Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Early crops

The sugarsnap peas are sprouting in the garden, and look like they'll be leaving the transplanted pea seedlings in their dust.

Note to self: don't bother starting peas (and most other crops except tomatoes and peppers) indoors, since the direct-seeded ones always do better for me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pollen and showers and moles, oh my

A few days of rain, followed by unseasonably warm weather, have produced a blanket of pollen. The wasps are happy; me and my allergy-stuffed head, not so much.

The onions have been re-planted several times. Seems we've got some kind of critter rummaging around in the onion bed. Each time, several plants are unearthed, but not eaten or otherwise harmed, which is why I suspect it's birds going after earthworms, rather than evil woodchucks.

On the other hand, it could be the moles. We've got a family of them, right smack dab in the middle of the garden. They don't seem to realize that they're virtually on the surface, instead of several inches underground where they're supposed to live. They're underneath a large piece of thick black plastic (50 times the thickness of landscape fabric). When I picked up the plastic, it's like peeling back the top layer of dirt, or like looking at an ant farm, with a maze of little paths leading to and from the nest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I graduated from Middlebury College quite a few years ago. It's not where I learned to garden, but it's where I learned to care about our environment. I bundled newspapers (the Middlebury Campus, known affectionately on April Fool's Day as the Middlebury Compost) for recycling and turned out the lights during the black-out concert.

The school has come a long way since then. For at least the past ten years, recycling bins have sprouted everywhere, for paper, plastic and glass. Five or six years ago, the college began sponsoring an organic garden that provides the foundation for both nutrition (the harvest is used in the dining halls) and education (students and faculty undertake studies based in the garden).

While it's frustrating to think how much we could have done if we'd started taking these steps back when I was a student, at least we're on the right path now. As one intern at the Middlebury garden wrote, "if there’s anything I’ve learned from gardening it’s that change takes time and you must be open to collaboration and innovation."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Asparagus, at last

It's up.

Well, one tip is up. But it reassures me that I haven't killed them all off, and more should follow in the next few days.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Two hundred onions

That's how many we planted on Saturday.

I'm not sure how many bushels of onions that will be, toward the hundreds of bushels of vegetables we eat in a year. Instead, I figured, for two households for an entire year, it's 100 apiece, or 2 a week.

Which reminded me of a footnote in Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, about the group's cook, who promises to make something delicious for the troop, because she has half an onion left over from their previous, delicious meal: "A woman always has half an onion left over, no matter what the size of the onion, the dish or the woman."

I hope to have more than half an onion left over, come late summer.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The previous tally of expenses was $115.65.

A few more expenses:
  • carrot seeds $ 1.05
  • manure 11.54

Total now is $128.24

Also: The onions are here! They arrived on the 16th.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How big is your refrigerator?

Is there a rule of thumb for the right size refrigerator? The American manufacturers are making them bigger and bigger, presumably in response to demand. Sort of like the demand for bigger and bigger SUVs.

My current fridge is about 5 cubic feet. My last one was 18 cubic feet, and it was the smallest one I could find in the style I wanted (freezer on the bottom). Even so, it had to be special-ordered, because apparently most customers want 20 cubic feet or more.

When I looked at a major appliance store's on-line listing recently, the top choices were all substantially over 20 cubic feet (in the 24+ range). Compare that to a British appliance store's listing, where the 20+ sizes appears to be in the minority, and quite a few are offered in the 9-10 cubic foot size.

What is everyone putting into these huge refrigerators? Anything that needs to be chilled is likely to have a shelf life of about a week. A gallon of milk, another beverage or two, some meat/poultry, some eggs, some cheese, a couple drawers full of vegetables, and a door full of condiments. Okay, let's be generous and say that takes up about 5 cubic feet. That's only half of 10 or more cubic feet (not counting the freezer space). What's in the rest of the fridge?

Are we buying too much and letting it go to waste? Are we keeping moldy left-overs in the fridge, just because we can? Are ready-made meals taking up more than their fair share of shelf space, with their packaging?

What size is your fridge?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


The pea seedlings went outside, and more peas were directly sown in the garden. Lettuce seedlings also went outside, but in planters set up as cold frames.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Buy local

I visited the local branch of a national home-improvement store yesterday, and was startled to see a wide variety of vegetable plants for sale outside. It was obvious that they'd been out for a while because most of the tomato and basil plants had that dark, lifeless color that is the aftermath of a freeze. Only the kale and lettuce looked healthy.

Anyone who has a garden in this zone knows that warm-weather vegetables (particularly the nightshade family and basil) need protection until the end of April and well into May. Even in a good year, it's too early for them to be outside, unprotected, overnight. And this hasn't been a good year, in terms of spring-like weather.

The average last-frost date for this area is mid-April, with overnight temperatures in the 40s. In just the last week, temperatures have dropped to freezing or below several times, and may dip into the low 30s again this week.

Local growers know the local climate. Trust them and support them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Every April I become convinced that, surely, this year, my neglect has killed off the asparagus plants.

Fortunately, I have the New Victory Garden book to reassure me that, in this horticultural zone, May is when I should be looking for the spears.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I'm okay, the garden's okay

The moniker "recovery garden" may be a little misleading.

The garden itself is doing just fine. It has everything it needs: water, boundless solar energy, and a variety of pollinators. It may occasionally suffer some stress in times of drought or excessive heat, but it doesn't suffer from anxiety. It sleeps through the night (except when the woodchucks invade), doesn't worry about its future and doesn't dwell over its past mistakes.

The garden doesn't need to recover from anything. The garden is recovering us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Step by step

A twelve-step program for growing a recovery:

1. Acknowledge the need for more locally grown food
2. Believe that we can make a difference by growing our own food
3. Surrender the desire for exotic or processed foods
4. Prepare the soil with compost, hold the chemicals
5. Choose the crops, acknowledging the limitations of local climate
6. Plant the seeds and seedlings
7. Recognize of the power -- both positive and negative -- of Mother Nature
8. Share with the wildlife (except for woodchucks, who don't leave anything behind)
9. Weed and mulch
10. Harvest and preserve
11. Feed the neighbors, both immediate and extended
12. Spread the word about the value of Recovery Gardens

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Recovery, not victory

The concept of Victory Gardens is being revived all across the country, harking back to other war-time eras, when food and/or cash was in short supply.

I grew a Victory Garden last year. I was angry then. I wanted to hit something, and I didn't want to go to jail for assault. I took my anger out on clumps of dirt and tangles of weeds. It seemed fitting that I was growing a "victory garden," because I surely wanted victory, even if I wasn't sure what I wanted to defeat.

This year, I'm less angry and more scared and anxious. I need nurturing rather than violence, recovery more than victory.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I want the onion plants NOW.

They should arrive in the next week or so. Last year, we planted them on April 18th, and I believe we received them a day or two before that.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The corpse (pea seedling):

The prime suspect: Miss Emma. In the kitchen. With her teeth.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In between time

It's too early to plant outdoors and too late to be excited about starting seeds indoors.

The pea plants are up to about 6" tall now, and should go outside this weekend. Maybe the onion plants will arrive in time for then too.

No sign of the asparagus tips yet.