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The weather was unseasonably beautiful today, and Chloë and I went out to the garden. She was mesmerized by the worms I dug up while clearing out the path (to be filled with wood chips in a week and a half, I hope), and wanted her own shovel to help me dig. She tried to help me dig up and smooth down the new bed, and was delighted to plant peas in the holes I made with my gloved finger. “Can you hold these for me?” she said excitedly, shoving the extra seed packets I’d handed her so she could properly hold the peas and drop them, one at a time, into the designated holes. We planted Alaska peas and Golden Sweets and some Christmas lima beans, and then a row of carrots. “See, these seeds are little,” I explained, over her “Can I do that?” which I heard no more than, oh, seventeen times while we were out. “You pinch some and sprinkle them in this row, like this.” I let her try. She didn’t do too badly. She was thrilled when I let her use the spade to cover them up afterward, and sorry when I said it was time to go inside.

But we’ve got wonders inside, too: the onions and leeks and cotton that she helped plant. (Plus a tester pea and bean plant to see if I’ve got rabbits and if they’re going to bother that bed; if they are, then I’ll go get netting in the next couple of days.) “Way-ow,” she breathed, seeing the shoots popping out of the little Jiffy pots. And then, “Can I have one?” So I let her eat a shoot. We should have planted more.

Chloe among the seedlings

Four-year-old cotton seeds will grow just fine, in case you wanted to know. My Erlene Greens and Nankeen Browns are unfolding their cotyledons now, all wrinkled and lime green. Chloë looked at the seed tray today and said, “They look like butterflies!” And they do, you know.

Currently started: the cotton, Lolla Rossa lettuce, candy onions, scallions, Sherwood leeks, and garden huckleberry in the seed tray. Everything but the huckleberry is up. (Since garden huckleberry is apparently a solanaceae, it was probably too early to start them anyway…and it hasn’t been a terribly long time since we planted, either.) Out on the steps: Siberian Kale, Red Russian kale, Bright Lights chard, komatsuna, choy sum, obedient plant, brown-eyed Susan, safflowers, and a mix of other flowers that Chloe liked the looks of–I know there are some Johnny Jump-Ups and marigolds, and some cosmos, I think, and maybe some Mexican sunflowers.

Next on the plan: prepping the gardens and planting the cold stuff–carrots, parsnips, beets, peas, mustard greens, parsley, potatoes. Then starting the warm stuff. I’ve promised Chloë a corn field, because of a Dora the Explorer episode involving one that she loves. I ‘m hoping a few rows with a path through it will suffice, because I don’t have the room for a full one. Maybe we’ll try a corn maze (for the first time) this year. I have yet to draw up the year’s garden plan. I also have yet to get materials for a pea trellis, but I’m hoping to get both done this weekend. Then, if the weather cooperates, I can have things in the ground next week.

Meet my garden helpers, Chloë and Maia:

The girls

I’m sure they will be immensely helpful in the garden. Someday.

In the meantime: hello, gardening world, I’m back! Infrequently, probably, though my current plan involves scheduling gardening time at least twice a week so I can be sure to (a) get things planted and picked at least, and if possible tended as well, and (b) get the girls (and me) outside, especially Chloë. We’ll see how that goes.

While I’ve been gone gestating and raising an infant, the USDA decided to sneak in a new zone map. I am now in zone 6. Hurrah! Not that this changes anything, but it makes me feel better about getting my seeds started and plants planted earlier than conventional zone-based wisdom has dictated. I’m not comfortable following my instincts. I like to be following the rules instead. (Pay no attention to the lack of tilling, weeding, proper support, soil testing, etc. previously recorded here…)

So Chloë and I have planted a few early seeds, mainly the ones I’m not sure are actually going to germinate–onions; leek; cotton; old kale, komatsuna, and choy sum; and some flowers. Some were “winter sown” (though I’m not sure that term actually applies with the mildness of the winter and the lateness of the date) and some started in Jiffy pots and put in the window. Chloë was intrigued by the process, particularly the “sprinkle seeds on the dirt” and “mix the dirt and seeds around with your fingers” bits, and when I came home today with more seeds immediately wanted to plant again. I sure hope some of the ones in the window sprout.

Today’s seeds are from the Toledo Botanical Garden (actually Toledo GROWS, I think) Seed Swap, which was a hell of a thing. In previous years it was at the actual Toledo Botanical Garden and was fairly crowded, but this year it was at the Erie Street Market and it was a mob scene. They took a large room, and had a whole section just for kids to pet bunnies and look at chickens; there were the usual tables for corn, roots, greens, cucurbits, flowers, etc., plus some displays on native flowers and rain gardens and such; and there was also a corner for garden-related stuff for classrooms (I loved the straw-and-Saran-Wrap greenhouse and the five-plastic-bottle-and-rope seed starter with central water reservoir); a table of seed bombs; dozens of displays; tables from commercial farms, nurseries, and other less relevant businesses from the area; a silent auction; and probably more that I didn’t catch because I thought I was just going to pick up a few seeds among a few gardeners, not fight my way among half the city.

The place was packed. I got there about forty-five minutes in (because I’d had to get the kids to naps first, and then get a bag of apples from the farmer’s market and a new 9×13 pan from the Libbey Outlet) and the tables were two and three people deep, except for the legumes table where they’d run out of green beans. This was something I’d come for, but by the time I was getting ready to go later donations had shown up and I got some Chinese beans, which should be interesting, and some cowpeas. And I think I’ve got some Kentucky Wonders on the windowsill and I’ve still got Trionfo Violettos from a number of different recent years, so I think I’m fine. And I got some cucumbers and more carrots and a lettuce, which was all I’d really come for, plus some other interesting-looking stuff because why not? and I needed the crush of people to be worth it. I did recommend Russian Red kale to someone, and help someone else by pointing out the purple kohlrabi, and maybe the seeds I donated ended up with people who’ll use and enjoy them.

Last year was a washout on gardening, by the by. I planted five tomato plants in pots, plus some green beans and some basil. The basil did fine, and we got a small number of grape tomatoes. But tomatoes in pots are clearly not a good idea without more care than I put into them–though cleanup was great. I did get the gardens covered in plastic to kill the weeds–and by “I got” I mean “Dad did it while he was here for Maia’s birth”–but only got one uncovered last fall, so there’s plenty of prep work to do once it decides to stop snowing/slushing/being ridiculously windy.

In summary: hello again! I’m going to be gardening this year. Some. With the dubious help of a toddler at times. (I’m considering growing a Mammoth sunflower “fort” for her.) Watch this space. But not with any assiduity or you’ll probably be disappointed. But believe that I’m glad to be back.

 

It was nearly fifty degrees today. I went to the store with a light coat and could have gone without one. If my yard weren’t still covered in snow, I think I would have had to do some work.

It’s been a long, slow, gray, sedentary winter, and I’m waiting for it to end. Today was a very welcome harbinger of spring. I’m still not chomping at the bit to get going on all the weeding and digging I’m going to have to do, but I do think it’ll be good for me. And it will be very nice to grow things again. We went to Home Depot today and I got a plastic “greenhouse” tray with Jiffy pots for starting seeds. Yes, I’m letting the side down by not rolling my own, but it was only five dollars for the tray plus fifty pots, and this makes it much more likely that I’ll actually do the seed-starting. And with a built-in greenhouse to keep them moist I might have a shot at successfully starting peppers and eggplant, which excites me. And it was only five dollars.

I think I’ve mentioned (can’t remember, it’s been, uh, a long time) that we’re trying to move this year, and so this year’s garden will be partly for show. I still think having a working vegetable garden will be a selling point, but it has to be a pretty garden. So my focus this year will be not on cramming as much growing into the ground as possible, but on correct spacing, enough weeding and mulching and pruning, and all those things I’ve known I should be doing but haven’t been able to bring myself to care for. It should be an interesting change of focus.

Six things started indoors today: two kinds of basil (same as last year, Mrs. Burns’ Lemon and Genovese), mullein, horehound, German chamomile, and American skullcap. You’d think that with a limited attention span I’d stick to food crops, but apparently not. I turn out to have this thing for perennial herbs. I love the way the wormwood and hyssop and chives and feverfew have greened upthe herb garden this spring without my having to do anything.

I have more herbs to start, all culinary–tarragon, cumin, summer savory, catmint (and more parsley, if the outdoor stuff doesn’t come up). I may or may not start some cucumbers and melons indoors–we’ll see how I feel about it in a couple of weeks. I do need to start more cotton: I’m growing it in pots anyway, since I know from last year I’ll need to bring it in at the end of the season, so I might as well start it now.

It’s supposed to rain until Thursday. Here’s hoping it perks up the carrots and lettuce and convinces them to come above ground. I’ll have to see whether the onions got washed away, too, and how the weeds are coming along. The weeds seem to be doughtier this year than last…I wonder if that’s because I’m already dreading doing it or because I was just really bad about weeding last year. I sense a potentially ever-escalating problem here. I guess that’s the problem with a cyclical hobby like this: the same issues crop up, year after year. Luckily, so do the same charms: the blooms below the pear tree, the buds on the pear and peach trees, the vivid blueness of the pulmonaria, the valiant ever-spreading raspberry suckers. (Theoretically this last is a problem rather than a charm, but I didn’t get nearly enough raspberries last year.)

The potatoes are planted. I dug out the leeks left over from last year first, while Eric applied a patch on the garage roof with tar and paper and curses when the wind picked up and he realized he needed to weigh the paper down. I saved a few of the leeks for cooking but put most of them in the compost pile. I left a few for seed. I’m not going to grow them this year, since I just didn’t use them last year and I’m going light on the growing, but I might plant them again next year–or they might be good for trading.

The carrots and onions have not come up at all. Most of my assorted greens have, except for the lettuce and spinach. No sign of the parsley, but that’s not surprising. No sign of the kale or the beets. I may try replanting, now that it’s a bit warmer and we’re anticipating more rain…or I may not. I must get some carrots growing, but I may decide the rest are too much work. I decided not to do peas this year–cooking them doesn’t sound good and eating them raw sounds like too much work, especially since my trellis is broken.

Eric told me I should just plan on growing less this year, and that’s what I’m doing. Luckily all my tomato plants and a few of my peppers plants are doing nicely in the window…and that future flat of vegetables will go a long way toward hiding my seed-starting inadequacies. I do have a couple of dirt-filled cartons ready for starting basil and maybe some parsley. In a couple of weeks I’ll start some cotton, because I think it’s neat, and maybe some flowers if I can be bothered, and everything else will go directly into the ground. I’m very glad I started a bunch of perennial herbs last year because once you take those off last year’s planting list (which is still taped up to my wall and is what I’m using for this year) there isn’t much that really needs starting early–which suits me perfectly.

On the less-lazy side, we went to the farmer’s market today for the first time this spring. We went for onions because Eric was making a meatloaf for dinner. We encountered some friends who told us one of the vendors had home-grown spinach and the honey lady made a killer honey-mustard that would make fantastic dressing if she hadn’t run out of it, and went home with winter spinach and strawberries (dunno if they were local, didn’t ask; they were delicious and firm and only two had a bad spot anywhere) to combine with pecans and Craisins to make a beautiful salad. A few early plant vendors were there, and I’m going to go back soon for strawberry plants, since my strawberry bed has a few bald spots. I foresee us spending a lot of money at the farmer’s market this year. My new lazy-gardening plans will still supply us with the mainstays of summer–parsley and tomatoes and dill and peppers and carrots, with luck, strawberries and raspberries–but there will be holes to fill.

