Tag Archives: Mosquitoes

My Life as a Dig

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Today is Tuesday, the day I set aside for memoir-writing-based-on-belongings. My inspiration came from my friend, Mary, who is working on a similar project. She calls it “My Life as a Dig,” as she excavates memories through possessions accumulated over a lifetime. I – wanting to be different while appropriating her idea – called my entries “Artifacts to Memories.”

Not today. Today all excavation has been done in the garden. For that, I have stolen Mary’s title, because it is most appropriate to my day’s activities. With necessary breaks to refill my water bottle, doctor my persistent head cold, or check on what our president is up to, I have spent this day with my hands in the soil.

Though I wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to get outside to work at least part of the day yesterday and the day before. Progress was slow; there was still an awful lot to do. Today, my last full day off, I started the day with a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. Sprinkles this morning made everything seem more urgent. Rain will bring the mosquitoes: then every chore will be complicated by protection – in the form of netting, added clothing, and chemicals – from the biting insects.

Also in my plan was transplanting strawberries, raspberries and possibly rhubarb. If rain was coming, best to get those tasks done so that the showers could help settle everything nicely into its new location. In order to do the transplanting, I had to prepare the bed. When my young helper was here last week – with the rototiller, no less – I purposely had him avoid that spot, as there were a few stray poppies I wanted to relocate first.

That’s what I started with today. I moved four Oriental Poppies to the long flower bed. Also a bulb that I believe is a Casa Blanca Lily – long forgotten among the overgrowth there – and a couple day lilies.

Next, I dug out four lengths of vented PVC pipe that I had buried between tomato plants as a means of getting the water down to the roots. I used to bury plastic milk gallons, with small holes along their bases, and their spouts above ground. Every day I would fill each jug with water, so that it could seep out at the root zone. The jugs got brittle after a season, and would break apart in a mess of plastic shards. The PVC pipe was my attempt at a similar but more lasting solution.

Finally, I was ready to begin digging the bed. It was overgrown with blackberry brambles, wild strawberries, clusters of a noxious weed that sends a thick beige root straight down into the earth – impossible to pull – and grasses. Quack grass and crab grass are both plentiful. Just like with buttercup and butternut squash, I can never remember which is which.

I think it’s the quack grass that grows in a circle, in a dense mound that is hard to pull, and that the mower scrapes across, leaving an ugly scar. If that’s right, then it’s the crab grass that is my worst enemy. Crab grass, with its long, white roots that travel miles, it seems, to make it into my flower beds, that twist around the day lily tubers or the corms of iris, ensuring that to pull it and its offspring out entirely would mean disrupting everything else in that bed besides.

I attacked both today, and anything else that kept company there, one shovelful at a time. Push the blade into the ground, tip it back, flip the mound. Drop the shovel, then, and dig in, pulling out plants and roots. Shake every bit of earth away, as topsoil is precious on this sandy island, and toss the rest into the wheelbarrow. Check the hole for rocks and roots, then dig in again. One scoop at a time, one row after another.

I hauled away five wheelbarrows full of roots and weeds. I doubt my knees will ever be the same; I wonder if I’ll ever get the dirt out from under my nails. I have not yet put together the raised beds for my berries, or laid down the weed barrier, or transplanted a single strawberry. Still, it was a productive day.

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An Assessment of My Day Off

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I got up at 4AM to respond to two Emails that had been disturbing my sleep.

I did a bit of bookkeeping, wrote a couple checks and played a game of on-line Scrabble.

At 7:30 in the morning, I decided to go back to sleep. Three phone calls came in while I dozed, but I let the machine pick up.

At 8:30 I got up and made coffee. I checked the answering machine and made a few telephone calls. An hour of writing, a bit of tidying the house, then a shower.

I pulled up some grasses from the edge of the walkway, and pruned some dead branches from the spirea bush.

I drove to town, picked up my paycheck at the hardware store, and went to the bank. One short visit with Sue, who carries my work in her sweet gallery here, and a look around at her new offerings, then back to business. I checked on my car, which is in the repair shop. He was still working on it, and told me to keep the little Tracker he’d loaned me, for now. If he got my car finished, he’d drive it out to my house and pick up the “loaner.”

Home…first inside, to greet Rosa, and to make a sandwich for lunch.

Mowing the lawn was my big plan for the day.

