12/06/2007

Gifts from the Garden and the Heart


Not much is happening in the garden. The shovels and rakes, the buckets and hoes are nestled all snug in their sheds. Last week, I ventured out for some final clean-up and to secure my compost bin (tie it to keep the wind from pulling it apart -- I hope). Tulley and Oreo, the horses boarded in the nearby barn, were grazing. Tulley, being very friendly and always hoping for a treat, walked over to me. I don't give her a treat. Her stall door has a sign that requests visitors not do that; she already gets a good diet.

Her winter coat is so soft!! I loved stroking her. She put her nostrils right up to mine, exhaling warm breaths into my face. I've heard that horses like to "share breaths". Maybe that's what she was doing with me.

I will be potting some spring bulbs in the hopes that they will bloom into nice gifts (after the holidays for birthdays, just-because, etc.) A nice chaser of winter blues, especially for my mom and dad.

This time of year can be so beautiful and fun. And it usually is. A friend and I were discussing how to go about gift exchange so that no one in our (informal) singles group feels left out or expected to spend beyond their means. We're still brainstorming. Meanwhile, this video has a great idea for a potpourri gift that's not expensive if you collect things from your garden and the outdoors:



P Allen Smith potpourri



and holiday gifts for gardeners I've got two kneeling pads. They're great. I sit on them when I'm sorting through a harvest, such as when I cut fresh basil stems, then remove the leaves. I like to leave the stems in my compost bin.



Maybe sugar-glazed fruit would be an inexpensive gift for someone who likes to decorate. It would be quick to prepare, and would have to be done about 24 hours before giving.



(maybe more to come -- some of my own ideas, perhaps!)


11/16/2007

Once Upon A Midnight Dreary

It wasn't midnight, and I didn't wander, weak and weary, but it was dark and dreary.
Circumstances have not made it easy to get my garden cleaned for the winter. So much rain. Yesterday was warm and I had an early shift. So, after taking the newly instituted job proficiency test after my shift, then stopping to get hay for my guinea pigs, I went to the community garden plots. I changed from nice shoes to boots, pulled my hair up into a French twist secured with a c-curved clamp, slipped on my gardening gloves and walked to my plot.

The horses were still in the pasture. The Pinto watched me as I went to my plot. Bet she was hoping for some attention. Working in a muddy garden near dark isn't too hard when all one needs to do is pull out dead plants. Brittle dried sunflower plant stalks about 5 feet high looked so eery standing out dark against the little remaining light. Dead yellowish-white nasturtium vines webbed over about 2 feet at the end of one row.

Wow. What one sees even in the dark. Being a visually oriented person and very amateur photographer, it's interesting to see how the amount of light changes how things appear.

Broccoli plants are still producing. I pull off a handful for my guinea pigs.

Within 20 or 30 minutes, it was too dark to see. I gathered my plant supports, put the florets in my pocket, and walked to my car, wishing I could stay. It's nice to be out here.

At home in the light, I notice the broccoli florets are not too healthy. They have a lot of brown. Oh well.

I'll have to go back on the weekend. Will the broccoli still live? Will the lavender emote more fragrance from its spindly, beautiful stems topped with full purple seeds? Only time will tell.

11/14/2007

Handtools Ready For Winter

This video provides some of my favorite information from P Allen Smith:

Caring For Handtools

Here's something else with a lot of good advice on clean up. It includes good information on cleaning tools before storing:

Fall Garden Clean up

11/12/2007

Sleepy Time For Plants

This is autumn in rural Pennsylvania. Dried corn stalks scratching and rattling in the breeze, the sun low in the sky, colors changing.

Most of my potted herbs got a good soaking and rinsing in the shower yesterday. The smell of sage, rosemary and oregano mixed in the humid air afterward. So pleasant!

Since it is that time when many plants hibernate and garden tools are tucked away, there isn't a lot to share. Here's a thought from stand-up comedienne Rita Rudner:

I was a vegetarian until I started leaning towards sunlight.


Photo credit: Jenn Smith

10/31/2007

Photos


Here are a few garden photos. I plan to add more as I have time. These are the horses who reside in the barn next to the garden plots.





Basil:


Dill:


Nasturtium:






One of my sunflowers, held still for the camera by my friend Mary:

10/30/2007

Flowers For Your Birthday!

How often I have heard the phrase "hardy mums." November is almost here, with my birthday, and I just learned that mums are the flower corresponding to November birthdays. Apparently its full name (chrysanthemum) translates as "golden flower".

I never knew of birth-month flowers until today, only of birthstones. With this new knowledge, the next time I see yet another pot of mums displayed outside a store, maybe I won't mind so much. This is especially so since I've learned there are quite a few varieties beyond the ones I usually see.

A few quick facts:

-- A natural insecticide is extracted from the seeds as pyrethrins.
-- The Chinese cultivated the plants in the 15th century BC.
-- It provides food for some butterfly larva.



Too bad my mom doesn't have these photos. She loves butterflies.

What would be my family's birthday bouquet for a year? Mum's the word in my family -- couldn't resist a pun.

Mom: gladiolus.
Dad, and my brother: also mums
Nina: rose
Nancy: gladiolus or calendula?
Steph: aster
Me: mum









Want to find out your flower or the flower of someone you care about?
There's a list on flowerwower.com



Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysanthemum


butterflies in bloom







October is nearly over and mums are everywhere.

