Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Impatient Gardener

I'm still waiting to hear from UW Bothell. I'm still waiting for the flowers on my pea vines to turn into peas. But I did spot a little baby fava bean emerging from a fava flower. So that's something.

I am not the most patient person on the planet. I kinda hate surprises. I come from a family that is religious about making Christmas lists -- so we know what to expect under the Christmas tree. One time, my friends in college tried to throw me a surprise party. They weren't so good at keeping it secret, and I figured it out way beforehand. Which was fine -- I hate surprises.

So much of gardening is an exercise in patience. No matter how often I go out and check for baby peas and baby favas, they'll emerge from the flowers when they're damn well ready to. Telling them "come out, come out, wherever you are" doesn't work.

I'd really like them to emerge so I can show you what I've grown, and so I can take them out and put in my tomatoes! I successfully hardened off the tomato plants, and they've been outside for a few days now, getting used to the weather before I plant them. One of them even has the beginnings of a little baby tomato. We'll see if it tastes any good!

Waiting, waiting, waiting. The worst part is that I know UW Bothell is already made a decision. And if I'm accepted, I know I will be getting an email towards the end of the week letting me know I've been accepted. So I should know within a couple of days. Sigh. I just want to know now.

Maybe gardening can teach me patience. Lord knows I need it. It's funny -- I'm really patient with my kids at the middle school, but I'm not so patient with myself. How is it that we can be patient with others more easily than with ourselves?

Anyway, it's almost finals week. One of the ways you can tell it's almost finals week with me is that I get injured more often. I think I get injured more when I get stressed out. Well, I ran into a door with my face on Monday. I'm not kidding. I was at work in the library, pushing a cart, and I opened a door too quickly, tripped over my cart, and hit the edge of the door with my face. Ouch. It's a little swollen, but not too bad.

Almost summer. It can't come soon enough. And then the rest of my life as a teacher begins.

C'mon Bothell!

Monday, May 24, 2010

No peas without bees!

This should be the gardener's new chant. No peas without bees! The bee crisis is indeed something we all should monitor.

I was listening to KUOW's Greendays program last week, and it was interesting to hear a bee keeper's perspective on the bee crisis. Many of you have probably heard of Colony Collapse Disorder -- a condition by which a healthy beehive seemingly collapses overnight. Worker bees from a beehive suddenly disappear. Without the workers, the colony cannot survive.

I have heard many theories behind CCD -- cell phone radiation, genetically modified crops, or the use of pesticides could be possible culprits. The beekeeper on the program posited another theory -- monocultures. When we lived on small family farms, we practiced crop rotation, and grew multiple varieties of vegetables. But with the advent of Big Agriculture, many fields are planted with just one variety of one crop. Bees used to be exposed to crop diversity and with it likely developed resistance to many diseases. Monocultures (and pesticides) harm bees.

So, why should you care about CCD? Honey bees are responsible for pollinating about 1/3 of the United States' species -- including pears, apples, cherries, berries, and peaches. Without honey bees, those crops don't get pollinated. Without pollination, we will not have as much fruit. Since Washington state is a key supplier of all of these crops, our state could see a significant economic effect from this.

And besides, honey bees are super cute. I love it when they get themselves drunk on pollen and have to digest some before they fly away. They look like fat black bees all covered in yellow pollen. It's adorable.

I'm a little worried about my peas and beans, if you haven't guessed by the title of this post. They are flowering up a storm -- yet I have not seen a big black bumblebee in my garden yet. Granted, my sample size is pretty small. It's not like I sit outside all day and watch my garden for bees. And I did see a bumblebee in the clover in my yard this afternoon. They're probably around -- my pear tree is forming little baby pears, and that could not have happened without bumblebees.

You may be wondering -- how do I help honey bees? One of the easiest things you can do is plant a garden! Consider planting some things bees like -- blue, purple or yellow flowers, clover, sage, oregano, and English thyme. Host a bee shelter -- set out a bee block for wood-burrowing bees. Don't use pesticides in your garden. And let your leafy veggies go to seed after harvest in the colder months. This allows honey bees to stock up on food for the winter.

As you can see from the pictures, my garden is really growing! The green things are walls-o-water -- little jackets for heat-loving plants. They work quite well -- I find that inside the wall-o-water, the temperature is several degrees warmer than outside. Good, as it's gotten rather chilly again in Seattle.

