Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Season of Transition


Childhood scenes rushed back at me out of the night, strangely close and urgent. Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.
~Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place p. 31

My dad was my beekeeping partner. Our beekeeping days are over. His body let go of his life on earth on Valentine’s Day.
 

Make no mistake, caregiving for a loved one is a heavy load to bear for both the giver and the receiver, and because of our group effort my sisters and I managed to keep dad in his own home to the end. I’ll not be the one to write the how-to book on making the journey a happy success, but I can say it’s a season of learning and growing in ways that will either make you or break you. It’s a time of running open-armed toward your beloved parent to help with all your heart and yet also a time (more often than I care to admit) when you look up at God with tears streaming down your face, stamping your foot, fists clenched by your side and yelling “No, no, no! It’s too hard God, I can’t do this anymore! Whatever made you think I could?” Then, just like after all moments like that I hear His quiet, soft voice “Be still and know that I am with you.” It’s a total immersion system of learning, overwhelming to say the least, yet a blessing to say the most.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is no higher calling than that of service to another. And that there may be no calling more difficult. I am coming off 10 years of answering such a calling. I have battle scars. I have amazingly joyful memories of laughter and shared jokes. I have sad memories of impatience and frustration bubbling up from deep within both dad and me.  I have stretch marks on my soul as I’ve been taken beyond my comfort zone time and again. I have grayer hair, longer laugh lines and deeper worry creases than I would have had I not stumbled down this path with both of my parents. I am blessed to have had the dad I had and the opportunities to be a blessing to him. I think that while my mental and physical commitment to be there for my dad in his old age is over, the lessons I will learn are still on the horizon waiting to dawn with new understanding when the time is right to reflect.

I was having some tearful moments as my sisters and I were arranging the funeral services for dad and I was feeling so very…oh I don’t know, just really missing his presence. We were in his house and I had my mini laptop with me. We were using it to write out his obituary. As we paused to discuss other things, it sat unused for a few minutes so the screen had gone black. When I picked it up again the screen came alive with a picture of dad on his riding lawnmower. A FULL screen photo. It was the same shot of him I used in his last Christmas letter to friends and family. In it he is riding away with his back toward me. I was so stunned. Then it flashed off after about 3 seconds. It wouldn’t came back up. I never downloaded that photo or any other photos to that computer, I just use it for written documents. I wrote the Christmas letter on my larger laptop where we have a photo program.

 
Later that night as I was transferring documents from my mini computer to a larger one so I could email the obituary information we’d written that day, after a period of idle the mini went to sleep. Then it happened again.  When I went to shut it down, a different photo of my dad flashed on the screen for a split second. It was a photo of him smiling directly at me, which I took at Christmas a year ago. Again the image filled the entire screen. No edges, no borders.

This business with photos flashing on the screen has NEVER happened before. I decided to do a little investigating on this computer, wanting and yet not wanting, to make some sense of it. It didn’t come with a photo program, and I never downloaded photos onto it but after looking I found some in a folder. I periodically send documents from this computer to a flash drive so I can put them on my larger computer and visa-versa. I can only surmise that it is during some of those transferring of docs via the flash-drive that maybe a dozen or so photos loaded inadvertently onto the mini computer, but then I’m not a tech-wiz.

There are other photos, not all of dad, in this rogue folder. A few of other family members, a dog, and clock parts from when we were working on his clock repair projects and we didn’t want to forget how to put the thing back together again. But only the photos of dad are flashing on the screen for a second or two, never any of the others. In my heart I know I need surmise no more. Whatever the technical explanation I know the true reason behind it. The photos appearing were simply gifts of God, given through the opportunity of that moment, my computer screen. The photos brought dad’s very real presence and comfort to me when I needed it the most on that difficult day. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may remember the post Garden of Memories, in which I also tell of holy gifts of comfort for me from God and mom surrounding her sudden death.

Days later we once again made the 3 hour drive across the mountains to the cemetery my parents chose as their place of burial. The last time I was there was to put roses on my mother’s grave. It was a tense drive over the mountain pass as a lot of snow had fallen just in the days before. Thankfully, as we wound our way down from the summit, the weather gave way to a sunny February day. Just as my parents wanted, we planned another simple, quiet, family, graveside service. I was surprised how calm and almost warm the weather was for us in those moments. It was February in Eastern Washington after all. The pastor spoke, then a few of us spoke as to dad’s life, memories, accomplishments and kindnesses to others and the service concluded. I stood by his casket, touching the smooth wood, pulling out a rose from the casket spray to take home with me then touching the other flowers. I wasn’t even conscious of people around me, it was just me and dad in that moment. As I was talking to him, one last good bye, just thinking and remembering, a stiff, cold, persistent wind rose up and blew from behind my back, pushing me. It was as if dad was saying, “Ok, it’s done, get on with your life. Go on, go home.” The wind didn’t let up and cleared those away quickly who had gathered to honor dad. He wasn’t really one to dither or linger unnecessarily. We did have to get on with a small family meal then get back over the mountain before darkness made it more difficult. The next day, two feet of snow fell up there and they closed the pass intermittently for avalanche control. God indeed did give us a window of sunshine and safety for such a sad day.

