Ground-shaking News

In the news feeds this morning is a report of another earthquake here in East Tennessee.  This time a 3.0 magnitude quake centered in Knoxville.  That’s not far from us.  I didn’t feel anything, but it gets me to wondering about the frequent earthquake reports I’ve been seeing:  is Tennessee about to tear itself to pieces or is this normal and we just haven’t noticed it before?   Let’s ask the experts. says East Tennessee has had: (Mag. 1.5 or greater) Continue reading “Ground-shaking News”

April Fooling

Garden Freeze Prep

In the 12 years I have lived here in East Tennessee, the latest snow or frost that we have had was April 2.  That was the year we were trying to put in a house for my mom on the lower end of our property, and the snow and mud stopped construction for a few days.  April Fool!

2014 sets a new record (at least in my personal experience) with snow and a frost on Tuesday night, April 15.  Much of my garden is in, the fruit trees have blossomed, most of Marie’s flowers are up … this was not a welcomed gag.

It rained Monday night, but the temperatures had been up in the 60s and 70s for the past week.  So the soil was warm and the rain started out warm.  The rain continued on Tuesday, but the temperature was falling off, Monday’s low temperature of 52° F would be Tuesday’s high, heading for a predicted overnight low of 26° F.  Rain turned to sleet then to snow, but with no accumulation.

Early in the evening the precipitation stopped.  Temps were in the mid 30s now.  We scrambled around to cover as much of what we could cover to protect it from the coming frost.

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Signs of Spring

Spring time here means rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Our mountain retreat will seem more like Seattle for a month or so from late February through most of March.  The ground will be soggy, the rivers run full, and we make good use of umbrellas and wide brimmed hats (like my fedora).  Not only does it rain often, but some will be very heavy rainfalls, which can lead to the washing out of driveways and roads.  Crusher-run gravel comes at a premium price at this time of year as residents scramble to repair damage to their drives and access roads.  This year with all the budgets cut, including road maintenance, some of our normally top-notch roads are deteriorating rapidly.  One that we normally use as a short-cut into town has become all but impassible because of the pot holes.

Spring Colors

Trees blooming in SpringOn the brighter side; we also enjoy the brilliant colors of spring; all the fruit trees burst into bloom practically overnight, the pink and white of Dogwood trees and the lavender of Redbud trees, yellow of Forsythia and bright red of Quince.  The irises and day lilies have already put up their spiky green leaves and will soon flower into purple, orange and red blossoms.  Pansies are already putting on a show, and a multitude of ground covers are popping open in purple, pink, yellow, and white flowers.  Continue reading “Signs of Spring”

The Ups and Downs of Mountain Living, Part 3

Piney Mountain Road – Icy

This is part three of my on-going yammer about life in the mountains.  In Part 1 we looked at getting established, in Part 2 we looked at the physical necessities of life here.  This time we’ll look as the more esoteric aspects.

In east Tennessee winters are normally pretty mild.  This winter has been an exception: in early January we hit an overnight low of minus 1° F, the lowest temperature in 20 years.  My relatives in Nebraska and Colorado laugh at me, saying that’s a balmy spring day to them.  We have been spoiled by the normally temperate weather we enjoy so much here.  Aside from this year’s cold, we do have some special challenges.

One is that temperatures vary with elevation.  Newport sprawls out along the Pigeon River on the floor of the valley and is around 1,050 feet elevation.  At 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the highest point in our immediate area (we can see it from our front porch) and the difference in temperature between there and Newport can be dramatic.  There are dozens and dozens of other mountain peaks that range between 1,500 and 4,000 feet.

After a snow, we often have continued school closings on days when the roads in Newport are clear and the weather seems fine.  This is to accommodate the people who live in those higher elevations where it has not warmed up enough for things to start melting off.  Road ice is the major issue.

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Scrambling Time

Today I was scrambling. I’m not talking about eggs either – although I did scramble up some eggs and fried some turkey bacon for breakfast this morning.  The scrambling I’m referring to is the dashing-frantically-around-to-get-something-done sort of scrambling.

FenceboxIt rarely gets cold-cold here in Tennessee before December. If we get snow at all it’s in February. On the rare occasion we’ll get a snowfall around Christmas, but that’s very rare. On that basis I was not in a big hurry to get my garden boxes covered in plastic for protection from winter weather, since winter weather was months away yet.  Except it’s not.

The weather guessers have been saying that we can expect overnight low temperatures around 29 degrees over the next couple of days.  That’s cold enough to do some serious damage to my squash.  Rain is expected as well – although it’s not clear if the rain will be first then cold or the other way around.  They’re not talking about snow, so I suspect it will be cold overnight and rain during the day after it warms.  If that’s the case, my lettuce and Brussels sprouts should be OK, they just need protection from the cold winds.

A couple of weeks ago I bought my annual roll of 6 mil semi-transparent plastic which I use to cover the boxes.   It’s been sitting here, ready to go to work ever since.  That 29-degree forecast is for tonight/tomorrow morning, so today is the last day I have to get this done.

My garden is done all in raised beds, because we live on the side of a mountain and this is the only way I can garden that doesn’t just wash away every time it rains.  I have fence boxes made from PVC pipe and poultry mesh to keep the rabbits out of my crops.  In the winter I can add the plastic sheeting to provide better protection from the elements.  How much protection is needed depends on what is inside.

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First Day of Spring?

Originally published Mar. 21, 2013 by Grit Magazine

I arrived at work at 7:30 AM, following a grueling 150 foot commute.  The traffic was terrible.  Normally both dogs march along shoulder to shoulder at the ends of their leashes.  I tell Cochise, “Play yard,” or “Home” or “Mail box”, or (his least favorite) “Work” and he heads off in the right direction.  I tell Blondie, “Stay with Cochise” and she obediently strides along beside him wherever he goes.  Normally, but not today.  Today I’d started the pickup truck earlier to warm it up before Marie headed into town and her work.  Blondie really, really wanted to go for a ride; so when we came down the steps she was intent on going in that direction.  Cochise smelled something fascinating down in the yard and really, really wanted to go that way to check it out.  So they strained in opposite directions, neither one in the direction I needed to go.  We worked it out eventually, but it was a disorganized swirl instead of the usual orderly parade.

Yesterday was the official first day of spring.  It is cold and foggy this morning.  There is a possibility of snow.  I was wondering what happened, when I remembered something I saw at the Source of All Wisdom (Facebook), “The first day of spring and the first spring day are not necessarily the same, and can be separated by as much as a month.”  I’m glad now that I didn’t put my potatoes in their garden boxes last weekend, I’ll do that next weekend.  But I had planned on working at opening the garden for summer session this week.

The winter gardening session was disappointing; it was too wet and cold for much of what I grew.  Still, we did get a fair bit of lettuce (until it got crushed by condensation that froze into ice on the inside of the greenhouse) spinach, beet tops, onion greens, garlic greens, carrot tops, as well as the last of the summer’s carrot roots.  I got enough Brussels sprouts for one meal – but that is the best I’ve ever done with these sprouts; normally the looper worms gut the plants and kill them in days.  By using a greenhouse vented with window screen I kept the moths away in the fall so the plants had a chance to grow to maturity for once.  I had to cover the top vent with plastic after a particularly wet spell practically drowned them out as well.

The Swiss chard is just now getting any size to it.  I’ll get one decent harvest from that when I pull it up to replant the box with something else.

On the positive side, our local Lowe’s store now carries composted chicken manure.  That will help in rejuvenating the soil in my boxes.  I used composted cow manure last year with disappointing results.  Slowly, very slowly, I’m learning what works.