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“We should think about thinning the baby pears on the pear tree,” I said to Eric this evening as we were making French vanilla ice cream (our first try at a custard-based ice cream). “I don’t know if you’ve noticed,  but pollination was obviously very good, but we don’t want a ton of tiny ones like we had last year. Also, I’m worried that the peach tree hasn’t bloomed yet.”

“Maybe it’s not time yet,” he replied. “When did it bloom last year?”

“I don’t know. I’ll look it up later, I know I took a picture.” So I did. “Late April,” I reported, while the ice cream mixture was cooling before being put in the fridge to chill.

“Oh. Um…but it’s still early May! Or mid May. Mid.”

I started looking online for clues.  Wikipedia mentioned that peach buds can be killed starting at around -15 degrees C. “How cold did it get this spring?” I asked Eric. Before long, I came upon this article, which starts out, “Think it’s cold out there? Try sitting naked in a pile of sticks stuck in a tree. Better yet, be glad you’re not an Ohio peach. They’re as good as dead this year.”

I read this to Eric, who said, “Dammit,” which was exactly what I was thinking. I wonder what price peaches will be at the farmer’s market this year. I was planning on buying peaches this summer anyway, since our tree isn’t nearly big enough to give us as many as we’ll want; but I wonder what the supply will be like, and if I’ll have to get up early in the summer to get any. I wonder if plum trees are as sensitive to freezes as peaches are. Pears obviously aren’t, and I think apples aren’t either.

Incidentally, I went to the market today (looking for rosemary and lavender plants) and found that some people are selling tomatoes at summer prices–I don’t know if they’re imported or hothouse or what, but if I’d found anybody selling parsley we might have had some out-of-season tabbouleh for dinner tonight instead of leftovers.

My greenhouse is on its side by the steps that go up to my back door, a ragged hole torn in its top. I guess I’ll be using it as a rack only once I’ve rescued it from the ice and snowdrifts. I haven’t emptied my compost bin (now grown to include a compost tub) in weeks, mainly because there’s a foot of snow covering the yard and I never want to pull on my boots and dump my containers. This is an even greater pity because I’ve been consuming vast quantities of citrus over the past several weeks. (“We should buy stock in grapefruit,” I told Eric. He laughed. But seriously, Sunkist stock might be a great buy if it were available.) Luckily dried grapefruit and orange peel doesn’t smell bad. It’ll have to get done soon, though.

Likewise, seed ordering needs to happen soon. I’m coming out of my first-trimester funk (partly because the nausea and tiredness are lessening, partly because the filthiness of my house has become worse than my disinclination for doing things) and realizing that broccoli seeds need to be started in two weeks (and maybe pepper seeds too, based on last year’s experience). This means I need to rework last year’s planting schedule for this year, too, and of course make sure I’ve actually got the seeds I want. Since broccoli is still not something I want to eat, I’m just going to use up the seeds I’ve got and hope that I’ll want to eat them by the time they’re ready. I’m going to try to be conservative in general with my garden planning for 2009–or at least, not too expansive. Especially in things that need starting inside. Though at least I’ll have a planting rack to use.

It occurred to me last night that it’s about time to be solidifying my seed orders. I haven’t thought about them since before Christmas. (Oh, how I have fallen.) I may want to wait until after the Toledo Seed Swap, at least for some things–I’m pretty confident of getting all the carrots and beets I want, based on last year’s experience, but I may or may not find particular herbs or onions or beans–though broccoli starts in February, as I recall. I’ve still got last year’s seed-planting chart up on my wall by my computer. I’m going to have to go through my notes and modify it appropriately for this year; I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have some sort of forgetfulness disaster if I don’t write it all down.

I did a seed swap with Carol not long ago, while our respective husbands played D&D, and got some yummy things, including some perennial herbs that I’ve been wanting. I really liked my nonculinary herbs last year–I loved the wormwood and feverfew especially–and I want to expand that part of the garden this year. I also sincerely hope the plants that are already there will survive. It was forbiddingly cold last week–highs of 5 and 8 degrees–but they were under a thick blanket of snow, so we’ll see what happens when the snow melts. If it does. I’m in that part of winter when I fear it will never end, even though I’m thinking about seeds.

In the ongoing, absolutely riveting saga of the yard cleanup, I meant to rake and to get the last of the compost onto the raised bed and put the box back together today. However, it snowed overnight, so I’m just gonna skip it. If I leave the bowl of kitchen scraps on the counter all winter, will I have humus by spring?

