For years, these grew densely among the periwinkles alongside our driveway. Now there are a few clumps of Lillies of the Valley just starting to blossom. I suspect mulching with compost for two or three years would dramatically revive these plants.
I haven’t been home much in the past four months. My dad moved out of our family home and I’ve been in Ithaca making repairs and moving stuff out. I’m hoping to have the house ready to rent in June so a property manager can start showing it. All that to explain why I don’t know exactly what’s blooming in my garden.
Still, I like to participate in Garden Bloggers Bloom day, so I captured what’s abloom in my dad’s yard. Things are a lot different from when I lived here as a kid. Rhubarb is gone from the old patch and there’s no evidence of the sandbox or the tomato garden that occupied its space after we kids outgrew it.
The borders Mom planted each spring with annuals now sport evergreen shrubs. The trilliums that grew near the garage are gone, and Dad’s previously over-pampered rose bush barely peeks out from behind an evergreen hedge. English ivy, periwinkles, and lilies of the valley still grow along the driveway, but they’re beaten down. Once a lush, green display, this space clearly needs soil additives to perk up its plants.
Well… it is what it is. After 52 years, the family no longer lives here. Soon, tenants will take over, and chances are the ornamental plantings will receive attention only from the deer that often graze in the yard. I enjoyed what is abloom here, and I hope you will, too.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t know when I was a kid that this was a periwinkle. I certainly didn’t know it was a periwinkle when I photographed it this morning. I used to harvest these flowers to make little gift vases for my mom.
My dad went on today about how the lilacs are nicer this year than they’ve been in years. Our lone lilac tree has looked sketchy to me since I was five years old—and that hasn’t changed… but the blossoms are gorgeous.
There’s a good chance these flowers will be sour cherries in early July. Dad planted the sour cherry tree long after I moved out, and he has enjoyed many harvests from it. I planted a sour cherry tree about five years ago and it’s still deciding when it’s going to produce its first harvest.
Until this morning, here’s what I knew about woodruff: May Wine is a sweetened white wine, usually low quality. Some people serve it in May and add woodruff, a traditional seasoning. Not much context. Who serves May Wine? Whose traditions? I think it’s a German thing, and I’ve enjoyed my share of May Wine over the years. This morning, for the first time ever, I learned to recognize woodruff. It’s pretty but beware. My dad tells me it grows enthusiastically and will take over a planting bed or yard if you give it the chance.
Maple leaves have such a distinctive shape that people in North America know what you mean when you say something is shaped like a maple leaf. My oldest son, when he was about five years old, collected four maple seeds and sprouted them in a Styrofoam cup.
When my son Matthew was about five years old, he collected four maple seeds and planted them in a Styrofoam cup. The seeds produced four healthy seedlings and Matthew asked if we could plant them in the yard. Then we proceeded to try to kill them.
Maple Seedlings on Vacation
When the seedlings each had started producing leaves, we travelled to Ithaca for a three-day visit with my parents. We returned to wilted maple seedlings in dry soil. I guessed the plants were dry enough that they wouldn’t revive, but we watered them anyway.
Some varieties of maple tree produce clusters of flowers even before new leaves emerge in spring. Others leaf out and then grow flowers. Inevitably, seeds follow quickly; thousands of seeds that could reforest a yard or garden in just a few years.
Three of the seedlings didn’t come back, but one did. Its original leaves were dry, but more leaves sprouted from its terminal bud and we agreed to plant it in the side yard.
Young Maple Tree in Winter
The maple seedling grew enthusiastically and reached at least 12 inches before dropping its leaves in autumn. Eventually snow fell, and one day I happened by Matthew’s maple seedling only to notice it was considerably shorter than it had been. Some critter had bitten off half the plant!
If you garden in a temperate zone, you’re probably familiar with maple seeds. A seed grows at the end of a small wing that acts as a rotocopter. These rotocopters can sail in a heavy wind for miles. More often, they land within dozens of yards of the parent tree. In a lawn, on a forest floor, in a meadow, on a bed of mulch, and even in a rain gutter, the seed-heavy ends quite often land business-side down. So close to potential growing medium, an emergent root easily digs in, giving life to a new sprout.
Incidentally, this photo shows only the rotocopter seed wrapper. The seed fell last spring and a rodent bit open its carrier and ate the good stuff. In posing an appropriate photo, I found hundreds of such rotocopters, all bitten open and emptied in exactly the same way. Given the apparent delectability of maple seeds, it’s easy to see why they must be efficient at taking root once they reach the ground.
