Monday, March 14, 2011

I Love You Hydroponically

At our country place in New Paltz, New York we've surrendered.

David and I cannot be weekenders, inhabiting the house only sometimes, and keep legions of wildlife, raccoons, mice, moles, weasels, and assorted birds and rodents out of our vegetables anymore. And the deer - the nearly domesticated beasts that think they might be dogs who hover in our backyard waiting for the slightest whiff of something cooking, and will eat anything with any kind of green on it - will climb fences, leap through the air, practically walk in the house to get at whatever we are growing or making.

I hate those deer.

When we first moved in, we used to gaze out the window and look lovingly at the deer grazing in our front yard. This was nature right up close. It was amazing. The kids ran to the window, pressed their faces up against it, and took turns pointing out various attributes - antlers, hooves, flicking tails. And one of them would become convinced one of the deer was looking right at them. There was real excitement. Deer rocked.

David and I were pleased with ourselves in those moments. We glanced at each other over the kids heads, smiled, happy that we made this decision, that we bought this house, that we are giving our city kids a little taste of the country...

Now, we talk about picking off the deer one by one with a rifle out the back window.

It's funny how I like nature but don't actually like when it gets out of my control. I like nature when she sits in a corner and quietly reads a book. It's nice to have her around then. She's pretty. She makes a great backdrop to my life. And when she occasionally looks up from her pages and smiles at me, I'm elated. I might even go over and give her a quick hug or a wink. I often appreciate her when she turns her face back to the words on the page, when she's there, but not looking directly at me.

But the minute she gets up and starts dancing around, or singing a loud song off-key, or telling salty jokes when she hasn't been asked, or - as in the case of the deer - rudely eating all the Hostas out of pots on my deck two feet from my back door, well, then I don't love her so much. Then, I just want to jump in our Jeep and head back to the city where it feels like nature is something invisible, removed, and controlled, where it is manufactured in the form of parks and playgrounds, with safe walls and clear paths, and where I can choose to accept it or ignore it. Where I can get the best of the trees and the flowers and let go of all that messy unpredictability.

This is the delusion of civilization, isn't it? That we have some control. And then, of course, I remember Japan...and that we have no control. We are specs. And nature is our master.

But sometimes I feel a need to assert our independence under the master. In that spirit, David and I decided we should grow vegetables and herbs indoors in our green house, which is a window-paneled sun room we are converting to a working greenhouse.

David suggested we do this hydroponically, so that we weekenders had a shot at proper watering. My old strategy was to drown the plants on Sunday and then, find them shriveled and gulping for air on Friday night, where I would dump a lot more water on them and shock them back to life with a rip tide of water.

My tomato plants hated me.

Still, despite my inadvertent attempts at killing them, my tomatoes thrived. They've bore crops January, February and into March.

Now by "crops" I mean every weekend we get 6 -15 cherry tomatoes. Meager, I know. This without grow lights or any fancy strategies or techniques. They have given us fruit despite me.

We get tomatoes in our Saturday morning omelets and a salad or two. If we were depending on tomatoes to actually eat, well, we'd be screwed. But the upside to growing in our greenhouse is that the deer can do nothing, but press their desperate, wet noses against the glass and be tortured by our amazing little red jewels. Ha!

David McGyvered together a hydroponic system with some storage bins and an aqaurium filter. He went to the local hydroponics store - we're a college town, there is a BIG interest in hydroponics here, if you know what I mean - spent the children's inheritance on clay balls from Germany.

They started planting...

We mocked the deer while we planted.

David got a little attached to his seedlings.

There was a lot of hovering. And gently stroking and talking to the seedlings.

Love in the form of over-coddling, poking and prodding.

Baby spinach and March!

And still more love in the form of obsession.

I love you hydroponically, baby spinach and baby arugula. Mwah. Mwah.

Tell me the deer aren't screaming with envy. All that bark they're eating must be tasting like a cardboard box right about now. Bwah ha ha ha! And yet a few feet away some of the most succulent baby leaves ever grown by complete bumbling amateurs.

We enjoyed tormenting the deer so much we are planning on going to six hydroponic boxes. We'll grow leafy greens in the cool months, tomatoes and herbs in the summer. David dreams of setting up a year-round hydroponic farm in our basement.

No pot. Just veg.

xo YM



The Table of Promise said...

This is an inspiration! I am dying to try tomatoes in that topsy turvy thing in our NYC apartment this summer. We get so much light, I might as well put it to good use. I think farming should be adapted to your life. Sometimes one can adapt their life to farming, but not always. Thanks for this look at a different way of doing it.

