Thursday, June 25, 2009

Layers of Satisfaction

Layers of Satisfaction, originally uploaded by Ghetto Steve.

Carefully. Lay the stakes in the ground. Just so. Just this far apart.... now tie a string to each piece. Perfect! Now take the hoe... its too big. I run the row miles wide of the string layed guide. We rake it and Dad finishes it again. In goes the water. I follow it as it makes its journy down the river bed. The dirt is loose. Freshly rotor tilled. Behind me I run my bare toes through the soft dirt, seasonally fluffed. I care for the little stream as it slowly stretches along the length of the row. Moving a rock here, Pulling it through a high spot later. It reaches the end, fills a bit over and is moved to the next row.

After I have seen to it I return to the first. The fluffy dirt has changed with so much water. Not rough or fluffy, but silky smooth and shiney. Its surface only marred by sticks of yester year and popped mud bubbles. Like the sea foam, only more like frogs. Muddy and swamp like. I hold open my tiny hands for a few precious shakes of the seed bag. Into my palms fall natures magic. One by one I place each carefully, just so apart, like dad showed me. I poke them in deep and get muddy fingers. Dad covers them, tossing a safe blanket of dirt over their heads with the hoe in his hands once again.

I don't much like weeding. Sometimes they make me pull the sprinkler. Sometimes i just play in it and help the water move down rows. Build dams around the tomatoes. Hills around the pumpkins... but what i really like are munching on the peas. And tasting the beans right off the bush, while Dad picks for hours. I eat lots of raspberries, but there are lots of bugs and spiders in them.

To plant and to harvest and the sometimes unpleasant wait in between.

Just a few years ago, when i was in highs school and just starting to get into cooking I demanded a plot for my herb garden. I didn't even know exactly which meant 'comes back' of perennial or annual or biennial... I hadn't tasted most of the herbs I planted. But I bought seeds and started a patch in what i figured the best piece of garden their was. Closest to the house and in the deepest soil, with just a touch of shade from our desert sun. They could have gone elsewhere I realize, but there they stay. Years after a favored chive plant, which attracts hordes of beautiful polinators, oregano and thyme live on.

And two massive sage plants which attract only honey bees. I prune away the dead woody branches each year, though its said i should replace them by now. They bloom so wonderfully each year so I dont. And more sweetly still amidst the weeds and basil I've found their children. A few little sage plants each year mixed with the weeds but coming up strong. They take such little care and water, but bloom so prettily. and is so easy to cook with. Sage is a plant to which I give my highest regards.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It Is Upon Us!

Having pitched my berm idea to the household executives (Mum and Dad), I understood it was a possibility somewhere on the horizon. They got on board pretty quick, pumping up my idea with confidence after my own began to falter. I'm always a bit hesitant once it comes down to the execution of ideas. My work-avoidance habit combines with a touch of self doubt - well deserved because I have very little clue what I'm doing, or if it will work as well as I imagine it could- and I falter and hesitate to take the big steps. Like spraying and tearing up turf. In our front lawn. Yikes.

In theory, tearing up lawn in ones front yard should be something to warrant the worry. That theory requires however, that you HAVE lawn in your front yard. For as much as we are adding a berm to reduce lawn, we are also adding it to cover up the HUGE dead patches, weed colonies, and patchy dying turf. Digging it up shouldn't even be as difficult as one might imagine, simply because it is already bare dirt.

This aside I'm still desperate for assurance from the others. If it completely all fails I want to escape all blame. Though I'm not being paid, I am both the initiator and the relative expert on all of this, so by rights should take blame... but that is implied risk.

This morning my dad mentions that "Johns here to move that dirt!" ...with his backhoe in the back yard. At which moment I was showering, the site of the berm was yet undecided and therefore none of the prep work done, and did I mention the nudity? I was wondering if they could give me any LESS lead time. Yesterday I wasn't even sure we could get the backhoe ever!
Luckily my hesitation at landscaping in the buff led to the backhoe moving on for the day, and the mutual agreement that later this week it would return to ferry our dirt for us. Still a vague date, but I hope to get the site prepared tomorrow and the next day.

