Corner seed sprouting boxes

Yes, that’s what they are, or at least what they’re intended to be.

I wanted a place where I could start seeds outside away from the incredible weed competition introduced by the natural soil around here. I did not want to use pots, having only had success with them for established plants. I wanted to harvest the best light available in the backyard (south and west) and I wanted to have them well raised above ground level. One back corner of the barn seemed to satisfy the location requirement. I figured I’d create light lean-to posts and notch the planter boxes into them. No doubt there were other design options but these roughly were my choices.

in the barn I used an old 8×8 to emulate the outside corner of the barn. Note that it’s only affixed to that corner right at the top. Low commitment, easy to remove for whatever reason. Cutting the notches was educative. Jigsaw didn’t have a 45 degree capacity. Angle grinder a little (!) imprecise. Ryoba.

Making the boxes was fairly rudimentary, no great artfulness required. Setting them into the notches however revealed 1) how important it is that the notches are at the same height, that the vertical face of the notch is plumb, that the horizontal face is level, and that the notches themselves provide too measly a mechanical advantage to be proud of the outcome.

Witness, therefore, the support brackets, tested for both as level unto to themselves and that a spanning piece (as a box is) also level. When I say level I mean to within one degree. I’ve recently started using a digital level and have been pleased and amused to know that my natural sense of level is within one degree. Close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades they say.

Deploying was easy. Selecting and leveling two granite feet, screwing top of assembly to corner.

And last, of course, to fill with the various rare and exotic seeds whose germination and ultimate magnificence remain undemonstrated. Planted were

The nice flowering vine Thunbergia, these particular seeds from Ukraine. The local supermarket parking lot had an array of them and I was stalking them for seeds but one October morning they’d all been removed, redirecting my quest.

Creeping false holly. Very interesting. It’s a solanaceae so it’s in my realm of fascination. Seems like a wonderberry but supposed to taste more grape-like. I look forward there.

Wonderberry itself, a la Burbank, basically a solanum nigrum on steroids. Berries are bigger though.

Naranjilla, something I’ve only gotten to fruit once after a tenuous indoor overwintering.

Cute little cannibal tomato (uporo), best with long pork.

Porcupine tomato, I’ve had some success with these. Beloved amongst the angry solanaceae sub-tribe as rippling with ferocity. Consider as decorative, treat with respect and they won’t attack.

Another angry sub-tribe member, biker gang name ‘Malevolence’. Consider as decorative.

Tamarillo, aka tree tomato. I’m 0 for 5 with these across the years. Certainly will keep indoors once temps fall, if/assuming they germinate.

Eucalyptus Neglecta. I love these. I usually have success sprouting and they grow fast and strong. Where I’ve failed is trying to get one to overwinter outside in Zone 4/5. Seems that at roughly 10 degrees F they just can’t take it. Gearing up for more creative approaches.

And so there you have it. Will report back on the outcomes. May your summer be as excellent as I hope mine to be.

Tamme-Lauri lives!

And what is this? I was visiting my child in Estonia this past April. They had to work on several of the days and so I scanned about for seeds, shells, rocks, the usual things I gather. I noticed that there was an ancient (not rock-time scale) tree, the Tamme-Lauri oak, some 800 years old, about 2 hours inland from where I was staying in Parnu. To it I drove, very relaxed countryside, and when I arrived there was no one the there, just a field and what you might call an Ent.

Those are storks on the lesser posts.

Very wondrous. How could one not want to gather acorns? I walked around the tree in a reverent and studious manner, searching the ground for same. Nada. April is not the best month to gather acorns. Daunted I was not, however. I queried my inner Druid as to how to proceed. “Eat one of the fallen leaves” came back. Of course. Crisp and crunchy it was. Again I walked around it, more reverently and studiously. A dozen unbroken and unblemished!

As I exited this vision trance a stray man had arrived to behold the tree. His examination was most cursory, he came up, looked at it thoughtfully for a minute or two, and set himself to walk off. Being unable to speak Estonian at all I raised my hand and signaled to him. It seemed such a correct human interaction to wordlessly give him one acorn.

