Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Springtime in the Rockies

Life in Colorado has unique qualities. After a winter of very little snow overall, spring arrived and we suddenly received 47" of snow. It didn't all pile up because in between storms the temperatures would rebound into the upper 60s and low 70s.

Then we have times like what we are going through yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Yesterday was a hot day in the 80s. Today is a transition day in the 60s. Later is forecast for thunder and rain. By tomorrow we will be shoveling out of 3 to 7 inches of snow. We have four seasons here, but sometimes we have them all in one day.

Last year we were into summer by now and I lost the chance to properly plant those veggies that need cold weather. So this year I made a point of getting out to plant those seeds in March. Then the weather got unusually cold. Some of the seeds have survived, others have not. So I must do a little replanting.

I am planting extra peas this year because the peas rarely make it into the house. I tend to eat them right there in the garden. Many of the strawberries go the same way.

For the last few years my spring planting included many veggies for my mother. She passed away last August, so this year I need to rethink much of what I will grow. I don't care for beets and parsley, so I don't need to grow those this year. I use a lot of onions, so more of my garden space will be given over to them.

I hope that the strawberries and raspberries will be even more plentiful than last year. I discovered the
amazing power of red berries to reduce my blood sugar. I also discovered that they taste so much better than anything I can purchase in the store since they are able to ripen entirely on the vine and become naturally sweet and delicious.

Already I must make plans to thin lettuce, but it will have to wait until after the next snow storm.

After all it is that fickle Springtime in the Rockies.

Monday, April 8, 2013

G -- The Garden Girls

For the first time since I was a toddler, my next door neighbor is a friend of mine. In the intervening
years neighbors mostly seemed to be people who couldn't understand why I didn't want to listen to their music at three in the morning or their loud domestic squabbles in the night.

My current neighbor is a dear and embodies the term neighbor very nicely. We are both writers, which gives us a lot in common, but our bonding has really occurred over gardening. Each spring, after a winter spent indoors and communicating largely by email and Facebook, we renew our friendship as be clean our yards, plant our gardens, and trade seeds.

This is made much easier by the fact that we live in a mobile home park and are therefore very close in proximity with one another unless I am working out in the "north 40," as I call the far northern end of my estate.

While digging and weeding we catch up on family.  We stop and chat with the members of our mobile home community as they walk by. Most of them are also avid, if not rabid, gardeners themselves. Many of our relationships have been built around gardening and urban farming.

As the season progresses we will trade watering when out of town and share food as harvest time comes along. My raspberry patch produces far more than I can eat myself, so I happily share them with my neighbor.

We even chase the deer out of each others' garden. If that's not neighborliness and friendship, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Favorite Garden Tools

Okay. There is really one that stands out way above the rest. My garden knife. It is the best thing I ever bought. It is from Fiskars, the company know for making scissors. This thing is AWESOME!

You can see by how dirty it is that I use it a lot. It has a plain blade on one side, a serrated edge on the other. Not terribly sharp or I would have lost a finger by now. The point is perfect for digging weeds and the width makes it more efficient in the task. The shape means I can use it as a trowel. The edges help cutting through turf or other roots. Just the best thing ever.

Other items that I couldn't do without are the flat-pronged pitchfork for turning compost, really good clippers in two sizes for large and small tree shoots and branches, a hand cultivator for breaking up soil, and a broom and a hand brush for sweeping up the patio and sidewalk.

Buckets are always a great thing to have around. I eventually plan to kick one, but not for a few decades. They can be great for storing things -- like the cat.

Yeah, I've used this photo before, but I love it so much that I have to put it out there again. Naomi is also a great garden tool since she is a hunter and will chase birds, mice and insects that might damage my fruit and veggies. Not so much with the squirrels since she has made friends with them, but they are still cautious. She is a predator, after all.

The most heavily used tools in the garden, by far, are my brain, my hands and my back. And, of course, my butt. I would be nowhere without the back of my front.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Musings on a Week in the Garden

This was a busy week in the garden, trying to get the spring work done. I spent up to six hours a day out working away. There is soooo much to do at this time of year. A character on an old British sitcom, Good Neighbors, said it best -- she's angry at "that Mother Nature person. She sleeps all winter and then wakes up and goes stark raving mad!"

