Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Contest: Troy-Bilt Cordless Battery-Powered Pole Saw

Thanks to the fine folks at Troy-Bilt I'm giving away one of their cordless battery-powered pole saws.  The saw extends from 5-8 feet and comes with a lithium battery and charger.  For my information check out my review of it.  And for a good laugh, watch the video below of me actually using it.




To enter the contest, simply leave a comment telling us why you need a pole saw like this and I'll pick a winner using a random number generator Tuesday October 4th at 8:00 CST.  The product will be shipped directly to you from the manufacturer so you won't need to give me your mailing address, but you will need to give it to them.

Note: Only folks in the contiguous US may enter. (sorry, international friends) Please make sure you enter the contest using an account that is connected to an email address or leave your email address in the comment.  If I cannot contact you to inform you that you are the winner, I'll unfortunately need to pick a different winner.

Good Luck!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Troy-Bilt Battery-Powered Cordless Pole Saw

Where I complain about the cost of tree trimming:
I just couldn't do it.  Pay nearly $500 for my semi-dwarf Georgia Bell Peach tree to be trimmed.  I'm sure It's worth it.  That the professionals know the proper limbs to cut back and the angle and position to cut them to stimulate more growth. To trim it so that it doesn't continue to grow into the house.  I planted it to close, I didn't know any better.  But for a lot of people, me included, spending that kind of money on a little scraggly peach tree I bought at Home Depot before I knew anything about gardening just can't be justified.  Christ!  It was never even supposed to bear fruit according to all the "gardening experts." I did get peaches last year but this year when they were able the size of walnuts something terrible happened and the leaves and peaches all dried up and fell off.  I holding out hope for peaches in 2012!

How I came to know that pole saws even existed:
As one of the Saturday 6 bloggers I visited the Troy-Bilt facility in Ohio back in April of this year. We went out to the big pavilion at the Troy Bilt lodge where there was a sea of gardening gadgets laid out for us to test.  It was like we'd all been good boys and girls and were waking up on Christmas morning to a delivery from a Gardener Santa.  I was struck by how many of us were drawn to the battery powered pole saw.  Personally, I never knew such a thing even existed or I'd have purchased it a long time ago!

My experience with the Troy-Bilt electric battery powered pole saw:
A pole saw is basically like a long stick with a mini chain saw on the end of it.  It can be used to trim the longer branches of small trees and I would imagine, shrubs you have a hard time reaching.  For example, the Hydrangea that I planted in the back of what has grown to be a lush wide perennial bed.  It's not particularly tall, it's just so damn far back that I have to walk over peonies and coneflower to get to it.

Consistent with my experience with other Troy-Bilt products, I found this easy to assemble.  The pole saw came in three pieces.  The end with the actual saw on it, the end that holds the battery, and the extension pole that goes between the other two pieces.  It took me less than 5 minutes to assemble. Each part connects by sliding one end into the next and hand tightening it.  No tools were needed.

At it's shortest the pole saw is 5 feet and with the extension pole it's 8 feet long.  One of the best things about this electric pole saw is that it uses the same battery as the Troy-Bilt electric string trimmer so if you already own one of those, you won't need to purchase the battery and charger.  Personally, I am glad to now have a backup battery and charger that I can use for both.

I found the pole saw easy to operate and very similar to operating the string trimmer in that you press a button on the battery end then squeeze the trigger to turn it on.  The position of the trigger makes it easy and comfortable to keep depressed while using the equipment.  I mention that because I know the first generation electric string trimmer had the button and trigger positioned in a way that made it awkward to hold but that has been fixed with the current generation of that string trimmer and it seems like Troy-Bilt considered that when designing this pole saw, too.

The hardest thing about using this piece of equipment was trimming the branches in a way that didn't cause the branches to be scratched up below the cut.  I have never used any type of chain saw so I have no idea if this is unique to this pole saw but I am pretty sure it was my own technical problem.  What I found is that for the longer branches I would start to cut them but because I didn't have enough control over the pole saw, the blade of the saw would hit the branch then bounce up and back down onto the branch scratching it up quite a bit.  Once I was able to figure out the best way to hold the pole saw, the best body stance and foot position to keep it stable, the cuts were pretty clean.  For a first time user, I would definitely recommend determining where you want to make your cut then cutting above it first to get a little practice.  I feel like this would also be less of an issue using the saw at the 5 foot length than it was at the 8 foot length considering it all seemed to be able pole control.  Still, it's something to consider because damage to the branches could leave them vulnerable to disease.

