Category Archives: Plants

Up On the Sun

I wish you could smell where I live once the Summer Solstice arrives, and I do mean that in the best way. The scent of high summer in the Midwest, especially during a sunny, hot, and humid summer like the one we’ve been having since late May, is its own heady cut-grass-and-clover beast. Or its own pungent warm-dill-breadseed-poppies-and-horse-manure beast. You pick.

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I love that about 1 mile away from 909 and our very cute neighborhood, we can see these guys in something approximating a natural habitat.

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Orange: It’s the color of joy and creativity, of warmth and determination… of FUN! No wonder it’s been Jim’s favorite for decades.

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O, these sunflowers with their pale-yellow petals and chocolate-brown centers against that as-yet-unhazed summer sky.

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Summer also = international tournament/cup soccer. I’m off today, having myself a little Solstice-fueled vacation, and I’m eagerly awaiting my family’s arrival home from work in a bit so we can prepare to watch the US Men’s National Team take on Argentina. 909 is all about the flags at cup time.

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I was thinking today: Why is the phrase “real life” or “the real world” or “reality” so often used pejoratively? My daughter is working a fast-paced restaurant job this summer. Oh, that’s good, that’s a bit of the real world for her. Really? Hm. Sure, I guess. But… what IS the real world? I mean, I say shit like that, but this morning I was examining some of the things I say and I thought, well, that phrase, used that way by me, has GOT to go. I’m defining “real life” differently this summer. Real life can include working and earning money and enduring stress and trauma and stupidity and traffic and people being assholes and being tired and wondering IS THIS ALL THERE IS?, but it’s certainly not SOLELY or even PRIMARILY those things.

Thunderstorms are beautiful and terrible and necessary, and they are real life. Beautiful, hopeful weddings are real life, and, sadly, death is also real life. Ripening blackberries are real life; so are the thorns we have to deal with to get at them (unless you have the thornless kind, which I do not, but am still eternally grateful to Tim for letting me dig some up at his old house). Enthusiastic discussion with Lilly about filling out her proposed schedule for college – just a couple of months away – is real life. So is pondering the unverbalized question what will it be like when you’re away at school? And… so is admitting I’m afraid to find out.

The backyard at 909 is my real world. So is driving along listening to this interview with two absolutely awesome guys (twins!) in Ireland. So is sitting down every morning to write and watching difficult truths emerge. Vacation and daydreaming with Jim are real worlds. So is working at my desk at my job. It’s all real… but some realities seem to have the wrong weight attached. Recalibration is required.

Welp. I’m going to go smell some tomato plants and basil leaves. More soon.

Workhorse

This picnic table has been in our lives since the late days of our residence at 1005. We were there from 1998-2005.

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It’s a member of our family, and like all B-Ks, it’s been put through its paces. The picnic table originated with another household, and was not a small purchase for us at the time (great condition + broke-ass = hold yr breath and write the check). We were trying to build an outdoor life in a rental house, and a sturdy, beautiful picnic table with two benches symbolized how we would spend the coming years with our children and our friends and neighbors. It meant the lingering over a cherry pie at the Summer Solstice, elbows on the table. It meant workaday and it meant special occasion. Commitment Furniture.

I had every intention of preserving its heavy, 70s-vintage beauty by coating it in linseed oil (per my friend Jeanne) and also making sure it didn’t spend time out in the elements, but most of the time the table sat folornly in the rain, devoid of linseed oil or any other protectant, and baked in the sun as it dried. Thoughts of the linseed oil project seemed to invite more rain, and the cycle would begin anew.

But the table was fine. We ate there between storms all summer, pulling it into the yard or just eating in the driveway.

Then we moved to 909. The kids went to school. I went to work. Sunshine and lots of space to work with made for new and exciting gardening challenges. Everything was different! But the table remained constant, taking its customary place in the driveway. It’s stayed there for the last 11 years, except when we hustle it into the garage for the winter every November, prodded by a late fall storm. We then haul it out with great optimism and enthusiasm on that one really warm and sunny weekend that comes every March and get down to the business – or try to – of living around the table.

Outdoor life at 909 has waxed and waned. We still eat at the table. I also use it to repot plants and start seeds.

