too many words by laura lemay

February garden update

When my garden blogger friends in New England begin posting about starting seeds, I know I’m totally falling behind. Our weather in Northern California warms up weeks earlier than in colder parts of the country, so I’m supposed to be well along in starting my vegetables right now.

Right now I am not very well along at all. Fortunately if I screw up completely I can fall back on mail order and local garden centers for my plants, or just give up altogether. The garden is a nice to have, but it’s a hobby. It isn’t like I’ll go hungry if I don’t manage to plant something.

If I wanted to grow onions, which I do, I should have started seeds around the first of the year (and possibly earlier; I keep trying onion seeds and moving the start date further back as they often grow slower than I expect them to.) I didn’t start onion seeds at all this year and now it is too late, so last week I ordered onion plants instead. I got a variety called Patterson, which I grew last year. They’re a vigorous hybrid that grows very large and stores well — I still have pounds of last year’s onions in storage and they’re keeping very well.

Cooler-weather vegetables such as the brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and hardy greens (kale, chard) should have been seeded toward the middle of January. I didn’t do that either. Those plants will grow well into summer, though, so I can run late on those and it just means I have to wait longer to eat broccoli. (I’m still harvesting broccoli from last year’s plants!) Or, I could go down to the garden center and buy some plants (which is likely what I will do.)

Tomatoes and peppers need to be seeded in mid-February, so I’m only a little late for those. I’ll spend some time this week making up my mind what to grow and how much — I have some standbys I grow every year but I like some variety from year to year. I also provide free tomato and pepper started plants for half the neighborhood (it is a good way to make friends with the neighbors), so there will be a lot of plants to manage once I get going on that.

So what have I been up to in the garden if I haven’t been planting seeds? I’m 4 years into a 6 year plan for enlarging the existing garden and moving some of the raised beds around to make better used of the space I have inside the fence. A lot of what I’ve been working on for the last few months has involved moving a lot of dirt from one side of the garden to another. I went into more detail about this in the next post (The Great Garden Enbiggenment of 2016).

In other garden news the garlic is doing very well:

I’m still eating carrots and beets and chard out of this bed:

And we seem already well into spring, with happy daffodils blooming, and plum blossoms bursting out in pink and white all around.

The last tomato

In October or November when I pull up the tomato plants for the year I pick all the green tomatoes and bring them into the house.

I don’t especially like fried green tomatoes, the traditional recipe, but I have occasionally made spicy green salsa( with them. Most of the time I just leave them out on the counter and let them ripen up.

Counter-ripened green tomatoes are pretty sketchy — at least half won’t ripen at all and will just turn brown and go bad. The ones that do ripen have a funny texture and not a lot of taste. But it’s still nice to continue to eat home-grown tomatoes well into wintertime.

Which brings me to this tomato, the last one from last year’s plants. This is a San Marzano, a saucing tomato, so it’s supposed to be a dry tomato even in summer and ripened on the vine. This one was especially dry, white in the middle, crunchy, and mostly tasteless. Not exactly the kind of tomato you look forward to. I combined it with some expensive winter supermarket tomatoes (“on the vine”) and ate it with my breakfast eggs.

Nonetheless, February is kind of a record for me for finishing last year’s tomatoes.

Spread too thin over social media

If you’re one of the very small handful of people who read this blog (Hi small handful!), you may have noticed that I published a link over the weekend, and then unpublished it again. You may also note I’ve started cross-posting the pictures I post on Instagram.

I have active social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook, and to a lesser extent Instagram and Pinterest. I have a moribund flickr account. I keep my LinkedIn account updated for work and occasionally read LinkedIn groups. I deleted my google+ account. I do nothing with medium, Tumblr, reddit, vine, and possibly a zillion other sites I’ve forgotten I actually signed up for.

Of all the social media accounts, Twitter is the one where I “live” most of the time. On Twitter I keep up with my feed, I tweet my own tweets as well as links and photos, and I retweet lots of stuff. I read Facebook, but I don’t feel at home there the way I do on Twitter. I don’t really do more than occasionally check other social media sites once or twice a week.

When I restarted this blog I figured I’d put stuff on here that was longer-form than Twitter, but more public than Facebook, and go into more detail about my obsessive gardening hobby. Which is fine, and that’s still the plan, but there are things that feel weird to post here — links are the big one, but there’s also some writing I want to do about work that feels weird intermixed with garden posts and photos. The whole thing is making me feel stretched thin and kind of puzzled about where my “home” is now. If every social media site is a garden that needs regular weeding and planting and upkeep, I’m having trouble maintaining all the gardens.

