Believing in a Brighter Future

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow – Audrey Hepburn

One could be forgiven if they were to feel as though our world today is drenched in a coating of sheer madness — an insanity that coats our planet like caramel on an apple. Conflicts ranging from minor skirmishes to outright wars across the globe. Deep divisions, both political and philosophical within our own nation. Wildfires, mudslides, hurricanes, and other severe weather events destroying property and lives. And of course, let’s not forget a newly resurgent COVID-19 pandemic creating mass sickness and death among the human population. I’m sure there are days when many of us feel like crawling under our beds and not wanting to come out. So how does one live a good life in a world drenched in insanity?

First of all, a little perspective. To some degree or another, our world has always been drenched in insanity, because human beings are an insane people. We hate someone because their skin is a different color than ours, or the deity that they pray to is different than ours. A group of people will terrorize and make war on another group of people for some of those same aforementioned reasons. We want more things than anyone else, so we lie, cheat, steal, and murder to accomplish this. And worst of all, we’ve decided that we human beings are more important than any other living creatures, so we cruelly exploit this planet’s resources for our own gain and to the detriment of all other life. This is the way of humans, and this has been the way of humans since time immemorial.

Yet it is still possible to find gold even within a world of dirt. While it is true that the mass population of human beings are insane, it is also true that there are those individuals who manage to live in a world coated in madness who manage to resist getting that coating on themselves. Many of them are enshrined in the pages of history, but there are many more whom the world at large does not know about. These are people who manage to carve out their own life of peace and happiness among the craziness. They create organizations and foundations dedicated to the betterment of others. They actively work to slow or stop the exploitation of our planet’s resources and reverse some of the damage that has been done. They put effort into reducing the hatred between people and creating peace where there was once war. You can also find them in their own nations, cities, towns, and neighborhoods doing simple things like taking an elderly neighbor shopping, volunteering in their children’s schools, picking up litter, etc. – the list goes on and on.

And they plant gardens (you knew that was coming, right?). When you’re a gardener, madness is not part of your world. You don’t have time for such luxuries. As a gardener you are constantly creating new life. You know that the seeds you plant today will sprout into beautiful plants tomorrow. Plants that provide color to delight the senses. Plants that provide nutritious food to feed you, your family, your neighbors, and your friends. Plants that provide fiber for making cloth that can be turned into wearable garments. Plants that provide nourishment and shelter for the other inhabitants of planet Earth. As a gardener, you carve out a little piece of joy and happiness where there was once only sadness and despair. And when you share your garden bounty with others, or help those others plant their own gardens, you increase the size of that piece of joy and happiness, and you further reduce the sadness and despair. No, gardening will not solve all the world’s problems. The world will continue to be coated in madness until we humans find better ways to live that don’t hurt other humans or the planet on which we depend upon for survival. But for you, the individual that wants to find some light among this darkness, planting a garden will go a long way towards keeping the sticky tar of madness from sticking to you.

A Gardener’s Work Is Never Done

I forget all about the sweatin’ and diggin’
Every time I go out and pick me a biggun

Guy Clark – Home Grown Tomatoes

Another season of planting has now faded into history. The soil has been dug up, amended, and fertilized; seeds, bulbs, roots, etc. have long been planted; and are now (we hope) actively growing and producing strong and healthy plants that are beginning to flower and may even be producing fruit. Now you can breathe a sigh of relief that your hard labor is beginning to pay off.

But wait! Your work is not yet done! Far from it! Your garden’s labor requirements may have eased, but they are by no means non-existent. Now is the time to begin the work of maintaining that garden that you worked so hard to plant. Now is not the time to rest on your laurels. For without proper care those laurels – as well as those tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, corn, etc. – will wither away and die.

So what efforts are required of you now?

First of all, there is the critical task of watering. Mother Nature may have been generous with rain in April, May, and possibly in June. But come July, she starts becoming rather stingy with her water supply. So you must become Aquarius and start bearing water to your garden. If you applied mulch to your garden in the spring, you can reduce your watering chores somewhat. You can further reduce your watering labors by installing an irrigation system and hooking it up to a water timer that will turn the irrigation system on and off for you. But you still have to check to make sure that your plants are getting sufficient water. No irrigation system or water timer is going to do that for you. You still have to get your hands dirty. Because if you fail here, you will have nothing to show for all your spring labors but dead plants. No fresh tomatoes in your future!

And speaking of getting your hands dirty, the next critical task is weeding. Yes, I know you don’t want to hear it. It’s not a task that makes people want to jump with joy. It’s hard, dirty, laborious work that causes you to sweat more moisture than Niagara Falls, and, if you fail to apply the proper protection, fries your skin redder than a stoplight. But it must be done. If you applied mulch in the springtime, your weeding chores will be reduced considerably. But mulch is not a cure-all. Some weeds here and there are bound to get through, and you will still have to pull them or hoe them.

Failure to weed will make your garden look unsightly, spread insects and disease to your garden vegetable plants, and in general, rob your garden vegetable plants of nutrients, water and light. It may not kill your garden outright, but it will considerably reduce the yield you would have otherwise gotten if you had put in the effort to remove those unsightly weeds.

