Sweet Summer Surprises!


With so much dark strangeness dominating the headlines, and people’s thoughts these days, it feels like time for a lighthearted post . . . to take a few moments to remember there’s still much to be grateful for, and beauty in the world if you care to look for it. Back to the somber stuff soon enough, no doubt. *I* need a break from it. πŸ™‚

Technically, these grapevines are a neighbor’s, but they’ve crept through our shared fence and intertwined themselves with our nearby fruit trees. Up till this year, they’d never provided us with any grapes . . . so it was a pleasant surprise to find that this year, there are oodles of them! They’re small, rather pale seedless greenish-white grapes with a tang to them that reminds us of champagne. Definitely not like any I’ve ever found in a supermarket!

This is our third summer at the new house, which had been a foreclosure. The previous owners had planted a good number of fruit trees, some of which unfortunately did not survive the several years of neglect. Others hung on, just barely, and some of those have really begun coming back to life, which is wonderful. Some survived just fine, but are badly in need of pruning, and haven’t yet provided us much fruit. I’ve done some pruning, but not nearly enough — it’s a lot of work to catch up on, and it’s just too hot to do it in summer. But we’ll have a few pears, and a peach tree seems to have revived this year too — it’s never given us any fruit before, though it tried . . . the birds got to what little there was. Apricots and pomegranates seem to like this climate . . . alas, it seems cherries do not. Drat.

Vin deserves a lot of credit for keeping the trees watered . . . undoubtedly one reason for our grape bounty this year. Yesterday, we had ratatouille made with home grown tomatoes and zucchini, which was a first. He’s done OK with tomatoes, but many things struggle to survive these desert summers. And gardening is relatively new for us. Amazingly enough, the rabbits (of which there are plenty here) have pretty much left our garden — such as it is — alone. So far. πŸ˜‰

Let’s say we didn’t buy this property for the landscaping, though there is some . . . it was pretty disappointing on first impression, to an eye accustomed to greener surroundings. It’s grown on us, partly due to our own efforts, but mother nature deserves some credit too. We’ve got various flowering trees and shrubs, largely self-planted, that are flourishing now. And more, volunteering in propitious places, also a sweet surprise. They’re growing quickly, and will be very welcome sources of both shade and privacy.

And flowers too . . .


This spring, I missed my chance to take photos, and we didn’t have quite as many flowers as last year — so some of these photos are a year old. This yellow flowering plant above is a mystery; it’s nothing we planted, and it didn’t return this year much to my disappointment. We had scattered a lot of desert wildflower seeds, and had a large crop in spring 2015, but not all of them came back this year.


We’ve got a number of hollyhocks that self propagate, and grow where they want to — so far, they haven’t cooperated with my efforts to plant them in any spot where I’d like them. Anarchic little plants, those hollyhocks . . . πŸ™‚ Vin pictured above with our tallest ones of the summer, one 7+ ft tall!


Here’s a photo with our oldest cat (looks like she’s stalking something) in the background. She’s the only one that goes out; being set in her ways, my beautiful, obstinate princess. She gets me up at dawn most mornings to let her out, and in return she comes back in for me at sundown. Of course, she has a cat door to come in any time if she wants to, and I block that off at night to keep her safely in. Coyote country, after all.

Oh, and not to worry — I’m sure Vin will be back to posting soon, it’s just that I (Brunette) have been in more of a writing mood for a change.

Anyway, sorry if this has been a silly fluffy post, mainly inspired by the grapes that have brought us such delight the past few days. May the summer bring you some sweet surprises too!




10 Comments to “Sweet Summer Surprises!”

  1. Thomas Mitchell Says:

    Nice respite. I made ratatouille with stuff from our garden a couple of weeks ago. Time to do it again, but also need to shuck the black-eyed eyes.

  2. Vin's Brunette Says:

    Thanks, Mitch. Yes, I’m sure we’ll be having ratatouille again soon, too. Good stuff! πŸ™‚

  3. Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger Says:

    “the rabbits (of which there are plenty here) have pretty much left our garden β€” such as it is β€” alone. So far. “

    Should they become a problem, remember that they are also edible. And a lot cheaper than beef in the grocery store.

  4. Vin's Brunette Says:

    Heh, Carl . . . I’m largely vegetarian (if no longer as obsessively so as I once was). The cottontails may be edible indeed, Sandy used to catch and eat them. The little ones, anyway.

    Not so sure about the jackrabbits, though — once outside the bathroom window I saw a jackrabbit almost the size of a goat just a few feet away. Wish I’d caught a photo of that. πŸ™‚

  5. Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger Says:

    Xena et al aren’t vegetarians. Think of it as high quality protein cat food.

