Welcome to my Western Pennsylvania garden. Join me on a "Walk Down the Garden Path".

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friend or Foe: Black Rat Snake

It was just about a month ago that I first wrote of our sighting of the Black Rat Snake in our garage. At that time, I said I would post more later. Well, it's now later. I was hoping that I could post that we had successfully captured the snake to relocate him to the bottom of the yard where he wouldn't bother us, but we have not seen him since that first day.

You see, my husband and father in law had built a special snake catching device and we wanted a chance to try it out and see if it worked better than our method of herding the snake into a large garbage can to transport him to his new home. We have used the herding method several times with great success, but if the snake is not in a good position this is a bit difficult to do. As you can see in the pictures below, this snake catching device is quite simple. It's a pole with a string looped through it. Just get the snake's head inside the loop and pull tight. Now don't strangle him, just transport him to your trash can for relocation. I was hoping to have a picture of the snake caught in the device. Oh well, I guess he was camera shy and decided our garage wasn't the place to be.

I do want to share some information about my friend though, and that is exactly what he is, a friend, not a foe. Many people misunderstand snakes and their fear and lack of knowledge cause snakes to continue to be the victim of human persecution.

The Black Rat Snake may look menacing, but he is generally shy and does not like confrontation. His diet includes primarily rodents, although he may dine on small lizards or the occasional frog. Rodents, meaning rats, mice, voles, chipmunks. It is because of this rodent diet that they are very useful on farms and in your garden. They use constriction to kill their prey (just in case you were wondering).

The Black Rat Snake can be found from New England south through Georgia and west across the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and north through Oklahoma to southern Wisconsin. There is also an isolated population in southern Canada and northern New York.

Rat Snakes are egg layers. The female lays 12 to 20 eggs. The eggs are laid in a hidden area, under hollow logs or leaves, or in abandoned burrows. The eggs hatch 65 to 70 days later.

Take precautions so that snakes don't enter your home. You can do this by sealing cracks and openings around your house. Keep your yard free of debris and if you have a wood pile, keep it away from the house.

I hope that if you encounter a snake, you will not kill it out of fear. If it is not near your home either let it exist naturally or relocate it. The Black Rat Snake is definitely a friend.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meadow Walk

Yesterday afternoon, as the baby was napping, John and I took a walk up to the back field/meadow to see what there was to see up there. Everything is dry, dry, dry. You can see one of the paths my husband had cut through the meadow as a walking trail. He did this weeks ago, which was when we last mowed.

Here are some close-ups of the flowers we found on our walk.

A Thistle

This little purple-pink flower. It was the only one like it I could find.

Queen Anne's Lace

This is a picture of our neighbors adjoining field. They have different things blooming, goldenrod and what looks like a deep purple butterfly plant. I don't think they keep their field mowed as much as we do ours. But since we don't have a big tractor, we have to keep up with it or else it is impossible to take care of. Although the meadow look has it's merits, and we may end up keeping it more meadow-like, with some paths cut through for walking.

Just yesterday, Gail put a name to this bug for me. Yes, it's the Milk Weed Bug, on a Milk Weed Seed pod.

The sad, bird's eye view of my garden. It looks more like October than August.

One cosmos of just a few which have bloomed in my new wildflower area I was trying to establish this year. I'll work on it more next year.

Thanks for joining us on our walk. I hope you enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Virtual Rain Dance

I don't remember the last time it rained in my garden. It has to be going on four weeks now. Everything is suffering. I don't mind that the grass is brown, I think we've cut it twice since the beginning of July. At least we are saving on gas. I don't even mind that the vegetable garden is pretty much dust right now. The deer ate most everything before we went away for a week, and then they did a pretty good job finishing it off while we were gone. Raccoons or other varmints have been breaking open the pumpkins and winter squash and eating every bit, presumably for the moisture inside. There are just a few things that have survived all this, mainly some herbs, the eggplant, and one tomato plant. Given that we rely on a well for our water, there is no way we could keep a big vegetable garden watered properly in this lack of rain, so having just a few things to water has been a blessing. But all the perennials throughout the property, there is no way I can water them as they need to be. I try to give everything a good drink, twice a week. But even the coneflowers are curling up and dried. I may be starting with more of a clean slate than I anticipated next year. It just makes me want to cry.

This afternoon we watched the radar show rain coming across from Ohio, a nice line of green. But it now appears to be breaking up before it will get to us. We will be denied again. This lack of rain had me thinking about the history of rain dancing in this country. The Cherokee tribe would perform rain dances both to induce precipitation and to cleanse evil spirits from the earth.

Please enjoy this music and perhaps rain will be forthcoming.

