Monday, July 19, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Fourteen: Zucchini Sex

This urban gardener's trials and tribs continue.

The latest problem according to my google search, is that the damn zucchini plants aren't pollinating. This could be due to the disappearing bee population issue or many other potential problems. But the bottom line is that flower pollination ain't happenin'.

In layman's terms: there's no zuc nookie. Which means...wait for it...I have to HELP them pollinate. Yes, you read that right. I have to help my zucchini have sex.

Initial thought: This is WAY TOO WEIRD.

Second thought: But I'm three months into the growing season...I've already come so far...and I really do love zucchini. I've already imagined what I'll cook with them (my fav recipe is fusilli alla zucchini, which I'll share when/if I ever get to harvest any).

Third thought: Well...maybe it isn't that weird if I read about it on Yahoo answers...

So what's actually involved? Well apparently, when the male opens for its 24 fleeting hours of fertility, I have to peel back the petals (and apparently the males are the ones with yellow cottonball-looking balls inside) and then thrust their pollen balls into 3 female flowers at most. The females are the ones with the little zucchinis behind the flowers. (Apparently, if you're a male zucchini flower you can't be more promiscuous than this. You are limited to three pollinations with three separate female flowers, then it's curtains for you).

Then I'd have to repeat this process with other flowers.

Final reaction: EW. EW. EWWWWWWW.

Wow. Has it really come to this? Am I a zucchini pimp? OMG - Am I a zucchini hooker?!?

I honestly might rather rip them out and plant something else before I do that...but then is almost August...and I've put so much work into them.

After much deliberation, I finally came to grips with my role as zucchini fertility specialist, which is really just a nicer title for zucchini sex aide. I decided to give it a try. So I waited...and I waited...and I'm still waiting. I'm waiting for a male flower to open at the same time that there are available females to pollinate. And that's where this whole process really stalled. Because by the time one of the few males opened his petals (for his 24-hour window of fertility, ready for possible action with 3 female flowers), guess what? Yep, all the females had closed their flowers and started to shut down their budding babies.

The males and females can't seem to be in the mood at the same time.

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Other than my reproduction-challenged zucchini, the garden's growing great guns. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs are DEFINITELY the way to go next year. Forget these high-maintenance squash!

Earthbox Update - Week Thirteen: Win Some and Lose Some

Part One: The Ten Plagues Continue

So I was hoping that after the Attack of the Aphids and the crazy monsoon, my garden might be spared further trials and tribulations. Oh contraire, mon ami, oh contraire.

Next came the cucumber beetle invasion, an infestation of nasty little flying creatures that...wait for it...come in and eat your poor plants alive. This was the last straw. I finally resorted to buying an organic pesticide (I got Rose Rx on the advice of my gardening guru, the ever-wise Aunt Joan at Primex). Let's can I describe the scent of this stuff? Hmmm. Conjure up, if you will, the smell of rotting eggs, sulfur, the city dump, and a really nasty fart. Now multiply that by 22,000 and that's about what this stuff smells like.

Happily, it got rid of the cucumber beetles. It also nearly got rid of me. ;)

If I thought we were home-free, I was wrong. Sadly, we were still to be tested. Next came the Plague of the Powdery Mildew, which is contagious and spreads by water (either rain or from your watering can). It kills the leaves of your plant, after it makes them look really, really ugly.

Supposedly, Rose Rx will take care of this stuff too. (Is there no limit to what Rose Rx can do?! Up next: Rose Rx takes on world hunger?)

We'll see...

Part Two: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly...

...But first the bad and the ugly

After treating the plants, I gave them a few days to settle. Then I compulsively surveyed the carnage, pacing up and down, wringing my hands, and wailing, "Whyyy? Whhhhyyyyyy?!" (I assume I was was asking in equal measure, why this was happening, as well as why I'd ever taken on this un-fun, monstrous project in the first damn place.)

As a special exercise in self-punishment, I decided to photograph the death and destruction and post it. Well, as an exercise in self-punishment and also an exercise in honesty. I can't just share the good times here, right?

So here we go...dead tomato, victim of monsoon. Dead/dying leaves, victim of aphids, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew. Dead/dying baby zucs...cause unknown. Pests, plagues, and more misery...oh joy. Maybe I should throw in the towel and call it a summer.

But wait!
Can in be that some are actually doing well? Why yes, it seems it is! Golden Summer Bell Pepper and Carmen Sweet Horn-Shaped Pepper are actually producing healthy fruit!

what's this? My first baby tomato!

