Friday, June 10, 2011

Lessons From a Plant Murderer

I've applied for the Master Gardener's program here in Philadelphia. If accepted to the program, I will come out with enough knowledge to serve on many of various community programs that help Philadelphians better connect to their land, food, community, the local ecology, and environmental awareness.

Since I've gained a little knowledge about gardening over all the years that I've killed my own vegetable gardens (in-ground and rooftop), I'll share what I know now, and when I'm done the program I can compare, look back, and say "Wow, I really knew nothing!".  I encourage responses, (whether critiques or kudos) to this blog as some of my friends are incredibly knowledgeable about farming, DIY, urban farming, conservation, and gardening.  I stand to learn a lot, but also have some to give, so here goes.  This will mostly pertain to veggies.  A lot of this stuff is common knowledge or can be readily Googled, but I will still share.

The first most important thing, is to know your climate. Also, don't plant invasives or you will be marked as an A-hole by all of your wiser neighbors. You will never have success trying to grow tropical fruits or plants in a temperate climate unless you have a greenhouse.  The plants know, and will make you look like a fool, so don't even try.   It's like Donald Trump or a Rick roll. Fail.

Second way to mess up = Soil.

Prepare your soil, and by this, I mean, make sure you've added A LOT of compost (you can make or buy this) Maryland leaf grow is a great bagged compost that is a state project for leaf waste recycling in MD, and they sell it at garden shops around here (not at Home Depot- which I'm not a big fan of for gardening). Do not dig a hole and poop in it to use as compost next year. That's gross, and dangerous. Rabbit poop is actually really good fertilizer, so get one of them, or their poo. Same with chicken shit. If your soil is sandy, you might have a really hard time gardening without enriching your soil quite a bit. It drains great, but doesn't hold any water or nutrients for when plants need it. Clay soil makes it really hard for plants to grow their delicate little rootlettes, which is a word I made up. 

Also prepare your soil by ripping out all weeds (especially thistles, which will be a forever problem if you don't visciously go after them before planting your veggies). If you're a tough-guy, you will do this without gloves like I used to. It's idiotic, just use gloves, dummy.  Dirty nails looks good on no one and thistles and prickly pear thorns suck for a very long time. You can compost the weeds, but if you leave them around, the will reroot and/or send out seeds so that you will have gazillions of weeds as the season goes on.

Know the basic soil pH and look up what plants grow best in what pHs. In the NE we generally have a slighly acidic soil which is great for lots of veggies. Any pH extreme has serious implications on nutrient availablity for your plants. Pretty acidic soil (like if you've added peat moss) is great for azaleas and hollys.  Lot's of calcium in the soil is great for tomatoes.  Lime is sold in great big bags will alkalize your soil, my sister suggests pouring a box of baking soda in your garden. I haven't tried this yet, but hey, I can let you know next year after I experiment on a patch of garden. You can pH test your soil, a place in the area, Hillside Nursery, offers 1 soil pH test for $1, the more space you cover, the more samples you should get analyzed. Note: Their customer service leaves a lot to be desired.

Just don't do it. This is something I will learn a lot about in the MG class, but basically unless you want to throw off your entire soil chemistry and possibly do more harm than good, add compost, not fertilizer. This is especially true if you have some plants that are starting to look a little sick. The LAST thing they need is chemical fertilizer. At the end of the class, I will literally be the person you call when you have sick or infested plants, and I'll help you get them back on track without fertilizer.  Nitrogenous fertilizers can promote lots of leaf growth with very little fruit/veggie growth, and that is basically the extent of my knowledge.

Still learning about this one too.  I think better drainage is one great benefit of raised beds vs. in-ground beds. In container gardening, make sure you drill holes in the bottom, add large rocks or other spacers and then the soil so that water doesn't pool up in the bottom, and water-log plants.  This will kill them in a terrible way, and I've done it myself.  The only plant I rescued from this, I actually had to re-plant in dry soil and it was really hard to save- it was a big old aloe. A good drainage material is peat moss, but it is a no-no environmentally (It also acidifies soil). A better alternative is coconut fiber which can be bought in large bales, again, you'll have to go to a real gardening store, not Home Depot. Worms really help aerate soil and add lots of little holes for water to drain/pool in. Worms are awesome for gardens, and they make a great snack if you get hungry while out weeding.

You can order some pretty awesome and unique seeds online rather than being limited to the ones they sell in stores.  I buy from Gurney's, I'm sure you can buy from Burpee or any other number of sites with great results. My friend Earth Mama, hosts a seed sharing project in which you can give and get local, unique, organic seeds. Message me if you're interested in contacting her.

