All I really need to know I learned in a garden.
Peace . . .
All I really need to know I learned in a garden.
Peace . . .
I have a special place in my heart for volunteers. They see a void and they fill it without being compensated.
It’s the same with the volunteer plants in my yard. I have volunteer bleeding hearts in the cracks of the driveway and volunteer petunias popping up where their parents bloomed last year. And then this.
At first I thought it was a cucumber. But the leaves expanded and the Vine got longer. So I thought maybe a cantaloupe. But the vine kept growing.
I now believe I may be growing a pumpkin vine in the middle of my herb and perennial garden. A seed, long forgotten by a well-intentioned squirrel, has volunteered its services just off my front door stoop. And I, having witnessed the conviction of the plant, am now guiding it carefully away from foot traffic and thyme, and dousing it with water in the summer heat.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned working at a non-profit, it’s that you need to take care of your volunteers.
Peace . . .
Here’s an up-close and personal look at one of the pests I love to hate. This is the first of thousands of Japanese beetles that will alight on my Virginia creeper this year. Left unchecked, with their insatiable appetite, the beetles will strip the large plant of each and every leaf.
If you don’t want to spray several applications of poison to control the population — and I don’t — the experts say one can simply pluck the bugs off the plant and thrust them into a bucket of soapy water. I’ve devised a more efficient and less intimate strategy.
I fill a Shop-Vac with a few inches of soapy water, hook up a long extension cord, and quite unceremoniously suck the buggers up the nozzle. It’s especially satisfying if you can catch them copulating, but that’s just me.
With their iridescent green head, I can see where one Japanese beetle mind find another utterly fetching. And if they weren’t so destructive, I might be inclined to agree. But as one who had the unique experience of feeling a Japanese beetle floundering along my scalp at 65 mph down the freeway, I will be the first to say they are completely unwelcome.
Peace . . .
The Creeping Charlie is at it again. It’s more of a march than a creep, to be honest. I pulled out a whole yard waste bin of it, uncovering, to my surprise, the milkweed I planted last year.
This afternoon I took a bicycle ride around town, and was delighted by how many gardeners have included this vital Monarch Butterfly treat in their yards.
As I pedal, I like to wave or nod to neighbors working on cars, mowing lawns, or having a glass of ice tea on the front step. It’s an old-fashioned gesture reciprocated more often by older folk than young, who double-take, smile and quickly glance away. I like to think it’ll catch on.
Maybe I’ll just always be that crazy waving neighbor lady. I’m okay with that, too.
Peace . . .
It’s that time of year when we dream of new life. Tulips breaking the ground, their faces to the sun. Seeds bursting open with tender roots and delicate shoots. Tiny blades of grass finding their way through last year’s thatch.
Ah, the lawn.
That bane of man’s existence. That symbol of status or flag of defeat.
This picture undoubtedly elicits one of two reactions in you:
If you are in the first group, bless your little heart. Although pervasive, they are pretty.
If you are in the second group, I’m guessing you’re stocking up on herbicides as we speak. I’ve stopped buying herbicides and fertilizers. I buy compost and grass seed. I rarely water. I’m gradually planting the yard with flowers and shrubs that need little care, and adding raised gardens. Fresh vegetables eaten right out of the garden? Now there’s a symbol of status for you. Ideally, I’d like to have just enough grass to sink my toes into while I sip a glass of wine.
As for Creeping Charlie and dandelions, those reliable messengers of spring, they’ll feed the bees until everything else catches up.
One fresh August morning, I thought I’d get some air and sunshine into the place. I raised shades and opened windows in every room. In the bedroom, there is one we rarely open. The shade stays down and if we want a breeze, we use the adjacent window.
But as this was a day for sunshine, I yanked on the shade to retract it on its roller. And was immediately taken aback in horror. Attached between the inner window pane and the outer storm window was a wasp nest the size of a tangerine. Not quite an orange, not a clementine, but — you know — a tangerine . . . but not quite as sweet.
Once I realized they had no access to the inside of the house, I stood perplexed. It was like one of those bee hives you can watch from the safety of a glass pane. Except I don’t want one of those in my house, and these things weren’t making honey. They were making a home and they intended to stay.
I walked outside to view it from another perspective. I posted it on Facebook, hoping for sage advice. I texted friends. I called my brother, who was on his way out of town. Unfortunately, he said, he was not close enough to help. I talked him through it, but he had little to offer.
My Facebook friends replied with everything from, “Walk back and forth muttering, ‘Tut, tut, it looks like rain’,” adding “It worked for Winnie the Pooh” to “Run!” My text query produced the response, “Call an exterminator.”
There are a few things you should know about me if you don’t already. I’m frugal. I’m not going to pay someone to do something I can do myself. I’m independent. I’m not going to rely on a man for something that doesn’t involve brawn or . . . well . . . anything else I don’t have. I’m resourceful. If there’s a will, there’s a way, and I definitely had a will to get rid of this thing and all its little inhabitants.
My new outdoor perspective unveiled no answers. I couldn’t see how they got in, nor could I see a way to launch an anti-wasp assault weapon at the nest. As far as I could tell, the only access to the nest was from the inside. I walked back inside and strategized.