Note to self:
peppers and tomatoes are hardier crops and immune, apparently, to aphids, cucumber beetles, and powdery mildew (though not monsoons).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inadvertently Hot Yoga

I taught my usual Sunday morning class this morning. I arrived early, as I always do, to set up the room and get settled in myself.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a slow-flow Vinyasa class that has a wide range of students including numerous older/elderly students. While I keep the room pretty warm, this is the furthest thing possible from a hot/Bikram class. If Bikram is the yoga equivalent of the Sahara, we're a lovely and temperate Hawaii - mid 70s, comfortable, dare I even say delightful?
When I walked in at 9 a.m., half an hour before my class starts, the studio's thermometer read 84 degrees. I was already in a full-body sweat from my 10-minute walk from home, so I headed straight for the A/C...only to find a locked lucite box had been attached over it, preventing me from adjusting the studio's temp.

I stared, perplexed. The box stared back. Absurdly, I tried to pry it off, reach under it, jiggle it free. Finally, hot, sweaty, and irritated, I made my way to the front desk and was told by my receptionist buddy that the manager doesn't work on the weekends, but had had the lock boxes installed to prevent instructors from adjusting the temperature.

The fact that instructors just might be in the best position to judge and adjust the studio's temperature based on the safety and comfort of their students seems to escape management at this particular establishment.

Only one thing to do. Cue a Rageface.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Twelve: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Last week the world looked bright and promising. This week, we're hanging on for dear life. It started out with an Aphid attack. Before this week, Aphids were blissfully unknown to me. Now I loathe and fear them. As to what they are...well, imagine microscopic bugs that arrive en masse, infiltrate your plants, and slowly eat them alive, all the while propagating their own species. And when I say "en masse," I literally mean by the millions. It was disgusting. They were everywhere.

I called my Aunt Joan over at Primex in a panic and she identified these pests by a picture I emailed her. Naturally (pun fully intended), I only wanted to use organic means to get rid of them, so pesticides were out. She recommended 3 teaspoons of dish soap in a gallon of water, which is fabulous and natural. The only catch is this solution has to be sprayed on every single leaf of every single plant. Um...have you SEEN my porch?'s a sizable task. It took me a few hours, but I did managed to douse every single leaf--front AND back.

Only to them have the entirety of my efforts erased by a monsoon of previously unseen proportions (at least in these parts). It rained over 6 inches in under 45 minutes. The rain was going sideways, coming down in sheets, the winds were whipping...and anything caught in it was pretty much doomed. I wasn't even home to try to mitigate the ensuing damage (rookie mistake, I should've staked them long ago). When I finally made it home--past all the stalled cars with their drivers crawling onto the roofs, emergency vehicles, and utterly flooded streets, I saw the damage and almost cried.

I think I've lost a full-grown Earthbox tomato plant, the peppers are looking pretty beat up, the cucs are looking rather battered, and the zucs aren't fruiting. Argh. What next? Locusts? A blight? The plant equivalent of the Plague?

Not a good week for this urban grower.

And what surprised me the most was how upset I was when I saw the damage. I practically fell to my knees, sobbing, "Why? Whhhyyyy??"

On some level, I am aware they're just plants. But after tending them daily for six weeks, I'm fully invested in their success. These little guys had a bright future ahead of them (plant college?) and I am determined to make it happen for them, come...well, hell or high water!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Breathing Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

With summer and the season's bounty all around us, I thought this breathing meditation by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was a nice way to connect with nature.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.

Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain,
Breathing out, I feel solid.

Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.

Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Eleven: Tiny Veggies!

Try and contain your excitement: baby veggies have appeared. I'm a proud mama who will now bore you with baby pictures, which is an uber-dork move to pull, but seriously, how freaking cute are these guys? A pepper the size of my fingernail? Squash blossoms turning into tiny yellow zucs? C'mon now, you have to have a heart of stone not to appreciate these! Though doesn't every mother think their babies are the cutest?!

I was at the Farmer's Market yesterday with my friend and fellow yoga teacher Jessica. As we were browsing the organic veggies at some of the stands, I noticed that Jessica took a lot of time and care to examine, compare, and select every single item she bought. "I think this one will be the sweetest," she finally said, after examining 15 cucs.

"And that's how I can tell you grew up with a garden!" I pronounced.

Growing your own plants and harvesting their veggies gives you a totally different, way deeper appreciation for the amazing process that is creating food. So my advice is this: Grab a pot, some organic dirt, and a seedling (baby plant) from a farm stand, your grocery store, or wherever, and get to it. Nothing is easier and nothing is more gratifying. You'll never look at selecting your ingredients (or preparing them!) the same way again!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Best Sunscreens for Safer Fun in the Sun

So it's Fourth of July weekend. It's summer. It's gorgeous. It's sunny. It's basically a stampede for the beach, the park, the fairway...anywhere outside! But as I reach for the sunscreen, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the millions of options. Mineral or non-mineral? Cream or spray-on? UVA vs UVB rays? What SPF? What are the best and safest brands? Ahhh! It's almost enough to make a girl stay indoors. But then my friend Leigh sent me the Environment Working Group's list of the best sunscreens, their ratings, and why. Best of all, you can search for your current brand and see how it stacks up. Sweet!