Wednesday, February 08, 2012

February in the Garden

Look closely and you will find flower buds slowly swelling on fruit trees, early spring bulbs, and some very brave perennials. Here in zone eight, February promises that spring is not too far away. It is still cool enough to plant bare root roses, fruit and nut trees, and other flowering ornamentals. Which, by the way, should be going on sale at bargain prices this month; because they need to get in the ground very soon. As the days lengthen, the bare root plants will begin to grow. If they are not able to sink new roots in soil, they will soon expend any stored energy. This will weaken the plants and some may not survive. Act fast and your bargain bare roots will thrive for many years.
It is time to Plant:
Bare Root Plants
When shopping for bare root plants make sure the stems, twigs, and buds look plump and healthy. Any growth of leaf or flower should be minimal, and it should not look wilted or limp. Bare root plants that look dry, are being stored indoors where it is warm, or that have extended much new growth are not really a bargain at any price. Dry or shriveled plants may already be dead. Those actively growing, especially if they are indoors where it is warm, may have already expended any reserves that they would need to adapt to their new environment. Plants that are plump looking but fully dormant or barely showing signs of spring life are the best bets.
Most bare root plants will come with labeling that lets you know what zones they are hardy in, whether they prefer sun, part sun, or shade, if they are drought tolerant or need regular irrigation, and other important information. Be sure to read the labels so you can plant them where they will get the exposure and the care or neglect they need. The labels should also explain how to care for your plants until you get them in the ground and that they need planted right away.
Most importantly, keep your bare root plants outside in a cool or cold spot, until you can get them into the ground, which needs to happen as soon as possible. If you must delay planting them a few days, open the packaging and check the saw dust or other packing material around the roots. It should be moist but not soggy. If it seems soggy, carefully poke some holes in the packaging, without damaging the roots, to allow air circulation. If the packaging material seems dry, poke a few holes in the bottom of the package for drainage, and slowly pour in enough water to moisten everything up.
The first opportunity you get, you will need to dig a hole for your new plant. Take the plant out of the package and carefully inspect the roots. If they are flexible and can be moved without breaking them, gently spread them out so you can get an idea of how wide and deep you should dig. You want the upper-most roots to end up about an inch or so under the surface of the soil, unless the package directs you otherwise. Soak the roots before planting by filling a bucket or other basin with cool to cold water and let them hydrate while you dig your hole.
Finished compost or planting mix can be sprinkled in the bottom of your hole and mixed into the dirt as you fill in around the roots. While many of our vegetables and annual flowers appreciate being planted over buried compost or manure--trees, shrubs, and woody perennials do not.
Careful attention to watering will be necessary for the first year for all bare root plants. They must grow new feeder roots to take up moisture and nutrients. Even drought tolerant varieties need to be watched closely through their first season. After a year or two you can expect them to behave just like any other well established plant in your garden.
Seeds to Start Now
Many seeds can be started indoors this month. Peppers, tomatoes, and gourds, which originated in warm climates benefit from a head start. They all need a warm bright spot to get going, and once they do start growing they may have to be moved up to larger containers before the weather turns warm enough to plant them outside. Those who can’t be bothered with setting up a special indoor germination area can always wait until spring and purchase starts; however, the best selection of varieties is available to those who start seeds.
Many cool season veggies can also be started now. Lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, sugar and snap peas, as well as scallions can be started in six packs—indoors or out, or direct seeded into containers or raised beds.
Don’t forget to plant some flowers! Pansies, violas, larkspur, and sweet peas can all get started right now. They can be planted just like the veggies mentioned above; in six packs, indoors or out, or directly into containers or raised beds.
Spring Planted Bulbs
Catalogs and garden centers are bursting with bulbs that can be planted from now through spring. These bulbs typically bloom from mid-summer through fall, depending on the variety. If you don’t already have gladiolas in your garden, now is the time to think about adding them. Glads are an old fashioned flower prized by gardeners over much of the world. They are available as heirlooms in many colors. There are also modern hybrids which include giant glads up to five feet tall, as well as miniatures and dwarfs that only reach two feet. (Tall varieties should be grown against a fence or wall, unless you are prepared to support them with stakes.) In climates colder than zone eight, Gladiolas must be dug up every fall and stored through the winter. Many people love them so much that they don’t mind this extra work. Unless you live above the snow line or in a particularly cold canyon, we can practically plant our glads and forget them. Our main gladiola worry is hungry gophers. If you have gophers you might want to protect your glads by planting them in buried hardware cloth baskets, in containers, or in raised beds. With nominal care, they will multiply year after year, providing plenty of flowers to attract humming birds and for arrangements.
Straw Bale Garden Report
I have read about straw bale gardens a number of times, and decided to give one a try. Last summer I bought a straw bale for the purpose (I also use them for mulch). I gave up on getting it moist enough to germinate seed after about a week. The straw seemed to resist soaking up water; and what little water it did soak up evaporated right away. I decided I would just let it sit there until fall and try again. (According to what I read, you are supposed to be able to use your straw bale garden for at least two years.) After our rains started in good, I went out to check on the bale. Low and behold, it had self sown parsnips germinating all over the top. I was pretty impressed. That is, until just recently; the middle of the straw bale as completely collapsed. Even though the cords are still in place, it now looks like a sprawled out “U” sprinkled with young parsnip seedlings. The straw in the middle section of the bale is almost completely decomposed. I am so glad I only tried this with one bale and didn’t really expect much from the experiment. Perhaps it works better in other climates, but this is one technique I am not going to recommend for here. (Hoopa, California)

