by Mimi Hedl
Yesterday I felt lost. As a gardener and homesteader, I use the seasons and weather to guide me in my daily chores. On a normal February 20th in years past, I’d’ve spent time hauling in wood, mending, reading on the sofa, napping (a favorite), or any of many inside activities we crave in winter. This year I slept with the bedroom window open. I heard spring peepers as I fell asleep AND when I woke up. I saw geese flying north all day Sunday. And then yesterday, President’s Day, the early daffodils, the bright yellow ones that everyone has, began to bloom.*
I looked in old journals. Seldom in late February did we have 70° days and 55° nights; maybe for a day or two, but not for days and days at a time. Never have I wanted to open a window and throw off the down comforter. Trapped by old thinking, I didn’t know how to respond to the changing climate patterns.
So like the geese, spring peepers, and daffodils, I did what the rising sap told me to do, I transplanted my lettuce seedlings from the cold frame to the garden proper. And I did the work in shorts. It felt good to kneel on the earth, bending forward to secure an opening for each seedling, snuggling each one into a warm home, protected by straw on all sides, with a delicate piece of bamboo twig to shield the seedlings from browsing rabbits.
Lolla Rossa Darkness already has its dark red coloring, with just three small leaves. Once I planted each seedling, I had a tough time seeing it, next to the dark soil, especially through my sunglasses. The tiny bamboo twig let me know I had indeed planted the seedling so when I check in a week or so, I’ll see astonishing growth, unless of course, the unspeakable occurs…
The other lettuce variety, Cimarron, has become a favorite. A romaine type, it has light green leaves at its heart, and deep red outer leaves. It stays tender, crisp and delicious. These seedlings I could see with their brand new green coloring.
“What the heck,” I said as I planted the six Michihli Chinese cabbage transplants grown since the 15th of January. “If spring wants to come a month early, the cabbage will embrace spring too.” No gardener can escape the garden without feeling compelled to weed. I spent well over an hour digging up chickweed and grass. The soil had the perfect amount of moisture for this work. As I hit a clump on my fork, the soil fell away, lightening the weight in my hand tenfold. I’d toss that fodder for the compost in my wheel barrow, and go on to the next clump. Before long, I had a wheel barrow almost too heavy to push.
This exercise took all morning. I didn’t know if I felt ahead or behind. I didn’t know if I made the proper move or a foolish one. Like Columbus, I took a chance. Who knows what the next four weeks of winter will bring. We’ve had ice storms the first of April, when all the fruit trees, redbuds, and dogwoods flowered. We’ve had freezes in March that killed the lilacs. Those times seemed sad, but not out of the ordinary. Now we have too many variables to juggle to figure out the proper moves.
Many of us like well-orchestrated plots, when we know what to do and when to do it. However, it appears we will have to learn to adapt to new terrain as the stability we once knew becomes threatened by uncertainty. (I do not intend this as a political commentary! Although …) Maybe after a few more cycles, we’ll have more cues and a better idea of what to do and when. For now, I see gardening as a big experiment. I’ll plant varieties that do well in drought as well as plants that require lots of water, just because we don’t know what we’ll have to deal with. A little of this, a little of that… And I’ll plant early and I’ll plant late. I’ll feel grateful for whatever the garden gives me. I’ll look for direction, but expect none.
We still can work on the most important tasks for a gardener: building better soil. Making more compost. Spreading more mulch. Acting like the forest floor. Then whatever we have to deal with, we’ll feel like we’ve prepared in the best ways possible.
And rhubarb leaves appear. I hear the plaintive song of blue birds. Little beauty daffodils bloom…21 February…
*Since we all garden, it may interest you to know that the ubiquitous early yellow daffodil goes by one of these three names: Dutch Master, February Gold, or Rijnveld. The horticulturist at White Flower Farm will let me know once it stops raining and I can send her a photograph. My gut feeling, here in the Midwest with all the German settlers, it’s probably called Dutch Master or Rijnveld.