:) OK, I feel better now. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Fall is my FAVORITE season. I blame this affliction fully on my 4 years in Upstate New York. Before then, I hardly knew the season existed. Sure, I already loved pumpkins and Halloween and full moons and such. But it was New York and New England that taught me the full potential of the season. Leaves – Oh, the leaves! Sweaters in crisp autumn air. Apples and apple cider like you’ve never tasted. A change in the light and temperature that is palpable and nothing short of pure magic. Ah, yes, Fall. My love.
And as we are now at the peak of the glory of this venerable season here in the Willamette Valley, I will share with you a great and detailed update of what’s been happening here while I’ve left all my loyal readers in the lurch.
First thing’s first… Where was I?
A Room With A View
Well, it finally happened. That mysterious wedding to which I have been alluding for so long finally came to fruition. And I will say this: though it was more work and took more time than I ever could have imagined… it was worth it. I spent a lot of time wishing I had never started planning a wedding. Brian would have happily eloped or just gone to the courthouse. The uncounted hours of work, tears, and travelling really had me doubting myself. My home life (and blog!) suffered greatly. The garden was small and messy and late, the house was a disaster-area most of the time, the chickens were watched by wonderful neighbors but severely missed their free-range time, the front yard is overcome with weeds. All that, though, and I have to admit it was worth it.
I don’t have any pictures myself (I was busy) and I’m not going to go into the details here because this is not a wedding blog. I will just say that the Inn where we had the wedding features outdoor showers in all of its rooms (each room is a free-standing cottage) and as the bride, I got a “vineyard suite,” which means I had this incredible view from the outdoor shower. I took this picture my first morning there, and I got to enjoy the sunrise this way every morning. Amazing.
The wedding itself was Autumn-themed… pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins and more pumpkins… outdoors, casual, and perfect.
A Quieter Time
And now, for real… it’s back to “normal.” I am home and home to stay, for the most part. And I have much to tell you!
We got back here late Monday night to notably cooler weather, and have been spending the week catching our breaths and getting things back in working order. Tuesday and Wednesday we got four eggs and three eggs. That is a far cry from the 6-9 per day we had been getting until we left. On Wednesday night, our chicken-sitting neighbor knocked on the door to welcome us back and told me that she had been getting 6 eggs… then 5 eggs… then 4 then 3. I told her I only get 4 and 3. She said they must be slowing down due to the cooler weather. It is true that egg-production slows down in the colder months, but my reading has taught me that it’s related to daylight hours, not temperatures. And since we still have a good number of light hours in a day, I was a bit worried about the slow egg production. Not to worry, though… things started ramping up after a couple of days and yesterday I got 8 eggs! I like to think it was because they missed me :)
Ah yes, what a joy. We also came home to this – a pullet that is suddenly bound and determined to be a mama. Tuesday morning she was up and walking around like normal, puffed up and clucking at me as per usual. By late Tuesday afternoon, she had laid an egg and had been sitting on it for a few hours. So, I took it from her. She was not pleased. The next day she spent a few hours on an egg but gave up eventually. For the rest of the week, it seemed that she just sat a few hours and then gave up. Then came Friday. Blanche didn’t come out with the others to play in the grass around noontime. I found her hunkered down in a nest. I figured she’d get up later. Then we left right after work to go get sushi and I didn’t check them again that day. Yesterday she was in the same nest. Hmmm…. I figured it was possible that she had been out of it and was just back in it, trying to lay another egg. I let her be. But, it was too much for me when I went out this morning and found her still there, a defiant look in her eye, daring me to mess with her.
So, I reached in and picked her up. This was her reaction:
I’m Laura Dern and she’s the raptor – duh.
Anyway, I got her off the nest and put her down on the floor by the watering cups. She drank like she hadn’t had any water in days (hmmm… I wonder why?) and then went over and started scratching at the food. Good, I thought. All over. In her nest I found a toasty blue egg. Oh great. She stole someone else’s egg. That means she’s stopped laying her own because she’s gone broody. I took the egg and went to let everyone out. She didn’t come out. Uh oh.
An hour later, I went back inside the coop to check on her. I found her back in her nest, glaring at me. Sitting on nothing. Oh yay. This is going to be fun.
Night Night, Garden
One of the first things we did when we got back was to hit up the garden for the harvest that had been building up for nearly two weeks while we were gone. The first thing I noticed was that the garden seemed to have been hit by frost. There were ripe and unripe tomatoes with soft, rotten spots. Pumpkin vines had dead, brown leaves on otherwise healthy, green vines. A couple of the tomato plants had blackened stems. It looked like frost to me, even though I asked two different people and they both swore there was no frost while I was gone.
