Love and Lust From the Garden

The month of February brings us the holiday of Valentine’s Day, a celebration of all things having to do with love and romance. And love and romance naturally lead to wanting to become intimate with one’s mate. Since time immemorial, men and women have searched for foods, potions, tonics, drugs, etc. that will enhance their ability to perform sexually and increase their enjoyment of it.

Would it surprise you to learn that some of the foods which enhance sexual desire and performance can be found in your very own garden? Here are a few.

Black raspberries – Black raspberries are rich in phytochemicals – biologically active compounds that play a role in a plant’s growth process, as well as defense against competitors, pathogens, or predators. Phytochemicals have also been shown to play a role in enhanced libido and sexual endurance (for the humans who consume them, not the plants themselves).

Pine nuts – Pine nuts are rich in arginine, one of the ten essential amino acids we need to consume so that our bodies can make the proteins it needs to function. Our bodies also convert some of our consumed arginine into nitric oxide, which helps dilate the blood vessels, improving blood flow throughout our bodies. This also includes the sex organs.

Avocados – Avocados contain an abundance of heart-healthy fats, vitamin B6 and folic acid, all of which help fuel the body and increase our energy. Vitamin B6 is an important ingredient for production of male sex hormones, which are important for a strong sex drive.

Watermelon – The citrulline in watermelon is converted into arginine, which is then converted into nitric oxide which stimulates blood vessel dilation – similar to what Viagra does, but for a whole lot less money.

Broccoli – Broccoli contains high levels of Indole-3-carbinol, which helps lower estrogen levels, and may have libido boosting effects in men.

Pumpkin seeds – Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc (which has been shown in men to have a powerful effect on arousal and maintaining an erection) and arginine (which relaxes blood vessels)

Spinach, arugula, beets, cress, lettuce, celery, and radish – all contain nitrates, which like arginine, relax and dilate blood vessels, leading to improved blood flow and enhanced sexual arousal and performance.

We all know that gardening provides us with flavorful, nutritious food, fresh air, and exercise. Well now, I’ve just given you yet another reason to garden. And while you may not be able to grow these fruits and vegetables in time for Valentine’s Day, you now know what to buy at the grocery store or order in a restaurant for a romantic meal that will keep the works “down south” humming along like a well-oiled machine. And come springtime, you will now have a very good idea of what you’ll want to plant!

There’s No Shame In Garden Failures

“It’s a funny profession, ours, you know. It offers unparalleled opportunities for making a chump of yourself.”

Siegfried Farnon to James Herriot – All Creatures Great and Small

In James Herriot’s wonderful book about his life as a veterinarian living in England’s Yorkshire Dales, he relates a story about the near disaster of the first case he handled on his own. His boss, Siegfried Farnon, was explaining to James Herriot that no matter how good you are at the job, you are still going to experience the occasional failure, and at times that failure could be downright humiliating.

The same can be said about gardening. No matter how much skill and experience you have as a gardener, there are going to be times – nay, even whole seasons, where you’re going to fall flat on your face. The new cultivar of tomatoes that’s supposed to be high yielding, produces little or no fruit. Rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels freely help themselves to your harvest, and you suspect that they are secretly laughing at you. Or, you plant something that grows like the dickens, choking out all your other vegetables, and you have to spend the next two years trying to get rid of it.

I, too, have had my share of failures. And yes, they can be frustrating, aggravating, and sometimes, even downright embarrassing. And yes, it’s easy to feel all of these emotions, sometimes to the extent of wanting to chuck everything in the garbage, fill the garden patch with sod, and never garden again.

Well, don’t. Because failure comes with the territory, as surely as do tomatoes and cucumbers. Things occasionally don’t work out as planned. But that’s gardening. And that’s also life.

How many times did you skin your knee when you were learning to ride a bike? Did you give up the first time you tumbled over and scraped some skin? Of course not! You picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, applied some iodine and a bandage to the bleeding cuts, and then you hopped back on and tried again. And again, And again and again until finally one day you were able to successfully pedal and ride without falling over. And suddenly all those falls and scrapes no longer mattered. Because your persistence through the constant tumbles was amply rewarded. You now knew how to ride a bike.

It’s the same in gardening. You will fail from time to time, whether you are a rank beginner or an experienced veteran. So do like you did with the bicycle. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and apply some psychological iodine and bandages to your skinned pride. Then get back out in the garden and plant again. And again. And again and again until one day you are harvesting bushels upon bushels of fresh, flavorful, and nutritious fruits and vegetables. So keep at it, my friends, and don’t let the occasional failure get you down. Yes, gardening offers unparalleled opportunities for making a chump of yourself, as James Herriot says. But there are also infinite opportunities for sweet success beyond your wildest dreams.