I spent a great deal of time out in what I call "the north forty." This is the three raised beds at the north end of my lot. I was turning soil, amending it, and removing weeds and wood chips. This is where the majority of my Egyptian Walking Onions are planted, and my sage, oregano and leeks are growing. I had a lovely chat with the bees in the purple sage flowers. I also ended up in a rather strange conversation with a couple of homeless men who were walking by and came over to talk with me. This was rather alarming since most people just talk with me from the sidewalk. One of them was asking me to hire him to work in the garden -- a trailer park is not the greatest place to look for someone who has the money to pay for odd jobs. The other was telling me about the garden he had worked in while he was in jail. I couldn't help but wonder about these two. I certainly hoped that they were just passing through and not looking to create a problem. Apparently they were okay. They finally ambled on after a third man who had no interest in cornering me in the garden,

At the top of this photo you can see the north 40. The nearer garden bed is a "pond." I wanted to put a pond into my garden, but couldn't see trying to keep pouring water into a real pond in such a dry climate. So I made a representative pond. You will see more of the pond as the spring progresses and I get more of it cleaned up. There are frogs and swans in there, and Huck Finn goes fishing there.

A neighbor stopped by one evening to ask gardening advice and what to plant that the deer won't touch. This is a very limited list, but she was happy with what I had told her -- onions, sage, oregano, and irises. For some reason the deer haven't been around lately. I miss them, but I am grateful that I haven't needed to use the stinky spray to keep them away from the roses and clematis.

Naomi was as entertaining as usual. Especially when I found her curled up on a bunch of mulch and a bit of trash in a bucket:

This is the same cat who has her own chair on the patio just a few feet away. Go figure!

It was also time to mow the lawn this week. This is the only thing I don't do myself. I really hate mowing, so I find it better to let someone else do it.

My fantastic photography skills are clearly apparent in this one. I have a cheap little digital camera that doesn't have a screen to review the photos I take. I will be better once I get used to it.

Thursday night I stayed out late working in the north 40. This meant that I was out there when the Cruiser Ride came by. They come by most Thursday nights and there are hundreds of them. There is a bike path at the end of my street so it is a natural route for them. Here is a video of the Cruisers made by my friend Jonathan Machen. He's the one singing. The one swinging is his son, Orion. Jonathan is an amazing artist.

They generally shout "Happy Thursday!" to all and sundry along their route, although some abandon that to yell "Love your garden" at me.

Life in Boulder is rarely boring. There are too many of us oddballs and weirdos here. I am pleased to be one of them -- and a native of the city. I actually live on the same street I was born on. Few people in this country can say that.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gardening by the Seat of My Pants

There is a reason that professional photographer Tom Sundro Lewis took my picture sitting on the ground in my garden. It is because that is how I do all my gardening. As my Buddha appearance suggests, I am on the hefty side. Heftily on the hefty side (thought thankfully, not at my highest weight). The weight puts a lot of pressure on my back, creating pain, so I sit. Weeding, planting, tilling, mulching, even watering -- I do it all sitting down. Sitting though I may be, it is a great source of exercise for me.

Some of my neighbors say that I am my own garden gnome. They know that spring has truly sprung when they find me sitting there.

The cat, Naomi, is the gardening supervisor. She also likes to sit, but not always in the best spots for the garden.

She has favorite spots to try to lounge in the patio pots. Here she is in a bowl of young greens moments before we had a loud argument over her choice of venue.

She does actually stop by once in awhile to check on my progress. She is particularly fond of checking up on my rate of weeding and clean up.

Here she is checking on the bag of weeds. old leaves and twigs. She not terribly happy that there is not enough room for her to go in and check the contents more thoroughly.

One of the problems with gardening by the seat of my pants is that it can be a slow way to do it. But there is something extra Zen about having to do it more slowly. I find it relaxing and thought provoking. It is working in the garden where I am inspired for my writing, work out writer's block, and come up with new ideas.

