Self Sowing Seeds

Through the years we’ve done vegetable gardens, with maybe a few flowers thrown in as a row border or something. This year we’re really only (successfully) doing flowers.

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I can catch the morning glories before the pods pop if I check up on them, but that’s just for fun, because there’s no way I’ll get them all, and I don’t want to really. The nasturtiums are just easy to find. The other flowers have already self sown by the dozens. This should be fun!

– D

Irvington Gardening

During this time of everyone staying at home, we decided to do some gardening. Well, no – we’d already decided, but now seemed an ideal time, so we ordered 7 cubic yards of compost, and some plants to arrive a few days later.

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We knew 7 cubic yards was a lot of compost, but it actually went fairly easily. It was cool enough to need to wear warm clothes while shoveling, which made a huge difference. There are 5 cubic feet in a wheelbarrow and 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard. So, figure about 40 wheelbarrows had to make their way somewhere.

We basically wanted to bring the earth back up to being level, either with the sidewalk or with the top of the planters. The previous tenants didn’t really do much with things, so we’ve been adding fertilizer and compost and really trying to improve the soil as much as possible.

It has been 13 years since we’ve done any serious gardening, and even then, it was probably way back in 2002 or so that we were really able to garden at home (we’d been gardening at B & L’s). Here, it’s convenient to get out there first thing for 20 minutes, or to get out there over lunch to thin some fruit, rather than having to make a huge production of Visiting The Garden.

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The challenging part was managing to get about 15 wheelbarrows tipped into the raised beds. There’s a metal nose on them, which needs to be wiggled into place on the lip of the bed, and then the whole barrow has to be lifted through 90 degrees and dumped.

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We’re deciding what to put where, and how much space to leave between things. We’re trying to read the labels and give things the space they need. It is hard to resist Annie’s, though, particularly when there are such gaps in our garden. On the other hand, we seem to have planted quite a few seeds, and they are growing apace. Soon we shall be inundated, we hope.

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We have planted morning glories all around the fence and at the base of the tree at the sidewalk. We’ve more to plant (these were sprouted inside), and then a whole bunch of other vining things (birdhouse gourds, cantaloupe, cucumbers), etc. For a first year’s garden, we don’t expect it to be perfect, but we really are looking forward to what comes up!

-D & T

Concerts, Persimmons and Pomegranates

Our Christmas choral season is over for Mission Peak Chamber Singers. For us, that meant 2 hours of singing on Friday night, 3 hours on Saturday night, 1 on Sunday morning, and 2 on Sunday night. 8 hours of singing this weekend. It was a blast, despite the rain and wind, awkward microphone malfunctions, travel time, and exhaustion.

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MPCS at Old Mission San Jose

We’ve continued to enjoy the harvest, with the pomegranates and persimmons having ripened and been harvested. One citrus has turned out to be a grafted tree with at least 4 different fruit, including a white grapefruit, maybe a lime, and a satsuma.

Unfortunately, the squirrels and crows did manage to get to a few before we could harvest them, so I had no choice in sharing with them. Everybody else can go to the grocery store, though – this is the first time in my life I have a persimmon tree and I’m pretty much going to eat them all myself. I’m sure my blood sugar will hate me, but if it helps add a few pounds I will not complain at all.

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I brought them in, polished them up (they have their own wax), and left them for nearly a month. Next time I’ll trim the sepals when I first harvest them, because they’re quite stiff and make it harder to remove the stem end without rupturing the soft fruit. I may prune back the Granny Smith, as it shades the persimmon (and because who in their right mind plants a Granny Smith?).

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Pomegranates also came ripe, so I took the opportunity to prune back the bush that should be a tree (it helped me get to the fruit on the inside of the shrub, as well). Quite a few split, and there were a few dozen tiny ones. We harvested them all, removed the arils from the split ones, and found that the tiny ones are just as mature and flavorful as the big ones! I might strap the individual stems together to try to make it function more as a tree and to stop obstructing the pathway. What ought to happen is for it to be pruned back to a single tree, I would guess, but that’s going a bit far for me.

