Eleventh Hour

Happy Unhalloween!

‘Tis the season, at last, for dealing with the last dead or dying scraps before wrapping up the garden for the winter. (Don’t worry: the blog will continue. And I’ll have more time for it!)

A few days past Halloween, I happened upon a scene that seemed tailor-made as a motif for this season—and I even managed to park and get the phone camera out fast enough to get several shots, and a video to boot. Herewith, a sample:

Three black vultures near yellow center line of a road, two of them picking at some roadkill while the third appears to be supervising from about two feet away; tombstones of a cemetery in background, with green grass going brown and trees behind, most of them with leaves already dropped. In far background, a hill can be seen, topped with blue sky.

Picks just keep getting harder to find.

As I drove down the road towards this scene, I thought at first that it was crows picking at roadkill in the middle of the asphalt.

Wrong! Carrion eaters, but not corvids: VULTURES. Vultures picking daintily at a dead carcass. Not turkey vultures, apparently, unless they’ve been at the Clairol. Black vultures, which supposedly don’t range up this far north, but hey, climate change.

It’s not a jungle out there just yet

Now, if you’re expecting me to jump right to political topics, sorry! Sure, we’ll be getting to that as usual, but in the meantime, given several successive nights of real frost (and some humdingers; I woke up to 24°F one morning, and precious little warmer on others), winter is truly setting in, and deserves a mention.

Weeds are at last gasp; I can hear them choking when I step out onto the deck. They’re sitting ducks now for the pulling, which I have resolved to do this week, after I get this posted and the temperatures go up enough to make gardening less excruciating.

A bluish-white iris bud just about to blossom, but killed by frost. frost can be seen on the bud tip, on the beigy-brown casing, and on a flurry of iris leaves behind the doomed blossom.

What a frosted reblooming iris looks like.

Flowers? Curtains.

Yes, I actually did still have flowers. Quite a few: Montauk daisies. Black-eyed Susans. Coreopsis. Butterfly bushes. One or two gallant coneflowers. Some stalwart reblooming irises. Even a couple of gorgeous peachy-pink foxgloves that kept chugging right up until the mercury hit 28º. Requiescant in pace, every last sweet one of them. See ya in the spring.

But my main concern was the vegetable patch, of which, believe it or not, a good deal remained. In the last week of October, I ripped out the faltering pea and bean vines and harvested all the remaining cilantro, which still sits in a vase of water on kitchen counter awaiting judgment.

A large bunch of leafy cilantro, deep green, stems showing in the bottom of a large glass vase on a white kitchen counter. Miscellaneous small packages and bottles partially visible in background. Backdrop includes the lower right sections of a natural-wood window frame, a white cellular blind on the left side of the photo (closed), and off-white wall to the right.

Highly recommended if you need greenery for a flower arrangement!

Corn and bean salad? Chicken larb? Freeze the suckers? I’ll get back to you on that, because….

Pressing matters

The real drama remains in the veggie beds. Seeing the frosty forecasts, I hastily consulted my go-to source: The Internet! Can carrots survive frost, I asked Google. Are parsley and chard frost-hardy, I inquired of DuckDuckGo. (BTW, I highly recommend the latter as your go-to search engine. It does not track your every move the way supposedly first-don’t-be-evil Google does.) Mostly, the more reliable sources said no problema, although some drew the line at 24°F, others at 28°.

I ran to the garden store and found a GardenQuilt, 12ftX20ft, so I could cover the poor babies in the cold cold ground with a nice warm blankie. (It isn’t really quilted; it’s just a thickish layer of “spun-bonded polypropylene fibers,” which doesn’t sound very organic to me.) Before opening the quilt, I moseyed outside to assess the situation, and made an executive decision: a quilt was nuts. As in, what am I going to drape it over, and how many spots do I have to cover, and what will I hold it down with, and do I really want to cut this thing up and what about next year???

But I’m not reckless. To be on the safe side, I went to…

Plan B!

Part of a raised bed, viewed horizontally, with lots of bright green carrot tops showing at the left edge of photo and in the middle, with light tan saltmarsh hay tucked several inches high alongside the carrot rows. To the right of the carrots, some clumps of leaves of red-ribbed chard and bluish-green kale can be seen, with bare soil around them.

Settling in for a short winter’s nap

I piled a lot of salt-marsh hay alongside the carrot rows, muttered best-of-luck to the chard and parsley, and yanked out the last couple of lettuces. Then I went inside and turned on my central heating. (I held off till Nov.1 this year, in honor of our beleaguered planet, but also because we had such a warm fall.)

And what to my wondering eye did appear, that first morning after the first serious frost?

