Previous Capers

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Mog Cottage Cafe

The last of the tomatoes this year
In my estimation, the worse thing about planting tomatoes in the beginning of the season is cleaning them out of the beds at the end of the season. After trying to squeeze the last bit of redness out of this year's crop (as any good gardener in this area would do) the first frost last night prompted me to finally cave and I spent the morning cutting out vines and pulling up stakes. The clamps that were holding the stems up on the stakes were maxed out and difficult to remove. I saved all of the tomatoes worth keeping, red and green, and piled them in a large bucket. Not surprisingly, this load was probably my largest crop. Anyone who's tried to grow tomatoes in this region knows what I'm talking about. The carnage left behind looks rather disheartening though; many of the cherries and red zebras had ripened but split due to all the recent rain. There they lay all over the ground and the bed. Now I'll have to clean them up or I'll have rogue plants coming up next spring. In the mean time, squish, squish, squish getting around the beds.
Purple sprouting broccoli - it's baaaack.

The tomatoes that did the best this year were the red zebras, romas and cherries. The giant yellow brandywine suffered blossom end rot and languished, like giant tepid yellow blobs on the vines. Other self-planted crops came up among the masses including fennel, celery and surprise, surprise, purple sprouting broccoli. In fact it's doing rather well. I was planning to sow in garlic and onion in this bed, but now I have a personal bet as to how long I can keep this broccoli going. Two plants have survived and re-sprouted. The stupid stuff just won't die! I envision purple sprouting broccoli with trunks the size of sequoias in a few years. I guess this is the official brassica bed, crop rotation be damned!

I have several good recipes for fried green tomatoes and it's a darn good thing we both like them. I'm going to Google search for more recipes to use. I'm sure there are plenty and I'm sure a lot of them will be from the Pacific Northwest. If you have any green tomato recipes you'd like to share, pass them along...please!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Halloween Hangover

Blueberry bed turned graveyard.
Halloween at Mog Cottage is always exciting. We decked the place out, converting our planting beds into makeshift graves with all the Styrofoam molded headstones, bones and ghouls we could manage to scrounge up at the Dollar Store and the Used Food Store (What Roland calls the Grocery Outlet). During Halloween night, we place lighted candles under each head stone and up the front steps to light the way. 

Enough trick-or-treaters flooded our doorway to scarf up most of the candy, but not before we managed to OD on the stuff ourselves. Although Roland and I are pretty fussy about our chosen sugar delivery systems, the problem is we buy what we like and a lot of it, in anticipation of the costumed hoards of rug rats. On top of that, we buy it well in advance of the day it goes out the door because we want to make sure that what we want will be on the store shelves. When it comes to certain candy, neither of us has a bit of will power. Deep down, we probably don't care. It's only once a year, right?

So, Roland and I scarf on sugar for a good week prior to Halloween,spend another week finishing off the leftovers, then another few days in withdrawal. Even our dog joins in, sneaking tootsie pops out of the bowl when we're not looking. We find sticky, artificially flavored corn syrup balls behind the sofa cushions among the stashed chewies. Yesterday, Roland discovered one of the confectioners thoroughly stuck to the side of our cat, Vinnie. He's now missing a sizable clump of fur trying to dislodge the thing.

Now, I could attribute the theory that these fall/winter holidays are timed right to a candy industry conspiracy when carbohydrate cravings in many of us escalate. These companies know that seasonal darkness and it's ensuing depressive state drives people to pump up the dopamine levels among their grey cells. What easier way to do that than with a culturally accepted legal drug of choice: sugar. So the Halloween holiday often becomes fast, cheap and out of control. In fact, I consider Halloween a kick-off to the confectioners binge that continues until after Easter. People don't need candy much after that because the sun is back and people see the light. The next food binge after October 31st, of course, is Turkey Day. At least we have 3 weeks to come down from this holiday before the food fest.

Front porch - pretty scary
In the meantime, it may take that long to take down all the decorations. Hmmmm. The hanging artificial spider webbing strung across the front porch rather suites the place, don't you think?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

17 Pounds of Potatoes in a 50 Gallon Tub

This year I planted the potatoes a little differently than I did last year. They went into the claw foot tub as usual, but instead of just poking them down a few inches I dug out 2/3rd's of the soil and then planted the potatoes. I stored the excess soil in garbage cans to use later. When the potatoes sprouted their foliage several leaf layers above the soil, I added more soil up to just below the top leaves. When they grew more, I added more soil until they reached the top of the tub. I would then usually mulch with straw, but the foliage was so dense I couldn't adequately add it, so skipped that part this year. When the foliage died back I harvested.

I got quite a few potatoes this year, more red than whites. The main problem I'm facing when harvesting is damaging the potatoes with my shovel. Some of them got sliced in the process. When I use a fork, they got skewered. I attribute this problem to having to dig in close quarters. Of course, I also had some escapees in the process (pictured above). However, I received some great advice from a gardening cohort on how to grow potatoes when you don't have huge amounts of plantable area in the ground. Garbage cans. What a great solution; potatoes grown in a vertical garden!

Next year I'm procuring a classic style garbage can for each variety of potato I plan to plant. I'm using galvanized cans, not those flimsy plastic things made out of petroleum products. Some folk use old tires. Although it is seemingly a good way to re-purpose some of the zillions of old tires that pollute our environment, the thought of planting something I'm going to eat in a petroleum product that God knows has what nasty chemicals leaking out, doesn't sound that organically appealing.

To plant the cans, it's important to have good drainage. I'll be drilling 3-4 drain holes in the bottom of each can and then elevating them on some bricks. I'll start with a foot of soil on the bottom of each can and then plant the potatoes. As with the tubs, I'll add soil as the potatoes grow taller. You'll need to fill a couple of extra cans with soil to use later or have a tarp covered pile stashed somewhere. When the potatoes are ready to harvest, I'll simply push the cans over to spill onto tarps and pick out the potatoes. Skewering and slicing problem solved. Just you and a friend pick up the soil with the tarp and pore it back into storage.

I'm not using potting soil (way too expensive) but an organic planting mix with plenty of compost to keep it fluffy and to add nutrients. A good organic phosphorus based fertilizer mixed in such as, fish bone meal will help increase the yield.

One last tidbit of advice: urban gardeners, keep your cans well away from the sidewalk so dogs don't get tempted and pedestrians don't toss things into them you wouldn't want to eat. Even with the lids off, one never knows, as the cans will be fairly empty looking for awhile.

Come next spring's planting season, I'll let you know how this technique is working.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Garden Coaching: The Hybridization of Filers and Pilers

Since I've gotten into the horticulture game, I've been made aware of a fairly recent phenomenon; garden coaching. Now, the imagery that comes to mind are pot-bellied plant geeks with clip boards hovering over the gardener yelling encouragement over how to plant zinnias. Cheerleaders with giant dahlia-like pom-poms are doing their cheerleader thing on the sidelines. In reality, garden coaches are rather an outdoor version of indoor organization coaches; helping gardeners clear the clutter of their beds and come up with creative ways to use what they've got to work with. People pay big bucks for the advice.

Last year I wrote about the difference between filers and pilers in the garden world ( I think a major amount of a garden coach's clientele are pilers. Filers may hire a coach as a desire to balance their lives with some piling attributes such as, lightening up about gardening. Pilers want to incorporate filer attributes such as, incorporating some order into a hodgepodge called a mixed border. The concept of mixed borders must have been invented by pilers.

Pilers often can't make up their minds because they want everything and are subject to impulse buys at the nursery. They just know that they can fit that fancy new cultivar somewhere. It's hard for pilers to edit out plants. They gravitate towards an Italian style that one of my hort. instructor calls "Oneofeachie."

Filers can't make up their minds in fear of making the wrong choices. They're often so worried about making the wrong choices, they often do, at least in their minds. I usually get free plants from filers. I only get free plants from pilers after they've seen a garden coach. I guess that makes me a piler. Guilty as charged.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fiddling with Filderkraut

This year I was so intently focused on the fact that our tomatoes actually turned red, I rather neglected other crops in the garden. Almost daily, I zipped by the bed of brassicas as three cabbage plants got bigger and bigger. I had planted a variety of cabbage called Filderkraut last spring. The Territorial Seed package description states:

This arrow-shaped variety was bred for the cold regions of Europe so that self-reliant gardeners could make batches of sauerkraut for winter consumption.

I liked the idea of an "arrow-shaped" cabbage; the ones in the stores are mostly round with the exception of Napa cabbage. We are also rather self-reliant, I guess, even in an urban environment. We're probably more self-defiant than anything. We both have 'Kraut' genes, too. The problem is, neither of us eats that much sauerkraut, even though Roland is Swiss. In fact, he doesn't eat cheese, mustard, vinegar, mayo, or salad dressings either - but that's another post. In spite of these noble brassica's original purpose, I was thinking more along the line of making soups and stews.

By the time my focus shifted (when the weather turned colder - like it ever got hotter much this year), one of the heads was so heavy, it flopped over in the bed.
To harvest the thing, it took some large loppers to cut through the 3" caliper stem. The leaves pretty much shaded out everything within a 5 mile radius and worst of all, this behemoth of a brassica became a snail and slug nursery! I spent the better part of harvesting this thing stripping off the layers of outer cabbagey leaves and disposing of the mollusks that hid deep down in the crevices near the base. After all, Roland doesn't eat escargot either. After that, I managed to wash off any goo residue and stored it in the refrigerator. Mr. Roland stood for a portrait of him and the cabbage for scale.

Growing monster vegetables serendipitously gives you a good excuse to have to clean out the refrigerator. Luckily, the fridge has heavy duty shelves as the thing must have weighed close to 10 pounds.
Cabbages can be as dense as bowling balls.

