Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What A Difference A Year Makes

OMG!  that's right...OMG!  What was I thinking?!  A couple of months back I started oh, gee about 100 OR SO seedlings. I figured with my green thumb NOT! that only one seed would actually turn into a plant. The other 99 were insurance.

Well, as luck should have it,  keeping the seedlings next to my bed, reading bedtime stories about other garden success and descriptive passages out of the Western Garden Book of what each should look like...you know, my version of affirmative action, piped in music, perfect light 16 hours per day, a gentle move to the larger set up in the greenhouse with the grow lights...  I had 99 plants...one died...oh well...maybe he couldn't take the pressure.

However basking in that somewhat limited success created a much larger problem. Where the hell do I plant all of these pippy upstarts in my now not-looking-so-big vegetable garden?  While pondering that I found myself in the parking lot of Tomatomania, a tomato fanatics candy store. Hundreds , no thousands of heirloom tomato plants...all screaming in their wee tomato voices, 'pick me! pick me!'  And so I did.  Home I came with my flat of tomato plants. Didn't even cross my mind to count as I was choosing....  Not thinking for one instant  that back at the ranch I had two in the ground already, one that had rescurrected itself, two in the greenhouse growing out of control and bearing fruit in March and oh yes, the other nine seedlings - that didn't die.  Not problem I thought. I'm going the intensive garden route.  Yeah right, there Ms.GreenThumb.

So after a couple of days wringing my hands and a couple of evenings soothing my panic with  a martini while sitting in the greenhouse and wondering how to negotiate more yard space  I called on the terrific Christy Wilheim of GardenNerd.  I thought better that than a round at the Betty Ford.

  We made a date and it was like a load had been lifted off my shoulders.

As soon as she arrived she started counting....16.....17...18....19.....oh my!

 You have 20...no 21 tomato plants here!  Oh really, I said ...like I knew that... NOT!

And you have 4....5....7.....10....squash...and how many peppers...10  oh and 4 eggplants.  OK. Well then. Our work is cut out for us!


That's what I love about her.  She uses the word 'us' even though she will go home to her absolutely beeeutiful garden leaving me behind to make this one work.

We gave up on the celery, found homes for most of the tomatoes.  The strawberries will remain intact, the okra is OK where it lives, the parsely and cabbage are good along with the tomatillos that are already flowering.  There's still lettuce in the ground that really should be eaten this week and that will open up space for a couple tomatoes. Oh My.  I just know my wish for abundance in the garden is on the verge of busting into my universe and I will experience my own version of tomatomania - although more like tomatomaniac!

I offered that I was OK with sacrificing the squash since I really need some space for cucumbers and radishes and celery....oh my!  I felt a bit like a serial killer of sorts, but then again...what a little sacrifice for the good of the whole. It's a bigger picture way of thinking.

I also figured, hey...last year my crop wasn't exactly bumper...if you get my drift.  So what the heck...one or two will survive and the rest are insurance!

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 1, 2010


I hope all your dreams come true this year.



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year to Me NOT!

OK...so what happens in my garden between planting and harvesting?  Please anyone...just take a guess....  OK...well the answer is NOTHING.  In fact, there is no 'harvest.'   My biggest success this cool season has been to pick  a few leaves off a lettuce.  Not the whole lettuce mind you....just a few leaves.  Cuz the rest of the lettuce ISN'T GROWING!


My garden does not grow.

It just does not grow.

I plant seeds or seedlings and nothing happens.   NOTHING.  The beds look terrific for awhile and then...they look the same the next week and the next and the next and the next and the next...and as long as I continue watering..they look the same...as if they've been frozen in time.

Is this a lesson in patience?   Are the Gardening Gods on high rolling in laughter, barely able to catch their breath?  Well, if your listening, Gardening Gods...this is NOT FUNNY.  Look closely at this mug... not laughing.  Not amused.

I admit that I don't have luck much with things that need to grow.  I had a cat once, it never grew bigger than a kitten.  Kinda strange.  I had large fish tank with a couple fish in it that never grew - even though the pimply faced kid at the pet store told me they would grow bigger once in the larger tank.  The thought that  I could see them swimming to and fro from across the room without my glasses excited me.  Not only didn't they grow, they died.  So much for container serenity.

I have a problem getting yeast to grow and indulge me a perfect loaf of bread.

'Just add water' sponge figures don't grow.

My son is a slow grower.  Little scruff of a thing at 13.

Hmmm.. is there a bigger picture here that I've not stumbled upon.  Maybe it's time to burn sage.

