The Root

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

Growing Again December 16, 2008

Playing with dirt

Almost eating dirt

This weekend I pulled out the dirt and the seeds and I started some lettuce, arugula, chard, spinach. It was very rewarding to have a tiny helper who was all too willing to get her hands dirty with the project. And it was wonderful to smell soil again.

It’s the heart of winter — cold blue outdoors until 7:30 am, on overcast days, and this town just shook off an ice storm that slicked every last twig and lasted for days.

But we might just (knocking on wood, not counting any chickens) have homegrown salad soon. I have had the urge for several weeks to grow greens right here at home — maybe on the balcony in some elaborate miniature hothouse contraption, maybe under the dreaded, sap- and soul-sucking fake lights…or maybe, as it turns out, on the living room windowsill. That might do just fine.

Midwinter lettuce sprouts

Sprinting to the head of the class is some red leaf lettuce, which sprouted in three days and earned a place on said windowsill. This is pretty exciting stuff. The arugula and chard are sending up spindly shoots, over on a top shelf of the media center.

This is all it takes. I am already imagining a pea plant on the windowsill, sending tendrils all the way up to the curtain rod. Freya and I will eat snap peas for breakfast. I will just keep trying until it works, until some vegetable grows green enough to eat. Dude. Nothing like optimism on a sub-freezing day.


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.


Oh, Girl! November 18, 2008

What a couple of incommunicado months. Sheesh. Is this still a blog? Yeah, but it’s a blog about a dedicated spring gardener who became an extremely negligent fall gardener.

(Wow, I had to test-drive that new feature! Nice.)

Dudes, I don’t even want to rehash the sad story of “the harvest.” In my case, it played out like a horror flick. Or, you know, I remember first hearing about the hunger-relief program Second Harvest — now, I’m confident that they work wonders, but, in my world, their name has always sounded like a euphemism for regurgitation. That’s how it was in my garden this fall, yo; harvest became a euphemism for what I was doing: clawing through blighted and blackened tomatoes just so I could salvage some seeds; letting the countless tomatilloes soften on the vine after determining that I don’t really like their taste. Then there was the lone pumpkin that harvested itself / fell to the ground, from whence I tried to gather it and instead came away with the softened stem in my hand (I lugged it home, anyway, where it turned foul within three days). Oh, the saga.

Well, it can’t get much worse next year! Optimism levels on the rebound. Should be good-to-go by springtime. I am seriously reconsidering what I will grow, though. I’ll always enjoy fresh salad greens, and having so much zucchini will always be a wonderful reason to bake more chocolate zucchini cake (kudos, kudos, kudos). But, the tomatoes? Sheesh, guys, I really didn’t dig them that much. They are, in my book, the most beautiful seedlings, and we did get some delicious mouthsful of the Black Krim that honestly did taste like red wine. But, holy crap, the blight! The interminable wait for the first ripe one! And then the same wait for the next! And then I just got thoroughly depressed by the idea of schlepping over to the plot again just to pick maybe one ‘mato that would end up mouldering on the countertop, anyway (why? They kind of give me indigestion after noon)!

I miserably failed at Tomato Husbandry, yo, and Pumpkin Husbandry was like a “D-“.

The wondrous counterweight to all the rampant garden negligence is the unstoppable thriving of babygirl Freya. She now eats with two fists; and has a sort-of wrinkled-nose, “Hey, I’m on to you!” expression, along with countless others; and crawls with such amazing gusto that you can hear her coming from two rooms away. Her first words after “Mama” and “Dada” were “Hi” and “Wow.” How wonderful is that. When we get up in the morning, she waves to the world outside the window. The girl literally greets the day. How amazing is she?

Last night I was trying to chop up some herbs with a dull knife and she got so excited about the big bunch of cilantro. At the risk of projecting too much of my own enthusiasms onto her young self, I dare say the girl likes green things.

Here’s to more goofy updates before the next growing season. Can’t wait to read what you all have been doing.