Today I look out at my February garden. It’s raining. Cold. A few crocus and snowdrops are blooming; hellebores too are lifting their blooms in defiance, not willing to be deterred by gray, wet days. One wee viola peeks up from within its leafy blanket and the tender bright green leaves of Clematis unfold, vulnerable yet undeterred. Heath offers its nectar to bees who won’t find it because it’s too cold for them to fly. Winter ebbs and flows in these weeks of transition toward spring, yielding to a mild day here then a cold day there, yet not willing to let go. Garden renewal has begun its process forward and won’t be stopped, but merely slowed if an Arctic Blast follows on the heels of a few balmy days. I contemplate what’s next for me. I’ll look for employment, one of the many things I let go of in my own life to be better able to help him in his. Will I do bees again this year? I’m kinda weary. Maybe I’ll wait till next year with bees, if ever. I wonder if dad’s colony is still alive and if so will I bring them here to my garden or give them to one of his beekeeping friends? I wonder if beekeeping will ever be the same for me as it was when we had it together. This too is a time of ebbing and flowing for me as I regroup and plan my next steps. I feel dad urging me to get on with my life, don’t linger or dither, move forward.

It occurs to me my grieving process is much like spring in the garden. A time of transition, in which there is much ebbing and flowing. Cold and dark giving way to warmth and light then back again. Progress toward joy on the horizon, yet returning to tears and melancholy when I least expect it. A confusion of emotions, what if’s and needs giving way at times to bright moments of clarity and strongly rooted determination. Renewal. And all the while God is there, holding me up, giving encouragement, letting me find my way without ever leaving my side. Growing me past my comfort zone, giving me the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again with His ever-present whisper “Be Still”.

And I smile. As I resume to edit this post, the sleeping mini computer awakens and there again dad on his mower flashed for less than a brief second across the screen.
This time not a full screen shot but smaller, and a briefer span of time. It’s almost as if he’s fading from me. I’m not really ready for that yet. It’s only been a week. Perhaps I really am healing and letting go.
  
I love you Dad.

 

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Viola, Hellebore, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Cyclamen coum

Authors photo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Garden Companion


In your life’s defining moments there are two choices – you either step forward in faith and power or you step backward into fear.
~James Arthur Ray.

If you had asked me a year ago I’d have said “Never. Another cat with our Miss? Never!” Our current feline companion, Miss, was VERY territorial and quite the scrappy little street fighter when it came to furry neighborhood relationships. She’s been known to jump on a dog’s head that had the temerity to get too close! Visits to the emergency vet clinics, stitches, staples, oozing abscesses...oh yea, we've had them all with her.

She’s adorable and quite loveable when it suits her. A most welcome addition to our family but she didn’t come without some emotional baggage of her own. She desperately needs love (who doesn’t) but prefers to be aloof and often pretends she’s uninterested in getting it. And she’s definitely best suited to a one cat family.

Miss came to us from neighboring friends 6 years ago. Simply unwilling to live there she would come to our garden daily to see what we were doing or just to lounge quietly in the sun. We did what we could to help our friends with her attitude about their lodgings but to no avail. When awakened at 2 am as she stood outside our opened, upstairs bedroom window meowing, we knew then we were in trouble. She had made her choice…she’d live with us someday. It seems we attract strays somehow. And that’s not a bad thing in my opinion. I think I’ve always been in favor of the underdog, er…undercat as the case may be. Most of our four legged companions have come via their own wanderings.

