Tag Archives: raspberries

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.

In the Garden

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Okay, here’s the plan.

Drawing up the plan is always the first step, and the most difficult for me: figuring out what needs to be where. I have to consider convenience of care and harvest, amount of sunshine and where the water pools after a rain. I think about what things look like as they’re growing and after they’ve finished growing for the season. I have to think about my path to the compost bin, and the trail of the hose for watering.I like to instill symmetry, beauty and a sense of order. I certainly don’t do this every year!

Since the early ’90s, when I started gardening in this location, I have changed the orientation of my raised beds, to take better advantage of the sun. I doubled, then tripled the size of my garden space. When deer became a big problem, I fenced in an even larger area, and moved day-lilies and other edible flowers into the fenced area with the vegetables. Because it had now grown beyond what I needed for vegetables, I added small fruits to my inventory. Still, most years it’s just a matter of maintenance, not a full-blown reorganization.

Two years ago, the garden was in this design:Image

It doesn’t show on this diagram, but the front and two sides of the inside fenced area are bordered with flowers. The back border is a combination of flowers, horseradish and rhubarb. It looked nice on paper, and was okay in real life, as long as I had time and energy to maintain it. Last year, I didn’t.

Knowing I would be away most of the season, I didn’t even plant a vegetable garden. I didn’t spend my evenings pulling weeds. Though I harvested my berries when I was able to, I did not train the runners on the strawberry plants, or edge the raspberry patch to keep them in control. I didn’t  add wood chips to my pathways, to keep the weeds from coming through. Left to fend for itself, several problems became evident.

Without supervision, the sod from my yard quickly took over the flower bed borders. Even the nearly wild orange day-lilies could not hold their place against my weedy grasses. The raspberry plants sent out roots in every direction, taking over the entire northeast corner with their canes. Strawberries laid claim on the southwest, spreading wildly through the pathways and every garden bed. My tart cherry trees had grown just enough to crowd my path to the compost bin. Weeds made themselves right at home everywhere.

Big changes are in order!

I’m moving all flowers into a large, rock-bordered bed that will run right down the center, between two rows of raised beds. I won’t be fighting with that fence to try to take care of my flowers! I’ll be able to get all the way around the area for weeding, dead-heading and otherwise tending them. The perennials will be far enough from the lawn that I should never again have such a snarl of quack grass roots and crab grass runners in amongst my flower bulbs and roots and corms. I’ll be able to mulch next to the fence on both sides, or trim, weed-whack or even mow if necessary. For now, I’m leaving the day-lilies in the front border, and the poppies, rhubarb and horseradish in the back.

My vegetable beds are going to be closer to the house, this year. The back beds will be for the berries, and for the asparagus. All of the beds are going to be boxed in, rather than just mounded. I’m building the frames out of 1″x6″ cedar, with 2″x2″ posts in each corner. That should help to keep the beds clear of the wood chips I use in the pathways. I’m hoping it also cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend weeding.

This has to happen in a particular order, though, and it all has to happen in quick progression.

Warm weather brings “black fly season” here in these north woods, followed closely by “mosquito season”. I like to be finished with the most time-consuming outdoor jobs before the insects arrive. Then there is “growing season” to consider. I’m as far from the water as I could possibly be on this island, so don’t benefit from the tempering effects that Lake Michigan provides. I usually have the latest frost in the spring, and the earliest frost in the fall. Tender crops have to be in as soon as the ground is warm enough, so they will have time to mature. Transplanting – of berries and fruits – is best done when the plants are dormant. This year, an extremely mild winter has caused many things to start their annual growth early. Everything has to be rushed!

For a month now, I’ve been working at clearing out the flower beds. Last week, I dug up and carefully moved one cherry tree. It was as traumatic for me as it was for the tree, but we both seem to have survived. Yesterday was spent digging up and moving raspberries and strawberries for give-away. It was hard work, but fun, with people stopping by to take away a few plants.That has cleared most of the center area, so that today I can start moving rocks to border my new flower bed.

The next time I write about my garden, I’ll have a real photograph!