May 26 2011

Good Read: “Grow The Good Life”

rebetsky

I just did an amazon.com book search on the keyword “gardening” and it returned 46,951 results.

The way I see it, the vast majority of those 46,000+ gardening books fall into one of two categories: documentary and how-to. The documentaries showcase great gardens and garden styles, and many that I’ve browsed are a joy and inspiration. On the other side, there’s a how-to on just about everything: tomato books, flower books, small garden-big garden books, compost books, etc., etc. If it grows or shows, there’s a book about it.

I recently and happily added a new book, though — a “why-to” book — to my garden collection: Grow The Good Life, by Michele Owens, one of the founding mavens of the hugely popular blog, Garden Rant. (If you’ve never checked it out, you should, at www.gardenrant.com.) I’m a big fan of the Rant’s inclusive, eclectic topics and good-natured, irreverent, sometimes boisterous style. Much of what I like about the Rant carried through to Owens’ book, only more so, and better so.

Owens’ book is an entertaining and informative read for everyone from the “live to garden” die-hards (ahem!) to armchair types whose garden is a single potted plant on a windowsill. It’s a worthwhile read for soil-deprived urbanites, too, as well as for people totally devoid of interest in growing anything, but who nonetheless share the basic human need for food and at least some dim flicker of desire to have a habitable planet at least for a lifetime or so.

“Thanks to my garden, I can take a stand against everything I find witless, lazy, and ugly in our civilization and propose my own more lively alternative.”  — Michele Owens

Owens makes a methodical, chapter-by-chapter case for the (mostly American) vegetable garden, going at it from the angles of money, superior flavor, health (exercise), beauty, right on up to (or down to) fundamental happiness. She brings in enough scientific and anecdotal data to make her arguments convincing, and in signature Rant style, the pace is lively and the language at once personal, clever and to the point — styled enough to be enjoyable without any excess.

There’s hardly anything Owens doesn’t touch on, wrangling connections near and far like a pumpkin vine gone awry. She reaches into history, biology, folklore, urban/suburban planning, big ag and big chem, the government, physiology and exercise science, her mother’s upbringing, you name it — all to make a compelling case for the backyard vegetable garden. And from cover to cover, the emphasis is on sustainable, organic practices. Even if you’re not a gardener, you’ll come away with renewed appreciation for your CSA, or find yourself giving more business to the organic growers at your local farmers market.

Now, Owens was not born a gardener, and the zealousness of the convert shows. Even though the book is a “why to” and not a “how to,” like any gardener, she can’t resist slipping some of her favorite tips, tricks and techniques in the back door. I found many to be welcome ideas.

Much of Owens’ practical advice tracks four general principles: “First, take care of the context in which it all happens, the soil. Second, diversify to avoid disaster. Third, pay attention to timing. And fourth, be a little Zen.”

My strongest endorsement of the book is that she really got me thinking about my own approach, which is pretty well-developed after some 40+ years in the dirt — I think I’ve had some sort of garden in just about every place I’ve lived, without exception, even when I lived off-campus in college.

Thanks to Owens, though, this spring I made much lighter use of my mechanical tiller, forgoing it altogether in a large portion of the garden. I’m more committed than ever to my mulch system, though I was surprised that, evidently based on advice of her upstate-New York gardening neighbors, she forgoes grass mulches. I cover every exposed inch of my garden with grass clippings, heavily; it does a fabulous job of keeping the weeds down and continuously enriches the soil. I’ve never felt that it’s made the weed population any worse.

The other thing she’s gotten me focused on is timing, which is always a challenge for me. I started our peppers indoors too late again this year, as usual, though my tomatoes were right on schedule. Everything else is late, thanks in no small part to an interminably long and wet spring. Our second season, planting for the Fall, is always late, too, but this year I’m determined.

It’s all a process, this growing your own food, from how you care for the soil to picking out the seeds, to timing the planting, to feasting in summer and canning for the cold weather and starting all over again. And Owens celebrates the process, in a big-picture way.

Woven through the book, in every topic, is a sense of gratitude for being able to grow food and enjoy it, tremendous respect for the ecosystem that makes it possible, and an acceptance of responsibility to leave the earth better, or at least no worse, for our use of it.

Those are values that resonate deeply with me. This is a book that makes us all better gardeners not necessarily in a technical sense, but dare I say in a moral or spiritual sense. It is a good life, indeed, when we tend our gardens — and thereby ourselves and our human family — with care, respect, and deep affection.