I did plant a couple more new things. I decided to take a chance and plant some bush beans. We'll see if I like them or not. I also put a new lettuce variety -- red deer tongue -- in the back of my garden. This variety grows well in summer, when the current varieties I have planted go to seed.

So far, I've only lost one tomato plant to the hardening off process. But I figured that plant was going to die anyway. Right now, they're out for about 14 hours. I've been trying to harden them off slowly, increasing their time outside by 2 hour increments. But a girl's gotta sleep sometime. They're doing well outside all day and into the evening. Maybe I will try leaving them out all night tomorrow night. Hopefully I won't lose any more.

Life is good. I'll find out about UW Bothell sometime this week. I think my interview went pretty well, although I was slightly stymied by the last question. Y'all know how much I hate waiting, and it's frustrating that I am forced to wait right now. They've made the decisions already...I'm just waiting for the bureaucratic process to play out and for me to actually get the decision. Sigh.

Had a wonderful weekend with friends. Things are good. And I have some of the best sausage ever in my fridge -- locally raised stuff. Time to go make potatoes with sausage and asparagus for dinner! Yum.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Transitioning to Summer

Although you wouldn't believe it from the weather outside -- chilly and rainy -- it's time to start transitioning my garden to summer crops. My peas have joined the fava beans in flowering. Soon they will start producing pea pods, which I look forward to using in stir frys and salads. When they're done producing, I'll pull them up and put in the tomatoes and peppers. My summertime garden will consist of carrots, broccoli, onions, lettuce (warm season varieties), tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. All of that, plus the CSA I am splitting with my friend Kim, will easily allow me to locally source at least 50% of my meals.

Kim and I decided to share the cost of a 22-week CSA. We were both eyeing the huge grocery bags stuffed with produce as they were dropped off at our church last summer. There are too many veggies in there for one person, but we can easily share a bag. Our CSA will be through Seattle Market Gardens (, a neat program by which residents of Southeast Seattle can sell the produce grown in their P-Patches. A half-share worked out to $15/week -- so $7.50/week each. This is far, far cheaper than CSAs provided by King County farms. The majority of the farmers who will be growing my food are low-income immigrants. So, I will be putting yummy veggies into my tummy. Low-income immigrants will be getting an income from selling their veggies. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

I may plant some bush beans, too. I haven't decided yet. I'm trying to only grow things I actually eat, but I'm also trying to push my foodie boundaries. I've never been a big green bean fan...but maybe that's because I didn't grow up with fresh green beans. One time, my friend Peter and I went hiking, and he had fresh green beans with him as a snack. I swear I ate half the bag. It's possible that I don't like green beans because I grew up eating awful canned green beans. And fresh veggies are always, always, better than commercially canned stuff.

The broccoli and carrots are sprouting. My peas and beans are flowering. I'm hardening off my tomato plants. So far, I've only lost one of the tomato plants in the hardening off process -- but I was pretty sure that plant was going to die anyway. One or two more tomato plants may not make it, but I'm doing my darndest to keep them all alive and happy! My walls-o-water arrived today, and I will be setting two of them up around the Brandywine and the Yellow Pear already planted. It's cold, and my tomatoes could use little jackets!

Every day, I am amazed by my garden. I find myself going out every day -- sometimes twice a day -- to observe how different veggies grow. It really does look different each day. Today, I spent some time observing my fava beans, trying to figure out if the beans emerge from the flowers dotting the plants, or if they will emerge from the leaves' bases. From what I remember from biology, I'm pretty sure the beans will emerge from the flowers eventually. I'm trying not to be an impatient gardener -- I want my beans now!

I'm fascinated by how my peas shoot little tendrils out, grabbing onto anything they can in their quest for the sun. Some of the pea vines have attached their tendrils onto other pea vines, supporting each other and pulling those plants back that are growing in odd directions. It looks like a mini pea-vine jungle! I'm not sure how I will get the vines off the trellis when it's time to take them out -- some of the tendrils are wrapped around my ropes pretty tight. They remind me of babies, and the strength they have when they wrap their little fingers around one of your own.

The way my pea vines shoot tendrils out and support each other remind me of what friends do for each other. My friends have definitely supported me as I shot out my own tendrils earlier this spring. And I support them, too, through their ups and downs. As my garden transitions to summer, so am I, emerging triumphantly into long days and warm nights.

There's a lot to make me smile right now. I got into the UW's Special Education program. I passed my teacher exams. I'm being interviewed by UW Bothell on Saturday, and will likely get into their program. My garden looks beautiful. I am surrounded by the love of my amazing friends. I have a number of unexpected blessings surrounding me. I'm really, really enjoying my life right now.

