Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winter is finally here!

It seems we almost had no autumn. We went from hot to cold, with only a few just right days in between. And tonight our rains started in earnest.

Since I last had time to post we finished harvesting everything. We added some lantana and mums to the bed I see from my kitchen window. I planted daffodil bulbs in all the beds. I've weeded and watered until it rained. I pulled up the tomato and cucumbers. I put down a cardboard, newspaper, and wood path through the main vegetable so I can walk from the gate to the raised beds without getting muddy feet and so there will be at least weedless access to everything in the spring. I'm hoping I'll have time to keep up with the weeds as they grow during the winter and early spring so I won't face what I did last year when the ground is accessible again.

I wish the frost had not come last week and killed my blooming sunflowers before they could finish producing their seeds. But at least I had them to look at for a season. My borage is still blooming and will probably reseed where it is. My chard plant is huge and looks like many in one. The stem is as thick as a small tree. It's the only growing thing I can still harvest and eat. I have one lone blooming lettuce I hope will reseed.

As I look back over the year I see progress. I now have a lot of color to look at from my kitchen window. Since I've added new perennials and planted bulbs, I expect to have color in both the spring and fall. Indeed, I still have calendula and coreopsis in bloom, and several herbs. I hope they will also multiply. My bed by the pump house isn't doing as well as I'd hoped and some plants died unexpectedly. But I planted daffodils and irises there, too, and look forward to spring color. Some of the perennial herbs are doing well, and I hope the rain will help my new sword fern get established. I have divided the sage and transplanted some to the other side of the hill. I have some poppies blooming on the hill now, and look forward to some of the wildflowers reseeding by spring. I still need to divide more gazanias if I have time and put them on the hill and by my kitchen window. They do a lovely job of spreading. I'm hoping that next spring I'll be ready with cool season crops to plant so the garden will get an earlier start than last year.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dealing with invaders

I have discovered that in the garden, as well as in life, where there is something beautiful or useful, there will be enemies who want to tear it down. I haven't noticed too many animals eating the weeds if there is anything more tasty around. And in both life and the garden I have to deal with the invaders.

In the picture you will see some yellow flowers, calendula (or pot marigold). The deer love them and eat the blossoms whenever they are hungry and the flowers are blooming. They seem to have no interest in the leaves. The plant in the foreground with the small purple flowers is hyssop. Around the plants you will see wire mesh that's supposed to go in the yet unbuilt raised beds, at the bottom, to keep gophers out. I'm using them here to keep the deer from stomping on my newly planted seeds and seedlings, on their way to munch the flowers.

To solve the hornworm problem on my tomatoes, I finally got some BT and sprayed the plants at dusk. And none too soon. Tonight I saw signs that yet another plant was infested, but I couldn't find the worms. So I hope I got enough BT on the leaves. I guess I'll have to spray every couple of days to keep them away. Tomorrow is busy with things outside the home, so I'll barely just have time to water. I wish more of the tomatoes would get ripe. So far I've only been able to pick from three out of six varieties. The heirlooms are getting huge, but not red. And I believe they are supposed to get red.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Invaders in the Tomatoes

Yesterday I discovered to my horror that there must be an army of hornworms in my tomatoes. I managed to pick off and kill about four, but could see signs that there were many more. So I decided to offer the two neighbor children a job -- a quarter for each tomato hornworm they could pick off, put in a jar, and bring to me. I did caution them to be careful how they handled the plants. They brought me a total of 14 worms, and I did away with them after paying the children. But when I went out to water this morning and cut off the parts of the plants the worms had stripped, I discovered that children can also do damage in their zeal to increase their funds. The vines had slid down from where they had been staked, spread out so they they covered adjacent plants (borage, peppers), and some were broken off, so I lost another four green heirloom tomatoes that way. However, I'm imagining I'm still better off, since I have a pretty good idea how much those worms would have eaten by this morning had they not been caught. And I did find two more this morning. As soon as I have a car again I will have to get some BT. I dare not turn the kids loose again without supervision.

I also have a mystery plant I'd like to grow on the slope next year. It must be native, since it grew on its own in two different parts of the property that are pretty far from each other. It is extremely drought resistant and requires no care that I can see. And it would provide a nice contrast to the purple and yellow colors already on the slope. I've been checking both the books on weeds and the books on wildflowers, but I can't find it. Does anyone have a clue? It's about 18 inches high and forms seed pods. I took pictures today. I have put them here. I show the whole plant, with close-ups of the flowers and pods forming. (Since posting this the first time, I've discovered this is milkweed, and after watching it for a season I have decided it's not very pretty after it forms its seed pods.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's beginnng to be harvest time.

