A Garden Report

Originally posted July 1, 2009

The weather has been cloudy and damp and generally cool.

This is not good for our garden, and the Texas Gal and I are concerned. Like obsessive parents overseeing a child’s progress through third grade, we tend, we cultivate, we encourage and we worry. There are a few other gardens in the area that our landlord sets aside for us and for the tenants of the adjacent apartment building. The other gardeners started their plants about ten days to two weeks earlier than we did. I think they were lucky to avoid a late frost, but there’s no doubt that the tomato plants in the other plots are far bushier than ours.

Some of the twenty or so tomato plants we put in around Memorial Day seem to be thriving, sprouting more branches and leaves as well as incipient fruit. Others seem to be marking time, nurturing one tomato while not growing at all. And there are a few who – if the garden were a classroom – would already be certain to repeat the grade. We have several, I think, failed tomatoes.

The Texas Gal isn’t as ready to give up on the lagging plants as am I. She says they may surprise me yet. And they may. The odds are, however, that we will get no fruit from about half of the tomato plants that we carefully set in and then staked or put into cages.

Elsewhere in the garden, things are greener. We’re going to have more zucchini and yellow squash than we know what to do with. Yah Shure, a prolific gardener himself in St. Paul, said that we will likely have so much zucchini that we’ll be reduced to leaving bags of the vegetables on our neighbors’ doorsteps in the middle of the night, all the time prepared to run. It may come to that. Or we may find a worthy charity that can use our excess vegetables.

That excess could also include – based on the state of the garden this morning – broccoli, white and red cabbage, red leaf lettuce, beets, cucumbers and various peppers, both sweet and hot. The eggplant in the corner, however, seems to have joined about half of the tomatoes on the horticultural critical list.

“Do you think we’re watering the tomatoes too much?” the Texas Gal asked as we made our way back to the house last evening. “Or maybe not enough?” I said I didn’t know; this is my first garden just as it is hers. “Did we plant them in too much shade? Or put too much mulch on them?”

“I don’t know,” I repeated. “For everything I know about gardening, the problem could be aliens coming down at night and sucking the life out of the plants.”

She laughed, which was my hope, as we went inside the house. Still, we have no answers for our impending tomato failure. All we have is questions.

A Six-Pack of Questions
“Questions and Conclusions” by Sweathog from Hallelujah [1971]
“Ask Me No Questions” by B.B. King from Indianola Mississippi Seeds [1970]
“That’s A Good Question” by Peter Kaukonen from Black Kangaroo [1972]
“Questions” by Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around [1968]
“A Question of Temperature” by the Balloon Farm, Laurie 3405 [1967]
“Questions 67 and 68” by Chicago Transit Authority from Chicago Transit Authority [1969]

After listening twice to “Questions and Conclusions” this morning, I still think Sweathog sounds like a more subtle version of Steppenwolf. It still baffles me that a group with that cool a sound for the times – the late 1960s and early 1970s – had just one hit (“Hallelujah,” which went to only No 33 in December 1971). Lots of competition, I guess. And – as is true for a lot of groups – history is just sometimes asleep at the switch.

“Ask Me No Questions,” like the album it comes from, Indianola Mississippi Seeds, is a relaxed bit of blues, a chance to B.B. King just to do what he does best. The album is also notable for the presence of Carole King on keyboards, Joe Walsh on guitar, Leon Russell on piano (King takes on Leon’s “Hummingbird” to close the album) and back-up singers extraordinaire Clydie King, Merry Clayton and Venetta Fields. It’s worth checking out.

Peter Kaukonen is brother to Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, and when the Airplane formed its Grunt label, Peter was one of the artists signed. Black Kangaroo is pretty good, very similar to the solo albums brother Jorma would release down the road. “That’s A Good Question” is one of the better tracks, I think, even if the strings do overwhelm the guitar for a few moments.

Buffalo Springfield’s “Questions” sounded fresh when the group’s last album was released. A couple of years later, it sounded like a dress rehearsal. Writer Stephen Stills took much of the song and combined with another, briefer, tune to produce ”Carry On,” the opening track to the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album Déjà Vu.

All-Music Guide calls the Balloon Farm a “psych-punk quartet,” and that’s sort of what the group’s only hit sounds like. There are a couple of interesting things about the group and the record: First, on the early pressings, evidently, “temperature” was misspelled “tempature.” In the listing here, I’ve gone with the correct spelling, as that’s how the record – which went to No. 37 in the spring of 1968 – is listed in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. (I think the tag on the mp3 might show the original, incorrect spelling, in which case, listeners can make their own choices. I got the song from the four-CD box set Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era. Then, one of the members of the Balloon Farm – and the writer of “A Question of Temperature” – was Mike Appel, who wound up being Bruce Springsteen’s first manager. (He also wrote the Partridge Family hit, “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted.”)

I’m not sure how much there is to say about “Question 67 and 68,” pulled from the first album by the group that would end up being called simply Chicago. It’s a great piece of horn-driven rock. My only problem with the song is that in the 1970s, one of the Twin Cities television stations used almost fifty seconds of the song – from the 2:46 mark to the 3:34 mark – as the theme for one of its locally produced television shows. Thus, every time I hear that portion of the song, I’m taken back to late Sunday evenings and the analysis of the most recent Minnesota Vikings game on The Bud Grant Show.

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