I went back to the farmer’s market this morning. This is the first all-enclosed winter market of the season, and it made me feel at home because this is how it was when I started going last year. (I think this is the way everyone should be introduced to the farmer’s market. First, the small experience of surprise and gratitude that there are people offering fresh local food even in the dead cold. Then, the gradual unfolding of the full market experience in the spring and summer, amazement blossoming as the vendors multiply and the offerings become more juicy and ephemeral. That way, summer is the happy addition instead of winter the sad contraction of one’s blessings.) I was also happy to be back because I let our fridge empty of produce since we’d be gone. So I picked up squash and spinach and two small cauliflower and a long spear of brussels sprouts, since neither Eric nor I have ever tasted them and they look so cool on the stalk, and was sorely tempted by the popcorn and the homemade plum jam but resisted.

It’s really very nice to give up on my own yard and my own efforts for a while, and just enjoy other people’s. This week we’ll have roasted brussels sprouts and marinated spinach salad (or at least I will) and I’ll make parathas with cauliflower filling. I might even fix that compost box, if it gets warm enough. But most likely I’ll just wait until spring.

I left cleaning up the garden to Sunday this weekend because it was the warmer of the two days. Unfortunately I completely forgot about a historical sewing seminar I was scheduled to attend from noon to 5 (ask me about sleeve evolution) until late last night, so as soon as I got up this morning, I went into the yard.

I wasted part of my precious hour and a half putting away pots and righting the greenhouse, though I fully expect it to be blown over again. (What? I sleep late.) Also beating my nice leather gloves that had been coated in mud when I planted the garlic and left to dry, so that they were caked in cracked dust. Then I came to my senses and actually went to a garden.

I pulled out the remaining brassicas except for the two Dwarf Curled Vates plants that were still upright and cheerful. Everything else was limp. I wanted to leave the Red Russian kale for seed next year, but they’re all slumped over in the path and it drove me crazy enough this year, so I yanked them. I also pulled the lone Romanesco broccoli plant that survived. It grew enormously, but when I looked into its heart leaves broke off left and right and only a tiny pale spear rose up from the base, maybe half an inch across. I piled vegetable corpses atop the space where the borage failed to thrive with the plan of moving them once the compost box is reinstalled. I ate a frozen raspberry. I really hoped the weeds would all die over the winter.

I had noticed in digging out the brassicas that the ground was frozen, so I proceeded, cautiously, to the carrots. First the newest ones, planted in the summer. They were small, snack-size, and they were mercilessly frozen. I managed to heave some chunks of icy earth with carrots embedded in them. I left them for the Big Top carrots. These I’ve really loved; they taste good and they look like carrots should, long and angular rather than big and fat like the ones in the raised bed in the vegetable garden. I don’t know whether it’s the variety or the situation; next year I’m going to grow these in the raised bed and find out.

The Big Top carrots came out more easily, but not easily. I heaved them out and chipped at the mud and ice around them. I sliced into several of them, bisected a few. I felt like a really, really bad archaeologist. But I got some great, beefy, sweet carrots. (I’ve notice that a dirty carrot only tastes good outdoors. Indoors, it just tastes dirty.) I went back to the little carrots and excavated them, too, and noticed that the ground was less frozen near the fence. I don’t know why.

Then I moved to the vegetable garden, where the dirt in the raised bed wasn’t even slightly pliable for inches and inches down. So I dug up more chunks of dirt and carrot. I had originally thought I’d leave some carrots in the ground longer, but the frozenness of the ground changed my mind. When people talk about digging carrots out from under the snow, I don’t think this is what they’re talking about.

I ended up with a grocery bag full of carrots, plus a couple of parsley roots, a full head of parsley, a parsnip (I would have gotten the others minus one or two, but I ran out of time), and a last broccoli floret that had either grown quickly or been missed by me when I went out to cut them. I don’t know if this many carrots will be enough; I suspect not, since my definition of enough is “enough to last until we harvest the first carrots next year” and we have a long winter of soups and stews ahead of us. But that’s all right; I’m still learning as I go. Lesson learned: bring in the carrots sooner. I was never meant to be an archaeologist.

I did indeed get cold and muddy Saturday, planting Georgian Crystal and Lorz Italian and Huge Unnamed Bulb Bought at the Farmstand Near the Old Mill garlic and bringing in broccoli and beets and turnips. Actually, mostly just turnip greens. I planted Shogain turnips, a free packet in a trade from last year, which were supposed to yield both roots and greens, but it’s apparently one of those too-good-to-be-true concepts. I got two roots you could call roots and a bunch of shriveled taproots, but plenty of nice greens. Luckily it’s soup season, and I’ve discovered that I really like tossing a handful of chopped greens into soup. Mmm, vitamins.

I think I’ll plant some more turnips next year, for trying mashed, since I never got a chance to this year. If I don’t love them that way, though, they probably won’t have a big place in my garden hereafter. We liked the beets better than the turnip roots, and I like chard and kale better than the turnip greens. (Eric doesn’t eat cooking greens unless they’re in soup or stirfry where he can’t taste them, and if he can’t taste them it doesn’t matter what kind they are.)

