Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda: The Last of the Regrets

I'm only going to say this one last time: Ooops. I've never failed so hard at gardening. I was a little distracted by the hormone haze of nausea. I also had a big fat case of the Maybe Laters. Imagine someone on muscle relaxers. (Actually... pregnancy does involve natural muscle relaxers. I hadn't thought of that.) Here's my Didn't Do List:

1) Rake and pile up leaves in my compost. Snow fell before I got to it. Not that the snow came early...
2) Dig the carrots. I've been digging carrots the first week in December for the past few years. Apparently I have just been getting lucky. It's 7F out there. Carrotsicles!
3) Plant late spinach to overwinter. This stinks because spinach never grows for me unless I overwinter it. And next spring I likely won't be out in the garden early with a newborn. Oh well. Letting go of spinach... right now... That hurts a little.
4) Roll up the hose. I didn't even roll up the hose? It's strung out under 6 inches of snow. Luckily the landlords don't mow until July. I might be able to save it.
5) Plant the cover crop or green manure. Eh. Maybe next time.

FAIL!  I love it. I'm keeping my expectations for spring low as well.

Wait a minute! I DID get the garlic in! (Tiny little heel click dance to celebrate.)

The baby's due the first week of March. My only goal is to get outside and get some fresh air with the new itty bitty gardener. We'll see what we can do!
The pregnant, neglectful gardener far from the garden in southeast Arizona.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oh, Garden!

There are two reasons that I've been neglecting and avoiding this space. One, my garden sucked eggs this year. Two, we have a baby on the way, so I was pregnant and sick for most of the summer. I still had a garden this season. I did have some successful harvests. However, I had the worst gardening season I've ever had in my 8 or so years of gardening.

To begin, I had the toughest time getting beans to germinate and grow into plants. The first batch never made an appearance above the soil. The second batch was mowed down by creatures. The third batch was mowed down by creatures. Eventually, I was able to make a humble harvest of green beans, but not nearly enough. I froze two quarts. And they're already gone.

For some reason my basil and carrots and some winter squash seemed to suffer from poor germination. I haven't been able to pin it on any one factor.

Next, and this is really the biggest issue, is that I got pregnant in June, found out in July, and was almost entirely worthless for physical labor in the humid heat of this past summer. I cursed the sun. I really hated sunny days for some reason. The first several weeks were like one long, slow migraine headache.

But I forgave myself as I was growing a baby instead of veggies!

By the time I started feeling better (um, mid-September) the damage had been done. I was able to keep the garden hobbling along with weed management, watering, and harvesting. It was a good year for chard, broccoli, new potatoes, butternut squash, eggplant, sweet bell peppers, garlic, snap peas, and spinach. Though, here's the most depressing thing about my garden: blight. I had blight on things I didn't know got blight. Of course my potatoes are a mess, blighted and scabby. I have yet to dig them and find out if anything is salvageable. My tomatoes started off with blight and are ending with blight, though we've been able to harvest some and use them right away. The crazy thing is that the carrots got some kind of blight. They pretty much all died back and are now just getting going. Baby carrots is what I will harvest I guess.

So, my favorite crops, carrots and potatoes, were a massive failure. The summer squash just never took off (which I realize is probably a blessing in disguise. I'm still using *last year's* frozen, shredded summer squash in zucchini bread.)  I will never grow broccoli again. I must have picked off a thousand green cabbage worms.

It was pretty depressing out there. The saddest thing is looking forward to next year without tomatoes or potatoes. The only solution I can think of is to take a break from that plant family.

So, now I'm working on this other growing project: the new kid. Next gardening season will be something else! The baby is due in March, so I'm hoping to be ready for some backyard gardening with the little one by May.,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Harvesting Butternut Squash

Winter squash is probably my favorite garden food. I love it baked, roasted, or whipped into a spicy soup.
I actually harvested two butternut squash today. One looks perfectly tan and ripe and basically fell off of the wilting vine. The other one still has faint green stripes and I kind of yanked it off of the vine by accident. So, I have an experiment on my hands. I've never grown butternuts before, so I'm not sure when the best time to harvest them is. I know that this summer's consistent heat and humidity has fast-forwarded everything into ripening sooner than expected, so I wouldn't be surprised if the mostly ripe-looking squash is ready. The other one could have used a couple more weeks I think. But we'll just have to see. Though I'm anxious to cut them open, I'm going to let them ripen a couple weeks on the counter.

