Our work in the garden this time of year is filled with hope, joy and satisfaction. It's a challenge to keep up, but our bountiful results encourage us. We're still eating food from last year's garden as the first greens of spring are ready to harvest.
Seeds for beautiful and nutritious plants, a few hand tools and a bit of land to cultivate, promise good eating over the next year. The soil, rich and friable after years of composting and care, is like a clean slate, ready to be planted with vegetables, flowers and herbs in rows and beds.
Preparing the garden gets us close to the Earth. The soil's color, texture and inhabitants reveal its quality. Where it is dark, crumbly and full of worms, we've done a good job of growing fertility. Weeds pull out easily. Other beds may need more compost and perhaps a cover crop and some time to continue their improvement.
Growing vegetables and flowers is an ongoing process: day-to-day and year-to-year. Time is a gardener's friend. The sun shines, the rain falls, and seasons follow one another in due course. We can use these natural processes and green plants to improve the soil and ultimately, to feed ourselves. This is basic stewardship of the Earth: caring well for what land we get to use, and using it to produce what's needed to keep us alive.
We've already planted peas, potatoes, onions, mustards, spinach, radishes, carrots, parsnips, beets, Swiss chard, arugula, kale, broccoli, cabbage and lots of lettuce, too. Actually some of the lettuce, red mustard, dill and coriander were self-seeded by last year's crop. The longer we garden, the more we appreciate and encourage these happy accidents. All of these plants are frost-hardy. The occasional early morning temperatures that dip below 32 degrees (which are possible until the middle or end of this month) won't bother them at all.
Seedlings of frost-sensitive vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and celery are protected inside or outside in the cold frame. The traditional Native American "Three Sisters" - beans, corn and squash - and their relatives pumpkins and cucumbers, need warmer soil in order to germinate and no frost once they are above the ground. Sweet potato slips appreciate even warmer conditions.
Right now, leaves from over-wintered turnips, kale, sorrel, German spinach and onions are delicious in salads and stir-fries. They are all loaded with vitamins and minerals. The dandelions' greens are past their prime, but we're picking their cheery yellow flowers now to make wine.
What a great time to be working in the garden! In addition to the dandelions, birds and early butterflies, we're surrounded with beautiful tulips and azaleas, as well as by exuberantly blooming magnolias, dogwoods, redbuds, fragrant viburnums and apple trees.
The rhubarb is almost ready to harvest, and asparagus spears lurk just below the soil's surface. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are all budded up or flowering, promising delicious treats all summer long.
Gardening may be the most sane and effective response to large environmental problems. In order to begin to improve the health of the environment, we must begin to satisfy our needs with as few negative impacts as possible. Feeding ourselves from nearby gardens with respect for the soil, sun and ecosystems and without chemicals, damaging energy or noisy machines is a good place to start.
Our gardens connect us with ancient traditions and with the forces of nature. We discover the wonderful productivity of the Earth, the joy of seeing and eating the fruits of our labor and of working in a functioning ecosystem. We simultaneously build the health of the soil, of the plants we grow and of ourselves.
Gardening is an antidote and a cure for what ails us. It centers and connects us, nourishes and heals us and the Earth.
Good gardening to you and yours.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
This page and its contents are copyright © 1998 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.