Archive for March, 2013

Whenever Roxie and I give presentations about starting seeds for the backyard garden, I always throw in a little joke about how we’re waiting for the day when the cops bust down our doors because someone thought we were growing pot under those shop lights in the basement.

Always gets a chuckle.

But as we read in today’s edition of The Kansas City Star, that’s just what happened to a Leawood, Kan., family last April. Awakened by banging and screaming,  Robert Harte opened the door just as Johnson County sheriff’s deputies were about to use a battering ram to get in.

For the next two hours, the drug squad searched the house looking for marijuana as Harte was forced to lie shirtless on the floor, while his wife, Adlynn, and their  two children were made to sit quietly and listen as their house was ransacked in a fruitless search for illegal drugs.

The deputies even brought in a drug-sniffing dog. But in the end, nothing was found and the authorities left without apologizing for their mistake.

The apparent reason for this seeming injustice? The family had bought grow lights and other supplies to start tomato and squash plants in their basement. Kinda like a lot of us do this time of year, in other words.

At this very moment, tiny tomato, pepper and cauliflower seedlings are “sunning” under those shop lights of ours near a basement window. I’ve always wondered whether anyone with a badge has ever looked through that window and wondered “huh?” Now, I’m more convinced than ever that the answer is probably “yes.”

Naturally, law enforcement officials won’t reveal why they targeted this house in that affluent Kansas City suburb. She works at an investment firm, he’s a house husband and (get this) they first met when they both worked at the CIA.

So obviously, the Hartes don’t fit the profile of your average drug pushers — at least as far as I know.

However, the lawyer for the couple told The Star’s Christine Vendel that deputies routinely generate leads for drug investigations by keeping an eye on stores that sell hydroponic gardening equipment. Stores like the one where the Hartes bought their gear.

“With little or no evidence of any illegal activity, law enforcement officers make the assumption that shoppers at the store are potential marijuana growers, even though the stores are most commonly frequented by backyard gardeners who grow organically or start seedlings indoors,” the lawsuit said.

One object of the suit is to learn what it was about the family that so interested these soldiers in the never-ending drug war. Their lawyer says it not merely a matter of curiosity but of public policy.

Adlynn Harte told The Star that her family respects law enforcement, but wants to prevent others families from being subjected to the kind of treatment they experienced.

make sure that tax dollars are properly used and that other families — with fewer resources than (them) — aren’t subjected to similar tactics.”

“We feel llike it’s un-American and we need to do something about it,” she said. “I told my son last night that doing the right thing takes courage.”

So keep your eyes open, fellow gardeners, when you’re at the garden store or setting up grow lights at home. Big Brother might be watching.
Posted by: Mike

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Gardening keeps us humble. That’s my positive spin on the boneheaded mistakes I find myself making every year. Even when I know better.

There was the time I accidentally sprayed my potted herbs with a lime-removal product. Twice! (In my defense, though, I’m left-handed so the side with the product name was facing away from me at the time.) And the time I planted mangles, which are cattle feed, and tried to make sugar from them in the mistaken impression they were sugar beets.

The herbs recovered and are alive and thriving. As for the sugar…Well, I at least got something resembling molasses. Maybe a cow would have liked it.

Yes, nature has proved to be somewhat forgiving. And that’s a good thing, because apparently I will carry on making mistakes until the day I die.

This year, I cringe to report, will be remembered as the year I tried to get away with something I knew would not work. This was the year of dried peat moss.

A few weeks back, I got things lined up to start the seed for the plants we put out once the nights warm up. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Problem: I didn’t have quite enough soilless seed starting mix. I could have gone out for some, but it was snowing and I didn’t want to put off my project. So I looked around for a good substitute.

We always use soilless mix for seeds, rather than regular soil you’d use to repot your houseplants because it’s lighter and easier to work with. I’ve never had any problems with soilless mix retaining too much water and causing the tiny stems of the sprouts to damp off and die, as I have with potting soil.

Soilless mix is made from peat moss, vermiculite and perlite or a wetting agent. You can find those ingredients listed on the bag.

Well, I had some vermiculite and some peat moss in opened bags from years past. Why not just mix them up and go ahead with my planting? And that is what I did.

