Saturday, December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings

Ah, I can hear you now.  The War on Christmas!  Target in sight; good hunting.

Actually, I don't say "Season's Greetings" to anyone, because it sounds odd.  It's something that gets written on cards full of greenery and cardinals which are sent to people you aren't sure celebrate Christmas.  (If you are sure they don't, you send them Hanukkah cards at the wrong time of the month if they're Jewish, or cards with "Peace" and a dove if they are anything else, hoping it will not be taken the wrong way if they happen to be Muslim.  If you send cards at all.  Keep meaning to get back to doing that one of these years.  Aside from the few Landreth Seed Co. vegetable notecards I stuck into packages, trying to choose the ones with the most red and green - watermelons for Christmas, yay!)

But yeah, no one says "Season's Greetings"; they say "Happy Holidays," which is a PC way of declaring that you want your target recipient to be happy and celebrate something, in fact multiple somethings, because of that final s.  I suppose nearly everyone celebrates New Year's Eve and/or Day, unless they have to work on both of them, and then if we can add in one more, somehow, it makes holidays plural.  It works out fairly well in years like this one when Hanukkah overlaps Christmas; I always wince a bit hearing it in the third week of December when Hanukkah was over a week before and no one else has any holidays happening to speak of.  There will always be one along eventually, I guess; it's like wishing someone a good bus ride when they are waiting at the stop.  "Have a good holiday" is even safer.  (Yes, thank you; I plan to enjoy the Fourth of July this year.)

And I am all for being safe, as well as courteous, and don't tell people they must have a Merry Christmas unless I'm sure they intend to.  I kind of wish I could say "Season's Greetings," though (well, I could.  It seems to go with a curtsey and an honorific and possibly a petticoat, and all that could be arranged).  Because there is a reason that whatever holiday we celebrate this time of year has something to do with lights in the darkness, and that those with a long tradition in the north include evergreens and root vegetables, and that is because they are seasonal holidays, and seasons are important, and I don't think enough people (of those lucky enough to live in a place where there are distinct seasons) are really aware of them in this same-food-year-round climate-controlled(-except-not-really) age.

We ought to wish each other "Season's Greetings" all year, while shivering and cutting holly branches in the winter, while raking leaves (for the compost) in the fall, while sweltering and harvesting tomatoes in the summer, and while watching the green leaves emerge in the spring.  We should acknowledge the joys of each separate time of the year, and the seasonal depressions that can haunt people not just in the winter, and the fact that our outdoor environment changes, and our indoor environment too, if we bring flowers inside in the spring, and fresh produce in the summer, and long-storage produce in the fall, and evergreen trees in the winter.  I get rather overwhelmed in December by gift-giving, excessive food, endless carols, people saying "Happy Holidays," and the dilemma of religion, and when I crawl off in a corner to read a book it's generally not a gardening book (please, I need a break), but I always love the Christmas tree and the lights.  And the sweet potatoes.

So, Merry Christmas if you want one, and Season's Greetings to all, and to all a good if short day (unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere), and lights in the darkness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thou churlish ill-natured fig-biter*

*Shakespearean-style insult rather than actual Shakespeare.  I can't always find a quote.

But first, because it is a more cheerful post icon, forsythia.  Sorry I missed this for GBBD.  I would be all "In December!" except it's not that unusual; forsythia seems to respond to a hint of spring-like weather, and it's been warmer again (no white Christmas this year).  No harm to the shrub, which will bloom with its usual messy exuberance in March or April.

And so, the fig.  Warning, this photo is not quite what it appears: all that pale shavings stuff on the ground did not come off of the trunk, but out of a box or bag of something I ordered through the mail; it cried out to be used as mulch.  I would have moved it out of the way for the photo, except I couldn't, explanation below.

Anyway.  This is my wee Celeste fig tree, planted a year ago September some little time after I bought it from the parking lot of Whole Foods.  It got through last winter just fine, with nothing but a low fence around to keep humans from stepping on it, and did brilliantly over the growing season.

Then the perversity of animals started working against me.  Deer are not supposed to like figs, but nonetheless this fall I found the top leaves bitten off (the whole tree is only just over two feet tall as yet, but the snacking was definitely from above, so only deer make sense).  I doubted they'd be back, especially once the leaves fell off, but built a fence around it anyway, tall enough to discourage neck-stretching from above, but not reaching to the ground.  Then, a week or so ago, I saw this new damage - bark removed all along several branches.  I think this is rabbits or someone else small, because it doesn't look like antler-rubbing, it looks like chewing, and the angle and access are wrong for deer this time, never mind they'd just snap the branches off.

So, I've added to the fence so it reaches the ground now (hence my inability to brush the shavings away for a better photo), and I don't expect more damage (fingers crossed).  But what's there is bad enough.  None of the branches is girdled, so I can hope they will survive.  I'm not sure whether to stuff leaves into the fence to insulate the tree from cold, as I did with my pomegranate and was meaning to do here (though the fig got through last winter without that help), or whether that would encourage disease, pests etc.  I'm kind of inclined to leave the damaged stems to "harden off" for now (it's not that cold out anyway) and then either put in the leaves or wrap something around the fence later.  Thoughts?

