May 31, 2009

My kids

I am the luckiest person in the world. Look at these great kids. I get to spend an hour or so with each of them every week. They work hard, laugh at my dumb jokes, and make beautiful music. It is an honor and an honest pleasure to get to hang out with them, and to watch them growing up as musicians and as people. I am grateful to their parents for sharing them with me. I am also encouraged that there are still people who are interested in giving their children something real -- a technical skill that will enrich their lives, no matter where they go as adults. Music is one of the greatest gifts we have in life, and I am fortunate to be able to pass a bit of the joy and the learning along.

May 20, 2009

I can't believe I bought this (etc)

Our story so far:
Growing sweet potatoes. In Bend. Short growing season. Cool nights. Frost possible any day of the year. Almost 4000 feet of elevation. Low humidity. Right.

My greatest gardening thrill ever, as promised by xxxxxxxxxx wherever Territorial Seed Co gets their sweet potato starts. Hokay.

Georgia Jet: 'matures in 80-90 days'. Right.

Thus, we see the poor dears in their fated growing area in my garden. That is, in the greenhouse. Don't look so hot, do they? Could that be because they languished on the kitchen windowsill for 2 weeks, due to crappy weather, extreme gardenerly busyness and a goodly amount of human sloth?

I have faith, though. They may look pitiful now, but stand back. They are going to perk up and grow like banshees and overflow their giant black pot and crowd out the melons (in adjacent pots) like anything. Just you wait.

I know I am.

I can't believe I bought this (continued and ongoing)

'Topsy Turvy Pepper Planter'
Ugh. I hate things with cutesy names like 'topsy turvy', though at least it doesn't have a cute spelling. I don't know what got into me. (Doesn't this sound familiar?). There I was at the nursery, harmlessly looking around inside a warm greenhouse on a cold, windy day, eating the free hot dogs and munching the non health snack Cheetos. Suddenly I was accosted by my friend Alyce, who works there. We had our usual lively and enjoyable conversation, and half an hour later, without realizing it, I found myself driving home with only the Spring Open House free plant, some biiiiiig black pots for growing potatoes (more on this later) and .......... the topsy turvy.

Honestly. I don't even LIKE peppers. My body doesn't like them, anyway. I do, however, grow paprika peppers, and apparently the topsy turvy (should I be putting in the little 'c' in a circle for copyright?) is going to make this job not only efficient but very, very fun.

Look, it has 8 cunning little planting 'ports'. A cool twirly thing on top to make it easy to rotate. And it's bright (very bright) red, in order to .... I don't know, encourage the peppers to ripen faster? How could I have resisted?

I brought the thing home and selected 4 hapless victi---- I mean, 4 brave volunteer pepper plants to jam through the ports into the t.t. Ack. My homegrown seedlings did not have the usual nursery 6-pack, compact root balls. In fact the root balls basically disintegrated as I shoved them through the holes. I apologized, watered them with lots of extra ETS+, and put them in the shaded sunporch to (maybe) recover.

The following day I went to see how they were faring, fully expecting to see 4 shriveled corpse peppers ...............and: whoah. Not only were they not expired, they all had their little heads up and I swear, had already grown 2 inches. Maybe there's something in this topsy turviness after all.

Not that I'm totally trusting in it. I just couldn't believe that 8 pepper plants, no matter how accommodating and happy, could grow in that one bucket's worth of soil. So I planted 4 peppers and put nasturtium seeds in the other 3 ports.

Stay tuned

Ah, Jack, I knew you weren't done with us

Despite the lateness of this year's annual Tender Container Guys Move Outdoors For the Summer Day, ol' Jack Frost has made his usual appearance just days later. Witness the white coating on the neighbors' roof. Witness the friendly row cover draped over the wall o' geraniums. Witness the hardy gardener watching from inside the warm living room before venturing out to do the day's gardenly deeds. Clever Ned.

May 19, 2009

The great dark secret is ....

In lieu of posting a proper link here (since I can't seem to figure out how to do it), I am copying a short quote from Barbara Damrosch's recent article in the Washington Post, entitled:

Who's afraid of a little organic garden?

