Monday, December 16, 2013

And the Word of the Week Is...

Resourceful. If any of my Comp I students were reading this, I hope they'd say that "resourceful" does not constitute a sentence. Indeed, it does not, and I'd so happily concede that point to them. It does, however, refer to a skill that should be cultivated. It can be related to another skill, one which I know my students would say is important to me, which is frugality. And so this week's post will be brief and fully dedicated to those two wonderful words.

I grow indeterminate tomatoes. That simply means that no one knows how high or wide they will grow. They're gangly. They're unruly. I love them. They refuse to be contained. This is why my tomato cages are so ridiculously inconsequential. But I paid good money for them, and I'm not about to let them collect spider webs in the garage. So I've put them to a new use. I've turned them upside down, wrapped them in garland and lights, and now they're little trees for my holiday lighting.

New life for the cages

The blurry "tree" (can't find my tripod)

The end result...a whole line of little "trees"

In the end, I got a whole bunch of Christmas cheer for no extra cost. Awesome. (Yes, also not a sentence, students!)

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Greed in the Season of Giving

I have a confession to make. It will likely be an ugly one. You see, I love Christmas, but I'm growing less-enamored with gift-giving every year. It's not that I don't want to give people gifts. That's not the source of my greed. I'll get to that in a moment. My trouble with gift-giving is that I only want to give gifts that are meaningful, and that can get pretty tricky. I carefully consider each person and each gift. In most cases, I want to give something that I've made, and sometimes that means that I haven't spent much money on them. I'm not sure all of my recipients appreciate how much I've agonized over their gifts or how much time I've spent on them, so sometimes they seem to fall flat. Sometimes they seem insignificant. One of my favorite Christmas gifts of all time was a German box of tea. It apparently cost the giver $2.50, and he was embarrassed by what he worried was a meager gift, but I was overwhelmed by the thought that went into that gift. It was, indeed, perfect for me. And so I wish such were true for all the gifts we give.

The variety of gift I most often like to give is something made from the fruits of my garden labor. I've made Limoncello (made from my limes instead). I've made pesto. I've given my fiery pickled jalapeƱos. This has been an especially difficult year in the garden, though, so I have very little to give. And now that the tomatoes are slowly beginning to ripen, I'm feeling a little greedy. In fact, my greed knows no bounds. Not only do I want to keep everything for myself, but rather than feeling content with the success of my Gardener's Delight tomatoes, today I found myself skipping down the garden path with visions of all 3 varieties of tomatoes producing a glut for me. I was counting my chickens, so to speak. I have no idea what chickens are due to hatch, though, because the Florida sun bleached all of my plant markers out. Every plant is producing, so I just have to see what color they turn to appropriately identify them. It will be a bit like opening presents, I suspect.

Gardener's Delight, indeed!

Black Krim? Red or Yellow Brandywine? Who knows?

I am saved from pure avarice by the very real excuse that none of my vegetables will have produced enough to make anything by the time Christmas rolls around. In the meantime, I'll be mixing up homemade scrubs and sewing various gifts for everyone who means so much to me. And hopefully they'll all see through the gifts just how much they really do mean.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Season of Mists

I've been thinking of Keats lately, especially his poem "To Autumn." It is still autumn, isn't it? I find myself getting rather confused about the seasons around here, largely because Florida seems to lack them. I was just saying the other day that it is difficult to notice that time goes by here because there's nothing really to mark the passage of time. In summer, it's hot. In fall, it's hot. In winter, it's often hot. There's never that delicious moment when I have to pull the box of my beautiful sweaters down from the attic and go through them as if they were fresh out of the shopping bag. But there are other satisfying moments in fall, and they mostly take place in the garden.

I have never successfully grown a cucumber here. The giant leaves of cucurbits are too-often beset with powdery mildew. It's the same fungal disease that attacks my zucchini plants, that had almost convinced me never to grow zucchini plants here again, knowing that I might never get the flowers I so desperately wanted to stuff with cheese and fry in a light batter. But I was victorious this spring, and propped up by that victory, I decided to give cucumbers one more chance. I fear my head might swell to even bigger proportions now.

One baby cucumber

Two baby cucumber
You may be able to see that the cucumber plant is stressed, though, so I am quite nervous for my little babies to mature before everything goes downhill. Hopefully, they will make it to our plates. And speaking of zucchini, I planted more this fall. They are covered in powdery mildew, but I'm still harvesting the wonderful flowers.