The rabbits and groundhogs (or woodchucks, if you are from a woodchuck-denoting region) are with us always, but the deer are visitors here.  We used to hardly ever see them (no woods to speak of nearby, and two multi-lane roads defining the borders of our vague neighborhood) but in the last decade we've caught them visiting more frequently (more development around probably makes our relatively-rural yards a haven or at least a comfortable passageway).  Some areas they never seem to wander through (you should see my lush hostas on the northeast side of the house), and others are obviously regular pathways, although even there I can grow hostas and daylilies and the like and not fear that they will always be chewed to nubbins; in fact we've gone whole seasons without much damage to deer-favored plants.  Tulips are out in those areas, though; spring is hungry time.  And you'll note I did plant daylilies on the Way Back slope; I may be wrong, but I just don't see the deer standing there on the slippery mulch right by the neighbors' blacktop chowing down, at least not on a regular basis.  It will probably happen once or twice, but then not again for months.

I was driving home last week and about to pull into the driveway when I braked at the sight of four or five deer just hanging out in the front yard (this was about 4 pm, still perfectly light out).  Not sure what they were eating; the shrubs all need pruning anyway.  But that is an unusual sighting; we usually spot them, if at all, in darkness, doing their deeds (the gustatory sort, not anything else).

So we do have to watch out and be somewhat protective, but other people in this region have it much worse where deer are concerned.  Now, groundhogs, on the other hand... villainous rump-fed varlets!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day December!

Check out the GBBD post to see what's blooming in gardens all over the world!  I'm looking forward to seeing who (in this general climate zone) has anything in flower outdoors.  I admit I didn't go exploring much myself; I know there are still a few roses hanging on, but looking no different from last month, so I ignored them.

These camellia buds are my only recorded outdoor "flower."  This is the camellia I bought a couple of years ago at Lowe's for $10, and I'm sure I have a tag or something somewhere telling me what it is (I have yet to make my friend Barbara Dunn proud (not to mention the shade of Thomas Jefferson) and start keeping decent garden records).  I thought it was a fall bloomer when I got it, but so far it's been inclined to bloom in the spring, and probably is intending to do so this year, just got a bit confused with all the warm weather.  It'll be interesting to see if those buds open and when.

Aside from that, I have only indoor blooms.  This is Amaryllis 'Evergreen,' which I picked up when I was buying those discounted shrublets from Park's earlier this fall.  The amaryllis bulb was slightly discounted, but mostly I just wanted one, and thought it would be fun to go Decidedly Not Red this year.  It grew very fast and energetically, so probably it's worth trying to keep alive till next year.

Here is a very pink cyclamen that came with an award I got from Master Gardeners (they like me! they really like me!).  I don't think I will try to keep it alive; in fact I'm already managing to neglect it.  What? need watering again?

I have no poinsettias, because I am tired of them.

I brought in a Black Pearl pepper to winter over, not really intending to coax fruit from it, but it is making flowers, so maybe I'll have at it with a paintbrush and see what happens.

This is what the fruit looks like (took this in August at the demo garden; my potted plant never got that far).  It's a very handsome ornamental pepper; the fruit is edible but extremely hot.

And that's it, but at least flowers are blooming!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The aesthetic seduction of seeds

Well, my posts might get a leetle less frequent at this time of year (also, ridiculous weekend followed by brain-numbing cold; you're lucky you get me at all).

I did want to mention that among the slow avalanche of seed catalogs arriving at my house, I received yesterday the one I actually bothered to pay for, from the D. Landreth Seed Company.  They are in serious financial straits, and I encourage you again to jump in and order something from them, either a $5 catalog or a holiday gift or actual seeds.  The catalog is a marvel.  My one complaint is that the print describing the seeds is a bit small (aging eyes), but it's readable online where I'd be ordering anyway.  The rest of it is just great fun, with full-color reproductions of old catalog covers (from the 1800s to early 20th century mostly; the company has been around since 1784 but the catalog not that long) and engravings, plus pearls of wisdom, research stats, complaints about their competitors, etc. from the same period.  If you like history, and that moment when you read historical sources and realize how much and how little has changed, you'll enjoy it.

They have a really quite decent selection of seeds, including some collections (the African-American Heritage one is a collaboration with Michael Twitty and really interesting) and it's definitely one of those catalogs where you page through saying "ooh, I'm going to get that... and that..."  We'll see how my orders actually come out, but I'll get some stuff from them to be sure (prices are good, too).

Landreth is also the kind of company where, when you order a bunch of old seed packets (for purposes of... framing for decoration, I guess; I just thought they were cool) that they sell on the website, you get a call from not just customer service but the company president, to be sure you know the packets don't contain seeds.  Apparently some people thought they did; hope they didn't think they could plant them as a time-travel device.  (Though it is a fascinating idea.)

The packets evoke the days before what you got to illustrate your purchase was most often a photo of the flower or fruit or whatever end result is desired, impossibly perfect and yet, because it is a photo, daring you to challenge the perfection as unrealistic.  Drawings of unrealistic produce let you in on the joke more, I think, though possibly the gullible were once just as susceptible to them.  Not that I haven't had perfect produce out of my garden on occasion, and it's the privilege of the market to sell based on the product that tops the curve.

