I feel like Michael Corleone in "Godfather 3."
I don't feel like I'm in a really bad movie, but every time I walk out to the garden, the weather pulls me right back in the house.
It's been cold. It's been raining. Ten miles away and it's snowing. It's been everything except summer around here, even when summer arrived.
The one thing I can say -- we are getting growth.
Asta is producing well. We've got flowers and growth on both the cucumbers and the pumpkins (replanted from seed, as the originals from the kitchen died off like red-shirts in an original Star Trek episode).
As you can see in the back, we also have a great crop of Rancho Gordo Corona beans going. We're not going to have enough to make a "batch 'o beans," but we will have enough to plant next year, all in anticipation of growing enough to make dinner. #RanchoGordo
Yes, I know -- the $3258.25 home grown dinner.
After some real worries about frost damage with the sweet potatoes, they've come back nicely. They remain one of my favorite crops each and every year. We have such a nice bumper crop come fall.
Also doing well are the purple petite potatoes that Becky wanted to grow. We planted seed potatoes, which I didn't have a lot of faith in, but they took off, so, I figure, like Mark Watney, I'm ready to go to Mars and plant potatoes.
I really don't know how I came to that conclusion, you've just got to understand that is how my mind works.
The tomato plants are set up in Nora, the lower garden. She's doing well this year, we're getting some good growth, but it's slow. I figure it may be the weather, too cool to really get things going, maybe even too wet. But they are catching on -- I just hope we don't have problems with end rot this year. (Calcium, I need more calcium! Captain, I'm giving her all we've got!)
Nora is also home to garlic, cucumbers and cabbage. And weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. You get lots and lots of weeds when you get lots and lots of rain. But this is why I hired Mr. Bitterman and Furious George all those many years ago, to do the weeding.
Sadly, it turns out Becky is doing most of the weeding while Furious George sits on the deck, sips his martini and shouts "You missed a spot!"
It has led to some amusing moments for Mr. Bitterman and myself, as Becky, Furious and Helen, the next door neighbor, who just likes to get involved and stir the pot, all chase each other around the yard in a rough approximation of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."
You can see, along that right edge, more beans growing. Those are Rancho Gordo Christmas Limas. I swore I would never eat another lima after throwing them up at the dinner table (Age 6), but I have come to love the little guys and the Rancho Gordo Brand. #RanchoGordo
More beans. Christmas limas again. #RanchoGordo
Somewhere in here are the chiles -- Hatch medium, Hatch mild and Oaxacan chiles. Once Becky and Furious George and Helen the Neighbor stop playing in the backyard, they should start weeding this section of Nick, the upper garden. They are in there, somewhere, I can assure you.
Also, the butterfly garden is doing VERY well this season, thanks to our decision to add annuals to the mix as seed and not just perennials. We're getting some real variety and color. Becky and I, Furious and Bitterman should be spending a number of evenings down here drinking a variety of cocktails when the weather decides to cooperate.
We'd also like to take a moment here to welcome our latest addition to the backyard, Feather McGraw, Internationally Known Cat Burglar, even though he's a chicken, who is really a penguin (See "The Wrong Trousers," Wallace and Gromit/Aardman Animation).
This is how I've always imagined bank robbers and crooks, at least until recently ...
Now, the crooks are more likely to be lawyers and nerdy office guys with briefcases and laptops. As I think about it, maybe that's the way it has always been and I just wasn't paying attention.
This has been one of the screwiest Springs on record around here. (Records only going back about 8 years, to when the first garden went in.)
Since planting on Mother's Day Weekend, we've had rain, hail, snow, wind, plastic sheeting smushing all the seedlings, cramped roots, voles, transfer shock and who knows what else.
During Sunday's hail storm (our second of the season), I could do nothing but sit in the living room, staring at the wall and hoping for the best.
As for the plastic sheeting, while it seemed a good idea at the time, it did squash plants while not necessarily holding off the frost and freeze. I'll have to invest in some fabric -- or find a grain elevator that will sell me a bunch of burlap sacks. The plastic is tough to work with and leaves a carbon footprint a mile wide.
A number of seedlings weren't making it. The bush cucumbers went in beautifully, but got attacked by the voles and transfer shock. (I'm sure the frost/freeze events last week didn't help.) Monday, Memorial Day, we went out and spent $200 on new plants and flowers. Got the sweet potatoes, even though they're looking a bit rugged. Also noticed growth in the purple potato pots.
Also replanted -- pumpkin, since our from seed batch were looking so ragged and cabbage to replace some of the bush cucumbers. We've also got some garlic popping up!
