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Friday, August 4, 2017

Midsummer Checklist

The Savanna of Summer

Now that it's too hot out and (here in the Northwest, anyway) the air too red-orange sick with the smoke of forest fires to step outside without being hassled by dehydration, heat stroke, respiratory ailments, and apocalyptic visions, I thought it'd be a good time to stay inside for a few minutes and go over this midsummer checklist I came up with.

The Summer can be an overwhelming time in the garden, so I find it helpful to make a list. Lists are always a good way to feel certain and guilty about the things you are failing to do; otherwise you'd only have an uncomfortable, vague inkling that you were failing to do things. My wife gets credit for teaching me to make lists. She finds the act of crossing items off of a list very satisfying. I wouldn't know because I believe lists are to be used for comedic relief and making oneself feel bad about one's laziness or lack of focus rather than for any utilitarian, motivational impetus. We agree to disagree.

So anyway, here's my midsummer checklist to help you evaluate your progress and achievements in the garden. Feel free to cross these off or just cry softly to yourself as you make your way through them.


  • First and foremost, have you considered giving up? Gardening is hard, especially during this trying season. Lots of work to do, lots of other stuff going on, pests, watering, harvesting ... if you've already thrown in the towel, that's good. If you haven't, if you're still somehow slogging through the daily dirty Summer grind, then this is the time of year you should definitely start thinking about giving up.
  • Speaking of watering, are you spending at least as much time watering your garden as you are sleeping at night? We are always striving for balance in our lives, and studies have shown* this to be a good, healthy ratio of watering to sleep.
  • Do you have at least one squash plant making bold territorial claims on the garden? Do you fear for the sovereignty of your land and the rule of law? Good, this type of political strong-arming by squash can sow a robust spirit of dissent and unity amongst other members of the garden.
  • Have you located your yellowjackets' nest yet? The best way to find your yearly yellowjackets' nest is by accident. They will let you know when you have found it. The best location for a nest is just far enough from your daily activity to make you think you can safely ignore it, but close enough that, actually, you can't.
  • Are you still pretending that friends, neighbors, and coworkers genuinely want your @$*&$@ zucchini and summer squash? It is important to maintain this stubborn denial for as long as possible, otherwise you'll never get rid of that incessant crop.
  • Does your lawn resemble nothing so much as a parched savanna? Are you noticing more safari-ing tourists in Land Cruisers than in previous months? Yeah, that's about right. Watch out for cheetahs, I hear those things are fast.
  • Have you managed to kill many of the plants you attempted to establish earlier in the season? You don't need to have killed all of them by this point—there's still plenty of Summer remaining—but you should have a good healthy start on killing new plants.
  • And last, but certainly not least, what do you think your're doing reading this blog!? Get back out there and do some more watering!
This concludes my midsummer checklist. Let me know if there are any other important tasks or responsibilities I have failed to make you feel bad about.

*No studies have shown this. It was basically a lie. But maybe by the time you get around to reading footnotes, it will already have (mis)informed your actions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sharing The Harvest


Are you swimming in summer squash? Inundated in tomatoes? Are you shoving green beans into your face as fast as you possibly can but they just keep coming? Maybe your eyes were bigger than your stomach when you decided to fill your trunk with roadside blackberries. Or are you completely stumped by all that kohlrabi you planted in Spring. What on Earth does one do with kohlrabi?

One gives it away.

This time of year I like to remind folks to consider donating their surplus harvest to local food banks, who (in my experience anyway) are always beyond delighted to accept whatever you don't want or can't use. There are lots of great organizations committed to ending hunger in local communities; here in the North King County area, Hopelink operates several branches where they accept fresh produce from home gardens. If you have lots of tree fruit that you don't have time to harvest or use, consider contacting an organization like City Fruit, which does great work in the Seattle area collecting and distributing fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

Fresh, home-grown produce is one of the purest, most profound joys in life. I believe everyone should have access to the nutrition, flavor, and satisfaction of eating food straight from the ground, regardless of whether or not they have a garden of their own.

And come on ... how many zucchini do you really need?

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Huntress

A girl and her catch.

Is this image shocking to you? Why? Is it a shudder at the violence inherent in my daughter holding by the neck two freshly slain young summer squashes? Is it the chilling reminder that such violence is implicit in all the food we eat, whether or not we bear witness to it?

