In a week when the real temperature, the windchill, or both, has been below zero F everyday, what else is there to do but plan the vegetable garden? Just as my seasonal allergies get really bad in September and make me look forward to frost, planning the garden during the coldest part of winter reminds me that spring is on the way.
James was working so I spread myself out across the living room floor. This sounds expansive, but my living room is very small, more like a really large table but since it’s the floor there are no edges to knock things off of. I have my nowhere-near scale sketch of the garden beds with alphanumeric labels, my companion planting chart, all my seed packets of both new and saved seeds, some index cards to stand in for plants like potatoes, my garden notebook, a pencil and, very important, an eraser. Oh, and my plant rotation list too because I can never remember things like, do legumes follow brassicas or do brassicas follow legumes?
The garden is not large enough for true rotation practices, especially since the beds are always interplanted. Rotation is more a matter of, I grew zucchini in this bed and the bush beans in that one so I should put the zucchini in the bush bean bed and the bush beans where I grew pumpkin and the potatoes where I had the zucchini. The the carrots get tucked in near the tomatoes and the radishes and mustard by the peas. Poles beans with pumpkins. Marigold and nasturtium everywhere, and calendula this year too.
I spread out all my seed packets and start shuffling them around in a mini-layout of the garden beds. Along with trying to rotate the plants for soil nutrients, I also need to keep in mind the garden microclimates. This part of the garden gets more sun, this part gets the most heat, this part gets morning and midday sun but is bright shade in the hot afternoon, this part misses the early morning sun but gets midday and afternoon sun. It would not do to plant tomatoes in a cool part of the garden and peas in the blazing hot.
It sounds complicated, and I suppose it is, but I’ve been in relationship with this little bit of land for enough years that we are getting to know each other pretty well. Nonetheless, every year the garden teaches me something new and our relationship deepens even further. This is a reciprocal relationship. The garden teaches me so that I may care for the soil and ki’s inhabitants better so that they may return the gift of my care with gifts of their own. I give the garden the pronoun “ki” because the garden is a living being, not an “it.”
In the beginning of the garden I was not a very good student. I approached everything from a power over position, I’m in charge here and you will do my bidding. Of course that never worked, even when I tried to convince myself otherwise. But I am a stubborn human, which makes me a little slow to learn sometimes. I don’t know when I began to truly understand that gardening is a reciprocal relationship. Perhaps it was after trying, and failing, for two years to grow blueberries in sandy, alkaline soil? I thought building a raised bed and bombarding the soil around the blueberries with sulfur and other acidifying ingredients would create a perfect, and perfectly contained, blueberry growing experience. I am terribly sorry to have abused the garden and those blueberry bushes. The garden seems to have forgiven me and the blueberry bushes long ago became compost.
When I was searching out all the vegetable seeds, I found a couple old packets of prairie seeds from several years ago that I never planted; two kinds of coneflower, swamp milkweed with “Free!” stamped on the packet, and prairie dropseed. It’s winter sowing time, and today they got planted. Well, more like sprinkled across the snow in the general areas where I wouldn’t mind if they sprouted. This is the imprecise approach to winter sowing. I could be more precise and fill some kind of carton or box with soil, plant the seeds, then set them out in the snow where they would sit until spring when they would hopefully sprout and I could then transplant them. But since my front garden aims for a barely contained prairie meadow aesthetic, I just sprinkled them around. If they sprout, I will have no further work to do other than making sure they are not overwhelmed by creeping charlie until they get big and strong enough to fend for themselves. I like easy whenever I can get it.
I want to tell some chicken stories but I am running out of writing time today and your attention is probably getting ready to wander. I will save the stories for next week then, except to let you know that Lucy and Sia have started laying! I didn’t expect any of the Nuggets to start laying until spring, and they took me by surprise.
With the days getting longer, Elinor started laying again. Then I thought I heard Mrs. Dashwood announcing an egg, only to go peek into the coop to see it was Lucy on the nest. Her eggs are not quite full size yet, but they are getting bigger, fast. And then several days later there was a small creamy white egg. Ethel? Sia? There has not been another one since. So I checked their breed information, and I’m pretty sure the egg belongs to Sia. White crested Polish lay small white eggs and are not prolific layers. Ethel will eventually be laying medium-sized brown eggs. The little chicks are growing up!
- Thich Nhat Hanh obituary. What a beautiful soul. I will miss his voice.
- I did not start any new books this week because I am in the middle of a couple I have already mentioned. Why does this fact make me feel twitchy?
- Essay: From Dirt by Camille Dungy. The history of the seeds we grow in our gardens have “simultaneous legacies of trauma and triumph.”
- For the Wild podcast: Donna Haraway on Staying with the Trouble. Haraway’s book by the same title has been on my to-read list for a few years. I really need to get around to reading it. What a fascinating woman she is!
- Station Eleven. I read the book back when it was first published and enjoyed it. The adaptation is pretty good.