Here's a link to Purdue U's extension with some advice for harvesting winter squash:

Friday, July 2, 2010

Letter from the Garden

Dear Reader,

I hope these words find you well and enjoying the long days of summer. It's early in the morning as I write and already warm and humid. After two days of haltingly chilly breezes, the hot soup of summer air is promising to collect and linger. The tomatoes, squash, and celery will thrive. I've pulled up the last of the peas to make room for tomatoes and more rows of carrots. Always planting more carrots! I just walked out to the garden this morning and had that falling down feeling I get when the garden is on its way. No more skinny rows of spiky seedlings in need of protection. You walk among the rows and feel surrounded, maybe even overtaken, by the towering and sprawling green. I recently heard a friend say, "It's not worth it to try to grow carrots in this clay soil when you can buy them so cheap at the grocery store these days." True, I thought. But my soil is getting more carrot-friendly all the time. And there really isn't a carrot in the grocery store as good as the ones I dig up in December. Sometimes I'd rather dig and compost and plant and water and weed and sacrifice a carrot or two to a swallowtail caterpillar than make another trip to the grocery store. (Though once, for two minutes, I looked at the slugs and beetles and half-eaten leaves and the blight and the deer tracks along the row of topless beets and didn't mind someone else growing my food for me!)

Sometimes growing a garden seems like the most everyday obvious thing to me. Lots of people do it. But in that way it's also like having children. Lots of people do it, but it can be a life-changing, challenging adventure that wakes you up to small miracles. The way gardens change the landscape and its people can be subtle. Maybe it's just a quiet, steady pulsing sign reading, "It's Possible" among numerous loud voices yelling, "No You Can't." Maybe it speaks to just one individual; maybe it's talking to a whole community.

Right now my garden is showing me all that I've learned over the years. My tomatoes are spaced and staked just right. My carrots are still squeezed in tight next to each other so I can pull up young ones as they all bulk up. The cool season spinach and peas have produced abundant harvests for the first time and now they are gone, letting the warm weather crops take their turn. Everything seems to be working just a little better this year. The soil just keeps getting richer and darker. There's so much to learn, and yet, what do you really need to know to grow a garden? Seed, water, soil, sun, pay attention.

It's been really interesting to listen to the changing bird chorus around the garden. All spring and summer the indigo buntings have been singing their little blue hearts out. I can hear one right now just as constant as the clock hands. Cardinals have been quiet until recently. The warbling vireos and chipping sparrows must be on their second or third broods, because they're quiet too. There's a red-winged blackbird that screams its metallic call notes from the small dead ash tree in the front yard every morning, every evening. A carolina wren showed up the past two evenings, singing it's bright strong galloping song. The somewhat rare dickcissel has left since the farmer finally cut the fallow field for silage, and all the nesting sparrows and blackbirds dispersed in what I can only imagine was desperate horror. The turkey vultures circled for hours that afternoon over eerily quiet fields.

Well, it's early and there's plenty to do. I should probably get on my way. The garlic is curing in the shade and I need to make sure it stays in the shade as the sun moves up and over. The black raspberries are at their peak and need to be picked. It's always difficult to get motivated to put on long-sleeves, hat and bug net, and then get buzzed by mosquitoes and ripped apart by thorns while wading through a sea of poison ivy. You forget all that when you spread the jam later, no middle-man grocery store or barcode price tag to distract from the experience. Makes you feel lucky.

Time to get back to work! Or not. Hope your summer is rolling along just fine, in and out of the garden.
All my best,

Monday, June 21, 2010


After getting really cranky with some annoying marketing awhile ago I thought I'd share a very exciting purchase I've made recently. I'm happy to say that the consumer experience this time was lovely, probably because I knew what I wanted but also because the bike shop is pretty laid back. I was running a lot of errands on my bike, and I was wearing a small backpack to carry water and miscellaneous things I needed for the errands. It put a constraint on what I could accomplish with my bike. It was also kind of hot (warm, I mean. Ha.) I've been thinking about what I needed for several months (I tend to think for a long time before purchasing anything beyond groceries). One night, I stopped by the bike shop to get a bike rack for the back of the bike and to see what they had for packs or panniers. Panniers are bags that attach to a bike (or a motorcycle, or a donkey, etc.) and get filled up with stuff you need to carry but can't because you need to hold onto the handlebars (or reins). The word "pannier", which took me a little while to realize, comes from the french for "bread basket."
I probably could have settled for the bike rack and just found some way to strap stuff onto the back. However, this little beauty of a bag was exactly what I wanted. Above is a picture of my bike before I took off for the library, post-office, and grocery store. The main compartment is made of "cooler" type material, so it keeps things cold. The pockets on the side...
...expand downward and become panniers! This is my bike as I returned from the errands with eggs (all of them intact!), ingredients for cheesecake, and a package of toilet paper. 