Zeke is our latest addition but he didn’t come to us. We went to him. He lived across the street for several years. We knew him by sight but not whether he was a he or a she. As a matter of fact, I can remember chasing out of our garden on a few occasions. With Miss’ preference for a super-sized bubble of personal space and willing to fight for it, we didn’t need another nemesis coming around. Sadly, his people died last year and family members left him to fend for himself. He just stayed there on the porch. Waiting. Quite alone. A few of us in the surrounding houses started feeding him and gave him fresh water daily. No one knew if he had a name. I called him Zoe, not knowing he wasn’t a she at the time. I hadn’t been able to get close enough to him to see if he was a Zoe or not. He was mistrustful of anyone and was quick to run as I approached. Finally I saw he was not a Zoe. What should we call him? Hubby suggested Zeke. Zeke it is. Zeke has issues. Don’t we all? By his reactions, sadly I suspect abuse in his early life. Oh, but he’s a charmer, a sweet lovable guy very much in need of human companionship. Charismatic if you will, the way he tilts his head when he looks at you or the way the white patch on his chest waddles as he runs to us or the way his lip get hooked up over his tooth and he just stares at you as if to say “what are you laughing at?”. He’s welcome and most definitely wanted by the humans in our family.
 

But integrating him into the family won’t be without complications. Not only getting past his deep fears but also one by the name of Miss. As mentioned she had issues too. I wonder if she can put aside her jealousy and see that Zeke is in need of a safe place just like she was all those years ago.  While she’s been reluctant, oddly I think she does understand. She mellows when we have those chats.

On the other hand Zeke needs to accept her too. She was here first and we want to maintain her standing as Alpha cat. But he’s a scrapper also. Over the months it has not gone as we would have liked. At first he was all meek and mild, then as he got more comfortable he got aggressive. For every step forward toward progress with these two, we have had 3 steps back to the beginning.  There have been fights, tumbles, hissing and vying for territory within the house and garden. There have been hurt feline feelings and aggressive brawls. It has taken time, too much time for my liking. Nor has progress been made toward two cats living in the same house. We don’t prefer leaving the cats out as cars, dogs, and wildlife are just too dangerous for that. We much prefer to keep them indoors but when you adopt you have to work with what you get. It took several years for Miss to be happy with more time spent inside than out. Zeke is more of a challenge, I doubt he was ever allowed indoors so it’s is frightening to him. Winter was coming and he wasn’t bout to be come comfortable indoors enough to sleep nights inside nor days when we are at work. Once inside you can just see his anxiety level rise. Once let out again, he calms considerably. If our cats could have their druthers the back door to the garden would always be left open.
 

Open doors are great for warm summers but its winter now. No can do, so I bought a heated outdoor pad made specifically for animals and made him a nice shelter, much like a dog house. I used some unused beehive equipment and put it under the potting bench somewhat protected from the wind and rain. It took several design revisions before I got the right combination of bee boxes and location that suited his fearful nature. With all earlier attempts he would only stay in it for a little while and not at night. Seems he preferred his under bushes or some other burrow for his bed where he had a good view of his surroundings and a quick escape plan. At first I made the box with only one door, which turned out to be the problem. His fear of being enclosed made it too frightening. So I cut another opening on the side for escape and more visibility. He needs to be able to see what’s going on from several angles and have more than one way of escape, depending on from where the danger is approaching.  Such fear. Its so sad.

Things turned around nicely after I cut the second opening. He started really using the ‘spa’ as we call it now, since it’s heated and padded with fleecy material. Now he’s in it most of the day every day and nearly every night. It’s a rare night that he stays somewhere else, and we still don’t know where. Now that I’ve hit on a design that he can be comfortable with I will be painting it all the same color. He has also learned our schedules. He’s always at our backdoor for breakfast and dinner. This is all real progress and its been just short of a year.
 

And this is how it is today with the two of them. Wary tolerance from a distance. Oh well, all in all not too bad considering.
 

 
In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea 'springwood white'), Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa

Author’s photos

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review - Flower Confidential


Where have our desires led us? Are we, in fact, gilding the lily?
~Amy Stewart
 
We want a cut flower to be perfect, unique, extraordinary, fragrant, long lasting and inexpensive don’t we? But all those demands are the reason most store bought cut flowers have no fragrance. In the breeding efforts to get sturdiness suitable for freight handling and a long vase life, flowers fragrance and delicacy has been lost.

Amy Stewart's book, Flower Confidential is a fascinating look into the very real, at times ugly industry that provides us with the beauty of cut flowers for our homes. Travelling with the cut flower from greenhouse to retailer, it is an exposé of the sordid realities of the industry.  In it she tells us how flowers are being created in laboratories, bred in test tubes, grown in factories, machine harvested and packed, auctioned, sold and transported by air across oceans and continents. Stewart also details histories of growers, both domestic and international, their relationships to each other, histories of hybridizing, plant profiles and genetic plant facts, the Dutch Auction and much more.

