The Root

One gardener’s quest to get to the bottom of it all.

Winter Squash: Garden-Planning Escapism December 14, 2008

Freya’s napping, I’m perusing the seed catalog again, and I can’t help posting a quick-and-dirty poll asking everyone what their favorite winter squash variety is. Do you love any of these? Do you have a different favorite?

Using space efficiently is definitely a priority, here — I have pretty much decided to completely turn over Firstplot to herbs and picking flowers — so my remaining vegetable-growing plots consist of Vineplot (approximately 3’x4′), the pumpkin patch, and my balcony. I’m looking for a very compact squash plant, if there is such a thing…I don’t know, as I have never grown winter squash before…


Saturday Seed Survey: Peas December 6, 2008

So, it turns out my local food co-op makes an annual bulk seed order, which means merry Christmas to me: New seeds at a discount from a regional, largely organic, non-GMO supplier. Virtue + thrift = legitimized greed!

Now I have a gloriously dense seed catalog full of crops I’ve never heard of, and my garden plans for ’09 are totally in flux. I would like to grow a nice big batch of peas, but which ones?

So I’m appealing to you: What are your favorite pea varieties? Below is the list of peas available in my seed catalog; check your favorite, if it’s among them, and/or write your true favorite in the comments.


More Plants. More Trellises. June 5, 2008

I have doubled my tomato crop and it’s all heirloom, all the time. I had a hunch, when I went to the farmers’ market yesterday, that I would come away several plants richer. Sure enough, I fell for a pair of Striped Germans. Those of you who know my propensity for German and…stripes…will not be surprised! I also bought a dill plant to replace the one from the kitchen spice rack that failed to thrive. Dill, take two.

Just a few hours later, they were all in the vineplot. I did something crazy and worked in the garden for two hours between bedding Freya down and making dinner. Driving home at 8 pm, I was like, “That was nuts; I’m starving and now I have feed Frey again and cook for 45 minutes.” But the concurrent realization was that I have to do crazy things like that in order to stay sane. It was OK. I pretty much enjoyed cooking and we ate at 10 pm while watching “Top Chef.” (Sometimes we say we should just move to Spain and make it official.)

What I also did in the vineplot was pound and drill the salvaged screen into place. Damn, if it doesn’t look kooky and good.

By the time I erected those, everything was joyous and restraint was fast disappearing. So I planted a couple humps of zucchini (why do they say to plant them around 12″ hills? I felt like I was molding massive prosthetic boobies). Then, I just went ahead and peppered the remaining spaces with basil, rainbow Swiss chard, red lettuce, and arugala. Those of you who saw my garden last year know this is a big departure for me. I used to follow seed packet instructions to the letter. 3′ rows! Thin to 2″! But I think those marching orders are more conducive to seed companies selling seed than backyard gardeners growing food. Now I just figure if I’m going to bust my hump building plots, I’m going to green them to the utmost.

We have a real issue with woodland herbivores, and no property fence to speak of, so, before I left for the night, I draped the whole plot with nylon netting. I’m so proud:


Thar Be Treasures… June 1, 2008

…Or, How To Reuse an Old Dog Crate. There is some damn useful stuff in that basement. Damn good for protecting new transplants from predators:

The tomates (tomatoes, tomatilloes) are all in. I am thrilled. Today while doing something mundane like ironing I said aloud, “I’m so excited that my plants are out there growing!” Ultimately, the plan is to fashion trellises from another treasure I found in the cellar:

Wow. A damaged Japanese screen that I have ripped clean and unhinged. I have big plans for these: they will serve as trellises in the summer and then, when I screw them back together again, they’ll become cold frames in the spring. (If you’re reading this brother, thank you.) Wow, I fucking love re-purposing stuff.


The Newest Plot: “Vineplot” May 30, 2008

It all started yesterday. About 2 p.m., I got an energy burst. Don’t know from whence it came; could’ve been the 70% dark chocolate, or the perfection of the weather, or perhaps our toothing baby put the spur to my hide. In any case, it was suddenly time to build a new plot for my vine vegetables. I had desisted from doing just this for weeks, hemming and hawing about maybe building another raised bed, maybe going the whole nine yards and building a raised bed on wheels, maybe just filling up containers for my tomatoes, tomatilloes, and zukes. But, when yesterday dawned breezy and warm, the day quickly lifting itself up from one of the last slight frosts, it became clear to me that I must make a home for my vining edibles toute-suite.

