But not for want of blueberries

Yesterday, I was very upset about the loss of yet another blueberry bush by way of weed eater. I’m still upset. It’s difficult to explain why when my sister and I picked three gallons of blueberries today, and my friend and I picked two gallons yesterday. There are blueberries to be had in this life.

That’s not the point. It was never the point. I want to grow my own in my own yard. I want the plants I put in the ground to survive. I’m still disgruntled over the fact that they are not surviving.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out what to do with two gallons of blueberries, which is what I currently have in my refrigerator. I’ll freeze some. I love to have blueberries to put in my oatmeal all through the year. I’ll eat even more. I can eat about a gallon of blueberries a week in the summer all on my own. The only real essentials of a summer diet in Mississippi are tomato sandwiches and fresh blueberries.

By my estimates, in order to keep eating at the rate I’m going and to also have some to freeze, I need to pick another gallon by about Tuesday. I hear my brother has a friend who has dozens of bushes. Also, I’ve been given a bush that lives in someone else’s yard to console me over the loss of my own. I don’t think I will want for places to pick.

And gladly will I pick.

But then I have to also figure out what to do with them. I’ve been eating them with cereal and with ice cream. I’ve been filling up plastic cups with blueberries and eating them straight. I’ve been eating them in pies baked by my mother. No, of course I haven’t made the pies myself. If we took a family vote, I think I’d probably tie with my brother Keith as the Gerald least likely to bake a blueberry pie this week.

I’m not looking for pie recipes. My mother’s pies are excellent. I have no need to make my own.

I might be looking for other ideas, though, and that is what has led me to allrecipies.com and the Blueberry Walnut Salad. It sounds delicious, and it only has five simple ingredients. I only need to acquire four of those five ingredients in order to make it.

I’m halfway there.

Blueberry Tears

I lost a second blueberry bush to the weed eater today. This time I sat down and cried. It is too late in the season to replant. It’s too late to find blueberry bushes in the store at any rate.

First, the lawn mower got one. After that I put sticks next to the ones on the ends of the row so that the lawn mower would go around them. The next time the yard guys showed up, they chopped down what was left of the injured bush with a weed eater. That time I saw what happened while they were still here and pointed out that they had killed my blueberry plant. I explained what the sticks were about. I hoped that was all I needed to do.

Alas, it was not. Just this morning I did say to my neighbor that I needed to put pine straw around my blueberries and peaches to make sure that they didn’t look like weeds, but it was hot and cloudy, and I didn’t think anyone was coming to work in the yard today. I just procrastinated.

By the time I realized they were working in the yard despite the rain, i decided that I didn’t want to get wet or get in the way. I also assumed that since the last weed eater incident was just two weeks ago, and the other bushes looked big enough to be clearly distinguishable from weeds, I could afford to risk waiting on the pine straw.

Wrong. And now it is too late to do anything. A second bush was cut off at the ground with a weed eater. It was too young to bounce back from that. The roots haven’t had time to really establish themselves.

This is so disheartening. The blueberries were the part of my new garden I was proudest of getting started. Now, not only have two been killed needlessly, but they were two of the same variety. The two remaining are of another variety, but they are of the same variety as each other…the variety by the way that didn’t produce anything this year. The ones I’ve lost were going to be the early producers.

I know I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do for my plants. I don’t even always understand what I’m supposed to do. I know I don’t have the best soil to work with. I haven’t been confident at all that my plants would survive.

But I was doing better than expected, and the plants were showing more promise than expected.

And then comes the weed eater.

It’s so sad.

RIP Blueberry Bush

I planted four blueberry bushes earlier in the year with the idea of casualties in mind. Four fully grown bushes producing at maximum capacity would wear out me and all of the birds currently sharing my food supply too. That is if they ever grow up big. I lacked confidence that they might while in my care.

I was right to be concerned. The first casualty has fallen victim to the lawn mower. The last time my yard was mowed (and no, of course I don’t do it myself) a blueberry bush was run over and severely injured.