10/26/2007

Have A Good Weekend!

In the mid-Atlantic the leaf color seems to be reaching its climax of beauty. When it's not raining and overcast, the colors are quite gorgeous.

A widespread frost is possible Sunday overnight from Maine through the mid-Atlantic, northern North Carolina, and over to southeastern Kansas. Still, my garden plot is mostly done. I planted several types and colors of tulip bulbs, so I hope they spring from the ground next year.

My containers on my porch are still quite productive with herbs. I've been putting the containers indoors at night. I look forward to their aroma and maybe to cooking with them over the winter (dried herbs mostly).

10/19/2007

Garden Clean-Up

This weekend is the Tudek Community Garden's cleaning. Since it's part of a public park, we want to leave a good impression, not an eyesore. It has been a good season for vegetables and flowers that like heat and can withstand dryness.

P Allen Smith has introduced his own page on youtube. Check it out for some interesting videos. The History of Halloween is interesting. Check out the black cat exploring behind Allen as he sits on his porch steps. Intentional, you think?

Some friends and I plan to visit Mt. Nittany Winery this weekend. They are having their annual Fall Harvest Wine Festival. It's free of charge. The hours are (I think):

Saturday: 10am-5pm
Sunday: noon-4pm

You may call them at 466-6373. Features of the festival are: tour of the winery/grounds, snacks, wine-tasting. I prefer sweet red wines, although slightly dry wines can be good, too. Their Raspberry and Montmorency Cherry wines sound good.

Salut!!

P Allen Smith on Youtube

Mt. Nittany Winery

10/12/2007

Is This Really October?

Our recent chill after a warm spell with some days over 80 degrees was pleasant. Who knew I'd be picking a peck of plump peppers from prolific plants over a weekend in October? Or teasing tomatoes off the tethering vines?

(Well, I misused tethering; it exists as a verb, but not an adjective. I think that's called poetic or literary license.)

A few days ago I picked 4 cups of basil. So, I made a lot of pesto, put it in small containers, labeled it and put it in the freezer. If you'd like to make pesto, or just want to know what it is, here's a link to the recipe I use:

Basil pesto

Although I wasn't sure I would do it again, I did grow black bean plants this year, and I plan to continue. The pods are stringy and slightly tough, so they are best dried and emptied of the seeds we know of as black beans. My scarlet runner beans did well, too. They're one of the most attractive beans I've ever seen, with their red and white flowers that produce long light green pods. Inside are white beans speckled with black and a few reddish-orange dots.

One of my mustard green plants have turned into a small bush about a foot and a half high and 12 inches wide. The peppery dark green leaves make a good addition to a salad. The plant's very attractive in the front of my plot.

A few more lisianthus buds have opened. I've really fallen for these lovely plants that are so easy to grow.

Flowers remind me that delicacy and gentleness can succeed in the natural world, just as the more aggressive vines do. On that note, I wish you a happy weekend! If I exercise my poetic license anymore today, I may get cited by the grammar police.

10/01/2007

Wildlife Gardening

Much cuter but not a lot smaller than a black cat, a chipmunk crossed my path a few mornings ago as I was about to descend my back stairs. I was impressed with its size, as it appeared to be about 8 inches long. It scampered away and hid from me. That little rodent is probably getting ready for winter.

An article from the Humane Society of the United States relates gardening and yard work to the winter welfare of local wildlife. The suggestions include keeping dead flowers on the plants, and letting leaves on the ground among others.

Here's one excerpt from the article:

Put yourself in an animal's position: Just when the going gets tough, potential winter food and cover sources are removed, leaving a bleak and uninviting landscape in which to survive the cold months.


Experience and some thought-through modifications of these suggestions are possible if you find dead plant matter intolerably unsightly or a nuisance. Here are a couple of my ideas:

*Make sure your compost materials are available to wildlife, not in a closed-in bin.
*Dead flower heads, petals, vines, dry corn husks, and so on have been made into attractive rustic-looking "sculptures" such as wreaths, swags, and other fall decorations. If placed outside, preferably where there is not frequent human activity to scare them away, wildlife can get to it. This means it won't disintegrate indoors leaving a mess and irritating allergies.

There's another article on the site on building and maintaining brush piles.

9/29/2007

Wandering Through Ideas

Working with meteorologists means I have a pretty good idea of local gardening conditions anytime. I also see conditions that I envy while others I'm glad I don't deal with at all.

I see worldwide forecasts and learn where terrible weather has occurred. When I first started this job, I was amazed at how often it happens. Looking at radar and satellite of tropical storms churning in the Pacific, I remind myself that the swirling white blur covering a few inches on the computer screen covers hundreds to thousands of miles in reality. The power in these systems is from hot water. Those beautiful tropical nights and warm sunny beaches in the Caribbean lead to this. Even paradise is raided by the most violent parts of nature.

With such massive power on the opposite end of the spectrum from the gentle breeze that moves through the delicate dill leaves in my quiet garden, a person might be excused for hyperbole and anthropomorphization, even a little excessively. I must say though that I don't understand how hurricanes were ever accepted with strictly feminine names. Maybe that's the result of growing up in a fairly free and, in most respects liberated, society. I have hit my head on a glass ceiling or two in my life though, and not because I own or worked in a greenhouse.