And it is the harvest that makes it all worth while in the end. The tomatoes are starting to get ripe. The cucumbers have been abundant. I've cut my lettuce off and it's starting to grow more leaves. I also cut some chard off at the ground after reading it will also grow back new tender leaves.

The broccoli I planted couple of weeks ago is just beginning to sprout in the ground where I planted it. But the lettuce I planted the same day still hasn't begun to come up and it's going to be very hot again tomorrow.

In the bed outside the kitchen window the gopher has finally finished pulling the huge borage completely under. I'm glad it's kept him so busy this past week he hasn't had time or inclination to attack something new. The other seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are coming up, but not the cosmos yet. Looks like I'll have a couple of zinnias, more borage, and more blanket flowers for the deer to enjoy. I was delighted to see that the yarrow I thought the gopher had destroyed is growing back. And the calendulas I replanted after her attack are beginning to get strong again, and the ones I had almost given up on are beginning to grow some green leaves.

In the bed by the pump house, the amaryllis have stretched out their pink necks toward the sun, as if they had simultaneously turned their heads to see someone. See top above. I like the contrast between the Dusty Miller and the petunias in the foreground. The picture is too small to really see the flat-leaf parsley, gazanias, and the thyme

The slope has not changed much, but the irises appear to be settling in and thriving. It will be time to collect some seed from the flax soon. The lavender side of the slope is what's in the picture above as of early in the month. The lavender is really about all that shows up in the bottom picture because I was trying to take in half the part of the slope I'm redeeming from the wild. The gazanias at the bottom don't really show much here, but they are there. My small tricolor sage just barely shows at the back. I ran out of pictures on the disk before I could I could get the other half of the hill. Maybe I'll have time to get that and the amaryllis by the pump house wall later in the week.

Right now I don't have to do much but water, sometimes feed (as I did today), and pick what's ripe. In another month it will be time to start transplanting , sow seeds for the winter garden, and divide the sage and lavender. But now it's time to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Gopher Continues to Strike

Since saving what was left of the Lamb's Ears, I've lost one borage plant, two nasturtiums, and one sorrel. I have one beautiful borage left which I expect to go any day now, and some blanket flowers, what's left of the marjoram and cat mint, my newly planted and now blooming camomille, and one other mint-like herb I can't identify at the moment.

Since I don't expect much to be left standing that I can see from the kitchen window, I planted a lot more borage seeds there today, some coreopsis, and some more blanket flowers. And I planted some old zinnia seeds that probably won't spout, but might as well put them in the ground as through them in the trash.

In a corner of the raised beds I planted some more lettuce. I also prepared some ground for planting a fall garden of greens, and transplated some chard into some empty pots. I should have more than enough chard for fall, since I also have two or three plants near the artichoke plants by the kitchen. Although they are all in the ground in that bed, so far the gophers have left them alone. The picture above shows one raised bed as it was a few days ago. That lettuce on the bottom appears to be in a corner, but it isn't. Those are newpapers around it which I'm using as mulch. I removed them today when I planted more lettuce. I also removed lots of purslane which you can see between the lettuce and the chive plant behind it. The bright orange spots on the left are nasturtium blossoms, which show up regularly in our salads. The lighter orange blossoms on the right are marigolds. The green in between is more purslane, which also acts as a mulch. We throw some of that in the salads, too. The yellow just outside the bed in front is wild mustard. I'm leaving it for the added color. The large green plants behind the flowers are tomatoes. Just out of sight in the front right corner is a very large dill plant. I'm following some book's advice about having a dill plant, a marigold and some basil near each tomato. But most of the basil is with the tomotoes in the other raised bed -- the one with the peppers, basil, one chard, and a nasturtium. No dill there.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Saving the Lamb's Ears

Yesterday I found out what was causing the Lamb's Ears plant to wilt so much. As I gently pulled, I saw that one part was loose, so it was the gopher helping herself again. This time I decided to fight while I could. I dug up the root divisions that were left and potted them, watered them good, and put them in the shade to revive. Today they were looking almost normal. Unfortunately, the gophers got their revenge by eating the roots of my two remaining nasturtiums. I must have caught them early, since they were still fresh. So I considered them a harvest, put them in the frig, and had part of the young leaves in our salad at noon. That way losing the plants wasn't a total waste. I stomped down on the ground to cave in the gopher hole to get my revenge, but I imagine something else will be gone tomorrow. I guess when I replant in the fall I'd better put the perennials in cages. Perhaps I'll plant daffodils, since they are supposed to be poisonous to gophers.

The cucumbers are doing very well. I seem to find another one ready every day. The zucchini is slower, but it's in containers instead of the ground -- to protect it from gophers. My container cucumber isn't near as healthy and is starting to yellow. I'm not sure if it's getting too much or too little water. It was also planted a couple of weeks after the others in the ground, so that could also explain why it's not producing more than blossoms yet. I hope the gophers leave my beautiful cucumbers in the ground alone.