It seems like a pretty innocent idea, doesn't it? Planting an organic vegetable garden in your yard so that your kids can eat fresh, nutritious, safe food. But now that Michelle Obama has gone and done it, big agriculture is terrified that we'll all follow her example. First came a letter addressed to her from the Mid America CropLife Association, which represents the chemical fertilizer and pesticide industries, urging the first lady to give "conventional" agriculture equal time. One of the authors separately told association members that the thought of an organic garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. made her "shudder." And an industrial agriculture media group, CropLife, started an online letter-writing campaign to encourage Obama to use synthetic pesticides, euphemistically called "crop protection products," which her effort seemed to impugn.

Such a response might seem comical if it did not highlight so clearly the fear these industries try to inspire to convince us that our world would crumble without them. The message: Leave food production to the experts.

The fact is, Americans are planting peas, carrots and potatoes in surging numbers, partly out of economic necessity and partly out of dissatisfaction with the nation's commercial food supply. And a lot of these new gardeners are using organic methods. The Obamas' garden is a great example to follow, but it's also just a sign of the times.

Maybe the pesticide ads, with their military rhetoric, aren't working anymore. Perhaps gardeners are taking a wait-and-see attitude about stocking their sheds with an arsenal of poisons. What if we staged a war against the beetles and the caterpillars and it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found, only the odd nibbling pest here and there to pick off and squish? What if we found that well-rotted manure and homemade compost, patterned on the natural world's fertility program, grew plants better than something sold in a bottle? When gardeners nurture the life in their soil by keeping it free of harsh products that might imperil it, they often find that there is nothing they have to buy except for a few seeds. That's dangerous knowledge.

The great dark secret is that nature is generous and determined to make plants grow.Much of how this happens is still a mystery and a worthy study for our country's best scientific minds. It is also a worthy subject for you, and if you are naturally curious you can learn a lot from your garden. Meanwhile, grow some tomatoes. You're in charge.

May 16, 2009

My piece of the pie/s

While my sweetheart is the acknowledged king of pie-making in our family (he forcefully took the job from me the day he caught me hurling a troublesome batch of pie dough against the wall in disgust), I still get to lay on and decorate the crust.

Here's our Mother's Day effort, my best crust decor yet. (BTW the pie was cherry, my favorite :)

May 15, 2009

Garden Treasures aka Spring Surprise

Every year I have a certain amount of amnesia about what I have growing in my garden. Some of this is the result of an aging memory. I still have vivid memories of plants long departed. The glorious old apple tree that was here when we moved in, which created a heavenly cloud of blossom each May -- until it developed some kind of slow, creeping death and had to be cut down anyway to make way for a house addition. I used to climb up into the tree and lean, eyes closed, against the trunk, breathing in the delicate fragrance of hundreds of pale pink blooms, and drinking in the sound of hundreds of happy honeybees.

I still miss that tree. I have planted three smaller apple trees nearby, but they are still young and will never reach the size of that old girl, being only semi-dwarf varieties.

Some of the amnesia comes from distraction -- spending the winter focused on a much smaller, indoor green world: my (mostly) unheated tiny greenhouses, where I carry over geraniums and fuchsias and begonias, and my dining room windowsill, where I abuse my collection of long-suffering orchids.

The shift to the larger, outdoor garden is gradual, and in the spring I greet each new sprout with joy and sometimes, as this year, a certain amount of surprise.

Being a lifelong procrastinator and perfectionist, I struggle with the annual opposing pulls of 'get out! plant something! it's spring!' and 'no, gotta make a plan first. the perfect plan. can't do anything until I know everything.'

As a result of this, I often have vast numbers of sad, patient (except for the ones that give up and croak) containers full of perennials, waiting to be planted. I have to admit that in the past, some things have waited YEARS before finally getting into the ground.

Well, there are some advantages to this, er, system. Anything that survives our winters in a container is pretty much hardy. I have also accidentally created a few 'bonsai' this way.

Last year I was exceptionally piggish in the annual spring nursery forays, and had a large collection of mostly native perennials languishing beside the back door for much of the summer. Last fall our normally glorious, long Indian Summer continued well into November, and even into early December. This allowed me to actually plant everything still in their nursery pots.

