Friday, June 25, 2010

I Got Paid For Loving My Garden

Last week I entered a writing contest, sponsored by AWAI. Just a short essay on the topic
"My Favorite Summer Pastime".

It was quick and easy, 1000 words or fewer, and I figured it would just be good writing practice. Well I won. It felt great to share my enthusiasm for gardening with a wider audience, and I get $100 for about an hours work. Here's my entry.

AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
My Favorite Summer Pastime …

That's Easy

Gardening is my favorite summer pastime. I long for my summer garden all winter long. I pore over seed catalogs and dream of the scent of herbs and tomatoes riding on the heat waves of summer.

I know there are millions of people who feel the same way. And although I do some amount of gardening all year round, it's summer when everything speeds up and intensifies. And the summer bounty of flowers, fruits and vegetables is astounding.

The miracle of a seed unfolding into a plant never fails to hold me spellbound. And I derive tremendous satisfaction from being able to grow my own food. Of course you can get terrific produce from farmers markets, but there is nothing more local than a tomato from your own plants.

Even more rewarding is sharing my love of gardening with other people. Lots of folks enjoy their hobbies in the company of those with similar interests. But gardeners have a deeper bond to their hobby than most, almost spiritual, since they are dealing with miracles on a daily basis. And that sense of joy and wonder is very contagious among gardeners.

But even better than hanging out with fellow plant enthusiasts is teaching people to grow some of their own food, especially folks for whom access to healthy, affordable food is sometimes a challenge.

My town has a program that partners garden mentors with low income folks who have expressed interest in growing some of their own food, but who don't know how, or don't have access to the tools they need. Many of the people have never grown anything before and many of them are intimidated or unsure that they will be able to succeed.

Being able to produce some of their own food delivers nourishment for the soul as well as the stomach. The confidence they gain at producing even the smallest harvest is particularly heartwarming. They stand taller in their children's eyes too. And they feel like they have more control over their lives and their diets, and the diets of their kids.

And yes, gardening inspires my writing. Time spent in the garden can be contemplative even when it is hard labor. I spend many hours gardening and writing in my head. Or letting my thoughts meander until I arrive at a solution to a problem or and angle for an assignment.

Gardening also inspires me to write about my experiences in the botanical world. Backyard Farm is my gardening blog where I document my adventures, misadventures, and obsessions.

Last year it was all about a pepper called Rocoto. I read about this exotic plant in Sunset magazine and embarked on a quest to add it to my garden. The pepper captured my interest because it claimed to be cold tolerant, and since I garden in the Pacific Northwest I thought it might fare better than other varieties.

The more blank stares I got in response to my inquiries the more determined I became to find this elusive pepper. I finally did locate seeds for the red variety, and plant starts for the yellow version called Manzano. While the plants didn't survive our winter freezes, they did last much longer than the other peppers, and were so prolific that I still have dried peppers from last years harvest. The plant was a beauty too, with a profusion of purple flowers preceding the peppers.

And this year, who knows what the most fascinating plant in the garden will be. Already I can tell that one of my apple trees and a hardy kiwi will bear fruit for the first time. So I will be monitoring them closely.

So yeah, gardening would have to be my favorite summer pastime, in fact one of my favorite activities any time of year. It's a great way for mere mortals to participate in miracles.

Above is the link to the site where my essay appeared.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer May Have Come At Last

So finally it looks like we will have a week of days with temps in the mid 70s. We made it. The plants seem to be bursting forth with pent up growth. Just a little sun and a few degrees makes all the difference.

Snap peas have begun to produce more than just a few for snacking while surveying the garden. And the tomatoes are looking great, almost all of them have blossoms, so I will need to do a detailed inspection to see which have set fruit.

Neighbor children have been over almost everyday to forage for raspberries. There are more than enough to share and we still have plenty for our cereal everyday and the occasional smoothie.