What we've also got coming up are weeds, lots of weeds, to the point where the boys and I will have to … I'm sorry … my fellow gardening engineers … will have to weed out the entire tomato patch and replant. The weeds have taken over everything, to the point of looking like the algae bloom on Crooked Lake when I was a kid.
We have new tomato plants to replace everything.
I told you it was a fun spring. In fact, at our house, spring is now spelled with a $pring.
Weeds. You betcha, I can grow weeds. Weeds, not Weed, even if this is Colorado. Why do I have the feeling that this is going to be a continuing thread throughout the season? Mr. Bitterman, Furious and Myself hate weeding, but for some reason, Becky loves it. She says it calms her from the stress of living with me and two apes. (Actually, one ape, one monkey.) (Make that two apes, one monkey.)
After Sunday's hailstorm, Furious George ran out and set up the above gag. He thought it was hilarious, but I tried to remind him that many coyotes have been killed or injured under similar circumstances in numerous Warner Bros. cartoons. He was properly chastised, I can tell you.
Well, maybe not.
Well, according to 9 News and News 4 and Fox31 and Channel 7 and The Weather Channel, as well as some Master Gardener Lady in Minneapolis who advised me via the InterWebs, I have done it all wrong.
After a beautiful Mother's Day Weekend and a full week of beautiful temperatures, we took a nose dive into the Upper/Mid 30s this week and all the little weather folks went cattywampus over what to do with your newly installed gardens.
Cover them up, they shouted, snow's a comin,' winter is here and unless we get somebody named Daenerys to fly over with a heartburn afflicted dragon, your little sproutlings will die out like they were all named Lannister! (I don't know what any of that means, but Furious George and Mr. Bitterman took it all very seriously.)
Put a bucket over each seedling, they said. Put large burlap tarps over them, they shouted. Get some King sized cotton sheets and cover your gardens, they squealed. Well, first, I didn't have enough buckets to cover 29 seedlings of various shapes and sizes. I've never seen a burlap tarp in my life -- and -- since grain elevators in major metropolitan areas have largely disappeared, I don't know where I can find burlap sacks anymore. (Never mind -- I just found them both on Amazon. What CAN'T Jeff Bezos provide, that little Capitalist Devil?) As for King sized cotton sheets -- we just have Queen size and I wasn't about to go out and spend $80 on 1000 thread count Egyptian Cotton Sheets on a mere threat of frost.
Whatever you do, they said, don't cover your plants with plastic. But -- since that's all I had, that's what I did. The Master Gardener Lady from Minneapolis warned me that plastic sheets could ATTRACT the cold, but that doesn't seem to have been the case. At least, yet. Downtown got into the 30s, but the lowest we hit was 40, so it didn't seem to attract much of anything … other than bunnies. Tonight is supposed to be the coldest night of all. I'll check the temps tomorrow and pull everything off if I think I can get away with it.
The three gardens have been a challenge this season, with potential transfer shock, roots getting cramped in little Just Plant the Pots! pots, and, bunnies eating the heads off the sunflower shoots. There might also be a Too Much Fertilizer Problem in Nora, as this is her fourth season and I didn't want to see growth problems, so I may have gotten carried away. While the tomatoes and Acorn Squash seem to be doing well, the cucumbers at the north end appear to be dying (burning) out. I've got some spares in the greenhouse I can use to replant.
Here is one of the aforementioned bunnies. There are three of them hanging around the gardens, but as I said, other than the sunflower shoots, they appear to be leaving everything alone. Roscoe and Sadie are mad to catch one, going to the extreme of hunting in a pack like Velociraptors, but so far this season, they haven't caught one. Thank goodness, because you gotta know that nobody is cleaning it up other than Farmer Ted here.
Me, I'm Just Pondering Next Steps and the Question of Where I Left the Vodka.
Nick, the upper garden was laid out nicely (by me) with bush cucumbers in the distance, Hatch Medium Chiles to the right, Hatch Mild Chiles center and Oaxacan Chiles to the left.
Mr. Bitterman was responsible for planting Nora, the lower garden and did a fine job with cucumbers in the distance, garlic next in line, followed by acorn squash and tomato plants. He planted six, even though the plan was only for five. They're looking a bit scraggly at the moment, but we both agreed it was due to transplant shock.
Asta was planted by Furious George and I had to wonder if he had been drinking before he planted. Asta was only supposed to hold 3 pumpkin plants, but George discovered he still had three plants left when he was done with the pumpkins, so he put those in as well. "What were those," I asked.
I have no fucking idea," said my small and hairy assistant.
