A Year and 91 Days: The Life and Times of Avi the Avocado

Two days before Thanksgiving, not last year, but the year before, a sandwich was made and a seed was started. The sandwich was a smashed collaboration of avocado and sauteed kale, ricotta cheese and caramelized onions which turned out great and became a repeat recipe for awhile, but the real star of the show was the seed. On that day, November 22nd, 2016 a little life began.

Reminiscent of elementary school science classes, the avocado pit (actually called a berry) from the sandwich-making endeavor got cleaned up and pierced with toothpicks. Resting on the rim of a glass while partially submerged in water, it sat there half-hovering for days and then weeks and then months.  Absolutely nothing happened.  The holiday season came and went. We celebrated New Year’s and middle month birthdays and our first snow in the ending week of January.  But in the land of the avocado, nothing was changing except regular refills of water in the glass. It was such uneventful gardening I didn’t even take photographs.

Heading into the first week of February (week 9), I thought perhaps my avocado seed was a dud and was ready to abandon the project altogether. But magically, almost as if the little seed had read my thoughts, a crack in the pit opened up one morning. Something was happening, at long last! Days later a tap root started reaching out like a diver heading towards the bottom of the sea. And then things really escalated. Every day, it grew longer and longer until little root tentacles started filling the bottom of the glass.  Satisfied with itself, it turned its attention skyward and from the center of the pit, a long slender green shoot started reaching for the stars.

Drinking about a 1/4 cup of water a day, it grew almost a 1/2″ inch every morning. When it passed 12 inches” in height and grew its first set of leaves, I named this little guy growing with such gusto, Avi, and welcomed him into the family. For most of the Spring, Avi enjoyed his glass of water while taking in the river view from his perch in the window.

As the days grew longer and the temperatures warmed, I introduced to him to the outdoors for a little bit each day. When the hot, humid temperatures of summer in the South took over, he was transferred to a new garden pot filled with potting soil and joined the summer flowers on the balcony. You might remember seeing him from last summer’s post about how to make a mini-compost bin.

There’s Avi on the bottom right corner behind the nasturtiums!

In the lazy summer sun, Avi grew and grew and grew. Towering over the other plants, he looked like a king ruling over his court.

All summer he played a long-standing game with the nasturtiums to see who could climb the furthest.

Avi was the winner! When the seasons changed and the cool rains of Autumn scattered leaves on the balcony garden, Avi welcomed the wet weather.

But when we moved in mid-Fall trouble began. His first few nights went okay. He and Indie liked to watch the city lights come on from his new spot on the new balcony…

but during the day, when the sun was warm and bright, and the birds were floating overhead, Avi started doing peculiar things. Instead of carrying on with his growth spurt, he got limpy and lethargic. A week into his new surroundings, he developed brown spots and then white spots and then crinkly skin. Thinking he was not getting enough water, I doubled up. But soon after, he looked more like a loose umbrella than a young tree. His leaves turned from a colorful shade of lime to a dull blackish green. Tragedy was looming, we both knew it. A week before his first birthday I feared Avi might be on his last legs.

Signals from a troubling time of growing pains.

I brought him inside for a few days, consulted the internet and determined that he either had too much salt built up in his roots, ( a common side-effect of using regular tap water for daily watering) or he was getting too much sun on the new patio. I rinsed his roots in distilled water and gave him a new home in a bigger pot with fresh potting soil. Then he got a new vantage point – a sunny windowsill on top of a low bookshelf.

Avi’s second perch nestled in with pig and pineapple and Hedy Hatstand.

But for two weeks he still looked terrible. So he moved again, this time to a bright corner between two big windows – a spot that gets no direct sunlight but reflects light because of the white wall paint. It also happens to be right next to the kitchen, where I could keep a close eye on him.  To my happiness, Avi flourished once again!  Day by day, his leaves moved higher and higher until they went from vertical back to horizontal. And he started growing again.

Now he’s taller than dear Hudson and happy as a clam. As it turns out, all Avi ever wanted was to be close to the kitchen and out of the sun. Who can blame him?

