Gutting it out in a Funky Summer

Larry's recently rehabbed garden

Larry’s recently rehabbed garden

John Clark slowly recovering from a hernia repair. I had one fixed back in 1981 and I can tell you, my body at 67 sure doesn’t bounce back like it did at age 33. As things stand, I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for six weeks and can’t drive for at least one more week. Boxes of books sneer as I waddle past and I can hear the back lawn giggling every time it rains.

Each time I’m tempted to do something stupid, I remember what happened the day I got out of the hospital back when the first one was repaired. I hadn’t planned on fruit trees arriving at an inopportune time when I was diagnosed and surgery was scheduled, so imagine my chagrin (yes liberals were allowed to possess up to 8 ounces of chagrin in the early 1980s) when the UPS driver backed into the driveway and handed me a long box. If I’d had any common sense, I would have thought of someone I could call and ask to plant the trees, but that wasn’t in the cards, so I grabbed a shovel and started digging. I wasn’t down more than six inches when I felt a pop and a burning sensation. Fortunately, it was only one stitch, but that was enough to convince me to be ultra careful as I finished excavating three holes for the new trees. My folly resulted in no permanent damage and there was an unexpected bright side to the whole hernia experience. I ended up being out of work for seven weeks and it was a real eye-opener. I’d started working regularly at age eleven, mostly in the blueberry fields, but in a neighbor’s poultry barn as well. Until the forced medical leave, I’d pretty much been a workaholic. To realize that there was life outside of the workplace was a complete amazement and altered my outlook significantly.

Morning Glory vines on their way to hiding the mailbox

Morning Glory vines on their way to hiding the mailbox

Times have changed in terms of what’s done and how they do it. This time around, it was day surgery and involved three small incisions and a miniature camera wandering around my belly, followed by the sewing into place of a mesh screen and then having the incisions glued with a variation on the super glue we use to repair household items. Even so, that was a week ago and I’m still bent over and trying not to hobble a lot. Fortunately the post office, the library and the grocery store are two blocks away, but the recent spate of rainstorms washed a lot of mud down to the edge of the sidewalk, particularly in sloped driveways. Yesterday, I was about to say hello to some young veggie salesmen who were selling garden goodies down the street when my foot hit some of the really slippery mud. Next thing I knew, I was doing my James Bond martini imitation—shaken, but not stirred. All I could think about as I desperately tried to maintain my balance was ‘hope to hell I don’t pop anything.”

Partial view of our raised bed

Partial view of our raised bed

On to a garden status report. Last year, Brenda Seekins who is a local master gardener, asked about having an informal gathering at the library of people interested in sharing garden wisdom, seeds, plants while getting answers and inspiration. We met four times and developed a core group. In October, we agreed at the final meeting to resume in April of 2015. The group had our third meeting last night. Even though we all live within a four mile radius, what has happened to our gardens this summer shows some significant variation. Before I get into those, let me backtrack and share some of the things I’ve heard in my travels and conversations during the growing season. It started with a chat I had with a man in Detroit who sells hay and straw. He also grows plants for seed purposes for a Maine company. He said that the month of June was the worst he could remember in terms of growing weather. It was too cold and too wet, causing seed rot and real difficulty getting into his fields to plant.

Zuke, Zuke, Zuke of Earl

Zuke, Zuke, Zuke of Earl

His observations were mirrored in a conversation I had a couple weeks later with a friend from Canaan who is an organic gardener. He went even further, noting that even stuff in hoop houses wasn’t growing very well thanks to the chill. The next piece of information came from Joe, the man who services our furnace. We were talking about picking strawberries and he noted that his wife had gone to a nearby pick your own place a couple days earlier and when she returned, she said the owners had told her that last winter was extremely hard on strawberry plants, resulting in significant winter kill. This was reinforced when it took me almost a week to find a day when Sites Farm in Athens was open for picking. The berries were nice, but got picked out very quickly each morning. Before leaving the field, I checked out their high bush blueberries. From what I could see, there won’t be any shortage in that crop.

Beets (less 2 messes of greens) and carrots

Beets (less 2 messes of greens) and carrots

Both people I encountered at the post office and those in the gardening group lamented the effect June’s cold and damp had on certain crops. Sweet corn has been a disaster for everyone in the group. I planted three times before giving up. I have two lone stalks and gave the rest of the row to a late planting of turnips. Zucchini and summer squash required a second planting before anything worthwhile showed above ground. Likewise for cucumbers and winter squash. While both came up, six weeks later, they’re sitting there looking dazed and nary a blossom is visible. Peas and green beans came in very spotty, necessitating a second planting in between what did come up, but both are now healthy and close to being ready for picking. After discovering an almost full packet of yellow bean seeds, I planted them in mid-July and it looks like every seed germinated overnight.

Our two lonely cornstalks and the row of turnips that replaced the ones that didn't make it.

Our two lonely cornstalks and the row of turnips that replaced the ones that didn’t make it.

