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Posts Tagged ‘squirrels’

It is with apologies to Charles Dickens that I title this post, but I just couldn’t resist.  And it is a tale of tomatoes in my garden.

This growing season has been rife with difficulties.   It started out well enough, although everyone was very confused by the extremely early spring that we enjoyed.   It seemed like everything was about a month ahead of time.   This was okay if you were planting seeds out, but if you were planning on procuring seedlings and setting them out, the seedlings simply weren’t available at the time the weather said that they should be.   All those growers and computers just “knew” that I should not have any tomatoes to set out until the middle of May.   By then, it was too late for them to get their roots firmly established before the horrible weeks of over 100º days that were coupled with NO RAIN set in.

Anyway, I had some seeds to plant, and so I did.   Specifically, I have some heirloom seeds of an oxheart type tomato that one of my clients gave me.   She also told me how she plants her tomatoes, and last year, with great trepidation, I followed her method and met with good success.   So I did it again.

You do not start your seedlings indoors.   When it is early spring, you plant your tomato seeds directly into the garden, and water them well.   Then you place a nice quart mason jar over them.   You do not move the jar.   When you feel like you need to water, you just water the bed without moving the jar.  Eventually, your seeds will sprout and grow inside the jar.

For some reason, it never gets too hot inside the jar, probably because it isn’t that big of a surface to collect heat.   Anyway, if your seedlings outgrow the quart jar, you replace it with a half gallon jar, and by the time they get too big for the half gallon jar, it  will be good enough weather for them to survive without protection.

I experimented and discovered that this method also works for peppers.

Considering how long I had to wait for the seedlings I ordered from Cook’s Garden, I won’t be doing that again.   I intend to seed directly into the garden hereafter.  Goodness knows I have plenty of jars.

Notice also the thick layer of mulch on the tomatoes.   That mulch was on all the garden beds.   What it is is clean straw, which is the stubble harvested after the winter wheat crop has been combined.  We buy it in bales form a local feed store.  I use the term “clean” advisedly, since it had plenty of wheat heads in it.  This is because not all wheat is the same height, and when it is combined not all of the wheat crop makes it off the field.  Seeing as how it wasn’t really clean, there were plenty of wheat sprouts to pull up all spring.   But it did NOT have weed seeds, which I believe is what they mean by “clean.”

As things turned out, my tomatoes were doing fairly well considering everything.   But they weren’t ripening.

Very frustrating to have such lovely tomatoes that stubbornly remained green.  Then the weather turned Saharan on us, and the tomatoes did not like it at all.   In order to try to preserve them, I put floating row cover over them and also installed shade cloth on the south side of some of the cages.

And we watered assiduously.   For the first time in my life, my water bill was higher than my electric bill.   It didn’t really surprise me, I was expecting it to be high.   But it was quite impressive.   We are so fortunate that our town has very deep wells that produced well all through the drought and heat, so we were not put on water restrictions like some of the communities to our south were.

You might surmise from the way the plants look that they are suffering from the heat and the drought and that is why they are brown and toasted looking.   You would be partially correct.  The heat and drought made the ants hungry, and the little darlings established aphid colonies everywhere, and also availed themselves of the stem integument as a dietary supplement.   This made the tomato vines very unhappy indeed, and also made them susceptible to various soil borne fungi, which is really why the vines are all brown.   It is more than likely that what is going on here is Fusarium wilt, which is quite common in this area.

Fusarium wilt is why I never put my spent tomato vines into my compost.  I also generally do not put bean plants into it either, as they are generally infected with viruses by the end of the season.   Squash vines also don’t go in there since there are always eggs from the squash bugs on the leaves and quite often borers in the stems.   All of these items get put on the bonfire.   Since I have been doing that, the disease problems in the garden have subsided.   There are still disease vectors, of course, and the bugs come from all around.   But problems have become minimal.

One pest that I have not been able to get rid of is the squirrels.   I realize that there are lots of people who think these animals are cute, with their fuzzy little faces and their flicking tails.   They play together so nicely in the spring when the babies emerge from the nest.    Just don’t ever forget they are rodents, I view them as rats with furry tails.   And they LOVE tomatoes.

Once they have started chewing on a tomato it stops ripening and becomes a haven for the millions of ants to eat off of.    And squirrels are not particular about whether the tomato is ripe:  they will happily eat the ripe half of a half-ripened tomato, which will then rot on the vine.

Squirrels also love beans, and corn, and squash.    I have seen them climb my corn stalks and cling to the plants, gleefully shucking the fresh corn and eating it right off the cob.

Cute Schmute.  I’ve heard that squirrel stew is quite tasty, but it will never appear on my dinner table.   For, as Jim says, “I don’t eat rat.”

However, all that aside, the tomatoes have done pretty well this year.   I have been roasting them regularly and have put away about 15 pints of new roasted sauce to join what was left over from last year.

This is a portrait of last night’s salad.

This was picked about half an hour before we ate it, and contained arugula, kale, endive, mizuna, chard, beet greens, mustard, cucumber, yellow zucchini, carrots, asparagus, beans, broccoli, and a couple of tomatoes the squirrels had missed.

So in spite of the weather challenges and the varmints, I would say we have had a pretty successful garden year.  We are thankful.