Isn't "unexpected blessing" the definition of "grace?" May my life continue to be full of grace. And laughter. And really good food.

Love y'all.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Much-needed garden maintenance

I took advantage of a beautiful Friday to do some much-needed garden maintenance. Unlike container gardens, raised beds need to be weeded periodically. The soil often contains grass and clover seeds. And I'd rather be growing veggies, not grass.

I took out the chard, spinach, and kale. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but these seedlings remained tiny. It's possible that the cold snap we had a couple of weeks ago just did these plants in. We also had a cold April, so the seeds I'd planted never really got going. The spinach was from a start, but had started going to seed -- again a result of the cold snap. I don't know if I'll grow these plants next year. I don't really eat a whole lot of chard (although I'd like to), and I had more success with kale from starts. Maybe I'll read up about these plants this winter and try again.

So much of gardening is trial and error. And a good bit of luck. An ill-timed cold snap can just wipe out a farmer's crop. One of the guys at the Ballard farmers market was telling me last week that many of the Eastern Washington farmers lost some of their spring and summer crops because of the late cold snap. Hopefully they can recover some of their profits with other crops. Farmers always seem to be one bout of bad weather away from bankruptcy.

I moved some plants around in the container garden surrounding my raised bed. I decided to plant my summer starts, and needed to free up some larger containers in order to do so. I moved the herbs into smaller containers, and put zucchini plants in the large pink buckets. Here's hoping I can actually grow a zucchini this year. I'll be hopefully growing yellow zucchini and yellow crookneck squash -- my favorites!

I put a yellow pear and a brandywine tomato in the back, against the trellis. I buried them up to their first set of leaves, as tomatoes grow roots from the stem. A well-developed root system leads to healthier tomatoes. I ordered walls-of-water (basically tomato jackets) from a garden store, and those should be here next week sometime. I want my tomatoes to be nice and warm this summer! Behind the fava beans, I planted a bell pepper. I put Walla Walla sweets in a back corner of the garden, and basil in a container. If it's too cold for the basil, I'll just buy a basil plant from Trader Joe's -- they've got some big beautiful ones for sale!

An ill-timed cold snap could ruin my crops. I'll be hoping that doesn't happen. It's been pretty warm for the last week or so, and I think the mercury will stay above 60 degrees during the day for a little while longer. So I should be safe. And if I gambled and planted too early, that's my fault. I'll learn from the experience and try again.

I started hardening off my tomato starts today, too. Does anyone else think that sounds dirty, or is it just me? Huh. Anyway, I took them out for an hour this morning, to begin to get them acclimated to sunlight and the outdoors. I'm going to take two weeks to harden them off and get them used to the outdoors, and then I will plant them. Not sure yet how many tomatoes I will plant, but I have nine different varieties started. If I plant one of each variety, that will be nine plants in addition to the two I have out there. I'm going to have a lot of canning to do!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Teenager Tomatoes

OK. It's official. My little baby tomato plants are no longer babies. In fact, the group that I have growing under lights by the window is huge. They are officially teenager tomato plants, and just like adolescents outgrowing their jeans, are rapidly outgrowing their pots. The other group is quite a bit smaller, but still look healthy and happy. I need to go get a new grow light, plus some gallon-size pots. It's already time for another round of mass trans-pot-ation!

As long as I can harden these plants off, I will have accomplished something somewhat difficult for the amateur vegetable gardener. I will have started tomatoes from seed in the Pacific Northwest. Hooray!

I just threw in what gardeners call a "cultural" term there. (Horticulture, not art.) To harden off indoor starts, I will have to gradually expose my teenager plants to the elements over the space of two weeks. I'll bring my plants outside in their pots, and set them in a warm sunny area of my garden. I'll leave them exposed to the elements for an hour at first, and bring them back inside. I will gradually lengthen their exposure time until, at the end of two weeks, they are out for 24 hours. At that point, they are ready to plant.

At the plant sale a couple of weeks ago, I learned that it's okay to put tomatoes in the ground by Memorial Day. I'm not sure if I'll have any room in my garden by then! The fava beans are flowering, which means that they will soon be producing beans. After I harvest those beans, I can pull the favas up. But my peas have not yet produced anything. My tomatoes may stay in gallon-sized pots for a little while, until I harvest all my spring veggies. It doesn't get quite warm enough up here for tomatoes (although I grew tomatoes just fine last summer), so I'll need to invest in some wall-o-waters to provide my tomatoes with some heat.