And so it is upon us. Even though I used it as a good excuse to buy plants with no home, I wasn't expecting it to be done this summer let alone this week! I'm excited though. It will feel good to get my natives in the ground.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Damages

Cant trust any of them. Chickens, puppies... siblings. Trashed, a tray of wildflowers. Destroyed, 3/4 of my basil seedlings. The rest of my purple cone flower and yarrow. A tomato plant in the garden broken in 3 places. Seedlings bone dry. Thanks for the help home crew...

Next time I should expect it. Next time I should stay home?

Monday, May 25, 2009

For When It Becomes More Than Just Hobby

Ouch. There are some things that I do, that I just cant stop doing. Ten hour days starting at 5 am in the kitchen. Four in a row... and on the first day off, the moment I wake up, I'm baking something. Still aching from the previous marathon, but I just cant stop.

This weekend the habit that consumed my life? Well, this IS my garden blog after all. We realized we were late planting and POOF.... since Friday we've planted the blue corn, pole beans, lettuce carrots, radishes, swiss chard, onions, shallots, garlic, turnips, dill, parsnips, cucumbers, peppers, ground cherries, tomatoes, and potatoes along with a couple herbs and flowers. Since Friday. I finished the mud room tile grout job and the front yard stepping stones too. I'm aching and exhausted from hunching and bunching and spiderman crawling all over the place. I'm horrified at how much I planted, how I thought those would be a good idea at the time, and dreading all the watering and hose pulling this will require. And I SWORE I wasnt going to plant all those tomatoes! Only 2 of each I said! But nooooo.... I want to plant 17! My body and soul are crying for the largely unnessesary pain I've set myself up for.

So what is the first thing I do when I come inside and veg for 30 minutes? I go plant some scarlet runner beans in some now vacant pots. And then some herbs in some vacant peat plugs. And then some squash because those didnt turn out last year. And then...

Its slowly but surely killing me. Why must I plant so much? Is that feeling so hard to quell? The wonder at the magic each seed contains. The amazment that one plant... can multiply itself 50 times over with just water, dirt and sun. The fact that wonderful food can spring from the dirt. The sorrow I feel for each plant left to die. It only needs a spot on the ground. Or each I attempt to cull. Or each left neglected on the nursery shelf. The why not?

It will probably pass as I get more and more tired. As the sun gets hotter and my bordom at repitition moves me on to something else my obsession will fade. For a time. But for those monthes, its more than just a hobby. Its a life dominering obsession mimicing OCD for all its worth. My hands are covered in dirt again, and I'm sooo tired.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Finding The Essence

I read an article on P Allen Smith's website that mentioned the Secret Garden. In fact, it was a musing on the art of Secret Gardening. The way he explained it put the idea into perspective for me. Having recently found an old forum were a family installed a Secret Garden of their own for their children (reclaimed side yard finished complete with locked gate and water feature) I was already keyed into the idea.

I had been feeling a bit lackluster about all my landscaping ideas. Just trying to fill problem spaces with something interesting. Just trying to make something grow in that place. Just trying to incorporate more room without lost and floating specimens. Adding structure to do it. Just trying to avoid eye contact with every one who drives by when I'm in the back yard in my PJ's. Just grasping for what nearest.

I've found what I've been looking for. That element of design that I was missing in spite all of my clever ideas. The frog pond, the rock wall, the side path, the arbors. All elements coming together, if executed with skill and mind, to create the magic and intrigue of a secret garden. The mystery, the

No matter how well manicured, eco friendly, or beautifully planted a yard might be, if they lack the mystery and magic they're no match for the shabby overgrown witches house down the road or even an arrangement of peat pot seedlings on the sill of a basement window...

Mysterious, magical, unknown, my own.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Driving myself crazy at the moment doing everything on the computer. I want to throw it from myself yelling "no more!", but I cant. I think its an addiction. Besides, what else would I do right now! The internet has almost limitless possibilities of entertainment! All while sitting on the couch!