The cabbage leaves have a rather peppery flavor. Even at this large size, it cooks up tender and goes great in soups and with pot roast. It's comfort food time, so I don't think I'll have much problem using it up, although it's taken us several weeks to eat down just this one cabbage. There are several more just like it still waiting their turn; however, they haven't flopped over yet, so I figure there's time. I wonder if they'll sweeten up like Brussels sprouts do after a frost. Oh, did I mention? Roland won't eat those either.

I may have to try my luck at making sauerkraut.
After all, I seem to have good luck growing brassica crops. I remember Roland telling me that his dad scraped the mold off his batch every couple of days while it was doing it sauerkrautie thing. Luckily, Roland will eat it. Go figure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guerrilla Zucchini Distribution

It's been zucchini season and we've been swimming in them. With the last minute warm weather in September, the tiny little fruits exploded into footballs overnight. If you recall, this is the retaliatory zucc that I planted in the parking strip during our permit hassle. Roland attributes it's current size and the subsequent bumper crop to all the cow pucky we got from SDOT. People who walk by it stop and stare. Between the giant zucchini plant and the giant sunflower, our yard has become the neighborhood botanical freak show.

I looked up the record for the largest zucchini grown and the world record squash was grown by renown giant veg. grower, Bernard Lavery from England. It weighed in at 65 pounds. In moments of delusion, I like to think that I might have been able to at least match that record if I left all but that one squash on the plant and let it go nuts. Like the giant pumpkins it was probably inedible, but if it happened to be usable, it must have supplied a 5 gallon bucket of gratings. By the way, Mr. Lavery is the author of "How to Grow Giant Vegetables."

Dispersing zucchini can be tricky. Neighbors and friends either love it or run at the first sight of you walking towards them with the large green appendage shaped objects in your arms. Luckily, we've been promised ample supplies of zucchini bread from grateful recipients, and I look forward to it. I haven't had much time to bake myself, so having someone else do it and share is fine by me. At some point, you'll run out of people to disperse it to. I still have a shelf full of the prolific fruit in the fridge, so I'll either have to grate it and store it in the freezer, make copius amounts of soup or resort to covert, guerrilla operations.

Now putting zucchini's on the doorsteps of unsuspecting neighbors is rather tricky. It's important to avoid any neighbor on your block or even the next several blocks in a radius around your garden, because they'll probably know you're the source. So, here's how to do it. When walking the dog at night (an excuse to be out late), descretely disperse the zucc's on easily accessed front porches outside the designated radius zone. Think of it sort of like a stork delivering bundles of joy. At least zucchinis don't cry. There is the chance that the squash will get tossed into the compost or garbage. People may even mistake it for a bomb at first. You wouldn't want to be responsible for causing undue concern and authoritarian excess. Best to attach an anonymous note with each delivery. Chances are good that it wouldn't go under handwriting analysis. But, hopefully you live in a progressive, gardener infested non-paranoid neighborhood where folk understand how these things work and out of guilt, can't bare to waste perfectly good food. Of course, the zucchini could turn into a summer version of fruitcake and in a karmic sense, end up back on your front porch at some point, looking a little shop worn.

Fried Green Tomatoes Anyone?

Finally, the tomatoes have been ripening as of mid-September and have been on a role only to have the weather turn this week. I suppose I should be grateful for the two weeks of redness. I would've been really bummed if we had a total repeat of last year. It sure seemed that it was heading that way, only to turn around mid-late September. This region is known to get Indian summers and this year has proven that true. We actually had temperatures into the 80's, just in time for the first days of Fall. Oh, the irony of it all. A real Shakespeare comedy. I was hoping that if we got hot weather into October, this might turn out to be a descent tomato year.

The cherries tomatoes are the first to ripen. It's the larger varieties that hang on to their greeness longer. The next smaller size after cherries are the romas which have started turning red along with the Red Zebra, a pseudo heirloom variety. The Yellow Brandywines are sitting there and have even developed tomato blossom end rot as I neglected to supplement them with calcium when blooming. I finally fed them some Epsom salts solution in hopes to deter any future problems. Of course it helps to test your soil for magnesium and pH levels, something else I neglected to do this year. Epsom salts helps tomatoes take up calcium from the soil. The properties of the two key components of Epsom Salt: Magnesium and Sulfate is what helps. Dissolve a tablespoon into a gallon of water and water around the roots. I use about a 1/4 of the mixture for each plant. You can also mix in 1 cup per 100 sq. ft. of soil before you plant, according to a salt web site. Of course the site promotes Epsom salts as a wonder drug for all your plants.

We didn't bother with a cloche this year, and actually have a larger yield this year. I attribute that to planting the tomatoes in a more exposed bed, that gets more sun and heat, two components that are a must for tomatoes. Now that the weather has gone south, I'll be out there just before the first threat of frost to harvest all the green one's left on the plants. Fried green tomatoes anyone?

