There’s nothing like the forecast of a winter storm to motivate me to dig in the dirt. I’ve been putting off planting the peas for about three weeks now. But yesterday, when the weather forecaster boldly stated that our valley had a 100% chance of snow for Sunday, I knew the time had come to clear out a space for the peas.
I was amazed at the variety of life I found under the dried weeds and leaves. The primrose plants were almost full size, and daffodil sprouts were popping up everywhere. I also disturbed a spider and a few dozen earthworms with my incessant digging.
Finally, after about two hours and an odd assortment of sore muscles, the ground was soft enough to plant the peas. There is a wide range of opinions about pre-soaking hard seeds. Since I’m only a theoretical farmer, I decided to take the advice of a seasoned soil tiller and immerse the dried up little seeds in a bowl of warm water. By the time I had cleared the bed, the peas were plump and moist.
Perhaps it’s a common flaw of humanity not to read instructions before attempting projects. Although I am not a professional gardener, I was pretty sure that I could handle poking a bowlful of peas into the ground without help. A rather arrogant assumption, I was to discover. After the peas had been planted and lightly covered with an inch of soil, I happened to glance at the seed packet. The directions said: “Plant seeds 3 to 4 inches apart; space rows 2 feet apart. I glanced sadly at my little raised bed of peas. The seeds were probably spaced about 3 inches apart, but alas, my rows were also 3 to 4 inches apart!
Oh well, guess I will have a massive thinning once the plants start to sprout. Perhaps I’ll take a bit more time to read directions before I attempt to plant the rest of my garden. But I don’t suppose I’ll be planting for a while. The ground is still cold and the weatherman says another 6 to 8 inches of snow is headed our way this evening. In the meantime, snuggle closely little peapods and try to stay warm!
Photo: Fotolia/Norman Chan
It all started from one sad little pumpkin that had spent its better days in Room 8 at the Daycare. After being handled, poked, painted and scarred by a room full of four -year olds, my daughter, the teacher, brought the drooping fruit back to our garden compost for its final resting place. And there it sat through the lingering, cold winter.
Long about mid June, we noticed a row of nicely spaced sprouts filling a row in our garden. We were pretty sure they weren’t weeds, so we left them in their spots to await further development. All through the summer, I posted pictures of the plants’ growth. At one time, there was a rather long-standing debate between those who thought the fledgling sprouts were squash and those who were convinced they were pumpkins.
Eventually small, green globes began to form and the squash camp became silent (although some staunch squash-ites insisted the plant was a rare form of squash). Finally, as the green balls began to become shaded with orange, we all knew that the discarded daycare pumpkin had given birth to many healthy plants.
At this point, we have fifteen small to medium sized pumpkins. I have been searching for creative ways to use these unexpected gifts. Given the frantic pace of the life of a teacher in September, I think my best bet is to steam, puree and freeze them for use on those long anticipated mid-winter snow days!
9:00 on Christmas Eve morning. The temperature keeps
fluctuating between 30 and 31 degrees, and the sky is overcast with solid grey
clouds. I am sitting by the woodstove, surrounded by two contented cats and a
mournful looking Golden Retriever. These cold morning outdoor excursions never
last quite long enough for energetic pup. He doesn’t seem to understand that
his heavy, golden coat can hold a lot more heat than my human skin.
We took a quick stroll out to the garden. The back forty is
in full winter dress now, brown and spikey with only a few brave herbs showing
any signs of green. Winter is the favorite season of theoretical farmers. We
feel absolutely no pressure from the outside world to stop talking and get on
with planting. Nobody except the hardcore, year-round gardener is out on bleak
mid-winter mornings tilling the soil and planting seeds. The rest of the world
joins our contemplative state and is somewhat content to muse over seed
catalogues, planting charts and garden journals. For once, we theorists are
among the inactive majority.
The flurry of shopping, baking and wrapping is over for the
season. Soon, a different buzz of activity will take over: delivering presents,
greeting family and exchanging overflowing plates of sweets with the neighbors.
Our little town savors its peaceful state while suffering alongside our
northern neighbors as they mourn the irrational loss of a classroom full of
children. And yet, we received our own alarms on the last day before break. Our
own schoolhouse was watchfully guarded by a collection of uniformed officers.
We all seem to hover on the edge of uncertainty while fervently praying for
peace on earth.
The house is quiet with only an occasional mournful sigh
circling the air. The pup is not content to simply enjoy the fireside warmth.
Perhaps someone with more energy than I will wake up soon and let the poor
doggie run outside awhile. In the
meantime, I will avoid his doleful countenance and move a little closer to the
According to the gardening books, it’s time to put the garden to sleep for the winter. Not that my little patch was completely awake during the growing season, but it did produce a few vegetables and a good many herbs.
I like getting the garden ready for winter. Expectations are low; in fact, all that matters is that I pull the weeds and pile them on a compost heap. Preparing the soil to rest is like stripping old paint from an antique dresser. You simply can’t hurt anything; it already looks as bad as it ever will.
The sage and mint are continuing to persevere amidst the relatively cold nights and chilly days of mid to late autumn. They will shine even more when I remove the dead, gangly stalks of brown plant material: they’re a true tribute to the robustness of domesticated weeds.