Sadly for us, 80% of all cut flowers purchased in the USA are imported, grown by many countries using chemicals banned for use in the US and heavy chemical use of fungicide dips after the flowers have been harvested but before they get packed for shipment. Growers are highly motivated to keep shipments from being rejected due to pests or disease so they use what ever chemical it takes to ship a ‘clean’ product. Since this is not an edible product, little attention is paid from this end of the line as to what chemicals are being used. Stewart notes that California grown flowers do have less chemical residue than those grown in Latin American countries.

Next to the hazardous chemical issue is the fact that many countries are growing and shipping flowers that are handled by workers not paid by fair wage practices nor are they properly protected from the daily chemical use. Stewart brings light to the fact that many of the policies are exploitive, using child labor and women report rampant sexual harassment.

Stewart goes on to outline a little known dilemma of whose flowers to buy. Ecuadorian roses are priced low that keeps buyers going back to Ecuador. Buying from them supports local jobs, keeping families together but comes with low wages. Ecuador’s flower industry provides jobs for both men and women which empowers women in an abusive industry but also uses child labor. Without the flower industry many Ecuadorians, Kenyans, and those from many other nations across the equator would not have much hope of making an independent, steady living.

On the other hand American grown roses encourages migrant labor which separates the Mexican worker from family who are left behind in Mexico and may contribute to our illegal border crossing problem. All this because we want low prices for cut flowers.

Much of the coffee, chocolate, and hand goods industries have already implemented fair trade certification programs as an industry standard. What about the cut flower industry? Stewart's research shows that while the US has been slow to jump on the bandwagon, much of Europe has already implemented certifiable standards for social and environmental responsibly grown flowers. In the US, Veriflora and a few others are making efforts to make that a standard here. She mentions Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as two outlets that have made the commitment to buy flowers certified by green labeling programs. A green label certification may include:

  • Least toxic chemicals chosen for use
  • Less overall chemicals use
  • Healthier work environment for workers
  • Less crowded growing conditions for the plants whereby improving the plants overall strength, which helps the plant to resist diseases and pests on it’s own
  • Better working conditions and wages for the workers
  • In some cases higher price to the consumer
 
Sad? A little depressing? Certainly not visions of Miss Marple lovingly tending and cutting roses from her bushes to sell from a little cart in front of her cottage. Today’s cut flowers are a commodity market in which they are forced into unnatural growing conditions and packed and shipped for market quickly so you can pay as little as possible.

Overall a very informative book, difficult to put down. I must say I am a tad disillusioned after reading it but definitely better informed and appreciative of knowing more of the reality of what goes into the cut flowers I buy. I will think twice now about chemical residues as I handle store bought cut flowers, knowing that they have likely been chemically sprayed and dipped several times over their growing life and on the production line. And if they are from Peru, they have been fumigated at the Miami Int'l Airport before they will be allowed in. Since this is a blog for organic gardening, as a side note I'll include another unsettling fact Stewart uncovered. According to Miami Int'l Airport's cargo division's marketing specialist, "asparagus from Peru is fumigated as a matter of course", yep even if it was grown for the organic market. By the time it reaches your organic store and is labeled as organic, it's been fumigated in Miami if it comes from Peru.

Armed with this new information, the next time I went to Trader Joe’s I looked at their cut flowers. Sure enough, the protective, plastic wrap is stamped not only with the Trader Joe’s logo but also Veriflora

 
and Rainforest Alliance certifications.
 
 
Boy, I sure did feel better about buying and handling (without gloves) these lovely lime green chrysanthemums.
 
There is so much more to her book than what I've mentioned here.
Do you buy flowers from your local grocer or florist? If so I hope you find this review informative and I highly recommend reading Flower Confidential. Please note, this book may be titled Gilding the Lily for the European market.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Canna, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, crocus, Cyclamen hederifolium), Shasta Daisy(white double) Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Hosta, Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Lavender, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rhododendron, Rose, Salvia

Author’s photos

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Apiary Update


For bees, the flower is the fountain of life. For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.
~Kahlil Gibran
 
I am sad to report that my bees have all died this year. We did our utmost to keep the hive alive this spring. I could see that it was failing and that the queen had disappeared so we inserted a few frames with new eggs and some brood from a strong hive so they could make their own queen, which they did, but within a few months it had completely died. Not sure why but such is the way of beekeeping in these difficult and troubling times for the bees.

Happily there are several beekeepers within blocks of my urban home and their bees are going to town these sunny days on my Silver Vein Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana), packing full the pollen sacks on their legs.
 




