Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not what I ordered

Once in a while, you don't get what you asked for. Like all these extra rainy days. "That's not what I ordered," you say. "I think that was for the other table over there, the one with the drought."The strawberries have definitely had their fill of precipitation as well as temperatures around 60 degrees F. The number of soft and rotted fruits have caught up with the number of healthy ones. As you can see in this photo, taken about a week ago, many of the berries in the shovel appear to have some sort of blight, possibly botrytis, a fungus disease that favors the current weather conditions. I've been doing my best to stay on top of this problem and dispose of the diseased berries, though I'm overdue for a visit to my plot.

Another less serious but notable item that I had not ordered was what appears to be snow peas in my sugar snap pea crop. Another MSG member had mentioned the same situation in her plot. I don't think it's fair to implicate Fedco, since I experienced the same phenomenon with a different brand of snap pea seeds last year. It's not such a big deal anyway, since only a few plants out of the whole crop produce the different variety, and the pods are healthy and fine. But it's a little unnerving to leave a pod on the vine with the expectation that it will puff out into a sugar snap, only to have it become overripe.
What causes this variation? I'm no geneticist, but I wonder if it has anything to do with what I read in this source: "The modern sugar snap pea is the progeny of a cross between a snow pea and an ususual pea that was tightly podded with thick walls." Some kind of cross-pollination issue, perhaps. I'll try to remember to post a photo of some plants in my garden, if it ever stops raining. I've only harvested a few, so far, so I'll keep them out of my latest benefits of gardening statistics.

Previous total (benefits): $29.13
5 heads Romaine at $2.49 each: $12.45
8 1/2 pints strawberries at $3.99 each: $33.92

New benefits total: $75.50

Total costs so far: $167.07

Current balance: $-91.57

I think we're near the end of the strawberries, however. I wondering if I'll be able to fill a pint container with healthy fruit when I visit the plot tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gardener, blogger, and now...

Since Friday afternoon, there had been much speculation over whether or not the early summer Minton Stable Garden potluck barbecue should take place on Saturday as scheduled. Early yesterday afternoon, the gardeners were notified by a single email that the event was on. They were probably unaware of what I experienced as a newly-elected member of the Steering Committee--an inbox flooded with messages assessing the weather as well as confirming the date of our next meeting.

It really did appear that the weather could go either way, but the sun began to make longer cameo appearances and the National Weather Service pushed back the estimated arrival of more rain to after midnight. We made the right call; despite the ever-present dark clouds the conditions remained dry, although a little chilly for the weekend of the summer solstice. Though the turnout was smaller most people lingered for several hours, eating, drinking, and conversing, and a couple of gardeners took turns providing some acoustic guitar music.
As you may be able to see in this photo of John and Todd, we were identified by name tags that Jennifer had written up ahead of time. Someone joked that it would make us easier targets for complaints, but what I received instead was a few thank yous from other gardeners for making the two-year commitment. In addition to the monthly meetings, members take turns supervising work days, and take on tasks in other areas such as treasury, communications, and record-keeping of work hours, just to name a few. They also work together to make decisions about how to develop the common areas and determine by-laws. On Wednesday Roxane, Asa (whose name I am getting closer to spelling correctly, as soon as I learn the HTML for that circular mark above the first letter), and I will join current members John, Todd, Jennifer, and Terry and get a fuller picture, as we try fill the enormous shoes of the outgoing members Allan, Julianna, and Nancie, whom I'd like to thank for all of their hard work and dedication.

The responsibilities seem so great that I almost considered not running. But, as I explained to the other gardeners in my bio, I've been blogging about how wonderful the place is and that relatively speaking, at this point in my life, I can put in my time for helping ensure that it stays that way. I didn't choose to run to serve my blog, and the blog will not be a record of the committee's activities. The committee is dedicated to transparency and open communication with the gardeners and neighbors, which it is hoping to achieve through meetings, emails, and the Yahoo group that was established last year. However, there may be some times that I might share a little of my experience, sometime when I'm not reporting on my harvest, fussing over my tomatoes that don't seem to be growing as quickly as everyone else's, or harassing my fellow gardeners to let me write about them. We'll see.