Hello, lovely!
The garden is really groaning with growth right now. The tomatoes are a little out of control, even though I thin them out weekly. I'm beginning to see why one variety I'm growing is called "Gardener's Delight." So far, it's the only one that officially has fruit on.

Four tomato plants, arms flopping everywhere
We're still happily watching the pineapple mature, hoping it will be ready for cutting when a special visitor from Austria is here in December. We're snacking on radishes all the time, so I've planted more seeds. And I'm anxiously awaiting the harvest of my beets, another crop that has always failed for me but which seems to have gotten the memo that that gardener needs a little encouragement. The sugar snaps and snow peas are climbing, and I'm hopeful that flowers will shortly appear.

Overall, it's a great time to be in the garden. Anyway, if Keats says autumn is a great season, then it has to be true. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


I consider anticipation to be a loaded word. I suppose most people might think of it in terms of looking forward to something with excitement. And it does often mean just that. For someone like me, though, someone who has a little trouble living in and enjoying the present, it can put one persistently on the edge of her seat. In short, it can make one anxious. It reminds me once again of Tennyson's Ulysses, who, for such a long time, was a bit of a hero to me. "Come, my friends, / 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world," he says. He's primed for adventure. He craves excitement. What's wrong with that?

As I mellow a bit with age, what I find wrong with Ulysses is his restlessness. If he feels that "all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades / for ever and for ever" as he sails toward it, he has to be missing out on the experiences as they come. His fidgeting troubles me, likely because I see some of myself in him.

Here's what anticipation got me this week. I had a reasonably-sized personal watermelon growing in the garden. I thought it was ready. It looked ready. It felt ready. I was altogether too ready, so I picked it. When I cut it open, it was white and smelled of freshly mown grass. Anticipation turned the watermelon into something that I had to chuck into the compost bin.

The unripe personal watermelon

The rest of the vegetable garden is in a similar state of unreadiness, and I've been a little fidgety as a result. But there's too much at stake here, so I have to settle down, enjoy the flowers that every plant seems to be putting on, relish each moment, and wait for the bounty to come.

The lettuce is on the move under the tomatoes

The sugar snap peas are climbing and clinging

The cucumbers are clambering over the
cage I built for them

If I may for just a moment, however, tap into my inner Ulysses, I do want to build some anticipation for a plan that I've hatched. I'm designing an England travel tour for 2014. For those of you who don't know, I have a lot of experience with this. In fact, I developed and led a study abroad tour for my college students. Details will be coming next week, but they will involve both literature and gardens (but no homework). This is something where anticipation will be necessary, though, as the Chelsea Flower Show is on the itinerary, and tickets go on sale for that on 1 December. So if you're interested, drop me a line much sooner than later...

Monday, November 4, 2013

Living in the Present

Anyone who says that living in the present is easy is likely lying, unless, of course, that person has spent a great deal of time in meditation. I find keeping my eyes on the present a task of gargantuan proportions, and I actually do meditate every day. I suspect that I am predisposed to worrying about the future. After all, in the last 17 years, I have had to move my home no less than 6 times. I am beginning to realize that I never feel quite comfortable in a place. Now that I've assumed the nomadic life, I always expect that my sense of home is no longer safe, persistently on shifting sand.

Many things caused me to step back from The Green B in the last month, not the least of which was feeling the sands shift beneath me. I think it's terribly difficult to conduct my life with no thought for the future, to focus merely on what I'd like to accomplish each day on its own. When it comes to gardening, it's even more difficult. I planted onion seeds last year around this time, and it wasn't until July of this year that I began to harvest the wonderfully pungent red orbs. When the future is uncertain, few things in the garden feel more safe than radishes and lettuce. After all, they can be harvested in less than two months. But really, it's time to start trying to enjoy today.

As the temperatures have finally cooled to a reasonable level here, I've been working in the garden, converting the overhead spray irrigation to drip, thanks to an incredible prize I won from DIG Corporation, a company that has perfected the art of drip irrigation. I'm in love with the new setup. My poor plants are no longer beaten down by the spray heads. Instead, their roots are lovingly watered by a gentle drip. And I really don't have to worry anymore about fungus attacking my plants since they're now watered at ground level.

What have I planted, you ask? Well, remember, here in Florida, now is one of our prime planting seasons. So here's what's growing in the garden these days: 3 varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, rainbow carrots, radishes, corn, green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas, zucchini, and, largely because I still don't understand when to plant things, I have watermelon growing, too.

