Tag Archives: gardens

Stormy Night Letter

Dear Family,

Interesting night.  Huge storm came over Dane County.  We didn’t get the worst of it.  Tennis ball size hail hit a lot of areas.  We went to the neighbor’s house to ride out the storm.  Power went out just as we hit their basement, after a huge wind gust came through.  I don’t know what the speed of the wind was, but they were talking about 60-80 MPH winds in the county.

After things subsided, we headed for home, which wasn’t easy since the big tree on the corner of our yard lost two big branches, (a spruce tree lost its top also) and took down the electrical wires.  We tried to go around the block to get home, but other roads were blocked too.  We finally made it home going through Rockdale, but had to park the car across the street and walk along the corn field, around the horse’s pasture, and through the sheep shed to avoid the down wires.

As we were in the sheep shed, I was surprised to see that the sheep were looking at us from outside their enclosure.  They had been in the yard and garden, enjoying broccoli, cabbage, and some other delicacies.  History repeats itself — as you’ll recall, they got out two years ago and ate and stomped on a lot.

A number of large branches had blown off the tree behind the gray shed (no, I’m sorry.  I mean the grey shed) and one of them took out a big chunk of the fence between the sheep and the garden.  Further inspection (once the sheep were put into the big pasture) showed that one of the hay wagons had been flipped up on its side, and both hay bunks had been destroyed.  Several big branches were in the vegetable and flower gardens, one of them at least 30 yards from the tree it came from.

Numerous large branches were in the horse’s area, but she didn’t’ seem to be hurt at all.

The only damage to the house was a piece of fascia that appears to have been hit by something, and peeled back.

Due to the blocked road and downed wires, there was a Dane County cop car at the top of the hill until the power company guys showed up.  It’s odd to hear chain saws at 3:30am.  The power came back on around 5am, I think.  Mom got up to watch the action in the middle of the night, and was outside by 4am.  I was not.

All in all, a stressful night, made better by being with neighbors.  Have you ever been so tired that you could feel your cells crying?  I’m about there.

But, nobody was hurt, and the damage was very minimal by comparison to what many have experienced this year in Joplin, Tuscaloosa, and other places.  It makes you think.  Sometimes good luck comes to us in disguise.

Love, Dad


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Garden Post-mortum

I have a piece of paper on the wall near my desk at work on which I printed photographs showing four views of our flower garden from last year.  (See a portion of one of them above.)  The pictures were taken at the peak of color, and nary a weed can be found.  The pictures were taken late afternoon on a beautiful sunny day.  The brick walkway looks great and the wooden bench looks very inviting.

Fast forward to, well, now.  The wood chip walkways have both weeds and volunteer flowers and plants growing in them.  Since the frosts, most of the flowers are dead or in the process of dying.  The brick walkway has weeds growing out of it, and the raspberries that are supposed to be outside of the flower garden have found their way into several of the beds.

 It’s a little frustrating to look at the flower beds now.  You see, last summer’s gardening work was mostly what kept me sane during a difficult time.  When last fall came, I was sad that the gardening season was over, but optimistic about the coming year.

Now the season I looked forward to is virtually done, and in some ways the garden has taken several steps backwards.  There are several reasons it didn’t turn out as well, but none of them are really important.  Well, maybe one: mosquitoes the size of crows.

As I look at the pictures by my desk, I have mixed feelings.  First, I’m pleased at how good the garden looked back when they were taken.  I’m also encouraged that next year can bring a Renaissance

I also realize that photographs aren’t always a true portrayal of reality.  I’m pretty sure that these pictures I see every day intentionally exclude some spots that were far from perfect, and focus in on areas that looked especially good.  It’s only human nature to do that, unless you’re an insurance adjuster or something.

Assuming more weeks of warmish weather, I’m looking forward to putting the flower garden and the vegetable garden to bed for the winter.  Sometime in a few months when the snow blankets over the yard, I’ll start thinking about the new season and things I want to change or improve.

Gardening is such an apt metaphor for so many things in life, including life itself, because it can be measured in seasons, and each one gives us the opportunity to make changes for the better.  And, like the rest of life, there are so many things a gardener can’t control, like heat, cold, rain, drought, and various insects and plant diseases.  Even if you do your best, things don’t always work out well.

I’m not sad that winter is coming, if only because it is a necessary step in the progression to another spring, and the first intoxicating scent of warm, moist soil.  Then the cycle of planting seeds, buying bedding plants, and pulling weeds will begin again.  With hard work and some luck, it will again be a photogenic garden like last year’s was.

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Filed under 2010

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

For the Bird(s)

In our yard we have a large vegetable garden and a not as large flower garden.  The flower garden has walkways covered in wood chips from tree branches that were taken down a few years ago and chipped for just this purpose.

