Bonnie Blodgett: The ground finally froze. Time for shrimp

Winter took its sweet time getting here. Finally, on Dec. 15, the ground froze.
How do I know this?
Bonnie Blodgett
On Dec. 10, one of you sent me an email suggesting I tell the rest of you to water your trees and shrubs because it hadn’t rained in more than a month. It hadn’t snowed, either. And the ground had yet to freeze. There was a window of opportunity. But it wouldn’t last long.
I guess we’re getting used to this. As of today, we’ve yet to have enough snow to sustain an “accumulation” except at Afton Alps.
I’m curious how ski areas make snow when it’s above freezing, but that’s a topic for another section of this newspaper.
Maybe some smart entrepreneurial type will come up with a machine that makes snow to insulate perennial gardens.
That would not solve the problem faced by trees and shrubs that are dying of thirst, though.
Last week, I hauled the garden hoses out of my basement. Then I opened the valves that prevent water from collecting in the pipes outdoors.
I found only one of my three outdoor spigots was operational, meaning that I can expect two frozen pipes come spring.
The third doesn’t have a long pipe exposed to the elements. Unfortunately, it’s also the farthest from the plants I needed to water. It took three 30-foot hoses linked together to deliver water to the plants that needed it.
My email friend suggested that before going to all this trouble I should make sure the ground would accept the water. I should test the ground either by pounding a long skinny pipe into it to a depth of at least 40 inches or by dumping a bucket of water on the ground to see if the water disappeared or remained on the surface.
I kept the water running for an hour or more, after observing that the ground was definitely soaking it up. My water bill will be more than I paid for all the new trees put together.
Whether this 11th-hour deluge will help them make it through the winter is another question, one I can’t answer.
The very next day, the mercury plummeted.
Today I attempted to pound metal stakes into the ground to add height to an existing fence.
The new fence is composed of ornamental iron panels, as is the fence below it.
This added height is not to keep the chickens fenced in. Last summer, I finally accepted the truth about chickens. They have wings and know how to use them. The girls refused to stay put, no matter how high the fence was. As a result, they now live inside a fully enclosed chicken run.
(A run is the enclosure that lets chickens not only run but walk, trot, sunbathe, scratch and peck in the open air, whereas the coop is like a shed, its job to keep them safe and warm, especially in winter.)
Why do I want to raise the height of the garden fence? Like most of my projects, this one is esthetic in origin.
A tall cedar arbor that supports a lovely old iron gate allows one to enter the garden from the street. This is a remnant from the past. It was once part of a 6-foot privacy fence, also made of cedar.
When the fence died of old age, I replaced it with a fence only 4 feet high made of flimsy metal panels. This partly explains the trouble I had keeping the chickens in the yard.
It gets worse.
Not only is the fence too short from an esthetic standpoint, compared to the arbor and gate, it is not secured by frost footings but stakes. Since the stakes aren’t anchored by footings, the fence is subject to heaving.
My plan was to raise the height of my fence with a second row of panels (along the top) secured by electrical tape and hose clamps, and then to pound metal stakes into the ground that are long enough to penetrate below the frost line.
Once the panels were in place, I pounded the first of the stakes into the ground. That‘s when I discovered that the ground was frozen solid.
This leads me to the part of this week’s column that has something to do with gardening — indoor gardening, which is (let’s be honest) the only kind of actual, hands-on gardening we can do at this time of year.
It’s way too early to start plants in the basement under lights. It’s also too early to start baby chicks under lights.
How do I know that? I tried to order chicks this morning.
“We should have them in February,” said the friendly clerk at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply. “Call back then.”
Baby chickens, like baby plants, must be “started” at the appropriate time. That time is a few months before the ground thaws. Then both chickens and plants are old enough and the weather is warm enough for them to be able to survive in the great outdoors.
Which doesn’t happen until May.
This year’s houseplants include the usual figs and ferns, begonias and clivias and succulents and such, plus … something new.
Back in July, I bought a shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeena). A shrimp plant gets its name from its flowers, which look exactly like shrimp.
Picture a plant sprouting shrimp instead of, say, apples, and you have the approximate look.
The shrimp plant has reasonably attractive foliage, so even without flowers it’s not an eyesore.
I had always assumed that shrimp plants were annuals. But this year, I thought I’d double check. Much to my surprise, I was wrong. (I know, hard to fathom that.)
Shrimp plants are perennial in the tropics. They are also quite resilient and floriferous.
My shrimp plant seems delighted with its winter home in a sunny south-facing window. It has been producing non-edible shrimp nonstop since October.
If you can find one online, I highly recommend giving someone on your list a shrimp plant for Christmas. They are not only pretty and a great conversation starter, but being mostly green and red in color, highly festive as well.
Also known as false hop, the shrimp plant’s flower does somewhat resemble that of the plant beer is made of, minus the red.
Oh, and one more thing: No need to panic if a holiday party guest has a few too many beers and mistakes your plant not for hops but the appetizer tray. Shrimp plant flowers aren’t poisonous.Related Articles

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