Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Next Solid Gold Investment Opportunity

Are you making long term financial plans? Are you interested in leaving something for your heirs that will appreciate in value with each passing year? I have one word for you: honey. In the future, honey might be as precious as gold, because honey bees are vanishing.

In this article entitled “When honeybees vanish will our food follow?”, by Alexei Barrionuevo, published Februray 27, 2007 in the New York Times, the author reports that beekeepers in 24 states are shocked that “their bees have been disappearing inexplicably at an alarming rate, threatening not only their livelihoods but also the production of numerous crops, including California almonds, one of the nation’s most profitable.”

Who cares? Suppose you can enjoy a cup of tea quite well without honey to sweeten it? Well, according to Barrionuevo: “California’s almond crop, by far the biggest in the world, now draws more than half of the country’s bee colonies in February. The crop has been both a boon to commercial beekeeping and a burden, as pressure mounts for the industry to fill growing demand. Now spread over 580,000 acres stretched across 300 miles of California’s Central Valley, the crop is expected to grow to 680,000 acres by 2010.”

My spouse recently heard on a science program on TV that honey is the one food that will never spoil. So, what better investment to leave for your descendants who may inhabit a world no longer sweetened with honey?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Garden Spring Cleaning

I did some spring cleaning this past weekend. Swept debris and dead leaves accumulated beneath benches, cleaning up the garden after a season of neglect.

Here is the potato bin where I planted the 'Yukon Gold" seed potatoes received just this week from Abundant Life. This is my first experiment in growing potatoes, so this could be an interesting season.

Here are some of the newly renovated dish gardens that live on the perimeter of the pond.

I finally came to terms with the effects of January’s killing frosts. I put dead potted coleus on the compost pile, but only after a respectful memorial service which consisted of me raising my face and my arms to heaven and promising that, as God is my witness, I will never let frost kill plants again.

After the cleaning, I spent some time rearranging the yard by replanting and moving containers around, trimming dead leaves and branches and feeding and re-mulching. This year will probably be the last without watering restrictions for a while. The source of our water – the snow pack in the Sierras – is substantially lower than previous droughts, and our local rainfall is 4 inches or more short of last year. When you only get about 10 inches a year, that’s a lot. An official from a neighboring water district predicted that while we have enough for this year, serious rationing is in store next year.

Here is my zen frog, newly planted with moss harvested from the north side of the house where nothing else will grow.

My goal for the back yard this year is not to over-plant, even in the containers on the patio outside the door.

In the front yard, my goal is to hand-water drought tolerant natives planted on the steep hill yesterday. Geeze, working on a hill is hard work. It took me hours and hours to dig, plant, water, mulch a total of seven drought-tolerant plants, including leucophyllum (2 varieties), ceanothus, and Malealeuca (2 varieties) and a blue hyacinth. I just have to water them this season to get them to put down roots in their new homes. Once they’re established in their new homes, they should all be pretty content.

The last thing I do after a session in the yard is water. Actually, that's the penultimate thing. I first take pictures in the best light of day: the later afternoon sun.

I particularly enjoy standing with my back to the sun and showering the garden under a rainbow. But because I dare not try to water and photograph at the same time, it's a scene I have captured only in my imagination, Yesterday however, the gardener's spouse managed to catch the rainbow as I watered.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

89th Anniversary of Dad’s Birth

Surviving a year to the day after his beloved wife’s death, my Dad died when he was 76. All these years, and I’m sometimes still ambushed by overwhelming sadness that he’s not at the other end of the e-mail or phone. I miss him, and the empty bench in this picture represents the empty place in my life without my Dad.

Dad was my hero, but not in the tired clich̩ of heroism embodied by the noble courage of the troop member who sells the most Girl Scout cookies. His heroism is better described as anti-heroism. Dad was a classic flawed hero. Larger than life, heroic except for the eponymous tendon in his heel Рthe flaw of his barely controlled impatience and temper. Dad suffered fools, but only grudgingly, and with great effort.

In his last, lonely year, I believe that Dad finally came to terms with his chronic impatience, and found a sort of peace perhaps barely distinguishable from exhaustion. I also believe it was his faith that allowed him to finally face the conclusion of his life without struggling against what Warren Zevon called the vast indifference of heaven. I think his faith was so strong because it was tempered with intelligent reservations and honest doubt.

As Tennyson said, Jack “beat his music out” to the end, true to his faith, despite any remaining doubts. And for that he will always be my hero.

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds
At least he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


The following poem accurately describes how Patti feels, captive inside on the first day of spring.

The Summer comes, the Summer dies,
Red leaves whirl idly from the tree,
But no more cleaving of the skies,
No southward sunshine waits for me!

You shut me in a gilded cage,
You deck the bars with tropic flowers,
Nor know that freedom’s living rage
Defies you through the listless hours.

What passion fierce, what service true,
Could ever such a wrong requite?
What gift, or clasp, or kiss from you
Where worth an hour of soaring flight?

I beat my wings against the wire,
I pant my trammeled heart away;
The fever of one mad desire
Burns and consumes me all the day.

What care I for your tedious love,
For tender word or fond caress?
I die for one free flight above,
One rapture of the wilderness!