Feeling dread, I inverted an empty bucket on the tree to preserve what was left in case what was left had life left. When snow melted away in March, I removed the bucket and a few weeks later, that tenacious maple tree pushed out new leaves.
Pre-emergent Tree Killer
I hadn’t yet developed disdain for lawn, and so I followed the annual lawn care regimen of applying pre-emergent weed killer and fertilizer before the blossoms fell off the forsythia (rule of thumb for lawn enthusiasts). Never occurred to me to notice that Matthew’s little tree caught a snootful of weed killer.
Another rule of thumb for lawn enthusiasts: that poisonous stuff you broadcast on your grass kills a lot more than just broadleaf weeds. The leaves on Matthew’s abused maple tree shriveled and I was sure the plant was done. But no! The sickly leaves never recovered, but after a month the tree put out new leaves and started to look healthy once more.
I found dozens of year-old maple seedlings growing in the yard at my dad’s house and chose two very unlikely ones to include in this post. The seedling on the left grows from otherwise barren soil next to a rock that guides rainwater runoff away from the house (note the rotocopter end of a maple seed directly in front of the seedling’s stem). The seedling on the right took root between the front steps and the front walk. This is a crack filled with pebbles through which roots would have to go about tthree inches before finding soil.
By mid-season Matthew’s beleaguered maple tree was tall enough to make me realize I’d made a huge mistake: The tree was too close to the house and would eventually prevent us from driving large vehicles on the lawn to the back yard. We don’t drive there often, but access is important. The maple tree had to move.
The tree on the left in this photo is Matthew’s 15 year old maple tree. It’s now as tall as a nearby tree that was already full-grown when we moved into our house 18 years ago. (The red tree to the right only looks as tall because it’s much closer to the camera.) From a modest seed to a 40 foot tall, climbable tree in just 15 years—and that with four serious attempts on its life! You can grow that.
Stunted as it was from all the abuse, Matthew’s tree had a robust root system. Even after I dug out the roots that extended horizontally from the trunk, it was a much bigger chore to go after the tap root; I failed. I eventually chopped through the tap root, which I understand can significantly weaken a plant and, in the case of a tree, make the plant less stable in high winds.
Fortunately, the tree grew vigorously in its new location just a few yards from where it had spent more than a year. Unfortunately, the tree produced epicormic sprouts—weak branches along the trunk and at the base of the tree that somehow seem out of place. A forester once explained to me such branches grow in response to stress.
But it grows! Now all of 15 years old, Matthew’s tree is nearly as tall as another in our yard that was already mature when we bought the house. We tried pretty hard to kill that maple tree. We failed. It persevered. Want a maple tree in your yard? You can grow that!
Learn about You Can Grow That and find other participating blogs at the movement’s website: You Can Grow That!
I grabbed this shovel from my dad’s garage when I needed to dig in his yard. Using it brought back memories and gave me respect for the value of being able to “do it yourself.”
Last week I needed a shovel to dig some holes at my dad’s house. As I had as a child, I found what I needed in the garage and went to work.
Through an hour or so of digging, I put a huge load on the shovel’s handle. Repeatedly, I dug deep and pulled to pry soil and stones loose. The handle bent but it never cracked. It bent more than handles on my own shovels and garden forks when I dig in my vegetable garden… and I’ve broken at least six of those in the last ten years.
Grow your own repair crew
My father always expressed his depression era mentality through maintenance and preservation: he cleaned and oiled what needed lubrication, and he repaired what broke. He involved his kids in these chores, and we learned to remove rust, paint metal to preserve it, grease bearings, oil joints, polish leather, clean spark plugs, sharpen knives and axes, glaze windows, calk, glue stuff, repair damaged wiring, remove and replace cotter pins, mix concrete, and otherwise keep stuff operational.
When I was eleven, my parents bought a weekend farm. This was the foundation of a strategy to keep their kids from becoming hippies. Whether it worked is fodder for another post, but the farm certainly changed us all.
There aren’t a lot of shovel handles like this one in the United States. Smooth, well-worn bark covers most of the wood, though knots show where the handle’s maker removed branches from the main shaft.
