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My Folia, the wonderful database-cum-community blog for gardeners, is shutting down for good on August 14.

While the community part has been a critical reason for the success and value of the site, the rich community-developed database is going to be the part that will have many of its gardeners feeling the pain.

There are three critical pieces of this database: the plant list, the seed stash, and the milestones. They’re all interconnected, and used consistently created a years-long portrait of every plant in the garden. While the site’s owners have created a download option (but only for current plants, not for archived ones), losing this web of information will be hard.

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 3.08.24 PMSo Folians have been coming up with solutions. For my current gardens, I created Flickr albums with detailed information including botanical name, common name, cultivar, and how I acquired each plant. It’s not a database, but at least the data is preserved. I’ll lose the milestones (bloom dates, dormancy dates, harvest info, etc.) but at least I’ve got the plants. (And this is where I mention thank god Folia never did the direct photo upload we all begged for, for years. Because then I’d be losing all my photos, too.)

Carol's Access pageGardener Carol has been setting up an Access database (left; sorry about the size). Kelly, of Populuxe Seed Bank, has had a separate wiki for the seed bank for a while now. There are other tech-savvy solutions as well, which works best, of course, if you’re tech savvy.

I have no idea what I’ll do. I’m still stuck on the ease with which I could just click on the Folia plant link to see whether my bloom was later or earlier, how well a given tomato did, and is it really getting warmer earlier?

Guess I’ll go back to analyzing wooly-bears.

Are you a Folian? Please join us on Facebook in the new Folians group.

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I taught myself to garden in the early 90s, when my children were toddlers, and I thought it would be nice to grow food so these city kids could see where food came from. My father had just built a house, and I dug up a lot of prairie plants from his lot; we also dug a lot of plants out of ditches, which I later learned was illegal. oops.

I gardened in isolation until 2008, when I broke my ankle and discovered MyFolia, a new “Facebook for gardeners.” It was a community, and a database, and a log for every meticulous “milestone” of every plant.

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 I started using MyFolia the year I broke my foot.

And that’s how I “gardened” for more than a decade. The site retained years of milestones–plants that came and went; every plant’s growth and transplant and disease and harvest for all those years. You could link plant to plant through a “seed stash” and dividing, and trade with other members. The site would link you to those plants, all over the world.

And the gardeners. Hundreds of gardeners; we each had our mini-communities of people who, and whose gardens, we found particularly intriguing.

It changed the way I garden. I learned to relate plants to their cycles, and learned so much practical information. I learned about gardens in other parts of the world, and why people garden, and that people garden, because up until then I didn’t know any gardeners. I found the gardening community in Chicago, and started blogging, which led to this blog, written by a few Folians.

MyFolia literally changed my life.

On August 1 this year the site will close. We had always half hoped and half dreaded that the founders, “Nic and Nath,” (Nicole and Nathan), would sell it and become internet millionaires and really no one would have deserved it more because they were wonderful and the site was wonderful.

But the timing was off and the site’s infrastructure got old and clunky and was of a too-early version to really fix without rewriting the entire code. Their lives moved on, and now ours must too.

05- (3a) MaySome of the community are trying to retain some of what will be lost–connecting to each other, or creating databases in Access or One Note, or photo logs on Flickr, but it won’t be the same integrated motherlode of data and continuity and community.

Folians are gathering. We’re not willing to give it up. Watch for a future post with some guest writers on how they’re redoing their databases, and join us on the Folians group on Facebook.

See you in the garden.

A Year of Gardening

October 2018: A year goes by
The series starts here

You may notice from the date on this entry that I’ve skipped ahead: I’ve had another full year in the garden.

I made some adjustments, and watched things grow. I moved some plants around (which I’ll keep doing forever. For me it’s like rearranging the furniture). I know what works a little better. I got the spigots fixed and routed municipal water through a 100 foot hose into the farm so I can water properly when the rain barrels are empty. I’m getting a better handle on where the shade is, and I’ve had a second harvest. I planted more bulbs, more shrubs, and more prairie plants. I have a pear tree, an elderberry, and two pawpaws.

You’re never really done with a garden; even rooted, plants can, and need to be, moved, divided, pruned. Kind of like families. I do daily walkabouts all year long, carrying my paper journal and jotting down the little and big things that still need doing—finish the wall, reset the pavers, dig up the dandelions.

My last garden, which was also my first garden, grew over a 25-year span. It grew with my children, who were 3 and 7 when I first started to plant things, and were 27 and 30 the last time I walked through it. It grew, like the new one did, from plain grass to an elaborate mix of beds and paths and plants, much like children grow from a plain baby to an elaborate mix of knowledge, hope, and love.

