Grow tomatoes, they said

Back when we first moved into our house, and I was trying to build a garden that wouldn’t be raided by wildlife, people told me: “Plant tomatoes. The animals won’t touch them.” I didn’t plant tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes. I like lots of things made from tomatoes: pizza sauce, tomato soup, marinara, but an actual tomato has just the right texture to make me flinch when I bite into it. I’m a freak, I know, but there’s just something about the feel of a tomato that makes my tongue want to retreat down my throat.

Instead, I spent lots of time fortifying my garden. The effort paid off. I made my garden impervious to rabbits and groundhogs, etc., just in time to abandon gardening in order to take up the hobby of raising children. Through all the years my garden lay fallow, I took pride in knowing herbivores could not get at the various weeds filling the space.

This year, my wife took an interest in gardening. Men familiar with wives will understand this means she did a lot of pointing while I did an equal amount of digging around in dirt. The pointing was crucial; without it, I may not have understood which dirt I was to play in.

In our refurbished garden, we kept it simple, planting only cucumbers and peas. The cucumbers went wild, overrunning the peas as well as the garden fence. It’s a good thing we didn’t plant tomatoes in there; they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the invading cucumber hordes.

Cucumber plants going over the wall to carry their conquest into the back yard proper.

My wife likes tomatoes. She likes them a lot. So, we planted some tomatoes in a pot on our deck. They prospered well, until the fruit started to turn red. Then we began to find bites taken out of them. The Internet cast the blame at squirrels. The Internet casts blame for a lot of things at squirrels. I’m sure some of it is justified, but I bet some of it is thrown at them based solely upon reputation. Squirrels have a PR problem.

I wrapped chicken wire (or as the chickens prefer: flightless bird wire) around the pot. The depredations continued unabated. A friend suggested it must be birds attacking our tomatoes, but I’ve seen the mouths on the birds around our place and I doubt they’d leave teeth marks.

One day I noticed movement inside the wire. As I came closer, the movement noticed me. Up the wire scampered a dirty little red-faced chip monk. He leapt from the wire to the deck railing and was gone before I could do more than stomp my foot and yell at him to get a job.

What a nice chap. He left half of the only ripe one for us.

We slid the pot away from the railing and removed the accommodating wire. The thievery continues unabated.

To date, the tomato arithmetic has worked itself to a ratio of one tomato for us, one tomato for Chip. I guess that makes us Nature’s perfect socialists.

“I wanna do it!”

Whenever I go outside to do some man work, which hasn’t been often lately, I find an eager huddle of young helpers circling my ankles. You’d think we keep these kids chained in the basement for all their enthusiasm about going outside to dig a hole.

Over the July 4th weekend, I planned on doing one caulking project to ease myself back into the world of the useful. Somehow I was able to complete this project without any of the hindrance known as little boys being helpful. For all the good the project accomplished I might as well have had truckloads of their help.

I meant to relax the rest of the weekend, so as not to lead my wife into the illusion that I would be regularly useful around the house, but we stumbled into a trees and shrubs sale at buzz-kill Home Depot.

hunt and peck

“I wanna do it!” syndrome affects inside jobs as well, like computer work. This one’s helping me write my blog.

For years, we’ve had boxwood, or dogwood, or some horrible wood-suffixed plant growing in front of our living room windows. Whichever [random noun]wood bush smells like cat pee on a summer breeze, that’s the one.

Some half-priced rose bushes were just screaming to take the whateverwood’s place. I, and more importantly, my wife, heard their cries.

On Sunday afternoon, I hitched up my big boy pants and headed out to make the switch. I was followed outside by two boys, who having missed their earlier chance to pitch in, would not be denied this opportunity to help.

The first task was to trim the urinewood so I could get at its roots. The moment I started clipping, Big Brother was all over me. “I wanna do it!” he demanded.

Buster wouldn’t be left out. “I wanna do it!”

housework

I wanna do it!” love for the vacuum cleaner wears thin as soon as they are actually capable of pushing it.

Big Man had been made to stay in the house, and now he looked out at us through the window screen, giggling and making Dada words that certainly translated into a one-year-old’s version of “I wanna do it!”

