Summer Gardening, Picking Blackberries and Eating Weeds!

July 14th, 2010

Sometimes it seems difficult to keep up with everything, not to mention writing and sharing pictures.   The days pass with so many changes and it’s hard to share them all.   So rather than several shorter posts, I’ll catch up today with a long one!   Yesterday I started making a “to-do” list… that was a mistake! Think I need to make a “Would like to do” list” and a “Whenever I get around to it” list.  Come to think of it, I’ll throw in a “Definitely should not do” list as well!  Somehow my brain keeps these lists as thoughts floating around, crossing some off, adding others.

Some days my thoughts are efficient and organized, stepping with vigor from one to another.  Other days it’s simply managed chaos, flecks of needs interspersed with wants, smiles and muttering and usually enough desire and concentration to get the job accomplished.

Then I take a break, have a cup of coffee or three glasses of water (sometimes both…) and sit out by the barn.  Maybe a Coke now and then!  I might look towards the water and see the wind blowing on the pond, letting thoughts and cares take form and move around like the little waves… and  looking closer I can almost see shapes and movement.   Light dances across the water and the wind makes the waves look like chocolate and reminds me of the richness of my coffee… it looks inviting.

Then I begin again, but not without taking a few pictures along the way.    Near the bee hives I see what looks like the underside of a Black Swallowtail butterfly hanging on a poke plant.   I try to get closer and it flies away…

Later it’s time to make the rounds in the garden.  This is a strange year- the potatoes wilted early and died, but not before yielding a nice bounty of fresh young tubers for the summer.   The tomatoes are all suffering from wilt and black-spot, so I need to cut off the diseased leaves and try to save the plants.  If that wasn’t enough we’ve taken over 20 tomato worms off the plants!  They appear like magic… you pick off a few one day, and the next day there’s more.   They are kind of pretty looking…

Don’t be fooled however, that green worm is a monster!  These little guys can really chomp a tomato plant back in a matter of hours it seems.  Well sometimes they’re little- yesterday I took one off a plant as thick as my thumb and as long as a finger!   Since I really love tomatoes, they’ve just got to go.  I don’t till the garden soil, but that may be something I’ll start next year as a strategy for disrupting the life stages.   This site has a nice description of the life cycle of the tomato hornworm moth and larva.  The moths are beautiful, and even look like hummingbirds when in flight around flowers.   But the green worms are not long for the garden.  Fortunately the chickens really love them… bleck!

Otherwise the garden is coming along okay.  The beans are not as prolific this year- something is munching their leaves too.   We’re trying to keep things natural and organic, but I haven’t stayed ahead of the critters.   How sad is that- beans are a no-brainer!  I may plant some more.    The boy did plant some sweet corn a couple of weeks ago and it’s coming up nicely.  Hopefully we’ll have some for the table in late Septemember…

The cucumbers are doing great however, and they taste wonderful as a fresh salad, especially with tomatoes, and a little vinegar and oil for seasoning.   I saw a recipe I’m going to try that had chopped mint leaves in a cucumber salad… maybe tonight!   And carrots… they look kind of like weeds sometimes (meaning they get picked inadvertently!).  But we packed so many in the row when planting seeds that we’ve been pulling a few to make room for their growth.

After the garden it’s back to work, or a different kind of work anyway.   Cutting and trimming the grass and weeds!   A weekly cycle in the warm season.

Do you use a weedeater or trimmer?   It’s a wonderful invention and a great help around the property,  but they sure are noisy, smelly and finicky.   I know… bad for the environment, they use gas and oil, blah, blah, blah.  I do care about the environment and do the best I can.  It’s often a tradeoff… and unless you know of some really fast automatic scissors to trim acres of weeds that don’t use a mower,  there’s not many options.

Oh, I have a small electric trimmer too.  Works great for about 10 minutes in very light grass- the boy uses that to help out, and goes through several NiCad batteries very quickly, which over the years lose their charge and are also an environmental problem in terms of disposal.   I have a half-dozen cordless electric tools that I love, but they are not for long-term heavy-duty use.   Good for quick, light work and for a city or suburban yard, but not for hours of trimming on a rural property.  It  can literally takes a few days to trim the places that need it around here.

Often I just let the grass and weeds grow in many areas, and then trim them once or twice a season.  The pond’s dam is one example, which is nearly an acre of tall grass and weeds  such as queen anne’s lace right now.  That’s a tradeoff too because the landscape will soon turn to woody shrubs and then trees.

Leaving the grass uncut also fosters erosion in many places because it shades out turf at the lower levels.    A good carpet of grassy turf keeps water from tearing up the ground when running downhill… and we have a lot of hills leading down to the pond.   Like many things in life, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit, putting thoughts and good intentions into practice is not so simple.

I’ve had a half-dozen different makes and models through the years, and there are few things more frustrating than trying to pull-start a weed trimmer that simply won’t run.    Or getting new line put on the spool… sometimes the line feeds out, and sometimes it’s a mess.  How does it tie itself in knots?!