I like to can, but just don't have the time to do it this year. Luckily, I subscribe to "The Cheap Vegetable Garden" blog and recently read a really good idea for dealing with the bowl of tomatoes sitting in my fridge. Mr. Cheap cuts his tomatoes in half, scrapes out the seeds and hard core, then grates them. The gratings store in the freezer well to be used for sauces later. He doesn't do the boil thing to remove the skins. The skins peal off during the grating process. He takes the skins and puts them in a dehydrator or low temperature oven to completely dry out. He then crumbles them and stores them to add to dishes like an herb for an intense tomato flavor. Sounds like a plan to me. I'll let you know how it goes. If you'd like to read the complete instructions on the powder part, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pole Apples for the Small Yard

Now that Fall is here, it's time to reap the bounty of apples; all 15 of them. Not impressive to seasoned fruit producers, but the number of apples we got this year is triple compared to last year. We planted a series of what is referred to as pole or columnar apple trees. Pole apples are great for the small yard and work well in large pots. They get around 9-12 feet tall and have no branches. Instead, the fruit spurs grow out of the trunk, so the apples hug the trunk all the way up. Best of all, there's no need to prune and how easy is that for harvesting! These trees do well in pots and only require 2 foot centers if planted in the ground.

The number of varieties is limited; only 3 are available that I know of: North Pole, Golden Sentinel and Scarlet Sentinel. 2 red/greens and a golden. We have 2 North Poles and a Scarlet Sentinel. We also have a dwarf honey crisp and a Rainier cherry. God knows where those are going in our limited space once they grow out of their pots.

Our recent North Pole acquisition is the tallest, and came from a local nursery, 40% off of course. Although there isn't any fruit on that tree this year, we have great expectations for next year. Providing the pollinators show up. I might have to dig out the paint brush.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another 100 Pounds of Potential

In order to squeeze every last ounce of space out of the front yard, Roland constructed a short dry stone wall next to the driveway. This wall levels out a sloped area and allows another bed to go in. The dirt fill came with the stones when they were dumped off. The stones were left overs from a job site and delivered by our personal excavator, Dr. Dirt. Being the scrounge that Roland is, he naturally found a use for them.

Roland raided his wood stash and built another 4x8 foot bed 3 feet from the existing bed to the north. The wide clearance allows things like wheel barrels and big butts to pass through that isle to access the hypothetical garden tool shed and composting area. Actually the tool shed is in progress and awaits the roof to get finished and is being used for tools: saws, nail guns, routers.....but that's another story.

Since we had more than enough soil in the parking strip, I raided around 9 wheel barrels full from there and filled the bed. This new bed adds approximately 32 sq. feet to our planting area. If I follow an intensive planting plan, theoretically this bed should yield around 100 pounds of carrots. Not that I want to grow 100 pounds of carrots. I rely on tanning bronzers to turn my skin orange.

After constructing the bed, Roland topped it with the typical cat proofing grid/row guide to keep the little monsters from thinking that we built it for them. I'm sure Mamah will have something to say about it, anyway. Anyone who owns cats knows that everything in the house and in the yard belongs to them, whether they really want it or not. And if they can't have something, it really belongs to them.

The bed will need some compost and fertilizer to finish it off for spring planting, but being the patient person that I am, I christened it with a rogue kale start plucked out of the carrot patch.

As you can see, it's thriving.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

SDOT's Covenant

We finally got our parking permit. It only took 4 months of haggling. It ended by stripping down the original design to a shell of it's former self. Gone is the dog proofing fence/pea trellis. Gone is the hardscaping along the curb. Gone is the oh so potentially slippery pebble mosaic. The last argument with SDOT involved the amount of hardscaping one can install without paying the 174 pieces of silver. The guidelines for the free permit say nothing about the amount of hardscaping allowed, only that it includes it. So, SDOT arbitrarily sets the rules. In fact, after plan number 3 was faxed in with a follow-up call to the head of engineering, "Liz" (remember Liz?) stated that as soon as they receive the $174 they'll send us the permit.

"But the guidelines for the free permit states that it includes hardscaping!" Roland complained.

"Oh, that only includes some hardscaping," answered "Liz." "You can install some flagstone."

