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Archive for April, 2010

Roxie and I are trying to think back to that day when we could have weeded the garden but didn’t.

Now look:

Must have been last week sometime. But which one? And what possibly was higher up on our to-do list then that was so important it was worth the agony we now face.

Yikes. The weeds are going nuts.

Thousands, nay zillions of green invaders are filling in the spaces between the rows of garlic, broccoli, tomatoes and everything else we’ve planted.

Left unchecked, they’ll rob our vegetables of nutrients and – eventually – moisture when there’s less to go around.

Besides, they look awful.

Yet hoeing the soupy muck from which they’ve emerged is darn near impossible.

Never complain about the rain, Roxie says. But like most gardeners in KC right now, we’re hoping to string together a couple of dry days so we can get after the weeds before they take over.

For the short term, I’m mulching as fast as I can accumulate grass clippings in the Lawn Boy. That mulch may pay off later when moisture is a little less available. (Keeps the soil from drying out.)

But for the time being, the mulch will perform its other main purpose: denying weeds the sunlight and air circulation they need to thrive.

Of course, my no-till friends would  tell you that the weed problem is my own fault, and not just because I chose to earn a living last week rather than weed the garden.

They’d blame my tilling.

See, when you roto-till your entire garden — as I do once or twice in the spring, and once or twice in the fall – it exposes dormant weed seeds hiding deep in the soil.

I know this, but we tillers are comforted by the neat appearance of freshly turned earth. And besides, we tell ourselves that we’ll keep after the weeds on a regular basis and so there won’t be a problem.

Until there is.

Already my back is aching just thinking about what’s in store for me once the sun shines.

Posted by: Mike

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Action alert:

Some important news arrived in our email inbox recently from our friend Brooke Salvaggio at the  Bad Seed Farm and Market.  Because  it was  addressed to a rather inclusive audience, we’re passing the gist of  it along:

“Howdy oh so glorious Local Eaters & Local Growers –

“This is crazy Farmer Brooke and I am down on my dirt-stained knees begging you to drop everything on WednesdayMay 5th at 1:30 PM and get your “organic” booties down to City Hall on the 26th Floor to SUPPORT URBAN AGRICULTURE at the final hearing before City Council to vote on city code changes that will make it possible for urban farms and gardens to flourish throughout KC!!…”
To read her entire plea, check it out on the Kansas City  Food Circle Blog.
And for the latest news story on the issue of urban agriculture in KC, here’s a link to last week’s story in The Star, and a link to Mike’s columnist colleague Mary Sanchez’ take on the issue.
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Happy Earth Day

Here’s a little something fanciful for Earth Day. Mike and I were invited out to the JC Penney Logistics Center with our garden book as part of an early Earth Day promotion for its employees. Toward the end of the session, as things began to wind down, we went downstairs in the cavernous warehouse to check out someone called “Eco Elvis.”

At stage center, amid energy-efficient cars and a bicycle display, was a guy in a green spangly Elvis suit and completely over-the-top wig. He played his own guitar (hey, and he was pretty good, too) and sang Elvis tunes that had been “repurposed” with environmental lyrics. It was all the usual environmental urgings (recycle, install fluorescent bulbs, save water) but in a lighthearted, un-preachy totally hilarious way.

Other web sites have identified Eco Elvis as Matt Riggs from Bridging the Gap, a group promoting sustainability in Kansas City. (And Matt, if that was your real hair–sorry dude. Apologies.)

He did “Burnin’ Love” retitled as “Burnin’ Globe” and laced it with global climate change lyrics. I couldn’t find a video of this particular song, but here’s one called “Let’s Go Organic” from a performance in Parkville.  Enjoy. And Happy Earth Day.

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Just a short post today, due to lack of time.

We gardeners are constantly learning from each other. I want to direct our readers today to a couple of web sites that look like interesting places to visit for news on gardening, advice from experts and information on finding locally produced food.

