FloraQuest 2011: If We Cantelope, Lettuce Marry!

Spring gardening swings into action today!

About a week ago I observed that the earth had thawed in most of the yard. Yet, some snow was stubbornly refusing to melt in some of the garden. I knew however that in the Midwest spring can transition from frozen earth to quagmire to the heat of summer in a very short time span.

The long term forecast called for a chilly but dry weekend. Monday was forecasted to be also dry and sunny and 45F degrees. In my book you don't insult the Gardening Gods by NOT rototilling with such a rare combination in mid March.

My ancient beast of a rototiller, a front tined Sears Craftsman Model 32-29958, had last year suffered a degradation of its Briggs and Stratton 8HP engine to an unusable and, irritatingly, seemingly unfixable degree.

I chose to call up my local Sunbelt Rental office in Aurora and, for $45 a day and a $50 pickup and delivery fee, rent a Honda FC600 mid tined tiller. I wanted to rent a rear tined tiller, which is heavier, and would have incurred a much more substantial delivery fee for that reason. I really wish that I had a rear tined tiller.

Troy-Bilt (see footnote) introduced the American gardener to the rear tined garden tiller in the 1937. The Troy-Bilt Model A-1 was based on a German commercial machine called The Earth Grinder The A-1 set the standard for garden cultivation for the homeowner. It featured high speed rear tines with an inverse rotation and self-propelled main wheels. I have never had the fortune to operate a tiller with these features.

The Honda FC600 and my old Craftsman, front-tined tillers, do not have self-propelled tires and rely entirely upon the cultivation tines for propulsion. This is a pain in the ass. In theory, front tined tillers are supposed to till to a depth set by a "depth bar" behind the forward rotating cultivating tines. This bar is supposed to hold the tiller back, from charging forward uncontrollably until that depth has been reached. This "depth bar" at worst becomes a plough as the cultivating tines do a minimum of cultivating and a maximum of propulsion as I struggle to hold the damn thing back so the cultivating tines actually tills the soil.

The Honda FC600 adds this wonderful concept of engineering by adding a single thin plastic idler wheel to the front which serves the purpose of getting the tiller stuck in one place. This makes the operation of the FC600 an alternating struggle between shoving the tiller forward to unstick the front wheel and straining to hold the tiller back. Unlike my Craftsman, which has side mounted idler wheels, the FC600 has no gearbox and therefore, no reverse. I do not believe that I will be spending $1,499.00 MSRP for a new FC600. Good one, Honda, stick to designing small engines, please!

For all of my bitching and complaining about the machine, I did get 1440 sq. ft. of garden cultivated in a little over two hours.

It was frosty this morning and the ground was a touch frozen on the surface. The Sunbelt Rental driver dropped off the tiller at 8:30 AM. The engine started on the first pull and by 11 AM I had doffed my jacket and ski-cap and had me a PB&J and some chips for lunch.

The day really warmed up to be a great one. Sunny and a high in the upper 40's. I was not the only ones to find the weather fine. I even got a little touch of sunburn!
A few flocks of Canadian Geese were congregating way up in the sky, gliding playfully about on updrafts. That strange warbling sound that the extreme altitude distorts their honking into accompanied me as I set to planting rows of Spinach, Lettuce and Sweet Peas.

(See my 2011 Garden Planner for a layout of this year’s garden!)

Using a planting hoe, which has an arrowhead shaped head, I cultivated the soil into a single row of fine black earth along 22' of the southern fence. I sowed Burpeeana Early Sweet Peas into the row and covered them with 2" of fine soil. In a couple of weeks, after the seedlings emerge. I will plant another row about 3" in front of the first one to prolong my harvest. Sweet Peas are an old world legume of the shelling variety; the pods are not eaten. They thrive in the cold and are so sweet it is hard not just eating them all right out of the garden when they get plump in early May.

Next I planted lettuce. I cultivated three 9' rows and made sure I made shallow furrows with very fine soil. Lettuce seeds are very small and must be covered by NO MORE than 1/4" of very fine soil. I sift the soil between my hands as if it were flour to get that fine consistency and then firm the soil lightly. Small seeds make tiny seedlings and if buried any deeper they won't be able to reach the sunlight.

I planted one row of Musclun mix and one row of Simson Elite for salads. These are looseleaf lettuces which should be ready in 28 and 48 days respectively but the tender thinnings with make a few salads before that.

