Posts Tagged ‘garden’

Some things that I’ve been thinking:

I saw Iron Man 2 the other night with Lord Mycol.  I liked it better than the first Iron ManScarlett Johansson playing a bad-ass brunette reminded me of my friend Christine.  After the movie Lord Mycol mentioned that they will make an Avengers movie and that there is a rumor that Brad Pitt will play Captain America.  I said, “Oooh!  Brad Pitt can be MY Captain America. . . . He can colonize me!”

The day before yesterday Lord Mycol and I sat in the recently re-arranged living room and had a nice conversation for about an hour.  I like the living room better this way.  The sunlight and shadows combined with Lord Mycol in a white t-shirt against the backdrop of the spider plant and the matchstick blinds reminded me of Martin Sheen in the opening of Apocalypse Now.

Do you see it?  How about that koala bear?

Last Tuesday Yim and I spent all day working on the farm.  I transplanted our tomatoes and peppers from their indoor nursery into the garden.

Oh, the disappointment!  All but a few of our fledgling tomatoes submitted to death.  Of the 36 tomatoes only about 6 of them survived.  The peppers fared much better; nearly all of them made it.

Overall, the garden is doing well.  My favorite part about it is witnessing its amazing growth and progress from day to day.

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Grandfather of Fedoras

On this day four years ago, my grandfather passed away.  I think about him and my grandmother all the time.  Often when I am cooking I think about her and every time I garden with Yim I think about my grandfather.  There is so much to say about this man in remembrance and celebration of his life.  My intent was to write something long and moving about him on his birthday.  But I let it pass without a word and now on this day I feel more somber than celebratory.  Here is an old picture of him that could have been taken on any day of his life because he is prepared to work the earth, shovel in hand. 

By the way, this picture reminds me of a phenomenon I discussed with friends recently.  In our fair city there is a high number of old-growth trees beautifying many of the neighborhoods.  By old-growth I mean the towering, thick-trunked oaks, sycamores, and elms.  But in Little Italy there are almost no old-growth trees.  The Italian immigrant population of Little Italy rid their yards of trees that only produced shade and leaf-drop in favor of fruit and nut producing trees, which generally remain small.  My grandfather’s trees produced peaches, plums, figs and chestnuts.

Five years before he died he suffered ill health to the degree that I thought I was losing him.  It was not his time, yet, but I wrote this poem in the midst of his struggle.

I’ve Known You Since You Were Small

But we met when you were fifty-five.

You still look like Clark Gable

all these years later,

and you’re still just as dapper.

After eighty-seven years

your hair and moustache remain blacker

than this December night.

But black has two shades.

There is a black pain rising

into my throat from the deep

part of my heart tonight.

On your return from the hospital

I am finally afraid.  I think

about the shadow that will fall

across your chair when it is empty.

Will it remind me of your hair?

My sorrow?

Or both?

Grandfather of the garden.

Grandfather of wine.

Grandfather of fedoras, maps,

discipline, newspapers.

Engineer, inventor, politician,

Grandfather of the cellar.

Grandfather, we are a hard people,

but I promise that tomorrow

when no one is looking

I am going to hold your hand.

Your boyhood exists in full color for me,

though the pictures are black and white.

I fear the time it takes for your stories to fade

from my memory will not be long enough.

It seems that everyday you were breaking rocks free from the soil

you meant to farm.  Every winter you beat your brother

downhill on wooden skis.  In the war you marched everyday for three years.

I bought a ticket for the seat across from you,

but I will still be paying for the days I did not use,

once you get off this train.

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As I mentioned, Tuesday was the absolute high to my low.  Yim and I are so excited about our garden and we accomplished a load of work on the land on Tuesday.  We arrived at ‘the farm’ around 10 am and got to work.  It is incredibly invigorating to feel the sweat on your brow as you labor with the land.  Yim cleaned the gutters, mowed the lawn, cut back the forsythia, mulched and put chicken wire up around the garden to prohibit bunny rabbits.  I cleared a second planting area of approximately 3 1/2 x 15 feet, pruned the rose bush, and hauled 4 wheel barrow loads full of kindling, compost, and burnable stuff around back of the property.  We are making good progress.  Every crop we’ve sown so far has sprouted.

Our onions:

Our shallots:

Our Swiss chard:

Our lettuce:

Look how big our radishes have gotten; they should be ready to harvest in 1 to 2 weeks:

As we worked in the garden, a Red-bellied woodpecker had lunch in a neighboring tree.

When I get a new telephoto lens for my camera I’ll be able to get shots like this one in real clarity.

We bought an old olive barrel from DeLallo’s to use as a rain-catcher.  Yimmy is going to outfit it with a spigot.

The garden is in stage one of protection against predators:

We still have to stake down the wire so that rabbits can’t get in underneath of it.  Then we will drape netting over the top to protect the sprouts from birds and squirrels.

