I think I’ve felt behind on this every year since the first year.

Tomatoes and peppers of varieties that the nursery will have no backups for. These sprout and thrive or we don’t have them.

An early eager helper turned bored companion quickly yesterday. It’s tricky to enjoy this winter ritual when being harped upon to play something more fun. This is play for me, but work for her.

And then a nap ended and out emerged a bewildered boy. An eager helper beside me once more, who found Papa’s favored pepper seeds that I had overlooked. Peace, for a moment or twelve.

And then his way awoke. Seeds pressed down nearly an inch into the soil, coaxed back to the top, boiled an eruption to the surface within him and I was once again with irritated companions of proximity.

There’s a wiring in her that won’t likely loosen on enjoying plant chores. She has it as deeply set for enjoying the care of animals.

There’s an opposing wiring in him, as there oddly often is, to decline playing dinosaurs with her to help me plant, provided My Way doesn’t over exert itself.

And so I will learn to give more give in my plans, build in cushions of time and space where needs be, so my worry about the impossibility of backups doesn’t tarnish, or simply crumble, the enjoyment of the season.

(And yes, I did check the seed tray first thing this morning to see if any miraculously fast sprouting had occurred overnight. It never has and yet I always check.)


Herbs out front

These days my gardening is in very short bursts before my ankle forces me back inside to the couch with an elevated boot. I planted a cauliflower and a broccoli yesterday. Just one of each. Today I was going to sow some peas and zinnias. I packed my bucket (the handle can be held in the same hand as a crutch – the only way to transport something these days) with the seeds from my office, the trowel from the garage, and the labels from the toolbox…and that was it. So let’s see what else I can do from this here couch…

I’m a sucker for plants (and seeds, and…yeah. “Hi, my name is Plumdirt, and I’m a plant-a-holic.) This leads to either more pots on my small front “porch” than agrees with my aesthetic or dead plants in their starter containers because I ran out of time to plant them.

When DH picked up a new Thai basil this year, we were bumping up against the latter and needed to find it a home quickly. Enough shade to survive, enough water to grow, and enough space to branch out. In our small yard, there weren’t many options. I plopped it into the first piece of earth that seemed to fit the bill and waited.

It just so happens to catch the run-off from a lot of the roof. It also soaks up the near-constant drip of the AC condenser drain in the summer. It might be too swampy. It might be just right.

Now whenever I open the garage door for a shovel, or to rotate laundry, or let loose the lawn mower, it gets bumped by the door and a fresh waft of Thai basil swirls through the air to my nose.

Serendipitous planting is oft times my favorite sort.

The landscape these days.

The Thai basil from the front bed that froze to the ground last December and showed no signs of returning?

Yeah. It hasn’t returned.

It has finally had some self-seeded sprouts reach maturity though! The bees around here must love licorice, because they cannot get enough of the blossoms on these ones.

Speaking of self-seeding herbs, it took me two years of trying to get my Texas Hummingbird Sage seeds to sow, another year after that to get them to put on their first real leaves before kicking the pot, and finally last year, in my fourth year, with the last of the seeds in the packet, four seedlings reached transplant strength…only to lose three their first night out in the world. You had better believe that that fourth transplant last year received some serious babysitting and careful attention!

Lessons learned?

  • Don’t try and start herb seeds indoors like veggie seeds.
  • If you do, double your efforts. They are much less forgiving.
  • Get them into pots before they look like plants. Once those first real leaves appear, I think it’s a matter of days before it needs a pot or keels over. (This could just be me!)
  • Don’t over nourish the soil with compost or seaweed.
  • Put them outside in their pots. I think they hate AC.

All of that effort finally paid off when it survived the summer, flowered, and went to seed. Then came the next test – would I have to order another seed packet? Or would it really prove it was “Texas” Hummingbird Sage and successfully self-sow?

We don’t eat this herb (yet.) It has a curious flavor profile to DH, and I downright don’t like it. What I do like? Those beautiful scarlet blossoms that emerge from the Japanese-Temple-style buds.

July around here was lovely. We stopped with the triple digits for a few weeks. It rained (yay!) multiple times. It was actually a summer I could call “lovely” by Texas standards and was such a mental relief to so many local residents after the built up anxiety of having another year like last year.

That loveliness translated into a resurgence of growth in my Heat Bed! Totally unexpected, and such a pleasant surprise.

This little gentleman tried to die in his pot on the porch. Then he nearly died his first week in the ground. Again he looked like a thicket of dead twigs nearing the end of June. He’s even happier now than he looks here.

And this one has managed to bloom and re-bloom, grow and grow some more, and barely blinks when it hits 100. (Shh…it secretly gets to hide in the late afternoon shade of the Fragrant Mimosa.)

Seed Tray Labeling

When I first started gardening, I wanted row labels. I fell in love with the polished brash signs on sticks. They were out of my price range.

Channeling my inner child, I looked into¬†Popsicle¬†sticks. While researching types, sizes, pricing, and local sources, my mind wandered. Did I have some Popsicle sticks in my craft shoebox? I went to look…nope. What did I have that might work?

Colored toothpicks!

Things I (re)learned (that)day:

  1. Things that are on hand are often better than specially made things that cost money and take up extra space. (I like relearning this in new areas of my life.)
  2. Reusable is important. When I’m done with this tray, I’ll simply brush off the toothpicks and put them back in their (designated garden usage only) jar.
  3. Color is fun, but not necessary.
  4. Save the gardening budget for things that actually grow, or directly feed things that grow, when at all possible.

But wait a minute, you say, how do you remember what’s in each row?

The answer is simple: Magic.

Or a camera phone (or other digital camera, or pen and scratch paper)

It’s important, I’ve found, to do nothing else with my brain in between placing the seeds, laying out the packets, and taking the pictures. I can’t move the tray (I might rotate it and if it’s just rows, or quadrants, I may not remember which way is “up.”) That sort of thing.

If you notice, the toothpick layout does not exactly match the seed packets. That is what happens when you want to make sure you take the picture before going for your nightly walk…and forget to lay the last two seed packets down.

So even though I laid out my rough “grid,” laid out my seed packets to “match,” and took my pictures, I could have still had an “oops surprise” later on trying to remember what those last two spots on the right with the orange toothpick were.

Mystery solved!

Now you may be saying, that picture is small, from a cell phone, I can’t read the fine print – what’d you plant?

Pictured above (left to right, top to bottom as you move left to right):

  • Lark’s Tongue Kale
  • Even’ Star Land Race Collards
  • Dark Green Italian Parsley
  • Lemon Basil
  • Cumin
  • Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce
  • Cimmaron Lettuce
  • Gentilina Lettuce
  • Little Gem Lettuce
  • Mignonette Rouge Lettuce
  • Rodan (Chadwick’s) Lettuce
  • Rouge Grenobloise Lettuce
  • Cracker Jack Mix Marigold
  • Red Cherry Marigold

I liked the romaine I grew last year in flavor, but not in production, and the other varieties of lettuce I grew I didn’t want to eat. That makes this season a Try Again one when it comes to greens. From this myriad of choices, I’m hoping a few stand out as delicious, productive, and happy plants. If I luck into a few such species, they’ll be rewarded in my Fall 2012 garden with more space. Whereas some of the underperformers will have joined other packets in my Trade Box.