 Plant them, just do it! Get soime potting mix, (it's disease free, and light enough for young seedlings to thrive in).  Plant them early, stop putting it off. I'm not at all careful about planting depths, and mine usually all sprout. I water the soil, make an indent about the depth of my index finger from tip to first jont, thn plunk in 1 or 2 seeds per hole. If both sprout, as painful as it is, you will need to remove one (the weaker one) to let the other thrive. I keep the soil really moist, and keep inside th house until it gets warm out.  If you start really early, you'll need some artificial lights in your house. They will grow "leggy" or tall and not very leafy or strong, if kept without enough light when young.  After the frost date, (April 15th ish?) you can start putting things outside to harden. I killed a lot of seedlings this year jumping the gun on the frost date.  Corn, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, basil and some other stuff quickly died, while the peas and  beans, carrots radishes were fine. The chard and beets were damaged but survived. Harden off a little at a time. the wind movements outside stress the stalks of your babies so that they slowly replace tender tissue with the plant equivalent of scar tissue, a necesary thing to do before planting outside for good.

Obviously different plants have different optimal palnting times for our zone. Do it early, but not too early. Plant in the evening, and then water generously.  You can plant by moon cycles for best results, I have my moon chart for this season, but admit I haven't followed it. I'm sure my farmer goddess freind Lala is appalled that I would plant so stupidly!

I don't know much about this one either.  I know to water in the early AM not the evening except for that first planting.  Why? Diseases love water to stick around on leaves and stalks, so if you water in the morning the sun will dry the plants, giving them a better change to remain disease free. I know soaker hoses are best and most environmentally friendly. Watering two to three times a week is great, and that no plant likes to be soggy or dry all the time -barring cacti (you freaks). Not watering your veggies regularly can turn tomatoes sour (from experience) and leafy veggies bitter (yuck, also from experience). Lots of herbs and lettuce will go to flower or seed if you let them dry out even for a day. Heat I think also plays a role in this.

Masquerade bugs love kale, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. I need to Google how to get rid of them. Aphids love tomatoes, but can be controlled by lovingly (but not sensuously) sponge bathing your plants in soap water (soap water mixed w/ olive oil for a more aggressive approach), and/or by hosing the plant off vigorously, or by inviting ladybugs to your garden.  Ladybugs are very social, so they might not have time to stop bye.  Don't be offended, they meant to RSVP. Birds  are good for your garden bug control, but if you're like me and have thirty million cats, or stray cats in your area, this isn't going to work for you.

A little shade can be a really good thing even for plants that say "full sun".  The best area of garden I have, has a little tree shade for some hours of the day. Don't over or under water- easier said than done. Weed religiously so those little parasites aren't sucking the good stuff away from your prized rutabagas. Make sure to thin seedlings, or none of your plethora will thrive. If you don't want weird looking carrots, make sure you don't have lots of rocks or weds in your garden. You can abuse the hell out of rosemary, sage, marigolds and thyme. Forgot to water? No problem! Cat chomped on most of the leaves? No problem! Planter knocked over in the hail storm last night, and plant is splayed out on the deck like a fish out of water? Replant- It will be fine! You know who won't take any abuse? Cilantro and basil.  Don't F around with those guys. Give peas something to climb up or they will turn brown and die. Give pumpkins, 40 square miles per plant to grow, because those suckers are HUGE. Don't let fruits/veggies sit on the soil, bugs will get them from below causing a lot of sadness when you go to harvest. Harvest often to keep plants producing. Clip chard leaves around the outside when there are 5 or more leaves, or trim at base and test your luck. Lettuces can be trimmed often and will keep producing.

So that's what comes to mind right now about my gardening failures.  I hope you have some tips for me as well as an incredibly successful garden.

Happy planting!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beware this post is a vent, is probably incoherent, contains profanity, and is too long.

So roughly...erm... two months ago, I fell at roller derby practice. I tried to get up... I fell again. I wasn't able to stand on my own.  As skaters zoomed around me, I had one thought: FUCK.  Some awesome derby mamas came to my aid. They took off my nasty, sweaty pads and  skates, and supported all of my weight as they got me off of the rink. I almost cried.  Maybe I did cry, but not from the pain- from the idea that my derby career, for the SECOND time, was on hold.  It was nauseating pain.  I kept saying "fuck" and looking into The Cyrone's! eyes for reassurance that I would be back on the rink in no time. She was kind, but couldn't give it to me. Outwardly, I was in denial.  "I'll go to the hopital tomorrow." I said.  And "It's a twisted ankle and I'll be back on skates in two weeks." Inwardly, I knew there was something really wrong.

