2017 – Fast-Growing Vines, No Cow Trade-In Needed, or, A Dire Need for De-Vine Intervention

As you may have gathered from last year’s letter, Steve and I are not farmers. However, we did grow up in relatively rural, grow-and-can-your-own households, and we continue to cling to the dream of a backyard garden in spite of the fact that we live in a place with horrible, rocky dirt for a yard and no time to tend to our plantings. Steve has built large planter boxes to deal with the dirt issue, but the time dilemma remains vexing.

In addition to Steve’s pumpkins, we have tried to grow snap peas, green beans, and various lettuces, but most of that withered on the vine, or grew into bitter-tasting, but lovely, decorative leaves. Tomatoes are one of the few things we’ve been able to reliably bring to harvest. We plant them too close together in the planter box (recall Steve’s reservations about thinning his seedlings), and we don’t spend enough time tending to their suckers, so they get a bit tangled and overgrown, but we always get a decent number to enjoy fresh from the vine.

Part of our clinging to our roots has also included having a compost heap in the side yard, into which we tossed all manner of fruit and vegetable matter for several years. In 2016, a neighbor who was battling a rodent incursion took issue with our heap and insisted it was the cause of her problem, ignoring the many other rodent-friendly aspects of our neighborhood, such as the canal across the street and the midden in our other neighbor’s yard. In any case, we decided discretion was the better part of valor, and deconstructed our compost heap rather than risk having her look around the corner and latch onto the raccoon cage as the source of the rodent scourge.

So we shoveled up the composted material and loaded it into a garbage can to let it finish over the winter for use the next year. Enter 2017; the time came and went for us to prepare the soil, and we finally got around to it a few weeks later. Soil is expensive and I’m certain we spend more buying it than we save growing our own tomatoes, but this year we were able to buy half as much because we planned to use the garbage can full of compost. We layered and mixed the compost with last year’s soil, added the new soil, and got down to planting our tomatoes.

The tomato plants had been sitting in their pre-planting pots for several weeks too long by the time we finally got around to planting them for reals, but I was pretty surprised all the same to report back to Steve that they had already grown well over a foot just a few days later! Dang, they must be really happy in the new digs!

And they kept growing. Soon they were over five-feet tall and getting rather leafy. We took some time periodically to remove suckers and put ever more support poles in the planter, trying to accommodate the vines that were desperately grabbing onto and past each other in their bid for space and sun. Soon they were latching onto the fence, bursting from their confines and forging into uncharted territory to stake their claim.

I lauded their explosive growth to my parents when the plants had found support in the branches of a nearby tree, but lamented that there was nary a tomato in sight. They just grew and grew, ever upward and outward, but apparently not trying very hard to bear fruit. My dad inquired about our soil and fertilizer usage and, pausing upon hearing our strategy, asked if we had a soil chemistry testing kit. A what now? He offered to bring his own along when they came for a visit a few weeks later, because of course he owns a soil chemistry testing kit.

By the time my parents arrived in July, our tomato plants had grown high into those tree branches and, finally, small green tomatoes were starting to peek through the branches, looking very much like bunches of grapes far overhead. On one afternoon during their visit, my dad set up his portable lab in the sunny yard to run his tests.

phosphorusweb His mirth so great he couldn’t even wait to finish all the testing, my Dad eagerly called me out to unmask the first results, first pointing to the coloration range for phosphorus that went from an almost clear “insufficient” to a “surplus” color of Caribbean blue, before unveiling, magician-like, our results: midnight blue, almost black.

With verve in his step, and a commitment to scientific rigor, my Dad returned to his lab bench, aka our patio table, to continue his testing. The final results revealed that our nitrogen level, which would be surplus at light fuchsia, was also a tad high, as deep magenta.

With instructions that we not add fertilizer to the soil for another 4-5 years, my dad packed away his chemistry set as we all marveled at his scientific acumen. The tomato plants eventually ceased their upward growth, and we were finally picking tomatoes in late August. For all the energy they expended in their ascent, they were still pretty productive, and we were enjoying tomatoes well into the late fall, although we sometimes had to employ a ladder to reach them.

Steve’s pumpkins meanwhile… Although the soil was sifted, refreshed, and ready for planting early in the summer, time is ever the cruel mistress, and Steve didn’t plant his seedlings until well into August, a little late for a good pumpkin season. I reckon he’ll try again next year…

As for the rest of it. . .

