Tag Archives: Yardwork

Low-Hanging Fruit

This is not a metaphor. It’s literally a post about the dearth of low-hanging fruit in my backyard. Sorry if you were looking for something deeper. (But yesterday I did wax on about celebrations and birthdays and milestones and fireworks.)

Anyway, the mulberry tree in my backyard has been the source of some consternation over the years. For the first three or four summers, I grumbled about the neighbors’ stupid tree that dropped berries all over the yard. It shaded the yard so nothing would grow, and the berries made a mess. The birds eat the berries, and then leave streaks of vibrant purple poo down the side of my white house. While mowing the lawn, my legs get stained Grimace-purple, and once the berries start rotting, a stench like stale alcohol dampens the air.

And then in late fall, the tree drops all its leaves in about 36 hours, typically the week after the city ends its free leaf pickup for the year.

The tree is wrapped around wires, so I called ComEd at one point, who came out and said that the affected wires are actually phone lines. I called AT&T, who said that until the tree caused a service disruption, they wouldn’t touch it.

When I rebuilt the fence two years ago, I discovered that the mulberry tree was actually on my side of the property line. I rejoiced, because I had always thought it was the (indifferent, bad) absentee landlord’s tree. And then I discovered removing a tree is very, very pricey, especially when involving utility lines and a tight space wedged between two garages. So my good neighbor brought over his chainsaw and helped remove the worst offending branches that stretched into my yard.

The mess of berries has been reduced, and my backyard has enough light for a feeble attempt at a garden, though I have learned that 3-4 hours of sunlight isn’t enough for most crops.

The irony of the whole situation is that I had never eaten a mulberry. I had once stepped out of the shower and seen a neighbor’s kid up in the tree with a bucket, right at my eye level, but I was so bitter at the tree that I assumed the fruit must also be bitter.

The other night, I finally tried a couple mulberries off a tree elsewhere in the city. They’re pretty damn good. Sweet, juicy and worth the stained fingers. All this time, I’ve had a bumper crop right in my own backyard.

So yesterday evening, while lounging in the yard with a book, I decided I should try to harvest some of my own berries. And I promptly realized that there is no low-hanging fruit – all the low branches were removed by my overzealous efforts. To reach berries, I need to either climb the tree or a ladder to the garage roof (where the raccoons spend their nights, fighting and pooping).

You can see the sprouts of non-berry-bearing leaves protruding from where a giant limb was removed.

Or I can just pick them up from the ground, as I did, carefully stepping to minimize the purple stains on my bare feet.

Once I settled back into my chair to read, the squirrels helped, running through the tree, shaking berries loose.

But beware the perils of cutting away low-hanging fruit.


Super Sunday

I had a really good Sunday. For the first time in weeks it wasn’t raining (nor was the ground freshly soaked) and after a week being stuck inside with a cold, I was craving some fresh air.

After experimenting and making apple cider pancakes for breakfast, I planted about 75 bulbs that I had bought on clearance at Meijer. They’re a mix of purple tulips, striped tulips and stock generic multi-color surprise tulips, and a handful of crocuses. I basically put them in bags by their height, dug all the requisite holes, then plopped them in at random. Can’t wait to see what sprouts – or doesn’t. Though I’ve learned my lesson about proper coverage to avoid feeding the squirrels.
Next, I whipped up some hydraulic cement (eerily similar to whipping up pancakes, only the directions do call for a mask and eye protection) and fixed a couple of the small cracks where the AC slab meets the foundation. This is exactly where we’ve had the minor basement leaking problem (much better lately), so a bit of extra sealant can’t hurt. And this time, I didn’t give myself chemical burns!
Then, while gingerly carrying my cement materials back to the garage, I spied a small, hairline crack beginning elsewhere in the foundation. I was able to scrape enough cement out of my bucket (though it was hardening rapidly) to patch it thoroughly. Preventative maintenance!
I ended my day by spending approximately 3 hours raking, raking, raking all the leaves that fell on a very blustery Friday. I realized I wasn’t going to get them all, so I settled for “good enough” as I raked after the 5 PM sunset.
It was a really productive day. I needed a day like this.

