Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Starting seeds makes me feel a bit less like a garden slacker. I know, I should have been doing it all along, but actually doing it counts.

So today, I used my new Haws can

to water in:
Drunken Woman Frizzy Head lettuce
Tom Thumb lettuce
Merlot lettuce
Territorial Seed's Heirloom Blend lettuce
a romaine whose name escapes me
Lacinato kale
Red Russian kale
Breadseed poppy
Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach
Monstreux de Viroflay spinach
Hibiscus for tea
Italian flat-leaf parseley

Seems like a long list for only three flats. The pepper cuttings are hanging in there, so not obviously dead at least.

Before I start any more seeds, I'm going to have to either repair or replace the light fixtures and get new bulbs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Perpetual Peppers

I love my Padron pepper. I love the way it yields loads of delicious peppers for frying; I love the way it overwintered so cheerfully, despite really cold weather; I love that every once in a while it throws a really hot little pepper, just to keep the eater on their toes.

Even though it did overwinter, I'm a little leery of assuming that everything is going to be hunky-dory again. We could have a harder freeze, or I could just want more peppers than one (admittedly champion) plant will produce. Friends could want in on the Padron-love.

So I decided to try making more of the very same plant through the magic of cuttings. When I worked as a garden helper on a posh estate, we took cuttings of things all the time. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not, but it was pretty fun all the same.

I tried to get tips that would be both woody enough for self-support and green enough to be sprouty, although it was guesswork on my part. I remembered to cut a diagonal end on the stem, causing more of the rooting layer to be exposed. Unless that only goes for trees. At any rate, these had a diagonal tip.

A simple jar of powdered rooting hormone is supposed to promote root growth. After dipping the cut end, I tapped off any extra powder. No sense wasting it, and there were as many dire warnings on the stuff as you'd imagine. No eye contact, skin contact, breathing it in, ingesting. . . I didn't want to see if I'd sprout roots, so I just didn't touch it or snuffle it up my nose.

I tried to keep as much of the powder on the stem as I put the cutting into its pot of soil. A pencil made holes that were just about the right size. Quite a few of the cuttings came from sideways branches, so they were leaning all akimbo. I figured if the cuttings take, it won't matter how they were leaning.

They're all resting under a plastic dome, for humidity. Because the cuttings don't have any roots (yet) to take up moisture, but have lots of leaves to expire moisture, they are a little sad looking today. I did trim many leaves off, and also cut off any buds. There were a surprising amount of them for cold December weather. Such a great plant! At any rate, if this works, I'll have a dozen new pepper plants, certainly enough to share.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Little houses, big problems

New house construction is really at a low these days. After acting as my own contractor, I'm thinking I can almost understand why. After my subs ate 1/3 of the building materials*, and we had to use inferior substitutions**, and we had to push back the closing by seven times, well, it's a wonder anything got built at all.

But they did.

And the patches held on the broken spots

So the trip to the home furnishing place means the whole village will soon erupt in seasonal colors.

Next year, we're thinking castles.

* And then threw up repeatedly, all night long. Yay. Not one grabbing and eating, but two.

** Lard, the cheap kind, instead of butter. I like butter too much to do this over and over. Besides, the dogs don't deserve it and I bought good candy for the kids. They have to just not eat the houses themselves.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rain shadow, rain shadow

I've been singing since I came in from the garden.

Finally a bit of rain after so much cold, but dry weather. The garden needs it, and I need it since the breakdowns in the irrigation system mean watering isn't a hands-off experience. At least until I get the problems fixed.

I used to live somewhere where it rained almost every night most of the year, and was generally clear during the day. It was nice in that respect. From my current perspective, I didn't appreciate it enough. My sandy soil, even with amendments, drains quickly and the plants prefer consistent watering. So I am always happy to see our rainy season come along when things like carrots are much easier.

Even so, there are pockets of my garden that are not as fortunate as others.

This bed is in the middle of the yard, beside the apricot tree but not under anything. Nice and moist.

Then, there's the Acacia Tree of Doom.

If you were an onion plant or a volunteer Red Russian kale, this would be your skyward view. Personally, I wish this tree would go to the great beyond the way the one in our yard did years ago. I'm not in charge, however, so we content ourselves with cutting back what we can.

