Monday, April 28, 2014

Gardening Updates

Good news. The garden has not entirely self destructed. In fact, it's doing okay. Here's a quick update in case you spent any time worrying about it in the last couple weeks.

First, we converted it from a dirt pit to a mulchified sanctuary. No more dust clouds or mud puddles. And I made a little pathway using some cement tiles I found in the garage.

I know, I'm really making the garage out to be a neverending source of gardening supplies. It's just been a series of handy coincidences that so much junk was left behind, but I promise this was the last of it. Then again, maybe I will find a use for an old door spray-painted with blue squares or a wobbly folding table with cotton bits stuck to the surface.

But on to the real issue, how are the plants doing?


It must have grown to about 4 times the size of the seedling I planted, so that's a very good sign that it's happy. But then again the leaves have holes and brown spots.


In the front are the bell peppers I grew from seeds, then the jalapeƱo seedlings, and in the back the tall chap is a banana pepper plant. All are standing tall and proud with shiny green leaves. The banana pepper plant even has what looks to be the start of 4 peppers. (Originally 5, until I went in for a closer look and managed to knock one off.)


While they are growing, and are certainly more sturdy since plating, they just look wimpy with wilty leaves. I've backed off on their watering schedule since apparently you can water something too much. Who knew? After complaining loudly to anyone who would listen at work, it was suggested that maybe they don't like the neighboring plants, but when I consulted with my client the expert gardener, he confirmed that tomatoes and peppers are usually suitable companions. My current theory is that they're not getting enough sunlight, so I might switch them to a grow box and set that someplace sunnier. The only locale that comes to mind is the driveway. So that should look normal.


I know,  I shouldn't diss on the herb portion of the garden but its progress just isn't as thrilling as the prospect of growing a whole vegetable out of thin air. Also, I don't know what I was thinking when I bought a Mexican tarragon plant. I've used tarragon in precisely one dish ever. The mint stands a better chance of making an appearance in my kitchen, though I've yet to come up with any ideas besides fancy water. In the background is a somewhat dead rosemary plant. I don't know what it wants from me.


Following the instructions on the seed packet, I build up a few little hills and threw seeds on the top of them. Looking at the mounds it seems preposterous that this would be the start to something, but I suppose time will tell.

Meanwhile, in the flower bed out front, the packet of random wildflower seeds I planted is starting to yield a few blossoms. So far, we've got these teency white flowers, which aren't giving us much mileage in terms of curb appeal, but are really adorable so they I'll let them stay.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gardening For Repeat Beginners

At work, I have a particular client I speak with at least once a week about an ongoing project. And always, he also wants to chat about gardening.  He's an avid gardener and somewhere along the way I must've given him the impression that I am one as well. Now it's too late to pump the brakes and tell him that the only flora in my care are a handful of house plants slowly dying in my kitchen window. 

Still, our regular chats about Tomatomania and Swiss chard served as reminders that I always meant to be a gardening enthusiast. 

In fact, I'd only dabbled in the gardening arts for a few months while we rented our house in Pasadena. I really half-assed the whole operation, carving out a 2 x 3 plot of dirt in one corner and burying a tomato plant, some zucchini seeds and a couple habanero pepper seedlings. I basically forgot the garden existed, yet the tomatoes and peppers grew proudly, producing more fruits than I could find use for. The zucchini never got a fair shot. The tiny seeds became mighty plants with dark, expansive leaves, but just as flowers began to bloom and give way to zucchini, they were murdered by the landlord's gardener, who merrily stomped all over them while trimming the nearby hedges. He should've been stripped of his title.

Other than that incident, I was encouraged by how effortless gardening seemed to be. All I had to do was nothing and I had a limitless supply of fresh salsa ingredients at my fingertips. One weekend, on a whim, I tossed a handful of sunflower seeds into the dirt and within a month they were 8 feet tall with great big pan faces, lurking conspiratorially in the corner and freaking me out.

So, now that I have my own house with my own yard, and since gardening is such a breeze,  it makes perfect sense that I get down and dirty and start a little garden of my own.

It began, weeks ago, with seeds. Mother mailed me a couple of different seed packets, including tomatoes and bell peppers. It's too bad that I didn't inherit her green thumb, which is really more of a green forearm. When she left after this Christmas, I noticed she'd miraculously revived my sad houseplants, turning them into perky green versions of their former selves. (Three of them have since died. I just... I'm terrible.)

Anyway, I went out to the store to get a seedling planter with an irrigation tray and some special seedling soil. After about 2 weeks, I had a promising little crop. Gardening was just as simple as I'd remembered.

The next task was clearing space for the garden.

