We have all we need for everyone to live well.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Story Is Written in the Sky

The Saturday before last, Alan & I spent an enjoyable couple of hours in the backyard watching this storm approach from the southwest and pass just north of us; we felt but a couple drops of rain but listened to an almost constant rumble of thunder. The following recording captures a typical soundscape from our recent summer evenings: cicada drones in the woods, male and female bullfrogs in the pond, distant thunder, birdsong...

Air, Sunlight, Soil, Seed, and Water

Summer proceeds, and in high contrast to last year's drought we've had generally cool weather with regular soaking rains. Still, the first half of July was dry and we eventually resorted to irrigating the gardens. The tripod-mounted sprinkler head is a welcome addition to the toolkit, eliminating the hassle of trying to clamp a conventional sprinkler to the top of the stepladder.

In this, the east garden, the squash and pickling cucumbers are going great guns, but the other cucurbits have had problems. The gherkins failed altogether – I suppose the seed rotted in the wet conditions after planting, and the melons (an original planting and a second variety that replaced the gherkins) have barely covered their mounds and are just now beginning to flower. The sweet potato vines, so lush last year, barely get going before the deer browse them back to nubbins, a cycle that has repeated several times so far. I'll be surprised if we get a crop. The russets on the other hand have produced a lot of top growth and I suspect are also doing well down below. Potatoes are a solanaceae – the nightshade family that also includes tomato, eggplant, chili pepper, and tobacco – and are seldom browsed by mammals. (Sweet potato is a convolvulaceae, the plant family that also includes morning glories.)

The volunteer sunflowers are doing great but, as last year, the birds are eating the seeds from the flower heads even before they mature.

The sweet corn is more than eight feet high and the ears are now filling. The stalks are quite slender and a few have remained lodged after being knocked down in one or another of the thunderstorms. The height and fragility makes me suspect an excess of potassium in the soil, though we've done very little fertilizing either this year or last.

This is the dill patch, which I finally cleared of purslane and other weeds than put down a thick layer of grass clippings as mulch. We're using the flower heads for pickling rather than the feathery sprigs. These plants should self-seed and we can look forward to a permanent patch of dill back here by the perennial asparagus.

I've done lots and lots of weeding, mostly but by no means only purslane, and applied lots of grass clippings to suppress new growth. Eventually, cultivation should stop bringing new weed seeds to the surface where they can sprout, as the buried seed supply becomes exhausted, but that could take years. Mulching is an alternative or complementary strategy, leaving just enough soil exposed for the desirable plants.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Once More into the Swamp

Sometimes, my enthusiasm for a task conflicts with the reality surrounding it. This is the third time I've stuck the tractor, which makes me think I need a new tractor, or perhaps just a little more common sense.

Eventually, I was successful through planting the edge of the bucket in the mud, and rolling it back simultaneously with the lowest reverse gear, four wheel drive, and locking the hubs.

I don't think I dented anything but the trees, and if these willows die, more will spring up to replace them in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Week Later, A Week Ago

Every few days in June, an energetic storm system or three passed through, leaving anything from an inch to five inches of rain. The creek got out of its banks, just a bit, on several occasions but the pond level rose above the outlet pipe only once. I made this series of photos on June 28.

This is milkweed. These flowers somehow end up as the large seedpods that burst with down in the fall.

Day lilies and various grasses near the pipe spillway.

Wild grape added to the mix at the edge of the pond.

This plant, I do not know its name, makes nasty prickles.

Poison ivy in one of its manifestations. Our mowing and spraying last year, or weather and different competition – for whatever reason there is much less poison ivy this year in the trafficked and managed areas.

Another of our nemeses: thistle. I spent a lot of time last year with spade and machete eradicating thistle, and this year there has only been a small fraction of last years' plant numbers, maybe one percent.

The wild grape gets everywhere, an ongoing challenge to manage.

Down in the woods, the storms knocked over dead trees and brought down limbs. It's all pretty wild looking.

Every day that was too wet to get into the garden was a day I watched helpless as the purslane closed in on my little intended plants. The yards dried more quickly and I reckoned I would harvest more grass clippings to spread as mulch once I could work in the gardens.

I piled up lots of clippings. Three days later, when I began to spread them, I plunged my hands into one of the piles and nearly burned them. The clippings were in a state of advanced decomposition, and too slimy to spread around crops.

The sweet corn is nevertheless pretty well mulched with newspaper and clippings, and though the last big storm (which spawned a tornado in nearby Muscatine) knocked over the entire crop, it stood back up after a few days and has now closed the rows. As this occurs in other crops as well, the weeds will be more shaded and outcompeted.

The tomatoes have filled their cages and seem to be thriving; they're flowering.

We inherited the concord grape vines and a couple mature apples trees. Both are bearing heavily this year.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Kitchen Gardens Take Off

On June 21 I carried a stepladder around with me to make this series of photographs. At this point I had just done the second succession planting of greens and roots, seen in the foreground in this first image. We were getting frequent heavy thunderstorms that kept me out of the gardens for days at a time. I harvested many wheelbarrow-loads of grass clippings as mulch to suppress the purslane. Where I first put down a layer of newspaper, or put down a really thick layer of clippings (3-4"), the mulch has been mostly successful.

Because the native soil and my compost is so full of seeds, for this planting I made a seed bed and covered the seeds with a commercial topsoil mix from a gardening supplies place. It's proving quite good at keeping the weeds a couple initial inches away from the seedlings, where they can be pulled out without danger of damaging them.

In the foreground below are rows of onions and carrots, nominally, but what you're seeing is almost all purslane. Now that I've got these rows weeded for the time-being, the vegetables are doing much better.

Also: chard, lettuce, mustard, turnip, beet, pepper, cabbage, strawberry, kale, dill, basil, sage, chives...

Looking back the other way: the machine shed and the garage.

Sweet corn of a couple varieties, bush beans of five varieties, tomatoes of five varieties, concord grapes...

This is the east garden, this year growing pickling cucumbers, two varieties of melon, pie squash, volunteer giant sunflowers, the asparagus patch, and sweet potato and russet potato behind.

Diversion III – Dickeyville Grotto

Our North Woods destinations usually take us due north into the Driftless Region, crossing the Mississippi River at the old city of Dubuque, Iowa (founded 1765) and through nearby Dickeyville, Wisconsin. Here stand a Grotto and Shrines conceived and constructed nearly a century ago by a tireless parish priest.
"[O]n Holy Ghost Parish grounds are the works of Father Matthias Wernerus, a Catholic Priest, Pastor of the Parish from 1918 to 1931. His handiwork in stone, built from 1925-1930, is dedicated to the unity of two great American ideals — love of God and love of Country. These religious and patriotic shrines were constructed without the use of blueprints."
Alan and Donna consult with the docent and prepare to enter the central maw.

A staggering quantity of colored stone was donated to the work from quarries in the Dakotas, from Iowa, and nearby in Wisconsin. The stones and shells and glass and all else are attached expertly and almost invisibly with very little obvious weathering or aging. The docent told us that when pieces come loose or fall away, they are very quickly reattached.

It is a relaxing and contemplative place.

The constructions include huge pieces of petrified wood, such as this incredible specimen.

The fencing and railing were especially impressive from an engineering standpoint – very stiff concrete constructions for being so slender, and with so little spalling at the many sharp edges. That priest had a good sense of strength and proportion.