I'm not alone. I have heard tell of a woman who loved gardening so much, that as her body was losing its functionality, she would tend her garden lying down. When it comes to gardening, it doesn't matter how you do it -- just do it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Egyptian Walking Onions

These are one of the darlings of my garden. I adore onions and use them in just about everything recipe. Spring onions, or scallions, are quite expensive, so having a bed of them in the garden is a money-saving project for me. This is made even easier by having Egyptian Walking Onions well-established in one of the raised beds. They "walk" by reseeding themselves at the end of the season. As they mature through the summer they create a bulb cluster at the top of one of the shoots. These will drop off and start new onions.

The unusual bulb cluster does give these onions a rather alien look. Instead of letting the bulbs drop on their own, I harvest them once they mature and plant them where I want them. Some of my neighbors have found them wandering all over the place.

They are the first thing up and ready to eat in the spring. I have already been using them this year. Until they begin to develop the bulb cluster they look like any other scallions, though they can grow surprisingly large. They never become a bulb onion. I have discovered that if you do not pick them, they will also divide over the winter. This left me with an amazing yield for this spring.

If you can add this wonderful vegetable to your garden, I highly recommend it. If you know anyone with these plants they are likely willing to share to get your garden started. If not you can order them at EyptianWalkingOnion.com.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What to Plant?

When you start vegetable gardening it is tempting to plant absolutely everything. I know I wanted to. There are so many plants that you feel you somehow "ought" to plant. Even my neighbor, who has been growing veg for many years, will plant beans even though she really doesn't care much for them. Which has been a bit of a boon for me since she will give me some of the extras. I keep feeling like I should be growing eggplant, but I hate them.

I do grow a few extra things for my elderly mother, such as beets and parsley. This is due, in part, to the fact that you have to buy these things in bunches. Mum is so small that much of this goes to waste before she can use them up. By having them in the garden I can pick them as she needs them. This is also true of my beloved cilantro. When I buy it at the store I end up throwing quite a bit away. So planting it is great for having a steady fresh supply.

I have switched from planting lettuce to planting blends of greens called mesclun. This helps me create a fun and diverse salad easily and I don't have to plant each type separately. This also helps make the garden colorful and beautiful in the absence of all of the flowers in which I used to indulge. My favorite lettuce, iceberg, now so politically incorrect, has been harder to grow than I had anticipated, but I still try.

I always grow spinach. I am not a big spinach fan overall, but if I am going to eat it, it must be fresh. I was raised on canned spinach, which made me gag. With a couple of bowls of fresh spinach growing on the patio it is easy to throw a bit into omelets, soups, or pasta sauces. I am retraining my palate away from the memories of the food my mother prepared.

This year I am putting a push behind the brassica family of vegetables -- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. I have Grave's Disease, or hyper-thyroid. Most people have hypo-thyroid. Raw brassica vegetables (which includes radishes) have something called "goitrogens" in them that helps to lower thyroid function. Okay, I'm not going to eat the sprouts raw, but I do like them once in awhile cooked and cheese melted over them. Still fairly healthy.

I adore potatoes, so I started planting red potatoes last year. They didn't do really well, but I planted them late. So this year I am starting earlier. I chose red potatoes because I am also a diabetic. Red potatoes are lower in carbohydrates. While I can't eat them everyday, I can have them a couple of times a week. I have found that growing my own organic seems to have an even smaller effect on my blood sugar levels.

One of my goals has been to have perennial veg and herbs in the garden so that I will always have some food in the garden. So far this has taken the form of Egyptian walking onions, reseeding red spinach, chives, sage, oregano, and asparagus. Well, the asparagus will be new this year.  I also have raspberries and strawberries, both of which are excellent for diabetics. I have planted three blueberry bushes that came with the promise of bearing the first year. This is their third year and they have hardly grown at all. One of my missions this year is to see if I can fix the problem or if I need to just start over with them.

Some of the more difficult things that I try to grow are leeks. They can be rather expensive. The problem is that they have a very long growing season. I finally have leeks large enough to harvest this year. I planted them two years ago.

Some suggest growing only those things that you can't easily buy in the grocery store. However, I just love taking a colander in hand, wandering through the garden, and selecting what to trow together for dinner. The colander then goes into the sink for a quick rinse and I am ready to go. It satisfies something deeply primal in me.