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.

Who Am I?

This Euphorbia (thanks Albert!) was popular in my Bloom Day post. Sadly, I have yet to figure out exactly which one it is. I have a lot of trouble getting detail shots with my camera, but I am posting a couple more shots in hopes someone might recognize it. Please ignore the maple seedlings that should have been pulled, oh, last year. If you peek through the pachysandra, you might be able to see the red lower stem of this Euphorbia. The upper stem is a light green, but the lower stem is a fairly dark red. Guesses anyone?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Help! Mayday!

Okay, so... (breathe in, breathe out)... while I was making the garden fence door, I blocked the doorway with a couple adirondack chairs. I don't know why I thought that would keep the dogs out. I mean, after the initial raid I had saved what I could and reseeded around it. Luna dug up the rest of the bed. I reseeded the whole bed and blocked the door with the chairs. And then, I look out the window and see Luna belly-crawling out of the garden area, under the chairs. Yep, she'd dug up the bed again. This time, as I filled in the crater (which extended a couple inches into the ground past the eight inches of cinder block), I realized that a kind of grass I haven't seen before is spreading through that bed beneath the soil. It's ugly, stiff, and aggressive. I searched the yard and have not found any more of it, so I think it came in with some soil (damn it to hell! she says, channelling Stewie Griffin). I know I've read about this stuff, but I don't recall the name of it. Can anybody I.D. this stuff? Please?

Monday, May 18, 2009

I Won! No Really, I Won!

I recently discovered another great blog, Idaho Small Goat Garden. The day I tumbled in, Heather was announcing a giveaway. Some lucky winner was going to take home the latest Blue Ball Guide to Preserving, some garden labels, and a Mini-Seedmaster. Now, if you've been reading here for a little while, you would most likely, and quite rightly, expect these lovely prizes to be won by anyone other than yours truly. Ho ho! Not so! That's right, I won! Yes, seriously. So...many, many thanks to Heather. I can't wait to break them in. (Hmm, maybe I shouldn't say 'break'...) And to the rest of you, go see what Heather and clan are up to!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mystery Iris Blooms!

I have been waiting, none too patiently, for this iris to bloom. It is one of several irises I received last year with the warning that the giver had no idea what colors were there; they'd been mixed. So, this is the first to bloom, and the other iris with buds appears to be the same color. The rest are lagging behind. Perhaps they are different? I think I will mark the yellow blooms just in case I've got a strange mixture. Then I can sort them if I want to/can find the time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day- May 2009

The Sweet Alyssum has been enjoying the rainy weather. On sunny days, the front yard smells divine.
I don't know the variety of this azalea; it came with the house. But, boy, look at it go!
The hellebores are still blooming, although I think their flowers are more green tinged now. If I remember correctly they started out with more purple in them. Does anybody know if they change like this?
I believe this is some sort of dicentra. It's looking a little worn after all our rain.
This last one really intrigues me, but I don't know the name of it. If you do, please let me know!

A couple of tulips I forgot to plant in the fall. I tossed them in a pot in early-ish spring, although they appear to have been attacked by something. Still, they add a little color and a little mystery- two of my favorite things.
The hardy geranium are starting to throw out a few blooms. They put on a great show last year. Hopefully this year will be a repeat.
And finally, while these irises are not quite in bloom, they have finally hinted at what's to come. These were given to me last year by a lady who didn't tell me what color(s) to expect. Finally, a hint!
Happy Bloom Day!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How To Build A Sketchy Fence

My gardening priorities this spring have been quite clear: make up for time lost to rain and get the stuff in the ground already! So it's really no surprise to me that I failed to protect the garden from Teak and Luna's recent blitz attack. This gardener, however, has a pretty steep learning curve. The last couple days have involved gathering the bits required to fence the garden, and actually throwing up the fence.

Now, when I say "throwing up the fence," what I'm really talking about is pounding the snot out of a wagon load of cheap wooden posts with the back of a hatchet, cursing surface roots, losing several layers of finger skin while unrolling chicken wire, plucking splinters left by previously mentioned cheap posts, and attaching accursed chicken wire to cheap wooden posts with nylon wire ties. Just to be clear...

Honestly, building the fence took no more than two hours. This fence won't win any design or execution awards. But with any luck at all (and if you've been reading here for a while, you'll know that's a big "if") it will protect the veggies. I haven't installed the door yet. I'll do that tomorrow, after I fix the new fence. Say what?!

I figured, in my optimistic little gardener brain of mine, that Teak and Luna would come out the back door and say "Whoa! Look at that big new fence!" But no. They went out the back door, heard the neighbor dog, and shot off down their usual route... which naturally ran right through the previously unfenced garden. However, as we have seen, the garden was now fenced. Have you ever seen two biggish dogs slam full-speed into a wire fence and pile on top of each other. I am sure it's a sight that would be hysterical if you had not just finished building the fence. Because two speeding dogs provide enough momentum to knock a fence post jaunty. Remember that, in case anyone ever asks you how much momentum two speeding dogs create. Enough to knock a fence post jaunty.

Who will be left standing- fence and gardener or canine tag-team? Stay tuned...