The farmer's market is just 4 or 5 miles away, as is the grocery store. I've recently discovered an alternate route that keeps me off of the main road into town. It's 2.3 miles longer, but it's worth it for the easy cruising I get to do instead of bracing to be hit every time a car passes at 60 mph. Next problem to solve: bugs in my hair.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Diatomaceous Earth In Action

This seedling kind of reminds me of a sick little E.T. all ghost-white and pitiful. But what you see there is diatomaceous earth. It's not a chemical; it's actually the crushed cell walls of unicellular algae. Diatoms live in water and when they die they sink to the bottom and form a crust of diatomaceous earth. 

The powder is actually made up of lots of jagged edges from the perspective of a tiny little insect. The powder has a dessicating effect on insects that spend too much time in it. It's not pleasant, I know. But I put it on potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant to keep flea beetles from killing the seedlings. I use it for a short period of time in the spring before my plants are flowering. Once it rains, it's useless, so it's pretty labor intensive in that you must reapply it after each rain. 

Over the years I've continued to use it because it keeps the flea beetles from killing or devastating seedlings. I haven't heard too many people talk about using it. I know it's pretty horrible to breathe on a regular basis. It's fairly cheap. I feel better using it than just about any other pest control (besides structural things and crop rotation). 

I put my eggplant seedlings in the ground one afternoon and by the next day all of the leaves looked like they'd been shot with a shot gun. The flea beetles were hitting them pretty hard, so I've been dusting them regularly. They've managed to put out two or three healthy leaves each. When they've got a good healthy start, I'll back off and hope the plants can weather a little munching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It seems like this has been my mantra for several months. Not that this is a new idea to me. It's that lately the sentiment comes with an exclamation point.

I'm sure this is in large part due to my move to the suburbs. Uhgh. I understand that busy, important people need to get where they're going fast. I just wish they'd consider the beating heart and smooshy, tender brains inside the person on the bike they just nearly ran over with their SUV. I understand that people have no idea what else they're supposed to do besides run all manner of internal combustion engines over their quarter acre lawn and spray gallons of poisons to keep the drug dependent carpets glowing green. I understand that people need to buy and sell and make a living. But I just don't drink the kool-aid that makes me think all this noise and waste and poison is awesome. 

This really started building this spring when I applied for a job at a local running store. I call it a running store because they market mostly to runners. I run. I love running. I also hike and bike and swim. I've been doing these things for many years, so I figured I could be useful there and enjoy the interactions with people. (Okay, and I'm a teacher looking for work in the wrong place at the wrong time.) I sat down and talked to the management. I rode my bike to the interview, and I'm pretty sure that that threw off the stuffy old lady (without a strand of hair askew) that interviewed me first. She had a pinched little squirmy look on her face that made me want to jump from the fancy store balcony, run past her shiny Lexus, and pedal away on my bike. I couldn't help but get the impression that she was offended that I'd come to a job interview on a bike. She was really proud of the indoor rainforest that filled half of the store, though! Afterward, I started looking around at people running. Everywhere there seemed to be a perfectly matched little running outfit bouncing up and down along the sidewalk. I started seeing ads for running gear and stickers and water bottles and it's all fun and games until you forget that it's JUST RUNNING! All you need are some socks and shoes to do it. You don't even need special breathable undies and a technical fabric t-shirt and an iPod holder and Gatorade and barefeet-shaped plastic shoes. Not that you can't use some of that stuff. The running store is full of overpriced nonsense. The management barely does any running or hiking themselves. Yet, we're all buying what they're pushing. (Okay, perhaps I would have made a terrible salesperson.)

Yesterday I went into a greenhouse looking for bell peppers because I'd somehow forgotten to pick up pepper plants. After shuffling through a local greenhouse full of extra-fancy garden gloves and metallic orbs and sun hats and garden videos and rocks with words on them and other shiny objects, I had that feeling again... the feeling I had in the running store that is also a rainforest. As I added up the cost of the plants I'd picked out I thought, "These people aren't selling me what I want. They're selling me dreams. Dreams I don't need." So, I walked out. I went down the road to a different, humbler greenhouse I'd never visited before. Turns out they were having a sale: $.49 for all plants. Each plant a buck fifty cheaper than the other greenhouse, so I got enough to fill the rest of my garden beds! And none of that "You're not cool enough until you buy one of these, and some of these, and lots of these" hypnotizing I'm sick of.

