Wednesday, July 14, 2010


There’s something heavy about birthdays, for me. Mine is this week, so that’s why they’re on my mind. It’s not the simple fact of a marker for time passing, aging, whatever, it’s the expectations that can come along with. As a child I just looked forward to that feeling of celebration, and a day of specialness. As an adult with kids of my own, I still find myself wanting to make the day of my birthday glow in some way. Last year I became obsessed with wanting to swim in fresh water, specifically in the Gatineau River, on my birthday, and it actually happened, thanks to the tolerance and generosity of Dom and Tashi and of friends in the Gatineau.

But having a fixed notion of what will make a day special is not a good idea. It’s bound to lead to disappointments and letdowns. The whole thing is a very small illustration of the truth of Buddha’s insight that attachment leads to suffering, in this case attachment to an idea or a plan, which if the thing doesn’t go as planned, leads to disappointment.

As my birthday has approached this year, I’ve tried not to fall into the anticipatory planning trap. It’s been a struggle. I’ve played around with ideas for a trip, with other wish-list possibilities, going over and over, rolling things around in my mind, visualising again and again various scenarios. It’s felt like a trap. And that realisation has forced me confront my tendency to be overly anticipatory.

I recently learned a term for this way of being: min-maxing. A min-maxer works hard to minimise the bad outcomes and maximise the good (= desired by me) outcomes. This involves a lot of anticipatory thinkng and planning. In struggling against the birthday optimisation urge, I’ve come to see what a waste of energy this min-maxing can be when it takes over. In other words, yes, fine, try to anticipate outcomes and avoid pitfalls, but don’t obsess and go back and forth over possibilities searching for the absolute best strategy. It’s such an uninteresting process. I guess that’s true of any repetitive or obsessive thinking or behaviour...

And so this birthday has become another opportunity to learn about letting go. In this case, it’s letting go of a whole pattern of thinking, so results are patchy!

As I was out in the garden this morning, clearing out overgrown this and that, I got started on the bindweed. Perhaps you know it, an attractive vine with small morning glory-like white flowers. But beware! For it survives by winding itself round and round other plants as it grows, strangling (“binding”) them. As I started pulling tenacious lengths of it off the delphiniums and up off the ground, I wondered how often bindweed has been used as a metaphor in sermons and talks of all kinds.

Like my min-maxing, bindweed seems attractive/useful/a good thing at first with its twining stems and pretty flowers, but then can get a stranglehold, suffocating other more tender plants, just as min-maxing closes off freer and more imaginative and engaged thoughts.

Hmmm the gardener’s musings. That time working in the morning cool is precious, wonderfully unstructured and freeing. And afterward, this morning, the garden did indeed look clearer and airier, freed up; the gardener needed a shower!

Now it’s just after ten in the morning and already the “heat bugs” are doing their whining whirr , the air is heavy, the sky thickening with cloud: it’s really summer. Yesterday I picked my first ripe cherry tomato, and a few days before that the first cucumber, sweet and juicy.

The tomato is from a plant that is growing upside-down, that is, it is in a large plastic bucket (with a handle) hanging from a hook out back. The bucket is full of soil (and can be watered from above of course); the plant emerges from a hole in the bottom of the bucket. It’s a great solution for gardeners who don’t have enough space, or who have infections in their soil or a problem with rodents or other vegetable predators. I have squirrels who like to take bites out of the tomatoes, and last year had a problem with blight in that rainy summer we had. (This year I’m trimming off any branches that look like they might touch the ground (blight is earthborn), hoping to avoid infection.)

This plant was given to me by Potz, at 4-Life, who is experimenting with bucket growing (hanging garden) techniques this year. (In return I gave him a small curry leaf plant, that I had separated off from a larger plant; they are wonderfully aromatic and of course an essential in many south Asian dishes, live indoors in winter (when they are prone to infestations, I admit) and then go outdoors in a sheltered dappled-shade spot for the summer.) One of the interesting things about hanging plants is that they still try to grow upward, to the light and away from gravity, which gives them an attractive arching upward shape, fanlike, below the bucket. It’s fine for cherry tomatoes, which are not that heavy, so the branches will hold them just fine, but I’m not sure how well it would work with heavy luscious beefsteaks or other full-sized tomatoes...

