Monday, June 22, 2009

The Desperate Gardener

In the last few days I have mowed around the garden, trimmed around the garden, and pulled weeds in the garden. So why does it still look awful? Everything has grown so big with the abundance of rain. The potatoes vastly outgrew my ability to hill them and now sprawl for a couple feet either side of the potato bed. The tomatoes have shot up. I need to buy more stakes to tie up the rest of them. I need to harvest lettuce and chard. And the garlic... I just can't decide what to do there. I may have to harvest one or two to decide if I think they're really ready.

The compost bin back behind the shed is full, and I'm sick of hiking out there every time I have a handful of weeds. So I have started a mobile compost pile in a trash can. I have read pros and cons for this sort of thing. But so far, I am really liking it! The trash can I used is a plastic one with wheels. So I can pull it around behind me as I travel from bed to bed! After the equivalent of one day of use, it is full. The weeds have been my best crop so far this year. If I run out of other things to do, I may chop up the stuff already in the can with a string trimmer. Although I filled it to the top, so I'd probably have to take some out to do that. But it would probably be worth it. I could fit more in the can and it would break down much faster. I'll keep you posted. (You'll note in the picture that I haven't punched air holes in the can. I'll get to that...)
Here's another bit of desperation... I had planned to build at least one more garden bed, but just haven't had time. Meanwhile I've had several homeless plants sitting in a flower bed, being devoured by slugs. So, I threw down a couple bags of soil in the garden and planted right into the bags. It's ugly, and I'll have to be sure to water and fertilize those plants (unless, you know, they keel over). But I figure come fall, I'll just dump that soil into the new bed. Here is a terrible photo of my embarrassing gardening.
Yeah, wow... I can't believe I just posted that picture. I may have to change the blog name to The Garden Confessional...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Goats In The Garden?

Please meet Cinnamon and Sugar (no, we didn't name them). They are our mini goats. They are year old sisters, a mix of pygmy, nigerian dwarf, and nubian. We bought them last spring, but they had been living with their breeder. Today we drove two hours into Pennsylvania to pick them up. We live in suburbia, so they didn't come here. They moved in with our friends Sarah and Rick who have more animals than anyone I've met, including about eight other goats, mostly pygmy.

Cinnamon is the more gregarious sister. She is also the mouthy one. After an uneventful drive into Pennsylvania, we got to listen to a lot of lip from Cin on the way home. Apparently, she did not want us to speak, especially me. And she did not want us to stop. You know, for red lights and such. We compromised. No talking, but we stop for lights.
Sugar is more shy than her sister. She also has a delicate "maa" compared to her sister's "MAAAAA." She is also clever. While Cin was getting to know (read: distracting) the other goats at the new place, Sugar was snarffing the food at the new place.
You'll probably hear more about Cin and Sugar from time to time. Especially if they get out and eat Sarah's flowers. But that's not going to happen. Right?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Seeking: Chard Recipes

Okay, so... this is the first year I have grown chard. I decided to grow it for purely superficial reasons- every year I have drooled over other people's lovely photos of swiss chard, lit from behind. Swiss chard: stained glass of the veggie bed. The thing is, I'd never eaten it. Now that ours is getting into the swing of things, I need advice on how to use it! So far I have only sauteed it with garlic and olive oil (not a hit with the kids) and in a stir fry (nobody complained). So, how do you use it?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Garden Surprise

When we moved into this house, just over a year ago, I brought along a couple clippings of creeping jenny. They sat in water on the counter and eventually rooted. I stuck them in one of the flower beds and the little suckers too off. Then they overwintered and started up again this spring. And now, I have chanced upon them in flower! I have never seen creeping jenny in flower before. The flowers strike me as quite large compared to the average leaf size. How exciting!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day- June 2009

I've been feeling like there's not a lot happening in the garden right now. There are a few new blooms, and several things just on the cusp of blooming. So there's a lot of anticipation on my part. Have a look around...

