January Thaw

The common woodfrog, unlike us, has antifreeze for blood:

Once the first ice crystals reach a wood frog, however, its skin freezes. The frog becomes hard and crunchy. “When you drop it, it goes ‘clink,'” [Kenneth Storey, a professor of biochemistry at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada] said.

Special proteins in their blood, called nucleating proteins, cause the water in the blood to freeze first. This ice, in turn, sucks most of the water out of the frog’s cells.

At the same time the frog’s liver starts making large amounts of glucose—a type of sugar—which packs into cells and props them up.

The concentrated sugar solution helps prevent additional water from being pulled out of the frog’s cells, which can destroy them.

“Inside the cells there’s no ice,” Storey explained. “It’s just really, really, really dehydrated, all shrunk down osmotically and full of massive amounts of sugar.”

I certainly wish I gave a crystalline clink! when dropped, as opposed to giving out a dull thud, as of a heavy, clumsy body bundled into a thick parka. Then again, cold though I might be, I won’t shatter. Though apparently wood frogs don’t shatter either. Amazingly, they can go through their own freeze-thaw cycle:

When temperatures warm and the ice melts, the frogs thaw. Water slowly flows back into the cells, blood starts flowing again, and the frog revives.

In the lab, Storey said, ice thaws in about 20 minutes and the heart takes another 20 or 30 minutes to start.

“Once the heart starts, it pumps the blood around the animal and the animal starts to revive, then it starts to gulp, then it starts to breathe, then it starts to hop away. So it takes a little while to reactivate after you’ve been frozen down,” he said.

According to Storey, the wood frogs can go through this cycle again and again. When spring finally arrives and decides to stay, the frogs hop around unharmed.

Achievement, unlocked! Iguanas, however, are a different story. From a recent NPR interview:

On this program yesterday, I mentioned reports that the cold temperatures in Florida this week have caused frozen iguanas to fall out of trees.

Ouch! I hope that hasn’t happened to you!

SHAPIRO: Magill says if you meet a semi-frozen iguana, treat it as though it could be alive. He told us this crazy story about a guy in Key Biscayne who was originally from Central America.

MAGILL: And in Central America, iguana is a delicacy. It’s something – they’re actually farmed for food. So this gentleman just thought, wow, I just have a bunch of protein here. He’s on Key Biscayne. He’s sort of picking up all these iguanas that appear to be dead on the road that had fallen out of trees. They turned gray and were not moving at all and very cold to the touch.

And he put them into his vehicle. He’s loading them up like he was stocking up for a big barbecue. When they went back into the vehicle, the vehicle warmed up, and those iguanas started coming back to life. And all of a sudden, they started getting up and running around in the car, and it caused an accident.

Lesson learned. If you find yourself thawing out in a vehicle, don’t start running around! So be sure to watch your iguanas carefully, and give your wood frog plenty of hopping room, because this week’s cold won’t last forever, even if it does seem like it will:

By Thursday, however, the thermometer could read in the 40’s — relatively balmy to most Mainers, who for weeks have endured a record-setting freeze that has chilled the state since before Christmas, and gave Bangor its coldest week in 40 years.

Break out the sandals and the Hawaiian shirts! Nevertheless, the thing about a January thaw is that it always ends, and then we have the sixty days of February, and then the mud season, and then another month or so until we can plant on Memorial Day. Soil doesn’t have antifreeze either, at least not naturally:

When the temperature of the ground drops below 0° Celsius (32° Fahrenheit), it freezes. However, the ground temperature can be different from the temperature of the air above it. Layers deep within the ground may be colder or warmer than layers near the surface of the ground.

The top layer of ground may respond to conditions on the surface, but the layers below may not change as quickly. On a warm summer day, the surface of the ground can absorb heat and become hotter than the air. But the temperature a meter (a few feet) underground may be much lower than the air. In the winter, the opposite happens. The surface of the ground cools, but the layer deep underground may stay warmer than the surface. The upper layer of ground stops heat from moving between the cold air and the deeper layers of the ground. As a result, the ground insulates itself.

The type of soil in an area also affects how the ground will store heat. Loose soils like sand have more space for water. In loose soils with large particles, ice forms more easily. Dense soils with small particles do not have as much space for water. Clay, for example, does not freeze as easily as sand.

How deep the ground will freeze can depend a lot on the length of time that the air is cold. The longer the cold period, the deeper the ground will freeze. But the depth of frozen ground is limited, because Earth is warm deep inside.

