Tag Archives: strawberries

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.

First of June on the Fox Lake Road

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The wind was strong all day yesterday, putting a chill in the air though the sun was bright. It made shaking out the rugs an easy task, as long as I stood away from the dust storm that ensued. Sign painting was a messy job, out in the open air. Mowing the lawn was an adventure, with grass clippings, dried leaves, pine chips and sand flying every which way. Aunt Katie – who chills easily – was bundled in layers to sit on her porch to do her gardening. Fox Lake, when I took the dogs for a swim in the evening, was so active I almost expected to see whitecaps topping the waves!

Despite the chill, we are seriously moving toward summer, now. The sun is up so early, it fools me into thinking I’ve overslept. I rush out of bed in guilt and panic, only to find it’s not even seven o’clock. It stays bright later into the evening, too. I keep thinking I’ll take advantage of the extra daylight to get more yard work done…but my energy fades long before the sun sets.

We’ve had a little rain, but it’s still awfully dry. It was a mild winter without much snow, so we started this spring with less moisture than usual. I’ve been saving my burnable trash, waiting for the fire danger to be eased. It’s getting to be quite a big amount, in a box in the corner of the laundry room. I may have to break down and haul it to the transfer station with my garbage and recyclable trash.

My strawberries are still white, but if the birds leave them alone, there will be a good harvest. If we get rain, I’ll have a few more pickings of rhubarb before it’s done. I found six perfect asparagus spears last evening, and ate them raw. The snowball bush is loaded with pale green – soon to be white – globes. The iris are opening in the side yard. Peonies – three, at least, of my four plants – have many buds. Lilacs are in full bloom, and fill the air with their sweet perfume.

And that’s how it is, on the first day of June, out on the Fox Lake Road.

 

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.

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!