Some Things Old Some Things New

Day 24: In the dreariness of any nameless winter’s day, I sink to the dark chilly cellar of my home, to do a tedious annual task, one that reduces the risk of passing on plant disease from one growing season to the next. Under the gloomy light provided by the single bulb over my laundry tub, I empty, wash and scrub seed trays and dozens of tiny gritty pots with warm soapy water and a brush. Tomato cage cleaningThen I mix a solution of watery but still stinky bleach, and wipe down tomato cages, pruning sheers, and trowels. Winter pot smashingI ruthlessly smash cracked pots to smithereens,  make tidy towers of ever-decreasing dimensioned pots, and try to anticipate what I may be missing for the lead up to outdoor growth. This year I made another trip slightly north, to W. Dam Seeds, to heft a substantially sized lumpen mass of bagged transplant soil high into my car, then thump it down and up the porch steps, drag it thudding again off each basement step, prematurely anticipating the victorious moment still more than a month away, when it will be employed for a few basement seedlings that might actually need potting on well before the grass outside turns green. And then I attend to the dismal email response from Speer and Jackson that unequivocally states their fifteen year warranty means nothing for them, that my two simple sandy uses that broke their flimsy border fork at the two rivets amounts to “wear and tear” which they refute is enveloped by any fifteen year unconditional brag printed on the unbroken portion of an English Oak tool shaft. So the old, both to initiate growth and to tend to growth, is now resolved for me for better and far worse.

Plastic: Four years ago my local dollar store was selling impressive towers of the tiniest clay pots I’d ever seen. Perhaps it was the coddler-of-cute-things in me rising up, or perhaps I acted because I have always disliked plastic in any form, and though I knew no one who had tried using clay rather than plastic or peat to start anything under lights, I could not resist buying the tiny masterpieces, in the end due primarily to their price tag. Did the Victorians use plastic? little clay pots

Four years ago I was making all kinds of mistakes with my several gardening attempts, not the least of which was deciding it was entirely up to me when to water things, certainly not up to the obstinate seed start mix in my diminutive basement pots. So nearly nothing I planted germinated. I do know that peat pots (peat is endangered) will kill most things, because the extreme wicking or sponge action of the tiny pot means that it is virtually impossible to ensure the seeds within it stay consistently watered. Too wet, and seeds and seedlings rot quickly. Too dry for even a day, and they’re simply gone. I’ve tried toilet paper rolls and newspaper pots, both of which, for me, promoted white fungus and bottom rot ages before transplant time. Two years ago, I finally caved and bought plastic. I hate to admit it, but for seed starts, it works so far for me like nothing else has. Why doesn’t someone make silicone trays or, even better, something simultaneously moldable, sterile, and biodegradable, such as the recent compressed mycelium (mushroom root) packaging? Would it too rot, dry, or give out far too quickly? The cow patch pots I’ve seen look far too suspiciously like peat pots for me to trust them.

pot size perspectiveAnd new? My Ellagance Lavender is up! Up up and away! Ellagance Lavender up after 2 weeksHidcote, Munstead, and no-name McKenzie seeds, a whole week older,               not so much. McKenzie LavendersI was advised by a gardener to vernalize lavender seeds for three days in the fridge before planting – but perhaps it is simply the varieties of lavender that stubbornly do not want to regenerate from seed. And the other new? Those brutally abandoned basement residing grape hyacinths (see above) and dahlia tubers, just one week ago given larger pots, appropriate soil, a bit of water and a modest amount of light? They are green and up – up, up, and almost away into the sun to mimic the real and imminent thing we all long for, spring.


Day 22: Just as old sweaters and shoes can bring on a sudden flood of memories, so too rusty bent garden tools, and for that reason we often hang on to them beyond their efficiencies, and often between generations. Certainly of all the gardening memories I have of my father, him finding the time to care for or even add to his tool collection is not one of them. He owned a hoe, which I still use, a spade, mattock, an excessively banged up rake with a missing tooth, and virtually nothing else. His spade was decidedly long handled. He used to try to persuade me the benefits of it, and though he was no taller than I, the shaft travels upwards well beyond my reach, and I never use it. Someday I will create a garden dedication structure to him with that spade as major component, but for now, it sits out its increasingly copper coloured loneliness against the farm shed wall, beside my stubby little thing I’ve tied a massive bright red ribbon around for easy tracking after I’ve inevitably left it plugged into the ground somewhere I’ve subsequently forgotten how to locate.

