Well, everyone makes a big deal about the first day of Spring, and I get that, but what about the second day of Spring? We take it for granted, even when (ahem) it turns out to be a pretty nice day and the first day gave us 3 inches of snow. The second day of spring must feel a lot like Jan Brady.
Here’s some folks who know how to celebrate Spring.
Forgetting for a minute that the forecast calls for cold overnight temps and 1-3 inches of snow, I’d like to officially welcome Spring. So, “Glad to see you, Spring–sure as hell took you long enough.” Just don’t be too enthusiastic and in a hurry. #firstdayofspring
Everyone else has been getting snow days–we’re at what is hopefully the bitter end to an uncharacteristic late winter cold and snow snap. Temperatures have been up and down for weeks, hitting well below 0 degrees Farenheit zero (-18 C) on multiple occasions and, until the past weekend, ascending above freezing for just two days out the the past month or so. Unfortunately, it rained like hell both of those days, in between snow storms, accumulating inches of slush that turned to the ice that lay beneath everything that hasn’t been constantly shoveled, scraped, and salted. My wife is a teacher, and her school has cancelled at least 6 days, with at least that many late openings and early dismissals, combined.
I grew accustomed to my kids are sleeping in morning after morning, classes on what seemd like a perpetual 2-hour delay, due to cold. I sat at my desk one morning last week and guzzled coffee: outside it was -4 F, which didn’t even feel that cold. It was not so long ago I was bundling up in wool sweater, parka, gloves, scarf, and cap to go out to our community’s annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” light-up night back in November. I remember the gentle winter breeze felt like it was cutting like a dagger.
It was 29 degrees.
If it had been 29 degrees last week I’d have gone outside without a jacket and washed the truck.
No precipitation right now, but it’s supposed to hit 50 degrees–we’ve been above freezing, with highs in the upper 30s and 40s for the past 3 days as well, and not a moment too soon. If the meteorologists are to be believed (and they aren’t) things look good, and above averages, through the weekend. Sweet. I’ve got yard work to do. Apple trees and shrubbery to prune, fallen sticks and branches to pick up, and who knows what else is hidden beneath the foot or so of crystalized mess in the backyard.
It will be a treat. I’ve got this little property maintenance gig, and one of the things I do is clear sidewalks for a local landlord whose student tenants are too lazy and indifferent (as I was when I was a student) to do it for themselves. It’s always been fun, invigorating, especially since I stopped trying to wrestle a snowblower in and out of the truck and opted to do as much as I could by hand. It’s good, clean work. The sound of the shovel scraping concrete pleases me, and despite all those mothers in the world urging us to bundle up I think the cold, fresh air is good for me. I know getting outside, even under cloudy skies, is a good thing–no seasonal depression disorder for me. I’m the same level of grumpy as always.
But the level of weather has been bullshit. I said that the other morning, when I woke to find three new inches when the forecast had called for “a dusting.”
“This is bullshit.” I said. It didn’t help.
Normally, I expect to shovel 17 times, give or take. Last year was high with 24 trips around town spread between early December and March. This year there was one day of work in December, nothing even in early January, but I’ve been out 37 times in slightly less than 2 months. Some of those are two trips on the same day, and some of them were easy–a few inches of powder. The heavy snow and slush of the past two weeks, on the other hand, has been a mess–impossible to clear without hundreds of pounds of salt, and hell on my arms. I’ve got what I think is tendonitis in my left elbow. Tendonitis! From shoveling!
On the bright side: I’ve been planting. My package from Fedco Seeds arrived a few weeks back, and I’ve got my onions growing in flats under lights, and the leeks are germinating and should sprout within the next few days. We joke around here about “clinging to our guns and religion,” thanks to a certain President’s unfortunate, but astute observations of our regional mores, but at this point it is those little green blades of onion starts that are keeping me sane.
Remind me of this when I’m moaning about the heat.
So, we garden–the front part of our .67 acre plot is somewhat presentable–flowers, trees, a chemical-free lawn–but the “back 40″ is under my domain and reflects my particular Appalachian redneck sensibility. At present, the lawn tractor sits in the middle of the lawn with a flat tire (as good a place to leave it as any). The trampoline, in its 7th year, has seen better days–nothing some duct tape, canvas thread, and an industrial strength stapler couldn’t fix, at least from an pragmatic perspective. Aesthetically…?