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The cats drape themselves over it and have found it delightful as a scratching post. Squirrels crack nuts and leave pieces of old pizza wedged between planks. I’ve composed many a blog post at that table (though not this one); we’ve had lots of beers with friends there. I’ve interviewed people at that table. [If that table could speak…] It’s also been a beautiful-then-trendy weathered backdrop for taking photos of vegetables and flowers and other stuff.

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Like everyone else chez B-K, it’s got a few years and a lot of mileage on it. Putting your elbows on the table now results in splinters. The benches got some new screws this spring because the other ones just… fell out. We’ve already had a graduation party at the table this year, and I decided recently to try to germinate a bunch of seeds from 2010 to see what would happen. I got them settled into the dirt at the table.

However, my vision of myself on a sunny day, lovingly coating the picnic table (which, in my vision, is sitting prettily on a thrifted vintage sheet in the driveway) still has not come to pass, alas.

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Giving your children wings so they can fly away from the nest and all that other corny stuff… can sometimes be quite literal.

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Mad respect to my daughter, Lilly, for rocking it out academically, coping with adversity, injury, and rehabbing that injury, applying to and getting accepted at a bunch of schools (she’s headed here in the fall), ending her high school soccer career with the finest of exclamation points in the post-season (one of these), landing a summer job and getting started almost immediately after graduation, and for having the guts to not just go up in an adorable little Piper Cub, but also to fly it. That’s her up there.

I’ll keep watching from down here, thanks. With great interest.

Restoring Order

We’re just dealing with old snow here.

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Dude. What a mess. The birds and other fauna like it, though.

 

So! I’m daydreaming about 2016’s garden and the seeds I want to order, like I do most Januarys.

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[Perennial food not noted above: Blackberries, asparagus, apples.]

I’m considering this list of food to plant in my yard and, in some cases, start in my basement (which I haven’t done for 5 years). I’m having two thoughts.

The first is: This list is rather pedestrian.

Beans. Tomatoes. Peppers. Carrots. Part of that could be because I didn’t include any fancy variety names on the list (“Romano” [pole beans], “Solar Yellow ” [carrot], etc, although it could be argued that “Romanesco” is a fancy variety name. I mean, it is, but when I buy it, I never refer to it as broccoli. Only Romanesco. Anyway.), but this list is actually pretty, uh, garden variety

…which brings me to my second, related thought: This is the same garden I’ve grown for the last 15 years.

It’s the garden I grew for my kids when they were much younger and I just haven’t deviated much; I’ve been coaxing the same stuff out of the ground, year after year, long after it was necessary to encourage lots of fresh vegetable & fruit consumption or for them to understand how food grows. They’re 17 and 23 now. I think they get it.

Sudden third thought: It’s entirely likely that Jim and I will be the only permanent residents of 909 by September. 2016 will probably be the last year I grow a garden of this size, with this food, unless something happens and we have to grow more of our own food as opposed to supporting the indie farming scene to balance our own production.

I want more flowers, see. Big, weird flowers. I’m seeing flowers everywhere, even in the dead kale.

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Note to self: Manufacturing epiphanies & forcing transformative experiences ≠ any real progress for you. The question is: Are you ready to receive such things when they visit?

 

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

My Macbook charger is on its last legs, after almost 4 years

Aforementioned Macbook is also almost 4 years old. Years? Mileage?

Ira Glass wants more new voices in public radio

The Cactus Blossoms’ new record made me catch my breath

How the media blew Flint

Great piece about the business of Girl Scout cookies

Some of David Bowie’s favorite records

I’d love to do this, but the price tag is rather steep

Flex

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2015 wanes. Has it really been three months since I’ve written? 3 full moons? A quarter of a calendar year? I just realized that I stopped writing at the Fall equinox and resumed just after the Winter Solstice. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m eyeing the exiting calendar year with an eyebrow raised. Our weather has been anything-but-wintry. The calendar and the culture tell me I should be packed snugly into my house, with tea and piles of books and candles everywhere, hygge-ing it up, but it feels incongruous. I’d rather prowl my garden and marvel at what’s still alive, so I do.

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Kale thriving.

 

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Chard surviving.

 

I fell asleep last night to flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder (I found this comforting, even in its weirdness; what I dislike is the water in our basement from the 2″+ of rain we’ve received in the last couple of days). As far as I’m concerned, winter is over, not just the year. (I know. January and February. I know.)