I am not a tree expert but I have heard that fall is a good time to trim them so now's a good time to think about doing that if you have a tree that needs it.  For my small garden, this pole saw will be a life saver.  It takes up virtually no space stored in the corner of my garage, is cordless with a rechargeable lithium battery (no gas! no oil! no emissions!) and it's easy to use.  All things I look for in tools for my small home garden.  I would certainly recommend spending the money to have a tree professionally trimmed if you are able to afford it.  But if that is not in your budget or you are a big DIY person like me, you may want to consider a small pole saw like this.

Later this week I will be giving away one of these Troy-Bilt pole saws here on my blog so be sure to check back.  The equipment will be shipped to the winner directly from the Troy-Bilt facility.

Disclosure: I was given this piece of equipment free of charge in exchange for an honest review of it here on my blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Memphis Teacher's Order to Dismantle Garden Hits Home

Tennessee Coneflower growing in my Chicagoland garden
I tell people the story all the time.  About when I was in a long-distance relationship with my now husband and we'd been traveling back and forth to see each other for about a year when we finally started talking about moving to the same city.  He lived in Chicago but after visiting Memphis a few times he said was willing to move there. "Are you kidding me? I laughed. You're my ticket out of Memphis!"

If you ever pay attention to those articles that list the top 10 cities for this and that you'll notice Memphis, Tennessee always ranks in the top 5 or 6 for fattest and most dangerous cities to live in.  Not only that, the racial tension there is incredible.  From my own personal experience, it seems like the white people hate the black people, the black people hate the white people and the only thing the whites and blacks agree on is that they both dislike that the Hispanics keep moving in. And other than those three, no races are present in any significant numbers.  I couldn't wait to leave.  That was nearly 10 years ago.

When I first read about Adam Guerrero, a teacher in Memphis whose garden had been deemed a nuisance and ordered to be dismantled by September 23rd, I was struck by how close to home this story was to me.  I won't provide the intricate details about Adam's project and the complaint against him here because they have been well documented by the Memphis Flyer, Colleen at Treehugger.com and MrBrownThumb (who brought it to all our attention), all articles I encourage you to read.  My intention here is only to provide my personal feelings about it, looking at this story from where I stand now.

I grew up in a 700 square foot house on Owen Road two miles from where Adam Guerrero lives.  My family lived there until the last 6 weeks of my 6th grade school year when we moved to the burbs, to Raleigh.  It was about the worst time in a young girl's life to move away and try to make new friends.  I was chubby and introverted, on the cusp of puberty.  I graduated from Raleigh Egypt High School in 1985 long before Adam Guerrero became a teacher there.  When I attended that school, less than 10% of the students were African American.  In the early 90's when my parents sold our ranch style house on Longsneck Ave. I remember talk about how upset the neighbors were going to be that we were selling it to a black family.  Now, when I go back to Memphis to visit, I want to drive by that old house, my old school.  Drive fast down "thrill hill", that very steep hill near Raleigh Egypt High School where the drop-off gives you butterflies, where I learned to drive a manual shift.  But I'm always warned, don't go to Raleigh. There's nothing but gangs there...it's very dangerous.  I am not sure how many actual gangs there really are in the Raleigh area but I know that the term "gang" is thrown around way too much these days, many people falsely assuming every group of young black or Hispanic men must be in a gang.  I digress.

While reading about Adam's garden I was directed to an article published in July 2011 in The Commercial Appeal, Memphis' major newspaper where a midtown woman was being praised for growing food in her front yard.  Her garden is adorable!  Her house is bigger and nicer and her garden has a cute white picket fence around it.  But for the life of me I can't figure out why her garden is being praised while he has been ordered to dismantle his.  Are we really still that concerned about aesthetics in 2011?  Or is it because her house is in midtown, a progressive neighborhood where the more tolerant open-minded people live?  If Adam was standing in the middle of her cute midtown front yard garden posing for a picture with the three black kids who help him with this garden now, how would the same garden be perceived?  Would The Commercial Appeal have even done that story?  Or if the cute midtown lady with that adorable light blue dress and fashionable boots was photographed standing in the middle of Adam's current garden, the images rich and color-saturated with cool camera angles, how would Adam's garden be perceived?  And why have none of the local TV stations or The Commercial Appeal newspaper done a story on Adam, especially considering that it's global news on social media networks?  I appreciate and applaud them both for what they're doing, utilizing their property to grow some of their own food and getting rid of water hogging chemically treated grass.  But especially Adam who seems to be giving of his own time and money to teach kids where their food comes from, how to catch and utilize rain waiter, how bees work and how important they are to our food system, how bio diesel and soap are made, how to turn vegetable scraps into organic nutrient-rich compost fertilizer, how magical albeit gross worms are, wiggling their way through the dirt aerating and fertilizing the soil as they go.  And as Adam pointed out, these projects are not only important for the environment, they are great teaching tools for math and science.  Not only is he doing his part to save the planet, he is giving kids real life examples of how geometry can be utilized to build worm bins and real life examples of science with all the living plants and animals at his garden.  He has built a little pocket of utopia there but somehow he, it, has been vilified.

I have seen firsthand the difference that learning about where your food comes from can make and the confidence it gives you to be able to grow some of it yourself.  It may sound silly if you've never done it before, but to know how to grow a tomato and compost vegetable scraps is so empowering.  Knowing that even though you're only one person on a giant planet, you can actually still help a little. All kids need to be empowered with this knowledge, but especially the ones that Adam is working with.  The population in Memphis is over 60% African American.  The statistics of rates of incarceration of African American men is staggering compared to other races.  We could debate potential reasons for that like whether racial profiling really exists and how much of a role it plays, but in the grand scheme of things the important thing to remember is that poverty breeds crime and higher rates of minorities continue to be below poverty level.  There are studies that have shown how community gardens reduce crime rates, anti-social behavior and even raise property value in the immediate area surrounding them.  Adam is doing the same thing at his house but on a smaller scale.  He is doing exactly what needs to be done with exactly the right people and I agree with the random guy on twitter who was participating in this discussion the other day when he said "he's doing a good thing, everybody just get out of his way!"

I have only been able to follow this story via social media networks and Adam has showed up a couple of times to thank people for their support but I get the feeling this is not the type of attention he would ever want.  He seems humble and quietly dedicated to making his community a better place.  That is a lesson I was not taught growing up.  I learned it accidentally while working to build our local community garden.  That focusing energy on your own community, a few dedicated people really can make a difference.  I believe that Adam's project has the power to be a catalyst for big changes in the culture of the city of Memphis but even if it doesn't, even if he only changes the lives of those three guys in the Memphis Flyer story, it's still so worth it.

This story, the fight to save Adam's garden has been hard for me.  It has made me come face to face with the reasons I left Memphis and the shame I feel for not staying there doing what I could to bring about change.  My pleas that my family and friends who still live there, some of them teachers, join in the fight to help Adam have not even been acknowledged which has been painful and caused me to draw some unpleasant conclusions.  It makes me wonder if there is any hope for Memphis at all.  If there are enough enlightened people there to bring about a change because I know that although this judge may be shamed into overturning this ruling, the change Memphis really needs has to come from within. Large numbers of people, white, black and brown have to somehow come to know that we really can all coexist peacefully, embrace diversity and learn from it.  That it's OK, awesome even, to grow stuff in yards besides grass.

I hope that Adam's garden is spared and that he feels supported by all the people around the world publicly speaking out on his behalf and that he continues to teach from that same garden.  And I also hope that the citizens of Memphis, especially my family and friends see the outpouring of support from around the globe and that it causes them to examine their own personal beliefs about grass and gardens and race and tolerance.

How you can help before the deadline this Friday September 23rd:

  • Call Judge Larry Potter (901) 545-3456 or email him at larry.potter@shelbycountytn.gov to ask him to reconsider this ruling
  • sign the online petition at change.org
  • go to the Facebook page, click "I'm attending" and tell Adam you're supporting him from wherever you live
  • if you live in Memphis, check for updates on their Facebook page or blog and show up at court to support Adam this Friday

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Green Tomatoes Remind Me of Her


I've been thinking about her a lot lately because her birthday is coming up.  If she was still alive we'd already be celebrating it because she insisted her birthday be celebrated an entire week rather than one measly day.

