Green thumb-Chapter Five-Now, really, who can’t grow lettuce!

Plants we want to nurture and grow in our garden: update

Our garden has been planted for all of three weeks now.  That means most things have reached or exceeded their expected germination time-as far as one can see on the seed packet.  That also means pretty much everything should be showing up above ground.  We’ve had some pretty hot and alternately pretty wet days along the way.  And so, with great anticipation we journeyed to the garden a couple of days ago.  And indeed many things are up…some well up.  Our potatoes are up and it is a true story-these really are our potatoes.We weeded around them and did some hilling.  I won’t tell you how long it’s been since I hilled potatoes but suffice to say many of you who might be glancing at this blog might not have been born when, as a teenager,  I dragged myself out to the potato patch on our family farm on the prairies.

You can take the girl from the farm but can you take the farm from the girl

When you live on a farm there are a number of things that you do that urbanites don’t need or have opportunity to do.  Like mucking out the stalls where cows and pigs and horses do their thing.  Or being part of the assembly line when chickens meet their Waterloo and end up ultimately on the Sunday dinner table.  Or perhaps killing mice with a baseball bat as they scampered around the granary. Shooting gophers and muskrats with a 22 calibre rifle.  And on and on.  It’s what you did.  

I am now, and have been for many years, far removed from the farming milieu.  So do you ever lose what ever it is you became accustomed to during those formative years?  Yes and no.  No, for on some level, the reasoning you learn living on and by the land serves you well all your life.  Yes you lose some things, for the life and death I observed with birds and animals, domestic and wild was just part of the life, I am struck by what a sissy pants I have become.  Case in point: those potatoes in the picture have potato bugs on them.  Hard shelled slow-moving creatures that you can easily squish and kill between your fingers.  And you know what?  I was somewhat grossed out by doing it-rather then just squashing the beggars, I was looking for two surfaces where I could pancake the bugs so I wouldn’t have to touch them.  Honestly, it pains me to even blog about it.  My mother and father, were they alive, would have something to say about this development I’m sure.  I plan to go at it with new resolve (and thicker garden gloves), the next time I am out there.  

Imitation-highest form of flattery

In the book Second Nature by Michael Pollan, he describes how some weeds imitate the crops they are being cosy with.  The example he gives is wild oats-the plant will take on different characteristics when it grows next to different crops.  Just this week I listened to a program that described how some insects imitate plants in order to prey on the plant itself.  For instance, the insect may give off certain fragrances to attract the plant and then eat its little heart out.  Honestly, that’s pretty crafty.  We now have an example of imitation in our garden-is it a desirable vegetable or an undesirable weed.  I’d estimate what you are looking at is 97% weed and 3% carrots.  The weeds are trying to look like carrots.

Now really, who can’t grow lettuce

While we surveyed the garden, with the little plants that are growing, we were happy with some things and perplexed by other things.   We squished bugs (yuck) and dug up weeds and hunted for what should have been rows of carrots and beets.  Where are they?  We congratulated those plants that were doing well and talked tough to those things that were faltering: “You can be replaced, you know!”.   We have one embarrassing reality to face.  Our lettuce didn’t come up.  Really, who can’t grow lettuce!  It must be the seed.  Or maybe in the marathon that was our late spring planting weekend, we never actually put the seed in the ground.  That sounds like a true story, doesn ‘t it?  Any advice on growing lettuce would be welcome.

Beyond full-time work and perhaps beyond help

Old dog, new tricks?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  That’s an old adage.  When one has moved on from full-time work, there should be more time.  The pace should slow and in theory, one should be less prone to mistakes and mis-steps.  However, there is a chance that you might now be so excited about doing all the things there wasn’t time for before that you still operate on minimal looking before leaping.  It could be this has nothing to do with more or less daily paid work and a whole lot about one’s innate character.  I have always gone for quantity over quality when doing things.  Give me many experiences over few any day of the week.  It frustrated my mother to no end.  My dear patient mother, who loved and cared for us. She also knew us and with me, she would often say I did things too quickly and didn’t take enough time to do things really well.  As a teenager there were other things she noted too.  One day she was totally exasperated with me-I think it was something related to lack of initiative.  She let me have it with the most forceful of statements and a dire warning “Barb!” she said, “You are going to grow up to be nothing but a lazy twerp!”  Yikes, I thought, that doesn’t sound great.

When it comes to getting stuff done, I am of the school that says-if a man on a galloping horse wouldn’t notice it, then it’s good enough.  Perfection is over rated.  It can stifle you, immobilize you and while you are trying to do one thing perfectly, there are two other things you will never get around to.

And so I got lost

The above is the build up to rationalize how I got lost trying to find a golf course recently. It’s a course that is, in theory, about 30 minutes from our home.  The golf league gave out detailed instructions on how to get there on the website.   Why would I write down the detailed instructions when I had a pretty good idea where I was going.  I looked at the instructions on-line (likely while I was baking muffins and thinking about the garden and reading the newspaper), had a look at what’s what on Google Maps (while I was searching for the stain for the garden furniture and practising my blessed swing tip from the recent golf lesson and packing the car to go golfing).  Now, in my defense, I wrote down on paper the number of the highway exit and I stuffed it in my pocket.  To make a long story short, I don’t know where I got the exit number from but it was 3 exits too soon.  I’m thinking instead of the exit number, I wrote down the paint number of the stain for the garden furniture.  Who knows.   I was lost.  The map in the car didn’t cover the area and every other aid I had just was not helpful when I was getting later and later.

