Every summer, the last two weeks before school starts nearly does us in. This year it was especially ugly, but somehow we pulled through once again and made it to this morning. The most magical morning of the year. The morning I hand those bright, shining faces filled with excitement over to a school I love and teachers I trust. Thank goodness. We did it.
First and third grades, they’re coming for you.
I know it’ll get hot again as soon as the kids are stuffed into an AC-less school building next week, but today feels deliciously cool. My master gardener exam is complete, my volunteer hours done, and honestly? My garden is sort of dead to me. We didn’t get along this summer. I had too many hours I was required to be gardening elsewhere, so I neglected my own and it punished me. I actually have a zucchini plant thats first squash is finally starting to grow – it’s 1.5″ long. That’s not right.
Instead of dwelling on what could have been in the garden this summer, the cool air is redirecting my focus back to knitting. While I expertly
ignore the boys encourage the boys’ creativity, I am enjoying a cup of coffee as I work on a sweet little baby sweater. I have yarn next to me for two more sweaters after I finish this one. I’m set. Leave me alone until April.
I am done buying stuff for my kids. They have too much stuff. Even they agree, and Pea routinely shuffles out of his room, arms full of plastic crap, saying, “Mama, find another kid who wants this because I have too many toys to play with them all.” Yikes.
And yet this summer they came down with a severe case of coveting Pokemon cards. Obsessed at summer school, at play dates, at camp. One afternoon I looked out the window and saw five boys draped over various tree branches, up to 7 feet in the air, cards zipping back and forth between them. They enjoyed playing with their friends, but reallllly wanted their own cards.
I am not buying any. Not happening. I told them to buy their own. But when it came to actually committing money that could otherwise be spent on meat sticks at the farmers market, the boys couldn’t quite do it either. This morning, Tea found a solution. “I could make my own. But they won’t be Pokemon, they can be new. They’ll be Super Creatures. And we can make habitat cards, and people cards…. Pea! Come HERE!”
For months, the boys had been asking to sew their own stuffed animals. I’d been slow to respond because I really don’t sew. I know only enough to limp along, and while its useful to have a functioning sewing machine, I’m often frustrated because my only instruction was a half-semester in 7th grade when we made hideous sweatshirts. Mine was black with 4 different electric-colored bands of ribbing for the wrists, neck, and waist – pink, green, blue, purple. It was very early nineties. I digress.
One cold January day we were searching for a project and the boys again asked to sew their own stuffed animals. I handed them paper and markers and asked them to sketch their ideas. Tea drew a Muay Thai-boxing Totoro. Pea drew a dog.
They raided the scraps and got started. They made patterns from newspaper and cut their fabric (“Totoro has brown skin like mine”). I showed Tea how to hand sew the features on Totoro’s face, while Pea insisted he couldn’t sew his dog’s features until its head was stuffed. At Tea’s direction, I sewed a simple pair of shorts pieced from some square scraps.
Then it was dinner time and life happened and 6 months passed. The boys asked about finishing their projects every few weeks, often just at bed time or while we were walking out the door.
Finally we had a free summer day and I relented. I hovered over Tea as he used the machine to sew up the body. He only very nearly sewed through his finger 18 times. He energetically stuffed 47 pounds of fill into the body and hand sewed up the last bit.
Pea’s desgin had multiple pieces to sew and stuff, and he managed well, although sewing the stuffed legs onto the body was tricky so I helped out with that seam. He finished the rest, and then hand sewed all of the features last. Not wanting to stop, made a pom pom tail and he scavenged for more scraps to make a coat that fastens with a button, and a scarf.
They both had very strong opinions about each detail, which led to some deep breathing on my part, but they ultimately finished and were very proud of their creations. I’m impressed with how similar the finished products were to the initial drawings, since they did all the fabric cutting and 95% of the sewing. Is it too wishful for me to think they can handle their next project solo?
In February I embarked on getting my Master Gardener Volunteer training through the University of Wisconsin Extention in Dane County. Certification requires attending 16 x 3 hour lectures plus viewing a few additional on-line lectures, 24+ hours of volunteer work in a combination of community gardens, school gardens, farmers market, and the UW Extention teaching gardens, and an exam. There has also been a large manual to read along the way in preparation for classes. I tuck my course notes into the binder as well and it will be an excellent resource in the future. I’ve wielded my highlighter with glee.
I haven’t mentioned the training much because then if I failed or dropped out, I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed. But I’m nearing the end now and I’m not very worried about making it through. I have more than exceeded my required volunteer hours (although I have a shift at the farmers market and a shift at a food pantry garden yet to work). Our last class is next week, at which time we will receive our exam. We get to work on it for two weeks at home, and as I’ve kept up with the reading and taken good notes during lecture, I am sure I’ll do fine.
Classes have been very interesting. We have had lectures on IPM (integrated pest management), plant physiology, organic techniques, plant pests and diseases (bugs, bacteria, fungus), fruits, compost, vegetables, house plants, perennials, annuals, soils, and more.
Not all of the information was new to me, but sometimes it helps to hear things a different way. Some of our guest lecturers were highly entertaining, like the entomology specialist who clearly loooooved his beetles, and the veggie gardener who urged us make a detailed plan in the off season and stick to it because, “You can’t trust your summer brain. Your summer brain is crazy!”
Spending time both in the classroom and the dirt with people who are passionate about plants was an engaging way to spend the last 7 months. I look forward to continuing to work as a MGV in the future, both through volunteering and continuing education.
