Pinky and the Pine

Pinky Winky from the Deck
Pinky Winky this summer  from the deck

Once upon a time there was a hydrangea called Pinky Winky.

Every summer she grew in stature and grace. The woman who planted her near the deck admired how the flowers started white and then went through many subtle variations of pink as they opened and matured to a deep rose.  She even left the brown flowers stay until spring – for winter interest she said – when Pinky dropped her other leaves and went to sleep.

The nearby pine tree watched all of this, the woman constantly at the door, on the deck, her loving attention.  “That woman is far too fond of flowers.” He thought.  “All she ever did for me is pull the poison ivy and creeping Charlie that want to smother me.  But then, without asking me, she planted some other vine to grow up my trunk, one whose leaves look a lot like Pinky’s.  It’s true she also made a flowerbed around me.  And I do get extra water when she thinks they are dry.  But none of that’s for me.  I’m just a backdrop, staging.  Neglected.

I tried for flowers to make her happy but all I can do is these heavy brown things that the squirrels like.  I see her throw them into the woods when she mows the lawn.  That’s how much she cares for me.  She cares far too much for these little, bright, short-lived things.  I will have to remind her of the beauty of power.”

It wasn’t something that he could do on his own, he had to harness the power of a snow storm, too.  A wimpy one, there was no wind, but the heavy snow and sleet gave him what he needed.  When he felt one of his lower branches breaking under the weight, he took direct aim at Pinky.  As a bonus, he tried for the small rose in front, but the woman had protected it with a metal cage.  Now a twisted metal cage.

“That’ll teach them.  Pinky may have beauty but I have the power to destroy.  A ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!”  He roared.

The woman thought it was the wind.

Over the same deck railing
Over the same deck railing
The light branches are the hydrangea, in the pine bough
The light branches are the hydrangea, in the pine bough
Most of the pine bough cut away, except for the part directly in the center
Most of the pine bough cut away, except for the part directly in the center
What was left
What was left
Broken and heavily damaged branches removed
Broken and heavily damaged branches removed

 

Fred the Assassin

Fred the Assassin
Fred the Assassin

I’m small.  It’s not my fault.  I was designed this way.  Petite and tender green like the emerging shoots of plants in spring, touched by delicate pink.  Pretty but deadly, I’m the deceiver, the destroyer.  I eradicate. 

My brothers and I were cloned.  Mercenaries, our lives were sold to aid in the war against bugs.

I do not march.  My skills are of a different kind.  Slender stems, springing from an innocuous stalk carry lightly capped amphorae.  Rounded, voluptuous, each curve gently highlighted in the sweetest blush contains a precious liquid deep inside that attracts the hungry enemy to my door.

“What is that perfume, that luscious smell?”  They move closer.

“Come on in,” I encourage.  “You’ll find out.”

The charming cup is lined with soft and gentle fuzz, a zillion hairs to smooth your path.  “Go deeper, my friend.  Please be my guest.”

It’s one way into the chalice. 

Temptation is how I kill.  I will suck your juices.  I will dissolve your bones.  I will feed.

It’s lonely here.  Except for some silly, oozing pygmies, I stand a solitary watch. My insidious skills protect flats of lettuce that share my colors but not my deadly purpose.  More red, more green, more leaf thrown out with careless abandon, they foolishly succor the enemy.  They offer space between their roots to his offspring who feed on their dying leaves.  Who grow fat and breed.

The fools.

The enemy is everywhere, in the ground and in the air.  They taunt me with their flights, their freedom, as they visit destinations I can only imagine.

More fool I. 

Those I protect become salad.  For pity sake, I guard salad!

I was not cloned to question but to serve.  The calculated result of an insidious breeding program by monsters seeking to combine subtle beauty with deadly appetites in ever smaller packages. 

I am Fred the Assassin.

Serious article about Fred and his pygmy friends at http://gaias-gift.com/blog/?p=1991

A Little Color Problem

woodland edge bed
woodland edge bed

The new daylilies “Daring Deception” go much better with the Heuchera “Caramel” than I envisioned but the hydrangeas “Let’s Dance, Moonlight” clash a bit.  I thought I needed to add something; something neutral like a white would be the safe choice, but then I thought about small-flowered, warm-pink rose that needs to be moved and wondered what would happen if I just added more pink.