In the final paragraphs of the final chapter of her book, Owens succinctly and eloquently captures the spark that lights my own passion for gardening: “…there is a lot of pleasure to be had in reshaping the little piece of earth that is under our control. Thanks to my garden, I can take a small stand against everything I find witless, lazy, and ugly in our civilization and propose my own more lively alternative…There are few things lovelier than a vegetable garden at dusk, and few things more satisfying than going out in the evening to pick the food you’ve grown before dinner with family and friends. To share the fruits of your labor is to give your love to the people you care most about.”

Sorry. I’ve given away the ending. But like a true classic, this is a book that can be savored even if you know how it ends.


May 25 2011

Gardening (&) Empires

rebetsky

Jamaica Kincaid, novelist, gardening columnist, and writer who’s written for the Village Voice and The New Yorker, says, “Most of the nations that have serious gardening cultures also have, or had, empires. You can’t have this luxury of pleasure without somebody paying for it. This is nice to know. It’s nice to know that when you sit down to enjoy a plate of strawberries, somebody got paid very little so that you could have your strawberries. It doesn’t mean the strawberries will taste different, but it’s nice to enjoy things less than we do. We enjoy things far too much, and it leads to incredible pain and suffering.”

Our labor in the garden is free, but it’s sweet, hard work. I concluded a long time ago that we pay far too little for our food. Kincaid offers an interesting perspective on why this is so. I’m sure I can speak for many gardeners when I say that nothing tastes as fine as what comes from the garden. It comes at a dear price, but one that I am happy to pay.


Jan 2 2011

Meaningful Words

Natalie

Happy New Year!

Roger has chosen three words to be his watchwords for the new year.  Sounds like an excellent way to make a resolution.  I have been thinking of my own choices.  “Reuse, Recycle, Renew?”  They seem to hackneyed and insincere, even though I would like to work harder to be less wasteful.

I was thinking about “hospitality “ as one of them, but I’m about partied out from 2010, so I might not take that word seriously.

I’ve been on an “unsubscribing” kick throughout the holiday season .  Maybe that should be one of my words—getting too much meaningless email from vendors.  I don’t even remember joining these mailing lists!  Good bye Rugs USA, GNC, and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology acrobat x pro download.  If I have done it right, though, “Unsubscribe” will be meaningless by February.  I need some better words!  I’m almost NEVER at a loss for words.

“Energy”—I could use a lot more of that.   “Vacuum.”  That’s something I could do much more often.  OK.  What are your resolution words this year?  Choose three.  Let me know what you decide.  Maybe your ideas will give me a little inspiration!


Sep 8 2010

#1 Military Power; Not So High on Literacy

rebetsky

This, from the Writer’s Almanac:

“Today, the U.N. lists Cuba has as having the second-highest literacy rate in the world, after the country of Georgia. The United States ties for 21st place with Canada and several northern European countries.”

Sad.


