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.


May 8 2010

The Audacity of Gardening

rebetsky
A long way to grow...

A long way to grow...

Hope:  At this point, that’s about all these tomato plants amount to. Truly, I’ve never put such a pathetic bunch of wannabes in the ground. But they are my babies, and I will stick by them. If past experience is an indication, they will stretch their roots out quickly and soon catch up to all those overachieving store-bought specimens. I found room to put 16 in, and lamented not being able to fit more. But it’s a good variety of varieties, including two from seeds Natalie brought from France.

What’s beautiful now, though, is that the paths are established. I’ve always held that a garden is its paths, which is certainly true in the overall landscape, and particularly true in ornamental plantings, and true enough in the vegetable or “production” garden. What’s worse than walking along the edge of a property’s “border” plantings, with no opportunity to interact or get in with the plants? It’s like driving down the highway watching the scenery go by and never getting out of the car. Anyway, the production garden is all right angles and perpendiculars, geared toward maximum production in the space, which makes it interesting to get around in.

In the order of paths in the garden, there is calm. Welcome, wonderful calm.


May 2 2010

Wool, Sheep Herding & A Hidden Cemetery

rebetsky

It was a busy day for country things here in greater Sykesville, where the weather felt more like mid-August than the second of May. We started the day at the annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival at the HoCo fairgrounds, billed as the nation’s largest. We saw every imaginable kind of raw wool, felt, and yarn in every imaginable form, including a number of beautiful finished products.

We browsed the livestock barns and watched part of the parade of breeds. The highlight, though, was the herding demonstration with border collies. Simply amazing beasts that were able to move a mini-herd of four sheep with precision wherever the handler directed. Great, smart, focused dogs. We’re thinking maybe we need to buy a sheep farm for our Blue.

I bought a super-duper tomato cage I couldn’t resist. It’s really heavy duty, an ingenious hinged design, and I got the “extender” so that it can be, like, 8’ tall. I love a challenge! Don’t dare ask me what I paid for it.

We had met some friends at the festival who stopped by the house for a quick cold drink. Then, after a brief nap, we kept a hiking date with some neighbors we had met at the Howard County Hospital emergency room (all ended well for all of us). They live directly adjacent to Patapsco State Park, and had promised to show us a small family graveyard they had found there.

Most of the hike was places we had already been, but we did go up to an old barn we had only seen from afar, which was an amazing log construction now frequented by teens who favor Budweiser. The graveyard was not far away, and had three impressive headstones, including one that was hand-chiseled.

Blue and our neighbors’ three dogs had a blast swimming in the river, chasing deer and generally romping in the woods. Blue was totally hot and tired. Near the end of the hike, he decided to lay down, yes, lay down in a little swamp pond. I thought we were going to be lucky and finish the hike with a relatively clean dog, but no luck. I had to give him a bottom wash when we got back.

Out in the garden, things are beginning to hop. We have peas, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, lima beans, turnips, beets, radishes, cucumbers, blue potatoes, hyacinth beans, zinnias, and gladiolus coming up. Tonight, we had our last salad with store-bought lettuce for a while. We have some beautiful Red Tiede, Cos, and Simpson Elite just about ready, and a bunch coming along behind them. I plan to put out tomatoes and peppers the second weekend of this month.

I have to admit, seed starting was a bust this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had poorer germination. Less than 50%, I dare say. Perhaps the basement was too cold, and I started too late in the greenhouse. In any event, the seedlings are small, but we should still have everything we need to plant.


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).


Aug 23 2009

Cucumber Conundrum: Any Ideas?

Roger

We planted the cukes late; I think it was late June.  The vines were vigorous, and we’ve gotten a number of fine cucumbers.  The vines are still loaded with blossoms, but the vines and leaves are turning brown and evidently dying off.  No idea why, and haven’t researched it yet.  Any insights?


Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus

Roger

Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Jul 9 2009

Garden In Early July

Roger

Big difference from that photo of the finished fence in early June. Click on a photo to view full-size.