Category Archives: weather

On Mud Season

DSCN0420Parsnips are better for the mud and cold

I do love living in one of the temperate stripes of the planet that experiences true seasonality.  Four seasons are the given.  Living here on a farm, however, I count six!  Let us start with spring.  Spring, summer, autumn, mud, winter, then mud.

We are in the second mud season of 2013.  My rubric is a simple one for determining it:  is the ground slippery, do your heels sink in, and are those hoses frozen?  Mud season.  2012’s second mud season began in November! This mud season switches to winter when it finally gets cold enough to hang the windows on the chicken coop.  (No frozen combs on the biddies please.)  It was mid-January when that happened, a final dip in cold accompanied by our usual snow…a never-ending, sometimes-melting, never-warm-enough-to fully-thaw snow which ended (at least I think) this week.

(This year might have the herald of a seventh season.  We tapped our maple trees for the first time on 10 January, for a quart of nice and dark syrup.  An aside.)

Many naturalists divide the seasons up further, looking for signs of things starting or ending (phenological signs) like the return of the whooping cranes and red-winged blackbirds (my own signs of spring) or the juncos (winter).  Gardeners can be even more discriminating:  I live for a first shoot of asparagus, a first ripe tomato, or even the first godawful squash bug.  Gardens have about 25 seasons by my estimation.

But yes, we had an actual winter.  Albeit it was a wee one, lasting maybe 8 weeks, still, it was long enough to keep me out of the gardens proper and fishing for sustenance in the greenhouses and root cellar only.  I have been able to hobble along with the basics for, what, the 5th winter in a row now, not needing to shop for vegetable staples like carrots, celery, broccoli or Asian cabbage; these things, though quite ugly and slug-slime-trailed, were still unequivocally edible in the greenhouses.

The skies were sunny and and it was warm a week ago Sunday, the last scrim of snow sluishing away, and you could find me in my boots with a hoe and a shovel, making dams and channels and trenches to speed the meltwater’s flow hopefully THROUGH said outdoor garden.  (Read about my perimeter garden trenching adventures here.  Yearly I now “only” need to get the garden’s water out and gone.)  Let us just say that clay soil needs help from its gardener, and no raised bed is too high, no path-borne swale too dippy, tripping hazards aside, in my quest for a puddle-free growing area.

There were four chicken backs (am I alone in having bags of these things in her freezer?  My husband always seems to draw the short straw when he goes down to fetch a chicken meal to thaw and almost always grabs a bag of these stock-making backs) bubbling on the stove inside, so I spied the ragged greens of carrots, leeks and turnips poking through the snow, and figured they’d be great to add to the finished stock for soup.

I am always shocked by the starch-to-sugar conversion process a vegetable undergoes after a trip through a deep freeze.  I mean, really.  The same seeds were used for both the indoor greenhouse carrots and the outdoor frozen, snow-covered carrots (and turnips and leeks) and my goodness those outdoor examples are like eating CANDY.  Seriously.  I had to up the acid content of the soup by setting out a shaker bottle of our verjus (green grape vinegar) to bring it back to dinner and not dessert palatability.

It happened again tonight when I found a couple ugly muddy garden kohlrabi:  my secret stir-fry what-is-THIS-morsel sucking up the sauce but imparting some shocking sweetness of its very own.

So though I cannot really abide Mud Season, it does hand us a few edible benefits.

DSCN0434Nix and I stay high and dry in the new greenhouse

On seasonal freak-outs

What’s hoppening?  Like everything else, even the heavily-pruned hops vines are frightening in their output at this time of year

It happens every year at about this time.  Despite my best efforts, the garden overwhelms me!  Once the corn begins to tassle, I simply need to put my blinders on and ignore the weeds.

Granted, I am able to keep the beds weed-free.  I just need to find the beds amongst the uninvited foliage.

Dinosaurs in our midst:  juvenile bronze turkeys doing their morning perambulation.  They, and five home-hatched chicks, remain the only baby fowl on the farm

This feeling of being overwhelmed somehow does not stop at the garden gate.  Other cyclical tasks, once eagerly anticipated, are forgotten.  This year it’s the meat chicken order.  (You would think that a woman who is tied to her computer all the work-long day would maybe give the emptying freezer some consideration, but no.)  Granted, this year has been ridiculously hot and dry, so every week I would mentally think “next week shall be cooler (thus I can place the order).”  But weeks continue to go by and I begin to feel like this:

Is it an empty nest if it is just chickens?

On life without rain

Lookee!  Rainbows above #3 AND raindrops on the lens

You know, growing as we do here under clouds for three-quarters of the year, you think would enjoy the sun.  I do!  Those long hours of unimpeded solar rays hitting my garden’s leaves?  Heavenly.

But it’s the Severe Drought I admittedly am not terribly happy about right now.

The skies occluded, darkened and broke on Saturday evening.  I stepped on the back deck, inhaled that still-familiar yet longed-for scent of rain, and surveyed all the rain-sensitive items that I had allowed to accumulate for the month and a half of cloud-free skies.   Hurriedly I retrieved them all, throwing them higgledy-piggledy into any dry space (back porch, garage, tractor shed, goat shed, new greenhouse) and then proceeded to the garden.  I went into the garden IN THE RAIN and  turned on the hose to water the garden as usual.

Yes!  Welcome to El’s Glass Half Empty world in Drought!  Frankly, I did not care what I looked like, slowly getting damp myself while I soaked the ground of the beds.  It stopped raining not a quarter of a turn through the regular watering route.  In other words, I was right to worry.  Though the open land was rung-out-sponge damp, the ground beneath the boughs remained bone-dry and cracked.  Regular resumption of hose duties in the garden remains the standing order.  I am thankful for the electric pump, frankly.  (I bow to the pump, low bow, salaam.)