Rose Terry Cook

Sunday, March 18, 2007

April is for Gardeners

In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth. - Milton

We went to Huntington on Friday to have tea and see if the wisteria is out: some is, some isn’t. Standing beneath the arbor and pointing my camera up to catch this view, I was surrounded by the powerful fragrance of the flowers. In a perfume, it would be too cheaply sweet. But in the spring sunshine, the aroma is glorious. I bought two cookbooks by gardeners sharing their culinary successes with home grown food.

Yesterday at the public veggie garden where I volunteer, I picked a beet for an amazingly bent lady who recognized the few remaining beet tops from 50 feet – not many people do. We’re not supposed to give veggies to visitors, so I had to caution her to secret the dusky red globe and it’s lovely red-tinted greens at the bottom of her large canvas handbag. I imagined her eating it for dinner last night, as I read my own new cookbooks and dreamed of my summer harvests to come. April makes gardeners of us all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spring: Short but Sweet

A young Apollo, golden haired,

Stands dreaming on the verge of strife,

Magnificently unprepared/ For the long littleness of life.

Frances Macdonald Cornford wrote that about Rupert Brooke. But it also applies to the multi-colored freesia celebrating Spring in my back yard. Live fast and die young. The different colors that make this such a lovely picture appear because part of the bloom is already fading to indigo as it dies. I'm glad I caught it's brief, beautiful show.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Another Day, Another Deadly Sin

The other day, an over-wrought Victorian allegory about vegetable adultery caught my fancy. Strangely, I find myself thinking of another of the seven deadly sins today. How will I ever find homes for all the seeds I bought during those dreamy cold winter afternoons I spent with seed catalogs? I am a seed junkie. Was it simple greed?
I bought just a few seeds each from different vendors, so until I sat down in the spring sunshine yesterday to sort things out, I didn’t realize just how much. About half of the seeds are for edible plants, which I can arguably claim to be for the public demonstration Veggie Garden where I volunteer.

This year, we are experimenting with warm season edible ornamentals. I found two okra varieties from a delightful place: Victory Seeds in Molalla, Oregon. Small staff, but excellent personal service. I got seeds for ‘White Velvet’ okra, recommended in a book, Feast Your Eyes by Susan J. Pennington.The book includes an entire chapter on ornamental vegetables – those grown as much for their lovely appearance as for their bounty.

About okra she says, “Because okra is in the hibiscus family, naturally gardeners first appreciated the showy cream-colored flowers with dark accents. Dried okra pods were also considered ideal for avant-garde flower arrangements”. She recommends, for it’s particular beauty, the ‘White Velvet’ cultivar. While I found that at Victory Seeds, I also ordered another variety called ‘Aunt Hettie’s Red’. Victory seeds says this seed was “raised for us by David Pendergrass of Tennessee and is an old heirloom from his family. He tells us the following about this old red okra: ‘It was passed on to me by a cousin who received it from my Great Aunt Hettie Tidwell in the early 1970s. How far it dates back in our family’s history is not clear but it is known that Aunt Hettie grew it for many, many years’."

Now all I have to do is plant, add water, and wait…

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Vegetable Adultery

Yesterday, at the Vegetable Garden where I volunteer, I worked with three volunteers, who are all master composters. They have been reluctant to let me discard my vegetable garden waste in their demonstration compost area at the Garden, because they don’t trust me to cut the greens small enough, or to sort out any diseased or pest-infected waste. So, instead, they helped me set up our very own composter in the veggie garden. It was hot, dirty work, cutting green clippings, chopping an old bale of straw to add as “browns” to contribute carbon, and mixing in some of their donated compost as starter – complete with worms and other creepy crawlies.

So naturally, as we’re all sweating in the hot sun, talk eventually turned to porn, specifically vegetable porn. Sure, compost can evoke noble metaphors of immortality, the cycles of the seasons, and the way garbage can be returned to the soil. But there’s a lot going on inside a living compost pile, so reproduction – and sex – is a big part of the equation. We joked that our spouses would perhaps be more interested in volunteering if they realized the topic of porn was so close to the metaphorical surface of what we do in the Garden.

Which is why, when I later began to pursue the topic on the web, I was so delighted to find the following, from a 1844 short story by Nathanial Hawthorne entitled Rappaccini’s Daughter. It seems to me that the author is pretty sure that gardens appearing too tropical, lush and exotic are bad news. The story doesn’t end well. It’s not exactly plant porn, but the graphic descriptions are still pretty explicit. My garden at home, alas, doesn't give off the same oninous vibe.

“Giovanni stepped forth, and forcing himself through the entanglement of a shrub that wreathed its tendrils over the hidden entrance, he stood beneath his own window, in the open area of Doctor Rappacinni’s garden…
“He threw a glance around the garden to discover if Beatrice or her father were present, and perceiving that he was alone, began a critical observation of the plants.
“The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden.”

Friday, March 02, 2007


March came in like a lion for most of U.S, and we’re even getting our share of rain here in Southern California. It's sunny today, but cold. Last year at this time, I was out in the sunny yard with my Spring seeds and peat pots, imagining flowers.

Spending this morning indoors while considering the extremes of March weather, I came upon a thought that makes a similar comparison about different ways to give and receive advice.

“A man takes contradiction and advice much more easily than people think, only he will not bear it when violently given, even though it be well founded. Hearts are flowers; they remain open to the softly falling dew, but shut up in the violent downpour of rain.”
Johann Paul Richter