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is kindly hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Thanks Carol!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

SOS: Save Our Spuds!

I noticed this in the potato bed the other day. I've been trying, since then, to figure out what it is. Is this Late Blight? I'm not sure. The way I would describe this is different from the descriptions I've read. I'm growing three varieties. This showed up in the red variety (Red Norland? I forget...) first, but now I see one of the German Butterball plants is affected as well. The potatoes have grown robustly all season and are currently up to my waist and flowering. If this is something that will destroy the crop I may cry. But the sooner I know, the bestter. So I'm hoping that someone more experienced/knowledgeable than I can give me a yea or nay on this. What say you?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Adolescent Onions

Is it wrong to admit that when I saw that my Walla Walla onions had advanced to this stage of development, my feelings were reminiscent of those I experience when I notice that my children have reached new milestones? I hope not.

I failed to record when I planted these onions. (But I can tell you the weather was terrible when I, literally, jabbed them in the ground. I thought I would lose them all. But happily, no!) And I don't recall when I'm supposed to harvest them. They're not ready yet, but things are certainly looking good. buzz.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


There hasn't been a whole lot to report from the garden lately. It has rained and rained and rained lately. The potatoes are now up to my waist and have begun to flower. The Yellow Finn potato flowers are white, while the Red Norland flowers are purple, sort of a mid-lilac. They smell wonderful. I had no idea potato flowers had a scent, but I don't know why they wouldn't.

We had a pounding storm this evening, but if it looks like a possibility tomorrow I will try to hill the potatoes on more time. They have grown so tall so fast that there is currently a lot of exposed stem. The more of that I get covered up, the more potatoes I get to brag about later. We'll see what happens tomorrow. This is the rainiest springs I can recall.

An Award, Times Two

Jackie, of Jackie's Secret Garden (shhh, don't tell!), and Daphne, of Daphne's Dandelions, both recently awarded me this blog award- my first (and second, depending upon how you view things).

I am belatedly posting my thanks. I do apologize for that. My mind has been wrapped up in a big writing project lately. In accepting this award I am supposed to:
  1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.
  2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
  3. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.
I have had a terrible time trying to decide who to pass this along to. Plus, I'm afraid I haven't been reading as many new blogs recently due to my writing project. So, fifteen new blogs is a bit out of reach for me. Here is my handful of picks, plus my reasons for picking them.

Wade and Jimmy of The Weekender for their inspired recycling, and because they totally crack me up.

J.C. of My Sunny Happy Garden for letting me peek over the shoulder of a gardening contemporary in Malaysia. Plus, I get to giggle over things like learning of their Giant Hypermart stores.

Matron of Down on the Allotment because I love her photos and commentary; but also because she's got the chutzpah to title a post Matron's Tits (it's about birds).

Heather at Idaho Small Goat Garden because she inspires me, and because I love that she put linoleum in her new chicken coop.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C., Part 2

A noisy, windy storm has come upon us tonight. Hopefully we'll have power long enough for me to post a few more pics from DC.

This is a view of part of the Rosa Garden with part of the Conservatory in the background. Can you guess what my kids were most impressed by in the Rose Garden? The lemon thyme between the stepping stones (which appears as a yellowish-green in the closer bed in this photo). Who'd a guessed?

What do you think of these hairy striped pods? Yeah, I dunno either. Whatever these weird things are, there were three colors of flower. The flowers are weird too. They look like they're upside-down, even when they're not. Here's what I mean:

I'm sure this crazy plant was labeled somewhere in the garden, but not where I found it. I'm sorry I can't tell you what this one is. This argyle garden lies along the walkway from the outdoor gardens to the main Conservatory entrance. If you had described this to me and asked what I thought I'd have said "Eh...". But in person this was a lovely garden. Cute even. I like the mix of textures.

