Feb 28, 2021


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Feb 23, 2021

Backyard Giants

The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever

by Susan Warren

I should have guessed that in the world of competitive vegetable growing, there's people whose goal is to produce the biggest pumpkin ever. When this book was written, men aimed to break the record with a pumpkin that weighed over 1,500 pounds (now the world record is 2,624 pounds). This story focuses on a group of giant pumpkin growers in a Rhode Island club, telling the ups and downs that several of them face through one season. The opening and closing chapters, which are mostly about the individuals and their competitiveness, the history of record-breaking giant pumpkins, and the weigh-in that closes the 2006 season, were not that great for me. The writing style tries a little too hard to be enthusiastic and felt awkward in some parts. Nearly stopped reading after chapter three. However the bulk of the book, about how the pumpkins are actually grown and tended, was more to my interest- I can relate as a gardener. Careful selection of seed, testing and prepping the soil, germinating and tending the young plants, setting them out then protecting them anxiously from rough spring weather, pruning and feeding and spraying against pests all summer, fretting over disease and disaster (hungry wildlife, cracked skins, even in one case a suspected fellow grower who jealously poisoned someone's plants!) I'm not a competitive person myself so I don't really understand the fire that makes them work for huge fruit with so much effort- forcing the plants to strain to the max without cracking, rotting or collapsing. I'd rather have something beautiful, useful, or good to eat, than just a right to brag about "mine's the biggest"! But if I ever go to an agricultural fair I'll be sure to stare at prize-winning pumpkins with different eyes now, knowing all that went into getting them that huge size. They do look rather obscene, though.

Rating: 3/5                256 pages, 2007

Feb 20, 2021

Living with Bugs

Least-toxic Solutions to Everyday Bug Problems 
by Jack DeAngelis 

     This book is very straightforward: an entomologist who worked for the Oregon State University Extension Service for some twenty years, wrote it to inform the general public about bugs. The book identifies the creepy crawlies that are commonly found in homes in the States and tells a little about their life cycles noting which ones are problems to be concerned about, and which you can just ignore because they don't really harm anything. Also noting how they all have a useful role in natural ecosystems and so we shouldn't just wipe them out en masse because we don't like them. When insect infestations are a problem, there's information on how to control numbers or eliminate them from the home, with non-toxic methods recommended first and insecticides or poisons used as last resort. In most cases, the advice was simply to keep things clean! Moths in the pantry? throw out the infested flour, clean up spills and seal the food properly. Bedbugs making you itch at night? wash your sheets every week. Holes in the favorite sweaters you only wear in the coldest month of the year? make sure they're laundered before going back into storage, and kept in a tight plastic container. And so on. I actually found the little details about the small creatures pretty interesting, although seeing closeup photos of cockroaches and lice and engorged ticks is really unpleasant. I learned some interesting things, such as that silverfish can jump (by flipping their bodies), boxelder bugs feed on maple tree leaves (which is why I have lots in my yard every summer), and the wasps that make a paper nest with open cells are predators useful in the garden that rarely sting people, while the yellowjackets that make large roundish paper nests without visible cells, are the ones that might attack people who disturb it, and should be removed.

In all, I found this book useful and informative- but there is one little aggravation which I must remedy someday. My copy is missing pages 33-64! Not torn or cut out, the book was bound very neatly without them. So I didn't get to read about lice, ticks, mosquitoes, carpenter ants, termites, powderpost beetles, horntail wood wasps or carpenter bees. Some of which I have personally encountered so it would have been nice to have this author's take on them. Curious how many other copies of this book out there are missing several signatures, I looked for other reviews online. Found just a few- none of them mention absent pages, and one says that the section I'm missing is the best part of the book! That's a bit disappointing. I did acquire my copy used- now I know why someone else discarded it. Maybe I'll find another someday, and this time scan the pages thoroughly before bringing it home.

