Archives for posts with tag: Mother Nature

Okay, enough talking (and reading and writing and web surfing); it’s time to get planting.  Past time, actually.

We started with the seed-starting soil mix.  We purchased a ready-made product but it is packaged dry and needs to be moistened.  We dumped half a bag into a large, wide bucket (it had been stored in the basement for quite a while so we first rinsed it with diluted bleach to kill any residual mold, etc.) and then added water from a spray bottle.  It was like making fresh pasta but in reverse:  We added water incrementally, mixing the soil after each addition, until the consistency was cohesive but not clumpy.

Next, we filled the compartments of a seed tray.  Rather than stuffing soil into each cell one at a time, we scooped handfuls of soil onto the top of the tray and then spread it back and forth until all cells were filled (molded chocolates are sometimes made this way).  Then, we compacted the cells by poking our fingers into them (this we had to do one at a time).  We repeated the process until all of the cells were full and moderately compacted (we did not overdo it).

The first seeds up were the tomatoes.  We have six varieties and each tray has 72 cells.  That means 12 cells—one long row—per variety.  Most of what we have read recommends two seeds per cell to protect against failed germination but that would be a lot of seeds and we have space for only two plants of each type.  Planting that many seeds seemed like overkill so we placed only one seed per cell.  If some do not come up or are sickly, we can discard them.  Alternatively (and let’s keep this positive), If we end up with more healthy plants than we can use, we will give them away.

We carefully labeled each row with a plastic row marker and then took the tray outside to water it.  Using a spray bottle (with a fine mist and gentle pressure), we applied water until it started to drain out the bottom.  When we were sure that all of the soil was moist, we placed the clear cover over the tray and moved it to the shelving unit.  The cover should retain most of the moisture for several days or even weeks.  We do not plan to water the seeds again until sprouts have emerged.

We repeated the process with the eggplant and peppers.  We planted 16 eggplant seeds (each in its own compartment) and eight each of the red and orange bell peppers (this tray will have a lot of empty cells but we did not want to put in anything with a greatly different germination period).

Finally, we filled a tray with basil seeds.  If we are lucky, we will have 72 basil plants, at least a dozen of which we can plant in the garden (this worked very well last year).  The rest we will give away.  Basil can easily be grown on a windowsill or sunny kitchen counter.  Besides providing a ready supply of fragrant leaves, it looks pretty.

It remains to be seen whether the spot we chose by the window provides enough warmth for germination.  We think that with a daily dose of direct (but diffused) sunlight, the temperature in the room will rise to at least 70 degrees (as it does in the dining room upstairs) but if the seedlings haven’t sprouted by a day or two after their expected date, we will consider other options.  We are hoping to get some help from Mother Nature here.

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Often when I am planning a trip to a new destination (or one with which I am not very familiar), I will make a virtual visit using Google Maps.  I am a visual thinker and have found that by looking at the satellite/aerial views—often combined with Street View—of a location, I can form a preliminary mental map that will help me navigate and become comfortable in a strange environment.  Call it pre-familiarization.

I made such a flyover before coming to Hawaii.  I was looking for the condo where we stayed on our last trip and where we are staying again this time (in the same room, coincidentally), the name or location of which I could not remember (it was more than 10 years ago).  I had only a general idea of where it was—across the road from the resorts of Napili and Kapalua—and a recollection that it was near a large hotel (where we sipped cocktails at sunset one evening).

It wasn’t much to go on but by cruising (digitally) up and down Lower Honoapiilani Road a few times, I was able to home in on a potential location.  There was no adjacent hotel (I learned from our friends yesterday that it had been demolished and replaced by luxury residences in the intervening years) but by zooming down, I was able to recognize the distinctive swimming pool, memorable for its azure blue tiles.  Rachel later confirmed the location, having found its website online.

A fringe benefit of my virtual touring is that I sometimes discover places of interest that I might not otherwise have encountered.  In this case, I happened upon the Dragon’s Teeth Labyrinth on a spit of volcanic rock north of our condo.  From the air, it would appear to be a full-sized Chartres labyrinth and to occupy a potentially sacred spot where land and water meet.  This morning, we set out to see it for ourselves.  The prospect was exciting as we have always enjoyed walking labyrinths and developed one on our property (see July 10, 2011).