As I was mulling over the alternatives, a rescue plant, a geranium gift from Applefield Farms that they said needed some extra TLC started blossoming the way that it should and I realized it was the same color, if slightly less intense than the rose.

color check
color check

Hey, I can try this out with an annual, I thought.

I think I like it; and the next check will be after the daylilies are over; will that color just look out of place?

What do you think?

woodland edge bed again

 

Spring is Separation

 

Mother Rhodie
Mother Rhodie
Junior
Junior

This is the small beginning of my rhododendron walk!  I’ve been wanting to fill in between the trees on the woods side with these great flowering and winter-green plants for so long and this is my (mostly symbolic) beginning.  There is still so much work to do.

And the first step is a perilous test of my propagation skills with this poor, helpless plant.

The parent plant, above, is a huge rhododendron that has been growing near my deck forever.  Last year, I finally had some other brush removed that was growing between it and the deck, including some arborvitae that had turned into trees.  I’m hoping that it will fill back in a bit toward the deck and stop its forward movement away from it.  There is only a narrow path between it and the rose ghetto.  During the cleanup, I noticed a couple of shoots under the front of the plant and carefully started to shovel prune their roots last summer, using a sharp shovel to cut around the plant but not under it.  This week, I dug under the shoots and moved them.  About to where the purple trug is in the big picture. I’m convinced that they do better with some sun in my shady yard.  And now I wait to see if the baby takes to its brighter and lonely new home.

heuchera parent plant
heuchera parent plant

It is a time of dividing and separating.  A celebration of last year’s successes, fraught with risk as I’m not very experienced with this.  Hosta; no problem; hard to kill.  But a heuchera separation humbled me a bit.  The parent plant had such distinct separations above ground that I thought dividing it would be easy.  But no.  They all seemed part of one root.  And what to do about last year’s leaves?  I just tried to leave some root for each division; not easy; and as last year’s leaves wilt, I’m cutting them off.  I think that four of the five divisions will make it.  I don’t know the name but this variety gets deep blue-green color on the top of the leaves when it’s mature but the undersides are a pretty purple.

Spring is a Promise

The first spear of asparagus
The first spear of asparagus

So the snow has been melted for a few weeks now.  Friday was warm to the point where I worked up a sweat in a very short time.  Part of the day was a gift from a cursed source; my Waltham office was closed because of the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombing fugitive and I got commute time and a little more to work in the garden.  Hands in the dirt; my way of dealing with many of life’s dark places.  Renewal is the blessed work of the gardener.

Windows open! Which gave sick kitty Cay Cay Canolli a new interest in life, which made us all happy.  Then rain and a cold front and today I cleaned and burned in bright, cold sunshine.

Rhubarb
Rhubarb in April

Sandy and Work in Progress

We were very fortunate that Sandy only gave us a glancing blow, however, I have my own little garden saga of destruction and hopefully next summer, renewal.

I thought that I and my all of neighbors had come through pretty much unscathed but when I backed my car out of the garage for work on Tuesday morning, I noticed a lot more light from the north where the property line and my driveway converge.  A large ash tree had fallen and, fortunately for my house, chose to fall away from it.  Unfortunately for my neighbors it hit the power line that runs from the street to their house and the pole on their lawn snapped off at the base.  The gallery pictures start with pictures of that.

As I was looking for other signs of damage I noticed that the tree next to the fallen one had been snapped at the base, probably taken a glancing blow, and was leaning into yet a third, a huge three part maple.  Despite my struggles to prevent it, these trees had been damaged some years ago and while they leaf out every year, I’d been getting more and more pesimistic about their survival.  And the two trees together, one mostly detached from its roots had taken a serious lean toward the house.  So worried calls to my insurance company over, I started calling tree services.

Tree service to the rescue.  Although they tried to be considerate, I’m not sure which was more terrifying, the bite of Sandy’s lessser winds that hit us, or a yard full of men with chain saws.  With sadness, I had them take one more three part ash that was in a similar shape.  Still alive but losing the battle.  Somebody got a lot of really nice hardwood out of this.

Trees down, I had to wait a few days for the logs to disappear.  The car in the picture helps with scale.  The last shot shows how much more cleanup work there is to do.  Among other things, the wood pile and my three compost bins, instead of tucked under trees, are strangely out in the middle of an open area. I need to do more cleaning in another part of the yard to make a place for them.  I confess, I’ve worked a lot more with the sunny parts of my yard; building and maintaining the roses, food garden and dahlia beds.  This is the north side of my yard, on the north side of a wet slope and some of the landscaping challenges here are formidable.