When boys say “I wanna do it!” what they mean is: I want to use these tools to do something that is less work and more fun than what you want me to do with them.

As soon as I had instructed them what to do with the tools that their budding reservoirs of testosterone had commanded them to co-opt, they were off cutting bits off every plant in the yard except the one I had pointed them at. That one was too hard to cut. Gladiolus shoots were much easier, and proportionally more fun, to clip.

Fortunately, it only took clipping a few flowers for me to get at the roots of the shrubbery, 15 feet away. The task of picking up and carting off their clippings and mine cured them of their desire to help. Anything that resembles cleaning up will do that for boys. They found their own games to play and I dug three holes, free and clear of the burden of help.

It turned out to be a lovely afternoon.

The new babies have big shoes to fill.

The new babies have big shoes to fill.

Dandelion whine

I have a new toy for pulling weeds. Our lawn has lots of weeds. More accurately, our weeds have a little lawn in between them. During the summer, I can hide most of our weeds by mowing them to the same level as the grass. From the far side of the street, the green and level area surrounding my house looks almost like a regular lawn.

In Dandelion season, there is no hiding my shame. As my son used to say whenever he looked over our ¼ acre estate, “Look at all the pretty yellow flowers.” Dandelions send up a bright yellow flag of neglect, signaling to the world my impotence as a groundskeeper.

A lawn-full of Dandelions

“Look at all the pretty yellow flowers.”

I don’t mind Dandelions. My parents were farmers, and when you’ve got cows to milk, hay to bail, and a myriad pieces of equipment to keep running, it’s hard to give a rat’s ass about Dandelions. My parents didn’t, and up until now, neither have I.

But I don’t live on a farm anymore. I’ve started to concern myself with Dandelions because I’m beginning to feel like the Typhoid Mary of weeds in my neighborhood. Dandelions want a better life for their children. So they send their little seedlings this way and that to search for greener pastures, or in this case, lawns.

Periodically, I try to show respect for those around me. The latest flare-up of this civil attitude has inspired me to attempt to nip the coming neighborhood Dandelion infestation at it source. I’ve already tried to spray the horde into submission, but poison is an unreliable murder weapon. It left the Dandelions listless for a day; then it made them angry.

Dandelion choker

It’s nothing personal, Mr. Dandelion. You and I are just pawns in a wider Flora-Fauna conflict that neither of us are bright enough to understand.

They’ve come back with a vengeance. My new weapon resembles a metal cane with a circle of spikes at the bottom and a little ledge to step upon. You place the bottom of the cane on top of the victim, step on the ledge, twist, and pull out the weed by the roots.

Weed extractor

Fun for the whole family.

It works so well that the entire family wants to play with it. My son had to be the first to try it, but he’s too light to make it work efficiently. Then, my wife got hold of it.

My wife is a champion of maintaining the interior of a house, but her dominion ends at the threshold. She has rarely shown an interest in keeping up the appearance of the outdoors. This she considers to be the responsibility of Nature, with my occasional, if ineffective, help.

But once she tried my new toy, she was hooked. She’s spent two evenings in a row battling Dandelions. This sounds like a happy ending for me, right? No work and no Dandelions.

Except.

My wife, for all her strengths, is not the most proficient Dandelion hunter. Dandelion stems tend to lean off to the side (damn their milky souls), so if you aim for the bright, decoying flower, you will surely miss the root. My wife has made a regular hobby of missing the root.

She regularly pulls up out of the ground a wisp of Dandelion petal, a shock of our all-too-precious grass, and a clump of soil. Still nestled safely into the ground is the bulk of the Dandelion plant, waiting until she turns her back to send up a fresh stem.

I tried to show her how to locate the root, but she shook off my advice. “That stuff is all green down there,” she said. “How am I supposed to identify anything in that mess?”

“All you’re doing is surrounding the Dandelions with holes,” I told her. “There’s not going to be any grass left.”

She shrugged. “Well, it will just be the year without a lawn.”

And so it may be, if I can’t break her odd fascination with my new toy.

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful

Can’t we all just get along?