Cost to Grow vs Buy

Expanding the garden at my age only makes me appreciate tomatoes and cucumbers at the grocery store. It is so easy to pick from the pile in the vegetable section compared to picking the same item from a vine that you planted and nurtured, watered, and dusted for bugs. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say dusted for bugs). If Lovely finds out I did such a thing she won’t let me eat any of the fruits of her labor.

My part of the garden involves digging, spreading compost, and warding off critters with suitable rabbit deterrents such as fencing. The remainder is up to Lovely. She plants, waters, weeds, and shoos away bugs and birds. I have donated two home made whirly gigs as bird deterrents. I don’t really believe they will scare a hungry bird away from succulent greenery, but it sounds good.

My plan to cure Lovely’s ravishing appetite for onions, cucumber, beets, and sorrel is to expand the space she has to plant. This will be the third expansion since we have been together. (When will I learn that only a 100,000 acre ranch will do the trick.) The first plot was a dainty five foot by eight foot area. The second step added a second plot of five by ten, this time I am going ten foot by twenty, an expansion of five times more space. than the original.

Lovely’s Garden

I promise myself not to keep track of the cost of these vegetables because it includes a love factor that can’t be monetized. Besides the more money she spends on veggie plants the more I will spend for flowers in my little world of the Monet Vision.

One Small Room In Grumpa Joe’s Garden

This week, my big accomplishment was to open the pond. That means dredging the bottom of a thick, stinky layer of fermenting leaves, and then re-installing the pump, and pray that is still works. It did, but the whole effort took two days which equals five hours total of physical labor. Each time I went out with a promise not to spend more than one hour, but each time the job required twice that much time. Each day after completing a specific task, I came in and collapsed in front of my computer for the remainder of the day. I once had a boss who said the job expands with the amount of time available to do the job. As I age, this adage makes more and more sense.

I went out of my way to run to PetsMart to buy some fish, and bought two dozen comets that measure about one inch long. Of course, after stabilizing the water temperature in the bag, I let them loose and they disappeared instantly. It’ll give me something to do everyday, that is, to watch the water to spot one. In the past it was two weeks before I finally saw a fish, and they were about twice the size as they were when I released them them. By the end of summer, about five of them will be four inches long and the rest will be much shorter. Come November, when the leaves drop from the trees into Lake Joe, and begin to decay, the process will consume the oxygen in the water, and the fish will die. In the fifteen years that I’ve been raising goldfish in this lake, I have only been able to winter them successfully twice. In my first pond, I never lost more than four fish over the winter, and I never bought new fish, they propagated. The difference is the depth of the water, aeration, and the filtration system. In the first pond I designed and built all the components, and this pond was done by a professional. It might be time to dig it up and start all over with the same amateur design I used for pond #1.

This story began with me whining about how much work there is to expand the vegetable garden, and it ends with a Nova like burst of energy required to rebuild a pond from scratch, It isn’t going to happen, I’ll spend five bucks every year to add new goldfish just like I do with the flowers.

Spring is in the Air

Officially, it is still seven days away from the formal end of winter, but spring is in the air. Winter will lose the battle and allow the sun to return and warm the planet again. One would think that with all of the freezing and warming that planet Earth would begin to crack, maybe it does. Earthquakes are caused by the tectonic plates shifting under us. Who knows, I may be on to something, and win a Pulitzer prize for geologic science.

What I do know is that the trees and shrubs are beginning to bud, although ever so slightly. My desire to sit at the computer to write for my blog is waning as I find myself staring out the window at the sunny days. The to-do list for the garden is building in my mind, and I have some really nice projects lined up. The problem will be to find the physical energy to do them. At the moment the ground is still frozen and hard as granite in the morning, and becomes mushy soft and slippery (that’s what she said) when the day heats up. So I sit at the computer and ponder how I will clean the pond to restock it with fish while daydreaming about the flowers I will plant to make the Monet Vision a vision. Each day I retire totally worn out and ready for a ten hour nap.

I can’t really complain about our winter this year, because I only had to shovel snow once. Most winters the shoveling is a daily task. Same goes for low temperatures. This thing about global warming may be real, except our winters vary from year to year, and I’ll never believe that man made global warming is a real thing. It is more like a communist plot to over throw the civilized world. With summer coming even President Joe Biden will be able to walk out to the street to buy his ice cream cones from local Mexican street vendors. If we are very lucky, he will wander off and get lost.

My memory is beginning to fade. I am actively making dates to conduct vision screenings at schools and then forgetting all about them. This morning the contact at a pre-school reminded me that she will see me tomorrow. After seeing my deer in the headlights look she followed up with a reminder that I made the date to screen all of her kids and that today was just the Tuesday-Thursday classes, and tomorrow will be the Monday-Wednesday classes. If anything scares the hell out of me it is the thought of losing my memory. Once it begins it tends to go fast. Seven days to go and counting fast.

