Enjoying the Apple Blossoms

Depending on when the trees bloom, the results can be modest, abysmal, frosted, or luxurious. This year, the apple trees have really outdone themselves. The blooms are absolutely amazing because the weather was perfect for the trees this year. Just looking at the trees from a distance, you can see that they’re decked out in spring color that’s certain to please.

The apple trees are truly luxuriant with blossoms this year.
Apple Trees Decked Out with Flowers

It’s a warm spring day with just a slight breeze, so getting into the orchard is quite an experience. The flowers are quite pungent and walking around is delightful. Unlike many other years, there hasn’t been any hint of frost or strong winds to damage the flowers, so the clusters are nearly perfect.

The white blossoms are incredible and the odor is quite strong.
The Blossom Clusters are Beautiful

The bees and other pollinators were quite busy on this particular day. A count showed that there were at least fifteen different kinds of insects busy at their job of pollinating the flowers. They didn’t pay any attention to me, of course, and I paid little attention to them. I was simply taken by the absolute beauty of the flowers and wanted to share them with you. Let me know about your favorite sights, sounds, and smells of spring at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Cold Spring

This has been an interesting spring for people in Wisconsin. Not only did we have a cold winter that included some late snow, but we can’t seem to warm up this spring either. Generally, people plant their potatoes on Good Friday here. I haven’t heard of anyone who has actually made the attempt yet and it’s now past Easter. If the trend continues, the gardens will be late this year and we’ll have to hope for a longer fall to make up for it.

This may be a good year for brassicas, which require cooler temperatures to do well. If the weather continues as it has, we might have problems growing green beans, tomatoes, okra, and peppers, all of which require warmer temperatures and a bit of dryness as well. Trying to discern what the summer weather will be like from the clues provided in spring can be difficult and we’ve been quite wrong about them in some years. The result is that the garden doesn’t produce as well as it could. So, even though it looks like it won’t be a good year for tomatoes, we’ll plant some anyway. The best gardens are diverse and the best gardeners hedge their bets about how the weather will change.

Having a late spring means that the flowers aren’t out yet. In fact, we don’t have a single Easter flower yet. Our trees, usually starting to bloom by now, are just barely experiencing bud swell. It’s possible for a garden to overcome a late spring to some extent simply by planting items that take less time to develop. However, fruit trees are another matter. Growing fruit requires a certain amount of time and you can’t easily change the trees you have from year-to-year based on the probable weather. The hard winter is supposed to provide us with a better fruit crop this year by killing a broader range of harmful bugs, but the helpful effects of the hard winter may be subdued by the late spring. Late flowering means that fewer fruits will mature to a full size and that trees may drop more fruit should the summer become hot.

The one thing that isn’t really affected by the late spring are the herbs. Because herbs typically have a short growing cycle, a late spring isn’t as big of a problem. The only herb that might be affected is the lovage, which may not have time to go to seed (a real loss for us since the plant doesn’t produce enough seeds to hold over for multiple years).

It’ll be interesting to see how this summer turns out and what we get in the way of crops. Every year provides surprises, but the weather this year may provide more than most. How do you overcome the oddities of weather in your garden and orchard? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Late Snow

Early spring is the time for snow. However, it’s not just any snow. The snow in spring can be magical at times. It drapes itself onto the trees and other plants in ways that reveal new ways to look at the mundane. The trees and other plants take on a new appearance.

We recently had a spring snow and I took a few pictures of it. For example, here’s one of my favorite trees viewed in a new way.

A honey locust tree draped with snow.

Everywhere I looked, the snow had done amazing things to the landscape. Even our orchard looks magnificent with its coating of perfectly white snow. (This is a view of our apple orchard from the house.)

Maples and an apple orchard (background) draped with snow.

The woods can be exceptionally pretty. They take on a mystical appearance. Paths all but disappear, but are still visible when you look closely enough.

A group of trees in the woods draped with snow.

