Sunday, March 10, 2019

Slow Starts

ProfessorRoush promised all his readers this year, that he would post as he gardened; keeping you alongside for a year on the prairie.  Well, March 10th here, and this picture represents my first garden activity of the new year; the indoor planting of 3 anemic Walmart-sold daylily starts, Hemerocallis 'Final Touch'.  There are two other miserable starts of  Hemerocallis 'Naughty Red' in the pan beside these.  These are not what I really wanted to start the garden year with, but the five starts were only $10 total (well, $10.90 with tax).  Apparently I'm so desperately starving for the touch of dirt, even that of mere packaged potting soil, that I could not resist these spare excuses for live plants.

It must have been the 45º weather and sunshine that thawed out my gardening core, even if it hasn't thawed out the earth.  Our last snow is gone now, except for a few small remnants in deep shade, but the garden is a swamp of muck; puddles of melt water and two-inch-thick messy mud over still frozen subsoil.  There will be no digging nor drainage of the snow melt until that ground thaws beneath.

The starts above are safe for the present in the basement window, where I hope they will green up and survive until the ground thaws and the risk of frost is gone.  That will be sometime in late July, likely, at the rate things seem to be warming.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Winter On!

If you are wondering about the title, I'm shouting it in a tone similar to urging you to "push on," "plow through it," "soldier on," and so on.  Because we don't really have any alternative during this seemingly ceaseless season of snow and suffering, do we?

My photo today is the most garden-ey thing I could find related to the outdoors right now; the salty paw print of my precious Bella as she pads back in from the salt-strewn pavement out our front door.  It is pretty tough on Mrs. ProfessorRoush to see these paw-print-ey trails across her oak floors and likely the salt is tougher still on the sensitive toe pads of poor Bella. 

The rest of my garden is still in the deep freeze.  Here in Kansas, on February 19th, we've had 20.6 inches of snow already this winter, with 3-5 more predicted tonight and two more days of snow in the ten-day forecast.  It does melt off between snows here, with the result of leaving the gravel road leading to the house in the worst condition of the entire time I've lived here. Still, our average snowfall by this time each year is 13 inches according to the KMAN news article I linked to.  Yes, I know, that the 58% increase in snow to this point is JUST WEATHER, not global climate COOLING.  Keep telling yourself that for another few years.  All this gardener knows is that this time last year, I was outside on the weekends clearing garden beds in shirtsleeve weather.

 ProfessorRoush, he just keeps staring from the windows this year, primarily assessing whether the straw over the strawberries is still undisturbed and counting the upended garden ornaments in his back garden.  Sooner or later, I suppose the weather will warm and we will receive sunshiny hope again.  After all, I've seen bluebirds looking for nesting sites recently.

I know I haven't been writing much, but I have resolved, in my discontented winter's mood, to try something new this year in the blog; shorter, quicker updates on a more daily basis during the growing season with the goal of placing you beside me whenever I putter back into the garden.  A Growing Season in the Life of ProfessorRoush, as it were, beginning whenever the weather warms enough for the ground to thaw.  You'll have to let me know sometime if you liked it.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

On the Bluebird Trail

January 5, 2019.  Dear Garden,

As the temperature reached 55ºF early today, on its way to a high of 64ºF at 3:21 p.m., I was easily coaxed into the garden under the bright sun for puttering and the more puttering.  My gardening readers may be ringing your calloused hands over climate change, but if my 64ºF day is evidence of climate change, then I'm happy with it.   As you recall, Garden, my main goal for the beautiful day was to clean out the bluebird boxes, in preparation for another bluebird nesting season.

I've posted before about my bluebird trail and my own NABS-approved bluebird box, so you know already that this is one of my gardening focuses for normative ecology and species survival.  What I haven't pointed out before is that one of the reasons you MUST clean out these boxes annually is to eliminate paper wasp nests from the boxes.  Wasps and bluebirds don't get along.  You can't just swipe out the remnants of the nest, you have to look high into the boxes (photo at right) and remove any wasp nests.  In 22 bird boxes, there was evidence of 11 bluebird nests.  That doesn't sound too spiffy, but I have a number of old boxes in areas where I don't expect bluebirds to nest (near the woods).  There were 6 other boxes filled with nests and 5 empty ones.  All the empty ones had enormous wasp nests and about half of the bluebird nesting boxes did as well.

