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Springtime cleaning: Yard edition

Recently, we were tortured with a few days of outstandingly pleasant weather, summer-like temperatures in the middle of April — the type of conditions that can cause people to forget where they left their jackets.

Business was booming in the lost-and-found industry.

Our outdoor strategy went from preventing frostbite one day to worrying about sunburn the next. In the Midwest, nice weather does not go unpunished, so it wasn’t long before we were shivering through a series of sinister snow squalls.

But that was good news. It’s often been said that there has to be three snows on a robin’s back before it can be spring. We have had at least three snows since I saw my first robin, a “me first” avian who is probably questioning why he was so eager head north.

The last of our towering snowbanks have finally melted. It has laid bare the full magnitude of wintertime sins against our lawns: busted twigs, lost gloves, tattered plastic shopping bags, and even an ice scraper. 

Whose stocking cap is this? Aha! There’s the windshield ice scraper that went missing from the cab of my pickup!

Bella, our farm dog, is perpetually snooping around, looking for something odd or smelly to leave on our doorstep. Just the other day, she trotted up to our house carrying a longneck beer bottle. The bottle was empty, but at least she had the right idea. She just has to learn how to bring me bottles that are full.

Dog scat is also scattered all across our lawn. I’m not going to worry about it. The lawnmower will turn the scat, along with last fall’s dead leaves and grass clippings, into mulch. You can call me lazy, but I like to consider myself efficient. I will be mowing and spreading organic fertilizer with a single operation.

My lawn is not the only place that is strewn with winter’s unsightly leftovers. The melting snow has revealed roadsides that are littered with all manner of debris that had been thrown out by motorists. Federal law should grant landowners the right to track down litterbugs and force them to pick up their tossed trash.  

A few years ago, we installed a new septic system at our house. The plumber guy did an excellent job of backfilling the hole, packing the stuffing out of the dirt, which I later tilled and seeded with grass. That area of the lawn has since remained as flat and as smooth as a putting green at Augusta National Golf Club. Until this spring, that is.

After the snow melted, a sunken area that’s roughly the size and shape of the septic tank appeared where the new septic tank had been installed.

Why did the dirt decide to settle after all these years? I’m not sure but it’s another byproduct of our long and brutal winter.

There was so much snow that we ran out of places to store the stuff. Expediency induced me to make a snow pile not far from our house, right over the top of the septic tank. My theory is that the glacial weight of the snow caused the dirt to sink in a way that’s similar to what happens when a sumo wrestler plops down in the middle of an old mattress. I doubt that the dirt will bounce back now that the massive snow pile is gone.

It appears that a miniature Grand Canyon is also beginning to form on our lawn. One way to deal with this would be to construct a ramp that would enable me to jump the chasm with my lawnmower. This might entail such extreme measures as accessorizing my mower with a set of rocket boosters.

But that could come with some downsides. For example, OSHA might get wind of my extreme mowing methods and demand that I install safety equipment. And it wouldn’t be much fun to mow knowing that your air bags might deploy at any moment. Yet, on the other hand, I would not be averse to using a trampoline to add some spring to my landings.

It’s obvious that I’ll need to use my tractor and loader to pack in some new dirt. This is good news because it gives me an excuse to use my John Deere 3010 tractor and loader, further justifying the expense of its acquisition to my wife.

The day will come once again when our lawn will be as smooth as golf course. But as Erma Bombeck once observed, the grass is always greener over the septic tank.  

About the Author

Jerry Nelson

Jerry Nelson and his wife, Julie, live in Volga, South Dakota, on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s. Daily life on that farm provided fodder for a long-running weekly newspaper column, “Dear County Agent Guy,” which become a book of the same name. Dear County Agent Guy is available at


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