I followed my gut when it said, "ENOUGH!"  I just couldn't take anymore of the ostentatious show in place of authenticity. I'm weary of being sold the idea of something, instead of simply finding quality goods and services and knowledgeable, engaged people. Listen people, I do these things (running and gardening) so that I can create my own experience. I don't need to be sold your idea of the experience. I just need some plants, some seeds, some running shoes. I won't be shopping at those places that feel they need to sell me their dreams. I'm perfectly capable of creating those myself, thank you very much.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Things You Won't Find in a Grocery Store: Radish Greens and Seed Pods

Aside from the handful of crisp, perfectly purple gumball-sized radishes I harvested on May 4, my radish harvest was a bust this year (due to root maggots, ew), until...
I discovered that the spicy roots aren't the only parts of a radish plant you can eat. First, I tried sautéing the greens. You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! Don't radish greens have tiny little scratchy hairs on them? Ew."  That's what my first thought was. I will also add that my radish greens had tiny little holes in them from flea beetles. It wasn't looking promising. Still, I brought piles of greens inside, washed them, cut them up, and cooked them with butter, garlic, and dried cayenne peppers. I ended up adding lots of black pepper after they were done too. We were also eating pasta and tomato sauce for dinner, so we ended up adding the cooked greens on top of the pasta and then topping that with cheese. (It's possible we could have cooked and eaten an old sneaker in this manner and enjoyed it just the same.) They were very good. It always feels good to add green stuff to dinner. I will certainly never compost my radish greens again!

I let my radish plants go to seed, so this means I have radish seed pods. I actually prefer these seed pods to the radishes! They taste just like radishes, only juicier. 

I had almost given up on radishes completely until these discoveries. Maybe someday I'll discover the secrets to a root-maggot-free radish. I would grow radishes for their greens and pods again next year, especially because they are an early, fast-growing vegetable.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Healthier, Happier, and Smarter... With DIRT!

Long ago, I used to feel a teensy bit of shame when I was out in the garden and I'd pull up a carrot, wipe it on my pants, and then eat it even though there were remaining clumps of soil in the little grooves of the root. I felt a bit uncivilized. I've long since abandoned that shame for the not-to-be-duplicated experience of grazing straight from the garden. Turns out there may be some very good reasons not to be afraid of a little dirt.
I recently heard a brief story on "The Environment Report" about recent studies that suggest that certain bacteria found in soil not only improve immune system function, but may also be reducing anxiety and making people smarter! (Minus typos, like the one in the article's title.) There's also a Discover magazine article that gives a brief explanation of the findings.

Apparently, you don't need to munch handfuls of soil or lick the sand off your spinach, just breathing in the bacteria as you work outside is enough to reap the benefits.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

No More Baby Lettuce

The lettuce harvest is in full swing. The weather has been wet and mild and perfect for it. I've harvested 7 bags. Now it's not mesclun, and they're not full heads of lettuce, the product is somewhere in between. So far the harvest has still been from thinning out the plants, so the lettuce comes in small, sweet, juicy tall clusters. (Thinking about it made me crave some, so I just got up to grab a pile from the fridge and I'm eating it like potato chips.)

It's misleading to put a price on this stuff, as is the case with so much homegrown produce. I've never bought anything that compares. Not even the CSAs I've been a member of provided me with lettuce like this. Not that the mesclun mixes and heads of lettuce were inadequate. No way! This is just one of those things that people don't sell: half-grown lettuce.

Well, like I was saying, I'm putting a price on my harvest. Organic lettuce, clumps that add up to the size of a head of "green-leaf" lettuce at the grocery store: $1.50 per bag x 7 = $10.50

I've got cracoviensis, black seeded simpson, and buttercrunch varieties that I'm harvesting right now (in that order below). 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Last Spinach Harvest

I woke up at 6 am this morning to a warbling vireo and a field of fog outside my window. Last night I just wanted to go to sleep fast so I could wake up and get to Sunday. Like a little kid. I was looking forward to a sunny day in the garden and then a bike ride to the arts festival downtown and some live music. And maybe some ice cream.

I figured I could get all of my transplants in the ground, dig up the rest of the cover crop, and harvest all of the spinach. Well, I was able to harvest the spinach. It took two hours to cut, wash and bag it. It was HOT out there. The forecast seems to be calling for a week of hot sunny days more along the lines of late June or early July than May. Looks like we've definitely seen the likes of our last frost. The spinach just started to bolt the past couple of days. It seemed like an excellent time to pull it all out and bag it up... into seven bags.

As I harvested in the powerful late morning sun, I heard a hermit thrush singing from the same spot I heard it last spring. Seems like perhaps on the way north it makes its pit-stop in the exact same spot. 

Every once in a while you learn something about growing vegetables that's a real breakthrough. The benefit of overwintering spinach is one of those breakthroughs for me. I've never seen spinach grow like this before. I did plant some spinach seeds mid-April, but I harvested those plants today too. They had finally produced large enough leaves to harvest today, but I had picked leaves from the overwintered spinach five or six times before today. I've managed to grow and harvest the grocery store equivalent of $60 worth of spinach, and that's after sharing with the slugs. In the future, whenever I am in the same gardening space from one season to the next, I'll plant spinach six weeks before frost and then cover it for the winter. It's really been quite a spinach harvest this year. Because I'm taking off for a few days, I'll be freezing some of this spinach for use later. (Who am I kidding? I'd be freezing some of it even if I was going to be here eating spinach for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next two weeks!)

