If you have country property here in my corner of Oregon, you have probably noticed an explosion of small mammals, including ground squirrels, rats but especially voles this year. Rodents have population cycles peaking every few years and then falling after the predator population catches up to them. This is a banner year for voles
Voles are rodents, bigger than mice with smaller ears and short tales. They are chiefly vegetarians munching on roots, nuts, young plants, and bulbs. They are proficient tunnelers. You don’t want them in your garden.
On the positive side, they aerate the soil and distribute nutrients in the soil layers. My inner biologist recognizes their role in the great circle of life but my outer gardener is extremely frustrated. I am perhaps the first person to write a poem about vole holes?. Adding a bit a humor has made the situation in my lawn more tolerable.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. John Muir
There is a verse in Ecclesiastes which says,” a time to plant a time to mourn.”
This would seem to be a good time for both.
I’m always amazed that every spring no matter what mess the human race has gotten itself into, the crocus pop up in their bright colors followed by daffodils, and fabulous tulips in my yard.
I planted cool crops such as peas, kale, onions & lettuce earlier than usual this spring. It seemed more urgent to get things growing as we face this Covid 19 pandemic. The growing of plants affirms order in an uncertain world.
The first garden I grew was when I was a college student in N. California. I grew up in suburbia and had never grown anything except an avocado tree from an avocado seed (which was actually pretty exciting). Each student in my horticulture class was given a garden plot. Our semester-long project was to grow a vegetable garden. I remember being so nervous as I planted the seeds in my plot- were the seeds deep enough, too close together, watered too much, or not enough? To my delight, everything came up and I feasted late in the spring and summer. I discovered that seeds wanted to grow. I still peak every day to see what seedlings might have emerged from my garden plantings- such a delight when they do.
As a 6th-grade science teacher I purchased a grow light and had my students plant pea seeds in paper cups they filled with soil. Every day they would come in and check their “pet peas” and such a hubbub when those pea sprouts poked their heads out of the soil! Of course, they named them. Eventually, they proudly brought their pet peas home complete with a blossom on the plant. This was cheap magic and full of learning opportunities.
If you (or your children) need a little magic in your life right now, go out and buy some seeds, soil and plant them in pots or even paper cups. Flowers like zinnias and marigolds are very easy to grow- or if you are more ambitious, try a tomato. Water and place in a sunny location in your home and in 7 days or so watch the show begin. You will not be disappointed.
“Stop and smell the garlic. That’s all you have to do” William Shattner”
Lately, while others have been inside baking Christmas cookies these chilly Oregon Days, I have been outside planting garlic for the next year. Some of my friends know me as the “Garlic Queen,” for having developed an obsession for tasty, huge, and beautiful garlic. It’s become an art form for me. Yes, self-expression in growing garlic!
Being a garlic lover, I became very frustrated with the quality of garlic available in the grocery store. It turns out that most of the garlic in the USA comes from China! Surprising since garlic is a fairly easy crop to grow that most of it is imported. Thus some years back I began my education in garlic and garlic cultivation.
Originally from the middle east, 700 species of garlic are now grown around the world.
There are two main types, hardneck & softneck . The hardneck garlic has a hard woody stem and puts out a flowering scape (that is used for also used for culinary purposes). They have fewer cloves than softnecks but are all fairly uniformly large in size. I find they have a longer shelf life than softneck which contradicts other sources. Softneck or “artichoke” style garlic have lots more cloves that get smaller towards the middle. These are the garlics that can be braided. Each variety of garlic all has their unique flavors and storage life.
I grow Susanville (softneck) for their “wow” factor. They often can get quite large and have a pretty purple tinge to them. They make great gifts. For the hardnecks I grow “Musica” for the huge cloves, stronger taste. They also keep a month or so longer.
I have to give credit to the folks who raise Jacob and Churro sheep up the road at Bide A Wee Farm which I affectionately call “Poo Corner.” The composted manure from these furry darlings makes for great garlic as well as anything I grow in the garden. I also invested years ago in decent garlic seed from Hood River Garlic. I save the best heads from the years’ crop for the next. The bigger the clove planted equals the biggest bulb for the next year. Also worthwhile was purchasing the book Growing Great Garlic:The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland which is the bible of garlic growing.
The cloves are all tucked away now in their winter bed with a generous covering of straw mulch They will appear again come summer with the turn of the shovel as delightful bulbs- Christmas in July!
I was out in the garden today “putting it to bed “ for the winter. It’s good work on a chilly autumn day. I looked up at the sky and the colorful leaves and said to myself “this day deserves a poem- just do it” so I dashed off to the house in search of a notebook and pen. Sometimes you just have to pause, be amazed, and write about it!
Putting the Garden to Bed
Under an intense blue sky
My garden disappears
with each whack of the machete
As I work I discover monstrous cucumbers
Submerged in dying vines like green submarines
And overlooked onions hiding below the straw
The parsnips pull out of the ground reluctantly as always
Sadly too mature to be good eating
As my armloads of spent foliage build up the compost pile
I sigh with memories of sweet tomatoes
And savory salads
I leave the dried heads of the sunflowers standing
It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard. I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding. As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.
