I am Gardener: Provider of Life

>> Sunday, June 29, 2008

I read Doug’s post about his observation on how the number of new home gardeners increases during economic downturns only to decrease when times get better. This topic is of special interest to me since I have grown veggies off and on for over twenty years now. There were times when I simply could not garden because of having to travel so much due to my job. When I could settle long enough and had enough room to actually start a garden I had to basically start from scratch each time. And I can tell you from this experience that saving money can never be expected due to the initial outlay of soil amendments, fertilizer, garden tools, plant trellis material, etc. At least not during the first year.

When economic times get tough, it is reasonable for someone to think that growing their own food would save them money. Especially when they see those anemic pale red blobs that pass for ‘fresh’ tomatoes in the produce aisle for $2.59 a pound and up and then see a tomato plant selling for the same price.

Most new home gardeners that I have talked with also reason that by growing their own they will be putting healthier food on their table. This is also a reasonable expectation. However, what they fail to account for is the time, effort and cost required to produce the healthy food they desire while resisting the urge to use chemicals when they are faced with the prospect of seeing their hard earned efforts get eaten by voracious insect pests or diseases.

Any seasoned gardener knows that a few pests are not going to make a huge difference in the output of a vegetable plant. And thanks to the widespread access to the internet and garden websites and garden blogs, a newbie is now less likely to run screaming to the nearest chemically-laden pesticide sprayer determined to eradicate every insect they see. For those of you who have actually done some home work before starting your first garden and therefore know better than to think that every insect is a menace, I salute you.

You need to know that you will not always get the perfectly shaped and beautifully colored produce of your expectations. And sometimes your crop may fail miserably, producing mediocre yields or bland tasting produce. Garden books cannot adequately cover every aspect of gardening to turn everyone into an expert, not over the course of one year or ten years. Only experience will teach you the subtleties of gardening that make the effort worthwhile.

Gardening is a frame of mind, a lifestyle if you will that involves much more than just sticking a plant in the ground and expecting it to give you the bountiful harvest of your dreams. You will become a steward of your chosen plot of earth, a caretaker with the potential to encourage new life that will provide food not just for you and your family but for all of the surrounding wildlife, including the pest insects. The responsibility is great. If you can take it to heart and learn that every animal, reptile, bird and insect, beneficial as well as pest, plays a part in the grand scheme that we call nature, then you will soon feel what it is to be a gardener, a provider of life.

Gardening is a learning experience that teaches so much more than how to grow food or flowers and it takes time to get reasonably good at it. It is those new gardeners who don’t learn these lessons who will most likely give it up after just one season, or sooner.

Being a gardener, raising food for personal consumption, is a link to our primal nature as hunter-gatherer. Over the millennia, we have repressed our connection to our evolution on earth. Gardening allows us to re-connect to our past. It slows us down and allows us to look at not what earth can provide for us but what we can do to support earth. Once we are fully in tune with this mindset and feel the connection we will then see our place in nature not simply as user but as caretaker.

I still get chills when I stop to examine the responsibility that I have taken on. Gardening is the most soul-cleansing activity I have ever undertaken.

Society has become disassociated from nature leading to many health problems, both physically and mentally. In re-connecting with nature we take on the many positive effects of our involvement, not the least of which comes from eating fresh food, but also from greater concentration, creativity and developing a bond that can lead to a greater appreciation for an environmental stewardship.

We have heard how owning a pet can decrease high blood pressure and improve recovery after heart attacks. I believe gardening offers these same health benefits.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
And to have my senses put in tune once more.

- John Burroughs

With today’s proliferation of electronics, TV, computers, cell phones, iPods, we have become more in tune to these devices and out of tune with nature. Through these devices we have access to mountains of data but in accessing it we are missing out on other data. Data collected through smelling fragrant flowers, hearing buzzing bees and singing birds and feeling the texture of soil through our fingers and the texture of plants as we prune and care for them.

High food prices could actually be viewed as a saving grace just by driving more people into their own backyards to grow their own food and slowing them down in order to re-connect with nature.

People start out with the best of intentions and, as Doug so rightly pointed out, some soon realize that home gardening is more work than they thought. But if you are willing to work at it and understand that the rewards are immeasurable, then please join in. There is plenty of room out here in nature and we can always use more stewards.

So, to all newcomers, I look forward to the opportunity to view your progress on your very own blog. Drop me a line so I know who you are and where you garden. Just knowing there are others out there who take seriously the responsibility of maintaining the diversity that makes nature so rewarding and at the same time providing wildlife a respite from the ravages of our society as they are constantly pushed out of their environment says so much about the caring nature of being a gardener: provider of life. Welcome.


Listen to the Children

Too often we adults shun advice from children as too naïve and not worth our time to listen to.

Here is a twelve-year-old who has something meaningful and worthwhile to say and actually says it better than most adults. She addressed the United Nations meeting in Brazil with an elegance and style far beyond her years.

Please, take the time to listen, it is only a five minute segment of her speech but in that short time she paints reality far more succinctly than any adult I know ever has.

From her we have so much to learn and just maybe we can learn to share what we have with those who have nothing.


