Category Archives: nature

On coming around to a point of view

About 8-9 years ago, I was helping my friend Jason in his backyard NE Minneapolis garden. The yard was an interesting one: sloping steeply up to the alley, it had been filled by a previous owner with all manner of garbage like railroad ties, broken-up concrete, bricks and pavers. We could only speculate it was that guy’s attempt at terracing, but it was so chaotic that it was simply unclear. It took him (and friends like me) a long time to make it a productive garden again.

So we’re attacking one area near the back fence, on the property line. He’s sawing the branch of a tree that has grown through the fence. “Damned weed trees,” said Jason.

Weed trees? (Such heresy, I thought.) “What do you mean, weed trees?”

“Damned maples. Any of them. Box elders, bur oaks, and don’t get me started about willows,” he said.

As a city person, he was obviously crazy. Trees, as weeds? Well, it took me a couple more years to come around to his point of view. My theretofore easy definition of weed = anything growing where you do not want it does now include trees.

Maples are our particular bugaboo here. Their little helicopter propeller fruit readily plant themselves any- and everywhere. I do get my revenge, though, on the saplings: they make great tomato stakes. Cheap tomato stakes, too, as it happens!

On clay

Clay soil: it absorbs water and expands, then expels water and contracts. This ability is called “plasticity.” I can’t throw a pot with the stuff, though, thankfully.

I thought rather naively that I would have sand at our farm. Being this close to the beach, I figured it was a part of the picture. Glacial movements are a funny thing, though, and I am sand-free here and instead have lots of clay.

This is both good and bad. Clay is wildly productive stuff. There’s a chemical reason for that: its tiny, flat particles, though notorious for other reasons, are great at binding with good metals in the soils itself through an electrochemical exchange of cations. Clay is negatively charged, the metals positive, thus the binding. Sure, we all need to go back to high school chemistry to understand it fully, but let’s just say if there’s some calcium or potassium floating around, the clay will get ahold of it and keep it.

It’s a bear to work with though as a gardener. This is Season #4 on the farm, so I have had three years of observation. Not nearly enough years, but…at least now I can at least speak a form of clay pidgin (har). My first year, I was so worried about the water-soaking potential of this soil that I did not mulch at all. Well, that was a huge mistake. Water from a hose or from the sky loves a plant-free (weed-free) bed of clay soil: it smashes the top layer into an amazing flatness that then gets baked by the sun. Nothing wants to go through that, and if you think of Death Valley you can understand what it begins to look like.

Clay is a problem because of how heavy it is: there is not much air in the space between the particles, unlike sand. Incorporating lots of stuff in with the soil is one way to lighten them, but in my experience it’s only a temporary fix. My first raised beds were made with a ton of compost, manure, leaves, grass clippings and then that native soil that I tilled beforehand, all mixed together. (Never work wet clay soil is another cardinal rule, incidentally.) These are still the materials I use to make new beds, but I tend to layer things instead: tilled earth, 2″ compost, 4″ dried grass, earth from the paths between the beds, more compost, more grass, and a topcoat of some of that big truckload of (clay) dirt I got earlier this spring. Unless I am planting seeds directly into the bed, the new transplants I stick into the new beds then get mulched to the hilt: 4-6″ of grass clippings, usually green. They turn brown eventually, and get refreshed every time Tom mows (which is about every 2 weeks).

Once the beds are made, I never till them again (a near impossibility anyway considering the beds are raised) and I never work them at all except to mix in the top inch or two in the spring. Vegetables are annuals in the main: in the clay soil elsewhere on the farm, perennial roots of grasses, trees and flowers (and weeds) are always present and thus humus is made in situ. Veggies are annuals, though. I tend to lop off the tops of my spent plants (not the brassicas or tomatoes but everything else) and leave the roots in place to rot and thus claw through that tough stuff.

Mulching is entirely necessary, however. It keeps the weeds down to zero, or near enough; it reduces my need to water down to near zero too. The worms and other wriggly things, which flee to subsoil level in an uncovered bed, are right under the mulch (and right at the top root zone) in a mulched bed. Last August we had so much rain that the beds DID drown, and I lost most of my cole crops; I pulled the mulch off to dry the soil out. I am not sure it worked, but the garden is now an island surrounded by a ring of perforated drain pipe, 300′ total, as a form of insurance. As I harvest the last veggies in the fall, I immediately sow green manures (a mix of rye, oats, hairy vetch) that will grow fairly slowly and will winterkill (sometimes). This creates a mass of vegetation a couple of inches thick. In the spring I use a three-tined cultivator and mix it in.

Can I say I love clay soils? Not really. Considering, though, that my kitchen garden is where there has been a kitchen garden for the last 90 years…and has not had fertility, rust, mildew, or wilt issues…I think I will keep it.

On chicken-food thieves

Do I look like a wild bird to you?

I am not sure of the percentage of feed we lose, but we do have a number of critters, other than the egg birds, who love chickenfeed. Ground squirrels and sparrows are the main culprits, but on Thursday, a pigeon showed up at the feed trough.

I was alerted to the fact by the chickens. My office (AKA the back porch) is adjacent to their run (AKA the back yard) and all day I heard the birds trill out their soft alarming whistle which says “Danger From Above! Take Cover!” Ever alert myself, I would run outside to see if a hawk was making a sweep. It took about six tries before I noticed that it was a pigeon, eager for their food.

Pigeons: Historically, they have been useful birds. “Rock dove” is their more traditional name. Their poop is a ready and good source of nitrogen, so many farmhouses had dovecotes stuck into the gables of the roofs of their buildings to encourage nesting and pooping. In France, they were even regulated: you had to be a noble to have a dovecote. They are also good eating (squab) but of course we are taught that they’re city rats with wings, so you won’t find squab at the A&P.

I showed the kid the bird, as she has an affinity for the Mo Willems books. “Notice the bands around his legs?” I asked. “He belongs to someone. He’s probably a homing pigeon who got run off course.” “Can we keep him?” she asked. I laughed. With food this easy to get, I told her, he might keep us.

A minor break

Flowering rhubarb

I’ll be taking a few days off from blogging.  The kid’s getting her tonsils out today! Poor baby.  We’re making lots of frozen juicy things and hoping for the best.

I hope you all have a great, productive, dirt-filled weekend.

On surprising flowers

The development and dispersal of the first flowering plant on this planet changed this planet. (Botany rules, baybee! Don’t you be doubting me!) But, well, most of us see so many flowers in the course of a normal spring day that we don’t really see them. Not really. They’re just a part of the landscape: the landscape of a normal spring.

In times of high stress, though, many things hurry up and procreate. We notice things like post-war baby booms in our own kind; we also (and maybe not quite so obviously) tend toward sex, period, after traumatic events. I am certainly in no position to state that we are the only species who have recreational sex; I do know, though, that not all human sex is procreative in nature. Plants, though? Plants have no capacity for simple whoopee. It’s all business, all the time…at least when flowers are around.

And it is a stressful spring around here for many of my plants. Many of them that never normally flower, especially at this time of year, think the world is going to end so they’re making babies NOW. It must be the cold. Many tap-rooted things, like these angelica above, really don’t appreciate my having moved them earlier this spring. Likewise, if certain seedlings are chilled sometime during their development, they bolt into flower.  (It’s called vernalization.)  Many of the smaller brassicas (tatsoi, bok choy, rapini) are doing this now in my gardens (sniff!). Even my rhubarb has had it.

Not that I don’t like a flowering universe: I do. I’m just curious as to why NOW. Why this spring. Are they trying to tell me something?

The budding naturalist strikes again

Unfortunately, we see about as much death here as we do new life, especially in the spring. We had two esteemed visitors last weekend and were taking them on a farm tour when we found a foundering chipping sparrow. Poor thing.