Public access to the coast cannot be restricted in Hawaii (even though much of the oceanfront property is privately owned) and there are many trails that follow the shore.  One such trail heads north from Kapalua Beach and winds through the luxury residences (which seem strangely vacant).  As we passed by, a rainbow appeared to the west between us and Molokai, an auspicious beginning to our journey.  When the trail reached the north end of the housing complex, it led out onto a jagged outcropping of the solidified lava that forms most of Hawaii’s coastline.

From there, the trail turns eastward, first passing through a shore bird nesting habitat and then onto a boardwalk just above the beach at Oneloa Bay.  At the far end of the beach, the trail turns back inland to follow Lower Honoapiilani Road (although access to the coast cannot be restricted, much of it remains physically inaccessible).  A short walk along the road brought us to the fourth tee of the Kapalua Bay Golf Course.

Here we paused for a moment.  Getting out to the Dragon’s Teeth would involve walking along the edge of the fairway.  We knew that we had the right to pass but many golf courses are private and off limits to non-members or players.  When we saw a sign warning of proximity to the course—and not commanding us to keep out—we started down along the hedge that forms the fairway’s border.  At one point we held up to allow a foursome of golfers to play through.  It was not the reverent approach we were expecting to make (even if the more devout golfers around us would have considered this fine course a place of worship).

When we reached the outcropping it was evident how it got its name.  The eastern edge of the spit was lined with spiky vertical projections of lava (aa, presumably) that were upturned by wave action while still molten (or so I later read).  The waves are still quite strong here and wash against the Dragon’s Teeth obliquely resulting in a fountain of water that slides along the shoreline dramatically.

Just beyond the teeth, where the jetty levels out, we found the labyrinth.  Circular in plan, its 11 concentric paths are divided from each other by stones that have been smoothed by wave action and are anchored in place by succulents growing around them.  The labyrinth clearly sees many visitors as the paths have been worn down into ruts by heavy foot traffic.  Even so, we were fortunate to have it to ourselves.

We slowly and solemnly made our pilgrimage to the center of the labyrinth and once there, performed our version of the Medicine Wheel Prayer.  We first faced east and raised our arms in salute to spring and rebirth.  We next turned to the south and paid homage to summer and growth.  Then, we faced west, acknowledging fall and the natural endings in life and to complete the circle, we looked to the north in respect of winter and introspection.  Finally, we raised our heads to greet Father Sky and bowed to show our love for Mother Earth (perhaps a sphere would be a better symbol).

It wasn’t as mystical or woo-woo as it might sound (especially with golfers putting nearby).  It was, however, a simple ritual that left us feeling centered—literally and figuratively—and fully appreciative of this world we live in and the particular paradise in which we found ourselves today.

Well, Mother Nature answered my question (see January 14, 2013), and how.  The Christmas snow had completely disappeared and the ground was warm and soft.  But this morning, it is once again covered by four inches of fluffy (but strangely sticky) snow.  It took an hour and a half to shovel the walk and dig out the cars but at least I got some exercise.

Being otherwise confined indoors gives me the opportunity to finish up my recapping of last year’s garden.  Our main take-away from the entire season is that there is never enough space.  Two years ago, one four foot by twelve foot planter seemed huge.  That is, until we started planting, at which point it seemed to shrink.  We had to give away about half of the seedlings we had hoped to grow but for which we could not find room.

Last year, we doubled our acreage (using that term wishfully) by adding a second planter; we now have almost 200 sq. ft. of arable soil (that’s 0.5% of an acre).  And for most of the season, it seemed like enough.  We started vegetables from seed in about half of the available space and planted seedlings in the remainder.  Using more conservative planning in conjunction with the increased planter space, we were able to find room for everything we wanted to grow.

But then the zucchini went berserk.  We started with two plants—grown from seed—within one quarter of one planter.  They started off enthusiastically and shared the space amicably.  By the end of July, however, they were crowding each other (and the surrounding string beans) and both seemed irked to be crammed into such a small space with another plant.  The close quarters stifled their growth and probably contributed to one of them succumbing to disease (which we never identified).  By the end of the season, the remaining plant filled and then overflowed its allotted space.

The cucumbers also would have preferred more real estate.  Despite some very aggressive pruning on my part, the six vines we planted in one quarter of one planter quickly grew up and around the three cages we installed to support them, wrapping each tier with several lateral branches.  When the vines reached the top of the cages, they launched themselves overboard in search of other supports.  Some of the vines did belly-flops onto the soil surface below but at least one successfully landed on the neighboring trellis.

So how to deal with these space issues?  For the answer, I had to think outside the box.  Or, more specifically, outside the planter.

