First Cattail

Today, I sweat my formerly large body working in the garden. It is a fact, weeds grow faster then pretty flowers. I’m back to where I started six weeks ago, round two of weeding. The first plot was to transplant some pachysandra to a dead spot under my windows. The new plants are doing well, but in the past weeks the chick weed, purslane, wild strawberries, and thistle have grown up to hide the newly planted ground cover. So why do I want ground cover over a thick mass of weeds? Ground cover looks better when it is established. Thick masses of weeds look just like that, thick masses of weeds.

After the first hour, I took a rest to hydrate and cool down. I found myself staring at the beds and imagining how to make them better. I was thinking that the pond looks much better now that I thinned the cattails and the irises. Something looked different about the cattails. Yes, by God it flowered, I have a genuine cattail. Why am I so excited? Because this is the first time in ten years that this plant has flowered. I remember when I got the darn thing. I went on a pond-plant hunt out in the countryside. I stopped at ditches and dug lilies, and at another ditch I spotted the cattails and dug out a clump for my pond. Why pay for horticultural materials that grow wild in streams and lakes? I got my water lilies the same way. When I thinned the cattails this spring I was on the verge of gutting them completely, but to be honest I didn’t have the strength to yank them all out. I only got the easy ones. They must have gotten the message.

After five minutes of day dreaming about all the new work I conjured up it was time attack the weeds again. Tomorrow it’ll be a new bed that I haven’t touched yet this year.

I learned one thing from this exercise i.e. never, never, never give the garden a year off. Last year I made Peggy my excuse for not working the yard, and the native perennials established a strong hold that is killing me this year. If only I can find someone who will do the work to my satisfaction, I will gladly pay to have it done.

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!

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One of My Best

Day 58-SIP-Mystery Hatch

It all happened under my nose. Some wonderful creature of nature decided to use the decorative pine tree under my office window as a maternity ward. I never saw a thing, even though I pass by the tree to get into and out of my house everyday. It wasn’t until two days ago that I found some egg shells on the front lawn. At first I thought someone’s garbage got blown away and I happened to catch it. Then I looked more carefully at the broken eggs, there were six of them, scattered about. I cook with eggs everyday and I could not have broken an egg like these were broken. Duh! The light went on. Something broke these eggs from the inside. It had to be a chick of some kind, but what? Snakes lay eggs, and I have a rather large garter snake that shows up very year about this time, but these eggs were too large even for the big reptile, and garter snakes have their young live. No one in my neighborhood raises chickens, so I figured that is out, and these were much too large to be a song birds eggs. Maybe a turtle? Nah, I’ve uncovered turtle eggs before and they were not even half of these. That left me wondering if the two mallards that have been lolling about my pond for the past few days are it.

A little more probing and I found the nest under the decorative pine. There are the remnants of at least four more eggs in there all with openings. The eggs are about the same as a large chicken egg, but the color is just a tad different. Only the ducks and the geese are left. I truly believe that these eggs are a mite too small for a goose. So again the finger of suspicion points at the mallards.

This Is What I wish I Will Soon See in My Yard

A couple of days ago, when I reported that the mallards were hanging around I expressed a wish that they would have a family in my yard and use the pond as their training ground for the babies. A wish come true perhaps? Except there is no sign of babies anywhere. Could it be they were discovered by a raccoon who had a feast and left his mess for me to clean? Only the mallards know for sure. I will have to keep my eyes open for them to see where they hide when not in my yard. I’ve counted nine to ten eggs shells, so that would be about the right size brood for a duck. What a joy it will be to discover mama and papa feeding and nurturing the family for me to watch.

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!

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