Thursday, April 2, 2009

April Fools

     We gardeners plod through the winter months, longing for the days when we can get back into the garden. What we wouldn't do, we think December through March, to get our hands back into the soil again?
     Then, no sooner has April arrived than we are promptly overwhelmed by garden chores: Spreading corn gluten meal? Check. Applying Milky Spore? Check. Working wood ash, compost and well-aged manure into the soil? Check. Pruning? Check. Pea and bean inoculant? Check.
     It is as if we go from "low idle" to "overdrive" in one deft movement. I guess that is why they call it Spring!
     This Spring, gardeners across America - indeed, across the globe - are feeling empowered and a sense of affirmation , with the Obama's re-establishing a kitchen garden at the White House. I have no doubt that this bio-friendly family would have done this of their own volition, still, I am proud to have added my name to the thousands on the Kitchen Gardeners International petition sent to the "next occupants" of the White House last November, urging them to do just that. Close scrutiny has been paid to the First Families' choice of plantings, with the Times publishing a list of the vegetables and lettuces they will grow. I read that the President doesn't like beets, which reminded me of a favorite family story. 
     Once, when I was a little boy, my fathers' younger brother, my Uncle JT, came for one of his rare visits. He was a career soldier, who occasionally stopped over when his travels brought him through nearby Fort Dix, New Jersey. Often, he arrived late, and would be gone by the time I awoke the next morning. This time though, he arrived in the late afternoon, in time for a celebratory family dinner, with all of us, daddy, mom, my older brother Wade Jr., Uncle JT and myself, gathered around the kitchen table. Daddy cooked, as he often did on celebratory occasions. One of the dishes he prepared that night, (the only one I remember) 
was beets. I didn't like beets, or so I thought, never having eaten them before. I made the mistake of complaining about them at the table, which earned me a withering glance from daddy. "I'll deal with you later" he said without ever parting his lips. A former soldier himself, the last thing daddy wanted was "dissension in the ranks" during his brother, the soldiers' visit. I had really "put my foot in it." That was when Uncle JT stepped in. In his most solicitous voice, he explained to me how tasty beets were, and how good they were for me. "And what about that color?" he went on, eating another forkful.
     The next thing I knew, I had eaten all of mine and was asking for more. Daddy was spared having to "discipline" me, which is reason enough to plant a row of beets in Uncle JTs' memory. Best of all, all of the things that JT said about beets was (and is) true. Red, white or golden, beets are easy to grow, delicious and nutritious. For those who may not know it, beet greens are likewise healthful and tasty, steamed or sauteed. I don't know that this story will get President Obama to try beets, but I hope he will maintain an open mind about them. His new favorite vegetable could be just a recipe away. 
     But, "what is happening in the garden now," you ask? Well, on Sunday, a late season hailstorm knocked most of the remaining snow drop blossoms off of their stems. Now, it is the crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths that are leading the Spring "charge." The leaves of the Rheum are starting to unfurl. Some of the poppies, papaver somniferum, have demonstrated vigorous growth, with leaves already six inches long.  I will plant more of them,
 specifically the "Drama Queen" variety, later this week. These well-named, red and purple beauties first came to my attention via my friends Malcolm Ryder and Kiki Bradley of Oakland, CA. The lush colors of the flowers make them irresistible in the early summer border. Acquilegia, from seeds I spread last year are already beginning to appear. I have

 a planting of Progress # 9 Spring Peas in the ground and I will make a succession
 planting of them later this week, as well. Spinach, broccoli, carrots and beets will follow shortly. Lettuces, another early Spring favorite, I will plant in the herb-cum-medicine wheel garden. I have seeds of the Merlot variety of lettuce whose red color contrasts nicely with the pale gray, yellow and silver of the herbs. 
     Finally, the end of March marked the first anniversary of the Apiary at Penrose Bungalow. I am pleased to report that my bees survived their first winter in good form. No sooner did we begin to experience temperatures in the forties than they began to venture outside the hive. When the crocuses began to blossom
the bees were on them the next day, rolling around gathering their pollen. 
 Meantime, at the recent meeting of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association,
 "Harold the Beekeeper" demonstrated a new technique for feeding ones bees. The syrup is prepared as normally, five pounds of sugar dissolved in a gallon of boiling water. Traditionally, one gets this to the
bees by placing it in glass jars, in the hive. When the jars are inverted, the perforated lids provide feeding stations where the bees
 drink. With this new technique, instead of inverted glass jars, one uses plastic zip-lock bags to get the syrup to the bees. One simply fills a quart sized zip-lock bag with the syrup, and closes it with a large air bubble inside. Carefully, lay the bag of syrup on top of your frames of comb taking care not to squash any bees under the bag of syrup. The air bubble will float on top of the syrup. Then, using a utility knife, cut a line diagonally from near the lower left corner, about half way to the upper right corner of the bag. The air bubble will escape, but the syrup will stay in place, available along the cut for the bees to feed on. This is an elegant and effective means of feeding the bees and I salute whoever first thought of it.



1 comment:

  1. Everett,

    Thanks for the glimpse into your garden. As I was walking through the din and bustle of the Upper West Side today, I longed for something else to engage with other than concrete and crowds. Your patch of green was a welcome detour. I must boast, however, that I have a thriving dracaena marginata that I purchased 30 years ago from Woolworths.

    Thanks again. I'll check in on your progress.