But they really get the job done pretty well if you need to trim a lot of grass.  One of my favorites in terms of reliability is an inexpensive Bolens brand from Lowe’s.   I found it quite by accident after one that I had for two decades finally stopped working.  Well, the fuel lines are all messed up and I can’t find a part to fit it yet.

That favorite old weed trimmer was an IDC model 500 Supreme (tan casing at left in pictures), and I was never able to find another one like it.  Until last fall.  Turns out that IDC was bought by Ryan… and then Ryan/IDC was bought by Ryobi, which was later bought by TTI out of Asia, and apparently some aspects of the design now have a Bolens brand on them.    Consolidation in the business world, go figure.

The particular design that I like has a combination of light weight and motor/line strength that works very well for most grass and weeds.  And it just keeps on running.   My old IDC model ran for almost twenty years… on the same spark plug!   The funny part is that I remember paying $69 for that IDC model way back in 1989.

How much did I pay for this Bolens model last summer?   Yup…  $69.    From an inflation perspective, the new trimmer is far less expensive.   The build quality is still pretty decent- and as you can see in the pictures, it is nearly the same exact design.   The new one handles about the same and seems just as light and reliable.    Heck, I may even get another one as a spare since I really like this model.

If money were no object, a trimmer with the Stihl brand would be awesome.  I have a Stihl chainsaw that is amazing, but their products are pretty steep in cost.  For the chainsaw, safety is a big factor so I wanted something the industry uses and that would last.   I don’t think you can go wrong with a reliable inexpensive weed trimmer however.   And let’s just say I don’t recommend the brand whose name is synonymous with its purpose of being a weedeater.   I’ve got three of those in the barn that have been finicky and problematic for a lot of folks, not to mention heavy!

Our other activities over the past week included picking more blackberries!  Hooray!  The boy loves to pick them, but isn’t too thrilled with the stickers.  I think you get used to moving around in a briar patch if you take your time.   He’s not convinced… but he likes to eat them!

They are really good though- as long as you get the sweet ones.   I kind of like a mix of sweet and tart, so I don’t mind picking some that aren’t quite ripe yet.  The pinkish one’s will fill our buckets another day…

After a good hour we had nearly two quarts of berries.   We had some fresh for ice cream and the rest go into the freezer.

I have learned that there are cake people, and pie people.  Sure we all eat some of both at times, but honestly?  I’m a pie person… I just love pies of all kinds, especially berry pies.   Something about the juicy, sweet and tart flavors all combined.   We finished this one off last week, but I’m going to make another!

In a month or so we’ll have some grapes maturing, and this year I’d like to make a Concord grape pie.   I’ve made jelly and jam from the grapes, but never a pie, so that’s on the “to do” list.   I did plant some wild plum on the property, and I hope I get to see them bear fruit … I’m always looking for other wild edibles.   Some folks have wild grape or muscadine on their property.  We have them but I’ve never seen any substantial berries, or perhaps the birds get to them first.

So here’s a large muscadine vine I pulled down from a walnut tree this week.  They grow so vigorously that they can tangle a tree in a season or two, and eventually the tree’s growth is impacted.  This one was close to thirty feet up the tree, and had grown for the last few years- so I cut the vines at their base, and towed it en masse across the pond dam to the burn pile.   I looked reeeally closely to make sure there was no poison ivy in the mix!  I keep a pile of branches and dead woody vegetation for burning during the wetter seasons.  Maybe I should plant and cultivate a muscadine vine.

One of those “whenever I get around to it” items on my list is cutting the pond’s dam.   I hope to cut it soon, and as the grass dries out in the summer heat it will become lighter and easier to cut.  It’s not a job I really enjoy because of how steep it is, but it really does help keep the dam in good shape.    We did clear off some cattails near the base of the dam yesterday…  they look nice, but you really don’t want them growing abundantly.

The ground can become too wet and marshy if you let these types of plants grow, and then they attract the types of animals that start burrowing in places you don’t want them too (like a dam!).   Each year we have a few of them, but make sure to take them out.  Water seeps from down from the land bordering the dam, and a little bit near the base.    It’s been that way for at least twenty-five years, but I like to keep it trimmed each year.  Stay tuned…

So this week’s project included spending a few days with weed and brush cutters going around the perimeter of the pond.    First I went around cutting the woody plants and trees that always try to grow, and then I use that weed trimmer to cut down the taller grass and pond weeds.   It helps to keep the banks relatively clean, or else those shrubs and trees really get a foothold.  It’s a lot more work to cut down trees and brush, and I’m not letting a single cattail take root!   Perhaps I just like a more open look… it just seems more relaxing :)

One of these days I’d love to get a used sickle mower… it would hang off the tractor about seven feet or more with a long row of teeth, and then simply cut around anything you wanted it to (like the pond!), or under fence rows, etc.    Of course the only problem with more tools, motors and gadgets is that you have to store them and maintain them… and more junk is not what I need right now :)   Well this was a little longer than I planned… thanks for coming by especially if you’ve read this far.   Now it’s time to head out and fix something.  Have a good week!

