Wednesday, January 22, 2014

polar vortex redux

frost covered garage
If I had a nickel for all the times I wanted to leave Minnesota in the mid-winter I'd have a big jar of nickels by now.  I love my state, but it's so damn cold here in the winter sometimes.

It keeps the riffraff out.  At least that's what people say.  Of course if that's true, why hasn't it kept me out?

This cold is hard to deal with.  It's supposed to get no warmer than minus four tomorrow in Saint Paul.  But it's also beautiful at times.  I woke up the other morning and went to get something out of the garage- can't remember what- but found the door and lock covered with a delicate lacework of snow that was blown onto it by the snowstorm the night before.  I couldn't open the door- not because it was frozen shut, but because I had to get a camera to take a picture of it before I made a mess of the scene by opening it.


dormant garden

There isn't a lot I can do for the garden right now.  I'm glad to have the break.  It's under almost two feet of snow, so there's not much to do but plan for the next garden season.  Which I haven't done yet.  Too much to do on the kitchen remodel, and I still haven't gotten my gardening mojo back after last year's disappointing season.

I know it'll be back at some point.  The return of garden  mojo usually coincides with the freakout over the length and severity of the winter.  Usually some time in February.  I can feel it coming pretty soon.  If I didn't have cabinetry to work on, it might already be here.

There are little things here and there I've done lately for the garden.  One sub-zero morning a week or two ago I found a frozen dead squirrel on the sidewalk as I left to go to work.  I picked it up by the tail and it was stiff as a board.  I could have tossed it in the trash, but opted to toss it on the snow-covered compost pile instead.  

Of course this violates the 'no meat' rule of composting- but if it's in the middle of winter, in sub-zero weather, I wonder if it freeze-dries enough not be too stinky when it thaws out.  I guess I'll find out some time in mid-March.  My compost needs some extra nitrogen anyway- I've had lots of 'browns'- that is, the dry, high-carbon stuff like sticks and leaves and sawdust, and a general lack of 'greens'- high nitrogen stuff- this fall.  A dead squirrel is definitely a high-nitrogen score, so I'll keep it and maybe tuck it under some leaves in the spring if I can.

the frozen garden gate

One positive thing I can say for these Minnesota deep freezes.  It  might take care of the Emerald Ash Borer problem, at least for a while.  Somebody did some research somewhere that showed that 98% of borers are killed off by a -30F deep freeze, and a good number are also killed off by a -20F freeze.  

We have a big ash tree at our rental place in Minneapolis, and I've been watching it for signs.  The borers have been found less than a mile away, and it's probably only a matter of time before they take it down.  I'm hoping this will buy our ash- a beautiful tree- a few years of life.  Maybe.

Another thing the deep freeze brings out is climate change deniers.  The Weather Underground and Updraft blogs seem to be troll magnets whenever this happens.  I don't know if anyone else is sick of seeing the "Where's Al Gore?" comments every time it gets cold somewhere.  I am.  As if a cold couple of days negates years of climate science.  Are these people paid by BP to comment on this stuff?  Because that's kind of what it sounds like.

Where is Al Gore, indeed.  Somewhere in Tennessee in a very large house.  A hypocrite?  Maybe.  But that doesn't negate the pile of evidence in favor of a changing climate.   Killing the messenger doesn't negate the message.  And where were the deniers when the temps were over 100F in Minnesota this summer?  And last summer?  I should call them to come and help me install my window A/C units in May when the temps are over 90 and the air is thick enough to cut with a knife.  It might be good for them to get out and do something useful for a change.

apricot tree on the left, plum on the right
I will, by the way, post some pictures of our renovated kitchen next time, I promise.  Thank you for asking about it.  It's almost to the finish point, but not quite, and I'd like to wait until the countertops are in before I go and put it on display for the whole world. 

It's looking pretty good.  I'll say that.  It's been way too much work, and not a lot of fun going without a kitchen for months on end, but the end is in sight and the change is good.




  1. Hi Jeff - just had to send my condolences re winter in MN. I'm an expat, born and raised in MN. At the age of 40 I said to myself: "All I ever want to do is garden, what the hell am I still doing here?" So my wife and I moved to Seattle...that wan in 2006. Now I'm a gardener by profession. Yesterday I was pruning Asian pears and my mom called from Long Prairie, MN. I told her what I was doing and she really couldn't grasp it. I was outside working in someones garden on January 23?

    Compost and dead squirrels: I've been pushing the limits here, seeing what I can and can't get away with. This past summer we had a big Dungeness crab dinner and I decided to see what would happen if I put all the guts and shells in my compost bin. Whew did it stink for a couple weeks but other than that things seem to be breaking down just fine. I now have little bits of crab shells here and there in my garden. I put a lot of meat bones in there too. The only thing I've noticed is that there's a mouse living in there now...I can live with that.

  2. Hi artinnature- I have a little bit of zone envy when it comes to the Pacific Northwest, but not enough to make me move. Really, right now I'm glad to have a break from gardening, and glad to have it be mandated by the seasons- not something I chose to do.

    That said- I love the Pacific Northwest and can see why you'd want to move there. I rode my bicycle down the Willamette Valley and some of the South Oregon/ North California coast years ago. I loved the area-- the trees, the ocean, the blackberries. The people I met weren't all that nice though, which kind of took my by surprise. I had assumed Oregonites were mostly friendly, earth-loving hippies, and was taken aback when the ones I met weren't.

    Re: compost- I have a yellowjacket nest in my compost pile- at least I did last year, and I'm waiting to see what comes of it this spring. Supposedly they don't nest in the same place for more than a year, so I suppose I'll turn it over this spring and find the grey papery thing they made mixed in with my compost. Hopefully not an active next. I'll post about it in the spring.

    As for the squirrel- hopefully it'll freeze dry enough not to be a problem. It was -16F on Thursday and it's supposed to get down below -20 on Monday night, so freeze drying may be a real possibility. If not- I suppose I'll tuck it down deep in the pile and hope nobody notices.