I will not recite the litany of ills that attend a drought.  But I will say it is all very strange.  And…the car is filthy.

On rushed seasons

22 March is shockingly early for the first (measly) asparagus harvest, don’t you think?

The girl barges in through the back door Wednesday afternoon and announces “It sure is quiet out there!”  That morning’s trip with the dogcrate full of roosters guaranteed that the regular sounds of backyard bucolia have returned here.

My call to the butcher’s wife brought the usual guffaw from her.  “SEVEN roosters? You ARE a softie, honey.”

Jellybean and some of his wimmin.  What you can’t see is his torn-up wattle, poor thing.  Now he’s back to being #2 Rooster.

Er, not really.  The seven in question were late-summer chicks too small for the Thanksgiving turkey trip to the butcher in question.  We endured their presence until we just couldn’t (“we” includes the harassed hens and of course the now bloody and pissed-off Mary Ellen and Jellybean) any longer.  And since one guy was keen to “sleep” in the huge blue spruce which shades the henyard…well, let’s just say an early spring’s open windows and one obnoxious night bird are not exactly compatible.  It’ll buy you a trip to freezer camp, dude.

I envy those of you who are actively eating down the contents of your freezers.  I am somehow unable to ever see the bottom of a freezer (understandably, not a bad problem to have), what with the seasonal binges like a rooster harvest.  Things simply get replaced.

The new greenhouse:  I had planned on harvesting these greens by the end of April, not March…

One thing not easily stored is the lettuces.  My best-laid plans of harvesting one  older-lettuce-filled greenhouse and then moving on to the next baby-lettuce-filled greenhouse are crappy plans indeed with daily lows beating average highs here.  Three solid weeks of temperatures in the 70s/80s mean that the 100s experienced in the greenhouses are not good for anything currently in there…including the 100 cells seeded with tomatoes.  Sigh.  Time to reboot, clean out, reseed.  Weather, you know, just happens.  My plans would’ve been perfect in a normal year.

The routine on Sunday and Thursday nights:  gather ye CSA bags as ye may…

But what are we going to eat in May?  I wonder!  Better start seeding lettuce rows for the fickle world outside.

The nightly haul:  leeks, lettuces (Amish Deer Tongue and red romaine), atop bolting collards, asparagus and onions…with herbs. 

On the downsides of a mild winter

Occupational hazard:  a farm girl’s glasses will fog when she goes from 40 outside to 85 in

I don’t know about you, but I have found this mild winter very enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s the memory of those long winters spent in Minnesota.   Every Minnesotan has “I lived through the cold” stories, but I don’t know many people who had to get their car’s manual transmission gear fluid changed:  despite its being garage-kept, I couldn’t get it in reverse or first gear when the cold was in extremis.  So I humbly accept any day the mercury doesn’t go below 30 with gratitude.

This weather has come with unexpected downsides, though.  One, the animals are just messed up.  Chickens want to sit their many eggs.  Earl the tom turkey is feeling love in the air, so Ruby spends her days hiding from him under the back deck’s picnic table.  (Luckily, the hose remains unfrozen so I am able to clean up after her, but I do feel her pain.)  The fuzzy goats are happy to be outside, but that’s mud between their hooves…not pleasant.  And here in the Fruit Belt there is gloomy talk that fruit won’t set without the usual extended hard frosts of normal winter.

It’s also had an unexpected downside for the resident gardener.  That spring panic that normally hits in April?  You know, when you can’t seem to finish any one project because they all beckon?  It’s here now, in February.  Sigh.

Gratuitous photo #1:  new kitten Blossom

Gratuitous photo #2:  Blossom’s sister Scarlett enjoys the front porch’s space heater

On winter

Because it has been such a slow slide into winter, I have been in denial that the frozen-ground, the-garden’s-truly-dead period comes along with the season.  But it’s arrived here, and our first snow (normally dumped then melted) has stayed and stayed.  Ugh.  The dark days.

Can you find Chicken Patty?  Some chickens are Rhodes scholars, some are just dumb.  Patty’s in the smart camp because she managed to negotiate the 7′ high fence around the garden…and is harvesting worms from underneath the sheet mulch.

It’s tough work chopping carrots out of the ground.

But it’s quite toasty in the old greenhouse.

Everything has been put to bed, under covers……and as you can see, things are still bright and fresh in here.  If you look closely you’ll see I have been successively taking the outside leaves of each plant for my customers’ and our own salads.

And as you can see, they’re quite tempting.  I think I will make it through winter just fine.

On the upside of the end

Rewards:  long-term garden residents Buttercup squash and Romanesco broccoli

Another gift to the hard-working gardener is the harvest of the vegetables that take forever to mature, like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and winter squash.  Perhaps our tastebuds are simply trained to the harvest calendar, but it’s just about now that these things seem so darned desirable…and tasty.

And some harvests allow you to contemplate infinity.  Witness a close-up of the broccoli:

isn’t that crazy?  And I will have you know that I hosed off the cabbage moth caterpillar poop and powdery Bt before getting out the camera.  I grow both ugly and pretty, equal opportunity.  Romanescos almost never get this large for me; this is one of three impressive ones as the others are much more gnarly and small.  And: they taste more like cauliflower than broccoli, if you’re curious.

There are still more late harvests to come.  Threats of frost hustled me to get out the cabbage knife and hack off a head of tender Romanesco.  Other head- and flower-growing brassicas can take quite a bit of frost:  some of the tight cabbage heads, especially the wavy savoyed ones, will last for a while, and much of the cauliflower and most especially the Brussels sprouts will last through Thanksgiving.  But…can I wait that long?