Feb 10 2010

On Snow And The Changing Seasons: Garden Report

Roger


IMG_0578

We’re in our third major snowstorm of the season, and there is a blizzard warning until this evening. Probably about 30” of snow on the ground now — 24” from last weekend’s storm, plus what’s falling now. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow.
The quiet, the calm make it a perfect time to reflect on the transition from the first season in the Sykesville garden to the second. Despite a disaster or two, we’d have to say it was a successful, very satisfying garden.
Because of all the infrastructure work — breaking ground, assembling the greenhouse, and most hugely, building the 7 1/2’ deer-proof fence — we got a late start, with not much in the way of early season crops. My seed-starting venture was pretty much a flop. I blame it on the ridiculous commute and hours I was working at a downtown job. Won’t have that problem this year.
As noted previously here, we were lucky to get an abundance of manure, making for amazing fertility. The zinnias and dahlias were ginormous. Peppers, the best I’ve ever grown. The beans were so dense on the gateway trellis that we couldn’t even harvest them. The tomatoes, up until the late blight fungus hit, were magnificent.
That’s the outstanding sour note and biggest disappointment. After an initial flush of fruit, the LBF took out all the tomatoes. Just one batch of sauce, and nothing to can. We actually had to buy tomatoes at the farmer’s market in August and September. How humiliating!
Lessons learned to be applied this year: Rotate, of course. Use only plants started here. Plant with much more generous spacing to allow more air and light in, and avoid persistent dampness. Install ground irrigation hoses to avoid over-wetting of the foliage. And keep the watering consistent.
Also as noted earlier, our showing at the Howard County Fair was very satisfying. The peppers were stars, with the green bells taking a first. We’ll be focusing on some more flowers this season; they were pretty much an afterthought. I’m sure Natalie will be on the lookout for creative containers to present our blooms.
Lastly, bow season was a bust. I had some close encounters, but nothing for the freezer. Leaving the downtown job behind will help that endeavor, too. Natalie, Blue and I have scouted out some prime new spots, and I’ll also be focusing on the old stand that produced last year. (We have one nice doe in the freezer, from Pennsylvania rifle season.)
Now for this year. I’ve ordered way too many seeds, as usual. We probably have enough from last year to plant a full garden. But I just can’t resist.
From Jung, we ordered:
Blue Lake 274 bush bean
Burpee improved bush lima bean
Franklin hybrid Brussels sprouts
Nantes coreless carrots
Eureka hybrid cucumber
Dusky hybrid eggplant
Italian large leaf basil
Florence fennel (for Natalie’s butterflies)
Super sugar snap pea
Aruba cubanelle hybrid pepper
Giant marconi hybrid pepper
Rainbow hybrid pepper
Easter egg blend radish
Bloomsdale longstanding spinach
Italian Largo hybrid squash
All blue potato sets
Benarys giant white zinnia
Magellan mix hybrid zinnia
Oklahoma mix zinnia
Single old fashioned mix hollyhock
New millennium stars delphinium mix
Thomas Edison dahlia
White perfection dahlia
Zorro dahlia
Jung’s premium gladiolus
Good god, I am out of control! Where are we going to put all this?!? And that doesn’t include the tomatoes. Here’s what we ordered from Totally Tomatoes:
Beefmaster hybrid
Lemon Boy hybrid
Pineapple
Roma
4 best hybrids collection
Notice there in no lettuce on the list. In an act of extreme discipline, I decided we had enough seed leftover. Notice also the preponderance of hybrid varieties; until we’re sure we have disease and fungi under control, we’re going with resistant varieties as much as possible.
So, they should be here soon, assuming the mail people can get through the snow. We’ll get the lights set up in the basement, and I will have no excuse for neglecting the little babies.
Now, time to get some serious outerwear on, grab the Blue dog, and go out to get some more firewood. Now that there’s someone here to tend it, and since we have plenty of wood to use, we’ve been doing a lot of heating with the wood stove. A nice country ritual (especially when you don’t have to depend 100% on it).

Above:  Garden after the second big snow of the season.

We’re in our third major snowstorm of the season, and there is a blizzard warning until this evening. Probably about 30” of snow on the ground now — 24” from last weekend’s storm, plus what’s falling now. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow.

The quiet, the calm make it a perfect time to reflect on the transition from the first season in the Sykesville garden to the second. Despite a disaster or two, it was a successful, very satisfying garden. We ate a lot out of it. Natalie was very pleased with all the butterflies. And I’d have to say, I couldn’t have a better gardening partner: champion weeder, tireless transplanter, keen observer and meticulous caretaker. We’re an excellent team, in gardening and just about everything else.

Because of all the infrastructure work — breaking ground, assembling the greenhouse, and most hugely, building the 7 1/2’ deer-proof fence — we got a late start, with not much in the way of early season crops. My seed-starting venture was pretty much a flop. I blame it on the ridiculous commute and hours I was working at a downtown job. Won’t have that problem this year.

As noted previously here, we were lucky to get an abundance of manure, making for amazing fertility. The zinnias and dahlias were ginormous. Peppers, the best I’ve ever grown. The beans were so dense on the gateway trellis that we couldn’t even harvest them. The tomatoes, up until the late blight fungus hit, were magnificent.

That’s the outstanding sour note and biggest disappointment. After an initial flush of fruit, the LBF took out all the tomatoes. Just one batch of sauce, and nothing to can. We actually had to buy tomatoes at the farmer’s market in August and September. How humiliating!

Lessons learned to be applied this year: Rotate, of course. Use only plants started here. Plant with much more generous spacing to allow more air and light in, and avoid persistent dampness. Install ground irrigation hoses to avoid over-wetting of the foliage. And keep the watering consistent.

Also as noted earlier, our showing at the Howard County Fair was very satisfying. The peppers were stars, with the green bells taking a first. We’ll be focusing on some more flowers this season; they were pretty much an afterthought. I’m sure Natalie will be on the lookout for creative containers to present our blooms.

Lastly, bow season was a bust. I had some close encounters, but nothing for the freezer. Leaving the downtown job behind will help that endeavor, too. Natalie, Blue and I have scouted out some prime new spots, and I’ll also be focusing on the old stand that produced last year. (We have one nice doe in the freezer, from Pennsylvania rifle season.)

Now for this year. I’ve ordered way too many seeds, as usual. We probably have enough from last year to plant a full garden. But I just can’t resist.