But with suggestions from gardens friends, I’m already imagining new plantings, maybe even beauty and order, in what has been primarily a wild and difficult area.  Opportunity for renewal is also what storms offer.  I need a specimen tree that will also act as a windbreak and privacy screen, to anchor new plantings there.  My Norwegian friend Arnhild suggested a Thujopsis dolobrata.  From pictures it looks like a beautifully shaped evergreen with a white underside to its fleshy leaves .  And after reading that they like moist conditions, I’m hot on the trail to buy one.  That spot is low and gets runoff from the driveway so is often wet.  It will go roughly on the right side of the last shot, although if I buy the one quart size which is all that I’ve found so far, it will take awhile to show up in pictures!

[oqeygallery id=34]

Dahlia “Pooh”

Dahlia Pooh, opening
Dahlia Pooh, opening

The colors of this collarette dahlia remind me of when I was a child and dad bought home color chips to pick out colors for his potentially two-toned Cadilac.  We were actually dirt poor at the time as we lived on a farm so dirt was most of what we owned.  Dad’s day job was for Cadilac Motors in Detroit. At that time the employee discounts were so good that he could buy one from the new models and sell it a year later at a profit.

Yellow and red, about these shades of yellow and red, were my favorites and I couldn’t see why the rest of my family couldn’t see it.  At my insistence, I do think someone tried to explain the meaning of “resale value” to me but I was pretty young and these two colors were the very best!

I may never have seen a car in these colors, and with my well-trained adult tastes I would probably think it ugly, but I do have dahlia “Pooh” to remind me what it is to be a child.

dahlia Pooh

I MissToads

 

no spray signs
no spray signs

(Dear State of Massachusetts, If I had to post these cheesy paper plate signs in order to avoid getting sprayed, you really didn’t think that I’d stop at just “no spray”, did you?)

I miss toads.  When I moved here, and for years afterwards, they were so plentiful that when I mowed the lawn, I had to mow slowly and carefully, looking for the small brown flick of a toad moving out of the way at the last minute.  I was always worried about the ones that I didn’t see and worried that I might have reduced the population just by mowing.

By midsummer, they would have matured and staked out their territory in one flower bed or the other.  As I worked, I’d learn which beds were their homes for the season.  I’d keep a sheltered place and a source of water handy to encourage them.

But something has happened and it happened in the same timeframe that the town joined the mosquito spraying program that Massachusetts sponsors.  As soon as I heard about it, I put myself on the no-spray list because people who have asthma are at some risk when they are spraying.  But I also did some web searches on the pesticides that they use and found they will kill bees, birds and amphibians, among others.  The logic seems to be that the risk to human lives from mosquito born diseases is worth the cost.  And they try to minimize the benefit/cost ratio by spraying right at sundown, when mosquitos are most active and maybe those victim species are not.

While maybe sound in theory, the practice is not so simple to apply.  First, the trucks run for several hours a night and sundown is a very short window.  Bees maybe inactive but I’ve got shots of them spending the night in flowers; any in flowers or shrubs by the road are goners?  And then there are the cardinal nests in the multiflora rose that grows up along the street.

And what are the risks to humans, really?  Ted Williams, writing for Audubon magazine, compares West Nile Virus to the flu, both can kill, but he goes on to talk about evaluating the program in Grafton, MA, and finding that the incidence of the problem was nill, zip, nothing.  No one had evidenced the disease in the spraying area.  His excellent article can be read here.

In Information Security we measure risk as impact times probability.  The impact that someone could die from a mosquito bite if the mosquito were carrying one of the target diseases may be a fair assertion but if the probability is zero, or even very low, it’s still low risk.

In our community, a further issue is our wetlands.  The rules say don’t spray in lakes but wetlands are evidently fair game.  At least I’ve seen them spraying along the road in mine. However, the spraying programs only reach a strip along roadways, or people’s yards, if they are invited to spray there.  If a person is concerned about the risk of a mosquito bite, this near to the wetlands, they should take other precautions, anyway.    Spraying program or no, if you don’t dress right or spray your body, you’re gonna get a mosquito bite if you hang about in my yard, early morning, late at night or some times of year, just in the shade.  So it doesn’t even substantially reduce the risk for some of us.