Rating: 3/5                 176 pages, 2009

Feb 18, 2021

The Exotic Garden

Designing with Tropical Plants in Almost Any Climate 
by Richard R. Iversen

     This book is about growing tropical plants in a temperate climate. It has information on design- including how to artfully combine the varied textures, colors and growth habits of different plants to best effect. It tells how to cultivate them, including keeping in pots or setting out into beds, and overwintering- which consists of either bringing plants inside, keeping seed, rhizomes or tubers to grow from next year, or taking cuttings. Some plants sounds like it's easier or more economical to just buy new plants in the spring- as once it is warm enough outside, if properly fed and watered, tropical plants can grow very fast. While much of the information in here is repetitive to me, the specifics on tropicals in my kind of climate was very useful. The author is really enthusiastic about tropical plants and his delight in them is infectious. I thought at first well, my choices are limited- I don't have a lot of space indoors to overwinter plants with bright light- nor can i afford to buy tons of basically disposable plants every spring (though I do try to add some perennials to my yard every year). Then I realized hey wait a minute- I already do some of this: I grow and take coleus cuttings every year. I bring my bay laurel, potted figs and geraniums indoors for the winter, set them out again in spring. The book taught me that I could do a few things differently- such as saving the tubers of my decorative sweet potato vine dried and stored in a small box, instead of keeping cuttings growing in pots. This would save space, giving me room for a different plant, and also maybe curtail my problem with whitefly and/or tiny leaf hoppers every winter, which tend to come in on my plants especially the sweet potato vine, even though I take measures against them. So! the book encouraged me. I started taking notes- jotting down names of all the plants that caught my eye in photos as being particularly striking or pretty, and then writing down species I liked the sound of from the some hundred plants in the detailed glossary. Sticking to only those I think I could handle their overwintering needs and mature size, I still ended up with a list of forty plants. It's like my never-ending TBR, the lists I make of plants I'd like to try and grow- after learning more about them and hoping I can actually find a specimen to bring home someday. Now more eager for spring and a new growing season to try my hand at a few new things!

Rating: 4/5           170 pages, 1999

Feb 16, 2021

new shelves!

A while ago I said to my husband, why don't we put shelves behind the bed? where there's empty space between the headboard that leans back, and the air duct that juts out. I looked for a long time and couldn't find any ready-made bookcase that would fit at just 9" deep. So he finally built some for me:
I held things up, moved cords for the drill around, painted. Took us about two days. Then spent a few hours rearranging my library to make use of it! Which was the fun part. These are all TBR books. First row in:
and the rest:
(And it's only half-I have eight other shelves of TBR). Happily this got them all off the floor, and allowed me to rearrange the permanent books so none are double-stacked or horizontally wedged in. As you can see in before and after pics below, of another wall in my bedroom. The stack on the floor in the corner is mostly books I read since the pandemic started. I had no place left to shelve them into the permanent collection.
Now there's space and then some! It's so nice they all have a bit of breathing room too.

Feb 13, 2021

You Grow Girl

by Gayla Trail

     When I started reading this book, I thought it wouldn't teach me much new. I could not have been more wrong. Yes, it covers the basics of gardening, keeping things simple and small-scale whether you just have a balcony space or a patch of backyard. Includes explanations on things like mixing potting soil, making compost, cleaning tools, reading plant labels, thwarting pests, mulching, starting seed, saving the harvest and so much more. There's also lots of crafts such as making a planter box, sewing a gardener's apron with pockets, creating plant labels and seed packets, building a trellis, and custom stepping stones. There's directions for many things I've never tried before such as candied flower petals, floral-infused vinagers and homemade hand salve. I already have ideas to try a few new things, or grow several plants I never considered before, due to her enthusiastic recommendation. Sunchokes and calendula are now on my list. It's all presented in a very cheerful, friendly style, telling you up front what to be concerned about and what to shrug off. This book really made me feel interested in picking things up for the garden again- I had been feeling quite blah about the cold weather lately but it is halfway through february after all, so before turning the last page I went and started seventeen trays of seed for my spring garden. Oh, and I finally found the name of the 'scat plant' I grew one year! This book tells me it's coleus canina, also known as 'scaredy cat plant' (which info I had before but somehow missed the correct ID looking that up). Kinda odd because it's not in the coleus family? so I'm still a bit confused about this one but now I know how to find it again. Very happy to have that little mystery in my head solved.

Rating: 4/5                    208 pages, 2005

Feb 12, 2021

Saving Dove

by C.S. Adler

     I read this book in a hot bath, just under two hours. It's a horse story where the whole narrative arc is about how to procure treatment for an injured horse. It has a lot of difficult things going on: Jan's father has recently died in an accident, she and her mother are still grieving. They had to give up their large ranch house to live in the small "casita" that used to be for hired hands. Her mother still makes a living boarding and caring for other's horses, and taking guests on trail rides, while their original house has been converted into an assisted living home for the elderly. When Jan's horse goes lame it turns out to be more serious than just a bruise or sprain- he needs an operation. Jan's mother takes a second job but it still isn't enough for the cost. The girl is desperate to find a way to save her horse but can't think of anything. She's more distracted than usual from school, and can't relate to the other kids who don't seem to have any of the same worries (though one girl is nice to her and that might turn into a friendship). One day she's outside with her horse and meets two old ladies from the assisted living home, out for a walk. Mattie commiserates with Jan over the horse's condition, says she used to have a horse when she was young, and invites Jan to the house to see photos. Reluctantly Jan complies and to her surprise finds she rather likes the older woman. She visits her now and then, while still trying to figure out what to do: can she get a job herself? could she lease a "share" of her horse to someone who wants to ride and doesn't own one? It turns out that Mattie might have an answer to her problem, but then she worries about the morality of accepting the offer. This story surprised me with its depth, for such a short book it sure hits some serious issues. And I didn't even mention all of them! Have to leave the reader something to find out. There was only one conversation near the end of the book that struck me as awkward, the rest felt very real and easy to read.

Rating: 3/5