Sunday, February 16, 2014

Plant Records

Weather: Much too warm with dry air leaching away any remains of the last snow, 2/04/2014. Men have been burning their hay fields. Last year’s weather was dry the smooth brome grass never really grew well and weeds took advantage. The men are still working on the block wall.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, cheat grass; some rose stems green.

What’s red: Cholla, coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: One of my New Year’s rituals is creating a new plant records data base. This involves reviewing the previous year and making summary notes like "bad seed, never buy again" or "got a lot of fruit this year." These were the important milestones that got lost in the daily minutia of battling weeds and drought.

Then I would copy the records of plants that survived, change to record year, and reload them to start a new year.

It may not sound exciting to a non-computer person, but I was always surprised at how cathartic it was. Looking at the year’s history renewed my faith in nature. As soon as I was done, I went through the catalogs that had accumulated and ordered seed for the new year. The past wasn’t exactly forgotten, but it was filed away.

Two year’s ago things changed. I had to replace my computer and upgrade the software. Microsoft’s constant quest to make things easier collided with my desire to use a laptop that doesn’t require it’s own bit of furniture.

The display forms no longer fit on a single screen. I could see my history or I could make notes, but I no longer could do both in the same form. The pleasure was gone. I managed to get the 2012 information updated, and postponed creating new records for 2013.

Well, it’s now 2014. Procrastination always sets a date.

I’ve spent the past few days setting up a new data base. I’m now salvaging the old records. As I clean up fields like price and unit cost, I see again how much changes in corporate society have impacted my private pleasures in the past fifteen years.

There are the obvious changes. Small pots that used to cost $2.20 were up to $2.50 by 1999 and rose to something like $3.00. Then, before that particularly greenhouse went out of business, they stopped offering small plants. Only, when you brought the larger pots home, you discovered they hadn’t grown larger plants. They simply had taken the small plants, repotted them at the last moment and charged something like $6.00. The effective price tripled, but not the quality.

Years ago, someone gave me a simple way to figure out how I was effected by inflation. Remember the price for something. His example was a large candy bar which cost ten cents when we were children in the 1950's.

Compare how much it has increased since. Last week the same candy was .79 at one place and .89 somewhere else. Then make the comparison with your income between the two points in times. Did my income increase seven times between the time I worked for a dollar an hour in the local drugstore in 1962, or effectively $2,080 a year. Yes it did. I was ahead of inflation on candy bars.

Did my income triple between 1995 and 2000? No. Gardening got more expensive.

There were the changed caused by increasing costs of doing business, when the market was shrinking. That is, when the big boxes arrived - Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s - they undersold local nurseries. They attracted the buyers who only cared about price. The local places, like the one that played games with its plants, were trying to keep their best customers who had established gardens and didn’t buy as much a year.

There were costs increased by corporate mergers, especially in seeds. I have old seed packets marked .29 from the 1970s and .69 from the late 1980s. Last year they were more like $1.29.

As with many things, the real price increase was hidden. What once might have had 350 mg was reduced to 200 mg while the face price increased a bit.

Now there’s only one company whose seeds are easily available, Lake Valley. For anything else, I have to pay shipping. That used to be just a bit above the state’s gross receipts tax. Now, it’s a good deal more. Every person who touches a product inflates the price to support their top managers. The value added tax has arrived in a stealth form.

Some costs have been kept artificially low by off shoring production. I’m up to 1999 in the data review. That was the first year a seed company noted their country of origin was Zimbabwe. Soon after, companies changed the definition of origin to mean where they bought the seed they repackaged. That often was Holland or Germany or France. No one knew where it was grown.

I remember when the company that bought Burpee bragged it was the only remaining American seed company. They were the ones who pioneered production in México and Central America. To them, American just mean the location of corporate headquarters.

There are still small companies in this country who grow their own seed. I happily pay their "shipping and handling" because their basic pricing is honest and quality depends on the vagaries of nature.

Last year I put in some new trees to edge the rebuilt driveway. Went I bought my last trees in the late 1990's the local, cheap hardware was selling them for about $17.00. Last year I paid more like $27.00. Neither were great quality. Often the ones sold here were quality rejects with poor grafts.

However, I had learned with trees and roses price wasn’t all that mattered. Droughts and winds were no respecters of quality. They killed everything. Because so few survived, and I had to buy so many to get some strong enough to survive I bought what was cheap and hoped I could manage the consequences of more grafts.

I had a dwarf cherry cut down last year that had reverted to root stock that was threatening the house. That’s one cost I didn’t factor in to my calculations.

Price isn’t the only thing I’m noticing. Looking through my notes on what killed plants may tell me when I finally conquered the grasshoppers and inhibited the rabbit. Both still exist, but aren’t as destructive.

I’ll also recover which were the wet winters and dry summers, the years of fire and winds. One’s swears one will never forget, but all I remember are they occurred. I no longer remember when. I care much more about those patterns of nature than I did when I started keeping records in 1995.

Photographs: Men in the area experiment with building fences from unusual materials. Most look good for a few years, then the weather and vehicles damage them. I love them, even when the are decrepit, as records of man’s imagination in the face of overwhelming challenges in the dry southwest.

1. Made from tires.

2-3. Stuccoed bales of straw and bamboo curtain.

4-5. Wood work

6. Glass bricks.

7. Retaining wall from rail timbers.

8. Fence made with the same techniques as #7.

9. The frame originally held a holy picture, the Madonna or our Lady of Guadalupe. There were three spaced along the side of the fence. They were paper encased in plastic.

No comments: