As soon as the snow melts, we hit the ground running. We have to because our growing season is so amazingly short. This snow-season kicked off in early November with 36” in 36 hours and lasted until just a few weeks ago. Soon, after a few brief months, the weather will turn sweltering hot. I’ll be getting up at 5AM just to water the gardens before the bees and grasshoppers start to stir.
Every season has its challenges.
Right now, though, spring is perfect. Spring, I think, is our hard won prize for suffering through all the other seasons. The snow, the bees, the drought, the fires and smoke, the heat… all of them are forgotten once the birds of spring arrive.
As I write this, the sky is a heavy gray and rain is pouring on the roof of our little house. There are three hummingbirds just outside my window. Quicker than I can say, “Look, a hummingbird!” they dart from their red feeder to the Japanese lilac. All day long they do this dance.
As I sit taking it all in, the rain is giving me an excuse to actually sit down and write. Of course, we’d already put up an entire line of barbed-wire fencing today before the rain started…
So it feels good to sit down. So good.
Meanwhile, I’m all too aware that it’s May and I still haven’t planted the garden. I’m still waiting.
Last week temps were in the 70’s and I almost planted… everything looked so inviting. We laid a bark mulch pathway in the fenced garden and installed four 8’ trellises for snap beans, luffa and trumpet vines. We installed drip irrigation lines. We weeded and even got sunburned… every fiber of my being was telling me, Go ahead and plant. It’ll be okay…
But a still small voice within me said, Wait. So I waited.
Today it’s 48 degrees and pouring rain. Tonight, who knows? There could be frost. I recall the freak snowfall in June 2021 wherein all my carefully grown, delicate transplants all died the day after I planted them in the garden. I suppose, little by little, I’m learning patience.
I’m also learning about new tools.
A friend told me about frost cloth last week (why didn’t I already know about this?). I ordered it and, when it arrives, I’ll be able to plant with confidence knowing I can cover my transplants as needed.
Am I the last one to know about this stuff?
As I wait for the frost cloth, I’m surrounded by squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers… an assortment of tiny vegetables, just waiting to be. I started them all from seed in my south-facing kitchen windows in early April and I’ve been thinning and transplanting them ever since.
I started them in the starter trays above which are great, but plants quickly outgrow the small cells and need transplanting. These trays also come with a clear cap, but some plants germinate and grow faster than others so I end up innovating with something that looks like this:
I’ve since learned that once seeds germinate, you should leave them uncovered or they’ll get leggy (too tall and thin). I continue to learn…
My numbering system is working well, though. I number the trays and pots and make a corresponding reference list of seeds as I plant them. It saves me time on labelling.
#41 is Buttercup Burgess Winter Squash, for instance, and so on.
This spring I’ve transplanted my seedlings twice so far which, I realize, is kind of silly. Next year, I’ll just plant my seeds directly in a 3” pot and thin from there. I don’t know why it’s taken me three years to realize what seems so obvious now.
But some things are never going to be simple.
For me, thinning plants is the most difficult part of gardening. It’s emotional. I know, I know…
They’re plants! Not people!
But choosing which ones will live and die is a big responsibility - dare I call it a moral dilemma? I eyeball each one carefully for potential defects - a withered leaf, perhaps? A bent stem? Just give me some sign that this little guy wouldn’t make it anyway - something to assuage my guilt - but there’s nothing. Just a bunch of healthy plants full of potential. And me, the plant killer.
I only have so much space, I tell myself, I only have so much water and so much time… One by one, I make the hard choice. I tug and feel the roots release their tender grip. I lay them aside on the dry, hard table to wither and slowly die.
I’m a monster. A callous monster.
Maybe thinning is the reason our garden is larger this year than last, and larger last year than the year before. Maybe age is softening me.
It’s our third year gardening here, yet I’m still surprised how little I know. Take last year, for instance. I thought it’d be a good idea to plant a raspberry bush in the greenhouse (you can stop laughing anytime…). I didn’t get any raspberries, but I sure spent some time digging up raspberry roots!
I’ve since transplanted the raspberry bush to the garden.
And last week, I needed some mulch for the greenhouse plants. Did I forget to mention that I finally planted both greenhouses? Onions, carrots, spinach, lettuce, arugula, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts…
Anyway, back to mulch… Instead of taking the time to rake mulch from the floor of the aspen grove, I bought some straw from the Feed and Seed thinking, “That’ll do.” It was straw bedding. So what?
Right before I started spreading the straw, I heard that still, small voice (remember that voice?) asking, “Is this really smart? Something feels wrong.”
This time I didn’t listen.
I should have.
I’ve since learned the hard way that straw bedding contains grass seed and those seeds - especially when watered in a greenhouse - sprout.
So every morning now, I spend about 30 minutes on my knees weeding unwanted grass seeds out of the greenhouses. I think I’ve just about got them all…
Yeah, next time, I’ll do the work and rake my own damn mulch.
Stupid Should Hurt.
So while my fragile transplants are growing indoors and my not so fragile grass seed is sprouting in the greenhouses, John and I have been doing some landscaping with hardy perennials.
After a lot of research, I settled on a few drought-tolerant varieties that should survive both our hot summers and frigid winters. Plants like Russian Sage, Catmint, Sedum, Feather Reed Grass, Mock Orange, and Currants seem to thrive in our zone.
Later this year, they should look something like this:
But right now, they look like this:
We’ve been hauling in bark chips to mulch the perennial beds we’re building and, later this week, we’re expecting delivery of 12 yards of pea-gravel for making walkways and borders around the house. The gravel is also an aesthetic (and practical) fire-prevention device. Around here, we’re always thinking about fire prevention.
Yet another reason to love the glorious springtime - no fires. Everything is so wet and fresh. We know spring is near when we hear the sandhill cranes flying above us, so high they’re nearly invisible. They gather in vast numbers above our house - as if they’re convening to discuss which route to take across the sky. At once, their leader decides a direction and off they go, cawing loudly (they sound like a turkey-pigeon lovechild).
Speaking of turkeys… The hens and toms are back on parade. We hear them off in the aspens and soon they’ll have a gaggle of poults trailing behind them through the field each morning.
As for our birds, they aren’t roaming as freely as the turkeys but, last month, we did expand their chicken run and added some additional shade. Like us, they’re just thrilled to be on actual ground again (sans snow).
I suppose, out of all of us, Henry may be the only one sad to see the snow melt. He does have two coats, after all.
But Henry’s finding other reasons to be happy this season. And I hope you are, too.
Until next time it rains…. be well, get outside and get your hands dirty. I promise, you’ll learn something.
Enjoy your writing, curious what state/province are you in