(Or is it just the cluttered and ever-so-ungardenly wasteland behind her? Yes, I agree, it's not Fencebroke's best face.)

Now what if I told you she hunted and killed these squash with her own bare hands? Does your blood run cold? Are you spewing outrage at your screen and vowing to never again offer your tacit approval of such acts by reading this blog? Are you wondering where I, the ostensibly responsible parent, was during this wanton slaughter? Am I too busy watering the garden to notice my children running amok with vegetable blood on their hands? Well ... clearly not, I took this picture after all. And frankly, it makes me proud. 

That's right. I feel there is a great deal of personal empowerment that comes from slaughtering one's own produce. And while it may be controversial (though what part of garden blogging isn't, am I right?), I wholeheartedly support and encourage my children's natural desire to hunt and kill whatever squash, carrot, apple, or rutabaga happens to cross their path (provided, of course, they make every effort to butcher and consume their prey in a humane, timely, and responsible manner—hey, I'm not a monster). 

And if you're still not convinced (not that I especially care), please bear in mind the delicate ecological balance of the garden. Summer squash and zucchini, in particular, are prone to wild population explosions this time of year. It is up to the gardener and his family to provide a top-down control on such rampant overgrowth, lest the entire garden be consumed by a locust-like wave of crooknecks and patty-pans. So please, after you're done shuddering, please make your best effort to withhold judgement of this very natural and necessary part of our circle of life. Thank you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lesson to give in field dressing golden squash. This could get messy.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Zero-Alarm Fire

"Not a real emergency, sir." 

I called the Fire Department again. Thought the beans were on fire (one can never be too careful during the dry season). Turns out they're (still) just scarlet runner beans and that fiery red-orange blaze is just their thing. Just their flowers. Totally normal.

Turns out I already knew that and just wanted to show off how awesome Fencebroke's "Scenic Gateway To Beans" (revisit this post for context) looks with these scarlet runner beans blooming. It also turns out the local Fire Department is not an appropriate audience for such showmanship. Apparently, they do not spend their down-time between calls cultivating a sufficiently deep appreciation of local, small-scale urban agriculture to overlook my gross civic irresponsibility for some (admittedly lovely) beans.

That's okay. I bear no lingering grudge for these local heroes, even if they did blast every bean in sight with fire-retardant foam (though I do suspect this action was motivated more by a desire to teach me a lesson than by any real fear of leguminous fire spreading to nearby structures). What are you going to do? They have a stressful job.

So who can I show my beans to? The pizza place won't deliver to me anymore. The mailman refuses to come to the backyard. I told the ice cream truck driver there was a whole flock of kids out back with money to burn; he didn't believe me. Isn't there anyone I can trick into a token compliment for all my hard work in the garden?

ANYONE?

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Beach


My daughter now calls this area "The Beach". Yeah, she takes her toys and dolls to vacation here, builds dusty "sandcastles" here, gamely avoids the broken glass and old nails disinterred here—really sells the vision. And, while I prefer the official Fencebroke land-use press release title of "Handsome And Well-Lain Patio To Be Completed When Children Grow Old Enough To Keep Themselves Alive And Occupied Without Supervision For 15 Minutes", I do appreciate her making the best of what has become an admittedly desolate corner of the yard.

Still, I can't help but think she might be egging us on with a bone-dry wit she's somehow adopted at the age of three-and-a-half. Am I overreacting? Be honest with me girl! Have you been watching British Comedy!? The nerve of kids these days.

Or, maybe it's nothing more than the burgeoning imagination of a child. You know, the sort of sheer force of creative will that lets the innocent turn war zones into wonderlands, tenements into treasure maps, abandoned lots into playgrounds, and—

—Good god, what is wrong with our yard!?

We live ten minutes from the shores of Puget Sound, if I take you there, will you stop coronating your princesses in this ant-ridden patch of parched earth we call a "patio"!? No! There are no crabs here! That's an old bottle cap! I don't know why—because the people who lived here before us didn't have a garbage can. Go wash your hands.

<Sigh> 

Maybe I could at least harness some of that youthful and euphemistic gusto and use it to re-brand our other unsightly garden features. The rock pile could become The Mystic Mountain, the water meter a Buried Treasure Chest, and Fencebroke's namesake fence would be transformed into the sturdy parapet of some Enchanted Castle! I mean, I'm onto something, right?

