Monday, March 31, 2014

The Garden's Spring Sprint (and a Gentle Plea)

I know many of you have had a terribly long slog through winter this year, so hopefully this installment will provide you with things to look forward to in the coming months.

It's a critical time in the productive garden here. The daily temperatures are pleasant now, but it won't be long before the heat is oppressive and the afternoon rains roll out the annual welcome mat to every fungus you can imagine. I'm out in the garden every morning, making sure every plant is getting just what it needs to keep it healthy. As always, I find it such a relaxing, restorative practice, and I don't think I could do without it. That is an introduction to my gentle plea, but I'll save that for the end. Let's get in the garden first.

I have read conflicting reports about whether you can grow potatoes from those you purchased from the grocery. When I opened the potato drawer in the kitchen and found four potatoes sprouting, I decided to give them a try. They seem to be working so far.

New potatoes are peeking out of their
raised bed

I have been told more times than I can count that I can't grow corn in my small garden, but when someone tells me I can't do something, I generally just take it as a challenge. We have had some good ears of corn in the past few years, and each season, I try a new variety.  This bed is a Three Sisters bed of sorts. 'Patty Pan' squash are growing between the corn, and at the end of the planter I have more 'Tatuma' squash and 'Kentucky Wonder' pole beans growing, but I haven't quite mingled them according to that planting plan.

The 'Scallop Patty Pan Blend' Summer Squash and 'Golden
Bantam 8 Row Sweet Corn' are sharing their space nicely
I built a new archway out of electrical conduit that I bent, and I attached chicken wire using zip ties. Hopefully the pole beans will find the new set-up satisfactory. Since my space is limited, I like to use arches over the pathway to increase my useable space.

'Kentucky Wonder' Pole Beans are getting ready to scramble
up their arch
I went a little nuts on the Botanical Interests website when it came to peppers (everything you see in the photos, minus the potatoes and pineapples are from seeds I bought from Botanical Interests). I have 'California Wonder' sweet peppers, 'Traveler' jalapeƱos, 'Sweet Cherry Blend' sweet peppers, and 'Pepperoncini' Greek peppers scattered throughout the garden. All of them are growing really well, so I'm gearing up for Boursin-stuffed cherry peppers, Greek salads, and all sorts of other delights.

I see peppers in my future
My beets are under siege at the moment, so as an organic gardener, I made the choice to take preemptive action this morning. I've rescued all of the beet greens I could, and they'll make a nice side dish for supper tonight. The beets are roasting and will become part of one of my favorite treats -- pickled hard-boiled eggs and beets. I called them "Purple Eggs" when I was a kid, and that's what they remain in my house today.

Someone is enjoying my beet leaves

Actually, a whole lot of someones...
I'm also really excited about my bed full of spinach, bok choy, and blue kale. The bok choy is especially impressive at the moment. 

Bok Choy 'Tatsoi Rosette'

So here's my gentle plea. If you haven't grown your own food, I encourage you to give it a go. Start small, and get some experience and confidence under you. If you don't have much space, buy some beautiful containers. There are plenty of plants that will do well as long as they have a sunny spot. No matter your situation, find a way to do it. It's really rewarding in so many ways. I do get quite a rush from seeing something I've grown finally make it to my dinner plate, but the biggest reward I get from gardening is being a part of the daily miracles that occur. Tending to the needs of a plant and watching it grow sows seeds of joy and peace and real satisfaction.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Looking Back, Moving Forward

I pride myself on my solid memory. Most of my students would likely recall I would often tap my right temple with my index finger and say, "That's a steel trap right there. A steel trap." And for most things (except where I left my keys or whether I remembered to turn off the iron), it has been a safe deposit box for all kinds of information. But lately I've been noticing that things are slipping through the cracks.