Simply put - I'm not so excited about the pending New Year. Why?  Because I've just lived through my first full year of two great growing seasons that haven't panned out for me.  It's not that I'm a sore loser... OK, well, I am a sore loser - a frustrated farmer!   In fact, I'm about as BITTER AS THE LAST LETTUCE I CONSUMED!  OK, I pretended it was arugula...and everyone 'bought it.'   But the 'bitter Betty' that I've become can only live in my world so long.

You know, it could be that my biggest mistake was positioning my greenhouse in an area that gets full sun in the winter while my raised beds are in shadow most of the day.    !!!  Hmmm so much for planning!


I'm doomed.

Or, do I start growing inside the greenhouse?

What to do, what to do?

Any hints?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Garden Coach?

It's been some time since I've posted on this blog and for anyone that is actually still checking in - I apologize. I mean, you can only read about worm castings so many times, right?

The summer months were not good to me. After the overwatering fiasco, I experienced drought which was equally devastating to the garden and to my enthusiasum as a green thumb wannabe.

I attended another beginners class with SilverLake Farm's owner Tara and although she's the best there is, I couldn't translate her instruction to my garden and so it continued to fall behind the season. Tomatoes were OK, but not great. In fact a couple of my plants never even grew. And I mean that literally...they were physically small and never produced fruit. sigh.

I searched the internet in vain trying to find the answer to my particular garden woes. Neat the coast, overcast mornings, less sun and heat. You get the picture. Then the universe spoke to me - there must be someone who would be willing to come to my garden and help me. But of course! Why hadn't I thought of that before? Someone that would come to my house, to my garden and talk about my dirt and my plants and my sun angle and my overcast mornings living so close to the beach. And so the hunt began.

I stalked the garden at the church on the corner by my house but never saw anyone there. "How can the be?" I thought. "The garden looks so terrific. Someone must be tending it?" . I asked the plant guy at my office for tips. He seemed clueless to help. So I googled. G. A. R. D. E. N. C. O. A. C. H. and hit 'enter.' And there they were. A regroup on the search to add Los Angeles and there she was...the GardenNerd. Yeah! She not only coaches, she had a cool blog AND she was in my neighborhood...so she would totally understand the weather conditions! Now I had to examine my ego, banish it from the exercise and called for help.
I was giddy with excitement. I sent her a note pleading for her help. She replied and a date was set.

Christie arrived on time early one Saturday morning and immediately set an atmosphere of calmness by her open, friendly manner. I could tell right away that she knew her 'stuff' and I'd have a jam packed hour to pick her brain. I offered tea, (it seemed more appropriate than coffee) but she declined choosing instead to get right to work. With my notebook and pen in hand we headed to the garden.

Her first words were, "I'm jealous." I thought - we'll that's very kind of you to say, but I mean, this garden is pathetic - a jumbled mess of random plants with barren patches of soil in between. The greenhouse was vacant of life and the my rosemary which  I could count on year after year for beautiful blue blooms around this time of year was looking like driftwood. A graveyard of various sized empty pots and urns lay next to the dying herb garden.

"Soil looks good, " she said casually, crumbling some in her hand, breaking the silence. "you have quite a lot of space here." Is there any reason that you are planting your basil here and then over there and then over there? Do you like that scattered look?"

"well, I....I...."

Before I could speak she said politely, "your garden will work better if it's more organized."

Ding! there it was, the "O" word. Organization.

'well, I......"

"Have you even made a planting plan?"

Ding! There's the "P" word. Plan.

"well, I.....

"You really need a plan so you know what you're doing here."

"yes, well, I have made a plan, in fact many plans...," I stammered. "But when I get out to the garden, my plan sort of vanishes."

Before I could continue a more intelligent explanation, she started organizing the garden for me...

"All of your basil should go here, you'll do square foot gardening to make best use of these three beds...you are familiar with that, right? Plant some nastursiums here, here and there - they'll ramble over the empty pots there and liven that up through the winter. Put some violas here and here.

I was taking notes as fast as I could.

"Two bags of Bumper Crop and a cup of organic fertilizer in this bed and two and a half bag plus fertilizer in this bed...."

And on it went. As I tried desperately to take it all in, I realized that at the end of the day, gardening like life takes organization. Everything can't be spontaneous. I grew up with order. Friday was fish night. Spaghetti only on Saturdays and pot roast was saved for Sunday. The house was cleaned Saturday morning before noon. Tuesday was wash day. Could it be that I've been rebelling against the order my mother injected into our day-to-day upbringing? Hmmm. Possible. I would think I was a bigger person to let bygones be bygones. But maybe not.