Even though we told her she shouldn’t touch it, The Budding Naturalist had to touch it as you can plainly see. We buried it later. “I’m going to miss that little guy,” said she.

A find from the budding naturalist

“Mama! Come quick! I found some spiders that are your favorite color!”

So of course I came, quickly. The three of us were very intrigued. These babies (baby garden spiders, I swear that’s what they’re called) were slightly smaller than sesame seeds. They were congregating on the top of an old well cover. Hundreds of them, I would guess. When scared, they scatter; otherwise, they feel safer clustered together like this.

Gosh, I am so glad the kid has no fear of creepy-crawlies. Every once in a while she will come home from school and spout some girly-girl crap she picked up from her friends, like “Ants are bad, and they scare me,” and I have to, uh, defend the ants and reassure her. It’s pretty rare though. I’m just glad the girly-girlest friend isn’t coming back next year. (Isn’t that mean of me?)

I realize, though, this blog has been heavy on the creepy-crawlies lately. I apologize to the squeamish out there!

On mindshifts


I can’t help it: I still am a city girl. Or at least that’s what my brain tells me.

There are instances where I am caught off guard by something I see or hear when here at the farm and my immediate reaction is to Think a City Thought. It happened again to me early this morning when I blearily stepped outside in my bathrobe (yes, Not a City Habit) to feed the chicks and chickens. It was still somewhat dark outside. A big patch of white caught the corner of my eye and I thought, “Who parked a van in our side yard?”

It was a blooming crabapple tree, not a white van.

I remember walking our dog at night when we first moved here in late November of ’04. (He was a city dog, and therefore expected a walk. Our current country dog assumes no such courtesy.) As I waited for Alex to do his thing, I looked diagonally across the property and I saw a red light, then a green light. “Wow,” I thought. “I don’t remember there being a stop light over in that direction.”

Not a stoplight. A neighbor’s Christmas lights. The nearest stoplight? Five miles away, in town, one of two.

Sometimes I will wake up and hear voices, and I won’t assume it’s the tv downstairs (which it is, as Tom’s a night owl) but I will think “wow, those people are out late walking, aren’t they.”

I wonder if I will ever lose city-centered thoughts. Will I ever wake up in the city and wonder who planted a crabapple tree on the curbline?

On the law of unintended consequences: a story of hubris

WARNING: If you have a fear of snakes, or just plain don’t want to read about them, then check back in a day or two.

I often kid myself into thinking that I (as opposed to most other humans) live in as much harmony with nature as I possibly can. This of course is a massive self-delusion. I am human, therefore, my lifestyle-slash-existence is the least harmonious with nature than any other creature’s on this planet. It is true I may cultivate some natural, non-human things, but my preferred “nature” is a list of maybe 200 plants and five animal species that I brought here myself. All other things are either in my way (weeds, hawks, voles, raccoons and opossums) or tolerated (sparrows, deer) or welcome (all other birds, most other mammals). Snakes are in the “welcome” category.

I first saw a snake on the property by first seeing a snake skin, shed a few feet away from a compost pile, a few years back. It was a big skin. Cool, I thought: a snake will keep the vole population in check. I of course never put two and two together and thought the skin’s proximity had anything to do with the compost pile. Ahem. A blue racer (about 5′ long) was living in the pile, and when I turned the pile I found him/her and screamed like the girl that I am.

Fast-forward to last year. I found another snake, this time a dead one: another blue racer. It had tangled itself in the deer netting that I had erected as chicken-proof fencing around the greenhouse beds. I felt awful.

Okay, now this year. Mother’s Day around here is Leave El Alone All Day To Garden Day. It was to rain all day but hey, that’s alright. I have a greenhouse to garden. So I armed myself with a shovel and some task buckets (I planned on evicting the herb garden along the back wall) and set to work. I moved first to the far corner of the greenhouse to begin the chores and…caught in that same deer netting, which until now, was used to deter voles, was A WHOLE BUNCH of snakes.

