Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sidewalk chalk on the back wall

So you've got a big juicy pile of sidewalk chalk and a huge ugly expanse of wall...

G got us started with a fat yellow sun, then got a hand full of pretty colors and started a butterfly. I kind of wanted to do ants and bees, but they seemed to hard. So I drew a red circle and pulled fanciful lady bug out of my imagination.

How many legs does a Ladybug actually have?
Ugh.... It turns out that Sue Hubbell has a chapter on them in her Broadsides book. Fascinating! Six. The answer is six--with the ability to detect taste built right in. We think they sleep at night. They have a hibernation period that kicks in when the weather dips below 55degrees: they huddle as a group. They are omnivores. And chew side to side. They are beetles not "bugs." (Which made both G & myself scratch our heads. Apparently neither of us were paying attention in 5th grade science class when we were supposed to be learning all of this.) Oh, and they have a larval and pupal phase before they start to look like anything we recognize.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Weed Report

Battling silver leaf nightshades & elms from seed or impossibly small root remnants. A few pigweeds, some bindweed, and those wildflower dandelion relatives... [ugh. we looked up the name, wonder where I put it?!]

Globe mallows and blackberry bushes have dreams of global domination. :(

Urban Chicken Workshop

Note to self: add verbiage here. [Yes, I wrote about it shortly after we did it.] But really, people only want the photos anyway.... grin.

Belatedly -- the peas.

Very sweet and juicy. How did they do it, given that our weather was so hot and dry?! Somewhere G read that in terms of yield, you need to plant roughly 40 plants per mouth you want to feed. I suspect we will plant more generously in the future.

Bolting onions

They are just so gorgeous, we didn't have the heart to rip them out. The purples are last year's leeks. The whites -- yellow onions.

The fence at the back...

We are trying to document all our baby steps as we work on the yard and gardens... because it is so easy to look forward, be irritable and impatient, and forget to feel proud of all the things we already HAVE accomplished.

The first of the garlic

G's been reading about it. Supposedly they are ready to harvest when the leaves have died back about a third. Which they have. After you pull them up, you need to let them dry/ cure before storing. So far she has plucked out one of each variety; we're delighted. They totally look like garlic!! Imagine that! And they are a decent size. [4977 & 4979]

Beat this!

From the raised bed come Beets. A big fat fist-full! Farmer Gloria explains how she did it. No problem eating these... they went from plucked to pan to plate in under 4 hours. grin. They were very sweet. (She told me the variety... Detroit something. We thought the multi-colored gourmet ones from the double-dug bed were scary. Think they are still moldering at the back of the fridge.)

G chopped and sauteed the greens with homegrown garlic & a store-bought onion. We weren't that wild about them. Tender, but a bit soapy and slightly bitter. Might be okay frozen, then added to a winter soup.

Not pictured, but we also managed to hang a pull-down shade over the sliding glass doors. And while we are standing in this part of the yard, the hollyhocks are fabulous. The chaste tree is blooming wildly. We're pretty sure that the zinnias we added during the hot spell are all going to make it. And finally, the tomatoes against the west wall are having mixed luck. Three are fine--the fourth looks wilted all the time. ?!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dry Storms

Two days in a row, late in the afternoon the clouds boil up like thick, campfire smoke, gritty and menacing. Sudden gusts slap and claw everything--trees, shrubs, fences. The wind chimes go wild. It takes the edge off the blazing hot 5 o'clock heat hump. But it is agonizing to by trampled by a thundering herd of cumulonimbus without a single drop of rain, the dust whipped into a choking frenzy yet again. How sobering to confront the primal and utter helplessness of drought.

For now we have water in the ditch. And city water--thanks to a lot of heavy machinery, a complicated subterranean network of pipes, and big blast of environmentally-expensive electricity. We live in the north valley--we have put down our roots close to the river. We tirelessly protect our food plants and flowers, watching them, watering, weeding, bringing straw and bark to help them stay moist and survive another day without significant rainfall. The July monsoons seem very far away, all shimmery and thin: we are crawling towards them as best we can.

Sunflowers & Hollyhocks

Somewhere I read a claim that 'gardens do not create themselves; they are a distinctly human artifact.' As I look at our summer 2010 food and flowering plant ensemble, I decided that for some of us, there should be a footnote that says, *And sometimes not even then!* I mean, when you are trying to foster horticultural harmony and productivity the botanical bodies often have other agendas. Before you blink twice, your original plan has been hijacked.

Take, for example, the rows of peas. Last February, it was still "yard." Spring 2009 was the first time we had tried to amend that particular patch and coax anything to grow in it. We had a glorious rowdy line of mixed sunflowers (grown from seeds no less). For our "second season," G put in peas. Then we had out of town visitors for almost a month & during that time a whole flock of sunflower seedlings slipped in. When we finally turned our full attention back to the garden realm, weeding them seem like drowning puppies. We just couldn't bring ourselves to do it.

