Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Sprouts are beginning to emerge. Early in February, kale, arugula, chard, and a variety of lettuces first pushed their way through the soil. Seeded into flats on shelves in the basement, their tiny leaves reach for the lights hanging just above. Subsequent plantings of greens have since begun to show themselves. Leeks as well, also peppers and basil. A host of brassicas are the most recent additions to the list of successful seedings: cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, raab, and kohlrabi.
While the seeding process will continue each week, building momentum for the anticipated arrival of spring and bare ground, these early sprouts will continue to garner our attention as weekly duties now involve checking and re-hanging lights. Fluorescents are hung close to the seedlings to prevent them from being spindly and leggy, slowly being raised as the plants develop. Watering duties are once again a part of our weekly work schedule as well – a sure sign that spring must be on its way.
Just as exciting is the ordering and arrival of seeds (we order through Fedco, a cooperative based in Clinton, Maine). This imbues another level of excitement and urgency to our spring work. There are greenhouses to plant, and gardens to plan!
While the ground is still snow-covered, the greenhouses have thawed and the soil workable – the rich smell of fresh dirt greets the senses upon entering. An essential means of season extension, early spring plantings of greens in our greenhouses are our only chance of fresh food by mid-April. Without greenhouses, we’d be waiting for bare ground to transplant into…this could be April, this could be May…
So as we prepare for spring, and gradually stock our shelves with flats of seedlings yearning for sunshine and the richness of a garden bed, we are engaged in an annual process of guesswork. As garden maps are drawn, and irrigation discussed, we are looking out on snow but imagining fresh soil and rich compost. We are guessing - part conservative, part aggressive - when the last snow will fall, when the ice will melt, when the final frost will hit. Guesses fueled by anticipation, and based in experience and observation.
For spring is just the beginning, the first leg of a sprinter’s marathon. Winter is a time to rest and restore ourselves. Spring, however, can be defined by the change of pace, the awakening of the natural world, the lengthening of to-do lists, the building of momentum. We are perched on the cusp; the world is about to turn from coldness and hues of gray and white, to lushness, warmth, and verdant abundance. In many ways the scale of our summer is determined by the quantity of work we can accomplish in the spring. So we must push ourselves hard, and plan for potentialities. A successful garden begins with spring efforts.