Saturday, October 19, 2013

Everyday Miracles....and How to Be a Lazy Gardener

Sometimes the natural world just blows me away. Not in extraordinary ways like a comet or the Grand Canyon but the everyday stuff...Like a spider spinning a web or baby chicks hatching out of eggs. Every year I let one of my Bantam hens hatch out a few eggs just for the miracle of it. I gaze in wonder at the cute-as-a-button, perfectly formed baby chicks that 21 days before could have been my Denver omelet. Seriously. It only takes three weeks to transform a souffle into a sentient being. It is even cooler than Cinderella's fairy godmother changing a pumpkin and couple rats into a carriage and coachmen. And this is REAL, people!  No magic wand involved.   I'm not even going to go into how perfectly the mother hen knows how to take care of those eggs and her babies.  I'm telling you, it's nothing short of astounding.  

See the beans above?  The beans in the bowl may look different from each other but they're all exactly all the same- True Cranberry Beans, an old New England heirloom variety. The ones on the right have been soaked and sprouted and the ones on the left are still dry and hard.  It's difficult to see from the photo but they are shiny and look very much like a real cranberry.  These are beans that I grew so I could enjoy them, save the seeds, and plant them again. I let the pods dry then I shelled them, put them in an airtight plastic bag then threw the bag into the freezer.  You see, a brief stint in the freezer is supposed to kill any insect eggs that may ruin the beans in storage.

Well, they stayed in the freezer for more than a "brief stint". In truth, I kind of forgot about them. While mining the freezer's depths for a pot roast a few days ago I encountered the bag of beans again and thought I'd better see if they were still any good.  I grabbed a handful, soaked them for a couple days then put them between damp paper towels to see what would happen.  And what happened?  They sprouted.  The kids and I counted them. 29 out of 33 have sprouted so far and I think the ones that haven't yet are just tardy, not dead.

Why is this extraordinary, you may ask? Why am I so excited about beans? Because when I packed these cranberry beans away in the freezer one of the kids that helped me count them couldn't walk and the other wasn't even thought of .  They've been frozen for almost 15 years. And still, in spite of neglect, power outages and changes in temperature  they remained viable.  Very viable. There is still a spark of life left inside each of these seeds waiting for the right moment to live again. How long did Snow White sleep in her state of suspended animation before Prince Charming kissed her and she lived again?  Not 15 years, I bet. These fairy tales ain't got nothing on real life. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. 

I think these beans deserve to be planted again, don't you? I will devote space to them in the garden next spring and pass some along to gardening friends who will appreciate them and save them (hopefully more conscientiously than I did).  These beans are tasty and beautiful and I'm ashamed it's taken me so long to consider growing them again because dry beans really are easy to grow.  Which leads me to my next subject:

 Lazy Gardening!


 "Look at all those winter squash!" my friends say "How you must have slaved over them! You must have worked for months!" 

Au contraire!  I planted some seeds in May but just discovered all these squash this month when the vines died back.  And my potatoes? They fairly pop out of the ground when I push the mulch aside. How about those beets? They're waiting to be pulled up at my convenience and the kale will hold through the winter. (That stuff even gets better after a few frosts!) The secret is Lazy (aka "plant it and forget it") Gardening.  I've been practicing it for years without even knowing it was a thing. Well, I'm now officially making it a thing.

Lazy Gardening Advantage #1-At Your Convenience!
The Lazy Gardener does not have to harvest on any particular timetable because Lazy Gardener vegetables can wait. They are harvested at the Lazy Gardener's convenience or all at once in the fall. It works like this: The Lazy Gardener plants the right kinds of seeds (winter squash, kale, collards, dry beans, potatoes, root veggies, etc), makes sure the seedlings are up and going, mulches like crazy, waters the seedlings when needed then forgets about them. Other crops like lettuce, green beans, broccoli, summer squash, cucumbers and peas have to be monitored with vigilance or they will get away from all but the most attentive gardener. Neglect these veggies and you'll waste them.  Before you know it they're too mature to be tasty, they go to seed or get bitter.  In any case, you'll miss out and feel guilty for your neglect.I know that feeling. But the Lazy Gardener feels no guilt because neglect is part of the game plan!

Lazy Gardening Advantage #2-The Thrill of Discovery!
A thrilling advantage of lazy gardening is that because the vegetables have been ignored for so long the Lazy Gardener gets to discover them anew when they're finally dug up or uncovered.  Or shelled. Look at what I found when these vines died back. 
Winter squash! And there's a big patch of potatoes just waiting underground to be sleuthed out and collected as needed. Red, white and the occasional purple, they're as pretty as Easter eggs and almost as fun to hunt.

Lazy Gardener Advantage #3 Tip: Don't Forget to Mulch!
Besides choosing the right vegetables the most important piece of the lazy gardening puzzle is to mulch in between seedlings and on paths. Mulching keeps moisture in, weeds smothered and the gardener nice and lazy for those hazy, lazy days of summer. It does mean a little extra work early on but trust me, a little shoveling in the relative cool of spring is a lot easier than nonstop weeding in the heat of the summer. Because summer is when you should be sitting in your Adirondack chair, surveying your beautiful garden, sipping a cocktail and feeling gloriously lazy.

Of course a lot of my Lazy Gardener strategy depends on a a mild climate like mine that permits cool season vegetables to stay out in the garden for the winter and yes, I know  a good vegetable garden has a many different kinds of plants. (I'd never be without my green beans that have to be picked pretty much daily) But really, do think about planting more Lazy Gardener vegetables and less of the ones that require more work than you can give them and if you don't mulch, do it. Trust me on this,

Because a Lazy Gardener is a Happy Gardener!
Just ask Harris.  He likes winter squash too!

Happy Autumn!