Umm, Yeah, It's a Tomato!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Let's get one thing straight:

I may be fairly decent when it comes to growing a tomato -- but I still suck when it comes to taking a picture of a tomato. In this case? It's not just the *first* tomato of the 2010 summer garden season. As you can tell by the extra-blurry photo to your right -- it's the first TWO tomatoes.

Well -- OK -- actually -- to be brutally honest -- it's not the first. Venus and I picked one a little early about ten days back. It was a paste variety tomato. Yes -- it was red. Yes - it was soft. And -- yes -- it tasted like something that comes out of the bottom of my tennis shoes after a long day of working in the Bird Back 40.

I never thought tomatoes could taste like that.

But that one didn't count! It was still cold. It didn't get the heat nor the care that tomatoes need to thrive and pump out the good fruit. These two however -- got a little bit of everything. They got a nice home in nice soil. They received the best in fertilizer -- water and care. And -- thanks to the past couple of days -- they also were the recipients of some mighty fine tomatoey-growing weather.

When just the thought of stepping outside in the sunshine brings sweat to your brow? It's good tomato weather.

The variety in this case? Cuor Di Bue - also known as -- Couer De Bouef. The starter plant -- which is now about five feet tall and fruiting like mad -- is/was a gift from Farmer Fred Hofman. A rough translation is "Ox Heart Beef." The online reviews are -- in a word -- outstanding.

Our tomato growing efforts are really starting to pick up now following an extremely slow start to the 2010 Summer Gardening season. The good weather is finally here -- plus the return of an old friend to the garden (he buzzed right in on Saturday) -- tells me that tomato season might be a tad late.

But it's looking up kids.

The Volunteer!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Every tomato grower worth a salt has them (I love tomatoes and salt, yum!). Even if you don't want them -- if you grow heirloom tomatoes -- you're bound to get them. If they didn't pop up this year -- they most certainly will next year.

Or perhaps you just haven't spotted them in the yard yet. Chances are they are there -- hiding from you in plain sight.

"They" in this case are "volunteer tomato plants." And in this -- our third year of gardening in our vast North Natomas gardening laboratory -- Venus and I have them in spades. Volunteer tomato plants -- like the one to your right near the grapevines -- are popping up everywhere.

Did we have tomatoes planted in this spot last year? Actually -- uh -- no. So how did it get there then? Good question. I'm still trying to figure that one out myself. If you some how deduce the answer -- please let me know as Venus and I have plants popping up all over the yard this summer.

I wonder what would have happened had we actually had decent weather this spring? Even more volunteers? Perhaps...

Most of the volunteers that we find -- like the eight or nine plants that popped up underneath this peach tree -- get yanked out the moment I see them. I don't want tomatoes competing with peaches. In fact -- I don't want tomatoes anywhere near the peaches.

So -- how did they get there then? I DUNNO! Maybe some bird ripped off a cherry tomato -- flew into the tree -- and snacked on it there? The seeds were prevented from blowing out of the yard from the tree and dropped to the base instead?

Our sneaky cats put them there? I wouldn't put it past them. Hey! Look at it from this perspective: If our mangy cats can can deposit hairballs in every room of the house -- then they can certainly place tomato seeds in out-of-the-way places.

Venus and I have been busy this June -- ripping out volunteers where we find them. Volunteers in the potato bed? Yep! Volunteers coming out of the bark around the raised planter beds? Absolutely! Volunteers coming up with grapes? Um -- yeah -- that too.

But not every volunteer tomato gets the "rough and tough" treatment. Like these plants -- for example. They are volunteers that popped up on the edge of our in-ground test bed. Since they're in a bed that we already prepared for gardening AND they've got a steady source of water -- they've received a temporary stay of execution.

Now the big question is: what kind of tomato is this? Good question! We haven't figured that out yet. The nice thing is -- the volunteer plants are loaded with small tomatoes. They're big enough at this point where I can be reasonably assured that they are not cherry tomatoes -- but that's about all I can tell you at this point.

Venus thought she noticed some ribbing across the top -- which might indicate a Costoluto Genovese -- but it's just too early to tell yet. We had a mass of different kinds of heirloom plants located in this area last year -- so this could be one of those varieties. It's also entirely possible that this could be some sort of cross.

Whatever it is -- it certainly appears to be doing quite well where it's planted -- and with that many green tomatoes forming on it -- well -- it would be a crying shame to just up and tear it out.

Thus -- the reprieve.

This isn't the only volunteer thriving in the Bird Garden this year. Black Cherry tomato plant volunteers are also springing up near a raised bed where I put a Black Cherry plant two years ago. I had a massive number of volunteers a year later (last year) and the process appears to be starting all over again this year.

I'm of the opinion that you can never have enough Black Cherry tomatoes. It just might be one of those "unwritten" rules. Nobody needs to tell you. You just sort of -- well -- know.

As for whether our volunteers will be *good* or *bad* -- the jury is still out on that. Sometimes they turn out to be cherry tomatoes that are really nothing to write home about. But -- sometimes -- the volunteer happens to be the return of a tomato you forgot to seed the previous season -- but really wish you had.

That's how we rediscovered our black "Evil Seed" heirloom variety (which we grew out in the form of starter plants and handed out to friends and associates this year). Now -- everyone gets to experience the nastiest tomato on the face of this Earth.

What will Mother Nature gift us with this year? Well now -- that's half the fun. Patience Bill Bird. Patience. Time will tell...

That Sweet, Sweet Payoff

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

And so it begins. Summer fresh fruit season has arrived at last at our North Natomas homestead -- and despite our misadventure with the Lapin Cherry tree earlier this year -- this harvest looks sweet.

Sweet as bubblegum that is.

This year's harvest of Santa Rosa plums will not be a large one -- not hardly. Larger than last year? By all means. But what is really impressive this year is the size of these suckers. They darn near look like nectarines.

I have been watching and patiently waiting for the Santa Rosa harvest for a couple of weeks now. Unlike last year -- I didn't want to jump the gun and harvest a plum that really could have used another week or two on the tree.

Nope -- I'm looking for that special type of harvest -- a special time -- when the fruit is both sweet and tart. If you pick too early? Lots of tart -- no sweet. If you pick it too late? Sweet fruit -- yes -- but also kind of mushy.

And -- usually -- the birds have beaten you too it. Not the North Natomas Birds -- but those of the feathered variety.

Actually -- I am kind of surprised. Although we have several finch families nesting nearby -- they've largely left the plums alone. Nothing has been knocked to the ground yet and only one plum has suffered from a single "peck."

Those are pretty good results.

The harvest of the Santa Rosa plum tree -- or any fruit tree for that matter -- is the final payoff following months of special care and attention. Oh sure -- I know for a fact that there are fruit trees that get absolutely no care and attention whatsoever -- and still manage to turn out a boatload of fresh fruit.

Most of the time? It goes uncollected and "plops" to the ground below. Or it turns into bird food.

But in my case? I care. I can be accused of "caring too much," but this year's harvest is the result of pruning efforts during the winter, extensive fertilization, regular watering, pest control to knock the buggies off and perhaps a midnight dance or love song sung from the front yard porch.

Crazy? Who? Me? Yeah, the neighbors think the same thing too.

But that sweet payoff came just last night. Venus and I both discovered a plum that had the slightest give to a light squeeze. Off with its head!!! Actually -- we picked it -- brought it inside -- cleaned it and sliced it in two.

When the pit popped right out with nary an effort? We both knew -- right then -- that summer fruit season was underway. One bite of one perfectly ripe plum is enough to convince you that all the work -- time and effort was worth it. There are lots of plums and plum trees mind you -- but ours is the best.

This is our all important third year harvest of the Santa Rosa plum. It's not all that large because Venus and I hacked the tree back into a more manageable size over the winter -- cutting away a lot of the growth that would have produced a boatload of hard-to-reach plums this summer. We knew our pruning efforts would result in a reduced harvest -- but it's one of those things that just had to be done.

While the tree will need additional pruning later this summer -- it's now growing in the direction that we want. Rather than have it grow UP -- Venus and I have trimmed and pruned to the point where the tree is growing out in an almost perpendicular direction.

