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

New in the Garden (and the Journal)

Dear Liza,

Things keep coming up in our community garden plot. The zucchini sprouts have secondary leaves now, and I’ll need to move them apart a bit so they can have room to spread out.

Looking prosperous!

I’ve moved some parsley that was in our sunny window into the plot, so we could use that window as a nursery for re-starts of pumpkins and cucumbers, the seed of which have apparently died in the ground.

My painting of the Parsley in its mobile home….

Our house faces north, and we only have the one really bright window. New tomato starts have shot up there! I’ve started calling it “la fenetre magique”, which means magic window. When the tomatoes are a few inches tall, I’ll put them out in the plot, too.

On their way up!

I put a few sunflower seeds into the plot, as well, fitting them in between the currently tomato-less tomato cages. I’m keeping them wet and hoping for the best.

Dreamin’. ….

Enjoy your spring!

Love,

Grandma Judy

First Harvest

Dear Liza,

I stopped by the garden plot yesterday, to pull tiny weeds and remove the camellia blossoms. I noticed that some of the radishes were looking weird… the soil around the leaves was lumpy and tilted.

Harvest!!

And then I saw why!! Some of them have actual radishes below the leaves. Taking a clue from my friend Shawn Quione in Salinas, I chose the biggest ones to thin out, so the others would have more room. Each one was about the size of the end of my thumb.

Once I got them home, I washed them gently and put them away like fine jewelry, to have with supper. And while I was waiting for Auntie Bridgett to get home, I celebrated with a portrait of the harvest. It is my favorite page in my garden journal so far.

The latest page in my garden journal

I know it is only May, and summer goes until September, but I don’t know if I will be as excited about anything I pull from my dirt as I am about these four radishes. The newness of this sort of creation is just wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Cuke Sprout Sighting!

Dear Liza,

I feel like I have been waiting FOREVER for my garden to really take off. The radishes, lettuces and carrots have finally poked their tiny green heads above ground, but the cool cloudy weather, along with some shade from a nearby camellia bush, isn’t giving them any inspiration to really GROW.

Frankly, I’m getting just the tiniest bit impatient….

The latest page in my Garden Journal

And then, making a stop by on the way to the grocery store, I saw this. This intrepid, stalwart zucchini sprout, lifting his little green towards our lukewarm sun.

Hooray!!!

I also noticed my itty bitty lavender plant has sent up some buds. They are getting blue and smell great! Maybe we are gonna see some growth after all.

Come on, sunshine! Gimme an “S”! Gimme a “U”! Gimme an “N”!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Getting My Hands Dirty

Dear Liza,

It is still too wet and chilly to plant seeds in our garden plot, but there is a lot of work to be done, anyway.

Our plot, 25G, waiting for us…

The City of Portland has 57 of these Community Gardens, in a program that has been running since 1975. When you sign up to have a plot, you pay between $20 and $220, depending on the size of your plot, and promise to help maintain the whole garden, donating a few hours during the year to keep things in good shape.

The hated Lessor Celadine!

Our General Manager, Ruth, sent out an email alerting us to work that needs doing. Public paths need weeding and covering in burlap, to make them less muddy. Fence lines need to be cleaned up. Vacant plots need help.

Ruth described the newest weed invading the garden, the Lessor Celadine, so perfectly that I recognized it right away. It is a type of wort with pretty round leathery leaves and a bright yellow flower. It is tempting to leave it alone, but apparently it spreads like wildfire and will take over an area.

So on Monday, I put one of our trash-collecting buckets in Dickon my red wagon, put on my coveralls and gardening shoes, and trudged up to the garden. I had decided to weed one of the public paths, a ten foot by three foot section that was weedy and goopy with mud.

Enjoying the silence, solitude and physicality of it, I sat right on the ground and dug in. I found the Bermuda grass stolens and dug them out, as well as the hated Lessor Celadine. An hour and a half later I was muddy and worn, but very, very happy. The path looked better, too.

All cleaned out and ready for burlap
In the rubbish!

I met a fellow gardener when I went to fetch the old coffee bags we use for covering the paths, and we chatted as we rested. Using Dickon the wagon to carry the heavy burlap, I covered the path with recycled coffee sacks.

Burlap keeps the mud down…

Then I packed up my weeds and trudged home, feeling every one of my 65 years. But I knew a hot shower and rest would set me right.

I am so happy in the garden! Being peacefully alone while being part of a decades-old community is wonderful.

Love,

Grandma Judy