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.


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.


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!

Gardening Begins … Kinda Sorta

We’re both pretty sore today, ’cause we spent all day yesterday rototilling & then cleaning up rows to make high beds – they’re about a foot and a half above the level of the paths between. It took us just about all day to get watersorb, gypsum, slow-release fertilizer, and blood meal added; everything rototilled twice; and to form up the beds. But it’s now ready for planting, and all we’ve got to do is to get the tomatoes from the nursery & to lay in the major drip lines and we’re ready to plant.

In addition to what I listed in a previous post, we’re planting Collard Greens, Red Potatoes, and Sweet Potatoes. Most of those seeds come from Kitazawa Seed, which is a seed company here in San Francisco which specializes in Asian vegetables. They’re pretty cool, and I suggest that you grow some Kabocha squash if you grow anything at all, ’cause they’re truly fabulous – way better than pumpkin for making pies.

Here’s a diagram of what the layout is like. It’s 25 feet from top to bottom, and about 45 feet from left to right. The spaces between the rows are about 1 foot, so that should give you an idea of what you’re looking at.

The space is shady towards the top left corner (where the Celtuce is to go), and we’ve had to balance out where to put things based upon where they’ve been before (no tomatoes nor potatoes can go in the same place they’ve been unless you’ve had three years in between, for example), but we’re pretty sure of this layout.

One thing we learned last year was that you can’t really trellis more than two tomatoes in a row, because you lose fruit where the plants intermingle, and you end up with plants being dwarfed by their neighbors. So, we’ll be planting the tomatoes in short beds, with only two tomatoes in each bed, and stretching two support beams above the three beds. It should let us trellis successfully, and give us a better harvest. We’ll see.

We’ve also made the beds much higher than we’ve been able to make them in the past, which should make it easier to harvest and to weed. AND we’re only planting one thing in each bed. We’ve tried to mix things in the past – tucking basil beneath the shade of a tomato, for example – and it just doesn’t work all that well. Not only do you end up with things competing for resources, you also end up with an inability to plant things in replacement. For example, if you’ve already pulled all of your beets out, but you still have greens growing, you’re stuck with leaving that bed to the greens. If you plant just one thing, however, you could plant a replacement crop, better utilizing the space.

These are things we think about. And lie awake thinking about.

Happy Gardening!

Gardening Begins … kind of

Are you guys gardening yet? We already ordered our WaterSorb so we’re ready to start rototilling … but the soil’s going to be too wet for another couple of weeks. I’m sure that others are ready to start, though, because we left ours pretty much just “to stand” over winter (and harvested the last of the beets and carrots a couple weeks ago), so we had plenty of cover to keep the ground moist. Our friend (in whose yard we garden) did a rough till last week with his tractor, just to knock down the tall stuff, though, so there’s hope that it’ll dry out before midsummer.

We need to order from Kitizawa Seed for our Kabochas soon … I’ll probably take care of that today. We’ve found that Kabocha Squash makes a far better pumpkin pie than any other pumpkins, but the problem now is in choosing, because until I checked Kitizawa I was somehow thinking that there were, oh, maybe two kinds of Kabocha. No such luck. There are 12 varieties on Kitizawa’s site, so it’s either going to be a squash-filled gardening season, or we’re going to have to make some hard choices. Fortunately for us, our CSA will, no doubt, provide us with Delica (green) and Uchiki Kuri (red). Our trouble will be in deciding which of the other 10 varieties we should grow.

Next up, of course, will be the choosing of tomatoes. We are going to attempt some restraint this year, as we’re still not through with last year’s: some are in the freezer, awaiting pasta or something; more are in zips, dried, awaiting breads and pestos. However, when we get to Morning Sun Herb Farm, we usually find at least 6 different varieties right away, and a bit of wandering brings us a few more. Last year, thanks to the gophers, we “only” ended up with 7 plants. This year … I think we’re going to try for 6 plants. Only. No “fallbacks,” no “spares,” no “just in case the gophers get them.” We’ll see.

And, surprisingly, tomatoes and squash about does it for what we’d like out of the garden this year, except for an Armenian Cucumber and, perhaps, a couple of Ronde de Nice zucchini. And that’s it. Except for the things we have to grow in the way of “rent” for the garden space, that is: okra and collard greens.

