the protagonist has in her possession a scrap of paper with a paragraph scrawled on it, written by her dad: an argument in favor of having a third baby (her), the argument that convinced her mom (who was not inclined) to have a third child.

happy earth day

I am loving my candy-colored tulips right now.  They put up lovely splashes of color against the white siding of the house, and make my little garden bed so cheerful looking.  I love that I planted them last October and forgot about them all through the winter, and like loyal little soldiers, they showed up when the days grew long enough and the soil warm enough for them to welcome the spring.

One of the ways I can tell that I’m getting older is that I can now be completely drawn into and fascinated by conversations revolving around subjects like personal finances, or diet and health.  Another way I can tell I’m getting older is by what kind of purchases excite me nowadays.  My day was made on Tuesday, simply by the purchase of a sansevieria (snake plant) and a dracaena marginata plant:

There they are, side by side in all their air-freshening glory.  I bought them because I’m preparing the nursery (and our apartment in general) for the arrival of a certain little man in the beginning of August.  I read that these two houseplants make NASA’s list of the best plants for cleaning and purifying the air in your home. They are each gorgeous in their own way.  The poor plants were a bit root-bound after sitting in the store for so long, so I gave them some TLC today by re-potting each one into a larger pot using fresh potting soil and some organic fertilizer.

I also re-potted my autumn sedum into a larger terra cotta pot, a task long overdue.  It had been doing just fine, as you can see here (photographed last season):

But the pale pot it was in didn’t really do it justice as far as complementing the vibrant greens and light purple flowers.  And when I went to remove the plant, it certainly was a bit root-bound on the bottom.  Ready for a new home.  The terra cotta color will set it off quite nicely.

In other gardening news, my morning glory seeds are biding their time quietly between damp layers of paper toweling right now, and I’ve noticed that two seeds have sprouted.  I’ve decided to try and make a morning glory hanging basket this year, and see how well the vine and flowers twine up the chains and trail down over the sides.

I am really liking my self-imposed spending limitations this season.  I liked getting out the morning glory seeds I’d saved last fall.  I like knowing that I have two varieties of sunflower seeds that I’ve saved.  I like tending to and taking good care of what I already have, like re-potting the autumn sedum, instead of neglecting it for newer, bigger, better.

In a few weeks, I’ll head out to the local Amish greenhouse to pick up some tomato starts for my patio pots.  Other than that, I think we’ll be relying on farmer’s markets for our fresh produce this season.  I’m really a flower-gardener at heart, rather than a produce-gardener.

Garden Planning for 2010

This year my approach to gardening is decidedly more laid-back. Last year I worked myself into a feverish frenzy, scribbling ideas in a notebook, ordering seeds and supplies, and spending way too much money.  After a fairly successful garden season and some wisdom and experience in my back pocket, now I’m ready to relax a bit.  Sort of like the parent who obsessed over the health and safety of their firstborn child, sees that the child pretty much turns out mostly okay without excessive fuss, and relaxes the reins on the second-born child.

Speaking of children, that is a large part of the reason why I will be taking a more laid-back approach to this season.  I am halfway through my first pregnancy, with a baby boy due at the very beginning of August.  I will be growing bigger and bigger, right along with my flowers and produce. I don’t want to overexert myself over what could potentially be for me, a hot and uncomfortable summer.

While I want to take it easy, I still don’t want to miss the opportunity to be in the garden, growing things, producing food, tracking bees this summer.  Gardening is the one hobby in my life (more than photography, writing, baking, cooking) that makes me keenly aware of how brief life is. You have at most, what, 40-50 growing seasons?  And that’s if you got interested in gardening at an early age, and were able to continue for a good while before age and limited physical ability slow you down.  So I don’t want to overdo it, but again, I don’t want to live the rest of my life without growing at least something each year.

So here’s my working philosophy for this growing season:

The Best Things In Life (and my garden) Are Free: I will achieve my goal of spending less money by taking advantage of what is free. Right now I have tulips and hyacinths pushing up from the spring-warmed soil.  The tulips were all a gift from my grandmother’s garden last fall, and the hyacinths are recycled bulbs from last year’s potted Easter flowers.  Also free are the seeds that I’ve saved from last season’s marigolds, heavenly blue morning glories, love-in-a-mist, and both the Lemon Queen and Evening Sun sunflowers.

