Monday, April 17, 2017

Why I Garden

Here in the spring time, when it is time to fire up my garden again, and there is a lot of planning to do, I find myself falling into the habit of thinking about my garden as I fall asleep and again first thing when I wake up.

This led to a recent early morning thought of "Why do I have a garden?"

Asparagus this year.
There are many documented health benefits to gardening. It gets you out in the fresh air and sunshine and gets you moving around. I believe I saw an article that said people who garden tend to be more physically fit than people who don't.
Fresh air and exercise!
Of course, going for a walk would also get you out in the fresh air and sunshine and won't chip your nail polish, but you don't usually get tomatoes at the end of a walk.

There is probably evidence out there that shows gardening gives you an opportunity to be "mindful" and "in the moment", which is good for our mental health.

I am fortunate to live in a time and place where fresh fruit and produce is available all year. I can also afford to buy it at the store. So I don't need to garden to put food on my table.

That all leaves me with the idea that I garden for the fun of it. I have a hobby garden! If the goal was to save money on my grocery bill I would need a much bigger garden plot than what I currently have. Don't get me wrong, the fresh vegetables are definitely also a reason I garden.

Part of last year's harvest.
Nothing beats a fresh tomato, straight from the vine, that you grew yourself. It tastes so much better!

I like the satisfaction of seeing the results of my hard work. I can till the soil, or plant some seeds, then stand back and admire what I accomplished. It seems that there are many activities we engage in these days that don't show results for our efforts.

Watching TV for example. Or cleaning the kitchen. What is the point of cleaning the kitchen? It is just going to get messed up again the next time someone eats something!
A beautiful strawberry I grew last year.
Seeing the result of my time spent is also a reason I like to knit and crochet. There is tangible evidence of the time I spent on the task.

There is also, probably, a hint of nostalgia for me. My mom always had a small garden when I was growing up. Nothing as elaborate as I'm doing now. We'd just grow some tomatoes and cucumbers. I remember one year I tried to grow cantaloup, but it was too close to the driveway and one of the melons got run over!

Maybe it is more habit than nostalgia.

I can tell you it is something important enough to me that I miss it when I don't have a garden. We had a six year stretch when we were in rental properties so I couldn't have a garden. I tried container gardening, which got me tomatoes at least, but also made me want more room.

I was excited about having a garden when we bought our new house and put one in right away.

Of course then there were my failed gardens in Connecticut. One year Samson ate all my tomatoes (Baru probably helped). The next year I kept chasing him away from the plants so he retaliated by peeing on them. After that I stopped trying. (With the new garden I put up a fence as much to protect it from Samson as from the rabbits.)
Garden gnomes last year.
I'm looking forward to enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and fruits & veggies of my labor again this year.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

In Memoriam: Samson and Baru

This is going to be a sad post to write. It will probably be a sad post to read. I'm heartbroken to report that Samson and Baru have both passed away.
Samson (back) and Baru (front), May 2013
Baru died on February 25, 2016 after a prolonged illness. Samson died unexpectedly on January 21, 2017. It was devastating to lose them within a year of each other.

Baru (left) and Samson (right), December 2014
I thought about writing a memorial post for Baru after he died, but I couldn't face it. The idea also seemed weird since I hadn't been keeping up the blog regularly.

Now that they are both gone, and I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging on a regular basis, it seemed best to talk about them dying sooner rather than later.
Samson (front) and Baru (back), April 2015
After all, one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place was to talk about their antics!

Baru had developed edema in his front, left leg several years ago. We didn't know what caused it and it never seemed to bother him. Then in September 2015 he got an infection in that leg.
Baru, August 2012
Despite taking him to two specialists for diagnostic exams and a boat load of medicine, the vets were never able to figure out what was causing it or to cure it. They were, however, able to tell us what strains of bacteria were causing the infection. Not that it did us any good.

My sweet Baru fought valiantly, but in the end we realized we had to let him go.

Baru, January 2016

He was 10 1/2 years old. It was heartbreaking, but I think on some level we must have been expecting it. He'd been sick for months and I think we were in denial to a degree about his decline.

Still, at least we still had Samson, which helped with the grieving process. All those things we did as dog owners—taking him out morning, noon, and night, having stuffed toys and tennis balls all over the house—they all still made sense because even though Baru was gone we still had Samson.

Samson and his teddy, August 2016
We developed new routines. Baru had always been the mama's boy right next to me, but now Samson stayed close. Samson got all the treats and attention.

Then one day we woke up and there was obviously something wrong with Samson. I rushed him to the vet. They kept him overnight for observation. The next day they told me to take him to the specialist one hour and 45 minutes away. There they did an ultrasound. The diagnosis was infarctions on his spleen and it would have to be removed.

I left with hope that we'd do an expensive operation and then return to normal. Instead they called at 4 am and said to come say good-bye as soon as I could.
Samson, September 2016
Samson was 12 1/2 years old. He was so full of life and spunk a few days before, and there I was saying good-bye.

It was even worse than loosing Baru. With Baru at least it wasn't unexpected because he'd been sick. Samson was snatched away in his prime. And now the house is empty and quiet.

