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Spring is Almost Here UK 2018!

I know I’m a little preemptive here.  But I can’t contain my enthusiasm for the next season upon us.  Late wintertime has been grand, filled with more maple sap than we can really handle.  It’s always at this point in the season when the sap is flowing so much it gets exhausting.

She’s still running.

And we’re still boiling.

Outside, and inside.  Pretty much in every pot or pan we’ve got.

[The white foam you see is all the detritus–bark, ash, stoneflies–floating to the top, which I constantly skim off with the fine mesh strainer, pictured on the edge of the evaporator in the top photo…the most satisfying part of the process!]  After we’ve gone through the trouble to actually tap the trees and detour its life force into our buckets, it would seem horribly ungrateful to not follow through.  And we do get something sweet out of the deal.

Things are growing inside now, although outside is still rather bleak.  Oh yeah, and when I said the leeks were doing pretty good overwintering, I spoke way too soon:

Um, so, you can barely see them because they’re the same color as the straw…in other words, not really alive.  But this year’s leeks are in their new home in the greenhouse and they are alive!  I think I planted them at the perfect time. I remember last year when I moved the leeks to the greenhouse I felt I should have done it earlier, so I really took that to heart this time around.  It was still very cold, getting deep into the teens outside at night, and although was a little nervous I just went for it.

And sure enough, the next few days were sunny and the greenhouse stayed nice and temperate.  The soil in there is so far from freezing.  And the leeks are now a little more upright and healthy.  The right move at the right time.  They look nice, don’t they?

Indoors I’ve got lots of little guys doing well too.  The first planting of Reine des Glaces lettuces didn’t germinate too great, but the ones that made it look ready for a salad! :)

I blame the poor germ on my re-used soil mix.  Probably should have sterilized it.  But the Johnny Jump Ups in the same flat are looking rather perky.

These guys apparently like cool weather too, so in a week or so I think I’ll start hardening off the whole flat.  Springtime is on its way!

Guest Gardening Poem: City Girl

Living in Chicago, post-college, as a born city girl I was comfortably familiar with sidewalks and pavement.  Five of us aimless graduates had found ourselves in a subletted townhouse in the hip (read: newly gentrified) part of town, working crappy jobs and entertaining ourselves.  I decided to paint my own room purple, but when I got to the hardware store something somehow went awry and I ended up coming home with a gallon of hot pink paint.  So, hot pink it was.

I had to change the lighting scheme to make the walls less assaulting.  The north-facing window kept the room gently illuminated, but not enough to raise a plant.  My first apartment out on my own needed a plant.  So I bought two round clamp lights and clamped them to my desk pointed down, where the chair that I didn’t have should have gone.  For some reason at the time (a longing for greenness in a sprawling wintertime metropolis, I know now) I bought two terracotta pots and two packs of seed.  One, a packet of wheatgrass that I routinely crouched on the floor and chomped on, the other lavender.  I think I picked it for its calming properties.  I knew nothing about growing anything from seed, especially a perennial.

The wheat grass provided almost instant satisfaction.  A red pot of lush green grass growing in my bedroom in the middle of winter in a cold windy city gave me a fair amount of hope for spring.  The lavender was another story.  A seed finally managed to germinate; a tiny pair of cotelydons in this rather big pot looked a bit ridiculous.  Even after a few months and a few branchings, the stem was so flimsy it looked like a soft breeze would destroy it.  It smelled kind of lavendery though.

It was time to leave Chicago in springtime.  I yearned for a more natural setting, maybe mountains, definitely fields, maybe growing more things, maybe even outside. Unfortunately I couldn’t take my new plants on the airplane, and I didn’t want to leave them behind.  After all, they’d helped me make it through the winter.  My father went above and beyond and drove from Washington DC to Chicago to bring me and my plants back east.

Soon I began working on a farm, growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, apprenticing with an herbalist in the middle of the Blue Ridge in Virginia.  That crazy and crotchety herbalist, Annie, still reminds me of my ‘interview’ with her; apparently I confided, “I need green,” and although I don’t remember rehearsing those words, I know that is how I was feeling.  The two pots under my desk in Chicago had whet my appetite for growing things.  After a summer living in a tent on Annie’s farm, I was hooked.  I let the wheatgrass and its pot retire, but I somehow kept that spindly little lavender alive.

