Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Mushroom Walked into a Bar...

...but the bartender wouldn't serve him. "We don't serve mushrooms here," he said. Dejected, the mushroom walked out. He came back in the side door, strolled up to the bar whistling, and ordered a gin and tonic. "I'm sorry," the bartender said, "but we don't serve mushrooms here." Even sadder now, the mushroom walked out of the bar and came in the rear entrance. He sidled up to the bar, keeping as much of his face turned away from the bartender as possible. Before he even asked for the drink, the bartender said, "Look, it doesn't matter how many times you come in here. I'm telling you, we don't serve mushrooms here."

"Aw, c'mon," the mushroom wheedled. "I'm a fun-gi!" (read: "fun guy")

Yes, folks, it was a bad pun, but I was attempting, in my lame way, to prepare you for the horrific picture you are about to see. You know how, when people talk about death, taxes, and other unpleasant subjects, they try to make a joke about it to ease the tension? It's sort of like that.

So okay, enough of the pleasantries and joking--let's get to the fearful topic of...fungus. You'll see I've included a picture at right of a mushroom that has been growing in my yard all summer. We had a couple of 'shrooms last year (please let me reassure you at this point that we are NOT eating them, and if you have anything remotely resembling the pictured fungus growing in your yard, I wouldn't recommend adding it to any dishes), but nothing like this one.

This fungus, dubbed the Voracious Mutant Rock-and-Leaf-Eating Fungus from Outer Space and viewed with great trepidation, has evolved into an amorphous blob of spongy goo. I dared touch it, and the slick, glistening surface is actually dry and smooth. You can see hints of mushroom texture on the outer edges of this fungus blossom. Please note that the rock and leaves are STUCK--no amount of tugging would release them in one piece. I think the fungus is actually consuming them. I carefully placed a quarter in the upper right quadrant before taking the picture (which has not been photoshopped other than to simply be resized to fit the blog) so you could get a sense of the gigantuhugimammothian size.

All I can say is I am glad I am moving. I do not wish to be caught in the house unawares when this glistening, slavering beast darkens the doorstep.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Catching Up

I know. It's been a long time since I have posted. I was planning to post more regularly, so I have quite a bit of catching up to do. I'll start with the tadpoles.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am using kitty litter buckets as rain barrels in my yard. For a while, we were getting quite a bit of rain, so the buckets were about 2/3 full.

Imagine my delight when I went out one morning to use the water from one of my makeshift rainbarrels and saw...tadpoles! Yessirree, I had lots of tadpole critters swimming around in my bucket. I wasn't entirely sure how they got in there, but figured a frog had jumped in the water from the tree stump the bucket was braced against and, well, laid eggs or did whatever frogs do to have tadpoles! (I must admit my ignorance here.)

Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to take a picture of the friendly little swimmers since my camera is broken. The picture at left looks a LOT like my bucket (borrowed from the Aquarium Board Web site at http://www.aquariumboard.com/forums/articles/7.htm - pay them a visit to talk about aquarium stuff!).

Thrilled with my tadpole adventure, I went to work to discuss my new finding with my friend Michelle. "I am growing tadpoles!"

She could hear the excitement in my voice, and usually she is equally excited when I make a gardening discovery. This time, however, her voice was hesitant as she asked, "How do you know they are tadpoles?"

So I described the big heads and taillike bodies and the swishing way they were swimming.

"Um, I think they aren't tadpoles. They're mosquito larvae. Search Google for mosquito larvae images."

Heart sinking quickly (because I know Michelle is probably right since she usually is about all things gardening-related), I conducted said Google search and found--the picture you see above.

Mosquito. larvae. ugh.

She was disappointed, too. "I really wish they WERE tadpoles," she said.

Mosquito. babies. must. die.

So I went home, dumped out the mosquito babies' amniotic fluid, and stomped the larvae to death. And felt no remorse.

Does that make me a bad person?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

First Significant Tomato Harvest

Yes, I know it has been a while since I've blogged. I blame sheer laziness as the main culprit. So I'll be posting a lot in the next few days to catch everyone up.

With all the humidity and rain we've had lately, I finally was able to get a decent harvest of cherry, sugar sunsweet, and currant tomatoes (the tiny ones). They are all sweet, juicy, and delicious (a few didn't make it into the bowl.)

And yes, you see the first okra! Within a day or two, I'll have enough to coat with egg, roll in Italian seasoned bread crumbs, and fry up for some snacky deliciousness!