By 1:00 today it was too hot! I took off on my bike and enjoyed a blissful ride downtown and then some fantastic live music. Feels like summer!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


From where I'm sitting at my computer I can spot the outrageously fat groundhog that has been climbing over the fence and mowing down my peas. I can't see him or her right now, but I'm waiting. At the moment the HAVAHART trap is set (though I've never actually heard of anyone getting a groundhog to enter one) and I'm trying to confuse the thing to death by covering up the peas with floating row covers and by sticking a blue rain barrel over the fence post where it usually enters. Brilliant, right? Nothing will keep a groundhog from eating all of my vegetables, except one thing. (And maybe I'll post some fancy pants artistic blog photos after the fact.) 
But in the meantime...
I've heard about violet jam. Eating flowers is definitely on my to do list every chance I get, but I just wasn't so into this idea. Then I tried it. This is WORTH DOING. I followed this violet jam recipe. I had no idea it would be so good. It's a delicate flavor. It makes me think of childhood, specifically the shade of my Montessori preschool playground. It's special stuff. 
*One note: make sure you check the flowers for creatures: I disturbed three caterpillars, a spider, and one click beetle from their petalled hideouts.

The violet jam revved up my jam-making engines and I decided to turn the rest of last summer's raspberries into jam as well. I would also HIGHLY RECOMMEND leaving your frozen berries in the the freezer while procrastinating for months, saving this chore until May, when there's really only green things to eat fresh from the yard, and make that jam now. The cooking berries smell like hope. So, even though the thought of the berries in the freezer nagged me several times over the past months, the timing turned out to be excellent.

As Victoria Williams would sing, have "peace of mind that you're always on time!"

Friday, May 14, 2010

There is Nothing Like a Groundhog

sighting to make you angry. 

It ate my peas. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(Quick Update... Almost)

"I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green."
-Nathaniel Hawthorne

I would like to record that as of today (May 12) I have harvested $30 worth of spinach. I actually froze a bunch a couple days ago because I couldn't eat it all fresh. I've also harvested at least one pound of lettuce just from thinning the lettuce plants! The radish harvest was brief and lovely. But there are maggots in the radishes already. Urgh. I read that you can cook and eat the radish greens, so I will try it. I'm happy that there might be something I can do with the radishes even as they are being eaten by fly larvae.

There's been a ton happening in the garden. Full update later.

I haven't been able to take any pictures for several days, but I'm going to the airport to pick up my camera - ahem! - my husband (who is returning from a much needed tromp through the Everglades to soak in some natural wonders). I'm looking forward to taking some pictures of the garden and doing some more thorough updates. I've learned a lot lately!

In the meantime, here are some two-week old shots. Time is flying by.
Earthworms love my old compost pile that never got hot. They can have it!
"You've got a little, um dandelion on your beak... um, right there."
You can eat the WHOLE THING. Cook the greens.
Chickling vetch is fixing nitrogen in my new raised bed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Fourth

I just planted a few things...

1. Mokum carrots in between the rows of spinach. They will be ready to harvest in 48 days. 
2. On the edge of the spinach I eeked out room for a row of beets. Chioggia beets. (I still have a pile in the fridge and I ate some a week ago. Not bad.)
3. I stuck the little broccoli mix transplants in the ground.
4. I threw my stunted failure of a try at onions in the ground. (I'm seriously going to buy onion seedlings, but I might as well try to grow these.)

I also harvested another pound of spinach this morning. Two plants are bolting. I'm up to $25 worth of spinach. That's one fourth of my entire investment in this garden this year. WHAT!?!?! Yeah.

I harvested some surprise radishes that I seem to have planted last fall but don't remember. They're ready. They're kind of tasty. (I don't love radishes, but look how pretty they are!) (I also just read that you can cook and eat the greens. I'll try it.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cilantro Haters

I love cilantro. When I worked on a small farm, there was a young kid who was very grateful that I'd been hired. He squirmed whenever you mentioned cilantro and he hated harvesting it. I ended up doing all of the cilantro harvesting. It was all I could do to keep from stopping, dropping and rolling in it.

Published: April 14, 2010
Why an herb loved by much of the world is reviled by a loud minority.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Haul Report: Spinach

     I have plans to keep track of harvests this season. I saw someone else's harvest report on Kitchen Gardeners International with everything assigned a market price. The guy's garden added up to over $2,000. (The link is currently busted.) I'm interested in what kind of value I'm getting out of this hobby (obsession). Here we go with harvest number one...

