Friday, October 2, 2009
Gardening in the Rockies~~Losing the Battle, and the War, too
perhaps the most expensive squash and tomato in the country. They serve as examples of what judicious gardening practices can produce during an interesting growing season in southeast Wyoming.
I love to garden; I really do. I love scrounging around in the garage in order to find my gardening tools, having haphazardly tossed them in there during a September blizzard the previous year. I love pulling on my gardening gloves for the first time in the spring, feeling the frenetic rustling and scrabbling of the spider families nestled there, apartment-style, in the fingertips. I love watching those same gloves rocket across the garage to hit the windows on the opposite wall and slide down behind Bill's table saw. But I digress . . .
In case you didn't know, and most people don't, (considering that the Weather Channel weatherpersons are more apt to spout the 'F' word than they are the 'W' word), Wyoming has been in the throes of a serious drought for several years. Seven years, I think. But God forbid the weatherpersons should ever tell the rest of you what goes on in our neck of the woods . . .. 'Yes, folks, that winter storm is barreling out of Canada into the Dakotas. By tomorrow night it will be deep into Wyo----F*&k!----DID THAT MAKE MY HEART POUND, OR WHAT, BOB . . . heh heh heh, I almost mentioned that state where Yellowstone is!' . . ..
Anyway, back to the drought. Since we live on a well and electrically pump our own water, I haven't grow a garden at all during the drought. Pumping water for irrigation is not cost-effective. That was my excuse, anyway. Truthfully, I haven't grown an in-the-ground garden for many years. For other reasons.
We have rabbits.
Not pet rabbits, although we had those, too. Kc wrangled them at the county fair, along with chickens, ducks, geese, guinea pigs, and turkeys, for several embarrassingly formative years that she avoids speaking of with great skill (maybe she'll be a weatherperson--she does like the 'F' word). But, I digress, again . . .
Back to the rabbits. Cottontails by the dozens inhabit our property. These are not Thumper-from-Bambi rabbits. These are John Rambo-from-Rambo rabbits. When we still had Buck the Wonder Dog, they were kept at bay, but with his passing some years ago, there has been no stopping them.
Get another dog, you say.
Uh, no. Thank you for suggesting that, though.
See, it's cold here in the winter. In fact cold is insufficient as a descriptor for the bone-deep chill of 'W' in winter. As a weatherperson would say, if they EVER mentioned Wyoming, 'It's F^%&ing freezing out there!' So, that handy-dandy, outside-type, summertime dog would become a Nanook of the North Dogsicle, or, more likely at our advanced age and soft-heartedness, become an inside dog~~fast, quick, and in a hurry~~thus negating his effectiveness as a rabbit extermination system.
Back when there was Buck the Wonder Dog and no drought~~when conveniently-occurring thunderstorms full of water came over every day or so~~I grew a summer garden, 50 X 80 feet. I ordered seed from Burpee and a host of other seed companies, their catalogues entertaining me through the cold winter months as I planned out the incredible harvest I'd enjoy, come fall.
We had a Troybilt rototiller with which Bill plowed the garden. Oh, how I looked forward to early spring, the kitchen windows thrown open to the sound of him cursing like a weatherperson as he was dragged from one end of the plot to the other by that huge machine. Once he was finished and had limped back inside, I used stakes and measured out my rows, following the diagram I drew when I ordered my seed. It usually took me two days to plant.
Buck (during this period nicknamed 'the bastard') stayed on the perimeter of the plot, cowed by my screaming, but if I went into the garage for something, I occasionally came outside to see him running in great arcing swaths through my carefully planted rows~~thus his nickname, and my purchase of a sturdy chain which attached him to his doghouse. I used the appellation so frequently that Kc, then very small, called Buck 'a bassett'. She'd climb up on the baseboard heater under the dining room window and yell through the glass, "Buck, you bassett, you be'er stay out'ta Mom's gar-nen." (see?? A born weatherperson).
Anyway, while Buck was around, I grew some amazing crops. We had corn, sugar snap peas, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, several kinds of squash, kohlrabi, turnips, beets, carrots, cabbage, brocolli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and pumpkins, along with a variety of herbs, including catnip, which now grows 'volunteer' everywhere the seed stops. But once Buck was gone, everything changed. Everything.
I'd plant, just like always, and as soon as the tender plants came up, they would come in the night. Rabbits. Dirty bassetts, as Kc would say. I'd get up in the early morning, dawn my gardening ensemble (fodder for another blog, another time), grab a cup of coffee and walk out in the sunlight to enjoy the fruits of my labors. Half a row of corn would be gone---HALF A FIFTY-FOOT ROW! Sometimes a whole row~~or several rows. Muttering like a weatherperson, I replanted at first. But I soon saw the futility of that.
I soldiered on, though, often flying out the backdoor, grabbing a hoe or a rake on my way through the garage to scatter the gray army into the lilac bushes at the back of the garden. Herds of rabbits munched through my produce like popcorn-eaters at a dollar movie. Disdaining the weeds that sprouted between the rows, they hoovered up whatever I'd planted. My garden became a chewed, shriveled wasteland.