I'm getting a few ripe tomatoes now, and I'm hoping the raccoons don't discover them before I get my share. They are planted where the gophers shouldn't be able to get at them. The days are cooler now -- in the high eighties, so garden work is more pleasant that it was last week when it was so hot. The plants are also enjoying the cooler temperatures.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hidden Treasure

I wrote the last blog in the wee small hours this morning. I'm writing this at the very end of the day, just before midnight. It was cooler today, and I got an earlier start. I only intended to water, but then I saw the cucumbers needed more attention. They are growing so fast I continually have to tie what ends I can to the stakes. Others go along the ground and I put papers under them to help keep them clean. If a cuke starts to grow on the paper or ground, I put a flat rock under it to keep it above the ground. You can see the cucumber plants in the foreground. That's a tomato in the red pot.

Since it was cool and I had a few extra minutes this morning, I decided to feed the fruting veggies a little more fish emulsion. And in the process, as I was pushing the cucumber leaves out of the way, I discovered that one of the plants had two fairly long cucumbers I'd missed in my daily searches. It's amazing that the leaves cover them so well that even when you're looking you can't always find them. It reminds me a bit of raising children. As parents we look anxiously to see if what we try to teach them is having any effect. We are always watching for signs of growth and they don't seem to be there. And then one day, all of a sudden, evidence of maturity you didn't expect seems to appear. You see that after all, your patient parenting is bearing the fruit you'd hoped it would.

Getting through the heat and beginning the harvest

July 31, 2006

I have spent more time wearing my bookseller hat and less time in my sunbonnet and gardening gloves since my last post. That means sometimes I've had to choose between gardening and blogging, and, of course, I chose gardening.

Since the last post I fed my plants that were beginning to look starved or starting to bloom, some fish emulsion. It didn't help the peppers much, but it seemed to help everything else. I picked my first tomatoes today. I've been picking a cucumber about every three days for the past ten days. I've harvested a couple of zucchini and a few small bell peppers. The tomato vines are loaded and it looks they will be getting more and more ripe ones every day. Cucumbers are loaded with blossoms and little cukes. So over all, the
veggies are doing well.

Wish I could say the same for my small herb bed beyond my kitchen window . (Pictured above.) The gophers think it's for them. I've lost two calendulas, my marjorem, and both yarrow plants. Something is eating the sorrel above ground and its almost gone. (Discovered next day it was gophers, and now it's gone, too.) And today my prized lambs ear plant looked wilted and almost dead. (See gray blob hanging over rocks a bit at front of picture.) And just two days ago I had been admiring it and thinking of how well it was doing and how I would be dividing it into more plants in the fall. I gave it a lot of water this morning and hope it revives. The picture was taken the morning after I wrote this, and it has revived a little . I'd think the gopher had gone after it, but it wasn't loose. I'd think it was our triple digit heat that we've had almost every day for two weeks, but it was a bit cooler today and yesterday. And I can't believe that one day without watering would wilt it that much. Time will tell. Maybe the gopher just nibbled a bit of it so far. (Compare the picture above to the same bed on May 20, bottom picture on May 20th blog, below. )

I finished planting the irises I was given last week since it was a bit cooler today. I spread them in every one of my beds to see where they will do the best. And that way if a gohper should go on a rampage, it won't get all of them. Though I understand that they are poison, so I wouldn't mind if a gopher did eat them.

It's time to start broccoli, and I have some seeds. It's time to think about what else I want to plant for the fall garden. It's just so hot this summer that I'm not sure I could keep the seeds moist enough outside. So much to do. So little time.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

More planting before the predicted rain.

I’ve been too busy gardening to have much blogging time this past two days. I bought a lot of herbs and flowers to transplant yesterday and then bought some marigold to transplant today. I hope I have things enough under control next spring to grow from seed instead. But I wanted to see some instant color this year.

I have the bed by the pump house completely planted now. It contains three kinds of thyme, garlic chives, borage seeds, an Easter lily, the alyssum my neighbor gave me for Mother’s Day, some coleus I bought yesterday, a lemon scented geranium, two marguerites, gazanias transplanted from Mom’s, amaryllis in back against the wall, German chamomile and also the ground cover variety, and two kinds of parsley. There may be a thing or two I’ve forgotten. I did find my camera, but haven’t had time to upload the pictures to the computer yet. Business before pleasure!