In pursuits that are traditionally feminine, (music, gardening, art), it is surprising that men are at the top of the field in notability and respect. The reverse, women in traditionally masculine pursuits (leadership, law enforcement, etc) , doesn't seem to be true so much.

Thankfully, that is changing. Please don't think that I lack appreciation for men at the top of traditionally feminine pursuits; I think it's great. I love P Allen Smith. I also love "Celtic Woman's" popularity. One day gender, like race and ethnicity, may not be an issue. Unfortunately, now sometimes it still is.

Considering the violence of nature and the violence men are capable of, the addition of masculine names for hurricanes was overdue.

Now for a total change, some humor:

Garden Work

Fall Is Here

It's the time of year to plant bulbs that will produce flowers, garlic, shallots, and other plants in spring of next year. Burpee has a selection of these on their site. I haven't grown garlic for use in cooking. I don't have the patience to deal with tiny cloves and the papery sleeves. I buy diced garlic in a jar. It's good to grow throughout the garden for pest deterrence. I may try elephant garlic, which would be easier to prepare in cooking.

The Bellefonte Garden Club does a lot to beautify its hometown. Do I have time to join them? Hmm. This time of year they are planting daffodil bulbs. I wonder if my landlord/rental manager would allow me to plant them around my apartment building. Daffodil Project

P Allen Smith has a page on his site titled "10 Spring Bulb Questions"

9/15/2007

Frost Alert!

The chilly weather and frost that has already reached the Midwest will probably give the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast a chill with frost overnight tonight (Saturday). So, it starts again!

Clear skies make frost more likely. The reason is that clouds act as barriers to the loss of heat. Clear skies let heat go.

My containers are on my second-floor porch, so that will help protect my herbs and flowers there. Heat rises, and frost usually forms closer to the ground. I may still cover them.

My garden plot doesn't have the same protection. The wind or breeze can carry heat away horizontally with little interuption. Clear skies also allow heat to escape vertically.

Numerous types of frost can form: Heavy, light, scattered, killing, and so on. Even hoar frost that Robert Frost wrote of in verse. It's still early, so in most of the mid-Atlantic the frost will probably not be severe.

The susceptibility of plants should also be taken into consideration. This year was dry, making the plants more fragile. Some types of plants cannot handle a chill, let alone a mild frost.

I just reviewed a forecast for Sebring, Florida (at my job). Sebring's high Sunday will be 91, then a low of 71. Bellefonte's will be 67 for the high Sunday (not too bad). What follows is the undesirable part: a cold low of 41.

Frost Protection Advice:
P Allen Smith
HGTV
Organic Gardening.com

9/13/2007

Colors Always Change

Thursday early evening.

Mid-September usually isn't in the 70s here, but the sun is out and it's not bad unless the wind blows. Overnight the temperature has dropped to the 50s. I prefer summer, although the beauty of fall generates warmth of its own. I think of it as a time of orange, yellow and red; cinnamon, brown sugar, apples and allspice; hot cereal, steaming soup, corn bread, muffins and tea; brittle brown corn fields and grass after killing frost; glorious gold warmth and boldness becomes dark evergreens, gray days here and there, and eventually glassy silver and white of winter.

Bulbs snuggled in the ground will bear winter and spite it in the spring. Gourds, squash and tomatoes come from the harvest. Broccoli, spinach, peas and greens get a second chance. Mason and Ball jars are filled with preserved summer. The air is fresh and clean. The beach is cold and the surf is finally warm. Mountain hikes follow trails buried in colorful leaves, sometimes wet and slippery, other times dry and crunchy.

The simple freedom of shorts, sandals and sunshine cannot be overcome by bulky sweatshirts, closed-in shoes, thick socks, and perpetually cold hands stuffed in warm pockets. Without its beauty, autumn would be only a temporary end that must be endured.

Sun arrives later, leaves sooner, and gives up without attaining the glorious zenith it reached in June. It is as though it wants us to hibernate like a lot of nature does. How tempting!



Photo of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon from city data

9/07/2007

Visual Presentation

I started moonflowers in a container. They germinated rapidly afer I had soaked them overnight. Last year when I tried to grow them, I only nicked the seed coat, and it didn't help much. So, I prefer soaking. It would have been better to put the seeds directly in the ground; the tiny seedlings aren't very sturdy and didn't survive transplantation.






Some of my lisianthus blooms in a vase.




The community garden is too large to get in one photo. My plot is on the right side of the path, starting after the rows of corn. The tall stalk with the dark bloom on top is one of my sunflowers.
The color is a blend of burgundy and rust. Some other sunflowers were yellow with rust or burgundy from the bottom of the petal to about halfway toward the tip. I hope to photograph some before the season ends.

These sunflowers are prolific, too. I've had stalks with so many blooms that the plant was bowing. They germinate quickly, attract a lot of bees and withstand a lot of dryness and heat. I think this link to Burpee is the type of seed I used, or at least is very similiar; however, mine are not pollen-free. I like to feed the bees and birds. When I work in the garden on sunny afternoons, I can often hear buzzing -- no humming -- of bees in the sunflowers. They also like the dill weed flowers.

So, I don't recommend growing only pollen-free varieties unless you don't won't to hear "busy" bees.