Well, before I brain the puppy by tossing laptops around I just wanted to drop a handy website. Ive been on the wagon for a while, but this site has some newly packaged information. Some of it is even newish!

You've probably heard things about how great pollinators are. And how we must save them! Well they are and we should. I personally just love to see wild things at home in my garden living close to me. Its so magical that these things exist all by them selves. They don't need humans to birth their young, or shuck their ears, and plant each summer... They don't need to be owned or allowed. They just are. And that they choose to grace my yard with their presence cheers me immensely.

All of my childhood memories of searching under rocks and in ponds for the beautiful critters. All of my hoping and praying that I'd catch another mudpuppy, or glimpse a hummingbird moth. All of those youthful musings at becoming a biologist when I grow up. Coming again to some fruition in my back yard.

I planted the purple prairie clover and yellow cone flower in my bed today. My purple cone flower is less than an inch tall as I started it from seed however... as is my red yarrow. This could be a problem later.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ship Shape

The western bed is shaping up. I may even plant tomorrow! I only have two plants, but I'll go for it anyway. The side bed has been in the preparation process for about two years, it is soon to be christened tomorrow by a pairing of yellow coneflower and purple prairie clover.

The full bed will be flanked by a variety of sunflowers. The middle ranks will be filled with some purple and yellow coneflower and yarrow. And the prarie clover toward the front. I'll need some other lower growing plants to fill out the front, but I haven't thought that far ahead.

The more I look at the patch, the smaller it seems to be, but to be honest I was having designs on enlarging it when I first started. I don't like the look of small beds dwarfed by the house or tree they're planted by, but am worried about maintenance. It needs to be pretty darn low. Also, its a challenging clay soil west facing bed. Nothing has grown there yet for more than a year. If these guys can take it, I may expand. We will see.

I'm a bit unsure as to how all of these will really grow. I've never planted any of them before so I'll be planting blind. Didn't plan the colors much, but figure it will turn out fine. If the bee's like it, so do I. If it grows... I like it.

I'll post some pictures when I get more than two plants in the hole.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Raintree is out of everything again. I wanted to buy a Saskatoon/service berry this year. They have them for 60$ pruned up as tree's at the local nursery, but I don't know which cultivar. And I was thinking I'd prefer a multi-stemmed tree shape to add to the ascetic of our berm. I was planning on going with a Smokey cultivar from alde Raintree, but alas. Their berries be all gone. Maybe tomorrow I'll spearhead the musk berries and get them purchased before they too dry all up!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Guts

Some dude who's name I wont look up said that the gut is the second brain. My second brain tells me that edible landscaping is the way to go. The latest epiphany, that kiwi can be grown here. Completely shocking. I suppose its true that the furry ones in the grocery store ARE somewhat tropical, (tropical, being of course, somewhere it doesn't snow and freeze all winter. Like Portland!). The hairless kiwi's are super hardy. Some to zone 5, which we are, and some down to 3 or4! Thats like... negative 40 degrees! Go figure!

The super cold hardy ones are also kinda pretty. They all grow in a vine habit and like sturdy trellising. I think I may steal one of my sites for future vines, and stick a kiwi there instead!

Friday, May 1, 2009


My red currant purchase being deflected this year I've settled on bringing about my blackberry dream of yesteryear.

Its a bit difficult to find one that's suitably hardy to our chilly zone of five. I'll probably pick something up at our local nursery. Whatever variety they have. Trailing? Semi-erect? Who knows. I just hope they're as tasty as boysen or marion berries sound.

Enemy Of The State

The garden faces new challenges this year. Already the blueberries are under attack. One is dying a slow painful death after being raggedly severed at the trunk. Others have been harried, loosing limbs or leaves. The newest addition to the patch was carried off, kidnapped and almost never seen again. The culprit. Enemy of the state number one.

Seedlings shake in fear. Peach tree's huddle behind their deer caging. Blueberries struggle to survive. Pansy.

Deepest Frustrations

A haiku illustrating my frustrations.

