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Dear unrelenting rain: please stop.


Clockwise from left: the handle of our spade, which was (I thought) protected under the overhang of the shed, the fruit of our since-euthanized botrytis (gray mold) plagued tomato plants, fungus on the feet of our two year old Adirondac chairs on the patio (note green algae spots on patio itself), black algae growing under the front porch, and what I assume is some other sort of blight.

Of course, there are some things that thrive under these sort of conditions…


Meet the Elephant Ear That Ate Hendersonville.

Once again, pwned by a Toxicodendron

After my first not-so-wonderful experience with poison ivy last year, I’ve become really good about spotting the stuff. Like this little devil, innocently hiding in the ground ivy between the blueberry bushes:

For some reason we’ve had a lot of it this year. Or maybe I’m just seeing it now,  instead of obliviously running it over with the mower, having now experienced the hassle of spending two weeks in flaming itching agony, sitting in oatmeal baths and taking steroids.  Who knows whether there is really more of it or whether I am just damned good at spotting it, but for whatever reason, I’ve had to remove little poison ivy plants from everywhere in the yard all this summer. I do it carefully, with latex gloves and a baggie, and so far it’s worked out pretty well. For me anyway, for the plants… not so much.

This past weekend I decided to make my annual assault on the overgrown patch on the Northeast corner of the yard. I make a little more headway each time, but never quite get it all and the next year it’s a big mess again. A previous owner of our house had apparently taken down a rusty old fence, and instead of removing it, they wrapped it round and round a weed bush. The weed bush is now a tree, and the whole mess was a snarl of rusted wire, vines, briars, wild grapes, wild rose, ivy and who knows what. I did get the wire cut apart last year, and stacked it, but never hauled it off. So now there is the above-mentioned mess again – minus the wire, plus a second mess that includes all of the above except the tree, growing out of the stack of wire.

Having seen poison ivy in this area before, I wore shoes, socks and long pants instead of my usual flip flops and shorts, and donned a pair of work gloves. I noted the location of all visible poison ivy and avoided it, then came back afterwards with latex gloves and a trash back to dispatch the ivy before continuing. Some of it was hard to see because the leaves had been chewed (what the heck kind of animal actually eats poison ivy??) and maybe I should have stopped to think “what if there are plants that have had all the leaves chewed off so that I can’t see them?” but I didn’t. Afterwards I removed more brush, wearing the gloves again, but by the time I got around to burning the stuff I might have removed the gloves, thinking I was now safe. And then there was that gleeful fit of tearing down grapevines from overhead, only to see a bit of three-leaved trouble come down with them. Again, I didn’t think any of it touched me, but to be safe, an immediate shower with lots of soap and scrubbing followed.

By the end of the next day, I had two little telltale blisters on my right middle finger. And the fun began. I sort of think that was the only point of exposure, but that doesn’t really matter because just like last year, my body went berserk and started manifesting rash everywhere. As in,even inside my nose and ear. This time around I got weeping blisters on my face, and that combined with the fact that it was spreading at an exponential rate caused me to give up on my original “I’m gonna tough this out” resolution by day four and go running back to the doctor for more prednisone.

The doctor says some people’s immune systems just react this way, you can get one tiny bit of exposure but might as well have rolled in the stuff, from the resulting rash. And I’ve since heard that it takes just a nanogram — one billionth of a gram — of urushiol to cause a reaction, which was referred to as a ‘T-cell mediated immune response’ on the scholarly reference site Wikipedia, where I looked the info up. So I looked up T-Cells, and here’s what one looks like, courtesy again of Wikipedia:

Red White Blood cells
The T-cell is the shaggy little guy on the far right, next to a red blood cell (the donut on the far left) and a platelet.

Now I just happen to have my own electron microscope minimal skills with Photoshop, and I would like to offer my own interpretation of what my body’s T-cells actually look like, based on the frenzy that a teeny bit of urushiol seems to set off:

Exterminate! Ex-ter-mi-nate!