9/06/2007

In an earlier entry this season, I wrote about the attack on my tender broccoli seedlings by cutworms. Flea beetles and Japanese beetles followed, but the plants that survived the cutworms were big enough to not be destroyed. However, most bolted because of the heat. What amazed me yesterday is that there is one very healthy plant and it's producing side shoots. The broccoli florets are a nice bluish-green that makes them so appetizing.


Some things I will and others I won't repeat next season. I will grown black beans, like I did last year. I will not plant them on the side of my raised beds (a slight incline). They grow quickly, need a little support. Those I planted on the side of a raised bed fell over and the main stem snapped near the ground. This photo shows the supports I have successfully used.




I will put lighter plants on the sides of raised beds. For instance, this year, I grew leeks. The book The Vegetable Gardener's Bible recommends growing them in a trench, so I did. Since leeks don't take up much space, I split the seedlings into 3 different plantings, each one slightly later and in a different place. I transplanted my lisianthus on the side of one planting. This worked well.

The benefit of this is run-off from the plant on the level area (leeks) goes to another desirable plant (lisianthus) instead of a weed. Since conditions were dry more than wet this summer and hand-watering is the only option in our community gardens, doubling the benefits of my watering efforts saves energy (my energy) and adds to efficiency of water use.

My garden had all of the lisianthus colors in the photo, plus dark blue that, like periwinkle, looks purple to me. My favorite is the peach with pink edges.

Growing Well



This aerial photo of the gardens was taken in mid-August. The barn in the upper right is now boarding horses. The current residents, two mares, are seen as one little white and one brown "dot" in the bottom right.


Below you see the result of my attempt to crop and sharpen the area where my plot is.


Here's an even tighter crop. Cropping really cuts the resolution and sharpness.

8/26/2007

Hi, I'm Snickers. I live with Jen and am a guinea pig.



She has been busy catching up on house chores in between visits to her mom and dad, plus feeding myself and the other two guinea pigs who live here. So, I'm writing a gardening update for her. prrrr titter titter

It rained Monday through Thursday last week, so Jen couldn't really do anything. Friday and Saturday were hot, humid and sunny -- a good time for drying the soil. Jen expects that when she goes tonight (Sunday) after work to harvest, many tomatoes will have burst because of the sudden excessive rain.

Sadly for Shaggy, Scooby and me, the greens have all bolted. Jen keeps talking about seeding for a fall harvest, but she is a little overwhelmed right now and may not get to it. She has given us some yummy organic greens from the store. I appreciate that she grows veggies for us. They are soooo good!

Oh, Jen has a blog entry about puppy mills and schoolroom critters. As a guinea pig, I find the idea of being stuck in a classroom bad. Kids should be supervised; they can be mean to small animals and not realize it. It would also be lonely. In a home, there is a lot going on. Jen cuddles us, chats and listens to us. Sometimes I whimpered when I was lonely after my buddy Pumpkin died. Jen heard me and snuggled me so I'd feel better. That kind of attention wouldn't happen in a lonely classroom. You can read this blog at her 360 site.

And she says that I make her feel better. I try to.

Well, that's about it. It was fun chattering with you! Have a good "wheek" and God bless you all!

8/06/2007

Jungle or Jumble?

A few weeks ago, my plants were small, but I had confidence that they would grow. I upped my hand-watering a little. And we have had soaking rain once a week. I fed them, too. Now the plants are quite large.

Only after watering (or rainfall) do I feed the plants. The first water should just be that -- water; this gets the plant's vascular (water/nutrient uptake) system going and hydrates the cells. Then I do a light watering with the food mixed into it. I suppose the watering is like an appetite stimulant for the plants. Plus, it provides water in the plant cells so the follow-up nutrients are circulated into the places that need it.

My plantings are mixed up, so to speak, this year. Instead of one section for each type of plant, I inter-planted. I think the corn is the only item I kept to one spot, which was half-planning and the rest circumstance. I'd have planted a second, later crop, but my personal schedule got in the way of sequential plantings. The planned part was that I seeded the corn in a recessed area of a raised bed. In The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, the author recommends this so that the bed stays better hydrated. It catches water and rainfall and holds it longer. We certainly have had the kind of sun and heat that corn seems to like. Mine's looking good, I think.

Overall, all of the plants have grown really well. I can no longer see over them into the adjoining plot as I could a few weeks ago.

Saturday morning I hand-watered. I transplanted a few basil plants that were small. Sunflowers were shading them, so I moved the herb to sunny spots.

My herbs in containers on my porch are growing extremely well. I hope to have photos soon. Meanwhile, here's some aerial photos.




Update: the Alzheimer's is more advanced than the doctor originally thought. Now my 3 sisters and I are trying to get her the help she needs, but the insurance is not making it easy. She needs a full evaluation that Geisinger health insurance will not cover.

8/01/2007

Thanks And Garden Update

Thank you to all who read and responded to my entry to all praying believers. I want to explain now that more is known to my family. My mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. This has made the last couple of weeks quite difficult, especially for her and my dad. One of my sisters and I have taken turns staying with her. She still functions well; just needs a little help and most of all companionship in dealing with the emotional repercussions of this.

So, thanks to all for your continued prayers.


Meanwhile the weeds are getting a little ahead of me in my garden plot. Yes, we've had some decent rain! I've picked plenty of sweet pea pods, lettuce, basil and mint. The broccoli did better than I thought. Nights have been cool, and that may have prevented bolting and blooming of lettuce and broccoli respectively. Soon the tomatoes should be ready. Plenty of tomato plant "volunteers" have grown. Some I left in.