Next up, a view just inside the Conservatory. This area was filled with "useful plants". The cocoa trees were in here; but let me tell you, the chocolate exhibit was nowhere we could find. And the picture on the website of the amazing purple and red cocoa pods- not here. Only the tiniest, ittiest-bittiest flowers on the cocoa tree trunks. They were so small I didn't bother taking a picture. And yes, the flowers and pods form directly on the trunk. Neat, huh?

I actually didn't take very many pictures inside the Conservatory. In the next shot, look for the giant bamboo. I love that! But dang, I just don't think I can find a spot for it here...

The next photo is from the "Jungle" area of the Conservatory. I was attempting to get a shot of a tall leaf frond in the background. But school groups kept walking across my view so I just snapped a shot and hoped for the best. Luck was not with me. I'm including this picture here mainly so I can complain about rude school children. Is that wrong of me?

Okay, this last photo is from the "Deserts of the World" area. I took this shot only because this is such a bizarre cactus. I am not a fan of cacti. It's really not their fault. It's me. I'm a clutz. If there is a cactus anywhere in a building, I will trip over my own feet and fall into it. I almost refused to walk through this exhibit. But I faced my fear, and now you get to marvel at this oddity. When I saw this, I expected it to move. And when I saw the little flowers on it, I kinda expected them to talk. I don't know why. I'm only admitting this to you because we're friends...and...I didn't really think it through very well....

At any rate, that's pretty much it for the botanic garden. Hopefully next time I'll be able to go through it more slowly. And if you get down there, send pictures!

U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C., Part 1

Whew! Well, we survived our whirlwind visit to DC. I did manage to get to the Botanic Garden and brought back a few photos. Interestingly, the kids seemed most interested in the outdoor Regional Garden that features mid-Atlantic native plants. It is not exactly a manicured garden- but there are lots of unusual plants surrounding a small creek and pond. This first picture shows the bridge over the little creek with the Conservatory building peeking through in the background.

This next pic, to the left, shows some sort of Beardtongue in the foreground. You may be able to read the first part of the name if you click the picture to enlarge it. Just behind the beardtongue is funny little flowering bush. I really wanted to get a shot of the name tag for that bush. Unfortunately, I had a great deal of trouble trying to balance on one foot while trying to hold back the shaggy bush away from the tag with my other foot. You win some and you lose some.

I missed the tag on this orange flower. I know I already know this one, yet for the life of me I can't recall it. I believe this is one of the natives often recommended for butterflies. I am not really and "orangey" person; but every once in a while I run across an orange flower in a shade I adore. This is one of those flowers. It really popped in the landscape, without assualting the senses.

These yellow Sundrops were... luminous (that sounds better than radioactive, right?). Seriously, they absolutely glowed and I would be more than a little surprised to learn they did not actually glow in the dark.

Okay, that's all I have time to post now. But more will follow later...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Just A Taste...

... of the sights from DC. I'll post more in the morning.

These were in a container just outside the entrance to the Conservatory at the botanic garden. They have to be the most optimistic flower ever. They glowed. The colors were just dazzling.

I have no idea what this ruffled trumpet is, but if you do please tell me. I was fascinated. The plant reminds me a bit of eggplant. I'm not sure why!

These were labeled "Smooth Purple Coneflower." The flower stalk is very tall, the flower head is large, and the petals are quite wispy and blow about in the wind. They are lovely set against a green background, but would likely get lost in a mixed border.

That's all for now. More soon!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wish Us Luck

There hasn't been much to report the last few days because Casa Uh-Oh has been under siege by the common flu. I did notice yesterday evening that some of the potatoes look like they are preparing to flower. But I'm afraid they may flower without me. The kids and I will be be visiting Washington DC the next couple days. Wish us good weather and a little luck! If all goes according to plan (which you should know by now is something I should never, ever say) I will bring home pictures from the U.S. Botanic Garden to share. They currently have an exhibit on chocolate! (ummmm, chocolate...) I'll see you in a few days!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Potato Volcanoes & World Peas