From Jung, we ordered:

  • Blue Lake 274 bush bean
  • Burpee improved bush lima bean
  • Franklin hybrid Brussels sprouts
  • Nantes coreless carrots
  • Eureka hybrid cucumber
  • Dusky hybrid eggplant
  • Italian large leaf basil
  • Florence fennel (for Natalie’s butterflies)
  • Super sugar snap pea
  • Aruba cubanelle hybrid pepper
  • Giant marconi hybrid pepper
  • Rainbow hybrid pepper
  • Easter egg blend radish
  • Bloomsdale longstanding spinach
  • Italian Largo hybrid squash
  • All blue potato sets
  • Benarys giant white zinnia
  • Magellan mix hybrid zinnia
  • Oklahoma mix zinnia
  • Single old fashioned mix hollyhock
  • New millennium stars delphinium mix
  • Thomas Edison dahlia
  • White perfection dahlia
  • Zorro dahlia
  • Jung’s premium gladiolus

Good god, I am out of control! Where are we going to put all this?!? And that doesn’t include the tomatoes. Here’s what we ordered from Totally Tomatoes:

  • Beefmaster hybrid
  • Lemon Boy hybrid
  • Pineapple
  • Roma
  • 4 best hybrids collection

Notice there is no lettuce on the list. In an act of extreme discipline, I decided we had enough seed leftover. Notice also the preponderance of hybrid varieties; until we’re sure we have disease and fungi under control, we’re going with resistant varieties as much as possible.

So, they should be here soon, assuming the mail people can get through the snow. We’ll get the lights set up in the basement, and I will have no excuse for neglecting the little babies.

Now, time to get some serious outerwear on, grab the Blue dog, and go out to get some more firewood. Now that there’s someone here to tend it, and since we have plenty of wood to use, we’ve been doing a lot of heating with the wood stove. A nice country ritual (especially when you don’t have to depend 100% on it).


Dec 31 2009

New Year’s Eve–Bowling, What Else?

Natalie

cosmic_snapshotWhile at first, I thought bowling on New Year’s was the ultimate in odd, Roger and I reported to Greenway Bowling in Odenton for our family’s New Year’s party, organized by Susan and Eric.  I lost to 6-year-old Ben in the first game, and he was gracious enough to console me.  Eric joined the action in the second game, and I discovered he is an old hand at bowling.  His average score is 160+  Roger and my combined score did not match Eric’s in the second game.  The bowling included pizza, soda, noisemakers and party hats.  There was a countdown to midnight at about 6:00 p.m adobe photoshop cs6 mac download., but the noisemakers were going all night.  The only improvement to this excellent evening would have been free Advil.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!  As I sit here typing this message, I have Roger, my family, the dogs and Noah around me.  There is nothing I could want.  Oh, yeah, well,  a marriage license would help.


Nov 26 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Natalie

Happy Thanksgiving to All. Nothing could be better than Roger’s sweet potatoes.


Nov 16 2009

On Balance And Emptiness

Roger

Here’s my take on the Jazzways 6004 concert.  And thank you, Natalie, for another wonder-full night!

On Balance & Emptiness on RogerThat!


Nov 1 2009

Uniontown Escape

Natalie

Roger and I went to Uniontown for Halloween night.  We found a quiet house on a beautiful fall night.  Jake visited, and the two men talked hunting for quite a while.  After a rainy night with an hour extra sleep, in the morning, we started cleaning and moving furniture.  By the time we have the house ready for sale, we won’t want to leave–I can guarantee that!  Also, we gathered the last six figs.  Not too sweet but worth eating anyway.


Sep 21 2009

Well Is Almost Well Again

Natalie

We’ve had a swamp in the back yard that looks a little like the opening of the Beverly Hillbillies when Jed Clampett discovers oil on his land.  This wasn’t oil–just water from a broken pipe.  Feezer is here, and we’re glad it’s getting fixed. 

Check out our first Flip camera video!


Sep 19 2009

First Day’s Hunt

rebetsky

This is pretty bizarre, posting to the blog from a tree stand. Usually, I do compose observations in my head while I’m hunting – things I want to tell Natalie, or write down later. (Whoops, a doe just busted me. I stood up too fast, as soon as I saw her, instead of waiting for the right time. It always takes a bow hunt or two to get my hunting vibe back.) Anyhow…posting from a tree? Is this the “real time Web”? Maybe almost, if you’re reading this soon.

At 5 this morning, I was sitting on the front stoop putting my boots on, looked up, and there he was: Orion! The first I’ve seen him since winter. For me, he marks the hunting season, and there he was on my first day. Serendipity.

It’s chilly this morning. I have a light jacket on and I’m still cold. I won’t get much sun here. These early season woods are still dense with foliage. Seeing mostly squirrels, except for that doe…and a few other hunters. Good thing I got an early start. There were four other hunters in the parking area. I got in first.

We’ll see how this goes. More later.