In fact, I'm a little tickled by the way the okra is growing--I planted them in a row, and apparently the placement of the plants is such that each one gets just a little less sun than the next, which makes it just a little smaller, which means that it will take just a little more time to produce. In sum, I should have okra plants producing for a long time to come!

I also have more green peppers coming on. I picked one pepper--along with some lettuce--last week for salads, and I have been savoring it, salad by salad. If you haven't had a home-grown green pepper, you don't know what you are missing! It is cool and crunchy--not rubbery like the ones you buy in the grocery store. The juice dribbles down your chin as you bite into its delicious, shiny green flesh. Even though the flesh of the pepper isn't waxed (like they are in some stores), it shines in the sun, a flawless mirror of natural beauty. And it even smells like a pepper! I have more peppers on the way--you can glimpse one in the picture that is very close to being picked, hiding amid the weeds--and I intend to savor each and every bite.

Something Strange is A-Foot

We've had some stiff summer winds lately, but I'm pretty sure an object like this one--which is heavy--doesn't just blow into a garden. Plus, our yard is fenced in. And the neighbors, who seem to be mature, upright citizens who keep their lawns well manicured by paying outrageous sums to landscaping companies, don't seem the type to just toss a shoe over the fence. We also haven't had any visitors who have lost a size 9 1/2 B sandal (and wouldn't they notice that before they left if they had?).

I have seen bunnies near my garden, and they dash away at the smallest sign that I might actually look in their direction. Could they have, perhaps, dragged the shoe in? Did a prancing deer leap over my fence, dislodging a shoe that it had its hoof tangled in? Did Mother Nature come walking through the garden, leaving a shoe behind like Cinderella, hoping for a princely sky god to find her and return the shoe so they could live happily ever after? And if so, wouldn't she wear a much larger, more practical gardening shoe?

If this is your shoe, would you please come claim it?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The 10 Commandments of Gardening

Talking with David today, I was thinking about creating a "10 Commandments of Gardening" list. Here's what I have so far:

The 10 Commandments of Gardening
  1. Thou shalt have no other interests before me.
  2. Thou shalt not make for thyself a genetically modified organism, but shalt allow nature to take its course.
  3. Thou shalt not curse Mother Nature, for she is fickle and will show no mercy to those who misuseth her name.
  4. For six days thou shalt labour in the garden. But the seventh day is a sabbatical from weeding, planting, and harvesting. Thou shalt need the seventh day to cook, can, and otherwise preserve the food gathered.
  5. Honor thy Father Sky and thy Mother Earth, so that thy garden days will be long and fruitful.
  6. Thou shalt not kill beneficial bugs.
  7. Thou shalt not water at high noon.
  8. Thou shalt not steal food from thy neighbor's garden, but shall asketh kindly, offereth to trade, or purchaseth foods from local farmer's markets.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness about the bounty thy garden produces.
  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s garden, or gardening tools, or wheelbarrow, or any gardening thing that belongeth to your neighbour.
So...do you have any commandments to add?

Monday, June 16, 2008

100+ Babies Born on My Porch

Mantis babies, that is.

Every day, as I go in and out of the house, I take a look at the praying mantis egg casing that Michelle generously donated to my garden cause. I elevated the casing by attaching it to a highly technical tool (read: stick) and propped it up in this state-of-the-art incubator, shown at right (read: a plastic drinking cup amid zuke and cuke seedlings beneath a grow lamp).

Last year, the mantis egg casing Michelle had supplied me with didn't hatch at all. This year, we had storms coming in, so I was waiting until the storms had passed to put the egg casing out.

I waited too long.

As I was headed out the door to work, I performed my glance-to-the-left-to-verify-that-mantises-haven't-hatched-yet move...and did a double take. Mantises were afoot in my enclosed porch, roaming around in the incubator! (If you look closely at the picture, you'll see the egg shell remains sort of hanging out of the side of the casing.)

Wow, I thought, maybe they are just starting to hatch and I caught them in time to put them out in the garden.


At left are just a FEW of the 100+ mantises that hatched, crawling around my cucumber seedlings (which are long overdue for garden planting). Mantises are currently walking my walls, ceiling, and windows, entering the house through cracks. They seem quite happy swaying their buggy-eyed little heads back and forth, watching me as I try to capture a decent shot of them on David's camera (which he loaned to me since my camera shot craps). Of course, I haven't quite figured the camera out, so parts of the picture are blurry and I can't get the macro and super-macro function to work right, so this is the best shot of the colony I could get.

