A Different Kind of Traffic

People are not getting out during the week. I guess that is a good thing. Everyone is staying home as much as they can, trying to stay safe. But the weekend comes and exercise is on the agenda. And maybe a little social distance socializing. Only, the gym is closed. And the movie theaters. And restaurants. So outside is the place to go. But most trails are closed because they are muddy or covered in snow or otherwise inaccessible. So apparently everyone is coming to our neighborhood.

I mean, it isn’t really a neighborhood. Our road is a dirt road, long and flat for a mile, then rising and falling in a few gentle hills. Off of that is another road, class four in the middle. Class four means it is a public right-of-way but not maintained a whole lot–not plowed when the snow falls or graded when the mud arrives. So these couple of roads, with a couple others over the town line, make for several miles of fine walking or running or biking. And a lot of people know it.

People park at the end of the road and go from there. Most days someone does that at some point, but these days there is a line of cars as their occupants are off enjoying these roads. At the far end of one of these roads, coming at it from a long walk ourselves, my wife and I encountered half a dozen cars parked. At that end I have, a few times, seen two cars parked. You know, two people meet each other there, driving separately, and go for.a walk. But today there were six cars there. I know that may not seem like a lot. It’s not a Walmart parking lot. But it is three times the maximum number I have ever seen there before.

Walking the rest of the way home, we had to scooch over far to the right as people coming the other way did the same. We kept our distance. We wished them a good morning, waved, kept walking. And then we encountered more people. The thing is, we have done this long walk the past four Saturdays in a row. The first couple of times we encountered all kinds of automobile traffic on certain parts of it. The first time the road was dry and we got dusted out way too many times. Today on the same stretch all of one car passed us. Those cars have been replaced by pedestrians.

These times have brought a lot of change. And we see it right here on the roads around us. Fewer cars drive past but more people than ever pass, more slowly, outside of their cars. Given the hardships we have begun to face and the tragedy the world is facing, and is slowly creeping its way toward us, seeing people get outside to enjoy an early spring day is not the worst thing to happen. Maybe when all this is said and done more people will choose to take a spring walk together, rather than to meet for coffee at an inside table. I’ll take that small victory.

Tubers Out of the Dirt

I have started pulling tubers. Let me say that again. I have started digging up root vegetables. I made some roasted potatoes from the first batch and they were so good I made another last night. Carrots are ready now as well. These are some good ones–a variety of colors and flavors. I should have a good volume of food with these crops before all is said and done.

The first potatoes I pulled up were German Butterball. These were from tubers I had saved from last summer. I hadn’t meant to save them, exactly. I had stored them to eat and then missed some at the end of the bin. They sat until spring, when they were sprouting like crazy. I had some extra space in the garden and so I popped them into the dirt. I am glad I did. They are a, duh, buttery variety, and white. I also have pulled some others–purple and pink. I love that. Who wants only white potatoes when you can have purple and pink? Several of these colorful plants never took so the extra white potatoes were especially welcome.

Check Out Those Colors

I have purple carrots as well, along with yellow and the standard orange. Our soil is mostly clay–although I did add a good deal of compost this spring–so sometimes the carrots get stunted. I pulled three is a row that were stubby. One of them looked like some kind of alien landing craft. Maybe my garden, which is a circle rather than your typical rectangle, was an inviting locale for an extraterrestrial vehicle. Perhaps my carrots are actually buried spaceships? You be they judge.

Odd Shaped Tuber or Visitor from Space?


Signs of Spring

Over the past few weeks I have seen lots of signs that spring is on the way. Yesterday being the first full day, astronomically at least, of spring, it seemed apt to post a list. The first was three weeks ago, when I saw a red winged blackbird perched in the sugar maple where we hang the bird feeders. It was hunkering against the onslaught of snow. We got two feet of snow that day and I couldn’t help but anthropomorphize that bugger and make him ask “Why couldn’t I have waited a few days at least?”  Here are some others:

