Oh friends, what does a gardener do when the snow is up to her knees and the air temperature is -5F/-20C with a howling wind chill of -30F/-34C? She curls up on the couch beneath a blanket with a book on orchards, seed catalogs, a hot cup of tea, and a huge imagination. It’s the most dangerous time of year.
Thanks to Elizabeth, I have a copy of The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips out from the library. This is a really good book on fruit trees and berry shrubs and how to care for them. I finally have good information about how to prune my gooseberries and currants all of whom were not gently pruned by Fat Rabbit last winter and spent the summer recovering. I will not likely have to prune them for a year or two yet, but I have information on how to do it when the time comes. Valuable.
I also learned quite a bit about fruit trees. After two summers in a row of blazing heat in the garden and summer squash that produced only male flowers because it was too hot and tomatoes that dropped their flowers because it was too hot, I decided steps need to be taken. I could buy long lengths of shade cloth made of plastic and rig them up across the garden during heat waves, or I could plant a couple fruit trees in strategic locations and get fruit, shade, and zero plastic eventually heading to the landfill when the shade cloth begins tearing and falling apart.
Since our sour cherry tree died last year I was thinking a new cherry tree and a peach tree. The garden is small though, and we have two bush cherries so we really don’t need a cherry tree too. So maybe just a peach tree? But then reading the orchard book I learned peach trees only live 10 years, 20 if you’re lucky, though Phillips says it is still 100% worth it. Even though there are now two varieties of peaches hardy in zone 4, it’s still a risky undertaking because a late spring frost will kill all the blossoms and no peaches for me.
What about apricots? There are quite a few cold hardy varieties of apricots and I love dried apricots. Apricot blossoms are also at risk from a late spring frost, though not quite as much as peaches. Also, there are several apricot varieties that have edible pits that are kind of like almonds. I had no idea! Apricots please! But Phillips burst my bubble when he said that if you have squirrels, in less than a day they will eat a hole in every single apricot to get to the pit and leave the fruit to rot.
If you have squirrels, hahahahaha! Buddy, do I ever have squirrels.
If I plant an apricot tree, I will never get to eat a single fruit from it. But will peaches fare any better? The pits aren’t edible but that won’t stop squirrels from taking bites out of them. They already eat all my hazelnuts and crabapples. What about quince? I’ve never had quince before but it’s supposed to be good. Would squirrels eat quince? But quince take a long time before they produce fruit.
Squirrels don’t bother any of my berry shrubs. Maybe I should try goumi berries? Or maybe I should make a trellis across the hottest part of the garden and try hardy kiwi? No, scratch that idea, arbor/trellis across garden = squirrel highway.
Perhaps I just need to go back to a sour cherry tree. Or go all in on pole bean teepees throughout the garden and plant the summer squash in the shade of the pole beans?
To sooth my brain, I turn to the seed catalogs and I now have a new favorite: Fedco Seeds. I knew about the company but they always seemed more directed toward farmers so I never really paid much attention. But then Ross Gay is pretty giddy about their catalog in his book Inciting Joy. So I requested a catalog. And I was not disappointed!
Their catalog is not the glossy, enhanced garden porn like all the other seed catalogs. Nope, they have no photos at all. The paper is that gray kind of grade school paper from elementary school days when I was learning to write, and there are delightful illustrations on every page—a man rowing a boat made of a pea pod, a deer whose antlers are okra, a boy surfing on an ear of corn. And the seed descriptions! My favorite is for a shelling bean called Soldier:
Unlike our soldiers in most faraway wars, these Soldiers have a clear and winnable mission within a defined timetable: to reproduce themselves every year for our mutual benefit!2023 Fedco Seed Catalog
This nearly sent me into hysterics. If you have never read a seed catalog before, the copy is usually pretty bland except for the hyperbole about the plants, and there is never any political commentary.
In addition, each seed offering has a supplier code 1-6 to let you know if the seeds were grown by a small farmer or Fedco staff (1), a family-owned company or cooperative (2), all the way up multinationals (5) and Syngenta (6). And not only that, they pay royalties for indigenous seed varieties, and pay into a Black Benefit Sharing Fund that helps Black farmers for seed varieties that originated in Africa. I am in love!
Except for a variety of shelling pea, mini bell pepper, and onion from Seed Saver’s Exchange, all my seeds will be coming from Fedco.
And now for things I had not planned on growing but couldn’t resist:
- Green Callaloo. It’s a variety of amaranth grown just for the greens. It’s a Jamaican vegetable, grows fast, is heat tolerant(greens in summer!), and the seed was grown by high school kids in Belfast, Maine who will receive proceeds from the sale. How could I not try this?
- Arachne. A muskmelon so-named because of the web-like netting on the outside of the melon. Also, the description tells the myth of Arachne and then says, “With Arachne in the garden, you may feel emboldened to challenge Demeter—which is how one of our trialers was transformed into a turnip.” Ha!
- Turtle Moon Blue Kuri. I already have saved seeds from the pie pumpkin and the mystery gray squash we got from our food co-op that I liked so much, so I was not planning on any more winter squash. But the 4-6 pound fruit sounds gorgeous and the description says the longer you keep them, the sweeter they get, and they make fantastic pudding. I just discovered squash pudding this year and I love it so much. And because these keep so long, up to early spring, I can continue to enjoy squash pudding when winter squash is no longer available at the market. Plus, I love turtles.
- Pinto potatoes. It’s a polka dotted potato! The skin is pink with yellow spots! Does this need any further explanation or reason?
The rest of my seed order is for the usual sorts of things, cabbage, carrots, radishes, summer squash.
I’m sighing with happiness.
Now I just need to figure out the fruit tree situation.
- Book: Scattered All Over the Earth by Yōko Tawada. I read her Memoirs of a Polar Bear a few years ago and really enjoyed its quirkiness. This one has no polar bears, and takes place in a not so distant future in which Japan has disappeared. Hiruko is a climate refugee living in Denmark. She has invented a language that is understandable to all Scandinavians. What she really wants though is to find someone else who speaks her language. She is joined in her search by a multilingual, multinational group of people. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of one of these people. It’s about language, home, identity, and so much more. I’m really enjoying it.
- Book: The Gift by Lewis Hyde. Margaret Atwood insists on the importance of this book about creativity and the value of creative labor in her book of essays, Burning Questions. My edition of the book has an introduction by Atwood. Now that I think of it, it may be the essay that was in her book. I am not far in, but so far I am greatly enjoying it. I think this one is going to be a slow, thoughtful read.
- Podcast: Two really wonderful podcasts from Green Dreamer about animal culture: Rebecca Giggs: the World as Reflected in the Whale, and Thom van Dooren: The Evolving Cultures of the More-Than-Human World. Giggs has a recent book out that I really want to read called Fathoms: the world in the whale. Van Dooren has a book out called A World in a Shell: snail stories for a time of extinctions that sounds really interesting. He also has a previous book that I really want to read called The Wake of Crows: living and dying in shared worlds.
- Movie: Glass Onion. Oh this was fun. I like Daniel Craig much better as detective Benoit Blanc than I do as James Bond. Also, Hugh Grant makes a cameo that implies that he and Craig/Blanc are living together as a couple. I would like more of these please!