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Monday, February 25, 2013

… --- … in the Valley

A sunny day in Feb“Jeeez, let some light in here, will you!” I exclaim to Brett de Vries as he asks me into the living room. Now far be it from me to disparage a man’s Man Cave, but these dismal days of February the entire Valley is a man cave as far as I’m concerned and it seems a shame to shut out what little Valley light there is. In the days before his new window shades, I used to tease Brett that I was going to bring a lawn chair, set it up on the shoulder and watch whatever was playing on his big screen t.v. All I’d need would be a box of Jujubes and a bag of popcorn for me to have my own walk-up theatre.

Brett is working from home today, tells me he’s set up in another room and motions me into the kitchen which, I guess, doubles as his home office. Makes sense to me: every office should have a coffee maker and a well-stocked refrigerator. I’ve been asked to stop by and discuss a little journalism project Brett has in mind for The Ripple. We discuss business over a proffered cup of coffee and some hardtack-like fare, some distant kin of biscotti, I believe. The brief business we had to discuss didn’t take long, so I thanked my host as he guided me through that darkened living room to the door. I said good-bye and walked out into the gray Valley day wishing I had brought my sunglasses.

A couple days later I was walking by the de Vries’s and noticed the shades open on both the big front windows. No sooner did I think Brett had decided “Let there be light,” than the roadside shades abruptly closed. Now the last thing I want my Valley neighbors to think is I’m trying to spy on them as I walk by and I make a point to avert my gaze when I pass by their homes. No sooner had I thought, “How embarrassing,” than the shades opened again…then shut…then opened, shut, opened….  “Good one, Brett,” I thought as I smiled and waved at the house.

It doesn’t take much to set my head humming with thoughts when I’m out in the Valley, and before you know it, I’m composing a blog post as I stride along. Just the opening and closing of a window shade a couple of times and The Ripple’s readers are victims of the inspiration. That opening and shutting of the window blind immediately put me in mind of the signal lanterns used at sea to flash messages from one ship to another or ship to shore. And messages reminded me of the code the sailors used: Morse code. And that in turn brought back memories of my teenage years in Scouting.

The Boy Scouts. I learned some valuable life skills in the Scouts, many, come to think of it, having to do with fire: how to lay a “one match” fire; how to spark a flame using flint and steel and fine mesh steel wool as tinder (you’ll have a real hot fire real fast!); how to use pitch from a Ponderosa pine as an accelerant; and how the dead lower branches of evergreen trees (“squaw wood”) make excellent tinder. Once the fire was ablaze, you made camp stew from the ingredients you backpacked from home. Water from the creek in summer; snow melt water in winter. You learned how to camp in the rain and snow; you learned how to be miserable and not whine too much; how to right a capsized canoe, bail it of water, roll back in over the gunwale, and paddle the fifty feet to shore in the canoeing pond. Knots, too,…bowline on a bight ( a life skill, important like algebra, I’m told, but have yet to use)… how to knot together two lengths of rope with the old reliable square knot (“left over right; right over left”) instead of a “granny” if you can’t tell left from right. Lesser things, also, like how immersing the hand of a sleeping tent mate in a pan of warm water led to embarrassment for him and a few demerits for you.

I should have been a better scout, I guess. My younger brother Kevin is an Eagle Scout and that’s no little accomplishment; to achieve the Eagle rank takes dedication, commitment and just plain hard work, none of which was a priority to me in those scouting days. If it wasn’t fun and adventure, you could count me out. My rise in the scouting ranks ended one merit badge short of  Star. The signature merit badge? Citizenship in the Home. No fun and adventure there, especially if you were the household rebel as I’m afraid I was in those days. My scouting experience fizzled at that juncture, and I moved on to other pursuits, a shift of interest most likely toward those who were former Girl Scouts.

My Scouting career ended at the rank of Scout First Class. One of the requirements for the First Class rank was to master Morse Code. (The Boy Scouts have since dropped this requisite and included it as a requirement for the Radio merit badge.) Morse Code, for those of you who stalled at Tenderfoot, is a code of frequency and duration: dots shorter and dashes longer (WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!) and each letter of the alphabet is rendered as a series of dots and dashes. Twenty-six different configurations of short and long set to memory was one task the aspiring First Class Scout had to fulfill. I can’t remember the number of hours I spent memorizing the coded alphabet, but I’m sure it must have taken weeks.

