Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Musings on garden life

I’ve been reflecting on my life in the garden these past few months. Who knew that I would fall in love with gardening as I have done? I have spent nearly every moment of my free time since May in the garden, with the exception of two vacations that took me away from it for three weeks. I could truly enjoy those wonderful vacations because I knew that our garden was in good hands. The nice thing about being part of a community garden is that the other gardeners will water your garden while you are away. There is always someone you can ask for help. In my case it has been the friendly Turkish women who have the neighboring garden.

One of my colleagues at work, a female pathologist who also likes to garden, told me that when she lived in England some years ago, she had visited a cemetery where there stood a gravestone with the inscription—“Here lies a gentleman and a gardener”. What a good way to be remembered. I can’t help but love it.

While I was in NY for two weeks, the pumpkin patch expanded even further, and now half of the pumpkins are large and orange. I’m guessing that by the end of September, when the stems that attach them to the vines turn brown, they’ll be ready to harvest. In the meantime, my corn plants produced small corn cobs that I was able to harvest this past week. I learned that when the tassels turn brown, they're ready to harvest. I’m happy to say that they taste very good, even though they’re small. A friend of mine recently sent me a gardening book (a gardening bible is more like it), and I’ve been reading through it, hoping to get some tips for next year on how to get larger corn. One of the things I will ensure that the corn seedlings start off with next year is newly-composted soil. I think that will help their growth a lot. The Turkish women in the neighboring allotment garden have helped me harvest the large beans that hang from the bean plants they planted for me (more like small trees, at least in their garden). They taste very good, a bit different from the regular green string beans that we are used to. The broccoli plants are forming small broccolis, even though the plants themselves were stressed by the presence of the slugs that ate holes in their leaves.

All in all, I’ve planted and harvested string beans, Turkish beans, beets, snap peas, corn, and eventually I’ll be harvesting the pumpkins. Not bad for the first year of being a gardener. I will probably plant the same vegetables next year. As far as berries and fruit go, we’ve gotten quite a few strawberries, red currants and mulberries, and some black currants. We’ve planted raspberry and blueberry bushes so that next year we can expect a good yield of berries if we take good care of the plants. And I cannot forget the rhubarb plants; there is nothing you can do to them that will stop them from growing. I’ve cut them back twice now, and they’ve grown back each time. There is too much rhubarb and not enough rhubarb recipes!

I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to plant a lawn; there are many different types of grass seed, but all of them take root within five to seven days if the conditions are right. Once you sow the seed, you have to make sure that the ground stays moist. Luckily, that hasn’t been much of a problem this summer, since the weather has been unstable with mostly sunny days interspersed with a few rainy ones. I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to get a decent lawn, although it will be interesting to see how and if it survives the winter months.

The bees have been busy and happy this year, and the resulting honey was sold this past Sunday in the garden. It tastes very good—creamy and sweet—and I’m already using it in my tea. I love having the bees around me in the garden; they keep to themselves, buzzing about, and do not bother me at all. I’d like to think they are used to me by now. The lavender and sage (Salvia) plants that I put in for them are popular with them, as is the butterfly bush (Buddleja) with the butterflies. We don’t have Monarch butterflies, but we do have smaller varieties with lovely blue, gold and orange colors. The garden also has a resident badger; he has a mate and they now have five small badgers. I have not seen them (they are generally nocturnal animals), but apparently someone else has and word gets around. They dig up small holes in the lawn looking for worms to eat, otherwise you would not notice that they are there.