Rain Dance Flute Song

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Corn Fritters ~ A Summertime Treat

It's time for a Thursday Food Fest again, sponsored by A Way To Garden and Dinner Tonight. Today's star is the sweetest of the sweet corn, that yummy summertime treat.

Growing up on the farm, I never had store bought corn, probably until I went to college. We would feast on corn on the cob when it started coming in late July, and since my Dad and Grandfather stagger planted, (several rows every week or two) and planted a couple of varieties, we had it fresh for over a month. The first variety to come in was always the Butter and Sugar corn and the Silver Queen was always the last one, but was the favorite of many. With all this corn, we would spend several days freezing huge batches. We would freeze enough for us to have corn once a week for the entire year. With ten people to feed, that's a lot of corn.

One of the things my Mom would make with leftover corn on the cob was corn fritters. These were always a special treat and we could have eaten just this for dinner. I'll be making these later today, so I will post some pictures then. I hope you enjoy these. Please let me know how you like them.

1 egg beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 cups fresh cut corn
1 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
1 TBS melted bacon fat or melted butter

Mix egg, milk, and corn.
Sift dry ingredients and add to corn mixture.
Add bacon fat (or butter) and beat until well blended.
Coat pan (non-stick or cast iron would work best) with bacon fat or butter.
Drop by tablespoons into pan and cook until golden brown, turning once.
Drain on absorbent paper.

My Mom cooked them in a cast iron skillet and flipped them to cook on both sides.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Culantro is an herb I found this year at one of the big box stores and since I had never heard of it, I thought I would give it a try. The sign on the rack said it had the same flavor as cilantro and since my cilantro leaves only seem to be plentiful in the spring, this could be useful later in the summer. I usually use cilantro in salsas with fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or other salads made with fresh garden veggies. By the time the tomatoes are ready, the cilantro has gone to seed and is not very leafy at all. Culantro could very easily be used in place of cilantro in these instances. It would also be good with black beans. I am specifically thinking of a cooked black bean salsa that is served over cheesy grits. I haven't made it in a while but that may be just the thing to use some of this new herb I have.

Culantro is from the same family as cilantro and it does have the same flavor, although a bit stronger. It is indigenous the Caribbean, Latin America and the West Indies. The leaves are serrated and really quite sharp, so you must be careful. To me, this characteristic does not lend it to be useful for eating, but if they are chopped well enough or pulverized in the food processor it won't make a difference. I did read that it grows naturally in shaded, moist areas. So perhaps mine is so prickly because it is growing in the full sun. One advantage to the prickly leaves is that the deer have not eaten it, and it is one of the few successes from my garden this year. I have read that it is attractive to beneficial insects such as the ladybug. I haven't noticed any around it but I haven't looked for them either.

It looks like it has little flower heads, although they are not much to look at, but you can definitely see the jagged leaves in the close up photo.

I don't think this will over winter here in zone 5 but I would buy it again if I see it. Of course, I may get lucky and it will self-seed. I guess I will find out next spring.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Visit To Delaware

Hello Everyone! It's good to be getting back into my normal routine after our trip to Delaware to spend time with my extended family. My parents rented a huge, gorgeous house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where they and all their children and their families gathered to spend time together. At one point there were twenty-three people staying in the six-bedroom house, with seven of those being six years old or younger!

I'll do another post with some beach pictures, but first I wanted to post some of the garden and plant photos I took throughout the week. I really didn't take that many photos at all, mainly because I didn't have my camera handy when I wanted it and keeping track of all the kids precluded leisurely picture taking. But here are a few nice ones from throughout the week.

These were taken in downtown Lewes, Delaware. This is a nice area to walk around with arty shops and pretty B&B's and sidewalk cafes. We really enjoyed the couple of hours we had here just strolling the streets and window shopping.

These next photos were taken at Cape Henlopen State Park. This was a very nice park, especially if you are a biker. They even have a bike shed where you can borrow a bike for a couple of hours, free of charge. They have a nice beach area which, although crowded, had very nice facilities, there were lots of paths and trails throughout the park, a frisbee golf course, and a WWII observation tower which you could climb. They also have lots of programs which you can find out about at the Nature Center which is where these photos were taken. You see, they had a very nice butterfly garden area just outside the center.

These last photos were taken at Nassau Valley Vineyard, the first winery in Delaware. They have a self-guided tour and then provided wine tastings. It was very interesting and they had some pretty landscaping in addition to all the grapes.

Well, that's all for now. I promise a future post with beach and family photos.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Green Beans ~ A Couple of Salads

It's Thursday and time for the weekly food fest hosted by A Way To Garden and Dinner Tonight. On the menu today is Green Beans, so if you are looking for a new recipe to use up those green beans or if you have one to share, check it out.

