As I sit looking out my window at the snowflakes sifting down on the first day of spring, and the pile of snow still nearly to the top of the railing of my porch (but shrinking), an email arrives from Johnny Seeds. In just 3 â€“ 8 business days, I will have the first harbinger of spring — my package of garden seeds.
There are many signs of spring amid the shrinking piles of snow. On the news a month ago, I watched the Red Sox bus pulling out of Fenway Park heading to Florida. Punxsutawney Phil told us that spring was coming shortly. I swear that this morning, even with 30Âº temperatures and a March snow sifting down, the birds were singing their spring songs.
I am really looking forward to planting a vegetable garden this year. It will be the first in nearly two decades. Perhaps I am a hoarder, or perhaps I am a thrifty New Englander, but I have held onto my parent”s old 1970 Troy Bilt rototiller all these years, despite lacking a garden. Its tires are flat and cracked; its belt looks its age, and I imagine the gas left inside is the consistency of honey. The wheels stopped turning over a decade ago, and I find myself dragging it from spot to spot in the garage in my annual efforts to bring some order to the clutter filled garage. I just hope with some new tires, some clean gas, and a new spark plug dipped in gas, I can get it to run againâ€¦
With encouragement from a Facebook friend, I ordered my seeds this year from Johnny Seeds of Albion, Maine. Nothing extravagant: beans, tomatoes, spinach, swiss chard, beets, broccoli and squashâ€¦ I don”t do corn. It takes up too much room for the bounty it produces. Plus, Gary Wilkins has the best corn in the area. I am really looking for ward to fresh broccoli though. If there ever was a vegetable that tastes completely different than store-bought, broccoli is it. Homegrown broccoli is sweet and tender â€“ unlike the bitter rubbery broccoli one is likely to find at the market. Yes, it does tend to have green caterpillars that hide among the flowers, but just ten minutes of soaking the heads in salt water before cooking takes care of that problem.
Last year, folks like Alan Hoch and his discussions about his overwhelming supply of basil, had me so envious. I had nothing to trade with him, but the thought of fresh basil and tomatoes made me wishing I had a garden.
My worries though are about the deer. This winter has brought them closer to the house than they normally come. And, while I have a big scary dog, whose drool is enough to drown someone, the deer seem more scared of my cats. I was first made aware of this one morning last spring when I was wakened by the strangest snorting noise. I got out of bed to see a deer standing off the back porch. My dog was slow to get out of bed, but he came and stood at the back door, acknowledged the cat sitting on the railing and went back to bed. At which point the cat and deer got into a spitting contest. When the cat jumped from the railing to attack the deer, the deer took off. With the deer running for the woods, my dog felt it was now safe for him to go out and protect the perimeter.
On Johnny Seed”s website it says I should start my broccoli, tomatoes, onions, peppers, leeks, and eggplants inside now. Given I still have a solid two feet of snow outside, I think I am going to hold off for another month.
Alan never starts his seeds inside. His hardy plants like broccoli, peas and collards he plants directly in the ground. Thinning as needed. Last year he planted Patriot”s Day and was harvesting his first crop of peas by the end of June.
“I had a bumper crop of bush beans, spinach, beets, carrots, collards and broccoli. My only disappointment was my tomatoes that lacked the taste I desired. This year I am planting heirloom tomatoes, foregoing the Burpee seeds I used last year.â€
While I have a rototiller to help with weed control (I hope), Alan recommends salt marsh hay. It lacks the seeds of regular hay that would add to the weed problem, it keeps the moisture in the soil, and at the end of the season, it decomposes, adding to the nutrients of the soil.
It is clear that Alan has a connection with his garden that surpasses the nutritional sustenance it provides. The garden provides a sustenance for the soul, too.
“Before the sun gets too hot, I will take a break from my work to sneak out to my basil garden. With the warmth of the sun on my back, and the songs of the birds overhead, I pick the flowers from the basil. I call it the â€˜Zen of Basil.” This quick respite in my garden provides the break I need to focus in on my work for the rest of the day.â€
Locally, Alan has gained the reputation as quite the â€˜foodie”. I asked him what were some of his favorite recipes were with his vegetables. “I have developed some really delicious meals with my vegetables. My favorites are chile rellenos, caprise salad, and collard greens. The collard greens recipe is fairly easy. Take the collards and coarsely chop them with about 90% of the stems, steam them with chicken broth and a handful of pulled pork on top, half a dried crumbled jalapeno and salt. Cook the greens until they are limp. Put on a plate and enjoy.â€
My eye is turned to the weather for the next week. My seeds have arrived and I have looked at the packages of seeds over and over picturing my bounty and already tasting the sweet broccoli I will be growing. The forecasters promise warmer weather is coming. It can”t come soon enough.