And one can argue how much, but it absolutely does reduce the predators of mosquitos, most of whom cannot repopulate as quickly as the mosquito.  If we MUST do this, there should be before and after counts taken of non-target species that we know are sensitive to the pesticides when these programs are implemented so that we have real data about what we are doing to the natural controls in our environment.

toad in the hole 2005
toad in the hole 2005

There is strong anecdotal evidence, including my observations, that it upsets the balance that I rely upon to keep my use of chemical controls at a minimum.  Mosquitos are not my only pests and I rely on the same predators to keep down ticks, aphids, flea beetles, japanese beetles, slugs and many other pests that would destroy my ornamentals and food garden.  I have never had to treat for slugs before this year; while they are always about, they’ve never had the numbers to completely destroy crops before.  As I was trying to figure what changed, I realized that it was probably the little brown friends of mine that kept the populations down.  I haven’t seen a single toad this year.

I miss toads.

Strawberries Must Die

strawberry blossom
strawberry blossom

I’ve been ignoring the wild strawberries that grow here and there in some of the wilder spots in my yard for years, but they are taking over.  They love to leap across my mulch with their runners and establish whole new colonies in the flower beds.  They attract birds; good news, who poop out the seeds and spread them even further, bad news.  I probably will never be able to completely kill them off.  This is about the benefits of losing the battle.  It’s all about things that are out of their place.  Most of us call them weeds.  Some of us look the other way and hope the neighbors understand.

The next three pictures are from my lawn.  Bugleweed is actually a bigger problem, if these things are a problem to you, but it’s not open yet.  You can see a tight bud mixed in the shot of the blue violets.

violets in the lawn
violets in the lawn

 

white violets in the lawn
white violets in the lawn

Chrysogonum, the garden friend who gave it to me admitted it was a little invasive.

Chrysogonum
Chrysogonum

Then I moved on to the neighbors.

I thought these were violets with an upright habit until I got close.  Phlox?  That’s my best guess because they were growing in the lawn near the pink phlox below

 

unknown
unknown
unknown and violets in the grass
unknown and violets in the grass
pink phlox
pink phlox
weeds
weeds
out of place iris
out of place iris

 

 

This is not a weed but definately out of place.  Friends suggest I can blame the gardener.

Good plan.

 

Canolli wishes she could work with me in the garden but I signed a contract that she and sister would be indoor cats.  And we have coyotes.

 

 

she believes she's in the wrong place
she believes she’s in the wrong place

 

Paris Agricultural Salon and a Political Encounter

[wpvideo uZF6aBqp]The thing is, I don’t like crowds. And the Paris Agricultural Salon ‘s web site says that I was one of 681,213 visitors; it felt like most of them were there on the same day I visited. One of the many reasons for the timing of my late winter French trip was the Salon. Imagine the biggest state fair that you can and then make it bigger. No, bigger; and more crowded, too. I’d been there some years ago and enjoyed the wide variety of exhibitors and exhibition subjects from animals to growing stuff to regional food product.

I arrived in the morning and tried to head to the back of the show area, thinking maybe fewer crowds, but got distracted by cows. I’m tall, and cows are big enough to see over the heads of others. The French maintain many regional varieties with distinctive coloring for each; brown spots, black spots; the Normandy cows have a distinctive black ring around the eye.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such variety. I even sat in the judging area while judges slowly reviewed cows for features beyond my comprehension and watched a few (cows, not judges) make victory laps around the ring.

I finally tore myself away and decided to get back to my plan. Heading to the back exhibition halls would also put me near to the food area and it was getting to be lunch time. No rush; which was a good thing as the crowds were getting so thick that you could only move at the speed of the people around you.

The back of the hall was also the location for the small booths where vendors were direct-selling food products. It was an incredible assortment of cheeses, cured meats, wines and herbal remedies. But I had to keep moving; I wasn’t staying in Paris and didn’t want to try to carry the stuff around. Most of it wouldn’t have been allowed back into the US, even if I’d tried. I did think that the number of wholesalers that I remembered (who offered free or cheap tastes of their products) had been replaced by retailers who wanted to sell you something. Meeting the eye of someone behind the counter risked a high pressure sales encounter.

Lunch was yummy if simple; salmon in a white sauce, roasted potatoes and salad at a Scandinavian restaurant; simple trestle seating, delineated by timber and bright banners from the rest of the similar restaurants. After lunch, I intended to wander gradually back through the displays and to the front halls, this time through the dogs and cats.