It was a great day to be out and to increase my Vitamin D production, but my happiest surprise of the day was the discovery of some beaver activity in the pond.  Not a huge number of chewed trees, but one substantial one around 8 inches in diameter (photo at left), and a few other smaller saplings in the process of removal (photo below). It's been about 15 years since the last beaver lived in the pond and I think the late fall rains brought them upstream into wetter-than-previous areas.  If this one stays or brings his family next year, I'm all for them clearing the pond of all the willows that have sprung up on the shoreline in the past decade.

After my bluebird-inspired hike, I puttered away a number of small chores that need to be done in preparation for spring.  A large orange pot, evidently not-frost proof, had disintegrated and needed to be trashed.  A little barbed wire needed to be re-stretched.  Some apple tree rootstock sprouts had to be pruned away.  A few unsightly, dead petunias needed to be ripped up and thrown on the compost pile.  All in all a great January day with February weather.  Here's to hoping we are planting peas early this year!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fall and Winter

'John Cabot'
Where to begin?  It's been so long since my last post.  I had the desire, I had the need, but I lacked the final urgency to blog.  There was always something more pressing, more distracting, more immediate.  Excuses aside, by late August, I gave up on the garden and its Japanese Beetles and its drought. I was trying to ignore the actions of some unknown burrowing creature that was attempting to dig half of the garden up and I was disgusted by the lack of blooms and wilting daily along with the flowers.

Renewal, however, is always just around the corner in a garden.  There were always bright spots, refreshing moments like the 'John Cabot' rose (photo above) trying to climb through an old sitting bench near it.  The spray was half eaten away, but it still shone like the entrance to heaven from halfway across the garden.  I rallied in time to purchase a couple of dozen daylily starts at the local sale and gathered the energy to water them enough to keep them alive.   And the irrepressible  crape myrtles bloomed on time and gave way to panicled hydrangeas and late summer shrubs in their due time.

Sweet Gum
By September, we had a deficit of 10 inches of annual rainfall, almost half of the normal total expected.  Then, in a single night, the drought was extinguished by a deluge, parts of Manhattan were temporarily under water, the farm ponds filled and overflowed, and the ground cracks disappeared.  Over the following 2 weeks, three separate rainfalls added another 11 inches to the total, a year's rain in less than a month, and the world was mud.

Fall was nice while it lasted.  My young Sweet Gum, Liquidambar styraciflua (above, left), won my undying gratitude for its glowing orange fall foliage, and the prairie began to greet the sun every morning with its own display of gold and rust (below).  There are many here who believe fall is the best season on the prairie, and I can scarcely find any reason to quibble.

Despite the rejuvenating rain, the garden had little time to respond, as fall was short-lived.  On October 15th, two weeks earlier than any I've seen in 30 years of living here, we got a heavy wet snowfall of 3 inches.  While it made a winter wonderland of the landscape, it was an early finish to the annuals and the sedum and the chrysanthemums.  You can call it "weather," instead of climate change, all you want, but a record-early snowfall of decades, to the garden and to me, suggests that things are getting colder, not warmer.  We've already had 4 separate snowfalls in the last month, another anomaly for my scrapbook.  My unscientific conclusions were also bolstered by the "climate" of last weekend, as we smashed a 110 year old record overnight low for the date.  Maunder minimums, meet the 3rd millennium!  

I'll leave you, here on the 2nd day of December, 2018, with these last two pictures to ponder.  The first, taken at 7:52 a.m last Sunday, was my back garden at the start of a day of incoming climate.  The second, taken just after 11:00 a.m. through the same window, the frozen tundra that was previously my back garden.  That morning, if a mastodon had come lumbering out of the gale-driven snowfall, I wouldn't have batted an eye.  Except for the 4 foot drift on my front sidewalk, which I shoveled away while I composed a spirited few words that might have taken Al Gore's name in vain, most of this snow is already gone, feeding the prairie grass roots deep in the saturated soil.   This year, at least, I won't have to worry about the lack of soil moisture available for the shrubs as the ground freezes and churns.  Climate-change has its own little gifts, I guess.


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