GBBD First Time

>> Sunday, June 15, 2008

Last year my garden was just getting started. This month I finally have enough flowers worthy of posting!

First up, the Blues:

Veronica Crater Lake Blue

Salvia East Friesland

Nepeta Walker’s Low (Catmint)

Iris Reticulata

Next, the Pinks:

Dianthus Agatha

Geranium Clorinda (almost)

Rose unknown

Dianthus Zing Rose

Dianthus Desmond

Cosmos Sensation

Allium Alpine Rosy Bells

Rose Tuscan Sun


Lawn or Food?

>> Monday, June 9, 2008

Lawn grass is the largest irrigated U.S. crop. "Even conservatively," notes NASA researcher Cristina Milesi, "I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn."

That equals approximately 128,000 kilometers. Keeping all of that grass green requires about 200 gallons of fresh, typically drinking-quality water per person per day.
With the rising costs of groceries, homeowners are turning more and more of their lawn into vegetable gardens. From around the country garden centers have reported increased sales in vegetable plants and seeds. Red Barn Garden Center in Dellwood North Carolina has been part of the gardening scene for 35 years, and owner/manager Karen Collins says there are at least 15-20% more people raising vegetable gardens this year. This harkens back to 20 years ago, during another fuel price increase.
First-time gardeners are citing several reasons for getting started, and experienced gardeners are using some of the same reasons for expanding their backyard plots. Some reasons given are:
To reduce food costs
To grow food they know is safe, as long as you choose organic fertilizers over chemicals
To get exercise and have a hobby, especially baby boomers who are retiring
To get a wider variety of food than available in stores, more flavorful than industrially raised food
Burpee seed sales have increased greatly in the past three years says George Ball Jr., president of W. Atlee Burpee & Co., a leading national provider of seeds based in Warminster, Bucks County.
In the United Kingdom, vegetable gardening is on the rise, thanks to an increasing distaste for factory foods and a desire to limit “food miles.” Citizens are becoming more concerned about the distance food has to travel and the carbon emissions that result from a lengthy shipping process. Fresh vegetables grown in backyards or small parcels of leased land, called allotments, are considered more environmentally friendly.
This spring, The Guardian, a British newspaper, reported a substantial increase in vegetable seed sales. The country’s Horticultural Trades Association showed a 31% increase in sales of vegetable seeds and a corresponding 32% decrease in sales of flower seeds.
The book “Food Not Lawns,” by Heather C. Flores is helping to support a movement for homeowners to replace parts of their lawns to grow vegetables. Unfortunately, some cities and townships still have archaic codes stipulating that trees and grass should be the primary elements in front yards. “Renegade” gardeners are bucking the system and the trend is beginning to take hold. Edibles make more environmental and economic sense. Irrigation costs are going toward something that can be consumed, rather than simply admired. Front-yard produce also makes eating healthy more affordable and accessible. Who can argue with that?
Over the past several years, according to a 2006 National Gardening Survey, interest in vegetable gardening remained relatively steady. U.S. households growing vegetables ranged from 22 to 25 percent. Sales of vegetable seeds decreased in 2006, while vegetable transplants saw a slight increase. Organic food sales increased 38.4%, according to consumer research company Mintel International. The company projected that sales of organic foods will increase 71% through 2011.
With higher food and fuel prices (mainly in transportation costs) along with food safety issues as top reasons for growing your own, homegrown veggies are beginning to look like a lot more reasonable alternative to supermarket offerings.
No matter the reason for the increase in new gardeners, I wish to extent a hearty welcome to all of the new comers and to those who are converting flowers to vegetables. Perhaps we will see an increase in the number of blogs to help feed our voyeuristic tendencies.


Global warming a boon to some and disaster for others

>> Sunday, June 8, 2008

A couple of days ago I asked the question “What is going on with our spring weather?” Today, I stumbled across an article on EarthTalk blog about this same subject that stated “The effects of global warming manifest themselves differently in different locations, and winter is no doubt getting shorter and warmer across New England, the Canadian Maritimes and Northern Europe.”

The article goes on to say that average winter temperatures are increasing almost every year with the last eight five-year periods the warmest in history.

“Only western Maine is projected to retain a reliable ski season by the end of the century, and only northern New Hampshire would support a snowmobiling season longer than two months.”

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment of 2004 reported that Arctic temperatures are now rising at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the world (as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years), reducing sea ice and melting frozen soils. It’s been widely reported that Alaska’s polar bears are probably doomed by 2050, but the scale of this climatic shift will likely do much more—completely changing the culture of the Arctic.

It will also change traditional gardening habits. Some of us can probably kiss cool season plants goodbye but we may now be able to grow some those exotic tropicals we thought we never could.

Skiers and snowmobilers may lament a shortened or disappearing season in which to play, we gardeners will have an even longer season in which to enjoy our passion.

Ski resorts may have to close down and return the mountain sides to their naturally forested beauty and we may even be able to see an increase in the number of wildlife in those areas as well.

Global warming can’t be all bad. At least for some people.