Still to come? Grafting efforts of other plum varieties that will extend the sweet harvest. But we'll save that for another day.

As for now? Time for that sweet, sweet payoff.

Fathers Day: Corn and Tomatoes

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I don't have many memories of dad. The last time I saw him was right before he went into the hospital for a final operation on his pancreas. It was an operation he would not recover from. I was eight the last time I saw dad. He died six months later in San Francisco. I had just celebrated my ninth birthday.

This is one of the few surving photos I have of him -- with my mother -- LOOOONGGG before Bill Bird was even thought of.

What memories I do have are fleeting at best. I don't remember father ever living at home. He was a "weekend dad" by the time I actually got to know him. He left my mother, two sisters and my brother when I was just three. I don't have any memories of this -- except to say that "dad" didn't live at home.

Instead -- dad lived with my "other" mom -- Clara. Although my father often referred to Clara as my "other mom" I certainly never called her that. It was enough to earn a warning glare from Clara's eyes. I don't think she liked me much -- although I do remember that she purchased a pair of flip-flops (which we called "thongs" back in the day) for me once.

It was a rare act of kindness.

But dad and gardening went together like peas in a pod. It was a recent Fathers Day posting from Geno's Garden that brought back memories of my father's garden. Although it was a large garden (the old man would dig up half the yard in the spring) -- it seemed to consist of only two summer-time crops: corn and tomatoes.

If there was more -- then I missed it. But I do know this much: Dad loved his corn on the cob until his dying day. No backyard barbeque was complete without corn on the cob and chunks or slices of freshly harvested tomatoes.

Those summer barbeques serve as my best memories of dad -- that and weekend trips to mountain property that he had recently purchased just north of Jackson (wild and secluded in the late sixties and early seventies -- it now serves as a home to a subdivision built around a golf course).

Dad would pick us up in the morning. He was either holding a beer while driving us kids around or already had been drinking for quite some time despite the early morning hour. Near accidents -- as you might be able to imagine -- were commonplace. But I didn't know any better. I was a six or seven year old kid! And dad was taking us out to the mountains or a barbeque at his house.

It didn't get much better than that.

As we marveled at the corn and tomatoes growing tall in the backyard of his Modesto home -- my brother and I did our very best to impale one another with a challenge game of lawn darts. It was either that -- or chase each other around with croquet mallets (games of croquet or lawn darts always followed barbeques -- a Bird family rule).

Although I seem to remember this period of my life lasting nearly forever -- it was fairly short in terms of real years. My "other mother" Clara would eventually tire of my father's antics -- throwing him out of her house. Trips to the mountain property became more infrequent -- as his time at the Tiki Lounge and other Modesto bars gained precedence and importance over family affairs.

And then -- one day -- my mother sent me off to fifth grade at Standiford Elementary School after coldly informing me that dad had died the night before in a San Francisco hospital. Although I didn't know it then -- it was a sign that childhood was over.

I can only imagine what dad would think of our gardening efforts today. Perhaps he would want an ear or two of freshly buttered corn -- or slices of that heirloom tomato covered with salt, oregano and other herbs. Perhaps he'd like another cold one from the kegerator in the GarageMahal.

My guess is he would want all three.

Although there have been many a barbeque since Andrew Jackson Bird Sr. passed from this place in 1972 -- none have been quite the same.

Gardening Stinks!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It really does! Any gardener will tell you the title statement is indeed true. You want proof? Try smelling me after I've spent the better part of a day in the backyard.

On second thought -- don't do this at home kids.

One of the biggest challenges with a gardening blog like this one is -- how do you keep it fresh? What's new? What haven't I written about before in the past two years? Tomatoes? Scads of posts about heirloom tomatoes. Planter boxes? Been there -- done that.

But rather than blog about a specific harvest -- and a smelly one at that -- why not blog about the experience of the harvest? Every harvest is different from the last. This year -- the fabulous wife that is Venus and I grew GARLIC.

So what's the big deal then? We grew garlic last year. In fact -- we had a GREAT garlic harvest last year -- as was detailed in this very blog here.