9 Responses to “Summer Gardening, Picking Blackberries and Eating Weeds!”

  1. Great update, man, I enjoyed it. I’ve been trying to get ideas out of my head and onto paper in the form of lists lately too.
    “Like many things in life, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit, putting thoughts and good intentions into practice is not so simple.” — yep. Amen to that! :)
    I haven’t gotten to the level of refinement of using a trimmer yet. I mowed yesterday, and it sure is a wonderful thing to sit on my rear and burn fossil fuels while the machine does the work. Thank you, dinosaurs!

  2. I love our weed whacker…we used to have a little electric but traded up to a great on that has a metal blade for cutting brush!

    I’m all over pies too…GRAPE pie? I have never heard of this…please post with your results!

    I love you pond…do you have to worry about mosquitoes? We are being overrun with them right now.

    Great post…sorry about the beans. We had to plant 4 times because the all kept drowning with all of our rain, sigh. Kim

  3. Does that one have a brushcutter attachment. I have one that is a master of any woody weed stems. All you do is unhook the entire spool housing.

    On the grass, ever thought about ten or twenty lambs. Buy them each year then freeze them. With that number(20) you could feed two households with lamb twice/three times a week without choking on the stuff.

  4. Query: Where’s my pie?

    As for weed eaters, I have to use one in the ditch along the front of my property. I should say, I taught the 14 year old how to do it and now, I let him get frustrated.


  5. Ed

    I have found the key for keeping a small engine on a weed eater, chainsaw or small tiller running is to never let any gas sit in it and always use fresh gas never more than a few weeks old. For some reason, if you use older gas, it just makes starting those things much harder. It means more trips to the gas station to get fresh gas but the older gas I just put in my car or lawnmower, neither of which are as sensitive as the weed eater or chainsaw to old gas.

    Here in town, I have put down pavers and mulch for a large part of the trimming and use judicious use of roundup for the rest so I don’t even own a weed eater anymore. Out on the farm, we used roundup and a weed eater but probably only used the later every third mowing. When we used it, we cut the grass down to the ground. The second mowing it would be shorter than the surrounding grass. The third mowing it would be slightly taller. Then the fourth mowing it would be time to weed eat again.

    By the way, I am both a pie and a cake person unfortunately.

  6. Hi Beau, thanks for checking out Hill Country Mysteries and leaving a comment on Painted Buntings. I followed you back here and I’m so glad to have found Fox Haven! Many of your thoughts touched home for me.

    I’m a ripple-watcher too. Time slows and deepens when eyes and mind flow with wind and water.

    Caring for a rural property can be a full-time job. We only have an acre and can’t spend all our time on it but I think the property would take it if we had it to give. So we’ve come to your kind of understanding about it–do what needs doing most now and try to get to the rest a bit at a time.

  7. thank you for keeping up with the maintenance so we can enjoy your beautiful property through the miracle of the internets! i like the idea of letting an area go unmowed; less to do, and more flowers to enjoy.

  8. Wow, thanks for taking us on a great tour. It’s lovely and I’m now hungry. Concord grapes makes great “Grape-hull Preserves,” a family tradition in my family with a recipe from my great-grandmother.

  9. Ron- I need to start a “What was I thinking!? list… :) I’m a big fan of tools and gadgets that some really smart person invented to help do things better!
    Kim- I saw the grape pie in an article, but haven’t tried it yet… this is the year! We are fortunate that the pond is full of life and with minnows, dragonflies and the barn swallows, they all keep the mosquitoes from becoming too bothersome. But they’re out there… And four times on the beans? I need to plant some again for sure, thanks!
    Vincent- Great point- I would love a brushcutter like that. I do have one with a small blade, but not interchangeable. I like your idea of lamb, and even would like to have goats one day. Although from your comment I had this mental picture of sticking a little lamb in the freezer and the boy would shoot me :o ! Many Americans don’t eat lamb anymore, and the flavor is too strong for a lot of folks. I love it however… but being the only one, you know how that is… I don’t get it very often.
    Randall- The pie doesn’t last very long around here… you’ll have to be quick! :)
    Ed- That’s a good point about the fuel. I tend to fill up the tanks of most of the machines going into winter to prevent condensation, and then add stabilizer. But you’re right- I’d be better off running the weed trimmers out of fuel like a boat engine!
    Kathleen- Glad you could stop by, and likewise on your posts. I spent some time in your area once- it’s very beautiful. So different from the coast that you describe, which must have been quite a change!
    Chook- Oh thanks! It’s fun to share with others, and comments like that keep me going. :) I’m going to try to plant more native flowers in various places. Too often what grows up are invasive shrubs or poison ivy!
    Sage- Grape-hull preserves?! That sounds terrific… Oh, I’ll have to write and see if you’ll share that recipe or point me in the right direction. What a neat tradition!

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