MY LIFE – The end is near

MY LIFE – The end is near

CUMBERLAND – The end is near. It’s not my own personal end of which I speak, but the end of my earthy toils ... as in the toils that cause earth to become encrusted on the knees of my work pants and to pack under my fingernails and into the treads of my work shoes.

No matter what gloves I wear and no matter how careful I am, ever since spring finally sprang two months ago, I have felt like an old lady version of Pigpen, the Peanuts character perennially enveloped in a swirl of dirt. I seem to leave a trail of debris in my wake every time I come in from outside, necessitating retracing my footsteps with a broom and dustpan, followed by a long, hard, soapy scrub with a nail brush under running water before I even leave the kitchen.

But the end is at long last within sight.

Yesterday I finally finished weeding the last square yard of the big perennial bed out front and all that remains to be done now is to mulch everything before the grass and weeds have a chance to pop back up again. I have already taken care of the garden (the self-same tomato garden I swore last year never to plant again) with a thick mulch of fresh straw, but what I need now is the nice brown pine bark mulch around all my flowers.

Until a couple years ago, I used to just have a truckload of loose mulch delivered, but these days, shoveling it one wagon-load at a time and hauling it around from bed to bed involves more back-breaking labor than I even want to think about anymore. Now I just buy it by the bag, have it carefully loaded into the hatch of my car in a way that I can then easily roll it out, one bag at a time, right into my lawn cart and drop it right where it needs to go. Then I slit the sack open, scoop and dump, spread it around, and move on to the next bag.

Although it’s a lot easier than it used to be, it’s still work and I’m thinking that maybe next year I’ll make it even easier and just hire someone to do it all for me. But in the meantime, trapped as I am in the here and now, the mulch awaits and today and tomorrow I will be spreading it.

That done, all that will remain is a bit of trimming and feeding to be done at my leisure.

I mentioned my tomato garden a few paragraphs back and the truth is that this year when push came to shove, I decided to give it one more chance. Everyone kept telling me that last year was a really bad year for tomatoes. It was a fluke of nature, and I shouldn’t take it as a personal failure that despite all my work all I had to show for it in the end was a handful or two of stunted fruit.

But this year I decided I would cut way back. Instead of buying plants in multi-packs I would purchase the plants individually, keeping it to one cherry tomato plant and two ... maybe three ... Big Boy tomatoes. The plot is very small and there is already rhubarb growing in one corner of it. No more overcrowding. No more making myself feel bad when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. This time I promised myself I would apply the K.I.S.S. rule (keep it simple, stupid!). I started by buying a single cherry tomato plant in a pot.

Before I could even put that one plant in the ground, my neighbor Sue came over and handed me four tiny lettuce plants, three eggplant plants, and what looks like a squash plant of some sort ... maybe zucchini. She was smiling broadly when she did it, explaining that she had just planted her garden and had these left over. The next day it was my friend Brenda who had bought more than she could use, and not wanting to overcrowd her garden, handed me two plum tomato plants that needed a home. And so there I was, with more than I needed, but needing to find room for them all, plus the one big healthy-looking Big Boy that I couldn’t pass up on my last foray through the local nursery.

So much for my carefully thought out plan to dig compost out from behind the shed, use some to top-dress the rhubarb and then mix a bunch more into the soil before lovingly spacing each carefully selected young plant and tucking it into the ground.

To paraphrase Lord Byron’s oft repeated quote about the best laid plans of mice and men, as usual, mine had all quickly gone awry. And so it came to pass that with rain ready to start falling and plants starting to wilt, I settled for quickly digging holes in the ground, stuck the plants in, hoped for the best and called it a day.

That was a week ago and so far, so good. Except for the lettuce having been nibbled down to mere nubs within the first 36 hours, things look to be thriving. Time alone will tell how it goes, but with all of my weeding finally done ... Hallelujah! ... time is almost once again mine.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.