[Note: I wrote this article Feb. '08, and I have since learned that I should have placed the bale so the stalks were perpendicular to the ground, not horizontal to the ground. It would have taken up water much more effectively this way. I am still no expert on straw bale gardening. Even if I had placed the bale more correctly, it may have rotted out in one season. However, this is a very good technique for areas with rocky or unworkable soil--so please don't be dissuade from trying it based on my lack of successful experience.]

Published in the Hoopa People News, 2.2008. Copyright Harvest McCampbell. Please feel free to share short excepts with a link back to the blog post. Written permission is required for any other use.

Tending Other Gardens

I want to tell you a story. It is a true story. It is a very personal story. Before I begin, I want to attract your attention to the subtitle of this blog. When I started this blog, a tad over six years ago, I described it thusly, “Here you will find thoughts, tips, book reviews, gossip, and scandalous secrets related to gardening, cooking, health, nutrition, politics and what ever else crosses my mind . . . Watch out!” (Ok—there is a grammatical error in there, it has been there for the last six years. It is going to stay. I have not changed the description since I first wrote it. I am not going to change it now.)

Now—even though the title of this blog, “Real Food & Scandalous Gardening Secrets,” and its description implies there might be controversial content, I have mostly stuck to fairly non-controversial gardening topics. This is because I get plenty of critical e-mail when I steer away from what my readers think is the straight and narrow. (But nary a word otherwise.) Hello!!??!! This is my blog after all. I am taking back my rights. You don’t have to like it. No amount of complaining e-mails will correct it for you. It is, my blog, after all.

This story is for my Sweet Sister, Lisa; and for all the rest of you who I already know I love, for those of you I am yet to know I love, and for those I am not yet evolved enough to figure out how to love—even though maybe I should.

Those of you who know me well, in real life or simply from my facebook page, are well aware of the accident I was in seven years ago. Since that accident I have suffered from involuntary muscle contractures. They are related to, but not as severe as, what is seen in stroke victims—when their hands and arms draw up in permanent contractures. In my case, these contractures affect small groups of muscle fibers, entire muscles, or small groups of muscles—instead of my entire arm, for instance. They occur, primarily, in my right arm and shoulder, the right side of my back and neck, my right hip, my right foot, and my right calf.

However they can roam around a bit just to keep things interesting. They are painful and disabling. I have learned that I can stretch them out—it takes time and concentration. So far they always reoccur. These muscle contractures are some of the weeds in my personal garden. Weeds are not all bad. Weeds are our teachers.