First up, Kitchen Gardeners International. It is, according to its website, a non-profit online community of people from 100 countries who grow some of their own food. On it today are tips on making liquid comfrey fertilizer, building tomato cages and forums for questions about gardening issues. It’s stated purpose is to “empower individuals, families, and communities to achieve greater levels of food self-reliance through the promotion of kitchen gardening, home-cooking, and sustainable local food systems. In doing so, KGI seeks to connect, serve, and expand the global community of people who grow some of their own food.”

Another good place to look for gardening advice is the county extension office. Both Kansas and Missouri offer a lot of help with gardening questions and even food preservation techniques. Check out their sites: Kansas, Missouri.

Want to eat local food and support local small businesses? Check out the Kansas City Food Circle, an organization that introduces local food producers with “eaters.” Join as an “eater” and you’ll get info on area farmers and what they sell. Or, if you’re a bigger garden operation, you can get yourself listed as a grower with vegetables to sell. Either way, you’re bound to learn some new things about what’s produced in the Kansas City area.

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Decorative tomato cages?

I guess I am totally out of it, but until today  I had no idea that there was overwhelming consumer demand for an alternative to the tried and true galvanized steel tomato cages we’ve been living with since the earth cooled and gardeners began searching for way to keep their  Better Boys, Celebrities and Brandywines from tipping over.

– But a visit to my local Westlake today reminded me just how ignorant I am of  hipster gardening fads. Bright yellow, blue and red tomato cages, as well as a more tasteful forest green variety!

Same old flimsy tomato cages that I dissed in our garden book — only prettier!

I didn’t see any last year, when we were researching “Mike and Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise.” But according to Mr. Google,  multi-colored tomato cages were on the market as early as 2008.

Tempting as they are, Roxie and I will stick with  our homely, yet sturdy, home-made cages  in classic dull gray.

Posted by: Mike

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Interest in vegetable gardening just keeps growing, with no signs of stopping now that the economy looks a little better.

The latest local effort we’ve come across is a joint project between Lenexa United Methodist Church and Don Bonjour Elementary school,  across the railroad tracks.

If all goes according to plan, dirt will be turned this week for a new community garden on the ample lot at Bonjour. Details are still being worked out, but as of right now,  20-by-20 plots will be available free for families from the church or the school to raise vegetables.

Bonjour has, if not the biggest then surely one of the biggest lots in the Shawnee Mission School District. Much of it is rented out to sports teams for practice during the off hours, and some of it is over a natural gas pipeline. But the garden plot has none of these problems. It’s level, it’s sunny. A little far from water, but great nonetheless. The project may be unique in the district, in that it’s undertaken with a non-school group.

Full disclosure here: We’re members (somewhat lapsed) at LUMC and we’ve sent three kids through all 7 years at Bonjour. You can see the school from our house and the church is walking distance.

But we didn’t start this. It originated with LUMC as an outreach to the neighborhood. The school’s area includes plenty of lower-income families and some of the members at the meeting talked about donating some of the vegetables, or perhaps using them as a way to raise funds.

At the least, the gardens could be a great learning tool for the science classes.

Saving money was the big catalyst for us when we started our first garden 25 years ago, and that’s one big reason other people are interested in it now. But once incomes recover, there are still plenty of reasons that gardening will continue. Food purity, reduced environmental impact and communion with nature, just to name a few.

There’s also the massively dysfunctional relationship this country has with food–resulting in obesity and anorexia. Plenty of people shrug this off as a fake “epidemic”, or at least a lapse in personal responsibility. They laugh at “do-gooders” who try to bring such hippy-dippy, new agey ideas as organic gardening into the schools.

But consider this: For every minute a young boy spends with his science class looking at a radish, there is at least another minute of television advertising telling him he’s not really one of the guys unless he routinely eats a hamburger the size of his own head. And there’s another commercial telling him it’s unmanly to skip the fries in favor of a salad.

If a school garden can help combat that, then yeah, let’s have more of them.

The Bonjour garden is getting a late start for spring crops, but there’s still time for plenty of good hot-weather vegetables. And the family aspect gets around another problem with school gardens–the fact that most gardening takes place in the off-school months. Neighborhood kids would be tending their plots with their families all through the summer.

Here’s a link to a pretty good essay I found on this subject in a blog called The Slow Cook.