So then? What's new? The smell and stink of garlic? If you've ever harvested 40-50 cloves of garlic -- you've come close to a stink level of 9.5. There's nothing quite like getting a whiff of some very potent stuff that's hanging and drying in the GarageMahal (it serves double-duty as a bar, TV sports hangout, and garlic dryer).

If you like the stink of garlic -- well then -- Welcome to Heaven. If you don't? The neighbors begin to chatter about the dead things you must be storing behind closed garage doors in there.

So what's new then? In a word? WORMS! The YUCK Level just blew up a few points. Venus and I were distressed -- to say the least -- after pulling up a few heads that had colonies of worms moving in and out.

And here I believed that earthworms in the soil was a GOOD thing. Not so fast there, Sherlock. They have drawbacks -- especially when your staring at one that has made a home in some of that hot Porcelain Hardneck Metechi Garlic that you've been dreaming about all winter.

Venus and I picked up the Metechi Garlic and another variety called California Early White from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply last fall after growing another variety called Inchelium Red garlic last year. Nothing against Inchelium Red. It was very good. But we wanted to try something new and different -- which is why we opted for the Metechi variety.

Believed to be native to the Republic of Georgia -- Metechi garlic has been described as one of the hottest and most pungent of garlics that you can obtain for the backyard garden. We haven't tried it yet -- because it's still drying -- but there's no doubt about that "pungent" part. Did I tell you yet that garlic reeks?

As for the California Early White? Nothing against that whatsoever. It grows well here (hence the name) and you get a lot of "bang for the buck." What does that mean? Three bulbs of Metechi seed garlic -- for example -- will set you back a good $20. But you can purchase anywhere from six to seven seed bulbs of California Early White for a cost of $5.

Did I mention we're kind of on the cheap side? Did you get that part about gin in a plastic bottle?

As for the harvest? We're halfway there. We have a good 25-30 lbs. of Metechi and California Early White drying away in the garage -- with a similar amount still sitting in the ground -- located in an adjacent planter bed.

What in the world are we going to do with all that garlic? Well -- there is a plus side in this in that it really does irritate the neighbors to no end. The stench also keeps their dog from doing "his business" on my small stretch of front lawn -- so if there's a plus to this -- there it is.

Venus and I will use much of the harvest garlic for home-canned pickles and Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa -- which also serves a dual purpose as a degreaser (not really). Hot garlic should hopefully equal hot salsa. That is our hope.

As for the rest of the harvest? That will take place this weekend. At which point -- I can invite my curious neighbors to "Smell Me."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite his statements to the contrary -- Bill and Venus are blessed with the best neighbors that any North Natomas homeowner could ever ask for. It's the neighbors who are actually very unlucky.

Oh Happy Day!!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

There's nothing like the bright and happy face of the first -- glorious SUNFLOWER to put a smile on any gardener's face!!!

Cue: Sesame Street...

This is actually a "volunteer" in the Bird Family Garden this year. Because -- after all - once you plant sunflower seeds for the first time? You're ALWAYS going to have sunflowers -- whether you like sunflowers or not. Think of sunflowers as the "gift that keeps on giving."

You'll never eradicate them all -- so put down the blowtorch son.

I must admit -- they do tend to brighten up the yard on a sunny afternoon. There's nothing quite like a morning or get-home-from-work greeting from a sunflower in the backyard. They are always there.

Check that: Most of the time -- they are always there.

You see -- gardeners might have a hard time eradicating the many "volunteer" sunflowers that pop up here and there in the yard. But Mother Nature? She can be quite cruel. One day after blessing the backyard with a bright display of sunflower color and cheer -- the winds kicked up.

Since we live in the Natomas Basin -- aka "wind alley" -- with little in the way of a natural windbreak -- the winds get quite ferocious out here.

Not even a sunflower can stand up to one of nature's sneezing fits -- and we've got a whopper of a windstorm today.

Wind and sunflowers don't mix...

Cue: Funeral March

This is the first sight that greeted the wife and I as we headed out into the Bird Back 40 today. Our shining sunflower? Gone. No -- the wind didn't bend it down. It was a lot worse than that. A sunflower can pop right back up after getting knocked flat by a strong gust.

