Taking One Step When a Full Stride is too Much

Clearing Away (September 2008)

I looked at my grandmother’s small kitchen table and found myself saddened by the mountainous mess. Boxes of soup broth that never made it to the basement pantry support crumpled paper bags and window curtain hardware. There were small jars of organic grapefruit juice, a pint of ammonia for the laundry, coffee stained packets of artificial sweetener, nasty dish towels, and cruddy kitchen appliances. A ceramic bowl held freckled bananas and shriveled apples smelling of ethylene. I realized, by the disarray, that once again the grip of depression had taken hold.

Somewhere beneath the suffocating mess is a cherry-wood table. Memories of precious mornings and coffee with my grandmother—she wearing her red wool tartan plaid robe, darned at the elbows and facial tissues peeking out from the pockets—waited to breathe again.

The table originally lived in her knotty-pine paneled galley kitchen, and was a mere three feet from the stove. We could check the buttermilk biscuits while seated, and enjoyed the warmth from the oven in winter. Dinners were spent in ease over small steaming plates.  The old table creaked and groaned as we rested elbows upon it while leaning forward in conversation. The chairs had echoed back in their own voice of age.

Slowly I cleared away the mess. The emotional effort made the task seem like more than it was. Unable to imagine finding an end to the mound of neglect I was nearly halted by discouragement. Taking a deep breath, I focused on taking care of whatever single item I picked-up…baby steps when I was incapable of a full stride.

A wave of depression induced grief washed over me. I became overwhelmed at the absence of shared meals, and leaned against the sink as tears welled up; I remembered being loved.

Not wanting to clear the table and yet hoping to regain a sense of order once completed, I forced myself to continue. Months of kitchen grime does not wash up easily from the now uncovered wood. My fingernail scratched away some unknown glob and the sound drew the cat’s attention. Now and then a tear would fall and mix with the bleach solution. As I cleaned away the neglect the rich red-brown of the wood was exposed.

The table is so old that the wood’s grain can be felt through the dishcloth. Almost lovingly I continued to wipe the ridged surface of my grandmother’s table. My melancholy lightened as I traced with my fingers the worn grain and recalled the graces from my grandmother’s well worn life.

It took a while, but the task was completed. The cleaned area appeared warm and inviting.  The Tuscany-gold wall holds a mounted lamp—as her kitchen had—that casts a warm glow on the freshly polished table. The hand-made ceramic bowl, a gift from the artist, had been washed and refilled with shining Pink Lady apples.

Grandmother’s Table, September 2013. Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.


With my coffee cup in hand I sat down with a book, and drew a quick shortened breath—a familiar sound brought an unexpected joy. My grandmother’s table welcomed me back with a distinct and loving creak.


A Walk Through the Gardens

Aw nuts! But honestly, I delight in these coral-colored fruits. They’re so cute and puckery.

Though not good for human consumption, the buckeye is an amazingly beautiful tree that will become quite large (50-70 ft.). It graces the landscape with flowers in early summer and vibrant colors in autumn.

This is the fruit from a smaller cultivar, a Bottle Brush Buckeye, that grows in my front yard.

(Images by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All Rights Reserved.)

Buckeyes ripening

10 Steps for Saving Seeds; Practical Gardening Series

Collecting and saving seeds from one season to the next is simple and allows you to keep growing the plants you love best. Here are a few tips and techniques to guide you.

1. First of all you’ll need to have planted open-pollinated varieties. They’ll come back true to the cultivar whereas hybrids won’t. Hybrid seeds can’t be saved; the majority of seeds turn out to be infertile with a less than 20% germination rate, and those that do germinate rarely grow well.

2. To gather seeds of flowering plant, first allow blooms to dry on the stem. Deadhead into a small paper bag (or plastic container). Write name of plant on bag with a permanent marker. Gently crush the flower head with your fingers to release the seeds and discard the chaff. For vegetables, let fruit fully ripen, harvest, wash produce, then remove seeds from flesh.

3. Spread the seeds on black ink newspaper, parchment baking sheet, paper towel, or paper bag and let them air dry for about a week. Write seed names on the paper so there’s no mix-up. To save space place sheets of seeds on large wire cooling racks stacked one atop another and secured with twist ties at little v-foot risers—before laying seeds on paper to dry, cut paper to size and notch in from edge for risers.

4. You can dry vegetable seeds on unprinted paper towels, but they’ll stick to the towels when dry. The benefit is that you can roll them up right in the towel to store them. When you’re ready to plant, unfurl and tear off bits of the towel, a few seeds at a time, and plant seed and towel into the soil.

5. Gather dried seeds into envelopes. You can make your own envelopes, just print the pattern below. Once labeled place seeds in largest area, fold over the biggest flap (with leaf pattern). Use a glue stick on edges of smaller flaps, fold over and press to seal.