7/23/2007

A Garden Joke

I can use a little humor. How about you? It's a necessity for sanity.

The Tomato Garden

An older man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his tomato
garden, but it was very hard work as the ground was hard. His only son,
Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament.

Dear Vincent,

I am feeling pretty badly because it looks like I will not be able to plant
my tomato garden this year. I am just getting too old to be digging up a
garden plot. I know if you were here, my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me.

Love,
Dad


A few days later he received a letter from his son...

Dear Dad,
Do not dig up that garden. That is where I buried the bodies.

Love,
Vinnie


At 4 the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son...

Dear Dad,

Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That is the best I could do under the circumstances.

Love you,
Vinnie

7/21/2007

Request to Praying Believers

My immediate family is going through a difficult time right now. Please pray for a healthy resolution, clear thoughts and guidance from God, peace and healing. I won't go into details. It would take too long. Thank you.

7/07/2007

Saturday

If my family wasn't sending off my sister next weekend, I'd go to this workshop. P Allen Smith will have a container workshop in Egg Harbor, NJ, on July 14. Spending a few hours "playing" in the dirt under the tutelage of a successful garden designer would be fun. If I'd had more advance notice, I might have made it part of a beach weekend. Bummer.

What I saw yesterday while weeding in my plot reinforced yesterday's entry. It's dry. It dried quickly after recent rain. Most things are doing well, but I will have to increase my hand-watering. The tomato plants that have red plastic under them are doing the best. Penn State research showed that colored plastics affect plant growth. Red is good for tomatoes and strawberries. I don't plan to use a lot of plastics as I guess they are not organic. And some shred. This year, it will be useful due to the lack of moisture. The straw has proven inadequate, and no more compost is available. Here's a little history of plasticulture.

I added some herbs to my porch containers: pennyroyal, fennel, lemon balm, rosemary, sage, a scented geranium, and I think that's all. My porch smells wonderful.


This is the color of the sage I bought:

7/05/2007

Growth

One of the gardeners has been providing aerial photographs of the community garden plots. I've put them in past entries. In this entry, I have put all three to show the progression.

This one was in 2006.


(It was post-gardening season, I believe, but not yet winter.)








This is June 10, 2007.

This is July 1, 2007. If one goes about one-half way up the photo, from the left, my plot is the one with the red spots.


Greenery is not the only fluctuation in the photos. Last year, especially with June floods in the mid-Atlantic, the soil was wetter. This year's photos show light soil; we've have much less rain.

My garden's not as green as some of the others. I spent more time working on the soil this year. And I'm solo. Many of the other plot-renters are couples. I don't plant numerous plants of any one kind. I intend to add as I keep this plot. Were I to add too much at once, I would be overwhelmed. It will look much greener in a few days, after the rain from July 4.

This year I added cutting flowers: mixed colors of nasturtiums, asters and larkspur in addition to the sunflowers and lisianthus I planted in previous years. Woodring's Flower Shop, a short walk from my home, has a Bellefonte shop and a greenhouse. That's where I got the newest seeds from. I also bought something elsewhere, seeds for lagurus, or "bunny tail"; no germination in over a month. Still, my spinach finally came up long after I planted seeds. I think the dry conditions have contributed to this, but that's just my opinion.

6/29/2007

Romance of Country Life

When I was growing up, my younger sister and I often accompanied our parents on visits to my great aunt and uncle's home in Benton, Pennsylvania. It was "out in the country" compared to where we lived. Much of Pennsylvania is rural or forested land. Where I grew up was not a metropolis, but a small town. Still, my great aunt and uncle's home had a lot a of green space, a farmer neighbor on one side, and a creek next to the side yard that we played in.

My great uncle died when I was still pretty young, so I don't remember him as well as his wife. Uncle Claude Moore was a tall, thin man with silver hair and glasses. He was a brother of my mom's father. His wife Mary (born a McHenry) was shorter, plump (by the time I knew her) and wore her silver hair pinned up by bobby pins. Both of them were much like the traditional grandparent image.

It was easy to romanticize country life for me. And I still do. I do enjoy the conveniences of "town" life. The attractions of large cities do not elude me. I've been to NYC close to 20 times.

I think I'd enjoy living on a small farm. While scanning the hobby and crafts section of a magazine display recently, I discovered Hobby Farming, which does put beautiful fantasies in my head. In my aunt and uncle's youth, many people were trying to leave the family farm for the "big city." Now there are people going the other way.

It reminds me of the film Baby Boom with Diane Keaton. Her character is a New York City business woman who "inherits" an infant. Eventually she moves into rural New England, and falls in love the country lifestyle, and an attractive veterinarian.

(Before her transition, she tells a physician how country life is driving her crazy, putting her into the poor house, and that it has been way too long since she had sex. To her humiliation, she learns that he's a vet, not a people doctor.)

These hobby farmers choose to live an agrarian life. To learn more, check out the website and/or the magazine if you find it. The site has a wonderful gallery of photos submitted by hobby farmers.

6/20/2007

Lost A Few Battles ...

