Monday, September 28, 2009

"Next year it will be perfect"

Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to spend the bulk of a warm, bright, late-September afternoon touring a few of Global Gardens' refugee farms. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I was a bit apprehensive about heading out to the 7-hour event on my own. I was convinced yesterday morning that the swine had finally infected me with their flu and I was just feeling blah. As it turned out, a little inspiration and rejuvenation from the incredible Boise community was just what the doctor ordered.

After meeting at the King of Glory Lutheran Church, the participants boarded a bus and headed off to the Somali Bantu farm in Eagle. The land is owned by the Camille Beckman company and sits next to their facility out Highway 44. It's a beautiful setting, situated away from the main road and nestled next to a nice canal flanked by large trees. The director of the Global Gardens program gave a short introduction then let the farmers do the talking. The president of the Somali Bantu community spoke about the farm and its incredible accomplishments in just three years. The community's marketing director then spoke about their experience selling the produce at the Tuesday and Saturday farmers markets. He demonstrated some of the tools they use and also gave us a tour of the farm, row by row, noting what was planted and how it had fared this year. For the crops that didn't turn out as well as anticipated, he noted what they did wrong and promised that "next year it will be perfect."

Next year it will be perfect--what a wonderful phrase. It kept bouncing around in my head, and not just because my cranium was extra empty this particular day. It's enticing and inspiring not because I think next year will be perfect, but because it represents this wonderful recognition that we can learn from a mistake, release it, and try harder to get it right next time. For a person who has always thought you have to get it right the first time--and rarely, if ever, does--this is a mantra to live by, both in my garden and everywhere else.

We continued our tour with stops at the African Community Development farm on Allumbaugh and back at the church to tour their community garden and eat a delicious, local meal. As the last of my white bean, chicken, and tomatillo chili hit my stomach, I was totally content, tired, and completely inspired by the people and places I was introduced to over the course of the afternoon. Totally content as I may have been, the apple pudding with maple whipped cream did seem to be the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fall Planting

Last weekend I decided to try some fall planting. Like all aspects of the garden, this endeavor is perhaps more experimenting than gardening, but perhaps that never really changes. I set out looking for onions but couldn't find any so settled for garlic. Settling probably isn't a good word, because The Boyfriend and I both really enjoy garlic. In any case, the nice man at Zamzows pointed me to the garlic and I picked out two handsome looking varieties: Chesnok Red and Early Italian Purple Grape (which is neither grape sized or purple--the Red, however, is purple). I also picked up some carrot seeds since I read somewhere that you can plant carrots in the fall and they'll survive into the snowy season. I even read that a good layer of snow can insulate the soil and create an even sweeter carrot. Perfect.

As I was driving home, feeling quite excited about my bag full of experiments, I realized I had no clue how to plant garlic. I had this moment where I thought I just plopped the whole bulb right in the soil. Then I realized I would have just planted the very end product I'm trying to grow. So some quick Googling confirmed my second hypothesis, that I plant the cloves individually. Yes, these are the things us novice gardeners have to Google. At least I'm fessing up.

Before I could plant, I had to dig up something to make some room. I'm not about to add a new garden bed this time of the year. I think I wanted an excuse to do so, however. I was overwhelmed by the jalapenos. I harvested everything on the four plants and promptly ripped them out. I was relieved and sad at the same time. I'd done so much to nurture those little plants but they paid me back ten-fold. Then I ripped out the beautiful, productive, and disgusting cucumber. But more about that at a later date.

With room to spare, I set about planting the garlic where the cucumber once lived. Both garlic bulbs yielded about eight nice-sized cloves. I planted all the garlic in the first bed, the Italian in a row closest to the house and the Red Chesnok in a row behind. (I mention this so I might have some clue in the spring what I'm digging up. Although, I have a feeling garlic might just be garlic to my unrefined palate.)

In the T-shaped area left by the jalapeno removal operation, I scattered some carrot seeds. Danvers Half Long carrots to be exact. I haven't seen them come up yet and they've been in the ground for nine days, along with the garlic. But that's half the fun--not knowing what to expect.

