Sunday, December 2, 2012

waiting for winter

one of the huge carrots from our backyard.  I accidentally cut it while digging it up

Today was a beautiful day for late fall.  Mid-40's, foggy, mostly cloudy, with a few breaks of sun.   I went for a long bike ride, put some leaves on my community garden plot, stopped by the rental place to check on it and tidy it up a bit, and checked out the new section of the Midtown Greenway that I haven't ridden on yet, though it was completed years ago.

Astronomically- that is according to where we are in our solar year- we're still in the fall.  Meterologically though- when one looks at the patterns of the weather- we're in winter.  Here, in Minnesota, the first snowfall usually seems to happen around Thanksgiving, and it did this year, just enough so the kids could go sledding with their cousins on Black Friday while other people were standing in lines to get gadgets with a picture of an apple on them.

With all the weird, hot and dry weather this summer, it's comforting to see the snow fall on time.  To know that there's at least one atmospheric pattern that seems to be holding- at least for the time being.

I'm not a huge fan of cold weather, but this year has been a bit more fun.  We bought ice skates for the kids (and me) for the first time and got out to use them at a refrigerated rink in downtown St. Paul last week.  They're looking forward to more snow, and even built a 'snow kid' on the patio already, as there wasn't enough actual snow for a snowman.

So while it was nice to see the snow melt and another shot at late fall weather this weekend, I'm hoping we'll be back to sledding and skating soon.

The nice weather let us get the last of the root vegetables out of the ground and into the root cellar.  I waited on the carrots earlier in the season because they get sweeter after a good hard freeze, and at that point we just hadn't had one.  Then everything froze up really fast, so the carrots got stuck in the ground.  I dug a few up for a stew, and had to knock off two to three inches of frozen dirt.  So I was worried that we might not get the rest out of the ground before they froze in for the winter.

Instead, today, my daughter and I were out in the garden- me with the shovel, digging up the soft ground wherever I saw some scraggly carrot tops- she with the good eyes and fast little hands picking up carrots, sometimes before I was able to see them.  She's 5 and a half now and a good little garden helper when I can convince her to be.  Mostly that consists of me disguising the fact that we're doing garden work and making it feel like a game.  Today it was 'find the orange things in the dirt'.

It's funny how close to her I feel when we're working in the garden.  Seeing her enjoy something that I also enjoy so much warms my heart like few other things do.  Spending time together and making funny kid conversation is a part of it.  And it's also the feeling that I'm passing on some knowledge, small as it may be, to her.   My son is harder to convince to work in the garden, but he's also younger and closer to mom.  That's changing, albeit slowly, but I try hard not to expect both of them to fit in the same mold. 

I remember how much I disliked going out to the garden with my own dad when I was a kid.  Through most of my childhood we didn't have space for a garden in our yard, so we used some extra yard space that various families from our church had- which was a long drive or a short bike ride, depending on which garden we were going to.  Being roped into gardening felt like indentured servitude, and I was a kind of a bookish, geeky kid who really would have preferred to stay home and read.   We kids never got to do the fun stuff anyway- plan the garden, plant the seeds.  We just pulled weeds and picked the hard to find stuff, like green beans and potatoes.

As much as I disliked going out to the garden, it was a different story once we were there.  There were some crappy jobs to do, but also the fascination of finding weed seed pods and opening them to find the seeds, feeding the neighbors' horses, watching the corn and tomatoes and the squash grow each time we visited.  And when we harvested things- we'd fill the back of the station wagon some days, and the smell driving home was wonderful.  Fresh potatoes, or carrots, or onions from the garden smell so much better than produce at the grocery store (of course if you've ever been in the back room of a big grocery store's produce department a latrine smells wonderful in comparison).

At one point I remember saying to my dad "I will never have a garden when I grow up" and he replied "Yes, you will".  And of course he was right.   While I was doing the crappy grunt work, I was also unknowingly acquiring a love of dirt and working hard to grow something beautiful.

So I don't want to push my kids to the point of telling me they never want to have a garden when they grow up.  But I do want to push them enough to give them an appreciation of what gardening involves, and a love for the smell of dirt and fresh vegetables.  When I see them in the summer stealing and eating fresh snow peas, I know it's already working.  When my daughter and I can spend some quality time together picking carrots out of the dirt and talking about what earthworms do all winter, like we did this afternoon, I feel like I'm doing things about right.

We cut the tops  off the carrots, some up to eight inches long, and thick as a daikon radish.  I lined the bottom of a two gallon planting pot with leaves and filled the rest with peat moss, then set them in the basement next to the turnips and parsnips.  These are the last of the roots for the root cellar this year.  So we're set for the winter. 

I'm already getting catalogs for next year's garden seeds, but can't motivate myself to really look through them yet.  There's a lot of winter for that still.  The long, cold nights of a Minnesota winter are made for (among other things) perusing seed catalogs for the pepper or green bean that will be a killer next year. 

Speaking of which- I need to have a word with the Jung seed company.  They're a decent company that sells good quality seeds, albeit a little chemical-happy.  I've ordered from them in the past when I couldn't get what I wanted from Fedco.  And now I get catalogs  from them.  Not just one or two- that would be fine- but five or more, most with the exact same seeds and products  advertised in them.  WTF?  There was a new one this year from them called "Vermont Bean Company" or some such thing. But it's not from Vermont, it's from Jung in Wisconsin, and it has beans, but also all the same stuff as their other catalogs.  At least the R.H. Shumway's fake Victorian catalog format  is interesting to look through, but really- a half dozen catalogs, advertising the same stuff?  What a waste of paper. 

I guess I could use it to sheet mulch my community garden plot, but really- Jung seeds- this is a recommendation to you-- send me one, comprehensive and fun to read catalog.  Fedco does it-- they don't even print in color, and it's fascinating to page through.  If they can do it, so can you.  Sending me six catalogs with six names, with the same products is at best, kind of silly and at worst, environmentally irresponsible and an insult to your customers' intelligence.  I can see that they all come from the same mailing address in Randolph Wisconsin, so you're not fooling anyone.

That's just for them to deal with.  I hope everyone else is enjoying the end of the gardening season (if you're in the Midwestern US or Canada that is) and the long dormancy which gives us all a break from dirt under the fingernails and time with seed catalogs.  I promise to review  my successes and failures with plant and seed selections over the past year, just as I did for growing year 2011, but need to catch a little breather first.  When the kale finally dies back, then it'll be time to review the year.


  1. That's because originally there was a seed company in Vermont that primarily sold beans. Apparently at some point it fell on hard times, and rather than going out of business, it sold out to some conglomerate. I had noticed Vermont Bean / Totally Tomatoes had merged, I didn't realize Jung's was part of that. The big one is Gurney's / Breck's / Audubon Workshop / Michigan Bulb / Garden's Alive, which all have a frequent signature get $25 off $50 coupon.

    LEARN TO SAVE YOUR SEEDS NOW!!!! Soon enough Monsanto will own them all!

  2. Jeff,

    Beautiful post. Glad to know that about Jungs. Most of my seeds shrubs and trees (Apricot! Apple! Plum! Blueberry!) You will be interested too, in this most fascinating thread about Hydroponics. Peter is a techie Genius living in Ocean Falls, a Pacific inlet inaccessible by road, British Colombia, where they get dense fog that might linger for weeks. AMAZING stuff. I'm going to set up the same arrangement in my basement. :) I smell a bizness!!!


  3. I forgot to add, in my haste, that my veggies and fruits will be coming primarily from Fedco. :)

  4. Hi John- The conglomerate is called Jung Seeds, and though I like them for being local- they're based out of southern Wisconsin not too far from where I grew up- I kind of dislike their recommendations for what to spray (that is, a lot of chemicals) on your fruit trees and all the catalogs they send. The catalogs include: Shumways, the Jung seed catalog, Totally Tomatoes, Vermont Beans (or whatever it is) a bulb catalog, and one other I can't remember at the moment. There may be more. I'd prefer one thick, well-written one to all of the above. It wouldn't even have to be that thick, as most of these catalogs are the exact same thing, same name, same description. They just change the picture. Go figure. They must spend a lot of money to do this. Not sure how it makes sense. They probably charge more for seeds to make up for it.

    And I will start seed saving. I doubt Monsanto will ever be able to acquire Fedco, but I will start saving seeds-- next year.

    Hunter- thanks for the link- I will take a look. Glad you like
    Fedco too. I'm hooked on the place.

  5. Hey Jeff - That winter snow that you were waiting for, I think we got it today!!