November miscellany

It was a grab-bag week, so this is a grab-bag post.

Frost approacheth

Cold cold weather is rolling in and back, in and back, and I’ve been scrambling to get this ‘n’ that done as time and weather permitted. Now it’s urgent for me to figure out the priorities for any action that involves digging into the ground. I say priorities, because I’m afraid I’ve reached Triage Day. Today.

clusters of tiny, bright red crabapples encased in frost on their branch, with the tree's slender trunk and other branches with scattered crabapples in background

Winter warning!

Thus far, the frost has kept to the night hours—which, of course, are vastly extended as we head towards winter solstice. Sunrise came this morning at 6:44am; sunset will plop at 4:26pm. Last night wasn’t too terribly cold, but yesterday morning I woke up (early) to 23°. Tonight it’s supposed to get down to 28°, and the downward slide goes from there to 21° Tuesday night to—brace yourself—16° on Wednesday night. Oh, it will continue to bob up and down after that, but the writing is on the wall, the frost is on the pumpkin, the clock is ticking, and we know what’s next. Only a matter of time. (I’m talking about the garden, but if you want to read the presidential election results into that, be my guest.)

Progress of sorts and sifts

Some progress has been made in the past week. I have been schooled (finally) to give myself a pat on the back now and then for progress made before I start listing what I haven’t gotten done, so let me repeat that: progress has been made.

piles of soil next to corner of raised bed frame at lower right, with orange buckets in front of them at center and left, a bit of white clapboard wall to the left; lawns and shrubbery beds showing in background, with someone on bright yellow mower behind the screen of shrubs

We sift soil so slowly… (the last shirtsleeve weather day)

Some of it relatively minor, but time-consuming. The second raised bed still had to be lined with hardware cloth and filled with the soil dug out of that space, which stood in a couple of piles next to it. Turns out there were a lot of rocks in the piles, including some fairly big ones. So last Wednesday, I spent hours sifting through it; I was quite literally sifting for part of that time, while I muttered to myself about how I should have just spent the money to get an industrial-strength frame sifter instead of the weentsy ones that fit on top of a 5-gallon bucket. It didn’t all get done, but pat-on-back here, I did manage to complete a good-sized pile and I have three—welllll, two and a half—buckets of rocks to show for my efforts. That’s three buckets of rocks my carrots won’t have to contend with next year, should they grow that deep.

Man standing inside frame of raised bed, pounding in stakes; lawn, shrubs and trees in background

Lining up the raised-bed walls jussssst right

I got that much done before Carl and crew arrived to finish lining that bed, toss the soil back where it belonged, and chomp up the leaves with the mower, while I retreated to ponder all the other things I need to do before the ground freezes hard and snow falls (again, but with more serious intent), and then to decide which of those things wasn’t really needed, actually, when you think about it carefully enough.

Because there are orders of necessity.

The Augean garage

section of garage filled with jumble of multiple colors of buckets and garden equipment, flattened cardboard boxes, old burlap screens, bamboo stakes, and black garbage bins

Chaos, view #1

Top of that list, for sure, was getting the garage cleaned out and cleaned up so I can park inside before that aforementioned snow hits. My helpers had rid the garage of the legion of yard-waste bags that I’d filled some weeks ago, before I read about how you shouldn’t do that. Fait accompli, though, and where would I put it all anyway? So away those went. So fast I never got a picture.

