It is absolutely beautiful outside this late Sunday morning. I should have been doing what I am now doing hours ago when it was still dark. I was, as usual, up and about by 5:30, and could have been writing then. Instead, I enjoyed a lazy second cup of coffee and read more of the Sunday paper. We had breakfast, and by then it was too late to start writing before I had to leave for church. There’s still a whole afternoon and evening ahead, though, so I’d better get busy and try to come up with something reasonably interesting for at least some of you. As always, the dilemma is which one of many choices will I actually pick to get outdoors and not let this gorgeous day go to waste.

The growing season is almost over for the garden. Winter squash and some carrots could be harvested. There are still lots of ripe tomatoes out there, too, but we’ve already canned more than enough to serve our needs. I should pick some of the better ones to give away while they’re still good. The kale and Swiss chard are still producing lots of growth, and the parsnips need a good frost or two to be at their best. On the other hand, the squash are just fine where they are and don’t really need to be harvested. Maybe that can wait.

The yard could use some attention, too. More frequent rain (there’s a little over 2.5 inches in the gauge!) and cooler weather have certainly rejuvenated the grass. Another mowing is in order. I have a reasonable tolerance for most yard weeds and don’t like frequent use of chemicals. Clovers are pretty common in my yard and seem to get along well with grass. Even dandelions don’t bug me much as long as they don’t become too numerous. I was pleased some years ago to notice a scattering of common blue violets had sprung up in portions of the yard, too. The blue flowers were pretty in addition to being edible as a garnish for salads. The leaves, too, are edible and are reputed to be higher in nutrition than spinach. It’s not our favorite dish, but we’ve tried them a few times. The petty little plants have continued to flourish, though, and now cover much larger areas of the lawn. They don’t get along with grass very well, either. Their dark green leaves shade out grass wherever they grow. I read up on control methods and now discover — maybe too late — that blue violets are very hard to kill. Their wax coated leaves shed sprays that would hammer dandelions and other weeds. Several sources said controlling them would likely take several applications of herbicide. Yuk! Another said they’re too hard to control — just enjoy their beauty and eat them. Fall is the prime time to hit them if I’m going to. The question is — do I want to control them badly enough to to start a spraying program? Maybe in some of the denser areas.

I noticed another problem recently, too. There’s only one package of crappie fillets still in the freezer. We ate the last package of bluegill fillets last week. We can always substitute store-bought fish, but there’s no fun in that. Some of the commercially-raised fish may have antibiotics in their feed in order to keep diseases at bay in their crowded growing tanks and ponds, too. Wild, locally caught fish may have very small amounts of a few things in them that I’d prefer not to eat, but they’re bound to be at least as healthful as any commercial fish from the store. There’s that fun factor to consider, too, and the boat hasn’t been on the water in too long! Yesterday’s heavy rain may have left local lakes a bit unsettled, so maybe waiting a day or two to try to replenish the freezer would be in order. Still, time on the water on a day like this would be awfully pleasant.

I’d like to hike and/or paddle into some of the local wetlands, too. Recent rains must have at least begun to replenish water levels. The past summer’s dry conditions no doubt encouraged the growth of many seed-bearing annual plants on the exposed mud flats. Re-flooding those areas with shallow water creates something near heaven for a migrating duck. Ducks somehow seem to get the word where there’s new water and prime food available even though they’re still holding far to our north. Might some migrating ducks actually come through central Iowa after all?

I’ll never get to half these ideas for a way to spend the rest of the afternoon. At least the column is done for this week, so I can get outside and try to pick the best alternative.

Steve Lekwa is the former director of Story County Conservation. Contact him at