Each aspiring First Class candidate had to prove he had learned the code and could pass a proficiency test. The test had to be administered by a qualified adult, someone familiar with scouting, a dad, older brother, or relative who was involved in the organization either as a leader, assistant, or chaperone. Dad was to administrate my test when the time came.  Bona fide Morse Code messages were sent using telegraphy which employed signaling devices, namely the telegraph key. None of us scouts had access to these devices, so we had to use optional methods. Brett’s flashing his shades as I walked by reminded  me of how my Morse Code test was given: by flashlight.

The night of test taking came. I gathered together a writing tablet, a couple of sharpened pencils, and arranged them on a small writing desk in the corner of the living room next to a window that offered a view up our long driveway. Dad changed out the batteries in the testing instrument, made sure the device worked, the switch, and that the beam of light was of sufficient amplitude. Then after a few words of encouragement, out he went into the dark. I remember a bit of test anxiety as I took my position, pencil at the ready and awaited the first flash of light, which, I recall, seemed a long time in coming. But come it did, and soon I was able to distinguish the short flashes from the long, the darkness between the letters…dit dit dit dahh dahh dahh dit dit dit….

I can’t recall the content of the message that night but believe, excepting a few errors, I did get the gist of it and passed the test, and Dad signed me off. Whatever the message was, though, didn’t really matter. Dad was out there in the night down that long driveway signaling me from out of the darkness. And we were communicating….

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Ripple at Three…

backyard willowWillows whiten, aspens quiver…

“The Lady of Shallot,” Tennyson

Today The Ripple turns three. When I sat down to write the first post on that February day three years ago, spring had advanced to the pussy willow stage. In that initial post I mentioned a cutting of willow I rooted and planted out back. It was a two-year old sapling when The Ripple was born. At this posting that little sprout has grown to a height of fifteen to eighteen feet and today its twigs and branches bulge with furred catkins.

Most anniversaries are a time for reflection, a time to sort through the archives of memory. At its inception the intent of The Ripple  was to report the Valley news observed from my walking and riding “to and fro and up and down in it,”and that is what I’ve tried to do. 242 posts later The Ripple still plods on at a leisurely pace much the same as its author afoot or wobbling along on Gladys. 242 posts. 242 titles. So many posts, in fact, that truth be told I’ve forgotten the content of many of them and at this stage of my life I’m like the grandparent who spins the same tale time and again much to the grandkids’ dismay. My editorial apologies if any subsequent posts echo those of their predecessors.

As The Ripple was born into the month of pussy willows, it seems fitting that this post share a little willow information both from the past and my own personal experiences. The willow belongs to the genus Salix, and during medieval times the cuttings were brought to England (along with the French language) by 11th century Normans and were cultivated for use in basket making and crafting furniture such as chairs and hampers. Willows root readily in damp soil and in England February was designated as the ideal month for planting Salix:

                         Set willow to grow, in the stead of a stake,

                         For cattle, in summer, a shadow to make.

                                  Lost Country Life

During the Enclosures, Parliamentary acts largely responsible for the demise of rural living, the English countryside went from common ownership for haying and pasturage to private possession. Ditches and hedgerows were used to mark the new landowners’ boundaries. Because of its fast growing nature and fibrous root system, willow was one of the many varieties of tree used to form the hedgerow. Willows, beeches, ash, and oaks at the sapling stage were bent and staked horizontal to the barrow atop the ditch above which they were planted. Side branches were pressed into the top of the berm, rooted there, forming a sort of vertical espalier, the trunks of which formed the hedgerow. Many of these ancient hedgerows yet exist in modern day England and Europe.

In 1974 when we bought our one slim acre, before the mortgage, before the house, we were in such a hurry to stake our claim to the place we decided to clear a patch and plant our very first vegetable garden. One of the crops we chose was lima beans. The variety we selected was a pole variety, and I searched around for some suitable poles to support the vines. In those years the High Rock area was almost a pristine wilderness and willow coverts sprouted along the railroad grade across the road. From one stand I cut seven nice, sturdy poles and hauled them back to the garden. I set the poles in the ground and circled each with bean seed. The seed sprouted, and to my surprise so did the bean poles! As the summer progressed, bean vines and willow leaves competed for sunlight on the willow staves. 

