Monthly Archives: June 2012
I often hear (or read), with more than a twinge of envy, the yearly plight of gardeners who live in climes more moderate than mine: that of the overgrown garden. They post pictures on Facebook of two-foot-long just-discovered zucchini, which had been hiding in the undergrowth of lamentably uncontrolled veggies.
“If you only knew!” I silently respond, a pout on my lips, “how wonderful it would be to have things actually GROW like that!!”
Gardening in the desert is hard work. It’s a labor of love, yes…
In fact, I was reflecting earlier this week, on how gardening feeds my love — and increases my understanding of the process — of being a part of the growth and development of things: of children into responsible, loving adults; of two separate people into a carefully-tended, history-filled, long-term marriage relationship; of increasing spiritual maturity; of lifelong learning and the gaining of new skills… And more. I love to be a part of the growth of something.
So, it’s not like gardening is all pain. There are few places I’d rather be during summer days, even in the blazing heat, than out in my garden. And minutes after I wake, often still in my pajamas, cup of coffee in hand*, I take advantage of the quiet of sleeping children, and the shade and not-yet-blazing heat, and stumble into the first 10-15 minutes of my day (sometimes longer) slowly circling my garden, crouching every couple of feet to inspect growth, check on the presence of pests, watch a honeybee deep in the bowels of a gorgeous squash blossom, pull a weed or two, lament anything dead, and generally take stock of the state of affairs in that little patch of earth. I listen to the Verdin family chirp in a nearby Desert Ironwood tree, breathe in the not-quite-cool early morning air, and soak in the green. It’s a lovely, lovely way to start the day.
Still, though, gardening in the desert takes concerted effort and determination, and one can’t let off for more than a day or two — at most — or that will be the death of the garden.
It dawned on me recently why the “soil” in the Sonoran Desert — which is actually a heavy clay called caliche — is so dead. Under normal conditions — that is, conditions in environments where it actually rains — a plant goes through a cycle with the ground in which it grows:
- Eventually the plant, or very least, part of it — like spent blossoms and old leaves — dies, and that dead part settles onto the ground below the plant.
- The dead bits decompose with the help of, among other things, moisture.
- The decomposition replenishes the soil, returning the nitrogen-rich matter that is the nursery for new growth.
That’s elementary school science, of course. But it has really been revelatory to me to understand that the reason that doesn’t happen here is because this: the dead plant parts simply dehydrate, instead of decompose! If there is no moisture, there is no decomposition. If there is no decomposition, nothing returns to the soil; it just sits on top the ground, withers, and eventually blows away in the hot wind.
I’m starting to be concerned that the pay-off on this post, dear reader, is going to be highly disappointing to you.
Are you still with me?
I hope so.
Here was the source of my giddiness this morning: In spite of the close, daily inspection my garden receives — not only in the morning, but multiple times daily — in spite of my daily work and close involvement with the growing things in my veggie patch, I FOUND SOMETHING HIDDEN!
It is not, my friends, a two-foot long zucchini. It is, however, nearly eight ounces of green beans. TRIUMPH!!
They’re not beautiful, I’ll give you that.
I should have known better, actually, than to plant them. I bought them from a seed company whose gardens are in Maine. MAINE.
Note to self: It’s beyond foolish to expect beans grown in Maine to perform similarly in the deserts of Arizona.
This season, I have watched my pole beans (they’re a French heirloom variety called Émérite — read a whole post of an Oregon gardener singing the praises of Émérite here) have trouble germinating, but then spring up with vigorous, hopeful growth, and be covered with delicate lavender blossoms just in time for the desiccating 100° – 115°F rainless winds to blow, and for the cursed Western Flower Thrips to move in, for a good third of their leaves to fall, and for me to mourn the thousands of tiny, curved almost-beans which will, apparently, never grow to the “heavy producer of attractive, light green, straight, pencil- slim round pods” of which I had read, visions of haricot verts dancing in my head.
I had resigned myself to simply trying to keep a tiny breath of life in the vines, and that, hopefully, they would produce something edible, come fall’s cooler weather, when many desert gardens thrive.
However, this morning, I noticed, among the 4″ thick shady, damp mulch of Palo Verde “straw” and dead bean leaves, a fairly good-sized bean. I reached in and plucked it. Then, I saw another. I lifted away some of the mulch and found more. Then, more! All of the mature beans were very close to the ground, perhaps because it’s cooler there, and less affected by the withering desert air.
