February 17, 2014

Winter Garden Delight...

Flowering Kale-- Winter Garden Delight

After moving back to Florida from North Carolina over a year ago, I am still accustoming myself to the difference in the seasons and the gardening rhythm. In NC,  I did not start my seedlings until late February or early March. Here, I barely got down the Christmas decorations before it was time to plant the seeds. Outdoors, there are also a great many adjustments to make. Last winter here was mellow and mostly warm. It was predictably dry, winter being the arid season in this part of the country. However, this winter, while marked by only sporadic freezing and the occasional frost, has been for the most part cool, damp and drearily overcast. Water in the pond is at its highest mark since we have lived here, and the yard, brown and withered last year, is mostly green.

Many other plants in the yard and flower beds remain green and flourishing also. Lots of others don't fare so well at this time of the year. Flowering Kale has become a fast favorite for winter gardening since I have moved back to Florida. I had one in a pot last year by the back door. This year they are tucked into spots all around the back door, breezeway and garage. I had grown them before, but never with such success. Another success story here last year was with the patch of snapdragons I planted next to the birdbath.

Spring snapdragons
 Snapdragons are another plant that I have grown before, but never with as much success. I planted those in late fall of 2012 and they bloomed and flourished through most of last summer. I finally pulled them out in mid fall of last year, so I could plant some new ones. Gardening so often has to do with not only finding plants that thrive in your particular micro-climate, but also the right place to plant them. It is more an art than a craft—more of a natural magic than a science. Though I have lived and gardened in Florida before, much more of my horticultural experience lies in scattered garden beds across Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina.  Every new gardening venue is an experiment, and I believe, an alchemical interaction between gardener and the land.

I have always been partial to nasturtiums, and they thrived the summer through in NC. Those I planted last spring never did much though,  and soon shriveled in the scorching summer heat. Having some left over seeds in late summer, I tossed them in a window box style planter. Six months later, they are thriving, sending tendrils of green across an otherwise brown patch in front of the patio. I need to add that I have carried them into the garage when freezing temperatures threatened. Several volunteer nasturtiums graced other garden beds. Some succumbed completely to the freezing weather, and others are trying to come back from the roots. Only time and the weather will tell if they will be successful.

Flats of spring seedlings started indoors

On the indoor front, I have been  very much enjoying observing  the progress of the tiny plants I started about a month ago now. My table garden in front of the south facing dining room window includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and artichoke seedlings as well the herbs, chives and basil. I do not purport to be an expert on gardening, and particularly gardening in Florida, but I have started my own spring seedlings for many years now.

 There are several reason for this:
  • I am Cheap
  • Seeds, though much more expensive than in the past, are economical and most can be saved from one year to the next.
  • There is a much wider availability of varieties and colors. You can tailor your garden to your own tastes and even to your own region.
  • You can experiment with plants not likely to ever grace the shelves of your local garden store.
  • It is just as easy to grow enough to share. Plant starts make good spring gifts, and it is fun to be able to exchange varieties with other gardeners.

Seedling Tray-- Tomatoes, peppers and basil
Of course, there are problems and drawbacks with beginning your own plants as well. I have grown quite tired these past few years of buying the trays offered at the big-box stores for starting seeds. You know the ones—the tray with plastic greenhouse cover and inserts for planting. They get more expensive every year, and seem to last a correspondingly shorter time. Frequently, by the time you go to use them a second year, they are cracked or leak. The inserts are flimsy and do not stand up to the washing they need for repeated use. The covers, only necessary for a few days anyway, warp or yellow in no time. Since I save the trays from buying plants at the nursery, some to reuse and others till I get around to returning them, I usually have an ample supply on hand. However, the drainage at the bottom presents problems for the time the plants spend in the house. This year, I decided to try lining these with plastic sheeting I had on hand for other gardening purposes. I cut it to generously fit into the flats and then nested the peat pots on top. So far, so good. When I am through with them, I think that I can wash and fold the plastic linings for at least one more year.

I use the peat pots almost exclusively now. The price of these is still not as prohibitive as that of plastic pots, and I can purchase them in the bulk packs rather than as part of a planting system pretty reasonably. Having had various problems in the past with damping off, fungus and even last year's cutworm fiasco, I am acutely aware of the importance of cleanliness with these tiny plants. Using the peat pots, which can be planted in the ground or tossed in the compost bin, eliminates the need for washing those tiny plastic inserts that refuse to stand up to much abuse anyway. I have an ample supply of larger pots I have saved when it comes time to re-pot some of these into more roomy quarters. The peat pots, along with sterile seed starter mix (I use organic) give them a good start. Before the seeds emerged, I just covered the whole table with a sheet of clear plastic to hold in the warmth and humidity. Once they began to come up, I continued to only cover them at night until most of the seeds had germinated. I bottom water, and have tried a couple of things I read on other blogs after finding the links on Pinterest. Last year, after some early damping off and frenzied searching for answers, I began throwing a chamomile tea bag into my water pitcher for the plants. I know there are recipes and such out there, but I just toss the bag in and change it out every several days. This year, I also started adding a capful of peroxide to each pitcher, and to the spray bottle I keep for spot watering. So far, so good. I will continue to update on the progress of my tiny charges.