Our early spring has given us the chance to get a head start on the gardens, including cleaning up the flower beds from last year, pulling weeds that have sprouted around the beds, and generally improving things.

Last week we discovered something that has altered our plans a bit.  We found a nest in the wood chips at the edge of the flower garden.  It belongs to Mrs. Killdeer.

The killdeer is a member of the plover family, and as such is technically a shore bird, like the sandpiper,  though they seem to prefer open areas like fields and pastures to the shore.  They have longish, spindly legs, and they run around like crazy in quick spurts.  They are named not for their ability to take down whitetail deer, but rather because their call is supposed to sound like “kill-deer.” 

Unlike some birds, they don’t really build a nest.  They find a spot on the ground that looks like a good place to lay eggs.  In our case, it was in wood chips.  Unless you know just where to look, you’d never see her.  She blends in really well, with the horizontal stripes on her neck blending in perfectly with the ground around her.

For 24 days, the mother sits on the eggs, with occasional help from the dad, I suppose, and then when the little ones are hatched, they walk away together as a family.

The most interesting thing about killdeers is how the mother protects the eggs.  The first strategy is to get off the nest and walk away, hoping the predator (in this case, me) will follow.  The second strategy is for her to nestle down somewhere away from the nest, pretending that she’s sitting on a nest.  The clever predator will then assume the eggs are over there, and not where they really are.

The third, and most interesting strategy, which seems to be a last resort, is for her to run away, pretending to have a broken wing.  In the world of predators (human or animal) going for the weak and injured is always a good bet.  So, the hunter pursues her, and ignores the nest.

Basically, all these strategies put the mother at risk in order to protect the un-hatched eggs.  They are diversionary tactics to get a predator to think about eating the mother instead of her babies.

I guess we humans often sacrifice for our kids, but the killdeer really takes it to a high level of self-sacrifice.  I can’t help but admire her dedication.

So, while we’re continuing to work on the garden, we’re trying to avoid getting too close to her nest.  She seems to have figured out that we’re not going to hurt her or her babies, and mostly stays on the nest, even if we get 10-15 feet away, but she watches us carefully. 

As much as I’d like to work on the flower beds near the nest, we’ve decided to give her her space.  We hope the eggs make it to 24 days, and that Mrs. and Mr. Killdeer will enjoy their new family throughout the summer.

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Filed under 2010

Garden Party

The unusually warm weather we’ve had recently has been a real treat.  Farmers who couldn’t do the field work they wanted to do last fall because of the rain that turned too quickly into snow were able to play catch-up, and a lot of fields are ready to plant ahead of schedule, and some planting has already been done.

Because we live in Wisconsin, most of us feel like there is a shoe left to drop, and that shoe will take the form of a blizzard, complete with a few feet of snow and below zero temperatures.  There is no meteorological basis for this expectation, just a feeling that something good is usually followed by something bad when it comes to weather.

I think people in the Midwest see the world that way more than other folks.  On a perfect day in June, you’ll hear people say, “we’re gonna pay for this later!”  I’ve never heard people in San Diego make the same prediction.

Well, I may pay for it later, but last weekend I got a start planting our garden.  Most years we don’t get the cold weather crops, like spinach and peas, planted in the early spring.  So, it was a personal victory of sorts to get some seeds in the ground the first week of April.

It seems like dates for planting certain vegetables are pretty vague.  The colder weather crops, it is said, should be planted on Good Friday.  The thing is, that can be any time after March 19th, since Easter takes place the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring.  But it can be as late as April 21st, if I’m not mistaken.  That’s quite a bit of latitude for planting your kohlrabi.

Most garden crops should be planted Memorial Day weekend, they say.  Even though we often have nice enough weather before that, we sometimes have one last frost in mid May.  I remember one year when there was a tiny patch of frost in the corner of a field near us the first week in June, so I guess there is no absolutely safe time to plant.

I think more people are planting gardens for various reasons. A gardener knows what chemicals have, or have not been put on their vegetables.  You can save money with a garden, though the argument can be made that it’s cheaper to buy vegetables in season and preserve them.

It’s possible there’s another reason.  A recent poll showed that 79% of voters, including 72% of Democrats, think it’s possible the U.S. economy could collapse.  That was a staggering figure to me, since our economy has always seemed to be rock solid.  I don’t know what a collapsed economy would look like, but it makes sense that being self-reliant couldn’t hurt.  Having shelves full of canned or dried produce would be a comfort.

Of course, a lot of people thought there would be chaos when the calendar clicked over to the year 2000 also, and that turned out to be unnecessary worry. 

For me, gardening is a hobby.  It isn’t about the economy or politics, but rather an escape from those things.  It is gratifying to enjoy meals that we’ve grown ourselves – especially in the dead of winter.  We’re far from being self reliant, though – unless somebody can tell us how to grow toilet paper.

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Filed under 2010