Next year we have plans to buy a small greenhouse so that we can plant tomatoes and other plants that need some protection from the elements. I won’t plant spinach or cauliflower next year, since the slugs ate them this year. I will plant more corn and the same amount of pumpkin plants. It will be interesting to see what the coming years bring. What I do know is that we were given a gift this year, and that gift has given me peace of mind and soul, a peace that was sorely needed. It’s also given my body a lot of aches and pains, but they don’t last, and in any case, they are a reminder of the hard work and love that go into a garden. I wouldn’t have it any other way. In my next post, I'll include some new photos of the garden.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Give the world the best you have--Mother Teresa

I saw this wonderful advice today and wanted to share it. I've seen it before and you probably have as well. But somehow it struck me today that we need this advice more than ever, especially when it seems as though society is spiraling out of control. When things seem bleak, when it seems as though there is no meaning in what we do, this will help us to remember what it really is all about. Today is all we have, and the only thing we can offer the world is ourselves and our good deeds. It is not about being remembered for them, only about doing them and perhaps knowing that we helped to make another person's day.

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway. 

–Mother Teresa

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Visit to Normandy

Our trip to France this year took us to the northwest part of France—to Normandy. I’ve been wanting to visit this historical region for several years; it played a huge part during World War II. To quote from Wikipedia, ‘the Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front’. On June 6, 1944, the Allied troops (American, British and Canadian) stormed a handful of beaches along the coast of Normandy in order to fight the Germans and ended up turning the tides of World War II. But it did not happen without a lot of bloodshed. The Allied troops landed on five beaches—designated Omaha and Utah (American troops), Juno (Canadian troops), Gold (British troops) and Sword (Canadian and British troops). We chose to visit Omaha Beach, which saw the most casualties. From a distance, the sands look almost reddish-brown, a poignant reminder of the blood shed on this beach. It runs for a length of 8 kilometers (5 miles); at present, it’s a public beach, open for all, and lined with several small restaurants and cafes. There are also some lovely houses along the road that parallels the beach. There are signs detailing the history of the beach and a couple of memorials. We walked along it for about two miles, and then stopped for some iced tea at one of the cafes along the beach.

I found it very moving to stand on Omaha beach, looking out over the ocean, knowing that many of the American soldiers that landed here never made it home. They never had the chance to fall in love, marry, raise a family, have a career—all those things that we take for granted. Think about that, about how privileged we are, never to have known a major world war in our lifetimes (thus far). Being there made me understand why my father, who was stationed for three years in England during WWII, never wanted to talk about the war in any great depth. His job was to load bombs onto planes, which ruined his back for the rest of his life. I think he was just glad to get home to America and to move on from that experience. Sometimes he told us stories about his time in the army, but they mostly had to do with the discipline and routines that the soldiers had to follow, and were usually to illustrate a point or to help enforce the rules he and my mother set for us children.

I had a similar emotional reaction when we visited the Normandy American Cemetery afterward. This cemetery, in Colleville-sur-Mer, is situated on the cliffs above Omaha Beach and looks down onto the beach itself. It is the burial site of 9,387 American soldiers, the majority of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent operations. There are also Walls of the Missing, on which are inscribed 1,557 names of those who ended up missing or unidentifiable.

the reddish-brown sands of Omaha Beach

view of Omaha Beach from the American Cemetery

Our hotel was in Caen, an old and very historic city (of William the Conqueror fame). Our trip to Omaha Beach from Caen took about an hour each way, and our trip to the island of Le Mont Saint Michel took about ninety minutes each way. Caen itself was a lovely small city, easy to drive around in and to get to know. We visited the Memorial de Caen, a memorial and war museum dedicated to peace, and one of, if not the best, war history museums I’ve ever encountered. As my husband said, everyone should visit this museum because you will learn so much about WWII and the economic and social conditions in Europe that led up to it, about the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, the Jewish ghettos, the Russia front, and the Normandy invasions. It is an amazing history lesson and I highly recommend visiting it.

