March changes

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Look at this. The first week of March. We just had 6″ of snow on top of a foot of ice pack. The temp has been at zero most mornings. We had the third coldest February on record for this area.

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It seems that winter will never end. The vegetable garden is snow-covered. The asparagus, garlic, flowers, the carrots that didn’t get pulled last fall, are covered. Why should I plan a garden if it will be forever frozen solid.

Of course, I have only to reflect on Boston, or Buffalo, to remember that this is New Jersey and we live in a temperate zone. I’m being a little impatient. A friend who lives in the high Rockies likes to say that he embraces the cold. I should take a lesson on embracing the cold.

Actually, the cold is far worse on the garden than the snow. The snow cover is protecting the plants from the cold. If it melts slowly, it will add moisture and nutrients to the soil. It seemed to me that last summer, trees and bushes as well as flowers and vegetables benefited from the record snowfall of the previous winter. But it wasn’t as cold as this winter.

Perhaps the unusual cold will break the cycle of some invasive insects, like the hemlock woolly adelgid, which are threatening the native hemlocks. Perhaps there will be fewer mosquitoes, or ticks, because of the cold. Who knows.

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As I mentioned in another post, the dark-eyed juncos are wintering under the holly shrub shown above. They are pretty much the only birds still coming to the feeders. When will the other birds return. Many of them may have died from the unusual cold. Perhaps I miss them simply because I’m paying more attention to them this winter. As you can see from my earlier posts, I was getting quite excited about identifying birds and learning about them. Now they aren’t here. Winter is hard.

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Well, there are a few bright spots. My house is warm, for example. I still have food to eat and clothes to wear. I am healthy, as is my family. Count my blessings. One blessing is Daisy. Here she is sinking into snow up to her belly. Daisy loves the snow, but she’s also happy because she just found her favorite orange ball that was buried in the snow. She has the ball in her mouth although it’s hard to see. Dogs are such wonderful companions, especially Daisy. She doesn’t talk, but she always listens. She curls up on the couch beside me to watch a hockey game. She gets me out for walks on days when I would otherwise vegetate indoors. How much better I feel once Daisy and I trudge through snow and over ice to accomplish yet another walk in this frigid weather.

So, what changes will March bring. I was writing posts about onions and leeks last week and realized that the onion and leek plants I ordered in January from Johnny’s Selected Seeds are due to arrive the last week in March. Say what. How can I possibly have the beds prepared for planting when these plants arrive at the end of this month. The beds are buried in snow and ice.

This is a cumulative post. I am now writing on March 9. Today the temp was 30° F. at 7 a.m. when I first took Daisy out. It got to a high of 54°, and although the thawing is not as fast as I wish it to be, it’s happening. It’s happening.

I will record the changes as they happen in this post, the breaking up of winter, the dirty melting snow along the streets, the puddles and mud. Next March, when I think that winter will never end, I will come back and read this and hopefully gain some perspective. But, will I be planting onion and leek plants by the end of the month–in 22 days. It doesn’t seem possible.

March 10. Temp was 20° F. at 7 a.m., so everything had frozen up again. However, it rose to 60° by noon. That’s quite a range.

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The melting is not so obvious–no water rushing furiously down the streets, but signs of thawing are abundant. At the gate, for example. What a mess. And when it freezes up again, it’s treacherous. I will be delighted when that can drain away. The problem, of course, is that the ground is frozen, so it can’t drain.

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The ground under the bird feeders is likewise a mess. No birds at the feeders today. Not even the juncos. They have all boycotted my feeders. What’s going on with that.

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Daisy is standing taller in the diminishing snow. Her orange ball is easier to find.

The largest spaces of snow melt are under the trees–under the big sugar maple, under the white pine, and under the holly tree, uh, shrub.

Some snow is melting from the vegetable garden fence. The little cast iron birds on top of some hose guides have made their appearance. Soon the raised beds should come into view. Can’t be soon enough for me. But I have to admit, there’s been progress in the March thaw. The 7-day forecast is for temps in the 40s and 50s to continue. Oh, good.

March 11. Last night it rained, a fine, misty rain, which brought about fog from the melting snow. Visibility zero. This morning the fog is clearing. The temp at 7 a.m. was 38° F. Going to 60° today, they say. Should be big changes to the snow in the garden. Wonder if the birds will come back today.

It’s now March 15. Although the temp is still below freezing most nights, which slows down the melting process considerably, the snow is melting, and, hurrah, some birds are back. Dark-eyed juncos, house finches, American goldfinches, mourning doves, one tufted titmouse, and one downy woodpecker came to the feeders, that I observed. In addition, several grackles and one red-winged blackbird appeared on the ground under the feeders. They are migrating birds, so they are the first birds back that I know about.

Birds of New Jersey says the return of red-winged blackbirds is a sure sign of spring. I like that. Males return before females to defend territories. Although they often travel in huge flocks, I only saw the one shown here. His epaulets are more white than yellow or red. Perhaps this is a juvenile.