Earlier in the year, when I’d encounter a hollowed out one, or one that was gnawed by the rodents (squirrels), I’d pick and discard it. So, when harvest came, I wasn’t expecting anything like this hollow one – I’d gotten rid of the ones I could identify weeks and weeks ago. This was one of the reasons I got out the pole saw: the fruit was fabulously dark red, and I expected it to be perfectly ripe.

Next will come the white grapefruit (maybe this weekend), and then the orange and tangerine. And then it’s time to do research on how these trees should be pruned and when, and to finish planning and planting the flowers for next year.

-D

Marauding Squirrel

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Yesterday afternoon, we were happily reading away when we heard a scritch-scritch noise. Looking out our sliding-glass door onto the deck, we saw a squirrel. This squirrel was in the process of amputating our sunflower. It then carried it off to who knows where.

Squirrels apparently like sunflowers. Not quite what we were anticipating when letting it grow.

-D & T

Serendipitous Spring


“If you have a garden and a library,
you have everything you need.”
~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Spring has sprung, the grass is riz… and now we know where all the flowers iz…volunteering in our front yard! We were a little shocked a few days ago when we discovered that the greenery we thought were perennial Agapanthus that never sent up flowers are, in fact, irises. We oohed and ahhed like… well, like eejits, really. Our neighbors must think we’ve never seen a flower before.

Of course, the neighbors are probably used to the madness by now. The noise level outdoors has risen, as T’s been crowing her victory over Sidney and …Sonia Squirrel. (Oh, yes. The squirrels are multiplying. We now have four, but at least two of them, probably Boris and Natasha, haven’t hung around long enough for their names to be screamed in fury… “Bad squirrel! No! Stop digging!” – As if that helps. They’re as bad as really smart, tree-climbing dogs…). The feeder has been moved now TWICE, because little rodent brains work feverishly, and they’ve managed to outsmart the humans three times, but this time it looks like the opposable digits crew won. We know we’ve won because, at long last, we’ve seen ACTUAL BIRDS visiting the feeder, as opposed to large hanging rodents… We’ve identified Nuttall’s Woodpeckers (or Downy’s — it’s hard to tell, and they won’t sit still for photographic proof just yet) and a pair of Lesser OR American goldfinches — once again, they’re not quite comfortable enough with us not to bolt every time they hear us moving toward a camera. The combination of bird baths and bird feeders has proven to be irresistible — and we really thought the birdbaths would be just something the sparrows enjoyed. Who knew we even had goldfinch in the neighborhood?

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(We’ve amused ourselves with the realization that our birdbaths look a great deal like a pair of poppies we admired earlier in the Spring. Weird synchronicity, that.)

Meanwhile, the roses are blooming their hearts out, surprising us with a few blooms from the rootstock, even – fully different colors and sizes that expected. Even a tiny, dry set of twigs in the back that didn’t produce before has sprouted a single, brilliant peach rose. This year, the yard seems to provide a little surprise around every corner… fortunately all nice surprises thus far. (We’re looking at you, Boris and Natasha. What else have you buried in the yard??)

D always jokes that T. has a natural taste for “nuts and twigs,” based on how she was raised (Shout-out to the vegetarian-vegan-wheat-grass-drinking, alfalfa-pill-providing ::shudder:: tofu-touting parenti!), so it’s no wonder that she actually likes rye bread, despite the fact that for many people it’s kind of …on the Bleh And Avoid list. Much to her unbridled glee, she’s now supported in that “like” by a nod from various nutritional reports. The Whole Grain council has rounded up the lot here, but the bottom line is that rye bread can really help support the cellular work in the endocrine system, and if you’re pre-diabetic or suffering from an inflammatory disorder, whole-grain rye can help.

(There are a LOT of people who preach the gospel of “reversing” diabetes, and “curing” yourselves with rye, and we’d like to just duck, so our endocrinologist can give those people a big dose of stink-eye without us in the line of fire. *ducks* Thank you.)

Look: we have no idea about that – and don’t send us argumentative email about it, either. We’re not saying that rye cures anything, nor are we touting any particular Huffington-post-quoted doctors, or Dr. Oz (please not Dr. Oz!). We’re just saying that rye has been shown, over time, to enhance insulin secretion, indicating a possible improvement of β cell function, which is saying that your pancreas is doing more of its job making insulin.

