Tag Archives: tomatoes

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.

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 with Dad

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My father was never an easy man to talk to.

At least for me, that was the case.

If I was going to visit him, I’d make mental notes of things he might find interesting…that might force a grin…that would not be judged “Nonsense!”

When I moved to Beaver Island, my communication with Dad was mostly through letters. I collected tidbits to write to him about.

I do it, still, though he’s been gone fifteen years.

If I count six deer on my way to town, my first thought is that Dad would be glad to hear that.

A good stack of firewood in preparation for the winter, a new building going up in town, the health and well-being of any of the “old-timers” he’d remember…these were all good topics.

The garden was always a welcome subject, with Dad.

He’s not the only one!

I remember a day many summers ago when Peter “Doney” and his wife, Dolores, came to the island. They were late in arriving that year, as their oldest daughter had recently passed away. Throngs of Beaver Islanders were on the dock that day, to greet them, and to offer their sympathy.

Dolores took it all in stride: the hugs and tears and words of comfort.

Peter’s face was set in a grimace, and he seemed to wince at every encounter.

Then Russell Green, the ferryboat captain, strode across the dock. He reached out his arm for a handshake and said, “Peter! Good to see ya! How’re your tomatoes doing?”

Peter’s face broke into a wide smile.

“Well by the god…a damn sight better’n yours, I’ll betcha,” he grinned.

When Dad lay dying, his sister – my Aunt Katie – came to the hospital.

“How’s your garden doing this year?” was his greeting.

That’s what they talked about, in the last hours of his life…the amount of rain, the chance of early frost, and that damned quack grass.

Today, working out in my garden, I kept a running conversation going with Dad, in my head.

He had opinions.

The pole beans I grow – because I like the look of them climbing the tepees – are not the wisest choice, according to Dad. Pole beans spend too much energy putting up their runners, rather than producing beans. On Beaver Island, where I’m fighting a short season anyway, bush beans would be a better guarantee of a good harvest.

As for the flowers, nonsense. If you can’t make a meal out of it, it’s a waste of good garden space.

In Dad’s opinion.

Remembering how bad his knees got, toward the end, my raised beds are not a bad idea.

If I keep jumping on that shovel to force it through the sod, I’ll have bad knees, too.

Dad sure had something to say about the man who promised he’d come back today to finish repairing the fence and clean up the mess he left. He had a few choice comments for me, too, for being foolish enough to pay him before the job was done.

Dad wasn’t very happy with my cousin, Bob, either, when he didn’t show up with the rototiller as he said he would.

I’m getting a pretty good rhubarb bed…the tomatoes are looking fine…that’s a nice little raspberry patch…and why the hell do I have fifty horseradish plants growing if I never use it?

All in all, it was a nice conversation.

I’m working in town on Father’s Day. That’s okay.

I spent this day in the garden with my Dad.