Holes in the Fabric

Summer                              Waxing Strawberry Moon

It seems the gods of fate have not left our pack just yet.  Today was the annual physical for all of our dogs, a process that begins with luring Vega and Rigel into the back of the truck.  Hilo and Kona just jump up into the front seat.  That all went fine.  Kona and Rigel were a bit nervous, panting and walking around in the exam room at Foley Blvd. Animal Clinic.  Hilo sat on my lap and Vega, still a bit dopey from the stings, I think, laid on the floor as if she lived there.  Or, as if, as Kate suggested, she hoped she was invisible.

The exam went well enough.  Vega came in at 115 lbs and Rigel at an even 100.  Kona had gained half a pound and Hilo had lost a pound and a half.  During the results, Dr. Roger Barr, a friend now after 16 years of Irish Wolfhounds and Whippets, said he would, “save Hilo for the last.”

Our littlest girl and the dog most devoted to me has some form of kidney disease.  Roger says within two months or so she should start to show symptoms as her kidney functions slowly shut down.  There’s not much to be done about it.  A round of antibiotics could, but probably won’t, knock out a pyelonephritis, if it’s there.  If it is an infection, then her kidney function tests will return to normal.  It’s possible, but not likely.

Hilo is 9, so she’s not a young dog, but Emma was 14 when she died a couple of weeks ago.  Hilo’s not gone yet, we have some time with her, in some senses as we always have, but now with a knowledge that those times are nearing an end.

Each dog is different and special.hilo600 When they die, a unique aspect of our life here comes to a finish.  It is the unique and the special traits or memories we recall when we speak of them in later years.   Celt’s stepping on my snow shoes, barking at the flapping black plastic bag, receiving attention at the St. Kate’s Art Fair as if it were his due.  Buck’s careful positioning of the pillows and blankets so he could lie down on the perfect spot.  Iris retrieving and shredding tissues.  Emma standing on the tree.

But in the immediate aftermath of a death it is the hole in the fabric of our life that tears the heart.  We were seven and now we are six.  Soon, if Roger Barr is right, we will be five.

Life is a Conspiracy Against Nature

Spring                                         Full Flower Moon

Dicentra in deep pink, iris in deep purple, tulips in yellow, red, orange and purple, daffodils in many combinations of yellow and white, plus, amazing for this time of year, lilacs, fill out the full flower moon here.   The moon’s light, silvered and slight, gives no presence for the flowers so they close up, invite no visitors.  When I walk in the garden at night, under the flower moon, its namesakes here on earth sleep, perhaps dreaming of bright days, bees and warm breezes.

Emma has recovered almost to her old self, and I do mean her old self, not even her mature self.  Her old self is wobbly, a bit eccentric in motion and attention, but she enjoys the sun, a small dinner and a warm spot on the couch.  So do I.  Life is a conspiracy against nature, wonderful and delightful while it dances and spins, mocking the tendency of all things toward chaos.  That it exists at all is a miracle.

A good day, productive and educational.  All except for that sting on the posterior.  A bit of humility administered by an aging worker bee.

Beware Success With Perennials

Beltane               Full Flower Moon

Beware success with perennial flowers.   I have, long ago, mastered the art of growing asiatic lilies, iris and day lillies.  To my occasional regret.  The asiatic lilies are not too much of a problem though even they live long and prosper, therefore sometimes making a nuisance of themselves.

Iris and day lillies though are another matter.  They grow, multiply, spread.  When in a happy location, their presence can become not much distinguishable from weeds, especially since the definition of a weed is a plant out of place.

I just finished two hours of digging and moving daylillies.  Again.  The good news is that they grow anywhere you put them.  The bad news is the same.  I have a sturdy Smith and Hawkings spading fork which I broke today.  Again.  Shouldn’t have stepped on it to free the gnarly net of roots the daylilly clumps develop.  Sigh.  A satsifying, yet frustrating morning.

They need to move again because I want the sunny spot they have occupied for sprawling melons and cucumbers.  This spot has great sun and lots of room for squash sprawl, a good thing if you have the room and we do.  Right where one large batch of daylillies currently live.

The Moon of Full Flower

Beltane                     Full Flower Moon

The full flower moon rises tonight on beds full of daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and small blue flowers whose name I don’tdaffodils675 recall.  The furled hosta leaves that come up in a tightly packed spiral have begun to uncurl.  Dicentra have full leaves now, though no flowers yet.   A few iris have pushed blossoms up, a purple variety I particularly like opens early.  Even though they will not bear flowers until July the true lilies have already grown well past six inches, some with gentle leaves and others with leaves that look like a packed icanthus, an Egyptian temple column rising out of this northern soil.

My hydroponically started plants will stay outside today for four hours, working up to seven until they graduate to full time outdoor spots.  All of the three hundred plants began as heirloom seeds and have had no chemicals other than nutrient solution.   Unless we paid Seed Savers to ship us transplants, there is no other way to get heirloom plants that need growing time before the date of the last frost.  Too, the selection of vegetables and their varieties is of our choosing, not the nurseries.  I don’t have anything against nurseries; I just like to grow what I want, not what’s available.

