Monday, March 31, 2014

Out Like a Lion

Trying not to dislodge today's detritus from my hair until it is time to take a bath and send it down the drain.

It was that kind of day.

The kind of day that brings to life the tales of our ancestors about the hard life on the Great Plains and how the wind  made settlers go mad.  Not just one day, but a month of days. Swarming warming gusts from the South turning on a thin dime to thrust the self same dust against your turned cheek.  Doors taking on a manic mind of their own slamming and straining wildly open  and shut in an attempt to clobber anyone or thing passing through.  The damage is cumulative; the eyes fill; the ears numb; the mind....snaps.

This is what today's south gale sounds like inside a 100' greenhouse covered with a 24'sheet of doubled polyethylene. The rolling and popping would be refreshing if I were looking up a freshening mainsail catching the breeze.  I have far less faith in the durability of this plastic through sustained force.  You cannot hear yourself think.

And this is what the battering, flapping, banging sounds like outdoors.  This is what whittles progress to a nubbin, what shortens working days, and makes one long for sundown to bring outside labor mercifully to a halt.  Exhausted, one wonders why on earth anyone would put a greenhouse atop a hill in this country.

And.  When the wind shifts and the horizon dims and every little particle is shifted from its rest to pummel the landscape and facing the wind blasts you physically.  Your land becomes desolate in your eyes and today a wasteland.

That is March leaving as a lion.  I fervently pray for this land, this countryside, for gentle April to drench us all and bring relief from and forgetfulness of ferocious March.

WedApr 2

Rain / Thunder
Rain / Thunder

ThuApr 3


Most Wonderful Time of the Year II...Batter UP!

Full disclosure.

Expect no paeans.  No phrases smooth as the chalk at home plate before the first batter, nothing as carefully groomed as the pitcher's mound before the first pitch, nothing as memorable as a call by Jack Buck or Vin Scully.

You won't get your prescription filled for predictions, statistics, or sabremetrics. 

There will be no unforgettable phrasesology: no channeling George Will or the estimable Dr. Krauthammer or any of the other lovers of the game with the gift of gab.
 I cannot top Ebby LaLoosh: "A good friend of mine used to say, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains." Think about that for a while."

There will only be a quiet rejoicing in the return of the diamond and the greensward, the crack of bats and pop of the mitts, the grace and extravagance of  slides, stabs, leaps, and pivots. 

There will be races, gimmicks, towels, scorecards, and pennants.... 


win or lose, 

rain or shine...

Annie Savoy, 'Walt Whitman once said, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us." You could look it up.'

And all the people said.....


Sunday, March 16, 2014

March-ing, March-ing

If this is Wednesday..
...then it must be VanDewetering and Ball Tagawa. And all this before noon.
This is Matt's workload. For one week. This week. Three thousand flats in seven days. One hundred and eight thousand little plants to pick up, put down, tag, water in. It is not quite as big as the national debt, but unlike our fiscal situation, it must be dealt with. This week. It's March.
Just last week, there was room to roam. Just last week, Josh could put up the Little Tykes play house and watch movies inside on his dad's Kindle. Just last week we could leave extra hanging baskets to sit on the ground and grow and put off deciding where we would hang them. Today I thread 75 feet of three quarter inch hose between the lines, but from here on out, we won't rely on my agility; it will be up to the irrigator to keep the seedlings moist.

In greenhouse after greenhouse, the flats ooze toward the door as inexorably as the tide coming in. The great green stream flows from trays of plugs or cuttings plush as carpet, to be counted by 15s, by 18s, by 36s, as the ranks of tags line up across the floor. 

One of the mysteries hidden deep within the psyche of a seed is what makes it "know"when the calendar page turns to March.  Critical growth energy is achieved; tomato seeds that languished for at least a week in the seed room in February sudden shake off their languor and leap from the soil in 5 days or less in the exact same environment.  In February it is three weeks to transplant size; by April, it will be two.  Tomatoes seeded April 1 will be headed to Midwestern gardens before Mother's Day.  The essence of spring condenses, compresses, then uncontrollably erupts in the greenhouse in March after the equinox.

 Tiny, but tough, the little vegetables pack a fragrant punch as we move them from plug tray to pot.  A lucky few are patted in gently by Abbie one day after school.

 The back of the number 10 house presents a prospect of geraniums as far as the eye can see.

