A vacation with beetles, beans and a broken mower


I just returned from an unusual summer vacation, during which I went nowhere and did nothing. Sometimes it's nice to stay home and get reacquainted with loved ones. I know I enjoyed it, and I think my plants did, too.

Imagine puttering around the yard for a whole week, tending the flowers and vegetables without once glancing at a wristwatch or having to wash up. For seven days, time seems to stand still, even if the insects don't.

For instance, I turn off the clock radio, expecting to be awakened each morning by the kiss of the sun, or the song of the birds. Instead, I am jolted out of bed by the sound of Japanese beetles crashing into the side of the house. The Honda-sized beetles are flying at warp speed when they hit the aluminum siding, causing a terrible din. Boingggg. Pingggg. Rat-tat-tat. It sounds like the soundtrack of the movie "Die Hard."

Apparently the beetles want me to come outside and play, so I go.

First stop: The rose garden, a favorite prey of Japanese beetles. These vermin can skeletonize a healthy rose bush with piranha-like efficiency. But the plants are fine, including the latest acquisition, Centifola, a cabbage rose that has been

cultivated continuously since 1596. I call it the Lou Gehrig rose, and the nearly 400-year-old streak is safe with me. I'll not be the cause of its demise.

Automatically, I check my watch. Whoops, time for work. I smile and head in the opposite direction, toward the vegetable patch where Katydid, the dog, has assumed her post alongside the bush beans.

I need no further proof that the crop is ripe. Snap beans are among Katydid's favorite foods, and she waits patiently for the start of the harvest, sniffing the air and ignoring a hare that darts through the garden, 20 feet from her nose.

examine the beans. They are long and fat. In Katydid's honor, I throw her the first bean, which she grabs in midair and devours with a satisfying crunch. As I work my way down the 30-foot row, so does she, catching every bean I throw, from pop-ups to line drives.

If Frisbees were long and green, this dog would be famous. Better yet, what if she developed a yen for zucchini, that most prolific of vegetables? Katydid could rescue beleaguered gardeners overwhelmed by squash, and I would save on dog food.

The beans matured at an opportune time. The early crops (broccoli, spinach and lettuce) are history, and the summer harvest (tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers) is lagging. Only the snap beans saved me the embarrassment of having to buy fresh produce at the market in midsummer, as if I had an apartment instead of a 1,000-square foot garden.

Timing the harvest is of critical importance. To that end, I spenseveral vacation days planning a fall garden, and sowing broccoli, lettuce and kale seeds indoors under artificial lights. Outdoor plantings of beans and spinach will follow in late summer.

What else do gardeners do during summer vacation? They turn their compost heaps. In doing so, I discovered a 6-foot tomato plant growing out of the far side of the pile. The tomato plant is in blooming good health, so I spared its life. Should that volunteer produce the summer's best fruit, I'll have my own Pygmalion plant.

That same week, the lawn mower broke. But instead of leaving it at the shop, I asked the repairman, whose name was Graham, if I could watch him fix it. Graham didn't mind, and I had the time. I learned more about mowers in the next hour than I ever had.

I weeded the flower beds at a leisurely and less hectic pace. I watched a robin build her nest in an apple tree. Each morning, I greeted the red-eyed box turtle who is leasing one end of the garden. My wife named him Bob Turt, after the local TV weatherman. Bob and I have a deal: He gets all the bugs he wants, plus one cherry tomato each day.

Only during vacation can some of us enjoy the humor in gardening. I roared at Katydid's bid to unearth a mole from the vegetable patch. She cocked her head, stared at the raised ground for a full minute and finally pounced on one spot, pawing the dirt furiously but finding nothing. I gave her a green bean. It cheered her up.

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