Other necessary tasks include, but are not limited to checking the leaves of your plants (both top and bottom) for insect damage, applying supplemental fertilizer to give your plants a nutrient boost to help them through the long hot summer days, and protecting your plants from pests of the Insecta, Lagomorpha, and Mammalia variety.

And as much as we all look forward to harvesting, even that requires some muscular exertion on our part. Tomatoes do not leap off the vine and jump onto your plate by themselves (if they do, may I humbly suggest that you cut back on your consumption of alcohol, cannabis, and other mind-altering chemicals?). Harvesting also requires judgement and timing. We have to know when to pick those fruits and vegetables and when to leave them on the vine or in the ground a little longer.

And I won’t even get into the garden work that needs to be done in the fall, and the planning for next year’s garden that takes place in the winter. In short, the work of the gardener is never done. But it is work that, if done well, yields a wonderful reward of sweet, crunchy, nutritious, fruits and vegetables. And that makes it all worthwhile!

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.

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.

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.

The Three-Legged Stool of Disease

Three Legged Stool

 

Plant diseases can be a serious problem in fruit and vegetable crops. Diseases can stunt plant growth, reduce yields, and sometimes even kill the plant. There are many methods for keeping fruit and vegetable plants free of disease, but they all boil down to one concept. In order for plants to be infected with a disease, three things must be present – the disease causing organism, a susceptible plant, and favorable conditions for the disease agent to develop. You can think of each factor as one leg of a three-legged stool. All three legs must be present for a successful disease infestation to occur. If just one of these factors is missing, then the stool collapses and no infestation occurs.

Diseases are caused by a variety of agents – bacteria, fungi, mycoplasma, nematodes, and viruses. These can be carried by insects, weeds, or plant debris. Some diseases like verticillium wilt of tomatoes can live in the soil for as long as ten years. So one good garden practice to prevent disease infestation of your plants is to clean up all the plant debris at the end of the season. This will remove a potential source of contamination. No disease-causing agent, no disease, and the stool collapses.

Keeping plants well-watered and well-fed will insure that they are healthy and strong. Healthy and strong plants are better able to survive a disease infestation than stressed and weak plants. The disease agent may be present and the conditions may be favorable to it, but plants that are well-cared for are better able to resist the disease. No susceptible plant, no disease, and the stool collapses.

Some diseases can be transmitted by insect pests. Cucumber beetles and leaf hoppers, for example, can carry the organisms that carry bacterial wilt and yellows, respectively. Controlling these insects can remove a source of transmission of these diseases. The conditions for development may be present and the plants may be susceptible, but if the organism is not present, then infestation cannot occur. No disease-causing agent, no disease, and the stool collapses once again.

Buying disease-resistant cultivars is an excellent way of insuring that your plants aren’t felled by an infestation. Better Boy tomatoes, for example, are bred to be resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes. That means that the organisms may be present and conditions for development may be present, but if the plant is bred to resist these organisms, then the plant is not susceptible t0 the disease. The stool collapses yet again.

Many weeds can act as hosts for disease-carrying organisms. Keeping the garden free of weeds, whether through handpicking or hoeing, or laying down mulch to prevent them from growing in the first place, can remove an agent of disease transmission. Conditions may be right for the disease to develop and the plants may be stressed. But if the organism isn’t present, the disease cannot develop. Crash goes the stool!

Watering your plants in the early morning gives them a chance to dry out before nightfall. As a result, the plants will be dry instead of cold and wet. Cold and wet plants are breeding grounds for disease- carrying fungus. Fungus, however, is less likely to breed on dry plants. The fungus may be present and the plants may be a bit stressed, but conditions aren’t right, so the fungus cannot grow, so no disease occurs. The stool collapses once more.

In conclusion, keeping plants healthy and strong and your garden dry, clean, and free of weeds will go a long way towards keeping the stool of disease infestation in a permanent state of disrepair.

Mailbox Sunshine on a Cold Winter’s Day

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As I write this, I’m gazing out my window at the gently falling snow. Aggregations of flakes coat trees, bushes, and manmade structures like white fungus on a rampage. Spinning tires, stalled engines — ah, the joys of winter. For us gardeners, who like nothing better than to be out in the bright sunshine and warm weather carefully planting and cultivating our fruit and vegetable crops, it’s difficult not to feel a little depressed under these conditions.

But take heart! Rays of sunshine are piercing the gloom, and they are coming out of your mailbox! Postal sunshine, to warm a gardener’s heart on even a most miserable winter day.

I’m speaking, of course, about the gardening catalogs, those aggregations of glossy photos and glowing descriptions of new vegetable varieties and old favorites. Catalogs that for a few brief moments take our minds off of the desolation of winter and give us hope in a glorious spring of mild temperatures, gentle rains, and bright sunshine-filled days!

Sure, some of those photos are a bit too slick and those descriptions a bit overblown. But for the moment, we’re willing to believe anything they say. Because these catalogs give us hope that winter will not last forever and that before we know it, sunshine and warmth will eventually chase the white stuff away.

So peruse those catalogs, circle your selections, order those seeds, and dream green and sunshiny dreams. They will come true, I promise.