Sunday, February 26, 2012

In which I probably will not move to Canada

Yeah, I really should not let myself make declarations of that sort.  Because here are the miniature iris, popping out while it is still February.  And I know perfectly well they bloom with the daffodils (and sometimes earlier).

These may be my favorite flower ever, which has something to do with that earliness and hence the relative scarcity of flowers generally, never mind ones this delicately elaborate.  I think these are 'Harmony' - which is a hybrid of Iris reticulata and Iris histroides - though don't quote me on that, since of all the bulbs I don't keep records of, little ones like this are the least likely to have their location noted.

These, I'm somewhat more sure, are 'George' (also a hybrid of the same two species) - for some reason harder to take a photo of, but really equally gorgeous.

In other news, planted more seeds today, so for the record:

Two hybrid Asian greens from Johnny's, Summer Jean and Green Lance.  I think both are a type of gai lan or Chinese broccoli.  I grew the Summer Jean last year and it was delicious, but that was in early fall, and I'm not sure how it will do in spring; it may bolt or get bitter.

French baby leeks, a whole 40-cell flat of them, which I may have no space to grow to transplant size, but we'll see.

Radicchio 'Rossa di Chioggia.'  To be pretty and delicious, probably in the square foot gardening bed I've decided to add to the demo garden.

Two kinds of peas, Dwarf Gray Sugar and Taichung.  They may actually produce before it gets too hot if I start them now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I missed Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month (not that I didn't have flowers, I just didn't want to be the twenty-third person saying "look! snowdrops and crocuses! WTF is up with that?") but now I have a daffodil, so must report.  Ta-da!  Is it the earliest ever?  I don't know, since I was terrible at keeping records until I had this blog, which will make all the difference.  *hums and looks confident*

There's been a lot of noise this winter along the lines of "See?  We told you global warming was real!" which sounds rather similar to the noises two winters ago when we had feet of snow, twice, and Washington's empty government buildings echoed to cries of "See?  We told you global warming was a political conspiracy!"  Neither of you are right.  Well, actually, the yea-sayers are right, but not because it's warm this winter, and it's not warm this winter strictly because of global warming or climate change or whatever you want to call it.  It's warm because the arctic oscillation is keeping itself in the far north or something (I heard it on NPR, okay?  So anyone reading this who thinks global warming is a political conspiracy can blame them, and decide that I think "gullible" isn't in the dictionary), and that can happen from time to time; it's perhaps a bit on the extreme end of normal, but normal nonetheless.  It does not mean it will never snow in Maryland again, and we will always have crocuses in January.  It is likely that along with the gradual warming trend we will have an increasing number of extreme-range-of-normal events, like two feet of snow or the kind of winter where everyone wishes they'd planted more fall greens since they'd still be harvesting them.  Dammit.

Also, I hear from Mike Raupp The Bug Guy, with regret, the reason we don't have a lot of stink bugs hanging around this warm winter isn't so much because of the winter as because of the late summer and fall, when we had feet of rain and apparently drowned the second generation of bugs (when they get down to Florida, guys, they will have five generations a year.  Think of all the baby shower gifts you'll have to get), but they will likely be back in full strength in no time at all.  It was a rather depressing (and yet extremely entertaining) talk he gave; he's giving another at Meadowside Nature Center on March 14, if you're around here and want to go.  

hairy bittercress
I gather daffodils have been blooming in DC for some weeks now, but I am in the bitter north here, so February 23 is pretty impressive, for whatever value of that word you want to infer.  Now, there are people who spot daffodils in February and just say "Look, a daffodil!" and there are gardeners, who say "Oh dear, that seems early; what happens if the arctic oscillation shifts and we get that blizzard after all?" (the answer is "not much; daffodils are pretty tough") and then there are the truly plant-aware and the master gardeners (in the broad, not Extensionist sense), who ignore the daffodils and start whining that the hairy bittercress and deadnettle are blooming and they never pulled them out when they should have.  Henceforth this is the task for warm winters: get rid of the weeds.  (Hairy bittercress is supposedly edible, though I find it too tiny and fussy to deal with.  So is garlic mustard (edible, I mean), and I have a lot of that to get rid of too, though thank goodness it doesn't bloom for another month or more.  I hope.  God, it's really depressing being a master gardener.  All I see is what shouldn't be there.)

Okay, and I have crocuses, too.  Look!

No miniature iris yet.  If those start blooming in February I may give up and move to Canada.

In other news, my seedlings are sprouting, including much of what I reported planted last time, and over the weekend I put seeds in for a whole bunch of peppers (33 plants, if they all come up.  I do not need 33 pepper plants), including several bells and some Italian frying and a jalapeno-sort and Fish and a habanero-type that is supposed to not be hot and a paprika and possibly others I've forgotten.  I have just received a heat mat I ordered (never used one before, since I start seeds in a warm room) which I may put under the peppers and/or the extra eggplants I should probably start soon, to encourage germination.  Also got more 2-foot shop lights for my 3-foot shelf.  No one makes 3-foot shop lights.  This is a business opportunity (for China, probably).