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The irony was discovering this AFTER starting a rye sourdough starter. (Which, in its earliest stages, smells …floral. Not sour. Floral. While this is weird, it’s …kind of nice, because sometimes a starter crock can have quite a pungent smell.) Our local bakery has quit carrying the sourdough rye we liked, so we’d decided to do our best to recreate it — so far, we’re working on getting the bread to RISE properly. While our first loaves were not pretty in terms of “traditional” bread, they were beautiful bannocks! A little more work with dough conditioner and gluten, possibly some oat bran, and we’ll see ourselves to rights. Eventually. At least it’s delicious whether it’s pretty or not.

One rainy afternoon, T. decided to start the garden… early. She may yet repent of this notion, as the kitchen sunroom floor is hosting a great many seedlings which may need to be repotted before finally being put outside. We were happy to find a really good use for the plastic “clamshell” packaging on the apples from Costco; they make nice little greenhouses with their plastic lids, and are quite reusable. Now that many groceries are switching to plastic egg cartons, they also make a nicely reusable starter for small seeds.

The gooseberries and Alpine strawberries have miniseeds, which have produced equally teensy seedlings, so staying indoors for awhile longer might be just fine for them. We’ve never grown either, and have a lot of hopes for them — the poha berries, or cape gooseberry, is allegedly a very simple plant to grow, and Alpine strawberries grow wild in Northern Italy — in the cold, in the dry, and in the wet. T. is sure she’s going to kill something so has planted nearly all of her seeds of each plant… which means that we may, in fact, soon have WAY TOO MUCH of everything. Isn’t that the way it goes, though? Ah, well; better too many gooseberries than too many zucchini… although, that’s probably going to happen, too.

The kale and jicama have produced surprisingly hearty, thick-leafed seedlings, and of course, the cucumbers and birdhouse gourds are making a break for freedom already and trying to vine, even with only two leaves… thing just might get interesting, here…

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“Every flower must grow through dirt.”
May you ignore the fertilizer, put down roots, and thrive.
Happy Spring!

Succulent Succor



This dear little plant has been with us now for about six years, and is finally feeling well enough that it’s giving us some flowers! We picked it up in a pot containing less than one teaspoon of dirt … and a substantial amount of glue! It was one of those pots with a suction cup on it, and was meant to be stuck to the refrigerator or something. As if living things should be refrigerator baubles!



So, we took it from its pot – a feat involving a knife, much coaxing, and a pair of scissors with which to extract the roots – and repotted it. It lived in a little mustard pot for a few years, and grew larger, until we finally gave it its current home … in a coffee mug which had developed a crack.



It’s been happily living in the coffee mug, in various window sills, for several years now … and has been growing steadily all this time. It’s now about three inches across and three inches high.

We didn’t expect anything of it, and have simply been enjoying having a little plant which doesn’t seem to mind infrequent waterings or adverse conditions. So, when it began to develop a flower spike, we were excited!

So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And finally gave up on anything happening, except for maybe thinking that we’d get a few seeds or something, because it was just taking sooo long for anything to happen. We were finally rewarded, though, with tiny little flowers which started off being light green, and now are … well, not light green. Don’t ask me what color they are, but I’m going to guess that they’re kind of pink. Sort of. Or off-white towards pink, at least. But with green stripes.

How Does the Garden Grow?

The garden … limps along. This year’s been a rough one, for some reason. We’ve had strange weather – with long periods of cool, punctuated with intense heat for a few days in a row. We’ve had several variety of grasshopper – the monster green ones, and the little tiny green ones, too. We’ve had black aphids. And we’ve had no peppers survive, no okra survive, and very slow growth on the tomatoes: they’re only 3 feet tall, when they should be at least six and bearing fruit by now.

The Amaranth is already trying to go to seed, so I’m worried about it as well, and the kabocha is already starting to fruit, when it should be sending out long tendrils to conquer the rest of the garden.

Sigh.

Garden Update



There’ve been a few changes in the garden’s overall plan, as we’ve discovered seed packets that we didn’t know we had (Kale and Delicata Squash), and as we’ve realized that some of the spaces we’d allocated really could be filled with other things (three whole beds of sweet potatoes?). But, aside from a bit of reshuffling, we’re nearly there with laying out everything and getting it planted.

