Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tackling New Problems

Hi Readers.  How many of you own a computer? I bet at least 85% of you do, and I suspect your computers cause as much grief as mine does.  When I got my first computer, I was as thrilled as a caveman who’s been rubbing two sticks together to make his fire and is suddenly given a lighter. 

At first  I burned myself a few times, especially if I tried something new, at which point the screen would start blinking “INVALID ENTRY.”  When it did it about the 6th time I was so furious I screamed “Don’t call me an invalid!  I may not be doing well, but I’m not SICK!”

We old folks with fading memories have constant problems, even when we have a copy of   “Computers for Dummies”  to help us find solutions.  Of course tackling anything new is never easy, be it a computer,  the smartphone your kids gave you last Christmas or merely the instructions for your new car’s GPS.  

Since spring has finally arrived, I thought that instead of discussing all those high tech problems,  we should talk about something simple like planting the vegetable garden. The earliest vegetables we  can plant in our New England gardens are peas. Some garden books even suggest planting them as early  as St. Patrick’s Day.   

The first and only time I tried that no little seedlings appeared above ground and after two weeks I planted another batch of seeds. Peas won’t sprout if the temperature stays in the 40s,  All of mine popped up the following week as the temperatures rose. They were pretty crowded, but happily climbed the garden fence and provided me with plenty of snacks whenever I weeded the garden.  

Let’s look at another vegetable which can be safely planted right now, radishes.  Their seeds are big enough to handle easily, they sprout in only a few days, and are ready to harvest more quickly than any other vegetable.  All that may be true, but you can still produce cherry belles with the crunch of a sponge, white icicles with the bite of a jalapeno pepper, or some black Spanish that taste like garden dirt, so I’ve composed the following manual for Radish Culture.  If followed, it should produce good results and hopefully no frustrations.

                    RADISHES FOR DUMMIES

Plant Key:  The fatter the seed and the deeper it’s planted (one and a half inches), the bigger the radish.  If you like small radishes, plant the seeds only an inch deep or even less.  The ph should be somewhere between 6 and 8. Use lots of compost or well-rotted manure, but no fresh manure.  As with all root  vegetables, a loose sandy soil is best.

Grow Key:  Plant short rows since when radishes are ripe they are ready to pick for only a few days.  If left in the ground much longer, they’ll become tough and pithy.

Enemy Key:  To avoid the problem of root maggots, dig some hardwood ashes you’ve saved from all those winter fires into the soil before planting and spread a few on top as well to repel the flies that lay root maggot eggs.  Few other marauders bother radishes, although we once had an Irish Water Spaniel who adored them, the hotter the better.  He’d pull one up, hold the leaves between his paws, and chomp down on the red root.  Then his eyes would water and he’d foam at the mouth.

Save Key:  This function key is fortunately not necessary for radishes.  It is a very  important  key, however, and if forgotten to be used, catastrophe may result such as losing a completed column two hours before a deadline. 

Cook Key:  Don’t just use radishes as an appetizer.  Try putting these crisp vegetables in stir-fry dishes, in salads, or turn them into pickles. Add some radish leaves when you’re cooking spinach.  Although radishes are not particularly rich in nutrients,  a cup contains about 26% of the vitamins one should consume each day.

If you have trouble following this manual, don’t worry.  You may have sick radishes, but no one will pop up telling you you’re an INVALID!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Tiny Problem for Gardeneers

My apologies.  I deliberately chose a deceptive title for this  column. There’s no question but a tick, today’s subject,  is tiny, but if he manages to bite you, the result can be ENORMOUS – Lyme disease.

I  thought the frigid  snow-filled winter would reduce the tick population, but it’s had the opposite affect.  The number of ticks here in New England has exploded!   In past years  taking a walk in the woods was when we worried about getting a tick, but this year these wretched insects are absolutely everywhere.  

 Gardeners, BEWARE!  When you head out to do a little weeding, wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants tucked into your socks (white socks and shirt will help you spot crawling ticks) and wear a hat. Spray an insect repellent such as Off around your ankles, and don’t assume that taking a hot shower after working outside is a solution. It’s not! 

                      An easy way to protect your dog from ticks!

 I’ve encountered many ticks over the years and been bitten five or six times.  Most bites are eventually  irritating enough so you soon realize you’ve got one. Unfortunately when you live alone, it’s hard to find these  horrid 8-legged insects.  You must  strip down and carefully admire yourself in the mirror.  YUCK!

This year my first tick bite was at the end of January when snow was piled high in all directions.  My second bite was on April 14th.  I didn’t feel it or find it until it had produced the nice rosy circle  indicating Lyme disease.  My doctor confirmed that fact as he wrote out a prescription for  Doxycycline.

 “One with breakfast, one with dinner, until they’re all gone,” said the pharmacist as she handed me a bottle  containeing 40 blue capsules.   “Oh, and stay out of the sun! These pills make your skin extremely sensitive.”  That advice didn’t sink in, so the next day after driving to town and back with my hands at 11 and 1 on the steering wheel, both hands looked like bright red lobster claws.

I didn’t know  when  or what sort of symptoms of Lyme would appear if I had actually gotten  it, and it wasn’t until April 29th that I learned.  I actually thought I’d broken my hip when I tried to get out of bed that morning.  Wow, what an incredible pain! 