The day was beautiful and had both of our minds reeling around future projects; painting, landscaping, etc.

As I cleared the new planting area, the smell of wild mint and purple lilacs in full bloom filled the air.

Towards evening we stowed the gardening tools and got some small scale jobs out of the way.  We had tomato seeds to sow in indoor peat moss cells,

and a friend asked me to sow some extra hot pepper seeds for her.  She gave me these:

I was extra careful to wash my hands thoroughly after handling these.  Even so, I managed to get some of their oils on my upper lip and felt the deep burn of their heat.

I got some help getting them planted:

And now all of our indoor seeds are set:

By July we should be regularly enjoying the fruits of all our labor and the hard work we put in will bring us happiness all over again.

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Yim and I are proud to introduce our first sown indoor seedlings, our multiples, our babies:

We call them “broccoli”.  And when they are old enough, we will eat them.  What?  Something wrong with eating your young?

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You Look Radishing

Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac suggested that April 6th would be one of April’s best days for planting root crops.  I have gleaned a lot of advice from this Almanac, but I find it sometime conflicts with advice offered to me from Zia & UB, real-life seasoned and trusted gardeners.  In particular, Zia says she just can’t stand someone who does everything by the book.  For instance, I have been chomping at the bit to get my peppers started indoors; the Almanac recommended I get them started in March, as they take 6 to 8 weeks to be strong enough to transplant outdoors.  However, when it comes to peppers, a seriously hot-weather crop, Zia says she prefers to simply buy the plant, while my gardening friend Alyssa insists that March is just way too early to start indoor seeds, as the climate here is slow to warm to a pepper’s preferred temperature.  As for the peppers, I finally started the indoor seeds yesterday.  Along with a succession crop of lettuces, plus indoor starter pots of chives, rosemary, basil and broccoli seeds.

Getting back to April 6th and root crops, I did follow the Almanac’s guideline on this one, albeit serendipitously.  As I mentioned before, Yim and I garden on Tuesdays.  Last Tuesday was April 6th and I was glad to see the date marked as one of the best for sowing root crops.  I roused myself out of bed early in the morning, brewed a pot of coffee and hit the long road to Yim‘s.  You see, I govern the town Estate, while Yim governs the country estate.  Our plan coincided with the Almanac’s; we would sow our first seeds that day.  But before we sowed, we had to fertilize.  Our soil needed just a little boost.  We incorporated 8 bags of black, rich soil into our garden plot. 

We folded this in, over and over again, until it was evenly mixed.  When we broke for brunch – dippy eggs and toast with orange juice – I went through our bag of seeds and researched which ones should go in first.  Then, I mapped out in my mind where each crop should be planted, according to the varying conditions within our small plot.

All along the fence line I planted our peas.  We have 2 types of peas; sugar snaps and sweet peas.

In front of the peas, I planted garlic, shallots, and onions.  My grandparents always grew garlic and now Zia grows it.  There is enough garlic at harvest time to last the entire family a year.  I love making garlic braids to hang in the kitchen.  Whenever you need a clove, you just break it off.  I use more garlic and onions in my cooking than anything else, as they go into nearly every dish I make.  I would like to have a garden this size solely meant for those two crops.  I estimate I use at least 120 pounds of onions a year.  I would like to grow my own and store the bulbs in a cold cellar.

Another note on the garlic.  As a cold-weather crop, garlic can either be planted in the early spring for a fall harvest, or in the fall for a late spring harvest.  My family has traditionally planted in the fall.  Zia and Tata both agreed that garlic planted in early spring yields a smaller, less desirable harvest.  Our summers must just be too  hot for the cloves to mature nicely underground.  Nevertheless, I wanted to try to grow some for the first time and there is no doubt that I don’t have the patience to wait until fall to put my first garlic in the ground.  Not to worry, though.  When Zia gets her harvest this June I will be there to clean and braid, thereby earning another year’s worth of garlic for myself.  And nearly just in time.

We also planted Swiss chard, both red and white.  I cannot wait to have Swiss chard all summer long.  This is a hardy crop that withstands overcrowding as well as poor soil conditions.  I planted it in the rockiest part of the garden.  Also, Swiss chard can be planted once and provide an abundance for the table the rest of the season.  I will mostly eat this favorite vegetable sauteed with olive oil and garlic and salt.

To the left of the chard we planted a row of cabbage, a square plot of beets, and two rows of radishes.  We marked off the crops with sticks, put stones where we can walk, and drew a map of what is where in case we forget and end up eating cabbage when we think we are eating peas.

In front of the chard we put in four types of lettuce: romaine, butterhead, looseleaf, and bibb.  To the left of our lettuces, we planted radishes.  We are going to have the best salads this year.  If you read yesterday’s post you’ll know that this Tuesday I was unable to make it out to the garden.  Ever since we put the seeds in last week I’ve been jokingly asking Yim whether or not anything had grown yet.  “Did you see any cabbages yet?”  “Did we grow any peas today?”  Of course I didn’t expect to see anything for another week yet, so when Yimmy called me to share the good news I was shocked and thrilled at the same time.  Like parents of a newborn, we are kind of gushing over our baby.  Yim took a picture of our first lettuce sprout:


Just a wee thing, it is.  But we can really boast over our radishes:


They look radishing!

