Monday, March 30, 2015

Planting in the Snow

Well, here we are at the end of March, and it is snowing in Western Massachusetts. Again. Like most New Englanders this winter, I have gone past even the point of complaining about the snow. If you know anything about New Englanders, you’ll have some idea about how desperate the situation is. I’ve idly contemplated throwing various pieces of furniture out of the window when confronted with the sight of a few fresh inches when I come down the stairs in the morning.

It has been a long, long winter indeed. I got a furious call from my mother about a month ago, after she realized that she simply couldn’t shovel the six or so inches of snow that had fallen the previous evening, because the snow banks were so high that she couldn’t fling the snow over the top them. Neither could the snow blower. This coupled with more than three feet of snow and ice on even the steepest of her roofs (despite having been shoveled at least three times already) had pushed even her veteran New England spirit past the breaking point. I know just how she feels.

My cats haven’t set so much as a paw outdoors since November, and there are now six of them. I’ve had to resort to drugging the poor bored babies with catnip to keep the number of tussles down to something reasonable. They all really need to get out and kill something, to be sure, because more often than not, they have chosen my feet to practice on. It’s like living with a pack of restless toe-hunting tigers.

Worse than the snow, really, is the cold. Heaven only knows what the cold has done to my perennials, and it is only the reality of wind chills approaching negative fifty (that’s negative forty-five-ish for you Celsius folks) that could possibly make me in any way grateful for the snow. We bought a whole extra ton and a half of pellets for this winter, and we had half a ton left over in the basement from last winter. Given that we only go through about two and a half tons to heat the house for the whole winter, I was feeling pretty proud of my surplus. Virtuous, even. Storing a little extra in case of a bad or lean year is only good planning, after all. Folks, we’ve gone through the entire extra ton and a half. We’ll be lucky to have the same half ton surplus we started with last summer. That means we went through sixty percent more heat than in previous years. Most of that was before the first of March, when the worst of the cloudy days were done, and the temperatures weren’t quite so frigid, allowing us to turn off the pellet stove and take full advantage of the passive solar nature of the house. Before that, I would have been surprised if someone had tallied up the number of sunny days and come up with a number greater than ten. No joke.

We won’t discuss what we’ve spent in propane this year, due to not being able to fully utilize the solar hot water system.

This tally of complaints might then explain why seed-starting day came as a surprise this year. I was completely unprepared for it, which is really quite unusual. Usually, I have my planting all planned weeks in advance, and every flat surface in the house is covered in seed catalogs, bits of paper covered in hasty plot plans and unintelligible scrawls, and seed packets are scattered everywhere, usually due to my inability to keep them away from my eager children.

This year, the Friday before seed starting weekend, I realized my predicament with a start. Woah, wait, what was the date? Geez! So instead of starting the planting bright and early Saturday morning, we were all still scrambling around trying to find everything we needed. Where are the cow pots? Ah, in the basement. Where did I put that small order of replacement seeds I placed in mid-January? Oh my, did it even arrive? Did anyone check? Ok, it did make it into the downstairs fridge, but someone stacked a bowl of beef bones on top of it. We probably ought to make stock out of those rather soon, you know. It took us more than twenty-four hours to find the shallow, clear plastic bins and lids that we use for make-shift miniature greenhouses. They were stacked up in the shed, which no one has been able to get into for a while, due to the fact that the plow left a snow bank in front of the door. Thank goodness the thaw has started, or Shawn would have been shoveling it out for a month. He had to actually buy a bag of soil, and the only reason he didn't have to take a pickax to the compost pile was that I had some still in a bucket from last fall. It was frozen solid, and took all day and all night to thaw. Even so, I’ll have to use warm water when I mix it up, lest I kill my poor seeds in cold soil.

Gathering supplies took all weekend, what with everything else going on; fencing lessons, grocery shopping, social studies projects, and the necessity of shopping for a new car (Shawn’s died a spectacular death on the highway after 240,000 loyal miles). Sunday I spent in intensive planning. I don’t think I’ve ever done a garden plan in a single day before. Frankly, that makes me nervous. It usually takes roughly the same amount of time, but there is always more leisurely contemplation. And never, ever, have I come up with a plan that my husband rubber stamps without adjustment or discussion. I honestly don’t think he was paying attention and that is certainly concerning. I should not be left to plan this stuff on my own, as I always and without exception think we’re going to need far, far more than we ever do. I really cannot emphasize that one enough. We may be in for an interesting summer.

That leaves us today with me starting the seeds all by myself. And it’s not that I mind doing the work, at all, but… it’s usually something we do as a family. So this year is unusual in that regard as well. However, life moves on, and the seeds have to be started. It is just so odd to be doing it on a day where it was snowing when I got out of bed. I’m honestly beginning to wonder if we’ll still have snow on the ground until sometime in August at this rate. But the calendar says plant, because the calendar says my frost-free date is about six weeks out. Hard to believe, but I guess I am taking it on faith that the wheel of the seasons will turn, the earth will warm, and spring will finally arrive.