Since most of these beans were growing in damp, over-shaded, conditions, ¾ covered in mulch, they’re not very attractive. They’re pale and scarred. However, they’re tasty. Nearly a half-pound of them. They will be dinner, tonight.
I finally have my overgrown garden, in which edible things hide, waiting to be uncovered and give sweet surprise.
*Every woman should be so lucky as to marry a coffee snob who takes it upon himself to select beans, freshly grind, and brew the daily coffee.
**I must also say that the desire for jungle-like growth lives in uneasy tension with my desire to have a well-tended garden. The words “well-tended garden” frequently filter through my head… The phrase infers a great many metaphors, all lovely. Oh, well. I guess this will be one of the things I cannot have both ways. Snap.
Last summer/fall, when I was planning my winter garden, I was fresh off of my disappointment from growing corn.
I found corn much more difficult to grow and much less rewarding than I had anticipated. It took up a HUGE amount of space in my garden, sucked up ssssoooooo much water, and had endless problems with pests and pollination. On top of that, it took forever to grow, so it was like the problem that just wouldn’t end. (For the curious, I grew a desert-adapted heirloom called “Maricopa”, ordered from the highly-esteemed Native Seeds/SEARCH, a variety that they no longer seem to sell. Maybe I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with it.)
So, I decided that I would only grow things that I could harvest in a relatively short period of time. But…. I wanted to try onions. I bought my packet of Seeds of Change Newburg onions at a local grocery store and gulped, “120 days to maturity??? That’s
SIX MONTHS!” [edited to correct my math — 120 days equals four months. However, since onions need to be grown in the winter in the Phoenix area — root crops don’t do well at all in the 110°F weather — and there is less sun during the winter, one typically needs to factor in an additional third to half number of days or so into the time to maturity listed on a packet of seeds. So, onions do typically need to grow for six months here…] I just couldn’t see taking up a big space in my garden for six stinkin’ months! So, starting on October 1, per my Maricopa Planting Schedule, I only planted 24 seeds. I had a little difficulty getting them to germinate, and more difficulty getting them established. They just seemed picky. So, I would re-plant the ones that didn’t “take”, netting me in a whole bunch of onions that were planted at different times, over the course of at least two months. And in the end, I didn’t even have a whole 24. Now, it’s the end of June, nearly nine months since I started planting! And my onion tops just started falling over last week.
I harvested them today, and just about cried.
This time, though, it weren’t tears of disappointment over a poor harvest, which seems much too common in my garden endeavors. Instead, they were the almost-tears of, “Ooooohhh… I wish I would have planted MORE!!” Despite their difficult start, once the onions got going, they were SO EASY. Effortless. I had no pest problems, no growth problems, nothing. They just grew and grew, the tops reaching a good 2′ high, a lush, dark-green promise of big bulbs growing underground. Newburgs don’t reach a giant size, only 3-4″, and of the 12 I harvested today, only half of those were that big. The rest were probably late-plants, and are more like boiling onions. I still have another six or so growing out there, that I’m hoping will get larger… their tops haven’t yet fallen.
Next time, I’m going to plant the rest of my Newburg packet, and maybe some Valencia…
And, by the way, I also planted Seeds of Change Parade Bunching Onions for my green onion/scallions. I am extremely well-pleased with those, as well. It’s long past the time when I’m supposed to have to stop harvesting them, yet they live. When I make a salad or a stir-fry or whatever, I go out with a pair of scissors and cut them off at the ground. And whaddya know? They grow back. So, maybe that has prolonged the harvest. Only two of those have gone to seed, and they’re all still growing admirably.
