Monday, August 29, 2011

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

Last August, in a fit of furry over a plant stripped by a hungry caterpillar, I smashed the lovely critter. Later, I found out that I had, in fact, killed a swallowtail. Trust me, I felt like a terrible person.

A few days ago, I spotted this beautiful fellow, also very hungry, on a cherry tomato plant that I had grown from seed. Needless to say, I'm rather attached to the plant. By the time I noticed, he (or she) had stripped most of the leaves and nibbled every tomato. Thankfully, I held back. "Oh what the hell," I thought. "Just go for it.

I'm loving that one small seed I planted many months ago helped such a creature fly away. I'm on the lookout for the swallowtail. I've been seeing several around the okra.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sweet Gum Tree Takes Charge: Part Two

Everyone keeps telling me how lucky we are that the Sweet Gum feel on the courtyard roof instead of our bedroom. And yes, of course, this is true. But here's the dark side of the tale: The first photo is my vegetable

garden before the crane showed up. The second photo is the vegetable garden after the crane showed up. The only route to the Sweet Gum was through the vegetable bed.

This was heartbreaking for me, as I grew this garden from seed and was particularly enamored with my heirloom lemon cucumbers and pole beans which I've nurtured along since April. I tried to transplant them, but of course, since most vegetables are like weeds, they refused. Pull them up, and they are headed for the compost.

And by the way, the Sweet Gum was 10 stories high (as in 100 feet) not five stories high. Clearly, I have no idea how huge my trees are, even though I've been looking at them for 16 years.

Happily, the okra plants and pepper plants did transplant remarkably well. And, on the plus side, I'm thinking how nice it will be to plant a fall garden on time. I can taste the kale and turnip greens.

Meanwhile, the skyline canopy of our backyard trees is quite different with more evening sun and a nicer view of our magnolia tree. This means more sun in the courtyard, which is too hot in the summer but beautiful in the fall. And so it goes.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sweet Gum Tree Takes Charge

There is a Sweet Gum tree that stands about three feet away from my bedroom wall: majestic, probably five stores tall, a lovely complement to the red oak next door, and a royal pain in the ass, because it drops hundreds and hundreds of prickly balls that are anything but sweet. I bitch about those balls constantly and worry that the tree will one day fall into my house. Today, the tree came down.

I was in my bedroom when I heard about 10 seconds of that sounded at first like gun shots and then, I thought, "Is that a firecracker?" At that moment, I was terrified and ran down the hall, herding Grif with me. By the time I got to the middle of the house, Tony was aghast, looking into the backyard and saying, "Oh my God, a tree just fell on the house.

Yes, indeed.

Half of the tree fell on the roof of our courtyard, but as my neighbor Lil pointed out, "It hit the best possible place." The tree missed the main part of the house, and the fabulous steel posts that hold up the courtyard roof kept the tree from smashing into our beautiful serpentine brick wall. Still, it's a mess.

The tree removal crew arrives at 7 a.m. tomorrow, but Jarred from Woodland Trees had this bit of info: He blamed the ivy that had wrapped it's way up the tree. "The ivy adds a tremendous amount of weight to the tree," he said. "I see this at least three times a week."

So there you have it. Ivy is bad. Don't let it grow on anything.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Watermelon Update

After I posted the first picture of my new watermelon, Susan said she couldn't see the fruit. Well, Susan: Check out this photo! The melon seems to grow two inches a day. Griff and I admire it every morning before coffee, and it's smiles all around.

The cherry tomatoes are also coming on strong, and the lemon cucumbers which I grew from seed have finally sprouted a little one. I've had tons of blossoms all summer, but until this week, no cukes.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

In praise of patience.

I've been checking my monster watermelon vine for weeks now, hunting among the leaves for the first sign of fruit. (The vine is ready to take over the street!) This week has been the hottest of the summer, and the rest of my vegetable has given up. But not the watermelon vine.

I'm happy to report that I found the first melon, bursting out of it's bright yellow flower. I cushioned the tiny fruit with pine needles and watered the plant in the morning and the afternoon. I'm thinking watermelons might be the only plants in Memphis that is happy to be hot.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Finally! Picking tomatoes

Now come on! Aren't these little tomatoes just beautiful? They are my first tomato picks of the summer, and I'm particularly proud of these beauties

because I grew the plants from seed. They called "Sugar Cherry" from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a variety appreciated for its intense flavor and sweetness. I ate mine whole with a sprinkle of kosher salt: delicious!

