Friday, April 29, 2011


April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
                        T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

            April has certainly been cruel to Arkansas and Alabama this year. Our thoughts, sympathy and best wishes for a speedy recovery from the unrecoverable go out to all the latest victims of climate change. Why is it that tornados so seldom flatten the neighborhoods of those better able to absorb the losses? Almost gives credence to conspiracy theorists’ claims that weather is controlled by the government at the behest of its handlers, Wall Street and the military.

The freely seeding
Carolina petunia
(Ruellia carolina)
            From without and from within, the lucky Fitzes dodged devastation. I took advantage of some mandated down-time to engage in my favorite form of therapy, weeding. I cleared three-quarters of the back garden and down the south-side path, pulling out over 1300 self-seeded Carolina petunias (Ruellia carolina). The rogue passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) count is only up to 32, but the season’s just getting started. Two others appeared in places I actually want them to be, on the outdoor shower’s wall and at the base of our ‘Muskogee’ crape myrtle. These are the ones I monitor for the National Phenology Network. (See the February 2nd post, “For the Birds,” for more information.)

            Beltane falls on Sunday this year. The forecast calls for perfect spring weather, so Tim and I plan to celebrate with the other local druids. Oh, wait—we’re the only ones. So I guess he’ll paint while I putter in the yard.

            “Beltane” not ringing any bells? Sky-Guy, our friend from the U.S. Naval Observatory, says the ancient Celtic cross-quarter holiday (don’t forget to pay your rents, all you serfs) marks the end of boreal winter and the commencement of the growing season with bonfires, fertility rites and festivities that gave rise to the word “mayhem.” Christianity usurped and sanitized it into tamer “May Day.” Americans gave the druids some of their own back by designating the last Friday in April as Arbor Day.

            Here in southeastern North Carolina, milestones of spring come and go with unbecoming haste. Mid-February to mid-March—daffs bloom: check. February 20—sweet Williams and snaps rebloom: check. March 5—first biting sand gnats attack: check. March 28—windows open all night: check. April 8—first outdoor shower: check. April 21—first local strawberries for sale: check. April 25—air-conditioner turned on for the first time in 2011: check. April 27—cloyingly sweet-scented wild privet in full bloom: check. April 29—first batch of South Carolina peaches: whoa! First peaches? In April?

            The kid at Port City Produce reports the supplier said this crop is the earliest he’s ever harvested by two weeks. Sure, the fruits are small and hard as bricks, but their color is good and they smell peachy. Once they ripen, I’ll let you know how they taste.

Now that I’m making a conscious effort to eat locally and in season, it’s winter’s dearth of fruit I feel most keenly. Once my small cache of frozen berries was gone, the fruit famine set in. But now the local you-pick strawberry places are opening up, which will be followed by the you-pick blueberry places, which will be followed by the wild blackberries ripening at a place I’m won’t disclose. The peaches will get bigger and better throughout the summer. The melons reach perfection in July. I am so ready to be in fruit-hog heaven.

The (nearly) weed-free path
on the south side of our house
(photographed at dusk)
            On the home front, the serviceberries grow a little larger every day. Soon the bird netting will be out to give me a fighting chance at part of the harvest. I noticed there are four new baby serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora) bushes near the mother plant. I’ll dig them up and spread them out into a serviceberry grove.

            Both the ‘Chandler’ and groundcover strawberries are flowering and setting fruit. The seven new blueberry bushes produced about 20 flowers so far, but I wasn’t expecting much in the way of a crop this year. Ditto for the ‘Ouachita’ blackberry whips.

            The scuppernong grape vine I transplanted from the lot next door two years ago looks like it may do something this year too. That would be an unexpected bonus.

The pea patch

            As for vegetables, the peas have pods and the potato plants look great: should we harvest any actual potatoes, however, remains to be seen. I thinned and rearranged the carrot, beet and onion shoots into neat rows a few weeks ago… just before Roger the three-pawed raccoon moved in nearby and went on a digging spree. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to pot up many of the thinnings (I’ve mentioned I have an awful time killing off vegetable seedlings, haven’t I?), so there are extras to fill the gaps.

            My surviving seed-starts continue to survive, if not thrive. Five cultivars of tomatoes, four of them heirloom; six of two cucumber varieties; and three of two different melons sprouted out on the potting table, plus all six ‘Snack Seed’ sunflowers. I broke down and bought three ‘Better Boy’ tomato and three sweet-pepper plants. The plan (haha) is to get them all in the ground this weekend. Well, we’ll see. It’s also time to get the beans in, now the nighttime temperatures stay between 55° and 65°.

            The hyacinth bean, moonflower and black-eyed susan vine starts are coming along, as are the ‘Spitfire’ nasturtiums. The outside hollyhock seeds did better than the inside ones, a lesson for next year. Two of the six pots of alyssum actually have tiny flowers—what a rush!


The miracle poinsettia
(Who said miracles have to be pretty?)

            The houseplants that survived several months of my indoor tender mercies have moved outside now, to the great relief of everyone concerned. Even the ratty-looking poinsettia clings to life five months on, truly a Christmas miracle. The dahlia I brought in—the one that immediately shriveled up—surprised us all by producing a new green leaf this week: it’s what I consider the greatest triumph of the annual overwintering crapshoot. Thank goodness that’s over with until next November.

            No progress to report on any of the new beds. But it is Beltane weekend: maybe something magic will happen. Keep a good thought for me.

            Thanks for dropping by, y’all.