In the bed I see from my kitchen window I have two kinds of yarrow, some marigolds, some coreopsis, some cat mint, some French sorrel and some seeds for Blanket Flower, borage, and a border plant I can’t remember right now. (See bottom picture, above.) When planting, one can only imagine what the finished picture will be and one has to keep that picture in mind when the bed is nothing but transplants and seeds. As Paul said, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. One has to have a certain amount of faith when planting a garden or one wouldn’t bother. I may or may not actually see what I now envision. I may have simply planted a feast for the gophers. One can’t make gopher cages for everything.

I also completed half the bed beside the driveway today. This is the bed where I divided the artichoke a few weeks ago. One is in the pot to protect it from the gophers. The others have to fend for themselves in the ground. I pulled a few weeds, planted one hill of light green zucchini in a cage and one hill of golden zucchini without one. I put in a marigold for good measure and planted a couple of borage seeds. I still have a tall red chard going to seed there. It looks nice in contrast, and I am looking forward to some chard there in the fall. I still have the part of the bed nearest the house to finish weeding and clearing things from. My husband got halfway through making the last raised bed there, and the frame is on its side against the shed behind the bed with the wire along side. It looks terrible, since it’s also very weedy, but first the plants had to go into the ground before the rain expected tomorrow. I like to transplant, and plant seeds, before rain is expected.

Last project today was to finish planting what I could in the fenced garden before the rain comes. I managed to plant a few green ice lettuce seeds, a few more French Breakfast radishes, some borage, and a few sunflowers (all seeds). My first pot of zucchini came up a couple of days ago, two cucumber hills are up, one of the old basil seeds (out of about twelve I planted) came up, and the tomatoes are making progress. I’m still worried about the bell peppers and basil transplants. Their leaves are yellow at the edges and they look unhappy. Can’t tell if they have too much food and water or not enough. I’m sure they have enough water. And the nutrients I put in the soil before planting were not chemicals. (See raised bed in top picture, above. Peppers are in foreground, with radishes around them. Tomatoes are in background with a couple of tiny basil in back, between them.) Yesterday I transplanted a borage (a volunteer which came up in a pot with a tomato). I felt the pot could not support them both, and if one had to die, I chose the borage. But I hope it will decide to be happy even though relocated. I added a marigold to each raised bed where I’ve planted tomatoes because they are supposed to be friends.

I would like to have done more, but I ran out of time today. Seems it goes so quickly in the garden. If the predicted rain actually comes, I may not get back to gardening until Tuesday. That will be good for the bookseller part of me that needs more time to get ready to exhibit at a home school convention in Fresno on June 9-10. When I get back from that, maybe I’ll finally get some pictures attached to these blogs.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Too Weary to Fight

Today I feel old. I definitely did not feel like getting up early to weed. I didn’t make it out to water until about 9:30. By 10:30 I was in, ready to eat breakfast and start my workday. After I got back from the post office I knew I should get back to the weeds, but instead chose to check in a book shipment. So it was about 7 PM before I finally got back in my gardening clothes. I had no energy, no enthusiasm, and absolutely no desire to pull weeds. But I realized if I didn’t they would win. I told myself I would just do a little bit, and if I got too tired I would go in.

But – as usually happens -- once I start I somehow get motivated to keep on. I told myself I would just go one foot more in a certain direction to free one more weed-covered container I need. And then I said I’d just free the boysenberry plant that was covered. And I did that. (What a mess of tangled trellis and bird netting that was!) And then I went just a bit farther to free the lemon balm, which was valiantly holding out, just waiting for more light to flourish. By then it was dusk and time to go in, and I had put in another hour.

Sometimes I am spiritually exhausted, too, and have no desire to fight the enemy of my soul. It’s easier to neglect my Bible when I’m tired, or my prayer life. I can feel too tired to help my neighbor or go to church. But I find when I push myself, even when I don’t feel like it, I can keep on, and as I push ahead in the right direction I am given the energy I need. And now, to bed. It does help to also get enough sleep to prepare for the day ahead.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Preparing to defeat the garden's enemies

My battle with the weeds has been taking its toll on me. For some reason the intensive work I did Thursday left me almost crippled by arthritis or sore muscles. I'm not sure which, but the pain in my knees and hips and thighs was so bad I got almost no sleep Thursday night, and I was forced to take a rest from the garden on Friday. Yesterday I went back to the battle.

It was neglect that left the garden in this shape. It was really defenseless against the weed invasion. As I pull the weeds out this year, I am also preparing for the next invasion. I have discovered that the garden is a great place to recycle newpapers and cardboard. I now put a layer of newspaper on each newly cleared bit of ground that is unplanted. As I pull the weeds, they get stacked on top of the papers, thorns and all. (See papers around pot with tomoato and borage, with weeds on top.) This provides a bit of mulch and blocks the light as new weeds try to grow. I don't know if this will work, but I'm rather hoping that the same thorns that cause me pain while I'm pulling them will discouage little raccoon bodies that have to walk across these dead thorns without shoes to get to the tomatoes they robbed me of last time I had a crop. I have only six tomato plants this year, and I'd like to eat a few myself.