Unfortunately, we don't have many bugs on our porch, so I have to capture all these guys and set them free in the garden so they don't die prematurely. Using my very expensive, state-of-the-art mantis capturing device (read: a torn piece off a Target prescription bag and plastic drinking cup), I scooped mantises up, gently knocking them from the leaves, and deposited them among the bean, pea, and tomato plants in my garden.

So, now you have the story of the babies. I am no longer just a mantis midwife; I am a MANTIS MOMMA!

Aren't my babies cute?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My First Harvest: Ravishing Radishes

I should have blogged about these beauties six days ago when I harvested them, but I've been running about like that proverbial headless chicken, attending my boyfriend's (David) music gig and teaching summer classes.

These two radishes [at left, a red radish; at right, plum purple] were added to a mixture of spinach, romaine and red-leaf lettuce, alfalfa sprouts, and crumbled green onion white cheddar cheese, all obtained from the Bloomington farmer's market that weekend. All, might I add, pesticide- and herbicide-free. It was a VERY tasty salad!

I vaguely remember the radishes we grew in our garden at home when we were younger. They seemed mild--or maybe I am remembering only the store-bought versions I've eaten in the past. These puppies packed a wallop, and it is only early June! The red radish was sweet and spicy, and the plum purple radish was also sweet, with much more bite. I recommend a lot of ranch-like dressing to cool the tastebuds. I harvested 3 more a couple of days later, and it's time to harvest again.

Meanwhile, at right is a picture of David holding out my first green beans of the year, still on the plant!

What? You say you can't see anything? Nothing but a black box? That's because MY FLIPPIN' CAMERA ISN'T WORKING! I have all kinds of garden pictures to take, and for some reason, all I get is a ridiculous black screen in the view finder! I can view the pictures I took before today. I clearly have battery function. But to take no pictures--no.

So, I'm clearing out my photos, I'll change the batteries, and see if that solves the problem. If that doesn't work, I'll have to see if I can find the instructions (can any of you ever find your instruction booklets when you need them? I can't!) to see if I just need to push a simple button or something.

Please...I need my camera to work! I have beans! Beans that are not only GROWING, one of which looks EDIBLE at this point, but beans that grew and that look edible despite the ravenous Mexican bean beetles that I have been fighting!

[Heavy sigh.]

Monday, June 2, 2008

I Have Peas!

I have peas! The Amish Snap Pea blossoms are now home to pods! This set of plants actually had four very small pods that I could find. I can't wait for them to grow and plump up so I can taste the first pea I have ever grown!

Meanwhile, it is taking the Green Arrow peas a lot more time. They don't have blossoms yet, but I am expecting them to bloom sometime soon.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Peas and Quiet before the Storm

Can we get some regular weather here? Sheesh! We're supposed to have severe thunderstorms today, and the leaves on the trees have turned themselves inside out, waiting for water-manna to fall from heaven.

I have a little heaven in the garden to report today--my first pea blossoms! The plant is sporting four--count 'em, four!--and they weren't there this morning! I did a garden check, ran to Menard's and our local farmer's market with a girlfriend for mulch and flowers, and when I came back, these delicate little beauties were waiting for me! However, if we get the storm the weather people say we will be getting, I doubt the blossoms will last very long. But there will be more, of that I'm certain.

Meanwhile, I crushed several Mexican bean beetles today with my fingers and a nearby stick. I am ashamed to say that I greatly enjoyed it (even though it was a bit gross). I tried putting out chopped garlic around the beans since I didn't have any garlic powder at hand, but with little-to -no effect. However, I am happy to report that the green beans are beginning to bud, despite the beetles.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Deer Dreams

Normally I wouldn't bug all of you more than once a day during busy planting season, but I had to share this moment. I live in a residential area that has a creek and wooded section that is frequented by deer. I've lived here two years now, and today was the first time I had a deer in the yard! Unfortunately, as I approached the deer in an attempt to pet it, it leaped the fence. (I have this thing about trying to pet animals--ask my roommate about the coyote I wanted to pet, or the time I chased an armadillo down the street in Florida while talking on the phone to one of my friends.) In the picture at right, she? is in my neighbor's yard, just out of reach, taunting me with her doe-eyes. Notice how she has aimed her tail end at me, as if to say "kiss my deer behind."

I've always loved deer; several years ago, after reading Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, I thought I'd try my hand at writing a poem for children. I don't think it can actually be called poetry--more like doggerel. Anyway, given the visit today by my little deer friend, I thought I would share it with you.