The only safe way I knew to kill a nest was to shoot it with wasp and hornet spray. The only access to the nest was to open the window. In order to keep them out of the room when I opened the window, I was going to have to seal it off.
I sealed the window with painter’s tape and lightweight plastic.
Releasing a couple of inches of tape at the bottom, I used a pole to push the window up, pulled the pole out, and quickly resealed the tape.
Now, did I mention it was a very windy day? No sooner did I raise the window, but a gust of wind came and puffed my plastic like a balloon! I could hear the tape straining, then the wind sucked the plastic out as if taking a bigger breath, and blew against the plastic again. I’d like to say I watched confidently chanting, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.” But it was more like “Oh my God . . . oh my God . . . oh my God!”
Because all the movement had agitated my little stinger-friends, they took to head-banging themselves against the plastic with fury.
Plan B was forming in my head, and it went like this:
- Close the bedroom door.
- Call the exterminator.
But the tape held, and the wasps calmed.
I released the corner of the sealed plastic, as far from the nest as possible (we’re talking maybe 18 inches, tops). Aiming as carefully as I could through the semi-opaque plastic, I deployed my weapon of mass destruction. Once. Twice. Then quickly pushed the tape back down against the frame.
Part of being strategic is being able to add tactics as they become necessary.
When pushing the tape to the window frame proved unproductive, I realized the wet spray toxin had rendered it un-sticky. Hastily, I dispatched more tape to the corner, while wasps buzzed, drunkenly defending what they mistakenly assumed was their turf.
It’s a cruel death, really. As pollinators, I appreciate them. As tenants, I do not, and alas they had to go.
After a reassuring period of time passed, the plastic, tape, and finally wasps were removed. I found their access, and closed the gap.
Only one live wasp returned, probably coming back to his rampaged home to discover his loved ones had perished in a savage attack. Yes, I imagine bugs think like this, and it makes my life traumatic sometimes — when I do these little things one must do to secure one’s home from pests.
Anyway, it was a mercy killing. One swift and final blow with a fly swatter brought the last one to his fate.
That afternoon — I’m sure it was karma — three wasps came in through the back door. After my earlier adventure, I felt all-powerful. Fearless, even. Swat! . . . Swat! Kill, kill . . . KILL!
I tweeted, “Call me Jean, Wasp Warrior Princess of the North.”
Peace . . .
I love to watch the sun come up over houses across the way. The neighbors’ trees stand high above their rooftops, and the sun lights them up like fire at this time of year. How fast the summers fly these days. Here in Minnesota, we grasp the end of the season like life itself is slipping through our fingers.
As I write, I see there is frost on the shingles. It will be a good day to bring in the remaining tomatoes that might have ripened in the garden. I made some notes for next year, entitled Garden 2016. It says things like
Lots of kale
Plant tomatoes in the side yard
Spread out herbs
Expand concrete block garden
Only two or three zucchini plants
Winter is as long as summer is short. I tend to forget what it was I wanted to do unless I write it down. Especially where zucchini is concerned. Zucchini is one of those things that gives a gardener a boost of confidence. If you’ve ever been offered an armload of zucchini, you know how prolific they are. I don’t know how many seeds are in a packet, but there are several dozen too many for the average family. Yet, planting two or three seeds from a handful of many seems somehow wasteful when it’s so easy to just pop a few more in the dirt. And that’s where the zucchini takeover begins.
The summer also brought me some really great luck with jalapeño peppers. They started ripening at the same time as the zucchini. One morning I began to harvest, stomach growling and mouth watering. I thought to myself, “There has got to be something I can make for breakfast with zucchini and jalapeño peppers.” And so I headed where all great cooks go . . . to Pinterest. I plugged “jalapeño” and “zucchini” into the search bar. Lo and behold, my screen filled with tasty options.
The most delicious-sounding recipe was some type of zucchini-jalapeño pancake. Unfortunately, I didn’t pin it, and I can’t seem to find it again to share with you here. As I read the list of ingredients, I checked my mental pantry. “Got that . . . yup . . . ooh, I have that . . .” I knew I’d like it because all the ingredients were my favorites. Then I read the directions. It called for squeezing the hell out of the shredded zucchini no less than three times, separated by 15-minute intervals. And I was hungry NOW!
Not being one to let the culinary arts get the best of me, I started to imagine something simpler. Instead of grating the zucchini and squeezing the water out, I would noodle them with my Veggetti™ (which my kids maintain is a vulgar-sounding gadget), and sauté the water out. Using all the same ingredients, minus the almond flour, I made the MOST delicious frittata. It was such a mainstay of my summer breakfasts, that I want to share it with you here.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil in a medium oven-safe skillet over medium heat until a drop of water skitters on the surface. Meanwhile, whisk eggs with cream, salt and pepper. Add zucchini noodles and jalapeño. Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown and the water has cooked away.
Pour egg mixture over vegetables. Sprinkle diced bacon over the top and place in hot oven.
When the eggs are nearly set, sprinkle parmesan over the top. Return to oven until eggs set. Best enjoyed al fresco!
Experiment with your own herbs, vegetables, and cheese. I made several variations of this frittata, and I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. Whatever is in the garden and fridge is fair game!
Peace . . .