Unless that strong gust turns into a sustained gust of 30+ MPH -- which is just about enough to snap a sunflower in two.

Unfortunately -- our sunflower -- which was just starting to open wide for the summer -- snapped at the base of the plant.

No more sunflowers for us. Not off this plant anyway.

I have to say -- this will have to go down as one of the strangest growing seasons on record. We didn't get much in the way of a spring in the Sacramento Valley. And just when you think that summer is going to bust out in the month of June? We get the kind of ferocious wind that is normally reserved for March.

I just hope the June Pride peach tree -- which is straight in the path of this blowtorch of a day -- can take it. It would be a shame to lose that harvest -- and would also bring tears to the eyes of a certain gardener in North Natomas...

The Pain of Defeat

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The day after a crushing loss at the polls -- a walk through the vegetable garden that you have planted and tended with the wife that you love -- is no tonic whatsoever to the pain and bitterness that ails you.

The flowers on the home-grown potatoes that seemed so bright and colorful the day you snapped this photo appear to be a dull gray. They have no answers for the feelings that are coursing through your mind and body the day after the candidate you worked so hard to elect -- lost.

But then again -- they're not supposed to have answers. They're just flowers on a potato plant. That's what they are. That's all they will ever be. The answers to the questions and pain that lingers after losing a statewide race remain unanswered.

The first feeling that comes to mind is depression. Then come the questions -- followed by feelings of self-doubt. What did I do wrong? Could I have done better? Finally -- comes the inevitable feelings of anger and bitterness. What happened to our base of support?

At some point you begin to realize that you're talking to a tomato plant. But the tomato plant has no answers. It is merely an heirloom tomato plant. Its job in life isn't to answer questions about elections. Its goal is to reproduce through the production of tomatoes and tomato seed.

It cannot tell you the all important answers of who, what, when, why and most importantly: how could this happen?

The depression that comes after losing a statewide -- or even a local race -- is a natural part of the electoral process. It's as natural as the potatoes that are hopefully growing into a large size beneath a canopy of green.

Running an election is much like tending a garden. Results don't happen overnight. Both activities start with the planting of seed. Both activities require care and almost constant attention. They're also similar in that the end of the process yields tangible results.

Sometimes those results are good. Sometimes they are bad. As much as you try to control the process -- the ultimate result is up to a higher power.

If those results are not what you had dreamed -- the inevitable questioning begins. What did I do wrong? What could I have done better? Was this the right move to make at the right time? Is this where I made the fatal mistake? Perhaps it was here?

The garden has no answers.

There are 17-million registered voters in California. Let me state that again: 17-MILLION REGISTERED VOTERS IN CALIFORNIA.

Less than 1.5 million of them chose to cast ballots in the statewide race that really had the most impact on this gardener. This is where the feelings of bitterness and anger begin to seep in -- despite your best attempts to hold them at bay. Where did everyone else go? Where was this "tide of conservatism" that was supposed to show up on election day? Why was it more like a trickle?

How dare they? I have taken their calls by the thousands over the course of the years. I have responded to their requests. I have managed to attend to most -- if not all of their needs. Why then -- when I needed them most -- did they stay home?

I can ask the same question of an heirloom tomato plant that Venus and I have lovingly nurtured through the growing season. We have responded to every request for every mineral fertilizer we know of. We have given it the best soil. It has received daily water -- love and care.

Yet  -- it did not produce. Why?

The garden has no answers. The garden has only flowers and a promise of things to come -- or things that may not come.

It is no tonic for the pain on this day.

Please Don't Hate Me Cause I'm GOOD!!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel;
The monkey stopped to pull up his sock,
Pop! goes the weasel.

WARNING!!! The posting you are about to read includes a recipe that is so amazingly good and wonderful that you will probably start drooling on your keyboard and could possibly short out your computer. Keep this in mind. Keep a paper towel handy!

Kids -- you have been warned... You can try this at home -- but it won't be easy. The ingredients require a rather lengthy hunt...

