Mar 29, 2009

Back to our regularly scheduled spring weather

It was too good to last. The miracle that was Spring Break 2009 is over. We return to our normal March programming -- duking it out with the grass invasion of the previous summer in the midst of snow, rain, hail, sleet and freezing winds.
Someday I will get caught up on grass-removal. It seems to be nature's goal to clothe the earth in grass. Which I'm all in favor of, except in my vegetable and garden beds. In lieu of replanting the lawn that came with this house 35 years ago, I will undoubtedly continue my annual battle until I pass into The Great Green Room In The Sky.
This year my focus is on the path between the Rose Bed and the Circle Garden, seen here looking like The Path To Winter. Like an idiot, I get the urge to change the shape of my garden beds on a regular basis. It has become sort of an annual weight-lifting program as I schlepp pavers, bricks and rocks from one part of the garden to another. After last year's epic redo of the Circle Garden, I thought I was done, but naturally I found a new section to dismantle and rebuild for 2009. Yesterday the weather gods took pity on me and allowed me a few hours of turf-wrestling before the dark clouds rolled in and the rain started in earnest. Sometime in the night the rain turned to snow, thus ending my big plans for today.
Back to the planning.......

Seed Greed Aftermath -- Phase One

One measly day's seed sowing and my new high-intensity light garden is full to overflowing. This is only the earliest stuff: tomatoes, peppers, artichokes (just kidding) (no, not kidding, I really planted artichoke seed). Not only that, I have more tomatoes and peppers coming in the mail.
Every year I say to myself, "I Will Be Strong. I will acknowledge that I live in a climate that does not cherish tomatoes, peppers, melons or corn. I will plan and plant accordingly. I will content myself with just a very few short-season varieties that reliably (most years) produce a few small, not-very-tasty, ripe-ish fruits on sensibly small plants that can be covered in a frost-imminent situation. I will keep excellent records of when said plants bloom and ripen (if they ripen at all), and in future years, refrain from planting those that do not make the grade." and so on.
Tragically, I never listen to myself. Each winter I approach my box of leftover seed packets and my stack of seed catalogs with undiminished optimism, lust for adventure and that convenient amnesia . After all, this is the banana belt. of Bend.
I blame this year's lack of self-restraint on the internet, where, over the winter, I read with interest about other people out there in gardening land who grow way more tomatoes than I do. The fact that one of them grows 60+ varieties of heirloom tomatoes for the Greenmarket in NYC (on a farm in, let's admit it here, Pennsylvania, a place known for having actual summers) and another grows over 100 varieties in his backyard just for the fun of it (in, ok, Southern California, where it's always summer) makes me feel not merely unsheepish about my planned 18 varieties, but like a bit of a tomato slacker.
Besides, this could be counted as research. Yeah, that's it. Research. It's Important Research for our local area. If I were even slightly better organized and consistent, I might gain actual, written-down, useful information on which varieties (if any) do best in Central Oregon, instead of the minimalist seat-of-the-pants mental list I keep in my brain after 35 years. Why don't I admit it? Early Girl is as bullet-proof as it gets around here. Plant a Sungold cherry and call it good.
But no. This year I will make notes. I will tabulate. I will score. I will taste and weigh and count. And then I will write my first book: Too Many Tomatoes -- Gardening Insanity in a Cold Climate and go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for best short fiction of a gardening kind.

Mar 25, 2009

It Was 40 Years Ago Today ....

... that I met my sweetheart, best friend, playmate, manly man, wise one, biggest fan, partner for life. I had no idea, when I walked into Wildlife Room 206 that Tuesday evening in 1969 that my life could change in an instant. I thought it was going to be just another meeting of the Boot 'n' Blister Club -- the wonderful hiking club at Humboldt State College. I was expecting nothing more than the usual short trip planning meeting, the slide show, and donuts. But there he was, standing at the front of the room, tall, skinny and bespectacled, wearing a red plaid Woolrich shirt, smiling out at the world, and at me. Freckles, wire-rimmed glasses, outy ears and the cutest grin. Do you believe in love at first sight?

Neither one of us is sure where 40 years has gone. One day at a time, apparently. There've been a few surprises along the way, of course. Unbeknownst to me, he turned out to have Bicycle Disease. Surprisingly for him, I developed Gardening Disease. Luckily, we still get to hike together, and that's my favorite part. In the top photo above, circa 1969, it's all about the hug. In the other one, taken on a hike in Scotland in 2007, I am thinking about the blooming heather all around us, and he is thinking about the mountain bike trail beckoning to his left. But we're together. And that's the way we want it, for the next 40 years.

Mar 23, 2009

The Impossible Dream -- Seed Greed 2009

Seduced by the first warm (65+ degrees F), sunny (as in actual sun), calm Spring Equinox day in living memory, I ordered seeds last Friday. Finally. Most years I go a little crazy, and order seeds in a kind of momentary, blissful amnesia, conveniently forgetting that I garden in a place with a 90 day growing season (official extension service estimate) and frost possible any day of the year. Still, after 35 years of this, I usually manage to rein in my seed greed fairly well.