Back to pretty green leaves and a happy disposition once again!

Today he measures 3′ feet 2″  inches tall and he’s just achieved his longest set of leaves at 12.5″ inches in length. Some gardening experts say that Avi will never produce avocados to eat, but that doesn’t matter, I like him just for the handsome plant that he is. And it’s fun to watch him grow. I hope to see him reach a height of 8-9 feet (maybe taller!), a little indoor arboretum in the making.

If you’d like to grow your own Avi, it’s really simple. Find step by step instructions here. You just need an extra dose of patience in the beginning until the berry cracks open and growing gets underway. Other than regular watering every couple days and eventual transplanting as it grows, avocado plants are easy to care for. Many garden sites say that avocados LOVE sun, but as we learned with Avi’s growing pains, too much sun is indeed, too much, so watch closely as your plant’s personality develops and see what he or she likes best.

On November 22nd, when Avi celebrates his second birthday, we’ll check back in to see how much he has grown in the nine months between now and then.  Maybe he’ll be up to the ceiling!

In the meantime, cheers to Avi and his ability to weather the rigors of adolescence. And cheers to indoor gardening – an activity that’s in-season all year round!

The Pineapple, The Sea Captain and How A Legend Began…

Sailors are known for their stories. You’d be hard-pressed to go to any ocean-enthusiasts house and not hear a tale of the extraordinary fish caught, or the summer storm turned sour or the port city that lured like a siren song.  But did you ever hear the story about the pineapple? The one that tells how it became one of the most iconic symbols in the world? Today in the Vintage Kitchen, we’ve got a legend on the table.

There are a few versions surrounding the pineapple and how it became known as the universal symbol of hospitality. Some stories claim it was a gift of peace offered to foreign explorers by local Caribbean tribes.  Other stories state it was a sought-after souvenir traded around South America until it eventually was welcomed in Europe for experimental gardening. Another explains that it was a status symbol of the very rich and the very royal who used it as a party decoration to signify the extent of their wealth, visually reinforcing the fact that they could indeed offer the best of everything to their guests, no matter what the cost. But our favorite version in the Vintage Kitchen, of how the pineapple came to be a hospitality icon, is the one that dates to the 1700’s in the time of the sea captains.

That legend states that merchant trading ships like this…

A Chesapeake Bay style sloop was a common merchant ship traveling between the West Indies and the Eastern Atlantic coast.

carried cargo (mainly sugar, tobacco, rum, and molasses) back from the Caribbean islands to various ports in New England. Included in their bounty was the exotic tropical pineapple, a fruit so unusual in its beauty, so incredible in its sweetness and so valuable in its price, it was treated delicately just like its most precious counterpart, sugar.

When the ship was back in port and safely unpacked, the captain would return home to his New England house with a pineapple in hand.  He would spear this fruit on the front garden gate to signify to friends and neighbors that he had returned from his ocean voyage and was ready to entertain visitors with good stories and good food.

The centuries-old houses of Kennebunkport, Maine where many a sea captain lived.

With just the right amount of whimsy and practicality, it is not hard to see how such a story and such an action could have spread throughout the village, and then the state, and then the coastline, so that within time, hundreds of garden gates across many states were bearing pineapples – a symbol of friendly invitation, warm welcome and kind generosity.

Pineapple gates in Odessa, DE

No one yet has accurately been able to authenticate the first-time connection between pineapples and hospitality, but this sea captain story may help explain why you’ll find pineapples incorporated into outdoor architectural details all over the East Coast from Maine to Florida.

Appearing in gardens both ancient and new…

Permanent pineapples in the garden.

…history tells of America’s long-standing love affair with this hospitable fruit.  You’ll see it on the front doors of old houses like this one…

The historic Hunter House in Newport, Rhode Island built in 1748.