At the farm we learned about sharpening and lubricating chain saws, cleaning and oiling leather, cutting black locust trees into fence posts, stringing barbed wire and electric fences, clearing brush, replacing rotted barn boards and beams, cementing washed-out foundations, and planting stream banks with willow to hold the soil in place.
And, of course, there was the shovel. (Remember? This is a post about a shovel. But first, a confession: I wrote this post a week ago and told a story about my brother and his handiwork. Before I posted the story, I mentioned it to my dad who told a very different story; a better story. So, here’s the amendmended version to reflect my dad’s revelations.)
The end of my dad’s shovel handle has a lot of character. Some bark is missing, revealing a crack in the wood, and the remaining bark is shinier here.
The shovel predates my memories, but I know it lived at our house and later at the farm. I have a vague notion that it had a machined wooden handle painted red, but the paint was well-worn. The handle also was well-worn, and one day under load at the farm the handle broke. (Knowing my dad, that was the second, third, or fourth handle to break on that shovel.)
Normally, we’d have bought a commercially machined shovel handle to replace the broken one—over the years we’d done as much for axe handles, sledge hammer handles, and shovel handles. But this time around, my dad went a different route: he created a new handle from raw materials in the forest.
And so, last week I held that home-crafted shovel handle in my hands. It flexed without cracking; without complaining and I mused as to the wood my dad might have used. For the legendary strength of the tree’s wood, I wanted to guess Hickory (people used to call baseball bats “hickory sticks” because hickory was the default material back in the day). The bark’s texture suggested Ash or Oak, and its color seemed okier rather than ashier. So, I guessed Oak.
My dad’s shovel handle has been in service for at least 20 years—and probably much closer to 30. As I empty out the house and garage to make way for renters (my dad moved out in January), I’m inclined to throw the shovel in my car so I can enjoy the handle in my own garden. But aside from the question of what wood my dad used, the shovel handle held a second mystery: someone carved my brother Kris’s name in the wood. The name being there had me thinking Kris had repaired the shovel and it seemed when I wrote this blog post that the shovel should go to Kris when my dad is done with it.
Not the name of a treasured sled that represents happy, simpler days of childhood; this is the name of the craftsman’s son. Dad’s shovel handles are one-of-a-kind creations and impressively durable.
The Truth about Dad’s Shovel
Last week when I mentioned the shovel to my dad, he said, “I put that handle on. Didn’t I do one for you? I did one for Eric. I thought I did one for each of you boys.” Eric confirmed that HE has a shovel with a homemade handle having HIS name carved in it. I never had such a shovel.
I’m not bitter. Actually, it’s a sweet story to know my dad repaired these tools so spectacularly for my brothers. It’ll be a pleasure to make sure Kris eventually gets this shovel to use on his own farm.
My dad identified the wood: these are Ash tool handles. If ever you have the opportunity to repair a broken shovel handle, make your own from a branch of an ash tree. And carve someone’s name in the wood; you’ll create a story to tell.
These lettuce seedlings aren’t doing well under lights. My guess: the seed starting soil I used wasn’t very good. I bought a brick of starting soil at a nursery four years ago, and seeds I started in that have thrived. These lettuce seedlings are in soil I bought in Ithaca when I was desperate to get the growing season started. The seedlings will be far happier when I set them in the garden today or Tuesday.
This month’s Post Produce isn’t about produce I’m eating from my garden. Rather, it’s about produce I WILL eat! We’re having a most “normal” spring in central Pennsylvania, meaning spring crops are just barely underway.
My peach trees are in bloom, but the apples look barely awake. Pear blossoms are about to burst. Rhubarb is far enough along that were I desperate enough I could harvest some, but I think I’ll hold out a week or two and let the stalks grow to full-length. Raspberry plants I set out last fall are putting out growth despite having been severely pruned by wild animals during the winter. Blueberry plants are also showing signs of life. Oh, and oregano, thyme, sage, lavender, and tarragon have all sprouted new leaves. If the weather is good when I wake up today, I’ll photograph the perennials for a follow-up blog post. Until then, I’m talking vegetables.
I posted about Walla-Walla onions on April 5th, and promised I was about to start a second tray of seeds. Here’s the second tray, and the seedlings look great—though there’s plenty of algae growing on the soil. Algae doesn’t usually cause problems but it may indicate the seedlings have gotten too much water.
