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30 June 2016

Of Beetles and Beans

We've had a break in the heat here on the farm, and the weather is absolutely glorious.  Today we have temperatures in the mid-70s F (around 24°C), blue skies, and a gentle wind.  It's a good day to be a cat ... to lie around in the sun and have a bath, after the buzz from the fresh-mown catnip (which made you act like a right happy dafty) has started to wear off ....

Over a decade ago, I bought some herb plants from a local farm, including catnip.  Just one plant; even though we had several cats, I figured that one plant would give me enough catnip to harvest and dry.  Well, I didn't know that catnip is a species of the mint family ..... nor that mint is invasive .... so now, all these years later, the other herbs are gone, but we have a thriving catnip crop running the entire depth of the house, back to front.  Up it pops, every summer.  Each time the man mows, he mows down the catnip, and it smells heavenly -- I can't imagine how wonderful it must smell to a cat -- and then it grows right back again!

So this week, the man received the go-ahead from the eye doctor to return to normal activity, and of course, the first thing he did was mow.  He's been grousing for weeks about the state of the yard, and finally he was able to remedy the situation.  That included mowing the catnip ... which is why the outdoor cat is all twitchy and glassy-eyed today.

Despite the beautiful weather, or perhaps because of it, I have grim news to share: we have been invaded here on the farm, and the interlopers are attacking one of the most beloved plants in the front yard -- my rosebush.

Yes, those are the dreaded Japanese beetles.  In all the years we've lived here, I haven't seen them before.  In fact, the last time I saw them was when I was around ten or twelve years old, and my grandmother had a Japanese beetle trap in her back yard.  I've read that the traps are still available, but they attract beetles to your yard that might otherwise pass you by; and I don't want to use a dangerous chemical on my roses, since the cat sleeps under the bush, the dogs chase each other around it, and the grandlittles love picking blossoms from it to put in my hands.  So I'm going to try something I read online: a "tea" made of boiling water poured over red cedar wood.  After it cools, you spray it on the plant, and it chases the little devils away.  I'll let you know how it goes.

There's plenty of other blooming plants to delight the eye.  The lilies are still going strong ...

... and the Rose of Sharon bush, which was not much bigger than a broom when we moved here, is in full flower, despite having grown intertwined with a young locust tree.

The chicory is blooming, and I love that wonderful, peaceful shade of blue.  Thanks to the wind, or to birds, or maybe both, there's chicory growing out of the center of the old maple stump in the yard.  I think it's easily as elegant as more showy flowers arranged by talented hands.

The Queen Anne's lace is going strong, and the grasses -- which were green only a few weeks ago -- are turning golden and developing the seedheads that will drop into the ground, slumber over winter, and awaken as new young shoots in the spring.

On a walk around the farm with grandlittle #3 today, I saw trumpet creeper blooming in the top of a juniper tree.  Years ago, I had the privilege of accompanying Appalachian poet and author James Still to a series of performances in elementary schools around eastern Kentucky. One of the things we saw as we drove through the mountains was a blooming trumpet creeper vine.  Mr. Still told me all about it, what the Native American people used it for, and how early settlers predicted winter based on how early or late it bloomed.

The real excitement around here lately has been grandlittle #3's thriving crop of beans.  It began a few weeks ago, when she asked me if I had any seeds she could plant.  I wanted to encourage her interest in gardening (she's six), but I had not a single seed in the house.  Then I remembered some dried black beans in the pantry.  I really didn't expect that they would sprout; but I scooped out a tablespoonful and gave her an old spoon, a clay flowerpot, and a partial bag of potting soil.  She was outside for quite a while, then she came back in and asked if she should water the seeds.  I gave her a cup of water, which she poured over the soil, and that was that.  When the man came home, I told him about her project, and he said, "You know they probably won't grow, after being processed and bagged and sold as food."  I agreed with him, and neither of us gave it any more thought.

Until we saw sprouts in the pot.

Ten days after she planted her little black beans, we had this in the pot:

I thought she was quite lucky to have three plants sprout up!  And then more came along ... and more .... 

until she had about thirteen little bean plants, in various stages of growth, all crammed into that one small pot. (By the way, that's catnip-happy Steve in the background.)

If this project was going to survive, those plants needed to be repotted!  So, that's what grandlittle and I did this morning.  I donated two stone plant pots (you may remember them from when I planted ranunculus; the beagles dug them out the same day I planted them) and we stirred up the soil.  Then carefully, carefully, we moved the little plants into their larger homes.


When our work was done, we had two large pots, each with five plants, and the small pot with only three.  We gave them a good drink of water and sat them in the sun, where (hopefully) they'll continue growing.  Even if they don't get big enough to produce before frost (and I hope they do), it's still good to see her little hands in the dirt, caring for the seedlings and making sure they have what they need to grow.  Come to think of it, there's a lot of similarity between my happy little gardener and her unexpected crop ...

... both are young, both need lots of love and nurturing .... and both are growing up far more quickly than this grandma can believe.

Thanks for stopping by.  I'll see you next week. ;)

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