Miraculously, and in spite of many temptations, we end the year with the same number of cats with which we began it. I attribute this to a promise we made to H.B. that she will not have to deal with incorporating another cat into the household hierarchy while she is with us. Any time we find ourselves looking longingly at another kitty, a frequent occurrence, we remember our promise to H.B. and restrain ourselves. Little H.B. is now 15-years-old and her kidneys are just starting to show signs of her age. We maintained Cassady’s slow decline for over two years when her kidneys started to go, so we’re hopeful H.B. will be with us for a good while longer.

boyz Jonas and Fergus continue to bring laughter and joy to our lives with both their antics and their non-stop love and snuggles. Jonas particularly excels at the latter; he and I have several snuggle sessions built into my morning routine, and I go to sleep many nights with him spooned up against me, purring loudly against my belly. There is no better sleep aid. In spite of concerns we’ve had about his joints, Fergus continues to show no signs of pain or slowing down, and runs around the house, chasing and being chased by Jonas in turn. The tufty fur sticking out from between his toes makes it very difficult for him to gain traction on our wood floors, so he often spends several seconds as a cartoon character, running in place before taking off down the hall.

2017 has not been a normal year. Shaking my head while reading the news on the commuter bus has become my default aspect, but one positive has been our burgeoning civic engagement. Steve and I went to the Women’s March in Sacramento in January, where I was uplifted by the humor, concern for humanity and our country, and unwillingness to go backward on display by the huge crowd.

There have been many marches and rallies since, including a March for Healthcare in Santa Rosa; a BLM Human Billboard in Oakland; the Tax March in San Francisco – at which I realized how overdue I was in dyeing my hair when I saw how well it matched the copper tones of the hair on the Trump Tax Chicken; a vigil in San Rafael after the events in Charlottesville; and a Peace Rally to counter a planned white nationalist rally elsewhere in San Francisco. I’ve made many phone calls, gone to local Indivisible meetings, and attended several Town Halls with my Federal Representative. The Women’s March is repeating in 2018, with marches planned around the country on January 20th. Look for one in your area. I’m thinking returning to Sacramento sounds good. After all, it will have been a year since we discovered the Two Rivers Cider Co. tasting room, and we can take another post-march break there!

Ahhh, cider. 2017 has been a great year for us in cider tourism. Many rallies and marches were followed by a recovery period at a cider tasting room. I’ve also planned a few cider field trips to explore local cider makers with friends, and created the 1st Annual SLA Cider Meet-Up while in Phoenix for the Special Libraries Association conference in June. The event exceeded all expectations, and people have already been inquiring if I’ll be hosting a 2nd Annual Meet-up in Baltimore next year. Of course, the answer is yes!

Steve and I vacationed in the Seattle area in September, cleverly incorporating Seattle Cider Summit and Washington Cider Week, along with a few days visiting dear friends, and celebrating Steve’s 50th birthday by seeing Wrath of Khan in a theater and spending two nights at Treehouse Point.

WP_20171020_16_10_35_Rich In October, I went to my 25th high school reunion to Illinois, and we celebrated my parents’ 51st anniversary the same weekend Steve and I were celebrating our 15th. And we found a perfectly lovely cidery on an apple orchard over the border in Wisconsin! The four of us treated ourselves to the “full tipple”, tasting 16 different ciders, apple wines, and spirits. On the 3rd sample, as I was busily making notes on each cider, my dad asked how I could possibly distinguish one from another, but he had to admit the 4th was profoundly different than the others, and by the end… well, I’m not sure he could provide much analysis on the ciders, but he was sure chatty with the nice couple at the end of the bar who were just starting their tasting experience. We took a nice long walk around the orchard before driving off for dinner.

I’m still working in the Legal Department at Genentech, where I focus primarily on patent and prior art searching. In 2018, I’m hoping to make use of Genentech’s generous career development culture to learn more about data analytics and visualization. I’ve continued volunteering with GenenCats, the on-campus feral cat feeding group, and I was invited to join their management team this year, primarily due to my efforts educating others about and advocating for the raccoons that are attracted by the feeding stations.

Steve is still at Microsoft as a Principal Software Engineer working on PowerPoint for the Apple platforms, the most recent version of which will ship imminently. He simply can’t adequately express his excitement about the remodel that will put him in an open space office environment within the next week. I mentioned that someone at my work had noted that, for some personality types, it could feel a bit like being a rabbit in an open field, and he said, “yep, sounds about right.”

We continue to volunteer in the Clinic at WildCare and provide foster care at our home for orphaned baby raccoons.

If you want to keep up with us throughout the year, Steve and I can be found on Facebook. I also continue to blog periodically at www.midwesterngirl.com, posting about our travels, wildlife rehabilitation, and our many cider excursions!

Wishing you and your families a wonderful holiday season and, more than ever, peace in the New Year.