  • The other morning I went for a run and heard a woodcock doing its spring dance over the field across the road. I am always happy to hear woodcocks in the morning. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear that bizarre “peenting.” The thing is, however, that the field across the road was covered in snow and ice. It had been flooded so it was like a frozen lake covered in snow. And the woodcock was doing its best to attract a mate. What boys won’t do to get some.
  • Recently there were five different types of birds in the same tree–the same as the one with the blackbird: blue jay, cardinal, chickadee, robin and bluebird. It was a colorful site. The bluebird kept hopping from branch to bird house. Nesting on the mind.
  • Mud. There is a spot up the hill on our dirt road that makes for a woozy ride. It doesn’t look muddy but the car slides back and forth every time. I love driving that way. The car, of course, is pretty much filthy.
  • Sugaring in on full force. It looks to be a productive spring for sugar makers. Good news for those of us who like love the stuff.
  • Yesterday we had a few good blasts of snow. OK that sounds more like winter, but those wet spring snow storms that look like winter is desperately trying to stick around make me realize that spring really is just about here.
  • Turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks are circling the meadows.
  • Yesterday I drove to work without boots. I just wore plain old shoes. The transition from wearing boots and switching to shoes inside, to forgetting the boots, has begun.
  • Crocuses (croci?) are popping up. Those puppies are sturdy. They had started to pop up right before that two feet of snow. And they are still green.
  • Kids walk to school in shorts and a T-shirt. I keep seeing that. I know that the young set has and will continue to parade to school without appropriate attire for the weather. This seems a right of passage (although I am proud to say I never felt the need to express my coolness through the acquisition of hypothermia) but dude, it isn’t that warm. I mean, we had snow yesterday and today. Wear a jacket dumbass.

And there will be more. Leaves haven’t budded out yet. I haven’t smelled a skunk. But in time. Before I know it I’ll be digging in the dirt and planting seeds. I can hardly wait.

Garden On the Way

So far so good with our vegetable garden. Most of the beds are planted, with a few empty spots left over for second plantings of lettuce, carrots and cilantro. A few weeks ago I added beneficial nematodes to help alleviate our cucumber beetle problem. I have my fingers crossed with that one. I also put up three new birdhouses this year in hopes that they might snack on the beetles once they hatch. Right now I am waiting to see if the seedlings get munched by the larvae. Like I said, I have my fingers crossed. After a couple of days, my melon seedlings still look OK:

Future Melons?

Last fall I planted garlic–two varieties–and those plants are the stars of the garden right now. They are just starting to form scapes.

Reaching for the Sun

The peas are a little behind. At least, they are smaller than I would like. Last year the pea plants got munched by rabbits. Just as I was thinking we may be free of those rascals, there were three of them at once yesterday. They have not munched the peas yet, but they will find them, I am sure.

Still Not Tall Enough

Also, peppers are growing well. I transplanted these several days ago and they are still alive. I will thin them soon.

Still Youngsters, but Showing Promise

So things are looking good so far. Potatoes are up as well, and arugula and carrots are poking out of the dirt. I hope this will be a good season. Something will grow at least. I mean, carrots are hard to kill. Unless those damn bunnies come back.

Damn bunnies.

Compost Bandit

I take our kitchen bucket of scraps out to the compost bin every few days.  The bucket is made for kitchen scraps.  It seals tightly enough, and it has a carbon filter on it keep the odor down.  We don’t usually notice the bucket, except when it isn’t there, meaning I forget to bring it in after emptying it into our outside compost bin.  I do need to empty it, or fruit flies set it.  The scraps consist of lime rinds and the stale ends of toasted bagels and onion peels and pasta that fell on the deck during dinner and other rot.  It is pretty much stuff we don’t want to or really can’t eat.  Not everyone feels so timid about digging into the ort, however.

Every time I head outside to the compost bin to empty the bucket, there are bits scattered about the ground.  I scoop them up and add them to the top of the pile, but they come back again.  Some critter gets in there and roots around and eats stuff and makes a general mess.  It is stealing our future dirt.  It is a compost bandit.  Recently what finds its way out of the wire mesh of the bin is corn husks.  We have been trying to eat corn on the cob lately as often as we can.  Fresh corn season only lasts a few weeks, after all.  I did add a few cobs to the pile the first couple of times we ate local corn, but they take forever to break down, so I often get creative after dinner–read, toss them into the woods.  If the squirrels are going to nibble the cobs anyway, why invite them to dig through the scrap pile?

The thing is, although I have to clean up after them, the squirrels (they are most often the culprits, although turkeys have been knows to find the pile as well) do me a service, despite their slovenly ways.  Whenever they search for bits to eat, they dig, and digging means they move stuff around, and this means they add air to the pile.  They help aerate things so it all breaks down faster.  I do stir the pile whenever I add to it, but they make sure it happens more frequently than I might get to that task.