Today it’s cold and muddy again. I went to a dance class yesterday (the instructor demanded as we entered the room, “Are you ready to rhumba!?”) and when I came out, my car was covered in mushy snow. Out came the brush/scraper combo my mother-in-law gave me a couple of years ago; out came the grumbles. The snow was still there this morning, and I saw my chard plants were drooping. On the radio I heard someone comment on the unseasonal coldness, which made me feel slightly better about my still not-completely-cleaned-up garden, but not a lot. I’m no longer waiting for warmth now to complete the chore, just dry.

So I had planned to plant garlic and harvest broccoli, kale, turnips, and beets (and the hyssop, which I have forgotten to cut) this weekend. But it’s snowing. And the snow is sticking. The forecast says snow today, snow tomorrow, snow Monday, dry Tuesday. It also says lows in the 30s until Monday night, when it gets down to about 25 and stays there until next weekend. I am so late with the garlic planting. The question is, should I go out and muck up my garden shoes to do it now or will another few days not matter? And will the broccoli, kale, turnips, and beets be okay until Tuesday? I don’t know. Since I don’t know, I think I’m going to go get muddy and cold.

I do not know the fate of the shiso just yet. It’s still hanging in there, covered now if the wind hasn’t uncovered it (which is what happened previously, so my lack of attention wasn’t disastrous). There are seeds in the little cups on its flower stalks. They’re deep purple. They’re hard, but juicy. Are they harvestable? I don’t know. I figure it won’t hurt seeds to be exposed to frost, though, since that’s what happens naturally (well, maybe not to basil-type herbs. I don’t know where it originates, but I’m assuming somewhere hot).

I’ve sent off two packets of seeds in trade so far. “When it gets reasonably nice and we’re not unreasonably busy, we’re working on the porch and I’m cleaning up the garden,” I told Eric tonight. “Where ‘reasonably nice’ means above freezing, and not raining.” It’s getting to be hat weather, which is getting to be too cold to do things in the garden. I remember digging carrots with frozen fingers last year.

I’m not sure how far into freezing weather I can delay harvest, though. I’ve got leeks and lettuce and carrots and parsnips and turnips and broccoli, which are all supposed to be fine in a little frost, maybe even somewhat improved; but at what point do they become endangered? I’m assuming I have at least until just before garlic planting–the first real freeze. My best bet is probably to get the parts of the garden that are empty (of harvestable food) cleaned up and ready for spring, and keep an eye on what’s still growing. Or drying, in the case of the seeds.

I brought my porch plants in over the weekend. Since we’d had one frost scare with another coming up tomorrow, and the days getting shorter anyway, I figured it was time. So my plant window is crowded once again–the two resident plants, aloe and Christmas cactus, are accompanied by the bay and one of the pomegranates on the ledge itself, and the resident peace lily and the papyrus (which really needs dividing), the other pomegranate, and one of the cotton plants are on the seat below. This cotton plant is kind of spindly and has only one seed bud, but we’ll see how it goes in the winter, and if it survives maybe I’ll plant it in the garden in the spring and see if I can get some cotton–I don’t think I’m getting any this year from the plants I have.

The Meyer lemon is in quarantine, on the landing between the kitchen and the basement. It’s up against the door that theoretically leads to the side yard. We keep it closed and chained because it sticks and we don’t have the key to the lock. When we bought the house this wasn’t a big deal, but now I wish it worked, because it’s only steps away from what is now my herb garden and that would be very, very convenient. Fixing it is on the list of household jobs, but the list is so long and turnover is so slow I have no hopes of getting it done before we move.

The Meyer lemon is in quarantine because it still has scale. I’d been scraping it at intervals over the summer, but I gave up. It has two big green fruits on it, and I’m hoping and waiting for them to ripen. Then I’m going to cut it down to the ground (or close to it), since I observe the scale never goes on the brown lower parts of the wood, and see if it survives. I’m hoping this is one way to actually get rid of scale. If not, I’ll start over. The lemon knows this. I’m hoping it takes heed.

No frost as far as I could see. My dreams of tomato pesto pie are still intact. Tomorrow night is forecasted to be even dicier, though, so I may consider ending the tomato/basil harvest–and bringing in my bay and papyrus.

This weekend I’m doing a bunch of freelance work, and Eric’s mowing the lawn. After I don’t know how many weeks–I’m ashamed to talk to my neighbors, frankly–he’s got no urgent grading or plans, and the lawn is to be mowed.  Or there are no more apple turnovers. And how could he not want more apple turnovers? I want more, too–plus eggplants and onions and maybe some more squash to replace my lovely Stella Blue Hokkaido, which is deliciously long gone–which is why I’m going to the farmer’s market, even if I don’t get outside any other time this weekend (except to pick the tomatoes and basil). If gardening isn’t getting me out in the fresh air, at least other people’s gardening/farming does.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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