I did not scream. The small part of my brain, the residual prey-animal part, was definitely spooked though. I sighed deeply, then went inside to tell Tom about it, and convey how awful I felt. Because I did feel awful: no, I did not foresee that snakes could get into the greenhouse; it’s pretty well sealed against voles. But, in the back of my mind, I knew (like finding the skin near the compost pile) that it was a possibility, and that that netting, if it was doing any good at all against voles, was potentially harmful to snakes.

Three blue racers were trapped in it. Agh: not only did I kill three animals in their prime, I probably killed off another generation. What little I know about snakes is that spring is mating season and snakes, being solitary creatures, are never near each other except for this important purpose. So I clipped the deer netting in the area before and after the snakes and then proceeded to go outside with it but ONE WAS MOVING!!

Okay, I placed the mess outside and then went back inside the greenhouse and sat down for a bit. I need to get that live one out of there, I thought. So I took a few breaths, grabbed a pair of garden scissors, and went to work. Trouble is, I’d no sooner free the guy he’d try to crawl back through the netting, so…I had to hold his head to free him. I had to completely be in My Happy Place in my head to do this, too.

I felt a little better afterward. I felt even better after I took a hot shower.

On irritations

Gymnosporangium: cedar rust gall. One in this tree was so large I thought it was our dog’s frisbee.

The juniper nearest the house is covered with these things. It rained yesterday, which was welcome: rain means lots of wild asparagus, as well as a bunch of other happy plant life. Rain makes these galls form their little gooey arms. This is a fungus that affects the rose family, of which apples and pears are a part. I’ve got an apple tree 40′ from this juniper. I’ve never noticed a lack of apples because of it…and even if I did, I would have to get rid of a good 30 trees on our property alone to avoid it.

Gall, in the sense I use it when I think about annoying things like this war or this president (irritating, rubbed raw) comes from the Greek word cholos, or wrath; it’s associated with bile and “something bitter to endure.” I kind of like that. But this gall, an abnormal plant growth, comes from the Latin word galla, meaning, of all things, a gall (!) on an oak tree: an oakapple. Words are funny, but I still think Nature has the best sense of humor.

On being IN time

I love these floozy parrot tulips

…I want to use the time it takes. Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass slowly or quickly, but be only time, something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking.” Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses (translation by Anne Born)

As I read that last night a large bug kept hitting the screen of the open window of the room I was in. Junebugs, already? I asked myself. It was a warm night after our hottest day of the year (79*F), the leaves are all out, the late tulips are blooming. Why does all this come as such a surprise to me? It must be I haven’t been paying attention.

On sounds

I got dive-bombed by the barn swallows this morning on my way to feed the chicks. They’re back! They are so very beautiful, even their angry twittering when they swoop my head is lovely. I am reconsidering my plan to have a wild bird-free potting shed; I have spent days keeping the */&# sparrows out of it, but now, well, now the barn swallows want back in. If bird flu comes to our shores, I might reconsider, as the shed is where the chicks spend their first few weeks. But: the barn swallows are back!

Sounds are a nice benefit to farm life: the sounds you hear are, in the main, not man-made, and so they’re fairly welcome to tired ears. People say it’s so quiet here and I end up thinking you must not be listening. There are sounds a plenty, but mainly they’re not as strident as city or suburban sounds. One of my favorites is the noise the pine trees’ cones make after a rain. They close up, you see, during the winter and when it rains; when spring comes or things dry out, the cones pop. It’s a small sound, something between a snap and a pop; on a windless, dry day, you can walk out there and it’s positively crackly. Mostly, though, it’s just a small little blip you hear.

Tick, pop, tick.

Of earthquakes and aftershocks

I’ve mentioned before how Michigan is one of the few states in this country that is not exactly prone to natural disasters. We’re kind of outside the twister/hurricane belt, most of our rivers drain just fine, our forests don’t burn with extreme regularity, and we’re not exactly expecting any of our Great lakes to breach their shores any time soon. No parching heat waves. No mudslides, no hail storms, no ice downing the trees and telephone lines. I suppose we get our share of snow. But we’re used to snow. It’s kind of an uninteresting place, if you’re itchy for a disaster.

