Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gratitude for time off and for...

Gratitude and grace are linked by where they emerged from in the history of our language.

  • Three guys named Dave who I claim to be their mentor, but truly am just glad to have their friendship

  • students who moved plenty of leaves and whose eyes light up when I say. "lavender brownies."

  • seed catalogs bringing color when grays have taken over the landscape, someone once told me that Pennsylvania's hills in the winter time look like an angry wolf, however, ...

  • the mighty assistant went out as I prepped for my science classes on Tuesday morning and 30 minutes later walked this over to the education office. She never knew she had this skill, but she sure can make a wonderful arrangement.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

rain stops the mass movement of leaves

Not down to the ground that is.

So the veggie garden is down to broccoli raab, lettuce, and leeks ... things were getting a bit slow. Then the leaves began to fall on campus.

It brings on the season of comments like

"raking again!"

"a leaf blower would be easier"

But I see it as my personal mission to get some exercise into the lives of my students. Two beds planted with garlic have a nice cover of leaves. And three giant piles a spread about the garden and soon we will cover all the beds for winter. It does much for the garden in my view.

nutrients for one, organic matter for two, and thirdly ... weed control till we plant in the spring time. All free, if we work hard. The piles seem to show we have done some work. Weather permitting we will be busy moving leaves till Thanksgiving break. Will get some photos when the rain stops.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

taking a break gets out of control

It was springtime some eleven years ago, and I had just been assigned to start a horticulture program in the fall. I decided to take a break from haircuts while on summer break. Eleven years later I have developed a program, but have only cut my hair twice. On 8/25/09 I announced that I was taking a break from the blog, now the first quarter of the school year is about to end...

Maybe I would have to admit my lack of passion for gardening at home. Spring is when I love gardening. The return of colors to a Pennsylvania landscape rich in grayish browns. The sun, the colors, the emergence of life draws me outside. This year, not only the heat of summer but the tiredness of Lyme disease kept me inside.

Then there was the rain. The rain. The rain. It has been a bit wet here and when it was no longer too hot, it rained many a weekend.

But mostly it was a greater passion. The day after the 25th I went on my annual 8 day silent retreat with Jesuits. I emerged with a desire to spend time in my stained glass studio ( a small but sacred place in my house). So since September, I have been trying to be there as much as possible. Prepping for my physics and zoology classes, stained glass, and time with my wife have ruled over the home garden. It would be a lie to say I have done no gardening. It would be the truth to say the garden has never been such a mess.

At school I have gardened. But maybe my lack of gardening at home made me feel unworthy of writing a garden blog post. So there are things to blog about here, and this blog is not about my home garden. Horticulture at Pathway has been happening at the school.

Do you have a hard time getting back to something if you take a break?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The end of summer

So the ESY program at the school has come and gone and I would certainly tweek some things next year...

give up on afternoon horticulture clubs... just too darn hot and humid half the time.

have greater success with cucumbers, just a pitiful year????

change my schedule a bit, if possible.

no Lyme disease taking me out of the action for three weeks.


keep the mass of students that flowed through my classroom and our gardens.

and whatever I did with the eggplants... do it again. Best year ever. Covering with row covers from the start really kept insect pests away.

keep cooking and baking...

Keep up the hope we will learn from our mistakes.

keep making flower arrangements.

So that's a really quick review. probably won't be blogging about the school garden much for a week or so. But I am excited by the prospects of the fall season. Feeling healthy and cooler weather could make for one tired teacher/gardener.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


about a week ago I noticed a bounce in my step. It told me two things...

how bad I had been feeling fighting off the Lyme disease, and

that it wasn't the antibiotics that were making me feel so ill.

I still had several days of antibiotics to go, so while I pushed myself a bit harder, I did avoid long periods of sun and thought rest was still in order.

