All the photos in this blog were taken by me. The information is taken from friends, books, magazines, conversations at nurseries, the internet and a few of my own amateur-gardener thoughts. Please feel free to share your own knowledge and experiences in the comment section that follows each posting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hush Little Mama, Don't You Cry...

Sometimes you can't ignore symbolic occurrences. Sometimes they are so blatant it is eerie. Using some input from readers, I learned that my birds were Mockingbirds. The thought of Mockingbirds in my garden was so sweet and fitting as I used to sing, Hush Little Baby to Jeffrey and Carly to help them fall asleep.  I paid close attention to my bird babies for days marking their growth in my mind and always curious as to when I'd find them missing while busily preparing for my son's graduation and noticing his growth and signs of strength. I beamed with pride when my baby soared across the stage preening his feathers clutching his diploma with pride dripping from his exaggerated smile.

Hush Little Mama, Don't you Cry...

The day of Jeffrey's graduation party, I was excited to share the Mockingbirds with anyone who cared or perhaps had been reading this blog. Nature's gift struck again when I discovered the babies left their nest sometime that morning. The nest was empty. Empty nest. Need I say more? The abrupt symbolism hit me over the head like a brick. You can't avoid that. Mother Nature was surely sending me an astounding message. Mother Mockingbird was okay with her babies taking off and I was to be okay with mine. Okay. I get it. Loud and clear.

It's amazing what happens if you are paying attention. Its not always easy to pay attention while traveling at the speed we all do. I am grateful that I did catch those precious moments in my garden this Spring.

Moving along...
Last night we got back from Santa Monica, the end of three weeks of non-stop adventure with family and friends which began around Jeffrey's High School graduation. I spent two hours watering the garden. It was like visiting an old friend and finding out how they've grown and what challenges they've had to face. I watered plants dead-heading where necessary, admired flowers or the beginning of fruit,  harvested my first zuchinnis, trimmed back leaves filled with aphids or eaten by snails and admired the tremendous growth that occurred all over the place. That's why I love gardening. Things are continually changing. Its always a feast for the eyes.

Gardening Notes:
- My tomatoes are large. The Yellow Pear is towering over the cage already and I am pruning it back generously this year. 

- Aphids took over a few of my Chard plants so I trimmed them way back and gave them a power wash hoping that new growth will be unaffected. 

- The grapes look fantastic. They are nearing marble size and plentiful. I am fantasizing an amazing photo opportunity this Fall. 

- My strawberries weren't watered well enough during my absences and the whole pot is dried out. It's okay. I can't expect that there won't be some death during the last three weeks. 

- The hydrangeas are out of control beautiful. They're getting close to the ones I marvel at on Long Island. 

- My mint barrel was taken over by Lemon Verbena, which obviously seeded itself from last years plants I have since pulled out. I learned this the hard way when I announced to a large party that we were going to make Mojitos with my Mint, only to find that the pot was filled with something that resembled mint, but didn't taste like it. Oops...

-The worms seem to be doing well. They are still moving around in there and that's all I can really report. So far, I don't see anything even close to a material I'd put in my garden. 

- I carefully placed the Mockingbird nest in the corner of one bed as a Memorial to my experience this Spring. The three peppers that are close to the nest were covered in bird poop. Do you suppose? 
I had to bathe them carefully to remove all the white spots on the leaves. 

Beautiful Cookbook: 
My mother-in-law bought me a gift while she was here. We were at Chateau St. Jean  (our favorite winery together) and I was admiring a cookbook. She said, "Let me buy this for you". Typically, I would never say, "Okay" as that feels like it exceeds the limits of what is appropriate. However, this time, I heard myself enthusiastically say "Okay" and I grabbed the cookbook. Its beautiful, informative and very, very fun to read. It's called,  ad hoc at home, by Thomas Keller. 

A Few Recipes:
Lots of people have favorite Pesto Recipes. This is mine. It was given to me by Tish, the woman I mentioned in an earlier blog who grew a very large garden on our property when I was growing up.
The e-mailed recipe is dated 9/27/2000.  I've used it ever since.

