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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

I will miss this.  Chard, beets, broccoli, carrots, peas, lettuce, turnips.  In January.  I love my little SoCal garden.

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There aren’t words enough in my writing repertoire to describe the awful crush of work both at home and at the squadron this past month, or explain why it is I left off 5 weeks ago with a post about baking bread and then, this long silence.

Sometimes we just have to do what needs done to survive, amidst the frenzy of events and demands on our time and energy that life throws at us.  That pretty much sums up July/August for me.  I am hopeful that the whitewater rapids are behind, and I can paddle at a slower pace now without fear of flipping over and drowning.  I am exhausted, my arms ache, and I need a rest.

Amidst it all, I kept up with the summer vegetable harvest, the bread baking, the hanging out of laundry, the bill-paying and lawn mowing, while Bear was out at sea.  And my plodding, just-in-time, herculean efforts in the garden saved 40 beautiful heirloom tomato plants from certain death in the recent August heat, which makes every drop of sweat worth it. 

The picture above shows only the starting point of preparing their permanent growing bed; once again, words fail me, or perhaps I’m just being lazy, at describing how much damned work it was.  You can see the huge clods of hard-packed granite fill.  You can see the tomato plants perched on the wall, peering down, hopeful and expectant for rich, moist, deep soil to fling their roots into.  I was caught in between, and it was only their soulful urging and the promise of the harvest to come that gave me the energy and will to finish this project.

Yes, my tomato plants begged me to persevere, and for them, I did.  I could not have done it without their voices in my ear every time I went down to water them in their little pots.  The digging and hauling out of the granite went so slowly and my time was so limited, I had to repot them into 1-gallon containers to buy another 2 weeks of time.  And in the nick of time, my dear friend Liz offered to haul a load of topsoil in last Sunday, enough to finish filling the bed and get my babies planted before the heat arrived.  Thank you so much, Liz.  My choir of tomato plants are singing your praises, can you hear them?

That’s 38 lovely tomato plants settling in to 75 square feet of deep-dug heaven, each with a 7-foot pole to climb and hold onto as they reach for the sky.  If it seems a little late to be starting tomatoes, keep in mind this is San Diego, where our spring-like autumns let us harvest tomatoes all the way up to Thanksgiving.  I am hoping for a deluge of fruit in October, and shall prepare to can and freeze as much as possible – tomato sauce, canned diced tomatoes for cooking, salsa, tomato paste, maybe even some ketchup this year.

In my kitchen, you can never have too many tomatoes.

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…just barely.

I would have loved to have eaten or processed all the food in this photo the same day I picked it and hauled it up the hill stairs, but it will wait a couple of days in the fridge until I can.  Life and work is hard right now and I’m grateful for a small (but productive) garden that only requires a little daily attention.

Best garden I’ve ever had, my whole life.  Can’t ever remember hauling baskets and trugs of loot into the kitchen like this, have always been grateful for every tiny handful plucked from a few square inches.  This bounty makes my heart roar with hard-earned satisfaction.

This weekend’s haul:

Turnips:        3 lbs 11 oz

French zuchinni:      5 lbs 13 oz

Pole beans:      2 lbs 11 oz

Carrots:     2 lbs 6 oz

Beets:     2 lbs 3 oz

Beet greens, chard:    big bunch

Red Russian kale:     big bunch

Plums:     4 lbs 6 oz

A lot of food.  I’m swimming in fresh food.

Bear is on travel for a few weeks, halfway around the world on an aircraft carrier teaching young kids how to troubleshoot and fix electronics.  I am glad he’s not here this month, as work is crushing my head into a flat, stupid pancake, and I am spending way too much time at just trying to keep up.  This is a sign of the rightness of my choice to exit stage left in 16 short months.  My professional sharpness has faded, the farmer in me wants out, and my brain is tired of struggling to map out strategies for an enterprise I’m no longer committed to.

The young folks, I remain passionately committed to.  So much so, it brings me to tears sometimes in front of them when they “get it” and find their power to change their corner of the Navy.  The enterprise, the unit, I could give a shit less about.

But my garden elates me.

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It’s Monday evening, and the long, lovely three-day weekend has finally come to a close, as they always do. 

Bear and I celebrated our 15th anniversary yesterday, quietly, at home, over a delicious beef roast, garden vegetables, and a cold bottle of champagne.  Fresh-baked apple pie made from our own apples, and vanilla ice cream for desert; we couldn’t eat another bite. 

After the movie we stepped out back to listen to the distant rumbling of fireworks and catch a far-away glimpse of the grand finale bursts of light and color.  It was just enough to make it feel like it was the Fourth of July.  Then went back in and watched the Boston Pops fireworks on television afterward, amazed at the extravagance.

I didn’t work too hard this weekend.  Ran one of the piles of old ice plant through the shredder on Saturday, and built a new compost pile from the mulch.  Harvested vegetables, froze some zuchinni, hung laundry out in the sunshine.  Did a bit of online reading; farming is much on my mind these days.  Sent some e-cards for the holiday.  Finally finished filing taxes, yay (we had an extension, don’t worry).

Bear will be on the road this coming month, first a week in Connecticut then nearly four weeks in Japan.  July will fly by with him gone.  So much to do, though.  It’s time to make travel arrangements for our farm trip in September, and I need to get that second garden bed dug, for my tomato plantation.  All in good time, I hope.