A few years later (by then I had moved along to cedar bean poles) I thought I’d try my hand at basket weaving and set the goal of weaving a basket from natural materials at hand: hazelnut withes for rim, handle and ribs, cornhusks, pendant branches of Alaska yellow cedar, daylily leaves woven into cord, and cedar bark dropped from a passing log truck for the warping between the ribs. Back across the road again to the willow grove from which I ripped several long strips of bark for later basket projects. (Currently pending…but one of these days….)

Willow bark for baskets

My most memorable experience with pussy willows is personal but one I’m quite willing to share. Eastern Washington winters are long and cold, and our rambling ranch house on the banks of the Columbia was drafty. Two parents and six kids rattling around inside for weeks on end gave rise to a bad case of cabin fever, and come February sibling rivalry had turned from banter and badgering to hands-on altercations. The latter days of the month, before any blood was shed, we were turned out of doors and told to go find spring. Loosed from the house, we scattered into the hills and sagebrush looking for the first greenery of spring (Oh, the delight we found in a greening fern basking at the foot of a sun warmed boulder!). A favorite playground for us ranch children we simply called the “Canyon.”  Walled with clay banks in which cliff swallows nested in the summer and into which we carved our names and the date of the carving, the canyon was formed over the centuries by spring runoffs. As the season moved forward, the rush of water became a stream and during the hottest weeks of summer dwindled to a trickle which snaked along the canyon floor emptying at last into the river. Cress lined the little watercourse during the growing season, and we would chew the leaves to enjoy their tang. Willows, too, thrived in the moist sand of the margins. When the willows puffed forth their catkins, it was a sign spring was imminent, and with my jackknife I would cut a dozen branches—enough for a bouquet—and carry them home to my mom as certain proof that spring’s vernal promise was sealed.A clowder of catkins

The other day I was rummaging around in the clutter that is my desk and at the far end of a drawer, hidden beneath a stack of miscellany, I discovered a little blue box, cigar box-sized, upon which was the sharpie-scribbled phrase “Personal Keepsakes.” I had forgotten it was there. Among the personal memorabilia, I found a  note from my mom.  The note was brief, just three sentences, dated March 1, 1992. She had been for a walk that day and discovered pussy willows growing along the river. Her last sentence had me awash in memory and nostalgia. “Thank you,” Mom said, “ for all the pussy willows you ever brought me.”

Willows can be a pain in the landscape (the“weeping” as in “weeping willow” may pertain to the gardener, as well). Their aggressive root systems clog drain fields and plug sewer lines. The trees are messy: they shed branches and leaves everywhere; they perpetuate themselves by throwing sprouts and shoots all around them, even after the tree is cut to the ground; in short, they delight in being invasive. Why, then, you ask, did I plant a pussy willow out back? Well, I just told you, didn’t I.kittens on a stick

And so The Ripple marches on into the New Year…. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dog Tales…

Valley swansA couple months ago I wrote a post about two unwanted canine walking companions (“A Valley Walk…with Plenty Apologies,” 12/7). That post came to mind the other day when I was reading my one-year old grandson the classics. Yes, there’s no doubt about it, the grandson certainly enjoys the classics. This time it was the Dr. Suess favorite“Go, Dog, Go,” a story that’s long on rhyme, meter and wholesome childish silliness but short on plot (and for a classic, extremely brief, I might add). A story turns around its title, and I’m just sorry I didn’t think of “Go, Dog, Go” for the title of that December seventh post. What follows, I guess, is an epilogue of my experience walking the Valley with dogs.

I’m afoot this gloomy morning, striding along toward Swiss Hall. A black pickup truck rolls toward me. A passenger side headlight is out, and that tells me the driver is Hank Van Ness. Usually I have to look up to see Hank, as most often he’s grinding by me in the big yellow bucket loader (“My other car is a front end loader”). A friendly wave is the usually the only exchange between us; Hank spends more time, I’m sure, in that rig than his pickup. I prepare for another wave, but this time the pickup slows. Usually the slowing signals the presence of another vehicle behind me, the oncoming one backs off to honor the pedestrian’s right-of-way (steam yields to sail, you know). However this time the truck stops alongside me, the window slides down, and sure enough it’s Hank Van Ness behind the wheel.

At my age most folks I see around and about remind me of somebody I know, knew, or am familiar with. Hank Van Ness is no exception. His soft spoken nature and looks put me in mind of a favorite actor of mine, the late Richard Farnsworth. Both have well trimmed mustaches and a gentle, calming way of speaking that immediately puts the listener at ease. I’m not saying Hank and Farnsworth are exact  doubles for each other…whenever I see him, there is just something about Hank that reminds me of Farnsworth. I wonder if he’s ever considered the movies.

