The Doctor is IN

Keen Observations on Life … Whether You Need Them or Not


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Summer traditions: Calabash!

Last summer, fried cauliflower and zucchini fritters were the thing. This summer, we decided the big deal was getting fresh fish from our local monger at the Thursday farmers market and frying it up … Calabash-style. And it is SO good. Some weeks we have both moms, some weeks just one. This week, we had Rah-Rah, shrimp and grouper. Then we took watermelon rinds out to my chickens and grabbed some goodies from the garden. It was a great day.


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A Southerner’s View on Desert Flowers

It’s a given fact that gardening is in my blood. It seems to have skipped a generation, mainlining straight to me through my granddaddy, who everyone knew as “Teddy.” He was a farmer, and even when he had to move to the city (Norfolk, VA) from the family homestead (near Grifton, NC) because the farm wouldn’t support his brothers and their families, he maintained a small patch of garden in the backyard. My mother, on the other hand, hated the farm and gardening. Word is that when she was two or three, they’d stand her at the end of a long row and she’d stand there and cry until somebody came to get her.

I think she’s crazy, but then again, I love gardening. I love to be outside in the sun, with my hands in the soil, connecting with nature and appreciating what the good Lord gave us. Our garden is too shady for vegetables, so we focus on an abundance of flora to our heart’s delight.

Who knew the Arizona desert landscape would offer as many delightful flowers as we came across, a fact I now know firsthand after our family vacation last week. Life, it seems, finds a way. I hope you’ll enjoy the slideshow of desert flora, collected from our five days of difficult to medium hikes.

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Our travels took us to Sedona, which we used as a hub for small day hikes and trips. We ventured to the Grand Canyon; hiked for miles through the difficult trails of Broken Arrow Canyon; entered nirvana in Boynton Canyon–where there were a handful of different ecosystems depending on which way you turned appreciated the red rocks at Red Rock State Park; and tickled our toes in the West Fork trail at Oak Creek Canyon. We experienced Chimney Rock, Sugar Loaf, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, Snoopy Rock, Cathedral Rock, Capitol Butte, Coffee Pot Rock … first hand, up close, and smeared our hands in the iron ore-rich soil that makes the mountains in Sedona red. We visited the Tuzigoot National Monument, possibly one of the oldest ruins sites in the United States. We visited three vortex sites, chatted a nonstop blue streak with our fourteen year old son, breathed the clean mountain air (that does wonders for asthma), and realized that the world is so much larger than the three of us.

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which, so far as I know, is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to do one thing in connection with it in your own interest and in the interest of the country – to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.

I was delighted to learn of the wisdom of the Santa Fe railroad people in deciding not to build their hotel on the brink of the canyon. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel, or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon.

Leave it as it is. You can not improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see.

We have gotten past the stage, my fellow-citizens, when we are to be pardoned if we treat any part of our country as something to be skinned for two or three years for the use of the present generation, whether it is the forest, the water, the scenery. Whatever it is, handle it so that your children’s children will get the benefit of it.”

– President Roosevelt made this speech at the
Grand Canyon, Arizona, on May 6, 1903.


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Hello Zoysia!

Finally, after 15 years in our house and six major roto-tilling grass re-do’s, my soul mate finally took the plunge and went for Zoysia. No more northernly, broad-bladed, water-sucking Fescue for us, no sir.

When it was all said and done, our Zoysia sod project was relatively simple–but extremely labor-intensive. We saved nearly $1,000 by prepping the soil and laying the sod ourselves, and we certainly have a tremendous sense of satisfaction. But I’m not going to lie to you: we were whipped when we were done.

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Step 1: Use a good roto-tiller to break up the soil. You need to go down at least six inches to get a really churn. (The mister did this in two installments; the first till was one Saturday, the second was the following Saturday.)

Step 2: Rake the soil to get rid of any stones or debris (pieces of bark or underlying construction leftovers, like we found), and to make the ground level.

Step 3: Spread a layer of fertilizer over the soil, then wet it down lightly so it stays in place. You don’t want a muddy bog.

Step 4: Lay the sod. This works best as a three-person gig. One person should unroll the sod; one person should stitch together the pieces (as each new piece of sod is laid, lift the edges so they fall together in a touching seam, not lapped on top of one another); and one person should have a tamper and water hose. (It took us about eight hours total, over the course of the third weekend.)

HINT: Keep the soil very wet while you work, and walk the edge seams to help seal them. Don’t water ahead of the sod, though, because a muddy bog is hard to work in, and unruly footprints mess up your even ground.


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There’s a Brain Bug in My Garden

Did you ever see Starship Troopers … you know, the great sci-fi futuristic military movie where humans do battle with giant bugs? Well they’ve got this giant “Brain Bug” that sucks the brains out of captive soldiers to glean knowledge straight from the source, so to speak. And I think it’s in my garden.

What’s worse, if it’s not a futuristic Brain Bug, then that means it’s a deer bold enough to walk up to the front of our house and take a bite out of ripe tomatoes while we’re sleeping. And one with the impeccable timing of an assassin–after all, why eat the bitter green tomatoes when you can wait a couple of days for them to turn red and sweet and ripe. That totally gives me the willies, knowing something’s that close to the house without us even suspecting it. Sometimes nature sucks.

