Spring finally here?

Some of the smaller mandrakes potted up

It’s been a long and hard winter most places in North America, I think. Certainly a much tougher winter up here in upstate NY than I have experienced since moving here ten plus years ago. It was long, cold, and had lots of snow, but perhaps it is over. I am going for it, anyhow.

Tomatoes and peppers potted up 4/12/14

After not growing any food plants last year because I needed soul healing, not food, me and my healed soul started the usual suspects–tomatoes and peppers–a month or so ago. I loved White Queen tomato when I grew it a couple years ago. It’s a Victorian beefsteak variety that is more like a fruit than a veggie, very creamy in texture and mild in taste. Now, when some variety descriptions say “mild,” they really mean it has no taste whatsoever. But White Queen does have a taste–a somewhat fruity one. I know it will make good preserves, and that is what it is destined for. Today I potted up those seedlings, along with a neat new variety with purple skin called Indigoand a hybrid (yes, a regular hybrid, not a GMO, totally natural) called Aria Yellow Pear. This is a small pear-shaped mater that is supposed to be better tasting than the usual yellow pear tomato, which tastes like nothing. We shall see.

Bullnose pepper 2012

I also potted up some peppers. I do love peppers, especially the pimento types. These are a very old-fashioned type of pepper, usually heart-shaped, with thick walls and sweet flesh. They aren’t that common a pepper type, but to me, they are the best, especially if you are going to stirfry or pickled your peppers. I also like old-fashioned so-called “bull’s horn” peppers, the traditional Italian type, and so I planted Carmen, which is a hybrid version. I’ve been wanting to grow that variety for quite a while. It has good reviews from home growers. Thinking it was Bullnose, I bought a hybrid variety of bell pepper called Red Bull Hybrid, and those babies are up. Bullnose is my absolute favorite pepper variety. It is a small bell with very thick flesh. YUM. The pic is of Bullnose peppers I grew in pots on my driveway a couple years ago. This very old variety was grown in Thomas Jefferson’s garden. You can actually get the seeds from the Monticello garden shop.

Nicotiana quadrivalvis, rustica, and sylvestris

Still left in the pepper/mater tray are a bunch of Nicotianas, including N. rustica (wild tobacco), N. quadrivalvis (wild tobacco used by Western tribes in North America), and N. sylvestris (woodland tobacco). These have a little way to go before I pot them up, but I also potted up 40 foxgloves this morning. These are the foxgloves I grew from pelleted seeds. Almost all of them came up. Very handy. I hope to get flowers the first year from these, which I will dry and sell on Alchemy Works. And of course I also potted up 12 of the smallest mandrakes.

Forty foxgloves!

The mandrakes are actually two-year-old plants, although you’d never know it from their size, especially compared to their siblings. But they seem to be quite happy to be in much bigger pots and in full shade outside. These probably won’t be ready to sell for roots in the fall, but the others should be, and I have about 30 of those, half of which I will sell in October/November, depending on when our hard frost hits.

Illustrations and Planting

Today I got to work on the illustrations for my herbal witchcraft book. Does it ever feel great! The first chapter is on poppy, so I started there. I did sketches of a bud, a pod, a seedling, and a flower. I’m going to start the paintings based on them tomorrow and do some more sketches in the meanwhile. For reference, I used photos I took of my own Elka poppies that I grew year before last. I have to say that I like working on this smaller scale. The images are no larger than 8″ and will be reproduced no larger than 6″ x 9″–more like 3″ x 4.5″–so they are quick to do and easy to maneuver around in terms of space. I like to turn the paper all around while I am drawing or painting, and that is easy with something this size.

On an art forum I’m a member of, trolls asserted that the reason why artists paint abstract art is because they can’t draw–and pretty much the same goes for people who even just LIKE abstract art, which I do. I can say with confidence that I know how to draw. It’s funny how many things as you age get kind of rusty or even lost. I know I couldn’t do calculus today if you held a gun to my head, even though I did well with Advanced Calculus in college back in the seventies. And I can’t believe I used to knit European style with two different colored yarns in hand to make Fair Isle sweaters. My hands just won’t work that way nowadays; I can hardly knit even plain. But I can still draw, and it is so so heartening to dip down in that well and find that yep, there’s plenty of water down there. Still, I won’t be posting most of these. They’re reserved for the book.