So, upon faxing plan number 4, we finally received our permit. The free "Street Use" permit is 3 pages of font size 6 legalese and is best read with a jewelers loupe. It includes all sorts of things such as, terms, conditions and requirements:
  1. SDOT is the supreme authority who rules over your parking strip right-away and thou shall not have any property rights before us.
  2. Thou shall work within the requirements set forth within the Right-of-Way Improvements Manual.
  3. Though shall be redundant and contact SDOT with all of the previously submitted information 72 hours prior to starting work upon penalty of $300 dollars.
  4. Thou shall not block traffic without another expensive traffic blocking permit.
  5. Thou shall not damage utilities upon penalty of fines and payment for damages.
  6. Work performed within the public right of way shall occur in compliance with the City of Seattle Noise Control ordinance.
  7. Thou shall not perform work during the holiday season only in specific downtown areas that have nothing to do with your location.
  8. Thou shall pay our lackeys $150 per hour to come out when needed (such as when the neighborhood snitch strikes again) and inform you as to what you've done wrong in accordance to our arbitrary decision making abilities, misinformation and how anal we feel that day.
  9. Thou shall not bear false witness towards SDOT and if you do. . .
  10. Thou shall be responsible for legal fees incurred against such offense.
So after reading all of the commandments, we buried the papers under a pile on the desk and went to work. When it comes to property use, living in Seattle is not for the independent minded, which is why there is a paucity of Libertarians around, I think. But you know the saying, when dealing with lemons, make lemonade. So, we reinstalled the flagstone that was originally in the old mess, but now somewhat moved over for a larger planting area on the north side. Instead of the dog proofing God-forbid-fence/pea trellis, I planted a lavender hedge and mounded the soil up down the spine of the bed to discourage canine snooping. Along the ridge of the mound went 3 types of blueberry bushes: 2 Darrow Highbush, 2 Sunshine Blue and 2 Pink Lemonade in honor of our friends at SDOT. I lined them up along the top in order to make it easier to install netting (probably another God forbid), if needed. If burning bushes were edible, I would have planted those. I also installed some brick and stone around the sunken water meter box in order to keep the soil off of it and the water meter reader happy.

Blueberries like two things to grow well: acid and moist but well drained soil. I added spagmum peat moss and soil from my house up north and mixed it all together with the garden soil we brought in. The soil from my place has a pH of 5.2, perfect for blueberries, and along with the acidity and moisture holding properties of the peat, should provide a nice, cozy home for the blueberry bushes. It is important to thoroughly wet the peat down first in a bucket or wheel barrow because applied dry peat will suck all the water out of the soil and water starve any newly planted bushes. It's suprising how much water is actually needed to saturate peat. It takes a lot of stirring with a shovel along with a constantly dribbling hose, as peat looks wet on the surface until you stir it and find large dry areas.

Now, I'm perfectly aware that peat moss is not the most sustainable product, however, I only use it when absolutely needed for optimum growth of certain plants, like blueberries and heathers. This is the first bag I'v
e purchased in probably 10 years. I've invested quite a bit of money in these bushes (even on sale), so feel justified in judicious use of certain organic soil amendments for optimal plant health.

Future plantings along the slope of the mounds will include other edibles such as lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and creeping raspberries (Rubus pentalobus). I would like to plant other shrubs such as currants, space permitting. North of the flagstone is tagged for larger crops such as the zucchini (the SDOT rebellion plant, remember?), artichoke and cabbage.

I'm considering taking out the 2 raised beds on the north end in order to provide more room for these plants, but that will be next year's project. It
will probably require another permit as the current one is only good for 3 months. Best to work on the Sabbath, I think.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Clever Use of Antique Garden Furniture

My fellow co-hort and neighbor, Mary, sent me a picture of a clever use for an antique outdoor metal chair. She went to Lowes and purchased several of those sedum bricks some sphagnum moss, covered the bench seat thus creating a sedum seat (or seatum). Having purchased several antique Victorian chairs myself, she inspired me to do the same. One 11x22 inch sedum brick and a bag of moss did the trick, covering both seats.

I simply laid down a layer of the moss, hosed it down and then applied the sedum mass, tearing off the excess to get a circular shape. I then packed more moistened moss around the perimeter to hold in the soil edges and watered again. Very simple and and visually effective. Best of all, it's another good excuse to parooze garage sales.

However, these chairs were admittedly an impulse buy at Pacific Galleries, having put in a rather high absentee bid, I managed to stuff into the denial part of the little gray cells the fact that the buyer's premium, commission, and sales tax, etc. would add another 30% to the winning bid. So, I ended up with a pair of $250 chairs with no place to go, really. They sat out in the yard for months as lawn ornaments until they now became lawn ornaments with sedums planted, which I feel greatly justifies the original acquisition.

Proud of my handy-work, I showed them to Roland who only shook his head (with a role of the eyes) and said, "It's amazing what they're doing with sedum technology these days."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bashful Giant

We've been letting plants come up where they may in the lavender beds this year. Included in the rogue plants are several beautiful purple poppies (and the California variety that gets promptly pulled out), a wayward Russian kale and a giant sunflower. The sunflower is the most impressive with a 3 inch diameter trunk and a flower that's at least a 19 inches across. I attribute its enormous size to its DNA but also to the fact that it planted itself close to where we recently planted our cat, Bonnie. Cat's grow giant sunflowers, I guess. The rose we planted over her isn't doing to bad, either.

