Dolt I, II and III says: two for the price of one … and a few lessons earned the hard – very hard – way


For a variety of scheduling reasons, today you’ll get two letters for the price of one. Free, of course. But not free of angst, anger and embarrassment.

The first covers a particularly galling episode. At no time have I claimed to be – and as no doubt semi-frequent visitors to this blog would attest – the sharpest knife in the drawer. 

The litmus test has been the toe-to-toe matches with the raised beds in the garden. The inanimate wooden boxes seem to have outsmarted and one-upped me with maddening regularity.

Letter #2 deals with frustrations of the neophyte gardener that are a recurring irritant in the weekly letters. Exhibits A and B are the two letters that follow. Owing to self-inflicted errors and mistakes, self effacement ought to be in any gardeners toolshed. Its earned a place in mine.


August 28, 2018

Ellen/Reid: Circus magnate P.T. Barnum reportedly said “there’s a sucker born every minute” and if he did say as much he was undoubtedly referring to your dense-as-a-wood-post old man. Yesterday was full testament to my idiocy. It makes me the second stupidest person in the U.S. (behind you-know-who).

Robbie informed me there were healthy blueberry plants at a nursery about 10 miles west of here and that was enough for me to spring into action to expand the 4’x4’ blueberry plot. Last spring I knew almost right away the wood enclosure wasn’t big enough but there were other raised bed fish to fry. So upon news of the potted plants the plan was to expand the box by another six feet. It crossed my feeble mind to take the walk out back to do a measurement and count necessary nuts and bolts but I thought ‘nah, I’ve done this enough” so I shoved off for the five minute drive to Lowes. It’s at this point that it is worth recalling what a college journalism teacher, Larry Walkin, would caution/lecture those of us – over and over – in his news classes: “never assume anything.” Of course, his truthful admonition didn’t come to mind, and was completely wasted on me, until it was too late. This isn’t the first time I’ve recalled his sage advice.

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The extension of the blueberry bed looks benign in this shot but trust me, it was a real SOB. Self inflicted, of course.

Somehow I inexplicably became addled when it came to selecting treated lumber. For the life of me there was no recollection of what I’d repeatedly purchased to fashion five beds (plus yours, Ellen). Rather than drive home to do the equivalent of ‘measure twice, cut once’ I thought “I’ve got this” and plowed ahead. 

Fast forward: I bought the wrong size wood – 12”x12” instead of the normal 12”x10”. And thinking I’d be ever so smart and save myself some work, Lowes cut the 12”x12” into six foot halves. Not until I got home did it dawn on me the wood was too big so I had to rip saw off 2” with a dull blade (or would I be the dull blade?). There’s another 30 mins tacked on to the job. Dolt.

But that was just the start of a job gone wrong. As per usual after drilling 60-plus holes through 2”x10”s and 4”x4” corner posts for lag bolts in prior beds, I typically slid a big washer over the bolt so when it’s pounded in with a hand sledge, the head won’t dig into the wood. That was then, yesterday was now. Only after I’d drilled the 8th hole – and pounded the bolts through the full 6 inches of wood, did it dawn on me I’d neglected to slide on the washers. Now the bolts would have to be screwed out in reverse with a Vise Grip. It was so tedious in the 86F heat, bright mid-day sun and high humidity.  Thank God the kids next door weren’t outside because I erupted like Mt. Vesuvius. Jeez, I was pissed. There’s another 70 minutes tacked on to the job. Dolt II.

The rest went according to sweaty plan but I still fumed/raged every stinkin’ minute. A minor irritant was walking 100+ shovels full of dirt 7-8 yards from a pile of good soil to the newly expanded box. That didn’t help my sour, and overheated, attitude. After more than 90 ‘penalty’ minutes were tacked on, the nearly four hour job was a wrap.

I was completely spent. All I could do was droop on the back porch, sweat profusely on an Adirondack chair and slurp ice water, only to sometime later retrieve a beer from the fridge to continue my sulk. It’s just maddening to do the same thing in relatively smooth fashion time and again only to just go brain dead at the wrong time.

Today, however, he new blueberries are in, fertilized and mulched. The $15 plants better survive because if they don’t, it’ll be Mt. Vesuvius redux – and Dolt III.

Love, Dad


September 5, 2018

Ellen/Reid: The otherwise gigantic and healthy looking tomato plants just got replanted (aka tossed in a fit of anger) into the compost bin because they were filled with holes from some sort of voracious worm that cored its way to the center of the fruit. The whole season there weren’t a dozen completely-bug free tomatoes. Which made me livid because I tended to those beauties every day with heavy mulch and water, et al. I didn’t want to sprinkle a poison such as Sevin since that toxin would have made its way through the system to me or folks who might be on the receiving end of the red, purple or yellow fruits. I didn’t look online for pesticide-free remedies since it was so late in the growing season. That will come next year. The plants were on their last legs anyway and the garden does look a bit neater but it does frost me that there weren’t as many BLTs as there rightfully ought to be.

The garden taught me a boatload of lessons this year (notably I didn’t know what the hell I was doing most of the time other that watering). It apparently is not enough to plunk a plant in the ground and hope that it might make it to maturity. Hey, bugs gotta eat too but why my plants? Eat your fill but leave something for me. I’m really not sure how your grandpa and grandma managed such lovely fruit for all those years. But they did and I didn’t.

So here’s what I’ve learned the oh-so-hard-way: 

  • Don’t plant tomatoes within 18 inches of each other. They were too crowded and became so intertwined I didn’t know which plant was producing what and the diabolical bugs had a ready path from one plant to the next.
  • Stick okra in the ground earlier in the hot part of the growing season. The three plants were again planted too close to each other. I can get away with that but it’s no way to garden.
  • Plant more blueberries and raspberries. The 4’x4’ boxes, while well intended, were too small for a real crop. Plus, blueberries need the presence of other varietals to really cross pollinate and perform. Hence the boxes were expanded to 4’x10’ with a great amount of sweat – serious sweat – equity. Same with the dahlias: too close and too small a box. Would’ve been waaaaay more efficient to make 4’x10’ boxes right out of the gate.
  • Put down reemergence on the entire supposed-to-be-lawn area. The one real bumper crop to be found is a stand of crabgrass. It’s state fair quality. There’s no sicker feeling than mowing weeds since that’s all there is back there. Drives me nuts.

You can sense my angst and residual anger/frustration since a little reading AHEAD OF TIME would’ve yielded a far better yield. Robbie kind of shook her head when she saw in the spring how I’d proudly planted things. She knew better but kept her ‘I’ll tell you so later’ remarks to herself. She made some of those remarks in the past few days.

So this winter I’ll bone up on the extension service literature and, perhaps, do a better job come next planting season. There will be some collard greens (really?) planted at the end of the month and perhaps some other cold weather plants. See prior comment on extension service literature.

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Scraping away perfectly good grass to make way for a deck was arguably the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done. 

In other news, a roughly 15’x15’ area of grass has been scraped off to make way for the footprint of the deck. Honestly, it is perhaps the hardest physical labor I’ve ever done. It was excruciatingly difficult and tedious and just plain awful. I used a square shaped shovel but didn’t really make progress until Robbie – who else? – loaned me some kind of pick. Still hard work but it saved me hours of labor. She has good ideas on most things. If only I, and most men, would listen to the sage advice of women.

Love, Dad

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