It’s been one of those weeks around here. West central Georgia had its second winter over the weekend. The first one was back in January. We had a smattering of morning temperatures in the mid to low 20s. Then we rushed through first spring in February and the flowering trees went nuts. Then the great Nor-Easter came to visit this past Sunday and slammed us at 21°. More than a few suffering plants went to be with Jesus on Sunday morning.
This is that time of year when anxious gardeners never learn their lesson about planting tomatoes.
Mr. Anxious lives on the corner in town. A couple of weeks ago I saw him out tilling up his garden spot. He’s retired. All winter he’s been going through his Burpee’s catalogue dreaming about tomatoes. He does his own starts from seed in a small greenhouse about the size of a phone booth. Which tells me he’s got a hint of green in his thumb. But when it warmed up, he let his passion get ahead of his thumb.
You guessed it. He planted his tomatoes last week. I wonder if he was watching the forecast at all. Surely he consulted the Farmers’ Almanac. My dad never planted anything without the advice of the Almanac. The Farmer’s Bible. Dog-eared and worn by the time spring rolls around.
By now, Mr. Anxious has Better Boys that have turned into Wilted Wilburs.
For some reason, folks with vegetable gardens in the south are driven to be the first when it comes to harvest time. The old guys sit around drinking coffee and sopping up runny eggs with biscuits at Eddie Mae’s in the morning. The conversation turns to vegetable bragging rights in the spring.
Old man #1: “Got my tomatoes planted last week.”
Old man #2: “Might be a tad early, don’t you think?”
Old man #3: “Have you seen the morning low for Sunday?”
Old man #1: “Can’t wait. Old man Farley has had the first tomato of the season for three years running.”
Old man #3: “I looked at my Almanac yesterday. It’s not gonna be good for planting for another six weeks.”
Old man #1: “Don’t care. I’ve got some milk jugs cut so I can put’em over my plants if we get a cold snap.”
A fella with tomatoes and peas and beans and corn on his mind turns into a crazy man at the first hint of 75°. He thinks to himself that this is going to be the year. Maybe we won’t have a late freeze. If I get my plants in the ground now, I’ll beat the pants off old man Farley. He smiles at himself in the mirror as he shaves. “I’m gonna get’em good this year.”
But it never happens. Second winter comes along and burns his dreams to the ground. Little tomato plants lying there like limp licorice sticks.
The problem with our weather down here is that it pays no attention to the science of the vernal equinox. Just because the calendar says that spring has arrived is no guarantee that spring is here. I’ve seen it 80° on Valentine’s Day one year, and the pond frozen over on the same day the next year. Clover can bloom in March. But some of the worst ice storms I’ve ever seen came in March.
Our winter weather down here makes us an easy target for all the northeners down this way who have experience with their share of brutal winters. These folk are sometimes of Nordic descent. They have ice in their blood and walk around Georgia in shorts when it’s 38° and raining.
They say things like, “You call this cold?”
They taunt us. “Yah, you shood’a seen the blizzard of ’78. Now der’s a winter for ya.”
“Yah, dat was rough. But v’at aboot the deep freeze of ’94. Da’ white caps on Lake Erie froze up so quick dat they turned into little ice statues. Rolling waves frozen in time as far as you could see. Now, dat was a cold one.”
These are the people who laugh at our 21°. And if you get the weatherman on channel 9 talking about snow in the mix, the bread and milk hoarders rush to the store so they can survive the coming blizzard. If we’re lucky, there might be enough snow on the hood of the Chevy in the driveway to make a grapefruit-sized snowman. And by noon, he’s melted into oblivion.
Even my partner got into the spirit a little bit. He’s been in Georgia for 30 years now, but he grew up on a dairy farm in Odessa, Missouri. They get pelted with snowstorms from the artic every year out there. “That wind on Saturday,” he said, “reminded me of home. 30 mph winds like that are just normal out there all winter long.”
The real snow events of my life in Georgia are so few I could probably count them on my fingers. An extra toe or two might be required. But that’s over sixty-something years of winter. So, nothing legendary.
There were a few snows with enough punch that we got to make a real snowman in the front yard. I have a black and white photo of my cousins standing around one. He stands about 4ft tall and leans a little to the left. You can see the leaves from the water oak in the front yard sticking out through his midsection. Made him look a little like maybe he had leprosy. But he was an honest to goodness snowman.
If we had enough snowfall, we’d try to scoop up the clean layer off the top to make snow ice cream. Mama would add a little milk and vanilla flavoring and sugar. Or we’d pack it tight in a cup and pour cherry Kool Aid over it so we could eat a real live snow cone. The kind you only get at the county fair or at the concession stand at the baseball field.
The record snow I remember was when I was in high school, I think. Could have been a few years later. Old man winter dropped about 12 inches of snow on us one night. We hunkered down. Dad made sure he had his last will and testament in place just in case we didn’t make it through.
I shouldn’t complain about this past weekend. Spring has already returned to this part of Georgia. Second winter only lasted about 48 hours. It’ll be 68° with plenty of sun today. A few nursery crops got burned. Tender foliage turning to mush the more the sun heats up. Too soon, yet, to tell whether there’s been any stem or trunk damage. That will show up later.
One thing for sure, old Mr. Anxious is going to try planting his tomatoes again. You can just about bet on it. He’ll sneak out into his garden at night and put new plants in the ground. And he’ll brag at breakfast how that little old frost didn’t hurt his tomatoes. Not one bit.
But don’t get too crazy. Third winter will be here before Easter.