Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Garden ennui

We've reached that time of the year, the time when the summer has so parched the soil that even the weeds look ratty and lackluster:

When we've left off with diligence and mildew overtakes the vines:

When the aphids have finished slaughering the nasturtiums, and the lettuce has all gone to seed:

And yet the tomatoes remain stubbornly green:

And the watermelon, smaller than a tennis ball, may never come to the sweet glory we expected last spring when we lovingly put the little plant into the cold earth:

Yet not all is autumnal sorrow and despair. The everbearing raspberries are living up to their name, still producing enough for each morning's yogurt:

And the everbearing Tristar strawberries are contributing their share, too, and will probably keep going well into October:

A surprise vine popped up in the front garden, and I'm still not sure what we have. Mini-pumpkin? Gourd? Gourds seem likely, since some went into the compost last year, so there could be seeds.

The cranberry beans kept getting mowed down by slugs and bugs earlier, but enough survived to yield a small crop:

Shelled, they'll produce at least one good beany meal, and still have some left for planting next year. I'll make a point to save those very red ones for planting:

In spite of the load of work and the drag of autumn's ennui, I got the beds in the new garden cleared of everything that had gone to seed and all the leggy, tired pansies, emptied the compost bins of all good compost and spread it on the beds, and tucked everything in for the winter. I had lettuce and kale seedlings under grow lights indoors (about the only place I can get anything to germinate this year -- what's up with the soil, I wonder?), and put those out into the garden for winter crops. The lettuce went under the cold frame, and the kale out in front of it.

With any luck, I'll have fresh greens for the holidays. By then the plants may be finishing and I can start a fresh set of seedlings for the cold frame. January and February will bring cold weather that will slow them quite a bit, but I can usually get new lettuce by April.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Young Death carries a what?

Mythtickle is a relatively new comic on GoComics.com, with a cast of young deities and mythical figures at school with Ms. Nature as their teacher: Boody the last dragon, Karma, Thor, Merlin, and many more. In last Friday's strip, Dziva, African creatrix, has a conversation with Death. Maybe I've been out in the garden too long, but there's just something hysterical about young Death, not yet old enough to have a scythe, trotting around with a weed whacker:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tia Carmen solves another gardening problem

From today's Baldo comic strip on GoComics:

Sometimes you just do what works, right?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lettuce save...

These tiny dandelion tufts are seed heads of Specked Trout's Back lettuce. Can you tell that lettuce belongs to the Aster family, along with dandelions, thistles, and Bachelor's buttons?

And this is a cute little seed saving kit I got for Christmas:

That's where the Flashy Trout's Back lettuce seeds are going, along with Tom Thumb, a small butterhead lettuce that was sooo delicious when it was in its prime, and other seeds that I plan to save this year.

You don't really have to have a fancy seed saving kit to save seed. Paper coin envelopes from the office supply store -- or fashioned out of used paper -- will do just fine. But if this little kit strikes your fancy, it came from Territorial Seed Company.

Like sewing, knitting, spinning, canning, and growing your own food, there's something basic and satisfying about saving seed from year to year. It's not that we have to any more in these days of global marketing, malls, and shiny seed catalogs. It's knowing that we could if some sci-fi-novel-style disaster struck. Kind of like the Scout who earns a First Aid badge and secretly hopes there will be an accident just so said Scout can dash over and take charge with a confident, "I know what to do!"

With seed saving, there's also the satisfaction of preserving heirloom varieties of seeds that the big seed companies overlook. Maybe it's something that's been in the family for years, or maybe it's something you just ordered this year from a seed exchange. No matter. You're still taking part in an ancient ritual of saving for next year's harvest.

Learning to save seed, grow and preserve food, and manufacture clothing from the sheep or cotton plants on up also makes one a repository of basic survival skills that have kept humans alive for millennia. It is the anniversary of 9/11 after all, and at such a time people's minds sometimes turn to "what if?" scenarios. Too many of my college students think of "cooking" as taking something out of a box and microwaving it. Too few understand where their food comes from. Far too few know that onions have leaves, that potatoes grow in the earth, that someone must actually raise cows -- or that lettuce plants make flowers.

If you want to know more about seed saving, two good books to look for are:

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth, Kent Whealy

This book contains very detailed information for people who are serious about saving seeds. It stresses the importance of population size for genetic diversity, and discusses techniques for preventing cross-pollination between varieties to keep the seed stock pure. It may be more than the casual home gardener wants to get into, but it's still a useful book, especially the sections on cleaning and storing seeds.

Saving Seeds: The Gardener's Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds by Marc Rogers.

Less detailed than Seed to Seed, this is a good book for the beginning seed saver. Like Seed to Seed, its focus is mainly on food plants, but it does include some flowers as well.