Initially I thought I would just cross-post stuff from one site to another, maybe set up some automatic cross-posting via IFTTT, and cut down on the maintenance. I used to automatically cross-post from Twitter to Facebook, but I stopped doing that because it’s annoying to people who follow you on multiple sites, and also because on Facebook the audience and the tone is slightly different.

Cross-posting also has issues where the actual thing you’re linking to can get buried behind a bunch of other links from site to site to site and you lose the context of the actual thing. I have a friend who has recently been posting Twitter links on Facebook and then cross-posting them back to Twitter. And I’ve often seen posts that are screenshots of Twitter, posted to Instagram and then cross-posted to Facebook and back to Twitter. Yeesh.

At any rate I am experimenting more with this blog, I am trying to figure out the right places to put things, and how to maintain multiple social media presences without ending up spending my entire day on the internet posting and cross-posting and cross-cross-posting. I don’t have a plan yet, so if you see things get posted and unposted and reposted please bear with me.

If my cats could talk

(A tribute to/riff on If My Dog Could Talk from small victories)

Me: Nothing. I just stood up.
Me: Yes, I’m literally walking just six feet away into the —
Me: I just fed you ten minutes ago.
Me: That’s too bad, I —
Me: You’re going to have to wait until lunch.
Me: Well, no, you’re five. You’re done growing.
Me: Well, yes, equatorially, which is exactly why you do not get more food right now.
Cat #2: Pardon me. If I could have just a moment of your time?
Me: I’m just here to make coffee.
Me: You wouldn’t like coffee. You didn’t like coffee last time.
Cat #2: Forgive the intrusion. I could not help but notice that you are in the kitchen and yet you are not currently involved in any particular occupation. May I humbly suggest —
Me: I mean it —
Cat #3: *stomp* *stomp* *biff* *pow*

Part 2

Me: Hey you.
Cat: WAT
Me: Were you just on the counter?
Cat: NO
Me: I heard you jump off of the counter.
Cat: NO
Me: Were you licking that pan?
Cat: NO
Me: Did you knock that can on the floor?
Cat: NO
Me: Are you lying to me?
Cat: NO
Me: Are you sure?
Cat #2: That is a despicable and outrageous accusation. I protest in the strongest possible terms.
Cat #2: You ignominious troglodyte. I demand satisfaction.
Cat #2: Cretin. Prepare to die. *swat*
Cat: *swat*
Cat #2: *swat* *swat* *swat*
Cat: *swat* *swat* *WHACK* *WHACK*
Cat #2: *NINJA LEAP*
(wrestling, yelling, fur in the air, running away)
Cat #3: Oh, hey, there you are. Whatever you had in that pan was gross, and there wasn’t much of it. While you’re here in the kitchen could you open another can?

Kishu mandarins

Four years ago I ordered a Kishu mandarin orange tree online from Four Winds Growers(//, at great expense, and it showed up at my house as a tiny little stick tree in a long thin box.

Kishu mandarins are like other mandarin-style oranges — small, seedless, easy-to-peel, and tasty — but they’re only about the diameter of a quarter.

I can’t for the life of me remember why I bought the Kishu mandarin in the first place. I remember that I wanted to grow a mandarin orange tree. Those boxes of small tasty Clementine-Style (“cutie”) mandarins had become popular in supermarkets, and I buy a lot of them when they’re in season. And I think I had a friend who had mentioned finding the Kishus at a farmer’s market in SF or Berkeley and loved them. I’m always up for growing something unusual, so I took the chance on this tree.

Citrus trees do very well for me in pots on the porch. Dwarf varieties are easy to manage in pots, but they still bear heavily with regular watering and fertilizer. In case of especially cold nights I can pull them under the roof overhang or cover them to keep them from getting frost damaged or killed.

I planted the Kishu mandarin that first year in a small pot, and then a few years ago moved it to a larger pot. The first couple years I only got a few oranges. This year there are a lot.

The kishu is a good orange, but I can’t say it’s a significantly better orange than other mandarins I’ve tasted. And the small size means that, proportionally, you have to peel a lot of them to get the same amount of sweet fruit that you would with a larger mandarin.

