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Monday, September 18, 2017

A Hard, Flat Spot


My thesaurus doesn't really offer a good synonym for patio. That's okay. Because where I would normally christen any new Fencebroke infrastructure improvement with a sufficiently haughty title to conceal my deep feelings of handyman inadequacy (e.g. The Great Grape Gate or the Great Wall Of Fencebroke), this time I just don't care.

May I present the great something of blahdy blah blah—let's just call it what it is: it's A Hard Flat Spot.

After six months, dozens of blisters, too much money, weekly meltdowns of our children who basically lost their parents for the Summer, and countless trips to the big box hardware vortex—during which we were only once, once! asked if we needed any help, and this on our very last trip—it's DONE and I don't care what it's called. Every garden needs a hard, flat spot on which to put chairs and other furniture, so here it is. Fencebroke's very own Hard-Flat-Spot-On-Which-To-Put-Chairs-And-Other-Furniture.

Now why didn't they put that in the thesaurus?

Oh well, I'm sick of it, but I'm also happy with how it turned out. Plus, as a bonus, we finished with nearly a half-hour of Summer weather left to enjoy! A toast was made, a game of ladder-golf was begun, and then the first Fall rains started in earnest. Sorry kids, we'll do Summer next year.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Pest Problems


Late Summer is a common time for pests to make their presence known in the garden. Plants have been taxed near to death by their own cycles of growth and reproduction compounded by long weeks of drought and heat. This cumulative stress of relentless physiology and environmental extremes leaves the garden depleted and vulnerable to opportunistic predation, parasitism, and physical damage. Here are a few of the more persistent and serious late-season pests in my own experience. I don't have any advice or wisdom to help deal with these, they just suck. Sorry. If you'd read my book, maybe you wouldn't be in this position. If I'd followed my own advice, maybe I wouldn't be.

1.) Children – There's a lot of nonsense out there about encouraging kids to get out in the garden. It's supposed to be good for their development, self-esteem, health, etc.. That's great for the kidsI'm sure the proverbial bull loves tearing around that china shop, too—but this kind of feel-good outdoor activity does not make the garden feel good. My daughter is old enough to largely limit her destruction to the tearing off of random leaves for doll's bedding, pulling five-too-many carrots in search of the perfect snack, and repeatedly throwing Frisbees into tomato plants. Catch, tomato! My son, on the other hand, thinks the fragile young Fall and Winter seedlings are things to be hatched rather than grown and plays his part by sitting on as many of them as possible. He also has developed a taste for unripe strawberries and plant tags.

2.) Hoses – This is the time of year when months of early-morning hose-wranglings, kinks, leaks, and dawn-wrought (but otherwise unrelated) existential angst culminate in spasms of blind rage. Spasms of blind rage are not inherently destructive to the garden, but when said spasms are transferred to the long, heavy, irrigating whip inevitably in hand this time of year, innocent plants are battered, lashed, decapitated, and generally smote more often than not. So-called "hose guards" are a laughable defense. The hose can be guarded-against, the livid gardener flailing the hose cannot be. 

3.) Apathy – Since it is ultimately by the will of the gardener that the garden thrives, when that will falls like unpicked fruit to shrivel and rot on the ground, the garden understandably suffers. The growing season is like a marathon, or, rather, like I imagine a marathon might be if I were ever to participate in one: halfway through I'm wondering what I got myself into, 3/4 through I'm eating leftover pizza and thinking about fantasy football. Don't judge me, gardening is hard!
Look for the first signs of apathy about when powdery mildew and blossom end-rot show up. Or don't. By that point you may already not care. 

Those are the three big, late season pests. Together they should just about be enough to make you consider next year paving over the garden in favor of a world-class hopscotch course. 

...

Uh, the hopscotch thing is my idea. Nobody else do that. 


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.