I planted this vine years ago to camouflage an otherwise boring fence and I’ve been so happy with it. It grows to 10 feet long (3 meters) so it nicely covers a 6 foot (1.8m) fence, draping gracefully over the other side as seen above.

 
The leaves are a silver-veined green turning a lovely apricot in the fall. A perfect backdrop to the fall blooming and fragrant Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera). While in the photo above the background of these leaves is in fuzzy focus, you can get an idea of the colors.

 
The vine's flowers are considered ‘insignificant’ in the gardening world, which just means they are so small they are hardly visible, but for the bees they pack a wallop in the pollen department. In the above photo is an opened flower, pollen exposed. Below you can see the vines are covered with flower buds, just a tad bigger than a pinhead.

 
This is neither a messy vine nor a thug by any means. It is deciduous, so the leaves drop off for the winter, making great mulch and providing easy access to the vines to prune and control as you please in late winter, early spring. This is when I thin it out and corral its growth. It can take sun to part shade and is hardy to USDA zone 4. It is self attaching, meaning it puts out little tendrils which find a flat surface then stick to it with little round pads, like frogs ‘toes’, if you will. These tendrils will also curl around a wire support if you choose to use a trellis.

Overall a very easy and versatile vine. I highly recommend it, especially for the bees!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Perovskia ‘little spire’, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tomato

Authors photos

Monday, September 9, 2013

Junipers - What's Not to Love?

A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.
~Barbara Dodge Borland, 1904-1991, American author


Actually there’s a lot not to love about Junipers in my opinion but then I had an unpleasant domestic relationship with them years ago and still shudder at the remembrance.
 
 
Junipers can grow in a wide variety of situations and locations. This is not the reason to plant one. They can also be indestructible. This is not a reason to plant one either. With all due respect…..

Junipers are not meant to be planted at sidewalks

 
or next to stairs where you have to carve out a corridor.



or at the edge of lawns.



Junipers are not meant to be hedging material, carved into hard blocks...


or soft undulating waves. If you have to prune any plant this severely in order to keep it within boundaries then you have the wrong plant in that spot.


Junipers need room to spread and breathe...


allowing them to take on their natural sprawling habit with graceful branches reaching luxuriously in freedom.
 
 
All of the above can be applied to Heathers and Heaths too.
Exposed, woody stems due to over pruning is just plain ugly.
 
 
Now that’s what I’m talking about! No ugly stems showing, just a blooming delight! Gorgeous.
 

The moral of the story is…if you are going to plant something, always choose the right plant for the right place and you will be rewarded with beauty and less work.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Perovskia ‘little spire’, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tomato
 
Authors photos

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tagro - Organic By Who's Standard?


Be the change you want to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Often people ask me if I use Tagro. My short, politically correct answer is ‘No, it’s not organic’.  What I would really like to say is ‘I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 100 foot pole.” Even better, I love it when people press me further as to why I won’t use it so I can extol the virtues of organic gardening to yet another person wanting to care for their little part of the earth. 

Tagro is the municipality’s solid waste division’s solution on what to do with human waste.   Some communities call it ‘sludge’ and residents fight to keep the counties from spraying a liquefied version into the forests and woodlands.  The city mixes it with sawdust and sand to give it a crumbly, compost like texture so it looks kind of like compost.  The city then advertises it with lots of tax paid advertising as a “Natural Yard Care” alternative to be used to amend your soil or raked across your lawn instead of fertilizers or natural compost.  Does your community have such a product?

The city touts it to be organic.  Understand there is more than one definition of organic.  Webster’s dictionary has several definitions of organic, two of which are “1. as relating to, or arising in a bodily organ; 2. derived from living things” which is how Tagro can claim a semblance of organic status.  Agricultural practices define organic as “a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.  To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests”.  Research shows organic practices result in regeneration of renewable resources in the soil whereas chemical practices result in dead soil, incapable of feeding plant life without further chemical replenishment because the chemicals kill the living biology of the soil.

In reality, Tagro, sludge and its counterparts are all comprised of chemically treated human waste.  Organic only by a dictionary definition, not mine and certainly not the definition of healthy soil practices. Tagro has the most foul, sour acrid odor which I can smell blocks away if I have the misfortune to be down wind.  It smells nothing like the sweet, earthy smell of real compost or even composted steer manure.  Nor does it have the nutritive value or the tilth building qualities of real compost or composted steer manure. 

What it does do is give a huge shot of nitrogen to what ever it touches, so if you rake it across your lawn you must mow your lawn twice a week to keep up with the out-of-control growth. I use a mulching mower which gives a nice shot of natural nitrogen to my lawn which I only have to mow once a week during Spring’s growth spurt.  Spring grass is naturally high in nitrogen so leaving the mulched (more finely chopped than regular mower blades chop) clippings on your lawn to decompose is all the fertilizer it needs.

Because Tagro is chemically treated human waste (along with everything else that gets flushed down the commode) I believe it also kills the living organisms in your soil, and the worms.  Dead soil can’t support plant life so you have to buy and use a lot more fertilizer or Tagro. I want living soil microbes and worms in my garden soil. Living soil is what supports plant life, which supports bug life, which supports avian life and on it goes.

Recently I’ve seen Tagro’s potting soil mix experimented with in greenhouse growing operations. In pots it is very heavy in structure, not giving the plant’s roots a good air/water mix for healthy root growth. Also it is physically heavier so lifting pots is more difficult. More importantly the plants growth was stunted and the leaf’s color was off and splotchy. After planting with it for an hour, one of the staff (that would be me) complained of headache. All in all it got a bad report from the commercial growers.

If you want to support your community and utilize its in-house programs, better alternatives are Zoo Doo manure programs and community supported composting businesses. My city collects garden waste and it goes to a business that composts it, then sells it to consumers by the bag or truckload. It is always certified organic. The nearby Zoo Doo program is so popular with gardeners they always sell out quickly every spring. If your local zoo doesn’t have this program perhaps they’d be interested in your suggestion in their inbox.

There are so many healthy ways to organically amend your garden soil. Tagro should never be an option.

In Bloom in My Garden Today:  Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum,Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’, Begonia ‘bonfire’,Borage,Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’,Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea pallida,Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s), Green Beans, Lavender, Lobelia, Nepeta, Oregano, Perovskia ‘little spire’, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme ‘foxley’, Zucchini, Tomato

Author’s  photo

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grilling from the Garden


And remember that monotonous work – weeding the garden, sorting beans – allows the brain time to contemplate, question, and be in awe.
~ David Bradshaw

Meals just don’t get much better in the summer and fall than those of grilled just-picked vegetables.

Our weather here has gone from a long wet and cool spring to hot and dry almost overnight which means an abrupt end to a long and delicious snap pea crop.
 
Normally I grow ‘Cascadia’ snap peas which are an edible pod pea meaning you eat the whole thing, no shelling. If you do shell the peas you lose the sweetest part. These peas are best if left on the vine long enough to make a fat, juicy pod. My favorite way to eat them is to toss the freshly picked peas in some olive oil and spices and put them right into my preheated grill basket with other veggies.

 
Last year I discovered this grilling basket.  It is made of stainless steel without non-stick coating and the sides are high enough so when stirring and turning the veggies don’t jump out over the sides. I find it best to toss the raw veggies in a bowl with olive oil and spices while the basket is heating up on the grill rather than oiling the basket directly. Tossing the oiled veggies into the hot basket is less messy and I don’t have any problem with food sticking. I use this basket for quick cooking veggies like zucchini, snap peas, asparagus, chopped kale leaves, mushrooms, and chopped tomato. Toss on a few oiled, raw, shelled and cleaned prawns in the last minutes…ummm delish!

I buy a dark green olive oil and cook on low temps. Even on med/low I haven’t had any problem with the oil burning and I do get a good sizzle. My go to spice mixture has been freshly ground fenugreek seed, garlic powder, dried rosemary, dried basil, dried thyme, sea salt and pepper but lately I’ve been adding anise seed. I love the aroma and flavor anise gives. I tried chopping fresh garlic but it falls through the holes of this basket and burns on the flame so garlic powder is best. Whole garlic cloves don’t cook enough for my tastes by the time these quick cooking veggies are done.

Hot weather stops the pea plants from flowering so with this onset of summer heat the plants are pretty much done for. When it’s time to remove the vines, don’t pull them out. Cut them off at the soil level as the roots have nitrogen rich nodules attached. Leaving them in the ground is enriching for both the soil and crops to follow. In my case I’ll be planting my kale seedlings in that spot soon. It is generally not recommended to compost your pea vines in your own compost pile unless you know it gets really hot. There could be undetected viruses or fungi on the old vines. I just cut all the vines off and toss the whole tangled lot into the city pick up bin.

For a few years I grew purple potatoes and paired them with carrots for a beautiful dish, steaming them on the grill in parchment/foil packets. I just can’t get over how gorgeous the two colors are together, the color in the photo doesn’t do justice. I drizzle olive oil over the top then for the spices here I used freshly ground fenugreek seed, whole garlic cloves and freshly ground rosemary. It all cooks in about 30 minutes on low. Looks like I was out of parchment paper that day as I usually I put it between the food and the foil.
 

Next carrots are paired with red chard stems and my fresh garden leeks.
 

I was having problems with the bottom burning so I now put loosely crumpled foil ‘pillows’ under the food/foil packets. Problem solved.

And then there is our corn steamed in its jacket. Follow this link to a previous post. Yum, can’t wait for this year’s corn to be ready for the picking. I’ve got 6 stalks growing, one of which is just beginning to tassel!

 
 
What have you got growing in your garden for grilling season?

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Asiatic lily, Astilbe,  Begonia ‘bonfire’, blueberries, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Digitalis grandiflora, Echinacea, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Green Beans, Hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Hosta, Kniphofia, Lavender, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Purple poppies, Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme, Tomato, Veronica ‘royal candles’, Zucchini

Authors photos
 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Another Peat Free Alternative

"In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."
~ Margaret Atwood


I’ve been experimenting again. And since it is time for many of us to get seeds started for some fall vegetable crops I thought I’d give you another peat free option for indoor seed starting.

Hydroponics is the process of growing crops in water with no soil. Well known to those who grow hydroponic is rock wool. Historically rock wool has been used for decades in some European countries for housing insulation. Today it has been adapted for commercial applications around the world to grow our vegetables in greenhouses. Rock wool is a product of super heated rock until it sort of explodes into fine filaments, kind of like cotton candy (candy floss), then is formed into a usable material. At least that’s my loose translation of what it is. You can get a more detailed explanation at http://grodan101.com/about-us.

Rock wool for seed germination is formed into cubes. It is all natural and chemical free. Each cube is wrapped in plastic which makes it easy to write your planting date and seed variety on the side. It is said to be a biodegradable plastic, but I prefer to remove it when I plant them into the soil, so the roots that emerge out the sides are not hampered in any way. I doubt it biodegrades very quickly. After all plastic is plastic and I don’t want it in my garden. Maybe someday they will change it to a paper wrap. In my situation I don’t need it to be wrapped at all but I suppose commercially the big growers do.

The manufacturer states that rock wool is recyclable but, I think more likely only at the commercial level of use rather than for the average home gardener. Since it is made of rock it does not decompose so as we use a few each season they are more likely to end up in our compost piles after we clean out our vegetable beds at the end of harvest. Crumbling them up into smaller pieces as you find them, they will provide a means of looser soil structure adding to your soil’s tilth, much like stones or sand provide, helping drainage and bringing air down into the soil.

Rock wool cubes are a good choice for starting seedlings because of its air/water transferability. There is little risk of rotting seeds from being too wet as long as it is not sitting in water. I also think they are not so quick to dry out like peat pellets do. I started this tomato Willamette on March 16 and today it is growing and blooming beautifully in my garden.
 
 

If you study this option on the internet, you’ll find lots of rules and do’s and don’ts. For instance there is talk of initial Ph level adjusting, lemon juice remedies, and some chat groups say you can’t transfer these into soil growth, etc. I didn’t do any of that and I did plant this tomato into the soil and had no problem at all. The only thing I did do prior to putting the seed into the cube is rinse it well in running water. If you are used to using peat pellets, I used the rock wool in the same way. I moistened it thoroughly first, inserted the seed, kept it moist but not soggy wet and waited for the seed to do its thing. I’ve used them on a heat mat or not, either way.

They cost a little more per each than peat pellets or coir pellets. I didn’t really shop around, I just went to my local hydroponics store for the sake of convenience and time so you may find better prices. If you are looking for peat free alternatives, I encourage you to experiment with rock wool cubes.

Cheers!

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Alyssum, Armeria pseudarmeria latifolia ‘joystick mix’, Asiatic lily, Baptisia, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Bletilla pink, blueberries, Carnation, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Digitalis grandiflora, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Hosta, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Iris, Lavender, Lobelia, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Peas, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Sedum, Thyme, Tomato, Veronica ‘royal candles’

Author’s photo




 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Woohoo! Landlords Again!




I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment,
while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
 
Yay! We have a resident!  This birdhouse has been unoccupied for several years. The last occupant was a Bewick Wren which was fun to have, but sadly no one’s been interested in our ‘rental’ since. I was about to take it down to see if it needed some maintenance when I noticed these Chickadees checking the place out. Now, weeks later, they are bringing in loads of live bugs so we’ve got a baby or more inside. I love that! This one is flying away after feeding baby.
 