It’s relatively flat country out there, not much rock, some glacial granite. I used a fallen branch of the tree to dig out a small watermelon sized piece of red granite. Also, amazingly, looking around at the few other rocks in the field I found an area where there were empty snail shells. The trifecta of rock, shell, seed.

Back in America I have an indoor garden where I nurture plants that have caught my interest. Acorns planted and –

utterly joyful. Actually there are two that sprouted. Mid-coast Maine is not so climatically different than Estonia but getting an 800 year lease, I have no idea how to do that. All in all this was a signature positive experience. I have trepidation about getting it outside and protecting it for the rest of my lifetime. Such is the nature of caring and trying I guess.

Thunderbird Update

For several years the chainsaw Thunderbird stood as the figurehead of a display garden, a garden mostly of rocks but sometimes of flowers.

Wooden Thunderbirds, however, at least as rocks see things, are notoriously temporal. Fleeting even, the brief buzzing of a mosquito. Even what a rock would consider the tiniest bit of time, a blink, and soon gone it will be.

The rocks voted to establish a semi-autonomous Republic. They elected a piece of petrified wood as their leader. Perhaps this is progress.

There is high excitement and much amazement among the stones. Who would have thought this possible?!

The aging Thunderbird was given a beautiful, quieter spot to complete his return to the Earth.

2021 New Garden

Silver maples are often multi-trunked. They grow rapidly and are given, at some point, to just falling down. This one had six trunks and was quite ill-tended when it became mine to tend.

Getting that diagonally standing trunk to fall properly took a fair amount of contemplation. It fell just as desired, though, landing on the lawn and not over the stone wall.

Eventually I undertook the ‘mighty’ task of digging out the stump. One autumn, as children my siblings and I were once tasked with digging up the stumps of a dozen locust trees. That was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life, of what a person or persons could do, and of what it took to do it. Axes, shovels, ingenuity, each in good measure, and heaps of effort.

Thanks heavens for the chainsaw, is all I can say, not that heaps of effort are still not required, especially for trunks of this size, but as a force multiplier. With just an axe this would have been nigh on too monstrous a task.

Very vexing to the chain, and perplexing to me as to how the circumstance arose, was the rock inside the wood – that’s right, rock inside the wood, below. Live, learn, and buy new chainsaw chains as needed.

As you can see below, even with all the trunks cut away, that’s still about 5 or six feet in diameter of trunk area.

Earnest application, is all I can say, over the course of a few beautiful April days. The soil was so exquisite and the light on it so nice, that’s what made me think ‘garden’.

Full of promise

By May, with rose bushes, tomatoes, Siberian iris, celery

First rose in bloom, iris too. Peppers added

By July, with red yarrow, cosmos, datura. Over-planted, as I tend to do, but fun.

It was very productive. Mostly tomatoes and roses. The celery proved very vigorous too.

Expansion plans abound for the coming year. What a joy.

Bits approximating Haiku

Please do not confuse these with haiku, or art, or anything but what they seem to be. I’ll declare that sometimes the brevity of a 17 syllable expression attracts my muse – I mean, really, if you can’t get it across directly, you probably can’t get it across.

this pen does not write.
it spits at unwanted moments!
Out, into the trash!

The three that follow reach back a ways, yet each reappears in my reflection now and again.

slow thaw, mists thicken
snow mass, quiet puddling
darkness – skunks emerge

How can I share the recurring moment? Spring is in the air but the great piles of snow that the plows have made, they are melting and giving off mists and puddles. Mists rise from them but also, and inevitably, there is a smell, a smell of skunks – and it comes from the fact that at such a time of year skunks also emerge from wherever they have been for the winter. These phenomena as so closely tied. Any magical realist would suspect a causal link, and surely, since skunks emerging cannot have retroactively produced piles of melting snow, it must be, it must essentially be, that melting piles of snow produce skunks. Post hoc ergo propter hoc! Squeal with the delight of insight! Ahegm. Yet still, when I see the mist and my feet are wet in the puddle and I smell the smell, I remember how hard it is to capture and share the truth.