I have already thinned them once. It is a chore I dread. I absolutely hate the idea of discarding these living plants, but it needs to be done. I try not to overseed a single cell, but I want enough to make sure each one has a plant, and some seeds are just so tiny you can not help but end up with a clump. I have been waiting for them to begin having true leaves for this thinning. The emergence of these miniature replicas of the plant's leaf also signals me that it is time to begin mixing a weak solution of liquid fertilizer to feed them every week or so. I will also start setting them out for a short time on warm, sunny days very soon.

Hanging Pot
 Life in the cycle of the garden, just as in the cycle of our own lives, never ceases. There are always jobs to be done, preparations to make for the next season. Sometimes things are quieter or seemingly dormant, but as winter passes we can not help but dream, and perhaps yearn for the warm sunlight and green promise of spring.

Until next time— blessings, and sweet Dreams of greener days to come.

February 5, 2014

A Midwinter's Night Dream

The Path-- Seeking a New Direction





Life after the busy holiday season is no less hectic, but lots less jolly and markedly devoid of sparkle. I really have a hard time adjusting to the House sans Christmas Decor. I put off taking most of it down till after the New Year, but by then the living room (real) tree was shedding needles at an alarming rate, and I was feeling the need to get my much larger than last year holiday stash of decorations separated and organized for next year before stowing them in the attic. While most of the House is now bare of its holiday finery, bits and pieces still reside in my messy workroom; things I either purposely neglected to put away or found days later in odd nooks and corners, and a few I have already picked up from Goodwill and thrift shops since Christmas. What can I say? People tend to clean out after the season, and often donate at the same time.

I have a vague notion floating around in my cobwebby consciousness that I would ultimately like to start a business making and selling Christmas stockings and other decorations. Then I could justify surrounding myself with glitter, tinsel and other accoutrements of Yule all year round. Christmas and the holidays ignites a spark in my Heart that nothing else quite does. I love the visual experience of the decorations and trappings, but always uppermost in my awareness is a powerful sense of the Spirit that underlies the festivities, observances and celebrations of the Season.  I suppose that my dreams of having a business centered around my favorite time of year grows at least partially from a yearning to have those magical feelings as my own pnuema, as the defining mood of my life.

My problem is, and has been, finding the focus, energy and Time to get an enterprise of this sort going. I actually started this blog post sometime around mid-January, but I have been so busy and distracted by other things that I have neglected to finish it. One of the things I have been hoping to accomplish in this New (not as new as it was now that it is 1/12th gone) Year is being better able to prioritize in a busy and usually over-booked life. I doubt that I am alone in this desire.

Two Faces- Wondering which way to go...
A great deal of my time and energy is spent in conflict— the indecision and vacillation that come from the inability to resolve the seemingly endless alternatives presented to me daily. There are the obvious classifications, the categorization of the mental to-do list into necessities, wants, wishes, needs and just idle dreams or speculative longings. I am pulled in too many directions and seem to have lost the ability these past few years to either choose  or go with the flow. I know that ultimately Spirit has providence over my life's direction, but in the meantime I second-guess, hedge and generally chafe under the shadow of the stalemate I perceive as my present fate.

For all that I am still protesting my lot in life — not because I am miserable or feeling sorry for myself, but because I need a purpose, I require more than just drifting from day to day in a flurry of essentially pointless chores and tasks—I am not unhappy. Confused and uneasy perhaps, but essentially optimistic for the first time in a while. Have I made any progress toward any of the vaguely defined Resolutions with which I embarked on the adventure of this Year? Well, thus far I have at least achieved a rather better attitude than I have been able to in some time. Otherwise, I seem to be at an impasse physically. I have come to realize that the very idea of dieting makes me hungry. However, I seriously curtailed my baking this past month, and therefore the availability of foods to satisfy my evening-time sweet tooth. I have limited my intake of bread, potatoes and lots of other foods. I should be healthier. I have been eating lots of salads, vegetables and fruits. However, I have not really lost any weight. In fact, historically speaking, I have never been good at forcing things like diet. It has just not really been a problem for me for quite a few years. At some point in my dim past, when I was in my late twenties and despairing of ever being anything but pleasantly plump, after years of trying unsuccessfully to lose weight, I just gave up. Lo and behold, over the course of the next year or two, I ate what I wanted and did not worry, and I became slenderer than I had been since high school. I can not say if it is just me, or really the nature of reality, that flowing with life rather than fighting it, accepting yourself and just allowing yourself to Be is the true secret to success. For me, at least, I think that this is true. Unfortunately, accepting myself has not been my strong suit of late.

