Nick -- the upper Garden
Truth be told, everything grown from seed this year is taking its own sweet time in developing. I know you can't rush Mother Nature (I saw her play chess with Meteorologist Tom Skilling once and she has a hell of a temper), but the slow progress is just making me wonder if growing from seed was worth it, especially given Colorado's short growing season.
That's why I've augmented our seedlings (tomatoes and Socorro chiles) with a cucumber bush (that little thing in the middle) and two tomato plants. I have noticed that the Socorro's have taken root and seem to be growing. I want them to do well. I love the darned things.
As for the other seedlings, the squash in Nora (see below) are doing well, the beans are struggling a bit, the Poblano peppers look positively dreadful and I do believe the fennel has given up the ghost.
Nora -- The New Garden
Also, my thanks to the squirrel who dug up one of my cloves of garlic. Why didn't you take that weed (lower center left, above -- gonna have to tell Bitterman about that, if I can ever pull him and Furious George away from "Game of Thrones.") which is so obviously tasty, rather than one of the few plants that was healthy, happy and on my schedule to actually produce?
Which is where we really come to the heart of today's blog: my schedule.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I have the patience of a gnat. A very small, very fidgety gnat.
The garden has been in only about ten days to two weeks and I'm already chomping at the bit to harvest. I've even got to convince myself to go pull the one little green tomato off the plant in Nora so that it can put all its energy into growing upwards (a lesson learned at O'Toole's). I know that I can't stand around, slapping my hands together and shouting, let's go, time's a wastin'! But, I find I am grinding my teeth a bit waiting impatiently for the seedlings to take root and shoost up toward the sun and sky.
The Cucumber Bush -- Sad Isn't It, To Be So Alone in the World?
As I finish writing this edition on the back porch, Furious George has approached me with an old encyclopedia from the basement, jabbering something about the historical significance of the title of this blog: How Does Your Garden Grow?
Though there are many theories to its basis in fact, the old English poem (pronounced: "Poe-EM") "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" could in fact be based on one of two famous ladies in Elizabethan times.
The first, is Liz's half sister Mary, also known as "Bloody Mary."
She gained the name by inventing the drink and killing off anybody who said, "No, I'd rather just have coffee this morning." The poem (Poe-EM) was seen as a childish taunt, as she could not bear children.
Which makes me see English children of that age as mean spirited little bastards.
The other story, refers to Mary, Queen of Scots, Liz the First's cousin.
The silver bells could be the finery of her dress or referring to the bells of a Catholic Church, as she was an ardent Roman Catholic. The cockle shells refer to either a seafood dish or a philandering husband, while pretty maids all in a row likely means her ladies in waiting.
What the poem doesn't tell you about, is how Mary died.
When Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed (for being a threat to Elizabeth and the Church of England), the executioner (Bob, I think it was) took three tries to get it right. The first strike hit her in the back of the head. The second went only about 3/4s of the way through her neck.
Bob had to go to the garage, it seems, and get a power saw to finish her off.
Blood went everywhere.
Then, Bob The Executioner picked up Mary's head by her hair. The crowd screamed as the head detached from the hair and fell to the dock, rolling in pools of blood.
Bob was left holding a wig.
THEN, TO TOP IT ALL: A small dog, a Skye Terrier, burst from Mary's skirts, hidden there by her for the entire execution. The dog ran around the bloodied body, refusing to leave the side of its mistress, drenching itself in Mary's blood and barking madly the entire time.
It is safe to say that chaos ensued.
The crowd went wild.
Elizabeth I ordered that everything connected with the execution (block, dock, clothes, wig, axe, sword, power saw, and maybe Bob) be burned to discourage relic seekers.
While the groundlings of the time loved the event, we modern types have grown beyond such displays, finding them horrific, revolting and inhumane.
Except, of course, when they happen on "Game of Thrones."
Which is likely why Furious pointed all this out to me, now that I think of it.
The Promise of April
You may recall how, in early April, we planted from seed in one of those handy, dandy Little Monsanto Corporate Grower Portable Greenhouses and Genetic Modification Laboratories. What happened was that everything popped up quickly, too quickly, we got a lot of healthy little sprouts and they all began to wither away due to being stuck in little plastic containers from which the fat fingers of myself, Mr. Bitterman and Furious George could not cleanly rescue them.
Focus on the Favorites
With that in mind, what eventually went into Nick and Nora, the two garden plots we now enjoy, were those hardy sprouts that had been able to hang on in very tight living quarters for the six weeks until Colorado decided that it was no longer winter. (I think the decision has been made at this point, but I'm not sure that there still isn't an argument going on at the Weather Service.)