This morning, though, there was a small earthquake in Illinois that was felt in our little corner of SW Michigan, and was felt many miles beyond. And, about two hours ago, there was an aftershock.

Did I feel either? No, I did not. Was our phone ringing off the hook, and is it the only thing people can talk about today? Why, yes!

So now I am on heightened alert, wondering if I’ll experience that shifting sensation of plate tectonics. If for no other reason, it gives me something to talk about…and think about. A stable earth is something we all kind of take for granted.

Mr. Jackson

Tiddly widdly widdly!  Bufo americanus in the greenhouse

I have always had a soft spot for toads. I love amphibians in general, actually; toads in particular. Maybe Beatrix Potter is to blame…or maybe I was just a fearless kid.

We found this guy in one of our basement’s window wells today. Tom told me about it, and said we probably shouldn’t tell the kid or she’d have it for a pet. But, well, he told her mother: I would love it for a greenhouse pet! Just think of the slugs this little friend could consume.

So I set her/him free in the greenhouse, complete with a couple of clay saucers of water scattered about to drink from.  Anyway, I have had toad friends in my gardens every year. Two years ago, that particular friend was huge (the size of a large apple) and I swear I would nearly jump out of my skin when he’d pop through the greenery.  This one won’t scare me nearly as much, I think:  it’s about the size of a plum.

More fish stories


Big Momma

So, I do love fish, but I don’t particularly love our frog pond’s fish. Is that fair? Probably not: I am responsible for digging the pond, I am complicit with stocking it with its goldfish. This is the pond’s third year of existence, and therefore the fourth year for the fish. I mentioned earlier that we had had a few die this winter. We had never lost even one, so…I had mixed feelings about losing eight of them.

You see, I left it to Tom to buy the fish. He went to the store with our daughter in tow and the clerk at the pet area was so taken with her that they came home with scoops of fish, not the 10-12 I thought we needed. We had so many we could not count them. Then it occurred to us that, if we wished to count them, we should take a picture of them. (They don’t move around in a photo.) So we did, and we had almost 50 of the things!

Last summer, we had noticed Big Momma (a particularly large fish, almost 6″) acting a little crazy by nearly beaching herself. She did a lot of flopping along the rocks at the pond’s edge. She was pursued by other fish and uh-oh: yep, she was spawning. Goldfish are notorious for eating their own young, so I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about having too many babies. (Actually, goldfish are notorious for eating anything, which is why we have no tadpoles or snails in the pond…you have to take the bad with the good, I guess.)

Ice-out day was on the 13th, as I mentioned. I sat by the pond, peering into its chilly depths, gazing at the fish when…oh NO. I noticed two SMALL FISH. Like, fish BABIES, under a year old. Argh! So: I am left with this dilemma of too many fish, again. I will probably do a combination of expanding the pond and finding new homes for a few of the fishies. And then I can cross my fingers that Big Momma and the rest…stay hungry!

On greenhouse pests


A little picture of a little death

The only pest I had in the greenhouse, until this week, was my four-year-old. She loves to come in and sample the broccoli and bibb lettuces. I raised the latch and stopped her from her raids.

I noticed that a whole row of Italian dandelion was mowed to the ground, and a little nest made, in one bed on Wednesday. Aack! A vole! I had done my level best to prevent their entry, these fat, short-tailed mouse relatives. So, out came the traps, baited with exotic things like strawberry jam, bread, and chunks of peach.

I lost another 5 rows of seedlings (sniff!) but today I also lost one vole.

Surprise in our Christmas tree


I’m not particularly gung-ho about Christmas. I enjoy the time off, and enjoy having two weeks of school-free fun with my daughter…but really, the high holiday of consumerism doesn’t appeal to me in the least. For the sake of family bliss, though, I mostly keep my feelings to myself.