There are piles of salvaged materials that might be useful at some point–a stack of old bricks, a pile of river rock, the framework of an old trellis that had been standing long after I succeeded (no easy feat) in eradicating the virus-laden concord grape vines we inherited with the house. You never know when you might need some 10’x4″x4” posts, right? Two aged cold frames with broken lids (this is the year I’m going to fix those, right!) (right?), a big pile of broken shipping pallets from the massive branch (pretty much the entire top, actually) of Old Man Willow, that fell into our compost operation with a crack and a smoosh in the fall. There’s also our “legacy” Wen-Oh-Nah canoe, a sentimental favorite my best friend bought new in 1983 and in which, after I inherited it, my kids now ply the local waterways with their friends (which is really pretty damned awesome.) We’ve hauled away one trailer load of debris–to be the bones of a summer bonfire–with another to go. And a stack of newer pallets from which we’ll build the new compost bins. Eventually.
The Gardening Season actually started off poorly back in February, when I happened to glance out the window and notice a mini-van parked awfully close to the fence along the alley behind our garden–not really an alley, exactly, more of a grassy right of way onto which a neighbor delivered 20 tons of limestone so she could turn left and go downhill the one time a year she takes her boat out, thereby opening what had been a peaceful, utilitarian sward to all the traffic in the neighborhood–which primarily means a dozen or so young people who occupy a few apartment conversions on the street behind us. A lot of folks around town devote large portions of their waking thoughts denouncing and demeaning the university students who are the social and economic lifeblood of our community. I like having the students around–it adds vigor to the neighborhood; but I’m less keen on their driving. Or shall we call it careening? Although that, too, has it’s entertainment value–not to mention the fact that careless driving is hardly limited to their particular demographic.
By the time I slipped into my felt pack boots and shuffled up to the garden a tow truck driver was trying to winch the van off my fence by force, but the angle was such that all he could achieve was dragging the damn thing back downhill, scraping the van down the entire length of fence. The humiliated young driver sat sullenly behind the driver’s seat in his purple Ford Windstar, chain smoking cigarettes and refusing to make eye contact with any of us. The dick.
No, no, that’s too rough. He was young, he was embarrassed…its–just–DO SOMETHING to help yourself, or maybe roll the window of your van down and apologize profusely for parking your stupid ass van on my fence. Gagh! I hated the kid on principle, for not interacting…but also for the smoking, for how he looked–you know that rat-faced look people whose mothers chain-smoked while pregnant get? don’t tell me you don’t know that look! well, yep–that’s him–but mostly I hated him for the chrome on his van–a shitty old mini-van full of bench seats–because he’d removed the “Aerostar” chrome and replaced with letters that spelled out “SHAGWAGON”. An airbrushed license plate on the front bumper, like guys who owned Camaros used to get in the 1980’s–with swoopy cursive letters in glitter-infused script–only this one wasn’t a tribute to some girl named Rhonda–this said, you guessed it “ShagWagon.” In glittery, gold cursive.
Now, like you, I have some images in my mind of what a van that is dared to be called “ShagWagon” should look like–and it ain’t mom’s old grocery-gitter There are certain expectations that come with–that are obligatory to–the hubris associated with bestowing such a title, and in this case none were satisfied. Dude didn’t even have chrome rims! Or 8-Track.
Dude needed a slap to the side of the head, regardless of parking on my fence.
And no, before you take the next logical step, this entire article wasn’t merely an artifice through which I could introduce nudity to Old Road Apples (recall this is a blog that was originally created to be about old poems I wrote in college!). Just keep in mind that the Very Hot Woman in the photo above now lives in a retirement community in Scottsdale Arizona and spends her days knitting mittens (both of them lefts) for her grandkids back in Muskegon while watching CSI:Miami and bitching about that Kenyan-Irish bastard, O’Bama. As the second vintage photo demonstrates, it’s possible to make my point without scandalous photos of retirees, but not nearly as much fun.
So, that’s how the garden year started, even though I took considerable satisfaction in horrific scraping sounds elicited by The ShagWagon as the final, brute-force solution to it’s liberation was to drag it down all 50 feet of my fance–post and rail with 4″ steel mesh stapled to the outside, all of which took many small, but cumulative–and deeply rewarding–bites from the paint. The dipshit never did apologize–nor approach me, or even make eye contact, not even last weekend when my daughters and I spent an entire morning re-seating the connected portion of fence in the side yard, which had all fallen apart–and down–with the forcible misalignment of the corner post in the back. Grrrrrr.