I still have a lot to learn. I think the title Master Gardener Volunteer is misleading. The “Master” part might be there as a psychological incentive for gardeners with an ego or something, but the true purpose of the program is to be a Volunteer for the Extention. Being certified doesn’t make me a Master of anything, as a visit to my failing garden this summer will attest. But at least I am now armed with more knowledge and inspiration, and tools to answer future questions.
If this sounds like fun to you, check it out. More information can be found here. Don’t wait too long to check it out for next year – I interviewed in November 2014 for the 2015 program. I highly recommend it!
This year has been the year of planting fruit in the garden. I had intended to control myself and choose two or three plants a summer to add, as fruit trees and bushes can be a little pricier than perennials. But then I decided that since it can take a few years before fruit trees have much of a yield, it made more sense to put it all in as soon as possible and get them growing, and therefore, on their way to making fruit for us to enjoy sooner.
I am still thrifty, however, so my “trees” are bitty specimens. No matter. We plan on sticking around here for awhile. They’ll grow.
Since most of our new acquisitions are not much to look at yet, here’s a collage of what we have planted, all from stolen pictures.
The yard had enormous rhubarb plants when we moved in, and we’ve fully enjoyed them, although I’m attempting to move some of them to more convenient places. I don’t want to move it all at the same time and limit my harvesting options.
We put in black, pink, and red currants last year. This year we got a few handfuls of berries. The pink and red ones are tasty, but we all agree the black ones are disgusting. Are they better cooked into jam? Is it worth even trying?
Elderberries. I hope to both attract more birds and make elderberry syrup to use in the winter against colds. I planted Nova and York varieties (two needed for cross-pollination) and they are already going gangbusters, putting out tons of vigorous new growth. This is the one selection I fear I may regret, but I’m prepared to prune heartily.
Honeyberries. I’ve never had them, but they sound like a good alternative to blueberries and their acidic soil requirements. Borealis and Cinderella varieties planted. One is extra crispy and probably dead, so I should contact the nursery one of these days…
Raspberries. I ordered a fall-bearing variety and received some summer-bearing canes from a friendly neighbor. The rabbits are attacking both. I hope some roots survive and they come back strong next year. Also, the spot they are in seems much too shady, but I had no ideal spaces left.
Contorted flowering quince. I planted a dwarf variety because it looked cool. That’s a good reason, right? I should have put hardware cloth around it because the last time I checked, the rabbits had eaten a good portion. Grrr. Hoping it survives.
Columnar apples, red and green varieties. I love the idea of these skinny trees. They grow up, not out, and should easily fit in the small space in a sunny perennial border where I put them. They won’t yield tons of fruit, but we don’t have space for even dwarf apple trees, so this sounded like a fun option. The green one arrived with a dead axial bud so the nursery is going to ship me a new one. On a regular apple tree this probably wouldn’t have mattered, but when it’s designed to only grow, up, it really needs that bud! Sadly, bare root trees only ship in the spring, so I’m stuck waiting another year for my replacement.
Cherries. These were my first priority this year. We are trying a Carmine Jewel dwarf, a North Star dwarf, and Nanking bush cherries. The North Star actually had a few pieces of fruit already this year, but the birds got to them before we did. They looked delicious.
Part of a concord grape vine also hangs over the neighbor’s fence into our yard, which we enjoy in the fall. My only complaint is it keeps trying to grow up into my lilacs. They are delicious enough that I don’t grumble too much, though.
So that’s the fruit in our yard. We are probably just setting ourselves up to feed more birds, but that’s OK. The boys are nearly always in the backyard, so I figure they’re like living, moving scarecrows.
My garden is a mixed bag right now. Peas and lettuce and herbs are happy, but the damp, cool weather hasn’t been good for the tomatoes, cukes, or squash. Powdery mildew and early blight, I hate you both with a fiery burning hate topped off with grouchy hate sprinkles.
Overall, the garden is a success this year, however, because the kids are involved and loving it. Pea in particular has been a big help with weeding. He’s gotten pretty great at identification of some weeds I didn’t know until, um, perhaps last month when I looked them up. He is also hell-bent on growing sweet corn, his most favorite food, despite my warnings that we don’t really have the space. He tucked some seeds into the path at the back of the garden and declared it off-limits for walking. Sure enough, there is some corn growing. I hope the universe will throw him an ear or two – it would make him monumentally happy.
Tea hasn’t been quite as interested this year – his sole request was pumpkins, which we planted outside the fence due to size constraints. Planted from seed in mid-May, the plants are still only a few inches tall with 4 leaves each. It would take a miracle to get pumpkins off those things before frost.
I’m not sure why, but my plants seem to grow much slower than other people’s. I don’t know if there’s not enough sun or I’m not fertilizing enough (I barely fertilize, I admit). Thank goodness at least the spring vegetables have done well.
Last month my niece and nephew visited for a week and one of my favorite memories is the evening they invaded the garden with their cousins.
They descended on it like locusts, pulling everything in sight and devouring greedy handfuls. “Rook”, 3, would ask for a positive ID before putting each leaf in his mouth. “Arugula?” “Lettuce?” “Basil?” Our assurances were met with bright smiles as his fist repeatedly entered his mouth.
“Cricket”, 5, was a bit fancier, and liked to roll herbs up inside her greens to make “salad”. She also requested a bowl so she could bring some inside to eat with her dinner. (This is especially great because “dinner” was strawberry shortcake – the one night a year we indulge in dessert-for-dinner as per old family tradition. Actually given dessert for dinner, she wanted salad.)
Watching all 4 cousins scampering around the garden and eating with gleeful abandon was a beautiful sight. I don’t expect my kids to share my passion for vegetable gardening, but I will be thrilled if they find some small joy in eating something home-grown.