Phew. Seems like a lot of work. But a summer full of big juicy brandywines will be worth it.

Life continues to tick on, and I'm clicking along at a happy medium. UW Bothell's Teacher Education program will be interviewing me on May 22nd. Wish me luck! I'm really hoping I knock them dead.

And on that note, I'm rather sleepy. Good night, readers!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Triumphs Big and Small

So, I have some news. A few bits of news, actually.

First, on Monday, I found out that I passed my WEST-E exams for English and Social Studies. To implement what I refer to as the "Leave Every Child Behind Act," prospective teachers in Washington state must pass a series of exams in order to be "highly qualified" in the subject areas in which they want to teach. These exams were fairly difficult, as the state didn't really provide any review materials. To review, I basically read every "For Dummies" and "The Idiot's Guide to..." that pertained to English and Social Studies. Even though I felt like a dork reading "Economics for Dummies" in the gym, my efforts paid off, as I passed both exams!

The big news, however, came yesterday. I happened to check my email in the scant hour I had between class and the Mariners game, and found an email entitled "Application to the University of Washington College of Education." I thought this would be the email letting me know that my application to the UW's Special Education -- Learning Disabilities program was complete. And then I read this sentence:

"Congratulations! The UW College of Education faculty has recommended you to the Dean of the Graduate School for admission into the MEd program in the entering class of Fall 2010 for the following program: Learning Disabilities."

My jaw dropped. I punched the air. I screamed as loud as I could. I felt like Ken Griffey Jr at the bottom of all those Mariners after the team had won the ALDS in 1995.

I was so happy that I started to cry. I sat on my bed and wept, re-reading the congratulatory sentence over and over. I was in. A teaching program wanted me. The waiting is over. And all that pain, all that heartache, all of the agonizing and sleepless nights -- it was all over. Despite the rational protestations of my head, I'd followed my heart. That heart, so bruised and battered as of late, had steered me towards special education. It had made the right decision. It had led me from despair to triumph. I realized I could trust myself again.

When I told the high school students I volunteer with today that I was going to become a special ed teacher, they were thrilled. One of them said "I'm glad you want to work with students like me." Still others said that I am going to be a phenomenal teacher. It's going to be hard work, but it will be rewarding. I am a person who cannot bear "getting by." I need to be doing something I love. Over the past year, I've really come to love working with students with learning disabilities. To know that I'm going to spend the rest of my working career doing something I love brings me so much joy. I can't stop smiling.

Now for a smaller triumph. Tonight's meal only had four non-local ingredients! I made potato-leek soup with a backyard salad. The potatoes, leeks and sausage in the soup were all locally grown. The lettuce, arugula, spinach and radish in the salad came from my backyard. Over 80% of my meal was locally sourced! Hoorah!

My camera is working again, somewhat. As you can see from the pictures, my peas and fava beans are getting tall! My favas even have little flowers forming. I assume that they bloom, get pollinated by a friendly bumble bee, and become beans. My peas are not flowering yet, but they look taller every day.

My tomato plants are starting to get big, too! I changed the set-up somewhat after mass trans-pot-ation last weekend. I still need to buy a new light. The really tall tomato, a rainbow heirloom, could use its own light. It's huge! One of the tomatoes I bought at the Seattle Tilth Plant Sale last weekend is already producing some flowers. It's a mite early for tomatoes -- we'll see what happens there.

Life is good. I am joyful, skipping along at a happy medium. The mercury finally broke 60 today, and I ate dinner on my front porch, soaking in the sunlight. I feel like I'm right where I should be.

While preparing dinner this evening, I was listening to Josh Ritter's new album "So Runs the World Away." I put the last song on the album on repeat, singing along in full voice. The album is so new that I can't find a version of this song on Youtube -- but it's a really upbeat, cheery, triumphant number. The lyrics that got me this time are the following:

"I'm not afraid of the dark
We've been here before
Fallen on hard times, honey
We've fallen on swords
But if a long shadow
Falls across your heart
I'll be right here with you
I'm not afraid of the dark"

I'm not afraid of the dark. The long shadows that had fallen across my heart have lifted. The hard times are over. I know I can survive any hardship. I'm dancing into this brave new career -- being a special education teacher. I am surrounded by beautiful, wonderful, amazing friends, to whom I am daily thankful for love and support. I'm here, oh, I'm here. And this place -- this peace -- where I am, it's pretty damn incredible.