2015 felt like the film Groundhog Day (or perhaps Edge of Tomorrow), facile as that sounds. Much happened, as it always does, but it felt like it was happening around me. I frequently felt powerless to stop the bad things from happening, and often felt like a spectator at the good things that were happening. It wasn’t a terrible year by any means, but something felt off. I haven’t felt this rudderless in a long time, so I’m going to hang out with myself at a cafe in the coming days and do something I haven’t done for years: Figure shit out. I have some ideas. I’m grateful for that.

 

What I’m reading:

Drawing Blood

Out on the Wire

Robert Kennedy and His Times

Listening to:

These Spotify playlists for Star Wars characters are fantastic

Joe Rogan’s podcast

She Does podcast (on hiatus for a few weeks)

You Must Remember This podcast (also on hiatus for a few weeks)

Root Simple podcast

The New Yorker Radio Hour

 

So. Hello. And not in the Adele way.

Last Day of May

Dear May 2015:

It’s not really like me to say this, but… I can’t say that I’m sad to see you go. There were highlights during your time here, but overall you were unpredictable, difficult, moody, and kind of a jerk (especially for giving us a high of 57° on your last day). But! I’m an eternal optimist, so I acknowledge that by being all of those things, you did provide a bit of clarity in a backassward way. Thank you for that… I guess?

As previously mentioned: Though you rather sucked, you weren’t entirely lacking in sweetness. Check it out.

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Salad mix 1.0.

 

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Strawberry lemonade cupcakes by Hopscotch for a colleague’s retirement bash.

 

Lone tomato given a good home out front.

 

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Cherry tree on the walk to work.

 

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Cute little mobile food operation in DT Urbana.

 

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The lindens are blooming in C-U.

 

Nevertheless, I’m pretty pumped for June.

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Here’s a micro-LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

Some roadblocks encountered by public media on the way to “digital first”

Provocative headline: “How Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Slow Food Theorists Got It All Wrong” (I have the book referenced in this piece and am STOKED to read it)

It’ll Get Done

Let’s talk about the weather for a sec, like people do.

[Wait, first… a photo of a peony about to bloom. If you follow BYI on Instagram, you might have already seen this:]

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OK. I don’t know about the weather where you are, but the weather here in old central IL has been less than helpful in terms of partnering with me personally (because it’s all about me, right??) to get the garden into the ground. By mid-May, warm weather stuff – tomatoes, herbs, peppers – have typically been planted, the worst of the spring weeds vanquished, the flower seeds sown, and the few planters we do have lurking here at 909 have something in them that was actually put there on purpose.

Thanks to rain timed to coincide with the end of the workday and/or weekends, I’m 25% of the way there. OK, 40%. I’m kind of mortified. It really isn’t just the rain – it’s also working off the premises and taking care of other business. Time’s gotten away from me. I do way less for the garden than I used to – when I bought a bunch of vegetable and herb starts at the farmers market this past weekend, Jon from Blue Moon was all, hey, whatever happened with your home seed start production? And I was like, dude, I haven’t had the chance to start seeds in 5 years, so THANK YOU for making these available! – but I got in front of that by planting some food that basically grows itself every year, like asparagus, blackberries, apples, and perennial herbs. Garlic doesn’t grow itself, but I planted it last fall, so that counts. I love food that mostly grows itself. And I love farmers who start seeds and offer those starts at farmers markets.

Anyway. I’ve planted the planters (which helps psychologically because they’re cheerful, full of cheap marigolds and portulaca*) and I’ve bought/dug the starts I want,  and have planted some kale and beets and salad mix. Um, it’s not June yet, so I’m going to just be OK with it.

My weed patch and brush pile, though – let me show them to you. I call this photo “Still Life with Old Holiday Wreath and Creeping Charlie, Mint, and Aging Wheelbarrow”.

