Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Strawberry Transporter 2000

While I was in Maine recently I attended a baby shower where guests were given strawberry plants as party favors. I was delighted with my strawberry plant, and excited to get it planted out on my balcony, but first I had to transport the plant from Maine to Virginia. I was worried that the strawberry's delicate stem would be snapped if the plant were tipped over in transit, and I was not confident that I could keep the plant upright for the whole trip, especially while going through airport security.

So, I created the Strawberry Transporter 2000 out of a discarded cardboard box, some packing tape, and three pieces of twine.

The reconfigured box closes up in a wedge shape so that even if it is tipped on its side (or, theoretically, upside down, although I did not test this possibility) the peat pot is held in place at the wide end of the wedge and cannot crush the strawberry plant's stem.

I would have taped up the whole box, but I was concerned that security screeners might want to look inside. Hence the twine ties, which could be undone and redone easily.

Was it a kooky idea? Maybe. But the strawberry plant did arrive in Charlottesville intact. Here it is looking out the sliding glass door onto my balcony, yearning to join the other plants.

And here it is a bit later, settled in next to the chard.

If I read the instruction card right, I shouldn't expect this plant to produce fruit until next year. I hope I can get it through the winter all right. If it does produce berries, I will be thrilled.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My Other Locality

I've been away from the blog for a little while, chewing on a tough piece of dissertation.

I've also been away from Charlottesville for a long weekend. I spent five days at home in Maine.

The weather was gorgeous (except on Saturday) and the home cooking was delicious, of course. This is the season for my parents' rhubarb patch to be going gonzo . . .

. . . so I enjoyed some rhubarb coffee cake, some raspberry rhubarb crisp (with home-grown raspberries frozen last year), and some more rhubarb coffee cake! Mmmmm.

And now a side note that has nothing to do with eating, and nothing to do with Charlottesville, but does have to do with localness:

While I was home, my old high school had its graduation, and the local Project Graduation sent busloads of graduating seniors on a victory lap through the school district, with a bleating and blaring escort of emergency vehicles.

Here are two things that small towns are proud of, and will defend fiercely: their schools and their fire trucks.

I like seeing the graduating seniors get this local-heroes' treatment. It's pretty nearly the closest thing that a small town can do to throwing the classic ticker-tape parade. When the town sends its fire trucks and ambulances out to escort you down the main drag, the town is saying, "You are special. We are so proud to have you here and call you ours."

Friday, June 1, 2007

As Local as it Gets

I have a narrow balcony that gets sun for only part of the day. In past summers, I have raised edible plants out here with mixed success. I have found a variety of yellow pear tomatoes that seem to do OK in planters on my balcony, but "patio" tomatoes have had almost no success. My many attempts at raising herbs have all ended poorly—even with herbs like mint that are supposed to be foolproof.

It's too early to say what this summer's balcony harvest will be like, but so far, things are looking promising.

Early in the season, when I met people selling seedlings at the farmers' market, I asked them whether they had anything that they thought might be suitable for container growing in a spot that only gets sun for half the day. One candidate turned up by this search was this huckleberry bush which so far appears to be growing amazingly well:

It was just a few inches high when I bought the seedling, and it has grown at a startling rate!

Another farmers' market seedling recommendation was chard. It never would have occurred to me that chard might do well in containers, but just look at this stuff, which I brought home when the leaves were coin-sized:

And here are my two tomato plants and one of two blueberry plants that I'm trying for the first time this year:

Tomato blossom close-up:

I am not a huge enthusiast for vegetable gardening, to tell the truth, but I have been daydreaming about having a house with some land where I could raise all sorts of fruit crops: blackberries, raspberries, apples, pears. So I got excited when I read online that blueberry bushes are tolerant of shady conditions and that there are some varieties of blueberry that can be raised in containers. As soon as I could find the opportunity, I went to a local plant nursery and picked out two different varieties that seemed, according to the information on their tags, like they might be suitable for my balcony. It's too early to tell how well they'll take to the spot long-term; they haven't changed much since I bought them (they came with the green berries already on the branches). I have hopes, though.