I started this new garden several steps ahead of the old one. I had a good grounding of knowledge and experience that I didn’t have when I decided it would be fun if the kids could pick their own food from the backyard, and dug prairie plants out of my father’s backyard in a prairie town downstate. I knew how much space I needed for vegetables, and that it’s nice to sit and watch the world go by. I knew I liked berry fruits, and that they’re easy to grow. I knew how to build a retaining wall the right way.

I had a cherished fantasy about the old garden, of watching my grandchildren, still unborn, learn about the space. About where we used to plant so many snow peas that we couldn’t stand them anymore, and the story of the dog that is buried there, and where the secret entrance was that led to Narnia. To watch them nibbling raspberries right off the canes like their parents did, and make more grape jelly than we need from the vines on the porch.

 

Instead, we’ll make new memories here, in a new garden, where the stories are still to be born, too.

Take a tour around the garden’s second year here: http://bit.ly/2RsKQ5E

September: Equinox

2. September 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here.

Of the lunar events that mark the calendar, the fall equinox is my favorite.

The garden balances between summer and winter. There is still food to harvest, and a few three-season flowers like cleome, sunflowers, and black-eyed susan that won’t give in to the cool nights. The main color has changed from summer’s neon to fall’s subtler reds and purples. The canterbury bells, whose blue insistence marks the beginning of the July peak, have formed hard seed pods; its leaves are turning yellow. The delphinium and baby’s breath sigh out one more bloom into the chilly morning air. The banes are flowering— bugbane, fleabane, wolfsbane, leopardsbane.

The goddess sends her winter scouts in the guise of spiders the size of a finger joint, and the cicadas scream out a final chorus before the chill takes them underground.

09-Sept (2a)The memory stones–repository for the things I have lost–sit in the heavy rain that impedes the work. The morning dew has that heavy cold sparkle that says “I want to be frost”.

Gardening becomes the mirror of the spring–long days filled with heavy tasks. In the new house I have to switch out eleven screens for the heavy old-fashioned storm windows. I empty the summer’s compost into the beds as I remove the spent plants , replenish the mulch, store outdoor furniture,  and empty and upend the rain barrels. Garlic and bulbs get planted,09-Sept (2c) potted plants are brought inside for the winter. When I was younger I would do it all in late October in a couple of marathon days. Now I spread it out over weeks, and wonder about the time when I won’t be able to do this anymore.

I tend to extremes, so it’s not really in character for the fall Equinox to be my favorite of the earth holidays. I’m not a compromiser. Libra and her scales just annoy me— it’s ONE way or the other,  f*ck compromise, I’m right. My brother, with an autumn birthday, is a classic Libran compromiser. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him growing up in a household with a dour and whiny Capricorn (me), a flighty, intense Gemini (my mother) and a choleric Ares (my father).

My birth family, come to think of it, matched the sun cycle–two Solstice and two Equinox birthdays: winter, spring, summer, fall. There’s a novel in there somewhere, or a mythology. Perhaps the eventual implosion of that family unit is the reason I’m a gardener–a garden matches the eternal with the ephemeral. It is something you can both keep and consume. A family that consumes itself, like mine did, has no replant; you cannot save the seeds and start again.

September: Harvest

1. September, 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

Through all of August 2017 we got less than 3 inches of rain.

The food garden was suffering. I went through all the water in the rain barrels, and had to start dragging the hose around from the other side of the house (there’s no spigot on the farm side, unfortunately). I got plenty of harvest, but not what there would have been in a better rain year.

Many years ago, on this blog and my old family recipe one Mahlzeit, I decided to see if I could grow enough food to preserve for a full cycle, really about 9 months from final harvest to first fruits. This was the main thing that expanded the garden as I learned how much and what to plant to make this happen.

It’s easier now with just me using the produce. When the family was together, I never made it past January, but now I routinely get through the year by preserving produce from 18 tomato plants, 3 eggplants, 100 beans, 10 potato plants, 10-15 corn stalks, plus four square feet each of carrots, onions, and beets. I can or freeze the tomatoes, roast then freeze the eggplants, blanch then freeze the corn and beans. My housemate remarked that everything I eat is “processed” but then, everything I eat is homegrown, so I’m not sure how it’s better to buy tomatoes from Chile in midwinter because they’re “fresh.” Plus, once you cook them into sauce, you’ve processed it anyway. Not sure it counts as processed if it’s not full of salt and preservatives.

In the first year of the new garden I ended up with 20 half pints of tomato sauce; close to my goal of 25 that I know will get me through the year. I lost the pumpkin vines to squash vine borers and inconsistent water. It’s tough to water this many raised beds by hand. You just can’t keep up; they dry out too quickly. Same with the second bean planting, my shelling beans that I dry for soups and chili. The plants died down earlier than in past years so that I didn’t get as much harvest from them as I should. I chose not to plant a third round, because if it doesn’t rain, they just wouldn’t sprout. A lot of the ornamental plants in the Botanic died too, as well as both cherry trees (planted from bare root stock just before the drought hit).