The most remarkable, if somewhat scary events happened as I was wandering back through a section that narrowed between two of the exhibition halls. Between me and my destination were cameras and bright lights everywhere and a crush of people. Since I couldn’t tell exactly where the crowd was going or why, I decided to find a spot and hold my ground until I could see an escape. It became obvious that there was a person at the center of that mass who was the focus. At some point, I asked a person near me who it was and I heard “Mitterrand”. Being a badly raised Tasuni, with a poor knowledge of French history, I didn’t realize that this notable was deceased and thought he was the reason for the crowds. Holding my ground became harder as the notable at the focus of attention moved toward me. The mass shifted in my direction then flowed around me as he moved toward the man next to me and shook his hand. (It feels like moving water under your feet, btw, and you have to keep them under you in a similar way.) My irrational thoughts at close encounter, (flight/fight must have been kicking in) were first that I was much bigger than this notable and could easily take him in a fight and then that his bodyguard, placed firmly (and somewhat intimately) between me and the notable was a small man, too. Hand shaken, the moving mass pulled away from me as I congratulated myself on my crowd surfing survival skills.

There is a certain excitement in these things and even disliking crowds, I’m not immune. I found what I thought was a safer place, near a wall, and took commemorative photos of the crowd, the high hanging microphones and bright lights. Speeches were made and shouts sounded in acclamation. Once again the mass started to move. It started to move through the area by my wall, and then shifted direction again, toward me! No place to go; I once again held my ground as the notable moved toward me. This time, the women next to me got firmly kissed on both cheeks. I probably could have shaken his hand that time but for the camera in hand, doggedly videotaping.

When I could, I decided to leave by a side door rather than try to make it through the crush in the hall. There I found his cavalcade of cars, more security and police. And cameras; real French paparazzi! Someone asked me who and explained that it couldn’t be Mitterrand, maybe Mélenchon, who was slightly left of Sarkozy and doing well that week in the poles? It made much more sense that a candidate would put himself through that craziness. I cattily wondered about the big American (probably armored) SUV parked with the outside security guards and whether a French politician could actually afford to be seen getting into one.

Circling back to follow the plan, the dogs couldn’t be seen behind the crowds. Children were out of luck unless placed on the shoulders of parents. And the crowds had raised the temperature in the pavilion, along with hundreds of other animals, to the point where everyone was uncomfortable. I let the crush move me to the door, found the Metro and called it a day.

Back at my hotel, watching the evening news, along with the headline that the show was setting records for attendance, I saw a familiar face being featured. My close encounters were with François Hollande, the Socialist Candidate for President. And he had worked closely with Mitterrande in his day so I may have heard the name and misunderstood the reference.

And isn’t that just like travel! You start off with a destination and a plan for what you want to see, plants and animals, and all of a sudden, the topic changes to culture and politics!  And your trip is richer for it, enhanced with small dangers and the chance to learn new things through intimate exposure. Suddenly, an ignorant Tasuni has a motivation to watch French elections more closely, to see how the petite, hardworking, courageous and affable Socialist candidate influences his country.  Whether he wins or not, his leadership of the Socialist party will drive policy for the near future.

I would hope that my candid musings are not offensive, because if I had the chance to talk to him I would tell him how much I respect and admire the people of a country where gardens and gardening are so valued. I come back time and time to France to visit because I know that I’ll find inspiration; beauty and history, expressed through plants. I know that people need jobs and justice, but I selfishly hope that those problems can be solved while preserving the cultural values that I love.

 

Seriously!

October snow
October snow

On hearing about my last week, a few people have said they couldn’t imagine being five days without power.  For me, this was just one day more than our power outage in the ice storm of 2008, but yeah, before that, I couldn’t have imagined it either.  A freind said I should share.  I was a bit reluctant and tried to figure out why.  During 2008 outage, I had just read Solviva, and in my head, developed so many ideas about how I could improve on this old, drafty house.  A passive hot water system on the sunny side of the house; augmented by a redesigned fireplace that heats water as it’s used; a more elaborate, covered, outdoor cooking area.  Dream on!  The truth is that after that storm, I spent thousands of dollars remodling a bathroom in the back of the house where a pipe may have burst in the cold, and life went on.  That was a once in a lifetime, right?

So my house is still drafty and energy inefficient, I never use the fireplace so I don’t dare try it in an emergency, even just to get some radiant heat.  I don’t have double paned windows or even curtains on some of them.  So I guess I should write about this like I write about my garden.  How the rest of us do it, those who dream big but never get around to implementing the plan; who manage anyway.