Man! She used to go on and on about fried green tomatoes.  We had the same conversation a million times about how gross I thought they were and how amazing she thought they were. I was happy to bring them to her.  Especially this time of year when Chicago starts to get cold and the garden is still littered with all different varieties, the frost imminent. Green tomatoes are so beautiful.  Perfectly shaped, firm, blemish free.  Full of potential.  I love the ones that are real dark green on the top and how the dark green fades in subtle streaks to a softer, paler green.

The range of emotions I have when she crosses my mind is so wide that it catches me off guard.  Most of the time I think of funny conversations we've had and laugh. But now and then when I'm wishing I could talk to her about something I get teary, or pissed off that she's gone.  We worked together for 7 years but I learned a lifetime of lessons from her.  She was so vibrant and charismatic, stronger than just about anybody I know yet pathologically compassionate.  One time there was a going-away party for a temporary worker who'd been in our department over a year.  Carolyn knew of him but because she supervised the clinic and he worked in the finance area, they didn't know each other well at all.  I recall watching her as one of the managers made a short statement about how much we appreciated all his hard work and wished him luck in his new position.  So predictable. Carolyn's nose started to turn pink then tears filled her eyes and we all busted out laughing.  "You don't even know this guy! Why are you crying?"  She was moved by the speech, she told us, laughing right along with us.  All of us, even Carolyn, got a big kick out of her habitual, uncontrollable crying. But the best part was the juxtaposition of the crying to her palpable strength and confidence.

She spent a lot of time building relationships at work and as a result, she could be a bad ass when it was necessary and people responded quickly and without bad feelings toward her.  She took the time to tell people she appreciated them.  I mean she would flat out say "Gina, I want you to know that I appreciate you because of this and this and this." We should all do that more.  Just being in the same space with her felt good.  She was about the only coworker I felt comfortable confiding in.  I told Carolyn we were getting married long before I told anybody else.  She screamed, then cried.

They called a mandatory meeting that morning.  As we all gathered in the small corner conference room overlooking Navy Pier, Carolyn's manager walked in the door.  "I have some bad news..."  She said the words and as they registered I felt like I was being sucked into the ground.  I had just seen her the day before, standing by the bathroom talking, smiling, it didn't seem possible.  I am not particularly emotional but in that moment I could not catch my breath.  I cried 10 years worth of tears that day sitting back at my desk, my headphones on, the music as loud as I could stand it, every song making me think about some aspect of her personality or life or too-soon death.  And I wasn't the only one.  I don't think any of us realized just how important she was until that day.  We're all crying now, Carolyn.  

This time last year she was vacationing in Cancun. In one picture she is standing with her girlfriend, she's wearing a light colored loose-fitting skirt, top and sandals.  I was struck by how genuinely happy and beautiful she looked.  I envied her for living life so fully and intensely.  When Carolyn passed away unexpectedly last year I thought of planting something in my garden in her memory but nothing seemed appropriate.  Carolyn was a houseplant person, the window in her office a jungle of lush green healthy plants.  But I realized that what really reminds me of Carolyn is green tomatoes.  That as long as I have a garden, as long as I grow tomatoes...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pickled Red Onion and Watermelon Radish


I forgot I even planted watermelon radish until I noticed them bulging out the top of the soil in one of my raised beds while looking for peppers to pickle this weekend.  Some of them were huge, nearly the size of rutabaga.

I've never grown radish before.  I'm not sure why.  They are known to be one of the easiest, fastest things to grow in the garden.  But when I think of radishes I think of those limp circular slices thrown on every bad salad I've ever eaten.  I've tasted them, but they always seem bland.  This year when I received the list of seeds in the media kit from Renee's Garden, the watermelon radish really jumped out at me.  Now this is coming from a person who knows nothing about radish so be sure to keep it in context.  But this radish is larger than the typical tiny radishes.  From what I've read, you can harvest them at any size.  Mine were much larger than I expected but again, it was due to my negligence.  Cut the radish in half  and you'll find the center is a beautiful marbled watermelon color.  I'll confess, I didn't try these before I pickled them but maybe a commenter can tell us what they taste like compared to other radishes.

