The last three days have been home improvement time at my house. On Thursday my carpenter installed a new, energy efficient back door. This eliminated a 1950’s storm door that no longer hung correctly and the 1922 back door that was original to the house. One day a few months ago I was down on the kitchen floor with a view of the back door, and I could see daylight underneath. I stood on my little step stool to look over the door and yup, daylight there too. Cold air was blowing through the old-fashioned keyhole, where Sherlock Holmes could have squinted inside to see what I was doing. No wonder I was paying $700 a month to heat this house!
I wadded an old towel along the bottom of the door, stuck a piece of Scotch tape over the keyhole and ordered a new door. It fits tight as a drum, though the carpenter had to rebuild the frame, which was an odd size. That was cheaper than ordering a custom-sized door. Fortunately the carpenter is a smart guy, and before I ordered he asked me what I wanted the door to “do”: just be an energy-efficient entrance and egress? Make a fashion statement to neighbors and the home’s next buyer when I get ready to sell? Open a window to my backyard so I could enjoy it? Or protect my privacy?
The answer turned out to be that I want the door to open itself when I’m coming in with a load of groceries or luggage from the detached garage. Every time it rains I have to set down my shopping bags on the wet porch and fumble with keys. So my head gets wet, the bags get wet, and one time I managed to drop my keys, which fell through the crack between my wooden steps and the house. I never did find those keys, but I did have an extra set.
So for the new door I bought an electronic lockset with a 30-foot radio signal. I can stand in the garage doorway, hit the button, pick up my grocery bags, shut the garage door behind me and dash into the house, using my elbow to unlatch the back door. Cool!
We figure I’m the first person in town to have a remote-controlled back door. Everyone else has a big high-def flat-screen TV, but I’ve got a door that actually improves the quality of my life.
Friday the overhead door repairman came up from the nearest city 50 miles away; that’s life in a small town, the trip alone cost me $60 plus the service call at $140. But an hour later I have a functional garage door again. Six weeks ago I plowed into it while backing my car out; I hit the button to raise the door, it started and stopped but didn’t raise up all the way, and boom! This left me with a garage door that wouldn’t raise or lower and a nice scrape on the roof of my Accord. It was embarassing, and the empty garage told all my neighbors I wasn’t home. I’m glad to get the thing fixed, even for $200; the door is better than ever.
Since it’s April I have been eager to get out into the garden. I’ve done some prep work on warmer days lately (above 50º F.) but I’ve really wanted to get something into the ground; in April a farmer’s thoughts turn to planting. (And with dirt like ours, honey, we’re all farmers here, even when we live in town.)
At Murphy’s Food King, the local grocery, Colleen has started her garden shop. The lean-to greenhouse is up in the back of the lot, the 20-pound bags of mulch are piled high and the first shipment of flowers has arrived; pansies of course, because they love cool weather. So now is definitely the time when gardeners’ juices start flowing.
I recently learned that it’s okay to start radishes and scallions before the last frost, as soon as the ground is workable. It’s also a good idea to stagger their planting by a week to 10 days so you don’t end up with more veggies than you can deal with; I’ve never heard this before. Last year my friend Peter sent me lots of vegetable and flower seeds from Holland, and I planted a couple of rows of radishes and onions in May, after the last frost (I live in Zone 5). I was delighted with the results, but now it turns out I could have planted much earlier, and then kept planting every 10 days and had produce all summer long. Isn’t the internet a great thing? (H/t University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign Extension. Their gardening pages are much more practical than Purdue’s, which are all about science and academic credentials instead of how to grow radishes.)
Yesterday it rained, but today is sunny and 60º, so I’ve just spent an hour or so clearing this year’s radish and onion bed, which last year grew petunias. It’s a small bed, 4’x3′, right next to the back deck with a western and southern exposure, lots of afternoon sun. I’d already removed most of the petunia stalks. I gathered up all the pine bark nuggets I put down last year and threw them underneath my lilac bush nearby; its leaves are ready to pop any day now. I used my little hand claw to break the soil, then dug deeper with my hand trowel, uncovering bunches of earthworms; what friends they are, nature’s own aeration machines. I didn’t hurt any of them, and they all burrowed their way back into the dirt, no doubt wondering what the human was up to now. Neighbors on both sides of me were out and we all said hi.
The soil in this bed is a little different from the rest of my yard, which is incredibly rich black loam—the reason to live here, some of the most fertile soil on earth. The northern part of this county is largely sand, blown down over the eons from the Indiana Dunes of Lake Michigan. But our south county dirt is black gold, wet and rich, the kind you love to get under your fingernails. This little bed, unlike the rest of my yard, has a little clay and a little sandy loam. One of the things we learn in this county is how to distinguish among soil types, and here’s one of our bragging rights: two years ago a team from our local high school won the Soil Judging National Championship—and yes, signs into our town announce this as if we were basketball stars.
The small amount of sand and clay in this bed is not enough to worry about. Once I turned the topsoil, I stuck two fingers in, making two rows every 3-4 inches about a foot from the house; I could have planted more but I wanted to save room for the next batch ten days from now. I dropped two of Peter’s scallion seeds in the first row, then two of his radish seeds in the second. Covered them up, stomped them down with my sneakers, then watered a little from my garden can with the diffuser. Sat on my butt and smiled at what I’d just done.
Cleaned up my tools, went inside and wrote this. Smiled again.
It’s not so good to use year-old seeds which may not germinate. That’s why I planted two in each hole. But I expect that most will come alive and in a month or two I’ll be cheerfully carving radishes into rosebuds and chopping green onions into stir-fry. The great news is the advice from UI-UC, keep planting! Once the sprouts appear I’ll add another couple of rows and lay down some fresh pine bark from Murphy’s.
In the heat of summer it will be important to harvest my radishes and onions as babies, because the longer they’re in the ground the hotter they’ll get, and I’m not one who likes hot stuff. I’m a Hoosier; this is a temperate zone and we like things fresh and sweet. Better to get them while they’re small and tasty; I remember my Grandma’s icicle radishes in July, inedible even though you’ve got to clean your plate. Those things were nasty.
I’ve started my garden! Praise God from whom all produce flows.++