To quote Josh Ritter again,

"I am assured, I am assured yes
I am assured that peace will come to me
A peace that can surpass the speed
Of my understanding and my need"

Love to all my readers.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A city so green, they call it emerald

Here is this weekend's discovery: you can actually compost at Mariners games. I'm pretty sure this was also the case at the Sounders game, but I spent the entire game screaming and chanting -- so I couldn't tell you whether or not they had a compost bin. At Safeco, the Mariners have converted most garbage cans into compost cans. This is because they have switched from using plastic silverware and plastic-coated concession trays to corn-based silverware and paper concession trays. Since in Seattle we can put all that stuff in the compost, the garbage cans have become compost bins.

The irony of this is that I walked around Safeco for ten minutes trying to find a garbage can. Someone in my row, upon seeing that I was making a compost run, put a non-compostable Lays potato chip bag onto my very compostable paper tray. Sigh.

Anyway, the Mariners efforts have made Safeco one of the greenest stadiums in the country. Something like 80% of all waste at Safeco Field ends up composted or recycled. This is awesome. Especially since God knows the Mariners aren't leading in anything baseball related...

How is this possible? Well, I live in a city so green they call it the Emerald City. Granted, Seattle got this moniker because of all the trees and parks, but we're really a leader on the recycling front. Our buses run on a combination of electricity and bio-diesel; our food waste goes into the yard waste (and gets cooked into compost); and we can recycle almost everything. I love it that even the sports teams are getting in on the act. My town is a green town!

In case you are following the saga of Anna and her many tomato plants (oh, how I wish my camera worked so I could post photos!), I have fifteen tomato plants now. Well, seventeen, if you count the two I bought today -- I allowed myself to buy a yellow taxi tomato and a red brandywine, since they were all out of yellow brandywines at the Seattle Tilth sale. Thankfully, a couple of my surviving starts are yellow brandywines. Good, because those are my favorites!

All of my tomatoes are now in big teenager pots. I may have to move them into gallon pots (and buy yet another light) by planting time. A good rule of thumb around here is to plant summer veggies around Memorial Day. The week before Memorial Day, I will be busy hardening off my new plants -- getting them used to outdoor temperatures after growing inside my cozy little house. I have a feeling I'm going to feel like a proud Mama long as my little babies survive!

At the plant sale, in addition to the aforementioned tomatoes, I bought Genovese basil (caprese, anyone?), King-of-the-north sweet bell pepper, Walla Walla sweet onions, yellow zucchini, and yellow crookneck zucchini. That's right, I forgot that I could not grow a zucchini to save my life last summer, and now have two zucchini starts. Hopefully I have learned from my missteps and can grow zucchini this time. (Incidentally, yellow crookneck zucchini grill up quite well. And go well with bacon. But everything goes well with bacon, right?)

I also put my CSA on hold today. I've been so busy that I haven't been using all the veggies. Besides, the Wallingford Wednesday Farmers Market is set to return on May 19th! I hope my favorite vendors haven't forgotten me...I tend to buy a lot of tomatoes and zucchini. I'd like to keep putting my money where my mouth is, too, and continue to buy locally raised meat. I have tasted my first locally raised porkchop...and bought some ground beef and sausage from the same ranch to try this week. I'll let you know how it tastes. Tomorrow night, I will be using the beef in tacos!

My busy life continues to be, well, busy. I went to two Mariners games this weekend, and ended up at the Sounders game last night. I was screaming and chanting the entire game -- so much so that today I have no voice. Sounders fans do this wonderful un-Seattle like thing -- every time the opposing team's goalie kicks the ball after a shot on goal, they yell "you suck, asshole!" Seattle, as many of you know, is a passive-aggressive city. We don't ever call anyone an asshole to their face...but we are often thinking it. Anyway, I got a little bit too excited about yelling "asshole," and yelled it when I shouldn't have. It ended up sounding like more of a question, because as soon as I got to the "hole" part of the word, I realized my mistake. So, if you were at the Sounders game last night and heard a woman yell "you suck, asshole?", it was me. This guy in front of me turned around, looked at me, and said "that was cute." Seriously? I'm cute when I swear? C'mon now.

And, on that note, I will bid you all good night. I promise you, I will be dreaming about yellow brandywine tomatoes. Or about the next Sounders game I will attend. I really want to be in the section behind the goal with all of the crazy fans who lead the chants and wave flags the entire game...