Anyway, frost or no, we got a lovely harvest of colorful tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants… plus a couple of raspberries and strawberries that were as sweet as candy (those didn’t last long enough to be in the picture). I am showing them to you in a wedding gift from a friend of Brian’s family – a handmade basket. The gift-giver said she thought I could gather vegetables, herbs, and eggs with it. And so I have… everyday since I got home! It’s my new favorite thing :)
I was also excited to see several large pumpkins on the vine and lots and lots of still-unripe tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and melons. Ah, but it was not to last. Friday morning I awoke to a weather warning – a large, arctic cold-front was moving into the area and we would see overnight temperatures into the 20s starting Saturday night. Anything tender like tomatoes, melons, peppers, eggplants, and pumpkins would be reduced to rotting mush if allowed to freeze overnight and thaw the next day. They all had to come inside – ripe or not. And thus, yesterday, we put the garden to bed.
Brian’s job was to pick all the tomatoes. This is his job because there is always the potential for lurking monsters in tomato plants and I will have none of that. One year I got way too cavalier and picked my own tomatoes. Suddenly, I found myself face-to-face with a full-grown tomato horn worm – less than six inches from my face!! Needless to say, I screamed, threw my armful of tomatoes into the air and ran inside the house. I then proceeded to calmly (ha!) call Brian (he didn’t live with me that year) and my parents and ask them to please kindly come and KILL THE MONSTER. Thank you. From that day forth, I have not picked a tomato. True story.
Anyway, we officially picked 50lb (I did actually weigh them) of tomatoes in varying degrees of ripeness.
The good news about tomatoes is that they will ripen inside, off the vine. The bad news is that the longer they ripen inside (in other words, the less time they spend ripening on the vine), the less flavor they have. Luckily, green tomatoes are good too.
And none of this is counting the 5 or so pounds of cherry tomatoes as well.
Anyway, my job was to pick everything else and clean out the boxes. The chickens were glad to help.
They have been dying to get in the garden boxes all season and when I finally opened this one up, they were on it like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. They particularly like this box, I think, because it has lots of dried soy beans that are hiding under the straw.
I pulled up all the cucumber vines and bean plants, and Brian cut back the tomato plants in pieces. All plant debris went from the wheelbarrow to the compost.
I took a while but eventually, the bulk of the plant matter was gone.
And it was a good thing, too, because the forecast was dead-on. This morning we woke up to a brief, but sparkling winter wonderland… the frost was heavy and hard and the whole world was covered in a glittering coat of ice.
Sadly, my beautiful pumpkins were not advanced enough in their growth for me to cut them and bring them in. You see, pumpkins start out soft-skinned. The difference between winter squashes, like pumpkins, and summer squashes is the stage at which we eat them. Summer squashes we eat when young – when their skin is thin and soft, the fruits are small, and the seeds are not yet developed. Summer squashes include things like zucchini, patty pan, and yellow crooknecks. Winter squashes (from the same family, cucurbita) start out the same way, except we allow them to fully mature, they get large, their seeds develop, and their skins become tough and resistant to puncture. In this state, they can be stored for long periods of time (into the winter). Anyway, you can indeed pick pumpkins green, if need be… and they will ripen off the vine. However, this can only be done after they have developed a hardened skin. Otherwise, they will just rot. That was my long way of telling you that my beloved pumpkins still had soft skin yesterday when I contemplated cutting them to save them from the killing frost. Cutting them would have done me no good. And so they froze. And I am sad.
This is one of my Galeux D’Eysines pumpkins. The variety has a very sweet flesh that is great for cooking. It is just beginning to develop its characteristic sugar “warts.” When mature, it should look like this:
The weird bumps are blisters caused by the developing sugars in the flesh. How cool is that?? So Halloween!
And this is one of a couple of very promising-looking and large Musquee De Provence pumpkins, another French heirloom that is prized for cooking and is also beautiful. It is shaped like a wheel of cheese, deeply ribbed and orange-brown when ripe. I am letting them all sit out there in the vain hope that somehow they will make it through… but really, there is no hope.
Things Not Bothered By the Frost
(Pics all taken this morning after the frost)
Quince (neighbors’ tree, but I have free-rein):
(look! Soup’s so happy, he’s singing!)