I went out there and told it how sorry I was. I pulled grass away from it and gave it extra water. I put a stake up next to it so that anyone on a lawnmower would know to go around it.

Today, the lawnmower went around the bush, but the weed eater did not. It no longer looked like a blueberry bush, you see. It just looked like a sick little stick with a few pitiful leaves.

Maybe this is for the best. Maybe it was suffering.

But I will miss it so.

Compost

You know I’m getting a little carried away with the whole gardening thing when I start pricing compost bins. They’re outrageous, by the way. Some cost as much as $200.

Maybe that sounds normal to you, but if so, we’re not from the same place. This is how composting happens where I come from. Food scraps are tossed onto some dirt on the ground. Probably in or around the garden. The end.

Honestly, you don’t have to purchase worms, and you don’t have purchase envelopes of “compost starter,” whatever the heck that is. It’s a natural process. Food decomposes all on its own, and worms and bugs help where they can without being asked.

If you have food in your house that doesn’t break down on its own without sprinkling manufactured bacteria on it, don’t eat it. It can’t possibly be healthy.

That said, I don’t think people who live in town are supposed to throw food on the ground like country people. I’m not sure it’s a law, but Lowe’s would not stock compost bins if it weren’t generally accepted protocol.

Compost is a good thing, you know. Plants always need better dirt. Even if your dirt is okay this year, it will be depleted soon enough if you are growing things in it. And so it is that Lowe’s also stocks bags of manufactured compost. People throw their food scraps in the trash because they are too polite to throw them on the ground, and then they purchase new dirt for their yards. This is the glory of the modern world.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and lawn clippings “constitute 26 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream.” I don’t know how many of those people who send their food scraps to the landfill in plastic bags end up purchasing dirt in the spring when they start landscaping, but it is no doubt a considerable number.

All that is to say I’m looking for a cheap way to compost my food scraps without looking like too much of a redneck. Ideas, anyone?

At War I Am

I lost a pepper plant. It’s a sad day. It died some time during the night. I checked on my plants after the storm last night. They were fine, if a little wind blown. This morning a pepper plant was gone. Missing. Nowhere to be seen.

The dirt where it had been was freshly overturned. I felt around in it and found the plant buried. The stem was broken off, and the whole thing was buried.

Neighborhood cat, you are no friend of mine.

I think I’m going to try putting tomato cages around my plants to protect them from the cat. I don’t know if that will work, but I don’t know what else to do.

The Garden of Good Intentions, Part 2

I took a day off today. This wasn’t a day when I didn’t go to the office because I had meetings elsewhere. I just didn’t go. I didn’t grade. I didn’t do any part of my job. I took an actual day off. For landscaping. There were landscapers about ready to scape, and I had no plants to put into my land. You can’t just blow off landscapers. They might not ever come back.

I sent a message to work that I was taking a personal day, and I went to Home Depot. I thought I would go pick up a few plants and then sit on the patio watching the process unfold. Maybe I’d grade and feel a little perturbed about doing that on a day off.

Wrong. I didn’t grade. I didn’t sit. I went to Home Depot five times. They love me now. We’re best friends.

I don’t know how I managed to feel so tired when other people were doing the work, and we didn’t even finish, but there you have it. Landscaping is exhausting.

But I now have a little scape.

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The mulch hasn’t gone in yet, and the plants need to grow a little, but it really looks very nice from the road, or at least much nicer than it did before.

My raised beds in the back are also closer to being ready for plants.

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The second one is especially more advanced considering it was not completely assembled yet as of my last report.

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I also have some potential fruit started.

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A couple of peach trees, a couple of blueberry bushes.

A blackberry trellis.

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Yes, that’s right. A blackberry trellis. The landscapers laughed at that too. I did in fact put a flimsy trellis up in my yard for the purpose of growing blackberries. I bought blackberry vines at Home Depot.