I've taken a chance planting the cucumbers and radishes in the ground instead of in pots or rasied beds. I'm going to plant more than I need in various areas of the garden to provide enough for both the gophers and me. I'll probably also put a couple in pots to insure that we also have some. If I have a suplus, I can give some away. I also planted my first summer squash in a pot, but I plan to also have some in bare ground. It's so late now I'll probably have to wait until fall to plant carrots.

I'm hoping the preparations I'm making this year to prevent weeds from taking over again next year will leave more time for actual planting next spring. All I should need to do is push back the mulch and plant. I'm sure a few weeds will manage to poke through, but not near the amount that I had to contend with this year. I am leaving a few thorns around the rim of the garden and will allow a few to reseed. (I'm cutting the tops of most so they can't.) I have noticed that these thorns are full of ladybugs I want to encourage. If I remove all the host plants, these ladybugs might leave before the tomatos need them. So I think it won't hurt to leave a few. I'd love to hear from anyone who has advice on this matter.

I realize that I will not be able to do everything that needs doing this year. It would be nice if I could pull all the weeds before summer kicks in, but I don't think I can take back much new territory this year. The goal is to clear enough to plant what I can keep up this summer and keep it free of weeds; to mulch what I have cleared with newspaper, cardboard and weeds; to plant something I want to cover the ground before the rainy season starts; and to see that seed heads are cut down before they finish forming seeds on the thorns. If I can accomplish these things, it should make planting next year's garden much easier.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Back to the Battle

Not much to tell today. Woke up earlier than usual and decided to get out to the garden early before it got hot. Began by transplanting yesterday's nursery purchases -- a carnation, some lemon thyme, a tri-color sage, and some chamomile. Then I watered everything in and began my battle with the weeds anew. I wanted to clear a portion of ground next to the fence in order to plant some cucumbers, which I did. Then I put some French Breakfast radishes on either side. I watered the newly planted seeds and then grabbed the hedge trimmers to go after the budding tops of the thorns. I knew I'd never be able to pull them all before they reseeded. But I did keep most of them from being able to propagate for a while.

All that work made me tired, so I think I'll just go to bed without getting philosophical tonight.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Battling the Weeds

I have spent a few hours today pulling the thorns in the garden. Most of them were about 18 inches high, with many taller, and many shorter. All were sharp. I forgot to wear long sleeves and was surprised to look at my arms to see blood dripping where I had come in contact with the tiny thorns. I've been trying to step up my weeding since already the thorns are forming buds and even flowers, and I'm afraid they will go to seed before I can get them all. I can at least see my flower pots again.

Believe it or not, though, the thorns are easier to pull than my mystery weed, which is really a shrub.(See picture.) It's wandered through the garden from across the fence where there is a whole hedge of these plants, most of which are taller than I am. I'm not sure whether they reproduce from roots or seed, but I suspect roots. Near the house they are starting to grow in a row. I'm assuming this is some sort of native plant, or maybe it's a foreign invader. It has small leaves and woody branches and very deep roots. I have tried to pull a couple of these bushes out and I can't even pry them out with the fork shovel. I'll have to try a pick. After that I'm not sure what to try. One of these bushes has grown about a yard tall next to my small grape vine, and I need to give the grapes some breathing room. It's amazing what almost two years of total neglect can do to a garden. The same thing happens when we fail to guard our hearts from intruding thoughts that threaten to cover up or crowd out the thoughts that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and worthy of praise in our minds. We have to rip the invaderss out while they are still small or they are almost impossible to remove.

One way to guard against them is to plant something more worthy that will occupy the space. Today I finally planted some basil seedlings, more parsley, and the rest of my petunias. I'm hoping they will grow enough to cover what is left of the bed by the pump house, if I just keep the tiny weed seedlings from growing. I planted. I watered, and I will be patient while God gives the growth.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Sage Survival

Haven't been to the garden since Saturday except to water. John came to spray on Monday and I had a lot of work to do. One Tuesday we spent the day out of town. But this afternoon I finally planted the rosemary on the slope with the other herbs and the thyme in the bed by the pump house where the soil is a bit richer. (See picture.) The weather was just right for transplanting -- overcast and not too hot.

