St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, March 23, 2012


Stinging Nettle

Margo called from West Bend where she is helping her dad recover from bypass surgery (he is doing good) and reminded me I should mow off the big butterfly flowerbed before it gets started too much.
When we used to spend more time in Pine Island and less in Cushing, she had the yard filled with bright colored annuals. She converted them to perennials and lets them survive on their own for the summer--survial of the fittest.

The early flowers are Russell Lupines. They have spread all over the flower bed and are quite spectacular through May and into June. Then purple coneflowers, golden rod, joe-pye weed, and others fight with milkweeds, goldenrod and thistles for the attention of butterflies. Last year a gopher rummaged through throwing up mounds and making a mess that needed to be leveled a little, and the remnants of my raspberry and blackberries keep coming back to add to the tangle.

A good low scalping with the riding lawnmower does good to give everything an even start. So, this morning Scott and I went out and rolled out the 1999 Murray 40 mower (cheap tractor type). After airing the tires and checking the oil, we stuck on the charger-booster and after a few grunts, it started and ran roughly. After letting it warm a little, we shut it down.

The mower had been shaking too much--found loose motor mount bolts to tighten. Changed the oil, put in some more gas, changed the spark plug, greased it (Scott did the work and I supervised with the excuse of my knee hurting) and then took it for a spin. It seemed to work OK, so we ground off the flower bed (maybe 30x60 feet) cutting off some new shoots and noticing that many daffodils were budded out ready to burst into bloom (we avoided those).

"Doesn't have any power to go forward" noted Scott. I climbed on and working at it got my right knee bent back enough to run the foot pedal that controls forward and backward movement and speed. "Guess the main drive belt is loose," I commented while getting myself wedged between a couple of big landscaping railroad ties that Scott had to lift and maneuver the mower back out of.

Looking at the manual, there is no adjustment for the drive belt (which has never been replaced), so that looks like the next job--getting the mower deck off, raise in the air and crawling under and unbolting 3 idler pulleys to get the belt replaced. It costs from $12-25 when searched for on the Internet (lots of places to order it), but I will try a local shop first to see if I can get one without having to wait for the shipping.

The flower bed (it was at onetime our garden too), appears to be overrun with lush 2 inch tall nettle plants. I don't know of any bird or wildlife that uses the nettle; it has a rather poor bloom, so I think I need to get rid of it. I know that back to nature folks cook nettle greens in the spring and make nettle tea, but the plants are a real skin irritant if you brush against them and will crowd out most anything else around them. The Indians used the long tough nettle fibers for thread, so it is a useful plant, but not with the flowers. My plan is to get a spray bottle of Round-up and carefully try to spray just the nettles--way too many to hoe or pull. I want their death to be a lesson to other unwanted plants that might be lurking nearby.