In case you missed it on Facebook, the rest of my garden is on really shaky legs. I finally identified the problem my plants have been having — what has caused the slow death and stunted growth of just about everything else in the garden besides the onions: The dreaded Western Flower Thrips. Ugh. Over the weekend, I had to dust almost everything with Diatomaceous Earth. DE is “organic”, in the sense that it’s not a chemical; it’s fossilized algae that forms into microscopic shards of silica that slice open an insect’s exoskeleton. But, DE is not a discerning pest-killer; it doesn’t discriminate; it kills them all. ~sigh~ But, it was either that, or rip out EVERYTHING, as the Western Flower Thrips have infected ALL of my tomato plants, all my green beans, all the squash plants (I think there are seven of them), both of my red bell pepper plants, and now, my cucumbers. 😦 The red chard is still growing, seemingly unaffected, but now that it’s so hot, the chard is turning bitter, and is almost useless anyway. So, I’m sad about that whole thing. I’m pretty heartbroken about everything going down the tubes… And it literally has made me sick to my stomach to see all the lovely beneficial insects gone — the hovering syrphid flies, the iridescent long-legged flies, the green lacewings… 😦 My semi-regular sprays of garlic/red pepper/onion/soap insecticide/deterrent, plus sharp streams of water probably slowed down the progression of the thrips, but it was clear that I had to do something drastic. It might be too late; I am just hoping that some plants recover.
I don’t have a Buddhist’s love for all insects, nor would Christina Rossetti wouldn’t hold me dear. My heart is steely-cold to all plant-eating bugs that attack my garden’s fruitfulness, and I now have NO TROUBLE ripping off a tomato hornworm and throwing him into the nearest bush, with a 98% certainty that he will die there. And I squish aphids with glee. And I had no compunctions about eliminating the Western Flower Thrips. But, I’m mourning the loss of those beneficials… they’re casualties of war.
And, by the way, since Western Flower Thrips almost exclusively proliferate on greenhouse starts that one buys at the nursery, I have learned my lesson. NEVER AGAIN will I be seduced by the months saved by buying starts in little pots. Two of my tomato plants, and the two bell peppers, I bought from lovely-looking starts at Home Depot. I am now thinking ugly thoughts about Home Depot, and I will ALWAYS start from seed in the future.
Hurt No Living Thing
by Christina Rossetti
Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.
I was going through some pictures yesterday, to send with my mom & stepdad in their travels to my mom’s home state of Illinois.
I wanted to send way too many of my husband; I just love these. He’s so handsome, and he loves his family. His faults are never as severe as he fears they are, and his positive traits infinitely more valuable than he realizes. I have never met anyone, ever, who is always working on doing better, in every arena of his life — in his relationship with the Father, in how he treats his family, in the quality of his work, in his internal attitudes and heart-issues, and more. He is quick to apologize, and humbly admits to more fault than is ever due him.
I’m blessed to have him.
The world is blessed to have him.
Some days, I almost forget — ALMOST — that I have an autistic child. My son Grant will be 13 in August, and was diagnosed more than nine years ago with Nonverbal Learning Disorder, which many consider to be on the autistic spectrum. It is very akin to Asperger Syndrome, but with fewer of Aspies’ fixations, and with added fine and gross motor skill problems. (An EXCELLENT article, differentiating between NLD, ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder, concentrating on NLD can be found here — it’s a PDF.)
From the bottom of my heart, even though we have ongoing difficulties with Grant (see below), I believe he is so, so, so, so, so, so, so much better than he could be, as a 13-year-old*, and the biggest reasons for that are:
- The presence of God in Grant’s life, and
- We homeschool.
A reader just asked me a question on an old post. I don’t know if anyone really tracks comments via the sidebar on the right, so I thought I’d turn it into a full-on post. I’ll quote her first, then quote my response. What I replied is kind of sloppy; not as carefully-written as if it were a “real” post… But I thought it merited its own blog entry.
From reader Canadian Mom:
I am in Canada and stopped hs’ling my son after 3 months of grade 1, before that Kindergarten. I found a sweet country school to place him in with just over 100 students and he is just finishing grade 2. He has NLD, ADHD and DCD (developmental coordination disorder). I love him dearly but he is a handful, he’s not diagnosed with but I think he is ODD. He fights me and resists me on nearly everything. It’s very challenging, I’ve had to do a lot of personal growth just to handle him.
