Tag Archives: gardening

Garden Archeology

                I’ve been planting gardens of one sort or another in about the same place for the past 30 years.  Part of it had been a garden when we moved in, and part of it was an old building which we tore down after living at our place for a year.

                Over those years, we’ve taken stones and glass and metal out of the soil every year.  Some of it was from the building we tore down, some from buildings long ago forgotten, and some from various junk and farm equipment over the 150 or so years that people have lived at our place.

                Last year, for the first time, I decided to keep all of the metal I harvested from the soil.  The photo you see here includes a majority of what I found.  Keep in mind that this is after 30 years of taking other pieces of metal out.  It also doesn’t include an equal amount of glass pieces, plastic, rubber, etc.

  garden metal bw              Some of the metal is rusted beyond recognition.  A lot of the metal consists of nails – many of them old square nails.  One large gear and an angle iron spoke of machinery and building.

                It’s easy to see the things through the lens of the here and now.  It’s good, sometimes, to remember that other people once lived where we once lived.  They maybe waited impatiently for warmer weather the way we do each spring.  Maybe they pulled arrowheads out of the ground instead of metal pieces.

                I’m sure they worked harder to get by than we do.  Their garden was not a hobby, I’m sure, but a necessity. If there were children, perhaps it was their job to cultivate and weed the garden.  Maybe they were the ones listening to the birds and daydreaming as they worked: the way I do now.

                 It’s good to be outdoors again, as spring eases forward.  It’s good, too, to know that as we work in the soil that we’re following in the footsteps of so many others from so many years ago.

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Filed under 2016

Gardening Tips

When I was a kid, my parents struggled to have a garden in our yard, but it was too shady to produce vegetables.  They eventually rented a plot at a community garden, and seemed to enjoy it.

I learned a little about gardening from them, and some from my father-in-law, who had a very large garden to help feed his nine children.  His daughter has been my best source for gardening information.

People who are serious about gardening take classes and become master gardeners, but so far that doesn’t appeal to me.  If things don’t grow now, I can just shrug and say, “Oh well.”  If I actually had proper training, there would be no excuse.  I know that’s flawed reasoning, by the way.

I do have a few tips to share with anyone who has a garden, is thinking of having one, or just enjoys hearing about other people’s struggles.

  1. If someone is a little too quick to offer you plants from their garden, be suspicious. If they have enough to give away, the plant probably reproduces faster than bunnies.
  2. The mint family is huge, with over 7,000 types, including a lot of herbs we use in the kitchen. That being said, spearmint, lemon balm, and my lawn nemesis, Creeping Charlie, spread like crazy. Once you plant mint, be ready to treat it as a weed.
  3. There’s a really cool looking succulent plant named purslane. It is edible, but eat fast, because it grows everywhere, and once you have it, you need to pull them out for years to come.
  4. If you are planting or transplanting plants just before a big rainstorm, water them anyway, because the fact that you want it to rain means that it will not.
  5. Certain plants don’t get along with each other. Potatoes and tomatoes are in the same family (nightshade) but won’t grow well if they are too close. There are other do’s and don’ts of plant placement.
  6. The best way to avoid having numerous 20 pound zucchini plants left over is to not plant them in the first place.
  7. Embrace the wind. There isn’t enough “Deet” to withstand a July assault of mosquitoes on a still day.
  8. As ironic as it may sound, don’t spend so much time working on your garden that you forget to stop and smell the roses.

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Filed under 2015

Gardening Story

Sticks and Stones

When my parents moved into their “retirement” house in Oshkosh, the builder didn’t do a very good job on the landscaping.  Contractors weren’t supposed to plant anything, but top soil was to have been spread, making the growing of a lawn possible.

Instead, the soil was mostly poor, and there were lots of stones – big-ish and small.  Some people would have ordered a load of top soil, but not my dad.

Rather than take the easier route, he sectioned off the yard and, bit by bit and day by day, he sorted through the soil, putting the clay on the creek side (it was a little creek that didn’t always have water in it) and setting aside the stones and rocks for future projects.

You would see him out there on his hands and knees, digging with a hand trowel, picking through the dirt, and eventually planting grass seed in small sections, and watering it every other day.  I don’t want to guess how many hours he put into that lawn, but before it was all planted in grass, many dozens of hours had gone by.

He was someone who took the long view of things.  His main hobby was planting trees on two different properties my parents owned.  Not for Christmas trees, but for lumber a generation or two after he was gone.

I can’t claim to have that kind of vision, but, well, I have developed a mild fascination with improving soil, removing stones from it, and finding another use for them.  And, after our yard got kind-of torn up last summer, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to become one with the earth, so to speak.

It’s funny, but I had been writing this column for ten or more years before it hit me that my writing paralleled the monthly newsletter my dad wrote and distributed to a few hundred subscribers for many years.  Now the sifting through soil parallel has come to light.  I’m sure there are other qualities and predilections that I inherited from my father – both good and bad.  From my Mother too.