I’ve seen the adults gathering bugs and larvae all over the garden. This morning they were uncurling the leaves on the lilac to find larvae in the webbing which some bug made. Off they went to the nest. And by the looks of the green worms I see going in the Chickadees are keeping up easily with what may be the cabbage moth larvae/worm that is doing this to our broccoli. If you see little white moths flitting around your vegetable garden, they are cabbage moths and they are looking for all your brassicas. They land for a second on the leaf and lay an egg. If you look underneath you’ll see tiny yellowish dots. Those are the eggs. Left undisturbed they will hatch into a worm which will do this to your leaves.

 



A regular spraying of BT or a peppermint soapy spray, both organic controls, will curb the problem too but putting up a few birdhouses is by far more fun. While I see eggs and the worm damage, when I go to pick off the worms…I can’t find any. No doubt they are feeding that little baby bird well. 

In Bloom in my Garden Today: Armeria pseudarmeria latifolia ‘joystick mix’, Baptisia, Bletilla pink, Chive, Daylily,  Daphne caucasica, Dianthus, Digitalis grandiflora, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Hardy Geranium, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia ‘little maid’, Lavender, Lobelia, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Peas, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Pyracantha koidzumii ‘victory’, Rose, Salvia, Saxifraga andrewsii (irish saxifrage), Sedum, Tellima grandiflora (fringecup), Tomato, Vancouveria hexandra (inside out flower),

Author’s photos

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Better Way to Get Your Peas Started


I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation.  It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mosses from and Old Manse

In years past I used to start my peas outside in late February with not so great success. Here in the Pacific Northwest our damp cool weather is great for pea germination but also heavenly for slugs that usually ate more than their fair share of my emerging seedlings. So I began sowing my peas indoors in a variety of cell trays and soils, experimenting to find the right mix.  A couple of years ago I began soaking the seed 24 hrs before planting to plump them and speed up the process of germination. I’d been doing this soaking method with corn for many years with great success. Planting the plumped peas and watering them after planting seemed to work ok but I only usually got half germination and the other half rotted, gooey seed every time. Clearly too much water. As I stated in the previous post, moisture, air and temperature is a delicate balance for good germination. I should add here that old seed does not germinate well either but I knew my seed was still viable.

 Fast forward to last year when I used to work with Sarah, a horticulturist at the greenhouse where I volunteer. She always grew her crops on the drier side of usual. A week ago while buying a new package of peas, since more than half of those I sowed on February 15 have now rotted, I talked to the proprietor about soaking pea seed. He suggested never soak the seed more than one hour and rather than watering them into the soil, use a mister to keep the soil barely moist but never dry. If you are using peat-less potting soil, it may have some moisture in it straight from the bag, mine did. Keeping what he said in mind and the success Sarah had with her drier growing methods I tried it. I sowed the seed on February 26 and now 8 days later nearly all have emerged with the few remaining beginning to push up the soil so I can already see I have 100% germination success!
 
 
 So from now on I will be keeping to this procedure:

  • I start my pea seed in plastic cell packs indoors to keep slugs from mowing over the emerging crop.

  • I soaked the peas for 1 hour or a little less, not more. This time I am planting Cascadia snap peas.

  • I used standard organic potting soil as pea seed is large enough to push through the chunkiness of potting soil, (tiny seeds like basil, lettuce and tomato will do better in a fine seedling mix which contains peat). Make sure your soil of choice is organic with no fertilizers or wetting agents added.

  • I used a mister to add moisture rather than a watering can only as needed, keeping the soil barely, slightly moist.

  • I put the planted cells in a recycled “clam shell” food container (I think it had baby croissants in it from the bakery originally) to hold in moisture so I actually didn’t have to mist much at all. If you don’t cover your cells you may need to mist a little more often. A plastic dome  like cover works like a greenhouse and recycles its own moisture which will collect on the top and drip back down to the soil.

  • I did not use a seedling heat mat this time but have in the past. Peas don’t really need it.
My peas are well on their way to being happy vines! As they get a little bigger and some leaves start to form I’ll harden them off for covered outdoor temperatures so I can put them outside under my little plastic cover on the south side of my house where they will get better light. When they are a good 6 inches (15cm) or so tall I’ll harden them off again for no protection at all, and then plant them around my bamboo teepee. I’ll be picking peas in no time, woohoo!

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Tete-a-Tete daffodil, Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Rhododendron, Sarcococca confusa,

Author’s photo