I’ll Take Weather Patterns for $200, Alex

>> Thursday, June 5, 2008

What is going on with our spring weather?

With all the rain and unseasonably cool temperatures so far this year, I decided to look at the historical record for Utah. Last year on this day the temp was 89F with a low of 72F. Today’s range is: over night low of 44F with the expected high in the mid 60s. This was the lowest overnight low since 1995. Since I moved here to Utah in May of 2004, the highs on this day have been 2004-91F, 2005-84F, 2006-88F, 2007-89F. So this is what I have been expecting.

I moved here from San Diego, CA so these temperatures were pretty easy to deal with. But, since I started planting perennials last year after two years of digging beds and prepping the clay soil that I am not used to, I expected this year to be just like any other.

Wrong. The historical record shows that the average high on this date is 79F with a historical range of 55F to 91F. That is quite a range of temps.

I asked some long time locals about this weather and they tell me that it has reached has high as 98F on this day, so high temperatures are not uncommon, but none of them could remember this much rain. After the short time I have lived here even I know not to complain about the rain. Sitting in a valley between two mountain ranges, we depend on snow fall to fill up our reservoirs and lakes. This year we got a lot of snow and every spring with the drastic rise in temperatures there is a danger of snow melt overwhelming the river beds down through the canyons and it is not uncommon to have homes flooded out near the mouths of those canyons. So this gradual warming we are experiencing this year is a real blessing.

Since global warming is becoming a hot topic, I got to thinking about how we will be affected by it. Is this crazy change in weather the result of global warming? Could it be that this climate change does not mean higher temperatures everywhere? With the normal season changes, we are well aware of how the planet is warm on one side while being cooler on the other side. But when our fellow gardeners in Australia reported hotter than normal temperatures throughout their summer this year we in the U.S. experienced warmer than normal winter conditions. So I don’t think that would explain this current cold pattern.

And then to add to the mystery, the eastern half of the U.S. is currently going through temperatures in the 90s while we sit here on the west side of the Rocky Mountains in in the 60s. No wonder meteorologist have such a difficult time predicting the weather.

I went to the EPA Climate Change website which confirms that we can expect increased temperatures across the nation for the next century. But I cannot find anything that explains why we are experiencing lower temps when the temps are supposed to be going up. Conclusion, this is just a freak incidence and we should not get used to it and just enjoy it while we can.

On another, closely related topic, last year, after putting in the perennial garden I went in search of shade cloth to protect my plants from Utah’s hot sun. I was surprised to learn that the only thing I can find is the stuff you spread over patios to shade humans.

Even at the garden centers I could not find any of what I consider to be real shade cloth for plants. I guess they call it garden fabric or row covers. Maybe they don’t worry about the hot direct sun here. Could that be? Anyway, I had to order it online from Gardeners Supply. There are several garden supply websites that carry the same thing at comparable prices. I’m surprised these local Garden Centers don’t carry it.


How Old is Your Garden?

>> Wednesday, June 4, 2008

As I read through all of the wonderful garden blogs, admiring all the beautiful flowers already in bloom, I look out at my garden, which is just starting its second year and lament its status as a mere toddler.

I know one day the garden will start spring with the bold blooms I so look forward to but I haven’t seen many yet. It is mostly green, except for the few new shrubs I just put in that already have flowers, like this Weigela My Monet (on the left) and this Potentilla Frosty. Tulips and Daffodils were pretty lack luster too, so I’m going to dig them up and see if they need to be divided.

Our spring here in Utah has been very wet and a bit on the chilly side, as springs go, with a lot of cloud cover. I guess I should be grateful that the usual high heat has not yet visited us but I can’t help think that this is why my plants are growing so slowly. So for now I’ll accept weather as one of the excuses my plants are a little behind in their development. The other excuse is that the garden is still quite young.

Am I expecting too much too soon? I’m following the most reasonable formula for having a full lush garden, i.e., watering and fertilizing regularly. I suffer through the smell of fish emulsion so I think I deserve to be rewarded with more blooms than what I now have.

Okay, so Mother Nature cannot be cajoled into giving up her goods until she is ready, but seeing other people’s gardens so lush and beautiful borders on being disappointingly painful.

Yesterday, I discovered these Allium Alpine Rosy Bells blooming. I’m pretty sure they should have started blooming about mid-May.

Dianthus Desmond opened up about three days ago but the Dianthus Zing Rose hadn’t started budding yet.

This Lavender Devon Camp is showing some color. I just planted this one two weeks ago. The Hardy Lavender I put here last fall has proven to be not so hardy.

Salvia East Friesland (left) and Nepeta Walkers’ Low (below) opened up over a week ago so they look like they should be pretty reliable every year.

My Echinacea Bravado and one of the Echinacea Magnus have set up flower buds, seemingly right on time because they should be blooming in early June.

What I am trying to determine is whether or not age plays a major role in how early in the season plants start blooming? When this garden is, say five years old, will it be blooming by now or is it just because of the weather this year that most things seem to be about two weeks behind?

I know experience will teach me how things will grow here and maybe I should not expect so much from such a young garden but patience is just so over rated.


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