Today I hilled the potatoes for the second time. I had initially planned to hill them only until the bed was filled (I planted them in a new bed and had put in only a little soil before planting the potatoes.) and then run a little chicken wire around the bed and fill it with straw as the potatoes grew. Well, the potatoes have grow madly and I never got the chicken wire up. So now, what to do? On the one hand, if I quit now, I am pretty confident I will have more potatoes than I'll know what to do with- but on the other hand there's that challenge to see just how much food I can get out of my little garden. Maybe it's too late. I don't know. The potatoes have not yet flowered. But most of them are at least two feet tall now (all except the two traumatized when Luna dug them up and ran around with them before dropping them in the yard). They look like potato volcanoes- big brown earth volcanoes with green lava shooting out the top. The picture doesn't do them justice.

There is more news from the garden today. The first tomatoes have been spotted on one of the Amish Paste plants. I didn't expect them to set fruit so quickly after I set them in the newest bed; but a plant's got to do what a plant's got to do!

The chard, which sat around on the front porch for too long, casting increasingly reproachful glares my way, is doing well where it was planted to replace the spinach and arugula. Did I tell you I planted the chard mainly because it is pretty? I've never eaten chard, so that is one of this year's garden experiments.

After hilling the potatoes, I made my way through the rest of the garden. The strawberries are preparing to put out flowers. I'm not supposed to let them flower, and thus fruit, the first year. But I can tell you right now I will be eating strawberries out of my garden this year. That's just how its going to be.

I don't think I've ever specifically pointed it out, but if you've noticed in previously posted pictures, my garden lies just next to and therefore, for all intents and purposes, under a huge maple tree. It's the sunniest spot in my yard. But maple trees mean maple helicopters. Lots of 'em. Every single day I spend time pulling up the seedlings as the helicopters sprout.

I don't know about you, but when I assume the gardeners stoop, I prefer not to spend my mental freedom (it's weed pullin', not rocket science) thinking about the pain in my joints. My mind wanders. And today my thoughts were about maple seedlings and how much time I spend pulling them. And I decided that everyone should have a garden of their own. The rationale here is the old saying Idle hands are the devil's playground. I certainly don't have time to be running around making trouble in the world. No siree, I have weeds to pull! Really, I think it is time gardening became a required course. Who can spend time in a garden of their own without developing a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness of life? Plus, weed pulling isn't really optional. If you want the effort of planting to yield something, you must pull weeds. Maybe not all of them; but certainly a great many of them. If everyone had a garden to tend, a lot of people would have a lot less free time in which to find mischief...

"Say General, I was thinking about harassing South Korea today. Why don't you swing by so we can make plans?"
"Oh, gee, sorry Kim. I'd love to but I have weeds to pull. How about I stop by tomorrow? No, wait, I have to hill potatoes tomorrow. Friday? No, no... I promised to help can the tomatoes Friday... Look, why don't I get with you next week after I get caught up with the garden chores?"

And of course, nobody ever gets caught up with the garden chores... Yep, I think that's the recipe for world peas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roses. Huh.

As I pull out of my driveway, I have a direct view of my neighbor's roses. They've been blooming for about a week now and all this time I've been wondering when my roses would bloom. And then today, it occurred to me that I haven't actually been over to the other side of the garage lately, so how would I know if my roses were blooming or not? I decided to pop over there this afternoon. Guess what I found?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Garden CSI: Abscondence Of A Rhubarb

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the hole before throwing the dirt back in. But frankly, I was too stunned to think straight. My new rhubarb is gone. Stolen. By a critter.

Now, my backyard is fenced. And within the backyard, the garden is fenced. The yard surrounding the garden is patrolled by Teak and Luna much of the day. So I suspect that whoever stole my rhubarb did it at night. But heavens, what kind of a critter steals rhubarb?!

Let me put this is better perspective... After getting into the garden sanctum, the critter would have found itself surrounded by potatoes growing madly, amazing survivalist beans, healthy garlic, chard, and baby greens, new tomato and pea plants, tasty hop and grape vines, and... right next to the rhubarb plant, the strawberry bed. Yet the only thing taken was one scrawny rhubarb plant that went into the ground late. And this plant was not yanked out of the ground. It was carefully excavated out, leaving a perfectly symmetrical ring of dirt around the edge of the hole. But again, I ask you, what kind of critter steals rhubarb?

