needs spraying. As I'm attending to my tomato plants, I start to think about, my roses which will need to be sprayed next. And I think, "Why did I plant roses? They take so much care." Then I answer myself, "Because I love them. They're beautiful and smell wonderful, it's worth the effort." Satisfied with that and done with tomato spraying, I clomped off in my rubber rain boots, through the dewy wet morning grass, to go see my rose bushes. I use the term "bushes" loosely as many of them are still very small having only been planted this year. I come to the first one, Angel Face, this one's from a couple years ago. The beautiful blooms and buds, at least a half dozen that were there yesterday...gone! Just two petals lay on the ground to one side of the bush, and two hoof prints in the mulch on the other side. Yup, deer hoofs left those indentations.

I quickly move to the next plant, this one only had buds... gone! The neighboring plant, Chicago Peace, had a big beautiful rose, it's gone along with all the little buds.

And on it went down the line. All my buds were gone. I had been so excited yesterday at the new growth on my roses, since the buds had been eaten once before earlier in the season, and now it's all gone. Just like I spray for fungus, I also spray for deer. There are many deer repellent sprays on the market. They seem to work. The only problem is, you must be vigilant. Any new growth that hasn't been sprayed is vulnerable. I should have known better and I should have sprayed last night. That is all part of gardening. Early in the season, last year's lessons have been forgotten, until a giant stomach with four legs wanders by, eats your prize and reminds you of what you already knew.

It's easy to resent the deer when you've just come upon your half eaten plants, but then you see one face to face and it's hard to stay mad. They give you the sad eyes and they look a little fearful. I'll just have to take a page from Morticia Addams book and see the beauty in the headless thorny stems left behind.

Friday, June 8, 2007

I Spy With My Own Little Eye...

something that rhymes with type paw cherry. For those of you who aren't good at that game, it's a ripe strawberry! Shhh, don't say it too loudly. They're hiding, and it's a good thing too, because the bluejays (not to be confused with bluebirds) have been eyeing them for weeks, just waiting, waiting for that berry, and all her brothers and sisters, to ripen. Much the way I do as well. They dive bomb me when I'm working in the garden too. They want me to go away and leave all the booty to them. The nerve! Don't they know these are my berries? Probably not. I think bluejays subscribe to the finders keepers train of thought. That's why I put mesh netting over my berries. I'm hoping it keeps them out. I may have to electrify them to keep the humans out as well. Just kidding... or am I??? I wouldn't chance it if I were you. Just sayin.

Next up is my first teeny, tiny tomato from my Tumbling Tom Red (not to confused with Tumbling Tom Yellow) tomato plant. This one is a few days old, so you can see it better than the others in the background. It was only the size of a BB a couple days ago. Now it's the size of a... slightly bigger BB.

This guy is my Super Bush tomato plant. Look how sturdy. Look how masculine. Definitely a boy, at least to me. When I was giving away seedlings, everyone wanted these. They got all excited by the thick stem and sturdy appearance. Well, looks aren't everything you know. Show me the tomatoes, say I!

Well, it's a start at least. See that dried up blossom on the left? Pushing it out is a tiny tomato fruit ready to start growing. I would have pulled the blossom off to show you, but I don't want to tempt fate. I mean one slip of the finger and oops! No more baby tomato. So for now, hands off!

Here we have an Aurora Pepper. To give you an idea of it's size, the widest part is about the width of my index finger. My first time growing it, I'm not completely sure how big the peppers will get, as they are supposed to be small, but I think it has a little bit more growing to do. Just a bit. No one really wanted these seedlings when I was giving them away. Yes, it's a hot pepper, but not very, I don't think. It's a number 3 on a scale of 0 to 5 according to my seed source. Zero being a sweet pepper, like the bell peppers you get at the super market, no heat at all. I was happy to keep my extras anyway. The plants don't get very large and it's said that it's fruit ripens from purple to orange to red and you end up with all colors on the plant at once. I think it will be pretty. Can't wait to see.

Lemon tree very pretty and the flower so sweet... okay, she's not looking very pretty in this photo, but look! On the bottom there, that nubbin, the green thing, is that a lemon forming?! I hope so. Over the winter, while Miss Lemontree was inside the house, I tried to play bee and pollinate her flowers. She got a few of these forming, but they all fell off eventually. Not the right time I guess. She wasn't ready, not enough sun. But now, it could be the right time. Could be. No pressure Miss Lemontree

There's always the hope of these little pretties. My little tree is covered with buds. Oh and the flowers DO indeed smell sweet.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Everyday's a Hilladay Around Here

While every day is not a holiday around here, it is in fact, a Hilladay. I should note that this word was not invented by me, but came from a typo in an email from a friend of mine. So I'm stealing it. I'm a big copier. I admit it. But it does after all come from my last name, so there.

If you're reading this, most likely you know who I am, what I do, etc, etc. But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words...

I am:
a commercial photographer
a wife to John
a step-mom to Molly (that's them in the photo below)
a "mom" to two cats Henry & Clarence (handsome aren't they?)
a gardener (the pickings one day from last year's garden)
Is that it? But wait there's more! I know there is! All in due time, all in due time. I'll get to all of that.

Every day seems so busy and packed with things to do. I never run out of things to do around here. It's like living on a farm. (E-I-E-I-O) Right now, it's late spring. After a long winter of boredom, the veggie garden is getting going, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green on my side and the other side too, the birds are sitting on eggs, bees are buzzing... it's my favorite time of year. I wait all year for this time of year.

So I mentioned that there are birds sitting on eggs. It all started last March. While driving out of our street, I saw my first ever bluebird. Coincidentally, I had been reading about bluebirds over the winter. I had read about how they are in trouble because there aren't enough natural nesting sites for them with development of suburban areas. Add to that, there are other birds, such as house sparrows and house wrens, that take their nesting spots and/or kill their eggs by pecking holes in the shells and tossing them out of the nest. Friends of bluebirds (the human kind) will put up nesting boxes for them to use. And that is what I did. I built a birdhouse to bluebird specifications and put it up in our mostly unused side yard. Bluebirds recognize these boxes, as a good nesting spot as many of them have, in fact, been born in a similar box. Soon after erecting the box, we had a male bluebird visitor to our yard. We call him Mr. Blue. We made friends by feeding him and eventually he brought his girl around to inspect the house. Mrs. Blue.
After her approval, she built a nest, laid some eggs and that brings us to present day, where she is incubating the eggs.
We've grown attached to our little blue friends. They steal the show around here lately. We've been busy keeping the mean old Mr. Wren away, in between things. I've hardly had any time to obsess about my tomatoes.