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The coolest part of working in the yard when I could over this past (sunny) weekend was seeing/hearing my neighbors do likewise. It’s been so damn rainy and I hadn’t seen anyone for weeks. Chris and Melony next door did some hard time in their yard. Virginia, an elder woman who lives behind us, was working on her lovely yard with a friend. I went a few houses down to my new neighbor (and old friend) Bruce’s house to ID some plants for him. And I saw Lara, a block over, being a TGB**. I’m not sure she left her yard the entire day. As a result of the damned hard work she and Phil have put in since they bought the place a few years ago, their yard/garden/chicken coop are among the most incredible-looking in Urbana. You can see what everything looked like last year in “Henthusiasm“, starting at 4:21. Seriously, if garden coaching were a thing (and maybe it should be) Lara would KILL IT. She has an artist’s eye for color and placement, much enthusiasm and fire, is fearless about trying things, does not believe one should have to spend a lot of money to have an awesome garden, and does not ever tire, apparently.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs, Saved Aggressively):

Tim (the other half of BYI Video) and I are experimenting with Slack as a collab tool

I’m interested in the concept of a mastermind group for some motivation

Ira Glass (This American Life) ruffled some public media feathers recently and came back with this explanation

Be kind

The challenges of editing while female

Crafting a pitch email (needed this a few days ago)

Widespread automation and resource depletion are my big worries – and both are happening faster than anyone truly realizes

Shit People Say to Women Directors is a most amazing/infuriating blog

 

*I am not a fashion planter gardener. I’m a “find whatever you can on sale and then stick it into whatever vessel you find in the garage” planter gardener.

**Total Garden Badass

Writing For 15 Minutes

I have 15 minutes to get a post written, media uploaded, etc. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

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I have somehow managed to not kill our indoor plants. The key to successfully keeping succulents alive is to not water them all the damn time. As my friend Mathis says, those of us who are used to growing food plants outside tend to overwater succulents, because… well… HOW CAN THEY NOT NEED WATER EVERY DAY? I’ve watchfully ignored this plant and all of its friends and they seem to be thriving. Success. I guess the lessons here are that a) I should listen to the experts because I do not know everything and b) I do not need to helicopter parent my plants.

That said, I’m looking forward to getting back outside. Footage review from stuff we shot last summer has been tortuous – chickens, garden foliage, flowers in glorious HD – and the snow encrusting our driveway and every other outdoor surface seems very last season, all of a sudden.

LOTSA (Lisa’s Open Tabs Saved Aggressively):

The next internet is TV

Synonyms for “hope” (my favorite is “pipe dream”)

Something about media vertical collectives

Amanda Hesser’s Medium page

For those who hate themselves for loving Kinfolk: The Kinspiracy

Farm to table alive and well in Arizona

Free vintage clip art and photos

Reveal – great investigative reporting here

Women and commercial space travel

Greil Marcus’ “Days Between Stations” archive… finally

Caught Up

 

About a month ago, my basil started to die.

The untimely death of basil in my garden isn’t a new thing, unfortunately. It’s caused by basil downy mildew, and I hate it because it kills the plants, it ruins my pesto plans,  and because it interferes with my idea of what happens when; I have journal entries from ten years ago/five years ago/three years ago where the basil is still going strong well into September. The new reality of basil in our part of the midwest is this: We have to work harder to just have it. We have to plant earlier and more strategically, cut more often, start new plants while we’re cutting, watch for disease, and eventually replant for what ultimately works out to be less basil. It’s a scourge borne on the wind, and while not everyone’s plants get it at the same time, everyone’s plants succumb eventually. And if you don’t grow basil yourself, you’re sure to notice its early absence from markets. I interviewed a couple of experts and whine about it here.

 

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I reviewed Ava Chin’s memoir, Eating Wildly, for Backyard Industry Radio this week. I don’t review books very often, but this one called out to me from a pile of things I meant to read over the summer. It’s a fine memoir about gain and loss and looking around your world with a new set of eyes; with foraging, there is always uncertainty about what you’ll find and whether you’ll know it when you see it, and she captures that feeling well with her uncomplicated, self-aware prose. Before the book came out in May 2014, Chin had been writing a column, “Urban Forager”, about her experiences foraging in the city and elsewhere – and then cooking what she ate – for the New York Times.

In the book, she addresses the issue of the legality of foraging in the city. This column about daylilies from 2010 drew a vigorous response from readers on both sides of the issue – some were fascinated with the concept of being able to eat them, and others were upset with the idea that someone would not only forage plants in public parks, but would write about it, encouraging (many) others to possibly do the same, stripping the parks of foliage meant to be enjoyed by everyone. In the end, the City came down on foraging in public parks.