A Response

I hadn’t intended to write any more about genetically modified foods (and really, this post is not solely about GM); but Jason Major’s comment on the last post kicked my brain into overtime to the extent that I got out of bed well past midnight to write down a few thoughts. Hopefully I can now get them out of my system.

First, let me say that I was more than a little disappointed that I was not able to email Jason for clarification. I did search the website linked to his name, and it is an interesting one. But I was not able to find a direct address for him. So I was not able to really satisfactorily learn what exactly is encompassed by embryo rescue, and thus can’t state an opinion on it one way or another. (So Jason, if you’re out there, I would welcome an opportunity to pose a few questions to you…)

I would also like to state, for the record, that I do not categorically object to biotechnology. I believe in natural laws; and I believe science is the perfect mechanism by which to learn about and develop understanding of those laws. I believe that developing that understanding allows us to harness natural processes to our benefit. I am less comfortable with the idea of forcibly mutating natural forms. Still, in a laboratory setting, and for “higher purposes,” perhaps this is okay. However, laboratory science is one thing and it is quite another to A) release manufactured organisms into the ecosystem (our life-support system), and B) inject manufactured organisms directly into the food chain.

I don’t have a problem with the lofty goals advertised in association with engineered foods. But mounting evidence suggests a dark side to engineered foods that is not controllable outside the lab. I don’t think we should wait until there is a cataclysmic problem to acknowledge that there is a problem.

And for me, I don’t want my food to be produced via a process I don’t understand and I don’t want to have to obtain an advanced degree in order to understand the process. I cannot speak to the veracity of Jason’s comment that organic foods are the products of processes like mutagenesis. Thinking about, though, I suspect it is true in the sense that specific varieties were developed using these sorts of techniques. The growing process is cleaner; but the variety development process perhaps wasn’t.

So, for me, this strongly reaffirms my belief in heirloom plants. These are varieties that were developed before modern monkeying. There are more than a few small organic growers out there who grow heirloom food crops. Large-scale organic growers, I suspect, are more likely to be growing engineered varieties. So my advice to others concerned about engineered foods, I suppose, is to grow heirloom varieties or ask your local growers if they do or will grow heirloom varieties. An added benefit: heirloom varieties often have better flavor and higher nutrient values.

And now, I return you to the regularly scheduled programming...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How To Avoid GM Foods

After reading the article on genetically modified foods that I posted a link to the other day, I started reading up on how to avoid GM foods. As it turns out, the answer is both simple and complex.

On the one hand, four crops make up the large majority of GM crops currently on the market (many more have been in development for some time, but for various reasons are unmarketable). Those four and the percentage of their total US production that is genetically modified are: soy (89%), corn (61%), canola (80%) [this figure is for Canadian production as that is where most US canola originates], cotton (83%). Now, organic certification in the US forbids genetic modification at any level of production. So, avoiding soy, corn, canola, and cotton, or buying them only in organic form should pretty well cover the bases, right?

Wrong. Far from it.

If you eat, or drink, animal products (including farm raised fish), unless they are certified organic they almost certainly are fed GM crops. Look for “organic,” “wild caught fish,” or “100% grass-fed.” In dairy, look for items marked “no rbGH or rbST.” Also be aware that honeybees may have collected from GM plants, so the honey or bee pollen may contain GM dna. Watching for these things seems manageable, right? Sure!

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The Nov-Dec 2003 issue of FDA Consumer magazine (yes, that FDA) states “The Grocery Manufacturers of America estimates that between 70 percent and 75 percent of all processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores may contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants.” We’re not just talking about hot dogs and deli meat. Think bread, cereal, crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, cooking oil, salad dressing, tofu, anything with corn syrup, things containing aspartame, the list goes on.