The beets, radishes, and carrots jostle for position.

Here's one of the personal watermelons that we hope to
harvest soon.

The sugar snaps are starting their climb.

The lettuce has begun to grow beneath the tomatoes.

The cucumbers are climbing up a cage
I built for them.

And our next pineapple, ready for picking in
another month or two.
So here's to the seeds we plant today, not for the fruits they will eventually yield, but for the miracle they are in the present. A tiny speck of dirt dropped in the soil can become a sprout in just a few days. With each passing day, it becomes something more impressive. May we all marvel in the growth of each day, rather than impatiently waiting for the end result.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hanging Up the Border Fork

I've decided that it's time to give The Green B a rest for a while or longer. It's been a pleasure sharing my gardening with all of you who have read the blog. I wish you all the most productive gardening possible.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Miracles Are Afoot

This is the season I love the most. I always have. It's not quite as wonderful as fall in Ohio or Michigan, when the leaves are set aflame in those vibrant autumnal hues. And though there really is no chill in the air here, no anticipation of days wrapped in lovely sweaters ahead, we have begun the gradual slide into tolerable temperatures. And unlike in the North, now is the time that we gardeners can really get outside and start our fall vegetable gardens. It has put me in a rather poetic mood. I find myself quoting Keats out in the garden as I dismantle the bean supports and reconfigure them into structures for cucumbers. Of course, it's "To Autumn" that springs most to mind:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

I'm preparing to be loaded and blessed, so I'm hard at work, just as our now beloved bees are. 

A dream realized. Bees have called my garden their home.

The fig tree is allowing me to imagine the possibility of one pot of homemade fig jam.

Figs all around

Another beautiful, miraculous pineapple has started its journey toward my dessert plate.

Our third pineapple is on its way

I've grown three varieties of tomatoes from seed, nursed them along in the house, hardened them off outside, and now planted them in their own outdoor bed. 

I've built a new contraption for the tomatoes.
Another experiment in growing.

I've filled a bed with beet, rainbow carrot, and radish seeds. The radishes have already started to appear, just two days later.

Radish rows popping up

And the watermelon and cantaloupe plants seem to be coming along nicely.

My first attempt at baby watermelons

I have so much more work to do. There's still lettuce and peas and broccoli and other things to get in, but the vegetable garden is beginning to take on new life, which always feels a little backward to me. Autumn in Florida feels very much like spring, a time of rebirth. Hopefully for those of you who are beginning to put your gardens to bed, the coming months in my garden will provide some welcome green.

The beginning...again

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Retrospective

I've just returned from a mini vacation, and unfortunately, during that visit, my DSLR suffered a rather tragic accident. The bag it was in fell from a hook. Though the camera was in a cushioned wrap, it seems the mirrors have been knocked loose. (I pause for the gasps of horror now.) I have to admit that I'm in mourning over the camera. I tried to shake it off, but it has troubled me since Saturday and continues through today. Since I won't likely be able to fix it for quite a while, I will have to resort to my old camera.

So I've decided to post a few photos of the garden that I haven't used before, taken by my beloved Nikon D3100. I promise to pull myself together for next week's post. And fear not, I'm not depressed or anything. I'm just not ready to pick up the old camera yet.

Lonicera (Honeysuckle) at night

The New Dawn rose in bloom

The brightest jewel in the garden, Miss Tippy

My old Olympus will provide photos next week, and I'm certain it will be up to the challenge.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Regeneration and Other Miracles

To begin, I must admit that I have swiped the first part of this week's title from a brilliant novel by Pat Barker. For penance, I simply urge you to read it.

For the last two years, both my plumeria and my fig tree have been plagued by rust fungus. They get those orange powdery mounds on the undersides of their leaves, and though I spray Neem oil faithfully, they eventually defoliate. This year, thanks to the persistent rain, the fig tree had two types of fungus, and most of the developing fruit fell off the tree before it could fully ripen. I was a little heart sick from it, particularly since I had spent last winter trying to protect the fig tree from another year of attack. As the leaves began to wither on both specimens, I decided there was nothing to do but accept defeat.

And then, both plants seemed to say that they were not going down without a fight, that they would fight back. While leaves fell off, more fresh ones began to break through. As of today, there is virtually no sign of illness on the fig tree. Several new figs are already growing. It's as if the horrible summer of fungus never happened.