So, like the great Zucchini debacle of a few years back, I guess we'll wait and see what we get. This should be interesting. (Transplant shock again, even though they look like George drove over them with a Kubota Tractor.)
FURIOUS GEORGE FAKING A LOOK OF SHAME:
FURIOUS GEORGE REACTING WHEN I TELL HIM HE SHOULD BE ASHAMED:
Mr. Bitterman begins his summer long journey of worry -- as he ponders temperatures, water, hail patterns, insects and the goddamned bunny who was sleeping in Asta this afternoon with the freshly planted pumpkins and mystery veg. The rabbit hardly seemed bothered by the Liquid Fence. (Which, oddly enough, Furious George uses as cologne.)
This summer's gardening hat -- and main gardening accessory.
First planting, 2019 -- Basil on the Back Porch. The big one is a plant I bought at Home Deport, surrounding it are four scrawny seedlings given to Becky by some one at school. They were just going to throw them out, but I want to bring them back to life. I'm just like that.
One of them is so scrawny you can barely see him in the barrel. She'll get all my attention this season, as I'm determined to see her flourish.
On to the big gardens tomorrow!
The frost warnings have finally gone for the week (Until, of course, all the little weather gurus suddenly discover one late this week that they missed. That missage won't prevent them from saying "As I predicted … Little bastards.)
So, Monday, I begin to plant. Everything this year will be grown from seed (including little purple potatoes), except the Sweet 100 tomatoes and Sweet Potatoes -- if we can find them at Wally World.
This year, it will be tomatoes and acorn squash, cucumbers and cucumber bushes, Oaxacan chiles and Hatch Chiles, Christmas Lima beans, sunflowers and garlic, basil, lavender and a ton of wildflowers in the butterfly garden.
Bunny protection will be provided by Liquid Fence (a noxious smelling concoction available at Home Depot -- don't get it on you, you'll be a social pariah for days) and a homebrew of water, dish soap and castor oil (don't taste it -- you'll be in the bathroom for days.) I've also got some fencing that will go up and around the sunflowers until they've matured. Bunnies seem to love the shoots.
As for the notion that I'm turning into Mr. Natural, one of my longtime heroes, truth be told, I am beginning to resemble the fellow -- him and Wimpy, Popeye's hamburger loving friend. I see one or the other in the mirror each morning, it all depends on how I slept.
And, more and more I think he's right ...
TO THE GARDEN!!!
From where I sat at the kitchen table, staring over trays of rapidly growing seedlings, it appeared that I had already done some planting in Nick and Nora, the two upper gardens. Upon closer inspection, however, it seemed that the rains of the weekend and sunshine following had only induced the weeds to grow.
While I do hate weeding … wait, hate is too strong a word here, they're just trying to survive like anything else in life … let's use despise … as much as I despise weeding, it does serve a purpose: I not only get the rabble out of the way, but a lot of roots and root systems and general detritus left over from last season's crop. I also dig up some of the soil and tamp down other areas while moving my fat ass across the garden.
(I also bought some fancy Dan trellis' to give the beans something to climb this year ... once again, it appears I am in search of the $400 tomato. You'd think I've actually got a job.)
I will say that I am forever impressed by the power of weeds. Not only do they continue to pop up, no matter what chemicals (and future lawsuits) I may apply, but they handle the cold remarkably well. 37? No problem. 26? I'll be here tomorrow. 19? Get me a coat and I'm good to go.
Nothing seems to get in the way of the little bastards.
The trays of seedlings have been taking over the kitchen table for the last few weeks ... months ... and so it came time to move everything outside to hardy them up. I'm sick of eating off paper plates on the floor. (And whose fault is that Little Mister?)
Everything has put on considerable heft since you last saw it and the two big trays, with tomatoes, sunflowers, pumpkins, cucumbers, bush cucumbers and acorn squash have been doing very well. Now, I hope they can hardy up in the greenhouse.
The Hatch and Oaxacan chiles are on the lower shelf, closest to the heat source (a 40-watt Halogen incandescent) as they are the smallest seedlings. Everything else has grown to the point where they are threatening to eat passing insects.
Shaky Photo for Mr.Bitterman's Garden by: Furious George
I'm really interested in how the greenhouse will work out, especially given the drop to the mid 30s next week. I know the weeds will make it, but will the vegetables?
The boys are on their final break before the season really kicks into gear. Here they are at the Sons of the Desert convention in Anaheim on Tuesday. They're staying with Mr. Bitterman's mother, the delightful Amanda Bitterman, in her apartment across the street from the convention center. Bitterman says it's cheap and convenient: he can crawl home from the nightly meetings as long as he misses the end-of-the-night traffic from Disneyland on W. Katella Avenue. If he doesn't time it right, he could be filling a pothole on Katella by the end of the week.