Today I ordered this book on fantasy illustration in watercolor. Reviews say it’s a bit of a beginner’s book, but that’s fine; I was very inspired by the images inside. I like the composition. That’s something I’d like to work on. One thing about straight art vs. illustration is that often the illustrators seem to have a better sense of how to approach an image, how to display it. Especially people who do comics often have a really creative and dynamic way of showing whatever it is they are illustrating. Yes, sometimes they get carried away using point of view from the ceiling or something, but I like how creative they are with that. It’s easy to get in a rut with straight painting and just show whatever it is dead on, end of story. I have also been impressed with how knowledgeable some comics folks are about pens. I was looking all over for information about whether I could use Dr. Martin’s Bombay India Ink in a Rotring Artpen and found a discussion amongst comic artists where someone knew exactly which inks could be used in which pens (and yes, you can use Bombay India ink in that pen without ruining the pen, which is cool because I have a ton of that ink and five of those pens).

The other thing I am appreciating about doing these illustrations is that I do not feel the slightest compunction about manipulating them digitally, whereas I don’t feel comfortable doing that with the paintings I am turning into prints. The most I have done with those is to intensify the color so that they print better, because giclee printing seems to wash out the colors a good deal. I’ve resisted even doing any cleaning up of blips and blobs on those digitally. But I don’t feel that way at all about the illustrations. Whatever makes them look the best when they are printed on paper seems fine to me. And I feel perfectly okay about using, say, ink or colored pencil on top of a painted illustration, because the goal is just to get the best image, not to stay within the boundaries of a technique. Also, if I wanted to I could use colors that are not lightfast in the illustrations. It widens my choices a LOT. It is so exciting for me, so freeing. I am loving that I can combine writing and art as well. This whole project is finally coming together, turning into something I am loving doing instead of a chore.

In other news, I started 50 foxgloves yesterday, and that means the 2014 planting season has officially begun for me (“Ladies and gentlemen, start your seeds!”). These varieties are not as tall as the regular foxgloves, but they’re supposed to flower the first year: Camelot and Dalmatian. I got pelleted seeds, which I rarely use because I am normally okay with planting small seeds, but that was the only way they were available. It sure made it a lot easier. The seeds are just basically rolled in thin layer of white clay that hardens and makes them easier to handle. It’s much simpler to plant just one per peat pellet. They stand out well against the dark soil so you don’t end up overplanting (which I normally do with foxgloves because the seed is so fine). The clay disintegrates pretty much on contact with the moist soil. Today I’ve got tomatoes, peppers, wild white petunias, and white and lavender toloache to start. I want to harvest both seeds and some foliage from the toloaches this year.

Woodland tobacco volunteer with mandrakes under lightsPotted up four mandrakes yesterday, and they had the most wonderfully twisted roots! I also have two volunteers in the mandrake pots–a henbane in one and a woodland tobacco that has really taken off. Since I was moving plants around, I thought I’d pull the woodland tobacco out and give the mandrake in that pot more room. When I slid the pot out from under the lights, where the tobacco had twisted itself up in between the fixtures, I found that the tobacco had flowered! I thought this meant I should leave it in the pot. Last night when me and Blackie went down there so I could shut the plant lights off and he could check the perimeter for marauding cats and have a roll on the cement floor, the tobacco flowers were shedding scent. If you have not grown this plant, it’s worth doing. It is not the most beautiful in terms of its foliage, and it will snare mosquitoes in its sticky fuzz (and in the basement it has trapped and killed a few fungus gnats the same way, sort of the plant equivalent to putting someone’s head on a pike), but the scent of the flowers, wow! I just love them. Last year I had a woodland tobacco volunteer in a crack in the driveway right near the back door. It got huge, five feet tall.

It’s going to get cold again here, but I feel spring is on the way now.