On the side of the house is an otherwise useless patch of land that gets sun for a good portion of the day. All we needed to do was clear away the row of allium plants in the way. I felt bad getting rid of them, but you can't fight city hall, or some idiom that's more appropriate.

I grabbed a shovel, ready to break ground and make progress. I jammed it into the dirt, pulled up, and nothing happened. I tried again and again but the plant did not budge. I stood with both feet on the shovel, using my full weight (all 105 lbs... haha, hilarious) as leverage. I may as well have been attempting to unearth an oak. How could this be? A difficult task? You mean this garden isn't going to build itself? This goes against everything I'd believed to be true. I threw down the shovel and gave it a week.

On Saturday morning, I tasked Devin with the plant removal. He had them all uprooted in under fifteen minutes. I think we can all clearly deduce that I did a solid job of loosening them the previous weekend.

And get this! We didn't have to toss them out. Smartly, Devin moved them to the backyard, where we needed a solution to cover up some unattractive dirt patches.


With the plants gone, we were left with roots. Lots and lots of roots. An intricate and never-ending web of white, wet, creepy roots that took hours to thoroughly remove.

Eventually, finally, we had (mostly) clear land. Then, it was time to construct the garden bed. We'd elected to go with a raised garden bed because...Actually,  I have no idea why we went with a raised garden bed. But we did.

I'd looked up a few building tutorials on youtube, which tended to be 8 minutes of some guy rambling on, followed by 20 seconds of "screw the pieces of wood together at the corners." So I basically had the gist of what needed to be accomplished.

Remembering there was some spare lumber in the garage, left behind by the previous owners, I chose to rummage and see if we could make do with what we had.

And guess what. I found precisely what we needed. 3 beams, each 6 feet long. Everything's coming up Milhouse!

I began by cutting one of the three pieces into two even halves using a hand saw. Then, I dragged the wood beams over to the gardening site and within 30 minutes, had screwed them together at the corners.

Then we made a quick trip to Home Depot for bags o' dirt and a few more seedlings to add to the garden.

I filled up my 6' x 3' bed using 6 cubic feet of soil.

By the end of the day I was BEAT. I used the last of my energy to plant my seedlings, both home grown and store bought. Here's how it all looked. 

Truthfully, this was a stupid time to take a picture because I'd just watered and all the leaves were weighted down. They didn't look that wilty a minute earlier. 

It was a very full, very busy, very tiring day, but I think the hardest part is over because, as I keep saying, gardening is easy!

I'm just kidding. After 24 hours the garden is already looking doomed. I came home from work to find one of my tomato plants looking like hell, another looking just okay, and the third totally absent. I'm literally losing plants, people!

Also, I didn't mention this before because I was so damn pleased with myself, but I tried planting sunflower seeds in the backyard, anticipating the same phenomenal results as before, but I didn't get so much as one sprout.

Why has my luck changed? Did our previous home sit atop miracle dirt? What gives?

Stay tuned for my next post, "The Garden's Inevitable Demise."

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Earthquake Preparedness

Two weeks ago I was awoken in the early morning to Devin saying something like, "Get the baby!" Instinctively, I leapt to my feet, but then froze in place, unsure of exactly why I was in survival mode.

"Bri, we need to get Oscar."
"Heh..." I was still quite sleepy. I heard something fall to the floor in another room. Something plastic and inconsequential.
"Do you not feel that?"
"I'm going to the bathroom." As I stood in the bathroom doorway I could hear the windows shaking as if from a very strong gust of wind.

This is my typical reaction to earthquakes. I don't seem to notice them, or process their occurrence until they're over.

Then, on Friday night, I was just climbing into bed (yes, ridiculously early) when I heard Devin's disturbed voice from down the hall.

"Are you feeling that?"
"The earthquake."
"No. When?"

For the record, Oscar also didn't notice either of the quakes. And after Friday's I drifted merrily off to sleep while Devin, our resident seismologist, watched an hour of live news coverage on the quake, its aftermath, and its forecasted catastrophic implications.

The next morning, he proclaimed it was time to get our earthquake emergency kit in place. And that's what our weekend became. Keep reading if you want tips on how to assemble your own earthquake emergency kit for only 400 goddamn dollars.

Write out a list of everything you're going to want to have in your 3-day worst case scenario kit. Don't know what you need? That's okay, neither does anybody else, which is why sites like exist to help you. Once you've gotten ahold of the list, review it and start asking questions like, "Dust masks?" and "What do we need a local map for?" The answer to that second question, it turns out, is because you have to assume all satellites are down and therefore there is no GPS so if you need to limp yourself to a hospital or go on the run because your neighborhood's been overrun with looters, you'll know which way is which. "Isn't that more apocalypse than earthquake?" you'll ask. And so I'll tell you upfront that for planning purposes those two outcomes are completely interchangeable. Once you recover from that realization, the list-making stage becomes fun again, like planning for a family trip to the lake house. Let's make sure we have enough bedding and a warm jacket for cooler weather!