I am a little wary of going back after that thicket again. Apparently poison ivy sap can get on other plants it touches and last for years.  Do I take advantage of the fact that I am already on medication and just go for it? Or do I admit defeat and hire someone who isn’t violently allergic to poison ivy to do it? What would really suck about that (besides having to fork out money) is that I actually enjoy clearing brush, so it’s really irking me to have my fun ruined now that it’s cooled off enough for me to get out there.

I wonder if there’s anywhere I can rent a hazmat suit…


Today is the autumnal equinox: the day the hours of light and dark are once again in balance before descending into increasing darkness. I’ve felt the change coming, and as usual it makes me unsettled and a bit melancholy. Typically I don’t do well with this time of year; it’s a beautiful time, the light has this crisp, high contrast quality to it, and the turning leaves are so pretty, but I hate to see everything dying off, and I know that winter is coming. I don’t deal well with either change or death, and autumn is all about both.
A sampling of the bounty our garden has produced this year

It’s been almost a month since the above photo was taken and the harvest has mostly tapered off. The peppers are just now in full swing but it’s tough getting to them before the crickets do – they chew holes in them and then crawl inside…yuck. The tomatoes are still trying valiantly to produce, but we’ve had some cool wet weather and the big ones are tending to rot before they can ripen. The leaves have some sort of ick on them and there are whiteflies and caterpillars moving in on the weakened plants. I prune away the bad stuff as I pick the tomatoes — I just can’t bring myself to chop down all the vines that are full of flowers and ripening fruit — but I suspect there is a balance that is reached where the amount of viable produce vs. the amount of work and mess is no longer worthwhile, and I wonder if allowing the plants to continue is possibly even counterproductive; am I letting disease and pests get a good foothold so that I’ll have to fight them twice as early next year?

I hate being in the position of deciding who dies and when… for that reason I’ve always coped better with crops where I am harvesting fruits and vegetables the plants produce rather than the plants themselves, and have shied away from growing things like cabbage or radishes. While I perfectly understand, on an intellectual level, that my overly sentimental attitude is counterproductive, I can’t help it…  though I imagine that if I ever did have to live off the land, I’d have to toughen up quick – or starve.

The one thing that fall has going for it this year is that I am really worn out with tending the garden. Some crops did very well this year, (that beastly cherry tomato vine!) others had issues, but produced decently (the squash, the peppers) and a few were a complete bust (we got exactly three strawberries and a chipmunk stole the best one, the cantaloupe plants never fruited) but it’s been a lot of daily work making sure that as much of the harvest as possible is not wasted. I’ve got a half dozen assorted winter squash sitting in the bottom of the pantry, three bags of frozen butternut gnocchi, two loaves of frozen zucchini bread, and lots of frozen tomatoes, tomato sauce, and pizza sauce. I even canned six jars of jalapeno jelly. There have been a lot of days where I came home from work and then spent all of my hours until bedtime picking, cleaning, processing, or cooking; it will be a relief to have this time back for other pursuits.

Not following the script

The rose in our front yard, after losing all of its leaves for some reason earlier in the summer, has rallied and graced our yard with another round of pretty yellow flowers…


…and something else.


This is the second ‘not yellow’ flower  it’s produced… beautiful and unexpected. I don’t know enough about roses to know how or why this is possible, but it’s a nice surprise.

The tomato plant that ate Hendersonville


Two months ago, we planted four tomato plants in our raised beds

…and now we have THIS.


Seriously, you could hide a mid-size sedan in this mess. In fact, if you look close, you will see someone has.

There is a purple Cherokee, a Costoluto Genovese, and a pineapple, but most of what you are looking at is the devil beast known as Matt’s Wild Cherry.  I calculated today that it’s covering about a hundred square feet at this point.

It has engulfed the other three tomatoes, the mugwort, and the wormwood. It’s heading for the highway…

… and it’s over my head.

I have to crawl through a jungle of vines to get the tomatoes, which it produces at a very fast rate:

But wow! These are the best tasting little tomatoes, ever. We will definitely grow this variety again – but not near anything else.