The Well-Traveled Lettuce

Although the intense swings from summer to winter that have posed as spring have me fairly convinced that the apocalypse is upon us, no, scratch that. BECAUSE the intense swings from summer to winter that have posed as spring have me COMPLETELY convinced that society  is teetering on the verge of collapse, I have renewed my commitment to learn how to grow my own food. As some of you may recall from last year, gardening is a challenge for me.

For one thing, plants apparently need sun or something, and my apartment doesn’t come with any. In college, a good friend gave me one of those plants with the broad, shiny leaves you get in the grocery store as a dorm-warming present. I named it Joseph. That thing survived seven and a half years of complete neglect, minimal sun, and occasional deadly encounters with cat teeth. I was convinced he was going to outlive me. Then we moved to this apartment. Joseph hung in like a trooper for as long as he could, but apparently even undead plant require either sunlight or water.

Rest in peace, Joseph

John got me an azalea plant for Valentine’s Day, and I was really torn. What I said was, “Oh, that’s so sweet. It’s lovely. Thank you for not buying me cut flowers, which I have ethical objections to unless they’re locally grown.” What I was thinking, however, was more like, “MURDERER! What did that poor plant ever do to you?” Sure enough, within days, it was on its way out. I didn’t even bother trying to rescue it. I mean, azaleas are meant to me planted, for one thing, and though John might have been trying to make a statement about the state of our apartment (hey, he knew when we got married that I don’t dust or wash floor unless the offending surfaces are dirty enough to make my feet black), there still isn’t enough dirt in here to plant a small bush in. John made a valiant attempt to rescue the azalea. He put it in the spot with the least indirect light and constructed a reflector from cardboard and tinfoil and proceeded to water the plant more than any plant in our household has ever been watered. In retrospect, that might have been part of the problem…

Azalea? Goner.

We did okay with a few of the shady herbs last year, in that we got sprouts, but the only herbs that grow well in shade are herbs I have never used before. The borage was pretty, but seriously–would you eat fuzzy leaves?  Intimated by the alien herbs, we never watered or thinned them, and they too died.

This year, things are going to be different. I have proof:

Well-Traveled LEttuce

This, my friends, is the most well-traveled lettuce you are likely to meet. These little seedlings have traveled approximately 2,000 miles, which is 500 miles further than the average head of lettuce travels from the farm to the family table. I believe they prove the exception to the rule that says the further food has traveled, the less nutritious it’s going to be, but only because I don’t believe it would be particularly smart for commercial enterprises to build gardens in their semis and then drive around letting people pick their lettuce from the back of the tractor-trailer truck.

In my case, however, it makes perfect sense. I mean, I’m not driving the plants around for their own sake. It’s not like I think the soothing rhythm of the road and the soothing excess of carbon dioxide is going to make them grow better. I happen to drive close to 2,000 miles in a typical month because my family is in Maine and my job is a split-shift nightmare half an hour away. My car, however, spends most of its time parked in gorgeously sunny parking lots and has a large amount of glass in its structure, making it, in essence, a magical mobile greenhouse. I say magical, because those greens that I thinned from my lettuce beds this afternoon are the first food I have produce since the two best tomatoes ever I managed to coax from a plant back in college.

I’m also growing tomatoes in my car. See?

The tomatoes are in the middle.

In other news, I’ve finally decided on a name for my car. Marjory. She’s a trash heap alright (more my fault than hers), but she’s reliable, and something good seems to be coming from her, so I think the name is fitting.

 

Desiccation

As much as I always hate to admit this in public, I am not above the vampire craze. Not that I go seeking out every piece of vampire fiction ever written, but vampire books do seem to make their way into my “to be read” pile. I get a certain level of pleasure from them that I don’t from reading the more “serious” or “literary” books in the stack. Maybe it’s the difference between eating out and cooking for yourself. Reading a beautifully written book that requires you to labor through each page is rewarding in the same way that making homemade sourdough is, but it doesn’t offer the consistently delicious, hassle-free euphoria of having a professional make your food while you lounge around drinking lemonade.

Food and literature aside, what I really want to get into is vampires. One of the more original series I’ve been sucked into lately (Noble Dead) has your normal blood-sucking vampires, sure, but it also throws in mage vampires who are capable of using magic to suck all the life out of a person, not just the blood. What’s left behind is a withered, dried-out husk of a corpse. It’s not a pretty way to die, and reading about it gave me the creeps.

Creepier still, however, is the idea of a tiny, mite-sized vampire who lives on you, parasite fashion, and breeds, sucking every last drop of life out of you day by agonizing day. You would think that since they’re small enough to squash they would be easy to get rid of, but the reality is that they’re so small that it’s impossible to just crush them all. They keep sucking here by there, leaving you aware of the fact that you’re helplessly turning into a bone-dry husk. Some of you houseplant aficionados may guess where I’m going with this, but let me give you a picture to help the imagination along:

Spider mites are tiny plant vampires of the desiccating sort. I bought this ivy less than a month ago to put in the planter, which I now suspect to be haunted by the ghost of the first plant to die a horrible death within its ceramic walls. That plant I had tried to grow from a clipping off the one plant that has stayed happy and healthy since my freshman year of college in spite of my gross neglect. I figured it would be easy to grow a clipping from such a hardy plant, but I was wrong. Apparently baby hardy plants need a little more TLC than mama hardy plants, and also, they may actually need water once in a while. Short version: it died.

Without respect for the ghostly remains of dead baby hardy plant, I transplanted my new ivy into the pot, using most of the leftover soil to pack around what the plant came with, and I’m wondering if this was the problem. The ivy was bug-free and lushly green when I brought it home from the grocery store. A few days after the transplant, I noticed a few tiny webs along the leaves. I never like webs, but I didn’t worry too much about it. I just spritzed some water at them to knock them off and went about my business.

A day or so after that, I noticed that the webs were back, and there were more of them. On closer inspection, I saw that they were being made by itsy-bitsy white bugs crawling along the strands. My reaction at this point was “Ewww, gross, I should find a way to kill those,” but in intense heat, I am not a girl of action. I just moved the plant so it wasn’t touching anything and went on with my not doing anything, figuring the plant didn’t look any the worse for wear, so it could wait.

Another day or so after that, I looked at my plant again and found that not only where the webs ALL OVER the plant, the plant had also gone from looking green and happy (albeit covered in little bugs) to dry and brown and possibly no longer among the living (and still covered in little bugs). This spurred John and I into action. We did a little internet research and found that you can kill bugs humanely with natural things like neem oil, or you can hit them with a soap that essentially melts them from the inside out. Of course I’d prefer to use a nicer bug killer, but we couldn’t find neem oil and I just can’t find it in myself to be sympathetic towards those little plant-desiccating vermin. I put the plant in the bath tub to contain the fallout and waged serious chemical warfare on every one of their albino-bug behinds.

The plant, as you can see, is mite-free again, but I don’t have much hope for its survival. There isn’t a single leaf that came away unscathed. Right now, I think it’s fair to say that at best, the spider mites (aided by my ignorant neglect) have turned my poor little ivy into some undead horror whose memory will join the dead baby hardy plant in haunting the blue planter. Maybe dumping their grave soil will alleviate the problem, but if a third plant dies of dehydration within this planter’s confines, I’m giving it up for cursed.