Back to harvests in my next post. As you can see, many plants have taken off, and there are peas dangling all over the place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Strawberry Test Kitchen

The berries are ripening faster than we can pick them. A couple of pints on Sunday, but no one was able to visit the plot on Monday. So on Tuesday, it meant spending the time I had allocated for weeding and a project at home on harvesting even more strawberries, about 3 1/2 pints. For about every five ripe or slightly overripe berries there was a rotted one to dispose of, and since I am out of town at the moment and unable to get back until tomorrow, I anticipate there will be even more.

At this point, my plans are for the berries to appear in some form at three potlucks later this week. One recipe I hope to try is a Strawberry Chiffon Pie; if I can't pull it off for the event at my daughter's school on Thursday, I might have it down in time for my friend's fundraiser on Friday night. Without reliable refrigeration at the MSG barbecue this Saturday, it might make more sense to bring strawberry shortcake (either making a simple shortcake or buying one), and hope that the kids don't have mischievous plans for the whipped cream.

The reason for the title "Strawberry Test Kitchen" is that I like to think of my first attempt at any recipe as an experiment. That way, if I screw it up I'll feel less disappointed. Also, there's always some ingredient that I have to either omit or substitute, so it's a test to determine how badly the recipe needed it. That was the case Monday night when my daughter and I made a half-batch of Strawberry Italian Ice (no, I'm not getting any kickbacks from Better Homes and Gardens!). We didn't have an orange handy for the grated orange peel, but after tasting the results yesterday morning, I think we managed just fine without it. The boiled sugar and other ingredients gave the ice the right amount of sweetness and enhanced the flavor of the strawberries.

So many strawberries, so little time. What would you do?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The benefits and costs of gardening update

We've been having yo-yo temperatures these past few weeks--a day or two near 80 (as in the picture above) and then back down to the 60s. Luckily the nighttime lows haven't dipped to frost levels so we need not worry much about the welfare of our tomatoes. However, those plants do seem to have gone on strike, refusing to grow. Like the Boston Globe writers who rejected a pay cut, they're unhappy with the conditions.

One bright spot in the overcast weather is that it might help delay my lettuce from bolting, which is good news considering how much there still is. I've picked the equivalent of another Olivia's container of leaves and four small heads of Romaine for potluck and home salads. My not-so-scientific estimate is that two heads is the equivalent of one from the supermarket. At Whole Foods market today, a head of organically-grown Romaine cost $2.49 a head.

The strawberries in my Minton Stable Garden plot have not been deterred by our little cold spell. At this point, my family and I have picked about 3 1/2 pints. I suppose I should find a good recipe for a torte in order to keep up; so far the only ways we have been enjoying the strawberries have been 1) straight up, 2) on top of a Junior's cheesecake my husband brought home from Brooklyn last week, and 3) in a fruit cake my daughter baked from a recipe that was part simple cake instructions found on the Internet and part improvisation of what we had in the fridge. I looked for organically-grown strawberries at Whole Foods, but found only the conventionally-grown Driscoll's at $3.99 a pint, so I'll go with that.

Today was not all gain, however. I had to pick up a roll of gardening twine to finish making a trellis for my pole beans to climb; that set me back $2.40, including tax.

So, the up-to-date benefits tally is:
Previous total: $3.59
Container of salad greens: $3.59
2 heads of Romaine equivalent $4.98
3 1/2 pints of strawberries $13.97

Total benefits: $29.13

And the costs:
Previous total: $164.67
Gardening twine: $2.40

Total costs: $167.07

So the total balance taking benefits and cost into account is -$137.94.

If this sort of analysis interests you, then you should also check out Daphne's blog. On the right side she is keeping her tally. She is using a more scientific approach of measuring her yield by the pound; I had thought of doing the same but I don't have a scale and didn't want to add to my expenses. Daphne is also operating in the red, but given the variety and scope of her garden I think she has a better chance than I do of ending the season in the black. I'm looking forward to seeing if she does.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Update on my plot

