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January 2008
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Of Time and Blooming Trees

I often find the concept of time to be a challenge. Some of my happiest moments are ones in which I am not aware of time at all--when I am researching points of fact, happily following trails to dead ends until some of the paths lead to wonderfully satisfying answers. Or when I am gardening, pondering the nature of weeds, of soil, and the paths of the elements through living creatures. I wake to time when I am hungry or cold, and pick up with what the rest of the world is doing at that time of day.

I am aware of "little time", the time that passes from week to week, I am writing, teaching, gardening, and doing the things we all need to do to live. I know a lot of this "little time" has passed and has become "big time" when I know both of my parents have died, my dad at the age of 100 years. I know my father's 5 siblings are also gone, and that seems like the passing of an era. I have even lost cousins, three of them at last counting. But the reality that "big time" has passed doesn't always seem real to me.

The time that enters my soul most deeply, and makes the most sense, is the time shown by the passage of seasons in the plants and animals that I see and hear every day. When it is spring, as it is now in San Francisco, and I drive about and see the many flowering plums, I am clear that time is moving along, and that it has come again to the wonderful time when trees flower and the sun quickens the growth of so many plants. In our Mediterranean climate, it is a second spring, as it were, following the spring of the grasses, when the hillsides turn from gold to green. It is now the spring of the trees. Soon it will be the spring of the warm season annuals as they germinate and grow quickly into summer plants. Then we have summer, which, though not very warm here in San Francisco, does have plants specific to it--the ones that need the longer days and brighter sun it offers. Then we have a brief summer and fall, and then we are back to the spring of the grasses.

I am driven to have tea in the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park at this time of year, and mourn the years when rains fall on the days I could go there to enjoy the plum blossoms. I celebrate the return of the mockingbird. My friend tells me she was taught it was a "trash bird," but oh, when one sits on my roof and wakes me at 4 with its complex song, I can't really be angry, because it is telling me that the spring is here.

The blooming of seasonal wonders connects me to "big time" in all its aching reality and makes me value "little time" all the more.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough

And stands about the woodland ride.

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my three-score years and ten,

Twenty will not come again.

And take from seventy years a score,

It leaves me only fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodland I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

Alfred Edward Housman 1859-1936

Go ahead, change the ages and the times in the poem--I hope I have more than 70 springs too--but the feeling is right, that we should relish the beauty of each season in each year. Go see some blooming trees. Take a walk on a hill and look for wild flowers. Visit the Tea Garden.


Chayote Sprouting! Banana Blooming!

For the demonstration garden at City College, I have set 4 chayote squashes in cutting mix, in hopes of getting 2 sprouted plants for the arbor we have built. By the first week of February, 3 of the squashes have sEarly_mid_feb_08_024_copyprouted! Two of them looked like this one, just small sprouts, slightly curled as they emerge from the fruit. An innocent beginning for a huge plant. By this time, there will be quite a bit of root formed already, to find water and prepare to grow a shoot.

Early_mid_feb_08_022_copy And one of the fruits has unfurled its first leaves. You can see the tendrils starting to form, searching already for something to hang onto. You don't see any seed leaves (cotyledons), since they remain inside the chayote fruit, held together like the palms of two hands. We eat them when we eat the fruits. Being tropical, these fruits never form a hard shell for their seeds, and never go completely dormant. Well, I shall keep you posted. If this plant gets too long and rangy, I will have to trim it back before I plant it, but once it gets going, not much will stop it.

Meanwhile, in the City College garden, the January King cabbage formed its mature head right on schedule. It was ready at the end of January, all pink and blue-green, with the flat shiny top that indicates it is ready to eat. Early_mid_feb_08_006_copy And the chard is still doing well too. It is in its last months now, since I have decided to take it out this spring and have no chard in the garden until fall in an attempt to escape the predations of the leafminers by giving them nothing to eat one summer.

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Down at my dad's garden, in San Diego County, though he has passed away, his banana is looking really good this year. The recent rains gave everything a fresh, bright look. I love the vivid colors of the bracts that surround the young banana flowers.

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Chayote Progress Report

The countdown to chayote planting is underway. The City College construction class kindly lowered the arbor that last month's class built. It was going to be a bit tall for harvesting the chayotes. Robert, the course instructor, said lowering it was good experience for the class. A client might request that. (See photo of the arbor before lowering in my January 19th post.)

Next step is to mount some hardware cloth on two sides of the arbor for the plants to climb. They attach by tendrils, so can use both the vertical and the horizontal wires. Then we need to take out another section of fence. The one on the west is only about 6 feet from the arbor. Too close for comfort, since the chayote will reach out in all directions. We are going to try to keep it on the trellis. A brave effort, considering what the plant wants to do is be 30 feet tall and wide.

Finally, the 4 planted chayotes are still in the greenhouse. One has sprouted nice green leaves. I am hoping for another to sprout, since the plants need 2 in order to enhance pollination. As my Guatemalan friend Maria-Marta said, it needs a "novia."

My cousin in Indiana asks me if she could grow chayote if she started it very early. I'm afraid not. It is a tropical perennial plant. It only flowers when the days get short in late fall. This is because it is adapted to short tropical days. In a place with a cold winter, it would freeze shortly after it began to bloom, thereby never making any fruit. And, although the young stem tips and leaves are edible, and would be produced in summer, I'm not sure the plant is worth growing just for them.

Well, here in San Francisco, where eggplants and melons are rarely satisfactory, and tomatoes are borderline, we like to fee lucky to be able to grow something that doesn't do well elsewhere.

I'll send photos of the chayote soon.