  6. MamaLiberty Says:

    Grapes require three things: water, feeding and pruning. They also require good drainage, but I doubt that’s a problem for you there. They are heavy feeders and should be given a high quality fertilizer in the early spring. I’ve had good luck with stuff labeled as “tomato food.” Fruit tree spikes work well too

    Grapes form on the wood/stems that grew the previous year. Mark the vines that grow this season with string or something. Then, this fall (late), prune off everything else. The oldest growth will probably need to be cut at the soil line. You need to prune off all the old growth each year if you want any decent fruit.

    The pale green grapes will do wonderfully in the desert sun and they’ll get very nice and sweet if fed properly. Wait to pick them until the fruit at the back of the bunch is slightly golden and comes off into your fingers easily. Then cut the bunch off with a sharp pruner. Birds are a real problem and you may need to put netting on the plants. I have tried everything, and found no other way to discourage them.

    Water them regularly all through the winter, and increase that in the spring and summer. You should have a lot of fruit, and much larger. I grew lots of grapes in my So. Calif. garden. I have some here too, but get no fruit if the winter is too cold. The roots survive, but the more tender growth above ground freezes.

    If you use wild rabbit meat for anything, clean the carcass carefully, and cook it in a pressure cooker. The rabbits have some nasty worms… Had to get a special worm medicine from the vet the last two times Rascal caught a bunny… and ate it. Not possible to take it away from him without hurting both of us. So far, Laddie hasn’t caught one. πŸ™‚

  7. Vin's Brunette Says:

    Dear Mama, thank you for the grape cultivating tips. I’d not have thought grapes would do well here in the desert — keeping them watered is certainly a chore — but there’s nothing like freshly picked fruit and veggies from one’s own garden. πŸ™‚

    As far as eating rabbit meat, I might consider it in a worst case scenario — actually, I’d rather never try it. But thanks for that advice too, it could be useful someday . . .

    Got any good advice for pruning fruit trees? πŸ™‚

  8. MamaLIberty Says:

    Pruning fruit trees is far more complex than pruning grapes or other small fruits. And there is a big difference between pruning young trees and older ones, especially if they’ve been neglected for a long time.

    I’ll write to you about it in more detail, but basically there are two phases. First is getting the trees watered, adding some good soil amendments and mulch, then feeding them for a year. Except for removing dead branches, don’t prune until there is solid new growth after the watering and feeding.

    Fruit trees establish most of their fruit spurs (where the fruit forms) in their first two or three years. Old, neglected trees will still have these spurs, so the trick is to nurture them and be careful not to cut them off in your pruning efforts!

    At that point, you will want to prune for shape and branch position/strength. This is where it gets complex, and I’d advise you to get a good book on pruning.

    Once the new growth is established, and the water/feeding is both adequate and consistent, new fruit spurs will likely form on two or three year old wood. As you can see, rescue and restoration of old fruit trees is not a trivial endeavor. You may be money and time ahead to remove the old trees and plant new ones. Depending on the size and age of the new trees, they may well produce more and better fruit sooner than the old one.

    Good luck, in either case. πŸ™‚ The desert, especially a low desert, is a very challenging environment in which to grow anything at all. And ENOUGH water, not laden with alkali and salts, is the key. One way to reduce the alkalinity is to sprinkle wood ashes around the tree frequently (not touching the trunk), and water in. Unfortunately, there is no cure for assorted salts that are prevalent in almost all desert water.

  9. Vin's Brunette Says:

    Thanks, Mama — we’ve got both old fruit trees (some pretty stressed out, but coming back to life gradually — they’re fairly large) and young ones. Yes, dealing with the older trees is positively daunting . . . they do need a whole lot of pruning, but removing them as you suggest sounds terribly expensive; that’s not a task we’d want to tackle ourselves. Pruning I can handle, but I’d prefer to do it judiciously. πŸ˜‰

    We’ll definitely need to learn more about fruit spurs — it’d be an absolute shame to cut those out in a well-meaning effort to help the trees. I’ve approached pruning with a cautious “first, do no harm” attitude, mostly focused on dead wood, so I hope I’ve not done much harm thus far.

    The water here does contain a lot of mineral salts, not much to be done about that, unfortunately . . . we filter our drinking water, but the supply is enough for maybe a few dozen houseplants at best, so the wood ash is a helpful tip. πŸ™‚

  10. MamaLiberty Says:

    I’m glad you have some young trees too. Just keep the dead wood pruned out of the old ones, feed them and keep them watered. The trick to pruning is to remove enough to stimulate new growth, and not so you lose too much leaf surface which is, of course, necessary for photosynthesis.

    The “do no harm” method is a good way to approach almost anything. Well, except for ants. I hate ants…

    Unfortunately, the ash won’t help with the mineral salts at all. The ash very slightly and gradually helps keep the pH a little to the right of washing soda strength alkali…

    Good luck!