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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Garden Porn!

My tongue is hanging out and I'm exhausted.
After weeks of licking my lips over the Burpee and Park's seed catalogs, fantasizing over their color photos of Jumbo This and Giant That, dogearing the pages with my favorites, and then freezing up the computer with 25 pages (more color photos! OMG!) open simultaneously, I finally Did The Dirty Deed and ordered seeds and plants and cool gardening doohickies for the Elkhorn Inn's 2010 garden! Woo-hoo!
In the dead-cold of an unbelievably snowy WV winter, gardening websites and seed catalogs really Do constitute "garden porn"! One dreams and imagines how great this year's garden will be... or at least how much better than last year's... planning all the things one will do differently this time around (weed more, fertilize more, douse everything with bug poison Far more often, get the tomoatoes out in Cozy Cotes on April 1st...) I went browing the gardening blogs I follow, and found some things (Chinese Red Meat Radishes) I'd known nothing about, and great, new (to me) garden sites, such as Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (where I got Vietnamese herb & veggie seeds), and R.H. Shumway's (lemongrass, strawberries, etc.). Searching Google for Chef Dan's Purple Potatoes, I found the Maine Potato Lady, where I ordered both Purple Majesty & French Fingerlings. I posted my most pressing gardening concerns (black rot (I think) on our grape vines that shriveled our hundreds of grapes and nearly broke my heart, and the wormy thing that keep killing all our squash vines) on a gardening Facebook page, and got some cool tips; I have so many print-outs and info that I really need to make up a Gardening Binder... Every year I try to do more companion gardening, planting things such as basil and tomatoes together, and this year I WILL put markers by EVERYTHING we plant, so we'll actually know what is what! And I WILL get out there with Dan to spread manure as soon as the snow is gone...

Back in Flushing, NY in the early 1970s I was an Aggie- at John Bowne H.S., the only Ag H.S. in the City of NYC! I was FFA and actually made it up to Chapter Farmer- I still have my Extremely Cool blue FFA jacket with my name embroidered on it in gold! Our school's "Land Lab" focussed on strawberries and chickens (and although I loved the pink & blue eggs from the Polish Game Hens, I learned enough about raising chickens to NEVER want anything to do with them ever again...), but what fascinated me was plant genetics; Gregor Mendel was my teen hero! I poured over seed catalogs all winter, dreaming and scheming of what I could sucessfully grow in pots and window boxes on our apartment terrace in LeFrak City! My dad hung Gro-Lamps in my bedroom, and when my mom and I moved to a house in Rego Park, we constructed a real walk-in greenhouse in our attic where I grew gardenias and even propogated African Violets! (Lugging gallon jugs of water up to the attic was the bane of our existance...) Although for college I went to the Cooper Union as an art student, I "kept my hand in the soil", as it were, working on Kibbutzim in Israel (mostly picking rocks out of the fields, but also packing live fish, and one glorious day on the tractor checking cotton bug traps...), but gardening took a backseat in my life- and my thumb got browner and browner until I couldn't even keep an herb plant alive on a windowsill- until Dan & I bought our WV property. Then we had a true need to "landscape", and the desire to grow veggies came back, full force! Dan literally trucked in 100s of pounds of topsoil - truck-load after truck-load- to create our little gardens, and even rented a tiller to make us a bit of a corn field! The first year we planted our veggie garden in 2003, cars literally stopped and trucks honked as they went by- we were obviously quite the novelty, weeding tomatoes on the highway- and we were both surprised to find that almost no one in our area planted a garden- 'cause that's what you do when you're lucky enough to have a little plot of land, right?
I actually started this year's garden when I ordered Dan his Valentine's present: a fab composter from Gardener's Supply Company. I actually did a cover illustration for them back in the 90's, and so they have a spot in my heart; while not "cheap", they do have very good stuff, and after following composters on eBay for months, the Eco Stack Composter I got from GS was not only cheaper, it promises to be so Easy-Peasy to put together and use that even I may be able to deal with it. (!) We have tried DIY composting (a.k.a. as "making a big pile") and it didn't work the way we wanted; getting a real composter has been on high on our to-do list for basically the last 8 years. (Yes, I know this seems about as romantic and sexy a present for a guy as getting a woman a vacuum cleaner, but I like to think of it as "Honey, I love you SO much that I want to recycle your eggshells!" I'm gonna put a big, red heart on it, and trust me- I'll make it up to him somehow!) Since due to shipping costs ordering just one thing feels stupid, I hunted around and landed on some other cool stuff, such as a."vine trellis", in the hopes of getting more than one melon and one cucumber, and two heated seed-starter trays... Last year's garden was Not Good (to put it mildly), and a deep and frustrating dissapointment, but our 2008 garden was Fabulous: we had great crops of corn & tomatoes, & so many peaches that we gave them away; we literally harvested a 5 gallon drum of basil leaves and made 6 quarts of pesto! Although we enjoy our garden and Chef Dan gets a kick out of cooking with the fruits of his labour- which taste FAR better than the tasteless stuff one buys at WalMart- I'm always amused when I read about how people put in veggie gardens to save money, because ours is Definitely a Money Pit! At some point I really should do the math and figure out what one of our tomatoes actually costs us to grow, but I'm afraid to learn that it's a $60 tomato! After 7 years of gardening here, I can state catagorically that we do Not garden to save money! We garden because nothing compares to the tatste of a sweet grape tomato in the sushine or pasta tossed with homemade pesto. Because when the tulips flower in April it means that spring is here. Because Chef Dan's fresh-oregano-stuffed roast  turkey is amazingly delicious. And because that's what you do when you're lucky enough to have a little plot of land...

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