For many years, I worked seven days a week. A few years ago, my wife and I decided to take Saturdays off. We're secular sorts. But it is still a Sabbath. The time we spend together is the best part of the week. Especially in the Spring, when it is time to prepare the gardens for Spring planting.
We traveled a lot last year, and the vegetable garden shows it now. We use raised beds. We've ten of them active now, each 20 feet by four feet. I removed the sod by hand from the area six or so years ago, and then dug rows between the beds. Over the years we've planted most common vegetables. I didn't prepare the garden for a Winter's rest last year. I was distracted. So my back hurts today from labor that must be done.
The peas go in around St. Patrick's Day, and they are always a challenge. This was a wet Spring. Drenching rains washed out a row, so we replanted them. I've got a net staked to several poles in the bed we devote to peas. This morning I made sure that some of the healthier plants had tendrils attached to the nets. The plants will grow to six feet in height, providing peas for the Summer.
As I was pulling some weeds that found their way into the pea's bed, I couldn't help think of Thoreau's Walden. I read the book early in high school. We lived in Detroit, a place generally inhospitable to nourishing greenery, at least back then. Now that the city is crumbling into third world desuetude, things do grow wild there. But they didn't when I was a teenager.
Something about the case Thoreau lavished on his first crop of peas, and the hope represented by the turning of the Earth, grabbed me and has not let go all these many years later. Each summer presents a different challenge. Our first summer a fungus wiped out pumpkins, yet somehow spared the squash. I am ignorant in the ways of soil and weather. I read haphazardly and slowly my fund of knowledge grows. Did you know there are about 300 species of asparagus, or liliaceae?
But I am learning. It was pure pleasure today to rebuilt several beds with the well-aged leavings of a chicken coop. The soil was rich, dark, laden with Earth worms. We've been eating asparagus for several weeks now. The shoots spring aggressively, an early herald of Spring. It is as if they want to get all the growing they'd do done before the Sun rises too high in the sky with scorching heat.
Weeding an asparagus bed is a surgeon's work. The underground root system is complex, and easily damaged. It appears I destroyed one bed last year in too aggressive weeding. I mulled the silent death and berated myself for carelessness. But the weather today was perfect. There was no time for self-recrimination or self-pity. As I removed dead roots and prepared the bed for strawberries, I kept thinking of a piece Marcus Schantz wrote last night. A jury returned a quick verdict against his client in a murder case. Marcus was distraught; failure weighed heavily. I know that feeling of lost hope. Gardening is good therapy, though; last year's failures are behind me. The Earth and the Sun beckon. It is time to plant a new crop and learn to harvest it.
As always, our rhubarb bounds along as though there were no challenge in making things grow. It is only mid-April, we're still a month from freedom from frost, and already the plants are four feet tall. Moist red stalks will soon be the stuff of compote, a sweet-sour treat we eat over and over again with delight. These plants are like gods to us. My wife's father, dead now twenty years, started them from seeds. We transplanted several when we started our garden. It is pleasing to think that Paul feeds us still. Although he's gone, I still want to "thank you" to him.
I'm several days away from having fully prepared for the Spring planting. Two or three Saturday's should do the trick. And then comes the nervous husbandry of a long, hot Summer. Each year brings a new challenge. Sometimes there is sweet success, the tomatoes and carrots never fail; sometimes we fail and are disappointed -- after several summers of lavish beets, our stews were without them this fall. But we grow fantastic turnips. I am looking forward with hope to them again this year.
I am glad it is Spring, and I am even happier to reacquaint myself with the thousand and one challenges of a garden. Perhaps it's time to re-read Walden. I cannot imagine a Spring without warm, moist soil.