Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life Doesn't Wait

Ecclesiastes chapter 3 is the famous Biblical passage which declares, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: ... a time to plant, and a time to uproot ...."  My garden is a reminder this week that (1) timing is important, and (2)  the proper time for planting is not a matter depending on convenience for me.  Ecclesiastes is right, after all.  There is, indeed, a time to plant. It's spring. For most of us, the time is now.

By June, we can expect some days over 100 degrees F here. I've learned that trick where I live is to get an early start on spring gardening, so that plants have time to produce a crop before the summer heat sets in and they are unable to cope with the heat. (For instance, tomatoes no longer produce flowers or fruit after the temperature reaches 95°.) I had set a goal to have my seedlings in sprouting pots very early, so that they could be set out at the earliest date after there was no danger of frost anymore.

In terms of gardening timing, once again I've been a failure. I didn't make the cut! Even though I started numerous veggie seeds indoors on March 1st, that wasn't soon enough!  It is already late, in terms of having nicely filled out seedlings ready to put out into my garden by the time of the last frost.  The little plants I put out this week look like tiny sprigs instead of baby bushes!

Broccoli Seedlings 3/28/17

Procrastination is easy.  I've been so busy this spring on other things! So many excuses!   It's cold outside in the mornings, I'm out of the habit, I'm busy, etc., Yet, excuses have no meaning in terms of real life effects. . It doesn't matter how busy I am. With regard to my garden and the need to work in it, time was still moving forward, no matter what my other plans were.

 Photos from last year are indictments of my tardiness! Some things simply are time sensitive. If we miss an opportunity, the opportunity is indeed gone. By this time last year, I had lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, kale, all well underway for spring dining.  

Fortunately, the consequences for me are relatively inconsequential since I'm still able to purchase food in the grocery store or produce market. No one will starve on account of my failure.


The purpose of this post is not really to talk about the timing of garden plantings, but really to talk more about failure and how I cope with it. We all fall short of our own expectations from time to time.

One of my first inquiries is to ask, "Who did I fail?" If I failed someone else, I may need to do something to undue harm or to prevent harm to them. I may need to apologize.  In the garden situation, I'm spared this step because the only person I've failed is myself. My expectation was that I would have been keenly aware of the timing of planting my seedlings to get a great start on my Spring garden. I set a goal to watch my calendar and be very proactive this spring. I failed at that. 

I don't like failure. Does anybody? What do we do about it, when we fail at our personal goals?  Well, one thing is that in order to learn from any failure, we must first acknowledge that it  happened.  Another step is to analyze what went wrong and fix things so they don't happen again.  A third, obvious but sometimes more difficult step, is to pick ourselves up and move on. 

In terms of learning from failure, it is important to understand what went wrong.  Keeping a diary of what works and what doesn't work in my garden is a great idea. Based on my records, I know that this time last year I had little lettuces,  spinach, chard, broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage, all well along toward providing Spring harvest. Setting goals, documenting our progress,  and providing ourselves with yardsticks to measure by is a good way to keep track of how we are doing. (Last year, I killed some plants by applying too much fertilizer.  Oops, won't do that again!)  Whether we fail or succeed, measurements and documentation help us learn from both our successes and our mistakes.  

Dates and Labels help with documentation and identification later
Another thing I know is that, while it is helpful to learn from mistakes, beating myself up mentally and dwelling on the past will not help me. The only option real option  is to move forward from where I am now.  I cannot really make up for lost time, I cannot undo the consequences. All I can do (besides making amends with those whom I've wronged) is to make the best decisions I am able to make from this point forward. 

I am pleased at the thought that my gardening this season is (so far at least) not yet a total failure. There is room for redemption!  I do have broccoli seedlings and tomato seedlings and artichoke seedlings and pepper seedlings ... They are not as far along as I would like, but it's better than nothing and hopefully not futile to plant them. Here's to moving forward. 

Broccoli Seedlings 3/28/17
Eggplant Seedlings 3/28/17

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 Princeton Kyuper Prize

There used to be a Virginia Slim TV commercial for cigarettes that had the quote, "you've come a long way, baby." Those words highlighted an extreme contradiction: Yes, women had come a long way; but the very fact that they called woman by the belittling name "baby" showed that women had a long way left to go. 

In a current analogy, the fact that Princeton Theological Seminary chose this year to award the 2017 Kuyper prize to Evangelical megachurch pastor Tim Keller, who doesn't believe women should be ordained, is a slap square across the face to women everywhere. Women are grateful to have been ordained and to be accepted in ministry, yet every day they encounter and cope with systemic, widespread discrimination and unthinking acceptance of misogyny. 

Would Princeton Seminary  have given this award to a man who proclaimed that the Bible supported slavery or (echoing the Jim Crow South) that "all Negroes should work on the farm"? Of course not!  It would be outrageous!  If there is a lack of similar shock and outrage over the selection of Keller as a role model for future theologians, it is only because so much of our culture is still wearing blinders when it comes to discrimination against women. 

Yes, women in ministry have come a long way.   Princeton's decision this week reminds us that, indeed, women still have a long way to go.