I always tell novice gardeners not to worry about stuff like this; after all, there are grocery stores. You won’t starve if the garden doesn’t produce. And there’s always the gardeners’ (and the Cubs fan) mantra:

Just wait ‘til next year.

4. August, 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

08- August (4)I used to live a 15-minute walk from Chicago’s lakefront. I chose the new place partially for that proximity but it’s an additional 30 minute walk; a little more of a commitment. I seriously considered buying a condo off one of these beaches, but decided I couldn’t live without a garden of my own.

The beaches in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood are part of the long “forever open and free” stretch that makes Chicago’s lakefront so unique. For most of its length, even in sections downtown, the lakefront is public space, open to anyone, never taken over by developers with their hands in the pockets of City Hall.

Considering Chicago politics, it’s remarkable.

This stretch has a nearly uninterrupted stretch of beaches from the city limits at Howard to Loyola University, more than 2 miles, with one mile-plus length of sand that includes piers, a small lighthouse, snack stands, two Park District field houses, and restored dunes. When we first moved to the area the beaches were nearly 60 feet deep, but lake levels have now decimated a lot of it, completely obliterating several small coves, and shortening the walk by nearly half a mile. People who used to have beach at the end of their street now have tiny bays.

On August 21, I sat on this beach with my daughters, and watched the sun disappear in the middle of the day. I’ve witnessed many partial eclipses, although never a full one. The lasting impression is of eeriness: it doesn’t really get that dark, but there’s a strange stillness to the moment, when even all the birds go silent, and all that’s left is the waves in front of you, and the city at your back.

3. August, 2017
Planted: A Year of Gardening
The series starts here

I wrapped up July and started August by landscaping my sister- and brother-in-law’s house. They aren’t gardeners; Mary, my sister-in-law, views the garden the way Fran Leibowitz viewed the sidewalk—it’s what have to cross in order to get to the cab. I suggested a backyard seating area, bright flowers, a fruit tree. All got rejected, on the theory (knowledge) that they had never and would never sit outside. So I ended up putting in five different essentially maintenance-free ground covers: three varieties of bugleweed, a sedum, and chameleon plant. A lot of corners were filled with divided iris, lily-of-the-valley and hosta from other parts of the yard, as well as both scavenged and transplanted shrubs.

My landscape designer friend Maureen says that “maintenance free” is the holy grail for the kinds of people who hire landscapers to put in their gardens. And ground cover is pretty maintenance free; once established you never have to mow, or even weed very much, as it crowds out even aggressive weeds.

A new planting, however, is not maintenance free. You have to weed, and water, until it fills in, which can take a couple of years, especially if you don’t invest in enough plantings to fill the space. We could have used double the number we planted, but it wasn’t in the budget.

Mary says she hates “gardening.” I would just like to clarify that “taking care of the yard” is not the same thing as “gardening.” Saying that you let your lawn and plantings go to hell because you hate to garden is like saying that you never clean your house because you hate to build furniture.

The yard at my in-laws’ two-flat was, to put it charitably, a disaster 30 years in the making. As I joked to neighbors walking by while I worked, you have to do this at least every 40 years whether it needs it or not. It gets no full sun—at best it gets dappled shade. When they moved in, they put in a barberry hedge (because nothing says good neighbors like a thorn hedge—were they hoping to catch the fleece of the golden sheep?) and then never trimmed it. Ditto the spirea and a vicary golden privet. The barberry was overgrown, tangled and half dead.

I started by covering both the front and back with heavy black plastic to kill the weeds, leaving it there for 6 weeks. I shaped, pruned, and trimmed the barberry so that you can see the vase-shaped structure of the plant, but leaving a fountain of branches overhead. A lovely and unusual form for barberries, which people generally cut into little box shapes with power trimmers. I did get several helpful neighbors and my mother in law telling me that I was doing it wrong, and must cut it all even. Thanks for the (unsolicited) input, but no.

At the end of the month my son Seng and I started planting the ground covers. When I pulled off the black plastic the weeds were all gone, but a lovely moss was thriving. Unfortunately, six weeks dry had turned the soil into concrete.

I marked off the patches for the bugleweed (ajuga), a sedum, and dead nettle (lamium). We got 2 of the ajugas and the deadnettle planted, about 300 plants, before we cashed it in. I came back on my own twice to finish the front, and then a third time for the backyard. I had originally thought Seng and I would be able to plant the whole property in a single day. We thought we could dig out individual holes with trowels, but in the end had to use the big spade to turn and break up the soil.

I did the last two plantings on my own, but because they’d been watering, the soil was mercifully looser and it went fairly fast. The yard should bloom in succession in the spring, from the pink lamium to the purple ajuge, to the yellow sedum. It didn’t rain, however for the entire month, and the weeds took over. They continued to neglect the new plantings over the course of the following year, with no watering or weeding. The weeds have taken over again.

They should have put in the patio.

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