What worries me is that someday my daughters will start taking on some of my qualities, like questionable humor (not inappropriate; just questionable as to whether it is funny).

By the time my dad passed away the yard looked really nice.  The grass and trees were green and growing, and the flowers my mom tended provided some nice, colorful accents.

I guess we all have some kind of impact on the world around us, be it our yards, our homes, our communities, and especially our children.  Sometimes the things and people we should spend the most time on don’t get enough attention, while unimportant things with little screens control our days.

Anyway, I look forward to a summer and fall of yard work, and of thinking about my dad from time to time as I hear my knees creak and snap when I struggle to stand up with a bucket full of sticks and stones.

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Filed under 2015

There It Is!

(From July — Warmer Days)

Thanks to the gritty determination of some family members, what appeared to be a weed patch in our yard is once again a flower garden. I thought it was probably in there someplace, but despite my efforts spending a few hours here and there, the weeds got away from me, so I was very, very happy to see the weeds being pulled and the flowers uncovered.

The job got done just in time for a family gathering at our place last weekend, and I felt a little guilty taking compliments for the garden when so much of the work uncloaking it came from others, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve felt guilty about something, so I let them say nice things without stopping them.

Uncovering the flowers made me think about other things in life that exist, but are overgrown by other kinds of “weeds” in our lives.

For starters, a family is a beautiful thing, but some families lose track of that over disagreements, harsh words, slights, and other debris of life, and miss the amazing bond that families have. It’s still there, but needs to be uncovered by forgiveness and honest conversation.

Our nation is also quite amazing. It is, as we can see, the place other people want to come to because of our freedoms and our wealth – which are related, in my opinion.

But, we have the “weeds” of extreme disagreement over things like the appropriate role of government in our lives, the fiscal policies we should follow, and how to deal with threats from abroad. They sometimes get in the way of seeing the true beauty – both physical and philosophical – of our country. Imperfect though we are, no country has done more good for so many people around the world, and no country offers every citizen the opportunity to succeed more than ours. It’s easy to forget those things when there is so much discord and turmoil around us.

It’s hard, but I try to live my life being grateful for what I have, and optimistic about the future of our country. It’s like the flower garden: the flowers were in there, it just took a lot of work to break through the weeds to expose them, and let their beauty thrive in the sunlight.

It would have been a big mistake to spray weed killer on the garden. Sure, it would have killed the weeds, but it would have killed the flowers too. I hope we all have the vision to see the flowers in our gardens, our families, and our country, and should follow, and how to deal with threats from abroad. They sometimes get in the way of seeing the true beauty – both physical and philosophical – of our country. Imperfect though we are, no country has done more good for so many people around the world, and no country offers every citizen the opportunity to succeed more than ours. It’s easy to forget those things when there is so much discord and turmoil around us.

It’s hard, but I try to live my life being grateful for what I have, and optimistic about the future of our country. It’s like the flower garden: the flowers were in there, it just took a lot of work to break through the weeds to expose them, and let their beauty thrive in the sunlight.

It would have been a big mistake to spray weed killer on the garden. Sure, it would have killed the weeds, but it would have killed the flowers too. I hope we all have the vision to see the flowers in our gardens, our families, and our country, and that we’re ready, willing, and able to do the hard work needed to bring them to the sunlight.

 

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Filed under 2014

The Garden of Weedin’

One of my favorite sayings is, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”  According to Wikipedia, a sometimes reliable source, the saying is attributed to ”Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote, “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (hell is full of good wishes and desires).”

I think the reason I like that saying so much is that it applies to much in my life.  My intentions are always heart-felt, and yet often not acted upon.  I’ve paved more roads than Democrat counties after the stimulus bill.

One good intention for the summer was to keep up with the weeds in the gardens.  And, for quite a while I was successful.  Then it got really hot, and I got frustrated with not being able to see, due to the steady stream of sweat that smeared over my glasses.

Then the invasion of mosquitoes began, and, well, you know.  I don’t hate many things in life, but mosquitoes rise to that level of dislike. 

I have to admit, though, that my general laziness was a factor too.  There is always other work to do, trips to take, movies to see, email to read…  In a weak defense, however, I’d have to say that if we lived in San Diego, where there are no mosquitoes, and where it rarely gets hot, our gardens would be weed free at this point.  At least that’s what I’m claiming.

I did spend a couple of hours weeding on Saturday, since it was just breezy enough to make the spraying of Off I applied effective.  I pulled enough weeds to make a pile the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.  Not really, but I liked the imagery.  It was a big pile, though.  Another 12 hours and the vegetable garden will be weeded.  Then: the flower garden.  I heard those weeds mocking me Saturday, so I averted my gaze so as not to provoke them any further.

Frankly, I don’t even want to talk about the thistles in the pastures.  As beautiful as “thistledown” is floating on the summer breeze, each seed means more thistles next year. 

