Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Day the Pond Went Dry

September 27, 2011.
The pond is officially dry.
While the middle is obviously muddy, no pool of water remains. Not a single puddle.
Instead of an ugly hole, it is like an impressionist painting. The horseweed and other things that have been growing below the usual water level are afire with autumn's passion. This is surrounded by green trees, green grass and weeds and wild flowers.
We have watched the water pool diminish all spring and summer.
The pond leaks. We've known this ever since the first time we went to our place after signing the deed.
This is how is looked that first summer, July 2007. You can tell, if you look closely at the shoreline, that the water was receding.

The summer of 2008 must have brought more rain than the year before, because in July 2008 it was completely full. That fall, (or was it fall of 2009?) after the water level had fallen low, we finished pumping it dry -- much to the chagrin of thousands of crawdads and frogs. Then we hired an excavator to attempt a patch using bentonite clay. The springs that feed the pond began running again in February and we had a full pond all spring and summer until the springs stopped running sometime in late summer and the water level dropped but did not go completely empty. That was the way it was... until this year. Only one spring ran briefly in March or April, after some heavy rain. The pond filled a bit, but then started draining again and continued until the last puddle was gone today.
The pond has provided many picturesque moments. In July 2009 (above) I attempted to capture mist dancing on the surface.
And again, November 2009, in a soupy fog -- a scene worthy of any Arthurian-legend movie.
The exposed mud, in my mind, gives the impression of a seashore, where tides and waves keep the edges scoured of vegetation.
In reality, the water level had just dropped over the previous months.
In some ways, the annual draining made the pond more usable. We cannot depend on it for irrigation in dry years, obviously. However, as the pond drained in late summer and fall, the exposed area gave us better access. When granddaughter Ivy (then age 2) came to visit last fall, we walked to the water's edge and laughed as the frogs each gave a screeched and hopped from the shore into the water with a plop. We tossed in sticks and stones.
Every visit to our house elicited cries of "Let's see the frogs!" until it was too cold for the frogs to be out.

The frogs have now abandoned the place. And the crawdads? Many became breakfast, lunch and dinner for blue herons that visited more and more frequently as the water receded. I am sure that raccoons and other critters also held great feasts.
Where does the water go as it leaks out the bottom of the pond?
Good question. One we probably will never answer.
Will we try to fix the pond again, now that it is dry?
That is not in our immediate plans. We were warned the first time that fixes rarely work. But maybe someday, when the stars are alligned just right... then again, maybe not.
Sometimes you just have to accept things the way they are.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Picked It!

All scrubbed up and shiny.
This side was against the tree.
I picked it.
I couldn't resist.
It looked so lovely.
So tempting.
And it came away so easily.
You can see by its backside that it probably, maybe, ought to have stayed on the tree for a couple more weeks.
But, too late... I picked it.
So that is that.
Our whole apple crop of 2011.
One half pound (that is 8 ounces) of apple.
Picked yesterday, on the Autumn Equinox. Harvest Home.
May all of your harvests be joyful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Apple Pickin' Time

This is our apple crop.
One lonely little apple.
Actually, this is quite a large apple and looks even bigger because it is on a small tree.
All of our trees are young and we didn't want them to produce this year, so any fruit that set was pulled off. We missed this one, however, and its mate, which fell off while still green.
For the last few weeks we have watched (from a little distance) as this apple got redder and redder.
Yesterday I got up close to check it out. It is an Arkansas Black, which the book says is harvested in October. But this apple looks done now.
From a slightly different angle. Isn't it pretty?
But it's not October, quite.
I don't want to pluck it too soon. Yet I don't want some greedy squirrel or raccoon stealing it.
After we pick it, we will wait several weeks to taste it, as Arkansas Blacks don't reach peak flavor until they have been in storage for at least a month. That means this will be our "keeper," the one we are dining on the following spring.
It's so beautiful. But it's not October yet.
But it's ALMOST October.
To pick, or not to pick.
What would you do?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dew-covered September Morn

Cooler mornings bring fog and heavy dew. All of the spider webs are hung with jewels, shimmering in the gray light, then glittering when the sun tops the trees.

