Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rainy Day Garden Planning

Another surprisingly cool day for high summer, along with some welcomed showers. I'm hoping the rain keeps the mosquitoes away as I sit and blog on the carport, but this may just be wishful thinking until I douse myself with insect repellent again. From my chair I have a great view of one of my raised beds beside the house and the sight reminds me of the grandious plans I had for the garden this spring. That particular bed was to hold peppers, tomatoes, and scarlet runner beans. Instead, it's become a nursery bed for some perennials caught in a holding pattern until I find a place for them. We installed a fence in the backyard (yes, we now have a white picket fence at our incredibly domestic of us) this spring, and I had to move some plants away from fence line lest they got stomped to death during the fence installation. I didn't think they would remain in the raised bed for that long when I heeled them, but such are the plans of mice, men, and gardeners. Funny enough, even though the plants were only moved 10 feet from where they were planted originally, all of them are doing much, much better this season in the nursery bed. The bugbane is going to flower for the first time, the toad lily is twice its normal size, and both divisions of the joe pye weed have multiple flower heads on them. I didn't have the time to move these plants in early summer and now I don't have the heart to disturb them until they're done flowering. Besides, I like the velvety royal purple Grandpa Ott morning glory that has sprouted up through the enormous aster, and moving anything out of the bed will likely kill the three tomatillos that kindly volunteered to join the party.

I have two raised beds. Both are made of engineered wood, 4' x 8 ' and 12" deep. Initially the beds were filled with some local topsoil that required a lot of screening to remove a surprising amount of gravel, but the soil has been improved with yearly additions of leaf mulch and old potting soil whenever I repot. The performance of my relocated perennials may be due to the liberal amounts of weathered cow poop I worked into the beds this spring. I think I'll add more cow poop next spring, even though I've had to pull some weeds that must have arrived after passing through the digestive tract of a cow. Most of my garden has been planted directly in the soil, which might be a nice rich patch of loam or a horrendous expanse of sticky red clay, depending on where you dig in our yard. There's more red clay than loam, so I would heartily recommend raised beds if I had to do it all over again. Currently I'm experimenting with planting directly into raised rows of somewhat decomposed compost from this past winter. The compost hasn't fully broken down yet, but the tomatoes don't seem to mind too much. By next spring these raised rows should be rich, crumbly mulch to go on my flower beds, and the current crop of compost from this summer can be planted with new tomato plants.

A clearwing sphinx moth, an odd daytime flyer often mistaken for a bumble bee or a hummingbird, is working over the purple butterfly bush, oblivious to the rain. The mosquitoes are also oblivious to the rain and the repellent I put on just 5 minutes ago, so it's time to move back inside again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Behold, Nature's Bounty

The first Honeybunch tomatoes are ripening this week, making me a happy camper. What does not make me happy are the hordes of itty-bitty mosquitoes and black flies that swoop in and attack me as I pick tomatoes. These are little mosquitoes, the ones that you don't notice until they're done biting and fly off, leaving you exsanguinated and with a bad case of the itchies. I curse these bad little mothers extensively...they don't seem mind any bug repellent I use unless it's super heavy on the DEET. As an entomologist, I know that only female mosquitoes bite and that these are not the Asian tiger mosquito. As an entomologist on indefinite leave, I don't care enough about them to actually identify them to species, but I'd bet a cookie that these are some kind of treehole mosquito. Plus it's awfully difficult to identify an insect that's smashed on your palm. As for the black flies, I have no patience for any insect that either wants to chew on my ears or dive into my eyes and nose like a little black kamikaze pilot.

I've heard anecdotally that many, many people put in a garden this year to offset the rising cost of food in an economy that still seems to be swirling down the drain. Supposedly many of the seed companies had a hard time meeting all the demand for orders. I wonder how all those new gardeners have fared with their gardens. I know my family would starve if my garden was supposed to provide even one quarter of our weekly food supply. I've gotten several zucchini which are much tastier than the ones I buy at the store but not enough to make a meal of, and there are a number of green tomatoes slowly growing on my vines now. I have a thornless blackberry bush that gives me only a couple of berries each day. I can't seem to catch the burgandy okra before the pods have morphed into an inedible mass of fibers with a surprising amount of mucilage. The basil isn't big enough for pesto, the volunteer tomatillos still have very small fruits, and the kale is battling cabbage worms on a daily basis. I do have a pot of carrots that look like they're doing well, but the roots are twisted into mutant corkscrews when I pull them up. (They're still tasty, though.) I just noticed that my Cylindra beets have heaved their roots up out of the soil, but I haven't pulled any yet to see how warped they've grown. Needless to say, we're not going to cut our produce bill significantly this year by supplementing our diet with food from my garden. In fact, I think we would have starved to death back in June, but at least there would have been plenty of flowers to adorn our graves and enough mint for several pitchers of mojitos to toast us on our journey home.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Breakup Sweater