God Almighty first planned a garden; and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures.Francis Bacon

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Remember the garden that Yim and I planned?  Well, we got it started, and Yimmy called me tonight with the most incredible news: WE HAVE SPROUTS!!  I can’t believe my own excitement, but it’s true; I am so happy over our little radish and lettuce sprouts already.  As Tuesdays are our gardening days, I would have been out on the land with him today, but alas, Lord Mycol and I both had dentist appointments.  What good is good food if you don’t have good teeth to chew it with, right?  Also, the day was mostly drizzly, and with the early crops in, there isn’t much to do until the weather turns.  What I do want to get done before week’s end is sow a second crop of lettuces in planting boxes at the Estate.  If I time succession sowing properly, we could have fresh salads every week for a good bit of the summer.  Secondly, I want to get out to Yim’s and put a protective net over our plot so the varmints don’t bite our little shoots off at the quick.

Last month all we had of a garden was a bag of seeds.

And a plot of land.

Then, on March 30th we finally broke ground.

Digging up the sod was harder than I expected.  Yim vocalized what was going through my head when he asked, “How many times do you think we’ll ever have to start a garden from scratch again?”  I said, “At least once more.”

We filled the wheel barrow with the clumps of sod and Yimmy hauled them to the corner of the yard where we are creating a compost pile.

He said that by the end of the day he estimates we moved about a ton of dirt and grass.

I use the term “we” loosely, since Yimmy is way stronger than me and able to work at least twice as fast.  Note the size of the plot he has cleared compared to the smaller one on the right, which is the area I was working. Eventually, we got it done.

By the end of the day we thought we’d be exhausted and sore.  On the contrary, we were exhilirated and our muscles were warm and loose instead of tight and tense.  Our garden plot measures about 10 x 15 and it is too small!  We want more, more, more.  The problems we’ve run into are rocks and shade.  Little did we realize that less than 6 inches below the surface in some areas there is a shelf of sandstone or shale.  It is easy enough to shatter with the pick-axe, but then you are left with 2 inch pieces of rock by the dozens throughout the soil and just when you think you could rally the patience to sort it all out by hand, you realize there is another shelf of stone another inch further down.  The shade problem is something we are anticipating.  See the shadows from the tree?  Well, the tree has no leaves as of yet, and so the garden plot gets plenty of sun.  Come summer, that tree will be full of foliage and maybe our little vegetable garden will be strained for sunlight.

The solutions are simple.  We did the best we could to rid the soil of stone to a deep enough level for our roots.  We are planning carefully which crops will go where, depending on the nature of the ground.  We called someone to come see about trimming or removing the tree before it starts to shade our crops.  And for expansion, we are going to build an above ground box-garden on the other side of the yard.  Since hot weather crops won’t go into the ground for a bit, we’ve still got time.

Believe it or not, our small garden area boasts the shallow, rocky spot, a rich, loose, digable area, and the far end is very clay-ey with tendrils of the tree’s root system reaching over for more moisture.  Spending the day in the dirt, digging with my spade, pointed my mind to thoughts of my grandfather.  When I felt frustrated over the difficulties of ripping into the grass’ root system and the rocks, I thought of Tata and everyone in Roccacinquemiglia or anywhere else, for that matter, who had no choice but to try to work the land they were given, despite the conditions, because it made the difference in whether they would feed themselves and their families or not.  The soil in R5M is filled with large, heavy rocks that had to be dug out and removed.  I have always admired my grandparents for their lives, their lifestyles, and what they’d endured.  Working for merely one day in the garden I share with Yim, because I wanted to, not because I had to, was enough to remind me of the virtues of a slow and peaceful life, without the stress of do or die, that makes a frugal farmer a wise man and a role model.  To be outdoors with the birdsongs floating in my ear, the breeze in my hair, the sun on my back and the sweat on my brow, working side by side with a man who wants this just as much as I do; that is joy.  We hardly speak while we work and I suspect it is because we are both consumed with thoughts and memories of everything that is good now, was good then, and was good before we ever were.  I watched a terrible Italian game show with my grandfather once.  Beautiful, full-breasted women paraded onto the stage in bathrobes and one by one they dropped their robes to the floor.  The camera lingered on their nude bodies before they climbed aboard massage tables to get rubbed down by female massage therapists in white clinical jackets.  My grandfather said that people who worked from sun-up to sun-down in a field never needed a massage; only people who sat at desk jobs all day needed massages.  And that is how his mind worked.  He focused on the truly shocking.

To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life — this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do. — Warner

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