Archive for September 2010

Guess What's Blooming? Again?

Yup, it's my old friend, Mister Ornithogalum caudatum! It started blooming again a few weeks ago, when the old bloom with the seed pod on it was still flowering. I accidentally snapped that inflorescence off when potting the beast up, however (but I was able to collect the four seeds within the pod, so I am excited to see whether I can germinate them).

This pregnant onion is pretty large--the bulb is only three inches wide, but the root system is immense and the leaves are easily four feet long each. I love the flower spikes on this plant--they whip back and forth throughout the day and are never in the same position when I wake up or come home from work. If I had a time-lapse camera, I think it would be a fun thing to watch!

Also barely visible in this photo is my ginger. Yup, I stuck withered ginger rhizomes in a pot and said "grow!" and they did a little. They're not terribly happy, but they aren't dead yet.

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Hothouse Flower

So, I do enjoy blogging, and employed in the publishing industry but with few occasions to write, I have been thinking that it might be a good idea to start looking into more professional-like opportunities related to garden writing. I have previously signed up to be on the list of book reviewers for Washington Gardener magazine, but I haven't heard anything from the editor yet--I think there's a large list of book reviewers already.

So when MrBrownThumb tweeted an opportunity to review a plant-related novel, which seemed like a right romp based on the paragraph-long description of it, I jumped on it. I'm toward the end of a long line of garden, travel, and book bloggers who are reviewing this novel on this online "book tour." The brief description of the book and the full list of "stops" with links to the respective reviews can be viewed here for your pleasure. Go check it out now before you read my post, because it'll give you the tiny bit of background needed, but I have to get into the meat of this review before I blow a gasket.

For the first several dozen pages, I wanted to gouge out my eyes. A few friends got the brunt of that frustration while I described the story with wild gesticulations and (what seemed to be to them) hilarious metaphors.

The character development was tedious. The only scene that seemed to have any flow, character, LIFE was one in which the protagonist found out that her boss peeked up supermodels' skirts using hidden cameras. I think that was a factor of the author actually having experience in the advertising industry in New York City and with such men. The rest of the book seemed very... L'Etranger--y'know, except how that was a masterpiece and intentional. And yet, I actually connected with Meursault in that novel. Despite the author intentionally creating a character distant from what one generally considers proper and rational social behaviour, Meursault seemed at least to be a human being--or maybe it was because others around him in the novel reacted in a more human, expected fashion that it made him seem plausible.

Lila Nova and her cadre of coworkers and plant friends aren't, however. The dialogue felt forced. Descriptions of characters, whether emotionally, physically, or mentally, seemed pretty haphazard. I still have no idea really what the main character looks like. She's a chick with at least shoulder-length wavy blond hair. Oh, and she has nipples. I assume she's white, because of the blond hair, but being a New York City advertising copywriter, the main character could have dyed blond hair and be of Indian or Japanese descent for all I know. Although there's mention of her maybe being Jewish, it's phrased in such a way that I'm not really sure whether that person is saying that he knows she is or not.

I mean, I guess it's a literary device to leave descriptions out and allow the readers to supply them, drawing them in by allowing them to fill in unsupplied details with those of their own to better identify with the characters. So, I'll give the author that one, grudgingly.

But, I'm not a 30-something recent divorcee from New York City, and after feeling almost forced to read this book (I want to read it, I want to give an objective review, I want to do this professionally!), I couldn't help but nitpick.

(Small side-track with a purpose: When I got the book in the mail, the advertising materials started by calling the book "The sizzling beach read of the season." I said "Uh oh" to myself. "I thought this book was about plants and mystery?")

I almost started counting how many times "sex" and "sexual" were used in the book.

Sheer forceful repetition does not make a steamy novel. The book, really, is about how this main chica is really horny--the plants and the trip to Mexico are only secondary. The entire book's plot stems from her wanting to get nailed by a, and I quote from the second page of the book, "country-sexual" plant dealer.