The raised bed, now seen vertically, with all vegetable leaves frost-covered: the hay-mulched carrot foliage fallen sideways, the red-ribbed chard leaves lying low. Only the kale, although also frosted, looks undaunted.

Frosted veggies! (Those floppy things in the middle and in back are/were carrot tops.)

I thought they were all goners for sure. But later in the day, I took a break from composing their epitaphs to survey the damage, and lo!

The same vegetable bed, from the same angle as in the preceding photo, with frosting gone, and most of the leaves perked back up.

Back up they perked!

Almost as good as new.

This hasn’t been a matter of one frost, though. I think we’ve had a string of five consecutive mornings that started off around 26° or even lower. When I checked yesterday afternoon, the parsley and the chard looked like they were having second thoughts about hanging on much longer.

My plan is to put them (and the carrots) out of their misery today or tomorrow—and to plant the garlic and shallots in their stead. The kale can stay; it has a bring-it-on insouciant air that almost makes up for its being… kale.

Planet A

Circle of life, right? I harvest the carrots, and put in a couple of allium cousins.

Some vehicle leaves roadkill, and the vultures get it.

Meanwhile, as I was beginning on this post, COP26 was just getting going in Scotland. It started on Halloween, apparently no irony intended by the organizers. (This gives you some idea of how long I labor on these posts. You’re welcome!)

Photograph of earth as seen from outer space, with part of the globe in total darkness; about 2/3 of the circle is visible, showing mostly blue with some continental masses buff-colored; swirls of white clouds overlay the whole. The background is pitch black.

The only one we’ve got.
NASA photo from collection “Looking back from Apollo 11,” July 16, 1969

If you were blissfully unaware of what COP26 is all about, well, not to bum you out or anything, but it’s a big UN conference, an international talk-a-rama about what to do about the increasingly dire situation of climate change. My apologies for giving you only Greenpeace links here, but you would not thank me for linking you to the Minotaur’s labyrinths of circumlocution on the UN and official UK (host for this session) sites for the conference. (I looked; I barely made it out alive and/or sane.)

That might be taken as a portent for what comes out of the conference, which continues till November 12. There may be slight progress, but nowhere near what’s needed given the challenges we face now. As far as I can tell, the main outcome seems to be that we’re all still lined up as not-too-distant-future roadkill. Maybe slightly more distant than before. Maybe not.

I’m not sure who will get to pick our carcasses, but to the extent that the homicidal vehicles have any drivers, they appear to be a mix of those aiming straight at us (big oil and big coal, can you hear me?) and those busy doing the après-vous-Alphonse shuffle over who will take the wheel if it means shouldering the responsibility of finding a better route.

In the nick of time

A group of short cylindrically shaped carrots, bright orange with lush green foliage tops still on them, set in a metal bowl on top of a pebble-glass table. A small white plastic plant label "French Baby Carrots" sits alongside the carrots in the bowl.

What the world needs now?

In the face of what’s coming at us, poking around in the garden sometimes seems nothing but a slightly more elegant variant of the ostrich-head-in-sand gambit. I mean, seriously, is what the world needs really more organic French Baby Nantes carrots or Festiva Maxima peonies?

Before I managed to work myself into a hopeless pretzel over this (which I confess could just be an excuse for giving up on the garlic planting), Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, Orwell’s Roses, landed in my mailbox.


I’m about halfway through it, and it’s so good I plan on devoting a whole future post to it.

But I can tell you this much now. Solnit discovered, almost by accident, that George Orwell, that famously acerbic essayist, novelist, and memoirist, was an avid gardener. And that he relished the beauty flowers bring to our world, as well as enjoying the tasty things he brought to the table from his veggie patch. In the midst of the Great Depression. Before and after taking part in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II, which pummeled the UK for six years beginning in 1939. And postwar, while slowly dying of tuberculosis.

Solnit makes a strong case for the necessity of beauty in its many forms (from flowers to philharmonic orchestras) to sustain us as we work for a better world. So, en avant, carrots and peonies! And now I’ve got to get to the garlic.

But before I do, in case you aren’t already involved in action on climate change, let me suggest that you take a look at grassroots-oriented groups in your area. Or check out 350.org, which works at the grassroots internationally, describing itself as a “planet-wide collaboration of organizers, community groups and regular people fighting for a fossil free future.”

As for that contest:

Remember these?

Mystery fruit A

… and Mystery fruit B

… along with Mystery fruit C

Several eager readers made stabs at identifying these fruits. We had two guesses for A (mangosteen and loquat), and two for B (pawpaw and mango). C seemed the most popular item: two people went for lychee, and two for kousa dogwood.

And the correct answers are….

