Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Waiting Game and Quirky Mass Marketing

As I wait the allotted 10-14 days for the most adventurous of my eggplant seeds to sprout, I reflect on the fact that gardening is often an exercise in watering dirt.  Each day I go to my flat of dirt filled pots, inspect them carefully, and add water.  Tim asks if everything is alright with my plants?  What plants?  Everything is just fine with my dirt...  In the larger scheme of things, gardening is a lot more about dirt than it is about plants.  And dirt is a lot more about compost...

The pride of any successful garden is a good compost pile

The one thing that always consoles me when I have a gardening failure is that if I am not growing food, then at least I am growing future compost.

Our green waste is composted in a large black drain pipe prior to being integrated into the larger pile.

 Another thing that consoles me as a horse owner... if I am not riding, at least I'm maintaining a source of horse manure.  A well tended manure pile is an excellent source of mass quantities of compost.  No matter what farm animal it comes from, chicken, goat, horse, or cow, and no matter what sort of bedding is mixed in, the important part is that the farmer turns and tends the manure pile.  This breaks everything down evenly so that when it is ready to be loaded up for the garden, it is barely distinguishable from potting soil.

One aspect of gardening that Tim is always involved in is the fetching of compost.  We load it into a tarped trailer, haul it home and shovel it into a pile where we continue to turn and "fluff" it into "black gold".  This is the time when it is necessary to have some large equipment both at the loading end and the unloading end.

Once I get it home, I deal with it in smaller quantities, sifting the larger uncomposted parts out and adding them back into the pile.  If you truly think that you have nothing left to do in the garden on any given day, go out and get some well sifted compost to side dress your plants.

There are few things prettier than a bed of healthy plants wearing a fresh layer of compost.

But even being a no nonsense dirt farmer who buys her beans in bulk and takes great pride in her very large manure pile, I am always intrigued by the 21st Century mass marketing which makes gardening look so easy and colorful.  The goal of a good marketing plan is not merely to sell to a large portion of the existing market, you must also sucker in new buyers who have never gardened before.

Click here for the YouTube demonstration of Gro-ables Gardening.
This is like Lunchables or Pudding Snack Packs for gardening.  Who needs tractors or trowels?  Or cow poop? Just buy a kit at the store, stick it in your cart, and cart it home to your patio.

It almost appears as if no hard work or dirt are involved!

Everything comes with a bar code and instructions!
I have to admit it's a clever idea and rather appealing.  And actually, that might not be a bad way to start a single zucchini plant which will take over the garden and produce dozens of pounds of food.  But at the same time, that is the long way to go about planting a row of beans or peas.  Can you even imagine?

In another two weeks it will be Good Friday and I will be chomping at the bit to get my garden peas in the ground.  With any luck the snow will have melted by then.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Return of Spring - the Ides of March

It was a foggy, cold, dank March morning that smelled of Spring.  That is to say, it smelled of frog bellies, earth worms and skunk.  The Robins have made their first appearance, mingling with larger flocks of Starlings and riling up the Cardinals to defend their territories and scarce food supply.  They appeared as flashes of brilliant color against the shabbiness of the wet brush.  Tim and I (and many other locals) had gotten out of bed early to nurse our Spring Fever at the local junque auction.  We have been looking for a potato fork to replace the one I broke off under a frozen clump of horseradish last December.  But as with most things, you see them everywhere until you need one and then they are as scarce as hen's teeth.

Tim and I wandered the tables of the auction house, surveying the loads of junk.  We love auctions like this, and if you ask me "are you a junk buyer?" I guess I would have to say "yes, I am" because the tables of junk hold a lot of things that look just like the selection at home.  We often wonder how many times these items make the auction circuit.  They are left behind in old houses, the flotsam and jetsam of past lives.  If you are a Hobbit fan, you will know that the term for this is Mathom :anything which they had no use for but were unwilling to throw away. 

My Empeco kitchen tin collection is based on the Sugar Coffee and Tea tins on the right which belonged to my great grandmother.  The flour tin had been lost and is replaced by one with a slightly different patina.   I use the bread and cake tin on my counter to hide bags of chips and boxes of crackers, but the child's toy version in the center is the real prize.

 Or this junk just belongs there, on that shelf where its been for fifty years.  Why disturb it now?  Then someone gets tired of moving them one too many times and off they go to the sale only to be bought up by someone else and put back on a shelf.  I idly wonder about the people who buy thread bare Persian rugs and vintage Red Cross uniforms and then realize they probably buy those for the same reason I buy old tins and enamelware - just to have.   As I walk through our home, I look at pieces such as the ladies spittoon and the old crock and realize that we have them simply because they were here when we got here, many with their origins or importance lost to time.

But today I spy something I've actually been looking for.  Not a potato fork, something much less useful.  Something just to have,  A 1930s advertising tin that used to contain Campfire Marshmallows.  Yes, I was actually searching for a eighty year old marshmallow tin.  Specifically.  Because that's the kind of gal I am.  Our home is full of things from a different era.  Our porch contains every item needed to wash, dry and iron a day's worth of laundry the old fashioned way, but as yet I've managed to resist the urge to try.  Our dining room hales from the turn of the last century.  I've overheard our nephews, twenty-something professionals, talking amongst themselves saying that our house looks like something out of a magazine, and I hope they mean something good like Country Living or Flea Market Decor and not something like Hoarders and Junkmen.

Besides the large items, I also have a full collection of washboards, rug beaters, line winders and pulleys, irons, sprinklers and other various and sundry laundry paraphernalia.