Seed catalogs (and with them, though not always matching one-on-one, seed packets) seem to fall under the general headings of "trying for pretty, with varying success depending on financial resources" and "trying for utilitarian, with varying success depending on how much we also want to include pretty photos."  Landreth (like Shumway's, but more successfully) goes for historical aura, but also shoves photos of most of their offerings into the center.  Their modern seed packets have modestly-representative photos on them, like most of the packets you buy in hardware stores; it's not art, but it tells you what you're supposed to be getting.  I for one like to see photos or good drawings, even if I don't believe them; it's habit and human failing, as if the lack of a picture somewhere means that the plant won't do its thing.  Some companies - Seeds of Change is one - edge over into really good photography, both in the catalog and on the packets; Seed Savers Exchange does this too, and their catalog is a pleasure to look at.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds goes almost too far in this regard; it's hard to tell in my photo, but their seed packets are downright seductive, and the catalog (huge and glossy) is basically food-gardening porn, which I find amusing considering their squeaky-clean home-schooled-Christian image.  The other end of the scale are companies like Johnny's and Pinetree, which have no pictures and little information on their packets, and catalogs that don't get fancy even if they are (in Pinetree's case - and Fedco, too, come to think of it - must be a Maine thing) occasionally quirky.  Johnny's has more money and can afford glossy photos, but their pride is in giving you tons of information and a wide selection, not in making you pant with longing.

And then there's the pretty-drawings crowd, which in the group above includes Renee's, Territorial (photos in the catalog), and Southern Exposure, but there are others.  Artsy, sometimes folksy; seducing with design and words rather than with enormous shiny watermelons.  I buy from them all in turn, depending on my mood and my needs, and I'm not denying the effect of presentation in my choice.  Go ahead, seed companies: cater to my desires; make me want you.  (Just please no more cute Caucasian toddlers holding jumbo produce, or I will throw up.)

GBBD tomorrow - I have blooms, and not just on seed packets, either!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

If collards be the food of love...

Oh, I am back to my old tricks.

This isn't a recipe post (though maybe I will do some of those this long cold winter, now that it is sort of cold) but more a food-related musing, so no photos, unless I think of any.  I'm just trying to reassess food a bit... good time of year to do so, with all the holiday treats tempting from every side, and this week and last I have been organizing concessions for the high school drama production, which entails looking at a lot of cookies.  I did make bagels for both shows last weekend and hope to do it again this weekend, but since they are white flour bagels it's not that much better.

During the set-up I got into conversation with one of the other moms (the one who brought clementines for the refreshments table, bless her) who told me her daughter often brings stuff like leftover kale for lunch, and my son is the only one who doesn't make fun of her for it.  I'm proud of him for this, and also determined to branch out into the salads he's been requesting that I never quite manage to remember to pack.  To think that only seven years ago, when we spent a few weeks in England and Wales, he ate chicken fingers at (to my clouded recollection) every non-breakfast meal, thus missing out on some really good food (no jokes about British cuisine here); and then there was the corn dog period, which he was just reminding me of yesterday, while gazing into the Trader Joe's freezer at the corn dogged shrimp yes really oh my god.  Anyway, the fussy eater is gone for good, hurray.

My husband spent two months this fall doing the Paleo Diet Challenge, and while I have problems with the Paleo Diet (mostly semantic, since it seems to me to be an arbitrary mishmash of modern dietary research and romantic notions about what people who spent most of their time looking for food would and wouldn't have eaten), problems I did not hesitate to express, I have to admit that we ate better during that time, even those of us who weren't attempting to split our plates evenly between meat and vegetables (with no grains, legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes WHAT, dairy, sugar and I can't remember what else.  Oh yeah, booze.  No problem there; I can't drink it anyway, migraine trigger).  I am even wondering now if I can possibly convince my stomach that fish and vegetables work for breakfast.  Probably I could manage a puree of sweet potatoes and apples.  Along with my GrapeNuts.  My neighbor Anna eats great breakfasts: lots of green smoothies and toast with things on it.

One thing we're doing as a result of this is stocking lots of frozen veggies (it helps that we bought a freezer this fall).  The nutritive value may be slightly less compared with locally grown organic produce, but actually eating frozen broccoli (not while still frozen, obviously) is better than saying "oops, I have no locally grown organic produce in the vegetable bin" or "oops, the locally grown organic produce in the bin is now mush."  Which happens far too often especially when we have high school drama productions.

I did freeze some of my own garden produce, but not much (next year, in Jerusalem, without groundhogs), though we are well supplied with squash and sweet potato soups, and I've got two more ginormous butternuts (not local unless you consider Trader Joe's to be such) to soupify.  Great stuff, endless variety of seasoning possibilities.  (Blogger's spell check appears to think ginormous is a word.  Good for it.)

On the other hand, the Post's Food section cookie issue arrived today, oh my god lime-Thai basil shortbread, double chocolate coconut, etc. etc.  I want to make them ALL.  Love comes in many flavors...