Unfortunately, the public walking up the sidewalk isn't able to ponder its incredible size as the flower head started facing due SW, away from public view and now its weight has given it a droopy, sad presentation, sort of Charlie Brownish. There's evidence of squirrel activity, though. Empty seed shells have been discarded in the depression around the top rim of the bloom. The squirrel sits up there and reaches under for the ripening seeds. Luckily, he can only reach under so far, so hopefully he won't get them all. But there is evidence of the varmint chewing his way down the bloom! Luckily, mostly collect the seed for next year's planting rather than to eat. They're just fun to grow. This particular plant might have been planted by that very squirrel, last Fall, which is rather funny that he picked the largest variety to perpetuate his food stash this year.

Admittedly, we've been feeding a squirrel on our front porch for dog entertainment. It sits just outside the front window staring at our dog, Snorky popping a gasket barking at it and bouncing around the back of the sofa, frustrated with the glass barrier. When the squirrel alarm goes off, we toss some peanuts on the porch. The fun lasts about 10 minutes, then Snorky spends the next hour keeping vigilance in case it comes back. He sits on the top of the sofa back with his front paws draped over the wood frame, head resting on them like a bored kid hanging on the back of church pews. The whole routine usually ends with snoring noises coming from his direction. Our useless cats sit on the porch and watch the whole thing happen without moving a whisker. The squirrel is so brazen that it literally climbs over the cats to get to the randomly tossed peanuts, acting as if they are part of the furniture. I guess that's what happens when they're all well fed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who the Heck is SDOT?

Several of you wanted to know what SDOT stands for. Technically, it is the Seattle Department of Transportation, but I have a few titles of my own that are far more descriptively accurate of this entity:

Seattle Department of Totalitarianism
Seattle Department of Tyranny
Seattle Department of Torture
Seattle Department of Turkeys (although I wouldn't want to insult these intelligent creatures)
Seattle Dysfunctional Office of Twits
Seattle Disorganization of Twaddle

Of course they serve a real function of keeping our roads drivable enough, managing the remnants of our infrastructure. In fact, they are actually trying to become rather progressive. This transformation is evident in that the plethora of potholes which exist remain unfilled because SDOT can then claim they use a permeable paving material as part of the city's storm water management plan.

And of course, our experience is all part of the City of Seattle's push to make the city government more "people friendly and accessible," so said Mayor Mike McGinn during a conversation we had with him when he was campaigning at a Seattle Tilth event. Consequently, SDOT is making sure that they follow that prime directive, no?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bloomin' Bureaucracy!

If you think the lovely City of Seattle or government in general for that matter, can't get anything done on a large scale, try applying for a permit to landscape your parking strip. This process is a microcosm of the bigger picture and pretty much illustrates the inefficiencies and dysfunctions pervasive in our government system.

After years of out of control grasses, daisies, black-eyed Susans and dandelions in the parking strip, we finally pinned down Dr. Dirt who happens to live 2 blocks away to come over with his excavator and dig it all out. He hauled the refuse away and brought back 6 yards of soil. We had visions of large edible annuals, blueberries and espaliered apples planted in order to expand our food supply and beautify the area. We wanted to build a small fence along the length on the sidewalk side in order to keep out the K9P. I had visions of a stone mosaic border between the fence and the sidewalk (to accommodate the one foot setback required) and bricks along the parking area as a firm walkway. It was going to be beautiful. Then SDOT showed up.

I wasn't present, but while Roland was working out in the yard, some woman from SDOT appears out of the blue (they know, somehow they know) and tells him that we can't do anything until we have a permit and have to cover the new soil with a tarp so it doesn't run out into the street, less we get a large fine. She also stated that we have to have a 3 foot set back from the street, and a one foot setback from the sidewalk (that's 6 feet wide) less someone trips over something. We can't plant any fruiting trees. She also informed us that the City owns 2 feet of land on the house side of the sidewalk (city right-of-way). When Roland asked her about all of the non-compliant parking strips just on our block she replied, "Well, those people didn't get caught and we don't make them tear it out (our 2 raised beds in the strip are non-compliant - oh, darn)."

"Then, how do people know that they need one?"

"Well, it's always been the law and we don't do a very good job at letting people know that they need one."

At least the thing is free. So, like good little proletariat citizens, we went to the SDOT web site and filled out all of the on-line forms. Around a week later, we got a computer generated e-mail stating that our permit has been approved and go to such-and-such link for the details. It ended up being the link to nowhere. The next e-mail from a "Rex" stated that he needs a sight plan (surprisingly, he didn't need GPS coordinates, satellite photos, and a note from Roland's mother). So, having been a draftsman in a previous life, I drew up the plans to scale and we faxed them off to "Rex." After a week or so, we didn't hear anything back from "Rex" and when Roland called in on several occasions, "Rex" was on vacation, took the day off, out to lunch, etc., etc. Finally, he made a WTF call and was told that "Rex" was "on (perpetual) vacation and that our permit application would be handled by "Liz." Roland was told that "Liz" would get back to him. In the mean-time they asked Roland to re-fax the plan to "Liz" because they claimed they never received the one sent to "Rex." She actually did send an e-mail to Roland confirming that they got the plan, bless her heart.

