On gardening, or planning to garden

Most awesome seed source ever.

Most awesome seed source ever.

Is this what happens when we grow up?  Do we finally get clear about what matters and just root down?  I just sent my seed order in (only to discover the empty packet of my favorite lettuce: Winter Density…argh!).  It feels late, as it always does, and a few things are on back-order.  But mostly this year I feel a seismic change in the whole process.  Every year I pull together all my zip-lock bags of seeds and corral them into one huge basket, and then I go through and inventory what I have.  It’s a process I’ve loved over the years, as it fills me with a sense of abundance (look at all these gorgeous seeds!  Think of all the gorgeous PLANTS!) and with that delicious anticipation of ordering more.  Plus, when you feel like you’ve really gone overboard, ordering like 25 packets, you realize you’re only out $35.  Which is a lot of shopping bliss for your buck.  The big change this year, though, is in me rather than in the process: for the first time in history, I’m not all that interested in growing lots of different kinds of each vegetable.  (Flowers, yes.  Still.  Always.)  But I used to want six kinds of carrots, for example, to see which were best. I wanted to compare all the kinds of peas so I could know what I preferred and have some good variety in type and time to harvest.  Now, I’m realizing, I’m becoming a much more grounded gardener.  I want delicious; I want easy; I want staggered harvests and enough variety to keep cooking and eating interesting.  But I am more than happy to stick with tried-and-true, and my appreciation of new discoveries seems happy to stay in the realm of the theoretical.  I do not need to buy new varietals.  (There, Len, it’s in writing.  To your massive surprise, I know.  Mine too.)

I suspect this change is not really about the garden.  I suspect it’s about my life.  You see, gardening used to be a hobby – and now it’s one feature of my busy life with my family.  It has always saved us money, but now we count on that.  It has always kept us healthy, but now it teaches my children a lifelong love of healthy food.  It has always been a way for me to get grounded, to come back to my most basic self, and now it does that for two much smaller souls as well.  Nine kinds of peppers seems beside the point – though I am quick to defend the obvious point that there are roasters and jalapenos and Hungarian paprikas and bells, and there’s nothing wrong with a few of each.  But will I spend time reading about the fifty other kinds I don’t have?  Not this year.  No time, and my energy and curiosity are turned elsewhere: to people, large and small; to fiber and fabric; to writing and ideas and hope.

The next step, of course, in the process is cleaning off the seed-starting mats and shelves, checking the grow-lights and the soilless mix supply, investing in more wooden plant labels and a new, sharp Sharpie.  I’ve always loved these midwinter pilgrimages, but now they seem even more special, now that they are prompted by Ezra’s impatience.  Can we start seeds, Mama?  Yes, my son.  Yes, we can.  And all throughout the summer and fall, we can point to those plants and remember the smallness of their seeds in his palm, his chubby carrot fingers working to grasp and maneuver their tiny promise.


One of the ways you know you’re living with the right people

backlit paperwhite

This morning was a hurried morning, as they usually are.  Potty training isn’t making life any easier yet.

Malachi surprised all of us by sleeping tall paperwhitewell from midnight to 6, so he awoke confused and starvacious. Ezra announced he did not sleep enough, which was why he was sad and grumpy and unable to use his big-boy voice.  There were Cheerios everywhere and Sunbutter on my sleeve and coffee splatter on Len’s work tie.  In the midst of all this noise and hustle, the sun rises above the neighbor’s trees and beams directly in the eastern window, backlighting the newly-unfurled  paperwhite so that it glows, transformed, a fierce beacon on a fragile stalk.  Ezra and Len and I stare amazed for a moment before I grab my phone/camera; then Len grabs his and Ezra starts grabbing at our waists for us to lift him up to see. Malachi, strapped into his high chair, spends some time trying to owl his neck all the way around and then gives it up, content to eat and watch us watching.  Where else, I ask you, would I find people so willing to let their lives be altered by such a brief moment of beauty?  Who else would see this and drop everything to stand in its light, breathing more quietly while we wait for the sun to shift?

I should be grateful, and I am

For so many things.

I watched my rotund eleven-month-old fall asleep in my arms today, punch-drunk on applesauce, oatmeal, banana chunks and breastmilk, and I thought about mothers the world over who hold too-light children and too-heavy worries.

I keep picking at the irritating scab of a search committee that doesn’t respond…and then remember how good it feels to even HAVE interviews, in this climate, and to have warm, supportive ones at that.

I am frustrated to not have more time to write, and I am reminded of the years when writing was work.  This, then, is play.

IMG_0519In one of my gardens I grow roses, all carefully chosen for cold-hardiness and disease resistance; it’s every plant for himself at our house.  When I think of the winterkill that mauled them last year and of my half-assed attempts to prune, heal, transplant, and protect them anew, I must also remember this: come June, whether I deserve it or not, there is usually grace.  Come to think of it, I depend on grace.  I build it into my strategy.  The flowers, though, are a glorious bonus.

I once had to write down, every day, ten things that were beautiful or inspiring or somehow positive, and by god it was a struggle.  But, as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “peace is every step” and compassion (with self, with world) is a habit.  In these dark days, it’s a habit worth cultivating.

With pick-axe and pitchfork…

Six kinds of beets, three kinds of carrots...I feel rich.

Six kinds of beets, three kinds of carrots…I feel rich.

I’ve liberated the last of the root crops from the frozen ground.  They did not want to come.

It was a chilly endeavor, but a rewarding one.

Plus, I can’t think of the last time I was in the garden without someone “helping” and someone else crawling off into the shrubbery or gagging up leaves.  I just hope my little helper isn’t furiously pissed that I didn’t wait for him to uproot all those carrots.  He has a point: digging up brightly colored food from the earth is pretty well the awesomest.




Witness the genius of the Maine Garden Hod…sturdy, affordable, and you can wash your produce right in it. Also useful for picnics in the yard and toting small animals.





The garden at first snow

There have been years when our first snow surprised us, and we gleefully picked spinach and arugula from under a fluffy blanket.  There have been years when the first snow came overnight and was so gentle that it melted away from the small warmth of the plants, leaving them in shallow dark circles among the white.  There have even been years when I was so organized and the snow so conveniently late that my beds were harvested, composted, and covered over with a shredded-leaf duvet.  But this year is a tweener: the snow is late, and sparse, but we’ve had deep, consistent freezes that forced the chard and parsley into the house.  (I picture them lifting their mulchy skirts to hoist their skinny white knees above the soil line and then straggling like refugees up to the deck.)  All that’s out there now is the kale (which somehow ended up in four of our six beds…don’t look at me like that) and the remaining root crops: beets and carrots.  Those really need to come in soon, as our pitchfork can only do so much against rock-hard winter soil. 

It’s a frustration trying to garden with children, but also a lesson in wonder — not just that things grow from tiny seeds and produce beautiful, colorful food, but also that the soil and water and worms exist as they do.  We got Ezra to help us spread chopped leaves on the garden because we told him the worms need them for food through the winter.  He was beyond thrilled when, four weeks later, we lifted the leaf mulch to plant our garlic, and there were numbers of wrigglers dashing for cover.  Worms are for Ezra what writing is for me: alluring, entrancing, and more than a little terrifying.  Also good for the world, and something we want to nurture.