BY DAVE WOOD
Milking the marigolds
My horticulturist wife, Ruth announced to me last week that it was time for me to begin what I call “Milking the Marigolds.” Fall was over and I had to begin preparing for Ruth's spring ventures in vegetable husbandry.
I can't work in the garden anymore, but I can watch TV as she toils in our ever-so fragile garden plot. And as I watch TV, I can use my hands at my flower milking chores.
For years our River Falls garden plot has been a real pain that requires hard work and patience to profit from even the slightest of harvests. The bleak harvests have occurred ever since Lance Gore graciously donated to our garden several horseradish roots, which bore huge leaves, but no roots, to grate and sprinkle on pot roast. That's when Ruth tried for years to kill these plants by dowsing them with Weed-B-Gone and other noxious poisons. She finally succeeded with the assassination, but now absolutely NOTHING grows in this pitiful LOAMsome section of earth.
Except for marigold seeds, which she scatters about with reckless abandon. The orange and red blossoms of what is sometimes called the “stink flowers” seem to thrive in this rather hazardous waste site. The resultant blossoms make for a cheery presentation when the frost is on the pumpkin. And squirrels and rabbits don't much like its odorous infusions when they are fully blossomed.
Unfortunately, seeds have become exceedingly expensive in recent years (many of the packages that contain about 13 seeds sell for $2.95!) Now that we're both on fixed incomes, we have to watch our pennies and have contrived a method of economy that's as old as the hills, or at least was to our deceased relatives. I learned from my stepmother you don't have to buy seed potatoes if you take a chance on using potato peelings with the eyes intact. From my father, I learned to let pole and bush bean pods dry in the sun, shuck them and use the resulting beans as seeds during the next year.
It is said that “Idle Hands are the Devil's Playground,” and that's where I come in when I sit down at the TV on wintry days. Ruth brings in garbage bags full of colorful dried marigold blossoms and as I watch an old Seinfeld marathon, I milk them.
I've had my share of milking Guernseys with miniscule teats, so my never idle hands are well suited to the pulpous underbelly of the blossom, an inverted bell shape that by now is brittle. I take a stemless blossom, attach my right thumb and forefinger beneath the foliage and squeeze, sort of like stripping a Guernsey.
The dried husks are tossed into a wastebasket and the seeds fall into my hands to be stored for Spring. The seeds are tiny and feathered like a miniscule lawn dart, black on one end, tan on the other, approximately one-half inch long. It takes lots of these little buggers to fill a quart jar. So many, that this year I couldn’t resist and painstakingly counted the number of seeds in one tiny bulb: 60 of them, which sends the famous multiplier onion to botany purgatory.
This year, I spent an entire afternoon “milking” and came up with more than two Ball jar quarts of the prickly little critters, with a street value of $1,500 if I were a pusher. So take care, Burpees and Nortrup King, for your days may be numbered.
“What, my sweetness, do you intend to do with all these seeds that I have harvested?”
Ruth replied, “I intend to buy a roll of sandwich baggies and fill them with seeds and give them to 20 or so Pierce County health workers who have contributed so much effort to stemming the pandemic, and to friends around town. Accompanying each bag will be this message: “’Friends: These seeds have been gathered from last fall's garden. I've been doing this for years, and the seeds don't seem to lose their vitality. They can be planted in almost any type of soil and need little care: Scrape away a little dirt, cover the seeds with about half inch of soil, press it down, give it a little water, and you're good to go.
“The seeds are hard to separate, so planting one at a time is almost impossible, but they're hearty critters, who will survive even the transplanting procedure of scooping out a clump of seedlings and separating them to plant 8 inches apart. Once they're in bloom, there's little to do, but enjoy them. When you're bored you can pluck off the dead remains after the blossoms fade — but you don't need to. They’re naturally perfect: Bees like them, but Japanese beetles don't unless they're bereft of alternatives. I like to use them for a border hedge around the garden. They’re especially a joy to see in the Fall, when everything else is brown –Ruth'” Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715426-9554.