Now, I want you to know, that after seven years, I am so ready for this to change. So ready. But I had no Idea how to effect that change. I do understand a little something about the power of the mind. And I have slowly been recovering from the brain injury I sustained in the accident. My mind is beginning to remember what it is capable of doing; it is beginning to remember important lessons cultivated by important teachers.

Even though I don’t know how to effect the specific change I want, I know how to effect change. That requires changing thought. So I just started saying “Transformation.” “Transformation, transformation. I am in a transformation. I am transforming.” Maybe 100 times a day. Maybe 1,000 times a day. Over and over. I have been doing this for at least a month. Sometimes we need to persevere.

After the first few days (or maybe the first week) I started catching myself in negative thoughts. Negative thoughts about my speaking ability (the speech center of my brain was affected by the accident). Negative thoughts about how little I can accomplish in a day. Negative thoughts about how much pain I am in.

Negative thoughts about the unconscious awkward positions and movement of my hands or body, of my gait and posture when walking; which would signal any trained observer to the fact that I have neurological injuries. (I was a professionally trained dancer way back in the day. I was capable of grace. I was.) And more negative thoughts about my lack of smooth unconscious social skills. (I used to think the latter was a result of the brain injury; but now that my amnesia is improving, I have come to understand, that at least in part, it is actually a character defect. Sometimes amnesia is a sweet thing.) Transformation. Transformation, transformation. I planted new thought seeds. When I found myself thinking these negative thought weeds, I told myself to STOP. Just stop. I am in a transformation.

And then I caught myself telling a true story. I caught myself saying, “I get these involuntary muscle contractures.” It is a true story—but I started listening to myself say it. I started hearing my thoughts about it as I was trying to ignore the muscle contractures and get on with my day. I started listening to myself on those rare occasions when I told someone else about them. I started remembering all the times in the last seven years I have told this true story, to myself and others—and thinking about how much momentum and power that story has built up. How can anyone one possibly change, possibly heal with power like that standing in opposition. Oh man . . . Transformation, transformation. TRANSFORMATION. I am in a transformation.
Next, when I caught myself telling myself this story, I started changing it. It took me a few dozen versions of the story to come up with something that was still true, but not so stuck. I have been getting these muscle contractures, but it is going to change. . . . but I am in a transformation. . . . but I am going to improve. I changed my story, because I am in a transformation. And being in a transformation I am not going to be stuck. So I must change my story. And that is a choice. It is a choice I choose to make.

I changed my story, still not knowing what the solution is. But form follows thought. And so I changed. I still get the contractures. But now I notice them when they begin. I hit the floor (or wake up from sleep) and stretch. I rock them gently through their range of motion. I sweet talk them. I tell them that I love them and that they are going to heal. I tell them they do not need to be stuck in this painful miserable contractured life they are living. I tell them we are one body, one being, one life (related to that greater One) and I hold a vision of this body and its muscles in grace and dance working smoothly together. And I have started doing more dance stretches, a few dance movements, to turn on the music and in my current not so terribly graceful way, to remember (at least for a few moments) what it is like to let the music animate my body, to remember that physical joy.

I still get muscle contractures, but they are not as bad. I still am in pain, but it is not as bad. I don’t have any more use out of my day, because I am spending a lot of time putting those muscles ( gently and slowly) through their paces—and also lots of time holding a stretch and asking the muscles to let go. But I am getting stronger. In this work, both my body and mind are getting stronger. I am getting stronger and stronger ever day, in every way. In my body and in my mind. I am in a transformation.

But listen Lisa, listen Sisters, listen all of you who are my relatives, those I love and those I am not yet evolved enough to have learned how to love. What good is it if I am the only one getting stronger? What good is that?

We. We are getting stronger and stronger every day, in every way. In our bodies. In our health. In our care of our Mother, the sweet earth that supports us and who we are a part of. Stronger in our understanding and practice of democracy. We. We the people of this Sweet Earth are getting stronger and stronger, every day--in every good and healing way.

Plant the seeds. We have many kinds of gardens to tend.

Please feel free to join me on facebook, where the topics primarily are gardens, democracy, Indigenous rights, healing and health, natural living, and our beloved biosphere.