When I Plant Vegetables
Despite the lift my perennials provide, annual vegetables hold much more of my attention in early spring. Two weeks ago, I planted 28 foot-rows of pea seeds directly in the garden. Many of those seeds have sprouted, but there are gaps I’ll fill by pressing fresh seeds into the soil. Also, I expect to plant another 14 foot-rows of peas TODAY!
I wish I already had lettuce, spinach, and mustard seeds in the garden, but I’ve been distracted (see the box, Missing Spring if you want to know why.)
Seeds I planted indoors under lights have had enough time to prove themselves. Many have failed, but far more are growing strong. Tomorrow I’ll start seeds to replace the failures, and a few more I wanted to start two weeks ago before I ran out of time. Photos show where things stand.
Now You Post!
I get very excited as my seedlings emerge; there will be fresh vegetables in less than a month! What about you? Are you already harvesting pounds and pounds of delicious produce, or are you merely anticipating? Post about your homegrown produce and use the Linky Widget at the end of this post to link to yours.
I planted 46 tomato seeds two weeks ago. Here’s what sprouted: Glory of Mechelon—3 of 3. Moonglow—5 of 5. Chili-pepper-shaped paste tomato—9 of 15 (from 2-year-old seeds). Indigo Rose—5 of 5. Mortgage Lifter—7 of 7. Dutchman—6 of 8 (But they’re tiny! The short ones in the photo are Dutchman at about one-quarter the height of the other varieties.) White Queen—2 of 3. I’ll start 23 more seeds later today to fill in for ones that didn’t sprout. Also: my earliest-planted tomatoes—Stupice—look about to die. They’re in the same inferior soil that holds my lettuce seedlings, so I’m thinking to start eight more though it’s kind of late for them to demonstrate cold-hardiness. (Stupice are a short-season variety and I was hoping to get an early harvest.)
My pepper starts have been finicky as they always are. These seem to have been over-watered in my absence which has never helped in past years. Still, some are strugging along: Orange King Bell—6 of 8. Purple Jalapeno—1 of 5. Sweet Italian—5 of 5. Poblano—0 of 5. I intended to start two trays of peppers in the first place, but it looks as though I’ll add two more. As the soil in this first tray dries, the poblanos might just wake up and I’ll end up with too many seedlings.
Use the Linky here and add a link to your Post Produce post. Share what you’re eating or what you plan to eat from your own garden:
These delicate flowers grew near a stream and were the earliest blossoms I saw this spring (after crocuses).
Finally we have spring-like weather in central Pennsylvania but I’m not home to enjoy it. When I consider how plants looked a week ago, I imagine two bright yellow patches of forsythia in full-bloom, daffodils popping along the front of the house and the right border of our front yard, and hyacinths peeking out from among tulip leaves that haven’t quite gotten their own buds above ground.
Maybe, just maybe, my fruit trees have started to blossom. That needs to have happened soon (if it hasn’t) for this to be a “normal” spring.
Apparently, there weren’t a lot of flowers in bloom two weeks ago. The one bee that got an early start from its hive must have searched for hours to find the small patch of flowers I was photographing. I enjoyed the company.
Just before I left home to spend what will have been two weeks in Ithaca, I’d spent part of a gorgeous spring day walking along a stream where I spotted delicate blossoms hugging the ground. I dallied with my camera and then noticed something far less likely on the stream bank: there stood a muskrat chewing on vegetation.
Usually when I spot a muskrat, it’s scurrying away, diving into water, or darting into a hole. This one ignored me and continued to munch… and then I spotted a second one.
Muskrat Love in the Afternoon
Drifting with the current, the second muskrat came into view from upstream, floated past the first muskrat, and swam to shore about ten feet later. It had obviously spotted the first muskrat and it waddled quickly back along the bank.
This was a classic boy-meets-girl moment where girl (muskrat #1) ran into the stream and boy followed her. They drifted together with the current, all the time muskrat #2 pursuing muskrat #1. Eventually they drifted out of sight but by then I had no doubt: I’d witnessed muskrat love. I can say with authority it’s nothing like the song.
As I clicked shot-after-shot of the fearless muskrat, a second one floated past with the current, swam to shore, and ambled onto the bank. The first muskrat reacted by setting itself adrift. In this photo, the second muskrat approaches overland as the first one takes to the water.
Seems these muskrats are courting. Actually, by the time they drifted out of sight, the courtship was over. Various websites suggest there will be baby muskrats about two weeks from now (gestation is one month).