Luckily Jessie, the roller-nurse convinced me to go to the ER that night.  As we arrived she was called in, and so there I was, alone in the waiting room. The pain came in waves. The people around me were coughing up sputum, and using the hospital phone to call their drug dealers. Two were having a heated yelling match.
When the nurse brought me to the back, I said " I really have to go to the bathroom."  She said okay, wheeled my wheelchair to one, and said, "You're going right down the hall when you're done." I didn't have the humility to tell her I couldn't get to the toilet on my own. I sat there in the chair staring at the bathroom.

After my x-rays, the doc came back: "Not broken!" He says.  I was mystified.  Really?  He grabbed my leg and slapped three ace bandages on it, he sent the nurse to get me some crutches. She came back, and told me: "Yeah, if it was broken, it would REALLY hurt." Incredulous, I said "It DOES really hurt."  She said "No, I mean like, you couldn't put any weight on it." I stared her down. "I CAN'T put any weight on it." Irritated, she rolled her eyes and said "Yeah, OK, well I've broken my leg, and you wouldn't be 'like this' if it was broken." Fine. Whatever. My orders were: "If it still hurts in three days, you'll get an MRI.  It should be all better by then though, these types of sprains usually heal within that time. In the meantime, take some advil." I get home and realize I'm not so good at crutches, and that they are too short for me.  As I peel my face off the floor, I try not to show Calvin that I've really hurt myself (again), and for the first time ever, Tom doesn't laugh when I hit the ground.  He winces- it was bad.

Three days came and went. It still hurt. I tried to get an appointment to see the orthopedic specialist that week.  All of them covered by my insurance were "on vacation" (seriously- is that even legal?) somewhere far away. So I got the "first available". 

My first appointment.  I hobble into the building, Tom had dropped me off, and gone home.  I fill out the check-in paperwork. I wait.  After a half hour, I am called to the desk.  "Who are you here to see" I tell them. They reply, "Dr, Whatever's face isn't working here today, he's in King of Prussia." What????  "You got the place wrong." they tell me.  I show them the notes I wrote while making the appointment and read them the address where I was told to go.  "That's here isn't it?" "Well, yes, but..." I start to tear up with frustration. They see this, and soften. We can fit you in.  Have a seat.  They call me up again.  "We don't have your referral." It's floating in cyberspace I guess. I had to call my doctor and have them send a new one. I get to see the doctor roughly 2 hours later. 

He enters the room without knocking, a no-no according to the boards certification exam, and annoying on top of that.  His medical student, follows him into the room obediently and with a vapid disinterested look on her face she proceeds to stare at the floor while he roughly pushes on my leg and ankle.  OW! I pull my leg back. "That really hurts?" He continues to do it, and looks at his student, not me, as he says "Sometimes with a serious sprain like this, the leg breaks up here." and he pushes on it again hard for good measure.  I pull my leg away.  You dick.

Two weeks after the fall, x-rays confirm, I have a broken leg. Since I was told "Let pain be your guide", I've been walking on it and trying to otherwise shake it off. I get a walking cast.  Roughly three weeks after the fall, the MRI finds that I actually have two broken bones, two torn ligaments, and a lot of swelling around the bones that I bruised. The walking cast hurts more than walking without it.  Woops! It's the complete wrong size! I get one that fits slightly better, (but is still too big- I don't have the energy to exchange it AGAIN).

I switch doctor's to get a second opinion, and because my doctor has asked me "Are you a nurse" no fewer than 13 times, and has never asked how I got the injury. He can't remember my name either. He won't tell me when I can be out of the cast. I press him for some kind of idea how long it will be until I can skate.  He says "At least not until September".

I drop out of derby.  Again.

The bills start rolling in: $100 to go to the ER and get a wrong diagnosis, patronizing nurse, ace bandages and crutches. $30 per Dr. appointment, (5 so far) and $30 per imaging study (3 so far). The kicker?  I'm charged for the walking cast. Insurance won't cover it at all- maybe because I had to get the right size after giving me the wrong size? That bill is $200.

I had the appointment with my new doctor today.  I waited for an hour and a half for him to tell me "We can't do anything without a more recent x-ray, sorry.  Get some x-rays, and come back in a week. I pay the parking fee ($9), and call Tom. "I'm not going back to the Dr.. I'm totally and utterly done with this shit, and I can't afford to waste half a work day and all of the co-pays for them to tell me to keep using the cast till it feels better."

