We are in our last week of May. Memorial Day gives us a long weekend to prepare for June and all that comes with June. Spring has been long and pleasant, relatively cool with just enough rain to keep the plants square. I like to delay mulching until the rains become less frequent and the temperatures start to warm up. I would rather see the soil around our plants dry out completely between the rains. Memorial Day is usually my magic date to prepare for the summer months to come.
Last weekend I pruned what needed pruning in our garden, including my Knockout roses and my Drift roses. Roses put on a spectacular show this year across the city. I believe the Knock-outs earned their name this year, because they were absolutely Knock Out! I dropped every last bloom before pruning the roses back to about a third of their height and width. It will give them lots of new advice… more advice, more flowers. I expect to see another bloom of flowers forty to forty-five days from the time I prune them. I took the opportunity to feed my roses with a slow release organic fertilizer called Milorganite. I also used cottonseed meal and ironite. Roses are notoriously iron deficient, so when you see the interveinal chlorosis or yellowing between the veins of the leaves, you can make them green again very quickly using ironite. Ironite is a granular application that can be used safely on just about anything that turns yellow. The other plants that I keep ironic about are gardenias, petunias, and cast iron plants. I use it preventively once a month to keep the plants looking nice and green.
After pruning and fertilizing, I spread pine bark mulch all over to help keep weeds out and keep moisture in as the dry season approaches. I applied the same fertilizer and mulch to plants that weren’t ready to be pruned, like my flagship hydrangeas and Japanese yews. They suddenly had a big growth spurt, which consumes a lot of energy, so I thought I had to help them. We finished (ha ha) planting our pots around the property, so we cut the bedding plants lightly and gave them a good dose of organic fertilizer. Espoma Plant Tone is my choice for them and our vegetables. Mimi finished planting our vegetable garden this weekend. We feel like now is the time to plant eggplants, okra and peppers. We never have much of a chance to cultivate them until our time has stabilized like right now.
The next thing we look forward to now is hammering spikes of tree fertilizer into the ground every three feet below the drip line of our giant oak trees. A tree’s drip line is the area furthest from the trunk of the tree with branches above it. This is where the little white fibrous root hairs are found. Most of the roots located directly under or near the trunk serve to stabilize the tree and do not have as much to do with absorbing nutrients. We have been driving tree tips into the ground for twelve years and we are convinced that it makes a huge difference to the health of our trees. It’s an old trick that my dad taught me a long time ago.
These fertilizer tips have been around since the sixties. I helped him drive in more spikes than I want to count. When our kids were still living with us, we made it an annual thing. We turned up the music, everyone took a crate of spades and we destroyed areas in the yard together before moving on to another area. It was really fun when they were younger. They were excited about it… hell, every kid likes to be told to use something with a hammer until it’s completely underground or at least reduced to mush. Over the years they became less and less enthusiastic about the annual event, until it finally got so fiery that I would make sure they left before the peak started. . It’s life.
It will be interesting to see if they become happy little gardeners again later in life when they keep their own place maintained. I can already see that Mia has practiced and retained many gardening skills that she uses at her home in South Carolina and I have heard that she helps her friends in their gardens. His friends are always amazed by his knowledge of plants and his work ethic. They say they never did any plant stuff. She loves to introduce people, that’s really all it takes and then they get on with it. Max also uses his knowledge and skills around his home and helps others, as long as they pay… with money or a meal or drinks. As long as they keep practicing their skills, they will never lose their rhythm.
Last week’s column recounted my crossing to Israel from Egypt. This episode of Israel was only the beginning of tighter appeals in Israel. I had two months to spend in Israel so once I got it all sorted out with my buddy with the inflated backpack I went to Jerusalem where it all felt a bit more first world compared to where I had been hanging out in Africa for the past six months.
For the first time in a long time, I could drink the water and eat the food without worrying too much about getting sick. Everything was a little easier. At the same time, the prevalence of the need for the military was evident. When an Israeli reaches the age of 18, he is automatically enlisted in the military and spends so many weeks a month doing military exercises, including keeping a machine gun strapped to his back while continuing his life of all days. It created some awkward moments.
One evening there was a festival and everyone was partying in the streets and dancing to the music with guns behind their backs. It just seemed weird. Guys and girls have the same deal, when it comes to training. They are surrounded by countries which constantly threaten them with danger. One lazy day, I walked into a cafe where locals my age (18 at the time) were hanging out with good music. I sat down with some of them at a cafe table and ordered a coffee. Before I had my coffee, six or seven military policemen came running up for everyone to get out quickly. I was moving pretty quickly when dogs arrived and really made the scene even more confusing.
Someone had entered the cafe with a duffel bag full of explosives about two tables from where I had found a seat. The bomb squad brought the bag to the street to dismantle the bombs. I don’t know how they knew the bag was there, but I’m glad they did! Otherwise, my coffee would have caused more than a good caffeine buzz. I guess this sort of thing happened quite regularly because when the duffel bag bomb was dealt with, everyone came back inside… everyone except me. I headed to a good, inexpensive hostel to rest my bones.
One of my goals in Israel was to work in a kibbutz, just to rest and sleep in one place for a while instead of being on the move all the time. I went to the farm I had heard about but changed my mind after spending a few hours there. It didn’t look like my scene, so I kept moving. I skipped straight to my third narrowly avoided bombshell, but this story will be for another day. I of course came home with a healthy appreciation of where I came from. I love to experience these things… the sights, sounds and smells. These experiences will never leave my memory, but there is no place like home.