Tim Keller photo, from Wikipedia

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Starting Your Straw Bale Garden

So much has already been written about using straw bales as a medium for vegetable gardening,  that you will have no trouble finding information about how to create a straw bale garden.  

The purpose of this blog article is not to teach you how to create a straw bale garden, but to let you know that if you're thinking about it, now is the time to start!  It takes at least six weeks to condition bales to get them ready for planting, so you must to start the process six weeks before you hope to put plants into the bale. The time to do that, is now!


The basic idea of straw bale gardening technique is that you set a bale of straw (not hay) upright, with the cut side facing the sky.  Ideally, the bales will be braced to keep them from falling over, and they will also be equipped with soaker hoses so that plants grown in the bales are easily watered. Then, nitrogen fertilizer is applied and soaked through the bale. The nitrogen super-stimulates good bacteria that make the interior of the bale decompose and turn into mulch that plants can grow in.  Nitrogen is applied just about every other day during a six week process of rapidly composting the internal part of the bale.

The original straw bale gardening book was written by Joel Karsten. If you are interested in straw bale gardening, check out one of the several books he has written about it. Another book I like is called Straw Bales For Dummies. 

 (This photo from my home garden last spring shows one row of bales that has already been used for one growing season, and a second row of bales that is newly placed and ready for conditioning.)

Straw bale gardening offers significant benefit for the small scale, urban or suburban vegetable gardener. For one, you don't have to prepare soil, hoe, or till. You don't even need dirt! (You can set the bale directly on a patio!) It also offers automatic weed-free space. A third, fine benefit is that it automatically creates a raised gardening space, so that not nearly as much bending is required to cultivate your plants. (The main drawback is probably cost of materials, which you can learn more about in the books above.) 

Straw bales do not last forever. They continue to decompose and, over time, become clumps of mulch. Here is a photo taken this week of what is left of the straw bales shown in the illustration above. As you can see, there is nothing left! However, the remains of the bales do contain lots of earthworms and hummus and greatly improved the soil from the pure sand that was there last year.

It is time to be putting seeds into flats for spring planting, and it is time to be getting your bales ready to receive those little baby plants! Here is a photo of some bales currently being conditioned in another part of my garden: 


Happy gardening, everyone! 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


On January 21, 2017, the world saw a taste of the potential power women wield through nonviolent protest, a power that continues to be exerted as women come to realize the extent to which the agenda in Washington, D.C. does not reflect their interest.

This was not the first time women have instigated change through nonviolent revolt. In fact, this year is the 100th anniversary of the demonstration that brought down the Czarist Empire of Russia.

According to Wikipedia, "In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women's Day in Saint Petersburg on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for "Bread and Peace" – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[4] Leon Trotsky wrote, "23 February (8th March) was International Woman's Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this 'Women's Day' would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike... all went out into the streets."[4]

For all the women who think that there's no longer a need for International Women's Day, I'd like you to consider something:  If an average woman and an average man with exactly the same skill started working at exactly the same job on January 1, 2016, the woman still, as of today, would not have been paid as much as the man had been paid as of the last day of December, 2016.  Nope.  In 2017, equal pay day is April 4, 2017.   

Now, consider the photo below:  That's what a woman did in her efforts to secure  YOUR right to vote. 
In my line of work, what we see is that abused women often lose custody of their children. (See https://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/dv.html ) 


On the positive side, women bring tremendous insight, value, and diverse approaches to governance and management. Countries and businesses that have more women in leadership DO BETTER than those without diversity.  (See  http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/12/08/companies_with_women_on_their_boards_do_better_and_not_just_because_they.html ).    

My question for women and for the men who love them is, what will you do for the women who follow in YOUR footsteps?  International Women's Day gives you one day during the year to think just a bit about that. 

What to Sow in Plant Zone 8 in March

For planting zone 8, our last average frost date is March 15th. It's time for spring planting! 

Plants that tolerate cool weather can be planted outside now and include: 

Asparagus, beets, bok choi, broccoli (and other brassicas such as broccolini and Chinese broccoli), cabbage, carrots, collards, lettuce, mustard greens (and any other type of green, leafy vegetable such as spinach), onions, radish, turnip, Swiss chard, white potatoes. 

It's getting a bit late, but English peas could still be planted this week. (ideally, English peas are planted as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.) 

 Perennial food plants that can be planted now include artichoke, asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. 

Herbs that can be planted now include parsley, thyme, oregano, cilantro. 

Seeds that should be started indoors now (under lights or in a sunny window) include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday Blessing

A blessing for Ash Wednesday: 
Rend Your Heart by Jan Richardson

To receive this blessing,
all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go.

Your entire life
is here, inscribed whole
upon your heart’s walls:
every path taken
or left behind,
every face you turned toward
or turned away,
every word spoken in love
or in rage,
every line of your life
you would prefer to leave
in shadow,
every story that shimmers
with treasures known
and those you have yet
to find.

It could take you days
to wander these rooms.
Forty, at least.

And so let this be
a season for wandering
for trusting the breaking
for tracing the tear
that will return you

to the One who waits
who watches
who works within
the rending
to make your heart