Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Woodchucks, Turkey & Manure, Oh My!

This is the time of year I usually make my first woodchuck sighting. Sometimes, I see more than one.... babies. I've been figuratively holding my breath because I hadn't seen any. Until two days ago. Sigh. I spotted him off in the distance, foraging contentedly on my neighbor's lawn. Let's hope the furry guy stays there. In the woodchuck's eyes, I have already "ruined" two good burrows: one behind the massive thicket of forsythia I just recently hacked back, and one in a brushy area on the other side of the house which is now more exposed than before.

There was another, more welcome visitor to Owl Hollow yesterday. Luther and Waldo saw their first ever wild turkey, and he saw them as well. In fact, as they peered at him through the sun room windows, Luther's tail a twitching wildly, the not diminutive-sized turkey approached the windows as close as five feet, clucking and tilting his head this way and that. Was he trying to determine if the cats were a threat? Was he just curious? I guess I can't know for sure, but after a good 10 minutes of clucking on the one side and twitching on the other, he pecked at a few sunflower seed shells below the bird feeder and then ambled up the back slope, eventually hopping a stone wall and disappearing into the neighbor's yard.

This past weekend, I headed down to the Second Company Governor's Horse Guard for some free manure. I grabbed 2 or 3 buckets as I headed out the door and had to ask at the stables where the manure was piled. I followed a paved road past the fields.

The road soon deteriorated into a badly gullied gravel road which led me to a massive pile of aged manure so high it completely shielded from view the other gardeners and their cars. The manure, I was told, was five years old, and I couldn't believe how great it looked: rich, dark loam with no odor and no indication it had ever been manure. This stuff is black gold!

One of the volunteers invited me to come back for more, and indeed, I made two more trips with more buckets, my recycling container, a cement mixing basin and as many other receptacles as I could fit in my car. It was well worth the small donation they asked for!

I have started expanding my vegetable garden. When finished, it will expand my space by approximately 50%. Right now, I'm turning over sod and letting the sun dry it out before shaking out all the dirt. It's back-breaking work.

But I had another thought. Now that I'm done cutting back the forsythia...

...the next step there is to rake out the new space now covered in debris and pruned branches. I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I want to plant grass (!) in that area to widen the pathway between the forsythia and the rhododendron.

I test-planted a handful of grass seed I had on hand to see if it would sprout. I'm embarrassed to say the seed is from 2001, so I'm guessing it won't germinate too well. But a quicker way toward a green lawn would be to simply dig up the sod from my expanding vegetable garden, drop it in pieces into the wheelbarrow and bring it to the southwest corner where the forsythia are. It will help me accomplish two purposes more quickly.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get through my inaugural mowing, but I forgot that my battery-operated mower (yes, my third season using it on 1.5 acres) doesn't do well with high, dense grass, and while at least 50% of my "lawn" is a variety of wild violets and other "weeds," there are some areas of lawn that are already overgrown grass. The mower konks out and and the total amount of lawn area I get cut is drastically reduced. So this was my second day of mowing and still I'm not done with the front yard.

One of my weaknesses is wandering around the yard, discovering some little "project" that needs doing, and dropping other things already in progress to tend to the new chore. Such was the case yesterday when I observed bittersweet and multi-flora rose taking over my clethra (summersweet), over by the back corner of the tool shed. So, donning Deet-sprayed, knee-high rubber boots but forgetting my gloves(!!), I waded into the overgrowth, clipping things as I went to clear a tick-free path for myself in order to access the clethra. I ran into bittersweet everywhere, yanking things out for some time before noticing something burgundy-colored and ominous sending six-inch shoots straight up out of the leaf litter. Poison ivy! Despite washing my hands with Tec-Nu (which I highly recommend), I already have some spots rising on my skin, but that, I'm pretty sure, is from an earlier exposure when I cleared the brush from around my cherry trees. (I was wearing gloves then!)

I did a decent, but not complete job of clearing some of the vines away. Unfortunately, some of them were growing right at the bases of the clethra, and digging them out would injure the clethra. It would also require me to crawl in there and brush my head against all sorts of stuff, and I'm too tick-paranoid to do that.

I note with some satisfaction that the clethra is spreading.


  1. There's nothing more beautifully scented than clethra.. I love it. The poison ivy not so much. It really is a danger trying to clear wild brush away, between the poison ivy and the ticks and the occasional wild turkey or woodchuck, watch out! So satisfying though, to clear out whole areas.

  2. All hail non-gas powered mowers! I'm an electric girl myself - I curse the cord, but my conscience is clean. Love the story about the turkeys - and the cats. I can just picture the stare down.