Pesto Dressing A La Tish
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 tsp each salt and sugar
2 T Pine Nuts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Put Basil and Parsley in cuisinart and mince well. Add minced garlic, salt, sugar, pine nuts - pulse to combine. Add vinegar and cheese - pulse to combine. Add the olive oil very slowly as the cuisinart is running so the dressing thickens. You can double this recipe easily. It keeps well in the refrigerator for a long time. I also freeze it in ice cube trays to use after basil season. Tish says, "Use it on everything!"

First off, Red Chard is such a beautiful leaf. I just harvested a bunch of it with some lemons and the first of the zucchini. I can't help but step back and admire the basket for a bit before I take everything in to wash and eat. It's the Martha Stewart in me.

The following recipe is from a gal I knew when I lived in Mill Valley. She has recently published a cookbook called, Get Naked Fast!  I've been making Diana's Favorite Green Juice Cleanse since I bought the book and I love it. So far, I haven't convinced anyone to love it as much as me, perhaps because they are afraid of drinking vegetables.  If you have a juicer and you're into experimenting, try this recipe. To me, it tastes like V-8 without the sodium. I could almost add vodka, but then I couldn't take the wrath that would follow. Not to mention, it would defeat the purpose of the drink. Diana's message is: "No Dairy, No Wheat, No Sugar, No Meat, No Caffeine and No Alcohol". I can adhere to most of that, most of the time. Okay, some of the time...

Diana's Favorite Green Juice Cleanse
3 cucumbers
2 bunches of celery
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch rainbow chard (I use my Red Chard)
3 green apples
3 lemons ( I don't put a lemon in my juicer, so I just squeeze the juice of one lemon)
2 fennel bulbs 

Do not remove any parts of the vegetable or fruit. Push all the ingredients through the juicer. This fresh juice will last 2 days in the refrigerator. (I've kept mine for three).
Makes 4 quarts

It's officially summer. Things are supposed to slow down. So far, my summer has been anything but slow. I am hoping for a change in energy soon. Until then, I will enjoy the clear blue sky that blankets everything. I love that color. Another nod to Mother Nature.
I hope she follows my baby to Colorado.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Science Classes

Carly called me to say they'd hatched. I almost left the swim team banquet set-up to go see them, but I got ahold of myself realizing these were birds, not a grandchild. I'd be lying if I told you they were cute. They're not. Their skin is thin and covered with a mottled layer of fur. Their eyes aren't open and their bones look so brittle its shocking they can support their expanding bodies. Okay, I suppose they are cute simply because they are babies. The amazing thing is how fast they grow. After several days of worrying if they'd still be in the nest each time I go out there, I now confidently peer in and am stunned by their progress. Today, their beaks are wide and yellow and I felt a tinge of a personality emerging when one stretched it's neck and opened its beak. Meanwhile, Mother Bird is frantic wondering what I'm doing poking a black tube so close to the nest. My black tube is having a hard time catching them in action. When I go out without the camera, they are actively opening and closing their mouths like the classic picture you think of in a bird's nest. The one where the Mother Bird is feeding them and they are reaching up towards her with a wide, open mouth. By the time I come back with the camera, they seem to be sound asleep. All my clucking and whistling doesn't do anything but annoy Mother Bird, as well as myself.  My favorite part of this authentic natural exhibit is that its eye level. Its a bird's nest that is perfectly placed for our viewing. It's a science class in my garden.

See the beaks? They're those wide, flat yellow lines at the lower part of the furry head.

Mother Bird

I still don't know what kind of bird they are. I am almost afraid to find out because one of my research attempts ended up identifying them as some kind of sparrow (I didn't commit it to memory) and it said that they are a mean bird harming others in the yard and bullying them away from various food sources. Oh, no. Can my little babies be mean? I've googled (is that word in the dictionary yet?) "California native birds" and the egg coloring, light blue with black speckles. A few things came up. I need to go to the Birdwatcher and ask someone with some bird knowledge. I hope they're not the mean bird. That, and the bad crow energy out there would be troublesome all together. I want my Science Class to be happy and peaceful and safe.