Today with a few drug free days behind me and a small class, I sent the students selling (fingerling potatoes, peppers, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, and a single cucumber) and I went out into the heat and sun to weed two 20 foot beds of green beans... our fall harvest. Later in the day we baked rosemary bread and ate it with oven roasted veggies.

It was wonderful to come home exhausted from working hard.

I have been overwhelmed with paperwork at school and doing a craft business newsletter at home, but hope to get caught up on all my favorite garden blogs this weekend and early next week.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

need energy

I am looking at another 7 days of antibiotics and I am waiting to feel energized again. With two weeks left in the summer session, I will try to keep some hope, but it may not be till we come back in September before I can garden as I was gardening a month ago. Hope is there.

The job also requires much energy to be aware of what is happening with the students and with how I am responding to them. By the end of the day I am reflecting on where I need to focus my energy.

Blogging has not been one of them as well as weeding my home garden. The weeds are getting stronger, while the blog waits.

And just when my blog was featured in the parent's newsletter for the school. Since I began this blog I have always listed my URL in my blurb. This time it caught the eye of a parent who was editing the letter. She asked if she could use my photos and words. Since getting this blog to parents has been my hope, it was a great thing. Great things are energy producers. I need to keep a look out for more.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

state of the union e-mail and a very cool thing

at work I sent out this e-mail...

The need….

plastic grocery bags

The bad….

The cucumber plants look great, tons of flowers, tons of fruit forming… then what???? Who knows… rabbits? And the zucchini … maybe now that it is hot we will get some.

The good…

we harvested one bed of fingerling potatoes this morning and I am quite happy with our yield. Info on fingerlings check out this web site. And now we have an empty bed for a fall crop (our four varieties of winter squash are also thriving and taking over their space quite nicely)

The hope…

the eggplants are taking off in the heat that has finally arrived. No bugs. Tons of flowers.

The unintended neglect…

If you have not had our garlic, onions, peppers, green beans, and/or Swiss Chard. Send an e-mail

the very cool thing...

as we were harvesting the potatoes (OK, I was outside in the sun for a few more minutes than I have exposed myself to since being diagnosed with Lyme disease), we were visited by two fine folk from the department that keeps our students fed. During the winter they had expressed an interest in serving the garden veggies in the school cafeteria. Not really swamped with what I had expected, zucchini and cucumbers, I had not approached them. But by the time the school day had ended, a bag of onions had been passed their way. very cool, if I have to say so myself.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sunflowers red and great experiment

The first year we planted sunflowers at the school, they were in the vegetable garden. I don't even know if we had taken charge of the flower bed, which most now know as the space we have deemed our place away from the veggie garden (and deer). The second year we planted, I decided to fill a 20 foot bed in the veggie garden. I had this image that anyone driving into the lower parking lot would be met with a billion suns. We planted on a Friday and by the time I drove down that drive way, all had been eaten by a mammal of some sort. I wonder if that is when I tried to get a deer fence, which never happened???

The next attempt was in our flower bed. The home has been behind the day lilies. So as they fade out, as they are now, something towering and beautiful would catch the eye, instead of the dying lilies. This year we planted some on the other side of the garden, and there is one with a red tint to its leaves and much red to its flowers, and you are looking at the only opened sunflower bud as of 7/31/09. Moulin Rouge is its name and it is the first red sunflower I have grown. My wife is already imaging a mosaic in its honor.

But why two beds you ask? What motivated me was our involvement in The Great Sunflower Project which I wrote about back in March. And those sunflowers are growing and prospering behind the day lilies. Any day we will be watching for bees and sending data to the scientist running this experiment. we just need to be patient and let the flowers emerge...


Monday, July 27, 2009

diseases... of bee balm and men

Certain plants seem to attract powdery mildew, and bee balm seems to be one of them. It still manages to attract hummingbirds even when diseased. Here is some info on the fungus, and what can be done when it shows up. I have used the 1 tablespoon of baking soda per gallon of water approach to control its spread in the past and I am using it again this year.