After she does, she then proceeds to have dream-sex with a panther, become aroused by a friend's wife, almost jump on a dude who has a gun pointed at her and then poison him almost lethally to get him to sleep with her, then have her entire naked body rubbed (with special attention to her nipples) by that poisoned dude's mother, and then almost have a threesome with a rattlesnake and the "country-sexual" dude. Oh, and there's some plant lore thrown in there, too.

Now you know everything about the book: awkward sexual relations. Do a few Google searches, find a few new-age plant dealers and mash up their product descriptions within quotes at somewhat odd times during the story, throw in some 1.5-dimensional characters with stilted dialogue and little development, and you have "Hothouse Flower."

After a conversation or two with another blogger who is also a stop on the "book tour," I gained a slightly different perspective about this novel. When I picked it up the other day, after putting off finishing it for weeks, I stopped nitpicking as much and enjoyed it as I enjoyed the movie "Elektra": not for the intended entertainment of mystery and romance, but for the situational comedy the author seems to have created and the pure ridiculousness of it all.

And here's a little side-rant that I had originally intended to be the meat of my post because, hey, I'm a garden blogger and the plants were what got me interested in reviewing this book in the first place, but this content got shoved aside as my ire at the other parts of the book grew: Although it seemed quite obvious to me that the author lifted product descriptions from plant catalogs to weave the mystique into her created myth of the "nine plants of desire," the reactions people had to some of those and other plants in the book seemed ridiculous to me. For example, the "country-sexual" plant dealer flips out on the main character, offering her $500 on the spot for a rooted cutting of Oxalis hedysaroides "Rubra." Which you can purchase on eBay for $5.99. It's not like the book's mythical nine plants of desire are especially rare or anything, either. (Also, guess what? I'm growing Datura, one of the nine plants, right now at Mr. Yogato, and above, in the photo, you can see my Sinningia, another of the nine plants of desire, just about thinking of going dormant.) I told myself, "Okay, y'know, the author is using plants that exist in our universe to create a different universe that has the same societies and plants, but some plants are just slightly more rare and a bit different than they are in our universe. Okay, fine..." But when, at one point, the main character's plant friend (not the "country-sexual," because by this time, he's the bad guy) tells her that they are going to buy one of the nine plants of desire, I thought "Wait, hold the frikkin' phone. These people traveled all the way to Mexico to find these crazy plants, and he's just going to buy them? Why the heck didn't they go on eBay in the first place? Anyone could find these plants and have their desires fulfilled, then!?" I was frustrated anew.

I appreciate a little fantasy in my thriller, a little scifi in my horror, a little somethin' in my somethin' else. I love cross-genre books. I do not love this one. It tried too hard to be something that it failed to be anything much.

I can't recommend this book, really, unless you know nothing about human interaction or plants, or unless you are at least a little masochistic (or you're interested in steamy bestial panther-sex).


Drops Of Delight

We have actually had rain here in DC! I know my plants at Mr. Yogato are loving it. They could use a couple more days of soaking--and that's what it looks like we'll be getting. The plants that survived the crazy heat, the intense dryness, and my complete inattention are doing swell, even if they look a little bedraggled. And, of course, these are the plants that will remain at the Mr. Yogato garden in the future--the ones that don't need constant babying; can take drought, heat, and the drunks; and look okay even when they aren't too happy.

I was walking by this afternoon (while it was raining), and I snapped a few photos with my new phone. To bypass the computer issues I'm having and the limitations of blogging on my phone, I e-mailed the photos to myself, logged onto my computer in safe mode, downloaded the photos, and then blogged. That limits the quality of my photography, but it's better than using the crazy keypad on my phone. Anyway, although the Mr. Yogato garden hasn't been getting a great deal of attention from me this year because of twice-broken collarbone, travel, and all those other excuses I have, there are some star plants I feel the need to spotlight before the cold (or a drunken crowd full of drag queens) does them in.