When I was buying full-size mandarins at farmer’s markets I liked the Murcotte and Page varieties. I’ve been eating some Satsumas this month that are amazing. I probably won’t abandon the Kishu, but I might buy another tree. There’s still room on my porch.

Wordless wednesday (fog and trees edition)

Dear pink high-top converse chuck taylor all-stars

Dear Pink Chucks:

I bought you when I was a teenager. You were on sale at Filene’s Basement for practically nothing, because back then the only proper Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers were red, white, and black. Chucks also were for boys, which explains why no one wanted you, the pink ones, and I got you so cheap. But I was a huge tomboy at the time, and pink Chucks were just the sort of cross-gender irony I thought was fun, so that was OK.

Chucks were for the weird kids, the wannabe punks and artistes and the Jonathan Richman fans. I had a crush on a boy in high school who was all of those things, with dark eyes and floppy hair, and he wore Chucks, black ones, high tops like you. There was that night we went out to the park at midnight and swung on the swings, the scuffed white toes of our sneakers pointing up into the moonlight as we swung. The boy with the dark eyes and floppy hair — Mark? Ben? Jason? Andrew? — told me he was excited to go to college, excited to learn more about art, and told me that I should listen to more Jonathan Richman. He talked so much about himself that we never got around to talking about what I was excited about.

I wore you with wool socks, leggings, miniskirts. I wore you with my leather jacket and studded bracelets and huge t-shirts. I wore you in all kinds of weather, although you really weren’t much good at all in snow. I painted an apartment in you, and the paint I splattered on you never scrubbed off.

I haven’t been able to wear you much for years now, because your flat soles provide no actual support for older feet, and you hurt. But I’ve kept you around in the back of the closet, and once in a while I pull you out and put you on. Like I did just now.

Dear Pink Chucks: You remind me what it was like being a teenager, and a tomboy, and you remind me of being a wannabe punk and artiste, and you remind me of cute boys with dark eyes and floppy hair. I had written this as a eulogy because I really had planned to throw you out this year, but now that it’s done I seem to have talked myself out of it.

You win, pink Chucks. See you again next time.

Wordless wednesday (frost edition)

Seeds for 2016

Vegetable seed shopping is always a hazardous time of year for me. I have a bit of an obsessive collector’s urge about seeds, and I always spend too much money on things that look interesting or things that look like they might be improvements on what I already have.

I prefer seeds that are that are heirlooms (older varieties) or open-pollinated (sets seeds and breeds true), but I’m not a fanatic about it. I will happily grow a hybrid seed if it works better than the open seed. “Better” can mean better disease resistance, or bigger and more fruit or other edible parts. In any given year I’ll probably grow 50/50% heirlooms to hybrids.

I do save some seeds from year to year, if it’s easy, which mostly means tomatoes and green beans. A lot of the stuff I grow in the garden readily cross-pollinates and produces weird mixtures (squash, peppers), or needs a full two years of growing to set seed at all (all the broccoli-types, carrots, kale, chard). Neither of these things are ideal for my garden, so I just don’t bother. Seeds are pretty cheap as far as hobbies go, even if I do get carried away.

The seed catalogs (“seed porn” as Eric calls them) come out in late December, which are always fun for browsing over breakfast in the dark days of the year. But since I like to start some seeds in January, I try to get my orders in earlier than that.

I usually order from three stores:

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply: Good, basic organic heirloom seeds at good prices. They also carry Renee’s Garden seeds which have more interesting varieties.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co: Huge variety of heirlooms, including really unusual and rare varieties. They also usually give you an awful lot of seeds per packet.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds: More expensive, but the best source for high-quality hybrid seeds in large garden or semi-professional amounts.

This year’s seeds arrived last week:

Here’s the list of stuff I got for this year, in no particular order:

Beet Mammoth Red Mangel – huge beets, the chickens eat them
Beet Chioggia
Beet Golden Detroit
Rutabaga Helenor – hybrid
Onion Stuttgarter
Onion Evergreen Bunching
Onion Ruby Ring
Leek Gavaria
Brussels Sprouts Hestia
Broccoli Di Ciccio
Carrot Negovia
Lettuce Mix Allstar
Lettuce Speckled
Squash Sweet Meat
Watermelon Hopi Yellow
Cucumber Delikatesse
Sorrel Green De Belleville
Pea Penelope

The garlic is up!

I went out into the garden in the rain today and pulled back the straw mulch on the garlic bed I planted last month. The garlic has sprouted already! It’s off to a good start.