Gardening

Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

Sprouts, Orchids, and Arctic Winds

This morning I misted the orchids.  None are blooming right now, but an orange catteleya I received as a gift several years ago is budding, as is my favorite epidendrum, which offers up a host of delicate, greenish, spidery blooms every February. It brightens my day to spend a little time tending the house plants when it is most wintry outside.

I rinsed sprouts.  I have both bean sprouts and a salad mixture going.  I started new batches of sprouts as soon as I returned from NYC.  I was grateful for the offerings at the grocery store, but pine for at least a little something truly fresh.  I’d had a little chard, parsley, and chives that made it through the snow storm.  Much to my surprise, I even managed to salvage enough from the garden to include in an omelet after the ice storm the other morning, but the day-time subfreezing temperatures and icy winds have finished off the outdoor garden until March.  I think I am going to get some burlap and start some micro-greens in addition to salad and bean sprouts.

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Celebration and Loss (last of the arugula)

last arugula

As you can see from the photo, this tender arugula was not likely to make it through the night (temperatures forecast to be in the mid-20s).  It is a cause for great celebration that it made it through last weekend’s snow storm, several nights below freezing, and provided a little spice to my salads for a couple of months.  It lasts this long because I over plant, first eat the greens as I thin them, then pick them by the leaf rather than by the root to encourage the plants to grow more vigorously, and finally start pulling them up by the handful when the danger of hard frost calls for the inevitable demise.  Tonight, I cut everything in the pot down to about a 1/2 inch.  It is possible, though not likely based on the current forecast of a cooler than normal winter, that if we got a couple of warm weeks in late January or early February that it would come back.

I am celebrating what I have grown in this tiny space and the exquisite delight of eating greens from right outside my door this late into the year.  I am sad that the outdoor gardening season is just about over; I will miss it.  If I had more space or a firmer intention (maybe the latter will come in another year or two),  I could build a cold frame or go for plastic tunnels.  In my little micro-climate, that would probably get me through the winter.  I rather like, though, a space of time with no obligation to the outdoor garden.  A time to dream rather than work.  I know what a luxury it is to be able to rest in such a way and still have bountiful food.

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Unwanted Things?

Jane asks in response to my pictures of the tropicals indoors, “[w]hat, if anything, do you do to avoid bringing unwanted outdoor things in with the plants?”  I assume she means bugs of various kinds, though it could also mean weeds, or, quite frankly, baby rodents in my garden location.  What works best for me is taking the time to properly tend the plants right before I bring them inside.  I do not repot the orchids that are spiking or in bloom, but I do take ones that are struggling or ones which have only had new green growth for the year out of the pots, change or at least rearrange the potting medium, and snip off dead roots, branches, leaves, etc.  I brush off the outsides of the pots.  After I have done that, I give them a good watering with the hose, letting the excess water run off before bringing the plants inside.  A moth or two always comes inside, a few ants, maybe a couple of flies and mosquitoes, but I think it is worth it.

The answer for me then is two-fold, as it would be with any “unwanted things” in life.   I try to take appropriate, healthful efforts to purify and fortify so that the wanted things outshine the unwanted things and the unwanted are released.  As that is a challenging process, I also have expanded my tolerance, by recognizing them as part of the whole, for the things I don’t want that come with those things that I do want .  It’s these two practices together that have made it easier for me to appreciate and have beauty in my life.

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Tropicals Inside

My friend and former neighbor Robert shared with me his great love and knowledge of tropical plants.  When he was still living in DC, he’d call me up and ask me whether I wanted to make a pilgrimage to the now gone Kensington Orchids.  The lush beauty took my breath away, especially on a cold, winter day.  I have my tropical plants indoors from October/November to April.  (I have a very protected, sunny back yard and danger of last frost can be weeks earlier for me than neighbors just outside the District limits. For some, the time outdoors would be shorter.)  When I first bring them inside, I get a burst of the tropics right when it is truly showing signs of late fall/early winter.  When it is time, in the Spring to start shifting from winter-hardy greens to early planting of seedlings for summer harvest, I bring out the tropicals.  My garden, then, is already lush by late April.  My garden’s small size is an advantage here; a dozen tropical plants completely transforms the whole garden.  I then have room to do Spring cleaning.

Although I generally try to follow the seasons, the use of tropical plants does seem to assist me in weathering the external diminishment of light and warmth in winter.

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Staying Indoors (or Not)

Of my friends on facebook, several reveled in staying inside because of the rain yesterday.  Others complained about being unable to do things that would have been better on a dry day.  Reporters and anchor persons seemed to think it newsworthy whether the rain will impact football or baseball games.  How about telling us whether the rain we are getting is optimal for the native flora and fauna and how it is impacting the farmers?  We seem as a society to have forgotten the relationship of the weather to food.

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When to Bring in the Tropical Plants (and stress v. distress)

From late September through the first week when there either are two or more nights forecast to below 38F or one night below 35F, I assiduously watch the 15-day weather forecast to determine when to bring in my tropical plants (orchids, bromiliads, a night-blooming jasmine plant (now 8 years old), a bay tree in a 24 inch pot (now 12 years old)).  I also bring in the lemon grass and lemon balm I have in containers so that they can be the perennials they would be in a warm climate; here, left outside, they are annuals.

When I first had a few orchids — over 10 years ago now — as soon as there was a hint of cold weather (below 45F) I rushed the plants inside, believing that if they were tropical, they needed to be inside.  In one of the early years, the first night below 40F was in late September.  The plants really suffered from a full seven months inside.  I have since learned (by studying and personal observation) two things about my tropical plants.  The first is that they are a lot happier outside than inside (when inside is not a properly humid, sunny greenhouse).  The second is that they like cold weather as long as it is not near or below freezing.  They especially like cold rains like we had the other weekend.  The stress of a few weeks of nights in the 40sF, in fact, seem to help the orchids bloom.  Now, by waiting until the last possible minute, and bringing them out as soon as it seems like the danger of last frost (for my backyard, which is very early) has passed, the orchids are outside at least seven months of the year.

Thinking about how the orchids flourish with the stress of some chill, but not too much, reminds me of what my teacher John Friend talks about in yoga practice of the difference between stress and distress.  Some stress actually strengthens us.  This is why one of the best ways to avoid or at least slow the process of osteoporous (according to the general medical literature to I’ve read) advocates weight-bearing exercise.  Putting weight, i.e., stress, on our bones and muscles strengthens them.  Too much, too fast, however, will injure our muscles and bones.

So, especially for those of us with injuries (prior or current) or physical challenges such as arthritis, it is optimal to exercise, to seek our edge, to put ourselves under stress, mindfully and intentionally.  We need to be aware, though, of the subtlety of the edge between stress and distress so that we are strengthened not injured, just as exposing the orchids to some fall weather invites them to bloom, but actual freezing or near-freezing temperatures will harm or kill them.

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