Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Natural Perspectives: Faster than a speeding chick

Natural Perspectives: Faster than a speeding chick
(Courtesy Lou Murray)

This long, hot summer is finally winding down. After two months free from teaching, Vic has started back to school with his birding and natural history classes at Saddleback College. Classes will begin soon at Golden West College, where he teaches biology. For Vic, summer is over.

Not for me, though. Because my summer revolves around my garden, my summer is still going strong.

My plot at the community garden, which was planted quite late, is just approaching harvest time. That productive little patch of dirt is already providing summer squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and lettuce. I also have a bumper crop of Crimson Sweet and Sugar Baby watermelons ripening on the vines, as well as Hale cantaloupes. I should get my first wax beans this week, with Blue Lake green beans a few weeks from now.

On the other hand, things are winding down in the vegetable garden at home. Over the weekend, I braved the hot, humid outdoors to prune away dead tomato, squash and cucumber leaves. There wasn’t much left of my garden after that.


I harvested what will probably be my last big harvest at home of tomatoes and cucumbers. I’m going to make a big pot of marinara sauce today and freeze most of it. I will also make and can sweet pickles later today.

In addition to sweating in the sun this past weekend, I also took time to relax on our deck with a glass of iced tea in hand. I make sun tea every day in the summer, using two tea bags in one quart of water. After a couple of hours on the windowsill, I remove the tea bags and put the tea in the refrigerator to chill. That uses much less energy than boiling or microwaving the water to make the tea. It also takes less energy to cool it down for drinking.

During my iced tea breaks, I thought about what has worked for me this summer and what hasn’t. As always, I had some crop failures. I got no tomatoes at all from some of the heirloom varieties that I planted. Sadly, I got no German Gold, Paul Robeson or Brad’s Black Heart tomatoes. My Black Prince tomatoes yielded poorly this year, and the Mortgage Lifter didn’t produce enough tomatoes to pay off even one hour of our mortgage.

As for my Amish Paste and Big Russian Paste tomatoes, well, if they had been giving out prizes at the Orange County Fair for the worst case of blossom end rot, I could have won the blue ribbon. Fortunately, blossom end rot is just a matter of soil nutrient deficiency. A good dose of organic fertilizer fixed the problem in time to salvage a few tomatoes for pasta sauce. Our happy chickens got the rest.


But not all of my tomato varieties failed. Box Car Willie was a delight, as was my German Johnson. Bull’s Heart produced a nice crop of the first ox-heart type of tomatoes (versus, say, a paste or salad tomato) that I’ve ever grown. Instead of being round, ox-heart tomatoes are pointed on the bottom.

I saved seeds from all of the heirloom varieties that produced well for me so I will be able to grow them next summer. Vic wonders why I even bother with heirlooms. It’s because of their superior flavor!

My favorite new-to-me variety for 2012 was a small tomato called Black Plum. It produced prodigious quantities of tasty salad tomatoes. With a deep burgundy hue and just the right balance of sweet and tangy, it was fabulous. I’m going to miss it the most.

Another success for me this year was butternut squash. Our home garden is producing some of the biggest butternut squash I’ve ever grown. The one I harvested today weighed in at a whopping five pounds.

But the pumpkins that I tried to grow for our three little grandgirls aren’t doing well. I planted nine pumpkin seeds and got nine pumpkin vines. But so far, only four pumpkins have set fruit on the vines. Most vines just withered and died without making any pumpkins. One pumpkin rotted before getting ripe. Another one looks like it might not make it. The two that are surviving aren’t even as big as cantaloupes.

With three grandgirls, you can imagine their disappointment if I am able to grow only two pumpkins. I’m cheering on the littlest pumpkin, the third one, hoping that it will perk up and start growing so all three girls can pick a pumpkin from Nana Lou’s garden.

Meanwhile, our new chicks — Peep, Cheep and Cluck — are having adventures. It turns out that they can fly at three weeks of age. Who knew? On Monday, their three-week birthday, er, hatch day, one of them flew onto the rim of the plastic box in which they have been living. Then she hopped down into the training crate in which the plastic box sits.

She let out this awful racket, peeping miserably. The poor chick couldn’t figure out how to get back into the clear plastic box and was trying to force her way through the side of the box to get back inside where her food, water, heat lamp and sister chicks were located. She was peeping something fierce to alert mother hen — that would be me — that something was wrong.


I opened the training crate to put her back into the box. That’s when the little stinker took the opportunity to run. It’s good to know that even at my age, I’m faster than a baby chick.

As for the adult hens, Miss Hillary is no longer broody and is back to laying eggs. Except for this heat, all is well on our urban farmlet. Bring on autumn!

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at