Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and a weird sense of timing.
Take my garden, for example. Last fall, during the time that everyone associates with closing up the growing season and putting the garden to bed for the winter, we instead got hit with Winter Storm Alfred. Alfred brought with him a little over a foot of snow and ice- on October 30th. Almost the entire state of Connecticut was without electricity. Power crews were called in from all over the country to help. It took them eight days to get to us. Some people were without for almost two weeks.
By the time we’d dug out of snow, ice, trees, and various outbuildings that had been smashed by the storm, the last thing I felt like doing was prepping the garden for winter. Shoot. We’d already had all the winter I could handle- in a five week period.
But I still felt guilty every time I saw that neglected patch of earth, and so when Ash Wednesday turned into a sunny-and-highs of- 56 blissfest, I knew I should get out there. Even if it was too late to winterize, I could get a head start on my peas, which always go in on St. Patrick’s day.
This will be the third summer we’ve lived here, and the second year I’ve planted a vegetable garden in its soil. We moved in late March of 2010, and the first thing I did was notice that some previous owner had long ago cleared out a modest patch in the sunniest, flattest part of the yard. It had long since grown over with crown vetch and crabgrass, but the ghost of it hovered there on the ground, whispering naughty little phrases about tomatoes and peas and peppers and such. Totally willing to surrender to its siren song, I went to find a shovel in the garage-turned-dumping ground for all our unpacked boxes. I had almost gotten to feel that first experimental shovelful of soil when I heard Ken’s voice close behind me.
“What are you doing woman?” he asked, eyes wide and voice incredulous. I looked at him, then at the shovel, then at the ground.
“Garden?” I said, hopefully.
“Garden?! Two of the kids are missing in the sea of boxes! We haven’t even unpacked toilet paper! There is an entire inside of a house to deal with before we start with the outside. Plus,” he added, glancing meaningfully at my abdomen, “you’re eight months pregnant! I don’t think that you need to be digging out a garden right now!”
Of course, he was right, so wiser heads prevailed that first year, and I did nothing to the garden. It wasn’t the right time. There wasn’t enough time. There was a new house, a new community, and a new baby that needed to be tended to before I could tend to that abandoned ground.
Last spring, however, was a different story. The baby was a year old, the house had settled in, and we’d found the toilet paper. It was time to take the shovel to that garden.
Once again, Ken advised temperance. “Don’t go crazy this year. Don’t expand it too much. Just do a little, work on building up the soil, and see what you need to improve on.”
Please. You’d think he was King of Agriculture the way he was talking.
Of course, he was right, so wiser heads prevailed that second year as well, and I expanded slowly. And good thing I did, because after clearing out the sod from the old garden and the small expansion area, I got my first lesson in New England soil.
If you don’t live in New England, I can sum up the nature of its dirt in a single word: rocky.
That soil had more rocks than any place I’d ever lived. My garden in Michigan was on an old flood plain, and was so fertile plants would spring up, fully formed, simply by thinking about them. The soil in our yard in Mississippi was so heavy and clay-bound that I didn’t even make any serious attempts at gardening. But this place- it was maddening. I could tell by looking at the soil that if I could only clear the nine bajillion rocks that were lurking in my 6×3 foot garden, I would have a nice place for plants to grow. But first I had to clear out the nine bajillion rocks.