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.

Happy Weeding, Happy Garden and the Humus Among Us

Notes From the Gardener



The Memorial Day weekend is generally understood in our area as the advent of the tourist season. Soon the roadways will be bursting to capacity with visitors coming to enjoy for a few days what we who live here can enjoy throughout the seasons. To the merchants, this influx of people is a godsend. To many residents it is simply a big pain. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of this gardener the arrival of the tourists is analogous to the arrival of the weeds. All of a sudden they're everywhere.

Since no garden can produce a crop left unprotected from the onslaught of the weeds, "weeding" is a primary chore of each and every gardener. I don't suppose that even the longest stretch of the imagination can make weeding fun, but regarding weeds in a different light can make the chore less tedious. Let me begin to explain by offering you Penny's definition of a weed. She says, "A weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it to grow". Now, since I am the one who does the weeding at this farm, I might accuse Penny of seeing nature through an optimistic, rose-colored fog, but her definition is right on the mark. A weed is only a threat to a garden crop if by proximity it competes for water, sunlight and nourishment. Otherwise, weeds serve an ecological purpose, provide beauty and can be used as food.

If you've ever witnessed a piece of land razed and stripped of its topsoil, the first plants to appear are the deep, fleshy rooted ones like plantain, dandelion, chicory or mullein. Those deep roots help prevent erosion and as they die back those fleshy roots add humus to the soil. This is nature's first step in recreating the topsoil. Many of the "weeds" serve the gardener well by acting as host plants to the many beneficial insects. Lacewings like the nettles and lamb's-quarters. Predatory wasps are attracted to umbel flowers like those of the wild carrot, Queen Anne's Lace. Evening Primrose is always allowed to grow here and there on this farm because Japanese beetles are so attracted to this "weed" that they ignore crop plants that they might not otherwise.

Weeds. Beauty. Can the two words appear together? Yarrow, daisies, black-eyed Susans, buttercups and purple loosestrife all appear on lists of weeds. No! They're wildflowers, you say. Again.....the eye of the beholder. What artist has ever captured the haunting blue of a chicory flower? Let some milkweed grow in the garden and you'll enjoy the flitting of the monarch butterfly all summer long. Maybe you'll be fortunate enough to see dozens of migrating monarchs gather on an autumn aster that you decided not to pull as a weed months before.

Salad lovers are always looking for a new ingredient to add variety and zest. Lamb's quarters, purslane and chickweed are all common garden weeds that are quite tasty and nutritious. All we have to do is learn to recognize them as food.

Regarding weeds with new understanding may never make weeding an adventure, but perhaps a little less burdensome. HAPPY WEEDING!