Archive for May, 2010

Squashed squash

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Elizabeth and I are both partial to yellow crookneck squash, something we didn’t see much of in England. I know that squash plants have a tap root, and are fussy about being transplanted, but I thought I’d give it a go, starting 4 pots during the first week of March.

I planted two plants in early April, a couple of weeks before the last Spring frost date (the last spring frost this year was Feb or very early March).  Thinking it’d discourage vine borers, I draped spun-bonded polyester over both of them.  They just didn’t seem to thrive under there, and after a couple of weeks, the first plant fell over, with a strange sort of weak stem that didn’t look anything like vine borers (which wouldn’t have been active enough to kill a plant in April).

I planted some more seeds where the first plant had been, and took the Reemay off the other one.  The other plant seemed to be doing pretty well, but there was always something funny about the stem. It had funny little gray things living on it, like slug nymphs or something, and there were so many sow beetles (wood lice) that I figured something must be rotten.

The remaining squash plant seemed to have come through last week’s hail storm in pretty good shape ($3000 to repair my Subaru), but we had another storm Friday night. As the overnight guests slowly reappeared after Elizabeth’s party, I wandered out to the garden with a cup of coffee to discover a single casualty from this much milder storm. The photo above shows the stem where it broke right at the ground level. The scarring indicates that there was very little intact stem at the time, which explains why the fruit have been so small.

Cut down in the prime of life, its going to be awhile before we see a squash big enough to saute.

At this point, we’ve had a lot of lettuce, and we’ve snacked on pod peas several times. There’s a veritable wall of traditional English garden peas that should be ready soon, and my taters are in flower. Early Girl is covered with tomatoes, one of which looks like it should start coloring up any day now.  Two different varieties of corn are coming up, and I need to start trellising my lima beans this week.

All Hail The Garden

Monday, May 17th, 2010

After the biggest snowfall on record, and a last frost date that came at least a month early, last Friday brought the gnarliest-looking hailstones I’ve ever seen.

They were described as ‘quarter sized’ by the weather service. It’d be an exaggeration to say ‘golf ball sized’, but a number of the stones were flat and bumpy, and about the same size as sliced golf balls. The spherical stones were smaller, about the size of shooter marbles.

The storm made a huge racket, and lasted for several minutes, leaving the yard littered with ice balls and fallen debris.

Outside of a couple tomato and potato leaves, the garden came through the storm intact. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about my Subaru.

We’ve seen some unusual weather since returning to the US, and the unseasonably hot & dry spring probably accounts for the failure of the lambs lettuce and spinach crops. Presuming that the mild spring would last, I planted some tomatoes and squash two weeks early, and as it turned out, I could have planted them a couple weeks earlier than that.  This being my first year back in the garden, it was too much of a mess to start planting the first week of March (my excuse is that I was waiting until the pine trees came down), but even if I’d wanted to, there was still snow on the ground.

I wonder what summer is going to bring.

Who’s YOUR daddy?

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

On 21 May, 1978, a Thursday night, the parents of the graduating Bay High School seniors thoroughly spoofed their own kids and the school faculty in a comedy variety show.

With dads dressed as cheerleaders, and moms in hockey and football jerseys, it was a hilarious, and sometimes politically incorrect performance.

This was an annual tradition, giving the parents a chance to honor their kids’ accomplishments and activities. Guests were not invited–only the graduating seniors were there (no underclass girlfriends allowed), although some members of the Class of ’79 performed during the intermission (see the end of my photo gallery).

After Elizabeth and I finished our European adventure and moved back into our American house, we started unpacking the boxes of stuff that we’d put into storage in December 2000.  I found another box of negatives and contact prints from That 70s Show.  It included a few of my favorite shots that weren’t in the negatives I’d rescued from my parents’ crawlspace in 2006, it included some of my earliest pictures from the 60s and 70s, and it included a few surprises.  The best surprise was Parents Night.

Who remembered that instead of sitting there and enjoying the show, I actually took 5 rolls of film?  I certainly didn’t.  What did I even have in mind for these images? The contact prints are marked up a bit, suggesting that I might have done something with these pictures, but I don’t remember printing any of them. Maybe a few of my mom’s friends got some copies, but I can’t imagine that very many pictures circulated.  I’m sure that most of the parents and class of ’78 have never seen these.

There is a sort of old fashioned charm to these images, taken from an earlier and simpler time when disco reigned and men still wore neckties. For me, the turn of the generational clock adds personal poignancy to these pictures. After sitting  in a time capsule for 32 years, these memories reappear at during a life phase when most of  my peers have just seen our own children through high school. While I don’t recognize many of these parents, I do feel connected to them for multiple reasons. As we celebrate their 50th anniversaries and 80th birthdays, I know that many of these proud parents are no longer with us (indeed, some of their children are gone, too).

