The Root

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

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.


Regeneration, Creeping Evil June 20, 2008

The peas have staged a full-on comeback and are now blooming. I can’t believe these things survived, let alone have the gumption to flower and, possibly, fruit. I believe in regeneration now.

…Which is why I’m very carefully tending the tomatoes in Vineplot. They have begun flowering, too, but then, several days ago, something evil hit them — I hope it’s just a little collateral damage from the soapy whitefly scrimmage; however, it might be a case of blight. Fungus. And with that, “It’s go time.” I’m serious. I hopped to it. I’ve let cases of indigestion go longer. In the last three days I have:

  • Doused them with milky water, twice.
  • Tracked down comfrey to brew them a nutritious batch of comfrey tea. (It took a couple hours and three locations, but I now have a comfrey plant and a jar of its leaves soaking.)
  • Watered my Brandywines (which are in a separate plot) with a prophylactic dose of chamomile.
  • Basically taken an impromptu course in Organic Soil Improvement Methods.

Gayla Trail tells me, in that book she wrote for me (You Grow Girl), that milk is an antifungal wonder-juice for tomatoes, chamomile is a good fungus preventative, and comfrey tea is like Carnation Instant Breakfast for vegetable plants: a pack of minerals.

Cripes, it had all better work. Those tomato plants hold a lot of my time and effort and I want those heirloom fruits. At the risk of spoiling that soil for next year, I don’t have the heart to pull them up. I want them saved. I hope it’s possible?

Then, walking home yesterday evening, I came upon the largest spider that I have ever seen outside of a zoo. In this picture, it is a tad smaller than life-size.

I thought it might be an escaped tarantula. Called Neville outside to snap photos of it and came to discover it’s a native “fisher spider.” Lives on lakes, streams, or rivers, like the one just down the ridge. Walks on water. Walks on water. I believe in biological miracles. Come on, tomatoes.


Brandywines! And heavy on the updates June 16, 2008

I lucked into six Brandywine ‘mato starts from my neighbor Susan. What a windfall! I’m so excited. It has taken me several days to transplant all of them, mostly working at night, frequently in the rain, enjoying getting really dirty (good therapy, almost as good as watching Freya schmeer herself with food). I think I have saved them all, but I’m not sure if they’re all big enough to produce in our short season. The last and smallest to go in was one I did last night and am keeping on the balcony. Hey, junior!

I weeded my arse off in my Firstplot. You know the drill: Before, After:

The PEAS are COMING BACK after being decimated. They have even survived me moving them around in the name of prettification. I might have peas this year, after all; not enough for Freya to eat, really, but all I want is to taste one. In the plot now: Peas (Progress and Snap Daddy), Brandywines, basil, sad Romaine, dill, bell peppers, carrots.

I’m turning against the grid. That twine is just ugly, and I really enjoy planting more free-form. Dude! Eventually it will be a thing of wild beauty. More like Vineplot. Speaking of. High drama there. From one day to the next, whitefly infestation. I got quick and I got lucky: First, target practice with a spray bottle of water; then I doused the plants with soapy water; then, that night, it rained, washing away potentially damaging soap residue. Today I say it’s a full success…let’s hope it stays that way. Whiteflies a real prob hereabouts. I have read that nasturtiums deter ’em?

Also, the tomatillos are fruiting, zucchinis are up, and there’s a carpet of lettuces and basil popping up everywhere. It’s all so vibrant and satisfying.


Live Action Slug vs Copper June 13, 2008

So there it was in the garden yesterday — a slug, but also a guinea pig for my copper tape repellent. I can’t say I was amazed with the results. Amazing would have been the slug curling up and rolling off, crying, “Los! Schnell!!” In fact, I was concerned he was treating the tape like the Autobahn. Not the schnell I was going for. However, in the end, it did turn off at the first exit, and it stayed off.

Maybe this tape is worth it. I reserve ultimate judgment until high slug season…more to come…


Organic Underdogs June 9, 2008

Heat wave: 90’s and humid. Freya and I have been hunkering down indoors near the air conditioner Nev’s folks bought us — a life saver. Without it, it would be running 95 in here. As it is, with the condo’s less-than-stellar air circulation, we’re relatively comfortable at 80 degrees.

My sweet pepper and tomates are loving it. I went to the plot across town last night. There was just enough daylight to observe that, in the Vineplot, the tomatillos are growing about an inch a day and have blossoms; the tomatoes are thriving and have yellow buds, as well. At their feet are tons of tiny sprouts, a real melee of salad greens on the up and up. Everything is just sucking the moisture from the air and greening like money.

Including, sadly, the weeds in my first plot. I haven’t had any time to attend to it in the last two weeks and so, at this point, there are more weeds than vegetables there. Really, the pea plants are gone, chawed to nubbins by my herbivorous nemesis. So! Round two is on: Under cover of darkness, I built a fence around Firstplot. Dead simple: I drove in four stakes and wrapped them with the same wonderful nylon mesh stuff that I draped over Vineplot. Will the herbivore be more resourceful than me — will he dig under, chew through? I’m not really mad about the peas anymore; I realize that this is one of many, many pest sagas that I will experience and am taking it pretty docilely. It’s a strategy game. The fence is just the most current way of saying “Touch√©!” But I do hope it lasts because I haven’t planned my next move.

Another pest I discovered just last night: tiny worms or grubs burrowing into my radishes. I had a real “aha!” moment there when I peered closely at the suspicious brown spots and discovered wriggly, black-nosed and -butted little things. I gave them a lot of distance and felt pretty chagrined, kind of like being told, “Oh, no, madame, that table’s reserved.” Aha! Nature. Eating. Competition. I’m not on top any more.

In fact, I get the feeling organic gardening/farming is about constantly being the underdog in nature’s vast army…


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:


In Which I Decide I’m Slow and Changing June 3, 2008

The most important thing Freya has taught me so far is how satisfying a minute can be when I really pay attention.¬† The flip side: realizing how easily I am distracted from the moment, and how distinct each of these times is from the other. I have begun recognizing certain moments as “Freya Devotionals.” They occur at random, but reliably, on the hour. Like sinking into a bed of warm straw, but much more brief. Pretty much perfectly indescribable.

So, yeah, at a time when the simplest things have become most important, it comes to pass that I love growing slow food. Every vegetable I put in my mouth these days, I pay more attention to its taste and whether or not I would like to have a row or a square foot of it growing nearby. Exciting to eat that way. And maybe it’s some semblance of how Freya eats.

It is high spring here and we have been spending hours with plants. The condo is in shambles, there are friends I really do want to catch up with (TC! Ana! Hello!), but all I can do is Freya and flora. I think I’ve reached a pivotal point, where hobby becomes passion: While enjoying this one to the utmost, I have already started planning for next year’s garden. All of what I’m growing now, plus strawberries, edamame, many many salad greens, and more varieties of tomato. Heirloom, all of it, if possible? I foresee a winter of seed catalogs.

And I think I’m at a pivotal point in baby-raising, too, where dirt moves from foe to friend. Recently someone wise reminded me that we all eat a peck of dirt in our lifetime. A month ago, that adage seemed downright objectionable; but now, having been with Freya outdoors for much of the past several days, I’m really getting used to the idea. Even downright liking it. Don’t know if she’ll be an outdoors kind of person, but I’ve decided she’ll have a good chance at it, living with me.

And, can’t help it, have to end with: Yes, Barack!!!!!