That, alas, revealed the remaining mess in the garage. This included:

  • A good half-dozen 5-gallon buckets filled with soil and other stuff that I had set aside for reasons I no longer recall
  • The weentsy soil sifters, in two different gauges of mesh
  • A pair of bright yellow leaf pick-up clamshells
  • Assorted sizes and colors of tub-trugs, among them a small one half-full of compost, a medium one half-full of mulch, and a big one about a quarter-full of very wet, heavy peat moss (don’t ask)
  • A couple of empty 5-gallon buckets and a half-dozen lids

    closer-up view of section of garage, showing old burlap screen on stakes, half-bushel basket full of empty egg cartons, some flattened cardboard boxes, a plastic file tote filled with folders, a two-drawer file cabinet with both drawers open revealing many folders and topped with several bags of compost and soil, and other miscellaneous junk rimming the right side of photo

    Chaos, view #2

  • Two big boxes of old file folders (nope, don’t ask about that either)
  • Stack upon stack of broken-down cardboard boxes that I plan to use for weed-control next year
  • A couple rolls of landscaping cloth
  • Leftover hardware cloth—yards of it—plus the pig rings and the wire cutters
  • Numerous pine stakes in 6-foot, 4-foot, and 2-foot lengths
  • A rolled-up wind barrier made of stakes and burlap that never did much good but I haven’t gotten around to taking apart or throwing out
  • My old kitchen compost bucket, which waits for me to figure out whether I ever compost again
  • Miscellaneous tools large and small that had to be cleaned and put back in their places

You get the idea.

So I did the big cleanup on Saturday, with temperatures maybe hitting 40°, rushing through it to finish in time for a live storytelling event I had to perform for. (Really don’t ask.)

After three hours of Herculean heaving and hoisting, here is what the garage looks like now:

Same section of garage, showing items sorted out, all cardboard tied into orderly packs, buckets lined up, storage bins stacked neatly and trash bins ranged next to file cabinet; burlap screen rolled up and placed with tall stakes in far corner; flowerpots stacked in milk crates on a shelf above far window

Order, sorta

view of most of garage showing items ranged neatly along sides and at far end, with a lot of clear floor space in foreground and about 2/3 of the way up the photo

And not a moment too soon, with those hard frosts hitting.

Company coming!

Unfortunately, I’m not the only one getting ready for winter. I’ve lived here long enough to know what happens when we start getting a series of hard frosts, and it’s spelled


all-pink photo showing two candy mice on an underground of something shaggy-fluffy

“Sugar Mice” by osaka19 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Did you know mice can even more into your car in the winter, and chew the wiring into perilous state? I haven’t suffered that misfortune yet, even in the worst winter we’ve had in the past seven years, but this time as I was cleaning up the garage I uncovered way too much evidence of m-i-c-e or something else that poops the same way. Way, way, waaaay too much evidence.

Maybe voles rather than mice, a couple of people guessed. Whatever. Rodents! I’m going to have to deal with that.

But the mice for sure don’t content themselves with the garage, when there’s a nice warm cozy house adjoined, begging to be moved into. And yes, they have. But I was ready.

Five or six years ago, I used a kind of mouse motel, the kind where they check in and don’t check out, and you can just throw the whole thing away without seeing the fellow creature you have murdered. These worked great, for me if not for the mice.

But the company that made those was sold, and although the things were still marketed under the same name, they no longer functioned, except maybe great for the mice. I’m not the only one who noticed this; I saw many customer complaints posted on Amazon about the mice strolling in, eating the peanut butter bait, and strolling right back out. Like it was some kind of amusement park set up specially for them.

photo of a gameboard with the box top behind it, titled MouseTrap, and with a multicolored Rube Goldberg-type assemblage of plastic steps, gears, plunge pond and figurines set up on top of the board

The better mousetrap?
“mousetrap” by Genista is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

So I switched to a different type of trap. These had the virtue of working extremely well (a couple of times they almost trapped me while I was setting them up). I had about a dozen of the inexpensive, supposedly reusable, plastic killer-jaws mousetraps left over from last year, and last week I got a couple dozen more.

Why so many? I said supposedly reusable because, to re-use, you’d have to pry out a dead mouse, clean the contraption (I won’t ruin your day by specifying what has to be cleaned out of it), dry it off, and then re-set it. At around a buck a piece, I figure I’m not reusing the things. No way. Down the oubliette with trap and trappee, say I.

blank tombstone on a stone base, with green lawn behind

R.I.P., M. Mouse
“blank tombstone” by Jo Naylor is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Three mice have already bitten the dust this fall.

