Jerry Nelson: The in-between season

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

We are at that in-between time of year when the furnace runs in the morning and the air conditioning kicks in during the afternoon. We are paying to heat and cool the same air each day.

I’m not complaining, though. We have finally thrown off the icy shackles of winter, clearing the way for me to tackle the long list of overdue outdoor “honey do” projects.

Chief among them was lawn repair. Last winter, our neighbors came over to our farm several times to clear snow with their massive earth-moving pay loader. The lawn got scalped in a couple of places, which is not surprising. After all, the pay loader was designed to move earth.

Some scattered patches of damaged grass is a small price. Their loader moved more snow in five minutes than I could have in a week. Were it not for our neighbors’ help, I would still be shoveling snow.

So, I trotted out my trusty old wheelbarrow, inflated its fat flat tire, wheeled out to our grove, and selected a likely spot to create a borrow pit. “Borrow pit” is somewhat of a deceptive term as I have no intention whatsoever of returning the dirt.

My spade slipped easily into the rich black loam, topsoil that is the product of 130 years’ worth of composted leaves and twigs. As I dug deeper, I wondered when that particular soil had formed. Was this dirt from the year I was born? Was it laid down during a Great Depression dust storm? Am I digging up soil that my great-grandparents, who homesteaded our farm, trod upon?

As my borrow pit grew deeper, it occurred to me that in one way or another I had been digging holes my entire life. I felt a bit silly to think that I was digging one hole in order to fill another.

The large lawn divots were soon erased. Grass seed was applied, and the soil was raked smooth. Sparkles, our cat, sauntered over to inspect my work. After a bit of sniffing, she pawed a hole in the loose dirt and made a deposit. Sparkles must have thought, “Cool! A humungous new litter box!” Or maybe she thought that she was contributing to the cause.

“Stupid cat!” I mumbled as I re-raked the soil.

Some years ago, I planted a peach tree near our driveway. It bore a smattering of fruit the first couple of years, perhaps six total peaches.

Then something strange began to happen: the peach tree started to become a plum tree! After a just a few years, the peach tree had transformed entirely into a plum.

I thought about writing to a scientific journal about this shocking transmogrification. No doubt my discovery would be the talk of the horticultural community. I was searching for quotes to use in my Nobel acceptance speech when I stumbled across the fact that peach trees are often grafted onto plum rootstock.

Once again, facts robbed me of my shot at fame and fortune. Stupid facts!

I like plums. Sadly, the plum that had engineered a hostile takeover of our peach tree bore very few fruit. The plums that did grow were roughly the size of a marble and pretty much all stone.

I decided that the plum had to go. Being cheap – I prefer the term “thrifty” – I decided to eschew a stump grinding service and tackle the job myself.

Our trusty John Deere “A” was pressed into service. I chained the tractor to the sizable plum stump. Would the “A” be up to the task?

The tractor leaned into it and the stump popped out of the ground as easily as an oxen pulling a child from a mud puddle. Mission accomplished!

Not quite. A snarl of underground roots, some as thick as my arm, was left behind. The “A” patiently plucked them out one by one like so many woody nose hairs.

The resulting crater appeared to have been dug by a herd of deranged badgers. Being pig-headed – I prefer the term “tenacious” – I decided that we were going to have a peach tree come hell or high water.

We purchased a new peach tree and I planted it in the crater. I watered and mulched the heck out of it.

I don’t know if my wife and I will ever enjoy any fruit from that tree. But sometimes it’s not about you. Sometimes it’s about future generations, just as when my great-grandparents originally planted our grove.

New sprouts are beginning to appear in the repaired patches of our lawn. And the grass is definitely greener where Sparkles dug her hole.

Jerry Nelson