Saturday, June 30, 2012

Have You Seen My Patio Table Anywhere?

Because of the storm that we got hit with yesterday afternoon, this post is being made from the air-conditioned family room of older daughter, Kara, and her husband, Adam. Though they live just half an hour away from us, their community was spared severe damage and power loss.


The outside thermometer in my car
registered 111° at about 2:30 p.m. on
Thursday in Ft. Wayne.
This has certainly been a week. Oh yes it has. First, we tied the all-time record high EVER, of 106°, on Thursday. I remember the last time we hit that. It was in 1988 - the year of the last drought. I've heard my grandma talk many times about the other two times it happened, in 1934 and 1936. Grandma said the cracks were so big in the yard that the little chicks fell into them and couldn't get back out.

We haven't had but two-tenths of an inch of rain since the first of May and it's causing all kinds of chaotic nastiness, from field fires to cancellation of 4th of July fireworks celebrations  to crunchy lawns (in JUNE!) to field corn tasseling out at just three feet tall. I've been praying for rain and yesterday, we got some. But we got more than that. We got WIND.

I was running the sprinkler all day in the garden and had just gone out to move it when I happened to notice the sky in the west. It looked kinda darkish. Looking straight up overhead, there was nothing but crystal blue and sunshine, so I figured the darker blue was just an optical illusion due to cosmic atmospheric weirdness. And then I heard the thunder.

I turned the sprinkler off because, by golly, from the looks of things, we just might actually get some rain out of this one. All spring, storms had been splitting when they got to the Ohio state line and gone north and south of us, but this was looking promising. Walking back to the house, I decided to go in and grab my camera to take some pictures of the darkening sky.

As I was doing that, BAM! Just like that, the wind kicked up and things started hitting my legs. I snapped a couple more photos just as the storm was ready to cross the road into our yard, then tried to go into the house. It took every bit of strength I had to open the front door and head for the basement. I didn't need the National Weather Service to tell me this was a serious storm (about which they'd apparently just put the word out, unbeknownst to me). A tornado warning had been issued for our county.

The last photo I took before heading for cover. It was at this point that my
legs were getting pelted with little bits of debris. No rain yet, just wind.

About that time, Romie got home and couldn't open the front door, so he went around back and he joined me in the basement. The power had gone out shortly after the storm began, so we used our flashlights to get around down there in the dark. We could hear the wind whistling above us and I thought for sure the next sound was going to be the second story crashing into the first and on into the basement, or worse - blowing away altogether.

After about 15 minutes or so, it sounded like things were letting up, so we emerged from the basement and took a look. Still blowing, but not a lot of rain , don't you know. We looked outside and could see branches coming down and trash bins flying. A little while later, it started to clear and we went out to assess the damage.

The first thing we noticed was the huge branch out of our 200-year-old oak tree in the front yard. There are several dead branches in it, but those remained and a healthy, live branch was lost. Many smaller ones were broken out, too.

Next, the front porch railing was slightly askew. The corner post was broken off at the base, so guess who's getting new front porch railing? Amazingly, the two flower boxes that were hanging on the railing didn't fall off.

The mess at the back of the house was another thing. Branches down, of course, but chairs and cushions had been tossed...

But WHERE WAS THE TABLE? And the umbrella that was in the table?

Those poor tomatoes on the left, that were in the GrowBox, amazingly enough,
did not have their main stems broken, in spite of the trellis attachment
coming completely apart.

The twirling tulip was on the verge of losing its petals...

The honeysuckle trellis was hanging on for dear life...

We ended up having to cut the honeysuckle off at about a foot out of the ground.

There's a Rose of Sharon tree on a standard under there, on the left.
It didn't break! Considering the prolonged dry weather, I'm surprised it
didn't just snap off.

Next door, the neighbor kids experienced a shipwreck...

 The side addition to their storage barn ended up in our yard...

Back in Max's Garden, the Tom Torrens sculpture was blown over the fence...

After it was determined that the umbrella and table were in the bottom of the pool, Romie put his swim trunks on and went after them.

Neighbor Tim helped with the patio furniture recovery.

Once we got the immediate issues taken care of, we hopped in the car to take a look at the damage around us. Just a mile east, the entire mile of power poles had been snapped off like dominoes.

At the cemetery down the road, there was a common sight throughout the area...

Before the evening was over, we packed up two coolers with the contents of our freezer and I headed to Defiance, hopeful that daughter Kara had room in her freezer for our things. We had no cell phone or internet service and land line phone service was out as well, so there was no way to call her ahead of time to find out. Luckily, she had room in the freezer and room for an overnight guest.

The storm, called a derecho, left a swath of destruction from Illinois all the way to Delaware and Washington, D.C. More than two million are without power and there have been several deaths and injuries.