Deer Dreams

I’d like to catch a deer
but I don’t have any salt.
I’d like to jump a fence
but I never learned to vault.
I’d like to sail a ship
but I don’t know how to steer—


I wonder if some ocean salt
could help me catch that deer!

Planting Frenzy

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, our weather has been, well, icky. But I finally got out to plant tomatoes (Cherokee Purple, Zebra, Amish Paste, Beefsteak, and Illinois Beauty), eggplant (Florida High Bush), and peppers (Buran Red, Orange Bell, and Chocolate Beauty).

Today, I installed five Sun Sugarsweet (or some variety like that) tomatoes, courtesy of Michelle at My Grandpa's Garden, along with a couple of peppers she provided. The tomatoes came from a local horticulture sale, and last year, were very prolific.

In her garden at least.

Mine never got larger than pea-size, because I planted too late. And I didn't weed. Or water. And we had a drought.

Anyway, I'm much more attentive to my garden this year (thank you, antidepressants), and we have not been experiencing drought conditions. Between my garden and Michelle's, we should be rolling in tomatoes! Michelle planted about 4 plants. I planted...hold on, let me go count...

um, 33.

Well, as I've mentioned before, I'm a bit OCD. Let's just say that I'll be doing a lot of freezing this year and sharing with others.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bugs. Yuck.

I really don't care for bugs. I know that some of them are beneficial for the garden, and I do try to leave those to do their special garden tasks, but what I find super creepy are the bugs that eat my food. [I caught one mid-bite--take a look at the picture at left.]

Our weather here in Central Illinois has been crazy--warm and sunny one day, then cold, dreary and rainy for a couple of days, then cold and cloudy, then rainy, and so on. I haven't had two straight days of dry in order to be able to get into the garden until today, only to find that my soup beans are being terrorized--shredded, in fact--by the Mexican bean beetle. These horrible herbivores leave bean leaves in tatters and lay their eggs on the underside of bean leaves. They look remarkably like copper-colored ladybugs, but do far more damage. Now that they have nearly devastated my soup beans, they are encroaching upon my green beans!

How do I kill the little buggers without using any pesticides, I wonder. My boyfriend, David, helped me do a bit of Internet research, and it looks like garlic is the best defense (other than simply squashing them). I'll try some garlic powder on the leaves and around the base of the plants tomorrow, but you can bet I'll be squashing the life out of as many as I can and scraping the eggs off the leaves.

I do find it interesting that they headed for the soup bean plants first, and wonder whether planting cilantro among the green beans (a la "companion planting") has kept the damage to the green beans to a minimum. Hmmm...you would think that Mexican bean beetles would actually like cilantro, a pungent herb used in salsa!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tag! You're It!

I was reading My Grandpa's Garden shortly after posting my "April Showers...." post, only to discover I have been tagged with a gardening meme! Since this is my first official tag, it's only right to contribute. Here are the meme rules:

For this Meme, all you have to do is take some pictures and post them. Any embarrassing commentary is strictly voluntary.

1. Flash Your Seed Stash - Show us where you keep your extras. Or, if your like me, dump that big bag onto the living room floor and grab the camera!

2. Your Favorite Garden Photo - Doesn’t have to be current, just the one you’re most proud of.

3. The Secret Spot - Take a picture of that part of the yard that you’ve given up hope on, nothing will grow, sun doesn’t shine, there is no hope. No yard is perfect!

4. Your favorite garden tool - you know it, you love it, its not getting enough facetime on your blog - showcase it!

5. Your garden rainbow. Go out into the garden and try to find a picture to represents each color in the rainbow, whether all in one photo or seperate!

After reading through the suggested meme options, I realized that my blog has already supplied many of them: I have already flashed my seed stash, I already have mentioned "The Secret Spot" (where the pool used to be), and I've already talked about my favorite garden tool (The Claw). My garden isn't mature enough yet to provide a garden rainbow or favorite garden photo.

I thought instead I would provide a few pictures of gardening tools that I use that weren't necessarily constructed as gardening tools.

#1: The Rain Barrel
I don't have any old-fashioned, wooden rain barrels. I did see that Lowe's has DIY instructions for creating your own rain barrels, but that was going to cost money and take time and expertise that I don't have. So I settled for the next best thing--empty kitty litter buckets. I have them sitting out in various parts of the yard, weighted down by a rock, to catch the rain. Eventually I'll try to remove part of the gutter so the water flows directly into the barrel.

