Tuesday, May 3, 2011


            How did it get to be May so soon? Weren’t we whining about the cold in February ten minutes ago?
            Ancillarily… I love the word “ancillary.” The last time all my best college friends got together—about eight hours after graduation—Jeff Billet tossed off “ancillary” in conversation. At that moment, it struck me I’d probably never hear that word used so casually ever again. So far, I’ve been right, a tiny miracle in itself. (Jeff subsequently went to law school and joined the Air Force, which is about what you’d expect from a guy who used “ancillary” in a sentence. Wherever you are, Jeff, Tina’s roommate Kathy salutes you.) Anyway. Ancillarily, am I the only one whose projects take so much more time than they ought? You know, like finishing this sentence? Remember the list of jobs Tim and I were going to accomplish in a weekend back in “The Best Laid Schemes”?  Well, ha.

            Friday we bought some of the materials for some of the tasks.

Pre-emitted dripline
snakes through New Bed 

On Saturday, Tim worked all afternoon installing drip irrigation to the New Bed and the Big Island in our front yard. He started on the back garden, but ran out of pipe. Here’s a picture of the dripline snaking through New Bed (remember you can click on it to make it bigger). It’s that pre-emitted stuff, with really strange-looking emitters every 12 inches, whether you need them or not. It’s not my favorite, as it can put water where you don’t need it: but, as you can tell by the snaky way it’s laid out, I don’t have a clear idea of what’s going where yet. Plus we have about 800 feet of it clogging up our storage area. Plus it was free (good friends in the irrigation business): for gardeners on a tight budget, that’s a consideration.

It was my turn on Sunday. Thought I’d pop the three ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes into the east end of New Bed after building a three-way support from concrete-reinforcing wire; plant cucumber seedlings and nasturtiums together (hoping to confuse the pickleworm moths) and hang them on the front porch; get the last five delphiniums in the ground before they bloom out; and start configuring the arbor/vine-support that’s going to shade the path through New Bed. That was the plan.

Didn’t quite work out that way.

Accidentally "watered up" weeds

First I had to weed. Here’s a picture of a representative sample of New Bed as it looked Sunday morning. Now, if I were a liar, which I’m not—not because of impeccable moral standards but because I’ve just never been very good at it, laughing or blushing at the wrong moment—I’d tell you that I’d encouraged the weedy growth by a process known as “watering up.” That’s when you turn over the soil in an area slated for future planting and allow the weed seeds in it germinate; then you pull them, allegedly getting a jump on the first crop of undesirables. In my case, however, neglect watered them up. The end result is the same, but I don’t want to foster the notion that I am in any way holier than thou.

Besides, I enjoy weeding. Spent a pleasant hour pulling and humming and grinding sand into my bare knees. Yes, it was warm enough for the short overalls. I call them “oversomes.” What with the morning jammies parade, then the oversomes for an entire afternoon, we are lucky in our tolerant and good-humored neighbors.

Concrete reinforcing wire sheets
leaning against a pallet

Second job: assemble some sort of support from the four sheets of concrete reinforcing wire T and I brought home Friday. This is what it looks like. At about eight dollars a sheet, it’s one of the cheapest staking materials going.

Tim worries about me a lot. He thinks I’m a delicate flower. While flattering, it’s pretty much untrue, as my floral nature runs closer to kudzu than night-blooming cereus. I am kind of uncoordinated, prone to dropping things, cutting off the ends of my fingers with pruners, and stumbling a lot. The reinforcing wire posed a particular dilemma for Tim, as it features pre-rusted sharp-pointed ends for me to impale myself on, resulting in a grisly death from lockjaw. (That’s a joke: we assiduously keep our tetanus shots up to date. You should, too, if you’re playing in the dirt.)  Well, he paints on Sundays. He also knew what I planned to get up to with that wire. He extracted a promise from me that I would wear boots and gloves if I got within 30 feet of it. Fortunately, I was working in the front yard, hard by his studio. With all the windows open, he contented himself with listening for streams of curses followed by silence.

The arrows point to how
Tim hooked the three panels
together into a stable triangular

The wire sheets are four feet by eight. I clipped two feet off the bottom of the first sheet, thinking maybe three two-by-four panels hooked together somehow would work. Then I remembered ‘Better Boys’ are indeterminate, meaning their ultimate height is unknown. (It also means they bear fruit all season instead all at once, like the shorter determinates.) Four feet won’t be tall enough. Bolt-cutters in hand, I snip the remaining six-by-four foot sheet in two lengthwise. That’s better.

Now. How to configure, anchor and stabilize? At this point, Tim couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting for me to hurt myself any longer and came out to help in his blazing-blue nitrile gloves and his slippers. (We really are quite the sartorially splendid pair.) Where I had assembled a jumble of metal and bamboo stakes and rolls of bendy-wire, he suggested an inherently stable triangle, hooked together at three points per side with the aforementioned sharply pointed ends, and clipping off the rest. Brilliant! (See picture at right.)

A four-to-six-sheet layer of newspaper
helps deter weeds

The most dangerous portion of the day’s activities over, T goes back inside. I plant the three tomatoes, one on each outer side of the triangle support. I know the irrigation’s working because once I dug down a couple of inches, the sand was moist enough to form loose clumps. Now it’s time to mulch.

I save newspaper for just such occasions. (Our spare bathtub is full of it, so don’t plan to visit.) I covered the ground with it, pictured here. Why? A four-to-six-sheet layer suppresses weeds for the first season, then decomposes, adding to the soil profile. Because newspaper on its own is not particularly attractive, you need to cover it with something. Continuing my quest for cheapness by utilizing whatever’s at hand, I raked up leaves and dead grass from the lawn (a win-win proposition) and piled them on top of the paper.

Lawn detritus serves nobly
as cheap mulch


A short struggle with the hose ensued. (Seems I’m always struggling with hoses. They’re never where you need them to be when you need them there.) But I’m a patient sort—not to mention stubborn—and we were soon sorted. I gave the tomatoes a deep drink while smugly surveying my handiwork.

The smugness faded when I realized the mosquitoes were biting, meaning it was five-ish. So much for all those other Sunday projects. Still, I’d managed to accomplish something. I’d been an ant. And there’s a certain quiet satisfaction in that.


For locals, two notes of interest. One, Backyard Wild in Southport now stocks ladybugs, earthworms and flash-frozen mealyworms--check it out! Two, Plant Delights Nursery in Garner is holding its second Spring Open House this coming weekend, your chance to bring home some unusual plants to trial: hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Details and directions are at the website linked above.

Hope you had a joyful and fertile Beltane. Thanks for dropping by.


P.S.  The early peaches tasted tart, but they were juicy and had good texture, not at all mealy. Can't wait for the second batch!