The Daily: 10 May 2023

We had frost this morning. I was nervous when I saw the sparkles on my porch roof. But it doesn’t seem to have affected the garden. Perhaps the cool weather even helped the potatoes. They prefer to send out roots and shoots in cold, damp soil. I never had much luck with potatoes in New Mexico because the cool season — late winter through earliest spring — is very dry, and then it goes straight into the season of hot. The monsoons don’t bring moisture and cooler temperatures until the middle of July, which is potato harvest time not planting.

I looked over the sprouts and new leaves, and nothing seems to be grumpy. So the garden shrugged off this cold snap. This may be the last. The forecast for the weekend and going into next week tells us we’re going to have temperatures in the upper 70s (°F). That is about as hot as it gets on an average July day here in central Vermont, very odd for May. There may be cooler temperatures again, but if we have that much heat pumped into the ground it probably won’t be able to frost again. Which is good because I planted more carrots, and these varieties don’t take frost. They haven’t germinated yet, so hopefully this morning’s dip back into cold won’t have touched them. I got no carrots from the first round of seeding, probably because it was too cold, so I have great expectations for these rows.

Thus far, I’ve only planted the alliums, roots, greens and peas. But it looks like a cornucopia already. This is partly down to the garlic which is just amazing! I’ve grown garlic off and on for decades, but I’ve never had plants this huge in May. The new onions are also growing faster and thicker than I expected. I usually plant more than I want, planning on a third or so to fizzle out for one reason or another. Nothing is fizzling yet. I know it’s still early. Plenty of fizzle opportunity. But it all looks so healthy, something really devastating would have to happen to wipe out these plants.

Now, for most garden veg, I would say the groundhog could wreak that much damage, but I now know that she’s not interested in the allium family plants. On Sunday morning, I saw her amble across the road to inspect the new green stuff. She climbed into one bed, sniffed a little and then flopped out the other side of the bed. She repeated this obviously taxing exercise a couple more times then sat on the edge of one the beds with what probably passes for a groundhog expression of disgust on her little face. All these sprouts and all of it smells like onions and garlic. She soon waddled back across the street and set to munching dandelions in my neighbor’s front yard.

So one of my varmint control tactics seems to work on groundhogs. I still don’t know about squirrels. Those vermin will dig up stuff even if they have no intention of eating it — just out of spite. But I have seen at least one nosing around and deciding the smell was not worth investigating. I hope this stays true, because I have a secret — I planted all the stuff they do like in between the rows of stinky alliums. There will be greens and carrots, beets and turnips, and they’re all hiding in plain sight — though the smell of the good stuff will, hopefully, be masked by the stuff they don’t like. The only bed that doesn’t have protective alliums is the one with peas. That one will have sweet potatoes put in around the base of the pea plants. By the time the potatoes are putting out strong vines the peas will be done. And, while I’ve had deer eat both potato and pea plants, I’ve never had rodents destroy either of these plants. Though they will eat all the flowers and the peas given half a chance.

I also discovered that another pest control tactic is working very well. I have a female fox who dens in the enormous tumbled granite blocks in my jungle. (Not sure what all that was supposed to be; now it’s an archeological study waiting to happen.) Last year there were kits playing in the shade behind the garage. That was when I decided to forego chickens on this property. But then I hadn’t seen much of the mother since last autumn and figured she’d moved on. However, last week I came home from grocery shopping in the evening dusk and there she was — with something small and furry and dead hanging out of her mouth! This probably goes a fair way toward explaining why I don’t have rabbits in the jungle and why the squirrels don’t hang out over there quite as enthusiastically as one might expect from a free feast surrounded by lots of protective trees.

So leaving the foxes alone is definitely beneficial on the ground level. But there is a new predator in the skies this year. I had been hearing this shrieking call from the treetops. It was vaguely like a killdeer, but killdeer are ground nesters, usually in places that have high visibility. Not at all the ground conditions in my jungle. But then I finally saw the bird that was making all the noise. This crow-sized grey and white blur shot down from the skies and nailed a hapless vole or something similarly fat, brown and fuzzy and then flew up to one of the maples and screamed out pure prideful pleasure. And it hit me — peregrines! The ultimate in pest control! I would guess from the continual screechy chatter that there are two of them with a nest somewhere nearby. I probably saw the male because females are a bit bigger. But he was intimidating enough! Powerful and fast and, I suspect, terrifying to all the resident rodents.

Except the groundhog who is afraid of nothing. She even expects cars to stop for her when she waddles across the road.

There are many more blooms this week than last week. With this morning’s frost, I was concerned about one of the apple trees, but the blooms that I can see up close (out my bedroom window and those that are low to the ground) all seem unperturbed. Everything else is frost-hardy. Most plants don’t put out May blossoms if those flowers aren’t able to withstand freezing. I’m not sure what in the apple’s long history of domestication led to apple blossoms that regularly succumb to frost, but it’s an annoying problem in New England. Luckily most of the trees that produce the good winter keeping apples are also late bloomers. So the apples I like best, because they store well but also because I like the taste and texture of these varieties best, are usually fine — though several of my favorites don’t bear heavy fruit every year, so it still comes down to luck at harvest time.

The lilacs are opening a bit early. Or maybe the hyacinths are blooming late. Whatever the timing, they are both blooming at the same time this year. I am not a big fan of lilac by itself, but there is something intoxicating about mixing it with hyacinth. I have both growing by the back door, the door I use (since the front porch is up two flights of wonky granite steps that could trip up a mountain goat). So when I come home in the evening, the blend of scent releases all the work stress and makes me just stop and be happily grateful for a moment or two.

All the better because there is good food in the kitchen waiting to be warmed up and lots more growing out there in the garden. I’ve only been at this Vermont quasi-urban homesteading project for a couple years, but it’s already proving abundantly fruitful.

I gotta say, this is the good life!

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

4 thoughts on “The Daily: 10 May 2023”

  1. Smartly done with the alliums! I hope it continues to work! And wow, peregrines! I think between them and the fox, your rabbits, squirrels, and voles won’t be much to worry about!

    What garlic and onion varieties did you plant? Do you use onion seeds or sets?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The garlic is German Mennonite, Yugoslavian Red, and an elephant/softneck called Majestic. All are from Richter’s Herbs.

      The onions are sets (I don’t have a good seed stock here yet). I have Forum yellow onions, Redwing red onions and Sierra Blanca white onions all from Johnny’s. All are hybrids — so that might explain the vigorous growth, though… no seeds…

      There are also King Richard leeks (also Johnny’s) and the mystery shallots that I grew last year from bulblets that I found at the Co-op. I can’t recall what they are named. They are enormous, more an ovoid onion than a shallot, though with the shallot flavor. They’re my favorite thing for onion bread now.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I very seldom use our front door for it is too dangerous during the white-rumped swift breeding season: they nest just outside the front door and are apt to dive-bomb one with unfailing accuracy. I thus use the kitchen door most often as well as a side door. I wish you a productive vegetable garden 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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