#2: The Plant Stake
When bean and pea plants are small but leaning, I've staked them to provide some support. The stake shown in the picture is a bamboo skewer. I found a pack of 200 of them at the dollar store! One end is pointed, so it's easy to get into the ground, and the top end is flat (when I remember to put the proper end into the dirt, of course). Cheap stakes, bamboo, easy to use, what more could a gardener ask?

#3: The Water Reservoir
Okay, I know that this tool looks like a big pile of twigs and branches. It is. But I was recently reading Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community, which recommended digging a trench in your yard near your garden, placing twigs and branches in it, and then recovering the trench with dirt. The trench acts as a reservoir for water that will help keep some of the moisture in your garden during the dry summer months. Additionally, the branches and twigs break down and contribute to soil building. I haven't dug the trench yet--planting is my priority right now. But I'll dig it (or more likely, hire someone to dig it) soon!

I don't know many gardeners to tag. So the tagging is voluntary--if you'd like to participate in this garden photo meme, consider yourself tagged, post your photos and any commentary you desire, and then post a comment here, indicating that you've completed your meme!

April Showers Bring May Planting

"So, Michelle, how many bean plants do you think I should plant to sustain me through the year?" (My colleague/friend/compatriot-in-garden-crime planted green beans and peas for her family last year, so I thought she might advise me.)

"Oh, three or four plants ought to be enough."

"Oh." I was quiet for a moment. "So about 19 ought to be plenty, I guess."

She laughed. But she also knows my OCD ways, so I can't imagine it was any surprise to her. "How many pea plants did you put in?"

"Uh, about 20."

"You'll be spending a lot of time shelling peas!" She laughed again. I suspect her laughing is because this year, my gardening habits are very different from last year's. Last year, I think it was mid- to late-June before my garden got planted. I threw everything in at the same time--cool season foods and warm season foods. The only thing I really had were tomatoes, and they were tiny. (But I've already told you about my toy Beefsteak tomatoes.) This year, I'm taking my time. Every day we don't have rain (which admittedly hasn't been very many days yet), I'm out in the garden planting.

Yesterday I planted soup beans. Of course, I didn't plant just one variety--oh, no, that makes too much sense. I planted SIX varieties (Old Mother Stallard, Lina Cisco's Bird Egg, October, Hutterite, Jacob's Cattle Gasless, and Ireland Creek Annie), and about 5-6 plants of each. So I'll be shelling a lot of beans in addition to those peas!

Today, I planted three different kinds of beets (Choggia, Detroit Dark Red, and Bull's Blood); 2 types of radishes (Plum Purple and Early Scarlet Globe), 8 types of lettuce (Amish Deer Tongue, Bronze Arrowhead, Forellenschuss, Red Velvet, Susan's Red Bibb, Yugoslavian Red Butterhead, Lettuce Mix, and Apollo Arugula), 2 types of spinach (American and Strawberry), and White Vienna Kohlrabi.

I still have a lot of seeds and garden space in which to plant, but now it looks like it will rain very soon, so I've given up for today. The nightshade family plants (tomatoes, eggplant, and pepper plants) are still growing under the warming lamp, so I suspect it will be time to plant them soon.

I'm afraid to tell you how many different tomato varieties I will be planting.

Monday, April 28, 2008

It's Spring...No, It's Winter...No, It's Spring...No, It's Winter...

Dear Mother Nature,

I know "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature," but really--who's fooling whom? Haven't you read the The Old Farmer's Almanac, which says that April 17 is the last frost date for the Springfield, Illinois area and April 22 for the Chicago, Illinois area? Please--give our poor little peas and beans and other early spring crops a break!

Early this morning, my Forecastfox widget alerted me with a big, ugly red stop sign that we had a severe weather alert for Decatur, Illinois. According to Accuweather.com, a




Argh! I have been so good at getting seedlings started, getting plants in the ground, taking care of them, and now this! A gardener's nightmare.

I dug through my old fabric and old sheets and scrounged as many scraps and old linens as possible to cover the beans and peas. I draped them over the fences to try to keep out the worst of the weather, but we're also supposed to have freezing rain, so I'm not sure how effective they'll be. I may have to start all over. I also covered up the few tulips I had sprouting in a nearby mess of branches and leaves.

C'mon, Mother Nature, give a poor eco-friendly girl a break! Bring on Spring!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Suggestions Needed for Ex-Pool Area

The house my roommates and I are renting once had an above-ground pool, which was removed long before we moved in. So we have no pool (which is okay, because it would be WAY too attractive to mosquitoes), but we do have a real eyesore of a spot where the pool used to be. Of course, the water and gas lines below the pool area were never removed, so I can't dig the spot up for gardening. Additionally, I'm guessing the ground in that area is probably rife with chlorine and other pool chemicals, so I wouldn't want to grow anything there anyway.