“How far are you walking today?” Hank asks. Strange question, I think. Now when I’m afoot, my turnaround point is Sargent Road and that’s what I tell Hank. “Just wondering,” Hank smiles, “I thought if you walked the Loop, my dog just might tag along.” “Wouldn’t be the first time,” I inform him. Hank smiles, and to my surprise nods knowingly. I launch into my dog tale about my walk with Frohning’s black dog and Hank’s shepherd mix, how the three of us slowed traffic on the Tuaclo Loop as if we were a flock of sheep thronging the road. Hank, much the same as a parent concerned about his child’s behavior in school, wanted to know if his dog was sashaying back and forth across the road, too. “I have her pretty well trained. Whenever I say ‘car,’ she moves immediately to the shoulder.” How was I to know that? Besides, I was too busy apologizing to the stalled drivers (“They’re not my dogs!”). I seem to recall it was “Blackie” that was tacking back and forth across the road, not Hank’s, and tell him so.  I can tell he’s relieved to hear this. (We all want to think good thoughts about our pets, don’t we?)Valley snow drops

We begin to swap dog tales. I tell Hank about Broers’ pup I had as a walking companion a few years back, how I finally had to use some harsh words and chuck a missile or two its way to discourage my company from following me all the way to 203.

That led me to share another dog tale with Hank from a midwinter’s night some years ago. In the early morning hours I awoke to the sound of feet drumming the frozen ground outside our bedroom and heavy panting as the animals loped by. I heard them a second time, excited, apparently in pursuit of something. I jumped out of bed and rushed to the rear of the house. The motion light above the backyard deck had been activated, and in its glow I saw two large golden retrievers, tongues nearly dragging the ground, panting on the lawn just off the deck. They startled and ran when I opened the door and shouted. Thinking I had nipped their hijinks in the bud, I went back to bed.

The next morning I noticed the center boards of the deck had been splintered apart. The two canine vandals had attempted to dig through the decking to get at whatever it was, a terrified rabbit, most likely, that had sought refuge beneath the boards. The carnage did not end there either. When I went out to the woodshed later, I noticed the outer tier of stacked wood had collapsed and spilled out onto the ground. The pair, in trying to dislodge their prey from the cordwood, had dug under the outer tier, undermined it, toppling half the stack.

I gave Hank a description of the culprits. One had a yellow cattle tag on its collar, the other, almost its twin, was collarless. I would often see the tagged retriever wandering about when I was out in the Valley and knew it belonged to the Frohning family. The other I wasn’t sure about. “That would be Wilson,” Hank chuckled, “Andy and Gloria’s dog.” More interesting information followed, including the origin of the dog’s name (“Wilson” after the basketball friend of Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away”) and a strange tale of a dognapping. All I know is because of those two midnight marauders, I had to replace the splintered decking with two new treated 2’ x 4’s.

A blog I follow posted the other day that the domesticated dog (Canis lupus familiaris, I was informed) requires but a slight amount of animal protein in its diet and whereas its wild canine relatives need a diet high in animal protein, man’s best friend can fare quite well on a diet of carbohydrates (grains and such). I commented on the post and in a reply comment the author stated further that over time most of the pack instincts have been bred out of our modern day canine pets. That may be so, but it’s my experience dogs with no fence between them and mischief are certain to find it: one dog’s a pet, two or more dogs on the loose is a pack. Hank and I agree that more than one dog given free rein can wreak some serious havoc in the neighborhood—especially if there are chicken yards about.

It’s always good to talk with the Valley neighbors and I welcome the chance to catch up on the local flatland news. Hank and I must have swapped dog tales for a good twenty minutes. My apologies to all the traffic that had to slow, stop, and ease by us in the oncoming lane.

And the strange question that began our conversation? It turns out Andy Werkhoven had read my dog walking post about the exasperating experience and shared the post with Hank. That’s why you’re reading The Ripple’s latest…a classic case of the news creating the news.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Biology and Biography of a Seed…

Seed catalogs              “…like a wet wild seed in the hot blind earth.”

