Sunday, January 30, 2005

Reprise: Bent light

This is a piece I wrote last summer, before Vermont Diary went blog. I pulled it out to remind me why it was that starting seeds in front of the big picture window was a bad idea. It cheered me up to think of the gardening season to come, and I thought readers might like a jolt from an easier season, too.

What’s with this yen to garden? Is it just being in this beautiful green place? Or is it McCreery genes, green jeans if ever there were such. Still, I doubt any McCreery ever trimmed the leading edge of raised beds with scissors as I do. And McCreerys plant sensible vegetables—beans and corn for the freezer.

If I were as smart as people claim I am, then I would buy vegetables at the local markets and pop them into my freezer for winter delectation. But no. I pay to have a large plot plowed, then I build raised beds with straw-lined paths between. And I plant and plant and plant, but I run out of steam before I plant corn or squash or potatoes. Breakneck speed and still it is mid-June before I get anything in the ground. The only crop I regret missing is sunflowers. I had dreamed of having many kinds lining the back row of my garden, beckoning to travelers with their sweet faces.

Now we are almost at the end of July. Gardens are exploding. I don’t meant to sound like we live in an alien world, but actually in July we do. I staked the tomatoes today, and by the time I got to the end of the row, the first ones needed to be tied up again. In the south, they say that kudzu grows 18 inches a day, that if you watch you can see it, if you listen you can hear the vines groan with stretching to cover the next rusted-out car or slow-moving cow. This is beyond kudzu, beyond anything I have ever experienced. The scientists among us say it is something in the angle of the light. We have it such a short time, but pow! Zowie! We have it in double-time.

In the depths of February, I started seedlings indoors. They didn’t do well, and the prevailing theory is that it was the double glazed picture window that bent the light and kept them from thriving. Next year, I invest in hanging lights to start the babies, or maybe I just buy plants from one of the legion little greenhouses. I went to a meeting at Basin Harbor Club in the spring and stumbled over one that offered exotic varieties of tomatoes and peppers for a dollar apiece. I was taken aback by the twenty or so greenhouses and the freedom with which customers were allowed to roam through them—surely their insurance company would not approve. But I came home with Amish Paste tomatoes, Brandywine Pinks, tomatillos, San Marco paste tomatoes, and more—a dozen in all. Along with chocolate peppers, jalapenos, habaneros,….you get the idea. Driving back from Philadelphia a month ago, I even ran across a dozen okra plants raised lovingly in someone’s greenhouse and available to me for a mere dollar apiece.

So why should I start seedlings indoors? Because I can’t help myself. Because it helps me believe that the snow will go someday. And now in July I see that my little seedlings are catching up. My tiny tomato seedlings—which were really pitiful in comparison to their greenhouse classmates—are now half their size and sturdy as can be. And what excitement to see what they turn out to be. Did I mention that my labels—ice cream spoons with ball point pen labels—didn’t withstand the rigors of outdoor life? So I have no idea who these babies are that I have nurtured so lovingly. Kinda like parenthood, eh?

Actually the biggest and sturdiest plants of all guessed the compost pile. What does this tell us about how all our efforts are wasted?, let's say diverted. Unexpected outcomes are now expected, the world is upside down, light is straight where once it was bent, and Zowie! we are carried along in beauty.


Robert said...

Sounds like an ambitious garden.

Haven't had one in two years, but a neighbor who has too many trees for a garden is going to help me with mine. First thing I'll probably have to do is borrow a DR Brush mower before I till the plot.

My glorious herb garden will have to be replanted, too.

Karen said...

Robert! Whenever we get that lunch rescheduled, we must talk about herb gardens. I have had several and will be putting a circular one where the nasty old above ground pool used to be.