It’s my job to get the tree. I harvest them on either our land or our neighbor’s land across the road. This year, Saturday, I took the kid out with me to go find “the perfect tree,” as she called it. It took a while but we found the least Charlie Brown-ish one: quite a search, considering we stomped around 16 acres of muddy, bramble-filled woodland. Well, we found it. And when I set the tree down at the back steps of the house, we found it held a nest.

Okay, that little nest even got my scroogy heart going. So here it is, lit by our new LED lights.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

More bugs

September is a beautiful month around here, but it is also Fruit Fly Month. Even if we don’t have any fruit/veggies lying around, they manage to appear. So, this is how we solve that problem. Take a piece of paper, 8.5″ x 11″, the thicker the better. Make a cone with a small hole at the bottom. Tape together, then place over a jar in which you have placed a juicy piece of fruit. Voila.

The disgusting thing is this is one day’s worth of bugs. I kill them by filling the jar with water (cone still intact) and adding a few drops of bleach.

Ugly bugs

Did you ever wonder what those disgusting tomato hornworms look like when they grow up?

I found out yesterday…YUCK. It was so ugly I had to grab my gloves. I think the pink part behind its head freaked me out more than its size.

But around here, it’s Chicken Dinner!

Drip drip drop

Finally! A little moisture, this time provided by Mother Nature and not Mother Hose-Dragger.

I feel happy for the perennials/flower beds. I tend to adopt a sink-or-swim attitude toward them, as I have not been very generous with my watering. They’re mulched to high heaven, or, at least they used to be…the chickens love mulch. The only care I really attend to them is a dilettantish dead-heading with the pruning shears.

The veg gardens fare better in a drought. Yes, these beds are heavily mulched, too, but I spoil the vegetables much more. How can I help it? These favored things grant us food as a reward. My only concern now is the tomatoes might split with this quick uptake of water. Hmm.

Bee worried

Bee-less borage: I spooked the one bee I saw this morning. Granted, it was early and the dew was up, but normally, it’s not one bee I annoy with the camera: it’s dozens.

This was to be the year that we got honeybees for our farm. I’ve done a lot of research, and let me tell you: hives are very complex things. Maybe it’s just the very social nature of the insect, but I find the ins and outs of beekeeping rather complicated. (Complicated, but not too much: I think my biggest downfall as a human is this oft-uttered statement: “Well, how hard can THAT be?”) Human society confuses me at times, too: I will never understand war, for example.

Of course, Colony Collapse Disorder is out there. Out there, and out HERE too. My bee guy (who, coincidentally, is my goat guy) has 20+ hives. ALL ARE DEAD. He doesn’t move his hives; he doesn’t live in a biological wasteland; he doesn’t do anything that would make his bees susceptible. There are no known beekeepers near him. Yet, pfft, all dead. He is very worried.

I plant many inedible flowering things within the veg garden to attract honeybees, and the more ubiquitous bumblebees (those little aerodynamic marvels: how DO they fly, they’re so big) and mason bees and the like. I still do see some honeybees on the parsnip umbrels and beautiful blue borage, and I see some worrying over the yard’s clover, but there are not nearly the numbers I have seen in the past. The bee balm, too: it’s empty, save the hummingbirds.

I am not alone in worrying, it seems. I will keep planting pollinator-friendly things, and keep my fingers crossed. My bee and goat guy got a few nucs and hopes to be able to give me one in a year. So, maybe next year? Maybe?

Friday panic

Dang, I have been so busy, I’ll just let the picture do the work for me today.

Meet Lily

Dogs are as hard to photograph as chickens

As a kid, I had wild notions of becoming a veterinarian when I grew up. (I also thought that I would eat dessert first once I “got big.”)

Here’s Lily. She’s our new Australian cattle dog, or Blue Heeler. She’s about 2, and was pretty badly abused. Penny is our first cattle dog, with a similar history. Penny had never been an only dog, though, so I thought she might need a friend.