The final push came on the eve of a predicted light snowfall, to be followed by near-zero degrees (F) temperatures. I planted 50+ perennials, shrubs, and wildflower seed varieties in 2 days. Actually, 'slammed into the ground' would be a better description. As darkness fell on Dec 12, I literally threw the last seeds around, labelling only some of them, then sprinted into the back garden to dig the last carrots. The first snowflakes were white on the ground when I finally made it inside. Whew.

After that it snowed, then got really cold and that was it. Winter happened. An unusually late, cool, dry spring has followed, with everything greening up and leafing out and blooming much more slowly than in the average year.

And I keep finding surprises like the ones in the photos above. Things I forgot I had planted, like the Lewisia tweedyii (bottom photo), native to the Wenatchee Mountains in Washington state, that I got from my friend David Stetson, and the Erythronium sp I bought from a guy at the Eugene Farmer's Market over 10 years ago. Others, like the unnamed gentian in the top photo, just knock me out every year with their intense, heart-stopping blue color.

Today I expect my other heart-grabbingly blue plant, Penstemon nitidis, to open.

Meanwhile, it's back out to the front yard to see what other surprises I might have waiting for me.

May 6, 2009

World Naked Gardening Day?

Darn. I missed it. (Thus no photo).

Maybe next year?

From the WNGD website:
"Why garden naked? First of all, it's fun! Second only to swimming, gardening is at the top of the list of family-friendly activities people are most ready to consider doing nude. Moreover, our culture needs to move toward a healthy sense of both body acceptance and our relation to the natural environment. Gardening naked is not only a simple joy, it reminds us--even if only for those few sunkissed minutes--that we can be honest with who we are as humans and as part of this planet."

In addition to fun, the WNGD website lists other activities conducive to naked gardening, including:

park cleanups...

community gardening ....

family life au naturel ...

OK, I admit I'm taking long, slow, healthful breaths right now, trying to picture our Parks and Rec employees driving around town in their green trucks, emerging to work on the civic shrubbery clothed only in their work belts, from which are suspended various pruners, weeding tools, digging forks .... ouch.

Or, wait, that's a bit much. Let's get over to the Community Garden at Hollinshead Park, and take a look at all the Master Gardeners, digging away happily (it's fun, remember) in the altogether, with their bright orange MG badges pinned to their .....ouch.

Huh. Maybe we all need a year to get ready for this. Stay tuned for World Naked Gardening Day 2010.

May 4, 2009

It's all just dirt, right?

The mud was slung, the race was won, and all that was left to do was to transfer a bit of Willamette Valley soil to the High Desert..................

May 3, 2009

It's called Bicycle Disease

People with Bicycle Disease get up at 4:00 am to drive to Corvallis in the snow for a mountain bike race tellingly named
'Mudslinger'. People with Gardening Disease observe the prep, kiss the mad husband goodbye, then head indoors for another cup of coffee and a spot of fireside reading until it gets light. At which time they head outdoors into the -- er, delightfully refreshing spring snowstorm -- to plant sweet potatoes.


May 2, 2009

Shhhhhh, Don't Scare the Sweet Potatoes....

Yes, I know. It was a crazy idea. But something got into me. I ordered sweet potatoes starts this year. OK now, everyone, think about sweet potatoes. No, not the dish everyone eats at Thanksgiving: bright orange mushy vegetable product topped with marshmallows that you make because your Great Aunt Myrtle used to make it and you inherited the family recipe. Even though you don't actually LIKE sweet potatoes.

Not THOSE sweet potatoes. Think further back. Where do they come from? Come on, admit it: they grow in the Deep South. Georgia. Mississippi. Louisiana. Places with long, hot, humid summers filled with bugs, snakes, and fast-growing vines. Populated by people sitting on front porches in the evenings, sipping Coca Cola or possibly moonshine, and fanning themselves with palm fronds. In the background you hear bullfrogs and strange tropical birdcalls and the vegetable garden is full of collard greens and okra and .... sweet potatoes. In fact, summers are so hot there that they have to grow their vegetable gardens in the winter.