And in more other news, I just checked registration for the class I'm teaching March 10 (Montgomery College Germantown, Intensive Vegetable Gardening) and there are nine actual people signed up for it so far, so I had better get working on that powerpoint.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Oh say can you seed

I came home from this week's state Grow It Eat It meeting with a handful of seeds for our Year of Leafy Greens project, and got a chance to stick some of them in seed-starting mix this morning.  I need to spend a good part of the rest of the weekend organizing the remaining seed-starting (so far it's been seed-of-the-pants stuff, oh ha ha) so that I know what needs to go in when and who's going to do it.  Obviously my own garden's seeds get started here, and I'll probably end up doing most of the leafy greens and other early transplants here for convenience's sake, but soon enough I will run out of space, and I have other MGs who've volunteered to start things.  So, just have to figure out what, and get the seeds to them.

Here's what went in today (some of it YOLG-related, and some just what I had lying around):

Kale, Lacinato and Lark's Tongue.  The Lark's Tongue was my choice that I talked Jon T. into, not that I had to try hard.  It's from Southern Exposure (as are all the YOLG seeds) and was a variety saved by William Woys Weaver, and it sounds very cool-looking.  Lacinato (also called Dinosaur or Nero di Toscana) is beautiful stuff that I've been growing for a while - I was actually going to go for a new breeding experiment mix called Rainbow Lacinato, but hey, free seed.

Broccoli Raab Sorrento.  We should be able to get results in the spring, and I'll try it again in the fall and see if it produces longer.  It tends to bolt when the weather gets hot.

Collards Champion.  Can't have too many kinds of collards, hm?

Mustard, Red Giant and Southern Giant Curled.  GIANT MUSTARD.  I know the red mustard is gorgeous, and I look forward to the other one.  Of course, they may end up smothered under row cover... but hot stuff sometimes gets chewed on less, so we might manage to leave some of it out.

Celeriac Large Prague.  Celeriac did really well for us last year.  I do need to find a space that can be occupied all season, because it takes ages.  But mmm.

Hollyhock Summer Carnival.  This will bloom in the summer if started early.

Orach Magenta Magic.  This is the most incredible dark pink color.  It's a leafy "green" too, so goes with the theme.

Pak Choi, Purple and Da Cheong Chae.  Pak choi is one of my favorite things to grow.  These are meant to grow full-size, I think; I've been growing "baby-designated" varieties for the last few years, and I may harvest these ones early too, since that lessens some of the inevitable bug damage and besides they are so cute.  Ooh, I have a picture (from fall, obviously).  I'm really looking forward to the purple ones.

ETA: I now have sprouts on everything I planted before except for the eggplant (and the seeds that need stratifying).  Eggplant is probably not quite warm enough and so will germinate slowly.  Spinach is only just getting started but I'm sure it'll come along well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A green thought in a green seed

... not that most seeds are green at full maturity.  Seeds OF greens, mostly.

Record-keeping!  Here's what I got into the egg cartons today:

Kohlrabi 'Early Purple Vienna' and 'Azur Star'.  I love kohlrabi, and I haven't planted nearly enough of it in recent years.

Collards 'Green Glaze'.  These got rather flea-beetled last year, but they are so pretty I hate to stick them under row cover.  We'll see.

Komatsuna ("mustard spinach," whatever that means).  I have had this seed for several years and don't think I've had it come up from direct sowing, so starting inside seemed like the thing.

Kale 'Red Russian' and 'Nero di Toscana' - since I had the seed still.  There will be more kale.

Spinach 'Space' - starting inside is how I'm dealing with that April 3 first workday thing.

Roselle 'Thai Red Early' - this is the hibiscus that "Red Zinger" tea is made from.  I had one plant last year and now want lots more.  Beautiful.  Takes a while to get going and mature; last year it bloomed in September, I think.

All this stuff is for the demo garden; I am planning to direct sow my own spring greens, and we'll see how that works out.  Ha ha ha.

Pak choi and some other things in the next week or so.


Me saving mouse melon seed
Time flies... two weeks ago now, I went to the Washington Gardener Seed Exchange, and Our Fearless Leader Jon Traunfeld was there to speak (and get some seeds).  Jon said he'd told his 17-year-old son about the event, that there would be 60 or so people trading seeds, and got the reply, "Wow, is it a subculture?"

