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Cranking up the Garden

April 1, 2010


There has been a hiatus on this blog over the winter, but now that I’m working in the yard again I’ve had several opportunities to pull out the camera. Alas, last weekend when lugging bags of dirt around I pulled some muscles in my lower back (if you’re a gardener you probably know which ones) and reinjured them again today. Progress will be measured for a couple of weeks according to how well I integrate stretching and allow healing to happen. This isn’t my first gardening injury, and won’t be the last.

There are 3 types of cactus in the mid-ground of this photo. The long pads are what were removed.
A recent injury, in fact, is marked by the scar on my left index finger that took ages to finally fester and reject the cactus spine I picked up when I dissected and dug up the roots of a large prickly pear cactus in my front yard. It was one of those ideas that didn’t pan out, a cactus garden in a spot where it was too much bother to keep dragging a hose to water landscaping plants.

Over time I found I liked a spineless upright prickly pear best–it was looking better than a larger sprawling one nearby that I started from a few elongated pads given me by the neighbor across the street. The bigger one, I found, attracted a type of bug (I think it is commonly called an Assassin bug) with a piercing proboscis, leading to a steady stream of juice from each meal site, and they sometimes migrated onto the prettier spineless plant. Grass and weeds grew between the branches and were painful to remove. The final negative for this cactus was that while the flowers were pretty, the tunas didn’t produce good tasting juice, like the other plant. So it came out this spring when I concluded that less is indeed more when it comes to having a cactus garden in your yard.

I used several long tools, a saw, pruner blades on extensions, and a long kitchen tong to pick up and place long pads into the many boxes I pulled out of the recycle bin down at Edgecliff City Hall. For once I was grateful to all of the recyclers who were too lazy to break down their boxes. On one trip for boxes an elderly woman dropping off her bagged newspapers helped support me by one hand while I leaned, hooked over the edge by one knee, and reached deep into the dumpster for sturdy boxes. I’m sure she had a story to tell at dinner that evening. It reminded me of the recycling day activities in March, 1992, when I went home and that afternoon give birth to my second child.  :)

The brown, disturbed area around the extant cactus is where the other one was removed. Less is more when it comes to landscaping with cactus.
After demolishing that plant, I had one last task. Cactus in the compost wasn’t an option, I didn’t want to bump into these spines again. Boxes and several bags were piled at the curb in the trash. I feared these men would refuse to ever pick up my trash again, like postal workers refusing to deliver to homes with viscous dogs, if I didn’t make sure they avoided injury from these pads. Several of the boxes were closed, but some were open flats with a few branches that could shift and stab, and woe to the man who bumped one of those plastic bags into his knee or thigh as he carried it to the truck. So on the first dark Monday after Daylight Savings Time began, I had my ears open for the distinctive engine of the trash truck. And when they appeared (I am their second stop) I popped out the kitchen door, gloves in hand, and waited at the curb in the dark for them to pull up. Despite their protests that they could move it all, I shifted the bags and lifted the open boxes and put them in the trash truck, leaving only the completely closed boxes for them. And I did see one man wince and pull his hand back, so I know there was at least one small injury.

My current task, one that is slowing the actual planting of my garden, but one that will materially improve the plant growth in my front yard veggie garden, is to build small terraces on the gentle slope down from the garage toward the street. Last year was the first for that portion of my "edible estate" (a vegetable garden put in the front, replacing turf and putting the spot into food production). I didn’t give enough thought to drainage and the plants in the lower corner of that bed were weak enough that they suffered the assaults of insect pests and disease. This year I lined one side with untreated lumber to shape the garden in order to to keep feet dry. Once the garden is in full swing, the boards probably won’t even be visible from under my hedges of peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.


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