I make a list of everything I want to grow, pore over catalogs, make extensive lists, compare varieties, draw up orders, prune them way back, then order. Even so, I always end up with ridiculous numbers of things like tomatoes and lettuce.

Most people make lists of New Year's Resolutions in January. I make mine now.

This year I am determined to do a little better at growing food and watering consistently and keeping track and harvesting. I usually start out with nice charts for everything, a detailed planting schedule, and initial documentation of every seedling. By midsummer I have lost interest in writing anything down and by the time the tomatoes are really coming on (late August, early September), it is a desperate scramble to hustle them, green fruits and near-ripe, into every bowl and bin I can lay my hands on, all varieties jumbled together, in a desperate, flashlight-aided, 9 pm pre-frost harvest session.

This year I am also determined to plan, order and plant frugally and sensibly. Who am I kidding, thinking I need 12 varieties of tomato - in a climate where only the toughest, fastest, and luckiest varieties survive and fruit? What is the point of trying to grow peppers, which take even longer and which I am allergic to, for heaven's sake?

So I firmly took myself in hand as I made out my seed orders. I made out brief, sensible lists. Truly stripped to the bare minimum. Frugality! Common sense! Sticking to the budget! No impossible crops. No zonal denial.

It all worked beautifully at first. Then I made my usual mistake: I went through each catalog from first to last page, just to make sure I wasn't leaving out anything Vital. And allowed myself to add a tomato here, a lettuce there, just one more, what can it hurt, it looks so yummy..... so cute..... so doable.... seed is cheap...... Really, I have room for it. Them. And ended up with a vast list of veggies that includes 3 kinds of kale (come on, it grows so well here), 9 kinds of lettuce (I promise I'll keep better track of succession planting dates), and 6 kinds of bush beans.

And included in this list is this year's Impossible Dream selection. Every year I set out to grow one crop that is pretty much impossible for our climate. It's good for me. It builds character. And it gives The Manly Man food for years of ridicule. He still gives me a hard time about the artichokes. About 10 or 15 years ago I had a moment of weakness at the local garden center (I have lots of those, but this one coincided with a momentary attack of insanity) and bought 3 spindly artichoke plants. They struggled through our spring frosts and our intense summer sun, and finally succumbed to a severe infestation of the hugest, stickiest, creepiest mass of BLACK aphids I have ever seen in my life.
Another year I planted Brandywine tomatoes. Due to a miraculously long frost-free summer and an extended, frost-free Indian Summer, I got 5 mature fruits, 2 of which actually almost nearly ripened. We won't mention the year of the watermelon. In my defense, I can proudly say that in those 35 years, I have grown at least 3 miniature cantaloupes and have achieved 5 or 6 stunted, gap-rowed ears of corn.

I don't know what happened to me this year, but here is my list of not just one, or even two, but 5 crops for The Impossible Dream 2009:

1. Artichokes. I haven't seen a black aphid in years.

2. Melons. 2 kinds. Hey, I have row cover.

3. Beans for drying. They'll take a little frost, right?

4. Chili peppers. For chiles rellenos. I can probably eat them.

5. Sweet potatoes. WHAT!? Am I nuts?

Still, I did well, for me. No mangos or avocado trees.
Maybe next year.
Meanwhile, I will start stocking up now on old sheets ...........

Mar 22, 2009

Albert Schweitzer said it better:

I do not believe that we can put into anyone ideas which are
not in him already. As a rule there is in everyone all sorts of good ideas, ready like tinder. But much of this tinder catches fire, or catches it successfully, only when it meets some flame or spark from the outside, i.e. from some other person.

Often, too, our own light goes out, and is rekindled by some
experience we go through with a fellow man. Thus we have each of us cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. If we had before us those who have thus been a blessing to us, and could tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what passed over from their life to ours.

Appreciation appreciated

I've been talking with a friend whose parents, both in their early 80's, are declining in health, though so far still managing to live independently at their longtime home. She related a recent conversation with her mother, in which her mother said something like, "After I'm gone, I don't want any kind of funeral or memorial service..." -- something similar to what I have heard other people say as they have reached their 70's or 80's, as well. My friend, never one to bite her tongue, was not having any of this, however. "Well, it's not up to you, is it? We're going to be the ones who are left behind, and making that choice." When her mother protested that she hadn't really done anything worth talking about at a memorial service, that she hadn't had a career, or been much of a success at anything, my friend nearly shouted, "What -- do you think we're just going to forget you?! We'll miss you every day! You're our mama!!!" She said her mother was startled by her vehemence, but also a bit pleased.