Normally the dog goes bananas if anyone comes up on the porch, and the cat growls a terrifying sound low in her throat, vibrating her little three-pound body with pure menace. But these stealth deer (or maybe raccoons or squirrels) always manage to make a clean break. Maybe it’s Sasquatch?

Little bastards. The squirrels wait for my pots of pink Impatiens to overflow with abundant blooms easily visible from great distances in the neighborhood, and that are most likely the envy of all who pass by (as a Southerner I can exaggerate as much as I want) … then they sweep in at night and chow down like it’s a salad bar buffet.

Probably we’d get rabies or mad cow disease, or something equally appalling like zombie-osis, if we tried to salvage the otherwise perfect backside of the tomato. I’m not willing to chance it. But, then again, there’s always the mister …


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A Sense of Community

I’m excited to discover several families in my neighborhood who are interested in pooling together to develop a community garden. Ours is what you called a “mixed-use community,” which basically means there are traditional houses, bungalows and townhouses within shouting distance. It’s nice because there’s a myriad of folks here: single, married, LGBT, retired, just starting out, kids, no kids; you get the picture.

My first research into community gardens came while I was the daily gardening blogger for WRAL.com. During the summer of 2007, I visited a community garden or farmers market across the Piedmont Region once a week–it was a lot of fun and I learned so much about sustainable gardening, and the WIC program. It was a great series. One community garden, in particular, that has always stayed at the forefront of my mind is the SEEDS Garden in downtown Durham, NC.

So as a small group of us begin to brainstorm how to move forward with lobbying the Developer and the Town for access to the plot of land (which is overgrown and forgotten), here are points that seem relevant:

  • Can the community garden be under the supervision of the community gardeners, or do we need to try to purchase it (or would the Developer donate it as a tax write-off)?
  • Can anyone come into the garden to harvest, or is it just the families who participate in its tending?
  • Does it need a fence?
  • Do the families in closest geographical proximity provide water and community garden members split the bill to offset the costs (that is, if we amend rain by watering)?
  • Do we need to start a separate bank account for the community garden and have a “treasurer,” or would we be better off seeing if any local stores would offer small grants?
  • Do you think the NCSU Agricultural Extension Office would be a good resource for our flora?

Here are a couple of links I found in a quickie 3-minute search on the Google machine:

Have you ever started a community garden, or do you participate in one … and do you have any advice to share?


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It’s nearly time for mulch

Once the days start getting longer and the weather gets warmer, my gardening craving sets in. I discovered years ago that the best way to be a financially responsible gardener and steward of Mother Nature was to make a gardening plan. Purchasing and planting willy-nilly is the sure road to financial ruin, dead post-drought plants, and marital strife. So by mid-May, my landscaping synapses are firing.

I have my garden beds sketched out and notes on which annuals or perennials I want to add; I know which vegetables we’re going to include in our mini-Victory Garden; and I know that every other year we’re going to mulch. I force myself to stick to the plan, even when we’re out and about and plants and ideas jump into my arms. I ruthlessly put them down.

In 2007 I met Gerald Adams, grounds supervisor for the NC Governor’s Executive Mansion (and gardener extraordinaire). He was a wealth of knowledge, but some of the best advice he gave me was to plan on mulching in June. It gives spring bulbs and perennials the opportunity to emerge, and seals in the moisture from April and May showers for the hot summer months.

I like to use a shredded hardwood mulch, with a little bit of hardwood chips mixed in. The shredded mulch sort of locks together to reduce erosion and washing away, and the hardwood is natural looking and woodsy. I know the red-dyed mulch is popular because it retains its color for so long, but I think it’s awful and fake-looking.

But whatever your selection, the next four weeks is a great time to mulch. For help in choosing which mulch best suits your needs and your tastes, check out this article, Using Mulch in Your Garden.

Happy gardening!


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Pollen is A Predator

Pollen is a predator, and there’s nowhere you can hide. The rain we had in central North Carolina two nights ago was a blessing for the drought we’re likely heading into, but a curse because it released whatever puckered cells were holding in the pollen. It’s loose, and it’s coming for you.

What is pollen? Where can it find it? Can you avoid it? How can you deal with it? Check the Gardening Gloves archives for a little more information.


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enjoy your garden indoors, too

I’m a huge proponent of expanding and enjoying your garden, no matter where you are. In the fall, just before the first freeze, I clip Impatiens to bring in and put in water, in clear glass vases. In a sunny window, they will take root and grow all winter. And in the spring, I love to fill our house with fresh flower and greenery clippings. It certainly cuts down on extra costs, and gives us the opportunity to showcase a little Mother Nature.

On my dining room table right now, we’ve got a dozen roses, a small planter of bamboo, a camelia from my front garden, and some shamrocks. The roses, which in general aren’t really my first choice, were to celebrate my son’s birthday (though I’m a sucker for the pale pink variety). The bamboo’s there because my son loves its possibility of bringing luck, the camelia variety is my favorite in the garden, and the shamrocks don’t like the cold weather.

Q: Where do you keep fresh flowers and house plants?

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Read the Gardening Gloves archives, on WRAL.com.