Monday, June 29, 2009


Rhubarb was a constant in my childhood gardens, first in Connecticut and later in Ohio. The plants were robust, the stems thick and red, and the flavor sourly perfect.

I've been trying to recreate that memory for the past fifteen or twenty years, to no avail. Above is this year's rhubarb "patch" (consisting of one pitiful plant).

I'm not sure what the variety is, just something I acquired on a whim at a big box store. It starts out early and substantial, but quickly goes to seed, gets eaten by bugs and produces anemic, green stems. I'd need forty-two plants to make a single rhubarb crisp.

There used to be another variety in the recovery garden, something I bought through a mail-order catalog. It was smaller and slower to emerge in the spring, but the stems were intensely red and flavorful. They weren't particularly winter-hearty, and disappeared within a few years.

I'd been blaming the failures on myself: I should have mulched the cold-susceptible variety better, I should have weeded and de-bugged the hearty variety better, I should have done something. I've come around to believing that it wasn't entirely about me.

The rhubarb in my childhood gardens was pretty neglected. Plunked into unimproved ground haphazardly, weeded occasionally, and harvested ruthlessly. No fertilizer, no babying, no angst. It still thrived.

I'm hoping to get a new variety for the recovery garden for next year's crop. Not just any variety, either, but a division from the original source of the plants grown in my childhood gardens!

Friday, June 26, 2009


It's still raining, with nothing to report in the garden. I'll just have to post cute kitten pictures instead.

I ended up adopting the two kittens that I was fostering: Jazz (calico) and Todd (orange).

They're incredibly cute, which is apparently a survival trait, because they're even more talented than newborn humans when it comes to preventing a good night's sleep.

I'm working on recovering the virtue of patience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rain and rabbits

There hasn't been anything to blog about, because all we've got in the garden these days is rain and rabbits.

I definitely can't do anything about the rain, and the rabbits,well, the rain is limiting me there too.

The organic (and non-lethal) ways of dealing with rabbits basically consist of sprinkling the edible plants with stuff that the rabbits won't want more than a single nibble of, like hot pepper, or surrounding the plants with scary stuff, like blood meal. Except for these things to work, the distastesful stuff needs to stay on the leaves or on the surface of the ground, and not be washed away in the chronic, daily downpours.

So -- rain and rabbits. All I can say is that they're a lesson in recovering the ability to accept the things that can't be changed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A matter of substance

I used to read every issue of a couple gardening magazines from cover to cover, study gardening books and watch gardening shows. Today, not so much.

A lot of those old books and magazines were simple, some even printed on newsprint and written largely by amateurs, but stuffed with information and personal experiences. They had life, they had personality, they had substance.

The last few times I looked for inspiration or information in a garden magazine (other than GreenPrints, which I highly recommend) or tv show, everything was sanitized, Botoxed and airbrushed beyond all recognition.

Gardening is about dirt, people. Dirt and bugs and sweat. It's about real people doing real things and producing real -- and therefore always at least a little flawed -- results. It's about succeeding against the odds (Mother Nature is a fearsome antagonist) and also about failing, sometimes spectacularly.

It's time to recover our sense of what matters, of what is substance and not just form. We don't need perky hosts or glossy pages. We need real people, shared experiences and the hope of sustenance. That's what I want to read about.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Q: What's cuter than zucchini, but every bit as prolific and even harder to find a good home for?

A: Kittens.

Yep, we found another one.

Nothin' but rain

The chilly spring continues, and now it's damp too.

Bean seeds are busy sprouting (weeds too, most likely), lettuces are thriving and onions are fattening.

The gardeners, however, aren't doing much in the mud. I have a feeling we'll be playing catch-up once the sun returns.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chills and thrills

It's been a chilly spring, so when I planted some nasturtium seeds recently, it took more than a week for them to sprout, even though they were in peat pots indoors, where it's marginally warmer than outside.

I like cool weather, but I'm also anxious to try a new (to me, at least) variety of cucumbers, called Rocky. They're a seedless, baby (3 1/2" long) variety that the Johnny's catalog describes as having "very early maturity with high yields."

These seeds were a bit of a splurge ($5 for eight -- yes, 8 -- seeds), but they looked so amazing I couldn't resist. What I didn't notice when we ordered them was that they germinate best at 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit! My house is running about 60 degrees right now, and even with a heat mat under them, the soil probably wouldn't hit 70 degrees yet.

Fortunately, the plan is to take advantage of their early maturity, and grow them in the bed that will be vacated by the onions in July. I'm just hoping we'll hit temperatures in the 70s indoors before then so I can maximize the germination of these expensive seeds.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sweet, sweet peppers

As far as obsessions go, mine is pretty tame. I love peppers. Especially the green ones, fresh from the garden.

We have about thirty pepper plants in the Recovery Garden. Six are banana peppers, and the rest are Ace green peppers (which will turn red if the season is hot and long enough, but are usually picked before that happens).

My obsession with peppers spills over into other areas of my life besides gardening. Friends gave me a pepper print fabric, which I turned into a quilted table runner. And, of course, the only soda I drink is Dr. Pepper!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Supporting recovery

Some things can't be healed by a garden. Sometimes, people need to go to the hospital, and everyone who loves them is left feeling helpless, needing to do something for the patient, but not knowing what to do.

What we've done in recent years is to create a pre-packed travel bag for the patient to take to treatments. The idea is to keep it packed, ready to throw in the car for both expected and unexpected trips, or treatments that are supposed to be a couple hours and turn into a week.

Start with a sturdy but inexpensive duffle bag. Sturdy, because it will get a lot of use, but inexpensive so it can be trashed, guilt-free, when the course of treatment is over.

Then fill it with things that will come in useful during treatments, and fun surprises that the patient (or family/friends) will enjoy. Some of the basics are:
  • socks (for chilly feet)
  • lap quilt/blanket/afghan (for color and chills)
  • flip-flops or shower sandals (for showers)
  • hard candies (for treatments that may produce dry mouth)
  • chocolate
  • non-perishable snacks (e.g., nuts, trail mix, granola bars)
  • books (especially anthologies of short stories for short attention spans)
  • magazines
  • playing cards
  • puzzle books
  • CDs or DVDs
  • subscription to Netflix or an itunes card
  • heavy-duty hand cream (e.g., Neutrogena)
  • anti-bacterial gels for visitors' hands
  • high-quality tissues (softer than the hospital brands)
  • notepad
  • pens and pencils
  • art supplies (e.g., small sketch pad and colored pencils)
  • travel-sized toiletries (e.g., toothpaste, shampoo, shaving supplies)
  • disposable camera
  • something for the patient's family members
  • scrapbook or album for collecting cards with good wishes

A somewhat expensive addition, but nice if you can get several people to contribute to the cost, is a digital picture frame, to which you upload as many pictures as you can collect from friends and family.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mystery volunteer

We've got two volunteer plants that initially I thought were butternut squash. Their true leaves were too small, though, so I had to think about what else could have been tossed into the garden to decompose. Best guesses are cucumbers or beans.

We'll find out for sure when they start producing whatever it is they're going to produce. So far, anything that looked like it might be a flower has turned into another viney branch. Meanwhile, we keep wrapping them around tomato cages to keep them from overwhelming either the path or the onion plants, where they're growing and are too large to transplant.

Also, we bought a packet of green beans to replace the seeds that I failed to water. It was $1.22, bringing the total to $169.16.