We recently had a guest at our house. There's nothing remarkable in that fact. We live in Florida. We get lots of guests. Lots. But he had asked about my garden and wanted to know if I grew anything remarkable. My thoughts quickly turned to my pineapples. He asked a number of questions about how they grew, and to illustrate my explanation, I went to my office and pulled down the two photo books that I've made (using Shutterfly) to chronicle what has happened in the garden for the last two years. I knew I had photos of the entire pineapple growth process. So I showed them to him and explained, and when I collected the books to return them to the shelf, I saw a photo on the back of the 2013 journal. It was an early morning shot of the Secret Garden. "Oh," I said, rather surprised. The guest asked what was wrong, and I replied, "Well, I just don't remember it ever looking like this."

You see, a certain website had announced a garden contest last year, and I'm a sucker for contests. The announcement asked readers (I thought) to post photos of their garden spaces that fit into one of several categories. I decided the Secret Garden would work well in the "Garden Rooms" category, so early one morning, I dragged our massive ladder out to the yard and set it up outside the fence that forms the back wall of the garden. I figured an aerial shot would best capture the whole space.

So I entered the contest, and when the winners were revealed, I discovered that they must have really only wanted photos from landscape architects who had designed spaces that cost a minimum of $20,000. Obviously, I did not even place, but that fact did not diminish the high regard I had held for my garden.

And then I clearly forgot about that moment. I suddenly found the garden lacking. And over the winter, when most plants had retreated a bit, I thought it insufficient, which is when I started planning the redesign. I've been implementing that design in the last several weeks. And then I saw that photo of a magical garden that I could not recall. The steel trap had failed, hung open and slack like my mouth did upon realizing the garden was mine.

My garden last year

Listen, the new design will be equally beautiful. It is taking shape. Sometimes it's hard to remember that  something was beautiful and might be again. Sometimes a memory misleads us into thinking that change isn't required. I'm almost certain this change was necessary. I just wish I could have remembered the pride I felt in the garden, remembered that it's always been a pretty special place.

A peak at the garden now from a
different perspective

An old friend watches over the changes

Monday, March 10, 2014

Springing into a Fresh Start

This is my favorite time in the Florida seasonal calendar. It's that brief but magical moment when we can keep the windows and doors open, when the humidity is reasonably low, and everything in the garden is emerging from its short winter nap. This is the moment of unfurling. It reminds me a bit of putting the clothes for a particular season away, leaving them in the attic for months, and then opening the box again, only to reveal a wonderful world of clothes that I've always loved and forgotten for a moment that I even owned them. Everything has a newness about it.

The Tibouchina in bloom again
The best part of this season is the fact that I begin my gardening with a clean slate. It's a curious truth about gardening that is, unfortunately, not often replicated in human relationships. No matter what I've done wrong in the past, no matter how horrific the outcome has been, there's always hope--perhaps even faith--that things will turn out differently, that I will enjoy a rich and satisfying harvest. This is yet another lesson I wish I could somehow translate into other areas of life.

The seeds I sowed indoors are now sturdy seedlings that I am hardening off outside, and they're nearly ready to join the plants already producing in the vegetable garden. And despite my difficulties with getting reasonable yields from my vegetables since we moved here, despite what seems to be far too many suggestions that gardening here is exceedingly difficult, I still have some inexplicable belief that this season will be different. Hope, indeed, springs eternal when it comes to gardening. 

The secret garden is coming along. I completed one planter. I don't know how I feel about it, so I've decided to take a few weeks to get a clear idea before I move forward. I carefully pondered whether I should get a tattoo nearly 20 years ago, and the delay served me well, so I give the same consideration to many other decisions. But I'm happy to hear what the rest of you think of it.

I have a few reservations…and the upper
plants have not fully grown in.
I gave the Wolfie statue a new coat of paint after I cleaned off the rust. I think the new color is more in keeping with my sweet boy's coat.

Wolfie is waiting for new friends to
be planted

So it's a moment of joyful anticipation that we're experiencing here. Let's hope we learn a little from our mistakes, find pleasure in the smallest of victories, and always keep faith that things will get progressively better.