Sunday, March 14, 2010

Springing Ahead

 This is not a photo of the sky  this March morning. (Today's palette is a dozen shades of spring grey with a crocheted edging of green.) That's a Scarlet Magic Tassel flower on an afternoon in July.  I chose this photo to motivate myself out of my garden denial.  I'm still not ready for garden chores yet....this is what comes from decades of gardening.  I drag my feet a bit longer in the spring because all my time will soon be owned by plants.   Certainly, it is my own agricultural expectations that I am avoiding and as the seasons pass, I have begun to appreciate the plants that don't need me and even resent my best efforts.  Trees, for instance, live outside my timeline and will only remember my tending them with another layer of cellulose. 

I foresee the day when I will let the vegetables and flowers run amuck and only grow trees.

Here's an Audioboo about Daylight Savings Time.  I  dusted and adjusted my one analog clock this morning after noticing that the digital clocks had all sprung ahead without my input.   I'd like to have that computer chip in my head to do the same for my life.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


The link above is to my new Audioboo experiment.  By clicking the link, you should go to an audio message on an alternate method to control garlic mustard.  I'm planning on posting an Audioboo on various garden questions as they come up during the season.  Feel free to ask-in the comments section-about your garden dilemmas.  If it's bothering you, it's bedeviling somebody else too, so share the puzzlement!

But I was not standing in the woods in the photo above thinking about garlic mustard last Thursday.  (It's there, for sure, but garlic mustard is just another dull control issue; no mystery at all)

The true mystery is: where did all the leaves go?  All the leaves.  Decades and centuries of leaves, leaves all the way back to the last glaciation of Northern Illinois...and in front of me, there is only a soft mat of last season's leaf fall.  It's lovely to walk on and if I scuffle a bit, there is  vibrant green  just underneath the leaf mat....all the hardy annual, biennial and perennial species waiting for longer days, warmer nights to begin another summer.

The leaves have all been sheet composted, of course; a season's worth of sunlight, transmogrified by chlorophyll, is now part of the soil ecosystem on the forest floor.  That's not really mysterious; I've had several severe professors who convinced me to learn the chemistry.  I've seen the soil ecosystem monsters under the microscope.  They are a spooky looking club, and sometimes I hated to handle the glass slide they were stuck to even though I've never been the least bit squeamish about plain old dirt. They are astoundingly efficient too: season after season of leaves, thousands of tons of biomass, and the forest floor is not one centimeter higher; they have eaten it all.  The sun shines; the trees grow; the leaves fall.  It's a child's coloring book of the world.

The Good People in my neighborhood are raking their lawns today.  They raked them last fall too.  I  look at what's in the piles (I can do this without appearing to be a nitwit because I have a dog to walk and when the dog stops to look, so do I or vice versa) that they leave by the curb:  Austrian pine needles, browned grass, a few pine cones, leaves that blew over from my garden because I don't rake.  The forest floor basically but without the soil ecosystem.  That ecosystem never develops much complexity before somebody broadcasts a layer of weed killer and rakes the food away.

While pondering the disappearance of a millennium of leaves in the woods, I note that here is what all gardeners crave...high organic matter, moisture retentive, perfect draining black soil with a layer of mulch included.  I might possibly sprout roots from my boots if I stand here awhile; I might transmogrify myself without the blessing of chlorophyll.  I am tempted to press an ear to the ground-try to hear the chemical conversation with the universe.  But there are frequent joggers running across that bridge you see in the background of the photo, and I haven't bail money in my pocket to risk alarming them.

To the very next person who asks me a garden question, I will say: go to the woods and look for the leaves.
No, I won't say that. It's not nice to go all Zen Buddhist on people just looking to grow a decent head of broccoli, to tell them to put an ear to the earth and eavesdrop on the gossip of microscopic monsters and ion exchanges.

Meanwhile, over there to the right is a lush patch of moss, and I know a woman who is forever spraying buttermilk and green tea on logs to get a moss garden to thrive.  I will borrow a wad of it for her and explain that the way to get moss really growing is to put it on a stump amongst the leaves and lay some sticks over it.



Monday, March 1, 2010

Everything's Meant

The gift of fermented ginkgo fruit should be enough for one day.  I now have  responsibility for five pounds of ripe genetic diversity to tend to; I'm doing my part, I think.  The afternoon is wearing on and if anybody wants to bring me another present, I would like a tall cup of iced coffee, black.  But no; the Law of Unintended Consequences rules the day.  Here is a grinning fellow clutching a paper bag.
Hey ! he says, remember how you told me about the spiders?  Well, here's some for ya!

I do remember.  

This is Big Spider time...when the spiders that have been with us all summer have finally gotten too fat to hide easily anymore.  If it has been a good buggy season, their lives are nearly over when we finally stumble through their webs and do the Scary Spider Web in My Hair Dance in the garden.  I am forever trying to talk people down from their spider panic even though I've done my share of frantic scrambling after blundering into a web.  I look for the spiders all summer, program a cerebral GPS system with their location, use a foggy morning for web watching.

I like carnivorous insects; we're on the same side in the garden. ( I'm a bit disturbed by their lack of discrimination; they're as likely to eat each other as they are a Japanese beetle or a grasshopper, but then every body is meat to some body.  The lion may lay down with the lamb someday, but anything laying down with a dragonfly or a spider or a praying mantis had better keep a few eyes swiveling on the lookout.)

 As the September days get shorter in northern Illinois, the big black and yellow orb spiders-argiope, the writing spider- is nearly ready to lay her eggs.  One morning she's hanging in a web with a stash of silk wrapped lunches, causing you to leave the tomato patch unharvested, and in the afternoon she's gone.  She hasn't gone far....usually less than five feet or so away to spin a perfect  nursery act of insect faith, if insects know about faith.  I know about faith and feel that faith needs a bit of help, so I look for the egg sacs and move them to safer quarters for the winter.  Who am I to move a mother's egg sac?  I'm the Human and plenty arrogant enough to think that I know better.  Plus, I have seen the baby spiders in the spring, and the first thing that they do is eat each other, so I relocate the sac to good cover where the babies have a slightly better chance of  surviving sibling appetites and becoming my frontline troops in the Bug Wars.  It's All About Me, of course.

I encourage other people to do this also; mostly they think I'm crazy.  But, once in a while, I must make an impression that isn't crazy, or! only other crazy people listen to me; hence the fellow with the paper bag.  He's brought me two egg sacs that he found in his own garden, and he won't listen to my advice to take them home directly and put them in his boxwood hedge.  They-a couple thousand spider potentials- are a gift to me.  Share the harvest! You told me that! he says.

I'm sure I did.  It sounds like something I would say.

I bring the ginkgo fruit home to my kitchen to finish fermenting and take the spider sacs to the Heritage Garden, put one in the lavender patch and one in the indigo bush already practicing my lecture to the Volunteers next season when the spiders are noticed.  Perhaps I ask too much of these people, I think, recalling how everybody panicked over the mud dauber wasp larvae that I put in the shed last year.  (That's another story for later.)

Still.  What does it mean, ginkgo nuts and spider eggs on a September afternoon?  I have that sort of brain where everything is meant.  Meant.  Has meaning.  Something in the context may need adjusting, of course....the timing, the angle, the distance....but there is a point, right?  Right?

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