Mar 26, 2011

Instant Gratification, Small Recompense

It's still doing this most mornings:

Just a skiff of snow, the overnight temperatures right around freezing, or a few degrees below. As soon as the sun comes up, the snow melts and the spring day proceeds as usual: sunshine ..... clouds and a breeze ..... more sun ..... corn snow..... sun with corn snow ...... rain ...... dark clouds and gusty wind ....... sun ........ snowflakes ........ and so on. This is March -- the cruelest month (except for April, also cruel, and even sometimes May, and quite often June too) in Bend's spring season.

I don't know why anyone is surprised. It's the same very year. I guess it's just that by now, we are all pretty sick of grey and brown and nothing green for months and months and months. Deciduous trees don't leaf out until late April. Spring break, usually the 3rd week in March, is particularly evil. Traditionally -- and trust me, I've kept track -- it has the worst weather in the whole month. Why? Because innocent children all over the county (and their not-so-innocent but ever-so-deserving teachers and parents) have the week off for 'vacation'. So the weather gods, with whom I am normally on quite friendly terms, give a gleeful little giggle and send rain, snow, wind, hail, and many other kinds of wet, cold dreck to pummel Bendites.

Many head for warmer regions -- Hawaii is popular this time of year. My sweetheart heads to Majorca to ride his bike amid blooming almond orchards along the Mediterranean coast. However, for those of us who once again have plans to Get The Garden Going During Spring Break Week, we stay home, with hope -- foolish foolish hope -- in our hearts. And either break out the waterproof jackets and mud boots or dress in multiple layers of wool, including hats and gloves, and spend our days going inside when the rain/snow starts, then back outside when it stops -- over and over throughout the days.

I did get my raspberries pruned. And that is probably the only time I will feel smug until sometime in the fall. After March, I am always behind. I realize every gardener is always behind, because there are just too many things to do in the spring than there is spring to do it in. But still I feel guilty and rushed.

It wears on a person. It really does. BUT!!!!

My personal salvation often comes from the annual seed catalog-a-thon which takes place anywhere from mid-February (good Ned) to early April (bad Ned).

When I started gardening in 1971, I somehow hooked right into the seed catalog gardening lifestyle. Local nurseries had only minimal options and besides, I loved mail order. It seemed so .... pro ..... so 'in the know' -- something that I, as a newbie gardener, was desperate to achieve. The first catalogs arrived right after Christmas, and I spent months happily circling things, making lists, pruning them, adding things back on, and finally, writing checks, stuffing my precious orders into the mail and waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Most of the places I ordered from were on the east coast, and it took a minimum of 2 weeks to get anything. Some companies were even slower.

In 30 -- no, 40 years (!!!) of gardening, all that has changed. Local nurseries have much better options for seeds of your average vegetables and flowers. But even now, if I want tomatoes that really will bear fruit in our short growing season, I rely on my faithful catalogs to get the seed. What has really changed is the whole catalog thing.

First one, then another, then a few more, seed companies began creating websites. At first, there were holdouts. Even some of the companies that had websites didn't offer online ordering. You could browse, you could admire, but you still had to fill out that printed order form and join the ranks of the waiters. But I am here to tell you, online ordering is the best thing to happen to mail order nuts addicts like me.

ONLINE ORDERING! Oh heavens. Forget 2 weeks. Most places now have an envelope full of seeds in the mail by the day after I order. Instant gratification -- especially good for people like me, who tend to procrastinate. Even if I don't order until the day after the Spring Equinox, I still have my tomato seeds in time to plant them in my greenhouse before the end of March. Sweet!

So while the weather does its thing, I sit at my desk during the worst stormy moments, and fondle my new seed packets. Better than gold doubloons in a pirate's chest.

Mar 20, 2011

Signs of the Season -- waxing philosophical

Since becoming a chicken rancher last spring, I have started observing seasonal cycles in greater detail than ever before in my life. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, in a beautifully mild Mediterranean climate, I pretty much took the seasons, such as they were, for granted as a backdrop for kid activities.

When I began gardening in my early 20's, I was living in the rainy, foggy, perpetually damp redwood belt much farther north. My main focus was keeping the banana slugs out of the garden patch and coaxing reluctant tomatoes to bloom in the overcast summer months (definition of summer: fog instead of rain). I looked at the morning fog each 'summer' day and assessed the possibility of its melting off. It rarely did, but I did begin keeping an eye on the weather in a way I never had before.

Fast forward to my first garden in Bend a few years later. Suddenly there was snow in the winter and plenty of sunshine in the summer -- with frost possible any day, including summer. I became expert at checking the outside temperature before retiring to bed. My rule was, if it was 55 degrees or lower at 10:00 pm, with a clear sky, I covered things. Gradually I learned freezing was unlikely unless it was 45 degrees or lower. But still -- once those tender babies were in and growing well, I watched the weather like a hawk. And I acquired a good understanding of the word 'microclimates' as I learned the warm and cold spots of my south-facing, sloping yard.

In my 30's I became a serious student of astrology, and my knowledge of seasonal energies and plant growth gave me a quick and powerful grasp of the principles of the turning of the seasons from a more cosmic perspective. The symbolism of the various signs, planets, angles, and transits made perfect sense to me on a deep level. I reached out to the stars and looked at the night sky with new eyes.

As I turned to a more conscious co-creative gardening partnership with nature in my 40's, my perception of the seasonal energies deepened further. My 50's were an inward time in many ways, and a decade when I both integrated all that came before, and let go of a lot that was no longer useful, in my personal life and in my garden.

And then came chickens!

Suddenly 'daylength' meant a lot more than, "wow, cool, it's the Winter Solstice, the days will be getting longer from now on". Now the shortening days of late summer meant I needed to decide if I was going to install lights so my chickies wouldn't molt and stop laying in the short days of winter. Now I understood why ancient Celts celebrated the early February holy day of Imbolc (which morphed into the Christian Candlemas and the modern joke-holiday of Groundhog Day), with its 10 hours of daylight in early February, as a time when 'the back of old man winter is broken'. Plants, if protected behind glass or cold frame plastic, resume growth after a winter of stasis. And chickens, within a week of our reaching that magical number 10, began laying more regularly. Even with the lights in their henhouse, set at 13 hours of light, the girls had slowed down over the winter.

Back to plant world, see those cute little yellow crocus up at the top of the page? They are always the first to bloom in my garden, usually by mid-February or a little sooner. With our crazy out-of-sequence winter --- early fall snow, cold snowy November and December, 6 week balmy spell in January and early February, followed by two huge snow dumps and a third spell of temperatures hovering around 0 degrees F, this year they didn't bloom until early March (when the photo was taken). A few days later I took this photo:

Still, the clearest harbinger of equinoctial energies occurs every March in my kitchen. On March 18, it looks like this:

On March 19, we see this:

Overhead is the cause:

Due to the serendipitous placement of this skylight, just over the peak of the roof on the north side, we get a beam of light on the kitchen floor beneath it, 2 days before the spring equinox. Being close to 45 degrees north latitude, the sun reaches just high enough on that day each year to give us a taste of living inside a prehistoric stone circle. Floorhenge. The beam of light reappears near the fall equinox, and then disappears for the winter.

It's a pretty magical planet we live on, and it's good to have these reminders throughout the turning of the wheel of the seasons.