Le Mont Saint Michel, which is on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, is a wonder to behold from a distance and up close. The island draws its name from the monastery at the topmost part of the island; below the monastery, there are stores and housing—nowadays those stores are tourist gift shops and restaurants. It is a steep climb to the top of the island, and a climb that one makes together with hundreds of other visitors; about three million people visit the island each year. What makes this place special are the tidal waters that both cut off and connect the island to the mainland. According to Wikipedia, ‘the tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres (46 ft) between high and low water marks’. When the tide goes out, it can go out as far as 25 km, and when it comes back in, it comes rushing back in. So even though there is now a bridge that connects the island to the mainland, it can still be perilous to walk on the beaches surrounding the island because of the tide rushing in and because some of the areas on the beaches are like quicksand. It is recommended that you walk around on the beaches with an experienced guide. The Tour de France bicycle race started here this year, and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful place to start.

Mont Saint Michel from a distance showing the bridge out to the island

seagull modeling for photographers

the beaches surrounding the island 

tide coming back in 

flags at entrance to the Memorial Museum in Caen 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

An agenda of snobbery

Earlier this month we attended a boating get-together of (mostly) Norwegians who are interested in wooden boats. It’s always an interesting and enjoyable time when I’m together with them. The majority are men in their late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Some attend these get-togethers with their wives and kids/grand-kids, whereas others are there without their families. All of them are very wealthy and fairly conservative. When they first meet me, I’m the one who stands out from the crowd, because they hear that I'm an American the minute I open my mouth. I speak Norwegian fluently, but with a decidedly New York accent. Most of them are nice people and friendly to me, if a bit skeptical because of what they’ve heard or know about America. Most of what they know about the USA is based on what they read in Norwegian newspapers or what they hear on TV. I for my part am open and willing to talk to them; I don’t shy away or retreat from the social doings. My conversations with them are usually about how long I have lived in Norway, what I do for a living, and where I work. I end up talking to some of the wives; this year, one of them, a 73-year old woman who had traveled quite a bit around the world, told me about her very enjoyable cross-country tour of the USA some years ago. She loved it and mentioned that her husband did as well (which was not exactly true as I later discovered—she was speaking for him). It was quite interesting to talk with her, and we ended up having a very nice conversation. Eventually her husband joined us, and she told him how nice it was to have met me and conversed with me. It didn’t take long for me to discover that he had an agenda that he wanted to share with me. He had traveled in the USA by himself, he told me, and he had never met so many stupid people in his life (dumme amerikanere). By stupid, he meant untraveled and uninterested in the rest of the world. Since he was easily 73 or 74 years old, his traveling (for business) had been done when he was in his 40s, which meant back in the 1980s. He seemed quite keen on imparting that information to me--that many Americans were stupid. It always strikes me as quite odd that some few Europeans have that particular agenda that they wish to share with me, as though they think that I will immediately agree with them or try to do something about their complaint. Or perhaps he was hoping that I would get my hackles up (I didn't, I kept my cool). What struck me most was the dissimilarity between him and his wife—he was a snob and his wife was not. He clearly did not like that his wife had enjoyed talking to me (a commoner) and was in a hurry to end the conversation. Whenever I meet Europeans like that, it always reminds me of why I am glad to be an American. I am so used to meeting different people from different countries and cultures, and it would never cross my mind to tell a Norwegian whom I had just met that in my opinion, many of his or her countrymen were stupid. I was raised to be a respectful person, and if there is one thing I am not, it’s a snob. In any case, he behaved rudely because he wanted to end the conversation, and not surprisingly, it ended. When I saw them the next day, they both ignored me. I gathered that he had probably put his wife in her place. 

I no longer take these snubs personally as I did when I first moved here. It is no longer a surprise to me that some Europeans really do not like the USA. When I look at how the media present the USA to them, it is no surprise at all. In the Norwegian tabloid media at least, the USA is a gun-loving, gun-toting, aggressive, imperialistic, capitalistic country, bent on world domination. It sounds almost silly, but that is the picture painted of the USA. The serious media present specific issues (e.g. gun control, health insurance) in an in-depth manner, so at least the nuances are discussed. It is surprising to me how preoccupied Norwegian media are with what goes on in the USA. Our politicians, political situations, debates and conventions are big news here. Sometimes I think Europeans are more concerned about the problems in the USA than they are about the problems in their own countries. Or perhaps they think that their countries are problem-free. Rest-assured that the latter is not the case; Europe has real problems with terrorism/extremist activities that are only going to get worse before they get better, unfortunately. 