Beets, carrots, parsnips and broccoli all did well from seed, but four very hungry woodchucks decimated the red and green cabbage as well as all but one of our cauliflower. While we have yet to see a single deer track, folks on the other side of the Sebasticook river here in Hartland, can’t keep them out of garden spots. Unlike several people I’ve talked to, who all bemoaned the terrible luck they were having with tomatoes, our five varieties are not only thriving, but have been producing ripe fruit for a couple weeks. Finally, I’m very happy to report that there are fruit clusters on the grape vines and we’ve already picked two gallons of raspberries. While it’s still early, the apple crop also looks pretty promising.

Our lone cauliflower, soon to be at the heart of a steamy and cheesy affair.

Our lone cauliflower, soon to be at the heart of a steamy and cheesy affair.

Flowers, particularly perennials, seem to have an immunity to weather foibles. Our raised bed garden is a sea of color and the small garden my neighbor, Larry, let me rehabilitate (it had become a sea of milkweed, pigweed and crabgrass) will soon feature Tithona, morning glory, calendula and hollyhock in bloom. He was happy and it allowed me to find a home for extra plants. Larry also let me reclaim the vegetable garden behind his house that was sliding back into wilderness. It’s pretty eye-opening what a good zero-turn mower can do to a Maine jungle. Three hours of rototilling later and it was serviceable. I have a row of lettuce, some broccoli from seed and another 40 or so golden hubbard squash plants growing there. Potatoes and sunflowers I planted didn’t even give me the time of day. I’d be extremely interested in hearing what your gardening experiences have been this year.

Want some tomatoes? "Course Ya do!

Want some tomatoes? “Course Ya do!

In the you had to be there to completely appreciate it category, (or have an uncensored imagination) I offer the sight our local animal control officer encountered last week while responding to a loose horse report. Just as he pulled up where the horse was standing in the road. The couple who own it and are considered local characters, burst out of their dwelling and proceeded to chase the horse. However, it’s reported by reliable sources, that neither bothered getting dressed before doing so. Small town life never ceases to provide plenty of fodder for fiction and post office gossip.

Peppers are always a conundrum. Last year huge leafy plants with no peppers. This year, small, but loaded they be.

Peppers are always a conundrum. Last year huge leafy plants with no peppers. This year, small, but loaded they be.

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2 Responses to Gutting it out in a Funky Summer

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Sympathizing, John … too bad you had to have the surgery at this time of year. But — think how great you’ll feel in the fall! We had our first local corn (no, we didn’t grow it) this past week .. and it shouldn’t have been picked. Maybe in another week … if it doesn’t burn up in this heat! Best wishes!


  2. Hello to All,
    Volcanic eruptions by Iceland’s Bardarbunga (August 16, 2014-March 2, 2015) assure a continued unusual cooling trend for New England weather for the next year or two, I regret to say. The last time this happened was in 1910 with this very same volcano. My strawberry plants didn’t even adequately feed the local squirrels!
    My name is Mike. My wife, Cindy, and I just returned to Maine in 2012. When we left New England for Ohio in 1976, we thought we would only be gone three years. After 30+ years in Ohio and world travel as an expert in the field of energy and energy technology, we have finally returned to our small home town of New Gloucester, Maine.
    I just recently joined this Maine Crime Writers group due to the project I have been working on for several years now. While doing an investigation as a favor for an Ohio energy foundation, I stumbled across what I believe was the perfect energy crime of the last century. It continues to be undetected even today. The plotting or genesis of this masterful crime began in 1942 during the Manhattan Project. The crime was successfully executed and completed by December 31, 1974.
    No one would necessarily even know a crime had been committed even if this urban legend energy technology was rediscovered. In the year 2000 the technology was discovered by a NASA scientist in a secret U.S. laboratory vault. It was so baffling, I was called in around 2011 to see if I could make heads or tails out of this odd caper.
    What is even more fascinating to me was discovering that there was a famous author from the 1940s/1950s who appears to have been given the inside story of the crime 1st hand back in January, 1946. The corruption went all the way into the White House. If the informer and author attempted to expose the crime they would likely disappear. Thus the challenge for the author was to hide the story in plain sight such that, if the technology was ever rediscovered, the American public could follow the trail she provided us to learn the truth of how our country’s scientific future had been sabotaged by elites inside and outside our country.
    There are amazing revelations being uncovered each week as I carefully work on this detective trail at my lake lodge deep in the Maine woods thanks to Amazon Books, the internet and the fact that dead men do tell tales before they meet their maker. My present theory is that this author achieved an amazing coded book concept decades before Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code! Like the Sword of Damocles, if the technology was rediscovered too soon, it would likely have dire consequences for her and her informant.
    Based on the books written about this famous author long after her death, she must have been on “pins and needles” the remainder of her life wondering if the technology would suddenly pop-up. The technology would not be discovered until 18 years after her death. On her death bed I continue to wonder if the author was truly amazed that no one discovered her third-tier revelation during her lifetime. This woman author was indeed a remarkable titan of the prior century and I now know the answer to the first sentence in her epic book! It was a question she repeated over ninety times in her epic novel.

    Who would have ever imagined there was an actual answer to her famous question! The answer was—Alvin M. Weinberg!

    As Paul Harvey would say, I have been slowly piecing together the Rest of the Story.


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