Preparing for planting

I haven’t been able to do much in the garden since my encounter with the Land Rover, but this week I hired some help and we dug potatoes, weeded, spread compost and mulch. We left the parseley and a few onions.

Here is the first bed, ready for planting. Then the rains came and settled everything in. Soon this bed will have peas, lettuces and maybe a tomato or two.

The Garden Master

I want to post some photos of my garden, and thought about what poem to go with it. Theodore Roethke was the great poet of gardens, his father ran a nursery. This one came to mind, earthy, slightly menacing.

Florist’s Root Cellar

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!— Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

Theodore Roethke

And here are the photos, not menacing at all.


The fall garden

After my trip to New England last month, where gardens are pretty much over for the year, I doubly appreciate being able to start a garden for fall and winter.  I took all the dead tomato stalks, pea vines, and other debris, and turned them into mulch with the Eco-shredder, then planted seedlings and nestled them in:DEBRIS

The raw debris







MULCHThe debris shredded to mulch

















The mulched seedlings and garden.



Theres lots more, of course–seedlings waiting for planting, herbs flowers and spinach in the labyrinth, wildflowers sprouting up unasked for. What’s such a contrast to the winter I grew up in is that this is really the start of the been season here.  I love it!

And here’s a Monday poem, by that garden master, Theodore Roethke, with his own thoughts about debris and the life force:

Root Cellar

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!–
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

Theodore Roethke

Sunday breakfast from the backyard

Today is a perfect Bay Area gem: warm, no fog looming, and the garden flourishing.

I wandered out to feed the chickens and was seduced by the first English peas fat enough to pick. I pulled up a few scallions, cut some spinach, and added a few springs of basil and tarragon from the labyrinth. The hens contributed their miraculous eggs. A tortilla from the store, an Early Girl tomato from the farmers’ market, and voila:

Along with the NY Times, it made a perfect start to match the day.  Larry added a quote from Kant (from a Jim Grant book review in yesterday’s WSJ):

“Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can ever be carved.”

I wonder if that was partly the inspiration for Auden’s: “You shall love your crooked neighbor/With your crooked heart”?

My own crooked heart is, for the moment, replete and ready to tackle the Book Review, which is waiting for me at the edge of the photo.

Seedlings and a recipe


It’s full spring here in Northern California, with seedlings popping up on their own, seedlings planted for the garden, and a general rush of growth.  I went though the labyrinth and potted up a tray of small geraniums like this one that had self-seeded all over the paths, and took them along with some marigold and shiso seedlings to give away at the Kensington Farmers’ Market. They disappeared in about 20 minutes.

For my own garden I planted three kinds of carrots, and some early girl tomatoes in the ground, along with a tray of lettuce, coriander, spinach, squash, cucumbers, poppies and nasturtiums. The squash and spinach are almost ready to transplant.  The cucumbers and lettuce are a little slower, and the coriander and flowers haven’t really shown up yet.

Meanwhile, from Whole Foods I tried a package of “cheesy kale,” dried kale with a paste of cashews, red pepper, lemon juice and salt.  It was good, but pretty expensive.  I have a lot of kale in the garden, so decided to try to duplicate it.  I washed an dried the kale and spread it on a baking sheet, and blended about a cup of roasted cashews, 1/3 of a red pepper, juice of a lemon and a 1/2 teaspoon salt until it was a paste. I added about 1/4 cup of water along the way to help the process along. When it was smooth, I spread it over the kale: Continue reading “Seedlings and a recipe”

Garden, chickens, bees

It’s a very foggy August here in the East Bay, and I think the red mulch is really helping the garden to flourish. I have a tomato jungle with many green and some ripe tomatoes, corn almost ready to eat, baby eggplants and artichokes, squash (always a plethora of those) and cucumbers.

Plus, the chickens should be just about ready to lay. I was given an Americana rooster, named Malawi, by a family who couldn’t keep him, and so far the neighbors are okay with him. I added herbs and fake eggs (chickens like to lay their eggs next to existing ones) to the nesting box, and hung a continuous feed feeder up so that they can eat to their hearts’ content, all in preparation for eggs.

The chickens were a little spooked by the new feeder at first, but soon got used to it.


On a sad note, though, the bees have failed to thrive. I’ve been noticing their numbers diminishing, and yesterday looked in the hive. There were only a few dozen bees, and not much comb. The bee guru says this just happens sometimes. It’s disheartening. After the last bees live out their hospice days in the hive, I will clean it out and prepare it for a new swarm in the spring. And I’ll move it to a spot where they get more sun.  Then perhaps they will do better.  For now, just waiting for the wonderful sound a hen makes when she announces that she’s laid an egg! laid an egg! laid an egg!


Baby Vegetables

While I know that showing pictures of individual plants in your garden is like showing family photos, some of you may love photos of baby vegetables as I do. For you, here’s a short slide show of the growing corn, artichokes, tomatillos, tomatoes, squash, edamame and cucumbers mid-July. Some of them show the red mulch in the background.

The rest of you can just skip this post.

How the garden grows

This is the labyrinth this morning.  I can see the plants grow from one day to the next. I’ve let the salad mix and some herbs go to seed in the labyrinth, hoping I’ll see new seedlings soon.

Herbs include all the common culinary herbs, plus borage, hyssop, lemon verbena, summer and winter savory, lemon balm, Thai basil, fennel, rue, feverfew, along with five or six kinds of lettuce, three kinds of chives, and dozens of flowers.