So how can you know for sure? You can’t. Not really. As consumers, we need to push for legislation mandating the labeling of GM foods. Yesterday, I emailed my congressional representatives to voice my concern. Today I received a reply from Senator Barbara Mikulski. In short, she said that the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act was not considered by the Senate before the 110th Congress adjourned, but that hearing from the public was “helpful” should the legislation be reintroduced when the 111th Congress convenes. I encourage you to contact your own representatives.

Also, please do your own research on this topic. There is much to know, far more than I can relate here. GM foods have caused serious allergic reactions in people who show no reaction to non-modified forms of the same food. And while four crops represent most of the GM crops on the market, they are not the only ones approved in the US. Some of the others might surprise you! Educate yourself about the advertised benefits of GM foods versus the real score. Learn how GM foods put us at risk of "superbugs" which don't respond to antibiotics. And, of course, plant a garden and grow your own food! (Then post about it on your blog so the rest of us can enjoy your journey too!)

A couple of links to get you started are here and here. But there are many more sources available...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Lemon-scented Geranium Bloomed!

This lemon-scented geranium (which smells amazing!) just bloomed. I am especially excited about this because this was one of the cuttings I brought home from the MG class on propagation. So, not only did the little bugger put down roots, it put up blooms too. Great! Also, I didn't know what to expect of the flower. The leaves are much smaller than the sort of geranium you usually find at the nursery. At any rate, you can see the light lavender petals with bolder purple "eyebrows" splashed on. It's really a charming flower. This is a good plant to put up closer to where people sit so they can catch the lemony fragrance, and not miss these delightful flowers. I apologize for the fuzzy photo. I am about at wit's end with my camera. I've adjusted settings, cleaned lenses, had other photographers use it. The thing refuses to take detail shots. I think there must be an internal problem. I miss my old film camera! But I don't miss waiting to see the results.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

No GM Foods!

I picked up this link from Punk Gardener . This is scary, scary stuff. Follow this link, read this article, then plant some heirloom veggies in your garden.
Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Miracle Cliff-dweller Beans

Yes, it's true. There's been a miracle at Casa Uh-Oh. I've been dragging my feet on filling in the dog craters in the bean bed. There's just been too much to do, and, honestly, I've been praying for a miracle. I'm tired of replanting beds the dogs dug up. Lo! The garden gods have had mercy! Check out my miracle cliff-dwelling beans. I don't know how they managed to avoid the nimble paws of Luna. I'm guessing they pulled up their roots and ran for it. However they did it, I'm really glad to see them. And now that the garden fence has a gate, hopefully they will live full and fruitful lives.

Blew Up The Lawn Tractor

Yep, just as it sounds. I've killed the lawn tractor. Mid-mow. It wasn't dramatic or anything. It gave a quick whine, a cough of smoke, and quit. I should be upset about this, but I'm just too tired. Plus, for a change, there's good news from Casa Uh-Oh. See next post...

Battle Melons

After losing three entire 72-cell flats of seedlings this spring to the resident kitties (apparently seedlings make a luxurious bed upon which to nap), I had all but given up on starting any more seeds this year. I went out and bought tomato and pepper transplants. I bought a couple of cantaloupe plants. And then I realized that I had forgotten to start the Boule D'Or melon seeds I'd ordered from Baker Creek . I've really been looking forward to growing these melons. If you follow the link and scroll down the Baker Creek homepage, you'll see the photo of them that lured me in the catalog. Is that a gorgeous melon or what?

Surely, a melon such as that is worth hauling my disspirited seed starting self out of self-pity and into the seed room. Unfortunately, I don't have a seed room. So I shoved some stuff off the kitchen table (note to self: pick up stuff on floor), and planted exactly four seeds in two pots. But how to protect them from the kitties? Set them in a tank and give them helmets, of course. Four seedlings popped up within a couple days, and are going strong. Yesterday they were booted outside to harden off. Only the strong survive around here.