Finally, a Real Gardening Day! Part 1

Dear Liza,

Months ago, I decided to start my garden early this year. I thought I could outsmart the weather. I had squash and cucumber starts in my window in February!

Then came the wettest Spring on record, complete with an April 15th snowfall. My super-early transplants survived the snow but got eaten by wet-loving slugs and I ended up with nothing. Zip. Nada. Bupkis.

So much for rushing things.

But now it is mid-May, and weeks of mostly sunny weather are predicted. So, back to the nursery and we’ll try this again!

Fortunately, Portland Nursery is there for me. Auntie Bridgett drove me down and after getting side-tracked by cool sculptures and Fairy Moss, we picked out five different organic cherry tomato plants, a Delicata squash, some dahlias and a begonia.

We delivered them to the garden, went home for lunch, and back to the garden for the digging fun! More about that tomorrow.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Next Steps in the Garden at Books with Pictures

Dear Liza,

The work has continued on the garden behind auntie Katie’s bookstore, Books with Pictures. I showed you before how the planting areas were filled with rich topsoil to create low berms and beds.

On a recent Saturday, eight women and girls aged 14 to 66 (and one helpful male teenager) worked for three hours creating the surfaces of the new garden just behind Books with Pictures. There were two tampers, which are heavy tools for flattening and compacting soil, and they were in constant use. First, the original soil was raked and tamped to make it solid and even. Plastic edging was laid in and staked down.

Then interlocking gravel was wheelbarrowed in to place, raked flat, and tamped down (twice) to make sure it was perfect.

Auntie Katie, who is injured and cannot work, was in charge of quality control and keeping us all fed. She did a fine job!

Finally, pea gravel, which will be pleasant to walk on, was wheeled and raked and tamped in place.

The walkway in the garden was extended beyond the space to the parkway, which makes for a nice entry from the street through the big wonky gateway.

And this weekend, the plants go in!

Love,

Grandma Judy

They’re IN!

Dear Liza,

This week we had our first really warm, sunny day. I took advantage of the almost 60 degree weather and took all those seedlings I have been nurturing in the kitchen window up to their new home.


I loaded them, along with the garden tool bag from Auntie Bridgett’s momma Donna and an onion that had been in the pantry too long, into my red wagon and walked the two blocks up to the Blair Community Garden.

First I pulled out all the fallen camellia blossoms, which are very pretty, even when they are in the way.

I decided where the plants would go weeks ago when I put in the terraces and supports. Now I just needed to do the stooping and digging work to get them in the dirt. Donna’s nice skinny trowel was just the right size!

I put in the seedling lettuces on the east side, where they will get some shade from the camellia bush. The cucumbers are also on that side, but they will climb up the white trellis and get more sun as the season progresses.

The zucchinis are planted under the ladder, so they will have something strong to climb on and keep the zukes off the ground. I will add pumpkins later in the spring.

When everything was planted, I packed up the wagon with the empty pots and droopy camellias and just sat there for a while, enjoying the warm spring sun. I listened to the birds fluttering, people walking by, and far off trains.

I thought about Momma and how much joy her garden gave her. We should all be so lucky as to have something that makes us that happy.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Putting the Garden to Bed

Dear Liza,

After a whirlwind summer of watering and harvesting, the garden is suddenly, sadly, done.

Our shorter days and colder nights have put an end to further ripening. These tomatoes and tiny pumpkin are the last of the bunch. My garden neighbors are hauling their plants out as well, not wanting to be caught with ”slime”. Apparently, once the plant dies and the rain hits, things get ugly quickly.

So, I took the wagon over to the plot and pulled my gigantic zucchini plant out by the roots. I had to cut it into smaller bits to fit into the buckets! I lay down some burlap coffee sacks to slow the weeds and erosion during the winter.

Then, with all the hardware stacked on the top of the burlap and just the catnip and lavender sticking up, it was time to say Goodbye to the Garden until March of 2022, when I’ll give it a nice dose of compost and we get to play again.

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Autumn Chore

Dear Liza,

It is two weeks until the Fall equinox. We can see the end of summer from here.

In my garden, white powdery mildew has started taking a toll on my pumpkin plant, and because I didn’t recognize it early enough, it has spread to the zucchini. I have learned that watering too late in the day is a main cause of this, and will NOT be doing that again next year.


I did a big trimming the other day to try and minimize the damage.

I wore the rubberized gardening gloves your Mommy Olga gave me from her last visit to Russia, because they protect me from the zucchini plants, whose long, hollow stems have tiny hairs that give me an itchy rash.

I cut off leaves that had any mildew in them, so it wouldn’t continue to spread. Unfortunately, this meant cutting just about all the leaves off the pumpkin! I hope there are enough leaves to make food for the plant to let my second pumpkin finish growing!

The tub of leaves was so heavy I just barely got it home. I know there will be lots more to haul over the next few months, and I’m glad I have my trusty red wagon.

Meanwhile, I found this lovely handmade doll by a telephone pole in the neighborhood. I rescued her and perched her on my watering can, and she will be a protective spirit for my garden. I have named her Mlezi, which is the Swahili word for Guardian.

