Beautiful Month of May 2016: Challenges and Remedies

The Beautiful and Challenging Month of May 2016

The days are cool enough to work hard in the garden, cleaning, hauling, amending with compost and mature cow manure, and shoveling mulch wheel barrel by barrel from the 3 cubic foot pile nestled discreetly by the forsythia which hides the electric meters.

Once it gets too warm, the heavy lifting and digging become too onerous. I truly become a puddle when the temperature soars over 90 degrees with high humidity. Heat is one of the few things that stops me cold, or should I say, stops me hot.

Last year, so many hours over so many days were spent digging out barberry bushes whose deep yellow roots run deep and far and wide and are tenacious. Barberry is an invasive that harbors ticks that spread lyme disease since its long and sharp thorns keep the ticks out of reach of predators. So off with the barberry’s roots and branches with fierce thorns, knowing the sneaky and successful plant will appear here and there again and sure enough it has. I have to wait for the moment when I have the fierce and determinedly sustained energy to spare to tackle them. My energy is going to preparing and planting and tending and nurturing the gardens, a much preferred focus.

In the place of the well-established barberry that finally was totally taken out, in comes poison ivy. Great. Donning special chemical spill proof gloves, my hound dog digging tool, and my dandelion root digger, the task of pulling out the roots, which go for miles under rocks, is another task that awaits till I have the time and energy to go to battle.  After a poison ivy pulling session, I wash my gloves and tools in Jewel weed juice, the antidote.  Every summer when the jewel weed is flowering, I gather big bunches with leaves, immerse in water in a soup pot, and boil till the bright orange liquid is condensed. After cooling, I put the concentrate in ice cube trays, which, after frozen, I put in ziploc bags in the freezer, ever ready for use.

That patch of poison ivy is just next to a butterfly goddess garden where a new problem has arisen. Gophers or moles have been digging deep holes under this special garden.

Remedies for gophers or moles:

– The first line of defense was garlic oil in little tubes that I bought from a garden supply store. Following the instructions, I covered the holes with soil and then heavy I soon ran out of the garlic tubes as the gophers dug new holes. Since the store was out of them, I went to plan B; I put a few freshly peeled garlic cloves down each hole, which I again covered.

I read more on the internet about non toxic solutions, so I dropped coffee grinds mixed with peppermint oil drops into and around the holes. And I sprayed a mix of witch hazel and peppermint oil around the perimeter of the garden. It is a mix I made for keeping mice out of our vehicles since the little devils caused $300 of damage to my car last year and this year my husband had close to $600 damage to his car from mice eating this and that wire or whatever.

The last remedy I tried was making a mixture of 1 cup water, ½ cup castor oil, chopped garlic, splashes of tobasco and some dashes of cayenne powder for good measure and shook, not stirred, before pouring a little into all the holes for good measure.

I can’t say which was the most effective, but together they solved the problem. Gone, yea team. Whew! I am so glad they moved out because if none of that worked, I would have had to call upon a neighbor who hunts to come on over with his shotgun. I’m glad it didn’t come to that. Hither and yon around the many garden beds, I see some new gopher activity. I need to get more castor oil.

Soon to come will be the challenge of slugs; I’ve seen baby slugs around. Time for putting out the crushed dried eggshells I’ve collected all winter, having peeled the inner film from the shell, which I put in the compost bin, before drying and saving the shells. Lining the outer borders of the Butterfly Goddess garden and a few of the six raised vegetable beds planted with lettuce, kale, and other tender morsels that the slugs adore and demolish.

By the time it took me to write this, a few days lapse, the slugs have already grown substantially. Oh my.

Another deterrent is surrounding a garden with copper. My husband and I save copper pennies all winter, but again, there are never enough, which is why I got ten dollars worth of pennies at the bank yesterday.

And then one has to be ruthless with slugs, those slimy, disgusting, I guess they must be good for something, but not in my garden, so off with their heads. I also stomp on them when wearing my muck boots or crush them between two rocks, or easiest and most ruthless, with my garden knife, I just cut ‘em in half and toss. Yuck, I hate doing it, but it’s them or all my hard work and beautiful plants would be eaten to nothing.

Since the Rosa ragosas and English roses are blossoming, I am keeping an eye out for the soon-to-come Japanese beetles, those beautiful green iridescent, but destructive creatures. When the onslaught begins, in the mornings or late afternoons, I’ll fill a coffee tin with soapy water, put it under them and push them in. They have two defense mechanisms, fly up and off quickly, done efficiently in the afternoons, or fall quickly, thus be prepared to catch them. When I don’t have a can of soapy water handy, I have ‘killing gloves’, old garden gloves dedicated to my murdering ways. I’ll crush the beetles between my fingers and ruthlessly fling them away.

There are always surprises in the gardens, both fabulously amazingly wonderful and challenging destructive enemies from which the plants must be protected. Who knows what’s next. Expect the unexpected and it’s always a surprise. Tending a garden is like life: immense joys balanced by continuing challenges interspersed with tears and frustration and wonder and awe. And exhaustion. And satisfaction.

May 24 2016

Yesterday I worked to weed and clean up leaves from the stone patio that surrounds the moon deck that once was the pool.   I built the stone patio by hand, one bluestone at a time, from around the property. It pleases me to see it uncovered from its winter hiding.

I saw a lovely little brown wood nymph butterfly yesterday and last week a few Eastern tiger swallowtails each day,  a Mourning cloak, a painted lady, a spring azure and a few hairstreaks. I believe there are fewer swallowtails than last year. We’ll see.

The hummingbirds have been arriving in larger numbers. From the time the first male arrived on May 5th, when it took ten days before I needed to refill the feeders with sugar water, till now when a refill is needed every other day and some feeders every day is a big change! Yea, an abundance of hummingbirds; however; when the temperature soared the last week of May, the hummingbirds ceased activity, nectaring neither at the flowers nor the feeders.



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