My garden is growing like it’s on steroids.  I am not complaining.  A band of little lizards patrol the lush jungle, alternately soaking up the sun on the cement blocks and dashing through the beans, tomatos and squash for yummy bug treats.  I love my little blue-bellied reptile friends.

Long week ahead, it may be quiet here.  Hope the heat isn’t too bad where you are.

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Worth waiting for

baby butternut squash

I didn’t make it to the Fair last week, sorry to say.  There’s just too much to do at the squadron these days as we prepare for our upcoming inspections, getting all the aircraft maintenance programs fixed that have never been set up quite right since they transitioned to the C-40A five years ago.  I’m spending long, long hours there, heading in around 6 am and usually not leaving until 7 pm.  Grueling schedule, for sure, but temporary.

This manic pace started about a month ago, as we got to the point of self-assessment where we realized just how many critical processes were off-track, and how many different things needed to be re-done, re-written, and re-trained on.  The list of projects that I own, as a program manager, have stacked up like dirty plates towering above my head waiting to be washed; an afternoon of oogling farm animals and admiring craft displays just couldn’t be justified.

Ah, well.  There will be other years and other county fairs to go see.

On the home front, I’m obviously not getting much done in the few short hours I’m actually here, which is driving me  a little crazy.  There’s only just enough time for making dinner and tending the garden at the end of the day, so weekends, once devoted to landscaping projects, are filled with all the household maintenance that I used to be able to chip away at throughout the week:  clutter, dirty laundry, mail and junk stacked on the dining room table, grimy bathrooms, gritty floors.  It is what it is.  You can only let that stuff go so long before it sucks your will to live, so I’m just holding ground, keeping my nostrils above the lapping waves.

It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve resigned myself to the situation and am consoled by the fact that once the big August inspection is over, my work schedule and my life will (hopefully) return to normal. 

On a very different and bright note, the new garden bed planted back at the beginning of May is now filled with happy, vigorous plants, and has started feeding us some of the tastiest, freshest vegetables money can’t buy.

We’ve already eaten the first sweet, tender beets; kale and beet greens, turnips, zuchinni and green beans – all delicious – and there’s lots more food to come out of this 25-foot deep-dug bed.  Two kinds of winter squash (acorn and butternut, thanks Jo!) and potatoes, onions, and carrots will be awhile in the making, but they’re worth the work, and they’ll be worth the wait.  Homegrown, organic food is definitely worth waiting for.

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I was hoping for a really good growing season for our little front yard fruit tree orchard this year.  My semi-dwarf plums, apple, pear and grapefruit trees had a tough time of it while I was away in Africa, as Bear is not at all a gardener and he mostly just kept up with mowing the small patch of lawn, leaving my suburban orchard to fend for itself on the automatic drip system.  Fruit trees need more attention than that to do well, although to his credit, none of them died.

So now that I am home and able to water and fertilize and watch over them carefully, they’re all growing better than they were last year when I got home from deployment, and flowered like maniacs in April, promising a bountiful harvest of luscious fruit.

 But flowers don’t always mean fruit.  I’ve had many years of good harvests off the two plum trees and one apple tree, though the pear has never developed much and maxed out at 8 fruits last year, before I returned home.  This year it had a dozen flowers, but none have developed into fruits.  The vigorous Mariposa plum nearest the street has a sad, lonely, single green plum on it – two years ago we took 45 large plums off this tree.

We may get a couple of dozen smaller plums off the weeping Santa Rosa tree, and the little Anna apple, though she looks to be struggling to keep a decent set of leaves on, has a smallish crop this spring as well.  Both trees flowered profusely back in late March and April, so it wasn’t for lack of fruiting potential that the set was so low.

Past years have been much more bountiful than this one promises to be.  All other things being equal, I can only guess that the wild pollinators were not out in sufficient numbers this spring, though I provide lots of year-round understory nectar sources, a diverse mixture including borage, California poppy, sage, and gallardia that freely re-seed in the beds below.  I didn’t pay sufficient attention at the time the trees were flowering, but as we talked about it the other day, it did occur to us that there used to be many more wild bees in residence than we are seeing this year.

This may have little to do with the problem of vanishing bees in domesticated hives, but it is a signal to me that something has changed in the local population of native bees, and highlights the importance of these native pollinators in providing services to backyard (and frontyard) gardens.  My tiny oasis of chemical-free, bee-friendly growing beds and gardens is not enough to ensure our local populations of wild helpers will thrive.

I may need to order a batch of orchard bees this year, for the vegetable garden.

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Container-grown broccoli

I’m only feeding the two of us, so a few container-grown broccoli plants are gracing our table with plenty of goodness this winter.

The brussels sprouts will follow close behind; I’m anxiously awaiting their bounty.

On the way down to the mailbox yesterday I stopped to chat with our neighbor Les, who was conversing with another neighbor from up the street aways, an older gent named Bill, who it turns out is also a container vegetable gardener.  Those of us with small yards must grow what we can, where we can.  Bill was interested to hear of my terracing project and rued the fact his backyard hill faces north, which rules out growing vegetables there.

I advised him to tear up his front yard and plant his vegetable garden there.  I was not kidding.  It was good to talk with someone who goes to the same trouble I do to grow a little bit of food for their table.  Here in suburbia we are a dying breed. 

My passion for growing and putting by my own food is a thing of wonder to my neighbors, friends, and coworkers.  I am born to it, and have felt this urge since I learned to cook and garden and can at my mother’s elbow; it is purt’ near genetic, as far as I can tell.  And that’s just fine by me.  Keeps me out of the atrocities they call grocery stores.

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