Finding time to clear out the garden seems to be my biggest challenge. The sun dips behind the horizon shortly after 5 pm these days. By the time I close down the computer and push in the last chair in my classroom, the large lunar fireball is already dipping dangerously low in the sky. We do have a few holidays coming up in the next couple of days. Thanksgiving is near, and the Powers that Be have seen fit to give us three entire free days this year…more than we have ever had before. Perhaps I will spend the frantic hours of “black Friday” puttering away in the back forty. Stacking weeds seems so much more restful than pushing through throngs of agitated bodies at the local mall. Such clamor and clutter messes with the minds of theoretical farmers---way too much reality for our philosophical brains to process.
Between now and Friday, perhaps I will do a bit more research on proper winter gardening for our neck of the woods. I still haven’t given up on horseradish and carrots, although I suspect I should have planted them much earlier… Whatever the case, I am looking forward to several uninterrupted hours in my garden. I’ve missed our time together.
Late Autumn Mint
Fall has come to the Shenandoah Valley in full force. We seem to have bypassed any type of Indian Summer and temperatures have settled in at around 45 degrees by day and down to 30 at night. Delicate plants such as basil and green peppers have turned black and limp from frost while the more hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme are still thriving. I think the Last Rose of Summer fell apart into brown-edged petals yesterday. It was still clinging bravely to the vine when I left to go grocery shopping. By the time I returned home, the wind had dislodged it and all that was left on the vine was the center of the flower, looking frail and rather pathetic in the watery su
I love the change of seasons, and it suits me just fine that summer chose to exit without lingering goodbyes. Still, I still feel the need to play in the dirt a bit. I’m not quite ready to give up gardening yet. I talked to a seasoned farmer at church this morning and asked him if I could grow anything now. He was rather cryptic in his answer. “Yeah, there are lots of things you can grow now.” I waited for him to continue but he had stopped talking and was obviously not going to enlighten me on the bounty of late fall growing. I prodded a bit further and asked if I could plant onions. “No,” he said, shaking his head solemnly, “you don’t want to plant onions now. They will freeze in the ground.” What about carrots, I continued. “Not so sure. Maybe.” Such was the extent of my interview. Perhaps I shall just resort to Google.
Or more likely I will create a lush winter garden inside my head. After all, I am a theoretical farmer still and there is no pressure to have anything to show for my intensive labors of the mind!
Hurricane Sandy is rattling the shutters and trying her best to come inside. I am trying just as hard to keep her out. Right now, our little brick ranch holds six adults, three cats, one parakeet and a quite large Golden Retriever. There is simply no space for an uninvited storm to lounge about.
They call her a “Frankenstorm,” and so far, just the mention of her name has shut down schools, closed businesses and caused general panic in bread aisle at the grocery stores. I am hearing reports of flooded basements, downed trees and power outages. So far, we haven’t had any damage, but I’m not sure I like the way the sound of the wind has changed from a casual whistle to a haunting howl.
The Derecho storm in June knocked out seven trees in the back forty. Sandy seems to be taking a different path with winds spiraling from the Northeast. The Mulberry tree will probably take the brunt of the damage this time around. Poor tree. Part of the trunk looks unwell anyway and it bore very little fruit this summer. Guess I’ll need to do some research into tree health---assuming it’s still standing in the morning.
Another thing I would like to research is the way moisture in the air interacts with light and cameras. I took a picture of a path-lamp at the park last evening, just before the storm began. Take a look at the contrast of shadow and light. I have never taken a photo like this before; it almost looks as though I touched it up on a photo editor. But it’s the original shot---straight from my cheap little camera.
So many fascinating subjects to explore! Again, I am thankful to be a theoretical farmer. Living in the world of theory allows such flexibility and variety in research. And the best part is the fact that it really doesn’t matter if I find any answers or if I just continue to ask questions. Both states of knowledge are equally rewarding.
I’m not sure where summer went, but I think I passed it somewhere going South on Interstate 81. It seemed in quite a rush, dragging a wagon full of old beach towels, stretched bathing suits and picnic baskets. I have spent the past six months on the outside looking in. Working furiously to finish up a graduate degree has afforded me little opportunity to be part of nature and her diversions. Lately, I have observed several seasons as they passed by, but was never able to be part of the menagerie of attractions they offered.
Needless to say, my garden has grown up in a happy mixture of weeds and herbs—the only kinds of living, green plants that can survive without some sort of nurturing. I had good intentions: I dug up the patch, spread a couple of bales of straw and planted some seeds. I even put fertilizer on the whole lot. But then, classes started and while my tender young plants needed to be cultivated and cherished, I was deep in academic periodicals and university databases.
Now, I am a “theoretical farmer” by self-definition, but not a scholar at heart. While I like to surmise about the inner workings of people, animals and plants (if indeed plants have inner workings), I am not enamored with reading stilted language and analyzing academic minutia. I am happy to say that I am on my final project, and soon, this scholastic plodding will be history. I am looking forward to sifting through the stalks of dried weeds in my garden patch. I’m hoping to find enough herbs to cut and harvest before a killing frost makes its appearance. At least I will be able to gather something this year, even if the bounty of my crop consists of a few hearty sage leaves and a half-bucket of thyme!