Raintree Nursery
You leave me empty handed
sold out always before May

Musk strawberries. Alpine strawberries. Jhonkeer Van Tets red currant. And some other stuff I couldn't afford. All gone. Long before may. There's a reason I start shopping for garden things in January. There really is. Sadly, its not entirely out of motivation to get things in the ground before the dormant period ends. Mostly its just to get my hands on some random specimines, before their stock is decimated by other more persistant and well funded gardeners.

Oh well. I'm running out of places to plant things anyway. -_-

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Projects

Summer always dawns with a to do-list rivaling any New Year resolution. Summer has yet to dawn... in fact we were caroling in the car earlier today as the snow fell in huge flakes on the way to the swimming pool. Its dreadfully cold at the moment. Sure its not far below freezing, but maybe the wetness makes it cling.

Conceived over years other on whim these are the projects I've given some thought to.

Curbside beds - Thought up last year after watching the last of the last of the grass in them die. I don't care for gravel filled beds, but curb appeal calls for something more than sparse weed cover. Already under way, this project will involve widely placed stepping stones, planted almost flush with the dirt, with walkable poor soil tolerant drought hardy wildlife friendly ground cover. Namely a few varieties of thyme and sedum, though some natives might find their way in if I discover some to fit the bill. Also I'll be planting a few taller specimens between each tree. Maybe lavender, sage, and low bush wild blueberries. (Though me brother pointed out... "Won't dogs pee on them?" Definitely something for considerations : / )

East Side path - The utility side of our house, formerly a 4-5ft tall weed grass stand/storage place for everything from old lumber to my uncles paddle boat. Getting new neighbors we thought it would be nice to clean it up so we started last year. This year I want to make a space of it, paving a stone path through it, blocking the neighbors view all together with clematis on a trellis, and maybe throwing in a bench. Sure looking at the air conditioning unit isn't ideal... but it might be shady in the afternoon and with some plants and a book it could be swell. Already stuck a currant bush there last summer.

Frog Pond - My dream. We used to have a real frog pond. Huge natural one that sadly collected random garbage from clueless people and was filled in to make way for trailer houses that STILL haven't actually come in. No sense live and let live in the interim... at any rate, I sorely miss the chorus of Chorus Frogs(sorry...) and the mud puppies and tadpoles and all sorts of amazing life that existed there. I want to bring it back. Even at the cost of more mosquitoes. A frog friendly native plant filled habitat, maybe with a little water trickle sound... is what I want.

West Side bed - The bed of perpetual death. This dirt can take prolonged hose blasts and not break down. I've amended it with organic stuff. Mother has too before... frankly I cant guarantee anything to grow... But I'm calling in the survivors. Wild flowers and sunflowers. Mostly natives. Something should figure out how to grow there. And if it can reseed itself and come back next year? All the better. Naturalized plantings, the way to go.

Shade Tree -My room claims the only window on the west facing wall. It bakes all summer long, just like the death bed below it. A shade tree in that side of our yard would do wonders. Maybe even lowering cooling costs, or one day making my room a inhabitable environment during daylight hours. Who knows! I love the shape of the big slow growing nut trees like Black Walnut, or maybe Oak, but they are slow growing. And I fear the toxicity and ground litter of the walnut... but their shape is gorgeous! And I love nuts.

Hedge - This one is long conceived but struggling. I need to define the property before I can grow a hedge. Living next to an inaccurately curved dirt road, I have no clue where the sidewalk will be, so its difficult to plan fences, hedges, walls or trees. A dogwood hedge would add some privacy though... perhaps not the best for water conservancy.

Dry Stone Wall - I've always loved them, but this idea is this year. Having a puppy is making me long for a fence. Fences require supplies and wood and things I don't have, but stone I do. A lovely gray stone wall might be just enough to discourage mad dashes and some curious wanderings of small puppies. Would add some privacy... and frankly their just cool. Like living in a castle or Victorian witch's house cool.