... But It Looks Like I Won the War

Foil wraps and cardboard collars on plants in my plot and in containers on my porch have defeated the cutworms. I also removed grubs and squashed them as I worked the soil. So, my tomatoes, basil, and remaining brocolli seedlings are fine.

The next strategy will be implemented against the ubiquitous flea beetles.

They are on my mustard.

My black bean seedlings are also tasty to them.

They like my green and runner bean seedlings. Rapid sprouting and growth has kept them ahead of the damage so far.

You might think that more plants appeal to flea beetles than discourage them. I would agree, based solely on their love of our community garden plantings. We've grown a smorgasbord for them.

Leaf lettuce is left alone, so far. Onions and garlic chives surround my lettuce beds, which may be detering them.

I prefer organic. It is important to remember that organic methods have less effect on the environment, but are not always without hazards. Follow instructions carefully, especially with chemicals applied to the plants or soil. Wash all vegetables before consuming them.

Diatomaceous earth, etc.
"Diatomaceous earth is one of the more effective repellents, applied as a dry powder to the plants. Horticultural oils and some neem insecticides also have some repellent effect on this insect."

Garlic spray

Flea beetle photo from this web page, which has a long list of beetles:

6/19/2007

What's Growing? What's Knawing?

I planted broccoli, concerned that they would develop heads right about the time that heat would make them bloom. So far, only a few survived cutworms and flea beetles. This is one of them in the photo. It's now much bigger (about a week later).


It's hard not to love perennials, especially tasty herbs like these chives. The pretty purple flowers taste better than the leaves.


This photo of last year (probably late July) shows that the chive bed was not as thick.

Grubs of cutworms and Japanese Beetles turned up in many shovels of soil while I worked in the compost. The curled white one is the Japanese Beetle. The fat gray grub is a cut worm.


I took this photo as an experiment. The camera is sitting on the ground in my lettuce bed.

One could say this is a bug's perspective.

6/13/2007

Summer Again -- Almost


Above is another aerial photo of the community gardens, courtesy of one of the gardeners. This was taken on June 10.

Sun protection while gardening is important. This time of year, the UV rays are strongest because they are most direct. I found a quiz to test sun protection knowledge on the American Academy of Dermatology's website: quiz

Generally, I get no color and I do not burn, despite being pretty fair-skinned. I still use liquid SPF. The time of day when the sun is strongest is between 10 a.m. and 3 or 4 p.m. (It is also when pollen is most concentrated.) The importance of a sunblock that protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays is emphasized more than it used to be; such a sunblock helps protect against burn, and the skin (DNA) damage that can result in cancer and aging.

If you should get a sunburn, here's some advice from health central's website:

First Aid



* Try taking a cool bath or shower. Or place wet, cold wash cloths on the burn for 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day. You can mix baking soda in the water to help relieve the pain. (Small children may become easily chilled, so keep the water tepid.)
* Apply a soothing lotion to the skin.
* Aloe gel is a common household remedy for sunburns. Aloe contains active compounds that help stop pain and inflammation of the skin.
* An over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be helpful. DO NOT give aspirin to children.


Do Not

* DO NOT apply petroleum jelly, benzocaine, lidocaine, or butter to the sunburn. They make the symptoms worse and can prevent healing.
* DO NOT wash burned skin with harsh soap.

6/05/2007

My! What Colorful Stems You Have!

No matter how many years I garden, I'm sure there will be new things to learn. I earned a new insight yesterday.

First a little background: my brocolli seedlings have been disappearing seemingly from above and below ground. On some, healthy leaves are dropped or gone; on others, only a hole remains as though a mysterious underground creeper pulled the fresh seedling into its dark lair.

As of yesterday morning, two beautiful Sun Gold tomato seedlings, which were hardening off on my porch, were merely stems about 4-5 inches high. Self-seeded morning glories have also disappeared from my containers this year and previous summers. My first thought was to blame the pigeons that spend their days on the roof of my apartment building.

(this photo is not mine.)

Later in the day the likely answer occured: cutworms. On my porch!

Cutworms chew holes in leaves, just as flea beetles do. This explains why my first suspect in damage to my mustard was not visible. (I did not see the beetles on the plants.) They are better known for their ability to rapidly destroy tomato seedlings, as my Sun Golds exemplify. So, I never suspected them at first. I will have to do some prevention. It is time to declare war on cutworms.

Black cutworm corn damage

I'm growing corn this year, too, for the first time.



Advice on Growing Tomatoes from P Allen Smith's site

5/31/2007

Here Comes The Sun



Too much of even a good thing is still too much, it has been said. Sun's a good thing.
Too much is not good. Doesn't it look searing? I think that's a solar flare shooting off to the right. Solar flares affect communication signals all over the Earth, and simultaneously can affect the very magnetic field in a way that intensifies the display of the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis.

My garden has full sun: great for many plants, but tough on human skin. I was never a big sun lover, so I'm new to serious protection. Although I use liquid SPF, gloves and a straw hat, my dermatologist also recommends a specific (and expensive) hat. There's a lot of false claims about sun protection products.

There's a distinct difference between the effects of UVA and UVB radiation, but both cause problems.

5/29/2007

A Good Day To Garden


Today will be a good day to work in the garden. Humidity is lower, and the temperature is cooler.

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (Ed Smith) taught me a lot about vegetable gardening. I have not incorporated quite all of the techniques, but have the major ones, with an emphasis on raised bed and organic methods.

