Sunday, May 22, 2005

Suddenly Summer

For two months the weather cooperated beyond belief. The evenings were dominated by temperatures in the seventies with a nice light breeze. Sitting on the balcony surrounded by the lush growth of the various vegetables and flowers made the end of the day something to look forward to even when I was bringing home work.

Everything changed this week.

Spring changed to summer overnight. Daytime temperatures soared into the middle nineties and remained there until long after the sun retreated. The prevailing breezes faded into a stagnant stillness in this valley. The glaring sun sapped the moisture from the plants and turned them to sagging leaves and stems.

The change in seasons, though, ushered in a different view of the plants. The lilies began to bloom as did the moonflower plant which survived the winter. The moonflower and morning glory vines began to grow more rapidly and have all set buds which look to open in the coming week. The pepper plants are thriving and putting on their pungent fruits. The hot banana peppers are reaching maturity every few days, the hooked poblanos are almost ready for stuffing and breading; the smooth but potent jalapenos are taking shape; and the crinkly, but dangerous habaneros are hanging from each limb of the bush.

The highlight of the week, however, were the fresh cherry tomatoes which ripened and are ripening daily. Some of my other tomatoes are also starting to turn a lighter shade of green. Tomatoes are one of summer's greatest rewards because they take patience. New tomato plants grow measurably on a daily basis and within weeks have tiny firm green fruits dangling from the places where just days before a cluster of yellow flowers hung.

And then those fruits hang.

And hang.

They hang for weeks before the first blush begins to appear.

Once that first hint of redness appears, the transformation from tart, firm, green ball to sweet, soft, red fruit takes just days. From that point on the patience is rewarded almost daily with new tomatoes ripening. In the end, the care and nurturing are amply rewarded.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Goldfish in the Fountain

Three days ago I bought two fancy goldfish to go with the cheap goldfish I already had in my fountain. The cheap one had lived for a month, so I decided the conditions in the fountain had reached the point of sustaining life. Not only had the single goldfish survived, but some of the pond slime I had introduced had also attached itself to the sides of the giant pot I had rigged into a makeshift fountain/watergarden for my balcony. [Goldfish like to eat pond slime, so it was there for a reason.]

Of course, as soon as an ecosystem appears in balance, something has to test it.

I awoke Sunday morning to find the fountain pot had sprung a leak and half the water was out. The fountain/watergarden was constructed out of the largest terra-cotta pot I could find with a pot saucer glued and calked around the bottom. Ideal. Natural. Functional. And as it turns out Leaky. I'm pretty handy with tools, but apparently calk has limitations when there is constant pressure and temperature variations.

If you have not priced goldfish recently, you may not realize that your standard goldfish is about $.26. Move on up to your "fancy" goldfish and the price jumps to $1.79. I had just spent $3.58 on these goldfish. I was NOT going to let them die as the water slowly dripped onto the pepper plants and lilys below.

Thank goodness for sales at Garden Ridge. They had a 24" diameter recycled material whisky barrel on sale. It's deeper, wider, and best of all, there are no holes in the bottom. In so many ways it's better since it has room for the water lily and water canna to grow and spread along with some underwater hideouts for the goldfish and a light in addition to the fountain pump.

The quick find of the whisky barrel made for a rapid trip and I was home before more than another inch of water had drained from the existing garden. Once home, I immediately set out to make the move from one home to the next. I'm pretty good at many things, but sometimes visual-spatial relationships escape me: the whisky barrel dwarfed the existing pot/fountain and I had to do some rearrangement of the base, plants under the fountain and fountain base.

The adjustments happened more quickly than anticipated and I began to fill the new garden with fresh water and water from the old garden in an attempt to preserve the natural balances for the fish so there would be as little trauma in the move as possible. All worked well until suddenly the leak in the old fountain changed from a drip to a stream. No warning. No obvious cause, just whoosh.

Happily there was enough water in the new fountain/garden for the fish to be moved, so I grabbed the net, scooped the three fish, and dipped them into the new environment. From that point on, the rest of the move went smoothly and withing a few hours, the fish seemed well adjusted to the new home. They had quickly taken up residence in the broken pot placed under the water as a shelter.

It has been a long time since I' ve had goldfish as pets. All my previous ones had been won in a ring toss at the county fair and eventually turned loose in the cattle watering trough (hence the discovery of pond slime as goldfish food) whenever we left for vacation. I did not remember how shy goldfish could be with these fish dashing for the cover of the pot any time I looked over the edge of the fountain. I knew the food I put in for them disappeared quickly, but how they could possibly eat it from under the pot was a fascination.

Tonight, I decided to set up a stake-out. After a few false starts caused by coughing fits due to the Austin allergies, I caught the goldfish darting up to the surface to grab one of the floating bits and then diving as rapidly back under the pot. I'm not sure where I will go with this, but now that I know their secret, I think I'll see more of my fish.