Unfortunately, when they work, these traps let you (me) see exactly what you (I) have done.

It’s not as though I haven’t tried less violent methods. Last year, I set up those ultrasonic or maybe it’s subsonic gizmos that plug into wall sockets and emit a noise that is supposed to annoy the mice back into the garage. I can tell you exactly how well those worked: the three mice I caught were trapped right under one of those suckers.

Okay, maybe it disoriented them so much that they all reeled into the traps snout-first with their noses pointed straight at the bait. Maybe. Probability: .001%.

This year I’m deploying a different prevention method, which I hope works. (We gardeners are nothing if not hopeful.) It’s not guaranteed, but many have testified that it works for them. I’m going to try peppermint power!

closeup of individually plastic-packaged bite-size peppermint candies, with varying widths of red stripes on white

Peppermint them!
“peppermint candies” by Don & Janet Beasley is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

No, not throwing peppermint candies at the mice, or fending them off with candy canes, although it may come to that.

Dropper-stopped bottle of peppermint oil behind a small stack of tiny plastic containers with cotton balls in top one, and a small stack of plastic lids next to those

Does this look like an experi-mint?

But first I’m trying peppermint oil. You can use a few drops of the oil in water with a little bit of organic liquid soap, and spray it wherever you think the mice may be tempted to enter. Supposed to be effective at repelling the little darlings for a few weeks. Mice are reputed to have an extremely acute sense of smell and to hate the scent of peppermint (do they have mouse focus groups to figure that out???), so even if you can’t smell the spray residue, they can. I suppose you only know it’s worn off when they start joining you in the living room to watch Queen’s Gambit on Netflix.

The other method is to pop a wick and a small bit of the oil into a small plastic container, slice a small slit into the lid, cover the container with the wick sticking out, and set the container/s wherever mice may run.

Lacking a ready supply of wicks, I’m resorting to a stopgap measure: putting a cotton ball inside each container, giving it 6-10 drops of the oil, cutting about a half-inch triangular hole in the lid, snapping the lid on and putting the container where I’ve had mice infesting in the past. Thus far this means the basement laundry room, where those three mice already fell to the jaws of death this fall, and the drawers storing kitchen wraps and oddments, which the mice seem to attack every year, even though there is nary a crumb of food to be found there.

inside back of kitchen drawer showing small plastic container with cotton ball, flanked by boxes of kitchen wraps

The best defense is a good offensive smell.

I suppose I should be more systematic about all this, and put peppermint containers all along the knee wall around the basement, at least where I can reach it. But that’s going to have to wait until I get through the next items on the priorities list.

And for my next act…

Foliage of siberian irises that have succumbed to frost: splayed out flat, and mostly brown with w few green leaves remaining

TBD=To Be Divided

And what are those, you may ask? Hmm. I could plan it. In fact, I do plan to dig up and divide at least the largest clump of Siberian iris that is making an unholy mess of itself all over the front walk right now.

And there are all those bearded iris corms and daffodil bulbs and grape hyacinth bulbs that got dug up during the summer, and I should put them in somewhere. Yeah, the big question is, WHERE?

Narrow cardboard box containing Siberian iris corms (far left), green flowerpot containing tiny grape hyacinth bulbs, and two small containiners with narcissus bulbs

TBP=To Be Planted

And then there’s the blushing turtlanium and the swamp rosemary, which ought to go in somewhere if I could only decide where…

Oh, and the last stonycrop plant that I didn’t get in during the summer but is still flourishing (or I hope so; at least, it was two days ago, before the twenties hit).

