Perennial sunflowers gone wild

Perennial sunflowers gone wild

This week as I walked through my garden delighting at the lush green, the tall corn, the yellow flowers, the bees, the birds, the pumpkin vines running everywhere, and weeds, weeds, weeds, wherever I looked, I realized that the late summer garden in all of its weedy wildness has a lesson to teach about control.

In spring it is easy to fall under the illusion that I am in control of everything. I dig the dirt, I plant the seeds, I water the seeds, I pull the weeds, I create the conditions right for growing, heck, I even give myself credit for the seeds sprouting, flowering and giving me fruits and vegetables. If it weren’t for me, there would be no garden after all. In spring everything is neat and tidy, orderly.

In late summer I am made to understand that I have absolutely no control over anything. There is nothing neat and tidy about the garden. It is a wild riot of sound and color and plants doing whatever they want to do and the weeds have long ago moved in faster than I can pull them. The tidy paths between beds have plants flopped over on them. There are weeds taller than the beans. The morning glories appear to be trying to smother everything they can grab onto.

For a moment yesterday I was in despair. I had a panic and felt like I should punish myself in the heat and humidity, spend

Perennial sunflowers close up

Perennial sunflowers close up

the whole day until my back hurt pulling weeds, tying up plants, putting everything in order. But then I heard the cicadas buzzing, and a loud symphony of crickets, and a chorus of sparrows darted and hopped through the garden, their chirping punctuated by a screech of a jay taking a bath. Sure I could exhaust myself trying to attain an artificial tidiness but it wouldn’t last, it isn’t supposed to. And no one seemed to care about the wildness except me. So I took a deep breath and then another and another and I gave up control. I stood on my deck and watched the birds and the bees, watched the corn and the sunflowers swaying in the light breeze which I also felt on my skin, listened to the chirping, the buzzing, the squawking, the singing, the sound of children playing in a yard a few houses away, and had one of those moments of deep happiness that you wish could go on forever.

This morning when I walked out into the garden I felt again, briefly, the urge to take control. But I looked at the the sprawling perennial sunflower and the bees and pumpkin vines and I couldn’t help but smile. They have everything under control and don’t need my help.

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Giant sunflower

Giant sunflower

It’s the end of August which means it is sunflower season! The perennial sunflower has turned into a large colony. The annual sunflowers we first sprouted in pots in spring and let grow several inches tall before planting out to protect from the squirrels are about 10 feet (just over 3m) tall with morning glories climbing up them. The morning glories are reseeded from ones that we planted a few years ago. They began as heavenly blue and as they reseed year after year, have reverted to pink and purple with only the occasional blue one.

And then there is the sunchoke, also known as Jerusalem artichoke. It is in the sunflower family too. It is perennial. We planted a small one last year. It grew a few stems and got about waist high. The roots are edible, you dig them up in late fall after a hard frost or in early spring after the ground has thawed and eat them like fingerling potatoes. I thought, oh it is going to take a few years. But unbeknownst to me those few stems of last year were fueling an underground riot of roots that has come up this year as a thicket and grown well above my head. We will be able to harvest a few this year. Since I am anxious to try them, I have never eaten them before, I think we will dig them up this fall instead of waiting until spring.

Last weekend I was going to give you an update on my red wiggler worms but had gone on so long I decided to save it for

Sunchokes

Sunchokes

this week. I have made my second harvest of compost from the worm bin and oh, is it ever good stuff! Black and loamy. And the worms, they are sex maniacs! There are so many worms in the bin now that nine months after I started the bin, their population has tripled. I could actually hear them moving through the dirt. It was weird and creepy and really neat all at the same time. I upended the bin onto newspapers I spread out on the floor, then put fresh bedding into the bin along with some sand to aid digestion and calcium to encourage reproduction. It seems they don’t need much encouragement on the latter, but what the heck. Then I spent quite a long time separating the worms from the compost. Some of the compost goes back into the bin with the worms to keep a stable environment. This is easy to do because towards the end when I picked up a handful of compost I also got a big handful of worms. If you are squeamish about worms, worm composting is not for you. I had worms crawling up my arm and around the back of my hands. I was having fun, though the worms were a little stressed out and glad when I had them all back in their bin. I found lots and lots of little worm egg sacks and many sometimes very tiny worms too. I had been giving then only one margarine-sized container of food scraps a week but I’m pretty sure that is no longer enough food for them so this week I’m giving them two feedings a week.

I’m not entirely certain if they will control their own population growth or if I will have to split the bin and create a second one. But then what? I can’t keep making new bins, so I will have to trust that the worms know what they are doing and won’t suffer from overpopulation. Meanwhile, I have a small bucket of fresh worm compost to deposit in the garden somewhere. I haven’t decided who gets it yet. The first bucket in the spring went to the newly planted asparagus. Oh, I know! I am expecting garlic to be delivered in a few weeks. I’ll save the compost for the garlic. Won’t that be lovely!

And one final thing to report on: the monarch butterfly. It hatched! I check on the chrysalis every morning and Wednesday when I checked it on my way to out to work the chrysalis had gone translucent. That means hatching was imminent. Bookman had to work that day too. When I got home from work I ran out to look and hoped to see a butterfly still hanging around. But all I saw was a clear, broken open chrysalis and no monarch. I am sad I missed its emergence but so very happy it is now flying around in the world. There has been a monarch butterfly visiting the anise hyssop over the last few days. I don’t know if newly born butterflies hang around before they fly off, but I’m assuming it is “our” monarch and every time I see it I get a little thrill. I stand and watch it sipping nectar and send it good wishes, drink up, get strong, you have a long journey ahead of you, may you make it there safely.

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