Since there was no way I could eat all the watermelon radish I harvested before they went bad, I decided to pickle them.  While reading the pickling recipe in Grow Great Grub I was really inspired by the beautiful pink color of her pickled red onion and cauliflower so I decided to to try the red onions with my watermelon radish.  It's a stunning pink.


  • white vinegar
  • water
  • kosher salt
  • sugar
  • Penzey's pickling spice
  • Weck jars
I can't wait to try them although I've no idea what to eat this with other than on a salad.  Suggestions?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I Speak Out

It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds. 
 -Samual Adams

I remember it so vividly that it may as well have happened yesterday.  It is 3:00 am and I'm sitting on a tall stool at the lab bench trying to harvest lymphocyte cells from the lymph nodes of a cadaver kidney donor.  A bright fluorescent light is shining down where I've gently transferred the lymph nodes from the plastic urine cup to a clear round petri dish.  It's been six years since I've done this, but I remember them.  The lymph nodes look like little BBs embedded in a big glob of flesh colored fat.  Sometimes they are large, fat lumps protruding from the tissue, but these are small. I have to press down on the tissue with forceps to find them.

He who allows oppression, shares the crime.  
-Erasmus Darwin


She is standing over me, my trainer.  I'm new here.  It's my first time on call and we're here to perform the compatibility testing of this deceased donor against one of the patients on the kidney transplant waiting list.  I'm sleepy, and already wondering how I'll ever get used to this.

I attach a clean needle to the syringe and draw the translucent pink cell media in completely filling it.  The procedure is to use the needle to poke holes in the lymph nodes, then gently inject the cell media fluid into them so that the lymphocytes spill out of the holes into the petri dish.  Then the lymphocytes are collected and used for testing.  You know you've gotten some when the clear fluid spills out cloudy grey.  This process always reminds me of how my mother taught me to poke holes in whole canned tomatoes before cutting them up so they don't explode.

People who advocate freedom, yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing the ground.  They want rain without the awful roar of the thunder and lightning.  Without struggle, there is no progress. 
-Fredrick Douglas

I've finished poking holes in one lymph node and as I'm about to flush out the cells, the needle grazes my latex glove grabbing hold of it.  I quickly pull it away and the glove releases making a popping sound like rubber band against my skin.  I have nearly stuck myself with a dirty needle, a cardinal sin for a lab technician.  "Don't do that!  This guy's black!" she barks.

A time comes when silence is betrayal.
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am paralyzed.  I'm staring at her and I can't tell if my mouth has dropped to the floor or not but my head begins to swirl.  My heart is racing.  I'm confused, enraged, sad.  I know this is one of those pivotal moments in life where no matter what I do, there will be significant ramifications.  I say nothing.

As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.
-Benjamin Franklin

I went on to work at that lab for a year, the "N" word being used regularly by the staff and administrators.  I was afraid to speak up.  I needed that job. And somewhere inside I wasn't sure I could handle being the only one to take on a pack of racists.  It was a miserable year.  I burned inside.  From the shame of not saying it was stupid and offensive.

A sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
-Abraham Lincoln

That was nearly 10 years ago but I still regret not telling her it wasn't OK to talk like that at work, or at least it wasn't OK to talk like that around me.  And to presume someone is more likely to have HIV because he is a black man.  I still regret not reporting them all to somebody that would take action.  Their revenue came from state contracts and public universities. Somebody must care.

I moved to Chicago about a year later.  On my last day they threw a going-away party for me and another girl who was leaving and gave us both monogrammed jewelry boxes from Things Remembered. Mine was 1/2 the size of hers.  Both were pretty but I was tickled by the overt message they were sending me.  We like you 1/2 as much as her.  Instead of filing a formal complaint I'd become a surly employee, not participating in any corporate events, escaping to the secluded DNA lab whenever I could.  They all hated me by then.

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
-Elizabeth Cady Stanton

I speak up when I am offended or when I observe what I feel are injustices.  I'm not stupid, I know that most of these beliefs and behaviors are deep-seeded, generations old.  And that my calling somebody out probably won't really make a difference.  But it keeps me from feeling that fire and shame inside.  It feels less bad.

Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of the colleagues, the wrath of their society.  Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.  Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.  Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
-Robert F. Kennedy.