The Renee's Garden trombetta squash (bottom) is a monster again this year! (Also in this photo are some stalks of corn and my grapes, but more about them later.) It's my second year growing this particular vegetable, and I absolutely love it. Not only is it a vigorous grower and makes a great deal of fruit for fresh eatin', sauteeing, pie baking, or whatnot, it also has very pretty foliage--huge green leaves with silver veins, covering the spearmint that is surprisingly unkempt this year and climbing up the ivy and up the wall. People trimmed the apical shoot for some reason, making the plant go ape-shit with its lateral growth. It's an even larger plant than last year because of that, but it's more dense because the vine isn't traveling around the tops of the windows.

That over-the-window space is being taken up by the grape vine, which is going crazy this year! The primary vine has grown, easily, 30 to 40 feet, with several lateral vines trailing behind it. The main vine is almost reaching toward the door of Cafe Green, a new vegan restaurant (not a cafe at all!!).

Okay, so maybe this is hard to see, but the grape vines are actually growing on the ivy along the building's wall. The ivy is attached to the wall, and the grapes are attached to the ivy. It's a wonderful relationship! My hope is that, in the future, the ivy can be slaughtered, and the grapes will take over covering the wall. This ivy is mature--it makes such a quantity of berries every year! It's beautiful against the red-painted brick and the historic bits of the building, but it's also invasive. I'd rather have pretty, less invasive, edible grapes growing up the building.

Also in the window box, framing the middle window, are a couple stalks of Seed Savers Exchange Bloody Butcher corn. They germinated well, but the whole drought/heat/crazy DC weather thing took its toll on the plants. They aren't as tall as they should be, the leaves are thin, and the cobs are multitudinous and small. Also, some have holes, like this one you can see here. I'm not happy about that.

And some volunteer Datura plants made an appearance! The bush pumpkin plants I had growing in this area up and died during the hot, dry summer, so I stopped pulling up all the volunteer Datura seedlings. Yeah, they're hallucinogenic. Yeah, they're invasive weeds. But good golly, look how beautiful they are!

Before Datura got so huge here, I planted some lemon verbena (which was promptly stepped on, so only a nubbin is growing, but there are a few new leaves near the base of the plant), rosemary, lavender, and a pretty columbine. I also sprinkled some arugula all around for a nice fall harvest.

Not pictured: The strawberries are surviving, but not spreading as I'd hoped (the spearmint is, however!). The rhubarb got stepped on one too many times. I don't know whether it will come up again. The bulb garden got sat on so many times I didn't get to see half of what flowered--and many things never got the opportunity to. In a few months, some of those plants will start sending leaves up again. I'm hoping most of them made it despite the rough treatment they received at the hands (and butts. and bookbags.) of the general public.

There are some other random plants (Heuchera, violets, swiss chard, Gladiolus) that are sticking around--they aren't dead, but they're not really worth mentioning right now, either.


What's In Your Laundry?

Well, in the dryer tonight was this mystery seed pod. Two seeds were attached, but one fell off when I grabbed this from near the lint trap. I believe it might be an orange daylily seed pod... I have a slight recollection of grabbing one at some point recently. I hope the seed survives detergent, dry heat, and my uncare if it germinates.

Also, yeah, I do have more posts on the way. Currently, my computer is on the fritz (as it has been on and off all year), so I'm stuck operating in safe mode, which doesn't let me transfer photos from my camera to the computer. So, how did I get this picture for my post? I got an iPhone last weekend. Yeah, I know, shoot me. I can't blog like this... My next purchase might have to be a new computer--maybe one with a monitor that works, too! Oh, that would be heaven...

But, I can't completely deny the utility of this machine. Now, I can blog/tweet fun plant happenings more readily! If I am willing to give up my trademark verbosity. I am still undecided about whether or not that is an option. I do so enjoy the storytelling.