Friday night I thought a mosquito had gotten me. Saturday morning thoughts of worse things crept in to my head. Helping my wife at a craft show this weekend kept me busy, but by Sunday morning I was checking out the CDC's info on Lyme disease and by Sunday night I had my Monday planned out. I did not call out sick, but I did call in to say that whenever my doctor could see me, I was leaving work and heading for antibiotics. I am not usually as reactive to bodily woes, but this one was serious enough that I moved on it. My hope is that my quick response will have me not experiencing any more symptoms than the rash. I knew that working in a garden frequented by deer put me at a high risk so I am far from shocked, if far from happy.

But a new challenge has arisen. The doctor and the info that came with the meds were real clear... stay out of the sun. My mind is already racing towards solutions to this problem.

sorry, no photo of the diseased man.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

deer protection which is not perfect but does float

I wish my garden at the school did not look this way...

But this does keep the deer away and it also does what it is meant to do... keep insects pests away and in the fall--- some frost protection. Air, sun, and rain pass through the floating row covers and except for a failed attempt at growing radicchio, the deer have stayed on the other side. The onions and the leeks in the foreground have yet to be bothered by pest. Since I took this photo three more "tents" have appeared in this area.

plants that tend to vine, will find there way out and since I took this photo the tip of this cucumber plant has been nipped....

and then there are peppers. For several years no mammals had a taste for them, but apparently those tender leaves at the top of the plants are approved deer chow. Here is a look at the peppers under cover....

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Calendula for the first time

This past week at the school, I was surely smitten by something I tend to not adore... a "doubled" flower emerged from our first ever attempt at growing Calendula. "Look at this," I said and directed many a student eye toward a flower that amazed me. Friday afternoon I grabbed my camera as the work week was coming to an end and first headed to the flower I wanted the world to see. And there was one on the far left of the five Calendula plants we had put into the ground...

Next to it another of the plants was beginning to have some flower buds unfold into a double, but appearing to be a different color...

I went over to the far right plant because I wanted an example of the first Calendula to bloom this year, all that was there was a flower ready to be deadheaded...

But I knew where I could find one. Earlier in the morning my students had helped me make a flower arrangement which we took to the good women in the education office who assist all of us...

the bright yellow flower at the bottom is what I was expecting from all the plants. Now if I had a memory I would not have been shocked, but what fun would that have been. I dug out the seed packet: Calendula Flashback Mix from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

I just glanced and found some recipes in which the petals of this plant are listed as an ingredient. Now I am curious, what would the Human Suggestion Box, who despised lavender brownies think of Calendula Corn Muffins? And does anyone put them into brownies??????????

Thursday, July 16, 2009

9/35 through summer

I am wondering about how very little we have harvested so far this summer and I have some theories as to why it is so...

and while my age certainly has slowed me down, and while teaching two science classes has taken time away from horticulture, and while we spent some time planting beds of raspberries and blackberries, and then the potatoes took two beds...

it was the weather... those 11 straight days of rain and all the other cool rainy days this past spring which is the main reason for the slow harvest.

But things are happening and the garden looks great to me these days. We have weeded and watered. We fertilized with the fish fertilizer which claims on its label to not smell. We have made a late but hopeful attempt to grow zucchini, and we have planted two beds of green beans for the fall. We harvested a tray full of onions (many more in the garden) which sold except for one, which then went into my dinner. We have deadheaded a few times and we have started drying flowers, a new project this year. We combined bags of Right Dress, compost, and top soil to make a mulch for around the peppers, eggplants and berries.

The plants are thriving and the harvest is near.