6. Use clean storage containers that will be air tight. Place seed packets in plastic food storage bags, glass jars with tight-fitting lids (wide-mouth quart canning jars work great), or glass canisters with gasket under lids.

Image morguefile.com.

7. To keep seeds dry, wrap 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered milk in four layers of plain, untreated facial tissue, fold over and tape corner. Put the milk packet inside the storage container with the seed packets. Replace milk packet every six months if you keep the seeds past the next planting season. You could use silica gel packets, too.

8. Humidity and warmth shorten a seed’s shelf life, so think cool, dark, and dry. A corner of the basement or semi-heated garage will work, but keep seeds from freezing. The refrigerator is generally the best place to store seeds. When its time to plant, remove seed containers from the fridge—keep them closed until the seeds warm to room temperature. Otherwise, moisture in the air will condense on the seeds.

9. Keep each year’s seed harvest together by date. Most seeds last about three seasons—some only two. A glance at the dates will tell you if the seeds are past their prime for planting.

Image morguefile.com

10. When planting season comes, test a small group of seeds for germination rate. Even with careful collecting and storage, a certain number of seeds will not germinate. By checking first you’ll know how many seeds to sow to get the number of plants you’ll want in the garden.

God has placed within the seed all it needs for its future, we need only to gather and grow.

How to Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Instead of pictures, I thought I would share this information from Horticulture On-line:

The biggest mistake people make when trying to ripen green tomatoes is placing them on a windowsill. The light shinning on the fruit will actually cause the skins of the tomatoes to become tough. A better way to ripen green tomatoes is to place them in a paper bag, wrap individually in newspaper or set them in any other enclosed space, such as a cardboard box. By doing this, your tomatoes will keep warm as well as release a gas called ethylene—which is often used by commercial growers to produce a more successful yield. The warmth and the gas will help to speed up the ripening process.

I have used a sturdy banana box, lined it with newspaper, nested each (unblemished) tomato–blossom end up–in  its own piece of newspaper, and then lined them up in the bottom of the box. With blossom end slightly exposed it is easy to tell which tomatoes have ripened enough to use first. Only stack two layers of tomatoes to prevent crushing, using another layer of newspaper in between and on top. My boxes of tomatoes were stored in the basement on a shelf where it is away from heat.

It was not uncommon to eat a garden tomato in January!


Perils of Digging Potatoes

Image morguefile.com.

I’ve been a city-dwelling gardener all my life. I’ve worked on  overgrown lots that hid a multitude of sins, to old suburban back-yards with compacted patchy lawns. When I would begin to transform a landscape I would be unsure of what would be unearthed; one year I dug up a lawn chair. Gardening was done gingerly and with gloves, and tetanus shots kept up to date.

A plant that I had grown in every yard was potatoes. I love potatoes. When I lived with my grandmother we ate them almost daily. Then I discovered, in my twenties, that I could grow them…and did. As with any vegetable, there is no comparing the flavor of home-grown produce to what is bought at the grocery store.

In early spring I would find a well drained area in the yard and prepare the city-lot for potatoes—and a vegetable patch, too. This meant not only turning the soil but sifting it for debris and glass.  Once the patch was readied, the potato-sets were planted. During the weeks that followed they were mounded, mulched, and watered. Late summer, after the plants flowered and stems started to wilt, harvesting began. I am always surprised and delighted when digging potatoes. With vegetables that grow above ground, the anticipation is quelled by watching flowers swell into fruits.  With potatoes, all is hidden.

I wasn’t one to dig potatoes using a spading fork; I found I did more harm to the tubers by using it. With only a few hills to harvest, and the mounded soil being soft, my hands worked best. There was always something a little exciting about blindly plunging bare hands into warm soil and bumping into potatoes. Wiggling fingers underneath the tubers, I would pop them up and out of the mound.

But the plunging bare hands at times would meet with peril. Pushing fingers into the soil, there is that split second when I’d realize that the pressure pushing back wasn’t a potato, and I couldn’t stop the forward motion quick enough. Then it was too late, I’d just been cut by glass. Wounded, I withdrew, dismayed but not surprised—its one of the risks of gardening in an area that was used for trash. No matter how careful I was at preparing the soil, every once in a while something nasty would work its way up and out of the depths.

A similar thing happened the other day when a sin worked its way out. There was that split second when I knew my soul was about to be wounded by a lie…but it was too late, I couldn’t stop the words. The result was calumnity—I had planted seeds of doubt in the heart of another.

And for what? To feel more important? To appear more knowledgeable? To be liked and feel part of a group? My soul is worth more than that. Worth more than a two minute sound bite, or the bitter unspoken words in my heart, or that drink  from the drive-through window that wasn’t really mine and wasn’t really free.

Little shards of glass hidden in the depths nick and wound my soul. It is one of the perils of trying to harvest truth in a world of broken pieces.