Was having debilitating pain from my knee to my hip Lyme? That never occurred to me, but my doctor assured me it  was. Lyme disease can cause an infinite variety of problems, most of them muscular. It can affect any part of the body, even the brain, and can sometimes lasts for a year or more. 

Unable to even think about all the garden chores that needed doing, I decided to go on the Internet and read about Lyme disease. I wanted to learn more about this dreadful malady. I asked Google how Lyme disease got its name.  Up came close to a dozen websites on the subject.  I’d really hit the jackpot!

The first cases of Lyme disease were found  in Connecticut in a small town called Lyme. In 1975 a large number of children  living in the town became sick with what doctors thought was a new form of arthritis.  Many of the kids had some sort of insect bite as well. Eventually it was established that their aches and pains were not arthritis.  They were caused by tick bites.  The new disease was named Lyme,  in honor of the town?

Just off the coast beyond the town of Lyme is a small island which contains a biological testing facility, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  By 1954  the bio-warfare research being done at this facility  included experimental studies on a small insect, Borrelia urgdorferiin, the tick!

A word of caution - I’ve found that all sorts of information on the Internet appears to be written with such authority that it needs to  be read with a bit of skepticism, so take what follows with a grain of salt, or sugar or aspirin?    That said, here is a brief description of what I found. 

When it was established in 1975 that  the children of Lyme had all been bitten by ticks, people knowledgeable about the research being done on Plum Island immediately accused the research center of being responsible for the new disease, that obviously ticks had been poorly secured and birds had carried them over the water to the town.

According to several of the articles I read  the government denied there had ever been any experimenting with ticks, and not until some time in the 1990s was proof found that experiments with ticks had been performed. At that point  those responsible admitted that yes, at one time there had been a study of ticks at the facility. All this became known as the Lyme Conspiracy. It inspired dozens of articles, books and even a movie on the subject.

By the time I finished all this research myself,  my aches and pains were slowly beginning to shrink .  I trust they will soon fade away. Watch out for ticks this summer!  They are everywhere! 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Ah, What Perfume!

Such endless wicked weather we’ve suffered through!  The only winter I can remember that was as cold and snowy was in 1977.  That year we  had a snowstorm in early May that bowed down the blooming lilacs!  Even though purple is my least favorite
color, I love those fragrant blooms and it was the first time I hadn’t been able to fill the house with their delicious perfume. 
Facing a column deadline, I decided to write about  fragrance in the garden. I pulled a few books off my shelves to see what flowers  have a potent aroma, and the very first book had a  huge list.  Sort of boring, so I decided to compose some doggerel to make it more interesting.

                The flowers fell aquarreling. They never could agree
                Whose fragrance was the sweetest, so they went and asked the bee.
                The bee agreed to act as judge – she does her job with pride.
                She sniffs and sips the whole day through, but still she can’t decide.
                The early blooming hyacinths, strong mints,  or marguerite?
           The four-o-clocks, the stately phlox, alyssum oh so sweet?
                Let’s not forget the violet, the handsome tuberose,
               The bee balm with its spiciness – such scents assail her nose!
               From peony to pink sweet pea, she buzzes through the beds,
               And as she sniffs, the blossoms smile and nod their pretty heads. 

                      Bee Balm,  Also called  Monarda                       

       Of the dozens of other fragrant flowers, one you may
  not be familiar with, a fancy flower with propane power -            just can't resist that doggerel - the gas plant.  Its foliage smells         strongly of lemon peel, but what makes it fun is that its cut       roots and summer flowers produce a highly flammable oil
that a match can ignite into a blue flame.  I've never grown a
a gas plant, but many years ago a neighbor who does, lit a     
 match and showed me how the flower lit up.                
Four O'Clocks

      Another fragrant flower in the list was the Four O'Clock. This annual produces blooms with many different colors in each one.  As you might guess, the flowers only open in the late afternoon.  They're similar in shape to Necotinana, a deliciously perfumed night bloomer.  Although Four O'Clocks are annuals, the ones I plant apparently leave enough seeds  to give me a second summer of plants if it's been a kind winter.
Finding good photos of fragrant flowers is difficult.  Naturally photographers prefer to choose the prettiest, not the most perfumed flowers, so I'm having limited success, but obviously you don't need a photo of one of the headiest blooms, the rose.  Dozens of roses were included on the list. They have by far the most delicious perfume.  I've had no success growing any but the common rambler that anyone can grow.  The list also included the tuberose, which is a bulb.  It doesn't do well in New England, however, as it is frost intolerant.  
Realizing that you're not learning much from this column, I looked in a few more books.    One titled Taylor's Garden Guide (not this Taylor) I found three long chapters devoted to fragrant flowers. I think it has enough information to fill three or four columns. Too late now.  With my deadline looming, I guess I'll tuck all of that info away for the future.  
  In the meantime, if you want your house to be filled with perfume, my suggestion is to go to, a rare nursery of unusual plants, and get yourself a pot of handsome gardenias or sweet smelling jasmine.       

           Gardenia             Jasmine            
                Fortuniana         Maid of New Orleans