Hand tools can be such lovely things. Tools of beauty can be something run-of-the-mill found at Canadian Tire or even a dollar store, but rarely. More often, they are found in odd places at odd times. Good ones, ones worth every penny, are usually expensive and at least for Canadians, must be sought out with determination. Without having ever used one, in my second season of real gardening, I fell madly in love with the idea of using a robust garden fork with a heart-rending triangular hardwood hand made handle. Spear & Jackson made the only one I could find this side of the pond, so I ordered online, after my many useless journeys to bereft store suppliers. Ahh it looked and felt like a dream, until during my first season of use, in my pathetically soft city sandy loam, the hardwood shattered where it joined the metal. I can’t imagine it facing down Grey County clay and limestone rubble. Though a “10 year guarantee” still stares me in the face in big black ink on the fork’s shaft, my career and family demands have meant that so far I’ve done nothing to have the company replace it. Nevertheless, since the sear of the price paid burned so uncomfortably when I bought it, I will never buy their products again. I will pay twice as much.

Broken Fork

Standard trowels irritate me enormously. Why are they sold with toilet-paper-soft edges?


Yukky trowel

If actually used, why does the metal pit on so many of them? Why do they bend at the join after a couple of seasons? Why does anyone in any garden need plastic handles? So this year, I opened my wallet and bought a Sneeboer transplant trowel. It weighs like gold in my palm and is poised balanced like a dancer there, and if spring doesn’t come soon, I shall go mad with anticipation. I can see distinct scrape marks all over the spoon face, it is shaped like a winged heart, has sharply bevelled edges, and I feel that my own winged heart will surely sing when I come to use it. It’s smaller than a spade or fork, and will rely on me to provide its only motor.  Its price was $49.

Transplant Trowel


Paradise and Hades

Day 20: I have not blogged in seven days, the length of Christian biblical time God took to both create heaven and earth, and rest for a day. I have not rested much. The clutches of Hell have interfered heavily with my atheist psyche. Beloveds with sad health tribulations. A fifteen year next door neighbour shockingly missing from wife, daughter and family, literally disappearing with no hint, warning or clues. It has always been true, that fact can be less credible and certainly more dramatic than fiction. Styx Crossing is appropriately named for that miserable but crucial repeating theme of my life.

Under the literal earth lies an army of gods, microscopic though they mostly are, whose purpose for us and the planet alike is to transform utter darkness to blinding life; to travel the volatile distance between under and over and back again. Microbes hold the power to make or break life, and therefore paradise or hell.

I have made a stab this week coming to grips with my thorough ignorance on the subject of the underworld of organic and inorganic soil and plant chemistry. It is complicated. And in realizing how complicated it is, I have recalled with marvel that my father studied chemistry at university, even as he was Senior Editor of the University of Manitoba student newspaper, voraciously reading literary fiction through his science degree. A Renaissance Man all his life, H. Fred Dale typically had a window and balcony of humidified exotic plants to care for, an open reference volume to intimidate all but the most intrepid, three or more dense volumes of literature in his active pursuit, several newspaper subscriptions he made thorough use of, the New Yorker sitting dog-eared on the table along with at least four other periodicals, and often as not, something rather dignified or humorous on in the background on television. And through this, he could never resist a terrible pun, or being completely obtuse about human relations. Only looking back, I say he was a dear and fatherly impersonation of a microbe.

When he died, it was my job alone to sort out the cacophony of confusions he’d left behind. My sister took off for Germany. My mother retreated to recriminations and enormously diversionary seemingly life-or-death dramas. My husband found a twenty-eight year old to go to the virgin islands with, and went to war with me, sending open postcards back to my children gloating, and sending lawyers’ threats to me of eviction from our home by his deadline. Understanding huge unlabelled bags of mystery bug and plant poisons or fertilizers was not high on my list. So along with his enormous collection of LPs and home made wine apparatus, tall stacks of Malak Karsh garden photos, I dumped the lot. I am still trying to uncover from memory what I pitched. Does this have something to do with gardening? Yes.

This property on a molecular level is at one with both pleasure and deadly pain. The layers of meaning to every act I perform to renew this property, cannot help but be metaphor for more. It is no accident that for years I prolifically wrote poetry; the boundaries between literal and figurative, the massive and minute, are nearly invisible for me and always will be so. So?

I spent the week underground. Mychorrhizae products sourced to assist my bare rose roots in their dark planting hollows; blackest Tri-Kelp soluble powder and Root Boost newly sourced and picked up from Agriculture Solutions just west of Kitchener; binging, on the dry but excellent YouTube macro and micro-nutrient instructional including the best usefulness and timing for organic vs. non-organic fertilizers, courtesy of The Rusted Garden. So where are the beautiful visuals? Underground. Waiting to cross over.

The dark lure of fishy smelling seaweed.

Seaweed Kitty