All in a day’s work

Yesterday was the 4th of July, and I had the day off of work. For some time I’ve been designating this day for yard work, and I had a long list of chores I wanted to get done outside of the house.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin happens to be in the middle of an intense heatwave.  They predicted highs in the upper nineties, with the humidity pushing the heat index up to as high as 107 degrees. Not great weather for pulling out waist high weeds and turning over dry soil. I debated hiding out in our cool basement and sorting through some of the boxes down there…and then I realized that, heck, I am young and perfectly healthy and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get the things done that I wanted to. I’ve worked in really hot temperatures before at the Berry Patch and in my parent’s gardens. And lord knows that people all over the world get up and work outside in harsh weather every single day. I was not going to wuss out. I’m a homesteader, and if I’m ever going to do this successfully, I need to challenge myself.

Well, I asked for it. It was HOT. I tried to get the hardest chore done first (weeding and turning the soil in the garden) before the hottest part of the day, but even the morning temperatures were pretty intense. Plus, turning over the soil by hand is not an easy task. Hopefully by next year, we’ll be able to find a good price on a rototiller.

It’s funny, when I initially looked at the existing garden space it didn’t seem THAT big to me. However, when I was working the soil I realized that it’s probably the biggest plot of land I’ve worked with since moving to Milwaukee. I’m used to gardening in little 8X4 raised beds! I haven’t officially measured, but I think I’m working with something like 240 sq. feet here. I plan on expanding it in future years, but for right now it’s perfect.

Anyway, with lots of water breaks, I got all of the weeds and catnip pulled and turned over about half of the dirt before I had to leave it alone for the afternoon. I worked on some less strenuous tasks instead – bunching the catnip (more on that later), building a trellis out of branches from the yard and creating a new little garden to grow Morning Glories in. Jason had work to do for his job, and had set up a desk in the basement so when I took water breaks I would go and hang out down there.

When it started to cool down marginally, I went back to digging. It was still inhumanely warm, so I had to go very slowly and rest in between rows. Also, the garden had SO many dandelions, which meant that every spadeful I would turn over needed to be looked at and the roots pulled out. The northern half of it has very dense, clay-like soil and I was starting to feel like this would be a never-ending task. But I did it! I was able to transplant my potted vegetables and herbs, and lay down a small section of newspaper mulch (I ran out of paper, or I would have done more).

I’m a little disappointed in the quality of the soil. As I mentioned, half of it is very clay-like. I didn’t see many earthworms,  but I saw lots of ants and earwigs, both of which are pests. And obviously, the weeds were out of control. In my experience, good soil tends to have way less problems. I can tell I’m going to need to be diligent about adding compost and keeping the weeds under control until the soil improves.

After getting the garden ready, my next chore was to create a small bed in the backyard for strawberries. We want to use the back half of the lawn for fruit production, and this was a first step. I found an existing strawberry plant hidden behind the catnip in the garden, and I had some potted plants as well. Jason’s business partner grows heirloom strawberries, and will be giving me some runners for the new bed. Hopefully we’ll have strawberries next June!

I’ve never started a brand-new garden before, so it was another challenging task to bread the sod, haul rocks, build the wall, and haul the topsoil. But now I can say that I’ve done it, and I know what to expect when I do it again (which I will).

My last two feats for the day were planting the window box outside the living room and cleaning off the back patio. I didn’t take any “Before” photos of the patio but yuck, it was nasty. It was piled with decomposing branches, old cocoa moss liners, and the previous owner’s dried up Christmas tree. After clearing the debris away I swept it and hosed it down and now it looks great. I can’t wait to have a bonfire back there!

Finally, I planted some vinca vine and Celosia in the window box. Now both boxes are planted with flowers from the Berry Patch. I’ll have to get some pictures of them soon!

At the end of the day, I was dead tired and dirtier than I ever remember being. I had a film of sweat and dirt everywhere, along with a couple of bug bites, scrapes, and a heat rash on my chest. I had wanted to plant some cucumbers and beans, spray the weeds throughout the yard with vinegar, clean up the space by the driveway and pot a few more random annuals, but I was pretty content with what I did get done. Aside from mulching the garden, the biggest chores are completed and I can work on the rest of it here and there when I have time.

One thing I do have to say is that, now that I have a taste of how hard they worked, I have such huge respect for my parents. Seriously, gardening (the right way) is not for the faint of heart! I’m only working with about 3/4 of an acre, at one time they were farming over four acres of flowers and vegetables.

Even though it was hard work, it was really rewarding. I love that I’m doing things that have a sense of permanency. For years, I’ve dreamed of having my own yard and being able to build things that will last. Now I can! I love being out there and watching the fireflies come out at night while the kids play games in the neighborhood. When I have a little bit less to do, I’d like to join them for a round of Ghosts in the Graveyard 🙂

You can check out photos of our progress on the house and yard here and here.

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4 Responses to “All in a day’s work”

  1. this is beautiful! i admire you. it’s been so hot here, and i’ve mostly refused to do anything.

    • Oh, I’m reveling in the air-conditioning at my office today :). I couldn’t work like that EVERY day. At one point while watering some transplants I turned the hose on myself.

  2. it looks SO goooood!

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