Previous Capers

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."