What I have concluded about the zucchinis is that they are not well suited to long, narrow planters such as ours.  They want to grow in large circular spaces so that they can extend in all directions, without restraint.  But building a circular raised bed or even an octagonal one would be beyond my carpentry skills.  And a square raised planter larger than four feet across would be impractical.

So instead, we will clear a space to the west of the west planter and build it up with new soil to create a low, raised bed without sides.  Planted there, the zucchini vines can sprawl as far as they want in whichever directions suit them.  We will need a large area—six feet by six feet per plant—and can probably fit two plants.  The only immediate problem will be a lack of sunlight but more on that in a future post.

Similarly, the cucumber plants are unhappy with the aspect ratio of the raised beds but unlike the zucchinis, they would prefer to be planted in a longer, narrower arrangement.  Instead of being wrapped around circular cages, they would like to be planted single-file with room for their main stems to grow upwards and their lateral branches to grow outwards.

Luckily, our pool fence is conveniently located just a few feet north of the planters.  It is certainly long enough (it extends for at least 50 feet) and even though it is only about four feet high, we can readily extend its height with posts and netting or chicken wire.  (Okay, this will probably take more effort than I think but it seems doable.)  In addition to providing more breathing room, spreading out the cucumbers laterally should make it easier to harvest the cucumbers and pick off the inevitable beetles.

In the garden, it seems, expansion is inevitable.

Only a week after Hurricane Sandy, the northeast was visited last night by Winter Storm Athena (are all weather systems going to get named from now on?).  The storm brought strong, cold winds and dumped several inches of wet, sloppy snow on many people who were still without power (or had only had it restored shortly beforehand).  Rachel’s parents, for instance, who were without electricity until Sunday, were again plunged into darkness after the storm brought down power lines that had only recently been repaired.  (Fortunately, they were not in the dark for very long this time.)

For some, the storm seemed to add insult to injury.  Clearly, Mother Nature is very unhappy with us.  What must we do to appease her?  And, perhaps more pertinently, what must we stop doing?

I’m very happy—and grateful—to say that we made it through Hurricane Sandy’s passing with very little impact.  The storm made landfall far enough to the south of us that we did not get much rain (and it was never heavy) and the winds were limited to no more than 45 miles per hour.  We’ve had summer thunderstorms that were worse.

A few trees fell, along with several large branches and many, many smaller ones.  Just as we were preparing for bed last night, a tree opposite the road from a neighbor’s house toppled onto the power lines and caught fire.  It was burning in three locations—the point of contact with the wire, at its base, and at mid-height where it was pressing against another tree—and with each gust of wind, showers of sparks went flying across the yard.  It was very dramatic (and not a little frightening).

Eventually, the trunk burned through where it was resting against the power line and the top of the tree dangled onto the road, blocking passage.  By then, an emergency responder had arrived to keep an eye on it.  It was not clear whether they did anything more than direct traffic (where were these people headed at the peak of the storm?) but by midnight, the tree had burned out and the responder had left.  Amazingly, we never lost power.

Of course, most of the State of New Jersey and New York City did not fare so well.  Millions of people are without power and any location near a shoreline was inundated.  I’m thankful that we made it through without any severe impacts and hope for a speedy and effective restoration of services—and normality—for those who were adversely affected.

The middle of last week, 90 percent of the computer simulations reported by the Weather Channel predicted that Hurricane Sandy would drift off into the Atlantic after wreaking havoc on Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda.  Only one or two models indicated a trajectory over the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States.

By the weekend, all of that changed.  Apparently, a region of high pressure in the north Atlantic was blocking the normal eastward path of the hurricane.  To make matters worse, a mass of cold air descending from Canada and the Ohio Valley was threatening to combine with Sandy to create a storm—a la Groundhog Day—of epic proportions.  The pressure systems were bumpers and Hurricane Sandy a steel pinball in the giant arcade game that is the earth’s atmosphere.

Consequently, the National Weather Service is now predicting the end of the world.  Well, not quite but the forecast is very dire.  The expected storm could be like last year’s Hurricane Irene and October snowstorm combined, a rainy, snowy, windy mess.  The pressure at the center of the storm is extraordinarily low and when combined with tonight’s full moon, will result in record-setting tidal surges along the coastline.  We’ve been warned to prepare for the worst Mother Nature has to offer.

So now we are waiting for Sandy to arrive, with an emphasis on the waiting.  This storm is moving slowly—only about 15 miles per hour—leaving us to agonize in anticipation of its potentially dire impacts.