I’ve taken my swings.
Now I behold the diamond,
empty in the sun

This one, desperately imperfect and personal, accepts the passing of my father. To have taken ones swings, in baseball talk, is to have had ones turn, to be done. Baseball was his passion and main metaphor. Being done, one might look at the empty field (a diamond), to reflect. Lo, it is empty. but here my imagination jumps, and I think of the emptiness of which Buddhist speak, emptiness as a feature of Reality which cannot be understood as a concept, nor can it be described in words. I think of being done and trying to understand what it is that has been done. I feel close to beholding a diamond. I am thankful for the warmth of the sun. As a haiku this is probably unintelligible, but at least as a personal reflection, it comes back to me.

As this tree rises
unquestioning to the sun
may I also rise

It’s a deep thing that I notice in trees, how it is that over the years they reach (towards the sun, toward some actualization of possibility, towards destiny), and how they reach at each moment, breathing the air and gathering water and nutrition from the earth, growing, how it is utterly unquestioning, this actualization. Utterly.

Good Morning dear reader. May you as well rise without question.


Bold was he, as I sat at my desk. Right up to my foot he walked, seemingly oblivious. I had to tap my foot to get his attention or I think he would have climbed right onto my slipper. That would have been ok but I thought to spare us any ensuing chaos.

He retreated with no special haste into the foyer. I followed and sat down on the floor to introduce myself. He seemed to have almost no fear.

Towards the end of our conversation, after praising his courage, I informed him that he’d need to get into a box that I would provide, that I would be putting him outside, that in a perfect world I would gladly allow him to make himself at home but that this world was not so constructed. I went to get the box.

When I got back he had hidden under the radiator. I asked him to come out and get in the box. He demurred. Gently with a piece of paper I coaxed him from under the radiator, hoping he’d see the box as safety. Alas. He saw my office as safety, in the corner by the bookcase. Little did he know that he may as well as climbed into the box. I took another piece of paper and made, as it were, a three sided box canyon and then placed the actual box on the fourth side. Then, just as in those movies where the protagonists are caught in a room where one of the walls is slowly moving toward its opposite, so that they will clearly be crushed, I moved the paper wall slowly.

Being a smart mouse he read the situation perfectly and ran into the box. Not as smart as a vole, I daresay, who would have seen that the paper wall was no wall at all, but I was not giving off a very predatory vibe and maybe he was just rolling with it.

I gave him one more talking to, about where he would be going (under the barn), about expectations, about what he should tell his friends and family. I underlined that I had nothing but the strongest positive wishes him and his. This was in April of the year 2020.

Tribulus Terrestris

Here was a surprise visitor.  In a flower pot – never saw one before.  It was fast growing, flowered within two weeks.

Had trouble identifying it until is bore seed, which was also very fast.

Why I’ll be if it ain’t a great horny toad!  Or more like a horned devil seed, reminded be of a water caltrop seed (which I’ve discussed here before), and lo, and behold, they’re cousins – tribulus terrestris it’s called.  Not native to North America but invasive here.

It’s funny how either new things keep appearing, or one is noticing things that may have been there but never previously noticed, or both.  I’ll let the thing finish out the season, put the seeds in my horned devil seed collection, and hope that next year I don’t start seeing more of them.  I do walk around outside with bare feet and those little seeds sure look nasty.  One of the other names for it is puncture vine

September Frogs

Neil Diamond rejected this title.  I had considered “Foss Farm Frogs” because of its alliterative value, and because the frogs indeed were found and Foss Farm, yet also it was September, and a wet one at that, for often September finds frogs chasing the receding shorelines of their habitats, nowhere near, where I was, the edges of a corn field – albeit the edges of a cornfield at Foss Farm which is next to the Concord River.