Of course when you get a dog from a breed rescue, you’re usually getting A Lot Of Work. And Lily needs a lot of work. The breed is a very intelligent one, though, and she is old enough to have all her faculties, so I believe she’ll be relatively easy to train. She, unlike Penny, at least has been on a leash before, but other than that it is very sketchy: she’s not housetrained, she doesn’t know “sit,” and she can’t yet be reliably let off her leash, and she barely knows her name.

But today, for the first time ever, she was off leash. And, for the first time ever, she got to chase and retrieve something. And she brought the frisbee right back to me. (Just call me the “dog whisperer.”)

I think all sentient domesticated animals just want to make a connection with we two-legged big-brained world-ruling animals, really I do.

Herding dog herding a dog (Penny is on the left)

Seven Random Things meme

Photo-averse Me, in the uniform, with Our First Egg Ever last year

Tracy at Outside tagged me yesterday for this meme. Monica tagged me for a similar meme a while back, yet that one highlighted the odd things about you; I believe I revealed a preference for eating popcorn with a fork, amongst other “tendencies.” Tracy’s was (thankfully) NOT odd: she chose some gardening things to reveal, and I shall follow her example.

1. My only sibling, my brother Tom, is autistic. (I am his big sister and have always been his prime defender, and many a kid who deigned to pick on him ended up getting pummeled by me.) Autism is not a disease of cute but odd children: it is a life-long disorder, and it annoys me to NO end that the only stories you hear about it pertain to cute but odd children. Autism has marked me profoundly, too: like most siblings of other-abled children, I cannot help but look at the world through the rainbow that is the Autism Spectrum Disorder. I think, frankly, that we are ALL a little bit autistic.

2. Knowing about autism, then, I understand well the need for order and habits. Regarding my gardening, there are things I ALWAYS do, in a certain order, or else I kind of run around out there like a chicken with its head cut off. (And YES I know that chickens don’t really do that, but most gardeners, especially in early spring, know EXACTLY what I am talking about.)

3. I love to garden, but hate the sun. I’m Irish, and the sun and I don’t play well together. So I am usually almost completely covered, and covered in sunscreen, if I am out there. Otherwise, I furtively do my gardening in the early morning or the evening.

4. Perhaps it’s from all those years in parochial school, but I can definitely see the purpose of a uniform. As such, then, I don a particular uniform when I garden, and I end up looking like a game warden. The shirt is a Columbia fly-fishing number with fun pockets and the ability to air-dry. The pants (YES full pants even in 90* weather) are a pair of men’s Carhartt carpenter pants that are purposely big on me. A girl doesn’t want anything to bind while she’s pulling weeds, you know. But I definitely need a belt after all the stuff I put in its 100 pockets. A big straw hat and some wonderful boots round it out.

5. Boots, you ask? Why, I could write a book about my Blunnies. Others have, but let me just say these Australian work boots are the bomb. They are lightweight, waterproof, breathable, and after 7 years they’re a mess but they’re quite recognizable as their true selves. Please note the double loop pull-on feature: this is KEY.

6. Garden tools. I feel nekkid without my hori-hori and my flat fork and my Felco. Thus, I need my belt to hold up the pants that hold the tools and keep me clean in the gaaar-den (sing with me now!).

7. Gloves. Must Wear Them. Lined in winter, the dipped washable kind in summer.

Okay. That got a little odd, but then, consider the source!

I would like to tag some other gardeners for this meme, and I will do so on your sites today… I apologize ahead of time if you’ve already played: I’m on extreme work overload here. OH AND DID I MENTION I HAVE PNEUMONIA? Maybe that’ll be my 8th thing. I’ve felt sick for weeks and DING! the x-ray showed what I knew to be true. But I am not too sick to garden.

More bug love

Lucanus capreolus: Pinching Bug

Someone’s found another bug she likes. Perhaps not as magical as lightning bugs, but this female pinching bug was quite entertaining to the child yesterday. I’m glad it wasn’t male as their pinchers are not nearly so entertaining.