Never Be Ashamed of Your Gardening Mistakes

“You must never feel badly about making mistakes,” explained Reason quietly, “as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”

-from The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Mistakes. We all make them. All of us. Every one of us has done something we later wish we hadn’t; not done something we later wish we had; or executed an action that seemed to be right at the time, but later proved to be wrong. And so on and so on. And few places are as wrought with the consequences of wrong action as in our very own gardens.

How do we make mistakes in the garden? Let me count the ways.

  1. We get overly ambitious and try to plant beyond our degree of experience, and wind up overwhelmed
  2. We plant something without researching it first, only to find that it fails to grow or grows so well that it crowds out the rest of your vegetables
  3. We don’t properly prepare our soil before planting
  4. We fail to protect our crops from marauding critters that eat everything down to the roots
  5. We plant our garden where there is not enough sunlight
  6. We plant our crops too close together, which causes mold and fungus to attack our plants and either kill them outright or severely reduce the yield we get from them

I’m sure we’re all familiar with these, and I’m sure some of you are familiar with more of these than you care to admit. Some of us, especially the beginners, are apt to feel disappointed, dejected, or even outright humiliated when our hard work comes to naught. Some of us might feel so awful that we’re ready to throw in the trowel and never garden again. Well, don’t. One mistake, one failure, does not define you as a black-thumb gardener.

A very wise man once said to me, “If you’ve never been fired, it means that you never try anything new.” In a similar vein, if you never fail at anything, it means that you never attempt anything new – never try to stretch beyond your comfort zone. And this also holds true in gardening. If you’ve never had a gardening failure, it means that you never attempt anything innovative in your gardening efforts. So don’t waste time lamenting your so-called failure. Take some time to curl up and lick your wounds, if you must. Then give yourself a hearty pat on the back for attempting something new – whether that’s a brand new garden or a brand new plant in an existing garden. Then, and this is the important part, try to figure out where things went off the rails. There is a solution to every gardening problem, and with enough investigation and soul-searching, you’ll find it. Yes, you made a mistake or two, but you made it for all the right reasons. And you’ll be far more knowledgeable and savvy than the timid one who never fails but never grows beyond the confining dimensions of his or her comfort zone.

Clean It Up

As the end of gardening season approaches, our gardens will, no doubt, be strewn with dead plants, bent or broken supports, and other assorted bric-a-brac. It’s late in the year, and as far as you’re concerned, you are done with gardening for the season. As for the debris? “Ahh, I’ll clean it up in the spring,” you say.

Bad move. Leaving a garden full of junk is a poor practice – one that will hinder your future efforts to have a healthy garden full of high-yielding vegetable plants. Leaving a garden full of weeds, damaged trellises, dead plants, and God knows what else is like sending out an invitation for all the vermin and pests to come spend the winter in your garden – and never leave.

Certain insect pests can survive the winter all cozily nestled up in the debris you refused to clean up. Did you have a problem with cabbageworms? Guess what? They’ll be plaguing your next year’s crop of cabbage thanks to the winter home you provide for them. Did cucumber beetles chew up a good portion of last year’s cucumber crop? Well, don’t expect winter weather to be their last hurrah, not as long as they have some nice dead plants for them to stay warm in. And were you and your tomato plants blessed by some of those fat green tomato hornworms? Don’t shed any tears for them; they’ll spend the winter as pupae all snug and warm in a pile of dead tomato plants. Then come spring, the moth will emerge and lay eggs on your tomato plants. Hello tomato hornworms! Goodbye tomatoes!

But it doesn’t have to be this way as long as you follow this simple three-word instruction – clean it up! Gather up the spent plants and dead weeds, and either toss them out or put them in your compost pile (as long as the plants weren’t infested with disease). Removing this garden junk leaves the pests with nowhere to hide, run, or overwinter. This will help reduce the odds that next year’s vegetable crops will be overrun with plant-devouring larvae or adult insects. Insects can be a severe problem in your garden. Don’t carry the problem into next year by giving these insects shelter over the winter so they can come back next year and render all your hard work in vain. Clean up your garden now, and give those insect pests the boot!

Brown Gold for Your Garden

The leaves of brown came tumbling down
Remember
That September
In the rain

-Harry Warren and Al Dubin

The shortening days of autumn signal the leaves on the trees to stop producing chlorophyll. This, in turn, causes the green to slowly fade revealing the remaining colorful pigments. Soon, even those begin to fade away, and the leaves soon fall to the ground and start to decompose.

