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.

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

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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.

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!

The Old Gray Seeds They Ain’t What They Used to Be

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Now is the time to start thinking about your vegetable garden. The seed catalogs have been gracing your mailbox and you’ve had a chance to see all the colorful varieties of fruits and vegetables that are competing with each other for your attention and your dollars. But wait! You’ve forgotten something. What about all those seeds left over from last year or earlier that have just been setting around your house doing nothing. Maybe there’s still life in them?

Whether or not those old seeds are still viable will depend on the seed and just how long they’ve been hanging around, unplanted, on your shelf. Seeds are not a forever thing. Sooner or later they all lose viability and become nothing but dead specks of what might have been. Some seeds can be stored for several years and will still be viable. Others will fail to germinate if not planted after a year.

Research on various types of seeds has given us some guidelines as to how long a shelf life different seeds possess. The website of Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a table that lists different sees and how long you can hang onto them before they lose viability. Here is a link to that table –

https://www.johnnyseeds.com/on/demandware.static/-/Library-Sites-JSSSharedLibrary/default/dw913ac4d0/assets/information/seed-storage-guide.pdf

Another way to check the viability of your old seeds is to run a germination test. The following information come from North Carolina State University Extension.

Seed Viability Test

What You Will Need

Ten seeds of each type being tested
Paper towels
Water
Sealable plastic bags
A permanent marker

Moisten a sheet of paper towel. It shouldn’t be dripping wet, just uniformly damp. If your paper towel falls apart when it gets wet, use 2 sheets, one on top of the other.

  1. Place the 10 seeds in a row along the damp towel.
  2. Roll or fold the paper towel around the seeds.
  3. Place the paper towel into the plastic bag and seal it. Write the date on the plastic bag, so there’s no guess work involved. If you are testing more than one type of seed, also label the bag with the seed type and variety.
  4. Place the plastic bag somewhere warm, about 70 degrees F. A sunny window sill or on top of the refrigerator should work.
  5. Check daily, to be sure the paper towel does not dry out. It shouldn’t because it is seal, but if it get very warm, you may need to re-moisten the towel with a spray bottle.
  6. After about 7 days, start checking for germination by unrolling the paper towel. You may even be able to see sprouting through the rolled towel. Very often the roots will grow right through it.
  7. Check your seed packet for average germination times for your particular seed, but generally 7 – 10 days should be enough time for the test.
  8. After 10 days, unroll the paper towel and count how many seeds have sprouted. This will give you the percentage germination you can expect from the remaining seeds in the packet. If only 3 sprouted, it is a 30% germination rate. Seven would be a 70% germination rate. Nine would be a 90% germination rate, and so on.

Realistically, if less than 70% of your test seed germinated you would be better off starting with fresh seed. If 70 – 90% germinated, the seed should be fine to use, but you should sow it a little thicker than you normally would. If 100% germinated – lucky you, your seed is viable and you’re ready to plant.

You don’t have to waste the seeds that germinated. They can be planted. Don’t let them dry out and handle them very carefully, so that you don’t break the roots or growing tip. It’s often easiest to just cut the paper towel between seeds and plant the seed, towel and all. If the root has grown through the towel, it is almost impossible to separate them without breaking the root. The paper towel will rot quickly enough and in the meantime, it will help hold water near the roots.

Source: North Carolina State County Extension Service — https://richmond.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/SeedViabilityTest.pdf?fwd=no

Gardening During The Time of Pandemic

There is no sugarcoating the situation facing every man, woman, and child living on planet Earth. We are in the midst of a pandemic! A new species of coronavirus is plaguing the human population. This species is highly infectious and it kills! Already, hundreds of thousands have been killed by this virus and even more sickened by it. There is neither vaccine nor treatment for it. All we can do is follow the guidelines spelled out by our health professionals – wash your hands frequently, cough into your elbow, and stay at home as much as possible. However, if you must venture out, avoid large gatherings, and stay at least six feet away from other people.

In an effort to implement the above guidelines, we have been forced to cancel many social events large and small. Sporting events, concerts, and even family gatherings have all fallen by the wayside in our desperate efforts to halt this terrible disease. This hurts us to our core, as we humans, by nature, are active social beings. We do not do isolation very well.

However, we are not completely without activity. We can still go for a walk. We can still exercise. And yes, we can still garden. I’ve followed all of the news about the virus, and I have not yet seen anything that says that the virus lives in soil, green plants, seeds, or the immediate atmosphere surrounding your garden (assuming no one has coughed on any of these). And while being out in nature is neither cure nor prevention, there is something about getting your hands in the soil, setting out seeds and seedlings, cultivating them, and watching them grow and bear flowers and fruit that can certainly lift your spirits a little and make all the bad news, fear, and worry a little easier to bear. Indeed, the very awakening of the earth after a long winter sleep has a way of gently lifting one’s spirits, even in the midst of trying times.

And you don’t even have to garden in complete solitude. To be sure, you cannot meet with your garden club or plant gardens in large groups. But you can contact friends and family through phone, e-mail, Skype, etc. and swap ideas about what you’re going to plant. You can meet in gardening forums on the web and learn about the new cultivars of vegetables that will soon be available. You can even share seeds and seedlings with friends and family (call them up, tell them you’re coming, leave the merchandise on the doorstep, and high-tail it back home.

Yes, there are lots of reasons to feel concern and worry. But you don’t have to hide under your bed petrified with fear. The earth hasn’t stopped growing, and neither should you. By all means follow all the infection prevention guidelines. And then get out and garden. You will feel better for it.

Let Them See You Sweat

Sweat

A popular commercial for a brand of underarm deodorant implores the user to “never let them see you sweat.” Meanwhile, in a gag from an old Three Stooges short, Moe does a mock commercial for Gritto, the soap that gives your hands that dishpan look. “How,” he asks, “will the old man know you’ve been working if your hands don’t have that dishpan look?”

So what does all of this have to do with gardening? Both of the above can be viewed as two different philosophies. If you don’t want people to see you sweat, then it probably means that you don’t do very much labor in your garden. Because if you were, then believe me, you’d be sweating! Gardening is not easy. It requires liberal amounts of muscle power to dig, plant, cultivate and harvest. And all of this activity is just naturally going to bring on sweat. So if you can’t stand the idea of people seeing you sweat and get dirty, yet you wonder why your garden isn’t yielding very much, guess what? If you want a garden that yields a bumper crop of sweet, crunchy, nutritious fruits and vegetables, then you’re going to have to sweat to make that happen, and occasionally people are going to see you sweat.

On the other hand, if you are willing to sink your hands in the soil and it doesn’t bother you that your hands occasionally have that dishpan (or should we say garden trowel?) look, then more often than not, your labors will bear fruit and vegetables, and lots of them.

So if you’re a brand new gardener and you’re worried about getting dirty and sweaty, then you may as well stop before you start. If you garden, then you will sweat and your hands will, on occasion, become rough and dirty. But if occasionally getting sweaty and dirty is no problem for you, then your dream of fresh nutritious produce is very much within your grasp.