I have two bean salad recipes I'd like to share. The first one I made last week. I had some green beans that had to be used up and this made a great lunch. The second one is based off a recipe from a Southern Living cookbook (I think, that's where the original was from). I've adapted it to how I make it (much simpler). I haven't made it this yet this year though, so I'm sorry, there is no photo.

The great thing about both of these salads is that you can change them to fit your taste or what ingredients you have on hand. Some tasty additions that I can think of right now are corn kernels, using yellow and/or purple beans in addition to the green (which I've done with the second one many times), and changing up the herbs in the dressings to include dill or cilantro. Just use what you have and what you like, it's your lunch!

Marinated Bean Salad

2 cups green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces, steamed tender crisp, then shocked in cold water
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 Large Tomato, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced

Mix these ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.


Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons oregano, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together. Pour over bean mixture and let marinate at least 30 minutes.

Green Bean and Tomato Salad

1 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces, steamed until tender crisp, then shocked in cold water
2 cups red and/or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2 large red and/or yellow sweet peppers, cut into bite-sized pieces

Mix these ingredients together in a large bowl.


3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 Tablespoon chopped basil
1 Tablespoon snipped chives
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon snipped oregano
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt & Pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a jar. Pour over vegetables. Let marinate at least 30 minutes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Mosaic Stepping Stone

I love making mosaic stepping stones. A couple of years ago, I made a whole bunch of stones. Well, finally I was able to get back to it and make another one. Since the Olympics are imminent, I thought I would make a patriotic, red, white, and blue stone. The flower shaped mold I used came as a kit with the cement, glass, and wooden stick for stirring. I just added the glass that came with the kit to my supply and worked from that. It worked out better for me because the kit came with a little bit of lots of colors and I needed a lot of three colors. As a side note, Lillian's empty baby food jars have come in really handy for sorting all those bits of glass.

First I laid out my design. I knew the actual placement of the pieces would change when I set them in the concrete but this helps me in deciding the design.

Then I mixed the concrete. Be careful not to breathe in the fine dust. When adding water, do so just a little at a time. Of course if it gets too wet you can add more concrete (if you have more). I was using the concrete that came with the kit but for additional stones I had bought some 40 lb bags at the hardware store.

Next step, pour the concrete in your mold and level it off. Now go and clean up your bucket. It only takes a minute and then it's done. Just be sure you mold is in the shade. Before you place any glass in your concrete, jiggle your mold a little to let air bubbles escape.

Now the fun part, placing the glass in the concrete. Just press them in however you like. Don't worry if some watery concrete gets on top of them. You can clean that up later. Once all the pieces are in, just let it sit in the shade for about 24 hours. Then you can go back with a sponge and clean off the pieces that have cement on them. I leave the stone in the mold a couple of days. And once I remove it from the mold, I usually let it sit inside for a couple of more days before putting it outside.

I always bring my stones in for the winter. Otherwise, the freeze and thaws may loosen the glass and it could fall out.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ruellia - Mexican Petunia

This plant is one that my husband's Mom brought us from Florida several years ago. It's a Ruellia brittoniana Mexican Petunia. Ours is just starting to bloom this year, and I can see several buds forming. I really like the long, thin foliage, which is attractive without the blooms. The blooms seem to just last a day or so but it looks like there will be a steady stream of them once it starts blooming.

It's tag gives the following information: full sun, hardy to 32 degrees F., medium height, and flowers spring to fall. Care: Dark green foliage with attractive, funnel-shaped, petunia like flowers which bloom from spring to frost. A clump forming perennial to 18"-24" high. Heat tolerant and will tolerate heavy clay soils. Do not over water.

I have found it listed as an invasive plant in Florida. However in my Western PA garden, I keep it in a pot, which I overwinter in a sunny basement window. It is said to be a favorite of butterflies. I have also read that there are dwarf varieties available that may not be as invasive.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day - August 2008

A Green Cornfield
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

The earth was green, the sky was blue:
I saw and heard one sunny morn
A skylark hang between the two,
A singing speck above the corn;

A stage below, in gay accord,
White butterflies danced on the wing,
And still the singing skylark soared,
And silent sank and soared to sing.

The cornfield stretched a tender green
To right and left beside my walks;
I knew he had a nest unseen
Somewhere among the million stalks.

And as I paused to hear his song
While swift the sunny moments slid,
Perhaps his mate sat listening long,
And listened longer than I did.

I chose this poem as a tribute to my Father who is a farmer and is still working hard growing crops like corn. I'm sure he could tell of many moments like that described in this poem.

The photo is from my parents property. You can just see the house to the right of the barn, hiding behind the trees. I took this photo in 1994 but it all looks pretty much the same today as it did then.

Thanks to Carolyn at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago for hosting Garden Bloggers' Muse Day. Be sure to stop by her site and check out all the other muses.