Renee's Ripens

Renee's Garden "Super Bush" tomatoes have been a pleasant plant to grow. The tomatoes I mentioned last week ripened pretty much overnight this past Wednesday, and they were very tasty. They were pretty fleshy, less juicy (which I like immensely), packed with flavour, and a little tart. DC water, good for the vegetables! I also have a few more flowers that just bloomed, so maybe I'll have a few tomatoes to eat at the end of October, too! Growing tomatoes indoors is not nearly as rewarding as the ones grown outdoors, but it's not unworthwhile either. The expectations of harvest and care for the plants need to be modified from that of growing outdoors, of course, as well as the whole pot-grown instead of in-the-ground-grown thing.

The other plants I'm trialing from Renee's Garden didn't do so swell--the cucumber is fine, but the male and female flowers don't open at the same time on the one plant, and I don't have a second surviving seedling, so... It's just a really small vine in a big pot, flowering and being sad by its lonesome. Those two veggies were the ones that received the most attention from me--there are some basils, grass, and lettuces that haven't died yet, but they're only struggling to survive where I have them. Some of the others just never germinated or did and then died when I had to leave suddenly because of my niece's death in April. Those either didn't have any more seeds in the packet (some only came with a few seeds), or I just didn't replant them.

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Seed GROW Project #6: The Late Version

I could pour out excuses about why my post is almost a week late, but that would take more time to write than what I have to say about the "Spitfire" nasturtium!

The ones at Mr. Yogato died horrible deaths in the sauna that was DC this summer. So I (well, my beau) sowed a few more seeds in mid-August. My thought? DC weather is screwy, so these plants will probably survive until January, giving them the chance to bloom. Or, maybe, because weather has been exceptionally crazy this year, we'll get a hard frost next week, the plants will die, then we'll have a hurricane, followed by another month of 100-plus-degree-weather with no rain. And maybe another earthquake, or a fire!

No, this is not a picture of my nasturtium at Mr. Yogato. These are the volunteer Datura. I was picking out the seedlings at the beginning of the year--I had plans for this area (bush pumpkins), but the drunken/inconsiderate/what-have-you public changed those plans with their feet/butts/what-have-you. So I let these two seedlings grow, but then planted stuff around/under them.

If you have a keen eye, you'll notice the signs on the plants of "OMG give us water!" It has been a crappy year for gardening!

Here's the "Spitfire" seedling under the Datura at Mr. Yogato. It was sown on 18 August--this photo was taken on 4 September. Behind it, there's a spray of arugula seedlings. I got those seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We've had some interesting weather again--it was cool and a little wet while the seed germinated, and then it was hot and dry again. Now it's cool-ish and threatening rain, but nothing seems to have materialized yet.

And speaking of drought--it appears that if you let the soil I have my indoor nasturtium in dry out too much, watering it just makes the water go right through along the sides of the pot without actually getting the bulk of the soil wet. You think you're watering your plant, but really, you're just wetting the top couple millimeters of soil and that's about it. So while you're off gallivanting around running DC State Fair, going to work, and volunteering, the nasturtium is all like "Gasp!" and gets all withery on you until you give it a nice bath in the sink to hydrate it. Then you decide "Oh, I should water more frequently so the soil doesn't dry out so horribly again," and you'll probably kill it from overattention. There's a middle ground, isn't there? I hope to find it before winter comes.

I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds.


Growing Tomatoes Indoors

I like growing tomato plants inside my apartment--because the plants are such weeds that they'll grow despite the utter lack of an environment appropriate and beneficial to them.

These "Super Bush" tomatoes I grew from seed I got from Renee's Garden were flowering over two months ago. Now, I have okay-sized tomatoes plumping out on my plant. The plant itself is fairly compact--not as spindly as the tomatoes I grew last year, but probably not as compact as the plant is supposed to be. They don't get the intensity of light they need, despite getting five to six hours of direct sunlight each day. They do well enough, but it isn't as if they're thriving.

