Every year around the bleak days of early January, even in the illest parts of the ill-tempered temperate zones, gardeners look out on their soggy, muddy, frozen, snow-covered dirt-patch of dreams, and fantasize. In the hangover of holiday cheer or the dreary slog of mid-winter, we remember the wonder and joy of Spring, of Summer. We yearn for the taste of tomatoes warm from the sun, for fresh green peas, for sweet corn and zucchini squash grown right here, from seeds we planted in soil we tilled ourselves. We are hungry for things that can not come from California or Mexico or Florida or any hot house anywhere. We are starved. Ravenous.
Every year, the seed companies know just how to bait the hook.
And every year, I am helplessly lured in, not so much like a shark to blood, but like a toddler to a birthday cake.
Yes, when I should be splitting more wood, getting the barns ready for lambing well ahead of time, cleaning up around the house a little bit so it doesn’t look like The Hoarder Hotel, I am looking at pictures of yellow and purple carrots. And admit it, you are looking at those carrots too. Or maybe the orange seedless watermelon or Bloody Butcher corn or green and yellow striped tomatoes or multi-colored sweet peppers…
Over the years, I have planted and grown – or attempted to grow – a wide array of vegetables, fruits, grains, and whatever looks good in the pretty pictures in the catalogs and on seed company websites. I have been seduced by glorious descriptions of taste, by photos showing stunning colors and perfect fruits of someone’s labor. I have been wooed by testimonies of taste, by heirlooms passed down for over a hundred years, by exotic names like Amish Rainbow, Moon and Stars, Caribe, Hon Tsan Tai, Deer Tongue, Oaxacan Green, Red Noodle, True Lemon, Purple Viking, Five-Color Silver Beet, Rouge Vif d’Etampes, Prescott Fond, Rosa Blanca and so many more.
I should be ashamed of my weakness. I would probably feel sick and go into denial if I knew how much I’d spent on this stuff over the years. I have failed miserably – the buckwheat incident is most memorable. I have triumphed hugely – the amazing honeydew and muskmelon year, the ton of fingerling potato year, the incredible Asian greens year, and the five-foot tall basil year. There have been other defeats and other victories, like most determined gardeners, I don’t give up.
Even when the sheep break down the fence and eat twenty or so mature Thai Orange (HOT!!!) pepper plants absolutely loaded with ripe HOT!!! peppers. (You will be surprised to learn that I didn’t have to worm them for a while. That, at least, was a bright spot in that tragic episode.)
Even when every single tomato plant is plagued by blossom end rot.
Even when the entire crop of winter squash mysteriously turns to mush overnight.
Even when small burrowing creatures dig like enemy sappers and leave hollow places where sweet potatoes once grew.
Even when in one night, raccoons ruin every single ear of sweet corn – the ripe and unripe alike.
No, We don’t give up. Those incidents make us harder. We become clever, inventive and determined.
See this row cover and tremble, flea beetles! Look upon this crushed oyster shell and weep, blossom end rot! And squash bugs, you shall feel the wrath of the hungry sparrows who will feed upon you daily because I let them nest in the horse barn! Ha! And you succulent garden weeds, growing happily in that perfect composty garden soil, didn’t anybody ever tell you that you provide an excellent treat for chickens and goats, so there is great incentive to pull you out by the bucketload?
Some people find success with pesticides – organic and otherwise – but the stuff has not really ever worked for me, except on fruit trees. So I don’t even bother. It helps to have enough space to practice crop rotation, an endless supply of manure and no neighborhood regulations regarding the appearance of our property. Mylar strips and shiny silver Christmas tree garland, orange plastic baling twine, twisted old cattle panels and bungee cords aren’t exactly Martha Stewart garden hacks, but they work for me.
I realized that I didn’t bother to take pictures of my garden this year, and that’s a shame. It was nice. Not perfect, not without failures. Tomatoes planted a bit too late – most of them anyway. I got amazing tomatoes from seeds that were sprouting inside (yes, inside!) a grocery store tomato. Stellar mangle beet crop. Really good winter squash, and LOTS of them. Zucchini that kept producing until frost. Good sweetcorn plots. Potato surprise with leftover fingerlings. The okra sucked horribly, and the fennel rotted. I have a problem with planting too much in too small a space. My plans are bigger than my gardens, and when my gardens are big, taking care of them properly is impossible. Sigh. One can’t have everything. Not without loads of minions and loads of money, anyway…
No, you can’t have everything. But you can dream about it. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seedsavers Exchange, Territorial Seed Company, Burpee and so many more wondrous bedtime stories to read! So grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate or Irish coffee or a beer, even, cuddle up with a blanket and a cat, and all those catalogs/websites, and start planning for this Spring. No gardener wants to be caught seedless! Happy gardening dreams!!!