Ask the Hippie, Vol. 1, Issue 2

Yeah, I know, I was gonna do “Ask the Hippie” more often than this, but I got sidetracked. Sorry. Hippies are known for creativity and pretty dreams, not organizational skills.

Anyway, here is a much-belated answer to Teen’s request for information about growing marigolds.

Marigolds were the first flowers I grew when I was little. I think I was about 5 when Mom and I planted marigold seeds we’d harvested off my grandmother’s plants.

In any case, marigolds are generally tough plants that resist insects (some gardeners plant them alongside food crops to discourage pests, because the flowers release a scent that insects find distasteful) and thrive in a variety of conditions.

Like most annuals, they prefer full sun and loose, well-drained garden loam, although I once grew them with moderate success in a contaminated bed under a shade tree that allowed only dappled sunlight to filter down on them now and then. The area was right under an old oil-change rack at a historic service station that some members of the Illinois Route 66 Association were restoring. The ground where I planted the marigolds was so contaminated that I could smell the oil every time I plunged my spade into the dirt, and when I went out to weed the area a month or so later, no weeds were growing there, aside from a few tough blades of grass.

The marigolds didn’t exactly thrive in that environment, but they survived, bloomed, and set seed. They didn’t produce a lot of foliage, and they looked pretty stunted, but given the soil conditions and the lack of light, I thought they did remarkably well.

Marigolds need moisture, but like most plants, they don’t like wet feet, so don’t get too carried away. If you plant them in a container, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom, and put about a one-inch layer of charcoal, vermiculite, perlite, aquarium gravel, or similar material in the bottom before you add the potting soil. If you plant outdoors, make sure they are not directly under the drip of the house, and make sure the soil drains well. If in doubt, dig a hole trowel-deep, put a handful or two of sand in the bottom, and add a handful or two of compost before replacing the soil. If the soil comes out of the hole in a big clump, smack it around and/or chop it up with your trowel to break it up and aerate it a bit before you put it back in the hole.

When you plant, you can either direct-seed the marigolds or start them indoors about six weeks before you plan to transplant them. You get earlier flowers if you start them indoors, but I’ve done them both ways. Plant them after the last frost (April 15 is generally considered safe here in Oklahoma), as they will not survive a heavy frost.

Other than that, you really don’t have to do much to them. Just keep them moist but not soggy, and they’ll generally take whatever else you can dish out. They are annuals, which means they’ll die off at the end of the season. Just harvest the seeds (which are wrapped up in a neat little husk that looks almost like a tiny brown paper bag — click here to see a picture) and you can replant next year. One or two flowers will usually produce enough seed to grow a whole garden of marigolds.

For more on marigolds, click here.

God bless Aunt Eunice

Check out this charming piece in today’s online edition of the Christian Science Monitor, in which writer Danny Heitman describes his Aunt Eunice’s enduring kindness and concern for nature as she returned to her home in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

After an hour of pitching pickles and butter, bread and beans, jam, cheese, and dozens of decomposing delicacies into bulging garbage bags, Aunt Eunice retrieved a small brown block from the back of the freezer. It was still cold to the touch as she placed it in her palm and offered it for inspection.

“I think this can be saved,” she said as I leaned over to sniff the sweet scent of sugar, oatmeal, and peanut butter. “The woodpeckers will love it.”

At the end of the article, you’ll find her special recipe for bird treats. You can bet I’ll be whipping up a batch for the critters here in Red Fork. I’d been thinking of getting out the stepladder and appropriating some pinecones off the tree in my front yard to use as birdfeeders like we used to do in Girl Scouts, but Aunt Eunice’s recipe sounds like an even better idea.

Emily

Eeeeeeeeeee!

Lee’s Feed here in Tulsa is already selling baby chicks. It’s a little early, but they had a whole flock of ’em under heat lamps today when we stopped by there during lunch. They were SOOOOOO cute … little and fuzzy and noisy. You could hear them peeping all the way out in the parking lot. I didn’t have the camera with me, or I would have taken a picture. They had yellow ones and brown ones and little light yellow ones with black stripes on them. It was a little cool for them, so they were piling up on each other and huddling up under the heat lamps for warmth.

I want some baby chicks. They had some araucanas there — that’s the kind that lays blue-green eggs — but Ron says if we get chickens, we have to get Barred Rocks, because they’ll do a better job of scratching up the soil and picking the bugs and weed seeds out of the garden before we plant stuff out there.

We’re talking about building a chicken tractor.

I want some meat rabbits, too, but Ron thinks I’ll get attached to them and won’t want to butcher them and eat them. I don’t think that’s likely to be a problem. Baby bunnies are cute, but I’ve been around too many nasty-tempered does to have any sentimental attachment to them once they get big enough to cop an attitude. Plus rabbits are among the easiest livestock to raise (especially where we live; a small lot in town really limits your options), and they produce some of the world’s best fertilizer, so even if I did turn into a sentimental sap and keep them as pets, they’d earn their keep by feeding my tomatoes. They can recycle weeds into rich fertilizer about as fast as anything out there.

Speaking of critters who produce fertilizer, I checked on my worms last night, and they are thriving. I harvested several cups of finished compost from the two drawers (I’m storing it in the bottom drawer for the time being) and found tons of what I assume are egg capsules in the bin. Hooray!

Emily