I have given up trying to explain to skeptical Europeans that most of the Americans I know are no different than they are—educated, married, raising or have raised families, healthy and unhealthy, hard-working, thinking about retirement, wanting to travel, and so on. It surprises me that well-educated Europeans have not figured this out yet. Apparently they believe everything they read or hear in the media, and their protests notwithstanding, many of them get most of their news from the tabloid media. Or maybe they just don't want to broaden their minds, because if they did, they would no longer be able to see the world in black and white. Perhaps it scares them to think about broadening their perspectives. That surprises me most of all, since it is exactly what they criticize Americans for. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

My pumpkin patch and other updates on garden life

My last post about our garden was on July 10th. In the interim, we did some vacation traveling, first a three-day boat trip to Fredrikstad, and then a week-long visit to Caen, France. I'll write a bit more about our travels in another post. Just in the short time we were away, the garden changed considerably--it exploded in growth as you'll see from the photos here. The pumpkin patch especially took off; the vines have spread out and fastened themselves to grass stalks and whatever else they can use to stabilize themselves. There are going to be a lot of pumpkins to harvest if growth conditions continue to be favorable. I cannot help but think of Linus in Peanuts, and his heartfelt wish to sit in the pumpkin patch on Halloween and wait for the Great Pumpkin to arrive. When the pumpkins reach maturity, you bet that I'm going to be sitting in my pumpkin patch and I'll post a photo when that time comes.

It has been very warm in Oslo during the month of July, and that's always good for plant growth. My corn plants are also doing well; ears of corn have formed on at least half of the plants, with pink tassels sprouting out from the top of the cobs. I've noted that the ears of corn do not form on the top part of the corn plant, but rather on the lower part of the plant. It should be an interesting harvest come September/October. The string bean plants have produced many string beans per plant and they taste very good--extra good knowing that they come from the garden. Ditto for the snap pea plants--there are many of them and they taste good.

I've also planted many different kinds of flowers, with the idea of 'filling in the gaps' (not having too many bare patches although there will always be some) in the flower garden. I like the result so far, as do the bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies. I've wandered around the rest of the community garden gathering ideas from other gardeners. Some of the other gardens are just so wild and beautiful--flowers in all colors, sizes and shapes. I'm picking up tips, talking to the other gardeners, watching how things get done, and storing it all away for next year's plantings.

And last but not least, we have a badger in the garden. Where he comes from nobody knows, but he likes to visit the garden at night. I haven't seen him yet, but several other gardeners have. Badgers eat mostly earthworms, but also other insects (just not the brown snails unfortunately--most animals and birds seem to avoid them, understandably in my opinion), roots and some fruits. He won't lack for sustenance in the garden as a whole, that's for sure.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Awesome song and video by Rihanna--Sledgehammer

Saw this video for the first time tonight--awesome song and video--so creative and other-worldly. It's from the new film "Star Trek Beyond", which I haven't seen yet, but plan on doing very soon. The song is a collaborative effort by Rihanna, Sia Furler and Jesse Shatkin.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mid-July garden update

What I've harvested to date: string beans and beets. I didn't plant many of each, so the yields were limited, but now I know that I can plant quite a lot more of each next year. I discovered the string beans by coincidence. I thought it would take the plants much longer to produce string beans, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them hanging from each plant when removing dead leaves. My pumpkin patch, my little cornfield, and the snap peas are doing very well. I dare to hope that there will be pumpkins and corn to harvest come September/October, whereas it won't be long before the snap peas are ready to harvest. It's a fantastic feeling to watch the pumpkin plant vines grow horizontally and spread out; they are quite long already. Most of the corn plants have flowered, so it will be fun to follow their progress as well. The largest ones are already about three feet high, with fairly thick stalks.