   So far we have harvested a pound of spinach. (This is so exciting!! I've never had successful spinach before!! WHOO HOO!) It doesn't sound like much, but that's five large salads for us. At the grocery store (Meijer) you'd find organic spinach sold in bags from the California mega-organic farm called Earthbound. One pound is $4.99. I don't know how much it costs at other places (co-op, farmers' market), but I'm curious. 

Official haul report:
1 pound of spinach (with some arugula sprinkled in)
market value: $4.99

Friday, April 2, 2010

Spinach, Garlic, and Some Double Digging

   The temperature is hovering around 80F this afternoon. Yesterday it was the same, but with some really summer-like sun rays. I'm afraid that my overwintered spinach is going to bolt the first week of April. I've hosed it down the last two days so that the breezes would keep the temperatures down. Plus, it is DRY here. I actually *needed* to water the lettuce sprouts so that they didn't shrivel. We'll have to see how the spinach pulls through. I ate a leaf this morning and it was spit-it-out-look-around-for-something-else-to-shove-in-to-get-rid-of-that-taste bitter. Not all of the plants are bitter, though.

   There was one raised bed in my (I might just start calling it an allotment because it's not my land) garden that I had not attacked with a pulaski yet. The ground inside the "raised bed" was actually concave. I hacked at it and removed all the quack grass rhizomes and then it was *really* concave. It needs some serious soil therapy. I know that I could have tried the lasagna method and laid down layers and layers of wet newspaper and then piled on lots of organic matter (leaves, manure, grass clippings, etc.) but I really just don't think the quack grass will die, even with 3 feet of new soil on top of it. That stuff is evil. EVIL. I'm not experienced in the lasagna method, but it sounds REALLY GOOD. No digging. However, I used the double-dig-lasagna mash-up method. I busy-beed it all over the yard collecting leaves, dried grass, and chicken and llama manure. I dug about 15 inches deep into the "raised" bed area and then put in a layer of manure, covered that with a leaf/dirt mix, then topped it off with 3 inches of original soil. I did this in 3 of my beds. It took about an hour. (HAHAHAHA!) It took the past 3 days. My back is killing me. I've seriously lost 2 pounds since Monday. I say "half-assed" because I didn't do a bunch of reading and research before I did this, I just dove in. This does not mean that I skimped on the actual labor part.

   I ordered some cover crops from Johnny's Seeds for a green manure project. More on that part of the story later.

   After I stabbed my foot with the garden fork (without realizing it - really) there were several minutes of panic during which I decided I was going to lose my foot because my veins are spontaneously erupting. I came inside, R.I.C.E.d it, and reasoned that I must have knocked my foot with a sharp object. Not healthy, this obsessive mode of spring gardening. After about an hour, I was able to head back out and finish the double-dug mash up.

   I hope this is the year I get to eat a spinach salad (not just graze on preciously short-lived plants).  And I hope that soon, when I close my eyes, I no longer have visions of stringy white quack grass rhizomes dancing before my eyes.

fall planted garlic progress

pile of quack grass rhizomes drying (and dying!) in the sun

what's left of the compost-pile-that-never-got-hot after I buried a bunch of it under the garden beds

the new raised bed after I raised it with lots of organic matter

crispy brown garden

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Wind

I had a list of things to do today, but I went out to the garden instead because first, the chorus frogs lured me outside. Then, I thought I'd just go turn the compost. The next thing I knew I had my fleece off and I was pounding away at grass clumps and tossing cutworms over the fence to the chickens.

I've been reading this choose-your-own-adventure garden book before bed lately and I've learned a few things. Now I'm on the lookout for wireworms in my garden. They tend to be in gardens recently converted from yards. I happen to have a garden that is always being converted from lawn. They are reddish brown or orange and shiny little guys with jointed-looking bodies.

They're beetle larvae. Click-beetle larvae, in fact. I love click beetles! Unfortunately, wireworms chomp on root vegetables, especially potatoes, and make them susceptible to disease. I'll bet this is why my potatoes were so sad last year. They were in the yardiest part of the garden. Not this year! Actually, I haven't seen a whole lot of wireworms or cutworms as I've been out there cultivating so far. I'm mostly disturbing earthworms, many more than last year. I love healthy garden soil! I'm a dirt gardener.
I checked this book out from the library. It's now overdue. This is one I might buy. It's comprehensive. Every topic you can imagine is listed alphabetically... oh, so much to learn!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spring Portrait