I remember my first spring in Maine, when I got over-excited about planting because the soil seemed soft, until I put a shovel in it and hit something solid about three inches down. What is the problem? the city boy asked himself, until I hacked the soil into chunks and saw how the white pore ice showed the soil was still frozen. Oh!

Unfortunately, my carefully sheet-mulched and layered soil was wrecked last summer by a fool of a tenant with a dirt bike; and though the garden was a notable success, it wasn’t a success in terms of vegetables grown, because I didn’t have time to rebuild the beds. The glorious stands of volunteer sunflowers didn’t help either, since sunflowers give off toxins to prevent other plants from competing with them.

However, I had planned to give the garden a rethink in any case. I have, and will still have, a “grandmother’s garden”:

[M]y garden is informal and ragged round the edges, although edges it does have, and by design: People like to talk to me, but they’re on one side of my living fence, the raspberry bushes, and I’m on the other, the ideal existential position for an INTJ, curb appeal or no. But informality means I don’t have to weed, which is work, which I don’t like, so I just mentally reformulate “weeds” into “future mulch” and rip the bastards up when I think they might give rise to comment in the town. I don’t know what my rose-growing grandmother would have thought of that attitude, which could matter since, as it turns out, what I’ve created is a grandmother’s garden:

ELLSWORTH — Bachelor’s buttons, borage, sweet peas, foxgloves, pinks, bee balms, larkspur, comfrey, hyssop, rosemary and more, would have been found in gardens of yore.

The Ellsworth Garden Club invited Heirloom Garden of Maine to speak at Woodlawn Museum Monday about the Grandmother’s Garden movement [Really? Hmm….] in American history.

The term Grandmother’s Garden is used to describe a style of garden in America between 1865 and 1915.

Grandmother’s Gardens would be enclosed, informal gardens close to a house and tended by one woman [or person]. They were often framed with rosebushes.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like my garden. I’ve underlined the similarities; borage (hat tip, insanelysane) was the first one that jumped out at me. And my grandmother Strether was a great one for old-fashioned roses.

This is the best material [on grandmothers’ gardens] I can find. I’ve included two images from the Alabama Cooperative Extension, and prose from the University of Vermont Extension. The flowers I’ve grown are underlined….

… Many of the plants and the gardening styles today are similar to those of a century ago, giving credence to another saying that nothing is really new, just rediscovered. This gardening style and accompanying plant palette is a trend often known as “Grandmother’s Garden.”

It is really the American cottage garden, an old-fashioned garden of hardy perennials, annuals (many self-sown like Johnny Jump-ups), and native American plants. Although native plants are increasing in popularity now for reasons such as helping pollinators, a century ago they often were more readily available than new introductions.

I am going to abandon vegetables altogether, and abandon the whole concept of beds. I’ve already taken the concept of self-seeding to an extreme, as both my tomatoes and my sunflowers are volunteers, as are borage, bee balm, Black-Eyed Susans, poppies, and other wildflowers. When a patch of something I like pops up, I transplant to a place where I would like it to be (and where I think it will be happy). Vegetables are right out, at least annual ones, because I did fine when I was starting everything from seed, but when I told myself I was too busy, and bought flats, I got bugs, and the year before last lost an entire crop of winter squash to squash bugs. Well, dealing with bugs is work, and I don’t like work. And I never really closed the permacultural loop on canning or storage, so I end up giving the vegetables away anyhow. Farewell vegetables! But I would always get too ambitious and over-order the seed packets anyhow. In any case, I’ve discovered that the purpose of my garden is not to supply food, but to supply beauty and life (pollinators, birds, and, necessarily, an apex predator: The cat. (The cat has left its summer home for its real home across the street, the dear creature)). And so I can sit with my laptop at my desk in the garden and work, in the midst of beauty and life.

So I have already planted a small oak tree in the center of the area where the beds were (and I hope the tree, which also has no antifreeze, survives the transplantation process and the winter). Then, a couple of weeks before Memorial Day, I’m going to get a couple of yards of soil, spread it round, and seed it with a couple pounds of wildflower mix. That should take care of the beauty, and encourage pollinators. Then, as the wildflowers grow, I’ll see what I want to add; perhaps a water feature, perhaps some more bushes to attract birds. And maybe I’ll need to move all the toxic sunflowers away from everything else. We shall see!

Something to think about walking home in the dark at 4:30 p.m. Do remember that we passed the Winter Equinox when we celebrated Saturnalia, so the days really are getting longer. There will be more light. Be sure to look up at the sky and not, all hunched over with the weight of the darkness and cold, down at the ground. Against the sky, twigs with buds will one day appear. The earth is always in motion.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

49 comments

  1. readerOfTeaLeaves

    Against the sky, twigs with buds will one day appear. The earth is always in motion.