 

There’s the pineapple above the door, welcoming all who enter.

and this one…

Virginia’s Shirley Plantation, completed in 1738, which boasts a three-foot tall pineapple in the middle of the roofline…

and in the decorative details of brand new, modern days houses…

Pineapple themed door knockers, welcome signs, doorbells, and house number plaques announce an age-old symbol on brand-new exteriors.

You’ll also find them indoors…

Most often as finials front entry staircases…

blending classic and traditional elements from past centuries to the present century…

Pineapples in all modern ways useful… ice bucket, lamp,bookends, flower vase.

Last week we added a new vintage pineapple to the shop…

This one was neither a finial nor an exterior facade detail but instead at one point in its life had adorned the top of a fountain.  The fountain wasn’t as big as Charleston’s famous Waterfront Park pineapple…

Waterfront Park, Charleston SC

but she is an ideal size for many design possibilities including lighting, decoration, and display.  And she carries forth the sea captain’s theme of good stories and good food in a most beautiful way.

Even though we might never be able to uncover where and how the pineapple became involved with the convivial idea of good hospitality, we still love the idea of one fruit bringing together three centuries worth of parties and people. Critics would say that the sea captain story is flawed because pineapples were expensive and traders wouldn’t put a small fortune out in plain view for anyone to steal. But hospitality is about extending and offering, not squandering and hiding, so clearly, the argument could go either way.

If you a were a sailor in the 1700’s, at sea for long stretches of time, with life and death equally close at hand, perhaps you needed a little frivolity upon returning home to family and friends and the pineapple provided just that. A simple yet beautiful billboard. One that symbolized rich with life lived instead of rich with monetary wealth.

Cheers to the legends that stick around and to the fruits that travel through time!

Channel your own inner sea captain and set the stage for your next nights of entertainment. Find the vintage fountain topper pineapple piece in the shop here!

 

 

Compost! An Update on the Mini Bin for the Mini Balcony

Mini Compost Bin

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Can you guess where my most unlikely place of  magical secrets was found this week?  In the dirt at the bottom of a plastic bin!

Lady Nature continues to impress and inspire. It’s been 28 days since the birth of the mini compost container and I’m happy to report that a tiny miracle has occurred. When I last wrote of this project it was the beginning… two bowls of kitchen scraps, two bowls of yard materials and one leftover 3lb. plastic container.

A few shakes, 1/4 cup of water and four weeks later we now have compost…

Well… almost! Since it has been up and down spring weather this past month with lots of rain and cooler temperatures, our compost needs maybe about another week or two of good hot sunny weather to fully break down and then it will be ready to feed the potted plants on the patio. Right now my compost looks like this…dark, moist but still a little chunky…

You’ll know when your compost is ready because you won’t be able to identify the original elements in the mixture. I can still see a little bit of egg shells and sticks in my mix, so there is still a some cooking left to be done.

If you remember from the previous post, I cut down all the elements that originally went into the compost in fairly small pieces, which helps break things down faster. I did leave some of the sticks in bigger chunks however for a little aeration but I think in my next batch they’ll get broken up into tiny pieces too.  The smaller the better in this case!

You can see the size difference in the bulk of the contents from Day 1 to Day 28 to understand just how much material was magically broken down…

The bin went from being 3/4 full to now being about 1/4 full – all entirely tended to by nature. Isn’t that amazing? The only help I offered in this month long experiment was to turn the mixture with an old camping spoon once a week which took about five seconds total. Lady Nature and her team of helpers did all the rest.

One of these helpers was a healthy batch of fruit flies (aka vinegar flies). These guys were naturally attracted to the compost bin through the air holes in the lid and made themselves at home within the first week. Tiny and fast flyers, they are tricky to photograph but the arrows point  to a few here…

Like anyone finding out about a cool new place to hang out, the fruit flies called all their friends, threw a bunch of parties and settled in for the month, which was very wonderful of them because they helped break down material too.  As the bin keeps cooking they will eventually leave when it gets too hot – a signal that the compost is ready at last. But for now they are conscientious little cleaner uppers, quiet merrymakers and very good neighbors. You’d never even know they were there. I’d take a fruit fly over a snake ANY day!