Seeming no more than weed leaves and dried twigs, my oregano plants have barely started to bounce back from a surprisingly long winter.
Oh, what a day! I’d planned to spend Saturday planting and otherwise working in my garden. Instead, I spent the day chasing about: gathering stuff I’d need to get the garden in shape. But Sunday was better!
Assessing the garden
I started in the herb garden, looking over the perennials there and removing last season’s deadwood from the tarragon plants. A few tarragon sprouts were already poking through the soil and there are fresh green leaves on the oregano and thyme. Most dramatic was the rhubarb which is emerging like some kind of alien mushroom from giant spores stuck to the soil.
In the herb garden I noticed how dry the soil was, and I checked several planting beds where I made the same discovery. It was a dry winter and perennials were parched as they came out of dormancy.
I’m used to seeing crinkly rhubarb leaves poke out of the mulch in early spring. This year the crinkly leaves are breaking out of balls nestled on the mulch—looking a bit like brains busting out of tiny alien heads.
My goal was to plant peas so I knew I’d be in the yard for many hours. This was a perfect opportunity to help out the parched perennials. I set the hose on garden patch after garden patch and let it soak the soil as I worked on other projects. There were blueberry plants, raspberries, and herbs, and a remarkable number of ornamentals—roses, hydrangeas, coreopsis, heucheras, primroses, lilies, and azaleas—that I’d planted in the fall. It would be very sad to kick off the growing season by watching them shrivel and die.
Again: I wanted to plant peas. I always plant three 14 foot double rows of Wando peas, but on Saturday I had broken with tradition and invested in Early Frosty and Bolero—two varieties producers claim are prolific.
Inside the rodent fence are two parallel pea trellises running down the middles of double rows of peas. Considering all the steps and related tasks, planting two rows on Sunday felt an enormous accomplishment. Look hard above the far fence for a dark spot (like the dot of an “i” above the central fence post); that’s a robin that eyed me as I worked in the garden. The robin stars in the next photo (below).
Planting peas involves loosening soil and digging a trench, removing weeds, setting seeds, filling the trench to bury the seeds, and applying water to soak the seeds. Before watering I erect trellises that the pea vines will climb. The trellises were broken.
I’ve used the same pea trellises for 14 years. These are extremely simple: each is a 13.5 foot length of 48” steel fencing attached to three pressure-treated wooden stakes about five feet tall. There’s a stake at each end, and one in the middle. Despite the preservatives in the stakes, the stakes rot out through repeated use. Last year, after handling the peas, the trellises carried the weight of three enormous winter squashes and some of the stakes broke.
I pulled staples, cut new stakes, and hammered new staples to hold the weather-worn fencing on the new stakes.
Yep, a robin in spring after a dry winter has a lot of love for agriculture. This one stared me down as I finished up planting and watering two rows of peas.
Sure, and I can’t have young vegetable sprouts in my garden without erecting a fence to keep out rodents. The fence is as old as the pea trellises. It is a collection of wooden frames with chicken wire stapled to them. The frames stand end-to-end around the garden and are low enough that I can step over them to come and go.
I’ve replaced much of the chicken wire over the years, but have also nursed some of the frames through severe issues. Some chicken wire is so far gone that you can’t find shiny metal beneath the rust; there is only rust.
So, as I loosened soil, dug trenches, removed weeds, set seeds, and filled the trenches while periodically moving the hose from one thirsty perennial to another, I also pulled staples to free rusted chicken wire from fence panels, rolled out new chicken wire, used my handy staple gun to attach the wire to the frames, and cut the chicken wire from the roll. Someplace along the way I noticed the robins.
What robins have to do with it
Birds are among my favorite gardening distractions. Catbirds may be the most persistent pleasure: almost every year a pair nests near my garden and the two of them follow me around as I work among my vegetable plants. But robins seem the most agriculturally aware of my feathered visitors.
Across the yard from my pea planting, the hose was soaking young blueberry plants that looked thirsty after our dry winter. This robin happily gathered mud to complete its adobe-like construction in a nearby tree. I love that critters have learned about agriculture enough to take advantage—though there are some critters I’d rather not see in my garden.
Agriculturally aware? When I turn soil, robins invariably watch from a safe distance and swoop in the moment I move away. They know that gardening means food: they find worms I’ve moved to the surface, and they eat well. But food is only part of the story.
