Month: May 2013

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Garden from Hell

Kuna Melba News, May 23, 2013

A  couple of weeks ago I was taken to task for using a curse word in this column. The reader, who objected to the use of the word repeated in the headline above, felt that she needed to express her objections and for me to reconsider the use of such language for the sake of the children. I stopped her short as she rambled on and told her that I doubted children would be reading a column about gardening. She did inspire me, however, to think about curse words and the plants that sometimes go with them.

In the garden I tend to utter many curse words as I dig up weeds, discover broken sprinkler lines, or after cutting my hand on a wayward piece of glass in the dirt. This past weekend, with each curse word I uttered, I paused to reflect on the word and the nature of good versus evil.

While ruminating on the evil part after a particularly nasty curse word had been uttered, I was sorting through my packets of last year’s seed and came across a half-used pack of castor plant seeds. A castor plant is a beautiful, tall, large leafed plant that has a somewhat tropical look to it. It’s beans can also be made in to ricin, one of the most powerful poisons around and somewhat in the news lately having been mailed in envelopes to President Obama, a senator and a judge. I sincerely hope that the federal government does not ban the castor plant from the garden. The bean does have a useful purpose after all… they are used to make castor oil.

During an afternoon water break and catching up on an episode of Psyche, I was reminded that the beautiful flower foxglove has some not so pretty side effects if accidentally ingested. While most adults will avoid the flower, children or even some animals cannot resist putting a little in their mouths. While not generally fatal among adults it can be among children who accidentally drink the water from a vase containing foxgloves or even with the plant accidentally mistaken for comfrey and brewed into a tea. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal distress and even hallucinations.

I look over at my tomato plants, those kings of the summer garden, and recall that any plant from the nightshade family (including potatoes) has toxic alkaloids in the leaves. Although the concentrations are low, there has been at least one death resulting from tomato leaf tea. And, if your dog likes to eat tomatoes, you best be careful, the plant and fruit can be toxic to dogs.

In fact, as I looked around the garden I couldn’t help but utter the Lord’s name in vain as I noticed how many toxic things there were that could not only seriously make me ill, but some kill me as well. I ran inside to my well-stocked library and found my well-worn copy of a great reference book, Wicked Plants.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview the author, Amy Stewart. The book, a highly recommended read, is about garden plants that have a darker side and list many plants that poison, kill and maim. Damn, that book is good.


Mama Cried

Mama’s Hungry eyes
Mama didn’t let her babies grow up to be cowboys
Mom, Can we talk
Mama, he’s crazy
Pistol Packin’ Mama
Mama tried
Just look in your Mama’s eyes
Mama knows
Mama said “Don’t take your guns to town”
I’m the only hell my mama ever raised
Mama don’t forget to pray about me
Mama cried
Mama sang a song
Mama sang tenor
Mama sewed the rags together
Mama please stay home with me
Give my mother a crown
Mama got run over by a damn old train
Roses for Mama
Here’s a toast for mama
I dreamed about Mama last night

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: The Almighty Tomato

Kuna Melba News, May 8, 2013

The average last frost date in our area is about May 10 and I’m having a hard time seeing any snow on Shafer Butte. Furthermore, since Mother’s Day is this weekend that means I’m going to have a big planting weekend in the garden. I’ve already got my tomatoes in the ground but all my other plants (except my peppers) will be going out.

Tomatoes, however, are the king of the garden. It is the prize awarded for the fruits of our labors. It is the blue ribbon, for without the all-important tomato, what would gardeners strive for?

Now anyone who is a serious gardener will already have tomatoes in the ground. But for those who are just starting out gardening, or who are a little tentative about taking on the king of vegetables (OK, it’s actually a fruit), here is a tomato primer.

Tomatoes come in two types, determinate and indeterminate. Think of it this way. A determinate tomato plant has a determined size. It is also known as a bush tomato or a patio tomato. These plants are genetically programed, most of the time bred to only grow to a certain size. They typically do not need staking or trellising and are great for small spaces, patio containers, or small tomato cages. They will not take over your garden and some varieties have all their fruit ripen at once. Determinate sauce tomato plants (Romas are a great variety) are wonderful if you are planning one big giant canning session.