Of course, my favorite thing about springtime snows is that you get to enjoy all this beauty without any of the usual shoveling. The spring weather dictates that the snow melts sooner, than later. Anytime I get a beautiful scene from nature without any work on my part, I’m overjoyed. What is your favorite thing about springtime snows? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Waiting for Spring Weather

As I write this post, it’s a balmy 17 degrees outside my window (a mere 3 degrees with the wind chill). It’s definitely not tree pruning weather. At least, it isn’t comfortable tree pruning weather. Of course, that’s the problem of spring—trying to find time to get the pruning done in weather that doesn’t promise frostbite (at least, not immediately). There is always a race that occurs. On the one hand, you have trees that are on the verge of waking up and you need to prune them before that happens. On the other hand, you have old man winter sticking around just long enough to make life difficult.

Trying to figure out the best time is made even more difficult by the weather conditions. It pays to have some sunlight when you prune so that you can see bug infestations on the trees and pick them off. For example, this is the time of year you want to find the egg clusters of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. However, you don’t want full sun either. For the most part, you’re looking up into the trees to see where to prune next. If the sun is constantly in your eyes, you may not prune the tree correctly (not removing enough or removing too much). So, finding a partly cloudy day when the temperatures aren’t too extreme during the most perverse weather of the year can prove difficult, if not impossible. All this also assumes you can drop everything else to do the pruning.

Generally, I find that the perfect weather is nearly unattainable and settle for something that works. A little too warm is better than not warm enough, but I also have my handy wood stove to warm up in front of should things get too cold. A little hot chocolate or broth goes a long way toward making less that perfect weather endurable. Truth be known, pruning is normally a cold affair that’s enjoyable simply because the snow has abated and there is the promise of warmer weather to come.

Of course, what warms us most this time of year is the hope of spring. Even with the weather the way it is today, you see all the indicators that spring has arrived. My personal favorite is the birds; at least, until our Easter garden starts to bloom. What is your personal favorite indicator of spring? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Spring Change

Nature casts off her winter garb,
pure white ermine,
soft and plain.

Showers in renewing,
springtime rains,
begin afresh once again.

Breezes blow her dry once more,
sweeps the old
clean away.

Sunshine comes,
to give her warmth,
makes her children frolic and play.

Puts on a new,
frock of green,
fragrant, musty, earthy hue.

Displays her jewels,
of flowery delights,
red and yellow, orange and blue.

Springtime’s promise,
of more to come,
brings to mind summer’s fun.

For now we’ll see,
her labors great,
winter’s gone, spring has won.

Copyright 2013, John Paul Mueller

 

Enjoying the Spring Flowers

Spring has come incredibly early to Wisconsin this year. I’m amazed at just how fast everything has budded and flowered. We’ll actually make it to Easter this year after my spring flowers have blossomed and reached their peak. Given that we’re hustling to fit everything in, I haven’t taken a lot of spring flower pictures, but here are a few showing my tulips, daffodils, and grape hyacinth (amongst others).

SpringFlowers01

The flowers that appeal the most this spring are the grape hyacinth, which are especially fragrant for some reason. The odor is downright overpowering at times. It must be the unusually high temperatures that we’ve been experiencing. Interestingly enough, our crocus came up, bloomed, and are already gone for the season.

We have a number of different varieties of daffodils. A favorite of mine this year have white petals with yellow insides:

SpringFlowers02

They look incredibly happy. Of course, the plum trees are blooming as well. This year they’re just loaded with blooms.

SpringFlowers03

I’m just hoping at this point that we actually get to keep some of the fruit. Wouldn’t you know it, the trees just start blooming well and the weatherman has to ruin everything with a prediction of frost. Our weather hasn’t been quite as nice the last few days as it was earlier in the month. That’s part of the problem with an early spring—the trees start blooming early, which exposes them to a greater risk of frost.

Fortunately, the pear trees are just starting to get ready to bloom. The buds have started to burst open a little, but they’re still closed enough that a light frost won’t hurt them.

SpringFlowers04

The apples aren’t even as far along as the pears, so there aren’t any worries with them. I really do hope my plums survive the night. A frost would probably ruin our harvest at this point. It doesn’t pay to worry. The weather will do what the weather will do whether I worry or not, so it’s best just to let things go the way they will. Every year brings it’s own special set of challenges.

So, are you experiencing an early spring this year? If so, what sorts of challenges are you facing? How do you plan to use the early spring to your advantage? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Spring is on the Way

It would probably be hard for most people to accept the fact that spring is on the way, especially when they look outside on a snowbound day like this one:

SpringOnTheWay

However, the fact of the matter is that spring really is on the way. It’s going to be an early spring, in fact. There are several things that tell me this. First, and possibly most important, the tree sap is starting to run again. In fact, the people around here who tap maple trees to make syrup have already done so, which is extremely early. I noticed that the trees in the woods also have sap running in them—at least the ones in our woods. I’ve never seen the sap run this early. (My uncle, who has lived a few years more than I have, says he has seen spring arrive this early in the past, but he wasn’t quite sure when, which tells me it was quite some time ago.)

Anyone who lives in the north will tell you that the air takes on a different quality in the spring. It has a different odor to it, or perhaps a different texture. I have yet to find a good way to quantify the difference, but the difference is unmistakeable. You take a good deep whiff and the air simply doesn’t quite smell like winter anymore. Perhaps there is the faintest hint of fresh greenery or some other element that looms at the horizon of human perception—present, but hard to identify. I smell it every spring and every spring I fail to pin down precisely what has changed.

Of course, most people want something a little more substantial than tree sap and odd smells, so there is also  the birds to consider. When we were trimming the trees the other day, we definitely noticed the springtime songs of birds. No, it’s not the wild kingdom effect—the raucous early morning expenditure of energy that birds have later in the spring, but it’s a gentler prelude, as if the symphony is about to begin.

There are going to be other signs. None of my flowers have started bursting through the soil as of yet. The buds on the trees are still shut tightly as well. However, it won’t be long and I’ll start to see bud swell, and then, one day I’ll look at my flower bed and see just an inkling of the springtime flowers peaking through to see if the coast is clear. Spring is most definitely on the way—the signs are all around for anyone who wants to look. What are your favorite indicators of spring? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Arrival of the Seed Catalogs

A special event takes place each year around this time—the seed catalogs arrive on our doorstep. Nothing says springtime like the arrival of these glimpses into the future. Rebecca and I wait for them each year with bated breath and eagerly anticipate what they’ll contain. The two major catalogs for us come from Jung’s and Gurney’s. We do receive other catalogs, but don’t look at them in detail quite as often as we do these two. The main reason is that these two catalogs generally contain everything we want to grow (and then some).

I’m sure that a few of you are already rolling your eyes and thinking, “Just how antiquated can you get? Why not look online?” I’ve been finding that online catalogs work great when you have some idea of what you want. If I want to buy a specific piece of software or computer hardware, a repair part for Rebecca’s vacuum, clothing, CDs, DVDs, and so on, then an online catalog works great. In fact, using one can save time. Growing a garden is a little different. Often, you don’t know that you’re going to grow something until you see it in a catalog. In short, viewing the catalog provides something online catalogs don’t provide as well—a glimpse of what you didn’t know you wanted.

Before someone places this sort of purchase in the impulse buying category, it’s good to consider how seeing new items can really help the gardener. The following list is my favorite reasons for looking at new items, rather than simply sticking with the old favorites:

 

  • Growing new items can help improve the nutrition the grower receives from the produce.
  • Different items take different nutrients from the soil, so growing new items can help keep the nutrients in your garden more balanced.
  • No one wants to get bored growing their own food.
  • The new items may have different resistance to pests, making use of pesticides less necessary.


These reasons won’t be enough for some people to consider going back to the paper catalog after establishing an affinity for the online version. There are other good reasons to get a paper catalog:

 

  • Some paper catalogs come with discount coupons that you don’t receive with the online version.
  • You can’t take a usable computer screen with you to show friends what you plan to buy (viewing gardening items on an iPad just doesn’t make it in my book).
  • It’s even hard for two people to view the catalog in the same way by sharing a computer display.
  • Using the online catalog often requires that you open your computer to potential virus attack in order to use JavaScript and those fancy multimedia features.
  • Catalogs make it easy to compare what you thought you were going to get with what you actually see in the garden.
  • The paper catalog is a handy reminder that you really do need to start thinking about your garden, even though winter still has a firm grasp.


Whether you get a paper catalog or not is up to you, of course. Some people will say that we’re wasting trees by continuing to get paper catalogs (we do recycle every last piece of paper that enters the house). Whether you use paper or online catalogs though, it’s time to start thinking about that garden. What will you plant this year? Let me know about your gardening ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.