The rest of the front is all flowers.

Along with the stone work, there is drip irrigation, so no watering issues (for once in my life) other than figuring out how often and how long I want the water to drip.


The back, aside from a plethora of poppies, is all vegetables, chickens, and bees.


Here is the famed red mulch, chicken coop in the background.

The baby cucumbers, artichokes, tomatillos, corn, and beans:




and four of the seven pullets, happily eating scraps.

When Larry discovered me baking egg shells this morning before adding them to the compost, he said:

“This is a farm my Okie relatives wouldn’t recognize.”

Indeed! I hope this is not like someone’s dull slide show of their vacation–but I couldn’t resist.

Potato towers and red mulch

This morning I went out to look at the garden, and a little junco was nibbling under the cucumber—hopefully eating weeds! Can you see it between the plants?

Yesterday was devoted to putting down red mulch and building potato towers. I first read about potato towers in Sunset Magazine (waiting for the dentist!), then saw them on the Bennington Garden Blog. Now they seem to be all the rage. The idea is to put in a bunch of potato pieces and keep adding layers of straw, soil, and compost as the potatoes grow. They grow up instead of sideways, giving a tower of harvestable potatoes.

Everyone likes to try something new, including me. They seem like an appealing, space-saving idea. I like the thought of just reaching in for new potatoes as the rest keep growing. I went to Urban Ore my favorite shopping spot for the garden, and picked up an old wicker hamper for one. I made another one out of a remnant of chicken wire and a bamboo shade.  It took most of the morning, and I remembered the best home improvement advice I ever read. “Never think anything is going to take 15 minutes; it takes 15 minutes to find the screwdriver.” Or in my case, to assemble wire cutters, pliers, scissors and glasses.

The red mulch (according to its label) is “a recent innovation to maximize the effect of reflected light on plant growth…red has been found to enhance the growth and yield of several vegetable crops, including tomatoes.”  I decided to give it a try, especially as the foggy east bay is not the best tomato-growing environment in the world.







First I weeded, then top dressed the plants with compost, then put on the mulch. I had to cut and paste a bit to fit my odd rows, but it went pretty well. We’ll see. I think I’ll put it on the eggplants and cucumbers, too.

And the first baby cucumbers are as cute as any newborn.  Meanwhile, I’ve been eating and giving away lettuce every day, and enjoying the bumper crop of peas.



Introducing the garden

I realized, reading the Bennington Garden Blog this morning that I have neglected to document my miraculous garden. I am lucky to be planting on soil that has been uncultivated for years; it’s rich and full of worms. With the addition of some compost to lighten up the clay, it has produced what seems like instant results. I started planting in February, and now have more lettuce than we can eat (just ready to transplant the third crop of seedlings), snap and snow peas, kale, baby tomatoes, and vigorous corn, tomatillos, cucumber, squash, artichoke, eggplant, edamame and bean plants. I also have first year blueberry bushes, raspberry, and blackberry vines, a young Celeste fig and Hachiya persimmon, and a pepper tree. Here come the photos:








The peas grow visibly taller each day!

These are planted with a technique called Mayan gardening. The corn should be a stalk for the beans, tomatoes or tomatillos, the cucumber provides ground cover.





















Can you spot the slug in the lettuce seedlings? I didn’t know it was there till I looked at these.

Here’s the front. You can see the beginning of the labyrinth here:



Some of the herbs and salad greens in the labyrinth are already going to seed—I’m letting that happen, figuring I’ll have a summer crop later.


The garden is a world of pleasure, changing each day.  Soon to come: red mulch for the tomatoes! Stakes for the berries, taller stakes for the peas.



The tag line for this blog includes “a labyrinthine life,” because that seems to me the perfect metaphor for the shape of a life. We can always craft stories about what happened afterwards, but while it’s happening, life is mysterious, counter-intuitive, lots of backtracks and strange turns, which is what I find so compelling about labyrinths. I love that the path to the center is not straightforward and that they have no real “reason” for being.

When I visited my friend Maureen about 10 years ago, she had made one in the field next to her house using a lawnmower to cut the circles into the tall grass. Over time, her friends brought her rocks, fragments, small pots, etc. to put in the center. I was so jealous! But I lived in a space with no flat surface. I had a hill, but it was too steep for a labyrinth.

A few years ago we moved, and the house we bought had a space we could make into a small (16’ diameter) labyrinth, a project I’ve been working on since about August of last year. I decided to plant kitchen herbs and small flowers in the labyrinth rows, and modified a plan to fit the space. I cleared and weeded the ground, and took a stick and a string to make the concentric circles, then made the pattern by mounding the dirt:

The idea for me was that it would work a little pause into my day—I tend to move very quickly. I planted the herbs I use most (parsley, oregano, cilantro, sage, chives) in the outer row, so I wouldn’t have to walk the whole labyrinth if I just wanted a sprig of one of them. I bought seedlings at Annie’s Annuals, the best retail nursery I’ve ever seen.

After three months, the labyrinth looks like this:

I have many interim shots, including one with the just-planted labyrinth filled with hail, which gave me the idea for the pale pebble walkway.  But like pictures of one’s children, I may be more in love with them than you are, so I thought these two would suffice for now.

I pick from the labyrinth daily, and tend to walk the whole labyrinth at least once a week, gathering flowers for small bouquets as well as lettuces and herbs. I’ve been adding to the plantings as I go. It’s an ongoing project. And as it’s right in my entryway, it gives people some idea about who I am as they come in. I like that!