Wednesday, July 31, 2013


This is how I've been feeling during this particularly hot, humid summer: all wilted, tired and wrung out.

Fortunately, it's just temporary, for both me and the swiss chard (which I think is gorgeous, with its intense colors, even when it's wilted like this). I took the picture mid-day, at the peak of the day's heat and sunshine. The leaves will perk up overnight, just as I'm perking up with the arrival of dryer and slightly cooler weather this week.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Post-conference blues

I  know a bunch of great people in the romance-writing community, and I've been to several of the Romance Writers of America national conferences to learn about craft and hang with friends. This year's was in Atlanta, last week. From time to time over the course of the event, I checked in via Twitter, to get news of friends and acquaintances. For an introvert like me, it was a great way to "attend" the conference without being overwhelmed. I was particularly pleased to see Eloisa James win a Rita.

Now, I've got the post-conference blues, and I didn't even go to the conference!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Garlic revisited

In the interest of fairness after my rant against coddling garlic plants last week, here's a demonstration of the difference in size of the garlic, depending on how well the plant is treated.

The pile on the left was given everything a garlic plant could want -- manure and mulch and weeding and full sun. (I still left the scapes intact and pulled the bulbs out of the ground instead of digging them, so they didn't get quite the full royal treatment.)

The pile on the right got the worst of everything -- no additions to the soil, no weeding, no mulch and pretty much full shade once the nearby tree leafed out. The three in the middle (the ones with a reddish tint and the greenest stems) are also self-seeded, but in reasonably good soil (although no added manure), and a good amount of sun, but no mulch or weeding.

While the most mistreated bulbs are emphatically smaller, the middle bulbs (no coddling, but full sun) are about the same size as the smallest of the coddled bulbs, which you can see just to the left of, and slightly above, the three center bulbs.

So. Coddling will produce the biggest bulbs, and it's worth doing if you can. If you have less than ideal conditions, though, you can still grow garlic. I pulled forty of the little bulbs in about five minutes (and there were at least a  hundred more to be pulled on another day), and that was the sum total of the work that went into them, since they self-seeded, and I didn't fertilize or weed or do anything except pull them out of the ground, really. They're smaller, but they taste the same, and you can't beat the minimal investment in growing them!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Garlic myths

I've been researching the commercial farming of garlic for a story I'm working on. Now, I understand that larger-scale farming works differently from the small scale of my backyard garden, but I can't reconcile the garlic-growing advice with my experience.

According to the experts, garlic is this finicky, fragile thing that requires: full sun, huge amounts of fertilizer, constant weeding, and bubble wrap when harvesting. Above all, according to some experts, it should never, ever, on pain of something really awful, be pulled out of the ground instead of gently dug up. The scapes (stems) must be removed to maximize the bulb size (forsaking the edible and plantable bulbils at the end of the scapes). Oh, and it must, to avoid getting some sort of mutant plant, be grown from cloves, and not the bulbils that grow at the top of the stem.

I know that anecdotal evidence isn't science, but here's my rebuttal:

The bottom bulb is a special early variety that we decided to stop growing a couple years ago, but we keep finding a few that we missed from prior years, sort of like a weed with benefits.

The top bulb is the variety we prefer to grow. It's on a cutting mat, with a 1" grid, so you can see it's about 1 1/4" to 1 1/2" in each direction, which is a pretty average size for this particular variety which only produces four cloves per head.

It grew in partial shade, no fertilizer, no weeding, the scape was left intact, and it was pulled from the ground. Worse than that, it grew from a bulbil that fell in the middle of the main path of the garden a few years ago, and it grew on top of landscape fabric, in the inch or so of dirt and decomposed mulch that accumulated there.

I have one patch of garlic that was started with some bulbils tossed into the corner of the garden, and that has produced admittedly small heads of garlic for probably close to ten years now. It does take longer to grow garlic to a good size from the bulbils, but the end product is indistinguishable from the clove-grown plants. There are weeds and brambles and even a small sapling in the middle of this patch. It's in dappled shade. No fertilizer in all this time, other than perhaps some leaf mulch from leaves that fell from the tree obscuring the sunshine.

One summer, about five years ago, I decided to clear out that corner patch to use it for something else, and I spent weeks digging out every single bulb I could find. The next spring, thousands (not exaggerating here, for once) of sprouts emerged from the cloves I missed. I figured that corner was meant to be a garlic patch, and now I just leave it alone: no weeding, no fussing, just a summer harvest of dozens of small (usually just two cloves instead of four) heads.

It makes me wonder, though, how much of farming is based on agricultural science and how much is based on handed-down wisdom that may not be wise at all.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Butlers, revisited

I heard a piece on the radio recently about a resurgence in demand for butlers.

According to the report, the starting salary for a newly minted butler is One Hundred Thousand Dollars. With experience, the butler can demand three times as much.

I guess I won't be hiring a butler any time soon.