The advantage of the medium of blogging is the ability to bypass the editorial process and post news as it happens. However, today I find myself breaking this important rule to present you with photos taken three days ago (the horror!) and report on Thursday's and Saturday's MSG visits. Imagine if the Boston Globe waited until today to report an incident that occurred on Friday? Luckily, My Dirt is unhampered by the pressures to keep current or suffer from more financial consequences; when you have no budget, you have no budget to lose.So with this in mind I'll keep to the business of earning through my harvest, which is now picking up, and I'll update you on the estimated value of my yield sometime this week. In the meantime, here's a photo of the first June-bearing strawberries, picked from my plot on Thursday. When I returned yesterday I filled a recycled pint container with more and picked four small heads of Romaine lettuce. I was rushing around on errands yesterday in preparation for company last night, so no time to take out the camera.The leaf miner on my spinach had reappeared on most of the few leaves I had left remaining, so I pulled out all but my two healthiest plants. But my biggest concern was that a few of the lower leaves of my broccoli plants were showing a similar blight. On Thursday, I pulled off those leaves and took this photo of one of my plants out of concern for a few holes in the upper leaves. Luckily, there were no new signs of the blight yesterday, and, surveying the broccoli in other plots, I have come to believe that the holes are not necessarily a sign of danger (alternative interpretations are always welcome!).
In the flower department, I planted zinnia seeds in a new location, because I needed last year's space to start some Kentucky Wonder pole beans. Better late than never, I guess. No worries with the California poppies, however, they self-seed every year, and have been in bloom for the past week or so. One of the coolest features of this annual is the contrast between the papery bright-orange fully-opened flower and the way it looks closed, a delicate light-green cone served on a bubble-gum pink plate. As for my perennials, I can see the white beginnings of buds on my blanket flowers, the plants' eggplant-colored leaves can be seen in the right rear of the poppy photo.

I will finish this post now so I can take advantage of the glorious weather we are having; it would be sacrilegious to squander this opportunity by spending it in front of a screen. I'll leave you with my garden envy photo for this post: some irises from another MSG plot. I had never seen irises of this color, sort of a combination of sepia and pink.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A predecessor to the garden blog

What do garden bloggers do anyway? Some write to inform their readers about garden-related topics, and perhaps defend a point of view, but in most cases, blogs are like public journals of a garden's progress and the gardener's reflections. It's no wonder that one friend recommended that I attend BNAN's workshop on keeping a garden journal (which, unfortunately, I missed due to a conflict), and another lent me her copy of An Island Garden Daybook by the late poet Celia Thaxter.

Over a hundred years ago, Thaxter returned to the place where she spent part of her childhood, on one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, and created and tended a spectacular garden featuring fifty varieties of flowers, including hollyhocks, sunflowers, lupines, poppies--many that can be found in the Minton Stable Garden today. While modern-day bloggers rely on their digital cameras for visual documentation, Thaxter benefitted from the talents of her painting instructor, Childe Hassam. His paintings of flowers, birds, and garden landscapes provided the illustrations for her book The Island Garden.

The 1990 reissue by the Houghton Mifflin Company features excerpts from Thaxter's text and Hassam's artwork alongside blank spaces for each date of any given year, but whose documentary scribble can compete with poetic observations such as this?

The snowdrops by the door
Lift upward, sweet and pure,
Their delicate bells; and soon,
In the calm blaze of noon,
By lowly window-sills
Will laugh the daffodils!

Even if the book wasn't on loan, I would probably just as well leave the expression of the joys and trials of gardening on these pages up to Thaxter. We are both New England gardeners, after all, operating in similar climates on similar schedules. About late May, Thaxter writes: "Pulling up and throwing away...superfluous plants is a very difficult thing for me to do...but it must be done...The welfare of the garden depends on it." I can certainly relate, on the painful experience of digging out a volunteer sunflower, denying its majestic future in my plot to ensure adequate sun on my tomatoes and broccoli, and yanking out strawberry runners invading my perennials despite the potential for even more sweet fruit.

Celia Thaxter is one of many writers whose gardening experience most likely enhanced not only her writing but her ability to keenly observe her surroundings. As I've worked on my own documentation over the past year, I find myself taking more notes, and looking for details that I had recently taken for granted, including the size of a plant, the contrast of colors, the level of ease or difficulty involved in pulling a weed...just as a garden remains a work in progress, so is the writing.

Now I'm looking forward to this moment in late June when, as Thaxter states: "...I can begin to take a breath and rest a little from these difficult yet pleasant labors; an interval when I may take time to consider, a morning when I may seek the hammock in the shady piazza, and, looking across my happy flower beds, let the sweet day sink into my heart."