The Root

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

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?


Timelapse July 18, 2008

Mid-July. Jesus, that late already. Rewind and replay, from the top: I started with good earth, built up better earth on top of it, planted it, mulled over it, watched the apple blossoms fall on it, lost many peas to a woodland foodie and then built a fence around it, let the weeds riot in it and then pulled them up, and now it grows, grows, grows.

I pulled out a bunch of carrots and, man oh man, was it satisfying to walk home pushing Freya with a bundle of carrot greens stowed in her stroller. It looked like I had just been to the grocery store and for some reason that was really wonderful, although wouldn’t it be great if it went the other way around, if I came away from the chain grocery store with a bag of farmfresh stuff, knowing it came from my corner of the earth. (I know, I know, I don’t think it’s going to happen, am not even sure it’s possible, but that’s a whole ‘nother post).

So, the garden has kept me in salads, and we’ve eaten a lot of green pizzas and fritattas and crustless quiches, but mostly it’s a finger food garden — six pea pods one evening, a couple carrots the next, none of which even makes it to the kitchen. This is all about to change, though, I can see it coming.

The tomatillos are seven feet tall and growing. Gigantism. All ten tomato plants are flowering, about half have fruit. I have four hearty zucchini plants and a couple runts. I have four pumpkin vines. Here’s to keeping everyone in Jack O’ Lanterns from September to November. Freya’s getting ready.


Garden Geek July 13, 2008

I have seen more peas in the past week than I had ever seen in my life ’til now. The best have been from my own garden, but I have bought pounds from farmstands. I have priced shelling peas from here to the coast (the cheaper pea was farthest away). I now know that a nice, fat pea pod usually holds 7 or 8 peas, but I have shelled 10 peas from a pod. A real coup. Neville had front-row seats to this show — “Ooh, a tenner, babe!” (Not yet hip to my strange lingo, he initially thought that I was talking about opera singers and glanced at the TV.) “Another tenner! That’s three tenners from this batch!!”

We threw handfuls into coconut curry and pasta. I make great green blendersful of pea puree for Freya. By this Friday, though, pea mania was wearing a little thin. My last batch sat on the counter for a couple days, until some were sprouting and others were gooshy and khaki-colored. There was a titch of mold. Looking at them, I didn’t want to feed them to my daughter’s young stomach. But I was goddamned if I was going to toss what I had shelled. So I boiled them and made pea pesto. Tonight we dine on homemade pesto and prosciutto pizza. In typical fashion for us, at about 10 pm.

I never liked pesto. In my previous life, people would go wild for pesto and I would just be like, “What?” But I made this; I know the ingredients — some of them since sprouthood — and I can taste them. Fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan, those peas. It tastes good.

In addition to going all Rachel Ray on my own ass, in the past week Neville and I have really gone Martha Stewart on our bedroom’s ass. Ah, the story of our bedroom’s paintjob. Thanks to the previous tenants, it used to be a cave: a dark brown base accented with weird light-blue rectangles, which used to frame their posters, and a glossy tan ceiling. Heavy, navy blue drapes. I don’t know what they were thinking. The room sucked up all available light like a black hole. But it wasn’t even like cozy, sleepy cave, it was just hideous. And we slept there for a year.

But now. It is an orange grove! Rich, golden orange walls, sage green curtains and bedspread. So refreshing and natural. Passing a day lily on the street today, I got all sappy: My room is the color of a day lily’s throat.


Beautiful Mutations July 7, 2008

My garden was in a holding pattern. Every day, for weeks: More leaves. More leaves. More leaves. Some flowers. No fruit. But, as of today, there are several tiny, perfect Black Krim tomatoes. And one very overgrown, mutant Black Krim tomato. Behold:

Thing looks like a caterpillar I would run from. Judging by the number of leaves (petals?), it resulted from three tomato buds that melted into one muscular ‘mato. How does that happen?! Will it ripen, be edible?

Here’s another question. I feel like “Highlights for Children.” Can you spot the spider in this photo?

I will never, ever feel warm and fuzzy about spiders, no matter how much good they do. Life is unfair for them that way. This one was no larger than my thumbnail, and a gorgeous lemon color with scarlet stripes but, damn, doesn’t it just look like a spooky little alien on the attack? Found out it’s a Goldenrod crab spider, which changes color to match its surroundings, from yellow-and-red to white. Damn, that’s good.

The last wondrous mutation of the day was one I happily ate. Yeah, I dug up a Little Finger carrot. I don’t know if it was mature — I’ve never grown carrots before — but it tasted pretty good. And very crisp. I hope I grow a couple more.