Summer’s End

cowsAs a child, my brother and I competed for who could collect the most empty cicada shells. It was a clear-cut contest: whoever collected the most shells won. As an adult, spotting an abandoned locust shell inspires a split second of alarm followed by recognition and realignment. First, I remember what it is. Then I recall what it represents: an unofficial message from Mother Nature saying that summer is coming to an end.

Mother Nature tells me about the summer’s end in other ways too: the banks of the rivers and lakes are cracked and dry, the grass is a scorched brown, and the sun sets at least an hour earlier than it did at the summer’s apex. In contrast, my vegetable garden suddenly offers abundant crops that challenge me to keep up. Yes, it’s time to offer tomatoes to neighbors….maybe even complete strangers if it means that it they won’t just rot on the vine. But Mother Nature isn’t the only one handing out the notice.

About a month ago, department stores started promoting back-to-school-sales. Those sales have now reached a fever pitch. Trumpeting huge discounts and large supplies.
About a week ago, school buses started rumbling through the neighborhood on their trial runs. Now parents wait with their young children at the bus stop. The children are often uncertain, even teary-eyed, and wail their reluctance to leave.

And even though it’s still hot and muggy around here, local pools have posted closing dates. Events on weekday nights have become harder to find.

With one huge exception: the state fair. Here the barnyards are busy with determined cowgirls flying around barrels. The stalls are filled to full-capacity. The squeals of pigs and bleats of sheep. Screams of delight from the ride enthusiasts. Muttered complaints from tired adults. Carnival music. Blaring sound from main stage acts all mingled with the sweet smell of cotton candy and fried corn dogs. If you live in the Midwest, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Time now to give a once-over to your summer bucket list. Catch a summer flick. Pack a picnic lunch. Top off a round of Mini Golf with an ice cream cone. And, if you haven’t been to one, go to a state fair.

‘Cause there’s no such thing as an endless summer.

SMF-Jane1Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis.  

 

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Gardening Lessons from Mother Nature

vegetable-flower-garden-cantaloupe-marigold_226e3768261fe09454889d0d38bc8281I don’t care how many gardening articles you read, gardening is mostly about trying …and learning.  As they say, Mother Nature is a good teacher.

Let’s just say that I’m on a steep learning curve.

This year my greatest challenge was figuring out the dirt situation.

 

We moved into our townhouse in the middle of June so I rather hastily threw a garden together. After the first few shovelfuls of dirt turned up mostly chunks of concrete and heavy clay I decided the best solution would be to go with a raised bed. As an experiment (I actually thought it would work), I planted some veges outside the garden area to give them room and to see how they fared in the poor soil. More on that experiment later.

Building a raised bed called for manpower that I simply don’t have. So I enlisted the help of a friend who built me a 16-foot by 4-foot raised bed and then filled it with garden soil. Compared to the lousy dirt that I’d first discovered, this new garden soil was like manna from Heaven. It turns out, though, that the quality of good garden soil was still lacking. That’s a problem that I’m addressing with my new hobby of composting.

Then there was the matter of planning the garden. This is when I learned about companion plants and dealing with the “enemy”….rabbits. Planting with companion plants in mind was like working on a puzzle. It was fun! The solution for dealing with the rabbits was an amusing one. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Stuff old stockings with dog hair and then lay lots of them around your garden. Now these lumpy gigantic wormlike things don’t exactly look lovely, but they work really well (and eventually they pretty much are covered up with the foliage from the plants.)

So…what did I grow? Eggplant, tomatoes, basil, dill, zucchini, sage, thyme, cucumbers, bell peppers and chives mixed in with petunias, marigolds, zinnias, and some milkweed. Totally successful? No.

photo(4)Lessons Learned

There’s a long list of lessons learned from this year’s effort. Here are just a few things I learned.

• I learned that I need to do a better job of placing my crops. The tomato plants pretty much suffocated the red peppers. On the other hand, I’m not a person who places a high priority on neatly lined rows. I like my more random approach–even if it means fewer vegetables.

 

• Start with good soil…and then build it up. Even good soil needs help. Hence, our venture into composting.

• Only plant inside the garden. The cucumbers and dill that I planted outside the official garden area just wilted in the poor soil. In fact, I’d say they were pathetic.

• I also learned that that I don’t have to grow every type of vegetable that I love: in fact, it would be wiser and cheaper for me to buy peppers at the nearby Soulard Farmers Market. Come Saturday afternoon, there are bargains that you just can’t beat—and you’re getting fresh produce.

• I learned that less is probably more. I need to stick to growing the things that we actually eat in abundance. Basil (which we use to make a delicious pesto sauce) and tomatoes will definitely be part of next year’s crop. Dill and thyme won’t be.

• I learned was how much I enjoy flowers. As the flowers spread out, I noticed that my eyes were always drawn to their colors. I’m now including more flowers in my gardening plans.

Do you have some gardening wisdom to share? I’d love to hear your gardening stories and advice. Please comment!

SMF-Jane2Jane Baker is the Co-Owner of Saving Memories Forever. She likes to write, garden, explore, read, meet with friends, and pat her cats. Not known for big spending, she and her husband, Harvey, like to take advantage of the free activities around St. Louis. She volunteers with several local organizations with her favorite one being STL Village.