Smelling like the forest after a good, clean rain the compost mixture is earthy and rich and lies somewhere along the aromatic scale between a damp basement and a dusty book (which is what you want) not like old food or strong ammonia (which is what you don’t want).  If a particular odor smells too persistent or too strong than your bin is out of balance. But if you stick with the 50/50 method suggested in the original post then everything should be nicely evened out and pleasantly scented when it comes to kitchen and yard waste.

The forecast is scheduled to be hot and dry over the holiday weekend so that should give the bin some extra energy to breakdown the last of the chunkies. Then our compost will be ready to spread.  I’ll check back in next week with an update on the final consistency. Then it is onto batch two  and batch three and batch four and a regular routine of composting by bin and balcony.

If you missed the post on instagram, the nasturtiums started blooming this week in pretty shades of yellow and red. It’s beginning to feel a lot like like summer around here!

Cheers to finding hidden magic!

 

 

 

Cooking Up A Compost Container: A Mini Bin for A Mini Balcony

Nasturtiums, basil, parsley, succulents, impatiens, rosemary, mint, aloe, avocado – that’s the start to the summer balcony garden. It is a petite space so there is not much room for tall dramas or extravagant experiments which means this summer should be pretty tame in the greenspace department. Since I live so close to the farmers market the vegetable growing is going to be left up to the farmers this year giving me the opportunity to grow herbs to augment summer cooking and flowers to add a little fancy.

I have my heart set on three things in particular this season- a citrus tree, a trail of climbing roses and pots bubbling over with greenery. The first two will be available shortly at our market garden store and the third will be accomplished with a homemade compost container, mighty but mini.

Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947)

We have Sir Albert Howard to thank for our modern day love of organic gardening and make-no-waste composting methods. Of course people have been using compost since the dawn of time but in the early part of the 20th century when chemical fertilizers became all the interest,  Albert was the guy to remind everyone of the common-sense simplicity of nature.

A British botanist born during the last quarter of the 19th century, Albert was a forever student of agricultural science. During a 30 year stay in India, he studied soil effects on garden outcomes and determined that natural compost was the ideal and most beneficial way to create healthy, happy plants in a supportive environment. Healthy people, healthy animals and healthy food all benefited from the effects of recycling earth based materials.

Documenting his research and his observations Albert wrote several books published between the 1920’s and 1940’s helping to draw attention away from manufactured soil amendments and back to the logical evolution of the land. A big fan of the forest floor, Albert marveled at how forests were like one giant compost heap in and of themselves. Materials fell from the trees, layered themselves in seasons and decomposed through the aid of bugs, worms and microorganisms in the dirt. Essentially when we build our modern day compost bins we do the same thing. We act as the trees providing material and shelter and the natural decomposition process contained in our incubated environment breaks down as it normally would.

Compost bins to me have always been a little intimidating. When I lived in the country they meant snakes and red ants, weird bugs and an occasional long-tailed critter.  The  always giant, always garbage can style bin either got too much water or not enough water. Half the time I’d forget to turn it with any sort of regular routine. This year though I’m on a different trajectory.  I’m starting small with kitchen scraps, traditional yard waste and a 3lb container. This snack- size bin will give the balcony plants a little extra nutrition boost mid-season and hopefully, if all goes well,  will be in continual use throughout the fall and winter.

Making a mini compost bin is easy. The trick is finding something that is a good size for your space, so creativity is king here. I used a  leftover  plastic container that once held 3lbs of trail mix and the lid of a plastic takeout soup container.

After poking 4 holes in the bottom for drainage and about 8 holes in the lid for air, I gathered all the compost materials needed for a 50/50 mix between kitchen scraps and yard waste.

Materials on the yard side included: sticks, dead leaves, a paper egg carton, pine straw, a brown paper bag, dead-headed flowers and pine cones. On the kitchen scrap side I used limp spinach, garlic skins, coffee grounds, a month’s worth of crushed up egg shells, lime rind,  some old blueberries and a small bag of pistachio shells. Because my bin is petite, I chopped everything up pretty fine with kitchen scissors so that it would not only fit more easily in the container but also break down faster.