This next photo is our first okra blossom, my favorite vegetable to grow because the flowers are so beautiful and the okra pods appear overnight and are ready to pick in a day or two. The bees also love okra. Look closely and you can see a bee nestled inside the bloom.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Project No. 1: Birdbath Resurrected

The heat in Memphis has been particularly brutal this summer, settling in a month early and staying in the triple digits for days on end. Even for me (I actually like to sweat), the heat has stymied the hard yard work as keeping the beds watered is an ongoing and endless task.

To compensate, I'm focusing on small garden projects that don't involve weeding. On Saturday, I scrubbed out empty clay pots and seed trays from the spring that I'd stacked on a piece of lawn furniture. Now the pots and the trays are stored neatly in my shed.

On Sunday, I resurrected my cooper birdbath, cleaning it and filling it with fresh water. I'd stopped filling the birdbath a few years ago when the West Nile virus made me paranoid about mosquitoes. Now I'm more worried about the birds dropping dead from the heat. Plus, I love the way it looks next to my Japanese maple.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tomatoes: They Are Finally Here!

Gardeners in the South talk about growing tomatoes with nonchalance. Everywhere I go, I hear folks saying things like, "All I got planted were a few tomato

plants" or even worse, "My tomatoes are beautiful this summer."

I envy this camaraderie. With only six or seven hours of sun, my tomatoes struggle. Last summer, the plants grew and bloomed, but late planting and early heat made most of the blossoms fall off.

This summer, I got an early start, as my beds were ready in the spring, and I grew some tomato plants from seed. But the tomatoes refused to grow, and their leaves were a yellow green. An employee at Dan West said they needed nitrogen, so I added a third of a cup of Garden Tome to the dirt around each plant. The transformation of the plants was miraculous, and now they are thriving.

I planted six or seven different varieties to see which tomatoes do best, but the identification tags have disappeared. I'm blaming the squirrels because I blame them for all my gardening mishaps.

I'd like to be able to know which plants are producing these lovely little (for now) tomatoes, but all the plants look alike. Once they land between basil, mayo, and bread, it probably won't matter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Swallowtails Aren't Afraid of Me!

Last summer, in a fit of ignorant craziness, I killed a caterpillar that was on its way to becoming a swallowtail. I thought it was some terrible pest eating my pepper plants. Live and learn.

This morning, I'm happy to report that I saw this lovely eastern swallowtail checking out my cucumbers. I think she was getting a drink from the drip hose. Fortunately, I left her alone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July beauties: Coming on Strong!

I am still growing food! Here are a few photos of the produce I picked today. Banana peppers, green peppers, bush beans, and sweet basil.

The fragrance of the peppers after I picked them were intoxicating. It was like breathing in all that is perfect about Mother Earth.

I'm growing three types of beans, but Blue Lake Bush Beans are my favorite. They are prolific, delicious, disease resistant, and very easy to grow. I ordered them from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange last summer, so these beauties grew this summer from the leftovers in the pack.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Planting the first seeds.

I welcomed the calendar start of spring Sunday by planting seeds for an early crop of cool weather vegetables. This being the deep South, it won't be cool for very long. (Truth be told, I threw on the A.C. for a few hours yesterday.)

Here's what went in, one seed at a time: Five Color Swiss Chard, gourmet baby greens, Early Wonder Beets, and Cherry Belle Radishes. I also planted about a dozen

kohlrabi seedings and thanks to my lovely plant markers (thanks Victoria!), I've marked all my rows.

I noticed lots of robins hopping all over the bed this morning. I'm hoping they are after worms and not seeds.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A miracle of nature.

I planted my Lenten roses six or seven years ago, and they truly do bloom in Memphis at the start of Lent. When the sun shines through their blossoms, they are so beautiful and delicate that I expect fairies to be dancing underneath. It's as close as I get to a springtime religious experience.

Unfortunately, my plants had never propagated, which is why I was

flabbergasted today to find all these lovely babies. "Why now?" I wondered while I weeded. And then it came to me. This fall, I finally got my yard man to leave the leaves in the flower beds. Usually, he blows them all out.

So there you have it: Lenten roses are woodland plants that need Mother Nature's blanket to keep up their good work.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My first trip to Lowe's.

Last weekend was beautiful (today was too!), and I couldn't resist the pull of a freshly stocked garden center. I stopped by Lowe's and bought top soil, basil, and flat-leaf parsley. The nice guy who

loaded the dirt in my car cautioned against planting the basil. "It's too early," he said. "Still too cold."

When I got home, I decided to ignore his advice. My chives made it through the winter, but were feeling lonely. So in went the basil and the parsley, making a perfect trio of herbs for my current retro food fav: quiche. I'm calling this planter the quiche pot, in honor of another favorite plant from the 70s.