These are the only two tomatoes growing on the plant right now. The other couple flowers on this clump fell off, and I missed fertilizing another set of flowers--I saw them almost ready to open, then I found them all withered a week or so. Another set is coming up, so maybe they'll open and I can have more tomatoes that will ripen in, say, November. I have been way too busy with various things this year. I would like at some point to be able to focus on the plants!

But, again, the "plant it and pretty much forget it" attitude is why tomatoes are awesome to grow indoors, as long as you get an amenable variety. "Super Bush" seems chill about it. It doesn't complain too much, it doesn't have the spider mite problem I had last year, and its tomatoes are significantly larger than the ones I got from "Ace Bush" last year, which took until November to mostly ripen on the vine (and several stayed red and firm off the vine until January, because for some reason I didn't eat them all and kept them around forever).

I do have weird spots on the stems of "Super Bush," but they're really only visible when I take a picture with flash. I wonder what it is? Maybe the tomato is just trying to be cool, like the Ledebouria socialis leaf peaking out on its left.


DC State Fair: The Aftermath

It has been an interesting ride this past two months planning the first-ever DC State Fair.

Yeah, that's right--Jenna, Amelia, and I pulled it off in only two months (less, actually; it was just about seven weeks from the first meeting to the event this past Saturday). That really is no small feat, but it's because the DC community demanded to be involved--and we were more than happy (in fact, quite pleased!) to have them!

When we first announced what we were doing, there was some skepticism: DC State Fair had no history or any credibility as an organization. Trying to find a location to host pie and vegetable contests (we wanted just a table or two on a restaurant patio, for example) was difficult, until I hooked up with the organizers of Columbia Heights Day to secure a tent. Once we had that detail (time, location, some sort of legitimacy!), people started knocking down our door to be involved.

The response from the DC community was astounding. Overwhelming. The three of us continually touted that "DC State Fair is a need DC has"--and that was proven true countless times when organizations, businesses, and individuals stepped up to support us in so many ways. So many organizations and businesses were generous with donations and incredibly happy to be involved in the first-ever event, and the support from community members was never-ending. Local (and even out-of-"state"!) bloggers helped spread the word about us and how to enter our contests. TV and newspaper reporters sought us out to interview us and get the word out, as well.

It was like an avalanche. A tiny shout led to this huge outpouring of support, creativity, and energy that carried DC State Fair through to its amazing inaugural showcase of DC talent in baking, canning, photographing, growing, and brewing. DC State Fair grew much larger than any of the three of us anticipated in its first year, and we hope to get only larger in coming years!

There were way too many “favourite parts of the day” for me to list. Instead of a single instance to call my favourite, I value most the overwhelming sense of a job well done that permeated the event. Everyone--contestants, attendees, judges, sponsors, and volunteers--expressed so much gratitude and excitement that DC State Fair was happening and was going so successfully. Although Jenna, Amelia, and I were running around like crazy all day, the preparation we had done beforehand (planning how judging would go, creating entry drop-off and judging schedules, giving our vendors and volunteers information beforehand to know what to expect) really helped the day go fairly smoothly. Of course, there were snafoos--we needed an extra table for all of the cupcake entries, and the cupcake and pie contests judging took a few extra minutes--but we ran almost exactly to schedule. That is no small feat!

Personally, I appreciate the amazing help we received on the day of from our volunteers. We had about a dozen people come out to help set up the tent area, check in contestants and their entries, collect donations, run samples from entries to the judges, and even run to the nearby Giant and CVS to buy water and other supplies. My involvement in several local volunteer organizations makes me have a pretty soft spot for the folks who donate their time to help make something a success--without those volunteers helping sort cupcakes, slice pickles, and interact with contestants and passers-by, the three of us organizers would never have been able to handle keeping the schedule and ensuring that the day's events went as planned.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of events such as DC State Fair, and in that I am also counting those people who volunteered their time to blog about DC State Fair, to tweet about us, to create posters for us, to e-mail their friends or neighbours saying "Oh, you should enter that huge pumpkin you have growing in your back yard!" That's part of community engagement, and that's what DC State Fair is to me: community. A way to share, a way to educate one another, a way to meet your neighbours who share the same hobbies as you. I have made so many new friends and colleagues whom I never would have met other than through organizing DC State Fair, and I learned an incredible deal about what DC has to offer to the home cook, home brewer, home gardener, and everyone in between.