It’s strange to think that we may have finally gotten our gardening under control. We’ll see – because we usually give ourselves these stern talking-tos – but I think that we may finally be learning that if you can’t eat it all, and if it makes it difficult to harvest, then you probably don’t need to grow it. And we especially don’t need to grow things which can’t be preserved easily, and which we don’t eat ordinarily. Eggplant falls into that category – the category of “one plant, maybe, if there’s room, and if the plant is free.”

That’s the problem, actually: the majority of our plants tend to be free, because other gardeners (soft-hearted lot that they are) have planted, intending to “thin,” and end up simply giving away their seedlings. So, they look at us, and we must have “sucker” writ large across our foreheads, because we end up with all manner of things to plant, unless we want to kill them off. So of course we plant them. And water them. And buy replacements when they get eaten by the gopher, because we can’t bear the empty spot where once was a plant.

Let the chaos begin.

Kitizawa Seed:
Find a CSA:
Riverdog Farm (our CSA):
Morning Sun Herb Farm:

Quick update: I made our purchase from Kitizawa, and can expect delivery in a couple of days. I guess I’m weak … ’cause I really couldn’t resist:

  • Akehime, Hybrid Winter Squash, Baby Kabocha
  • Sweet Mama, Hybrid Winter Squash, Bush Type Kabocha
  • Fairy, Hybrid Winter Squash
  • Armenian Cucumber
  • Prik Ki Nue Rai-Thai Hot Pepper
  • All Red Leaf Amaranth
  • Red Noodle Yard Long Bean
  • Tsu In Yard Long Bean
  • Nozawana Turnip Green
  • Celtuce (Stem Lettuce)
  • Atomic Red Carrot
  • Cosmic Purple Carrot

So, I really am going to stop. No more purchases. Except for the Collards, and the Tomatoes. Really. Honest.

The Philosopy of Neglect

Ages ago, I read that African Violets are actually from somewhere called Saintpaulia. Because they’re one of those plants that hardly ever blooms unless they’re forced to by a horrible dry spell, I doubt I’ll ever get to see them in the wild — I’m a desert person only insofar as there is a hotel with air conditioning, or a pool nearby.

I am inordinately proud of my Saintpaulia ionantha. My mother had these all the time I was growing up, and routinely overwatered them. I’m so much better at complete and thorough neglect, so my plant is thriving, blooming periodically, and doing just fine. I’m especially pleased because I started this plant from a slip of a parent plant that was given to me as a gift. All hail the feeling of delicious competence!

Like everything else beautiful, wild African violets are an indicator of species life; a botanical canary-in-a-coal mine. If things in East Africa are doing well, there are violets. If things are polluted… well, suffice it to say that the lands where these flowers grow are vigorously protected by any number of people.

African violets… glow. When seen in just the right light, they actually have some kind of a glitter on the leaves, which I couldn’t get to come through properly with the camera (unless I blew up the picture to a huge pixel-defying depth)… which of course was an epiphany that other violet-watchers have discovered. I find it makes them most horribly, violently, purple-prose spewingly philosophical, so I must share the wealth of pain:

“African violets are at their most beautiful during dry spells… when they have everything they need, they’re just lovely fuzzy green shrubbery. When they’re not watered, they send out blooms. Maybe they flower as cries for water. Maybe they flower to show us how to deal with adversity (oh, gag. I’m sure that’s not it.) graciously.”

And here’s another soppy florist motif: “The lovely African violet plant just needs a little light to keep it in bloom. This plant is symbolic of the human strength that fights back in the face of adversity with the aid of little hope for light at the end of the tunnel. This [plant] will help your loved ones to recuperate, to keep up their morale in the face of unpleasant situation and to fight back unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This plant is a great gift for your loved ones who may be depressed, sick or in a situation where they need the love and support of their family and friends.”

I’m sorry. I know I’m not meant to laugh at this… this gratuitious circuitousness, but for goodness sakes, if someone needs family and friends around, perhaps we should just take a chance and go sit with them… as lovely as my violet is while it’s blooming, it’s just not as good as listening effectively as I am. I do suppose it might help one fight back unpleasant thoughts and feelings, for about ten minutes (let’s revel in that feeling of competence again, shall we?), but after that…? Ooh, wait. That’s an unpleasant thought… Drat it, my usual psyche has come back again. Oh well. So much for my darling plant.

I suppose this is my nudge from the universe to go and listen to my sister complain from her hospital bed, but… nah. She has other people she’d be happier to see, so I’m taking a night off… to admire my violet.