Lately all of the leeks I have harvested have had a hard, woody center. Still usable, but I think I may have left them too long. Here's confirmation that I did, and some great info on growing leeks from Garden Web, which holds a wealth of gardening information.
Garden Web / Leeks

Monday, June 14, 2010

Berry Exciting

The raspberries have started to roll in. A huge harvest this year. And I didn't do a thing to deserve it. Okay, maybe a little pruning in the spring and pulling choking Morning Glory vines out when I can. But really not much else, which makes it even more of a treat to enjoy the delicious berries.

They are fleeting though and it demands vigilance. On a sunny day an unripe berry will be ripe by afternoon, so the patch requires constant monitoring to catch each berry at peak ripeness and flavor.

I don't know what type of berries they are, other than they are twice bearing, once in June and again into October / November. But the second harvest isn't as good as the first, or maybe I am just so jaded by then by all the other garden treats that they can't measure up to the rapture of the first fragrant, red produce.

They are reliable, producing an abundance of berries each of the 5 years I've lived here. And although they came under the fence from the neighbor's patch, and although these neighbors, mostly the kids, love to remind me that the raspberries actually belong to them, I feel no remorse popping them into my mouth and swooning in plain sight of these same neighbors. And I pretend not to notice when these neighbor kids come over to my side of the fence and raid the berries.

The patch on my side is now about twice the size of theirs and I suggest to them that the berries are happier living with me. And then I pop another into my mouth and smile.

2 Kinds of Kiwis

Lucky me. I've got 2 kinds of kiwi fruit in my yard and it looks like both will be bearing fruit this year. Technically the familiar, brown, fuzzy kiwi isn't mine. But much of the vine is hanging into my yard and my neighbor is generous and will not be able to eat all the fruit if the volume of blossoms is any indication of the harvest.

Although most often associated with New Zealand, this type of kiwi is native to China and was planted in New Zealand in the early 1900s, and later in California.

Due to some well meaning, but overly aggressive pruning the plant has not produced fruit for the last couple of years. So it will be especially welcome this year. We should be enjoying the fruit by October or November.

It is actually two plants, a male and a female. For most kiwis it is necessary to have both for the flowers to be pollinated and produce fruit.

And on my side of the fence I've got this little guy, a hardy, self pollinating kiwi, Actinidia arguta 'Issai. I got the plant last year at The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon Sale, and it produced 3 blossoms and no fruit. It lived in a container up until this spring when I decided it needed to go in the ground. It sits next to the backyard fence and I have strung wire between the fence posts on which I hope it will climb.

Along with lots of new growth since it went into the earth, there has been a profusion of blossoms and now lots of tiny green fruits. Excitement is mounting.

And this is Pearl returning from patrolling the neighbor's yard.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's Official...

Summer begins tomorrow,
or so the weather forecasters promise. But we've been fooled before. And although the next week or so shows temperatures in the 80s (for the 1st time this year), Portlanders are wary. June 10th is later than usual to still have this much water falling from the sky and for the mercury to have failed to breach the 80 degree mark. We've had more rain in the first few days of June than the average for the entire month.

I know we aren't supposed to be surprised. We are supposed to love it because that's what make the Pacific Northwest so greeeeeeeeeen. But even we sodden stoics want to get out of our fleece and get our tank tops and flip flops on. Sheesh.

It seems the cartoon sun in the weather report is always 4-5 days in the future and by the time we get there the sun has been obscured by the gray cloud with diagonal lines. Following today's 62 degrees and showers we are being taunted with a smiling sun and 2 days in a row above 80 degrees. We shall see if the weather gurus continue their sadistic game of bait and switch.

In the silver lining department, it's great weed pulling weather. The soil is so soggy they come right out, roots intact.

But most of the plants are taking a beating and the summer vegetables and herbs are in suspended animation. Plants whose growth you can see with the naked eye under normal sunny, warm conditions, like beans, squash and tomatoes are frozen in time, as if encased in amber for eternity.

Of course everything will come to life tomorrow, when summer begins. I just have to have something to believe in. Please.