And maybe something involving a sort of raised bed thing in the front to add some vertical interest in the front yard and cut down lawn. Lawn which is slowly but steadily dying in the heat and dryness. We'll see after it gets hot and the vegetable garden gets going and I inevitably sign up for another play that fills the best dang gardening hours of the day. We will see.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You Make My Heart Sing

I love wild iris. Maybe more then I love the huge blooms of the more domesticated types. I love how small and delicate they are. How they quietly paint a field lavender and blue with their whisper soft blooms. I love how they run by our highway, making the landscape a little less bleak.I don't usually plant flowers. If I cant eat it, its not worth much time to me. If it doesn't reseed itself and out preform the weeds with admirable vigor, it gets pushed aside. Bulbs? To much work. Yet I think someday, I'd like to plant some wild iris and hope that it would grace my presence with its ethereal flowers.

The photo by Jim Frazier.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sveet Korn

Corn, one might think, would be an excellent crop to save seeds from. Each ear you save, the product of but one seed, spawning hundreds of other plants. Just dry, save, and plant. No fermenting, no refrigeration. Heck, the seeds are huge. Down right ergonomic compared to spec sized chamomile. The only one easier might be beans, but that's another story.

Corn would be a wonderful seed saving opportunity. If it wasn't all hybrid. If you even so much as plant two varieties, corn can go south. Planting saved seeds? Oh you better believe it'll be trouble! Every seed its very own plant, crazy varieties mostly unusable.

Normally I'd just find a good heirloom or open pollinated variety. With corn, however, its a little more complicated. Ignoring that hybrids produce more, they have other traits that keep me hooked.

For one, my family - and I must admit, myself - really enjoy the sugary super sweet hybrids. They're the kind you must isolate to avoid feed corn, even the first year. They're reamed by true corn aficionados for lacking distinct texture or true corn flavor. They're expensive seeds with low germination rates, but I love the sweetness. I'm trying "Maple Sugar" from Burpee's this year. You get the idea. I'm afraid real corn wont be eaten with such gusto and enjoyment, regardless of possible health issues.

With almost all vegetables, "the fresher the better," is the mantra. Picked this morning from the garden... thats how you want it. With heirloom corn it goes beyond a preference. With heirloom corn, its a race. From the moment you pick the ear of corn, its delicate sugars are turning to starches. Two hours they cede, is an acceptable grace period between picking and cooking, but in the same breath they demand 30 minutes or less for their own corn. Hybrids stablize this, giving you days to a week for your corn to stay sweet in its raw state. I dont know that we truely have the forthought to cook our corn as quickly as heirlooms wish, to retain their best flavor.

All this aside... I'm planting three types of corn this year, call me crazy. Sun and Stars, a super sweet from Burpee's, I've heard has excellent flavor as far as sh2 corn goes. Being a slave to some marketing schemes, I'm also trying a pack of Maple Sugar from them as well. I mean... think of grilled buttery maple sugar tasting corn on the cob, all smokey nutty and deep. And after all, you can plant sh2 corn together. I think. I've read it somewhere at least.

And to get into the spirit... I'm planting a third variety. Blue Jade Baby corn, from Seed Savers Exchange, caught my eye last year, with its steely blue ears, but by then it was sold out. This year I ordered early and already have my pack of seeds in my box. I hope to try this variety as a taste test, novelty, and, if it passes, a seed saving heirloom corn of my own. I seem to have the impression that it wont taste as good as some more standard heirlooms, so I may try others in the future, but I'm hopeful.

As for isolating it from my hybrids and my hybrids from it? I'll plant the blue corn 3 weeks or so earlier. Supersweets are notoriously bad at germinating in cool weather, so it will give the ground some time to warm up for them. Likewise, standard corns tend to do better in cool weather. They all have a range simmilar day till maturity. The sh2 types 78 and 80 respectively, and the heirloom a less pradictable 70-80 day range. Planting the blue jade 2-3 weeks earlier should take care of difference, especially if it tassles in the early range. I hope this way I wont have to bag the tassels and hand pollinate the blue corn, but one does what one must. And on the bright side, this town can be hot and dry. Bad news for traveling pollen.