In spring, robins get all hot-and-bothered and build nests. Mud is a key component of their nest-building. After the dry winter, mud has been in short supply, but here was this gardening dude making mud all over his yard!
Whenever I turned, whenever I looked up, whenever I moved the hose, at least one robin was there… and if they were anywhere near a freshly-watered perennial, they had muddy beaks.
The day’s tally:
- umpteen water-soaked perennials
- two repaired pea trellises
- two double rows of peas planted
- three fence frames repaired with five more in the queue (but erected and protecting the pending seedlings)
- three dozen gardening-themed photos
- a whole bunch of happy robins
I seeded a milk jug planter with a third of the seeds from this package. They’ll have only about 7 weeks to grow indoors before I set them in the garden where they’ll require nearly four months to reach maturity.
In late February I attended a seminar about becoming a better speaker. At a party afterward there were door prizes that included all kinds of seed packages from Sustainable Seed Company. I scored a half dozen packs including one for Walla Walla Onions, a sweet variety whose name I remember from my mom’s garden 40 years ago.
Nearly three weeks ago, I set up my seed-starting shelf to keep my lettuce seedlings healthy until I can set them outside. At the same time, I made a seed-starting tray by cutting the side off of a plastic gallon milk jug. I filled the tray with soil, soaked the soil with water, and scattered Walla Walla onion seeds on the surface.
Bury the seeds in soil? Nope! I bury most seeds I plant, but onion seeds are easier than that. I’ve kept the soil moist, and the tray has been under intense light. You can see from the photos that I have quite a few healthy onion plants.
In about a month, I’ll set these plants in my garden. Having provided a fine head start, and with a long growing season, I expect to harvest many delicious, sweet Walla Wallas. In fact, I’m going to seed a second tray this week and double the bounty.
Walla Walla or Sweet Spanish onion; you can grow that!
After three weeks under lights, my onion babies look healthy; some are starting to bulge at the bases of their stems. Transferring them to the garden later on will be a lot like planting onion sets. I wish I’d started more three weeks ago, but I’ll get to that this weekend. I use about one small onion per day in cooking, and I’d love to go a year without buying any mature onions at the farmers’ market.
Learn about You Can Grow That and find other participating blogs at the movement’s website: You Can Grow That!
It seems every season I leave some onions unharvested, and 2012 was no exception. On a shopping trip in mid-March I failed to buy onions, and this caused some anxiety when I started cooking a meal that demanded them. Happily, the 2012 leftovers were juicy, sweet, and tender, and they made the dish.
Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil was messing with us back on February 2nd so, for the first Post Produce of spring, 2013, my small kitchen garden is locked into winter. I’ve started plenty of vegetable seeds indoors, and they’ll probably remain there until mid April.
Despite spring’s reluctance to arrive, I’ve already harvested and prepared food from one of my planting beds. What’s more, the low hoop tunnels I installed last fall have wintered over several lettuce plants, and I anticipate being able to make salad by the time I set seedlings outdoors – using several varieties of lettuce.
My last lettuce harvest of 2012 was at Christmas but it didn’t decimate the lettuce crop. Many plants left in the hoop tunnels survived winter. They didn’t do any growing and there’s frost damage around the edges of some leaves, but the plants will spring into action when the weather warms and I’ll harvest a homegrown lettuce salad about when I’m normally planting for a mid-spring crop.
Until this year, I’d never harvested from my garden in March. The experience further motivates me to think about winter as a fourth growing season. If I can find time through all the other craziness in my life, I’ll expand my winter gardening activities this fall. Maybe I won’t wait for atmospheric carbon to pull hardiness zone 10 north to Pennsylvania. If I can afford to, perhaps I’ll grow pineapples in central Pennsylvania despite cold winters.
Now You Post!
That’s all I have this month. I’m thrilled to be able to celebrate Post Produce with actual, fresh, homegrown vegetables at the very end of winter. Please share yours. Use the widget below to link to your post about what you’re eating from your garden. Thanks for visiting!
A redneck wineglass is a seriously appropriate gift for a home canning enthusiast. Click this link to order one for the canner in your life.
Had a birthday back in February but my travels made it difficult for my family to schedule a party. In our typical way, we squeezed one in last Sunday when we were all home for two hours in the afternoon. It wasn’t a lavish affair, but it felt normal—throughout my late childhood birthday celebrations were simple and quick. Heck, a few times my mom planned my birthday cake for the day after my birthday—I think because she had reported the wrong date when she applied for my social security number.
