02 December 2011


A garden starts in winter.  Breath fogs as the ground freezes, old stalks rustle and fall down.  Clearing begins in spring, when the old material can be turned over and buried to help feed the new.  Daydreaming about what to plant where is a winter survival tactic; afternoons spent pouring over the seed catalogs with their brightly colored pictures, so cunningly sent out in the dead of January.  Except by the time the frosts are far enough apart to count, “where” questions are mostly settled, and it’s time to start thinking of “when.”  Frosts are a central pillar around which gardeners plan and hope.  Good pea plants are born of hard frosts, but less hardy plants, like tender greens, need warm soil to grow in.  Hard frosts tell a gardener when to plant indoors and when to move indoor seedlings out.  In mid spring when all the frosts are gone, transplanting and direct sowing can begin in earnest.  Just like magic, or seems like.  Keeping watch, day after day, over a stretch of ground that looks empty and then spotting the very first tiny leaves one fine, sunny morning.  Later, when the weather warms up even further it’s time to plant the heat lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and basil; a late start for a late crop.  Maybe as far back as the first day of February another set of tomatoes and peppers have been started indoors, and now is the time to transplant them; a very early start for an early crop.  Now starts the long haul towards harvest time.  Other than a rogue hail or windstorm, the garden is relatively safe weather wise until the real heat of summer sets in.  Perfidious pests are another matter and must be dealt with severely.  Quietly multiplying aphids, voracious Japanese beetles, legion squash bugs and distance jumping grasshoppers, all make an appearance.  Rightful garden denizens like ladybugs, tachinid flies, and soldier bugs seem in much shorter supply.  Scented herbs, both aromatic and sweet, dominate the air.  Trailing vines of peas, cucumbers and melons act like common thugs in their attempt to dominate their own little portion of the world.  Underneath the shading leaves of larger bushes, less heat resistant plants shelter, and grow as best they can.  Vital water flows in the muggy cool of morning and the sticky heat of evening.  With the passage of June and July, the heat really sets in, causing weariness even among such veterans as the tomatoes.  X-acto blades clear away dried and dying vegetation.  Yielding its harvest, the garden goes mostly dormant in the weirdly mirrored, yet polar opposite image of winter.  Zooming oppressively by, the summer will soon be replaced by the cool of autumn, but not soon enough.

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