Maybe it will turn out well. Last week we harvested the last of the peas. Now the blossoms are starting to pop. (It is a fact: the practitioners of industrial agriculture have nothing to fear from the likes of us.) The jolly green giants are gorgeous. And it's fun watching to see what colors / varieties insisted on joining us as holdovers from last year.

Unfortunately, sunflowers aren't the only willful plants in our domain. Also having their own way are the leeks and half the onions. It has been so hot, they have all bolted and flowered. The blossoms are so captivating, we couldn't bring ourselves to hack those off either. AND I spied several tomato seedlings in the raised bed. Last season they completely took over that coveted space. We swore we would never again be taken in by cute, innocent, tiny seedlings! I plucked a couple Sunday morning, but Gloria can't bring herself to cull them. ((Will they cave? How important is that second crop of spinach and lettuce?)) Oh. And lest this seem all too tame, I am not even broaching the subject of our blackberries, peppermint and sun chokes.

About sunflowers:
They were originally used as a food plant in the Americas--in the arid west. Eventually, during the waves of "discovery," they were hauled off to Europe. They spread from Spain north and east, were planted here and there, but did not cause a big stir. That is, NOT until they seized by Russians who wanted some fat to go with their meat and bread on Fridays. According to the article posted on the official sunflower site, in [late 1700s? early 1800s?] the Russian Orthodox Church published a list of prohibited foods. When sunflowers did not appear on the list, enterprising farmers started working feverishly to cultivate and squeeze them--in short, to exploit the loophole. Which they did very successfully. As Russians migrated to the US, they brought these juicy, oily seeds with them. Bringing the plant full circle, now as a big, fat, distant cousin.

Other bits of yard & garden news: we went back to Alameda nursery for a few more zinnias. The new bed that had daffies then irises, has been begging for some summer color. (More sunflowers at the back of the bed. We'll see how they do.) I know, I know. It's hot and late to plant, but we had to try. The hollyhocks are in their glory. Creamy double yellows, single reds & pinks. The grapes are coming along--not sure if the loss of all those hives down the block will mean a smaller crop. Also, our watering routines have been different. G wasn't thrilled with the ditchwater. She's worried that it brought lots of salts and weed seeds with it. So she has been using it less. AND May-June have been very dry. We'll see. May affect the blackberries too. Very happy to say that the Chaste tree seems to have made it through that terrible cold snap last fall. It was starting to bloom the end of last week. >So pretty.

We finally finished the fence along the back. (We're trying to keep the neighbor's weed seeds from infecting our compost piles and from raiding the back side of the garden). It looks great. Funny how inspiring it is when you can actually clean up one of those scary places in your yard. G has a wheelbarrow full of cow manure waiting to be layered up. And we can finally get to the worm trench. (?!!)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dry, dry, dry...

The relative humidity this morning was, *gasp*, 4%.

Went poking around on the National Weather Service site & finally found the kind of monthly weather data I was looking for:

Overall average highs and lows in May were seasonable. Average of 80/ lows 60s. But the month was really dry (rainfall down by half an inch): basically we got no significant rainfall. We had some record-breaking locally-specific winds ( the day that Gloria wondered if this wasn't what a hurricane was like, when they had to make the construction workers get off a building downtown). We had a freak late snowfall, and hit 100 degrees--breaking a record for the earliest that had happened since they've been keeping records at the Sunport (1930s). A moody, broody, petulant month. Yikes! Don't throw that smoldering butt out the window!!

Dot's Summer Reading List

About Bottled Water
A number of us have been muttering that we Sustainability folks have been shooting ourselves in the collective foot with our penchant for getting serious and preachy, for our love affair with soapboxes.
This heavy-handed solemnity is NOT helping the causes we ardently love. And I would add, is not, in itself, a sustainable practice. If it isn't fun or fattening, humans eventually get bored or burned out and stop doing whatever it is. To wit: Katya sent around a link for this clever animated bit about bottled water--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se12y9hSOM0

Arsenic move over?
Gloria ran across this yesterday. Forwarding it to me, she said, "Beans, Oh My!"

One of my recent heroes, Amy Stewart [ gardenrant.com ], just won an award from the American Horticultural Society for her book Wicked Plants. Did you know she paints, in addition to being a gardening maven and smart, prolific, successful writer?! I'm so jealous I could just spit! Where do I sign up to be her understudy?

Looking at this year's winners, I went ahead and ordered hers, then falling off the wagon--added The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. While I was at it, I prowled through the listings for Richard Conniff. Bingo! Swimming with Piranhas has just been released in trade paperback (hah--into the cart). The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth is the one he is just finishing up--due out in November. >That explains the teaser article in Smithsonian magazine this past April, Mammoths and Mastadons: All American Monsters. Oh--Stewart finally gave a hint about her current work. The next book is about Wicked Insects!

Already coming in the mail: the $64 Dollar Tomato, A Country Year, and Garden Insects of North America (which I spied on the science library shelves... Gorgeous--should be fun.)