But that’s not the point! The point is, my wife gave me a redneck wineglass (see photo) for my birthday! It’s absurd. It’s impractical. It simply makes sense for a canning enthusiast.
One of my favorite restaurants serves lemonade in pint-sized canning jars; a great look when you’re having smoked ribs. What’s more, I once had a collection of canning jars with handles that made them appropriate for beer mugs; I wish the store hadn’t discontinued them.
Not sure yet whether I’ll drink out of the redneck wineglass. It’s a lot to heft and I’d more likely fill it with sangria than wine—we almost never have sangria. The wineglass would make a nice vase. Whichever way I go with it, I’m pleased my wife recognized it as appropriate. It’s a fine gift for a canning enthusiast.
Redneck wineglasses are available from Amazon as are canning jar beer mugs (drinking jars). Links to them from this page are affiliate links; I’ll earn a small commission if you click through from my website and make a purchase.
That’s a hanging lamp in the living room of my dad’s house. It hangs above my lettuce seedlings which sit on a stack of boxes. The tray extends beyond the edges of the lamp shade so I move them from side-to-side periodically. Heliotropism makes the seedlings bend to-and-fro to track the light bulb; they’re getting a lot of exercise.
We’re all gardeners here, so I’m comfortable confessing that a seasonal urge has overtaken me: I need to start seeds for my vegetable garden. Unfortunately, I’m spending about two days in three out of town. My dad has moved from our family home, and I’m helping him get settled in his new apartment while I’m preparing the house to rent. But the seasons march along, and if I’m going to have lettuce at the front of the parade, I need to have lettuce seedlings in lock step by late March.
To satisfy my seasonal urge, I’m exploiting some cosmic truths:
- Seeds want to sprout
- Sprouts want to grow up and make seeds
- Seeds don’t much care where they are when they do that sprouting thing
Seed-Starting on the Road
I was fortunate, before I came to Ithaca, to receive an assortment of Fertilpots from a friend who imports them for US distribution. A French company manufactures Fertilpots primarily from trees—a renewable material—using only a small peat moss component. While roots in a 100% peat pot turn back on themselves and ball up, roots grow unimpeded through the walls of Fertilpots. I used Fertilpots last season and found they live up to the promise: meaty, healthy roots emerged all down the sides of the pots as my vegetable seedlings grew strong.
I had a second good fortune on this trip: I attended a workshop on February 23rd at which attendees received free samples of products from various sponsoring gardening supply companies. Among the samples I received were two envelopes of lettuce seeds—a red oak leaf lettuce, and a red romaine lettuce from a company called Sustainable Seed Company. As February ended, I succumbed to my urge.
I bought a plastic seed-starting tray and a bag of seed-starting soil. I filled one flat of Fertilpots with soil and set half the pots with the oak leaf seeds and half with romaine seeds. The remaining challenge: light.
Seed-Starting Without a Shelf
At home, I run two four-foot fluorescent light fixtures side-by-side and set seed-starting planters three inches below the tubes. That keeps the plants from reaching for the light and developing weak, thin stems. What to do on the road?
Two lettuce sprouts in one Fertilpot looked pretty good on the day they emerged. A few seeds didn’t sprout, so I’m replanting those pots. In all, I hope to have 18 healthy plants for the garden in late March. That should satisfy our salad craving as I direct-sow seeds to start a second crop of lettuce plants.
I stacked boxes on furniture to get my seed tray really close to a hanging light. The light has a three-way bulb whose top output is 150 watts. I’d like to get the seeds closer to the light but the lampshade interferes. Besides, having an incandescent bulb, the fixture puts out way more heat than my fluorescents do back home and I don’t want to cook my plants.
My lettuce seedlings might grow more spindly than I’d like, but they’re growing. When I visit my family later this week, I’ll set up my fluorescent lights over the tray and leave the plants in my wife’s care. If she moistens the soil periodically, I’ll have viable seedlings for the garden at the end of the month.
No, this isn’t how I wanted to start the vegetable growing season. I’d like to be home to prune my fruit trees and do some grafting. I need to be home to do large-scale seed-starting for broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and peppers. Goodness, I need to be home at the end of March to prepare and plant the garden. But right now, given the circumstance, starting a flat of lettuce seeds was all I could manage… because it was easy!
Want lettuce? You can grow that.
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