The Homeowner’s Lament…

Oh irrigation system, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:

You clog in ways that make no sense.

You leak in areas I can’t even get to.

Your emitters break at the drop of a hat.

You surprise me with increased water bills, even when I check to make sure that everything is running “properly.”

Your tubing is nonstandard, and therefore a pain in the neck to replace.

Your pop-up sprinklers may pop up but not actually disperse water.

Or they may not even pop up at all.

Because I depend on you so much (since we don’t get rain for 6 months out of the year), I can’t just move plants around as I see fit. I have to move YOU around too.

You are unfortunately an all-too-necessary bane of my existence.

I had already come to grips with the all the home maintenance issues I need to deal with and haven’t until now (thank goodness for a contractor across the street). Soon we will replace an exterior door and part of a wall (termite/water damage, anyone?), replace all the electrically-connected smoke detectors (they are long out of warranty), finish installing a new screen door, and a few other  items around the house. I’d prepared myself for that. It’s frustrating that we’ve reached the point in our lives where household repairs aren’t nearly as easy for us as they used to be (and some things I could never do, like deal with electrical stuff). So now we get to hire more people. I suppose I could rationalize that we’ve paid our dues when we were younger and took care of all sorts of stuff ourselves, so now we’ve earned the opportunity to be able to hire others to do the difficult stuff. Sure I can. But it almost feels a little like defeat. Heck, and because I’m shrinking, I even have more trouble getting the filters out of the heat/air conditioning registers in the house because they are well over my head.

But I’d accepted all those things. And then I heard a little too much water from the irrigation system this morning. So I figured I’d better do a run-through of the yard and see what was wrong. I should have stayed in the kitchen.

There are approximately 5 leaks in the front yard. This means I have to dig up the yard in the wrongfully-wet spots just to see if I can figure out how to fix it. (Did I mention how much I hate dealing with irrigation issues?)

Then there’s the lawn sprinklers. Fortunately they are mostly ok, but one pop-up doesn’t dispense any water. I am guessing it’s clogged; I have to figure out how to take it apart, clean it out, and put it back together again. But there’s one zone of pop-ups that doesn’t even come ON, and yet I can hear water running. Oh joy and delight.

There are two areas of the yard where I can’t even see what the irrigation is doing. I’d pretty much have to hack plants back and dig around just to see if all is well. That’s going to get done LAST.

So much for my trying to plan for some landscaping upgrades. I had so hoped that come October (when the rains come), I’d be able to fix up one corner of the yard where I have a tree and a garden bench, and the edging along the lawn where I have some overgrown plants. Maybe in December. Maybe next year.

Maybe I’ll just go watch the football game.

The One Vegetable I’ll Always Plant: Tomatoes

Let’s face it, unless you absolutely LOVE gardening, you may not want to bother with a veggie garden. But even if you’re not a gardener by nature, I’d still recommend that you consider planting one plant: the tomato.

You simply cannot compare the taste and texture of homegrown tomatoes with those vague facsimiles found in the grocery stores. For that reason alone, it’s worth putting in a little effort. The result will likely be phenomenal!

Now, you might argue that you could do just as well getting your produce from the local farmer’s market. I’d agree with you; I get a lot of my produce there. (I also really want to support local businesses and this is a far less expensive way to get organic produce than the local Whole Paycheck.) But I still grow tomatoes in my yard. There is just something magical about picking a beautiful, ripe tomato that’s still warm from the sun. I used to love going into my father’s tomato patch and sneaking some of the cherry tomatoes he grew, right off the vines. And seeing something beautiful and edible come out of Darwin’s Garden (a.k.a. my backyard) is a real rush. So I do it, even though I’m lazy and claim lack of time. (I use that excuse a lot.)

This year, I picked up three heirloom tomato plants over at the Love Apple Farms booth from the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. (Love Apple Farm is a big organic farm down near Santa Cruz that provides tomatoes for Manresa, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Los Gatos. It also offers lots of gardening classes and the like.) The guy at the booth  suggested I try three different colors (I had typically only grown red tomatoes) so it should make for an interesting harvest. He also added that with a little care, these plants should not only produce a lot of fruit, the plants could also reach 10 feet tall. While this probably should have been exciting to me, all I could think of is that I really didn’t know how to cope with tomato plants that were almost twice my height…

I decided to try some different fertilizers/soil amendments, as recommended by Love Apple Farms (LAF), shown above. This was my first attempt at using worm castings, but I figured it could only help. I didn’t get the tomatoes planted right away (in typical fashion for me, alas). But when I finally got some time, I decided to attempt to follow the some of recommendations that LAF provided. But for this girl from the ‘burbs, I was a little perturbed about one of the earliest steps.

LAF said to dig a hole. Not just any hole, a 2-foot-deep hole. I’ve never dug a hole that deep for a tomato plant, especially the little bitty plants that I had this year. So I figured, what the heck, I’ll burn a few extra calories, and the soil should be cooperative since we’d gotten some unexpected rain.