PS: The cute little kale plant above also weathered the winter.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The good kind of breakdown.

When the cold kicked in after Thanksgiving, I pulled up my dead vegetable plants, layered on another layer of leaves and pine needles, and forgot about my vegetable garden.

Well, I didn't forget about it exactly, as I can see it out my kitchen window, but I took a break from gardening and focused on my house instead. God knows, my closets needed some attention.

On Sunday, I pulled out the pitch fork and turned the garden dirt, piling on a few bags of organic compost and garden soil, along with a cup or two of lime and some coffee grinds.

What I found was dirt so dark and rich and full of nutrients that big fat earthworms were wiggling about everywhere. Oh happy day!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A morning at Urban Farms.

On Friday night, I stopped by TJ Maxx and bought the last pair of rubber boots in the store. It’s a good thing. After volunteering Saturday at Urban Farms, my feet look like this.

I’ve been intrigued by Urban Farms since it started last summer, but until yesterday, I hadn’t joined in the effort to grow food for an underserved neighborhood in Memphis called Binghampton. The farm is tucked so tightly between affluent and forgotten that it doesn’t show up on Map Quest. But thanks to the

remarkable efforts of a handful of organizers and enthusiastic volunteers, three acres where cotton once grew is now a thriving and sustainable farm.

There are compost piles, a tank for tilapia (the water if filtered through watercress that is also sold to local restaurants), and lovely rows of cool weather crops like broccoli rabe, romaine, and red lettuce. Come summer, there will be much more produce, along with chickens, goats, and bee hives.

I spent most of my time Saturday rearranging drip hoses and planting kohlrabi. Others beat back the kudzu, sifted worm castings, or moved around compost with the farm’s tractor. A few blocks down Tillman Avenue, another group of volunteers helped to get the Urban Farms Market ready for a March 26 opening. Eventually, produce from the farm will help stock the market, bringing healthy and affordable food to people with few food choices.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Time to get busy.

Many gardeners use the frost date to kick things in gear, but for me, it's the day my Redbud trees bloom. When the grape hyacinths bloom on the same morning as the Redbuds, I know there are no more excuses. It's time to get dirty.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring has sprung.

Today, when I pushed open the gate to take Griffin for a walk, I spotted these: my first spring crocus! And next, in the middle of the parking lot at work, this remarkably resilient shrub was reaching to the sky with her budded branches. How can you not love a day like this?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let your imagination grow.

My daughter is attending the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and, of course I'm a proud parent. I love it when she sends me scans of her work, like this recent assignment for one of her drawing classes. The assignment: illustrate a garden from your imagination. I especially love the cactus in a teacup.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A few scraps for the leaves. Part 2

In what could be my most satisfying recycling that doesn't involve vegetable scraps, I was able to reuse the mailing box from the composter to mail Anna our fabulous paint-by-numbers "Last Supper". (For some reason, our friend Susan gave up this gem in a joint yard sale.)

Anna's been wanting the painting for her apartment in Brooklyn, but because it is a large, rectangular shape, finding a box has been difficult. I even went to a UPS store to buy a box, but they wanted $10.95. Can you believe that?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A few scraps for the leaves.

Okay, so it took a few weeks, but I finally put
together my
composting bin, with a little help from Tony. It was a snap: Four panels held together by these very cool swirl hinges. Check out

the photo of how they work!

I set up the bin in the back yard, next to the leaves that I saved from earlier in the winter. I saved way too many leaves, as one bag fills up a quarter of the bin. Guess I need more bins or less leaves. Yikes.

It was great fun dumping my bucket full of veggie scraps and my dead Christmas poinsettias on the pile and turning it into the leaves. (I know. Don't you wish you had my life?), but I felt like a farmer.

A full moon in January's snow.

Two snowfalls (better description: snow showers) in two weeks! A wonderful thing, indeed.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Drum roll, please.

After much hullabaloo, I've started composting. Tony snapped this picture of my first collard stems going in the bucket. Well, it was the second or third photo. I made him reshoot several times, because my hands kept looking awful. The sign of a true gardener, I know, but a girl has to draw a line somewhere, you know what I mean?

Even more impressive than the composting was the meal I made with those greens. My dinner was completely locally sourced, except for the mashed potatoes. Here's the menu. Yum!

Sweet Potato Soup Garnished with Roasted Red Peppers
Osso Bucco with Newman Farms Berkshire Pork
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Blue Cheese
Fresh Picked Collards and Kale with Rosemary and Lemon Zest