The big daylilly move underway will make way for a full sun bed of sprawlers like squash, watermelon and cucumbers.  The perennial plants like the lilies, iris, daffodils, hosta, ferns, and hemerocallis have their complexity but I’ve majored in them for the last 14 years.  Now I understand their needs, their quirks, the rhythm of their lives and their care.  Vegetables, on the other hand, only this last two growing seasons have received any concentrated attention.  Their complexities are multiple because there are so many varieties and species with so many varying needs related to soil temperature, ph, nutrients, length and temperature of the growing season.

The learning curve has been steep for me so far, though the experience gained from the perennial plants has kept me from being overwhelmed.  In another couple of years I should have a good feel for what does well here and what does not.  After that, the vegetable garden will become more productive while at the same becoming easier to manage.

By that time, too, I hope to have had two successful bee-keeping years under my belt and have grown my colony to three hives or more, enough to justify purchasing an extractor.  At that point this should be an integrated and functioning micro-farm.  If it works well, I hope it will serve as a model for what can be done on 2.5 acres.  We’ll see.

The Bulb Came On

84  bar falls 29.97  0mph  NEE  dew-point 50  sunrise 6:33 sunset 7:53  Lughnasa

New (Harvest) Moon

When I began to plan the beds for the transplanted lilies and iris, I realized it would be good to dig in daffodils, too.  Daffodils, then Iris, then Lilies. But nobody sells daffodil bulbs in August.  They come out in late September, October.  The lily and iris placement will make digging in daffodils harder, more of a gymnastic act, since the daffodils go below the lilies which go below the iris.

Then, before I went to sleep last night, I had an aha.  I already have plenty of daffodil bulbs.  Planted.  I have around 600 daffodil bulbs in various places, so I got out the garden spade and went at an area.  Result?  Plenty of daffodil bulbs.  Now all I need is a cool, rainy day to plant all three.

Another matter.  About noon I got hungry and decided to go out for lunch.  I don’t do this often, usually only if I’m in the Cities, but for some reason I wanted to today.  Originally, I wanted to find a new Asian place that specializes in regional cuisines.  Couldn’t locate it.  Then I remembered the Jackson Street Bar and Grille.  I had not been there.  It  is in downtown Anoka.   So, I went there.

The bar stretches the entire length of the building, a good half-block.  New furnishings, including several wide-screen TV’s which, when I walked in, featured a blond country western singer.  Her song was “Come On Over.  I can’t get enough.”  There was also a Big Buck hunting video game.  You get the drift.

When the waitress came for my order, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger and tater tots.  This is not health food.  Over the last couple of weeks I have eaten more and more like a snowmobile racer or retro-guy.  When I put it this way, I reveal the conundrum.  It almost seems like somebody else has ordered the burgers, the Arby’s, the milkshakes, the Steak bites.  As a committed existentialist, I’m sure it was me and I know I’m responsible, yet I keep doing it.

Relentless in my self-analysis I tried to figure out why.  The usual hunch is stress, but I don’t feel stressed at all.  If I’m denial about that, it’s a pretty effective form.  An idea crossed my mind.  It may be that I’m so used to having a problem with myself to work on:  cigarettes, alcohol, relationships, exercise, writing that when I feel life is pretty good I ramp one up for consideration.  As I thought about it, this made some sense to me.  I’ll take a nap on it.

Gardening By Doing Nothing

70  bar steady 30.01  2mph NEE dew-point 47  sunrise 6:26  sunset 8:05

Last Quarter of the Corn Moon   moonrise 2306   moonset 1138

While dividing the iris rhizomes this morning, the air was cool and the sun shifted in the sky enough that I can see the change.  These are fall moments for me, working on perennials and the garden, either planting or preparing to plant.  A couple of years ago in September I planted daffodils on a cool, but bright Saturday afternoon.  The pep band from Andover High School practiced for a football game that evening.  The marches and rousers drifted over to our back property, the aural equivalent of falling leaves.

The rhizomes I dug up both in the raised bed out back and in the second tier perennial bed beside our downstairs patio had no soft rot, no sign of iris borer infestation.  This means the clean-up in the fall and spring, coupled with the early doses of cygon, have created an ideal environment for them.  This makes me feel good, competent.   In this garden a healthy plant has superiority over a beautiful plant.  Of course, both have their place, but a healthy plant means a plant that has found a spot where it feels comfortable, the right amount of sun, the right neighbors, the right soil nutrients.  A healthy plant overtime produces more healthy plants, so plant health oriented gardening fills up the landscape with homegrown brothers and sisters, clones.  It is also true that to my eye a healthy plant is a beautiful plant, so I do not choose between the two.