In the end, the animals can have their bits.  I will not feed them on purpose;  I will always do my best to hide things from them.  But if the critters find something upon which they enjoy dining, they can have it, as long as they have to stir things up and help me out in the meantime.  I don’t mind tidying up their spills.  I can accomodate some quality labor, even if it does make me forget to bring the bucket back inside on occasion.

Limp Tomatoes


Just Resting?

Just Resting?

I decided I needed to take some action and transplant our tomato plants.  I thought I might be able to get away with planting once and just popping them into the garden.  But they got too tall and leggy.  They were drooping over from their own height, so I had to move them to deeper soil.  I gave it a shot this afternoon.

I think they won’t all make it.  I have had trouble transplanting tomatoes in the past.  They grow so well in the foam cell jobbers and then hate it when I make them grow up and move out.  I think at least one will make it, probably two.  But two of the four I moved are questionable.  I left another three where they were.  I ran out of time.

They may wake up in the morning.  I tried to be gentle.  I tried to make sure they got just the right amount of water.  I used quality dirt.  But my thumb is, clearly, not as green as it might be.  It was pretty brown after I finished digging.

Here’s hoping that by morning the soggy stems will have perked up.  I would hate to lose future tomatoes.  I am afraid, however, that that may be the case.  Not to be pessimistic, but seriously, one of those puppies looks ill.  I hope it gets well.

Wild Leeks

Not far from our house there is a spot where the wild leeks grow like gangbusters.  This time of year they fill the woods, not only with their bright green leaves but with their fragrance.  Running past I can smell the odor of onions.

Yesterday I ran past and, inhaling one of the sweet smells of spring, said aloud, “Look at all that food.”  The green stretched across the floor of the woods as far as I could see.  It really was a lot of food, and almost no one would eat it.

I thought about this as I ran.  I also thought about the bash we would be hosting later in the day.  Then the two thoughts merged.  I was planning to make potato salad once I got back.  The recipe I had found called for onions and garlic.  The merged thought consisted of substituting some wild leeks for that onion and garlic.

And so on the way back past that spot in the woods I veered into the trees.  I brushed away the dry leaves, dug my bare fingers into the cold earth, and dug up some food.  They are small, not at all the supermarket version of leeks.  They are more the size of scallions.  I carried them lightly in my left hand as I ran slowly home.

The potato salad came out great.  It was one element of a fine pot luck dinner.  The problem, as I discovered/realized when evening came and we got to the business of cleaning up the final bits, was that it never got put out.  We simply forgot about it.  It sits in the fridge still, waiting for a diner.  I was going to have it for lunch but we still had some guests who spent the night.  I forgot again.

I need to head back over to the leek patch before long to harvest some more of the tasty little plants.  Spring doesn’t last long and soon they will be swallowed by the rest of the undergrowth.  They aren’t as tasty later in the spring or in the summer.

I will grow my own leeks in the summer but they don’t offer quite the same feeling as picking food straight from the woods.  Of course, that doesn’t matter much if I leave whatever I make sitting around uneaten, now does it?

Messing Around With the Tractor

I was home this morning with my son while my wife worked and my daughter went to school.  He had a good time playing, and I played with him for a while, but then I suggested we head and ride on the tractor.  He loved that idea.  He did not want to wear the ear protection at first but then wanted to make sure he had it on while I cranked it up.

He sat on my lap while we drove to the end of the driveway and tried to smooth out some of the holes.  The town put in a new culvert last spring and we have gotten these big pools there when the weather is wet.  We have a few other dents but the ones at the end are the biggest.  I did a fair job of scooping and dragging and lifting and dumping but I am afraid it is just too muddy.  It will need more attention and, really, some gravel.

At the other end of the driveway we have a gravel imbalance.  The snowplow pushes all the gravel to one end.  It sits on top of the snow piles until it melts, when it gathers in piles.  So the broad area where cars park and turn around has deep gravel on one side and bare dirt on the other.  I smoothed that out a bit today.  I couldn’t get to all of it without a lot more time and some care, but it is better.  Until next spring.

My little guy had a blast.  He didn’t mind the “ear foams, I mean ear phones” as he calls them a bit.  Once we finished he went to play in the garden while I made lunch and we waited for his mother to come home.  We had some quality outside time.  He came in for lunch pretty much filthy, and wearing a huge grin.  He did the work of being a little boy quite well this morning.

Messing around with the tractor, I did my best to set a good example for him.  I think I did all right.