Meet Rex

I’ve always wanted my very own gargoyle. My alma mater, the University of Chicago, was positively crawling with them. And besides, what yard couldn’t use a good concrete grotesque?

After looking on and off for the right one (and the right price!) I got not just one, but two for my birthday!

My parents happened to drive past a place in Indiana that sells unfinished concrete yard art. In August, we road tripped there with high expectations. And came home with a pair of grotesques.

Since they’re unfinished, the prices were much more reasonable. The work itself was pretty easy. I just needed to sand them down a bit, fill in the seams with a bit of concrete (the woman running the store? No, that’s not the right word – yard? Truckstop? – even gave me a dixie cup full of the powder to mix up), sand again, and then apply a sealant. The biggest time suck was waiting for the sealant to dry.

And now I’ve got a gargoyle, at last.

The place also had an awesome fountain with a real (live?) gargoyle, perched on a little tower, spouting water. But really, where would I put it?

Maybe once I get around to rebuillding the garage and enlarging the backyard, I can create a little area in the backyard.

But yes, I am now one of those people with yard art.

Don named the smaller, sadder looking one “Pokey.” He reminds me of Gollum.

Our Lawn, Seattle Style

What do you get when April and May weather continues through July?

Jungle lawn!

It’s the close of the coolest July in decades – with not a single day at or above 90 degrees. We’ve had tons of rain, inconveniently spread on multiple days throughout the weeks.

Hence, the jungle lawn. It just keeps growing! And it seems to rain just frequently enough that it’s hard to find a time to mow the lawn when it’s actually dry enough to work with.

Perhaps we should get a goat. Or a couple rabbits. That should solve the problem.


For the second season in a row, a whole colony of ants has appeared. I first noticed a few scouts in the kitchen, and now I’ve got a half dozen parading along the back of the counter at any given time.

Once again, the source is likely the giant ant hill in the middle of the back yard, about 18″ in diameter. We killed it last year with a shaker can of anthill-specific chemicals and a good drowning. But now it’s back.

How are the ants making it to the house? Do they have an intricate subterranean interstate system spanning the 20 feet from the anthill onramp to my kitchen? (Don’t answer that.) If so, does destroying the anthill leave those tunnels intact? Or are they quick to rebuild, with thousands – or millions – of workers at their disposal?

A coworker recommended gasoline and a blowtorch to take out the hill once and for all. But I think I’ll stick with my non-inferno-causing chemicals for now.

Inside, I completely scrubbed the inside of the affected cabinets, housing the caramelized Coke-encrusted recycling bin and laid fresh ant traps (specifically for “little black ants”) throughout the cabinets and underneath the fridge. I also put one on the counter where I keep seeing them – and watched in amazement as five ants did about-faces to trek towards their deaths. I also noticed a tiny gap in the caulk around the window above the sink that seems to serve as their portal. I’ll be tackling that this weekend.

But for now… I’m going to go kill more ants along the Little Black Ant Death March trail.

Maybe a Machete?

Our string trimmer died last year after a whole season of service. Rather than buy another cheap one, I started using hedge clippers to trim the grass along our retaining wall, where the lawnmower can’t cut.

It’s easy enough, and since the retaining wall lifts the lawn about 3 feet above the sidewalk. And the distance involved is short enough that I can knock it out in about 10 minutes.

But I can’t help but wonder if a machete would be more effective. And a conversation piece for the neighbors.

Crop Circles

With the spring thaw this year, I discovered crop circles in the back yard!

But rather than blaming aliens or the paranormal, I blamed my own sloth.

Late last fall, we raked our mass of leaves into one mountain and one smaller molehill. It was dark by the time we finished, so we said we’d move it to the curb the next day for pickup. Then it rained, rained and rained some more. Weeks went by. Critters moved into the pile, which seemed to shrink under the accumulated weight of the rain. It snowed. And finally, one day in late November, we scraped the rotting mess up to the street to be sucked up by the giant leaf vacuum.