Posted by: Roxie

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It’s been a pleasure watching things shape up as the weather turned warm this month. The fruit trees and currant bush are in full bloom. I counted at least five bees busily at work on the cherries. Life is good.

Today I put the last of the bedding plants (peppers and eggplants) in the ground, covering them with plastic jugs to protect them from wind and chilly nights. Members of the onion and pea families are well up, and potatoes just broke ground today, while some other direct-seeded vegs are still tiny, barely visible.

That reminds me of our first gardening days way, way back when. I would go out and look down my rows for signs of carrots or spinach, only to be disappointed again and again. Pretty soon, I noticed a row of something coming up. But it sure didn’t look like what I expected.

It took me a while to figure it out, but what I’d been seeing were the seed leaves–the first leaves that open out of the ground after a seed is germinated. I had no idea those little leaves would be different than the plant I knew and expected. Good thing I am a procrastinater, or I’d surely have followed through on my resolution to pull them out for weeds.

The scientific name for seed leaves is cotyledon, and they are a special and important part of the plant. Unlike the “true leaves”–the ones we eat for spinach, e.g.–seed leaves are a part of the plant’s embryo. They store food for the tiny thing while it’s too young to photosynthesize its own. Eventually, the seed leaves shrivel up and fall off (usually).

In the interest of helping beginning gardeners, I’ll be posting a few pictures of seed leaves, just so no one makes the mistake of hoeing them under. Here are a few:

Beets

Carrot--in the middle

Chard. Looks a lot like beets, doesn't it?

Spinach. Look close and you'll see the true leaves starting in the middle.

Tomato. From our Triscuit "farm."

At this stage, the seedling is very tender and vulnerable. The roots aren’t very deep and the stem isn’t very strong. It’s important to keep the soil moist.

With the 80 degree days and winds in, what, the 20 mph range, that soil is going to dry up fast. So we plan to do a little sprinkling later today,  just in case we don’t get the showers tomorrow. We have straw over the carrots, which especially need to be kept moist until they get established.

With any luck, though, it will rain. Keep your fingers crossed.

Posted by: Roxie

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Oh prune-ella!

First off, feast your eyes on this:

I'm a believer now

This wall-o-lilacs is from our one bush out front. It has never bloomed better. Ever.

We’ve had lilacs at both houses for the better part of 20 years, but have never done a thing to them. This is because I was traumatized by the heavy pruning my grandmother did to her lilacs when I was a child. She cut those babies down to stubs, claiming it would help them. But they never did grow back and, tender soul that I was, I grieved them every year.

Our lilac hadn’t looked so good the past couple of years. It’s more than 9 feet tall but wasn’t covered in fragrant blooms, the way I’d like. So last year, we did the research and cut the bush back a little, just after it was done blooming. (You have only a narrow window of opportunity here, because if you wait too long, you’ll kill off the buds for next year’s flowers, which form soon after this year’s blooms. Here are more detailed instructions.)

And voila! This is the best it’s ever looked. We are so doing this again this spring!

Planting news

This has been a busy weekend for putting out the bedding plants we started indoors. I planted broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes in two sessions. All that’s left of the seedlings are the peppers and eggplants, which I’ll try to put in before it rains later this week. Of course, we cover them with sawed-off plastic jugs (vinegar or cooking oil jugs hold up best) just to keep them protected for the first week or two.

It’s always great to be done with the seedlings, because they are the most labor intensive plantings. It will be downhill from there, with direct seeding of green beans, squashes and cucumbers about all that will be left to do.

And the herbs

We also put some herbs into the ground that had been living inside over the winter. We’re playing it conservative on the rosemary, lemon grass and bay tree, since they’re a little more tender. They’re outside in pots. But the thyme and marjoram I almost killed with CLR a few weeks ago are in the ground.

Mike’s a naysayer. He took a look at the horrible brown plants and snorted as I lovingly patted soil around them. But I say they’re not completely dead. There are still a few green leaves. They’re coming back, I tell you. Just wait and see!

R.I.P?

That’s all for now.

Posted by: Roxie

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