Can you think of anything you’d like to be able to do that you can’t do? I wish I’d learned Swedish, Finnish and French when I was in grade school. Since then I’ve been in situations where those and other languages would have come in handy. With dedication, a person with average intelligence is able to acquire a conversational ability in eight or 10 languages before being old enough to vote. Demetrius Moutsos, my morphology professor, told our class he knew a dishwasher in Turkey who spoke 10 languages.

I’m not suggesting that language learning or anything else should be pursued to the exclusion of everything else. You probably heard of the boy who could play violin concertos when he was 10. His mother said that the following year she planned to teach him how to dress himself and tie his shoes.

I’d like to know how to use a router. I never learned how to prune an apple tree.

For over 40 years I’ve been trying to learn how to mulch my rhubarb patch. This is because there is a big difference between theory and practice.

You have certainly noticed that every year when it is time to graft or prepare your garden, it is too cold and wet and windy to work outside. Every winter you spend delicious nights in bed, just before dropping off to sleep, thinking about the fun you’re going to have in the spring when you can get out and graft and dig. And then – when April finally sneaks in – you step outside and a howling wind tries to shred the clothes on your back. If you stepped outside last week, it has not escaped your attention that this year is no different from any other.

After 10 brutal minutes in your garden, your entire body cries out for a quiet moment in your favorite kitchen rocker. As the warm blood finally returns to your toes and the hot cocoa slowly works its wondrous magic, you pass out and that about does it for the day.

Much has been written about the effort-saving and generative properties of mulch, but the literature is understandably silent about how one applies it on Maine coast soil in April.

Among your friends are the cardboard mulch people and others who are firm in their support of newspapers – they assure you that papers are now printed with organic ink

I asked what was going to hold the newspapers down in a 17-mph wind. Wood chips. Grass clippings. Bricks. If I had enough wood chips for 300 rhubarb plants, why would I bother with newspapers? I remember well dumping a truckload of oak sawdust mulch out by my rhubarb patch 45 years ago. It killed everything around it and within two years my back lawn looked like the Desert of Maine.

In one of my January late-night fantasies I convinced myself that black plastic weed-guard was the way to go this year. Come spring, after researching several weights and sizes, I settled for a 300-foot starter roll. But when unrolled on the ground, it had the opaque quality of an undergarment I hadn’t seen since a mindless 1963 shopping trip in Pigalle.

This is how the weed-guard was to be applied. Each row of rhubarb is 150 feet long. After sawing a 4 inch ring out of a 5 gallon plastic bucket, put that ring of plastic over the plant and under the plastic. This provides a firm guide of where to cut the hole with a razor sharp knife.

Some plants will be larger than the hole and some will be smaller. In a week, when the rhubarb is up 5 inches, simple adjustments should result in the most weed-free rhubarb patch in the neighborhood. If it will stay in place for a second week, there will be no way it can blow away.

You realize that this was a late-night January fantasy. It showed promise until I cut the first 10 holes – when an extra strong blast of wind scattered the rocks I’d put on to hold it down. The whole business billowed out like a sail and it was all I could do to bring it back to earth.

The good news is that I didn’t cut my leg while sawing a doughnut out of the 5-gallon bucket. The bad news is that the plastic doughnut cracked in the cold.

What would you have done? I gave up and came in for some of Marsha’s homemade chicken soup. It is made from little scraps of chicken that fall from the bones when boiled again after the legs and white meat have been removed.

Homemade chicken soup is one of those meals that, even in April, tastes better if you don’t look at what you’re eating.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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