    So true, Lambert.
    Hearty thanks for this from gloomy, soggy Puget Sound.

    Reply
  2. Jeremy Grimm

    The trick for the future will less involve preparing for the cycles of the seasons than preparing for the shifts in local weather that follow the meandering of Arctic winds as the Arctic warms and very soon will warm much more and much more quickly. And those of us in the Northeast might do well to follow the latest news on the slowing of the AMOC current — so far so good. But past climate shifts included some interesting transitions in local climate — nothing like the “Day After” but worthy of notice for long term planning and adaptation. [Sorry — the post about thinking happy progressive thoughts worked quite to the contrary for me.]

    Reply
  3. drumlin woodchuckles

    Are you still thinking of improving a zone of soil somewhere for potential vegetable gardening in the future in case the economy decays enough that viable subsistence gardening would make a life-versus-death difference to personal survival?

    Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Not necessarily to actually start growing a high-work high-drudgery vegetable garden at this point. Rather, to have a zone of deep highly nutri-mineralized bio-activated soil held in “standby turnkey ready-reserve” for when it is needed.

        When genuine hunger raises the spectre of a genuine fear of starvation, high-work and high-drudgery will seem an acceptable tradeoff in return for having food. But creating that standby “soil bank” will in itself involve some years of moderate work and moderate drudgery. The permaculture books all write about a legitimate place for heavily worked-up and heavily managed vegetable garden beds in the zone very nearest to the house. So it would not be a betrayal of permaculture principles to begin creating a standby soil bank in the place most suitable.

        Reply
  4. McKillop

    Hello Lambert Strether!
    You’ve confirmed your longing, your yearning for your garden. That’s why at this time the catalogues show up.(Although not solely for you -imagine the thickness of your mulch.
    Up here (North) the days have been -25 to -30 C. and the nights’ve been nearer to -40 C (which converts to -40 F.
    Guess who else is yearning.
    Thanks for the information about the wood frog (tree frog). I’ve stayed in my home in town rather than attempt to brave the elements in the bush, but you’ve spurred my desire to get out where my heart is. My illness has been quite painful but, having been recently prescribed cbd I’m determined to light my stove, snowshoe through the cold, and and imagine the wee frogs.
    I’ll spare you a thought.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      In the very narrowest technical sense, the tree frogs and the wood frog are two different frogs. The tree frogs are a whole group of species who really do spend some of their time up in trees. The wood frog is bigger and spends its time strictly down at ground level in the woods.

      Here is an American green tree frog. https://riverbendnaturecenter.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/american-green-tree-frog.png

      Here is a wood frog. http://www.michigan.gov/images/wood_frog_102914_7.jpg

      Reply
      1. Oregoncharles

        Yes, we have those green tree frogs. We sometimes see them on the screens or the walls, near the lights outside. Looking at the underside of a frog on the screen is quite odd.

        Daytimes, they live in the pumphouse. Every once in a while I lift something and find a frog under it. I try to put it back carefully.

        Reply
      2. McKillop

        Thank you for helping me escape from my confusion. Should I assume that the citation regarding the wood frog, coming from a Michigan gov’t site,the frog would likely be seen in Ontario (49 degrees,20N:80 and change)?
        Such a wondrous creature!

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          I think it could be very possible. Southern Ontario should be very like Southern Michigan. Storm systems which roll across Southern Michigan roll on into Southern Ontario.

          I went on an organized birding trip focused on Point Pelee and points near there on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie. Our guide took us to a place where we could count on seeing Prothonotary warblers. And we did see them. I had always considered the Prothonotary warbler as being a Deep Southern warbler. But there they were, in Deepest South Ontario. ( Here is a prothonotary warbler.
          https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/PHOTO/LARGE/prothonotary_warbler_1.jpg

          Reply
  5. rd

    Lambert, a reading suggestion regarding your garden: http://www.timberpress.com/books/living_landscape/darke/9781604694086

    If you are into self-seeding native plants and untamed beds, you can try something like this seed mix. Many of these seeds need cold stratification, so spreading seed on bare ground in winter or early spring is much better for growth this year than planting in May-June. https://www.ernstseed.com/product/showy-northeast-native-wildflower-mix/?anchor=1

    Ernst has similar mixes with native grasses, if you want a meadow look.