After these looseleaf lettuces are harvested I will buy potted Romaine lettuce from Klein’s Farmstand and plant them in the vacated rows. I find planting cool weather crops from seed a bit tricky and do enjoy the convenience of letting someone else doing the work of starting potted seedlings indoors.

The final row is a Burpee Bibb lettuce. It hakes head lettuce which are the variety that sandwich shops make lettuce wraps with! I should have at least eight good sized heads in 75 days but again, because I am planting rows by seed, I will make salads with the thinnings.

Speaking of salads, tender spinach thinnings make for excellent salads! I planted three 9' rows of spinach. I used three different varieties Harmony Hybrid, Avon Hybrid and Bloomsdale Long-Standing. These are all ruffle leafed and long standing or slow bolting varieties. When the weather grows hot and spinach leaves start to grow arrow shaped and bitter the plant is starting to bolt, or, starting to get stalky as the plant is preparing to flower. I usually prune the upper leaves of the plants rather than harvesting the complete plant to "persuade" the plant not to bolt, but that will only delay the inevitable. After thinning my varieties will mature at 40, 44 and 48 days and three meals a day will be served with sautéed spinach!

A great day and a good start but that's going to be all for now! Look out for another installment from Stuart's Garden when I plant Beets, Carrots and Broccoli Raab when the soil warms up a bit.

Troy-Bilt Footnote: In 2001 Troy-Bilt's parent company, Gardenway, went bankrupt and most of the Troy-Bilt assets were acquired by MTD. Troy-Bilt's reputation for rugged and dependable products under the MDT parentage has declined badly. I have found many reports of unreliable engines, flimsy throttle cables, weak transmissions and inferior steel tubing among other things. A Sad state of affairs. Troy-Bilt products build by Gardenway and their predecesors are held in high esteem and have the reputation of being built like tanks....

P.S....and hopefully I can find one with the CA$H MONEY I JUST GOT FROM SELLING MY DRUMSET! What an awesome day!

Burpeeana Early Sweet Peas
Musclun mix
Simson Elite
Burpee Bibb
Harmony Hybrid
Avon Hybrid
Bloomsdale Long-Standing

<gnarl> "The snub-nosed monkey has nostrils that point up, they said, and it sneezes when rainwater drips into its nose."
<gnarl> e2d2 process my writeups
gnarl cackles evilly, as this is more than a million words.

Below is a Markov Chain generated by me from all the writeups by gnarl.

Keeping the Everything2 database just that little bit vindicated, Mirriam-Webster defines this even more as a hit of Acid. Before the bubble-gum craze of the chapter. Going through the always reliable Beagle Book Club. And although Snoopy's devotion to Miss Sweetstory wavered a bit after learning she lived with 24 cats, but Snoopy was still an avid fan. Slang for kissing - meant to suggest the ickiness factor of two people pressing lips together and poking tongues in each movie, but makes that same diameter as a "silly, flighty person." Sir John Gielgud describes himself using this term: "I am very frivolous. I have a complete set -- which undoubtedly includes far more titles than listed above -- assembled through the always reliable Beagle Book Club. And although Snoopy's devotion to Miss Sweetstory wavered a bit after learning she lived with 24 cats, he has aspired to be told, eight for dying; Nine for silver, six for crying: Seven for a wedding, four for birth, five brings silver, six takes wealth, seven crows a secret, More I can ask for in a movie. Ghost Dog: The Way of self-defence when pacing through an urban jungle.

We thank you for your cooperation. I only disagree with Zari about going into Powell's if you find yourself chatting to a red-headed green-eyed coed on-line who double spaces after a group of children visiting Lafayette Park in Washington, DC answered the question of what it costs to enter the Magic Kingdom. from The Journal of Ride Theory , issue 3. When installing the tower's elevators, Eiffel insisted he wouldn't have the beautiful lines of his tower ruined by machines running through its middle, so his subcontractors had to have a complete set -- which undoubtedly includes far more titles than listed above -- assembled through the Sunday paper from front to classifieds, then reading another Sunday paper. In this state, 'How to Kiss' is just volume 4 of the guys just shoot out of me. There's this car, which has the ability to get somewhere faster than I can and weighs at least a ton, just easing along to a proviso by Stevie Wonder . The song it appeared in was called "The Smell of Success." Snoopy has been the star of Charles M. Schulz' Peanuts comic strip. She owned 24 cats, but Snoopy was still an avid fan. Slang for kissing - meant to suggest the ickiness factor of two people pressing lips together and poking tongues in each other's mouths, thus invariably mingling their saliva.

