Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Garden Snapshots

Spring peas in the early morning

The largest spinach I ever grew! (Note: I have never grown spinach before)

Mesclun greens in terra cotta 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Scent of Magnolia

When I was about 13 years old, my sister and I were sent to live with my grandmothers in Germany for several weeks during summer vacation. It was the first time I had been so far from home for so long, and my German was terrible then. But I have several fond memories, one of which is my grandmother's garden. Rain or shine, it was beautiful. I remember brilliant flowers standing out against wet greens, sweet scents wafting indoors, the large white flowers on the magnolia tree, the little path that winds around the back, the gooseberries that became my grandmother's gooseberry pie. I would have taken that garden back to the States if I could.

I'm not the only fan. My grandmother and her garden were featured in a full page spread in her local newspaper, the Heidenheimer Tageszeitung, on April 23rd. She talks about my grandfather's devotion to the garden, re-planting the magnolia tree over and over until the fourth tree finally made it through the winter. The garden holds memories of their time together, before he passed away 20 years ago. The fossils they collected on their many "nature walks" now line the garden path. And even though she can't work in the garden anymore, at 96, she still enjoys the changes with the seasons. Spring alone is a kaleidoscope of color:
"First the garden was yellow with winter aconite, then blue with 'scilla,' and after that white with snow bells."

I'm proud of my grandmother for what she and my grandfather built and maintained for all of these years.  Congratulations, Omi! I'd consider myself lucky if I can grow up to be like you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Too much of a good thing is....not a good thing

Buddha said,
Do not dwell in the past. Do not dream of the future. Concentrate the mind on the present moment.

If you don't, you will dump six gallons of water into your garden container.

I dutifully watered my plants last week, saving the self-watering containers for last. The sound of water pouring down the tube into the reservoir lulled me into mindlessness, until I suddenly noticed water seeping up through the soil and gathering in pools on the surface. !! I immediately turned off the water and poured out some of the water, but then I left it alone, hoping the soil would dry out.

In the meantime, I re-read my pea seed packet. "Soil: MUST be well-drained. Water: evenly moist but peas cannot be waterlogged." Shit.

That was last weekend. It's still not dry. Today I borrowed my friend's power drill (thanks Jess!) and drilled a drainage hole. Water poured out of the bottom for a good twenty minutes. It still looks wet and it's due to rain tonight. I doubt I saved the peas, but at least the next crop will stay dry.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Self-Watering Containers = Happy Plants

I heard it snowed in Minnesota last weekend and it's still chilly in Boston. But technically, it's spring, and it is finally planting season.

This year, I took the advice of R.J. Ruppenthal in his book, Fresh Food from Small Spaces. I made two self-watering containers, which are as awesome as they sound.

In nature, plants want to get at the water table for a reliable source of water. A self-watering container mimics nature because it has a water reservoir in the bottom, with a "soil foot" that soaks up water into the soil level of the container. Plant roots reach deep into the container and get only the amount of water they need. Result? Happy plants! And happy plants are productive plants.

Serving size: 1 self-watering container

The Ingredients**
  • Large container
  • Container lid
  • Wood blocks
  • Plant basket or strainer
  • Plastic or metal pipe
  • Burlap
  • Screws
  • Power drill, jigsaw, and/or nice hardware store staff
  • Challenge: Save money by repurposing old materials for all of the above ingredients. It can be done.
**For better customer service than the large chains, shop at a local hardware store. If you are in the Boston area, I recommend Tags Hardware.

The Recipe
Get the book for the complete recipe. Then come back here for some additional tips.

I cut six blocks of wood to support the lid under the weight of the soil - one for each corner and one on either side of the strainer.

Avoid my mistake and cut the lid before you screw the wood supports in place.

I used a jigsaw to cut the lid down to size, to fit inside the container. I also cut a hole for the strainer to sit inside the lid, and removed a corner to fit the watering tube.

See the duct tape? I'm not too handy with the jigsaw. I cut the lid down to size by eye, rather than measuring first. I did measure the hole for the strainer, but the saw slipped.

Voila! Ready for planting.
I watered from the top while the seeds were germinating, than began to water through the tube once a week.

Caveat: I used PVC pipes, because I am not growing a significant portion of my diet in these containers. But if you want to stay away from PVC, hardware stores sell metal plumbing pipes. They are narrower and more expensive but will work just fine.

How do you deal with lead in your soil, or limited garden space? Leave a comment and let me know.