Then there was the part that freaked me out: put into the bottom of the hole a fish head. LAF assures readers on its website that it has never had issues with animals digging up the fish heads. I had a different problem: in my little corner of Silicon Valley, the local grocery stores don’t actually do any real fishmongering. Meaning, the local grocery gets the fish already filleted. No fish heads to be seen there. Given that I live an hour away from the Pacific Ocean, the potential unavailability of 3 fish heads seemed ludicrous.

Reality set in, however, in that I couldn’t really dig more than 18″ deep. Too bad, that’s too shallow to put in fish heads without the local wildlife going crazy, so I opted to omit that part.

Eggshells are apparently 93% calcium carbonate, and contain a lot of trace elements that are beneficial in the garden, so I added a few of those. (Given this was right after Passover, I had a plethora of shells to use.) I also added some bone meal, which adds phosphorous and a little nitrogen to the soil.

A handful of tomato fertilizer and a couple handfuls of worm castings rounded out the amendments. Lastly, I planted each plant so that just a few leaves were sticking out of the soil; tomatoes like to be deep rooted, so I did what I could given the little teeny plants. With a little irrigation they should have been happy little campers.

Fast forward 10 days. I just returned from the Grand College Tour Adventure, and went outside to see how my little plants were doing. THEY ARE GONE. Poof. It’s like I had never planted them, except the irrigation is still in place.

My guess is that some critter was able to get to them easily since I hadn’t built the cages yet, so they were somebody’s little treat. I’m particularly annoyed because these were plants that aren’t readily available everywhere. I guess I’ll replant with something, but probably whatever I can find at the local garden center.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess I was due for something like this happening. I even have a sign in my garden that reads, “Mother Nature Always Wins.” I should remember that. But I’m still replanting! So there.


Trip Report: San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

My inner Garden Geek went into overload last weekend at the SF Flower and Garden Show. Held at the San Mateo Event Center, it was a great place for the botanically inclined to go a little crazy. It’s a yearly event, and it’s been a while since I was there last, but I wanted a little garden inspiration. SO….

(Going to the show also makes me think fondly of my dear friend, Joice, who passed away about 3.5 years ago. We had a frightening lot in common, not the least of which were gardening and flower arranging. We went to one of these shows a few years ago, and we both learned that the experienced attendees always brought wagons and shopping carts so that schlepping all the goodies wasn’t so difficult. I thought about Joice, but forgot about the cart!)

Typically at this show, there are a bunch of display gardens, and then a ton of vendors selling stuff to provide adequate retail therapy for any good Garden Geek. Most of the gardens didn’t yield anything unusual, but there were a few standouts:

Many gardeners tend to forget to “go vertical.” I liked this example of hanging mosaics and metalwork.

One of the most colorful gardens there was made by the folks at Ah-Sam Nursery. I love how they used color and height in their garden – it reminded me of Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Bright, happy colors, great use of space.

Garden art is always fun to incorporate in the garden, but all I could think about when I saw this is that it’s just a big cat box with a play toy hanging from the top. Or it could be a raccoon playground. Yes, I live in the ‘burbs.

I couldn’t quite figure this one out: carniverous plants in a deck bench. Just at the right height for the kids and their little fingers.

Edible landscaping was a really big deal this year. If you have an abundance of yardsticks, here’s how to put them to good use! (Don’t laugh, we actually DID have an abundance of them a few years ago, back when we went to Southern Lumber a lot and each time they gave us a free yardstick…)

In terms of individual plants, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this variegated Rhododendron. I WANT ONE.

And of course, there’s always a place in my heart for kitschy garden art. This little guy bobbed his way into my garden.Now to give him a name: Flashy? Rocky? Mr. Bobblehead? Hm…

I had a really good time, but I think what I enjoyed the most was seeing all of the people there, especially the older folks. I absolutely loved seeing all the elderly folks slowly making their way through the exhibits with their wheelchairs, walkers, and canes, and discussing technical aspects of the gardens with passion! And most of them discussed the different plants using their botanical names. I’m encouraged that when my body completely falls apart, there’s hope that perhaps my brain can still function as a Garden Geek.

The Lazy Gardener’s Guide to Fertilizing

I used to have a lot more energy for gardening. Over time, however, my yard has become Darwin’s Garden, where Survival of the Fittest reigns supreme. I definitely don’t put in as much time or effort as I used to, and that’s fine with me. As a result, I’ve developed some, er, unorthodox methods for getting my garden fertilized.

First, there’s the lawn. I am no turf connoisseur, but I know that my lawn needs fertilizer a couple of times a year. Maybe I’m completely inept with a spreader, but no matter what I do, the spreader just gums up and fertilizer never gets applied evenly. So I’ve bailed on technology and use a rather old fashioned method….

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