Here is the point, dear readers, where you can learn from my mistake.

The peat moss was very, very dry. But still crumbly. This is the crucial mistake. Wet peat moss holds a lot of water, but acts very differently when dry. In fact, if it is not soaked, it will actually repel water.

Let me describe this: You can pour water into a pot filled with dry peat moss and it will bead up on top like a puddle of mercury. You can do this all day. The water will go straight through and minutes later, you’ll have a pot as dry and airily light as it was when you first filled it.

I knew this. I knew I should fill that bag of moss and vermiculite with water and let it soak. But I wanted to get on with the seed planting. So I went ahead anyway.

Predictably, the little pots were bone dry days later, despite sitting in a half-inch of water in the tray. So two nights ago, I brought them upstairs to the sink and gently ran water, while tapping the top with my fingers to break the surface tension.

They’re back in the basement now, and holding water. But still no sprouts. Their buddies in the soilless mix are well up. And we are now at the decision stage of whether to replant in the newly purchased mix.

I read somewhere that you can avoid this problem with peat moss by adding a couple of drops of dishwashing soap per gallon or so of water to solve that surface tension problem. Of course, now it is too late.

Folks, don’t let this be you.

Posted by: Roxie


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Don’t get me wrong. I loved the snows of a couple of weeks ago. And I loved, loved the rain of last night, even though it meant a long scary drive through the fog and darkness to get to my daughter’s cello recital.

But the only thing about it is…now I am behind a bit on gardening chores.

Wait. You didn’t realize it was possible to be behind on your garden already? Well it is and we are. We blame the rainy weather (that we LOVE. Please don’t punish us by stopping regular rain because I wrote that, weather gods!)

The main thing we are behind on involves our apple and cherry trees and our under-performing grape vine.

If you don’t have fruit trees or grape or other types of perennial vines, don’t stop reading. Instead, make plans to put some in wherever you can manage in your yard. Everyone should have them. No kidding. They absolutely give back way more than you put into them.

But anyway. The time for pruning these vines is very early spring, before new growth has started. In other words: Now.

In other years I’ve done pruning in late February. The snow wasn’t so much a worry because it stayed so cold this spring. But now that I see warmer times ahead, it’s time to start looking for a time to prune before the sap starts running too much.

Pruning apples isn’t really so difficult. The best way is to begin pruning and training when you first get the tree (take note, all who are considering a fruit tree this year). You want to make sure you have only one central shoot for the main trunk of the tree. But of course our trees didn’t have that early advantage, so we try to do the best we can for them each year.

There are a few simple rules, and they’re easy to remember. Get rid of any obviously dead or diseased wood, and branches growing downward or straight up and the branches that shade out the middle of the tree. You want an open vase with some light and air circulation coming down into the middle for the fruits to ripen. Also, take a look at where the limb connects to the central tree trunk or “leader.” You want the angles there to be more open like 90-degree angles. No acute V’s.

As for the grapes, they grow new cane one year and produce fruit on it the second year. So cut any vines that show obvious signs of having had fruit. Otherwise, you can cut a fair amount of cane back each year, as long as you leave a few good nodes where the new growth will sprout.

When bought our first house in Lenexa, we told the agent we were attracted by the fruit trees and grape vine in the back yard. (I think she was mystified why we would want such an old house in an old part of town). But she said the owners didn’t like it because it bisected the yard and didn’t produce any fruit. So that first year, I cut a bunch of vine out. We were rewarded with bushels of grapes. And as a bonus, I got a nice big wreath out of the old vine. Sadly, the grapevine couldn’t move with us. The one we planted at our current house gets too much shade, I think.


Growing season underway

We’re not behind on everything, though. Some of next season’s crops are already growing happily in our basement under flourescent lights. And this week the broccoli and some of the cauliflower are already sprouting. We’re still waiting on the peppers and tomatoes, though.

seed starts

Next week will be St. Patrick’s day, the day we traditionally try to put potatoes, peas and onion bulbs in the ground. Right now, it looks a little iffy. But if it stays dry and warms up, we might be able to do it on time.

Posted by: Roxie

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