Several weeks went by and no "Liz" call. Instead, "Jennifer" calls back and says, "All my God, there's a fence on your site plan! You can't do a fence blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...the worlds going to come to an end....It's a $174 fee for the permit." So I redrew the plan, and fence was transformed into a pea trellis. Roland faxed the revisions off to "Jennifer." Apparently, "Jennifer" got swallowed by the computer generated paperwork monster and has disappeared.
We never heard from "Jennifer" again.

In the mean-time, Roland gets 3 more computer generated e-mails telling us that we haven't given them a start date nor scheduled an inspection for permit number blah, blah, blah and a 4th e-mail threatens us with massive fines with if we do any work, block traffic, or obstruct the freeway. etc:

Our records indicate that you have not performed any action on your permit application for at least 10 days. Please provide the following: JOB START CALL REQUIRED FIELD REVIEW If you no longer wish to obtain this permit, please respond to this e-mail to notify us that you wish to cancel the application. Your permit application may be cancelled after ninety days if we do not hear from you. To review the status of your permit application, please go to:


Before beginning work in the right-of-way, you must notify Street Use to verify your start date. Notice must be provided 24-72 hours prior to the start of work. The notification must include: 1. Permit Number 2. Job Site Address 3. Start Date 4. Brief description of work 5. Job site contact name, phone number and email address If you do not fulfill this requirement, a No Job Start penalty fee will be assessed in the amount of $300, or such other amount as may be established in accordance with SMC 15.04.074.

Two weeks later on Monday, Roland makes another WTF phone call directly to SDOT questioning the e-mails and the lady on the other end says, "OMG, your permit hasn't been approved! Don't touch anything, don't plant anything, don't walk on it diagonally, breath on it, don't look at it for more than 60 seconds!" She also stated that the e-mails don't mean anything. She then transfers Roland to "Liz" and he gets her voice-mail and leaves a WTF message . "Liz" finally calls back the following Friday afternoon.

Happy, bubbly "Liz" said that she would allow a fence up to 18 inches tall otherwise it's a tripping hazard (huh?), and no pebble mosaics because they kill people by the thousands when walk on (apparently, folk in Europe are more agile). Roland says, "Fence? we're calling it a pea trellis."

"Liz" replies that the plan says it's a fence which means she's looking at the original lost plan. Then she tells him that we can start anytime as soon as we pay for the permit.

"WTF! I was told it was a free permit!"

Well, apparently as soon as any hardscaping or structure goes in it's a $174 permit fee. However, there's no charge for planter boxes not higher than 5-1/2 inches tall or they're a tripping hazard (huh?).

Now we have to submit site plan number 3, sans the hardscaping, indicating strictly vegetation and topographical details of the mounds (and any planting boxes we wanted). And, apparently people getting out of cars can trample on any low, slimy, slippery vegetation, but as soon as you want to put down a harder surface for good footing, cough up the bucks.

The permit process is obviously a bait and switch operation - they dangle the free permit in front of you, but really, who doesn't add some sort of pavers, rocks or other non-vegetative product into their landscaping design!

So, after 2 months of this rigamarole where in limbo. The project started with noxious weed removal and we ended up in noxious government weeds. In defiance, I planted a zucchini. Take that, you parking strip Gestapo!

And I wonder why the viaduct hasn't been replaced or the 520 bridge expansion is taking so long, or where's the light rail? Silly me.

More to come on the SDOT plot...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

You Think You Got Weeds!

It's been a long winter, as most of you have probably come to that realization on your own. Here in the PNW, it's been rain with a chance of sun this Spring. June temperatures have barely left the 50's much of the time. Now that June is behind us, July is actually starting out rather nice, a phenomenon that doesn't usually happen until July 5th.

Now that the weather's been getting warmer, it's evident that the weeds have been waiting in ambush; tiny miniature landmines waiting to explode at the first opportunity. One minute you're contemplating what to plant in all those empty spots in your garden (OK, well last Fall), then you wake up to the answer that nature gives: super sized weeds in every nook and cranny. Some are well over 5 feet tall. They're making up for lost time this year.

Somewhere in this explosion are specimens I have actually planted such as, blueberries, weigela, iris, and several perennials, but you'd never know it. In fact, I had forgotten exactly what is there as I haven't been paying too much attention to the beds over the winter. It was Christmas in June, as I uncovered cultivated surprises underneath the spurge.

