I'm feeling unsettled and on edge these days. The horrible, blast furnace heat of the summer is gone, but the drought remains. I don't know how best to handle putting my gardens to bed for the winter...or what dreams for next spring and summer are rational to indulge in.
Do I mulch over bare, dry ground? Or do I wait until we get a decent rain before mulching, so I lock in moisture, not dry soil? But if I wait, when will we finally get a good rain?
Maybe I should water well, then mulch? But my experience is that you can NEVER water enough to equal even a moderate rain. And our water is very hard, well water.
On the other hand, bare soil gets even drier, exposing the plant roots to more extremes of temperature, too.... What to do? And when to do it?
Then there's one of our cats, Ranger, a neutered black male. The first winter we had him (and after we finally let him become an indoor/outdoor cat, succumbing to his powerful need to be outside, hunting), I wrote posts about his attempts to hunt birds. He was so patently unequal to the task that it was comical.
Ranger is 2 1/2 years older now, and he has become a hunter extraordinaire, definitely living up to his namesake from Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. I put out my winter feeders about 2 weeks ago, in preparation for participating in the Cornell FeederWatch program this winter. In that 2 weeks time, he has caught, killed and mostly eaten at least 6 birds - all of them "good" birds. No house sparrows or starlings for this guy. On the worst day, he killed 2 in one day, a male cardinal and a Harris sparrow.
This photo shows Ranger, on the right, and Bella guarding the hummingbird feeder earlier this summer. Bella goes out, but she's not the one bringing the dead or almost dead birds back to the kitchen door on an almost daily basis.
Should I take my feeders down and consider my FeederWatch fee a donation to Cornell Lab of Ornithology? Or should I take a more Darwinian attitude: the fittest will survive? The feeders are all out in the open, so the birds have a fighting chance to see Ranger coming. By providing seed to augment the natural feed around, am I strengthening them...or just luring them in to become cat food?
(I've even put out the word that he would be available to someone who needs a barn cat - he's great at catching rodents, too - but there have been no takers.)
It's a tough autumn for me. I read others' garden posts about how much better their gardens are doing after the summer heat is gone and I'm glad for them, but the drought is still crippling us here. There have been no fall roses, no fall catmint, my hostas are gone....
Then I shake myself. The aromatic asters are lush and have lasted for weeks, despite the heat and drought. The Wichita Mountains goldenrod was spectacular. The gaillardia is vivid. The roses may not be blooming, but they look reasonably healthy. This weather is, after all, why I concentrate on prairie natives.
No matter what this winter and next spring bring, this past year has shaped my gardens significantly. That, however, is the challenge of gardening. This, too, shall pass. I hope.
Meanwhile.... Any suggestions about my mulching dilemma? Or the ongoing case of Ranger vs. the birds? I would greatly appreciate any words of wisdom!