Somewhat uncharitably, I can’t help thinking that most of these people look old. I have to chuckle over that, because most of them were my own age, or even younger than I am now, and only a few of them would have been 10 years older than my half century. Their clothing and hair wasn’t the only aesthetic of the age–people choose to respond differently to age in different ages. Perhaps one generation has done that more gracefully than the other, but I’m not at all certain which.


32 years ago, we were naive and innocent, and many of the things that mattered to us seem foolish or trivial now.  We’d conquered over a dozen years of public school, and we were ready to conquer the world. Our parents knew that. They admired our youth and were maybe just a bit jealous of our energy. They recognized our enthusiasm, supported our passions, and sighed over our lack of ambition. They dressed up and acted foolish on stage one night to demonstrate their love for us, and to show us how proud they were.

To me, these images are a treasure, and I hope that my classmates are touched. Photographers don’t take pictures for their own pleasure–like any art, the true satisfaction comes through an emotional response in your audience.  I’m glad that I found these pictures while some of the parents are still with us, and maybe there are some grand children who will get a kick out of them also.

The complete set of just over 200 pictures can be found in the Parents Night gallery on my web site. Click on a thumbnail to view a picture, and click on that image to view an even larger version. My suggestion is that you use the slideshow feature available through a link at the bottom of the screen (click on the icon at the right of the menu bar to see it in full screen).

Now that I’ve found these negatives, scanned them, Photoshopped them, and uploaded them, I’m really curious about just who all these people are.  Please put your comments in the photo gallery.

Everything is publicly viewable, although I’ve asked Google and Bing not to search and index these images.   Enjoy!

Art meets life

Global warming in the spring garden

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Spring came early this year, it has been uncharacteristically hot, we are 3 inches below our normal rainfall, and now I’m wishing that I’d taken advantage of global warming a couple weeks earlier than I did.

I did plant some tomatoes a couple of weeks before what is normally considered the last Spring frost date. Most of my tomatoes are open pollinated heritage varieties, started from seed during the first week of March.  I’ve got one hybrid, an Early Girl that Elizabeth bought me in the nursery, which I aggressively planted in early April. Close to 3′ tall, she started setting fruit last week, with the first tomato about 1.5″ in diameter right now.

She’s flanked by the first of 4 of the ones I started from seed.  Under black paper ‘mulch’ and surrounded by 5′ cages, they are thriving in this hot and sunny spring, and Old German should start blooming any day now.

A pair of ground cherries can be seen on the left. I started them at the same time as the tomatoes, and their growth has been painfully slow.  I don’t know how big they will eventually get, but I’m assuming they will not become as big as a tomato, even though they are related.

Two weeks ago, which was two weeks after planting the first group of tomatoes, I decided that all danger of frost was past, and the second group of heritage tomatoes went in.  Also planted under black paper, they are currently only about half the size of the first group.  The plant density is a little bit on the high side, but with a plot of potatoes going in this year, I didn’t want to complicate rotation over the next couple of years by sprinkling nightshades all over the garden.  I also didn’t want to throw anything away, so I planted all of my indoor starts, which was 2 of everything but one of the Mortgage Lifters, which suffered an unfortunate re-potting accident.

This is the first time I’ve tried potatoes, but after what seemed like a very slow start, the 4×4 plot in the back is filling up nicely with 4 different varieties.

The plot I started the first week of March is doing well.  I’ve been snacking on 2 different kinds of radish for a couple of weeks.

The sugar snap peas have been blooming for a couple days, and I snacked on a couple of early pods yesterday.  I decided a couple of days ago to start harvesting lettuce, and now it is looking like it might bolt before I can finish it.


The adjacent plot has some arugula that has been doing great, but that hardy green is flanked by two pathetically feeble attempts to grow lambs lettuce. Rapunzel, let down your roots! Incredibly slow to germinate, neither the Vit nor Green Jade are anything to brag about.  The peas in the back are traditional English garden peas, which look healthy enough, but haven’t started to bloom yet, and I’m concerned about the heat.

My third 4×4 of greens is doing even worse.  It has been 5 weeks since I planted the first 8-10 squares, and so far, my germination rate is awful.  Unlike the early March plot above, I’d very carefully fluffed up and composted this one.  The chicken wire was in place from the beginning, keeping out the birds, and I put a cardboard shield across the top whenever it stormed.  I’ve regularly hand-watered this lovely little plot to keep the seeds moist, and there is precious little to show for all that attention. So much for trying to keep a fresh supply of lettuce throughout the Spring.  I think I’ll need to shade these plants soon.

I started 4 squash plants at the same time as my tomatoes. I know that squash don’t always transplant well, but I wanted to get a jump on the season with some of the yellow squash that Elizabeth and I prefer over green zukes.  I put two plants out at the same time as the first set of  tomatoes, and put Reemay over the top to keep the borers away.  I’m not sure they liked being under spunbonded poly, and the other plant died of stem failure (NOT borer damage).  This plant had some damage to the stem also, but seems to be doing much better, and has visibly grown in the 2 days since I took this picture. Today it has a very distinct female bud and a male bud that might bloom tomorrow.