I couldn’t be bothered to obtain more lumber or screw together wheel axles; Freya and I needed out of the house and the clock’s ticking on those tomatilloes, which are bursting from their tiny pots. I loaded the stroller with kitchen scraps to replenish the compost heap I intended to capital-p Plunder, and we hot-footed it across town.

First, I had to break ground. This is earth my mother offered me on Mother’s Day (thanks, Ma!). I rolled back the grass and weeds on this corner by the driveway, thinking that I would start small (about 5’x4′), but that we might just want to extend the plot further along the driveway in future years. Or in future months. (I think veg gardeners are more prone to sudden attacks of Carpe Diem-itis than your average human, so I’m not ruling anything out.)

That’s about where yesterday’s work ended. Today I went back, still all fired up, and commenced my interpretation of lasagna gardening. First, I laid newspaper over the bare soil, thinking it might stop any remaining weeds from growing upwards, while allowing vegetable roots to grow downwards, if need be. I covered that with rich stuff from the compost heap. (I turned our impressive-but-under-managed heap into a crater, hoping to hit the good stuff by digging down into the middle, and I dare say it worked.) One layer compost, one layer maple leaves, then another layer compost. By the end of today, it looked dark and thick enough to be called “chocolate dirt” — which is just what my neighbor called it, so it all began and ended with cocoa.

Huzzah! This weekend, I’ll plant out the tomatillo and tomato starts and sow some zucchini seeds. Still have to work out how I’ll support and protect them all from deer, etc. (a bamboo teepee? A trellis? A fence around everything?)

A huge smackeroo of gratitude to my faithful helper:

Who now smiles with the beginning of a tooth:

She is amazing, always loves an outing: was all smiles when we arrived home. I nursed her and watched her sink into a deep sleep, hoping she dreams of pink blossoms, buzzing bees, a yellow dog, chocolate earth.


Woodland Foodie: 7, Kate: 4 May 27, 2008

So. You win some, you lose some. Yesterday I lost a couple romaine and pea plants to something like a groundhog. That’s my best guess — some woodland foodie hit the back of the raised bed, the side closest to the house, leading me to believe he just zipped under the bushes at the corner. That’s a clue, as is the large pile of dirt abutting the front porch: We think something has dug a home there.

It’s the first major green casualty of the year, and probably the last. You can have my lettuce, bucktooth, but you’ll never get my vine crops. I’ve recovered and am plotting strategic moves; I’m building fences. And I know someone with a trap, a trap that’s seen use, a trap that she baits with peanut butter and apples. Am simply working up the courage to borrow it.

In my tally:

Yesterday I harvested three radishes. On a normal day, I don’t particularly like radishes, but I tried one, and it was a capitalized RADISH, a Rather Amazing Delicacy I Sowed and Harvested. Wondrous because I made it happen.

I’m also feeling pretty optimistic about my tomatilloes today. I think I think I think I see fruit:


Abbr. State of the Sprouts, May 25th, 2008 May 25, 2008

We have a new varsity basketball team: the tomatilloes are gigantic. I sincerely hope they fruit, because they’re going to take up a lot of real estate. Please, somebody tell me now if store-bought tomatilloes — particularly those bought at Price Chopper — are hybrids that will not fruit. Somebody dash my hopes now before I give these plants the penthouse suite. All would not be wasted — I would compost them, or set them up as a sacrifice crop…

On a happier note, it’s Memorial Day weekend and last frost dates are fast approaching. Soon I’ll set these out in the weather for keeps: Swiss chard, pumpkin, Black Krim tomatoes, and sweet peppers. I’ve essentially been “hardening off” for a month or so, ever since I ran out of room under artificial lights and chased everybody out onto the balcony. But, after they’ve sunned every day, I dutifully haul them in every evening, for fear of a killing frost (there was a hearty one just last night). Soon, those chores will be done. I expect we’ll forgo the raised-bed-on-wheels in favor of large containers in the driveway. Or maybe use the containers as a stop-gap until we actually do construct the biggest, most bad-assed “raw meal on wheels” anyone has ever seen.

And then, just when I think I’m an urban gardener, just when I think I can sneak into that crowd…tonight I heard a beaver slapping the water just down the ridge from the condo. I know it’s a beaver at work — I’ve seen the stumps of small trees that he has gnawed down, right by the river. He must go at them like he’s sharpening a pencil. I love this place.