So anyway, I had been looking for a Campfire Marshmallows tin to use as a base for a Christmas centerpiece (next year) and there it was holding a selection of baseball bats from rolling off a table.  I already collect tin containers, but usually they are green flour and sugar tins made specifically by Empeco Metal Packaging Corp.   When I saw a Christmas arrangement on Pinterest with a Campfire Marshmallow tin as a base I thought "now that is right up my alley".  But of course, I couldn't use one of my existing tins.  No, the true charm of this arrangement is the winteriness of the marshmallows, and the little marshmallow snowman faces in the arrangement.  The fun of this arrangement is that it gives me a reason to add a piece to my 1920s/30s tin collection!  The search was on!

There are always five pound Campfire Marshmallow tins available on Ebay in a variety of ages and conditions at a variety of prices,  I was shopping for tins in the $20-30 range and expected to pay $10-15 shipping on top of that.  With that in mind, I would bid up to $25 and with the 20% buyer's premium and sales tax I would be paying full Ebay retail but have the tin in hand.  We waited a couple of hours.  Tim bought a couple of items.  We watched weighed silver sell beside tin toys and old tools.  It was a good place to pass the morning while the fog and drizzle outside masked the progression of the sun.  It seemed that their random picking from this table and that to keep every one's interest would go on forever, but finally, the auctioneer picked up my marshmallow tin.  

There are a lot of buyers there that pick for their shops and antique mall booths.  The other half seem to be older retired men who stop by for some coffee and gossip, but bidding on the tin was brisk.  I started at $5, and three others jumped in by the end, but in a short minute it was mine for $25 on the dot.  Seems that everyone else had been doing their homework as well.

So back to gardening.  You can only buy so much junk before you have to go home and get back to the business of growing food.  Last year I put my eggplants in damp paper towels on March 22nd.  This was because I was working with old seed.  This year I have fresh seed and I am looking forward to some beautiful eggplants this season.  This past week, on a warm sunny day (yes there actually was one), I got some potting soil out of the bin in the cold frame and put it in my potting bench so I could fill my pots in the comparative comfort of the garden shed this year instead of like last year, bent over the cold frame in a March snowstorm.
Johnny's Seeds Eggplant Clara
Today I happily filled pots, standing upright, under lights, in the "potting shed".  I left about a third of the pot empty, and put a layer of seed starting mix, a light weight, sterile medium, on the top to hold the new seeds.  Then I wet them down with a watering can and brought it into the house.

This year I'm simplifying things by using the Italian Trio of eggplants from Renee's Garden.  The clever thing about buying a mix from Renee is that she makes sure the seeds are color coded.  If you want two plants of each, you make sure you plant two of each color.  Simple as that.

Renee's Seed Italian Eggplant Trio
My eggplants are now started, on a heat mat and under grow lights in the basement.  This takes up half of one flat.  April 1st I will fill out that flat with bell peppers.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Is It March Yet?

Yesterday the temperatures were in the mid-twenties and the sun was out.  Dressed for sitting in my office, in layers and wool, I had to roll down my car window as I drove around mid-day doing errands.  I saw a person wearing short sleeves.  Out of doors.  I didn't button my coat.  Having survived the coldest February on record, we are emerging from the depths of winter with our eye on spring and as the temperatures climb out of the single digits, we are shedding our layers.

Since I first owned a car with a thermometer, in the winter of 2002/2003, my lowest noted temperature has been -16.  Considering that I am generally out driving around every day of the week before 9am, that is a pretty thoroughly researched benchmark. Our hill, sheltered as it is by woods, is usually on the warmer end of the spectrum, but on my drive to work in the mornings, as I descend down the back side towards the lowland the coldest air would sink and I would watch the thermometer drop from -12*F, then -16....  I would sit at the first stoplight next to the large neighborhood produce stand, which is bustling all summer, and watch the thermometer hit -23.  A few miles later past my friend Mickey's little commercial greenhouse I would get the lowest reading.  Three days it was below -25 with my seasonal record being -30.

Last week Fed Ex delivered some expanding pea fence I had ordered from  Rather than leave the large boxes on the porch, or cheat and store them in the garage, I slung 40+ pounds up on one shoulder and headed across the lawn to the garden shed.  We've have foot after foot of snow that has not melted.  Tim has shoveled our roof twice.  The snow in the lawn is way over my knees and the bottom layers are so dense that they trap your foot, render your natural balance mechanisms ineffective, and threaten to throw you down.  I trudged fifty or so feet through this impossible, impassable terrain to the garden deck, misjudged the edge, and floundered until I was waist deep and sinking.  I threw the boxes in the general direction of the door and finished the last ten feet on all fours, wading towards the surface.

When the new boxes were stowed in the shed I considered staying to shovel off the cold frame again so it is not crushed under the weight of the snow, but there was nowhere to shovel too.  The last time I shoveled two feet of snow off it I brought the surrounding snow levels up over the cold frame level.  I would literally be digging down to the lid.  I left it for another day.

That lump you might think is the cold frame is not the cold frame.  It is a Rubbermaid deck box full of chair cushions.  The cold frame is that slope in front of the lump.  The snow is deeper than and completely covers our garden bench.

Last year I started my Egg Plant seeds on March 22.  When I planted them on Memorial Day, the most vigorous were still only about 4" to 6".  I think this year I will start them on the Ides of March.  Peppers on April Fools Day.  Tomatoes a couple of weeks later.  I have sorted through my seeds, old and new and made a list of varieties I am going to plant this year.  A pictorial version can be found on Pinterest.