Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ah Ha Is Not My Favorite Palindrome

So, remember the avocado seed that was doing well and then wasn't? Rumor has it that we had it growing upside down.

The Moral of the Story: Put the avocado seed in water, wide-side down.

Very interesting. And here I am, blogging away, trying to inspire others to follow my gardening lead.

It reminds me of my first job. Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, FL. I was a 16 year-old, and I rotated every thirty minutes to a different part of the museum: I ran the hurricane machine, I presented liquid nitrogen shows (yes, they even had me pour it down my arm), and I staffed the butterfly garden. I would delight in showing people the tiny, white butterfly eggs hidden snugly under the leaves. People would exclaim, "Oh. I'm so glad you pointed them out to me; I would've mistaken those for aphids and sprayed them."

A few months passed. Amber, the resident entomologist, stopped by to check on the garden. She poked around for a while and said, "Oh. Looks like we've got to get rid of these aphids."

So, for your own sake and the sake of your garden, please double-check any advice I give you in Google.

Share |

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Verdict Is In

Is it really a surprise that Practicality won the debate with Purity? Well, maybe it is surprising, if we're talking about it in the context of my own life.

Last week I was debating between the old and new versions of the square-foot gardening method. The new version seem so simplified and so yuppified; I worried I would be selling out. Process matters. Our society's over-emphasis on product has left us in quite a few conundrums.

Actually, I'm not trying to say that process matters more than product (even though I do love Annie Dillard's idea that "how we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives"--the idea that our processes end up equaling the product.). It's just that our when we end up compromising the integrity of our process in order to attain a specific product (i.e., the ends justify the means), we end up creating an unintended bi-product. And that's one of the problems plaguing our world today.

Wow. I'm already seeing how gardening holds so many enduring and essential understandings about Life. Cool beans.

This Sunday morning, reading in bed for an hour or so as I productively coped with my resistance to getting out of bed, I confirmed my choice to go with the new edition rather than the old.

Yes, the new version is simplified and yuppified, but it does it in a way that doesn't compromise my integrity. The newest modification is that I will build my garden entirely above ground, using a soil mix that I create myself from three different things purchased at a gardening center or home improvement center (i.e., 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 blended compost). I will build it in a box constructed with 4 x 4 wood planks (which I should be able to procure for free at a construction site, as long as a supply my best smile).

I will then divide this into 1 x 1 sections with a grid. This construction will allow me to plant a few seeds into each one hole in each section. I will abort (using scissors) all but one of the sprouts, so I save myself countless hours of thinning later down the line.

I'm quite fine with the idea that I will not have to battle with soil pH. Bleh! Besides, gardening cannot be my only hobby (I'm also considering taking up jazzercise, seriously). And, in fact, my primary reason for gardening is to produce food for my table. So it really has to be easy and productive.

I nearly cried (with joy), when I read this neat and tidy statistic: "One 4 x 4 square food garden box (equal to 16 square feet) will supply enough produce to make a salad for one person every day of the growing season." One more box will supply the daily supper vegetables. One more box will supply enough vegetables for preserving or sharing. I mean, come on people, it doesn't get much better than that!

So I think Matt and I will plant exactly 5 of these boxes for year one. Well, I may have to grow some extra carrots for snacks.

Mel, the author, advices against starting so big in one year, but, as the Dalai Lama says, "I am optimistic, but not without effort." I know I can do it. Hooray!

Share |

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Avocado Omens

I'm in denial. Like an obese person who indulges in a week-long, junk-food blitz and then refuses to step on the scale.

My avocado seed was doing so well. With "was" being the operative word. Matt went to a student's home, and the mom taught him how to grow an avocado seed. Take the seed from a delectable avocado. Let it dry out. When it's completely dry, peel away most of the dark brown exterior. Poke with toothpicks and immerse half-way in water (heavy-side up).

I've taken to making guacamole. For birthday parties, community picnics, dinner at home. Really, it's just an opportunity to grow avocado trees. The more guacamole I make, the more seeds I get to grow, er, attempt to grow.

Unfortunately, not a single seed has sprouted. They crack. They split. But they do not grow. [see photo, which looks promising, but it never progresses beyond that point]

My inability to get a single seed to sprout (okay, okay, it's actually more like 54 seeds; 6 guacamoles x 9 different parties) does not bode well for an entire garden. At least I've perfected my guacamole recipe:


  1. 6 ripe avocados of the perfect consistency* (*not too firm and not too soft; if they are too firm, you will not be able to mash them easily with a fork; too soft = icky brown mush)

  2. 1 red, red tomato* (*go for the ones that are still on the vine and pick the reddest one you can find)

  3. 1 jalapeno pepper* (*when I looked up the spelling on google, I read that jalapenos should be "firm, smooth-skinned and have solid green coloring." I concur.)

  4. 1 medium purple onion (aren't they called "red" onions? For the life of me, I can't figure out why.)

  5. Fresh cilantro (yes, it must be fresh)

  6. 2 lemons

  7. Kosher sea salt (okay, it can be any kind of salt, but this is my favorite)

  1. Slice off the end of the avocados. Then do what the Whole Foods sandwich makers do: Start at the sliced-off end and slice around the avocado. It's fun to see if you can get your cut to match up once you've gone all the way back to your starting point.
  2. Then whack the knife into the side of the seed and twist. Voila! The seed should pop out (if you've managed to procure avocados that are ripe enough). Oh. Maybe this is why my seeds aren't growing? They're suffering from a blow to their bodies? Oi vey.
  3. Scrape the inside of the avocados into a bowl. It's better to overestimate bowl size rather than underestimate. You don't want to have to do unnecessary dishes.