Here’s what we need to add to the garden this year…
We’ve got a final, 12′ x 50′ strip of garden–once home to the concord grapes we inherited with the property, that had a virus and would tease us each year with a generous fruit set before every grape withered on the vine a few weeks before ripening, it now has a lot of weeds, one big pink rose bush, and some under-performing raspberry bushes that I’m going to transplant to a better location, and the pet cemetery. Located on the western side of the garden, it’s the perfect spot for a mix of edible and functional landscapes–fruit bushes and trees inside tall, dense stuff that will deter the neighborhood’s horde of mutant deer from leaping the fence. We’ve thus far managed to deter the deer only by fencing every individual bed, making it difficult for them to move around in the garden. We’d failed at a single fence around the outside of the garden–the big deer, led by the freakish “Cow Doe”–a deer so big, so fat on the riches of vegetable gardens, flowers, and shrubbery that it has grown to a frighteningly massive stature. It acknowledges not enemy, it fears no hazing and laughs in the face of scent-based repellents. I’ve shot it in the ass with a bb gun several times, to no avail–hence the build our landscape with so much stuff the deer can’t cross straegy
For the same reason, we need new strawberry bushes–while my wife will still go to the U-pick for her traditional 34 gallons of decadent bliss next summer, and hopefully every summer, forever, to the end of time, it’s nice to have some ever-bearers in the home garden to provide a jolt of summer bliss. While I like a cool berry, there is something about a sun-dappled berry, right off the plant, on a summer morning right before the dew burns off. So, we need about 50 plants–I think we’re going with Ozark Beauty. Why do we need new strawberries? The deer knocked the fence down and ate them.
The centerpiece of this new development will be plums. We’ve had a hell of a time ordering plum trees. Two years in a row I ordered trees from a nursery, and they were allegedly shipped, but never received. One order was sent to an address “1000’s less than mine”–pretending that I lived at 9995 my address was processed as 995, and the college students who lived there let the carton sit on their porch for 2 months, not great for bare root trees. Got a refund, and a discount, but by the time it dawned on me that they weren’t coming (I held out such hope) I was unconvinced enough time remained in the season for the trees to establish themselves. It happened again last year–but the nursery insisted the address was right. The nursery closed over the winter–I wonder why.
So, I’m shopping at Stark Bros. this year, since our local nurseries don’t grow their own plum trees. I’m looking at Fellenberg (pictured) which bears in September, and Earliblue, which bears in early August, for sustained harvest–all goes as planned, we’ll have plums, plums, plums for two months straight.
Doesn’t that make you hungry? I never ate plums growing up, but my wife did–her dad had a pair of plum trees in the back yard. She got me hooked on the sweet, tender fruit, and there’s been no looking back. Well, maybe a little, see, here is an interesting story about that–we were visiting, and I’d just eaten my first plum ever, only to find myself in the throes of a passion so fierce and fiery it consumed me. In the middle of the night I woke up with the munchies and ate two more…then another two…they were so good…I ate two more…and an eighth, a ninth. Do you see where this is headed? I woke up about 90 minutes later, and quickly became certain I was going to die. It hadn’t occurred to me that prunes are just dried plums. Lesson learned.
The final target for my fruit avarice is honeyberry–otherwise known as blue-berried honeysuckle–that caught my eye several years ago. I’ve finally decided that I want a few of these little bad boys–supposedly they fruit are wonderfully sweet, looking a lot like oblong blueberries. I’m eager to see what they do–how they do, and how they taste.
I’m tempted to try last year’s super-trendy fruit, the mysterious goji-berry, but the three items above are going to cost me about $80-$90, we want to add a few more ornamental trees (serviceberry and something else–but that’s for another post) as well as change another corner of lawn into flowers, specifically about 800’sq devoted to a mixed bed of pollinator-friendly perennials and self-seeding annuals, a sort of “butterfly garden” to keep the bugs happy–and gardening isn’t supposed to be an expensive obsessions–er, hobby–but the gojis are pretty dear, price-wise. Maybe when trends turn to the next unlikely exotic, goji will drop and I’ll buy them. To tell the truth, I don’t know anything about Goji, except that they’re pretty, packed with the kind of good stuff about which I should pretend enthusiasm (natural stuff), and tasty–the truth is, I’m in it mostly for the tasty, then for the pretty, then for the stuff that makes my bones strong and my organs functional, if not particularly efficient.