Dallas was very, very green. A Crayola spring green almost, different from the more gradual, subdued greening-up that’s been going on around here. I was glad to get home from my trip, glad that my tomatoes had sprouted true leaves and hadn’t parched (I didn’t even ask Eric to water them; the outcome would have been the same anyhow), sad that I would still have to wait for green trees and flower buds in my part of the country.

I got a late birthday present from the mothers, a set of ten plastic cones for putting over plants, a kneeling pad, and a bunch of plant labels and Velcro for tying. I also got asked by my stepsister-in-law to take part in a fundraiser by a local nursery: pay a special price for flats of flowers or vegetables now and go pick them up in May. I signed up for a flat of 18 annuals or vegetables for $12. That’s hard to beat, and my peppers and eggplants mostly aren’t coming up so I may need them (and the money situation isn’t looking as bad as I was afraid it would, though we’ll see how it goes when we get the bill for the second ultrasound). At some point I really need to get out and see what’s happened with those seeds I planted, and get myself back into the it’s-time-to-garden mood.

There: the tomatoes are started. Sixteen of them, along with two pots of Rosa Bianca eggplant (maybe they’ll work this year) and a single Alma paprika pepper because that was all the room that was left in the pan. Tomorrow I’ll do the peppers, cauliflower, and celery. I was planning to cheat and buy Jiffy pots because I just didn’t feel like making my own, but there weren’t any at Kroger yesterday and I also didn’t feel like driving anywhere else, so I made ‘em after all. I ran out of newspaper and came up with a viable substitute, old phone book pages. Actually it’s not an old book, it’s the “fake” yellow pages that Eric refuses to use, but either way it worked out quite well. Now I no longer have to beg newspapers from my mother-in-law.

Sixteen tomato plants! I mentioned to Eric the other day that I had to get started on garden work this week, even though I hadn’t figured out where to plant things or how many tomato plants I wanted this year. “Twice as many as last year,” he said, as though it were obvious.

“Twice as many?!” I said.

“Yeah. We barely had enough for salsa, don’t you remember? Not to mention the other things we wanted to do.”

That’s not the way I remember it, but I do know that we wanted more. I planted twelve last year, but the Romas did poorly and the Black from Tula didn’t do at all and the Principe Borgheses molded before they dried, so I subtracted those and multiplied by two and added a couple to account for possible failures this year and came up with sixteen, and he said okay. I’m not totally sure this is wise, since tomatoes are going to come in at just about the same time the baby does, but I suppose it won’t hurt to pretend that we’ll be able to keep some semblance of our previous lives going. And we have friends and relatives who probably wouldn’t mind helping tidy up our yard by taking away fresh tomatoes.

So I left the broccoli pots on the counter with the alliums. The next morning I found that the mice had dug into three of them, scattering dirt everywhere. I don’t know whether they were eating or eliminating or just causing trouble, but this has now gone beyond threatening my food. I’ve moved the broccoli and I won’t put any other seedlings on the counters; but I will remember this, mice. I will remember.

I have finally planted those dratted broccoli seeds. No, there’s no reason it should have taken me this long. It wasn’t that hard to go find the tape (for the labels). I think what prompted it was Eric’s saying “What are these huge things growing on the counter?” and realizing that the walking onions had noticeably grown since I got them, and I was supposed to plant broccoli at approximately the same time I got them. Sigh. The bulbils are doing well, too–starting to grow their first green leaves. I hope it warms up outside before they get too big for their jugs.

However, with broccoli out of the way, snow still on the ground, and Saturday’s Seed Swap still to come, I think I’m out of material. Luckily others are not. Tomorrow I have the pleasure of hosting my first-ever guest post. I feel like a real blogger, or something. I also wrote a guest post a few weeks ago for Thomas at Happy Farming and completely forgot to mention it; I hereby do so. For someone who likes to write, I’ve been pretty scatterbrained about it lately. For someone who likes to garden, I’ve been pretty scatterbrained about it lately. But I’m hoping both of these things will change. Even adding those broccoli seeds to those little containers of soil and patting them down reminded me of the things I love about gardening, and how much it’s worth it to get out of my chair and go do it.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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