Why Doesn’t my Garden Grow?

Three major section of my raised beds are growing nothing but weeds. I have a few theories, but I’m not entirely sure. I’m hoping to narrow down the possibilities so I can figure out what to do about the problem.

Suspect number one: poor seeds

  • The basket of seeds got soaked when I left it out overnight. I successfully dried the packages, but did I manage to destroy their viability?
  • I like to stock up during late season clearance sales. The seeds I used could have been old.

Suspect number two: feathered and furry creatures

  • Birds! I suspect cardinals in the demise of my butterfly garden seed mat.
  • Chipmunks! Or chipmunk! Darn thing slips through the tiniest gaps in the fencing, and I find holes all over.
  • Rabbits? Not likely this time. The wire fencing is pretty good.

Suspect number three: random environmental influences

  • Seeds planted too late
  • Weather – too hot
  • Weather – too cold
  • Weather – too wet
  • Poor soil – doubtful. Treating my soil with compost, etc., would take a number of posts. The green “walking” onions around the edges are growing beautifully, too.

Incidentally, the pallet garden and the various containers are doing very well. Herbs, mainly, along with a few leafy edibles and flowers, all thriving. The rest? I’ll keep trying to make it work. Promote growth. Plant something that comes up, already.

Readers, suggestions? I have a gauge for testing soil pH. I might try that. What else do you recommend?

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Spelunking in the Refrigerator

It’s just an extension of the Pantry Raid, really. The Pantry Raid means just what it sounds like: gathering enough ingredients already available in the house in order to avoid a run to the store.

Chuck ended up searching a filled-to-overload kitchen and created his own version: spelunking in the refrigerator.

The kitchen counters were piled high and the refrigerator was packed tightly, Tetris style, after we hosted extended family for Father-In-Law’s funeral. Leftovers from dinner, extra beverages as we emptied the coolers; you name it, we had it. Searching for an evening snack became a challenge.

Challenge, I said, but not insurmountable. I’d made a simple white cake to go with strawberries the day before, and Chuck spotted a half full carton of chocolate frosting. Success! And unique success, too! Somehow, successfully spelunking into the refrigerator ended with a unique result that didn’t feel like a leftover.

Give me a few days, a rope, and a headlamp, and I just might dig up the ultimate Pantry Raid.

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A Memorial, not Memorial Day

Every year we start Memorial Day by throwing our lawn chairs in Amigo’s bike basket and hitting the road for half a block to stake our claim on a good place to watch the parade. Seriously, it’s half a block from our home.

And after the parade, we head back the half a block to our home. Home, to help out our “real live veteran in our front yard,” as Amigo put it. Father In Law doesn’t want to struggle down the street with his walker, so he often settled under our mock cherry tree and read a book. We gave him a little flag next to his lawn chair so he could be part of the festivities.
Our “real live veteran” passed away recently, and we laid him to rest today. In his possessions we found several letters he’d written to his parents when he was stationed in Japan during the Korean conflict. Some were typed, some were handwritten, and all were fascinating insights to what he was like as a young man.
Emails may be convenient, but do you keep them? A box labeled “War Mementos” was a journey into the past for our family.

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Wisconsin LIngo

Seen on a car in a very conservative city in Wisconsin, the area our Republican governor considers his “base.”

I’ll translate for those readers outside of my fair state. In Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, this statement implies that Scott Walker is making one feel rather ill. Sick, in fact, quite sickly.

It’s a relief to know that there are still people out there who understand that Walker’s Wisconsin is going downhill, not up. And that, my friends, is making a lot of us feel ill.

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Good Intentions & Container Gardening

I had good intentions of sharing indoor and outdoor (mostly outdoor) progress day by day. Those good intentions evaporated with the puddles on a windy day. One accomplishment was filling the crocks with plants. So far, none have been over watered – intentionally or from the rain. I must have given them enough drainage before I filled them with soil.

The Crock Garden

Just a few feet away sits the Rock Garden. In the rock garden is a large bucket filled with mint.

Mint – confined to a container

The irony here comes in the fact that I established a rock garden in the first place to take the place of the out-of-control mint. Using cardboard barriers, a lot of 20 mule team borax, and patience, I managed to get rid of the wild mint and build up a decorative and fun rock garden. That’s Amigo’s alter ego on the left: the frog playing cello.

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Rhubarb-Strawberry Slab Pie

Taste of Home called it raspberry, not strawberry. In my part of this world, the rhubarb is usually in season with strawberries, less so with raspberries. I pulled both strawberries and raspberries out of the freezer to make this. Rhubarb? I had plenty. In fact, I had enough rhubarb leftover to freeze for later.

The pie was big, too. We took some to Petunia, some to Chuck’s mom, and I gave three pieces to the next door neighbors.

Berry-Rhubarb Slab Pie

based on a recipe from Taste of Home

Ingredients:

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (or my favorite, whole wheat pastry flour)

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

8 cups fruit: rhubarb, strawberries or raspberries

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk milk and egg; gradually add to flour mixture. Mix with fork until dough forms a ball. Divide dough into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out larger portion of dough in a rectangle about 18 by 13 inches. Press dough into a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add berries and rhubarb; toss to coat. Spread on pastry.

Roll out remaining dough; place over filling. Pull up edges of lower crust and press them together. Poke top crust with a fork in several places.

Bake 45 – 55 minutes until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

If you have a large enough family, you won’t have to give any away.