Highlighted in yellow are the beds remaining to be planted. There’s still one undecided bed, but I’m sure it’ll get decided soon enough. Also, not shown are the random Basil seeds which one of us has been sowing throughout the beds of the Long Beans. I won’t say which one of us this has been, but it was not me this time. So there.

For pictures of what’s there, check out the Gardening Set on Flickr.

Mucking About

In the spring, a young girl’s fancy turns to thoughts of putting down her knitting and sitting outside doing nothing but watching the clouds…I have just gotten new Spring shoes, and I spent the other morning scuffing around happily in them, in ankle deep muck.

Yes. Ankle-deep. Muck.

I am ridiculously excited these days by ankle deep muck. No, I haven’t got a horse (boy, wish I had – or at the very least, a herd of goats – that manure would come in handy about now!), but I do have a garden. Right now it looks like twenty-three four-foot plots in a grid shape, with the odd triangular and boomerang shaped plots on the very edge. It might be the tiniest bit mad to rhapsodize about dirt, because yes, to date that’s all it is, but it’s good dirt. Great dirt, if I might be so bold. It’s the dirt we’ve been working toward for the past… oh, six years or more.

Every year we’ve amended, tossed in various potions and promises in the hopes that we are continuing the process of breaking down adobe clay into reasonable soil. Last year’s backbreaking 15 sq. yards of composting tree leaves finally did the trick. That, and the water-absorbing polymer, the late rains, the early freeze, perhaps — everything rolled into one and the Moon being in the 9th House have created the kind of dirt that you step into… and sink.

Thus my new shoes, ankle deep, in muck.

Joy.

Tomorrow will be one of those testing points in any relationship, wherein your nearest and dearest begins a conversation with you that opens, “Well, it’s time to choose the tomatoes. I think we’re only going with two plants this year.”

And one says, “Mmm” and “Hmm” and one tries very hard not to make any faces that look like incipient laughter will erupt or to have any expression whatsoever. Why? Because we have this conversation every single bloody year. And, every single bloody year? We end up with our body weight in tomatoes. And we’re food obsessed, okay? Even with the Plan of Miserable Reducing, ye olde body-weight is not… erm, slight.

And let’s not even begin on the peppers. Now, we are not Thai, and though I do a creditable imitation of Thai food (well, I can put a bit of coconut milk into anything… and if you’ve never tried it — people, you must, you must), I have no idea why every year we must grow those wicked-hot Thai bird chilies. Or the chocolate habañeros. I can understand squash very well. But six varieties?! Every year this dear man says, “Oh, we won’t let it get out of control.” And every year… well, you’ll see. You’ll see.

Garden & Remodel Update

If you squint hard you’ll be able to see me in this picture. Yup – these are the first of the garden space, with 6’3″ me standing amongst the rows, by way of perspective. We’re so proud of our beds this year it’s not funny. And best of all? Tomorrow we go to pick out tomatoes!

Jackie from one thread two thread has promised to send me some crimson hot peppers in exchange for a few of our seeds from Kitazawa. I’m hoping that she’ll have some luck growing the Thai Hot way up there. (I looked at your address on a map, Jackie: you’re about as far away from us as is physically possible while still remaining on the same continent! And when you say “frost” I’m thinking that you mean something entirely different than we do down here!)

The remodel actually looks like we may wrap up this current stage (floors) soon. The downstairs bathroom (shown to the right) is as “done” as it’s going to be for a while. We still have to get some additional storage for it, and to bring back some of the missing decorations … and, oh, some hand towels would be nice, as would some soap. But, other than that, it’s the first room downstairs to be completely finished.

The stairs have to come out again, temporarily, because they squeak awfully. So, we’re going to not let them “float,” but are going to apply copious amounts of construction adhesive. It’s not a happy thing, to glue them down, because it’ll make them harder to replace if they get damaged. But … well, you do what you have to, because the stair noses are actually working their way loose, and won’t be worth walking on in a few months if we don’t fix them.

More tomorrow, when we know how many and what varieties of tomatoes we end up with, and when the builder has left … hopefully for good!