Saturday, June 24, 2006

We're havin' a heat wave...

June began cold and wet. Last week it was pleasant -- partly cloudy, mild temperatures.

Today, as I write, it's 92 degrees. Tomorrow it's supposed to get over 100.

I intended to do some late planting of annuals in the front garden, but the soil there is bone dry and just as hard, so I finally dragged out the sprinkler hose and it's getting a thorough dousing. The whole bed needs renovated, so there's no point in planting any seeds until I at least get some cow stuff dug in around the places I want to plant. Otherwise it's going to get just as hard again when it dries out.

The lettuce bolted, the peas that I planted back in February (Planting Peas, Striking Gold, Pea Sprouts and Peach Blossoms) are at the end of their productivity, so pulled both out. I planted new lettuce seeds, some where the old lettuce had been, some in the shade of the now-towering asparagus, to see if it would do better there in the summer's heat. Alas, the peach tree got hit with a bad case of leaf curl, so all those lovely blossoms never had the chance to produce a peach. But the broccoli and cauliflower that I started from seed (Bouncing Baby Broccoli) are doing nicely so far. I gave them a good watering.

I'd put up some pictures, but it's too stinkin' hot out there right now. Maybe I'll get some in the morning.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A Chocolate Garden

I was looking for several things on when I came across this interesting product: Chocolate Garden.

It's a tin containing seeds of chocolate covered perennials, to wit: " Chocolate Flower, Chocolate Columbine, Midnight Candy Phlox, Chocolate Royale, Chocolate Nasturtium and Royal Chocolate Painted Tongue." A chocolate-loving gardener's delight!

While it's rather late in the season to start seeds for this year's garden, in warmer regions gardeners could start perennials to plant in the fall and overwinter for next year's blooms. Or put this one on your "wish list" for Christmas.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Green Blog Project

Foodie gardeners will want to check out Ginger and Mango: Green Blog Project. The author wants her readers to grow something themselves, make something to eat out of it, and post the picture of what they grew along with the recipe. This was just a quiet little food blog, but the Green Blog challenge seems to have upped the traffic many-fold. What food-loving gardener could resist?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day (you all did remember, right?)

"Fatherhood is pretending the present you love the most is soap-on-a-rope."
Bill Cosby
You know, I remember a few of those infamous rope-bound soap bars appearing at Christmas back when I was a kid.

Please tell me it wasn't me who gave them.

Happy Father's Day, everyone.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Urban Farmers vs. the Bulldozers of L.A.

Once upon a time on 41st and Alameda Street in South Central Los Angeles, a garden arose. Not just any garden, but a community garden, where the people in a low-income neighborhood gathered to grow food and so feed themselves. And it was good.

Until now.

It's no fairy tale, but it's turning into a horror story even now. Fourteen years ago, a 14-acre piece of land became the property of the City of Los Angeles under the laws of eminent domain. Landowners were compensated, and the city planned to build an incinerator on the site. Because of complaints of people in the surrounding neighborhood, the city abandoned the plan. However, if within 10 years the city determined that it no longer needed the land, the former owner, a large investment firm, was granted rights of first refusal. The city then set the land aside for a community garden, allowing the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to manage it.

The garden has been a tremendous success. People from the neighborhood have been growing masses of food from the reclaimed land, which they use to reduce the cost of their own groceries, as well as helping others. The garden has become a community center, with special events, fairs, and a Farmer's Market.

But behind the scenes, the city was busy negotiating with another investment firm to sell the land. Back and forth negotiations went, with the investment firm at one point raising a lawsuit against the city for demurring on their deal. After several years of negotiating, the city finally settled with the firm and sold the land. Only then did they inform the food bank of the deal, which was the first notice that the gardeners had of their garden's impending doom. At no point was the food bank nor were the gardeners allowed to make an offer of their own. The gardeners banded together and raised a lawsuit of their own against the city for breaking the charter with the food bank, but the city claims it no longer needed the land, and that this loophole in the law took priority over the charter.

This morning, police in riot gear arrived to evict the farmers. Fire trucks were on the scene, ladder trucks to pluck protesters out of trees -- yes, trees, which shows how far this garden has come from the old vacant lot it once was. Trees planted by the gardeners themselves, and bearing fruit.

This evening, the bulldozers arrived. Tomorrow, Los Angeles' own Eden will be a dirty scar.

Cheers, L.A.

The gardeners haven't given up, however, in spite of the imminent destruction of fourteen years worth of hard labor. They're still trying to raise funds to buy the land themselves, and will return all donations if they can't buy the land. Their site is here: South Central Farmers

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I am a snapdragon -- Don't ask me why...

...because I really don't know, but the quiz was kind of fun:

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

And it says: "Mischief is your middle name, but your first is friend. You are quite the prankster that loves to make other people laugh."

Now I'll have to take the quiz again and pretend to be other characters to see what other flowers people can "be."