Most homeowners will merely rake the leaves into piles, toss the piles in bags, and bring those bags to the curb for the recyclers or garbage men to take away. But we gardeners know better than to do that. Instead of letting those leaves take up space in a landfill where they are no good to anyone, we use these leaves to enrich our garden soil and restore the nutrients that our garden vegetable crops have taken away. And unlike real gold, this brown gold costs nothing to “mine and refine.”

So how do we make the best use of this brown gold?

  1. Pile whole leaves on top of the soil as a mulch to protect bulbs such as garlic, onions, or even flower bulbs such as tulip, snowdrop, and crocus.
  2. Chop them up finely, add them to a compost pile, and let them decompose along with the rest of the material in there. Chopping is necessary, as it creates more surface area and allows the bacteria to decompose the leaves in less time. If your own trees aren’t producing enough leaves to give you sufficient compost, offer to take some from your friends and neighbors. I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige, unless of course they want them for their own compost pile.
  3. Chop them up finely and work them directly into your garden soil. During the following three or four months of winter, the soil bacteria will break down the chopped leaves and release the nutrient material in those leaves into the soil. When spring arrives, you’ll have looser, lighter, more nutrient-rich soil all ready for spring planting.

So don’t waste this precious nutrient-laden material that Mother Nature gives us for free every autumn. Let’s recycle this precious organic material back into our gardens. It’s going to decompose and release nutrients no matter what we do or don’t do. So let’s work with Mother Nature. I promise you that if we do, then Mother Nature will work with us.

Your Garden’s Second Act

This time of year is when many vegetable gardens peak, and then begin to wane. The cucumbers have produced their little plant hearts out, and now the plants are beginning to die off. Lettuce is beginning to bolt in hot weather. For most people, this is a sign that harvest time is beginning and soon, it will be time to start cleaning up the dead plant debris and putting the garden to bed for the winter. But not so fast! There are still at least three months of garden-tolerable weather ahead of us, so don’t quit on your garden now. It’s time for your garden’s second act, a.k.a. the fall vegetable garden.

Now is the time to plant a second crop of lettuce. Root crops such as carrots, turnips, and rutabaga, can also be planted at this time – and these can be left in the ground over the winter to harvest for a delicious hot stew. There’s even time to plant a crop of wax beans. And as late as October, you can plant storage onion bulbs and cloves of garlic for verdant crops of both next spring and a bountiful harvest in the summer. So don’t throw in the trowel just yet. There’s still time to grow more crops beyond what you originally planted in the spring.

Victory Gardens 2020

During World War II, the US government had to make sure that our fighting men had enough food to sustain them. In order to achieve this, many food items such as sugar, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, coffee, meat and canned goods. In addition, the war effort left the country with a shortage of labor needed to transport fruits and vegetables to market. So the US government encouraged people to plant gardens to meet their demands for fresh produce. Because these gardens were meant to help the war effort, both at home and abroad, they became known as Victory Gardens.

According to the website for Wessels Living History Farm, nearly 20 million Americans jumped on the Victory Garden bandwagon. They planted gardens in backyards, empty lots and even city rooftops. Neighbors pooled their resources, planted different kinds of foods and formed cooperatives, all in the name of patriotism. Thanks to the efforts of these victory gardeners, people had enough fresh produce to meet their needs.

Now we are engaged in a different kind of war. The enemy does not carry guns, drive tanks, fly warplanes, or sail battleships. In fact, this enemy isn’t even human and is well-nigh invisible except under the viewing power of an electron microscope. Yet this enemy is just as deadly, if not more so, than a thousand invading armies. Just as in World War II, this enemy destroys lives and disrupts our economy. Many items such as meat are in short supply. And once again, the supply chain that brings our food to market is threatened. Now, more than ever, we Americans need to take certain aspects of this war effort into our own hands.

Just as not all Americans were able to be on the front lines of battle during World War II, here in this war, not all Americans can be doctors and nurses treating patients or scientific researchers trying to develop a vaccine. But just as our grandparents grew their own produce during that 1940s world conflict, we can do likewise during this one. So once again, it’s time to revive the Victory Garden for 2020!

Now, more than ever, growing your own produce is the thing to do. With our supply chain disrupted yet again, the time is now for all Americans to do their part to help us achieve victory over this terrible pandemic. And once more, your contribution can be as simple as planting a few seeds and raising enough fruits and vegetables to meet your family’s needs. Better still, join with other families in your immediate vicinity, and plant a large garden that will feed all the families in your neighborhood. You can designate a third for fresh eating, can another third for winter, and donate the rest to a food bank to feed the needy.

