Friday, August 21, 2009

Free collard seedlings, August sowings

You may come to the right of my front steps at 56 Gordonhurst Montclair if you want some free collard seedlings. I did something silly, about which I might as well confess. Having made earlier collard sowings from years-old seeds with only a modicum of success, I decided after coming home from vacation last week that I must take firm action. I not only used recent seeds, but I scattered them MUCH too abundantly. I don't remember doing such a thing before, but in an earlier life I would have simply composted the extras and saved only enough for me. Fred likes to say, "Denial isn't just a river in Egypt." So I may have been similarly silly before.
This time, however, I couldn't bring myself to destroy THAT many seedlings, so I've have put at least two-families-worth of seedlings in each of six pots. If they are taken, I have more. I'm not sure how long they will last or how easily they will transplant, but I suspect that anyone who gets there today will get plenty of collard plants if they take ONE pot. I forgot to check how far apart they should be spaced, but it's at least a foot. You get a lot of collards from one plant. I usually eat a collards meal every three days from light frost until the end of December. Then they play dead. One year I didn't remove them and they revived in March. Now I tend to cover them with floating cover, and they don't look "as dead" during the winter. They are a great fresh veggie in late fall and early spring. Some years I eat them all summer, but this year the mold got to them, just about the time that summer crops were coming in.

Also in the past week I have sowed kale and lettuce (I'm "always" sowing lettuce), and both are peeping up above the soil. Today I sowed 2-season Chinese cabbage and pak choi in my greenhouse window. The former will grace my cold frame and yield delicious fresh dinners every three days in January and February. The latter are destined to line the pea fence and defend the baby pea plants next spring against woodchuck invaders. Oh, yes, pak choi is good to eat itself, but these seeds are taken from the plant that successfully defended some rare surviving pea plants this past spring.

Meanwhile, we're eating well. Zuchinni, cucumbers, and tomatoes (both large and small), and Malabar spinach are abundant, and there is LOTS of basil for pesto.
If it were a bit less humid, this human would be even happier. However, the
baby eggplants, barely perceptible early in the week, are growing furiously in this weather. "There is no accounting for taste," observed Julius Ceasar over 2000 years ago. Yesterday the eggplants almost doubled in length between early morning and mid-afternoon!


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Friday, August 14, 2009

After 8 days away

Returning from a summer vacation is always interesting for a gardener, but yesterday I was in absolute suspense as we drove home. What would I find? Would there still be a garden? What disasters would woodchucks have wrought?

Yes, there was still a garden. Yes, there were still carrot tops, although they had been nibbled. One could see where the lettuce should be, although nothing worth eating had been left. Oh, well. We had had two fine weeks of lettuce salads before we left, and we would soon show those woodchucks again whose territory this is. Last time it took about ten days until we had decent lettuce again.

Only two of the five "early" plants zuchinni had died, although August 8 is the traditional date of zucchini death. The other three are still bearing, as are the five that I started in June. We have plenty of zucchini.

The cucumbers are still doing their thing. Wow! What a year for cucumbers! They like this rain.

Our neighbors had been kindly picking our slightly red large tomatoes while we were gone at our request. I had lost too many to marauders earlier. We had a delicious large tomato with our zucchini the first dinner of our return.
Then I noticed disaster. The eggplants had been attacked! A huge waistline was chewed around one, and two others were shorted radically. I had been planning on lots of eggplant this winter to substitute for peas and beans, but... I must accelerate my freezing of the Malabar spinach and pesto, it seems. Both Malabar and basil are thriving. It then occurred to me that Fred and I could eat what was left of the three traumatized eggplants. I made homemade tomato sauce from the tomatoes the neighbors had preserved and cut out the surviving eggplant pieces. We agreed that dinner was delicious this evening. Eggplant won't be as plentiful this winter as I planned, but with renewed territory marking, we will have some. The little ones are trying.

We ate well on vacation (our hosts know our preferences), but it's good gastronomically to be home!


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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Benign power edgers

Most of you know that I have never used poisons, chemicals or power machinery on my property for the 34 years that we've lived here. However, I discovered last year an edger -- one of those gadgets that trims the edges of your lawn -- that is incredibly quiet.

I concede that trimming edges by hand, as I do, takes considerably more time than using machinery (a concession I won't make for leaf blowers or power lawn mowers). One can ask why it is done at all. Back in those halcyon* days before power machinery, the edges were consistently messier and I'm not sure that compromised the quality of human life.