This is not to say we get no disease or infestations.  We do.  The spaghetti squash had an ugly horde of gray bugs that looked like giant ticks.  Yuck.  I removed the leaf and stepped on them.  In general, I do not kill bugs, even pests, out of respect for life and its varying forms.  In the case, though, of insects or diseases that harm plants, I will selectively kill.  Most plants, even vegetables, can take an enormous amount of damage and still produce blooms, leaves and fruit, so I do not arbitrarily destroy and I almost never use chemicals.  The cygon for iris borers is an exception.

This also means, by the way, that a healthy plant may have a few holes in its leaves, even attacks of black spot on the leaves, as our Cherokee Purple tomato have right now.  If however, the plant has no difficulty growing and fruiting, I may only pluck off leaves, or do nothing.  Since a plant can thrive even with substantial leaf damage, doing nothing covers most instances.  I prefer doing nothing.

Gardening by doing nothing.  Often, very satisfying results come from doing nothing.  When we first moved in there was a single mangy cedar about 20 feet outside our backdoor.   Since I cut down many black locust trees around it, I could have cut it down, too, but I chose to build a small garden bed around it and leave it alone.  Fourteen years later it is a beautiful signature plant as you look out the back sliding doors.  There are three oaks, close neighbors, that I also left alone.  They, too, have grown into fine young trees, maybe 30 feet tall.  We also have an ash in the park, again, a tree about which I did nothing, except put a garden bed around it.  It now has a prominent spot in the park where we have our raised beds.  It is the biggest plant.

Losing the Battle with Gravity

82  bar rises 29.65  omph ESE dew-point 69  sunrise 6:23  sunset 8:07  Lughnasa

Waning Gibbous Corn Moon   moonrise 2246  moonset  1316

irisrhizomes.jpg

These are iris rhizomes. I spent the morning and a hour this afternoon digging these up out of our raised bed.  You have to shear off the individual rhizomes from the mother rhizome, now spent from having thrown up its flower.  Cutting the leaves helps reduce transpiration when transplanting and helps avoid transplant shock.

Normally I would soak them in a bleach solution, then coat them in captan as a way of reducing fungus and other diseases, but these iris were very healthy.  Only one had any soft rot and I saw no evidence of iris borer either, so instead of treating them for disease, I spread them out on the same screen door I used to dry the onions.  They’ll dry a couple of days.  Tomorrow I’ll dig out the lower bed of iris, where all these will go and do the same to them.

As I sat on the edge of the raised bed, cutting the large fans of leaves and shaving off a clean cut with an old carving knife, a change in front stirred up a fair wind, blowing the leaves on the poplars, rustling them.  Doing this kind of work takes me away from everything else, I’m only in the moment.  A good feeling.

Our Country Gentleman corn, now over 8 feet high, didn’t develop adequate stalks.  I planted them too close together.  As a result, as this wind has whipped them around some of the stalks, burdened now by fat ears, lose the battle with gravity and flop earthward.  The corns not quite ripe, but close enough.  We had one ear for lunch, a couple more now for supper.

Garden Chess

81  bar falls 29.88 1mph NNE dew-point 65  sunrise 6:22  sunset 8:09  Lughnasa

Waning Gibbous Corn Moon

Moving daylilies today.  At last.  Moved several large clumps of daylilies to new beds where they will provide a barrier between wild vegetation on the hill below seven oaks and the more domesticated garden to the southwest.  This frees up space for the true lily and iris move that will make another raised bed available for vegetables next year.

Each fall the chess game of where to move plants, how to make the best use of the beds comes into play.  This year, unlike last year, will have several moves.  In addition to the ones I mentioned here we will create at least one, perhaps more, new raised beds and put in some fruit trees for a modest orchard.

After reading the article in the startribune this week about permaculture, I decided to call on their garden consultant before we do much more in the way of changes.  It will be good to have another set of eyes.

Tulips and Daffodils, Oh My!

54  bar steady  29.77 3mph ENE dewpoint 32  Spring

                            New Moon

This is a fecund time.  I spent a couple of hours today putting down pre-emergent weed prevention in the flower beds, moving some mulch completely off now, the garlic, and putting Cygon on the Iris to prevent borers.  Cygon is now a prohibited insecticide so my stash is pretty much it.  Our beds are not near running water and we have a storm drainage basin to catch run off so I don’t see my limited use of Cygon, once or twice a year on about 40 Iris, as a great health hazard.

Just being outside is wonderful.  Where the snow melts back, as it has begun to do even here, we often  find tiny tunnel systems in the grass.  Voles dig these under the snow all winter.  At first it seems that they might kill the grass, but in fact, I think the opposite is true.  Where they go, the soil gets aerated and the grass continues to grow.  It looks strange and possibly harmful when you first see it. 

The Iris have grown about six inches and now is the time to get those damned Iris borers.  If you raise Iris, you know what I mean.  If you don’t, well, they’re slimy and icky and eat the rhizome.  Yeck.  

Tulips and daffodils have also begun to press through the snow and frozen earth.  With the showers we get this week I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some blooms, especially if it warms up, too.