Playing in the dirt.

Posts tagged ‘sustainability’


It’s time to tackle Grow Write Guild Writing Prompt #3, which is the first in what promises to be a very interesting series of posts documenting changes our garden spaces from the beginning of the season through the summer.

My garden is dry and brown right now, in part because three days ago, it was under a layer of airy, dirty snow.  We’re also back under a winter storm warning, so it might well be back under a layer of snow by this time tomorrow.  So, while my seedlings enjoy their continued respite from our harsh climate, my garden looks like this:

A raised garden bed with an A-frame cover next to it.

Last year’s bed and cover.

I set the cover on the ground for the winter, deciding that it would be less damaged by contact with the soil than it would be by being continually blown off the bed and into the fence.  (Wyoming is where the wind lives. It just visits other places.)  I wasn’t sure it was going to survive the winter, either way, so I’m pleased to report that it seems perfectly sound and able to withstand a second season.  I pulled chicken wire across the bed and stapled it down to keep the feral cats from using my garden as a litter box all winter, also with success.  The twine strung every almost-foot is broken in several places, but I expected to need to restring my spacing markers anyway.  I’ll pull the staples for that when I remove the chicken wire, and cut it into suitable lengths to leave for birds to use as nesting material.  The robins have started to arrive, but they’re squabbling about whose bright idea it was to return before it was done snowing.

This year, I’m expanding out a bit to the north, where there are few stands of the tough bunched oats to fight through:

Dry prairie with a fence and some assorted junk.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

The dirt pile in the background was pulled off the front “yard” of the other home on the property, after having been soaked in herbicide so the owner could put in a rock garden.  While the herbicide indicated that it should break down into a harmless form in short order, I don’t plan to trust that dirt pile until I see it covered in weeds other than the ubiquitous and invasive Salsola iberica, or Russian thistle, an ironic symbol of the Old American West better known to many people as “tumbleweed.”  The stuff will grow in the absolute worst conditions, in soil still toxic to most other plants.  I usually pull them up in the hopes of keeping their numbers down to a dull roar, but since they’ll help rehabilitate that soil, I’ll leave what grows there alone.

Some assorted trash has blown in over the winter and will need gathered up and disposed of as appropriate, and that ancient CRT monitor marks the resting place of a beloved house cat, for the entirely pragmatic reason of keeping the foxes out of it.

Don’t let the stark brown fool you, though.  The grass is starting to green up around the base, where the dead blades from last year offer a little protection from the unrelenting wind and freezing temperatures.  Since I took the photos, I have scraped off the top layer from the areas for two new beds, leveled out a “bump” across one of them, removed the monitor (it’s been a couple of years, so there’s no remaining risk) and filled the depression in with the excess I scraped off the two new areas.

There’s still a lot of work ahead, but the first bits are done, so there’s that much less still to do.



Content note: This post contains pictures of insects, including beetles, a bee/wasp, and a butterfly.  Also, kittens.

There have been a lot of different visitors to my garden and nearby resources.  I’ve seen a couple of different bumblebees and what I think was a cabbage white butterfly, but they declined my request for a photo.

I’ve picked a few of these coppery beetles out of my garden, and I think they’re a variety of June beetle, which I grew up calling “June bugs” as they clustered on the window screens on hot summer nights as they tried to get at the lights inside, buzzing loudly as they flew.

A dime-sized reddish brown beetle on a pine board.

June beetle?

I’m not sure what sort of beetles these are:

A tiny red and brown beetle on a dandelion.

Tiny beetle is tiny.

A small grey-brown beetle on a dandelion.

Dandelions are tasty.

I’m not sure whether this creature is a kind of wasp, a kind of bee, or a kind of fly.  The narrow wings make me think its a wasp/hornet, but it was not aggressive, so I snapped a shot.

A yellow-and-black striped hornet or hornet-like bee or fly on light tan sand.

Hornet? Bee? Fly?

This butterfly appears to be some variety of Checkerspot, but I’ve had little luck figuring out which variety in specific.  Feel free to suggest possibilities in the comments!

A yellow, orange and black checkerspot butterfly on a dandelion.

Some sort of Checkerspot, I presume?

I’m pretty sure this is a deerfly.  It might also have been a Harrier jump jet, considering its sillhouette.

A black-and-white fly, possibly a deerfly, on a light grey rock.

Maybe a deerfly? It looked bitey.