I was away in May, when I should, first, have mowed. I returned home to an overgrown lawn, followed by rain that soaked the long grass and made it impossible to mow every time I had a day off to do it. Then my riding mower went on the fritz. It’s an old, old Craftsman, with tires that go flat overnight and a gas tank that leaks, but it keeps on running…until it doesn’t. My neighbor and I have been talking about it, had a guy come take a look at it, but so far no firm diagnosis, and no cure.

Last weekend, I bought a new mower. It’s a cheap push mower, with pathetic little wheels for this rough lawn, but better than nothing. The mosquitoes were about to carry us away! It was like a jungle out there for poor little Rosa Parks! Something had to be done! Every night after work, I’ve been mowing a little…except the evening when it rained…and the evening when I got invited to dinner…and the evening I had company. Today, with the entire afternoon to devote to it, I could get some mowing done!

I did, too!

Not the back yard, which has such huge clumps of quack grass that I’ll have to take the trimmer to it first. Not the south side of the driveway: that got roughed-up when the guys came to set my garden shed in place, and needs to be smoothed out with rake and shovel before the grass can be tackled. Not the trim work around the house, flower beds, fire pit or trees. No time for that.

The yard on the north side of the driveway is about seventy feet wide. From the house to the stand of trees at the front, where I stop mowing, is 150 to 200 feet. That’s the area I mowed today.

From 2PM until 4:30, when I mercifully ran out of gas (which signaled time for a break), then back at it from 5PM until almost seven-thirty. The tall, tough stalks topped with yellow flowers have to be mowed over several times, and sometimes pulled by hand. Areas where the grass was especially thick…or wet…or both…had to be approached slowly, one small bite at a time, or it would cause the lawn-mower to stall out. Wild blackberry bushes had gotten a good start in the front near the wood, and crackled as the blades broke them up. As dusk came on, the insects came out in force. Several applications of insect repellent hardly slowed them down. A dampness in the air suggested impending rain; I was determined to finish that section.

I did it, then stowed the lawn mower back in the shed and came in for the night.

I count three black fly bites, and about a dozen mosquito bites. Two new bruises, with no explanation for them.

Leftovers for dinner: poached tilapia, and some vegetables and grains in a light sauce. It all seemed a bit healthy, so I re-heated it with a pat of butter. Perfect! Chocolate almond ice cream with a sliced banana for dessert.

One long, hot bath.

One large glass of plum wine.

Thunder…a storm is rolling in.

Bedtime.

After the Rain (and Rhubarb Crisp)

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I made a quick dash out through the garden when the rain stopped today.

My destination was that nice patch of rhubarb against the back fence.

I’m going for family dinner tonight, and offered to bring a rhubarb crisp.

I was anxious, anyway, to see what might’ve sprouted, after two days of thunderstorms.

 

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My first mistake was thinking I could make an outdoor run to the rhubarb patch and back, without dousing up with mosquito repellant.

My second mistake was bringing the camera.

I was out there in prime mosquito territory without defenses, and with electronics to slow me down!

They took full advantage of the situation.

I sustained several bites, and a few minor injuries caused by trying to swat the little devils with my arms full of rhubarb.

Everything looks fresh-washed and bright, though.

Spring was a long time coming, and cool when it arrived, but I have hope that we might still get a growing season in, before autumn’s frost.

I used to make this recipe to serve to my daughters – with milk – for breakfast: sweet, but better than many packaged cereals.

Rhubarb Crisp

  • Combine 1 cup each of flour, brown sugar and oatmeal.
  • Add 1/2 cup cold butter (cut into bits) and 1 large egg; use a pastry blender or two knives to cut the ingredients together.
  • Spread half of this mixture in a buttered baking dish (mine is about 7″ x 12″, but anything close will do).
  • Sprinkle with cinnamon, and a handful of chopped walnuts or almonds, if you like.
  • Cover with four generous cups of cleaned, diced rhubarb.
  • Top with the remaining flour mixture and another sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Bake at 375 for about an hour, or until rhubarb is soft and juicy and topping is crisp.
  • Serve warm with cold milk, yogurt or ice cream.

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Inside, Looking Out

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I am making good progress in the garden this year.

I credit the mosquitoes for my devotion.

One does not rub mosquito-repellant oil on ankles, feet and hands, inside ears, on face, neck and scalp, then do an all-over spray of the “deep woods” stuff, add a hat and face-covering bug net…for a short wander through the garden.

