30 April 2008

grow yer own

last week we watched the documentary King Corn on PBS. it's all about corn production in america, and the excessive amount of corn we consume as a society, primarily through high fructose corn syrup (found in most commercially processed food), and through consumption of corn fed beef. the film is very well made, and features two young guys who try to learn about corn by growing their own acre, and trying to track where it goes once they sell it. one aspect of the film has continued to haunt me. most of the farmland in the US is used to produce an inedible product. the field corn they grew in the documentary must be processed before it can be consumed by humans. i found this info on the national corn growers association website:

Corn-on-the-cob and canned or frozen corn at the grocery store come from sweet corn. The corn you grow in your garden also is a variety of sweet corn. But the most abundant type of corn grown in the United States is actually field, or dent, corn. Almost all of the corn you see in farm fields is dent corn.

Unlike sweet corn, dent corn has a hard outer portion about the thickness of your fingernail. The inner portion of the corn kernel is soft and floury. Dent corn is used to make starches, oils, livestock feed, ethanol fuel and many other products like crayons, paints and paper. Dent corn also is used to make corn syrup sweeteners and other ingredients that appear in all kinds of foods from soft drinks to baked goods.

In 1996, U.S. sweet corn growers harvested about 119,400 acres of sweet corn. By comparison, the amount of land dedicated to dent corn production is much larger. U.S. corn growers plant about 71 million acres of field corn each year.

those statistics are quite dated. the amount of dent corn grown today is much higher, especially with the increased demand for ethanol, and the rising prices. if you are interested in this topic, i urge you to see the film, or just start poking around online, it's fascinating stuff, for sure.

but the reason i brought it up here is that seeing the film, and thinking about all that farmland producing inedible crops, brought home to me the importance of learning to grow food. gardening is a hobby for me, at this point. i'm not growing food to sustain my family, or even to reduce our food bill significantly. i grow food in the garden because it is pleasurable, and because i want cosmo to know what it's like to plant a seed, nurture it, wait, and eventually pick the fruit off the vine and pop it in his mouth. but maybe it is a more serious endeavor that i first thought. i am learning how to grow food. the hands-on knowledge i am gaining about soil, seeds, temperatures, and light....might come in handy someday. in any case, it feels like i am making a little patch of the world better by raising edible plants.

18 April 2008

have you ever heard a plant grow?

i swear i did the other night. i have the grow light set up with the tomato plants right next to the desk here, and i was sitting at the computer when, out of the corner of my eye, i saw some leaves move, and i sort of heard it too. i glanced over at the tomato plants. and one of the leaves was still trembling slightly.

these bright green beauties really want to be in the ground.
too bad the ground is not ready for them.
the last frost date is still weeks away.

once again, i sigh. i wait.

15 April 2008

oceans of violets in bloom

compared to last month, we have many more blooms to show off this time, for garden blogger's bloom day. this is our first spring in indiana, and it's exciting to discover all of the spring flowers in our yard, and our neighborhood. i keep singing that line from the prince song, when the doves cry, because some of our neighbor's lawns are carpeted in blooming violets right now. we have some in our yard too.

we also have some very tiny flowers that look like miniature violets, but i don't know their name.

cosmo's favorite is the dandelion, but he has also learned to spot, and say forsythia. the one blooming outside his bedroom window fills his room with a glorious golden glow when the sun hits it just right. he calls that one "cosmo's for-si-tee-ta"

yesterday we discovered a few grape hyacinths in the lawn. i had been admiring them on our walks, in other people's yards. they might be my favorite of the spring bulbs.

our neighbor jack has a wonderful peach tree in bloom, visible from where i sit right now.

and across the street, a magnolia is peaking. i stole a few blossoms for the house.

our daffodils finally bloomed, and i was inspired to do a watercolor of one of them. when i finished, i remembered something a painting instructor in college once told us: don't bother trying to paint beautiful things found in nature, like sunsets or flowers. you will never be able to make something as beautiful as a sunset. you can't improve on that. instead, challenge yourself to make beautiful paintings out of the mundane objects in our lives (he was really into still life arrangements of boxes, mannequin pieces, etc.).

while i enjoyed painting the daffodil, because it allowed me to do an intimate study of it, the painting really pales against the flower itself, or even the photograph.

our red amaryllis, indoors, is on its second round of blooms. it sure has a striking presence in our living room.

the burst of color all around gives me something to focus my attention on while i wait and wait and wait. when is the predicted last frost date, again??? april 22? may 5?

12 April 2008

peas pop UP!

that's a command. from cosmo. we planted them in the ground 19 days ago, and still, not a single one has sprouted. our next door neighbor's peas are up and growing fast, and so are the ones i started indoors, and transplanted to the garden. i am not sure what happened. the ones i started indoors were soaked for a day in a vitamin C solution. they germinated in 4 days. i used seeds from the same package when i direct seeded in the garden, but i did not soak them first.

i soaked a few more yesterday, and have planted them indoors today. i wanted to try again outside, but today it just feels too cold to put anything in the ground.

last week we had lovely weather, and i did a lot of digging in the garden. i prepared two more beds, and in the process of making paths through the plot, i ended up with raised beds. i feared they would collapse without some support, so i staked some boards around them. i think it all looks rather funny, but it will work. cosmo stays out of the beds if he has paths and stepping stones to follow.

i am so anxious to plant everything, but i know i still have weeks to wait.


03 April 2008

first failures

yesterday was one of those days where it seemed i had to do everything, at least three times, the wrong way before i got anything right.

i wanted to transplant some seedlings to larger pots, they were getting kind of leggy and out of control. it was silly of me to plant these flower seeds indoors in the first place, and i have made a note in my garden book to only start tomatoes indoors next year. in any case, i still had these plants to deal with, so i prepared some containers. the "potting soil" i had picked up turned out to be some crappy top soil, so i went to the nursery to get something more suitable for seedlings. the stuff i came home with was not much better, and it was very wet and impossible to work with. i pushed through though, and re-potted about 24 fragile flower starts. i really don't have room for them indoors, at my little seed station, but i thought i could make it work somehow. it was such a pretty day, with sunshine all day, i decided to let them bask in the sun for while before i brought them inside. after dinner we went back outside to play, and all of the seedlings looked shocked and nearly lifeless. i guess it got a bit too cold for them. i am pretty sure it was the temperature (or possibly the sun?), and not the transplanting that did them in, because i had some marigolds out there too, which i had not moved, and they looked the same. i rushed them all in under the warmth of the grow lamp. today, it looks like some will survive, but most of them will not.

i feel a mixture of regret and relief. i wish i'd done things differently, but then again, i know i can direct seed more flowers later this month, and now i have plenty of room indoors to nurture my tomatoe plants, which are very healthy and beautiful (they never went out yesterday). and i guess i've experienced an important lesson in gardening...sometimes, things die. sure, i could have prevented that from happening this time, but, as it turned out...it was just one of those days. my bad luck was not limited to gardening efforts either. it was everything.

lucky for me, today is another day.