Cause For Celebration

As my body ages my goals change to things that do not involve physical effort. There was a time when I exercised not for health but for the challenge of pushing my body to the limits. Now, I tend to remain seated. Is sitting an exercise? For twenty years my single biggest physical activity has been gardening followed by bicycling. If I could be biking while working the garden I’d be supremely happy. I have mentioned this many times, my garden has a name, “The Monet Vision”. To make it interesting I’ve added the theme after the name because I try to make it different every year, like Monet Vision-Golden Glow. This year I’ve decided to name it Monet Vision-Retired. Each year the theme depicts a color scheme or a specific floral planting. Because I am in the process of downsizing and will be giving up the castle sometime soon, I thought it necessary to redesign the garden to eliminate some maintenance. The problem is that I don’t quite know how to do that. I do, but the perfect scheme would cause me great amounts of energy expenditure and a large cash outlay. There was a time when the cash outlay would have been the greatest deterrent, but today it is the energy, both physical and mental, that challenges me.

One focal highlight of the garden is a water feature which I call the pond.  The pond gave me a new dimensions of plant life to exploit and enjoy. Even Monet needed water to grow his infamous water lilies. Water in the garden breeds mosquitoes and the pesky creatures defy enjoyment. To ward off the blood sucking pests a new element is introduced to the pond, i.e. mosquito eating fish. Ponds requires the movement of water to be effective in keeping fish. Fish require oxygen and moving water via water falls, and rapids add the oxygen, as well as soft sounds and contemplative visual scenes to sooth the soul. Last January, the mechanism for creating this water movement, i.e.the pump, died, and so did my fish. When water reaches thirty-two degrees F it changes phase and turns into ice. The water below the ice is probably at thirty-three degrees. I have worked with my hands and arms up to my elbows in such water and can testify that it is not pleasant, nor smart to do so.

During the winter I contemplated the maintenance needed to restart the water flowing again. The dead pump allowed the stream that connects the water fall to the pond to dry up. This enabled me to get into the stream and to rip out the pond grass from either side of the water fall. It sounded easy, but in reality it took me three weeks of intense labor to cut the roots of the grass and to lever the system out of the river bed with a crow bar. All of this was done while in a crouch with my knees on a pad and my toes crunched up under my weight. At my age, getting up from this position requires considerable energy and time for my joints to relax back into their normal position. Anyway, I opened up the stream from the grasses that were choking the water and forcing it to overflow the banks. This backup caused me to lose a lot of water every day and water although plentiful does not come free where I live. By the time the grasses were gone, the remainder of the weeds in the garden took off like one of Elon Musk’s rockets to the Space Station. Another six weeks later I had completed a 360 degree tour of weeding and shrub trimming around the house. It was now time to install the pump, but I hadn’t bought it yet. I went into COVID-19 shock when I learned the cost to replace the pump from the original Japanese manufacturer had risen to five hundred and fifty dollars a full 25% more than previous. Another week of research on the internet and I finally hit the check out button on a replacement for less than three hundred dollars.  Take a guess where it is made, yep you guessed it, Taiwan, ROC (Republic of China). It will be hard to swear off buying from China when it affects the pocket book so drastically. If my plan works, this will be the last pond pump that I will buy in my lifetime.

By the time, the pump arrived, the stream bed which had been dry all spring was now full of weeds again. Another two hours on my knees with my toes crunched under were needed to clear the stream bed before I could wrestle the pump into place and hooked up. The final step was to plug it in and pray it worked, it did, and that is cause to celebrate!

One of My Best

Day 10- Quarantine-Dredging the Pond

This morning was perfect for a day in the garden. The temperature was mild and the wind was calm. After of winter of catching wind blown leaves it was time to clean the pond. Where in the world these leaves come from is a mystery. Each fall I hire Mexicans to clear my garden of leaves, but I pulled oak, maple, ginkgo, pear, apple, and poplar from around the yard this spring. Pond cleaning is a job I dread for a couple of reasons: one, it tires me out too fast, and two, because it is a super-dirty, and smelly task. All the while I raked through the water with my fifty-year old leaf rake I kept wondering if I would awaken a new COVID-19. There are so many pathogens released from decaying matter it is entirely possible. One year, I had a pond filled with Ichthyophthirius multifiliis protozoan more commonly referred to as “ich”. The cure was not easy, but effective.