Perennials – I get it: Last spring I was invited to a local church’s annual perennial exchange, and I came home with bell flowers, black-eyed Susans, and shasta daisies.  Overheard at the exchange?  Two pre-teen girls who came with their mothers talking to the lead organizer of the exchange, and when annuals were mentioned, the girls wrinkled their noses and shook their heads.  The organizer laughed and said their moms had trained them well.  Now I do love some annuals, like the azure morning glories, but I’m developing an appreciation for the steadfastness and hardiness (and frugality!) of perennials. I’m anticipating their return in the garden bed this year, and I’ve noticed that the bell flower has already created a baby plant.

Less Is More: I live in a lovely, sunny apartment that has a south-facing garden bed and patio.  Unfortunately, a wooden fence separates the Victorian house my apartment is in from a shopping center with a gas station.  When we called our cooperative extension to inquire about testing the soil, the woman encouraged us to do raised garden beds or container gardening, for reasons of underground gas tanks and parking lot runoff.  Therefore, I don’t have a lot of growing space.  I need to limit myself as far as growing my own produce, and rely on local farmer’s markets or CSA shares for the rest this summer.  So I’m turning to the advice of Anne Raver from the New York Times.  She wrote an article titled “Out of the Yard and Onto the Fork”, and one section in particular interested me:

“IF I had only a few pots on a terrace, or a tiny outdoor plot, I would grow one big pot or a square foot of mesclun, a mix of salad greens that includes arugula, Japanese mustard, endive, and red and green lettuces. Simply fill a pot with a mix of potting soil and organic compost, and moisten well. Sprinkle the seeds over the surface, cover with a quarter inch of compost and water lightly to moisten the seeds. As the first baby greens grow, pull out any weeds and thin out the mesclun, eating the leaves you pull. Start more greens every couple of weeks, and move the pots into semi-shade when hot weather arrives. Or switch to heat-tolerant lettuces, like oak leaf and buttercrunch.

Fill a few smaller pots with herbs: Italian parsley, Genovese basil, dill, oregano, bay and rosemary. Plant one or two no-fail tomatoes, one each to a large pot, or one to a two-square-foot plot: one cherry type, like Mexico Midget, Jaune Flammé or Sungold, and a big juicy producer like Big Beef, Better Boy or Rutgers. (Plants are readily available at farmers’ markets and plant sales or by mail order, from www.burpee.com, www.seedsavers.org, www.whiteflowerfarm.com and others.)

Add a Meyer lemon in a big pot, if you have a sunny spot where it can winter indoors, and you can enjoy organic lemons all year. Edible flowers, like my favorite, Empress of India nasturtiums, can be tucked into pots or garden beds, and plucked as a spicy garnish for salads.”

So I’ll keep my food production pretty simple: two or three kinds of tomatoes, and a few herbs in small pots.  Luckily I have great options for sourcing local produce throughout the growing season, whether it’s Saturday farmer’s markets, CSA shares, or farm stands by the roadsides.  And I’ll enjoy my limited selection of flowers this year, keeping my garden within the self-imposed boundaries of seeds I’ve saved and my perennials.  I think I will indulge myself in only two purchases for the garden this year: first, a hanging basket overflowing with beautiful annuals for the hook beside the apartment door. There’s a woman with a greenhouse a few miles down the road who does an amazing job of cultivating these and she charges fair prices.  Last summer I tried making my own hanging basket of thunbergia, and was disappointed in the spindly results and sparse flowers.  To make it easier on myself and to support a one-woman local nursery operation, I will treat myself to one of her beautiful baskets that will last all summer.  Secondly, I’ll be purchasing some nylon netting to tack up on the wall behind the side garden bed, and allow my morning glories to run rampant up the walls on it.  It’s inexpensive and it will get the job done nicely, I hope.

Other than those two purchases and a couple of bags of potting soil, it’s reduce, reuse, recycle all the way!  I’ll keep things updated and see how the summer goes.

and baby makes three

Dear Internet:

I am expecting a baby in August.



remembering strawberries

Winter solstice has passed, and I’m so thankful for that.  We still have more than a couple of months of freezing temperatures and dirty snow piled on the sides of the roads, but at least each day the light lasts for a few more minutes.  I can handle snowflakes, cars that take forever to warm up, wearing big winter boots instead of my beloved flip-flops for a few months, but the darkness really gets to me after a while.  I don’t know how Scandinavians do it.  I’ve read that Iceland has a near 100% literacy rate, and they attribute it to all the reading indoors one does when it’s dark outside.  I guess that is a good way to handle such darkness.  I’ve been reading through Jane Austen’s Emma the past few days, and although it may be dark and wintry outside, when I read I’m transported to the sunshine and greenness and strawberry patches of Donwell Abbey.

Strawberries – mmm.  Strawberries are a distant memory for me at this point of the year.  I know that you can buy strawberries literally at any point of the year in the grocery stores, packaged in plastic and shipped in from California or who knows where.  Those strawberries will likely be….okay.  Perhaps a bit grainy, a bit white on the inside, a bit tasteless.  They’re bred for long-term storage and shipping.  But to me, those are not strawberries.  Not really.

Ryan and I ventured out on a rainy saturday in June this year, the opening day of a local farmer’s market.  Although it was raining pretty steadily, the farmers and vendors were all set up under their tents, with the first produce of the season all out on the tables and available for touching, tasting, and purchase.  The first tent down the alley was the strawberry vendor.  They were unloading quarts and quarts of the brightest red berries, all grown locally, picked fresh.  People were buying them by the boxloads, probably with the intent to freeze them or make strawberry jam to put up for over the winter.  It takes a lot of foresight to realize that come January, a warm piece of toast with butter and strawberry jam is just the thing you want, to give you a whiff and a taste of the previous early summer.  Ryan and I did not come away from the market with an entire box of strawberries, but I believe we bought a quart or two, and we ended up eating many of them out of hand.  They were so small, so red, so sweet.  Nothing like the big, fleshy, hard strawberries you buy in the plastic containers at grocery stores.  These strawberries wouldn’t have survived refrigerated-truck transport across the nation, and certainly wouldn’t have lasted long on the grocery shelves.  These strawberries were the kind you pick and eat or put up immediately, for their delicate sweetness and fragility won’t hold up enough for anything else.

Now, thinking about strawberries as much as I have been this morning, I could easily answer my craving for strawberries by popping into the grocery store next door and buying some California-grown strawberries.  But I’d rather wait until next June, until the next opening day of the farmer’s market, until the vendors are again unloading the next year’s harvest of berries in their turquoise quart boxes onto the tables.  Immediate gratification isn’t everything.  The waiting is what makes it so special!

This year, I was given a canner and canning equipment from my mother in law for my birthday in September.  So you can bet that this June, when Ryan and I go to the farmer’s market, we’ll be lugging home fresh strawberries by the boxful, both to freeze and to can, so I’ll be able to have a taste of summer in the dead of winter next year.

If there is anyone reading this post, I’d love to hear of your favorite way to eat strawberries.  Say hello!  And Merry Christmas, everyone.   :)

The Great Sunflower Project

As I reflect over my summer of gardening, one of the things that brought me the most joy was participating in the Great Sunflower Project.  I came across a link to it some time in March last winter, and immediately signed up.  I received my “Lemon Queen” seeds later that spring, along with a guide for how to track bees.  I thought it sounded like a fun way to contribute to research on our vanishing honeybees – hooray for citizen scientists! – and I liked that they send you the seeds for free.

sunflower seeds started in newspaper pots

I had started the seeds in their little cups indoors, and planted them out the day before my family left on a vacation to Maine.  I planted them in a small garden bed along the south side of the house, where they’d get plenty of sun and warmth.  It didn’t take long before they were growing aggressively, up, up, up!  I planted another variety of sunflower as well, some Evening Sun sunflowers (which also have pollen).