This reminded me of something my own mother put in the instructions she left for us after her death. We, her family, unanimously agreed to ignore this, for the same reasons. And remembering back to her memorial service, I feel a bit sad that so many of us -- mothers, fathers, the lady next door, the 'unimportant'... 'uninteresting' ... 'ordinary' people, any of us human beings, would ever feel this way about our lives.

Sometimes I wish that people could attend their own funerals and memorial services. Not to see people crying and sad, or to listen to the often-empty prayers trotted out for even the least churched members of a family. But to hear the little things they did or said that touched the lives of friends and acquaintances, bowling team members, hairdressers..... I was surprised and touched to hear such stories at my mother's memorial service, and I'm sure she would have been astonished. A shy garden club member who was encouraged by my mother to speak up at meetings. A former neighbor who told of my mother standing up for herself with snooty fellow parents at school functions. A cousin who remembered her being a wonderful auntie.

Realistically, I don't see people arranging memorial services for themselves in advance of their deaths, just to find out what people really think of them. But what if we all did a bit more appreciation, all the time, of the 'ordinary' people in our everyday lives?

There are so many people who mean the world to me, I have to ask myself if I tell them so often enough? I tell my sweetheart every day how much I love him. What about my friends? my colleagues? Perhaps doing this can be seen as a kind of spiritual practice, a mindfulness of the blessings of friends and family, gratitude and appreciation for gifts received every day. I admit that I am surprised when someone gives me such a gift of gratitude. We all need to pass it on. Appreciation is appreciated, and needed.

Mar 17, 2009


The MM is home from Spain, by way of Scotland. He is famous for his super-minimalist packing for trips. This trip was, according to him, the lightest yet. And when he goes to Spain he always leaves plenty of room for the loot. Here's the latest haul, pulled out of suitcase, daypack and bike bag, which somehow stayed within both space and weight limits. Check it out. From Spain:
2 kilos of Spanish torrefacto coffee beans (the best coffee in the world)
6 litres of Hojiblanca olive oil (our favorite)
1 lb ground decaf torrefacto coffee
1 lb Valor chocolate bar with hazelnuts
new cycling guide to the island
From Scotland:
McVittie's dark chocolate digestive biscuits (remnants)
one authentic Selkirk bannock from the Scottish Borders
one authentic Scottish bird suet cake for the MIL
one Cadbury chocolate egg (for Easter?)
How does he do it?

Orphandom or Solitude?

The Manly Man loves Spain and all things Spanish. A few years ago he started traveling to Majorca in March to ride his bike with friends. I enjoy a good bike ride as well as the next person, but March is a bit early for my butt and legs to be out cycling 60 or more miles, up mountain and down coastal bluff, every day. So he flies off to Majorca and I have a couple of weeks of time to myself. What we call this depends on the mood of the day.

Sometimes it's a bit lonesome around here, just me and the kitties and the MIL. On those days we call it orphandom. Most of the time it's relaxing, just me and the kitties and the MIL. On those days we call it solitude. peace and quiet.

March would seem like a great time to get a head start in the garden, but the weather is usually pretty lousy, so I end up inside most of the time, planning the garden or thinking up things to do with whatever plants I have blooming under lights.

One of MM's favorite spots in Pollenca is a cafe called Don Corleone, and a couple of years ago he brought an espresso cup home from there, for his morning coffee. This year I put the cup on the windowsill, so I would be reminded of my sweetheart, happily riding and eating with friends in one of his favorite places and for myself, put a wee orchid -- that's us, world: bikes and plants.

Spring Garden Roulette

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The three photos of my birdbath were taken on three successive days this week. This weather and temperature flipflop will continue through March and April (though with diminishing chance of actual snow). It's no wonder a gardener turns for solace to strong drink (coffee) and warm seed catalogs.

Mar 11, 2009

the scent of spring is in here

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Sunny with a chance of frost

I should be used to March in the high desert by now. But no. Even after 35 years of gardening here, where the weather, year-round, could be most succinctly described as 'sunny with a chance of frost', I still seem to expect March to be all warm and springlike, with cavorting bunnies and chirpling birdies and soft, gentle rain falling on tender green shoots.

Wrong. Make that cavorting skiers, shivering birdies and intermittent snowflakes drifting down on last year's dead leaves. And gardeners darting outdoors between cold fronts to peer hopefully at the first brave crocus -- the small yellow ones always bloom first -- and then heading back indoors with a sigh of relief, to settle once more in front of the fire with a cup of tea and a lapful of garden catalogs. Merely for insulation, those catalogs. Of course I have all my seeds ordered, long since. Ahem.

For now, if I want spring I step into my small greenhouse and sniff that magical, early spring smell of blooming things. I've only had a greenhouse for 7 years now, and I still get a thrill when I walk into it. It's nature's promise during the cold, dark days of winter, that green will come again and all the containers will come back out onto the deck for their months of glory, come May or June.