    Reply
  6. 3.14e-9

    Man, those iguanas went full Alfred Hitchcock! Thanks for the NPR link, Lambert. I’d read about them falling out of trees but presumed they’d frozen to death.

    Speaking of iguanas and freezing to death, those of us with the metabolism of a lizard have a hard enough time in the winter as it is, even without daytime highs near zero, compounded by the daily overdose of depressing news. There’s no cure for the former, and I don’t think we’d like the “cure” for the latter, but there hasn’t been a single time in my life when I didn’t feel lighter after gardening, even if it was just 15 minutes of pulling weeds.

    Invariably, the other shoe is going to drop, so it’s good to be reminded that spring is also inevitable, and it’s never too early to start planning next year’s garden. I, too, have more of an affinity for flowers than vegetables, and have enjoyed the descriptions and photos of your garden immensely, even though I didn’t always leave an appreciative comment.

    Reply
  7. kgw

    Due to getting married, a questionable dodge, I ended up building a small house in the Berkshires ( just over the MA line in NY) near Queechy Lake. First Xmas Eve, -25 below…Granted, that was one of those “exceptional years.” Born and raised in Southern California.

    Absolutely beautiful place! Nonetheless, here I am, back in the place of my birth!! If you are not born there, expect to spend at least 10 years convincing the locals you are human…

    Reply
  8. foghorn longhorn

    Would highly recommend Carla Emery’s
    “The Encyclopedia of Country Living”.
    Truly a tome of epic proportions, easily a five pounder.
    Covers it all, from soup to nuts.

    We just emerged from a week of below freezing weather, quite the rarity around here.
    Pond still had ice yesterday despite 60 degree temps.
    Don’t see how you folks north of the Red River do it.
    Bring on the 100s.

    Reply
  9. sleepy

    Congratulations on seeding wildflowers. I did my whole front yard in native Iowa prairie wildflowers 5 years ago and it always looks great. No weeding and no watering required, plus no mowing. Just chop it down after the first frost and it comes back better than ever in the spring.

    Reply
  10. Henry Moon Pie

    I’m a big believer in starting everything from seed initially. Introducing pests from who knows where is one downside to buying flats. Getting so you can recognize seedlings is an upside of growing your own, especially if you’re relying on self-seeding. I find getting on my hands and knees and hand-weeding to be a meditative activity for me, but I don’t want to pluck out any nice chamomile seedlings when I’m getting rid of plants I don’t want. Same with coriander or borage or sunflowers or spacy morning glories. That kind of close contact is also helping me learn to recognize “weeds” that I do keep around like chickweed.

    My big problem is getting enough sun in February. We have a two-story house right next door to the south (lots are 40 feet wide), and the sun doesn’t make it to the first-floor windows of our house, even at noon in early February. I’m going to try plant lights this spring, but my longer term goal is to open up part of our second house’s south-facing roof over the second story and cover it with polycarbonate panels to make a little greenhouse. Of course, I have to get that house so that I can live in it through the winter for that to work.

    As for annuals, we can’t do without tomatoes and cucumbers. My spouse puts up some great tomato sauce with our herbs and some outstanding garlic dill spears. We also freeze green beans and peas. And giving stuff away is part of my effort to get to know the neighbors. Because of space problems, I’m going to try at least some of the tomatoes in straw bales. Friends of ours have done that for a couple of years with good results, and we have space on an adjacent lot that is backfilled crap where there was a house demolition. Beds would have to be so deep as to be impracticable for me because the “soil” is crushed concrete mixed with rebar and gravel.

    My big winter worry is the two “Ukranian” almond trees I set out as bare roots last spring. Almonds in zone 5 sounds crazy, but they’re supposed to be hardy to -20 F, and they’re planted in the space between our house and that two-story to the south. Even though they’re well-sheltered from north winds, those little trees are getting a pretty good test this year.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > My big problem is getting enough sun in February. We have a two-story house right next door to the south (lots are 40 feet wide), and the sun doesn’t make it to the first-floor windows of our house

      I used the milk jug trick. I put the milk jugs right out on top of the snow, in sunny spots. I did this for two or three years. It worked great!

      Reply
  11. drumlin woodchuckles

    It is possible to find joy within winter activities their own selves. I gather up the snow from my little yardlet and pack it onto my garden beds, to have a deep charge of snow meltwater to get the garden started in late spring.

    This year I have scraped and shaped the top of my garden bed snow pile into a shallow crudely concave surface. I then spent some subzero nights sprinkling water onto it to create an ice mirror. I want to see if the ice mirror will reflect detectable amounts of sunlight into my south facing window.