It's been almost three months now since Samson died. What had been waves of grief and constant sadness has changed to spikes of grief when something reminds me of them. Coming home to an empty house, without them here to greet us, is especially hard.

Once again new routines have to be developed. That hasn't been as easy this time. It is hard to do alone.

And all the firsts suck, too. The weather is getting nice and Samson loved being outside. All these sunny days I've been eating lunch outside thinking how Samson would have enjoyed it.

Samson in my garden plot, April 2016

Even working in my garden has been a little difficult because I remember Samson being with me when I established it last year.

All we can do is carry on and remember the good times. It is almost three months of life-after-puppies. We're starting to be able to tell stories about them again without bursting into tears every time, but it hasn't been easy.

If you have a dog or cat, go hug it. Stop what you are doing and pay attention when they ask for affection. As the old saying goes, "You only regret what you didn't do." Our time with them is short. Treasure it.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Garden Seedlings

I do not have an elaborate set up for starting my seedlings. But, as it turns out, my definition of "elaborate" might be nothing more impressive than a grow-light.

I do not have a grow-light for starting my seedlings. Sometimes I think it might be nice to have a grow-light, but I'm not even sure where I would set it up.

Instead I make do with a sunny window.

Although I did get one of those Jiffy brand seed starting trays with the little pellets. Watching the pellets expand when you add water is fun.

My seedlings are doing well this year. I've only killed one so far! My gardening notes from last year include the observation that I "killed more seedlings than I care to admit." Still, my garden last year survived and thrived, despite me.

This year I bought some of those Burpee brand bio-degradable, cardboard pots for transplanting my seedlings as they grow. I'm trying to be diligent about stepping up their pot size so they can grow strong and steady.

I told myself I wasn't going to plant too many tomato plants this year. Last year I ended up with five or six tomato plants and it resulted in a glut of tomatoes at harvest time. I gave away at least two batches of tomatoes because I couldn't keep up.

Last year's tomatoes included ones I had started myself that I didn't think would survive and three strong seedlings my hairdresser gave me. Boy howdy, she has a green thumb. Her seedlings were at least as lovely as ones you would buy at the store. She said she sets them up on her dining room table and is transplants them on a regular basis.

I'm not planning to take any of her leftover seedlings this year as I want to keep things reasonable. However, despite this goal, if I'm interpreting the leaves correctly I seem to have four or five tomatoes going.


There is one plant I'm dithering about.

I started this big tomato seedling a few months ago. The original idea was to have a potted tomato to extend my fresh tomato growing time. However, I didn't start it early enough in the winter and we've bumped into normal growing time.

At this point I'm thinking maybe I'll go ahead and plant it in the garden in the yard and use one of the other seedlings for a potted plant. Or maybe I should start one in the summer so it is fruiting in the fall when my yard garden has died off.

One of these years I'll figure out this staggered growing times business!

This plastic, wheeled draw unit completes my seed-starting set up. My mom bought this for some reason when we first moved into the house. I had shoved it into the closet in the spare room since I didn't have a use for it.

Now I'm using it to support the tray my seedlings are on. As you can see, the windows come down rather low so the drawer until lifts the tray up into the sunlight. The seedlings on the top seem quite happy.

Starting seeds in the drawers doesn't seem to be working out very well. Perhaps they aren't getting enough sun. I thought being in the drawer would keep them warm. Many didn't seem to germinate and the ones that did are scrawny. I'm trying to get them out of the drawer, but there isn't any more room up top!

Without more room for my seed-starting efforts, I should probably direct sow my flower seeds.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Garden Grid

It is time to fire up my vegetable garden again!

Since I am in zone 6 my frost-free date isn't until early May, but the weather has been so mild I decided to risk starting early.

The first step, which wouldn't care if there was another frost was to till and prep the soil.

One concern I had was how to create a grid to lay over my garden in order to keep track of what was planted where. I wanted something durable that would be able to survive the weather and being watered. But I also wanted it to light-weight and semi-permanent so I could easily move it if I needed to.

I was considering a number of elaborate ideas, but knew I should frame it out first to make it easier to take measurements.

To that end, I untangled the acrylic yarn and wood skewers I used last year and put them to work again.

This set up came to a bad end last year. While attempting to weed-wack around my garden I hit one of the skewers, which broke the skewer and resulted in yarn getting tangled up IN and around the weed-wacker head.


Luckily I was able to work the yarn out of the head and the machine is running normally again.

After getting my temporary guide grid in place I dragged hubby out to my garden to bounce ideas off of him.

His reactions included, "What is wrong with what you have already?" and "What are other people using?" Both were good points.

Now there shouldn't be another weed-wacker incident because I have the stone border in place now. An issue I had with the yarn last years was the first time it rained the yarn sagged and was no longer accurate. I suppose I could always tighten it up if it sags.

I did an internet search for "square foot garden grids" and in many of the forum posts I read people were saying they were using yarn or twine! I'm already using the method a lot of other people find effective.

That was a relief! I saved a lot of time and money. My current grid is essentially free because I used items I already have around the house. Time was saved because I don't have to worry about building anything.

With the grid situation resolved I was free to plant my cold weather veggies —spinach, radishes, beets, onion, and carrots.

I was also happy to see the strawberries and asparagus I planted last year seem to be coming back strong.