Meh, I don't know, it feels so forced when I do it. Dang kids and their ... whimsy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

So Crazy It Just Might Work

In the ground? Whaaaaa ... ?
I can't tell you how pleased this makes me. Nay—giddy! Giddier than my daughter during the opening theme of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood; giddier than my daughter ... during the opening theme of Curious George. Or Octonauts—okay, we really need to introduce some new sources of unbridled joy into our parenting repertoire. Well, in any case, giddier than any grown man ought to be. 

But, come on ... those are happy potatoes in that there photo. The first we've ever had at Fencebroke. All hilled-up and everything. I feel like a farmer. 

So what did it take, you ask? Oh ... you don't? Well I'll tell you anyway. It took a radical departure. A scheme so brilliant, preposterous, and contrary to standard procedure that it could only come from the warped mind of a once-in-a-generation mad genius. 

Good thing I happened to marry her. 

You see, for the last several years, in my own dogged pursuit of space-saving, yield-maximizing solutions for the suburban garden, I have stubbornly erected a crude cedar tower to house our potatoes. And while this structure represents my single greatest achievement in carpentry to date (narrowly edging out the stick I whittled last Summer—and that was pretty darn sharp), it has repeatedly failed to fulfill its spudly potential. 

The idea is to start with a low frame and then build the tower taller and fill it in as the potato plants get taller. Lots of soil volume in a small area=lots of potatoes in a small area (someone check my math there, please). Really what happens is the potato plants get more and more pitiful as the Summer goes on and the soil gets deeper. I felt like a parent whose small children can't fathom why they are being made to suffer. I feel like that much of the time anyway ... but, you get the picture. Oh, you don't? Well for—come on, people! Meet me halfway here!

It wasn't working! That's all you need to know. We never managed to pull more than a handful of lonely potatoes scarcely larger than the seed spuds which begat them out of that cursed box.

So early this Spring, as I despondently dragged out the lumber to once again stack my fool's tower, the aforementioned mad-genius-who-also-happens-to-be-my-wife comes out and asks—like it's no big deal, mind you—she asks, like she's not shattering every urban-agricultural precept in my big thick head:

"Why don't we just plant them in the ground this year?"

... 

<Mind exploding> Why don't we just plant them in the ground this year?

So I tried it, all the while feeling the naughty thrill of a disobedient child. Potatoes in the ground? What if someone catches us? What will people think? What will people say?

Look at the picture. I think they'll say, hey man, nice potatoes, can I have some? 

And now, of course, I'm eager to hear whatever other crazy gardening ideas my wife might come up with. Hey baby, what about cabbage moths? Peach leaf-curl? What could we do to get better germination from our carrot seeds? What should I do when the soil is dry? 

Okay—I know, I know, sorry, you can't rush genius. 




Friday, June 16, 2017

National Holidays

Does this girl look like she needs shortcake?

"Today is National Strawberry Shortcake Day!" my daughter Daisy was told this week by the friendly local produce man. It was a delightful claim and call to celebration, if a bit suspicious. First of all, Daisy just happened to be wearing her strawberry-print dress, a "coincidence" I find too unlikely to signify anything but an opportunistic fib the likes of which sales-driven cogs in the produce industry are taught in order to capitalize on the prevalence of fruit-themed childrens' clothing; and secondly, I had already been told by the butcher that very same day that we should all pick up a package of beef because today was National Ground Chuck Day. Which one is it, fellas? Strawberry shortcake or ground beef? IT CAN'T BE BOTH!

But since the audacious fruit "holiday" did in fact coincide with the year's first decent harvest of strawberries here at Fencebroke, and since I didn't have the heart to tell my 3-year-old she was being played like a fiddle by a global cabal of shadowy, produce-peddling oligarchs, I let her believe. Like in Santa Clause. I am a very good father. So, after only a brief 40-minute cautionary lecture about the pitfalls of Corporate Fruit, I let her pick and eat strawberries from our own garden. But no shortcake. As a lesson ... or something—I don't know, maybe I didn't feel like making shortcake. I am a very good father, but also lazy.

And then I made tacos, because dangit if I'm not a sucker for ground chuck. I mean it was, after all, a National Holiday.