A garden journal entry for March 20, 2017: “A blasting red sky is upon the land. It is beautiful and yet bodes ill for the rest of the day. You know — red sky in morning, sailors take warning. The only thing left to write about today is rain — all day.”
That’s the funny thing about garden journals. They either tell a long story or a very short one. A lot could be read between the lines, but, for some days, it’s best not to look too close. After all, just as March can come in like a lamb or lion, so can spring itself. This year it was a lion of rain. Still, that is a good thing. We need it. (Again, another saying that never goes out of style.)
But enough about March. We are clearly into April and fine days of sun, clouds, growing things, and bird songs every morning to bring us to our senses and out into our gardens.
Twenty years ago, in her first spring at her new home, my mother didn’t need any urging to walk her lines and get busy gardening. She told me on more than one occasion that it seemed she had waited her whole life for this yard, this opportunity to plant as she wanted to, to dig, to cultivate, to watch things grow. Her whole day could be in that yard if she chose. And she did choose to spend many days just that way. Often I would come to visit only to find her out back, ready to have me pull up a chair and either talk while she kept working or, more than likely, help with whatever she had going on at that moment. I grew to love that yard and all her plantings and bloomings and garden rows of vegetables. She packed a lot into her space.
In that first April alone, Mom planted phlox, lily-of-the-valley, apple trees, rhubarb, bleeding heart, gooseberry bushes, onions, peas, potatoes, beets, marigolds, cauliflower, peppers, and cabbage. That was in between days of heavy frost, cold so cold that she couldn’t be out, and “rain so cold it felt like snow.”
It all reminds me of the year 1885. The Springfield Globe newspaper reported that the week before and week of April 9th began pleasant days of spring work for farmers in Clark County. Then, just six days later, the report came that “the spring work and gardening received quite a check by the thermometer being away below freezing.” It turned out to be one of those off-and-on planting seasons.
In April of 1999, Mom’s garden was late in coming. Although a cabbage butterfly checked out her yard on the 2nd day of the month, it was not until the 25th that the neighbor man could come in to till the garden. It had rained the whole month. In one long day the soil was tilled and planted with all the usual veggies plus kohlrabi, a dozen tomato plants, morning glories, and half a row of dill/cilantro.
The year 2005 brought typical April weather. Violets and crab apple trees bloomed from plenty of warm sun. On Friday the 22nd, thunderstorms moved through with a temperature of 72 degrees, but by the next day snow was falling the entire morning at 32 degrees. Then rain. The next day, the same mix of snow and rain. By the time Monday came around, my mom's journal indicated her frustrations with notes of “decided not to waste time — cleaned” and “cleaned out freezer — might as well be cold in here too.” Perhaps if Mom had been raised to read the signs of weather from birds, she might not have experienced as many frustrating days.
In April of 1887, the Springfield Daily Republic reported the following experience from the Chicago Herald: “'Have you noticed the amount of waddin’ the sparrers are puttin’ inter their nests this year? That’s a sure indication that it’s goin’ to be a cold spring. The last time I seen the sparrers luggin’ bedquilts and mufflers to their nests there were only three seasons in the year. It was winter until July, then there three months of spring, and then it was winter again. All the garden truck that was planted didn’t come up until the follerin’ year, when the fruit trees bore two crops.'
'That was some time ago, wasn’t it?' asked his companion.
'Yes, several years ago — nigh onto forty, I reckon.'
'Then there’s been more winters than summers in this country, eh?'
'No’p; ‘bout fourteen years after that, I noticed that the sparrers built two nests instead of one.
'The nests were joined together by little avenoos of dried grass. The she-sparrows would hatch a brood in one nest and then walk through the avenoo to the other nest and go to hatchin’ again, while the he-bird would tend the youngsters in the first nest. The season was so long that the sparrers hatched from May to May, and that’s the reason why we’ve got so many sparrers terday.'
'Then there was no winter that year?' questioned the companion.
'Not a flake,' replied the old man. 'People died of summer complaint all that year.'”
Well, maybe it was a tall tale, but the fact remains that spring in retrospect can be entertaining and educational. No two are ever the same. Perhaps that’s the way it should be. Variety and challenge is what life is made of.
No matter what the weather, the family needs to eat. Here are a couple of simple but substantial recipes:
• 1 or 2 cans (28 oz.) Bush’s Best Baked Beans (onion flavor)
• 1/3 to 1/2 cup Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce
Use one can of beans for 2 people or 2 cans for 3 or more.
1. After opening the can, gently drain off some of the liquid accumulated on top. Place beans in 2-quart baking dish.
2. Stir in the barbecue sauce. Do not cover.
3. Bake in 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes. Reduce temp to somewhere in the 200s so that the beans slow bake until the rest of the meal is ready. You can take the dish out if you want to, or leave it in the oven (turned off) if you are running late with other dishes.
• 1 pound sausage
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 1 small green pepper, seeded, chopped
• 1 cup corn
• 2 cups chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh
• 1 can cream of mushroom soup
• Seasoning to taste<
• 1-1/2 to 2 cups cooked macaroni
• 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs or crushed croutons
1. In large skillet, brown sausage (chopping as it cooks to break it up) and onions. Drain off grease.
2. Add green pepper, corn, tomatoes, soup. Stir to blend well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder.
3. Heat to boiling, then remove from heat.
4. In large casserole dish, pour half the sausage mixture. Cover with the cooked macaroni. Pour remaining meat mixture over top. You can also just stir the mac into the meat mixture and pour into casserole. Top with buttered bread crumbs, crushed seasoned croutons, or your favorite topping. Yes, cheese goes well with this dish!
5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes to one hour.
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