Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Strawberries and Storms

Just when we thought the yard couldn't get any emptier, we were hit by a storm this month that produced an EF1 tornado.  When we first moved into the duplex, we had to stare at an incredibly ugly tree that sat smack dab in the middle of the hill that is our backyard.  My dad was convinced it had been planted to act as a shade tree, but that theory quickly went out when the tree failed to even slightly shade the house or porch at any point during the day.  The next guess was that it was to keep the hill from eroding.  That theory seems more likely as the tree itself was a rapidly growing, invasive species not native to North America.  I'm sure the roots are doing their part to keep the hill in place, but the tree also managed to kill large portions of grass, invite grubs to take up residence below its long branches, and of course provide an eyesore of a view to all who gazed upon it.  Not to mention the thrill of trying to mow under the darn thing!  So one can imagine the joy that filled our home the night the tree was struck by lightning!  (Picture is of said tree after getting struck in 2009.)  The lightning strike was confirmation that someone out there, high in the sky, agreed that the tree had to go.  A tree 'expert' reviewed the situation and informed our landlord that the tree was a goner and needed to be removed.

By September of 2009, some trees in a neighbor's yard decided they too wanted to join in the fun.  Most likely caused by disease or over-crowding, a bunch of heavy trunks and branches fell into our yard and broke the fence in three different spots. (Some of the broken fence shown in photo above.) There was no storm that could be blamed this time, unless it was old damage that finally got the better of the trees.  This did not exactly clear space in our yard per say, but it did remove some visual aspects.

Fast forward to June 8th, 2011.  I was just minding my own business, sitting and watching the evening storm roll in.  I noticed that the wind was wiping things around and I kept hoping my plants were safe.  At some point, when I wasn't looking, the tall pine tree at the top of the hill fell down.  Just snapped right at the base and fell flat.  I didn't hear anything other than the sound of the storm, and I didn't see it at first, because it was dark. (Pine tree still standing at left.)  It was so odd and surreal and became even more so the next day when it came to light that there was in fact a tornado.  An EF1 tornado is the lowest grade they give, and from the time frame confirmed by the National Weather Service, the tornado sirens that DID go off were after the fact.  Rather scary, but I did not see anything that would have indicated a tornado.  Except of course the tree that went down!  Unlike the first tree that kicked the bucket, this tree loss was sad.  It was a rather nice looking pine tree and will be missed!

The good news in this story is that no one was hurt and my garden plants did not suffer the same fate as the tree.  Not to be outdone though, the strawberry plants have been experiencing their own issues.  We are days away from fresh, homegrown strawberries ripe for the picking.  This does not mean the berries will come quietly.  I first noticed holes appearing in some of the leaves of the plants after fruits had started forming.  This lead to an investigation that turned up two different insect pests!  One was easy to identify; the spittle bug.  Not a pest that one needs to do anything about, since they rarely cause significant damage, and they move on rather quickly.  The other pest was a bit trickier to identify and involved contacting an entomologist.  Turns out there are Strawberry Sawfly larvae feeding on my strawberry leaves.  How these little buggers got to Wisconsin is anyone's guess since they are normally found no further East than North Dakota!  Regardless I have been removing them by hand as I find them, and hope the ones I miss hurry up and turn into the primitive wasps they become as adults.

The hand removal technique has had a wrench thrown into it in recent days, because the strawberry fruits have started turning red.  This has caught the attention of other, larger creatures who could care less about the leaves.  I noticed some half eaten fruits and decided despite the insects, I had to cover the strawberries.  So now they are covered.  I checked today and there is no new fruit damage!  Success!  I hope this means we will actually get to enjoy some yummy, whole berries.  So far so good!

In addition to the above activities, I finally got all the tomatoes and peppers in the garden.  I also did something new this year; I mulched!  I have used black plastic 'mulch' in the past to prevent weeds, conserve moisture, and keep my plants' roots warm.  This year I put down the plastic mulch in some areas, and cocoa mulch in the areas I normally put grass clippings or nothing.  I am very pleased with the outcome.  It looks great!  And being cocoa mulch, it smells great too.  I also made a point to leave space for walking when I mapped out my garden this year, so that I can harvest easier.  Though I am not sure if it will work as planned since things have yet to reach their full size.  But at least I tried!

Now I leave you with a photo album, because there were too many pictures to post here.  Enjoy!

Blog Update June 14, 2011
 Click above to see album :)

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