bumblebee on evening sun bloom

I ended up tracking bees a total of eleven times over the following months.  I’d just head out with a cup of coffee, a pencil, a piece of paper and my Blackberry.  I’d track for 15 minutes, noting which kinds of bees landed and when.  It was such a peaceful activity.  I have never before noticed bees in such detail.  The way they fatten their back legs with pollen, the way they are so terribly busy gathering from each flower head, their little fuzzy bodies.  They are adorable little creatures, and responsible for every third bite of food that we eat.  I was only too happy to do my part in helping to discover, on a grand scale along with all the other people tracking bees, what’s going on in the bee population.

evening sun blossom in blue bottle

As the summer waned and the flowers began producing seeds, I noticed that there weren’t as many bees around anymore.  Now, the sunflower garden had become an attraction for birds.  Almost every time we opened the back door, a small flock of birds would take wing, and I could watch them from our kitchen windows as they perched on the flowers and pecked at the seeds.  Goldfinches seemed to like them especially.  I made sure to save a few flower heads because I wanted to harvest some seeds of my own, but the birds had a veritable feast out there.

lemon queen grows skyward

Toward the end of September, the sunflower bed was looking pretty ragged.  The flowers had grown hugely over the summer and were reaching eleven to twelve feet high.  I ripped out the dried-up stalks and put them into my compost bin.  It felt good to have completed a cycle, from seed, to bees, to birds, to compost bin.  I managed to save a jelly jar’s worth of lemon queen seeds and a loose tea tin’s worth of evening sun seeds.  Next year, I plan to be a part of the bee tracking project again – and you can, too!

bed after stalks ripped out and mulched with leaves

New Homes for My Herbs!

This was a mild fall afternoon, lovely for taking care of things in the garden.  My garden has mostly been ‘put to sleep’ for the winter, but I still had a few things to do.  I ended up re-potting several of my plants & herbs.  Everyone gets a new, roomier home for the winter!  Instead of purchasing more potting soil, I re-used some of the soil left over from my potted tomatoes and sunflowers.  I understand that it’s not the same as sterile potting soil mix, but I think the plants will survive.

I noticed today that my little Christmas cactus is forming buds again.  It bloomed beautifully last November.  I put it in a larger pot with added soil, and carefully swiped the leaves with damp cotton balls to remove the dust.  It is sitting in a place of honor next to our dormant orchid in the north-facing bathroom, where it will get the limited light that will encourage it to bloom.

I had a sneaking suspicion that my herbs were potbound, and boy howdy, was I right.  I repotted the rosemary, lavender, and thyme into larger pots and moved them indoors.  I have big plans for the rosemary.  I potted it in a large terra cotta pot, and I hope that over the next few years it grows large enough to become our annual little Christmas tree.  Right now it reaches about 14″ high.  I like the idea of such a fragrant and sustainable Christmas tree.

I also have a sedum houseplant that badly needed repotting, and got moved into its new, roomy pot this afternoon.  So all in all, I repotted five plants, using recycled (and hopefully enriched) potting soil that I already had on hand.  It was nice to be working with the soil and plants on this pleasant afternoon.  Knowing that it will be a good six months before I can do this again makes it all the sweeter.

By now my raspberry has been pruned and mulched, my sunflower stalks ripped out and composted, the garden bed mulched, spring bulbs planted, winter forcing bulbs planted and set in the dark basement.  I’ve trimmed back perennials, lifted down hanging baskets, stacked emptied pots indoors, sorted seeds, and tossed several plants with their root balls into the compost bin out back.

I’ve managed to save seeds from both varieties of sunflowers (evening sun and lemon queen), nigella, ‘heavenly blue’ morning glory, and marigolds.

I don’t think I’ll be having quite the seed-ordering frenzy this winter as I did last winter, since I now have some seeds and perennials to work with, and a tighter budget to operate from.  However, I think I will be spending some time with a cup of hot chocolate, perusing forums on GardenWeb!

My Christmas cactus in bloom last November.


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