In the hot, bright afternoon, I rousted a mourning cloak butterfly from where it was sipping on a pothole in the driveway. I watched red tailed hawks soar circles around a blue sky above the dried-up, rustling fields. I stopped along the roadside to dip my fingers into the soil below the leaning skeletons of asparagus stalks, checking for new growth, taking the pulse of the earth. Bluebirds warbled their hoarse happy songs from road sign perches and telephone wires.
As I pushed little round peas into the cold wet soil of one raised bed, three sandhill cranes flew just over my head, their feet dangling and necks gangling. I heard one whistle in between its croaks. I didn't know they did that. As the chickens alternated between baths of sun and dust, I weeded the spinach, which is perky with new green leaves. I planted four kinds of lettuce, but just a few rows. Sunday's forecast calls for snow.
Tonight there's a single spring peeper peeping over by the ditch that serves as a duck pond in our little camp. Two nights ago the first woodcock was "peenting" out in the front yard, gearing up for a flight display. Spring's been blowing in from every direction lately.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Giddy on the Ides of March

I was under the eaves of the grocery store where I'd locked my bike last Friday when I heard one of those advertisements that interrupts the store's radio station. You know the canned radio stations that push and pull your emotions to make you forget that you're shopping. One minute you're drifting down the aisle in a cloud generated by pop-song sap, the next minute you're singing along to that 80's tune you forgot that you knew every word of. As I unlocked my bike and found a place for the wine among the library books and skeins of yarn in my backpack, a peppy pre-recorded voice informed me that March is "Frozen Food Month." I went home and defrosted a bag of frozen spinach.

But really, it reminded me that this truly is the lean time of the year for local food. I think I just had a beer and a bunch of chocolate chips for dinner. I certainly don't have to eat this way! But I've trained myself to ignore the produce section, with deleterious effects. There isn't all that much promising around the corner in my garden harvests either.

I *did* plant spinach, arugula and radishes last fall and they overwintered. I was pretty thrilled to pull up the plastic and find little baby plants ready to pull down rays from the sun already. I ate a handful of spinach and arugula leaves. Not enough to sustain my bike commuting habits of late.

I'm almost used to this little-raft-adrift-in-the-ocean feeling I've had for the past year. Not sure that I see any land yet. However, my bike routes are getting better and better as I find little shortcuts. I know where to listen for the first peepers and wood frogs this spring. My little garden plot is acting as an anchor. I took a look around recently and I'm *months* ahead of where I was last year. This growing season will be so much easier now that the soil and I are acquainted. And what a thrill to have garlic and spinach and peas doing their little plant things out there so early!

March can be a pretty rough month if spring fever gets ahead of the rising temps and sunshine. I know this was always the longest month in middle school - maybe for students, but especially teachers! This March is off to a wicked mild start.  I just watched a flock of seven chickens get the urge to run clucking in a random direction. They stopped just seconds later and went back to their obsessive scratching and pecking. I think I know how they feel, getting that wild rush of energy for no apparent reason. That's what happened to me yesterday in the garden and now I have 8 cultivated beds and a very well-built compost heap that WILL be hot this spring if it's the last thing I do!

Friday, March 12, 2010



I was out in the flower beds planting my leftover peas so as to fix some nitrogen when the chickens came waddling over. I'm trying to discourage the co-dependency of my neighbor roostr-boy. He follows me around everywhere because I once spent an afternoon tossing him worms over the garden fence.

I ducked inside to discourage the chickens from following me everywhere. I'd love to have a flower bed full of flowers this summer instead of a scratched and plucked desert of nothingness.

So I'm taking this time to post a video of a strange worm I filmed last spring.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Finally, Some Gardening!

  The sun is causing delirium here. It struck yesterday and the entire household (both of us) suddenly rushed to scrounge trays and pots from out in the garden and under the snow. We dug through the piles of seeds stuffed into the corners of the refrigerator. We threw 'bows to score the best spot in the sun to do our pot-filling and seed stuffing. I cut up some of my best "tupperware" to make labels. 
(No leopards were harmed in the making of this blog.)

  I started onions and celery. I'm pretty much certain, after reading all I can find about celery, that it's bound to fail. Maybe I'll at least get close... or know that I never need to try it again. Its ancestor is a marsh-loving plant. It needs steady, plentiful water, rich soils, and Goldilocks-and-the-Three-Bears kinds of temperatures. I picked the seeds because this variety "takes the difficulty out of growing celery." Perfect! We'll just see.
  The onions are Red Marbles. I found a pile of a hundred marbles in the garden last spring, so I figured... Actually, they are long-day types for northern latitudes, which mean they grow roots and leaves until the days get to their longest, then they focus their energies on the bulbs. They're supposed to be good storing onions.
 The ground is still snow-covered. The bluebirds are singing like crazy in the front yard. The cardinals are noisy too. The woodpeckers are drumming. We're still on the look-out for our first red-winged blackbird here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

When You're 80

I thought that this would be a great day to return to blogging. I'm second-guessing that now. I spent the morning at the dentist and I knew I'd feel like sitting still the rest of the day. But right at the moment the Novocaine is wearing off and the ibuprofen isn't quite cutting it and my eyes are watering just a little. 

