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The Humble Gardener

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A Tale of Two Kitties

If you live in western Illinois, you know that this has been a strange planting season. First, we went from winter to summer in about twenty minutes, or so it seemed. While waiting to have favorable conditions to plant out seedlings we'd started in February, we had to transplant many of the plants to larger containers. Instead of being able to be outside caring for the seedlings, we kept them sheltered on the deck to harden them off as we waited for warmer weather. And waited. And waited.

In the midst of tending to the seedlings, a feral cat decided that she would have two kittens. Chip thought we could tame her down and find a home for her and he was sure we could definitely socialize the kittens and find them a home as well. You would think after 38 years with this man that I would know better than to listen to this plan. No animals that Chip says we are "letting stay for a while" have left our house. So I wasn't surprised that Mama Cat took a powder after weaning the little ones and the kittens became our house guests/residents.

In addition to playing with them and cuddling them and falling in love with them, we decided that they could run around the garden paths while we finished the planting. At first the great outdoors scared the little guys, and they stuck close to us. If you think this is a good thing, picture this: I have a trowel. And a tray of plants. And some dried horse manure, peat moss, and wood chips to use as I dig a hole, amend the soil, place the plant in the hole, and pat soil around its new home. I then place a small pot with the bottom removed over the plant; we have had visitors cut our plants at the base and the containers thwart them.

What the container doesn't thwart are ten-week old kittens. I noticed this when I returned to the garden to water the newly planted tomatoes and peppers only to see a small bottom and furry tail hanging out of one of the pots. I certainly didn't want to encourage either of the kittens' help, so I removed the little guy, replaced the protective container, and tried to distract the kitten.

Fortunately, his sister came to freight train him and he ended up chasing her down the hill towards Chip. I continued planting, only to hear a shout and then prolonged laughter. Apparently, onions are excellent cover for a boy kitten who is planning payback towards his sister. Figuring it was Chip's problem, I continued planting.

This planting fiasco continued for several days. The kittens became braver as each day passed, expanding their explorations to different parts of the garden. Apparently purple and green cabbage do not need protection, as almost every pot that I had placed over the crop had mysteriously been taken off. I retrieved the pots, replaced them over the cabbages, heaped soil around them, and removed two kittens. They raced off to the compost pile to spread mayhem. They then discovered some big pots with their bottoms removed that were used to protect the tomatoes before they got big enough. The pots became cheap toys for the kittens that occupied them long enough for us to finish the planting.

If you are a gardener, you know better than to use manure in your garden that is a) fresh and b) obtained from a meat-eating animal. To my dismay, the kittens chose the freshly tilled and cultivated soil as their personal litter box. Fortunately, they don't produce much and they are lousy at covering up their gift to us, so it was easy to clean up after them.

As the days have passed, the evening outside time with the kittens has continued. They are having fun stalking each other down the garden paths, playing with the weeds we throw out of the garden, and running frantically when a drop of water touches them. They definitely make gardening more fun-and more challenging.

At the end of the day, the garden is weeded, watered, and growing nicely. The kittens crawl into our laps and yawn. One smells distinctly of oregano; the smushed down edge of the plant tells the tale of why she wafts the fragrance as she settles into my lap for a nap. Her brother sleeps on Chip's shoulder, exhausted from racing through the onions to pounce on his sister.

Chip persists in naming them. I refuse. If we name them, they will never leave. They are lousy gardeners and even worse listeners. Okay, they are entertaining. And cute. And we are not keeping them. Really, we're not. They're just here for a little while.


Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.

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