I hand-trim mine now strictly to conform to current social norms. My mother used to say, "You have to live within your own culture." I don't know how she would view this possible "waste of time" (wasting time was one of the greatest sins in her opinion), but if I'm to have a yard that shows how nice it can be without power machinery, I feel I should trim the edges several times a year with a hand tool, including the week before each open garden.
If you want to see what a non-trimmed edge looks like, come by surreptitiously about two weeks before an open garden. (The next will be Saturday, Sept. 19, from 2-4 and will feature a butterfly tent in the front yard.)

Anyway, last year when I was visiting my son, his neighbor came out with an edger, and I ran away fast from the expect noise. When it began,I was startled at how quiet it was. I then acquired the catalog; it is advertised as "pollution free" and "whisper quiet." The latter is an exageration, of course, but if the noise doesn't bother Pat Kenschaft, it is remarkable. If people would mow their own lawn, I would forgive them the use of Turnado edgers. It is item number F5-57337 from or call 1 800-229-2901. It cost $39.99, including a battery recharger. It allegedly runs 40 minutes per charge.

I do not feel so benign toward power lawn mowers. When I was a child, lawn mowing time was Daddy time. My father worked at an exempted job during the war and loaded docks all day Saturday and Sunday. Evenings I enjoyed keeping him company in whatever he was doing, and lawn mowing has special happy memories. Many of us find they take no more time than power mowers, and one woman on this list with MS told me last year that she didn't have the strength to use a power mower, so she mows her lawn with a non-power mower.

Leaf blowers are totally unacceptable. Using them nearby makes my husband sick short-term, and some people suffer more than he does. Long-term they endanger the health of all of us by blowing around dust, pollen, and fecal matter. I'm not willing to concede that they take less time than rakes and brooms, but I realize this is controversial. The local health dangers and the contribution to climate change is undeniable. If I were queen, they would be illegal with major penalties.

Happy lawn care! If you want to find a landscaping service that restrains itself, I can give you contact information.


*"halcyon days" refers only to the lack of use of power lawn machinery, which DID make life more pleasant in my youth. I still remember the day I first heard a power lawn mower. I exclaimed to myself, "What! They are going to allow THAT in residential areas?"

I don't mean to imply that everything has gone downhill. In particular, when I was young only men could do lawn care. I'm really glad that women's lib has allowed me to enjoy this activity and some others that were forbidden then. Mowing lawns brings me (and quite a few others) significant pleasure.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

2 woodchuck-free weeks and then...

Tuesday marked two weeks without woodchucks in our garden, following a 3-day weekend vacation (3 weeks ago) when disaster hit: the lettuce and carrots were chewed to the ground, and no baby beans survived. Fred and I decided to take drastic action, and we were rewarded with abundant lettuce salads after the plants recuperated. The carrot tops grew back and look lush still; I must thin and mulch them again as soon as I get my hands on some fresh grass clipping.

Our drastic action was using inter-species communication to say, "This garden is human territory!" I kept a bedpan in the downstairs bathroom, and Fred used more direct action. This method of pest prevention is easier for men than women, but we both worked at it conscientiously. Several of you had advocated coyote or fox urine. I tried that years ago, but it is expensive and lasts only until the next rain. Our method is cheaper, and renewable after each rain.

Then Wednesday the rains struck. Two tomato cages were knocked over, and the remnant of a significant tomato was on the ground. We kept at it, as we had before, and the lettuce and carrots continue to thrive.

But last night we had another strong rain, and another cage was knocked over. Several tomatoes were on the ground. Even more interesting, one tomato with only a small part missing (where a jaw might have carried it) was just outside the woodchuck hole under the garage, as if woodchucks (like me) think of the future when they contemplate tomatoes. Since it was almost whole, I wondered if it would ripen indoors. I measured it -- six inches across! (Burpee's Supersteak Hybrid) It may or may not ripen on my counter, but the woodchuck's plans are thwarted. I would use it only for long-cooked sauce, of course, but that adds significantly to human pleasure.

A garden always provides many questions (like most of life). I wonder if the rains washed away our deterrent, or whether we just didn't use it close enough to the tomato plants. If the latter, a remedy will be soon applied.

Meanwhile, we continue to enjoy our lettuce salads and to coddle hope for winter carrots. I haven't been told of any other family trying our approach to woodchuck avoidance before. It's inconvenient, but one can get used to it. By Tuesday I was thinking of that old Pennsylvania Dutch saying that my mother's family liked to quote, "Ve grow too soon alt, and too late schmart."


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