This spring, as the grass began to come back to life, the outline of the leaf pile still remained yellow and dead. In the past couple weeks, some life is returning, but it’s mostly dandelions.

Next fall, I pledge to promptly remove all leaf piles, no matter how dark it is!

The Jungle Next Door

I have found the advantage of the vacant house next door: it makes my own lawn look downright manicured.

But how long will the grass get before someone takes action?

With foreclosures growing, we’re up to three on our block. In the winter, it wasn’t such a big deal. The houses looked kind of peaceful with their undisturbed blanket of snow. I often shoveled the sidewalk next door because it was a quick job – what’s another 10 minutes when I’ve been outside an hour? – and to help the numerous walkers around here. Nope, not being selfish at all with my walk to the train.

Now that spring has sprouted a jungle next door, though, there’s a very clear line where my lawn – and my labor – ends and the property next door begins. Until Sunday, my dandelion population helped bridge the difference (the fallow land across the street sends a swarm of dandelion seeds my way), but especially since my second mow of the year, it’s painfully obvious.

For now, I’ll let live and be thankful that the one next door looks just overgrown and lush. But the second a tiger comes after me… I’m calling the city.

Bottles reborn!

Last winter, some of our less savory neighbors kept tossing empty beer bottles over the fence and into our back yard. Eventually, the troublesome tenants moved out, and now the building is actually vacant, condemned and awaiting a sheriff’s sale next month. (Let me know if you’re interested in buying an 1860s 4-unit oversized single family house!)

A couple weeks ago, during a thaw, though, I noticed something in our front yard, among the melting snow.

I see the neighborhood is getting classier by the day!

Botany & Lumber-Jilling

For a yard with no trees, we sure do have a lot of leaves. Every year, the city starts their leaf pickup in early October, when everything is still lush and green and firmly attached. By the third week of October, though, it’s actually raining leaves. I worked at home one brisk day a couple weeks ago and actually got up to look outside at a couple points to see if it had started raining. It sure sounded like rain, but in reality, it was just the sound of thousands of leaves falling – in unison – to the ground.

Our neighbors behind us have the annoying mulberry tree that will drop all its leaves in one fell swoop in the next couple weeks. The neighbors next door have two giant, ancient oaks that drop bushels of big, broad, crunchy leaves, and plenty of acorns Our yard is torn up from the increased squirrel activity, as they frantically try to bury as many acorns before the ground freezes. One brilliant squirrel even buried an acorn in my tomato planter. I’ll bet he goes hungry this winter. Apparently a previous owner paid neighborhood children a quarter per bucket they filled with acorns, then stored the nuts in the garage and parceled them out to the varmints all winter. I’m dealing with generations that may remember that elderly woman – and expect the entitlement to continue. Liberals.

Despite having no trees, we do have one overgrown bush – maybe it’s a mini tree?- that blocks the main living room window. It scrapes up against the house, making pinging noises against the aluminum. A couple times each year, I go out and trim it way back, stopping the scraping and allowing a bit more light through the narrow window. When I first moved in, I thought it may be a lilac, as there were a couple small blooms that have never since reappeared. The leaves on this tree are small and annoying, as the rake doesn’t really pick them up. As long as they don’t get wet, they tend to just blow away and disperse.

I did my fall trimming a couple weeks ago, first taking off everything I could with mere hedge trimmers. Then, for the taller branches, I had to jump up, pull them down and hold in place while cutting. Some of the skinny ones – the newer growth – were easy to snap off, while others required the saw. It was great fun and satisfying to pull down branches bigger than me.

That entire bush/tree will likely come down early next spring, to be replaced with something smaller that doesn’t block the window. I think it’s too late in the season now for a new plant to take root and survive the winter. Of course, I said the same thing at this time last year. Inertia’s a bitch to overcome, no?