To grow corn, which can be finicky about moisture and temperature, he recommends using a slightly recessed area within the raised bed -- like a well -- to capture as much rain water as possible. So, I'll try that.

What else is new? Leeks. Yellow and Stuttgarten onions. Mustard greens, which I'm eating for the first time and love them; so do the flea beetles. Sweet peas.

Because of the flea beetles at the community plot, I will try to grow cucumbers (bush type) in a container on my porch. I will grow oregano in a container on my porch and in-ground at my plot.

I'll put chocolate mint on my plot to avoid the ravenous aphids that appear en masse everytime I've had mint on my porch. I won't put it in the ground, but in a container, because I understand that its runners allow it to quickly spread throughout the garden.

And for something completely different (from this site):


What else? Here's quick list of what I hope to have in my garden:

Runner Beans "Painted Lady" -- pretty bi-color flowers on vine with edible beans. A plant with an interesting history.

Bunny Tails (Lagurus) -- for cutting garden

Nasturtium
Larkspur
Aster "Grego" Giant Mix

5/28/2007

5/22/2007

A Little More

Last Thursday evening I toiled in the garden after work, with only an hour and a half of daylight. I was wearing sweat pants and my favorite comfy shirt (Centre County Law Enforcement Camp Cadet shirt I got as a volunteer "target". That's another story for another blog).

Anyway, the shirt has short sleeves, and the wind was quite strong. The temperature must have been in the 50s. Everyone else had long-sleeve jackets. I'm pushing the season. Come on summer!

I try to be prepared with supplies for gardening, but I'm not always. Since the plot is in State College, not far from where I work, and I live 17 miles away, I can't make a quick trip indoors to get something and go right back. I didn't have a jacket with me, but I didn't freeze.

Added to my supplies this year is a really nice gardening tote with some "primo" hand tools. Thank you to my sister Nina (pronounced with a long "I", different from the Spanish) and my niece Rachel. It has plenty of pockets for seed packets, cell phone, car keys, sun protection, etc.

Speaking of seeds, it finally occurred to me last year that I should buy seed packets for cold weather crops ahead of time for next growing season. So, I did. And I'm glad.

The Spinach Dilemna

Ugh. I did not get to see my parents or work in the garden last weekend as I thought I would. Ugh. 'Gotta' cold. It hit me Friday night. It's not fun rolling straight from allergies into a cold.

Yesterday, I put in peas and some more greens. The mustard is showing up, as is the lettuce I originally planted. The spinach is nowhere to be seen; someone else who rents a plot told me that spinach doesn't seem to grow well there. I like fresh spinach. Spinach salad with black olives, feta, rasberry vinaigrette and red onions. Slivered almonds would be good, too. I'm making myself hungry.

Maybe I need more sand. Or more of something else. Or less of something. Maybe a container on my porch would work better. Off to the internet.

Hmmm. tapping chin with index finger. What is this?

"Check the soils(sic) PH and if necessary add lime." Hmmm. Lime increases alkalinity (sort of the opposite of acidity).

"You can plant spinach in early spring. To stagger your crop over summer you can plant part rows every few weeks. The last planting should be about 50-60 days before the first frosts." Yikes! That would be March-April. Maybe I'll shoot for a fall crop.

Wait! This sounds better because it doesn't require me to stand out in the cold and/or snow digging. Totally excellent.
"If the soil was prepared in the fall, seeds can be broadcast over frozen ground or snow cover in late winter and they will germinate as the soil thaws."

"Spinach doesn't like acidic soils, a good PH is around 6.3-6.8. Add the appropriate amount of lime to the soil if necessary." The soil test showed that the pH is "below optimum".

Well, there are some possible answers. So, when could I start a fall crop?

"Seed spinach again in late summer for fall and early winter harvest. Chill seeds for summer or fall plantings in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks before planting." That's according to Watch Your Garden Grow, a site I've used quite a bit for information on vegetable growing.

5/18/2007

Au Revoir


It's time to go home for the weekend. I hope you enjoy it, wherever you are and whatever you do. I have no PC at home, so I only post from work.I will be visiting my parents, I hope, and working in my garden.

This is the time of year that the garden requires the most physical labor: preparing/amending the soil, weeding, seeding, transplanting, and so on. I always lose a little fat and gain some muscle. No workout I do at home all winter completely prepares me for the demands of gardening.
So ...

Goodbye ... until Monday! That is what the words in the photo mean, if my French is reliable. (It's from cinema passion. It just happens that the image works for this blog entry.)

If you want to watch a movie, I found The Painted Veil to be enjoyable. Bittersweet, too. For a gardening-related movie, here's a few:

Greenfingers
Bed of Roses
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit


And then there's always the really bad Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Although it's not really garden-related, it's amusing how bad this movie is.

5/15/2007

Digging


In spite of all the rain we have had, the soil is hard to work with as it is dry. It reminds me of a cookie that is so hard that is must be dunked. Last month, we had so much rain the soil was muddy. It was quite cold, too, so gardening days were limited.

One of the ways people have tested soil type is by mixing some of it with water in a glass jar and letting it settle. I've never done this, but it must work for a very basic determination of soil type.

On the bright side, my lettuce seedlings are growing, right alongside seedlings that I believe are the India mustard, but may be spinach.