People who know me, know that I happen to have to go to the ER a lot more than the average 30 year old.  I injure myself often, and have even had to get my series of rabies shots.  I've exceeded my limit, and exhausted my storage of patience. I'm done. I'm done waiting in waiting rooms watching Regis and Kelly Live. While people around me cough without covering. I'm done with deductibles and co-pays, bitchy receptionists, HMO hoops, referrals, and 'first availables".  I'm done. So, here we are.  It's been months. My leg still hurts. "How long till you're out of the cast" poeple ask.  I don't know. What I do know, is that when I skate again, I'll be wearing some really expensive ankle support. And if I am injured again, I'm skipping the ER, skipping the appointments, and sawing the limb off for myself.

You can call me "I lean".

Monday, May 9, 2011

This weekend; a comprehensive review

Mother's day is my new favorite holiday.  Yes, it is a tribute to me for having done dirty deeds without proper protection, and having complete disregard for over-population concerns as well as the environmental impacts of breeding. But I LOVE being a mom, and I LOVE being honored for it, so bring it on Hallmark, this is my day! This weekend, like any day was filled with the good, the bad, and the meh.  Here they are listed for you.

  • Tom and I reaffirmed that we have VERY few similar interests. (But he sucked it up and did "me-things" for Mother's day - Thanks!)
  • I collided with one of our cats, and got a bad stinging scratch on the bottom of my 'walkin foot. How does that happen, you ask?  I have no idea, but when your person to cat ratio is like it is in our house, it's bound to happen sooner or later.
  •  I got to see some of the Philly v. Texas bout, and it was awesome, re-igniting my lust for rolller derby, and making me really listless to get my stupid ankle/leg healed. (good + bad = a wash or "a meh")
  • I watched Lady Gaga's Monsterball HBO special, and couldn't, for the life of me, look away.  That lady is smokin. Tom hated it, but also noticeably couldn't look away for a short period of time. 

  • Calvin was the most perfect amazing awesome company on the planet.  He's almost walking, and is very proud of himself.  He also likes to yell babbles into his play phone while watching himself in the mirror- adorable.  
  • I slept in till 9:27 on Sunday. This is the latest I've slept since last year. 
  • I got to go to only store I really love other than ethnic grocery stores and pony stores: Home Depot.I bought a million dollars worth of plants, seeds and other fun stuff because I accidentally killed all of my organic DIY seedlings.  Now- my garden is a wonderland of dreams, and a genocide for weeds. 
  • I made the most delicious drink I have ever ingested.  It is incredibly simple: water, ice, and watermelon, blended until perfect.  
  • We picked over West Philly for all of my favorite vegan treats- YUM!
  • Park with the dogs- poor bastards never get to do fun stuff anymore, so this was awesome for them.  Interestingly, when looking at Clark Park as an outsider, it appears much dirtier than the green haven it appeared to be when I lived there. Perspective can be a bitch.
  • Dyed my hair into a rainbow.  Eek! It's so great, I can't tear myself away from the mirror.  All my favorite colors ON MY VERY OWN HEAD!  I want to dye the rest of my body now.
  • My mom said I'm a really "terrific" mom -not that she knows what she's talking about.
  • I set up the kiddie pool (Thanks Michele!), stripped the boy down, and tried to coax him in.  He didn't want to swim, but he was fascinated as he watched himself pee on the lawn.  His father was proud.
 Conclusions and follow-up work:
The good far outweighed the bad and meh, so I'll grade this weekend an B+.  Always room for improvement though, we could have been doing all of this in sunny Costa Rica, and we could have been doing it all whilst sipping on exotic alcoholic beverages.  Maybe next year.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Almost thirty

- It is necesary that I write down some things because I probably already have Alzheimer's disease

At roughly 8 years old, when I read 2 Sweet Valley High books, I remeber forming the first notions of what my pesonal future would probably look like:

I'd be prom queen, duh, that would be a given. Somehow I was also blond and effortlessly skinny. I'd probably be really famous with a terrific career raking in the millions and saving hurt and abandoned animals and being interviewed by national geographic almost daily, by the time I hit 18 (which is kinda old to an 8 year old)
I figured IF I decided to marry or have children or -gasp- both, I would do that after I had earned numerous doctorates, and established my financial empire.  I might have even waited till after I bought my first island, and had the groundbreaking on the wildlife refuge that would be not only named after me, but also funded in whole by me.  I would have dabbled in politics, winning major races effortlessly, and I would even have acidentally stumbled upon a Nobel prize in Biology after a late night in the lab when I discovered _______ (something really cool).  My real passion would have been (WARNING: cliche approaching) "helping people".

So this is exactly the way my life has worked out, and I couldn't be happier.

The End.