First, I was gifted in 2008 with some of my most important tools:  a propane burner and tank and two boxes of votive candles, one with votive holders.  (Sister had loaned me her burner in the 2008 storm and I’d used every old candle in my collection.)  The ability to make your own coffee or heat up some soup, or just a kettle of water to wash, is key to feeling as if you can cope.  The other two important tools were my i-Phone and a battery run indoor/outdoor thermometer.  Any PDA that lets you check weather and news and text or call family will do. 

The lights went out on Saturday night and on Monday morning, the towns nearby were still closed down tightly.  Rumor (text messages) had it that places: groceries, gas stations, had tried to open on battery/generator on Sunday; the fact that they’d given up told me we were in for a long outage.  And rumor had it that trees were blocking roads everywhere and had to be removed.  So priorities change; give up on getting into work and  focus on staying warm and protecting the house.  At first the differential between indoor and outdoor heat was enough that I just kept things closed up, and started burning those votives.  When I moved to the bedroom for the night, all of the burning candles came with me.  As the indoor temps became closer to outdoor temps, afternoons were spent heating water in all my biggest cooking pots to bring inside.  I’d fire up the grill and boil water, cooking dinner before the charcoal burned out. 

Food was no problem; I ate well.  I keep what I call “winter meats” on hand, things like a can of corned beef hash, which includes beans and other protiens but the first days were spent using stuff from the freezer and eggs.  It’s a small freezer, fortunately, as everything left in there has to go.  And I gave up on the eggs about Tuesday.  A yam, baked in foil on the grill, tucked in around the boiling water, was the sweetest I’ve had in ages and I wonder if the higher heat carmelized sugars in a way that the oven would not have done.  And I was not cold.  Whenever I wasn’t working, I was under a pile of blankets and three cats.  The cats came to appreciate me as a source of heat, as well as food and affection.  Living bodies generate a lot of heat on their own so preserving it and sharing it goes a long way.  The nightime temps got lower every night, but 46 degrees F was the lowest; not that bad.  Outside, we had a 26 deg F night that got me worrying about the darn pipes, so running water through that back bathroom periodically became a serious task.  Ironically, the plumber did such a good job on the faucets that I couldn’t get them to drip. 

But it was not a walk in the park.  Between the things I need to do to keep my job and the things I like to do, there never seems to be enough time.  So watching the week slip by when I couldn’t make progress on either front was frustrating.  And yet there was plenty of time four coulda, shouldas and wouldas.  Pergatory for a procrastinator like me.  I hadn’t even thought to get cash like my father taught me, although the gas tank was pretty full. 

But that’s probably not the way to think about it.  Here’s what I want to share with you: 

  • Make some simple preparations, canned food, a propane burner and a box or two of votive candles are cheap.
  • Use what you have; I hadn’t thought about charcoal and ligher fluid as survival tools but that’s what I had in 2008 and now I know.
  • Keep your gas tank full and cash on hand, especially when the weatherman says a storm is coming.
  • Recognize that priorities change and we have to embrace the moment:  hug a cat (or other warm body); read that book on the coffee table: drink that third cup of coffee just because it’s warm.
Why the power went out
Deck side of house
Deck side of house
Nieghbor's House, notice the tree on the stoop.
Nieghbor's House, notice the tree on the stoop.
Wasp's nest still there!
Wasp's nest still there!

Counter half full

Pineapple tomato with purple ruffles basil
Pineapple tomato with purple ruffles basil

Although the water spray that’s triggered by a motion detector seems to have stopped the deer damage in the garden, the chipmunks have eaten more of my tomatoes than I have.  I was feeling a bit deprived as I looked at the chewed tomatos hanging sadly here and there in my late summer garden.  But then I looked at my large kitchen island and saw it covered with enough food for a family of six, large and small tomatoes, two kinds of cucumbers, summer squash and baggies of beans and Piracicaba in the refridgerator.  (onions and garlic curing in the garage…)  Yes, most of the tomatoes on that counter were picked green, that pale light green that they get just before they turn color, but there are more than I need and they will still taste better than anything I can buy at the grocery store.  Even local farmers pick them early and let them “counter ripen” for sale.  So is that counter half empty or half full?

Just as I was pondering that, sister stopped by with a gift.  A beautiful, vine-ripened tomato of the variety called Pineapple, from the plants that I had given her this spring.  And that decided it.  The counter is definately half full.  Overflowing, even.