I have mixed feelings about this. I love my time at my local prairie preserve and am definitely not into it when I see people trouncing on other foliage to pick flowers there; however, black raspberries? I’ve been known to carefully take a few as I walk. [Maybe, sometimes, more than a few.] Mosquitoes make me crazy when I’m out there; I don’t even think twice about looking for and harvesting plantain to take the itch away. While I would never take produce out of someone’s private garden at the plots there or anywhere, I’ve definitely brought home a breadseed poppy pod or two when it hangs over the public path. Are seeds and weeds any different from flowers and fruit? Should lambsquarter and plantain and garlic mustard (a much-loathed invasive here) be left alone to go to seed and fruit and flowers left for the birds, instead of going to a few people curious about what’s coming out of the ground, uncultivated? I personally tend to subscribe to the Scandinavian concept of Allemansrätten: Foraging for wild foods is allowed in public parks and even on private land, as long as nothing is disturbed and the foraging isn’t happening on farms or cultivated gardens. They seem to make it work there. I’m not sure it’d work here.

[It did surprise me that, in publishing that column, Chin broke one of the cardinal rules of foraging: Never share where you find something special. Don’t tell anyone where you got the wild asparagus or morels or poppy seeds. I guess I also just broke the rule, but I’m not a forager.]

Closer to home here in the midwest, we have Nance Klehm. She’s been foraging and experimenting in the urban environment for ages, though I’m not sure she’s living in Chicago full time these days. Her philosophy? A little more countercultural and a little less “foodie” than Chin’s – check out some of her writing here.

Rain Reign

A delightful pop-up thunderstorm, whose lightning to the south put on quite the show as the storm slowly made its way across the prairie, visited last night. FINALLY.

It rained, hard enough, for about half an hour before lumbering on to the next town. This was good, as I’d only watered the plants in containers before succumbing to a severe case of the I-don’t-wannas and hoped for the best.

I got up this morning and went out, as I do almost every morning in the summer, to investigate the potential aftermath. Peony bushes always look like downed swans to me after a storm, the flowers gracefully drooping to the ground under the weight of rain. The weeds, as I’d expected, had rioted overnight. The sun was shining and the scent of the earth was heady stuff; I entertained rebellious thoughts of maybe skipping work for a garden-health day…

[The scent immediately brought me back to a very specific time in 2003, when we were living at 1005 and were being paid a visit by my friend Kristin and her family. They had been visiting relatives in St. Louis and asked if they could swing by our place on their way back to their home in New York. I said yes, of course. I had never met her in person – we had been online friends for a couple of years at that point, brought together by similar stories exchanged on the message boards at hipMama – the boards were a lifeline to many back then. Anyway, after saying yes, I was like what am I doing? What if it’s weird? What if they think we’re weird? What if it’s painfully awkward? It was awesome, of course. We had dinner and the kids engaged in a huge water balloon fight and the spouses (both tall guys named Jim) got on well. But my favorite moments were when Kristin and I visited several gardens – my small one out back, my friend Janna’s huge one down the street, and the plots out at Meadowbrook. I might have even had a plot out there that year – I can’t remember. I think Kristin was impressed with the utter fertility of the place. At any rate, it was the smell of the Meadowbrook gardens on that specific day that has stayed with me – humid air, warmed soil, the dill that ran rampant in all the garden plots every year…]

… but I sucked it up and went to work. I came home later and started tending to this.

Greens

When I planted the greens, I knew I’d be getting more than the seeds I was planting. I’m not one for neat beds, that’s for sure; calendula had lived in the bed the year before, lamb’s quarter lives EVERYWHERE in my yard, always, and I know from experience that if you let even one dill plant go to seed, you’re going to have it in unexpected places in the spring. And so it is with the greens patch this year. It smells delicious.

I did weed a huge patch of zinnias. I opened a beer and brought my radio out to help the task along. Jim came outside and chatted with me as I picked and pulled. Mattie Flicktail Lonesome settled into the garlic to observe the dogs in the yard behind us.

Garlic Cat

Mattie and her son, Teacups Nibbles Lonesome (not pictured), are quite fond, this year, of hanging out with me in the yard, just like the CSN&Y song. They’re mostly fond of rolling around on top of whatever I’ve just planted, but it’s still pretty cool to have them out there. Back in the Chicken Days, I talked to the girls incessantly while I gardened; now I mostly gruff at the cats to quit rolling around in the flowers or to stop eating the grass that inevitably makes them hurl.

Times have changed, obviously, but the calendula, dill, and lamb’s quarter still reign (and smell) supreme.