(BTW -- after two drinks, they resemble Laurel and Hardy. After six, they resemble all four of the Marx Brothers.)
Meanwhile, the AeroGarden has decided that, it being spring, it would suddenly and quickly grow to enormous proportions. Now, while the other seedlings could be threatening insects, this thing is proving to be a danger to both general aviation and unwary children.
I could have sworn we had another dog a while ago.
We're still a solid month away from being able to plant, but that hasn't stopped the seedlings from making themselves known on the kitchen table. Much more growth from the pumpkins and I'll be eating dinner on the floor with the dogs.
Much more growth from the bush cucumbers and Becky will be joining me … scratch that … I was just informed that the bush cucumbers will be joining me on the floor.
All the Hatch chiles, both mild and medium have made an appearance from seed. The Oaxacan peppers, grown from seeds that went through a dehydrator have yet to make an appearance, though they only went in last week and chiles can take up to 21 days to show themselves.
Seeing as how I don't know how long we'll be able to stay on the kitchen table without causing an international incident, sort of our own version of the Theresa May/Brexit snafu, I've built a green house on the back porch.
The problem facing it is that while the days are going up into the sixties and seventies (great time for music, dude), some nights we've been hitting the low 20's, and I'm pretty such the tender sprouts couldn't take it.
With that in mind, I hung a worklight in the lowest section of the greenhouse and put a 25-watt incandescent into it. We've been able to keep the temps anywhere from 5-15 degrees warmer than the outside air for the last few nights. I might go to a 40-watt bulb because the sprouts might not be able to take the high 30's. A 40-watt halogen should keep them nice and toasty. It's inefficient as all hell, but I'm sorry, I'm just not going to eat on the floor with the doggies. I left that phase behind me in Junior High. (When did Junior High become Middle School? It's like my grandfather said about prohibition: "They put it over on the American people while our boys were 'Over There.'" I certainly didn't get the memo. )
To keep track of the temp inside the greenhouse, I've put a remote temperature sensor on the top shelf. I can read both the outside temperature and in-the-greenhouse temperature from the kitchen table. Sounds like a song ... "Inside the greenhouse ... where they're growin tall ... inside the greenhouse ... we'll be havin a ball ... Inside the greenhouse. Greenhouse!"
Meanwhile, inside my head ...
Meanwhile, we're still looking for a new garden hat. This one won't make the cut because my ears are still exposed.
I do like this one. I just hope the dog comes with the hat.
I'm also in the hunt for new water features. I'm still wondering whether to go with the basic ...
Or something a bit more upscale. It's always a difficult decision come planting season.
By the way, Benedict says "hey." He dropped by to make a pitch for rutabagas this season. Wouldn't you know it, he's crazy for the little devils. Angels. Devils. Angels.
Back to the greenhouse ...
"You Should Not Drink Und Plant" -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Raw Deal" (1986)
When we last left the Gardens of Moody, this was the situation: Nick, the upper garden, needed work on both ends as the dirt was pushing the railroad ties outward; Nora, the lower garden, was fine; and, Asta, the new small garden, had been basically framed and needed to be finished and filled.
Initially, I had put in just enough bags to hold the weed fabric down while we went through THE MOTHER OF ALL WINTER STORMS, A BOMBOGENESIS, FOR GOD'S SAKE! HUG YOUR CHILDREN AND TELL THEM GOODBYE! It was cold and snowy and windy and nasty for a few hours on Wednesday (March 13), but was already starting to melt by the afternoon of the 14th.
So, with MOST of the snow finally gone, I trooped out and hauled 15 2-cubic foot bags of garden soil into the frame, then, finished the framing with L-braces and screws.
(To be honest with you, every three or four bags I moved, I stopped, took a break and had a tot of rum with George and Mr. Bitterman. By the time the last bag was inside the frame, we really didn't care where they fell or how they looked. Whatever thoughtful plan we had devised early on fell by the wayside as the merriment increased.)
After a number of tots of a 1952 rum, we got out a knife and started slicing open the bags to spread the goodness. It went well until George determined he needed a "squirrel skin hat" just like his hero, Davy Crewcut. That caused about a half hour delay as we had to keep George from making a hat out of the neighbor's King Charles Spaniel.
One of the hopes this year was being able to retrieve viable seeds from these dried Oaxacan peppers. If everything germinates we should have a great batch of both Hatch and Oaxacan peppers.
The problem with the Oaxacan seeds is that the peppers themselves were run through a commercial dehydrator and no one is quite sure if those seeds survived.