Margie said...

Oh snaps! This had me hollering. I love it. I'm with you on nature. She's great but the minute she points our your black pants are darker than your black shirt it's over.

Sharon Miro said...

Oh, honey, you made me really laugh...why not actually plant the pot outside and the deer won't care what else you are growing...

The Yummy Mummy said...

Table of Promise -

If you have lots of light, tomatoes could grow year round and you won't have to do it hydroponically because you can water and adjust heat as needed. I also use Miracle grow tomato food, which I think has helped a lot.

I definitely want to see how you do with them. It feels good to harvest your own food...even if it is just 6 tiny cherry tomatoes!


The Yummy Mummy said...

Sharon -

Ah! The old bait and switch! I do need a pot of something just to keep them off kilter, don't I?

I feel like I'm Wylie Coyote, and the road runner (or in this case, the deer) always win. And there I am with the box of ACME explosives landing on my head!


Barbara | VinoLuciStyle said...

I hear others complain about deer and yes, part of me is probably thinking 'quit yer bitching' but then...I don't have deer.

But I do have a problem. Squirrels seem to like my tomatoes. One bite of them apparently. So...I decided last year to forgo planting in the raised beds in the back 40 (feet that is, not acres) and put my tomatoes in pots near my porch.

Poor squirrels were being blamed and it wasn't their fault. DOG was the culprit. Caught her standing up on the pots to snag a tomato. My wildlife is a Cocker Spaniel!

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

Such a perfect description of that love-hate relationship with nature. We garden at home in the city, but we have a big yard by urban standards, a double lot. And as much as I love the space to play and plant, there are days (many days) during the growing season when a concrete yard sounds awfully nice. Often we'd rather be out biking or traveling or otherwise doing, not tending. Which is why the yard these days is best viewed from a distance.

Does David always wear that sweater? Or did those transplants grow crazy fast?

The Yummy Mummy said...

Christina -

That is his "New Paltz Gardening Sweater". I busted him all night because you noticed the sweater. God, I love you!

He wanted me to tell you that he likes it and it's orange and then after I couldn't stop laughing, he muttered something about how I should kiss his ass... Bwah ha ha.

You made my night!


Nuts about food said...

I remember when my mom moved to Sweden and planted strawberries and tomatoes and arugula (I specially brought her the seeds from Italy) in her new garden, city slicker that she was. How she cared for those plants for weeks and was utterly devastated when the deer ate every one of her new tomatoes in a night and pretty much anything else in sight. I understand your hydroponic love. And I noticed the sweater too ;o)

Christina @ Spoonfed said...

Kim, tell David I love the color orange and that sweater, and if he could see the comfy things I wear over and over again, he'd be the one laughing. Hail the New Paltz Gardening Sweater!

Brian Silvey said...

I have the same love/ hate relationship with deer. We put up an 8 foot fence around 2 acres to keep them out. It actually works. Until a tree comes down in a storm. Not too often so not so bad. One winter after a storm we were being a bit lazy and didn't immediately remove a tree that had fallen across the fence. A few days later we saw the deer grazing in the field and got that "close to nature" glow and decided to let them stay for the rest of the winter. As spring approached, and plants we didn't want the deer to eat were starting to pop up, we fixed the fence. Later that spring we noticed our azaleas had very few blooms. In fact the only blooms were way in the back. On closer inspection you could see that every branch was nipped and the bud was gone. Cute little SOB's. The deer are once again banished to the woods.


Cheryl Arkison said...

Morgan does work for a guy with a country place. Or, as we call it here, a farm. He literally sits on his front steps, scotch in hand and rifle beside him, to hunt the deer as they walk through the yard.

Of course, his neighbours aren't exactly close and they are all happy to have him to do this so that their gardens aren't destroyed. Call it this guy's meat garden.

FreeRange Pamela said...

Lovely description of the relationship with nature. We've moved out to the country and I'm trying to make peace with the messiness of it. But the deer... no. It's warm here so we're building raised beds outside, and surrounding them with an electric fence. We have an electric fence plan that calls for aluminum foil and peanut butter every few feet. The idea is that the peanut butter attracts the deer, but when they lick the aluminum foil, they get shocked. Apparently, you have to train the deer that there's an electric fence there, otherwise they don't learn to stay away. Your hydroponic set up looks really cool, though.

lights grow said...

This one is nice tomato grow round for hydroponics system.I love this miracle grow tomato food.It is fresh food.