There are some feral cats in the neighborhood, and it’s kitten season.  The trick is catching them before they turn into buzz saws, and finding them homes.  Unfortunately, “buzz saw” usually arrives two or three weeks before “weaned” shows up, and they’re often already tiny fuzzy balls of bitey scratchy pain before we ever see them, but we have managed to catch several over the years to find homes for them where they are neutered or spayed, which helps keep the population down.  I wish there was a Trap-Neuter-Release program nearby, so I could get as many of the adult cats spayed or neutered and some basic vaccinations, so there would be fewer kittens and less fighting, but I have not been able to find one.  We don’t mind the colony much, since we’re kind of rural, and they keep the mice out of the house, but it’s less than ideal for the cats to spend all summer fighting and breeding and then all winter trying to survive long enough to do it all over again.

Still, there’s a lot about kittens to recommend them…

An orange tabby kitten beside a roll of wire fencing behind some sprigs of grass.

Ginger tabby kitten is contemplative.

A mostly white calico-tabby kitten in grass.

Caliby kitten is brave and adventurous.

No News Is No News

Content note: This post contains images of insects, specifically butterflies.

Although it has been 7 days and most of my seed packets say 7-10 days to sprout, there’s no green yet in the garden.  Those first couple of nights the temperature did get down to flirt with freezing, so I won’t be surprised if it ends up taking all 10 days.  I plan to do my next round of planting either Wednesday, if nothing has come up by then, or next weekend if I have sprouts to promise eventual crops.

There were several butterflies and countless bees and pollinating flies visiting the dandelions earlier, so I poured them a puddle of water, since we’ve had next to no precipitation.  I also weeded some of Mom’s decorative annual beds before it finally got too hot to be outdoors, and watered her clematis, which was kind of droopy and sad-looking.  It’s much more sprightly now, between a good soak and the cloud cover that has moved in.  I didn’t get her new shrub planted like I’d planned — I didn’t want it to bake, so it’s still living in a bucket in the shop.  I’ll try to get a hole dug this evening, when it cools off a bit, if the thunder and smattering of raindrops doesn’t portend actual storms the rest of the day.

I managed to get a couple of good photos of the butterflies.  I obviously need to get my hands on good taxonomic keys, so I can have a chance of identifying these.  I think the first is a painted lady, and the second appears to be a Mormon fritillary.

A painted lady butterfly perched on a dandelion.

Painted lady. I think.


An orange-and-black Mormon fritillary butterfly perched on a dandelion.

Mormon fritillary. I’m pretty sure.

I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

Content note: This post contains images of insects, specifically bees and butterflies, which may be distressing to readers who have insect-related phobias.

A monarch or monarch-mimic butterfly sits on a dandelion.

A gardener might do the heavy lifting, but some of the most important work in the garden is done by some unusual staff members: pollinating insects.  These tiny garden helpers are happy to work for free, but it’s kinder to offer them some compensation in the form of food, water, and/or shelter.  That’s why I’m happy to see the bright faces of humble dandelions each spring.  These early flowers are an important food source for wakening hives of bees after their winter hibernation, at a time when little else is blooming.  Migrating butterflies are also well-served by these plants that so many consider weeds.  The shy monarch or monarch-mimic to the right declined to be photographed with open wings.

The current crop of dandelions look like tiny airports, with a variety of small bees and bee-mimicking flies zooming in to land briefly and rummage among the petals before taking quick flight to the next flower, while sleepy bumblebees bounce slowly between clusters and have a leisurely me

The bee in the below photo has a greenish tint, and it was humming merrily among the dandelion patches, doing as bees do.  In this close-up view, there are tiny flecks of yellow pollen caught in the hairs on the bee’s legs and abdomen, which will be carried to the next flower.  There, some bits of pollen will be transferred to the new flower, and more pollen from the new plant will stick to the bee, some of which will become bee food, and some of which will be transferred to a different flower.

A bee collects pollen and nectar from a dandelion.

Besides the obvious of leaving dandelions alone, you can encourage pollinators by planting a variety of nectar-producing flowers that bloom at different times of the year, providing an on-going source of food for such beneficial insects.  You can also make sure there is a source of clean water with a water feature or a small, shallow saucer that you fill each day.  If you have room and no nearby neighbors with bee allergy, you can also consider keeping bees or providing nest-boxes for solitary bees, such as described by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service.  Your county extension office will have information on how to support pollinators in your area.

Blog note: My schedule is still somewhat chaotic due to the previously mentioned family emergency.  Construction has started, but the going is slow, and I haven’t had the time to turn my notes and photos into coherent posts as yet.  Things should begin to normalize this weekend.  Thanks for your patience.

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