What I finally salvaged from the Junior Farmer GrowIt on Your Kitchen Table Kit for Wayward Gardeners Seed Starter Kit were the plants I was truly hoping to save: All the tomatoes grown from seed (What varieties? I don't know as I lost both the seed packets and the plotting chart of what got planted where) and the Socorro chiles, which I desperately hope succeed. (You haven't had chiles until you've had Socorro chiles.) The tomatoes and Socorros went into Nick, the upper garden, and were augmented by two purchased tomato plants (a Cherokee Black and a Mortgage Lifter) to fill in some dreadful empty spots, and a cucumber bush, which I thought might be a nice addition. It's the little dark spot in the center of the above photo. Either that is the dark spot, or Furious George was upset with me again and did something dreadful in the garden.
The Seedlings Get Their Own Space
Meanwhile, the beans, individual cucumber plants, garlic, fennel, squash and poblanos were all moved down to the new garden, Nora, a garden named after one of the great ladies in my life. Of them all, the only plants I can definitely identify are the garlic and the beans. Since I lost my plotting chart and got everything turned around, it's pretty much a crap shoot as to what is growing with what and where and with whom. I sincerely hope they remain friends, but -- what is life without a little adventure?
The Additions to Nora
In the hopes of filling in what looks like a LOT of empty space, I added two mature tomato plants to Nora: a Better Boy (we'll see about that!) and a President. Thing is, I don't remember getting the President. I thought I got another Cherokee Black. Either I grabbed the wrong one without thinking (which even for me is a stretch, as the two tomato types are about 16 feet apart on the racks), or someone switched one out when I left the box next to an unused register at the store.
So, I'm growing a President. I hope its a John Adams and not a MIllard Fillmore.
It will probably do better job than either ... oh, crap, even I can't joke about that anymore. It's getting too damned serious.
Those poblanos on the right seem particularly scrawny. I just hope they're adjusting to their new digs. I hope they get enough sun. I hope they are poblanos.
All the while I'm planting, Furious George and Mr. Bitterman are antagonizing The Bat Shit Crazy Neighbor from what they believe to be the safety and security of a barely budding cottonwood. It's safe to say that The BSC Neighbor is not handling it well.
He came outside, shook his fist and made some scurrilous remarks about Mr. Bitterman's parentage (a lovely couple that lives in Anaheim). He later sent his wife out with a bag of peanuts and a Wrist Rocket to annoy them and that only encouraged more bad behavior ... and a new war with the squirrels.
Armed conflict seems inevitable at this stage, unless I can get some fearless negotiators involved.
Mr. Trump's Secretary of State and National Security Advisors have offered their services.
Still, I'm holding out for Perry.
Perry is the one to have on your side, as he never loses. Just, in the heat of the moment, don't loudly admit to killing The Brutal Banker and tossing his body off the train just outside of Shanghai. Especially if the guy was really bumped off in Dairy Queen parking lot in Resita. Which is in Hungary. I didn't even know they HAD Dairy Queens. (Actually, Resita is in Romania. Like Them Baldwins, I always get Them Balkans Mixed Up.)
Will the Seedlings Make It?
Will the Sun once more show its face in Colorado?
Will I need more stuff from O'Toole's Garden Center?
And the answer to that, if you know me at all, is an unqualified, highly enthusiastic:
Just a question for you fine folks out there in Blogville: when you find a 1/4-inch gray root running about six inches under the dirt in your garden, should it go "bbbzzzzztttt!" when you cut it?
I didn't think so.
When you begin working day long in your garden, or, work retail, any kind of retail, clothes, shoes, garden supplies, books, used cars, you name it, you quickly come to realize that what the job entails is not necessarily brain power or upper body strength, mechanical know how or even witty customer service.
What the job entails is walking.
A lot of walking.
Like 17-20 THOUSAND steps.
And, then, at the store, there is a lot of standing on concrete floors and smiling while your back, hips and knees are screaming an aria from "Il Trovatore" because of something they haven't done in 45 years -- namely, walk and stand on concrete floors.
In the garden, I'm either balancing precariously on a 4 in edge, while my ankles decide whether to hold together or go into full release, while, in the dirt, soft, safe dirt, those same ankles are wondering if they'll ever find a balance point on the uneven ground again. There it is! No, lost it. There! No. There ...
My mother, a lovely woman of rather parsimonious habits when it came to buying shoes for me, often bought shoes at rummage sales. She'd hold them upside down against my feet, and, no matter how much meat was hanging over the sides, pronounce it a good fit and jam my feet into the things. I can barely walk now, thanks to those rummage sale shoes.
(It was the Methodist Rummage sales, I tell you, that did in my feet. I don't have any idea what they had against my metatarsals. The Lutherans, on the other hand, only sold Mom that mold in which she made some mayo, lime Jell-O and tuna fish science experiment in the shape of a trout for our Friday night no-meat dinner.)
Anyway, I blame those shoes for a lifetime of crappy feet and brittle ankles.