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Goals – inside, outside

It’s summertime – the approximate ten week period that passes for a “break” in our oddly outdated agrarian school calendar. In the old, old bygone days, students would help at home on the farm in spring, summer, and then harvest season in the fall. School terms might be limited to winter or some of the town and city kids might come in early fall while the farm families kept their children home to work the land.

But I digress.

It’s summertime, and the living is relatively easy. I can sleep in, but I don’t. My body clock is set firmly between 6 and 7 A.M. I’m up and at ’em, coffee cup in hand. Up and at what? That’s where the goals come in.

I’ve decided to make one indoor goal and one outdoor goal. Daily tasks such as loading, running, and emptying the dishwasher don’t count. Watering the garden and the containers doesn’t count, either. It’s a necessity.

Yesterday the outdoor goal was to fix up the rock garden. That entailed getting rocks and sculptures and misc. from the garage and placing it strategically in the rock garden. Inside? Clean the bunny cage & replace used litter box with clean box.

The goals are a minimum. I don’t stop there. Having definite goals, no matter how small, keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. “I must get more done! Must accomplish! Must do, go, achieve!” Nope. It’s a long break, and it’s a break. Setting and meeting goals is good for my mental health. Meeting goals allows me to let go of the gotta-get-it-done attitude and relax.

That said, here are today’s main goals. Indoors: laundry. Outdoors: lift pallet garden to a steeper angle. Chuck helped with that one.

And now, while I wait for the first load of laundry to rinse and spin, I can relax.

Readers, do you set goals? Give yourself permission to take care of yourself? Leave comments. I’d like to know.

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Last Week of School – encore

Years ago, when I was still teaching in a traditional classroom, the chalkboard provided all kinds of opportunities. My fourth graders loved to create their own drawings with this simple medium of chalk on chalkboard. This one went up on a muggy, drizzly day. The blurry writing in the middle states, “Rain, rain, go away!” Earlier in the day it said, “Rian, rian, go away!” until someone more astute took eraser in hand and played editor.

 Over the weekend, La Petite came with me while I cleaned up my classroom. This was the work of La Petite, age 21, art minor, in colored chalk. 

In truth, the wild bunnies eat my vegetables more than they do the flowers – with the exception of the coneflowers last year. The flowers in this picture lasted longer than the coneflowers did.

Note: the plethora of encores may be due to the fact that it’s the last week of school and any creativity of my own is getting poured into progress report comments. 

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Another encore, on a counseling tone

from spring, 2013

My email has been overloaded with courses lately. I’m not sure why. Are the trainers and higher-educators getting desperate for business? I know few of us are taking extra courses or earning higher degrees now because we can’t afford it and because additional training and education no longer pays.

But reduced pay scales aside, this offer came through recently. There’s a lot of public attention to mental illnesses these days, so I actually read it instead of hitting delete.

Dealing with Metal Illness in the Classroom

I could have used this a few years ago, or a few years before that, or – the list goes on. Or could I? Let’s look more closely.

This course is designed for teachers, support staff and school counselors.

Okay, the focus is good. School counselors have been cut way back, though, due to the usual and customary budget constraints. When a student needs counseling, the teacher is the first and sometimes the last to handle it. If the student is lucky, his/her teacher will have had at least some counseling training. Next, please.

Participants will learn about the diagnostic characteristics of the various types of mood disorders and the other types of mental health disorders that mimic the symptoms of each.

Now they’ve lost me. Teachers can’t and don’t diagnose illness, whether physical or mental. We may recognize head lice and flu, and we might be the ones monitoring behavior that suggests attention deficit disorder, but we do not diagnose. Training us in “diagnostic characteristics” isn’t the right direction at all.

If we teachers are to help students with possible mental illnesses, we need to have opportunities to refer these students for real diagnosis and treatment. We need to have the connections with medical professionals, and we need permission to contact them. We need administrators who take our concerns seriously, and we need time – yes, time – to meet with and call parents so we can work as a team. We need school psychologists who take our concerns seriously, school social workers who do more than push papers, and most of all, administrators who care about our safety and well-being.

We need coworkers and support staff that will work with us. We need the public to respect our knowledge, our experience, and our observations.

Most of all, we need this because the students, the ones who need help, need us.

 This is an encore from 2013. All, for better or worse, is still very true. Public trends are leading toward the need for more services in schools, but budgets don’t match the need. Until then, we teachers will still be the front line for those kids who need help.

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Cleaning the Classroom – Encore

I attended a graduation party for a former student, a girl I’d taught in fourth grade. She had just graduated from high school (my alma mater, no less), and was preparing to head off to college. I reminisced on the way home. 

One year my fourth grade class decorated the chalkboard with flowers during the last few weeks of school. I liked it so much that this year, I assigned them the task. We were gearing up for a field trip to see a play based on the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. I helped prepare them for the story by reading about urban gardens, learning about plants, planting their own tomato plants in little pots made from toilet paper rolls, and more. One day I presented them with several shades and lengths of green construction paper, told them these were their stems, and challenged them to create flowers using our bin of paper scraps.

They outdid themselves.

The flowers were lovely, each as original as its creator. My young students (ages 9-10) decided to write their names on the board to claim their work. They wrote and drew and made more flowers, and I was glad to say Yes to saving their work from the cleaning staff. I knew Di, the cleaner who keeps my room spotless, would love the classroom flower garden as much as I did and would be glad to leave it untouched by rag or vinegar cleaning spray.


When a student moved the week before school let out, she made sure to pick her flower from the board. On the last full day of school, plucking the flowers was a high priority for the young paper gardeners. By then the chalk was getting dusty, but the paper work was as unique as ever. High art? Nope. Just right? Absolutely.

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