Today I took some of my basil to the school and in a major group effort we made pesto the old fashioned way... with mortar and pestle. The fresh garlic was a bit "hot" but all the students ate it and none gagged, though some gagged at the sight of it.

and I am so grateful that 8/9 of these days were around 80 with low humidity. Sometimes the weather gets you, sometimes it helps you out.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

a truly once a year event--- garlic harvest

After three straight days of pulling weeds at the school, it was time to do something a bit more fun on Thursday, if not a bit more stinky... The annual garlic harvest. There is different opinions on how brown/green the leaves should be when you harvest the garlic. Some years I have gone to the browner end of the spectrum, but I like doing it at the greener end.

At the greener end the students are less likely to find rotted bulbs and are also less likely to snap the connection between bulb and leaves.

The students are shown the technique then I for the most part step back only to rush back if help is needed. I wait for the bundles to be tied up, at which point I venture into our cart garage to hang them for drying.

For the next few months it is a place one is not likely to find any vampires. However, if you chose to hide out in there, the smell will very likely permeate your being. In two weeks or so, we will begin selling it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

2/35th gone already... summer school

Two days of summer school completed and here are some thoughts:

1. I have given up on finding the bed of zucchini. Clearly it was stolen by elves. The bed of patty pans had poor germination. I am thinking it is not too late

2. The weeds that were among the flowers, Swiss chard, cucumbers, peppers, yellow wax beans, onions, leeks, eggplants, swiss chard, winter squash have been asked kindly to get out.

3. a handful of sweet peppers harvested and will be used in the cooking club later this week. Onions will be also harvested for this.

4. garlic had some weeds but will be harvested real soon.

5. Potatoes were largely free of weeds.

6. The Mighty Assistant was handed a book on using a microwave flower press. I am expecting some cool things to emerge from this.

7. Lavender harvested, dead headed, cleaned up.

7. Yesterday I saw the director of admissions of the school standing with someone up a hill where my classroom is located. They waved. I waved back. They walked down to our veggie garden as my class was cleaning up. The visitor was the wife of a dear friend who passed away recently. I asked her if she had seen the Day Lilies which I had dug out of her garden and added to a bed of monotone tiger lilies at the school. She had. Here are some of Dr. Ed's loved lilies...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Phlox emerging

I went out to take photos of the Phlox buds because I adore them and what caught my eye was stage between bud and flower. emergence. Tried to search out the label for this plant but could not find it, so the variety is a mystery. Below is a photo of the buds which I love, in focus...

tomorrow summer session starts, so the focus will go back to the school garden.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I hope my students dig places like this...

well, yes, I do hope they will continue to dig into soil to create gardens, however...

Today my hometown started what will be a weekly Farmer's Market. So this is my desire. One day in the future, an ex-student of mine will come upon a farmers market. The student will remember the joy of eating fresh vegetables as a student at the Pathway School. He will wonder over and buy something and once again experience that pleasure.

Who knows, it may inspire the student to dig into the earth to grow some peppers, or maybe just go back and support those who are keeping small local farms alive and who then travel to someone else's hometown and give them a taste of the local soil.

A big thanks to all of those who made The Lansdale Farmers Market a reality.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

tagged and Perenyi shows up

I was asked to list 15 books that have lingered on in my being since I first read them and on my list, I only put one garden book... Green Thoughts: A Writer in The Garden by Eleanor Perenyi published in 1981.

much talk about mistakes lately (to weed or to wait to weed with students), so here are two quotes from her section Failures...

Sooner or later every gardener must face the fact that certain things are going to die on him. It is a temptation to be anthropomorphic about plants, to suspect that they do it to annoy. One knows, after all, that they lead lives of their own: plant the lily bulb in the center and watch it come up under a brick near the edge; pull out a sick little bush and throw it on the compost heap, and ten to one, it will obstinately revive. Usually, though, gardening failures, like airplane crashes, are the results of 'human error,' of not reading the directions or paying attention. ...

Nevertheless, not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden is not a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing. ...

Any fans of Perenyi out there? If you have not read the book, I hope in some way I have inspired you to look for this wonderful book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

a time to wait

not sure if that is one of those proverbs, but I am sure it could be and if not,
I am sure it is in many of the wisest writings found in libraries.