Pumpkin Patch on a Stick and an Altered Tomato August 2, 2008

So, when I rigged it up, I thought the dog crate around the pumpkin patch would just be a temporary fix; I just needed to protect seedlings from The Voracious Marauders. But I never removed it, and now the dog crate is the pumpkin patch. Actually a very good thing: There’s a lot more space to grow upwards than there is to grow outwards. A couple days ago I started wrapping the longest vine around the base, like as if the whole contraption were a ball of string. I like that.

Soon I’ll fashion a sort of hammock for the pumpkin to rest in. It’s a Jack O’ Lantern, so I assume it’s going to be a honker that could break right off at the stem if I don’t take care of it (actually, I didn’t assume any of this, since I have this dopey optimism about the garden — pretty much like Kevin Costner building the baseball diamond — but concerned relatives are truly worried about my pumpkin, so I’m going to take action). Come to think of it, I’ll need to rig up some sort of counter-weight to the pumpkin as it matures, so it won’t take a faceplant into the dirt and drag everything else along with it.

Green, green, green in the garden. Very monochrome. Positively dull. Yeah, I know, I’m asking for it. But, really, now I know why people grow flowers. Everything but black-eyed susans used to leave me cold, but I’m beginning to realize that a lot of flowers have really got something good going on. Anyway, until next year’s garden, I have Photoshop. When I squint my eyes, it almost looks real.


Confessions July 29, 2008

So, you guys, I have a dirty little secret: My balcony garden sux. Yes, I’m guilty of selective blogging. Week in and week out I post photos of my plot garden and hope that no one will notice the sad lack of updates on the homefront. I promise I will post photos when the sun shines again, in the morrow — or perhaps in the midst of a downpour, which would really set off its miserable state. I usually try to frame the best shot, but this time, there will be no best shot. Nothing grows past adolescence out there.

In brief: The carrots seedlings, such as they are, one centimeter tall, are yellowing, the chard has somehow mummified into tough little inch-long shoots, the lavender I had such high hopes for seems to think it has fall foliage, Freya’s little primrose plant is suffering through yet another cycle of flood and drought, and my Brandywine tomato is straining to produce its 20th leaf. It’s nothing good.

I remember reading that container gardening is difficult, but I moved on pretty quickly from that. Extreme conditions, microclimates, special handling required. Huh. You don’t say. Where’s that sub-standard potting soil? I’m just going to try it out, here. And I don’t know what possessed me to try to raise a windowbox of chard in seed-starting mix, but it’s just not happening.

It’s because, at this stage of baby-raising and life-muddling, I can only care for the type of garden that requires like two hours a week of maintenance, tops. So it’s working out in my plot because that stuff is growing in almost pure compost and seems to appreciate it. And because the plots are so jam-packed, the weeds just stay out of sight in the shady undergrowth. All I’ve been doing for the past couple weeks is just harvesting and ogling it. That’s my kind of garden, right there. There might be drawbacks to a jam-crammed veggie plot that I’m not yet aware of, but I just hope it stays that way.

So, maybe in a couple years, with the container garden. Maybe when Freya toddles and can play in dirt without putting it into her mouth (all the time) and it will be our thing.

To be continued.


Mutant Tomato Update July 23, 2008

We calls him The Grinch:

It’s at least three tomatoes fused, with leaves fringing out from the center and the sides. A hairy, mutant Black Krim that will scare the kids at Christmas. Truly a tomato worthy of that “Play with Your Food” line of books that was popular several years ago. Will we cut it open and find four hearts, or one massive seed pit? What will it spawn when I plant its seeds?

The weather has been humid and rainy for days — weeks — and, all of a sudden like, the zucchini plants popped out scads of flowers. At least one is a female flower with a zuke developing behind it. And the green pumpkin is the size of a ping-pong ball.

Last winter I made some noise about guerrilla planting a pumpkin or two on the property line — land that is probably rightfully CVS’s. Haven’t done it yet, in part because, after numerous nighttime diaper runs, the CVS ladies know me and Freya and Neville on sight. I feel like I would be betraying some shallow but persistent cashier-customer bond of trust. Plus, my parents read this blog. However. There is also the matter of keeping my word, and some needy pumpkin plants that aren’t getting enough sun. I had success transplanting a zuke. Might try a pumpkin, an illicit, city pumpkin…should act while parents out of town…how old am I again?