OK, quickly now, how is that similar to Bend, Oregon? The answer is: not at all. Well, it's on the same continent. Short, not-very hot summers that are dry, sometimes frosty and damned short. Oh, and did I mention short? Nobody sits on the front porch after 5:00 pm here because it's too cold, most evenings, even in August. Maybe people drink Coca Cola here too, but more likely they're inside sipping tea or drinking a local microbrew. Background noises might include the 'brrraaaaaaaaappppp' of tree frogs or the crepuscular sighing of doves, and vegetable gardens are full of ........... well, there aren't all that many vegetable gardens, really, because most people have given up the idea and and taken up golf. But if they do, it's full of hardy greens, well-protected tomatoes and .......... sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes?!

Which brings us back to the 2009 Arabella's Garden Impossible Dream list of 5 ridiculous crops, which includes sweet potatoes.

The poor dears arrived today, in a skinny little box, from Territorial Seeds, just over the mountains. Admittedly, they look pretty unprepossessing, if not nearly dead. But no. The leaflet that came with them assured me that Sweet Potatoes will produce my 'greatest gardening thrill ever'. It adds that my harvest of big 'jumbo' size (2-3 lbs) potatoes will be my 'most exciting garden experience ever'. Heck, no wonder I ordered them. I only wish I had ordered 2 dozen. And I'm pretty sure that if I manage to grow a sweet potato that is even close to 1 lb, I will be mightily amazed and definitely excited.

It goes on to say that my plants may appear wilted due to their enclosure during shipment, but that I should not be alarmed if such a condition exists. Sweet potatoes plants are 'very tough' (they brought their own little down coats?) and if planted 'properly' (preferably in another state?) and if 'favorable weather' exists (global warming can't come too soon for these babies), my plants will 'grow off good' and yield an abundant supply of delicious potatoes.

I am advised to 'set' plants as soon as possible after I receive them, unless there is a wind coming from the North. Hmm, that would be 99% of the time here. Oh well, maybe tomorrow will be calm.

I'm also assured that plants will succeed even if they are 'yellow, slimy and have an odor that is almost unbearable' --- ewwwwwwww. Luckily mine were only pale green and slightly wilted. Plants are 'tough and strong' and 'MOST' of them will survive if they are 'set' properly and have a 'good growing climate'. Ahem.

Well, stay tuned. I think this is a pretty serious example of Zonal Denial, a disease I had pretty much licked up until this year. Just in case my climate, weather, growing conditions, soil, average rainfall, (lack of) humidity, frost-free season and planting techniques aren't quite optimal, I am holding the plants overnight in a glass jar on the windowsill, surrounded by a small garden gnome, some lucky white rocks and a statue of an ancient Persian fairy. Maybe some of the good vibes will soak into the plants and get them off to a good start tomorrow.

May 1, 2009

Tangos for Tots

Our wonderful local community music school, founded 8 years ago by a cool jazz guitar guy named Dillon Schneider, offers group music instruction to several hundred students ranging in age from pre-kindergarten through 70-plus, each term. They sign up for such classes such as: Bluegrass Fiddling, House of Rock, Songwriting, and the Desert Sage Orchestra, and are instructed by a faculty of 25.

The Cascade Community School of Music has always run with only modest funding, partly because class fees are kept purposely low so that more students can participate -- last year $10,000 in tuition assistance was awarded. So far it is able to continues its class offerings through the generosity of both private donors and the shared classroom space of the Cascades Academy on Studio Road.

But that has meant that pianists in popular classes such as the summer chamber music class, which I help coach, have been dependent on whatever pianos are already present on campus. Up to now, that has meant one somewhat battered but serviceable Yamaha upright, some donated electronic keyboards of various sizes, and an ancient behemoth of a Piano-Shaped Object lurking in a back classroom.

No longer! Thanks to a recent grant and the generous gifts of local music-lovers, the school is now the proud owner of a beautiful, almost-new Yamaha U8 upright piano of its very own, which made its debut last night at a chamber music recital/fund-raiser given by faculty members.

Fellow chamber music coach, violinist Diane Allen, put this program together, and all of us had fun rehearsing and -- what else -- playing chamber music with friends. The program:

Brahms Sonatensatz (Scherzo from FAE Sonata)for vn, pf
Beethoven Trio for vn, va, vc
Four Tangos by various composers, arranged for vn, vc, pf
DeFalla Danse Espagnole arranged for vn, pf