We got it all put together. I stood back smiling. Then I turned my head to look at my neighbor’s debris pile a few feet away from my blackberry trellis.

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I wonder what that is growing all over his pile of dead limbs, and I wonder where he bought the vines.

And that, friends, is everything I and the people doing the work for me accomplished today. It seemed like a lot at the time.

The Garden of Good Intentions

I should have spent yesterday grading. I mean I really should have. I was mentally recovering from putting on a symposium (along with Sheldon Walcher, Kim Walker, and others) at USM on digital composition. I didn’t feel capable of grading, and it’s a theory of mine that it isn’t fair to students to force myself to grade when I’m mentally tapped out. They don’t need to bear the brunt of my bad moods, or so I tell myself when I do something instead of grade on a day I’m already behind.

And so it happened that yesterday, after I’d already told my brother who offered to come over and help me work in my yard that I wouldn’t have time, I spent all day working in the yard.

My primary accomplishment was digging out an old herb bed that had grown over with weeds.

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That’s the result of ten bags of top soil you see in the picture. I think I’m going to add about that many more.

My plan is to set the raised bed I bought on top of the foundation of top soil and fill it with potting soil.

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The reason I think I need more top soil first is because it is so close to the house, and my yard has a slight slope toward the house. My theory is that it needs to be built up a little more to have good drainage even with a frame for the bed. The top soil will settle some. I’m not really looking to have a vegetable pond right next to my house.

Building it up more will also accomplish a deeper layer of good soil. I’ve turned the dirt over and over with a shovel, and it still has big clumps of clay in it. That’s all there is underneath, and clay isn’t good ground for anything other than weeds.

Where I got these theories about soil and drainage, I have no idea. I usually garden from my mother’s freezer. But once I got out there and started digging, it just seemed to make sense that I needed more top soil. There’s at least a slim possibility that I’ve paid attention to my dad’s gardening techniques at some point when it didn’t seem like it.

By next weekend I hope to have plants in the bed and herbs in the pots I’ve been using as stools while I dug around in the dirt.

And if I get really ambitious, I have enough frame left to make a four foot by twelve foot bed somewhere else in the yard.

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It’s taken an awful lot of work to prepare a place for a four by four bed. I may have to lower my standards to get in a larger one. The only thing I have to dig up the grass and turn over the dirt with is a shovel. It would a lot easier to leave the grass down there and just fill in from the top with soil.

On the other hand, I’ve worked a lot of tension out of my mind and body. Shovels are cheaper than medications for that. Who knows what I’ll end up doing?

Meanwhile, I’m working on convincing this guy that I’m actually allowed to hang around in my own yard.

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He has not been happy to have me out there.

To Do, To Do, To Do

Today I’m facing up to the to do list I’ve done my best to ignore all week. I hardly have time to blog at all. I’m trying to write a book today. Or at least the chapter that I owe to a book.

I certainly don’t have time to think about spring things for at least another six weeks, and by that time it will be summer. I will say, however, that I am anxiously following Patti’s story of her raised garden beds due to the fact that I have just purchased a garden bed kit from Sam’s. I don’t have any power tools for building my own, and I am not in the least bit interested in sweating for my supper, but I am interested in fresh vegetables and herbs.

I have to admit to some concern over planting food in a substance that claims it “will not rot,” but this is what I have, and I suppose I will give it a try. I read somewhere that raised garden beds should be built out of cedar because it will last the longest of any untreated wood without leeching chemicals into your soil. I’d be scared to think what kind of chemicals might leech out of the $30 compost board from Sam’s.

My alternative is to learn to use power tools, so I’m taking my chances on the chemicals. I’m also waiting for the next part of Patti’s story. I want to know where she bought her dirt. I don’t think the clay in my yard is going to grow much more than weeds.

Look for the next part of my gardening story in about July when I finally drag the kit out of the trunk of my car.