It was also just right for pulling some more thorns. So after watering, I decided to see if there was anything left of what was a hearty sage plant two years ago. I began to carefully start pulling out the thorns that were overunning everything in the corner by the gate where that sage plant used to thrive. After I had weeded about two feet from the gate I began to smell sage, so I knew something still had to be there. And, finally, I saw a mass of entangled brown woody stems with a few green sage leaves attached. It actually looked more like a bunch of roots above the ground. But it was there. It reminded me a bit of a strong Christian who has had trouble after trouble come into his life until he is almost overwhelmed by all the trials and can no longer see the light and has to put all his energy into just surviving. His roots have gone deep, and the rain of the Spirit has still reached him, and in spite of all the obstacles in the way of his receiving fellowship and nourishment, he is still hanging on, waiting for God to remove the obstacles to his thriving so he can once again bloom and spread leaves in all directions. Now that the weeds around and over the sage are gone and the light can penetrate again, I fully expect to see more leaves, and even flowers. I'll prune some of the tangled stems, and soon, I hope, this sage, the mother of the beauties on the slope, will once again be full, green, and lush, as it used to be.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

About Those Weeds!

I didn't have a lot of time for gardening today, but I did want to secure the border around what I hope will be my wildflower bed in front of my kitchen window. And I wanted to pull the thorns that stab me while I'm walking out to the vegetable garden. My neighbor wanted to borrow the weed whacker, and I asked if while she had it out she could clear a path to the garden gate for me. (She lives on our property.) She did it, and what a difference it made in my morale. It left me free to pull the thorns crowding the fence and the gate on both sides. And I was reminded again about how deeply rooted those weeds are. Some of the mustard and thorns have as much below the ground as above. They are really tough to pull out unless the ground is just right. It has to be soft enough to get the fork shovel in deep enough to pry the ground with the embedded weeds up, and then loose enough so I can bang the roots against the fence to get the clinging soil back in the ground.

If we want to get deeply embedded sin, the weeds in our hearts, out, our hearts also need to be just right. It's an effort to free even a Spirit-softened heart of embedded sins and habits. It's almost impossible to get them out of a hard heart that has not left itself open to the soft rain of God's convicting Spirit. One can try to pull them and pry them, but the tops just break off, leaving at least part of the root to spring back to life when temptations come. Weeds are easiest to pull when the ground is soft and loose and the weeds are still very small. The longer we allow them to grow, the larger they get and the deeper the root. It took little effort today to pull the tiny weeds trying to poke their heads out from mulch-covered ground. If we mulch our hearts with God's word, let the gentle rain of his Spirit fall on it, and begin ridding our hearts of sin before it can take deep root, we are more likely to cultivate pure hearts and see God more clearly.

Securing My Borders

All I was going to do today was plant one Easter lily, and water. I planted the lily quite easily in a few minutes and pulled all new weeds I could find in that bed by the pumphouse wall. And then I thought I'd better mark the borders of the spot of land on the slope where I'm planting a wildflower / herb garden. And, of course, I wanted to pull any new weeds appearing in that bit of ground. Marking the borders is important because my weed abatement man, John, will probably spray again after the rain stops for a few days. You wouldn't believe how high the old crop of thorns is growing, and now the rains have started another bunch of seedlings. John thinks that herbs and wildflowers are weeds. So I decided to put a rock border around anything out in the open he might be tempted to spray, since anything green is fair game to him.

Among today's discoveries were one sprouted borage seed I'd about given up on, some unfriendly looking worms I threw a long distance from what I was planting, and a few insects in pupa form whose identities I don't know, but I flung them away as well. I decided to let a few weeds be flowers, since their small purple blooms are attractive, the leaves are frilly, and the plants keep the soil from eroding while they crowd out other weeds. The help cover the ground while I'm waiting for seeds to sprout and grow up.

I started my work in the garden about 3PM, intending to stay long enough for my half-hour's exercise. But one thing led to another. My neighbor came out and wanted to talk, and she couldn't follow me around because she was only wearing socks. One weed pulled seemed to reveal more to pull. And I couldn't stop. I also decided to expand the border I had orginally planned to mark. Then, of course, I had to collect the rocks, which are quite plentiful, and use them to mark the bed's border. Between all the digging, weeding and rock hunting I got a bit tired. But while I was hunting rocks I came across a hearty-looking poppy plant way outside the boundaries among the thorns and mustard plants. It looked lonely and it seemed a shame to leave it there for John to spray, so I dug it up and planted it within the boundaries I had marked. What surprised me was the root. I've never much noticed poppy roots before, but this one was entirely smooth -- no little hair-like roots were shooting out of it as they do from a carrot. It was more like a golf tee. I'm hoping the poppy will live, but maybe they only can stay where originally planted. I thought I'd try because I saw poppies at the nursery in six-packs and deduced they must be transplantable. I'll find out soon. The weather was perfect for transplanting -- overcast and rather cold. I finally finished my work, watered everything in, and put away the tools. When I went in I couldn't believe it was already after six.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

What is a Weed?