I'm cleaning house this week. Well, actually it's an ongoing process and this will likely take me several weeks. Aside from the usual dusting and vacuuming, I'm also going through the mounds of old clothes and toys that have collected in the basement. It's amazing how much stuff you can accumulate when you have a toddler. Particularly when you waited until you were in your early 30s to get married and then your parents had just about given up hope for a grandchild when you finally announced you were pregnant five years later. Our daughter has been showered with love and gifts, but she outgrows clothes and toys astonishingly quickly. We haven't had the time to do much with these castoffs other than pile them up in the basement with the thought that we'd sort through that stuff when we needed to spend a rainy day inside. I wanted to donate some clothes to charity, maybe hold other items for a garage sale, and then save a few things as keepsakes. Except now there's so much stuff that it would take an entire monsoon season to go through everything.

In addition to my daughter's stuff in the basement, there's my own flotsam and jetsam that requires culling. I regularly visit our local thrift store and I enjoy going to garage sales. I have a hard time passing up a good bargain when I see one, and as a result I have more clothes than I will ever wear in a lifetime. On one hand this means I don't have to do laundry nearly as often as normal people do, but it does clog up my closet and dresser. To make matter worse, I tend to hang on to clothes much longer than I should. I have old shirts set aside for gardening and cleaning the house, which is reasonable, but I usually have at least a dozen and that's about ten more than I really need just for grubby jobs. I have clothes that I really, really like but don't usually wear because I feel like I need to lose 5-10 pounds before they would look good on me. So they hang in the closet, reminding me each time I see them that I need to lose weight. No one needs that kind of negative energy in their closet, so I've resolved to go through my own things and donate or sell anything that doesn't make me happy in one way or another.

Thus we come to the subject of the breakup sweater. I've always thought of this sweater as the breakup sweater, although the revenge sweater is probably a better descriptor. In my mid-20s I was in a relationship that expired in a very ugly way and it took me a couple of years to get over it. But oddly enough, after several years of silence and absolutely no contact, my ex and I agreed to meet at a bookstore for coffee and maybe dinner at a nearby restaurant over the holidays. I don't remember who emailed whom with the suggestion, but both of our families lived in the same area and we both came home around Christmas. We continued to do this around Christmas for several consecutive years. We always kept the conversation light-hearted and rarely referred to our past history. I think I wanted him to see how well I was doing without him in my life.....classic post-breakup revenge. As such, I picked out a spectacular sweater for the sole purpose of wearing to that first holiday meeting.

It was a beautiful silky chenille cardigan, a lovely gray-green color that looked almost silvery if you brushed the nap in one particular direction. There were abalone buttons and an intricate pattern knit into the cuffs. I looked fabulous in this sweater, and nothing will convince me that my ex didn't know it when we met for the first time several years after our breakup.

Eventually we stopped getting together over the holidays. Our lives diverged into other relationships, other jobs, other priorities, and I no longer felt the need to show off my post-him self. For some reason I kept the sweater all these years, maybe initially as a reminder of my triumphant revenge of looking so good after being so wronged. The sweater still fits and still looks good, but I stopped wearing it years ago. At some point it began to remind me less about feeling good about my self and more about how hurt and wounded I felt when the relationship ended. That's negative energy that I don't need, so today I finally put the breakup sweater in a bag of other items to be donated to charity. I like to think of someone else being excited to find this terrific sweater among the racks of other clothes, not knowing its prior history of breakup and revenge. Maybe she'll think of it as her killer office sweater or perhaps her best date sweater, and I hope she looks drop-dead gorgeous in it.