Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

tsugamole

And good luck with that.

The annual day of the Cussing of the Small Engines has finally arrived. Hi Ho Hi Ho It’s off to Earth I go. To the rectangular gardened part of her, to be precise.

And I’m prepared for the agony of man against nature, here at the barren beginning of the thankless months of preparation before our soil finally warms enough by the first week of June to throw me a beet for the labors that start today.

I’ll be ostensibly cranking up my Stihl tiny-tiller for its first test against the over-winter cover crop of winter wheat. To give it a fair shot of breaking that up, I’ll have to crank the mower for the first time since October, and crop the wheat as close to the ground as possible–a task made more difficult by the profound unevenness of the soil.

A platoon of moles have done excavation work that would make the Mexican border crossing’s subterranean status look positively solid by comparison.

Local word has it that this is going to be a terrible year for Japanese beetles–that predicated on the common observation at yesterday’s Organic Gardening and Wild Foods gathering that the moles this year are more prevalent in our soils than ever as they, totally without malice of forethought, go about their work of finding and eating grubs that fall into their dark tunnels.

They will also, inadvertently I have to keep reminding myself, expose the roots of newly-planted tomatoes, sprouted snow peas and foot-tall climbing beans to the dry, nutrient-empty air, and so much for all that kneeling and bending and visions of sugar peas dancing in my head.

I’ve read that an (not inexpensive) application of milky spore to the soil will kill the grubs and send the moles to happier hunting grounds. I’m off now to think about that while I muck about the cold, muddy, lifeless garden compound, trying my best to imagine that, one more year, we will win some, even as we lose some.

But in the end, win or lose, a guy could do worse than to lean on a hoe of a late spring morning in the gentle heat of a new day and take part in this grand and terrible pursuit of body heat, vegetable nutrients and the flavors of summer.

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fred

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

4 thoughts on “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!”

  1. Very nice piece! The soul of a gardener. Spring is so lovely, one can afford to be wildly optimistic. Most of my spring crops are about to go in and the moles and voles are running rampart here.

    For the peas, I soak the seed, rinse for a few days until sprouted, add innoculent and plant. I get better generation and the moles don’t eat quite so many if I sprout them first. The moles will eat most of the peas if I just put them in the ground. It helps that my dogs and cats like to hunt moles and our gazillion rabbits.

    Milky spore does work though it takes a while, likes years, but definitely worth doing. Put it around the plants you really want to protect first, roses, grapes, then spread the rest in a 3′ grid. Several of my neighbors did it when we moved here years ago and I hope/think I’m reaping the benefits.

    Happy spring!

  2. Ah Fred, despite all the hunting and killing (of course without malice or forethought!), and the feeling that I’ve just run into another version of The Myth of Sisyphus, it is always a pleasure to return here. 🙂

    You are so determined. I wish I had the room, never mind the soil, for such a venture. Across the street is the minute remains of what was once a giant snow bank. Ah, glorious spring!

    (Thanks for the “go take your Claritin” reminder.)

  3. Very entertaining post, Fred! I am dipping my toe into gardening for the first time, in a new Community Garden our town has initiated. I am definitely daunted by my total lack of any practical knowledge about plants, in spite of my major in Botany.

  4. Do you accomplish as much tilling and hoeing as you used to do or is the amount waning? Around here, folks have switched to tilling/hoeing/disturbing the soil as little as possible. Even in Kansas, folks are becoming more conscious of the carbon going into the atmosphere. Amazing! There are always trade-offs to be considered in making any change, aren’t there?

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