My crew of workers are enjoying some time at home. This is a strange time of the year.

We do the mad rush thing to get the garden planted and weeded and watered and mulched. Then we turn our backs when the end of June break comes along. The students will take note.."hey who is going to be here to care for the plants?"

I assure them that I will do my best to not have the plants die. Then I after graduation I got in my car to drive north to listen to jazz, witness nature, and be amazed by glass in the town of Corning. Before I left I set up babysitting duties with a friend who unfortunately does not get the time off from the school that us teachers get. As she has in the past, she took her job seriously.

Yesterday I went over to take my second look around the school since getting home from New York. The floating row covers have kept deer away, but the weeds are coming in nicely.

Now maybe in my younger days I would have taken on all those weeds, but I am wiser now and clearly older. So, I told them to enjoy their day in the sun. July 6th is not that far off. And as I saw on my summer schedule, I have many many helpers who will be coming back to whip the garden back into shape. I wish we could do both, have a vacation and keep gardening, however...

It is a time to wait (even if I feel a desire to go get rid of them weeds at this very moment).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vacationing... Buffalo Botanical Gardens

Last time we were in Buffalo we did not go to see Niagra Falls. So we planned a day of our vacation to see them this year. Then soon before we left a friend posted her own photo of this building and I just had to see it for myself.

This may have been the brightest/gaudiest plant. I know it should have been ignored.

Agave stricta... Hedgehog Agave. At first I thought it was in sad shape, but the brown tips look natural close-up????

OK, so I thought... what a cool shot if I hunched down by this "wow they get that big" prickly pear cactus. Later I sat backinto the car seat, I felt something poke me in the back and eventually had to change shirts... cactus spine???

Euphorbia milii... Crown of Thorns. I am glad I only got out of the place with one thorn in my side. I love succulents, maybe a bit too much.

I was taken by the room of Begonias. I seemed to be filled with joy when I caught my reflection in the big mirror. Here are two of the many plants in the room...

This one was named after Jelly Roll Morton and after three nights of jazz in Rochester, NY... how could I pass him by.

Begonia maculata...The Trout Begonia... how cool is that!

not sure what it is, but clearly is the hippest foliage of the day.

again one I did not ID, but truly the coolest flower of the day... well, I will post the orchid photos in the future.

a room with a view, ending the loop where we began the tour of this amazing building in a park designed by Olmstead. Now a days the public still owns the land, but it is run by a non-profit.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fieldtrip to the gardens of Chanticleer

A friend (the art teacher) and myself took 8 wonderful students from our school to Wayne, PA to see the gardens of Chanticleer. I have some cool shots of students for the year book. here are some of the plants we saw...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

looking possible

and now with three gardening days left... it is looking possible. The big bed of winter squash (buttercup, butternut, spaghetti, and crookneck) is planted. Italian flat green beans and bush green beans... planted. leeks-- mulched. two beds of potatoes weeded and hilled. and lots and lots of this and that. Pepper plants staked and bed weeded. Everything protected from deer which got a taste of the potatoes...

I do it by using green stakes, twine, and floating row covers...

Tuesday, I dedicated our time to a promise I made late last fall to the Director of admissions, who wanted plants instead of stones around the patio outside of her new office. It was to be done last Friday with the help of volunteers, who were coming to the school, however, a storm coming up the coast ended that plan. The students worked hard raking, shoveling, and carting off the stone; and then we planted 20 ornamental grasses around the perimeter.

I stood back and looked over the vegetable garden today and I was pleased. Not as varied as years past, but we are getting close to having something in most of the beds. Still need to plant a bed of a highly favored zucchini, some patty pan squashes, and maybe one more bed of the loved Diva cucumbers. I can get more beans in as we harvest the garlic in early July. Oh, I can't forget the hot peppers are still in the greenhouse and some tomatillos.

Three gardening days left. Lets see what happens.