A: medlar

B: pawpaw

C: kousa dogwood

Nobody got all three, but one person did get both the pawpaw and the kousa dogwood right. Helen, I hereby declare you the winner. I think a suitable prize, unless you already have it, would be a copy of Orwell’s Roses. Will be in touch!

Thanks go to Corky for the photo of the kousa dogwood fruits. I took the pictures of the other two fruits during an Edible Landscaping Walk (and talk) at Cricket Hill Garden on October 9. Dan Furman of CHG gave a fascinating introduction to some fruits that gardeners often don’t even know about.

Photo of a pawpaw fruit, opened and partly scooped out with a spoon. The fruit is in a round white bowl, with a black-handled spoon inserted into it. Part of the creamy yellow flesh has already been scooped out, and a couple of the large dark brown seeds are partially visible, as is a small line of the greenish skin around the fruit.

A pawpaw, open for business.

Such as the pawpaw. As part of the walk, we all got some sample fruits. I took my pawpaw home with me, set it sideways to slice off a small lengthwise section, and used a spoon to scoop out the fruit. It was delectable, like a cross between a sweet custard and an applemuch like its aptly named tropical cousin, the Custard Apple. I nearly jumped back into the car to drive the 2 1/2 hours back to Thomaston CT to collect a couple of pawpaw trees for myself.

Only one thing stopped me. As long as I had (and have) no idea where to plant the aronia bushlet I’d brought home with me, buying a couple of trees was maybe not a great idea.

But I have plans for spring.

And one little heads-up, for the ecologically minded

The Berkshire Botanical Garden has announced its Sixth Annual Rooted In Place Ecological Gardening Symposium on November 14. This year they are offering two different types of registration: one for physical attendees on the day of; the other, for online-only, which provides recorded sessions you can dip into any time from November 21 until New Year’s Day 2022. I’ve signed up for the online version. Some of you may want to do so as well. ($ involved, but not an outrageous amount.)

Your turn:

If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for the “newsletter” if you want notices of future posts. And whether you sign up or not, please post your comments below. (If others post comments before you, the Reply box for your comment appears after their posts.) I try to reply to every comment, but feel free to answer others’ comments yourself, too. Here are a few questions to get you started, but go for any topic this post or gardening in general inspires you to.

  1. Is there anything you’ve given up on in your garden and consigned to winter’s blast? Anything you’re still hanging onto, or moving indoors?
  2. What steps do you think it’s helpful or useful for us to take in our gardens or in our daily lives that might, albeit infinitesimally, slow down our hurtling into climate change, or mitigate its consequences? And if you know of any good organizations working on climate change, please share that info. You can include one link per comment. Multiple comments are fine!
  3. Asking again, in case you’ve had a brainwave, or recently joined us: What topics would you like to see me tackle while we’re hunkered down for winter in the coming months?

If you’re commenting for the first time using a particular email address, your comment has to wait for my clearance (spam-thwarting at work there). After your first approved comment using that address, your next should go up automatically. If you’re concerned about privacy, you don’t need to include your surname. I am the only one who sees your email address.

Thanks, and stay healthy and green in the best of ways!

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9 Responses to Eleventh Hour

  1. Hillary says:

    Amusing look at winter gardening. Thanks for the answers on the plant quiz.

  2. Hillary says:

    Sweet, and amusing, look at winter gardening. Thanks for the answers on the plant quiz.

  3. Susan McKenna says:

    Three black vultures appeared on February 28, 2017 at our house on Old South Street, one block from downtown Northampton. They first nested in the eaves of the house next door, and then moved to our driveway and proceeded to feast on carrion, which they’d hidden under the front porch. They stood about three or four foot tall with a six to seven foot wing span. They were early risers, and children on the way to school walked in the busy street to avoid the large birds. I made five phone calls to no avail; the common response was that I should pick up the carrion, walk away carrying it, and the birds would follow. I finally called my long-term handyman, Henry, who loved all wildlife. Henry identified the birds as black vultures and pointed out the distinctions from the native-to-Massachusetts turkey vulture. He came right over, scooped up the carrion and put it in his truck bed. It was an amazing sight to see the three vultures flapping their silver-tipped wings behind him on their way to the meadows. Black vultures are native to the Southwest and Mexico, but apparently are occasionally “dropped off” by tornados in other locations. Perhaps some of you remember the tornado of the Saturday night before the vultural visitation? It didn’t touch down in Northampton, but ravaged Conway. I have since found out that vultures are symbols of hope, transformation, and creative renewal. Despite their bad reputation as filthy, they actually help keep things clean. I did contact the Audubon Society who told me there had been another sighting on the same day, the day after the tornado, on the Cape. Have sent Kateria a pic, to be posted soon.