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In spite of the fact that February is just barely over, all the early daffodils at The Havens are convinced that spring has arrived.   So far the apple trees are on the fence and haven’t blossomed yet, but if things remain as warm as they have been, it won’t be long before the join the “Aye” vote.

This is one of the early varieties in my herb garden.

Just over a little ways from that is “Ice Follies,’ planted by the gate to the back yard.

Out in the front yard, we have “Jack Snipe” popping up.   This is such a cute one, the flower’s trumpet is less than an inch long.

Right across the walk, tempting Jack, is “Salome”.   She is only beginning her show, after the trumpet opens over about three days it develops into a beautiful apricot.  You can just see the beginnings of the peach color.

This one is also one of Jack’s neighbors.  I have no idea what the name of this variety is.   It  came in a naturalizing mix from McClure and Zimmerman.

Out by the pond, the forsythia has decided to cast its vote in favor of spring.

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Lest you think yellow is the only color showing in the signs of spring, I have to throw a little pink in to the show.   This is pulmonaria, growing along the back of the house right next to the hellebore.

Another kindgom heard from on the “spring referendum” showed up yesterday.   Jim called me from my sewing project to look at who was sunning  herself on the Stroll Garden path.

It wasn’t that warm, so the garter snake was sluggish enough to sit and pose for a proper portrait.   Someday I will be lucky and catch the tongue flick.   Her tongue  is a lovely red.

I was talking to one of my clients the other day about how bored bored bored Mallory has been.   She told me that her cat just loves a small ball of yarn to play with.   Well “Duh!”   Of course that was a great idea.  Not only is it grand fun to unroll the ball and play with it, when your enteretainment team starts to wind the ball back up that is ALSO a grand idea.  The roller has to be careful about where the end of the string is towards the end or one can find the cat climbing your pant legs as she follows the end into the ball.

Now.   About that mop.

I have always used a mop made of cotton strings that clamps onto the mop handle.   Yes, I have to wring it out by hand since I don’t have one of those giant industrial mop buckets with the mop squeezer attached to the side.   And yes, it is a little heavy.   But I see that as a great source of weight bearing exercise that helps me keep osteoporosis at bay.   (I also view my cast iron pans in a similar light.)

A few years ago, some marketing genius came up with the “Swiffer” disposable mop.   You spray some sort of chemical concoction on your floor, mop with this product and “viola!”, when you are done you throw it away.

This accomplishes a few things.   First of all, your floor does not get clean.   The little mop you are using simply distributes the dirt evenly over your floor and the chemical you are using glues it down and puts a shine on it.   So you have a dirty shiny floor.

Then you throw the mop head away.   This helps fill up the landfills around the countryside that don’t really need more stuff filling them.   Then you can go out and buy a new one.    This extracts money from you a few dollars at a time and puts it into the coffers of a giant corporation which doesn’t really need more money except for the fact that they like to channel that money into the pockets of politicians who will approve legislation that allows them to move jobs off shore and reap lots of tax advantages ….

Wait.  I’m getting distracted from mops.

My cotton mop lasts for years, but when it finally wears out I can put it in my compost pile to rot and therefore help nourish my gardens.  Of course, sometimes it wears out faster than others.

Out on the wood shed frame, there are a couple of nails conveniently placed so that when I am finished mopping my floors I can hang my mop out there to dry.  That way it doesn’t stay damp and mildew in the storage closet.   The theory is that once it is dry, I will bring it in the house and stow it in the broom closet where it belongs.   The reality is that more often than not, I forget about the mop for weeks.

The squirrels, on the other hand, have spotters that watch the nails.   “Quick, come!”  they will cry when the mop is dry and forgotten.   “The magical source of bedding and home decor has appeared!”   Busily, they go to the hanging mop and cut off the cotton strings with their sharp teeth.  Then they run off to their respective houses and line their nests with it.

My mop is big, and it can sustain quite a long harvest of this sort, but it became evident the other day when Jim wanted to mop the floor that perhaps the harvest had taken the tool past the point of useful mopness.   Fortunately, we had a replacement mop head in the closet, and so after the bedraggled remains of the old mop were removed, he was able to do a great mopping job.  (Too bad floors don’t stay mopped.)

We decided to donate the old mop to the squirrel decor cause, and so it was slung over a nail out in the woodshed.   As the days went by, the mop migrated.   First it was discovered splayed on the lawn.  Then one day as we were breakfasting I brought the new location of the mop to Jim’s attention.   It was halfway up the elm tree where the squirrels have their biggest colony, entangled in some of the lower branches.  We were amused, bemused.

During the course of the day, I watched the squirrels busily work that mop.   First they disentangled the mop from the twigs it was snarled on.   Laboriously, they dragged it up higher into the tree.   There as it was draped over the fork, they worked on it for a while, divvying up their booty. Some of it was dragged into the hole in the tree.   The remainder of the mop wound up in the nest in a high fork in the tree.

This is a shot of the whole tree so you can get an idea of how much work those little rodents went through.   The squirrel nest is the blob in the high fork on the left.

This is a close-up of the nest, complete with mop.

Eventually the mop will disintegrate.   If it falls out of the tree, the cotton strands are biodegradable.   Some of them are already scattered around the lawn and the robins are already snatching them up for nest material.

I ask you.   Could a Swiffer do all that?

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