The fig's new lease on life

The plumeria still has a fight on its hands, but it looks so much healthier than it did last year. And considering that it has moved all over the country with me, beginning as a wax-covered cutting I purchased in Hawaii in 2002, living in several pots, over-wintering in basements, and now ending up here in massive form, I'm pretty pleased with it.

Doing its best to hide the ugly pool pump

As for miracles, well, I never win anything. Ever. Imagine my sheer delight when I miraculously won a $50 gift certificate while participating in a Twitter garden chat (Monday nights, 9pm ET, #gardenchat). Weeks Roses sponsored the giveaway and made my year when they sent me a gift certificate to a local independent nursery that I love, Apenberry's. I tried very desperately to hide my glee while picking out plants (and fish fertilizer) that would be free to me. Here's just a sampling of what that money did for my garden (but there really is tons more).

A little infusion of raspberry to the garden

What of the bees from last week, you may ask? Well, honestly, Turfman and I are like little kids when it comes to the bees. We're constantly going out to check on them. We report their comings and goings to one another throughout the day. We are a bit like Tippy at Christmas, who loves presents so much that we often find her under the tree, lying on top of them. No matter how many times we tell her that Santa won't come if she acts so greedy, she simply crawls further under the tree.

Santa's #1 fan

And so it is with us and the bees. They are fewer in number, it seems, but we still hope that they will build a home. My hope is especially fervent because I'd love to have their pollination skills in the fall vegetable garden. Perhaps I may be due another miracle?

Our beloved bees

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Swarm of Amazing Sights

Plenty of times throughout the year, someone could argue that I'm taking this whole Florida gardening thing a little too far. After all, it sort of consumes me. I have an addiction to seed and plant catalogs, something the companies themselves clearly know, since they seem to send an endless stream of their publications to me. I have subscriptions to The English Garden and Gardens Illustrated, and I demand a reverent silence when I first gently open the cover of an issue when it arrives, handling it like I would a precious first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice.

When Jeff Lowenfels' Teaming with Nutrients arrived on my doorstep (thanks to my friendly UPS delivery man), I skipped to the door, exclaiming happily to my sister-in-law, "Oh, I know what this is!" When I opened the box and she saw the what it was, she just rolled her eyes and said, "Sheesh. You really do like this stuff."

I have gardening books all over the house. I replay gardening shows on my computer, often merely for soothing background noise. Parts of the house smell a little tangy at times when I'm bringing up seedlings and feeding them my homemade compost tea.

I am a woman obsessed.

One might ask why I can't get gardening out of my mind. Well, I think my garden has offered up quite a lot of convincing evidence this week in my defense.

Turfman caught sight of this on Thursday

And it became this by today.

It almost looks like Woody Woodpecker now

I happened to look out of the kitchen window this morning just when a flurry of flying activity began around the lime tree. Turns out I was witnessing a honey bee swarm. 

Here they are, and now they seem to be building a hive!

And the miniature Toad Lilies are in full bloom now. 

The Matsukaze Toad Lily

Now, really, why wouldn't I be obsessed?

Monday, August 26, 2013

When Decline Is a Blessing

Last Wednesday, as Turfman was watching the local weather report, I overheard the weatherman say something that gave me such relief. He said that historically, 21 August was, on average, the hottest day of the year, and that we would soon begin the slow decline in temperatures. It seemed he uttered it as a lament, but I was overjoyed. That sentiment signaled that I have survived yet another Florida summer, and I can look forward to my favorite season (in the South) of fall.

Summer in Florida, to me, is a time of great stress. I don't mean that it creates anxiety for me. Rather, I mean that my body feels almost perpetually taxed by the extreme heat. I do not like to rise early, which means that I have little to no time in which I can exercise. I can see the effects the heat has on my garden, too. My plants have been enduring a significant amount of stress. Everything seems as if its clinging desperately to life. But as the temperatures begin to cool, the plants really do seem to be relaxing, exhaling in relief just as I do. Some, however, are simply coming to an end.

The chlorophyll is slowly leaking out
from top to bottom

The Kew Red Lavender is dying, so I took emergency
 cuttings in the hopes of having new plants for next year
The cooler days spell hope for me, just as the warmer days in Michigan assured me that I had survived another winter. I do not enjoy living in extremes.

In this season of decline, I can now look forward to spending full days out in the garden, rather than limiting myself to the early morning half hour in summer. Even in that short amount of time, I was drenched in sweat and felt light-headed. Full days of work are coming. Full days of exercise.

