November 5th, 2013 § 0
November 4th, 2013 § 0
Sunday morning dawned just a beautifully as Saturday, though it was cooler and substantially more windy. After lunch I headed outside to keep working at the vegetable garden cleanup. Unfortunately I had overdone it the day before and reactivated an old injury, a muscle spasm in my upper back next to my shoulder blade. In addition to being constantly uncomfortable, it makes turning my head to the right, such as when backing up the car, downright painful. Farming. Let me count the ways it hurts.
Regardless of any physical discomfort, the garden still needed more attention. First I dug out a couple dozen dahlia tubers for winter storage in the garage. I was amazed at the size of most of these tubers—just gigantic. Seeing this, I am suspicious that something caused this year’s dahlias to put their energy into making tubers instead of into flowers. More research on my theory to come.
I moved the dahlias’ labels, which are attached with twist-ties, from the wire support cages directly to the tubers to keep them properly labeled.
I stacked the custom-made cages and wired their ground pins to them for safekeeping. When I get around to it I will layer the tubers in boxes of peat to keep them from either drying out or rotting during winter. Last year I hung the tubers in mesh bags in the garage and lost some of them to drying out, so I will try a different technique this year.
Then I had to figure out what to do with the Glass Gem corn stalks. I tried digging one stalk out, but the root ball that came with it was so massive and full of soil and beneficial worms that I realized I’d be transplanting most of my hard-won, improved garden soil directly into the woods if I chose that route. So I decided to chop each stalk off at the ground and hope that the root balls would just decompose and continue to feed the soil without the major disturbance of digging. We’ll see. I figured that come next spring, anything I’d want to plant in this area can be tucked amongst any stalks or root balls that may be left over.
I am undecided about what to do with the stalks. I am heading toward leaving them on the ground over the garden. They will form a nice mulch layer to protect the soil below during winter, and if they’re still around in the spring they’ll be easy to pick up and remove to the compost pile. I plan on putting down a layer of compost then heavily mulching with straw anyway, so these corn stalks perform much the same function and help stretch the straw budget.
I still need to get the tomato stakes out, and then the next step involves shoveling compost into the garden and spreading straw. But as I was not in great compost-shoveling condition with this muscle knot, once I got the dahlias up and the corn down I quit garden cleanup and headed to town for an hour and half of vigorous vinyasa yoga in a warm studio, followed by liberal application of the gym’s hot tub jets to my back muscles.
November 3rd, 2013 § 0
Anytime after the first freeze of fall I am on the lookout for a few days of nice weather in order to put the garden to bed. This weekend was perfect for the job, with temperatures in the 60s, bright blue skies and sun streaming through the red, orange and yellow trees. Such glorious weather is, I suppose, a small consolation for what is one of my saddest markers of seasonal change. Take a look at this pathetic sight:
I started with the tomatoes, cutting them down from their stakes.
I always use cotton or jute twine to stake my tomatoes so that at the end of the season everything can go right in the compost, which beats having to pick pieces of plastic or wire out of the jumbled vines. I wasn’t too meticulous with picking up the dropped fruit as I plan on running the chickens in here during winter and they will appreciate the treats.
Then I moved on to ripping up the cosmos and zinnias, and as I did I saved seed heads from varieties that did particularly well. I plan to scatter these seeds over some bare spots in hope of starting a wildflower patch.
Then I cut the hyacinth bean vines off of the deer fence. A tedious job, indeed, to avoid cutting the plastic fence. Next year I will sow my hyacinth bean up the sides of the metal chicken run. Finally I pulled the frozen peppers out. I was annoyed at myself to find that there were so many peppers that I hadn’t harvested before it was too late. This is what happens when the first frost happens when the farmer is out of town for a couple of days!
Then I took a break from the vegetable garden to walk through the pastures, cutting out the prickly shrubs that are the first woody plants to initiate reforestation of cleared areas. It took several big tractor bucket loads to get everything to the compost and brush piles in the woods.
By then the sun was setting and I had been working outside for more than seven hours in a row. So when the chickens headed into roost, I did the same, straight for a hot epsom salt bath. Up next: day two of vegetable garden cleanup.
November 2nd, 2013 § 1
I had a very intense encounter with an insect today. I was cleaning up the front garden when I looked down and saw a bright green praying mantis at the base of the porch. It was clutching an identifiable insect, and I had obviously disturbed its head-first meal.
The mantis watched my every move, swiveling its triangle head to stare at me with all-seeing eyes. I’ve experienced this before with mantises, but this time the mantis began to move exactly like a mammal. It tucked its bug under its arm like a football and carried it deeper under the porch, eyes on me the entire time. I had the eerie sensation of watching a wolf drag a deer haunch deeper into a cave. This insect had caught a meal, and there was nothing I could do that would scare it from abandoning food.
I am so used to being around easily frightened birds and insects and even large mammals, all of which usually drop whatever they’re doing in my presence, that the deliberateness with which this mantis protected its quarry while strategically repositioning was nothing short of astonishing. The intelligence of its deliberate movement gave me chills.
And I was happy to for it to go on its well-fed way. Praying mantises are treated as gods around here for the benefits they bestow upon the garden by eating all sorts of insect pests. I’ve gone so far as to clip mantis egg cases from shrubs in the about-to-be-bushogged field, only to relocate them to a safe place in the garden. And today, after seeing this mantis off, I found a mantis egg case in the mint patch by the garden. Every scraggly stem, but for the one that bore this egg case, was clipped and carted to the compost pile.
November 1st, 2013 § 2
I’m going to go ahead and call today as peak fall color. I’ve been watching the leaves as they’ve turned, and though they’ve been pretty for weeks, today they became spectacular. Sometimes I lament living 25 minutes from town, but on days like today, I pinch myself in disbelief that I get to live here. I can’t make the drive last long enough as I struggle to keep the car on the road while snapping iPhone photos out the window. Here’s a taste of what I saw while driving home today: