Monday, February 16, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Winter is always a guest that outstays its welcome. In October, I pull sweaters and scarves out of storage bins, giddy that I'm being reunited with things I haven't seen in months. By February, I'm sick of them all. Walking into the closet these days is as exciting as getting my teeth cleaned. This year is no different. I can't imagine how people in the North can cope, especially those who must now be wondering if they'll be buried in snow. I feel for them. Snow is uncommon here, but as I write this post the rain is falling heavily outside, and the temperatures are dropping along with it. By morning, we should expect to find a sheet of ice blanketing all that we survey, so it's hard to imagine the days when I can walk through a lush vegetable garden in the summer sun. 

Winter makes me fidgety. I've scanned every gardening book and magazine in the house two and three times. I just want to get outside. My seed starting operation is all that keeps me from losing my patience. I come home every day to fuss over my little seedlings and count down the days until they'll be mature enough to go into the vegetable garden. Sometimes it feels like the countdown has stalled, even though the seedlings haven't.

Greek pepperoncini seedlings

I suspect we all are desperate for a little green these days. Maybe we need something to remind us how wonderful the green can be. I've been looking back at last year's vegetable garden photos, and they do make me excited for the warm days to come. Seeing things growing in the garden, if only in photo form, renews my faith that spring is certainly on its way. Hopefully they'll do the same for you.

Last year's yellow pear tomatoes

Cherry bell peppers

Greek pepperoncini peppers

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Gentle Plea to Peas

Dwarf Grey Sugar Snap...Flowers

Dear Sugar Snap Pea-

You may not remember me. After all, I was only truly successful at growing you when I lived in Michigan, which was nearly five years ago. If that doesn't ring a bell, I was the gardener who couldn't get you to the dinner table. I ate every single one of you whilst picking you. I couldn't help myself. I apologize for my own memory lapse, but I have no idea which variety I planted. I was new to gardening and took poor notes...or no notes at all. Whoever it was, at least the taste was memorable. You certainly lived up to your French name of mangetout (eat all).

I'm writing because I've been thinking about you a lot lately, what with the spring planting season marching ever closer, and I've been a little worried about our relationship of late. In the past couple of years, your performance has been rather different from those heady days in Michigan. As you may see from the photo above, you put on quite a show in my Florida garden, but, if I may be so bold, flowering seemed all you cared to do. Perhaps you found the garden a perfect vacation or retirement spot?

I don't mean to create any animosity, but your snow pea cousins did, in fact, flower and produce enough edible pods for a few meals whilst in Orlando. So I know it can be done.

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea

The first attempt to grow you in Georgia this past fall didn't go so well, either. Sure, the cold temperatures came rather earlier than expected, but I'm beginning to develop a complex at this point. Have I done something wrong?

Super Sugar Snap Pea...Flowers

I just want you to know that in spite of everything, I like you. I like you a lot, and I want you back. I'm inviting you to use my garden this spring as the location for your next family reunion. We're preparing the site for it right now, and it should be fantastic. When you arrive, I'll even provide the plates for the feast you prepare. 


Sunday, January 25, 2015

What's Happening Underground

Last week, as I went down and back up the driveway for my daily walk with the dogs, my mind turned to spring bulbs. Before our move back to Georgia, I had never planted any, at least, not really. I did try to grow tulips in Florida by placing the bulbs in the refrigerator for the winter and then planting them in pots when the weather seemed appropriate for tulips. That was, without question, a complete disaster. Of 20 bulbs planted, only two sprouted leaves, and that's all they did.

But beginning in late October last year, we took what we considered a massive leap of faith. I ordered nearly 200 bulbs, a combination of Galanthus (Snowdrops), Hyacinth, and several varieties of daffodils. Day after day, Turfman marched with me to various spots on the property to plant the bulbs in the hard Georgia clay. The goal was 20 bulbs for each outing. Sometimes that was impossible, as we'd hit an especially unyielding spot and the drill batteries would die before the auger had made enough holes. Near the end, in desperation, we would march down the driveway, I with a basket of bulbs in hand and Turfman with the pick axe over his shoulder. He made trenches while I dropped in the remaining bulbs. As I carefully placed each one, I uttered a little prayer that our efforts wouldn't be a terrible waste of time.

