‘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:
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.
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.
Corn and bean salad? Chicken larb? Freeze the suckers? I’ll get back to you on that, because….
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…
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?
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!
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.
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!)
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
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:
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….
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.
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 apple—much 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.)
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.
- 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?
- 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!
- 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?
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Thanks, and stay healthy and green in the best of ways!