Since May, I've been working in our 1.5 acre yard on seven gardens established over the last 22 years we've lived in our rural Eldridge home.

We had a wedding in the family, as many of you know, and that event included some 40 family members in town. Many of them were able to visit our home.

I look at gardening as a release from the hectic work day. Plus, as the health reporter, I know high activity levels also burn calories. Check out the calories spent while gardening, reported online at WebMD:

• Heavy yard work (landscaping, moving rocks, hauling dirt): 400-600 calories per hour

• Raking and bagging leaves: 350-450 calories per hour

• Gardening: pulling weeds, planting flowers, etc.: 200-400 calories per hour

I did all the tasks above, and ended up being pretty proud of the yard. The family liked it as well. There's a mixture of annual and perennial flowers in every garden, and they looked bright and orderly on the weekend of July 30-Aug. 2.

I was doubly excited to find out that milkweed, which grows in several places on the property, DID actually attract monarch butterfly caterpillars. (Milkweed is the only plant these crucial insects eat, and gardeners across the country are growing it to encourage the monarch butterfly population in America.)

At least two of the resident 15 milkweed plants were decimated by the caterpillars, and that's just what I had hoped for.

In less positive news, I was disheartened to see that the Iowa lawmakers have apparently bowed to special interests to scrap the so-called "4-inch rule," which required the state's homebuilders to LEAVE topsoil on home sites.

We built our house in 1993, and in those days, all the soil was scraped away to be sold for other purposes. We have been living with the after-effects of that action ever since.

Veteran gardeners suggested that I simply dispose of the clay soil that remained. I have done this as much as possible, in the seven garden areas I tend.

We have needed to purchase hundreds of pounds of good black dirt over the years, as well as soil amendments to make the earth friendly to our flowers and plants.

My husband and I have also tried many ways to control water runoff on our property — most of this is caused by the clay soil, and concrete in the neighborhood. 

Right now we have a process that works pretty well, but it's anyone's guess how long that will last.

My former colleague, Todd Dorman, now of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, reported that 600 Iowans wrote to oppose the topsoil rule change in the state, while 60 were in favor.

"From start to end, the game was rigged, the common good was ignored and at every turn elected and appointed public servants forgot who it is they're supposed to serve," he wrote in his Aug. 13 "24-Hour Dorman" column: "Lawmakers bow to the bulldozer."

Iowa lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad's administration did homeowners no favors by scrapping the "4-inch" topsoil rule. For shame.

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