More bird news. On a walk with Daisy this week, I saw several robins in a nearby park on a patch of grass where the snow had melted. Surely they weren’t finding worms yet. They were under some small crabapple trees, eating leftover fruit. The temp was in the 40s. There’s a 37° F. theory about robins–that they come back when the temp reaches 37°. Looks like it may be a good theory. On March 16, I saw the robins again in the same park, perhaps 10 of them, a small flock, eating fruit, but also looking for worms–a crossover period, I guess.

The vegetable garden is still buried in snow. According to Johnny’s catalog, peas, leeks, onions, arugula, carrots, radishes, turnips, kale, spinach, and parsnips should be planted as early as the ground can be worked. When will that be, I wonder.

What a difference a few days make. Today is March 17. St. Patrick’s Day. The ground was frozen up again this morning, but the temp rose quickly to a high of 54° F. at 3 p.m.. A chilly, blustery wind makes it feel colder, yet there is a definite feeling of spring in the air, a smell of spring almost.

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The vegetable garden is coming into view from under the snow cover. 14 days left in the month. For the first time, I feel confident, if this weather persists, that spring planting will go forward on schedule.

Yesterday, March 16, the first robin to visit my garden appeared near the feeders, a big old male robin. He may have been looking for worms, but did not get any that I saw. Dark-eyed juncos and mourning doves were coming and going under the feeders. The robin stayed around for a long time, appearing to enjoy his surroundings. A harbinger of spring. I enjoyed watching him.

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It’s now March 18. 39° F. for a high temp with gusting, cold winds making it feel like 31°. In a low and gloomy mood, I walked to the robin park with Daisy, expecting to find that the robins had vacated because of the cold. I even wrote a post in my head as we walked to the park, explaining how the robins were gone but hopefully would soon return. But, do you know what, the robins were still at the park, perching in trees, retreating to the denser brush when we drew near, even hopping around the field. My optimistic mood returned with the reassurance of the robins that spring was still just around the corner.

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One more harbinger of spring to note. Here are some bulbs pushing through the ground that was covered in snow a few days ago. Daffodils. In other Marches, the crocuses were already blooming by now, but no sign of them yet.

March 20. The first day of spring. And it’s snowing. 4 to 6 inches predicted. I’m too annoyed to even write about it. Only the dark-eyed juncos seem to be taking it in stride. I counted 10 juncos under the feeders a little while ago. The snow is collecting in the garden but not on the streets or sidewalks. 33° F. at 3 p.m. Tomorrow the high is to be 50°, so the snow can’t stay around long. Many birds are back at the feeders. Saw a cardinal and a red-bellied woodpecker today. Happy spring. Bah humbug.

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The mourning doves look fed up with it too. Enough already.

March 30. Weather-wise, things are looking up. Most of the ice and snow is melted away. The temps are below normal, but at least getting into the 40s most days. Still freezing most nights, which slows down the melting process. The ground is still partially frozen. But, things are looking up.

Yesterday, I took the bed covers off a few of the raised beds in the vegetable garden. I had used them last fall to extend the season a bit. A winter garden was never my intention. The lettuce that was covered is dead, of course. The kale and spinach are alive. Took a little nibble of a spinach leaf. It was sweet. I got sick once eating wintered-over collards, so will have to make up my mind about these greens if they start to grow. Shall I blanch them for a stew, or dig them up for the compost pile.

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My exciting discovery was the carrots seen in photo above. The carrot tops were dead, but when I dug the ground with a garden folk, these lovely carrots were unearthed. Eliot Coleman’s winter carrots are so sweet he calls them carrot candy. These are kind of sweet, and certainly tasty, but I think I can do better. Still, I plan to fix them for Easter, which is next Sunday. I will have to buy asparagus for Easter but will have carrots from the winter garden and last summer’s green beans from the freezer. Not bad.

The big old robin disappeared for a time, but now he’s back. At least I think he’s the same old robin. There’s no way of knowing for sure. The robins in the park are gone. I see only one or two lone robins now when we are walking. They are out in the field looking for worms. So, they have gone from flocks looking for fruits and berries to territorial loners looking for worms. Soon the female robins will return. Robins are early breeders. They should be nesting soon.

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Mostly house finches and American goldfinches at the feeders, and the dark-eyed juncos are still here. I try to take a photo of the juncos each day, not knowing which day will be their last one here before they migrate north for the summer. The one above is particularly good-looking. Not cute, exactly, as I usually think of juncos, more spritely. Birds of New Jersey says females have a tan-to-brown chest, head, and back. I think this is a female. Female juncos migrate farther south than males. Perhaps this one is stopping over on her migration back north.

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March certainly brought changes. From snow and ice and frigid temps to some signs of spring. Like the crocus, which finally made its appearance, looking so fragile yet tough enough to be first in the spring. They close up tight until the sun shines on them. Then open up almost magically. Special.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds should be shipping the onion and leek plants any day now. The garden soil is still partially frozen, but a few days of 50° degree weather will make it workable. The experts have a phrase for early garden planting. As soon as the ground can be worked, they always say. Soon.

Cool temps and rainy days mark the end of March. What a dismal month all in all. Is it an unusual March, or is it a new normal for this region. I don’t know, but I’m hoping for a warm and sunny April–with some April showers, of course.

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