On insect magic

Lightning bugs (or do you call them fireflies?)

Last Sunday, after too much Father’s Day celebratory sugar at Grandpa’s house, our child was actually awake when the lightning bugs made their evening show. It was a hot night, too; perfect for bugs of all types. As she was running around with her father positively squealing with joy, I realized she was beside herself.

There’s even a philosophical tradition of this transcendent experience. Ex-stasis is from the ancient Greek meaning “out-stand”: ecstacy, outstanding. (She is, of course, the latter to me; I am her mother after all.) Transcendence is somthing adults have a hard time achieving on their own without chemicals or religious woo-woo. So I was actually a touch envious of her happiness: they’re just bugs, after all. Bugs with a touch of magic.

On record keeping

Sometimes, I wish I could always record life in terms of coinciding botanical events. “It was redbud season when I got that new job,” for example; or “Our friends came to visit when the plums were ripe.” I DO recall things this way. Redbuds will later remind me of starting that job, and I will have been glad we could share our plums. And I have always admired gardeners who were assiduous record-keepers (“On April 23rd the first of the lilacs opened, and the last Kauffman tulip opened, but last year they opened on the 18th.”). I am not that assiduous. Nor am I that concerned.

You see, I am a big-picture kind of person. I have always seen my life and my gardens as being much more a part of a larger whole. Dates, then, are a part of a continuum that I can either recognize, or not. This water lily, for example. It is the second one to bloom, on the second plant. I had my eye on the first, and yes, it bloomed a week ago Tuesday (and that Tuesday was the first day I saw my first lightning bug (firefly)). But this date has only (up to now, anyway) been noted in my mind, not in a book. Would I be a better gardener if I had this charted somewhere? I am not sure.

I just go with the flow.

Bad pet day

The source of pain (but who can blame her)

So, following up the pea post from yesterday: I harvested my second big batch of peas last night. I shelled them and left them in their bowl on the back porch’s table and went into the kitchen to start making dinner. When it was time to cook the peas, I went to the porch and found the peas in their bowl, but there was a large depression in the center, and about a third of the peas were gone. “Did you eat any peas?” I yelled up to Tom. “Nooo,” was the answer. I looked at the peas again. Then I noticed Nyxie sitting on a chair, washing her whiskers. (Who knew.)

I was really depressed by this, though. Such hard work. Then I thought back on the day, and the day started this way: Tom got up to make coffee. He yelled up to a still-sleeping me that Penny, the dog, had had an “intestinal event” on the same back porch, on the throw rug in front of the door. Then the child came into our room, and I heard her happy self say “Look at this toy!” and I looked to see her lift a large mouse, dead, up from the foot of the bed. It appears that Echo, the other cat, had made us an offering when we were sleeping.

I explained how, though it looks like a toy, it is actually a dead mouse, and that we shouldn’t play with dead things. She was a bit sad. Then, when things were cleaned up and we went downstairs and the child saw the cat, she said “Thanks for the gift, Echo, but it was gross and we flushed it.” (For the record, I did not call the dead mouse “gross,” just dead.)

So we finished up dinner with the last 2/3rd of the peas, and went to the beach. That cheered me up. And maybe tomorrow, there’ll be more peas, more human-destined peas, in the garden. And today, so far, the pets have left us no surprises.

Those golf ball-sized things can’t compare

Another good forage: this time, it’s wild strawberries from the side yard.

(Note to self: if you expect to eat any of these yourself, then don’t let the child carry the bucket.)

These were quite lovely over store-bought ice cream last night, and with yogurt and granola (both homemade) this morning.

Put this in the Blatantly Honest category

The child was helping me in the garden Sunday, and she showed me a sowbug doing its rollup trick. Then she stopped and looked at me intently with a puzzled expression.

“Mama, your eyes are cracked.”


“That skin, it’s cracked. Does it hurt?”

It took me a minute. She meant my crow’s feet.

(I consoled myself by saying well, it’s a sunny day, after all…)