  4. Susan Cope says:

    Santa Monica finally insists we separate our organic waste. Hooray for compost!

    Did you know that a concern for nature may have a genetic basis?

    • Kateri says:

      Hooray for Santa Monica!
      I didn’t know about a genetic basis for a concern for nature. Gee, that kinda makes corporate fossil-fuel pushers… unnatural. Thanks for providing the link, Susan; I want to read up on that.

  5. Steve B says:

    Another delightful post that was engaging and, equally important, provided more than one much needed chuckle. Thanks!

    On to question 2:

    I have been reading recently about supply chain dysfunction and how such problems may put a crimp on Christmas shopping. Perish the thought! Amidst a lot of whining about this, I have yet to see anybody propose the simplest, most reasonable solution to the problem: stop buying all of those foolish gifts that pretty much everybody can live without (or more likely, do not need in any way, shape, or form). Send a card or call your loved ones and tell them you love them. Don’t send money, which simply transfers excessive, unneeded consumption from your shoulders to those of the recipient.

    Fact one: if we are going to survive climate change, we are going to have to tackle the assumption – treated as revealed truth at this point – that prosperity and economic well-being are fueled by mass consumption and that any significant, ongoing diminution of consumption is a recipe for economic disaster. Reducing consumption in any meaningful way would force us to revisit our notions of work, as defined for the most part by capitalists and their intellectual shills almost always to the disadvantage of people who actually work, and how our self-worth (whatever that is supposed to mean in our capitalist anti-paradise) is dependent on having work, as defined by the above. We could also consider that not everybody must have or needs to have such work. Such a recognition would, in turn, give us a chance to examine ideas like UBI whose time has come.

    Fact two: Reducing consumption is something millions and millions of people living primarily in the wealthy developed world can do at little or no cost to their quality of life. It only requires us to examine our life styles and jettison some part of what we consume. If enough of us chip in, even in small ways, this effort can make a difference, albeit not a decisive one. Finally, before signing off on this comment, I am well aware single moms working three jobs and trying to raise kids, and others in similar straights, do not have the luxury of taking part in such an effort. But many of us do.

    • Kateri says:

      Thanks for your response, Steve.
      Intriguingly, I’ve seen a couple of pieces lately in the New York Times, of all places, about cutting consumption. One was about the “Buy Nothing” networks for sharing stuff free among neighbors (fueled, alas, by a lot of FaceBook groups, of all things, but some who participate in the networks talk about how it has strengthened the sense of community among neighbors). Another was about buying secondhand stuff for holiday gifts. Technically, not buying nothing, but at least buying nothing new. Neither of these approaches, taken alone, is likely to make a terminal dent in the buy-buy-buy culture (I’ve also just read a disturbing piece, also in NYT, about the insane escalation of house prices since the beginning of the pandemic). But a start is a start, and could lead to more. At the very least, the Buy Nothing/ Buy Secondhand impulses help to spotlight how much waste is involved in our consumerist culture.

  6. Wonderful post as always, and also very timely! Regarding question number two, this has been on my mind a lot: what steps can we take as individuals to slow down climate change? I know some people who say cynically it’s not worth doing individual efforts; real impact can only come from giant measures by companies and countries. I believe (perhaps naively) that we should do both. The personal will become the political, and vice versa. In my town of Montague, some folks have gotten together to form Drawdown Montague, a group focused on climate change. They have set up a composting station for people to bring their food waste, and are working on projects like finding ways to recycle styrofoam in bulk (all those pandemic packages!). In terms of gardening, well, there was a pretty scathing article recently in the NYT about gas-powered leaf blowers, and how much pollution they (and other gas-powered lawn equipment) cause (fun fact: did you know that lawn machinery isn’t regulated by the EPA? Hello, twin-stroke engines). So, getting people simply to switch to electric lawn tools would be an instant help for carbon emissions as well as pollinators and other living things (also nicer for neighbors trying to write blog posts!).

    • Kateri says:

      Caroline, thanks for the information and the thoughtful suggestions! I share your faith that a multiplication of individual efforts can make an impact. Possibly in direct terms, but also because I think that when people begin, individually, to change their behavior in some basic ways, they also become more committed to larger scale change and more likely to build pressure on companies and countries to make the necessary big changes. (I saw that leaf-blower article too, and cheered for it–but then, there’s also the point that we shouldn’t be treating our yards like something that needs to look squeaky-clean and sterile, which turns out to be the opposite of healthy for the environment. But I’ll yammer on about that in a post in the near future.)

      I’m very happy to hear that there’s a group in your town working together on taking steps to slow down climate change. Because that’s the important middle step between individual nano-changes, and the mega-changes we need to see at the societal level.

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