The Queen in her glittering den.
Glitter-covered milkweed pod (with spider web).
Dew-brightened goldenrod.
Butterfly on dew encrusted tall Joe-Pyeweed, a native Eupatorium.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Singing the Blues-berries

Blueberries in waiting.
Autumn is a perfect season to start planting again. New cabbages, lettuces, broccoli and such have been in the ground for a month. Now I am transplanting perennials from one garden to another and today planted new blueberry bushes.
We love blueberries and eat these antioxidant-nutrient-rich berries every day. So planting them on our homestead seemed a natural thing to do.
However, growing blueberries in Kansas is no small feat.
First you must create the appropriate soil acidity. Kansas soil pH (acidity-alkalinity) hovers around the neutral zone (6.5 to 7.5 pH) and blueberries require quite acid soil (5.5 or lower). Instead of trying to amend the native soil to match that low pH, a local grower recommended that I plant my blueberries in straight peat moss.
She also cautioned me to get only Canadian sphagnum peat moss, as the stuff from the other U.S. source does not have the appropriate pH.
Blueberries do not have extensive root systems, so you don't have to replace a large garden area with peat moss. Just dig a hole large enough to contain 1.8 cubic feet of sopping wet peat moss and you are good to go.
The peat moss must be sopping wet before you put it in the planting hole. Otherwise, it will be quite difficult to saturate it. I mix the peat moss and water in a wheelbarrow. It must be stirred (not shaken) with a shovel to thoroughly saturate it. This is the hardest part of planting blueberries. It takes quite a bit of water and a lot of stirring to fully saturate the moss. Do it in two smaller batches as this makes the job easier.

Dump soppy sloppy goopy peat moss into hole.
Mixing it in a wheelbarrow makes it a simple task to dump the peat moss in the hole. If the peat moss does not entirely fill the hole, get more peat moss. Do not add native soil to peat moss or put it over top of it, as that will change the pH.
Dig hole in peat moss. This one had to be made larger.
Place plant in hole and fill back with peat moss.
Top with mulch of your choice.
Plant the blueberry and put a thick mulch in a 2x2-foot area around it and you are done.
Done planting, that is.
Blueberries want good drainage, but require lots of water -- 3 to 5 gallons per plant at least twice a week during the growing season when the temperature is above 70. I dutifully watered my blueberries twice a week all summer. They all survived, although some obviously suffered. You must keep up the watering schedule through Thanksgiving (late November) or until the first snow cover -- whichever comes first.
I keep a hose coiled in the blueberry patch for the frequent
watering that they need.
When I picked up four more (really beautiful) plants from the grower at the farmers market recently, she told me that twice a week watering was a minimum. She watered her blueberries every day during the intense heat we had in July and early August. That is commitment. Her farm has 30,000 blueberry plants.
Blueberry survivors.
Blueberries also need regular feeding. The sheet of instructions recommended horse manure tea (5 parts water, 1 part manure, steep for a few hours and pour on liquid) or a commercial organic fertilizer called Holly Tone (1 cup per plant) once a month March through August. Apply in a 6-inch ring around the plant. The grower emphasized that once a month feeding is a minimum. As with the watering, more frequent feedings are sometimes needed. Unfortunately, I did not feed our blueberry plants at all this summer. Yet, they survived and most put on new growth.
Blueberries are not for the lackadaisical gardener. They require frequent attention. However, blueberries are long-lived, not reaching maturity until they are 7 years old. The bushy plants can range in size from 5 to 8 feet tall and will produce pounds and pounds of berries for years -- when properly tended.
People like blueberry pies, cobblers and jam, but we just like them raw. So when we have more than we can eat all at once, we'll just toss them in the freezer.
Our 15 blueberry plants should give us plenty of berries when in peak production. We have a variety of cultivars, with early and late producers in the mix. So when a 3-year-old granddaughter who loves to eat blueberries comes over, she has a long season in which to help pick them. Unfortunately, she won't stay 3 forever. Yet the blueberries will be there for her.