My thanks to Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook fame. It was he who revealed the very top-secret location of a producing mulberry tree in his Orangevale neighborhood. And -- following his very precise instructions on where this secret treat was located -- Venus and I set out on "the hunt."

A hunt for fresh mulberries.

I'll be honest. I've never tasted a real mulberry before. Oh -- I've grown up with mulberry trees. I know all about them. They dotted Modesto backyards by the thousands when I was growing up there many moons ago. But these were the "fruitless" mulberry variety. If you've ever dealt with them -- then you know from experience -- these trees are infamous.

Homeowners planted these trees by the thousands in the new "cookie cutter" subdivisions that were built for returning World War II troops in the late forties and early fifties. The modern convenience known as central air conditioning simply wasn't available (unless you had money -- which most people didn't) -- and most of these homes were equipped with a wall unit swamp cooler. Or -- if you're lucky -- you actually had a REAL wall-unit air conditioner.

These devices were pretty good at keeping these small, cookie-cutter homes cool during the heat of the San Joaquin summers. But they were only effective if you closed off all doors to adjoining bedrooms and bathrooms. When it was time to "retire" for the evening? You were greeted by a BLAST of hot summer air upon entering your closed-off bedroom.

In response? Homeowners bought thousands of shade trees in an effort to keep outer bedrooms somewhat cool. The tree of choice? The fruitless mulberry. It was cheap. It grew fast. A single tree could shade half a house. Kids loved them because those wide branches sticking out over a rooftop made them easy and safe to climb. In fact, many a fruitless mulberry wound up doing double-duty as a home for a "treehouse" back in the "day."

But as time passed -- the disadvantages of the fruitless mulberry came to light. First? They dropped a METRIC TON of leaves during the fall. Mulching lawnmowers simply did not exist yet. The only way to deal with them was to rake the yard early and often. Some homeowners did. Many did not. Those leaves would then blow into a gutter and wash into a drain during the first rainstorm of the winter season.

End result? Plugged drains. Flooded streets. It occurred often. The roots of the fruitless mulberry trees were problematic as well. Those shallow root systems would grow beneath concrete patios and sidewalks -- lifting and then cracking them into a hundred different pieces. And -- if the root systems weren't growing underneath a concrete walkway? They were growing into and blocking nearby sewage pipes.

Many homeowners -- like my mother -- would wind up paying big $$$ to hire someone to not only chop down the offending tree but also remove the extensive root system. It was expensive. It was messy.

It didn't really dawn on me that the mulberry tree actually produced fruit similar to a blackberry or boysenberry until I saw a picture of a productive tree. I had never seen anything like it before. Oh sure -- I recognized the leaves alright. Those were the leaves of the dreaded fruitless mulberry tree. But this tree had berries on it! Thousands upon thousands of delicious berries.

What were they like? I had to find out.

Venus and I located the tree easily enough thanks to Hank Shaw's exact instructions. What greeted me however -- was a shock to the system. Venus and I noticed that the tree in question was growing out of the stump of a long dead oak almond tree. The two tree systems had intertwined over time.

Interesting how Mother Nature can work sometimes.

Although the local bird population had been snacking on the mulberry treats for quite some time -- there was more than enough for the Birds to harvest. After five to ten minutes of reaching and picking -- we had enough mulberries to create a signature summer-time dish: Mulberry Cobbler.


Remember my warning about drooling on your keyboard? Yeah -- I warned you!

Venus and I also picked up a half flat of fresh strawberries -- which are in season now -- and taste absolutely delectable. We proceeded to combine the local strawberries with the strawberries from our backyard -- plus the mulberries we had harvest earlier -- and created a unique fruit combination I have never before tasted.

But this recipe contains more than just fruit and simple Bisquick mix. It would be nice if it was that easy -- but no -- there's another "secret" ingredient that we added to the mix. Of course -- every cobbler requires just a little bit of sugar to sweeten the dish just a tad. But the real kicker was two or three big spoonfuls of locally produced honey from the Hello Kitty Hive in the backyard.

The colony of bees that once populated that hive are long gone -- but they left behind a sweet treat that we continue to harvest to this very day. There is just nothing like the taste of unprocessed and unpasturized honey that comes straight from a backyard hive.

