Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Summer of Difficulties

Don't those elderberry blossoms look lovely?  But what followed were berries so small and dry there was no hope of making a batch of elderberry  jelly. My red raspberry bushes were equally pathetic, producing so few berries there were hardly enough to put on my cereal, much less make a dozen jars of raspberry jam. And my Fall Gold  raspberries that normally are not ready to pick until late September, came and went in early August. All these failures are painful for someone who loves homemade jam and jelly. I hope you've had a more fruitful summer than I've had here on Locust Hill.

Another disappointment was feverfew, one of my favorite flowers, a most reliable little daisy which usually blooms for weeks.  But this summer its blossoms turned an ugly brown  in a matter of days.  When I mentioned this to a good garden friend, she claimed her feverfew had done the same thing.  Are we gardeners all having this problem? I've cut mine all off, so you can't see how unattractive they were.

Because of the moles that had filled the vegetable garden with tunnels, I didn’t plant anything until I’d gotten rid of them by adding pounds of lime to the soil.  It worked, killing the grubs that moles adore, so these varmints got discouraged and left. Unfortunately many of my vegetables don't care for all that lime any more than the moles did. I asked the Ag department could I mix something like pine needles in the soil, but I've had no reply..  

My bean seedlings, which have always produced enough string beans to freeze,  mysteriously wilted and died without producing a single bean.  My cucumber vines have been just sitting, loaded with tiny cukes no bigger than my little finger.  They're still that small so I circled them for you to see.

My pepper plants are enormous, but the peppers are no bigger than pingpong balls.  Carrots, lettuce, onions and tomatoes are thriving however,  and believe it or not, the peas, their seeds planted in mid-June, are doing so well I've snacked on sweet raw peas every day.

Another nasty problem has been crab grass.  Unlike most weeds that come up easily when pulled,  crab grass requires a trowel to release its roots.  And they're not just in the vegetable garden.  They're sprouting in every flower bed as well. Are the weeds in your gardens as prolific this summer as mine? I love weeding, but I can't keep up with it when they're everywhere I look.  The bank of flowering shrubs is being choked by bindweed, a nasty relation of the morning glory.    I couldn't even identify one of the shrubs on the bank until I ripped off all those vines wrapped around it and found a nice little lilac bush that had been strangled. 

Even my animals are causing me grief.  Intrepid, one of my new ewes, kept getting out of the lower pasture even though all the fences seemed to be in good shape.  It took several weeks to discover her escape route, a gate lose enough to wiggle under, now fixed.  My other new ewe, Valiant,, is a delight, very well behaved.  But the Ford cows, who all escaped from their pasture one rainy day last week just about did me in.  Did you know that cows can be racist?

I woke up that morning to see seven fat black heifers in the big meadow, having discovered a poorly shut pasture gate.  When I got downstairs and looked out the front window I saw eight more heifers, all brown,  in the front meadow heading down to visit the neighbors.  Imagine that - Racist cows! It was raining too hard to get a photo, but the Ford boys finally got all those prejudiced  beasts  back in their pasture.  No real harm was done unless some of them were the culprits who knocked down the apple tree’s biggest limb, the one that supported great grandfather’s beautiful swing. 

My apologies for offering you such a negative column.   I guess I should stop complaining and end with a few cheerful notes. The limb of the apple tree has been sawed up and stacked for next winter’s wood stove.    The dogwood tree I  planted at least nine years ago, has never bloomed, so this spring I decided to give it a dose of “Spray N' Grow,” that miracle vitamin concoction I once wrote a column about.  I sprayed the the tree heavily, but couldn't reach the highest branches. You can see in the photo that all the lower branches are white with blossoms, but the ones I couldn't reach haven't got a single bloom.  If you'd like to try this great spray, just Google "Spray N' Grow" to order a bottle. 

The reason this column is being published today is because the Norfolk Library’s Gala weekend starts on Friday night 6 to 8, with a special celebration for children. There'l be a magic show, face painting, a cake decorating contest, and much more, including beautiful children's books for sale  to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Eileen Fitzgibbon's Programs for children.

Another great Auction will be held on Saturday night, 6 to 8.  As usual, there'll be wine and  delicious hors d'oeurves, and all sorts of exciting items to bid on,- a dinner for 12 followed by bridge, tennis lessons or golf lessons, even a week's stay in France!  And on Sunday the Annual Book Sale will start at 10 am.  There will be the standard  23 categories - Art, History, Cooking, Gardening, Social Science -  too many to name,  thousands of books priced at almost give-away prices.     Hope I'll see you there.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Odors - Fragrant or Foul

Today’s  photos have nothing to do with this column, I just thought they’d be  much nicer to use  than photos of pestiferous insects.  

The day I publish this column will be my birthday.  At my age I don’t celebrate,  I just groan.  Sad to say, my memory is getting dim, my eyes are getting weak and my ears now require hearing aids.  About the only thing still in good working order is my nose, but even that isn’t as good as that of a bloodhound or even a deer.  

Good old Homo sapiens is supposed to be superior to all other animals,  but not  when it  comes to our sense of smell.  Imagine having the nose of a hound  dog who can sniff out the odor of a melt-in-your-mouth truffle. Life would be very different if our olfactory organs were that good.   One big intake of air and we’d instantly be able to detect whether the spaghetti was al dente,  the wild strawberries were ready to pick or possibly even what kind of mood our spouse was in.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t it be grand if our reading glasses contained a distinctive perfume so when we’d  misplaced them we could just sniff around from room to room until we got a whiff of them?  How handy to be able to catch the odor of burning cookies if  you’d forgotten they were baking in the oven.     


The vegetable garden is a place where a superior sense of smell would be a distinct asset.  You could draw a large drought of air into your nostrils as you opened the gate and know just which vegetables were ready to pick, which were rotting and which were riddled with disease.

Few garden pests visit  my garden, and  I think it’s because  along with my vegetables I plant a variety of flowers and herbs that insects don’t like.  Almost all the bad garden bugs dislike garlic, onions, leaks and shallots which I intersperse with lettuce and carrots.  Mint keeps pests away from members of the cabbage family.  If you plant this invasive , however, keep it in a container so it won’t be able to spread.

I have marigolds, which have a very distinctive odor,  all along the garden fence, another good deterrent. I plant parsley close to tomato plants. It also deters insects from the asparagus bed.  Thyme does wonders in protecting strawberries. And geraniums help to keep the Japanese beetles out of my raspberry bed.

With all these strong odors wafting through the garden, maybe it’s a good thing our noses can’t perform as well as those of animals or insects.  To have that many smells assail the nostrils at the same time would be overpowering, wouldn’t it?

The one pest that I suspect can’t smell much of anything is the slug.  I often find a slime of slugs in my vegetable garden.  In case you are unaware of  how to get rid of  slugs, here’s an easy solution.  Offer them saucers of beer each summer. Slugs love beer.  And they can’t swim, so they  usually drown in the saucer, probably dying drunk and happy.