And... well, yeah, it is.  I sometimes feel that I'm surrounded by Seed People all the time, but actually we are quite a tiny sprig in the broader landscape, those of us who save and trade seeds, and the larger group who plant and appreciate them (which is still not all gardeners; plenty of people deal only in plants).  And we don't all do it for the same reason.  Heck, each of us doesn't do it for a single reason; often it varies per plant (or day, or whimsical fleeting thought).

I wrote a review over on Grow It Eat It recently about a book called The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans, which I really liked and highly recommend.  I do admit to being a little twitchy about the title -- no, not the "sustainability" part, though having this comic appear while I was reading it made me laugh.  It's that I always read "Ethnic Americans" as "Ethnic-Americans" and, you know, I am a Non-Ethnic-American, being English-Scottish-Welsh-Irish-Dutch-German-Swedish-American with no immigrants later than the early 20th century and no significant cultural ties other than reading lots of British mysteries and watching Doctor Who.  (Doctor Who is not "ethnic."  Though it does constitute a subculture.)  I know what Klindienst meant (assuming the title is hers and not the publisher's); it's the "sharing a common and distinctive culture" definition - the Non-Culturally-Amnesiac-Americans.  I have a sufficiently privileged and confusing background to not have to worry about being defined by my culture, if anyone can figure out what it is besides Twitchy-Snarky-American, but there's also a thread of unreasonable jealousy in there toward people who actually do have a defined heritage that, for one thing, gives them stuff to plant and cook that they know their ancestors planted and cooked and that are more distinctive than, say, beets.  Not that I don't love beets.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  One of the gardeners Klindienst interviewed, an Italian-American woman named Maska (because everyone in her family has Russian names), was showing all the great plants she had in her garden, and Klindienst asked her if she had any heirloom tomatoes, and then immediately knew it was a stupid question:  yes, of course she did, but she didn't think of them that way.  They were tomatoes grown from seeds that she'd saved and replanted, that had history clinging to them along with the mucky stuff you have to ferment off before drying, but they were named after the people who'd given them to her or by their culinary characteristics, to accommodate no one but herself.  In other words, without the intermediary of the Seed Savers Exchange catalog or the formally-arranged trading events or the tomato tasting festival with little cups of forty supposedly different varieties.  She saved seeds because that's what you DO, although saving money and preserving culture were part of the equation as well (though the latter is probably expressed better as "these are good tomatoes and I want to keep eating them").

So, these are the Seed People, a subculture with room for those who don't know they're part of it, along with those who are kind of hyper-aware and more-heirloomy-than-thou (yeah, I've done it too, though I'd get thrown out of a lot of groups for planting hybrids).  A Big High Tunnel (tents would block too much light).  I have to say I save seeds (and I'm just getting started at it, really) mostly because it's fun, it keeps my seed budget slightly lower, and it allows me to be pushy about mouse melons.  (You really ought to grow them, you know.)  I have written before about being far too distractible to be good at preservation; I always want something new (or old-new), not the same thing year after year, but that doesn't mean I couldn't save the seed and pass it on to someone else.  The other side of being the Purple-Carrot-Chaser is that I'm willing to try anything (see this post on growing "exotics" - which is a much more twitch-inducing word than "ethnic").  And I guess not having a distinctive cultural heritage means I'm not tied to growing anything in particular (not that anyone should be); the world is my oyster plant.  (Though I have tried salsify and am not sure it's worth it.)

And oh, crap, I have a bunch of seeds to start today, and a map to draw, and a class to plan.  Get moving.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The first of many boring seed-starting posts

One of my many failings as a gardener is the inability to keep good records.  I always mean to, and then the scribbled notes and the buried Word file and the good intentions never coalesce, and then it's April and spring is in my heart and my brain is on the wing.  I know better than to spend good money on a pretty gardening journal, not that I'd have qualms about spoiling it by writing in it (I take the first bites out of artistic cakes, too), but I know I'd never finish out a season.

However, I do have my own personal blog now, and license to bore people with it, so I can attempt to keep records here.  I am already behind with seed-starting; so what else is new.  This weekend I must get the greens for the demo garden started, as they have to go into the ground April 3, and most of them will have to be pulled out in May to be replaced by summer crops.  They will all produce something (I am not stupid enough to try making broccoli or cauliflower conform to that schedule, so it's all leaf crops) but the more the better.

But that's another post.  Here's what I started earlier this week (February 6, for the record):

Sown in soilless mix and into the fridge:  aronia and serviceberry from Bountiful Gardens; a native anemone from the demo garden (will check on Latin name next time I'm there).  These need stratifying, or cold treatment; the refrigerator is the impatient gardener's substitute for actual winter.  They'll sit in the back of the bottom shelf (serving the useful function of preventing leftovers from being pushed so far into obscurity that the moldy grossness is hidden from view) for a month (anemones) to four months (the others), then be brought out to warm up and (hopefully) germinate.  Often it works.  The other way to do this is to sow the seeds in pots or flats outside in the late summer and leave them over the winter, which in a winter like this one means they sprout in January and have to be taken inside before they freeze to death in the next cold spell.  I also sowed rugosa rose which is supposed to sit in a warm place for a month before joining the others in the fridge until June.

