Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Smell of Dirt

I smelled the dirt today.  I didn't hear the robin yet, but the smell of dirt was reassuring that winter's almost over. Well, it's almost April, let's get with it - the ferns need a little heat.  

When I was at college supposedly studying electrical engineering, I would take a bicycle out to the edge of Madison every chance I got, just to experience the smell of a feed and seed store in spring. I grew up in a small town with strong agricultural roots. Even the people in town would grow huge gardens, so the Rock River Coop and Globe Milling Company were places patronized by both farmers and town people alike. (why yes, there was Midwest Lawn and Garden as well, but this is my history, so let's keep it pleasant).

In the late winter and early spring, the dominant smell inside the seed center would be seed potatoes  and onion sets in burlap sacks. Although both potatoes and onions can be grown from seed, the preferred way in my upbringing was to get some seed potatoes and onion sets from the feed store.  
Seed potatoes are, essentially - just - - potatoes. You'd pick your variety from exotic names such as Katahdin, Kennebec, Yukon, Norland, and many others. You cut the potatoes up, each eye would form a plant,  and sturdy potato plants would grow from the eyes of the potato pieces.  Same with onion sets - they were tiny onions. Both sold by the pound, real cheap.

So, what is Dorm Boy doing out at the LL Olds Seed Company out on the edge of Madison on a Saturday morning? Getting back to his roots, or, tubers, to be perfectly correct. The smell of LL Olds building was a comforting anchor to something constant in a fast-changing world. Breathe deeply the darkness of the potatoes, the pungent onion sets, the smell of burlap and the dirt, and you are ready to get planting!

Planting proved a challenge for me, a college student has little arable land in his dorm room.  I had lots of grow lights, clay flower pots everywhere, and elaborate trough arrangements to handle watering. Building Maintenance would always shake their head when they saw my room. I grew geraniums, tomato plants, and a few cacti. 

The urban gardening experience would serve me well in later life - pausing after college before taking off in the wrong direction, I did a four-year sentence in Midwest Lawn and Garden in Watertown, Wisconsin, another story altogether. But I'd do it again!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Juice of the Cacti

The amazing power of the Juice of the Cacti.  If it's good enough for the Yack'Wee Indians of Paragwah, think of what it could do for you! W.C.Fields, an expert on Miracles of Medical Science gives a 45-second presentation on this miraculous plant:


So, I decided to grow my own Cacti.  Turning to the Amazon, I found, for 18 cents plus shipping charges of 23 cents (41 cents total) I ordered "50 flowering cactus seeds".  Since Last February the lowest postal rate is 49 cents - how can this be?  I really expected to hear nothing back. 

Not really expecting anything, but still hoping that I would someday grow cacti from seed, I read up on growing cactus seeds.  The cactus seed is to be placed ON the soil, not in it.  The brilliant sunlight of Paragwah must be what activates the seed.  Keep the future bed of Cacti evenly moist until germination is complete.  

A small package arrived from Paradise, and the postage had only been 23 cents. (HOW? Does the packet travel through time on its way here?).  And inside the envelope, a small foil packet containing well over 150 grains of cactus seed.  Also, a packet labeled "Safflower" which is going to be an enormous flowering plant in the thistle family. That was too much excitement for one day, so I put that packet aside until such time as I can plant the seeds outside, imagine if the safflowers spring up in the middle of the night -- that might even frighten Syd the fearless wonder cat.

So, I've done all that was asked of me.  On top of the soil, not buried, evenly moist, and in the sun - my bed of cacti.  It's been about four weeks now since I first put the seeds onto an evenly moist pot of Stern's succulent mix.  After about two weeks, I noticed a small spherical object, which was a pale yellow, and never changed color or size.  I didn't want to touch it, not knowing how sensitive the baby cacti are, and there was only one of the little round things.  So there have the seeds sat sown in their consistently moist bed, for over two weeks.

So my question is this:  is this a future juice-filled succulent specimen of cacti?

Or is it a piece of vermiculite swelled up from the even moisture of it all that has popped out of the potting mix?

Tell ya more when I know.

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 21, 2014

lux ex tenebris

For 30 years, I sat at a 1970s modular desk, staring at a fabric-wallpaper wall. A little slit of a window half-buried behind the rack of dot-matrix printers was the only indication of an outside world.  Then, one day, the company went out of business, my desk was sold in a large auction lot, probably used for scrap, because it was so heavy.  I was free to go, and after finding out how willing businesses are to talk to a 60-year-old about employment, (they're not interested - really they're not), it was decided that my lifetime of skills was best put to use as an office temp. 

An entire world opened up to me. The things I had been teaching myself in my windowless void were all job skills that allowed me to fill in as a temporary worker anywhere with minimal training. Telephone, computer, Excel, mail processing, graphic layout, digital imaging, it all came into play. Each assignment presented its own new challenges and opportunities.  It has never paid much, but it's all I can get so far. I love the work, and I love the people I meet along the way.

So, last Thursday I took the bus downtown, a half-hour early so I could sip coffee in the cafeteria for awhile and watch the sun rise over downtown before going up to work. There are dress codes, and everybody looks professional, cogs in the vast urban machine. Then up to my work-station on the 13th floor. This week I'm a digital imager, in a white cubicle right next to an 8-foot high window overlooking Milwaukee's Downtown-East. The glorious sunshine of a Milwaukee Thursday morning bursting through the window, making everything brilliant. 

The office manager stopped by just after I arrived. "Hey, Gary, just so you know, tomorrow is a casual day - you can wear jeans to work. Man, that's so bright - you can lower the blind, you know..."

Derek (not his name) didn't understand my answer. Dress casual after working 30 years in a dark dank hole in West Allis? Shut out the sunshine of a brilliant new day of opportunity?  

What I said was, "No thanks, Derek. I'm livin' the dream!"

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.