A derecho (Spanish: derecho "straight"), is a widespread and long-lived, violent convectively induced straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms in the form of a squall line usually taking the form of a bow echo. Derechos blow in the direction of movement of their associated storms, similar to a gust front, except that the wind is sustained and generally increases in strength behind the "gust" front. Derechos in North America form predominantly from May to August, peaking in frequency during the latter part of June into July. (Wikipedia)

Winds were clocked at 91 mph in Fort Wayne and the temperature dropped from 96° at the time of the storm's start to 65° right after it had passed through. Power may not be restored until Wednesday evening and temperatures are expected to be in the 90s for the next few days. Activities will definitely be different. Anyone for a game of Pick-Up Sticks?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Worms Eat My Garbage ... and Then They Poop

Polyphemus moth caterpillar on my arm.
It's a big 'un!
I wasn’t kidding when I said that gardening will cause you to do other weird and wonderful things you never thought you’d do. (See photo at right.) Okay, so I didn’t exactly put it that way, but that’s kind of how it is, except that they’re only weird to non-gardeners. We tillers of the soil understand each other and we get it when someone decides to keep 1000 worms in their home office.

A couple of months ago, I’d read Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved, in which she discloses some pretty cool stuff about earthworms. (Read my review here.) I knew they played a vital role in the garden, but I didn’t know just how integral they are to life in general. Worms are awesome.

In the meantime, Nature’s Footprint had contacted me about some business thing or another and I mentioned that maybe I’d be interested, but I’d never tried their products. So they sent me a Worm Factory 360, free of charge. This is a worm composter! Just like Amy, I was going to raise a big family of red wigglers and they were going to give me nutrient-rich worm castings - that’s poop! - for my garden.

The Worm Factory 360 arrived about a couple of weeks ago and I unboxed it and looked everything over. I read the manual that came with it and started getting it ready for worms. The worms don’t come with it, so you have to either find a local source or order them online. I ordered them from Nature’s Footprint and was surprised at how much worms cost. (About $35 for a pound - that's about 1000 worms - which works out to about 3½ cents per worm. I found that to be a typical price.)

The worms came on Wednesday and while I really expected to find a bunch of smelly, mostly dead worms in the USPS box they came in, oh nooooo, they were very much alive and kickin’. Worms don’t have feet so I guess they can’t kick, but they can do backflips like you wouldn’t believe. No wonder these are called red wigglers! About that…

For vermicomposting (that’s what worm composting is called), red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are what you want. It’s because they live well in tight quarters and they don’t burrow deeply like their cousins, the night crawler.

So I put everything together according to instructions…um…no, I didn’t. I was supposed to have the bin ready to go before the worms got here. I missed that part. But it’s okay – I was able to fix it, right before I added my worms. Their bedding is a mix of shredded newspaper, coir, and pumice, plus I added a cup of compost from our compost bin to get the party started.

This is the top layer of damp newspaper, on top of the bedding mix. And yes,
that's the obituary page. I didn't do that on purpose, but it's funny how things
work out sometimes.

When I opened the bag of worms, it said I should hydrate them with half a cup of water. I did that. Just so you know, they don’t like it when you pour water on them. More backflips ensued.

Kinda look like brown spaghetti, don't they? Yeah. Brown spaghetti.

I’m keeping my worm bin in my office. My husband thinks it’s a good place for it because he wants nothing to do with this worm business. That’s what he said about the chickens too, and now he loves them and talks to them. But he issued a warning: “I’d better not find worms crawling all over the house.”

No worries. Red wigglers don’t like light so they’ll stay deep down in the bedding material where it’s dark and damp. I did have a couple of uh-ohs though. When you first put your worms in the bin, you’re supposed to cover them with damp newspaper and leave the lid off, to encourage them to burrow down. I forgot, and I put the lid on. When I checked on them a little while later, several had crawled out over the edge. I just scooped ‘em up and put ‘em back.

Then, after falling asleep on the couch, I woke up around 2:30 a.m. and I went in to check on the worms before going to bed. Well, Someone forgot to tell Someone Else that you’re supposed to leave the light on the first night, again to encourage them to crawl deep into the bedding, and one of those Someones turned the light out. Unfortunately, seven casualties were located at various spots on the floor. One was still wiggling, so he/she (it’s kinda both – more on that in a bit) got put back into the bin. I made a note for Someone Else so that he wouldn’t turn the light off when he got up for work.

Which matters more? Saving energy or saving worms?