The question for you is this: what the heck do I do with this area? (Clearly, it will need to be raked.) How do I make it an attractive part of the backyard, which will be, in large part, a huge garden by the end of the summer? I'm entertaining any and all suggestions!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Gardening Is a (Painfully) Great Workout

I'm in sad shape for being nearly 43. (Yes, that's my real age.) When I got home from work today, my roommate informed me that he had tilled the garden plot for me. (I would say "Bless his pea-pickin' heart," but we don't have peas to pick yet.)

Unfortunately, we have clay for soil, so the tilled portion doesn't go down very far. I decided to use some of the compost and organic soil I had on hand in the trunk of my car to plant green beans in just one section of the garden. The Empress and Ideal Market green beans looked ready, so I sectioned off a part of the garden with some fence I bought at KMart last year for next to nothing, added the compost and soil, and planted the beans (9 Empress plants and 10 Ideal Market). The soup beans look like they'll be next--they're getting pretty tall.

I was delighted to see the earthworms making their way up from down below into the fresh compost and soil, but disturbed by the news that in the U.K., New Zealand flatworms are liquefying earthworms! This is not good news for gardeners. Let's hope the earthworms don't get imported to North America.

While I was outside, I raked some leaves (which I can't do for very long). Unfortunately, I didn't even make a dent. I gave up on the raking and put some shredded paper and mulch around the snap peas to minimize erosion and retain moisture.

I feel productive for having gotten more planting done. If I do a little every day (weather permitting), I should have a pretty awesome garden in no time!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Springing into Action

At last, spring is here!

I've been itching to till my garden, but in order to do so, I have to rake off the poisonous leaves and add the compost and organic soil to build up the garden. In order to till, the soil has to be dry enough that it won't compact when we till, but it seems that after every nice day or two, we have a significant rain.

So yesterday I decided it was time to set up the compost bin I bought on clearance at Lowe's for a ridiculous $62. Yes, I know, I could have just heaped the compost, but my goodness, this bin is black (and thus will absorb heat to help cook the compost), has slots that allow air to flow through, has another level I can add to it, and even has a hinged lid! Pretty exciting, let me tell you! It does everything but dance! After setting up the bin, which was pretty simple, I threw in shredded paper, cardboard, dead non-poisonous leaves, food scraps we've been saving, coffee grounds I begged from Panera, and some tiny twigs. I watered it all down to get it moving in the right direction.

Today was the second nice day in a row, and a quick look at my Amish Snap Peas, which were spindly and droopy, told me they needed some serious planting. So I picked a nice sunny spot in the yard (not in the garden), raked off the few black walnut leaves that covered the ground, and used The Claw (my favorite garden tool, purchased several years ago) to loosen up the ground. I then added some organic soil. I'm not certain they look much better tied to the tongue depressors swiped from a friendly doctor's office. I think I will have to find taller stakes.

My biggest worry is that we may have some hungry neighborhood rabbits who fancy feasting on my tender pea shoots. So I fenced the peas in with four $1 gates garnered from The Dollar Tree. Before you ask, yes, I do realize that rabbits can hop and conceivably could overleap the fence and eat the pea plants despite my efforts. But I'm not sure how else to keep them out, and I'm hoping the fence will deter them. I thought about getting a pellet gun and eating the rabbits I pop, but I'm not all that fond of the idea of dismantling and cleaning a rabbit for cooking.

Beans will be following the peas very soon. I planted a couple of varieties of green beans and several varieties of soup beans on April 9, and a few days ago, they were just pushing through the dirt. On Saturday, I walked out to the porch and--Bam!--they were a few inches high! Last night I raised my grow lamp up one notch, and it looks like I'll have to either raise it another notch or swap the tray for the tomato tray, where the seedlings are still small.

There is something very exciting about growing plants. Let's hope I can keep them alive...and uneaten!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good News on a Gloomy Day

I'm itching to get out into the garden, but the weather hasn't been the least bit cooperative. We've had quite a bit of rain lately here in Central Illinois, so I haven't been able to get out and work the garden soil to prepare for planting. I've had to content myself with planting seeds in Jiffy pellets and biodegradable planting cups and turning my enclosed porch into a greenhouse of sorts.

Today, it's gloomy again: overcast, rainy, with a chill wind blowing. I dragged myself out to the porch to turn on the space heater, seedlings mat, and grow light for the plants.