(Now that I think about it, playing Paratrooper while jumping off that stump at my Grandmother's house didn't help. It was six feet high and when I hit I rolled both ankles down to the top of the road. I crawled back to my grandmother's house, lay under the rowboat upended in the garage, praying that a bolt of lightning might put me out of my misery.)
Even Sadie Is Ashamed of my Wonky Work Shoes
With that in mind, I used most of the money I'll likely make working in the garden center this summer to buy a pair of good old fashioned work shoes, just like my Daddy always told me to wear.
"Them Jack Purcells will kill your shins, boy! Get 'choo a pair a' Red Wings! Real work shoes! Now, run down to Fred Smoot's and get me another jug!"
He didn't really talk that way.
He did recommend the work shoes.
It was my grandmother who sent me for corn likker at Smoot's place. My mother will say it is "just another one of Greg's stories," while up in heaven, my sainted Aunt Jo will smile with an unspoken knowledge of the true story, which some day, I will be forced to relate.
(Well, it wasn't likker. It was beer. And it wasn't for her, but she got blamed for it, gleefully embracing the snide comments of others as part of her new, tough as nails, I rule the roost reputation.)
Today's Garden Hack: Buy Good Work Shoes for the Job and the Garden -- Even if They Do Look "Wonky."
Nothing Short of Being There Can Convey The Madness of a May Friday at O'Toole's
(Lines 10 Deep at 4 registers. No Room to Restock Greenhouse Veggies due to Crowds in Aisles.)
(Oh, the Humanity!)
If you've followed the earlier adventures we've had here at Mr. Bitterman's Garden, you've heard tell of my four day a week job at O'Toole's Garden Center in Littleton. You've also learned about my surprise at discovering that the job did not consist of whispering to plants and selling them by the thousands to satisfied customers, but a lot of physical labor of actually picking up flats of six gallon pots, filled with soil, tomato plants and water (which is remarkably heavy) and moving them from the bullpen across the street into the newly created (and filled by Leo and myself) Gallon Tomato Department just outside the main greenhouse.
Luckily, I'm learning a lot about plants, planting and the demonic art of Colorado horticulture (or, as it is called here, "Gardening in Granite."), and, I'm getting the chance to work with some great people:
Olympia, my boss, who insists she isn't my boss, although she acts like my boss and I listen like she's my boss;
Estella and Miguel, both of whom work harder than anyone I have ever seen;
Alan and Mario, working in the nursery, but ready to walk into the greenhouse with a snarky comment for anybody and everybody; and,
Chris, the big boss, who knows all, sees all (he's always walking past me the minute I sit down), and, has a stiletto sense of humor that can make you burst into laughter or end up in pieces scattered across the green house floor.
Then, there's Leo, my co-tomato-hauler.
Leo (Ortiz) loves this stuff.
He even comes in on his days off to do more of it. I look upon him fondly then shake my head. I truly admire his dedication.
(The thought does occur to come in on my days off for a few hours to help, but I sit down for a moment and that thought does tend to pass, at which point I join Mr. Bitterman and Furious George in our own plots of heaven and watch them carry everything around.)
Incidentally, Bitterman and Furious have been bored for the past few weeks as our Batshit Crazy Neighbor has been out of town so there has been no one to feud with other than two obnoxious squirrels (Fatty Fat Fatterson and No Tail Ted), plus, a coyote who thinks Furious looks like a large, hairy canapé.
To protect himself, Furious armed himself with the Daisy 200 shot Range Model Repeating Rifle I keep in the garage for no particular reason. He only succeeded in shooting his own foot and a reflecting ball in the BSC Neighbor's yard.
Meanwhile, Back at O'Toole's -- Decorating the Floor
It's a certainty when you get a large group of people together in a small place, densely packed with plants of various scents and pollens, that a kid, aged 9-12, will projectile vomit everything they've eaten in the past two years onto the floor right in a main traffic area.
It's also a certainty that everyone working that day will stare at the mess for a good, solid (and silent) :45 seconds while they hope, deep in their hearts, that someone will actually come by and clean the mess up. Someone, anyone, other than themselves.
I sighed, reached back to my eight years as a middle school and hospital janitor, and went in search of paper towels and a bucket.
While others were silently retching behind the Nasturtiums, I knelt down, wiped it up, put it in the trash and cleaned the floor.
One cashier thanked me and asked, "How did you do that?"
I just said, "Training. Years and years of training."
What I didn't tell her was that after you spent eight years chasing various body parts and pieces of hot dog and human tissue around cafeterias, delivery rooms and surgical suites, basic human puke doesn't bother you so much anymore.
Bitterman Returns to O'Toole's (Can You Find Him In the Ficus?)