The Weird Radish Tasting

I was going to title this post The Great Radish Debate. But since it was really more of a question (from chaiselongue) than a debate, and not so much great as weird, I just felt that wouldn't be quite honest. Chaiselongue asked if the off-colored radishes (purple and white) that came out of the Cherry Belle bed tasted differently from the reds I was expecting. This question hadn't occurred to me before I ate the first batch, but when the bad, bad dogs dug up the rest of the bed I was presented with another purple. So! Tonight was an impromptu radish tasting. Lo and behold- there was a difference. First, the radishes looked different when cut open. The red was fairly uniformly colored inside, whitish, but with a slight yellowish tinge. It had the usual supermarket radish flavor, only fresher. There was a slight kick up front, followed by slightly more of a kick to finish. The purple radish, however, was much whiter inside, but with areas that were almost translucent mixed in. The initial taste was slightly watery, followed by a big bang at the end. i never would have guessed this! So thanks, Chaiselongue, for prodding my inquisitive side. What else can we test?!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Bad Dogs In The Garden

So, I have this lovely picture of the radishes and arugula/spinach mix that came out of the garden the other day. This picture shows what was salvageable after two very bad dogs went on a rampage in the garden. They tore up all the spinach, all the Cherry Belle radishes, most of the Watermelon radishes, and most of the arugula. They ate the tops off a few of the garlic plants, stomped a few of the onions, and dug up all but one terrified bean plant. BAD DOGS!

I discovered the carnage when I carted the 75 strawberry plants I've had in the refrigerator out to the new bed for planting. My heart may have stopped momentarily before kicking into panicked overtime. I will admit that I considered dogicide; but I refrained.

Next garden goal... install fence around entire garden area. And for those of you wondering what possessed my darlings Teak and Luna to go mad in my veggies... after the fact, it occurred to me I had applied a liquid fish solution fertilizer the previous evening. What was I thinking? Probably something like "ummm, veggies...". Such is life, no? We carry on.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Recently, Meg at Livin' The Life was talking about sewing. Now, I don't do a lot of sewing, but I enjoy it when I do tackle a project. This has not always been the case. It took me a long time to figure out that if I was ever going to enjoy sewing, an art and craft I wanted to be able to pursue, I needed to start very simply. Continuing to hurl myself at patterns that, as best I could tell were written in Klingon, might get me trip to the ER but wouldn't buy me any satisfaction. I needed to start with something very simple, something where I could actually envision all the pieces and how they go together before I started. I made a cube. Seriously. I made it as a toy for my nephew who was an infant at the time. It wasn't fancy, but it stayed together and looked like a cube. Success! I doubt I will ever tackle any sewing project of great complexity, in part because I sew strictly by hand. The machines... they confuse me. But this is okay. I am at one with my method. We work well together.

These days, my sewing projects run strictly toward the utilitarian. I get a real kick out of making useful items with fabrics I really love. It makes the daily routines easier to swallow to use items lovingly made by hand. So, with Meg as my inspiration and necessity as the impetus, I set out to build myself a shopping bag. And here is the result...

Tomorrow, if my heart rate is back to normal, I'll tell you the story of The Bad Dogs In The Garden.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

First Harvest

It's not much, but it's a start. Today I thinned some of the radishes. What a surprise! These were supposed to all be Cherry Belles- standard red outside, white inside. The lighting doesn't really show just how much the colors vary. I love the purple one on the right. I was going to bring in some arugula as well, but was sidetracked when I reached my arm into an ant nest. Ants swarming up your arm... not fun. Now I itch like crazy- darn tiny ants. I'll retrieve the arugula later.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Garden Tour

I spent most of today on a garden tour with my mother. The tour is a fundraiser event for cancer research. Seven gardens were featured, although we only made it to four before giving up in exhaustion. Fortunately, we saw what are probably the two nicest gardens on the tour. One of them I had toured a couple weeks ago with the Master Gardener interns. That garden is the one where I took these photos. The garden covers 41/2 ares of woodlands with a creek. A lot has changed since I toured it with the MGs! Many more azaleas are in blooms now, although I only include a few pics of those. Much of my photograph falls along the lines of "I want to remember that" rather than "oh, that's a lovely view". Still, I thought I'd share.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What A Day

Today, the kids and I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I've wanted to get out there the last few years, but this was the first time we actually made it. Patrick was not so into it. But Libby and I were in fiber artist heaven. She knits, an art I have yet to master. I have done some weaving, although I haven't spent the (considerable) money on my own loom (yet). Today I bought some colored wool for myself because I want to try felting. We picked up Libby a couple skeins of yarn. I forgot to get pictures of our purchases. Maybe tomorrow. But here are a couple of some of the cuties we met today. They are Jacob sheep. The Jacobs are a rare breed in America, currently registered as Threatened by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. I think in the past they were listed as Critical (but don't quote me on that), but small breeders have been steadily improving their numbers. Jacob sheep often have more than two horns. Patrick was a little creeped out by the four-horned ones we saw; but naturally Libby thought they were totally cool. I could not have two more different children.
Naturally, after walking around the fairgrounds for a while, we were thirsty and had to stop to get.... dranks... (how did this land of promise sink so low?)

When we got home, the yard had dried enough for me to finish mowing the backyard. And then it was still light enough outside to snap a few pics of the garden. The radishes have intrigued me. The heirloom variety's top growth is keeping pace nicely with the Cherry Belle; but the Cherries are bulbing up partly out of the ground and the Watermelon (heirloom) have remained entirely underground. Interesting. The spinach and rocket are coming along nicely. Garlic looks great. I must not have steamed all the potatoes, because some are starting to poke above ground. I popped a few bean seeds in the ground a few days ago, but they have yet to make an appearance. The few onions I got in the ground so far have moved from "hanging on" to "doing okay." Oh, and I finally remembered to to get pics of the oca. There is still so much to get in the ground, and so few plantable days.