The tall branches of the Mexican sage are thinning,
but new shoots are emerging below.
I get to look forward to something else as the summer draws to a close. I get another chance to try and realize my dream of a truly productive garden. I get to wipe the slate clean and begin again. I can apply the lessons I learned from all the gardening mistakes I've made in the past. I have new seed varieties to try. It's all on the verge of beginning.

As far as I can see, this decline is all about redemption and rebirth.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Garden View from Indoors

The weather in Orlando for the last several weeks has reminded me of a Victorian joke I once read:

What does the English weather have in common with Queen Victoria?
It rains [reigns] and rains and never gives the sun [son] a chance.

Of course, it's not exactly the same here. The sun does get a chance, quite a lot, in fact. It breaks through the blinds in the morning and brings with it intense heat. Invariably, I step out of the house with Tippy for our morning walk, and I think that it's not so bad, almost pleasant. Within 5 minutes, I am sweating profusely, my air-conditioned skin finally registering just how oppressively hot and humid it really is.

And then, at some point in the day, it rains, in torrential downpours. The rain barrels are in a persistent state of overflowing. The mounting pressure inside them sends the rainwater back up through the downspout, and it shoots out several feet into the air. There is a hole in the yard now where the water finally lands.While I type this post, I'm draining the pool, as last night's crashing storm (the third of the day) brought the water level within an inch of overflowing.

The rain hole. A foot & a half wide, and 6 inches deep.
Ankle breaking potential is high.
I've traded the miserably cold winters of Michigan for the miserably hot summers of Florida. Rather than jumping from the frying pan into the fire, I've gone from the freezer to the fire, which may make me a lobster. I'm not sure. And with all the rain, it's possible I'll need to start swimming for my life.

This is the time of year when I must surrender to the power of nature. The weeds in the vegetable garden path are gargantuan and widespread, but I just can't get up at 5 am to pull them. Any other time of the day may induce heat stroke. My views of the gardens are increasingly limited to this perspective.

Viewing the garden from the comfort of air-conditioning.
It's almost like visiting an aquarium.

So I spend my time indoors with inspirational books, and I plot, plan, prepare for the cooler days to come.

Some not-so-light reading

Getting ready for the fall planting season.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Plague on All My Gardens

It's been ridiculously soggy around here for the past few weeks. I remember the afternoon showers that we had the last time we lived in Florida, but they tended to last 15 minutes or less. This summer, we've had full days of rain. Day after day after day of rain. In fact, as I type this, it is pouring rain, the second rain event of the day. While some plants have thoroughly enjoyed the showers, many others look as if one more drop of rain will be the last insult. This makes me think of Dylan Thomas, oddly enough. I vividly recall that his biographical sketch in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 2 describes the cause of death as "an insult to the brain." I always thought that a curious expression, as if Thomas had taken one last swig of bourbon, and his brain said, "That's IT!" and that was, indeed, it. But I digress.

The only word necessary to describe the situation is fungus. I'm dealing with fungi in all shapes and forms. Most of them seem harmless enough, so long as I don't cook up some homemade mushroom soup. Others, however, are a little more destructive.

Here's a pretty set in the Secret Garden

Here's a cluster in the mint. At least it has fresh breath.

These little guys are visiting with the beans. I've seen some
dinner plate-sized cousins of theirs at a neighbor's.

This one just screams "POISON!" to me...

So I avoid the mushrooms. It's not like when I lived in Michigan and could find morels while out walking the dogs, alas. And we have other fungal issues that are causing some trouble. One of the roses has black spot, which has caused it to defoliate. The plumeria and the fig tree have rust again this year, which is causing them to defoliate. I've done just about everything I can to keep the fig tree from being attacked by the fungus. On the upside, though, I did notice that one of the apple trees had blossoms on it, and I really never expected that. 

An apple blossom (okay, two of them)!

So with the fig, I'm faced with the difficult bit of gardening, but I suspect it's a commentary on life, too. Some things work out better than we had expected. Sometimes they are what we had envisioned. And sometimes they are pretty ugly and difficult. So we celebrate the successes, we (should) celebrate what we expect, and we look at the ugly and difficult and decide what is worth our efforts and what we need to surrender. The fig tree is a bit of an irritation for me, but for now, it hasn't quite insulted me enough, and I'm not quite ready to let it go.