Do write to me if you want to try it next year. The main advice, apart from starting with good soil enriched with some aged manure, is to make sure you have a place to hang the bucket(s) before you plant. Once the plant is the bucket and sticking out the hole in the bottom, there’s no way you can put the bucket down!! It has to hang. If you doing a bunch of them, the ideal arrangment is to have a strong metal pole on which you can put hooks for the buckets.

Speaking of predators in the vegetable garden reminds me that we have acquired a professional pest controller. And it shows: our mouse problem (chewing sounds in the night in the kitchen area, the occasional sighting, and of course mouse poop here and there) has vanished. Thank-you Silky! Silky is a mouser, whom we are taking care of for a year while her regular family is away. She’s quiet, independent and un-needy, and best of all, effective! We’ve also realised that Silky is a guard cat, fiercely defending the house against other cats who might want to come in. We’re thinking of hiring her out as a consultant and teacher...


Elissa said...

Ah, it appears that we Cancerians suffer from the same problem when it comes to birthdays. I grew up having certain expectations, and clinging fiercely to them as I got older. Naturally, it almost always lead to disappointment. Definitely a lesson in letting go of attachments; my best birthday lunch ever was this year, at a diner on a road in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of some sort of hideous industrial plant. The best tuna sandwich ever. The best birthday, ever.
I hope that whatever you wound up doing today made you smile, and that it was delightful. Happy Birthday, Naomi--

Elizabeth said...

Is the tomato bucket something special-bought, or is it just a bucket with a hole drilled in the bottom?

naomi said...

The bucket is just a plastic bucket, the ones Potz uses are perhaps orginally bulk buckets for pickles or? Three litres or more, white, and as wide as they are tall, with a metal handle. Potz also puts a wooden dowl across the top, between the places the nadle attaches, to reinforce the bucket's width, if you see what I mean.

Now I am getting a little blight on my tomatoes in the garden, I am extra-grateful to have the bucket plant all removed from danger of contamination from fungal soil.

Anonymous said...

Greatly useful key for identifying tomato problems:
Found on
"Early blight (potato, tomato)
Early blight is caused by two fungi (Alternaria solani and Alternaria tomatophila) that are a serious problem in tomatoes and potatoes but rarely effects peppers and eggplants. All of the above-ground portions of the plant can be affected throughout the growing season. The disease starts on the lower leaves with small circular spots that have a target appearance of concentric rings View photo 4.17. Leaves develop yellow blighted areas and later the tomato fruit may rot on the stem end. Potato tubers can also become infected, but this is quite rare. The pathogen can overwinter in the soil on diseased plant residues.

Cultural Control:

1. Use crop rotations of at least 3 years to non-hosts (away from tomato, potato and eggplant).
2. Provide optimum growing conditions and fertility. Stressed plants (including drought) are more susceptible to early blight.
3. Stake or cage plants to keep fruit and foliage away from soil.
4. Drip irrigation is preferred, or overhead irrigation starting before dawn, so that the plants are dry early in the day. The key is to keep the period of leaf wetness to a minimum.
5. Mulching helps to prevent splashing of spores from soil up to lower leaves.
6. Indeterminate tomato and late-maturing potato varieties are usually more resistant/tolerant to early blight.
7. Early blight can be seed-borne, so buy from a reliable supplier. Hot water seed treatment at 122°F for 25 minutes is recommended to control early blight on tomato seed. See chlorine treatment procedures under bacterial diseases.
8. Disinfect stakes or cages with an approved product each season before using. Sodium hypochlorite at 0.5% (12x dilution of household bleach) is effective, and must be followed by rinsing, and proper disposal of solution. Hydrogen peroxide is also permitted.

Materials Approved for Organic Production:

1. Copper products showed one good and one poor result in recent studies.
2. A Trichoderma harzanium product, PlantShield HC®, used as a drench at planting, showed fair to good results in NYS on tomatoes over three seasons."
Unfortunately ya can't buy PlantShield in Canada - not approved.