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Grumbling in the rain. April 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has actually heard of people who like to garden in the rain. Either these people are deranged, or whatever they do by way of gardening is far, far different from the things our friend Ben considers to be gardening.

Unfortunately, spring is such a busy time in the garden and landscape that even the rain-averse our friend Ben can’t let a little thing like a light rainfall (after two days of downpours) stand in the way of getting things done. So this morning found a reluctant OFB—goaded on by an increasingly sarcastic Silence Dogood—hauling myself outdoors to take care of the following, while Silence, mind you, remained warm and dry inside “writing.”*

First off, our friend Ben carted all the flats and containers of frost-tender veggies and ornamentals that will ultimately go into the garden beds out of the greenhouse for the day and set them either on an unoccupied bed or on the deck. This process, euphemistically known as “hardening off,” bears more resemblance to torture (from the plants’ perspective) on a cold, wet day like this. To make matters worse, normally our friend Ben would haul them all back in again for the night, as I’ve been doing daily for the past few weeks, but since overnight lows are supposed to stay in the mid-40s, I think I’ll leave them out there to fend for themselves tonight. After all, they’ll have to get out and stay out in just two short weeks, so they might as well get used to it. Plant boot camp, here we come!

Next, our friend Ben transplanted this year’s crop of surprise pumpkin-or-squash seedlings. Silence and I love to decorate for fall and the Harvest Home season, from September through Thanksgiving, by arranging a wealth of pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, ornamental corn, wheat sheaves, sorghum—you get the idea—around the front door, on our kitchen table, and on the deck. Then we typically compost the pumpkins and squash.

This move results in surprise squash or pumpkin seedlings emerging from our compost bins and taking over a fair part of the lawn around the compost bins the following year. Two years ago, we had a luxuriant butternut squash spilling over one compost bin and producing an abundance of large, handsome squashes. Last year, it was a delightful and prolific miniature orange pumpkin.

This year, our friend Ben noticed that the compost we’d spread on the hot pepper bed and perennial vegetable bed had somehow sprouted squash and/or pumpkin seedlings. The pepper bed had produced two seedlings with the most enormous seed leaves our friend Ben has ever seen. And lurking under the horseradish in the perennial vegetable bed was a cluster of super-healthy squash/pumpkin seedlings. (I’d better back up and note that pumpkins, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers are all related, collectively called cucurbits. Pumpkin and winter squash seedlings are especially hard to tell apart, and if they’re volunteers and could be either, you might have to wait until they fruit to find out what they really are.)

So our friend Ben transplanted the two huge seedlings, a couple of clumps of the smaller seedlings, and a yellow zucchini transplant we’d bought on Saturday to the raised bed behind our Pullet Palace (that is, enclosed chicken coop and yard). I’m pretty hopeful, since Silence and I chose all heirloom edible pumpkins for our display last fall, which should up the odds of getting some good and beautiful edible pumpkins this year from our surprise seedlings. (But Silence points out, correctly, that we need at least one more yellow zucchini and several yellow crookneck summer squash plants.)

The next chore on the list was to pull up an enormous armful of dandelions and throw them to the chickens. Normally, our friend Ben enjoys this chore. Far from another abysmal round of hand-weeding, pulling vitamin- and mineral-rich dandelions for the hugely appreciative chickens is more like harvesting. This natural spring tonic gives the chickens a real boost, and it shows in their delicious eggs.

But like every other rainy-day chore, there was the downside. First, hauling ever-more-slippery containers across the yard. Next, transplanting seedlings with muddy rootballs into muddy ground, then trying unsuccessfully to get the mud off your trowel and hands. Then the agony of knowing that the cold, wet air has made your nose run, and you have a tissue in your pocket, but your hands are coated with mud. Then trying to pull slippery, wet weeds out of the ground with your slippery, mud-coated hands.

Fortunately, by now there was only one chore left: Clearing one path through our Cultivated Wild Meadow and laying down newspaper prior to putting down mulch, once we actually get some. Our friend Ben should explain that our Cultivated Wild Meadow is divided into quadrants. One quadrant houses the chicken coop and fenced yard. The other three contain a combination of meadow plants native to our area and perennial flowers, biennials, and ornamental grasses that we’ve planted in over the years. A cross-path separates the four quadrants, with an antique chimney top capped by a silver gazing ball in the center where the four paths intersect.

Unfortunately, we’ve been rather neglectful of the paths in recent years, and weeds have encroached. So this year, it’s time to reassert authority by laying down thick layers of newspaper and topping them with mulch. Rainy weather is perfect for the newspaper phase of this project, since it will wet the newspaper down to a sodden pulp, which not only prevents weed growth but keeps the newspaper from blowing away before you can get the mulch to go on top of it.

Because of this, our friend Ben approached this particular chore with considerable enthusiasm. Pull any upstanding weeds from the path, put down the paper, weight it with rocks, and let the rain help us weight it down and solidify it. Sadly, we only had enough paper for one arm of the quadrant, but no matter, we’ll continue to accumulate more, since we subscribe to both our local paper and The Wall Street Journal. We’ll keep clearing the paths as we go. And one arm seemed easily doable, where four would be a real chore.

In this case, the rain—our ally in weighting down the paper—became our friend Ben’s nemesis in terms of hauling rocks. We keep the rocks we dig out of our garden beds and other ventures in an unobtrusive pile where they’re accessible when we need them for a task like this. But yow, the difference between handling dry rocks and wet, mud-covered, slippery rocks! Once again, OFB’s hands became mud slicks as I struggled to secure the paper as quickly as possible in case the rain intensified and the winds came up as predicted.

Returning at last to the house, I was confronted simultaneously by a horrified Silence (“Eeeewwww, don’t touch anything, look at your hands!!!”) and our exuberant puppy Shiloh (“Take me out, take me out, take me out!!!”). By now, our friend Ben was a sodden, miserable mass (and I still needed a Kleenex in the worst way).

Gardeners who like working in the rain, I can only ask, “Why?!” And as for you, Gene Kelly, much as I like singing in general, anybody who’d want to sing in the rain has water on the brain, if you ask me. Go soak your head!         

* An incensed Silence, reading over my shoulder, pointed out that she might be dry, but there was no way anyone without fur could possibly be warm in our frigid little cottage. I have to admit, she has a point there.



1. Dave@TheHomeGarden - April 26, 2010

Count me right there with you on the rain thing! A light sprinkle in the summer heat is good – not a downpour in springtime! Also I could give you a ton of newspapers to use, of course shipping and handling would be a bear. I’ll be out doing the same thing this weekend.

Ha, enjoy it, Dave! Maybe the weekend will be nice! (I hope so, or at this rate, I’m going to start to mold… )

2. Jen - April 26, 2010

Sounds like a good day for a bubble bath, Ben. Gets the mud out from under the fingernails. I think it’s cool that you have your special compost bin squash seedling starter! I started a “pumpkin mix” in our school greenhouse- can’t wait to see what turns up. At least the rain makes the ground softer and easier to weed.

Love the idea of a pumpkin mix, Jen! I just hope you have an outdoor garden at school to plant them out in—those vines get so amazingly big! And you’re right, the rain makes it easier to weed when it’s not actually raining at the time and the weeds are all slippery. Plus, you don’t have to water!!! As for the bath, poor Silence complains constantly that, in this era of Mandarin-like glued-on nails, people must freak out to see her short nails with the impossible-to-completely-remove garden soil. I’ll pass along the bubble bath tip!

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