Now with the ice and snow out of the way and temperatures climbing into the 60s, 11-year-old Zane Mueller is getting impatient to dust off his lawnmower and get back to work.
Ever since his family moved to rural New Holstein from the city proper about three years ago, Zane has developed an interest in gardening and lawn care. He has abandoned the frustration of computer video games so popular with his peers to mount his lawnmower and ride off into the wide open spaces.
“It gives you time to think,” he said. “It’s more relaxing, and you definitely stay physically fit.”
In actuality, although he used to be content with the used lawnmower and sweeper he purchased last year on Craig’s list with money he saved from his paper route, ever since the excavating equipment moved onto his parents’ property to tear out the foundation of an old barn and silo, he’s been eyeing that up as well. The crawler hoe and a bulldozer make his equipment look puny in comparison. Someday he’ll have equipment like that to add to his inventory.
For now, he’s looking forward to becoming adept with the equipment he already has, like the sweeper with a brush that turns when pulled along by the lawnmower. It sweeps up the lawn cuttings that he will use for mulch on the garden and the leaves he and his older brother, 16-year-old Zeke, use to bed the chickens.
The boys have 30 chickens, counting the bantams, and two Guinea fowl.
“They’re from Africa,” says Zane, referring to the Guinea fowl. “Well, they’re not from Africa. The breed is.” A smile breaks out of his face, and he chuckles.
He and his brother take turns feeding and watering the birds. Before transferring them to the present coop, they used one they had made themselves for their chickens, “just a two by four frame with chicken wire around it.” It was portable, “if you want to call it that,” says Zane.
Oh, the boys could move it all right, but they had to heave the thing onto concrete rollers and push it, then pick it up again when it slipped off, put it back on the rollers and push it a couple more feet. But moving the coop allowed the grass to remain intact, even with all the scratching chickens do. In fact, with their droppings serving as fertilizer, the grass actually thrived. And the chickens also ate up some of the pests that are harmful for gardens.
Getting used to the garden
Garden work took a little getting accustomed to for Zane, who used to be a city boy. At their new house, he found himself in a patch overtaken by weeds, cutting them back with shears and a weed whacker. He removed sod with a shovel, “backbreaking work,” as he describes it.
With the ground broken, however, he