Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From Successful Gardening to Weight Loss, Does Moon Phase Matter?

Familiar with the notion that some gardeners transplant and set out seeds according to the lunar calendar I decided to see how, according to where in the cycle I put in my garden this year, my crops might fare this year.

Moon gardeners believe plants do better when set out at the right time. The phase of the moon determines whether energy and nutrients are directed above or below ground. (Fine Gardening magazine)

Turns out according to proponents of this method I may have missed the ideal planting period by as little as one day, perhaps close enough? I set out garden transplants on Sunday, May 10. This month’s full moon appeared Saturday, May 9. In fact, May’s full moon was known as the “corn planting” moon by early Native Americans.

The theory is during the waxing period of the moon, the phase when the moon is becoming fuller the earth receives the plants readily and will develop roots easily. They are also ready for the increasing moisture that follows during the waning period when the moon is becoming smaller. We all know the ocean’s tides are controlled by the moon’s gravitational pull. It isn’t hard to conclude then that underground water tables react similarly.

While not sure if it is folklore, old wives’ tale or scientific fact the Farmers’ Almanac tells me in its astronomy section that one of the best days to start a diet to lose weight is May 13. In that vein, I’d like to officially declare today as the first day of my weight-reduction effort.

For more on planting by the moon phases, read this New York Times article.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seed Sowing

Seeds planted Saturday, May 9

Crimson Sweet Watermelon
Sugar Baby Watermelon

Seeds planted Monday, May 11

Italian “Gigante” Parsley
Slow-Bolt Cilantro

Berry Basket Cutting Zinnias
Chartreuse and Purple Mix Zinnia
Knee-high Cosmos Sonata Mix
Mini Sun Hybrid Sunflower
Strawberry Blonde Sunflower

Easter Egg II Rainbow Radishes

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Officially Up and Running

Today we finally made it to the nursery for our vegetable starts. I sketched out on paper where I wanted to put what and we piled in the car. Here’s what vegetables we bought followed by some details on each:

First the peppers:
Ixtapa – a mildly hot jalapeno
Habanero – legendary hottest of all peppers from the Caribbean
De Arbol – a red, slender pepper, originally from Mexico
Tiburon – Poblano Hot Pepper for makinh chili rellenos
Oriole – a sweet hybrid tangerine orange Bell Pepper

Next, tomatoes:
Brandywine – the classic heirloom
German Johnson – an old time heirloom from the Carolinas
Box Car Willie – heirloom with good resistance from disease and cracking
Mr. Stripey – clearly defined yellow-orange stripes, mild flavor, low acid
Shady Lady – ample foliage provide excellent coverage for the fruit, preventing sunburn, hence the name Shady Lady
Patio – a bush variety and good choice for container growing

Admittedly, we chose several tomatoes simply for their whimsical names. The abundance of these two vegetables reflects our penchant for homemade salsa.

We also planted:
Derby – a stringless Bush Bean that produces all season
Gold Rush – yellow zucchini summer squash
Yellow Submarine – a yellow-skinned, seedless cucumber
Satin Beauty – Eggplant

Friday, May 08, 2009

To Ban or Not To Ban

When you first start gardening you try it all, anything you think might grow in your humble garden, you pick up off the seed rack. Sunflowers are easy enough. “I absolutely must have seven or eight varieties, to start,” you muse. Zinnias – now there’s a favorite of mine, and they are so easy. Zinnias I like because they come in almost every color of the rainbow. There’s even a lovely one called Green Envy, Elegans in Latin, how could you turn your back on that? (More on back turning later.) The Envy isn’t actually green per se, but rather a pale, yellowy-green…spring green – if you will, in Crayola terms.

But early on I was attracted to, for a reason that escapes me now, Nasturtiums. They’ve been around for centuries, so I’ve heard, and once they are in your garden, they magically reseed themselves and come back year, after year, after year.

“If you are looking for a plant for your garden that will spread like wildfire, produce decorative foliage, have an ocean of brightly-colored blossoms, and be tasty to boot, there is only one that will fit the bill: Nasturtiums.”

Thus writes Linda Gilbert a Bay Area freelance journalist, cooking class instructor, and co-owner of the Sonoma catering company, Broadway Catering and Events.

“Nasturtiums are a gardener's dream,” Linda expounds.

“They are virtually carefree once established. Snails don't seem to be interested in them. They will even self seed and come back the next year in mild climate.”

Now in the beginning of your gardening career, a flower with that much staying power is miraculous to you. “It actually plants itself?” you marvel. You’re standing in the garden the following spring pounding your chest like Tom Hanks in Cast Away: “I. Have. Made. Flowers,” you bellow aloud to no one in particular (since you haven’t a gardening equivalent to Wilson... yet).

And they do double duty…you can even eat them.

“Their sweet, peppery taste (both in the leaves and in the flowers) adds to the enjoyment,” Linda continues.

“Take advantage of this spicy flavor as well as the decorative color. Use both leaves and blossoms in salads. Try adding them to spinach salads for a dramatic effect. Nasturtium's spiciness is also a winning addition to cheese spreads. Both the leaves and the blossoms look and taste great in tea sandwiches. For a stunning look, pair orange nasturtium blossoms with violets on open-faced cucumber sandwiches on white bread.”

And on and on. Year, after year, after year. Thanks Linda, but I think I’ll pass.

The flowers are pretty enough. And I do still revel in wonderment when they return year and again without effort on my part. But here’s the thing: All those years ago, I grabbed a pack labeled “Jewel Mix.” Now these are listed as a “customer favorite” and received a “5 out of 5 average customer rating,” on Burpee’s website.

What’s not to like, you’re asking yourself, right? This is the rub…I’m not crazy about, okay I’ll just say it – I hate their colors. There I said it. Petty? All flowers are beautiful just like all babies are cute you’re thinking, right?

So I am left wondering, is it okay to prohibit, say all, orange flowers from your garden, or all yellow flowers? In the beginning you’re so happy, thrilled and overjoyed by the fact that you have made flowers that the thought of removing them once they have established themselves is illogical, absurd, ridiculous even.

Now that I’ve been through the garden gate a few hundred times or so, I have read my share of gardening books, magazines and blogs to have heard more than once, that one can do whatever one pleases in their own garden. As in most aspects of life these days, anything goes. Wear white after Labor Day? Once, unthinkable. Sip white wine with filet mignon? Years ago, it simply was not done. Leave the house without lipstick? Previously, unconscionable. Now, all matters of personal preference.

Thanks to modern science, Nasturtiums do come in softer palettes these days. One of my favorite seed companies, Renee’s Garden, offers a custard-colored “Vanilla Berry” or the orange-sherbet-and-vanilla-hued “Creamsicle” is somewhat pleasing. But these I have found pale not only in color but hardiness as well compared to their heirloom ancestors, including “Jewel Mix.” They didn’t take well in my garden and those that did grow didn’t hang around long let alone return spontaneously the following season.

As a novice gardener my neighbor told me she had such a distaste for it, she simply never included orange in her borders and beds. I stood there, speechless. I was reminded of when handed my tightly-swaddled newborn son for the first time, I was so awestruck I never, until hours later, thought to unwrap him and adoringly examine him from head-to-toe. What I was thinking in both instances: I can do that?

The conundrum remains though for me. How awful would I be if I ripped out all those orange and worse, goldenrod, Nasturtiums and started over with some soft pink… maybe... well anything else really?