Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Don't these black raspberries look tidy now? Beware; it's tick country.
What is that tickle?
I frantically lift my shirt or my skirt, or drop my pants, and look (to the best of my ability, depending on where the tickle is). Every little ruffle of clothes or brush of a hair tickles. So I'm constantly checking -- especially if I've been crawling around in the garden. Gah! What is that tickle?

I try to be more discreet when I'm in public. But still I check. I haven't had to head to the restroom to check a tickle... yet. But every little tickling sensation raises suspicion.

It is the season of paranoia.

Tick paranoia, that is.

A couple of weeks ago I started work on my black raspberry bed, clearing away extraneous plants, dead canes and weeds, which required much crawling on the ground. I also walked a short way into the nearby tall grass to dump wheelbarrow loads of pruned canes.

As I sat down to dinner that evening I felt something tickling my belly. When I pulled up my shirt I discovered almost a half dozen tiny ticks  crawling up my abdomen. Later I took off my clothes (outside) and found quite a few more clinging to the inside of my shirt and jeans. Yikes!

So the black raspberry patch is a tick haven. Perhaps now that I've removed some of the shade, making it less cozy, the ticks won't like it as much. Maybe. But they seem to be everywhere. When I'm in the garden for any period of time I can expect to bring home a tick or two. These are tiny ticks, most likely the nymph phase, which is their second stage after hatching out. The larval stage ticks are even tinier and have just six legs, while the nymph and adult stages have eight. Yes, eight. They are arachnids not insects.

I think these guys are American dog ticks, not the black-legged deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. The other day I tried looking at a couple with a magnifying glass, but they moved so fast it was hard to get good detail. And counting their legs is nearly impossible.

While the dog ticks supposedly don't transmit Lyme disease, they can transmit other serious diseases, some potentially fatal. That makes thorough (and I do mean thorough; don't get squeamish) body checks necessary every night. (Believe, just taking a shower is not sufficient.) I might begin doing tick checks more than once a day. The sooner you get them off, the less chance they have of transmitting disease. Tick checks are best done with a friend who can more easily check those places you can't check yourself very well. Tick checks with a friend can be fun. Have a glass of wine and some chocolate and go with the flow. Just get all the ticks off first. And flush 'em.

I've also started putting my work clothes in the dryer and running it on high heat for 10 minutes (actually, I give it two or three minutes more) when I come in. That's supposed to kill any ticks still clinging to my apparel.

But I am beginning to tire of ticks just a bit. It seems I must remove my clothes every time I come indoors after working in the garden so I don't shed ticks everywhere. Last night I found four ticks on my husband, and he hadn't even been outside. Today I vacuumed the entire house, hoping to suck up any ticks that might be waiting for one of us to pass by.

Rather than rewrite all the tick info I found on the wide Web I'll just direct you to this link  and send you to K-State Research and Extension where you can find a free, downloadable publication about ticks here; look for publication MF598.

No need to fear, just do tick ch..... Gah! What's that tickle??!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Garden Spears

It's asparagus season!
This cozy pair of shoots was consumed long ago, as I started my harvest just before the beginning of April. Lunch today included super tasty roasted asparagus. It's also great steamed and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or lightly cooked into stir-fries and other vegetable dishes.

In times past I've been forced to wait until almost mid-April for my first taste of this perennial vegetable. But our recent milder winters and early spring warm-ups seem to have pushed asparagus season up a couple of weeks. While this might appear to be a good thing to some, I'm not sure it is. Harvest should last only a couple of months regardless of when it starts. And last year the asparagus did not seem as productive as in previous years. It doesn't look like it will be quite as productive this year, either.

Some of the lack came from the disappearance of some of the plants. I'm not sure why they died out -- maybe because I don't water them much during droughty conditions. Anyway, this year I bought a half dozen crowns to fill in some empty spots. The nursery employee who checked out my purchases suggested putting rock salt on it. "They love it," he said. True or not true? Most things I read say that salt is an iffy additive at best, and detrimental over the long term at worst. Asparagus tolerates sodium chloride salt better than other plants, so application of rock salt has been used as weed control, but is not actually beneficial to the asparagus otherwise. Although some sources say that's still a controversy.

I'm not planning to use salt on my asparagus, as I did plant parsley in the asparagus bed, which is supposed to be helpful to the asparagus, although I forget how. Anyway, I'm always looking for ways to use my beds for more than one crop. I also get cilantro popping up in the asparagus. Since my husband eats lots of cilantro, I let it grow wherever it wants to -- almost.

Asparagus is relatively easy to grow. It prefers loose soil with plenty of organic matter, although it will still do well in pretty much any soil type, as long as the pH is about neutral. It's getting too late to plant asparagus here in northeast Kansas, so scope out your garden areas and start preparing your asparagus bed now, digging deeply and adding compost. Planting in a raised bed helps keep it well drained in extra rainy times, and allows the soil to warm a little sooner in spring. Don't harvest your asparagus in the year you plant it, and then harvest only minimally until the fourth year, when you can harvest the full eight weeks. You can extend the harvest a couple more weeks by allow a couple of fronds to form for each plant about midway. That provides energy from photosynthesis.