Two years ago in June, my Son-in-law gifted me with some fish, two Koi, and a dozen comet goldfish; one Koi was white the other gold, they were two inches long, the comets were one inch, and their color varied from solid gold, and some had variations of white and black. By the end of that first summer they had tripled in size and I took special care to maintain them over the winter, and happily they survived. This is the first batch of fish to have done so in over five years. The trick I used was to keep my pump running through the winter which kept the water moving and aerated. The pump failed this January, and the fish were dead by February. It was sad because last summer these fish experienced explosive growth. The two Koi grew to over twelve inches long and the comets were easily six inches. It helped that I fed them all season. Oh well, so much for my attempt to sustain life in the pond.


Needless to say, I didn’t see, or come near any living people to catch or to spread the COVID-19 virus. I listened to the Mayor of Chicago chastising the population for not heeding her warning to stay in place. Too many people are out running, walking, skating, skate boarding along the lake front bike path. She fired a shot over our heads and threatened to fine people who don’t heed the advice.

On the Federal level, the scare is wearing down. I can tell by the amount political finger-pointing going on between the parties. Political badminton disappeared for the last couple of weeks and now it is returning. If President Trump  could cure everyone that is sick, raise those who died, restored the economy to its pre-virus status, and eradicate the virus the Never-Trumpers and Democrats would accuse him of some wrong doing. In my history of listening to politics through the terms of thirteen presidents I have never witnessed anything as bad as the hate and resentment against Trump. The country is clearly divided and has been for twenty years. There is no more partisanship where the parties debate and vote for what is right. In today’s world they don’t debate but rather denigrate each other, and vote along party lines. It has become a “them versus us” system whichever party has the most representatives in office are the winners. Thank God the framers were genius in setting up the system with checks and balances. We all cringe when nothing gets done because of the constant blocking of legislation by one party or another, but the system is working as designed.

I was not a fan of President Obama. In my eyes he was a communist whose goal was to destroy America. When he asked for stimulus packages of a trillion dollars I was his biggest critic and voiced my opinion on this blog daily with sarcastic essays and cartoons to make my point. It didn’t matter. Today, when I see them arguing over how to spend two trillion dollars to save the economy I cringe again. How in the hell will we pay that bill? We don’t need Bernie Sanders to steal the Treasury to attempt to pay for his communist policies we are stealing his thunder by doing it in the name of “saving the economy.”

I don’t know how I would handle things if I were in Trump’s shoes, but I believe in the man and his performance so far. Therefore, I will play the game and be a good soldier to save my fellow citizens.

Not a Single Minnow Left

Buddy Koi and Partner

Last week we had a beautiful day here in the tiny town of Frankfort. The birds woke me up early and I actually went out to the garden to plant a Castor Bean seedling a friend gave me. I got the fever. The pond needed another dredging before the water lilies over take it. I got my trusty fifty year old lawn rake out of the  garage and began scraping the bottom of the pond of organic mush, mostly decayed leaves. It took me about forty-five minutes to get around the perimeter. While doing that I kept my eyes open for fish survivors. In that whole time I spotted only one lonely Koi. Last Father’s Day my son-in-law surprised me by stocking the pond with two four inch koi and a couple dozen comet goldfish about on inch long. By the end of summer the koi grew to six inches and the gold fish to four inches.

At the beginning of fall I always shut down the pump which makes the water flow from the pond into a waterfall. That action keeps the water aerated. When the pump is off I usually install three aerators to keep air moving into the water. For three years in a row all the fish went belly up by mid November, that is, until last fall. I kept the pump going all winter long. The electric company kept sending me letters that my electricity consumption was thirty percent higher than any of my neighbors. Such is the cost of saving fish lives. At the end of winter when all the ice had melted on a nice sunny but cold day the two koi sunned themselves, and a beautiful black and orange comet joined them. Success! I saved the fish. I figured I better clear the skimmer of scum and lifted the lid. There sitting on the edge of the skimmer basket was a giant leopard frog. He took one look at me and jumped into deep water. Here we are nearly three months later and I am finally doing maintenance on my water-garden-fish-pond. I didn’t see the big frog, but I did scare up one tiny beeper. Throughout the dredging only the larger white koi revealed himself. I never saw a minnow nor the koi’s partner.

Today, I took a closer look at the pond. The water lillies have tripled in size and have covered over fifty percent of the water surface, by the end of next week they will be giant beautiful deep green round pads and the flowers will begin to bud. I stared at the beauty of it when I spotted a slight movement beneath the foliage. Ah! There between the pads was the second koi, and then his partner appeared. I am a proud daddy of two koi. But where are all of the comets? Then I remembered the now missing big frog. I’m sure he had a very large grin on his face as he departed the pond for the wetland behind the house. Still, there should be some comet minnows hiding somewhere, but I have yet to spot a single one.

Oh yeah, I finally limped back into the house after four hours. I haven’t been able to move my legs since. My quads and glutes are just burning and keeping me from bending, sitting, walking, or anything. The best first day of gardening ever!