We went to both Target and Home Depot to fulfill our list. It was a shopping trip that was unsatisfying for a number of reasons. First, I typically like to shop for things I want. A Target run is usually an enjoyable experience. An excursion to Home Depot signifies an improvement project for our home. Even when I'm just at the grocery store I can excuse the tedium because I know I'll get to eat all the things. But how can one take pleasure in a cart full of batteries, tarp, canned green beans and rubbing alcohol?

That brings me to my second point. What's worse than a cart full of stuff you don't want? A cart full of stuff you don't want and don't know if you'll ever use!

Because all of these little life-saving invaluable items add up, I was trying to curb unnecessary spending as much as possible. In the first aid aisle I wondered if I should buy one ace bandage or two. What were the chances of both of us spraining something? But then what if one person sprained two things? You can do the math on how many gallons of water you'll need to survive 3 days, but then any number you reach doesn't feel like a final answer. So we need 9 gallons? Maybe we should get 12. What if we are stranded for longer than a week? Should we get 50? How many will fit in the garage?

And that's the third reason this shopping trip is the worst. No matter how much you buy it doesn't feel like enough. It shifts your perspective and suddenly those folks from Doomsday Preppers don't seem so extreme. They really have thought of everything. Good for them. But you know what, I bet even they wonder if they've got enough homemade bison jerky to feed their underground family compound for twenty-five years.

Once you get home and unload the car, it doesn't take long to arrange your stockpile into a number of plastic bins. Seal them tight and set them aside. Hopefully you won't need them any time soon. Nah, who are we kidding? The Big One's right around the corner! Aren't you glad you got all those garbage bags to poop in like the list told you to?

Then, it's time to strategize your safety plan. Find the best place to take shelter during the quake. Locate your gas lines so you can turn them off in case the rumble damages them. As I'm typing this I realize I forgot to do that during the weekend's prep. I really have no idea where the gas line is in our house. It's times like these I wish there was a sort of personalized Google that I could subscribe to, one that told me answers to only questions about my own life. ("Where did I leave my sunglasses?" would be searched most often.) Regardless, I will say that when I locate the gas line I plan to stash a pair of pliers or a wrench nearby so I can have that on hand to turn it off when the time comes. Unless, of course, the gas line is controlled by a button or switch, which seems unlikely, but like I've said, I've never seen it!

Once you've completely assembled your garage-based bunker, you're free to wonder if you've overlooked something. Or everything. Your thought process will be something like, "Ok, everything I need is in the garage. So even if the whole house falls down, I will be safe. But why would the whole house fall down and the garage remain standing? What makes the garage any more structurally sound? It isn't. What if the garage is the only part of the house that is demolished? Am I capable of removing roof chunks to free my precious supplies? You know what, it doesn't matter because there is nowhere in the house to put all this crap so it has to stay in the garage. Ok we're good. Wait! What if we aren't at home? I mean, we are away from home just as much as we're at home. What if we're all in the car running an errand on the west side? We won't have anything. Ok, we'll make a car kit as well. Two car kits, one for each. But there's no way we are ever going to live up to the kit in the garage. We'll just have to head for home no matter what because that's where our stuff is. Unless we're at the beach when it happens and there's a tsunami. Then we'll be dead."

Now you're ready for Step Five.

The thing about assembling an earthquake survival kit is that it forces you to be so pragmatic that you temporarily forget that what you are actually preparing for is a desperate, scary circumstance. In Target, you throw a package of Oreos into your cart full of supplies thinking they'll make the post-apocalypse more fun. Let's see how fun they are when they are the last of your food and you're trading them for ammunition.

It's like when I was buying earthquake insurance from State Farm. Or rather, trying to get our agent to admit it was a waste of money.  Him: "If you don't get it and an earthquake renders your house unlivable, you still owe the bank your mortgage. But, you could just declare bankruptcy."
Me: "Oh, I guess that's an option."
"Or, remember your homeowners policy covers fire. So if a gas line bursts or the quake otherwise causes your house to burn down, you'd be able to file a claim."
"Hey now there's an idea!"

I bought the policy anyway and sometime later stopped to reflect on the conversation. God, how depressing the whole thing is. We're talking about our home, our stuff, our well-being. And once we gather everything on the supplies list, come up with a communication strategy, anchor furniture to the wall, push glassware a little further back on the shelf... all that's left to do is wait.