Archive for the 'Weather' Category

First day at the Victory Garden

I very nearly left the house without a jacket on Sunday morning.

Two hours into my first stint as a docent in the Victory Garden, I was simultaneously applauding my decision to actually grab my favorite grey hoodie and kicking myself for not grabbing my fleece jacket to go over it.

“I’m freezing,” I muttered to Lauren, who was volunteering with me that day. “I cannot believe I almost didn’t bring my hoodie.”

Lauren shook her head and zipped her fleece (while I stifled inadvertent envy) up a little further. We both eyed the cloud-thick sky. I wrinkled my nose at the mist. It felt like early spring in Iowa, not even close to what I consider summer.

Regardless of weather-related challenges (Note: bring many more layers this weekend…), this was a fairly low-key volunteer effort. I spent much of my time wandering around the garden taking pictures, and having conversations with the English-speaking visitors. As much as I like opera, I was of no help with the busload of Italian tourists who came through about 45 minutes into the morning, and even though I live in Oakland’s Chinatown, I wasn’t any help with the Chinese tourists, either.

At one point, the Garden Educator on site to keep us on task asked me to help her water some plants. I said I would, but then a woman walking by stopped at the fence around the garden to ask if there was a need for more volunteers, and so I wrote down the volunteer coordinator’s email address for her and talked to her for a few minutes about the garden, and by the time I turned back around, another volunteer had picked up the watering can and had taken over that job.

Dirty hands? Not really. But I can’t complain about spending a few hours wandering aimlessly through a pretty spectacular garden.

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Mind over to-matter

Do not think for a second that I’m going to complain about the weather in California. I’m not. By any stretch of the imagination. No way, no day.

I love the weather in California. But I will say this: It doesn’t feel like tomato weather.

It’s chilly in the mornings here, and on the Fourth of July, I wore jeans and a sweater. “I’m used to sweating on the Fourth, not wearing a sweater,” I told a friend recently.

And so, as stories about tomatoes – gardeners who are tasting their first home-grown of the season, farmers’ market aficionados purchasing the perfect heirlooms, chefs adding them to their menus – proliferate around me, I find myself not having a craving for my absolute favorite vegetable-but-really-fruit.  It’s not that I don’t love them, it’s that the weather cues I’m getting aren’t leading me to BLTs and panzanella and gazpacho. In fact, a little over a week ago, I bought some tomatoes at a local farmers’ market myself, but a little voice kept saying to me, “It’s too cold. They MUST be out of a greenhouse.”

Maybe they were, but they were downright tasty, which is why I have to start thinking much differently before I blink and have to wait until 2009 for the good stuff. There’s slow-roasting to do, and sauce to make. Even if I’m living in California and not Iowa, I understand the truth of it: if I want to take fresh tomatoes and turn them into sauce for the colder months (OK, those months won’t be that much colder, but still…), I have to start soon, or I’m going to be relegated to the jarred stuff.

My body is not calibrated to the combination of the vegetables of the season and this weather. But it’s time for mind over matter. Or, should I say, mind over to-matter?

Death to the dead plant

It’s one thing not to clean up your garden for the winter, but leaving the hanging basket up on your front porch with a dead plant for several months in a row? That’s crazy talk. Or crazy doing.

Whatever it is called, I did it. There was a point in the winter when I just decided that the dead plants looked like some kind of cool, structural, khaki plant sculpture. Plus, there was that whole issue of if I spent any time outside trying to take down the basket, my fingers would freeze off, which would make it very difficult to type this blog. And then you would have nothing to read.

Do you see how I do what I do for the people? I thought so.

But now it is spring, even though it snowed yesterday in Cedar Rapids, which made my right eye twitch uncontrollably for half an hour and made me huddle in the corner muttering, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy.” Then that all stopped and I went about my afternoon.

Before all that, though, and over the weekend, I realized it was beyond time to actually take down the basket and replace the dead plant with something more, you know, springy. And alive.

The cherry blossoms tell you when to plant

Although I have professed my love for the flowering trees of D.C. (and, oh yes, that does include the cherry blossoms), I’ve got to admit – I never spent much time when I lived there thinking about their symbolism.

I mean, the cherry trees? To me, they symbolized the hurray of Spring, and they symbolized that the traffic around the Tidal Basin was about to grind to a halt, and they usually symbolized we were about to get a raw, wet, nasty day, generally timed to directly coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s long-planned parade, that would knock all the delicate blossoms to the ground as if they were snowflakes.

So I perked up, last May during my visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, when Gordon Wilson, the docent leading my walking tour, started explaining what the cherry blossoms meant to the Japanese.

