The Yard Wakes Up

Sooner than usual this year, the ground is thawing out and spring plants are taking advantage. This includes a lot of Michigan weeds I still haven’t learned to recognize, a fair amount of incipient garlic mustard which I do, sadly, recognize, and, happily, lots of narcissus. The yellow ones that were first up have been joined by many friends. I see the lavender I planted between batches of them, though not in new growth yet, will need to be pruned back. Lamium, sturdiest of groundcovers, reasserts itself; nubs begin to swell on the forsythia (Spring’s Yellow Telegram – how does the rest of that poem go?); fingers of peony leaf, red instead of green, reach out of the bare dirt and scratch the air.

There’s a lot of deadfall to clear from the small wooded area out back, including the better part of a tree hacked down by Edison as it dangled, mid-air, across a cable, threatening more damage when we’d barely escaped from the Big Power Outage. It’s still in large chunks, but will make good firewood if Doug’s chainsaw is up to the task.

I patrol the yard and garden, thinking of different schemes for all those seedlings soon to sprout in my upstairs window. I am learning to landscape with herbs, since they seem to repel the deer, the squirrels, and even the woodchuck. Miraculous basil, worthy of its royal name.

Speaking of squirrels, I have an update on my peanut-butter-and-hot-spiced-birdseed feeder. Among the squirrels there’s one that’s very, very fat even for a Michigan Gigunda Squirrel, by which I assume he has advanced food-gathering techniques. I noticed him lurking near the feeder at various times during the day, but never saw him on it until near dinnertime one day. By that hour the birds had eaten most of the seeds, but a lot of the peanut butter was still in place; and Mr. Gigunda climbed boldly up, reached out his little gray hands, and scraped all the remaining peanut butter into his mouth. I didn’t see the days in between when he figured this out, but it seems when the seeds are gone, the hot pepper goes with them. Once he was down to the peanut butter he was in the clear. And that’s okay with me. I’m happy to let Mr. Gigunda have the peanut butter as long as he lets the birds have the seeds.

For an interesting look at what your weeds can tell you about your soil, try this: Weeds as Indicator Plants . Although they could also be telling you what kinds of seeds spilled out of your birdfeeder.



Starting Seeds

Our power was out for five days, but like birds in spring it did come back at last. We cleaned out the fridge, and my thoughts turned to starting tomato seeds.

cartonsFirst step was to set up long folding tables in front of the big, sunny windows in my upstairs guest room, with trays on them to catch water. Next, I rounded up my collection of milk cartons. We began collecting the empty half gallon paper cartons in late summer, slicing off the tops, washing them out, and tossing them into a tub and a box in the garage, along with a few smaller drainagecontainers. I carted these upstairs, and sat down to make drainage holes by sticking in a paring knife and twisting it, four holes per carton.

I filled the now-empty collection tub with a bag of potting soil. I’ve experimented with various types of potting soils and seed-starting mixes, and for me regular potting soil gets the best result. Seed-starting soil is very fine, and I have trouble keeping it around the roots of the seedlings when I plant them out in the garden. You should, however, test this with your own style of gardening, because you might easily have different results.

dirtAny bag of potting soil that’s been sitting around a Michigan warehouse in winter will be pretty dry, so once it was in the tub I added a potful of water, and stirred it with my trusty trowel. I went down to the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea, to give it time to soak in.

Next, since this session was strictly for tomatoes, I filled the milk cartons only
about a third of the way up with dirt. Which is the same as soil, but once loading upI’m getting my hands in it I think of it as dirt. Soiling yourself is what babies do in their diapers. Getting dirty means you’re having fun.

Now at last, time to plant the tomato seeds. I set the cartons in the trays on the tables and planted two or three seeds in each. Ten milk cartons fit in a tray, and I like to have each tray seeded with one variety of tomato. Unfortunately, we were late starting on our carton collecting this year and I ran out before I could start the cherry tomatoes, but I’ll find something else for them. If you’ve ever had tomato vines in your garden that flopped over and sat there for a while before you tried to tie them up, you will have discovered that tomato stems put out roots wherever they touch the ground. As the seedlings grow I will fill in around their stems with more dirt. By the time they are out the top of the carton they will have nice big sturdy root systems underneath.planted

Last step: watering them, then standing back to admire my work. The cartons look very cheerful peering out the window, and they look cheerful from outside, too. My neighbor says she knows its spring when she sees them up there. I know it’s spring when they start to grow.

Power Out

Sometimes the state of things and my state of being really line up. Wednesday, trash pickup day on our street, started innocently enough, no blizzard, no thunder, nothing to keep Doug from rolling the big, heavy green trashcan out to the street and carting the recycle bins full of plastic and paper to join them. He left for work, and I curled up in my chair by the window with a cup of tea, nursing the remnants of a cold.

But on Wednesday our strange, warm February weather collided with “a big blob of arctic air” (technical term used by local meteorologist) and produced what Detroit Edison is calling a “once-in-a-century weather event.” As I alternately nodded off and woke up, the bins went for a wild ride down the street, were kindly returned by a neighbor, and blew away again. Trees whipped around, tossing random bits of themselves across the yard. Wind gusts peaked at 68 miles per hour. By the time it was over, we and roughly one million other people across the southeastern corner of Michigan were without power. We had cell phone signal and so could check for news updates. Edison, usually prompt and fairly accurate with predicted repair times, made a blanket statement that they had no idea when they’d get this sorted out. Their first priority was to pick up all the downed lines draped across roads; then get power to first responders and health care sites. Ordinary homes would only come after that. Doug walked up and down the street collecting the trash bins, and we went to bed early.

In the morning the house was cold. Not cold as in, the pipes might burst, but cold as in, fifty degrees, with no way to make tea. I headed to the library, which I knew to have a coffeeshop, functioning heat, bathrooms, power outlets, and books to read. Half the neighborhood seemed to have the same idea, but it’s a big library.

You might think, as I did think, that I’d have been more comfortable in my semi-recovered state if I could have stayed home. But when I was home I felt the press of things I should have been doing, though I lacked the energy to do them. Now – I couldn’t do them! In my normal mode I’d probably have found this frustrating, but as it was my lack of energy lined up neatly with my house’s lack of power. The timing was strangely right.up early

When I went back to check on the house – before we got a nice warm hotel room for the night – I noticed these daffodils blooming. The earliest of my bulbs have never bloomed before late March until now. Did the flowers really push up out of the ground, or did the wind blow several inches of dirt off of them?