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? 

Argh!

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.

Reading
  • 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.
Listening
Watching
  • 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!

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12 thoughts on “That Dangerous Time of Year

  1. Good luck with your fruit tree dilemma! I am inspired by Ross Gay’s book to try growing a fig tree this year! I have never tried fruit trees before – but I figure that if he can grow it in Indiana, surely it would grow in Tennessee? I’ve not done any research yet but I will. It’s so fun to dream of Spring!

    1. Thank you Laila! I would love to grow figs but they are not really hardy here so I’d either need to take monumental winter protection steps or grow it in a very large pot and bring it into the house to over winter. You should have no trouble growing figs. The only variety I know about is called Chicago Hardy, I’m sure there are others. Good luck! I am so envious!

  2. I went up to Fedco for my apple & pear trees. Superlatives are insufficient to describe the place! But you’re seeing the first glimmers of that in their catalog.

    And on catalogs… Jackson&Perkins, White Flower Farm, Select Seeds & K van Bourgondien all showed up yesterday. All utterly useless… but so very seductive. I can’t quite toss them in the recycling as I probably should. Fortunately, I also can’t afford everything & trying to decide usually triggers capitulation. THEN the catalogs go in the recycling bin…

    Happy New Year!

    1. Visiting Fedco sounds dreamy; a little piece of paradise.

      I used to get White Flower Farm’s catalog, it is stunning to look at, that’s for sure. They never had anything I actually wanted to buy, which is just as well since they are so darn expensive.

      Thank you, happy New Year to you as well!

  3. Before I moved to Ohio to work at Kenyon, my teacher, the poet Stanley Plumly, pretty much insisted I read Hyde’s The Gift before I met him (he taught at Kenyon). I did and have always been glad of it. Lewis is a lovely person who has since moved from this area; he gave away a lot of his books before he went (a couple of years ago) and I have a few of them, old English sagas and the Norse Eddas.

    1. Oh Jeanne, how wonderful that you met Hyde and even have some of his books! I’m not surprised to hear he is a lovely person, but then sometimes you never know, so this is delightful to hear!

  4. I hear you… I struggle with the seed catalogs. Every year I think, “No more seeds!” and then I buy some (or a LOT). This year though, for reals, ONLY zinnias, lettuce, and maybe a wildflower pack or two. I’m serious! (ha ha ha ha ha). I did order some native starts from the big native sale our soil and water district has each year. I’m excited to try native black raspberries this year! I also have a tree dilemma. My dad gave me a peach tree last year and I am struggling to remember how to take care of it — thankfully he comes over and reminds me (ha!). We are also going to take down our beloved birch tree on New Year’s Day — it is rotting and a huge portion of the tree broke off and nearly hit the roof when it was windy last week. Scary! I mean, it was a HUGE log-like branch. So… the time has come to take it down (sad). I’m trying to figure out what to plant in its place. It is right outside the living room window and the filtered light is so pretty. I don’t want another monster-tall tree but would like to keep the filtered light and view… mid-height lacy-open ornamental ideas? Maybe a dogwood or tulip magnolia. We have too many fruit trees as it is (much to the deer and raccoon population’s delight!). Have fun planning… and happy new year!

    1. Oh Daphne, you are showing such seed buying restraint this year! Oh black raspberries are delicious, I grow them and they will take over if you let them, so beware! So sorry for the loss of your birch. You could do a nut tree, like hazelnuts, those get about 10 feet tall. Dogwoods are nice too though depending on the variety they can get pretty dense. We had a red twig for years in a corner of the garden that suckered like crazy and turned into such a dense mass that we decided to take it out completely. I know you said you didn’t want a huge tree, but you could do a slow growing tree like an oak or something. Good luck and have fun choosing!

  5. Someone put on Glass Onion while I was visiting family over Christmas, but for some reason I just did not watch it. I think because folks start talking during the movie, or the “audacity” of one person to just randomly pick a movie, push play, and then walk away and do something else. It feels disorganized in a way that my brain will not participate in.

    Not sure what to do about those squirrels… Do they eat melons? What I mean is, do they treat ground fruit any differently than tree fruit?

    1. There is so much going on in Glass Onion Melanie that you really need to pay attention. Hopefully you get to watch it at a more auspicious time.

      Do squirrel eat melons? Why yes they do! We have to dowse the melons (and winter squashes) in pepper spray every few days so they can make it to ripeness. They nibble summer squashes but pretty much leave them alone, maybe because there are so many other more interesting things, like tomatoes, ripe at the same time.

  6. When my family lived in the San Francisco area, there was a plumcot (plum/apricot) tree in our backyard and it had the BEST fruit ever! I hope you find a tree that the squirrels will leave alone. Enjoy ‘The Gift’, it is special book and one to go back to again and again.

    1. Oh I have heard of plumcots Julé but have never had one. Looked them up to see if they were hardy in my zone and not even close! Thank you, I hope I find a tree too! I am so far loving The Gift very much. It is definitely a special book!

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