Friday, June 09, 2006

Stepping Stone Project: Complete

At last, the concrete stones from my first major concrete poetry project (besides the single stone that said "welcome") have been poured, the letters pressed into them, and the lot have been allowed to cure for a while. They should probably cure another week before anyone walks on them, but I was ready to get them off of the back deck, so I laid them out on the newly renovated bed under the crabapple tree. I don't expect anyone to go traipsing across them there, so they should be fine. You can't really tell in the picture, but the five of them spell out "grow where you are planted." A nice sentiment for all of us -- and perhaps a command to my new transplants? "Grow! Yes, grow! Don't die! Grow!"

A couple of closeups show the lettering and decorations a bit better. Here's "grow where you":

And here's "are planted":

The marble decorations came from the floral aisle in the craft store. I used opaque glass rather than the transparent glass, because I thought it would look better in concrete for this project. Either would have been fine. Transparent deep colors would look more jewel-like.

And some more pictures from around the garden, since I had the camera out.

The nuthatches are working on a second brood in the nesting box in the front yard. They finished one brood late in April. I caught one of them bringing food to the current set of nestlings:

A clump of bright pink dianthus that's just come into bloom. I'd forgotten I'd planted it!

One of the pink petunias that I grew from seed that I got from Thompson and Morgan:

And a look up into the crabapple tree, where the Lincoln Constance rose is busy blooming away, scattering rose petals far and wide:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Long-legged Rats: Deer in Suburbia

"They're nothing but long-legged rats!" a gardener friend once said. They dine on expensive hybrid roses. They take a bite out of each of the melons on the vine, spoiling all before they move on. They'll yank the broccoli and lettuce out of the ground, and make short work of the perennial bed.

They're Bambis in Suburbia, Over the Hedge in 3-D real life, and not nearly so funny when they gobble up the plants that you've poured money and sweat into.

Within a half mile of our house is an abandoned orchard where the deer roam, and sometimes wander out into the surrounding neighborhoods. Recently the bulldozers have been at work, since someone plans to subdivide and build on the site (exactly who we don't know, nor do we know what the plans are, as they seem to change as often as Madonna's new "look"), pushing the deer out of their former home. They haven't turned up in our yard yet, but as there is an overgrown wood nearby, and a convenient back alley access, it's only a matter of time. Others in the neighborhood have not been so fortunate. Their excitement about the ooh-so-cute brown-eyed delicate-looking creatures quickly turns to rage as Bambi bites all the flowers off of the tea rose.

Why do they do it? Why do the take a bite here, a bite there, and ruin all the pumpkins or melons in the patch instead of feeding on just one? Because they're browsers, not grazers. It's the way that deer eat. They're also edge species, moving from wood to meadow and back again, and when we carve up the woods to make suburbs, we provide more edges than nature ever intended, increasing their habitat many times over. They we lay out a banquet of roses and veggies for them. What else are they going to do but belly up to the buffet and sample everything, then trot off to the woods to make more little deer?

When I was a kid, though, I grew up in the country, where deer made regular treks across the front lawn and through the garden. We tried all the "sure-fire" remedies that we'd heard recommended. We hung aluminum pie tins out where they'd rattle in the breezes. It helped a bit with the birds, but the deer were unfazed. We hung strong-smelling soap -- Lifebuoy was the supposed magic brand -- but it had so little effect, we half-suspected the deer were showering with it. We scattered human hair around, but the deer seemed so used to the presence of humans already that this barely registered with them. We tried sprinkling blood meal around. Great fertilizer, lousy deer repellant. The only "deer-proof" plants that were ever actually deer proof seemed to be the daffodils. The rest were fair game, even if they were only second choice, and the only thing left during the dry season of August and September.

Besides, by the time you apply all the usual remedies, and reapply them frequently, you'll spend all of your gardening time hanging up noisemakers and applying noxious mixtures. Who wants a smelly, noisy garden anyway?

The only thing that ever worked were physical barriers. A simple fence made of metal stakes with twine slowed them down a bit, at least in the raised bed in the turnaround where the roses were. Late in the summer when everything dried up, they'd still manage to hop over this. The electric fence that Dad strung around the vegetable garden did a better job, as did the wire mesh cages -- simple cylinders of hardware cloth -- that went up around the blueberry bushes. And a taller, more permanent fence that he built around the permanent garden, where the berries and grapes were, managed to protect those plantings reasonably well.

I think it's a cycle that all gardeners go through. First you try what amounts to little folk charms because someone swears they'll work and they're cheap -- cheap that is until you lose that expensive perennial that you've been nursing along. Eventually you realize that "cheap" means spending the money to do things right in the first place. Up goes the fence, and the deer move on.

Since the configuration of our yard doesn't make it easy to fence, I'm hoping that the deer never discover us. But if they do -- well, I'd better start setting something aside against that day, because fencing everything in isn't going to be cheap. Either that, or build wire mesh covers, though I don't fancy keeping a cage farm.

The Washington Post has more on the subject, here: Not Yours to Munch, Deer.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Save Gas -- Grow Food

Every couple of years our family takes a road trip back to Indiana to see my mother-in-law. We often get off the freeway and see the sights, or just enjoy the scenery as we go.

As a gardener, of course I'm interested in what other people have in their gardens. One thing that has often struck me as we pass through ranch country and then Midwest farm country is the decided lack of visible vegetable gardens.