It's not quite enough, as you can possibly see:

Really dry under there. The rain has to be excessive or at a slant to get past the tree's umbrella.In addition, I bet some of the roots are underneath it, sucking water up even if it does get to the surface. So I water this bed by hand or carefully plant dry-tolerant crops there.

What kind of microclimates does your yard have?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Freeze

Rarely do really hard freezes hit our area. If they do, the citrus growers scramble with smudge pots and gardeners cover up delicate plants. A few years ago, it was easy to see which plants came from tropical places -- black, slimy heaps marked what had been Datura and other softies.

Not until the dogs and I rounded the shady side of the dog park at 7:00 this morning did I realize that we were in for cold weather. Of course, I hadn't taken cuttings from the Padron pepper as I'd planned to. Fortunately, upon inspection it looked okay.

The strawberries should know that blooming in December is a bad idea. Maybe this will convince them?

Hardy parseley, kale, and the other cole crops just looked pretty but not overly put-upon. Garden stalwarts.

Everything else looked pretty okay, and today marked the first time I used warm bath water to water the seedling beds. It's so much easier on my hands than pumping cold rainwater from the barrels. Because of  the hole in the pipe, I'm going to be doing some hand watering until I get my act together to fix the irrigation!

Monday, December 5, 2011


I've been mulling this post over all day, which amuses me because it's all about not getting wrapped up in perfection.

Not me -- generally I'm free of this particular issue. I tend more toward the "half-cocked, half-assed" end of the spectrum. Naturally I have a family that in some respects is spectacularly on the other end.

I don't always deal with their issues gracefully. Working on this essay in my head made me feel a little more sympathetic. I jotted notes -- failure, persistence, easing pressure, impermanence, and none of them sang with the clarity I was reaching for. Finally I decided that for me, posted mattered more than perfect. (See Not A Perfectionist, above.)

We've been sitting down as part of our morning and doing a page of handwriting work every day. I know there are homeschoolers who see this as a terrible betrayal of the spirit of the thing -- none of my kids is avidly interested in being able to write legibly, at least not to the extent of wanting to practice. But I'm of the "No kid of mine is going to write like that" camp, and since it's a motor skill, it will get better by practice, just like any of the sports they do. Plus, it's not like our brand of learning is taking up much time -- or it's taking up all of their time, and either way, we win.

Also? Having four kids and homeschooling for years hasn't actually given me more answers than, say, someone who only has one child. Just because something worked on one doesn't mean it would work on another, and as I found out today, I don't even remember all of the tricks I learned in order to try them on another child.

Which brings me to this morning. I've learned that with Cat, I need to be careful about giving her tasks. She tends to dig in deeply, pursuing something like a terrier after a rat. This is a terrific inclination, in that she's going to be able to follow things she's interested in through challenges, but sometimes the challenges are internal. I hoped that by limiting her handwriting to only one page, she could get through it without frustrating herself to tears (and then yelling at me that I "don't understand!").

[Just a note, here. I don't do anything to make her feel as though perfection is the only goal in handwriting. She's not even supposed to be doing it. But you try to tell that to a child who has three older siblings.]

And the letter "r" was it today. "I can't do it!!" she wailed. I tried holding her hand and doing it together. I tried talking, and nothing was working. I was seeing my carefully-calibrated calm morning crumble before the jam was wiped up off of the table.

And then, whatever good angel helps out homeschooling parents whispered to me. "Remember?"

"Wait here!" I said, and rushed into the kitchen.

"Why? What are you doing?"

"Just wait!"

When I got back to the table, I shoved the paper and pencil away from her. "Look," I said, "You can use whatever you want -- the eraser end, your nose, your finger tip, just use this."

She quirked a smile at me. "Just in this?"

"Yes, now try." She tried. I shook to erase.

Over and over and over again, until she said, "I've got it! Look at my 'r'!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

I meant to do one of these

I still like the copper chicken sculpture. Maybe I should try to make more garden art.
Oddly enough, Tor, Ellie, and I aren't as good at archery as we hoped. The box with a turkey drawn on it remained mostly unscathed, but the irrigation pipe is a goner.
Cilantro can be picky for me -- won't germinate, bolts immediately, etc. But let a plant go to seed, and it's Salsa Pathway! Maybe I'll use the last of the tomatoes and make a batch, after harvesting with nail scissors.