In Preparation for Springtime!

The recent sunshine and warmer weather is coaxing all of us out of our winter shells, isn’t it?  In the past week or so, I’ve seen more people outside, more people smiling, more people taking their time than I have in months.  What a luscious time of the year.  It’s as if, before the crocuses and snowdrops, hope is the first thing to grow.

Michael and I speak regularly about getting out of town and moving to the country.  As odd as it seems, one of my major criterion is that wherever we move must have winter – not grey and rainy, but full snowy days, cold wind, and bright sunshine.  I’m a small creature with very poor circulation – but the reason I love winter is because it makes spring feel so good.  I will gladly put up with months of dead fingers and chilled bones for those two glorious weeks where everything comes alive again.  The way my heart sings, the way everybody’s hearts sing, makes it all worthwhile.

At this time of the year, when it’s still cold but our animal bodies feel the hibernation quietly dissipating, there is something else that warms my heart.  Planning the garden!

It begins with the ideas:  a big brainstorm.

What will we grow this season?  Michael prefers to say “What plants will we grow?”.  I prefer thinking outside the crop box, adding “community” and “grass” and “happiness” to the list.

 

And then comes the plan.  Michael brought out his big garden sketch book and went out into the garden for a long while.  Vaguely to scale, he sketches out a detailed version of the backyard, including the places we’ll keep some grass, sectioning off areas for dedicated vegetables, noting where we have already planted.

 

 

The cherry tree in the left foreground will be getting a massive haircut in the coming weeks.  Pruning a cherry tree:  blog post to follow.  The Manitoba Maples along the fence in the background will get a good hacking as well – but to decrease their productivity – the woody weeds they are.

Next, we pull out our seeds.  Michael and I have both been saving seeds for years and when we coupled, we put together our seed collections; some saved from years of harvesting, some purchased, some swapped.  It means that each year, however, we need to really go through the whole lot, deciding one carrot over another, Delicata Squash over Butternut, and so on.  It’s a process and that’s why we start early.  That, and we’re excitable.

 

 

The sandwich bag in the foreground is a small selection of the Calendula seeds we harvested last year.  It’ll be great to see which of the varieties flourish.  One of my favourite varieties of our last year’s garden was the Painted Calendula.

 

 

Ohh…the memories of summer.

It’s coming soon, my friends.  Another winter melting away to fill our rivers and to give space for the beauty of springtime.

Ant Farmers

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while.

A couple of months back, the ants took over our calendula patch.  And when I say “took over”, I mean it.  They moved in with their little ant tractors and set up shop.  It was like the ant gold rush.  Only  they weren’t interested in gold, they were interested in aphids.

Ants are incredible creatures in many ways: they have a complicated hierarchy (albeit feudal); they can carry more than 50 times their own weight; they even lay down a trail of pheremone for other ants to follow toward a food source.  But the aphid thing, well, that tops it all.   Ants FARM aphids.

Check out this video.

According to this article at Science Daily, there are tranquilizing chemicals on the ants feet that calm the aphids – completely halting the possibility of any potential aphid uprising.

They also, as you might have seen in the video, chase off any aggressor.  Simply reaching in to pick a nearby tomato will bring a stream of angry worker ants to attack your unsuspecting fingers.

The ants drive the aphids up the stalk of the chosen plant and keep them there through simple herding strategies.  They then stroke the backs of the aphids and collect the “honeydew” that the aphids release.

I find this entirely fascinating and completely disgusting all at once.

Since the ants were completely taking over our calendulas, we started spraying them with a soapy water solution intended to make them “slide off” the plants…and never come back.  It worked briefly.

But a couple of days later, once they’d chosen a new pasture within the garden, I brought out the big guns and just hosed them right down with the garden nozzle.  Wet ants and aphids flying every which way.

That only deterred them slightly as well – ants, they’re industrious if nothing else – so we eventually resorted to pulling on gloves and sacrificing those plants to the compost gods.

They would have taken over everything.  Really.