       As I Lay Dying

            William Faulkner

When you think about it, a seed catalog is a metaphor for the products it advertises: you plant one tiny speck of seed, and depending on what you sow, you harvest many times over that microgram capital outlay. When you order one packet of seed from the glossy pages of a solitary catalog, next season you’ll need a wheelbarrow to haul your harvest of seed catalogs home from the mailbox. Not that I mind…I just think it’s curious how many businesses across the country know I have a vegetable garden out back and are so eager to help me plant it.

There are the staunch old standbys: Burpees, Gurney’s, Territorial Seed and RH. Shumway’s newspaper-sized catalog, newspaper print format, with the staid patriarch Shumway the First glaring at you from the cover, looking as if he just stepped right from between the pages of the Old Testament. (Imagine trailing a beard like Shumway’s down a furrow!) “…like seeing an old friend suddenly show up at your door,” according to one Shumway fan. Specialty catalogs, too: greenhouses, gardening supplies, nursery stock…one that emphasizes “the kitchen garden.” One of my favorite specialty catalogs is “Totally Tomatoes,” (well, not totally tomatoes… a few peppers, cucumbers, and greens insinuate their way into the 289 tomato varieties the catalog offers. (A few years ago among  the packets I ordered from TT was one pristine envelope, sealed and in mint condition but without a single seed within. I wrote a note, returned the empty packet, and they sent me another, this one containing seed, no questions asked.)

This year as I thumbed through the stack of catalogs, I decided to sticky-note those pages that featured a vegetable variety I might like to try in this year’s garden. I figured that would preclude having to thumb through the stack again come ordering time. One catalog had a motto that caught my attention. “Saving the Past for the Future,” is  the mission statement of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE). This company focuses on “heirloom” seeds and plants. SESE defines “heirloom” as a pre-nineteen forties variety, the seed from which has been passed from one generation to the next. Hybrid seed came on the market after the ‘40s, the company states. SESE is also building its own seed bank and encourages seed savers to contribute their favorites. Those who do, receive gift certificates which can be used to purchase products from their catalog.SESE

I was most impressed with SESE’s emphasis on saving seed gathered through the “open pollination” process. Whereas “closed pollination” produces hybrids by hand or the mechanical manipulation of pollen, resulting, therefore, in an artificial, man-made organism. “Open pollination”occurs through the whims of nature: wind, birds, insects… natural dissemination of pollen. SESE maintains open pollination promotes bio-diversity in the plant world. “Closed pollination,” on the other hand, can lead to “inbreeding depression,” which causes diversity to stagnate or wane. Natural hybridization produces random, surprising mutations, the seeds from which are saved and successive generations (F2, F3, F4) are different from their parents. To insure their plants are pollinated “openly,” SESE isolates their seed crops from pollen sources that may be genetically altered. These distances may require four times those used for controlled open pollination seed plots.

All seed from SESE is non-treated. Varieties are labeled “OG” for certified organic (“We will not knowingly offer seed of genetically modified varieties,” they declare.) and “E” for “ecologically grown.” An hourglass icon represents “heirloom”varieties.

[Note: SESE and seventy-five other plaintiffs have challenged the Montsanto Company for its work with GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and maintains: “The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms poses great biological risks, as well as economic, political and cultural threats.” Just what those “threats” might be, SESE never does say. The lawsuit  further seeks to address the plaintiffs’ right to save seed without fear they will be sued for patent infringement should Montsanto’s transgenic seed contaminate their crops. Plaintiffs also maintain Montsanto’s GMOs are not useful to society and therefore their patents are invalid. These days the GMO issue is in hot debate. During the current legislative session, the Washington State legislature has proposed legislation (“Label it WA,” I-522) requiring all GMO products to be labeled as such. Ed Hume (Ed “Humus” as he’s known in our household), our own local seed purveyor stated on the radio the other day that the term “GMO” is an unfortunate one. His point: any hybrid including those arising from open pollination has been genetically modified. Thus considered, we are all hybrids then, aren’t we? Hume suggested genetically “engineered” would be a more apt term for an organism created by mechanical manipulation. Just a little “organic” food for thought.]

SESE builds its inventory from seed exchanges with gardeners and growers  in the Mid-Atlantic states and while germination rates and maturity dates target that region, the catalog states many of their offerings do well in the Pacific Northwest. The company especially welcomes the seed from gardeners who have carefully saved varieties over the generations. They encourage exchangers to include stories—seed biographies—of the seeds they contribute and include these brief bios in their catalog. These little seed histories I found quite fascinating and some of the more interesting ones follow:

“Turkey Craw” (Heirloom OG snap bean from VA, NC, and TN). “According to folklore a hunter shot a turkey and removed a bean from its craw; the bean was later planted and saved, hence the name ‘Turkey Craw.’”

“Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad” (Heirloom and E tomato ) “Heirloom carried through the Underground Railroad by an unnamed black man as he crossed to freedom in Ripley, OH, from KY. Seeds were passed on to Aunt Lou, who passed them to her great nephew, and eventually on to heirloom tomato enthusiast Gary Millwood.”

“Paul Robeson” (Heirloom E Russian heirloom.) Original seed sent to SESE by Marina Danilenko, a Moscow seedwoman. Named after Paul Robeson, performer of ‘Old Man River,’ and operatic vocal artist who was an advocate of equal rights for Blacks. His artistry was appreciated worldwide, especially in the Soviet Union, and hence this tomato bearing his name.”

“Earl of Edgecombe” (Heirloom E)  New Zealand heirloom. “When the 6th Earl of Edgecombe died in the 1960’s, the heir to the title was a sheep farmer in New Zealand. When he traveled to England to claim the title, he brought this tomato with him. Our seed source was Dr. Carolyn Male who found it the best of her 1996 tomato trials.”

I’ve saved my favorite for last:

“Mortgage Lifter, Radiator Charlie’s” (Heirloom OG) ‘The following history is based on portions of our 1985 taped interview with M.C. Byles who developed this tomato in the early 1930’s while in Logan, WV. Mr. Byles is affectionately known as ‘Radiator Charlie.’ He earned that nickname from the radiator-repair business he opened at the foot of a steep hill on which trucks would often overheat. Radiator Charlie had no plant breeding experience, yet he created this legendary tomato by cross-breeding four of the largest-fruited tomatoes he could find: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety and an English variety. One of the four varieties was planted in the middle of a circle. Then using a baby’s ear syringe, he cross-pollinated the center plant with pollen from the circle of tomatoes. Next year he selected the best seedlings: he planted the best seedling in the center and the rest in a circle around it. The pollination and selection process was repeated six more years until he had a stable variety. After Charlie developed and named this large tasty tomato, he sold plants for $1 each (in the 1940’s) and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house in six years. Each spring, gardeners drove as far as 200 miles to buy Charlie’s seedling tomatoes.’”If Old Radiator were around today, his tomato discovery might very well have fended off a short sale!

As far as free literature goes, a gardener couldn’t find better reading material than SESE’s seed catalog. Not only can one learn about seed history, but also other interesting facts. (Did you know wormwood, Artemisia, repels cabbage butterflies? Or woad, Isatis tinctoria, whose leaves produce a natural blue dye, has been used as a dye plant for over 2,000 years? How about the fact that birdhouse gourds may very well have saved the Purple Martin from extinction? And that Washington State is represented by two varieties of garlic? Inchelium Red from the Colville Indian Reservation, Inchelium, WA. and Nootka Rose from Nootka Rose Farm, WA? Troubled with migraines? Chew two or three leaves of Feverfew, Chrysanthemum parthenium, daily over a period of time and your migraines will be less frequent, less severe. Sorry…if you’re pregnant, however, you need to stick with pickles.)

If you want to plant heirloom broom corn (Hungarian Black Seeded) or heirloom cotton (Arkansas Green Lint), are looking for a good heirloom parsnip (Hollow Crown) or Egyptian Walking Onions (heirloom? You bet…guaranteed so), SESE’s is the the catalog for you. Choose from a small library of books (Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times looks intriguing…you never know…), or help the less fortunate folks by looking into SESE’s “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program. Check out SESE’s website www.gardens@SouthernExposure. Order a catalog. It’s free and if you place an order, who knows, you may just reap a bounty of seed catalogs next year.Seed catalog SESE

Open pollination; it actually works, you know. Just ask my pioneer friend Dorothy Lewis (Dorothy’s an heirloom herself, turns ninety-seven next month). She’s a devout seed saver, Dorothy is, boasts she hasn’t bought a packet of seed in years. Last season she planted some muskmelon seeds she saved (“mushmelons,” she calls them). At the end of the summer I gave her a call, asked her how the muskmelon crop turned out. A bit of silence. Then laughter. “They came up squash.” Not quite enough isolation space would be my guess.