Oh. my. God.

I have seedlings sprouting!

The kohlrabi and green bean seeds are stretching their stems upward, seeking what barely passes for sunlight. It's been a mere 4 days since I planted these seeds, and already they are straining to LIVE!

I did a happy garden dance on our porch, which I think disturbed my roommate as he was on his way to work. Luckily, since he has to hurry to work, he won't have time to call the men in white coats.

When I was a kid, I did a bit of baking now and then, and I would sit in front of the oven, waiting for the cake to rise and get done so I could frost it and we could eat it. It seemed to take forever. Mom always told me "a watched pot never boils," but I can't help it. I'm a type-A personality and I want SOMETHING to happen RIGHT NOW!

I have been staring at the Jiffy pellets every day, wishing the seeds to grow. And my little seed-buddies rose to the task quickly and cheerfully. Only four days!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Apparently "No-Till" Doesn't Mean "No-Rake"

Yesterday, I started several seedlings--tomatoes, peas, eggplant, green beans, peppers, kohlrabi, spinach, and strawberry spinach. You can see my setup at left--I'm using the Jiffy pellets and trays. I also have a grow light I bought on clearance at Blaine's Farm & Fleet on the left, and a seedlings warming mat underneath the tray on the right (also courtesy of Farm & Fleet clearance). The little green Post-It tags tell me what variety I planted, and each row is a variety. On the right, I have two rows of some varieties; hence the separated tags. I trade off the seedlings trays so each day one of them gets "sun." And yes, I planted 48 tomato plants (6 of each variety). I'm a bit of a tomato nut. I just cannot eat the plastic tomatoes from the store.

So today, when I got home from work, I was feeling antsy to look at the garden mess left over from last year. Oh. my. God. I forgot that I hadn't even taken the tomato cages down! We also have a million thousand too frackin' many trees in our yard, so we get inundated with leaves. Since I'm going to begin my composting endeavor this year (no sense in not trying to learn how to do everything at once, of course), you might think that the sea of leaves in our yard would be a good thing.

You would be wrong.

Apparently, black walnut leaves are poison to plants, horses, and...um...humans, at least according to the article "Black Walnut Toxicity to Plants, Humans and Horses." The article does suggest that black walnut leaves may be composted separately and tested for safety by trying to grow some tomato plants in it, but I'm not too keen about eating tomatoes grown in poison. If YOU want to try it, go right ahead--I'll be glad to supply you with leaves, but you have to come get them. And rake them up. And bag them.

[Pictured: last year's garden plot, which runs from the chair at left to where the grass weeds show on the right. The garden extends about a yard short of the fence, which is barely visible in the back. The trees mark the fence line. Notice how the leaves seem to cling only to the garden and not the lawn.]

Sunday, April 6, 2008

I Think I Can Be Classified as OCD

It happened. I received my seed catalogs a few weeks ago and knew I had to place an order immediately. When my gardening buddy, Michelle, saw the Seed Savers certified-organic, heirloom bean sampler I had ordered, she asked me how many beans I was expecting to plant. (Garden-ese for "please, may I have some?"; of course, I promptly supplied her with some from each of the six varieties.) She also suggested donating some to our local college horticulture program, which I'll do. And then, I'll probably save the leftovers for next year and add some new varieties to the mix.

[Left to right, back row: Hutterite Soup, October, and Good Mother Stallard; front row: Jacob's Cattle Gasless, Ireland Creek Annie, and Lina Cisco's Bird Egg.]

But I didn't stop with beans. No, you just can't sustain yourself on just beans for a year. I've added plenty of veggies to the mix:

Peppers - Orange Bell, Chocolate Beauty, and Buran

- Amish Paste, Sweet Pea Currant, Red Zebra, John Baer, Marglobe Supreme, Illinois Beauty, Cherokee Purple, and Beefsteak (my favorite)

Lettuces - Amish Deer Tongue, Bronze Arrowhead, Forellenschuss, Red Velvet, Susan's Red Bibb, and Yugoslavian Red Butterhead

Other Greens
- Strawberry Spinach, Apollo Arugula, America Spinach

- Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini

- Florida High Bush

- Plum Purple, Early Scarlet Globe

- Chioggia, Bull's Blood, Detroit Dark Red

- Danver's Half Long, Scarlet Nantes, Dragon

- Clemson Spineless, Star of David

- Green Arrow, Amish Snap

Green Beans
- Ideal Market, Empress

- Double Yield, Boothby's Blonde, A&C Pickling

- Cutting Celery

- Australian Brown, Red of Florence

- Fernleaf Dill, Grandma Einck's Dill, Omega Flax, Santo Coriander, Cilantro/Coriander, Chives, Greek Oregano, Giant Parsley from Italy, Rosemary, Cinnamon Basil, Genovese Basil, Stevia