Makes me wonder if it’s just the light or differing undercover but doesn’t it look as if the frogs have a bit of a chameleon thing going on, that perhaps they emphasized different hues of themselves in different circumstances?  Funny frogs – prove it’s not true, they say.

I was gathering seeds that morning, among them a giant Cleome.

two inches almost in diameter at the base of the stalk, five feet in height, multiple arms, quite the strange alien really, the way it’s seeds pods hang below the flowers like some sort of antennae.  This inclusion of the Cleome is not in any way to suggest it has a logical affinity with frogs.  Nothing more than a coincidental association, that I saw them on the same walk.

All of these pictures are quite high-def and clicking on them should afford satisfying detail.

Tobacco 2

Greetings Dear Readers, earthbound or nay.  This transmission comes to you from the usual place on the usual frequency.  Those transmissions encoded in the shifting shapes of clouds and the specific patterns of raindrops landing I will not take responsibility for, though I will reluctantly acknowledge to contributing, albeit to the most minor of extents, to that grander milieu of phenomena.  Thus are the skids of mysterious incredulity greased.

Today’s post, a trifle long in being made, follows up on last August’s Tobacco 1 post, wherein our hero, Umgurk, having lost his reindeer, and it being dark and cold, sets forth… (wait, that’s not what it’s about).  That prior post detailed a little of the history of tobacco and that I was seeing how it grew.  Following that post came the tale of a strange ark, not a water bound ark, that would carry life forms (plants) across a condition they could not survive (winter) with ample room for roots.  OK, looked at another way it’s just a large wooden flower pot, but strange ark is much more poetic and suggestive to the imagination.

I had put the chosen tobacco plants which otherwise would have died and set them in the strange ark.  All winter long I watered them and throve they mightily.  By the end of March behold –

Tobacco plant

with flowers no less

Tobacco Flower

Not long after these pictures,, the largest of the plants fell under weight of its luxuriant leaves.  This told me it was time to harvest the first batch of those leaves.  The internet is full of accounts of how tobacco leaves are to be dried, subsequently fermented (cured), and thereafter used.  At the end of last summer when I had many tiny (3 or four inch) leaves I had tried to dry a few.  When stuck together they would molder.  Those not moldy were somewhat fragrant.  I tried an experiment – you heard it here first – I had some bluefish (I seek the collective permission of the universe to refer to the bluefish as mackerel here – there are meaningful similarities, a dark fishy-fish, though of course there are differences too) so anyway I had this mackerel (how easy was that?) and a whole bunch of fresh tobacco leaves – what about tobacco smoked mackerel?  How could an avenue as appealing as this have gone unexplored by earthly civilization?  Forty or fifty little leaves later (thrown into the grill underneath the fish), and it did produce a zaftig fragrance, I possessed the prize.  A similar result might have been produced by soaking the fish in water long standing in un-emptied ashtrays … but not really.  I just think that important adjustments might need to be made such as how many leaves, how much fire, tiger mackerel?, under which stars, etc.  The culinary road to heaven crosses many uncontemplated byways.

Trying to be fair to the many forms of goodness available in our universe I did consider the converse, of setting the leaves (misted) on the grill and the mackerel into the fire itself, so that the mackerel smoke could condition the tobacco.  I think that such tobacco would really open olfactory minds.  That idea is filed under “For another time”.

Back to the main theme, then.  I clipped off the biggest dozen leaves from the fallen plant and stood it back up.  I strung the leaves on a wire next to a heating vent in the workshop, hoping that the flow of air would deter mold.

Drying Tobacco 1 Drying Tobacco 2

and as yet (+ ten days) there is no mold.  The leaves continue to feel damp.  It is surprising how much moisture they contain and how strongly they clutch it.

Episode 3 of this series may feature efforts at curing and fermenting (assuming the drying does not fail), further escapades in tobacco-fish synergies, news of subsequent generations (the lead plant, having flowered, has produced many seed pods), or heaven knows.  Until that time may you thrive peacefully, or lean more in that direction, or not find the pain of being unable to thrive to be unspeakably odious, or – just do your best, ok?