I did put him on med’s and his teacher thinks he is doing great at school in reading and related subjects, however math is his great weakness. In grade 4 they do the PsychEd tests so I am thinking of keeping him in until that test is done and we have a really clear picture of what we are dealing with. Ideally I would hs and if I have the guts to eventually I will take him out to hs again but I’m kind of waiting for him to “hit the wall”. He gets a lot of support at school and seems to enjoy it. However, because of his DCD he stays away from sports so is alienated from other boys at recess and lunch and plays with another girl who has some learning disabilities. I would love to know more about your methods for hs’ling your NLD boy. I want to hs my boy but am afraid of all the resistance I get and it effecting our learning outcomes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My really long response:
CM ~ I’m not sure I have any amazing words of wisdom. I will confess that with my five children, aged 3 – 15 (my NLD boy is almost 13), he is my most challenging on just about every issue. Things are so much more peaceful, and everything — I mean EVERYTHING — goes so much more smoothly when he is not here. So, I’m not saying, “It’s SO EASY to homeschool your NLD child!!” I do maintain, though, that it is most often better for the child. This past school year, I came VERY close to putting my son in a special, advanced program, like a school-within-a-school, very hands-on, very science-oriented, low teacher-to-student ratio. I gathered all the info, talked with admin at the school, and they were VERY supportive of me sending in our app. In fact, when we didn’t, they called often to ask why we hadn’t. But, my husband said, “We’re not going to throw him to the wolves.” Meaning, for all his brilliance, and for all the difficulty he causes at home, and all the literal heartbreak and distress I go through…. he’s still so vulnerable. I finally had to agree with my husband’s statement. It would be throwing him to the wolves. Socially, he’s just not adapted to a school atmosphere. I could see the huge likelihood of us sifting through issues with children, teachers, admin, just the “system” of school, and coming up bloodied in every way. Know what I mean? For all that it would be a huge relief for me NOT to have to homeschool him (and I’m being really honest here), I just couldn’t, for his emotional and physical health, do it.
Grant isn’t diagnosed with ODD, but I’m sure I could obtain such a dx. His operational outlook is, “I’m right, you’re wrong,” and it doesn’t matter who the other person is — parent, pastor, friend’s parent, policeman, whomever. He — deep in his heart — thinks that he is the most brilliant, best person in the whole world, and that his outlook is the only one right, and the only one valid. He’s certain that his ideas trump mine, and has no value, respect, or even acknowledgement of authority.
He’s not dx’ed with DCD, but he was in OT for YEARS due to fine and gross motor skill problems, and he is very uncoordinated. We’re more likely to call it PDD, here in the States, although I think that name was changed recently… But, same thing: He can’t do team anything. He’s eager and willing, but a liability to teams.
So. With that bleak picture, why do I homeschool? I still think it is his best chance to learn from someone who truly loves him and is FOR him. I can let him study ahead in some areas, and supplement him in areas where he lags. I can provide the structure and discipline he needs. I can help bring out his BEST and weed the garden of his heart to help his character develop, something that schools don’t really do; they just want kids to be functional within a classroom setting. I want him to be much better than “functional”. I want him to flourish. AND, while I will say that we still very often struggle with his lack of respect and his preschool-like behavior, we have had LOADS of break-throughs this past year, and he’s doing better in many areas in which I had previously nearly despaired. He is *healthy*, emotionally. He has lots of friends. Most of them are younger than him, but still, lots of friends. He truly loves God. He is eager and willing in so many areas, and is so often an encouragement to me. He TRIES in many areas. For instance, he’ll often ask me, “How are you doing Mom?” with a rub on my shoulder, and a soft face, and cocked head. Now, he’s asking that because I’ve taught him that people like others to care for them, and he needs to take time to be attentive to others. I can see him mentally go down the check list: Ask Mom how she’s doing; give her a soft smile; rub her shoulder; look into her eyes. Check, check, check. IOW, it doesn’t come naturally to him. But, in many ways, that makes it MORE valuable, because the things we’ve taught him — often repeating it THOUSANDS of times, to no effect — are finally bearing fruit. I can actually look at his future, and see some hope and if we can keep his shoulders pointed in the right direction, he’s not going to self-destruct; he’s going to be a tremendous asset to his future family, to his community, to the Body of Christ, and to the world in general.
Please don’t wait for your child to “hit the wall”. It’s so much easier (not that it’s easy) to practice “preventative medicine” than to rehab hearts and behaviors.
*Nonverbal Learning Disorder has the highest rate of suicide of all learning disorders, and it spikes radically higher in the teen and young adult years. I can’t find numbers on it right now, but I’ve read that the rate is as high as 60%. By the grace of God, and with the wisdom He has given to my husband and me, and through love and understanding, that WILL NOT be my child.