An indeterminate tomato will grow and grow and grow. It will usually put fruit on all summer long and harvests happen when the individual is ready, not all at once. Trellises, cages and a contraptions that include a variety of devices that would make a bondage deviant envious are usually built for these plants to grow in, on and among. Pruning these plants is usually necessary to keep them contained. If no trellising is used, these plants can grow like a vine across the ground, rooting wherever the stem touches and creating a tomato mat, a very difficult gardening situation.

The second big vocabulary item for tomatoes is “heirloom.” You can buy hybrid plants, or genetically engineered tomato plants that might have an increased resistance to disease, or their fruits have an extended shelf life like store bought tomatoes, but these usually sacrifice taste. Heirloom varieties are numerous and bring with the variances an incredible array of flavors, sizes and shapes. These are the plants that your grandmother grew, with seeds passed down from generations of gardeners. Green, red, yellow, white, purple, pink and black tomatoes are not uncommon. The reason you may not see these types of tomatoes at anywhere other than a farmer’s market is because they do not last very long on the shelf after picking. Take a chance and grow at least one new variety each year.

My favorite heirloom varieties are Black Cherry, a dark, sweet cherry tomato and the purple tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple or Black Krim. Both have a very earthy and salty taste when eaten ripe. My least favorite heirlooms tend to be the green varieties because I can never tell when they’re ripe.

While insects do not typically cause a problem for area tomato growers, we do see a lot of blossom end rot in this area. If you have black spots on the end of your tomatoes, this is because of a calcium deficiency. This is easily taken care of by adding calcium based supplements (such as bone meal) at the time of planting. If you still have problems then you can find a calcium spray at area nurseries. While it may look bad, blossom end rot can be cut out of a tomato, the rest of it is fine.

One creative solution to other pests such as squirrels or deer eating your tomatoes is to pull out your red Christmas ornaments and hang a few on the outside edges of your plants before your tomatoes ripen. It’s really funny to see a squirrel try to bite one of those.

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: To Spray or Not to Spray?

There are those that garden organically and there are those that garden chemically. I have done both in the past and currently, I have evolved into a gardener that gardens naturally. What the hell does that mean? It’s pretty simple.

Kuna Melba News, May 1, 2013

My personal gardening rules are that I do not spray or use chemicals designed to kill things, mostly plants, in my garden that I also eat from. But when it comes to areas of the yard or garden where I need to use a nuclear device to kill a noxious weed, I sometimes rule in favor of saving time and effort.

My go-to chemical when I need firepower to kill has usually been Roundup. Roundup is an herbicide produced by Monsanto, a company that is no stranger to protestors who fight against bioengineered Frankenfoods, chemical overuse and accusations of chemically polluting the environment. Monsanto, in many people’s minds, is the opposite of organic. For me, Roundup has always done the job it claims to, as long as the directions are followed.

Using a harsh chemical like Roundup always makes me feel a little guilty, much like the guilt one feels when slaughtering a farm animal for the family to eat. You feel bad about the killing, but it’s part of the process to get the job done. I consider it a necessary evil.

However, a recent report in the scientific journal Entropy (keep italicized) has me reconsidering my choices about Roundup. The report states that heavy use of Roundup could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases. These include Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.

The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate and is sprayed over millions of acres of America’s food crops. Residues of glyphosate have been found in food. This study states that these residues enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues.

“Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” stated the study, authored by Stephanie Seneff at the Massachusetts Institute of Tehnology and Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant from Arthur D. Little, Inc.

Farmers like Roundup because they can spray it directly on bioengineered crops (mostly produced by Monsanto) that resist Roundup and do not harm the crops. But is the chemical hurting humans down the line?

Unlike other herbicides used solely for crops, Roundup is heavily used by homeowners and landscapers on lawns, gardens and golf courses. It is perhaps the most popular herbicide on the retail market and definitely the most advertised on television. Roundup makes it directly into our communities, our neighborhoods and our gardens. And even if you don’t use Roundup, most likely your neighbors do. And wind does not mind fences.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2007, it is estimated that approximately 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. Farmers; double the amount used in 2001.

Monsanto has said for years that glyphosate is safe and has a less damaging impact on the environment than other commonly used chemicals. Even with Monsanto’s own studies claiming it is safe, the EPA is conducting a review of glyphosate with a 2015 deadline to determine if it should be limited.

I know that if I use Roundup in the future on my garden, I’ll think twice about it. At least I’ll put on twice the amount of protective gear if I do.