Saturday, September 20, 2008

Book Review: McGee & Stuckey's The Bountiful Container by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey

I have avoided this book for a long time. I'm not really sure why, since my long term gardening plan has always involved expansion through potted edibles, but things got accelerated a bit when I sat down to plan next year's gardening expansion budget. So, I clenched my teeth and checked this book out.

The book is broken down into three parts: "You and Your Garden," "Down-to-Earth Basics," and "Plants for the Bountiful Container."

In Part One, the authors discuss both the basics of gardening, like climatic considerations, and those special issues which come up with containers, like vandalism. They even give the reader three schemes for succession planning in containers. I'll admit that I bristled a bit at the "Reality Check for Container Gardens," but overall it was a simple and effective primer on gardening within the limitations of containers.

Part Two gets down to the nitty gritty, covering all the hardware neccessities, storage possibilites, trellises, potting soil, when to plant, how to plant, seed saving, etc. I was particularly impressed by their consistent recommendation to repurpose or recycle various items that a gardener may already have, such as a toy box turned on its back used as a supply cabinet. I was unimpressed, however, with the authors' neutral stance on fertilization techniques. For hardcore organic gardeners like me, the discussion of anything besides organic options can be a bit frustrating. Still, I'm sure it's better for the popularity of the book overall.

The majority of the book it taken up by Part Three, wherein the various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers recommended for containers are discussed. The section also includes various garden plans and recipes. Gardening books always get huge bonus points from me if they include recipes! Those included in this book range from the standard "Pasta With Summer Vegetables" (pg. 104) to the more unique "Green Garlic Soup" (pg. 122). The garden plans left something to be desired, in my opinion. I found most of them to be a little hoaky or lacking in usefulness, but there were a few unique and inspiring ideas smattered throughout. I loved the idea to use a child's dump truck as a planter in "A Kid's Garden" (pp. 86-89) and I have the perfect place for "A Hummingbird Garden" (pp. 232-234), though why the authors didn't think to include dimensions for the box and trellis in that plan is beyond me. The entries for the individual plants themselves were pretty informative. Even if you have a traditional in-ground garden, there are specifics for growing each specimen in the containers that should be read.

Overall, I think the book is a valuable resource for information and ideas, especially if you garden exclusively in containers. It's a little disconcerting that no photographs are included, since garden sketches always portray things through rose-colored glasses. I really wish there was more discussion of growing organically, but I'm biased in that area. I don't plan to buy the book, though I may change my mind once I get further into my garden expansion. For now, I've made notes of the specific information I need and will check the book out from the library again if neccessary.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Treasures of My Garden: September 19, 2008

A special critter edition of Treasures of My Garden comes your way today, courtesy of a morning spent cleaning up the yard in preparation for autumn.

One of about, oh, a billion diadem garden spiders we saw today. They've all been staking their territories on our fence and the females are huge this late in the year. The kids were fascinated, though not nearly as much as arachnophile Mommy. ;) I could have spent all day watching her.

Earlier in the summer, we got a special gift from our neighbor. Though I couldn't manage to get a picture of them then, it seems that at least one of them may have stuck around. I found this guy in the middle of a huge pile of rocks that I was trying to move (don't ask). Both Annie and Airius were eager to catch him, but neither one has my mad toad-catching skills. I took pity on the guy and let him be when the kids chased him into the borage. Fortunately, I didn't move the rock pile far. He may stay yet.

A spotted leopard slug, one of several, also found in the rock pile inhabited by the toad above. These bad boys are very common in our garden and especially love the stump of the redbud tree we lost in a lightening storm last year. They get enormous and are my least favorite garden critters.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just At Eye Level

I had only just laid down on the cool grass in the shade of Sister Maple, arm draped across my pregnant belly, when a chestnut colored treasure caught my eye. There in the midst of my jungle of English ivy, something had gone to seed. Something I hadn't seen in my yard before. Something closely resembling a dock (Rumex spp.) species... But which one?

Skipping into the house, I grabbed one of the many baby food jars I have carefully stored away in my cupboard and headed out to collect the seeds. Normally I wouldn't collect seeds from a plant that is the lone specimen in an area, but, well, this is my lawn and an area that gets mowed, which might explain the extremely small size of this plant. That and the enormous amount of shade from Sister Maple. Oh, and the stranglehold of English ivy. The dock species that I'm familiar with from Ohio and Michigan are all large plants, at least a couple of feet tall. Some are 5 feet or more. What amazes me is that this plant managed to gather enough energy to produce seed, even at its tiny size!

Most of the dock species are edible in moderation, though there's a fair amount of oxalic acid in them. They are best cooked. There are, of course, medicinal uses as well, but I'll wait until I have a positive identification to go into those.

I know this is a dreadful leaf photo, but the plant is angled in such a way that it's difficult to get a good one. You can kinda get a sense of size if you compare the leaf to that of the English ivy in the background. If anyone thinks they know which plant I have here, please feel free to comment! I'm guessing that it's a dwarfed Yellow Dock (R. crispus). Regardless, I've saved the seeds from this little miracle. Next spring I'll sow them in good sun and see exactly what it is I have here...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike Backlash in Ohio

Cleanup Continues Across County

Sunday brought our little homestead in Marion the backlash winds of Hurricane Ike. The Husband was home, and it was Football Sunday of course, so our whole family was snuggled up nice and warm in our little nest. We didn't realize how much damage had happened around the county until we went outside the next morning. Our neighborhood, thankfully, did not get the worst of it. The picture above was taken from my front yard, and you can see a front end loader and dump truck in the background moving fallen tree limbs and debris from yards and the road.

BobbleHead Owl Homestead sustained nothing worse than a few twigs and very small branches scattered around the yard. The sunflowers have all been doubled over, along with the corn stalks, but for the most part we got off free of damage. The backyard privacy fence seemed to act as a windbreak. We would look out the front window and see the world swirling wildly. In the backyard, it just looked like a breezy autumn day.

On Monday morning, the kids and I headed outside to gather some sun and fun before the bus came for Head Start, and I saw one of my elderly neighbors down the road cleaning up her yard. We went down to help. The kids thought it was great fun having someone else's yard to explore, and our neighbor was grateful for the help. She's capable, but it's good for everyone to know that there are neighbors who care, no?

I hope all of my Marion friends came through the storm with as much luck as we had, and we're sending our well wishes to those who have been hit by the brunt of Hurricane Ike.