The other side of the early 80's, Chiclets were a Norwegian invention whose original function was to bind together. This was the biggest selling single in Britain, and collected over 10 million dollars in famine relief, and remains the most successful and useful live charity event in history. Performers on 'Do They know that someone cares And their lives will be more than one way, thus containing another potentiality within them. Once a literary method is created, what matters most is not realizing the numbing power of love on would-be firebrands. Clarence also often speaks with the drink, which --oo, ah--clouds the drink like pernod. Warm ouzo may also pour hot water in with the shape of a musical saw performed is by renting the Jeunet and Caro film, Delicatessen, the only film portraying saw-playing. Taking place at 3 p.m.

(Pandeism Fish) << prev - Next >> (could be you!)

Everything in italics is a recent addition beginning in April 2014, three years after my cross-country trip west from Virginia.

I woke up in Morgantown, WV after ten hours, having hauled my belongings up to the second floor of a dilapidated Comfort Inn and collapsed onto the mattress with every intention of getting up for dinner. I never did: after an ersatz flail to make sure Themis was still pingable and all services were running, I passed out still in my clothes and one boot.

Morning came drizzling and cloudy in the ass-crack of a mountain bedazzled with fast food restaurants and gas stations. Breakfast was a bagel smeared with cream cheese and a cup of indifferent coffee. The landscape outside Natasha rose and fell in folds as I left, blankets of slumped stone and dirt covered in still-grey trees and shelves of explosive-hewn rock.

For five hours, it drizzled, all the way south down I-79 to I-64. West Virginia is full of vertical angles and ignorance. While I'm sure a large portion of the state is full of intelligent sorts, the bumper stickers and signs I saw did nothing to dispel my terrible opinion of the residents. Bumpers of trucks asserted the day President Obama took office as the first day of the American Holocaust: anti-abortion signs promised grisly death and ominous intentions towards those guilty of "murdering" their babies. Other signs threatened hellfire for not following their particular denomination of Christ. Perhaps it was the weather, but denizens encountered at gas stations were shrill, unpleasant, and suspicious all the way down through Charleston.

What I left out were the horrid curves and turns and swerves all along the length of I-79. I fully intended to find better coffee but never did - as someone detoxing from Penguin Mints, the abrupt drop in my caffeine supply hit me hard. Even loud music wasn't doing the job of removing the thick layer of cynicism and disappointment I was feeling through the state.

It's a pity. I really do love West Virginia for its miles upon miles of gorgeous landscape. Appalachia is polluted, run down, scarred by decades upon centuries of exploitation, but the land is beautiful. I like to think that one day we'll find the solution to Third World America, but I don't hold out much hope in my lifetime.

Kentucky was a relief.

The mountains rolled out and smoothed some as I hit I-64, falling down into Lexington and Louisville in blue and green folds promising spring. Signs advertising points on the Bourbon Trail sprung up hither and yon: the gas station attendants were more friendly, and smiled back more often. The roads were soft and pleasant to drive, the weather much improved from higher in the mountains.

In Louisville, I surrendered my driver's license and credit card to a cautious hotel clerk, and sent off a text to DanseMacabre, letting him know I'd invaded his hometown. A couple of hours later, we rolled out to Ramsi's Cafe and devoured good food.

DanseMacabre is one of my many MUD buddies, someone I've adventured with in San Francisco, DC, and Indiana. He's only been to the one nodermeet - the guy isn't really what I'd call a noder. The man is one of my closest, brightest friends. In the seven years I've known him, he's gone from teaching degree to theatre, from press to programming.

As I write this, he's in the final stages of completing his computer science degree and figuring out what he'll do afterwards. It's my sincere hope that he'll follow me west.

The rest of the night was scripting, laughter, hanging out, and a good bottle of malbec, all of which went on well into the wee hours. When I woke the next day, I rolled over, checked the clock, and burrowed back under the blankets of the hotel room bed.

Three and a half weeks left, and a whole country at my fingertips to explore.

I've got time for now to sleep.

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