Paving the road to Hell is something I’m good at, but in my own defense I should point out that not all my good intentions go undone.  It’s just that the garden is so visible, and the weeds so big!

Eventually the mosquitoes will die, and guilt and the threat of winter will get me out there to clean things up to get ready for next spring.  In the meantime, I think the answer is to leave home each morning before sun up, and return each evening after dark. 

Another great saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

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Filed under 2010

Down a Quart

Summer is a wonderful time of year to be outside.  It’s warm, breezy, and the days are long.  Of course, there is one little tiny thing.  Actually, lots of little tiny things.  Mosquitoes.

Thanks to the oversupply of rain this summer, we’ve been cursed with more mosquitoes than most people can remember.  Although, it’s hard to remember anything while you’re itching and scratching from head to toe.  Especially between your toes. 

The authorities make the brilliant suggestion to avoid getting mosquito bites, due to the potential of acquiring various diseases.  Among the worst are encephalitis, West Nile virus, malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever.  We only have the first two around here, but the point is, mosquitoes are very good at sucking diseased blood out of someone or something and injecting it into someone else.

The problem is, avoiding getting mosquito bites is more easily said than done.  The chemical that goes by the name of “deet” does a pretty good job of keeping mosquitoes away, but it also does a good job of getting into our eyes and lungs.  There’s nothing like a cocktail of mosquito repellant, sunscreen and sweat to make your eyes sting.

Some people say that taking vitamin B1 causes us to be unappetizing to mosquitoes.  I’ve never tried it, but somehow I have my doubt that the solution could be that simple.  I may buy some, though, because if it works, it would be a great discovery.

The other option is to avoid mosquitoes.  The easiest way to do that is to move to San Diego.  Other than that, you can stay inside, assuming that nobody ever comes or goes from your house, since the most temporary opening of a door will let in a dozen of the little buggers. 

Since mosquitoes are attracted by vapors we emit (I won’t go into detail), you can also remain motionless at all times.  Frankly, I think they’d figure it out eventually, and you’d be a casualty of their little proboscises, poking through your epidermis (translation: pointy things poking into your skin).

Fortunately for us, we live in a part of the world where malaria and dengue fever are not a worry, though a couple of cases of dengue fever have been reported in Key West this year.  From what people say, people who survive dengue fever report it as being extraordinarily painful.  It makes a few days of itching seem pretty minor.

If we have a few dry weeks, perhaps the mosquito problem will become less of one.  If not, the only hope for us is an early, hard frost, which will also mean the end to our vegetable gardens and flowers, so that’s not something we want to wish for.

I’ve found that it’s helpful to try to put a good spin on things that don’t seem to have an up-side.  To that end, I’d like to suggest that we look at the mosquito infestation as the newest diet plan.  An hour outside may result in the loss of a pound’s worth of blood.  And, not only that, but you’ll also feel too weak to eat when you crawl back into the house in search of calamine and Benydryl.

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Filed under 2010

Party Time

There was quite a party at our place one night last week.  We weren’t invited, but judging from the clean-up the next day, the guests had a wonderful time.  In fact, they partied until after dawn.

The guests who enjoyed themselves so much were sheep – a dozen or so mothers and 20 or so lambs.  They escaped from their pasture sometime during that night, and helped themselves to what they wanted in the garden, frolicked on a pile of wood chips, at grass along the side of the road, and pooped all over the place. 

We learned some interesting things from the great escape.  First, we learned that sheep don’t seem to like potatoes, since they weren’t touched.  They do like peas, cabbage, and foot-high sweet corn, among other things. 

The hero of our story is our neighbor, Donna, who leaves for work very early in the morning, and noticed some sheep near the road, and after pulling into our driveway, saw that they were everywhere in the yard and garden.  Since she helps with chores sometimes when we’re gone, she knew where to find a bucket into which she put a little shell corn.  Using that, she was like the pied piper as she led them back into their pasture.  She then tied the gate shut and went off to work.

So, when we woke up that morning, the sheep were where they were supposed to be, but the damage they had caused was apparent.

It’s discouraging when the garden looks so nice, and literally overnight it because a war zone of munched down plants and a thousand hoof prints.  After a few days of rain, we set to work to replace what was missing, and generally get things straightened out.

All in all, the sheep party could have been a lot worse.  None of them were hit by a car, which would have been bad for both the car and the sheep.  Everything they ruined has been replaced, and it’s early enough in the summer that the seeds we planted will have plenty of time to grow into vegetables that humans can eat.

As for the sheep, while they have a pretty good life at our place, with plenty of lush pasture to enjoy all spring summer and fall, and a warm, dry place to go in the winter, it is nice that they had a little fling.  Everybody needs to blow off some steam now and then, or in the case of sheep, once in a while they need to poop in the yard and eat cabbage plants.

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Filed under 2010