Spring Things

– Posted in: Garden chores, Weather, What's up/blooming

This is a dangerous time of year. That might seem like a peculiar thing to say about the fine weather in May, but it is true. This is a dangerous time of year because there is the ever present danger of things being caught in a frost that really should not.

In other words, my apple harvest hangs in the balance.

Actually, there is a lot more than apple blossoms at risk from a frost, but that is the thing nearest and dearest to my heart. Other years we have had a hard frost that killed off all the lilac blossoms. That was sad. Another year we had a frost all the way in June which ravaged our garden. That was depressing.

Around here the month of May is fair game for frost. Unfortunately, around here my apple trees blossom in May and a frost when the apple blossoms are open will destroy any chance at fruit. This makes for some nail biting nights. It feels like some form of gambling. Depending on exactly how warm May is, the apple trees will blossom sometime during the month. Optimally, the first half of May will stay cold and then, miraculously, the second half of the month will be exceptionally warm. In this way the apple trees will blossom late, and be safe from frost. In practice it seems like there is always a warm spell in early May, followed by a cold snap. Sufficient to say, of late we have had more years without an apple harvest than with.

Currently the apple blossoms are on the cusp of opening and I am feeling rather pessimistic. This seems like an early blooming year and if they open sometime around the 12th-13th like I think, it is highly unlikely that they will escape being frosted. All I can do it wait and watch, and wonder why whoever planted the trees didn’t choose a more northern hardy variety


The forest is on the verge of leafing out. The early trees have already begun putting out their small leaves, but the maple trees (which constitute the majority on the hillside opposite the house) are still waiting. Soon, very soon, the leaves will explode from their buds, and everything will be green again.

The lawn and fields have already greened up. The grass is growing, and soon we’ll be at the time of year when the grass is growing fastest. I can never keep up with mowing like I ought.

Before any mowing can be done the equipment must be taken out of storage. This isn’t a really big chore, but it can be hard to find the time. For our DR brush mower the spark plug and air filters are supposed to be changed at the beginning of every year. Of course I don’t already have this equipment on hand, so it must be bought . . . which I don’t usually think of until the last minute. Then, this year, I had the blades off for sharpening and I had to put them back on before Lachlan or I could use the mower. Combine this with the lawns needing to be cleaned up from all of the accumulated junk since last fall and I invariably get around to the first mowing long after it should have been done.

This year I made one of those stupid little mistakes that are very embarrassing. When I put the blades back on the mowing deck I put them on wrong side up. This meant that the mower was trying to cut grass using the dull backside of the blade.

Putting a lawn mower blade on backward is like flunking the most basic test of mechanical awareness. It isn’t hard or complicated. I was actually the cause of my own mistake because last year I thought I would be smart and I put a piece of masking tape on each blade, stating which side of the mowing deck it went on, and which side went up. Brilliant, except which direction is up? Is up when the deck is right side up, or is up when the deck is turned over and you are working on it? I meant one thing when I wrote last fall, and I thought I meant the opposite when I put them back on this spring. I didn’t even bother to stop and seriously check, I just blithely “followed” my own directions.

I don’t know how long my incompetence would have gone unnoticed if not for my subconscious. Lachlan mowed before I did and as I was walking around I noticed that his mowing job was very rough. The grass was not cut neatly. This struck me as very odd considering the blades were supposed to have been just sharpened. But I couldn’t make anything of it, so I went back to cleaning up the lawn I was about to mow. My subconcious must have kept working over the problem because some minutes later I stopped what I was doing and thought, “I bet I put the blades on backward. I bet I misunderstood what ‘up’ meant.”

As soon as I thought this I was almost certain it was true. It would be typical of me to leave directions for myself and then misunderstand my own directions. If I think I would be really dumb enough to actually do something, chances are, I did it. So I went and checked, and indeed I had.

It is amazing how much better the mower cuts when the blades are on right.


The tree swallows have come back for the summer. It is nice to see them flying around, chittering and scolding. I haven’t seen any barn swallows around yet. I wonder if some will use the same nest as last year.

About the turkey vultures I mentioned a while back; several of them do seem to have moved into the area. I have spotted them several times. Once one of them passed directly over head, my first warning being the huge shadow that swooped across the ground.

Apparently turkey vultures are common down in Pennsylvania. Now that I have become familiar with their appearance I’ve begun to notice them. At first glance, at a distance, it is hard to distinguish between a turkey vulture and a crow because up in the sky distance can be hard to judge. A far away turkey vulture can look about the same size as a nearer crow. However, the turkey vulture does fly slightly differently, and once they are close enough that I can see the underside of their wings, the turkey vulture has a different coloring than crows.

Turkey vulture counting can get a little dangerous. I was driving up from Pennsylvania last month and I thought I saw several turkey vultures circling directly over the highway. I leaned forward, trying to peer up out the windshield to see if there were really so many flying directly overhead. Straining to look up at the sky, I wasn’t paying attention to my driving and I started to drift on the road. So I decided I had to stop my bird watching.

But I think they were turkey vultures.

About the Author

At age fifteen, Rundy decided he wanted to write for his living. He is currently working on a novel, although it is not the novel he started at fifteen. When not working on the novel, he might be riding his bike, feeding his chickens, helping his neighbors, messing around with web design and computers in general, or writing on his blog, which discusses other topics in addition to gardening. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 AHS Heat Zone: 3 Location: rural; Southern Tier of NY Geographic type: foothills of Appalachian Mountains Soil Type: acid clay Experience level: advanced beginner Particular interests: fruits, vegetables, major landscaping, chickens and other poultry

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

rundy June 1, 2004, 12:57 pm

Sorry to hear about your lilac. Something similar happened here one year and the frost completely decimating the buds. In our case the bush was long established and managed to survive.

For the moment all you can do is wait and hope your lilac survives. If your lilac was not long established there is a greater danger that it will die, but they are a resilient plant and I think it will probably come back in some form. You should not cut the lilac back . . . yet. Wait and see where it will put out new growth. Once it is well established what part of the bush (if any) has died, you can prune the dead wood away.

Hope that helps.


Leslie May 31, 2004, 4:45 am

my lilac was hit by frost, killed all the flowers and leaves. Can you tell me what to do? Should I cut it back… it is a young tree.

Wyn May 13, 2004, 3:35 pm

Hmm, I tried to trackback on the Spring Things post but it didn’t work. Oh and I think I prefer Mary’s heart to Bleeding heart but then that is not really anyones fault is it!