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Ann Garden Winter 2013Egads. How can it possibly be February 18th already? Here I was (in my last garden blog post anyway) saying goodbye to 2013 and now we're almost two months into 2013. The start of the year has been good -- including as it has a trip to Oahu and Maui (see posts on Oahu's KCC Farmers Market, Fresco's Bruschetta and Lumeria Maui, with more to come).

It's also been good in the garden. As you can see from this photo, it's the greens that are the star of the winter season this year. I've got various lettuces, arugula (a small wild variety and a bigger leaf version), spinach, kale, cilantro and the purple osaka mustard greens (although a number of those were attacked by some unwanted creature and I had to pull them out). Made for a particularly yummy fresh salad for Valentine's Day (nothing says love like greens straight from the garden).

I'm also seeing good growth by the onions and garlic I planted and my roses are still blooming (even though I've been cutting them back) -- and the poinsettia is still a happy camper. Perhaps it's the sight of the poinsettia every time I hit the garden that makes it hard to think we're already into February. Still, as the days get longer and the greens run their course, a gal's mind turns to spring and -- oh yeah -- Tomatomania. Starting on March 8, events will be held throughout California (plus Maryland and Virginia) through May. Personally, I'll be hitting the event at the Tapia Brothers Farm Stand March 22-24. Great start to spring, don't you think?

Poinsettia Christmas 2012Ah, the holidays. As much as I love Christmas (and, as you can see from this photo, the poinsettia in my garden feels the same), I really love the week that follows, when things slow down, to-do lists shorten and it's possible to take a deep breath and just enjoy the little things -- like, for instance, having a cat on your lap while you write a blog post (hint: that's happening RIGHT NOW).

As I reflect upon this year, I keep coming back to an article that appeared in the New York Times on October 24. It was titled "The Island Where People Forget to Die" and introduced us to the Greek island of Ikaria, where people live into their 100s. Some of the findings as to why the people there live so long are not only important in terms of longevity but also in terms of quality of life, which is something I've been pondering a lot this year.

The good thing for gardeners is that the garden is a central part of the Ikarian lifestyle. In fact, their description of a routine day involves waking naturally, working in the garden, having a late lunch and a nap, and then in the evening sharing some wine with friends. Pretty ideal, eh? They also eat local honey every day -- some of them taking a spoonful each morning as if it was medicine.

Mums Oct 2012So it's November 8 and we are finally (and I mean, FINALLY) getting a little rain in Southern California. Just three days ago it was in the 90s, though, so who knows what tomorrow will bring. Still, I'm continuing my work with the fall planting.

As you can see from this photo, the star of the fall garden has been my chrysanthemums -- which started as a small potted plant given as a birthday present four years ago and just take off every fall. I do love it how the flowers in the garden usually seem to take over during those times when I'm rotating crops between seasons (in the spring, it'll be the sweat peas and the lilies). Not only to they bring much-appreciated life and color to the garden during this transition period but they keep the bees particularly happy -- and when the bees are happy, I'm happy. The other happy plant among all the seeded beds is the Tabasco pepper, which has a few dozen white peppers just starting to turn red. And the roses. Always the roses.

For spring, I have just planted sweet peas and some nasturtiums, in addition to the garlic and onions sets. I've also put out seeds for lettuces, mustard, arugula, carrots, beets and radishes, some of which are already starting to sprout. So bring on the rain.

Ann garden Oct 2012When I mentioned that we usually get a heat wave in the fall, I didn't think it would be the whole friggin' month of September. Even now, as October gets under way, record-breaking temperatures are expected for at least the early part of the week here in Southern California. That said, it's still time for the fall garden so I've been spending my time cleaning out the waning summer crops -- tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, even the gigantor zucchini plant (which was still visible in the lower right corner below the about-to-bloom mums when this photo was taken) -- to prepare the beds for fall.

This year, I took extra care to prepare my soil using some of the techniques learned at my gardening workshop at Esalen. After pulling out all the roots and weeds, I tilled the soil, added a layer of compost and some good potting soil on top of that. I started some seeds that I already had on hand -- kale, lettuce greens and more of the Purple Osaka Mustard I grew last year -- in a small patch near the fence at the back of this photo.

With the majority of the beds still waiting, I perused seed catalogs and, so far, have sent away for spinach and arugula (two kinds) seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and onion and garlic sets from Landreth Seeds. That -- plus the usual carrots and radishes -- should give me a good start. We'll see what comes next. The fun thing about having a clean slate is the idea that anything is possible. Could there be beets in my future?

EsalenBetween the return of the marine layer and the sight of Halloween candy in the supermarket, the first inkling of fall was in the air last night. Here in Southern California, it's a bit of a false inkling as we almost always have a heat wave in the fall. But in the community garden, with the big stars of the summer -- the tomatoes, the cucumbers and the zucchini (yes, the zucchini is still producing; at last count I had harvested 32 from that one little seedling) -- starting to wane, it does feel like time to start thinking about the transition to fall.

I feel like I'm coming at my garden from a new place as the seasons change. One thing that helped immeasurably was my attendance at an organic gardening workshop at Esalen the first week of August. One of the big takeaways was the realization of how much I had needed the disconnect that came from spending five days in a gorgeous setting ( photos above and below) away from the technology that has a tendency to overwhelm my daily life (cell phones don't work at Esalen and the wireless in the lodge is turned off at meal time). I mentioned this at one point and one of my fellow participants -- a lovely woman who has a farm outside Bogota, Colombia -- asked if I thought I would be able to keep the technology from overwhelming me again when I returned home.

EsalenThe answer was -- and is -- that I'm going to try. And my garden is a big part of that. Before I left on the trip, my garden had become one of the many entries on my to-do list and I would run by for 15 or 20 minutes to water, harvest and do any necessary trimming before rushing off to do something else. Since the workshop, I've been getting up early at least twice a week so that I can go and spend a good quality hour in the garden, a good hour of quiet time away from technology when I can just BE in the garden. After just a few weeks of this ritual, I can already feel a change in both my garden and myself.

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