  4. Mash the avocados with a fork. Don't mash them to your preferred ultimate consistency. There's still more stirring and mashing to come! I would say get them to about 75% of your preferred consistency.
  5. Chop the jalapeno into tiny bits. And wash your hands afterwards! The juice is unforgiving. And your eyes will never forgive you if you touch them during this process.

  6. Pull off a fistful of the cilantro and chop it into small pieces. This part is a pain, but you probably don't want massive chunks of cilantro.
  7. Add the cilantro and jalapeno to the guacamole. Stir.

  8. Look at your guacamole and think about what it will be like to eat it. Will most bites have a tad bit of cilantro but not too many tad bits? If you need more, add it now.
  9. Chop the tomato into small bits and add to guacamole. Do not stir again.
  10. Squeeze half a lemon into the guacamole. Be careful not to let any seeds slide in. As Julia Roberts used to say, they are "slippery little suckers."
  11. Now stir everything together. Really well.
  12. Taste. Then add salt. If it needs a little more taste, add salt.
  13. If it needs a little more kick, add more lemon juice. But not too much at a time. There is no ctrl-Z in real life, friends.

  14. Serve! (with chips that aren't too flimsy)

  15. Store in tupperware (if there's any left). It will be gross and brown tomorrow. Just stir. It's a miracle.
This process is actually much easier than 15 steps will make it seem. I promise. If only growing seeds were this easy...

Share |

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Foraging at the Bookstore

I hate when I'm attracted to the "New in Hardcover" table at the bookstore. Just like a moth to the light. I can't help it. The table is right in front of the door (of course). I'm a classic consumer. The books cost so much more than soft covers, and I don't like the pretentious feel of hardcover books in my hands. But I could not resist purchasing Plenty: One man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. In fact, I was surprised by the number of titles related to food production. Eating locally and organically is on the up-and-up. Mark my words.


Unfortunately, the gardening section was quite pithy. Alas. I'm still waiting for my square-foot gardening books to arrive at the local library through inter-library loan. I can't decide between the old or new edition. The newer edition seems even more wannabe-gardener-proofed than the first one. On the one hand, that's probably good for me (given my inability to nurture even the most hardy of house plants). On the other hand, it feels really lame to take so many short cuts.

Actually, I probably will sacrifice my principles. Making it harder on myself is not likely to yield the desired end. As Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you've got to start with the end in mind. Then again, in contrast to what Machiavelli says, the ends do not justify the means.

I feel okay going with the newer edition. I'll still be using real dirt and real seeds and stuff.

Hey, get this. Here's the dedication to the new book I'm reading: "To maverick farmers, fishermen, gardeners, foragers, and others feeding the future."

That's me! (er, that's about to be me!)

Share |

Friday, May 11, 2007

Let the [Gardening] Games Begin

So, I hit adulthood at last. In other words, I'm finally ready to start a garden. I honestly haven't lived anywhere that explicitly permits gardening. I do currently live in a house that's been converted into four apartments, and I somehow manage to have a composter. It's of the plastic variety, and it mingles quite inconspicuously with the trashcans. Since I'm moving in three weeks (to a place that won't require me to compost my organic waste in stealth), I cleaned out the composter a few weekends ago. Now an amazing vine-ish type thing is proliferating in the black circle of rich soil.

In an attempt to make real gardening that easy, I've looked into a book called Square Foot Gardening: A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work. The author, Mel Bartholomew, talks about the woes of trying to lead a community garden. He talks about the cycle that the average person goes through: 1) super-enthusiastic, over-zealous new gardener with all the new tools 2) increasingly busy parent/student/wife/daughter 3) shopper who gets fresh fruits and vegetables from the produce aisle at the local grocery store.

To combat this natural cycle of life, he developed an ultra-convenient yet ultimately satisfying gardening method. Since I've really only read about it on the "See Inside" pages offered by Amazon as an enticement, I'll refrain from going into too much depth. It involves gardening in square-foot plots in order to be more strategic about how many seeds get planted at once (to avoid thinning, which is apparently very tedious) and to avoid an over-abundance of one particular type of harvest. He also advocates planting in cycles, so that the harvest supplies a steady supply for the dinner table.

Ah, the dinner table. And thus emerges my ultimate reason for gardening. Can you imagine plucking your own organic vegetables from the ground and then eating them in a lasagna or on a pizza an hour later? Sheer bliss.

I suppose I shouldn't count my vegetables before they sprout. I'm the girl who "cooks" for herself by opening a box and heating a cardboard tray in the oven for 50 minutes. At least it's an Amy's organic meal. And I'm cooking it in an oven rather than a microwave.

Leave me alone.

That's just what I do for lunch. For dinner, Matt and I primarily cycle through our favorite restaurants: Madras Pavillion for Indian, the Hobbit for hippy food, Black Walnut for cheesy, oozing things, Star Pizza for cheese that is tempered with a healthy dose of vegetables. After all, Houston is the fattest city in the U.S. (down with Detroit!). But we've been cooking at home more. Black bean and yam quesadillas with curry powder, fried tofu with garam masala and peas, tomato/mozzarella/basil on ciabatta sandwiches. I like it. I feel physically and environmentally more healthy.

After two weeks of cooking at home consistently, I think I'm ready to take up gardening.

Did I just say that?

Share |

Related Posts with Thumbnails