What I will plant next year: string beans, beets, snap peas, pumpkin, and corn--a lot more of each. I will not plant vegetables that the Iberia snails like--spinach, cauliflower and broccoli. Many of the other gardeners have planted potatoes, so that's also an option. As I said in my first posts, I was ambitious when it came to testing a number of different vegetables, and it has paid off, even if the snails took three of the vegetable plants I planted.

Here are some photos of the pumpkin patch and the little cornfield, as well as some others:

pumpkin patch

baby pumpkin forming

another baby pumpkin

flowering corn plants

string beans 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Snails 3 – Garden 3

It’s a tie so far; the Iberia snails (also called Spanish slugs in our garden have decimated three of the six different vegetable plants that were planted in mid-May. I planted corn, pumpkin, sugar peas, broccoli, spinach and cauliflower; the snails have eaten the last three. The first three remain untouched, at least for now, but you never know. The weather situation here in Oslo during the past two weeks has not helped the situation any. It has rained steadily for a few hours each day; the humidity, cooler temperatures and moisture bring out the snails in droves. I never thought I’d say this, but—the snails have to go. Otherwise it will be snails 6 and the garden 0, at least where the vegetables are concerned. Now I understand why farmers despair when it comes to weather and insects; they invest so much time and hard work in getting their farms to grow, and rain or drought or grasshoppers or other insects can destroy them in no time. As I said, I can understand it without really having to worry about it, because we are not farmers and our livelihood does not depend on the success or failure of what we grow. 

But I’ve learned a lot already about what to plant, and that was the point of my being overly-ambitious in terms of what I planted this year. I wanted to see what would do well and what would not. Next year, I will NOT be planting broccoli, spinach and cauliflower. I will plant more corn and more pumpkin if they end up doing well and are not disturbed by the snails. I’ve bought a snail-fighting chemical substance called Ferramol that consists of iron phosphate crystals; you spread it around the garden and the snails eat it and over the next few days, lose their appetite for food and die. The entire community garden has recommended its use in each allotment, so it’s just to try it and see what happens. I’ve also learned that the snails like the compost bins and heaps, so it’s best not to have too much compost. We have enough at present. I had tossed the dead spinach plants on the top of the compost heap; wouldn’t you know that the next day, the snails were there on top of them, happy to be eating the dead spinach leaves. I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. So I did what I needed to do, and removed all the dead vegetable plants and the snails simultaneously. The snails do not seem to want to be bothered with the strawberry patch (not overly-so at least), nor do they like raspberries or red currants, apparently. And they leave all of the different types of flowers alone (lavender, petunias, pansies, etc.).

The Turkish ladies who have the allotment garden above us have planted a lot of different kinds of salad plants and beans. The snails love the former, so their salad gardens always seem to be frequented by snails. It makes it easier to remove them physically, but it must be frustrating for them as well to watch their patches be decimated by these little creatures.

I’m including a photo of an Iberia snail (photo taken by CC BY 2.5,, so that you get an idea of what they look like. Keep in mind these snails can lay up to 400 eggs a year. That gives you an idea of the immensity of the problem. They are considered an invasive pest and a major agricultural threat in many European countries at present. If you want an organic vegetable garden, you must be willing to invest time each day to pick up snails from your garden. Otherwise, you can just plant flowers and berry bushes, and trim the grass every so often. It’s easier and who knows, perhaps more rewarding. Because it’s sad to watch these beautiful vegetable plants die due to snails and to the stresses caused by their presence. The plants are stationary and cannot move away from the snails, whereas the snails are mobile and can travel the length of a garden in no time. If it's possible to get rid of them using Ferramol, which does not affect earthworms or birds, I'm all for it. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The garden is blooming


spinach plants (basil and rosemary in the pots)

pumpkin plants

pansies, lavender plants, and petunias

rosebush in bloom

some perennials