Love,

Grandma Judy

A Garden AND a Community

Dear Liza,

When Grandpa Nelson got me a plot in our local Community Garden, I was excited to be able to grow fruits and veggies. I didn’t expect to be growing friends, as well.

There are about fifty plots in the Blair Garden, where I am, and I have gotten to know many of my fellow gardeners. We chat and swap stories while pulling weeds and watering. The folks with more experience give advice to us rookies. We help folks out with watering when they need to be out of town.

M

In short, we are part of a community.

Tonya watered my garden while I was in Lake Oswego, and this weekend I will water hers while she is at the coast. She harvested a few zucchini in payment, and today she brought by these two beautiful tomatoes for me. They were so pretty, I posed them with some of my lavender.

She also told me to cut a bunch of basil while I’m there. Pesto, here I come!

Hooray for a yummy community!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Back Home

Dear Liza,

I was in Lake Oswego for a week, and I got home yesterday. After a long wonderful afternoon of hanging out with Grandpa Nelson and snuggling with Mouse the cat, I had to go see what was happening in my plot in the Blair Community Garden.

My neighbor and garden-mate Tonya, whose tomato bushes are taller than me, had said she would water my plot. But you never know.

I will never doubt Tonya again! My garden looks like it is on steroids!

The zucchini plant has spread over the stepping stones, is nudging the lavender and crowding the new ladder I set up for the pumpkin. The whole place looks like it is preparing to run amok.

The tomatoes are setting!!

And there are enough zucchinis to feed us for a week.

What a wonderful homecoming. Now I just have to find a way to support that pumpkin before it snaps.

And, of course, make some cookies for Tonya.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Cult of the Sunflower

Dear Liza,

It is hard to remember during these hot summer days, but for MOST of the year, Portland has very cool, cloudy weather. Besides being chilly, it can cause vitamin deficiencies which effect people’s moods and sleep patterns. Doctors here make sure everyone (even the pets!) get vitamin D supplements, because we miss a lot of sunshine.

So I guess it makes sense that we worship the sun a little. Or, barring that, the sunflower. Yep, these tall yellow beauties are very big here, in all senses of the word.

There is a house down by Seawellcrest Park that perfectly shows this obsession with sunflowers. Not only does it host a forest of the giants every summer, but their shape is echoed in the stones and metalwork decorations. These let you remember, walking by in the winter, to “watch this space” for the next summer’s crop.

We paid a happy visit to the “Sunflower House” on the Fourth, watching the bees do their thing and feeling the sun on our backs.

But sunflowers are not all that easy to grow. I have sown a dozen seeds or more, and they have all died in the ground or just after sprouting. I will chat with my local garden colleagues and find the right varieties for this area, and, as all gardeners say, “We’ll do better next year.”

Love,

Grandma Judy

After the Heatwave

Dear Liza,

Wednesday was the first day of human-level temperatures since our historic heat wave began. We woke up to cloud cover, cool air and even a bit of dampness. It felt wonderful.

Look! Clouds! Hooray!!!

I went to the garden early. My friend Tonya gave me one of her parsley plants, and I planted it between my radishes and lettuce. My garden is doing well, even though it isn’t as tall as the other ones. They have five foot tall trellises and arbors hanging with peas and beans. I have a magnificent beast of a zucchini.

And it makes food, too!

I walked around Laurelhurst Park for the first time in a week, enjoying the cool green, the ducks, and all the people out doing their people thing. Tai c’hi classes, guitar practice, dog parties….. it was life as normal, out on the grass.

After a morning of sewing, French lessons, crossword puzzles and cartooning, the three of us headed off to Grandpa Nelson’s favorite lunch spot, Zach’s Shack. Auntie Bridgett got to go because she isn’t working at the SideStreet Arts gallery anymore. Her new comic strip, Auntie Beeswax, allows her more flexibility with her time.

One of my favorite views….

We ate hot dogs and fries, and, since the sun had come out, appreciated the icy cold sodas.

Then came ping pong! Zach’s back patio has a table and enough hard surfaces that even if the ball misses the table, you can keep it in play. We get a little nuts sometimes, and it is fun!

We played until we were played out, then walked home by way of the Taylor Street chickens. The day had warmed up to 88 degrees and we were happy for the air conditioning.

This heat wave was bad. It send a lot of folks to the hospital. We need to figure out how to help our planet heal so we can all be well.

Portlanders ❤️ Chickens !

Love,

Grandma Judy

Late Spring Heat!

Dear Liza,

It has been HOT in Portland!

I went out picking up trash with the Adopt One Block folks this past weekend. In an hour and a half I collected about 20 pounds of old masks, cigarette butts and beer cans. It is very satisfying to make a part of my city better. But by the time I got home, I was a very sweaty Grandma Judy.

In the garden, the plants are reacting to the heat by charging out of the ground. Our only difficulty seems to be keeping them watered! I will be heading over today to transplant some cucumbers, pumpkins and tomatoes, and I will make sure to flood the plot.

To protect my newly planted babies from wily crows, I did some crafting. Using cardboard boxes used to sell cherry tomatoes, netting from avocados, and shipping tape, I made cages. I will place them over the little ones and hope for the best.

I am hoping the clever crows don’t just lift them off and fly away!!!

All tucked in safe and sound….

Love,

Grandma Judy