I've had a lucky day today, though, because I caught a friend on the phone this morning. She reminded me that in the battle of what you *have* to get done and the things you do because they make you *happy*, you must make time to cut the pragmatism and just follow your bliss. She said she asks herself now and then something to the effect of, "When you're 80, what are the passions, dreams and skills you are going to wish you'd pursued?"

Blog Free February was a small little adventure for me. The snow and sun came on in full strength after Groundhog's Day, making February the bright month of reflection I've come to appreciate it as. I finished some plant drawings and started a figure drawing class. The plant and butterfly drawings were gifts I gave as cards to friends. The figure drawing class reminded me how invigorating it is to learn something new. After the first class I was wound up so much I couldn't sleep. I spent the entire next day drawing. The rest of the week I had a deep sense of calm that I felt was coming from having this drawing life taking shape. Sitting in a meeting, meeting a new person, or dodging crazy Michigan drivers, the calm was there. I spent a great deal of time drawing in February. I also read a few books. I played guitar with my husband. BFF was a success, I think.

I also remembered why I appreciate the blogging world and how blogging prods me to keep asking little questions and seeking out the answers. I really enjoy reading others' thoughts and reflections and seeing small reports of what they're planting, reading, plotting, scheming, and observing. There's a lot of information out there to read and keep track of, so you have to be mindful of how it's contributing to your mood, progress, level of engagement, and overall goals. Taking some time off showed me that I really enjoy keeping a blog and reading others' blogs, as long as I don't get bogged down in the blog. (Blogged down?)  I'm hoping to follow my original intention a little bit more closely in the next coming months, though. I started this blog with the idea of looking more closely into the sources of my food, what it was costing me and the Earth, and finding ways that I could start breaking down my dependence on the industrial food system. I intend to focus on this goal a little more this season.

I've been reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, which I cannot recommend emphatically enough considering that I have learned so much, questioned so many assumptions, and faced many unfriendly realities since beginning it even though I consider myself thoroughly marinated in the issues surrounding our industrialized food system. Pollan is a master journalist. I will write an in-depth response to the book in the next few days, but for now I'm mentioning it because it has rekindled my interest in facing the question "What does it take to feed oneself?" Growing my own food is something I know I'll be happy I spent my time on when I'm 80 for the simple reason that it brings me joy. Many people are gardening these days, for many different reasons. As Pollan's book reminds me, it is very difficult to find our way out of the industrial food web. But there are some really good reasons that we should. As much as I love an ideal, I'm a realist too. I'm hoping I can share some of my experiences in nutritional independence, and maybe we can all continue to learn from one another.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Groundhog's Day! and BFF

Winter Isn't ALL Bad: Christmas birding in Gloucester

It's the middle of winter. It's all downhill from here until Spring, no matter what Punxsutawney Phil says.

Staten Island Chuck in 2009

 The days are getting longer. For the past few years in upstate New York, with the guaranteed snow cover, I always looked forward to February because the sun was making a comeback, which turned the white ground into a massive full-spectrum OTT light. It's a tiny bit different here in central Michigan. The brown everywhere sucks up the new sun. But I'm still trained to love February for its shift toward the light.

I've been looking for a way to celebrate midwinter. My Christmas/ winter solstice lights will come down. Chris suggested tea and baked goods and some reading on the couch. Sounds good, but it's also exactly what we've been doing for the past several weeks. I'm also planning to end my running hiatus. Then, I stumbled on this:

Blog Free February (BFF)

The gist is get off the internet and go write, paint, draw, create. For every 20 minutes you write or otherwise create, you get ONE minute for your blog, surfing, or social networks. I've been meaning to do a lot more creating than I have been doing. In a way I feel like Laurie Halse Anderson is playing a form of that "Okay, Let's See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest" game with us so that she can take a break. But I'm all for it. I need a break from the digital rabbit hole that is the internet.

I'd like to do more actual writing, drawing, painting, and reading. So, while I'll be doing some seed starting and planning, February seems like a decent enough time to take a break from garden blogging, internet surfing, and other nonsense (facebook and hulu for example). Unfortunately, I still have to get up at 5 a.m. and search for sub jobs on Jobulator (uhgh, don't get me started).

So, my goal? I'll come back in March with a load of seed starting adventures and garden plans to report. I also want to think about why I'm doing this blog thing. Finally, I've got way too many creative itches to scratch right now. I need to focus. 

See you in March.