Friday, April 29, 2011

It's That Time of Year

This season, during state testing and just before AP testing, is my busiest, most nerve-wracking time of the year. Like the classroom geek that I am, I spend huge chunks of time just sitting, brainstorming, developing ways to help my kids perform their absolute best during these three weeks of super-pressurized-educational-near-implosion.

So, I haven't been posting much, and I won't until exams are over.

In the meantime, I'll link you up to some of my favorite springtime posts of years past.
  • How to survive the horrors of a popular plant sale: The Rules
  • The type of moment I absolutely live for, where science, history, and food collide: Way, Way Up
  • Gophers really piss me off, but they also make me think (and yes, I have decided to trap and kill them): On Words and Gophers
  • This one still makes me cry, three years later: Framily
  • And, trotting out a really old one, but one that captures the flip side of the stress of this time of year: Hope Springs in Purple
See ya after exams.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Rebel Yellows

There's the famous "going rogue," the video game Rogue, the X-Men character Rogue, a creamery, a river, a brewery, and likely hundreds of other institutions and people who have chosen the name because they are attracted to the idea of independence, originality, and naughtiness that follows the word.

But there is no rogue as roguish as disease. Disease is fascinating. Even under conditions that seem so healthy, so free from risk, disease can pop up, a stealthy rebel that distorts even the best plans. When disease strikes us, we have few choices: treat it, deal with it, or some combination of the two.

Last year, I amended my allium-bed-to-be. I added composted leaves and lots of coconut coir; I turned the feral arugula into the soil to serve as a green compost. After I planted my garlic, shallots, and potato onions, I mulched the whole bed with a lush layer of goat bedding from my friends over at Mariposa Creamery. Right now, as I dig my hand into the soil, I can pull up the most perfect, spongiest, devil's food cake soil I've ever produced. It's so beautiful it even smells good.

While the garlic bed seems to be the ideal site for my best crop ever, though I attempt to be as hygenic as possible when storing and planting alliums, and despite the fact that I rotate my crop every year so it takes four years for alliums to return to where they last grew, protecting from disease that accumulates in the soil, a rogue virus struck this year. I'm not sure whether this year's bumper crop of slugs and sowbugs spurred the disease, or whether a winter full of rain allowed more opportunity for the virus to develop. Nor do I know why most of my garlic and shallots appear healthy with only a portion of the crop hit.

Last year, my Shilla looked like this.

This year, I pulled up the diseased plants a month or so from expected harvest date and found tiny plants with dead roots.

It appears to be Yellow Dwarf virus, identifiable by the vertical yellow striping that makes garlic leaves curly and shallot leaves floppy.

Compare those floppy, yellow striped leaves with the good posture found in a healthy stand of shallots.

When I pulled up the sick plants, I found something that at first I thought were dreaded wireworms, but then saw that they had lots and lots of legs, rather than just six; they're millipedes. Since millipedes eat decaying matter, I assume that they're eating the dying roots.

This leads me to one of the ways disease in the garden is different from disease in us. In the garden, we can turn the verb rogue against the noun rogue. "To rogue" means to remove and destroy sick or abnormal plants from the garden to prevent either their sickness from spreading or their defective genes from passing down to further generations. Yesterday, I rogued the rogues.

A suggestion for rogued plants is to burn them. That's exactly what I did, smeared with olive oil and salt on the grill, so the shallots were sweet slips of allium candy rather than sad losses.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Mood Swings

One day, we're having everything-abloom weather, when the air is syrupy with orange blossoms and every little weed and vegetable springs out in galaxies of flowers.

The next, we're lighting the fireplace, telling ourselves its the last fire of the year, so we better enjoy it. It hasn't been the last fire.

A day goes like this lately. I come home, throw on ripped jeans, sports bra, t-shirt, boots, and my well-worn gloves, and do something difficult in the garden, like turning the fava beans into the soil or rearranging the compost or manually mowing, because that's how it gets done around here. I feel good, my endorphins are up, I've made change. And isn't that one of the great pleasures of the garden, creating that physical change, so tangible? Every day, I can say, "I did that. I made that happen." (That is a pleasure that does not exist in my career, though there are many other joys.)

Then the ugly happens. I bend down to see the damage, and the damage is great. Slugs have hit so hard this year; all the rain this winter must have led to some sweet sluggy loving. The sowbugs are no better. There are armies of these rolly-pollies that curl into their armored bodies whenever I approach. The slugs pull in their antennae and wait out the danger. If I hold still enough, sowbugs and slugs resume duty and start munching again. Every seed, every tender or struggling plant, is consumed; therefore, direct seeding, my preferred means of planting, has become an impossibility.

Just when I work myself nearly to frustration frenzy, something reminds me to look away from the carnage. Perhaps it is a hummingbird buzzing the lemon tree or a dove flapping to a floppy landing, the way they do. And when this happens, I can see what is growing well. While a couple struggling varieties of garlic are slug-eaten nubs, the rest are mighty and growing mightier.

The tomatoes are in the ground. I'm so hungry for tomatoes I could begin munching on the leaves like a tomato worm, so just seeing the plants, being able to smell them as I walk by fills me with that frantic anticipation: tomatoes are coming, tomatoes are coming.

Sitting in little pots on my porch, waiting to go into their own bed, the eggplants and peppers are plugging along. Once they go into the ground next week, they'll go gangbusters.

Already, I can taste summer. I can taste the bruschettas, the grilled eggplant, the roasted sweet peppers, the fresh chiles in everything. So much good is on its way.

And as for all those beans and other sweeties that my enemies are consuming, they're not lost, not really. I've started a second batch of everything in six-packs far away from the battlefield. They're safe for now, and growing far enough along until they've got strength to fight their own war when I put them in the ground.

While there's all this shifting and growing and fighting and starting, there's also ending, and good sweet endings. It's harvest time for sugar snaps and purple sprouting broccoli, and every night, in the early spring window while they last, we eat our generous fill of both.

Overall, things are swinging my way.


To see what others across the planet are harvesting this week, stop by Daphne's Dandelions for Harvest Monday.