It was a grab-bag week, so this is a grab-bag post.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
- 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:
And not a moment too soon, with those hard frosts hitting.
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
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.
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.
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!
No, not throwing peppermint candies at the mice, or fending them off with candy canes, although it may come to that.
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.
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…
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?
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…
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.