Get me to the golf course on time or maybe not

In the end I was late for my golf tee time.  This is not looked upon favourably in the golf world.  Thankfully, the course and the league accommodated me.  It was a glorious day to golf and I met some new people.

To sum it up, being beyond work, does not mean you are beyond your usual pattern of behaviour.  Ah, well, what’s the big deal.  A lot of this could be avoided if one of my wonderful colleagues from work had come home with me and lent her immeasurable organizational abilities to my next chapter.  She declined and I am where I am.  If my mom was still here I would like to tell her I didn’t grow up to be a lazy twerp and I still do many things without regard to achieving the highest of standards.   Now I am going to stain that furniture, pot those plants, take that bike ride, read that book and go golfing later today.  I’ll look up the directions to the golf course…really  I will.

Simply Biscotti and Next Chapters

I met a friend at Simply Biscotti recently.  We “shared”.  Shared the experience of ordering the same Simply Biscotti cookie; shared some experiences of life beyond full-time work.  We have both recently moved on and are enjoying what comes next.

We hemmed and hawed and looked at various things in the dessert counter before both settling on a nutella and peanut butter cookie.  Interesting how we choose these things.  We must have asked about the ingredients in at least 5 delectables but it was when we asked “and what’s in that cookie” that we were sold on the choice.  It may have been how woman who was serving us lit up as she said “that’s my favourite!”.  And maybe somewhere deep inside we thought it sounded like a healthy choice.

The cookie was tasty-it had some tiny crunchy bits-not too sure what they were-perhaps bits of peanuts.  If Rosa, the owner, looks at this blog she may just comment and let us know.  The cookie was enjoyable although it took second place to the conversation.  Well, maybe it was just a seamless part of the conversation and we consumed the snack while enjoying hearing what we’ve each been up to in our lives beyond full-time work.

Fair to say, it’s still full-time.  Life is always full-time.  The time now is filled with  a new mix of experiences.  Active living that can be given more time each day-hikes to be had, bikes to ride, gardening joys and woes, time spent with friends and family.  And then there’s some volunteer and paid work utilizing a career’s worth of experience and understanding.  Trying things that have been on one’s personal list and guess what-there is now the latitude and luxury to give it a go.  Wonderful things like a nutella and peanut butter cookie at Simply Biscotti mid-afternoon on a  weekday.

Green Thumb-Chapter Four-Finally Some Action!

Gardening angst and roto-tillers that rule

Our spring has been so wet it’s not been possible to turn over the soil.  Roto-till people (you catch them as they drive by the plots or take their names from the little signs around the place) would tell you it’s too wet. When we contacted them, they said, “Wait, it’s too wet”.  Wait?  Wait?  We’ve waited we said.  Our little plants are getting stringy and tired of being confined to their tiny property in plastic containers.

My sense is if you own a roto-tiller at this time of year, you are the supreme ruler. Everyone wants you-you don’t make appointments-you say you may be by Wednesday or possibly Thursday or maybe next weekend.  Wait, they said, those roto-tiller owners-it’s too wet.  I suggested to my gardening buddy that we might want to buy a roto-tiller.  If we did that, it would make our potatoes worth $300 each, we figured.  She talked me out of it-no roto-tiller for us (at least this year).  I can see it though-a little garden tractor, my International Harvester hat, my smartphone where I can make appointments and keep them “in the cloud” and access them when out on the land.  Agriculture meets leading edge software.   We could have sirius satellite radio in the tractor cab along with a cappuccino maker.

Some of the gardeners have had their plots for several years-the soil has been tended, mulch and other good things have been added.   They have added more soil and they have lovely raised beds.  They don’t need no stinkin’ roto-tiller.  They stand out on the land and turn over their lovely soil without breaking a sweat.  Their land drains well; they planted before the long weekend.

Finally some action and gardening by the numbers!

Mother Nature provided a window for us starting in early June.  The rain held off, the wind blew very hard and finally the roto-tiller person was able to get to our plot.  It was still a bit wet but at this point…we were just happy to have it done.  Within 2 hours of the last tilling, we were out at the plot. And this was our gardening, by the numbers:

  • 29-the total number of person hours we put in planting the garden this past weekend.  Hours of digging and carrying and wheel barrow work, bending and kneeling and stooping and digging, watering and measuring and making rows and planting seeds and seedlings and digging…did I mention digging?  As for sore muscles, well, we took some comfort in the fact that some of our neighbours who are significantly younger were talking about how sore they were after the manual labour.

  • 28-the number of rows we planted.  All measured and marked, using our cute little Lee Valley Tools retractable tape measures.  Rows of carrots, onions, squash, swiss chard, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, fennel, pumpkin as well as, already started and now transplanted, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, sage and rosemary.
  • 110-the number of days it says our pumpkin seeds will take to grow and mature.  Plus we were supposed to start the seeds indoors three weeks before the last frost.  We did none of that.  We figure we may have a pumpkin if the growing season extends to December this year.
  • 1-day one-freshly planted hills of potatoes.  We did extensive research on how to plant potatoes and what to put with them to make them grow quickly.

  • 2-day two.  We came back to continue the planting of the garden and all of our research and effort paid off.  Look at the potatoes today! 
  • Allright-this might be the one time that Barb’s true stories aren’t true.
  • Priceless-the time spent in the garden with a friend.