It feels weird to say this, because when I moved here, I complained incessantly about how I reviled DC, but... I love DC now. Thank you, DC State Fair and everyone who made it happen!

Speaking of making it happen, here are some snapshots I shamelessly stole from the Facebook photo album of Bryan of FoodNewsie. Bryan was a tireless supporter, graphic designer, official photographer, and all-around awesome dude. There are a lot more photos on the aforementioned Facebook photo album, as well as on the FoodNewsie website, and everywhere on the internet, from Flickr to the Washington Post (although some details are inaccurate, I like the part that says we were "the area that drew the most people" to Columbia Heights Day).

Here are Kelly (right) and Ali of Glittarazzi, one of our wonderful sponsors, posing in front of the fabulous two-foot by eight-foot banner I threw together. They got the chance to be first-round judges in the cupcake contest, as well as judging tomatoes!

The cupcakes were one of the most hotly contested, er, contests at the first-ever DC State Fair. The level of creativity DC baked-confection-makers have is astonishing! The arms you see here are of our volunteers and sponsors, who were able to be first-round judges for the cupcake contest to narrow down which ones would be tasted by the final panel of judges.

Here's me (center) handing out first-round judge forms to volunteers for the cupcake contest. Oh, they were so excited about their volunteer duties! Amelia (left) also got the chance to sample some baked delights. I, however, only got some frosting on my finger--and it was damned good frosting, too!

Here are the jam judges. Shakti (left, sitting) of Smörgie is a general sponsor of DC State Fair; Screwy Decimal (center) and BAT CAT are DC Rollergirls, our roller derby home-team. Why would Rollergirls be involved in judging jam at the DC State Fair, you may ask? It's not that far a stretch, as they explained to us on the DC State Fair website. The cameragirl in the blue skirt was Sara Kenigsberg of TBD. She was there interviewing us and recording the happenings, which turned into a very nice video piece. To her right are Jenna and Amelia, sporting the ghetto-clever DC State Fair T-shirts that I made the night before. (We got some Columbia Heights Day DC flag shirts, and I used tape and spraypaint to get "DC State Fair" on them. My nose hairs were white and I was a bit loopy for a bit--I did that in my bathroom with no ventilation!)

Our judges had their hands (and mouths!) full throughout the day, tasting and scoring. This was the pie contest, with Marshall (left) of Scofflaw's Den; Nick (center) of Fat Man After Dark, one of our amazing sponsors who donated both money and a contest prize; and Olga of Mango & Tomato.

While judging the Funkiest-Looking Vegetable contest (a contest I convinced Soupergirl to sponsor with a prize because I wanted it to happen!), Mary of Girl Meets Food holds up the third-place winner: "Barrots." These are regular carrots, but they were grown next to beets, so they have an intense red colour. To her right sits Courtney Robinson from WJLA, who also judged the Funkiest-Looking Vegetable contest and officiated the drawing for prizes.

Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener magazine sponsored the Biggest Vegetable category and so got to officiate the weighing and measuring of the vegetables. This was the contest otherwise known as "Everybody Wins!" Few gardeners entered our competitions, and when you have a three-way tie for second place for heaviest vegetable, well, that really does put a lot of people on the winners' list!

Bryan took a nice photo of me and the friendly WJLA newsreporter, Courtney, after the drawing prizes were announced and before she dashed off to officiate Columbia Heights Day's cupcake-eating contest. Wish I could have watched it, but it was at least 50 feet away from the DC State Fair tent!

DC State Fair, you rocked my socks!


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