I will be planting more greens seeds for successive harvests. Plus peas, broccoli seedlings, etc.


Now we have compost. Until yesterday, only small amounts were delivered, and on no apparent schedule.

Soil texture analysis

A Poetic Rose

The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white- rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.


--John Boyle O'Reilly

5/03/2007

Useful Article

Womans Day magazine has a pretty extensive gardening feature on their web site. P Allen Smith covers a lot of basics, and provides advice on getting the garden started, both outdoors and in (houseplants).

It's at: womans day

5/01/2007

Is That An Anti-Depressant Growing in Your Garden?

Gardening has so many known benefits: fresh vegetables and/or flowers, visual appeal, excellent exercise, fresh air, great for the bees, butterflies and birds, etc.

Even houseplants apparently filter indoor air, cutting down on inhaled irritants. Doctors recommended them for asthma patients (provided their asthma is not triggered by any flowers or other parts of the plant.)

And I just learned something else, which is interesting to me as a gardener, a sufferer of SAD, and as a one-time microbiology major. This is only one study, but it provides one possibility as to why gardening -- maybe even just with indoor houseplants -- can cheer up a person.

Other Benefits of Bacteria in The Dirt

I would like to know what the researchers consider to be an immune system imbalance. My allergies, asthma and eczema result from a hyperactive immune system and I'd say that's an imbalance. I have an older sister with SLE or lupus, which is an autoimmune disorder (the body's immune system attacks the body). A definite and debilitating imbalance.

Just for interest to those of us who like gardening, here's the soil test results for the community gardens where I rent my plot:

Summer 2006 Soil Test Results. Recommendations by Professor Pete Feretti (Penn State).


(1) Magnesium (Mgo): Below optimum. Apply epsom salts (mg504). 3lbs./100 square feet. This can be applied now. Garden center retailers sell 3 lb. for about $2. Magnesium is the hub of the photosynthesis molecule.

(2) Soil ph: Below optimum. Apply 5 lbs./100 square feet ground limestone at the end of the gardening season, if you plan to keep your garden next year. It is best to use ground limestone that contains some magnesium (i.e. Dolomitic limestone).

(3) Phosphate (P2O5); Potash (K2O); and Calcium (CaO) were "optimum".

(4) Nitrogen was not tested; general recommendations: Apply 0.5 lbs./100 square feet of UREA, or equivalent amount of another nitrogen provider.

This soil test was from samples taken in the paths of the garden area. So it provides a general analysis. Perhaps gardeners will want to test their own plots next season.

Thanks to Marion R. Deppen of the Tudek Community Garden Coordinating Committee


Lightning strikes also add nitrogen to the soil. Just a little fact. Interesting to know, but not practical.

Here's an aerial photo of the plots, taken in late winter 2006-2007:



My plot is the second row from the right. It's a little more than halfway up the row from bottom of photo; the ridges are my raised beds. The dot in the upper left corner must be my compost bin. This shows it closer:

4/27/2007

Keeping In Touch

My opportunities to work in the garden have been intermittent due to work and weather. 'Kinda funny considering that I work with weather forecasters. Earthworms have been surfacing everywhere because of all the rain we get. We seem to get long rainy periods of 3-4 days to as much as a week. Depressing but it's good for the soil.

During last Tuesday and Saturday's garden outings, I weeded and shoveled. Plenty of earthworms show up in my soil, and they do a great job, so I'm trying to make their work a little easier by adding sand. Gardening is a much more enjoyable context to see earthworms than watching another kid dare to swallow one (which even as a kid I thought it was childish and cruel), or destroying one in biology class disections. What was I supposed to see? Why does it have to be alive when we pin it down?

It seems like the soil has a lot of clay. It clumps more now than it did earlier (see March 2 entry). It came up as large wedges that require me to break them up with the shovel or garden fork. So, that's one more reason for adding sand. And maybe some kind of loamy "stuff" to lighten it.

A dandelion clump I dug to take home for my guinea pigs held a lot of dirt. An earthworm fell to the ground as I was shaking off the dirt -- again -- at my car. I picked up the earthworm and walked back to my plot where I set it on loosened soil and covered it with a thin layer.

I found the earthworm remarkably cold. Maybe that's the temp of the soil right now. It chilled me. So glad am I to not be an earthworm. So glad am I that they like my dirt.

4/02/2007

Digging


Saturday, March 31, 2007, was warm (high 50s) and sunny. I dug, weeded, turned soil and raked about 1/3 of my garden plot. Then I planted seeds for spinach, mustard (India), gourmet lettuce, red leaf and one or two other kinds of lettuce. Nearly every shovel of soil contained three or four visible earthworms. I suspect they weren't thrilled at being disturbed, after all they worked hard to get the soil in good shape and they deserve any rest they can get.

The soil was in great condition, that is, loose and still moist, but not so moist that it would stick to the shovel or clump. It was friable.

I want to start potatoes, too, but hadn't ordered any seed potatoes. On the way home from my garden, I stopped at a local co-op market, which was hosting an Oriental dance show, to see what tickets would cost. I mentioned my morning gardening. The clerk offered me certified organic (red) seed potatoes for nothing. So, thank you to her (and thanks to God).

So often when I'm out in the garden, I "feel" like it's where I'm supposed to be. I don't have any detailed explanation for this. I just enjoy it. Even my allergies aren't keeping me away.