Counter half full
Counter half full

He’s fat enough already

I’d seen this mother/child drama before I went to work on Friday but baby was just passively hanging on the support for the suet feeder.  While I was at work he’s learned how to get his own suet but mama is still doing most of the work. This morning a family of nuthatches was getting the same lesson.   [wpvideo HHTfbZXj]

Philter’s free music

Beginner’s luck or persistence?

I’ve read on some reputable blogs that beans shouldn’t be started inside because they don’t like their roots to be disturbed.  With respect, I have been doing it for years.  I have problems with critters, and should also probably credit my cool soil with part of the problem.  Beans wouldn’t germinate, or maybe disappear from the soil before they had a chance.  And those that did come up would get chewed leaves or completely defoliated before they had a chance to get established.  So, not knowing that it wouldn’t work, I planted Emerite beans in my 2″ soil cubes several years ago.  I had such good success that this has become my regular habit.  They don’t need heat or lights.  I start them at the same time I would plant seed in the ground and keep them on my deck.  It only takes a couple of weeks; one for them to germinate and another for them to develop true leaves.

When I was planting them this year, I was wondering if knowing that it wasn’t supposed to work would jinx this process.  There were wads of roots at the bottom of the flat that I had to disturb to separate the plants.  They looked a little wilty right after I planted and I thought Oh, oh.   But when I came home from work they had already aclimated and look fine.  

Now I just need to protect them from the deer that have found my garden (reason for the propped empty trays) and get them started up the mesh that I use for a trellis, before they find the nearby tomato cages.  Yes, I often pick beans from tomato plants at the end of the season.

So I think the life lesson in this is that it’s all about what works for you.  When you find a plant or technique that gives you success, trust it.  No two gardens are the same and even in the same family, say beans, plants differ in what they like or will tolerate.  I would have given up on beans with my early results.  Especially when all you have to lose is an inexpensive package of seed, keep trying; dare to break the rules.

Always something to look at

Behind the driveway

I am not a tidy gardener and always experimenting so I almost never have a perfect picture.  But there is always something to look at.  I love the color combination of the chartruese hosta and the dicentra.  The blue hosta helps.  From left to right along the bottom, the hosta are:  Elegans (very large leaf) Hadspens Blue, and the chartruese is one I call Danny Boy.  A neighbor grew it from seed, so technically, it’s a no-name.  It will grow darker through the season and the hosta that’s just above it, a gift from a friend near Toledo,  Paul’s Glory, gets lighter and lighter. It also gets much bigger and fills in where the dicentra dies back.

Updated August 21, 2011.  Notice how Paul’s Glory, upper right in both pictures, has switched colors with “Danny Boy”  on the bottom.   Haspen’s Blue just gets darker blue.

Three hosta
Three hosta

Endicott Pear Tree Visit

[wpvideo Q3v2KWcv]It was incredible to me that a hundred or more people would all show up on a cold, rainy week night in  April to visit an old tree. 

It wasn’t the location that bought them.  Although the hill, that slops gently to the salt flats and two rivers to the south and east, was probably beautiful in its day.  Now it’s dotted with complicated traffic patterns, box stores, chain hotels and light industry; part of the 128 commercial sprawl around Boston.  The marshlands looked like blighted space with a drainage ditch to my Midwestern it’s-gotta-have-a-tree-to –be-pretty eyes.   

And it wasn’t the food or speakers, which both turned out to be exceptional; because the program sponsors hadn’t sent us that much information in advance.

What were we doing here?  Sister and I wondered as we made our way through 128 rush hour in a driving, cold rain, after our day jobs, and as we met a healthy crowd in the Atrium of Massachusetts General/Northshore Center for Outpatient Care, and as we sat through the speaker list of welcomers from the Sponsoring Institutions.  I listened carefully as Dr. Anthony Patton told us about the history of the Endicotts and took notes as Dr. Karen Krag, a local Oncologist and amateur historian took us through her carefully researched thoughts about what the Endicott’s home and orchard would have looked like and grown.  Note to self:  check out samp; review how Indian Corn could be planted in April; only 30 plows in all of MA in 1636?  Wow.

And then, as I listened to Dr Patton talk about the meanings that people have assigned to the tree through its history, and I thought about Dr. Krag’s joyous attention to the details of her research, it started to become clear to me why I was here.  