Edible Flowers
- Dwarf Jewel Mix Nasturtiums, Empress of India Nasturtiums

So, as you can see, I have ordered far more seeds than I have room for in my garden. I got a bit carried away due to spring fever. But all is not lost--I will share some seeds and save some seeds for next year!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cabin Fever

I can't believe it was just nearly 70 degrees, and now the temperature has dropped into the high 20s today, bringing sleet and snow and winter weather advisories. I am suffering from cabin fever, and I am desperately ready for spring! I ordered heirloom seeds on Sunday from my Seed Savers Exchange, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. catalogs. I put a rush on the Seed Savers Exchange order, where the bulk of my seeds will be coming from, so I should have them by Thursday. I know I've ordered far more seeds than I'll need, but I'll share with my gardening friend, Michelle. Plus, if I stagger the plantings, I can get 2 or 3 harvests out of some of the crops.

The next thing I need to do is take a calendar and start marking planting dates. I'll start many of my early season plants indoors--peas, tomatoes, and the like--but I don't want to start them too soon, so I need to sit down and do some date estimating. That sounds like a good weekend project.

What are you doing to get ready for spring planting?

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Taste for Spring

Yesterday, the temperature rose close to 70 degrees after several days of cold, wet, Midwest winter, and there I was, cavorting around town without even a jacket! Well, not cavorting actually, since I'm just recovering from whatever nasty respiratory bug has been going around, but I was certainly slightly bouncy. The sun was welcome as a beloved sister one hasn't seen for a year, and the gentle breeze that caressed my exposed skin put me in a mood to begin planting--although it's still a bit too soon. I did, however, buy a clearance-priced terrarium set-up (grow-light and all) and a seedlings heating mat in preparation.

After reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, I'm determined to spend a year trying to grow as much of my own food as possible and buy the rest locally or trade with others. Unfortunately, I won't be able to raise my own poultry like Kingsolver did, since city definitions of livestock prohibit such an endeavor, but I will do my best to seek out animal products where the animals have been treated humanely, fed naturally, and are raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics. My cohort in gardening crime, Michelle (My Grandpa's Garden), will be keeping me on task this year (in a later blog, I'll post about the sad state of my 2007 garden, but until then, you can get a small taste of it by reading Michelle's comments about my teeny tomatoes).

I've always enjoyed gardening; playing in the dirt is relaxing and productive. I get great joy from watching the plants grow, and even greater satisfaction from eating the fruits of my labor. So why the push to buy locally and grow my own food to sustain me through the year? Several reasons, actually:

  • Buying locally is healthier for the environment. When food is shipped from other states, much more fuel is consumed--and more carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere--than driving to your local farmer's market.
  • Growing my own food organically and buying organic food and livestock products is healthier for me. I have Stage IV breast cancer, and estrogen feeds the cancer. Since herbicides and pesticides operate in the body much like estrogen does, I would like to keep them out of my diet! Additionally, many livestock farmers inject livestock with hormones to promote maturation, and I am trying to keep my body a hormone-free environment. Staying away from antibiotic-injected animals also means (I hope) that I am less likely to develop antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Growing heirloom vegetables and herbs means that I am contributing to keeping a variety of species alive and on the market and is more intriguing--I'll be growing choggia (ringed beets), zebra tomatoes (striped tomatoes) and chocolate beauties (chocolate-colored bell peppers) this year, and I'm looking forward to taste testing these different varieties!
  • Studies suggest that organically grown food has higher nutritive value than non-organic foods.
  • Growing, trading and buying locally means I get to socialize with people who have similar interests.
  • Being outside will mean that I will absorb more Vitamin D.
  • By avoiding hybrids whenever possible, I can collect my own seeds to plant next year.
  • I suspect (although I'm certain I'll find out whether it is true) that growing your own food is more economical than purchasing the same food in the store.
  • Home-grown food just plain tastes better.
I have lots of other reasons, but just can't think of them right now.

So...I invite you to play in the dirt with me this year! I'll use this blog to chronicle my experiences, good and bad. Feel free to drop by to offer advice, share your own experiences, or pass along ripping good gardening tales!