Like most things in life, I'm ridiculously excited for this planting experiment, and it's not because I absolutely love carrots and can't stand to buy my own garlic. It's mostly because of the idea of it all. Planted now, the garlic will be ready for picking in the spring. It will remain in the garden all winter, the lone guardian of our raised beds during this first winter at the new place. Planting now for the spring makes me feel like it isn't that far away and like I'll be looking through seed catalogs in no time. Winters can get hard and long, but if those little garlic cloves can make it out there in the snow and cold, I can surely persevere in my always 74 degree house.

The carrots, on the other hand, I hope to harvest in the snow. The idea of going out in December and picking something from our garden makes me insanely happy. Ultimately, I'd like to have a three-season garden, which I've been assured can happen around here. The carrots are my first step in that direction.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Sale

This weekend was the one I'd been waiting for since we moved into the new place. My favorite nursery had all perennials half off starting on Friday. Given my recent work situation, I found myself quite free on Friday morning and I was ready to show up at 8 a.m. and fight the old ladies for the hostas. Well, thanks to a late-night, action-packed BSU game, I didn't make it there until 9:15 and I didn't actually have to fight anyone for my hostas. The nursery was packed, however, and everyone looked as delighted as I was to spend a cool Friday morning wandering around the greenhouses. Being underemployed really has its upside!

I went for the herbs and veggies first and bought rosemary for a patio pot. Next I got an everbearing red raspberry, even though I don't have a place to put it yet. I've never grown any berries (obviously, since this is my first garden) and just couldn't resist. Some women can't say no to shoes that are 50% off. I can't say no to plants. I'd like to pretend that's more noble. In any case, I then made my way to the hostas and heucheras. I got a "Frances Williams" and "Gypsy Rose" hosta and two "Coral Bells" heucheras (mostly, I think, because I like to say 'heuchera'). I grabbed a "Clair de lune" clematis, which I swore would be the first plant I bought for the new house. I picked up a ground cover for under the crazy tree in front of the house and a sun flower for The Boyfriend. (Which isn't a perennial, as it turns out. Or at least it wasn't half off. The things I do for him . . . ) Finally, I couldn't say no to a beautiful $1.00 geranium. (Come on! It was $1.00!) I loaded it all in my car with great satisfaction. Later in the weekend we stopped at another store and purchased three more hostas ("Wide Brim") and three Lily of the Valley plants.

There is something so gratifying about planting perennials. I think part of it is the feeling of permanency. I've never lived anywhere long enough to really care about planting something that would come back the next year. I've watched seasons change through trees at apartment complexes and rhododendrons at dorms and sorority houses, but there is something very removed and detached about it all. Having my own house and yard makes me feel like a part of the whole process. I can't wait to watch the plants next year and the year after that, their new roots gradually becoming stronger and deeper and becoming a part of this place.

There is also something ridiculous about buying perennials. When else would you pay good money (even at half off!) for a homely looking plant that has been cut back to nothing but a stub? We bought some plants that barely have a shoot of green sticking out of the soil. Here's crossing our fingers for accurate pictures on the tags! But that's also the fun of it and the benefit for our black thumbs. They can only look better next year, right?

The final perennial acquisitions this weekend were cuttings from my mom's grasses. Although you could hardly tell that we chopped and butchered her enormous grasses, we took quite a few good bunches home to add to the side of the house. With all our plants laid out, we set to planting, which turned out to be the most challenging part, thanks mostly to the various debris and random cement slabs embedded in our yard. However, we got all our plants in the yard (although not exactly where we had planned due to the aforementioned cement slabs) and I'm quite happy with the result.

Among my favorite additions to our space are a hearty and perseverant hydrangea and azalea that have toughed it out with me in various locations and various pots since the spring. I'm pulling for them more than I should and I've attached way too much sentimental value to these two survivors, but that's the kind of year it's been. I think sometimes we find hope in the most unlikely places, but when I saw that azalea putting out new blossoms last week I was reminded again that it really is about the little things.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Garden

As spring sprung this year, I seemed more in tune with the seasons than usual, watching every crocus bloom and paying particular attention to the daffodils and tulips. And I had a stronger urge than ever to put stuff in the ground. I was hoping this year would be the year I purchased a house with a yard and a garden and I proceeded accordingly. I subjected various innocent veggies to plantings in little pots on the patio at my tiny little guest house, affectionately called "The Mini." I planted in the hopes that every plant would have a more permanent home at some point later in the spring. I planted a pumpkin and cucumber in a ridiculously small pot--I was very optimistic!