What is a Weed?
Dandelion in Bloom and Reseeding, © B. Radisavljevic
Today as I was examining a flower bed at the Paso Roble house, I saw a crop of seedlings I didn’t recognize. I asked myself, as I’m sure many gardeners before me have asked, “Are these weeds or flowers?” I was without my library of gardening books that I keep at home, so there was no way to look it up. But I’ve often wondered exactly what a weed is anyway. The dictionary defines a weed as wild growth, or any plant growing in cultivated ground to the detriment of the crop or to the disfigurement of the place or an economically useless or unsightly plant. Another way to put this is that a weed is something growing where it doesn’t belong. So is the dandelion above a flower or a weed?

It’s easy to concede that thorns growing among radishes are weeds. But what if they are not growing in a garden? Since currently I have more thorns growing on my property than just about anything else, I’m beginning to feel almost like an expert on them. I have several varieties. And to be honest, one variety, the milk thistle,  is quite showy. It has gorgeous leaves. And as long I don’t need the space to grow something else, I let some of them be just for the pleasure of looking at them. The milk thistle below is growing close to an elderberry tree. 

What is a Weed?
Milk Thistle  in Bloom Beside Elderberry Tree, © B. Radisavljevic

Whether or not something is a weed depends solely upon the gardener. Take purslane (illustrated below), for example. Some people would immediately pull it as a weed. It’s not very pretty. It has succulent leaves and red stems and tiny yellow flowers. And it can take over.They say the seeds can last for years, and God plans it so they are on a time-release sprouting program. Only some sprout every year in the summer and the rest wait for a year or more. But, as you can see, I’m cultivating it. Why? Because it is quite tasty and nutritious in salads. I understand it’s also good cooked, but I haven’t tried that yet. As far as I’m concerned, purslane is a crop worth growing, even if it’s supposed to be a weed.

What is a Weed?

As I ponder the beauty of some weeds, and the edibility of others, I also think of people I meet. There are many people whom, at first glance, you believe aren’t worth cultivating. My husband began to cultivate one of these when a young man came to do some work on our property. His lifestyle was pretty loose. His appearance reminded me of the notorious Charles Manson. He seemed to be wandering aimlessly through life. 

We soon found out that though he had little education beyond high school, he was very talented with anything mechanical. He was intelligent and quite creative. And he was spiritually hungry. After several years of cultivation, he had joined the family of God, started a business, and had become like family to us. But if I’d allowed my first impressions to determine the direction the relationship would take, I would have missed the opportunity to have a close friend and help someone find the spiritual anchor he was looking for.

Since this encounter, I have learned that treating a person as a weed interferes with God’s work in that person’s life. In God’s garden, what others consider weeds may have an important part to play in his plan. It is God who determines the identity of weeds. He lets the weeds grow among the wheat until the harvest, when he separates them. Then the weeds are gathered and flung into the fire, but the wheat is gathered into the barn.

God has put each of us where he wants us to grow. As we look around us, we may be tempted to label someone else as a weed, of no real use, and maybe even detrimental to the development of others. But we need to ask ourselves if we might be called to cultivate what God may intend, with our help, to be a productive plant, adding beauty or nourishment for others. If we are not willing to do this, perhaps we will find someday we are the weeds.

God watered today.

Yesterday I was going to take some pictures of the garden as it is this year so far, but couldn't find my camera. So until it's found, I'll have to use word pictures.

I didn't make it to the garden today. God chose to do the watering. He announced it loudly first with a crash of thunder. And then the rain began to fall and I knew I would be able to stay in and work on the computer. I miss being outside, and watering gives me a chance to inspect for new growth. But God does a better job of watering than I can, so I'm always glad when he does it. Tomorrow (or, I should say, later today, since it's already early morning) the weather is supposed to get warmer, and that should make the tomatos and peppers happier. Today was cold, as well as wet. Perhaps this weekend I'll even get a chance to plant my potted Easter lilies and petunias. The petunias will be planted in Mom's yard, since she doesn't have gophers. She does have snails, but they don't destroy the whole plant like the gophers do. Oh, how those gophers love petunias!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Back to the Garden after a Long Absence

Bereavement and Exhaustion Kept Me out of the Garden

I recently returned to my neglected garden after a long period of bereavement and caregiving.  First a close friend died in spring 2003. Then my mother-in-law in spring, 2004. And last year, just before spring and before her rose garden could bloom for her, my mother died in March, 2005. Both mothers died of cancer, at home, and my garden was almost completely neglected from April, 2004 until a few weeks ago. I had no time to weed or fight the gophers, and I had no spirit left to keep the raccoons from snatching the few tomatoes that survived. By fall Mom was very sick and she was all that counted.