Convinced that "Life Will Find a Way," I dug out seeds from both Oaxacan types, misted a sheet of paper towel and put them in plastic bags. This may jump start a few of the seeds if any survived the dehydrator. As a back up plan, I have four packs of seeds coming from one of my numerous seed suppliers.
I just have to wonder if I've simply found another way to waste VAST amounts of time in my life.
The seedlings are starting to grow and we've got no place to eat dinner.
Indoors, we have all sorts of seedlings taking over the kitchen table: nearest the camera are the tomatoes. One Hatch chile has popped (a Medium -- there's also a row of Mild planted), while we also have sunflowers, cucumbers and pumpkins coming along very well. (One of the Hatch Mild chile seeds had germinated and worked its way to the top of the seedling chute. I re-dug the hole and dropped it back in to work its full magic.)
Oddly enough, given my oddly enough life, this has never happened before: after moving all the dirt and setting the railroad ties and slicing open the dirt and spreading it through the new garden, I realized that I had put my gloves on wrong, pushing my middle finger into the same socket as my index. I didn't notice it for about two hours, which shows you the amazing focus YOU TOO can have if you drink A LOT in your 20s-30s and bang your head innumerable times on solid objects (concrete beams, hatchways, 2x4s, cupboard doors, asphalt highways, ad infinitum, ad nauseum) as you travel around the sun.
Becky and Roscoe want nothing to do with us if we continue in our practice of "Drunken Gardening."
By the way, got new overalls this week …
Truth be told, they look better on Buddy Lee.
As is normal for Colorado, we had a few days of beautiful weather this week that led into SnowMaGeddon, the Bombogenesis, Bomb Cyclone, whatever you want to call it. Snow fell. Wind blew. Reporters got great live shots. Airport closed along with schools. Suffice to say, it got dangerous out there. And then … it all went away. Colorado. 33 years and I still don't get it.
BUT -- BEFORE THAT:
Got the 1/2 railroad ties delivered along with 20 bags of 2 cubic foot Garden Soil. Anchored those together in a way I think will hold better than my original design. At least, I hope so. Laid the fabric and tossed in some bags of soil to hold everything down in the storm.
The new garden also has a birdhouse embedded in a dead stump I was too lazy to dig out. We're going to add 2-3 more birdhouses around the yard/house just to add some color to our lives. Don't necessarily want to put them too close to the gardens because in the past the little birdie bastards have gorged themselves on the tomatoes.
Said bird house. It's built into the stump that Fred and Ethel built their nest in last year before being driven off by dogs and squirrels, so we do have some birdie history there.
This was Thursday AM, 24 hours after the Bombogenesis began. Now, it's about 35 degrees and sunny. The ice is melting, the roads are drying and people are poking their heads outdoors like the Munchkins seeing Dorothy for the first time and taking tentative steps into their yards. As soon as the snow is gone from the scene, Mr. Bitterman and I will spread the new soil around, determine how much more we need and start plotting where the seedlings will wind up. Furious George will join us as soon as he returns from The Never Ending Cocktail Hour with the Bat Shit Crazy Neighbors.
The new garden will be named Asta, after the dog in The Thin Man movies. It goes along nicely with Nick and Nora, even though Nora, in this case, is named after my friend and longtime Cribbage Nemesis Nora Horan, who was also quite the gardener. (Truth be told, I can easily see Nora Horan talking back to Bill Powell and slugging down a martini as the two chase down criminals.)
Asta, whose real name was Skippy, also played George, stealer of the Inter Costal Clavicle in Bringing Up Baby. He also had a number of other roles in movies. After a while, the dog's name was simply changed to Asta.
Asta retired in 1941. I'm not sure what happened after that, or where he's buried, but his owners, actress Gale Henry and MGM prop man Henry East kept raising and training dogs for a number of years afterwards.
Happily, Asta didn't suffer the fate of Toto (Terry) the Cairn Terrier of The Wizard of Oz, trained by Carl Spitz, who had a long and successful career, passed to the great beyond, was buried on Spitz's property in Studio City, then had a stretch of the Ventura Freeway built over her grave.
I'm thinking that Asta, which is only half the size of the other gardens, will be given over to both Oaxacan and Hatch chiles, all grown from seed. The Oaxacan seeds have been a pain to get, but they are now on their way, passing imaginary money from my bank account on its way to the sellers.
Mr. Bitterman loves the idea, while Furious George thinks we should plant Vienna Sausages and Martini Olives.
When Furious comes home from drinking with the neighbors, he's no damned good for the rest of the day.