Things that hide in the dirt and become sweeter

I guess spring is actually here. My garlic was tricked into March’s false spring, sending tender shoots into what should have been sunshine and warmth, but turned out to be winter’s inhaled breath before it blew out its last gasps.

Cold, ice, and snow savaged the tiny shoots, and the tops of those plants are brown from their ordeal. But spring rains and finally warmth have coaxed the plants back out of the soil.

They took a little slap from winter, but prove to be resilient after all.

I’m not sure how the cold-spring-unending-winter thing will affect my garlic crop, but it is what it is. I am more interested in my carrots at the moment.

Last fall, I chose to leave my carrots in the ground of my raised garden near my front door. That ground doesn’t usually freeze solid because it’s under mounds of snow and it’s next to the house’s foundation.

Some root crops are made sweeter by winter’s cold if they don’t freeze and turn to mush, and I thought I would see how my little carrot crop fared.

On a gorgeous spring afternoon in mid-April, I got out my set of Snow and Nealley gardening hand tools and carefully dug in the earth where I had left drinking straws sticking up to mark the location of my carrots.

The two rows had been thick with carrots when the snows covered the vegetable bed, and I naively expected no less when I unearthed them.

Patches of orange peeked through the rich, dark soil as I carefully dug below the surface, giving me a glimmer of hope for some tasty morsels. I eagerly separated orange from brown, and what I had left was a partially consumed stub of a carrot.

I dug deeper and excavated the entire area where my carrots had grown, and all I had to show for my efforts was a small pile of orange and brown, and nothing I could eat.

Apparently, I had kept the population of small critters that live around my old farmhouse in fresh carrots all winter.

I should have known that was a possibility. I have had problems for the past 34 years keeping mice, squirrels and chipmunks away from tulip bulbs and other flower corms. Some years I won the battle, but most years I was simply outnumbered by critters and outwitted by their drive for survival during a Maine winter.

Had my husband Jim been looking over my shoulder while I excavated the carrots, he would have reinforced what I should have known would happen. I can picture him shaking his head at my naivete, and my hope that this year it would be different.

Those thoughts made me smile. My husband, who died more than six years ago, loved to observe my “little projects,” as he called them. Most of the time, he was amused by my methods or my expectations, but he supported me wholeheartedly, stepping in to help when he could make things easier for me.

I cannot tell you how much money we poured into flower bulbs with visions of colorful splendor dancing around in our imaginations as we anticipated spring’s floral bounty. One year I put in an entire raised bed of tulips. Only about a dozen survived, looking like I had lightly sprinkled them onto the flower bed.

Not even close to the thunder of color I had envisioned.

Crocuses, daffodils, jonquils, grape hyacinths all seemed to fall victim to hungry critters. So why on earth did I think it would be a different story for the carrots?

My only excuse is that I was still riding on the high of success I had experienced during fresh vegetable season with my little garden. The plentiful radishes, tasty tomatoes, handful of cucumbers, leafy greens of spinach and swiss chard, succulent beet greens, and green beans that took over one end of the garden all had fooled me into thinking my carrots would keep within the same successful pattern.

I am glad I ate as many of the carrots in the fall as I did. At least I got some of them before I apparently served them up to the wilder side of my neighborhood.

Oh well. Lesson learned.

For now, I am enjoying my one or two crocuses that made it through the winter, and I look forward to fresh garlic — positive that anything as tenacious as these plants will not be a disappointment.

If I think about it, there’s probably a lesson to learn from them as well.



Julie Harris

About Julie Harris

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.