Thoughts of green
The world is blanketed in snow. Noises are muffled, and time off is filled with adventures outdoors — sledding, skiing or showshoeing through the woods, shoveling shed roofs and walkways, searching for animal tracks.
And winter evenings? We sit by the wood stove and plan our spring planting.
In our heads, the white world turns green as peas push out of the ground and cucumber vines climb fences or poles. We’re admiring the red stalks of chard on our seed packets, and starting onion seeds in containers on the windowsills.
While our son is designing sled runs on the steepest hill in the woods, my husband and I are drawing garden plans. Our conversations always start the same: “This year . . .”
We will grow more, harvest more, can more, freeze more, share more.
Vegetable gardens do more than feed our bellies. They feed our souls. It’s the only thing that makes my husband turn religious: “God gave us a garden,” he’ll say of Earth in general. “We just have to take care of it.”
In the middle of winter, we become giddy with anticipation of all the things we will do come spring. This time of year there is no failure — no dud seeds, no seedlings dying from too much or too little rain, no varmints pulling up young plants, no late killer frosts. It’s all hope and glory.
So what do we have planned? An earlier start, for one. This year, or so we tell ourselves, we’ll really get those cold-hardy plants in as soon as we can work the ground, and be assured of an early crop of peas, broccoli, chard, carrots and kale. And this year we really will get in a second planting of all those early plants, and be assured of a harvest big enough to feed us all next winter.
We’re still ordering seeds, still poring through seed catalogs. We try to start as many of our vegetables from seed as we can — for the same price as a six-pack of nursery plants you can get 50, or 80, or 100 plants or more — but we only have so much windowsill.
So this year, we promise ourselves, we are going to get some fluorescent lights to hang on our plant shelves and really do it right. True, we say this every year, but it is February, it’s snowy and we are happy and hopeful. Anything could happen.
This year, we will only grow pumpkins where we have electric fences, because last year — and I think the year before too — the deer ate almost all of our pumpkins. This year we’ll put potatoes in the garden on Granddaddy’s land, and maybe the Indian corn too. This year I’ll remember to plant fennel.
If you’re a gardener, you know the joy of eating your own food, grown in your own good soil you’ve been nurturing for years. If you’re a gardener’s friend, you get to share the bounty, because gardens always have surplus and I’ve never known a gardener who wasn’t generous.
People new to gardening often ask for advice and I tell them what I think are the two most important things: Plant in the sun and start small.
You can improve soil with composted manure, peat, ashes — but you can’t change where the sun is going to hit in your yard. I can’t tell you the number of new gardens I’ve seen planted in what looks like a sunny spot in the spring — before the trees leaf out — only to get completely shaded by summer. It doesn’t work.
Start small because gardens do take work. You have to weed, you have to stake plants, you have to walk through every day to keep an eye on things. Is there rot or mildew on a plant? Is there a hatch-out of potato bug larvae that need to be squashed? Or squash bug eggs on the underside of a leaf?
And don’t overplant. Those little tiny seedlings will grow big and take up space. Know how many plants you can put in, say, a square foot. One tomato plant might take up as much room as four or six lettuce plants. Plants need air around them to keep healthy.
But those are issues for later on. Right now it’s all dreams, sketches and seeds. Right now, anything is possible.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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