Mmmmm.... blueberries.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Zebra Swallowtail dining on goldenrod nectar.
Autumn has stuck her foot in the door and Summer is packing her bags.
I doubt that Summer has had her final word, yet. Kansas Septembers and Octobers often bring quite toasty temperatures in the midst of sometimes unseasonable cold.
However, for the last three weeks or so, the high temperatures have largely been below 95 degrees F and are now generally in the 80s and upper 70s. This morning, I awoke to a chilly 43 degrees.
The pole beans don't quite look like they
did when this was taken in June, but they
are reviving.
With the cooler weather and a little bit of rain, lots of things are expressing a renewed interest in life.
The green beans have revived and are setting on beans again. After a few weeks of 100-degree highs, they had looked like toast (literally). Only the fact that other things were higher priority on my list of things to do saved them from being cleared out of the garden. Now I am harvesting beans again. They are not coming on by the bushel, but they are justifying their existance. The bush beans did not fare so well and have been cleared out in favor of fall crops of cauliflower, lettuce and radishes.
The peppers and tomatoes look happier and are blooming and setting fruit again, although if the temperatures stay too low, they will stop that silliness.
What the compost heap looked like in the spring.
The plants are not the only things taking a more energetic interest in life. My enthusiasm has also revived in the cooler weather and I have undertaken some of the more strenuous garden tasks.
The first major project was rolling over the compost heap.
I am not going to make any pretense -- I am a lazy composter. I pile stuff in a heap and twice a year rebuild it. So last week I pulled out the pitchfork and rolled the compost heap.
Instead of just rebuilding it where it was, I rolled the heap forward. Instead of dividing it into several sections, I made one big heap, with old wooden pallets set upright as a wall to disguise it from the garden side, then added two sides for containment.
The new compost heap.
A side view. I am always so proud of my newly rebuilt
compost heaps.
I left one end empty so that I can roll the compost heap back and forth. Maybe I will actually turn it more than twice a year now.
As a result of moving the heap forward, I now have a nice, grass- and weed-free area where I will plant flowers to cut for bouquets.
I love to have fresh flowers placed about the house, especially when we have guests. Sometimes it is difficult to find enough things suitable for bouquets in the gardens around the house, so building a garden for cutting flowers is a dream come true.
After the compost: A brand new flower bed.
That has sent me into a whole new frenzy, making a list of flowers suitable for cutting.
Zinnia, oh zinnia...
The list includes both perennials and annuals and quickly became so long that I know I can't possibly put them all in the new area. The space looked so huge at first and, after compiling the list, now looks quite small. However, piles of mulch, finished compost and horse manure near the compost heap are killing out grass and weeds. When those piles are used, I will have new bare areas to play in.
The most difficult task of planting the cut flower garden won't be finding suitable flowers, but deciding which ones not to plant (yet). I want to have blooms all through the growing season, so when they bloom and how long they bloom will be important factors in my selection. We will certainly have zinnias -- so reliable, so varied in color and size, blooming mid-summer through fall. Garden phlox, gladiolus, sunflowers, carnations, celosia, asters, salvias, cosmos, rudbeckia, gaillardia and on and on the list goes. I feel my heart racing at just the thought of the many varieties of each of these flowers that I have to choose from. This week I started the process by planting daffodil bulbs for early April bouquets.
Gardening provides endless opportunities for thrills and excitement. And the changing of the season revives my energy and enthusiasm for this pursuit.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Baby Snakes!

All bright and shiny after shedding its skin.
Last night I found this little one hiding next to a pot just outside the back door.
I did not see her/him at first when I went out to dump food scraps in the compost heap, but found its still-damp, just-shed skin nearby in the garden. In the twilight and against the freshly lain wood mulch, the skin looked like a narrow strip of tissue paper. I looked closer and picked it up, finding it still damp. I carried the skin with me to the compost heap and found this snake upon my return.
Snake in a bucket. An old friend use to use the term "baby snakes!" as an
exclamation instead of more standard phrases, such as "holy cow!"
The previous day, I saw an identical baby snake huddled in the shade of the same pot in mid-afternoon. My first response was an immediate back-pedal -- not because I was afraid to walk past it, but so that I could go to the garage on the other side of the house and get a bucket before it left.
When you live surrounded by woods growing from a rocky hillside, you learn to anticipate the presence of the venomous copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Any snake with these type of beautiful markings is suspect until further inspection verifies that it is not either one of those. If one shows up, it is not necessary to kill it, but you can sweep it into a bucket, put a lid on it and transport the snake to a safer (for both of us) location.
However, it quickly was clear that we were not dealing with a venemous snake. Both copperheads and rattlesnakes have much heavier bodies and wide heads. Baby copperheads have green tail ends and baby rattlesnakes have a button on the end of the tail, the seed of the signature rattle.
"Eyelashes" are the old skin beginning to peel back.
When we were trying to get the little one in the bucket, it opened its mouth wide and vibrated the end of its tail, mimicking the rattler. This is a characteristic of rat snakes. And these snakes must be baby Western rat snakes, aka "black snakes," which lose these markings and take on the black color as they mature. The first little snake had what looked like eyelashes, an indication that it was getting ready to shed. I put it among the mint growing around the elderberries, which is quite a distance to travel for a little snake. So I presume the second snake was another individual, but who knows.
This is the time of year when rat snakes hatch. It also is the time of year when copperhead babies are born (they give birth to live young). So caution is in order. However, I will continue to be the barefoot gardener.