And, and, and…

Sasanqua camellia bush in bloom, obscuring most of a house behind it; bright pink blossoms all through glossy dark green foliage, and a scattering of bright pink petals on the grass in front of the flowerbed

Sasanqua camellia, and not even full bloom yet
November 15
photo by Hillary

By the way—not that I’m trying to distract you from my failings or anything—remember our visit to Hillary’s garden in Charleston, SC? She promised to provide an update when the sasanqua camellia really bloomed, and yesterday she sent me a photo. This, she tells me, is still short of full bloom, so we have another visual treat coming. Maybe even in time for next week’s post.

Will I have progress to report next week? We’re gardeners, aren’t we? Hope springs eternal. Stay tuned.

The best guarantee that I’ll get some of this stuff done is that it’s the only healthy distraction I can find to the travesty going on at the national level. I’m not going to go on the rant about that because it helps my blood pressure not a whit. I will only say that I devoutly hope that we can make a transition soon to a national leadership who take this galloping pandemic seriously, who will organize a response to save lives and sanity along with livelihoods, and safeguard the health and wellbeing of all the people working in medical care, now straining to cope with an inhuman burden of increasingly massive proportions.

Brace yourselves, Georgia. There are lots of postcards coming your way. You really may be deciding the fate of the nation, come January. By which point, things there may even be getting ready to bust into bloom.

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6 Responses to November miscellany

  1. Susan says:

    Hello Eveybody! Mice seem to be the common denominator here, at least for this non-gardener who reads Kateri’s posts because I love her writing and thinking (The Augean Garage? Herculean effort! Did I mention I also love Greek Mythology?). Here’s a fool-proof mice-catching tip—I have used Have-A-❤️ trap for years. Even have larger versions for squirrels and raccoons 🦝 (have caught one of the latter). But my mice, similar to one of the contraptions described above, would enter, gobble the peanut butter at their leisure, and stroll on their mousy way. Here’s the tip—buy peanuts in a shell. Put a tiny dab of Super Glue, Gorilla Glue 🦍 works best, on the peanut in a shell 🥜, and attach to the interior mechanism. The mouse will enjoy tugging at the peanut until the movement sets off the trap. Then I drive them up to a secret location with a dumpster and let them go. But if your trap is the jaws of death, no judgment here. Unless you’re considering trapping a 🦍 for your next post, Garden With A Zoo?

    • Kateri says:

      You’re right, Susan, the mice seem to be the most popular topic so far. Good timing on my part, I suspect–this being exactly the time of year when they rush our houses in legions.
      Thanks for the great tip on the Have-a-Hart traps; I hope the tender-hearted among the audience can put it into practice. I have fun imagining you carefully dabbing Gorilla Glue onto peanuts-in-the-shell.
      And thanks for being such an appreciative reader!

  2. Dori Ostermiller says:

    We just discovered a huge mice infestation in our house and have been trying D
    The cruelty free traps but they don’t seem to catch anything!

    • Kateri says:

      Ugh, what a nasty problem to have, Dori! And unfortunately, given that these little guys and gals carry Lyme-disease ticks, you just can’t coexist with them. Wonder if you could rig some kind of peppermint fumigant to drive them away. I’m just not sure how much the peppermint scent would affect house pets. I imagine it could irritate a dog’s hypersensitive nose.

  3. Judy Branfman says:

    Brilliant idea about little containers of essential oils to keep the mice – and bugs – away!
    Thanks for your wonderful posts!

    • Kateri says:

      Wish I could take credit for the idea, Judy, but I cribbed it from some online advice. And since you mention bugs, yes, peppermint oil is supposed to work to repel spiders and some six-legged critters, too. I have mixed feelings on the spiders, since they dispose of so many real pests, but I do have to admit to being a bit creeped out by the fat jumping spiders that occasionally show up in the house.

      And other essential oils do apparently work as repellents, like the tick repellent (a diluted mix of oils of clove, geranium, rosemary, cedarwood, cinnamon, and two kinds of mint) I’ve been spraying myself with every time before I waft into the garden. I think it works on ticks, but it has never seemed to impress the mosquitos.

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