When Christie left I looked around and realized I had my work cut out for me. I'd really spend my first season as a novice gardener wasting such precious time (not to mention money!) Or had I? Nothing is really wasted in the long run, it's all a learning experience, isn't it?

I decided to embrace Christie's suggestions with gusto and voila! Suddenly my hodge podge garden took on a beautiful order. I transplanted all the basil to one spot and there was suddenly more basil then I will eat the rest of this year. I put the broccoli that was scattered into a big barrel and interplanted gorgeous lavender violas. I put lettuces and spinach and strawberries in another bed creating a quilt of color. A pale peach viola here and there added punch. I broke down and took apart my herb bed and replanted it. Now it thrives. My parsely is happy, the beans are heading up the pole, the garlic is in the ground as are shallots, beets, endive and potatoes.

Next up I will tackle seedlings in the greenhouse with my new grow lights. I can still hear Christie's last words before good bye.... "if you start from seed it will be much less costly to garden and you'll be able to grow more interesting vegetables especially if you're into the heirlooms!"

Sigh. Plan. Organize. Plant. The mantra grows louder as box after box of seeds from all across the globe hit my mailbox.

Plan. Organize. Plant. Plan. Organize. Plant

where are the rain gods when you need them?!

The weather gurus keep teasing rain here in Los Angeles yet nary a drop has fallen. I've held off watering today in hopes that the garden would get a really good soaking from above although I'm not sure what will happen if the winds kick up. I haven't experienced a good storm since my little patch of organic heaven was born.  Guess it'll be a good time to see what I may need for times like this.

What's the best way to protect the garden and ensure that after a storm there's something left!?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

the simple art of over watering

Yes, I believe I have actually accomplished the exact opposite of what I set out to do - over water my garden. If not that, then I am perplexed. The tomato plants look weary but the water meter says wet. I'm feeling just a wee discouraged on one hand and on the other, well, a bit like I may possibly be on my way to becoming a real gardner. Why? Well, because I know that in reality I'm not alone. That's the good news. The bad news is what now?

I run through the checklist in my head, soil, compost, fertilizer, mulch, too much or too little sun. Well, I know there's too little sun because I live just a couple miles from the coast. Our mornings, often into mid afternoon, are filled with gray skies and cool temps. What was I thinking packing eight heirloom tomato plants in my happy boxed beds? I don't know?! Maybe that people in England have tomatoes, too? 

My pepper plants have peppers on them that are bigger then the plant itself! Well, let me clarify - they each have ONE pepper on them. Since each pepper plant sports a different kind of pepper - well you get the picture. Not much you can do with just one pepper. My lettuce is insufficient at best. In fact, I think that were I to make a sandwich and need lettuce, that currently each head would be just enough for one sandwich. My eggplant has one, well, eggplant on it that I eventually had to pick off because it was weighing the darn plant down - no new buds on the horizon. I'm going to translate that to probably no more eggplant on the horizon either. My sugar snap peas grew just enough for a snack - for one. My squash isn't even growing! What's up when your squash won't grow? Anyone can grow squash! Well, I'm here to tell you apparently that is not a true statement. My strawberries are just starting to bloom - although I do believe the season is somewhat over? My beets are still just one beet ..the one I planted.....My chives are wimpy, my celery has not budged, my potatoes pooped out (although we did have enough for one meal, my tomatillos have given their all, my parsley could better be called 'sparsley' and my basil still comes from the grocery at $9.00 a sprig! This garden was suppose to save me money! ...oh, I'm not happy. Is this because I wanted to be organic?

The good news I suppose is that we have two seasons here in Southern California. I can always try again and quite possibly have success. Then I'll have next summer to look forward to. One way or the other I'll figure out this garden business and be able to fulfill my dream of sharing my bounty and bumper crops with friend and family or spend all my hard earned money on produce at the farmer's market! As is stands now, I'll have to sneak the only red tomato on the vine and tell the rest of the family that a raccoon must have eaten it!

If any of you reading this has any advice for me, I would sure appreciate it!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

what's to eat tonight?

OK. As a lark this morning because I was up early and lord knows have nothing else to do...or possibly this was another method of procrastination to the real world at hand....I started listing my cookbooks here on the blog. (see sidebar) I'm embarrassed to say that the list is incomplete!

Why is it then that I can never think of anything to make for dinner?

Do you have a favorite cookbook I should add to my list?