They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers. Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.
Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species. Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies. They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.
Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators. Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies
vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit. Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,
They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty. I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding. Such sweet bees.
In Praise of Bumblebees
They probe dreamily in the center
Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east
Keeping me company
As I work in the garden
These tiny winged beasts do their work
Heads up down, up down
Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises
It’s the growing season and my garden is being planted in stages. I marvel at the magic of seeds- how something so small can germinate to become a huge sunflower or a plant that offers juicy red tomatoes.
With the exceptions of weeds, seeds cannot manage successfully on their own in a garden. The soil must be tilled and enriched. Then once the seeds have been planted they must be nurtured with proper watering and attention lest they be eaten by some pest or choked by weeds. It’s work to bring seeds to their full potential of flower or food.
Ideas are so much like seeds. The soil of the mind must be fallow and fertile. To have a fallow mind, one must be open and ready to receive the seeds of ideas. Fertile means paying attention and being open. Ideas often come when the mind is relaxed like when you’re taking a shower, on a walk or doing something innocuous like washing the dishes. Having a head full of earbuds and social media is not conducive to collecting seeds the muse has to offer.
When they come, catch them by writing or sketching them in a notebook less they blow away into someone else’s “garden”. Then give them the attention they need to germinate.
Like seeds, not all ideas will manifest. Some are not viable. Then others are past their shelf life. Don’t be afraid to throw them out and get new ones.
I’ve had ideas like these artichoke plants that surprised me and grew into something much more than I expected. I started these plants last year from tiny seeds and now they are 6-foot record-setting monsters!
You don’t have to plant a garden. Just get a pot with healthy soil, some seeds, water them, and enjoy the magic of germination.
It’s tomato time here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The only advantage I can see of the hot summers we have been having is that the tomatoes love them. Growing good, delicious, organic tomatoes is an art form and I have gotten good at it- actually a little too good. Frequently I get tomatoes over a pound and they aren’t even the beefsteak variety. But, there are only so many tomatoes the two of us can consume. We have a freezer full now and they are still coming on. Finding the extra homes other than the compost pile has gotten to be too much effort. Next year I will have to go down to three plants. The varieties I grew this year….
Sungold- (cherry tomato- so sweet!)
Amish Paste (Prolific and huge)
Brandywine (the best slicer)
Black Krim (great flavor)
Really, I can’t take all the credit for the success. I’m just conducting a series of variables that I have figured out to be a good “Tomato Artist.” I need to thank the following contributors to my bodacious tomato harvest:
Quality heirloom tomato starts
My partner for tilling the raised beds, hauling manure, and installing a drip system
The sheep up the road for their great poo
The cows and horses down the road for the same
Our composted kitchen scraps
The earthworms and microbes for decomposing the above
The earthworms again for aerating the soil and leaving their casings
The farmer that raised the straw that I much with
My own two hands for their labor in planting & tending
To be honest, I am feeling burnt out on gardening right now. There is something so satisfying about growing your own nutritious and tasty food but it is work. Usually this time every summer I swear I’ll take next summer off. Knowing me, come spring the lure of fresh tomatoes with basil and dill will lure me back again.
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton
It’s hard to imagine that in March my garden was seven big wood boxes full of brown soil, a blank canvas so to speak. Now it’s a tangle of vines and plants that spill over those same boxes. There are five varieties of bushy tomato plants, at least as tall as me. The bean teepee, full of romano beans, towers over six feet tall. There is kale, chard, dill, hot peppers, onions, cucumbers, basil, zucchini, strawberries, beets, cardoons, sunflowers, and marigolds. Two of the beds are now empty, the garlic being harvested earlier in July. The peas have died back and the lettuce and arugula have gone to seed.
Planting a garden is a statement of hope, sowing seeds that bear the promise of food and flower.
Planting a garden is a creative act, painting with a palette of plants, considering what varieties will complement the other, then executing the plan with hoe and shovel instead of a brush.
Planting a garden is work. The soil must be amended, supports constructed, seeds and starts planted. Then the beds must be mulched, watered, weeded and then harvested. But then the payoff is the abundance of delicious fresh food it provides for the rest of the summer.
Planting a garden is an alchemy of human interaction with natural processes.
A garden does not need to be big or complicated. Even a couple of tomato plants on the porch or herbs on the window sill is better than nothing. It’s gratifying to tend plants and watch them grow. For children, it’s an especially enriching experience. To be able to feed oneself and share the bounty with others is powerful. Gardening is an anchor to the Earth. You don’t get that from a grocery store.
It seems like just yesterday I was pulling out spent tomato plants & putting the garden tools away for the winter. But here we are again- Spring and my inner gardener is awakened again.
They arrive like expected guests
In the days after the New Year
A steady parade of seed catalogs
All shapes and sizes
From varying corners of the country
Filled with beckoning colored photographs
Of fruit, vegetable, & bloom waiting to fill the garden
Ready to awaken the winter-weary to a fresh frame of mind
The possibilities of the planting season.