The last straw came when my well-meaning husband helped some friends clean out their barn. They brought truckloads of manure out to our place. I was thrilled! We lovingly spread it on the garden. The following spring, several noxious weeds, including bindweed, which the rabbits ignored, came up with a vengeance. They proved the end of my in-the-ground endeavors.
Since then, I've turned to container planting. I plant flowers and vegetables with some measure of success. Last fall, I was in town and cut behind a local feed store to beat some heavy road traffic (in Wyoming a tractor is usually involved) and found a bonanza. Store personnel had foolishly discarded a six-foot square, two-foot deep, metal bin. Why, it was perfectly good! I wheeled my 84 Chrysler with the big dent in the front passenger door (it's perfectly good, too) into a parking spot and marched right inside. Oddly, the manager looked relieved when I asked him if I could have the bin. I agreed to pick it up as soon as I could drive home and return with Bill and his truck.
"Boy, the neighbors are gonna love this," he mumbled as we hefted the bin into the back of Old Blue an hour later. It was pretty rusty and had a couple bullet holes in it. I didn't care.
"Yeah, it's gonna be great, isn't it!"
We hauled my bin home and pulled it out of the truck, dragging it over near the woodpile so I could take the winter to decide what I was going to do with it.
"F%^king fantastic," Bill the weatherperson murmured.
Come spring, we carried my bin up to the house and placed it between the front flowerbed and a huge spruce tree, on a spot I call no man's land, because grass won't grow there. I used two bricks in place of the bin's missing leg and positioned several of my pots around its perimeter on the ground, envisioning a veritable Oasis of Bliss once the plants grew in. Then Bill and I were off to the garden shop at Walmart. I needed soil for my new planter, and plants for everything.
Once at the garden shop, I asked the clerk if she could tell me about the various potting mixes they had in stock. She ambled over to the pallets of bags and stared into space for a few seconds. "Well, they're mostly dirt, I think." I agreed, deciding not to ask her about the fertilizer stacked nearby. Bill brought the truck up, and we loaded twenty bags. I also bought plants: three kinds of squash, a dozen tomato plants, several herbs, geraniums, dahlias, petunias, lobelia, snap dragons, pansies--you name it, I bought it.
I wrote a large check and presented it to the dirt expert. Bill drove us home, where he pulled right up to the Oasis of Bliss. I tossed some rocks in the bottom of the bin, for drainage, and he cut open and dumped the soil in. I carried the plants over onto the concrete in front of the garage, where they could 'harden up' for a few days before I planted them. Bill watered down the new earth in my bin. All was right with the world.
A few days later, I planted, watered, gave everybody a shot of Miracle Grow fertilizer, and waited for things to burgeon. But the weather remained cool, so it was slow going. Finally, in early June, it began to warm up a bit, and the drought was declared officially 'over'~~not by the TV weatherpersons, mind you, but by the National Weather Service. They apparently can utter the 'W' word without risk of instant flagellation by the Weather Gods.
It was raining everyday, and my baby plants were loving it. Then one day it hailed. Just a bit (I forgot to mention, it hails a lot, here). Everybody survived. Things were moving right along by then. My squash plants had secondary leaves and a couple of blossoms ready to open.
A couple of days later, I was packing to go to a writers' conference when I heard the emergency weather radio go off. Severe thunderstorms, it said. Right here, right now.
Lots of hail.
The ground was white with it, the gutters clogged with it. It hailed so hard I couldn't see my Oasis of Bliss. The roar of hail hitting the house was deafening.
As the storm passed, I could see large chips of asphalt roofing in the water pouring off the roof. Out the back windows, I could see paint chips all over the ground. I knew before I went outside that our roof and our siding were gone. I was right; they were.
The Oasis of Bliss, my Island of Joy, was flattened. All my plants were beaten to mush, photosynthesis a thing of the past. I sat in my recliner and cried. I called the writers' conference and told them I couldn't come. Then I called the insurance adjuster. For a while, in the after-storm quiet, I was a weatherperson in the privacy of my own living room.
The adjuster showed up two days later. He's a very nice man and estimated that the storm did about $12,000 damage to our house. A siding crew came and put on new siding. There were so many roofs damaged that I'm still on a list for that repair, which will be done in the spring.
The Oasis? I was going to replant, but a few days after the storm, wan leaves began popping up. In short order, I had four squash plants, two tomato plants and a host of flowers that magically reappeared amidst the wreckage. But our nights through the summer have remained cool~~too cool. And it hailed more.
My Oasis of Bliss looks like a barfly. The plants are tattoed with brown fractures, their spindly limbs scarcely able to bear their own weight. In spite of vigourous fertilizing and occasional weatherperson-type peptalks,(C',mon you little motherF^%&ers, grow) they've remained measley--weak--pitiful. Like small, effete high school sophomores, cruelly forced into football by hopeful fathers.
It was snowing when I got up yesterday morning. I went out in Bill's slippers and my ratty bathrobe and pulled off all the green tomatoes and the single zucchini you see in the picture above. I told the plants goodbye and thanked them for their wasted effort.
It froze hard last night. I think they were relieved.