Now, at the end of January, I keep thinking about when daffodils should be pushing their way to the surface. I've been wondering what the bulbs must be thinking. Are they making plans for a big move? Are they hunkering down? Rotting? As the dogs and I walk by the general areas where Turfman and I were so often on our knees in late fall, I scan the surface of the soil, desperate for some sign.

And then yesterday, I saw something.

Those are hyacinths

And further on, I came upon something else.

Those are daffodils

And then I was on my knees again, scanning and counting all other signs of impending spring growth. It seems that there's a whole lot going on underground right now, and it all looks pretty promising.

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Life for Old Things

Shortly after we settled into this house, I mentioned in one of my garden dispatches ("First Lessons from the New Garden") that the previous owners of our house left behind a lot of items, most of which were in the fenced pool area. The inventory was pretty overwhelming. As we extricated some garden statues from the lusty grip of ivy and discovered other objects as we trimmed overgrown shrubbery, I began relocating the items to a collection area outside of the fence. I rather unkindly named the area "The Graveyard" and made plans to find everything a new home, even if the home had to be the trash bin.

A mere representative sampling of the menagerie

Now that I've had some time to consider each item carefully, I've revised my estimation of a few. They've been hanging around here for a while because I can't excuse simply throwing everything away, though we did quickly dispatch the items that fell apart as we tried to move them. Other things, such as the various statuary, are in the barn awaiting a good scrubbing (and maybe repainting) before they are offered up for sale. But I've decided that I will keep a few things and repurpose them.

The first item reclaimed from The Graveyard is this bird bath. We found it hidden deep inside some overgrown shrubs. Initially we were puzzled by the strange cord inside the bird bath, but now that I've had time to inspect it, the cord makes a little more sense. It seems that this particular bird bath had, at one point, the capability of circulating water. The flex tubing that carried the water from the basin to a snail attached to the rim has all but rotted away, but no matter. I don't think I like the idea of a snail spouting water from his head into a basin. In any case, the previous owners had drilled three holes in the bottom of the bowl, so they certainly didn't use it as intended, either.

Needs a new paint job

I've carefully brushed every spot on this with a good wire brush. It now has a fresh coat of paint on it and is awaiting a reconfiguration, which I'll show everyone in a couple of weeks once I finish it and get it into place. The snail was a similar light green, but he's had a makeover, too.

The copper paint gives him a little pizzazz

Since my assessment of this odd collection has mellowed, I'm pretty sure I can find a way to turn this monstrosity into a potting bench. It just needs to be cut down to Green B size. At present, the sink area comes up to my shoulders. Stay tuned.

This thing will have to lose a lot of stuff

Monday, January 12, 2015

Big Thinking

Yesterday, as I was scanning the weekly Publix ad, I was struck by a thought that I having been trying to avoid. In fact, I consider it a bit of a problem. You see, I often have rather big dreams about my vegetable garden producing enough food to cover some significant portion of our annual needs. I may need to blame those dreams on my Michigan garden from years ago. Somehow, in a tiny little backyard, I grew enough tomatoes to give us five months of spaghetti sauce. And that's not all we had. Unfortunately, I was never able to repeat that in our Florida garden, and that sort of put a ding in my confidence. Twice I've bought jars for canning the bounty of my Florida garden, and twice I have been disappointed. The best I could ever do was pickle jalape├▒os and rat tail radishes, neither of which can be considered kitchen staples, I don't think.

Lately, I've discovered that the limited successes of my Florida veg patch have made me a little superstitious in addition to doubting my skills. I noticed the problem when I was looking wistfully on Amazon at various canning jar sizes. I was even putting some of them on my wish list. Then I quickly removed them. I worried that planning ahead for a vegetable glut might ruin my chances of achieving the goal, and then I'd have to walk past the shelves of empty canning jars every time I walked through the garage. I wouldn't handle failure and the reminders of such failure well. Best, I decided, to just wait until canning becomes an emergency, if it becomes one. 

I should have guarded my thoughts more carefully. After all, I just received my big order of seeds from Botanical Interests. It was a box filled with hope, bursting with potential. The problem is that it's hard to keep hope under control in such circumstances. I tempered my excitement by methodically organizing the seeds based on when I can start them inside or outside.