With enough of these 2020 Victory Gardens, we can make sure that all of us are eating fresh, wholesome, and nutrition-packed food to keep our bodies healthy. And healthy bodies have a much better chance of surviving a disease infestation than nutrient-deprived bodies. And healthy bodies fed by the nutritious produce produced in 2020 Victory Gardens can be a small but important contribution to winning the fight against COVID-19.

To paraphrase a line from a 1940’s Captain America comic, you’re in this war even though you don’t operate a ventilator, drive an ambulance, or work up an assay. And victory gardens are a mighty weapon in this war. So get together with your family and plant a 2020 Victory Garden today!

The Serene Peace of the Garden

DSCN2986

Louis Pasteur once spoke of “living in the serene peace of libraries and laboratories.” Author Dale Carnegie, in his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, elaborated on this. “Why is peace found there,” he asks. “Because the men in libraries and laboratories are usually too absorbed in their tasks to worry about themselves. Research men rarely have nervous breakdowns. They haven’t time for such luxuries.”

I would like to add to the words of Louis Pasteur and Dale Carnegie by saying that serene peace can also be found in the garden. In the garden, we gardeners are also absorbed in our tasks – the tasks of turning the soil, laying mulch, planting, cultivating, watering, weeding, harvesting, and cleaning and preparing for next year. Plus we have the added benefit of sunshine, exercise, and fresh air, three things that libraries and laboratories do not have.

There are always things all around us to cause to fret and worry, and that is never more true than today. We worry about the pandemic, and whether or not we and/or our families and friends will catch it. We fret over the economy and wonder if we will be able to keep our jobs or, if we’re out of work, if we’ll ever find another one. We worry about our government leaders, and whether they are harming or helping our nation. We fear for our nation as a whole, wondering if we will ever again be united as one people. We feel a profound sense of unease about the damage we are causing to our planet, and wonder if the day will ever come when our wanton wastefulness and careless disposal of harmful substances will someday turn our planet into a barren lifeless wasteland. The load of all of this carried on our shoulders is enough to cause the physical and mental dissolution of even the strongest man, woman, or child.

But there in our gardens we can shut the doors on the world for a while. We can turn our focus to the tasks at hand and find joy in the golden squash, red tomatoes, violet eggplant, and beautiful flowers of various shapes, sizes, and colors that result from our diligent labor. And suddenly, one day, we look up and realize that for those few minutes or even hours, the burdens of our world have been lifted off of our shoulders, and we feel that sense of serene peace of which Louis Pasteur and Dale Carnegie spoke.

So if the world and its troubles have you in a vice-grip that threatens to break you, may I humbly suggest that you become absorbed in the tasks of gardening? Because just like researchers, we gardeners rarely have nervous breakdowns. We, too, have no time for such luxuries.

Corona Can’t Touch This

Back in 1990, rapper M.C. Hammer released a tune entitled “U Can’t Touch This.” Now M.C. Hammer was referring to the idea that “U” couldn’t “touch” — come close to him — to match his talent and ability in music, lyrics, rhyme, and dance. But if I may, I’d like to extrapolate this to our current world situation. A seemingly unstoppable bundle of ribonucleic acid wrapped in a protein coat is spreading death and destruction throughout the human population. The grim tally has left many of us survivors terrified and wondering if we’ll be the next victim of this modern-day black plague.

But take heart. As terrible as this virus is, and as much as it’s taken away our freedom of movement, human contact, and overall sense of safety, there are some things that, to this virus we can boldly say, “u can’t touch this.”

COVID-19 can’t touch the love we feel for our spouses, partners, family, and friends. The fact that we can’t make contact with them right now doesn’t diminish the love we feel for them, and our ability to demonstrate that love. If we can’t hug and kiss them, we can still talk to them via Zoom or the good old-fashioned telephone. We can write e-mails and texts, or even good old-fashioned pen and ink letters. We can visit them at their residences and talk to them from six feet away or through glass windows. Togetherness may be hindered, but our ability to express love is never halted.

COVID-19 can’t touch our creativity. We may be stuck indoors and unable to work a regular job, dine at restaurants, or attend public events. But if you open your newspaper, turn on your television, or browse the internet, you’ll see all kinds of stories about people creating new forms of stay-at-home-entertainment, online concerts, virtual graduations, and other ways of bringing us amusement and diversion. I’ll bet my whole garden harvest double or nothing that by the time this is all over, new inventions and businesses will have been formed, all stimulated by the needs that this virus has created. They always have been, and I expect they will be again.