Back to the Garden after a Long Absence
My Neglected Garden

The garden was not cleaned up after harvest in 2004. It rained a lot over the winter, and our weed abatement man didn't spray the orchard or the garden, since I'd in the past asked him not to. I wanted to stay organic. I wanted the exercise of pulling the weeds and the satisfaction of using the young plants to nourish the earth they came from. But with Mom sick, there was no time to weed, and the thorns took over. By the time we finished burying Mom, the garden was out of control and I had no spirit to conquer the overgrown land. I had to take care of Mom's estate. I had a neglected business to catch up on. And the rush for my business starts about May and ends about November. And in the winter the rains started.

What I Found in my Neglected Garden

After the holidays, in January, I began to think garden thoughts. I found a day it wasn't raining and tried to walk out to the area where we have a deer fence and raised beds. But the path was overgrown with weeds and the gate had been ripped off its hinges by the wind. The weeds were so bad I couldn't even get in the gate. I was very discouraged. It seemed impossible to ever take the garden back. My husband got the gate fixed, but it kept raining and the weeds grew even higher. And for a couple of weeks I wasn't feeling very well.

And then spring finally came. Although the showers continued almost daily, there came a couple of days of sun in late March and I found the weeding hoe and cut a path to the garden and as far as the raised beds. Although they, too, were overgrown with tall thorns, I was able to pull them out and plant a few radishes and two pepper plants. I found that the chives had not died after all, and there were some clumps of young onions I could transplant. For three days without rain I planted seeds, discovered the oreganoI thought was dead in a pot covered with weeds, was still alive, wanting to breathe. I divided it and planted some of it in other beds nearer the kitchen. I discovered the dead artichoke in the red pot on the hill was not only alive after all the rain, but ready to be divided. I pulled all the weeds from a bed near the house and put all the artichokes there. (See top, above. Tall plant in background is what's left of a very hardy chard planted two years ago.)

I also took back a flower bed -- my only one -- from the weeds which had choked out the gazanias. Under those weeds were still gazanias, and they, too wanted to be divided. Bulbs were coming up, planted long ago. I planted some lettuce and carnation seeds, just to see what would happen. And then I advanced to the slope, very rocky, where almost nothing will grow but poppies, lupine, sage, dill and lavendar.

I'm fortunate that the lavender and sage are still there. I discovered the weed abatemant man spraying them one morning even though I've told him every year that space is not to be sprayed. He looked at me sheepishly and rinsed off the sage. I caught him in time to prevent his getting to the lavender. (I did not catch him before he sprayed the lemon balm and mint under the apple tree, but after a few weeks it is coming back. )I waited anxiously. The rinse job worked. If ever you want to grow something that will hang on, try sage. It has survived drought, neglect, gophers, deer, a weed whacker, and even Round-up (after being rinsed.) As I was pulling the weeds behind the sage, I could smell dill, so I knew it had managed to reseed from last season, but the plants were so tiny I had to be very careful not to uproot them, grabbing the tall grasses and the small thorns one by one, so as not to pull the dill babies, which were only about an inch high.

I have not yet conquered the wild weeds which still occupy most of the garden, but I have started. ( The bottom picture, above, is of the thorns almost completely covering what used to be a raised bed made from an old wading pool. ) The radishes and peas are coming up. The tomatoes and peppers and onions are in the ground and lettuce, borage, and basil seeds have been planted. I plant, I water, I weed, and I wait for God to give the growth. As I work in my garden, I meditate on what I see happening. I think about how fast the thorns grow without any effort on my part, choking out what is good. I think about how hard it is to pull out a thorn with a root six inches long. In hard ground it can't be done. But just after the rain, when the ground is still moist, most thorns will, with gentle help from a tool, pull out completely, without leaving a bit of root to grow up again. It's even harder to pull the thorns from our hearts. Thorns of selfishness, bitterness, greed, and lust can grow tall enough to choke out the thoughts inspired by the Spirit of God. It is hard to pull them out. Our hearts have to be made moist by repentance and forgiveness and a desire to have God grab the thorns by the roots and pull them out. And we need to constantly cultivate our hearts to get rid of any young weeds before they can take over.

I have discovered in my years of gardening that bare ground doesn't stay that way. If I don't plant something I want, God may plant something I don't want. As long as they aren't in my heart, I believe God loves weeds and has a purpose for them. But for now, some of them must go to make room for things I want more. And I'm hoping to plant flowers and herbs that will compete with weeds in reseeding or will just grow larger to leave less space for weeds . I have begun, and that has been the hardest step. One step leads to the next and then it doesn't seem so hard anymore. I've taken back the raised beds and a few flower pots, I've cleared a bit of slope and two beds near the house, and I've planted a small patch of wildflowers I hope will grow in view of my kitchen window. Each day without rain I will take another step in cultivating my garden. And I'm trusting God to make it grow.

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