Is It Spring Yet? -- 01/06/03

The first seed catalog for 2003 arrived a week ago today. (Yes, on December 30th.)

A fruit tree and landscaping catalog arrived on January 2nd.

The one I was hoping to see came on Saturday -- The Miller Nurseries catalog.

The Miller family business is in upstate New York -- they've been in business there for a century and a quarter. They say their plants are "Canandaigua tough" -- if these plants can thrive there, they can thrive just about anywhere.

Nancy and I bought our first house in 1980, in Binghamton's West Side, and I ordered half a dozen blueberry bushes from Miller. In a couple of years I was harvesting blueberries from those bushes. At first I would drape netting over them to keep birds away but then decided that it was okay if birds got to enjoy a bit of my abundant crop. I would go out in the morning and pick a cup or so of berries, enough to top my cereal and Nancy's too. Soon the birds got to have even fewer berries as our kids came along and got big enough to wander around outside with friends. Little kids would graze the bushes, popping juicy blueberries into their mouths. In the morning I could come outside and again and find enough ripe berries ready to be picked. (A year or two after the blueberries, I planted an apple tree and some raspberries and blackberries -- those berries proved to be very aggressive, attempting to take over the yard and I had to take them out, but a colony had migrated to the back corner of our yard and behind the neighbor's garage and there they thrived -- kids would pick the low hanging fruit on the edge, I would reach in higher up, exchanging scratches for plump juicy blackberries for my cereal, and the birds had a feast.)

We moved into this house in February of '96... and in the fall of the next year I searched the Internet and found the Miller webpage... I ordered blueberry bushes... and lilacs... and grapes... and one blackberry (Illini Hardy, if I recall). I was doing my planting rather late on a late autumn Sunday afternoon -- attempting to follow the rule about digging a ten dollar hole for a five dollar plant (i.e., dig big and deep), which really brought home just how rocky New England soil can be. The rather small vegetable garden I had at that time -- mostly lettuce with some parsley and chives and a couple of tomato plants -- had failed to drive home that lesson as thoroughly as attempting to dig multiple large and deep holes did. I grew up near the Catskill Mountains -- and can remember coming upon a quote from an old time mountain man -- "When you look at the ground and there's two rocks for every dirt, then you're in the Catskills." -- Obviously he had never visited New England. Scrape away the top half inch and my yard has two rocks for every dirt; and the really big rocks come just below that. And yes, that is why New England farmers were so fond of building stone walls; they had to do something with all of those rocks, and dragging them to the boundaries of the field and piling them up into a wall was a frugal way of doing something useful with them. Well, the lilacs are lovely (they got to go into the first holes that I dug that afternoon); the grapes start to produce a crop, but then the damned Japanese beetles attack them; unfortunately for the berries, I was exhausted by the time I got to them and the sun was setting and it was getting dark, so they got small holes and their roots have been fighting rocks and hardpacked unimproved soil ever since. My daughter gets some blackberries (I suspect the birds get far more) and the two blueberry bushes do produce some berries, but the bushes are only a fraction of the size our old bushes were at an equivalent age.

So this spring I want to plant a lot more blueberries (and blackberries as well), in ground where I've removed (most of) the rocks and dug up and improved the soil with loam and peatmoss and good compost. I also want to get a few semi-dwarf fruit trees. I've not yet decided just exactly what kinds -- I'd like nectarines and probably apples. I'm also concerned about my asparagus. A major area in my vegetable garden is devoted to asparagus (also from Miller) that I put in a few years ago and we had really good crops in 2000 and 2001 -- so lovely to be able to go outside and pick fresh asparagus, so delicious -- and this past spring things seemed to be going fine, got two or three nice meals, and then some kind of insect attacked them. Someone Nancy asked about it said that the only thing to do is just turn them under and plant something else there... but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. (It takes two or three years before an asparagus bed really produces.)

Nancy and I will spend a few hours one of these winter nights going over the Miller Nurseries catalog.

Saturday Nancy and I drove up to Warwick and stopped in at a Sports Authority store (one of those huge warehouse sized stores) to look at exercise bikes. We wanted to get a recumbent type to put next to the treadmill in our basement. We found a model we liked, it felt comfortable, seemed sturdy enough, and was on sale. After at least fifteen minutes (no, I'm not exaggerating) we were finally able to get one of their "sales associates" to help us -- although he really was not much help. He didn't know if they had any of that model -- goes off to look, can't find any, checks the computer, the computer says they have three in stock, he goes off again, comes back and says they don't have any. I don't know if he is just too incompetent to find them, or if they really are out of stock and he just doesn't know how to use the computer, or their computer inventory system was designed by somebody who is as incompetent as the sales clerks. Nancy asked if they could phone us or email us when a new shipment came in -- he didn't think they could do email -- or give us a raincheck -- he didn't think they gave out rainchecks for things that were out of stock. Nancy pointed out that it was on sale, they were out of stock, it was not listed as a clearance or limited stock, so therefore he had to give us a raincheck. (I was long past the point where I would have just walked out; Nancy sometimes has more patience than I do.) So he gave us a raincheck. Next weekend, however, I think I'll check Olympia Sports or maybe even Sears -- Sports Authority seems to get worse every time I go there.

My daughter and I went to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets last night and really enjoyed it. It's a bit darker than the first one, more action and peril and adventure in this one, very nicely done, well worth seeing. (Nancy didn't go with us -- we had expected to see it in a local theatre but since the last time we had checked the show times they had cut back and it now was only playing 12:30 matinees locally, so we had to drive up to Warwick to catch a 6:30 pm show and Nancy didn't want to go "all the way" up to Warwick; whereupon Jennifer teased her about having turned into a native Rhode Islander.)

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