Garden Tip: A yellowing leaf could be the sign of a nitrogen deficiency. If new leaves appear lighter, usually a pale green or you're seeing a true yellowing within the leaf, you may need to add some fertilizer containing Nitrogen. Nitrogen is water soluble and is absorbed rapidly, so it must be replenished regularly. The best organic sources of nitrogen are manure, bloodmeal, fish emulsion, and alfalfa or soybean meal. Compost and grass clippings are also good sources, but they can be too "hot" for the base of a plant meaning they'd actually burn the root system.
When you buy a packaged fertilizer, you will find three numbers on the label that represent the percentage by weight of each of these primary plant nutrients:
N- Nitrogen
P - Phosphorus
K - Potassium
You need to be careful not to add too much nitrogen to a plant. Usually, packaged fertilizers have instructions. It is worse to add too much fertilizer than not enough.
When I took my Sustainable Gardening course (through the Santa Clara County Master Gardeners Program), my teacher loved using alfalfa pellets (found in feed stores) as a source of nitrogen. She said they would be about a 2 in terms of their percentage by weight so its a nice, safe source. She encouraged us to sprinkle the pellets in the vegetable beds and mix them into the soil. Water breaks the pellets down quickly and they soon dissolve right into the soil. I've been doing this since she told me about it. I also sprinkle some around my roses. Lastly, my Podocarpus, an evergreen shrub that grows as a screen in front of the fence by the pool, was very pale green with some yellowing leaves. I watered a hefty amount of alfalfa into their bases and I saw a considerable change in color over some time. Some say, "proof in the pudding". I say, "proof in the Podocarpus". 


Let's get one thing straight: I am not afraid of worms. I'm not afraid of spiders. I don't even mind snakes if I know they are there before they know I'm there. When I was little, when Spring sprung my Mom would ask us to go find worms to feed Weldon, our pet Piranha. (At one point we had six horses, six dogs, six cats, a number of rabbits, probably a gerbil or two, two Parakeets, a Sheep and a Piranha. What, you never had a Piranha?) We loved dropping worms into Weldon's tank and watching him go after them. I also liked poking a pencil eraser in there to see what he'd do. Okay, no, I didn't take that picture, but I had to show you what Weldon looked like so I found an image on-line. That was him. He loved worms, as do I now.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I made this worm box with my friend, Polly and her husband, Rob. They are an awesome team of Worm Box Constructors and they were super kind to ask me to join them.

I put the box outside my kitchen near my compost pail (future blog story), added the shredded newspaper I read about and some kitchen scraps. Polly gave me a few worms from a collection she had and I was underway. I soon realized that if I was going to fully capitalize on the size of my box, my worms were going to have to do a lot of mating. So I fast-forwarded the situation by buying some worms on-line at Redworms 4 Sale.  

One day I came home to this:

I'm Chairing the Casino at Grad Night, I've got 15 people sleeping over all weekend, my son graduates on Friday night and we're having a Graduation Party on Sunday and I am dealing with this?

Have I lost my mind? Does that actually say, "Live Worms"? I admit, I was a little scared to open that box and find a wild, wiggly wad of worms.

As you read, I didn't have much time... not to mention, I had to get the worms out of the box and into a more lively environment within a reasonable amount of time, so I had to prepare my box quickly. It was like another Science Class. Ingredients: Newspaper, water, kitchen scraps, a little dirt and worms.
I started with this:

And then added this:
And topped it off with this. It wasn't a wiggly wad. They were all peacefully settled in some nice loose dirt. It was a much calmer scene than I'd envisioned it would be.

Mixed it all up, closed the top and did one of those swish, swish actions with my hands. All finished. Okay, what's next?

Cousin Judi says my blog relaxes her. Relaxed Judi? 

As I begin this very emotional week, I will keep in the back of my mind that I am now actively engaged in the lives of two more birds and 500 more worms in the world. Somehow, that may help me keep things in perspective while watching my very own little bird spread his wings across the stage and fly into this next adventure of his life. I am soon to be Mother Bird of a high school graduate. 

That's how my garden grew this week. How does your garden grow?