My friend Peggy invented the spring holiday called Leaf Day, the first day that most of the trees on your street are in leaf.
Down in Astoria, Queens, she celebrated Leaf Day on April 28. I celebrated at home last Wednesday.
The world, even up here, has finally greened. We’ve had warm days, the kind that even cheer the household Floridian. We had blue skies for three days in a row in what has seemed like one of the grayest places on earth.
In the garden, the onions are up, the garlic’s getting big, half the carrots are up. The other half — and all of the peas — suffered in the spring cold snap, snow snap and freeze snap. They didn’t come up.
So I planted more peas where the peas and carrots didn’t come up — a full month after the first planting. That’s the fickle spring here in the North Country.
Last year’s mild spring meant the early carrot planting yielded the best carrots in years. This year I planted carrots on the same date, and nothing. We’ll see what a late planting brings.
For several years we planted corn in succession, starting early and adding rows every two weeks in an attempt to prolong the harvest.
The early seeds waited and sprung forth at the same time as the late seeds, and all the corn came ripe at once. So this year we put in all the sweet corn at once, at the traditional time — which is to say, when the oak leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears. That’s not an old wives’ tale, it’s a temperature gauge. But even when the soil temperature warms to corn planting time, it can take its sweet time getting to full growing temperature.
Every year is a little different — wet, dry, hot, cool. But overall, the season definitely has shifted in the 30 years we’ve lived up here. We used to count on the last frost coming May 30, and it was just plain stupid to put out tomato or pepper plants before then. Now I’m pretty confident in planting tender crops a full week earlier. Some years they might take off faster than other years, but they probably won’t get killed by a late frost.
We’re cautious, and every year we get calls from people who put out tender plants — basil, peppers, okra — too early and saw them suffer, shrivel or die. My sister lost the coleus she planted early in the month in a new shade garden.
So our tomato, eggplant and pepper plants are waiting on the rooftop over the kitchen stoop. We can throw a sheet over them if the night is chilly, or take them inside if it’s going to frost or there are high-wind warnings. They’ll keep growing on the roof until we know the ground is warm enough to plant them.
Spring is slow up here. It stays cold for so long we don’t remember warmth, or that trees don’t only exist in shades of gray. Then it hits: Leaf Day and the bright, refreshing greens we almost forgot about over the long winter.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on June 7. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.