Instagramming the I of God.
Instagramming the I of God.
I am working on it. Not for the first time either. Once more I am feeling echoes from years past when I first embarked on this Path of discovery, both of Self and the Greater Reality. There came a point all those years ago when it was pointed out to me that I did not Love myself, or even like myself very much. It is very hard to Love God, or to Love others, when you do not extend that same blessing to yourself. It was a Revelation that changed my life. But time has passed, and like so many other things, I forgot. I expect I was supposed  to figure this out for myself this time. Oh, I was vaguely aware that this was the case, but just in an offhand way. A couple of weeks ago, I literally Realized that I did not like the person who looks back at me when I look into a mirror. I am getting older—I have not been able to see past the wrinkles, blotchy skin and flab to the woman I (know I) really am. Beyond physical appearance, my vanity and sense of vitality, I have not had much respect for myself either. I have judged myself, just as I sometimes in the last few years found myself judging others when it was not my place, and I judged myself the most harshly of all. You just can not please some people! Instead of focusing on my weight or lack of exercise, I have decided to prioritize, and my emphasis for 2014 is accepting me as I am right now. If there is any Resolution that I keep this year, I want it to be learning to Love myself again. Then maybe I will be able to give to others the Love they deserve also.

So yes, I am feeling a bit more optimistic these days. I have a long way to go. I still have no time, and spend a good bit of it vacillating, but I am headed in a direction I like. I know that I need to work on a lot of things. By work, what I really mean is remembering what is important and true, and letting myself trust in my own innate ability to find harmony in life.

Seedling flats for spring 2014
The weather has been wretched for the most part of late, though we here in Florida have much less to complain about than most of the country. I don't care for damp or chill though, and I have not spent much time outdoors. I am looking forward to spring though, and feel the need to get out and start doing some preparatory work for the garden and flower beds.   I have an assortment of tiny plants coming up in the sunny south-facing dining room window. There are tomato, pepper, eggplant, basil and some assorted others, along with pots of rosemary that started rooting in the antique glass bottles in the kitchen window. This year's  poinsettia, along with a little Christmas cactus I picked up a few weeks ago are snug in the house until reliably warm weather inclines me to find them outdoor homes. Lots of my other more tender plants are still inside the garden house. It gets tiresome moving them in and out with the whims of our crazy weather lately. Luckily, the little garden house gets enough light that I can just leave the plants for now.

Sand Hill Crane
Sand Hill Crane
I need to start getting some work done in and around the garden house soon though. Last year I was plagued by some unwanted visitors while I worked out there. As they while away the winter in Florida, a small group of Sand Hill Cranes takes up residence in the fields and pastures around here. They are magnificent and impressive birds. During their first visits, I was entranced, taking photos and marveling at their long legged dance and  intimidating call. My admiration for them quickly deteriorated though. I fully realize that they are an endangered and protected species, but my nickname for them now is the Nemesii. I have cleaned up piles of poo after them larger than many dogs leave behind on my deck and patio, and had to repot plants when they decided to stick their long beaks into one plant pot after another on a quest for insects or (?) something. I had to quit filling my bird feeders last spring because they wouldn't leave them alone, and in one instance they actually menaced me when I was out working alone on the garden house deck.
Sand Hill Crane Dance
I do not think they would actually have attacked or anything, but retreat is sometimes the better part of valor, and my shouts and brandishing of a broom had no effect on them. They seem to be pretty much fearless, and more than a bit irritable, so though they are cool birds and a marvel of nature and God, I really hope they stay out of my yard this year. However, it is a long time till they migrate north in April or May, so I will probably be visited sooner or later. So far they seem content to roam our neighbor's pasture.

Maybe I have digressed a bit, but what is winter for if not to do some wool-gathering, planning and dreaming. I am dreaming of a more creative life than I have enjoyed for a while, and spending time outdoors and surrounded by nature's beauty provides me with inspiration and energy. When I close my eyes and let myself dream through these long midwinter nights,  I see a new Path opening before me, and a new Dawn coming with the spring.

What Have U Made...
I am closing this post today with my Mantra for this still relatively new and only slightly used year. I will keep asking myself this at the end of every day, and hope that I can answer with something novel and creative each day. In talking with my son recently, I realized that I am a Maker— of meals, of gardens, of a lovely and comfortable home, of stories and pictures and castles of the mind, and so many other things. A Maker seems to me a good thing to be. What have you made today?

Be Blessed,
Until Next Time...

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