Sown in a more traditional fashion:  two kinds of sweet peas (already sprouting, which means I need to get the lights set up and going).  I never have any luck starting sweet peas outside (this would be the year it would work, no doubt, although I'm still pessimistically expecting blizzards in March) and they have a short growing season here before it's June and boiling hot, so I'm trying the indoor method, which will produce enormous tangled seedlings that will take over the light shelf so I will have to plant them outside just in time for them to freeze (and then it will hit 90).  I am always, always seduced by the sweet pea page in the catalogs, though.  These are from Seed Savers Exchange.

Also, Thai and Pandora Striped Rose eggplant, started early because eggplant grows slowly and needs to be big and strong to face the cruel world of the garden and its onslaught of flea beetles (I do intend to use row cover, but still).  Ironically, considering this blog's name, I'm not all that fond of eggplant, but I do like it in moderation, and it would be a beautiful plant if it wasn't always eaten to shreds.  I did grow some on the deck a few years ago that the flea beetles never found, but I bet that only works once.

Also Victoria rhubarb, yes from seed.  I seem to keep killing off plants started from roots, and I'm hoping that home-nursed seedlings will do better.  They will need afternoon shade in this climate (although the plants in the demo garden do fine in full sun).  I have just the place, considering that half the vegetable garden is in part shade now.

That's it for now.  There will be more of these posts; I will warn you by putting seeds in the title somewhere.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cute Caucasian Child Syndrome and Other Instances of Racial Skewing in Gardening Catalogs

... a highly unscientific survey, I assure you, but based on years of observation.  I've written about this phenomenon before, but probably three people read it then, so it seemed time to restate.  This may not be a post so much for African-American Heritage Month (if you want that, go see what Michael's up to) as it is for Month You Start Actually Looking At The Catalogs Instead Of Madly Preparing Your Order, but let it be my white girl's gesture toward equality.

So, not every company makes it as obvious as Baker Creek (the Gettles have a very cute daughter who is clearly tops in the Adorably Posing With Enormous Vegetables field), but you may or may not have noticed that along with the Cute Caucasian Children in the seed catalogs, there are a lot of other white people and not so many people of any other race.  Well, let me rephrase:  there are not a lot of people in the catalogs, not when compared to the number of vegetables and flowers.  Some catalogs avoid humanity altogether, and in some the human presence is subtle.  But when it's there, it's white.

To choose one example, not entirely at random but based on the relative prominence of human skin therein, the 2012 Territorial Seed Company catalog has, by my count, 55 photos that include people or parts of people (hands, for the most part; don't be imagining anything else, now) in which skin color is reasonably visible, and I interpret 100% of these as representing Caucasian heritage.  (Two of the same Cute Caucasian Child included, appropriately enough showing off the Cute Stuff Pepper.)  Misinterpretations based on degree of tan may exist, but mostly they look pretty pale.  I'm not picking on Territorial; this is a near-universal phenomenon.

Now, I can see where it comes from.  Seed companies and garden supply outlets do not have enormous budgets.  They're not hiring models; they're using their staff to pose with tillers and hold up bean pods.  And most of these companies are based in pretty white areas of the U.S., so most if not all of the staff is white.  (Territorial has a photo of the staff, with TINY faces so I can't tell for sure, but yeah, pretty much pale.  Based in Oregon.  Maine is another big seed company center.  Wisconsin, Missouri, the rural regions thereof, you can see the trend.)  I'm not saying that white people who love plants and have a secret longing to become hand models shouldn't go to work at these places.  I'd love to work at one of them.  Nor do I know anyone non-white who's decided to boycott seed companies based on who's demoing the hats and gloves and handfuls of red wiggler worms.  It's possibly not that big a deal.  On the other hand, how hard would it be to pull in a friend of color when it's time to take the photos?  No one needs to know you paid them in free seeds and a meal of heirloom veggies, because that just might possibly be interpreted less than positively, but as long as everyone agrees, fine.

A couple of minor exceptions:  Landreth does use this lovely historic illustration to advertise the African-American Heritage Collection, and since they have no modern photos at all except of plants, it's about as good as you're going to get.  And Seeds of Change usually has a few non-white faces in the catalog, though usually in the context of We Do Inner City Projects Yay Us, or occasionally because non-white farmers grow seed for them.  The hand models are mostly white.

I'd love to see Southern Exposure buck the trend; right now they don't even have hands in their photos, so no chance.  Nice veggies, though.