Worms will eat half of their own body weight in a day, so depending on how many worms you have (there are about 1000 in a pound), you could probably put your garbage disposal on Craig’s List. Fruits (except for citrus), vegetables, shredded paper (goodbye, junk mail!), and dryer lint (yes, really) are all nummy treats for worms. My worms’ first kitchen treats were an overripe banana and a cucumber that got forgotten in the crisper drawer.

I hope my worms like cucumbers because those always get forgotten
in the crisper drawer.

“Don’t the worms smell?” you ask. No, they don’t. As long as you keep the moisture level where it should be (damp, not sopping wet) and don’t feed your worms meat and fatty items, the smell is similar to that of good compost. I happen to love that earthy smell. It reminds me of walking through the woods. It’s not strong though and you can only smell it when you get your nose down near the compost.

In about three months or so, there should be enough worm castings that I can harvest some and use them as fertilizer for my plants. And because worms are hermaphrodites (each worm has both sex organs, although it still takes two worms to make baby worms), they’re highly successful at reproducing. We’ll have more and more worms, and our vermicomposting will get ever more efficient as time goes on.

I know. My calendar is ridiculously off.

I never in my wildest dreams, even as a child, thought I’d be raising worms in my house. Raising worms, PERIOD, for that matter. But it’s just another fabulous side trip in this journey called gardening. Never a dull moment!


I just have to ask…have those of you who vermicompost ever had this song pop into your head as you were tending to your worms? (Maybe it’s just me…)

 “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout…”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Rain We Didn't Get

The National Weather Service issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for our area this afternoon. We don't get excited about those anymore, because for the last seven-plus weeks, no matter what the weather forecasters said, we didn't get a drop of it.

As I was taking a stroll through the garden, trying to figure out what was going to survive and what would likely continue its downward spiral through drought hell, I heard thunder. I've heard that before, too. Doesn't mean a thing. We got the most gorgeous rainbow I've ever seen in my life a few weeks ago, but we didn't get any of the rain to go with it.

June 2, 2012

This time, I could smell the rain. It's a lovely, quirky smell - not like the delightful fragrance just after the rain has fallen - but pleasing all the same. The skies in the west got darker, the temperature dropped, and the winds that have been blowing for days, zapping the moisture from the leaves of plants that couldn't afford to lose it, turned noticeably cooler.

And then the storms turned. Again.

When I was working regularly in New Haven (Indiana), just 25 miles west of here, so many times I'd leave work where it was pouring felines and poochies, only to arrive home to dusty, dry everything. I pictured those storms reaching the state line and splitting - off to the north and off to the south - and we were left in the middle, denied again.

I'd sit down after supper and watch the news, with reports of the downpours all around us, many  times with accompanying video, and it was torture to watch. I wanted to scream at the television, "WE didn't GET any!!"

This one went north...

And so it was again today. I stood in my garden and watched the rain fall from the sky, eight to ten miles north. But there was still hope. Another line of storms was headed our way. Maybe that one would bring the badly needed rain to us. Again, the thunder. Again the smell of rain in the air. And again, it turned - this time southward.

This is the worst it's ever been since I've become a gardener. We've had hot and dry summers for the last several years in a row, but this year is different. We didn't get the usual spring rains that give our plants a good start to the season. They didn't have a chance to beef up before the hot and dry started.

Cracks in the garden

Our pool was installed in 1988. That was another bad year and one that up to now we've used to measure all other years against. We had a drought and heat that was at times unbearable, even with the pool. When it's 106º outside (June 25, 1988), the water isn't even refreshing. But this year is already worse and it's only June.

There's yet one more line of storms headed our way and I'm hopeful that the third time will be a charm...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Summer Solstice

Summer has been here long before it actually arrived, and with it, summer blooms:

Santolina pinnata

Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherry Brandy'
(grown from seed last year)

Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia hirta) and
Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum)

Verbena bonariensis against backdrop of winter wheat and Shasta daisies
that escaped the garden

Tiger lily
Tigrinum splendens

Shasta daisies
(Leucanthemum x superbum)

Rose of Sharon
(Hibiscus syriacus'Aphrodite')

Calibrachoa Superbells Cherry Star

Rosa 'Lavaglut'

Hemerocallis 'Kokomo Sunset'

Campanula garganica 'Dickson's Gold'

Rosa 'Kordes Perfecta'

Asiatic lily in red

Malva moschata

Lilium 'Corrida'

Tropic Escape Hibiscus 'Canary Yellow'

Gladiolus ('Orange Splendor' ??)

Hemerocallis 'Primal Scream'

Hemerocallis 'Cherry Lace'

Campanula 'Pink Octopus'

Calibrachoa Superbells Lemon Slice

Asiatic lily

Achillea 'Peachy Seduction'

Sea Holly

All this, in spite of no rain since May 2nd and warmer than normal temperatures coupled with hot winds. Praying for rain...

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