The sprays and oils determine that garden soil will soon adhere to clothing and all exposed skin. A few dead mosquitoes may cling where they’ve been swatted. A few minutes of work out in the sunshine, and sweat has added to the mix.

Decked out in this manner, one does not move from gardening to house-keeping or laundry or shopping or (heaven forbid!) a spur-of-the-moment visit with friends.

This “armor” insists that a commitment of time be made.

So, when the intended transplanting, seeding, watering or caging is complete, I look around for something else to do.

There’s always something!

I’ve filled one five gallon bucket after another with weeds. Sometimes I – in archaeology mode – pick out one square meter, drop to my hands and knees, and thoroughly clean that section of unwanted growth. Other times, I choose to tackle one enemy. Sometimes it’s milkweed, which is only an enemy when it invades my garden…which is constant, as it grows prolifically in the fields surrounding it. For the lovely scent of milkweed blossoms, and for the Monarch butterfly, I accept the battle. Sometimes it’s the grasses, easily distinguishable from new seedlings and anything else that belongs there.Sometimes it’s the annoying but easily pulled field sorrel.

Yesterday, it was bladder campion, which is quickly becoming my most despised weed. It has many branches that lay out in every direction, hiding among the leaves of other plants and perennials. Each branch produces flowers with the unique bulbous “bladder” that gives them their name. Each flower produces seeds, and it spreads by roots and seeds. Bladder campion has a deep root, like a carrot, that refuses to pull, and must be dug up. I almost always miss a part of it, either cutting through it with the shovel, or breaking it off when pulling. That ensures that it will come back, as soon as my back is turned. Yesterday, I filled two five-gallon buckets with this weed alone, before I moved on to other things.

Other things: rake leaves away from the fence; move the potter’s wheel; prune the cherry tree; mulch the strawberries; haul weeds and trimmings away. My favorite: check out what’s growing!

Rhubarb is producing again after a nice rain. Asparagus, though mostly gone to seed, still provides a stalk or two for raw munching each day. Strawberries have tiny white fruits that promise to ripen. Raspberries are in bud. The cherry trees are setting fruit. Tomatoes, peppers and marigolds are settling in to their locations. Everything else was planted from seed.

One row of bush beans is up and showing four nice leaves. The second row – planted the same day – hasn’t shown itself yet. I can’t remember if they were older seeds (I should have taken better notes!). Two cucumber hills – of five – have visible sprouts. Only one summer squash plant – of three varieties in six hills – is showing. I have a row of onions up, a scattered row of Swiss chard, and a few spindly spinach leaves starting to show. Winter squash (butternut) has six healthy starts in its old tire planter. I’ll soon have to decide which ones to cull.

The pumpkin (old seeds) didn’t show up at all, so I re-planted each hill with new – “Cinderella’s carriage” – pumpkin seeds. I squeezed in a row of yellow beets, set up bamboo supports and planted pole beans just day-before-yesterday. I put in the last of my seed potatoes a couple days before that.

Today it’s raining.

That’s okay with me.

It’s nice, today, to be inside, looking out.

First of June on the Fox Lake Road

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And now here it is, the second of June.

I had barely typed the title and was waiting for the photo to download when my little dog let out a cry. I don’t know what hurt or frightened her, but I picked her up, and she proceeded to fall asleep on my lap.

I have a simple “hunt and peck” method of typing that I developed myself (not that it’s much to brag about, really). I use both hands, and a total of three or four fingers to punch the keys;  I’ve gotten pretty speedy at it.

Take away one hand, though – as when a dog is sleeping soundly with her little head cradled in the crook of my arm – and I’m useless.

I was tired, too.

I decided my “first of June” report could wait another day.

Wanting to capture the feeling of the first of June, I had taken a couple photos in the rain, from the shelter of the doorway. That alone limited the viewpoint. I couldn’t avoid the pallet leaning against the compost barrel or the white plastic five-gallon buckets filled with roots and weeds. On top of that, it was nearly dusk, and my little camera, set to automatically make those decisions, could not decide whether to flash or not. Raindrops on the lens altered the view.

I did not get good photos.

Still, I eschewed nice photos taken last week – in May – as terribly outdated in this ever-changing Spring. I decided that using photographs taken last June would be underhanded deceit, and I refused to resort to it.

I chose the best current photo to post, and started the download. That usually takes about 30 seconds. I had waited more than five minutes  when I decided to take my little dog and go to bed.

Beginning again this morning, that photo still refuses to come up.