Cherry Blossoms, San Francisco Botanical Garden

“They used them to indicate when to start the rice seed,” he said. “When the trees bloomed, it meant a period of warm weather was coming.”

According to Gordon, the next step in the process came after a specific iris (and although I was taking notes, I didn’t get the name of this one) bloomed as well. That indicated a period of wet weather would be coming soon, so that’s when the rice farmers would plant their crop.

See, this is the kind of gardening marker I can get behind. When this very visible thing happens, start the seed. When this very visible thing happens, plant the seedling. This doesn’t require hoping that the almanac is going to hit the last frost date accurately this year, or require searching old blog posts and weather.com for indicators of when the weather might turn.

Just blossom: start. Blossom: plant. Very simple, and beautiful, to boot.

Spinach, reseeded

I did, after my extended stay at O’Hare, finally arrive home over the weekend. I’d been gone for 12 days on what felt like the longest business trip of my life, including stops in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.

When I left Iowa, the snow had indeed begun to melt, but was still shoulder-high and causing trouble. I returned to a mostly snow-free landscape, although the disappearance of the white has left Iowa khaki-dreary—no blossoms, no green grass, no growth. This happens every year—there’s always a period of time between winter and spring (and by Garden messspring, I’m not talking about the post-equinox season, but the actual reappearance of color) when the landscape offers nothing to the eye other than wide swaths of blandness.

In my backyard, a small patch of snow survived in an area of the yard that’s shady most of the day. But the garden is, once again, uncovered, and what a mess it is, although it’s a mess that’s going to feed the garden nicely once the growing season starts up in earnest. Most of the bed is matted with leaves and decaying plants that I never pulled up before the snow brought any hope of that abruptly to an end, and I think I can probably just turn that stuff under so last year’s plants and leaves give this year’s plants a little bit of boost.

But on one end of the garden, garlic is already sprouting through the layer of mulch I put down when I planted it last fall, and when I crouched down to take a look, I noticed something particularly exciting. Baby spinach that I did not even have to plant!Not only is the garlic getting its grow on, but there are some baby spinach leaves coming up out of the ground.

I suspect my poor gardening practice of letting the spinach bolt and not dealing with it in a timely fashion has resulted in some inadvertent reseeding, and that means I’m all set up for fresh greens without any work on my part whatsoever.

Rock on.

Spring, delayed.

Why is it that every year, I speak too soon about the whole end-of-winter business? I mean, seriously. Every year.

Only this year, I thought there might be something to it. You know, it being Spring today. And yesterday. And the day before.

I stumbled across this quote from a helpful National Weather Service meteorologist in an AP article this morning:

“Everyone is pretty tired of the snow but I think most people will agree these types of storms aren’t unusual in the spring,” National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Davis said. “These kinds of early-spring, late-winter storms are fairly common.”

Thanks, Steve Davis. Thanks for your insight into the fairly common problem of never. ending. snow.

For those of you who may be wondering why I’m including this long-winded, weather-whiny intro O’Hare. Right. Now.to the real meat of this post, it’s because I have plenty of time. I’m stuck in O’Hare right now, looking out at precipitation falling, waiting to board a plane that has already been delayed three times.

I’m doubly unhappy about the weather for more than just the normal reasons–on this trip, I managed to leave my winter coat at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. I haven’t needed the stupid coat for most of my trip, and, well, just plum forgot it. So I’m facing my return to a never-ending winter (and a walk through the snow to board my plane outside) with an Old Navy hoodie.

Ah — another phone call from United. Another delay. This is real-time blogging, people! REAL-TIME WEATHER-BLOGGING.

The upshot of this is that for those of you who might be planning to meet me at the CSA Fair to pick up your swag (and, hopefully, support your local farmers), please accept my apologies — if I get there at all, I’m going to be woefully late. If you stop by and miss me, just leave a note in the comments — if there’s enough interest, I’ll arrange a meet-up sometime in the next two weeks in Iowa City. I will arrange it for a time when there are, in fact, no airplanes involved.

We. Survived. Winter.

Oregon CrocusesFirst. Day. Of. Spring.

Do you know what this means, people? It means we all survived winter. Finally. We survived it.

I’m considering planting something this weekend, just for the heck of it, even though it’s still too early in Iowa and there’s snow in the forecast for Saturday morning and later next week. Oh yes. Spring snow.

So be it. At this point, what harm is there in a little more of the white stuff? The season has changed, and winter did not beat me. That’s all, at this point, that I care about.

Oh, and no. That photo was taken recently, but was not taken in Iowa. You can tell this because there is no snow. Also there are flowers. These two conditions do not equal Iowa. They do, however, equal southwestern Oregon. More on that later.


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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