Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It would seem as if we are still on the border of winter and spring. As the sun gets stronger, the snow all but retreats…and then hail, sleet, snow, and freezing temperatures conspire to blanket the ground once again. One day I am watering the greens and brassicas behind the mini, makeshift “greenhouse” of old windowpanes angled off the south side of the cabin; the next day I am carrying an extra large armload of wood inside to alleviate the chill of freezing precipitation.
Not that I mind so much. This oscillation between extremes is one of the things I like about April. When it comes to spring gardening, it becomes a vegetative version of Risk. How early can plants be in the ground? Which round of snow showers is the last for the season? How long with the latest stretch of freezing temperatures last? What conditions can the plants tolerate – and for how long? It is a guaranteed lesson in humility, and a perpetual see-saw between prudence and boldness.
Last week was particularly exciting. While the snow was receding noticeably by the hour, birds and their lilting songs appeared to wake us in the mornings. The soil turned from frozen, to mud, to friable dirt. Within the cold frame, I seeded lettuces and some early carrots, while around the compost I planted peas. Ryan set aside logs to be inoculated with shiitake spawn, and I established the makeshift greenhouse for the boxes of spinach, kale, chard, and lettuces that comprise our tiny-but-tender April salads. The garlic’s green stalks were poking through the inches of mulch with vigor, the chives were greening under our watch, and the rhubarb began pushing its crown through the dirt.
To top it off, the rootstock of fruit trees, berry bushes, and perennial herb crowns arrived! In less than a day, blueberry bushes, cranberry starts, apple trees, pear trees, peach trees, asparagus, lavender, and additional rhubarb were planted into our growing gardens and mulched with care.
But, of course, it is April. Just as the momentum grew, hail and snow descended. Fat peach buds spent 36 hours wrapped in plastic bags, while peas huddled under the protection of some plastic scraps and the lower half of an old sliding window. Boxes of greens stayed inside on the kitchen table, and the “greenhouse” sat empty through the squall.
The plants made it through, however, at least thus far. But April’s not over yet, and May can certainly offer some freezing stretches. Nevertheless, as dirt collects under my nails, and time in the sun gives my cheeks a permanent flush…. spring is surely, steadily, approaching. Excitement – and the spring garden to-do list – grows with each day.