Sorted by start date

For now, I will keep my mind on the tasks at hand. We've built two more raised planter beds, which means we have just five more to complete. I'm looking forward to the moment when the garden looks like a deliberate space instead of the odd collection of lumber it appears to me now. 

Inching ever closer

But I will not daydream about those planters being occupied, and I will not consider what the occupants might produce. It's just too soon to tell.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Strong Start

On Saturday morning, I woke up with pizza on my mind. I wanted it for dinner. Sometimes this isn't much of a problem because I often have a few pizza doughs in the freezer, but I knew I had no backups. I'd have to make the dough. Again, this is normally not a problem. But after working the dough, I began dividing it and forming it into balls, and that's when I realized that I had a major problem. My arms hurt, rather badly. One thought immediately filled me with worry--if my arms could be so tired after such an insignificant task, how would I be able to work effectively in the garden once the warm weather returns? Indeed, I am somehow capable of connecting pizza and gardening, which once again underscores just how much this activity has infiltrated my existence. In that moment of panic, though, I resolved to get myself into gardening shape again. I've started a sort of spring training, if you will. It's basically just yoga, but that always makes me really strong.

I've also been moving along with garden preparations. Two more raised planter beds are now in place in the vegetable garden. Five down. Seven to go...and a fence...and doors...and a path.

Just need to level and fill the new beds

I've started seeds, which may seem rather early, but they are for plants that have a very long germination time. In fact, the packet for the Phormium seeds says that germination is variable, between three and six months! I thought it best to get started as soon as possible. Even the Alstroemeria seeds require nine weeks.

The first of many seed trays

Seed starting will be a whole lot easier this year because Santa brought me a massive light stand. I'm taking the enterprise to a whole new level.

A whole lot of seed trays can fit under this thing

And, in keeping with my annual tradition, I pulled my copy of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle off the bookshelf. I'll be tucking myself into bed with that wonderful book tonight. It has a way of reaffirming my intentions and setting me on the right path. I really can't recommend it highly enough, which is why I've even made a link to it.  Getting it in your hands will that much easier. One might call me pushy, but I do think it has the power to change one's perspective on food for the better. It might just make some non-gardeners think about dropping some seeds into the soil.

Let's get 2015 started right

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Best Gifts

I hardly recall the dinner I had with a college friend the first Christmas after I had graduated. I remember we ate at Bob Evans. I vaguely remember snippets of the conversation. The one vivid memory of that evening was the gift that he gave me. He was still in college and was, as most college students are, rather short on cash. I did not expect anything from him at all. We were just meant to meet for dinner while he was in town visiting family. I remember what he gave me, though, because it has always been the symbol of what makes a gift really special to me. 

He pushed the gift bag across the table, apologizing for its meager contents. Inside was a box of tea, and in 1995, it likely cost him less than $4. But it was also so much more than just a simple box of tea. You see, I had studied abroad for a semester the year before in Salzburg, Austria, and he knew how much my time there meant to me. He had gone to an international market in his hometown and spent quite a while, he said, looking for something that might trigger those fond memories. What he had given me, in fact, was fruit tea from Germany, and everything printed on the box was in German. I was touched by the sentiment, and the time and care he took in choosing the gift considerably increased its value  to me. I think it was the first time I recognized that there is a real art in gift-giving.

Happily, I have been more aware of such things since that incident so many years ago. I have been the lucky recipient of presents that span a full range of costs but convey the much more valuable idea that someone has really thought of me--who I am and what makes me tick. I hope I have done the same for others. It does mean so much. In fact, I opened an unexpected gift two days ago to find something that struck a similar chord. As I looked at it, I imagined my friend coming upon this mug and actually thinking of me--of me, and I was touched. 

How perfect a gift is this?

I was sipping tea out of my new mug yesterday afternoon when another gift was generously being bestowed on me. We finally enjoyed the most substantial rainfall we've had since we moved here in June. It continued into the evening, and I fell asleep last night like a little kid on Christmas Eve, wondering just how much I would find in the morning under the trees surrounding the pond. I wanted to be the first up to record the change. Apparently, I've been very good this year, and I'm feeling quite grateful. 

It's a pond again!

So today I wish you all a very happy Christmas filled with the invaluable gifts this life has to offer us every day and, more importantly, the eyes to see them and the heart to give them.