Is my computer now making judgments about my photography skills?

Can I write a blog without an illustration?

We’ll see.

Yesterday, the first of June, was also Sunday, which marks the end of my work week in town.

Mondays, I can usually sleep in if I want to. I can write if I choose to. Then, I try to catch up on housework and yard work and laundry. Tuesdays, I devote to paperwork and phone-calls relating to my job regarding invasive species. Wednesday is for finishing up everything I didn’t finish on Monday and Tuesday, plus the day that I go to clean the floors at my aunt’s farmhouse. Evenings almost every day, from dinnertime until bedtime, I usually spend in the studio. Deadlines abound, and I’m usually behind with most of them.

The garden makes me feel anxious this time of year. So much to do! Soon, I know, it will be too late to plant. Soon, I will be too busy for it. The groundwork has to be laid early, for an easy-care growing space, or I will be frustrated all summer long, watching the weeds take over. I’ve been plugging away at it: digging and raking and hoeing, pulling weeds and hauling away debris. I rented a rototiller this year, and hired  a young man to work up the large vegetable area and the weed-choked pathways between the perennial beds.

Yesterday, with rain predicted for the first of the week, I was determined to plant.

I like to have my seeds in before the mosquitoes hatch. I have already missed that deadline this year, and the little vampires are out in force.

Sunday is a short work day; I could be home by three PM.

“My goal,” I told anyone who would listen, “is to get my entire garden planted today, before the rain comes.”

Some said, “You’ll never make it.” Others offered more hope, or at least, “Good luck!”

I went home armed with bug repellant, cedar stakes and garden twine.

I changed into short pants, a T-shirt and slip-on shoes. I put on a layer of sunscreen, then bug repellant oil to my face, ears and scalp, then an all-over spray of the “deep woods” formula.

I moved the outdoor table to my “staging” area. There, unloaded the twine, stakes and bug repellant. I brought the toolbox out, for hammer, tape measure and anything else I might find that I would need. I carried out the garden tote with hand tools and seeds. One big citronella candle, a reference book, a note pad and pencil and a pair of scissors. A big cup of coffee. My large tools leaned against the side, buckets and wheelbarrow at the ready. What else could I possibly need?

Time to get started!

First the rake, to smooth out the soil and remove the roots and weeds that the tiller turned under.

Measure. Stake. Link the stakes with garden twine. Make a furrow. Plant the seeds.

Every now and then a pause…to consult my book on companion planting, to reapply mosquito dope, to jot down notes, lest I forget what is where.

First, three hills of pumpkins against the back fence. The seed was old, so I over-planted, and used an area that wouldn’t take away from my staple vegetables.

Next, a row of onion sets. I planted thickly, as I’ll thin to use through the season, making room for some to grow into “winter-keepers.”

Then rain.

Wait a bit, to see if it will stop. Is it something I can work through?

No.

Let the dogs in first: Clover’s terror of rainstorms makes the little dog nervous, too.

Bring in the toolbox, the garden tote, the books and papers. Make another run to grab the scissors and twine. One more for the coffee…now cold and diluted.

But the rain didn’t last! My heart soared!

Five-thirty…still a couple hours of daylight.

Out with the toolbox; out with the garden tote. Another fogging with mosquito repellent…add a hat…and a face net.

Try again.

A row of collards because they are easier to grow than head cabbage but offer the same flavor for soups.

A row of Swiss chard…because since Aunt Katie taught me how good it is, I can’t ever get enough.

Rake and measure for the next row.

Six-thirty. I looked at two miserable dogs: bored, too warm and bothered by bugs.

“Would you like to take a ride?”

They jumped at the opportunity!

Me, with a thick layer of garden dirt clinging to my skin and clothes, the dogs, with wagging tails and big doggy grins, loaded into the car and headed for water. Windows down for the rain-freshened air and the breeze, two and a half miles to the access point for Fox Lake.

We had the beach to ourselves. I enjoyed the breeze that was keeping biting insects away, the view, and the sight of the dogs in their glory. They explored. They sniffed around the fire pit and picnic area, every beached boat and ‘most every tree in the clearing. They chased a chipmunk and then a black squirrel. They waded in the lake.

When we headed home, tired and happy, I told myself, “I can plant tomorrow.”

It stormed through the night. It has rained already again this morning. Right now, the sun is peaking out. Maybe I can!

And now, finally, here’s that photograph!

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