To make sure I had enough of a balance of both sets of materials I filled the same bowl twice with each mixture. I added each bowl to the bin and mixed it up using an old camping spoon (no shovel needed for this little project!). Once it was all stirred the last element to go in was a little bit of water so that the overall consistency was moist but not drippy.

At last, the mighty, mini compost bin was ready and done! With a weekly turn of the ingredients and a little extra water now and then, this compost batch should be ready in about one month.

This size bin will produce a few cupfuls of compost. Just the right amount to replenish soil in the tops of all my pots. Unlike compost bins of the past, this one fits neat and tidy on my mid-century rolling cart and will wait out the month among it’s potted pals.

I’m happy to say that I do not have to worry about snake sightings with this bin. That might just be the very best thing about balcony gardening, no surprise sightings of the slithering kind! Cheers to that! And cheers to Albert, his simple solutions and the important reminder that mother nature knows how to best take care of herself!

More to come on the gardening front all summer long. Interested in learning more about other gardening crusaders like Albert? Read about Hilda Leyel here and Edgar T. Wherry here.

On This Day in 1948: Flowers Bloomed in a Book

wildflower1

On this day 68 years ago, Edgar T. Wherry, a well renowned mineralogist was celebrating an accomplishment with a certain bouquet of flowers that had just come into bloom. March 11th, 1948 was publication day for his springtime book…

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At the time of publication, Edgar was living in Philadelphia and teaching botany at UPenn. The weather that day was cloudy and cool, with temperatures only reaching the mid 40’s. Not rainy but not sunny either, it was another grey day in a long stretch of grey days that would mark March the cloudiest month of the entire year in Philadelphia. Daylight savings time wouldn’t arrive until April 25th, 1948; which means the light was weak, the landscape was heavy and the overall climate was dreary. Edgar, like his contemporaries today, was tired of the winter snow, the freezing rains, the ice covered sidewalks. Spring couldn’t come soon enough.

Photo courtesy of American Mineralogist
Edgar at work. Photo courtesy of American Mineralogist

But finally a mental break came for all Northerners on March 11th, when this gem of a treasure hit bookshelves for the first time. Bright and beautiful, it lightened spirits everywhere in the form of color plates and caring words. Flowers were blooming if not in the garden at least on the page.

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wildflower

In his book, Wild Flower Guide: Northeastern and Midland United States, Edgar compiled hundreds of different types of wild flowers native to these two regions in an effort to highlight their importance in the natural landscape. Mixed in with descriptions of each flower were both color plates and black and white illustrations describing shape and size and color. Edgar wanted to make it as easy as possible to help identify, propagate and encourage long-lasting growth of species facing possible extinction.

As an ecologist and a nature lover, Edgar like many mid-century conservationists, was concerned that urbanization and lack of attention to natural green space was going to eradicate many of the flowers that make the varied North American landscape one of the most beautiful and diverse in the world.

His dedication in the opening pages of the book praises efforts made on behalf of the flowers …

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Considered a visionary for his forward thinking about protecting what some people considered “weeds,” Wherry was determined to educate people about the importance of incorporating native plants into garden design. 1948 was the perfect time to launch his book. Victory gardens established during the war years introduced a whole new wave of home horticulture enthusiasts.  Excitement revolving around the concept of building backyard vegetable gardens was proud patriotism at its best and captured the hearts of all ages from the young to the old.

Victory Garden. Photo via pinterest
Victory gardeners. Photo via pinterest

Edgar rode the wave of people’s interest in making even the smallest garden a productive one. Benefits for people and plants abounded. Edgar teamed up with illustrator Tabea Hofmann to show readers just how pretty a weed could be and how useful it was to the big garden picture.  Edgar’s book is chock-full of interesting fun facts about plants including special notes that inform and entertain. Here he explains how the touch-me-not flower helps soothe poison ivy.