It wasn’t really about the tree, although it’s a very nice old tree; but about what the tree symbolizes for us.  It’s about longevity, the miracle that extends its life hundreds of years beyond expectancy; its ability to survive the harsh winters of New England and the meanness and neglect of man.  It’s connection to a family; after all I was there with sister who grew up with the same fruit trees as me; and four generations of Endicotts showed up to share our celebration.  The pear tree’s beauty owes a lot to its simplicity of purpose, extrapolated against the messy, transportation centric shopping district and waning marshlands.   Dr. Krag talked about the pear tree that was historically planted near the back door for luck as well as convenience, what it would have meant to a family; now it just exists to bear fruit; year after year after year.  Our brief attention was an example of how we sometimes look backward, to remember and preserve the best of ourselves. 

These are values that don’t get a lot of air time in our society, but they live on like the pear tree behind the parking lot.  In New England and in us.

For a more prosaic version of the evening, see the follwing link:  “Just the Facts, mam…”

LED Lights to feed the world

Update 10/13/11.  The Boston Globe link no longer works but here is an ABC link that works today.  Or use the search term as described below.  http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=13346712

I’m sharing a link to a Boston Globe version of an AP release about use of LED lights to feed the world. You can find it at other sources if you search on “LED lights and Gertjan Meeuws”.                                  

Since my “win the lottery” fantasy, and the wishful purpose of this web site, which is now sustained by my real job, is to encourage sustainable gardening, this is fascinating news.  I’ve also been evaluating whether using some of my basement space for winter gardening would be cost effective.  However, some of the statements in this article, like fooling around with the light spectrum to get crops earlier and the idea the sun and other natural contributors to the garden can be a bad thing is all a bit, um, shivery.  Orwellian, almost, and it’s not nice to fool mother nature.

However, since the existing market and research for grow lights has been s is so heavily influenced by cash crops, i.e., marijuana, I wonder if there isn’t a huge research opportunity for things like tomatos, herbs, lettuces; the kind of things that I would be interested in overwintering.  Mixed growing, small indoor garden-type of growing.  Keeping my citrus happier, and new ideas for yummy things to harvest in winter from under the lights.

First things, first; I’ll get through our outdoor season and then come back to this.  I expect that the costs for these light arrays will go down over time, too.  Are any of you considering a winter garden under the lights?  What do you want to grow?

San Francisco Bloomin Stuff

[oqeygallery id=4]I was in San Francisco last week at a big Information Security Conference.  What I learned is that between the movement of applications to “the cloud” and the proliferation of different kinds of personal, mobile devices, we are losing what little control we had over information security in the corporate environment.  But former President Bill Clinton closed the conference saying we must be optimistic.  What choice do we have?  It rained every day but I did get in a walk and snapped some pictures that bring out the optimism in me. 

The first shot was from my hotel room window.  Some shots of winter flowers near the convention center follow.  The last are from a walk to Fisherman’s warf.  Does anyone know what the blue succulents are in shots five and six?  They really work well mixed with the greens.

You can see my cable car trip home on YouTube.

Enjoy.

The wisdom of buying locally

Reading some interesting discussion about the local foods movement, pro and cons.  An article where economists discuss some of the issues with over-doing it, based on well recognized economic principles  http://www.econlib.org/library/Columns/y2011/LuskNorwoodlocavore.html

And another study that counters that to some extent.   I have not read the book yet but intend to download it.  http://www.communityfoodenterprise.org/news/test

 What strikes me right away is that the economists in the first model have not included self-sufficiency as an economic factor.  What happens to Esther’s food supply if Boston is hit by  a tsunami?   Therefore, what is the ongoing  economic value to Esther of her local (say West of 128 belt) sources that could still provide her with locally grown food when the regional transportation system was crippled.  What should she be willing to pay over the cost of comparable food, shipped from a distance.  Especially the farm that’s within walking distance.  Even more so, when we put a dollar value on the produce from our own gardens or greenhouses, how do we factor this in?

This is fascinating to me because I have to grapple on a daily basis with the fact that we often don’t factor risk into econimic and business decisions.  Information system security adds costs, I hear.  But not if the worst happens.  Then it saves money.  Security analysts work with risk assessments that try to factor in the probability and impact of that “worst” to include appropriate costs/spending for prevention or mitigation.  It can be a hard sell.

Thank you to the web site http://www.biofortified.org/ for presenting multiple viewpoints on this and other issues related to our food supply.