Putting the Garden to Bed

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It’s mid-November and I’m feeling an increased sense of urgency to finish my winter preparations.  So after nearly a week of rain and drizzle, wind and cold, I’ve enjoyed this weekend’s golden autumn sunshine and the opportunity to work outside.

I’ve been focused on tucking my gardens in for their long sleep, this means doing some garden “housework”–pulling withered and spent plant stalks, removing stakes, trellises, garden-art, and covering the soil with some form of mulch.  It’s a tender feeling akin to mothering as I cover the soil, much like the feeling I get when I tuck in my sleeping children.  The material I use as a “blanket” on my garden varies depending on what I have on hand.  Several of my raised beds have a thick matting of white clover, which I scatter-sowed this spring to act as ground cover.  I’ve decided just to leave these beds as they are this fall.  Next spring I’ll chop up the clover with my hoe and turn them into the soil as green fertilizer.

Another bed I covered with a leftover bale of straw.  I never use hay on my garden–straw is more expensive, but it has gone through a de-seeding process, which I prefer in order to keep weeds at bay.

My husband has been donating the wood-shavings he collects after his woodcrafts and projects in the barn, so the perennial bed and the blueberry bushes get priority over this choice mulch.  Earlier in the summer I laid down a layer of wood-shavings on these beds, now I have a second large bag to spread in the garden for extra winter protection.  Thanks honey!!

All the leaves have fallen from the trees now, and I decided to rake them down the hill to the lower beds.  What a sensory experience it is to rake leaves!  With the golden afternoon sun shining on me as I raked, inhaling the sweet fragrance of the dried leaves, reveling in the satisfying crunch as I pushed mountains of leaves across the lawn to the garden, I felt close to nature, to this Earth, as I always do when I am out of doors.  Never mind the blisters and sore shoulders!!

The beehive is another extension of my garden, and as a first-year beekeeper I’m probably more worried than some about the survival of my colony through the long, cold New England winter.  A third “super” was prepared and stacked atop the hive, and wood-shavings were arranged inside this to help insulate the colony before the top was placed on again.  I wrapped the whole structure with tar-paper, and stacked three contractor’s trash bags of leaves around three sides of the hive and tied them in place.  The front of the hive is left open so that the bees may come and go during the winter.  That’s right–the bees will occasionally fly outside the hive during the winter–if the weather is warm and clear they might go out to stretch their wings, get some exercise, but mostly they work at bringing out debris(ie-dead bees) that builds up while they are incarcerated.  At last inspection the hive was crammed full of honey and pollen, and even now the bees are still returning from foraging with pollen–I can’t see a thing that’s still alive in November, but the bees are finding it nonetheless.  Fascinating!

naturejournalentrySince the weather has been so lovely I decided to take the opportunity to venture into the field with my nature journal.  I couldn’t entice the kids to accompany me, but since part of homeschooling is modeling positive behaviors and experiences I went anyway.  It’s hunting season, so the only day it’s safe to hike in the forests around my home is Sunday; thankfully this Sunday was beautiful.  How still the forest seems without the rustle of leaves overhead!  How quiet without the multitude of birds–even the squirrels were remarkably silent.

I’ve always held an avid interest in herpetology, and when I learned of the plight of the vernal pool (click this link to check out my new Squidoo lens which is all about Vernal Pools) it progressed naturally into a desire to protect these fragile habitats.  I’ve been observing the pool on the Burns property for several years now, but beginning next spring I will be undertaking a more serious scientific investigation of the pool (and hopefully other vernal pools in the area), taking measurements, samples, examining specimens, etc.  Unfortunately I live too far north to participate in the Audubon’s Vernal Pool Identification Project, but I hope that by striking out on my own I might have some positive impact. I wanted to go to the vernal pool to check on it’s status and record impressions for my studies, however–I’m embarrassed to admit–that when I reached the place where the main trail ends and the barely-worn footpath that leads into the sheltering hemlock grove–I stopped short.  I startled something in among the trees and it went crashing off through the leaves away from me.  I didn’t get a good look, but it was definitely bigger than a rabbit!  The hemlock grove is a notorious hang-out for deer since it offers food, shelter, and water all in one location in the heart of the forest.  I stood there for several long minutes trying to decide if I was brave enough to continue down into the cul-de-sac where the vernal pool lies.  Autumn is rutting season for the deer and moose and being a woman alone, unarmed, in the woods, I eventually decided not to risk coming face to face with an antlered buck.  I suppose as a naturalist and eco-warrior I should have set aside my fear and done what needed to be done in the name of science. But I couldn’t.

What would you have done in my shoes??

About Samantha Burns

Sam(antha) Burns is a farmer and beekeeper at the Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm in Maine. She has spent more than 20 years gardening and writing, has kept bees for more than a decade, and worked 4 years in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Sam uses methods of regenerative agriculture and bee-friendly farming on her 53-acre farm, and is a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation─especially pollinators. In her spare time she enjoys writing, and tormenting her 2 teenaged sons with her banjo-playing!

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