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Edgar managed to combine both practicality and dreaminess in one volume. With names like Golden Alexander, Star Violet, Queen of the Prairie, Fairyslipper, and Rosybells, he seduced people in 1948. This book of botany was, and still is, pretty scintillating stuff for anyone who has just come through the freezing month of February. It doesn’t matter if it was 60 years ago or six minutes ago, Edgar still has the ability to soothes us, to inspire us, to teach us.  Spring will come. The cold air will warm. The flowers will bloom. And what a sight it will be.

The fanciful fairyslipper!
The fanciful fairyslipper!

This post is dedicated to all of Ms. Jeannie’s friends and family in the colder climates who just can’t bear one more day of winter. Hang tight! Spring is coming! The flowers are stirring! Edgar said so.

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Seedlings and Snakes: Let the Season Begin!

It was exactly two weeks ago today that Ms. Jeannie got going on her spring garden with the official planting of the seeds. And now here we are just 14 days later with sprouts that look like dancers…

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The cucumbers and the snow peas are winning the race towards bloom day…

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And the okra is not far behind…

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Even the lone zinnia in the rescued and re-purposed pitcher has come to surface. Not doubt happy to have such an exotic home!

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It is always fun to watch how each kind of seed unfurls…

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The dill is dainty…

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…while wax beans look downright pre-historic…

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And then there was the sighting of an actual pre-historic…

snake

“Just a baby,” said Mr. Jeannie Ology. This “baby” indeed, was three feet long, which was plenty long for the likes of Ms. Jeannie. Hopefully this little one will be gracious enough to stay out of the greenhouse!

The Surprise of the Season!

The last time Ms. Jeannie posted on the blog it was snowing. And now it’s Spring!

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Vintage Metal Marquee Sign – The Month of April

Goodness gracious where do the days go?! All throughout February and March Ms. Jeannie has been navigating the book club and her organizational systems for it.

February book club packages ready for the post office!
80 February book club packages ready for the post office!

It has taken her away from blogging and all you lovely readers which she hates, but it has also introduced her to an assortment of wonderful authors and stories from new subscribers which she loves, so it’s been an exciting journey from concept to creation.

With a total of 88 subscribers as of this post, the book club is a constant bustle of activity. To date, which is now at the 7th month mark, Ms. Jeannie has wrapped 307 books, written 307 author’s bios and 307 book bios, been kicked out of the post office once (too many packages please come back tomorrow), gone through 15 packages of tape, finished 8 rolls of twine,  folded 356 pieces of tissue paper, cut 560 lengths of ribbon and been reprimanded by the post master twice (only 10 packages at a time in line please!). Needless to say it’s been a spectacular adventure!

And while Ms. Jeannie’s days are now full of books, and research, and writing, and schedules , she managed to carve in a little gardening time over the weekend thanks to one of the most wonderful surprises ever…

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A greenhouse on loan!

Ms. Jeannie’s neighbor has lent her the use of her greenhouse for the rest of the year! How exciting – a whole greenhouse all her own! It’s located just down at the end of the drive, so it’s a quick walk from the house, and ideally set with plenty of sun water spigots, and old rickety potting tables. After a quick yet thorough snake check by Mr. Jeannie (none thank goodness!) Ms. Jeannie got to work right away planting seeds…

The first seeds of the season!
The first seeds of the season!

So far, in just a day she managed to prepare and pot almost her entire vegetable garden…

Cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts and spinach!
Dill, cucumbers, spinach, hot peppers, and tomatoes.

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It was the first sunny, dry and 70 degree weather in days and Ms. Jeannie was so glad to be enjoying it in her new horticulture house. She even collected sand from the creek bed for her spinach seedlings – these are going to be some pampered plants this year.

Creek sand!
Creek sand!

Next week Ms. Jeannie will get to work on the flower seed aspect of the garden so stay tuned for some regular garden updates all season.

With each passing month, the book club gets better and better situated, so Ms. Jeannie looks forward to sharing a bevy  of spring and summer blog posts.

Until next time, happy April and happy Spring!