Mr. Bitterman insisted on joining me for lunch on Friday at O'Toole's. Mainly, he wanted to bother the crowds by dropping on little old ladies from the hanging Ficus plants that dot the ceiling of the greenhouse.
Also, he was upset that I had taken the last good protein bar (Banana Peanut Crunchy) for lunch, leaving him with only Prune Whip Surprise.
He seriously hates the surprise.
What with increasing crowds have come, naturally, increasing hours, most of them spent restocking, consolidating stock and moving stock into position (or the bullpen) for sale. (Or, for some person to pick up, examine, remove the identifying markers, then replace that veggie in a totally random spot in the greenhouse, leaving me to FIGURE OUT WHERE THE DAMNED THING GOES!) We've been moving tomatoes (natch), chiles, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, herbs, spices and rosemary. I happily moved the gallon jugs of rosemary after my boss Olympia told me I had completely screwed up my first display.
Olympia, I never said, "Rosemary is My Life." What I said was, "Words are my Life."
(Despite the fact I tend to screw up their display as well on a regular basis.)
Now to deal with the betting action at the store that I will pass out from carrying tomatoes for restocking in any temperature over 77 degrees (Odds are running 5-1 In Favor of Oblivion):
Coming Up Later This Week (Maybe Even Tomorrow)
The Garden is In!
BSC Neighbor Is Home!
Bitterman and Furious Plan a Proper Welcome Home Party
Tsunami Warnings Have Been Issued
As quiet as it has been around O'Toole's Greenhouse, thanks to the weather, it's difficult to imagine what we're in for as we roll through this week toward Mother's Day, the unofficial first day to plant in Littleton (Zone 5a).
Patti at the front desk said that, starting Tuesday, we won't be able to move through the store, the crowds will be thicker than a Christmas rush, the lines longer than a Star Wars opening, and everyone wearing a green apron will be hit with endless questions and cries for help.
Two of last year's crew apparently were overcome by the crush, lost in the madness and later found huddling under tomato tables, mewling and puking, in mid-July.
THE STOCK HAS EXPLODED
Over the past few weeks, it has been a constant parade of deliveries, new stock coming in constantly, everything from tomatoes to kohlrabi in vegetables (I'm still not quite sure what kohlrabi is, but I do know we've got it), to pansies, peonies and petunias by the score in flowers, and everything from lemon grass to cat grass to periwinkle everywhere else. Henry Fonda roses, too! (Do you know that they're the only rose to hold its yellow color over time in Colorado?)
Some of the early stuff, which has been in for a few weeks, is well grown now, twice or thrice trimmed, and now ready to leave for home and planting in the sunshine, followed by growth, production, college and a lifetime of debt.
Everything is ready to be planted, but at the moment, thanks to the weather, is moving off the shelves very slowly.
THE EARLY CROWDS HAVE BEEN SPARSE
Right through yesterday (Saturday, 4/30), the buyers have been steady, but crowds have been small. They've had their choice of EVERYTHING, as everything is still available: all the different sorts of tomatoes and peppers and flowers and perennials, basil, sage, carrots, celery, beetroot, onion sets, nasturtium, cabbage, potatoes and chives. (I'm in vegetables. I know the vegetable rows. Peonies are not my station. They're over there, somewhere. What else can I say?)
The weather has, in some ways, helped these folks. The cold rain and snow mix over the weekends has kept most people from buying everything they can in order to set out their gardens by Mother's Day.
Those who have bought early, those willing to give up a section of their garage or kitchen table for plant storage, truly have had the best choice, but there is SO much on hand (all of which I think I've moved 8-12 times), that I can't imagine even the largest crowds not being able to find exactly what they are looking for.
I've never seen so many varieties of tomatoes in my life. Heinz is a piker with only 57.
Stock Is Piled High Above My Head (Which is, In Reality, Not that Hard to Do)
All this said, the weather is supposed to moderate on Monday, then warm on Tuesday. Mother's Day is next Sunday.
For all intents and purposes, I've come to realize, my training ended Saturday. Three weeks on the job and according to everyone and anyone, on Tuesday, the sunshine will bring out the crowds, first in a gentle wave, then, in a crashing tsunami. Next weekend will be madness personified.
I hope the rest of the staff is right.
Buy up those tomatoes, folks.
I do not want to move them again.
As for our garden, most of the seedlings have been repotted, the hardier species have been planted (the garlic is going gangbusters), despite the rain, snow and cold, while everything else awaits the first warm days when we can get out there and start planting Mr. Bitterman's Garden - 2016. I'll wait for Becky to help plant the main gardens, as Mr. Bitterman and Furious George Fenneman tend to ignore me in order to help her, but I certainly can't blame them. She does, after all, smell much better than me.
I just want to get started.
Come on, God! Enough with the snow! (That should be enough to guarantee a blizzard during the first week of June. You're welcome.)