Drowsy Bumblebees and Johnny-Jump-Ups

Notes From the Gardener



I pause, leaning on my shovel, hearing an unusual sound in the woods. It takes a few moments to realize that I'm hearing the sound of hundreds of wings beating. A flock of blackbirds soon swirls into the clearing, their raucous cries echoing as they light in the oaks out back. A short pause and they're off again, winging over my head. I can actually feel the motion of the air as they pass by on their trek south, like ghosts of summer past.

We have been blessed this year with a long, warm fall. Though frost has done it's job on the tender annuals, and the fiery maple leaves are now at my feet, the sun still holds warmth. It amazes me how quickly the forest changes from a blaze of color to the dreary November brown of dead leaves.

Only the oaks still rustle in the wind now and you can see abandoned birds' nests and the snug homes of squirrels in the treetops. Distances unseen for six months reappear.

But there's a lone dahlia blooming by the front porch and the Cranesbill Geraniums by the drive are still going strong. The Herb Robert's dainty pink flowers can still be found along the rocky edges of the garden beds. The Johnny-Jump-Ups still nod their graceful heads in the sunshine.

I wander over to gaze at the drowsy bumblebees, slowly going to sleep in the asters in the front garden. The bees are so logy that you can pet them, even pick them up and hold them for a moment. Farewell little friends. Your winter sleep is near.

A whiff of smoke tells me a neighbor is burning their pile of leaves. Smells wonderful, but we consider it a sin to waste good mulch and/or compost material in this way. We use as many leaves as we can gather to mulch the pathways and cover any bare soil to prevent erosion. We also add them to the compost piles. Besides, after spending many hours collecting and hauling our treasure, Penny and I have great fun diving face first off the trailer into our leaf mountain. Why should kids have all the fun?

Fall is a time to reflect on the summer past, to plan for next year's garden, to ready oneself for the coming winter months. It's time to mulch the perennials and dig the tender bulbs to store them carefully away. Time to plant the garlic for next year's harvest. Time to harvest the last of the hardy herbs into the drying shed. Time to gather the last of the seedheads for next year's planting. Ill take the time later to spread the wild coneflower seeds hither and yon. It's always a pleasant surprise when they volunteer in odd places.

The days are getting much shorter, the wind is blowing much colder. The heat of the drying shed is a welcome respite from the cold in the shadows. The carefully stacked firewood is a comforting sight. Spring is a long way off.

The long, cold and dreary days of winter will soon be here. Time soon to lounge by the fire and peruse seed catalogues. But for today the sun is warm on my face. I think I'll sit and enjoy it a bit longer.

Critters, Crows and Catalogues

Notes From the Gardener

Richard Digs in the Garden
Richard Digs in the Garden


You designed your garden carefully last winter. You spent hours pouring over the seed catalogues to choose just the right varieties. You worked hard, prepared the soil, planted, watered and pruned. Now it's time to enjoy the bounty of all that meticulous care you took with your garden. Off you go with your basket in hand to harvest your creations.

But wait! Where are the beans that were going to be ready for dinner tonight? And what happened to those almost ripe tomatoes? And look at the basil - it looks like grandma's lace curtains!!!!!

This has been an unfortunate year for "critters" here at the farm (and elsewhere in our area so we've been told). Being an organic farmer can certainly raise a challenge when you encounter the pests we've been dealing with this year.

Grasshoppers, grasshoppers everywhere. It's been like a plague of locusts. They've chewed their way through dozens of crops, and have reached the point that we're viciously swatting them every chance we get. (Penny even invented a "scissor method" to rid her flowers of the pesky things.) And it hasn't stopped there.

We've been fighting off a marauding gang of deer this year as well. Can't say that I've ever seen so many of the hungry critters, nor seen them be so destructive. They're launching midnight forays as close as 4 feet from the house! We've tried soap, human hair, dried blood and multiple barriers of fish line. The fish line worked for a while, until they figured out how to get around it and through the "gates" we had left for ourselves.

Peanut butter traps on the electric fence worked (fold tinfoil over the fence and smear with peanut butter - turn fence back on and they lick it - zap on the nose - effective), but the one night the fence was off (it grounded out with a milkweed plant that fell over in a storm) they were right in there and cleaned out the beans and some of the tomatoes.

I can see it now. Every night they sneak up to the perimeter. One nudges the other, "Ok Spots, it's your turn to test the fence tonight. Let us know if its on, eh?"

Our neighbor planted a large field with sweet corn and Indian corn, only to watch as a band of crows totally destroyed the entire crop, not just once, but three times.

Another neighbor had tenderly nursed his sweet corn to perfection. Ah, they had a wonderful meal, enjoying their labor of love. Only problem was that the next day when they went to harvest the rest of the crop for the freezer, it was gone. Seems that the local raccoon's social club held a dinner dance in the corn field and used their hard won veggies as the catered feast for the event.

So what can you do about this kind of depredation? I'm not sure. We've tried all the tricks in the book this year, with very mixed success. I'm sure that most of the common methods will work for the average gardener with a small space to protect. Keeping wild "critters" out of a 2 acre garden that's bordered on all sides by woodland is another thing entirely. Guess we'll just have to run electric fencing around the entire perimeter next year.

When planting seeds, I've always had a firm belief in that old saying, "One for the critters, one for the crow, one for the weather and one to grow." This year it's been tough to get our share.

I guess it's just God's way of keeping this gardener humble.