    If it works at all, I will try improving and refining the concept over the winters to come.

    Reply
    1. McKillop

      You are exceptionally wonderful in your experiments: not as cool as the wood frog or iguana but cool just the same. I’ll bet you are never “bored” with your own company. Nor others.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Thank you for the kind words. Though I have in fact bored people at times when I get going on some subject or other. I try to do less of that lately.

        I have had the benefit of reading interesting material by interesting people. They have transferred their interestingness to me to whatever extent it has been transferred. One such is Steve Baer the founder and owner of Zomeworks, a solar energy company operating out of New Mexico. He has written interesting articles down the years about Energy and how to think about it. Some of the best were gathered into a book called Sunspots. I will offer a Google link to it because at least Google isn’t Amazon. https://books.google.com/books/about/Sunspots.html?id=uuRSAAAAMAAJ

        Here is a Mother Earth News interview with Steve and Holly Baer from some decades ago. After reading stuff like this, one is bound to get a contact creativity-high.
        https://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/steve-baer-holly-baer-dome-home-zmaz73jazraw

        Reply
  12. Darius

    I have a small yard in Washington, DC, in which I’m growing some old roses and wildflowers. I collected a pine cone from a neighboring shortleaf pine from which I extracted seeds and am starting seedlings in pots. I never heard of a grandmother’s garden, but I’m using that basic strategy to keep rose rosette disease off the roses. I’m hiding them among wildflowers, particularly in the rose family, to confuse the disease-spreading mites and attract mite predators. Lay the groundwork, then let nature take its course, I say.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I wish I had a Japanese beetle solution; I only have Rosa Rugosa (that is, not heirloom, though Grandmother Strether was famous for her heirlooms).

      No, getting up in the morning and plucking beetles off the roses is not a solution; I don’t have time for that. Nor are pheromones. I want something to eat them. Possibly birds?

      Reply
      1. blennylips

        I do not remember what he got them for, but Dad got a mail order shipment of Praying Mantis egg cases to combat some insect varmint or other. They were sure fun to watch out for during the weeding chores!

        Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        The larval stage of the japanese beetle is a grub which lives in the soil under lawns eating the grass roots. ( I don’t know what it ate in the age before lawns, or in Japan where lawns were few.)

        So if you have enough japanese beetles to be a real problem, you could try attacking them at the grub stage by watering an application of Milky Spore Disease spores into your lawn or other land.
        https://www.arbico-organics.com/product/milky-spore-powder-bacillus-popilliae-control-japanese-beetle/japanese-beetles-control?msclkid=e3ee394d61f91972772f6318424ac19c&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Japanese%20Beetle%20Control%20old&utm_term=milky%20spore&utm_content=Milky%20Spore

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milky_spore

        Knocking japanese beetles off the plants would not kill them. When it warmed up in the day, they would get more active and fly right back up onto the plants. When the numbers are few enough in my garden, I go around with a squeeze bottle full of olive oil. I squeeze a few drops onto each japanese beetle. The oil spreads out over the highly lipophilic waxy-cuticle covering the beetle’s body. It enters and plugs their spiracles ( breathing airholes) and kills them in under a minute by oxygen-deprivation through smotherization.

        Reply
  13. Kurt Sperry

    The first few times i had volunteer tomatoes, often springing right from a compost pile, I was excited. They looked *great*, bursting with seeming heterotic vigor. But, here in the cool summer PNW coastal climate at least, they never failed to disappoint. As in no fruit in the same county as ripeness. May your luck be much better!

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If the “economy” begins approaching a visibly post-Soviet state of pre-collapse that you can see and feel around you, you may become interested in gardening. If that never happens, there is no reason to fake an interest in something one is not really interested in.

      Clay is a very good base to begin growing a soil from if one is prepared to do several years of very hard physical work and carefully chosen and directed high inputs to get the clay-base to grow into the soil you would like it to be. Many kinds of clay particles bear persistent negative charges on their surfaces. Those persistent electronegative binding sites can hold positive ions of various sorts. Some of those positive ions happen to be plant nutrients. Careful soil testing can offer guidance on what plant-nutrient positive ions ( “minerals”) are missing, and advice about what mineral-source inputs would supply these ions may be sought and acted on.

      Done the right way, mixing water-holding high-cellulose organic material plus the right minerals into such clay will loosen it and aerate it enough that air and water can move through it and support mass microbial activity within it and allow plant roots to grow and go through it more easily than through stiff clay. Such plant mass-rooting behavior would stimulate more microbial and multi-cellular life-activity within that soil which would play various parts in making the input-ed minerals more bio-available to the hungry roots. Several years of this will turn a clay soil into a good soil.