The follwing spring I moved up near Ithaca, NY for further schooling in herbal medicine. I brought the little guy with me, of course.  I knew nothing of soil nutrition or fertilizer, but the lavender clearly had the will to live and I was committed to watering it.

I landed a job on an organic vegetable CSA farm.  My coworker Dave was one of the first people I met in this new place, and he invited me over to dinner one night to hang out with him and his ladyfriend Liz.  They’d lived in the same house for a few years straight, something I’d never heard of for someone my age.  They were serious cooks, and instead of bringing a botched casserole or an uninspiring salad, I decided to bring the lavender as a gift.  I kept the terracotta pot for myself but took out the seedling and little clump of soil around the roots and stuffed it in a plastic 4-inch pot from the farm.  I cleaned it up a bit and deemed it a nice housewarming gift.  The thing looked so weak I was almost relieved it was off my hands.

Dave and Liz eventually bought their own house a few years later.  When I came over to that home for the first time, Liz gave me a tour of their new garden.  She pointed to a massive bush, and said, “And this is the lavender you gave us.”  My jaw dropped.  The plant was almost as tall as me; granted, rather petite as far as people go, but a huge flowering bush as far as northeast lavender goes.  We were so far from that little pink room in Chicago, but here we were face to face again, old friends, almost ten years down the road.  Now we have both put down roots here in the Finger Lakes, and it feels right.

My Dream Garden Lifestyle

“Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to.” -Wendell Berry, from The Country of Marriage

lettucenkale My dream garden is in progress. I have so many plants I adore right now, and a sweet plot of land that echoes Wendell Berry’s clearing in the woods. It’s constantly morphing. Just a couple days ago we were about to host a potluck, and our path to the garden was too much of an unsafe eyesore to invite visitors down (sparsely grassed, muddy, slippery, gouged with bootprints). I decided to put my pot roast on hold and create a completely new garden path in the space of an hour. I didn’t think I’d pull it off so gracefully, but it happened! Instead of attempting to be grass-covered in full shade, the new one is strictly woodland. The path itself is laid with spongy strips of bark, a byproduct of chopping firewood nearby. It snakes around a towering spruce with an exposed trunk, under an arching redbud, and arrives at a clearing that is the entrance to the garden. It’s magical, even in late winter before anything has begun to stir. My dream garden is coming alive. newpath It’s more the atmosphere of a garden that I dream about, the feeling of being in a calm and beautiful place. A lushness I’m in pursuit of. The mossy woodland slopes, the blue of the leeks and morning glories, the pastel pink of the giant zinnias, the soft dewyness of the nasturtiums in the morning. Crunchy apples hanging heavy from the standard trees we planted in 2010. Giant slicing tomatoes that somehow thrive in partial shade in Zone 4-5. A black spot-free rose garden. Chicks and ducks foraging everywhere except the places they’re not supposed to. twoducks Endless varieties of songbirds will share a visit every day, decimating the potato beetles and cabbage loopers until every leaf is vibrant with deep green unhindered growth. Dozens of hummingbirds will zip along the softly swaying monarda and families of pileated woodpeckers will watch from the woods’ edge.

junco

For now, a junco

To round out the dream, every extravagantly gourmet meal we eat will come entirely from our backyard. There will be so much extra produce beyond those delicious meals that we will stock our pantry to the gills and still give away hundreds of pounds of food. The tastiest food, at that (you know, heirloom lettuces and Rose Finn Apple potatoes). An infinite number of herbs will be at the ready, too. Plant medicine will cure everything that ails our bodies while building the health of the soil here and in the larger regional ecosystem. They will stretch prolifically from the shade of the sugar maples to the full sun of the strawberries, nestling themselves amongst plants that haven’t yet set foot in my garden but will find themselves here in the not-so-bleak-after-all future. In my dream garden I realize what an abundant place this has always been and will continue to be, undeterred.