The Boyfriend helped me build a "square-foot garden" (it was actually four square feet) where I planted tomatoes and peppers. Because I couldn't say no to a nine pack of peppers, I filled up other planter boxes with the rest of the jalapenos with the hopeful anticipation that spring seems to fill us with and fall seems to mock us for. As it turns out, even five or six jalapeno plants is a ridiculous idea for a household of two. But more about that later.

So all my plants were hanging in there on the patio of The Mini when we left for our mid-June vacation to Seattle, the Oregon Coast, and Portland. Sitting on the balcony of our hotel room in Cannon Beach and looking out over the ocean, I called my dad to check in. We were closing on a house on Monday. It was Wednesday. I hadn't started packing. Shoot, I hadn't even given my 30-day notice to the landlord. Yikes!

When we got home, the chaos ensued. Packing up two households, deciding what to do with The Boyfriend's townhouse, switching utilities, getting a fence, and all the other not-so-fun stuff that goes along with homeownership. However, this was my very first home and even without the promise of an $8,000 check from Uncle Sam, I was ridiculously excited. Especially for the yard. My poor little plants were finally going to have a home. They had held on into July (we moved in on July 4th) so I felt like I had to move fast.

I couldn't wait for my garden. The Boyfriend got to work quickly on our raised beds. Two beautiful two-by-eight-by-one foot beds. Then they sat in the garage while I tried to decide where to put them. Where I wanted them and where mother nature would shine her light on them were two very different places. But because mother nature wins every single time--a fact I'm time and time again reminded that society hasn't comprehended yet--I realized we were going to have to pull out the pine tree in our back yard. It wasn't such a bad decision to come to because we wanted to get rid of it anyway.

So one day after work, I went at it. I dug and dug, constantly thwarted by the rocky fill that is responsible for making our yard (almost) level. I had made some progress around the base when The Boyfriend came home and just yanked it out, Paul Bunyan style. I contend he couldn't have done so without my digging. He, not surprisingly, disagrees. In any case, let's say we worked together and the tree was out. We went to the store for burlap and twine in the hopes that someone would give our tree a new home. I'm no tree killer, after all. Sure enough someone came the next day and hauled it away to live happily ever after.

After the tree was gone, I set to digging out an area for the raised beds. In this endeavor, I was quite naive. How many times had I sat on a lawn as a child, idly picking away at the grass or watched my dogs scratch at the yard, proudly proclaiming their pooping success, as the grass flew in all directions. I thought this feeble, weak, and flimsy plant would be quite easy to remove. As it turns out, I was wrong. I suppose it was easy enough, but it was heavy. And the rocks continued to play antagonist in this story of me versus the yard. When I finally removed an area of sod big enough for the raised beds and a border around them, I was quite pleased with myself (and tired). I showed it to The Boyfriend; his response: "Now you're going to level it?" Um, yeah, of course! Ugh, more battles with the rocks. Finally it was level enough (which I think was the criteria for the yard as a whole!), and at last I got to bask in my victory. We set the beds in, filled them up with 14 two-cubic-yard bags of soil, and filled in around them with bark.

It has been so fun to watch the garden grow. It must be one of the simplest, most humbling, and gratifying activities a person can do. The back bed had a Sweet 100, a Big Boy (or something like that), a yellow pear (from an heirloom seed), and a Siletz (also heirloom seed) tomato. Overkill, yes, but lots of fun regardless. The back bed was also home to one red pepper, one green pepper from The Boyfriend's seeds, and four jalapenos (major overkill). The front bed had our pumpkin, another green pepper from seed, and a cucumber. My favorite has undoubtedly been the pumpkin, but more about that at a later date.

A garden, I'm told, is always a work in progress. Next year it will always be better. But I'm thrilled with our first attempt. Here is what the garden looked like the first week of September.

And that has been my first two months as a first-time yard owner!