People complain that corn is a space hog, and here I have three types picked out! Just do do my part, I'll be sure to post some creative commons pics of my blue corn on flikr, for anyone else who wants a picture for their blog. >.<

They're Here!

I've decided for the year of 2009 what tomatoes will grow in the garden. Well... that I hope will grow in the garden. Its easier said than done...

Anyway the tomato varieties are as followed, the first five seeds purchased from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.

Paul Robeson - Black variety that one best of show once. Described as having "luscious, earthy, exotic flavors and good acid/sweet balance". I saw a lot of people recomending it or trying it so I wanted to jump on bord.

Kellogs Breakfast - A really big yellow one! Thought it would be kind of a stretch for me. It was top ten of one of Tomato Fest's Tomato Fests! It says it has a fantastic sweet/tangy flavor. And so we'll see. At least if it grows I'll be sure to recongize it!

Ananas Noir - The Black Pineapple! A Belgian heirloom with a French name who's flavor description on includes this tantalizing hopeful peice of rhetoric, "rich and delicious, full-bodied, sweet & smokey flavors with a whollop of acidity". You see its the acidity whollop I'm hoping for. I like tart tomatoes! And that completely drove the mater choices last year. Hopefully this one'll pull through.

Black Krim - My first black tomato, planted it last year. The only one of all 5 types I could identify. Very tasty flavor... which I cant really remember now... but I liked it. And it was very pretty too. And productive.

Stupice - Another favorite from last year... that is, if this is the one I think it is. I mean... I completely lost track of everything last year. Except the black krim. So... Fingers crossed! Its supposed to be very tangy with good tomato flavor. A red Czechoslovakian Heirloom!

Early Girl - Purchased as a plant from a local place. Probably Bi-Mart who takes TERRIBLE care of their plants, but they're cheap and easy to pick up cuz we shop their alot. These are the tomatoes of my childhood grown by my father as the "only ones that grow". And they do produce wonderfully, and I enjoy their bright clean tangy flavor.

(And maybe I'll sneak something else if its at the nursury. Shhh! Don't tell!) So thats at least 3 black tomatoes! And I was eyeing another two! And a yellow(two if you count the cherry), which I think I'm biased against. Only two reds. So thats what comes from picking randomly from 500+ varieties on the tomato fest website....

And for peppers... mostly from the Seed Savers Exchange

Beaver Dam! - Exylent flavor and mild hot in discripton (and beautiful color)A hungarian heirloom brought to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin in 1929 by the Joe Hussli family. They also made it onto the US Arc of Taste list for the Wisconsin region. I'm not sure the best ways to use it, but well try it out. And if its good? A great thanks to the Hussli family!

Chervena Chushka - Bulgarian heirloom traditionally used for roasting, or so the discription says which is why I picked it. It had the shape and use I was looking for. It says it has a very sweet pepper flavor, almost candy-like, which I'm a little put off by, but we'll see.

Sheepsnose Pimento - Bought one once. Look georgous, smelled great. It rotted before I got around to using it. I planted it last year... the deer stepped on the one plant, then possibly the dog stepped on it just to be sure it was dead. It even had green lil fruits on it. This year, maybe one will survive? It also made the Arc of Taste list in Ohio. Go figure. I pick em good.

Green/Rainbow Bells - I dont even know what varietes on these. The ranbow mix ones I got from Gurney's last year and maybe a pack of green organics from the store? These ones always actually get used! Salsa... and everything else.

Jalepeno - Might just by some plants on these ones, just to simplify stuff. Salsa... and this year I want to fill them with cheese and grill em! Oh, and maybe piclke some!

Purple Macaroni : (if I can refind last years seed packs. I never really got around to frying them : /

So there you are. This post took forever. And I haven't even started rambling about my secret corn and bean heirloom/open pollination trials, or english cucumbers red currants and musk strawberries! Soon my dears, soon. It will be an exciting year... if I dont let it all die once it gets hot. >.>

I Did It

This marks the emancipation of Two Blocks and its readers from the threatening tyranny of coming rants, musings, tirades, theories, and dreams of garden nature.

Hooray and be free!