Nuts!

Can a tree be a hero? My answer is a resounding YES!

Now, I hear the chorus of your skepticism, indeed I do. Many of you will be quick to point out the faults of trees. The list begins.

One. Trees regularly get in the way of cars, and isn’t it silly of them to grow at curves in the roads. Totally the tree’s fault if a driver misses the bend.

Two. Trees haven’t the good sense not to fall over in high winds. Bad enough when they ruin the perfection of a park or forest by collapsing, but they are altogether too quick to fall on houses, innocently-parked automobiles, and power lines. Clearly the tree just lives to inconvenience humans.

Three. A tree, to use legal jargon, is an attractive nuisance. Cats can’t resist them. They are lured into a tree’s heights, there to become paralysed with acrophobia, thus requiring hazardous rescue. Claw marks on exposed skin are the usual result. Ouch.

Four. Trees produce leaves, which would be lovely if they didn’t insist on dropping them at regular intervals. Clogged drains, clogged gutters, and smothered lawns are the victims. The beleaguered humans must, of course, unclog and rake. Endlessly rake. Ugh.

Five. Trees grow. And grow. And grow. That sweet little sapling that was oh-so-decorative for its first ten years turns into a botanical Godzilla with the further passage of time. It blankets sun-loving flower beds with shade, chafes its branches against overhead wires, and attracts crow riffraff from the wrong side of town.

Six. One word – roots. Roots pretend to be docile, but they are a conniving lot. They slither under the sidewalk and expand upwards until the concrete cracks and buckles, the better to trip passersby. Underground pipes are powerless to resist the tree’s ever-thirsty roots. Leaf-clogged drains are child’s play compared to a root-choked water pipe.

But, please, let me interrupt you here and explain the heroism of a tree. Specifically, I will tell you about the hazelnut tree in my backyard and what it gave me despite what it endured this year. What did it endure?

Drought. The most obvious insult to the tree came gradually, but inexorably. We had a drought that began at level two, lingered a while at level three, and culminated in a parching level four. Such an extended arid spell was unheard of for our area and all the trees suffered. Placing a water sprinkler under the hazelnut tree was forbidden, and it had to subsist on its small share of the buckets of kitchen grey water, laced with soap and grease, that I toted out to the garden.

A plague of squirrels. Squirrels cannot keep their bony little paws off hazelnuts. They start their assault as soon as the nut begins to form, green and unready in the spring. With all the mental intellect of a clod of earth, the squirrel can’t understand that it is too early to harvest them. It takes a nut, bites open the shell, discovers nothing inside, drops it to the ground, takes another nut, bites open the shell, discovers nothing inside, drops it to the ground, and repeats this process endlessly. The ground below the tree is soon carpeted with these rejects. When the nuts finally do ripen, the fecund squirrels bring all their relatives and assault the remaining nuts on the tree, eating many, burying the rest.

Blight. Only today, I looked up into the tree and wondered, “Why is that small branch dead?” A bit of research revealed the horrifying answer. The tree is infested with Eastern filbert blight, a fungal disease that has worked its way north from Oregon and has arrived, most unwelcome, on my doorstep. With newly opened eyes, I now see that my hazelnut has struggled with this sickness since spring. The prognosis is grim.

But despite all this, despite the drought, the plague, and the blight, my hazelnut tree has given of itself to my benefit. My hero.

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Such heroism must not languish unacknowledged. I hereby resolve that I will not mutter curses when I pull its cold, sodden leaves out of the gutters this autumn, nor will I grind my teeth when I scrape up leaves plastered glue-like to the patio. Further, I resolve not to sigh with martyrdom when I trudge out, dragging the grass rake behind me, for the umpteenth time to clean up yet another dump of fallen leaves.

Am I nuts to make such resolutions? Well, obviously!

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My Food Garden & Other Freaks of Nature

This year, I can feel it, I will be perfect. No, I won’t be polite without fail to the idiots of the world. Neither will I swear that not one morsel of junk food will pass my lips. Seriously! Indeed, I can pretty much guarantee that dirty dishes will pile up on occasion. As for keeping the clutter off the top of my desk…don’t make me laugh.

But I will be perfect. This year I will do everything my food garden needs, even before it needs doing. I feel keen, motivated, and lucky. What could go wrong?

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I’m already getting a great start on the season. I’ve been hoeing down early weeds before they have the chance to get out of control. I’ve fed the rhubarb and the raspberries, and I’ve checked my stock of seeds, making note of those that are in good supply, namely, Silverado chard, Ruby Queen beets, scarlet runner beans, Lebanese zucchini, and vegetable marrow, and those that need topping up, not surprisingly, a longer list.

My biggest struggle at the moment is to hold myself back. There’s still the risk of frost in my area, hardiness zone 8B, according to the experts. It’s definitely not time to be hurling tender seedlings into cold, waterlogged soil. That would not be the act of a perfect steward of the garden. I can only imagine the horror and agony of a bedding plant set out too soon.

“What? Really? How am I supposed to photosynthesize when there’s no hint of sunlight showing through all those roiling grey clouds? It’s so dark I can’t tell night from day. Ur, wait a minute, I think the clouds are parting. Those dots of light are stars, right? OMG! The temperature is plummeting. That leftover raindrop is freezing on my leaf. Aaaiiiieeeee!”

You might be thinking that I’ve had this delusion before, this dream of having a year when I’m the perfect food gardener. You’d be right, of course, but my previous failures were never my fault. The Universe itself conspired against me.

This year, though, I will put the Universe in a headlock and make it beg for mercy. It’s just a matter of adjusting my priorities. My best friend’s car broke down and he needs a ride to the hospital for some urgent medical tests? Sorry, my scarlet runners are due to be staked. Your daughter’s kitten went missing and you want me to join in the search? I’d love to help, but the corn needs to be side-dressed.

After all, nothing should stand in the way of a perfect garden. Right?