Common knowledge among horticulturists is that weeds indicate a disturbed soil. I think in this case, weeds indicate a disturbed mind. How many of us have started grandiose projects that languish for years because we have more ideas and ambition than time.
Part of what's supposed to be where the weeds have taken over is a path to the deck. These beds have been a work in progress since I've been in this house for over 10 years. I've been spending most of my time at my BF's place, Mog Cottage in Seattle, that my place has been mainly a mail stop. Having started this project in the front section in the courtyard, I have around 90 feet to go to the deck. Do I want to lay a simple gravel path? No! I want to do something with stone and brick as an artistic expression, silly me. So, with everything else in my life, this project has found itself continuously put on hold. When I do have some time, I find myself getting out of the weeds (if you're not familiar with culinary terms, being 'in the weeds' indicates being overwhelmed in the kitchen).

Spending hours yanking out butter cup, nightshade and spurge, it's a never ending battle. Some weeds are easy to yank out, while others, such as that hideous buttercup, spread by the most minute root remnant left behind. It doesn't help that I don't like to use chemicals. The water table here is very high and the neighborhood borders a wetlands.

I've stuffed my yard waste container and waited an entire week for it to get emptied so I could stuff it again. To add insult to injury, Waste Management missed it this week. Now I've got piles of pulled weeds waiting to get gathered up and disposed of in the yard with no place to go until after next week. I guess I'll double up with additional bins along with the yard waste container pulled out into the middle of the street so they don't miss it! The garbage dude's name must be Murphy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Desire for Really Big Melons Blows Up in China

Once again China's food practices hit the news, but instead of poisoning people or animals things blew up farmer's faces, so to speak. Apparently farmers in the Jiangsu province got a little over indulgent with the growth enhancer, forchlorfenuron, on their watermelon crops and along with higher than normal precipitation, created a perfect storm of exploding watermelons.

Now, you might think that it's a major tragedy for these farmers to lose their crops, but producing watermelons from a country that values karma, you could say that their farming practices came back to bite them. The desire for higher yields and faster production for the market activated the greed gene and now they've lost their entire crops within 3-4 days. Pow, pow, pow, pow.

Being one who appreciates black humor, I couldn't help myself but break out in hysterical laughter upon hearing about this incidence as I visualized water melons exploding in the fields like land mines. Perhaps future harvests will have to be done from armored vehicles. Looking at the photos of the aftermath, I'd say some of the melons resembled big red and green popped popcorn. Many were simply cracked in pieces.

The farmers want to blame the seed that came from Japan, as apparently some of the melons that didn't get sprayed with the growth enhancer also blew up. The melons that were sprayed started exploding within a day or two of the treatment. Of course there is the possibility of drift or chemical leaching into neighboring farms. As investigators have not come up with a solid reason for the exploding melons, I can't help but think that, as with most agricultural catastrophes, it's probably a combination of things; weather, temperature, timing, ignorance and in this case, growth enhancers. A lesson in humility? perhaps. It is also a lesson in how better farming through chemistry often isn't. Mother nature always wins and it's better to work with nature than try and always control it. Bad farming practices have plagued agriculture since its beginnings. Human fixes seem to present unintended consequences causing more problems that require fixing. This seems like just another example of human hubris.

A lesson for us PNW veg gardeners? Since we don't grow watermelons on this side of the mountains this particular crop isn't an issue for us. But with all of the rain we've been getting this year, don't use
forchlorfenuron on your zucchini.

Here's an article and video about this story from the BBC:

Saturday, April 30, 2011

It's Spring and the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is Back!

As you know, it's been a while since I've posted anything. With horticulture classes starting up again for winter quarter, and the bleak, cold weather to boot, it's been nearly impossible to find the time or get motivated. I've been a total couch potato, stuck to the sofa with the laptop glued to my thighs doing homework or playing computer solitaire. A grim existence. Veg. Gardening has been far from my mind and the garden looks it.

With all of the crappy, cold weather we've had in PNW world this winter, you'd think nothing edible from last season would've survived. I planted the garlic, onions and fava beans last fall, and they have started to show their greens through the straw as expected. But, the Purple Sprouting Broccoli that was so enormous, looked pretty done-in from the big freeze this winter. It was all leaves and no florets last summer and I was hoping it would winter over better than it did. All the leaves drooped and most of the large stalks turned mushy and became these tree-like snags sticking up or flopping over in the bed.

But recently, I've become an optimist (yeah, that's what I said) because when I went to take stalk of the beds to see what prep work needs to be done., low and behold, some of the broccoli has resurrected! Just in time for Easter. A sign from God! OK, maybe not, but I am bursting forth with Purple Sprouting broccoli florets at this very moment. In fact, if one of the plants wasn't flopped over like a ground cover, it could be trained as a standard topiary tree, like what is done to roses. Hmmm, maybe I should try and stake it up. I'll let you know, if I succeed. The others are sending out new shoots all along the barren stems. I should have a bumper crop of PS broccoli this spring. Yay. . . .Crap! There's a white cabbage moth fluttering about.