Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Rescuing Orchids

I bought this sweet little miniature orchid at the Milwaukee Art Museum in the Spring when we went on a road trip to meet Gayla Trail and listen to a gardening lecture she was presenting at their show Art in Bloom.  We're all so citified that I think we were a little worried about being trapped in the car for that long (nearly 2 hours!) so I conjured up some Southern survival principles and made us homemade pimento cheese sandwiches and other various snacks for the trip.  Getting there was a lot of fun.  We drove through torrential rains and got lost at least 10 times even though it's a straight shot from Chicago to Milwaukee.  We ate so much on the drive that when we arrived and Gayla wanted to have lunch, we were all too full, but also too embarrassed to admit we'd eaten pimento cheese sandwiches all the way there.

While standing in line to get our books signed after the lecture we spotted these lovely little orchids.  In truth, I think it was Mr. Brown Thumb who spotted them then seduced us all into buying one.  Or rather, he bought one and we all copied him knowing if we didn't, he'd be bragging about his orchid all over social media while we sat bathed in regret that we didn't get one, too.  That could have been me!  That could have been my orchid!

Everyone was skeptical about buying them.  Orchids bloom once then sit naked for a couple of years before blooming again.  We've all killed at least one.  We whined a lot but eventually we all (me, MBT, Jessica, Kim) bought one as a souvenir.  Mine did great for a while, despite the neglect.  It's in a perfect spot in the bathroom with lots of indirect light and close to the water for convenience.  Still, I never remember to water it.  And it's still in the same tiny pot it came in because I'm too afraid to repot it.  Eventually a few months ago the main stem turned completely brown.  I noticed some of the roots had shriveled up too.  The only reason I didn't throw it out was because the leaves were still green.  So I started trying to revive it, watering it once a week or so.  To my surprise, some of the roots started to plump up.

I did a little research on the dead stem last night and it appears this is quite common and doesn't necessarily mean the whole plant is dead.  Most articles I read recommended cutting the brown stem all the way to the base of the plant so that the plant can focus all its energy on regeneration.  So that's what I've done.  I have no idea if this little guy will make it but I'm going to try my best to revive him.  I have the signed books from Gayla and the memories of the insightful discussions and laughs we had chatting during lunch and dinner but this is a living memory of that fun drive and meeting new friends so I'd like to save if I can.  If you have any tips for rescuing orchids please pass them on.  Otherwise, I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Strawberry Patches Are Overrated

I'm getting rid of my strawberry patch.  Period.

When I expanded my garden a couple of years ago I devoted one of my four 4x8 foot beds to a strawberry patch.  I dreamed of the endless pints of delicious strawberries my strawberry patch would produce.  I scoffed at other gardeners who complained incessantly over how invasive the strawberries were.  Stupid gardeners, I thought.  Just put them in a raised bed!

I love the leaves of the strawberry plant.  Deep green, like giant clovers except the leaves are veiny with pointed edges. I love how they turn red in the fall then shrivel up and die like there's no hope for next year.  But alas every spring they return dutifully and multiply.

These plants are a pain in my ass.  There is no better way to say it.  They manipulate me into thinking I'll be in fresh organic strawberry heaven when the bed is a carpet of beautiful green strawberry plants.  But they don't produce that much.  And they attract all manner of birds and squirrels.  A big percentage of the fruit I harvest has a bite taken out.  Eventually I'll cover the bed with bird netting which protects the fruit but always ends up tangled with weeds and it makes harvesting strawberries dreadful.  And the weeds!  God!  Weeding that strawberry bed is virtually impossible because the vines running along the dirt are so intertwined.  They remind me of tangled cords behind a TV entertainment center or the wires on a giant computer server.  Imagine trying to find a weed, green like the strawberry vines only more slender.  The weeds, the strawberry vines, they are all tangled together like a woven basket.  I grab hold of the base of a weed and yank it out but its bindweed, tightly wrapped around the strawberry vine.  The bindweed breaks at the base leaving an inch sticking up from the dirt but the roots of some strawberry plants are yanked out, too.  Causalities of war.

The worst part is that the strawberries are sour.  I don't fertilize them or add compost to the bed, maybe that's why.  I have no idea what variety I'm growing.  I started out with a few plants from a friend and they have multiplied so much that they are now overcrowded in their 4x8 raised bed.  Not only that, putting them in a raised bed does not contain them.  They spill over the edges which does look pretty.  It makes for great pictures, the dark foliage and bright red strawberries against the cedar wood.  But as soon as they get long enough to touch the ground they root.  And they seem to grow under the wood of the raised beds or under the ground, I have no idea how they escape.  I gave away all the plants outside the bed this past summer, dug some up and planted them in pots. Still, by the end of the season they'd spread about 10 inches outside their bed.  Strawberries without borders.

They've had their chance.  In the Spring of 2012 when the plants come in, I'll dig them all up and give them away. There must be a better use for that bed.  Maybe I'll grow more herbs or tomatoes.  Good riddance, strawberry patch!  Thanks for nothin.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Smoothie Recipe: Spinach Banana Date Coconut Water

This is my new favorite smoothie.  I got the recipe from a raw vegan guy who makes YouTube videos on juicing and smoothies.  I find him very entertaining and all of his juice and smoothie recipes I've tried have been good.

  • Water from one coconut (use the coconut meat too if you're not worried about the fat content)
  • 1 banana
  • 2-3 pitted dates (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 1-2 handfuls of spinach
Open the coconut and dump the water through a strainer into the blender to catch any woody particles that may have fallen in during the opening process.  Add banana, dates, spinach and blend until smooth.  Drink immediately.

If you can't find or don't want to deal with actual coconuts you can substitute store-bought coconut water.  I was able to find young coconuts at Whole Foods but the process of opening them was pretty barbaric and messy.

On the suggestion of a Whole Foods employee I used a hammer.  It worked, but with every crack of the hammer, the outer flesh of the coconut was flung onto the counter, backsplash, my face, my husbands face.  I guess I need more practice.

Don't let the green scare you.  It's really delicious.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Troy-Bilt Snow Thrower Giveaway

In honor of Chicago's first real stick-to-the-ground snow of 2011 and in general holiday merriment, I'm giving away a snow thrower courtesy of Troy-Bilt.  This is the Troy-Bilt Storm 2410, a two-stage snow thrower with an electric push-button start.  It will clear snow drifts up to 21 inches high at a width of 24 inches at a time.

I don't own this or any other snow thrower so I can't comment on its performance but I did find this cute video of a guy clearing his driveway using this model.  It looks like it works well.  But, now I can't get this song out of my head!

To enter the contest post your worst snow-shoveling experience and I'll pick a winner at random.  The contest is open to people living in the contiguous United States only.

This contest will close on Friday December 16th at 7:00 pm CST.  I will contact the winner directly so please make sure I have a way to reach you.  If I cannot contact you within 24 hours I will select another winner.  The snow thrower will be shipped to you directly from Troy-Bilt so you will need to share your address with them after I notify you that you have won.

Good Luck!

Update: Congrats Benjamin Vogt, winner of the Troy-Bilt Storm 2410 snow thrower!  Check out Benjamin's blog The Deep Middle.