      But the only incentive for doing this would either be love of the process, or near-certain knowledge of a looming long-term food-scarcity future.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        “If the “economy” begins approaching a visibly post-Soviet state of pre-collapse that you can see and feel around you, you may become interested in gardening.”

        Fully agree with that sentiment. I have read that when Soviet Russia collapsed that many people were saved because food gardening was already a big thing over there. Thing is, I am given to understand that it takes about three years of growing before you get it right and can really do it. In Victorian times it was reckoned that it took three years to train a man to be a farmer’s labourer to the point that he did not need to be told what to do but just got on with it. Lean times before then. Will take your advice about checking out the local soil however so thanks heaps for the info.

        Reply
      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        I’ve always been too lazy to soil test.

        I will say that sheet mulching seemed to make worms very happy (and I added a couple of yards of seafood mulch a year, until the small business that did that was destroyed by the landfill operator). I started out with clay, and — before the dude with the motorbike wrecked my beds — ended up with soil that was almost fluffy. (I also spread fallen leaves over the beds in the fall.)

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Fluffy is half the battle right there. Highly plant-nutrient mineral-enriched is the other half the battle. And yes, unless one begins to suspect the emergence of pre-famine conditions, doing things like “soil testing” can be irritatingly drudgerous.

          Not for me, though. To me it is fascinating, just like the digging and mixing parts of the grow-soil process. It puts me in touch with my Inner Mole.
          digdigdigdigdigdigdigdigdigdigdigdigdig . . . . . .

          Perhaps there can be found a happy medium between Biodynamic French-Intensive and Permaculture . . . .between Alan Chadwick and Bill Mollison.

          Reply
    2. Juliania

      One summer all I concentrated on was worms, had tubs full of leaves collected from the roadsides, my kitchen waste, everything vegetable went in. I still do those tubs and my garden is full of worms making new soil.

      You can make your own!

      Reply
  14. Harold

    As a dyed-in-the-wool old rose fan (ever since reading Will Tillotson’s seductive catalog at the age of 16) , who is now now old enough to be a grandparent, I read this post with great interest. How I long to see a flower and perennial and self-sowing annual garden surrounded by old roses. Which roses are they, I wonder?
    Unfortunately, though, I can’t get the links to work to the illustrations of Grandmother’s Garden at U of Vermont..

    Reply
  15. Harold

    “May I a small house and large garden have;
    And a few friends,
    And many books, both true.”― Abraham Cowley (1618–1667)

    Reply
  16. Wukchumni

    Next month, the FNG*’s replace fallen soldiers on the orchard battlefield lost in action against wily underground types, and the stone fruit blossoms out, as the first of the wildflowers show up in abundance-Fiddlenecks by the tens of thousands, transforming lush green 2-3 foot high wildgrass into elevated carpets of gold

    * Arctic Star & Double Delight nectarines, Ghost, Anna, Sundowner, Sierra Beauty & Spitzenburg apples, Bing, Black Tartarian, Minnie Royal & Royal Lee cherry trees.

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  17. Chauncey Gardiner

    So much truth and beauty in this piece and in readers’ comments, Lambert. Thanks. Watching the resident birds frequent the feeder that hangs on a limb of the plum tree. Pruned hydrangea stalks and other assorted plant debris from the garden are theoretically drying as fuel for an early spring bonfire, perhaps to be accompanied by roasting some carcinogenic hot dogs as in years gone. Should be about the same time the wood frogs awaken from their seasonal cycle, an amazing evolution of which I was previously unaware.

    I too have a cat that frequents but reportedly belongs to some neighbors on the next road. They seem to be absent much of the time, so I have taken to feeding him when he climbs up on the wood pile next to my kitchen window and rubs his chin against the window. I know, big mistake, but he is not allowed inside. I did find a decapitated mouse on the back walkway last week, so perhaps there is a tangible benefit to his presence to add to the intangibles.

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  18. roxan

    Milky Spore disease is supposed to get rid of Japanese beetles. Not sure if that is only useful on lawns or not.

    Enjoyed this post a lot! I’m already drooling over seed catalogs.

    Reply
  19. Harold

    Culinary herbs, such as parseley and chives, are very little trouble and don’t take up much space, which is what I resent about vegetables in my small garden. This is true of cherry tomatoes as well. They don’t get blossom end rot, usually.

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