Sue Hubbell
This past week I grudgingly trekked to the basement of the Science and Engineering library, having resolved to pull A Country Year by Sue Hubbell off the shelf. Having been to a local bee-keeping workshop the previous week, her name kept popping up in my desultory searches for "bees." I didn't expect to like it: with a title like that it was probably too Hallmark for my taste. But since it was free, I judged it worth a lunch hour, if only to cross it off my reading list and dismiss her as insipid.

She had me with the cover leaf, which said simply, "The Wild Things helped." The preface was a lovely, wise, aching snip of Rilke:

...Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves... Do not... seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will...gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
-Letters to a Young Poet, Letter No 4.
Trans M.D. Herter.
Norton 1934, 35.

Needless to say I was late coming back from lunch, and delighted to have a library card that allowed me to leave clutching the book. Over dinner I read bits to Gloria. A week later, her photo is up on my bulletin board of writerly heroes. Her spring chapter on frogs is one of the most delightful things I've ever read. (It's very funny... they flump into bed with her one evening as she is reading. And she adopts a lame fellow of a different species as a pet/ mascot. Then talks about a near-miss with the very BUSY, somewhat officious health inspector. With a couple of Biblical references to plagues & brown frogs having camouflage problems on white bee boxes thrown in.) It closes with:

Today my life has frogs aplenty and this delights me, but I am not so pleased with myself. My life hasn't turned out as I expected it would, for one thing. For another, I no longer know all about anything. I don't even know the first thing about frogs, for instance. There's nothing like having frogs fill up my windows or share my bed or require my protection to convince me of that.
I don't cut up frogs anymore [college biology class], and I read more poetry than I did when I was twenty. I just read a couplet about the natural world by an anonymous Japanese poet. I copied it out and put it up on the wall above my desk today:

Unknown to me what resideth here
Tears flow from a sense of unworthiness and gratitude.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tough stuff--blooms in the face of adversity

Top to bottom: 1 & 2 The slow drip from the swamp cooler :( the one I've tried three times to fix has been watering the hollyhocks generously. To wit--our first blooms!! Aren't they a gorgeous color?

3. Click to get a better look at this one--that's Clary Sage in full glory. Gloria started them from seed last spring as an experiment. At some point we had a mini-crisis trying to figure out what to do with them because so many of them survived to adulthood. ~8?! Sure is handsome, no? It has a very strong scent... I like it. It makes G wrinkle her nose. I believe it only flowers once: this is probably its peak.

4. G bought and planted this at some point this spring. I only "discovered" it in my stint as guest gardener this past week. I don't know what it is, but it is awfully cute! AND it looks really nice nestled in the chip with its big rangy neighbors. **She says it is an Australian plant originally: commonly called a Joey. {?! Hmm}

5. The Mexican hat along the front walk started blooming this week. It is such a brave plant to thrive and brighten that mucky, dry spot--awful clay that doesn't even deserve to be called dirt.

6-8. At some point, last weekend or early last week, we noticed that the Bird of Paradise blossoms were starting to unfurl. Aren't they extravagant?! (I snapped these photos before dashing off to work, before there was enough light for my camera: the blossoms are actually true yellow, not tinged with green.)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hot, hot and more hot

Is it me or do the weather guys gradually add on that extra bad news? Last time I looked, the heat hell was going to subside Wednesday. Now it has made a grab for Thursday too. And let's face it, 95-degrees for Friday's high should also earn the sweltering orange icon. It is not exactly seasonable. [Is it?!]

Around the fountain at work, some of their Echinacea has blossomed. And the lavender is huge... should bloom any day now. At home, I forgot to mention that the bird of paradise burst forth (roughly the same time as the desert willow). Think I spotted a few blossoms on the Mexican hat too.

All of which is to say that the plants are tougher and more resourceful than their erstwhile caretaker. Though to give myself credit, I was out at 6:15 this morning poking my fingers into the soil next to everyone's roots, dragging around the hose and schlepping the big green watering can, hoping to help my botanical buddies survive the long day ahead.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Massive Heat Wave

The bad news? I am primary garden caretaker for five days and we have a record-breaking heat wave bearing down on us. Eek!!

The good news? Most of the yard and garden inhabitants are well-established and pretty darned tough. Last week the desert willow started to bloom. Very handsome. The second season for the Clary Sage is staggering. (I'll see if I can't get a picture.) Bees are still loving the cat mint & all the penstemons (sp?). Echinacea is looking lovely... will probably bloom in another week to 10 days.

Hunting for what's out there... *Finding tomatoes and basil plants in odd places. * Worried about the worms. Can't imagine they are staying cool & moist enough. (Buy a worm bin and try that?) *Would like to help G make progress getting that back fence up. Then we can turn our attention to the compost piles. (Dominoes: this, then that, then the other... sigh).

The Bee-keeping Seminar - Last Saturday with Dr. Jim Moses. (Post some notes. Find out if the lady who took video posted it?)