The finished product? Well -- the wife and I had that for desert just last night. And yes -- there's enough leftover for tonight and perhaps the next night as well.

Working with freshly harvested mulberries can be a messy experience -- so by all means -- do not wear your Sunday best to a harvest party. Expect to have hands and fingers that are stained purple-black by the time you've harvested your fill. Getting the stems off mulberries is also another trying experience.

There's a reason why you don't find this treat in your local supermarket.

But -- I can tell you this much from experience: It's well worth the time and effort.

Please don't hate me cause I'm good...

Gardening Round II -- The Brats Take Over

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Can't live without them. Can't shoot them.

My apologies. It appears that line is reserved for wives.

Now that the parents of six year old Marquitos and three year old Celina are no longer concerned that I'm going to brainwash those young minds with bad Republican ideas (Hey Kids! Offshore oil drilling is good for the environment!) -- we're getting a healthy dose of the niece and nephew this year.

We could take the kids on a series of fun adventures like the zoo and outdoor play areas -- but who are you kidding? Kids are free labor man. Give a six year old boy the option of going to the zoo or "hey, look at that dirt pile," guess which option wins?

The kids are gardeners by default. No shame here whatsoever.

Actually -- to be honest? It's the three year old girl that was more interested in the big pile of planter mix dirt than the six year old boy. Oh -- sure - he loved playing "King of the Mountain" from time to time. But after getting his first taste of planting seeds last summer -- Marquitos was back for more in a big way this year.

Actually? For his age? He's quite advanced. I couldn't be more proud. There's a strange sense of accomplishment here that I cannot explain to you. It does bring tears to my eyes though. That much is true. I don't have children. But I'm actually teaching him something useful -- other than the "perfect pour" from the kegerator.

Of course -- he's getting pretty good at that I must say -- but I'll save that for the "Beer Blog."

I didn't know first grade graduates could be so advanced. Marquitos can read a package of seeds and understand where and when to plant. He can also plant in some mighty straight rows -- as evidenced by the rows of radishes, carrots, green onions, red leaf lettuce, beets and other vegetables that are coming up in straight lines.

They're teaching reading skills to first graders now? Really? I suppose I was a late bloomer for not learning this valued skill until college -- but that's another story for another day.

Despite his expertise in the garden -- Venus kept a close eye on him -- that much is sure. But it's almost as if she didn't really need to be there. And that's the wonderful thing. He almost didn't need us. We supplied the tools -- the seeds -- the dirt in the raised beds and that little boy went right to work. This is his second effort at planting following hit and miss training efforts last year (Why Kitty Hide?). The lessons appear to have paid off ten-fold. Marquitos is a natural. The lessons have sunk in. The kid is going to be working the dirt for a long time.

As for his sister? Not as much interest this year - although she did enjoy handing seed packets to her brother. She wasn't at all interested in planting -- preferring instead to charge up that mountain of leftover planter mix in the center of the backyard.

I was going to spread it out around the yard anyway. Why not let her take a crack at it?

I actually missed having her take part in the planting party. There's nothing quite like watching a bush bean seed emerge in the bed set aside for corn and wonder, "how did that get there?" I would later learn that she loved planting bush bean seeds so much -- she planted them in every corner of the yard.

At first -- I was a tad annoyed. I'll admit it. I'm Mr. "this goes there" and "that goes here." But there's something precious about a child's first planting efforts. Who knows? Maybe she got away with something when my back was turned at the kegerator.

Off on the kegerator tangent again? My apologies.

As for Marquitos? Well -- he just couldn't get enough of the gardening effort -- despite two solid days in the backyard. Who can waste time when there's radish seeds to plant? Oh -- and what about those watermelon seeds? Do those tomato starter plants need planting somewhere?

Marquitos is a Champion Seed Planter at a very young age. It appears that Venus and I have won half the battle. The kid understands what a radish is. He understands how to plant it. He understands where to plant it. He even knows when to plant.

Getting him to actually eat the garden wonders that he is responsible for?

That -- my friends -- is another battle for another day.

One victory at a time.