The Daily: 29 April 2023

It is officially spring now. The groundhog woke up. Or maybe she had her babies under my neighbor’s porch and is now able to leave the den for foraging. She is not traveling far. No further than my neighbor’s front yard and the adjacent small patch of grass around my cold frame. She seems uninterested in both the bulbs that are flowering everywhere and the sprouts in the cold frame. Maybe she would be interested in the yummy spring greens only she doesn’t trust the cold frame lid. It does look rather like a rodent trap the way it is propped open. She looks much smaller than the last time I saw her. Maybe it’s not even the same beastie, but this one does have the same prominent band of black from her nose to her back and lots of white tips on her fur. She looks sort of like a small beaver. And if she’s both lost the hibernating fat and birthed a litter of pups, then I guess the size is understandable. So I think she is the same as my bean-plant defoliator from last summer. She is, in any case, the rodent in residence under my neighbor’s porch.

The weather is becoming more vernal also. We had frost yesterday, but it was light and melted away as soon as the sun crested the eastern mountains. By afternoon, it was shirtsleeves weather — for a brief time. Because, but for a few days, it has not been warm in April — highs in the 40s (°F), lows around freezing and some dips into the 20s. This is not unusual spring weather, though it does tend to happen much earlier in spring, early March rather than late April. Moisture and air flow are also more typical of mid-spring than the last few days of April. It’s been very windy most days, with dust blowing in clouds and dirt devils — which also shows that it’s been dry. My town will close out the month of April about 20% short of average. Not a devastatingly painful shortfall, but a significant one. Also, it has almost all fallen in the last ten days, so the first two-thirds of the month was painful! Combined with the wind, the lack of earlier moisture means that what is falling now is mostly evaporating in between showers.

I’m still needing to carry water across the street to the veg patch, and I’ve been using row cover to conserve moisture as much as possible. I can’t put mulch out yet because the seeds won’t germinate as well, nor will the seedlings be happy to find three inches of plant matter to force their way through before they can reach the sunlight. I also can’t just leave the row cover up because not much of these light showers of misting rain will penetrate the fabric. So I’ve been moving the covers a lot, leaving them off at night for the most part and putting them on before heading off to work if there’s no rain in the forecast. (Funny that we call what I do for wages ‘work’ when I expend far more effort on things here at home.)

Rain and wind and cool temperatures aside, because I went on a bulb-planting spree last autumn, there are flowers all around my garden — daffodils and hyacinths, scilla and chionodoxa. Most of the spring perennials are in leaf, and the creeping phlox is putting on its annual show of lavender, fuchsia and creamy white spilling down the bank out front. The trees are also leafing out, turning shades of lime green and soft burgundy. The apples are all covered in downey, pale green leaves. I don’t have any varieties that flower before putting out leaves. The few trees that were here and the ones I’ve added are all late season apples, good keepers, not summer apples. I have bought one more that will produce early, but that might be a gamble most years. The early blooms might not find the necessary pollinator bugs or might freeze after opening. We definitely won’t get apples from it every year, but there will be fresh-eating August apples from time to time. Probably don’t want that to happen every year anyway.

My garlic — another fall-planted bulb — is also very happy. All three varieties are over ten inches tall, and the elephant garlic that I like in pestos is over a foot. I might be pulling it all in July at this rate. I think that’s about perfect scheduling. I can get the garlic out of the ground and curing in the hot sun, top-dress the bed with compost, and have that space ready to sow for fall foods in August. The flowering brassicas — broccoli, rapini, cauliflower and so on — need rather high soil temperatures for germination, but don’t like high air temperatures for growing or producing those tasty buds. So planting in August is best for them. In fact, I’ve had success in Zone 5 sowing them as late as September, when the ground is still warm but the air is pushing first frost. I don’t grow much of this stuff, not even now that I live in a sufficiently humid climate to grow it (just doesn’t happen in New Mexico without way too much water!). With the exception of cabbage, brassicas don’t store very long without refrigeration, and my fridge and freezer spaces are limited. So I plant what I will eat in fall with maybe a bit extra for the winter holidays — especially Brussels sprouts which are a wonderful vehicle for garlic butter.

And in other butter-vehicle news… I restarted the sourdough starter and baked my first loaf this week. I have been trying various techniques over the last six months or so. I learned to bake in a professional setting, and in the years since that job I’d always had large appetites to feed. So I knew how to bake for many, but not for one. I’ve had to learn how to do many things differently when living alone, but I hadn’t shifted my baking routines. Nor is that strictly easy to do. The culture I was using required feeding every three days, even refrigerated. That meant I had to bake or toss out a cup or two of starter several times a week. Not something a single person can keep up with! However, I finally managed to find a culture that seems to thrive on neglect. It can go for a day on the counter without feeding. In the refrigerator it will go for up to two weeks before it absolutely needs to be refreshed. It also takes an equal part starter and bread flour to make a loaf with this culture. So baking renews a greater percentage of the starter volume than my old recipes did. And with those ratios, it’s easier to bake one loaf at a time. My first loaf was a no-knead boule baked at high heat in my cast iron Dutch oven. It is perfect in every way! Great flavor. Great crumb. Great crust. And it even looks pretty. I could sell this. Only, then I wouldn’t be able to eat it.

Three cultures: sourdough, crème fraîche, and yoghurt (in the measuring cup at top)

All that is reason enough to be less focused on my writing projects. But… in addition to the ongoing worry from last month, there is another less stressful but even more engrossing family matter in development now. So things are just going to be spotty. I do apologize. But life does come first!

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

2 thoughts on “The Daily: 29 April 2023”

  1. Your bread is gorgeous! Until a couple days ago it’s been below freezing here every night. The local weather guy says he thinks we have seen the last frost, but I can’t trust him. My peas have yet to sprout. The week ahead should be in the 50s and 60s at last, so hopefully that gets them moving along. On the plus side, since all the woody shrubs and trees are also taking their time, it has allowed me to get in all the pruning and transplanting I wanted to do. Now I just need to deal with all the wood cuttings. Some will host pole beans, some will get turned into rustic fencing, some composted, and some will grant us a summer bonfire at some point. Happy spring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lemons to lemonade! And no, don’t trust those weather people. They spend far too much time indoors to know what they’re talking about. 🙂

      My peas are all up. And there will be an abundance of radish, beets and greens. But I’ve yet to see any carrots. Probably should give up that sowing as lost at this point. Ah well…

      Liked by 1 person

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