Maybe it's just the areas we pass through. Or maybe the farmers and ranchers are incredibly busy people. Or maybe it's an unfortunate trend. But when I see a house sitting in the middle of the sagebrush with nothing around it but a patch of lawn and no hint anywhere of food growing up around it, I have to wonder why. Is it really cost-effective to drive all the way to the nearest store, which looks to be an hour or so away at least, to get everything that the ranchers and their help eat? Having not been raised on a South Dakota ranch, I'm in no position to make a definitive statement on that. But I have to wonder, especially now with rising gas prices.

My grandmother spent part of her formative years on a potato farm in the bustling town of Tule Lake, California (just across the Oregon border from Klamath Falls). She grew up with gardening as a part of her life, and every year up until her 90's, she planted a vegetable garden. My parents grew up with victory gardens, during the war years when growing and preserving food was a patriotic act. When I was a kid, my parents grew and preserved corn, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, and lots of other produce, and we went to orchards to pick fruit for canning. This was such an integral part of my life that it seemed odd to me as I grew up to find that there were other people in the world who didn't grow so much as a parsley sprig or a strawberry that's worth eating.

We've gotten so used to perfect produce shipped from thousands of miles away that it no longer seems strange to see seasonal produce in the supermarkets all year long. But as gas prices continue to skyrocket, transportation costs for imported produce are increasing, which means the cost of the produce will increase along with it.

But it doesn't take a lot of gas and money to put fresh produce on our tables, not for people who have even a small patch of sunny earth to call their own. Along with other gardeners, I'm wondering if increases in fuel prices and resulting increases in food costs will spur a new gardening revival. So long as people are sensible about their gardening practices, and don't go to the extremes described in The $64 Tomato, growing some of your own food can help offset the rising grocery bill.

If you don't have a suitable spot for a vegetable patch, or don't have the time for a vegetable garden, buying locally-grown produce is a great alternative. Check out the 100 mile diet site, a terrific resource for people who want to buy their food from local growers and producers. The idea is to buy food that is grown within 100 miles of your home. That may sound like a long distance, but it's a whole lot better than the of 1,500 miles that the average food item travels from farm to plate -- and produce imported in the winter travels a whole lot farther than that.

How easy it is to go on the 100 mile diet may depend on where people live. Where I live there are lots of fruit farms and a handful of independent meat markets, as well as lots of fruit stands. It's not hard to find peaches, pears, cherries, blueberries, and other fruit for freezing and canning, and locally-grown meats at reasonable prices. Big cities often have farmer's markets where city folk can find farm-fresh produce. But while my mother-in-law can buy fresh corn in season in her area of Indiana, fruit farms are far scarcer than they are where I live.

If we all do what we can -- grow what we can, and buy what we can locally -- we can all make a contribution to fuel conservation.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Review: Garden Open Tomorrow

Review of Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols (Copyright 1968; facsimile produced by Timber Press, 2002).

Garden Open Tomorrow, the sequel to Garden Open Today, is the last of Nichols' garden books, and carries with it the faint melancholy air of an author who knows this is, indeed, a "last" of anything. Nichols was no longer the springy young man who composed Down the Garden Path some thirty six years earlier. In 1968, he was 70 years old, and feeling the effects of age as he puttered about the garden of Sudbury cottage. Wind and winter are themes throughout, and Nichols gives advice on which plants to grow for winter blossoms, which will survive deep winter gales, and which plants to grow that will survive on windy heights. He also rails against the growing use of poisons in the garden, and narrates his own experiments with more earth-friendly forms of insect control.

By this time he was willing to admit, as he had not in earlier books, that most of the hard work was done by hired help. Indeed, in his chapter on gardening for the elderly, he advises hiring the heavy work done, and offers other tips for retirees who purchase a cottage in the English countryside, with the vision of turning a wilderness into a garden. Burning the ladder stands out most notably, since Nichols himself had an unfortunate habit of falling off of them. He also advises on plants that give excellent results with little care, particularly vines that will grow quickly but do not require trips up and down ladders to trim and care for them.

But all is not dark with thoughts of winter and death. There are cat ballets to enjoy, as the kittens Anthony and Trollop cavort in the heather, and an aged Five makes a cameo appearance to show them how it is done. There is an entire chapter on growing plants on alkaline soil, since chalk is the bane of many gardens in Britain. And there is a section on garden design, though Nichols' few forays into professional garden advice weren't always the sterling success one might imagine.

What is missing from this volume is the array of characters that sparkled across the pages of his earlier works. The mysterious Marius, whom we suspect of working for the secret service, drifts in and out a few times. Nichols' factotum, Gaskin, puts in a brief appearance, and the gardener, Page, is mentioned, though we know little about him. Page is not the Oldfield of the Merry Hall trilogy.

Instead, Garden Open Tomorrow is a more serious work, filled with gardening advice, as though the author wished he'd put more seriousness in his earlier garden books and so packed it all into his final gardening volume. Yet the humor that readers look forward to is still there, as well as Nichols' very decided opinions regarding plants and garden design.

For more on the author himself, see Beverley Nichols: A Life by Bryan Connon