 Even though we are anxious for color and applaud their enthusiastic growth,

it is time to fill the pots with good roots.  Blooms now use valuable energy that should be directed to foliage and roots.  There is ample time to grow a good show for April sales. My hands are sticky and orange and smell of the faintly rosy aroma of geraniums as I gather my bouquet of early bloomers.

Not every day is rosy.  Our mechanical aides de camp break down. A broken chain on the bale breaker under the laws of nature occurs when the machine is full of soil mix. Parts are in Tennessee, so Ryan jury rigs a new link while Lee and I scoop pots to the aroma of welded metal and hot peat moss.  It is a warm day with low low humidity; ladies that would ordinarily be transplanting grab a hose and lemonade is made of lemons.

And here it is....the first fruits of the harvest, the first flower sales of Spring 2014.  A Monday afternoon with calm air and mellow weather allows us to load three cartloads of pansies in the trailer for delivery.  

It doesn't happen that often in March.  But like the geese flying overhead these chilly mornings, it is a harbinger....

of all the multitudes to come.

Is it spring yet?

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Plague

 There it is...and if, as a gardener, you haven't become acquainted with this plague, count yourself uninformed or lucky.  This is downy mildew, only the latest virulent scourge to hit the gardening public.  Shade gardeners accustomed to choosing a carpet of blooms in any hue of their dreams are suddenly facing a paintbox with a lot of holes in it.

That's what I mean.  The photos above are blasts from the recent past, swaths of thousands of small impatiens grown in our greenhouse, waiting to share their colorful wealth in gardens all over the Corn Belt. They weren't the least finicky of infants in the nursery; too much water, too little air, too much cold, too much heat could lead to a host of maladies, but they were the most eye-popping, the most versatile, the most economical means of covering a shady area.

And for that, the horticultural version of an outdoor Oriental carpet has received no ceremonial tearing of the robes, no requiems, no candlelight vigils.  Rather, the gardening poobahs and opinion makers have shown little regret about consigning impatiens walleriana to the compost heap of history, calling them "insipid", or "boring, and not all that pretty."  True, impatiens are prone to wilt in the midday heat of a summer's day.  But to describe the myriad blossoms as "flat"or "dull" is simply inaccurate.   

Some impatiens are nearly iridescent, some pearly, some sprinkled with glitter.  They have been bred to be striped, starred, and picoteed.  If one chooses a boring color, then I guess it is because one wants to play it straight. 

Alas, if our plant orders are any indication, there will be fewer flats of impatiens grown in not just our greenhouse this spring, but everywhere.  Garden centers and landscapers are scrambling for alternatives for shade...there are new shade coleus introduced; as a coleus lover, I cannot argue their star power in the foliage department, but let's not pretend growing coleus is ironclad protection from the assorted rots and fungi associated with shade gardening.  And dare I mention slugs? We have noticed an uptick in orders for torenia, but don't kid yourself that the wishbone flower packs any kind of color punch from a distance no matter how adorable it is in a pot.  Obviously some folks are turning to impatiens of other heritage: New Guineas raised from cuttings or seed.

Finally, let's admit what the bread and butter flower of last resort is going to be for most gardeners of the shade variety: the begonia.  By all means, plant your red and pink Dragonwing begonias from sea to shining sea; enjoy their cascades of  blossoms and sturdy shiny foliage.  Mix them liberally with lysimachia, or various shades of torenia; they will fill a pot, a basket or an empty space under some hostas.  Take advantage of the recently introduced semperflorens types, the vigorous Whoppers or Bigs.  But, if you do this, don't get on your high horticultural horse and look down upon the fallen comrade, the impatiens.  

After all, is there a bigger horticultural cliche in all the Midwest than the corporate planting of a thousand fibrous begonias?  They may be named with exotic monikers like "Nightlife", or "Yin"or "Yang", "Super Olympia", or "Cocktail", but green leaved or bronze, straight or mixed, they still only come in red, white or pink.  Far be it for me to diss a plant that pays the bills, but hardly anyone sees a flat of begonias and says ...oooooh, aaaaah.... 

So, allow me to regret the passing of an era and hope that the geniuses in the breeding labs will sooner rather than later bring a new improved healthy impatiens back to color starved shade gardeners.  Arrest me and take away my trowel, but respect my opinion that a world without impatiens will be far duller than a world with them.