COVID-19 can’t touch our human spirit, generosity, and resilience. It’s a cold hard fact that this virus has laid us low. People are getting sick and dying from it, and we still don’t know all the effect that may show up later in the survivors. But every day, you hear about people banding together to deliver food and other necessities to those in need. Groups of people are organizing parades to wish shut-in children a happy birthday. Businesses and other organizations are busy sewing masks to give away to those who need them. Scientists all over the world are working together night and day to find a treatment and/or a vaccine for this terrible disease. And while there are still news stories about selfish politicians and other individuals who place a higher value on coin-of-the-realm than on human lives, there are also plenty of examples (that you don’t always see on the nightly news) of those that want to serve and help their fellow man. “Look for the helpers,” television personality Fred Rogers once said. “There will always be helpers.”

Lastly, COVID-19 can’t touch the human ability to reach out to a higher power. Whatever your religious faith; whatever deity you pray to; whatever higher power you turn to when the well of your human efforts has run dry, nothing – not the virus, not a poor economy, not selfish politicians, not anything can ever come between us and the higher power we turn to.

There is no doubt that the virus has knocked us down. But it has not, nor will it ever knock us out. It may take several months, or even a year or two, but in the end the human race, with its love, creativity, human spirit, generosity, resilience, and ability to tap into a higher power, will eventually triumph.

Oh, and one more thing. When the events of the world seem overwhelming, turn to your garden. Plant a new one or cultivate an existing one. There is nothing like being out in nature to lighten the load of world events. Audrey Hepburn once said, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” There will always be a brighter tomorrow, no matter what things may look like today. And few things can brighten a tomorrow (and a today) like a well-cultivated garden.

The Intimate Gardener

Garden Heart 2

We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for our overall physical health. They provide all of the necessary nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and other as yet undiscovered food factors that our bodies need to survive and thrive. But fruits and vegetables are capable of much more than the mere enhancement of physical health. They also play a role in improving the intimate lives that we share with our romantic partners.

According to Cosmopolitan, these fruits and vegetables have some potential capability of acting as aphrodisiacs.

Maca – a vegetable root that dates back to the days of the Inca nation of what is now modern day Peru, it is been called Peru’s natural Viagra, and it is thought to have a positive effect on stamina, energy, fertility, and libido.

Pumpkin – And you thought they were just for pie and Halloween decorations. Pumpkin is also an excellent source of fiber and potassium, both of which can help improve stamina, and magnesium, which has a calming effect on muscles and nerves.

Celery – contains small quantities of androstenone, a male pheromone that can enhance male attractiveness

Garlic – contains high amounts of allicin, a substance that plays a role in increasing blood flow and overall cardiovascular health. Yes, I know it can sour the human breath, may I suggest that both you and your partner consume garlic together? That’s what you call détente.

Pine nuts – an excellent source of zinc phytochemicals, and other health oils, all elements that can stimulate male libido.

Ginsing – this ancient herb has been used to treat sexual dysfunction and enhance sexual behavior in traditional Chinese medical practices. According to an article in the scientific journal Spermogenisis, “data from animal studies have shown a positive correlation among ginseng, libido, and copulatory performances, and these effects have been confirmed in case-control studies in humans.”

Apples — a 2014 study suggested that consuming an apple a day resulted in better sexual quality of life for young women.

Saffron – Cleopatra supposedly bathed in saffron-infused milk for its aphrodisiac qualities. Scientific studies have also shown that saffron can increase sperm motility in infertile men and decrease the negative sexual side effects of some antidepressant drugs. Hmm, I wonder now just what Donovan meant when he sang, “I’m just mad about saffron..”

Hot peppers – Capsaicin, the substance that gives peppers their heat, stimulates nerve endings on the tongue. This, in turn, causes the body to pump out epinephrine (adrenaline), which then causes the release of endorphins, then pleasure-causing body biochemical. So eat a Carolina reaper if you want to please and keep her!

Figs – Figs are high in amino acids, which, in addition to being necessary building blocks for our bodies to produce needed proteins, can also increase libido and boost sexual stamina.

Asparagus – The high levels of Vitamin E in asparagus may play a role in increasing oxygen and blood flow to the genitals. Asparagus is also high in potassium, which can boost sex hormone production.

These are just a few of the many fruits and vegetables which can improve sexual health and be a bodacious boost for a bedroom bonanza. Best of all you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying them. If you and your sweetie consume pumpkin soup with celery sticks for an appetizer, an asparagus casserole for dinner, and apples and figs for dessert, and nothing special happens, you’ll still be eating nutritious food that will enhance overall health with no side effects. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than Viagra!